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

Saturday, November 9, 2019

week ending Nov 9

 Fed's Balance Sheet Soars Above $4 Trillion- Up $250 Billion Since Repo Crisis -  If it seems like it was just over a month ago that the repo market suddenly suffered its biggest cardiac arrest since the financial crisis, when overnight repo rates exploded from 2% to 10% in an instant with no observable news or catalyst on the 11th anniversary of Lehman's collapse..... and only immediate Fed intervention prevented a full-blown financial crisis, it's because it was. As we have already discussed, we now know that said crisis was precipitated by JPMorgan quietly and steadily withdrawing liquidity from money markets.... while at the same time Jamie Dimon's bank reduced the cash it has on deposit at the Federal Reserve, from which it might have lent to other banks and prevent the repo crisis, by $158 billion in the year through June, a 57% decline, as JPM faced the highest G-SIB surcharges of all US banks due to the specific composition of its balance sheet.   Of course, whether this was indeed the reason behind JPM's liquidity withdrawal, or if Jamie Dimon strategically shrank the bank's available liquidity in order to incite a repo market crisis (the same way some speculate Lehman was sacrificed to launch QE1 and the global financial bailout), there is no way of knowing for sure - we can hope that Elizabeth Warren's questions to Steve Mnuchin will provide some additional insight, although we doubt it - but what we do know is that in response to September's repocalypse, not only did the NY Fed launch overnight and term repos to inject liquidity into the market, it also started "Not QE", or "Quasi QE", which is never ever to be confused with "QE 4".  Fast forward to today, when for JPMorgan and all other US commercial banks (which happen to own the Fed), it is mission accomplished: not only did the Fed's excess reserves spike to $1.5 trillion, a level which the experts say is far more suitable for the US financial system (as a reminder, before the financial crisis the level of excess reserves was precisely $0), but as of last week, the Fed's balance sheet is now back over $4 trillion (at roughly the same time total US debt hit $23 trillion for the first time), surging over $250 billion since September, and one third of the way to regaining it's all time highs of $4.5 trillion. And since the Fed's POMO will continue well into 2020, expect the previous all time highs in the Fed's balance sheet to be surpassed soon. Just don't call it QE.

Wall Street’s Liquidity Crisis: It’s Not Getting Better -Pam Martens - This morning, Wall Street’s money spigot arm of the Federal Reserve, the New York Fed, paid out $35 billion in 14-day term loans to Wall Street’s trading houses. The problem was, this morning the banks wanted $41.15 billionor $6.15 billion more than the Fed was offering. That’s a very clear sign that liquidity remains tight on Wall Street and we have yet to enter the pivotal year-end period when banks try to dress up their books by dumping or parking their most toxic positions. Between the term loan and the overnight loan, the New York Fed paid out $115 billion this morning to unnamed securities firms on Wall Street. (The Fed won’t say who is doing all of this borrowing and Congress can’t summon the willpower to hold a hearing.) According to the most recent schedule provided by the Federal Reserve, it is providing up to $120 billion per day in overnight, revolving loans to Wall Street’s securities firms (primary dealers) at an interest rate of approximately 1.55 percent as of this morning. In addition, it is also offering term loans of approximately 14 days twice a week in the amount of $35 billion, or an additional $70 billion flowing to unnamed trading firms on Wall Street each week. (The $70 billion has been scaled back from $90 billion that was offered for the last week of October.) The term loans are also being offered at a ridiculously low 1.59 percent interest rate as of this morning’s offering.The interest rate that the free market wanted to charge some of these borrowers on September 17 was 10 percent. But just as the Federal Reserve did during the financial crisis of 2007 through 2010, it jumped into the fray and flooded the market with money it created out of thin air to bring the rate down below 2 percent.This current mess reminds us of the statement made by Senator Bernie Sanders in 2011 when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its audit of the secret $16 trillion money spigot the New York Fed had hooked up to Wall Street during the financial crisis. Sanders said “This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else.” Think about that statement for a moment. The Wall Street securities firms getting these loans are owned by some of the biggest banks in America. Those mega banks are charging as much as 17 percent or higher to consumers on their credit cards. If you are an American citizen you can’t borrow from the Fed at 1.59 percent and pay off your credit card rate of 17 percent. So why are the free market principles only being applied to struggling consumers but not to the federally-insured banks that are backstopped by these same taxpayers? The simple answer is that there has been a complete corruption of the political process and the nexus between Washington and Wall Street. The one percent now rule every aspect of money and wealth accumulation in America.

 Is the Run on the Dollar Due to Panic or Greed? --Ellen Brown -- What’s going on in the repo market? Rates on repurchase agreements (“repo”) should be around 2%, in line with the fed funds rate. But they shot up to over 5% on September 16 and got as high as 10% on September 17. Yet banks were refusing to lend to each other, evidently passing up big profits to hold onto their cash – just as they did in the housing market crash and Great Recession of 2008-09. Since banks weren’t lending, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York jumped in, increasing its overnight repo operations to $75 billion; and on October 23 it upped the ante to $120 billion in overnight operations and $45 billion in longer-term operations.  Why are banks no longer lending to each other? Are they afraid that collapse is imminent somewhere in the system, as with the Lehman collapse in 2008? Perhaps, and if so the likely suspect is Deutsche Bank. But it looks to be just another case of Wall Street fattening itself at the public trough, using the funds of mom and pop depositors to maximize bank profits and line the pockets of bank executives while depriving small businesses of affordable loans.  The repo market allows banks and other financial institutions to borrow and lend to each another, usually overnight. More than $1 trillion in overnight repo transactions collateralized with U.S. government debt occur every day. Banks lacking available deposits frequently go to these markets to fund their loans and finance their trades.  The Fed re-started its large-scale repo operations in September, when borrowing rates shot up due to an unexpectedly high demand for dollars. The Fed said the unusual demand was due largely to quarterly tax payments and Treasury debt settlements. Other factors proposed as contributing to the cash strains include regulatory change and, a decline in bank reserves due to “quantitative tightening” (in which the Fed shrunk its balance sheet by selling some of its QE acquisitions back into the market), as well as unusually high government debt issuance over the last four years and a flight into U.S. currency and securities to avoid the negative interest rate policies of central banks abroad.

Bond yields are surging, and the scary recession warning everyone was talking about has gone away -  The bond market has officially switched off its recession alarm and is pointing to the potential for stronger growth. Since the summer, when fear of a global economic meltdown gripped the bond market, conditions in the Treasury market and economy have changed. So has the outlook for U.S.-China trade talks, and as a result bond yields, which move opposite price, are risingNow that the Fed has cut rates three times, short-end yields, like the 2-year, are not rising as fast as long duration yields. The 2-year at its high, was up 10 basis points on Thursday but the 10-year yield snapped higher by about 14 basis points on reports that tariffs could be dropped. The 10-year yield rose as high as 1.97% in its biggest one-day move since the 2016 presidential election, but it was at 1.928% at the end of the day. The 10-year was also at its highest level since August 1, the day that Trump tweeted he could put new tariffs on China, a negative event for markets. It was also the day after the Fed cut interest rates by a quarter point, its first of three cuts.Short duration yields are no longer higher than the rates on the long end, like the benchmark 10-year yield. That phenomena is called an inverted yield curve, and it is a signal in financial markets that a recession could be on the horizon. That sentiment peaked in late August and September. Now the curve has steepened, and the closely watched 3-month to 10-year spread is at the highest it’s been since last January, a month after the Fed’s final rate hike. The 3-month Treasury bill yield was 36 basis points below the 10-year note yield on Thursday, after dipping to as low as negative 54 basis points in August. Strategists say yields are in an uptrend, in large part because of progress in trade talks. But they do not see the 10-year moving much above 2% in the short term, as the markets watch trade developments and economic data. Hill said the next high watermark to watch on the 10-year would be 2.06, the high on Aug. 1.

Early Q4 GDP Forecasts: 0.7% to 2.1% -- From Goldman Sachs: [O]ur Q4 GDP tracking estimate declined by one-tenth to +2.1% (qoq ar), and we increased our past-quarter GDP tracking estimate for Q3 by one-tenth to +2.1% (qoq ar, compared to +1.9% as originally reported). [November 4 estimate] From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 0.7% for 2019:Q4. News from this week's data releases decreased the nowcast for 2019:Q4 by 0.1 percentage point. [Nov 8 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 1.0 percent on November 5, down from 1.1 percent on November 1. [Nov 5 estimate]   CR Note: These very early estimates suggest real GDP growth will be between 0.7% and 2.1% annualized in Q4.

As Bonds Tumble, Treasury Sells 30Y Paper In Dismal Auction With Lowest Ever Dealer Takedown - After two impressive coupon auctions, when both the 3 and 10 year auctions stopped through the When Issued, moments ago the Treasury concluded the last coupon auction for the week, when it sold $19 billion in 30Y paper in what was a decidedly weaker market.Whether it was due to the sharp selloff in rates today, which saw the 10Y rise from 1.80% to just shy of 2.00%, demand for 30Y paper was sloppy at best, with the high yield of 2.43% - the highest since July - tailing the When Issued 2.424% by 0.6bps, the 5th consecutive tail since June.The bid to cover of 2.23 was just lower than the 2.25 in October, and right on top of the six auction average. As the chart below shows, the trendline is clear: after peaking in 2011, the BTC has been declining for almost a decade.Finally, the internals were concerning, with Indirects taking down 58.8%, also in line with the recent average of 58.6%, and while Directs jumped to 20.5%, the highest since December 2014, it was Dealers that surprised with a takedown of just 20.7%, this was the lowest Dealer takedown on record.   What is notable about today's auction is that it took place just as the bond market was shitting the bed, with rates getting slammed across the curve. Ironically, the 30Y auction while ugly, could have been even uglier according to the market, and as a result, it appears to have marked the bottom for rates (and high for yields) so far today.

  As Trump pushes to halt ‘endless wars’, the War on Terror continues unabated -Somewhat expectedly, much has been made of Donald Trump’s mid-October decision to withdraw American troops from north-eastern Syria, effectively green-lighting a Turkish attack on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Unlike many other acts of the Trump presidency, his withdrawal order has even managed to create a degree of bipartisan criticism, with Republican senators and congresspeople speaking out against the move. Trump’s defence against these critical voices – aside from his proclaimed ‘different take’ that the Kurds shouldn’t be assisted because they had not fought with US forces in World War II – has primarily taken two forms: to argue that Turkey would be punished for any improper behaviour (which remains to be seen), and to decry this conflict as part of the ‘endless wars’ that the US has unnecessarily become entangled in during the post-Cold War period.Trump’s use of the phrase is can tell us several things about the current state of US counterterrorism campaigns. To begin with, it suggests that Trump believes this to be a politically appealing term. It is not hard to identify the natural links between an ‘America First’ foreign policy and the policy of withdrawal; as one tweet by the president put it: The idea of only deploying US troops to serve a self-benefiting cause clearly aligns with Trump’s depiction of a zero-sum world where the US has been ‘losing’ at the expense of both allies and foes. Furthermore, one recent Rasmussen poll found that 58 percent of those polled agreed with Trump’s tweet when it was presented anonymously, with only 20 percent disagreeing. Trump’s use of the term effectively aligns himself with a fairly eclectic collection of voices against what has also become known as the ‘forever wars’. For example, in June this year the respectively right and left leaning philanthropists Charles Koch and George Soros joined together to finance the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, which in large part devotes itself to condemning these ongoing conflicts. Albeit focused specifically on US involvement in Afghanistan, Concerned Veterans for America recently launched an ‘End Endless Wars’ campaign, which presidential candidate Andrew Yang publicly supported in the third Democratic debate. More broadly, almost all the Democratic candidates who responded to FiveThirtyEight’s foreign policy questionnaire said that they would a) have all US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of their first term as President, b) end US military involvement in Yemen, and c) repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. And yet, only one prominent proponent of the ‘endless wars’ perspective – Senator Rand Paul – explicitly voiced his support for Trump’s decision, tweeting that the president was fulfilling ‘his promises to stop our endless wars and have a true America First foreign policy.’

 NYT Laments ‘Forever Wars’ Its Editorials Helped Create -  Corporate media have a long history of lamenting wars they themselves helped sell the American public, but it’s rare so many wars and so much hypocrisy are distilled into one editorial. On Monday, the New York Times lamented the expansion of America’s “forever wars” overseas, without once noting that every war mentioned is one the editorial board has itself endorsed, while failing to oppose any of the “engagements” touched on in the editorial. The Times began by noting the sheer scope of US military reach: The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories…. American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have dominated the news, but also in Niger and Somalia, both recently the scene of deadly attacks, as well as Jordan, Thailand and elsewhere. An additional 37,813 troops serve on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as “unknown.” The Pentagon provided no further explanation. The editorial stops short of actually opposing anything specific, instead insisting, “It’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary.” They are vaguely concerned; here we have this massive global empire, fighting an ever-changing nebulous enemy of “terrorism,” with no end in sight. What can be done? It’s unclear—but let’s “take stock.” Left unmentioned in the editorial: from Afghanistan (both the 2001 invasion and Obama’s 2009 surge) to Iraq (the 2003 invasion and Obama re-entering the country in August 2014 to fight ISIS) to Syria (both CIA-backed regime change andbombing ISIS) to Korea to our drone warsin Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the New York Times has endorsed and often cheered every of these “forever wars.” And the “engagements” the Times didn’t expressly support (Thailand, Jordan, etc.), because they’re so routine as to not merit mention, there’s no record of them opposing. Indeed, as FAIR (3/27/17) has noted previously, the New York Times editorial board has not opposed a single US war since its equivocal and lukewarm opposition to Reagan’s invasion of Grenada 34 years ago (10/30/83).

The Enemy Within - Chris Hedges - Our democracy is not in peril—we do not live in a democracy. The image of our democracy is in peril. The deep state—the generals, bankers, corporatists, lobbyists, intelligence chiefs, government bureaucrats and technocrats—is intent on salvaging the brand. It is hard to trumpet yourself as the world’s guardian of freedom and liberty with Donald Trump blathering on incoherently about himself, inciting racist violence, insulting our traditional allies along with the courts, the press and Congress, tweeting misspelled inanities and impulsively denouncing or sabotaging bipartisan domestic and foreign policy. But Trump’s most unforgivable sin in the eyes of the deep state is his criticism of the empire’s endless wars, even though he lacks the intellectual and organizational skills to oversee a disengagement. After nearly two decades, every purported objective used to justify our wars in the Middle East has been upended. The invasion of Afghanistan was supposed to wipe out al-Qaida. Instead, al-Qaida migrated to fill the power vacuums the deep state created in the wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. The war in Afghanistan morphed into a war with the Taliban, which now controls most of the country and is threatening the corrupt regime we prop up in Kabul. The deep state orchestrated the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11. It confidently predicted it could build a Western-style democracy and weaken Iran’s power in the region. Instead, it destroyed Iraq as a unified country, setting warring ethnic and religious factions against each other. Iran, which is closely tied to the dominant Shiite government in Baghdad, emerged even stronger. The deep state armed “moderate” rebels in Syria in an effort to topple President Bashar Assad, but when it realized it could not control the jihadists—to whom it had provide some $500 million in weapons and assistance—the deep state began to bomb them and arm Kurdish rebels to fight them. These Kurds would later be betrayed by Trump. The “war on terror” spread like a plague from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya to Yemen, which after five years of war is suffering one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The financial cost for this misery and death is between $5 trillion and $8 trillion. Trump committed political heresy when he dared to point out the folly of unchecked militarism. He will pay for it. The deep state intends to replace him with someone—perhaps Mike Pence, as morally and intellectually vacuous as Trump—who will do what he or she is told. This is the role of America’s executive: Personify and humanize the empire. Do so with pomp and dignity.

 Every Single US East Coast Aircraft Carrier Is Docked for Repairs - Amid a heap of repairs, refuelings and overhauls, all six of the US Navy’s aircraft carriers assigned to the East Coast are in port at the same time. The Navy is pulling itself increasingly thin in an effort to accommodate the Pentagon’s program for “great power competition” with Russia and China. As of this article’s publishing, not one of the US Navy’s carriers on the Atlantic coast is ready for deployment – all six are tied up dockside in Norfolk, Virginia. Earlier this year, several of the huge, 100,000-ton warships returned to Norfolk for a series of overhauls, but others have encountered unexpected problems.The USS George HW Bush began a 28-month overhaul in February, not due to finish until mid-2021. The USS George Washington only recently returned to the water from drydock, where it was receiving mid-life repairs and updates, and won’t be ready until late 2021.  The USS John C. Stennis arrived at port in May for its years-long midlife refueling and overhaul, but it must wait until the Washington’s retrofit is finished before it can begin, being assigned “chores” like hosting naval aviators who need to qualify for carrier operations in the meantime, Navy Times reported.Other ships might be closer to setting sail soon, Breaking Defense noted, but it could be “weeks or months” before that happens. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower finished pre-deployment testing earlier this month, but must still complete further training before it’s ready to deploy; the USS Gerald R. Ford is expected to be delivered to the Navy before the end of the year. The Ford should’ve been ready years ago, according to the Navy’s schedule, but one bungle after another in the ship’s many new advanced systems has left it unable to even be delivered. [Ford won’t deploy until at least 2024.] In August, the ship’s propulsion system was finally fixed, and shipmaker Huntington Ingalls has promised the Ford’s munitions elevators will all be working by the end of the year. And then there is the USS Harry S. Truman: the aging flattop was scheduled to be deactivated by the Pentagon in a bid to save billions of dollars, but the decision was reversed by the Trump administration in April. However, after the warship suffered a massive electrical failure in August, it was forced to return to Norfolk for repairs, even as the rest of Truman’s battle group sailed on without it.

Trump Expands War for Syrian Oil, Raising Serious Legal Questions — Following new meetings with defense leaders last week, President Trump has signaled intentions to expand his new war in Syria, which is a war entirely built around military control of oil fields in Eastern Syria from which he intends to extract oil.All of this is raising ever-growing legal questions, both about what the legal ramifications of an overt war for oil would be, and about what the military is actually supposed to do in this environment, and against whom.President Trump has so far side-stepped questions about the legality of taking other countries’ oil by arguing that it’s a lot of money the US could make every month in doing so. As far as military orders, those still haven’t been issued, and moreover officials concede a lot of details are “yet to be worked out.” Despite lack of clarity on what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and who it’s against, the US troops in Syria are doing something, and Kurdish YPG forces were also reported to have gotten involved, sending some troops of their own to help guard the oil fields.The Kurds are reportedly helping the US guard the oil from ISIS, and while that’s a pretty straightforward mission for the Kurds, it’s a lot more complicated for the US, with a lot of the people the US is keeping away from the oil having nothing to do with ISIS.Unspoken is that the US mission is to keep Syria’s oil away from Syria, and experts are being very clear that that notion is very illegal under international law. So far that doesn’t seem to be phasing officials, but anyone participating outside of US command is going to be trying to style this as about ISIS.

 US Needs To Occupy Syria Because Of Kurds Or Iran Or Chemical Weapons Or Oil Or Whatever - Caitlin Johnstone -- President Trump reiterated to the press today that the United States is maintaining its military presence in Syria not to patrol the nation’s border with Turkey, but to control its oil fields.  “We’ve kept the oil,” Trump said. “We’ve stayed back and kept the oil. Other people can patrol the border of Syria, frankly, and Turkey, let them – they’ve been fighting for a thousand years, let them do the border, we don’t want to do that. We want to bring our soldiers home. But we did leave soldiers because we’re keeping the oil. I like oil. We’re keeping the oil.” This open “kick their ass and take their gas” policy is nothing new for America’s reality TV president; he’s been saying it for years. It was recently addressed head-on by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who said during an interview that it’s nice to have a US president who is honest about America’s true motives in the Middle East for once. “As for Trump, you might ask me a question and I give you an answer that might sound strange,” Assad said. “I say that he is the best American President, not because his policies are good, but because he is the most transparent president.  All American presidents perpetrate all kinds of political atrocities and all crimes and yet still win the Nobel Prize and project themselves as defenders of human rights and noble and unique American values, or Western values in general.  The reality is that they are a group of criminals who represent the interests of American lobbies, i.e. the large oil and arms companies, and others.  Trump talks transparently, saying that what we want is oil. This is the reality of American policy, at least since WWII.  We want to get rid of such and such a person or we want to offer a service in return for money.  This is the reality of American policy. What more do we need than a transparent opponent?”  Assad’s comments mirror what I wrote more than a week ago (so please note that I’m not an Assadist–he’s a Caitlinist), but it’s important to point out that Trump’s oil narrative is just the latest in a long list of excuses that the US government and its apologists have been making to justify the illegal occupation of Syria. We were told that the US must intervene in Syria because the Syrian government was massacring its people. We were told that the US must intervene in Syria in order to promote freedom and democracy in the Middle East. We were told that the US must intervene in Syria because Assad used chemical weapons. We were told that the US must occupy Syria to fight ISIS. We were told that the US must continue to occupy Syria to counter Iranian influence. We were told the US must continue to occupy Syria to protect the Kurds. Now the US must continue to occupy Syria because of oil. These wildly different reasons the public has been given for America’s need to forcibly insert a military presence into Syria all have only one thing in common, and that’s America forcibly inserting a military presence into Syria. This is because they are not reasons, but excuses. The US forcibly inserted a military presence into Syria with the full intention of keeping it there, and then started diddling a bunch of completely different narratives in order to justify the thing it already wanted to do long before any of those excuses arose.

 11 Saudi officials, including one at kingdom’s U.S. embassy, identified as 9/11 ‘accomplices’ - Lawyers for 9/11 family members and survivors have identified 11 Saudi government officials who they say assisted the al Qaeda hijackers who attacked the United States 18 years ago, killing nearly 3,000 people.“Saudi Arabian government officials were the accomplices without whom there never could have been a 9/11 attack,” New York attorney James Kreindler said last week during a talk at Dartmouth College.Among the 11 is the so-called “third man” who is discussed in a highly censored October 2012 FBI Summary Report as having “tasked” a pair of Saudis living in San Diego with aiding two future hijackers – Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar – when they arrived in the U.S. in January 2000.The four-page report was obtained by Florida Bulldog from the FBI three years ago during ongoing Freedom of Information litigation.According to Kreindler, the third man was “a high-ranking official in the Saudi embassy” in Washington who “sent an instruction to a consular official in Los Angeles, [Fahad al-] Thumairy, ordering him to provide the help that Hazmi and Mihdhar needed.’’Kreindler would not disclose the third man’s name, or the names of the other 10 alleged Saudi 9/11 accomplices, saying he was forbidden to do so by a “disgusting protective order imposed upon us by the Justice Department with the blessing of the court.”President Trump ordered the declassification of the third man’s name at a September meeting with 9/11 survivors at the White House on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The Justice Department promptly issued a statement saying the name was being declassified “in the public interest,” but would be given only to lawyers who represent the thousands of 9/11 victims now suing Saudi Arabia in federal court in New York. The kingdom, which is vigorously defending itself, has long maintained it had no involvement in 9/11.

U.S. accuses two former Twitter employees of spying for Saudi Arabia - (Reuters) - Two former employees of Twitter and a third man from Saudi Arabia face U.S. charges of spying for the kingdom by digging up private user data and giving it to Saudi officials in exchange for payment, a complaint from the Department of Justice shows. Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo, who used to work for Twitter, and Ahmed Almutairi, who then worked for the Saudi royal family, face charges of working for Saudi Arabia without registering as foreign agents, according to the complaint filed against them on Wednesday. The indictment points an unusually public finger at Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally that maintains warm ties with President Donald Trump despite its bad human rights record. Saudi Arabia has not yet publicly remarked on the complaint. King Salman met with the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, in the capital Riyadh, the state news agency said on Thursday. It gave no details on the topics discussed at the meeting, which was also attended by the Saudi foreign and interior ministers and the U.S. ambassador. Many Republican and Democratic lawmakers are already deeply critical of Riyadh’s conduct of the war in Yemen and the 2018 murder at a Saudi consulate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had U.S. residency and wrote for the Washington Post. Despite the pressure, Trump has stood by the kingdom and its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who appears in the complaint as Royal Family Member-1, according to the Washington Post, which initially reported the charges.

Trump Freezes Lebanon Military Aid After Israel Voiced Concerns - Amid recent statements by both Iranian and Hezbollah leaders accusing the United States of hijacking the massive anti-corruption protests which have gridlocked Lebanon for over the past two weeks, the White House has made the dramatic and unexpected move of freezing US military aid to the Lebanese Army.  The money, part of a military aid package totaling $105 million, had been approved by Congress and the State Department, and requested by the Pentagon. Interestingly, proponents of the package argued that it would allow the Lebanese Army to grow more independent, making it less cooperative with Hezbollah.  According to Reuters the aid was frozen two days following Tuesday's resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who in a parting speech admitted he'd "reached a dead end" amid the protests which have reportedly involved one million people, or up to 25% of Lebanon's total population, and further called on "all Lebanese to protect civil peace". The United States, said the report, has frequently voiced "concern over the growing role in the Beirut government of Hezbollah, the armed Shi’ite group backed by Iran and listed as a terrorist organization by the United States."Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week called on Beirut to take steps for a new unified government which focused on rooting out endemic corruption.Though no specific reason was given as to why the White House has targeted Lebanon for an aid freeze, Trump has lately signaled his disdain for the amount of foreign aid Washington hands out around the world, seemingly with no strings attached. On Friday, an Israeli media report revealed that officials in Tel Aviv had lobbied the White House to condition any US Lebanese aid based on the country removing advanced arms in possession of Hezbollah something it should be noted that Lebanon's national forces are likely incapable of, given the Shia paramilitary organization is actually considered stronger.  The Foreign Ministry ordered Israeli diplomats “in all relevant countries,” including the US and European states, to emphasize the need to cease providing aid to Lebanon as long as the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror organization does not cease upgrading its military capabilities that could target Israel, the official added. — Times of Israel

How Mike Pence’s Office Meddled in Foreign Aid to Reroute Money to Favored Christian Groups - ProPublica. Last November, a top Trump appointee at the U.S. Agency for International Development wrote a candid email to colleagues about pressure from the White House to reroute Middle East aid to religious minorities, particularly Christian groups. “Sometimes this decision will be made for us by the White House (see… Iraq! And, increasingly, Syria),” said Hallam Ferguson, a senior official in USAID’s Middle East bureau, in an email seen by ProPublica. “We need to stay ahead of this curve everywhere lest our interventions be dictated to us.” The email underscored what had become a stark reality under the Trump White House. Decisions about U.S. aid are often no longer being governed by career professionals applying a rigorous review of applicants and their capabilities. Over the last two years, political pressure, particularly from the office of Vice President Mike Pence, had seeped into aid deliberations and convinced key decision-makers that unless they fell in line, their jobs could be at stake. Five months before Ferguson sent the email, his former boss had been ousted following a mandate from Pence’s chief of staff. Pence had grown displeased with USAID’s work in Iraq after Christian groups were turned down for aid. ProPublica viewed internal emails and conducted interviews with nearly 40 current and former U.S. officials and aid professionals that shed new light on the success of Pence and his allies in influencing the government’s long-standing process for awarding foreign aid. Most people spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Trump administration’s efforts to influence USAID funding sparked concern from career officials, who worried the agency risked violating constitutional prohibitions on favoring one religion over another. They also were concerned that being perceived as favoring Christians could worsen Iraq’s sectarian divides. “There are very deliberate procurement guidelines that have developed over a number of years to guard precisely against this kind of behavior,” said Steven Feldstein, a former State Department and USAID official during the Obama administration. When politics intrude on the grant-making process, “you’re diluting the very nature of what development programs ought to accomplish.”

Exclusive- Trump administration moves closer to easing gun exports (Reuters) - The Trump administration has passed a key milestone in a long-delayed rule change that would make it easier to sell U.S. firearms outside the United States, including assault rifles and ammunition, people briefed on the matter told Reuters. FILE PHOTO: AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo The proposed rule changes, which would move oversight of commercial firearm exports from the U.S. Department of State to the Department of Commerce, could be enacted as soon as the end of this year, the sources said late on Wednesday. The move by President Donald Trump’s administration may generate business for gun makers such as American Outdoor Brands (AOBC.O) and Sturm Ruger & Company (RGR.N) while increasing the sale of deadly weapons abroad. A relaxing of rules could increase foreign gun sales by as much as 20%, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has estimated. While the State Department is primarily concerned with international threats to stability and maintains tight restrictions on weapons deals, the Commerce Department typically focuses on making it easier for U.S. companies to sell products overseas. Since taking office, Trump has been a far more outspoken booster of U.S. weapons sales abroad than his recent predecessors, acting almost as a salesman for the U.S. defense industry, analysts have said. Any move that would boost arms sales is also likely to earn enthusiastic support from the influential National Rifle Association as Trump’s re-election campaign heats up. Critics, including some lawmakers and arms control advocates, have expressed concern that any easing of export rules could make powerful weapons of the type often used in U.S. mass shootings more accessible to criminal gangs and militant groups that Trump has vowed to fight. “This change will undermine congressional oversight, exacerbate the risk of international gun violence, human rights abuses, and armed conflict, and put U.S. servicemen and women at risk from U.S. weapons that have fallen into the wrong hands,” Rachel Stohl, a managing director at the Washington think tank the Stimson Center, said in a statement.

China presses Trump for more tariff roll-backs in 'phase one' trade deal - (Reuters) - China is pushing U.S. President Donald Trump to remove more tariffs imposed in September as part of a “phase one” U.S.-China trade deal, people familiar with the negotiations said on Monday. The deal, which may be signed this month by Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a yet-to-be determined location, is widely expected to include a U.S. pledge to scrap tariffs scheduled for Dec. 15 on about $156 billion worth of Chinese imports, including cell phones, laptop computers and toys. A U.S. official said the fate of the Dec. 15 tariffs is being considered as part of negotiations and a potential signing trip this month. Another source briefed on the talks said Chinese negotiators want Washington to drop 15% tariffs on about $125 billion worth of Chinese goods that went into effect on Sept. 1. They are also seeking relief from earlier 25% tariffs on about $250 billion of imports from machinery and semiconductors to furniture. A person familiar with China’s negotiating position said it is continuing to press Washington to “remove all tariffs as soon as possible.” China’s request to remove the Sept. 1 duties was earlier reported by Politico, citing sources. The Financial Times newspaper also reported the White House was considering whether to roll back the Sept. 1 tariffs, which cover some clothing items, flat-screen televisions, smart speakers and Bluetooth headphones.

Emboldened China refuses to flinch on tariffs in US trade talks -- Beijing has doubled down on demands that may threaten to delay a preliminary trade agreement with the U.S. after a successful month of high-profile political events at home strengthened the leadership's resolve.  These outcomes have emboldened Beijing to insist that the U.S. withdraw all tariffs levied since summer of last year before entering an agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, expects to sign the first phase of a trade deal this month, creating a situation ripe for tensions to reignite.Washington is prepared to set aside addressing structural issues, focusing on specific steps to have China expand American imports. Such a result would be crucial to reducing the U.S. trade deficit with China, which approached $420 billion last year.The two sides are finalizing a deal in which China will import U.S. liquefied natural gas, as well as soybeans and other farm products, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Tuesday in Bangkok. The deal would help reduce tensions and rebuild trust between the U.S. and China, according to Ross, who had attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Thailand.Negotiations over foreign exchange and financial services have all but wrapped up, a senior White House official said. Yet top issues such as safeguarding intellectual property rights remain unresolved.Due to China's retaliatory tariffs, U.S. agricultural goods exported there decreased to roughly $9 billion in 2018. Trump has pressed China to buy up to $50 billion worth of farm goods annually within the next two years. Beijing has called such goals unrealistic. It is believed that Chinese negotiators proposed to bring U.S. farm imports back to the $20 billion range, the scale seen before the trade war.

  Chumps: China Is Playing Trump and His Trade Team -- If we put ourselves in the shoes of the Chinese negotiators, we realize there's no need to sign a deal at all. The world's worst negotiating strategy is to give the other side everything they want in exchange for worthless empty promises, yet this is exactly what Trump and his trade team are doing. All the Chinese trade team has to do to get rid of tariffs and other U.S. bargaining chips is mutter some empty phrase about "agreeing in principle" and the U.S. surrenders all its bargaining chips. If the other side are such naive chumps that they give you everything you want without actually committing to anything remotely consequential, why bother with a formal agreement? Just play the other side for the chumps they are: if they threaten to reinstate tariffs, just issue another worthless press release about "progress has been made." The other guaranteed losing strategy in negotiation is advertise your own fatal weakness, which in Trump's case is his obsession with pushing the U.S. stock market to new highs. There is no greater gift he could hand the Chinese trade team than this monumental weakness, for all they have to do is talk tough and the U.S. stock market promptly tanks, sending the Trump Team into a panic of appeasement and empty claims of "progress." The Chinese team has gotten their way for a year by playing Trump's team as chumps and patsies, so why stop now? The Chinese know they can get way without giving anything away by continuing to play the American patsies and using the president's obsession with keeping U.S. stocks lofting higher to their advantage: declare the talks stalled, U.S. stocks crater, the American team panics and rushes to remove anything that might have enforcement teeth, reducing any "trade deal" to nothing but empty promises. Given their success at playing America's team, why do a deal at all? Just play the chumps for another year, and maybe Trump will be gone and a new set of even more naive patsies enter the White House. 

China Insists Trump Give Up His Favorite Trade Weapon—Tariffs - China is setting its price for signing an interim trade deal with the United States: drop the tariffs. The question is whether President Donald Trump will pay it. With talks underway over a narrow agreement to defuse the escalating trade war, Beijing has asked the Trump administration to eliminate some of the duties the president has imposed. China also made clear that new tariffs are a nonstarter. For Trump, the self-proclaimed “Tariff Man,” the challenge is how -- or whether -- to walk back duties that have formed a central plank of his effort to remake U.S.-China trade. With the U.S. presidential election only a year away, the two sides are trying to hammer out a relatively narrow, “phase-one” deal that Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping planned to sign at a now-canceled Asia-Pacific summit in Chile next week. In the quest for a new location, China is seeking a roll back of tariffs before Xi agrees to take the politically risky step of heading to the U.S. to sign a deal. People familiar with the deliberations say Beijing has asked the Trump administration to pledge not only to withdraw threats of new tariffs but also to eliminate duties on about $110 billion in goods imposed in September. Negotiators are also discussing lowering the 25% duty on about $250 billion that Trump imposed last year, the people said. On the U.S. side, people say it’s not clear if Trump, who will have the final say, will be willing to cut any duties. From the Chinese perspective, the argument is that if they are going to remove one big point of leverage and resume purchases of American farm goods and make new commitments to crack down on intellectual property theft -- the key elements of the interim deal -- then they want to see equivalent moves to remove tariffs by the U.S. rather than the simple lifting of the threat of future duties. That was the case reiterated by Chinese state media on Tuesday.

Too Soon- China's Xi Unwilling To Rush Phase 1 Trade Deal Signing  The positive tone of trade-related leaks and jawboning last week has decidedly faded into uncertainty surrounding reports that Beijing is demanding larger reductions in tariffs before committing to the 'Phase 1' deal that Trump once described as practically finished. And in the latest leak likely intended to undermine American markets, the SCMP reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping's planned trip to Brazil next week would likely come too early for him to sign the "Phase 1" trade deal. Analysts in recent days had speculated about the trip to an emerging-markets summit in Brasilia, with many hoping it might present an opportunity for Xi to stop over in the US and seal the deal, since Chile cancelled the APEC Summit that was supposed to host the deal-signing later this month.Unfortunately, as we've learned in recent days, the two sides have yet to reach a consensus. And that probably won't happen until after President Xi has safely returned to Beijing. Perhaps just as disheartening for algos, the SCMP cited Chinese sources claiming Xi wouldn't agree to a meeting in the US, the latest indication that an agreement on a meeting location had become a serious side-issue in the negotiations. Reuters reported something similar earlier.Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa are expected to attend the summit, which is set for November 13 and 14, alongside Xi. Meanwhile, Chinese media are reporting that Beijing is demanding the removal of all American trade-war tariffs before agreeing to even a partial deal, a position that Washington has repeatedly rejected as a dealbreaker.

 China, U.S. Agree to Tariff Rollback If Trade Deal Reached - China and the U.S. have agreed to roll back tariffs on each other’s goods in phases as they work toward a deal between the two sides, a Ministry of Commerce spokesman said. “In the past two weeks, top negotiators had serious, constructive discussions and agreed to remove the additional tariffs in phases as progress is made on the agreement,” spokesman Gao Feng said Thursday. A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed Thursday that an agreement to roll back tariffs would be part of phase-one deal. The negotiations are ongoing and a time or place for any signing of a pact is yet to be determined. Kellyanne Conway, senior White House adviser, said Thursday that President Donald Trump is "anxious" to sign the deal. “If China, U.S. reach a phase-one deal, both sides should roll back existing additional tariffs in the same proportion simultaneously based on the content of the agreement, which is an important condition for reaching the agreement,” Gao said. Such an understanding could help provide a road-map to a deal de-escalating the trade war that’s cast a shadow over the world economy. China’s key demand since the start of negotiations has been the removal of punitive tariffs imposed by Trump, which by now apply to the majority of its exports to the U.S.

China, U.S. agree to roll back tariffs as part of trade deal: officials - (Reuters) - China and the United States have agreed to roll back tariffs on each others’ goods as part of the first phase of a trade deal, officials from both sides said on Thursday, offering a new sign of progress despite ongoing divisions about the months-long dispute. The Chinese commerce ministry, without laying out a timetable, said the two countries had agreed to cancel the tariffs in phases. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the planned rollback as part of a “phase one” trade agreement that President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping are aiming to sign before the end of the year. Trump has used tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods as his primary weapon in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies. The prospect of lifting them, even in phases, has drawn fierce opposition from many of his advisers in and outside of the White House and his re-election campaign. The interim trade pact is widely expected to include a U.S. pledge to scrap tariffs scheduled for Dec. 15 on about $156 billion worth of Chinese imports, including cell phones, laptop computers and toys. Tariff cancellation was an important condition for any agreement, Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said, adding that both must simultaneously cancel some tariffs on each other’s goods to reach the phase one pact. “The trade war started with tariffs, and should end with the cancellation of tariffs,” Gao told a regular news briefing.

 Trump says has not agreed to roll back tariffs on Chinese goods - (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Friday said he has not agreed to rollbacks of U.S. tariffs sought by China, sparking fresh doubts about when the world’s two largest economies may end a 16-month trade war that has slowed global growth. Officials from both countries on Thursday had said China and the United States have agreed to roll back tariffs on each others’ goods in a “phase one” trade deal. But the idea of tariff rollbacks met with stiff opposition within the Trump administration, Reuters reported later on Thursday. Those divisions were on full display on Friday, when Trump - who has repeatedly described himself as “Tariff Man” - told reporters at the White House that he had not agreed to reduce tariffs already put in place. “China would like to get somewhat of a rollback, not a complete rollback, ‘cause they know I won’t do it,” Trump said. “I haven’t agreed to anything.” He said China wanted to make a deal more than he did, adding that the U.S. tariffs were generating “billions of dollars” for U.S. coffers. “I’m very happy right now. We’re taking in billions of dollars,” he said. U.S. stocks dipped after Trump’s comments, and the dollar fell against the yen, stalling a rally fueled by trade deal optimism that has brought major indexes to record levels. Trump also said the trade deal with China, if completed, would be signed in the United States. “Assuming we’d get it ... it could be Iowa or farm country or some place like that. It will be in our country,” he said.

Navarro Doubles Down On Trade Deal Report Denial, Says Only Trump Can Remove Tariff - First, there were anxieties about the fate of the "Phase 1" trade deal, followed by rumors that the two sides might be able to work something out, followed by false reports that a multi-phase deal had been struck, and now...the White House is pouring cold water on these rumors, insisting that the two sides are nowhere near a deal to remove all US trade war tariffs.If we had to represent this visually, the chart would look like this:  After denying reports about a deal between Washington and Beijing that would involve the rollback of tariffs, White House Advisor Peter Navarro appeared on Morning Edition Friday to talk down the odds of lifting the tariffs, arguing that they are a critical point of leverage, and that removing them would take the pressure off Beijing to hold up its end of the deal. During the NPR interview, he reportedly echoed comments from an interview with Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Thursday night. "There's tariffs coming in December - December 15. We would be willing, I think, again it's up to the president, to postpone the tariffs...Yeah the December 15 ones but not roll back any existing tariffs. That's the fine distinction here. Look the tariffs are really a necessary defense against China's economic aggression against the United States. They are also the only insurance policy we have that China will comes to the negotiating table," Navarro said.This comes on the back of his comments overnight: "There is no agreement at this time to remove any of the existing tariffs as a condition of the phase one deal, and the only person who can make that decision is President Donald J. Trump and it's as simple as that…I heard someone joke today that negotiations with the Chinese don’t really begin until you have a handshake deal, and I think that’s maybe what’s going on here. The spectacle of the Chinese propaganda press putting out information like that - they’re just negotiating in public trying to push us in a direction. The president makes these decisions." As one Twitter user noted, Navarro - the director of the White House's National Trade Council - appears to be pushing back on the deal while the rest of the administration sounds more positive, or has at least stayed quiet.

China's Top Trade Negotiator- We Want Trump To Get Re-Elected - Amid the endless levitation of stocks with incessant "a trade deal is close" headlines, China's Long Yongtu - former vice-minister of foreign trade and point man during China’s 15-year talks to join the WTO, told an audience during Credit Suisse’s China Investment Conference yesterday in Shenzhen that, "we want Trump to be re-elected; we would be glad to see that happen." While SCMP reports that Long doesn’t speak for China’s government in matters concerning the domestic affairs of other countries, the comment from someone considered the elder statesman of China’s trade diplomacy does offer a hint of the thinking in Beijing’s policymaking circle.Specifically, Long explains that the US president's daily Twitter posts broadcast his every impulse, delight and peeve to 67 million followers around the world, making him “easy to read” and “the best choice in an opponent for negotiations.”“Trump talks about material interests, not politics,” Long said in an interview with South China Morning Post in Shenzhen.   “Such an opponent is the best choice for negotiations.”Contrary to what many politicians and business leaders think, Long does not believe the Trump administration has altered its approach to China in a  fundamental way.

All the international brands that have apologized to China - By now, pretty much everyone has noticed — or should have noticed — how much influence China holds over many international corporations. Much of the awareness can be attributed to the ongoing NBA-China controversy, where a sports league known in the U.S. for its progressive values is being forced to stay deafeningly silent on the decidedly un-woke policies of the Chinese government in order to keep NBA basketball in Chinese stadiums and on Chinese TV.But other brands of many types, ranging from fashion and luxury labels to hotel groups and even a medical device company, have all been strongly condemned by the Chinese government and on Chinese social media in the past few years. Increasingly, these companies have bent to pressure and issued apologies, some of them groveling, but almost all of them containing remarkably similar phrases about “respecting China’s territorial integrity.”  Before this summer, China’s two most commonly stepped-in political hotspots for international companies were Taiwan and Tibet. Now, Hong Kong has joined that list. With massive pro-democracy protests erupting in Hong Kong in June and continuing today, any activism — even perceived activism by brands — about the political future of that city by foreigners has become anathema to Beijing. Tibet is officially an Autonomous Region of China, Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous Special Administrative Region, and Taiwan is a de facto independent country. But Beijing makes claims of total sovereignty to all these, and even the slightest suggestion that the regions should have more autonomy from Beijing or that — in the case of Taiwan — it should be treated as the de facto independent territory that it is, is viewed as a great offense by Beijing and many Chinese nationalists. Without further ado, here is the list of companies that have apologized to China. The companies are listed in r everse chronological order of their apologies, with the most recent first. For each company, we note what Chinese social media (and sometimes the government) took offense at, and when the company apologized, with a link to their apology.

 Washington Post and New York Times incite racist campaign against Chinese-Americans - The Washington Post and New York Times, the newspapers most closely associated with the Democratic Party and the US intelligence agencies, are attempting to incite racially-motivated suspicions of Americans of Chinese ancestry. Since the 2016 election, the Democrats have waged a hysterical campaign around unsubstantiated allegations of “foreign meddling,” initially focusing on supposed Russian efforts to intervene in American politics. But over the past year a similar sinister campaign has been mounted against China. As part of this campaign, elements of the racialist thinking that prevails in Trump’s White House are making their way into the Democratic Party and its de facto news outlets. In May, Kiron Skinner, Trump’s head of policy planning at the Department of State, said the US conflict with China is “the first time that we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian.” The Diplomat noted: “For the top strategic official in the US Department of State to make race a unit of analysis was shocking.” In Foreign Policy magazine, Paul Musgrave condemned the “racist, and dangerous, lens of the new US statecraft.” The South China Morning Post cited Cato Institute fellow Emma Ashford, who commented that “these ideas have been floated around in the Trump administration from day one.” The newspaper paraphrased Ashford as observing that “Trump and senior officials in his administration had repeatedly made comments along thinly veiled racial and civilizational lines about Mexicans, Muslims and immigration.” Last year, the Financial Times reported that “Stephen Miller, a White House aide who has been pivotal in developing the administration’s hardline immigration policies, pushed the president and other officials to make it impossible for Chinese citizens to study in the US.” Miller’s proposal was, at the time, rejected as too radical. The White House adopted a more gradual approach of curtailing the duration of student visas from five years to one year, accompanied with denunciations of Chinese students and academics as potential spies. But these racist arguments have been taken up with renewed vigor by the Washington Post and the New York Times, as the Democrats increasingly adopt large elements of Trump’s anti-China policy.

Smugglers are sawing through brand new sections of Trump's border wall using household power tools - Smuggling gangs in Mexico have repeatedly sawed through new sections of President Donald Trump's border wall in recent months by using commercially available power tools, opening gaps large enough for people and drug loads to pass through, according to US agents and officials with knowledge of the damage. The breaches have been made using a popular cordless household tool known as a reciprocating saw that retails at hardware stores for as little as $100 (£77). When fitted with specialised blades, the saws can slice through one of the barrier's steel-and-concrete bollards in a matter of minutes, according to the agents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the barrier-defeating techniques. After cutting through the base of a single bollard, smugglers can push the steel out of the way, allowing an adult to fit through the gap. Because the bollards are so tall - and are attached only to a panel at the very top - their length makes them easier to push aside once they have been cut and are left dangling, according to engineers consulted by The Washington Post. The taxpayer-funded barrier - so far coming with a $10bn (£7.7bn) price tag - was a central theme of Mr Trump's 2016 campaign, and he has made the project a physical symbol of his presidency, touting its construction progress in speeches, ads and tweets. Mr Trump has increasingly boasted to crowds in recent weeks about the superlative properties of the barrier, calling it “virtually impenetrable” and likening the structure to a “Rolls-Royce” that border-crossers cannot get over, under or through.

 Federal judge rules Trump administration must provide mental health services to migrant families separated at border - A federal judge in California reportedly ruled this week that the government must provide mental health services to migrant families that have undergone trauma as a result of being separated by the Trump administration at the southern border. The Tuesday ruling in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles said the Trump administration could be held accountable for the psychological effects of its hard-line immigration policies, The New York Times reports. In the ruling, Judge John Kronstadt said the federal government must make mental health screenings, psychological counseling and other forms of treatment to the thousands of migrant families who have been forcibly separated over the past few years with no guarantee of when they’d be reunited. Kronstadt noted that governments can be held liable when they put people in dangerous situations with “deliberate indifference,” adding that President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, under which those who crossed the border illegally were put in jail and criminally prosecuted, caused “severe mental trauma to parents and their children,” the Times reports. A group of migrant families that were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under the zero-tolerance policy sued the Trump administration in September of last year to cover the costs of their mental health treatment. The lawsuit argued that migrant children and their families suffered trauma that was “life-altering” and would “continue to affect their mental and emotional well-being for years to come.” Government lawyers argued the United States isn’t responsible for the mental health effects on those affected by the policy and that there was no proof that separated migrant families suffered mentally from the practice, the Times notes.

Despite Global Refugee Population of 70 Million, This Is How Many US Took in Last Month: None -This October marked the first month in 30 years that the U.S. resettled zero refugees, according to State Department records.World Relief, which had planned to help more than 100 asylum-seekers reunite with family members already in the U.S. last month, reported that October was the first time since the group began keeping records of refugee resettlement that the U.S. has accepted none of the 26 million people who have fled violence and oppression in their home countries."It's a shame that at a time when we're facing the world's worst refugee crisis since World War II, and we're seeing the ongoing new displacement of Syrians, Rohingya, and others, that the U.S. has accepted zero refugees this month, for the first time in our records," said Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, in a statement released last week. "We should be doing more, not less, and keeping the door open to protect the persecuted who have no safe place to go."Other critics, including Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and the international organization Human Rights First, lamented the news as "shameful" and "outrageous."The complete lack of asylum extended to refugees by the State Department in October is the result of President Donald Trump's delayed signing of an order, announced in September, capping refugees at 18,000 in 2020—the lowest number since 1980, when the U.S. resettlement program was established. An ongoing State Department freeze on refugee admissions resulted in hundreds of canceled flights for asylum-seekers planning to come to the U.S. But Los Angeles Times columnist Scott Martelle on Wednesday wrote that the temporary freeze can hardly be written off as a simple bureaucratic oversight. "The fine details of bureaucratic delay are secondary to the bigger policy issue: the Trump administration has actively sought to throttle back immigration to the U.S., including desperate refugees (many of whom are seeking to reunite with families already here) and would-be lawful immigrants who can’t prove they can afford to pay for healthcare when they arrive," Martelle wrote.

To Create 'Welcoming and Safe Nation for All,' Sanders Immigration Plan Would End Family Separations, Break Up ICE, and Tackle Root Causes -With the goal of creating a "welcoming and safe nation for all," Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday unveiled a sweeping plan to fundamentally overhaul America's inhumane immigration system by reversing President Donald Trump's xenophobic executive orders, placing a moratorium on deportations, ending ICE raids, and confronting root causes—including "decades of disastrous foreign policy decisions"—that have destabilized and impoverished Latin American nations.If elected president in 2020, Sanders vowed to use his executive authority to "overturn all of President Trump's actions to demonize and harm immigrants" on his first day in the White House. But Sanders' proposal, detailed on his website, makes clear that decades of U.S. foreign and trade policies that long predate Trump must be addressed in concert with Latin American nations in order to tackle "the root causes of migration."Sanders also pointed to the climate crisis as a key factor in driving migration and said the U.S. must do its part in combating the emergency and welcoming those displaced by it."No parent would take their child and travel thousands of miles on foot except under dire, dangerous circumstances," Sanders' plan states. "Decades of disastrous foreign policy decisions in Latin America and bad trade deals have caused destabilization and poverty in South and Central America. We must end global inequality and the international race to the bottom so that no human being needs to migrate for survival."Sanders said, if elected, he will "immediately call a summit of leaders from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and other countries." The proposal states that Sanders as president will also "acknowledge the history of U.S. intervention in the South and Central American region, as well as overseas, often in support of authoritarian regimes that brutally repressed their own people, and engage with human rights defenders throughout the hemisphere to promote freedom and dignity for all."

They Are Racist; Some of Them Have Guns. Inside the White Supremacist Group Hiding in Plain Sight.  -In the hours after the slaughter in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3, a final toll emerged: 22 dead, most of them Latinos, some Mexican nationals. A portrait of the gunman accused of killing them soon took shape: a 21-year-old from a suburb of Dallas who had been radicalized as a white supremacist online and who saw immigrants as a threat to the future of white America. While much of the country reacted with a weary sense of sorrow and outrage, word of the mass killing was processed differently by members of Patriot Front, one of the more prominent white supremacist groups in the U.S.In secret chat forums, some Patriot Front members embraced the spirit of the anti-immigrant manifesto left behind by the accused gunman. Others floated false conspiracy theories: the CIA was behind the murders; the accused killer was actually Jewish. Still other members cautioned that the group had its own “loose cannons” to worry about. It would be a bad look if the next mass murderer was one of their own. But there was little, if any, regret over the loss of life.“It shouldn’t be hard to believe that the group facing the harshest oppression from our ruling elite are producing shooters,” one Patriot Front member wrote. “White men are being slowly destroyed in a way calculated to produce resentment and a sense of helplessness. Of course, some of them decide to lash out.” Patriot Front was formed in the aftermath of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. While many on America’s far-right cheered the rally, its violence struck others as a public-relations debacle for the white nationalist brand that was sure to attract greater oversight by law enforcement. While the group is careful not to talk about guns online, two members in the last year have been arrested with arsenals of illegally owned high-powered rifles and other weapons. While many of the group’s propaganda “actions” are legal exercises of free speech, its members have been arrested in Boston and Denver in recent months for acts of vandalism. In Boston, three members engaged in a nighttime propaganda effort last winter were arrested on suspicion of weapons possession and assaulting a police officer. What the group touts as political protests have felt to those targeted like acts of menace, as was the case in San Antonio, Texas, last year when Patriot Front members filmed themselves trashing an encampment of immigration activists.

Trump Wants to Allow Discrimination with Billions of Dollars of Federal Funding – ACLU - Last Friday, the Trump administration announced an alarming new proposal that would strip away critical protections against discrimination in grants funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.  Initially, we thought this proposal would serve to fulfill Trump’s promise to give taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies a license to discriminate. This proposal does that —and so much more. Trump proposes to eliminate existing regulations that prohibit discrimination in HHS grant-funded programs based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion, inviting discrimination against recipients of critical services. Here are just a few examples of the discrimination this rule would allow:

  • Meals on Wheels and other HHS-funded community meal programs designed to support older adults could refuse to deliver food to older Americans who are Jewish, Muslim, or LGBTQ.
  • Federally funded foster care agencies could refuse to place children with families because of their faith or sexual orientation, regardless of the children’s needs.
  • Head Start grant recipients and other federally funded child care facilities could refuse to serve children with married same-sex parents or whose parents are of a minority faith. They could also refuse to provide services to transgender youth.

You read all of that right.  Yet no one should be surprised that the Trump administration is proposing such a sweeping change that will allow discrimination in a wide variety of federal programs that play a critical – even life-saving – role in the lives of millions of Americans. So far this year, the Trump administration has moved to roll back fair housingprotections that not only aim to address housing segregation, but also help survivors of domestic violence. Trump’s Labor Department wants to give federal contractors a license to discriminate against employees. Immigrants who have a disability, as well as those who may be eligible for public assistance due to their age or income, have also been the subject of attack by the Trump administration. One of the Trump administration’s first actions in 2017 was to roll back protections for transgender students and this year, it told college campuses to create a double standard that treats discrimination on the basis of sex different from discrimination on the basis of race. This isn’t even the first proposal from HHS. The Department has proposed toeliminate protections from discrimination in health care that have been crucial to transgender people, women and many others. It is also working to allow hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices to be able to refuse care based on the provider’s religious beliefs.

Largest U.S. Nurses’ Union Champions New Medicare for All House Bill --  RNs are organizing an unprecedented, grassroots movement to back the new legislation.  National Nurses United (NNU) announced its strong support for the new Medicare for All Act of 2019, introduced today by Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), with backing from more than 100 members of Congress.“As the largest union of registered nurses in the country, we could not be more proud of Rep. Jayapal for leading the way on this legislation that will change and save our patients’ lives. This bill is not only the most comprehensive Medicare for All act we have seen to date, but it is being introduced at a time when a majority of Americans are fed up with incremental tweaks to the current broken system and are demanding Medicare for All. It’s the right bill, at the right moment—and now we are organizing an unprecedented grassroots movement to demand that our elected officials support this legislation,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN.“Today in America, 30 million people are uninsured.  40 million are underinsured. We have the most expensive health care system in the world and yet our outcomes are the worst of all industrialized countries. I and the more than 100 cosponsors of this bill refuse to allow this to continue.  It’s time to put people’s health over profit,” said Rep. Jayapal, emphasizing that the bill “will cover everyone.”

 NYT, Washington Post Flunk Test of Warren Health Plan Coverage - New York Times headline: “Warren Unveils Medicare for All at $20 Trillion. Places A Political Bet. Plans to Tax Businesses and Wealthy, Not the Middle Class.” Washington Post headline: “Warren Plants Flag with Health Plan Taxes.” Each newspaper then proceeded to describe the political ramifications of Warren’s plan. The Post quoted Joe Biden as saying Warren’s cost estimates were off by trillions of dollars and that “She’s making it up. There’s no way.” The Times also emphasized the political aspects, but at least added some analysis of how Warren would finance the plan and reduce medical costs. Both papers cast the idea of Medicare for all, and its less ambitious cousin, a public option, as proposals (according to the Times) that “excite many liberal voters.” What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong is that once again a serious legitimate issue is being treated by some of journalism’s most responsible writers and editors as merely another lap in a political horse race. And what's wrong is that trivializing a serious health policy proposal this way is a huge disservice to the candidates and the importance of having meaningful campaign debates. It’s beyond dispute that many things are radically wrong with the U.S. health system. The U.S. spends $10,209 per capita on healthcare, twice as much as other high-income countries, according to a study published in March 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. France, which has what many consider the world’s best health system, spends only $4,902. The U.S. spends about 18% of its GDP on health costs. That’s 18% of the nation’s economy directed to the health sector, double the average of other high-income countries. And yet, the U.S. health insurance system does not cover tens of millions of people. More than 60 million others are functionally uninsured, causing them to forgo needed prescriptions and skip important tests. Yet health outcomes in the U.S. are significantly worse than many other countries. Compared with other developed countries, U.S. citizens are more likely to die at an earlier age for a wide range of diseases—heart, respiratory, nervous system and others. Health reform isn’t just one of many “issues” on a tick list of political position papers.   I’ve read Elizabeth Warren’s policy paper on what to do about it and how to pay for it. It’s a well-researched and reasoned approach to reforming a system that cries out of change. Yes, she’s made some assumptions about costs and benefits over a ten-year period that others may challenge. No one can accurately forecast anything that far in the future. And, yes, there remain questions about how to control health costs and how to transition from the current system to what comes next. She acknowledges all that. But her plan represents a thoughtful, fact-based, and courageous attempt to a deal with a problem that’s been intractable for others for decades.

Pelosi Must Go - It’s hard to imagine the congressional Democratic Party without Nancy Pelosi, who has been in the House of Representatives for 30 years and led the party for about half of that time. But if the left is to accomplish anything politically, if we truly mean what we say when we pledge to “transform” the political system, it’s clear that Pelosi needs to go, sooner rather than later.In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Pelosi made it very clear where she stands politically: She is opposed to the left and is working against it. Over the course of the interview, she indicated that:

  • She did not support a wealth tax, and instead wanted “bipartisan” changes to the tax code (i.e., ones Republicans will sign onto, i.e., ones that do not substantially change the balance of who owns what in this country).
  • She would not compromise or reconsider her support of a “pay as you go” rule that prevents any social spending that increases the deficit.
  • She is “not a big fan” of Medicare for All. Mother Jones described Pelosi as trying to “pump the brakes” on single-payer healthcare, and conservative Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus immediately used Pelosi’s remarks as a stick with which to beat the left. 
  • She is against the Green New Deal. Pelosi repeated the damaging myth that there is a tension between labor issues and environmental issues, saying: “There’s very strong opposition on the labor side to the Green New Deal because it’s like 10 years, no more fossil fuel. Really?” In fact, the Green New Deal is specifically designed to harmonize labor’s cause with climate change, to avoid precisely that kind of “strong opposition.”
  • She believes a left message will be electorally damaging in 2020. Pelosi said that “what works in San Francisco does not necessarily work in Michigan,” which is a bit ironic since Bernie Sanders won the Michigan primary in 2016 and Nancy Pelosi is to his right politically. 
  • She intends to portray democratic socialists as crazy. “As a left-wing San Francisco liberal I can say to these people: What are you thinking?”

I think what Pelosi is doing is evil. I think it’s indefensible. It is hard enough fighting against corporate interests and the Republican Party without also having the leader of the Democratic Party portraying left ideas as ludicrous. The Green New Deal and single-payer healthcare are morally urgent. The people pushing them are serious, intelligent, and committed. Pelosi chooses to treat them as idiots. (“The green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”)   Nancy Pelosi says she is not with the democratic socialists, that she thinks they’re loony and she opposes all of their signature initiatives. She promises to thwart their agenda by mandating strict rules against deficit increases. She will embrace a Republican tax agenda before she’ll embrace a leftist one. All of this is her publicly stated position. In fact, her office has already tried to actively undermine the left: One of Pelosi’s top aides actually encouragedhealth policy groups to find problems with Medicare for All so that they could kill it.

'All About the Money': Kyrsten Sinema, Lone Senate Democrat Opposed to Net Neutrality, Tied to Comcast Lobbyist's Dark Money Super PAC -Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the only Senate Democrat who has not co-sponsored legislation to restore net neutrality, reportedly has financial ties to a super PAC directed by a lobbyist for Comcast, a fervent opponent of open internet protections.Sludge's Donald Shaw reported Thursday that a possible reason behind Sinema's refusal to join her Democratic colleagues in backing the Save the Internet Act "may be her relationship with a 'dark money' nonprofit called Center Forward that receives substantial funding from cable and telecom industry trade groups and its affiliated super PAC, Center Forward Committee, which is run by a Comcast lobbyist.""Sinema directed a six-figure donation to Center Forward Committee through a centrist PAC that she used to chair just weeks before the group made big independent expenditures to support Sinema's campaigns," according to Shaw. "I have zero questions about why Sinema is doing what she's doing. It's all about the money. She could score easy political points with her constituents by supporting net neutrality, but she's made a calculated decision to appease her big cable donors instead." -Evan Greer, Fight for the FutureTelecom industry lobbying groups have given Center Forward "substantial and consistent donations,"Sludge found in a review of tax documents.Sinema has also benefited from direct campaign contributions from the telecom industry."So far this year, Sinema's campaign has received contributions from the PACs of AT&T ($2,000), Verizon ($1,000), and Cox ($2,500), as well as $1,500 from Comcast vice president of federal government affairs Melissa Maxfield," Shaw reported. "She also received $5,000 each from the PACs of Comcast, NCTA, and Charter through her 'Getting Stuff Done' leadership PAC in the second quarter of 2019."News of Sinema's industry connections came as no surprise to Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights group that targeted the Arizona Democrat earlier this year over her opposition to the Save the Internet Act. In March, Fight for the Future crowdfunded a billboard in Phoenix, Arizona that accused Sinema of "siding with corporate donors to kill net neutrality."

The Incredible Shrinking Overton Window - Caitlin Johnstone - The plutocrat-owned narrative managers of the political/media class work constantly to shrink the Overton window, the spectrum of debate that is considered socially acceptable. They do this by framing more and more debates in terms of how the oligarchic empire should be sustained and supported, steering them away from debates about whether that empire should be permitted to exist at all. They get people debating whether there should be some moderate changes made or no meaningful changes at all, rather than the massive, sweeping changes we all know need to be made to the entire system. They get people debating whether they should elect a crook in a red hat or a crook in a blue hat, rather than whether or not they should be forced to elect crooks. They get people debating violations of government secrecy laws, not whether the government has any business keeping those secrets from its citizenry in the first place. They get people debating how internet censorship should take place and whom should be censored, rather than whether any internet censorship should occur. They get people debating how and to what extent government surveillance should occur, not whether the government has any business spying on its citizens.  They get people debating what should be done with money, not whether the concept of money itself is in need of a complete overhaul. They get people debating what should be done with government, not whether the concept of government itself is in need of a complete overhaul.They get people debating whether the status quo should be reinforced or revised, rather than whether it should be flushed down the toilet where it belongs.They get people angrily debating things they can’t change, rather than constructively working on the things that they can. They get people shoving against each other in opposite directions, while they swiftly build a cage around us all.

What’s Inside That Black Box: What Regulating Data Privacy and Policing Drunk Driving Have in Common - 11/04/2019 - Jerri-Lynn Scofield - Writing in today’s NYT, I Got Access to My Secret Consumer Score. Now You Can Get Yours, Too., Kashmir Hill outlined how to get access to your secret consumer scores:As consumers, we all have “secret scores”: hidden ratings that determine how long each of us waits on hold when calling a business, whether we can return items at a store, and what type of service we receive. A low score sends you to the back of the queue; high scores get you elite treatment. In the run-up to the implementation of California’s Data Privacy Act on 1st January 2020, some companies that compile and sell consumer data are making it easier for US consumers to access their data (for background, see California Privacy Law Looms). Prior to California’s action, the EU implemented its General Data Protection Regulation, in 2018. The NYT notes: …Some companies have decided to honor the laws’ transparency requirements even for those of us who are not lucky enough to live in Europe or the Golden State.“We expect these are the first of many laws,” said Jason Tan, the chief executive of Sift. The company, founded in 2011, started making files available to “all end users” this June, even where not legally required to do so — such as in New York, where I live. “We’re trying to be more privacy conscious. We want to be good citizens and stewards of the internet. That includes transparency.”   The NYT provides information on how you can get those data and I include it here, for readers who want to go that route:  Despite the jocular tone of the NYT  article, what it reveals about the extent to which companies compile and analyze data gleaned from our on-line transactions. But that fact shouldn’t come as any great surprise to readers of this site (or anyone who’s been paying attention, for that matter).  Okay, you have the data. So  what? .  The more pressing concern: What do the companies do with the data? In other words, how do they transform raw data into my secret score?  Just what exactly is inside the black box?  Outsourcing a crucial decision to a mysterious black box should raise a large red flag – especially when juxtaposed against another NYT article, this one from yesterday, These Machines Can Put You in Jail. Don’t Trust Them.

‘Another Gift’ to Big Business as Trump Treasury Moves to Eliminate Rules Against Corporate Tax Avoidance - President Donald Trump’s Treasury Department on Thursday took the first step toward eliminating remaining regulations designed to prevent corporations from avoiding U.S. taxes by storing profits overseas, a move critics decried as yet another harmful giveaway to big business.  Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, said in a statement that the 2017 GOP tax law—which disproportionately benefitedthe rich—rendered Obama-era rules against offshore tax avoidance “obsolete” by significantly reducing the corporate tax rate. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, disagreed with Mnuchin’s assessment, warning in a statement that the Treasury Department’s plan “only provides an opening for corporations to again dodge their taxes.” “The corporations that got a massive taxpayer handout are getting another gift from Donald Trump,” said Wyden. “The Obama administration had essentially shut down inversion—transactions whose only purpose is to help big multinational corporations move overseas to avoid paying taxes.” According to Bloomberg, the Treasury Department’s proposal, detailed in a policy guidance (pdf) released Thursday, “could make it easier for firms to use accounting tactics to minimize their U.S. earnings and inflate their foreign profits, which are frequently taxed at rates lower than the current 21 percent domestic corporate levy.” “The existing regulations were aimed at stopping American companies from moving their headquarters to a lower-tax country, a process known as a corporate inversion,” notedBloomberg.Contrary to Mnuchin’s claim that the GOP’s 2017 tax law eliminated incentives for corporations to shift profits overseas, advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers have argued the law made it easier for businesses to avoid U.S. taxes.“The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) will allow companies to avoid taxes on $235 billion in profits each year going forward,” a coalition of more than 50 progressive organizations led by Americans for Tax Fairness wrote in a letter(pdf) to Congress last May.“Moreover, the law created new incentives for  multinational corporations to move their real operations offshore,” the groups said.

Trump will ask Supreme Court to take New York tax returns case after losing appeal - A federal appeals court ruled Monday that President Donald Trump’s tax returns must be turned over to a state grand jury. In a unanimous ruling, the three-judge appeals panel in New York rejected Trump’s argument that he is immune as president from criminal investigation while in the White House. Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said the president would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. “The decision of the Second Circuit will be taken to the Supreme Court. The issue raised in this case goes to the heart of our Republic. The constitutional issues are significant,” Sekulow said in a statement. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is seeking eight years’ worth of Trump’s corporate and personal tax returns from his accounting firm Mazars as part of a criminal investigation. Trump sued to block the subpoena that Vance’s office sent to Mazars in September. The president’s legal bid was dismissed in mid-October by a U.S. District Court judge, who balked at the “extraordinary claim” of immunity being argued. Trump’s lawyers had argued to the appeals panel that the president has absolute immunity during his time in office, not only from prosecution but even from a criminal investigation into his conduct before he was elected. One of the president’s attorneys, William Consovoy, had argued before the judges that that Trump could shoot another person on Fifth Avenue in New York City and not be subject to arrest and prosecution until after he left office. The appeals panel ruled that presidential immunity should be interpreted more narrowly. Vance is investigating, at the very least, how the Trump Organization accounted for hush money payments made to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump years ago. Trump has denied the affairs.

$2 Million and Compulsory Training for President's Children Called 'Poetic End' to Trump Charity Abuse Case -New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that the state Supreme Court ordered President Donald Trump to pay $2 million to eight nonprofits as part of a settlement for the state's lawsuit that accused Trump and his three eldest children of "persistently" abusing the family's shuttered charity, including to further the president's political interests. "The court's decision, together with the settlements we negotiated, are a major victory in our efforts to protect charitable assets and hold accountable those who would abuse charities for personal gain," Jamessaid in a statement.The state attorney general explained that "the Trump Foundation has shut down, funds that were illegally misused are being restored, the president will be subject to ongoing supervision by my office, and the Trump children had to undergo compulsory training to ensure this type of illegal activity never takes place again.""My office will continue to fight for accountability," James added, "because no one is above the law—not a businessman, not a candidate for office, and not even the president of the United States."The suit, filed in June 2018 by James' predecessor after a two-year investigation, charged that "for more than a decade, the Donald J. Trump Foundation has operated in persistent violation of state and federal laws governing New York state charities." Along with the foundation and Trump, the suit named his children Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka Trump.The foundation agreed to dissolve under judicial supervision in December 2018, about a month after a New York state judge allowed the state's case to proceed.According to James' office, the Trump Foundation's $1.78 million in assets and $2 million in damages from Donald Trump will be equally split among Army Emergency Relief, the Children's Aid Society, Citymeals-on-Wheels, Give an Hour, Martha's Table, United Negro College Fund, United Way of National Capital Area, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Democrats, media silent over identification of CIA “whistleblower” - Right-wing media sources have identified 33-year-old Eric Ciaramella, a career CIA analyst specializing in Ukraine and Russia, as the official who filed the “whistleblower” complaint that has become the pretext for House Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Ciaramella was assigned to work at the White House in 2015, during the second term of Barack Obama, where he worked under then National Security Advisor Susan Rice as Ukraine director. He was held over for a time in the Trump administration, and eventually became personal aide to National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster before being sent back to the CIA in mid-2017, allegedly under suspicion of leaking anti-Trump material to the media. The influential pro-Republican web site Real Clear Politics (RCP) published a report October 30 by its Real Clear Investigations unit, which named Ciaramella, a Connecticut-born registered Democrat. The story quoted former CIA analyst and Trump aide Fred Fleitz to this effect: “Everyone knows who he is. CNN knows. The Washington Post knows. The New York Times knows. Congress knows. The White House knows. Even the president knows who he is.” The attorneys for the whistleblower, Mark Zaid and Andrew Bakaj, issued a statement declaring they could “neither confirm nor deny” that Ciaramella was their client. Without further evidence, it is not completely certain that Ciaramella was the official who filed the complaint against Trump with Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. His biography, as reported in the media, definitely conforms to the profile of the whistleblower: the son of a Hartford bank executive, he majored in East European studies at Yale, went on to postgraduate work in that field in Harvard, worked briefly at the World Bank, and then joined the CIA. He speaks Russian, Ukrainian and Arabic, and was sent by CIA Director John Brennan to work on the Ukraine desk in the White House, where he accompanied Vice President Joe Biden on several trips to Ukraine. There is, moreover, a striking connection to the House Intelligence Committee. Two people who worked with Ciaramella at the National Security Council during that period, Abigail Grace and Sean Misko, now work at the House Intelligence Committee under Schiff. Misko was reportedly hired by Schiff in August 2019, the same month that the whistleblower allegedly consulted with “staff” at the committee—not directly with Schiff—before filing his complaint with the inspector general.

 'No further discussion': Talks halt between whistleblower lawyers and Schiff staff amid expectation he won’t testify - The whistleblower whose complaint launched impeachment proceedings against President Trump is unlikely to testify to Congress, as talks have ceased between his legal team and committee leaders.House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who has overseen depositions in Democrats' impeachment proceeding, was initially eager for the whistleblower to testify before citing concern about the person being identified.Republicans accuse Schiff, a California Democrat, of changing course to prevent inquiries into his staff's dealings with the whistleblower before he filed his Aug. 12 complaint to the Intelligence Community inspector general.A source familiar with the discussions told the Washington Examiner that talks halted over potential testimony from the whistleblower and there is no discussion of testimony from a second whistleblower, who supported the first's claims.   “There is no indication that either of the original whistleblowers will be called to testify or appear before the Senate or House Intelligence committees. There is no further discussion ongoing between the legal team and the committees,” the person said.The whistleblower is a career CIA officer with expertise in Ukraine policy who served on the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration, when 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was "point man" for Ukraine, and during the early months of the Trump administration.

