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

Saturday, December 28, 2019

week ending Dec 28

 A Funny Thing Happened As The Fed Cut Rates- Credit Card Rates Hit All Time Highs - Something "odd" happened as the Fed prematurely ended its rate hike cycle and cut rates 3 times starting this summer: while banks were quick to trim the interest they pay on deposits to match the Fed's cuts (and in the case of some "retail banks" like Goldman, even cut ahead of the Fed) they pushed the rates they charge on credit cards to all time highs. And while we are confident such stalwart defenders of Fed policy as supportive of US consumers (instead of, say, US banks) as Neel Kashkari will be quick to explain how it is that rate cuts have resulted in higher credit card interest rates, and why the Fed is doing nothing to reverse this latest handout from consumers to banks, here are some more charts from Deutsche Bank showing that after carrying the US economy for the past year (as we reported on Friday, consumption account for more than 100% of the GDP growth in Q3), this may soon be ending. First, it's not just credit card rates that are surging - so are auto loan interest rates, and while they have yet to hit all time highs, they have risen by a material 2% in 2018 and also are showing no signs of reversing. Worse, while bank auto loan rates have yet to hit cycle highs, when it comes to rates charged by finance companies, they are back to levels seen when the Fed Funds rates was about 3% higher. One explanation for the relentless creep higher in rates banks charge consumers is that delinquency rates are also rising, and sure enough, that's exactly what's going on, although one would think that the 75bps cut this year would find at least some pass through to end markets. Alas, that is not the case.  Meanwhile, despite the recent surge in car loan delinquencies which is also fast approaching record levels, finance companies are allowing increasingly broke US consumers to take out ever longer loans and leases in order to make the monthly payments smaller while tacking on mandatory payments to the tail end, which has risen to as much as five and a half years. And as maturities get ever longer, so total loan sizes rise to new all time highs, allowing OEMs to keep hiking average prices to new records. After all, why comparison shop and look for deals when one can just charge it and worry about the price the next billing cycle, and the next, and the next... with compounding interest.

 Repo Crisis Averted With Third Undersubscribed Turn Repo - It seems that the year-end repocalypse that Credit Suisse's repo market guru Zoltan Pozsar predicted exactly two weeks ago, is not going to happen this year after all, and all it took was a "bigger than QE4" $500 billion liquidity injection/backstop by the Fed. Today's "turn" Term Repo which matures on January 9 saw only $18BN in security submissions ($8.25BN in TSYs, $9.75BN in MBS), below the $35BN in total availability. As such, this was the third term repo since the start of the Fed's emergency repo program that covered the year-end "turn" that was not fully overalotted. As shown in the chart below, the first four "turn" term repos were all oversubscribed (boxed in red), while today's was the second "turn" repo that saw a less than full allotment. As such, it now appears that banks have reached their fill of what they believe will be sufficient year-end liquidity, and all subsequent "turn" repos will likely see a lower allotment as the Fed's $500BN liquidity backstop bazooka ends up being underutilized, if not by much. 

The Fed Has Made Jamie Dimon $250 Million Richer Through Its Repo Loans --By Pam Martens -  JPMorgan Chase has been fingered as the bank that contributed to the Federal Reserve having to intervene in the overnight loan market on September 17 of this year, and every business day since then. The Fed, through its money spigot, the New York Fed, has flooded Wall Street’s trading houses with hundreds of billions of dollars weekly in cheap loans over the past three months. That cheap, pre-announced source of liquidity has not only caused the stock market to set multiple new historic highs but has caused the stock of JPMorgan Chase to set multiple new historic highs as well.  Jamie Dimon is the Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. Dimon admitted on his quarterly earnings call with analysts that his bank had backed away from lending on September 17. That backing away contributed to the overnight lending rate spiking from an average of about 2 percent to 10 percent on September 17. That rate spike was used by the Federal Reserve to justify its interventions – the first such interventions since the financial crisis. Jamie Dimon is one of the largest individual shareholders in the stock of JPMorgan Chase. Those shares are the sole reason Dimon is a billionaire. On October 10, 2019, the shares of JPMorgan Chase closed at $114.21. On October 11, the New York Fed announced a dramatic escalation in its plans to flood money to Wall Street’s trading houses. It said it would be buying up $60 billion a month in Treasury bills; providing $35 billion twice a week in 14-day term loans; and making at least $75 billion in overnight loans available daily. (That $75 billion was later increased to $120 billion available daily.) Here’s how the share price of JPMorgan Chase has reacted since the Fed’s announcement on October 11, 2019: On October 10, 2019, the day prior to the Fed’s announcement, the stock price of JPMorgan Chase closed its trading day at $114.21 per share. Yesterday, December 26, 2019, the share price of JPMorgan Chase closed at $139.04 – an increase in less than three months of 22 percent. According to the 2019 Proxy Statement filed by JPMorgan Chase, Dimon owns 1,493,369 stock options that will expire between January 20, 2020 through January 18, 2022. The strike price on the options range from $35.61 to $43.20. All of the options have vested, meaning that Dimon could sell all of them as the stock sets historic highs. Since the stock has gained $24.83 since October 10, if Dimon had decided to exercise his options and sell the stock yesterday, he would have made an extra $37 million. But in addition, Dimon owns 8.9 million shares outright of JPMorgan Chase stock according to the 2019 Proxy statement. Those shares have also increased in value by $24.83 – giving Dimon a paper gain of $220,987,000.

Chicago Fed "Index points to a rebound in economic growth in November" - From the Chicago Fed: Chicago Fed National Activity Index points to a rebound in economic growth in November:  Led by improvements in production-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) rose to +0.56 in November from –0.76 in October. All four broad categories of indicators that make up the index increased from October, and two of the four categories made positive contributions to the index in November. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, moved up to –0.25 in November from –0.35 in October. This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967.

Back-up evidence for WaPo piece on most important econ lessons of the decade - Jared Bernstein -  Here are the companion figures to my WaPo piece today on econ lessons of the decade. (graphics)

  • 1) The unemployment rate can fall a lot lower than most economists thought without triggering inflationary pressures.
  • 2) Budget deficits cannot be assumed to place upward pressure on interest rates.
  • 3) Weak worker bargaining power has long been a factor driving inequality. In the last decade, the increasing clout of certain employers has joined the mix.
  • 4) Progressive health care reform, wherein the government plays a larger role in coverage and cost control, works.
  • 5) [Lesson re-learned] Trickle-down tax cuts don’t work.
  • 6) Antipoverty programs don’t just reduce poverty today; they improve the outcomes of their beneficiaries many years hence.

Treasury Yields Plunge After Stellar 5Y Auction - After yesterday's dismal 2Y auction, which printed at the lowest bid to cover since 2008, few were looking forward to today's 5Y auction which would come in an environment of even worse liquidity coupled with a continued selloff across the Treasury complex this morning. Yet to everyone's surprise, the sale of $41 billion in 5Y notes was nothing short of stellar, with the high yield coming in at 1.756%, which while above last month's tailing stop of 1.587%, stopped through the When Issued 1.772% by a whopping 1.6bps, the biggest stop through since February 2016! Also unlike yesterday's disappointing 2Y auction, the internals today were quite impressive, with the bid to cover virtually unchanged from November's 2.50, at 2.49, the second best since July 2018, and well above the 2.38 six auction average. Finally the takedown was also on the strong side, with Indirects taking down 62.4%, above the recent average of 59.9%, and with Directs taking down 16.1%, the most since August 2019, Dealers were left holdings 21.5%. In kneejerk response to the stellar 5Y auction, yields have tumbled across the curve which was to be expected for an illiquid session, yet the 10Y rate plunging from 1.94% just before the auction to a sub 1.90% print shows just how little liquidity there is in the bond market at this moment. 

Congress showers health care industry with multibillion-dollar victory after wagging finger at it for much of 2019 WaPo - Vilified by lawmakers from both parties for months, the health-care industry this year appeared to face an existential threat to its business model. But this week, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, insurance companies and medical device manufacturers practically ran the table in Congress, winning hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks and other gifts through old-fashioned lobbying, re-exerting their political prowess. “It’s the ‘no special interest left behind bill’ of 2019. That’s what it feels like this is,” said Andy Slavitt, a former health administrator who served in the Obama administration. “There’s no other explanation.” Support came from virtually every corner of Congress. A bipartisan push to curb the practice of surprise medical billing was delayed until next year, with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) working behind the scenes to raise objections to the package, according to three people familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of private negotiations. A bipartisan bid to rein in prescription drug prices failed to advance, as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for blocking the effort. Pharmaceutical firms also won extended protections for select patents, as lawmakers tucked 17 words into Page 1,503 of a bill that critics allege could amount to billions more in profits for the industry. And through a flurry of letters and targeted meetings with freshman House Democrats, the health-care industry ginned up broad support for repealing taxes that were central to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), one of the law’s architects, agreed to go along. The success shows how formidable the health-care industry remains, able to overwhelm Democrats with well-honed talking points and splinter Republicans through a concerted push. The unexpected victories  showed how the industry, even when it is targeted, can emerge politically and financially stronger. The biggest wins came as part of a $1.4 trillion spending package, which was passed by the House on Tuesday and the Senate on Thursday. The spending package permanently repeals three major taxes created to help fund former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act: a tax, opposed by labor unions, on expensive health-care plans; a tax on medical device manufacturers; and a tax on health insurance companies, which have an influential lobby in Washington.  Repealing them is projected to cut tax revenue by about $375 billion over the next 10 years — roughly one-quarter of the estimated cost of the GOP tax bill when it was approved in 2017, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group.

May the Space Force be with you. Here’s what we know about the US military’s newest service — With a wave of his pen, President Donald Trump signed the Space Force into being on Dec. 20.“This is a very big and important moment,” Trump said during a Friday ceremony at Joint Base Andrews where he signed off on the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill, which establishes the Space Force as a sixth military service under the Department of the Air Force.“Space — there’s going to be a lot of things happening in space, because space is the world’s newest warfighting domain," he said. “America’s superiority in space is absolutely vital and we’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough, but very shortly we’ll be leading by a lot.”Gen. John Raymond, who currently leads U.S. Space Command, will lead the Space Force as its first chief of space operations, Trump announced.Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett — who is dual-hatted as the civilian leader of the Space Force — said that the establishment of the Space Force marked a “historic moment” for the U.S. military, and that the Defense Department is moving forward to stand up the new service. “There has been a planning team that has been building the phased construction of this force and the development of the force so that we have a plan at the 30, 60 and 90 … and the 120 day [mark],” she said. Raymond characterized the signing of the defense bill as “day one” for the Space Force. Air Force leaders stressed that much of the detailed planning work that will define the Space Force’s makeup and culture is still yet to be done, and that changes to its structure could occur along the way. But ahead of the president’s approval of the bill on Friday, officials spoke with reporters to lay out what is known about the new service:

The Space Force is officially the sixth military branch. Here’s what that means. - Air Force officials on Friday told reporters that people are clamoring for information on how to join the military’s latest branch. The short answer is, they’re going to have to wait a while.President Trump officially signed the Space Force into law Friday, but for now, all that means is everyone at Air Force Space Command will now be assigned to Space Force. Over the next 18 months, officials said, the finer details of manning and training the new branch will be hammered out and set in motion.“It’s going to be really important that we get this right. A uniform, a patch, a song ― it gets to the culture of a service,” said Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond, the head of Air Force Space Command and U.S. Space Command, who will lead Space Force until a chief of space operations is confirmed by the Senate. “There’s a lot of work going on toward that end. It’s going to take a long time to get to that point, but that’s not something we’re going to roll out on day one.”For now, the 16,000 active-duty airmen and civilians who work at Air Force Space Command will be assigned to the Space Force, but nothing else will change. Uniforms, a rank structure, training and education are all to be determined, and for the foreseeable future, Space Force will continue to be manned by airmen, wearing, Air Force uniforms, subject to that service’s fitness program, personnel system and so on. Meanwhile, U.S Space Command, which stood up in August, will continue to exist as a combatant command, similar to Cyber Command, Special Operations Command and others.

 Calling Trump's Space Force a Violation of Global Consensus, China Condemns US 'Weaponization of Outer Space' - China said Monday that the United States posed a "direct threat" to peace by "pursuing the weaponization of outer space" following President Donald Trump's newly-created Space Force."The relevant U.S. actions are a serious violation of the international consensus on the peaceful use of outer space, undermine global strategic balance and stability, and pose a direct threat to outer space peace and security," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing.The international community, he added, should "adopt a cautious and responsible attitude to prevent outer space from becoming a new battlefield and work together to maintain lasting peace and tranquility in outer space."Geng's comments came days after Trump's signature on the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a provision for the creation of the sixth branch of the military—an idea the president began floating early last year.As Vox previously reported:According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Russia wants to gain more power in space because it believes gaining supremacy there will allow it to win future fights on this planet. And in late 2015, China created the Strategic Support Force, which is meant to streamline and improve its space, cyber, and electronic warfare missions.Speaking at a signing ceremony Friday, Trump said the inauguration of Space Force marked "a big moment.""That's a big moment, and we're all here for it," said Trump. "Space. Going to be a lot of things happening in space. Because space is the world's newest warfighting domain." Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark A. Milley used similar language on Friday when he suggested the new military branch was to counter perceived threats from Russia and China. "In military operations, space is not just a place from which we support combat operations in other domains, but a warfighting domain in and of itself," Milley said in a statement. "Our adversaries are building and deploying capabilities to threaten us, so we can no longer take space for granted. The U.S. Space Force is the necessary and essential step our nation will take to defend our national interests in space today and into the future."

Russian Hypersonic Nuclear Weapon That Can Travel 27 Times The Speed Of Sound Is Now Operational It's official: exactly one year after Putin oversaw the final test of Russia's most advanced hypersonic weapon, on Friday a the intercontinental weapon that can fly 27 times the speed of sound became operational, Russia’s defense minister reported to President Vladimir Putin, bolstering the country’s unprecedented nuclear strike capability, one which the US has yet to match. As AP reports, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed Putin that the first missile unit equipped with the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle entered combat duty.“I congratulate you on this landmark event for the military and the entire nation,” Shoigu said later during a conference call with top military leaders. The Avangard is launched atop an intercontinental ballistic missile, but unlike a regular missile warhead that follows a predictable path after separation it can make sharp maneuvers in the atmosphere en route to target, making it much harder to intercept.

 Is This Kim's Christmas Gift - Satellite Images Suggest North Korea Readying ICBM Tests  -- Just a few short days after Pyongyang warned "it is entirely up to the US what Christmas gift it will select to get" after N.Korea test-fired two short-range missiles on Thanksgiving Day, and then one just days before, it appears Kim is repeating an all too familiar pattern of doing threatening things on American holidays. As we noted previously, the north has launched dozens of "short-range" missiles since May, but has largely stuck to its word that it would refrain from ICBM tests, despite occasional disputes about the precise the nature of some of the tests. “We’re watching it very closely,” Trump said this week, noting he would be “disappointed” if that happens. But tonight, NBC News reports, citing new satellite images shared by Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, that North Korea has begun fresh work at a factory involved in the development and production of intercontinental ballistic missile launchers. Lewis said Saturday Pyongyang is expanding work at the March 16 Factory in Pyongsong, where North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "watched preparations" for the 2017 test of the Hwasong-15 missile, which was theoretically capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. North Korea has expanded the March 16 Factory, which is involved in the development and production of ICBM launchers, @DaveSchmerler and I tell @KenDilanianNBC. — Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) December 21, 2019 "The site makes trucks to transport and launch ICBMs, so this is a long-term development," Lewis told Axios via email.

North Korea keeps world on edge with promised 'gift' to US -North Korea’s yet-to-materialize threat of a “Christmas gift” for the United States is keeping the world on edge. Christmas came and went with no indication of military action or even fiery rhetoric from North Korea. But U.S. officials have said they will be on high alert through New Year’s Day with the possibility the unspecified gift could be delivered at a later date. In a sign of the global anxiety created by Pyongyang, Japanese public broadcaster NHK sent out a false alert Thursday saying North Korea had fired a missile that landed in waters east of Japan’s coastline. Twenty-three minutes later, NHK sent out another alert saying the previous bulletin was “incorrect.” But for many North Korea watchers and those on social media, it was a very long 23 minutes. “At this particular moment, a false alarm like this can start a war,” MIT professor Vipin Narang tweeted Thursday after apologizing for initially sharing the NHK alert. Tensions started building earlier this month when a statement carried by North Korean state media warned it was the United States’s choice what its “Christmas gift” would be. “What is left to be done now is the U.S. option and it is entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select to get,” Ri Thae Song, a senior North Korean diplomat, said in the statement. The statement did not specify what the gift might be, nor did it specify whether it would come exactly on Christmas Day or if the phrase “Christmas gift” was more of a rhetorical flourish. The phrasing captured the public’s imagination and took off in U.S. and international media, with reports speculating what the gift could be. The warning was also taken seriously, especially since it came after Pyongyang had given the U.S. a year-end deadline to soften its stance in denuclearization negotiations before North Korea would take a “new path.”

 Trump: US ready to deal with any North Korea ‘Christmas gift’ - US President Donald Trump has brushed off North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's warning of a "Christmas gift", saying that Washington would "deal with it very successfully" and that perhaps it would be a "nice present". "We'll find out what the surprise is and we'll deal with it very successfully," Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday. "We'll see what happens." "Maybe it's a nice present," he quipped. "Maybe it's a present where he sends me a beautiful vase." North Korea has set a year-end deadline for the United States to change what it says is a policy of hostility amid a stalemate in efforts to make progress on the pledge to end North Korea's nuclear programme and establish lasting peace. Pyongyang warned the US last week over a "Christmas gift" as the deadline looms. Kim and Trump have met three times since June 2018 but there has been no substantive progress in dialogue and the government in Pyongyang has demanded that international sanctions be lifted first.

 You Say You Want a (Russian) Revolution? Pepe Escobar - Once in a blue moon an indispensable book comes out making a clear case for sanity in what is now a post-MAD world. That’s the responsibility carried by “The (Real) Revolution in Military Affairs,” by Andrei Martyanov (Clarity Press), arguably the most important book of 2019.  “Martyanov gets straight to the point: ‘The introduction of hypersonic weapons surely pours some serious cold water on the American obsession with securing the North American continent from retaliatory strikes.'”

Iran calls Pompeo 'loudspeaker for bullying' - Iran on Friday called US foreign policy "delusional" and its chief diplomat a "loudspeaker for bullying, deceit and disdain", a day after Washington announced new sanctions against Tehran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announcing the measures against two Iranian judges on Thursday, said Washington would also restrict visas for Iranian officials. "They will not achieve anything this way," Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a statement. "They have shown nothing to America's people and the world other than an inefficient, delusional, static and bullying foreign policy." President Donald Trump's administration has already ended the vast majority of new visas for Iranians. Washington also reimposed unilateral sanctions on Iran's oil and banking sectors after withdrawing from the multilateral 2015 nuclear deal last year and imposing a strategy of "maximum pressure". Pompeo said the new measures were "for the sake of human dignity" and that the United States stands with the Iranian people. Mousavi said former Central Intelligence Agency chief Pompeo was unfit to be in the "civilised field" of diplomacy. "Foreign ministers are usually the heralds of peace, friendship, dialogue and respect while Mr. Pompeo is a loudspeaker for bullying, deceit and disdain," he said.

White House Praises Saudi Arabia for Sentencing Five People to Death, Pretending Justice for Jamal Khashoggi Has Been Served  Hey, remember the horrific and grisly murder of journalist and Saudi Arabia dissident Jamal Khashoggi? The one Donald Trump basically let the kingdom get away with because he was able to sell them some weapons and he thinks the U.S. is one of his shitty Atlantic City casinos? For those who need a refresher: On October 2, 2018, the Washington Postcolumnist walked into the Saudi consulate and in Turkey and was never seen again. After first claiming it had no knowledge of the matter whatsoever, the kingdom admitted that Khashoggi had died in the consulate, initially claiming it happened in a fistfight and then copping to the fact that, oh, yeah, the killing was premeditated. This, plus the CIA’s conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of a U.S. resident, probably should’ve resulted in Trump punishing or at least criticizing the de facto leader, but instead, he basically covered for the guy.  Anyway, on Monday, Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor announced that five people had been sentenced to death in connection with the killing—none of whom are the guy U.S. intelligence say ordered the murder—and the White House would like people to believe that justice has been served: In addition to unsurprisingly letting bin Salman—who denied he directed the killing—get off scot-free, two senior aides to the crown prince were cleared of wrongdoing. In a statement, Shalaan al-Shalaan, a spokesman for the Saudi public prosecutor, who works for the government the prince runs, said an investigation had showed “there was no prior intention to kill at the start of this mission,” which the CIA’s own investigation concluded is...not true at all. As human rights advocates have noted, a fair trial was never going to happen, given bin Salman’s absolute power. Anyway, sentencing five patsies to death is just one prong of Saudi Arabia’s current PR initiative—it also appears to be working with Western celebrities and influencers to promote a kinder, gentler kingdom that people associate with Coachella-esque music festivals and not, say, dismemberment via bone saw.

Twitter suspends accounts linked to Saudi spying case - (Reuters) - Weeks after U.S. authorities brought a spying case against three Saudi nationals for digging up dissidents’ personal data at Twitter, the company suspended tens of thousands of accounts that appear to be linked to one suspect’s company. Twitter announced the suspension of the accounts on Friday, saying only that they were linked “to a significant state-backed information operation” originating in Saudi Arabia. It named as the source of the activity a Riyadh-based social media marketing company called Smaat, which has ties to several high-profile Saudi figures and news outlets. Smaat is run by Ahmed Aljbreen, according to his LinkedIn account and other social media profiles. The FBI complaint, announced in November, said a man also known by that name controls a Saudi social media marketing company that does work for the royal family. Twitter and the Department of Justice declined to say whether the two referred to the same person, although a federal source familiar with the matter said U.S. law enforcement believes that to be the case. Aljbreen, who is also known as Ahmed Almutairi, could not be reached for comment. The spying case pointed an unusually public finger at Saudi Arabia, a staunch U.S. ally, and cast an uncomfortable light on the practices Twitter uses to protect its users’ personal data. Aljbreen is accused of acting as a go-between for the Saudi officials and two former Twitter employees who used their positions to access email addresses, phone numbers and internet protocol addresses of government critics. Twitter learned of the unauthorized access in late 2015, according to the U.S. complaint. A Twitter spokesman declined to comment Friday on why the company did not take down Smaat’s information operation earlier.

Trump Is Allowing Turkey's Erdogan a Veto on U.S. Policy, Senator Says As White House Fails to Recognize Armenian Genocide -- President Donald Trump's administration is undermining America's reputation on human rights by refusing to adopt a Congress-approved resolution officially acknowledging the Armenian genocide, an advocacy group has said. Last week, the Senate passed a resolution expressing "official recognition and remembrance" of the 20th century massacre, perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire but still denied by Turkey today. The House passed an identical resolution in October. But the White House has not taken up the resolution, prompting condemnation from lawmakers and Armenian Americans, who accuse Trump of prioritizing his administration's ties with Turkey over human rights and genocide remembrance. Earlier this week, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the Trump administration's position "has not changed," according to the Associated Press. "Our views are reflected in the president's definitive statement on this issue from last April." Then, Trump issued a statement marking Armenian Remembrance Day, honoring "the memory of those who suffered in one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century." Trump's statement did not use the word "genocide," in line with established U.S. policy.

Ilhan Omar Refuses to Back Turkey Armenian Genocide Vote, Demands Slave Trade and Slaughter of Native Americans Also Be Acknowledged -- Ilhan Omar Refuses to Back Turkey Armenian Genocide Vote Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar has come under fire for refusing to back Tuesday's House vote on recognizing the early 20th-century Armenian Genocide, which passed the chamber by 405 to 11 votes with overwhelming bipartisan support.Responding to the criticism, Omar released a statement explaining her stance and suggesting that votes to acknowledge historic human rights abuses should not be a political weapon, used as a stick against America's opponents.Omar said that while she believes that accountability for human rights abuses is "paramount," she also believes that "accountability and recognition of genocide should not be used as a cudgel in a political fight. It should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics."If Congress truly wishes to acknowledge historic crimes against humanity, Omar added, it should look closer to home.She argued that such a step "must include both the heinous genocides of the 20th century, along with earlier mass slaughters like the transatlantic slave trade and the Native American genocide, which took the lives of hundreds of millions of people in this country." For this reason, Omar said she voted "present" on the bill. The Armenian Genocide took place in the Ottoman Empire from roughly 1915 to 1923 and is thought to have claimed more than 1 million people, though the figure is disputed.

"Like Watching A Car Crash In Slow Motion": Turkey Balks At US Sanction Threat, Warns It May Evict US Forces From Military Bases -Despite mounting political and diplomatic pressure by the US and its NATO allies, Turkey has again balked at US attempts of intimidation and dug into its refusal to abandon a new Russian missile defense, saying it won’t bow to the threat of crippling US sanctions or trade the S-400s for an American system.  "They said they would not sell Patriots unless we get rid of the S-400s. It is out of question for us to accept such a precondition," said Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, late on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting, quoted by Bloomberg. "An irrational anti-Turkish sentiment has prevailed in the Congress and it is not good for Turkish-American relations," Kalin added, noting that Congress "should know that such language of threat would push Turkey exactly toward places that they don’t want it turn to." Namely, right into the hands of Vladimir Putin, who is on even better terms with Erdogan than Trump, despite Turkey taking down a Russian fighter jet over its territory several years back.Separately, as the WSJ reported this morning, Erdogan once again warned that he would evict U.S. forces from two military bases in his country if Washington imposes new sanctions on his government, creating a bitter quandary for NATO as it seeks to cope with Ankara’s deepening ties to Russia. In a television interview this month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said if the U.S. punishes Turkey for its purchase of a Russian air-defense system, then, "if necessary, we may close Incirlik and Kureci," installations where the U.S. keeps approximately 50 B61 nuclear weapons, and operates critical radar. Erdogan's declaration elicited an anxious reaction from U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said it raised questions about Turkey’s dedication to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: "They have that inherent right to house or to not house NATO bases or foreign troops,” Esper said. "But again, I think this becomes an alliance matter, your commitment to the alliance, if indeed they are serious about what they are saying." "It feels like watching a car crash in slow motion," a Western diplomat in Turkey told the WSJ.

After Blowing $3 Trillion On Lies In Afghanistan, Congress Just Authorized A Trillion More For 2020 - It’s rare that I read something on the Washington Post that I don’t find highly biased, even repugnant. But with their recent article on the Afghanistan Papers, they truly knocked the ball out of the park. The facts they shared should have every American protesting in the streets.  Trillions of dollars have been spent on a war that the Pentagon knew was unwinnable all along. More than 2300 American soldiers died there and more than 20,000 have been injured. More than 150,000 Afghanis were killed, many of them civilians, including women and children.And they lied to us constantly.Congress just proved that the truth doesn’t matter, though. A mere 22 hours after the release of this document, the new National Defense Authorization Act that breezed through the House and Senate was signed by the President. That bill authorized $738 billion in military spending for 2020, actually increasing the budget by $22 billion over previous years. The Afghanistan Papers are a brilliant piece of investigative journalism published by the Washington Post and the article is very much worth your time to read. I know, I know – WaPo. But believe me when I tell you this is something all Americans need to see.This was an article that took three years of legal battles to bring to light. WaPo acquired the documents using the Freedom of Information Act and got more than 2000 pages of insider interviews with “people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.” These documents were originally part of a federal investigation into the “root failures” of the longest conflict in US history – more than 18 years now.Three presidents, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, have been involved in this ongoing war. It turns out that officials knew the entire time this war was “unwinnable” yet they kept throwing American lives and American money at it. Here’s an excerpt from WaPo’s report. Anything that is underlined is taken verbatim from the papers themselves – you can click on them to read the documents.

WaPo’s Afghan Papers Propagate Colonial Narrative of Noble Intentions Gone Awry - In an earlier article (, 12/18/19) regarding the Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers (12/9/19), I discussed how the Post’s exposé also exposed thePost as one of the primary vehicles US officials use to spread their lies, and why it’s impossible for corporate media outlets like the Post to raise more substantive questions about the deceptive nature of US foreign policy. But those aren’t the only significant takeaways. The Afghanistan Papers should also be considered an excellent case study of contemporary colonial propaganda, and yet another example of corporate media criticizing US wars without opposing US imperialism. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s famous analysis of media coverage of the Vietnam War, in Manufacturing Consent, found that questions of the invasion’s “tactics and costs”—to the US—dominated the debate, because the media absorbed the framework of government propaganda regarding the “necessity” of military intervention, the “righteousness of the American cause” and the US’s “nobility of intent.” Decades later, Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model of corporate media is still a useful tool in understanding the Post’s Afghanistan Papers. The Post advanced the centuries-old colonial narrative of the empire’s good intentions gone awry when it argued that the US “inadvertently built a corrupt, dysfunctional Afghan government,” and that this illustrated that “even some of the most well-intentioned projects could boomerang.” In fact, the Post dedicated a whole section of the Afghanistan Papers to propagating this standard colonial narrative, called “Stranded Without a Strategy,” which argued at length: US and allied officials admitted they veered off in directions that had little to do with Al Qaeda or 9/11. By expanding the original mission, they said they adopted fatally flawed warfighting strategies based on misguided assumptions about a country they did not understand…. Diplomats and military commanders acknowledged they struggled to answer simple questions: Who is the enemy? Whom can we count on as allies? How will we know when we have won?  The Post is so eager to push this colonial narrative of noble incompetence that a later report (12/11/19) on “key takeaways” from the Afghanistan Papers claimed that US officials “failed to align policy solutions with the challenges they confronted,” having “strategic drift” in place of “coherent US policy for Afghanistan.” As noted earlier, one method of discerning whether US officials are being dishonest, not incompetent, is to check whether the pretexts for invading and occupying another country are constantly changing.

The Real Lesson of Afghanistan Is That Regime Change Does Not Work -The trove of U.S. “Lessons Learned” documents on Afghanistan published by the Washington Post portrays, in excruciating detail, the anatomy of a failed policy, scandalously hidden from the public for 18 years. The “Lessons Learned” papers, however, are based on the premise that the U.S. and its allies will keep intervening militarily in other countries, and that they must therefore learn the lessons of Afghanistan to avoid making the same mistakes in future military occupations.This premise misses the obvious lesson that Washington insiders refuse to learn: the underlying fault is not in how the U.S. tries and fails to reconstruct societies destroyed by its “regime changes,” but in the fundamental illegitimacy of regime change itself. As former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz told NPR just eight days after 9/11, “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done. If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t approve of what has happened.” The “Lessons Learned” documents reveal the persistent efforts of three administrations to hide their colossal failures behind a wall of propaganda in order to avoid admitting defeat and to keep “muddling along,” as General McChrystal has described it. In Afghanistan, muddling along has meant dropping over 80,000 bombs and missiles, nearly all on people who had nothing to do with the crimes of September 11th, exactly as Ben Ferencz predicted. How many people have been killed in Afghanistan is contested and essentially unknown. The UN has published minimum confirmed numbers of civilians killed since 2007, but as Fiona Frazer, the UN human rights chief in Kabul, admitted to the BBC in August 2019, “more civilians are killed or injured in Afghanistan due to armed conflict than anywhere else on Earth” (but) due to rigorous methods of verification, the published figures almost certainly do not reflect the true scale of harm.”  It shouldn’t take 18 years for U.S. officials to publicly admit that there is no military solution to a murderous and unwinnable war for which the U.S. is politically and legally responsible. But the debacle in Afghanistan is only one case in a fundamentally flawed U.S. policy with worldwide consequences. New quasi-governments installed by U.S. “regime changes” in country after country have proven more corrupt, less legitimate and less able to control their nation’s territory than the ones the U.S. has destroyed, leaving their people mired in endless violence and chaos that no form of continued U.S. occupation can repair.

US pulls ambassador to Zambia amid gay rights dustup The Trump administration has withdrawn the U.S. ambassador to Zambia after the country's government became incensed over the diplomat's criticism of the country's highest court for jailing two men over homosexual relations. Reuters and Bloomberg reported Monday that Daniel Foote had been recalled after being summarily rejected by Zambian President Edgar Lungu in a Dec. 15 letter to the White House expressing anger over the ambassador's remarks. In a statement to Bloomberg, the State Department confirmed the withdrawal of Foote and said the U.S. government was "dismayed" by Zambia's position. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment by The Hill. “Since Lungu says he does not want to work with Foote, there was no point of him remaining,” an unnamed official at the U.S. embassy in Zambia told Reuters. “The U.S. cannot be paying a salary to someone who cannot work because the hosts don’t want him." Gay rights are heavily restricted in many African countries, a source of tension for many of the Western-based rights groups and relief organizations working on the continent.

  German government condemns US sanctions on Nord Stream 2 pipeline - The temporary halt to construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has dramatically intensified tensions between the United States and the European powers. Over the weekend, German government representatives and spokespeople from almost every party in parliament criticized the aggressive actions by the United States over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in unusually strident terms.  US President Donald Trump signed a bill into law on Friday evening that imposes sanctions on firms involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. The so-called “Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act 2019” was authored by Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Prior to Trump's signing of the bill, both parties supported its passage by a huge majority in the House and Senate as part of the US’s gargantuan $738 billion military budget.  The US’s aggressive actions resulted in a temporary halt to construction on Nord Stream 2. The Swiss firm Allseas, which was laying the pipeline with special ships in the Baltic Sea, announced that it was suspending work on the project indefinitely. Republican senators Cruz and Ron Johnson had threatened Allseas chief executive Edward Heerema in a letter with “crushing and potentially fatal legal and economic sanctions” if his company continued work “even for a single day” after the passage of the law. They warned, “You face a binary choice: stop NOW, and leave the pipeline unfinished (...) or make a foolish attempt to rush to complete the pipeline and risk putting your company out of business forever.” The German government strongly condemned Washington's actions. The sanctions have been “acknowledged with regret,” stated government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer in Berlin on Saturday. “They impact German and European firms, and amount to interference in our internal affairs.” The chairman of the Social Democratic parliamentary group, Rolf Mützenich, declared, “The EU and Germany are obviously not allied partners for Trump, but vassals obliged to pay tribute... We will not bow to these methods of blackmail.”   Other government and business representatives spoke along similar lines. “President Trump is attempting nothing less than to economically subordinate Europe. That not only threatens an important project for our energy supply, but the entire system of world trade,” warned new SPD leader Norbert Walter-Borjans. The Social Democrat Minister President of Mecklenburg-Pomerania Manuela Schwesig urged that everything now had to be done to ensure the pipeline's completion. “Germany is correctly ending the use of nuclear and coal power in the coming years. So, we need the pipeline for our future energy supply,” she said.

 China To Cut Tariffs On Pork, Tech And Many Global Imports It Desperately Needs - After a phase one trade deal with the US, China said on Monday that it would slash import tariffs on a wide range of goods from around the world to boost domestic consumption. As Bloomberg reported,  the Ministry of Finance published a list outlining 859 products that will be subjected to lower tariffs, some of those items include food, consumer goods, and high-tech parts for electronics.   One of the most critical items on the list is pork, which will be imported in more significant amounts come early January to lower domestic spot prices that have hyperinflated in late 2019. Increasing pork imports will also allow the government to rebuild the pork cold storage inventory that was depleted thanks to the outbreak of African swine fever that decimated the country's pig herds.  The list also includes pharmaceutical ingredients, avocados, orange juice, and seafood, as China's middle-class, some of the wealthiest in the world, demand more expensive products.  Bloomberg notes that 2018 imports of the listed items were about $389 billion, or about 18% of China's total imports of $2.14 trillion. And since tariffs are merely a tax on its consumers, what Beijing has just done is stimulate domestic consumption for an economy where GDP is set to hit a new sub 6% record soon.That said, China will likely spin the tariff cuts as "generous concessions" to the US, but as we've explained before, China isn't going to source from the US entirely. Chinese importers will gravitate to areas of the world where products are the most affordable. For example, Chinese importers of farm products ditched US farmers for ones in South America because of the exchange rate and lower spot prices on soybean and pork.   Monday's tariff cuts hint that China's economy continues to decelerate rapidly, and the government is scrambling to boost domestic consumption. And while China will try to use the tariff reduction as ammo to push the US for tariff cuts of its own, there's little evidence that Chinese importers will source the new imports from the US.

 China's Imports Of US Soy Soar To 20 Month High As Food Inflation Explodes - One year after China did not import even one ounce of US soybeans as the trade feud was escalating at the end of 2018, in November 2019, China - which has found itself roiled by soaring food prices - saw its imports of US soybeans surge to the highest in 20 months after more American cargoes cleared customs ahead of the alleged signing of the Phase One trade deal in January. According to data from China's Customs Administration, China’s inbound shipments from the U.S. more than doubled to 2.6 million tons, the highest since March 2018, and up from about 1.1 million tons in October. As noted above, in November of 2018 - when the trade war between the two nations was escalating rapidly - China imported no U.S. soybeans. As Bloomberg notes, citing USDA data, China’s total commitments in the current marketing year hit 10.5 million tons, compared with just 2 million tons the previous year. That said, the surge in US soybean imports was not some trade war concession aimed at the US because as US imports jumped, so did China's imports from its top Latin American markets: specifically, in November, China bought bought 3.9 million tons of soybeans from Brazil, Beijing's largest supplier, up from 3.8 million tons in October and 5.1 million tons in November last year; imports from Argentina also rose from 959,936 tons in October to 1.4 million tons, and up from a tiny 36,119 tons in November last year. According to China's National Grain and Oils Information Center, December imports may climb to about 9 million tons following more shipments from U.S., which could ease supply shortages at some crushers. And while China is unlikely to order less soybean from either Brazil or Argentina any time soon as the two nations have emerged as the two key supply chain alternatives to the US, where any trade goodwill may be undone with stroke of a tweet, Bloomberg notes that Chinese companies are likely to continue purchasing American soybeans especially if the two countries sign the partial trade deal in early January, in line with the market's expectations. There is also China's desperation to repopulate its decimated pig population and to do that, Beijing needs access to all the soybeans it can get. It explains why China has been issuing regular tariff waivers (which cover 30% of the retaliatory tariffs on US soybeans) for domestic firms to buy U.S. soybeans. That said, China was quick to pretend like the surge in US soybean purchases was in fact some concession, and shortly after the news of the import jump hit, China's infamous twitter troll, Global Times editor Hu Xijin, tweeted "congrats to US farmers" adding a tacit threat that US farmers should "prod" the US government to sign the Phase One deal if they want China's vital goodwill to continue, to wit: "meanwhile please prod the US government, making sure the two countries can sign phase one deal smoothly and the next trade talks continue to make progress. This is vital to stabilize China’s purchase of US farm products."

 The problem with world trade is not tariffs, but too much globalisation. Can Elizabeth Warren fix it? - Dani Rodrik - US trade policy has long been shaped by corporate and financial interests, enriching those groups while contributing to the erosion of middle-class earnings. It is now clear that we need a new narrative on trade, one that recognises globalisation is a means to national prosperity, not an end in itself. Fortunately, Democratic candidates in the US presidential race have begun to produce good ideas on which a new trade edifice can be built. In particular, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s trade plan solidifies her credentials as the Democratic candidate with the best policy ideas. Her plan represents a radical reimagining of trade policy in the interests of society at large.  A key plank of Warren’s plan is to establish prerequisites before the US signs deep-integration agreements. Any country with which the US negotiates a trade agreement must recognise and enforce internationally recognised labour standards and human rights. It must be a signatory to the Paris climate agreement and international conventions against corruption and tax evasion. Of course, on labour and the environment, the US itself falls short of some of these preconditions, and Warren has committed to fixing these “shameful” shortcomings.  This approach is vastly superior to the current practice of assuming trade partners will raise their standards once a trade agreement is signed. In reality, side agreements on labour and environment have proved quite ineffective. The only way to ensure that such issues are treated on par with questions of market access is to restrict trade agreements to countries that are already committed to high standards. Moreover, some of the most harmful elements in trade agreements should be removed or weakened. Warren rightly proposes eliminating investor-state dispute settlement – the controversial practice of allowing foreign corporations to sue governments. She also seeks to limit the scope of monopoly rights in intellectual property, pledging never to push another country to extend exclusivity periods for prescription drugs.

Trump boasts of Democrats’ backing for his assault on immigrants - With conditions facing immigrants and those seeking asylum in the US becoming increasingly horrific, US President Donald Trump gloated over the weekend that the Democratic Party has bowed to his rabid anti-immigrant policy by voting to approve billions of dollars in new funding for his border wall. In a speech to a meeting organized by the far-right student group Turning Point USA in West Palm Beach, Florida, Trump boasted of the overwhelming bipartisan approval of the $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which, according to the White House, “enables more than the $8.6 billion amount included in the budget request to be dedicated for the President’s border wall, including nearly $1.4 billion in direct funding.” While dropping opposition to Trump illegally diverting funds from the Pentagon budget for the border wall, the legislation was also stripped of a provision that would have limited the role of military troops in hunting down and imprisoning immigrants at the border. The Pentagon is maintaining a permanent deployment of 5,500 National Guard and active duty soldiers on the US southern border. “I got that one through as part of the defense bill, because you know what? The Democrats don’t like the issue anymore, because they know we’re right,” Trump told his right-wing audience. “When you see what’s happening over there, they know we’re right. They sort of let that one sail through.” Indeed, even as it proceeds with its impeachment of Trump based on the narrow and reactionary charge that he has been insufficiently aggressive against Russia by delaying military funding for the right-wing Ukrainian government, the Democratic Party is marching in lock step with the White House on the buildup for war, the attacks on the working class and the brutal treatment of immigrants and refugees. As the Democrats and Republicans close ranks, conditions on the US-Mexico border and in detention centers for immigrants have become increasingly hellish, constituting a violation of international laws guaranteeing the right to asylum, and a shameful crime against humanity.

Deaths in custody. Sexual violence. Hunger strikes. What we uncovered inside ICE facilities across the US -At 2:04 p.m. on Oct. 15, a guard at the Richwood Correctional Center noticed an odd smell coming from one of the isolation cells. He opened the door, stepped inside and found the lifeless body of Roylan Hernandez-Diaz hanging from a bedsheet. The 43-year-old Cuban man had spent five months in immigration detention waiting for a judge to hear his asylum claim. As his time at Richwood dragged on, he barely answered questions from security or medical staff, who noted his “withdrawn emotional state.” He refused to eat for four days. The day after his death, 20 other detainees carried out what they say was a peaceful protest. They wrote “Justice for Roylan” on their white T-shirts, sat down in the cafeteria and refused to eat. Guards swooped in and attacked, beating one of them so severely he was taken to a hospital, according to letters written by 10 detainees that were obtained by the USA TODAY Network and interviews with two detainees’ relatives. Before that day, detainees at Richwood had chronicled a pattern of alleged brutality in the Louisiana facility. Detainees complained of beatings, taunts from guards who called them “f---ing dogs” and of landing in isolation cells for minor violations. The USA TODAY Network uncovered the Richwood episode during an investigation of the rapidly growing network of detention centers used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The investigation revealed more than 400 allegations of sexual assault or abuse, inadequate medical care, regular hunger strikes, frequent use of solitary confinement, more than 800 instances of physical force against detainees, nearly 20,000 grievances filed by detainees and at least 29 fatalities, including seven suicides, since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017 and launched an overhaul of U.S. immigration policies.

ICE signs long-term contracts worth billions for private detention centers, dodging new state law  -- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has entered into long-term contracts worth billions of dollars with for-profit prison companies to operate four private immigration detention centers in California. The move comes two weeks before a new state law is set to take effect, phasing out the use of private, for-profit prisons and immigration detention centers. The contracts cap a contentious, two-month struggle between ICE and state leaders. California’s Congressional delegation, other lawmakers and immigration advocates have slammed the agency for potentially violating federal procurement law in an attempt to lock in long-term contracts for the state’s existing private detention centersbefore AB 32 takes effect in January.  The contract announcements, posted on a federal website, only say the awards are for four detention centers in ICE’s Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego areas of responsibility. However, the awards likely refer to the four existing private detention centers in the state: The Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, operated by GEO Group; the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, also run by GEO; the Otay Mesa Detention Center, run by CoreCivic, and the Imperial Regional Detention Center, run by Management and Training Corp. Here's what we know about the contracts:

  • Two 15-year contracts, worth a combined $3.7 billion with GEO Group for facilities in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, are likely for the company's Adelanto and Mesa Verde facilities. The announcement describes the contracts as being for “housekeeping-guard” and “security guards and patrol services.”
  • A 15-year contract, worth $679 million with Management and Training Corp. to provide guard services at a detention center in the San Diego area, is likely for the Imperial Regional Detention Facility.
  • A five-year contract, worth $2.1 billion with CoreCivic to provide guard services at a private immigration detention center in the San Diego area, is likely for Otay Mesa.

All four contracts are in effect as of Friday, Dec. 20. A USA TODAY Network investigation of the rapidly growing network of detention centers used by ICE revealed more than 400 allegations of sexual assault or abuse; inadequate medical care; regular hunger strikes; frequent use of solitary confinement; more than 800 instances of physical forces against detainees; nearly 20,000 grievances field by detainees; and at least 29 fatalities, including seven suicides, since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017 and launched an overhaul of U.S. immigration policies.

The ACA is now embedded in U.S. health care — and its legality is still in question - PBS Newshour (video & transcript)  Since it was first created during the Obama administration, there has been no end to the fight over the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The battle continues to play out on the campaign trail and in the courts, where a recent federal appeals decision struck down the law’s individual mandate. William Brangham reports and talks to Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News for analysis.

 Focus turns to Supreme Court (again) following ACA ruling All eyes are likely to turn to the Supreme Court of the United States now that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued its long-awaited ruling on the fate of the Affordable Care Act. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading the defense of the ACA among a group of blue states in court, has said he will soon petition the high court to take up the case. "We are prepared to file a cert petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge this ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act," Becerra said last week during a press conference. While the outcome of the case is cloudy, there are a few possible next steps for the case, according to legal experts. The high court could pass on the case, letting it wind its way through lower courts. The court could still decide to hear the case after it has traveled through the lower courts. Or, Becerra and the blue states could decide to forgo asking the Supreme Court to weigh in right away and opt for the case to wind its way back through the lower courts and seek out the high court after that. All it takes is four Supreme Court justices to say they want to hear the case, or to grant certiorari. Despite a conservative majority on the court, legal experts are mixed how the court will act. Republican appointee Chief Justice John Roberts has stunned many in voting to uphold the law, albeit weakening certain elements like the Medicaid expansion. "Maybe the four liberals will roll the dice. After all, Chief Justice John Roberts has turned back two much stronger challenges to the Affordable Care Act. He’s unlikely to endorse a lawsuit this silly," Nicholas Bagley, a health law expert and law professor at the University of Michigan wrote for the Atlantic. And waiting could be risky, Bagley noted: Two liberal justices are in their 80s, and "President Trump would replace them with hard-liners if given the chance," he wrote.

Our Current Healthcare System Is a Bad Jobs Guarantee - Mike the Mad Biologist - One of the problems I have with Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg is that he uses Republican talking points to attack proposals that are popular, in general and with Democrats. Partying like it’s 1999 lost its appeal long ago. Case in point–Buttigieg’s willingness to argue that Medicare for All would cost healthcare insurance industry workers their jobs (boldface mine):  Here are the facts: A study released last year found that it’s quite possible the health-care sector would lose between 1.8 million and 2 million jobs if Medicare-for-all became the law of the land. Many — though not all — of those positions would come from such patient service areas as claims processing and such hospital administrative services as medical bill coding.  These are not, in many cases, jobs that help keep people healthy. They are, instead, holders of positions responsible for deciding on the validity of your insurance claim, or ensuring the medical provider gets the maximum amount of money for it. They are, in other words, the foot soldiers in a system that is causing active harm to millions of other Americans — financially, emotionally and to their health. Despite the claim that we’ve got the best health-care system in the world, the typical American life span is falling. Polling shows 1 in 4people with a chronic health condition reports a health insurer denied their claim and that people would, among other things, rather walk over hot coals, lose their luggage or suffer a flat tire than enroll in or review a health insurance plan.

Trump personally stepped in to cut health funding for Puerto Rico in new spending deal, report says - Donald Trump stepped in to cut Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico by more than half of the original amount that was agreed to during bipartisan negotiations, according to a new report. Republican and Democratic leaders agreed to provide the US territory with $12bn (£9.2bn) over the next four years as part of a $1.4tn (£1.07tn) spending bill, averting another government shutdown and sending crucial health funding to Puerto Rico after it was ravaged by Hurricane Maria two years ago. Puerto Rico has continued rebuilding itself after the hurricane and in spite of enormous political uproar this year, when the island’s residents successfully protested for the resignations of its top leaders, including ex-Governor Ricardo Rossello, who stepped down in August. Despite all that, the president reportedly intervened to remove $6.3bn (£4.8bn) in funding from Puerto Rico in the budget before it went up for a vote and was passed by the House earlier this week. 

'Cutting Social Security Is Murder': Flood of Public Outrage Greets Trump Proposal to Slash Benefits for Hundreds of Thousands "This policy change is abhorrent and absolutely unjustifiable.""We all know that the cruelty is the point with this administration, but this sinks to yet another low.""This would be a crushing blow to me and my family."Those are just a few of the more than 1,700 official comments members of the U.S. public have left on President Donald Trump's proposed Social Security rule change, which could strip lifesaving disability benefits from hundreds of thousands of people. The proposal received hardly any media attention when it was first published in the Federal Register in November. But recent reporting on the proposed rule change, as well as outrage from progressive Social Security advocates, sparked a flood of public condemnation and calls for the Trump administration to reverse course.Backlash against the proposal can be seen in the public comment section for the rule, where self-identified physicians, people with disabilities, social workers, and others have condemned the change as monstrous and potentially deadly. The number of public comments has ballooned in recent days, going from less than 200 to more than 1,700 in a week.The public comment period ends on January 17, 2020. Comments can be submitted here.  "Cutting Social Security is murder and this immoral administration knows it," wrote one commenter. "I will fight it every way I can."A commenter who identified as Karla Kirchner said Social Security is her "only source of income.""If I lose my checks, there will be nothing left to keep me alive," Kirchner wrote.The Trump administration's proposal would add another layer of complexity to the process of obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  If implemented, the rule change would require people categorized by the federal government as Step 5 recipients—typically older individuals with serious physical ailments or mental illness—and others to re-prove their benefit eligibility every two years. Critics and policy experts warned that the goal of imposing more onerous eligibility requirements on disabled Social Security recipients is to slash people's benefits. An estimated 4.4 million people would be subject to the new requirement if the Trump administration's proposal takes effect, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "The United States already has some of the strictest eligibility criteria for disability benefits in the world,"  "More than half of all claims are denied."

Trump’s holiday menu: handouts for billionaires, hunger for the poor - Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib - When it comes to billionaires benefiting from the generosity of the American taxpayer, the holiday spirit is alive year-round. Taxpayers paid out $115m to Donald Trump so he could play golf at his own resorts. And Amazon didn’t just pay zero in federal taxes on $11bn in profits – taxpayers gifted the corporation $129,000,000 in rebates. That’s enough to pay for CEO Jeff Bezos’s three apartments in Manhattan, including a penthouse, that cost him $80m. And what about government generosity for those who actually need help? Tax dollars are somehow much harder to come by when they’re not going to handouts for the rich. The average person in poverty, struggling to put food on the table, gets about $134 a month in nutrition assistance. Now, just in time for the holidays, Trump has finalized the first of three policies that will make this disparity even more obscene. Two years after passing a $1.5tn tax giveaway to the wealthiest Americans and large corporations, the Trumpadministration plans to strip 3.7 million people of their nutrition benefits. The administration’s first step is to kick 700,000 adults off of nutrition assistance as they struggle to find work. The second step: trying to punish families who have high childcare and housing costs. And third, they want to hurt families who already are making difficult choices between food or heat.  Together, the three proposals will cut billions of dollars from one of our nation’s leading anti-poverty programs. Meanwhile, the Republican tax scam is working exactly as planned. Today, the richest 400 billionaires pay lower taxesthan any group in America – including the poor. Nearly 100 of the top Fortune 500 companies now pay nothing in taxes. This is what oligarchy looks like: Trump’s appetite to shower the ultra-wealthy with corporate welfare is endless – and so is his administration’s willingness to assault our nation’s most vulnerable and hungriest families.