Facebook Scrubs All References To Alleged Whistleblower Eric Ciaramella -- Facebook announced on Friday that it would be removing an posts which name alleged Trump-Ukraine whistleblower Eric Ciaramella. "We are removing any and all mentions of the potential whistleblower’s name and will revisit this decision should their name be widely published in the media or used by public figures in the debate," Facebook said in a statement in which they claim it violates their "coordinating harm" policy which prohibits content 'outing of witness, informant, or activist.'On Wednesday, the social media giant removed ads naming Ciaramella which had been viewed several hundred thousand times according to the Washington Post. On Friday, Breitbart's Allum Bohkari reported that the news outlet's posts containing references to Ciaramella had been scrubbed from the site.Wednesday evening, Facebook removed Breitbart posts reporting on the fact other respected news outlets have reported the identity of the alleged whistleblower is Eric Ciaramella. Any Facebook user who attempts to click on that article on Facebook is now given a message that says, “this content isn’t available at the moment.”To be clear, Breitbart did not “out” the alleged whistleblower but did provide additional relevant reporting about him; he is, after all, a public figure, having served on the National Security Council. Moreover, his name has been used in the Mueller report (p283) and Ambassador Bill Taylor’s testimony. Administrators of Breitbart News’ Facebook page began receiving notifications on Wednesday evening stating that Breitbart’s page is “at risk of being unpublished” but were not given any details as to why, or even which posts were allegedly at issue. –Breitbart

 Trump’s Impeachment Lures Democrats Into a Cold War Mentality - Aaron Maté - Last week’s vote by House Democrats to formally open an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump followed testimony that appeared to boost their case. Several US officials told Congress that the Trump administration sought to leverage US military aid to pressure Ukraine into opening politically tainted investigations. But liberals cheering on these developments should be mindful of their limitations—and their potential consequences. The available testimony does not strike me as being as damning for Trump as it is being portrayed. More importantly, even if that proves to be a faulty interpretation, the impeachment frenzy is enrolling liberals in a dangerous Cold War mentality that could threaten their own election chances in 2020.   The Democrats’ theory of the case is plausible: At the same time as Trump’s chosen point man, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, pressured Ukraine to launch politically beneficial investigations, the president froze military aid as a tool of added leverage. But although the available testimony helps the impeachment case so far, we have not uncovered a smoking gun. Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, says that Sondland told him that the military assistance was conditioned on a Ukrainian pledge to open investigations into Burisma, the company where Hunter Biden got his lucrative board seat, and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election. Taylor also offered the first known testimony that this demand was made explicit to the Ukrainian side: According to Taylor, National Security Council aide Tim Morrison told him that Sondland directly communicated the quid pro quo to Andriy Yermak, an aide to Ukraine’s prime minister, Volodymyr Zelensky, at a meeting in Warsaw in September 1. Morrison corroborated Taylor’s testimony in his appearance last week. But we do not yet know whether Morrison witnessed the Sondland-Yermak conversation that he told Taylor about, or is relying on his recollection of what Sondland told him. This would allow Sondland to claim that Morrison misinterpreted him. What is certain is that Morrison left some wiggle room for Trump. His opening statement says that he and Taylor “had no reason to believe that the release of the security sector assistance might be conditioned on a public statement reopening the Burisma investigation” until he spoke to Sondland in Warsaw on September 1. “Even then,” he added, “I hoped that Ambassador Sondland’s strategy was exclusively his own,” and not Trump’s. According to CNN, Morrison testified that he tried to find out whether Sondland was relaying demands to the Ukrainian side on Trump’s behalf, or was “going rogue” as a “free radical.” The fact that Morrison suspected that Sondland’s “strategy was exclusively his own” means that his testimony did not directly implicate Trump. And it leaves Trump with the leeway to claim that Sondland, and perhaps Rudolph Giuliani, were indeed “going rogue.”

A Partisan Impeachment Vote Is Exactly What The Framers Feared - The House vote to establish procedures for a possible impeachment of President Trump, along party lines with two Democrats opposing and no Republicans favoring, was exactly what Alexander Hamilton feared in discussing the impeachment provisions laid out in the Constitution. Hamilton warned of the “greatest danger” that the decision to move forward with impeachment will “be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties than the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” He worried that the tools of impeachment would be wielded by the “most cunning or most numerous factions” and lack the “requisite neutrality toward those whose conduct would be the subject of scrutiny.”It is almost as if this founding father were looking down at the House vote from heaven and describing what transpired this week. Impeachment is an extraordinary tool to be used only when the constitutional criteria are met. These criteria are limited and include only “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Hamilton described these as being “of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”His use of the term “political” has been widely misunderstood in history. It does not mean that the process of impeachment and removal should be political in the partisan sense. Hamilton distinctly distinguished between the nature of the constitutional crimes, denoting them as political, while insisting that the process for impeachment and removal must remain scrupulously neutral and nonpartisan among members of Congress. Thus, no impeachment should ever move forward without bipartisan support. That is a tall order in our age of hyperpartisan politics in which party loyalty leaves little room for neutrality. Proponents of the House vote argue it is only about procedures and not about innocence or guilt, and that further investigation may well persuade some Republicans to place principle over party and to vote for impeachment, or some Democrats to vote against impeachment. While that is entirely possible, the House vote would seem to make such nonpartisan neutrality extremely unlikely

‘Seven whistleblowers’ Spectator  - House Democrats trying to impeach Donald Trump have no less than seven intelligence whistleblowers willing to give evidence, or who have already given evidence, about President Trump’s dealings with foreign governments. Some we know about already. There’s the original whistleblower, the CIA officer at the White House who first reported Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president. Republicans are now pushing to ‘unmask’ him, though his name is already all over the internet. He is, supposedly, a 33-year-old graduate of Yale, a registered Democrat who had worked for both Joe Biden and John Brennan. These facts, so helpful to the White House, are in a ‘dossier’ circulated on Capitol Hill by the president’s allies. A second Ukraine whistleblower has come forward. We know this because the lawyer for the first whistleblower, Mark Zaid, told ABC News that he was representing a second. In fact, Zaid’s co-counsel said that they were representing ‘multiple’ whistleblowers. Two? More than two? Seven?     However many Ukraine whistleblowers there may or may not be, Cockburn’s source says that at least one of the (purported) seven has nothing to do with Ukraine at all. Instead, it’s claimed that this whistleblower reported a call between Trump and the Saudi ruler, Mohammed bin Salman. He or she is said to have had ‘concerns’ about what was said on the call about the president’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. Kushner himself is known to have a very close relationship with MBS. Cockburn has previously written that Kushner may have been what Cosmo would call an ‘oversharer’ when it came to MBS. Unfortunately, it’s claimed that what he was sharing was American secrets: information Kushner had requested from the CIA would (allegedly) be echoed back in US intercepts of calls between members of the Saudi royal family. One source said this was why Kushner lost his intelligence clearances for a while. According to Cockburn’s source about the seven whistleblowers, there’s more. It is that Kushner (allegedly) gave the green light to MBS to arrest the dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was later murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. A second source tells Cockburn that this is true and adds a crucial twist to the story. This source claims that Turkish intelligence obtained an intercept of the call between Kushner and MBS. And President Erdogan used it to get Trump to roll over and pull American troops out of northern Syria before the Turks invaded. A White House official has told the Daily Mail that this story is ‘false nonsense’. However, Cockburn hears that investigators for the House Intelligence Committee are looking into it. Who knows whether any of this is true…but Adam Schiff certainly seems to be smiling a lot these days.

Sondland reverses himself on Ukraine, confirming quid pro quo— Gordon Sondland, a key witness in a U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry, revealed that he told a top Ukrainian official that hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid would “likely” be held up unless the country’s government announced investigations into President Donald Trump’s political rivals — a major reversal from his previous closed-door testimony. The acknowledgment of a quid pro quo is an explosive shift that threatens to upend claims by the president’s allies that military aid was not used as a bludgeon to advance his domestic political interests. In his revised testimony, released Tuesday by House impeachment investigators, Sondland said that during a September 1 meeting in Warsaw, Poland, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy raised his concerns to Vice President Mike Pence about the suspension of military aid. Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, added that he later told Andriy Yermak, a top Ukrainian national security adviser, the aid would be contingent on Trump’s desired investigations. “After that large meeting, I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland wrote in his addendum, which was released alongside a nearly 400-page transcript of his testimony. Sondland revealed the exchange in supplemental testimony he submitted to House impeachment investigators on Monday, saying he had failed to recall the episode when he testified in person last month. Sondland, who had a direct line to Trump and was a major donor to his 2016 presidential campaign, had previously indicated he was unaware of any effort to connect military aid to Trump’s demand for politically motivated investigations. Sondland was eager to maintain that public posture, even with other U.S. officials working on Ukraine policy.

Mulvaney subpoenaed by House Democrats in impeachment inquiry The House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday evening to appear at a deposition as part of the impeachment inquiry Friday morning. “Mr. Mulvaney has the opportunity to uphold his oath to the nation and constitution by testifying tomorrow under oath about matters of keen national importance,” an official working on the impeachment inquiry said late Thursday. “We hope Mr. Mulvaney does not hide behind the President’s ongoing efforts to conceal the truth and obstruct our investigation.” Mulvaney is unlikely to show up for the appearance despite the subpoena. The White House has refused to cooperate in the impeachment inquiry this far, accusing House Democrats of an unfair process and a partisan effort to overturn the results of the 2016 election. Other current and former officials have evaded subpoenaed testimony, arguing they are immune from compelled congressional testimony as top advisers to the president. Three House committees sent a letter to Mulvaney earlier this week requesting that he testify behind closed doors on Friday. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that Mulvaney was not expected to show up. House investigators have conducted more than a dozen closed-door interviews with current and former officials since the impeachment inquiry was announced in late September. This week, Democrats began releasing hundreds of pages of transcripts of witness interviews that have illuminated concerns about the involvement of President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in the administration’s foreign policy toward Ukraine. The interviews have also contributed to a body of evidence that the Trump administration tried to leverage a White House meeting and security assistance to Ukraine in order to press Kiev to pursue investigations sought by Giuliani and Trump. House Democrats have scheduled public hearings to begin next week.

Rand Paul blocks Senate resolution backing protection for whistleblowers Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blocked a resolution Wednesday reaffirming the Senate's support for whistleblower protections and accused Democrats of "fake outrage." Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) had asked for unanimous consent to pass the resolution, which "acknowledges the contributions of whistleblowers" and throws the chamber's support behind protecting whistleblowers from retaliation. "The threats we have seen over the last few days are so egregious they demand bipartisan outrage from one end of this chamber to the other, whether you're a Democrat, Republican, independent, liberal, moderate or conservative," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "What's happening here is another erosion of the values of this republic for political expediency." He added that they should "send a message today that the Senate reaffirms our long-standing tradition about defending whistleblowers." Under Senate rules, any senator can try to pass a resolution or bill, but any senator can object and block passage. Paul objected to passing the resolution after Democrats refused to drop their resolution and instead pass whistleblower legislation that he introduced earlier that day. "I support whistleblowers, and I do think they have a role to play in keeping government accountable ... but what we have seen over the last few years is that we have a system that we should continue to refine," Paul said. He argued that his legislation would "make clear" that President Trump should be able to face his accuser. The measure also would expand current whistleblower protections for contractors. "The bill I will introduce today will expand the whistleblower act [and] would be made retroactive so Edward Snowden can come home to live in his own country. All he did was expose that his government was not obeying the Constitution," Paul said. Hirono objected to dropping the Democratic resolution and passing Paul's bill.

Pressure builds on Pompeo as impeachment inquiry charges ahead - The impeachment inquiry spotlight is starting to shift toward Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as testimony from senior State Department officials raises questions about whether he enabled a shadow foreign policy led by Rudy Giuliani or if he pushed back against decisions harmful to U.S. interests. Pompeo has been an ardent defender of President Trump, but witness testimony highlights small instances of pushback by the secretary, illustrating the perilous tightrope walk he faces of preserving his relationship with the president and ensuring his political future. But Democrats have seized on witness accounts of when Pompeo failed to counter Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, arguing the secretary favored protecting his own political interests over the State Department’s. “Secretary of State Pompeo will be remembered as a political flunky sycophant,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who is a member of one of the committees leading the impeachment investigation. “Secretary Pompeo essentially abandoned his team in his obsequiousness to the president." “He fails in every respect,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “He becomes an enabler of the president and he’s more interested in preserving his political favor with the president so he can run for Senate than he cares about the State Department.” Some former diplomats acknowledge that Pompeo has put himself in a difficult position, caught between his loyalties to Trump and his responsibilities as head of the State Department. “In fairness to Secretary Pompeo, I think he does care about the department, but he’s part of this administration. And even if he does defend people, he has got to do it privately because he is the president’s representative,” said Ronald Neumann, head of the American Academy of diplomacy and a three-time ambassador. “I do have some sympathy for him but he’s not being very effective at this point, in terms of protecting his own people,” Neumann added.

Trump rails against House Democrats, impeachment inquiry during campaign rally: ‘It’s all a hoax’ President Trump spent the outset of a campaign rally Wednesday evening railing against House Democrats, accusing them of pursuing a “deranged, delusional, destructive and hyperpartisan impeachment witch hunt.” "It’s all a hoax. It’s a scam," Trump told a cheering crowd at the Monroe Civic Center in Louisiana. "I had a perfect phone call, a totally perfect phone call," he added, referring to his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump also continued his attacks on the credibility of the anonymous whistleblower who raised alarm about the call, accusing the individual of making a “horrible statement” about the call and claiming without evidence that the person had “disappeared” after the White House released a transcript of it. Trump then asserted Democrats were “rip[ping] the guts out of our country” and suggested they are engaged in an “illegal act.” House Democrats are quickening their inquiry centered on Trump’s call with Zelensky and plan to take their hearings public next week. The White House earlier Wednesday brought on two new aides to handle impeachment messaging. House committees over the last few days have released a number of transcripts from closed-door depositions with witnesses that have offered insight into the unusual driving role Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani played in the administration’s policy efforts with respect to Ukraine. Democrats have also collected a growing body of evidence that the administration held up military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure Kiev for investigations that could have benefited Trump politically, including one related to former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump on Wednesday doubled down on his insistence that there was no quid pro quo in his dealings with Ukraine. Instead, he accused Biden of engaging in a quid pro quo, repeating an unsubstantiated allegation pushed by Giuliani and others that the former vice president pressed for the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor to benefit his son, who had business ties to a Ukrainian energy company.

Trump impeachment hearings to go public next week - BBC - Congressional Democrats have announced the first public hearings next week in an inquiry that may seek to remove President Donald Trump from office. Three state department officials will testify first. So far lawmakers from three key House committees have heard from witnesses behind closed doors. The impeachment inquiry centres on claims that Mr Trump pressured Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation into political rival Joe Biden. Mr Trump denies any abuse of power. House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, who is overseeing the inquiry, told reporters on Wednesday that an impeachment case was building against the president. He said: "We are getting an increasing appreciation for just what took place during the course of the last year - and the degree to which the president enlisted whole departments of government in the illicit aim to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent." Mr Trump has been making discredited corruption claims about former US vice-president Joe Biden, whose son Hunter Biden once worked for a Ukrainian gas company. The Capitol Hill hearings will now be broadcast live, with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers questioning witnesses.

Democrats set stage for Watergate-style TV hearings The trio of witnesses called to testify next week in the first public impeachment hearings are some of the biggest names and most significant players in the Democrats' sprawling six-week probe into allegations President Trump pressured a foreign power to investigate his political rivals. House Democrats know that millions of Americans will be tuning in to watch the impeachment inquiry for the first time now that weeks of closed-door depositions are giving way to televised Watergate-style hearings that are set for next Wednesday and Friday. The hearings could be held in one of the Capitol complex's larger rooms, such as the cavernous Ways and Means hearing room. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (Calif.) and fellow Democrats have chosen three current and former State Department officials to go before the cameras first because they view them as credible, nonpartisan witnesses who will be able to walk the public through exactly how Trump and his allies engaged in wrongdoing in their dealings with Ukraine. The three witnesses — William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine; George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs; and Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine — are all veteran career foreign service officials who have served in both Democratic and Republican administrations. “You will see throughout the course of the testimony ... the most important facts are largely not contested,” Schiff told reporters Wednesday as he announced the first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry. “We are getting an increasing appreciation for just what took place during the course of the last year and the degree to which the president enlisted whole departments of government in the illicit aim of trying to get the Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent as well as further a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election that he thought would be beneficial to his campaign,” Schiff added. Taylor and Kent will testify before the Intelligence Committee in a public hearing on Wednesday. Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, will testify two days later.

Democrats aim to impeach Trump by Christmas - House Democrats are moving aggressively to wrap up their historic, weeks-long investigation into President Trump before 2020, potentially setting up a climactic vote to impeach him just before Christmas.The timeline has come into sharper focus as Democrats have made a series of critical moves signaling they are shutting down the closed-door fact-finding phase of the inquiry and shifting now to Phase 2: making the case for impeachment to the American public.Congressional investigators, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), appear to have wrapped up the last of 15 private depositions of current and former Trump administration officials. This week they began publishing thousands of pages of transcripts from those interviews.And next week, Democrats will launch the first public, televised hearings of their nearly seven-week-long impeachment inquiry, calling three career foreign service officials who have already testified that Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and their allies were seeking a brazen quid pro quo with Ukraine.“I think, without being hasty, again, but being expeditious and deliberative, that the House ought to set for themselves a target of having dealt with this in the Intelligence Committee and Foreign Affairs and Oversight and the Judiciary Committee and on the floor by Christmas,” Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told CNN’s “The Situation Room” on Thursday night.“That's a tough schedule. But it's a doable schedule, given where we're at and all the work that's been done thus far,” Heck said. Several top Trump officials who played pivotal roles in the administration's dealings with Ukraine — including Energy Secretary Rick Perry and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — have defied subpoenas compelling them to testify behind closed doors, but Democrats have shown little appetite to resolve the matter in court. After watching their Mueller and Russia probes get bogged down in never-ending court battles, Democrats appear to be moving on without testimony from those key witnesses rather than engage in another lengthy lawsuit against the administration.“We're not going to delay our work. That would merely allow these witnesses and the White House to succeed with their goal, which is to delay, deny, obstruct,” Schiff recently said. If Democrats can stick to their aggressive timetable, they could be on track to reach the end of their impeachment inquiry in the days right before Christmas.

White House appears increasingly isolated in impeachment crisis - The impeachment crisis in the US capital is intensifying, with the House Intelligence Committee announcing that it will begin public, televised hearings next Wednesday, November 13. The first three scheduled witnesses are all current State Department officials: acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, and former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. All three report to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and, through him, work under the direction of President Trump. Yet all three have already defied orders from the White House and State Department and testified before the committee behind closed doors. Now they are being summoned as the lead witnesses in public hearings that could well end in the drafting of articles of impeachment against Trump. The conflict pits the Trump administration against powerful factions of the political establishment and the military and intelligence agencies. The White House appears increasingly isolated in its fight against impeachment, with officials of the State Department, the Pentagon and the National Security Council cooperating with the House Intelligence Committee inquiry despite orders not to do so from the “commander-in-chief.” Even Attorney General William Barr, hand-picked by Trump as a loyalist who would uphold presidential authority against any challenge, has reportedly been unwilling to enlist unreservedly in the anti-impeachment effort. The Washington Post reported in its Thursday edition that Trump had asked Barr to appear at a press conference and declare that the president had not violated any law in the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he pressed Zelensky to reopen investigations into the actions of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine. The younger Biden collected $50,000 a month for sitting on the board of the large Ukrainian gas company Burisma while his father was in charge of Ukraine policy for the Obama administration. According to the Post report, Trump made the request around September 25, one day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the Democrats were moving forward with an impeachment inquiry. Barr reportedly declined to hold the news conference. The attorney general has previously stated that he never engaged in any discussions with officials in Ukraine despite Trump’s statement in the July 25 call that he would have both Barr and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani follow up on the question of investigating the Bidens. Barr also, through a spokeswoman, denied any discussions on Ukraine with Giuliani.

Bloomberg Offers Trump Ten Billion Dollars to Leave White House by End of Day —The former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg upended the 2020 Presidential race on Friday by offering Donald J. Trump ten billion dollars to leave the White House by the end of the day.“I will deposit ten billion dollars into your account in Moscow, Riyadh, or wherever you do your banking these days,” Bloomberg announced. “All you have to do is go.”In addition to the ten-billion-dollar offer, Bloomberg told Trump that he would cover the moving expenses of Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Kellyanne Conway, and any other associates “that you haven’t already gotten rid of.”On Capitol Hill, congressional Democrats expressed sadness that Bloomberg’s offer, if successful, would eliminate the need for impeachment, which many of them had been looking forward to. But Representative Adam Schiff of California struck a more philosophical note. “If ten billion dollars gets rid of Donald Trump, that’s a quid pro quo I’m okay with,” he said.

Most Americans Have 'Little To No Trust' In Impeachment Process, Would Rather Let Voters Decide In 2020 -  Most Americans have 'little to no trust' in the impeachment inquiries against President Trump, and think that the best way to remove him from office would be to let the voters decide at the ballot box next November, according to a Monmouth University Poll published Tuesday. According to the survey, 73% of those polled have little to no trust in how the House impeachment inquiry has been conducted to date, while 59% say it would "make more sense" to wait until next year's election. The same poll found just 44% of Americans think that Trump should be impeached and removed from office."Even many who would like to impeach Trump seem to feel that beating him at the polls in 2020 is actually a better strategy for ousting him from office," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.What's more, 71% of respondents think it's unlikely the Senate would vote to remove Trump - which, as Nancy Pelosi warned, would simply empower Republicans after Democrats can't tank Trump for asking Ukraine to investigate whether former VP Joe Biden and his son Hunter engaged in a quid-pro-quo to personally enrich themselves.That said, just over half of Americans think its a good idea for the House to conduct the inquiries, even if many of those people have 'little to no trust' in it!

Paul Craig Roberts- A Successful Coup Against Trump Will Murder American Democracy  --President Trump calls it a witch hunt, but it really is a coup against American democracy. The Democrats who want Trump impeached don’t realize this. They just want Trump impeached because they don’t like him. The impeach Trump people don’t understand that if the coup against the elected president succeeds, every future president will know that if he attempts to “drain the swamp” or bring any changes not acceptable to the ruling elite, he, too, will be destroyed. Voters who want real change will also get the message and give up trying to elect a president or members of the House and Senate who will be responsive to voters. It will mean the end of democracy and accountable government. Unhindered rule by the Deep State and associated elites will take democracy’s place. It is unfortunate that progressives do not understand this. Progressives want real change and Trump impeached, but these desires are at variance with one another. Few, if any, of the impeach Trump crowd are paying any attention to the fabricated case against Trump that has taken the place of the Russiagate fabrication that failed. They could not care less what the case is or whether it is a fabrication. Dislike of Trump suffices.

 How a Trump impeachment could lead to a Pelosi presidency -House Democrats will press forward on Thursday with a House vote to officiallygreenlight impeachment proceedings into President Donald Trump's handling of aid to Ukraine while he was seeking an investigation of his political rival, Joe Biden.In defending his actions, Trump has suggested that reporters should look into Vice President Mike Pence's conversations with the Ukrainian president. And the White House has been evaluating whether to release notes of Pence's talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky.  All of these developments raise the question of whether Pence could be drawn into the impeachment maelstrom.Should Democratic efforts to remove Trump from office succeed, Pence would succeed to the presidency -- under normal circumstances.Both history and constitutional law, however, suggest that other successors to the office are possible. It all depends on the magnitude and nature of the "bribery" or other "high crimes and misdemeanors" that may or may not be established by congressional investigators.More importantly, presidential succession, in this case, depends on (to paraphrase former Sen. Howard Baker in reference to the Watergate Investigation) what the Vice President knew and when he knew it. Specifically, was the vice president aware during his September 1 conference with Zelensky in Poland, that Trump had previously asked for a "favor" when discussing military aid and that the favor included a Ukrainian criminal probe of Joe and Hunter Biden. The political futures of Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi may well depend upon the answers to these questions. If Pence's September trip was intentionally designed to reinforce Trump's demand for a "favor" with an intimidating follow-up message from the vice president, Pence may have a serious problem.

Hunter Biden’s Ukraine gas firm pressed Obama administration to end corruption allegations, memos show Hunter Biden and his Ukrainian gas firm colleagues had multiple contacts with the Obama State Department during the 2016 election cycle, including one just a month before Vice President Joe Biden forced Ukraine to fire the prosecutor investigating his son’s company for corruption, newly released memos show. During that February 2016 contact, a U.S. representative for Burisma Holdings sought a meeting with Undersecretary of State Catherine A. Novelli to discuss ending the corruption allegations against the Ukrainian firm where Hunter Biden worked as a board member, according to memos obtained under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. (I filed that suit this summer with the help of the public interest law firm the Southeastern Legal Foundation.) Just three weeks before Burisma’s overture to State, Ukrainian authorities raided the home of the oligarch who owned the gas firm and employed Hunter Biden, a signal the long-running corruption probe was escalating in the middle of the U.S. presidential election. Hunter Biden’s name, in fact, was specifically invoked by the Burisma representative as a reason the State Department should help, according to a series of email exchanges among U.S. officials trying to arrange the meeting. The subject line for the email exchanges read simply “Burisma.” “Per our conversation, Karen Tramontano of Blue Star Strategies requested a meeting to discuss with U/S Novelli USG remarks alleging Burisma (Ukrainian energy company) of corruption,” a Feb. 24, 2016, email between State officials read. “She noted that two high profile U.S. citizens are affiliated with the company (including Hunter Biden as a board member). “Tramontano would like to talk with U/S Novelli about getting a better understanding of how the U.S. came to the determination that the company is corrupt,” the email added. “According to Tramontano there is no evidence of corruption, has been no hearing or process, and evidence to the contrary has not been considered.” At the time, Novelli was the most senior official overseeing international energy issues for State. The undersecretary position, of which there are several, is the third-highest-ranking job at State, behind the secretary and deputy secretary. And Tramontano was a lawyer working for Blue Star Strategies, a Washington firm that was hired by Burisma to help end a long-running corruption investigation against the gas firm in Ukraine..

Is 'Whistleblower' Attorney Into 'Disney Girls' And Visiting Amusement Parks Alone- A YouTube channel allegedly belonging to whistleblower attorney Mark Zaid features ‘liked’ videos about “Disney girls.” The channel, which is named MarkSZaidEsq, contains uploads of clips featuring Zaid, including interviews on Russia Today, that stretch back over 10 years. However, it also shows videos the channel owner ‘liked’, including one called ‘Top 10 prettiest disney channel stars’, which shows Disney stars transitioning from children to adults.Other liked videos include ‘Top 10 Disney Girls’ and one called ‘Selena Gomez from child to women’. The channel could belong to someone other than Zaid himself, although the fact it was created over 10 years ago and features uploads of Zaid’s media appearances, none of which have over 700 views, suggests it could be his.A screenshot of the channel was posted on The Donald subreddit under the headline ‘Uh oh, the whistleblower lawyer forgot to clean up his Youtube page!’ Yesterday it emerged that Zaid, who previously “bragged about his connections to John Podesta” according to lawyer Robert Barnes, tweeted in 2017 that it was vital to “get rid” of Trump and that the “coup has started.”  Zaid also apparently likes to visit water parks and Disney World by himself and once tweeted, “I would have joined FBI just for the free Disney passes.”

Trump told Ukraine ambassador the country always belonged to Russia: report – President Donald Trump appears to have gotten his talking points about Ukraine from Russia if a recent Washington Post report is any indication. A story revealed Sunday that one of Trump’s most significant problems in fighting Ukraine-gate is that his attitudes about the country seem remarkably similar to that of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Putin wants the old Russian empire back,” said former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. “Crimea, Donbass, the whole country. As Russian tsar, as he sees himself, his empire cannot function without Ukraine. He sees us as his colony.” Former Trump campaign manager began planting the seeds of anti-Ukraine sentiment in 2016, when he helped cook up the conspiracy theory that Ukraine had hacked the Democratic National Committee. The FBI investigated the hacked servers at the DNC and determined it was Russia. In fact, all American intelligence agencies agree that the DNC was hacked by Russia and that Russia was the source of the 2016 election meddling. It’s unclear why Trump continues to push a conspiracy theory that Russia was not at fault.Yet, when Trump’s top advisers met with him in May to explain why the new Ukrainian leader was an ally, he wouldn’t have it.  “They had barely begun their pitch when Trump unloaded on them, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the meeting,” The Post reported Sunday. “In Trump’s mind, the officials said, Ukraine’s entire leadership had colluded with the Democrats to undermine his 2016 presidential campaign.”  “They tried to take me down,” Trump said.Rick Perry tried to explain to Trump that it wasn’t Ukraine, and the new president was like nothing the country had before. Trump refused to believe the truth.  “They are horrible, corrupt people,” Trump told the aides.

In Trump adviser trial, comedian contradicts Stone's account, regales jury with jokes - (Reuters) - Comedian Randy Credico testified in the trial of President Donald Trump’s adviser Roger Stone on Thursday where he told jokes, did a Bernie Sanders impression and said he never served as a backchannel between Stone and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Credico is a key witness in the government’s case against Stone, who is charged with obstructing justice, witness tampering and lying to the House of Representatives intelligence committee in its investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. The government alleges that Stone misled the committee in September 2017 by claiming, among other things, that Credico was his intermediary to Wikileaks as Stone sought to learn when Assange planned to dump more damaging emails about Trump’s election rival Hillary Clinton. In testimony Thursday morning, former FBI agent Michelle Taylor read threatening text messages that Stone had sent Credico in which he urged him not to testify or cooperate in the government’s investigations. “Prepare to die ...” Stone wrote in one text to Credico that included an obscenity. The evidence presented also showed that Stone urged Credico on multiple occasions to invoke his constitutional right not to testify and made references to Frank Pentangeli - a character in the film “The Godfather Part II” who recants his testimony to Congress about mobster Michael Corleone amid witness intimidation. Through texts, Credico later confronted Stone about his lies to the committee and urged him to amend his testimony. He said Stone lied about his being a back channel and had made it appear Credico provided information about Wikileaks in July 2016, when he did not try to make contact with Wikileaks until August 2016 in an effort to arrange a radio interview.

Maria Butina: The “60 Minutes” interview CBS. - In an interview while she was incarcerated in a Florida federal prison, Marina Butina was defiant and resentful talking about charges that she worked as a Russian agent in the United States. Lesley Stahl reports.

California asks for court order forcing Facebook to hand over Cambridge Analytica documents -On Wednesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that Facebook has refused to comply with its subpoenas to provide more information regarding its investigation into the company’s alleged privacy violations, according to CNBC.In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Becerra addressed California’s lawsuit against Facebook demanding that the company hand over any documents related to “privacy, disclosures, and third-party access to user data” like in the case of its Cambridge Analytica scandal. The lawsuit was filed in the California Superior Court in hopes of forcing the company to hand over the communications and documents.“If Facebook had complied with our legitimate investigative requests,” Becerra said “We would not be making this announcement today.”Prosecutors for the Northern District of California, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Securities and Exchange Commission opened investigations into Facebook’s privacy practices in the aftermath of Cambridge Analytica in the spring of 2018. Over 87 million users had their Facebook data shared with the third-party political research firm that had ties to both Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Brexit referendum.Becerra said that Facebook “has not been fully responsive” to his office’s requests for information. “They have also failed to provide or even search for responsive documents” between CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, Becerra continued. “Today we make this information public because we have no choice.”

Hillary Clinton: Zuckerberg should pay price for damage to democracy - Mark Zuckerberg “should pay a price” for what he is doing to democracy, Hillary Clinton has said, as she expressed doubts about whether free and fair elections were even possible in the wake of Facebook’s decision to not factcheck political advertising. Speaking in New York at a screening of The Great Hack, a Netflix documentary about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate cited the threat to upcoming elections in both the US and UK as she made the damning remarks about Facebook’s decision to allow politicians to lie in adverts posted to its platform. Her intervention comes amid speculation she may mount a third bid for the presidency. She said it was inevitable that false information on Facebook would have an impact on elections “because propaganda works”. In 2016, she said fake news on Facebook that Pope Francis had endorsed her opponent, Donald Trump, “really did have an impact” and predicted “it’s only going to be more powerful going forward because it is more well tested. They know what they were successful at.” She added: “And we are getting warning signals all the time about what is happening right now and how it is likely to affect our next election.” Cambridge Analytica used illegally harvested Facebook profiles to target voters in the US election but Clinton said this was just the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the challenges facing democracy. Nonetheless her harshest remarks were reserved for Facebook. “When Facebook is the principal news source for more than half of the American people, and the only source of news that most of them pay any attention to, and if it announces that it has no responsibility for the airing of false ads … how are you supposed to get accurate information about anything, let alone candidates running for office?” Asked if she thought there was any connection between the closed-door meeting Zuckerberg had with Donald Trump at the White House and the subsequent decision by Facebook to change its policy around factchecking “false, deceptive or deliberately misleading content” by politicians, she said she couldn’t “draw any conclusions about closed-door meetings, not only with Trump but with Tucker Carlson [of Fox News] and with [rightwing website] Breitbart and with many others that have been going on at Facebook quarters”. But she went on to say: “If I were of a conspiratorial mindset, I might suggest that there seems to be some connection.”

 Manufacturing Fear and Loathing, Maximizing Corporate Profits! A Review of Matt Taibbi’s Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another – Vves Smith - The most salient difference between the news media of 1989 and the news media of 2019 is the disappearance of the single type of calm and decorous and slightly boring cis-het white anchorman (who somehow successfully appealed to a nationwide audience) and his replacement by a seemingly wide variety of demographically-engineered  news personæ who all rage and scream combatively in each other’s direction. “In the old days,” Taibbi writes, “the news was a mix of this toothless trivia and cheery dispatches from the frontlines of Pax Americana…. The news [was] once designed to be consumed by the whole house…. But once we started to be organized into demographic silos [italics mine], the networks found another way to seduce these audiences: they sold intramural conflict” (p. 18).And in this new media environment of constant conflict, how, Taibbi wondered, could publicconsent, which would seem to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from conflict, still bemanufactured?? “That wasn’t easy for me to see in my first decades in the business,” Taibbi writes. “For a long time, I thought it was a flaw in the Chomsky/Herman model” (p. 19).But what Taibbi was at length able to understand, and what he is now able to describe for us with both wit and controlled outrage, is that our corporate media have devised — at least for the time being — highly-profitable marketing processes that manufacture fake dissent in order to smotherreal dissent (p. 21). And the smothering of real dissent is close enough to public consentto get the goddam job done: The Herman/Chomsky model is, after all these years, still valid. To rub his great insight right into our uncomprehending faces, Taibbi has almost sadistically chosen to have dark, shadowy images of a yelling Sean Hannity (in lurid FoxNews Red!) and a screaming Rachel Maddow (in glaring MSNBC Blue!) juxtaposed on the cover of his book. For Maddow, he notes, is “a depressingly exact mirror of Hannity…. The two characters do exactly the same work. They make their money using exactly the same commercial formula. And though they emphasize different political ideas, the effect they have on audiences is much the same” (pp. 259-260). And that effect is hate. Impotent hate. For while Rachel’s fan demographic is all wrapped up in hating Far-Right Fascists Like Sean, and while Sean’s is all wrapped up in despising Libtard Lunatics Like Rachel, the bipartisan consensus in Washington for ever-increasing military budgets, for everlasting wars, for ever-expanding surveillance, for ever-growing bailouts of and tax breaks for and and handouts to the most powerful corporations goes forever unchallenged.

Epstein Suicide: Feds Just Subpoenaed 20 Prison Staff Members - Federal investigators have issued subpoenas for up to 20 prison staff members as they investigate the death of Jeffrey Epstein. As many as 20 officers at the federal prison in Manhattan where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself have been subpoenaed. Federal investigators sought the grand jury subpoenas as they try to piece together the events leading up to Epstein’s suicide at the Metropolitan Correctional Center earlier this month, according to CNN. Two guardsmen who were tasked with watching Epstein are of particular interest to investigators. The pair, who have been placed on leave, are suspected to have fallen asleep on the job when Epstein died.

  Jeffrey Epstein's Brother Says There Were Unexplained Injuries On Shoulder, Wrist - The brother of dead disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein said he had unusual injuries on his wrists and shoulders. Mark Epstein, 65, said there were two contusions on both of Jeffrey’s wrists, an injury to his left forearm, and muscle hemorrhaging of his left shoulder or deltoid. “Those are unexplained. Was he handcuffed and struggled? Was someone holding his wrists? The marks on his wrist are unexplained,” he told Fox News.His comments about his brother’s death in August—which the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office said was due to suicide by hanging—come after famed pathologist Dr. Michael Baden said there were questions about Epstein’s neck injury.“Did the injuries happen a week before or at the time of the incident? We have to look at the microscopic slides to see when the injuries occurred,” Dr. Baden said of the injuries noted by his brother, according to Fox. “The brother requested this information three months ago and he still has not gotten it.” Mark Epstein also said that he attempted to obtain his brother’s file from the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office in mid-August, but he was told that it has to be processed by the U.S. Department of Justice first.

An ABC News anchor was caught on a hot mic saying that the network killed her Epstein exposé in 2015 and that she thinks the sex offender was '100%' murdered - The ABC News anchor Amy Robach appears to have been caught in a candid moment saying her network killed a story that would have exposed the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein years before he became headline news.In a video published on Tuesday by Project Veritas, a right-wing organization mostly known for its hidden-camera gotcha videos, Robach appears to be discussing Epstein between takes. In the video, which Project Veritas said was from August, Robach complains that her 2015 story on Epstein was killed and that she firmly believes Epstein was murdered. Robach's Epstein exposé has not seen the light of dayRobach said in the video that the network killed her 2015 story partly because of concerns about access to prominent people."I've had the story for three years. I've had this interview with Virginia Roberts. We would not put it on the air," she said, referring to one of Epstein's most prominent and public accusers who now goes by Virginia Giuffre, who has alleged that she was recruited to be Epstein's sex slave.Robach said that unnamed detractors initially questioned the story's newsworthiness. Then, she said, the UK royal family "threatened us a million different ways" after learning that Robach was reporting on Giuffre's allegations against Prince Andrew.   "We were so afraid we wouldn't be able to interview Kate and Will that we — that also quashed the story," she said, referring to Kate Middleton and Prince William. Buckingham Palace said in a statement in August that Andrew met Epstein in 1999 and saw him "infrequently and probably no more than only once or twice a year," including after Epstein's release from jail in 2010. The Duke of York called it "a mistake and an error" to see Epstein after his conviction of soliciting a minor for prostitution. Robach's account matches reporting from NPR in August that Giuffre was flown to New York, stayed in the Ritz-Carlton, and was interviewed on camera for over an hour but never got an explanation why her segment didn't air.

Leaked video reveals ABC News suppressed Jeffrey Epstein story since 2015 - The right-wing website Project Veritas published a leaked video on Tuesday that reveals ABC News had suppressed a story about the criminal sex-trafficking activities and high-profile connections of Jeffrey Epstein since 2015.In the leaked “hot mic” video from last August, ABC Breaking News Anchor and Good Morning America co-host Amy Robach is seen on set discussing in detail with her off-camera producer the fact that ABC shut down her Epstein story and that the Disney-owned network went along with efforts by multiple sources not to air it. Robach says: “I’ve had this story for three years. I’ve had this interview with Virginia Roberts (Giuffre) [Epstein accuser]. We would not put it on the air. First of all, I was told, ‘Who’s Jeffrey Epstein? No one knows who that is. This is a stupid story.’”She went on, “Then the Palace found out we had her whole allegations about Prince Andrew and threatened us a million different ways. We were so worried that we wouldn’t be able to interview Kate [Middleton] and Will [Prince William], that also quashed the story.”Robach then explains that Giuffre had evidence implicating Alan Dershowitz and Bill Clinton in Epstein’s activities. “She had pictures, she had everything,” Robach said. “She was in hiding for 12 years. We convinced her to come out, we convinced her to talk to us. It was unbelievable what we had.”According to NPR reporter David Folkenflik, Alan Dershowitz—who was also one of Jeffrey Epstein’s defense attorney’s—called ABC News and pressured the network to kill Robach’s story.In a significant segment of her comments, Robach says exactly what everyone in the corporate media was thinking when Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his New York City jail on August 10, “So do I think Epstein was killed? A hundred percent, yes I do. Because, do you want it? He made his whole living blackmailing people.She continued: “There were a lot of men on those planes, a lot of men who visited that island, a lot of powerful men who came into that apartment. I knew immediately. And they made it seem as though he made that ‘suicide attempt’ two weeks earlier. But his lawyers claimed he was roughed up by his cell mate around the neck, that was all to plant the seed.”  The ABC newscaster became emotional when she turned to the reasons that ABC spiked her story, “Well, then I got a little concerned about why I couldn’t get on.” Speaking about the information she had on Epstein’s accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell, Robach said she was told “‘Who’s that? Who cares?’ I kept getting that. ‘Who cares?’ She knows everything. … She should be careful. She went out and recruited all of these girls. She should watch her back.”

 Jeffrey Epstein Accuser Tells 60 Minutes “Prince Andrew Should Go to Jail” - — Virginia Roberts Giuffre, a vocal Jeffrey Epstein accuser, just went to New York for a bombshell new interview. During the interview for 60 Minutes Australia that took her to the steps of Epstein’s $56 million Manhattan mansion which she said represents “jail” to her, Giuffre, who now lives in Australia, insists Prince Andrew “should go to jail.” Inside the international sex-trafficking ring masterminded by billionaire businessman Jeffrey Epstein. NEXT SUNDAY on #60Mins, how Epstein’s wicked world disintegrated and why his coterie of equally immoral friends should still be worried.  — 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) November 3, 2019   “Being a kid, I didn’t realize what world I was being brought into,” she explains. “There wasn’t a part of my body that they did not abuse.” During the short promo for the piece that airs this Sunday, Giuffre says that she “was trafficked to other billionaires” and “to other politicians.”“It was the elite of the world.”David Boies, Giuffre’s attorney, says Epstein ran an “international sex trafficking operation,” referring to it as a “well-oiled machine.”“There are many, many people that have serious culpability and I expect a number of them will be prosecuted.”During the teaser posted on social media, Giuffre holds up the notorious photograph of Prince Andrew and herself (at the age of 17) together at a party thrown by Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, saying “this is a real photo.” Without mincing words, Giuffre declares, “Prince Andrew should go to jail.”Giuffre has previously alleged that she was forced to sleep with the Duke of York three times. While Andrew cannot deny his relationship with the convicted pedophile, he continues to deny claims that he was involved in the sex trafficking ring or had any knowledge whatsoever that his friend was a criminal.

CBS Sided With A Pedophile - Network Fires Staffer Who Had Access To Robach-Epstein Rant - CBS has fired a female staffer believed to have had access to a candid tape of ABC host Amy Robach complaining that in 2016, the network shelved her scoop on Jeffrey Epstein's sex crimes, according to Page Six. "I've had the story for three years... we would not put it on the air," Robach said on a hot mic moment leaked to Project Veritas. "It was unbelievable what we had, Clinton, we had everything."It hasn't gone unnoticed that exposing Epstein would have hurt Hillary Clinton during the 2016 US election. You are witnessing an extraordinary series of events. @CBSNews fires employee ‘who had access’ to tape from RIVAL company, @ABC. Journalism execs collude to PUNISH source/Whistleblower (Irony, much?) for helping bring to light coverup of abuse. Truth to power? Media IS the power!— James O'Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) November 7, 2019 Watch the Robach video here:

Corruption Is Contagious  The extent of bribery is hard to measure, but estimates from the World Bank suggest that corrupt exchanges involve $1 trillion annually. In 2018 Transparency International reported that more than two thirds of 180 countries it surveyed got a score of less than 50 on a scale from 0 (“highly corrupt”) to 100 (“very clean”). Major scandals regularly make global headlines, such as when Brazilian construction company Odebrecht admitted in 2016 to having paid upward of $7oo million in bribes to politicians and bureaucrats in 12 countries. But petty corruption, involving small favors between a few people, is also very common. Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer for 2017 shows that one in every four of those surveyed said they had paid a bribe when accessing public services in the previous year, with almost one in three reporting such payments in the Middle East and North Africa.   Corruption, big or small, impedes the socioeconomic development of nations. It affects economic activities, weakens institutions, interferes with democracy and erodes the public's trust in government officials, politicians and their neighbors. Understanding the underlying psychology of bribery could be crucial to tackling the problem. Troublingly, our studies suggest that mere exposure to corruption is corrupting. Unless preventive measures are taken, dishonesty can spread stealthily and uninvited from person to person like a disease, eroding social norms and ethics—and once a culture of cheating and lying becomes entrenched, it can be difficult to dislodge.

Wall Street donors are so worried about Warren that they are snubbing Democrats in 2020 Senate races - The bitter feud between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Wall Street is spilling into Democrats’ efforts to take back the Senate next year. Some finance executives have recently told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that they are, for the moment, holding back from donating to Democrats running for Senate in 2020 due to their concerns with Warren becoming a front-runner in the race for the party’s presidential nomination, according to people familiar with the conversations. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the private nature of the talks. The move is intended to put pressure on party leadership and Schumer, who represents New York and has received millions of dollars in donations from Wall Street, to distance themselves from Warren’s economic populism. These financiers, which include hedge fund managers and private equity executives, are also worried that Warren’s policies, were she to defeat President Donald Trump, could be detrimental to their businesses. They believe Republicans could keep her potential administration in check if the GOP holds onto or expands its Senate majority. Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate; Democrats need to flip a net of four seats to take control. “They feel, rightly or wrongly, attacked. Not just that there will be higher taxes, but that she is running her entire campaign as them being boogeymen,” said a political advisor familiar with the deliberations. “They don’t feel safe going to Trump, they feel disillusioned by Biden and they see this as a tactic to slow her down. They see it as a way to put pressure on the party as a whole to move away from Warren.”

‘I care’ — billionaire investor tears up talking about America, Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump -Billionaire investor Leon Cooperman teared up on Monday as he discussed the political divide in the U.S. and his concerns about the American dream.“I care,” the hedge-fund manager answered on CNBC’s “Halftime Report,”tearing up after CNBC’s Scott Wapner asked why he has been so vocal about the 2020 election.Cooperman’s response came in the midst of a political battle between the longtime investor and presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Cooperman has been a vocal critic of Warren’s proposed wealth tax and her general distrust of America’s richest individuals.The two have sparred in recent weeks, with Warren contending that the billionaire should contribute more in taxes to help improve economic inequality in the U.S.“I don’t need Elizabeth Warren telling me that I’m a deadbeat and that billionaires are deadbeats. The vilification of billionaires makes no sense to me. The world is a sustainably better place because of Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, David Rubenstein, Bernie Marcus, Ken Langone,” Cooperman said.“This is idiocy! It’s appealing to the lowest common denominator and basically trying to turn people’s heads around by promising a lot of free stuff,” he added.

Taxing Bill Gates $100 Billion, Counters Bernie Sanders, Could End Homelessness and Microsoft Founder 'Would Still Be a Multibillionaire' - Billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on Wednesday told a crowd at a New York Times sponsored conference that a proposed wealth tax from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, could take so much money from his vast fortune that he wouldn't know how much was left. "When you say I should pay $100 billion, then I'm starting to do a little math about what I have left over," said Gates, who prefaced his remarks by saying he was willing to pay $20 billion in taxes. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is also running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, pointed out on Twitter, Gates' fortune is valued at roughly $106.8 billion, leaving $6.8 billion after the hypothetical tax hit. "Say Bill Gates was actually taxed $100 billion," said Sanders. "We could end homelessness and provide safe drinking water to everyone in this country. Bill would still be a multibillionaire."Warren, by contrast, rushed to reassure Gates on Twitter that he wouldn't be on the hook for $100 billion and invited the Microsoft founder to meet for a chat where the Massachusetts Democrat could "explain exactly how much you'd pay under my wealth tax."Gates replied to the senator, saying that the tax discussion was part of an "interesting conversation" on how to solve the myriad issues at play in the primary."I greatly respect your commitment to finding ways to address wealth inequality and poverty at home," said Gates. "While we may disagree about some of the ways to get there, we certainly agree we need a lot of smart people committed to finding the path forward."Progressives found Warren's tone to be too friendly to Gates and politically problematic as it missed the power dynamics in play with Gates' wealth."You can't logic Gates out of his class interest," tweeted lawyer and activist Emma Caterine. "This is about power. We need a president who tells the billionaires to suck it up, not one who tries to win them over."

America Will Keep Losing Its Middle Class as Long as “The Free Market” Dominates the Economic Debate - Marshall Auerback - National industrial policy was once something you might read about in today’s equivalent of a friend’s Facebook post, as hard as that might sound to believe. It was in newspapers; it was on the radio. Taxi drivers had opinions about it. That all changed in the last 35 years, when the rise and fall of the stock market and a shallow conversation about unemployment rates took over. Industrial policy became an inside-baseball conversation, and to the extent that it was discussed, it was through the prism of whether it imperiled the golden gospel and great economic distraction of our time, “the free market.”The decades of free-market propaganda we’ve been exposed to are basically an exercise in distracting the public from the meaningful choices that are now made behind closed doors. The two big political parties that outwardly represent symbolic issues like gun rights and school prayer spend the bulk of their time and political energy on complex industrial and regulatory questions.But much like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, they’d better start considering the question of a national industrial policy before there’s no industry left to manage. Manufacturing is now at its smallest share of the U.S. economy in 72 years, reports Bloomberg. Multinational supply chains undermine the negotiating power of workers, thereby exacerbating inequality.Are there ways to bring back manufacturing, or should we just capitulate to a mindset that argues that these jobs are gone for good, that software retention is good enough, even as we shift what’s left of our manufacturing sector overseas to sweatshop economies? That seems short-sighted. After all, it’s pretty easy to steal IP; it’s not so easy to steal an auto manufacturing facility. The real question is: In the absence of some sort of national industrial strategy, how do Western societies retain a viable middle class?Decades of American middle-class exposure to favor China and other Asian countries’ industrial capacity have foisted it right back from elite circles into our politics and the ballot box, in spectacular fashion, through the unlikely Donald Trump, who, in his typically blunderbuss fashion, has called attention to some serious deficiencies in our current globalized system, and the competitive threat posed by China to which we have remained oblivious for all too long.

Jamie Dimon says Sen. Elizabeth Warren ‘vilifies successful people’ -- Pam Martens - Jamie Dimon is wading into the ongoing feud between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and American billionaires including money manager Leon Cooperman.Dimon, himself a billionaire thanks to his decades running some of the biggest U.S. lenders, was asked by CNBC’s Wilfred Frost if presidential hopeful Warren was anti-business.“You really have to ask her what she really means,” Dimon said in the interview, parts of which were scheduled to air on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”“She uses some pretty harsh words, you know, some would say vilifies successful people,” Dimon said. “I don’t like vilifying anybody. I think we should applaud successful people.”Warren has been chiding billionaires critical of her proposal to raise taxes on the ultra rich to help defray the costs of her ambitious plans to reduce inequality in the U.S. That has led to a public spat with Cooperman, who, among other things, has said that Warren is “s----ing on” the ’f-----ing American dream.”The Massachusetts senator has ratcheted up her pressure on the billionaire class recently, saying that her tax proposal could be doubled to 6% on fortunes over $1 billion to help pay for a “Medicare for All” plan.Cooperman and Dimon have both voiced general support for a progressive income tax structure and higher taxes on the wealthy. But Dimon said that Warren’s proposed Accountable Capitalism Act would change “the complete nature of how you run a corporation.”“I think we have to look at [how] America was founded on free enterprise; freedom and free enterprise are interchangeable,” Dimon said. “If people have very specific things that we should do different, than we should think about doing them different.”While Dimon reiterated his support for a negative income tax that would encourage more people to work, he cautioned that sweeping policy changes could fail to solve the country’s problems. Federal law has encouraged a distinct separation of banking and commerce for more than a century in the U.S. because mega banks could favor their own commerce companies in the making of loans. They could also use insider information in commodities they own to have an unfair trading advantage. These mega banks also own commercial banks which hold Federally-insured deposits that are backstopped by the U.S. taxpayer. If one of their commercial properties experienced a catastrophic accident like a power plant explosion or massive oil tanker spill, it could force a U.S. taxpayer bailout of the bank.

The Tears of the Taxed -- IN A RECENT DEBATE at the Peterson Institute for International Economics about whether a wealth tax would help lower inequality, Larry Summers, a very wealthy man, rose to express a dissenting opinion. The first speaker had been Emmanuel Saez, an economist and advisor to Elizabeth Warren. Saez, along with Gabriel Zucman, helped to design Warren’s proposed wealth tax: a 2 percent tax on every dollar of wealth over $50 million, and a 3 to 6 percent tax on wealth over ten figures.While Saez had given a prepared PowerPoint presentation, Summers, with a jowly old man’s confidence, appeared to speak off the cuff. First, he wanted everyone to know that he is, politically, on the right side of history. “Let me say I speak from the perspective of someone who thinks the United States should be a vastly more just society, with a government that does substantially more to help the middle class and, uh, the poor,” he said. Sure, he was about to argue for twenty minutes against progressive taxation, but he wanted the audience to know that his heart is in the right place. Summers continued by saying that, apparently in lieu of actually reading their book,The Triumph of Injustice, he had made a “very close study of the Twitter wars” concerning Saez and Zucman’s work, and he found himself “about 98.5 percent persuaded by their critics.” Watch out kids, uncle Larry’s got Twitter, and he’s not afraid to debase the discourse with it! Those critics Summers referred to were disputing Saez and Zucman’s controversial data, which showed, of course, that the very wealthy pay a lower tax rate than any other income group.  Summers, who has made lots of money consulting for Citigroup, Nasdaq, and assorted hedge funds, wasn’t buying it. First, the idea that a wealth tax would curb the political power of the rich has “almost no validity,” he argued. This is because “you can become one of the most powerful money people around” the Democratic or Republican Party “for four or five million dollars a year.” Pocket change! To be fair, maybe he hasn’t heard of the Kochs. Also, said Summers, if we just had better social insurance, then wealth inequality wouldn’t matter. In other words, if the poor were taken care of––somehow––then the wealthy could keep their wealth. Our current lack of social insurance and high concentration of wealth are, to Summers, inexplicably not connected.Then Summers—who in 2009 estimated his net worth as between $17 and $39 million, according to financial disclosure forms—said, “I don’t think wealth is a particularly sensible way for judging or assigning taxes.” He believes taxing wealth is ridiculous because it would change the behavior of wealthy people. A wealth tax would, for example, discourage the wealthy from “investing their money in the ways they think are the most productive, based on the fact that they were smart enough to accumulate it in the first place. That’s what we punish hardest with the wealth tax.” In other words, wealthy man thinks the wealthy are wealthy because they are smart, and they should not be face consequences for being such super investors. Unsurprisingly, this limp, tired justification for wealth accumulation doesn’t account for inherited fortunes.

Not Just Billionaires- Now Democrats Want To Hit Millionaires With 10% Surtax - With 2020 Democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders threatening to separate billionaires from their money, two other Democrats have proposed tax hikes that would hit the wealthy with a 10% surtax on income above $2 million according to Bloomberg. Introduced by Maryland Democrat Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, the new plan would raise the effective top rate on wages to 47%, while capital gains would taxes would top out at 33.8%. The proposal "could raise $635 billion over 10 years," according to Van Hollen calls it "a simple system to ensure the wealthy are doing their part to invest in strengthening America’s future for everyone." The idea is the latest in a long string of Democratic plans to make wealthy Americans pay more. But with 2020 presidential candidates and members of Congress envisioning expensive programs to reshape U.S. health care, confront climate change, and offer free college educations there has been a greater urgency to find ways to finance these ambitions -- and that involves higher taxes on the rich.

We Already Have a Wealth Tax. It’s Just Paid to Hedge Fund Managers. – Alexis Goldstein - Volatility in the markets is very scary for ordinary U.S. citizens who face real repercussions from economic downturns. But this volatility is positively golden for traders on Wall Street and at hedge funds.  I spent seven years working on Wall Street, and the traders I knew prided themselves on making money whether the market was crashing or surging. That’s why I’m so skeptical of the now two billionaire hedge fund managers who predict a market crash if Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders is elected president. These billionaires don’t care about the horrific consequences that a market downturn would have on ordinary U.S. citizens. They care about their tax rate.  Tuesday, billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones told the Robin Hood Investors Conference that if Sen. Elizabeth Warren is elected president, the U.S. stock market will drop 25 percent due to fears over her proposed wealth tax. Jones is parroting the exact prediction that a different billionaire hedge fund manager, Leon Cooperman, made two weeks ago. Cooperman told CNBC that the market would tank by 25 percent if either Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders wins the general election. These billionaire traders aren’t actually concerned about the economy, and they sure aren’t telling you what they really think about where the market would go should Sanders or Warren win the presidency. No trader I ever worked with would ever give away market advice for free.  Hedge fund managers are even less likely to tell you what they really think about the direction of the market, because their wealthy clients pay enormous sums for their opinions. You never give up your edge to others for free.  All the wealth tax tantrums among these billionaire traders belie the simple fact that they already charge a wealth tax, of sorts, themselves. Hedge fund managers charge their clients an upfront fee of 2 percent of their entire investment, just to get in the door. This just so happens to match the base wealth tax rate Warren is proposing: 2 cents on every dollar. Hedge fund managers then also take 20 percent of any profits they make for their clients each year. If hedge fund billionaires are happy to charge their clients a 2 percent participation fee, they should expect to pay at least that same 2 percent fee themselves to participate in society. The entire premise of a hedge fund is that any manager worth their salt is so clever, they’ll make money for you in up markets or down. But while a plunge in the stock market may not scare them, the prospect of their own taxes going up absolutely does.

‘Maybe Rich People Can See the Writing on the Wall’: CEOs Stepping Down at Levels Not Seen Since 2008 -- A record number of CEOs left their positions in October, a corporate outplacement firm reported Wednesday, the most in one month since the 2008 recession.The news from Challenger, Gray & Christmas raised eyebrows—and concerns over a possible incoming recession—Wednesday evening at progressive news co-op The District Sentinel‘s radio show.“Maybe this means nothing, maybe this is a coincidence,” said show co-host Sam Sacks. “Or maybe rich people can see the writing on the wall and are cashing out right now.”Sacks and co-host Sam Knight weren’t the only ones who saw the news as possibly indicative of economic upheaval on the horizon.“Sign of a recession?” wondered Globe and Mail reporter Paul Waldie.According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas’ report, 1,332 CEOs have already left their companies, far outstripping the total 1,257 departures by this time in 2008. A total 1,484 CEOs left their positions by the end of 2008. In a press release, Challenger, Gray & Christmas explained some of the turnover as the result of executive misconduct, succession plans, and normal changes in personnel. But even by those standards, 2019 stands out. As The Chicago Tribune reported, October was a high water mark for the year:In October, 172 chief executives left their posts, compared with 151 CEOs in September and 149 in October 2018, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, & Christmas. That brings the 10-month tally to 1,332 CEOs who are out—the highest number since 2002, when the firm began tracking CEO departures at companies that have been in business at least two years and have at least 10 employees. “Succession plans and misconduct aside, 172 in one month?” market researcher Danielle DiMartino Booth tweeted incredulously.   October’s numbers beat the previous record, set in August.Challenger, Gray & Christmas’ vice president Andrew Challenger acknowledged to NBC News that the numbers were more akin to times of economic downturn than to the current era of relative stability. “You expect a high turnover during a recession period,” said Challenger. “To see more turnover during a period where companies are doing very well is surprising.”

As the Fed Throws Hundreds of Billions a Week at Wall Street Banks for Liquidity, JPMorgan’s IIF Can Afford to Buy El Paso Electric - Pam Martens -  David Dayen of American Prospect has a must-read article. The headline and subhead read: “JPMorgan Gets Back Into the Electricity Business: An El Paso, Texas, electric utility is being purchased by an investment fund with deep, undisclosed ties to the big bank.”Dayen is not buying into the idea that it’s an investment fund at JPMorgan that’s buying El Paso Electric, a publicly traded electric utility, but that the deal is simply being “laundered through an allegedly independent investment fund,” due to the fact that “48 executives of the investment fund are actually paid employees of JPMorgan….”Why wouldn’t JPMorgan Chase want to admit that it plans to make an outright purchase of an electric utility company serving 429,000 customers in Texas and New Mexico?For starters, the bank has been charged, and admitted to, three criminal felony counts within the past five years and is currently under a criminal probe for running a criminal enterprise out of its precious metals desk. And then there is their prior history ripping off electric customers.Let’s start with the $410 million fine and restitution that a unit of JPMorgan Chase was forced to pay in 2013 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for ripping off electric customers in California and the Midwest. According to FERC, the JPMorgan energy unit was charging customers “as much as 80 times the prevailing power prices at certain hours of the day.” (See our report: The Missing Pieces in the Criminal Probe of JPMorgan’s Energy Trading.) Also making JPMorgan Chase look like the last corporation in America that should own an electric utility is an email that turned up when the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations conducted a two-year investigation in 2013 and 2014 into Wall Street’s vast, secret ownership of physical commodities and related rigging of commodity markets.

It’s Incredible. The Scale Of What JPMorgan Is Doing Is Mind-Boggling - Shortly after our latest discussion how JPM's drain of liquidity via Money Markets and reserves parked at the Fed may have prompted the September repo crisis and subsequent launch of "Not QE" by the Fed in order to reduce its at risk capital and potentially lower its G-SIB charge - currently the highest of all major US banks - we not only got confirmation that the biggest US bank has been quietly rotating out of cash, but was also busy repositioning its balance sheet in another major way.According to an overnight report from the FT which confirms what we already disclosed previously, namely that JPMorgan pushed more than $130bn of excess cash away from reserves in the process significantly tightening overall liquidity in the interbank market, the bulk of this money was allocated to long-dated bonds while cutting the amount of loans it holds, in what the FT dubbed was a "major shift in how the largest US bank by assets manages its enormous balance sheet."The moves saw the bank’s bond portfolio soar by 50%, and were prompted by capital rules that treat loans as riskier than bonds. And since JPM has been aggressively returning billions of dollars to shareholders in dividends and share buybacks each year, JPMorgan has far less room than most rivals to hold riskier assets, explaining its substantially higher G-SIB surcharge. An executive at a large institutional investors told the FT that what JPM did "is incredible", adding that "the scale of what JPMorgan is doing is mind-boggling . . . migrating out of cash into securities while loans are flat."The dramatic change, which occurred gradually over the year, and which may have catalyzed the spike in repo rates in September, was first flagged by JPMorgan at an investor event back in February. Then CFO Marianne Lake said that, after years of industry-leading loan growth, “we have to recognize the reality of the capital regime that we live in”.So what exactly did JPMorgan do?The biggest US bank by assets shrank its loans portfolio by 4%, or about $40bn, year to date; at the same time as selling off mortgages, the bank has reduced the amount of cash on its balance sheet and used it to buy long-dated bonds. And in what may perhaps be a bet that sooner or later the Fed will launch a full-blown QE which again targets mortgage-backed securities, the FT notes that MBS account for the bulk of securities growth; an alternative regulatory reason is that banks can hold much less capital against mortgage bonds than the underlying home loans themselves.

The Fed’s Wall Street Bailout May Go into Overdrive in December - The Fed is in deep fear, while also in deep denial, about what happened last December. Its fear is that it could happen again this December. Its denial is that its lax supervision of the Wall Street mega banks is largely responsible for the mess.The stock market news on December 24 of last year was not what folks want to be reading about on Christmas Eve. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had plunged 653 points on Christmas Eve and headline writers across major media were declaring the month to have been the worst December for stocks since the Great Depression.But the declines in the broader stock market averages paled in comparison to the December carnage that occurred in the share prices of the mega banks on Wall Street and, to the Fed’s consternation, the insurance companies that are stealthily interconnected to the mega banks as their derivative counterparties.Despite all of the warnings that have come out of the Office of Financial Research (OFR), and the implosion of the giant insurer, AIG, during the financial crisis as a result of its derivatives ties to the big Wall Street banks, the Federal Reserve has not reined in these interconnections.The two charts below show the companion collapses in December in the share prices of the Wall Street banks with the heaviest exposure to derivatives and the insurance companies serving as counterparties to those derivatives. (Banks are also derivative counterparties to each other.)Among the big banks, Citigroup fared the worst. On Monday, December 3, 2018 Citigroup closed the day with a stock price of $65.16. By Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018, the mega Wall Street bank had lost 24 percent of its share price, closing at $49.26. Among the swooning insurers, Lincoln National and Ameriprise Financial lost more than 20 percent while MetLife lost 14 percent between Monday, December 3, 2018 and the close on Christmas Eve. All three insurers are connected to the Wall Street banks via derivatives.We know which insurers have exposure to risky derivative gambles with the Wall Street banks because the 2017 Financial Stability Report from the Office of Financial Research, the Federal agency created under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, named them. Those U.S. insurers are: Ameriprise Financial, Hartford Financial Services Group, Lincoln National Corp., Prudential Financial, Voya Financial, MetLife and – wait for it – AIG, the very same insurer that got bailed out to the tune of $185 billion during the financial crisis.

 Fed's Powell says revamp of capital, liquidity rules not under consideration — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that he does not think revamping capital or liquidity requirements is necessary despite recent volatility in the repurchase markets, appearing to diverge from comments this week by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who suggested they may need to be rethought. Liquidity requirements — such as the liquidity coverage ratio — have drawn attention over concerns they force banks to load up on too many liquid assets. Some, including JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, say that such regulations may have led to recent market distortions in the short-term funding market. Powell has consistently opposed revising liquidity rules, however. He said in September that the Fed did not believe the LCR was calibrated too high. He echoed that view at a press conference after a meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. “It’s a big complicated marketplace, and one of the surprises as I mentioned was that banks that had told us that their lowest comfortable level of reserves was ‘here,' ” Powell said, indicating with his hand. “They were well above that, and yet they didn’t deploy that liquidity when there seemed to be great opportunities to do that. That didn’t happen, so why is that? And so we’re doing careful analysis of that.” In an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg, Mnuchin agreed with Powell’s assessment that recent turmoil in the overnight repurchase markets was largely a technical issue, but appeared to give more credence to the idea that liquidity requirements might have contributed to those events than the Fed chairman has been willing to. “The banks have raised an issue around intraday liquidity, and that is something that makes sense for regulators to look at,” Mnuchin said. “It’s a reasonable question: have we gone too far in the other direction in requiring the banks to maintain this excess liquidity for intraday operations?” Powell added Wednesday that intraday liquidity is something the Fed could look at to ensure that liquidity is moving freely throughout the banking system, but not to adjust capital or liquidity requirements.

Rate cap relief from FDIC doesn't go far enough, banks say — A proposal to ease interest rate restrictions that less than well-capitalized banks face relies on faulty methodology and ignores competition from fintechs and credit unions, according to the banking industry. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. issued a plan in September to revise the regulation, which was implemented in 1992 in an effort to stop riskier banks from attracting deposits by offering above-market interest rates as a last ditch effort to avoid or delay insolvency. Though the industry supports the agency's intent, it says the new plan, which would revamp the rules and methodology around the interest rate restrictions, is too little, too late. "The proposal fails to achieve an essential goal: establishment of a robust and transparent market based methodology that produces a rate that accurately reflects the cost of deposits through varied business models and economic environments,” wrote Alison Touhey, vice president of bank funding policy for the American Bankers Association, in a Nov. 4 letter to the agency. Banks have complained for decades that the way in which interest rate restrictions are calculated is imperfect and overly restrictive for struggling banks, often pinning them to rates they say are actually below market. When FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams took office last year, she pledged to help address the issue. The FDIC plan suggests a series of changes, including a shift to making national rates based on the weighted averages of specific products and simpler calculations for determining local rate caps. Currently, the FDIC prevents less than well-capitalized banks from offering an interest rate higher than whatever the agency determines is the current national rate plus 75 basis points. That national rate is a “simple average” of the rates paid by all the banks the FDIC insures and their branches based on available advertised rates from banks. Under the proposal, the agency would make two changes to that existing methodology. Instead of a simple average, the FDIC would use a weighted average that balances a bank’s market share and branches across different products. The actual cap would then be the higher of two metrics: either the 95th percentile of rates by category after being weighted, or the FDIC’s national rate plus 75 basis points.

Three bank failures in one week: A blip or something worse? - The closing of three banks in the span of a week should be viewed as a reason to exercise caution — though it is too early to expect a run of failures. Regulators shuttered City National Bank of New Jersey, Louisa Community Bank and Resolute Bank between Oct. 25 and Nov. 1. It had been four years since two banks failed on the same day. Only two banks were closed between December 2017 and last May, with both involving cases of alleged fraud. Bankers should pay attention because the recent closings could portend a stiffer regulatory stance on capital adequacy and risk, industry experts said. Regulators could be looking to address instances of poor management and inadequate capital before the next economic downturn. "With the economic cycle slowing, I'm afraid we haven’t seen the end of bank failures," said Michael Jamesson, a principal at Jamesson Associates, a consulting firm in Scottsville, N.Y. He noted that income pressures, including a flat yield curve and slowing loan demand, are challenging growth-minded banks. Recent closings could have been "house cleaning," said Bert Ely at the consulting firm Ely & Co. in Alexandria, Va. "It was time to kind of put those banks out of their misery." "I’m not so sure banks are realistically calculating their risks appropriately," said Danny Payne, a bank consultant and former commissioner of the Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending, noting that several small banks have been slow to reduce certain loan concentrations. While more failures should be expected, the industry is unlikely to see a spike as it did a decade ago when failures rose from three in 2007 to 140 just two years later. A spokesman for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which shuttered Resolute and City National, declined to comment. While an FDIC spokesman cautioned against reading too much into the recent failures, he noted that an extended period of zero interest rates helped keep credit issues at bay for many banks. Ely found it interesting that no premiums were paid for the failed banks, which he said indicates a lack of buyer interest. Kentucky Farmers Bank in Catlessburg bought most of the assets, and all of the deposits, of the $29.7 million-asset Louisa Community in Kentucky when it was closed on Oct. 25. An hour later, Buckeye State Bank in Powell, Ohio, acquired most of the assets, and all of the deposits, of the $27.1 million-asset Resolute Bank in Maumee, Ohio. The $120.6 million-asset City National Bank of New Jersey, a minority depository institution in Newark, was closed on Nov. 1. Its deposits, and most of its assets, were sold to Industrial Bank in Washington, D.C., another minority depository institution.

Berkshire Becomes Global Cash King- $128BN Cash Pile Bigger Than Apple, Google -- It hasn't been a good year for Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. While Warren Buffett's conglomerate reported that it earned just $4.0 billion in GAAP profits in fiscal 2018, down 90% from $45 billion the previous year, prompting the WSJ to describe 2018 as "one of Buffett's worst years ever" largely due to an unexpected write-down at Kraft Heinz and unrealized investment losses, shareholders have turned increasingly cautious on the soon to be nonagenarian of Omaha's (Buffett turns 90 next August) investment vehicle, with Berkshire A shares rising only 5.7% YTD, barely a quarter of the S&P's 22.3% 2019 increase. In a redemption attempt with its stock on track for its worst underperformance vs the S&P since 2009, Berkshire today reported that in the third quarter, its operating profit jumped 14% to a record high; largely thanks to investment gains at the company’s insurers and an increase in earnings from its railroad helped, operating profit jumped to $7.86 billion in Q3, or $4,816 per Class A share, from $6.88 billion, or $4,189 per share, a year earlier. The operating profit, which beat consensus analysts estimates of $4,405.16 per share, was the highest quarterly print on record. Berkshire benefited as a surprisingly resilient US consumer continued to spend even as economic growth slowed the most in years, offsetting a contraction in business investment. BNSF, one of Berkshire’s largest businesses, was able to boost profit 5% to $1.47 billion. The railroad’s cost-cutting helped offset lower revenue as demand for consumer, coal, industrial and agricultural products declined, the latter in part because of new trade policies. The billionaire's market skepticism was also visible in the company's buybacks of its own stock: Berkshire repurchased only $700 million of its own shares in the quarter, which while up from the paltry $400 million in Q2 repurchases, was down sharply from $1.7 billion in the first three months of the year.Which brings us to the most impressive state of all: with nothing notable to invest in, one quarter after Berkshire surpassed Apple and Google as the world's biggest corporate cash holder, in Q3 Berkshire reported a record cash pile of $128 billion, pushing past the record set in the second quarter, in the process putting even more distance away from both former cash king Apple, and the resurgent Google.

Stock Buybacks are a problem - Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer’s New York Times op-ed, “Limit Corporate Stock Buybacks,” has thrown internet gasoline on the buyback debate. The left is waving the flag, and the right is trying to tear it down. The core Sanders/Schumer argument: buybacks extract money from firms, money that could be used to pay workers more, and fund productive investment (including worker training and upskilling). The counterargument: how are buybacks any different from dividend distributions that way? Both transfer cash from firms to households. We don’t hear people complaining about dividend distributions stealing money from workers and investment.That counterargument is absolutely right, even while it’s completely wrong. Because both sides miss the overwhelming effect of stock buybacks (vs dividends). Buybacks are a massive tax dodge for shareholders.Imagine Megacorp wants to transfer a billion dollars to its shareholders (notably including the huge shareholders in its C suite and on its corporate board). Whether they distribute dividends or buy back shares, either way Megacorp has a billion dollars less on its balance sheet. Its book value drops by $1B.But what happens on the household, shareholder side? With a dividend distribution it’s simple; households get $1B in taxable dividend income. With a buyback, households that sell shares also receive $1B in cash, but they give up their shares, which obviously have value.That’s where the (perfectly legal) tax avoidance lies — perhaps best explained by example:Suppose the average shareholder’s shares were purchased for $20 each. That’s the shareholders’ tax basis. If Megacorp pays $25 a share (for 40M shares), the shareholders who sell have cap gains of $5 a share — $200M in taxable income — versus $1B if the same cash is paid out via dividends.Dividends and long-term cap gains in the U.S. are currently taxed using the same rates and brackets: 15% if your income is above $38K, 20% if it’s above $425K. If Megacorp chooses a $1B stock buyback, our imagined shareholders pay $40M in taxes (at the 20% rate), versus $200M in taxes on a dividend distribution.

Washington flexes its muscles on small-business lending - Federal banking regulators have waded in recent weeks into two separate controversies involving small-business lending, abandoning the caution they have long maintained on both issues. In one instance, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency angered borrower advocates by siding in court with a high-cost business lender. In the other, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau signaled its intention to move forward with a small-business lending rule that has languished for nine years amid sharp disagreements over its proper scope. The moves suggest that the Trump administration is starting to flex its muscles on the regulation of small-business lending. Court decisions and inaction by the legislative and executive branches in Washington have ceded power to the states in recent years. On Wednesday, the CFPB will hold a symposium on how to implement a provision of the Dodd-Frank Act that requires lenders to collect and report certain information about small-business borrowers, including whether the firms are owned by women or minorities. The event, which will feature remarks by CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger, is a notable step forward in a rulemaking process that has moved at a glacial pace during both the Obama and Trump administrations. The speakers will include numerous lenders, two researchers from right-leaning think tanks and the president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. The discussion is likely to touch on how much data the CFPB should collect from small-business lenders. The Dodd-Frank Act requires the collection of certain information that can be used to identify instances of discrimination — similar to the regulators’ use of data reported under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act — but it also gives the CFPB discretion on whether to collect additional information, and there is sharp disagreement over how far the bureau should go.

'We don't need to be scared by sunshine': Industry backs CFPB rule - For a measure that’s languished in bureaucratic limbo for nine years, the Dodd-Frank Act’s requirement that lenders start collecting and reporting data on small-business loans actually seems to have a lot of support. At a forum convened Wednesday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, financial industry representatives said that the long-awaited rules can help protect against discrimination and shine a light on unsavory practices in the market for small-business credit. “The business community should be behind this rule. The business community will benefit from this rule,” said Brad Blower, vice president of consumer practices at American Express. “We don’t need to be scared by some sunshine.” Richard Neiman, head of public policy at LendingClub, argued that the rules can provide a model for a market-based, pro-innovation approach to regulation. “We believe that the collection of data will encourage the market to address both the lack of access to affordable small-business credit and the unfortunate rise of irresponsible lending," he said. The CFPB is charged with writing the small-business lending rules, which bear a resemblance to the long-standing requirement that consumer lenders collect and report information about the race and gender of residential mortgage applicants. A lot of important decisions remain to be made — including how much data will be collected, about which products, and from which companies. Wednesday’s event at the bureau’s headquarters in Washington, marked a step forward in that process. In her opening remarks, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger alluded to negative feedback that the agency has received from some financial industry officials, including concerns about a possible curtailment of credit to small businesses. “The bureau fully recognizes the sensitivities here, and we know that the rule needs to be done with great care and consideration,” Kraninger said. Yet the financial industry representatives who spoke Wednesday were largely upbeat about the potential rules, even while warning that they could have certain negative effects depending on how they're written.

McDonald’s CEO Gets Fired for Relationship with Subordinate; Jamie Dimon Survives Three Felony Counts and an Organized Crime Trading Desk Charge  by Pam Martens - Corporate America is increasingly sending conflicting messages to its top executives: engaging in relationships with subordinates, consensual or otherwise, will cost you your job – but criminal acts involving looting the public, not so much. Steve Easterbrook, the CEO of the fast food chain, McDonald’s, was fired by his Board yesterday for engaging in a consensual relationship with an employee, in violation of company policy. The Board of the largest bank in the United States, on the other hand, JPMorgan Chase, has not fired its Chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon, despite the following occurring on his watch: $6.2 billion in losses from a high-risk gamble with derivatives in London in 2012 – using, mind you, the deposits of its federally-insured bank. Then came 2014 when the bank was charged for its role in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. The Madoff matter landed the bank with two criminal felony counts from the U.S. Department of Justice, to which it pleaded guilty. The very following year, 2015, JPMorgan Chase pleaded guilty to one more criminal felony charge for its role in rigging foreign currency trading. It’s still on probation for that, and yet, just this past September, the U.S. Department of Justice, for the first time that anyone can remember, named the precious metals trading desk of the bank a criminal enterprise and charged three of its traders, including the head of the desk, with racketeering under the RICO statute – a law that is typically used to prosecute organized crime – which the bank is increasingly looking a lot like. Adding to the conflicted message that corporate America is sending to the public and shareholders, Dimon is also the Chairman of the Business Roundtable, whose Board includes the CEOs of some of the largest corporations in America. What kind of message is the Business Roundtable sending to America when it selects as its leader a man whose bank has been serially charged with brazenly violating criminal statutes, paying fines and moving on to the next rip-off.

 Feds may have secretly recorded UAW President Gary Jones ordering cover-up of embezzlement of union funds - The legal net is closing in on United Auto Workers union President Gary Jones, with legal experts saying the FBI likely has undercover recordings of Jones ordering subordinates to destroy evidence and take the fall for him, according to the Detroit News. Last Saturday, the UAW announced Jones was being put on paid leave, just two days after Edward Robinson, who worked closely with Jones in the UAW Region 5 office in Hazelwood, Missouri, was charged with conspiracy to embezzle union funds and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Robinson is expected to plead guilty in the case. According to the indictment released last week, between 2010 through at least September 2019, Robinson and Region 5 Director Vance Pearson—who has already been indicted—conspired with five other top UAW officials, only identified as “UAW Officials A-E,” to use $1.5 million in union funds for their personal use. Sources close to the investigation have identified Gary Jones as “UAW Official A”; former president Dennis Williams as “UAW Official B”; Jones’ former deputy Danny Trull as “UAW Official C”; and Amy Loasching, a top aide to Williams, as “UAW Official D.” The identity of “UAW Official E” has not been revealed. According to the indictment, Robinson and his coconspirators pilfered hundreds of thousands of dollars from the union’s Solidarity House headquarters in Detroit and Community Action Programs (CAP) in the Southwest and Midwest, which are UAW political action committees funded by a per capita tax that is part of the union dues deducted from workers’ paychecks. Robinson and others submitted phony expense vouchers to the national UAW headquarters and the CAP funds for what they claimed were legitimate Region 5 activities. Half a million dollars was diverted from the Midwest CAP fund alone, the indictment states, with a significant portion “converted to cash, to further fuel the lavish lifestyles to which the officials had become accustomed to.” The most damning revelations concern how Jones reportedly reacted once the net began closing in on him. During a meeting between Official A, Robinson, and Pearson, “Official A promised to provide a sham job to a relative of Edward N. Robinson in order to ‘take care of’ a relative if Robinson agreed to falsely take sole responsibility for the UAW Midwest CAP cash embezzlement portion of the conspiracy, thereby attempting to protect UAW official A from federal criminal prosecution.” A similar meeting was held in March 2019 to discuss the government investigation and the sham job for Robinson’s relative. Discussing whether the government already had obtained documents from the union and the hotels relating to the embezzlement scheme, “UAW Official A told Edward N. Robinson that (UAW Official A) wished they ‘burned the records,’” according to the indictment.

A single anonymous market manipulator caused bitcoin to top $20,000 two years ago, study shows A forensic study on bitcoin’s 2017 boom has found that nearly the entire rise of the digital currency at the time is attributable to “one large player,” although the market manipulator remains unidentified. Finance professors John Griffin and Amin Shams – instructors at University of Texas and the Ohio State University, respectively – analyzed over 200 gigabytes of data for the transaction history between bitcoin and tether, another digital currency. Tether is an asset known as a “stablecoin,” which has its trading value connected to the dollar. The professors’ study found that tethers being traded for bitcoins revealed a pattern. “We find that the identified patterns are not present on other flows, and almost the entire price impact can be attributed to this one large player,” Griffin and Shams wrote. “We map this data across both blockchains and find that the one player or entity (labeled as 1LSg throughout the paper) is behind the majority of the patterns we document.” Griffin and Shams were able to follow the clusters of data to a source: “One large account at Bitfinex.” The digital currency exchange Bitfinex is one of the largest in the world. The study found that, through Bitfinex, the single player was able to manipulate demand for bitcoin via “extreme” flows of tethers. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the updated study’s results on Monday. The manipulation occurred as bitcoin rose to an all-time high of nearly $20,000 in late 2017, the study found. Bitcoin traded at about $9,300 on Monday.

 As federal fintech regulatory plans founder, a push for alternatives — As federal regulatory options for fintech firms remain elusive, many in the space are pushing for the creation of an alternative "flexible" supervisory regime that relies on existing authorities and a more collaborative approach from state agencies. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has so far been stymied in its attempts to create a national fintech charter, with it planning to appeal a court decision last month that threw out its proposal of the idea. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., meanwhile, appears to still be debating whether to grant industrial loan company charters to fintech applicants. That has left the industry, which is currently overseen by dozens of state regulators, seeking other options. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank with a history of tech-friendly policy stances, issued a report this week that included a range of suggestions, including more multistate compacts and reciprocity agreements among state agencies and the expanded use of no-action letters and regulatory sandboxes. But the recommendations face headwinds in the current political environment, with lawmakers skeptical of technology firms' attempts to break into banking. “There’s a genuine desire among regulators to open the door to allowing more innovation within the system,” said Cliff Stanford, a partner at Alston & Bird. “But there are elements of our legal structure that would constrain those efforts without some real change.” Pointing at the myriad of regulators on both the state and federal level that fintech companies have to contend with in order to get to market, the ITIF argues that when states move together on supervision, innovators with national ambitions can focus on innovating, rather than complying with 50 different state regimes. The report points to Vision 2020, a project launched by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors last year to streamline the licensing process for fintechs operating across state lines, as one example. “Without a single, comprehensive strategy for financial regulation, regulators will continue to be at odds, and states will continue to pass mismatched rules that raise costs and reduce consumer welfare,” the report said.

 Who Owns Silicon Valley? - IN A REGION where real estate equals influence, prestige and prosperity, just 10 power brokers — a mix of technology behemoths, commercial and residential developers and one private university — own about $59.2 billion in taxable property, making them the largest landowners in Silicon Valley.Their concentrated wealth provides a window into how tech and real estate companies — and the university, Stanford — have shaped the valley into an economic powerhouse but also helped create the housing crisis now threatening Silicon Valley’s money-making engine, straining its middle class and displacing people who have lived here their whole lives.These findings come from an analysis by a collaboration of local and national media, including this news organization, of more than half a million property records from the Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office during a year-long reporting project. Much of the property is owned by a web of corporations and trusts, requiring deeper reporting into thousands of records to reveal the true ownership. As both large players and smaller buyers bid up the price of land and consolidated their holdings over the last decade, who can afford to buy — and who can’t — has become perhaps the region’s most critical dynamic. The 10 largest owners alone control more than 11 percent of all the taxable property in the county. The county’s largest property owner is Stanford University, birthplace of some of the valley’s best-known tech companies. The university owns roughly $19.7 billion worth of taxable property, according to the analysis of records for fiscal year 2018. Four tech companies join Stanford in the top 10: Apple owns about $9 billion in assessed property and Google has $7.5 billion, primarily in their office campuses in Cupertino and Mountain View, respectively. Google also has recently purchased large swaths of downtown San Jose for a campus expected to include offices, housing and retail. Cisco Systems owns $3.4 billion while Intel’s total is $2.5 billion.  The other five top owners are real estate development companies, all but one with decades-old ties to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. They are San Francisco-based Jay Paul Company and Mountain View-based The Sobrato Organization, both of which specialize in commercial real estate; and Prometheus Real Estate Group and Essex Property Trust, both founded in San Mateo, each owning billions of dollars worth of apartment buildings, although Prometheus also owns hundreds of millions of dollars worth of office and research properties. The only outlier is The Irvine Company, a relative newcomer to this region best known for master-planning the city of Irvine in Orange County. Spotting opportunity in the valley’s boom, the privately-owned company has amassed $5.9 billion in apartments, offices, research and even some manufacturing buildings in Santa Clara County, much of it in the past six years.

Nearly half of America's millennial millionaires live in California, and it highlights just how strong the relationship between tech, money, and real estate is --There are 618,000 millennial millionaires in America — and 44% of them live in California, according to a new report by Coldwell Banker. The Coldwell Banker Global Luxury program worked with wealth intelligence data and research firm WealthEngine to analyze the lifestyles of millennial millionaires, from wealth creation and property investments to spending trends. It defined millennial millionaires as those ages 23 to 37 with a net worth of more than $1 million.It also looked at the top 10 ZIP codes where these millennial millionaires live. Turns out, eight of those ZIPs are in California; of those eight, no fewer than seven are in Silicon Valley, from Cupertino to San Jose.It's not just millennial millionaires who are concentrated in California. According to the report, the state also has the highest population of millionaires overall, regardless of age. That doesn't come as a major surprise, given that Silicon Valley is the country's tech capital — but it does go to show the power Silicon Valley has in minting young wealth.Some of today's most prominent tech companies emerged in Silicon Valley in the 2000s: Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and Tesla all got their legs in the area.It follows that some of the biggest names in tech are known to live in some of the biggest price-tag mansions in the area. Look no further than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who purchased a $7 million home in Palo Alto, or Snap. Inc. And Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey bought his San Francisco home for $9.9 million in 2012.And Silicon Valley is still busy minting new millionaires today.  "They're 26 years old, only a few years out of school, and they have just gotten a big equity play of $5 million because of what they can do at their desk behind a computer," Karen Yang of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Los Altos said in the report of California's millennial millionaires. "They view real estate as a significant way to build wealth."

 The Next Shoe In The Farm Crisis Drops- Bankruptcies Soar 24% - The American Farm Bureau (AFB) warned Wednesday that farm bankruptcies are entering a parabolic move. The farm crisis, as we've pointed out, is only accelerating and will likely be on par with the farm disaster that was seen in the early 1980s.President Trump's farm bailouts, given to farmers earlier this year, appears to be failing at this moment in time, as a tsunami in farm bankruptcies is sweeping across the country. With record-high debt, collapsing farm income, and depressed commodity prices, US farmers are dropping like flies as there's no end in sight in the 15-month long trade war. AFB said farm bankruptcies for the 12 months ending in September, totaled an astonishing 580 filings, up 24% YoY. The number of Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies [580 filings] for the period was the highest since 676 filings were recorded in 2011. For 3Q19, farm bankruptcies were slightly lower, down 2% YoY.  "Total bankruptcies filed by state vary significantly, from no bankruptcies in some states to more than 20 filings in others. Bankruptcy filings were the highest in Wisconsin at 48 filings, followed by 37 filings in Georgia, Nebraska, and Kansas. Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and West Virginia all experienced Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings at or above 10-year highs," AFB wrote.   AFB's next chart is YoY change in farm bankruptcies over the 12 months, which shows bankruptcies accelerated the greatest in Oklahoma, Georgia, California, Iowa, and Kansas.  The next chart from AFB outlines how bankruptcy filings over the previous 12 months ending in September, jumped in every major region across the country. Some of the most significant increases were seen in the Midwest, up 40% over the period.Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies are expected to increase through the next several quarters. This could be problematic to President Trump as the 2020 election year begins. Many of the bankruptcies are occurring in election battleground states like Wisconsin.

Farm Bankruptcies Rise in Over Half of States -- Across the country, farmers are struggling with particularly difficult financial realities. The past year has seen extreme flooding in the Midwest and drought in the West, a tariff war that resulted in commodity prices plummeting, and falling land value.That combination of factors has left some wondering about the health of America’s farming economy, and worrying that the country may be headed toward a farm crisis like the one seen in the 1980s, when farmers experienced mass foreclosures. Testifying before the House Agriculture Committee in February, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue sounded the alarm on debt. “Farm debt has been rising more rapidly over the last five years, increasing by 30 percent since 2013—up from $315 billion to $409 billion, according to USDA data, and up from $385 billion in just the last year—to levels seen in the 1980s,” Perdue said.Now, new figures from the American Farm Bureau Federation are also sparking concern. From October 2018 to September 2019, Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies rose 24% from the prior year and reached the highest level since 2011. Twenty-seven states saw a rise in bankruptcies compared to the previous year. The report also estimates that farm debt will rise to $416 billion by the end of 2019.“Farmers are amassing more debt as the cost of farming continues to increase,” said John Newton, the chief economist at the AFBF and the author of the report. As a result, farmers are taking out operating and real estate loans, and resorting to bankruptcy when they can’t pay them back. Chapter 12 bankruptcies are only open to family farmers and family fishermen, allowing them to restructure their finances to avoid foreclosure. Farmers must propose a plan to pay creditors within three to five years. This year, President Trump signed into law the Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019, which increased the debt limit for Chapter 12 bankruptcy eligibility from $4.4 million to $10 million. Farm debt is largely held by commercial banks and the nationwide Farm Credit System, a network of lending cooperatives.  Farms in the Midwest were particularly hard hit by bankruptcies in the past year, which Newton said is the result of persistently low commodity prices on corn, soybean and wheat, all staples of the region. More than 40% of the 580 farm bankruptcies happened in the heartland, and the region filled the top ten list for states with the highest numbers of bankruptcies. Wisconsin came in first, with 48 filings. Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Minnesota were also in the top ten. Much of the Midwest experience bankruptcy filings at or above ten-year highs. Those numbers are ringing alarm bells in a region where direct agriculture jobs—including farming and ranching—make up around 8% or more of a state’s total jobs.

GSEs need to shape up if they want to leave conservatorship: Calabria — With the Federal Housing Finance Agency intensely focused on setting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on a path out of conservatorship, it is sometimes easy to forget that the agency still supervises the mortgage giants on a daily basis. And Mark Calabria, the agency's director, is not giving them an easy pass. Calabria made that clear Thursday as he described certain practices at the government-sponsored enterprises that he stopped after joining the agency in April, noting that they were not in line with his expectations. “I’ll certainly say I have yet to meet anybody who wants to get out of conservatorship" as much as Fannie and Freddie do, Calabria said at a meeting with reporters. “But certainly what you’ve been seeing over the last few years is not the kind of day-to-day behavior that you would expect from companies that are in conservatorship.” For example, Calabria was surprised to learn when he took the helm of the FHFA in April that despite a previously issued directive that banned the two GSEs from offering volume discounts to lenders, Fannie and Freddie were still engaging in that practice. “There were a number of exceptions granted to lenders, and again, these are private deals, so I’m not going to talk about any one of them. But the fact that they existed was contrary I think to the spirit of the previous directive,” he said. In September, the agency announced that it had formally communicated to Fannie and Freddie that they are prohibited from offering volume discounts to larger market players, and that the FHFA would review the GSEs’ compliance through regular reporting. And up until recently, one of the GSEs awarded compensation based on its market share, which Calabria also found inappropriate for companies still under government control. (He would not disclose whether it was Fannie or Freddie.) “The top line of this is to remind them that you’re in conservatorship, and everything you do should be geared toward getting yourself out of conservatorship,” Calabria said.

FHFA floats a new plan for uniform MBS structure - The Federal Housing Finance Agency is seeking comment on a proposal that could pave the way for potential Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac competitors to use the uniform mortgage-backed security structure. The plan the FHFA released a request for input on Monday would route the majority of the government-sponsored enterprises' securitized production into larger multilender pools as a means of possibly achieving this long-term UMBS goal. In addition, the RFI seeks comment on ways that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could handle situations where the prepayment behavior of a particular lender's loans departs from industry norms and has an adverse effect on investors. FHFA Director Mark Calabria in a speech at the Structured Finance Association's residential mortgage conference stressed that the RFI was designed to help the agency chart a path forward for the uniform mortgage-backed security, not an indication of any shortcomings in its June launch, which he called a "success." The FHFA also is hoping to make a call on whether to repropose its draft capital rule in the next couple weeks, Calabria told attendees at the meeting, noting that he remains concerned about the undercapitalized GSEs' risk. "I would like to get these enterprises a lot less leveraged than they are today," he said. Under the current capital rule proposal, the GSEs would be required to collectively raise $125 billion before being released from conservatorship, but that "could take a lot of years," Don Layton, the former CEO at Freddie Mac, noted in a separate session at the conference, reiterating concerns he has had about the process.

It's Obviously Disturbing - Mortgage Market Reopens To Subprime Borrowers - After more than a decade since the subprime mortgage market triggered the 2008 financial meltdown, the strict lending standards placed on new homeowners post-crisis have disintegrated in the last three years.Homebuyers with low credit scores, gig-economy jobs, and high-debt loads (sounds like millennials), can now obtain mortgages and participate in the American dream of owning a home.Putting unqualified people back into homes is the latest example of stupidity from Wall Street, but the lack of oversight from the Federal Reserve and government. The rapid surge of non-qualified, or non-QM bonds, is happening as cracks in the housing market have appeared. For instance, the housing price growth of major cities in the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index has stalled. Delinquency rates of these unconventional loans have also started to tick higher. "It's obviously disturbing this late in the cycle to see originations for these loans at the kind of level they've kicked up to," Daniel Alpert, managing partner at Westwood Capital, told Bloomberg. "The housing market is not quite ready for a big infusion of this product."Banks, who are underwriting these unconventional loans, are doing so through weakening standards very late in an economic expansion. The expectation is that a recession could arrive as early as next year, could lead to a further tick up in delinquency rates.The non-QM bond market is nowhere near the size of the subprime bond market of 2007/08. "It's not the subprime we remember from 2006 to 2007," said Mario Rivera, managing director of the Fortress Credit Funds business, which has bought non-QM bonds. "It's more of a second or third inning of non-QM. We're getting the best collateral before the more aggressive lending comes in."Bloomberg says the size of the non-QM bond market is about $27 billion, a tiny fraction compared to the $10 trillion mortgage-bond market. Back in 2007, the subprime mortgage bond market was approximately $1.8 trillion right before it imploded. Nonbank mortgage lenders have largely underwritten these unconventional loans, but large banks like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Credit Suisse Group AG, and Citigroup Inc. have been entering the space since 2016.  Recent non-QM borrowers have had credit scores at or below 700, many have provided income statements rather than tax returns. Fitch Ratings analysis warns non-QM borrowers are susceptible to income fluctuations. Fitch added that non-QM bonds have a lot more safeguards than the subprime ones did in 2007.

Dozens of lawmakers urge more flood insurance reforms — A group of 64 House lawmakers is pushing congressional leadership to incorporate premium caps and address a new methodology for assessing risk in flood insurance reform legislation that the Financial Services Committee advanced in June. The flood insurance bill sponsored by Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., drew bipartisan praise during the committee debate, including from Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the panel's top Republican. The legislation would reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program for five years, require disclosure of property-specific risks for homeowners and homebuyers, update maps to create new flood zones, and enable individuals with non-NFIP policies to return to the program without penalty. But in a letter sent Friday to House leadership, dozens of members of Congress — led by Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., Garret Graves, R-La., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and David Rouzer, R-N.C., among others — expressed concern that Waters’ bill could increase premiums for some consumers. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Risk Rating 2.0, a new methodology for assessing a property’s flood risk, is set to go into effect next year, and the lawmakers argue that the new tool “could lead to increased premiums, forcing homeowners to drop coverage, or even worse, lose their home,” the letter said. There are also many unknowns about the new methodology, the lawmakers argued, such as impacts to grandfathered policies, the sources of the data that will be used to calculate risk and how risk would be calculated for properties located behind levee systems. “With Risk Rating 2.0 on the horizon, we encourage you to do everything possible to prevent premium spikes for our constituents,” the letter said. “Our constituents cannot suffer from a double-digit rate increase in addition to the fees and surcharges FEMA could impose on policy holders under Risk Rating 2.0.” Congress has been unable to pass long-term flood insurance reform for years, and has had to extend the NFIP nearly a dozen times since the 2017 fiscal year.

Black Knight Mortgage Monitor for September: "Early-Stage Delinquencies Continue to Rise Among Purchase Loans" -- CR Note: Early-stage delinquencies are still historically very low, but have been increasing (see second graph). Black Knight released their Mortgage Monitor report for September today. According to Black Knight, 3.53% of mortgages were delinquent in September, down from 3.97% in September 2018. Black Knight also reported that 0.48% of mortgages were in the foreclosure process, down from 0.52% a year ago.  This gives a total of 4.05% delinquent or in foreclosure. Press Release: Black Knight’s September 2019 Mortgage Monitor: First-Time Homebuyers Under Pressure as Early-Stage Delinquencies Continue to Rise Among Purchase Loans” This month, Black Knight looked at the current trend of rising early-stage delinquencies, particularly among purchase loans. As Black Knight Data & Analytics President Ben Graboske explained, the number of loans that were delinquent six months following origination has been increasing over the past 24 months, with first-time homebuyers being impacted most heavily. “We’ve seen early-stage delinquencies rise over the last several years, with the increase being driven primarily by purchase loans,” said Graboske. “About 1% of loans originated in Q1 2019 were delinquent six months after origination. While that’s less than one-third of the 2000-2005 average of 2.95%, it represents a more than 60% increase over the last two years and is the highest it’s been since late 2010. Early-stage GSE delinquencies currently stand at 0.6%, up two tenths of a percentage point over the past 24 months, but still 40% below the market average and 60% below their own 2000-2005 average of 1.3%. Though there has been some softening in GSE purchase loan performance, it hasn’t been to the extent seen among entry-level buyers. All in all, first-time homebuyer originations combined between the GSEs and GNMA increased by nearly 50% between 2014 and 2018. However, whereas first-time homebuyers represent just over 40% of GSE purchase loans, they make up 70% of the GNMA purchase market. Here is a graph from the Mortgage Monitor that shows the Foreclosure Sales over time. From Black Knight:

• Foreclosure sales (completions) are down 14% year-over-year, and have now set new record lows in each of the past five quarters
• The 35.7K foreclosure sales in Q3 are nearly 50% below the pre-recession (2000-2005) average
• Florida, New York and Illinois led all states with 3.2K, 2.5K and 2.4K foreclosure completions respectively in Q3
• Despite having the largest number of foreclosure sales, Florida's sale activity declined by 19% from the year prior, while in New York, sales actually edged slightly upward year-over-year (+4% Y/Y)

MBA 2020 Economic and Mortgage Forecast: Forecasting 0.9% GDP Growth in 2020 - From the MBA: MBA 2020 Forecast: Purchase Originations to Increase 1.6 Percent to $1.29 Trillion:  MBA forecasts total mortgage originations will come in around $2.06 trillion this year - the best since 2007 ($2.31 trillion) - before likely decreasing to around $1.89 trillion in 2020. In 2021, MBA expects purchase originations to total around $1.33 trillion, and refinance originations to reach $432 billion ($1.74 trillion total). Mike Fratantoni, MBA's Chief Economist and Senior Vice President for Research and Industry Technology, says geopolitical uncertainty and a slowdown in the global economy combined to be the driving force behind this year's increased financial market volatility and drop in interest rates. He expects these headwinds to continue, which will lead to slower economic growth in the United States next year. "Interest rates will, on average, remain lower for longer given the somewhat cloudy economic outlook. These lower rates will in turn support both purchase and refinance origination volume in 2020," said Fratantoni. "Lower-than-expected mortgage rates gave the refinance market a significant boost this year, resulting in it being the strongest year of volume since 2016. Given the capacity constraints in the industry, some of this refinance activity will spill into the first half of next year." After multiple years of home-price growth above wage gains, several markets in 2019 saw a slight slowdown in price appreciation. Fratantoni expects to see further deceleration in the next few years, as additional housing supply comes on the market. "Moderating price growth is healthy, as it allows household incomes to catch up with home values. This improvement in affordability will lead to more home sales - especially given the rise in household formation and growing demand from first-time homebuyers," said Fratantoni.  Here are Fratantoni's economic forecast. Note that he is expecting GDP to slow to 0.9% next year (2020), and to be especially sluggish in the first half of next year.

 Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey -Mortgage applications decreased 0.1 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending November 1, 2019.... The Refinance Index increased 2 percent from the previous week and was 144 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 3 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 4 percent compared with the previous week and was 7 percent higher than the same week one year ago....“U.S. Treasury yields once again exhibited some intraweek volatility before declining sharply toward the end of the week. As a result, mortgage rates decreased, with the 30-year fixed rate falling below 4 percent again,” said Joel Kan, Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “In response to the lower rates, refinance applications climbed 2 percent, as homeowners with larger loan balances helped to keep the average refinance loan size elevated. Purchase applications fell slightly last week but remained almost 7 percent higher than a year ago.”Added Kan, “Amidst persistent supply constraints in the entry-level price range, there’s evidence that high-end homebuyers are more active this fall. The average loan size for purchase applications increased to its highest level since May.”... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 3.98 percent from 4.05 percent, with points remaining unchanged at 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

 CoreLogic: House Prices up 3.5% Year-over-year in September - Notes: This CoreLogic House Price Index report is for September. The recent Case-Shiller index release was for August. The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA). From CoreLogic: CoreLogic Reports September Home Prices Increased by 3.5% Year Over Year CoreLogic® ... today released the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI™) and HPI Forecast™ for September 2019, which shows home prices rose both year over year and month over month. Home prices increased nationally by 3.5% from September 2018. On a month-over-month basis, prices increased by 0.4% in September 2019. Home prices continue to increase on an annual basis with the CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicating annual price growth will increase 5.6% by September 2020. On a month-over-month basis, the forecast calls for home prices to increase by 0.3% from September 2019 to October 2019. The CoreLogic HPI Forecast is a projection of home prices calculated using the CoreLogic HPI and other economic variables. Values are derived from state-level forecasts by weighting indices according to the number of owner-occupied households for each state. “Mortgage rates were a full percentage point lower this September compared to a year ago, boosting affordability for first-time buyers and supporting a rise in homeownership,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. “In addition to lower interest rates, personal income grew faster than home prices during the past year. This provided an additional lift for first-time buyer affordability and helped to boost the homeownership rate to the highest level in more than five years.” This graph is from CoreLogic and shows the YoY change in their index. CR Note: The YoY change in the CoreLogic index decreased over the last year, but is now moving sideways.

 Zillow Case-Shiller Forecast: Similar YoY Price Gains in September compared to August The Case-Shiller house price indexes for August were released last week. 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: August Case-Shiller Results and September Forecast: Stabilizing, not Swooning The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index® rose 3.2% year-over-year in August (non-seasonally adjusted), up from 3.1% in July. Annual growth in the smaller 10-city index was slightly slower than July, and was unchanged in the 20-city index.… September data as reported by Case-Shiller are expected to show continued modest deceleration in annual growth in the 10-city and U.S. National indices, while growth in the 20-city index is expected to remain the same. S&P Dow Jones Indices is expected to release data for the September S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices on Tuesday, Nov. 26.

  Why Your New Jail Cell May Be Your Home --  A housing affordability crisis, depressed wages, insurmountable debts, and a downturn in the economy have paralyzed US homeowners as their ability to move collapses.  US homeowners in 2019 had spent an average of 13 years in their home, up from eight years in 2010, reported Redfin.Across 55 metros Redfin analyzed, homeowners in all regions stayed in their home much longer versus 2010.Salt Lake City, UT; Houston, TX; Fort Worth, TX; San Antonio, TX; and Dallas, TX were some of the metropolitan areas where homeowners were staying the longest as their economic mobility rotted away over the last decade or so. Here are the top 18 cities where homeowners were staying in their homes the longest:This means your home is your prison, and it's possible new homeowners will be stuck in their new purchases for a much more extended period than ones before them after the next recession strikes. That is because many of the new homeowners are millennials with insurmountable debts. It's not just mortgage debt that will hold back millennial homeowners from moving — their student loans, auto loans, and credit card debt will also be a significant factor.  Plus, most millennials have been purchasing homes at the highest price extremes, they will have to wait for the Federal Reserve to blow up the housing bubble again before they can break even after prices fall in the next recession. 

Update: Framing Lumber Prices Up Year-over-year - Here is another monthly update on framing lumber prices.   Lumber prices declined from the record highs in early 2018, and are now mostly unchanged year-over-year. This graph shows two measures of lumber prices: 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through Nov 4, 2019 (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures.  Right now Random Lengths prices are up 5% from a year ago, and CME futures are up 30% year-over-year.  There is a seasonal pattern for lumber prices, and usually prices will increase in the Spring, and peak around May, and then bottom around October or November - although there is quite a bit of seasonal variability.  The trade war is a factor with reports that lumber exports to China have declined by 40% since last September.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Decreased Year-over-year, RevPAR upcycle Near End -- From Jan Freitag at US hotels post RevPAR losses for second month in 2019 The RevPAR upcycle is now in its 115th month, and 112 of those months had positive RevPAR change. So, I wonder if it’s time to retire the term “upcycle” if RevPAR is declining, as it did in September. The long-run monthly RevPAR growth chart now looks like this, but the header needs a qualifier (“three small interruptions”) and so it may be time to come up with a better descriptor. From STR: US hotel results for week ending 26 October The U.S. hotel industry reported overall flat year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 20-26 October 2019, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 21-27 October 2018, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: -0.2% to 70.5%
• Average daily rate (ADR): +0.2% to US$135.00
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): flat at US$95.15
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 now start to decline into the winter.

 Student, Auto Loans Hit New Record High, Even As Consumers Unexpectedly Paid Down Credit Cards - After a torrid summer which saw a surge in revolving (i.e., credit card) debt in July and a near record surge in non-revolving credit in August, in September consumer credit growth crumbled, as Americans only added $9.5 billion to their total debt, which rose less than the $15 billion expected, from $4.140 trillion to $4.149 trillion. While the increase in non-revolving credit, which was $10.6 billion, was on the low side, it wasn't necessarily remarkable. However, it was the $1.1 billion drop in revolving credit that was curious, as this was just the second consecutive decline in credit card debt (i.e., repayments), since April 2018. And while US consumers appeared to be repaying their credit card debt after a rather aggressive binge earlier in the year, when it comes to student and auto loans, there were no surprises, with the former increasing by $33 billion in the third quarter, when auto loans increased by $21 billion, both series hit new record highs, to wit: student loan is now $1.639 trillion, and auto loans are now $1.194 trillion, both all time highs.

 BEA: October Vehicles Sales decreased to 16.6 Million SAAR - The BEA released their estimate of October vehicle sales this morning. The BEA estimated sales of 16.55 million SAAR in October 2019 (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate), down 3.4% from the September sales rate, and down 5.3% from October 2019. Sales in 2019 are averaging 16.91 million (average of seasonally adjusted rate), down 1.6% compared to the same period in 2018. This graph shows light vehicle sales since 2006 from the BEA (blue) and an estimate for October (red).  The GM strike might have impacted sales in October.A small decline in sales to date this year isn't a concern - I think sales will move mostly sideways at near record levels.This means the economic boost from increasing auto sales is over (from the bottom in 2009, auto sales boosted growth every year through 2016). The second graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967. Note: dashed line is current estimated sales rate of 16.55 million SAAR.

Turning Japanese? Growth In $9BN US Adult Diaper Market Explodes, Topping Baby Diapers - According to one recent study, fully one-fifth of the world's population will be of retirement age by 2070. This phenomenon is largely due to trends in the developed world: as the costs of education, housing and survival skyrocket, many are choosing to have fewer babies, delay family formation, or simply skip that whole mess altogether. We've been over the repercussions of an aging society particularly as it relates to the economy (more job openings, slower economic growth). For better or worse, the world already has a model for how these trends might impact us, at least in the early stages. And that model is Japan, a country that already has more citizen over the age of 80 than under the age of 10. As demographic issues create new and unforeseen challenges, Reuters reported on an easily-overlooked issue: the revolution in the consumer-products space that will need to take place in the coming years. As the population of the elderly explodes, the need for hygiene products like adults diapers will likely see a commensurate surge (and many of the companies that make these products are publicly-traded consumer staples).  The market is already growing, and last year, it expanded by 9%, to hit $9 billion.

Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa can be hijacked with a $14 laser pointer to open garage doors, start cars, and shop online - A team of researchers from Tokyo's University of Electro-Communications and the University of Michigan say they have discovered that you can "hijack" voice-enabled devices by shining a laser at them.The team found that microphones in some of the most popular smart speakers and smartphones on the market interpreted the bright light of the laser as sound."Thus, by modulating an electrical signal in the intensity of a light beam, attackers can trick microphones into producing electrical signals as if they are receiving genuine audio," they wrote. The team tested popular smart-speaker models from all the major tech firms as well as some smartphones that variously run Google's Assistant, Amazon's Alexa, and Apple's Siri. Their list of devices included Google Home, various Amazon Echo models, the Apple HomePod, and Facebook's Portal speaker, which runs Alexa. They also tested an iPhone XR, a Samsung Galaxy S9, and a Google Pixel 2. The team found all were vulnerable to the attack, in varying degrees. They were able to hijack the tablets, phones, and speakers from some distance — and through windows. They hijacked a Google Home speaker from 110 meters away, for example. Some of the devices were less vulnerable than others, as noted by Wired and in the team's paper. Some Android smartphones, the iPhone, and the iPad, require additional authentication or a "wake word" from the user before carrying out certain actions. Would-be hijackers would need to re-create a person saying a wake command like "Hey Siri" or "OK Google" to wake up an assistant before they could carry out an attack.But smart speakers don't have this extra layer of authentication. The researchers used reasonably affordable laser pointers ranging from $13.99 to $17.99 to carry out the attacks, though to give the speakers specific instructions the laser pointer had to be paired with a $27.99 sound amplifier and device called a laser driver to control the intensity of the beam — which costs $339.  Here's a video of the team hacking a Google Home device to open a garage door using a cheap laser pointer:

Trade Deficit decreased to $52.5 Billion in September - From the Department of Commerce reported:The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $52.5 billion in September, down $2.6 billion from $55.0 billion in August, revised.September exports were $206.0 billion, $1.8 billion less than August exports. September imports were $258.4 billion, $4.4 billion less than August imports. Both exports and imports decreased in September.Exports are 25% above the pre-recession peak and down 2% to September 2018; imports are 11% above the pre-recession peak, and down 3% compared to September 2018. In general, trade both imports and exports have moved more sideways or down recently.The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum. The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products.Note that the U.S. exported a slight net positive petroleum products in September.Oil imports averaged $53.12 per barrel in September, down from $54.13 in August, and down from $61.40 in September 2018. The trade deficit with China decreased to $31.6 billion in September, from $40.3 billion in September 2018.

US Deficit Shrinks As Petroleum Trade Prints Surplus For First Time In 41 Years -  The US trade balance (deficit) shrank in September (from -$55.0bn to -$52.5bn), improving by 6.5% YoY - the biggest shrinkage in the deficit since Sept 2016...  Overall exports decreased 0.9% to $206 billion while imports slid 1.7% to $258.4 billion.Trade with China has tumbled since the tariff war began in earnest in 2018. In the first nine months of 2019, merchandise imports from China are down 13.5% and exports to the country have dropped 14.6%, according to Commerce Department data.The trade balance with China improved sequentially for the second month in a row, and has improved YoY for nine months in a row...Merchandise imports from the Asian country fell 4.9% from the prior month to $37 billion, the lowest in more than three years, while U.S. exports to China dropped 10% to a five-month low, narrowing the deficit to a seasonally adjusted $28 billion.The data reflect the Sept. 1 tariffs on about $110 billion in Chinese imports, largely hitting popular goods such as Apple watches, clothing, and shoes. Companies may have sought to avoid paying the higher prices by stocking up before the levies were imposed. Exports of soybeans -- which aren’t broken down by destination -- dropped by $1 billion during the month, while shipments of autos and parts fell by a similar amount. Finally, we note that the U.S. has increasingly been getting a boost from domestic oil production and is now a net exporter. The data showed a petroleum surplus of $252 million in September - the first reading in positive territory in figures going back to 1978 - as imports declined. Excluding the commodity, the goods deficit narrowed to $70.8 billion from $72.8 billion.

 Freight Railroad Traffic Plunged 8% At The End Of October - US freight railroads, which along with Class 8 trucking have long been used as a gauge of the country's economic health, continue to show declines in traffic.Freight railroads logged 513,147 carloads and intermodal units during the week ending October 26, according to data from the Association of American Railroads reported on by Progressive Railroading. This marks an 8.8% decline compared to the same week last year. Total carload traffic for the week was down 9.4% to 243,321 units and intermodal volume fell 8.3% to 269,826 containers and trailers. The AAR tracks 10 carload commodity groups on a weekly basis - none of them showed growth for the week. Coal fell 14,797 carloads, grain fell 2,512 carloads and metallic ores and metals fell 2,064 carloads.Canadian and Mexican railroads also reported traffic declines for the week. Canadian railroads were down 7.9% and intermodal units were down 3.6%. Mexican railroads logged 19,573 carloads for the week, down 1.1% and intermodal units fell 5.6%. As the report notes, in aggregate:

  • U.S. railroads reported a combined 22,300,581 carloads and intermodal units, down 4.3 percent;
  • Canadian railroads reported a combined 6,523,922 carloads, containers and trailers, up 0.7 percent; and
  • Mexican railroads reported a combined 1,625,137 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 2.8 percent.

AAR: October Rail Carloads down 8.4% YoY, Intermodal Down 7.8% YoY - From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission. A combination of a weak domestic manufacturing sector, feeble economic growth abroad that’s limiting exports, continued trade spats that are disrupting global supply chains, and general economic uncertainty are creating strong headwinds for U.S. rail volumes.In October 2019, total U.S. rail carloads were down 8.4% from October 2018, their ninth straight decline. ... Intermodal won no prizes in October either: it was down 7.8%, its biggest percentage decline since January 2009. This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the year-over-year changes in U.S. Carloads.Total carloads originated by U.S. railroads in October 2019 were down 8.4%, or 112,703 carloads, from October 2018. That’s the ninth straight yearover- year decline and the biggest percentage decline since March 2019. For the first ten months of 2019, total carloads were down 4.3%, or 497,121 carloads, from the same period last year. Year-to-date carloads were slightly lower in 2016, but other than that, 2019’s year-to-date total is the lowest since sometime prior to 1988, when our data begin.The second graph is the year-over-year change for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):U.S. intermodal originations in October 2019 were 7.8% lower than in October 2018, their ninth straight monthly decline — something that hasn’t happened since 2009 during the Great Recession. Year-to-date intermodal volume through October was down 4.5%, or 553,863 containers and trailers, from 2018.

U.S. factory orders fall in September; core capital goods revised down (Reuters) - New orders for U.S.-made goods fell more than expected in September and business spending on equipment was slightly weaker than initially thought, suggesting that manufacturing remains soft amid the ongoing U.S.-China trade war. Factory goods orders declined 0.6% after dipping by an unrevised 0.1% in August, the Commerce Department said on Monday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast factory orders would drop 0.5% in September. Factory orders fell 0.3% compared to September 2018. Shipments of manufactured goods declined 0.2% in September after decreasing 0.3% in the prior month. Pointing to underlying weakness in the sector, which accounts for about 11% of the economy, unfilled orders at factories were unchanged after edging up 0.1% in August. Inventories rose 0.3% in September after dipping 0.1% in August. Manufacturing has been hobbled by a 16-month trade war between the United States and China, which has also caused a drop in business investment. U.S. and Chinese negotiators have been racing to finalize a text of a ‘phase one’ agreement between the world’s two largest economies. A critical date is Dec. 15, when new U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports such as laptops, toys and electronics are set to kick in. Transportation equipment orders dropped 2.8% in September after increasing 0.2% in August. Orders for civilian aircraft and parts dropped 11.8% after declining 17.2% in the prior month. Orders for computers and electronic products fell 1.2% but orders for electrical equipment, appliances and components rose 0.7%. Machinery orders edged up 0.2% in September after decreasing 0.3% in August. The Commerce Department also said September orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, which are seen as a measure of business spending plans on equipment, dropped 0.6% instead of the 0.5% drop reported last month. Shipments of core capital goods, which are used to calculate business equipment spending in the gross domestic product report, declined 0.7% in September, the same as previously reported. Business investment declined at its steepest pace in more than 3-1/2 years in the third quarter.

Resurgent Boeing 737 MAX could trigger jet surplus, analyst warns - (Reuters) - Airlines struggling to cope with the grounding of the 737 MAX could face a markedly different problem when Boeing Co’s (BA.N) best-selling jet is cleared to re-enter service: a switch to concerns about aircraft oversupply, carriers have been warned. The U.S. planemaker has continued to produce the jet since it was grounded in March after two fatal accidents, and is expected to speed deliveries by 40%, to 70 units a month, when its factory doors reopen, in a bid to clear the backlog. Rob Morris, global head of consultancy at UK-based Ascend by Cirium, said the combination of any rapid rebound in deliveries, economic worries and an accumulation of market pressures dating back before the crashes could make it hard to absorb the jets. “Next year is the challenge. When the dam breaks and the MAX starts to flow, there are going to be a lot of aircraft,” Morris told financiers at a Hong Kong briefing late on Monday. “There could potentially be as many as 1,000 surplus aircraft next year.” The forecast is based on both a rebound in MAX deliveries and a potential glut of second-hand airplanes flooding back onto the market after standing in for the MAX during the grounding.

California approves $3.2B bond for Virgin's $4.8B bullet train to Las Vegas - The California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (IBank) has authorized a $3.2 billion tax-exempt, fixed-rate revenue bond issuance to help DesertXpress Enterprises LLC, an affiliate of Virgin Trains USA, build a high-speed train from Victorville, California, to Las Vegas. The new XpressWest service, at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour, will take about 90 minutes one way.  DesertXpress will be able to use the money to pay for the 135 miles of the project located within the state of California. This includes the costs of design, development, construction, operation and maintenance of the rail system itself; a passenger station; a maintenance facility; train cars; and electrification infrastructure. DesertXpress will also be able to use the bonds, which are sponsored by the California county of San Bernardino, to establish a debt service reserve fund, as well as pay for interest and other bond-related expenses. While total spending is listed at around $4.8 billion, "hard construction costs" are $3.6 billion.Construction, which is expected to begin in the second half of 2020 and wrap up in 2023, according to an IBank staff report, will generate more than 15,800 temporary construction jobs.  The XpressWest between California and Las Vegas, according to the IBank staff report, will take about half the time of a car trip, but Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, isn't convinced that this is enough to draw potential passengers — at least enough to make the new bullet train a success."If you're driving from Los Angeles to Victorville, by the time you get there, you're pretty much halfway to Vegas," O'Toole said, "so why would you stop and leave your car somewhere and take a train and then have to walk to wherever your destination is — or take a cab or an Uber or Lyft — when you can just drive your car there?"The distance between Los Angeles and Victorville is about 90 miles and about 190 miles from Victorville to Las Vegas. "Driving from Los Angeles to Victorville," O'Toole said, "you're driving through all the traffic — you're driving over the mountains ... and you get to Victorville and it's just a straight shot to Las Vegas. It's more miles, but there's very little traffic.

Self-Driving Uber That Killed Pedestrian In 2018 Couldn't Detect Jaywalkers, NTSB Says - An Uber vehicle that struck and killed a pedestrian in March 2018 had what are being called "serious software flaws" that led to the tragic incident.The vehicle reportedly didn't have the ability to recognize jaywalkers, according to a new report from engadget, who cited a report prepared by the NTSB. The safety agency blamed Uber's software for not being able to recognize the victim of the accident as a pedestrian crossing the street. The vehicle didn't calculate that it could potentially collide with the woman until just 1.2 seconds before impact, at which point it was too late to brake.  The NTSB said that Uber's system "did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians."  In fact, the report says that the system detected her about 6 seconds before impact, but didn't classify her as a pedestrian:Although the [system] detected the pedestrian nearly six seconds before impact ... it never classified her as a pedestrian, because she was crossing at a location without a crosswalk [and] the system design did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians.After recognizing the pedestrian (too late) the vehicle then wasted a second trying to calculate an alternative path or allowing the driver to take control. Uber has since eliminated this function in a software update. Uber vehicles have failed to identify roadway hazards in at least two other cases, the report notes. In one, a vehicle struck a bicycle lane post that had bent into a roadway. In another, a driver was forced to take control of the vehicle to avoid an oncoming vehicle. The driver still wound up striking a parked car. In the 7 months leading up to the pedestrian accident, Uber vehicles had been involved in 37 accidents, 33 of which involved other vehicles striking Uber test cars.

ISM Non-Manufacturing Index increased to 54.7% in October -The October ISM Non-manufacturing index was at 54.7%, up from 52.6% in September. The employment index increased to 53.7%, from 50.4%. Note: Above 50 indicates expansion, below 50 contraction. From the Institute for Supply Management: October 2019 Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business®  “The NMI® registered 54.7 percent, which is 2.1 percentage points above the September reading of 52.6 percent. This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector, at a faster rate. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index increased to 57 percent, 1.8 percentage points higher than the September reading of 55.2 percent, reflecting growth for the 123rd consecutive month. The New Orders Index registered 55.6 percent; 1.9 percentage points higher than the reading of 53.7 percent in September. The Employment Index increased 3.3 percentage points in October to 53.7 percent from the September reading of 50.4 percent. The Prices Index decreased 3.4 percentage points from the September reading of 60 percent to 56.6 percent, indicating that prices increased in October for the 29th consecutive month. According to the NMI®, 13 non-manufacturing industries reported growth. The non-manufacturing sector had an uptick in growth after reflecting a pullback in September. The respondents continue to be concerned about tariffs, labor resources and the geopolitical climate.” This graph shows the ISM non-manufacturing index (started in January 2008) and the ISM non-manufacturing employment diffusion index. This suggests faster expansion in October than in September.

Markit Services PMI: "Slowest rise in business activity since February 2016"- The October US Services Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 50.6 percent, down 0.3 from the final September estimate of 50.9. The consensus was for 51.2 percent.Here is the opening from the latest press release: Commenting on the PMI data, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit said:“Although October saw signs of manufacturing pulling out of its recent soft patch, the far-larger service sector remained in the doldrums as inflows of new work failed to grow for the first time since 2009. Taken together, the manufacturing and service sector surveys consequently suggest that the US economy got off to a disappointing start in the fourth quarter, consistent with GDP growing at an annualized rate of less than 1.5%.“With inflows of new work drying up, firms are relying on previously-placed orders to sustain current output growth, meaning the rate of expansion could weaken further in coming months if demand doesn’t revive. Hence we’re seeing jobs being cut at an increased rate among surveyed companies, with employment falling for a second successive month and to a degree not seen since 2009. Such a weakening of the survey’s employment index will likely feed through to the official jobs numbers as we move toward the end of the year.“The news was by no means all negative, however, with firms becoming more optimistic about the year ahead, buoyed by hopes of an easing of trade tensions and stimulus from lower interest rates. However, the overall degree of optimism remains sharply lower than this time last year as companies remain concerned by ongoing uncertainty about the outlook.” [Press Release] Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.

 BLS: Job Openings "Edged down" to 7.0 Million in September -  In September there were 7.024 million job openings, and, according to the September Employment report, there were 5.769 million unemployed. So, for the nineteenth consecutive month, there were more job openings than people unemployed. Also note that the number of job openings has exceeded the number of hires since January 2015 (almost 5 years). From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary: The number of job openings edged down to 7.0 million (-277,000) on the last business day of September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, hires and separations were little changed at 5.9 million and 5.8 million, respectively. Within separations, the quits rate and the layoffs and discharges rate were little changed at 2.3 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively. ...The number of quits was little changed in September at 3.5 million as was the rate at 2.3 percent. The quits level was little changed for total private and for government. The following graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS. This series started in December 2000. Note: The difference between JOLTS hires and separations is similar to the CES (payroll survey) net jobs headline numbers. This report is for September, the most recent employment report was for October. Note that hires (dark blue) and total separations (red and light blue columns stacked) are pretty close each month. This is a measure of labor market turnover.  When the blue line is above the two stacked columns, the economy is adding net jobs - when it is below the columns, the economy is losing jobs.Jobs openings decreased in September to 7.024 million from 7.301 million in August.  The number of job openings (yellow) are down 5% year-over-year. Quits are up 3% year-over-year. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for "quits").

Job Openings Plunge To 18 Month Low As Slide In Quits Confirms Job Market Slowdown - Two months ago we concluded our analysis of the July Jolts by reminding readers that "JOLTS is 2 months delayed, so we wouldn't be surprised if the next few months JOLTs is where the real ugliness lies." That's precisely what happened. Just in case the last few declining payrolls reports weren't sufficient to indicate that the US labor market is cooling rapidly, the latest JOLTS released today by the BLS confirmed that US workers are going through a decidedly rough patch, as the total number of job openings tumbled, and after last month's 7.051 million total was revised sharply higher to 7.301 million, it tumbled again, sliding by 277K to 7.024 million, below the 7.063 million expected, and the lowest number in 17 months, since March 2018. Yet even with the slowdown in job openings, there was still more than 1 million more job opening than unemployed workers; in fact there have now been more US job openings than unemployed workers for a record 19 consecutive months. Unlike last month, though, when there was a modest decline in the rate of hires, in September the number of hires rebounded by 50K to 5.934 million, which still was modestly above where the payrolls implied number suggests: The rebound in hiring, and the upward prior revision, meant that from an annual contraction, hiring once again levitated into expansion, rising by 4.7% in September, up from from a revised +1.0% increase in August. Finally, in the latest indication of the slowing labor market, we saw the so-called "take this job and shove it" indicator - the total level of "quits" which shows worker confidence that they can leave their current job and find a better paying job elsewhere - drop for the second month in a row, and in September the number of quits slid by 103K to 3.498MM from 3.601MM, the biggest monthly drop since January 2018.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 211,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending November 2, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 211,000, a decrease of 8,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 218,000 to 219,000. The 4-week moving average was 215,250, an increase of 250 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 214,750 to 215,000.  The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

 US Productivity Unexpectedly Plunges For The First Time Since 2015 As Labor Costs Surge -  US Productivity unexpectedly posted the first decline in almost four years and labor costs accelerated in Q3, suggesting a pickup in efficiency earlier this year was more of a temporary shift.Nonfarm business employee output per hour decreased at a 0.3% annualized rate in the third quarter, well below the expected rise of 0.9% and the first decline since December 2015.  The report showed the decline in productivity resulted from a 2.1% increase in output against a 2.4% rise in hours worked.Driving this decline was surging unit labor costs (+3.6%) following 2.4% in the prior period..  From a year earlier, productivity rose 1.4%, down from 1.8% in the prior period. Unit labor costs were up 3.1% year-over-year, which could be a sign that a tight job market is filtering through to what companies are spending on wages.

After utility shut-offs in Connecticut more than double, regulators hold hearing on programs for low- and moderate-income families - From a clinic in Hartford’s Asylum Hill neighborhood last week to a regulatory hearing room Friday, the increasing number of utility shut-offs for low- and moderate-income families is getting more attention this fall than it has in years.The numbers themselves are partly the reason: 39,200 disconnections in Eversource’s territory in 2014, 80,700 last year. A count in 2016 showed 440,000 people in central and northern Connecticut struggled to pay their utility bills, according to testimony Friday by Brenda Watson of Operation Fuel in Hartford. Those people were eligible to receive help with weatherization but only 5% were served. The nature of the problem — advocates call it the low-hanging fruit — is also pushing the issue. There are existing programs that can help eligible families reduce their back bills while making below-budget monthly payments, but hundreds of thousands of people don’t know this assistance is available. The Public Utility Regulatory Authority, which called Friday’s hearing in New Britain on the affordability of residential electricity and gas, is also fueling the attention. Friday’s session resulted from calls by U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal to investigate the “alarming” increase in disconnections and assure that low- and moderate-income families weren’t paying for a utility company’s quest “to reduce its accounts receivables.”

The Legend of A-N-N-A: Revisiting an American Town Where Black People Weren’t Welcome After Dark -- I GOT INTO TOWN JUST AFTER SUNSET. The lights were on at a place called the Brick House Grill, and if you were out on South Main Street on a Friday night in February, chances are, that’s where you were going. So I went in, too.I took a seat at the bar. A man two stools over from me struck up a conversation. I told him I was a journalist from Chicago and asked him to tell me about this town. “You know how this town is called Anna?” he started. “That’s for ‘Ain’t No Niggers Allowed.’” He laughed, shook his head and took a sip of his beer. The man was white. I am white. Everyone else in that restaurant in Anna was white.  Later that night, I realized what shook me most about our conversation: He didn’t pause before he said what he said. He didn’t look around the room to see whether anyone could hear us. He didn’t lower his voice. He just said it. I first learned about Anna in a book called “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism,” about the thousands of communities across the country that, for much of the 20th century, kept themselves white. The term “sundown town” applies to places that, via policy, violence or both, barred black people from town after dark; as the book explains, the phrase is derived from “the signs that many of [these places] formerly sported at their corporate limits — signs that usually said ‘Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on You in __.’”   But the stories of how these communities became or stayed mostly white are often unknown, ignored or not fully told. Loewen said sundown towns sprang up all around the country from 1890 to 1940, a period he calls the “nadir” of race relations in America. “For the small, independent towns all around the state that are still all white or almost all white, it’s like the civil rights movement never happened,” he told me.

Amazon accused of ‘callous disrespect’ to voters for spending $1.5m on local election candidates -- Amazon - which pays no federal taxes in the US – has been accused of being “callously disrespectful” to voters in Seattle after it emerged it had spent $1.5m in contributions to local election candidates it considers “pro-business”.The elections for Seattle’s nine-member city council, which has an annual budget of just $5.9bn are usually a small scale affair, and involve a modest amount of spending on campaign advertising. But the 2019 election, which takes place on Tuesday, has become engulfed in controversy after Amazon, and other major companies based in the city, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to a political action committee, that has thrown its support behind candidates it thinks will be better for big businesses. In addition to Amazon, which has contributed 1.5m, Microsoft and Expedia have also given money to the PAC, which calls itself the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE). Locals say the influx of money in the local election is unprecedented. Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the Democratic Party’s frontrunners for the 2020 presidential nomination, last month condemned the development. “Amazon is trying to tilt the Seattle city council elections in their favour,” she said on Twitter. “I’m with the Seattle council members and activists who continue standing up to Amazon. Corporations aren’t people, and I have a plan to get big money out of politics.” Local Democratic congresswoman Pramila Jayapul, co-chair of the Democratic caucus in the House and an author of a Medicare for All bill in the lower chamber, has now gone further, telling reporters that Amazon’s actions were an insult to local voters. “This most recent influx of money from Amazon is callously disrespectful to the residents of our city,” she told reporters.

Too Much Screen Time May Be Slowing Childhood Brain Development - Young children who spend too much time looking at smartphones, tablets or television screens may have reduced brain development in areas important for language and literacy, a new study has found. For the study, published this week in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center compared brain scans of 47 otherwise healthy children aged 3 to 5 with parental reports of their screen use.They found that that children who exceed the one-hour-per-day guideline for screen time set by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had lower structural integrity of white matter in parts of the brain that are associated with literacy skills such as imagery, mental control and self-regulation.The children who exceeded the AAP guidelines also performed worse on cognitive tests, according to a press release. For instance, they had lower expressive language and were slower to rapidly name objects in tests of processing speed."This is important because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years," lead author Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, told CNN. "That's when brains are very plastic and soaking up everything, forming these strong connections that last for life."  The researchers noted that in just one generation, portable electronics have rapidly changed childhood, as screen time has become a regular part of learning and playing that only increases from infancy onward.  The children in the study averaged around two hours of screen time per day, though the highest amount reported was 12 hours per day. Around 60 percent had their own portable electronic device and 41 percent had a screen in their bedroom, The New York Times reported.  Previous studies have also linked screen time to behavioral issues in children, prompting the World Health Organization to set guidelines promoting physical activity over screen time. But as the researchers point out, the study does not show causation and the screens themselves are probably not directly damaging children's brains. However, increased screen use may take away from time children would otherwise spend interacting with their families, who may also be using screens instead of interacting, Hutton told CNN.

The Strange, Sad Story of the Ken Doll’s Crotch -- The thing about Ken is that he doesn’t have one. Mattel’s gentleman companion for Barbie, its Ken doll, came into the world without junk and remains that way. His lack of genitalia is a running joke: Ken is synonymous with dicklessness, as multiple references in pop culture attest—lines in Dogma, Sisters, and the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters, to name a few.  As a kid, I didn’t think Ken’s crotch was funny; I found it frustrating.  I had a sense of wanting to see dicks way before I had any sense of wanting to do anything with them or their owners, and it seemed unfair as an aspiring connoisseur that the entertainment around me gave me no access to the goods. Barbie had boobs, I reasoned crudely, having no idea that that her lack of nipples was what made them socially acceptable for children to look at. Why couldn’t Ken have a penis? The answer, it turns out, is intricate and somewhat bizarre. Ken was not merely dickless by default; the bulge was the result of careful strategizing to which his inventors, businessmen, a psychologist, and Japanese manufacturers all contributed. Despite all this planning, Ken still came to represent things his parent company never intended, as icons tend to do. The story of Ken’s crotch is not merely one of PR, manufacturing, and/or branding—it’s about which realities our culture deems acceptable, and which that it seeks to keep hidden. This goes not just for the doll, but for the man he was named after, Ken Handler, who died in 1994 with major parts of his life airbrushed out of public view.  Handler was able to persuade the design team to make mockups hinting at Ken’s genitals. Three were made: “One was—you couldn’t even see it. The next one was a little bit rounded and then next one really was. “So the men—especially one of the vice presidents—were terribly embarrassed,” recounted early Barbie clothing designer Charlotte Johnson in M.G. Lord’s 1994 book Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll.   “None of us wanted a doll with a penis showing,” Handler is quoted in that book as saying. “If the child took off the swimsuit, we felt it would be inappropriate with an adult boy to show the penis—so we all reached a conclusion that he should have a permanent swimsuit.” Johnson disagreed—she did want a doll with a penis showing and not some painted briefs: “Do you know what every little girl in this country is going to do? They are going to sit there and scratch that paint off to see what’s under it. What else would they do?”

Bathroom Big Brother - Schools Are Using Apps To Track Students' Restroom Time - There is no doubt we are living in increasingly Orwellian times. Most of us are not surprised when it is revealed that yet another government agency is spying on us in yet another way. Being surveilled nearly everywhere we go (and even in our own homes) has become the norm. And if it isn’t government agencies doing the spying, it is Big Tech companies. It seems like every day we are told about another privacy violation coming from Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Recently it was announced that Big Tech and government are forming an unholy dystopian alliance called HARPA that will use companies including Google, Amazon, and Apple to collect data on users who exhibit characteristics of mental illness that could lead to “violent behavior.” Unfortunately, children are not exempt from surveillance and the growing police state.Schools – once a place where children went to learn – have increasingly become Big Government indoctrination centers. One way in which this is becoming painfully evident is in the surveillance methods implemented by public schools.This morning, I read a headline that sent chills down my spine:  SCHOOLS ARE USING AN APP TO TRACK STUDENTS WHILE THEY PEE Remember hall passes? They were little slips of paper that teachers gave to students to show they had permission to leave class for a few minutes.In hundreds of schools across the US, paper hall passes have been replaced with an app that parents and students are finding particularly invasive.  The app is called e-hallpass, and here is how it works: At a school using e-Hallpass, a student submits a request to leave the classroom through the app. The system notes any “red flags,” such as frequent requests by the same student. The teacher then chooses whether or not to approve the request. If the student is granted permission, they can leave and the teacher logs in the app when they return. If the student takes too long, the app automatically pings an administrator to check on them. (source)

Are Minnetonka Public Schools secretly monitoring students’ social media posts? In the summer of 2017, Minnetonka Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Petersonattended a conference in Baltimore put on by the Education Research and Development Institute, a for-profit company that connects education technology businesses with school administrators.While in Baltimore, Peterson was among a group of superintendents invited to meet with representatives of Social Sentinel, a company that uses software to monitor social media posts for potential threats to students and school districts. The company proposed dinner at Ouzo Bay, a Greek Restaurant, according to emails obtained by MinnPost. Peterson accepted the invitation and later thanked the company’s representatives for the meal.A month later, the superintendent signed a three-year contract, at $23,500 annually, with a company that pledged to alert the district to “threats shared publicly.” The district redacted the name of the company and specifics about how it works from the contract, which MinnPost obtained through a public records request. Minnetonka claimed that student safety could be at risk if the document was disclosed. But the language is nearly identical to a 2018 contract between Social Sentinel and a Texas school district. Today, many school districts and some college campuses use social media monitoring services, seeing them as a way to keep students safe amid concerns over students’ mental health and deadly school shootings. But while some laud them as a useful tool, others say they’re ineffective at best, and at worst, an invasion of privacy — especially when, as seems to be the case in Minnetonka, teachers, parents and students are unaware of them. District spokesperson Lisa Deffendall said if even one person is saved from harm as a result of Social Sentinel, the product is worth the investment.

 Sen. Kamala Harris introduces bill to lengthen school day by three hours - Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., introduced a bill Wednesday that would lengthen the school day to 6 p.m. to better align with working parents’ schedules. The proposal, first reported by Mother Jones, calls for a three-hour extension of elementary school hours during weekdays and appoints money for the creation of summer programs and activities when school is not in session.Five-year grants of up to $5 million would go to school districts serving a high number of low-income families to push the end of the average school day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in 500 schools. School days typically start at 8 a.m. Teachers and faculty, the bill says, would not have to work additional hours unless they sign up for an extra shift, for which they would be compensated at the rate they get during normal school hours.The bill proposes that the grant money go to extracurricular activities like electives in “music, arts, athletics, writing and engineering,” Harris’ senate office told CNBC. The extra time can also go toward dance and theater programs, among other enrichment activities, the office said. but it leaves the scheduling of the day open to school administrators.Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado are co-sponsoring the bill. The legislation, named the Family Friendly Schools Act, targets low-income and working families who can’t afford to pay for child care in between the time a student finishes with school and a parent returns home from work.“My mother raised my sister and me while working demanding, long hours,” Harris said in a press release. “So, I know firsthand that, for many working parents, juggling between school schedules and work schedules is a common cause of stress and financial hardship. But, this does not have to be the case.” “My bill provides an innovative solution that will help reduce the burden of child care on working families. It is time we modernize the school schedule to better meet the needs of our students and their families.”

Chicago Teachers Win Big After Strike  In what is being heralded as the latest win for social-justice unionism, Chicago teachers will be back in classrooms on Friday, ending a bitter 11-day strike. A tentative agreement reached late Wednesday includes a 16 percent pay raise over the next five years and millions of dollars more for class-size reduction and the hiring of hundreds of school social workers, nurses and librarians. The deal must still be ratified by Chicago Teachers Union rank-and-file members. “No educator wants to leave their classroom, but our struggle was the only option we had to enshrine, ensure and enforce real change for our students and school communities,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement on Wednesday. Following the strategy pioneered by CTU during the 2012 teachers walkout, the union framed its fight as a struggle against the gross inequities between rich and poor families in a city whose economic development policies too often come at the expense of low-income communities and public school children. That point had been hammered home in the closing days of the deadlock when teachers rallied at the Lincoln Yards megadevelopment on the city’s upscale North Side to demand a renegotiation of the project’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF)agreement, one of many engineered by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Lincoln Yards deal alone will cost Chicago Public Schools $1.3 billion of the 53-acre luxury mini-metropolis’ property taxes over the next 23 years, which will be kicked back to the developer in the form of infrastructure improvements at the site.

Chicago teachers denounce union’s sellout agreement as Bernie Sanders, Democrats claim “victory” - After the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) shut down the powerful 11-day strike of more than 25,000 teachers last week, the Democratic Party and the media have rushed to celebrate the strike’s end and the sellout tentative agreement as a huge “victory.” Despite the official celebration, the CTU’s tentative agreement for a five-year contract entirely accepts the terms set by Chicago Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Opposition to the contract among teachers was widespread as soon as the CTU announced the deal. “Those 10 days were a waste! CTU played us as pawns,” said Michelle on the CTU’s Facebook page. “The rank-and-file doesn’t want this!” added Veronica. Kim said, “They sold us out!” Another teacher, Elizabeth, added, “Horrible contract!”  Chicago teachers fought a bitter battle in one of the longest strikes in three decades, but the CTU and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) prevented the strike from developing into a direct conflict with the Democratic Party, which controls Chicago. Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders began the victory lap for the CTU’s sabotage of the strike, according to the Chicago Tribune. After CTU President Jesse Sharkey ended the strike following his meeting with Lightfoot in City Hall, Sanders called him to praise the union’s sellout. “I just called to congratulate you and the union,” Sanders told Sharkey, “on what looked to me like a very significant victory at a time of having a major funding crisis and staffing crisis in public education. You guys have won a victory that will not only be for Chicago but be for the whole country. So very proud of what you have accomplished. Look forward to working with you in the future.” The tentative agreement is no victory for teachers in Chicago or across the country as Sanders proclaims. The deal is in fact virtually indistinguishable from the proposals made by Lightfoot prior to the strike.

Little Rock teachers set to strike against privatization and segregation threats -  Nearly 1,600 teachers in Little Rock, Arkansas are set to strike today. It will be the first strike since 1987 and only the second in the state’s history.  In an outpouring of overwhelming student support last week, more than 1,231 high school students staged a “sickout” Tuesday, with the protest growing to 3,414 the next day. About 100 high school students marched to the capitol Wednesday and demanded to speak with Governor Asa Hutchinson, who refused to meet with the young people.  In 1957, Little Rock’s Central High School was the site of the courageous integration of schools by the “Little Rock Nine,” an iconic episode in the struggle against Jim Crow and the fight for free and equal public education for all. Twenty percent of Central’s student body participated in the protests last week. Many residents opposing the attacks on schools have emphasized these historic struggles.  On October 10, with a looming end-of-the-month contract expiration, the Arkansas Department of Education voted to strip the Little Rock Education Association (LREA) of its collective bargaining power. Additionally, the district administration staged hiring events signing up more than 200 possible scabs and offering double the wages of normal substitutes or full-time support staff. They have pledged to keep schools running with or without teachers. Principals are reportedly telling teachers that if they call in sick and are seen on a picket line, they can be terminated.  "One of the things we are going to do is bring in folks from our central office," District Superintendent Mike Poore said. "Everyone has already been assigned spots of where they would go. A second thing is we are going to bring in members of the Department of Education to be a part of the workforce."  For his part, the Republican governor added his determination to eliminate collective bargaining, "There is no other school district in the state of Arkansas that has a negotiated contract with a teachers' union. Little Rock does not need to be the exception."

Massive vote in favour of strike by Ontario elementary school teachers - Ontario elementary public school teachers voted overwhelmingly in favour of authorizing a strike against plans by the right-wing Conservative government of Doug Ford to cut close to $1 billion in education spending. The more than 83,000 public educators represented by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), who have been without a contract since August, voted 98 percent in favour of strike action. The virtual unanimous support for a strike reflects the depth of hostility among the working class to the Ford government’s agenda of savage austerity and is part of the growth of working-class militancy internationally. In addition to its education spending cuts, Ford has slashed healthcare funding, cut spending on critical social services, like legal aid, and banned workers’ strikes. Evidence of worker opposition has grown since the spring of this year, including major demonstrations over education and healthcare cuts, walkouts by hundreds of thousands of high school students, and an overwhelming strike vote by 55,000 Canadian Union of Public Employees school support staff. Despite the huge strike mandate from elementary school teachers, the ETFO has failed to even select a strike date. This is part and parcel of the unions’ suppression of the developing struggle by teachers and education workers to defend public education from savage cuts by the Ford government. Last month, CUPE similarly disregarded the strike vote of its membership and concluded a rotten last-minute concessions deal with the Ford government that sabotaged the strike on the eve of its planned October 7 launch. CUPE’s tentative agreement complied with the reactionary provisions of the Ford government’s Bill 124, which limits total earnings and benefits increases for 1 million public sector workers to 1 percent per year for the next three years. Factoring in inflation, which currently stands at over 2 percent, this constitutes a significant reduction in real wages, on top of decades of austerity and “wage restraint” under the previous Ontario union-backed Liberal government. The provincial government’s planned cuts to education include increasing class sizes from 23 to 24 students for grades four to eight and from 22 to 28 in high schools, eliminating local caps on class sizes, reducing per-pupil funding to local boards, as well as mandatory e-learning classes for high school students. This will result in the elimination of more than 10,000 teaching positions and a drastic reduction in course offerings and education quality.

U.S. House advances Virginia congressman’s sweeping bill to lower higher education costs — A U.S. House committee passed legislation from a senior Virginia Democrat last week that supporters hailed as a “down payment” on a long-sought liberal goal: free college education for all. The sweeping measure from Rep. Bobby Scott, who represents the 3rd District in southeastern Virginia., aims to help more Americans of all backgrounds obtain high-quality college degrees by increasing affordability, accountability and accessibility in higher education. It would fund states that waive tuition at community colleges and invest in their public colleges and universities, which proponents say would lower costs for students and families. It would also increase federal education grants, crack down on “predatory” for-profit colleges and strengthen supports for low-income students and students of color, among other things. The bill — an update of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, which hasn’t been reauthorized in more than a decade — cleared the House Education and Labor Committee on party lines Thursday morning. The committee’s 28 Democrats all voted in its favor and the committee’s 22 Republicans all voted in opposition. Scott — chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee — voted for his bill. The only other Virginia lawmaker on the panel, Republican Ben Cline, voted against it. Proponents called the legislation an important step toward universal access to an affordable college education, a goal articulated more than a half century ago when President Lyndon Johnson first signed the HEA into law in 1965.