'Like Something Made by a High Schooler': Trump Campaign Unveils Snowflake-Destroyer-Machine for Holiday Gatherings  -President Donald Trump's 2020 reelection campaign on Tuesday launched a new website to help supporters win arguments with family members over the holidays, providing tips and talking points to help to right-wingers facing off against "liberal relatives" encountered at potentially hostile family gatherings in the coming days.Trump supporters can go to and see such luminaries of the right-wing as Katrina Pierson and Lara Trump set to soaring background music. Topics covered include impeachment, the economy, and Joe Biden. For example, the site offers a blistering takedown of "Big Government Socialism" in this video:Reaction to the site, which went live late Tuesday morning, was wildly enthusiastic from Trump supporters while progressives ridiculed the effort."We know that at Christmas and holiday time, there's always that liberal snowflake relative who starts an argument and then runs and hides," tweeted Brad Parscale, Trump's campaign manager. "This year, don't let them get away with it."Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee had a different take.  "Nothing says Merry Christmas like hurling insults at relatives," said Elleithee.

The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts - - When the new york times magazine published its 1619 Project in August, people lined up on the street in New York City to get copies. Since then, the project—a historical analysis of how slavery shaped American political, social, and economic institutions—has spawned a podcast, a high-school curriculum, and an upcoming book. For Nikole Hannah-Jones, the reporter who conceived of the project, the response has been deeply gratifying. “They had not seen this type of demand for a print product of The New York Times, they said, since 2008, when people wanted copies of Obama's historic presidency edition,” Hannah-Jones told me. “I know when I talk to people, they have said that they feel like they are understanding the architecture of their country in a way that they had not.”   The 1619 Project, named for the date of the first arrival of Africans on American soil, sought to place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” Viewed from the perspective of those historically denied the rights enumerated in America’s founding documents, the story of the country’s great men necessarily looks very different.  The reaction to the project was not universally enthusiastic. Several weeks ago, the Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, who had criticized the 1619 Project’s “cynicism” in a lecture in November, began quietly circulating a letter objecting to the project, and some of Hannah-Jones’s work in particular. The letter acquired four signatories—James McPherson, Gordon Wood, Victoria Bynum, and James Oakes, all leading scholars in their field. They sent their letter to three top Times editors and the publisher, A. G. Sulzberger, on December 4. A version of that letter was published on Friday, along with a detailed rebuttal from Jake Silverstein, the editor of the Times Magazine. The letter sent to the Times says, “We applaud all efforts to address the foundational centrality of slavery and racism to our history,” but then veers into harsh criticism of the 1619 Project. The letter refers to “matters of verifiable fact” that “cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing’” and says the project reflected “a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.” Wilentz and his fellow signatories didn’t just dispute the Times Magazine’s interpretation of past events, but demanded corrections.  In the age of social-media invective, a strongly worded letter might not seem particularly significant. But given the stature of the historians involved, the letter is a serious challenge to the credibility of the 1619 Project, which has drawn its share not just of admirers but also critics.

Six Tax-Based Ways to Tackle US Inequality by Jeffrey Frankel -  The first policy proposal would be to reinforce the estate tax. The US might begin by restoring the tax on all estates worth, say, $5 million. More important, however, is to eliminate the “step-up” of the valuation of the assets in the estate, which currently allows generations to pass on capital gains without ever paying tax on them. It would be far easier for the Internal Revenue Service to place a dollar value on assets on a once-a-lifetime basis (that is, on the estate, before it passes to the heirs) than to try to do so every year under a wealth tax. And doing this would accomplish the same objective as the wealth tax: putting some friction into the inter-generational accumulation of dynastic wealth that, as it stands, never gets taxed.  Second, policymakers should give the IRS the resources it needs to collect taxes that are owed. Natasha Sarin and Larry Summers recently noted that the IRS currently fails to collect nearly 15% of total tax liabilities – primarily to the benefit of those with high incomes. It is impossible to close the gap completely. But giving the IRS more resources, Sarin and Summers argue, would have a high benefit-cost ratio and generate more than $1 trillion in net additional revenue over the next decade.Third, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would help to “make work pay.” Incentives do matter. But it is those Americans trying to lift themselves out of poverty and up into the middle class – not the rich – who often face the steepesteffective marginal tax rate (taking lost benefits into account). Extending the EITC to more households would enlarge the economic pie while also sharing it more equally, thereby enhancing both efficiency and equity.Fourth, the payroll tax should be made more progressive. The US social-security system is not as progressive as many think. Even workers who don’t earn enough to pay federal income tax must nonetheless pay a payroll tax. The threshold for this tax should be raised, with the lost revenue recouped by raising the ceiling (currently $118,500 in wages) above which Americans no longer pay it.Fifth, the US government also should make the income tax more progressive – for example, by cutting the gap between the tax rates on investment income and wages. And, clearly, it should abolish the carried-interest loophole. Finally, Congress should revisit the December 2017 corporate-tax cut to make it revenue-neutral. There were good arguments for reducing the US corporate-tax rate to bring it closer to that of other countries. But all Republican senators voted for the tax cut in the declared belief that it would boost income growth so much as to be revenue-neutral. Unsurprisingly, this has not happened: firms turned their windfalls over to shareholders in the form of dividends and share buy-backs, rather than investing in capital as intended. As a result, revenue fell. US firms now pay virtually the lowest level of tax as a percentage of GDP among major advanced economies.

 Boeing documents sent to House committee called ‘very disturbing’  -- Internal documents newly provided by Boeing to a U.S. House committee investigating two fatal crashes of the 737 MAX appear to portray a “very disturbing picture” of safety concerns raised by some employees and efforts by others to evade regulators, a spokeswoman for the committee said Tuesday.  The comments came a day after The Seattle Times reported that Boeing on Monday sent the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) additional documents discovered in its internal investigation into development of the 737 MAX. The records included “troubling communications” that the company’s lawyers determined Boeing needed to disclose, according to a person familiar with the details. “Boeing contacted the House Transportation Committee December 23rd in the late evening to transmit previously undisclosed documents related to the 737 MAX,” committee spokeswoman Kerry Arndt said in an email Tuesday. “Staff are continuing to review these records, but similar to other records previously disclosed by Boeing, the records appear to point to a very disturbing picture of both concerns expressed by Boeing employees about the company’s commitment to safety and efforts by some employees to ensure Boeing’s production plans were not diverted by regulators or others.”Arndt said the committee will continue to review the documents and other records provided by Boeing as part of its ongoing investigation into the crashes off Indonesia in October 2018 and in Ethiopia in March that together killed 346 people. The second crash led to the worldwide grounding of the plane, while Boeing has spent the ensuing nine months working to convince the FAA and foreign regulators that it has fixed problems with the plane.

Susan Collins Is Suddenly Opposing Trump’s Court Picks Amid Tough Reelection Bid  Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) didn’t cast a single vote against one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees in 2017 and 2018. But she suddenly got cold feet on some of his picks this year as she kicked off what’s shaping up to be one of her toughest reelection cycles yet. Collins, the most senior Republican woman in the Senate, cast the deciding votes confirming several of Trump’s controversial nominees in recent years, including those deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association (ABA). And though she says she’s “pro-choice,” the four-term incumbent has voted to confirm dozens of judges who have signaled they oppose abortion. But Collins’ steadfast approval for the president’s court picks weakened in 2019 after Republicans picked up two more seats in the Senate during the previous year’s midterm elections. She was able to oppose some of the nominees ― grabbing headlines and the goodwill of some of Maine’s Democratic-leaning voters along the way ― likely knowing full well that they would receive the confirmation votes needed from her Republican colleagues anyway.Hundreds of Trump’s lifetime appointees for the Supreme Court, circuit courts and district courts have been confirmed since he took office in 2017. As a so-called moderate, Collins has been viewed as a critical vote for several of these confirmations. She helped seal Jonathan Kobes’ fate on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2018, though the ABA determined he was “not qualified” for the position. He drew opposition from more than 200 civil and human rights groups over his past anti-LGBTQ comments. He also raised concerns his decision to represent, on a pro bono basis, anti-abortion health centers. Collins was also a crucial vote for the confirmations of Leonard Steven Grasz, another nominee deemed “not qualified” by the ABA, to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and Don Willett, who has made disparaging jokes on Twitter about same-sex marriage and transgender people, to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2017.

Uncertainty hangs over Trump impeachment trial -President Trump's upcoming impeachment trial is mired in uncertainty as Washington heads into a two-week holiday stretch. The inability to get even the basic outline of an agreement has left senators wondering when, or if, the next phase of the proceedings will begin. The Senate is out until Jan. 3, and the House returns four days later, keeping trial deliberations stuck in limbo until at least the second week of the new year. Lawmakers left the Capitol this week largely in the dark about what the start of 2020 would look like, after a decision by House Democrats to delay transmitting the articles to the Senate threw a curveball into the impeachment timeline. When asked what he was expecting for January, Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the No. 4 Republican, turned the question back on reporters and asked them if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had an agreement on aspects of the trial like witnesses and evidence. “I don’t think we have any guidance on that,” he added. Under Senate rules, an impeachment trial starts the day after the House transmits the articles to the chamber, unless that day is a Sunday. But after days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to say when the articles would be handed over to the Senate, citing concerns that McConnell would not hold a “fair” trial. Some congressional Democrats went a step further, suggesting the House should never hand over the articles, effectively cutting off the second phase of the impeachment process. “If you have a pre-ordained outcome that’s negative to your actions, why walk into it? I’d much rather not take that chance,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said during an interview on CNN. Democrats are hoping the delay tactic helps exert leverage and keep the focus on McConnell, who has emerged as a top antagonist for the party ahead of next year’s elections.

Why Senate Democrats are the real challenge to full impeachment trial - Jonathon Turley, The Hill. When William Shakespeare wrote that “all the world is a stage” and “one man in his time plays many parts,” he could have probably had in mind Senator Charles Schumer. In 1999, the Democrat from New York famously opposed witnesses in the trial of President Clinton as nothing more than “political theater.” Now Schumer has declared that witnesses and a full trial are essential for President Trump, and that a trial without witnesses would be deemed the “most unfair impeachment trial in modern history.” That does not include the Clinton case where Schumer sought to proceed to a summary vote without a trial. As the Senate now gears up for the third presidential impeachment in history, the fight has begun over the rules and scope of a trial. The Framers were silent on the expected procedures and evidence for a trial, beyond the requirement of a two-thirds vote to convict a president. The only direct precedent on these issues is derived from two very different trials, those of President Johnson and Clinton. By sending a thin record to the Senate, the House could not have made things easier for Trump. Since the House did not take time to subpoena critical witnesses, such as former national security adviser John Bolton, or to compel testimony of other witnesses, the Senate could simply declare that it will try the case on the record supplied by the House, a record that Democrats insist is already conclusive and overwhelming. Moreover, in reviewing the past trials of Johnson and Clinton, Democrats may have to struggle with precedents of their own making. Indeed, Republicans could argue that a trial without witnesses is impeachment in Democratic style.The first question for the trial could be whether there should even be a trial held at all. In early England, the House of Lords often refused to hold trials on impeachments, which often were raw political exercises. In the Clinton trial, Democrats moved to dismiss both impeachment articles as meritless. The motion by Senator Robert Byrd failed on a largely party line vote with Democrats, including Senator Joe Biden, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Schumer, opposing having any impeachment trial at all. Ironically, the obstruction of Congress article in the Trump impeachment would make a stronger case for such a threshold dismissal. The House adopted a brief investigation in order to impeach by Christmas. Trump has challenged the demands from Congress for testimony and documents in court. President Nixon and Clinton both took such appeals to the Supreme Court then lost. I disagree with the White House assertions of immunity and privilege. However, Democrats have taken the position that it can set an artificially short period of investigation and impeach a president who goes to court instead of simply yielding to the demands from Congress. This would allow lawmakers to effectively manufacture the gro .

Dems Fear Impeachment Could ‘Embolden’ Trump - It’s the day after Adam Schiff made one last speech on the floor of the House of Representatives arguing that Donald Trump must be impeached. The California Democrat was back at work, headed to the secure room underneath the U.S. Capitol where, over the course of the last three months, his House Intelligence Committee conducted its impeachment investigation. The inquiry shaped charges that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to do him political favors and obstructed Congress’ investigation into the alleged abuse—leading to a vote last Wednesday that sealed Trump’s place in history as the third U.S. president to be impeached. But as Democrats were finalizing the case to have Trump removed from office, Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney and the man at the center of the Ukraine investigation, gave an interview to the New Yorker in which he admitted he wanted the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, “out of the way” because she was going to “make the investigations difficult for everybody.” The interview came a week after Giuliani returned from a trip to Ukraine, of which the president told reporters that Giuliani gathered “a lot of good information” and would present a report of his findings to Congress and the Department of Justice. These developments have weighed on Schiff and fellow House Democrats. As he descended the staircase to his committee’s room—accompanied in that moment not by the usual pack of reporters but only by an aide and a Capitol policeman—this Daily Beast reporter asked the chairman of the Intelligence Committee how his party might navigate this situation. “I am not sure that I have a complete answer for you,” answered Schiff. “Because, given the continuing nature of his violations of his oath, we have to expect that’s not going to stop. I would hope that the accountability of the impeachment might provide a guardrail, but it could also have the effect of emboldening him.” “We’ll continue to do our oversight work,” Schiff continued. “That’s all we can do. And if there’s additional wrongdoing, exposing it—that’s all we can do.”

White House predicts Pelosi will yield on impeachment delay — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that he was not ruling out calling witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial — but indicated he was in no hurry to seek new testimony either — as lawmakers remain at an impasse over the form of the trial by the GOP-controlled Senate. The House voted Wednesday to impeach Trump, who became only the third president in U.S. history to be formally charged with “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But the Senate trial may be held up until lawmakers can agree on how to proceed. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is demanding witnesses who refused to appear during House committee hearings, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and former national security adviser John Bolton. McConnell, who has all-but-promised a swift acquittal of the president, has resisted making any guarantees, and has cautioned Trump against seeking the testimony of witnesses he desires for fear of elongating the trial. Instead, he appears to have secured Republican support for his plans to impose a framework drawn from the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. “We haven’t ruled out witnesses,” McConnell said Monday in an interview with “Fox and Friends.” “We’ve said let’s handle this case just like we did with President Clinton. Fair is fair.” That trial featured a 100-0 vote on arrangements that established two weeks of presentations and argument before a partisan tally in which Republicans, who held the majority, called a limited number of witnesses. But Democrats now would need Republican votes to secure witness testimony — and Republicans believe they have the votes to eventually block those requests. In a letter Monday to all Senators, Schumer argued that the circumstances in the Trump trial are different from that of Clinton, who was impeached after a lengthy independent counsel investigation in which witnesses had already testified numerous times under oath. Schumer rejected the Clinton model, saying waiting until after the presentations to decide on witnesses would “foreclose the possibility of obtaining such evidence because it will be too late.” Schumer also demanded that the Senate, in addition to receiving testimony, also compel the Trump administration to turn over documents and emails relevant to the case, including on the decision to withhold military assistance from Ukraine. Schumer told The Associated Press on Monday that he stands ready to negotiate with McConnell, and that he hopes questions about witnesses can be settled “right at the beginning.” Without witnesses, he said, any trial would be “Kafkaesque.”.

Convict Trump: The Constitution is more important than abortion - The Christian Post --Christians should advocate for President Donald J. Trump’s conviction and removal from office by the Senate. While Trump has an excellent record of appointing conservative judges and advancing a prolife agenda, his criminal conduct endangers the Constitution. The Constitution is more important than the prolife cause because without the Constitution, prolife advocacy would be meaningless.The fact that we live in a democratic republic is what enables us to turn our prolife convictions from private opinion into public advocacy. In other systems of government, the government does not care what its citizens think or believe. Only when the government is forced to take counsel from its citizens through elections, representation, and majoritarian rule do our opinions count.Our democratic Constitution — adopted to “secure the blessings of liberty” for all Americans — is what guarantees that our voice matters. Without it, we can talk about the evils of abortion until we are blue in the face and it will never affect abortion policy one iota. The Constitution — with its guarantees of free speech, free assembly, the right to petition the government, regular elections, and the peaceful transfer of power — is the only thing that forces the government to listen to us. Trump’s behavior is a threat to our Constitutional order. The facts behind his impeachment show that he abused a position of public trust for private gain, the definition of corruption and abuse of power. More worryingly, he refused to comply with Congress’s power to investigate his conduct, a fundamental breach of the checks and balances that is the bedrock of our Constitutional order.

GOP predicts bipartisan acquittal at Trump impeachment trial - Republicans are becoming increasingly confident they'll be able to hand President Trump a bipartisan acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial. With 67 votes needed to convict the president and remove him from office, and the outcome of a Senate trial all but guaranteed, GOP senators are broadening their sights as they plot their strategy. Senate Republicans think they’ll be able to pick up one or two Democrats on the final votes for each impeachment article. That would let them tout Trump’s acquittal as bipartisan — an angle they’ve already seized on when talking about the two House votes, in which a handful of Democrats crossed the aisle to join Republicans in opposing impeachment. Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) declined to say who he thinks will flip, arguing he didn’t want to put pressure on them. “I think we might have a couple,” Perdue said. “I don’t want to speculate on who — obviously that puts too much pressure on them — but I really think we have people on both sides that are trying to get to a reasonable, nonpartisan answer.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), during a recent Fox News interview, also predicted that Democrats would break ranks. He doubted any GOP senators would vote to convict Trump. “It wouldn't surprise me if we got one or two Democrats. It looks to me over in the House, the Republicans seem to be solid and the Democrats seem to be divided," McConnell said. Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP senator, stopped short of predicting that Republicans would pick up any Democratic votes but noted “there are a couple of Democrats who are thinking about that.” “And you know who they are,” he added. Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Doug Jones (Ala.) are viewed as the two Democrats most likely to potentially vote for acquitting Trump. Manchin, who was once considered for a Cabinet position in the Trump administration, comes from a deeply red state where Trump won in 2016 by roughly 42 percentage points. According to polling data website FiveThirtyEight, Manchin votes with Trump 53.1 percent of the time — the most of any Democratic senator currently in office.

Who’s Really in Charge of the Senate Impeachment Trial? - Sen. Mitch McConnell supposes that it’s up to him to determine the way President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial will proceed in the Senate. “Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel,” he declared last week, and pledged to use his power as majority leader to assure Trump’s triumphant acquittal.But McConnell is wrong: It is Chief Justice John Roberts, not the majority leader, who will be making all the key decisions. This is the plain meaning of the Senate’s “Rules of Procedure and Practice” currently in force for the conduct of impeachments. These rules explicitly provide that the chief justice “shall” preside over the trial, that it is the “Presiding Officer” who “shall direct all forms of the proceedings,” and that he may “rule on all questions of evidence including, but not limited to, questions of relevancy, materiality, and redundancy of evidence.” Roberts’ powers are not unlimited. The rules explicitly grant “any member of the Senate” the right to object to Roberts’ evidentiary decisions, and if the chief justice stands firm in his opinion, a senator may demand “a vote of the Members of the Senate” on “any such question”—with a simple majority sufficient to overturn Roberts’ ruling. Nevertheless, the Senate’s authority is strictly constrained by the rules it has itself established. While it can reverse particular evidentiary rulings, it can’t bar anybody from appearing as a witness. Instead, it is up to the lawyers representing the House and the president to make these critical decisions, with the proviso that “witnesses shall be examined by one person on behalf of the party producing them, and then cross-examined by one person on the other side.”

Biden Says He Won’t Testify at Trump Trial: Campaign Update -  Former Vice President Joe Biden again said that he would refuse to testify in President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, even if subpoenaed. In an interview with the Des Moines Register editorial board, Biden said any testimony would just distract from the charges that Trump abused the power of the presidency by pressuring Ukraine to smear him and obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the investigation.

House GOP vows to use impeachment to cut into Democratic majority - House Republicans are feeling good about their defense of President Trump in this month’s impeachment vote, and now want to use the divisive fight to cut into the Democratic majority in next fall’s elections. Republicans would need to gain about 20 seats to win back the House majority, something seen as a tall order by most political observers. Much will depend on the presidential election, as a Trump victory would likely offer some coattails for Republicans. Yet Trump’s low approval ratings and the possibility he could again win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote makes the GOP an underdog in seeking to end Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) second Speakership. Gains by the GOP are much more likely, and Republicans are confident they can use the impeachment votes by many House Democrats against them — starting with those representing districts won by Trump in 2016. There are 30 such seats following Rep. Jefferson Van Drew’s (N.J.) decision to switch parties and become a Republican. “For the Democrats running in those 30 Trump districts, they now need to tell their constituents why they voted against their vote for president, and I think that's going to be a very difficult argument to make, especially with President Trump on the ballot,” National Republican Congressional Committee Spokesman Michael McAdams told The Hill. McAdams argues Democrats will be in a “tricky position” given GOP voters are energized by an impeachment they oppose. He also noted polling that shows independents opposed to impeachment. Democrats recognize the threat, particularly in districts such as Rep. Joe Cunningham’s in Charleston, S.C., and Kendra Horn’s in Oklahoma City. Those two districts were surprises for Democrats in 2018, with Horn having flipped a seat that had been held by Republicans since 1975 and Cunningham won a district held by the GOP since 1981.

House counsel suggests Trump could be impeached again - The House is open to the prospect of impeaching President Donald Trump a second time, lawyers for the Judiciary Committee said Monday. House Counsel Douglas Letter said in a filing in federal court that a second impeachment could be necessary if the House uncovers new evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct investigations of his conduct. Letter made the argument as part of an inquiry by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals into whether Democrats still need testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn after the votes last week to charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. “If McGahn’s testimony produces new evidence supporting the conclusion that President Trump committed impeachable offenses that are not covered by the Articles approved by the House, the Committee will proceed accordingly — including, if necessary, by considering whether to recommend new articles of impeachment,” Letter wrote. Story Continued Below It’s the first impeachment-related filing by the House since lawmakers voted, mostly along party lines, to impeach Trump over allegations stemming from efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals. It comes just hours after the Justice Department argued that the impeachment votes undercut lawmakers’ ongoing court case demanding testimony from McGahn, who was special counsel Robert Mueller’s central witness. In a brief filed early Monday morning, DOJ lawyers acknowledge that the House’s approval of two articles of impeachment — focused on Trump’s alleged effort to withhold aid from Ukraine and his blockade of the House inquiry — do not render moot the legal fight over McGahn. However, the Justice Department attorneys said the House Judiciary Committee’s decision to move forward with impeachment means there’s no longer urgency to resolve the House’s case. That bolsters the Trump administration’s argument that the courts should simply butt out of the legal showdown, the DOJ filing says.

In midst of impeachment, Pelosi honors Trump with State of the Union invitation - Less than forty-eight hours after voting to impeach President Donald Trump, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited him to give the annual State of the Union address to Congress. The House speaker might be expected to withhold such an invitation to a president who, like Trump, is accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and who theoretically might be removed from office within a matter of weeks. Last year, Pelosi withdrew her offer to have Trump deliver the State of the Union address until after the deal which ended an ongoing government shutdown. She even suggested that Trump forgo the speech altogether and just send a written message, as every president before Woodrow Wilson had done. The move underscores the element of fecklessness and deceit that has characterized the impeachment. At every turn, the Democrats have avoided doing anything that would mobilize public opposition to Trump, who maintains the lowest approval rating of any president since World War II, and who is broadly despised for his human rights abuses against immigrants and ties to fascist groups. Pelosi’s invitation undermines the claims by Congressional Democrats that having allegedly “solicited the interference of a foreign government” Trump presents a “clear and present danger” to democracy so great that it was necessary to fast-track the impeachment proceedings. What will Trump’s State of the Union address look like? If the Senate impeachment trial is ongoing, he could use the speech to make a public appeal against his accusers in a bid to influence the trial and mobilize support against it. Alternatively, Trump’s State of the Union speech could take place in the aftermath of an acquittal, allowing Trump to take a victory lap, strengthen his position, and denounce the Democrats for good measure.

Officials Discussed Hold on Ukraine Aid After Trump Spoke With Country’s Leader NYT — About 90 minutes after President Trump held acontroversial telephone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in July, the White House budget office ordered the Pentagon to suspend all military aid that Congress had allocated to Ukraine, according to emails released by the Pentagon late Friday.  A budget official, Michael Duffey, also told the Pentagon to keep quiet about the aid freeze because of the “sensitive nature of the request,” according to a message dated July 25.  An earlier email that Mr. Duffey sent to the Pentagon comptroller suggested that Mr. Trump began asking aides about $250 million in military aid set aside for Ukraine after noticing a June 19 article about it in the Washington Examiner. The emails add to publicly available information about the events that prompted the Democratic-led House to call for Mr. Trump to be removed from office. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress along a party-line vote after documents and testimony by senior administration officials revealed that he had withheld $391 million in aid to Ukraine at the same time that he asked for investigations from the Ukrainian president that would benefit him politically.  The emails were in a batch of 146 pages of documents released by the Trump administration late Friday to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit news organization and watchdog group, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Despite the timing of Mr. Duffey’s email, officials testified before Congress that the hold on the aid was announced at a meeting on July 18 involving a range of administration officials, including some from the Office of Management and Budget. Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff and director of the budget office, was said to have told people that the president had directed the aid to be frozen. Other officials have testified they knew by early July of the hold.

Trump’s Impeachment, Ukraine, and War With Russia -I’ve been trying to stay away from this spy-fed impeachment show as much as possible, but it has been useful. It has helped bring to light the existence of something that’s now taken as gospel by much of America’s political, military, and foreign policy establishment, but which had never been spelled out so clearly and so publicly and so consistently before. Let me get all official and DC-like and call it the “Ukraine Doctrine.”It’s the idea that Ukraine is a forward operating base in America’s war with Russia — a strategic military barrier that’s keeping the Russian horde pinned down and preventing it from overrunning the western world. That’s why you constantly hear all this talk about Ukraine being such a “vital” and “strategic” partner and why it requires a constant infusion of weapons. If America doesn’t fight Russia and kill Russians in Ukraine, Russian tanks are going to roll through the Donbass, past Kiev, into Poland, then Germany and France…and then get on a boat and sail all the way to America. And before you know it, Putin is going to be personally at your doorstep, terrorizing you and your family and stealing your Amazon packages.It’s a ridiculous notion based on a bunch of reheated paranoid Cold War Era thinking. It was an exaggeration then and it’s even more of an exaggeration today. I mean, for a dangerous expansionist power, Russia couldn’t even keep Ukraine from going over to the EU in 2014 and had to grab Crimea, home to its Black Sea navy, by force. That kind of expansionist flex is weak indeed — and that’s in a bordering territory that’s been in Russia’s low orbit culturally, linguistically, and politically for centuries. But this “Ukraine Doctrine” is about more than just your routine imperial threat inflation. It’s basically an admission that we are in an undeclared war with Russia. Not an ideological “values” war or a soft power propaganda war or a sanctions war, but what think-tankers like to call a “hot” war: a war in which America is fighting Russia on Ukrainian soil with Ukrainian bodies and American weapons, American training, and American financial support.

Giuliani pals leveraged GOP access to seek Ukraine gas deal -  (AP) — In a back corner of the swank H Bar in Houston, near a huge photo of Brigitte Bardot with a dangling cigarette and a deck of cards, two Russian-speaking men offered a Ukrainian gas executive what seemed like an outrageous business proposal. Andrew Favorov, the No. 2 at Ukraine’s state-run gas company Naftogaz, says he sat on a red leather bench seat and listened wide-eyed as the men boasted of their connections to President Donald Trump and proposed a deal to sell large quantities of liquefied natural gas from Texas to Ukraine. But first, Favorov says, they told him they would have to remove two obstacles: Favorov’s boss and the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Favorov says he hardly took the proposal at the early March meeting seriously. The men, who sported open shirts showing off thick gold chains at a conference where most wore business attire, had zero experience in the gas business. And it wasn’t plausible to Favorov that they would be able to oust his boss, never mind remove a U.S. ambassador. What he didn’t know as he sipped whiskey that evening was that high-ranking officials in the Ukrainian government were already taking steps to topple his boss, Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev. And two months later, Trump recalled U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, a career diplomat with a reputation as an anti-corruption crusader. The gas deal sought by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman never came to pass. But their efforts to profit from contacts with GOP luminaries are now part of a broad federal criminal investigation into the two men and their close associate, Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney. His tale, corroborated by interviews with other key witnesses, reveals that the pair continued to pursue a deal for months. The campaign culminated in May, at a meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington that included a lobbyist with deep ties to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a Republican fundraiser from Texas close to Donald Trump Jr. Three people with direct knowledge of that meeting described it to the AP on condition of anonymity because some of the players are under federal investigation.

Hunter Biden is linked to multiple criminal probes involving fraud, money laundering and counterfeiting, and owns stunning Hollywood Hills home, paternity court case documents claim  -Hunter Biden is reportedly linked to multiple criminal probes and has been quietly keeping a sprawling home in the Hollywood Hills, according to new court documents which he wanted to keep private.  The papers alleged that the 49-year-old 'is the subject of more than one criminal investigation involving fraud, money laundering and a counterfeiting scheme'.  The allegations were filed by private-eye firm, D&A Investigations on Monday in relation to Hunter's paternity case involving his baby mama Lunden Roberts.  They seek to lay bare his finances in an attempt to recoup child support.  Among Hunter's assets, as claimed by the documents, is a $2.5million home in the Hollywood Hills.  One of the claims involves Burisma, the Ukrainian oil company that's at the center of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial. Trump came under fire for a phone call with Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, urging him to investigate Hunter's work with Burisma, while withholding some $400million in military aid. The new allegations accuse Hunter and business associates of establishing 'bank and financial accounts with Morgan Stanley … for Burisma Holdings Limited … for the money laundering scheme'.    D&A claimed that the accounts showed a value of nearly $6.8 million between March 2014 and December 2015, according to the Post.  In addition, the documents allege that Hunter and three associates attempted to con Sioux Native Americans out of $60million through the sale of tribal bonds.  It's unclear what agencies are allegedly investigating Hunter. But shortly after the allegations were filed, a judge struck them down because they were filed by an 'intervener,' according to the Post.   On Sunday, Roberts' financial information from the last five years was obtained by In the documents, the Lancaster & Lancaster Law Firm, which represents Roberts, reveals that the 28-year-old received money from a company owned by Hunter from May 2018 to November 2018.  'She never received a tax document for these payments,' her attorneys wrote, adding that the undisclosed amount of payments are reflected on her bank records.   According to the documents, Roberts also worked for Hunter and submitted pay stubs as proof of employment along with a health insurance card that he reportedly provided her. Roberts continued to make the case for her paternity suit by outlining other sources of income that she's received, including $1,700 that her father paid in fees for her to graduate college and her annual Christmas bonus that she receives from her current employer.

Hunter Biden Denies Ukraine Money Laundering Allegations  A new filing in an Arkansas lawsuit against Hunter Biden claims that the former Vice President's son "is the subject of more than one (1) criminal investigation involving fraud, money laundering and a counterfeiting scheme." Filed by private investigator Dominic Casey of D&A Investigations on behalf of Lunden Alexis Roberts - with whom Hunter fathered a child, Monday's "Notice of Fraud and Counterfeiting and Production of Evidence" alleges that Hunter Biden and associates Devon Archer and John Kerry stepson Christopher Heinz engaged in a money laundering scheme which accumulated over $156 million between March 2014 and December 2015.According to the document, Biden, Archer and Heinz became directors of consulting firm Rosemont Seneca Bohai, LLC in order to "conceal their family members ownership," establishing financial accounts at Morgan Stanley and China Bank, the latter of which was used in a money laundering scheme.Biden and associates are accused of using the counterfeiting scheme "to conceal the Morgan Stanley et al Average Account Value.Biden has denied the allegations against him and asked the court to strike the filing from the record, claiming the allegations were improperly filed, and may constitute "redundant, immaterial, impertinent or scandalous" material, and that it was a "scheme by a non-party simply to make scandalous allegations in the pending suit to gain some quick media attention." Biden also asked for attorney's fees and costs to address the allegations.  Judge Don McSpadden only agreed that it was improperly filed, striking the evidence on a technicality "as it was not filed in any acceptable manner to this court."   It is unclear whether it may be re-filed pursuant to (Ark R. Civ. P. 24).  According to the New York Post: "Reached by phone, Dominic Casey, the D&A investigator who filed the papers, refused to say whether his group had been retained by Roberts, or sent the information to the court of its own volition."

Republican group to run ads in target states demanding testimony from White House officials in Trump impeachment trial - An anti-Trump Republican group announced new advertisements demanding testimony from White House officials in President Trump's impeachment trial. The Republicans for the Rule of Law's ad campaign features 11 new billboards and five new video ads, including one national ad that will air during “Fox & Friends” and “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” Four other advertisements will be targeted at constituents of Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and will air during “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” The video ads demand Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton be allowed to testify in front of the Senate. “These witnesses must testify,” the national ad says. “Call your senators now.” The digital billboards feature the four of them with duct tape over their mouths as well as the text “What is Trump hiding?” and a call to specific senators to push for testimony from them. Chris Truax, the Republicans for Rule of Law spokesman, said the Senate needs to have a “fair and open trial” that includes testimony from these witnesses. “Proper trials are seldom comfortable for the accused, but that’s no reason not to hold one, even if the accused is President Trump,” he said. “Impeachment is the ultimate check on abuse of power by the president, and future generations won’t thank us if we weaken it by treating it as just an exercise in partisan politics.” The group also launched a billboard in Times Square earlier this month with the text “What is Trump hiding?” ahead of the House vote to impeach the president.

Further Thoughts on the Crossfire Hurricane Report -With a few more days to read the inspector general’s Crossfire Hurricane report and watch the C-SPAN video of his congressional testimony (and listen to the no-bull version on Lawfare), I have five additional observations beyond those set out in a series of tweets on the day the report was released, discussions on the Lawfarepodcast the following day, and conversations with NPR, the New York Times, and theWall Street Journal.

  • The first question, for me, remains the one about possible political bias in the FBI. In particular, should the inspector general’s report be understood as repudiating, or merely pretermitting, claims of political bias in the Crossfire Hurricane investigations and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications targeting Carter Page? What did the inspector general find, and what didn’t he find, with respect to political bias?
  • Second, even if not political, how serious were the failures in these FISA applications? Were they the sort of error one would expect to see in any thorough after-action review of a high-pressure, complex case, or were they something more severe? Is there any precedent for the inspector general’s review and for the errors he found?
  • Third, is there reason to believe that the errors were unique, or should we expect that the inspector general’s follow-up audit will find more of the same in other cases? Were there any special features of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation that might have caused the errors here, but not elsewhere?
  • Fourth, what is to be made of statements by Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham concerning the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, and a priormemo released in early 2018 by Rep. Devin Nunes concerning the Page FISA applications? Why did Barr and Durham criticize and publicize their disagreements with the Inspector General, and was the Nunes memo more honest and accurate than I previously gave it credit for being?
  • Fifth, what are the prospects for various types of FISA reforms in the wake of Crossfire Hurricane?

Christopher Steele Used John McCain To Funnel Claims To James Comey- Report - The controversial report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz into the FBI’s investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign revealed many concerning details. One was that Christopher Steele’s dossier was used in the case to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to secure a wiretap on former Donald Trump campaign official Carter Page after the DOJ found no probable cause to do so. The report also revealed that late Senator John McCain provided former FBI Director James Comey with reports from Steele after the FBI terminated the former British intelligence officer as a source, Breitbart reports. McCain reportedly gave Comey five new Steele reports that were not previously in possession of the FBI, although it’s not clear if McCain knew at the time that Steele was no longer an FBI source. Regardless, the new reports were allegedly obtained by McCain from Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson. Fusion GPS was notably hired for anti-Trump opposition research by the president’s opponents in the primary. “Several weeks later, on December 9, 2016, Senator John McCain provided Corney with a collection of 16 Steele election reports, 5 of which Steele had not given the FBI,” the IG report reads. “McCain had obtained these reports from a staff member at the McCain Institute. The McCain Institute staff member had met with Steele and later acquired the reports from Simpson.” According to Breitbart, the unnamed McCain staffer is David J. Kramer, who reportedly gave the Steele dossier to BuzzFeed News, which published the document in full on January 10, 2017. Devin Nunes writes letter to Adam Schiff pointing out several serious errors Schiff made in characterizing Steele dossier, Page FISA, more. 'It is clear you are in need of rehabilitation...'

Survival camps cater to new fear: America’s political unrest .(Reuters) - Aiming an AR-15 rifle across a Colorado valley dotted with antelope and cattle, Drew Miller explains how members of his new survival ranch would ride out an apocalypse. The former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer said his latest Fortitude Ranch community, under construction below mountain forests, will shelter Americans fleeing anything from a bioengineered pandemic to an attack on the electricity grid. For an annual fee of around $1,000, members can vacation at the camps in good times, and use them as a refuge during a societal collapse. "If you've got a lot of weapons, if you've got a lot of members at guard posts, defensive walls, we don't think we're going to need to fight," said Miller, crouching on top of a fortified position on the camp perimeter. The expansion of Miller's camp chain underscores the growing mainstream appeal of the "prepper" movement long associated with anti-government survivalists. In recent years prepping has overlapped with millennial interests in renewable energy, homesteading, minimalist living and concerns about climate change. Then there is politics. Increasingly, Miller said, clients fear sharp political divisions will deepen around the Nov. 3, 2020 U.S. presidential election. "There is growing concern that after the 2020 election there could be massive, long-lasting civil unrest if people say, 'Hey, I don't buy the new president, I don't recognize him or her,'" said Miller, who has added "civil war" to his risk scenarios. The solar-powered camps cater to middle-class Americans worried about their vulnerability in cities and suburbs. Unlike traditional survivalists, many are not schooled in off-the-grid living, and some have no idea how to hunt. Besides the annual fee, the main requirement for members is an AR-15 style rifle or pump-action shotgun for defense. The camps stock about three months of food and have goats and chickens. In a collapse situation, members would follow orders from camp leaders like Miller. Tasks would include collecting firewood and nuts, killing game and growing vegetables. Everyone would do guard duty. Miller expects marauding gangs to pour out of cities if law and order breaks down. He expects his ranches to have superior firepower. The new Colorado camp has a .50 caliber rifle to take on armored vehicles.

 GOP Lawmaker Plotted Insurrections to Establish Christian State - Last year, the chair of the Republican caucus in Washington’s state legislature acknowledged that he had written a manifesto on the “Biblical Basis for War.” In that document, the lawmaker argued that – as far as Jesus Christ was concerned – American Christians have the right to “kill all males” who support abortion, same-sex marriage or communism (so long as they first give such infidels the opportunity to renounce their heresies). The manifesto’s revelation cost its author, Matt Shea, his chairmanship. But Shea insisted that his writings were merely “a summary of church sermons on Old Testament war that could help place current events in historical context.” And so, the Washington GOP did not call for Shea to resign or expel him from its House caucus. This past spring, the Guardian obtained text messages in which Shea discussed targetting anti-fascist activists for surveillance, harassment, and violence. One of Shea’s interlocutors, online radio personality Jack Robertson, offered this prescription for the treatment of a female antifa protester: “Fist full of hair, and face slam, to a Jersey barrier. Treat em like communist revolutionaries. Then shave her bald with a K-Bar USMC field knife.” The Republican lawmaker replied, “Ok. What BG [background] checks need to be done. Give me the list.”All this led Washington’s House of Representatives to commission a report on Shea from a former FBI agent. That report, which was released last week, alleges that Shea “as a leader in the Patriot Movement, planned, engaged in and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States Government in three states outside the state of Washington over a three-year period.” Among these was the occupation of Oregon’s Malheur wildlife refuge in 2016. As the Seattle Times reports:  The day after the occupation began, Shea, using the code name Verumbellator, created a detailed military-style plan called Operation Cold Reality that laid out roles and responsibilities for militia members and for an organization that Shea chaired, the Coalition of Western States.

Trump and the Stock Market Are the Winners in the Fed’s Repo Loan Binge; Here’s the Losers - Pam Martens - The S&P 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average set new record highs every single day last week. This occurred despite the Federal Reserve justifying its unprecedented hundreds of billions of dollars each week in cheap loans to Wall Street’s trading houses as necessary to stem a “liquidity” crisis. You can’t have a liquidity crisis when the stock market is setting record highs for an entire week. Those two things just don’t correlate. The Fed, through its money spigot, the New York Fed, began sluicing these funds to Wall Street on September 17, the day the overnight borrowing rate in the repurchase agreement (repo) loan market spiked from 2 percent to 10 percent. This was the first such intervention by the Fed since the financial crisis. The repo market is where banks, hedge funds and money market funds loan each other money overnight on the basis of good collateral like U.S. Treasury securities.An unprecedented spike to 10 percent in the repo market is a harbinger that one or more of the borrowers in this market is in trouble and lenders don’t want the exposure so they are backing away from lending. This is how free markets are supposed to work. They are supposed to be allowed to send pivotal warning signs from time to time through an efficient pricing mechanism.But instead of allowing the free market and efficient pricing components to function, the Fed cut this short and drew a dark curtain around this part of the market by flooding cheap, electronically-created money to Wall Street’s trading houses.On December 12, the New York Fed upped the ante. It announced that over the next month it would shower the trading houses (primary dealers) on Wall Street with a cumulative total of $2.93 trillion in short-term loans.Now Wall Street has made it clear what the cheap money is being used for. It’s not being loaned out to help the general economy – it’s being used to push the stock market to record highs each day. The Federal Reserve, as the central bank of the United States, is not supposed to meddle in elections or impeachment hearings. But by providing unprecedented cheap funding to Wall Street’s trading houses, it is artificially boosting the stock market and the 401(k)s of workers, which is artificially boosting the economic track record and re-election chances of President Donald Trump – who has repeatedly linked his reputation to a thriving stock market.

 Bloomberg, Steyer spend $200 million on Democratic nomination fight -The two billionaire candidates seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party have already spent more than $200 million, accorded to figures reported by Politico this week, at least three times the combined spending of all other Democratic candidates. Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is the ninth richest person in the United States, with a $58 billion fortune derived from his media and information technology empire. Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund operator, is reportedly worth about $2 billion. Steyer has spent $83 million on advertising since he entered the race in July. Bloomberg has easily surpassed that total, pumping more than $120 million into media buys since he announced his candidacy last month. The two candidates are pursuing opposite tactics in their vote-buying. Steyer has run a conventional campaign targeting the four early-voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. All four hold caucuses or primaries in February. Bloomberg is skipping the four early states and focusing instead on the two-thirds of Democratic convention delegates who will be selected between March 3 and March 17. Given the scale of the voting, television and internet advertising will be the principal means of reaching voters. Bloomberg has already spent $13 million per state on advertising in California, Texas and Florida, the three biggest states among the March contests. Nearly a year before the 2020 election, Bloomberg is advertising at a saturation level. In many US cities, it is impossible to turn on the television or log onto the internet without seeing a commercial for Bloomberg. In one small market, Wilmington, North Carolina, Bloomberg ads have run up to 36 times a day on some stations.

Steven Mnuchin Explains Why $1.5 Trillion In $100 Bills Have Disappeared - Almost $1.5 trillion of the world's cash, with U.S. $100 bills making up a great deal of it, is reportedly unaccounted for. So what happened to the money?"Literally, a lot of these $100 bills are sitting in bank vaults all over the world," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told FOX Business' Lou Dobbs during an interview on Tuesday.Mnuchin pointed to the negative interest rates causing people to turn to American dollars as a solid investment. "The dollar is the reserve currency of the world, and everybody wants to hold dollars," Mnuchin said on "Lou Dobbs Tonight." "And the reason why they want to hold dollars is because the U.S. is a safe place to have your money, to invest and to hold your assets." Mnuchin said it's interesting that, in a increasingly digital world, "the demand for U.S. currency continues to go up." "There's a lot of Benjamins all over the world," Mnuchin said.There are more $100 bills – also known as C-notes – in circulation than $1 bills, according to data from the Federal Reserve, which found there are more $100s than any other denomination of U.S. currency. The number of outstanding bills featuring a picture of Benjamin Franklin has about doubled since the start of the recession.In 2018, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago illustrated a correlation between low interest rates and high currency demand, though it also noted outside factors could help explain swelling demand. The bank estimates that 80 percent of all $100 bills last year were actually in circulation in foreign countries. It explained that residents in other countries, particularly those with unstable financial systems, often use the notes as a safe haven.

 Mastercard On Overcoming AI’s Bias Problem - Savor this moment — these coming weeks, the next few months, the year or two that will follow. These are the last moments before artificial intelligence (AI) really starts to have a massive impact on one’s daily life, before the world really turns to AI. That is not meant to be mournful, or an expression of grief for a way of life — a non-AI way of life — that is on its way out. Rather, it’s to tell how big the AI revolution will be, and how much it promises to change as machines become better at learning and solving all types of problems, including those in the realm of payments and commerce. The future of artificial intelligence was the subject of the latest edition of the PYMNTS Masterclass series. Karen Webster and Sudhir Jha, Mastercard senior vice president and head of Brighterion, spoke about where AI stands as a new decade starts, where it is going, and what the challenges and opportunities will be along the way. As Jha explained, infusions of funding and increases in computing power are leading to significant AI expansion. Not only that, but the thought has settled among business leaders and others that artificial intelligence is finally here, and is not some fleeting technology. “This is not the same thing that happened 30, 40 years ago when AI was a big hype and it never kind of delivered the promise,” he told Webster during the Masterclass discussion. “And not only that, it is also going to be the fundamental, essential technology to differentiate going forward. … And I think that, in the last few years, that has been crystal clear — when I talk to executives, it is very, very imperative.”

After federal study finds racial bias in facial recognition tech, advocates renew calls for ban Advocacy groups and lawmakers are renewing calls for a ban on government use of facial recognition technology in the wake of a sweeping new study that found a majority of the software exhibits a racial bias. "This study makes it clear: the government needs to stop using facial recognition surveillance right now," Evan Greer, the deputy director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit digital rights advocacy group, told ABC News in a statement. "This technology has serious flaws that pose an immediate threat to civil liberties, public safety, and basic human rights," she added. (MORE: Facial-recognition software may be able to identify people based on brain scans) The study published Thursday from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) looked at 189 software algorithms from 99 developers, which encompasses a majority of the industry. "Even if the algorithms improve in the future, biometric surveillance like face recognition is dangerous and invasive," Greer said. "Lawmakers everywhere should take action to ban the use of this nuclear-grade surveillance tech."

Every move you make, I’ll be watching you: Privacy implications of the Apple U1 chip and ultra-wideband  -The concerning trend of tracking of user’s location through their mobile phones has very serious privacy implications. For many of us, phones have become an integral part of our daily routine. We don’t leave our homes without and take them everywhere we go. It has become alarmingly easy for services and apps tocollect our location and send them to third-parties while the user is unaware. Location tracking generally works poorly indoors. Tracking services can infer your general location up to a building using current technologies like GPS, WiFi, cellular triangulation. However, your movements inside can’t be precisely tracked. This level of obfuscation is about to disappear as a new radio technology called ultra-wideband communications (UWB) becomes mainstream.In its recent iPhone launch, Apple introduced the U1 ultra-wideband chip in the iPhone 11. Ultra-wideband communications use channels that have a bandwidth of 500Mhz or more, with transmissions at a low power. In this blog post, we would like to give a brief introduction into the technology behind the chip, how it operates and discuss some of its promises as well as implications for our day-to-day activities. Why would users want ultra-wideband? On the iPhone 11 Pro product page, Apple says, “The new Apple‑designed U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 Pro to understand its precise location relative to other nearby U1‑equipped Apple devices. It’s like adding another sense to iPhone, and it’s going to lead to amazing new capabilities”. For now, the features available to the U1 chip are restricted to “[pointing] your iPhone toward someone else’s, and AirDrop will prioritize that device so you can share files faster”. However, as the number of devices equipped with a UWB chip grows, it will enable a broad spectrum of applications. UWB is not a new technology, but we are seeing a renewed interest due to vastly improved operational distance. Over the years, researchers have developed a variety of UWB applications such asestimating room occupancy, landslide detection, and human body position/motion tracking. Perhaps the leading use case for UWB technology has been precise indoor localization, with accuracies between 10-0.5cm. Indoor localization  is the process of finding the coordinates of a target (i.e. a phone) relative to one or more fixed-point anchors that also contain UWB radios. The relative coordinates are then mapped to a reference (e.g. blueprints) to provide an absolute location. High-accuracy localization is especially useful in contexts where traditional GPS is not accurate enough, or cannot reach. A number of other technologies have been explored for indoor localization, such as WiFi and Bluetooth, but the accuracy of these techniques is on the order of meters1, not centimeters.

Twitter rejects my censorship appeal Yasha Levine.  After about 24 hours of deliberation, the censorship overlords of Twitter decided to keep my account locked and inaccessible. If I want to regain access to the platform, I must delete my violating tweet. No other appeals are allowed. Annoying as it is, this incident is instructive. It shows to what degree we’ve outsourced our political and cultural norms to unaccountable Internet megacorps — oligarchic entities that now have final say in what is considered acceptable and unacceptable speech in a public forum. No appeals allowed. (And all because Levine paraphrased pro-impeachment Democrat law prof Pamela Karlan accurately.)

New York City couldn’t pry open its own black box algorithms. So now what?  - Algorithms make decisions that could impact nearly 9 million New Yorkers, but we don’t actually know much about them. So in 2017, the city council decided that the public should have some insight into these black-box calculations — which can influence everything from policing to where your kid goes to school — and passed a law creating a task force to investigate the city’s so-called “automated decision systems” (ADSs) and propose ideas for their regulation. Nearly two years later, the task force largely failed to unearth much about how these systems actually work. While the city says it provided some examples of ADSs used by agencies — specifically, five — the city did not produce the full list of the automated decision systems known to be used by its agencies that some activists and advocates had hoped for. While some systems have been already identified, it’s very likely that there are algorithmic systems that the city uses that the public isn’t aware of. Algorithms and artificial intelligence can influence much of a city government’s operations. Predictive models and algorithms have been used to do everything fromimproving public school bus routes and predicting a home’s risk of fire to determining the likelihood of whether a child has been exposed to lead paint. In New York City, it’s publicly known that such systems have been used to predict which landlords are likely to harass their tenants, in the evaluation of teacher performance, and in the DNA analysis used by the criminal justice system, examples that were flagged by the research nonprofit AI Now. In its concluding report released last month, the task force recommended that the city create a centralized “structure” for agencies using automated decision systems that could also help determine best management practices. The task force further called for more public education on algorithm-based systems and for the development of protocols for publicly revealing some information about ADSs, among other broad proposals. But critics complain that it’s still unclear which “automated decision systems” are already used by city agencies, a knowledge gap that they say has frustrated any possibility at real transparency, and established a concerning precedent, as reported by CityLab.

 Epstein "Admitted To Me He Was A Spy", Ex-Biz Partner Warns "He's Got Prince Andrew Pinned To The Wall" - Steven Hoffenberg was arrested by FBI agents in Arkansas in 1996, after regulators accused him of defrauding investors. The former business partner of Jeffrey Epstein in Towers Financial spent 18 years in jail for the largest Ponzi schemes in history prior to Bernie Madoff’s crimes. But the notorious sex criminal got away scot-free. Why? In a series of new and exclusives conversations, Hoffenberg reveals the real reason he evaded justice in one of America’s largest Ponzi schemes—he was an international spy. Britain’s Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged pimp Ghislaine Maxwell have joined forces to stonewall investigators and prevent Epstein’s victims from obtaining justice.That’s the explosive claim of former Epstein colleague and friend, Steven Hoffenberg, who confirms that Epstein was indeed a top-level agent for the Israeli Mossad, as first confirmed in the best-selling book Epstein: Dead Men Tell No Tales.In a series of bombshell interviews with me following the release of the book, Hoffenberg confirmed that not only does he have first-hand knowledge of Epstein’s work as an agent of the Mossad, as described in the book; but also, his former cohorts Prince Andrew and Maxwell are still actively working to keep his explosive secrets.Hoffenberg famously worked as Epstein’s business partner at the ill-fated Towers Financial Group in the 1990s. In 1993, the business collapsed as a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme was exposed. Hoffenberg pleaded guilty and went to prison in 1995, but Epstein got off scot-free.

 Jeffrey Epstein friend and alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell under FBI investigation - The FBI is investigating British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell and several other people linked to U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, according to two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation. They said a principal focus of the FBI’s investigation is Maxwell, a longtime associate of Epstein, and other “people who facilitated” Epstein’s allegedly illegal behavior. Maxwell has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing. Her lawyers did not respond to a request for comment. The FBI also is following up on many leads received from women who contacted a hotline the agency set up at its New York field office in the wake of Epstein’s arrest in July, the sources said. The sources declined to give further details or identify the people they are looking at apart from Maxwell. However, they said the FBI has no current plans to interview Britain’s Prince Andrew, a friend of Epstein’s who stepped down from his public duties in November because of what he called his “ill-judged” association with the well-connected money manager. A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment. A representative for the British royal family said that whether the agency interviewed Andrew was “a matter for the FBI.”