 Harvard Wants Students To Bone Up On Oral And Anal Sex, Stop Judging Fatties -- “Anal Sex 101,” “Oral Sex 101” and “fatphobia” workshop are among 13 different offerings students at Harvard University have the option of attending as part of its annual Sex Week.  Harvard Sex Week launched Nov. 4 and runs through Nov. 10. The workshops are organized by the student organization Sexual Health Education and Advocacy Throughout Harvard. Its members did not respond to repeated requests for comment. A Harvard spokesperson also declined comment. Since 2012, SHEATH has hosted Harvard Sex Week every fall, according to its website.“Sex Week intends to both educate and advocate, providing a platform for self-exploration and community dialogue,” it states. “We intend to promote a week of programming that is interdisciplinary, thought-provoking, scholastic, innovative, and applicable to student experiences in order to promote a more holistic understanding of sex and sexuality.”This year, Sex Week kicked off with “Sticky: A (Self) Love Story” and “Feel Those Good Vibrations: Sex Toys 101.” On Tuesday students were offered a sex education class as well as “What What in the Butt?: Anal Sex 101.”On Wednesday a “Tantric Sex 101” workshop was followed by a panel on racial preferences and dating. Thursday brought an STD panel and reproductive justice workshop to campus.On today’s docket are panels on BGLTQ and intimacy. This weekend will offer “Body Positivity: Fatphobia and Liberation,” “Getting A-Head in Life: Oral Sex 101” and a “sexy trivia” game, according to the schedule.Throughout the week, student organizers dole out various free sex toy swag to attendees, as the week is sponsored by 20 different companies involved in the sex-pleasure industry. Online, the companies sell various products, such as vibrators, anal plugs, specialized condoms, testicle stretchers, strap ons, ankle restraints and other items.On-campus sponsors include Queer Students and Allies, Harvard College W omen’s Center, Office of BGLTQ Student Life, Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, Harvard College Reproductive Justice Action and several other campus groups.

 Forgiving Student Loan Debt Would Create Moral Hazard, Exacerbate Problems- Moody's - Wiping out student loan debt would provide a modest bump to the economy, but could risk "moral hazard" which would eventually make the problem worse, according to Moody's Investors Service.  The opinion comes as Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren dangle the prospect of forgiving some or all of the $1.5 trillion in outstanding education debt. Both candidates have also proposed free free college. Moody's, however, think the effects of wholesale debt forgiveness at a macro level would be fairly muted. "In the near term, we would expect student loan debt cancellation to yield a tax-cut-like stimulus to economic activity, contributing to a modest increase in household consumption and investment," said William Foster, the firm's senior credit analyst. "The magnitude of the stimulus would depend on the size of the debt relief and income level of the beneficiaries."In dollar terms, Foster cited studies showing that canceling debt would add $86 billion to $108 billion a year to GDP over a 10-year period. Less aggressive measures to forgive some loans and restructure payments for others would amount to $120 billion over a decade.In a $21.5 trillion U.S. economy, those kinds of gains won’t move the needle very fair [sic] from a broad sense. –CNBC   However, it could also increase the risk of moral hazard and the accumulation of even higher student debt burdens." Future borrowers, for instance, might be encouraged to run up big loan balances on the assumption that their debts will be forgiven at some point.It’s also unclear how much forgiveness would address wealth inequality. The New York Fed estimates that about two-thirds of outstanding debt is currently held by the upper-half of earners. -CNBC

Public Pension Funds Criticized for Profiting From Private Equity’s “Surprise Billing” Abuse - Yves Smith - We’ve described how private equity is behind the stunningly widespread abuse known as “surprise billing” or “balance billing”. This occurs when Americans with health insurance get hit with “out of network” charges for ambulances, emergency room services, or even with scheduled surgeries when they did what they could to make sure that only medical professionals in their networks were part of their operating room team. This scam has become so widespread that a 2019 survey by the Kauffman Foundation found that 40% of American families had been hit with an unexpected medical bill, and half of those were for out of network charges. Other studies found that over one in four emergency room visits resulted in a surprise bill, as did over four in ten ambulance rides. No wonder there have been more and more efforts at the state and local level to prohibit or severely limit this practice. Eileen Appelbaum, co-head of CEPR, has identified the hidden hand behind this abuse: private equity. In turn, consumer and patient advocates have wised up and are starting to pressure the public pension funds that profit from investing in the private equity funds that have been leading this abuse, KKR and Blackstone. This is the key section of a must-read post by Appelbaum:  Outsourcing is not new, as hospitals began outsourcing non-medical ancillary services such as facilities management and food services in the 1980s… Recent outsourcing, however, has expanded to critical care areas – emergency rooms, radiology, anesthesiology, surgical care, and specialized units for burn, trauma, or neo-natal care. Now hospitals contract with specialty physician practices or professional physician staffing firms to provide these services – even if the patient receives treatment at a hospital or at an outpatient center that is in the patients’ insurance network. According to one study, surprise billing is concentrated in those hospitals that have outsourced their emergency rooms.[vii]A recent report found that almost 65 percent of U.S. hospitals now have emergency rooms that are staffed by outside companies.[viii]Private equity firms have played a critical role in consolidating physicians’ practices into large national staffing firms with substantial bargaining power vis-à-vis hospitals and insurance companies. They have also bought up other emergency providers, such as ambulance and medical transport services. They grow by buying up many small specialty practices and ‘rolling them up’ into umbrella organizations that serve healthcare systems across the United States.

End-of-Life Care Laws Were Supposed to Help New Yorkers. They Don’t Always Work. - The case of the wrong person being taken off life support at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx in 2018 is in many ways an aberration, a mix of bad luck, missed opportunities and unlikely coincidences.   Until relatively recently, not much existed to protect the rights of the terminally ill in New York state. Doctors were trained to treat and treat and treat some more. Except in a very limited number of cases, families were not legally authorized to make decisions about end-of-life care for those patients who had lost the ability to decide for themselves. Across many years, needless suffering was common.A decade ago, however, New York enacted a series of laws meant to improve how people died. The legislation had two major components: First, health care providers treating the terminally ill are now required to offer to inform patients or those lawfully entitled to make decisions for them of the full range of options for navigating their final days, including the right to “comprehensive pain management” and the right to decline any or all care. Second, under the Family Health Care Decisions Act of 2010, families were empowered to make choices about care for an incapacitated loved one, including to end life-sustaining treatment if certan conditions are met. The legislation, dealing with people who did not have a designated health care proxy or a set of what are known as advanced directives, created a hierarchy of who got to make those decisions — a spouse or child or legal guardian, even what the law listed as a “good friend.” Ten years on, though, there are many who worry that the legislation has had less of an impact than hoped.

 New York is investigating UnitedHealth's use of a medical algorithm that steered black patients away from getting higher-quality care - New York's state departments of financial services and health sent a letter to UnitedHealth Group over its use of an algorithm that researchers found to be racially biased. Per the Wall Street Journal,the missive is an initial step into a larger investigation. The algorithm in question, Impact Pro, identifies which patients would benefit from complex health procedures favored treating white patients than sicker black ones between 2013 and 2015, according to a study published in the prestigious journal Science.New York lawmakers deemed the use of this discriminatory technology "unlawful," and asked to either demonstrate the algorithm is not biased or to stop using Impact Pro immediately. "New York will not allow racial bias, especially where it r esults in discriminatory effects that could mean the difference between life and death for an individual patient and the overall health of an already-underserved community," Linda Lacewell, superintendent of New York's department of financial services, and Howard Zucker, commissioner of the department of health, wrote in the letter.

UnitedHealth Is Now Cutting Costs By Giving Apartments To Homeless People -- Since 1986, laws have prevented emergency rooms from turning away patients that are unable to pay, regardless if they are uninsured, indigent, addicted to drugs, or mentally ill. We have no such similar laws to protect the half a million homeless in the U.S. who have no place to sleep, and one doctor is now trying to change that, according to Bloomberg.  Jeffrey Brenner is a doctor who, for 25 years, has worked with the poor and the homeless. He recently became an executive at UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest insurer, and he is planning on using his position to give people places to live.   Brenner is using a pair of apartment complexes in Phoenix as research and development for his proposed initiative. He's using UnitedHealth's money to pay for housing and support services for about 60 formerly homeless recipients of Medicaid. UnitedHealth's 6 million Medicaid members generated $43 billion in 2018, almost 20% of the insurer's total revenue.   It's a profitable business overall but the patients in the most need, who offer a "complex blend of medical, mental health, and social challenges" go on to cost UnitedHealth far more than what it take in to care for them.  Brenner said:  “Can you imagine people living on the street with these disorders? Heart failure, COPD. They’re rolling around with oxygen tanks, crazy stuff. This is just sad. This is just stupid. Why do we let this go on?” Instead, Brenner has been looking at data of patients for answers. One patient, named Steve, who is 54 with MS, cerebral palsy, heart disease and diabetes was homeless before UnitedHealth got him an apartment. While homeless for the year prior, he went to the ER 81 times and spent 17 days hospitalized and had medical costs of about $13,000 per month. Since a roof was put over his head, his average monthly medical costs have dropped more than 80% to about $2,000 per month. Patients like Steve wind up in the ER because they don't fit into the traditional ways that healthcare is delivered. The system is set up to "route billions of dollars to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and labs to diagnose and treat patients once they’re sick" and not care for vulnerable and homeless people.

 Another Health Industry Initiative to House the Homeless --Yves Smith --It is mind-boggling how backwards American policies are. As we chronicled, some hospitals and insurer are waking up to the fact that giving housing to the chronically ill homeless is cheaper than having them make heavy use of emergency rooms, who if they take Federal funds, are require to accept all comers.  Instead of being driven by cities, health providers are launching some programs. For the most part, they are far more explicit that the goal is to save money and they accordingly expect the time they will house someone to be shorter. For instance, we reposted a Kaiser Health News story on how Denver Health was building “transition housing” for patients it could not legally discharge because “they have no safe place to go.” Denver Health is building a small number of units for them.Here’s the math: It costs Denver Health $2,700 a night to keep someone in the hospital. Patients who are prime candidates for the transitional units stay on average 73 days, for a total cost to the hospital of nearly $200,000. The hospital estimates it would cost a fraction of that, about $10,000, to house a patient for a year instead. Bloomberg tonight has an in-depth treatment of insurer UnitedHealth’s housing experiments. UnitedHealth gets nearly 20% of its revenue from acting as an outsourced Medicaid provided, at rates of $500 to $1000 per head, covering 6 million participants. But the most expensive ones, like Murray, are the ones on the street. UnitedHealth wooed Jeffrey Brenner, a doctor who has spent most of his career working with the poor, and a recent recipient of a MacArthur fellowship for his efforts. From Bloomberg: [In Phoenix] Brenner is using UnitedHealth’s money to pay for housing and support services for roughly 60 formerly homeless recipients of Medicaid, the safety-net insurance program for low-income people…. Brenner shows me data on a patient named Steve, a 54-year-old with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, heart disease, and diabetes. He was homeless before UnitedHealth got him into an apartment. In the 12 months prior to moving in, Steve went to the ER 81 times, spent 17 days hospitalized, and had medical costs, on average, of $12,945 per month. In the nine months since he got a roof over his head and health coaching from Brenner’s team, Steve’s average monthly medical expenses have dropped more than 80%, to $2,073. I strongly urge you to read this article in full. It contains a lot of insightful detail about how emergency rooms deal with the homeless and chronically ill, and how the housing/social service programs operate. And it keeps returning to the grim point that it pays in economic terms only to help the most messed up:

Rise in religious vaccine exemptions suggests some parents are making false claims, study suggests -- The percentage of children starting kindergarten whose parents claim that vaccination conflicts with their religious beliefs has ticked up in recent years, even while the portion of Americans who profess to be part of an organized religion has fallen. A new study suggests some of the increase may be related to a tightening of school-entry vaccination policies.State law around vaccine exemptions varies, with some states permitting parents to forgo immunization of their children not only on religious grounds but also because of so-called personal beliefs.  The new study, released Monday, reports that states that do not have personal belief vaccination exemptions are four times more likely to have children claiming religious exemptions than states that offer parents both types of exemptions. After state authorities eliminated personal belief exemptions in Vermont in 2016, there was a sevenfold increase in religious exemption claims, the authors reported in the journal Pediatrics. They suggested that in some cases religious exemptions are probably being used when personal belief exemptions are no longer available. “Our hypothesis going in is that in states that offer both exemptions types, the rate of religious exemptions would be quite low, but that we would be able to see a significant difference then looking at religious exemptions in states that only offered religious exemptions,” explained Dr. Joshua Williams, the lead author. “We were hoping that the state of Vermont would provide a nice case study of that, with a potential for a change in religious exemptions before and after their policy change in 2016. And that’s exactly what we found,”

Measles epidemic spreads from New Zealand to Pacific Islands - Nearly 3,000 people across the southwestern Pacific, where poverty and poor health are endemic, have so far fallen victim to an outbreak of measles, a highly contagious and life-threatening disease. New Zealand is in the midst of its worst outbreak in 20 years, with 2,014 notified cases from January until November 8. Of these, 1,631 are in the Auckland region, with over two-thirds in the economically-deprived suburbs of South Auckland. Some babies admitted to hospital have almost died and two pregnant women lost their unborn children due to complications related to the disease. In late September, children were reportedly being turned away from pop-up clinics and GP (general practioner) offices due to a shortage of vaccines. Papakura GP Jacqueline Allan criticised health officials on Radio NZ for poor planning, saying many practices could not meet vaccination targets because of a nurse shortage. As an emergency measure, the Labour-led government has now authorised 450 pharmacies nationwide to administer the vaccine. With New Zealand’s population just five million, the measles outbreak ranks among the worst in the developed world.  Measles does ongoing damage to the immune system, with children particularly vulnerable to consequent infections and severe illnesses. The Ministry of Health warned in August that “the current situation in New Zealand could become a threat for other countries in the Pacific region.” This has proved to be the case. Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, an immunologist at Auckland University, told Radio NZ on November 1 she was furious that New Zealand had “exported” measles to Samoa. Samoa’s government declared a measles epidemic in mid-October. As of November 7, the number of suspected cases had reached 513 and was expected to keep rising. Three babies and an adult are now thought to have died from the disease. Seven people were hospitalised from the recent batch of cases. An early case is understood to have resulted from contact with an Aucklander attending a church conference in Samoa, not realising he had the illness. Last month Samoa’s health ministry urged New Zealand to control the rampant outbreak before it made things worse. Petousis-Harris said given New Zealand’s direct responsibility for the 1918 influenza epidemic reaching Samoa, which wiped out 22 percent of the population, the country should have done more to protect Samoa. “It was inevitable that we would export this to Samoa… [It] is well known that they have very low levels of immunity there,” she said.

 Measles Wipes Your Immune System’s ‘Memory,’ So It Can’t Fight Other Infections - The notorious measles virus not only makes people sick, it also sneaks inside important immune cells in the body and wipes their "memories," new research suggests. Once infected, the amnesic immune system no longer recognizes the harmful pathogens that it has fought off in the past. This means measles survivors can remain susceptible to dangerous diseases — such as the flu and pneumonia — for years to come, despite having weathered their initial illness."Measles essentially takes away their ability to efficiently protect themselves," said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University and co-author of the new study, published today (Oct. 31) in the journal Science. The paper pairs with another published today in Science Immunology. Using data from a group of unvaccinated children in the Netherlands, both studies revealed what scientists have long suspected: that the measles virus cripples the immune system in a profound and lasting way.     "What this has done is document exactly how that immunosuppression takes place, and gives us a sense of how broad that immunosuppression can be," said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the work. The findings also serve as a reminder that this year's record-breaking measles outbreaks in the U.S. will have lingering effects, Schaffner added.  "Those children are now living through a period of post-measles life more susceptible to other infections," he said. Worldwide, the number of measles cases has increased by more than 280% since 2018, according to the World Health Organization — that means hundreds of thousands of people who caught the virus this year may now bear the brunt of secondary infections as well.

'We Now Have a New Exotic Disease in Europe': Native Zika Virus Spreads Due to Climate Change - The first three cases of Zika that started in southern France have been confirmed and experts are sounding the alarm that the climate crisis may cause more cases to spread across the continent, as CNN reported.The European Centers for Disease Control reported that all three cases were in Hyères, a French Riviera town. In all three cases the infected person had no travel history to countries where Zika is endemic, according to Zika News.This is the first time that local tiger mosquitoes have developed and spread the virus, which stands in stark contrast to the nearly 2,400 cases that Europe has seen since 2015 when an outbreak spread in South America, as The Telegraph reported.All three patients got sick within a short time of each other, which suggests they were all part of the same transmission cycle. Since they have all recovered, the European Centers for Disease Control says the risk to travelers and residents is low, according to CNN. Experts warn that Zika and other tropical diseases are likely to flourish in Europe, as CNN reported. This is "the first time that locally acquired Zika cases were identified, which poses new challenges for the control of these diseases," Moritz Kraemer, a researcher into infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, told CNN.Kraemer added that native Zika is particularly surprising because the type of mosquito that carries it in South America isn't usually found in Europe. That means the virus has moved to the Asian tiger mosquito, which is now commonly found in southern Europe, according to CNN.The Asian tiger mosquito "has become common in parts of southern France, where it has probably also been responsible for transmission of dengue. It has also been detected widely throughout southern Europe and sporadically further north," said Anna Checkley, consultant in Tropical Medicine at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, to CNN. "Warmer temperatures favor its survival, and as we go into winter it is much less likely that we will see further new cases. (But) if global temperatures increase, this mosquito may spread further north in Europe and we may see small clusters of cases further north."

 Iceland Livestreams 10-Year-Old McDonald’s Cheeseburger That Won’t Decompose - BBC - When McDonald's closed all its restaurants in Iceland in 2009, one man decided to buy his last hamburger and fries. "I had heard that McDonald's never decompose so I just wanted to see if it was true or not," Hjortur Smarason told AFP. This week, it's 10 years since the seemingly indestructible meal was purchased, and it barely looks a day older. Curious observers can watch a live stream of the burger and fries from its current location in a glass cabinet in Snotra House, a hostel in southern Iceland. "The old guy is still there, feeling quite well. It still looks quite good actually," the hostel's owner Siggi Sigurdur told BBC News. "It's a fun thing, of course, but it makes you think about what you are eating. There is no mould, it's only the paper wrapping that looks old." The hostel claims that people come from around the world to visit the burger, and the website receives up to 400,000 hits daily. Pictures posted on social media sparked discussion of other robust foods that have resisted the ravages of time."The health teacher in our high school did this, but just left them on a shelf,"commented one Twitter user. "He would point out how even after years they didn't grow mould because apparently there weren't even enough nutrients in it for microbes."

 'Bug Macs'- London Eatery Serves Up Worm-Burgers (To Save The Planet) - A trendy ‘urban farm’ in London is serving up burgers made from live worms, claiming that they are tastier than beef burgers and will help save the planet.  Horizon, an insect farm in London, produces thousands of worms and crickets for its customers to eat.It claims to use leftover food from local businesses to feed the insects, including Mealworms, and says that the worms only require 10% of the land used for beef, and produce far less CO2.‘Experimental chef’ Tiziana Di Costanzo, the founder of the ‘farm’, says that the insects have a ‘nutty to earthy flavour’, and claims that she can produce enough worms to feed her family with just bran and used vegetable peel. “Let them crawl into your menu once, and you’ll be hooked! Costanzo said, adding that “Once you get past the ‘yuck effect’, you’ll find that they actually taste really good.” “We are hoping to scale up the operation to a production of 100kg per week in the next 6 months, all of this with zero waste” Costanzo added.The craze for eating insects stems from UN guidelines that “promote insects as a sustainable high-protein food.” The London insect farm is holding events to teach people how to cook with worms and crickets. Dishes include the afore mentioned burger, as well as cricket bruschetta, curry and coriander mealworm fritters, crispy chocolate mealworm cupcakes and cinnamon and raisin insect biscuits.

CDC announces breakthrough in vaping lung injury investigation -Samples of lung fluid from 29 lung injury patients in 10 states all contained the same chemical, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today. The discovery is a huge step forward for the ongoing investigation into the severe and mysterious lung injuries that have affected e-cigarette users across the country.The chemical, called vitamin E acetate is now considered a “chemical of concern” by the CDC, which is investigating the outbreak. As of November 5th, 2019, 39 people have died of the injury, and 2,051 cases are being investigated. The agency says that vitamin E acetate is an oily substance found in a ton of typical household items, including foods, supplements, and even skin creams.According to the CDC’s website, “Vitamin E acetate usually does not cause harm when ingested as a vitamin supplement or applied to the skin. However, previous research suggests when vitamin E acetate is inhaled, it may interfere with normal lung functioning.”The oil might be great for skincare, but when heated up, it can act almost like a grease, chemistry professor Michelle Francl told The Washington Post in September. As you might imagine, breathing in vaporized grease could seriously affect the lungs, though researchers are still trying to figure out the exact mechanism that’s causing the lung damage.Investigators believe that the substance has been added to e-cigarette products as a thickener, and is particularly attractive to people manufacturing illicit products because it resembles tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil. THC is the substance in marijuana that provides a high.

Vaping Causes Lung Damage in Just 3 Days of Use, New Study Says - E-cigarette use, or vaping, can damage lungs in as little as three days of use, according to a new study from The Lundquist Institute (formerly known as LA BioMed) and the University of Rochester. For the study, male and female mice were exposed for two hours per day for three days to aerosols vaped from e-cigarettes using propylene glycol as the "carrier fluid," common among these products. Exposure for just three days was enough to incur sufficient damage to their lungs, setting the stage for long-term chronic lung damage. This damage occurred both with e-cigarettes containing nicotine, and those with just the propylene glycol carrier fluid. The study also found that more inflammatory responses to e-cigarettes containing both propylene glycol and nicotine occurred in female mice, suggesting women might be more vulnerable to negative health impacts from vaping. The study also provides novel insights to the lung damaging effects of vaping—reporting for the first time that acute exposure to e-cigarette aerosol containing polyethylene glycol alone can induce oxidative stress in lungs. It also showed that vaping does not have to occur over long periods of time to be harmful. The study was a collaborative effort between The Lundquist Institute and the University of Rochester, with some of the key analytic components leading to its conclusions performed at The Lundquist Institute.

Lead levels in Canadian water ‘exceed safe limit’ in a third of cases -- The amount of lead in the water supply of major Canadian cities exceeded safe levels in hundreds of thousands of homes, a major investigation has found.Some areas showed lead levels "similar" to those in the US city of Flint, Michigan, during its 2015 water crisis.Out of 12,000 samples taken from 2014 to 2018, one third exceeded the national safety guideline of 5 parts per billion (ppb).Canada has the third-largest per-capita fresh water reserve in the world.Lead contamination has been linked with low IQ in children, hypertension and heart disease. The year-long work was conducted by 120 journalists, from 10 media outlets and nine universities, in partnership with the Institute for Investigative Journalism.Investigators gathered the results of 12,000 tests carried out between 2014 and 2018 in 11 cities.While a third exceeded the safe limit of 5ppb, 18% were over the US limit of 15ppb.Among the areas studied were Montreal, the second-largest city in Canada (population 1.75m), and Oakville, an affluent part of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Regina, the capital of the prairie province of Saskatchewan, and the city of Prince Rupert, in northern British Columbia, were also included. Results found in some cities were "conspicuously similar to Flint," according to the Toronto Star, based on average lead levels found using comparable testing methods.Reporters also tested the drinking water in older homes in 32 cities across the country, taking samples from residents who volunteered.Out of 260 homes sampled, about 39% exceeded the current federal guideline.

 High lead levels found in many Detroit metropolitan cities - In recent days and weeks, Detroit area news sources have reported high levels of lead in the drinking water of many local communities. The demographically heterogeneous character of these reports is remarkable. Wealthier cities such as Birmingham, Michigan test with significant high lead levels just as less affluent working-class cities like as Garden City and Inkster. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, one of the communities that showed high lead levels in the homes whose water was sampled. She is the Flint pediatrician who conducted the September 2015 study of blood-lead levels in Flint children that revealed the city’s children were being poisoned as a result of the switch of Flint’s water source. She says the recent discovery of high lead in many Michigan communities is a result of more stringent sampling protocols that were adopted and enforced by the state in June. Hanna-Attisha is cited in the Detroit Free Press: “Michigan adopted this model lead and copper rule that’s really allowing us to better see what’s in our water … The testing in the past never adequately captured the reality of lead in water. Now, as anticipated, community after community is learning they have elevated lead levels in their drinking water, and they can now do something about it.” The City of Royal Oak issued a public advisory on October 29, stating, “This new, more rigorous sampling method is expected to result in higher lead results found at sample sites, not because the water source or quality has changed, but because of the Rule’s more stringent sampling procedures and analysis.” After the malfeasance and lies of state officials in the Flint water crisis were exposed in late September 2015—and Republican Governor Rick Snyder was forced to return the city to its long-time source of treated water—a barrage of state measures were introduced, ostensibly to address the harm done to the 100,000 residents of Flint. It is arguable that these initiatives were motivated by Snyder’s need to establish “plausible deniability” to his claim that he knew nothing of the malignant effects of the state-imposed switch to Flint River water until days after Hanna-Attisha’s revelations of the lead-poisoning of Flint children. The new protocol requires the sampling of an additional draw from each site. Besides evaluating the first draw from the tap, the fifth draw is also sampled.Edwards added, “The AWWA [American Water Works Association] actually did a study, years ago, that showed if a second draw sample was collected, to capture lead in water from a lead pipe, that about 50-60 percent of utilities would suddenly fail the lead and copper rule. Certainly, we have known about this problem for a long time … it has been causing a lot of people to be exposed to higher than recommended levels of lead.”

Delhi struggles to breathe but not even in top 10 polluted Indian cities - Over the last few days, Delhiites are having a tough time breathing. With thick smog in the air, the Capital has practically converted to a gas chamber. On Monday, however, there was a slight improvement in pollution levels with the Air Quality Index (AQI) dipping from 'severe' (400+) to 'unhealthy' (150-200).  India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) analysed the AQI bulletin provided by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and found that Delhi, in fact, does not feature among the 10 most polluted cities of India. The average AQI calculated for 24 hours (November 3, 4 pm to November 4, 4 pm) showed that Jind in Haryana had the most toxic air among 97 cities analysed. Jind's average AQI was 448. Delhi's average AQI was 407.  A total of 15 cities had an average AQI above 400, which is 'severe' according to CPCB standards. Of these, nine are in Uttar Pradesh and five in Haryana, apart from Delhi. Eight UP cities followed Jind for having the most toxic air quality.Despite unbearable smog, Delhi was not among the 10 most polluted cities in India even before Diwali. DIU had earlier reported that in the last week of October, cities in UP and Haryana fared worse than the Capital in AQI.

As Delhi Declares Emergency Over Air Quality, a Look at What Needs to Be Done After the air quality deteriorated to ‘severe-plus’ – or emergency levels – in the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR), the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) declared a public health on Friday. As a result, all construction activity stands banned until November 5. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also ordered all schools closed until that day. In his letter to chief secretaries of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi, EPCA chairperson Bhure Lal cautioned that the body had declared a “public health emergency … as air pollution will have adverse health impact on all, particularly our children.” Lal wrote that the “current air quality is a combination of the accumulated toxins because of local pollution, which … further spiked because of cracker-burning on Diwali night, combined with stubble-burning and extremely adverse weather.” Under the circumstances, Lal directed that all construction activities in Delhi, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Noida and Greater Noida be suspended and all hot mix plants and stone crushers in all NCR districts closed until the morning of November 5. The EPCA has also asked “all coal and other fuel based industries, which have not shifted to natural gas or agro-residue (with exemption to power plants)” and “industries that have not shifted to piped natural gas” to cease operations until the same data and banned the use of firecrackers until the end of winter – typically January. There is a flavour of frustration in these measures because, despite the efforts of the Centre, the EPCA, the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal, the NCR’s air quality has only gone from bad to worse. Recently, Chief Minister Kejriwal retweeted an article that said the five lakh farmers in Haryana and Punjab burning their paddy stubble were to blame. However, Anumita Roychowdhury, the executive director of research and advocacy at the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, explained that changes in agricultural methods exacerbated the crisis, since new harvesting machines leave crop stubble in their wake and farmers find it too expensive to hire labourers to remove the stubble. Roychowdhury said systems need to be devised and put into use for proper utilisation of the nearly 32 million tonnes of straw that gets left behind in the fields. She said there is the in situ solution of mixing the straw with the earth so that you do not have to burn it and it can be used to fertilize the field. Here, Roychowdhury said the Government of India has given some subsidy for the farmers but there is a need for the Centre and state governments to work out a plan to provide affordable access to the farmers to the implements. She said many small farmers still do not afford to use happy seeders to bury the straw in the ground and there was a need to look at options like a cooperative model or sharing system so that they too may be able to use these implements.

It’s Man Vs Wild in India’s Economy, and Wild Has the Upper Hand - With a makeshift spear in hand to defend himself should a tiger attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently trekked through the Himalayan foothills of northern India with Bear Grylls to create awareness about environmental conservation and climate change.The Man Vs Wild appearance comes as Asia’s third-largest economy grapples with deluge and drought, adding to growth headwinds. It’s a battle that’s having real economic consequences: A recent Stanford study estimated the economy is 31% smaller than it would have been in the absence of global warming.Growth in farm sector output, which accounts for about 16% of India’s gross domestic product, has been cooling for the past few years as unseasonable rains and frequent droughts add to farmers’ distress. In 2019, sugar output may drop to the lowest in three years as delayed showers shriveled cane in parts of Maharashtra.Deficient rainfall in other areas also threatened oilseed crops. The need to offset the shortfall will add to India’s import costs – another challenge for a nation already running trade and current account deficits. The hunt for rising incomes is driving India’s rural residents from the village to the city. Climate-induced uncertainty in agriculture accelerates the process. The share of agriculture in overall employment dropped to 42% in 2016 from 70% in 1981.That urbanization is increasing stress on water availability. A recent water crisis in the southern city of Chennai forced doctors to buy water for surgery. Desertification, land degradation and drought cost India about 2.5% of gross domestic product in 2014-15, according to India’s environment ministry.Modi’s re-election pitch this year included pledges to improve the environment. He’s created a separate ministry for water, pledged to reduce pollution in cities and help the country embrace electric vehicles - part of a shift to cleaner energy in everything from power plants to cooking gas. Those changes can’t come soon enough. India racks up health-care costs and productivity losses from pollution of as much as 8.5% of GDP, according to the World Bank. Drawing on data from the University of Notre Dame, the Drivers and Disrupters Report ranks India as one of the most exposed countries in the world to climate change. “If we live in harmony with nature, nothing can go wrong,” Modi said when Grylls asked if he was ready to travel through the tiger habitat. As the temperature rises, that harmony will get even harder for his government to achieve.

The toxic smog choking New Delhi - A cloud of toxic smog has forced residents in New Delhi to stay indoors, closed factories and schools, diverted flights and halted building works this week. With India declaring a public health emergency in recent days, the heavy pollution — caused by industrial production, vehicles and farmers burning field stubble — has scared off tourists to the Indian capital and other northern cities. This is the worst time of year for pollution in New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities. Visibility on some days is as poor as 50 metres and the poor air quality is expected to persist until January. Pollution levels on the Air Quality Index have reached between 200-300, many times above the safe level of 50. Last month the readings hit more than 400, prompting Arvind Kejriwal, New Delhi’s chief minister, to say the capital city had “turned into a gas chamber”. The financial costs are also mounting. “The economic impact is the direct effect of pollution on health and lost productivity,” said Karthik Ganesan from the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a Delhi-based think-tank. “The service sector and tourism are hit, too. Usually tourists want to see the ‘Golden Triangle’ — Delhi, Jaipur and Agra — but those cities are some of the worst affected by pollution.” Total welfare costs related to pollution amounted to $505bn, approximately 7.7 per cent of India’s gross domestic product in 2013, according to the World Bank. While the emergency measures may help reduce some emissions, better-off New Delhi residents have invested in air-filtration systems and purifiers, and sealed their windows and doors. The rest rely on masks or nothing at all. “The kids are suffering more and with the severity of the problem, the severity of symptoms is also increasing.” More than 620m children in south Asia breathe polluted air, according to Unicef, which called on the Indian government to take “urgent action to address the air quality crisis”. Amol Arora, managing director at the Shemrock and Shemford Group of Schools, said his schools have a later start time — 9am instead of the normal 7.30am or 8am — to avoid the worst pollution in the morning. The schools have also installed a double air filtration system. “Today, children carrying a nebuliser [a device used to treat asthma] in Delhi is very common,” said Mr Arora. “It’s almost criminal not to be giving our children clean air.”

Why New Delhi’s air is always so toxic this time of year -India’s capital city of New Delhi has been making headlines this week for its abysmal air quality as the concentration of particulate matter reached above 400 micrograms per cubic meter, 20 times the levels deemed healthy by the World Health Organization and the worst the city has seen since 2016.On October 31, the government declared a public health emergency, closing schools, banning construction and fireworks, and limiting private vehicle use to every other day for five days in an effort to protect the population and make a dent in the pollution. Flights have been delayed and hospitals inundated with patients suffering from coughs, dry eyes and throats, and other symptoms brought on or exacerbated by the toxic air.On the ground, it looks like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. Blanketing the streets is smog so dense you can’t see the length of a city block, and the sharp smell of smoke is detectable even through a mask, without which you’d be exposed to air that, over the course of a day, is equivalent to smoking a couple packs of cigarettes.Unfortunately, this sort of air pollution is nothing new to the residents of Delhi, nor those of many other Indian cities. A study released earlier this year found that 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India, and the fall and winter months are always especially toxic. The stew of pollution choking New Delhi this time of year doesn’t have one single source. Massive clouds of smoke drift south from the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana, where farmers burn crop stubble from their fields after the harvest to trap nutrients in the soil. Fireworks set off in the streets by the city’s 2 million residents during the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, don’t help either. And then there are the usual suspects: car and industrial emissions. But it’s not just human activity that’s to blame — local weather patterns don’t help the problem, either. Cold air settles into the low-lying city, bringing with it, and holding in, pollutants. The government has been struggling for years — mostly without success — to curb air pollution. Crop burning and firecrackers are both illegal, but people mostly ignore these bans, as well as the efforts to replace the practices with greener alternatives.

Eat carrots, perform yagnas: Indian officials have absurd tips to survive Delhi’s deadly smog - On Sunday, the intense toxic haze building up in North India over the past week reached apocalyptic levels. Ten monitoring stations in the National Capital Region recorded pollution levels in the “severe plus emergency” category.#DelhiAirEmergency was the top Twitter trend, followed by #DelhiPollution and #DelhiBachao—literally, save Delhi.  Despite living in Delhi, however, top ministers in the prime minister Narendra Modi’s government seemed to be on another planet.Environment minister Prakash Javadekar tweeted yesterday (Nov. 3) to ask Indians to start their day with music.His tweet came after a day of squabbling between the central government and the Delhi government. On Saturday, Javadekar accused Delhi chief minister Kejriwal of “politicising” air pollution and claimed the centre had organised interstate meetings between officials and ministers of North Indian states about the problem.But a government document surfaced on Sunday showing that Javadekar had cancelled the previous three meetings of state environment ministers scheduled in September and October.India’s health minister Harsh Vardhan also tweeted some advice: Eat carrots for “help against pollution-related harm” This prompted much carrot-munching on Twitter.  (ie, Bugs Bunny) Uttar Pradesh minister Sunil Bharala, meanwhile, noted that farmers have always practiced stubble burning, a major cause of atmospheric pollution as smoke from neighbouring states gathers over the capital. “It’s a natural system,” said Bharatala, reported the news agency ANI. “Repeated criticism of it is unfortunate.” He offered a solution: “Governments should hold yagnas (Hindu rituals held in front of a sacred fire) to please Lord Indra (the God of rain) as done traditionally. He will set things right.”

Mekong shrivels as drought, dam strangle SEAsia’s largest river -The once mighty Mekong river has been reduced to a thin, grubby neck of water in stretches of northern Thailand -- record lows blamed on drought and a recently opened dam far upstream. The $4.47 billion Thai-owned Xayaburi dam went into operation this week in Laos after years of warnings over the potential impact on fish flow, sediment and water levels of a river which feeds millions.Along parts of Thailand's northeastern border at Loei, the kilometre (3,300-foot) wide river has shrivelled to a few dozen metres, with boulders and bedrock encasing muddy pools of water. From above the encroaching banks of Laos and Thailand are now a thread of water apart, restricting fishing grounds to a slim channel. Fishermen blame a combination of this year's weak monsoon and the Xayaburi dam, around 300 kilometres (185 miles) to the north. "I don't want any more dam construction," said fisherman Sup Aunkaew, who tossed a meagre catch into his boat, adding that the fish spawning habits have been "confused" by the unseasonally low water levels. "But we can't really oppose their plans if they want to do it."  Landlocked and impoverished Laos has set its sights on becoming "the battery of Asia", with 44 operating hydro plants and 46 more under construction many on key tributaries of the Mekong, according to monitor International Rivers. Experts say the dam-building frenzy in China and Laos has compounded the drought. "These are causing the Mekong to die a death of a thousand cuts," said Brian Eyler, author of "The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong." "Some parts of the river (have) hit historic lows for any time of the year."He said the lower part of the river is at a "crisis point" until rains come again next year but no one is sounding the alarm. The Mekong, which rises on the Tibetan plateau and courses through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam -- sustains tens of millions of people along its banks through fishing and agriculture.

 China Is Weaponizing Water And Worsening Droughts Across Asia - Asia, the world's driest continent in per capita terms, remains the center of dam construction, with more than half of the 50,000 large dams across the globe. The hyperactivity on dams has only sharpened local and international disputes over the resources of shared rivers and aquifers. The focus on dams reflects a continuing preference for supply-side approaches, which entail increased exploitation of water resources, as opposed to pursuing demand-side solutions, such as smart water management and greater water-use efficiency. As a result, nowhere is the geopolitics over dams murkier than in Asia, the world's most dam-dotted continent. Last summer, water levels in continental Southeast Asia's lifeline, the 4,880-kilometer Mekong River, fell to their lowest in more than 100 years, even though the annual monsoon season stretches from late May to late September. Yet, after completing 11 mega-dams, China is building more upstream dams on the Mekong, which originates on the Tibetan Plateau. Indeed, Beijing is also damming other transnational rivers. China is central to Asia's water map. Thanks to its annexation of the water-rich Tibetan Plateau and the sprawling Xinjiang province, China is the starting point of rivers that flow to 18 downstream countries. No other country in the world serves as the riverhead for so many countries. By erecting dams, barrages and other water diversion structures in its borderlands, China is creating an extensive upstream infrastructure that arms it with the capacity to weaponize water. A serious drought presently parching parts of the vast region extending from Australia to the Indian peninsula has underscored the mounting risks from the pursuit of dam-centered engineering solutions to growing freshwater shortages. Asia's densely populated regions already face a high risk that their water stress could worsen to water scarcity. The dam-driven water competition is threatening to also provoke greater tensions and conflict.  Among its planned new dams is a massive project at Metog, or Motuo in Chinese, on the world's highest-altitude major river, the Brahmaputra. The proposed dam, close to the disputed, heavily militarized border with India, will have a power-generating capacity nearly twice that of the Three Gorges Dam, whose reservoir is longer than the largest of North America's Great Lakes. Several of the Southeast Asian dam projects financed and undertaken by Chinese companies, like in Laos and Myanmar, are intended to generate electricity for export to China's own market. Indeed, China has demonstrated that it has no qualms about building dams in disputed territories, such as Pakistan-administered Kashmir, or in areas torn by ethnic separatism, like northern Myanmar.

The world is getting wetter, yet water may become less available for North America and Eurasia - With climate change, plants of the future will consume more water than in the present day, leading to less water available for people living in North America and Eurasia, according to a Dartmouth-led study in Nature Geoscience. The research suggests a drier future despite anticipated precipitation increases for places like the United States and Europe, populous regions already facing water stresses. The study challenges an expectation in climate science that plants will make the world wetter in the future. Scientists have long thought that as carbon dioxide concentrations increase in the atmosphere, plants will reduce their water consumption, leaving more freshwater available in our soils and streams. This is because as more carbon dioxide accumulates in our atmosphere plants can photosynthesize the same amount while partly closing the pores (stomata) on their leaves. Closed stomata means less plant water loss to the atmosphere, increasing water in the land. The new findings reveal that this story of plants making the land wetter is limited to the tropics and the extremely high latitudes, where freshwater availability is already high and competing demands on it are low. For much of the mid-latitudes, the study finds, projected plant responses to climate change will not make the land wetter but drier, which has massive implications for millions of people. "Approximately 60 percent of the global water flux from the land to the atmosphere goes through plants, called transpiration. Plants are like the atmosphere's straw, dominating how water flows from the land to the atmosphere. So vegetation is a massive determinant of what water is left on land for people," explained lead author Justin S. Mankin, an assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth and adjunct research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. "The question we're asking here is, how do the combined effects of carbon dioxide and warming change the size of that straw?"

The warming climate is making baby sea turtles almost all girls - Only stars glowed on this remote beach, where the sea turtle arrived to lay her eggs. She dodged plastic, fishing nets and oil spills to get this far. But another threat to her species lurks in the ground: sand temperatures that foster only one gender.  “One hundred percent girls,” whispered the biologist, crawling next to the pregnant reptile. “This nest will be 100 percent girls.”  As the earth gets hotter, turtle hatchlings worldwide are expected to skew dangerously female, scientists predict, making the animals an unwitting gauge for the warming climate. On the tiny West African island nation of Cape Verde — home to a sixth of the planet’s nesting loggerheads — the disparity is stark. Eighty-four percent of youngsters are now female, researchers from Britain’s University of Exeter found in a July report. Populations in Florida and Australia are also showing dramatic sex imbalances, sparking fears creatures that outlasted dinosaurs are plodding toward extinction. “Males here could vanish in two or three decades,” said Adolfo Marco, a Spanish researcher who camps every summer on Boa Vista, one of Cape Verde’s 10 islands in the Atlantic. “There will be no reproduction.” The past five years have been the hottest on record for the globe. Roughly a tenth of the planet has warmed beyond 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit),  according to a Washington Post analysis — the point at which scientists say rising temperatures can trigger irreversible damage to ecosystems. Here in Cape Verde, the warming is above average — about 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.3 Fahrenheit) just since 1964, based on records from the primary airport. If the trend continues at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s lowest projection, researchers estimate that fewer than 1 percent of the country’s sea turtles will be born male by the century’s end. Higher rises could wipe them out completely.

Sea urchin population soars 10,000% in five years, devastating US coastline - Tens of millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have already chomped their way through towering underwater kelp forests in California are spreading north to Oregon, sending the delicate marine ecosystem off the shore into such disarray that other critical species are starving to death. A recent count found 350m purple sea urchins on one Oregon reef alone – more than a 10,000% increase since 2014. And in northern California, 90% of the bull kelp forests have been devoured by the urchins, perhaps never to return. Vast “urchin barrens” – stretches of denuded seafloor dotted with nothing but hundreds of the spiny orbs – have spread to coastal Oregon, where kelp forests were once so thick it was impossible to navigate some areas by boat. The underwater annihilation is killing off important fisheries for red abalone and red sea urchins and creating such havoc that scientists in California are partnering with a private business to collect the over-abundant purple urchins and “ranch” them in a controlled environment for sale to a global seafood market. “We’re in uncharted territory,” said Scott Groth, a shellfish scientist with the Oregon department of fish and wildlife. “You can’t just go out and smash them. There’s too many. I don’t know what we can do.” The explosion of purple sea urchins is the latest symptom of a Pacific north-west marine ecosystem that’s out of whack. Kelp has been struggling because of warmer-than-usual waters in the Pacific Ocean. And, in 2013, a mysterious disease began wiping out tens of millions of starfish, including a species called the sunflower sea star that is the only real predator of the ultra-hardy purple urchin. Around the same time, the purple urchins had two excellent breeding years – and with no predators, those gametes grew up and are now eating everything in sight.

Why are birds and seals starving in a Bering Sea full of fish?  Marine biologist Gay Sheffield drove to the airport on an August day to pick up the seabird carcasses collected by the Bering Strait villagers of Shishmaref and bring it back to a laboratory just off the main street of this northwest Alaska town.  Sheffield found mostly shearwaters, slender birds with narrow wings — also kittiwakes, crested auklets, thick-billed murres, a cormorant and a horned puffin. Most were painfully skinny, bones protruding like knife-edged ridges.“They starved to death,” Sheffield said. “Why?”The birds should have been able to fatten on small fish, krill and other food that typically abound in the northern Bering Sea, a body of water so rich in marine life that gray whales, after they winter off Mexico, swim more than 5,000 miles north to feed here each summer. But as climate change warms the die-offs of seabirds and marine mammals have been on the rise. The grim tally includes a nearly fivefold increase in ice-seal carcasses spotted on shore, strandings of emaciated gray whales, and near the St. Lawrence Island village of Savoonga, a discouraging spectacle: auklets abandoning seaside nests as their chicks succumb to hunger. The animal die-offs offer the world a stark example of the perils of rising ocean temperatures, which already are upending parts of the Bering Sea ecosystem as climate change — driven by greenhouse-gas pollution from fossil fuels — unfolds in Alaska at a breakneck pace. For the past two years, the winter ice has largely disappeared, and this fall, ice formation in some of the northern waters has been at historic lows. These are startling developments for those who live along the shores and for the Seattle-based fishermen whose fortunes are tied to the Bering Sea harvests that are some of the biggest on the planet. Federal and university scientists are trying to better understand why some birds and marine mammals have been unable to find enough food, and whether toxic algae blooms — increasing as the water warms — could have contributed or caused some of the die-offs.  As the warming takes hold — raising some summer sea-bottom temperatures by more than 12 degrees in less than a decade — Sheffield has emerged as a front-line scientist traveling around the region to document death tolls and gather specimens for analysis. Along the way, she’s heard from Yup’ik and Iñupiat villagers who eat the seabirds and marine mammals, and — disturbed by what they were finding — began to gather samples from dead animals and airfreight them to Sheffield in Nome. “If you live here, it’s a real-world problem. It’s an immediate, stop, get an answer problem. It’s a food security and health problem … and people are very brave in taking action.”

Climate Crisis Is Causing a Deadly Virus to Spread Amongst Marine Mammals - A lethal virus that killed tens of thousands of harbor seals in the northern Atlantic in 2002 suddenly spread to sea lions, seals and otters in the northern Pacific Ocean two years later, confusing scientists, as NBC News reported.How could the pathogen that causes a measles-like disease in marine mammals that had only been found on the Atlantic coasts suddenly have spread to the Pacific?"We didn't understand how a virus from the Atlantic ended up in these sea otters. It's not a species that ranges widely," said Tracey Goldstein, a scientist at the University of California Davis who investigates how pathogens move through marine ecosystems, as National Geographic reported.Goldstein and her colleagues looked at 15 years of data and realized that the spike in the virus was commensurate with Arctic sea ice loss. The data, published in a new study in the journal Scientific Reports, finds that the loss of Arctic sea ice allowed otters and other mammals to move west and spread the virus. The study shows that global heating is opening new avenues for diseases to spread, as National Geographicreported."The loss of sea ice is leading marine wildlife to seek and forage in new habitats and removing that physical barrier, allowing for new pathways for them to move," said Goldstein in a press release. "As animals move and come in contact with other species, they carry opportunities to introduce and transmit new infectious disease, with potentially devastating impacts."The rapid loss of sea ice is creating a fertile breeding ground for viruses as animals travel to areas they have never been before. The phenomenon was first observed 17 years ago.  “It was a perfect storm in 2002," said Goldstein, as NBC News reported. "It was the lowest ice year on record at the time, and at the same time, in August and September, there was a really large outbreak."

Thousands of animals around the world are at risk of extinction. But not jellyfish — they're thriving in warm, polluted water. - The world is in the midst of a mass extinction — the sixth time in the planet's history that species are experiencing a major global collapse in numbers.  Up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades, according to a United Nations report.   Human activity is to blame: Habitats are being destroyed due to pollution, climate change, and deforestation.  But one group of creatures is bucking this ominous trend: jellyfish.  Jellyfish have roamed Earth's oceans for 500 million years. The bell-shaped underwater denizens can be found all over the world; there are some 4,000 species of them, according to the Smithsonian Institute.  Over the past two decades, global populations of many jellyfish species have skyrocketed. Swarms of them, known as "jellyfish blooms," have become more common worldwide, forcing beach closures, causing power outages, and killing other fish.   Recent research has revealed that the increases in jellyfish populations can be linked to human activity, too. As greenhouse gases trap heat on the planet, oceans are heating up — they absorb 93% of that excess heat. Unlike many marine species, jellies can thrive in warmer water with less oxygen.    What's more, their natural predators, like turtles and sharks, are being overfished by humans. Here's what to know about why jellyfish are thriving — and why their population explosion could be dangerous.

'Zombie in the Water’: New Greenpeace Report Warns of Deadly Ghost Fishing Gear -A lot of the discussion around ocean plastic pollution focuses on consumer items like bottles, bags and straws. But a new Greenpeace report zeroes in on a different plastic threat: lost or abandoned fishing gear.Discarded plastic fishing equipment, dubbed "ghost gear," is especially dangerous to marine life because it was designed to trap and kill it."(Ghost gear) is like a zombie in the water," Greenpeace marine biologist and oceans expert Thilo Maack toldAFP. "Nobody takes out the catch, but it's still catching."The report found that there is an alarming amount of this deadly plastic gear in the oceans. Around 640,000 tonnes of it enter the world's oceans every year, around the same weight as more than 50 thousand double decker buses. While fishing gear represents 10 percent of ocean plastic overall, it makes up a much larger proportion of large plastic pollution. In some areas, it contributes the "vast majority of plastic rubbish."

  • It makes up around 70 percent of plastics more than 20 centimeters (approximately 8 inches) large floating on the ocean's surface; buoys alone account for 58 percent.
  • Fishing nets make up 86 percent of the large plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
  • Fishing equipment makes up more than 85 percent of the plastic pollution on sea mounts, ocean ridges and the sea floor.
  • Fishing industry debris comprised 60 percent of six tonnes of garbage collected from the remote Henderson Island in the Pacific Ocean.

This is a major problem for marine life. A single ghost fishing net killed around 300 sea turtles in Mexican waters in 2018. And every year, ghost gear kills more than 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles, UK-based charity World Animal Protection told AFP.

How Plastic Pollution Is Making Central America Uninhabitable - THE FISHERMEN STAND thigh-deep in the muddy water as our boat pulls up to the shore, grass shushing against the hull. Beside them, half-submerged, a plastic soda bottle noses purposefully past, toward the sea.As I step onto shore, I notice more bits of plastic lying among the reeds, half-buried in the mud, as well as stained scraps of cloth, bits of packing foam, a single cracked plastic sandal. Just beyond, Guatemala’s Motagua River pours into the Caribbean, carrying with it a daily freight of trash washed out of overcrowded city dumps and unofficial landfills hundreds of miles upstream. Worldwide, an estimated 80 percent of ocean plastic comes from land as “mismanaged waste.” Indeed, in Guatemala, there are almost no properly managed landfills and virtually no public water treatment plants. The result is a noxious chowder of sewage, industrial and agricultural runoff, and an ever-replenished flotilla of plastic trash, churning out from the river mouth toward the massive Mesoamerican reef, which has long supported rich biodiversity and fishing communities from Cancún to Nicaragua. Now, the beaches here and in neighboring Honduras are regularly buried in artificial tidewrack of toothbrushes, makeup containers, old syringes and bottles of IV fluid, action figures, streamers of plastic film, and foil chip bags.   El Quetzalito sits at the end of a dirt road that jounces through endless plantation rows of banana and palm trees, just a few miles from Guatemala’s border with Honduras.  Though this small community, home to only about 305 people, lies nearly 200 miles from the busy, exhaust-choked capital, the city’s trash floats past and washes up onto the beaches every day. In 2016, footage of a massive landslide of garbage in the overfilled Guatemala City dump reportedly killed three trash-pickers and briefly drew international attention to the untenable conditions there. But with overburdened or nonexistent infrastructure throughout Guatemala, the rainy season regularly washes large quantities of trash out of many such dumps and into the rivers every year.  “It’s something that’s been happening for a while now,” said Marco Dubón, who goes by Marquito. Growing up, he doesn’t remember a time when the river wasn’t full of trash. In recent years, however, it’s gotten much worse.

Why biodegradables won’t solve the plastic crisis - Throwaway plastic has found its way into almost every aspect of our lives: from the disposable coffee cup you pick up on the way to work or the straw in your smoothie, to the hidden fibres woven into wet wipes and tiny glittering fragments in make-up. Of the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic we’ve thrown away since we started mass-producing it in the 1950s, just 600 million tonnes has been recycled – and 4.9 billion tonnes has been sent to landfill or left in the natural environment.  While awareness of the detrimental impact plastic can have on the environment has exploded in recent years, environmentally friendly alternatives are only now picking up steam.  Biodegradable plastics are one set of materials that are becoming a popular replacement as consumers demand green alternatives. Rather than remaining stable for hundreds of years – the quality for which we prized plastic when we first began using it – biodegradable plastics can be broken down by microbes, chewed up and turned into biomass, water and carbon dioxide (or in the absence of oxygen, methane rather than CO2).  That coffee cup with a Seedling logo you’re drinking from won’t decompose very quickly, if at all, on your home compost heap, but will break down inside the right kind of industrial equipment.  There’s a European standard for compostable packaging: EN 13432. It requires that the packaging break down underindustrial-scale composting conditions within 12 weeks, leaving no more than 10% of the original material in pieces bigger than 2mm, and doing no harm to the soil itself through heavy metals or worsening its structure. But while most of these bioplastics require industrial composters to break them down after use, they are far from guaranteed to make it to one. Given humanity’s track record, it makes sense to ask what happens if they end up where they shouldn’t. Imogen Napper at the University of Plymouth collected carrier bags with various claims about biodegradability, and put them in three different natural environments over a period of three years: the bag labelled “compostable” (which stated it adhered to standard EN 13432) disappeared entirely within three months when it was left in seawater. In soil it remained intact for two years, but disintegrated when the researchers loaded it with shopping. The rest of the bags – including the one labelled “biodegradable” – were still present in both soil and sea water after three years, and could even hold shopping.

Argentina could become ‘sacrificial country’ for plastic waste, say activists - Argentina has changed its definition of waste in a move that could allow it to import millions of tonnes of plastic waste discarded in the US.The country’s president, Mauricio Macri, signed a decree in August reclassifying some materials destined for recycling as commodities instead of waste, allowing looser oversight of mixed and contaminated plastic scraps that are difficult to process, and are often dumped or incinerated.Social and environmental groups say the decree is illegal and bucks a global trend toward improving controls over waste imports. They worry it could be the first step towards Argentina taking in the plastics that have flooded developed nations after China began to refuse all but the cleanest of shipments in late 2017. Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network, a group that fights the export of toxic waste from industrialised societies to developing nations, said: “They’re willing to become a sacrificial country where the rest of the world could send their waste and they could profit from it.”Argentinian environment official Alejandra Acosta said advocates are misunderstanding the decree and that it would actually be more stringent than previous policies, although she could not explain why multiple groups are interpreting the change as relaxing plastic import rules. She acknowledged the government did not do enough outreach with advocates and argued that no mixed plastics or plastics destined for “final disposal” or “energy recovery” via incineration would be allowed.More than 180 countries are party to the Basel convention, which governs the international waste trade, but the US is not.Under a recent amendment proposed by Norway, developed nations will not be able to export low-quality plastic waste to developing nations without getting their explicit consent and ensuring the waste can be appropriately handled.The amendments aim to ensure that even abstaining countries, such as the US, follow the Basel convention rules when sending plastic waste to poorer countries. Basel convention countries could still strike separate agreements with the US, as long as they ensure that any plastics they receive will not be disposed of in ways that harm the environment and violate the convention, said Pål Spillum, the deputy director general of Norway’s environment ministry.

Monsanto Wins $7.7 Billion Lawsuit in Brazil – but Farmers’ Fight to Stop its ‘Amoral’ Royalty System Will Continue - A Brazilian appeals court has decided in favor of Monsanto, the global agribusiness conglomerate, in a landmark class-action lawsuit filed by Brazilian farmers’ unions. The court’s nine justices unanimously ruled on Oct. 9 that farmers cannot save seeds for replanting if the seeds are harvested from Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready soybeans, which are genetically engineered to withstand direct application of the company’s Roundup herbicide. The Brazilian ruling aligns with similar decisions in the U.S. and Canada. Courts in all three countries determined that, as a product of genetic engineering, Roundup Ready soybeans are protected by domestic patent law. In a public statement, Monsanto – which was acquired by Bayer in 2018 – said the decision will strengthen “agricultural innovation in Brazil.”How strict patenting of seeds affects innovation, however, is a matter of debate. And the lawsuits challenging Monsanto’s aggressive pursuit of its patent rights raise a vexed legal issue: When intellectual property laws that protect companies conflict with the rights of farmers to plant their fields, who should win?   Monsanto has invested heavily in agricultural biotechnology to become the world’s largest seller of seeds. Its biotech seeds have proved attractive to farmers because they simplify farm management. Monsanto says its genetically modified seeds also increase crop yields, and thus farmer income – but evidence on this subject isnot probative.  In the United States and Canada, Monsanto requires buyers of its genetically modified seeds tosign extensive licensing contracts that prevent them from saving seeds. North American farmers who violate those agreements have been sued for patent infringement and compelled to pay tens of thousands of dollars in damages. In Brazil, Monsanto charges 2% royalties on the sale of its patented soybeans, a conventional industry practice. More unusually, the company charges an additional royalty – 3% of farmers’ sales – when soybeans are grown from saved Roundup Ready seeds. Soybeans are Brazil’s biggest export. The royalties in dispute in the class action, which is likely to be appealed to the Brazilian Supreme Court, are estimated at US$7.7 billion. “I can’t stand it anymore – seeing those Monsanto people showing up at the grain elevator and behaving as if they own everything,” one grain cooperative manager told the Brazilian Congress during a special commission on agriculture I attended in December 2017.

Illegal Loggers Murder Amazon Forest Guardian - Paulo Paulino Guajajara, in his 20s, was a member of the Guajajara group Guardians of the Forest, which was formed in 2012 to protect the Araribóia reservation in Brazil's Maranhão state. In an interview with Reuters in September, he said that his work had become more dangerous. "I'm scared at times, but we have to lift up our heads and act. We are here fighting," he said. Paulo Paulino Guajajara was a part of Guardians of the Forest - a group set up buy his Guajajara tribe to protect the Amazon rainforest. On Saturday, he was shot dead by illegal loggers — Reuters (@Reuters) November 3, 2019    Another guardian, Laércio Guajajara, was also shot and taken to the hospital, The Guardian reported. One of the loggers is also missing. Sérgio Moro, justice minister for the administration of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, said that federal police would investigate the murder. "We will spare no effort to bring those responsible for this serious crime to justice," he tweeted, as The Guardian reported. But indigenous rights groups blamed the Bolsonaro government for the killing, since the president has promised to open indigenous reserves to extractive industries. "The increase in violence in indigenous territories is a direct result of his hateful speeches and steps taken against our people," the Association of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples (APIB) said in a statement reported by Reuters.

China Exports African Swine Fever To Russia --A new report from Bloomberg details how African swine fever has likely been exported to Russia. This could be problematic for Russia, due in part that if the hog-killing disease spreads, it could start wiping out large swaths of herds, as it has already done in China. In the last several months, about 60 cases of African swine fever have been reported to Russian authorities in the Amur Oblast region in Russia, a federal district that borders China in the Russian Far East.  Dirk Pfeiffer, a professor of veterinary medicine and life sciences at the City University of Hong Kong, told Bloomberg that a cross-border spread between the two countries is likely underway. "Wild boar are very likely to now also be infected in northern China," Pfeiffer said.China has so far observed at least 50% of its herd this year wiped out from the fast-spreading disease.   Russia's hog population in the Far East accounts for barely 2% of the country's total hog population, which for now, could be contained. Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia's biosecurity watchdog, has been on guard for a cross-border spread since summer, there have been several reports of Chinse citizens attempting to sneak infected meat across checkpoints into Russia. Andriy Rozstalnyy, an animal health officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, told Bloomberg that once the wild pig population is infected with African swine fever, then the spread of the disease is virtually uncontrollable.  In the last month, 275 pigs have died, and 2,473 have been killed in the Amur Oblast region, a move spurred by authorities to limit the outbreak. The cross-border spread of African swine fever, from China to Russia, is undoubtedly a significant cause for concern because now countries bordering China are being affected.

China’s pork imports may hit record 4.6 million tonnes in 2020: Rabobank (Reuters) - China’s pork imports will reach record levels of as much as 4.6 million tonnes next year, Dutch financial services firm Rabobank said on Friday, as domestic output falls to a historical low following a devastating disease outbreak. China’s pork imports are already set to surpass previous records this year, reaching between 3.1 million and 3.3 million tonnes including offal, the bank said in a report, up from 2.1 million tonnes last year. It comes after African swine fever, a fatal pig disease, spread through the world’s largest hog herd, killing millions and discouraging many farmers from replenishing their farms. Though soaring hog prices recently have spurred large producers to begin restocking empty farms and speed up plans for new ones, the sow herd will begin recovering only next year, with pork supply picking up again from 2021, Rabobank said. China’s pork production is expected to shrink by a quarter this year versus 2018 to about 40.5 million tonnes, and by another 10 to 15% in 2020, the bank said.

Pork Pile-Up Continues- Bacon Levels In US Cold Storage Surge To 48-Year High -- Cold storage facilities across the U.S. have just hit record-high levels of pork bellies, the cut of the pig used to make bacon, reported Bloomberg. Much of the oversupply problem stems from farmers' increasing herd sizes ahead of a possible trade deal that was expected to occur earlier this year.  Farmers in 1H20 across Central and Midwest regions were desperately trying to increase herd sizes and or fields planted of corn and soybean because President Trump kept touting imminent trade deal in the press. What the farmers didn't realize is that there was no trade deal at the time, and the impending trade deal comments were only to boost the stock market. What this created was massive misguidance by the government that has led to shocking oversupplied conditions.  According to new U.S. government data published last week, there are more than 40 million pounds of pork bellies in cold storage facilities across the U.S. The levels are so high that some cold storage facilities could run out of space. The last time storage facilities saw this much pork belly was 1971. Hog producers, listening to every trade headlines from the Trump administration, quickly expanded herds through spring and summer with the anticipation of an imminent trade deal with China. U.S. herd levels rose to 7.7 million heads as of Sept. 1, a level not seen since 1943.  While the massive overhang of pork bellies could be short-lived due to the anticipation of a "Phase 1" trade deal could be signed imminently between the U.S. and China, the lesson to be seen is that fake trade news has consequences, such as disrupting free markets and creating imbalances. 

U.S. Winter-Wheat Acres Set to Drop to Lowest in 110 Years -- America’s bread basket looks like it’s going gluten free: Dogged by lower prices and tepid demand, U.S. wheat farmers are poised to plant the fewest acres of winter varieties in 110 years. That’s according to a Bloomberg survey. Analysts are predicting another year of declines for acreage as U.S. producers face stiff competition from global rivals gathering bumper crops. World supplies are so plentiful that futures for hard red winter wheat are down about 15% in 2019, one of the worst performances for commodities this year. In some parts of the southern U.S. Plains, wheat is now cheaper than corn, making the yellow grain a better bet. “The price doesn’t get high enough to tell us to keep planting wheat,” said Ken Horton, who grows wheat, corn and sorghum with his sons in Leoti, Kansas. Horton is cutting plantings of the HRW wheat variety by 30% to about 3,000 acres. “Any time you have cash corn higher than cash wheat, you’ll see more acres go to corn,” Horton said in a telephone interview. As of Oct. 27, U.S. farmers had planted 85% of their winter wheat, up from 77% at the same time in 2018, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. However, rains in parts of the Midwest may hamper the last phase of sowing. Some growers who double-crop wheat in soybean fields might not be able to harvest their soy in time to seed wheat, according to Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist at INTL FCStone in Kansas City. That could result in fewer planted acres of the soft red winter variety, he said. “There’s quite a correlation in soybean-harvest pace and wheat plantings,” Suderman said by phone. Planted acres of all varieties of winter wheat are forecast to decline to 31.118 million, according to a Bloomberg survey of six analysts. That would be down from 31.159 million a year ago and above only the 29.196 million acres from 1909, the first year in USDA records. The agency won’t make an official estimate until January. In the Texas Panhandle, farmers are turning to cotton instead of wheat, “The low wheat prices have given way to other options,”

Are We Reaching Peak Phosphorus? Maybe -Considering how the manmade climate crisis is threatening the global food chain already, farmers don't need any more headaches. But, in addition, to climate change, several scientists are warning of a global phosphorus shortage by 2030. Phosphorus is a natural mineral, the 11th most abundant mineral on the planet. First isolated in 1699, it has been revealed to be a component in everything from DNA to urine. Its also present in fossilized animal bones. It's also crucial for crop and livestock production, both within soil and as a fertilizer, because of its ability to "build up organic material and stimulates biological activity in surface layers,"according to Penn State's Nutrient Management Program.It can also increase the biological productivity of lakes and streams by accelerating the natural process of eutrophication, which can help fish and underwater plants prosper. That acceleration isn't a good thing: it can create afeeding ground for toxic algae blooms which can wipe out all other life in a body of water, as Floridians saw in 2018. Modern phosphate, for fertilizers and other uses like in detergents and nerve gas, comes from the non-renewable source of rock. Around three-fourths of the world's known supply of mineable phosphorus is found in the West Sahara and African nation of Morocco with approximately 50 million tonnes of ore, while China, Algeria, Syria, South Africa, and the United States have over a million tonnes of ore, according to the United States Geologic Survey (USGS).However, much of the phosphorus supply chain is a mystery. A recent study called the global supply chain "a black box." There are currently no international guidelines for best phosphorus practices.The USGS estimates that global phosphorus use will increase to 50.5 million tons by 2022 a increase from 47.0 million tons in 2018. Scientists disagree about how much more food will be needed to feed the planet in coming years, with numbers ranging from 25 to 56% more. Man-made climate change will negatively affect farms in a number of ways, from heat waves to increased pests. Those changes could force farmers to use even more fertilizer, further increasing phosphorus usage. Unlike man-made climate change, an issue on which the science is settled, there is a scientific debate on "peak phosphorus," a point at which the global amount of phosphorus will decline. Some scientists warn it could come as early as 2030, while a group from the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) has found that there could be enough phosphorus to last hundreds of years.

Trump team has a plan for national parks: Amazon, food trucks and no senior discounts -At the urging of a controversial team of advisors, the Trump administration is mulling proposals to privatize national park campgrounds and further commercialize the parks with expanded Wi-Fi service, food trucks and even Amazon deliveries at tourist camp sites.Leaders of the Interior Department’s “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee say these changes could make America’s national parks more attractive to a digitally minded younger generation and improve the quality of National Park Service facilities amid a huge maintenance backlog. As part of its plan, the committee calls for blacking out senior discounts at park campgrounds during peak holiday seasons.“Our recommendations would allow people to opt for additional costs if they want, for example, Amazon deliveries at a particular campsite,” said Derrick Crandall, vice chairman of the committee and a counselor with the nonprofit National Park Hospitality Assn. “We want to let Americans make their own decisions in the marketplace.” But the group’s proposals face angry opposition from conservation organizations and senior citizen advocates, who call them a transfer of public assets to private industry, including businesses led by executives appointed to the Outdoor Advisory Committee.  “America’s outdoor heritage is on the line,” said Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of the Western Values Project, a nonprofit public lands watchdog group in Montana. “The trouble with these recommendations is that they were written by concessionaire industry representatives vying for more control of national parks.” “This proposal is an insulting attempt to push older Americans out of our national parks,” Bill Sweeney, senior vice president of government affairs at AARP said. “The cost of a senior pass already jumped in recent years from $10 to $80, and this proposal would further hurt older Americans who want to visit national parks. Enough is enough.”

Sudden oak death spreading fast, California’s coastal forests facing devastation -- It is the forgotten killer when compared to our increasingly frequent climate calamities, but the virulent pathogen known as sudden oak death remains active and is spreading death so fast it could destroy California’s coastal forest ecosystem, UC Berkeley scientists reported Thursday. The deadly microbe has now established itself throughout the Bay Area and has spread along the coast from Monterey to Humboldt County, according to a study of 16,227 trees in 16 counties in Northern California. Millions of coast live oak and tan oak trees have withered and died over the past quarter century, leaving acres of kindling for wildfires, but the outbreak this year was one of the worst. Oak trees have historically been abundant in California and southwestern Oregon, with hundreds of millions of them stretching all the way to Baja California. The rate of trees infected almost doubled in 2019 — from 3.5% to 5.9% — and was 10 times higher in some places compared with the 2018 survey, said Matteo Garbelotto, the director of the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory, which tested leaf samples taken by 422 volunteers. Infections were found in all the well-known hotbeds, like Marin and Sonoma counties, the East Bay, Big Sur and the Santa Cruz mountains. But the 12th annual survey detected more of the pathogen this year in virtually every location. That’s mainly because the disease spreads faster in the kind of wet weather that hit California last winter, Garbelotto said. “There was a significant increase in infection rates over last year, but that’s not totally surprising because we had a lot more rainfall,” Garbelotto said. “But it was a surprise to see them all at once. It’s telling us we are entering a different phase of the disease, where the organism isn’t really establishing itself in new areas, but is showing itself more when weather conditions are favorable.”

Australia bushfires: Record number of emergencies in New South Wales -Australian authorities say an "unprecedented" number of emergency-level bushfires are threatening the state of New South Wales (NSW).More than 80 blazes were raging across the state on Friday.Gusty winds and up to 35C heat have exacerbated the fires, many of which are in drought-affected areas.There are reports of people trapped in their homes in several places, with crew unable to reach them due to the strength of the fires. "We are in uncharted territory," said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. "We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level."At one point, 17 emergency-level fires were burning simultaneously across NSW.  But fire authorities said that falling temperatures, increases in humidity and helicopter assistance were helping with efforts to tackle the blazes. Authorities have deployed more than 1,000 firefighters and 70 aircraft to save "as many people as possible", Mr Fitzsimmons said. The Rural Fire Service tweeted on Friday that "due to the size and speed of the fires we couldn't get to everyone, even by road or helicopter". The blazes are spread across about 1,000 km (621 miles) of Australia's coast, stretching the emergency response.Some people were warned to seek shelter from fires rather than flee, as it was now too late to leave. Emergency warnings were also issued on Friday for bushfires burning in Queensland and Western Australia.

California wildfires: Climate change driving ‘horror and the terror’ of devastating blazes, say scientists - The words from California’s former governor could barely have been more stark.“I said it was the new normal a few years ago,’’ says Jerry Brown. “This is serious, but this is only the beginning. This is only a taste of the horror and the terror that will occur in decades.” As firefighters in California continue to confront a three-week spate of blazes that has reached across the state, attention has also turned to why this year’s wildfires have been so severe. The reason, according to scientists, is climate change. “It’s warmer weather, more evaporation, and drier conditions. They just burn more,” says Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University.“And we expect this trend to continue. We can’t say if it will happen every year – there are natural variations as well. But we know that when things are drier, a larger area burns.” Speaking from New York, Williams adds: “We’ve always had the fires. But things are now two or three degrees hotter. That’s enough to make a major difference.”  The editorial writers at the Los Angeles Times have echoed the words of the former governor, who spoke to Politico, by declaring: “Climate change has set California on fire. Are you paying attention?” “Nobody can honestly say this is a surprise, given the devastating fires of recent years. Yet it feels surprising all the same. How did things get so bad in California, so quickly,” they write. “The answer is climate change. It is here and our communities are not ready for it.” The energy company Pacific Gas and Electric has been at the centre of controversy by its decision to shut off power to thousands of residents in the hope that broken lines would not trigger more blazes.  Yet experts say, apart from the specific triggers for the fires – this week, a crash involving a police vehicle chase sparked one fire in Jurupa Valley, southwest of San Bernardino – the broader context is of drier, hotter conditions. “Since the early 1970s, California’s annual wildfire extent increased fivefold, punctuated by extremely large and destructive wildfires in 2017 and 2018,” Williams and his colleagues write in a paper published this summer in Earth’s Future. “This trend was mainly due to an eightfold increase in the summertime forest fire area and was very likely driven by drying of fuels promoted by human‐induced warming.”

Firefighters finally getting a handle on wildfires burning across California - Firefighters Saturday continued to get the upper hand on destructive fires across California. The Kincade fire, which has burned 77,000 acres and destroyed 350 structures in Northern California’s wine country, was 72% contained. The Maria fire, which has burned nearly 10,000 acres and several structures in rural Ventura County was 30% contained. All evacuations have been lifted.  The Easy fire in Simi Valley was 95% contained after burning 1,845 acres. The Maria fire, for which evacuation orders are still in effect, remains the biggest concern, with hundreds of firefighters still on the scene.Offshore wind gusts of 20 to 30 mph and humidity below 5% continued to hinder efforts to control the fire Saturday morning, but a shift to weaker onshore wind was expected by midday, said Ryan Kittell, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Ventura County.The moister ocean breezes were expected to be about 10 mph and would raise humidity to 20% to 30%, Kittell said.The wind shift would be good news for firefighters but could also pose problems by pushing the flames in different directions, Kittell said.  Red flag warnings remain in effect until 6 p.m. Saturday, but would probably not be required after that, Kittell said.Drier offshore winds were expected to return later Saturday or early Sunday but at speeds of 10 to 20 mph and with humidity of about 10%.A spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department said the Maria fire was still only 20% contained late Saturday morning and still threatened 2,500 homes.Evacuation orders were lifted in parts of Santa Paula.The cause of the fire is unknown. But Southern California Edison told regulators Friday that it had reenergized a 16,000-volt power line 13 minutes before the fire broke out. Edison had earlier turned off the line due to heavy winds.Edison has also reported to regulators that its lines might have been involved in the Easy fire as well as the Saddleridge fire that swept the northern San Fernando Valley two weeks ago.