 Goldman Sachs Federally-Insured Bank Loses $1.2 Billion in Interest Rate Derivative Bets -- Pam Martens  ~ A week before Christmas, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) quietly released its quarterly report on the trading and derivative activities of Wall Street’s casino banks.  It contained a humdinger in, literally, red ink. The report showed that Goldman Sachs Bank USA, which is, insanely, a federally-insured bank backstopped by the U.S. taxpayer that is part of the Goldman trading colossus, had lost $1.24 billion trading interest rate derivatives during the third quarter of this year.According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the bank only holds $149.8 billion in deposits while the OCC reports it has $49 trillion in notional derivatives (face amount). (See Table 7 in the Appendix at this link.) Profits in other derivative trading areas, like the $1.14 billion Goldman Sachs Bank USA made trading foreign exchange derivatives, allowed the federally-insured unit of Goldman Sachs to eke out a $71 million net trading profit on the derivative bets it had made during the quarter, according to the OCC report. If you want to understand the relevant history on why the New York Fed is currently throwing hundreds of billions of dollars each week at Wall Street’s trading houses, here’s a quick tutorial on the rapid financial collapse on Wall Street in 2008. Wall Street banks were very much aware in 2008 that they had created a house of cards by placing trillions of dollars of their derivative bets with weak counterparties. But they didn’t know just how much exposure each bank had or which counterparties would collapse first because the derivative bets were mostly private contracts between two counterparties. (That situation remains today.) So the Wall Street banks simply stopped lending to each other and credit markets froze. That forced the Federal Reserve to throw a cumulative $29 trillion in all directions to bail out not just U.S. banks on Wall Street but the foreign banks that were on the other side of these reckless and irresponsible derivative trades. This chart from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission shows just how much of a derivatives casino Goldman Sachs and the other major Wall Street banks had become by June of 2008.

Banks Set for Biggest Job Cull Since 2015 as Morgan Stanley Cuts - Banks around the world are unveiling the biggest round of job cuts in four years as they slash costs to weather a slowing economy and adapt to digital technology. This year, more than 50 lenders have announced plans to cut a combined 77,780 jobs, the most since 91,448 in 2015, according to filings by the companies and labor unions. Banks in Europe, which face the added burden of negative interest rates for years to come, account for almost 82% of the total. The 2019 cuts bring the total for the last six years to more than 425,000. In fact, the actual amount is probably higher because many banks eliminate staff without disclosing their plans. Morgan Stanley is the latest firm to make a year-end efficiency push, cutting about 1,500 jobs, according to people familiar with the matter. Chief Executive Officer James Gorman has said the cuts account for about 2% of the bank’s workforce. This year’s figures also underscore the weakness of European banks as the region’s export-oriented economy confronts international trade disputes while negative interest rates eat further into lending revenue. Unlike in the U.S., where government programs and rising rates helped lenders rebound quickly after the financial crisis, banks in Europe are still struggling to regain their footing. Many are firing staff and selling businesses to shore up profitability.

Fed could write a new chapter on bank supervision in 2020 — Over the past decade, the federal bank regulators have been in a constant state of writing rules. There were rules immediately responding to the 2008 mortgage debacle, followed by the more gargantuan post-crisis regulations mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. With the end of 2019, the agencies — most notably the Federal Reserve — appear to be coming to the end of yet another rulemaking chapter: a period of policy changes aimed at recalibrating the post-crisis framework. More adjustments could still be on the horizon in 2020, but Fed officials have given signals of late that their recalibration efforts are largely complete and the central bank's regulatory arm is heading into a new phase focusing on improving the bank examination process. “You're dealing with a more amorphous issue when you're dealing with exam process. It's how people interact and how they respond to a certain set of criteria,” said Greg Lyons, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton. “Changing this is something unlike changing regulation, which obviously the Fed has done since its formation. This concept of directing exam process is a bit more new.” The Fed played a central role following enactment of Dodd-Frank implementing rules that strengthened oversight of big banks. Similarly, the agency has run point on writing rules mandated by the 2018 regulatory relief law, which eased many of those post-crisis provisions. Perhaps most notably, in 2019 the Fed finished rules tailoring prudential standards for banks between $100 billion and $250 billion of assets. While Dodd-Frank had placed all institutions above $50 billion effectively in the same bucket, the new framework tailored requirements across different categories of size and riskiness.  In addition to rule changes the central bank made on its own, the Fed jointly finished rules with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency easing certain liquidity and capital requirements — in some cases fulfilling requirements of the reg relief law and other cases going beyond their congressional mandate. The agencies notably finalized a new leverage ratio just for community banks, and simplified the Volcker Rule compliance process. The Fed and FDIC also eased living will requirements. With the overhaul of post-crisis rules as required by the reg relief law now complete, some Fed officials have suggested that refining the agency’s supervisory approach could top the agenda going into the next year.

Will Congress do anything about credit unions buying banks? — A recent uptick in credit unions buying community banks is triggering alarm from some members of Congress. Credit unions have announced 16 deals this year to buy banks, doubling their 2018 total. Earlier this month the $747 million-asset Apollo Bank in Miami became the largest bank to announce it was being sold to a credit union. While the banking lobby says the merger activity is another sign that credit unions — and their tax-exempt status — need to be reined in, legislative reform is unlikely. Still, a number of House Republicans are taking notice. One particular concern raised on Capitol Hill is whether some banks are striking the deals to benefit from credit union acquirers' tax status. "There are some people starting to think outside the box, because they are looking at this as a tax loophole," Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., said at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Dec. 5. The banking industry, which argues that credit unions do not act like the nonprofit entities that should be limited by their tax-exempt status, is bristling at the merger activity. In addition to buying banks, credit unions finance high-end development projects and affix their names to high-profile sporting events as sponsors. “Something has changed in the longstanding dynamic between banks and credit unions,” said Aaron Klein, economic studies policy director at the Brookings Institution. “A small number of credit unions are pursuing and achieving universal membership models in which they act like banks. These small number of credit unions are growing rapidly and spending money lavishly.” While Congress is unlikely to do anything to rein in credit unions in the short term, Klein added, he said he is not surprised lawmakers have taken an interest in the issue. "In an election year, absent of a crisis in the credit union space … the answer is no," he said regarding whether Congress will pass legislation in response to the merger deals. "Are there a growing number of people, myself included, ringing a bell that a very small number of credit unions are engaging in what has historically led to problematic outcomes? Yes. Is Congress paying attention to that? Yes. … Usually legislation is a lagging indicator of problems, not a predictor.”

FDIC issues warnings on leveraged lending, CRE concentration -- Although the overall banking system's exposure to commercial real estate and leveraged lending is relatively stable, regulators are still on alert on both issues, according to a report released Monday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The report, which tackled both areas separately, found that the preponderance of banks "remain satisfactorily rated" when it comes to CRE exposure. It noted that the industry's approach to managing risk in leveraged lending, meanwhile, has "improved significantly." Still, regulators see areas of concern. For example, out of 470 supervisory activities FDIC examiners completed over two years, 24% of them featured CRE-related Matters Requiring Board Attention, regulatory parlance for issues that institutions need to address relatively quickly. The most pressing areas highlighted ranged from management oversight to portfolio analysis, funding strategies and underwriting practices, according to the FDIC’s report. The board- and management-level handing of CRE concentration was the chief concern of FDIC examiners, making up more than 56% of all the supervisory recommendations regulators made in the two-year period. Of those, 27% of the recommendations included matters requiring board attention. “Supervisory recommendations and MRBA regarding oversight most commonly addressed inadequate establishment and monitoring of concentration limits and sub-limits, improvements needed in loan policy exception tracking and reporting, and concerns about strategic planning,” the report said. Examiners appeared keen to address the risks of inadequate data monitoring of a bank’s own loans, writing that “untracked or poorly-tracked policy exceptions may lead to a credit culture and risk profile exceeding the risk tolerance established by the IDI’s board of directors.” Regulators also also noted a pattern of some CRE strategic plans that relied on “unrealistic or not well-developed assumptions,” while other institutions “did not incorporate CRE lending considerations at all.”

 FHFA’s focus in reforming GSEs: Capital, capital, capital — Even though Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are still controlled by the government, 2019 saw some of the first signs of progress in efforts to end the mortgage giants' federal conservatorships. The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates the government-sponsored enterprises, gained a new Trump-appointed director with his sights set on releasing Fannie and Freddie from the government's clutches. Mark Calabria took initial steps to prepare Fannie and Freddie for the private sector, making it a priority to improve the companies' capital position. Capitalizing the GSEs is expected to stay in the focus in 2020, particularly as the agency retools a risk-based capital rule Calabria inherited from his predecessor. “The capital rule is one of the most important rules I will issue as director,” Calabria said in November. “This rule will be re-proposed and finalized within a timeline fully consistent with ending the conservatorships.” Two months earlier, in September, the GSEs were permitted to retain billions of dollars more in earnings to build up their capital cushions, and in the same month, the Trump administration published a report detailing its principles for an overhaul of the housing finance system. Although many expected FHFA Director Mark Calabria to finalize a post-conservatorship capital framework for the GSEs that was originally proposed by former Director Mel Watt in June 2018, Calabria spent months deliberating the direction he wanted to take with the proposed rule before ultimately deciding in November to re-propose the framework. The original proposal under Watt called for assessing the GSEs' credit risk for different mortgage categories, and would have included market and operational risk components in measuring the firms' capital strength. While it remains to be seen what exact details of the rule Calabria might change or keep intact, he said Dec. 10 that his goal is to be able to issue his own iteration of the capital framework “sometime early in the first quarter.” FHFA is also in the process of hiring a financial adviser to help the GSEs raise capital. After the agency hires its financial adviser, Fannie and Freddie will also hire their own financial advisers, Calabria has said. Calabria has also said that he hopes to formalize various private directives issued to the GSEs during conservatorship as rules sometime next year and plans to enhance the FHFA’s own capability as a regulator.

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate increased slightly in November -- Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in November was 0.62%, up from 0.61% in October. Freddie's rate is down from 0.70% in November 2018.   Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%.  These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".  I expect the delinquency rate to decline to a cycle bottom in the 0.4% to 0.6% range - so this is close to a bottom.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased in Latest Weekly Survey  - From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey -- Mortgage applications decreased 5.3 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending December 20, 2019.. The Refinance Index decreased 5 percent from the previous week and was 128 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 5 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 7 percent compared with the previous week and was 5 percent higher than the same week one year ago..“The 10-Year Treasury yield increased last week amid signs of stronger homebuilding activity and solid consumer spending, leading to a rise in conventional conforming and jumbo 30-year mortgage rates to just under 4 percent. With this increase, conventional refinance application volume fell 11 percent,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Refinance applications for government loans did increase, even though rates on FHA loans picked up. The change in the mix of business has kept the average refinance loan size smaller than we had seen earlier this year.”Added Fratantoni, “We are in the slowest time of the year for the purchase market. Purchase application activity declined after the seasonal adjustment, but still remains about 5 percent ahead of last year’s pace. The increase in construction activity will bolster housing inventories, which should be a positive for purchase volumes going into 2020.” ...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) increased to 3.99 percent from 3.98 percent, with points remaining unchanged at 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Despite Falling Rates, 70% Of US Homes Unaffordable To Average American - The general trend of torrid housing market growth fueled by low interest rates and a tight supply continued largely unchanged during the last quarter of the decade, as most expected it would. Though buyers who have struggled with highly unaffordable home prices in recent years did see a bit of a respite.On Wednesday, Attom published its Q4 2019 report on home affordability in the US. The report showed that the dominant trend of the past few years was still very much in place. To wit, the median home prices in the fourth quarter of 2019 were unaffordable for average wage earners in 344 of 486 - or 71% - of the counties analyzed in the report. To be sure, some slight progress was made: the figure was down from 73% in the prior quarter, and 75% during Q4 2018. Home prices also climbed 9% YoY, according to the report, though falling mortgage rates offered buyers a bit of respite from the typically brutal market conditions. "Home prices rose across the country by 9 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2019, and the typical home remained a financial stretch for average wage earners. However, homes were actually a bit more affordable because of declining mortgage rates combined with rising pay to overcome the continued price run-up," said Todd Teta, chief product officer with ATTOM Data Solutions."As long as people are earning more money and shelling out less to pay off home loans, the market should remain strong with prices continuing to rise, at least in the near term."  Unfortunately for the youngest buyers, that means rates will likely need to fall much further for it to make much of a difference. And as long as they don't, the status quo looks like it will hold for a while.Because Attom also found that home price growth is outpacing wage growth in 76% of the markets it analyzes, which doesn't bode well for the next generation of homebuyers. In two-thirds of the counties examined, homebuyers needed at least 30% of their annual wages just to put a down payment and pay the fees that come with buying a home.

 Consumer home purchasing power surges again in October - Homebuyer purchase power took another big jump in October as wages grew and mortgage rates stayed low despite continuously tight housing inventory, according to First American Financial. October's home purchasing power — the amount a consumer can buy based on fluctuations in income, mortgage rates and home prices — jumped 17.6% annually while decreasing 0.7% from September. "While homebuyers benefited from the increase in house-buying power driven by lower rates and household income growth, they also face greater competition for homes asincreased house-buying power has also fueled greater demand," Mark Fleming, chief economist at First American, said in a press release. "As demand increases for a scarce (limited or low supply) good, prices will rise faster. The housing market saw this dynamic play out in October as nominal house price appreciation accelerated relative to a year ago." The Real House Price Index, which measures changes in home values based changes in home purchasing power, decreased 7.9% year-over-year while increasing 2% month-over-month.  "Financial readiness combined with a heightened appetite for homeownership will power continued demand for homes in 2020," Fleming said. "Yet, there is not enough supply to meet the growing demand, so we expect faster house price appreciation, a dynamic we're already experiencing in the housing market today. While rising house-buying power, largely driven by declining mortgage rates, made monthly mortgage payments more manageable in 2019, any further increases in house-buying power will likely rest on the labor market and continued household income growth in 2020." A sign of improved affordability at the state level was that none posted an annual increase in its RHPI. New Mexico had the largest decline, falling 13.4%. Vermont's 12.2% and California's 12.1% decreases followed. Similarly, no metro areas experienced RHPI increases year-over-year. Several expensive West Coast housing markets decreased the most, such as San Jose, Calif., which fell 16.2% annually in October; it was followed by drops of 13.1% in San Francisco and 12.6% in Portland, Ore.

Housing Joins The Everything Bubble - When people tick off the components of the “everything bubble” they usually omit US housing, for a couple of reasons.   First, bubbles don’t normally recur immediately in the same asset class, because memories of past carnage need to fade before investors can be seduced back into irrational optimism. Since housing was the epicenter of the last boom/bust cycle, no one is looking there for evidence of new bubbles. Second, the action in housing has been more gradual than in the 2000s, so it hasn’t generated a lot of breathless headlines about speculators making killings with other people’s money. But this expansion has gone on for such a long time that even modest annual price gains have taken home prices back into bubble territory. And now the news is starting to reflect it. From today’s “Real Estate” links list:

To recap, home prices are above their 2007 bubble peaks in many places while the wages of potential homebuyers have barely risen, which is squeezing ever-larger numbers of people out of the market. Yet somehow the buying continues. This may not qualify as a mania, but it’s definitely looking dysfunctional, because where can a sector go from “record low affordability” if it wants to keep rising?

 New Home Sales at 719,000 Annual Rate in November - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in November were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 719 thousand. The previous three months were revised down, combined. "Sales of new single‐family houses in November 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 719,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 1.3 percent above the revised October rate of 710,000 and is 16.9 percent above the November 2018 estimate of 615,000." The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are still somewhat low historically.The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. The months of supply decreased in November to 5.4 months from 5.5 months in October.The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is in the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal)."The seasonally‐adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of November was 323,000. This represents a supply of 5.4 months at the current sales rate. " Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke this down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973.The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is close to normal.  The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In November 2019 (red column), 52 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 44 thousand homes were sold in November. The all time high for November was 86 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for November was 20 thousand in 2010. This was below expectations of 735 thousand sales SAAR, and sales in the three previous months were revised down, combined.  However this was still solid with sales up 16.9% year-over-year.  I'll have more later today.

US New Home Sales Disappoint As Median Price Soars - Despite homebuilder sentiment soaring to 20-year highs, existing home sales slipped unexpectedly in November and new home sales are also expected to decline marginally MoM, but instead surprised to the upside with a 1.3% MoM. However, the beat was due to a major downward revision from -0.7% MoM to -2.7% MoM for October. Year-over-year, new home sales growth slowed to +16.9%... Due to the downward revisions, new home sales are following the trend of existing home sales lower... In the three months through November, purchases averaged a 720,000 pace, the strongest in 12 years. Purchases of new homes rose in two of four U.S. regions, led by a 52.4% surge in the Northeast and a 7.5% gain in the West, which recorded its highest sales level in two years. But, more problematically, the median home price soared 7.2% to $330.8k - the highest since April - which means lower-cost housing is not coming to market. 21% of new homes sold in Nov. cost more than $500,000, up from 19% prior month. Affordability remains an issue. 

A few Comments on November New Home Sales -- New home sales for November were reported at 719,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). Sales for the previous three months were revised down, combined.Sales were above 700 thousand SAAR for four consecutive months, and in five of the last six months - the best six month stretch since 2007.Annual sales in 2019 will be the best year for new home sales since 2007.This graph shows new home sales for 2018 and 2019 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).  Sales in November were up 16.9% year-over-year compared to November 2018.Year-to-date (through November), sales are up 9.8% compared to the same period in 2018.The comparison for December is easy, so sales will likely be up double digits in 2019 compared to 2018 - a solid year for new home sales. And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through November 2019. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s. Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales.Even though distressed sales are down significantly, following the bust, new home builders focused on more expensive homes - so the gap closed slowly. Now the gap is mostly closed, and I expect it to close a little more.   However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homesAnother way to look at this is a ratio of existing to new home sales.This ratio was fairly stable from 1994 through 2006, and then the flood of distressed sales kept the number of existing home sales elevated and depressed new home sales. (Note: This ratio was fairly stable back to the early '70s, but I only have annual data for the earlier years). In general the ratio has been trending down since the housing bust - and is getting close to the historical ratio - and I expect this ratio will trend down a little more. Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Increased Year-over-year - From STR: US hotel results for week ending 21 December The U.S. hotel industry reported positive year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 15-21 December 2019, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 16-22 December 2018, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: +5.9% to 50.1%
• Average daily rate (ADR): +1.8% to US$108.96
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): +7.8% to US$54.55
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). A solid finish to the year puts the average occupancy rate in 2019 just behind the record rate in 2018.   Another strong year for hotels.

  I Find It Very Troubling - Most Americans Lack Savings -- The economy might be strong in the U.S., but, as Statista's Maria Vultaggio details below, nearly 70 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 stashed away, according to GOBankingRates’ 2019 savings survey. The poll, released December 16, revealed 45 percent have nothing saved. The survey questioned 846 respondents November 25 to 26. The discovery baffled Bruce McClary, the spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.“It’s puzzling to me that if the economy is doing so well and that we’re so close to full employment, that consumer confidence is up … that we haven’t seen the numbers move much in people’s ability to save,” McClary told Yahoo Finance. “I find it very troubling that people can’t come up with $1,000 in a savings account to cover expenses without borrowing money.”As he faces impeachment, President Donald Trump has lauded the strong U.S. economy, saying the American people care more about the economy than the impeachment inquiry.   “The Stock Market hit another Record High yesterday, number 133 in less than three years as your all time favorite President, and the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, want to impeach me. Don’t worry, I have done nothing wrong. Actually, they have!” he tweeted December 17. “The new USA Today Poll, just out, has me leading all of the Democrat contenders. That’s hard to believe since the Fake News & 3 year Scams and Witch Hunts, as phony as they are, just never seem to end. The American people are smart. They see the great economy, & everything else!”

 The Retail Apocalypse Isn't Over- More Store Closures Expected In 2020 -More than 9,300 retail department stores have shut their doors this year. As 2020 comes at us quickly, most are expecting the retail apocalypse to drag on. While we are told consumerism and spending remains high, retail establishments are closing down: most permanently. Retailers actually set a new record for store closures in 2019 at a time when all the talking heads continue to say retail spending is high. In fact, Payless ShoeSource filed for bankruptcy in February and said it planned to close all of its 2,500 stores in what could be the largest retail liquidation in history.Some of these companies will continue to close stores in 2020, but others are expected to announce new closures as well.  This is not being offset by store openings either, as only 3,500 stores have opened their doors in 2019, according to the Motley Fool. These numbers were reported in October, and could be higher now, however, they aren’t high enough to offset the 9,300 closings.An analyst at B. Riley FBR says that the retai l industry remains oversupplied with stores and that the shakeout underway could continue for another 18 to 24 months.According to the industry site Retail Dive, analyst Scott Carpenter suggests as much as 30% of existing retail space “would cease to exist in its current form, as consumer buying trends shift increasingly online.”The wreckage is being felt at the shopping mall. With customer traffic in decline, mall operators are considering drastic measures to forestall the inevitable. Simon Property Group is considering bailing out troubled retailers, using some of its $6.8 billion in liquidity to keep its tenants afloat. –Motley Fool

December 2019 Chemical Activity Barometer Little Changed and Continues In Contraction - The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB)was stable (0.0 percent change) in December on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis following a 0.1 percent gain in November. On a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, the barometer rose 0.4 percent (3MMA) and follows two months of negative year-earlier comparisons. The unadjusted December data was flat (0.0 percent change) following a revised 0.5 percent gain in November. The diffusion index fell to 47 percent in December. The diffusion index marks the number of positive contributors relative to the total number of indicators monitored. The CAB reading for November was revised upward by 0.19 points and that for October up by 0.26 points. The Chemical Activity Barometer has four primary components, each consisting of a variety of indicators: 1) production; 2) equity prices; 3) product prices; and 4) inventories and other indicators. Production-related indicators eased in December. Although trends in construction-related resins, pigments and related performance chemistry were mixed, they suggest further slow gains in housing, which has been on an upward trend. Plastic resins used in packaging and for consumer and institutional applications were mixed. Performance chemistry eased, reflecting weakness among industrial end-use markets. U.S. exports were weak. Equity prices rose sharply again this month, while product and input prices were mixed. Inventory and other indicators were mixed.

Trucking Industry Growth Remains In Contraction In November 2019 - Headline data for the American Trucking Association (ATA) and the CASS Freight Index reported the year-over-year growth rate continues in contraction. The CASS index is inclusive of rail, truck, and air shipments. The ATA truck index is inclusive of only trucking industry member movements (ATA's tonnage data is dominated by contract freight).I tend to put a heavier weight on the CASS index which continued in contraction year-over-year. Econintersect tries to validate truck data across data sources. It appears this month that the truck employment rate of growth continues to slow. Please note using BLS employment data in real-time is risky, as their data is normally backward adjusted (sometimes significantly). American Trucking Associations' advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 3.5% in November after falling 0.7% in October. In November, the index equaled 113.5 (2015=100) compared with 117.6 in October. Said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello: It's tough to sugar coat November's reading. It was the third decrease in the last four months and the index is down 7.2% since July. Additionally, November was the first month to see a year-over-year drop in the index since April 2017. While disappointing, it fits with the expected soft gross domestic product reading expected in the fourth quarter and reports of a soft fall freight season. Compared with November 2018, the SA index fell 2.1%, the first year-over-year decline since April 2017 and the largest drop since February of that year. The index is up 3.3% year-to-date compared with the same period last year.

"Chemical Activity Barometer Is Stable In December" - Note: This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production. From the American Chemistry Council: CChemical Activity Barometer Is Stable In December  The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), was stable (0.0 percent change) in December on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis following a 0.1 percent gain in November. On a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, the barometer rose 0.4 percent (3MMA) and follows two months of negative year-earlier comparisons....“The CAB signals slow gains in U.S. commerce into the third quarter of 2020,” said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC.... Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index. This graph shows the year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average for the Chemical Activity Barometer compared to Industrial Production.  It does appear that CAB (red) generally leads Industrial Production (blue). The year-over-year change in the CAB suggests that the YoY change in industrial production might be near a short term bottom, but suggests "slow gains into the third quarter of 2020".

Headline Durable Goods Orders Down 2.0% in November -- The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders: New orders for manufactured durable goods in August increased $0.5 billion or 0.2 percent to $250.7 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up three consecutive months, followed a 2.0 percent July increase. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 0.5 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 0.6 percent. Fabricated metal products, up four of the last five months, led the increase, $0.4 billion or 1.3 percent to $34.4 billion.Download full PDFThe latest new orders number at -2.0% month-over-month (MoM) was worse than the 1.5% estimate. The series is down 3.7% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods was unchanged MoM, which was worse than the Investing.comconsensus of 0.1%. The core measure is down 0.3% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is up 4.6% MoM and up 3.4% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is up 0.1% MoM and down 0.5% YoY. For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

US Durables Goods Orders Unexpectedly Plunge As World Peace Breaks Out - After a modest rebound in October (from September's contraction), analysts expected a continued acceleration in durable goods orders in preliminary November data, but instead it collapsed! Flash November Durable Goods Orders were expected to rise 1.5% MoM, but instead they tumbled 2.0% MoM, sending the year-over-year collapse to -5.7% - the worst since July 2016...  Durable goods orders (ex transports) were unchanged in November (worse than the 0.2% MoM expectation), indicating the headline drop was due to a slump in military aircraft and a drop in civilian planes. The headline durable-goods figure was pressured by a decline in orders of commercial aircraft despite Boeing Co. reporting earlier this month that it received 63 orders in November compared with just 10 in October. Bookings for military hardware plunged 35.6%, the most since February 2017, while defense aircraft orders slid 72.7%.  This is the weakest defense aircraft orders print since Feb 2015...   The proxy for capex, Capital Goods orders ex-aircraft, spiked in October but slowed to just 0.1% MoM rise in early November data; and capital goods shipments ex-Air dropped 0.3% MoM (notably worse than the 0.0% expectation). Combined with a decrease in core shipments, the figures highlight a lack of appetite for capital expenditures, with profit growth cooling and business sentiment still subdued amid global demand concerns. 

Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Slowed in December -- From the Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Slowed in December Fifth District manufacturing activity slowed in December, according to the most recent survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The composite index fell from −1 in November to −5 in December, weighed down by decreases in the already negative indexes for shipments and new orders, while the third component — employment — increased slightly. Manufacturers also reported weakness in local business conditions and capacity utilization, but they were optimistic that conditions would improve in the coming months. Many firms saw growth in employment and wages in December. However, respondents reported declines in the average workweek, as this index decreased to −15, its lowest reading since April 2009. Manufacturers continued to report difficulty finding workers with the necessary skills and expected that struggle to continue in the next six months. Another weak regional report. The Dallas Fed will report next week.

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 222,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending December 21, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 222,000, a decrease of 13,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 234,000 to 235,000. The 4-week moving average was 228,000, an increase of 2,250 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 225,500 to 225,750. The previous week was revised up.  The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Philly Fed: State Coincident Indexes increased in 39 states in November -- From the Philly FedThe Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has released the coincident indexes for the 50 states for November 2019. Over the past three months, the indexes increased in 42 states, decreased in five states, and remained stable in three, for a three-month diffusion index of 74. In the past month, the indexes increased in 39 states, decreased in nine states, and remained stable in two, for a one-month diffusion index of 60  Note: These are coincident indexes constructed from state employment data. An explanation from the Philly Fed: The coincident indexes combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing by production workers, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average). The trend for each state’s index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product (GDP), so long-term growth in the state’s index matches long-term growth in its GDP.

 Industrial carnage in US: 5,250 workers killed on the job in 2018 - There were 5,250 worker fatalities in the United States in 2018, according to this year’s annual report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an agency of the US Labor Department. The report was released on Tuesday. An average of 101 worker fatalities a week, the 2018 toll represents a 2 percent increase over the 5,147 workers killed on the job in 2017. The BLS monitors the incidence of work-related fatalities, while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), also an agency of the Labor Department, is charged with enforcing health and safety regulations at US work places. OSHA has jurisdiction over 130 million workers at 8 million work places. In 2018, the agency had 2,265 employees and a budget of $552 million, far below the level of staffing and funding needed to carry out its stated mission. The OSHA budget barely kept pace with inflation in 2019, increasing by a mere $5 million. The toll of dead and injured workers has risen in parallel with the rise on the stock market. The period 2011 to 2018 saw an increase of 12 percent in lives lost, with a total of 39,150 people killed on the job. Tens of thousands of additional deaths resulted from occupational illnesses resulting from exposure to toxic substances. The upward trend has occurred under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, which have plowed ever greater sums into the military budget while spending trillions of tax-payer dollars to bail out the financial aristocracy following the Wall Street crash of 2008. Funds for social programs, public health, the environment and infrastructure have been slashed. The occupations with the highest fatality rates are related to the logistics, transportation and warehousing sectors, followed by construction. The BLS stated in a news release on Tuesday that 2,080 fatalities, or 40 percent of the 2018 total, were the result of transportation incidents. The BLS noted: “Driver/sales workers and truck drivers had the most fatalities of any broad occupation group at 966.” Most of these were heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, with 831 fatalities. The broader trade, transport and utilities industry sectors reported 1,443 on-the-job deaths in 2018, unchanged from the year before.

Driver training was reportedly too much of “a bottleneck” for Amazon  - Amazon is rapidly dispensing with carriers such as FedEx for its retail deliveries, bringing the logistics business in-house to ship more Prime packages more quickly. The speed and money savings, though, seem to be coming at the cost of health and safety concerns—and a new report says the company is well aware, and Amazon is letting it happen anyway. Internal documents show the company had plans to implement driver safety training courses but scrapped them in order to get drivers up and running faster, ProPublica and BuzzFeed News report. "We chose not to have onroad practical training because it was a bottleneck" to getting drivers on the road, a senior manager wrote.It was just one of many examples the reporters found of Amazon ignoring evidence its logistics business was overburdened.Amazon said back in 2016 it wanted to bring last-mile delivery under its own enormous roof, and it has done just that. The company today is happily bragging about the performance of its logistics business this Christmas season, revealing that it delivered more than 3.5 billion packages with its in-house delivery business in 2019 to date.But that "in-house" business is mostly outsourced. Hundreds of small firms—more than 800 now, according to Amazon—work under contract to provide those Prime delivery services. Some of those contractors no doubt do focus on worker safety. Several reports in the past year, though, have highlighted many that emphatically do not. NBC News in Novemberpublished a report describing Amazon logistics as a "chaotic environment" where all-but-impossible delivery quotas put unmanageable and unsafe demands on drivers.

Amazon’s Race To Build A Fast Delivery Network: “The Human Cost Of This Is Too Much.”As they prepared for last year’s holiday rush, managers at Amazon unveiled a plan to make the company’s sprawling delivery network the safest in the world. Amazon, which ships millions of packages a day to homes and businesses across the US, had seen a string of fatal crashes involving vans making those deliveries over the previous few years. Improving safety, the plan said, was “Amazon’s Greatest Opportunity.” A key part of the proposal was a five-day course that would put new drivers through on-road assessments overseen by an outside organization with four decades of experience in driver training. But the defensive-driving course didn’t materialize. Amid the rush of what would become Amazon’s busiest holiday season ever, the class was vetoed. With more than a billion packages shipping in a span of six weeks, the company needed to put drivers to work almost as soon as they were hired, internal documents show. “We chose to not have onroad practical training because it was a bottleneck” that would keep new drivers off the road, noted a memo written by a senior manager in the logistics division just after the peak season wrapped up.In just a few years, Amazon has built a delivery system that has disrupted a decades-old business dominated by FedEx and United Parcel Service. But in its relentless drive to get bigger while keeping costs low, Amazon’s logistics operation has repeatedly emphasized speed and cost over safety, a new investigation by ProPublica and BuzzFeed News has found. Time after time, internal documents and interviews with company insiders show, Amazon officials have ignored or overlooked signs that the company was overloading its fast-growing delivery network while eschewing the expansive sort of training and oversight provided by a legacy carrier like UPS.

Amazon warehouse workers doing “back-breaking” work walked off the job in protest  - More than 30 Amazon workers at a Sacramento warehouse walked off the job this morning, demanding they receive paid time off. Around 2:45 am on Monday local time, 36 workers — out of around 100 in total on the shift— left work two hours early after they read a letter to management out loud stating their demands to be granted paid time off (PTO) and meet with management to discuss their concerns, according to a worker at the site. These workers — who say they lift hundreds of packages a day in “back-breaking” labor —currently receive zero PTO days a year. The walkout comes weeks after workers say management has ignored their requests to meet with leaders of a group organizing around the issue. So far, workers have circulated an internal and public petition gaining over 4,000 signatures in total. The actions have been organized by a group of workers on site called Amazonians United Sacramento, which led a successful campaign in the past to get multiple colleagues reinstated who were fired for missing work, in one case while the colleague was suffering the loss of a family member. The recent walkout is also an escalation of labor tension at Amazon’s growing network of last-mile delivery centers, which are smaller warehouses where workers prepare packages that are then sent out to customers’ doorsteps. Most workers at the Sacramento site — as with those at other delivery stations across the US — are prohibited from working more than 30 hours a week. They often work up to that maximum amount allotted and sometimes more than that during peak shopping times. Workers say their shifts are physically grueling, involving lifting boxes of up to 50 pounds at a rapid pace, especially right before the holidays when they see their workload increase.

 California Gave Billions in Taxpayer Dollars to Improve Jails. But That’s Not How These Sheriffs Are Spending It. - Two summers ago, the board of supervisors in Contra Costa County, California, faced a packed meeting room. On the agenda was a proposal to divert $1.5 million in state taxpayer money intended to ease jail overcrowding to other priorities of the local sheriff’s office.Without the funds, Assistant Sheriff Matthew Schuler said, street patrols across the county would be sacrificed. “That loss would be drastic,” he told the board.But about two dozen civic, religious and community leaders pushed back, saying the money was desperately needed for where it had been earmarked: jails, paying for probation and expanding social services.Moving those funds to pay for patrol officers was “truly insulting,” one speaker said. A reverend called the proposal “morally repugnant.” A woman stood at the podium and said Contra Costa County already gave enough money to law enforcement. The county, she said, was a “candyland for sheriffs.”“Our sheriff has not served the community well,” Elsa Chinea Stevens, a resident, told the supervisors. “We should not break the law to reward him by misappropriating funds.” The board then unanimously approved the transfer.

Watch Rapper Make It Rain On Skid Row Homeless - An Important Lesson For The Fed - The Federal Reserve might want to take some pointers from Rapper Blueface of how to preform helicopter drops in low-income neighborhoods ahead of the next downturn. The 22-year old rapper was seen standing on top of a black Mercedes-Benz G-Class in the middle of Los Angeles' Skid Row, injecting money into the local economy via a direct transfer to low-income folks and the homeless. The rapper was seen in the video throwing wads of cash into the air, with dozens of people scouring around the vehicle to collect as many bills as they could.According to RT News, it wasn't entirely clear what domination the bills were and or how much cash the rapper gave away in the helicopter drop. The video first surfaced on Blueface's Twitter account on Dec. 23.   The season of giving — blueface (@bluefacebleedem) December 23, 2019 The video received mixed reviews with one Twitter user saying, "Way to demean them. You could have handed it out in a decent way that wasn't so dehumanizing. Someone could have been seriously injured because of your stunt."

 Christmas 2019: More than half a million homeless in America - This Christmas approximately 568,000 people, a population equivalent to the state of Wyoming, will mark the holiday in homeless shelters, tent encampments or in the rough, all across the United States. Some of the homeless will not make it to Christmas as the death toll continues to mount. In Los Angeles County, a focal point of the social crisis, one thousand of the estimated 44,000 unsheltered homeless population have died in both 2018 and 2019, nearly three lives per day, side by side with the glitter of Hollywood and the wealth and privilege of Beverly Hills. A man walks past a mural of angel wings titled "Africa Wings" by artist Colette Miller in Los Angeles' Skid Row area, home to the nation's largest concentration of homeless people, Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) This year marked the third year in a row in which the Department of Housing and Urban development recorded an increase in the number of people living outdoors in its annual January point in time survey. This figure is likely a significant undercount as it is taken during the coldest time of the year and done by volunteers who are unable to canvass all the areas where people seek to survive without shelter. How many will die from exposure and other causes on the holiday is unknown, but the reality is that thousands of unsheltered people are dying on the streets, encampments, abandoned homes and backlots of cities across the country every year. Tens of thousands will go to sleep Christmas Eve out on the streets of America and it is likely that dozens will not wake up in the morning. Annual vigils and protest marches were held Thursday night in several hundred cities across the US to remember the homeless men and women who died this year. So far this year, in Washington, D.C., 117 homeless individuals have lost their lives in the nation’s capital, a huge jump over the 54 recorded in 2018. Santa Clara County, California, home to Silicon Valley, saw 161 homeless deaths. Riverside County, California, recorded 95 deaths; Portland, Oregon, marked 43 deaths, the most in that city since 2015; Salt Lake City, Utah, which recently cut the number of shelter beds by 400, saw 94 homeless deaths; Boulder, Colorado, marked 48 deaths, a doubling from 2018; and in Springfield, Illinois, that state’s capital, 13 homeless people died on the streets this year. At a time when the ruling elite is celebrating the continued rise in the stock market and patting themselves on the back for historically low unemployment figures, the number of people who are being thrown out on the streets is on the rise. This is not a contradiction: the records set on Wall Street are based ultimately on increasing exploitation of workers through the deployment of new technologies and efforts to drive down wages, including by the creation of an increasingly desperate layer pushed to the absolute limit. The grim figures on homelessness are a snapshot of just one part of the deepening social crisis which is gripping America as 2019 comes to an end. The opioid overdose crisis, gun violence and a rising suicide rate has driven down life expectancy, an event unprecedented among the world’s leading economies and in America’s own history.

This Christmas, Over Half A Million Americans Will Struggle With Homelessness - The government estimates ending homelessness would cost around $20 billion, less than Americans spend on Christmas decorations, yet there appears to be little appetite to address the growing problem... While millions of Americans celebrate Christmas this year with loved ones, carving turkey and sharing gifts, others are not so fortunate. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, over half a million of us will spend Christmas on the streets. The government agency estimates that on any given day, around 553,000 Americans are homeless. A third of those are families with young children. African Americans and those with disabilities are particularly likely to become homeless.  Yet these distressing numbers are sure to be underestimates of the true problem as they do not include the many more sleeping in vehicles or other makeshift accommodation, sofa surfing or relying on friends. Around 1.5 million people sleep at a shelter annually, according to figures from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Furthermore, the 500,000 number itself is likely an underestimate. A 2017 experiment done by The Guardian, where it placed actors posing as homeless people on the streets, found that authorities missed around one in three of them. And they were wishing to be seen, not individuals keen to go undetected. Tens of millions of Americans are barely managing to stave off the same fate. Almost half of America is broke, and 58 percent of the country is living paycheck to paycheck, with savings of less than $1,000. 37 million Americans go to bed hungry and around 130 million admit an inability to pay for basic needs like food, housing or healthcare. After a decade of decline, the homeless population is again creeping up. The Trump administration is believed to be readying a “get tough” approach to the problem. Singling out California, earlier this year, Trump claimed that its cities were “going to hell” thanks to illegal encampments that increase environmental pollution. The number of unsheltered homeless people in Los Angeles Country alone increased by over 10 percent this year, to 44,214. Yet the United Nations has decried the already inhumane treatment of homeless Americans, claiming that the state “effectively criminalizes” them “for the situation in which they find themselves.” In many cities, activities like sleeping rough, panhandling or public urination (in locations with zero pubic bathrooms) have been turned into arrestable offenses, ensuring a carceral “solution” to the problem. Homeless people can be given tickets for infractions as innocuous as loitering, leading to warrants and unpayable fines, trapping them in a cycle of criminality which they cannot escape as their record prohibits them from subsequent employment and access to most housing. Thus, the UN report concludes that it is “effectively a system for keeping the poor in poverty while generating revenue” for the state to employ more police to speed the system up.

Seattle public schools say students must be vaccinated or they cannot come back - Seattle Public Schools told parents that students who are not properly vaccinated will not be allowed back to school on Jan. 8 following Christmas break if they are not in compliance with Washington state’s vaccination laws.“Student records must reflect updated immunization status by January 8, 2020, or students cannot attend school until the required information is provided to the school nurse,” the district said in a notice on its website. “Families of students whose records are not up to date or are missing information will be notified via email, postal mail, and a letter home from your child’s school.”The notice comes after the state legislature, responding to two measles outbreaks that led to 87 infections, passed a law eliminating personal and philosophical exemptions for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination.State law called on school districts to begin excluding non-compliant students 30 days after the beginning of school in the fall, but individual school districts, in the absence of enforcement mechanisms, took the issue largely on a case-by-case basis.The state manual reads, "Administrators in these facilities have final responsibility when it comes to immunization compliance,” according to local news outlet KIRO7.The Tacoma School District excluded unvaccinated students as early as October, while the Issaquah district began to send out warning letters around the same time.

 How classroom technology is holding students back - In a first grade classroom I visited a few years ago, most of the six-year-olds were using iPads or computers. They were working independently on math problems supposedly geared to their ability, while the teacher worked separately with a small group. I watched as one boy, whom I’ll call Kevin, stared at an iPad screen that directed him to “combine 8 and 3.” A struggling reader (like almost all his classmates), he pressed the “Listen” button. But he still didn’t try to provide an answer.“Do you know what combine means?” I asked. Finding that he didn’t, I explained it meant “add.” Satisfied that I’d put Kevin on the path to success, I moved on to observe other students—and found their iPads displaying sentences like Round 119 to the nearest ten and Find the area of the following triangle in square units. If Kevin didn’t understand combine,were other kids understanding words like round and area? Not to mention square units? Then I found a boy staring at a computer screen showing a number line with the question What number comes before 84? He listened to the instructions and tried 85, then 86, then 87, getting error messages each time. Thinking the problem was the size of the numbers, I asked him what number comes before four. “Five?” he guessed. It dawned on me that he didn’t understand the word before. Once I explained it, he immediately clicked on 83.  Schools across the country have jumped on the education technology bandwagon in recent years, with the encouragement of technophile philanthropists like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. As older education reform strategies like school choice and attempts to improve teacher quality have failed to bear fruit, educators have pinned their hopes on the idea that instructional software and online tutorials and games can help narrow the massive test-score gap between students at the top and bottom of the socioeconomic scale. A recent Gallup report found that 89% of students in the United States (from third to 12th grade) say they use digital learning tools in school at least a few days a week.Gallup also found near-universal enthusiasm for technology on the part of educators. Among administrators and principals, 96% fully or somewhat support “the increased use of digital learning tools in their school,” with almost as much support (85%) coming from teachers. But it’s not clear this fervor is based in evidence. When asked if “there is a lot of information available about the effectiveness” of the digital tools they used, only 18% of administrators said yes, along with about a quarter of teachers and principals. Another quarter of teachers said they had little or no information. In fact, the evidence is equivocal at best. Some studies have found positive effects, at least from moderate amounts of computer use, especially in math. But much of the data shows a negative impact at a range of grade levels. A study of millions of high school students in the 36 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that those who used computers heavily at school “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.” According to other studies, college students in the US who used laptops or digital devices in their classes did worse on exams. Eighth graders who took Algebra I online did much worse than those who took the course in person. And fourth graders who used tablets in all or almost all their classes had, on average, reading scores 14 points lower than those who never used them—a differential equivalent to an entire grade level. In some states, the gap was significantly larger.

My Semester With the Snowflakes - In May of 2019, I was accepted to the Eli Whitney student program at Yale University. At 52, I am the oldest freshman in the class of 2023. Before I was accepted, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen the infamous YouTube video of students screaming at a faculty member. I had seen the news stories regarding the admissions scandal and that Yale was included in that unfortunate business. I had also heard the students at Yale referred to as “snowflakes” in various social media dumpsters and occasionally I’d seen references to Ivy League students as snowflakes in a few news sources.  According to the “Urban Dictionary” a “snowflake” is a “term for someone that thinks they are unique and special, but really are not. It gained popularity after the movie “Fight Club” from the quote “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” I hear the term occasionally from buddies of mine who I love, they say things like; “how are things up there with the liberal snowflakes?”  Let me assure you, I have not met one kid who fits that description. None of the kids I’ve met seem to think that they are “special” any more than any other 18–22-year-old. These kids work their assess off. I have asked a couple of them to help me with my writing. One young woman volunteered to help me by proof-reading my “prose” and, for the record, I believe she will be the President someday. I recently listened while one of my closer pals, a kid from Portland, Oregon, talked to me about the beauty of this insane mathematics problem set he is working on. There is a young man in our group who grew up in Alaska working on fishing boats from a young age and who plays the cello. There is an exceptional young woman from Chicago who wrote a piece for the Yale Daily news expressing the importance of public demonstrations in the light of a recent police shooting. She and I are polar opposites. I am the “patriarchy” at first glance, and she is a young black woman who is keen on public protests. Not the type of soul I generally find myself in a conversation with. We come from different worlds and yet we both read classic works with open hearts and minds.

Colleges are turning students’ phones into surveillance machines, tracking the locations of hundreds of thousands WaPo - When Syracuse University freshmen walk into professor Jeff Rubin’s Introduction to Information Technologies class, seven small Bluetooth beacons hidden around the Grant Auditorium lecture hall connect with an app on their smartphones and boost their “attendance points.” And when they skip class? The SpotterEDU app sees that, too, logging their absence into a campus database that tracks them over time and can sink their grade. It also alerts Rubin, who later contacts students to ask where they’ve been. His 340-person lecture has never been so full.   Short-range phone sensors and campuswide WiFi networks are empowering colleges across the United States to track hundreds of thousands of students more precisely than ever before. Dozens of schools now use such technology to monitor students’ academic performance, analyze their conduct or assess their mental health.But some professors and education advocates argue that the systems represent a new low in intrusive technology, breaching students’ privacy on a massive scale. The tracking systems, they worry, will infantilize students in the very place where they’re expected to grow into adults, further training them to see surveillance as a normal part of living, whether they like it or not.“We’re adults. Do we really need to be tracked?” said Robby Pfeifer, a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, which recently began logging the attendance of students connected to the campus’ WiFi network. “Why is this necessary? How does this benefit us? … And is it just going to keep progressing until we’re micromanaged every second of the day?” This style of surveillance has become just another fact of life for many Americans. A flood of cameras, sensors and microphones, wired to an online backbone, now can measure people’s activity and whereabouts with striking precision, reducing the mess of everyday living into trend lines that companies promise to help optimize.

 DeVos, DOJ Slam Campuses Behaving As Mini Police States - Mississippi community college is defending itself against allegations from the DOJ and Betsy DeVos that it positions itself as a “police state” and threatens the free speech rights of its students. In September, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education filed a lawsuit against Jones College after the school threatened to arrest student members of Young Americans for Liberty for their efforts to initiate a conversation about marijuana legalization on campus. The campus police stopped the YAL members from tabling to raise awareness about this issue. FIRE sued the school on behalf of YAL and student Michael Brown.Now the Department of Justice is weighing in on the matter, releasing a statement insisting that “College  campuses  should not be mini police states.” “The United States of America is not a police state,” said assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband, adding “Repressive speech codes are the indecent hallmark of despotic, totalitarian regimes. They have absolutely no place in our country."US secretary of education Betsy DeVos also weighed in on the free speech of students at Jones County Junior College saying that the situation is “yet another concerning example of students encountering limits on what, when, where, and how they learn.” “This is happening far too often on our nation’s campuses. This Administration won’t let students be silenced. We stand with their right to speak and with their right to learn truth through the free exchange of ideas—particularly those with which they might disagree,” DeVos added.  Jones County Junior College told Campus Reform that it “has reviewed the statement of interest filed by the federal government on this matter,” and that “At this time a preliminary motion to dismiss certain claims against certain defendants is pending before the court.” The school disputed the legitimacy of the allegations, telling Campus Reform that “the only alleged facts in the record come from the unproven statements contained in the plaintiffs’ complaint,” and complains that the DOJ’s statement “broadly accepts those allegations and the merits of plaintiffs' claims. The College looks forward to the Court’s ruling on the motion to dismiss and to developing the facts of this case through the discovery process.”

Columbia University student first to file anti-Semitism complaint under Trump order - A student at Columbia University has filed a complaint with the Department of Education alleging anti-Semitism on campus, with lawyers representing him saying he is the first to do so under a new executive order from President Trump.A press release on the complaint from The Lawfare Project accuses Columbia's administration of knowing about a "hostile environment" but doing nothing to fix it. The legal group last week filed the complaint with the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights on behalf of Jonathan Karten, a Jewish Israeli American student. President Trump earlier this month issued an executive order stating that the administration will take action against anti-Semitism "as vigorously as against all other forms of discrimination.” The White House has said the order is intended to counter a growing number of anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses and elsewhere.Some Jewish groups praised the order as protecting Jewish students from discrimination, while others, particularly left-wing organizations, expressed concerns about free speech and Trump's past statements about Jewish people. The Lawfare Project's executive director Brooke Goldstein said in a statement on Karten's complaint that the order creates "a legal avenue to stop this type of hatred from being perpetuated in our schools."A redacted version of the complaint viewed by The Hill accuses one professor of pointing at Karten and yelling, "Don't believe a word he is saying. He is Mossad," referring to Israel's intelligence agency. Another professor is accused of saying that the killing of Israeli citizens by the military wing of Hamas is justified by Israel's "settler colonialism." A Columbia University official declined to comment on the complaint. A group called Palestine Legal condemned the complaint in a statement, calling it an attack on free speech.

 “OxySacklers” angry that Tufts removed family name from campus -- The Sackler family is pushing back after Tufts University removed the family name from its buildings and programs due to the family’s link to the ongoing opioid epidemic, according to a report in The New York Times.  In a letter to Tufts’ president, a lawyer for the family wrote that the removal was “contrary to basic notions of fairness" and “a breach of the many binding commitments made by the University dating back to 1980 in order to secure the family’s support, including millions of dollars in donations for facilities and critical medical research.”Tufts made the decision to remove the family name after getting the results of an independent review of the university’s relationship with the Sacklers and OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, which the Sacklers own. Both the family and the company have been accused of helping to spark the crisis by aggressively marketing the powerful painkiller and misleading doctors, patients, and regulators about its addictiveness.In court filings, the Massachusetts attorney general alleged that the Sacklers and Purdue used their relationship with Tufts to gain access to doctors and influence pain treatment. The review found that Purdue did intend to use the relationship to advance its interests. And, according to the report, in some cases, it was successful in influencing the academic institution. “Moreover, we conclude that there was an appearance of too close a relationship between Purdue, the Sacklers, and Tufts,” the report said. The letter from the Sackler family lawyer hinted at the possibility of legal action.

Profs Urge NYTimes To Correct The Many Errors In Its '1619 Project' - Five historians have written a letter to the editor to The New York Times telling the “newspaper of record” to correct the major and serious errors that riddle its 1619 Project. The 1619 Project sought to “reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding,” due to the arrival in that year of 20 African slaves to a Virginia colony. The correction request was signed by Victoria Bynum of Texas State University, James McPherson and Sean Wilentz of Princeton University, James Oakes of the City University of New York and Gordon Wood of Brown University, reports The Washington Post. Their letter was published shortly after The Wall Street Journal reported on several of those professors’ concerns about the project that had been circulating on social media. The letter states in part: These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or “framing.” They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds — that they are the objections of only “white historians” — has affirmed that displacement. On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain “in order to ensure slavery would continue.” This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false. Some of the other material in the project is distorted, including the claim that “for the most part,” black Americans have fought their freedom struggles “alone.” Still other material is misleading. The project criticizes Abraham Lincoln’s views on racial equality but ignores his conviction that the Declaration of Independence proclaimed universal equality, for blacks as well as whites, a view he upheld repeatedly against powerful white supremacists who opposed him. The project also ignores Lincoln’s agreement with Frederick Douglass that the Constitution was, in Douglass’s words, “a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.” Instead, the project asserts that the United States was founded on racial slavery, an argument rejected by a majority of abolitionists and proclaimed by champions of slavery like John C. Calhoun.  Given that the 1619 Project is being developed into a book and student curriculum, the scholars state it is very important that these errors be amended to reflect an accurate history of America. But The New York Times said no. “New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein addressed each concern from the professors but stood firmly behind the reporting and declined to correct it,” the Post reports. Read the letter to the editor in the Times and the Post’s coverage of it.

Potential White House open-access edict could upend scientific publishers - The White House is considering issuing an executive order that would mandate immediate free access to all published federally funded research, with no embargo period, according to administration and scientific publishing officials. At least two rounds of interagency reviews of the proposed executive order have occurred, according to an administration source, but there has been no word on when or whether the order will be issued. The review process is being coordinated by the White House staff secretary, says the source, rather than the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which has previously led the formulation of open-access policy. The OSTP would neither confirm nor deny that an executive order on open access for scientific literature is under review. “We do not comment on internal deliberative processes that may or may not be happening,” OSTP spokesperson Kristina Baum said in a statement. She added that US science and technology agencies continue to operate under the open-access policy developed by the Obama administration in 2013, which requires free access to the results of federally funded research no later than one year after publication. The federal government was the source of 44% of basic R&D funding in the US in 2015, according to a 2018 report. A zero-embargo requirement would upend the scientific publishing business, the vast majority of which derives its revenues from institutional subscriptions to journals. A small but growing number of journals use an open-access publishing model, in which authors pay the costs, known as article processing charges, to publish their results and make them immediately available for free (see Physics Today, May 2017, page 24). Many scientific societies, including the American Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics Today, derive the bulk of their revenues from their journal publishing operations. Those funds help pay for other functions the societies perform, such as issuing magazines and newsletters, offering education and outreach, and sponsoring awards and conferences. Multiple groups of publishers sent letters to the White House on Wednesday expressing alarm and imploring reconsideration of the executive order.

My daughter co-signed her boyfriend’s student loan. He quickly stopped making payments — how can she free herself? - My daughter, who lives in Houston, co-signed a student loan for her then-boyfriend several years ago. He promptly quit making payments and she has been making the payments to keep her credit score high. I realize that she is now stuck, but is there any way that the creditor can indicate that she is paying — and he is not? It bugs me that his credit reflects payments that he has not made. - A Frustrated Mom.   Dear Mom, How I wish she had written to me herself before she co-signed on her then-boyfriend’s student loan. He really did a number on her. Of all the loans to co-sign, this is probably the least advisable. There is no collateral like a house and student loans are almost impossible to discharge. The lender could even garnish your daughter’s wages if no payments were made. I am frustrated reading your letter, so I imagine your nom de plume is a polite understatement of how you really feel. Still, the past is another country, so we must deal with the here and now.  She is in a very difficult situation. Aside from appealing to her ex-boyfriend’s better nature — assuming he has one — it’s also worth contacting the lender. According to eAdvisors, a comparison site for private student lenders: “Some lenders offer co-signer release as an option, if the borrower makes 12, 24, 36 or 48 consecutive payments on time (before the due date).” But the lender is unlikely to allow this if her ex does not show he can make the payments. Worse: If your daughter didn’t sign a death discharge, she may still be responsible for this loan if her boyfriend dies.  “There are two main alternatives to a formal co-signer release option,” eAdvisors add. “One is to pay off the debt in full.” (But you probably already knew that and it hardly helps.) “The other is to use a non co-signed loan to refinance the co-signed loan, such as a private consolidation loan, home equity loan or personal bank loan.” This option would almost certainly require the permission of the other co-signer. I have one more: Consult a lawyer about her chances of suing him court to reverse the co-signer status, then petition the financial institution to garnish his wages and/or repay the debt. Your daughter obviously trusted and loved this man. But it’s not always a good recipe for making sound financial choices.

 How Some Sheriffs Force Their Inmates Into Medical Debt  --  In Baldwin County, Alabama, the sheriff’s office ensures that inmates in the county jail do not have to pay anything more than a $15 copayment for medical care.“Inmates are not billed for the full cost of any medical care either inside or outside” the jail, Sheriff Hoss Mack said in an email. Just across the bay in Mobile County, home to one of the busiest ports in the U.S. and the eponymous city of nearly 200,000 people built around it, Sheriff Sam Cochran takes a different tack: Some of his inmates are personally on the hook for the full cost of medically necessary care they receive from outside doctors while incarcerated, even if they are awaiting trial.The difference between the two sheriffs’ approaches demonstrates the unique power Alabama sheriffs have to set their own rules and answer only to voters. Legal experts and civil rights advocates say sheriffs like Cochran are likely violating both state law and the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment and excessive fines. It’s not just happening in Mobile County. In multiple instances confirmed by and ProPublica, inmates have had medical bills sent to collections while they were still behind bars, damaging their credit and putting pressure on their family members to pay up to ensure the care continued.

 CDC Finds 47 Percent Rise in Driving While High on Pot - The Center for Disease Control's (CDC) latest survey found that an increasing number of Americans are taking the wheel under the influence of marijuana, according to a new report released on Thursday. None As the narcotic becomes more acceptable for recreational use and more widely available, there has been a substantial rise in the number of motorists who apparently feel disposed to drive after consuming it, as USA Today reported. In fact, the number of motorists who admitted to driving after inhaling or ingesting marijuana rose 47 percent over a 4-year span. The data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 12 million people admitted to driving under the influence in 2018, which was 4.7 percent of all motorists, as USA Today reported. In fact, the researchers found that in the 16-25 age group, the percentage of those driving after consuming weed more than tripled, from 3.2 percent to 10.8 percent, according to USA Today. While that trend alarms public health officials, it is also small compared to the nearly 20.5 million people, or 8 percent of motorists, who admitted to driving after drinking, as CNN reported. The good news is, that number actually represents a decline in drunk driving. In 2014, 27.7 million motorists drove while impaired by alcohol. Additionally, 2.3 million said they had driven under the influence of illicit drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine, which totaled 0.9 percent of motorists. As a caveat, this is also self-reported data, which means the numbers may reflect a growing acceptance of marijuana so people are more willing to admit to consuming it as it becomes less taboo.

 Electronic Health Records Creating A ‘New Era’ Of Health Care Fraud - Derek Lewis was working as an electronic health records specialist for the nation’s largest hospital chain when he heard about software defects that might even “kill a patient.”  The doctors at Midwest (City) Regional Medical Center in Oklahoma worried that the software failed to track some drug prescriptions or dosages properly, posing a “huge safety concern,” Lewis said. Lewis cited the alleged safety hazards in a whistleblower lawsuit that he and another former employee of Community Health Systems (CHS) filed against the Tennessee-based hospital chain in 2018. The suit alleges that the company, which had $14 billion in annual revenue in 2018, obtained millions of dollars in federal subsidies fraudulently by covering up dangerous flaws in these systems at the Oklahoma hospital and more than 120 others it owned or operated at the time.  The whistleblowers also allege that Medhost, the Tennessee firm that developed the software, concealed defects during government-mandated reviews that were supposed to ensure safety.  Both CHS and Medhost have denied the allegations and moved to dismiss the suit. The motions are pending. Last month, Department of Justice lawyers wrote in court filings that they were still investigating the matter and had not yet decided whether to take over the case.  The lawsuit is one of dozens filed by whistleblowers, doctors and hospitals alleging that some electronic health records (EHR) software used in hospitals and medical offices has hidden flaws that may pose a danger to patients — and that a substantial chunk of the $38 billion in federal subsidies went to companies that deceived the government about the quality of their products, an ongoing Fortune-KHN investigation shows. The subsidies were designed to persuade hospitals and doctors’ offices to install software that would track the medical history of every patient and share the information seamlessly with other health care providers. But the software makers allegedly gamed the system, repeatedly. Three major EHR vendors have made multimillion-dollar settlement deals — totaling $357 million — over Justice Department investigations which include allegations that they rigged or otherwise gamed the government’s certification test. At least two other companies are under investigation.

U.S. diabetes patients turn to ‘black market’ for medications, supplies - Diabetes medications and blood-test supplies are sold, traded and donated on black markets because the U.S. healthcare system isn’t meeting patients’ needs, a study shows. In a survey, about half of people who participated in these underground exchanges said they do it because they lack access to the proper medications and supplies to manage their diabetes, researchers report in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.  “It is important for healthcare providers and policymakers to understand what people are doing to support diabetes management when faced with medication and supply access issues,” said study leader Michelle Litchman of the University of Utah College of Nursing in Salt Lake City.The price of insulin continues to increase, translating to $15 per day for the average user, the study authors note. Recent research indicates that one in four people with diabetes ration their insulin due to cost, they add.“While there are risks to using medications and supplies that are not prescribed to them, there are also risks to rationing or not taking medications or using supplies at all,” Litchman told Reuters Health by email.

Reports Of Patients’ Deaths Linked To Heart Devices Lurk Below Radar - The Food and Drug Administration continues to file thousands of reports of patients’ deaths related to medical devices through a reporting system that keeps the safety data out of the public eye.The system is similar to a vast program exposed earlier this year by KHN that kept device-injury reports effectively hidden within the agency. The FDA shuttered the program after the article about it was published and released millions of records.The result of this remaining so-called registry exemption program is that key death data about heart devices sits in inaccessible FDA reports that can take up to two years for the public to see under open-records laws. Device-related death reports are typically open, allowing researchers to track and alert their peers about safety concerns.The FDA carved out the exemption in 2010 and it covers six devices, a spokeswoman said. Doctors tend to report extensive data on patients for certain medical devices that are closely monitored in registries. Private medical societies tend to administer the registries and act as gatekeepers to the data.The registry leaders, in turn, have reported data to device makers, who sent the FDA spreadsheets detailing what they know about more than 8,000 patient deaths. Those spreadsheets are also inaccessible to the public.Under standard FDA reporting rules, the device maker is bound to investigate and send the agency a detailed public report about each patient death believed to be device-related.Device makers say the registries strip key data they need to fully investigate each death, most of them related to heart valves threaded t hrough a catheter and implanted in faulty hearts.

The Wall Street Journal: ‘All You Need Is One Person On A Plane’: Stifling A Lethal Measles Outbreak - International health officials are expanding their efforts to prevent a potential spread of measles to more Pacific islands during the holiday travel period, following a large and deadly outbreak in Samoa. Tonga, Fiji and American Samoa, a U.S. territory, have all reported outbreaks or cases of measles in recent weeks. But Samoa, an independent country that is an eight-hour ferry ride from American Samoa, has suffered the largest outbreak by far. As of Saturday, measles had killed 79 people in the island nation and sickened more than 5,400 since September, out of a population of around 200,000. More than 60 of those who died were under the age of 4.

Important Donor To Anti-Vax Movement Has Been Cashing In On ‘Alternatives To Vaccines’ As Measles Outbreaks Surge KHN --The Wall Street Journal reports that contributions from osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola account for about 40% of funding to a center that spreads anti-vaccine information. News on vaccines comes from the Pacific Islands, Virginia, Connecticut and other places, as well.  The Washington Post: A Major Funder Of The Anti-Vaccine Movement Has Made Millions Selling Natural Health Products  The nation’s oldest anti-vaccine advocacy group often emphasizes that it is supported primarily by small donations and concerned parents, describing its founder as the leader of a “national, grass roots movement.” But over the past decade a single donor has contributed more than $2.9 million to the National Vaccine Information Center, accounting for about 40 percent of the organization’s funding, according to the most recent available tax records. That donor, osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola, has amassed a fortune selling natural health products, court records show, including vitamin supplements, some of which he claims are alternatives to vaccines. (Satija and Sun, 12/20)

 Flu season: CDC reports 1,900 deaths, virus is widespread in 30 states - The flu is widespread in 30 states and has caused almost 2,000 deaths this season, including 19 children, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly every state has reported elevated activity, the CDC said in its weekly update Friday. The CDC estimated there have been at least 3.7 million flu cases this season, 32,000 requiring hospitalization. It reported 1,900 deaths. Most patients are infected with a strain called B/Victoria that usually doesn't appear until the end of flu season. The virus tends to strike children and young adults more often, but anyone can be affected, according to the CDC.  The weekly report finds widespread flu in Puerto Rico and 30 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

Antibiotic Crisis Coming as Superbugs Gain Strength and Drug Companies Go Bankrupt - Countries around the world are seeing a mounting threat from antibiotic resistance. After decades of overprescribing antibiotics and overusing them in factory farming, rivers are polluted with antibiotics and complications from drug-resistant infections are projected to cost $100 trillion by 2050, according to Scientific American. The Centers for Disease Control released a report last month that said more than 2.8 million people in the U.S. experience an infection from antibiotic resistant bacteria each year, leading to 35,000 deaths. The report also pointed out that this is a global crisis, not just a domestic problem. In fact, this spring, the United Nations declared this problem an urgent global crisis in need of immediate action. Just when the fight against superbugs needs to ramp up, drug companies are either going bankrupt or refusing to invest in research, according to The New York Times. Achaogen and Aradigm, two antibiotic start-ups, both went bankrupt. Pharmaceutical giants like Novartis and Allergan have stopped investing in antibiotic research. And one of the largest developers of antibiotics, Melinta Therapeutics, recently said it was running out of money. The prospect of losing money has investors fleeing the sector, just when more money is needed, according to The New York Times. "This is a crisis that should alarm everyone,"   "Antibiotic resistance has long been a problem, but the threats we face are real, immediate, and demand immediate action. Antibiotic resistance threatens modern medicine — our ability to safely perform routine surgeries and complicated organ transplants, as well as chemotherapy, all rely on the ability to prevent and treat infections," said Dr. Jesse Jacob from the Emory Antibiotic Resistance Center at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta to Medical News Today. The Trump administration has worsened the problem by cutting the budges of nationwide, hospital-based programs researching the issue. It has also ignored the World Health Organization's suggestions on reducing antibiotic use in livestock, as NBC News reported. Companies that have spent billions to find a solution to the increasing strength of germs that have developed a resistance to common antibiotics have not found a market to recoup their investment into research. Most antibiotics are used for short durations, unlike profitable medicines for chronic conditions, and many hospitals are unwilling to pay the high price for new therapies, according to The New York Times.

 "Stop Referring to a Coming Post-antibiotic Era—It's Already Here:" Centers for Disease Control --The front face of antibiotic resistance is a problem for medicine. But behind the scenes, the problem of antibiotic resistance becomes a problem of incentives and therefore of economics. For example, health care providers for a long time had an incentive to under-invest in preventing infections, because after all, it was easy and cheap to cure infections with antibiotics.In addition, each health care provider individually has an incentive to focus only on the patient sitting in front of them, and whether "just-in-case" or precautionary use of antibiotics might help that patient, while not taking into account the consequence that widespread use of antibiotics will also lead to a rise in infection that are resistant to antibiotics.  Further, the incentives for researchers to seek out and commercialize new antibiotics (or alternative anti-infection treatments) is shaped by incentives for innovation embodied in government support of research and development spending, regulations affecting how soon a new drug can be commercialized, protections for intellectual property, and whether government health care finance would (at least in some cases) be willing to pay a higher price for newly invented anti-infection drugs. These issues all arise in Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States 2019, published by the Centers for Disease Control (November 2019). A substantial portion of the report is given over to estimating the size of the problem, and thus why the CDC concludes that the "post-antibiotic era" is "already here."  More than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.  To make the message just a little more grim, this issue is a global one. Globalization means that infections with antibiotic resistance can evolve anywhere, and then travel anywhere via people, animals, or even just in the environment.

 Drug Overdoses Contribute To Rise In Midlife Mortality In Ohio River Valley - The Ohio River Valley has seen some of the largest jumps in mortality rates among people in midlife — those between ages 25 and 64 — in recent years. Appalachia has been hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic, and Ohio and West Virginia have suffered the worst, with the highest rates of overdose deaths. Since the drug epidemic started spiraling out of control, Detective Sgt. Randy Stewart with the sheriff’s office in Belmont County, Ohio, has seen the effects tear families up. “Going out, taking these young kids in body bags and seeing how it crushes the parents — it’s tough,” Stewart says.  He and his fellow officers have responded to overdoses all over the rural county: “Alongside the roadway,” Stewart says. “Pull-offs. Back roads. Bathrooms for gas stations, restaurants, the truck stop. We pulled overdoses out of all those areas.” Wearily, he says he sees no sign of things turning around.   “I don’t even think we’re close. From what I see on a daily basis, we’re kind of in last place here.”  Health data for Belmont County show that the county ranked 50th of 88 Ohio counties for health outcomes. As with the rest of the state and the U.S. overall, Belmont County is seeing a trend of people dying younger, as life expectancy dips.  “They’re losing years of potential life that they could have been a productive citizen in the county,” says Linda Mehl, director of nursing with the Belmont County Health Department. There is no one factor behind these numbers: Smoking, obesity, alcohol abuse and organ system diseases all contribute, along with drug overdoses. Broader economic conditions factor in, too. Over the years, the Ohio River Valley has seen the bottom fall out of the coal and steel industries — the engines that built these towns and that used to employ tens of thousands of workers.  The drug epidemic that has ravaged these Ohio River communities has followed a now-familiar progression. For many, it started with prescription opioids. Then, drug users switched to heroin, which was cheaper. Now, law enforcement officials are seeing more and more methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant. “Right now, methamphetamine is the drug of choice,” says detective sergeant Stewart. “It’s probably topped the charts around here.”Stewart links the spike in meth to the arrival of transient oil and gas workers, drawn to Belmont County by Ohio’s fracking boom.“Talking to these people that we arrest, methamphetamine gives them that ‘go’ to work those 16-, 18-, 20-hour shifts that the oil fields are requiring,” Stewart says.

More atmospheric CO2 could reduce cognitive ability, especially in children - New research from the University of Colorado Boulder, the Colorado School of Public Health, and the University of Pennsylvania found that higher levels of atmospheric CO2 in the future could lead to cognitive issues. A new study found that higher concentrations of atmospheric CO2 could negatively impact our cognitive abilities — especially among children in the classroom. The findings were presented at this year’s American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting Prior research has shown that higher-than-average levels of CO2 can impair our thinking and lead to cognitive problems. Children in particular and their academic performance can be negatively impacted by this, but, so far, researchers have identified a simple and elegant solution — open the windows and let some fresh air in. However, what happens when the air outside also shows higher-than-usual CO2 levels? In an effort to find out, the team used a computer model and looked at two scenarios: one in which we successfully reduce the amount of CO2 we emit into the atmosphere, and one in which we don’t (a business-as-usual scenario). They then analyzed what effects each situation would have on a classroom of children. In the first scenario, they explain that by 2100 students will be exposed to enough CO2 gas that, judging from the results of previous studies, they would experience a 25% decline in cognitive abilities. Under the second scenario, however, they report that students could experience a whopping 50% decline in cognitive ability. The study doesn’t look at the effects of breathing higher-than-average quantities of CO2 sporadically — it analyzes the effects of doing so on a regular basis. The team explained that their study was the first to gauge this impact, and that the findings — while definitely worrying — still need to be validated by further research. Note that the paper has been submitted for peer-review pending publication but has yet to pass this step.

 Obesity in pregnant moms linked to lag in their sons' development and IQ - A mother's obesity in pregnancy can affect her child's development years down the road, according to researchers who found impaired motor skills in preschoolers and lower IQ in middle childhood for boys whose mothers were severely overweight while expecting them. A team of nutrition and environmental health researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Columbia University found that the differences are comparable to the impact of lead exposure in early childhood. At age 3, the researchers measured the children's motor skills and found that maternal obesity during pregnancy was strongly associated with lower motor skills in boys. At age 7, they again measured the children and found that the boys whose mothers were overweight or obese in pregnancy had scores 5 or more points lower on full-scale IQ tests, compared with boys whose mothers had been at a normal weight. It isn't clear why obesity in pregnancy would affect a child later, though previous research has found links between a mother's diet and cognitive development, such as higher IQ scores in kids whose mothers have more of certain fatty acids found in fish. The researchers controlled for several factors in their analysis, including race and ethnicity, marital status, the mother's education and IQ, as well as whether the children were born prematurely or exposed to environmental irritants such as air pollution. What the pregnant mothers ate or whether they breastfed were not included in the analysis.The team also examined and accounted for the nurturing environment in a child's home in early childhood, looking at how parents interacted with their children and whether the child was provided with books and toys. A nurturing home environment was found to lessen the negative effects of obesity. "The effect on IQ was smaller in nurturing home environments, but it was still there," Widen said.

Study: Obesity Worsens Carbon Emissions --  The growing human population and an increasing average body size is interfering with attempts to arrest and reduce carbon emissions, a new study has suggested—with obesity the latest carbon emissions contributor to be uncovered.According to the study, published in the journal of The Obesity Society, people with higher body mass produce more carbon dioxide, which is a product of metabolism for all oxygen-consuming living organisms.“Also,” the authors of the research said, “maintenance of greater body weights requires more food and drinks to be produced and transported to the consumers. Similarly, transportation of heavier people is associated with increased consumption of fossil fuels.”As a result, obesity was estimated to generate some 700 megatons of carbon dioxide annually, which is equal to about 1.6 percent of all anthropogenic carbon emissions."This study makes it clear that we pay a steep price for making it difficult to access care for obesity. Not only does obesity affect the health of the individuals who have it, untreated obesity might also contribute to environmental issues," said Ted Kyle, founder of health organization ConscienHealth, which focuses on tackling obesity as quoted by Eurekalert. Incidentally, ConscientHealth recently carried a report on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that warned obesity rates in the United States are rising. By the end of the 2020s, the research said, half of Americans would be obese, with severe obesity now seen in as much as 25 percent of people in the U.S.

Washington Post Denies Claim New Estrogen-Packed 'Impossible Whopper' Will Make Men Grow Breasts - The Washington Post published an entire article denying a claim by a veterinarian that Burger King’s new estrogen-packed vegan ‘Impossible Whopper’ could make men grow breasts if they eat too many.  According to James Stangle, a doctor of veterinary medicine in South Dakota, the soy-based Impossible Whopper contains 18 million times more estrogen than the original beef Whopper.  That works out at 44 milligrams of estrogen in the vegan burger compared to just 2.5 nanograms in the original beef Whopper.  “Just six glasses of soy milk per day has enough estrogen to grow boobs on a male,” wrote Stangle.The Post tried to debunk his claims by pointing out that Tri-State Livestock News, where his article was published, is “a trade publication for the livestock industry” and represents cattle ranchers who have “declared war” on Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, two of the biggest companies behind plant-based meat substitutes.The science on whether substantial soy consumption feminizes men is still disputed, although given what many soy enthusiasts look and sound like, there appears to be a strong correlation.A Texas man who complained of sore, enlarged breasts and a decreased libido was later found to have estrogen levels eight times higher than normal, a result explained by his over-consumption of soy milk.Another 2008 study found that “men who ate the most soy had lower sperm concentration.” As Chris Menahan writes, “It’s worth noting that while the Washington Post is encouraging the pleb masses to chow down on estrogen burgers, the owner of the Post — the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos — is clearly taking large amounts of testosterone.”

Who Owns Your Grocery Store? --"Who owns your grocery store?"   It's the question emblazoned on the back of a van that has ferried me across 34 states to visit 128 consumer-owned grocery stores (food co-ops) and another 20 in development. I spent 13 years investigating every facet of the food supply. It led me to the conclusion that the grocery store is, hands down, the most influential force shaping food, the planet and our health. So I wrote a book about it, bought a tour van and took the book on the road. The message I'm sharing is that it's time to pay a lot more attention to who owns the grocery stores we shop at and what those answers mean to the future of food and the future of our communities.We have invested considerable energy over the past decade into deepening our understanding of how and where food is grown and who grows it. Organic food has exploded into a $50 billion industry in the U.S. Farm-to-table restaurants are plentiful. Farmers markets are thriving and community supported agriculture models are enabling new generations of farmers to usher in a new food paradigm. But there remains a cavernous gap in the effort — where we buy our groceries. If 10 percent of our weekly food budget is at a farmers market, what about the other 90 percent? It's almost certainly being invested in a grocery store. So what are we investing in? If it's The Fresh Market, you're investing in Apollo Global Management — a firm that includes the former Blackwater in its portfolio. If it's Trader Joe's, you're investing in Aldi Nord — a German multinational grocer. If it's Whole Foods, you're investing in Amazon and lining the pockets of the wealthiest person on the planet. And what of the smaller chains? The trajectory of grocery consolidation suggests you're investing in what will likely become an acquisition by one of a handful of hungry grocery giants. Look at Canada and the U.K., where market concentration in grocery retail is remarkably high. In Canada, two companies alone receive over half of Canadians' grocery dollars. Combined with the next three largest grocers, those five companies command 80 percent of the market. The numbers are similar in the U.K.

Trump's EPA Goes to Bat for Bayer as Company Fights $25 Million Verdict in Roundup Cancer Case - President Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency—already accused of being "pesticide cheerleader"—threw its weight behind chemical company Bayer AG on Friday when the agency asked a federal appeals court to reverse a lower court's ruling in favor of a man who said the company's Roundup weedkiller was responsible for his cancer. The case centers on Edwin Hardeman of California, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2015 after using the glyphosate-based pesticide, made by Monsanto, for years on his property. Bayer acquired Monsanto last year. A federal jury in July ordered the company to pay Hardeman roughly $25 million in damages, a lower amount than the $80 million a federal judge had ordered months earlier. The EPA maintains—to the outrage of environmental and public health groups—that glyphosate is not a carcinogen. The federal decision notwithstanding, California in 2017agreed with the World Health Organization's 2015 classification of glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen." Trump's EPA has pushed back on the state's finding and said that product labels informing users of that cancer risk would "misbranding" and announced in August of this year that the agency would not approve of labels carrying that warning. The filing from the federal government came the same week Bayer AG asked the appeals court to toss out the lower court's ruling and defended Roundup's safety. Bayer is currently facing nearly 43,000 claims related to glyphosate-linked cancer in federal courts. An end to the company's legal woes is unlikely to happen soon,according to Bloomberg Environment.

Trump’s EPA Backs Bayer’s Appeal in Roundup Verdict Appeal - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added its weight to back Bayer AG in its appeal against a federal jury verdict that decided its Roundup weed killer causes cancer, according to Bloomberg.Bayer is looking to overturn a verdict that first awarded a plaintiff $80 million, but was reduced to $25 million by a federal judge, in a suit that claimed the world's most popular herbicide caused a man's non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The EPA, working with the U.S. Department of Justice, filed papers in court on Friday fully and unequivocally supporting Bayer's claim that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, does not cause cancer, as The Wall Street Journal reported.When the U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria cut the jury reward in the spring, he refused to overturn the jury's findings that Roundup should have been sold with a cancer warning on the label. The EPA, however, said in papers that it had vetted and approved the Roundup warning label issued by Monsanto, which Bayer acquired in 2018 for about $63 billion, and it did not require a cancer warning, as Bloomberg reported.The filings by the EPA and Justice Department said that Monsanto, and subsequently Bayer, could not print a cancer-risk warning on its label because the EPA has the sole authority over warning labels on chemical products and the EPA would not have approved a cancer warning on Roundup labels, according to The Wall Street Journal."That label, once reviewed and approved by EPA, is controlling," the agency said, as Bloomberg reported. "States cannot impose distinct labeling requirements."In August, the EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said his agency would not allow a cancer-risk warning on glyphosate-based herbicides, saying it was tantamount to false labeling since the EPA had deemed it safe, asThe Wall Street Journal reported."EPA has a longstanding position—It's not just this administration which determined that this pesticide does not cause cancer," said Jeffrey Clark, the assistant attorney general of the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Justice Department in an interview, to The Wall Street Journal. "EPA should be in control. Congress set it up that way."

 What the World’s Most Controversial Herbicide Is Doing to Rural Argentina  - American farmland has long been the largest market for genetically engineered seeds and the glyphosate herbicides used on them, but the United States is by no means the only country to have adopted the new technology with open arms. Farmers in Argentina started using genetically engineered seeds about the same time farmers in the United States did, after regulators in Argentina approved Monsanto Company’s Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996. Soy production soared over the next decade as farmers who previously had been tending to grass-fed cattle, growing rice and potatoes, or running dairy farms shifted their focus to growing soybeans. Many farmers plowed up pastures to become part of what was billed as a biotech revolution.  As in the United States, aggressive use of glyphosate year after year on farm fields led to a rise in glyphosate-resistant weeds, spurring many farmers to use more and more of the herbicide, often alongside other chemicals, to fight back. According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, total pesticide use in Argentina rose by 90 percent between 1997, when the country was beginning to adopt the new type of farming, and 2011, when it was well established. Use of herbicides, including glyphosate, rose by 185 percent during that time frame. And, just as in the United States, concerns for human health and for the environment have emerged. By 2002, less than a decade after Roundup Ready soybeans were launched, some doctors in soybean-growing areas started reporting a suspicious rise in health problems in their patients, including birth defects and several types of cancer. People living in rural soybean-growing areas were notably affected, with sharply increased rates of miscarriage as well, according to scientists and physicians. In Santa Fe, cancer rates were documented at two to four times higher than the national average. In Chaco, regional birth reports showed a quadrupling of congenital defects, from 19.1 per 10,000 to 85.3 per 10,000 in the decade after GMO crops and glyphosate took hold in Argentina. Doctors there found that more of the diseases and birth defects occurred in villages near the soy fields than near cattle ranches. A government study also noted troubling levels of agrochemical residues in the soil and drinking water in certain areas, with roughly 12 million people living in the country’s farm belt potentially at risk.

Green Cancer-Causing Slime Oozes Onto Michigan Highway -- Motorists traveling on Interstate 696 in Michigan caught a peculiar sight on Friday when a mysterious green slime oozed onto the highway from a retaining wall, according to The New York Times.  Authorities blocked sections of the highway in Madison Park, a Detroit suburb, while hazardous material cleanup crews worked to contain and remove the material. The Michigan state police tweeted on Saturday that the green slime was the cancer-causing chemical hexavalent chromium, which was leaking from the basement of a local business, as CNN reported.  "It's a serious situation,"  "Clearly, this site needs to be cleaned up."   The contaminated water is migrating underground and working its way to the freeway, she said, as the Detroit Free Press reported.  Hexavelent chromium is the cancer-causing manufacturing compound that is usually made during industrial processes like plating and is a known carcinogen, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Hexavalent chromium damages the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes, as CNN reported.  The chemical was traced back to a pit in the basement of the local business, Electro-Plating Services Inc. whose owner was previously convicted of illegally storing dangerous chemicals in leaky containers, according to the Detroit Free Press. The chemical leaked down into the ground and found its way into a drain that emptied onto the eastbound side of the interstate.  "The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated that once the chemical came up thru the drain, it froze into a yellow blob," police tweeted, as CNN reported. "The plan to dispose of the chemical is to bring in a type of excavator, scoop up the frozen waste, and place it into a safe container."  Cleanup crews were using a sump pump on Sunday to remove the hexavalent chromium from the pit, according The New York Times. "We have cleaned out the sewers and the clean out drains between the facility and 696," said Greenberg, as CNN reported. "We're also in the process of cleaning up the basement of the facility."  The EPA teamed up with local authorities to determine that the liquid likely was groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium, the Detroit Free Press reported. "We are operating under the presumption that this is groundwater contaminated with chromium from historic plating operations,"

Heavy road salt use a growing problem, scientists say -- The Canton Repository - Each year, Americans spread more than 48 billion pounds of salt on roadways to ward off the effects of winter weather. But it comes at a cost: De-icing salt degrades roads and bridges, contaminates drinking water and harms the environment, according to a slate of scientists expressing growing alarm. “The issue of road salt has been out in front of us for decades but has received very little attention until the past five years,” said Rick Relyea, a biological scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute near Albany, New York. “Then we see, my goodness, it is everywhere, and it is a growing problem.”It’s a problem that’s growing exponentially. The country used about 164,000 tons of road salt in 1940, U.S. Geological Survey data shows. It broke one million tons in 1954, 10 million in 1985, and now averages more than 24 million tons a year. While salt helps keep roads clear in winter, it doesn’t just disappear with the snow. Some melts into rivers, lakes and even water supplies. The portion that remains on roadways eats away at pavement and bridges. It does the same to pipes that carry drinking water, causing lead contamination in some places. Too much salt in the environment can kill small organisms and change the sex of frogs.“We have only recently begun to recognize the serious long-term consequences of excessive road salt use,” said Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech corrosion expert who helped uncover the lead drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The Northeast is a top contributor.  At the top are five New England states that used the most salt per mile of road lanes over the past four years: Rhode Island (44.2 tons), Massachusetts (34.6 tons), New York (28.0 tons), New Hampshire (25.1 tons) and Vermont (23.3 tons). And that’s just the salt we know about. ClearRoads data tracks only state governments; salt used at private businesses and parking lots, on residential driveways and sidewalks, and by some cities isn’t captured. Many experts believe private industry could be using more salt than government, but no one’s tracking that.  A Washington State University professor estimates the country spends $5 billion a year on infrastructure damages caused by road salt — and it might not nearly be enough. Due to its chemical properties, road salt can exacerbate the damage roads already suffer each winter when they repeatedly freeze and thaw.  That’s because road salt, particularly an alternative variety of magnesium chloride, can slowly leach calcium out of concrete in bridges, as well as roads and sidewalks.

Microplastics Are Raining Down on Cities  -- Microplastics have been found everywhere in the world, from the depths of the ocean to the pristine mountaintops of the Pyrenees mountains to Arctic snow. Now a team of researchers in the United Kingdom is testing the concentrations of microplastics in cities. Sure enough, the tiny plastic particles are raining down on urban populations, as The Guardian reported. So far, the scientists have tested four cities and found microplastics — pieces of plastic roughly the size of a sesame seed or smaller — in all of their samples.  Scientists do not yet know what health effects, if any, are associated with breathing in microplastics, though they do know thatair pollution can damage nearly every organ and affect every cell in the human body, according to a comprehensive global review published earlier this year.  "We found a high abundance of microplastics, much higher than what has previously been reported," said Stephanie Wright, from Kings College London, who led the research, to The Guardian.  The concentration of microplastics in London was alarming. The researchers collected microplastics falling onto the roof of a nine-story building in central London. They found a range of 575 to 1,008 pieces of plastic per square meter per day, according to the research published in the journal Environment International, as The Guardian reported. By contrast, when researchers found microplastics in the Pyrenees in southern France, they found roughly 11,400 pieces per square meter in a month, which is about one-third of what was collected in London. "We kind of expected to find plastics there, but we certainly were not prepared for the numbers we found," said Deonie Allen, one of the lead researchers in the Pyrenees study, to The New York Times. "It was astounding: 11,400 pieces of microplastic per square meter per month, on average."  What Dr. Wright and her team found in London comprised 15 different types of plastics. Most were acrylic fibers, likely from clothes. Only 8 percent of the microplastics were particles like polystyrene and polyethylene, which are ubiquitous in food packaging, as The Guardian reported. Furthermore, the plastics they found were between 0.02mm and 0.5mm. That's large enough to enter the airways or to get trapped and swallowed in saliva. However, smaller particles that are particularly damaging to the lungs and can enter the bloodstream were too small to be measured by current technology, according toThe Guardian.

TOXMAP, Federal Database Allowing Public to Track U.S. Pollution, Shut Down After 15 Years by Trump Administration TOXMAP, an interactive map that allowed public users to pinpoint sources of pollution, was pulled from the internet after 15 years. Hosted by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the website was beneficial to researchers and advocates. While most of the information from TOXMAP has been dispersed to other websites, some of the information has disappeared. "Several resources in TOXNET [the Toxicology Data Network, of which TOXMAP was a part] came from other organizations, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and will continue to be available from those sources," read a statement from the NLM. "Some databases will be retired." In addition to TOXMAP, information about chemicals, household product safety, risk assessment and other related topics was held at TOXNET. "Part of the decision was prompted by the increasing availability of the underlying data from their original sources," said NLM in a statement released to Undark. "Many sources such as the EPA, among others, offer several products that provide similar geographic information system functionality." Some observers believe the disappearance of TOXMAP is connected with President Donald Trump's rollbacks of environmental policies set forth by the Obama administration.

 Trump Administration Removes Federal Database That Tracked Pollution - TOXMAP, an interactive online map that used various sources to track toxic pollution across the U.S., disappeared from the internet earlier this month, alarming environmental advocates, according to The Hill. The 15-year-old interactive map was beneficial to researchers and environmentalists. The National Library of Medicine (NLM), part of the National Institute of Health, hosted it. Some of the information has moved to other sources, while some has just disappeared completely, as Newsweek reported.  TOXMAP offered detailed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data for clearly labeled toxic release sites and offered extensive health and demographic data, like mortality rates, that users could easily overlay on to the maps. The various capabilities and wealth of data earned TOXMAP a devoted following among researchers, students, activists and other people eager to pinpoint sources of pollution, according to Undark. With little explanation, it was announced in September that the map would be taken down. Then it was removed last week and the former URL showed a message acknowledging its disappearance and ushered visitors to other potential sources of information, as Undark reported. People who used the resource see the hiding of data and removal of information as part of the Trump administration's pattern of obfuscation and regulatory rollbacks of environmental policies, as Newsweek reported. Furthermore, the alternative of combing through nine other websites takes away the consolidation of data and the user-friendly interface of TOXMAP. "Because this information has gotten so complex, and there's so much of it, it's very difficult for someone who's not really trained in the area to navigate it," said Chris Sellers, an environmental historian at Stony Brook University and a member of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), which monitors federal environmental data sources and advocates for greater public access, to Undark. "This tool actually cut through all the jargon, all the different interfaces that EPA, for instance, puts up before you get to the actual data that you're interested in."

Statistic of the Decade: The Massive Deforestation of the Amazon - This year, I was on the judging panel for the Royal Statistical Society's International Statistic of the Decade. Much like Oxford English Dictionary's "Word of the Year" competition, the international statistic is meant to capture the zeitgeist of this decade. The judging panel accepted nominations from the statistical community and the public at large for a statistic that shines a light on the decade's most pressing issues. On Dec. 23, we announced the winner: the 8.4 million soccer fields of land deforested in the Amazon over the past decade. That's 24,000 square miles, or about 10.3 million American football fields.  This statistic, while giving only a snapshot of the issue, provides insight into the dramatic change to this landscape over the last 10 years. Since 2010, mile upon mile of rainforest has been replaced with a wide range of commercial developments, including cattle ranching, logging and the palm oil industry. This calculation by the committee is based on deforestation monitoring results from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, as well as FIFA's regulations on soccer pitch dimensions. There are a number of reasons why this deforestation matters – financial, environmental and social. First of all, 20 million to 30 million people live in the Amazon rainforest and depend on it for survival. It's also the home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many at risk of extinction. Second, one-fifth of the world's fresh water is in the Amazon Basin, supplying water to the world by releasing water vapor into the atmosphere that can travel thousands of miles. But unprecedented droughts have plagued Brazil this decade, attributed to the deforestation of the Amazon.During the droughts, in Sao Paulo state, some farmers say they lost over one-third of their crops due to the water shortage. The government promised the coffee industry almost $300 million to help with their losses. Finally, the Amazon rainforest is responsible for storing over 180 billion tons of carbon alone. When trees are cleared or burned, that carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Studies show that the social cost of carbon emissions is about $417 per ton.Finally, as a November 2018 study shows, the Amazon could generate over $8 billion each year if just left alone, from sustainable industries including nut farming and rubber, as well as the environmental effects.

Three Pangolin Species Closer to Extinction - The pangolin's future looks gloomy, according to the latest update by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which assesses the conservation status of species.  Of the eight known species of the pangolin, one of the world's most trafficked mammals, two African species, the while-bellied (Phataginus tricuspis) and the giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea), have been moved from "vulnerable" to "endangered" on the IUCN Red List. One Asian species, the Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), has been uplisted from "endangered" to "critically endangered." No species improved in status in the assessment. Much of the decline in the armor-clad mammals can be attributed to the loss of their habitat and large-scalepoaching for the animals' scales and meat, experts say. "It is extremely disheartening but unsurprising that three additional pangolin species are now formally classified as endangered and critically endangered," Audrey Delsink, Africa wildlife director of Humane Society International, said in a statement. Pangolin scales, largely made of keratin just like human fingernails, are sought after in Asian markets, mainly China and Vietnam, where people erroneously believe the scales have medicinal properties, such as promoting menstruation and lactation and in treating rheumatism and arthritis.The shy mammals are also hunted for bushmeat in Africa, although in China, pangolin meat is consumed both as a luxury food item and for its purported curative properties. In 2016, countries voted to list all eight species of pangolin on CITES Appendix I, banning commercial trade in the animals. Yet, widespread trafficking of their body parts continues.

Kentucky horse killings: Police hunt after 20 found shot dead - BBC News -- Police in Kentucky are hunting whoever is responsible for killing 20 horses in an "inhumane and cruel" act that created a "battlefield for horses". The Dumas Rescue group said some of the horses were pregnant mares, others foals including a one-year-old. It is offering a $20,000 (£15,460) reward. The herd of about 35 horses roams over a wide area of eastern Kentucky, making the search for survivors difficult. The horses had been shot with a low-calibre weapon, police said. The bodies have been found spread out across the site, an open-cast mining area, and Dumas Rescue is covering about 4,000 acres (1,620 hectares) a day. Mass death of wild horses in Australia heat What to do with Wyoming's wild horses Killings were first reported on 16 December, with the latest six dead animals found on Sunday. The culprit could face animal cruelty charges at a minimum, according to Floyd County Sheriff John Hunt. He told WYMT: "This is very inhumane and it's a very cruel act of somebody who just apparently had nothing else to do." According to the sheriff, one of the horses still had grass in its mouth when it was shot dead. Mr Hunt said that this was one of the worst cases of animal cruelty he had ever seen. The herd, which Dumas says is largely made up of animals abandoned by owners, is very approachable and the horses are often fed by members of the local community. It is thought they were all killed at the same time. According to the rescue group, the animals appear to have been hunted.

Roasted Australia: Hottest Days on Record for the Continent  - Australia is having a December heat wave for the ages, with some of the most widespread and intense heat ever observed on the island continent. The nationally averaged high temperature on Wednesday was an astounding 40.9°C (105.6°F), beating the previous daily record of 40.3°C from January 7, 2013. Even more impressive, Thursday topped the Wednesday reading by a full degree Celsius, coming in at 41.9°C (107.4°F). Thursday’s reading is almost certainly the hottest nationally averaged high not only for Australia but for any continent on Earth at any time of year. All other continents see at least some of their summer heat modulated by the presence of either tropical rainforests or cooler midlatitude/high-latitude regions.  On Thursday, Nullarbor in South Australia topped out at 49.9°C (121.8°F). This is the highest temperature recorded anywhere on Earth in any December, and the fourth highest at any location on any date in Australian history. The current heat wave is not expected to topple the nation’s all-time single-location record of 50.7°C (123.3°F) set at Oodnadatta, South Australia, on Jan. 2, 1960. I wouldn’t rule out such a reading entirely, though.   Adelaide (pop. 1.3 million) suffered through that city’s hottest December day in 132 years of recordkeeping on Thursday, when the high at the West Terrace site hit 45.3°C (112.3°F).  Wildfires fueled by the heat and drought have been plaguing much of southern and eastern Australia in recent weeks. New South Wales was placed under a state of emergency Thursday, the state’s second such declaration in the 2019-20 bushfire season.

In Australia’s drought towns, angry residents rely on charity, not government, for water A few months ago, Russell Wantling pulled over to the side of the road near the southern Queensland town of Stanthorpe to speak to a family he saw carrying buckets of water from the town dam. Again and again, they lugged each bucketload up the dam wall and poured it into a tank strapped to the tray of an old ute. “I just stopped and asked what they were doing,” Wantling says. “He said to me that they had no water, he couldn’t afford to buy water because he’d lost his job. So I went to my wife and said ‘we’ve got to do something, this is terrible’. “They talk about this Day Zero all the time, but it already is Day Zero.” Wantling, a truck driver, now coordinates the handout of about 340,000litres of water a week in Queensland’s granite belt region. He is one of several ordinary people trucking water to desperate and drought-ravaged parts of Queensland and New South Wales, where Day Zero has long come and gone. This is a familiar, hopeful story about the resilience of Australians and their communities, the sort condensed into our folklore at times of natural disaster and crisis. But it is also punctuated by anger and disbelief that the burden of supplying the most basic necessity to thousands of people in inland towns, on rural properties and in Indigenous communities has fallen mostly to community groups and charities. The longer they wait for rain, the more acutely people learn they cannot rely on interventions from local councils or governments. At the water shed run by Granite Belt Water Relief in Stanthorpe, people in old paddock bashers and newer four-wheel-drives queue for a 1,000L allocation of free water every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. Almost all come from outside town, beyond the reticulated water supply. They all tell slight variations of the same story, one after the other. The tanks are empty. No one is listening. The tanks on Amy Doherty’s property have been dry since March. Until Wantling began his deliveries, she and her family were able to shower only once a week. About two months ago, she became sick and unable to work, Doherty says, as she lines up.  “I live with my mother and my two young kids and I said to my Mum, ‘I can’t do this any more. I cannot cope’.“We had to have four horses put to sleep because we had no food, no water and our horses were just suffering. With less showering there were hygiene issues. It was hard. It was even hard to talk about it. But you have to swallow your pride, and that’s even harder.”

Chinese company approved to run water mining operation in drought-stricken Queensland - A Chinese-owned company has been granted approval to run a 96m litre a year commercial water mining operation in severely drought-hit southern Queensland, where locals are on water rations and communities at imminent risk of running dry. Last week the Southern Downs regional council approved a development application for the company, Joyful View Garden Real Estate Development Resort Pty Ltd, to operate a water extraction and distribution facility at Cherrabah, a large property at Elbow Valley near the Queensland-New South Wales border. The following day the council implemented extreme water restrictions for residents at the nearby towns of Warwick and Stanthorpe, limiting residents to 80L a day. Stanthorpe is expected to run out of drinking water within weeks. Neighbours of Cherrabah have told Guardian Australia they have not had a reliable water supply at their properties for more than a year, and have been trucking water in on a regular basis. Some cattle properties have removed all their cattle. “I don’t understand how it is allowed to happen,” one resident says. “If that water drains away from the shallow aquifers, it affects our long-term viability.” Joyful View is ultimately owned by Chinese investors Wenxing and Wenwei Ma. The company had attempted to build a large-scale luxury resort at the remote property but pulled the proposal in 2016 after planning and environmental difficulties, including concern for a local population of spotted-tailed quolls. The water extraction licence for the property was first issued by the Queensland government in 2008 and extended in 2016 to allow Joyful View to pump 96m litres from the aquifer until 2111 – another 92 years. Council documents show the company plans to send the water to a bottling plant on the Gold Coast.

Cattle have stopped breeding, koalas die of thirst: A vet's hellish diary of climate change - Bulls cannot breed at Inverell. They are becoming infertile from their testicles overheating. Mares are not falling pregnant, and through the heat, piglets and calves are aborting.My work as a veterinarian has changed so much. While I would normally test bulls for fertility, or herds of cattle for pregnancy, I no longer do, because the livestock has been sold. A client’s stud stock in Inverell has reduced from 2000 breeders to zero.  I once assisted farmers who have spent their lives developing breeding programs, with historic bloodlines that go back 80 years. These stud farmers are now left with a handful of breeders that they can’t bear to part with, spending thousands keeping them fed, and going broke doing it. Cattle that sold for thousands are now in the sale yards at $70 a head. Those classed as too skinny for sale are costing the farmer $130 to be destroyed.They are all gone and it was all for nothing. The paddocks are bare, the dams dry, the grass crispy and brown. The whole region has been completely destocked and is devoid of life. For 22 years, I have been the vet in this once-thriving town in northern NSW, which, as climate change continues to fuel extreme heat, drought and bushfires, has become hell on Earth.Here, we are seeing extreme weather events like never before. The other day we had about eight centimetres of rain in 20 minutes. These downpours are like rain bombs. They are so ferocious that a farmer lost all of his fences, and all it did was silt up the dam so he had to use a machine to excavate the mud. Most farmers in my district have not a blade of grass remaining on their properties. Topsoil has been blown away by the terrible, strong winds this spring and summer. We have experienced the hottest days that I can remember, and right now I can’t even open any windows because my eyes sting and lungs hurt from bushfire smoke. For days, I have watched as the bushland around us went up like a tinderbox. I just waited for the next day when my clinic would be flooded with evacuated dogs, cats, goats and horses in desperate need of water and food. The impact of the drought on wildlife is devastating to watch, too. Members of the public are bringing us koalas, sugar gliders, possums, galahs, cockatoos and kangaroos on a daily basis. The koalas affect me the most. To see these gorgeous, iconic animals dying from thirst is too hard to bear. We save some, but we lose just as many. The whole town is devastated. My business has halved. But with no horses to breed, no cattle to test and care for, what am I going to do? I have worked day and night to build a future for my family, but who would want to buy our property out here? Who would want to buy a vet clinic in a town where there are no animals to treat because it’s too hot and dry? Where the cattle become infertile from the 40-degree heat. All this on black, baked ground.

Incredible moment thirsty Koala stops South Australian cyclist to drink water A desperate koala suffering through the soaring temperatures in South Australia approached a group of cyclists to drink from a water bottle.The koala was spotted in the middle of the road when it approached the cyclists, with the incredible moment was caught on camera.Anna Heusler told 7 News she was riding towards Adelaide with the group of cyclists when they came around a bend and saw the koala on the road.“Naturally, we stopped because we were going to help relocate him off the road,”she told 7 News.“I stopped on my bike and he walked right up to me, quite quickly for a koala, and as I was giving him a drink from all our water bottles, he actually climbed up onto my bike. “None of us have ever seen anything like it.”

 ‘Everything is Burning’: Australian Inferno Continues, Choking Off Access to Cities Across Country Australia is on fire. The country on Saturday saw delayed flights on the second day of a national state of emergency due to raging brushfires near every major city and choked out smoke conditions. Australian reporter Saffron Howden used a map from the Government of Western Australia to show how the blazes have ringed the entire continent. "My god," Howden tweeted. The fires in Australia's southeastern state of New South Wales (NSW) were at the "catastrophic" level on Saturday, according to the BBC. "These fires are likely to continue to spread well past Christmas," said NSW Rural Fire Services Inspector Ben Shepherd. Photos shared on social media showed hazy skies around the country. "Everything is burning," said one Twitter user. As Common Dreams reported Thursday, Australia just endured a heat wave that broke records for temperature in consecutive days. "I think this is the single loudest alarm bell I've ever heard on global heating," said Kees van der Leun, a director at the American consultancy firm Navigant. Temperatures dropped on the back of a cooling wind on Saturday, but, as The Guardian reported, the wind brings with it other problems: A southerly change swept through at 5pm, making the fire even more erratic and changing the fire direction. Around this time, NSW authorities began warning of a bushfire-generated thunderstorm that had formed over Currowan and Tianjara fires in the Shoalhaven area, on the NSW south coast. The fire service said this would lead to increasingly dangerous fire conditions. Such storms, known as pyroCB, can produce embers hot enough to spark new fires 30km from the main fire. While his country was on fire, right-wing climate-denying Prime Minister Scott Morrison was on vacation in Hawaii. Morrison returned to Australia on Saturday after two firefighters died fighting one of three huge blazes near Sydney. Morrison's absence during the crisis pprovoked outcry from constituents. One Twitter user posted a picture showing from above the blazes around Sydney as Morrison was arriving in the city, reportedly after circling for an hour due to runway closures. The map mentioned in the article.

Australian fires bring growing global climate crisis into stark relief - Fires claimed more lives and property across Australia over the weekend, while once again blanketing cities such as Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in dense clouds of smoke. More than 200 major fires are still burning out-of-control and, with extreme heat and no significant rainfall predicted in much of the country, the situation is expected to worsen over the coming weeks and months. Towns and hamlets in the Adelaide Hills suffered some of the greatest devastation, as fire tore through farms and vineyards. South Australian Premier Steven Marshall reported that at least 86 homes were destroyed, along with hundreds of outbuildings and vehicles. Ron Selth, 69-years-old, was killed while he attempted to defend his home from the flames in the small township of Charleston. Firefighters and residents were injured trying to protect property. In New South Wales (NSW), an extensive area of forest is burning in the mountain ranges, in what are now the largest fires in the state’s history. Since September, some 2.7 million hectares have gone up in flame. The 70,000-strong volunteer Rural Fire Service (RFS) has been stretched to breaking point mobilising the personnel to fight fire fronts that are more than 11,000 kilometres in length. On Saturday, naval helicopters had to be called in to rescue people threatened by fire into the coastal communities of Fisherman’s Paradise and Sassafras to the south of Sydney. On Thursday night, two volunteer firefighters from Sydney were killed and three injured in a vehicle accident while fighting the fires in the nearby town of Buxton. More than 60 fires are burning in south east Queensland. In Victoria, huge fires are raging in forests in Gippsland, to the east of Melbourne. In Western Australia, an out-of-control bushfire north of Perth had burnt more than 11,000 hectares with residents on Saturday being urged to leave while they still could. Nationally, some 1,000 homes have been destroyed so far in the 2019–2020 fire season, with the traditionally worst period in January and February still to come. Thousands of unpaid volunteer firefighters have suffered major financial losses due to being repeatedly asked to take time off from their employment. Dozens have been injured. The extensive fires in Australia follow the blazes that have engulfed large areas of California, Siberia, Borneo and the Amazon. In Siberia alone, Greenpeace estimates that some 12 million hectares have been burnt out this year. The fire emergency brings into stark relief the lack of conscious planning and preparation, at both the national and state level, for the impact of climate change. Capitalist governments around the world, to protect corporate profit and the fortunes of the wealthy, have blocked any serious reductions in carbon emissions and left their populations to face the consequences.