Over 1,500 California fires in the last 6 years — including the deadliest ever — were caused by one company: PG&E. Here’s what it could have done, but didn’t. Over the past week, the Kincade Fire has torn through nearly 78,000 acres of California wine country, forcing about 180,000 people to evacuate. At the same time, millions have gone without electricity, often for days at a time. The state's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., is responsible for these blackouts and possibly for the fire itself. About the same time the Kincade Fire ignited, a jumper cable broke on a PG&E transmission tower in the area, the company told state regulators on October 24. A problem with PG&E equipment was also the cause of the Camp Fire, a California state agency said, which killed at least 85 people last year and razed more than 18,800 structures. It was the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. In fact, according to The Wall Street Journal, the utility company's equipment led to more than 1,500 fires from June 2014 to December 2017. So this fall, as low humidity and strong winds created fire-hazard conditions in northern California, PG&E cut power to nearly 1.1 million customers in October to minimize risks that sparking wires could start more blazes. PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said Californians should expect these types of preemptive service interruptions for another 10 years. But many Californians say they should have never been forced into this choice: deadly fires or multiday blackouts. Instead, PG&E's critics accuse the company of shirking safety precautions to funnel money toward investor dividends. Here's how the company wound up in this position, and what it could have done instead, from better tree trimming to power-line upgrades.

'Get Your Act Together'- Trump Threatens To Pull Federal Support As California Fires Rage -- As Californians grapple with this year's annual fire season, President Trump has a message for Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom; clean up your act.  "The Governor of California, @GavinNewsom, has done a terrible job of forest management. I told him from the first day we met that he must “clean” his forest floors regardless of what his bosses, the environmentalists, DEMAND of him," Trump tweeted on Sunday.  Trump then threatened to withhold federal money, which California receives every time they declare a state of emergency.  "Must also do burns and cut fire stoppers," he continued. "Every year, as the fire’s [sic] rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more. Get your act together Governor." "You don’t see close to the level of burn in other states...But our teams are working well together in putting these massive, and many, fires out. Great firefighters! Also, open up the ridiculously closed water lanes coming down from the North. Don’t pour it out into the Pacific Ocean. Should be done immediately. California desperately needs water, and you can have it now!"   California state Senator Mike McGuire tweeted "Total crap" in response to Trump, claiming that "Approx 57% of CA's forest land is owned by the Fed Gov't. Only 3% is owned by State/local gov't. THE FEDS HAVE CUT their forest budget by hundreds of millions."

PG&E Blackouts Spur Calls for Public Ownership - In this Real News Network interview, Democracy Collaborative researcher Johanna Bozuwa discusses increasing pressures for public ownership of utilities, as Californa burns.

PG&E Spent Millions on Lobbying After Declaring Bankruptcy - THE DECISION BY Pacific Gas & Electric to declare bankruptcy in January did not prevent the utility giant from continuing to spend big on political influence in California’s Statehouse. The investor-owned utility’s transmission lines have been blamed for multiple wildfires, including the Tubbs fire in October 2017 and the Camp Fire wildfire in November 2018, the two most destructive and deadly wildfires in California history. The company infamously neglectednecessary safety upgrades on infrastructure known to be a fire hazard, instead choosing to spend its ratepayers’ money on executive compensation, billions of dollars of investor dividends, and on buyingpolitical influence.The company’s plunge into Chapter 11, widely viewed as maneuver to avoid legal liability for wildfire victims, has temporarily suspended dividend payments to investors, but it hasn’t stopped the company from showering the political system with money in an attempt to secure a preferential bond that could leave customers picking up the tab to cover the company’s negligent behavior.The latest ethics filings disclosed with the California Secretary of State show that PG&E has spent at least $2.1 million on lobbying policymakers this year, well after declaring bankruptcy, with hefty fees spent to retain half a dozen prominent consulting firms and branding experts, along with a team of in-house lobbyists.The company also paid for beverages for California State Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda. Both lawmakers sponsored legislation, introduced in February, to provide PG&E with as much as $20 billion in tax-exempt bonds, a measure widely criticized as a ratepayer bailout. Mayes, the disclosure notes, was treated to drinks by PG&E in September at Brasserie Capitale, a French restaurant just two blocks from the California state Capitol. Bonta was served drinks by the utility giant at Pebble Beach, the famed golf course, in July.

California is on track to miss its climate targets—by a century  - California has established itself as a global model on climate issues, with Teslas filling its roads and solar farms stretching across its sun-baked Central Valley.  The state set up the nation’s first economy-wide cap-and-trade program, put in place aggressive vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and passed a series of ever stricter climate pollution rules. That includes the landmark 2018 law requiring all of the state’s electricity to come from carbon-free sources by the end of 2045.  But for all its regulatory achievements, California also offers a case study in just how hard it is to make progress on the only thing that really matters: reducing emissions. The state’s climate pollution declined by just 1.15% in 2017, according to the latest California Green Innovation Index. At that rate, California won’t reach its 2030 decarbonization goals (cutting emissions to 40% below 1990 levels) until 2061—and wouldn’t hit its 2050 targets (80% below 1990 levels) until 2157. If a state that’s actively trying to slash emissions is on pace to miss its targets by a century, that bodes poorly for progress in the many other parts of the world that are barely bothering. Crucially, the UN’s climate panel says the world as a whole needs to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050 to halt warming at 1.5 ˚C, or by 2070 to stay below 2˚ C. What went wrong?  Transportation emissions, the state’s largest source, have steadily risen since 2013, as the improving economy put more cars on the road and planes in the sky. Emissions from waste dumped into landfills have also been ticking up since the recovery took hold. Meanwhile, highly potent greenhouse gases from the aerosols, foams, and solvents used in refrigeration and air conditioning are rising sharply. These increases have offset the highly touted declines in emissions from the electricity sector as a growing share of the state’s power comes from renewable sources like wind and solar. Emissions from in-state generation are down 35% since 2000. The new math means California will now need to boost its annual emissions cuts to 4.51% per year to pull off its 2030 targets—or 5.34% annually to achieve its 2050 goals, the report found. And of course, every year the state comes in below those rates will only push those numbers even higher.  The problem is it’s likely to get harder, not easier, for California to achieve ever deeper cuts in emissions. Electricity is actually the easy part of decarbonization, because we have relatively cheap and reliable wind, solar, geothermal, and other carbon-free sources. Achieving deeper cuts in other areas is even harder. California’s worsening wildfires are also complicating its efforts to cut emissions. Burning forests pump out massive amounts of greenhouse gases stored in plants and trees. And rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns have already extended the fire season by 75 days across the state’s sprawling Sierra Nevada range. The raging wildfires in 2018 produced about 45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s nine times more than the amount by which the state cut emissions the previous year.

 NASA Flew Gas Detectors Above California, Found ‘Super Emitters’ - Over the course of three years, NASA flew a plane carrying gas-imaging equipment above California and made a discovery that surprised even the state’s own environmental agencies: A handful of operations are responsible for the vast majority of methane emissions. In a report published in Nature on Wednesday, scientists estimated that 10% of the places releasing methane -- including landfills, natural gas facilities and dairy farms -- are responsible for more than half of the state’s total emissions. And a fraction of the 272,000 sources surveyed -- just 0.2% -- account for as much as 46%. The report doesn’t identify these “super emitters,” but notes that landfills give off more methane than any other source in the state. NASA’s equipment found that a subset of these landfills were the largest emitters in California and exhibited “persistent anomalous activity.” The study marks the first time anyone has ever carried out a systematic survey across California of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat and contributing to global warming. The release of methane has been a continual challenge for California, which has some of the most aggressive goals in the nation for curbing emissions and slowing the impacts of climate change. NASA’s aircraft made dozens of flights across 10,000 square miles from 2016 through 2018. Landfills accounted for 41% of the source emissions it identified, manure management 26% and oil and gas operations 26%. Researchers cautioned that the survey wasn’t foolproof. It was, after all, their first attempt at estimating emissions from individual sources on such a large scale over multiple years. Some of the emissions detected were intermittent, some were too small to measure and others were affected by winds. The results, however, are already effecting change. The survey revealed four incidents of leaking natural gas distribution lines and one leaking liquefied natural gas storage tank, which operators confirmed and repaired.

Ozone Depleting Gas Declines After Rising For Years - An ozone depleting gas is on the decline after rising since 2012, according to preliminary data reported by scientists yesterday, as the New York Times reported. Scientists were previously shocked to learn that levels of a banned gas, the most abundant form of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) known as CFC-11, which was supposed to have been worldwide production stop by 2010 was actually on the rise again. The gas is partly responsible for degrading the ozone layer and creating a hole that hovers over Antarctica every September, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Researchers from NOAA published a paper in the journal Nature last year that pinpointed an area in eastern China where unreported production of the gas was taking place. They found that from 2014 to 2016, emissions of CFC-11 increased by 25 percent above the average measured from 2002 to 2012. "We're raising a flag to the global community to say, 'This is what's going on, and it is taking us away from timely recovery of the ozone layer,'" said NOAA Scientist Stephen Montzka, the study's lead author, in a NOAA press release in 2018. "Further work is needed to figure out exactly why emissions of CFC-11 are increasing, and if something can be done about it soon."If the emissions increase went unabated, NOAA said that it would impede progress in restoring the ozone layer, which protects all of life on Earth from harmful solar radiation, as the New York Times reported.Another paper published this spring found that 40 to 60 percent of global emissions were coming from two provinces in the eastern part of mainland China.The new findings suggest that China has made significant headway in curtailing illegal production of the gas, which is used to make insulating foams, as the New York Times reported. The new data was presented in Rome by a NOAA scientist, Montka. CFCs were first banned in 1987 at the Montreal Protocol, which is largely considered the most successful environmental pact in history. The success of phasing out production of CFCs as refrigerants and aerosol propellants has led to a remarkable recovery of the ozone layer, which may be fully restored by the middle of this century, according to the New York Times.

Earth Just Experienced Its Hottest-Ever October - CBS -Last month was the hottest ever October on record globally, according to data released Friday by the Copernicus Climate Change Service, an organization that tracks global temperatures. The month, which was reportedly 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average October from 1981-2010, narrowly beat October 2015 for the top spot.According to Copernicus, most of Europe, large parts of the Arctic and the eastern U.S. and Canada were most affected. The Middle East, much of Africa, southern Brazil, Australia, eastern Antarctica and Russia also experienced above-average temperatures.Parts of tropical Africa and Antarctica and the western U.S. and Canada felt much colder than usual, however. While all major oceans experienced unusually low temperatures, air temperatures over the sea were still much higher than average. October is following a 2019 trend. The hottest-ever September follows a record-setting summer, which included the hottest-ever June and July and the second-hottest August. Overall, 2019 will make history as one of the top five warmest years on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

An Arctic blast could bring record low temperatures to the Eastern US - Large parts of the US may experience record low temperatures as an Arctic blast sweeps across the Midwest and Northeast through the middle of next week. Nearly two-thirds of the country will be vulnerable to unseasonably cold temperatures. “We are in a pattern where multiple waves of cold are moving in from Canada and impacting the Central and Eastern US,” CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said Thursday. “One wave of cold came in late last week, another is moving in today and tomorrow, and the coldest blast by far moves in early next week.” For much of the country east of the Rocky Mountains, the cold wave could mean temperatures 20-30 degrees below average. Starting Tuesday morning, record low temperatures are possible across Texas and Oklahoma, along with parts of the Ohio Valley. By Wednesday, there could be more than a dozen record lows in the Deep South and the Gulf Coast, Ward said. In parts of Mississippi and Alabama, highs aren’t likely to rise out of the 30s Wednesday. For those areas, that’s more than 10 degrees colder than usual even in mid-January.. In the Kansas City area, residents were saying they smelled an unusual odor, which meteorologists traced to a farm in Albert Lea, Minnesota, CNN affiliate KMBC reported. The National Weather Service in Kansas City tweeted out a map and blamed the bad smell on a culprit more than 300 miles north. The odor of manure from a large stock farm was trapped in a part of the atmosphere that moved southward with the cold front as it passed over Kansas City, meteorologists said. 

Video Shows Sea 'Violently Boiling' with Methane Bubbles in Siberia as Arctic Permafrost Thaws - Scientists have released images of a methane "fountain" found "violently boiling" beneath an Arctic sea in Siberia. Photos taken on-board the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh research vessel in the East Siberian Sea show huge methane bubbles rising to the surface of the water. Usually, scientists sample the water with special plastic cones, but they ditched those in favor of buckets with a bigger capacity, according to a statement by Russia's Tomsk Polytechnic University.The images were captured during a 35-day-long expedition in the seas of the Eastern Arctic, which launched from the city of Archangel in northwest Russia, on September 17, and involved an international team of scientists.The fountain near Bennett Island in the northern part of the East Siberian Sea spanned an area of around five metres.At the site, the sea was "violently boiling with methane bubbles," Sergey Nikiforov, a journalist and spokesperson for the Tomsk Politechnical University on-board the research vessel told The Siberian Times. Nikiforov said the scientists were lucky to find the fountain. "It was a needle in a haystack chase, to find an exact place of a methane seep in dark sea waters, but we found it!""Just right off the Academician Keldysh scientists noticed a spot of emerald-coloured water, with gas rushing to surface in thousands of bubble threads," he said. The pockets of gas were released as frozen ground, known as permafrost, thawed beneath the ocean. Researchers measured concentrations of methane in the area and found it was six to seven times higher than the global average. By sampling the water near the fountain, the scientists found levels of methane were nine times higher than the global average. This is a concerning sign for global warming.

Melting glaciers reveal five new islands in the Arctic - The Russian navy says it has discovered five new islands revealed by melting glaciers in the remote Arctic.An expedition in August and September charted the islands, which have yet to be named and were previously hidden under glaciers, said the head of the northern fleet, Vice-Admiral Alexander Moiseyev. “Mainly this is of course caused by changes to the ice situation,” Moiseyev, who headed the expedition, said at a press conference in Moscow. “Before these were glaciers; we thought they were (part of) the main glacier.Melting, collapse and temperature changes led to these islands being uncovered.”Glacier loss in the Arctic in the period from 2015 to 2019 was more than in any other five-year period on record, a United Nations report on global warming said last month.Russia has opened a string of military and scientific bases in the Arctic in recent years, with interest in the region growing as rising temperatures open up shipping routes and make hitherto inaccessible mineral resources easier to exploit. This summer’s expedition to two archipelagoes – Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya – involved a team of 60 people, including civilians from the Russian Geographic Society, and was the first onboard a rescue towboat instead of an icebreaker.

Sea Level Rise Is Locked in Even If We Meet Paris Agreement Targets, New Study​ Says - Sea level rise will change the landscape of coastlines and challenge our ability to adapt over the next couple of centuries, even if all the 2030 emissions targets set in the Paris agreement are met, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).Just like a large ship charging at full speed takes a long time to come to a stop, the rising seas will need centuries before they stop encroaching on to land. The researchers found that the greenhouse gas emissions from the signing of the Paris agreement in 2015 to the target date of 2030 is enough to make the oceans rise 3.1 inches by the end of the century, according to Agence-France Presse (AFP).The study shows that the period from 2015-2030 will, on its own, emit enough greenhouse gasses to raise the oceans 7.87 inches by 2300. It will only be 7.87 inches of sea-level rise if nations around the world honor their commitments to the Paris agreement.However, that may be a conservative estimate since it assumes all the countries in the world drastically reduce their emissions and stop emitting greenhouse gasses after 2030. Another study last week found that without drastic reductions in emissions, entire cities could be underwater by 2050 and 300 million people could experience annual flooding, as EcoWatch reported.Additionally, from 1990 to 2030, the authors of the new PNAS study found that the top five top polluters will be responsible for over 10 inches of sea-level rise. The researchers crunched the numbers and found the lag time between the reduction in emissions and the oceans response will mean the oceans will continue to rise for sometime — we are already locked into a one meter sea rise by 2300, the study says.

Thousands of scientists across the globe warn planet is 'facing a climate emergency' - Over 11,000 scientists have signed up to a declaration stating that the Earth is “facing a climate emergency.” The declaration is written in a paper published in the journal BioScience. Authored by a number of scientists from around the world, it paints a stark picture of how our planet is faring. The “climate crisis”, according to the authors, “has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected.” It is described as being “more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.” Published Tuesday, the paper comes 40 years after the First World Climate Conference, which took place in Geneva in 1979. It is informed by decades of analysis related to data such as energy consumption, per capita meat production, human population and fossil fuel consumption. “Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis,” Oregon State University’s William J. Ripple, a co-lead author of the paper, said in a statement. The authors of the report highlight six areas where urgent action is required: energy, short lived pollutants, nature, food, the economy and population. They argue that fossil fuels should be replaced by renewables and “other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment.” When it comes to food, a plant-based diet combined with a reduction in the consumption of animal based products is advocated, while they also call for the protection and restoration of the planet’s ecosystems. The paper will be troubling for many, but it does offer some hope for the future. “We are encouraged by a recent surge of concern,” the authors write.

U.S. ingenuity can tackle climate threat, fossil energy chief says - (Reuters) - The United States can tackle threats to the climate through technological advances as fossil fuels will remain a priority for the U.S. government and business, the assistant secretary for fossil energy said on Tuesday. The world should look to the United States’ ability to reduce its emissions, the Department of Energy’s Steven Winberg said at an oil conference in South Africa a day after the Trump administration formally moved to exit the Paris Agreement. “We can solve any climate issue with technology development, one thing you see back in U.S. history is we have consistently solved challenges that were put before us,” Winberg told Reuters at the event which drew energy ministers from across Africa as well as U.S. and other international energy companies. The United States, the top historic greenhouse gas emitter and a leading oil and gas producer, is the only party to the accord to formally seek an exit.

Defying Trump, Governors Who Represent Over Half the U.S. Population Pledge to Uphold Paris Climate Agreement -A group of two dozen state governors, mostly Democratic but also including Republicans, pledged to uphold the Paris climate agreement despite the Trump administration's withdrawal from it.The State Department announced on Monday that the formal process of pulling out from the historic international agreement on tackling climate change is now underway and will be completed exactly one year later, which is the day after the 2020 election.President Donald Trump has argued that the Paris agreement, which includes separate emission-reduction targets for each country with a collective goal of keeping global temperature rises down,is unfair to the U.S. and said he would only re-enter on new terms. The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates which countries have signed and ratified the Paris agreement.

Carbon Taxes and Carbon Pricing Are Not Solutions to the Climate Crisis --  We can only solve the emissions crisis by stopping emissions. And taxing them won’t do that, any more than taxing tobacco has ever stopped smoking. Other measures – like bans – have been needed to make progress on that goal. That is even more the case for carbon. As importantly, the essence is that what both carbon tax and carbon price arguments suggest is that business can carry on supplying products emitting carbon as before, but that those products will simply suffer a price differential when compared to lower or non-carbon emitting products and what we are then supposed to rely on is the price mechanism of the market to alter consumer demand. I suggest that logic is wrong.  First, this assumes that none of the responsibility for the climate crisis rest on the manufacturers of the products that have get us into this mess. That’s definitely wrong. They are primarily to blame. They have known for decades what they have been doing with regard to carbon emissions, and have carried on doing it regardless. And we can be quite sure that they will carry on doing so into the future if they can pass the blame to us as consumers who, they will say, clearly indicate we still want their polluting and life-threatening products if we still buy them after carbon taxes are added. What this ignores is the fact that much of that demand will be driven by an absence of alternatives, which business will have no incentive to promote if there are carbon taxes, and that consumer behaviour is anyway heavily influenced by supplier behaviour through advertising and other market-distorting activities.Second, this assumption presumes that we, as consumers, know as much about the products that we buy as those who sell them do. It is presumed, therefore, by the proponents of carbon taxes and carbon trading that we can make rational, informed decisions on this issue after tax is added to a price.  That, though, is clearly absurd. The makers of products known massively more about the carbon impact of what they are doing than a consumer might ever do. The asymmetries between the two are enormous. In that case to presume that the consumer can make an informed choice on such an issue, even after a tax is added, is just wrong. And third, there is no market for carbon. There has never been. It’s a fictional creation that pretends that something is being done when that is not true. No one wants to buy or sell carbon. It’s an externality that cannot be priced. That’s partly because no one wants it. That essential quality of a market – a willing buyer – does not exist. But it’s also because you cannot price something that we know has to be unavailable to any market. A market presumes that there will be demand. The reality is that we have to eliminate that demand to ensure there can be life on earth.

 Wall Street increasingly weighs risk from climate change (Reuters) - In the wake of two years of devastating wildfires in California, Wall Street is incorporating a new risk metric when evaluating companies: climate resiliency. Investors, analysts, research firms and companies are putting more emphasis on how climate issues ranging from rising sea levels to record heatwaves will affect profits and revenues in the United States and what companies are doing to address those risks. Companies located in areas such as California, Florida and Louisiana that put them at a higher risk of being affected by more severe weather patterns are increasingly being asked how they will protect their businesses from climate change. Overall, more than 70 firms have discussed the potential impact of climate change on their business on their quarterly results calls since the start of the year, more than double that of last year or any other year since 2014, according to a Reuters analysis of Refinitiv data. As a result, fund managers, who typically do not incorporate environmental attributes in their analysis of a company, are taking a closer look at whether the physical locations of their property and equipment will put them at a higher risk of being impacted by climate change. “Without expecting a company to significantly change its strategy, we are increasingly having conversations with management teams to ask them about their plans for climate resilience,” said Arthur Hurley, senior portfolio manager on the Columbia Real Estate Fund. So-called ESG funds, which focus on a company’s environmental, social, and governance attributes, have been at the forefront of focusing on the physical risks of climate change. But now fund managers like Hurley are finding that companies in their portfolio like Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc (ELS.N), are revealing to analysts on their earnings call that they are evaluating the potential for rising water levels when it purchases new marinas. Shares of the company are up 43% for the year to date.

Exxon denies that it misled investors on climate risks (AP) — Climate change may be the defining risk for oil and gas companies in coming decades, and attorneys for New York state are saying Exxon Mobil misled investors about how it was handling that risk. The state made closing arguments Thursday in a case that accused the energy giant of downplaying the impact of stricter climate regulations in a warming world. Exxon countered that the company has been taking climate change risks seriously and its executives did nothing wrong. The lawsuit, brought by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, says Exxon Mobil used two sets of books to account for how potential regulations would impact its business. “The question in this case is whether Exxon’s disclosures were accurate, and the evidence shows they were not,” said attorney Jonathan Zweig, arguing for the state. In shareholder meetings and reports, Exxon was using two different metrics to account for stricter climate regulations: greenhouse gas costs, which measure how local regulators may tax emissions, and proxy costs, which aim to predict how demand for oil and gas may change around the world due to regulations. Exxon attorneys and executives have said the company applied appropriate costs depending on the situation. But the state says Exxon was conflating these concepts, leading investors to believe the company was applying a projected cost of $80 per ton for its emissions when it was not, and making some oil and gas development projects look more attractive to investors, Zweig said. “Exxon applied much lower costs or no costs at all,” Zweig said. For example, Exxon made an $850 million investment into a chemical facility in Beaumont, Texas, but didn’t apply the appropriate greenhouse gas costs in its projections, Zweig said. Instead, “Exxon was making a business as usual assumption that existing law would be frozen in place forever,” Zweig said. In assessing an oil sands project in Alberta, Canada, Exxon assumed costs would remain flat through 2030 and 2040, instead of applying escalating costs for the likelihood of increasingly stringent climate regulation, Zweig said. “The reality is that many investors, including some of the largest financial firms in the world, believe there is a real likelihood that governments will rise to the challenge of climate change,” Zweig said.

Exxon's lawyer calls lawsuit a 'cruel joke' as climate change fraud trial ends - (Reuters) - Lawyers for New York state and Exxon Mobil Corp delivered closing arguments in a closely watched trial accusing the oil company of hiding from investors the true cost of addressing climate change. The case, filed in October 2018 in Manhattan state court, was the first of several climate-related lawsuits against major oil companies to go to trial. It featured testimony from investors, experts and former Exxon Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, who denied the allegations against the company. New York’s attorney general alleges that Exxon caused investors to lose up to $1.6 billion by falsely telling them it had properly evaluated the impact of future climate regulations on its business. A verdict is expected within the next 40 days. Exxon’s lawyer said on Thursday the case was “meritless” and that the state failed to offer testimony from any investor who was misled. “The case is almost a joke,” Theodore Wells said. “But it’s a cruel joke, your honor, because the reputations of a lot of people have been hurt and disparaged by the bringing of the complaint.” A lawyer for the state said the case came down to whether Exxon had adequately disclosed the cost of climate change. “The question here isn’t whether Exxon employees are good people or even were trying their best,” Jonathan Zweig said. He told the court that the state was dropping two of its four fraud claims and would limit its closing argument to claims brought under the Martin Act, a law that gives the New York attorney general’s office broad power to pursue securities fraud cases without having to prove intent to defraud. “The question in this case is whether Exxon’s disclosures were accurate, and the evidence shows they were not,” Zweig said.

 The United States Is the World’s Second Largest Economy: When It Comes to Climate Change, It Matters Dean Baker -- The New York Times has an article on the Trump administration's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The first sentence wrongly describes the United States as "the world's largest economy." Actually China passed the United States as the world's largest economy early in the decade. According to the I.M.F. its economy is now more than 25 percent larger than the U.S. economy. It is projected to be more than 50 percent larger by 2024. This matters because China actually has moved aggressively to adopt clean energy. It is now by far the world leader in the use of solar and wind power and electric car sales. The fact that the Trump administration is determined not to cooperate in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is unfortunate, but the fact that the world's actual largest economy is taking big steps to curb emissions is hugely important.

Italy Becomes First Country to Add Climate Crisis to Its Core School Curriculum - Italy has stepped into the forefront of environmental education by adding the climate crisis and sustainable development as a mandatory part of the curriculum, the country's education minister announced Tuesday, asThe New York Times reported. Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti is the government's most vociferous advocate for green policies and encouraged students to skip school in September to participate in the global climate strike, according toReuters.His new initiative means all state-run schools will tie-in the UN's 2030 agenda for sustainable developmentinto as many subjects as possible, with one hour each week dedicated to how humans have altered the planet and the causes and effects of global warming. Sustainability will also be incorporated in geography, mathematics and physics, Fioramonti announced, as The Guardian reported."The entire ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model," said Fioramonti, to Reuters. "I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school." The changes will go into effect at the beginning of the next school year, which will start in September 2020. A panel of experts will act as "peer reviewers" as ministry staff prepares the curriculum, which will be ready by January to train teachers, according to Fioramonti. The expert panel will include Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Harvard Institute for International Development, and Kate Raworth of Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute, according to The New York Times.

London Police Ban on Extinction Rebellion Ruled ‘Unlawful' - The Metropolitan Police's decision to ban Extinction Rebellion from London last month was "unlawful," the city's high court ruled Wednesday, as CNN reported. The police imposed the ban Oct. 14 for the last four days of Extinction Rebellion's two-week "Autumn Uprising," a campaign of civil disobedience in London intended to pressure the government into action on theclimate crisis. "Extinction Rebellion is delighted with the Court's decision," Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer in Extinction Rebellion's Legal Strategy team, said in an Extinction Rebellion press release. "It vindicates our belief that the Police's blanket ban on our protests was an unprecedented and unlawful infringement on the right to protest. Rather than wasting its time and money seeking to silence and criminalise those who are drawing its attention to the Climate and Ecological Emergency, we call on the Government to act now on the biggest threat to our planet."  The police had issued the ban under Section 14 of the Public Order Act of 1986, which grants them the power to impose restrictions on assemblies that "may result in serious public disorder." But the court ruled that the police had overstepped their authority by banning a series of protests as if they were a single assembly. "Separate gatherings, separated both in time and by many miles, even if coordinated under the umbrella of one body, are not a public assembly within the meaning of the Section 14 of the 1986 Act," Lord Justice Digemans said, according to CNN. "The XR autumn uprising intended to be held from October 14 to 19 was not therefore a public assembly ... therefore the decision to impose the condition was unlawful because there was no power to impose it under Section 14 of the 1986 Act."

How green is your bond? EU battle lines drawn on investment rules - (Reuters) - A battle over whether oil, coal and nuclear fuel can classify as “green” is expected to begin on Wednesday when EU states and lawmakers begin talks on sustainable investment rules.   Brussels proposed the law as part of a plan to make Europe the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050 but also to widen the market in green bonds and securities. Any delay on introducing eco-labels on financial investments could deter investors from eco-friendly assets. The negotiations, due to finish in December, will pit the more conservative European Union countries against a European Parliament, where Green parties have a louder voice. The European Commission first proposed legislation in May 2018 to tackle “greenwashing”, where banks and other companies claim undeserved environmental credentials for investments. The European Council, which is made up of the bloc’s 28 member states, generally supports the Commission’s proposals. But EU lawmakers want to go further by making clear distinctions between what is sustainable and what is not. The parliament has singled out financing of solid fossil fuels such as coal, saying these cannot be called “sustainable”. The Council and Commission want a more wide-ranging law, that would not have a specific list of green investments, leaving the door open for nuclear energy, for example, to be considered sustainable.

The Companies That Invest in the Earth’s Destruction Must Be Held Accountable - Greta Moran - You may not have heard of the company BlackRock, yet you are certainly feeling its impact. The global investment management corporation, responsible for managing $7 trillion worth of assets, is a massive backer of climate destruction, investing billions in new coal plant construction and the deforestation of the Amazon. Earlier this month, an investigation by the Guardian found that BlackRock has $87.3 billion worth of shares in oil, coal, and gas companies. BlackRock’s headquarters, a nondescript skyscraper in Manhattan, is usually easy to miss. But —on Tuesday, around 200 activists gathered outside the entrance to protest the company’s major role in financing climate destruction. The action was held on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the storm that devastated New York City in 2012. Towards the end of the protest, 10 activists, from New York Communities for Change (NYCC), Sunrise Movement, and Extinction Rebellion, blocked the entrance to BlackRock’s headquarters, risking arrest. Across the entrance, the activists displayed a 20 foot banner that depicted two worlds—one in grayscale of flooding and an oil refinery, and another in full color of trees and windmills—and read “BlackRock: Which side are you on?” Some of the groups that protested are part of a larger global campaign called BlackRock’s Big Problem, which also helped organize other actions on Tuesday in Boston and Toronto, building on an escalating series of actions around the world to pressure the company to divest from the climate catastrophe.  BlackRock’s Big Problem campaign is also singling out the company’s CEO Larry Fink for what Sikora described as his “superficially progressive profile.” Fink formerly sat on the board of the Nature Conservancy. Last year, a New York Times article titled “BlackRock’s Message: Contribute to Society, or Risk Losing Our Support,” described Finke’s professed commitment for socially responsible investing as a potentially “watershed moment on Wall Street.”

Study Shows Pension Funds' Refusal to Divest From Fossil Fuels Cost Retired Teachers, Firefighters, and Public Workers $19 Billion -  Amid global demands for immediate and bold climate action, a new economic analysis released Tuesday reveals that the pensions of working-class people are paying the price for continued investments in the same fossil fuel companies that are ruining the planet. Toronto-based firm Corporate Knights revealed in a new study that three major state pension funds in California and Colorado lost over $19 billion collectively as a result of investments in fossil fuel industries over ten years.  CalSTRS and CalPERS, which represent nearly three million retired teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public employees, lost out on more than $17 billion over a decade. Those losses came as the pension funds invested people's retirement savings in extractive industries, which are losing jobs and stock value as the renewable energy sector hasadded jobs in recent years.The funds' members lost an average of $5,572 and $6,072 per person, respectively. Colorado's pension fund for state retirees would have gained an additional $1.7 billion in value if it hadn't invested in fossil fuels, Corporate Knights reported, translating to a loss of nearly $3,000 per member. The global grassroots movement urged those affected by fossil fuel investments to call for immediate divestment.

States, green groups challenge rollback of Obama-era lightbulb rules - Separate coalitions of states and environmental advocacy groups sued the Department of Energy (DOE) Monday, challenging a decision to eliminate energy efficiency standards for nearly half the lightbulbs on the market. Fifteen states and a coalition of seven environmental and consumer groups are fighting the rule, arguing it will hasten climate change as utilities crank out more electricity to power inefficient bulbs. “The United States cannot and will not be the exception to the international movement to phase out the inefficient, unnecessary, and costly use of incandescent bulbs,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who spearheaded the suit, said in a statement. “The Trump Administration’s not-so-bright idea to rollback light bulb energy efficiency standards is an obvious attempt to line the pockets of energy executives while simultaneously increasing pollution and raising energy bills for consumers.” The controversial rule erases Obama-era efficiency standards for lightbulbs, keeping in place rules for standard pear-shaped bulbs, while removing such requirements for recessed lighting, chandeliers and other shapes of bulbs. The rule will increase U.S. electricity use by 80 billion kilowatt hours over the course of a year, roughly the amount of electricity needed to power all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to an analysis by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. That translates to more than an $100 a year added onto the average consumer bill. In addition to New York, the suit was filed by California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia and the city of New York.

New report highlights Vermont’s advanced wood heating program as example of clean energy policy innovation - – Vermont’s Clean Energy Development Fund is highlighted in the newly released report, Returning Champions: State Clean Energy Leadership Since 2015, by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), a national, nonprofit coalition of state agencies and other public organizations. The report provides a comprehensive look at the ways in which states are advancing clean energy and suggests how to further encourage growth. The report highlights that Vermont’s strategic focus on advanced wood heating across state government is building support for wood heat throughout disparate governmental departments. Together, these agencies and departments are presenting a unified vision for the sustainable development of a long-term market that will support clean energy, forest health, economic development, and improved air quality. View the Full Report:  Returning Champions describes the many important ways that states across the nation are supporting clean energy generation and markets. The report highlights 21 case studies from 19 states, covering a variety of state programs such as r community solar, low-income solar access, bioenergy, renewable heating and cooling technologies, energy storage, offshore wind, and renewable thermal. “Vermont’s increased efforts to promote wood heating across state government in a coordinated and strategic way are providing real benefits to Vermonters” said Vermont Public Service Department Commissioner June Tierney. “We are proud of our efforts in this sector and glad to see it recognized in the CESA Report.”

Seeking Voter Approval of Ban on New Fossil-Fueled Power Plants in NJ - It falls short of being a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure, but prominent state legislators are pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban new power plants fired by either natural gas, coal or oil. The bipartisan proposal (SCR-197) was introduced this summer, but its backers are hoping to put the question before voters statewide no later than 2021, timing that might be too late to block a handful of power plant projects pending in New Jersey. “It is the most sensible approach to curbing global warming,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), who chairs the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, arguing that shutting down new fossil fuel generation also will dry up demand for new natural gas pipelines. Sen. Chris Bateman (R-Somerset) is a co-sponsor of the bill. The proposal is expected to come up early next year at a time when the debate over how New Jersey transitions to a 100% clean energy future is likely to heat up as the Murphy administration adopts a new energy master plan and determines how to phase out fossil fuels contributing to global climate change. The issue is of growing concern to the business community, particularly over the transition from natural gas to other technologies. Cheap natural gas from Pennsylvania has led to sharp drops in winter heating costs, as well as declines in electricity costs for consumers. About 85% of homes and businesses rely on gas to heat their homes, and more than 40% of homes are powered by natural gas power plants. Some environmentalists are disappointed the proposed amendment only applies to fossil fuel plants.

State Appellate Court Puts JCP&L Transmission Line Back in Play - A state appeals court yesterday affirmed a two-year-old decision by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to allow Jersey Central Power & Light to build a seven-mile transmission line between Montville Township and East Hanover.In a 16-page ruling, the court found no reason to overturn the agency’s decision, which had been challenged by Montville’s Board of Education, saying the new line would be too close to a school and may limit future expansion at the facility.For the state’s four electric utilities, transmission projects have been a growing source of their rate base, often earning more profits than utility upgrades to their distribution systems, which send power to local homes and smaller businesses.But it is generally more difficult to overcome community objections, largely because of health concerns from the electromagnetic field (EMF). In the hearing before an administrative judge, JCP&L presented testimony from two experts that exposure to EMF would be well below state and international exposure limits. The Montville BOE challenged the BPU order, saying the agency’s decision was inconsistent with previous determinations and saying reasonable effort must be made to increase the distance between transmission lines and schools.The court was not persuaded by those arguments. “BOE raises no convincing argument that BPU’s decision is lacking in evidentiary support or that the agency acted outside its statutory authority,’’ the court ruled.In addition, the court found the route proposed by JCP&L was probably the most ideally suited to resolve the reliability-criteria violation.“The proposed route was the shortest of the alternatives, had the least environmental impact, and did not present the complications, environmental threats, and costs associated with putting a new transmission line underground, as proposed by BOE,’’ the court said.

NYISO to study climate change impact on 100% renewable energy system — As New York moves to meet the US' most aggressive climate change mitigation goals, its power grid operator is to study how a system powered with 100% emissions-free energy could be impacted by climate change. The New York Independent System Operator is conducting a climate change study that will examine various scenarios that could potentially impact the electric system as a result of climate-related disruptions, according to a presentation posted to the grid operator's website Tuesday. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in July signed the state's landmark Green New Deal, which calls for a carbon-free power system by 2040 and codifies the goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The legislation - the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act - includes two features that will impact the power sector. First it creates a framework to meet the economy-wide zero emissions by 2050 goal that the Department of Environmental Conservation is responsible for administering. Second is a strengthening of the existing Clean Energy Standard and the Public Utilities Commission is responsible for implementing those measures with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. That involves a process to strengthen existing goals of 50% renewable energy by 2030 to 70% renewables by 2030, while setting a path toward 100% zero power sector emissions by 2040. One tool for achieving those targets is the installation of 9,000 MW of offshore wind by 2035 from 0 MW installed currently. The NYISO's climate study will examine whether the bulk power system in 2040 will be able to serve its load and meet reserve requirements under a variety of conditions.

Illinois lobbying scandal rattles alliance backing state clean energy legislation - A lobbying scandal involving Illinois’ largest power companies threatens to unravel an already tenuous coalition supporting a new round of ambitious clean energy legislation in the state. As federal investigators issue subpoenas and search warrants related to lobbying activity by ComEd and Exelon, some clean energy and consumer advocates have already said they will no longer work with the companies. ComEd is the state’s largest electric utility, serving the Chicago area and much of northern Illinois. Its parent company, Exelon, also operates six nuclear power plants in the state. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking to extend funding for the state’s solar incentives, which will likely run out of money next year without new legislation. The federal probe is widely seen to have torpedoed the bill’s chances in a six-day veto session concluding next week, and cast doubt on its chances in next year’s regular session. Subpoenas issued in the federal investigation involve communications between ComEd and Exelon and at least two public officials: Martin Sandoval, a prominent state senator representing Chicago, and Michael Zalewski, a former Chicago City Council member who was reportedly seeking lobbying work with ComEd. ComEd and Exelon have long been known to have immense political power in the Illinois Capitol, and ComEd’s lobbyists include a number of former staffers of Michael Madigan, the powerful speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. Sandoval’s daughter Angie Sandoval also works for ComEd.

On nation's biggest proposed offshore wind farm, Dominion plans to fly solo - Virginia Mercury Dominion Energy intends to move forward alone with developing the nation’s largest proposed offshore wind farm, an enterprise estimated to cost $8 billion, top utility leaders indicated to investors in a third-quarter earnings call Friday morning.“The project will be developed and owned by Dominion Energy Virginia, with regulated cost recovery subject to approval by the Virginia State Corporation Commission,” said Dominion CEO, Chairman and President Tom Farrell during the presentation.The company’s approach bucks the dominant trend among East Coast utilities, which have otherwise partnered with private developers to add offshore wind energy to their portfolios.New Jersey’s Ocean Wind project, which at 1,100 megawatts should power half a million homes, is being developed by Danish company Ørsted, with efforts underway by New Jersey utility Public Service Enterprise Group to acquire a 25 percent stake in the project. New York’s 816-megawatt Empire Wind is owned by private company Equinor, while its 880-megawatt Sunrise Wind is being developed jointly by Ørsted and New England energy utility Eversource. The latter pair are also the drivers behind the Revolution Wind project providing energy to Connecticut and Rhode Island. And in North Carolina, Avangrid is developing the Kitty Hawk wind farm.

As wind farms age, owners look to 'repower' them with new blades --The owner of a wind farm in Barnes County wants to “repower” the turbines with new blades and gearboxes that will increase the amount of electricity produced at the facility, a process that's expected to become more common across the state as wind farms age. The Ashtabula I Wind Energy Center was built in 2008 with a capacity to generate 148.5 megawatts of power. Installing the new equipment would boost the capacity to 160.4 megawatts. Ashtabula Wind, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, is seeking approval from the North Dakota Public Service Commission, which discussed the matter at a meeting Thursday. Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said she believes repowering wind farms will be the “new normal” in the years ahead as companies look to replace older parts with newer, more efficient ones and take advantage of federal tax credits. “This will probably be the first of many that we see,” she said. Blades tend to last 10-15 years, Commissioner Brian Kroshus said. “The fiberglass breaks down over time,” he said. “Dust particles in the air hitting the blades as they’re spinning begins to compromise the integrity of the blade.” Windy states are grappling with how to dispose of the blades, which can range in size from 100-300 feet. More than 5,100 blades sit atop wind turbines in North Dakota. Diana Trussell, solid waste program manager with the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, said in an interview that at least two landfills in the state have accepted blades. “They are requiring them to cut the blades down to more manageable lengths,” she said. “That way, it is easier to bury them or crush in the landfill.”

Natural Gas or Renewables? New Orleans Choice Is Shadowed by Katrina - Susan Guidry stepped up as a volunteer in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and saw firsthand the disaster’s toll, including the crippling of the power supply. When voters elected her to the City Council, she said, she hardly knew what a kilowatt was. But she came to the conclusion that the city had to change its approach to energy. “I just started researching,” Ms. Guidry said. “That was a lot of hard learning.”  What she found out led her into battle over a question central to the climate debate. Is it wise to keep building fossil-fuel plants — even those powered by natural gas rather than coal — that will be in operation for decades? Or are wind turbines and solar farms now reliable and economical enough to take their place?  Ms. Guidry began her homework after a subsidiary of Entergy — a major utility in a state heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry — said it needed to build a new natural-gas plant to replace an outdated unit in the New Orleans East neighborhood. When the issue arose in 2015, “that probably sounded fine to me,” said Ms. Guidry, whose district hugged the city’s western boundary. “There was solar power, there was wind, whatever. It all seemed a bit ahead in time for that to be sufficient for us.”But in the course of briefings by city advisers, she began to raise questions. “About a year into it,” she said, “I was like, wait a minute, this is not a good idea.”A retired trial lawyer who worked on civil litigation, Ms. Guidry began reading books, searching the internet, seeking out experts, finding out how other states and cities were addressing their needs. “Having a legal background,” she said, “you’re prone to search for the facts.”The advisers had told her that the regional grid operator was requiring the gas plant. The grid operator told her otherwise. Entergy said that solar and wind power were inadequate because the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow, and that the associated cost of battery storage was too high. But she saw the economics changing.Even with environmental concerns and mounting community opposition, Ms. Guidry was the sole dissenter when the council approved the plant last year. “It was very clear we were fighting a utility that wanted to live in the Dark Ages,” she said.Now, with the project well underway, the opponents have a chance for a do-over. In July, a judge voided the council’s decision, ruling that proponents had used illegal means to win approval — specifically, that actors had been hired to pack a crucial City Council meeting and voice support.

How 100% renewables backfired on a Texas town - An inconvenient truth is hanging over Georgetown, Texas: Its celebrated shift to renewable energy doesn’t look like a national model these days. Electric rates are up. Critics are blasting the costs. And the city north of Austin is trying to figure out how to mitigate the situation. Georgetown, whose green push gained global attention thanks to former Vice President Al Gore and others, can claim to have 100% renewable power thanks to a credit system tied to electricity purchases. In 2018, the city bought enough power from wind and solar projects to account for all of the community’s consumption. It also pays for power fueled by natural gas. In all, the city contracts for more electricity than its municipal utility needs to serve customers — and that’s been a problem. Surplus power is sold into a market hampered by weak prices, often delivering financial losses instead of the returns Georgetown expected. “It’s unfortunate that the Georgetown experiment went so quickly from being a success story to being something of a cautionary example,” said Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. Shelley remains optimistic about renewable energy’s growth in Texas and beyond. He tied Georgetown’s predicament to the specifics of the growing city’s plan to meet demand as well as lower-than-expected natural gas prices. In Texas’ main power market, electricity prices are heavily influenced by the price of gas.

Energy vs Waste - Ilargi: I did a little interview on the topic this week, and that was a little too little. Can’t cover it all in 5 or 10 minutes, even though that is mostly because people understand so precious little. We fool ourselves non-stop 24/7 on the topic, just the way industry and politics like it. A wee step back: “The only clean energy is the one that isn’t used.” I see terms like “clean energy”, “zero-emissions” and “zero-carbon” fly by all the time, used to depict things that are not clean at all. Perhaps less polluting, but that’s only perhaps; we’re experts at discounting externalities.  Still, we do still realize that without oil and gas there would be no wind turbines and solar panels, don’t we? How much carbon waste is generated in the production process of the two may be up for grabs, if only because that’s nobody’s favorite topic, but it’s a whole lot more than zero. More for solar, I would guess, because mining of rare earth metals is a pretty dirty process.  But in the end, the only aspect that I find really interesting, and that everybody appears to ignore, is why we produce so much waste. If you were hell-bent on designing a contraption aimed at wasting as much energy, and generating as much waste, as possible, you would have a hard time competing with the automobile. Your run of the mill internal combustion engine uses maybe 10% of the energy you put in at the gas station, and you use it to transport yourself in a contraption that is 20x heavier than you are. That leaves you with just 0.5% of the energy embedded in the gasoline that is effectively used. And that’s not all: before the gas reached the station, there was an entire process of extraction, refining, multiple transport steps. And before the car reached the store, it had already generated over a third of all the waste it will in its ‘lifetime’. If ever you need a way to demonstrate that people are not very smart, look no further.  Angela Merkel this week said she wants 1 million car charging points in Germany by 2030 (the country is way behind). And she may mean well, but for a physicist it’s still disappointing. If anyone could understand that replacing petrol powered cars with electric ones is a very poor deal, it should be her. But sure, Germany has some very large carmakers, and she needs to appease them. Cars run the economy, after all. Or, rather, that’s not quite right, it’s in fact generating waste that runs the economy. Which is the only sensible conclusion we can draw after seeing that way less than 0.5% of energy is efficiently used in and by a car. And for people like Merkel, practical politicians with ties to industry, that means you have to keep them running. And help the media and industry in convincing people that electric cars, produced by BMW, Merc and VW, is a great way to save the planet. Still, making those things requires enormous amounts of oil and gas.

NH delegation calls for EPA to help biomass - (AP) — New Hampshire's congressional delegation is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to level the playing field for producers of biomass energy. The four-Democrat delegation wants electricity in the Renewable Fuel Standard program in time for biomass power producers to participate in the 2020 market. They say New Hampshire's biomass power industry has been directly threatened by the agency's failure to include electricity in the program. The program was created by Congress in 2005 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector and expand the nation's renewable fuels sector, which includes electricity produced by biomass. The letter signed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas says the omission puts rural jobs and local government infrastructure at risk in farming, forestry, logging and waste-to-energy.

Dominion, Smithfield Foods double their investment to turn pig manure into energy - You don’t have to live near a hog farm or processing plant to know how potent pig manure is. About 75 million swine are producing manure in this country. That means they’re also producing methane — a powerful greenhouse gas that’s shorter-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but packs about 25 times the punch at heating the planet. Environmentalists have long pushed for reductions in methane emissions to combat climate change, or for capturing methane from livestock operations to produce renewable natural gas, a biofuel. A year ago, Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, announced they would do just that in a $250 million, 10-year joint venture to turn animal waste into energy. Now the companies are doubling their effort, vowing to invest half a billion dollars in manure-to-energy projects in several states. “It was just a very natural fit,” said Kraig Westerbeek, senior director of Smithfield Renewables. “It was obvious from the beginning that Smithfield has expertise in raising animals and farming operations. Dominion’s obvious strengths are in the renewables market area.” “From Dominion’s standpoint,” said Ryan Childress, director of Gas Business Development at Dominion Energy, “our customers want more renewables, and we want to provide those.” Dominion is the biggest electric utility in Virginia, largely powering its generation plants using fossil fuels. It’s is also a natural gas provider. It operates in 18 states in the mid-Atlantic, the Northeast and Midwest.

Joni Ernst speaks with Trump in effort to resolve RFS issue --After speaking by phone with President Donald Trump earlier this week, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, remains convinced he wants to “work through” a decision by the Environment Protection Agency director that Iowa agriculture leaders say could lead to a further slowdown in ethanol production and more farm bankruptcies. “The president is upset that this is not the same formula that we agreed on in the Oval Office,” Ernst told reporters Thursday. “I do think there is opportunity for correction.” Ernst, as well as her Iowa GOP colleagues U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Gov. Kim Reynolds, are calling on the EPA to uphold an agreement worked out last month on the Renewable Fuel Standard. The agreement called for blending 15 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel into other motor fuel. Since then, the EPA issued rules that Iowa elected officials, corn growers and biofuels groups say will not fulfill the agreement reached with the president. In comments submitted to the EPA, Reynolds said she left that Oval Office meeting with the understanding that “15 billion gallons means 15 billion gallons.” A week later, the EPA proposed a rule that reallocated small refinery exemptions to the RFS based on federal Department of Transportation recommendations rather than actual waived gallons.

The economics of driving seven Teslas for 2.5 million miles — Few have driven a Tesla to the point at which the vehicle really starts to show its age. But Tesloop, a shuttle service in Southern California comprised solely of Teslas, was ticking the odometers of its cars well past 300,000 miles with no signs of slowing. The company’s fleet of seven vehicles—a mix of Model Xs, Model 3s and a Model S—are now among the highest-milage Teslas in the world. They zip almost daily between Los Angeles, San Diego, and destinations in between. Each of Tesloop’s cars are regularly racking up about 17,000 miles per month (roughly eight times the average for corporate fleet mileage). Many need to fully recharge at least twice each day. These long days have pushed Tesla’s engineering to the limit making Tesloop an extreme testbed for the durability of Elon Musk’s cars. Tesloop provided Quartz with five years of maintenance logs, where its vehicles racked up over more than 3.5 million miles, to understand how the electric vehicles (EV) are living up to the promising of cheaper vehicles with unprecedented durability compared to their conventional combustion-engine counterparts. The results reveal Tesla to be a company still ironing out bugs in its products, but one that pushes the limits of what vehicles can do. “When we first started our company, we predicted the drive train would practically last forever,” Tesloop founder Haydn Sonnad told Quartz. “That’s proven to be relatively true.” He notes that every car except one, a vehicle taken out of service after a collision with a drunk driver, is still running. “The cars have never died of old age,” he added.

GM sells shuttered Ohio plant to EV truck start-up - (Reuters) - General Motors Co confirmed on Thursday it has sold its shuttered Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio to a start-up that has an ambitious plan to begin building electric pickup trucks by the end of 2020. Lordstown Motors Corp, which is 10% owned by Workhorse Group Inc, has retained Ohio investment bank Brown Gibbons Lang & Co and is working to raise additional capital, Lordstown Chief Executive Steve Burns said in an interview. Workhorse shares closed up 27% on the news. The fate of the northeastern Ohio plant has become a lighting rod in the 2020 presidential election after GM announced in November 2018 its planned closure, drawing condemnation from U.S. President Donald Trump and many U.S. lawmakers. The fate of the plant, which ended operations in March, remained uncertain until the Detroit automaker reached a new contract with the United Auto Workers union last month. The company has been working on the engineering of the new truck called Endurance and hired Rich Schmidt, a former director of manufacturing at Tesla Inc, as chief production officer. GM said Thursday it believes “LMC’s plan to launch the Endurance electric pickup has the potential to create a significant number of jobs and help the Lordstown area grow into a manufacturing hub for electrification.”

Germany Boosts Electric-Car Incentives to Stimulate Demand - Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and German automakers agreed to increase cash incentives for electric cars, intensifying an effort to move away from the combustion engine and reduce harmful emissions. A so-called environment bonus will jump by 50% to as much as 6,000 euros ($6,680) per electric vehicle and the auto industry will continue to cover half the cost, Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement. The changes will take effect this month and run through 2025, according to Bernhard Mattes, president of Germany’s VDA auto lobby. “It will therefore be possible to provide support for another 650,000 to 700,000 electric vehicles,” Seibert said. The measures were agreed Monday evening in Berlin between Merkel and officials from automakers, parts suppliers and labor unions, including the chief executives of Volkswagen AG, BMW AG and Daimler AG. The accord came a day after Merkel visited a revamped VW electric-car plant in Zwickau, eastern Germany. The chancellor has come under fire for failing to make more progress in curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, while VW -- the world’s biggest carmaker -- has invested billions in the shift to electric vehicles.

Democrats’ Baffling Blind Spot On Cars  - Few objects symbolize America’s unique place in the world better than the automobile. Residents of the United States drive more than 37 miles per day, nearly twice as much as the average Swede or Norwegian. America has 1.16 cars for every licensed driver and spends roughly $534 per person each year building and maintaining its road network. Three out of four U.S. workers drive to work alone; fewer than 1 in 20 walk or bicycle. America’s unique enthusiasm for the automobile has become one of the greatest challenges to solving climate change. Transportation is now the greatest source of greenhouse gases in the United States. And while utility companies are phasing out coal in favor of renewable energy, the auto industry is moving in the opposite direction. In March, the International Energy Agency reported that America’s oil use was rising more quickly than any other nation. In 2016, the average American drove 1,300 more miles than they did in 1992. Nearly every advance in fuel economy has been wiped out by more driving, bigger cars — or deliberate sabotage by the Trump administration. And yet, no prominent Democrats have proposed policies to reverse this trend. The 2020 presidential candidates have put forward ambitious targets for weaning power plants off of fossil fuels, closing federal lands to drilling and dramatically increasing subsidies to electric vehicles. None of them, however, has acknowledged the urgent necessity for America to kick its driving habit.  “It’s difficult to imagine addressing the climate crisis in any meaningful way without taking on automobiles,” said Clayton Nall, a political science professor at Stanford University who specializes in infrastructure spending. “It’s not enough to convert vehicles to electric. And even if it was, it’s not likely to happen on a timeline that will address the carbon emissions problem. It’s a real blind spot.”

The One Metric That Matters For Electric Cars - We need to focus on one number that determines when electric vehicles (EVs) will make economic sense. So says a report out of Argonne Laboratories sponsored by the Department of Energy. That number, according to researcher George Crabtree, is the price of the battery (as measured in $ per kwh), which he says has to halve in order to make EVs competitive with conventional cars. Not promising one might think. Well, researchers now believe that battery prices could reach the magic level somewhere between 2022 and 2026.  But, there is more to come. Researchers are working on lithium ion-solid state batteries. These would not only eliminate the unfortunate flammability issue that dogs lithium batteries but also possibly double the milage per charge. Toyota hopes to have such a battery ready in the early 2020s. Still, what about the potential shortage of minerals required to build the batteries? Crabtree points out that the key to making sure we do not have a lithium shortage is to recycle the batteries. At present we recycle almost 100% of lead acid automotive batteries and less than 5% of lithium batteries. However, figuring out how to recycle the latter economically will require research.What all this says is that the electric vehicle could emerge from its present position in the United States as a well subsidized status symbol to a commercially competitive vehicle within five years. It looks as if the automobile manufacturers will be ready.But how about the electricity producers? This requires new modes of power distribution for charging stations as well as an ongoing commitment to fossil-free energy sources. This is not a trifling issue for electricity producers. Electric vehicles could eventually account for 30-40% of US electricity sales. This is huge. But these sales will not be made unless the industry has in place an infrastructure to deliver the power to the right places at the right time.That brings up the perennial chicken-or-the-egg question. Should we incur the expense and build EV infrastructure hoping demand will eventually follow? Or should we first allow car manufacturers to first build and sell their cars while hoping electric utilities move fast enough to satisfy the demand for EV charging infrastructure?

Today’s Electric Car Batteries Will Be Tomorrow’s E-Waste Crisis, Scientists Warn  -Electric vehicles will play a crucial role in humanity’s fossil fuel-free future, but no technology comes without cost. The lithium-ion batteries that EVs run on are made from metals that are mined at a serious environmental and human toll, and from supplies that won’t last forever. When those batteries die, they’re liable to join the tens of millions of tons of spent electronics piling up as e-waste in landfills around the world.That’s why we badly need to develop better methods for recycling EV batteries and start scaling up the recycling infrastructure now, a team led by researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK argue in a review paper published today in Nature.As the paper notes, the one million EVs sold around the world in 2017 will eventually result in 250,000 tons of battery pack waste that the world’s recycling infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle. And while EV batteries can last for up to 20 years, the potential battery waste in the pipeline as EV sales grow year over year is enormous.“It is important that we anticipate problems before they happen,” said lead study author Gavin Harper, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham’s Faraday Institution. “We have seen in the past with car tires and fridges how waste mountains can arise if we don’t anticipate waste management problems.”In their paper, Harper and his colleagues try to sketch out what an effective waste management infrastructure could look like for EV batteries, which, in addition to lithium, contain critical metals like manganese, copper, and cobalt. As with consumer electronics, managing waste starts with extending the life of EV batteries as much as possible. When they’re no longer useful for driving, they can be repurposed for other types of energy storage like home batteries—an idea that companies are already pilot-testing around the world.But eventually, EV batteries will reach the end of their useful life, at which point they need to be recycled. Today, Harper said, most recycling revolves around using heat to melt the batteries down to slag, followed by chemical separation techniques that recover specific metals like cobalt. But these so-called pyro and hydro-metallurgical techniques are energy intensive and produce toxic gas byproducts, and the materials they recover are often low quality.

REALLY want to help Mother Nature? Don't drive electric cars, ignore paper bags & forget about organic food - Organic farming – growing food without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers – isn't the planet-saver it's promoted as, according to a study published last month in Nature Communications. Farming certain crops organically, including beans, potatoes, and oats, creates more emissions over the entire course of the farm-to-table cycle than farming them conventionally, researchers at Cranfield University found. Trying to get all of Britain eating organic would create an environmental catastrophe, they believe. Nor is organic food the only “green” product less environmentally sound than its marketing suggests. Renewable energy, hailed as the answer to the world's petrochemical dependency, is not the cure-all it is depicted as. Solar power, for example, creates no carbon emissions once the solar panels are up and running, but their manufacture is a toxic mess. Produced with the carcinogenic, mutagenic heavy metal cadmium and requiring billions of liters of water to manufacture and cool, solar cells have their own dark side seldom examined in discussions of the impending shift to renewable energy.  Electric cars have become a symbol of environmental progress, with companies that produce them receiving government subsidies in many countries. But more energy is consumed in the production of an electric car than a gas-powered vehicle, and a 2011 study found the carbon footprints of both vehicles to be about the same. Electric cars may not produce emissions while driving, but they're only as green as the electricity used to charge them. Worse, the batteries they use are loaded with toxic metals like lithium, copper, and cobalt. Mining these substances devastates the environment, and improper disposal of used batteries can cause them to leak back into nature. Biomass and biofuels certainly sound environmentally friendly – how can you go wrong with “bio” in the name – but it actually generates more carbon emissions than fossil fuels to create the same amount of energy. Substances burnable under the aegis of “biomass” can include anything from timber waste to garbage, meaning it can burn clean or litter the atmosphere with pollutants. And even burning ‘clean’ wood means cutting down trees – hardly environmentally friendly.

Green technology revolution needs a green metals revolution: Andy Home -(Reuters) - “Society expects more of our industry.” That was the stark warning from Jean-Sebastien Jacques, head of one of the world’s largest mining companies, Rio Tinto, in a keynote speech at last week’s London Metal Exchange Week. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind we will face greater regulation and scrutiny,” Jacques went on to say. The scrutiny has already begun. The next day environmental protesters disrupted the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne, leading to multiple arrests and a draconian threat by Australia’s prime minister to ban future anti-mining demonstrations. Half way around the world, protesters were blocking access roads to SQM’s lithium operations high in Chile’s Atacama Desert in a rumbling dispute over water rights. Here writ small is the industrial metals industry’s big problem. The green technology revolution, at the heart of which sits lithium, holds massive promise for the world’s miners, but to reap the rewards the entire metals supply chain will have to “green” itself. An unwelcome reminder of just how massive a challenge that’s going to be came in the form of yet another fatal tailings dam collapse, this time at a Russian gold mine. The death of at least 15 artisanal miners ticked all the wrong boxes on the industry’s new target list of environmental responsibility, sustainability and good governance (ESG). It is, sadly, very unlikely be the last tailings dam failure, particularly in the high-risk artisanal mining sector. The problems for the world’s metals industry, moreover, extend the entire length of the supply chain. Mining and metals processing is a dirty business, generating waste, often toxic, at every segment of the chain. The global mining and metals industry is responsible for around 10% of the total impact of climate change, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. That was what the activists in Melbourne were demonstrating against. The likes of Rio Tinto and other mining majors are now in a scramble to clean up their collective act. At one level this is about the industry’s licence to operate in a world that is increasingly wary of the environmental costs of mining. Protests such as those at SQM’s lithium mines in Chile are becoming ever more frequent across the metallic spectrum. At a more fundamental level, it is about exposing metals to the sort of transparency standards that apply to other consumer sectors.

More airports consider going off the grid as power outages ground flights - Should airports go off the grid? Pittsburgh International Airport — and others — think so. Remember that 11-hour power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in December 2017 that canceled hundreds of flights, stranded thousands of passengers and cost Delta Airlines alone an estimated $50 million in lost business? Since then power outages linked to everything from equipment failures, faulty wires and an explosion at an electric power station have disrupted operations at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, New York’s LaGuardia Airport, John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, Philadelphia International Airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. And just last Saturday, power at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport went out — twice — due to high winds associated with Tropical Storm Olga. In addition to flight cancelations and delays, a celebratory open house for the new $1 billion terminal opening Nov. 6 had to be postponed by a few hours. During power outages at airports, generators and other forms of back-up power usually kick-in to power essential emergency lighting, but boarding, deplaning, airfield activity and the business of the airport often comes to a standstill. That’s just one reason Pittsburgh International Airport recently declared its intention to become the first major U.S. airport to create a self-sufficient energy system, or microgrid, using only energy sources — solar and natural gas — from its own property. Pittsburgh International Airport plans to have its microgrid in place by 2021 to power the entire airport, including the airfield, the on-site Hyatt hotel and a Sunoco station.

Was There Another Reason For Electricity Shutdowns In California? - Could it be that PG&E’s heavy reliance on renewable energy means they don’t have the power to send when an “historic” weather event occurs? The two most popular forms of renewable energy come with operating limitations. With solar power the constraint is obvious: the availability of sunlight. One does not generate solar power at night and energy generation drops off with increasing degrees of cloud cover during the day.The main operating constraint of wind power is, of course, wind speed. At the low end of the scale, you need about a 6 or 7 mph wind to get a turbine moving. This is called the “cut-in speed.” To generate maximum power, about a 30 mph wind is typically required. But, if the wind speed is too high, the wind turbine will shut down. This is called the “cut-out speed,” and it’s about 55 mph for most modern wind turbines.  Now consider how California’s power generation profile has changed. According to Energy Information Administration data, the state generated 74.3 percent of its electricity from traditional sources—fossil fuels and nuclear—in 2001. Hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass-generated power accounted for most of the remaining 25.7 percent, with wind and solar providing only 1.98 percent of the total. By 2018, the state’s renewable portfolio had jumped to 43.8 percent of total generation, with wind and solar now accounting for 17.9 percent of total generation. That’s a lot of power to depend on from inherently unreliable sources. Thus, it would not be at all surprising to learn that PG&E didn’t stop delivering power out of fear of starting fires, but because it knew it wouldn’t have power to deliver once high winds shut down all those wind turbines.

Coal plant on tribal land to close after powering US West (AP) — One of the largest coal-fired power plants in the American West will close before the year ends and others in the region are on track to shut down or reduce their output in the next few years. Owners of the Navajo Generating Station near the Arizona-Utah border are turning to cheaper power produced by natural gas as they and other coal-fired plants in the U.S. face growing pressure over contributing to climate change. Those shifts are upending people’s livelihoods, including hundreds of mostly Native American workers in northeastern Arizona who mined the coal, loaded it from a roadside silo and helped produce the electricity. Two tribes each will lose millions of dollars in income, while workers are forced into early retirement. Some employees will stay on to restore the land, while others aren’t sure what’s next. “I got all emotional, started tearing up. It’s kind of sad because I love what I do,” The power plant was built in the late 1960s on land leased from the Navajo Nation, one of two coal-mining Native American tribes that has the largest land base, spanning parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The plant was a compromise to keep more hydroelectric dams from being built through the Grand Canyon and to power a series of canals that deliver water to Arizona’s major cities. At the time, the U.S. was facing a natural gas shortage and utilities turned to coal to feed the electric grid.

EPA to scale back federal rules restricting waste from coal-fired power plants - The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday plans to relax rules that govern how power plants store waste from burning coal and release water containing toxic metals into nearby waterways, according to agency officials.The proposals, which scale back two rules adopted in 2015, affect the disposal of fine powder and sludge known as coal ash, as well as contaminated water that power plants produce while burning coal. Both forms of waste can contain mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals that pose risks to human health and the environment.The new rules would allow extensions that could keep unlined coal ash waste ponds open for as long as eight additional years. The biggest benefits from the rule governing contaminated wastewater would come from the voluntary use of new filtration technology. Trump administration officials revised the standards in response to recent court rulings and to petitions from companies that said they could not afford to meet stringent requirements enacted under the Obama administration. They also reflect President Trump’s broader goal of bolstering America’s coal industry at a time when natural gas and renewable energy provide more affordable sources of electricity for consumers. Under the Obama-era rule, coal ash ponds leaking contaminants into groundwater that exceeded federal protection standards had to close by April 2019. The Trump administration extended that deadline to October 2020 in a rule it finalized last year. In August 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit instructed the EPA to require that companies overhaul ponds, including those lined with clay and compacted soil, even if there was no evidence that sludge was leaking into groundwater. In a statement, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the Obama-era rules “placed heavy burdens on electricity producers across the country.”“These proposed revisions support the Trump administration’s commitment to responsible, reasonable regulations,” Wheeler said, “by taking a common-sense approach that will provide more certainty to U.S. industry while also protecting public health and the environment.”Under the new proposal, companies will have to stop placing coal ash into unlined storage ponds near waterways by Aug. 31, 2020, and either retrofit these sites to make them more secure or begin to close them. Unlike the Obama-era rules, the EPA will allow greater leeway and more time for operators to request extensions ranging from 90 days to three years, until Oct. 15, 2023, if they can convince regulators that they need more time to properly dispose of the waste.

Trump EPA Targets More Coal Ash Rules for Rollback. Water Pollution Rules, Too. - The Trump administration made another attempt on Monday to prop up the sagging coal industry by proposing to relax two Obama-era rules meant to curb water pollution from power plants and clean up the ponds utilities use to store toxic coal ash.The moves would make it less expensive for utilities to burn coal to produce electricity at a time when coal mining companies are going bankrupt and coal-fired power plants are closing. With the next presidential election now just 12 months away, the moves may also represent the start of a final-year deregulatory push by the administration. In the coming months, the EPA alone is expected to make key decisions affecting coal-burning utilities' obligations under the nation's Superfund toxic cleanup program, the regulation of mercury, and the nation's air quality standards for lung-damaging particulates and smog."The (rule-making) pace is likely to pick up," said University of Pennsylvania professor of law and political science Cary Coglianese. That's normal for administrations as they reach what could be the end of their time in power, he said."My thought would be none of these moves will save the coal industry," he added.Other researchers have come to similar conclusions. Coal has been fighting for its survival on many fronts in recent years amid a glut of cheaper natural gas and increasingly competitive pressure from wind and solar power, in addition to a broad range of federal regulations.Burning coal has produced one of the nation's largest waste streams, and the EPA has wrestled with what to do with all the ash and scrubber sludge for decades. The Obama EPA declined to classify it as hazardous, even though it contains toxic heavy metals linked to cancer and other illnesses.  Still, EPA sought to force utilities to better manage their ash in the aftermath of the 2008 coal ash disaster in Kingston, Tennessee, where a levee holding back a mountain of sodden ash suddenly broke loose and spilled into two rivers. Three homes were destroyed, dozens more were damaged and now dozens of sick cleanup workers and the families of cleanup workers who have died are suing for damages.

Environmentalists describe proposed coal ash rule changes as 'dangerous' -A nonprofit already fighting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to allow Oklahoma to independently regulate disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCRs) inside the state promised Monday it will fight two new proposed federal rule changes related to coal ash disposal it asserts will roll back environmental protections further. Officials at Earthjustice, an environmental law organization, said Monday they believe rules the EPA proposed Monday would drastically weaken public health and safety protections from pollution produced by coal-fired power plants. A release issued Monday by the EPA, however, counters that its proposed rule changes would reduce regulatory complications and boost the amount of waste removed from the environment. One proposes to give companies a longer period of time to use clay-lined coal ash ponds that no longer meet required federal standards. The agency stated the extension also would give some operators time to develop alternative ways to manage their waste. Earthjustice officials said there are at least 24 documented cases nationwide where coal ash impoundments have contaminated drinking water. They also note the proposed rule flouts a previous judge's decision that ordered the closure of unlined facilities.

Why Obama’s plans to clean up coal ash barely got off the ground - On Monday, in yet another last-ditch effort to save the coal industry from obsolescence, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed new rollbacks of regulations addressing toxic waste generated by coal-burning power plants. The original regulations, established just four years ago under President Obama, were historic. For the first time ever, power plants would be required by federal law to monitor groundwater near coal ash ponds and clean up ponds that were actively leaking. For the first time ever, there would be federal limits on the concentration of toxic metals in the wastewater discharged from these plants into waterways. Overdue though they may have been, Obama’s rules barely got off the ground. Groups like the Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club challenged the coal ash rules in court on the grounds that they did not go far enough to protect the public. Industry groups also challenged the rules, alleging that EPA was exceeding its authority. And as those petitions have made their way through the court system, the Trump EPA has been trying to weaken regulations on coal. These regulations address two types of waste: solid waste, i.e. coal ash, and liquid waste, i.e. wastewater. Coal ash is the second largest form of waste generated in the United States after municipal trash. Power plants take the ash left over from coal combustion and either landfill it or pour it into a pit and mix it with water, creating a sludgy pond. Most of the time these landfills and ponds are unlined, meaning that chemicals like arsenic, lithium, mercury, and lead from the ash can seep into groundwater and contaminate nearby wells and waterways. These plants also have to deal with wastewater laden with similar contaminants after cleaning out their filters and boilers. This highly polluted water was being discharged into rivers and streams untreated. According to Southerland, back in 2015, the EPA estimated that plants were dumping more than 1 billion pounds of pollutants into nearby waterways every year. Obama’s regulations aimed to limit all this chemical leaking and dumping — but almost none of them were ever actually implemented. Monitoring is one of the only aspects of the Obama-era rules that was fully implemented. And because of that, we know that most of these sites do leak. Earlier this year, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice analyzed industry data and found that more than 91 percent of the sites being monitored had unsafe levels of toxic pollutants in their groundwater. In August, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Obama-era rules were, in fact, not aggressive enough. The ruling meant that the EPA had to require power plants to shut down all active unlined coal ash ponds near waterways, not just the ones that are leaking. The rules that Wheeler proposed this week incorporate that requirement, but they’re flexible — they allow some power plants to keep using unlined ponds for up to eight more years.

Justice coal company wants another day in court to argue against $35 million penalty - — Lawyers for a company owned by Gov. Jim Justice and his family are trying to fight a $35 million ruling in federal court. Lawyers for Kentucky Fuel Corp. last week asked for oral arguments on a prior motion to alter or amend the ruling in the Eastern District of Kentucky. “The Opinion in this long-running case imposed extraordinary damages on Defendants, in an amount exceeding $35 million,” Richard Getty, lawyer for Kentucky Fuel, wrote in a motion filed this past Wednesday. Lawyers for the other side of the case have filed documents calling the Kentucky Fuel protests “improper” and “ungrounded.” They say Kentucky Fuel is only rehashing old arguments. “Oral argument on such a flawed motion would be an unnecessary waste of time and money,” wrote lawyers for New London Tobacco Market and its agent, Fivemile Energy LLC. The judgment includes $17 million for unpaid royalties, another $17 million to punish the Justice companies for abuses such as withholding information and $1 million for attorneys’ fees. The lawsuit was first filed in 2012 and has had a number of twists and turns over the years. It stands out because of the sheer amount of money involved, as well as the prickly tone that emerges in the court filings. “These defendants just make it up,” the New London Tobacco lawyers wrote of Kentucky Fuel’s positions.