Australia fires: The thousands of volunteers fighting the flames – BBC - "We're doing it because it's a passion. It's a brotherhood," says Daniel Knox. He is one of thousands of Australians who've dropped their ordinary lives to battle the nation's raging fire crisis. For weeks, the 22-year-old landscaper has lived around his phone, springing into action when called upon. He is part of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) which calls itself "the world's largest volunteer firefighting organisation". Its 70,000 members are extensively trained and, except for a few senior staff, mostly unpaid. En route their truck was hit by a falling tree, which caused it to roll. Three firefighters in the back seat were injured but were able to escape. Mr O'Dwyer and Mr Keaton - both fathers to young children - were killed at the scene. They died five days before Christmas. Since September, close to 3,000 firefighters have been out every day in NSW battling blazes the size of small European countries. Close to 90% of those people on the ground are unpaid volunteers, says the NSW RFS, the government-funded organisation leading the fight. Volunteers make up the majority of the firefighting crews battling Australia's fires This century-old model is common across Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia - Australian states which have traditionally had bushfires each summer. In recent years, fires have also flared up in Tasmania and sub-tropical Queensland. In NSW, most of the 2,000 or so brigades are found in country towns and rural centres dotted among eucalyptus bushland. Members are almost always locals, stepping in to save their own communities. Historically, the work has tended to be patchy, which has been a key factor behind the volunteerism. Fires don't rage all year round, and there have been years when many areas aren't affected at all. But this year, the situation has changed. Intense blazes typically seen in later summer have flared in spring, forcing authorities to wage full-blown campaigns earlier than ever before.They're also dealing with hundreds more fires, burning simultaneously in hotter and drier conditions. NSW has been in drought for years, and fires are ripping through the state. 

 Firefighters in Australia Say Situation 'Out of Control' as Prime Minister Denies Request for Emergency Aid --The ring of bushfires raging around Australia is "out of control," firefighters said Monday night, and the country's government appears unwilling—or unable—to take action to assist those battling the blazes despite the danger.Volunteer Fire Firefighters Association president Mick Holton, in comments to Australian paper the Age, said that Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New South Wales (NSW) premier Gladys Berejiklian were ignoring the need for equipment and income support from firefighters on the front lines.As the BBC reported, Morrison is standing firm against aiding the firefighters:  Public support for the "firies" is at an all-time high. In the swing of the Christmas season, shops and restaurants are donating profits to the NSW RFS. Online, there have been fundraisers to buy masks, food, and other supplies for the crews.However, Australia's government has so far rejected the calls for compensation."Now is not the time to go into it. Let's get through this [bushfire crisis] first," said Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday."Basically, they [the government and RFS] are saying keep chewing smoke and we will have a look at it after the fire season," Holton told Age. Making things worse, Holton said, was the fact that NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons appears unwilling to directly ask for assistance."The fact that they haven't asked for federal support indicates that they believe they have the situation in hand," said Holton. "That is definitely not the case.""The situation is quite the opposite," Holton added. "It is out of control."The perceived inaction by federal officials in Australia to comprehend the magnitude of the crisis was on display Monday when Morrison refused to consider curbing coal production. As Common Dreams reported, Morrison's statement was met with incredulity by green groups and advocates, who called the statement shortsighted.

How much closer to their doors must the fire burn? It's immoral not to connect the dots -  Catastrophic conditions were forecast for the first time in Greater Sydney last month – on November 12 to be exact. On Thursday, a little over a month later, while parts of Australia experienced record heatwaves into the 40s celsius, catastrophic conditions were forecast for Greater Sydney yet again, coupled with extreme heat for the entire state. The NSW Premier declared a state of emergency for the next seven days, including Christmas Day. This is the second time a catastrophic bushfire danger rating has been declared over such a densely populated area, covering almost 5 million residents across eastern NSW. In catastrophic conditions, fires cannot safely be fought. Homes are not built to withstand fires in these conditions, and lives can be lost.  Already, it is estimated that more than 2.9 million hectares has been burnt in NSW and Queensland, with 2.7 million of that in NSW, where its perimeter runs to more than 19,235 kilometres. Six people have died in bushfires this year, and in NSW alone the latest official tally of homes lost is more than 760. There have also been 296 homes damaged, 52 facilities (such as halls and public or commercial buildings) destroyed, 68 facilities damaged, 1704 outbuildings destroyed and 730 outbuildings damaged. I know how devastated those homeowners feel. I lost a home to bushfire in 1994, at Jannali in NSW. But back then, fires were more manageable than they are today. There is another, hidden consequence of these bushfires. They may be helping supercharge climate change itself. Since August, greenhouse gas emissions from bushfires in Australia equate to half of the nation's usual annual emissions.Although trees take up carbon when they regrow, it might take decades for the carbon emitted during fires to be fully sequestered, and for some vegetation types that are ill-adapted to fire, much longer.It’s simply immoral not to connect the dots that climate change has contributed to worsening bushfires. Those who are still obstructing action to reduce emissions claim that if Australia cut its emissions today, there’d be no impact on the bushfires. This is nonsense. People understand that the greenhouse gas pollution we emit today helps fuel the fires of tomorrow.Our Prime Minister has a moral obligation to protect the citizens who elected him, and those who didn’t. He should play a constructive role in the ongoing climate negotiations, and so help with that task of emissions reduction. Were he to do so, Australia’s actions could help inspire the world to cut emissions hard and fast.

Australian PM Responds To Greta Thunberg: "We'll Do What We Think Is Right For Australia" - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the patron saint of environmentalists, Greta Thunberg, have been duking it out in headlines as far as who is responsible for the raging brushfires near every major city across Australia.Morrison rejected Thunberg's call for political action as bushfires spread across the country, reported Bloomberg."We'll do in Australia what we think is right for Australia."@ScottMorrisonMP responds to @GretaThunberg. #auspol #AustralianFires— David Marler (@Qldaah) December 23, 2019Morrison said, during a news conference Sunday, it wasn't the time to "make commentaries on what those outside of Australia think Australia should do" as he responded to Thunberg's tweet that draws the connection between climate change and the raging inferno across the country.Not even catastrophes like these seem to bring any political action. How is this possible?Because we still fail to make the connection between the climate crisis and increased extreme weather events and nature disasters like the #AustraliaFiresThat's what  has to change.Now.— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) December 22, 2019    Morrison said he's not trying to "impress people overseas" and won't cave to international climate change demands:"I have always acknowledged the connection between these weather events and these broader fire events and the impact globally of climate change. But I'm sure people equally would acknowledge that the direct connection to any single fire event, it's not a credible suggestion to make that link." Morrison said bushfires in Australia are nothing new and have been happening for a long time.

NSW’s Emergency Services Minister David Elliott goes on holiday as fire danger ramps up again - After a brief weather reprieve, the bushfire danger across large parts of Australia is about to ramp up again - but a key figure in tackling the blazes has gone on holiday.  Less than a week after Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised for taking his family on a Christmas break to Hawaii as hundreds of fires raged across the nation, NSW's Emergency Services Minister David Elliott is taking a trip to the UK and France.  He told The Daily Telegraph he was considering cancelling his trip, but eventually decided to push ahead with it. “Bushfire-affected communities and firefighters are always at the front of my mind during this difficult time in NSW,” Mr Elliott told the newspaper in a statement. Prisons Minister Anthony Roberts will take over in his absence.  The departure comes as the state, along with Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, prepare for the worst due to an "extreme" heatwave that's building over the coming days.   Sky News Meteorologist Rob Sharpe said the heatwave is currently moving through southern parts of Australia.  “Initially, winds are not going to be that strong so we’re going to see a few regions with severe fire danger on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  “It’s not going to be that dangerous, but it really ramps up at the end of heatwave on Monday.” He said that, on Monday, strong winds will “suddenly” pick up and severe heat will hit Victoria, South Australia, NSW and even Tasmania. Temperatures are set to hit the 40s on the mainland and the mid-30s in Tasmania.

Wildfires cause turmoil in CA property insurance market — Kent Michitsch seemed to be running out of traditional options to insure the home he’s lived in for more than 30 years northeast of San Diego as California’s massive property insurance market reels from three consecutive years of destructive wildfires. Michitsch, 57, has received three non-renewal notices in three years, and says he feared getting a fourth one when his homeowners’ policy comes up for renewal the middle of next year if it wasn’t for California lawmakers’ recent intervention in the market. Michitsch says he’s never made a claim on his insurance and never had fire damage. Thousands of homeowners like Michitsch have lost their insurance policies in the last few years as insurers pull out of areas that are at risk of fire damage or stop insuring homes altogether. They’ve been forced to scramble to find coverage from regular insurance providers or to turn as a last resort to a government sanctioned plan that at the moment only provides fire coverage. State Farm, the largest insurer in the state, Allstate and other insurers declined to renew roughly 350,000 policies in areas at high risk for wildfires since 2015 the California Department of Insurance said back in August, and the department has gotten “record numbers” of requests this year from insurers to increase the rates they charge property owners. The data also show 33,000 policies were not renewed by insurers in zip codes affected by the major wildfires. While the insurance industry says the California property insurance market is resilient, state lawmakers and officials have had to scramble to keep the market from grinding to a halt from the unexpected additional risk. The California Legislature passed a law earlier this year giving the Department of Insurance emergency powers to keep policies in effect for those in fire-prone areas. This month California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara put a one-year moratorium on non-renewals, in hopes that lawmakers, insurance companies and other stakeholders can reach a more substantial solution for the roughly 1 million homeowners in zip codes adjacent to previous wildfires.

How power shutoffs are changing California’s way of life -- in October. Every gas station, grocery store and restaurant closed due to massive power shutoffs as part of the state's efforts to avoid a major wildfire. The mayor found himself loaning out his personal pickup truck and RV, which have built-in generators, to the town's 2,000 residents as they scrambled to save food in their refrigerators, charge their phones and find a way to stay warm. At all levels of government — from state officials to small-town mayors — California leaders are in uncharted territory, and scrambling to adjust their plans and operations to the realities of regular disruption. For now, their only answer to calamitous wildfires is shutting off power to millions of residents in advance, which residents now lament as a man-made disaster. Mike McGuire, the state senator representing the Santa Rosa area devastated by fires in 2017, said California is “the canary in the coal mine" as climate change threatens to upend life across the world.  Residents in some of California's most bucolic settings are stuck figuring it out on their own, rich and poor, urban and rural alike. While Fatula navigated his working-class community with generators in his pickup, NBA star LeBron James was forced to flee his estate near Los Angeles in the middle of the night, "driving around with my family trying to get rooms," he said in a tweet.  In the long-term, the state's brightest minds have offered plenty of ideas: move power lines underground; microgrids; better forest management; no new homes in areas surrounded by desiccated hillsides. In the meantime, what wildfires and their accompanying blackouts mean is that every level of government in the most populated U.S. state is scrambling to govern with this reality. Changes California leaders envision could take a decade or more to have an impact. After shying away from shutoffs last year before the historic Camp Fire, which killed more than 80 people and virtually decimated the town of Paradise, Pacific Gas & Electric Company moved in the opposite direction this fall. The utility aggressively cut power across vast swaths of Northern California, from the Silicon Valley to the Sierra Nevada.

The Northeast warms ahead of rest of USA: ‘Our winters now are not like our winters before’ -  For one scientist, climate change in the Northeast announces itself in the abnormal appearances of warm-water fish – an abundance of mahi-mahi and unprecedented sightings in January of Gulf Stream flounder and juvenile black sea bass in shallow waters off New England.“Nobody had ever seen that before,” said Glen Gawarkiewicz, an oceanographer from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.For another scientist, the phenomenon materializes in ocean temperatures, which have been rising for more than a generation, influencing coastal weather and pushing snowfall farther inland.“Our winters now are not like our winters before,” said Lenny Giuliano, the state meteorologist in Rhode Island.  As water temperatures rise in the Atlantic Ocean and its connected gulfs and bays, the warmth may spread inland and generate temperature variations at the county level.   The water-to-land effect appears along the Great Lakes, which also are warming, said Mark Wysocki, New York state climatologist and a professor at Cornell University. “There’s a very strong connection,” Wysocki said.  Though the Southwest saw the greatest rise in average air temperatures during thepast five decades, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows the Northeast warmed the most over both longer and shorter time spans. Nowhere more so than Rhode Island: The state’s average temperature has increased 3.64 degrees compared with its 20th-century norm, according to NOAA records dating back to 1895. Other states trail closely: New Jersey came in 3.49 degrees warmer; Connecticut, 3.22; Maine, 3.17; Massachusetts, 3.05; and New Hampshire, 2.93.

Record rain, darkness: Seattle braces for floods, mudslides (AP) — Record rainfall and darkness has hit Seattle as a major storm begins to lift across western Washington on the first day of winter, though the region is still at risk for flooding, mudslides and avalanches. Friday became the wettest day in Seattle in the past 10 years, and the most rain recorded for Dec. 20 since record-keeping at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport began in 1945. The National Weather Service said the airport recorded 3.25 inches (8.25 centimeters) of rain Friday, making it also the fifth rainiest day in city history. Seattle also broke a daily rainfall record on Thursday with 2.91 inches (7.39 centimeters) of precipitation, making it the 11th wettest day recorded at the airport. Parts of the soaked Seattle region and western Washington are under a flood watch through Sunday evening. Rivers in King and Snohomish counties are expected to crest and slowly recede Saturday. The weather service warned drivers not to go through flooded areas as that “is the cause of most flood related deaths in Washington.” The low-lying areas of the northern Oregon coast are also at risk for flooding. Astoria saw 3.42 inches (8.69 centimeters) of rain on Friday, breaking a record previously set 113 years ago. There also remains an increased threat for landslides in western Washington with high levels of soil moisture expected through the weekend. Multiple mudslides were reported Friday. Snow is also falling in areas above 3,000 feet (914 meters) in elevation. The weather service issued a back country avalanche warning for the Mount Baker area for Saturday. Friday also broke a record for measured sunlight in Seattle. The University of Washington recorded just 0.37 million Joules of solar radiation, the lowest level of sun energy measured since the university started counting over the past 20 years.

Record high temperatures cast gloom over festive season in Moscow - Russia's capital has seen record high temperatures in December with snow not predicted until the end of the month. Moscow hit 6.2 degrees Celsius (43.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on - Tuesday, the warmest recorded temperature for that date. The city is often blanketed with snow in December, but unseasonably warm temperatures have cast a gloomy pall over the streets decorated with festive lights for the New Year holiday. The unusually warm weather has prompted public discussion about the climate crisis, a subject that is not often a priority in a country that heavily depends on hydrocarbon exports. In Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual press conference last week, a journalist asked about what risks climate change poses to the country. Putin acknowledged rising global temperatures, but cast doubt on the human role in climate change. "We know that in the history of the Earth there have been periods of warming and cooling, and this might depend on the global processes in the universe," he said. "A small tilt of the Earth's axis and its orbit around the sun can lead to and have already led to very serious climate changes on the Earth, which had dramatic consequences -- good or bad, they were still dramatic." "And it is happening again now. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to work out exactly how humankind affects climate change. But we cannot stay idle either, I agree with my colleagues. We should make our best efforts to prevent dramatic changes in the climate," he added.

Warm ‘Blob’ of Hot Water Bigger Than Texas Heading Towards South America – A warm "blob" of hot water reported to have formed in the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand is making its way towards South America.An image from Climate Reanalyzer (a website produced by the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine) made headlines this week after its weather maps showed a patch of unusually warm water in the South Pacific on Monday.According to a report in The Guardian, the patch is around one million square kilometres and approximately 1.5 times the size of Texas.The conditions were brought on by a combination sunny skies, high pressures and gentle winds, James Renwick, a professor in physical geography and a weather and climate researcher at the Victoria University of Wellington, told the New Zealand Herald."Sea temperatures don't actually vary too much and a degree [Celsius], plus or minus, is quite a big deal and this area is probably four degrees or more than that above average and that's pretty huge," said Renwick.The center could be more than 6 degrees Celsius hotter than average—making it "one of the warmest spots on the planet at the moment." At the time of writing, Climate Reanalyzer shows the warm patch in the Pacific part way between New Zealand and southern Chile.

Ocean Acidification Could Eat Away at Sharks’ Teeth and Scales -  As carbon dioxide levels in the oceans increase, upping the acidity of the water, shark teeth and scales may begin to corrode, compromising their ability to swim, hunt and feed, according to research published today in Scientific Reports. Ultimately, sharks could be displaced as apex predators, disrupting entire ocean food webs, says the study’s senior author Lutz Auerswald, a fisheries biologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa and the nation’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. “Some of the bigger species, like great white sharks, are also already highly endangered, so this might wipe them out.” The researchers captured puff adder shy sharks in a harbor in Cape Town, South Africa, and transported them to a government research aquarium, where the fish acclimated for four months. They divided 13 of the sharks into control and experimental groups. Control animals stayed in an aquarium with a mildly basic pH of 8.1, matching that of the ocean, while the researchers gradually dropped the pH of the experimental animals’ water to 7.3, the level that ocean water is predicted to hit by 2300 if carbon dioxide emissions continue. (In some areas, including the waters off South Africa and California, the pH can already drop to 7.3 or lower, depending on prevailing currents and winds.) After two months, an electron-microscope analysis revealed that the concentrations of calcium and phosphate in the sharks’ denticles were significantly reduced. About 25 percent of the experimental group’s scales were damaged, compared with only 9 percent in the control group. “If dissolution is already visible [after just two months], one can only speculate how the sharks would look after a year or more,” says Fredrik Jutfelt, a biologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who was not involved in the latest research but co-authored the only other study of shark scales in acidic conditions. “Increased dissolution of denticles could have serious consequences for sharks for many reasons.”

Ocean floor mining: What could possibly go wrong? -- The world's nations may conclude a treaty governing undersea mining through the auspices of the United Nations as early as next year. Once that is concluded, large scale mining of ocean bottoms is expected to begin.One method—already in use in coastal waters controlled by individual countries—will be to suck up nodules of ore lying on the seabed with huge vacuums and filter out the sediment that comes with it. This method will move quickly to the deep ocean once the treaty is approved resulting in huge, dense clouds of particles suspended underwater for possibly hundreds of miles from underwater mining sites. Scientists are worried that both the vacuuming and the plumes will destroy entire ecosystems about which we know little.  I am reminded of the hydraulic mining employed in California in the late 19th century to recover gold from the mountains there. What looks like natural erosion today in those mountains is quite often the result of high-pressure washing of mountainsides with water to unearth specks of gold hidden in the soil.Geologists estimate that this type of mining sent 13 billion cubic yards of the Sierra Nevadas hurtling down the mountains and into California's rivers. The river bottoms filled, rose and dumped their debris on adjacent land covering thousand of acres of farmland with the detritus from mining. When the water reached the ocean underneath San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge, it was still brown with silt.Deep ocean mining will probably not affect shorelines because the mining will take place too far from land. But the affects are likely to be profound nonetheless. It turns that:About a third of the carbon dioxide generated on land is absorbed by underwater organisms, including one species that was just discovered in the CCZ in 2018. [The Clarion-Clipperton Zone, located between Hawaii and Mexico, is 1.7 million square miles of prime underwater real estate for mining that is also teaming with life.] The researchers who found that bacterium have no idea how it removes carbon from the environment, but their findings show that it may account for up to 10 percent of the volume that is sequestered by oceans every year. I have asked in a previous piece: "Which species are we sure we can survive without?" This little bacterium may be one of them. But, as it turns out, there are an untold number of species we know nothing about because no one has had the resources or equipment to go deep into the ocean to make a thorough-going catalog of living organisms there. Even so, we stand of the edge of eliminating many of them without even understanding whether we might need them to survive.

Carbon dioxide in homes, offices, and classrooms could cut our capacity for complex, strategic thinking by 50% within 80 years, scientists warn - The world's carbon-dioxide problem doesn't just affect the atmosphere — the gas is starting to fill our homes, schools, and offices, too.Indoor levels of the gas are projected to climb so high, in fact, that they could cut people's ability to do complex cognitive tasks in half by the end of the century.That prediction comes from three scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Pennsylvania, who presented their findings last week at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. The study is still under peer review but available online in the repository Earth ArXiv.The findings show that, if global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to rise on their current trajectory, the concentration of CO2 in the air could more than double by 2100. Based on measurements of how humans function in spaces with that much CO2, the scientists warn, we could find ourselves scoring 50% lower on measures of complex thought by the end of the century.That includes the ability to plan strategies, respond to a crisis, make decisions, and use new information to achieve a goal.   Americans spend about 90% of their lives indoors, where carbon-dioxide levels can build up quickly as we inhale oxygen and exhale CO2. The results showed that as CO2 levels increased, participants consistently struggled with strategy, information use, and crisis response. That backed up the findings of a similar study, which put 22 people in an office-like setting with different levels of carbon dioxide in the air and evaluated their performance on a set of tasks. As CO2 levels rose, participants showed significant decreases in decision-making ability. Similar results have been found in schools. A 2015 study found that, across 140 fifth-grade classrooms in the southwestern US, poor ventilation and high CO2 levels were strongly correlated with lower math scores for students. An earlier study of 434 classrooms in Washington and Idaho found a similar relationship between CO2 levels and rates of student absence.

Restoring natural forests is the best way to remove atmospheric carbon Keeping global warming below 1.5 °C to avoid dangerous climate change1 requires the removal of vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as drastic cuts in emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that around 730 billion tonnes of CO2 (730 petagrams of CO2, or 199 petagrams of carbon, Pg C) must be taken out of the atmosphere by the end of this century2. That is equivalent to all the CO2 emitted by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and China since the Industrial Revolution. No one knows how to capture so much CO2. Forests must play a part. Locking up carbon in ecosystems is proven, safe and often affordable3. Increasing tree cover has other benefits, from protecting biodiversity to managing water and creating jobs. The IPCC suggests that boosting the total area of the world’s forests, woodlands and woody savannahs could store around one-quarter of the atmospheric carbon necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial 2. In the near term, this means adding up to 24 million hectares (Mha) of forest every year from now until 2030. Policymakers are sowing the seeds. For example, in 2011, the German government and the International Union for Conservation of Nature launched the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 350 Mha of forest by 2030. Under this initiative and others, 43 countries across the tropics and subtropics where trees grow quickly, including Brazil, India and China, have committed nearly 300 Mha of degraded land (see Supplementary Information, Table S1). That’s encouraging.  But will this policy work? Here we show that, under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half of the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees (see Table S1). Although these can support local economies, plantations are much poorer at storing carbon than are natural forests, which develop with little or no disturbance from humans. The regular harvesting and clearing of plantations releases stored CO2 back into the atmosphere every 10–20 years. By contrast, natural forests continue to sequester carbon for many decades4. To stem global warming, deforestation must stop. And restoration programmes worldwide should return all degraded lands to natural forests — and protect them.

Warming toll: 1 degree hotter, trillions of tons of ice gone - Since leaders first started talking about tackling the problem of climate change, the world has spewed more heat-trapping gases, gotten hotter and suffered hundreds of extreme weather disasters. Fires have burned, ice has melted and seas have grown. The first United Nations diplomatic conference to tackle climate change was in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Here’s what’s happened to Earth since:

  • — The carbon dioxide level in the air has jumped from about 358 parts per million to nearly 412, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s a 15% rise in 27 years.
  • — Emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from fossil fuel and industry jumped from 6.06 billion metric tons of carbon in 1992 to 9.87 billion metric tons in 2017, according to the Global Carbon Project. That’s a 63% increase in 25 years.
  • — The global average temperature rose a tad more than a degree Fahrenheit (0.57 degrees Celsius) in 27 years, according to NOAA.
  • — Since Jan. 1, 1993, there have been 212 weather disasters that cost the United States at least $1 billion each, when adjusted for inflation. In total, they cost $1.45 trillion and killed more than 10,000 people. That’s an average of 7.8 such disasters per year since 1993, compared with 3.2 per year from 1980 to 1992, according to NOAA.
  • — The U.S. Climate Extremes Index has nearly doubled from 1992 to 2018, according to NOAA. The index takes into account far-from-normal temperatures, drought and overall dry spells, abnormal downpours.
  • — Nine of the 10 costliest hurricanes to hit the United States when adjusted for inflation have struck since late 1992. The other one, Andrew at No. 6, hit in August 1992, according to NOAA.
  • — The number of acres burned by wildfires in the United States has more than doubled from a five-year average of 3.3 million acres in 1992 to 7.6 million acres in 2018.
  • — The annual average extent of Arctic sea ice has shrunk from 4.7 million square miles (12.1 million square kilometers) in 1992 to 3.9 million square miles (10.1 million square kilometers) in 2019, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. That’s a 17% decrease.
  • — The Greenland ice sheet lost 5.2 trillion tons (4.7 trillion metric tons) of ice from 1993 to 2018, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • — The Antarctic ice sheet lost 3 trillion tons (2.7 trillion metric tons) of ice from 1992 to 2017, according to a study in the journal Nature.
  • — The global sea level has risen on average 2.9 millimeters a year since 1992. That’s a total of 78.3 millimeters, or 3.1 inches, according to NOAA.

  Ice cube meme misrepresents physics of sea level rise to claim melting ice has no effect -- CLAIM: "A little science lesson for the #idiots at the global warming conference. Ice berg melts, ocean level remains the same."  This meme, which has spread widely on Facebook, implies that the science of human-caused global sea level rise is based on the faulty assumption that floating ice raises sea level as it melts. However, a critical step is missing in this set of “before-and-after” photos: the water level before the ice cubes were placed in the measuring cup.  The ice on planet Earth—part of what is termed the “cryosphere“—includes sea ice as well as glacial land ice. Sea ice is frozen seawater floating at the surface, not unlike the ice that covers a lake or river in colder winter climates. As such, the freezing and melting of sea ice does not have a significant effect on sea level, though the loss of polar sea ice does have profound impacts on local ecosystems and the Earth’s climate system. But on land, glaciers high in mountains around the world or making up part of the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, do raise sea level when they melt and flow into the ocean. Some glaciers end on land, with meltwater flowing down rivers to reach the ocean. Other glaciers slide into the ocean directly, calving off large blocks called “icebergs” that drift away as they melt.  The melting of an iceberg does not raise sea level significantly, because it is already displacing that volume as it floats. (There is, however, a small additional contribution from the dilution of salty seawater with fresh melt from the iceberg. This adds 2-3% to the volume of displaced seawater.1) But as the land-based portions of glaciers shrink, more and more icebergs and meltwater are added to the ocean, raising sea level. Greenland, for example, lost around 3,800 billion tonnes of ice between 1992 and 2018, while Antarctica lost about 2,700 billion tonnes between 1992 and 2017, together raising global sea level by about 18 millimeters over that timespan2,3. There is also one more process that is a primary contributor to sea level rise: thermal expansion. Like other fluids, seawater expands as its temperature increases. This means that as the oceans warm, their volume expands enough to raise sea level measurably.

Greenland ice loss is at ‘worse-case scenario’ levels, study finds – Greenland is losing ice mass seven times faster than in the 1990s, a pace that matches the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s high-end warming scenario – in which 400 million people would be exposed to coastal flooding by 2100, 40 million more than in the mid-range prediction. The alarming update resulted from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Intercomparison Exercise, a project involving nearly 100 polar scientists from 50 international institutions, among them two from the University of California, Irvine. IMBIE researchers combined 26 separate surveys to compute changes in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheet between 1992 and 2018. Altogether, data from 11 different satellite missions were used, including measurements of the ice sheet’s changing volume, flow and gravity. The findings, published recently in Nature, show that Greenland has lost 3.8 trillion tons of ice since 1992 – enough to raise global sea levels by 10.6 millimeters (almost half an inch). The rate of ice loss has risen from an average of 33 billion tons per year in the 1990s to 254 billion tons per year in the last decade – a sevenfold increase within three decades. “There is a rather universal agreement among the independent techniques used in this study and the international group of researchers about the mass loss in Greenland: half from surface melt, half from faster glacier flow,” said IMBIE team member Eric Rignot, chair, Donald Bren Professor and Chancellor’s Professor of Earth system science at UCI. “The more remarkable result from this study is that Greenland is melting along the lines of the highest rate of warming examined by climate models. In other words, we’re in the worst-case scenario.”

  When will the Netherlands disappear? — The local phonebook in the Dutch area of Noordwaard is a record of a community that no longer exists: Lists of numbers for homes that have been demolished, leaving just square patches in the grass where their foundations stood.Once a thriving farming area, Noordwaard is now an expanse of reedy marshlands in the southwest Netherlands, deliberately designed to flood in order to keep nearby Dutch cities dry. "Several years ago, when you came to that polder, big nice farms were there, acres with potatoes and onions," said Stan Fleerakkers, a dairy farmer who lives nearby. "Now when you drive there, there's nothing left of it."The Noordwaard polder was one of 39 such areas selected for the Dutch government’s “Room for the River” program, in which land was given back to the water. It’s a modern reversal of the centuries-old practice of land reclamation by the famously low-lying country.It’s also a snapshot of the future the country faces: With unprecedented sea level rise forecast as a result of climate change, the Dutch government is racing against the clock to figure out how to keep one of the world’s richest countries from disappearing into the North Sea.  Sea rise forecasts range from levels that are manageable as long as the increase is gradual, to doomsday scenarios that would outpace authorities’ ability to respond. If emissions continue on current trends, the IPCC predicts 84 centimeters of sea rise by 2100, and as much as 5.4 meters by 2300.  Quietly, experts are beginning to model out potential futures on behalf of the government. In more optimistic scenarios, the feted Dutch dikes, storm barriers, pumps, and adaptations can cope, but at a cost — and even then only up to a point. “On the other end of the spectrum is controlled abandonment, which isn’t nice, because we somehow need to lead 10 million people somewhere,” said Maarten Kleinhans, professor of geosciences and physical geography at Utrecht University. “And as soon as this gets known, as soon as the shit hits the fan, there won’t be any investments anymore and local economies will collapse.”

Infographic Of The Day: Mapping A Changing Arctic  - Today's infographic shows the location of major oil and gas fields in the Arctic and the possible new trade routes through this frontier.  [click here to enlarge infographic]

 Earth's magnetic north pole is skittering wildly across the Arctic. By 2040, our compasses 'will point eastward of true North,' an expert says. - Earth's magnetic north pole has been leading scientists on something of a wild goose chase.Over the last 40 years, the spot toward which all our compasses point has moved by an average of about 30 miles per year. In September, magnetic north aligned briefly with geographic north (where all the lines of longitude converge at the North Pole) as it passed over the Prime Meridian. But then it kept moving, skittering from its previous location in Nunavut, Canada towards Siberia. "Magnetic north has spent the last 350 years wandering around the same part of Canada," Ciaran Beggan, a scientist from the British Geological Survey (BGS), told Business Insider. "But since the 1980s, the rate it was moving jumped from 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] per year to 50 kilometers [31 miles]."Beggan is part of a group of scientists who track the errant pole from year to year. Their work informs the World Magnetic Model (WMM), a map of the planet's magnetic field. According to the most recent update of the WMM, magnetic north is still zooming along, though its speed has decreased a bit, to 24.8 miles per year.  "By 2040, all compasses will probably point eastward of true north," Beggan said, adding that magnetic north's march toward northern Russia is far from over.

In Historic Ruling, Dutch Supreme Court Says Government Must Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 25% -  In a move that has "put the rest of the world on notice," the Dutch Supreme Court has upheld a landmark climate change ruling that requires the Dutch government to accelerate cuts of carbon emissions. It was called an “immense victory for climate justice,” according to AP.  The Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that the severity of the climate change crisis demanded greenhouse gas reductions of at least 25% by 2020, according to the Guardian. This is higher than the 17% drop in emissions that was planned by Mark Rutte's liberal administration. The ruling was greeted with cheers in the courtroom an will act as a tailwind for similar cases worldwide. Similar cases are being planned in places like Norway, New Zealand, Uganda and the UK. Marjan Minnesma of the Dutch Urgenda Foundation said: “I am extremely happy that the highest court in the Netherlands has confirmed that climate change is a real, severe problem and that government should do what they themselves have declared for more than 10 years is necessary, namely between 25% and 40% reduction of CO2.”Jesse Klaver, the leader of the Dutch Greens, said of the original ruling that it was "historic news" and said  “Governments can no longer make promises they don’t fulfil. Countries have an obligation to protect their citizens against climate change. That makes this trial relevant for all other countries.” To comply with the ruling, one new coal plan would have to be shut down. The state had argued that the judges were "sidelining democracy" by trying to force the policy change.  But Judge Tan de Sonnaville was unconvinced, ruling: “Climate change is a grave danger. Any postponement of emissions reductions exacerbates the risks of climate change. The Dutch government cannot hide behind other countries’ emissions. It has an independent duty to reduce emissions from its own territory.”

“Where Should I Move To Be Safe from Climate Change?’ - No place on Earth is immune from the consequences of climate change, but some will fare better than others. So where should you live? Start by taking a second look at the place where you live now. I’m assuming that all of you reside in the United States, so let’s put things into perspective. Compared to other regions of the world, many parts of the U.S. are well-positioned to cope with the consequences of climate change, in part because of this country’s vast farmland, technological prowess, relative stability, and riches – though keep in mind that wealth inequality is vast and growing.What’s more, moving to a new place strips you from the web of social connections in your community. As journalist Madeline Ostrander has observed, such ties help people cope during emergencies: “Sense of place, community, and rootedness aren’t just poetic ideas. They are survival mechanisms,” she has written. So before you pack your bags, first make sure you understand the expected consequences of climate change where you live now. Do those risks outweigh the cost of leaving behind friends, neighbors, family, and professional contacts? U.S.-based readers will find these resources useful:

  • A brief overview of how climate change is expected to affect each U.S. region
  • An interactive tool that will enable you to look up how many hot days your city or a city near you could experience during future summers
  • An interactive map that shows you what your city’s climate is likely to feel like in 60 years by comparing it to the present-day climate of another city
  • Maps that show where wildfires have burned recently and which places are most at risk
  • An article on how climate change could affect air quality
  • An interactive tool that shows how sea-level rise could affect coastal areas
  • A map that shows how precipitation in your region is expected to change in the future
  • You can also explore projected changes in precipitation and temperature by ZIP code using this interactive tool.

 German Green Party Urges Allowing 140 Million Climate Refugees To Migrate To West - The Green Party in Germany is urging that up to 140 million “climate refugees” should be allowed to migrate to the west and given citizenship. Political leaders like Claudia Roth are claiming that island states in the Pacific could “completely disappear” and that entire population groups should be allowed to re-locate to the west as a result.“Citizenship in the receiving country can be an option,” for people existentially threatened by global warming, said RothIn their proposal, the party cites the World Bank’s estimate that there could be as many as 140 million “climate refugees” flooding into the west from Africa, South Asia, and South America by the year 2050.Other parties in Germany expressed their opposition, noting that creating the idea of “climate refugees” would increase migratory pressure worldwide.  Germany should “not function as Noah’s ark for the whole world,” remarked FDP general secretary Linda Teuteberg.The proposal is not likely to sit well with German voters, many of whom have expressed their opposition to mass immigration by voting in large numbers for the right-wing AfD party.As we previously highlighted, the former director of Germany’s foreign intelligence service has accused Angela Merkel of creating a “security crisis” in Germany as a result of her open border refugee policy. According to the German government’s own statistics, violent crime in Germany rose by 10 per cent between 2015 and 2016, when the country began accepting large numbers of migrants, many of them young men. More than 90 per cent of the rise was attributable to young male “refugees.” “Young male refugees in Germany got the blame…. for most of a two-year increase in violent crime,” reported Reuters. Germany also suffered a mass molestation of women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015, attacks almost exclusively carried out by migrant men. Given the establishment’s increasingly desperate effort to push the “climate emergency,” primarily by using Greta Thunberg as a poster child, look out for global warming hysteria to be the next excuse as to why the west needs to absorb tens of millions more migrants.

Our pathetically slow shift to clean energy, in five charts - MIT Technology Review By most measures that matter, clean energy had a stellar decade.The cost of large wind and solar farms dropped by 70% and nearly 90%, respectively. Meanwhile, renewable-power plants around the world are producing four times more electricity than they did 10 years ago. Similarly, electric vehicles were barely a blip at the outset of the 2010s. But automakers were on track to sell 1.8 million EVs this year, as range increased, prices fell, and companies introduced a variety of models. But the swift growth in these small sectors still hasn’t added up to major changes in the massive global energy system, or reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. So far, cleaner technologies have mostly met rising energy demands, not cut deeply into existing fossil-fuel infrastructure, as the charts that follow make clear.That’s a problem. Cutting emissions rapidly enough to combat the increasing threats of climate change will require complete overhauls of our power plants, factories, and vehicle fleets, all within a few decades. Global electricity generation from renewables, primarily wind and solar, soared from about 550 terawatt-hours in 2008 to nearly 2,500 in 2018, according to the 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. But here’s what that growth looks like in the context of the total power sector. Renewables are the thin green slice on top, rising but dwarfed by other sources. The same general trends are true in the case of electric vehicles, except that they represent an even a smaller subset of the global market. Sales are booming in major markets around the world, at least relative to the low starting point earlier in the decade.  But they’ve barely put a dent in total worldwide auto sales, which topped 80 million last year, as this BloombergNEF data highlights: If we stick to the average rate of clean energy additions during the last five years, it would take about 360 years to build a system of the size needed, Breakthrough’s Seaver Wang found. If we did it at the fastest rate in the last five years, it’d still take nearly 260 years.

Free Returns Come With an Environmental Cost - Every single day this December, an estimated 1 million return packages were picked up through UPS alone, and online shoppers are expected to send back even more purchases this holiday season. Each returned package — regardless of which carrier picks it up — leaves a trail of emissions from the various trains, planes, and giant trucks that carry it back to the seller. That pollution contributes to climate change and worsens air quality. Many of the discarded items head to a landfill. The environmental problem is only getting worse as e-commerce grows and free returns become the expected norm for shopping online.  Amazon, which has driven the new shopping trends, just expanded its free return policy and is also delivering more of its own packages than ever. “People need to be aware that there are environmental consequences of sending back their returns. You know, they don’t just go into thin air and disappear,”    About half of the “uglies” that American consumers return go back on sale again, according to research by Optoro, a company that helps retailers like Ikea streamline their returns processes. Retailers might send things back to the manufacturer that they can’t put up for sale again, or they might try to unload it to other companies who sell it at deep discounts. Wherever the unwanted purchase goes, taking it there means more trucks pumping out more planet-warming carbon emissions and other harmful pollutants. Hauling around returned inventory in the US creates over 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, Optoro found. That’s more than what 3 million cars might put out in one year. Then there’s the trash. Five billion pounds of returned goods end up in US landfills each year. Even if something was in good condition when the buyer put it in the mailbox, shipping it back can damage the item. Sometimes retailers realize that throwing out a returned item is the most cost-effective way to deal with the thing, instead of paying for it to be cleaned, repaired, and returned to the shelves. “If you’re buying a T-shirt or something like that and it only costs a few dollars, you can understand that the company just cannot afford to do anything but throw that onto the landfill,” Cullinane says. Landfills are filling up with packaging waste from e-commerce, too.

Opinion: Your electric car and vegetarian diet are pointless virtue-signalling in fighting climate change — Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs, wash your clothes in cold water, eat less meat, recycle more, and buy an electric car: We are being bombarded with instructions from climate campaigners, environmentalists and the media about the everyday steps we all must take to tackle climate change.Unfortunately, these appeals trivialize the challenge of global warming, and divert our attention from the huge technological and policy changes that are needed to combat it.For example, the British nature-documentary presenter and environmental campaigner David Attenborough was once asked what he as an individual would do to fight climate change. He promised to unplug his phone charger when it wasn’t in use. Attenborough’s heart is no doubt in the right place. But even if he consistently unplugs his charger for a year, the resulting reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions will be equivalent to less than one-half of one-thousandth of the average person’s annual CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom. Moreover, charging accounts forless than 1% of a phone’s energy needs; the other 99% is required to manufacture the handset and operate data centers and cell towers. Almost everywhere, these processes are heavily reliant on fossil fuels.  Attenborough is far from alone in believing that small gestures can have a meaningful impact on the climate. In fact, even much larger-sounding commitments deliver only limited reductions in CO2 emissions. For example, environmental activists emphasize the need to give up eating meat and driving fossil-fuel-powered cars. But, although I am a vegetarian and don’t own a car, I believe we need to be honest about what such choices can achieve.

Bloomberg Recommends Virtue Signaling Elites Atone For Private Jet Use With Carbon Credits - Are you a rich, virtue-signaling hypocrite experiencing 'eco-guilt' for bouncing all over world in a private jet while condemning others for their vastly smaller carbon footprint? Fear not, Bloomberg News has you covered. To atone for your carbon sins - particularly if you just can't bring yourself to fly commercial (private jets emit as much as 20x more carbon dioxide per passenger) - simply snap up some carbon credits! In addition to convincing yourself you're not a hypocrite, you'll be prepared for awkward interview questions in Aspen after igniting 400 gallons of jet fuel to shuttle your entourage to next year's film festival.  Beware of scams, however, as only Carbon credits which truly benefit the planet should only be purchased from 'well-established NGOs.'  If you have the money, the easiest way is to pay for carbon credits. To make sure you’re investing in a project that will truly benefit the planet, look for credits from groups that well-established nongovernmental organizations support. Gold Standard, which NGOs including the WWF created, has issued more than 100 million carbon credits from about 700 projects worldwide. For example, you can offset a ton of CO2 by donating $18 to a reforestation effort in East Timor or by giving $15 to a program that provides fuel-efficient stoves for women in North Darfur. –Bloomberg More Q&A for the curious (Via Bloomberg):

  • How do I know how much I need to offset?  It depends on factors such as the amount of fuel burned and the altitude reached in flight. “People are put off by the fact they can go to different calculators and get different estimates of what that footprint of their flight would be,” Leugers says. “The reality is there are different levels of calibration.” One “finely calibrated” online calculator for commercial flights is from German nonprofit Atmosfair, she says. The unique details involved with a personal jet trip mean you’ll probably need to call in your own expert. 
  • Can I use biofuel for my jet? If you can find it. The 15 million liters (almost 4 million gallons) of aviation biofuel produced in 2018 accounted for less than 0.1% of total aviation fuel consumption, says the International Energy Agency. The IEA noted on its website in March that only five airports have regular biofuel distribution—Bergen, Norway; Brisbane, Australia; Los Angeles; Oslo; and Stockholm. Biofuels are also costlier. The aviation industry says this might eventually be resolved with ramped-up production of biofuels from cheap and plentiful feedstocks such as agricultural waste.

Trump is rolling back over 80 environmental regulations. Here are 5 you might have missed in 2019 -  President Donald Trump has taken historically unprecedented action to roll back a slew of environmental regulations that protect air, water, land and public health from climate change and fossil fuel pollution. The administration has targeted about 85 environmental rules, according to Harvard Law School’s rollback tracker. Existing environment regulations are meant to curb greenhouse gas emissions, protect land and animals from oil and gas drilling and development, as well as limit pollution and toxic waste runoff into the country’s water. The administration views many of them as onerous to fossil fuel companies and other major industries. Oil price calls for 2020 aren’t looking great for crude-producing countries.  However, the consequences of eliminating these regulations include more premature deaths from pollutants and higher levels of climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to research from the NYU Law School. Here are five major environmental rollback stories of 2019 that highlight the administration’s efforts to loosen restrictions on methane emissions, power plants and automobile tailpipes, as well protections for endangered animals and clean water in the U.S.

  • 1. Regulations on methane leaks to be rolled back.  The Trump administration in August announced plans to significantly weaken regulation on climate-changing methane emissions. If adopted, the government would no longer have to require oil and gas companies to implement technology to monitor and fix methane leaks from facilities and pipelines. Methane is dangerous because large amounts of it is escaping from oil and gas sites across the country and accelerating global warming. Methane levels have soared since 2007, with natural gas production as a primary suspect.
  • 2. Repealing the Obama-era clean water rule.  The EPA in September repealed a major Obama-era clean water regulation that curbed the amount of pollution and chemicals in the country’s rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands.  The repeal allows polluters to discharge toxic substances into waterways without a permit, which could significantly harm the country’s sources of safe drinking water and habitats for wildlife. The Obama-era rule had aimed to protect 60% of the country’s water bodies from contamination and keep
  • 3. Weakening the Endangered Species Act - The Trump administration said in August it would change the rules for the Endangered Species Act, making it harder to protect wildlife from threats of human development and global warming.  The new rules make it easier to take out protections for threatened animals and plants and allow federal agencies to conduct economic assessments when deciding whether to protect a species from things like construction projects in a critical habitat. The rules also remove tools used by scientists to predict future harm to species from climate change.
  • 4. Weakening climate plan to help coal plants stay open - The Trump administration in June implemented a rule that will keep coal-powered plants open longer, replacing an Obama-era climate effort to reduce planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions and continuing the administration’s efforts to ease regulatory burdens for the coal industry.
  • 5. Loosening Obama-era rules restricting auto pollution -- The White House this year also prepared to eliminate an Obama-era regulation in place to reduce automobile emissions that contribute to global warming. The administration argues that the rollback is necessary for economic and safety reasons, though environmentalists say consumers would spend billions more in fuel costs and accelerate climate change.  Four of the world’s largest automakers responded in July by striking a deal with California to reduce vehicle emissions. Later in September, the administration barred California from setting its own emissions standards, which officials said would give people access to cheaper and safer vehicles.  California and 22 other states sued to challenge the administration’s decision, setting up a legal fight that could reach the Supreme Court.

Trump rails against windmills: 'I never understood wind' - President Trump lashed out again at wind farms on Saturday, claiming that the production of wind turbines causes a large carbon footprint. During a speech to the conservative student group Turning Point USA, Trump told attendees that he "never understood" the allure of wind power plants, according to a report from Mediaite. “I never understood wind,” Trump said, according to Mediaite. “I know windmills very much, I have studied it better than anybody. I know it is very expensive. They are made in China and Germany mostly, very few made here, almost none, but they are manufactured, tremendous — if you are into this — tremendous fumes and gases are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have a world, right?” “So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything. You talk about the carbon footprint, fumes are spewing into the air, right spewing, whether it is China or Germany, is going into the air,” the president added. Critics of wind power plants frequently point to the carbon emissions from concrete and other manufacturers involved in the production of wind power farms as a reason against further construction of wind farms. However, the American Wind Energy Association found that wind farms around the world generated enough energy to avoid 200 million tons of carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels last year and estimates that most wind power plants repay their own carbon footprints within six months of operation. Trump also claimed during his speech that wind power plants are responsible for killing birds, including bald eagles. “A windmill will kill many bald eagles,” he said, according to Mediate. “After a certain number, they make you turn the windmill off, that is true. By the way, they make you turn it off. And yet, if you killed one, they put you in jail. That is OK. But why is it OK for windmills to destroy the bird population?”

Trump Makes More Bizarre Claims About Wind Power - President Donald Trump doesn't like wind power, and he wants everyone to know it. He fought and lost a legal battle to prevent a wind farm from going up near his golf course in Scotland and, in April, he claimed wind turbines caused cancer. Then, on Saturday, he lifted his lance to tilt at windmills yet again during a speech at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Florida, CNN reported. His remarks came as he attacked the Green New Deal, according to The Independent, a plan championed by progressive Democrats to transition the U.S. economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy while creating jobs and fighting inequality."We'll have an economy based on wind," he said, according to a video shared by The Guardian. "I never understood wind. I know windmills very much, I have studied it better than anybody." ‘I never understood wind’: Trump goes on bizarre tirade against windmills – YouTube He then went on to charge windmills with various defects. He said they were expensive and were made mostly in China and Germany. He also argued they were heavily polluting, according to The Guardian: "But they're manufactured tremendous if you're into this, tremendous fumes. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything. "You talk about the carbon footprint, fumes are spewing into the air, right? Spewing. Whether it's in China, Germany, it's going into the air. It's our air, their air, everything, right?" It is true that China and Germany are major producers of wind turbines, The Independent noted, but the technology is not a net emitter of greenhouse gasses. In fact, in 2018, electricity generated by wind prevented 200 million tonnes of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere, the American Wind Energy Association found. Trump also repeated his argument that wind turbines harm birds. "You want to see a bird graveyard? Go under a windmill someday. You'll see more birds than you've ever seen in your life," he said, according to The Guardian. While it is true that wind turbines do kill birds, fossil fuel power plants are deadlier, CNN pointed out. Turbine collisions kill between 140,000 and 500,000 birds a year, but coal, oil, power lines and other energy sources kill millions, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Trump's rant against wind turbines comes as he has lashed out against green technology in recent weeks. Earlier this month, he attacked water efficiency standards in construction by saying people were having to flush toilets "10 times, 15 times." And at a rally in Michigan last week, he said that women had told him they had to run dishwashers multiple times to make them work, The Washington Post reported.    All of this rhetoric has policy consequences. The Department of Energy (DOE) announced Friday it would keep incandescent and halogen light bulbs on the market instead of replacing them with more energy efficient varieties. And Trump has asked the Environmental Protection Agency and the DOE to look into relaxing Obama-era efficiency standards for appliances like dishwashers.

The decade that blew up energy predictions - America’s energy sources, like booming oil and crumbling coal, have defied projections and historical precedents over the last decade. It shows how change can happen rapidly and unexpectedly, even in an industry known to move gradually and predictably. With a new decade upon us, let’s look back at the last one’s biggest, most surprising energy changes. The following five charts show the U.S. Energy Information Administration projections for the future from a decade ago, along with current EIA data to compare those projections with what actually has happened.

  • In 2010, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that in 2019, the U.S. would be producing about six million barrels of oil a day. The reality? We're now producing 12 million barrels of oil a day. Meanwhile, EIA projected oil prices would be more than $100 a barrel. They're currently hovering around $60 a barrel. What’s happening: A pair of extraction methods — horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — have unlocked far more oil and gas than experts had predicted, and companies have gotten hyper-efficient extracting more oil from each well.
  • Oil imports: EIA had projected in 2010 that the U.S. would be importing a net eight million barrels of petroleum by now, which includes crude oil and petroleum products like gasoline. In September, the U.S. actually exported a net 89,000 barrels of petroleum.
  • Natural gas production: In 2010, EIA projected that the U.S. would be producing about 20 trillion cubic feet of natural gas by now. In 2018, the last full year of annual data, we produced more than 30 trillion.  Horizontal drilling and fracking are the key drivers here too — though oil is typically more valuable than gas, so the increase has been greater with oil than gas.
  • The EIA had projected that coal electricity would remain dominant in the U.S. and natural gas would remain relatively stable — even drop slightly in its share of power supply. The opposite is happening. Coal-fired power is plummeting and natural gas has risen significantly.
  • EIA had projected in 2010 that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions would continue rising, albeit at a slower pace. In fact, they dropped. The same one-two punch that drove natural gas to dominate over coal in the electricity mix has driven this change. More recently, the growth in wind and solar, which don't produce emissions, is accelerating this trend. Emissions have ticked back up, however, due to a growing economy and the fact that natural gas, although it emits half the CO2 as coal, is still a fossil fuel. It can also emit methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. EIA does project emissions to decline slightly in the coming years.

Switzerland switches off nuclear plant as it begins exit from atomic power (Reuters) - Switzerland's Muehleberg nuclear power station went off the grid on Friday after 47 years, marking the end of an era as the shutdown starts the country's exit from atomic power. The 373-megawatt-capacity plant which opened in 1972 has generated enough electricity to cover the energy consumption of the nearby city of Bern for more than 100 years. In scenes shown live on Swiss TV, at 12.30 pm (1130 GMT) a technician pressed two buttons in the control room to stop the chain reaction and deactivate the reactor, shutting down the plant for good. The closure is the first of Switzerland's five nuclear reactors to be shuttered following the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, which triggered safety concerns about nuclear power around the world. Neighboring Germany is due to abandon nuclear power stations by 2022, while Switzerland's government has said it would build no new nuclear reactors and decommission its existing plants at their end of their lifespan. The Swiss decision to quit nuclear power was upheld in a 2017 referendum which also supported government plans to push forward sustainable energy with subsidies to develop solar, wind and hydroelectric power. No dates have been set for the shutdown of Switzerland's other nuclear power stations, although the Beznau plant near the German border, which dates back to 1969, is expected to be next. As recently as 2017, Switzerland's nuclear power stations generated a third of the country's power, compared with around 60% from hydroelectric and 5% from renewable. Muehleberg's operator, the state-controlled energy company BKW, decided in October 2013 to shutter the plant, saying plans to invest in its long-term future were no longer viable.  Output has been winding down in the last few weeks as the final fuel loaded in the summer of 2018 was depleted. After the shutdown, a 15-year decommissioning process will get under way, costing 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.06 billion). No plans have been agreed for how the site will be redeveloped.