What will happen to Murray Energy's coal mines if company goes out business? - Murray Energy, which has filed for bankruptcy protection, has 13 mining permits in Ohio. The state estimates that it would cost $202 million to reclaim those mining sites if the company went out of business and walked away from them, but a state fund to cover those costs contains only $21 million. As Murray Energy bankruptcy proceedings continue, state officials are trying to figure out what to do with 13 of its Ohio mining permits if the company walks away from them before they’re reclaimed. The St. Clairsville-based coal company, the eighth coal company in the U.S. to file for bankruptcy within a year, is the largest permit-holder for coal mining in Ohio. An actuarial report on the state’s coal reclamation fund issued in June estimates that it would take more than $202 million to clean up all of the Murray mining sites. That would be a problem. The state’s fund to cover the costs of reclaiming coal mining sites that companies abandon contains about $21 million. That means taxpayers could be asked to make up the difference.  “I’m going to count on (Ohio Department of Natural Resources staff) to sit down with them or any other company and work with them,” ODNR Director Mary Mertz said. “I do believe operators want to do a good job for Ohio and are not trying to be irresponsible.”  If the fund had to be used to reclaim all of Murray’s coal mining sites, it would take 150 years — assuming no other companies walked away from their mines — for the fund to recover, according to the report. Whether the fund should be restructured or any other changes made, Mertz said, “I don’t have a recommendation now on that.” “In other words, Murray Energy defaulting on its reclamation obligations — which becomes more likely as Murray Energy approaches bankruptcy — is the exact ‘catastrophic event’ that the recent actuarial report found the forfeiture fund could not cover,” said Margrethe Kearney, an attorney representing the Environmental Law and Policy Center, in a 10-page letter sent last week to the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation and Enforcement.  The federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 is supposed to ensure that mines are reclaimed in a timely manner as coal is removed. But under the Trump administration, the law hasn’t been enforced and more and more acres are being left unreclaimed.

Australia's threat to outlaw mining protests highlights industry split: Russell (Reuters) - The boss of a major mining company last week made a plea to the industry to do more to win the hearts and minds of the broader public. A few days later the leader of the country hosting the bulk of his operations threatened to outlaw those opposed to mining. What makes the situation more bizarre is that the threat against the right to protest was made by Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia, a country with a long democratic tradition and a history of political tolerance. Morrison, the leader of the conservative Liberal Party, told a meeting of a mining lobby group on Nov. 2 that there is a “new breed of radical activism” that didn’t permit the expression of alternative viewpoints. But seemingly unaware of the hypocrisy he was about to expound, Morrison said his government is looking at measures that would make it illegal to advocate so-called secondary boycotts of companies that do business with miners targeted by climate activists. “Let me assure you this is not something my government intends to allow to go unchecked,” The Guardian newspaper reported Morrison as saying. “Together with the attorney general, we are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians,” Morrison said. Morrison’s comments unleashed a predictable storm of opposition from political rivals and legal experts, but the real damage is once again being inflicted on the mining industry. There are those who are determined to try and win public support for their operations by committing to reducing their carbon footprint and constantly highlighting that minerals are essential to the transition to a low-carbon economy. And then there are those miners, predominantly coal producers, that are largely climate change denialists, and they are increasingly focused on debunking science while seeking the protection of conservative governments, such as those led by Morrison and U.S. President Donald Trump.

China's seaborne coal imports slide in October, but not by enough: Russell -(Reuters) - China’s seaborne coal imports slumped 19% in October from September, but the world’s biggest buyer of the polluting fuel is still on track to record an unwanted annual increase. Seaborne imports were 19.9 million tonnes in October, according to vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Refinitiv, down from September’s 24.5 million - the lowest monthly total of seaborne arrivals since February. That shows Beijing’s aim of limiting 2019 imports to the same level as those in 2018 is having some effect. But even with the drop in October imports, China is well on track to comfortably exceed 2018’s total of 281.2 million tonnes. Official customs data showed imports for the first nine months at 250.6 million tonnes, a gain of 9.5% over the same period in 2018. Add the October seaborne imports of 19.9 million tonnes, plus around 7 million tonnes more in overland arrivals from Mongolia and Russia, and it’s likely that imports for the first 10 months of the year will be around 277 million tonnes. Even if imports for November and December are severely curbed, it’s still likely that the 2019 total will exceed 300 million tonnes. Imports may even approach the annual record of 327.2 million tonnes from 2013. The rise in imports has been accompanied by increasing domestic output, with production totalling 2.74 billion tonnes in the first nine months of 2019, up 4.5% from the same period a year earlier. The robust coal import and domestic output data show just how difficult it is for an economy the size of China to wean itself off the fuel.

Nuclear bill coming due for JEA - The Plant Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia is 230 miles away from Jacksonville, but the financial impact of the budget-busting plant keeps coming closer as JEA begins to assess how much Vogtle will drive up customers’ bills. The nuclear plant’s swollen price also hovers over JEA’s negotiations with bidders interested in buying the utility because its multi-billion dollar Vogtle obligation would need to be resolved if the city were to sell JEA. Plant Vogtle might not be a household name for JEA’s 478,000 electric customers because so far, JEA’s cost for purchasing power from the plant when Vogtle’s two units come online in 2021 and 2022 hasn’t shown up in monthly electric bills. JEA said last December it had a path forward to avoid rate increases through at least 2023, touting it as a “bold plan” that was achievable because of the utility’s financial strength. JEA officials now say they plan to start crunching numbers for Vogtle in the coming months with an eye toward possible rate increases in 2021 or 2022. “The reality is we’re looking down the barrel at some pretty substantial expense increases,” JEA CEO Aaron Zahn said at a recent board meeting. The initial analysis shows double-digit boosts in what customers will pay. JEA’s cost will rise sharply when the new nuclear units are finished in the next three years, said Ryan Wannemacher, chief financial officer for the utility. “As those go online, we’re going to have to look at rate adjustments at that time,” he said.

FirstEnergy nears proposal to decouple Ohio utility revenues, electricity consumption: CEO -- FirstEnergy plans to file a proposal with Ohio utility regulators by the end of November to decouple the link between the company's revenues and the amount of electricity used by its customers, President and CEO Chuck Jones told analysts on the company's third quarter earnings call Tuesday. The move "supports continued energy efficiency efforts while ensuring that our utilities have adequate resources to continue providing safe and reliable power to our customers," Jones said. FirstEnergy's plan would keep base distribution rates at 2018 levels for residential and commercial customers. Once the plan is filed, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) will have 60 days to review and approve it. When a utility's revenues and financial well-being are dependent on electricity consumption, that can create a disincentive to promoting energy efficiency and other conservation measures to reduce use. "By establishing the fixed base [for distribution costs in Ohio], it's going to accomplish what the legislature tried to do. It allows us to continue to promote energy efficiency with our customers so that they can get the benefit of that without impacting our base revenues," Jones said. "It fixes our base revenues and essentially it takes about one-third of our company and I think makes it somewhat recession-proof," he added.

Amendment introduced to prohibit foreign ownership in critical infrastructure in Ohio - Introduced on October 26, 2019, House Joint Resolution 2 (HJR 2), titled the “Ohio Critical Infrastructure Protection Amendment,” seeks to place a constitutional amendment before Ohio voters prohibiting foreign businesses and individuals from having a majority ownership interest in critical infrastructure located in Ohio. Impacted types of infrastructure include power plants, intrastate electric transmission lines, intrastate natural gas pipelines and water treatment plants. HJR 2 is sponsored by Representatives Jamie Callender (R-Concord) and Don Manning (R-New Middletown). In order to be placed on the ballot for voters, such a joint resolution requires a three-fifths majority vote in both the Ohio House and Senate.[View source.]

Changes could come on fracking on public land - Wooster Daily Record - 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. 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.

Ohio Oil and Gas Leasing Commission to recommend changes to law covering fracking on public land - The Columbus Dispatch   An Ohio commission created to oversee fracking on or below state-owned property is recommending changes in law to the legislature.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.

Other states have different policies on allowing drilling for oil and natural gas on public land. In Pennsylvania, for example, the governor issued a moratorium in 2015 on leasing state-owned land for drilling that remains in effect pending scientific review of its effects. There are more than 153,000 acres leased for conventional drilling and 102,000 acres leased for horizontal drilling in that state, according to Colvin’s presentation to commission members.

Toledo Refining officials hopeful about Enbridge Line 5 after recent court ruling | Toledo Blade -- A ruling that will allow oil to keep flowing under the Straits of Mackinac has been enthusiastically received at Toledo Refining Co. in East Toledo, where some employees and management had feared that a permanent closure of that pipeline would, in turn, lead to a permanent shutdown of their refinery and the 550 jobs associated with it.  At issue is Enbridge, Inc., pipeline known as Line 5, which traverses 645 miles of North America and bisects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The existing pipeline, laid 67 years ago to help keep oil tankers off the Great Lakes, runs almost parallel to and just west of the Mackinac Bridge. The pipeline has long been controversial, and on Thursday Judge Michael Kelly of the Michigan Court of Claims found that Michigan legislators did not violate the state constitution when the majority voted in favor of a proposal to bury the pipeline inside a tunnel beneath the water in an attempt to alleviate environmental concerns. Scott Hayes, Toledo Refining’s health, safety, environmental and governmental affairs manager, points out there are still other legal hurdles to clear and probable appeals to be heard.  But he said the recent judge’s decision “is the first step in ensuring energy security, safety and health, economic stability, and improved environmental protections.” He claimed a tunnel will take “the risk of a catastrophic failure from minimal to zero.” Likewise, Brendan Williams, chief policy adviser in Washington for PBF Energy, which owns the refinery, called the ruling “an important step.”  PBF has said its 122-year-old refinery in East Toledo is especially at risk if Line 5 doesn’t remain open, claiming the company would have no viable options but to close the facility because of how dependent refinery operations have become on it.

Gulfport to divest non-operated Utica Shale assets - Gulfport Energy is working to sell some of its interests in Ohio’s Utica Shale, Kallanish Energy reports. The company said the proceeds from the potential sale of non-operated interests in eastern Ohio would offset higher-than-expected non-operated capital spending in 2019 in the Utica. The company expects to complete the Utica assets sale before Dec. 31, 2019, it said, in a statement. The buyer was not identified nor was the size of the potential sale. Oklahoma-based Gulfport has leases on rougthly 210,000 net acres in the Utica. The company lost $48.8 million, or 31 cents per share, during the third quarter of 2019. Its average production was equivalent to 1.5 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas. The Utica Shale accounts for 80% of Gulfport’s production. It is running one rig in the Utica. In the most recent quarter, the company drilled two Utica wells and began production on 16 Utica wells. In its statement, Gulfport also said it's continuing to pursue the previously announced proposed sale of certain water infrastructure assets in the SCOOP play of Oklahoma. Gulfport also reported it recently sold certain overriding royalty interests associated with assets in the Bakken Shale of North Dakota and Montana. It was paid $8 million by an unnamed third party. Net production from the assets average 68.6 barrels of oil-equivalent per day (Boe/d) in the nine months ended Sept. 30.

Cause of Philadelphia fire sounds alarm over aging U.S. refineries - (Reuters) - How did a piece of piping installed when Richard Nixon was U.S. president go without once being checked before leading to a fire that devastated the East Coast’s largest and oldest oil refinery? That’s a question safety experts and activists are putting to regulators after the devastating fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery in June, worried more disasters are waiting to happen in an industry reliant on old equipment. Last year, U.S. refiners processed nearly 17 million barrels of crude oil every day, the most in the country’s history as it cashes in on a boom in shale oil. But many have decades-old infrastructure, risking outages that could cost the industry billions. The PES refinery is one of nearly 30 in the United States that are more than a century old, while a Reuters review of over 100 operating U.S. refineries that process more than 10,000 barrels of crude oil a day showed they are on average 80 years old. Refineries frequently update their systems and replace old parts, but the PES fire, along with incidents in Washington state and California earlier this decade, stemmed from equipment installed in the 1970s that had been allowed to run to failure, according to U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) reports. The suspected cause of the PES explosion has raised fears about future incidents because of the leeway given to refiners for inspecting parts, and because some older equipment is exempt from more stringent standards for newly installed parts.

Point Breeze residents protest refinery meeting | KYW — Residents in Point Breeze protested a meeting discussing Sunoco's Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery clean up program Thursday evening, saying they've been left out of the process. Dozens of protestors shouting "We have a right to breath" blocked the doors of a meeting held by the city and Sunoco as remediation plans go forward for the refinery. Protestors are demanding a seat at the table. "We believe that everyone has a God given right to breathe clean air. We are angry at Sunoco and the City of Philadelphia because we were not included in the process," said Mark Clincey of Philly Thrive. This comes after an agreement signed when the refinery changed ownership in 2012 deemed Sunoco responsible for historic contamination of the soil and groundwater and PES responsible for any new contamination. Then recently a federal preliminary report revealed thousands of pounds of highly toxic hydrofluoric acid was released into the air after the refinery explosion in June. "There is gross contamination. They really have not sought the input of the community and some of the cleanup levels that I've seen are very high and would commit this community to having a very heavy industrial sight on this location forever," said the University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Merrilyn Howarth, who was at the meeting.

 Have Feds Delivered Death Blow to PennEast Pipeline Project? - PennEast Pipeline LLC suffered a potentially huge setback when a federal court yesterday denied the company’s bid to rehear a case involving its attempt to condemn state-owned lands for its 120-mile project. The ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit narrows the options for the company in its five-year quest to build the $1 billion pipeline from Luzerne County, PA, to Mercer County.  The one-paragraph decision by the court rejected a petition for rehearing by PennEast, leaving the company with fewer alternatives: appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court or reconfiguring the pipeline’s route to avoid some 40 state-owned properties or lands previously preserved for agriculture, recreation or conservation. In even more unlikely scenarios, the company and industry could push for changes to the Natural Gas Act or ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to give private companies the authority to condemn state-owned lands. In its original September decision, the court ruled PennEast lacked legal authority to seize state lands. “I think this kills the project,’’ said William Potter, a lawyer who works on energy issues. “The Supreme Court will never get into this natural gas-thicket.’’ PennEast said it is “evaluating all of its options in light of this recent development,’’ according to Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for the company. “The PennEast member companies remain committed to the project,’’ she said.

PennEast companies remain committed to PA-NJ pipe after loss in court (Reuters) - The companies developing the $1 billion PennEast natural gas pipeline said on Wednesday they remain committed to building the project and are evaluating options after a federal appeals court decided not to rehear an earlier decision against the pipeline:

  • * The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Tuesday denied PennEast’s petition for rehearing of an earlier decision in September that rejected the pipeline’s use of eminent domain on properties in New Jersey under state ownership or in which the state has an interest.
  • * PennEast obtained approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build the pipeline in January 2018 and promptly sued in federal court to use the federal government’s eminent domain power to gain access to properties along the route in New Jersey under the U.S. Natural Gas Act.
  • * New Jersey opposes construction of the pipeline and did not consent to PennEast’s condemnation suits on properties it controls.
  • * PennEast needs the land to build its 120-mile (190-km) pipeline, which is designed to deliver 1.1 billion cubic feet per day of gas from the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania to customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
  • * In October, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) denied PennEast’s application for several permits, citing the Third Circuit’s eminent domain decision.
  • * “We believe both actions (Third Circuit and NJDEP) were profoundly wrong based on established legal precedent under the Natural Gas Act and we are currently pursuing legal and other options,” South Jersey Industries Inc (SJI), one of the companies developing PennEast, said in its earnings release on Wednesday.
  • * SJI noted demand for gas infrastructure to meet growing demand for the fuel in New Jersey has grown substantially since the project was announced five years ago.
  • * In the past, PennEast said it anticipates starting construction in 2020.

ConEdison, a Mountain Valley Pipeline co-owner, puts cap on its investment - Con Edison, the large New York-based utility company, is scaling back its investment in the troubled Mountain Valley Pipeline. Con Edison revealed in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing Monday that its subsidiary CET Gas will cap its investment in MVP, the 300-mile pipeline that has been mired in legal cases on the state and federal level, to $530 million. Con Edison has already spent about $488 million. CET Gas has a 12.5 percent interest in MVP, which is also owned by EQM Midstream Partners, which is a related company of Pittsburgh-based Equitrans Midstream Corp. (NYSE: ETRN). Con Edison said in the filing that limiting investment is part of the joint venture agreement, although it's not clear if any other of the companies in the joint venture agreement have also done so. That will likely whittle Con Edison's MVP stake to 10 percent, according to the filing. The pipeline is owned by EQM Midstream Partners, NextEra Capital Holdings, Con Edison Transmission, WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream LLC. Meanwhile, EQM said in an earnings report Tuesday that it would put $86 million toward the MVP's construction, for a total of $2.7 billion. It has already spent $1.7 billion. EQM will see its ownership stake go from 45.5 percent to 47 percent, according to the news release. Mountain Valley Pipeline has had a mountain of challenges to overcome since being announced in 2014 to connect the gas fields of the Marcellus Shale in a 303-mile route through West Virginia and Virginia. Not only were there changes to the route before construction started, but heavy rains caused problems as have legal challenges by residents, environmental groups, regulators in Virginia, West Virginia and the federal government. MVP, whose completion date has been pushed back many times, now is expected to be in service in late 2020. It will cost between $5.3 billion and $5.5 billion to build. The construction is about 90 percent complete, according to a statement of the company in October.

ACP officials 'optimistic' natural gas pipeline construction could be back on track in summer 2020– The Upshur County Commission received an update on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction at its meeting Thursday.The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a project involving the building of a 42-inch-wide natural gas pipeline that’s charted to run approximately 600 miles through West Virginia, Virginia and eastern North Carolina.Construction on the pipeline has been on hold since Dominion Energy, the primary owner and operator of the pipeline, voluntarily suspended construction on the project in mid-December 2018 following a series of court rulings issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The ruling invalidating several permits necessary to continue building the line, according to a previous story. “We received a permit called a taking permit [through the USFWS], which is done through a biological study and an incidental take study,” Harshbarger said. “It was challenged, so it was taken up to the Fourth Circuit, and they vacated our permit.”He said the court determined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife did not conduct enough studies and did not investigate enough because they ran into the Rusty Patched Bumblebee, which is classified as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. “The U.S. Court Fourth Circuit vacated our permit, so this whole summer and over the year we’ve been working with contractors doing additional studies to identify the population of the Rusty Patched Bumblebee and other species that were brought up in this court case,” Harshbarger said. “We have our new permits back in front of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, so we’re very optimistic that by the end of this year, we’ll have a decision and new permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.” The second matter Harshbarger brought up was the Appalachian Trail. “The U.S. Forest Service [initially] issued a permit for us to cross the Appalachian Trail with the pipeline,” Harshbarger said. “This was going to be done through a bore, which was about 650 feet below the trail. We’re not disturbing the trail at all.” He said there are approximately 62 pipelines that run beneath the Appalachian Trail currently.

Pipeline interview transcripts released ahead of Friday hearing :: — The state Department of Environmental Quality released interview transcripts and written statements Monday from regulators who said the governor didn't interfere with the department's Atlantic Coast Pipeline approval.The releases came ahead of a joint legislative subcommittee meeting Friday, when Republican lawmakers plan to question officials from Gov. Roy Cooper's administration about the approval process and its connection to parallel negotiations on a $57.8 million mitigation fund that the governor would have controlled. Several DEQ officials, questioned by private investigators legislative Republicans brought in to explore the issue, said they didn't know about the fund until they read about it in the media. They also said they didn't feel pressure to deviate from regular permitting processes."Was it ever relayed down to you that there was – the governor was involved in the permitting process?" an investigator asked Jay Zimmerman, who was the director of the Division of Water Resources at DEQ during much of the permitting process."No, that was not," Zimmerman replied, according to an interview transcript posted by DEQ. "Did anyone at any time above you, either Sheila Holman or anyone above, give you direction as to make additional information requests that you didn't agree with?" the interviewer asked. "No," Zimmerman replied. Initially, the administration wouldn't let employees speak to the investigators outside of public hearings. That changed at least a month ago and after Cooper signed a new whistleblower protection bill into law, according to Pat Ryan, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem.Phil Berger

NAACP members, others protest Dominion Energy's involvement in state conference - “NAACP, we find ourselves in a mess right now.”Those words, delivered last Saturday by the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, vice president of religious affairs and external relations with the National Action Network, were referring to the climate of bigotry, hate and fear in the world at large. But they easily could have applied to the internal and external troubles the civil rights organization has faced during the past year.Addressing a luncheon audience of about 200 people at the Virginia State Conference NAACP’s 84th State Convention, Rev. Rivers was adamant that the NAACP would stand strong in the face of threats from “fake racists with orange hair,” saying that the challenges ahead “ain’t nothing new” for the storied organization.But while hateful politicians may be old hat for the NAACP, the turmoil that’s recently surrounded the Virginia NAACP is a new phenomenon.On the eve of the state convention, protesters called out the organization for bringing on Dominion Energy as an event sponsor and co-host of a reception and panel discussion on 400 years of African-American history.Standing between the gates of Virginia Union University and the state NAACP headquarters on West Graham Road in North Side, 18 protesters demanded the organization either cancel the history program or remove Dominion Energy as co-sponsor.Their protest was timed as members of the state NAACP Executive Committee arrived Oct. 31 in Richmond for a pre-conference meeting.Among those protesting were members of the Virginia Pipeline Resisters, the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative and five NAACP members, three of whom are life members of the civil rights organization.The source of their anger: Dominion Energy is continuing its plans for a natural gas compressor that could potentially pollute the historic black community of Union Hill in Buckingham County. The community was founded after the end of the Civil War by emancipated African-Americans.The compressor is a key part of the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will run through Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia.While the state NAACP is one of several organizations challenging Dominion Energy’s plan in a federal lawsuit, the announcement of Dominion Energy’s involvement in the convention struck a sour note, made worse by the company’s $50,000 donation to the convention, twice the amount the company has donated in previous years.

National Grid, Eversource Say They Can Meet Natural Gas Demand Without Weymouth Compressor Two utility companies involved with the proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth say they don't need the facility to meet customer demand. Now, opponents of the compressor station are calling into question whether the project — which has been the subject of public protests and lawsuits — meets the "public convenience and necessity" requirement for federal approval. The proposed 7,700-horsepower Weymouth compressor would be part of energy giant Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge Project, which was designed to deliver natural gas to New England and Canada. Energy companies build compressor stations along interstate pipeline routes to “boost” pressure and keep the gas flowing. While Enbridge will own the pipeline and infrastructure, utility companies bid for contracts that allow them to ship gas through it. In September, one of those contract holders, New Brunswick-based New England NG Supply Limited, announced that it is withdrawing from the project. Shortly after, National Grid applied to take over the contract, and in testimony before the state on Oct. 25, said it could deliver this gas to customers "without the installation of the Weymouth compressor station." "The implication is that they would be shipping the gas within their service territory in the greater Boston area as opposed to sending it up and out of the country," said Kathryn Eiseman, president and CEO of the Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast, Inc., an advocacy group based in Cummington, Massachusetts.

Shifting Demand Fuels Weymouth Compressor Debate - The energy company Enbridge has a plan, and it's called the Atlantic Bridge Project. Approved by federal regulators in 2017, the $452 million project would pipe more natural gas north from New Jersey into New England and Canada. To make the project work, Enbridge says it needs to build a 7,700-horsepower compressor station in Weymouth to push gas up the pipeline to customers farther north. But two of the customers that signed on to the Atlantic Bridge Project — New Brunswick-based New England NG Supply Limited (NENG) and Exelon Corporation — have backed away from their contracts with Enbridge and agreed to sell at least part of their capacity to National Grid.  And National Grid — along with Eversource and Norwich Public Utilities in Connecticut — says it does not need the proposed Weymouth compressor to meet customer demand for gas. That leaves three out-of-state utilities that still need the compressor station to push gas northward: Maine Natural Gas, New Hampshire-based Unitil and Summit Natural Gas of Maine, which plans to acquire the remaining capacity on Exelon's contract, according to federal documents. Two other utilities — Canada-based Heritage and Irving Oil-- did not respond to requests for comment. This shift in demand for contracts has left Enbridge with fewer northern customers for its Atlantic Bridge Project. And opponents of the project are questioning again why Enbridge is pushing forward with plans for the Weymouth compressor station. "Federal regulators are supposed to gauge whether projects will fill a public need when approving energy facilities," said Sen. Ed Markey, a longtime opponent of the compressor station. "It’s clear that the Weymouth compressor is unneeded, unwanted and unwelcome in Massachusetts, and should be rejected.”

Enbridge vows to cover costs in ‘unlikely’ case of Michigan Line 5 rupture - Enbridge is disputing Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s suggestion that state taxpayers “could be left holding the bag” for cleanup costs if the Candadian-based company’s twin Line 5 oil and gas pipelines were to rupture in the Straits of Mackinac. “The bottom line is Enbridge will take full responsibility and pay for all costs related to an incident,” Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy told Bridge Magazine in an email late Monday, calling the prospects of a rupture on the controversial pipeline “unlikely.” The vow came days after Nessel released a 120-page report raising questions about Enbridge’s financial obligations under a series of agreements its U.S.-based companies signed with then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration in 2018. The agreements aimed to pave the way for Enbridge to build a $500-million bedrock tunnel around a new section of Line 5 in the Straits — a project that Nessel and fellow Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have tried to halt. In one such agreement, certain U.S.-based Enbridge companies agreed to fund nearly $1.9 billion in potential damages if Line 5 ruptured.The state commissioned Wisconsin-based American Risk Management Resources to probe that financial assurance. (The state paid $30,000 for that work, Nessel’s office told Bridge.)The report concluded that Canadian conglomerate Enbridge Inc. had enough money to pay for such a pricey cleanup and restoration. But the report pointed out that Enbridge Inc. didn’t technically sign the agreement with the state — only its U.S. subsidiaries did. And those U.S. companies “would not have enough resources to fund a loss event of this magnitude” — unless their Canadian parent company voluntarily bailed out the companies, the report said.

 Pipeline Spill Cleanup Plans Deserve a Hard Look -If you had to pick the worst possible environmental disaster that could befall the Great Lakes, a major oil pipeline spill would have to be near the top of the list. And if a spill does happen to our inland waters, it’s absolutely critical that we get the cleanup response right.  Without complete information and a solid response blueprint upfront, a cleanup effort may end up being inadequate to deal with the mess, or even sometimes making matters worse.With stakes that high, NRDC finds the notion of rubber stamp approvals of pipeline spill cleanup plans unacceptable. Fortunately, a federal court in Michigan recently agreed, in a case brought by the National Wildlife Federation (represented by the University of Michigan Law School environmental clinic) against the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) concerning the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline. PHMSA is required under the Clean Water Act to review and approve a pipeline operator’s spill contingency plan, but the agency took the position that it has no real discretion in the approval process—and hence that it didn’t need to review the environmental impacts of the plan under two key federal environmental review statutes, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The court held that PHMSA does indeed have discretion, and that the reviews must be done.  The case is now on appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where NRDC recently submitted an amicus curiae brief supporting the Michigan court’s decision. NRDC brought to bear its decades of work on oil pipeline issues as well as ESA and NEPA—most recently on display in our challenges to the Keystone XL pipeline—to explain the real-world importance of environmental review of spill plans.

Environment and tribal groups call for new hazardous weather standards for Enbridge's Line 5 - Fourteen civic, environmental and tribal groups have urged Governor Gretchen Whitmer to take immediate new steps to protect the Great Lakes in case of a possible wintertime rupture of Enbridge's Line 5, the pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac. In an October 25 letter, the groups asked Whitmer to tighten standards that would trigger a shutdown of Line 5 during rough seas and ice.They want Whitmer to get Enbridge's promise to stop transporting oil through Line 5 if waves exceed 3.3 feet and winds are more than 18 mph. "These are the conditions cited by the Coast Guard which render oil spill response particularly dangerous and ineffective," said Sean McBrearty, campaign coordinator for Oil and Water Don't Mix."This fall we have already seen waves in the Great Lakes reach 14 feet and more on several occasions," said McBrearty. "The U.S. Coastguard's top official has told Congress the agency is not ready for a major oil spill incident in the Great Lakes and officials have said the Coast Guard won't even venture out to address an oil spill when waves are above three feet. Once ice conditions take over in the Straits, oil spill response becomes even more hazardous and unpredictable."The groups' letter further calls on Whitmer to use her emergency public safety powers  to order a shut down of Line 5 if Enbridge fails to comply with the new, tightened hazardous weather standards the groups are advocating. Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes Regional Director of the National Wildlife Federation, served on the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board."The Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, a majority of those voting, voted in favor actually of putting these standards into place," Shriberg said. "Governor Snyder ignored that."Shriberg said Whitmer now has "an opportunity to turn that around." A spokesperson for Whitmer said the Governor's office is reviewing the letter.

We Energies, Wisconsin Gas plan $370 million natural gas storage sites -We Energies and Wisconsin Gas are seeking approval to build two plants to store liquefied natural gas that could be used to meet spikes in demand on cold winter days. The two plants — projected to cost a total of $370 million — would store natural gas at temperatures of 260 degrees below zero. The plants are needed to meet the projected demand for natural gas during winter months, the two utilities said in their filing with the Public Service Commission. “This will help smooth out the peak that we are projecting long-term,” said Brendan Conway, a We Energies spokesman. Liquefied natural gas has about 1/600th of the volume of natural gas burned in a home. Each plant would have the capacity to store 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The proposed projects were first reported by BizTimes. We Energies and Wisconsin Gas, both part of WEC Energy Group, rely on interstate pipelines and firm contracts to provide natural gas in southeastern Wisconsin. Building the liquefied natural gas plants to meet peak demand would be less costly than contracting with interstate pipelines to add additional capacity, the utilities said in their PSC filing. We Energies and Wisconsin Gas would have to contract for the additional pipeline capacity year-round to deliver natural gas needed only a few days a year. With the plants, the utilities also would be able to buy and store natural gas when prices are lower than in the winter months.

Florida fracking ban could run into roadblocks -- A proposal backed by environmentalists to ban fracking in Florida eased through a Senate committee Monday. But the effort to impose a ban on the controversial oil- and gas-drilling process may be in trouble already, with the start of the 2020 legislative session still more than two months away. The proposal (SB 200), approved unanimously by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, would ban hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. But it also would ban a process known as matrix acidization, which uses many of the same chemicals as in hydraulic fracturing but dissolves rocks with acid instead of fracturing them with pressurized liquid. Environmentalists argue that a ban on matrix acidization is necessary, but Republican lawmakers have balked at the idea. A separate proposal to ban fracking without addressing matrix acidization may not even return in the Senate for the 2020 session, which begins Jan. 14. Such a proposal went further during the 2019 session than a bill that also addressed matrix acidization, but neither passed. Senate Agriculture Chairman Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, said he hasn’t seen enough change to warrant refiling the bill that would only address hydraulic fracturing. “I don’t sense there’s traction enough to move the ball. We still have the same members. We still have the same process.”

Environmental Justice Activists Arrested Amid Growing Concerns Over Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Pollution - Mounting concerns over pollution, public health and the expansion of the petrochemical industry came to a head when two activists were detained in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Oct. 30, the last day of a two-week protest against environmental racism in Louisiana's Cancer Alley. Pastor Gregory Manning, who is legally blind, and Sakura Kone were singled out by police for refusing to leave the hallway outside of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) office where about 40 activists continued with an impromptu rally after being asked to leave. The group had hoped to confront LABI's head over the association's influence in state politics and regulations.Kone was given a citation and released outside, while Manning was taken to jail. According to a release from Manning's group Justice and Beyond, Pastor Manning, who is being charged with a felony count of inciting a riot and Kone will be arraigned on Nov. 5 in Baton Rouge City Court.The police officers' actions infuriated members of the Coalition Against Death Alley (CADA), a group of Louisiana residents and members of various local and state organizations behind the protest. The coalition focuses on fighting against and bringing attention to the petrochemical industry's expansion that is underway in Louisiana.  Louisiana's Cancer Alley, also known as the "Petrochemical Corridor," is an 80-mile stretch along the Mississippi River with over 100 petrochemical plants and refineries between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The Louisiana government is welcoming an increasing number of industrial facilities to this corridor in primarily African-American communities.

As LNG booms, some fear bubble -   - For years, LNG developers have sold investors on multi-billion dollar export projects based on the premise of the world’s insatiable appetite for natural gas.But three years after Cheniere Energy made history by exporting the first shipment of liquefied natural gas from the continental United States, energy insiders are debating whether an LNG bubble is developing around the vast sweep of projects scheduled to come online over the next 10 years. From Russia to Qatar, Mozambique to Canada, the oil and gas industry has enough projects in the works to almost double global LNG production by 2030, with much of that growth focused along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. As analysts crunch the numbers, some do not believe the demand is there to support them all.“There’s a fairly significant divide about the degree people might be overbuilding,” said Jason Feer, the Houston-based global head of business intelligence at Poten & Partners, a shipping advisory firm. “My take is some people are wildly optimistic about demand. We found this wide range of forecasts, some of them physically impossible.”Forecasts of LNG’s meteoric rise largely hinge on expectations of rising demand in China, India and developing nations in Southeast Asia, all of which have limited domestic supplies of natural gas. But governments there have been slow to shift from cheap coal — which they have in abundance — to undertake the vast pipeline, storage and terminal buildouts necessary to shift their economies toward gas. Already,there are signs that Asia’s appetite for LNG might not be as reliable as developers would hope. Global LNG imports this summer were up 11 percent from last year, but almost two thirds of that additional gas went into storage in Europe and not Asian markets, said Mike Fulwood, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies in the United Kingdom.  That has resulted in storage tanks in Germany and the Netherlands at near capacity - typically they would be at 80 percent at this point in the year - pushing prices there to around $3.30 per million British thermal units, or MMBTUs, well below the point at which it its profitable to import U.S. LNG. At the same time Russia is building new pipelines into Europe and is looking to expand its LNG facility near the Arctic Circle.  “All this surge into LNG into Europe is not because Europe wants or needs LNG. It’s because it has nowhere else to go,” Fulwood said. “The problem is if we get this perfect storm of events, like a mild winter, Russia keeps pumping out pipeline gas and China’s growth is a bit weak. In that scenario, you have LNG pushing a supply gap that no longer exists and then prices crash.”

Keystone pipeline shutdown raises costs for U.S. Gulf refiners - The Keystone crude pipeline was shut last Wednesday after leaking thousands of barrels of crude in North Dakota, the third spill along the pipeline’s route in less than three years.TC Energy Corp.’s 590,000 barrel-a-day pipeline that carries crude from Alberta to refineries in the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast ruptured October 29 near the city of Edinburg in North Dakota, said Brent Nelson, an emergency manager for Walsh County. About 9,120 barrels were released, some of which impacted a wetland, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. TC Energy declared force majeure on the pipeline system after the shutdown, according to people familiar with the matter. An emergency response team has contained the impacted area, and the system is shut from Hardisty, Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma and to Wood River/Patoka, Illinois, the company said in a statement. TC Energy also reduced rates on the Marketlink pipeline, an extension of Keystone that runs from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas, according to people familiar with the matter.The shutdown stands to affect U.S. Gulf Coast refiners seeking alternative heavy crude supplies amid sanctions on Venezuela, lagging output from Mexico and OPEC production cuts. At the same time, Alberta’s oil producers are struggling to cope with production limits imposed earlier this year when too much oil encountered too few pipelines, causing prices to collapse.Heavy Western Canadian Select crude’s discount to West Texas Intermediate futures widened $19 a barrel Thursday, the widest since December, data compiled by Bloomberg show. After the Keystone spill in South Dakota in 2017, the discount widened from about $11 a barrel to more than $25 a barrel. In the Gulf Coast, heavy Canadian crude was about $1.50 a barrel stronger than before the spill, according to market participants.

1,500 gallons of oil spills in La Quinta Ship Channel — The Coast Guard is working with the Texas General Land Office to clean up an oil spill in the La Quinta Ship Channel near the Port of Corpus Christi.According to the Coast Guard, 1,500 gallons of hydraulic oil from a dredge vessel spilled into the ship channel Wednesday.Crews with the Coast Guard and GLO were deployed Thursday morning with special equipment to help clean some of the oil out of the bay. A ruptured hose on the vessel caused the oil spill.

Seaway Eyes Pipeline Expansion -- Seaway Crude Pipeline Co. LLC may add 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light crude capacity on its oil pipeline extending from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas Gulf Coast, the 50/50 joint venture owned by Enterprise Products Partners L.P. and Enbridge Inc. reported Wednesday. The JV stated that it plans to hold an open season to gauge shipper support for another Seaway expansion, which would include other enhancements to segregate heavy and light crude shipments. Seaway noted that it will publicize the open season time frame and other details at a later date. The proposed expansion would be the latest in a series of Seaway growth projects over the past decade, according to the JV’s website. In 2012, Enterprise and Enbridge reversed the pipeline’s flow from northbound to southbound and increased capacity the following year. Also, a project to build a parallel pipeline – boosting capacity to 850,000 bpd – concluded in 2014. The 500-mile (805-kilometer), 30-inch-diameter pipeline system extends from Cushing to Freeport, Texas, and includes a Texas City, Texas-based terminal and distribution system that serves Greater Houston refineries and extends to the Beaumont/Port Arthur area, the Seaway website states. “The cost-efficient expansion would debottleneck and optimize the system principally through pump upgrades,” Seaway stated Wednesday. “Initial expansion capacity could be available by mid-2020, with the expansion fully in-service in 2022.” Seaway, which is targeting $1.25 per barrel for light crude oil pipeline transportation from Cushing to the Gulf Coast, added the open season will determine the final capacity for committed and uncommitted service. The company also noted that further expansion is possible based on customer demand.

Plains All American expects Wink-to-Webster crude pipe construction to begin by year-end - (Reuters) - Plains All American Pipeline LP said on Tuesday it expects to begin construction on the Wink-to-Webster Permian crude pipeline by the end of the year and is targeting bringing the line to service by early 2021. Plains has already ordered a majority of equipment needed to commence construction such as 36-inch (91.5-cm) domestic line-pipe and long-lead materials, a company executive said during the quarterly earnings call. The Wink-to-Webster Pipeline is a joint venture among affiliates of Exxon Mobil Corp , Plains All American, MPLX LP, and Delek US, among others. The pipeline system is expected to transport more than 1 million barrels of crude oil and condensate per day from the Permian Basin in West Texas, the biggest U.S. oil basin, to the Texas Gulf Coast. For the full year 2020, Plains said it expects Permian production to grow, on average, about 500,000 bpd - about 100,000 bpd on average less than the company’s prior estimates. “We have further calibrated the anticipated impact of producer capital discipline on drilling and completion activity,”

Kinder Morgan's deal to buy Southcross pipeline network OK'd by bankruptcy court - A subsidiary of Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc.  has purchased a pipeline network owned by Dallas-based Southcross Energy Partners LP.The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware approved the sale on Oct. 22, according to a Nov. 6 press release from Southcross.Kinder Morgan Tejas Pipeline LLC bought Southcross Energy's natural gas pipeline network in Corpus Christi, Texas, for $76 million. That deal includes the Corpus Christi Pipeline Network and Bay City Lateral, per Kinder Morgan's press release.Separately, Magnolia Infrastructure Holdings, a portfolio company of Boston-based ArcLight Capital Partners, will acquire pipelines and related assets that Southcross Energy owns in Mississippi and Alabama for $31.5 million. That deal should close before the end of the year.In August, Kinder Morgan was designated as the stalking horse bidder for the Corpus Christi Pipeline Network and Bay City Lateral. In September, a Kinder Morgan spokesman told the Houston Business Journal that the company thinks the assets will fit nicely into its existing Texas infrastructure. A Kinder Morgan joint venture project — the $1.75 billion Gulf Coast Express pipeline — was put into service ahead of schedule in late September. That line will move natural gas out of the Permian Basin to a terminus near Corpus Christi.“We continue to focus on opportunities to increase our natural gas connectivity to meet (liquefied natural gas) facilities, Gulf Coast power, industrial and petrochemical demand,” Kinder Morgan Natural Gas Midstream President Sital Mody said in the company's Nov. 6 release. “These (Southcross) assets are a nice complement to our existing Texas portfolio of assets and allow for further connectivity on our Texas Intrastate system.”

The Long Battle to Stop the Kinder Morgan Pipeline - For months, locals and landowners have tried to stop the Permian Highway Pipeline, a piece of infrastructure connecting West Texas’ prolific oil fields to the state’s Gulf Coast refineries. But they’re running out of options. In 1975, Terese Hershey, one of the state’s most influential conservationists, purchased a 1,561-acre tract of land in Stonewall, Texas. For years, she protected the property from the encroachment of nearby development. Sheturned to Andrew Sansom, a former Texas Parks and Wildlife director, to manage the land with his wife, Nona. In the past eight years, the Sansoms have cleared more than 1,020 acres of cedar and invasive grasses off the property. They’ve controlled erosion along streams and managed the land’s precious water resources. They’ve also restored the property’s historic 162-year-old stone ranch house, which was left with only its limestone walls standing after a 2003 fire. All of this effort has made the Hershey Ranch the largest piece of protected land in Gillespie County. Now, it’s under threat. Kinder Morgan, a multi-billion dollar energy company, intends to build a 430-mile-long, 42-inch-wide pipeline—also called the Permian Highway Pipeline Project—to connect the world’s most productive oil field in West Texas’ Permian Basin to refineries near the Gulf Coast. The pipeline’s proposed path would cut through a 14-acre section of the Hershey Ranch and create a 50-foot permanent easement across about eight-and-a-half acres. It could also impact the area’s water resources. The ranch sits atop karst, a kind of topography characterized by underground cavities, fractures, and drainage systems. This particular karstic area feeds into the Hill Country’s springs, which in turn, discharge into creeks, which then flow into the Trinity and Edwards aquifers, which supply drinking water to more than 2 million people throughout Central Texas.The couple fi earned the company’s power of eminent domain supersedes the work the Hershey family did to retire the land from development. The law allows Kinder Morgan to condemn land it needs by checking a box claiming “common carrier” status on a form. By self-designating its pipeline as a common carrier—meaning the company will carry other companies’ product at set rates—Kinder Morgan gains the power to seize private land through eminent domain as a “public utility.” The Texas Supreme Court found in the 2011 case Texas Rice Land Partners v. Denbury Green Pipeline that the Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator, doesn’t even have to verify whether a company’s common carrier claim is true.

Trump Interior nominee fast-tracked a ‘deficient’ drilling permit  -  In March 2017, a politically connected oil firm called Cimarex Energy Co. was in a hurry to begin fracking on a flat expanse of farmland in the western Oklahoma oil patch. But the company’s application for a federal drilling permit had been rejected as “incomplete” and “deficient,” records show. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management had flagged both engineering and environmental issues. The company faced a 60-day wait while a revised application was being reviewed. Cimarex didn’t want to wait. Instead, the company called its lobbyists. In the days that followed, political appointees at the highest levels of the U.S. Department of the Interior went to extraordinary lengths to fast-track Cimarex’s drilling permit, according to a trove of emails reviewed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. Among the officials moving to expedite the permit: Katharine MacGregor, then an up-and-coming aide to then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. President Donald Trump recently nominated her to the powerful No. 2 post at the Interior Department, an agency that supervises hundreds of millions of acres of national parks and public lands, including their use for energy production. Her confirmation hearing is set for Tuesday. From her years as a Republican staffer to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, MacGregor already was well known as a friend of the energy industry: In recorded remarks at a June 2017 meeting, the association’s political director quipped that once MacGregor joined the Department of the Interior in January, “We’ll call Kate” became the association’s default solution to regulatory roadblocks. In this case, MacGregor delivered, taking Cimarex’s problem to the top, bypassing layers of civil service expertise to approach Michael Nedd, then acting head of the 10,000-employee Bureau of Land Management – the Interior Department agency in charge of energy development on federal land. Six other high-level department officials also were looped in. The next day, Nedd reported that an “expedited review” of Cimarex’s permit was underway. Sixteen days after Cimarex complained to the petroleum association, it had its permit.

Rystad Energy: Permian gas flaring reaches another high | Oil & Gas Journal - Flaring and venting of natural gas in the Permian basin in Texas and New Mexico reached an all-time high in this year’s third quarter, averaging more than 750 MMcfd, according to a preliminary analysis conducted by Rystad Energy. “This represents a new all-time high. Oil production in the Permian basin is growing at an accelerated pace again, and we observe high, sustained levels of flaring and venting of associated gas in the basin,” says Artem Abramov, head of shale research at Rystad Energy.Rystad Energy has been closely monitoring the level of natural gas flaring in the Permian since 2017. Their previous quarterly estimate suggested that basin-wide gas flaring averaged between 600 and 650 MMcfd during the 9-month period from the fourth quarter of 2018 through the second quarter of 2019.The Permian basin has experienced a vast increase in natural gas flaring and venting at the wellhead in the recent years, driven by a combination of higher activity levels, more production from areas with less developed gas gathering infrastructure, and basin-wide takeaway capacity bottlenecks.“The most recent increase in flaring is predominantly driven by the Delaware Texas portion of the basin, which accounted for more than 40% of basin-wide flaring and venting as of the third quarter of 2019,” Abramov said. “Northern Midland also saw a significant boost in new activity, which resulted in increased flaring of associated gas. The subbasin has basically returned to the record level of flaring seen in the fourth quarter of 2018.”At a company level, Rystad Energy notes that several operators have reduced their fl aring intensity over the past 12 months. “A significant number of operators have exhibited a clear downwards shift in flaring intensity in 2019. Yet there are other examples of a recent increase in flaring intensity, which are primarily represented by some operators active in the Eastern Midland basin,” Abramov observed.

Pioneer Natural CEO calls out shale industry for Permian Basin gas flaring - (Reuters) - The chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD.N), Scott Sheffield, on Tuesday called on producers in the top U.S. shale field to limit natural gas flaring and monitor for methane leaks. Companies are targeting oil in the fast-growing Permian Basin field, but pipeline construction has lagged, leaving natural gas as a byproduct to be burned or vented. Producers should get flaring and venting rates to 2% or less and not drill wells before pipelines are complete, Sheffield said during a call with analysts a day after releasing quarterly results. “We do not connect any new horizontal wells to production unless the gas line is already in place,” Sheffield said. “I think that’s something that should be adopted by all producers in the Permian Basin.” His comments come as several oil and gas companies have pledged to limit leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and to reducing flaring and venting. Gas flaring and venting in the Permian in Texas and New Mexico reached a new high of 750 million cubic feet per day (mmscfd) in the third quarter, according to estimates released on Tuesday by Rystad Energy, up from 600 to 650 mmscfd during the previous nine months. The upswing is being driven by more drilling and fracking, pipeline bottlenecks and new production in areas that lack gathering lines and processing plants. Pioneer’s flaring rate is around 1%, the second lowest in the basin behind Chevron Corp (CVX.N), according to an investor presentation with Rystad Energy data. The average for its peer group was a 5% flaring rate. BP Plc (BP.L), which took over BHP Petroleum’s assets in the Permian in March and has a relatively small amount of production in the field, had a flaring and venting rate around 14%.

Associated gas contributes to growth in U.S. natural gas production – EIA -- A growing share of U.S. natural gas production is associated-dissolved natural gas (natural gas produced from oil wells), which is the result of increased crude oil production from low permeability, tight rock formations—Permian, Bakken, Eagle Ford, Niobrara, and Anadarko. In 2018, associated-dissolved natural gas production in these five major crude oil-producing regions was 12.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), or about 37% of total natural gas production in these regions and about 12% of total U.S. natural gas production.Associated-dissolved natural gas, also referred to as associated gas, is natural gas produced by oil wells. By contrast, non-associated gas is natural gas produced by natural gas wells. Some states define an oil well versus a natural gas well differently based on different gas-oil ratios (GOR). The U.S. Energy Information Administration uses a gas-oil ratio of 6,000 cubic feet (cf) of natural gas to 1 barrel (b) of oil (cf/b) for each year’s total well production to determine whether a well is an oil well or natural gas well. If the GOR for a year of production is equal to or less than 6,000 cf/b, then the well is defined as an oil well, and any natural gas produced from this well is called associated gas. In addition, the various state pressure bases used to measure natural gas volumes have been converted to the federal pressure base of 14.73 pounds per square inch absolute (psia) and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.Associated gas contains natural gas plant liquids (NGPLs) such as ethane, propane, normal butane, isobutane, and natural gasoline. Associated gas is sometimes characterized as wet gas because it must be treated at natural gas processing plants to remove impurities and liquids before it can be marketed as natural gas. The increase in associated gas has led to record volumes of U.S. NGPL production. NGPLs are used as feedstocks to produce plastics, fibers, and other products.The Permian region, which spans parts of western Texas and eastern New Mexico, has the most associated gas production of the five crude oil-producing regions.  

November Arrives For Natural Gas - 2 Weeks Left Before Stocks Begin To Decline - The natural gas market is now coming to the end of the 2019 injection season. Over the coming weeks, the weather conditions across the United States will change, winter will arrive, and the demand for heating will rise.   Last year, the price exploded to the highest level since 2014 during November, when it rose to a peak at $4.929 per MMBtu. This year, as we are now at the start of the winter season, the price is at a low level.  Early November is always a time of the year when uncertainty peaks in the natural gas futures arena. November futures have already rolled to December, and the primary driver of the price of the energy commodity will be if temperatures are above or below average levels over the coming weeks and months. Uncertainty in markets tends to lead to a higher degree of price variance. In early August, when the winter season was months away, rising stockpiles and record production took the price of nearby natural gas futures on NYMEX to the lowest level since 2016. The price of the energy commodity hit a low at $2.029 per MMBtu.As the weekly chart highlights, the price came close to the $2 per MMBtu level, but rejected the early August low and rose to a high at $2.71 in mid-September. It was too early for a significant rally in mid-September, so the price fell to what turned out to be a higher low at $2.187 per MMBtu in early October. Last week, in a sign that the prospects that the cold winds of winter would soon descend on the US, the price rose to a slightly higher high at $2.738, and was trading at around $2.70 as of Friday, November 1. Price momentum and relative strength indicators were just above neutral territory as the market prepares to enter the winter months. Open interest, the total number of open long and short positions in the natural gas futures market on NYMEX was at 1.193 million contracts at the end of last week.

Hints Of Weaker Cold Push Natural Gas Prices Lower Today - Current weather forecasts are about as cold as you will ever see them at this time of the year, with lots of "blue" and even some "purple" showing up in our forecast maps from this morning.   With that being the case, it is no wonder natural gas prices have been pushed much higher over the last couple of weeks, but for the first day in awhile, we saw hints that the level of cold in current forecasts could be reduced somewhat, hinted at by both today's GEFS and ECMWF ensemble (EPS).  Both models show the potential to return to a "near normal" demand pattern in a couple of weeks, and natural gas prices took notice, selling off and closing with a red candle today, something that has been rare recently.  At the end of the model runs, there is a tendency toward more of an upper level trough progressing toward the Gulf of Alaska, which typically correlates with milder trends in the U.S. The issue, however, is that we have seen models tease such a change a few times over the last week or two, only to fail, as forecasts progress colder. This definitely will promote some skepticism when it comes to any material shift in the pattern, for good reason. Is this time likely to be just another "head fake", or are they tangible reasons to believe a change is in the works?

US natural gas in underground storage increases by 34 Bcf: EIA -- — US working natural gas volumes in underground storage rose 34 Bcf last week, increasing by less than the five-year average for the first time in more than three months with a chance for a small net injection before the withdrawal season begins. Storage inventories increased to 3.729 Tcf for the week ended November 1, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The injection was less than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 39 Bcf addition. Survey responses ranged for an injection of 31 Bcf to 45 Bcf. The build was less than the 63 Bcf injection reported during the corresponding week in 2018 as well as the five-year average addition of 57 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 530 Bcf, or 16.6%, more than the year-ago level of 3.199 Tcf and 29 Bcf, or 0.8%, more than the five-year average of 3.7 Tcf. This week marks the first bullish storage report in 14 weeks, as a colder-than-normal end of injection season resulted in a heating demand spike. The NYMEX December gas futures contract added 3 cents to $2.86/MMBtu following the announcement. The remaining winter strip, December through March, gained 1.9 cents to average $2.83/MMBtu. However, by afternoon trading, they had dropped by 6 cents and 5.5 cents, respectively. Changes in fundamentals for the week ending November 8 have mirrored movements from the week before, with supply holding steady while demand increases on colder temperatures. Total supplies are averaging 96.5 Bcf/d on a 0.5 Bcf/d increase this week, split by slightly higher onshore production and Canadian imports, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. On Wednesday, total US demand broke 100 Bcf/d, driven mainly by the Midwest region as average temperatures fell below freezing. Total demand is forecast to push higher heading into the weekend, which will likely continue to pressure prices as total US production remains at just over 90 Bcf/d. A forecast by Platts Analytics' supply-and-demand model has storage volumes increasing by 9 Bcf for the week ending November 8, which will likely be the final net injection before withdrawal season begins. If so, stocks will peak at 3.746 Tcf, well below the five-year maximum of 4.047 Tcf, which occurred in November 2016.

The U.S. placed near-record volumes of natural gas in storage this injection season --The amount of natural gas held in storage in 2019 went from a relatively low value of 1,155 billion cubic feet (Bcf) at the beginning of April to 3,724 Bcf at the end of October because of near-record injection activity during the natural gas injection, or refill, season (April 1–October 31). Inventories as of October 31 were 37 Bcf higher than the previous five-year end-of-October average, according to interpolated values in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report. Although the end of the natural gas storage injection season is traditionally defined as October 31, injections often occur in November. Working natural gas stocks ended the previous heating season at 1,155 Bcf on March 31, 2019—the second-lowest level for that time of year since 2004. The 2019 injection season included several weeks with relatively high injections: weekly changes exceeded 100 Bcf nine times in 2019. Certain weeks in April, June, and September were the highest weekly net injections in those months since at least 2010. From April 1 through October 31, 2019, more than 2,569 Bcf of natural gas was placed into storage in the Lower 48 states. This volume was the second-highest net injected volume for the injection season, falling short of the record 2,727 Bcf injected during the 2014 injection season. In 2014, a particularly cold winter left natural gas inventories in the Lower 48 states at 837 Bcf—the lowest level for that time of year since 2003.

After Decades of Fracking, We Finally Know How the Fluid Spreads Underground - Given how profound an effect hydraulic fracturing has had on the U.S. economically in recent years, it can come something of a shock to discover how little we know about it. Blasting water, sand and chemicals into shale rock formations deep underground has unlocked vast hydrocarbon reserves previously considered almost impossible to exploit. It’s also sparked controversy over environmental concerns that have long dogged the industry. Fracking has been blamed for causing earthquakes in Oklahoma and poisoning groundwater in Pennsylvania. New York and Vermont have banned it. Much of the controversy is driven by mystery surrounding the fracking fluid itself. Oil-services giant Schlumberger Ltd. once described fracking as employing “brute force and ignorance.” But for the first time, we have a clear picture of how the fluid used in fracking travels underground. The extraction process begins when a well is drilled vertically about a mile into oil-rich shale rock, then turns and carves horizontally through the shale zone for another mile. The well is encased in metal tubes for protection. A combination of water, sand and chemicals is then pushed down the well at high pressure to fracture the shale at various equidistant points along the wellbore. The thinking went that in a perfect frack, the fluid would be distributed in regular, even increments for each stage of hydraulic fracturing. But data from Deep Imaging, a small oilfield technology company in the suburbs of Houston, seems to confirm what many oilfield engineers have feared but couldn’t prove: a typical frack comes with lots of uncertainty—and bears little resemblance to the ideal. Deep Imaging uses an electromagnetic field to detect the flow of fracking fluid through the Earth’s crust—and their results show a chaotic scene where fluid spreads unpredictably. Areas of rock affected by fracking are both considerably larger and shorter than planned.  When wells are dug in close proximity, fluid that spreads beyond the intended range of the frack could interfere with a neighboring well—leaving both compromised. In this case, fluid from multiple fracks seeped into previously fracked areas, as well as space drilled by a neighboring well.

Cleanup underway after more than 4K gallons of crude oil spill into Oklahoma lake – Cleanup is underway at an Oklahoma creek and lake after an oil spill this week. “We got a call this morning from Godfrey Oil Properties. They called to let us know that they lost about 40 barrels of produced water, and 100 barrels of crude oil,” Sarah Terry-Cobo with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission told KXII on Thursday. According to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, it resulted in the spill of more than 4,200 gallons of crude oil and over 1,600 gallons of produced water. The oil spilled into a creek that flows into Lake Texoma. The crude oil and a byproduct of oil and gas with a high salt content leaked off a work site and into Elm Creek, according to Terry-Cobo. The oil has been leaking since Wednesday night, said James Vincent, an environmental specialist with the Army Core of Engineers, and says absorbent booms have been placed on Elm Creek to help stop the water. Godfrey Oil Properties hired Ardmore-based contracting firm, Dillon Environmental, to put containment booms on the lake to trap the oil. An official cause of the spill has not yet been ruled.   Click here for more.

 States Are More Worried About Pipeline Protesters Than Spills - Last week, the Keystone pipeline sprang a leak. Again. This time, it released 383,040 gallons of oil into the northeastern wetlands of North Dakota. Two years ago, the same pipeline, which spans some 2,600 miles from Canada to Nebraska before splintering off, burst in South Dakota. Initial reports from TransCanada, the company recently renamed TC Energy that owns and operates the Keystone system, posited in 2017 that the spill was roughly 210,000 gallons in size. Then, five months later, the company was forced to admit that, actually, the spill had been twice as large. Both the most recent spill and the 2017 one rank among the top-ten largest onshore spills in the past decade. In the time between the two incidents, the federal and state governments have done little to protect their citizens against such spills. The regular fines for safety violations tend to be in the low six figures—a paltry sum for a company regularly taking in over $7 billion in gross annual profits. Rather than raising the cost of contaminating vast swaths of American lands, the state and federal governments have spent their time re-codifying and weaponizing the legal system against citizens opposing further pipeline construction. The week before Keystone sent its contents seeping into the soil, two South Dakota Republican state leaders quietly walked back a pair of laws they had championed earlier this spring.  The two bills, Senate Bill 189 and Senate Bill 190, came to be known as the riot-boosting bills. The legislation would have permitted law enforcement—be it local, state, or out-of-state forces, as were used at Standing Rock—to charge pipeline protestors with felonies rather than misdemeanors. It also would have allowed the state government to sue any out-of-state groups that contributed to the protests, with the option for a third party like, say, an oil or construction company, to join the lawsuit and recoup any sunk costs. The ACLU promptly sued the state, and the governor and attorney general in mid-October signed a settlement agreeing that state executives could not enforce such laws, but which did not repeal the legislation itself. South Dakota is one of seven states to pass such legislation, which seems to promise to jail any local inhabitants—including, notably, indigenous individuals—who dare protect their land and their water, and scare off anyone who would think to join them. The laws, all seven of them passed since the Standing Rock protests, have represented a joint oil industry and the state government response to those protests—a barrier tosomething like Standing Rock ever developing in their own states.

South Dakota Keystone XL opponents point to N. Dakota spill - Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline in South Dakota were making their case against a handful of water permits this week in a process so contentious that it is being extended to additional meetings next month. Now, those opponents are pointing to a major spill in North Dakota to bolster their case. The South Dakota Water Management Board met for three days this week and two more earlier in October before deciding to add more days of testimony in December. The hearings have drawn engineers and experts, along with at least a dozen groups and people who said they would be affected by the pipeline’s construction. But in the midst of this week’s hearings, the Keystone pipeline in North Dakota leaked an approximate 383,000 gallons (1.4 million liters) in the northeastern part of the state, affecting a wetland. The cause of the leak is under investigation; meanwhile, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has asked pipeline owner TC Energy to review its inspection and monitoring of the line. “When we’re sitting in a hearing room and people are saying these pipelines are safe, then this happens,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, which opposes the water permits. TC Energy, which is also developing the Keystone XL, is applying for permits to tap the Cheyenne, White, and Bad rivers in South Dakota during construction. The water will be used for drilling to install pipe, build pump stations and control dust during construction. Two ranchers also applied for water permits to supply backup water to worker camps. Though the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has recommended approval, Keystone XL opponents view the permitting process as an opportunity to thwart the project — and the North Dakota spill as more reason to do so. “Certainly it’s another example of the poor quality of construction and problems that we have seen repeatedly not only with the Keystone 1 but with the overall practices of this company that wants to build another pipeline through our state,” said Rebecca Terk, an organizer with Dakota Rural Action.

North Dakota gov wants more monitoring after pipeline leak (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum appealed to Keystone pipeline owner TC Energy to review its inspection and monitoring of the line after it leaked an estimated 383,000 gallons (1.4 million liters) in the northeastern part of the state. Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the Republican governor spoke Thursday night to officials at the Calgary, Alberta-based company formerly known as TransCanada. The conversation came two days after the company shut down the pipeline after the leak was discovered and affected about 22,500 square feet (2090 sq. meters) of land near Edinburg, in Walsh County. Burgum said in a statement he “received assurance” from the company that the spill would be cleaned up “as thoroughly and quickly as possible.” North Dakota regulators said some wetlands were affected, but not any sources of drinking water. State Environmental Quality Chief Dave Glatt said the pipeline remained closed Friday and the cause of the spill was still unknown. About 4,200 gallons (15898.26 liters) of crude oil has been recovered from the spill, Glatt said. He said workers were expected to dig up a portion of the underground pipeline within the next few days to inspect it. “The company has the spill contained and nothing is moving off site,” Glatt said. Crude began flowing through the $5.2 billion pipeline in 2011. It’s designed to carry crude oil across Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri on the way to refineries in Patoka, Illinois and Cushing, Oklahoma. It can handle about 23 million gallons (87.06 million liters) daily. The pipeline spill and shutdown come as the company seeks to build the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has drawn opposition from people who fear it will harm the environment.

 Rare permit for Keystone oil pipeline in spotlight after spills - (Reuters) - The massive Keystone pipeline has been transporting oil from Canada to the United States at a higher-than-standard level of pressure since it started operating in 2010, thanks to a special permit granted by U.S. regulators on the condition operator TC Energy Corp would monitor the line closely. However, after four significant leaks, including one of the largest of the decade in North Dakota last week, this exemption is in the spotlight and users of the line are concerned it may be at risk. The coveted permit granted in 2007 allowed TC Energy, then known as TransCanada, to use a higher-than-standard rate of pressure for Keystone in rural areas, according to U.S. regulatory documents reviewed by Reuters, meaning more oil could flow through the pipeline than similar-sized U.S. lines. Keystone is a crucial artery for crude oil flowing from Canada with a capacity of roughly 590,000 barrels per day going to Midwest refiners and connecting to storage terminals and exporters in the U.S. Gulf Coast. Keystone had to agree to more than 50 safety conditions to receive the exemption - given out only twice since by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Around the time the permit was granted, risk assessments the company provided to regulators indicated the chance of a leak of more than 50 barrels to be "not more than once every seven to 11 years over the entire length of the pipeline in the United States." ( Instead, over the past decade Keystone has had two leaks of 400 barrels and two leaks of several thousand, including the spill of more than 9,000 barrels last week, according to PHMSA data.

The Keystone Oil Spill No One's Talking About Will Be Nearly Impossible to Clean Up - When the Keystone Pipeline burst last week, half of an Olympic-sized swimming pool’s worth of a particularly dirty fossil fuel spilled into wetlands in North Dakota. And the thick liquid, known as tar sands oil, will be nearly impossible to clean up. The pipeline project started pumping back in 2010, despite opposition from farmers, indigenous groups, and environmental organizations. It carries oily sludge from the enormous tar sands fields in Alberta, Canada, across more than 2,000 miles of pristine wetlands in the Dakotas, through Nebraska to Patoka, Illinois. And now with this latest spill, some of the worst fears about it have been realized.The company, TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, projected that the pipeline would spill just 11 times over the course of 50 years, or about once every seven years. Since it started pumping, it’s already spilled large amounts of oil four times.Tar sands oil is a mixture of clay, water, and a thick, heavy oil called bitumen, the sticky stuff that binds cement together. The oil gets dissolved in a cocktail of chemicals, called diluent, to allow it to flow through a pipeline. (Imagine trying to suck peanut butter through a straw; that’s what pumping bitumen through a pipeline would be like without diluent.) Together, the combo of bitumen and diluent is called “dilbit.”TC Energy estimates that 383,000 gallons of the particularly sludgy tar sands oil spilled out of their pipeline on Oct. 29, near Edinburg, North Dakota, a rural town with a population of less than 200 on the edge of farmland and prairies.When tar sands oil spills, the diluent evaporates pretty quickly — causing toxic, short-term air pollution — and leaves the heavy bitumen behind, which sinks.“Once bitumen sinks to the bottom of a lake or wetland, it is much more problematic to clean up than conventional oil, which floats nicely and can be skimmed off the surface,” Diane Orihel, a professor in aquatic ecotoxicology at Queen’s University, told VICE News.The wetlands in the Dakotas, fertile breeding grounds for migratory birds like Canada geese and the American bittern, have already been widely drained out for agriculture. They once covered about 10% of the state; half were wiped out over the course of the 20th century to create more farmland. Only about 2.7 million acres of wetlands remain.When tar-sands oil leaches into wetlands, they’re just about impossible to restore entirely.

TC Energy says about 4,300 barrels of oil recovered from Keystone leak -(Reuters) - About 4,300 barrels of oil have been recovered from TC Energy Corp’s Keystone pipeline leak in Walsh County, North Dakota, the company said on Monday.“Preliminary work to expose and extract the damaged section of pipe has begun and is expected to be complete by the end of the week,” the company said in a statement, adding “about 200 round-the-clock personnel focused on clean-up and remediation activities.” The 590,000-barrel-per-day Keystone pipeline was shut last week after a drop in pressure was detected and was estimated to have spilled more-than 9,000 barrels of oil.

Cleanup continues after Keystone Pipeline oil spill near Edinburg, ND - Nearly half of the oil spilled last week outside Edinburg has been recovered, a TC Energy spokesperson reported Monday, Nov. 4. Canada-based TC Energy spokesperson Robynn Tysver said the company has about 200 round-the-clock personnel at the site of the Keystone Pipeline oil spill focused on clean-up and remediation activities. Twelve vacuum trucks have been used to remove 4,300 barrels of oil, and heavy machinery is being used to remove the affected dirt. Tysver said the waste from the site will be sent to an approved facility for disposal, though she said it is unclear at this point where that facility will be. Preliminary work to remove the damaged section of the pipe, a process which will last about a week, Tysver said. Once excavated, the pipe will be sent to a third-party laboratory for a full investigation, though she added that it is also unclear where that laboratory will be. Walsh County Emergency Manager Brent Nelson said that TC Energy has taken full control of the site. It remains unclear what caused the leak, which the state Division of Water Quality has characterized as high impact. "Our focus is really on the cleanup right now," Tysver said in a phone conversation with the Herald. "There will be an investigation, and, right now, we are not going to speculate." TC Energy announced that the pipeline had sprayed 9,120 barrels, or 383,040 gallons, of oil into a wetlands area 3 miles outside of Edinburg. Emergency officials have said they believe a computer system shut down the pipe almost immediately Tuesday night after it detected a pressure decrease around 10:20 p.m. Tysver said the next step in the cleanup process is to develop a remediation plan in conjunction with the landowner and federal regulators to restore the site. There is not currently a certain timeline for the project, but she said the work restoring the land will likely be impacted by the weather and the season.

Keystone pipeline spill hardens landowner opposition to proposed expansion - (Reuters) - A big oil spill from the Keystone Pipeline in North Dakota last week has hardened opposition to the controversial Keystone XL expansion among landowners along its route, who say they hope to use the incident to help block or stall the project in court. Operator TC Energy Corp is in the process of securing land easements for Keystone XL from scores of reluctant landowners in Nebraska, one of the final obstacles to a project linking Canada’s oil fields to U.S. refineries that has been delayed for over a decade by environmental opposition. The roughly 9,120-barrel spill from the existing Keystone line brings the number of significant releases since the system was built a decade ago to four - much higher than the company estimated in its risk assessments before it was approved - raising worries Keystone XL will be just as problematic. (Read story here) “The spill confirms what we have been warning people about over the last 10 years,” said Jeanne Crumly, who owns a cattle ranch along Keystone XL’s approved path and fears a spill could contaminate her land and harm her cows. Brian Jorde, an attorney for the Nebraska landowners, said he expects landowners to file “many appeals to District courts” to oppose TC Energy’s efforts to seize land by eminent domain, the legal provision allowing a government or company to take control of private land for the public good. Jorde said TC Energy had already begun eminent domain proceedings against 89 families who live along the Keystone XL route since it had secured its permits, and that appraisers were working to determine a “fair value” for the land that would be paid out to owners to finalize the process. Those assessments can be appealed, he said. “We are going to take this as far as we can in court and fight as long as we can. We hope a jury will be aware of the recent spills when they decide,” said Diana Steskal, one of the landowners.

Native American leaders: Keystone spill highlights the need to oppose Dakota Access Expansion, KXL - – After news hit of last week’s Keystone pipeline oil spill—approximately 383,000 gallons of oil leaked in North Dakota—leaders from four tribes of the Great Sioux Nation said this is exactly why they oppose both Keystone XL (KXL) and a looming expansion of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). “This is what pipelines do: they spill,” said Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project and public relations director for Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner. “This latest Keystone leak demonstrates why we stood against Dakota Access in the first place, why we’re doing so again now, and why we’re prepared to fight Keystone XL every step of the way.” A hearing on the proposed expansion, which could greenlight a new pumping station, will take place before the North Dakota Public Service Commission on Wednesday, November 13 at 9 a.m. CST at Emmons County Courthouse in Linton, right across the river from Standing Rock. If the station is approved along with two others, the result could be a near doubling of DAPL’s oil flow, from about 600,000 barrels per day to around 1.1 million. Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith and Councilman Charles Walker said they hope an outpouring of public opposition will improve the chances of the Commission listening to Standing Rock and other tribes. “Allies are important in helping us relay our message,” said Faith. “Indigenous communities have always taught that we should care for the next seven generations. Dakota Access has already spilled 11 times, and now they want to double its capacity. That pipeline should be pulled out of the ground, and KXL should be stopped as well.” Said Walker: “Those of you who have stood with Standing Rock in the past, we compel you right now to stand with us once again as we oppose the increase of the amount of barrels flowing through the Dakota Access pipeline. Bring your voice to the North Dakota Public Service Commission in the form of letters and attending the hearing.” As it did during the original DAPL protests in 2016 and 2017, Standing Rock is now serving as a rallying point for a movement inclusive of several Native nations. Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier said that Indigenous objections to DAPL have never been adequately addressed. “We need to stand up and remind America that we’re still here,” said Frazier. “Our voices were never heard in the construction and the planning of the Dakota access pipeline, and in addition to that, we have a lot of questions that we would like for [the Commission] to answer.”

Keystone line to remain closed until corrective action taken (AP) — Federal regulators have ordered the Keystone pipeline to remain shut down until its Canadian owner takes corrective action aimed at determining the cause of a breach that leaked an estimated 383,000 gallons (1.4 million liters) of oil in northeastern North Dakota. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued the order Tuesday to Calgary, Alberta-based TC Energy. The action comes one week after the pipeline leak was discovered and affected about 22,500 square feet (2,090 square meters) of land near Edinburg, in Walsh County. The pipeline has been shut down since Oct. 29. It is designed to carry crude oil across Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri on the way to refineries in Patoka, Illinois, and Cushing, Oklahoma. The order requires the company to send the affected portion of the 30-inch (76-centimeter) steel pipeline to an independent laboratory for testing. The company also must develop a plan to restart the line and for remediation. TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, said in a statement it expects to have the damaged portion of the pipeline excavated by the end of the week. The company said it has about 200 people at the site working around the clock who are “focused on clean-up and remediation activities.” Karl Rockeman, North Dakota’s water quality division director, said Wednesday about 252,000 gallons (954,000 liters) of crude oil have been recovered. Rockeman said some wetlands were affected, but not any sources of drinking water. The pipeline spill and shutdown come as the company seeks to build the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has drawn opposition from people who fear it will cause environmental damage.

 Vital Canadian pipeline to remain offline after oil spill - The section of the Keystone oil pipeline in North Dakota where some 9,000 barrels of crude spilled last month will remain shut until operator TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, submits a restart and return-to-service plan.That’s an order by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which found if the pipeline continued operating before repairs were done, it would be dangerous for local communities and the environment, Reuters reports.“After considering the age of the pipe, the circumstances surrounding the failure, the hazardous nature of the product being transported, the pressure required for transporting the material, the other recent failures of the Keystone Pipeline in 2016 and November 2017, .... I find that a failure to issue this Order expeditiously to require immediate corrective action would result in likely serious harm to life, property, and the environment,” a PHMSA official said in the order.In a separate report, Reuters said workers for TC Energy had already plugged Keystone in that section in order to access the damaged area and see what caused it. It remains unclear how long the repairs would take but one thing is certain: the incident would not go unnoticed by pipeline opponents.This is the second shutdown of the 590,000-bpd pipeline that transports Albertan crude to the United States. In mid-October, TC Energy itself shut down the pipeline declaring force majeure after severe snowstorms in Manitoba.The Keystone pipeline is one of the few vital outlets for Canadian crude and any disruption in its operation is bound to affect prices sharply due to the lack of alternative outlets. Unfortunately for the industry, there were several spills from the pipeline over the last ten years, as noted in the PHMSA order, which will strengthen the anti-pipeline arguments of various groups. The immediate effect, however, will be on Canadian crude prices, which although much higher than their December 2018 trough, are still trading at a substantial discount to WTI.

Oil spill reported at facility near Santa Maria - An oil spill was reported Wednesday morning at a Greka facility along Black Rd. near Santa Maria.According to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, an inspector arrived to find that between 8-10 barrels of crude oil had leaked from a 1/2 inch line.That line was shut down.Fire officials say the spill is not affecting any nearby waterways and the oil is contained in secondary containment. Greka is reportedly working to mitigate the spill. State and federal authorities have been notified of the spill, according to fire officials. Oil spill, 5080 Black Rd, Santa Maria Valley. 8-10 barrels of crude released from a 1/2 inch line. Line is shut down. All oil contained in secondary containment. No waterways affected. All notifications have been made.Mitigation underway. @EliasonMike @YourFireChief

Trump administration schedules lease sale for Arctic Alaska lands - (Reuters) - The Trump administration said on Tuesday it will be auctioning off nearly 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of land in Arctic Alaska for oil development next month, and it is promising much more territory will be open to development in the future. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that its annual oil and gas lease sale in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska will be held on Dec. 11. The sale will be the 15th in a series of oil lease sales held by the BLM for that region on the western side of Alaska’s North Slope. The BLM is also finishing up a draft plan to overturn Obama-era protections that put about half of the 23 million-acre (9.3 million-hectare) reserve off limits to oil development, citing needs to protect caribou, migratory birds and other resources important to the region’s indigenous people and to the nation. The Trump administration and the oil industry argue the Obama plan is too restrictive and needs to be replaced. The reserve, which lies well to the west of the legacy Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk oil fields, was undeveloped for decades. Several recent discoveries have sparked a westward expansion of oil development on the North Slope, and the petroleum reserve – the largest single U.S. federal land unit – is seen as a promising region for new Alaska oil production.

Canadian oil prices crash after Keystone spill -Prices for Canadian oil continue to sink as the Keystone Pipeline remains offline.The pipeline sprung a leak late last month, spilling more than 9,000 barrels of oil into wetlands in North Dakota. The pipeline has been online for less than a decade, but has suffered several high-profile spills. The cleanup could also prove to be difficult.The disasters come as the pipeline’s owner – TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) – is trying to build the Keystone XL pipeline. Reuters reports that the spill has hardened opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska, where TC Energy is still trying to acquire land.Meanwhile, the outage could continue longer than initially expected. Federal regulators from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said that the pipeline has to remain closed until TC Energy can determine the cause of the spill. To that end, the company needs to send a portion of the affected steel pipeline to an independent lab for testing. After that, TC Energy needs to come up with a plan for remediation.The prospect of an extended outage of the 590,000-bpd pipeline has already pushed down prices for Western Canada Select (WCS). WCS fell below $35 per barrel by midweek even as WTI traded higher. As a result, the discount has widened from around $16 per barrel before the spill, to as much as $23 per barrel a week later. “So far it remains unclear how long Keystone will remain shut in, but it could take up to a couple of months until flows are completely resumed,” JBC Energy said in a note on November 1. “A similar incident in November 2017 led to a blow-out of WCS differentials from $10 per barrel to $30 per barrel, but this time more crude volumes are committed to rail transportation.”

Alberta easing restrictions for oil companies - The Government of Alberta will be easing restrictions on curtailment for oil and gas companies.The update to the curtailment policy means producers can drill new conventional wells without restrictions.Existing wells will remain under the curtailments.Energy Minister Sonya Savage said they hope to bring jobs and investment back to the province.“Our job here and our focus from a government perspective is on bringing back investment and creating jobs first and two is protecting the value of the resource for Albertans.”The new rules apply to companies drilling new wells outside the oil sands, which includes fracking.The announcement comes despite several oil and gas companies making cuts in recent weeks. This includes layoffs at Husky Energy and the move of Encana to the United States.Savage says she’s disappointed by these decisions but points the finger at the previous provincial and federal governments.“They built nothing and they drove away investment and jobs. Basically, they burnt it to the ground and salted the earth. We’re doing everything they can to bring back investment, to revitalize the economy.” Decreases in oil production were brought in under the NDP government as an emergency measure to deal with a growing price gap between Western Canadian Select and other oil prices.

The Drilling Frenzy Is Over For U.S. Shale -A few high-profile shale executives say the glory days of shale drilling are over.In a round of earnings calls, the financial results were mixed. A few companies beat earnings estimates, while others fell dramatically short.But aside from the individual performances, there were some more newsworthy comments from executives on the state of the industry. A common theme emerged from several notable shale executives: the growth frenzy is coming to an end.The chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, Scott Sheffield, said that the Permian basin is “going to slow down significantly over the next several years,” and he noted on the company’s latest earnings call that the company is also acting with more restraint because of pressure from shareholders not to pursue unprofitable growth. “I’ve lowered my targets and my annual targets, a lot of it has to do with…to start with the free cash flow model that public independents are adopting,” Sheffield said.But there are also operational problems that have become impossible to ignore for the industry. He listed several factors that explain the Permian slowdown: “the strained balance sheets lot of the companies have, the parent-child relationships that companies are having, people drilling a lot of Tier 2 acreage,” Sheffield said. “So I'm probably getting much more optimistic about 2021 to 2025 now in regard to oil price.” In other words, U.S. shale is slamming on the brakes, which may yet engineer a rebound in global oil prices.He said that this would be good news for OPEC. “I don't think OPEC has to worry that much more about U.S. shale growth long-term,” Sheffield said. “And all that is very beneficial. So we are probably going to be more careful in the years 2021 to 2025 because there's not much coming on after the three big countries that are bringing on discoveries over the next 12 months Norway, Brazil and Guyana.”Still, the oil market is starting down a glut in 2020 and OPEC is trying to press its members to tighten up compliance with the production cuts in order to boost prices.Sheffield wasn’t alone. Mark Papa, CEO of Centennial Resource Development (and former CEO of EOG Resources), was also downbeat on growth prospects. “At a September investor conference, I predicted that 2020 total U.S. year-over-year oil growth would be 700,000 barrels per day which at that time was considerably below consensus,” Papa said on an earnings call on Tuesday. “Given additional data I now think that 2020 year-over-year oil growth will be roughly 400,000 barrels per day which is below current consensus.” He noted that U.S. oil production has been essentially flat for 9 out of the last 10 months, and “it’s likely to slightly decline over the next six months.”

Idled frac fleets sold for scrap amid shale drilling slump - The downturn in shale drilling has been so steep and brisk that oilfield companies are taking the unprecedented step of scrapping entire fleets of fracing gear. With almost half of U.S. frac firepower expected to be sitting idle within weeks, shale specialists including Patterson-UTI Energy Inc. and RPC Inc. are retiring truck-mounted pumping units and other equipment used to shatter oil-soaked shale rock. Whereas in previous market slumps, fracers parked unused equipment to await a revival in demand, this time it’s different: Gear is being stripped down for parts or sold for scrap. As stagnant oil prices and investor pressure discourage new drilling, the fracing industry that was growing so fast it couldn’t find enough workers as recently as two years ago now finds itself buried in a mountain of pumps, pipes and storage tanks. The contagion is spreading beyond fracing specialists to sand miners and the truckers who haul it. U.S. Silica Holdings Inc., the top supplier of frack sand, tumbled 38% on Tuesday after announcing plans to shut mines on the back of disappointing quarterly results. Fracing an oil well involves surrounding the hole with an array of pumping trucks and other equipment that shoot high-pressure jets of water, sand and chemicals deep underground. For that reason, capacity is measured in horsepower. About 2.2 million horsepower, or roughly 10% of industry capacity, already has been earmarked for the scrap heap, according to Scott Gruber, an analyst at Citigroup Inc. In addition to Patterson and RPC, Gruber said industry titans Schlumberger Ltd. and Halliburton Co. probably are retiring parts of their fleets, and at least another 1 million horsepower needs to be eliminated to halt the slide in fracing fees.

Weatherford Reports $821MM 3Q Loss - Struggling oilfield services company Weatherford International had a loss of $821 million in third quarter of 2019. In an Oct. 30 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Weatherford also posted a quarterly revenue of $1.31 billion, down from $1.44 billion a year ago. Weatherford filed for bankruptcy in early July and is currently still undergoing restructuring. In the SEC filing, the company reported $303 million in costs related to its reorganization. The oilfield services market has struggled as of late as powerhouses Schlumberger and Halliburton both reported less than stellar third quarter earnings. Weatherford has had a rough few years and had been divesting assets to help pay down debt prior to its bankruptcy filing. “Due to the highly competitive nature of our business and the continuing losses we incurred over the last few years, we continue to reduce our overall cost structure and workforce to better align our business with current activity levels,” Weatherford stated in the SEC filing. “The ongoing transformation plan, which began in 2018 and is expected to extend significantly beyond the originally planned year-end 2019 target, includes a workforce reduction, organization restructure, facility consolidations and other cost reduction measures and efficiency initiatives across all of our geographic regions.”

Exxon, Chevron issue warning on Warren's fracking ban --   Oil producers are starting to get pressure from investors about the possibility of Democratic presidential candidates banning energy development on federal land or imposing a fracking ban. Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., the two biggest U.S. oil companies, answered questions from analysts during earnings calls last week about how a change in federal drilling policy and a hydraulic fracturing ban could affect their operations and investment in the country's most prolific oil field, the Permian Basin in Texas. The same concerns have popped up in other companies' quarterly earnings calls and in analysts' notes. The dialogue signals that both oil companies and their investors are seriously contemplating a future in which a new president imposes a sea change in energy regulation — and they're not expecting the eventual Democratic nominee to tack back toward the center once elected. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has perhaps gotten the most attention, after saying she'd block new federal oil and gas leases on her first day in office and ban fracking nationwide on both public and private property. But most of the Democratic candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, have also talked about stopping new federal leasing. "It's not just Elizabeth Warren," said Rob Thummel, a managing director at Tortoise Capital Advisors, which oversees $22 billion in funds. The Warren campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Exxon, Chevron and their smaller counterparts stressed on earnings calls that they have flexibility to develop oil in other places if a new administration cracks down on federal land drilling. Any efforts to do so could raise prices, they said. And they're honing arguments for how to stave off a policy change before it happens — pointing to the benefits of natural gas over coal as a power plant fuel, and to their research into biofuels and other alternatives. "Any efforts to ban fracking or restrict supply will not remove demand for the resource," said Exxon Vice President Neil Hansen. "If anything, it will shift the economic benefit away from the U.S. to another country, and a potentially impact the price of that commodity here and globally."

 Big Oil Gets Bigger  - Big oil has gotten bigger. A lot bigger. That’s what Simon Flowers, chairman and chief analyst at Wood Mackenzie, stated in his latest version of The Edge, a regular column published on the company’s website. “The majors have increased commercial reserves by 62 billion barrels of oil equivalent (proven and probable) through the downturn, equivalent to another BP and Chevron combined,” Flowers said in the column. “Our forecast for 2030 production for the seven companies is over six million boepd, or 40 percent higher today than it was in our 2014 view,” he added. In the column, Flowers asked Tom Ellacott, Wood Mackenzie’s senior vice president, if the majors are chasing volume rather than value. “No, far from it,” was Ellacott’s response. “Cash generation is paramount – cost-cutting and productivity gains have driven cash flow breakevens down from $63 per barrel in 2015 to an average of just $40 per barrel today,” Ellacott stated in the column. “We’ve also seen a profound strategic shift with companies building resilience into portfolios … We’d say the majors aren’t just bigger but are also in far better shape” Ellacott added. Flowers also asked Ellacott if bigger means “less focused”. “No, the opposite,” Ellacott stated in the column. “We’re starting to see increasing portfolio concentration,” he added. Ellacott highlighted that the majors are focusing on asset types or geographies “where they have competitive strengths and competencies”. “The U.S. majors, for example, have significantly strengthened tight oil exposure. European Majors have used DROs, M&A and exploration to beef up advantaged positions in conventional plays,” Ellacott stated. The seven big oil companies comprise Equinor, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Eni, Shell, BP and Total, according to Wood Mackenzie.

England fracking projects halted by government due to scientific study findings - England fracking operations have long been controversial in the nation with gas and oil companies supporting the extraction process and many residents and environmentalists wanting to see fracking (hydraulic fracturing) banned. Now, after the release of a report from the government agency Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), Johnson’s government has pulled a 180, withdrawing future support and halting present operations. The report could not rule out “unacceptable” consequences for residents who live near fracking sites. The government decided to stop England fracking operations when the OGA report warned that it wasn’t possible to rule out “unacceptable” consequences for people who live near where the hydraulic fracturing operations take place. Among those consequences included pollution risks and earthquake damage. It also said that it would not be possible to predict the magnitude of earthquakes that fracking may trigger. Earthquakes caused by fracking, often referred to as “frackquakes,” are a common occurrence at fracking sites and are typically small. The only active site in the UK, which is operated by Cuadrilla and located in Lanacshire, has experienced many. Back in December of last year, Hydrogen Fuel News reported at the time that the site had experienced 36 small tremors since its operation began only a few months earlier in October 2018. Of those tremors, four required the company to stop operations because they had surpassed the tremor threshold of 0.5 magnitude. In addition to immediately stopping the one operating frack site in the UK, the government has also warned shale gas companies that it would not agree to any future fracking projects in the nation until there was new and compelling evidence that proved hydraulic fracturing could be safe. “After reviewing the OGA’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community,” said business and energy secretary Andrea Leadsome, reports the Guardian.

UK halts all fracking after report fuels earthquake fears - The UK has called a halt to fracking after a new report found it was impossible to predict “the probability or magnitude of earthquakes” caused by the shale gas extraction technique. The decision comes at the start of an election campaign where opposition parties are set to make environmental issues central to their attacks on Boris Johnson’s Conservative party. The government said there would be a “moratorium” on fracking until “compelling new evidence” showed that it was safe. The new policy is a sharp reversal of the government’s stance, with Mr Johnson and Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, both voicing support for fracking in the past. In 2013, George Osborne, then chancellor, announced “the most generous tax regime in the world” for shale gas, saying he wanted “Britain to be a leader of the shale gas revolution”. Although ministers insisted until recently that shale gas could help Britain make the “transition” to a zero carbon economy, replacing imported gas from the Middle East, fracking has been increasingly targeted by a powerful new environmental movement. Earlier this year, Theresa May legislated to reach net zero carbon emissions in 2050 as one of her last acts as prime minister, making Britain the first major economy to legislate for such a target, reflecting the lobbying of groups such as Extinction Rebellion.   Ministers imposed the fracking moratorium after the report by the Oil and Gas Authority. It also follows the biggest UK earthquake yet, at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, where Cuadrilla, the shale gas group, suspended operations after a tremor shook nearby houses. The tremor measured 250 times the level permitted by the government. Cuadrilla, which has spent £270m on its fracking operations in the UK, is offering compensation payments of a few hundred pounds to affected householders. Cuadrilla caused a weaker tremor in 2011 at a nearby site, which led to a seven-year pause in operations in the UK. Labour called on the government to legislate for a permanent ban. “The next Labour government will ban fracking — whereas the Tories will only call a temporary halt to it,” said Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow business secretary.

Fracking halted in England in major government U-turn - The government has halted fracking in England with immediate effect in a watershed moment for environmentalists and community activists.Ministers also warned shale gas companies it would not support future fracking projects, in a crushing blow to companies that had been hoping to capitalise on one of the new frontiers of growth in the fossil fuel industry.The decision draws a line under years of bitter opposition to the controversial extraction process in a major victory for green groups and local communities.The decision was taken after a new scientific study warned it was not possible to rule out “unacceptable” consequences for those living near fracking sites.The report, undertaken by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), also warned it was not possible to predict the magnitude of earthquakes fracking might trigger. Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping water, chemicals and sand underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release trapped oil and gas. The government said it would not agree to any future fracking “until compelling new evidence is provided” that proves fracking could be safe. The UK’s only active fracking site at Preston New Road in Lancashire was brought to an immediate halt this summer after fracking triggered multiple earth tremors that breached the government’s earthquake limits.

Fracking firms see shares crash after government calls halt - Shares in the UK’s fracking companies plummeted this morning, after the government announced a moratorium on the controversial extractive technique over the weekend. Shares in Australian firm AJ Lucas, which owns a 47.4 per cent stake in leading exploratory company Cuadrilla, fell 24 per cent. Read more: Government bans fracking “with immediate effect” London-listed IGas, which runs exploratory operations in the east of England, were down 9.6 per cent, and independent onshore gas firm Egdon Resources saw its trading price fall nearly 22 per cent. On Saturday, ministers took the decision to call a halt to fracking operations on the basis of a report by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), which found that it is impossible to accurately predict the probability or magnitude of earthquakes linked to fracking operations. Business secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “After reviewing the OGA’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts [of fracking] on the local community. The companies were resolute in the face of the announcement. In a statement, IGas chief executive Stephen Bowler said: “We, as a country, need to decide whether we are in control of own our carbon footprint or whether we are reliant on imports.“Domestically produced gas would generate skilled jobs and investment into the country whilst upholding some of the highest environmental standards in the world.”

Shale gas fracking wasted ‘millions of taxpayers’ cash’, say scientists --Ministers have been condemned for wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in a failed attempt to introduce fracking to the UK. The bid also cost the nation a decade of effort that should have been expended on other, more environmentally friendly energy projects, scientists and activists claimed yesterday.  The criticisms were made in the wake of the government’s decision on Friday to impose a moratorium on fracking in the UK. A review published by the Oil and Gas Authority concluded it was impossible to predict the likelihood or scale of earthquakes triggered by fracking.  The moratorium leaves the government with an option to restart fracking in future years. However, many critics believe the technology is not suitable for the UK.  “Fracking is utterly incompatible with our aims of ending the burning of fossil fuels in this country in a couple of decades,” said geologist Professor Stuart Haszeldine, of Edinburgh University. “Pursuing the technology of fracking while embracing the concept of having a carbon-free society is an example of national schizophrenia. It has wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. It has also wasted a decade when we should have been pursuing other goals.”  This point was backed by Professor Jon Gluyas, director of the Durham Energy Institute at Durham University. “The government ban on fracking is a neat way of ignoring the now inescapable truth that the projected shale gas potential for the UK is tiny at best. We have, though, as a nation wasted a decade hoping for more gas to heat our homes rather than installing ultra-low carbon geothermal heating like that used in much of Europe.”

Years of Offshore Investments Could be Valueless -- Years of offshore investments could be valueless. That’s according to Rystad Energy, which stated that international exploration and production (E&P) companies are struggling to make money from offshore investments made during the latest investment upturn. In a new study, Rystad evaluated all offshore oil fields sanctioned since 2010 and ranked them by estimated value per barrel of oil under various oil price scenarios. According to the company, entire vestiges of offshore field development projects will fail to offer a return on investment in today’s oil price environment. For example, Rystad noted that offshore projects sanctioned between 2010 and 2012 have “barely been able to generate any value” for E&P companies and highlighted that projects sanctioned between 2013 and 2014 are “expected to have no value creation”. In addition, Rystad revealed that for upstream companies to come out of the 2013-2014 investment years without “massive losses”, the oil price will need to increase to around $70 per barrel. Looking further ahead, Rystad said value creation is positive for sanctioning between 2015 and 2018, even when applying a future oil price of only $40 per barrel. “Looking back at the offshore projects sanctioned between 2010 and 2014 with the knowledge we have today, we see that the last offshore investment cycle is struggling to create value,” Espen Erlingsen, head of upstream research at Rystad Energy, said in a company statement. “High development costs combined with low oil prices have severely undermined the profitability of these assets,” Erlingsen added. “With the pivot in development costs from 2015 onwards, the projects sanctioned over the last four years are in a much better position,” the Rystad representative continued.

Giant Offshore Brazil Oil Discovery May Be Expensive for Exxon-- Exxon Mobil Corp. could take a pass on what it considers the world’s top deep-water oil discovery when Brazil puts the giant Buzios field up for auction next week. The Irving, Texas-based oil titan already has a large portfolio of offshore Brazil blocks it built up in recent years when access to one of the world’s hottest exploration regions was more affordable, Stephen Greenlee, Exxon’s president of exploration, said in an interview in Rio de Janeiro. The company needs to weigh Buzios against opportunities such as U.S. shale, other deep-water regions and liquefied natural gas projects, he said. “Whether or not we participate, it would be wrapped up in how we would see that opportunity versus all the other investment options, because there are a lot of investment options out there right now,” said Greenlee, who traveled to Brazil to participate in the Offshore Technology Conference. “If you ask my counterparts in other companies, they would give you the same deal. It’s a very, very unique opportunity but it has to fit in with everything else.” Brazil’s planned sale of oil exploration and production licenses on Nov. 6, known as the Transfer of Rights, is the largest offering of discovered oil reserves since Iraq opened up in 2009, according to Wood Mackenzie. But access isn’t cheap. The four oil fields for sale in the so-called pre-salt region could cost more than $50 billion. Exxon isn’t the only oil major to express concern about the cost. Total SA, Repsol SA and BP Plc have said they don’t plan to participate. If bidders pledge more than the minimum terms, the returns on investment could be reduced to the single digits, Wood Mackenzie said. The research firm estimates production from the four areas could reach 1.4 million barrels a day by 2030.  Still, Greenlee described Buzios as the “largest and most prolific” deep-water discovery ever, and is in a country with a proven track record for respecting contracts, and that to take it on would be a “big deal for any company.” The deep-sea deposits could hold 15 billion barrels of oil, almost twice as much as Norway’s reserves. Winners are expected to pay $25 billion in licensing fees and share a portion of their production with the government. In addition, they will need to negotiate payments to Petrobras for investments it has already made in the area that could add another $25 billion or more, government officials with knowledge of the matter have said.

Brazil’s Overhyped Oil Auction Ends In Failure - What would have been Brazil’s biggest oil auction ever has ended in a near-total flop, as oil majors steered clear of the pricey oil areas up for grabs. Brazil was hoping to rake in more than $25 billion from the auction to offset a portion of its budget deficit and change its nationalistic oil industry ways by offering foreign players at seat at the table.Another $25 billion was set to go to Petrobras in exchange for work Petrobras had already done in exploring the areas up for grabs.But Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras), and a consortium that involved Petrobras, were the only winning bidders, according to the Associated Press, picking up two of the four blocks. The other two blocks, however, went unsold in what was a major disappointment for Brazil—and Petrobras.A Petrobras (90%) consortium that involved CNOOC and CNODC managed to take home the mega Buzios field, as expected, after Petrobras admitted it would bid to win for Buzios. Petrobras also secured the rights to the Itapu block, for which it was the only bidder.But Petrobras will be stretched mighty thin in developing Buzios, as attractive as that block may be. And with just a tiny amount of the $25 billion it was expecting in fees from other winning bidders in the auction, it will be stretched even thinner. Still, Brazil took in $17 billion in licensing fees from the two blocks that were awarded, and Brazil is calling it a success. Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque said it would offer the unsold blocks again next year.

Massive Oil Spill Turns Brazil's Beaches Black, Kills Marine Life, Threatens Communities -One by one, the golden beaches in northeastern Brazil have begun to turn black. Thick clumps of oil have been washing ashore since late August, killing marine animals, threatening the livelihoods of coastal communities and tainting 2,500 kilometers of coastline spanning nine Brazilian states. Once-pristine beaches now look like something resembling a Rorschach inkblot test. And the complex root systems of carbon sink mangrove forests have become polluted mazes. This oil spill is one of the largest environmental disasters in Brazil's recorded history — and for months, no one knew where it was coming from. The Brazilian government has responded with delayed action and defensiveness, first blaming neighboring Venezuela for the spill while also suggesting that Greenpeace was somehow involved. President Jair Bolsonaro's tactic is familiar: He previously accused environmental groups of setting fires in the Amazon rainforest, without any supporting evidence. Brazilian investigators now say that a Greek-flagged vessel hauling Venezuelan oil is the culprit, according to the latest reports. The ship reportedly spilled oil 700 kilometers from Brazil's coast in late July while traveling to Singapore. "There is strong evidence that the company, the captain and the vessel's crew failed to communicate with authorities about the oil spill/release of the crude oil in the Atlantic Ocean," prosecutors said, according to The Guardian. While the mystery appears to have been solved, this environmental crisis is far from remedied. Some fear that the oil could soon reach the country's largest coral reef, located within the Abrolhos Marine National Park. The Abrolhos region is home to the largest biodiversity in the South Atlantic. Update, Nov. 4: Brazilian and international media are now reporting that fragments of oil have reached the Abrolhos Marine National Park. This story is still developing.

Delta Tankers finds no spill evidence- Update - The owner of the suspected culprit of a major late-July oil spill off the Brazilian coast said that its internal investigation found no evidence that the spill came from its tanker."There is no proof of the vessel having stopped, conducted any kind of ship-to-ship (STS) operation, oil leaked/spilled, slowed down or veered off course" on its passage from Venezuela to Malacca, Malaysia, Greece-based Delta Tankers said over the weekend.Delta Tankers said it searched material from the ship's cameras and sensors and will share this material with Brazilian authorities, should they contact the company.The firm denied on 2 November that it has been contacted by Brazilian authorities. Brazilian police had said it carried out a search at the Rio de Janeiro office of the owner of the targeted tanker. The police searches were later determined to have focused on the Rio offices of Lachmann Shipping Agency and Witt O'Brien's.Lachmann said it was not the focus of the police investigation of the spill, but was only required to cooperate with investigators. "The agency is at the disposal of the authorities for any further information." Witt O'Brien's said Delta is not a client in Brazil.In a televised broadcast yesterday, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro said all facts pointed to Delta Tankers' involvement in the spill that has reached more than 230 points along Brazil's northeastern coast and is now headed toward a coral reef. He warned the "worst is yet to come" in terms of the environmental impact.

 Brazil adds four other tankers as suspects for oil spill (Reuters) - After initially naming only one ship, Brazilian authorities have added four more tankers as suspects in the investigation into the source of oil tarring its coastline over the past two months, according to a document on Wednesday. Brazilian investigators said last week that a Greek-flagged tanker named Bouboulina and owned by Delta Tankers Ltd was a suspect as the possible cause of the oil spill. Delta denied responsibility, saying the vessel arrived to its destination without losing any fuel or part of the cargo.On Wednesday, Delta Tankers said in a statement that it had been notified of the investigation. The company also said Brazilian authorities named four other tankers as suspects: Maran Apollo, Maran Libra, Minerva Alexandra and Cap Pembroke.Brazil’s Navy said it would not comment on the information. Maran Apollo and Maran Libra are two VLCC (very large crude carriers), capable of carrying more than 300,000 tonnes of oil, both owned by Greek company Maran Tankers Management Inc.According to information in the vessels tracking system at Refinitiv’s Eikon terminal, both tankers stopped in Venezuela and then passed near Brazil’s Northeast coast on their way to Asia in the last 180 days. Maran Tankers Management did not immediately return a request for comment.Minerva Alexandra is an Aframax tanker with capacity to carry around 100,000 tonnes. It is owned by Minerva Marine Inc, also a Greek firm, and apparently loaded oil at a port in the U.S. Gulf before heading to Asia, also passing close to B razil’s Northeast coast on its way south.

There's No Stopping The World's Most Politically-Charged Pipeline -This week, Denmark granted Gazprom approval for its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, a project that is set to bring 55 billion cubic meters of Russian gas into Europe annually. It is one of the most controversial pipeline projects in the world and is now moving ahead despite strong opposition from multiple EU members and the United States.  But for all the politics and attention that this pipeline is attracting, the simple truth of the matter is that Europe, and more specifically Germany, needs this natural gas. Germany plans to shut down all its nuclear reactors by 2022. Many have questioned the wisdom—and some even the sanity—of that decision, but it remains government policy. The generation capacity the is being lost in that sector will need to be replaced, in the short term at least, by natural gas. Despite its green reputation, Germany is a country that generates a surprisingly large portion of its total energy from coal. Its total installed coal-fired capacity is close to its solar capacity, at 44.9 GW, versus 47.9 GW for solar. At today’s growth rates, it’s current solar and wind capacity will not be enough to replace the retired nuclear plants. The only other option, which would be boosting the share of coal in the country's energy mix, is a political non-starter in Germany. Natural gas is, therefore, the only viable replacement and Germany is fully aware that its gas consumption is set to soar in the coming years. Related: Protect The Oil: Trump’s Top Priority In The Middle East Now, this gas doesn’t have to come from Russia, of course. It could come from the United States in LNG tankers. In fact, the European Union as a whole earlier this year promised President Trump to double its imports of U.S. LNG over the next five years. But they didn’t make the promise voluntarily. It came in response to a threat from Trump to slap import tariffs on European cars. One may wonder why the EU, for all its anti-Russian rhetoric and sanctions, and legislative amendments aimed at curbing Gazprom’s role on the European gas market would need the incentive of a tariff threat to diversify away from Russian gas. The answer is, again, simple. It’s the price. U.S. liquefied natural gas has to be, well, liquefied first, then loaded on a tanker and shipped across the ocean to Europe. Russian gas runs through pipelines as is. And, even if LNG were there answer, there is Novatek’s Yamal LNG plant that is exporting the liquefied fuel to Europe, which is much nearer Yamal than the Gulf Coast.

Europe’s gas alliance with Russia is a match made in heaven - Amidst the excitement over the killing of the ISIS chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, a development of much impact on international security passed by when Denmark made the innocuous announcement on October 30 that it would permit the proposed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to pass through its exclusive economic zone.Copenhagen modestly explained that it was “obliged to allow the construction of transit pipelines” under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.The Nord Stream 2, which will connect Russia’s Leningrad Region to Germany’s Baltic coast, bypassing the traditional route via Ukraine, aims to double the capacity of the already-built Nord Stream 1 to 110 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year that is more than a quarter of the European Union’s gas consumption.On October 31, Gazprom, Russia’s energy Leviathan, had said 83 percent of the pipeline construction — more than 2100 km of the pipeline — was complete. The permit to construct in the Danish Exclusive Economic Zone south-east of Bornholm covers a 147-km-long route section.Pipelay has been completed in Russian, Finnish and Swedish waters, and for the most part in German waters. The construction of both landfall facilities in Russia and Germany is nearing completion. Thus, the development last week signifies that Russia is certain to finish the project by the end of this year.Despite the rising tensions in Russia’s relations with the United States, a m assive energy project is all set to slither along the seabed between Russia and the European Union. The US wants to stifle the serpent in its infancy but Germany and Russia navigated it to the home stretch. The project is expected to ensure safe and stable supplies of gas to Europe. The competitive Russian gas supplies will enable European customers to save anywhere around 8 billion euros on their gas bill in 2020. More importantly, according to a study conducted by the University of Cologne EWI, “When Nord Stream 2 is available, Russia can supply more gas to the EU decreasing the need to import more expensive LNG. Hence, the import price for the remaining LNG volumes decreases, thereby reducing the overall EU-28 price level.”

Flood of Oil Is Coming, Complicating Efforts to Fight Global Warming - — A surge of oil production is coming, whether the world needs it or not. The flood of crude will arrive even as concerns about climate change are growing and worldwide oil demand is slowing. And it is not coming from the usual producers, but from Brazil, Canada, Norway and Guyana — countries that are either not known for oil or whose production has been lackluster in recent years. This looming new supply may be a key reason Saudi Arabia’s giant oil producer, Aramco, pushed ahead on Sunday with plans for what could be the world’s largest initial stock offering ever. Together, the four countries stand to add nearly a million barrels a day to the market in 2020 and nearly a million more in 2021, on top of the current world crude output of 80 million barrels a day. That boost in production, along with global efforts to lower emissions, will almost certainly push oil prices down. Lower prices could prove damaging for Aramco and many other oil companies, reducing profits and limiting new exploration and drilling, while also reshaping the politics of the nations that rely on oil income. The new rise in production is likely to bring economic relief to consumers at the gas pump and to importing nations like China, India and Japan. But cheaper oil may complicate efforts to combat global warming and wean consumers and industries off their dependence on fossil fuels, because lower gasoline prices could, for example, slow the adoption of electric vehicles. Canada, Norway, Brazil and Guyana are all relatively stable at a time of turbulence for traditional producers like Venezuela and Libya and tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their oil riches should undercut efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia to support prices with cuts in production and give American and other Western policymakers an added cushion in case there are renewed attacks on oil tankers or processing facilities in the Persian Gulf. “Since all four of these countries are largely insulated from traditional geopolitical turmoil, they will add to global energy security,” Mr. Yergin said. But he also predicted that as with shale, the incremental supply gain, combined with a sluggish world economy, could drive prices lower.

 India on course for lowest fuel demand growth in 6 years - (Reuters) - Growth in demand for fuel in India is on course to fall to its lowest in at least six years as the economy slows and after heavy rains impacted gasoil consumption, which accounts for about two-fifth of the nation’s overall fuel use. In the fiscal year to March 2019, fuel demand rose by 3.4%, the lowest in five years. During April-September, consumption of refined fuels - a proxy for oil demand - rose 1.4% from a year ago, according to government data. “It means in the next few months (in this fiscal year) fuel demand need to grow by 3%-4% to reach last year’s levels, which looks unlikely,” M.K Surana, chairman of state-run Hindustan Petroleum Corp told a news conference. HPCL controls about a quarter of India’s retail fuel market. Slowing economic and industrial activity has already led some global agencies to cut their fuel demand forecast for India.

Oil spill reappears in Ras Ghareb  -Crude oil spills have re-emerged on the beaches of Ras Ghareb Corniche, which has been the site of petroleum pollution (from crude oil) in several areas. Oil spills covered the beach for up to a kilometer amid warnings of damage to the marine and beach environment and the spread of pollution to other areas. The Environmental Affairs Agency in Hurghada and the Ministry of Environment’s task force in the Red Sea received a notification of the incident on Tuesday.A committee of environmental researchers from the Red Sea moved to the site of the pollution, obtained a sample of the spill, and sent it to the laboratories of the Environmental Affairs Agency in Suez to determine the source of the spill and take legal action amid calls from residents of the city of Ras Ghareb to find a way to stop the frequent oil pollution on the shores of the city.The General Petroleum Company (G.P.C.) has caused oil pollution in Ras Ghareb beach in six different incidents, damaging the marine environment and the beach. A technical committee was formed in each incident to determine the financial value of the damage and a financial compensation, and prosecutors launched investigations into the incidents and interrogated the company’s officials.

U.S. sets sights on shipping companies for sanctions evasions - (Reuters) - The United States will target shipping companies that are in breach of sanctions and aggressively enforce measures across the globe to clamp down on such practices, a top U.S. official said on Wednesday. In one of the biggest sanctions actions taken by the U.S. government since its crackdown on Iranian oil exports, Washington imposed sanctions on Chinese companies in late September for alleged involvement in moving crude oil from Iran. COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian), a subsidiary of China’s state-owned shipping group COSCO, was one of the companies blacklisted. Concern over shippers falling foul of U.S. sanctions sent oil freight costs to record highs around the world, adding millions of dollars to the cost of every voyage. Washington has also used sanctions on other countries including Venezuela and North Korea. David Peyman, deputy assistant secretary of state for counter threat finance and sanctions, said ships were “the key artery to evade sanctions”. “If behavior doesn’t change, notwithstanding our very frank conversations and clear messages, then we do look toward fully and aggressively and consistently enforcing U.S. sanctions across the board as a means to change behavior of bad actors,” he told reporters on a visit to London.

OPEC sees its oil market share shrinking, lowers demand view - (Reuters) - OPEC will supply a diminishing amount of oil in the next five years as output of U.S. shale and other rival sources expands, the exporter group said, despite a growing appetite for energy fed by global economic expansion. OPEC’s production of crude oil and other liquids is expected to decline to 32.8 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2024, the group said in its 2019 World Oil Outlook published on Tuesday. That compares with 35 million bpd in 2019. Rising climate activism in the West and widening use of alternative fuels are putting the strength of long-term oil demand under more scrutiny. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cut its medium- and long-term oil demand forecasts in the report. OPEC supply has been falling in the last few years under a pact with Russia and other non-members to support the market. The resulting higher oil prices have bolstered non-OPEC output and OPEC is expected to restrain output in 2020. “Non-OPEC supply prospects have been revised up sharply, as U.S. tight oil, in particular, has again outperformed expectations,” OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo wrote in the foreword of the report, using another term for shale. The United States has pushed its oil output to record highs due to a shale revolution that allowed new technology to tap reserves previously deemed uneconomic. OPEC supply has declined as a result of voluntary curbs and U.S. sanctions on OPEC members Venezuela and Iran.

 OPEC Braces For Drastic Drop In Oil Demand - OPEC admitted that demand for its oil over the next few years could be drastically weaker than it previously thought, due to a combination of a weakening economy, rising supply elsewhere, and pressure from climate activists.In its World Oil Outlook, OPEC said that demand for its oil may only reach 32.8 million barrels per day (mb/d) by 2024, a figure that is substantially lower than the 35 mb/d from last year’s estimate. Demand is still expected to grow in non-OECD countries going forward, but OPEC admitted that demand may peak in the OECD in 2020.Slower economic growth also factored into the lower medium- and long-term estimates. “Given recent signs of stress in the global economy, and the outlook for global growth, at least in the short- and medium-term, the outlook for global oil demand has been lowered slightly this year to 110.6 mb/d by 2040,” OPEC’s Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said in the report.OPEC said that non-OPEC production continues to rise, particularly from U.S. shale, although not exclusively. The cartel has had to restrain production for several years to keep prices from crashing, even in the face of relentless shale growth. U.S. shale is growing, but is now slowing dramatically. At the same time, countries such as Norway, Brazil, Canada and Guyana are expected to continue to add supplies in the next few years. Steady supply increases puts OPEC in a bind.Meanwhile, the attention paid to the risks of demand destruction in the OPEC report is notable. The phrase “climate change” appears nearly 50 times in the report and the cartel acknowledged that electric vehicles are “gaining momentum.” OPEC said it was “fully engaged and supportive of the Paris Agreement,” and that there is “no Planet B.” The group reiterated the urgent need for oil-exporting countries to diversify their economies, even as there is relatively scant evidence that OPEC member countries are actually doing so.  Indeed, OPEC is not exactly preparing for the end of the oil era. It still sees demand growing by around 12 mb/d over the next two decades, a scenario that would be utterly at odds with any viable chance to head off the climate crisis.

OPEC considers production cuts as the Aramco IPO complicates its December meeting - Saudi Arabia, Russia and their oil-producing allies are considering a range of options to maintain stability in the oil market just weeks ahead of a critical December meeting. The so-called OPEC+ group struck another deal late last year to cut oil output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) to support prices. The agreement runs until March 2020, and the producers are due to meet in Vienna to review the terms of the policy on December 5-6. “The house view is that the meeting is likely to reaffirm the group’s commitments to the cut that is already in place,” Peter Lee, senior oil and gas analyst at Fitch Solutions, told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” Thursday. “The current deal will remain in place until the end of Q1 (the first quarter) next year, and we see scope for the deal to be extended until the end of next year,” Lee added. Analysts believe that OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia is likely pressuring laggard members, such as Iraq and Nigeria, to improve their own compliance in order to bolster crude prices ahead of the long-awaited Saudi Aramco initial public offering (IPO). “According to delegates across the group, they will be pushing for better adherence to the current production cut agreement,” analysts at ANZ Bank said in a research note on Thursday. But the need for deeper production cuts remains uncertain, given the slew of major events leading up to the December 5-6 Vienna meetings that could complicate the decision-making process. On December 3-4, President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping may come face-to-face at the NATO Heads of State and Government meeting in London. While the meeting and the location are not yet confirmed, a resolution to the trade war may prove to be a catalyst for oil prices and likely reduce the need for OPEC+ to act.

Oil edges down, eyes on data amid trade deal hopes - Oil rises on U.S.-China hopes, improved demand outlook - Oil prices rose on Monday, buoyed by an improved outlook for crude demand as better-than-expected U.S. jobs growth added to market hopes a preliminary U.S.-China trade deal would be reached this month. Brent crude futures gained 47 cents to settle at $62.17 a barrel. US West Texas Intermediate gained 34 cents or 0.6% to settle at $56.54. Both benchmarks traded near the highest in more than a month as market optimism about progress in U.S.-China trade negotiations propelled U.S. stock indexes to record highs on Monday, elevating oil. Energy shares gained the most of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors. Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump have been in continuous touch through “various means,” China said on Monday, when asked when and where the two leaders might meet to sign a trade deal. “Both sides (China and the United States) are talking up the trade deal to a large degree. And you have the Federal Reserve leaning into this better-looking economic situation, which lifts all boats,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC. On Friday, prices jumped by about $2 a barrel after U.S. officials said a deal could be signed this month. Improved U.S. jobs growth numbers in October and the upward revisions of the two previous months, reported on Friday, also eased fears of a global economic slowdown that would slow crude demand, oil-market analysts said. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 128,000 jobs last month, U.S. Labor Department data showed. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls rising by 89,000 jobs in October. The economy also created 95,000 more jobs in August and September than previously estimated. Federal Reserve’s interest rate cut last week and recent weakness in the U.S. dollar has also helped lift prices, analysts said. Demand for crude oil, which is traded in U.S. dollars, typically strengthens when the dollar weakens. “Easing monetary policy, along with improved chances of a U.S.-China trade deal, is pushing up oil markets. (Expectations of) improved demand is lifting prices,”

Brent oil ends at a more than 5-week high as China trade progress, Aramco IPO fuel optimism - Oil futures settled higher on Monday, with global benchmark Brent crude the highest in more than five weeks, as hope for a Sino-American trade resolution and Saudi Arabia’s plans to launch a public offering of Aramco helped to bolster sentiment in the energy complex. January Brent crude, the global benchmark, gained 44 cents, or 0.7%, to finish at $62.13 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, its highest close since Sept. 26. It marked a 3.5% climb on Friday to leave its weekly decline last week at a slight 0.1%.West Texas Intermediate crude for December delivery rose 34 cents, or 0.6%, to settle at $56.54 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, with front-month contract prices logging the highest finish since Oct. 25, according to Dow Jones Market Data. WTI finished the week with a 0.8% weekly decline, despite a powerful jump on Friday for the U.S. oil contract and its global counterpart. Oil found support “on trade progress and after Saudi Arabia pulled the trigger on Aramco IPO,”   Saudi Arabia formally began an initial public offering on Sunday of a portion of Saudi Aramco after years of delays, with the de facto leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries hoping for a $2 trillion valuation for the oil-processing facility. On top of that, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Bloomberg TV on Sunday that the U.S.-China trade deal was making progress and could be cemented soon. Along with a better-than-expected jobs report from the U.S. on Friday, those factors have combined to help lift the hope that demand for crude oil will remain healthy, amid signs of slack in economic expansion outside of the U.S.

 Oil climbs to six-week high on signs of trade war resolution - Oil rose to a six-week high on mounting signs that a resolution to the U.S.-China trade dispute is imminent. Futures advanced as much as 1.8% on Monday in New York. Chinese government officials are considering locations in the U.S. where leader Xi Jinping would meet U.S. President Donald Trump to sign a trade accord, people familiar with the plans said. The development may be the firmest signal yet that a truce is close at hand in the protracted trade war. U.S. stocks also surged. Positive economic data and rising bullish sentiment among money managers contributed to the upward momentum in crude futures. “We are revisiting optimism about a positive outcome for U.S.-China trade talks, amplified by speculative long positioning,” Despite two straight sessions of gains, futures still are down about 14% from a late April peak as the trade conflict between the world’s largest economies undermined demand for fuel to run trucks, cars, planes and trains. Among money managers invested in benchmark U.S. crude futures, net-long positions, or the difference between bullish and bearisg bets, rose 12% in the week ended Oct. 29, according to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. West Texas Intermediate for December delivery rose $0.73 to $56.93 a barrel at 10:20 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent for January settlement added $0.81 to $62.50 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange. The global benchmark crude traded at a $5.48 premium to WTI for the same month. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is taking measures to help ensure a successful public offering of shares in the kingdom’s oil company. Taxes on the company have been reduced, incentives have been unveiled to entice investors to hold onto their shares, and dividends may be increased.

Oil Bulls Are Back As Crude Prices Inch Towards $60 - Oil prices moved higher at the start of the week as signs of a trade breakthrough between the U.S. and China continue to gain steam and OPEC hints at making deeper production cuts. While bearish sentiment remains prevalent in oil markets, with OPEC revising down its oil demand projections once again, it seems that oil bulls are slowly returning and oil prices are creeping higher. OPEC said that demand for its oil will be lower than expected over the next five years, due to rising U.S. shale production. The group said that demand for its oil would average 32.8 mb/d by 2024, a sharp cut from the 35 mb/d in last year’s forecast. . The U.S. and China are expected to sign a partial trade deal later this month, and China is pressing the U.S. to remove more tariffs. The U.S. is already expected to delay the planned tariff hike in December, but markets are trading up on rising expectations that existing tariffs could be rolled back. After years of delay, Saudi Arabia finally gave the go-aheadfor the Aramco IPO. The prospectus for the company will be released on November 9, with the public offering launching in December. Saudi officials have long demanded a $2-trillion-dollar valuation, but most analysts believe that is overly-optimistic. Wall Street banks have given a wide range for the valuation. Goldman Sachs said Aramco could be worth somewhere between $1.6 and $2.3 trillion. A wave of investment in offshore oil drilling in the early part of this decade is coming online now, and many of the projectsmay not turn a profit because they were given the greenlight when oil prices traded at around $100 per barrel.  The source of the leak in the Keystone pipeline has still not been identified, according to U.S. regulators. There is no estimated timeline for a restart of the damaged pipeline. More than 9,000 barrels of oil spilled last week. Prices for Western Canada Select (WCS), a heavy blend of oil in Canada, fell sharply, dropping to a $22-per-barrel discount relative to WTI, the highest in nearly a year.

Oil edges lower amid doubts over OPEC cuts - Oil gains 1.2% on trade deal hopes, better demand outlook - Oil prices rose more than 1% on Tuesday on hopes for a U.S.-China trade agreement and optimism that Washington could roll back some of the tariffs it has imposed on Chinese imports. Brent crude futures gained 84 cents to settle at $62.94 a barrel. U.S. crude futures gained 69 cents, or 1.22%, to settle at $57.23 a barrel. China is pushing U.S. President Donald Trump to remove more tariffs imposed in September as part of a so-called Phase 1 deal, which would help to ease the broad economic damage inflicted by the trade dispute between the world’s two biggest oil consumers. “If some of the existing tariffs were to be dismantled, that should restore some measure of global demand for oil as economic and trade conditions recover,” said Han Tan, market analyst at FXTM. OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said the oil market outlook for 2020 may be brighter than previously forecast, appearing to downplay any need for deeper production cuts. “Based on the preliminary numbers, 2020 looks like it will have upside potential,” Barkindo told a briefing. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) also said it would supply a diminishing amount of oil in the next five years as output increases from U.S. shale deposits and elsewhere. OPEC’s production of crude oil and other liquids is expected to decline to 32.8 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2024, the group said in its 2019 World Oil Outlook. Investors are also awaiting U.S. inventory data due later on Tuesday. U.S. crude oil inventories were forecast to have risen last week, while refined products stocks are likely to have declined, a preliminary Reuters poll showed on Monday.

Oil ends at 6-week high on optimism about demand after progress seen on trade deal - Oil futures rose Tuesday, with positive expectations around U.S.-China trade talks and a move further into record territory by U.S. stocks helping to lift global and U.S. benchmark crude prices to their highest settlements in six weeks. January Brent crude, the global benchmark, gained 83 cents, or 1.3%, to settle at $62.96 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. West Texas Intermediate crude for December delivery CLZ19, +2.18%  rose 69 cents, or 1.2%, to settle $57.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.Both front-month WTI and Brent contracts posted their highest finish since Sept. 24, according to Dow Jones Market Data.WTI futures prices gained “on optimism over China/U.S. trade talks, and a certain degree of correlation to all-time highs in U.S. equities,” said Robert Yawger, director for energy at Mizuho Securities U.S.A., in a note.U.S. benchmark stock indexes were trading higher Tuesday as oil futures settled, with major U.S. equity indexes — the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite  looking to notch another record finish.  Reports the U.S. might roll back tariffs on $112 billion worth of Chinese imports as a concession to seal a “phase one” trade deal was credited with buoying sentiment across markets.“All-time highs in U.S. equities imply a certain degree of positive demand construction,” Yawger said.In addition, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on Tuesday said it expects oil supplies to fall continuously over the next five years, indicating the cartel might need to further cut output to stabilize prices on the back of a U.S. production boom and sluggish oil demand. OPEC and its allies are set to debate whether to continue current production cuts of 1.2 million barrels a day or deepen the reductions when they meet in early December. Oil traders also waited for the latest weekly figures on U.S. petroleum supplies, with trade group the American Petroleum Institute scheduled to release its figures late Tuesday. Data from the Energy Information Administration will be issued early Wednesday.

WTI Slides After Bigger-Than-Expected Crude Build - Oil prices surged to six-week highs today amid increasing US-China trade-deal optimism. “The U.S. seems more willing to roll back existing tariffs and the fact that they’re talking about that and looking to get something done for this phase-1 deal is going to move oil,” said Josh Graves, senior market strategist at RJ O’Brien & Associates in Chicago. “If everything stays the course and nothing changes in regards to the trade deal, you’re going to continue to see buying interest in the market.” But for now, the algos only have eyes for supply... API

  • Crude +4.26mm (+2mm exp)
  • Cushing +1.3mm
  • Gasoline -4.0mm
  • Distillates -1.6mm

After last week's surprise crude build, analysts expected more of the same, and API reported an even bigger than expected crude build of 4.26mm (vs 2mm exp). Products saw another notable draw (5th week in a row) and Cushing stocks rose for the 5th straight week... WTI was trading around $57.20 heading into the API print and slipped lower after the bigger than expected crude build...

Oil lower on US crude build, weak euro zone data - Oil prices declined on Wednesday, pulled down by a larger-than-expected build in U.S. crude stocks and weak euro zone economic figures, after gaining for three sessions on expectations of an easing in U.S.-China trade tensions. Brent crude was down 26 cents, or 0.5%, at $62.67 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 10 cents to $57.11 per barrel. U.S. crude inventories rose by 4.3 million barrels in the week ended Nov. 1 to 440.5 million barrels, the American Petroleum Institute said on Tuesday. That was nearly triple analysts’ forecast for an increase of 1.5 million barrels. Official data from the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration is due later on Wednesday. “Oil prices are slightly under pressure following API’s larger-than-expected crude build on Tuesday. Market participants will closely monitor if the build is confirmed by the EIA later today, considering that last week API had a crude draw and the EIA a crude build,” said Giovanni Staunovo, oil analyst for UBS. The United States and China, the world’s two biggest oil consumers, are working to narrow their differences enough to sign a “phase one” trade deal as early as this month to resolve a trade war that has slowed global growth. Data on Wednesday showed Germany’s services sector barely grew in October, while euro zone business activity expanded slightly faster than expected last month, but remained close to stagnation. Adding to Middle East tensions, Iran started to inject uranium gas into centrifuges at an underground nuclear facility, further distancing itself from a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that curbed its atomic work. Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump exited the deal and renewed sanctions on Tehran, slashing Iran’s economically vital crude oil sales by more than 80%. “Alongside the continued rolling back of its nuclear commitments, the OPEC nation may be tempted to cause further supply disruptions in the Middle East in a bid to drive up prices,”  “Accordingly, conditions are ripe for tensions in the region to escalate and for the geopolitical risk premium to strike back with a vengeance.”

Oil Extends Losses On Reports OPEC+ Producers Won't Cut Production Deeper - Bloomberg reports that the biggest producers in OPEC+ aren’t pushing for deeper oil-supply cuts when the group meets next month, according to delegates across the coalition. OPEC is anticipating a supply glut in the first half of next year and prices are already lower than most members need to balance their budgets. And WTI is extending losses from the inventory build. As we detailed earlier, a bigger than expected crude build reported by API overnight sparked selling in oil prices but since the US equity market opened, WTI has been panic-bid presumably on yet another round of optimism that trade tensions between the U.S. and China are easing, potentially alleviating downward pressure on the global economy.  DOE

  • Crude +7.929mm (+2mm exp)
  • Cushing +1.714mm
  • Gasoline -2.828mm
  • Distillates -622k

For the second week in a row, crude inventories rose significantly (along with stocks at Cushing) as product inventories dropped for the 6th straight week...  US crude production hovered near record highs despite the rapid decline in US oil rig counts...  WTI traded around $57.60 ahead of the DOE data but tumbled on the big build...

 Oil market edgy on US crude build, trade deal angst - Oil prices trod water on Thursday after losses in the previous session, as traders were cautious amid concerns over a potential delay in sealing a long-awaited interim U.S.-China trade deal and a huge increase of U.S. crude stockpiles. Brent crude futures were down 3 cents, at $61.71 a barrel by 0348 GMT after settling down $1.22 per barrel, or almost 2% on Wednesday. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were at $56.29 a barrel, down 2 cents, from their last close. They settled 88 cents lower, or 1.54%, in the previous session. U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose 7.9 million barrels last week as refiners cut output and exports fell, beating analysts’ expectations for an increase of 1.5 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday. Gasoline and distillate inventories dropped 2.8 million barrels and by 622,000 barrels respectively. “The inventory builds and drops in exports is likely related to the COSCO sanctions,” referring to the Chinese tanker firm the United States sanctioned, among others, in late September for alleged involvement in moving crude oil from Iran. U.S. crude exports fell nearly 1 million barrels last week to 2.4 million barrels per day. “The sanctions are coming back to haunt oil bulls as a trifecta of negativity if you include the probable delay in signing the Phase one trade deal” between the world’s top two economies and biggest oil consumers, Innes said. A meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign an interim deal could be delayed until December as talks continue over terms and venue, a senior official of the Trump administration told Reuters on Wednesday. Expectations for a thaw in trade tensions have supported oil prices over the past several sessions.

Oil Prices Bounce Back - West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude oil prices returned to positive territory Thursday, buoyed by optimism on the international trade front. The December WTI contract gained 80 cents Thursday, settling at $57.15 per barrel. The light crude marker peaked at $57.88 and bottomed out at $56.27. Brent crude for January delivery settled at $62.29 per barrel, reflecting a 55-cent increase for the day. “Oil prices were boosted by the potential resolution of the U.S.-China trade dispute, which has already been weighing on Chinese oil demand growth, as well as having knock-on effects on global demand,” said Anish Kapadia, U.K.-based oil and gas analyst with Akap Energy Ltd. “On the supply side there is a growing realization that U.S. liquids growth in 2020 is likely to be lower than current forecasts as publicly traded E&Ps set out their 2020 drilling plans.” Kapadia added that OPEC – concerned about an oil market oversupply next year – may not decide to pursue further production cuts at its December meeting but will likely heavily emphasize stronger compliance. Campbell Faulkner, senior vice president and chief data analyst at the interdealer commodities broker OTC Global Holdings, said phasing out tariffs as a result of a potential U.S.-China trade deal would counter a negative economic outlook. “This bodes well for a global economy which has been battling weaker expectations and declining indicators,” said Faulkner, adding a caveat. “But, oil as always remains ready to surprise with any uncertainty either economic or political instability.”

Oil slips on uncertainty over US-China trade deal, surging inventories Crude oil futures fell on Friday amid lingering uncertainty on whether, and when, the United States and China will agree a long-awaited deal to end their bitter trade dispute, the gloom compounded by rising crude inventories in the United States. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was down 16 cents, or 0.3%, at $62.13 a barrel by 0259 GMT, after gaining 0.9% in the previous session. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was down 23 cents, or 0.4%, at $56.92 a barrel. The contract rose 1.4% on Thursday. The trade war between the world’s two biggest economies has slowed economic growth around the world and prompted analysts to lower forecasts for oil demand, raising concerns that a supply glut could develop in 2020. On Thursday, the Chinese commerce ministry said the two countries have agreed in the past two weeks to cancel trade tariffs in different phases, without giving a timeline. But that comment was shrouded in doubt soon after when Reuters reported that the plan faces stiff internal opposition in the U.S. administration. “Oil is in pause mode as traders await more details on the trade talks,” said Stephen Innes, Asia Pacific market strategist at AxiTrader. Also concentrating minds among sector watchers were remarks by OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo this week that he was more optimistic about the outlook for 2020 because of potentially positive developments on trade disputes, appearing to downplay any need to cut output more deeply. A deal between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, such as Russia, is limiting supplies until March next year. The producers meet on Dec. 5-6 in Vienna to review that policy. Barkindo’s comments are “spooking the market, especially in the face of the seemingly never-ending run of U.S. inventory builds,” U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose sharply last week as refineries cut output and exports dropped, while refined products extended a multi-week drawdown, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

Crude Oil Futures End Slightly Higher -- Crude oil futures settled modestly higher on Friday despite higher crude inventories and renewed uncertainty about U.S.-China trade deal. West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for December ended up $0.09, or 0.2%, at $57.24 a barrel. On Thursday, WTI crude oil futures ended up $0.80, or 1.4%, at $57.15 a barrel. WTI crude oil futures gained about 1.9% in the week. Brent Crude oil futures ended up $0.26, at $62.56 a barrel. Oil prices edged lower earlier in the session, weighed down by comments by the U.S. President Donald Trump that he has not agreed to roll back tariffs on Chinese goods. Trump's comments came after both the U.S. and China said on Thursday that they have agreed to roll back tariffs on each other's goods if the interim trade deal is completed. However, subsequent reports said Trump's key advisers were opposing the proposal to cut tariffs on Chinese goods. According to Baker Hughes, the number of active U.S. rigs drilling for oil dropped by 7 to 684 this week, falling for the third successive week. The total active U.S. rig count, meanwhile, also fell by 5 to 817, according to the data released. Data released by the Energy Information Administration Wednesday morning said crude oil stockpiles increased by 7.9 million barrels in the week ended November 1, more than five times the expected increase.

Oil ends the week higher, shrugging off inventory build and trade uncertainty - Oil prices pared losses on Friday, ultimately finishing the session higher while also posting a gain for the week. Earlier in the session prices fell more than 1% following comments from U.S. President Donald Trump that he has not agreed to roll back tariffs on China. Brent crude, the global benchmark, gained 26 cents to settle at $62.56 a barrel, after gaining 0.9% in the previous session. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained 9 cents, or 0.2%, to settle at a 6-week high of $57.24. Prices pared losses in midday trade, after Brent reached a session low of $60.66 a barrel and WTI sank to $55.76 a barrel. “Given the volatility around the U.S.-China trade saga, it’s hard to be short over the weekend,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC. “The turn of a phrase could restore the very hopes that were dashed just last night over a deal being struck.” The 16-month trade war between the world’s two biggest economies has slowed economic growth around the world and prompted analysts to lower forecasts for oil demand, raising concerns that a supply glut could develop in 2020. Oil prices fell earlier on Friday after Trump told reporters he has not agreed to roll back tariffs on China but that Beijing would like him to do so. The comments come after officials from both countries on Thursday said China and the United States have agreed to roll back tariffs on each others’ goods in a “phase one” trade deal if it is completed. Yet Reuters reported on Thursday the plan faced stiff internal opposition in the U.S. administration. U.S. officials have signaled opposing views on the status of talks. Oil prices have also been under pressure since OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said this week that he was more optimistic about the outlook for 2020, appearing to downplay any need to cut output more deeply. A deal between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, such as Russia, will limit supplies until March next year. The producers meet on Dec. 5-6 in Vienna to review that policy. “Even if a partial (U.S.-China) agreement is reached, the impetus for demand will not be enough to avoid an oversupply next year, meaning that OPEC will still need to make bigger production cuts,” Commerzbank said in a note.

Saudi Aramco kick-starts what could be world's biggest IPO, offers scant details (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s giant state oil company finally kick-started its initial public offering (IPO) on Sunday, announcing its intention to float on the domestic bourse in what could be the world’s biggest listing as the kingdom seeks to diversify its economy away from oil. But in its long-awaited announcement, Aramco, the world’s most profitable company, offered few specifics on the number of shares to be sold, pricing or the date for a launch. Bankers have told the Saudi government that investors will likely value the company at around $1.5 trillion, below the $2 trillion valuation touted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he first floated the idea of an IPO nearly four years ago. Aramco also did not mention what measures it has taken to beef up security following unprecedented attacks on its oil plants in September. Sources have told Reuters the oil company could offer 1%-2% of its shares on the local bourse, raising as much as $20 billion to $40 billion. A deal over $25 billion would top the record-breaking one of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA.N) in 2014. “Today is the right opportunity for new investors to reap the benefits of Aramco’s ability to achieve value, and boost it on the long-term,” Aramco Chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan told a news conference at the company’s headquarters in the eastern city of Dhahran. Confirmation of the sale of shares in the oil giant, whose formal name is Saudi Arabian Oil Co, comes about seven weeks after the crippling attacks on its oil facilities, underlining Saudi Arabia’s determination to push on with the listing regardless.

Saudi Arabia formally announces Aramco IPO with a domestic listing set for December— The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially launched its initial public offering (IPO) for its state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco on Sunday, announcing that a domestic listing will happen in December. The kingdom’s market regulator approved the listing early Sunday but exact details surrounding the size and scope of the IPO remain unknown. In a statement from Saudi Aramco, the company said “the final offer price, number of shares to be sold and percentage of the shares to be sold will be determined at the end of the book-building period.” Amin Nasser, president and chief executive of Saudi Aramco, said in a statement that the company’s vision “is to be the world’s pre-eminent integrated energy and chemicals company.” “Our mission is to provide our shareholders with long-term value creation through crude oil price cycles by maintaining our pre-eminence in oil and gas production, capturing additional value across the hydrocarbon value chain and profitably growing our portfolio,” he said. In a follow-up press conference on Sunday, Nasser said the company’s IPO prospectus would be released on November 9 and told CNBC that the listing of Aramco was to help diversify the economy, and was a way to strengthen the domestic Tadawul exchange by attracting both domestic and international investment. “For us, as Saudi Aramco, I think we are proud of the listing of Aramco. It will increase our visibility internationally. We are a very strong company. By sharing a lot of information, as required by any listed company, there will be a lot of analysts that will review our data and compare it with other listed companies, and we would love to have that kind of comparisons, because we are a company that are proud of our results,” he said.

Saudi Aramco IPO- World's most profitable company to go public - Saudi Aramco has confirmed it is planning to list on the Riyadh stock exchange, in what could be the world's biggest initial public offering (IPO). The state-owned oil giant will determine the IPO launch price after registering interest from investors. Business sources say the Saudis are expected to make shares available for 1% or 2% of the firm, and the offer will be for existing company shares. Saudi Aramco is thought to be worth about $1.2tn (£927bn).  The firm said it has no current plans for a foreign share listing, saying long-discussed plans for a two-stage IPO including an offering on a foreign exchange had been put aside for now. "For the (international) listing part, we will let you know in due course. So far it's only on Tadawul," Aramco chair Yasir al-Rumayyan told a media conference, referring to the Saudi stock exchange. Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at derivatives traders IG Group, said: "Investing in Aramco carries risks, of course, and not only that oil prices will struggle to move higher. "Political and strategic risks are high for any firm operating in the region, not least one which is an arm of the Saudi state. Aramco also has limited control in output policy, a key part of Saudi Arabia's Opec management." Those potential risks were highlighted in September when drone attacks hit the Abqaiq oil facility and the Khurais oil field in Saudi Arabia, both owned by Aramco. But Aramco boss Amin Nasser, who called the plans "historic", told a media conference after the IPO statement was published that the firm was still the most reliable oil company globally. In its launch announcement Aramco said: "The company does not expect the impact of these attacks to have a material impact on its business, financial condition or results of operations." 

 The Saudi Aramco IPO may miss its $2 trillion valuation target by more than $700 billion - Saudi Aramco officially kicked off its long-awaited IPO on Sunday, and Saudi officials have valued the oil-giant at up to $2 trillion, which would be the the largest IPO on record. However, several banks are putting their estimates much lower than that, with some valuations nearly $800 billion less than the $2 trillion figure. According to analysis sent to potential investors seen by Bloomberg, banks involved in the listing are finding it hard to pinpoint a value for Saudi Aramco. Bank of America's valuation, for example, ranges from $1.22 trillion to $2.27 trillion.Bloomberg noted that the $1 trillion gap in value would be able to fit the combined market capitalizations of Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Shell combined.  Goldman Sachs valued Aramco at $1.6 trillion to $2.3 trillion, with Bloomberg citing the bank as saying to investors that "our suggested valuation framework is based on a long-term analysis and it is not linked to a near-term assessment of the likely performance of the company's shares." HSBC put the value between $1.59 trillion and $2.1 trillion, according to Bloomberg, while French bank BNP Paribas gave an incredibly specific figure of $1.424394 trillion. Saudi Aramco on Sunday said that it would be listing shares on the Arabian Tadawul All Exchange based in Riyadh. The mostprofitable company in the world didn't say how much of its shares will list initially, although reports from Reuters last week put it at 1% to 2%. It is due, however, to release a detailed prospectus on November 9, according to Bloomberg.

The ARAMCO IPO Stumbles Out The Door -  Finally after numerous delays, the potentially largest Initial Public Offering (IPO) of stock has finally become for fully state-owned ARAMCO in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).  MOst of the delays had involved an unwillingness by the Saudi royal family to publicize financial and other factual details about the company, although issuing an IPO for 5 percent of the company was a part of the Vision 2030 plan of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). As it is, for the time being the IPO is only available to Saudi nationals through the Riyadh stock exchange.  It is unclear how long or even if it will open up to foreigners.  Reportedly the Saudis are hoping for it to value  the company at $2 trillion, which would put it well ahead of Apple and Microsoft, both of which are around $1 trillion.  But some observers think this is overly optimistic on the part of the Saudis for a variety of reasons. Along with that, the US has this past month for the first time since 1978 recorded a trade surplus in petroleum products.  This will continue to put  downward pressure on global oil prices, and also depress the prospects for how much money this IPO will raise in the end.

Saudi Aramco's IPO Will Not Save Kingdom -Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has staked his country’s future on selling a 5% stake in Saudi Aramco, the most valuable asset it has. And it is his hope that this IPO will help finance the country’s turnaround making it less dependent on oil revenue.It’s been trying to do this for three years and was ready to pull the trigger when the Houthi rebels in North Yemen pulled theirs and damaged major Aramco facilities at Ab Qaiq in August. The IPO itself was off the table until next year but the Saudis have officially put it back on the table, submitting the necessary paperwork to make the sale. What’s held up this IPO has been MbS’s insistence on a $2 trillion valuation while playing very coy about the company’s actual assets and reserves. It took a couple of rounds of failed book-runner commitments to finally get the Saudis to offer some glimpse at Aramco’s finances.From Irina Slav at in March 2019: Aramco has never published financial reports. Although there were assurances that it will start doing so ahead of the IPO, to date the latest entry on Aramco’s Corporate Reports page is from July 20 last year, and includes production figures for 2016. Last year, sources had told Reuters the company was planning to start publishing financial reports early this year, but this has not happened yet.By April, Aramco finally produced financial numbers that were reasonably current and even Bloomberg was skeptical of this $2 trillion valuation. It certainly wasn’t true when oil prices were in the gutter below $40 a barrel in 2016. The Aramco IPO is the lynchpin to MbS’s Vision 2030 plan to remake and upgrade the Kingdom’s economy away from just being a Gas Station in the Desert that buys U.S. weapons and wages regional wars through proxies.But now that the paperwork has been filed and the IPO likely to happen we now have a bevy of financial research reports coming out with their assessments of it.And the numbers are all over the place. Here they are via Zerohedge:

  • BofA’s low valuation of the company is at $1.22 trillion with a high estimate of $2.27 trillion, the gap is enormous and has spooked some investors.
  • Goldman Sachs values Aramco between $1.6 trillion and $2.3 trillion.  Much of Goldman Sach’s valuation of the oil company is derived from an average oil price of $64.50 for 2019, and $60 per barrel from 2020 through 2023.
  • EFG Hermes has a valuation of $1.55 trillion to $2.1 trillion, several fund managers told Reuters.
  • Bernstein’s research deck valued Aramco around $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion.
  • HSBC, one of the lead underwriters of the IPO, values the oil company between $1.59 trillion to $2.1 trillion.
  • BNP Paribas, another bank playing a critical role in the IPO, values Aramco around $1.42 trillion.

But let’s back up here for a second and remember what MbS was originally selling, 20% of the company for $400 billion. Now it’s 5% of the company for likely between $65 and $75 billion at a $1.3 to $1.5 trillion valuation.It’s not the company’s performance MbS is worried about. It is how much this IPO will bring the government in the form of dividends to pay for its operations. Remember, the Kingdom is currently running a budget deficit of 6.5% in 2020, up from 4.7% for this year officially. That’s $50 billion next year alone. Debt to GDP, which was just 1.4% in 2014 will rise to 28% in 2020. Aramco needs to either raise production or get higher prices to stem this bleeding. Neither of these things are on the table in the near future.

In Latest Saudi Shakedown, Aramco Taps Prince Al-Waleed For IPO Money --Back in November 2017, a number of prominent Saudi Arabian princes, government ministers, and business people were arrested in Saudi Arabia a few weeks after the creation of an anti-corruption committee led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Among them was one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest men, billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who along with the other arrested individuals was confined in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton and was only released months later after he pledged an unknown amount of money to the Saudi treasury. While the Crown Prince dubbed the arrests an anti-corruption exercise, it was plain that Saudi Arabia, then facing a gaping budget deficit had engaged in nothing short of a massive extortive shakedown. Two years later Saudi Arabia is engaging in a similar shakedown, only this time instead of very broad "uses of funds", it hopes to narrow down the extorted money solely for one purpose - to get more "willing" Aramco anchor investors.And just like in 2017, Prince Al-Waleed - one of the largest investors in Twitter - is once again in the crosshairs.   As Bloomberg reports, one day after China tentatively agreed to invest $5 to $10 billion in the Aramco mega IPO which has so far found precisely zero anchor investors, Saudi Arabia was "negotiating commitments" from its wealthiest citizens to buy stock in the Aramco initial public offering. Translation: MbS gave his oligarchs a choice - invest in Aramco, or spend some more time in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton. Among those Riyadh has reportedly approached include the Olayan family and Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal to low-profile tycoons in the oil producer’s backyard.Following polite but stern and "convincing" discussions with MbS and his goon squad, the billionaire Olayans, who own a major stake in Credit Suisse, are said to be considering buying several hundred million U.S. dollars worth of Aramco shares, according to the people. Prince Alwaleed - who knows too well what happens if he disagrees with the Crown Prince - has also "held talks" to commit a significant amount to the IPO. Many others have also been ordered to "volunteer" their funds for the upcoming IPO according to Bloomberg: Aramco representatives have been seeking an investment from the Almajdouie family, whose businesses range from distributing Hyundai cars in the kingdom to a large logistics operation. They have also approached members of the Al-Turki clan, who are involved in fields from real estate to general trading, food distribution and ports.

In Saudi Arabia, Twitter Has Become a Tool to Crack Down on Dissent -  - The Saudi government’s attempts to control Twitter have mirrored a broader crackdown on dissent in the kingdom U.S. charges that Saudi Arabia used Twitter Inc. employees to illegally spy on social-media users are the latest allegations that authorities in the kingdom have used the platform’s popularity to crack down on critics. Saudis once embraced Twitter as a platform for free expression in a country where the government controlled traditional media. But the U.S. Justice Department’s allegations on Wednesday further highlight the shrinking space for criticism under de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Rebuilding Syria – without Syria’s oil - Pepe Escobar -- What happened in Geneva this Wednesday, in terms of finally bringing peace to Syria, could not be more significant: the first session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.The Syrian Constitutional Committee sprang out of a resolution passed in January 2018 in Sochi, Russia, by a body called the Syrian National Dialogue Congress.The 150-strong committee breaks down as 50 members of the Syrian opposition, 50 representing the government in Damascus and 50 representatives of civil society. Each group named 15 experts for the meetings in Geneva, held behind closed doors.This development is a direct consequence of the laborious Astana process – articulated by Russia, Iran and Turkey. Essential initial input came from former UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Now UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen is working as a sort of mediator.The committee started its deliberations in Geneva in early 2019.Crucially, there are no senior members of the administration in Damascus nor from the opposition – apart from Ahmed Farouk Arnus, who is a low-ranking diplomat with the Syrian Foreign Ministry.Among the opposition, predictably, there are no former leaders of weaponized factions. And no “moderate rebels.” The delegates include several former and current parliament members, university rectors and journalists.After this first round, significantly, the committee’s co-chair, Ahmad Kuzbari, said: “We hope that our next meeting could take place in our native land, in our beloved Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited capital in history.”Even the opposition, which is part of the committee, hopes that a political deal will be clinched next year. According to co-chair Hadi al-Bahra: “I hope that the 75th anniversary of the United Nations next year will be an opportunity to celebrate another achievement by the universal organization, namely the success of efforts under the auspices of a special envoy for political process, who will bring peace and justice to all Syrians.” The committee’s work in Geneva proceeds in parallel to ever-changing facts on the ground. These will certainly force more face-to-face negotiations between Presidents Putin and Erdogan, as Erdogan himself confirmed: “A conversation with Putin can take place any time. Everything depends on the course of events.”