Japan Proposes Dumping Radioactive Waste Into Pacific As Storage Space Dwindles -- As the decade comes to an end, the future of nuclear power in the west remains in doubt. Almost nine years ago, a powerful underwater earthquake triggered a 15-meter tsunami that disabled the power supply and cooling at three of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The accident caused the nuclear cores of all three damaged reactors to melt down, prompting the government to issue evacuation orders for all people living within a 30 kilometer radius of the damaged reactors, a group that included roughly 100,000 people. And the evacuation zone map:  Now, the Epoch Times reports that Japan's Economy and Industry Ministry has proposed that TEPCO gradually release, or allow to evaporate, massive amounts of treated but still radioactive water being stored at the power plant. TEPCO, or the Tokyo Electric Power Co, is the owner of the Fukushima plant, and is also responsible for leading the clean-up of the damaged reactors.But as regulators have stepped in to try and guide TEPCO as it struggles to dispose of all the contaminated water, one ministry has offered a proposal that is almost guaranteed to anger the fishermen who have resisted all of TEPCO's other plans for dumping the contaminated water.In its Dec. 23 proposal, the ministry suggested a "controlled release" of the contaminated water into the Pacific. Offering another option, the ministry also suggested allowing the water to evaporate, or a combination of the two methods.The government is stepping up the pressure on TEPCO to do something as Fukushima's 'radioactive water crisis' worsens. The problem is that TEPCO is running out of room to store the contaminated water. But the ministry insisted that the controlled release of the contaminated water into the sea would be the best option because it would "stably dilute and disperse" the water from the plant, while also allowing the government and TEPCO to more easily monitor the operation.TEPCO says it is currently storing more than 1 million tons of radioactive water and only has space to hold up to 1.37 million tons, or until the summer of 2022, raising speculation that the water may be released after next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Lawmakers, PUCO left a bunch of coal in Ohioans’ stockings this year -  This Christmas, the citizens of Ohio will be getting coal in their stockings rather than a bright shiny solar panel.The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine and other Ohio politicians all made sure that renewable energy projects, including American Electric Power’s 400-megawatt solar arrays in Highland County, would not be under the Christmas tree (“Regulators reject attempt to charge customers for solar projects,” Nov. 22).In Grinchlike fashion, t he 4,000 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs for the AEP projects were snatched from the hands of southeastern Ohio citizens. AEP’s customers will also lose out on the projected $200 million in savings over 20 years.However, FirstEnergy Solutions got their present early in the form of House Bill 6, deemed the worst energy bill of the 21st century. The bill will gut energy efficiency standards, which will impact the employment of more than 10,000 people in Ohio. It will bail out two aging nuclear power plants as well as two coal-fired power plants and Ohio taxpayers will be paying for this $200 million annual gift for a long time. Make sure to check Santa’s naughty list to see if your legislator voted “yes” for HB 6. Let him or her know how you feel in 2020.

Utica Shale well activity as of Dec. 21 -

  • DRILLED: 136 (145 as of last week)
  • DRILLING: 152 (158)
  • PERMITTED: 482 (480)
  • PRODUCING: 2,422 (2,422)
  • TOTAL: 3,192 (3,205)

Two horizontal permits were issued during the week that ended Dec. 21, and 13 rigs were operating in the Utica Shale.

Tax dollars from two pipelines could fall short — Developers of two new natural gas pipelines in Ohio want to reduce their valuation, which would decrease by millions the anticipated tax dollars coming to schools and communities. Owners of the Rover and NEXUS pipeline systems filed separate requests with the Ohio Department of Taxation earlier this month to have the values of their pipelines lowered by 30 percent to 50 percent in many places, The Blade reported. The values sought by the companies vary from county to county and will ultimately be determined by the state. Valuations are what auditors use as a basis for calculating property taxes. Specifics of the appeals are confidential, and the process could take months to decide, department spokesman Gary Gudmundson said. Schools and communities counting on the tax windfall say they’re in a tough spot — at least one community expected to use pipeline property taxes to make up 50 percent of its tax base and the fluctuation could impact the building schedule for a new school in another. The pipeline developers are within their rights to seek lower property taxes annually, but the process makes it especially difficult for school districts, which depend the most on such windfalls, to plan ahead, said Mike Kovack, former president of the County Auditors’ Association of Ohio. “I would like to see the Department of Taxation protecting the local tax base and not siding with an out-of-state company poised to make billions,” Matthew Oestreich, Wood County auditor, told The Blade in reference to the Nexus pipeline that runs through his county. Two companies, Enbridge and Detroit’s DTE Energy, partnered to spend $2 billion to build the 255-mile-long pipeline that stretches across northern Ohio and into Michigan. The $4.3 billion Rover Pipeline consists of twin 42-inch high-pressure lines that span about 700 miles miles from northern West Virginia into Michigan. The Rover pipeline became fully operational this past year, meaning stakeholders were planning on particularly strong property tax revenue from it.

Firefighters drill on oil, gas fire response - New Philadelphia Times Reporter - Municipal and rural firefighters in western Stark County train to extinguish blazes that occur when oil and gas wells catch fire. Response to an oil well fire can also be different than working to extinguish a typical house or building blaze, Lawrence Township firefighter Jared Lee explained. “Usually, we’re gung-ho on throwing water on a fire,” said Lee. “With these well (fires), you have to use other (techniques and means).” Fuel fires are often fought using biodegradable foam, but other times they’re extinguished using water and dry chemicals, or a fog, according to Pat Rhodes, assistant Massillon fire chief, who said multiple city firefighters have gone through oil and gas field training over the last decade. At one time, the city believed energy wells would be installed in bulk locally, Rhodes said. But most ended up being constructed closer to oil companies that operate outside of the region. Oil and gas well fires are typically sparked from lightning striking a well or a grass fire encroaching on an oil field. Fuel tends to make the fire hotter and more hazardous. Techniques such as learning how to shut down leaking wells and utilizing foam to “snuff out” the oxygen of a fire are part of the training, Rhodes said.  Township Fire Chief Mark Stewart said he has sent approximately two-dozen firefighters to the program over the last eight-to-10 years, roughly two-to-four firefighters per year.  “It’s a confidence builder,” the chief said of the training. “These (real) incidents can be loud (with a hissing noise) or intimidating if you’ve never done it.” During multiple days of OOGEEP training, firefighters engage in classroom instruction, virtual-reality exercises and live outdoor simulations, Stewart said.

Banks take a fresh look at fracking, and they don't like what they see - Crain's Cleveland Business - Fracking is falling out of favor with some lenders. The Wall Street Journal reports some of the banks that helped fuel the boom in hydraulic fracturing "are beginning to question the industry's fundamentals, as many shale wells produce less than companies forecast."From the article:Banks have begun to tighten requirements on revolving lines of credit, an essential lifeline for smaller companies, as these institutions revise estimates on the value of some shale reserves held as collateral for loans to producers, according to people familiar with the matter.Some large financial institutions, including Capital One Financial Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., are likely to decrease the size of current and future loans to shale companies linked to reserves as a result of their semiannual reviews of the loans, the people say. The banks are concerned that if some companies go bankrupt, their assets won't cover the loans. ...The heat is greatest for small and midsize shale producers, including many whose wells aren't producing as much oil and gas as they had projected to lenders and investors.It's not just big lenders who are concerned.The Journal says "some regional banks have begun writing off bad energy loans" and notes that net charge-offs "shot up at Huntington Bancshares in the last quarter."Columbus-based Huntington "attributed the move primarily to two energy loans where the borrowers' production had not met expectations," according to CEO Stephen Steinour.  "Geology and the assumptions were just flawed," Steinour tells The Journal. The paper adds that energy companies "accounted for more than 90% of defaults on corporate debt in the third quarter, according to Moody's Investors Service. There were more than 30 oil-company bankruptcies in 2019, exceeding the number in 2018 and 2017. Exploration and production companies are now carrying more than $100 billion in debt."

U.S. Chamber concerned fracking ban could hurt economy - Canton Repository - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is concerned that efforts to stop fracking will hurt Ohio’s economy. Some of the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates have said they want to end fracking, and that has the Global Energy Institute of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hustling to show that a ban would be a bad idea. Fracking — formally known as hydraulic fracturing — is a process that has been used in oil and gas drilling for more than 50 years. Fracking has been used on a large scale to drill in the Utica Shale and similar formations around the country. Activists groups for years have called for a fracking ban, and some presidential candidates have promised to pursue a ban. A study by the U.S. Chamber contends a ban would deliver a staggering blow to the economy. In Ohio, a ban on fracking could eliminate 700,000 jobs between 2021 and 2025, the study contends. Meanwhile, the state’s gross domestic product would drop by $245 billion during the same period. The cost of living would rise, while household incomes would drop, according to the study. Finally, $20.6 billion would disappear from state and local tax revenue. Marty Durbin, president of the U.S. Chamber’s Global Energy Institute, said shale drilling driven by fracking has fueled the country’s sustained period of growth over the past decade. “Our study shows that banning fracking would have a catastrophic effect on our economy, inducing the equivalent of a major recession and raising the cost of living for everyone across the country. This bad idea should be abandoned,” Durbin said in a statement.

What Are Nurdles, And Why Are They Threatening The Ohio River? -  When the petrochemical plant being built by Shell Chemical Appalachia in Beaver County is complete, it's anticipated to bring 600 jobs as well as spinoff industries. But some researchers and activists warn that it could also bring a new type of pollution to the Ohio River Valley — nurdles. Nurdles are tiny plastic pellets similar in size to a lentil and produced at petrochemical plants. They're the raw material of the plastics industry, the building blocks of everything from car parts to keyboards to grocery store bags. Jace Tunnell is the reserve director at the Marine Science Instituteat the University of Texas at Austin. Before last year, he had only heard of nurdles. But walking along the beach at Corpus Christi, Texas, in 2018, he saw nurdles littering the high tide line."And at first, I wasn't sure, you know, are they fish eggs?" Tunnell said. "When I picked one up and squeezed it, it was really hard. I knew exactly what that was. It was a nurdle."Tunnell described it as unbelievable how many opaque pellets he saw on the beach. There were thousands, likely more. "I was kind of in shock," he said. Tunnell sought to better understand nurdle pollution: How many of these were really washing up on the Texas Gulf Coast? So, he started surveying the beaches. He also created Nurdle Patrol, a citizen science project that teaches people how to find nurdles and document their presence.  Boy Scout troops, families and others have done surveys along the Gulf Coast. One thing Tunnell has learned from this: "Almost every single beach that you go to has pellets on it," he said.  "These pellets don't break down over time," he said, adding that it can take hundreds of years for nurdles to break into smaller pieces.  When birds, fish and other species eat bits of plastic, it can make them think they're full and die of malnutrition. Microplastics, including nurdles, are also known to attract toxins that can accumulate in wildlife.  One study found some fish sold for human consumption in the United States contained plastic debris. The World Health Organization says more research is needed on the health impacts to humans.

Natural gas production headed for a slow-down in 2020 - The region’s Marcellus and Utica shale gas producers had a banner year in 2019.  Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia together accounted for one-third of the nation’s natural gas production. But a likely slow-down is ahead in 2020.Marcellus and Utica shale drillers produced 30 billion cubic feet of gas in 2019. The increased supply has driven down prices to about $2 per million British thermal units. Compare that to the previous decade, when gas was selling at about $8 per million Btu.Penn State geologist Terry Engelder first reported on the abundance of shale gas in 2008.“These companies made their investments, anticipating six- to eight- to 10-dollar gas,” Engelder said. “No one ever dreamed it would stabilize at two-dollar gas. There’s just so much of it, particularly here in Pennsylvania, that the companies can’t sell it.”IHS Markit senior director for natural gas Charles Nevle says it’s not an indication natural gas production is going away, but it does mean production will be flat in 2020.“We can’t grow production in 2020,” Nevle said. “So we’re going from this really rapid growth period in 2019 to a year that will have to keep production essentially flat.”Major gas producer Chevron recently announced it is pulling out of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays.In parts of the country, gas production is so high, companies are burning it offrather than selling it.Nevle says producers in shale formations that also include oil, like the Permian Basin in Texas, have seen negative prices for natural gas. And that has also driven down prices nationwide.“So that makes it a very challenging environment when you are dependent on natural gas prices,” he said. Nevle says demand will also wane in 2020, and storage will be a challenge. You can burn it or put it back in the ground. If there’s no more room for storage, you just have to cut production. “That means less rigs operating, less wells being drilled, lower activity,” he said.

Natural gas developers banking on report to prevent Pa. fracking ban - Natural gas developers in Pennsylvania are hoping a recent water quality report by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission could squelch plans for a fracking ban that’s currently being considered by the neighboring Delaware River Basin Commission. The SRBC’s Remote Water Quality Monitoring Network report, which was released last month, revealed that water quality scores at 14 of the 16 stations in the basin were in the “good” or “excellent” categories  According to a fact sheet from the Susquehanna commission, the monitoring stations are located in areas where active drilling takes place, as well as areas free of development, in order to determine what, if any, impact drilling for natural gas has on the basin’s water quality.  River basin commissions are multistate government agencies that include both state-level and federal representatives to set policies regarding water resource management. The SRBC includes New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and the Pennsylvania area covered includes such cities as Scranton, Williamsport, Altoona, Harrisburg, York and Lancaster. The DRBC covers the Pennsylvania region bordering on New Jersey. It also includes representatives from New Jersey, New York and Delaware. The SRBC report comes as members of the DRBC consider a ban on fracking, or the practice of using high-pressure injections into the ground to collect natural gas deposits underneath. Kate Schmidt, a DRBC spokeswoman, said the commission is still reviewing public comments that were gathered early last year. There is no time frame to make a decision, she said, and any decision made would have to be done in an open meeting with a given notice.  In May, Gov. Tom Wolf said he supported the ban, as have governors in New Jersey and Delaware. That means there are enough votes to support the measure, according to Maria Michalos, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Now, she said, the goal is to get the Delaware commission to schedule a vote. “The Delaware River Basin provides drinking water for over 17 million Americans,” Ms. Michalos said. “A full ban would protect people’s health from toxic wastewater and preserve the region’s freshwater supplies, so industry cannot drain them to frack in other parts of the country.”

Pro-fracking movie gets $22K in two days on Kickstarter - Los Angeles Times -- In what may be interpreted as a backlash against the Oscar-nominated environmentalist film “Gasland,” a new production titled “FrackNation” has received an eye-popping $22,000 in donations during its first two days on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.“Gasland"is a searing critique of the oil and gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has come under intense scrutiny by environmental groups and the EPA. “FrackNation” co-creator Phelim McAleer says that his new film seeks to give voice to those longtime residents in gas-drilling areas who support fracking.Previous films by McAleer and the film’s co-creator Ann McElhinney, including “Mine Your Own Business,” critique the environmentalist community for getting in the way of industry and jobs for working people. It is not clear if any of the 252 Kickstarter donations come from gas and oil interests directly. This film, McAleer says, started when he went to see a presentation by Joshua Fox, the director of “Gasland.” “I live in Marina del Rey, California. I have no interest in gas. I’m a journalist and I went to a Q&A by Josh Fox, and asked him some difficult questions and got some interesting answers,” McAleer says. The two of them began a discussion of the footage in the film in which homeowners ignite the natural gas that comes out of their taps. “He knew that people could light their water for decades before fracking started. He said he didn’t include that in the film because it wasn’t relevant.”

U.S. gas drillers saw record gains in 2018, EIA reports - U.S. natural gas production had its biggest one-year increase on record in 2018, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Thursday.Driven by now more than decade-old advancements in hydraulic fracturing technology, production increased by 10 billion cubic feet per day last year - an 11 percent increase from 2017 - to 101.3 billion cubic feet per day. That led to a more 50 percent gain in gas exports, through LNG tankers and pipelines.  "In September 2018, the United States exported more natural gas by pipeline than it imported by pipeline for the first time in at least 20 years," the EIA report read.The biggest gains came in Texas, where gas production grew to 24.1 billion cubic feet per day, just behind the Appalachian region's production of 28.5 billion cubic feet per day.

 Natgas Futures Plunge Into Bear Market On Warmer Weather Outlook - Last week we described how "A cold shot of air" was going to blast Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., through the weekend, then lead to unseasonably warm temperatures through Jan. 02. Much of the cold weather has already exited the Northeast on Monday, resulting in a plunge in Natgas futures on warmer weather outlooks.  Front-month gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange were down .10 cents, or -4.21%, at $2.231 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) at 12:30 am est.  Natgas futures stumbling into a bear market. "(As) the weather last week was colder than normal we would expect a larger than usual storage draw. However, somewhat normal to above normal weather for this week and the holidays would mean reduced demand significantly," Zhen Zhu, an economist at Oklahoma City-based C.H. Guernsey, told Reuters. The Global Forecast System (GFS) shows from Washington, D.C., to New York to Boston, above-trend temperatures will be seen from Dec. 23 through Jan. 01.  The Northeast heating degree day (HDD) index dips this week and won't rise above trend until Jan. 02/03. This means that energy demand to heat a structure will decline due to warmer temperatures - more reasons why Natgas futures will remain on a decline through this week, or until weather forecasts show cooler weather is on the way. The Lower-48 HDD also shows energy demand across the U.S. to heat a structure will be on the decline for the next ten or so days.  Traders told Refinitiv that Natgas prices have plunged since early November "due to milder than usual weather and expectations inventories will still rise over the five-year average in the coming weeks. Near-record production enables utilities to leave more gas in storage, wiping away lingering concerns of supply shortages and price spikes during the winter."

U.S. natgas futures down nearly 5% on warmer weather forecasts - U.S. natural gas futures fell nearly 5% on Monday on expectations of warmer weather, which would lead to a reduction in heating demand.Front-month gas futures for January delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange were down 11.4 cents, or 4.9% to settle at $2.214 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), their bigger daily percentage fall in over three weeks. “(As) the weather last week was colder than normal we would expect a larger-than-usual storage draw. However, somewhat normal to above normal weather for this week and the holidays would mean reduced demand significantly,” said Zhen Zhu, economist at Oklahoma City-based C.H. Guernsey. Prices are likely to stay flat or go even lower if the weather is not much colder than normal in the next several weeks, he added. Data provider Refinitiv estimated warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Lower 48 U.S. states over the next two weeks. It projected 385 heating degree days (HDDs) in the time period, lower than the 394 HDDs estimated on Friday, which is indicative of warming weather. Last week had 197 HDDs versus a 30-year normal of 189 HDDs, Refinitiv data showed. Refinitiv predicted demand in the Lower 48 states, including exports, would fall from an average of 126.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) last week to 113.6 bcfd this week.

US natural gas futures rise to two months peak - US natural gas futures surged to a near two-month peak on Thursday as weather forecasts turned cooler, which could boost heating demand, and on short-covering as the contract nears its expiry. A day before the contract expires, front-month gas futures for January delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 12.2 cents, or 5.6%, to settle at $2.294 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). This is their largest daily percentage gain since October 29. Data provider Refinitiv estimated 411 heating degree days (HDDs) in the Lower 48 US states over the next two weeks, higher than the 372 HDDs estimated on Tuesday- indicative of cooling weather. The weather, however, is still warmer than normal. “Natural gas is higher this morning on weather forecast patterns for middle January," said Robert DiDona of Energy Ventures Analysis, adding that the cold trend is causing some short covering. Thin trade during the holiday week is leading to more volatility, he said. With the weather expected to turn chillier, Refinitiv predicted demand in the Lower 48 states, including exports, would average 113.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) next week, increasing from the 112.3 bcfd estimated for the current week. Analysts said utilities likely pulled 148 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended Dec. 20. That compares with a withdrawal of 61 bcf for the same week last year, and a five-year average draw of 101 bcf. If correct, the decrease during the week ended Dec. 20 would reduce stockpiles to 3.263 trillion cubic feet (tcf), about 1.7% below the five-year average and 19.4% above the same week a year ago. Gas production in the Lower 48 states dipped to 95.1 bcfd on Wednesday from 95.2 bcfd on Tuesday, according to Refinitiv.

US working natural gas in underground storage decreases by 161 Bcf: EIA | S&P Global Platts --US working gas volumes in storage plummeted by 161 Bcf last week due to colder weather and tighter supply, but the balance-of-winter strip tanked further during Friday trading as much smaller draws are expected for the next two weeks. Not registered? Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience. Register Now Storage inventories fell by 161 Bcf to 3.250 Tcf for the week ended December 20, the US Energy Information Administration reported Friday morning. The pull was more than an expected draw of 153 Bcf, based on a survey of analysts by S&P Global Platts. Responses ranged from a draw of 145 Bcf to 165 Bcf. The withdrawal was much stronger than the 61 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2018, as well as the five-year average draw of 101 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 518 Bcf, or 19%, more than the year-ago level of 2.732 Tcf and 69 Bcf, or 2.1%, less than the five-year average of 3.319 Tcf. The draw was also stronger than the 107 Bcf pulled from working gas in storage reported for the week ended December 13. Still, the NYMEX Henry Hub balance-of-winter strip, January through March, fell by 7.3 cents to $2.18/MMBtu following the weekly storage report, which was released on Friday instead of Thursday due to the Christmas holiday. This is lowest the winter strip has been during this part of the heating season since winter 2015-16. A forecast by S&P Global Platts Analytics' supply and demand model showed much lighter storage pulls for the rest of the month. Combined withdrawals for the weeks ending December 27 and January 3 are expected to total 142 Bcf, with 75 Bcf draw forecast for the week in progress. Lower demand due to the Christmas and New Year's holidays over the course of the two weeks will play a role in the smaller draws. For example, the Midwest region is sending out more gas this week due to lower Christmas week demand. Demand in the Midwest averaged just 14.3 Bcf/d for the week ending December 27, the lowest level for the week of Christmas since 2015 and 6 Bcf/d lower than the previous week, according to Platts Analytics. Net inflows to the Midwest this week remained strong at 13 Bcf/d. Lower demand combined with high inflows have caused both lower storage withdrawals and higher volumes pushed out to the Southeastern US. Storage withdrawals have dropped 4.1 Bcf/d from last week to 1 Bcf/d. Christmas Day saw the lowest daily withdrawal this December at only 391 MMcf pulled from Midwest storage fields. The excess available gas subsequently flipped flows between the Midwest and Southeast. As a result, Chicago basis to Henry Hub decreased to an average of minus 13 cents/MMBtu this week, down from minus 11 cents last week. Withdrawals in the region should increase as Chicago basis once again rises.

Natural Gas Price Fundamental Daily Forecast - EIA Reports Bigger-Than-Expected Storage Draw -Natural gas prices are attempting to comeback following a steep sell-off earlier in the session. The catalyst behind the selling pressure are demand losses in the latest guidance. Both the Global Forecast System (GFS) and European weather models lost demand overnight, particularly the “milder trending” European dataset, according to NatGasWeather.Helping to stabilize prices are technically oversold prices and a bigger-than-expected weekly storage draw according to the U.S. government.At 15:37 GMT, February natural gas is trading $2.223, down $0.061 or -2.58%. This is up from an earlier low of $2.167. The EIA reported Friday that domestic supplies of natural gas fell by 161 billion cubic feet for the week-ending December 20. Analysts were looking for a drop of 150 to 153 bcf. Total stocks now stand at 3.250 trillion cubic feet, up 518 bcf from a year ago. The five-year average stands at 3.319 bcf, down 69 bcf, according to the government report. “Weather trends were quite bearish overnight in the European model,” the forecaster said. “The GFS also lost demand but was still rather chilly January 6-8. But after the GFS has performed so poorly, we mentioned colder patterns were only to be believed if the European model was also on board, and now it isn’t.” Technically, traders continue to straddle the short-term 50% to 61.8% retracement zone at $2.237 to $2.259. This zone is controlling the near-term direction of the market. Look for an upside bias to develop on a sustained move over $2.259, and for the downtrend to continue on a sustained move under $2.237.

New England Natural Gas Prices Hit Two Year High - With at least six days last year averaging colder than today’s forecast, it seemed almost impossible that gas prices would break last season’s record. Accompanying this week’s cold was a combination of factors amounting to conditions that were far from normal. As the risks began to present themselves on the morning of Wednesday, December 18, AGT-CG (Non-G), New England’s largest natural gas hub, sold for as much as $15.25/MMBtu, the highest price observed since January 30, 2018. So, what really caused natural gas prices to spike when they were so weak for the last six months?  Major changes in New England over the last two years have resulted in greaternatural gas demand for power production. New England is known for its pipeline constraints, and the retirement of the 680 MW Pilgrim nuclear generating has almost entirely been met with increases in natural gas-fired generation; almost 3 GW. On top of this, one of Algonquin’s largest suppliers, Tetco M3, is operating at reduced capacity following thorough investigations into the pipeline quality. As a result, Tetco M3, Iroquois Z2, Algonquin, and TGP Z6 were operated at near full capacity, and all saw operational flow orders in place for today’s (December 19) market. These operational flow orders imposed an additional set of rules on natural gas transactions, increasing competition and basis separation. Additionally, the price strength on Algonquin occurred even though the Atlantic Bridge project is partially implemented, allowing an additional 50 million cubic feet per day of throughput capacity compared to last year. One major difference between the coldest days last winter and this Wednesday-Friday (December 18-20), is the presence of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the market. New England relies heavily on LNG, which is often imported from overseas. When temperatures average below 20°F in New England, residential and commercial heating load will exceed total import capacity on the pipeline network, so LNG is required to support any amount of gas-fired generation in the supply stack outside of Southwest Connecticut. The largest receipt point for LNG in New England is called the Northeast Gateway, which is an off-shore floating buoy that can transport as much as 800 million cubic feet of natural gas per day from LNG tankers to the largest demand centers. In December, temperatures took a dive before Excelerate could get a tanker to it.

We May Have An Explanation For Burning Oil To Generate Electricity -- Even If Not Needed -- December 26, 2019 - Burning Oil In The US To Generate Electricity To Max Out Pollution Credits By The End Of The Year.  ISO New England has more than enough energy the past two days (including today) so as not to have to use oil. Earlier I asked why ISO New England might be burning oil under these circumstances. A reader who corresponds with me closely regarding ISO New England and understands it very, very well, had this to say after I posed the question:  I have also been curious as to why oil is being burned as per the ISO. While I am certain the source/reason can be found, I, my self, do not know, but suspect it is coming from the oil burning Wyman plant in Yarmouth, Maine. The restrictions on emissions might be prompting an 'end of the year' burning of onsite fuel so as to 'use up' all the permitted pollutants before December 31, 2019. Don't know, but the steady ~355 Megawatts produced from oil for several mid-morning hours indicates a controlled, purposeful operation.  The reader's response came in reply to my note below, posted earlier today:  Plenty of energy today, not sure why they're burning oil to generate electricity:

Forest Service Withdraws Logging Project in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest to Spare Endangered Fish ― The U.S. Forest Service this week announced it will withdraw a 2,400-acre logging project in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest following objections raised by conservation groups about harm to an endangered fish. The Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of Blackwater submitted formal objections in July. The groups said the Big Rock Timber Project would threaten the endangered candy darter and the area’s waters. “We appreciate the Forest Service’s decision to withdraw this misguided project,” said Jason Totoiu, a senior attorney at the Center. “Building new logging roads and clearcutting trees on extremely steep slopes would have been disastrous for wildlife, including the beautiful candy darter.” The project would likely have caused significant erosion and sent sediment into rivers and streams, threatening the rare fish and other animals. “Friends of Blackwater and all of our supporters are very pleased that the Monongahela National Forest supervisor has withdrawn the Big Rock Timber Project proposal,” said Judy Rodd, director of Friends of Blackwater. “Hopefully this is a step toward fully protecting the candy darter, a tiny jewel of a fish found in the timbering proposal area, near the world-famous Cranberry Glades.” The Forest Service announcement said the project would have been the first of its kind to require formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act for the brightly colored candy darter, which was listed as endangered in November 2018. The Fish and Wildlife Service would have had to calculate how many, if any, candy darters could be killed or harmed by the proposed project. The Fish and Wildlife Service also plans to include portions of the logging project area in its final designation of the fish’s critical habitat. Those issues contributed to the decision to pull the project.

 How Oil Companies Avoided Environmental Accountability After 10.8 Million Gallons Spilled -In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, while stranded New Orleanians flagged down helicopters from rooftops and hospitals desperately triaged patients, crude oil silently gushed from damaged drilling rigs and storage tanks. Given the human misery set into motion by Katrina, the harm these spills caused to the environment drew little attention. But it was substantial. Nine days after the storm, oil could still be seen leaking from toppled storage tanks, broken pipelines and sunken boats between New Orleans and the Mississippi River’s mouth. And then Hurricane Rita hit. Oil let loose by Katrina was pushed farther inland by Rita three weeks later, and debris from the first storm caused damage to oil tankers rocked by the second. All told, the federal agency overseeing oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico reported that more than 400 pipelines and 100 drilling platforms were damaged. The U.S. Coast Guard, the first responder for oil spills, received 540 separate reports of spills into Louisiana waters. Officials estimated that, taken together, those leaks released the same amount of oil that the highly publicized 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster spilled into Alaska’s Prince William Sound — about 10.8 million gallons. The Oil Pollution Act, passed by Congress in response to the Valdez incident, requires that federal and state agencies work with the companies that spilled the oil to conduct a preliminary assessment of damage to natural resources. Once a comprehensive report is finalized on the value of the affected plants, soil, water and wildlife, those so-called responsible parties must pay for restoration efforts. Fourteen years later, not one assessment of the damage to natural resources after the two 2005 hurricanes has been completed. None of the 140 parties thought to be responsible for the spills has been fined or cited for environmental violations. And no restoration plans have been developed for the impacted ecosystems, fish, birds or water quality, a review by The Times-Picayune and The Advocate and ProPublica has found. The extent of the damage to the environment may never be known.

Louisiana LNG Unit Starts Production - The second liquefaction train at the Cameron LNG project in Hackberry, La., has begun producing liquefied natural gas (LNG), McDermott International, Inc. reported Monday. Joint venture partners McDermott and Chiyoda International Corp. are engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractors for Cameron LNG. In a written statement emailed to Rigzone, McDermott noted that Train 2 production – still in its initial phases – represents a precursor to substantial completion of Train 2. “This accomplishment is attributable to the entire team’s unwavering commitment to project delivery and steadfast focus on safety and quality performance as we work toward completion of Train 2,” commented Mark Coscio, McDermott’s senior vice president for North, Central and South America. “We are confident their hard work and focus will continue through the remainder of the project.” Cameron LNG ultimately will comprise three liquefaction trains with a projected LNG export capacity of 12 million tonnes per annum. Sempra LNG LLC, Total, Mitsui and Co. Ltd. and Japan LNG Investment, LLC (a Mitsubishi Corp.- Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) joint venture) own the facility. As a Rigzone article from earlier this month notes, Train 1 at Cameron LNG began commercial operation on Aug. 19, 2019. In a separate announcement Monday, Sempra stated that Trains 2 and 3 should begin commercial operations under Cameron LNG’s tolling agreements in the first and third quarters, respectively, of 2020.

Manufacturing Group Opposes LNG Export Applications - A U.S. trade group representing manufacturers with $1 trillion in annual sales has gone on record against four liquefied natural gas (LNG) export applications submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). “LNG export volumes decrease pipeline capacity that is available to U.S. consumers, because the natural gas is committed to going offshore to supply other countries, not U.S. consumers,” the Industrial Energy Consumers of American (IECA) argued in a written statement emailed Friday to Rigzone. Washington, D.C.-based IECA reported that it has submitted comments to DOE opposing four LNG export applications. The organization claims that DOE, which authorizes LNG exports, and the LNG project developers have failed to determine whether enough gas pipeline capacity exists to serve domestic consumers as well as LNG exports.  Firms submitting LNG export applications, and links to each application’s DOE docket index and IECA’s respective notices to DOE, are as follows:

IECA noted the applications increase approved LNG export volume by 3.5 Bcf per day. The Cheniere Marketing/Corpus Christi project is on the Texas Gulf Coast. The remaining projects are in southwestern Louisiana. “By the end of 2019, LNG exports will have reduced available pipeline capacity nearly 10 Bcf per day,” stated IECA, adding the above applications raise LNG export volumes by 3.5 Bcf per day. “At the same time, placed in service interstate natural gas pipelines have slowed. New pipeline capacity faces growing headwinds.”

 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.   “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,  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,”   “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.”

Magellan seek to boost capacity of refined products pipeline to El Paso - Tulsa-based pipeline operator Magellan Midstream Partners is seeking to boost capacity along a pipeline that moves gasoline to destinations in West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and south of the border in Mexico. In a Friday morning statement, Magellan announced that it has launched a second open season to book more capacity along the western leg of the company's refined products pipeline known as the South System. The pipeline currently moves 100,000 barrels of gasoline per day but as part of the a project announced in 2018, that capacity will be expanded to 175,000 barrels per day. Under the company's second open season, that capacity could be increased up to 200,000 barrels per day, which translates to roughly 8.4 million gallons of gasoline per day. Midstream Moves: Whistler Pipeline moves forward with three public meetings Magellan is building a new refined products storage terminal in Midland to support the pipeline expansion. The refined products pipeline expansion and Midland terminal are expected to be operational in mid-2020. The pipeline will allow more gasoline to move from Houston-area refineries to Abilene and then to El Paso where the system connects with other pipelines to destinations in New Mexico, Arizona and south of the border in Mexico.

Texas energy sector pulls back as shale producers cut spending, jobs - The contraction of the oil and gas industry in and around Texas continued in the fourth quarter as shale producers cut back on spending and jobs, the latest survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas showed. The bank’s business activity index was -4.2 for the final three months of the year, compared with -7.4 in the third quarter, according to its report published Friday. The survey covers the 11th Federal Reserve District, which includes not just Texas but energy-rich parts of Louisiana and New Mexico. The bank’s indexes for capital spending, employment and employee hours were also negative for the fourth quarter. The data showed oilfield service companies bearing the brunt of the slowdown, while exploration and production companies reported a small uptick in business activity. Overall, the survey will likely reinforce the existing gloom surrounding oil and gas, with shale producers struggling -- and largely failing -- to achieve consistent free cash flow and investor returns in the face of stagnant oil prices and a plunge in the price of natural gas. The index is calculated by subtracting the percentage of respondents reporting a decrease from the percentage reporting an increase. When the share of firms reporting an increase exceeds the share reporting a decrease, the index is greater than zero. Next year may bring little respite. On average, respondents in the survey said they expect the price of West Texas Intermediate crude to be $58.54 a barrel by the end of 2020. The benchmark traded Friday at around $61.80. The expectation for Henry Hub gas is $2.51 per million British thermal units, about 20-30 cents above where it currently trades. The controversial practice of gas flaring also featured in the latest survey. A lack of pipeline capacity was the main reason for flaring most frequently identified by respondents. As usual, the Dallas Fed’s quarterly report includes unattributed comments from respondents, which provide color in addition to the survey data:

A Problem In The Permian - As drilling slows down, Permian wells are becoming gassier. “The oil ratio is no longer sufficient to offset gas in older wells, so we’re seeing some increase in basin-wide” gas-to-oil ratios,” said Artem Abramov, head of shale research at Rystad Energy.

  • - In the Permian, the average well produces 2,000 cubic feet of gas for every barrel of oil. Gas is much less lucrative than oil. Later on in the lifetime of that well, the gas-to-oil ratio can climb to 5,000 cubic feet.
  • - The ratio grows worse when wells are drilled too close together. But the ratio is also higher in the Delaware sub-basin of the Permian, where recent drilling has been concentrated.
  • - The higher-than-expected gas-to-oil ratio has undercut the finances of some drillers, while also contributing to the region’s worsening flaring problem.
  • - The amount of equity issued in 2019 from the shale industry fell to its lowest level in 13 years.
  • - The value of shares issued in 2019 fell to $1.3 billion, the lowest level since 2006. In 2016, the industry issued $34 billion in shares.
  • - Debt issuance was flat at $44.5 billion in 2019, still at elevated levels compared to earlier this decade.
  • - Coal consumption in China seemingly hit a peak back in 2013, showing slight declines in the years since then.
  • - However, China has made a strategic pivot back to coal, worried about rising oil and gas import dependence. China’s import dependence for oil reached 72 percent last year, the highest in 50 years.
  • - Coal consumption ticked up in 2018, and the increases are expected to continue in 2019 and 2020.
  • - Analysts say the trend has also been influenced by the U.S.-China trade war, and the U.S.’ abandonment of climate goals.
  • 4. Nord Stream 2 nearing completion
  • - Last-minute U.S. sanctions could delay the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, but the project is expected to reach the finish line.
  • - The 55-bcm/y pipeline will allow Russia to increase gas flows into Europe. Goldman Sachs remained cautious, predicting mostly flat gas shipments from Russia to Europe next year, but noted that Nord Stream 2 presented “upside risk” to that forecast
  • - “With no significant changes so far to our NW European gas flow expectations for 2020, we maintain our view that the market is going to remain over supplied and that, as a result, TTF prices will be pressured below $4/mmBtu to incentivize Norway to cut exports to the region,” Goldman said. TTF prices are an important hub price in northwest Europe.

Permian Banks Latest Drag on Texas Economy-- The slowdown in Permian Basin oil drilling and fracking is spreading to the lenders as austerity takes hold. The 63 banks and savings associations in the world’s biggest shale field have taken a wild swing from 2018 when they led Texas in loan growth, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. In the third quarter, the outstanding value of loans from banks in West Texas grew 4.8% compared to a year earlier. That lagged the 7.5% loan growth for the Lone Star State as a whole. The greatest disparity was for loans made on apartments and other multifamily development: a 15% drop in the Permian region compared with a 12% surge statewide. With investors pressing oil explorers to focus on fattening buybacks and dividends, the number of frack crews busy in the Permian is at the lowest level in more than two years. The area has been hemorrhaging jobs this year in stark contrast to 2018’s breakneck expansion.

US oil, gas rigs drop 20 to 840 during the last full week of 2019: Enverus — The US oil and natural gas rig count dropped by 20 to 840 during the last week of 2019, according to rig data provider Enverus. The entire decrease came from rigs chasing crude oil. These numbered 673 as of December 25 - down by 22 from the previous week. In contrast, 162 rigs were hunting for gas, up two on the week. The total rig count also reached a recent low of 840 during the first week in December 2019. With that exception, this week's rig count is the lowest since early February 2017. Year-end slowdowns are usual between mid-November and late December or even the first days in January. The current rig count has fallen 3.5% from 870 in mid-November, although it bounced around within that range. "Just a short week and some missed reports, happens every year," Enverus director of content Bob Williams said. "If it doesn't bounce back by a comparable amount next week [or the week after], I'll be surprised." On Friday, the Dallas Federal Reserve found in its latest quarterly survey that US oil and gas executives expect WTI prices to average $58.54/b by the end of 2020. But most of the 170 US oil and gas and oilfield service executives polled also plan to base capital spending on 2020 prices trading roughly 8% lower throughout next year. The Permian Basin registered the biggest week-on-week change in rigs - down by nine to 395. The West Texas/New Mexico play is the largest domestic crude producer with an estimated 4.69 million b/d of oil and just shy of 17 Bcf/d of gas. And, the US Energy Information Administration projected those figures could rise by 48,000 b/d of oil and 213,000 Mcf/d of gas in January. In contrast, the Eagle Ford Shale gained four rigs to 81. The South Texas play is one of the US' largest and most popular drilling areas, with 1.3 million b/d of oil production and 6.8 Bcf/d of gas output. But EIA predicts output could slip by about 9,000 b/d and 69,000 Mcf/d next month. In addition, the Denver-Julesburg Basin, a smaller Colorado play, lost five rigs on the week, leaving 18. But the Williston Basin of North Dakota and Montana gained three rigs, for a total 53. The Williston currently produces 1.5 million b/d, although little change is expected in January - one of the area's coldest months. Three plays posted no week-on-week rig change: the Haynesville Shale, a gas play found in East Texas and Northwest Louisiana, stayed at 47; the SCOOP-STACK in Oklahoma remained at 41 and the Utica Shale found mostly in Ohio, was steady at 12. Also, the largely Pennsylvania-sited Marcellus Shale gained two rigs to 39. Specifically, the Dry Marcellus and Wet Marcellus each gained one rig, for respective totals of 19 and 20 rigs.

Is the US Shale Boom Really About to End?  | Rigzone - If current crude flow data forms the basis of industry opinion, US shale oil production has shifted the tectonic plates of the market. Thanks largely to a massive output uptick in shale plays like the Bakken, Permian and Eagle Ford, the country has more than doubled headline crude production over the past decade. At around 12.5 million barrels per day (bpd), the US is already the largest producer in the world and some forecasters are predicting a rise to 13.1 million bpd by 2020. Rising volumes have also given shale players the title of being buffer producers, largely insulating the market from price spikes caused by outages elsewhere. For some, a continuation of the boom is not in doubt. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), production from seven major American shale plays is forecast to climb by 49,000 bpd in December to 9.133 million bpd. At its heart is the Permian Basin, in West Texas and Southeast New Mexico, where the EIA expects the biggest month-over-month increase of up to 57,000 bpd. Looking at the long-term, an unlikely source appears to have given US shale its backing – none other than rival producers’ group OPEC, which expects a flood of shale barrels and less of a call on its members’ crude. "The main driver of medium-term non-OPEC supply growth remains overwhelmingly US tight [shale] oil," OPEC recently noted in its markets outlook. By 2025, OPEC expects US oil production, courtesy shale, to have risen by over 40% from its current level to 17 million bpd; an upward revision of 3.1 million bpd over the group’s forecast last year. While some are optimistic, others are only too keen to puncture the enthusiasm. The latter club surprisingly includes shale pioneers themselves and not just market forecasters. In a recent analysts’ call, Pioneer Natural Resources Chief Executive Officer Scott Sheffield said shale output growth will slow next year thereby creating a price supportive environment. He added that Pioneer was definitely becoming “more optimistic” the market is “probably at the bottom end of the cycle regarding oil prices” as a result. Industry pioneer Mark Papa, Chief Executive Officer of Centennial Resource Development and former Chairman of EOG Resources, is another doubter. At Centennial’s third-quarter results in November, Papa downgraded his 2020 shale growth forecast to 400,000 bpd from the 700,000 bpd he predicted as recently as September.

Some Colorado residents want their local governments to ban fracking. Here’s why that probably won’t happen. -  In April, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law Senate Bill 181, which gives local governments authority to write oil and gas regulations that are “more protective or stricter than state requirements,” so long as the regulations are “reasonable” and “necessary” to protect public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife resources.  Senate Bill 181 does not state whether an outright ban is legal — the law doesn’t even mention the word “ban.” The question of whether the law allows for it will almost certainly have to be decided by the courts.   If any county were to try banning fracking under the new law, it would be Boulder. The county passed its first drilling moratorium in 2012 followed by five years of extensions — even after a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in 2016 effectively struck down local bans. The county commissioners have called on state regulators to protect public health and safety, backed a ballot measure to increase setbacks and joined several lawsuits against the industry. Advocates at the Unity of Boulder Church were circulating petitions calling on the commission to ban drilling. So far, the three commissioners have been mostly mum on whether they support the idea. The Colorado Independent emailed the three and received a response from a county spokesperson who said, “we cannot comment on this question because it involves areas where the County Attorney will be providing privileged legal advice to the Board of County Commissioners. In order for the board to keep open any legal option for addressing oil and gas drilling, they need to make certain they do not prejudice future decisions by speaking publicly on any matters that may be challenged legally.”

Broomfield asks the state to limit Extraction's oil well fracking, and the company pushes back - Extraction Oil & Gas Inc. is restarting fracking at a controversial Broomfield well site amid the city’s attempt to limit work there, alleging the operation has violated noise limits.Broomfield noise monitors had picked up sound in excess of limits 1,000 feet from the Denver-based company’s Livingston site multiple times between Nov. 30 and Dec. 14, the city said. Extraction has its own noise monitors near the Livingston well site at Broomfield’s northern edge and says it finds no violations of the 55-decibel daytime or 50-decibel nighttime standards established in the operator agreement it reached with Broomfield in 2018.“We’ve looked at our data, and all of our data shows that we are within compliance of our operator’s agreement and well below what the state requires,” said Brian Cain, Extraction spokesman.The company challenged whether the city’s noise-monitoring contractor maintains and calibrates its equipment correctly. But, in response to the complaints from a nearby neighborhood, Extraction has added 250 hay bales and a second layer of sound wall to shield residential areas south of the fracking operation. It also removed an onsite generator used for some equipment to dampen noise from the site, Cain said.Broomfield has asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to limit Extraction’s well-completion work at the Livingston well site to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., according to a Dec. 20 letter that Jennifer Hoffman, Broomfield city and county manager, sent to COGCC Director Jeff Robbins. “Extraction has made some attempt to reduce the noise to acceptable levels in the community. However, the noise continues and is adversely impacting many residents,” she wrote, noting the drilling operation is of "industrial size" but in a residential environment. “The totality of impact is taking its toll on the overall health, safety and welfare of our residents.” Last spring, Colorado increased local government control of surface impacts of oil and gas operations, reforms known as Senate Bill 181. Disputes like the one between Broomfield and Extraction will test how much state regulators can referee disputes of local standards established in operator agreements. The Broomfield and Extraction operator's agreement, though controversial among many residents, was seen as setting a new standard for impacts mitigation in Colorado when it was reached in 2018. Limiting hours of operations would be unprecedented and could mean extending the amount of time the company is working at the well site by several weeks, Cain said.“It’s in the operator agreement that our industry runs 24 hours a day and seven days a week,” he said.

 US judge rejects bid to kill Keystone pipeline lawsuits (AP) — Environmentalists and Native Americans can proceed with lawsuits challenging President Donald Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, a federal judge in Montana ruled Friday. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris expressed skepticism over government arguments that Trump has unilateral authority to approve the $8 billion pipeline. In a separate ruling, the judge said the Rosebud Sioux and Fort Belknap Indian tribes had valid claims that approval of the line violated their treaty rights. But Morris denied a request from environmentalists to impose a court injunction blocking preliminary work on the pipeline, since no such work is planned until spring 2020. Morris had blocked work on the line in 2018, prompting Trump to issue a new permit in March in an attempt to circumvent the courts. The 1,200-mile pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude daily from western Canada to terminals on the Gulf Coast. Opponents worry burning the tar sands oil that will be carried by the line will make climate change worse, and that it could break and spill into water bodies such as Montana’s Missouri River. TC Energy of Canada first proposed the project more than a decade ago but has been unable to get past the numerous lawsuits against it. Trump has been a strong supporter and revived Keystone XL after it was rejected under President Barack Obama.

Carbon dioxide pipeline slated for southwest North Dakota -- North Dakota could soon have a second carbon dioxide pipeline. The Public Service Commission is considering permitting a pipeline that would run through Slope and Bowman counties to old oil fields along the Montana-North Dakota border. The line would carry a supply of carbon dioxide that Denbury Resources plans to inject underground to squeeze out more oil in a process known as “enhanced oil recovery.”One other carbon dioxide pipeline exists in the state. Authorized by the PSC in 1998, it carries gas from Basin Electric’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah to oil fields in Saskatchewan, Canada. Denbury aims to build its pipeline in 2020 and begin injecting carbon dioxide in early 2021.Commission Chairman Brian Kroshus during a Wednesday, Dec. 18, meeting called the project “a very promising proposition.”“It helps to repressurize the reservoir and breathes new life into wells that have been depleted,” he said. “And it helps reduce emissions at the same time.”The PSC scheduled a hearing on the pipeline for Feb. 6 at the Bowman Lodge and Convention Center in Bowman.Denbury is targeting oil fields within the Cedar Creek Anticline Area that straddles the state border. Only a small portion of the oil stored in the rock that makes up such fields can be extracted initially once a well is drilled.A company can later perform what’s known as “secondary recovery” by injecting water to flood the field and push more oil out of the rock. Denbury has been using such technology in the Cedar Creek Anticline Area, said John Mayer, director of investor relations for the company.  Finally, a field can undergo “tertiary recovery” in which a substance such as carbon dioxide is injected. That’s what Denbury seeks to do in the years ahead in several phases across the Cedar Creek Anticline Area.The carbon dioxide would come from Exxon Mobil’s Shute Creek Gas Plant and Conoco Phillips’ Lost Cabin Gas Plant in Wyoming, according to Denbury’s application filed with the PSC. It would travel via several pipelines to Fallon County in southeastern Montana. From there, some of the carbon dioxide would cross into North Dakota via the segment of line that's under consideration by the PSC.The North Dakota portion of the 18-mile, two-state line would span nine miles and cost $9.2 million, according to the application. The Denbury project is one of several enhanced oil recovery efforts in the works in North Dakota.

Montana more aware of minimizing oil spills - Montana has experienced 461 oil and gas spills since 2015, according to a new factsheet by Environment Montana Research & Policy Center These accidents have released a total of 6 million gallons of wastewater and 298,000 gallons of oil onto Montana land and waterways.“The research is clear: when you drill, you spill,” said Skye Borden, state director at Environment Montana Research & Policy Center. “Our state’s oil and gas development comes with very real costs to our waterways, our wildlife, and our health.” The majority of the spills were in eastern Montana, in an area known as the Williston Basin. But spills were recorded throughout the state, including at sites 50 miles from Yellowstone National Park and 45 miles from Glacier National Park. At least 29 of the spills occurred on federally-owned public land.Toxic substances in oil and gas wastewater have been linked to a variety of negative health effects on humans and fish. Chemical components in fracking fluids, for example, have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption and neurological and immune system problems .Spills have also been responsible for large-scale fish die offs .“Despite the threat spills pose to wildlands and wildlife, the Interior continues to approve drilling permits in some of our wildest, most ecologically-sensitive areas,” said Borden. “And every new permit creates new dangers for our public lands and the people who enjoy them.”The Interior is currently considering a drilling permit in the Tendoy Mountains in Montana’s High Divide . This region is one of America’s largest intact ecosystems; it provides important habitat for grizzly bears, wolverines, cutthroat trout, and many of Montana’s big game species. The project’s environment assessment notes that potential spills could impact surrounding rivers’ water quality . “Given their track record, I don’t think it’s possible for the oil and gas industry to operate responsibly – especially in our wildest places,” said Borden. “Drilling in Montana simply isn’t worth the risk.”

 Natural gas industry’s $1 million PR campaign sets up fight over Northwest’s energy future - Washington and Oregon natural-gas companies, rattled by local proposals that could shift more buildings to electricity, will spend $1 million on a public-relations campaign to promote their fuel as part of the region’s clean-energy future.The gas companies are forming a coalition of unions, businesses and consumer groups to tout the benefits of natural gas and to help “prevent or defeat” initiatives that inhibit its use, according to internal industry documents obtained by The Seattle Times. They’re calling the coalition “Partners for Energy Progress,” and a public launch is scheduled next year.The planning documents provide a window into the industry’s broader effort to ensure that natural gas continues to be piped into American homes and other buildings, even as municipal and state governments grapple with how to combat climate change.“This will play out on a national scale much sooner than a lot of us have expected,” said Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who in September proposed banning gas from new construction. “I think it’s the right time for us to be having this debate.”In Seattle, Bellingham and other Northwest cities, gas companies and their allies already have begun fighting policy proposals, like O’Brien’s, that would place new restrictions on natural gas use in buildings as a way to reduce climate emissions. Puget Sound Energy (PSE) joined other opponents to halt the Seattle proposal, and Cascade Natural Gas has attacked recommendations by a Bellingham task force that include phasing gas out of all buildings.

2019 Was the Year That Fracking Fell Apart - Despite a raft of accounting gimmicks, the industry wasn’t able to hide the fact that it was drowning in red ink. By mid-year, Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry reported that:A cross-section of 29 fracking-focused oil and gas companies reported more than $2.5 billion in negative free cash flows in the first quarter of 2019. These results were even worse than in the fourth quarter of 2018…And as the year went on, the frackers’ problems kept getting worse. By December, the oil and gas giant Chevron was forced to write down its assets by more than $10 billion, with industry analysts widely accepting that dozens of other companies in the sector would face a similar reckoning. Whatever financial pain the industry is facing, though, looks like a flesh wound compared to the injury it has inflicted on the rest of us—and our environment. As Chevron tried to put on a brave face for investors, researchers at Stanford University dispelled the characterization of natural gas as a necessary “bridge fuel” to clean energy. Quite the opposite: A surge in natural gas has helped drive down coal burning across the United States and Europe, but it isn’t displacing other fossil fuels on a global scale. Instead, booming gas use is fueling the global growth in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study by researchers at Stanford University and other institutions.In fact, natural gas use is growing so fast, its carbon dioxide emissions over the past six years actually eclipsed the decline in emissions from the falling use of coal, the researchers found. Consider also the grim news that came in December, when the National Academy of Sciences reported that a new satellite-based methane analysis determined that a single gas well blowout in Ohio last year was one of the largest methane leaks in US history. TheNew York Times reported:The blowout, in February 2018 at a natural gas well run by an Exxon Mobil subsidiary in Belmont County, Ohio, released more methane than the entire oil and gas industries of many nations do in a year, the research team found. The Ohio episode triggered about 100 residents within a one-mile radius to evacuate their homes while workers scrambled to plug the well.”The Ohio blowout released more methane than the reported emissions of the oil and gas industries of countries like Norway and France, the researchers estimated. Scientists said the measurements from the Ohio site could mean that other large leaks are going undetected. When you sign up for fracking—”shale gas development,” as the industry likes to have it—that’s what you should expect. Not often, but not never.

2020: The Year Of The Oil Bankruptcies | - A bankruptcy boom has hit the oil and gas industry, and it’s just getting started. Investors have lost their appetite for shale, and energy debt has become among the least desirable in the market.  The industry has been teetering on the verge of mass hysteria for much of 2019 as a record number of energy companies folded.   According to Energy and Restructuring law firm Hayes and Boone’s, a grand total of 50 energy companies filed for bankruptcy during the first nine months of the year, including 33 oil and gas producers, 15 oilfield services companies and two midstream companies.  In contrast, 43 oil and gas companies filed for bankruptcy for the whole of 2018.   The biggest oil and gas bankruptcy of the year--indeed, the biggest since 2016--was EP Energy, which filed for bankruptcy in October, unable to pay back some $5 billion in debt.   During the latest shale boom, the putative class valedictorian of the modern energy industry, American drillers binged on mountains of readily available debt as they capitalized on investors and financiers willing to gamble on the premise that fracking operations could be significantly cheaper and more efficient than conventional drillers.  Before long, oil markets were flooded with a deluge of the commodity far outstripping demand. In what few could have foreseen, the US became the world’s largest oil producer, with its nearly 13 million b/d output turning it from a net importer to a net exporter of crude. Predictably, prices tanked by a sizable margin, dropping to levels well below the breakeven points of many drillers. Suddenly, investors became wary of the shale industry and energy debt became anathema. They have good reason to be scared.  Companies with junk-rated bonds have been defaulting on interest payments at record levels, while dozens of smaller drillers that had saddled themselves with too much debt have been dropping like flies. Now analysts see this taking an even sharper turn, with more mergers and more debt restructurings required to get the industry back in shape.

 As Fracking Companies Face Bankruptcy, U.S. Regulators Enable Firms to Duck Cleanup Costs - In over their heads with debt, U.S. shale oil and gas firms are now moving from a boom in fracking to aboom in bankruptcies. This trend of failing finances has the potential for the U.S. public, both at the state and federal levels, to be left on the hook for paying to properly shut down and clean up even more drilling sites.Expect these companies to try reducing their debt through the process of bankruptcy and, like the coal industry, attempting to get out of environmental and employee-related financial obligations.  In October, EP Energy — one of the largest oil producers in the Eagle Ford Shale region in Texas — filed for bankruptcy because the firm couldn't pay back almost $5 billion in debt, making it the largest oil and gas bankruptcy since 2016.EP Energy hasn't produced a profit since 2014 and Bloomberg reported that the company would need oil to be at "a price closer to $70 per barrel" for EP to be profitable. Oil has not come close to averaging over $70 a barrel since 2014.Despite its financial struggles at current low oil prices, the company plans to continue operating after restructuring and eliminating up to $3 billion in debt. However, EP has not identified any funds that it would be setting aside for well cleanup, which is not unusual for an oil and gas company.In response, as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, the U.S. Department of the Interior filed a documentarguing that EP Energy is still responsible for its obligations to assure the "decommissioning, plugging, and abandonment" of any of the EP Energy wells that are located on leased federal and tribal lands.Ideally, that would mean EP Energy sets aside funds for the proper cleanup and end-of-life processes for its oil and gas wells, which number more than 800 in the Eagle Ford region.However, the federal government hasn't even named a number yet for how much that should be. The Bureau of Land  Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs "are currently still assessing the status of reclamation and plugging and abandonment obligations across the Debtors' onshore federal and Indian leases," writes the Interior Department. The federal government is only getting around to assessing EP Energy's potential liabilities once the firm is already in the bankruptcy process, revealing one of the flaws in the current system. Federal and state governments have not been holding fracking companies fully liable for the environmental damage and cleanup costs of their drilling activity.

Oil sector may be entering final decade of growth -- f the decade coming to a close will be remembered for a shale drilling revolution that transformed the United States into the world’s biggest oil producer, the oncoming 2020s may well go down in history as the decade when the world’s demand for crude peaked for good.As concerns about climate change mount, electric vehicles are projected to gain ever-larger shares of auto markets, while the fuel efficiency of internal combustion is only expected to improve — all cutting into the demand for transportation fuels, oil’s primary product.Virtually everyone agrees peak oil demand is coming. OPEC predicts demand will rise into the 2040s, but the European energy major Royal Dutch Shell and others say global oil demand could peak before 2030. So what will this mean to oil-centric Houston, the reigning energy capital of the world?“We’re entering a decade that could be the beginning of the end in some ways,” said Jennifer Rowland, an energy analyst with Edward Jones. “You can paint a pretty bearish picture that oil demand is going to plateau before 2030.”Sour outlook on oilThe debate over peak demand highlights the remarkable shift that global energy markets have made in less than 20 years. As recently as 2008, analysts and investors argued over the timing of a phenomenon known as peak oil — when the world would begin to exhaust its reserves of crude.Now, concerns are mounting in the oil and gas industry that peak demand is not only coming, but coming faster than anticipated, all as the shale boom begins to slow, companies slash jobs and Wall Street turns its back on the energy sector after years of generating lackluster returns.

Investors Buy Into LNG Canada Supply Pipe -- KKR and Alberta Investment Management are set to acquire a 65% stake in the 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline from TC Energy. US investment firm KKR has teamed up with Canadian fund manager Alberta Investment Management to take a 65% stake in a pipeline project to supply the Shell-led LNG Canada export plant with gas.

 Docs Reveal Police Were Ready to Shoot Indigenous Pipeline Protesters in Canada -- Canadian police discussed shooting indigenous protesters who were trying to stop a natural gas pipeline from being built on their land, documents reported by The Guardian Friday revealed. On Jan. 7, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) armed with assault rifles arrested 14 land defenders when they cleared a checkpoint set up by the Wet'suwet'en nation to stop construction of the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline on their unceded territory in northern British Columbia (B.C.). Now, the documents obtained by The Guardian show that, in a strategy session before the raid to clear the road, RCMP argued that "lethal overwatch is req'd," meaning they wanted to use snipers.  RCMP higher-ups also told their officers to "use as much violence toward the gate as you want." Police were ready to arrest both children and grandparents, and one document mentioned the possibility of sending children to social services. Historically, the RCMP forcibly removed indigenous children from their homes to place them in residential schools. "Here we are, nearly 2020 and we are still being threatened with violence, death, and the removal of our children for simply existing on our lands and following our laws," Sleydo', or Molly Wickham, a spokesperson for the Gidimt'en Checkpoint protesters who was arrested herself in January, said in a statement reported byThe Georgia Straight. Coastal GasLink is owned by TC Energy, the company formerly known as TransCanada Pipelines, which is also the driving force behind the Keystone XL pipeline opposed by indigenous groups in both the U.S. and Canada. CGL is set to run 670 kilometers (approximately 416 miles) from northeastern B.C. to a liquid natural gas facility in Kitimat that is yet to be constructed.The company gained permission from elected First Nation councils along the pipeline route, but the hereditary Wet'suwet'en leaders oppose pipeline construction on their land. Since the Wet'suwet'en never surrendered their territories to the Canadian government, they argue that their hereditary leaders should have final say."This project aims to blaze a trail, in what has been envisioned as an energy corridor through some of the only pristine areas left in this entire region," a Wet'suwet'en media statement explained. "If CGL were to be built and become operational, it would irreversibly transform the ecology and character of Northern B.C. This is why the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs have all unanimously opposed the construction of ALL pipelines through their territory."

 Docs Show Canadian Mounties Deployed Snipers Against Indigenous Pipeline Protesters - In an exclusive report Friday that outraged human rights advocates worldwide, The Guardian revealed that Canadian police wanted snipers on standby for a January 2019 crackdown on Indigenous land defenders who were blocking construction of a natural gas pipeline through unceded Wet'suwet'en territory.  The Guardian reported on official records — documents as well as audio and video content — reviewed by the newspaper related to the police "invasion" that led to 14 arrests:Notes from a strategy session for a militarized raid on ancestral lands of the Wet'suwet'en nation show that commanders of Canada's national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), argued that "lethal overwatch is req'd"—a term for deploying snipers. The RCMP commanders also instructed officers to "use as much violence toward the gate as you want" ahead of the operation to remove a roadblock which had been erected by Wet'suwet'en people to control access to their territories and stop construction of the proposed 670km (416-mile Coastal GasLink pipeline (CGL).Indigenous land defenders established the Gidimt'en checkpoint — where the police operation took place — as part of a broader battle against pipeline builder TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada. The RCMP action was an attempt to enforce a court injunction that came in response to the Unist'ot'en camp established on Wet'suwet'en territory in opposition to the pipeline. Chilling euphemisms of 'sterlizing the site' and using 'lethal overwatch': police approaches to Indigenous protestors in Canada — Lucy Delap (@suff66) December 20, 2019 Guardian readers responded to the report with swift condemnation of the RCMP's behavior. "This is abhorrent and unconscionable," tweeted Steve Wilcox, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. American author and journalist Michael Deibert summed up the revelations in one word: "Monstrous."

Suncor ordered to suspend Terra Nova operations offshore eastern Canada - The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) has ordered Suncor Energy to suspend production-related operations on the Terra Nova floating production, storage, and offloading vessel (FPSO).The FPSO, which can store 960,000 bbl of oil, operates on the Terra Nova oil field about 350 km (217 mi) southeast of Newfoundland.The C-NLOPB’s chief safety officer (CSO) determined that Suncor is not compliant with regulatory requirements under Atlantic Accord Implementation Acts to maintain and comprehensively inspect equipment critical in the safe operation of the installation, to ensure repairs are carried out in a timely manner, and to ensure that mitigation measures are effective in minimizing hazards.Specifically, CSO found those requirements have not been met with respect to availability of redundant fire water pump systems.The suspension will continue until Suncor has addressed this matter to the satisfaction of the CSO. In May 2019, Suncor (37.675%) and the other Terra Nova joint venture owners (ExxonMobil, 19%; Equinor, 15%; Husky Energy, 13%; Murphy Oil, 10.475%; Mosbacher Operating, 3.85%; and Chevron Canada, 1%) sanctioned plans to proceed with a project that will extend the life of the FPSO, installed in 2002, to about 2031. The asset life extension project, scheduled to take place in 2020, is expected to allow for production of about 80 million bbl of additional oil. The life extension project will take place in 2020.

Equinor, Rosneft sanction Arctic field development - Equinor and Rosneft will jointly develop the first stage of North Komsomolskoye field. Total recoverable volumes for Stage 1 are estimated at 250 million bbl of oil and 23 billion cu m of natural gas. North Komsomolskoye was a part of a strategic cooperation agreement signed by Rosneft and Equinor in May 2012. Since 2018, the partnership has carried out test production in the field to better understand the reservoir properties and lay the ground for the full field development decision. North Komsomolskoye is a conventional onshore oil and gas field in Western Siberia, Russia. Equinor holds 33.33% and Rosneft 66.67% in the joint venture company, SevKomNeftegaz, that owns the North Komsomolskoye license.

Russia is dominating the Arctic, but it’s not looking to fight over it  - While the world focuses on trade wars and shifting geopolitical dynamics, Russia has been quietly expanding its own political, economic and military influence in a lesser-watched space: the Arctic. Russia certainly feels at home with the Arctic, and vice versa; Russia’s coastline accounts for 53% of Arctic Ocean coastline and the country’s population in the region totals roughly 2 million people — that’s around half of the people living in the Arctic worldwide, according to the Arctic Institute, a center for circumpolar security studies. As such, it’s perhaps no surprise that Russia wants to extend its influence in a region that it feels at home in, and one that offers multiple opportunities in a variety of areas ranging from energy and trade, to defense. “Russia is by virtue of its geography, the largest Arctic country. The fact that there are 2 million people that are Russian living there too means that the Arctic is Russia in many ways,” Andreas Østhagen, senior research fellow at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Norway, and at the Arctic Institute, told CNBC. “In Russia too, the Arctic resonates with people and they have so many of their resources in that region; oil and gas, fisheries and minerals.” It is estimated that there could be trillions of dollars’ worth (as much as $35 trillion) of untapped gas and oil reserves, as well as mineral resources, that Russia and its Arctic neighbors are keen to tap.

Global LNG Outlook 2020 --The US has gone from being an importer of LNG to being one of the largest exporters in a very short time, with plans to double its production again. There are currently nine LNG trains operating and producing LNG,2 plus Kinder Morgan’s Elba Island liquefaction project placed its first train in commercial service in October (although as of the time of writing no commissioning cargo has been loaded and shipped). All of these projects were designed to take advantage of the ‘great shale revolution’ in the US and the corresponding upheaval in the supply and demand dynamics of the domestic natural gas market. Consequently, the US has already become the fourth largest LNG supplier globally (behind Qatar, Australia and Malaysia) and, by adding 8.2 million t of LNG to global supply in 2018, it is second only to Australia as the largest driver of supply growth.3 Furthermore, as these ‘first wave’ projects emerge from the development and construction phase to become operational, the ‘second wave’ is becoming a reality with four more projects making firm progress. The emergence of US LNG exports has likely been the most significant development affecting the global LNG trade over the last few years. The de-coupling of LNG and crude oil with the introduction of Cheniere’s Henry Hub-based pricing formula, combined with the elimination of ‘destination clauses’ (removing restrictions on cargo destinations and allowing diversions) from US LNG sale and purchase agreements (SPAs) has contributed to accelerated growth and liberalisation of the global LNG trade, including in the spot market, which accounted for 31% of total global LNG trade in 2018. Alongside this significant growth in the physical trading and delivery of LNG on a spot basis, the industry is seeing an increase in the development and volume of financial trading of LNG, largely in the form of futures contracts. LNG futures contracts have been around for a few years, but meaningful penetration and growth in trading volumes emerged only in 2017/2018.4

Commodities 2020: Global LNG supply picture could start to get cloudy in 2020 — Depending on the person you talk to, the global LNG supply glut will either end or persist during the early part of next decade. A recent outlook from S&P Global Platts Analytics projected that the surge in new global LNG supply will finally come to an end by the middle of 2020, with capacity growth next year expected to be the slowest in five years. New supplies coming mainly from the US will still test the market's ability to consume it, and sufficient demand growth will largely depend on lower prices. "As long as we can be competitive out of the US as it relates to our feedstock, I would be surprised to see a massive disruption in the US industry," said Omar Khayum, CEO of Annova LNG, an Exelon-backed export project being developed in Brownsville, Texas. Platts Analytics expects that US LNG export volumes will rise from approximately 7.6 Bcf/d this month to 12.2 Bcf/d a year from now. That would be a build of 60%, versus the 65% increase over the last year. US export volume growth is expected to plunge to 10% in December 2021 compared with December 2020 and 5% in December 2022 compared with the previous December. Pressuring traditional market fundamentals will be the likelihood that final investment decisions on additional global production capacity could increasingly move ahead without being connected to long-term contracts with end-users. The LNG market will need to respond more broadly by incentivizing additional investment in LNG use and gas demand, Platts Analytics said in the outlook. In a recent report, Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. analysts described a spate of FID's by deep-pocketed backers as a "changing of the guard," reflecting the difficulty of securing long-term contracts, while indicating a growing spot market that further disincentivizes contracting. The energy investment bank expects contracts to become shorter and more flexible on volume, price and destination. "The size of the LNG spot market is growing, and the price of a spot LNG cargo is lowering," said Katie Bays, an energy analyst and co-founder of research and consulting firm Sandhill Strategy. "That's a typical example of an oversupply environment. And an oversupply environment is a tough environment for commercial commitments, which is what independent projects need." There are rising expectations that the market will continue to transition toward supply-push dynamics instead of demand-pull, shifting risk from the buyer to the seller. Loose market conditions spurred speculation in 2019 about potential curtailments of US LNG production at existing facilities.

Natural Gas Storage Market Poised to Expand at a Robust Pace by 2023 - Natural gas storage market is likely to register robust growth during 2015-2023. The total volume in the market clocked at 392,831.22 mcm in 2014. In 2023, this volume is likely to reach 548,798.39 mcm. Thanks to rising demand for energy, and growing appeal of natural gas due to low-cost alternative to fossil fuels, and low emissions, the natural gas storage market will register 3.7% CAGR during 2015-2023. The demand for natural gas storage is expected to remain highest in Europe. The region saw an increasing demand for natural gas storage facility, mainly due to rising demand from Italy, Germany, and France. Growing initiatives to meet varying seasonal demands, and applications such as heat and power generation are expected to drive growth in the region. Additionally, energy initiative such as district initiative are also aiding growth of the natural gas storage market. Rising drive to become energy independent, shale gas, and hydraulic fracturing technologies are also driving growth of the natural gas storage gas market in North America region. Depleted underground reservoir promise most opportunities for gas storage solutions in North America region. The reservoir promise low-cost production of natural gas. This has resulted in their robust growth conventionally, while making up 80% of total available natural gas. On the other hand, industry consumption is expected to remain a major opportunity in the market. Industries made up 30% demand for natural gas in 2015, while consumer related consumption made up for 33% in electric power generation. Fuel also remains a promising opportunity as duel flex engines and push for sustainable energy use will drive considerable growth in this segment. The fuel usage stood at meagre 8%.  Gas as feedstock also remained low with 10% total share. The rising opportunities in energy consumption due to portable energy generators, and rising demand for fossil fuel alternatives promise new opportunities for players in the natural gas storage market.

Wison Offshore & Marine begins construction of Arctic LNG 2 project -Wison Offshore & Marine (WOM) has announced that the fabrication of the Arctic LNG 2 project began in Zhoushan Yard on 29 November 2019.The module fabrication contract was awarded by Technip France S.A., a wholly-owned subsidiary of TechnipFMC. The project consists of three 6.6 million tpy LNG trains. According to the statement, WOM’s work scope is engineering, procurement, fabrication and commissioning of modules in train one with a total weight of 48 000 metric t. With continuous support from Novatek (the client of the project) and TechnipFMC, as well as by using detailed planning, WOM claims that it achieved the first cutting milestone ahead of schedule, which may ultimately lead to time and cost savings in the project execution.

Russia’s Lavrov says Nord Stream 2 will be launched despite sanctions: Ifax (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that the Nord Stream 2 and Turk Stream gas pipeline projects would be launched despite U.S. sanctions, adding that Russia planned to respond to the new measures, the Interfax news agency reported. U.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill on Friday that included legislation imposing sanctions on firms laying pipe for Nord Stream 2, which seeks to double gas capacity along the northern Nord Stream pipeline route to Germany.

Germany Expects Gas Pipeline Delay-- The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will be delayed and more costly due to U.S. sanctions but should be completed in the second half of next year, a senior German official said. Switzerland’s AllSeas Group SA removed vessels that were laying the last section of the pipeline connecting Russia with Germany, which was just weeks away from completion, after U.S. President Donald Trump approved sanctions targeting the project. Despite delays and higher costs, the pipeline should be completed in the second half of 2020, Peter Beyer, the German government’s coordinator for trans-Atlantic issues, said Monday in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio. Less than 160 kilometers of the total 2,460 kilometers remain to be laid, according to Nord Stream 2 AG, the project operator. Trump’s decision was not a surprise but the sanctions are “completely incomprehensible” given the agreement between Russia and Ukraine on gas transit and “not a way to treat friends,” Beyer said. Germany “would have expected a great deal more understanding from the American friends,” added the lawmaker, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party. Nord Stream 2 is set to ship as much as 55 billion cubic meters of Russian gas annually directly to Germany, doubling the capacity of the existing link. As many as 350 European companies are helping to build the pipeline, the German DIHK industry group estimates. Trump has criticized Germany for not doing more to diversify imports away from Russia, while Merkel’s government argues that the $11 billion link is crucial to ensure energy security. The firms involved will continue to work to complete the pipeline as soon as possible “in the interest of energy security, affordable gas prices for European consumers and EU economic competitiveness as well as climate protection commitments,” according to Monday’s Nord Stream 2 AG statement.

Nord Stream 2 pipelayer Allseas suspends operations on US sanctions — Switzerland-based Allseas -- which has been integral to laying the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany -- has suspended pipelaying activity after US President Donald Trump signed new sanctions into law late Friday, the company said Saturday. The move by Allseas will certainly mean new delays to the completion of the 55 Bcm/year pipeline, which had originally been scheduled to start operations at the end of 2019. "In anticipation of the enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Allseas has suspended its Nord Stream 2 pipelay activities," the company said in a brief statement. "Allseas will proceed, consistent with the legislation's wind down provision and expect guidance comprising of the necessary regulatory, technical and environmental clarifications from the relevant US authority," it said. The new sanctions language against Nord Stream 2 is part of the NDAA, which had already been approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate. It calls for the US State and Treasury departments to submit a report within 60 days that identifies "vessels that engaged in pipe-laying at depths of 100 feet or more below sea level for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, the TurkStream pipeline project or any project that is a successor to either such project." Those ships and identified executives involved with those ships could then face sanctions. According to S&P Global Platts Analytics, Nord Stream 2 would have to seek alternative vessels and contractors to complete the remaining section of pipe in Danish waters if the sanctions are enacted. "While the most challenging parts of Nord Stream 2 have been laid in water depths of around 200 meters, the remaining section in Danish waters at 90 meters depth remains complicated," it said. Russian companies operate capable offshore pipe-lay vessels, which have completed projects in challenging Arctic conditions, including the MRTS Defender, which worked on the offshore stretch of the Bovanenkovo-Ukhta pipeline. Platts Analytics believes MRTS Fortuna could be used to complete Nord Stream 2, but is capable of laying just 1 km/d. A further obstacle, according to Platts Analytics, is that the Danish permit application states that it is assumed that the vessels used to complete the Danish section will have dynamic positioning capabilities (such as those of the Allseas vessels) which are not present on MRTS Fortuna. A Russian pipelaying vessel that already has dynamic positioning capabilities, Akademik Cherskiy, could be used, but it would take up to two months to arrive to Danish waters as it is currently stationed in Russia's Far East.

European Firms Stop Work On NS2 Pipeline As Gazprom Readies Own Ships 'Immune' To US Sanctions - Trump's signing the 2020 NDAA into law on Friday, and with it sanctions targeting European and Russian companies laying the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, had the immediate impact of forcing a work stoppage over the weekend as Allseas, the Swiss company that is Nord Stream’s main contractor, confirmed its workers as well as partner contractors have laid down their tools.  The new US punitive measures specifically target companies and their executives assembling the pipeline, including the very ships laying the pipeline on the controversial 760-mile project that would allow Russia to export natural gas directly to Germany and is expected to come online within the next year. Despite Allseas set to pull out its fleet of pipe-laying ships, Russia and Germany are vowing to move forward unimpeded, per the WSJ: Its ships Solitaire and Pioneering Spirit, the largest construction vessel in the world, will remain in the area but are no longer laying the pipes, a spokesman for Allseas said. He added that as of Thursday, when work ceased, the project was about one month from being completed. Jens D. Mueller, a spokesman for Nord Stream 2’s parent company, said that the pipeline would be finished despite Allseas pulling out its fleet. And Russia is now hitting back, first by promising Washington will not impede the project, and further with reports that Moscow is drawing up retaliatory sanctions against the US, while not citing specifics.  Majority stakehold Gazprom has indicated it's already taken measures to complete the project while circumventing the US measures. The WSJ continues: In preparation for the sanctions, Gazprom has retrofitted its own ships as well as ships belonging to Russian contractors that don’t do business outside Russia and would therefore be immune to American sanctions, according to one official of the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity. One contractor already involved in the project is the Russian subsea-pipeline construction firm MRTS JSC, a company that operates ships which could be used to complete the pipeline, according to Gazprom. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement described what it claims is in part an attempt by Washington to force its pricey liquefied gas on Europe: “As a result, Europeans will lose on all fronts.”  The statement added: “Washington decided that it shouldn’t spare anyone, even its closest allies in NATO, for the sake of its geopolitical ambitions and commercial profit.”

US Sanctions Backfire: Russia's Gazprom & Ukraine Make Landmark Deal  -  Sanctions-happy Washington continues to aid in a slow rapprochement between Russia and Ukraine. Ironically enough, at moment the US is demanding Nord Stream 2 contractors to lay down their tools and wind-down operations "immediately" or face further sanctions, there's been an unprecedented breakthrough in the standoff between Russian state energy giant Gazprom and Kiev:   As we detailed earlier this week, Allseas, the Swiss company that is Nord Stream 2's main contractor, confirmed its workers as well as partner contractors have laid down their tools; however, others have pressed forward as the project is very near completion, also as both Gazprom and the Nord Stream 2 project spokesman have promised to finish. Gazprom says it is now retrofitting its own ships to take over the bulk of pipeline laying that Allseas was overseeing. The WSJ reported previously that "Jens D. Mueller, a spokesman for Nord Stream 2’s parent company, said that the pipeline would be finished despite Allseas pulling out its fleet." Additionally, Russia's Energy Minister Alexander Novak vowed the 760-mile will be launched before the end of 2020 even after President Trump signed NS2 sanctions into effect last Friday, which target the companies laying the pipeline. Gazprom and five European companies are spearheading the project among them France's ENGIE, Austria's OMV, the UK-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, and Germany's Uniper and Wintershall which includes dozens more smaller contractors. But now there's less incentive for European companies and Gazprom itself to heed Washington's warnings and stop work. As Reuters reports of Friday's major breakthrough:Russia’s Gazprom said on Friday it has paid Ukraine $2.9 billion to settle a legal row, part of a wider gas package deal reached last week.Last week, Russia and Ukraine announced the terms of a new gas transit deal, under which Moscow will supply Europe for at least another five years via its former Soviet neighbour and pay a $2.9 billion settlement to Kiev to end a legal dispute.

‘Complete greenwash’: Western Europe’s largest oilfield ramps up production — defying calls to stop  - A newly-discovered oilfield in the Norwegian part of the North Sea is on track to produce almost 0.5% of global oil supplies next year, despite calls for it to immediately stop producing crude altogether. Based approximately 87 miles off the West coast of Norway, the Johan Sverdrup oilfield represents the largest North Sea discovery in more than three decades. It only came on stream in early October, but it is already considered Western Europe’s biggest oil producer, supplying more than 300,000 barrels per day (b/d). Equinor, Norway’s state-controlled oil company and Sverdrup’s operator, has said it expects crude production from this field to increase to 440,000 b/d in the summer of next year — before eventually climbing up to 660,000 b/d after 2022. To put those figures into context, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported earlier this month that global oil supplies stood at 101 million b/d in November. So, assuming total oil output worldwide is little changed over the coming months, the Sverdrup oilfield will soon account for 0.4% of global production. “It is quite significant,” Tamas Varga, senior analyst at PVM Oil Associates, told CNBC via telephone. The speed of its development has been “absolutely amazing,” he added, especially when you consider “the general perception was that the North Sea was declining as far as output is concerned.” The discovery of the Sverdrup field, and its rapidly rising oil output, comes as global leaders debate the best approach to combat an intensifying climate crisis.

Mysterious crude oil spill in Brazil affects coastal wildlife - An oil spill of unknown origin is reportedly harming Brazil's wildlife and beaches. For several months, blobs of crude oil have appeared on Brazil's coastline, Reuters reported, calling the spill the worst in the country's history. By Dec. 18, more than 950 beaches in 11 states had been affected. Brazilian authorities have made a list of oil tankers that they suspect could be behind the spill, but all of the companies they belong to have denied responsibility, according to the wire service. Reuters reported that 159 animals, including sea turtles, birds and marine mammals, have been affected and that 109 of them have died. The first oil clumps were found in August, but Brazil's energy minister began attending meetings on the matter in October, according to Reuters, which cited government records. In October, an emergency plan was also activated. Activists told the wire service they worried the government wasn't doing enough. Separately, Brazil's government has recently faced international criticism for its handling of fires plaguing the Amazon rainforest. The country notably rejected an offer of international aid to combat the flames.

Boat Carrying 600 Gallons of Oil Sinks off the Galápagos - A barge containing 600 gallons of diesel fuel sank off the Galápagos Islands Sunday, prompting fears for the island chain's unique wildlife. The oil spill occurred off San Cristóbal Island when workers were attempting to load a shipping container onto a barge called the Orca, The New York Times reported. A video shared on social media shows the container falling onto the boat, pulling the crane holding it with it and tipping the boat on its side as people dive off. One was injured, DW reported. "The illegal and dangerous logistics operation carried out on the dock must be moved to another site," conservation group SOS Galápagos tweeted Sunday. The group also warned the oil would reach a popular tourist beach, CBS News reported. Authorities declared an emergency and began an investigation into the spill, The New York Times reported. Ecuador's Ministry of the Environment shared pictures on social media of cleanup efforts undertaken by the Coast Guard and Galápagos National Park. So far, these efforts have paid off. Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno said on Twitter Monday that the spill was under control. "Not a single species has been affected by the spill in San Cristóbal," Ecuador's Environment Minister Raul Ledesma said, DW reported Tuesday. He said veterinarians had tested several iguanas and two sea lions near the spill site and found they had not been affected. However, authorities are still worried about what could happen if they do not recover the oil tanks that sank. "We are very concerned about the recovery work of the tanks because there could be a potential spill if it is not done efficiently and swiftly," Ledesma said. The Galápagos are home to unique species not found anywhere else on the planet, according to CNN. The islands' unique wildlife and ecosystems helped Charles Darwin develop his theory of evolution, and the chain is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ecuador says Galapagos fuel spill under control - Ecuador officials announced Sunday that a fuel spill in the Galapagos Islands, caused when a barge sank carrying 600 gallons of diesel fuel, was "under control." Authorities had activated emergency protocols earlier Sunday to contain the environmental impact of the spill in the Galapagos archipelago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet. "The situation is under control, and a series of actions have been deployed to mitigate the possible effects," the presidential communications office said in a statement, adding the response operation had "controlled" the spill. The accident, in which one person was injured, occurred in a port on San Cristobal Island, the easternmost island in the chain, when a crane collapsed while loading a container holding an electric generator onto a barge. The falling container destabilized the ship, which was carrying 600 gallons of diesel fuel, causing it to sink. The generator and the loading crane were also submerged. The Emergency Operations Committee (COE) took "immediate action to reduce the environmental risk" in the so-called Enchanted Islands. Personnel from the Galapagos National Park (GNP), the official nature reserve authority, and the Ecuadorian Navy set up spill containment barriers and oil absorbent cloths around the fuel patch. Galapagos minister Norman Wray told reporters that work was under way to recover the diesel. He also said the generator, which was intended to supply energy on Isabela Island, and the barge would be replaced "as soon as possible." Isabela Island, the largest island, is currently facing energy rationing. Wray assured reporters that food supply levels in the Galapagos would remain normal despite the loss of the barge. 

South Sudan oil spill causes environmental damage, health problems - Two months after a pipeline ruptured and spilled crude oil over a wide swath of South Sudan's former Unity State, residents and government officials are grappling with a new pipeline break and the subsequent impact of leaks on public safety and the environment. In the latest incident, residents said oil leaked at Kailoy, about 10 kilometers west of the Unity Oil Field. They said it caught fire Dec. 21 and burned for two days, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air. The Chinese Greater Pioneer Operating Company (GPOC) owns and operates the field. Area residents said they were concerned about the failure of oil companies to detect spills and their inability to put out the fires that the residents said were likely started by nearby charcoal makers. Kailoy resident Kai Pan said he thought local charcoal makers inadvertently caused the fire. "The fire started at 2 p.m. [local time]. We saw that it started where people were cutting trees for [burning] charcoal, and it started going toward the oil pipeline, which is just 10 kilometers from Bentiu oil camp," Pan told VOA's South Sudan in Focus program. Bentiu is the capital of Northern Liech state and is near the border with Sudan. Pan said that after the fire broke out, cases of airborne diseases, which many suspected were caused by oil fumes, were reported in the area. "People are now having a lot of coughing in this area, and also there are some skin problems and also eye pain among residents of this area," Pan said. He said oil-spill-related fires were still burning near Kailoy, posing a threat to the community. Duol Bim, director-general at Northern Liech state's health ministry, said oil companies operating in South Sudan do not follow international safety procedures in handling oil spills. "They don't have firetrucks, they don't have fire extinguishers, they have nothing. They went there but could not do anything to make sure that the fire is contained. It was just left like that, and it continued burning for two days," Bim told South Sudan in Focus. Bim said GPOC not only failed to detect the oil leakage soon after it happened but also had failed to extinguish the fires. "In this case, there is negligence on the side of the oil company that is in the area, because if leakages are happening and are not being detected on time, it shows that the oil company is not doing a good job," said Bim. In October, a previously undetected oil leak from a burst pipeline in the Budang area of former Unity State was discovered by a hungry soldier who was hunting for wild fruits.

 Repsol to be fined by EPA for mud spill offshore -  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  is preparing to levy a fine against Spanish oil company, Repsol for a mud spill which occurred offshore in the Kanuku Block, even as the agency mulls lobbing government to push for 24/7 oversight and for new legislation to raise the paltry levies attached to such incidents.

Exxon Hits More Oil Pay Offshore Guyana -- Exxon Mobil Corp. and Hess Corp. Monday reported another oil discovery offshore Guyana at the Mako-1 well southeast of the Liza Field, which just achieved first oil. According to ExxonMobil, Mako-1 on the Stabroek Block adds to the acreage’s 6 billion-plus oil-equivalent barrels of estimated recoverable resources. ExxonMobil noted that drilling activities in Guyana continue with four drillships to further explore and appraise new resources and develop the resources within approved projects. The supermajor’s Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited operates the Stabroek Block and owns a 45-percent interest in it. Owners of the remaining 55 percent include coventurers Hess Guyana Exploration Ltd. (30 percent) and CNOOC Petroleum Guyana Limited (25 percent). Hess reported separately that Mako-1 encountered approximately 164 feet (50 meters) of high-quality oil-bearing sandstone. The company added the well was drilled in 5,315 feet (1,620 meters) of water.

Apache, Total to jointly develop Block 58 offshore Suriname - Apache Corp. and Total SA have formed a joint venture to explore and develop Block 58 offshore Suriname. The companies will each hold a 50% working interest in the block, which comprises about 1.4 million acres in water depths of less than 100 m to more than 2,100 m. Apache will operate the first three exploration wells in the block, including the Maka Central-1 well, and subsequently transfer operatorship to Total. Upon meeting certain drilling commitments, the partnership has the rights to explore the entire block through mid-2026 without acreage relinquishments, providing for what Apache described as “a thorough evaluation of the multiple play types we have identified in this emerging oil-prone basin.” “Apache and Total are encouraged by the preliminary information and test results from the two upper Cretaceous play types encountered thus far,” added John J. Christmann, chief executive officer and president of Apache. “Deepening and testing operations continue at Maka Central-1. Following the completion of these activities, the rig will be moving to the next location.” In exchange for its 50% working interest, Apache will receive various forms of consideration, including: $5 billion of cash carry on Apache’s first $7.5 billion of appraisal and development capital; 25% cash carry on all of Apache’s appraisal and development capital beyond the first $7.5 billion; various cash payments in conjunction with closing of the joint venture agreement and future production from joint development projects; and reimbursement of 50% of all costs incurred to date in Block 58.

Shell Makes Significant Find Offshore Australia -- Shell Australia has announced a “significant” gas and condensate discovery in the Browse Basin off the North West Coast of Western Australia. The find was made through the Bratwurst-1 exploration well, which was said to be successfully concluded after a 78-day campaign. The discovery is located 99 miles north east of the Shell operated Prelude FLNG facility and presents an opportunity for a future tie-back to Prelude, according to Shell. No figures were released in connection with the discovery, but it was said to support Shell’s growth plans for “more and cleaner energy, with LNG being the predominant focus for Shell in Australia”. Shell Australia has a record of investing in large projects. In October this year, Shell’s QGC business announced that the 500th cargo of LNG had sailed from its LNG plant on Curtis Island, Queensland. In June, Shell revealed that the first shipment of LNG had sailed from its Prelude FLNG facility located 295 miles North East of Broome in Western Australia.

Leviathan Delays Start of Commercial Operations  | Rigzone -- The launch of production at Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field has been delayed pending permits from the Ministry of Environmental Protection. “The flow of gas from the reservoir hasn’t yet begun,” Israel’s Delek Drilling LP, a partner to the project, said Tuesday in a statement to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. “The partnership believes that it will begin in coming days, after the necessary permits are received from the Ministry of Environmental Protection.” The statement didn’t elaborate. Environmental groups concerned about the field’s impact on air pollution and public health have been waging a protest against its operations and last week won a daylong temporary injunction from an Israeli court. They were planning to abandon their homes in towns along the shoreline for the first 24 hours of the platform’s operation. The Israeli government hailed the discovery of Leviathan in 2010 as a milestone to ensuring energy independence and a tool to bolster its geopolitical influence through major export deals. Delek Drilling LP and U.S.-based Noble Energy Inc. own about 45% and 40% of the project respectively.

Kuwait, Saudi Arabia to resume joint oil production - Al-Khafji Joint Operations (KJO) and Wafra Joint Operations (WJO) will resume crude oil production in the Saudi-Kuwaiti divided zone in 2020, starting gradually but targeting year-end production of 325,000 b/d. The two countries agreed to terms Dec. 24, 2019. Production was suspended at KJO in October 2014 and WJO in May 2015. Combined capacity is estimated at 500,000 b/d.  KJO, a partnership of Kuwait Gulf Oil Co. (KGOC) and Aramco Gulf Oil Co. (AGOC), manages offshore operations in a 7,000-sq km area of the partitioned zone between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. WJO, partnering KGOC and Saudi Arabian Chevron, manages production in the 5,000-sq km onshore portion of the partitioned zone. KJO includes four major fields—Khafji, Hout, Lulu, and Dorra—with production and potential production horizons including First Bahrain sand, Second Bahrain sand, Ratawi limestone, Ahmadi limestone, Mauddud limestone, Wara sand, and Zubair sand.WJO includes six major fields—Wafra, South Fuwaris, South Umm-Gudair, Humma, Arq, and North Wafra—with producing and potential producing reservoirs including First Eocene, Second Eocene, Maastrichtian, Hartha (Lower Senonean), Ahmadi sand, Wara sand, Third Burgan, Ratawi sand, Ratawi limestone, Ratawi oolite, and Marrat. 

‘It’s a complete mess’: Energy market in flux ahead of a global shipping revolution, analysts warn A much-anticipated and historic rule change to shipping fuel standards will come into force in less than two weeks, leaving energy market participants braced for a period of confusion and uncertainty.On January 1, 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will impose new emissions regulations designed to significantly curb pollution produced by the world’s ships. Amid a broader push toward cleaner energy markets, the IMO is poised to ban shipping vessels using fuel with a sulfur content higher than 0.5%. At present, the upper limit on sulfur oxides is 3.5%.Major oil companies and shipowners have spent billions of dollars preparing for the changes but energy analysts have expressed some concern that many in the oil and shipping industries still appear to be unprepared.“The market is in complete flux. Nobody seems to have the answers of how this will play out,” Patrik Berglund, CEO of Xeneta, a Norwegian-based company that crowdsources freight data, told CNBC via telephone.Berglund had previously described IMO 2020 as the “opportunity of a lifetime” for shipping liners to raise their prices, since the entire industry expected increased costs.“We would have expected to see these cost increases already… (but) shipping liners are definitely not capitalizing on this opportunity. It is flabbergasting.”“It is a complete mess and the customers are suffering with all of this uncertainty,” he added.The new regulations are the result of a recommendation that came from a subcommittee at the United Nations (UN) more than a decade ago and was adopted in 2016 by the UN’s IMO, which sets rules for shipping safety, security and pollution. The entire industry is under intense pressure to slash its sulfur emissions, given the pollutant is a component of acid rain, which harms vegetation and wildlife and is also blamed for some respiratory illnesses.  More than 170 countries, including the U.S., have signed on to the fuel change.

Hedge Funds Boost Bets on Rising US Crude Prices - Hedge funds boosted bets on rising U.S. crude prices to the highest level in more than seven months, helping support oil’s first full week above $60 a barrel since May. Their net-bullish wagers on West Texas Intermediate crude climbed 19% in the week ended Dec. 17, data released Friday show. Optimism over a U.S.-China trade truce and OPEC cuts helped push futures to a three-month high, though the rally has fizzled somewhat. “I expect to see more length in the market as a function of what looks to be the successful negotiation of Phase 1 of the U.S.-China trade pact, as well as the OPEC meeting with their pledge to reduce output,” said Andrew Lebow, senior partner at Commodity Research Group in New York. The improved outlook for trade and OPEC’s pledge to deepen output cuts are helping U.S. oil head for a rebound of more than 30% this year, its best performance since 2016. That’s after a 25% slump in 2018. It also seems that America’s shale boom is slowing down and several forecasts for the country’s crude output next year have been lowered. “U.S. production estimates continue to fall,” said Rebecca Babin, senior equity trader at CIBC Private Wealth Management. “A likely return of the downside from last year was mitigated by Phase 1 of the China-U.S deal, and OPEC staying on price stability theme instead of market share.” Money managers’ WTI net-long position, or the difference between bullish and bearish bets, climbed to 272,218 futures and options, the highest level since April, according to U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data. Long-only wagers jumped 13%, while shorts declined 24%.

Oil Down as Kuwait Nears Deal with Saudis on Output-- Oil extended losses after the biggest decline in three weeks as Kuwait signaled a deal with Saudi Arabia to renew crude output along their border and as U.S. shale explorers increased drilling. February futures dropped 0.4% in New York after falling 1.2% on Friday, the most since Nov. 29. The shared neutral zone, which has been shut for at least four years due to disputes between the two countries, can produce as much as 500,000 barrels a day. U.S. explorers last week boosted drilling by the most in almost two years, according to data from Baker Hughes Co. on Friday. Oil is up about 9% this month after the U.S. and China struck a preliminary trade pact and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies agreed to deepen output cuts. Hedge funds increased bullish bets in the week ended Dec. 17 to the highest level in more than seven months on rising crude prices, according to data released Friday. “Oil prices will continue to benefit from positive developments in the U.S.-China trade,” Stephen Innes, a market strategist at AxiTrader, said in a note. “The seasonal demand slowdown in the first quarter could be an issue for this bullish view.” West Texas Intermediate for February delivery fell 21 cents to $60.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:34 a.m. London time. The contract declined 74 cents to settle at $60.44 on Friday. Brent for February settlement fell 14 cents, or 0.2%, to $66 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe Exchange. The contract fell 40 cents to close at $66.14 on Friday. The global benchmark crude traded at a $5.78 premium to WTI. Resuming output at the Wafra and Khafji oilfields in the neutral zone depends on a political decision and a final agreement, Kuwait’s Oil Minister Khaled Al-Fadhel said on Sunday. Even if production resumes, the area wouldn’t add oil to global markets because both nations adhere to OPEC supply limits, a person familiar with Saudi thinking said in October.

Oil moves higher, building on 3rd straight week of gains - Oil prices were little changed on Monday as Russia said an OPEC-led producer group may consider easing output cuts next year, offsetting support from some investor optimism that an initial U.S.-China trade deal would be signed soon. Brent crude was up 28 cents, or 0.4%, at $66.42 per barrel in thin trading ahead of the Christmas holiday. West Texas Intermediate gained 8 cents to settle at $60.52 per barrel. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other top producing nations led by Russia agreed this month to extend and deepen output cuts in the first quarter of 2020. However, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Monday that the group, known as OPEC+, may consider easing the output restrictions at its meeting in March. “We can consider any options, including gradual easing of quotas, including continuation of the deal,” Novak told Russia’s RBC TV in an interview recorded last week, adding that Russia’s oil output was set to hit a record high this year. Non-OPEC global supply is expected to rise next year due to higher output from countries including the United States, Brazil, Norway and Guyana, which became an oil producer last week. Another source of more oil could emerge in the coming months after Kuwait indicated that a longstanding dispute over the “Neutral Zone” on its border with Saudi Arabia will be resolved by the end of 2019. Production at two large oil fields in the Neutral Zone was halted more than three years ago, cutting output by some 500,000 barrels per day. “Oil prices remained soft after Friday’s drop that stemmed from the Saudi Arabia and Kuwait deal to resume production along their border ... The short-squeeze on oil may be running out of steam but if WTI and Brent prices can hold $60 and $65 respectively, we could see prices remain supported going into the first few weeks of January,”

Bullish Sentiment Keeps Oil Above $60   - Oil prices were relatively lifeless at the start of the week, holding onto recent gains, but not moving much in either direction.  . A Wall Street Journal survey of 13 major investment banks finds that analysts see oil prices falling next year as the OPEC+ deal fails to rally prices. The average Brent forecast is $61.23 per barrel in the first quarter of 2020, barely up from last month’s forecast despite the deeper production cuts. In the short run, investors are bullish – net-bullish wagers on oil futures rose to their highest level in seven months last week.  Permian shale wells are producing a higher gas-to-oil ratio than expected, another blow to shale drillers’ profits. “Activity levels are no longer what they were,” said Artem Abramov, head of shale research at Rystad Energy. “The oil ratio is no longer sufficient to offset gas in older wells, so we’re seeing some increase in basin-wide” gas-to-oil ratios. The focus on the Delaware sub-basin is also contributing, as that area is gassier. . Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are on the brink of a deal to restart production at the Neutral Zone oil fields that lie on the border of the two countries, potentially ending a five-year dispute. The fields can produce 500,000 bpd but were shut down in 2014. The restart would still be subject to the OPEC+ deal, meaning any increase would likely need to be offset elsewhere.  Equinor and Rosneft agreed to jointly develop the Severo-Komsomolskoye oilfield in the Arctic.  Exxon and Hess Corp. started production at the Liza field in offshore Guyana, a highly-anticipated project that will ramp up to 120,000 bpd in the coming months. On Monday, Exxon saidit made another discovery at its Mako-1 well southeast of the Liza field.  Total said that it would pay a bonus of $100 million as part of a previously announced deal with Apache to develop an offshore project in Suriname. The project adds to the excitement around the Guyana-Suriname basin.  Lending to oil companies in the Permian is slowing, as banks seek to reduce their exposure. Some banks are growing more concerned that the reduced value of shale assets could fail to cover for missed debt payments. President Trump signed a new law that puts sanctions on any companies working on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and a Swiss company working on the project suspended construction. However, the sanctions probably won’t stop the project altogether, as it is very close to completion.  The pressure on Iraq from OPEC+ members to comply with the deal is bearing fruit – Iraq’s output is expected to be 110,000-bpd lower this month. But Iraq would still be about 200,000 bpd over its agreed upon limit. “It seems a stretch to imagine that they will voluntarily reduce production by the amount that is required,” Daniel Gerber, chief executive officer of Petro-Logistics, told Bloomberg.

Oil Up as US Crude Stockpiles Seen Shrinking (Bloomberg) -- Oil traded above $60 a barrel ahead of U.S. government data forecast to show crude stockpiles shrank, while Iraq trimmed output as Saudi Arabia applied pressure on nations to better comply with cuts. Futures were steady in New York after adding 0.1% on Monday. American crude stockpiles fell by 1.7 million barrels last week, according to a Bloomberg survey before Energy Information Administration data on Friday. U.S. industry figures are due later Tuesday. Iraq pared output by 110,000 barrels a day in December, according to Petro-Logistics SA. Oil has rallied about 10% this month after the U.S. and China made a breakthrough on trade and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its partners including Russia agreed to deepen output cuts. American crude inventories are shrinking even as the nation pumps near record levels and shale explorers boost drilling. “Prices are rising but the market is monitoring data on U.S. oil production and inventories,” Jun Inoue, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute, said by email. Crude has been bolstered by the OPEC+ decision to cut production further and the progress of trade talks between the U.S. and China, he said. West Texas Intermediate for February delivery rose 5 cents to $60.57 a barrel as of 7:28 a.m. London time on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 8 cents to close at $60.52 on Monday. Brent for February settlement rose 12 cents to $66.51 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe Exchange. The contract gained 25 cents to close at $66.39 on Monday. The global benchmark traded at a $5.93 premium to WTI.

Oil gains 1% on US-China Trade Deal Expectations  - Oil prices rose on Tuesday in thin pre-Christmas trading after Russia said cooperation with OPEC on supply cuts would continue and amid optimism that the United States and China could finalize a trade agreement. Brent crude was up 81 cents, or 1.22%, at $67.20 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate gained 59 cents, or 1%, to settle at $61.11 per barrel. OPEC and Russia will continue their cooperation as long as it is “effective and brings results,” Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said in an interview on Monday. OPEC and allies agreed in November to extend and deepen output curbs in place since 2017. Under the reduced output, as much as 2.1 million barrels per day (bpd) could be taken off the market, or about 2% of global demand. Still, OPEC needs to do more to balance the market on a sustainable basis, Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil market research at Rystad Energy, said in a note. “The OPEC cuts didn’t fully solve the problem instead they offer a light bandage to get through the first quarter of 2020,” said Tonhaugen. The market also rose as U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he and Chinese President Xi Jinping will have a signing ceremony to sign the first phase of the U.S.-China trade deal agreed to this month.. Trade tensions between the two countries have weighed on the oil market because of worries of a slowdown in demand growth. Still, the market faces headwinds from growing supply. A deal signed on Tuesday between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on the Neutral Zone between the two countries could add to supply next year. The agreement aims to end a five-year dispute between the OPEC members and reopen fields which can produce 0.5 million bpd, or 0.5% of global supply. U.S. oil major Chevron Corp, which helps operate the fields, said full production was expected within 12 months.

Global Crude Oil Prices Hit 3.5-Month Highs as Russia, Trump Reaffirm Deal Commitments -- Global crude oil prices hit three-and-a-half-month highs on Tuesday based largely on Russia’s pledge to honor production cuts promised to OPEC and President Donald Trump’s reiteration of a trade deal with China. London-traded Brent, the global benchmark for crude oil, rose 81 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $67.20. Earlier in the day, it hit $67.25 – its highest value since mid-September. New York-traded West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the US crude benchmark, was up 61 cents, or 1 percent, at $61.13 per barrel. Both Brent and WTI are up double digits on the year, with the UK benchmark rising 25 percent while its US peer showing a 35 percent gain. Tuesday’s rally in oil came after Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak was quoted saying that Russia and OPEC will continue their cooperation on oil production cuts so long as the pact was effective and brought positive results. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other oil producing nations led by Russia announced earlier this month plans to deepen their joint output cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day to as much as 2.1 million barrels per day, or 2.1 percent of world supply, in the first quarter of 2020. Tuesday’s rally in oil also came after Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida’s Palm Beach that there will be a signing ceremony to formalize Phase One of the US-China trade deal that was negotiated earlier this month.

U.S. crude oil stocks fall more than expected in week -API - (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stocks fell more than expected in the most recent week while gasoline and distillate inventories increased, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday. Crude inventories fell by 7.9 million barrels in the week to Dec. 20 to 444.1 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations for a draw of 1.83 million barrels. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell by 2.2 million barrels, API said. Refinery crude runs fell by 514,000 barrels per day, API data showed. Gasoline stocks rose by 566,000 barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2 million-barrel gain. Distillate fuel inventories, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 1.68 million barrels, compared with expectations for an 867,000-barrel gain, the data showed. U.S. crude imports fell last week by 331,000 barrels per day to 6.4 million bpd.