How The Russian-Turkish Deal On Northern Syria Works -The agreement signed between Russia and Turkey for a new security plan in northeast Syria was certainly historic and a much welcome potential path towards stability and peace.The following graphic illustrates how it is supposed to work:  Source   On October 22, 2019, Russia and Turkey signed a memorandum on safe-zones in Syria, putting an end to the Turkish offensive iun Northern Syria against Kurdish forces and restoring Syrian government control over a large portion of the border with Turkey. The deal was welcomed by the government in Damascus and by the Kurds.

Why The Kurds Still Don’t Have a Country - Since U.S. troops left their region, roughly 180,000 Kurds of northeastern Syria have been displaced, and over 200 have been killed. Those Kurds, soldiers who’d battled the Islamic State and families, had hoped to secure a future Kurdistan state in areas now targeted by Turkish warplanes and patrolled by Russian mercenaries.This is only the latest reversal for the Kurds, a group of around 40 million who identify with a regional homeland and common historical background, but are now divided between four countries. Despite their many attempts, there’ve never won and kept a Kurdish nation. The most decisive reversal came at the end of the first World War. That’s when the Allies, victors over Germany and the Ottoman Empire, divided their geographical spoils of war. In a series of conferences in a succession of European palaces, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau of France, Woodrow Wilson and dozens of other leaders conspired, harangued and horse-traded from 1919 to 1921. Under clouds of cigar smoke, between servings of foie gras and champagne, they redrew a large swath of the globe’s map.  What to do in the big, central zone of the defeated Ottoman Empire, stretching between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf? Should there be one big, Greater Arabia or Arab federation, as some British officials promisedtheir Arab allies who revolted against the Ottomans? Should there be many little nations, with borders around Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds? (Following theirrace-nation instinct, the British did support what they called a new “National Home for the Jewish people” in former Ottoman Palestine.) That, too, is what President Woodrow Wilson’s call for self-determination dictated. Wilson himself was explicit in calling for a new, broadly encompassing Kurdistan.They took for granted that Kurds were a race and that Kurdistan was a place. In fact, it was already depicted in pre-WWI atlases. The problem of drawing its borders fell, British Parliamentarians told themselves, to them in immediate postwar years. And it’s what some powerful people in British officialdom assumed would happen.Not only did it fit British race thinking to create Kurdistan – to be heavily staffed by British “advisers”like the other new states, of course – but they believed the Kurds truculent and independent, unlikely to accede to domination by a neighbor. But British imperial self-interest in this case overruled ethnonational thinking. By the terms of the Sykes-Picot agreement, the secret French and British understanding of roughly who would get what after the war, the French claimed dominance of the northern Levant, what’s today Lebanon and Syria.The British wanted a big geographical bloc in the region to match that of the French, to act as a counterweight. They formalized this by inventing a large country soon dubbed “Iraq.” The line dividing Sykes-Picot’s French sphere and British sphere already cut straight through Kurdish areas. That partition was part of the reason why the British could not simply carve out a new, large Kurdistan (that they’d dominate like Iraq).

US pours back to military bases in northeast Syria - American troops are pouring back to military bases in northeastern Syria which were evacuated by the U.S. Army during Turkey's anti-terror operation. According to Anadolu Agency reporters on the ground, the U.S. Army arrived Saturday back in the west of Syria’s northern province of Raqqa to rebuild its military base, which was evacuated during Operation Peace Spring. A military convoy, including a personnel carrier armored vehicle, a mine flail and a utility vehicle, dispatched by the U.S., arrived in Jazira base located west of Raqqa province via the northeastern Syrian province of Al-Hasakah. Nearly 30 U.S. soldiers were also seen in the convoy heading to Jazira base. Also, the U.S. troops Friday was positioned on a military base in northern Syria’s Sarrin village in the south of Ayn al-Arab, or Kobani. The U.S. military bases in Sarrin and Sabit villages around 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of the Turkey-Syria border was previously evacuated and destroyed during Turkey's Operation Peace Spring. U.S. troops on Friday also resumed patrols near oil fields in northeastern Syria after an intermission following the launch of Turkey's anti-terror Operation Peace Spring.

First Images Of US Troops Occupying Syria's Oil Fields Stir Outrage - The reality of American foreign policy all in one stunning image: regional Iraqi Kurdistan24 television has broadcast the first footage of the United States Army seizing and 'protecting' a Syrian oil field in the country's northeast.  Specifically the images are of a US armed convoy at Rumelan oil field, and are the first to show Trump's ordered "secure the oil" policy in action. A Salon op-ed aptly quips in reaction: "It’s about the oil, stupid: Trump wants to end the forever wars, except the one about oil and money."     US forces began patrols at oilfields on Mount Qarachokh near Derik in northeastern #Syria on Friday. #TwitterKurds — Kurdistan 24 English (@K24English) November 2, 2019  Middle East war correspondent Jenan Moussa, who has covered the Iraq war and other US occupations in the region, voiced the growing outrage over the US resource theft underway in Syria:  Since discovery of oil in the MidEast, many in the region said: the U.S. is only here to steal our oil. U.S. denied it, and claimed it's about democracy, human rights, women etc.  Not sure if Americans realize but these pictures of U.S. troops in northeast Syria are HUGELY damaging to U.S. image.Since discovery of oil in MidEast, many in region said: U.S. only here to steal our oil.U.S. denied, claimed it's about democracy, human rights, women etc.Not sure if Americans realize but these pictures of U.S. troops in northeast Syria are HUGELY damaging to U.S. image. — Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) November 2, 2019 One Syrian commentator said sarcastically on social media:  The Few. The Proud. The Marines. stealing Syria’s oil.  And further pointed out that, "Trump just showed you the naked truth about US foreign policy in the Middle East."

US Constructing Two New Bases In Syria's Oil-Rich Region- Report - Turkey's state-run media is reporting the United States is planning two new military bases in Syria's oil-rich Deir ez-Zor province, which are currently under construction, after US special forces convoys were seen patrolling the area in the past days.  Anadolu Agency, citing local sources, said the bases were under construction as evidenced by the influx of heavy equipment: While the footage captured by Anadolu Agency showed that much construction equipment is being put into action, it was learnt the U.S. has sent 250 to 300 additional soldiers, armored vehicles, heavy weapons and ammunition to the region.The reported added: “The military bases are being built in the 113th Brigade area and near al-Sur region,” according to the sources.Syria's largest oil fields, which historically account for most of its domestic energy needs, are located in Deir Ezzor, including Al-Omar, Conoco, and Rumeilan. A US coalition statement confirmed last week that American forces are being "repositioned" in Syria's oil rich region just east of the Euphrates to "protect critical infrastructure" - following Trump's roll out of his controversial "secure the oil" plan. Days ago Russia accused the United States of stealing what rightfully belongs to the Syrian government and people, with Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov alleging earlier that US government agencies received over $30 million a month in oil production in Syria.According to various reports in last several days US forces were spotted in the following locations in Syria, either patrolling near oil (Rmelan), deploying Bradleys (Deir Ezzor region) or on the road with trucks (i.e to Sarrin and back)— Seth Frantzman (@sfrantzman) November 4, 2019 In response to Tuesday's Turkish media reports on the establishment of two new American military bases east of the Euphrates, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin said, "Any actions whatsoever – we are not talking about anything in particular now – that the United States undertake to keep themselves militarily present in Syria are unacceptable and illegal from our point of view and under international law."

How Controlling Syria's Oil Serves Washington's Strategic Objectives- Before the evacuation of 1,000 American troops from northern Syria to western Iraq, the Pentagon had 2,000 US forces in Syria. After the drawdown of US troops at Erdogan’s insistence in order for Ankara to mount a ground offensive in northern Syria, the US has still deployed 1,000 troops, mainly in oil-rich eastern Deir al-Zor province and at al-Tanf military base. Al-Tanf military base is strategically located in southeastern Syria on the border between Syria, Iraq and Jordan, and it straddles on a critically important Damascus-Baghdad highway, which serves as a lifeline for Damascus. Washington has illegally occupied 55-kilometer area around al-Tanf since 2016, and several hundred US Marines have trained several Syrian militant groups there. It’s worth noting that rather than fighting the Islamic State, the purpose of continued presence of the US forces at al-Tanf military base is to address Israel’s concerns regarding the expansion of Iran’s influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Regarding the oil- and natural gas-rich Deir al-Zor governorate, it’s worth pointing out that Syria used to produce modest quantities of oil for domestic needs before the war – roughly 400,000 barrels per day, which isn’t much compared to tens of millions barrels daily oil production in the Gulf states. Although Donald Trump crowed in a characteristic blunt manner in a tweet after the withdrawal of 1,000 American troops from northern Syria that Washington had deployed forces in eastern Syria where there was oil, the purpose of exercising control over Syria’s oil is neither to smuggle oil out of Syria nor to deny the valuable source of revenue to the Islamic State. There is no denying the fact that the remnants of the Islamic State militants are still found in Syria and Iraq but its emirate has been completely dismantled in the region and its leadership is on the run. So much so that the fugitive caliph of the terrorist organization was killed in the bastion of a rival jihadist outfit, al-Nusra Front in Idlib, hundreds of kilometers away from the Islamic State strongholds in eastern Syria. Much like the “scorched earth” battle strategy of medieval warlords – as in the case of the Islamic State which early in the year burned crops of local farmers while retreating from its former strongholds in eastern Syria – Washington’s basic purpose in deploying the US forces in oil and natural gas fields of Deir al-Zor governorate is to deny the valuable source of income to its other main rival in the region, Damascus.

US seizure of oil fields escalate tensions in Syria --The US has deployed hundreds of troops backed by armored vehicles into oil fields located in Syria’s northeastern Deir Ezzor province, where they are reportedly building two new bases. Turkish media have reported that large quantities of construction equipment and materials have been sent into the region, along with the troops, tanks, armored personnel carriers and ammunition. Pentagon officials defended the renewed deployment at a press briefing Thursday. However, they resolutely refused to answer questions about US President Donald Trump’s statements that the troops were there to “take the oil”, and Defense Secretary Esper’s acknowledgement last week that the US mission includes “denying access, preventing Russian or Syrian forces” from laying claim to the oil, including through the use of “overwhelming force”. The entire narrative put forward by the Pentagon was designed to erase the events of the past month, which began with Trump’s green-lighting of the Turkish invasion aimed at driving the SDF (whose main units are comprised of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, viewed by Ankara as a “terrorist” extension of Turkey’s own PKK Kurdish separatist movement) from the Turkish-Syrian border. This was followed by Trump’s statements that he was putting an end to Washington’s “endless wars” and would “let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand” as all US troops would be withdrawn from Syria. Just as his earlier statement in December 2018 that he was withdrawing US troops from Syria led to the resignation of his defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, so last month’s announcement touched off a political firestorm in Washington, with denunciations of Trump's “betrayal of the Kurds” coming from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as large sections of the military brass and the US intelligence apparatus. In response, Trump shifted his position to a thuggish statement that US troops would remain in Syria to “take the oil” and that he was considering contracting ExxonMobil to exploit it. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responded to these statements by praising Trump’s “transparency.” Previous US presidents, he said, “commit crimes, but get Nobel prizes, and act like defenders of human rights and the noble unique US values—or Western values—but they are a group of criminals who act on behalf of lobbies.” Trump, on the other hand declares “we want oil ... at least that’s honest,” he added. The Pentagon’s claim of a continuity in the US “mission” has some truth to it, having nothing to do with either a “war on ISIS” or protecting the Kurds. By seizing the oil fields of Deir Ezzor province, Washington aims to deny critical energy resources that are needed by the government in Damascus to reconstruct Syria’s war-ravaged infrastructure and economy. It has pursued this aim throughout the Syrian civil war, in which the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate, the Al Nusra Front, first seized the oil fields, followed by ISIS and finally the Kurdish YPG militia. The US military took no action to stop either Al Qaeda or ISIS from exploiting the fields and shipping oil across the border to Turkey, reaping hundreds of millions of dollars used to finance their operations. It was the Russian forces that finally bombed both the fields and the tanker trucks used to transport the oil. The illegal US military occupation of the oil fields represents a direct provocation against Russia, which Syrian websites report has signed contracts with the Syrian government to extract oil, as well as China, which previously had oil investments in Syria and is poised to play a leading role in the country’s reconstruction.

Donald Trump’s Boneheaded Plan to Steal Syrian Oil  -President Donald Trump has rightly decided to remove U.S. military personnel out of a zone of potential conflict involving Syrians, Iranians, Turks, and Kurds. He’s dismissed calls to maintain American forces there to protect the latter, despite the imminent threat of attack against the Kurds by Ankara. Meddling in other nations’ civil wars, Trump thinks, risks American lives and security. Except then the president decided to deploy U.S. personnel to steal Syria’s oil. He announced that Washington would remain around al-Tanf in southern Syria to guard oil fields captured by the Kurds. Indeed, the number of Pentagon forces are expected to eventually number around 900, almost as many as the number withdrawn from the north. As some Americans leave, others are being deployed—to seize another nation’s resources. Indeed, the president said the U.S. will be “keeping the oil.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper explained that the U.S. would “maintain a reduced presence in Syria and deny ISIS access to oil revenue.” He dismissed any idea of confiscating the petroleum. However, ISIS does not possess forces capable of taking, transporting, and selling the oil. An unnamed official cited “other destabilizing actors,” presumably meaning the Assad government, which, though brutally repressive, is the most stable force in Syria today. The excuse is a sham. The president is being played by neoconservatives and other hawks who want Washington to take resources owned by the Syrian government to weaken it and, more important, keep America entangled in that country’s multiple conflicts. This policy is beyond shameful. It is foolish and counterproductive. It dramatically undermines Washington’s credibility while sucking the U.S. into a potential battle over nothing of consequence. Venal motives for military aggression are hardly unusual. However, governments rarely admit that they are acting for national profit. The Middle East has been a special case for some American hawks. As long as compliant Arab nations supplied low-cost energy, they saw little reason for military action. However, following the OPEC-driven run-up in oil prices and October 1973 Arab embargo against several Western nations, triggered by U.S. support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War, the idea of stealing oil gained traction.  The public hysteria was never justified. The embargo was ineffective, since the energy market is global. However, production cutbacks as well as domestic restrictions, which limited production, did hike prices. That caused economic hardship but posed no security threat. The price, adjusted for inflation, was comparable to today’s levels.

Iran has ‘military advantage over US and allies in Middle East' -- Iran now has an effective military advantage over the US and its allies in the Middle East because of its ability to wage war using third parties such as Shia militias and insurgents, according to a military thinktank. In one of the most detailed assessments of Iran’s strategy and doctrine across Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) concludes Iran’s “third party capability” has become Tehran’s weapon of choice. The 16-month IISS study called Iran’s Networks of Influence claims these networks are more important to Iranian power than either its ballistic missile program, putative nuclear plans or its conventional military forces. Overall, conventional military balance is still in favour of the US and its allies in the region, the report concludes, but the balance of effective force is now in Iran’s favour. Despite US sanctions, the report says, Iran has met little international resistance for its strategy, even if it is now facing a fresh challenge from anti-Iranian nationalist protesters within some of the countries in which it wields influence. The findings are likely to strengthen the position of Western diplomats who argue that any new nuclear deal with Iran will have to include not only updated constraints on the country’s nuclear program, but also commitments on its regional behaviour. The network, operating differently in most countries, has been designed, resourced and deployed by Tehran as its principal means of countering regional adversaries and international pressure, the IISS says. The policy “has consistently delivered Iran advantage without the cost or risk of direct confrontation with adversaries”. The report finds “Iran is fighting and winning wars ‘fought amongst the people’, not wars between states. Iran avoids symmetrical state-on-state conflict, knowing it will be outgunned. Instead, it pursues asymmetrical warfare through non-state partners.” The report claims the application of conventional force cannot counterbalance Iran’s sovereign capability over the past 40 years, since most conflicts in the Middle East are not defined by state-on-state warfare involving parity of forces subject to international law, “but are instead complex and congested battle spaces involving no rule of law or accountability, low visibility and multiple players who represent a mosaic of local and regional interests”. No state has been as active or as effective as Iran in regional conflicts in modern times. The total cost to the Iranian economy of its activities in Syria, Iraq and Yemen is $16bn (£12bn), the report calculates, while Lebanese Hezbollah receives $700m annually from Iran. Iran has developed its capability through the extraterritorial al-Quds force and enlistment of various militia – amounting to 200,000 fighters – and engaging in a “grey zone” of conflict that maintains hostilities below the threshold of state-on-state warfare.

ISIS Urges Followers To Unleash Wildfires On America & Europe -  - By all accounts, the Islamic State has gone 'underground' and its fighters on the run, especially following the death of terror chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The concern now amid renewed chaos in northern Syria due to Erdogan's 'Operation Peace Spring' is the potential for mass ISIS jail breaks in some instances already occurring as well as terrorists fleeing back across Turkey's notoriously porous southern border. There's also the question of ISIS taking refuge in Idlib, which its leader apparently did, also caught a mere three miles from the Turkish border.  And now, ISIS is signalling a new threat to Europe and the United States, as FOX reports this weekAt least four propaganda posters have appeared in recent months from the pro-ISIS media outlet Quraysh Media that have encouraged followers to "ignite fires" of their own, literally setting wildfires in the U.S. and Europe as a means of "waging jihad," according to the Middle East Media Research Institute [MEMRI]. MEMRI translated the poster as follows: "Oh monotheists [followers of ISIS], ignite fires in the forests and fields, and we are addressing especially those who live in Europe and America, for they are painful to them."The threatening posters have actually appeared over the past months, and began to gain more attention given the massively destructive wildfires which have raged over the past month in places like California and Lebanon. In the case of Lebanon, it should be noted, fires which came near the outskirts Beirut were specifically identified to be the result of arson. The subsequent series of "jihad posters" appeared in the early summer, and the most recent as late as Monday of this week. Some depict American firefighters struggling against out of control blazes. The latest poster (fourth in the series) threateningly names specific countries which should be targeted by ISIS followers in arson attacks.  "Ignite fires in the forests of America, France, Britain and Germany, for they are painful to them," the text reads, according to MEMRI.

Iraq: Anti-government protesters hold largest rally since demonstrations began - DW - Protesters packed into central Baghdad on Friday in the largest anti-government protest since the demonstrations erupted a month ago. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square, many waving Iraqi flags and demanding that the government resign and that parliament be dissolved.  Several thousand protesters also blocked roads leading to the country's main Gulf port of Umm Qasr, preventing trucks carrying goods from entering or leaving the area. Security forces used live rounds and tear gas against the crowds overnight in an effort to clear the blockade. An estimated 350 people were wounded in Friday's demonstration after security forces fired rubber bullets and gas grenades to push protesters away from bridges leading to the Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government. Since the first wave of protests began in early October, at least 250 people have been killed while an estimated 10,000 people have been injured by security forces. Demonstrators in Baghdad on Friday also harshly criticized Iran's involvement in Iraqi affairs, as Iraq's top cleric warned foreign actors against interfering in the protests.In his weekly sermon, powerful Shiite cl eric Ali al-Sistani said Iraq must not be dragged into the "abyss of infighting.""No person or group, no side with a particular view, no regional or international actor may seize the will of the Iraqi people and impose its will on them," he said in an apparent reference to Iran.Iran emerged as a major power broker in Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Tehran backs Iraq's current government and maintains close ties with state-backed militias. What began as protests against corruption, lack of jobs and poor access to electricity and clean water have now grown into calls for an overhaul of Iraq's political system — which has been in place since Saddam Hussein's ouster.Something that has made the protests unique in Iraq's history is that public anger is not only being directed at the political elite, but the religious elite as well. No one represents the people, not Iran, not the parties, not the clerics. We want to take back our country," Ali Ghazi, a protester in Baghdad told news agency AFP on Thursday.

Iraq clashes leave 5 dead as anti-government protesters storm Baghdad - Clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters Monday left at least five people dead in the country’s capital, as the sounds of gunfire could be heard echoing through Baghdad’s streets. Demonstrators trying to breach bridges leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the government is headquartered, were met with live fire, tear gas and water cannons after hurling rocks at security forces, according to witnesses. They later appeared to have crossed the bridge and reached the headquarters of Iraq's state-run TV on the other side, while also pushing to within 500 yards of the prime minister’s office, the Associated Press reported.  At least five demonstrators and a member of the security forces were killed in the skirmishes and another 60 people were wounded, police and hospital officials say. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have demonstrated in central Baghdad and across mostly Shiite southern Iraq in recent days, calling for the overthrow of the political system. The protests are fueled by anger at widespread corruption, high unemployment and poor public services. Anti-government protesters stand on barriers set by Iraqi security forces to close a bridge leading to the Green Zone government areas during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday. (AP) Monday’s demonstration came hours after Iraqi security forces gunned down three protesters outside the Iranian Consulate in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. In that protest Sunday night, dozens of Iraqis set tires ablaze and attacked the consulate, scaling concrete barriers ringing the building and lobbing firebombs over its walls. They chanted "the people want the fall of the regime," one of the main slogans of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Protesters had tried to bring down the Iranian flag and replace it with the Iraqi one but could not reach it. They then placed an Iraqi flag on the wall around the consulate, the AP reported.

Watch As Iraq Protesters Torch Iranian Consulate Over 'Foreign Interference' - As anti-corruption protests in Lebanon and Iraq have raged and quickly turned into massive anti-government protests, with the latter much fiercer and more violent, now with over 250 Iraqis killed and nearly 10,000 wounded, there's growing fears that in both countries a Syria-style broader proxy war could emerge.  Iran has accused the US and Israel for stoking unrest, while Washington and Tel Aviv officials see 'Iranian expansion' and meddling as the true culprit. It appears that some Iraqis agree, given the Iranian consulate in the city of Karbala came under attack Sunday, in the latest sign of public backlash over perceived Iranian control of Baghdad political leaders.  "Protesters scaled the consulate’s walls late Sunday while hauling an Iraqi flag. Security forces fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters who were throwing Molotov cocktails over the wall," The Wall Street Journal reported based on local video of the attack.  It came after last week Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed foreign powers for unrest gripping Iraq and Lebanon. "I recommend those who care in Iraq and Lebanon remedy the insecurity and turmoil created in their countries by the US, the Zionist regime, some western countries, and the money of some reactionary countries," Khamenei stated using his official social media accounts.   This also as Iran has been blamed for intervening to prevent the ouster, via forced resignation, of Iraq's Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi amid the popular protests and mayhem. 

Most Severe Internet Outage To Date Hits Iraq After Government Blocks Access -Iraqi anti-government demonstrators fear a major new crackdown is coming after much of the nation's internet access has been cut, especially in the restive south. This also as Baghdad authorities fear outside 'foreign interference' after President Trump referenced the mass protests on Twitter. A nearly nationwide blockage was first reported last night, and was briefly restored early Tuesday before being cut off again. “At the time of writing, national connectivity has fallen below 19% of normal levels sending tens of millions of users offline across Baghdad, also impacting Basra, Karbala and other population centers," Reuters cited NetBlocks as stating late in the day Monday. “The new disruption is believed to be the most severe observed in Iraq to date,” the report added. And NetBlocks monitoring group further observed into Tuesday "Internet shut down again across most of Iraq following brief 3.5 hour restoration; real-time network data show national connectivity currently at 30% of ordinary levels" related to the ongoing mass protests which have swept the country for over the past month.  After accusations of Iran being involved in assisting and directing Baghdad security forces' crackdown, which in many case has involved live ammo to disband crowds, resulting at this point in over 250 Iraqis killed and nearly 10,000 wounded, there's growing fears that a Syria-style broader proxy war could emerge. 

Over A Dozen Iraq Protesters Shot Dead In Last 48 Hours; Military Bans Use Of Live Ammo - Days into a government ordered internet blackout across much of the country, Iraqi security forces are in the midst of a new major crackdown on massive protests which have gripped the nation for over a month.In the past days it's been marked by use of live ammunition, increasing arrests, and cutting off protester communications; however, these heavy handed tactics and new violence appear to be having little effect on slowing the demonstrators' momentum. Already on Thursday, four protesters have been shot dead in central Baghdad, Reuters reports, with 35 wounded as the crowds battled with police to seize and occupy Shuhada Bridge in the capital. Other regional media have counted at least 13 killed since Tuesday.  During what's been dubbed the "second wave" of protests which began on Oct. 25, and have continued for nearly two straight weeks, the United Nations tallied at least 97 deaths, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported Tuesday.In total the unrest has claimed over 250 lives and 10,000 or more wounded throughout the whole of the protests, according to most estimates.  Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi now appears ready to use any means necessary to crush the protests, which have been largely driven by popular anger over corruption, failing public services and infrastructure, as well as fear of undue Iranian foreign interference in the government and military.

Thousands gather on Beirut’s streets for anti-government protest  -Tens of thousands of Lebanese protested on Sunday to keep up a nationwide street movement that has brought down the government, hours after a smaller rally of thousands was held to support the embattled president.Unprecedented cross-sectarian demonstrations have gripped Lebanon since October 17, demanding a complete overhaul of a political system deemed inefficient and corrupt.On Sunday evening, thousands of protesters streamed into the main square carrying Lebanese flags and a flurry of inventive slogans on placards, an AFP correspondent said. "Revolution," they cried to the rhythm of electronic beats in Martyrs' Square."All of them means all of them," they chanted, calling for political leaders from all sectarian stripes to step down.They also called for a general strike on Monday to pressure political leaders.The protest, the biggest since Tuesday when supporters of the powerful Hezbollahmovement broke up the protest camp, followed a rally earlier in the day by supporters of Lebanon's president, held to counter anti-government protests that have paralysed the country for more than two weeks.

Protesters block roads in Beirut, other areas of Lebanon (Reuters) - Protesters blocked roads in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon on Monday, pressing a wave of demonstrations against the ruling elite that have plunged the country into political turmoil at a time of acute economic crisis. The nationwide protests, which were ignited on Oct. 17 by a government proposal to tax WhatsApp calls, led Saad al-Hariri to resign as prime minister last week. There has been no sign of progress yet toward agreement on a new government. After Hariri quit, protests had ebbed, roadblocks were lifted and banks reopened for the first time in two weeks on Friday. But in the early hours of Monday, new roadblocks emerged on in Beirut and around the country, snarling major traffic arteries including the main seaside highway north and south of the capital. Schools called off plans to reopen and are now in their third week of closure. “The slogan is ‘this revolution doesn’t know sleep, form the government today’,” said Hashem Adnan, one of several dozen protesters blocking the Ring Bridge in Beirut, demanding a new cabinet independent of the political elite which protesters accuse of corruption and steering Lebanon into economic crisis. “People are continuing because you know you can’t trust this regime, any part of it,” he said. In the northern city of Tripoli, demonstrator Rabih al-Zein said protesters had escalated again because they do not trust the ruling elite to meet demands for a new administration that will act against corruption. “We want technocrats (in government) and we want judges to fight corruption, recover stolen money and hold the government accountable,” he said.

Lebanon protesters seek to shut down key state institutions - Lebanese demonstrators have begun surrounding government institutions in the capital, Beirut, and other cities, as a mass protest movement demanding an overhaul of the country's political system approaches its fourth week. The move on Wednesday suggests a shift in the focus of protesters from blocking roads and setting up barricades to holding sit-ins at state-affiliated sites as they seek to maintain pressure on the political establishment until their demands for the departure of the ruling elite and an end to chronic economic mismanagement and corruption are met. "They want to see the next step happening, which is the president announcing a date for consultations ... for a new prime minister and a new government to be formed," she said. Saad Hariri last week resigned as Lebanon's prime minister, satisfying one of the protesters' main demands, but President Michel Aoun's has yet to set a date - as he is obliged to - for formal consultations with legislators to pick a replacement. Besides the justice ministry, other protest points where large sit-ins are expected on Wednesday include the ministries of energy, foreign affairs, finance, tourism, communication and labour, as well as the offices of Electricite Du Liban, the main Lebanese electricity provider. Other state-affiliated institutions include Zaitunay Bay, a controversial marine development at the heart of Beirut's central area and telecommunication operators. Simultaneously, a march to "reclaim coastal public property" is also planned, according to Lara Bitar, a media worker and organiser. Blocking highways, main roads and intersections in Lebanon's major cities have been the main tactic used by the leaderless protest movement, which transcends Lebanon's traditional religious and political divides, since the demonstrations began 21 days ago. The country had come to a standstill for about two weeks until the cabinet resigned on Tuesday, which later led to the lifting of some roadblocks and the reopening of banks. The demonstrators, however, have not backed down, drawing criticism mainly from government supporters who accuse them of disrupting social life. Protesters want Hariri's government, now in a caretaker role, to be replaced with a cabinet of independent experts who can lead Lebanon out of a deepening economic and financial crisis, secure basic services such as water and electricity and create a new, non-sectarian electoral law.

Clients With Guns Are Demanding Deposits From Crisis-Stricken Lebanese Banks --Here we go as predicted: the Lebanese central bank attempts to prevent a "panic mode" scramble on the part of the public to remove all deposits, and the recently imposed (unofficial) regulations geared toward staving off capital flight are predictably failing fast, per Reuters: “Clients with guns have entered banks and security guards have been afraid to speak to them as when people are in a state like this you don’t know how people will act.”Lebanon's private banks reopened a week ago on Friday following a two-week closure due to massive anti-government protests which created gridlock across the country's main cities, including closure of other public institutions such as schools. The Nov. 1 bank re-openings followed Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation last week, which the some one million demonstrators flooding Lebanon's streets since early last month have touted as a 'success'; however, the economy remains on the brink of collapse, given growing fears of a major run on the banks.Since reopening banks have blocked most transfers abroad and maintained tight controls over hard-currency withdrawals, policies which have led to reports of threats against bank staff. Some of these heated encounters are being filmed and posted to the internet. Likely the situation is about to become explosive into next week after the banks close for the weekend. "This is our money!... We can't get our money - you have money in the banks and you're not giving it to the people! You're stealing from us!" (our translation) the man in the below video shouts inside his bank.

The genie is out of the bottle -The Arab world is one gigantic pressure cooker. For the most part the lid of repression is on, but it is boiling over with increasing frequency. Whether in Lebanon, Iraq or in Algeria, where people are rising up against political despotism and corruption.   We have seen how the lid was lifted this year in Algeria following the toppling of the dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a country now in the throes of weekly demonstrations demanding an end to the entire "Bouteflika system".Or in Sudan, where long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir was ousted and the protest movement managed to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with the military – to date the sole rulers of the nation – which should in three years lead to a civilian government and democratic elections.And even in Egypt, a country ruled by an omnipotent repressive apparatus, people dared just a few weeks ago to take to the streets for the first time against the former head of the military and President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. All this shows one thing above all else: politics in the Arab world cannot be described with the seasons of the years along the lines of "the Arab Spring has become the Arab Winter". What we’re experiencing on our doorstep in the southern and eastern Mediterranean as well as in the Middle East, is a long-term process of upheaval. Even the beginnings of this insurgency can be described as a process. The reality is much more complex than the story of the street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself alight in Tunisia and with this single act, this beat of a butterfly’s wing,triggered a hurricane that swept across the entire Arab world.

The Coming Middle East Conflagration - The senior ministers of the Israeli government met twice last week to discuss the possibility of open war with Iran. They were mindful of the Iranian plan for a drone attack from Syria in August, aborted at the last minute by an Israeli air strike, as well as Iran’s need to deflect attention from the mass protests against Hezbollah’s rule in Lebanon. The ministers also reviewed the recent attack by Iranian drones and cruise missiles on two Saudi oil installations, reportedly concluding that a similar assault could be mounted against Israel from Iraq.The Israel Defense Forces, meanwhile, announced the adoption of an emergency plan, code-named Momentum, to significantly expand Israel’s missile defense capacity, its ability to gather intelligence on embedded enemy targets, and its soldiers’ preparation for urban warfare. Israeli troops, especially in the north, have been placed on war footing. Israel is girding for the worst and acting on the assumption that fighting could break out at any time. And it’s not hard to imagine how it might arrive. The conflagration, like so many in the Middle East, could be ignited by a single spark. Israeli fighter jets have already conducted hundreds of bombing raids against Iranian targets in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Preferring to deter rather than embarrass Tehran, Israel rarely comments on such actions. But perhaps Israel miscalculates, hitting a particularly sensitive target; or perhaps politicians cannot resist taking credit. The result could be a counterstrike by Iran, using cruise missiles that penetrate Israel’s air defenses and smash into targets like the Kiryah, Tel Aviv’s equivalent of the Pentagon. Israel would retaliate massively against Hezbollah’s headquarters in Beirut as well as dozens of its emplacements along the Lebanese border. And then, after a day of large-scale exchanges, the real war would begin.   The majority of the weapons in Hezbollah’s arsenal are standoff missiles with fixed trajectories that can be tracked and intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. But Iron Dome is 90 percent effective on average, meaning that for every 100 rockets, 10 get through, and the seven operational batteries are incapable of covering the entire country. All of Israel, from Metulla in the north to the southern port city of Eilat, would be in range of enemy fire.

Israel draft bill would annex major West Bank settlements –   -- Israel’s former justice minister Ayelet Shaked submitted a draft bill in the Knesset to annex a number of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, reported the Jerusalem Post.The legislation would see Israeli “sovereignty” applied to settlements in the Jordan Valley region, as well as the Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion settlement blocs in the central and southern West Bank.According to the report, the bill also includes Efrat and Betar Illit settlements and the Megilot Region of the Dead Sea.Shaked, who heads up the Yamina party, “clarified that the application of sovereignty would be for the areas within the settlements and would not cover roads and archaeological and industrial parks in the regions of Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank].”Although there is currently a caretaker government in place, with coalition negotiations continuing, the Knesset still sits and is able to pass legislation. “There is a diplomatic window of opportunity and willingness on the part of the US for this kind of annexation that will not return,” Shaked said.

Footage leaked of Israeli officer shooting Palestinian in the back - Israel has completed an investigation into the case of a former police officer who shot an unarmed Palestinian in the back with a sponge-tipped bullet. The incident, which took place more than a year ago, was revisited over the weekend when a domestic television channel aired leaked footage of it. Channel 13 News reported that the man was stopped as he tried to enter Israel from the occupied West Bank. In what appears to be a cameraphone video, published on Saturday evening, the unidentified man is seen being ordered by a female border police officer to leave. He promptly walks away along an empty road with his hands up as other Israeli officers shout “Go!” in Arabic. Almost 20 seconds later he is shot in the back, and he screams in pain as he collapses. The officers then turn and leave.

Pentagon Expands Permanent Africa Presence With $110M Drone Base In Niger - Signaling what will be a major uptick in US drone activity across western Africa, US African Command (AFRICOM) announced Friday its airbase Agadez, Niger has gone operational, not just flying surveillance drones as was originally expected, but also armed combat drones. Flights from the base, called Air Base 201, began last week and the patrols are to aid US-Nigerien military patrols in rooting out regional ISIS militants and other Islamist factions which have been threatening the area. Specifically US officials say the armed drone program is badly needed due to prior ISIS ambushes on US-Nigerien troops. The move comes a little more than two years after four Army soldiers were killed on Oct. 4, 2017, in an attack on a joint U.S.-Nigerien military patrol by an ISIS offshoot known as Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.The US Air Force, which has described the $110 million constructed airfield as among the harshest locations in the world from which the military operates, endured multiple delays in establishing the base given the difficult remote desert environment. "I would say that the construction of Air Base 201 will go down as one of the most Herculean efforts in the history of the United States Air Force," Brig. Gen. Michael Rawls of the Air Force's 435th Air Expeditionary Wing in Africa described earlier this year.

China Services PMI Drops To 12-Month Low, Hong Kong Business Activity Crashes Most On Record -  Despite China's surprise surge in Caixin Manufacturing PMI (to its highest since Dec 2016), Services were expected to show a modest decline which it did (down from 51.3 to 51.1). Note that the only one of the four PMIs to rise was the Caixin manufacturing index - massively bucking the trend of the rest... Commenting on the China General Services PMI™ data, Dr. Zhengsheng Zhong, Director of Macroeconomic Analysis at CEBM Group said: “The Caixin China General Services Business Activity Index dipped to 51.1 in October from 51.3 in the previous month, marking the slowest expansion in eight months amid subdued market conditions.

    • 1) Demand across the services sector grew at a reduced pace, with the gauge for new business falling to the lowest level since February. The measure for new export business picked up slightly.
    • 2) While the job market expanded at a weaker clip, with the employment gauge falling from the previous month’s recent high, the measure for outstanding business rose further into expansionary territory. This implied a mismatch between labor supply and demand.
    • 3) Both gauges for input costs and prices charged by service providers edged down, but they remained in positive territory, reflecting relatively high pressure on costs, including those of workers, raw materials and fuel.
    • 4) The measure for business expectations dropped to the lowest point in 15 months, indicating depressed business confidence.

China Auto Sales Fall 6% In October As Global Auto Recession Shows No Signs Of Slowing - China has been spearheading the global recession in the automotive industry and, as one more month has come to pass, there are still no signs of the bleeding letting up. As the U.S. and China continue to grapple with solving "Phase 1" of the allegedly upcoming trade deal, pressure remains on the automobile industry globally. For October, China retail passenger vehicle sales were lower by 6% year over year to 1.87 million units, according to the Passenger Car Association. October SUV retail sales also fell 0.7% y/y to 853,130 units.  Additionally, individual OEM data for China for October has also started to trickle in. Names like Toyota, Nissan and Mazda all posted low single digit drops for the month, while Honda was able to squeeze out a positive month.

Watch: Chinese Social Credit Score Publicly Shames 'Bad Citizen' For Jaywalking -- A video out of China shows a citizen being publicly shamed and having his photo and ID card flashed up on a big screen for crossing the road on a red light.  “Chinese facial recognition system to discourage minor traffic violations. Cross the road when you shouldn’t and a picture of you with your name, ID card number pop up on the big screen for everyone to see,” tweeted Matthew Brennan.Chinese facial recognition system to discourage minor traffic violations. Cross the road when you shouldn't and a picture of you with your name, ID card number pop up on the big screen for everyone to see.— Matthew Brennan (@mbrennanchina) November 4, 2019The Communist country’s vast network of facial recognition surveillance cameras are being linked to citizen ID cards, producing the kind of dystopia that would make even George Orwell roll in his grave.Under its social credit score system, China punishes people who criticize the government, as well as numerous other behaviors, including;

– Bad driving.
– Smoking on trains.
– Buying too many video games.
– Buying too much junk food.
– Buying too much alcohol.
– Calling a friend who has a low credit score .
– Having a friend online who has a low credit score.
– Posting “fake news” online.
– Visiting unauthorized websites.
– Walking your dog without a leash.
– Letting your dog bark too much.

Chaos and violence descend again on the streets of Hong Kong as aggressive police tactics fail to stop radical protesters The first half of the weekend since the government’s controversial decision to disqualify populist candidate Joshua Wong Chi-fung from running in the district council elections ended in chaos and violence.A change of tactics by police and the government failed to break the stalemate as Hong Kong’s festering social unrest entered its 22nd week with no solution in sight.Once again, police battled protesters on the bustling streets of Hong Kong. The clashes took place mainly in the densely populated commercial districts of Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Central, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui.Police’s use of water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and batons were met with flaming barricades and petrol bombs from protesters as the two sides played cat-and-mouse throughout the night.  The first half of the weekend since the government’s controversial decision to disqualify populist candidate Joshua Wong Chi-fung from running in the district council elections ended in chaos and violence. A change of tactics by police and the government failed to break the stalemate as Hong Kong’s festering social unrest entered its 22nd week with no solution in sight. Once again, police battled protesters on the bustling streets of Hong Kong. The clashes took place mainly in the densely populated commercial districts of Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Central, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui. Police’s use of water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and batons were met with flaming barricades and petrol bombs from protesters as the two sides played cat-and-mouse throughout the night. More than 200 people were arrested on Saturday for protest-related offences including unlawful assembly and violating the mask ban, police said at 1am on Sunday. As of 7.30am on Sunday, 54 people were injured and taken to hospital. A man in Kwong Wah Hospital in Yau Ma Tei was in a serious condition, 23 were stable and the remaining 30 have been discharged. Some MTR stations and businesses with mainland connections again fell victim to vandalism and mob rampage. The office of Xinhua News Agency in Wan Chai was attacked for the first time, with its glass doors and windows smashed. Radicals also tried to torch the building by throwing petrol bombs into the lobby – when some Xinhua staff were still working inside. Fortunately the fire was contained and did not cause any extensive damage.

Three people in critical condition as protests rock ‘heavy-hearted’ Hong Kong  (Reuters) - Scores of people were injured in Hong Kong during a chaotic weekend of anti-government protests that left one man in a critical condition, authorities said on Monday, and China called for a tougher stance to end months of unrest. Twelve police officers were also injured during the weekend clashes, with more than 300 people ranging from 14 to 54 years of age arrested between Friday and Sunday, police said. Chinese state media called on Monday for a tougher line against the protesters, who vandalized the local offices of state-run Xinhua news agency and other buildings, saying the violence damaged the city’s rule of law. More demonstrations are planned this week to keep up pressure for demands that include an independent inquiry into police behavior and universal suffrage. “We really see that people are very heavy-hearted. They don’t know what is going to happen tonight or maybe the next weekend. And there is a lot of worry,” pro-democracy lawmaker Charles Mok told Reuters. More than 100 demonstrators, some wearing now-banned face masks, returned on Monday evening to a shopping center where a man had knifed several people on Sunday and bitten off a part of a politician’s ear before being beaten by protesters.

Hong Kong’s protest violence will only hasten the city’s integration into ‘one country’ - It’s reality check time for Hong Kong: “one country, two systems” is on its last legs. The more protesters push for their demands through violent means, the more Beijing will fight back and the sooner it will be just “one country.” Back off, stop the clashes with police and the vandalism, and the process will be somewhat delayed. But, whichever strategy is adopted, the wheels are already in motion and the inevitable is now close, not decades away as some would have hoped. The democracy-driven protests, now in their 22nd week, have revealed who is in charge in Hong Kong. One country, two systems, Beijing’s governing model since the return of the city to Chinese sovereignty from British colonial rule on July 1, 1997, promised a “high degree of autonomy” for at least 50 years. The “hands-off” approach began disappearing in 2003 when the Hong Kong government pushed for the introduction of a national security law and the erosion has since been increasingly evident in policies and projects. Speculation as to the degree to which one country, two systems has been eroded has been swept away by the protests; mainland officials are obviously in control and Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration is doing as it is told. The tactics of the police are the most apparent sign. Hong Kong officers are well trained and have a reputation for being highly disciplined, but as they struggled to deal with the violence resulting from the Lam government’s failure to politically respond to huge rallies and demands, strategies took on an eerily mainland veneer. Policing rules have been disregarded, beatings of protesters, the firing of tear gas in confined places and, most shockingly of late, firing of pepper spray into faces at point-blank range, are now standard. Orders for such actions could never have come from local tacticians.

Xi meets Lam in first official talks since protests began  - Xi Jinping met Hong Kong’s chief executive and “demanded unswerving efforts” to quash violent protests in the territory, in the first official talks between the two leaders since the unrest began in June. The Chinese president spoke to Carrie Lam on the sidelines of an international import fair in Shanghai, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday morning.  Ms Lam was in Beijing on October 1 to attend a parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China but there were no reports of her meeting with senior Chinese officials.  Shortly after returning to Hong Kong, she invoked emergency powers to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and enact a law banning people from wearing masks at public assemblies. The ban provoked widescale rioting that resulted in the closure of Hong Kong’s entire subway network.  In the latest violence on Sunday, rioters firebombed the entrance to Xinhua’s Hong Kong headquarters, which served as Beijing’s de facto embassy in the former UK colony until the resumption of Chinese sovereignty in 1997.  The economy has been hit hard, with government data revealing that the territory was in recession. Business activity fell at its sharpest pace in more than two decades in October, with the latest IHS Markit Hong Kong purchasing managers’ index falling to its lowest level since the global financial crisis in 2008. “Ending violence and chaos and restoring order remain the most important task for Hong Kong at present,” Xinhua quoted the Chinese president as saying.  “Xi demanded unswerving efforts to stop and punish violent activities in accordance with the law,” Xinhua added. It also noted that Mr Xi and the Chinese government had a “high degree of trust in Lam”.  The Financial Times reported last month that Mr Xi’s administration was drawing up plans to replace Ms Lam by as early as March. Her successor would serve out the remaining two years of her term until 2022 but not necessarily stay on for a full five-year term.  China’s foreign ministry denied the report, saying it was a “political rumour with ulterior motives”.  Ms Lam will travel to Beijing for meetings on Wednesday with Han Zheng, the vice-premier, in a trip that was announced by her office at the weekend. Mr Han is a member of the Chinese Communist party’s most powerful body, the politburo Standing Committee, and is officially responsible for overseeing Hong Kong and Macau, the former Portuguese colony and China’s only other “special administrative region”.  Mr Xi’s meeting with Ms Lam came just days after party leaders discussed the crisis in Hong Kong at their first “plenum” meeting in almost two years.  Last week the party’s 200-member Central Committee, which had not met since February 2018, wrapped up a four-day meeting at which it reiterated the Chinese government’s longstanding demand to better protect its national security interests in Hong Kong.  The Hong Kong government has not yet enacted national security legislation as mandated by the territory’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law. An attempt by Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s first chief executive, to pass the so-called Article 23 legislation failed in the face of a massive anti-government march in July 2003. Mr Tung stepped down less than two years later, in the middle of his second five-year term.  Get alerts on Hong Kong politics when a new story is published

Hong Kong Protestors Firebomb Xinhua News Agency Office - Hong Kong protestors on Saturday firebombed the Hong Kong office of the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua, ramping up nearly a half a year of violent protests across the city that triggered a technical recession last week. Video of protestors vandalizing the Xinhua News Agency Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau office in Hong Kong, surfaced onto Twitter around 12:30 pm est Saturday. The footage shows demonstrators smashing windows and firebombing the reception area of the building. #Xinhua strongly condemns vandalizing of its #HongKong office by rioters more:— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) November 2, 2019    VIDEO: Wan Chai offices of state-run #Xinhua News Agency after they were badly damaged during today’s pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong #PRC #CCP #violencespolicieres #HongKongPolice #Corbyn #Xinjiang #CarrieLam #Xijinping #indyref2 #Labour #Beijing— Sam Pye (@freddie1999) November 2, 2019  A Xinhua spokesperson on Saturday evening strongly condemned the savage behaviors of protestors setting fire to its Asia-Pacific office. "We resolutely support the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government and police in stopping violence and chaos in accordance with the law. We also believe that this illegal act will be condemned by all sectors of Hong Kong society," the spokesperson said. Xinhua is a Chinese state-run news agency that echoes the talking points of the Communist Party of China.  Protesters in recent weeks have specifically targeted Chinese businesses that have strong connections with Beijing as anger continues to erupt over what protestors say China is trying to take their freedoms away.  Beijing has been unwilling to use the People's Liberation Army (PLA) forces to intervene in the protests, but if more Chinese businesses are firebombed, then it's likely PLA forces could lock down the city in the near term.

Modi’s assault on Kashmir and the Indian working class -Today marks exactly three months since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his henchman Home Minister Amit Shah and a cabal of senior military and intelligence officers mounted a constitutional coup against Jammu and Kashmir. By executive fiat, Modi and his Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government have stripped India’s only Muslim-majority state of its unique, semi-autonomous constitutional status and divided it into two Union Territories, thereby placing the politically-turbulent region under permanent central government control. New Delhi is enforcing its flagrantly illegal constitutional changes through a state of siege, unprecedented in scope and breadth in a region already among the most intensely militarized and policed in the world. Ten of thousands of Indian army troops and paramilitaries have been deployed to impose blanket curfews, brutally suppress any signs of opposition and intimidate and harass the population. Thousands of “potential stone-pelters” have been detained indefinitely without charge. So isolated is the government and so fearful of mass opposition, it has also taken into “preventive detention” the region’s pro-Indian Muslim political elite, including three former chief ministers and dozens of elected officials. Security forces have spread terror, staging night raids in villages and using loudspeakers to broadcast the anguished cries of torture victims. A principal aim of New Delhi’s repression has been to prevent J&K’s 12.5 million residents from communicating with each other, and from alerting the rest of India and the world to the crimes being committed by the Indian state. For more than two months, all cellphone service was suspended in J&K. Ninety-two days after the crackdown’s launch, Kashmiris continue to be barred from sending text messages and making prepaid cellphone calls, and most are still denied all access to the internet and social media. Modi’s Kashmir coup is a provocative and reckless geostrategic power play. It is aimed at strengthening India’s hand against Pakistan—its arch-rival since the two states were created through the 1947 communal partition of South Asia—and against China, with which the Indian elite is competing for markets, investment, resources and global influence.

New cocoa deals help peasant farmers, but not enough - The willingness of some multinational firms to pay a cost-of-living bonus for African cocoa planters is welcome but will not save many farmers from grinding poverty, industry sources say. Ivory Coast and Ghana, which together account for more than 60 percent of global cocoa production, initiated deals with chocolate makers in July, adding a "living income differential" (LID) to prices. Barry Callebaut and Nestle, two world leaders in cocoa products, confirmed that they would pay a supplement of $400 (almost 360 euros) per tonne above the market price to help farmers, in the wake of announcements during an October meeting of the World Cocoa Foundation in Berlin. The neighbouring West African countries in June said they would set the minimum price per tonne at $2,600 (2,330 euros) for the 2020/2021 season. Nestle "have already started buying 2020/2021 cocoa with the living income differential", declared the world's largest food and beverage company in a statement. "The LID will help improve farmers' living income and complement all our efforts to improving the lives of farmers," it said. Barry Callebaut, another firm with headquarters in Switzerland, declared that it agrees with the principle enabling the Ivorian and Ghanaian governments to back a minimum cocoa price to cocoa farmers.

Conquistadors tumble as indigenous Chileans tear down statues - As peaceful protesters and rioters alike have thronged the streets of the Chilean capital of Santiago to protest against inequality and state repression, a string of no less symbolic blows has also been struck 650km (400 miles) to the south. In the urban centre of Temuco, hooded demonstrators lassoed a statue of a 16th-century Spanish conquistador last week and yanked it to the ground. Cheering bystanders – many wearing the traditional ponchos and headbands of the indigenous Mapuche people – stamped on the bronze effigy of Pedro de Valdivia and hammered it with wooden staffs. In the city of Concepción – which Valdivia found in 1550 – a crowd toppled another bust of the Spanish coloniser, impaled it on a spike, and barbecued it at the feet of a statue of his historical nemesis, the Mapuche chieftain Lautaro. In the nearby town of Collipulli, a bronze of General Cornelio Saavedra – notorious for leading the bloody 19th-century “pacification” of the Mapuche heartland – suffered a similar fate. Most dramatically of all, a statue in Temuco of the Chilean military aviator Dagoberto Godoy (1893-1960) was decapitated, and his head hung from the arm of a statue of the Mapuche warrior Caupolicán – now also holding the Mapuche flag, or Wenufoye. The statues have been targeted amid the worst outbreak of political unrest in Chile since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, after what began as a protest over subway fares transformed into a nationwide uprising demanding dramatic changes to the country’s economic and political system. The attacks on symbols of Spanish colonial rule have provoked a war of words recalling debates in the US over monuments to Confederate generals, or in the UK regarding prominent statues of slavers and imperialists. Conservative Chilean commentators have branded them acts of vandalism and the work of “professional agitators”. Others describe an organic – if overexuberant – desire to challenge established historical narratives. “These are actions of a very potent symbolism, in rejecting an official version that has falsified and grossly airbrushed our history,” s The toppling of statues also reflects deep modern-day grievances felt by the Mapuche, who were absorbed into the Chilean state at gunpoint 150 years ago. Chile’s largest native people – comprising 10% of the national population of 17 million – has chafed under a far-off central government ever since.

Brazil’s former president Lula walks free from prison after supreme court ruling -Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been released from prison after a supreme court ruling that delighted his supporters and infuriated followers of the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. Lula, who was serving a 12-year corruption sentence, was greeted by hundreds of supporters wearing red vests emblazoned with his face outside the federal police headquarters in the city of Curitiba, where he had been imprisoned for 580 days.In a speech to the crowd, Lula thanked party militants who had camped outside throughout his imprisonment, and attacked the “rotten side” of the police, prosecutors, tax office and justice system for jailing him. “They did not imprison a man. They tried to kill an idea,” he said. “Brazil did not improve, Brazil got worse. The people are going hungry. The people are unemployed. The people do not have formal jobs. People are working for Uber – they’re riding bikes to deliver pizzas.”Lula was imprisoned in April 2018 after a sentence for corruption and money laundering handed down by the controversial judge Sergio Moro was upheld by an appeal court. He has always proclaimed his innocence and argued the case against him was politically motivated. On Thursday, Brazil’s supreme court ruled defendants could only be imprisoned after all appeals to higher courts had been exhausted, paving the way for Lula and another 5,000 prisoners to be freed.

Maduro Relying On Planeloads Of Cash From Russia To Skirt US Sanctions - A new investigative report by Bloomberg this week has uncovered a sanctions-skirting sizable cash pipeline into sanctions hit Venezuela, demonstrating one of the "complex logistical feats" President Nicolas Maduro has utilized to survive US-imposed isolation from the international financial system.  "Hundreds of millions of dollars in cash has been shipped from Russia to Venezuela, providing a lifeline to the South American country as U.S. sanctions limit its access to the global financial system," Bloomberg found.  Citing records obtained from a customs monitoring research group, the report details a significant "total of $315 million of U.S. dollar and euro notes" shipped in up to six deliveries on flights from Moscow to Caracas, spanning May 2018 to April 2019. The illicit funds reportedly went to the socialist country's development bank. This included single shipments of $113 million worth of 100-euro bills in one instance, and $50 million in U.S. dollar bills just days later in January of this year.  The source of the money includes Moscow-based bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank and Russian state-controlled lender Gazprombank the former established as a joint venture with Venezuela's Bandes, an alleged recipient of the cash transfers. Bandes was sanctioned months ago by Washington given it's believed Maduro uses it as a sanctions-evading vehicle for significant amounts of money kept abroad (full name, Banco de Desarrollo Economico y Social de Venezuela).  Among other methods Caracas relies on to access cash include secret gold sales and cryptocurrencies, according to the report. The Maduro government is also reportedly studying ways to expand its utilization of cryptocurrencies, also as it considers an 'alternative' Russia-run global payment system.

The Plunge In Global Shipping Container Rates Means The Economic Rebound Will Have To Wait -- The global/US economy is in trouble, and more specifically, S&P500 earnings deterioration will likely end up in a recession in the next several quarters.US major equity indexes are hitting new highs, as Treasury yields have soared this weak on the idea that a 2016-style rebound in the global economy is imminent.  Earlier in the week, UBS strategist Francois Trahan blew apart the imminent global/US rebound narrative and said: "The earnings landscape has already deteriorated and will likely get worse: The consensus year-over-year growth rate in S&P500 forward earnings is down to a mere 1% from a peak of 23% in September of 2018. Forward earnings are already contracting in the Midcap and Smallcap indices...If history were a perfect guide, the S&P500 would trough in Q2 of 2020 and rebound after that. Should the economy bottom in Q4 of 2020, as interest rates suggest, then history argues, the S&P500 would begin to price in a sustainable recovery sometime between April and August of 2020...PMIs Argue That Forward EPS Growth Will Trend Lower For Another 6 Months."   President Trump's non-stop fake trade news tweeting has indeed decoupled the market from focusing on worsening macro and fundamentals.

China issues euro-denominated sovereign bonds in Paris - (Xinhua) -- The Chinese government has just successfully issued 4 billion euro-denominated sovereign bonds in Paris as an important action to support the building of Paris international financial center and deepen financial cooperation between China and France as well as China and Europe, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday. Xi made the remarks while holding talks with visiting French President Emmanuel Macron at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. This is the first time China has issued the euro-denominated sovereign bonds since 2004, according to Xi.

Europe has to face ‘brain death of NATO,’ Macron says --French President Emmanuel Macron has said Europe needs to "wake up" and up its game on defense and security following what he sees as a collapse of U.S.-EU strategic cooperation within NATO and other developments.“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron said in an interview with The Economist published on Thursday. The French president warned Europe that the Continent was standing "on the edge of a precipice" and had to ramp up its autonomy in defense and security matters.“If we don’t wake up ... there’s a considerable risk that in the long run we will disappear geopolitically, or at least that we will no longer be in control of our destiny. I believe that very deeply,” he said.His comments come one month before NATO leaders are set to meet for a summit in London on December 3-4."Let's face it. You have partners in the same geographical area and you don't have any coordination on strategic decision-making from the United States with NATO partners," he added, apparently referring to the U.S. pullout from Syria and Turkey's recent invasion of the same country.Asked whether he saw NATO's Article 5, which enshrines the principle of mutual defense, as functioning, he said: “I don't know.”In the long interview — spanning defense and security issues, technological sovereignty and Huawei's involvement in Europe's 5G rollout — Macron also criticized U.S. President Trump's vision of NATO.Trump sees NATO "as a commercial project," Macron said. "For him it's a project where the U.S. provide a geopolitical umbrella but in exchange, they want commercial exclusivity, it's a reason to buy American. France hasn't signed for this." He added: "I’d argue that we should reassess the reality of what NATO is in the light of the commitment of the United States."

German Finance Minister Pumps for EU-Wide Deposit “Reinsurance” But Expected Details Mean Lots of Gaps Likely - Yves Smith - The lead story in the Financial Times tonight is that Germany’s finance minister Olaf Scholz is pushing for an EU-wide deposit scheme…of sorts. Even though Scholz’s plan appears to be more modest than the headlines indicate, even a halting move towards EU-level fiscal commitments would be a significant departure from Germany’s traditional stance of barring EU or Eurozone-level financial commitments like Eurobonds.Readers will recall that one of the glaring deficiencies of the Eurozone is the lack of Eurozone-level fiscal spending. Member states are not currency issuers and over time can only spend what they raise from taxes and borrowings.If that weren’t enough of a straitjacket, the EU under so-called Maastrict treaty rules limits how large a deficit a country can run even in bad times when serious deficit spending is needed.But another glaring set of problems that hasn’t gotten as much attention is the failure to have a sensible bank regulatory scheme. Europe still lacks a credible deposit insurance regime (deposit insurance is on a national basis and most schemes are seriously underfunded). It has also embraced bad ideas like bail-ins (which are certain to create bank runs; instruments consistent with bail-ins like “co-co bonds” have increased rather than decreased bank risk) to keep the pretense alive that governments don’t need to stand behind the banking system. 1 The EU made this bad situation no better and arguably worse with the adoption of a half-assed bank regime in 2016 called the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive.

 French High School Students Will Learn About Bitcoin And Crypto- France is about to introduce an educational module to its high school curriculum that covers Bitcoin (BTC) and cryptocurrencies. In June, the French Ministry of National Education amended its study plan to incorporate the world’s largest cryptocurrency. French educators are expected to teach an introductory course that will assist students in understanding the impact Bitcoin has on the French and global economies.The ministry further provides teachers with three educational explainer videos that address questions such as “Is Bitcoin the currency of the future?”, “Can Bitcoin replace the Euro?” and “Do you have trust in your currency?”According to the ministry’s outline, students will be required to compare Bitcoin with fiat currencies, which will eventually lead to basic knowledge about Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and their role in the traditional financial world.As it is only an introductory course to Bitcoin, students are not expected to leave the classroom as full-fledged crypto experts. However, teaching young students some of the ins-and-outs of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies will provide them with knowledge that grows increasingly relevant as cryptocurrencies become more widely adopted.

Brexit: Jeremy Corbyn warns shadow cabinet dissenters to fall in line - Jeremy Corbyn has told his fractious shadow cabinet “the debate is over” on Brexit, as he seeks to stamp his authority on the general election campaign and shift the focus to social justice and the climate emergency. Speaking to the Guardian in the south-west London seat of Putney, the Labour leader claimed he had instructed frontbench colleagues to fall into line, after divisions over Brexit sparked a furious row over whether to go for an election. “I just said, ‘look, this debate is now over. We’ve done it, the party has now made its decision, and that’s it; and that’s what we’re going to campaign on’,” he said, describing last week’s shadow cabinet meeting. Speaking after a campaign visit to a social housing development, an uncharacteristically assertive Corbyn also said he had made a unilateral decision to back Boris Johnson’s plan to trigger a 12 December general election – despite the vocal objections of several colleagues, including Labour’s chief whip, Nick Brown. “I put it to them quite clearly: I said, our objections are now gone. We are now supporting a general election – and everybody gulped. I didn’t alert anybody in advance – it was my decision. On my own. I made that decision. And they gulped, and said, Yes Jeremy.” Labour’s stance on Brexit has shifted significantly over the past 12 months, and the party now says it would seek to negotiate a new deal with Brussels – including a closer trading relationship – within three months, and put it to the public in a referendum within six. Several members of the shadow cabinet, including Keir Starmer, have suggested they would campaign for remain in that referendum, and Emily Thornberry recently described Labour as a “remain party”; but Corbyn has insisted any decision on Labour’s position will not be taken until after the election.

Brexit: the big sleep? - On his show yesterday, Marr asked Farage if there was any sign of the Boris Johnson team reaching out to him. "Not at this stage, no", said Farage. "Conversations have happened over the previous few weeks. But if Boris is determined to stick to this new EU treaty, then that is not Brexit. And that’s the problem. I promise you one thing: if Boris was going for a genuine Brexit we wouldn’t need to fight against him in this election".So the die is cast. We have consistently argued that one of the critical factors in the coming general election would be the stance taken by Farage. The received wisdom has been that, if he mounts a full-throated campaign, it could dangerously split the Brexit vote, allowing Corbyn to prevail.That is definitely a fear being articulated by Steve Baker, who argues that Farage risks becoming the "man who threw away Brexit", a man who is "setting out" to create a "weak and indecisive" hung Parliament.Thus does the Farage soap opera continue, after a fashion, chronicling the affairs of a man who has decided not to stand for parliament (having already failed to get elected seven times). He owns a company styled as a political party which has three officers and no members and, currently taking a mere seven percent of the vote, according to the latest YouGov poll. Nevertheless, he seems to be setting the scene for the early stages of this general election campaign. However, as I suggested yesterday, Farage may be over-estimating his own support and influence, and underestimating the desire of the electorate to "see Brexit done". And, on that basis, I would not be surprised to see a collapse of Farage's support as voters gravitate to the Tories, or simply stay at home.

Downing Street rules out extending the Brexit transition period past 2020 as Number 10 slaps down a Cabinet minister who said free trade talks with the EU will not be ‘straightforward’ Downing Street today categorically ruled out extending the Brexit transition period beyond 2020 after a Cabinet minister warned trade talks with the EU would not be 'straightforward'. Under the terms of Boris Johnson's divorce deal, the EU and the UK have until the end of next year to hammer out the details of their post-Brexit trading relationship. Critics believe there is no chance of the two sides getting everything done in such a short space of time and the divorce deal does include the option of a delay of up to two years. But Number 10 insisted this morning that the December 31, 2020 deadline will be stuck to after Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey appeared to suggest it would be tough to meet. Mr Johnson said in an interview broadcast yesterday that he could 'see no reason whatever why we should extend the transition period' - but he did not give a guarantee. However, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman was unequivocal on the subject this morning. ‘The government will not be extending the transition period,’ the spokesman said. Asked why that was the case, he said: ‘Because the Prime Minister believes that we will have a good trade deal agreed with the EU by December 2020. ‘The Brexit process has been going on for long enough.’ He added: ‘Both parties are committed to negotiating at speed to hit that deadline.’ The Withdrawal Agreement Mr Johnson struck with Brussels and which he is campaigning to implement so the UK leaves the EU by January 31 states the transition period will end on December 31, 2020. It also contains an extension provision which states the trade talks deadline can be pushed back by 'up to one or two years'.

Brexit: muddying the waters  You never know with Johnson, whether he is lying, pig ignorant or taking us for fools. Yesterday, when the prime minister in office was being interviewed by Andrew Marr, he refused to rule out an extension to the transition period past December 2020. But today, we learn that Downing Street has categorically ruled this out.  And just to remove any doubt, when work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey appeared to suggest that the December 2020 deadline would be "tough to meet", she was slapped down with brutal finality when the No 10 spokesman stated: "The government will not be extending the transition period". In anything approaching a sane world, this news would have a devastating effect on the election debate. Johnson's government has unequivocally committed to a course of action which will ensure that the UK drops out of the EU at the end of December next year without a deal – or with only the most basic of tariff agreements. To all intents and purposes, this puts us in much the same position we would have been if Johnson had taken us out of the EU without a deal on 31 October. It just delays the process by just over a year – although we will have the "divorce bill" to pay and the rest of the withdrawal agreement to contend with. If Johnson could be trusted, this would be manna from Heaven for Farage. He could stand down his troops and bide his time. Come the end of next year, he could then revel in achieving his aim of a "clean break" Brexit, having won the battle without firing a shot. But this is not to be. Yesterday, Farage effectively declared war on just about everybody, but particularly the Tories, revealing to the world his collection of 600 candidates. One of them, however, had to be released when she claimed to have come from another planet, while another stood down from the marginal Dudley South seat, announcing he was backing the sitting Tory, Mike Wood. Nevertheless, in the Methodist Hall in Westminster, 450 of Farage's prospective MPs gathered for a series of pep-talks and a training session, after each candidate had been photographed under a somewhat ambitious slogan (pictured).

Election stakes are high for Boris Johnson after bold NHS gamble It was billed as a single-issue election about Brexit. But less than a week after the 12 December poll was announced, it is the state of the NHS that has so far dominated media coverage of the nascent campaign. Back in September, Boris Johnson got an early taste of the risks that await any prime minister using a hospital visit to burnish their credentials as a staunch supporter of the NHS. During a tour of Whipps Cross hospital in east London, and with TV cameras rolling, Johnson was confronted by the father of a week-old baby girl who angrily challenged him over the hospital’s lack of staff. The parent, Omar Salem – who is also a Labour activist – said: “The NHS has been destroyed … and now you come here for a press opportunity.” While staff at the many hospitals Johnson goes to see are often happy to meet him, his visit to Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge last Thursday led to extensive media coverage of him being booed by medical student Julia Simons along with her claim that his presence was “a PR stunt”. However, the NHS issue that threatens to do Johnson the greatest damage is the suggestion that the health service could see its annual bill for drugs soar in future as the result of a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal. A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation last Monday into that subject initially received scant media attention despite it quoting an estimate of the bill for the NHS ballooning from £18bn to £45bn if the US government and drug firms got their way in trade negotiations. But the programme did lead to Johnson and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, becoming visibly awkward when challenged about it subsequently at prime minister’s questions and in media interviews respectively. Hancock has stated categorically that the price the NHS pays for medicines will not go up. But Donald Trump has made it clear that in effect any country seeking a trade deal with the US will have to pay higher prices for American-made drugs. Johnson may continue to have trouble rebutting the charge, which Labour are making regularly, that he is prepared to leave the health service at the mercy of rapacious US pharma companies. However, the debate in the campaign so far about the NHS has not followed its usual pattern of Labour accusing the Conservatives of running the nation’s most loved institution into the ground, and the Tories being stuck on the backfoot trying to convince voters that they are its resolute, generous and trustworthy protectors. Instead, unusually, the Tories see the NHS – one of Johnson’s three key “people’s priorities” – as a strong card.

Boris Johnson accidentally made an incredibly compelling argument against his own Brexit deal  - UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an unusual and very revealing comment Thursday night that inadvertently serves as an incredibly compelling argument against his own Brexit deal.Speaking at a meeting of local Conservatives in Northern Ireland on Thursday evening, the prime minister said: "Actually, Northern Ireland has got a great deal. You keep free movement, you keep access to the single market, but you also, as it says in the deal, have unfettered access" to Great Britain.This poses a rather obvious question.If retaining free movement and staying in the European single market is such a "great deal" for Northern Ireland, then why has Johnson prioritized a Brexit plan that would prevent the rest of the United Kingdom from having that same access and freedom?"The Single Market and freedom of movement are a great deal — even Boris Johnson recognises this — so why isn't he keeping them for the whole of the UK as part of the many benefits of EU membership?" Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake said Friday morning. The Brexit deal Johnson brokered with the EU in October would see the UK leave both the single market and the customs union while also ending free movement and replacing it with a "points-based" immigration system similar to Australia's.The prime minister insists this deal would see the UK "taking back control of our money, our laws, and our borders."Northern Ireland, however, would remain wedded to EU customs and single-market rules to preserve its invisible border with the Republic of Ireland. Analysis by the National Institute of Economic and Social Researchsuggests it would make every person in the UK £1,100 poorer a year on average. The independent forecaster found the prime minister's withdrawal plan would leave the UK £70 billion, or about $90 billion, worse off a year and shave nearly 4% off the economy by the end of the 2020s.

‘Remain Alliance’ claims it can win at least 44 seats and stop both a Boris Johnson election win and Brexit The ‘Remain Alliance’ of three anti-Brexit parties says it can win “at least 44” seats and deny Boris Johnson an election win – as Labour condemned all “pacts, coalitions or deals”. Detailed polling in the 60 seats where either the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party or Plaid Cymru will stand down in favour of a single candidate shows the vast majority are “highly winnable”, they say. “That would be enough to ensure that Boris Johnson doesn’t have a majority,” said Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP. But the initiative – the first pact by parties at a British election for 100 years – was met with a furious attack by John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor. “I remember what the Lib Dems did when they were in government. Go and ask any disabled person in this country who went through the brutality of the work capability assessment,” he said, on the campaign trail in Liverpool. The Unite to Remain campaign said it had been “rebuffed” by Labour, some of the party’s figures warning they “can’t even be seen to be talking to you or I will be expelled”. John Curtice, the polling expert, has dismissed the impact of Unite to Remain as “minimal” – arguing it will deprive the Tories of six seats at most – because most anti-Brexit voters are Labour supporters. Of the 60 targets, not one would have delivered a different result at the last election in 2017 if the Lib Dems, Greens and Welsh Nationalists had fielded a single candidate.

 Boris Johnson accused of misleading the public over his Brexit deal in Northern Ireland Boris Johnson has been accused of misleading the public about his own Brexit deal, after footage emerged of him telling exporters in Northern Ireland they will not need to fill in extra paperwork. After a rocky start to the general election campaign in which Jacob Rees-Mogg had to apologise for his comments about victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, and the Welsh secretary, Alun Cairns, resigned, footage emerged of the prime minister regaling businesses with the benefits of his deal. The video, shot on Thursday night in Northern Ireland, showed him reassuring worried exporters they will not have to fill in customs declarations when they send goods across the Irish Sea. In answer to a question from an exporter about whether his business would have to complete extra forms, Johnson said: “You will absolutely not.” He recommended that if any business is asked to fill in such paperwork, they should telephone the prime minister “and I will direct them to throw that form in the bin”. That appeared to flatly contradict the Brexit secretary, who gave testimony to the House of Lords recently that businesses would need to complete “exit summary declarations” when sending shipments from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK. The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said: “This is a prime minister who either doesn’t know the details of the deal he has negotiated or isn’t being straight about it. “If this deal comes into force, it’s an international treaty that will be legally binding. It’s not for Boris Johnson to waive or ignore the obligations in the deal he has negotiated. Boris Johnson’s making it up as he goes along. This is no way to seek to run the country.”

UK: Tens of thousands of university and college staff vote to strike - The announcement October 31 of the result of ballots conducted by the University and College Union (UCU) reveals the determination of academic staff to fight the decimation of their pay, conditions and pensions. In the ballot at 147 higher education institutions over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension, 79 percent of those voting supported strikes. In the ballot on pay, casualisation, equality and workloads, the result was 74 percent. Under anti-trade union legislation, a 50 percent turnout must be met for industrial action to proceed. In the ballot on pensions, 41 university UCU branches met the threshold. For the ballot on pay and conditions, 52 branches met the threshold. Overall, tens of thousands of staff at dozens of universities and colleges are prepared to strike, covering over a million students. The UCU vote follows a series of ballots in which workers have voted to strike by large majorities. On October 15, more than 110,000 postal workers balloted by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) at Royal Mail Group (RMG) and Parcelforce supported industrial action almost unanimously. For RMG the majority was 97 percent and for Parcelforce 95 percent. Postal workers are opposing plans to impose part-time, short-term and zero hours contracts, with tens of thousands of jobs threatened as part of RMG’s restructuring plans. In the last weeks, railway conductors at two private rail franchises have voted to strike. West Midland Trains (WMT) returned an 89 percent majority on a turnout of 79 percent in opposition to a move to Driver Only Operated trains (DOO). This is aimed at the eventual elimination of the conductor grade with thousands of job losses. Merseyrail guards voted by 81 percent to fight the DOO plans with strikes back in 2017. Last month, just four days after announcing them, the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union called off a series of planned stoppages at Merseyrail, due to take place in November and December. Workers at the Virgin West Coast rail franchise are to strike on November 19 for 24 hours in a dispute over the alleged victimisation of a colleague. This follows weeks in which workers have refused to do overtime. The Sun reported this week that the British Airline Pilots’ Association is preparing to call off its pay dispute with British Airways after threatening up to 10 days of strikes over the Christmas period. Other workers who have voted to strike include hundreds of non-medical National Health Service staff in Berkshire and Surrey fighting the privatisation of their jobs, 100 drivers, draymen and warehouse staff at Tradeteam drinks distributor in a dispute over pay; eCourier drivers and riders who provide same-day delivery services in London struck on October 10 demanding improved pay and employment rights.

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