Oil Prices Continue to Reach New Highs Based on Expectations of US Stockpile Reductions - Crude oil prices hit fresh highs on Thursday for nearly four-month period based on expectations that US inventories fell sharply last week as refineries turned out more gasoline and other fuel products for the holiday season and on China bolstering hopes for an imminent trade deal with the United States. London-traded Brent - the global benchmark for crude oil - increased 40 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $67.60 by 11:00 a.m. Brent increased to $67.89 earlier in the day - its highest value since mid-September. New York-traded West Texas Intermediate (WTI) - the US crude benchmark - was up 44 cents, or 0.7 percent, at $61.55 per barrel. Earlier in the day, WTI hit a new high for the past three-and-a-half-month period of $61.76. Crude oil prices spiked after data from the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed a sharp drawdown of 7.9 million barrels in US crude stockpiles last week, versus the 1.8-million-barrel decline forecast by analysts. The API data suggest that refiners turned out more gasoline and other fuel products last week in anticipation of higher road travel and package deliveries for the holiday season. However, the API data has to be affirmed by official numbers from the US Energy Information Administration that is due on Friday.  Oil prices also increased as a result of stocks hitting record highs on Thursday after China’s Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng stated that Beijing was in close touch with Washington on a tentative Phase One trade deal. Wall Street, a proxy for oil market sentiment, has had one of its biggest and most prolonged bull runs this year on optimism over the US-China trade deal and US economic indicators.

 Oil prices end at 3-month high as report shows 7.9 million drop in U.S. crude inventories - Crude-oil prices settled solidly higher Thursday, in thin postholiday action, as a weekly inventory report indicated a bigger-than-expected decline in stockpiles for oil. American Petroleum Institute reported late Tuesday that U.S. crude supplies fell by 7.9 million barrels for the week ended Dec. 20, according to sources. That was more than analysts’ consensus expectations for a draw of draw of 1.83 million barrels, according to Reuters. The weekly inventory report also showed a 2.2 million barrel decline in key U.S. oil delivery hub Cushing, Okla. The API data came after that report showed a major buildup in stockpiles last week and the current report could provide a lift for crude prices which have been steadily climbing lately, wrote Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at The Price Futures Group. “It appears that the API wanted to make up for the lost time and this reflects growing global oil demand,” he wrote in a Thursday research report. West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery, the U.S. benchmark grade, added 57 cents, or 0.9%, to settle at $61.68 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after rising 1% on Tuesday. The settlement marked the highest for the benchmark since Sept. 16, according to Dow Jones Market Data. February Brent crude rose 72 cents, or 1.1%, to finish at $67.92 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, following a 1.2% gain in the prior session. The international benchmark also finished at a more than three-month high. Trading was mostly subdued, with a number of markets remaining closed for the holidays. Commodity markets were closed on Wednesday for the Christmas holiday period and that closure has delayed the release of U.S. government data from the Energy Information Administration on crude stocks and those for natural gas, which will both be distributed on Friday.

 Oil turns negative ahead of US inventory data  - Oil prices retreated from three-month highs on Friday, moving lower despite upbeat economic data from China and the United States and optimism over a trade deal between the two major economies. Brent crude futures shed 29 cents to trade at $67.63 per barrel, after previously rising as high as $68.10, the highest since September. The West Texas Intermediate contract fell 35 cents, or 0.6%, to $61.32 per barrel. Volume of oil trade remained thin in the Christmas holidays and New Year breaks. Data on Friday showed profits at China’s industrial firms rose at the fastest pace in eight months in November. Among sectors, the chemical, petroleum processing and steel industries reported recovering profits last month due to rebounding market demand and rising prices amid easing trade hostilities with Washington. China and the United States cooled their 17-month long trade war earlier this month, announcing a Phase 1 agreement that would reduce some U.S. tariffs in exchange for more Chinese purchases of American farm products. The lingering ripple effect of the trade row, however, showed up in data from Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, on Friday as industrial output shrank for a second month in November. In the United States, a survey on Thursday showed that online holiday purchases by U.S. consumers reached a record, beating analysts’ expectations and sending U.S. stocks to fresh.

Oil Near 3-Month High on Signs of Shrinking Supplies  | Rigzone - Oil held gains near the highest level in more than three months on indications of shrinking U.S. crude stockpiles and optimism in the global economic outlook. Futures rose as much as 0.4% in New York after adding 0.9% on Thursday, set for the biggest monthly increase since January. American crude stockpiles fell by 1.5 million barrels last week, according to a Bloomberg survey before government data on Friday. Jobless claims in the U.S. fell to a three-week low, reflecting a solid labor market in the world’s no. 1 economy. Oil is up about 12% this month after the U.S. and China made a breakthrough in their prolonged trade dispute and as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies agreed to deepen output cuts. The American Petroleum Institute reported Tuesday that crude stockpiles dropped by 7.9 million barrels last week, according to Reuters, which would be the largest draw since August if confirmed by official data. “We have some good economic data coming out of the U.S. and there’s some buying euphoria,” said Howie Lee, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. “Crude has been on a steady upward trend from October when the U.S. and China first discussed a trade deal, and in the absence of any risk on the horizon, markets are trading on the back of this optimism.” West Texas Intermediate for February delivery rose 22 cents to $61.90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 8:23 a.m. London time. The contract added 57 cents to settle at $61.68 on Thursday, the highest level since Sept. 16. Prices are also heading for a fourth weekly advance, the longest run of gains since April. Brent for February settlement climbed 24 cents to $68.16 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange. Prices are up about 9% this month. The spread between the global benchmark crude traded at a $6.25 premium to WTI. The Energy Information Administration is forecast to report a second weekly decline in crude stockpiles. American inventories are shrinking even as the nation pumps oil at near-record levels and shale explorers boost drilling. Separately, U.S. jobless claims dropped to 222,000 in the week ended Dec. 21 from 235,000, according to Labor Department figures released Thursday.

WTI Rebounds On Bigger Than Expected Crude Draw - Oil has retraced some of the gains from light trading yesterday, but prices are still set for the biggest monthly gain in almost a year amid optimism on trade and speculation that supplies are shrinking.“A lot of the recent strength in oil prices has been speculative fund flows and short covering in the front months into year-end 2019.” said Leo Mariani, an analyst at Keybanc Capital Markets.“We think there is a good chance that oil prices will be higher in several years as non-OPEC production growth slows materially into the next decade.”Notably, API reported that U.S. stockpiles dropped 7.9 million barrels last week (gasoline +566k, distillates +1.68mm), while Russia cut crude output. Olivier Jakob, managing director of consultant Petromatrix GmbH, adds that a “weekly stock draw could provide a final boost for the end-year print,” referring to the government report.  DOE:

  • Crude -5.474mm (-1.5mm exp)
  • Cushing -2.393mm
  • Gasoline +1.963mm
  • Distillates -152k

After the huge API reported crude draw, DOE confirmed it with a bigger than expected 5.474mm drop in inventories (and Cushing stocks down for the 7th week in a row)... Crude production hovered near record highs and we note that the oil rig count unexpectedly surged by 18 last week - the biggest weekly jump since Feb 2018... WTI rallied on the API data, reverted lower overnight before surging back to new cycle highs as stocks opened yesterday. The opposite has happened so far today with a pre-open spike that just failed to tag $62, and then WTI tumbling as stocks rolled lower. But the bigger than expected crude draw sent prices higher...

Oil prices ends day and week higher as EIA report shows bigger-than-expected crude drop - Crude oil prices edged higher Friday and finished a holiday-shortened week near a three-month peak, after a report showed a bigger-than-expected decline in U.S. stores of crude and its byproducts. The Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. crude supplies fell by 5.467 million barrels for the week ended Dec. 20. Analysts polled by S&P Global Platts had forecast a decrease of 3 million barrels, although the less closely followed American Petroleum Institute report showed a 7.9 million-barrel tumble late Tuesday, according to sources. EIA data also showed supply increases of 1.963 million barrels for gasoline stocks and a decline of roughly 152,000 barrels for distillates. U.S. energy reports were delayed this week due to the Christmas holiday. West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery, the U.S. benchmark grade, rose 4 cents, or less than 0.1%, to end at $61.72 a barrel in up-and-down trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The slight gains, however, helped the most-active contract hold around its highest price since Sept. 16, according to Dow Jones Market Data, with a weekly gain of about 2.1%. February Brent crude, meanwhile, added 24 cents, or 0.4%, at $68.16 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, following a 1.1% gain in the prior session. That contract expires on Dec. 30. The March contract, which is currently the most active, added 11 cents, or 0.2%, at $66.87 a barrel. For the week, Brent’s February contract climbed 3.7%, while March Brent rose 2.6% in the week to date. Both Brent oil and WTI have risen for four consecutive weeks. Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at The Price Futures Group, said that the EIA inventory data reflect refiners, who process crude, ramping up activity and helping to take down supplies. “It looks like refiners are back…” Flynn told MarketWatch. “So very supportive!” All that said, market participants also were digesting a report signaling that the group known as OPEC+, including members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies like Russia, may consider ending a pact to reduce global production next year.

Oil Ends up 4th Week in a Row; Looks Ripe for Correction – Oil prices settled up on Friday after the U.S. government reported a much bigger fall in crude inventories than anticipated. But analysts said the market was probably ripe for a correction after gaining nearly 14% since the end of October. West Texas Intermediate futures, the benchmark for U.S. crude, settled up four cents at $61.72 per barrel. It earlier hit a 3-1/2 month high of $61.97. London-traded Brent, the global crude benchmark, closed the regular New York session up 24 cents at $68.16. It earlier rose to a mid-September high of $68.31. Both WTI and Brent have risen about without pause for four weeks now, their longest streak of gains since April. Aside from a cumulative gain of almost 14% over the past two months, WTI is up almost 36% for 2019, while Brent has gained about 26%. Friday's bounce in oil came after the EIA announced that U.S. crude inventories fell by 5.474 million barrels for the week ended Dec. 20. The market was expecting a drop of about 1.7 million barrels, according to forecasts compiled by The numbers were delayed until Friday due to the Christmas holidays. While the drawdown announced by the EIA was larger than unexpected, Friday's market gains were muted, "because the market has gone up so much over the past two weeks, riding the wave of the China deal talk and other demand prospects," Gasoline inventories rose by 1.96 million barrels, compared with expectations for a rise of about 1.66 million barrels. Distillate inventories fell by 152,000 barrels, versus forecasts for a build of 800,000 barrels. Crude imports came in higher at 6.8 million barrels per day, and refinery runs remained high, above 93%. “On the bearish side, crude production returned to the record high levels of 12.9 million barrels per day, though the increase on the week is just about 100,000 bpd,” . “And exports fell by 236,000 bpd to around 3.4 million.”

A Bullish End To The Year For Oil Markets - Oil seems set to close out the year on a high note. Oil prices are roughly 30 percent higher than they were at the start of the year, although 12 months ago saw a sudden and steep downturn. Still, WTI rose above $61 in recent days, and investors are more bullish than they have been in months. That does not mean that the downside risks have gone away – the IEA still sees a supply surplus in the first quarter – but there is now hope that the market is closer to balance than it has been in a long time.  The U.S. shale industry closes the door on a wild decade, complete with record production levels, but also widespread financial wreckage. The growth-at-all-costs business model just won’t cut it in the 2020s, Liam Denning says for Bloomberg Opinion.  After a decade of ups and downs, 2019 may turn out to be a pivotal year – investors began to turn their backs on the shale industry, after repeatedly placing larger and larger bets on the hope that the industry would eventually become profitable. That doesn’t mean that financing has entirely dried up, but in addition to financial hurdles, drillers are also facing rising scrutiny over climate change, which is starting to affect decision-making at big banks. China plans to launch an energy exchange that will make buying and selling energy-related products much easier. But the exchange will also increase—to the worry of many—China’s geopolitical foothold in new markets.  There has been an uptick in interest in offshore oil drilling in Gabon, an indication that Africa could become a prime drilling spot in the 2020s. Automotive analysts say that 2020 could be the year of the electric car due to a wave of new EV models that will hit showrooms. In Europe, the number of EV models available will rise from 100 to 175 by the end of the year. That will rise to 330 by 2025. Analysts say that the market share for EVs could rise from 3.4 to 5.5 percent of all cars sold.  There is a growing consensus that the window for major independent LNG export projects is closing, which means that 2020 could be a shakeout year for the sector. “It's getting late. It's getting dark. It's much tougher,” Michael Webber, an independent LNG analyst and managing partner of Webber Research & Advisory, told S&P Global Platts. “Liquidity issues are going to have real teeth to them next year. The rubber will meet the road for a lot of these projects.” Chinese tariffs on U.S. LNG could also delay project sanctioning.

Saudi Arabia sentences five to death for murder of Jamal Khashoggi - Five men have been sentenced to death and another three face a total of 24 years in prison for their roles in the gruesome murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year, the Saudi public prosecutor’s office has said. Eight of the 11 people on trial were found guilty of the killing, which triggered the kingdom’s biggest diplomatic crisis since the 9/11 attacks as world leaders and business executives sought to distance themselves from Riyadh. However, the investigation concluded “the killing was not premeditated … the decision was taken at the spur of the moment,” the deputy public prosecutor and spokesperson Shalaan bin Rajih Shalaan said, reading the verdict in the Saudi capital on Monday. Three senior figures, including the de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s former top adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, were cleared of wrongdoing during the trial. The verdict contradicts the conclusion of the CIA and other western intelligence agencies that Prince Mohammed directly ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, an allegation the kingdom has strenuously denied. Qahtani was found to have no proven involvement in the killing, after he was investigated and released without charge. He has, however, been sanctioned by the US for his alleged role in the operation.

The US has decided to stop sending bomb-sniffing dogs to two Middle Eastern countries after many of the animals died - The US has made the decision to temporarily stop sending explosive-detection dogs to Jordan and Egypt after discovering that a lot of the animals had died as a result of poor treatment, a report from the Department of State's Office of the Inspector General revealed. The department watchdog, which had previously pushed the Department of State to stop sending dogs to these countries after an earlier investigation uncovered a number of animal deaths and other serious problems, wrote that it had "received notice of additional canine deaths that warrant immediate department action." The report released Friday said that two dogs sent to Jordan died in June and September of this year of "non-natural causes." Specifically, one died from hyperthermia (heatstroke), and the other died after being poisoned by insecticide that was sprayed in or near the kennel. Another dog was found in October to be suffering from leishmaniasis, a preventable disease transmitted by sand flies. The Office of the Inspector General also found that three of the ten dogs provided to Egypt, which has been uncooperative with department officials, died from lung cancer, a ruptured gall bladder, and hyperthermia. The latest report follows an IG evaluation released in September that examined the state of the program in Jordan, a US ally in the counter-terrorism fight. That report, which characterized the conditions the animals were living in as "disturbing," found that "at least 10 canines had died from various medical problems from 2008 through 2016 while others were living in unhealthy conditions."

US Confirms Report Citing Iran Officials as Saying 1,500 Killed in Protests | Voice of America - - The United States has confirmed a news report citing unnamed Iranian officials as saying about 1,500 people were killed in a crackdown by security forces on anti-government protests last month. In a report published Monday, London-based Reuters said it obtained the death toll from three Iranian interior ministry officials who said the fatalities included "at least 17 teenagers and about 400 women as well as some members of the security forces and police." In a Monday tweet, the State Department quoted U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook as saying the Reuters report "underscores the urgency for the international community to punish the perpetrators and isolate the regime for the murder of 1,500 Iranian citizens."  Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook: “The@Reuters report on the massacre ordered by@khamenei_ir underscores the urgency for the international community to punish the perpetrators and isolate the regime for the murder of 1,500 Iranian citizens.”  — Department of State (@StateDept) December 23, 2019   Reuters' death toll was much higher than the latest fatalities reported by British rights group Amnesty International, which said in a Dec. 16 statement that it documented the killings of at least 304 demonstrators by Iranian security forces in days of unrest that erupted on Nov. 15. Hook's reference to the "murder of 1,500 Iranian citizens" also marked a substantial increase in the Trump administration's assessment of the number of people killed in Iran's crackdown. In a Dec. 5 briefing to reporters, Hook said it appeared that the Iranian government "could have murdered over a thousand Iranian citizens since the protests began."

 Thousands protest in Iraq as deadline for new PM looms Thousands of protesters blocked roads and public buildings in southern Iraq Sunday, as the latest deadline for choosing a new prime minister loomed. Anti-government rallies have rocked Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south since October 1, with demonstrators calling for a complete overhaul of a regime they deem corrupt and inefficient. "The revolution continues!" shouted one demonstrator at a protest encampment in central Diwaniyah. Protesters blocked off public buildings one by one in the southern Iraqi city, and put up banners reading "The country is under construction -- please excuse the disruption". Overnight, protesters in Diwaniyah and Basra, another southern city, had declared a "general strike". Sunday marks the latest deadline -- already pushed back twice by President Barham Saleh -- for parliament to choose a new premier to replace Adel Abdel Mahdi, who tendered his administration's resignation last month. Officials say neighbour Iran, a key player in Iraqi politics, wants to install Qusay al-Suhail, who served as education minister in the government of Abdel Mahdi. But protesters categorically reject his candidacy, along with anyone from the wider political establishment that has been in place since dictator Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003. The protest movement has lost momentum in recent weeks as it has been hit by intimidation, including assassinations perpetrated by militias, according to the UN. Around 460 people have been killed since the protests began nearly three months ago, and some 25,000 have been wounded. But the movement appeared to regain some confidence on Sunday. Dozens of protesters blocked roads linking southern cities to Baghdad with burning tyres, an AFP correspondent said. In Karbala and Najaf, two Shiite holy cities, striking students closed schools and gathered in their thousands, AFP correspondents said.In Nasiriyah, protesters blocked bridges and several roads while all public buildings remained closed. Protesters are demanding the fall of Saleh and parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbussi, accusing them of procrastinating.

Canada Follows US Lead By Ignoring OPCW Scandal  - Among the basic principles of reporting, as taught in every journalism school, are: Constantly strive for the truth; Give voice to all sides of a story; When new information comes to light about a story you reported, a correction must be issued or a follow-up produced.But the Canadian media has ignored explosives revelations from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It’s a stark example of their complicity with belligerent Canadian foreign policy in Syria.In May 2019 a member of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission in Syria, Ian Henderson, released a document claiming the management of the organization misled the public about the purported chemical attack in Douma in April 2018. It showed that the organization suppressed an assessment that contradicted the claim that a gas cylinder fell from the air. In November another OPCW whistleblower added to the Henderson revelations, saying that his conclusion that the incident was "a non chemical-related event" was twisted to imply the opposite. Last week WikiLeaks released a series of internal documents demonstrating that the team who wrote the OPCW’s report on Douma didn’t go to Syria. One memo noted that 20 OPCW inspectors felt the report released "did not reflect the views of the team members that deployed to [Syria]."  I couldn’t find a single report about the whistleblowers/leaks in any major Canadian media outlet. They also ignored explicit suppression of the leaks.  There is an important Canadian angle to this story. Twenty-four hours after the alleged April 7, 2018, chemical attack foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland put out a statement claiming, "it is clear to Canada that chemical weapons were used and that they were used by the Assad regime." Five days later Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supported cruise missile strikes on a Syrian military base stating, "Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people." Canadian officials have pushed for the organization to blame Bashar al-Assad’s government for chemical attacks since Syria joined the OPCW and had its declared chemical weapon stockpile destroyed in 2013–14. Canada’s special envoy to the OPCW, Sabine Nolke, has repeatedly accused Assad’s forces of employing chemical weapons. Instead of expressing concern over political manipulation of evidence, Nolke criticized the leak. In a statement after Henderson’s position was made public she noted, "Canada remains steadfast in its confidence in the professionalism and integrity of the FFM [Fact-Finding Mission] and its methods. However, Mr. Chair, we are unsettled with the leak of official confidential documents from the Technical Secretariat."

 Trump warns Syria, Russia, Iran not to kill civilians in Idlib province - President Trump on Thursday urged Russia, Syria and Iran not to kill civilians in Syria’s Idlib province and said Turkey is “working hard” to stop “carnage” there. “Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands of innocent civilians in Idlib Province,” Trump, who is currently at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., tweeted. “Don’t do it! Turkey is working hard to stop this carnage.” In recent weeks, Syrian and Russian forces have stepped up air strikes against targets in Idlib province, the last major rebel-held area in the region. A Syrian relief group called the Syrian Response Coordination Group said this week that over 200,000 civilians had fled their homes in northwest Syria amid a bombardment from Syrian government forces there, according to The Associated Press, with many of them fleeing to the Turkish border. The group said that more than 250 civilians have been killed as a result of the air and ground operations conducted by Syria and its Russian and Iranian allies. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned earlier this week that Turkey could not handle the new wave of refugees coming from Syria. "If the violence towards the people of Idlib does not stop, this number will increase even more. In that case, Turkey will not carry such a migrant burden on its own,” Erdoğan said. Trump sent the tweet Thursday morning amid complaints about his impeachment; shortly later, he departed for Trump International Golf Club.

Tens of thousands flee Syria's Idlib as deadly bombings intensify - Tens of thousands of civilians have fled Syria's Idlib province to the Turkish border, after an increase in bombings by Russia-backed government forces, creating a new humanitarian challenge as the winter season arrives. United Nations observers said on Friday that at least 18,000 people have been displaced in Idlib in just 24 hours, as the deadly bombardments continue. On Friday morning, at least seven more people were reported killed, after at least 19 civilians were killed on Thursday. In the last five days, at least 80,000 Syrians have already fled near Turkey's border, according to reports quoting Syria's Response Coordination Group. Thousands flee as Assad prepares to recapture Idlib (2:35) There are already about one million Syrian refugees living near the border with Turkey. In September 2018, Turkey and Russia had agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone. Since then, more than 1,300 civilians have been killed in attacks by the Syrian government forces in the de-escalation zone, according to reports. Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow, reporting from Istanbul, said the Russian-backed Syrian government bombings include air raids, shelling and barrel bomb attacks in the town of Maarat el-Numan in southern Idlib. Syrians living in the area said the attacks were indiscriminate with hospitals, markets and homes targeted. On Friday, public anger against the offensive spilled onto the streets, with hundreds of people in Idlib taking to the streets to denounce what they called the neglect of their plight by the International community. They also called for a swift halt to the bombardment. Witnesses also said that evacuees were targeted as they tried to flee their homes.

80,000 Syrian migrants marching to Turkey, says Erdoğan - More than 80,000 migrants from Syria's Idlib have started to migrate toward the Turkish border, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Dec. 22. "In such a case, Turkey will not bear all alone the burden of this migration," Erdoğan said, speaking at an event in Dolmabahçe0 Palace in Istanbul. Erdoğan said that Turkey along with Russia is making all-out efforts to end the attacks in Idlib. In this regard, he said, Ankara will send a delegation for discussions to Moscow on Dec. 23. "We will determine the steps we will take according to the results," he added. In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited. Since then, more than 1,300 civilians have been killed in attacks by the regime and Russian forces in the de-escalation zone as the cease-fire continues to be violated. If aggression by the regime and its allies continues, Turkey and the Europe face the risk of another refugee influx. Over a million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border following intense attacks. Since the eruption of the bloody civil war in Syria in 2011, Turkey has taken in over 3.6 million Syrians who fled their country, making Turkey the world's top refugee-hosting country.

 Turkey Can't Handle New Refugee Explosion & Greece Will Be First To Feel Impact- Erdogan -At a moment Erdogan has his hands dirty in Syria and is preparing to get more militarily involved in Libya, Turkey's president has yet again threatened Europe with a refugee horde so large no country will be able to handle it. He's now specifically threatened Greece as being among the first to bear the brunt of the first waves of refugees unleashed by Turkey.His threats are now centering on the major uptick in airstrikes by Russia and Syria on Idlib province, said to number in the "hundreds" since a new operation began on Dec.16. Since then, tens of thousands of civilians living under al-Qaeda's Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) have reportedly fled. "Turkey cannot handle a fresh wave of migrants from Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, warning that European countries will feel the impact of such an influx if violence in Syria’s northwest is not stopped," Reuters reports. Common estimates now put the number of Syrian refugees hosted on Turkish soil at 3.7 million, with another 3 million inside war-torn Idlib province, which means the refugee crisis is set to explode dramatically higher in terms of numbers a likely scenario given Damascus has vowed to return "every inch" of Idlib and all Syrian territory to its control.Thus far thousands have fled into neighboring Turkey, but there's been on the ground reports suggesting HTS militants are blocking the bulk of refugees from leaving, perhaps using them as 'human shields' amid the Russian-Syrian onslaught.During a public speech in Istanbul on Sunday night, Erdogan claimed over 80,000 people were currently fleeing Idlib for the safety of Turkey, and repeated his urgent appeal for Europe to give additional support.  “If the violence toward the people of Idlib does not stop, this number will increase even more. In that case, Turkey will not carry such a migrant burden on its own,” Erdogan said. And he named Greece while invoking the peak of the migrant crisis in 2015, promising a "repeat" if nothing is done:“The negative impact of the pressure we will be subjected to will be something that all European nations, especially Greece, will also feel,” he said, adding that a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis would become inevitable.“We call on European countries to use their energy to stop the massacre in Idlib, rather than trying to corner Turkey for the legitimate steps it took in Syria,” Erdogan said, referencing the Turkish army's own ongoing 'Operation Peace Spring' against US-backed Syrian Kurds.Erdogan further called the some $3 billion in support offered by the United Nations refugee agency last w eek "not enough".

 Erdogan vows to send Turkish troops into Libya - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Thursday that Ankara will deploy Turkish troops to Libya, claiming that the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) has requested military support. The dispatch of Turkish military units to the war-torn north African country threatens to exacerbate an increasingly complex and escalating tensions between Ankara, Moscow and Washington. The GNA, headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, is under siege by General Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army, which is linked to a rival government based in the eastern Libyan port city of Tobruk. Turkey and the GNA signed agreements last month covering military assistance and a delineation of maritime boundaries that the Erdogan government is invoking to lay exclusive claim to vast gas and oil reserves under the eastern Mediterranean. “Since there is an invitation [from Libya] right now, we will accept it,” Erdogan said at a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). “Based on our memorandum of understanding on the security and military cooperation, we will submit a motion for the deployment of the troops to parliament as the first item after it re-opens.” The “invitation” from Libya had yet to be made public as Erdogan promised that the Turkish troop deployment would be approved by the time the Turkish parliament returns on January 8. The plan to send Turkish troops into Libya threatens to escalate a conflict that has far-reaching implications. While the GNA is recognized as Libya’s “legitimate” government by the United Nations, it controls little territory outside of the capital of Tripoli, which is now under siege. It is dependent upon a collection of Islamist and regional militias for its defense. Haftar, a former general under the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi, who defected to the US and became a longtime “asset” of the Central Intelligence Agency, has the backing of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and France. And, while Washington is formally backing the GNA, US President Donald Trump praised Haftar last April for his “significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources.”

Former IDF intelligence personnel likely tied to UAE spy app, report says - Times of Israel - Former Israeli military intelligence personnel are likely tied to an Emirati messaging app that was secretly spying on its users in a mass surveillance campaign, according to a Sunday report. The United Arab Emirates government uses the ToTok service to monitor users’ location, conversations, relationships and other information, the New York Times reported, citing its own investigation into the app and American officials with knowledge of a classified US intelligence report.ToTok has been downloaded by millions of users through the Apple and Google app stores since it debuted several months ago. Most users are in the UAE, but it has been downloaded by people worldwide, and this month was one of the top social apps in the US, according to the App Annie research firm. The app, which is separate from, but apparently named after the popular Chinese TikTok app, also ranked highly in Saudi Arabia, the UK, India and Sweden.State-backed publications started advertising ToTok in the UAE in recent months as a “free, fast and secure” messaging tool, in a country where many messaging apps are restricted by the government.Both Google and Apple have removed the app from their stores, but users who have downloaded it already are still able to use it. It is the latest in a string of digital weapons that wealthy governments have developed to spy on their adversaries and citizens.

Israel set to be investigated for war crimes in Palestinian Territories, ICC announces - A full investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian Territories is to be launched by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, prompting a fierce backlash from Israel. Fatou Bensouda said the probe could result in charges against both Israelis and Palestinians. “I am satisfied that ... war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip,” she said in a statement on Friday. Bensouda added that because the Palestinian Territories had requested the intervention of the court she did not need to request approval from judges to start an investigation. However, she has asked the ICC’s pre-trial chamber to rule on what geographical location it can investigate. The probe will be launched pending a decision on geographical jurisdiction. Furious, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed back, claiming the “court has no jurisdiction”. Israel is not a member of the court. “This is a dark day for truth and justice. It is a baseless and outrageous decision,” he said.

Netanyahu calls ICC war crimes probe anti-Semitic - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Sunday that efforts by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israeli forces in Palestinian-controlled areas were rooted in anti-Semitism. Reuters reported that the Israeli leader made the accusation at a Hannukah ceremony in Jerusalem in front of the Western Wall, a holy site for Judaism, and claimed that the ICC was opposing the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. “New edicts are being cast against the Jewish people - anti-Semitic edicts by the International Criminal Court telling us that we, the Jews standing here next to this wall ... in this city, in this country, have no right to live here and that by doing so, we are committing a war crime,” he said, according to the news service. “Pure anti-Semitism,” he added of the ICC's efforts. His remark comes a day after the ICC's chief prosecutor announced that she wished to open a war crimes investigation into Israeli actions taken in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem. The investigation stems from a case brought to the body by Palestinian officials in 2015. "[T]here are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice," Fatou Bensouda said Saturday, according to the BBC. Netanyahu, an ally of President Trump, is facing charges of corruption from Israeli law enforcement officials and is currently seeking re-election after a previous election ended with no clear victor earlier this year.

Islamic State Films Gruesome Beheadings In Message To Christians All Over The World -- The Islamic State has released a video which purportedly shows the brutal execution of 11 blindfolded Christians in Nigeria, the day after Christmas, in revenge for the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and IS spokesman Abdul-Hasan al-Muhajir, accordign to Ahmad Salkida - a journalist who was first sent the video.   "This is a message to Christians all over the world," says a masked man from the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), in the 56-second clip released the Amaq news agency, a platform for Islamic State propaganda.  "We killed them as revenge for the killing of our leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and [IS spokesman] Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir."  The footage, filmed in an unidentified outdoor area, shows one captive who is shot dead while the other 10 are pushed to the ground and beheaded, according to the BBC.  Here is a clip of the video which cuts off before the reported executions. GRAPHIC CLIP: 11 Nigerian male Christians including soldiers, Aid workers & civilians abducted by Islamic State Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyah #ISWAP were on Christmas day Beheaded excluding one who was shot execution style. N.B (Edited Video only posted for research, Intel purposes) — Edward (@DonKlericuzio) December 26, 2019 ISWAP, which severed ties with insurgent group Boko Haram and pledged allegiance to Baghdadi in 2016, has intensified its attacks on Christians, security personnel and aid staff in recent months - incuding the use of checkpoints to stop and search travelers.  On Tuesday, the United Nations condemned the "increasing practice by armed groups to set up checkpoints targeting civilians" in Nigeria's northeast region amid the increase in targeted violence.  On Sunday, the jihadists killed six people and abducted five others including two aid workers when they intercepted vehicles on a highway on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. In a similar attack on December 5, ISWAP fighters disguised as Nigerian soldiers stopped and searched vehicles at a checkpoint near Maiduguri.  The group claimed in a statement that six soldiers and eight civilians, including two Red Cross workers, were among those abducted in that attack. Last week the group released a video showing 11 alleged hostages. –MSN

Rising copper prices reflect surging Chinese demand -- China's copper imports surged in November, pushing up prices for the metal as trade tensions between Washington and Beijing begin to ease. Benchmark three-month copper futures briefly hit a seven-month high of $6,216 per ton on the London Metal Exchange on Dec. 13. Called Dr. Copper owing to its use in a wide range of products, the metal is seen by many as a bellwether of the world economy. In 2011, for example, copper prices kept pace with the rapid growth of China's economy, hitting a record $10,190 per ton. During the 2008 financial crisis, prices rallied after briefly falling below $3,000, lifted by rising demand thanks to Beijing's 4 trillion yuan (then $571.5 billion) stimulus package. China is the world's biggest consumer of copper, accounting for about half the annual global demand of 23 million tons. Copper prices have largely remained stagnant as the U.S.-China trade drags on, hovering around the $6,000 mark since summer. This year's high hit $6,608 in April, much lower than last year's $7,348 in June. China's economic slowdown has rippled through Southeast Asia, resulting in weaker demand for auto parts and other items that use copper. Now, there are mounting concerns over the supply of copper ore. Chile, a main producer of the ore, was hit by a nationwide strike that has started to affect shipments. Peru has also seen supply disruptions due to road closures. Despite these factors, "copper prices have remained more sluggish than crude oil prices," said Tomomichi Akuta, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting in Tokyo. Through late November, U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude futures have gained nearly 20% and North Sea Brent futures about 15%, driven by a relatively strong American economy. In contrast, three-month copper futures on the London Metal Exchange traded at around $5,800 per ton in the same period, down $100 from the start of the year. But copper prices started to pick up last week, as China's imports -- which have mostly marked year-on-year declines since the start of the year -- rose sharply in November. Price gains gathered steam after topping the $6,000 mark and surpassed July's high at around $6,170.

China flight systems jammed by pig farm’s African swine fever defences A Chinese pig farm’s attempt to ward off drones – said to be spreading African swine fever – jammed the navigation systems of a number of planes flying overhead. The farm, in northeastern China, was ordered last month to turn in an unauthorised anti-drone device installed to prevent criminal gangs dropping items infected with the disease, according to online news portal The device came to light after a series of flights to and from Harbin airport complained about losing GPS signals while flying over Zhaozhou county in Heilongjiang in late October. In some cases, the ADS-B tracking technology – which determines an aircraft’s position via satellite navigation – failed. A check on radio blockers in the area identified the farm and its owner, Heilongjiang Dabeinong Agriculture & Pastoral Foods, was ordered to turn in the equipment. No further punishment was imposed, reported. The company declined a request for comment. Chinese state media reported last week that gangs were exploiting the African swine fever crisis by deliberately spreading the disease by using drones to drop infected items on to pig farms. The farmers are then forced to sell meat cheaply to the gangs, who then sell it on as healthy stock, according to China Comment magazine, which is affiliated to state news agency Xinhua.

Patterns of GPS Spoofing at Chinese Ports - Aggressive GPS spoofing impacting shipping has been detected in over 20 Chinese coastal sites during 2019. These included the ports of Shanghai, Fuzhou (Huilutou), Qingdao, Quanzhou (Shiyucun), Dalian, and Tianjin. GPS spoofing in Shanghai had been discussed informally among maritime interests for months before a formal report was filed with the U.S. Coast Guard earlier this year. The non-profit C4ADS became interested and found that spoofing had been going on for some time. Also that, over time, many of the false vessel positions tended to form a circle some distance inland. The MIT Technology Review published an article about this phenomena last month. The MIT article caught the interest of an analyst at the environmental non-profit Skytruth who decided to take a more comprehensive look. Evaluating a larger data set of ship AIS data, analyst Bjorn Bergman discovered at least 20 locations near the Chinese coast where similar spoofing had taken place in 2019. 14 of these “spoofing circle” locations were oil terminals. The most frequent occurrences, by far were at the port of Dalian in northern China, close to the border with North Korea. The timing of the spoofing, imposition of sanctions on purchase of Iranian oil by the United States, and observations by others of Iranian oil being received by China, suggests that some of the spoofing may be designed to help conceal these transactions. Of the locations not associated with oil terminals, three were government offices and one was the headquarters of the Qingjian industrial group, a huge engineering and construction conglomerate. These infrequent and irregular events may be related to visits by important government officials. A C4ADS report earlier this year demonstrated Russia uses GPS spoofing extensively for government VIP protection. This kind of mass spoofing is most easily detected in coastal areas because of the wide availability of terrestrial and satellite-based AIS data. It is likely that the kinds of mass disruptions seen in Russian and Chinese maritime regions are occurring elsewhere. The lack of easily accessible data from non-maritime areas, though, makes it more difficult to detect. 

These Are All The International Brands That Have Apologized To China - The definitive list of international companies that have issued apologies to maintain their market access in China in recent years. Plus, a record of the even more widespread phenomenon of self-censorship for the Chinese market. 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 reverse 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.

How murder, kidnappings and miscalculation set off Hong Kong’s revolt – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says the plan that ignited the revolt in her city was born of a straightforward quest for justice. While on a trip to Taiwan, a Hong Kong man strangled his Hong Kong girlfriend, then returned home and confessed. The city lacked an extradition pact with Taiwan, and Lam argued the only way to send him back for trial was new laws that also would enable sending criminal suspects to mainland China. She dismissed fears about the proposal – which would mean Hong Kong residents could face trial in China’s Communist Party-controlled courts – and pushed ahead. As protests raged this summer, even in private Lam kept to her story that she, not Beijing, was the prime mover, driven by “compassion” for the young victim’s devastated parents. “This is not something instructed, coerced by the central government,” she told a room of Hong Kong businesspeople at a talk in August. A Reuters examination has found a far more complicated story. Officials in Beijing first began pushing for an extradition law two decades ago. This pressure to extend the arm of Chinese law into Hong Kong’s independent British-style legal system intensified in 2017, a year before the slaying and two years before Lam’s administration announced its extradition bill. The impetus came from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the Communist Party’s powerful internal anti-corruption body, which has been spearheading Chinese President Xi Jinping’s mass anti-graft campaign.

A Low-Intensity War Is Underway in Northeast Asia  -This week, cries of alarm about North Korea’s possible resumption of ICBM testing—or worse—will reverberate through the media. The coverage began on Sunday, when The New York Times brought out David Sanger, its star national security reporter, for a front-page screamer designed to bring the standoff in Northeast Asia to a Christmas boil.American military and intelligence sources are “tracking North Korea’s actions by the hour” and “bracing for an imminent test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching American shores,” Sanger reported. The crisis was inevitable because, over the past 18 months of sporadic talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the “North has bolstered its arsenal of missiles and its stockpile of bomb-ready nuclear material.”But the Times, as it does frequently in its coverage of these talks, omitted key developments on the Korean Peninsula, including in the South, that have contributed to the current standoff. Perhaps the most overlooked is the massive military buildup in South Korea over the past two years. On December 9, as tensions were rising once again, the South Korean Air Force released to the media a stunning video recreation of a preemptive attack on the North Korean ballistic missile network that Kim may soon test again. But it’s also a sign of a US-led military buildup in Northeast Asia that has raised tensions in the region to an alarming degree, even as North Korea threatens to resume the ballistic-missile testing that sparked the last crisis on the peninsula, in 2017. The buildup includes:

  • The US military’s tests of missiles previously banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the arms agreement abandoned by the Trump administration.
  • The massive military machine built by South Korea in recent years, as illustrated in the ROK Air Force video. It has been fueled by massive purchases of sophisticated US weapons that have been pushed by US think tanks with ties to the US arms industry.
  • The simultaneous and rapid expansion of US and Japanese military capabilities in Northeast Asia designed to confront North Korea, curb China’s growing military prowess, and enhance Washington’s strategic position in the region.

Taken together, these developments signal a dangerous escalation of tensions—a realization that may even be dawning on US national security reporters.

Citizenship Act protests: 16 people killed in Uttar Pradesh, 131 arrested in just one district - One person died in Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur town on Saturday during fresh clashes between the police anti-Citizenship Act protestors. This took the toll in Uttar Pradesh to 16. Sixteen people, including Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad, were arrested for alleged violence during anti-Citizenship Act protests in Daryaganj locality of Old Delhi on Friday. Twenty people have been detained and 130 booked in Hingoli district of Maharashtra for allegedly damaging public property and rioting during protests. Meanwhile, the Rashtriya Janata Dal called for a Bihar bandh on Saturday. The bandh had some effect, disrupting rail and road traffic. In Patna, hundreds of party supporters, including children, stormed railway stations and bus stands carrying sticks and party flags, but were dispersed by the police. Here are the updates from the day: 9.19 pm: Students of Jadavpur University, Calcutta University, Presidency University and Aliah University protest against the amendments to citizenship in West Bengal, reports ANI. 9.25 pm: Students are marching to BJP headquarters in Kolkata, reports PTI. They are demanding a roll-back of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed nationwide NRC. 11.20 pm: 131 people have been arrested in Bijnor district in western Uttar Pradesh, the police told reporters in an evening briefing. Several FIRs have been filed against protestors. In the FIR related to violence in Nehtaur, where two people were killed on Friday, 25 people have been named as the accused along with 100 “unknown” others.

 Indian state intensifies repression of mass protests against anti-Muslim citizenship law - India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is intensifying its repression of the wave of protests that have erupted across India against its Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)—a discriminatory, anti-Muslim law rushed through Parliament in just three days earlier this month. In several of India’s largest states, including Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, BJP-led state governments have imposed state-wide bans on all public gatherings of more than four people, under a British colonial statute, Section 144 of the Criminal Code. This is meant not just to intimidate opponents of the CAA, but to legitimize violent police repression of any anti-CAA demonstration, rally or meeting. Indian authorities have also cut off internet and mobile phone services for days at a time for tens of millions of people, including in parts of the national capital region, Delhi. To date, at least 25 people have died in the protests. They include an eight-year-old boy trampled to death by a stampede of protesters fleeing a violent police assault in Varanasi, the city and district for which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the local MP. Police shot and killed two people in Mangaluru, Karnataka, on Friday, while repressing anti-CAA protests. One of the victims was a day-laborer who was bringing his children home from school. Eighteen of the deaths have come from Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state and one of its most impoverished. All of these occurred since last Thursday, as police sought to quell the burgeoning opposition to the CAA and the Modi government. Led by Chief Minister Yogi Aditayanath, a notorious Hindu supremacist under criminal indictment for inciting attacks on Muslims, Uttar Pradesh has gone the furthest of any state in illegalizing the opposition to the CAA. Last Thursday, it announced that it was placing the entire state and its 230 million people under Section 144 for the next 15 days. According to an update supplied by the UP police yesterday, they have “bound down,” that is taken into preventive detention, 5,400 people, and arrested more than 700 others. In an attempt to shift the blame for the violence and fatalities, police spokesman O.P. Singh said several hundred police have been injured in clashes with anti-CAA protesters. He even tried to attribute the many protester gunfire-deaths to bullets supposedly shot at the police, but that went astray.

CAA+NRC Is the Greatest Act of Social Poisoning By a Govt in Independent India The Bharatiya Janata Party has a mode of politics that has little use for deliberation once it gets into power. The party is adept at staging well-funded election campaigns that are marked by anti-Muslim rhetoric, fake news and dog whistles, and once elected, it tends to drown out everyone else’s voice. Mainstream media is tamed, industry leaders experience fear, universities are repressed and parliamentary discussion counts for little as the Narendra Modi government has the numbers to push through legislation.The Indian people are now, however, insisting on talking back – judging by the nationwide protests on December 19 and thereafter.It is unclear how this situation will evolve hereon. The BJP has reasons both to be smug and to panic. It may assume that the “real India” has no truck with middle-class liberals rallying in the streets, and like Donald Trump’s supporters in the US, it can expect Modi’s base to ally with him, regardless of what the critics say.A sense of alarm is also evident going by the arrests and the brutal crackdowns on students and protestors in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The number of protestors may be small but a determined counter-mobilisation in society has begun and nothing terrifies the party more than the power of a spectacle that can galvanise the public; it would, after all, have vivid recollections of what the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement did to UPA-II. Equally, the BJP will also be seeking a compelling image and a plausible narrative of protester excess and wait for the tide of majority opinion to change.The government, meanwhile, remains firm on implementing the new citizenship law. Home minister Amit Shah had made it clear that implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will be followed by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) throughout India that will be concluded by 2024 – though the party seems to be on the backfoot now.What the NRC actually entails in experience is still unknown. The government is yet to announce which documents would be acceptable to qualify for citizenship. ANI, the news agency, published a curious non-gazetted “fact sheet” released by “government sources” on the NRC. This fact sheet, which was also released by the Press Information Bureau, has no official status, but it strains to clarify that the CAA and the NRC are separate processes and that no one will be denied citizenship on the grounds of religion. It, however, leaves no doubt that everyone in India will be swooped up in the exercise of proving their citizenship to the government, by furnishing a yet unknown list of documents. The sheer brazenness of the government in inflicting anxiety about citizenship status on millions of (largely poor, uneducated) Indians while they are struggling with livelihoods amid a tanking economy is simply breathtaking.

Modi's party loses Indian state election amid protests over citizenship law - (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party lost control of another state on Monday, adding to a string of electoral losses since last December amid protests that mark the biggest challenge to the Hindu-nationalist leader. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) conceded defeat in the eastern state of Jharkhand, with an alliance of the main opposition Congress party and a regional bloc slated to take control of the resource-rich province. “I dedicate this victory to the people of Jharkhand,” Hemant Soren, leader of the regional Jharkhand Mukti Morcha party, said after claiming victory. The loss comes in the middle of a sometimes deadly wave of nationwide protests triggered by a new citizenship law, which critics say discriminates against Muslims and has brought thousands of people out on to the streets in opposition. The polls in Jharkhand opened on Nov. 30, before the demonstrations kicked off and do not represent the current public mood. However, the BJP’s defeat will be a shot in the arm for India’s opposition parties, some of which have used popular anger against the Citizenship Amendment Act to their advantage.

IMF calls for 'urgent' action by India amid economic slowdown -India's government must take steps quickly to reverse the economic slowdown of an economy that has been one of the engines of global growth, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said. Declining consumption and investment, and falling tax revenue, have combined with other factors to put the brakes on one of the world's fastest growing large economies, the IMF said in its annual review of India's economy. After lifting millions out of poverty "India is now in the midst of a significant economic slowdown," Ranil Salgado, of the IMF Asia and Pacific Department, told reporters on Monday. "Addressing the current downturn and returning India to a high growth path requires urgent policy actions," Salgado added. However, the government has limited space to boost spending to support growth, especially given high debt levels and interest payments, the IMF warned. The IMF said India should avoid using public funds to stimulate growth - so-called fiscal measures - but instead focus on cutting debt to free up financial resources that can be used for investment. "Economic development projects and enhanced social initiatives in India will be vital in the coming years," the IMF said in its statement. "But to generate the revenue needed to get them off the ground, India's debt - among the highest in emerging markets - must be reduced."

Bolivia announces entry into Lima Group to resolve Venezuelan crisis  (Reuters) - Bolivia on Sunday announced its entry into the Lima Group regional bloc that was set up to find a way out of the Venezuelan crisis.The Bolivian foreign ministry said in a statement that it hoped to “contribute to a peaceful, democratic and constitutional solution to the crisis in Venezuela, which must be guided by the Venezuelan people.” The Lima Group was founded in 2017 by countries including Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Santa Lucia, Canada, Colombia, Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala, with the support of the United States, the Organization of American States and the European Union. It has called for the release of political prisoners, the holding of free elections and the entry of humanitarian aid to the stricken country.Bolivia’s leftist former president, Evo Morales, had kept his country out of the bloc. Morales is a long-time ally of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.Morales resigned from office and fled Bolivia in November amid pressure from the country’s armed forces after an international audit detected significant irregularities in an election that had handed him a fresh mandate. He went first to Mexico and then to Argentina where the new Peronist government of Alberto Fernandez has indicated it will give him political asylum.Bolivia is currently governed by Jeanine Añez, a former senator and opponent of Morales. Añez stepped in as interim president after Morales resigned. There was no immediate comment from other members of the Lima Group or Morales.

Buzz over Venezuela’s Guaido fades as Maduro holds firm The United States and dozens of nations had thrown their support behind the youthful congressional leader, recognizing him as the country’s legitimate president, arguing that Maduro’s re-election was invalidated by fraud and a ban on most opponents. And there seemed to be signs that the military might heed Guaidó‘s repeated calls for soldiers to abandon Maduro. A few joined him in the streets in a quickly quelled uprising. The U.S. and other nations sent caravans of aid to Venezuela’s borders to be distributed by Guaidó’s backers, and they were put in charge of many Venezuelan embassies and assets abroad. Then February turned to March, and the months marched by. No international aid made it through Maduro’s blockade. The military stayed loyal. Even the nation’s catastrophic economy began to improve slightly. Maduro remains in power. “Here we are today, like nothing ever happened,” said a disillusioned Palacios, 26, who has watched many relatives pack up and leave in desperation while he stayed behind to care for his parents living on a government pension constantly shrinking under the world’s highest inflation. Palacios no longer answers the opposition leader’s call to protest, nor do most of the others who once filled the streets. Cracks have even appeared in Guaidó‘s base of support in the National Assembly, the only major institution controlled by the opposition. His re-election as congressional president is no longer assured and legislators’ official terms expire in a few months.

‘You have a terribly homosexual face’: Brazil’s president launches homophobic attack on journalist - Brazil’s president has launched a homophobic attack on a journalist in a likely attempt to detract from a criminal investigation into his son’s alleged corruption. Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected on a ticket to purge the political class of corruption, railed against media scrutiny of his racism and apparent disdain for the environment, accusing the press of bias against him and his son Flavio Bolsonaro. Rio de Janeiro prosecutors are probing the younger Bolsonaro ​over alleged money laundering in his office during his 15-year tenure as state deputy, with investigators raiding several properties linked to him on Thursday. Speaking outside the Dawn Palace on Friday, his visibly angered father was asked by a Globo reporter what should happen to Flavio if he was found to have committed a “slip” during his time in office. “You have a terribly homosexual face, but I don’t accuse you of being homosexual,” Mr Bolsonaro – a self-described homophobe – replied in Portuguese, as a crowd of his supporters laughed.“Although it is not a crime to be homosexual. You say ‘if, if, if’ all the time.” Prosecutors in Rio are investigating allegations the younger Bolsonaro hired “phantom” employees – workers with no duties – while he was a state legislator.

Baltic Dry Tumbles Most Since 2008 As Tariff-Frontrunning Fades  -The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index has plunged to its lowest levels in six months as world trade continues to fade amid signs the so-called “front-loading” effect ahead of tariff deadlines is starting to wane.Chinese firms and US importers rushed to ship goods to the US through Q1 to Sept. as the US and China were engaged in a tit-for-tat trade war. The implementation of tariffs by both countries on billions of dollars in goods forced importers and exporters to increase outbound and inbound delivers before tariff deadlines went into effect.As a result of trade policy change, demand for bulk carriers increased throughout the year, raising the Baltic index +318% from Jan. to Sept. Trade war sentiment improved into Sept. and into Q4 with a phase one deal between both countries -- tariff front-loading declined late into year driving demand lower for bulk carriers. Historically, The Baltic Dry Index has weakened (seasonally) from May through August, but as the chart below makes clear, this year saw the exact opposite as the 'front-running' sparked an optically-bullish surge in demand for shipping (ahead of the expected tariff rises that would eventually not come to pass). The index has since tumbled the most since 2008. Along with front-loading in decline, reduced seasonal trends has also drug down demand for bulk carriers leading to lower rates across all vessel segments.  Reuters breaks down the latest shipping report that saw weakness for all capesize, panamax and supramax vessels that haul bulk commodities:

  • The Baltic index .BADI, which tracks rates for capesize, panamax and supramax vessels that ferry dry bulk commodities, fell 20 points, or 1.8%, to 1,103, its lowest since June 17.
  • The main index was down for a fourteenth-straight session.
  • The capesize index .BACI dipped 4 points, to 1,954 — its lowest in more than six months.
  • Average daily earnings for capesizes, which typically transport 170,000-180,000 tonne cargoes including iron ore and coal, slid $85 to $14,366.
  • The panamax index .BPNI dropped 47 points, or 3.9%, to 1,154, its lowest since Nov. 27.
  • Average daily earnings for panamaxes, which usually carry coal or grain cargoes of about 60,000 tonnes to 70,000 tonnes, decreased $384 to $9,228.
  • The supramax index .BSIS fell 15 points to 728.

Scanning global dry bulk shipping lanes across the world. We find depressing rates into the late-year that suggests a massive rebound in the global economy might not be imminent as many on Wall Street are predicting. Brazil to China dry bulk rates for iron ore have seen rates nearly halved since peaking in Sept.

More than 3 million Russians on the “no fly list” due to unpaid debt About 3.4 million Russian citizens—roughly 5% of the total population—are now banned from traveling abroad due to unpaid debts, according to Russian news agency TASS, citing a spokesperson for the nation’s Federal Bailiff Service. That’s 1.1 million more people than the 2.3 million who last year authorities prevented from leaving the country because of delinquent bank loans, traffic tickets, utility bills, fines, taxes, child support payments, and the like. Russian law forbids those owing more than 30,000 rubles ($482) from leaving the country until their debts are settled. Overall, the Federal Bailiff Service, known by its Russian acronym FSSP, has blocked nearly 7.2 million debtors from traveling thus far in 2019. Debtors can travel “within 23 minutes” of settling up, however, FSSP chief Dmitry Aristov said at a conference last year. Previously, they were subject to a 48-hour waiting period before being allowed out again. There are occasional exceptions. In 2014, the FSSP said someone with unpaid bills could be permitted to travel, “for example, if a debtor or their relatives have to undergo treatment in another country.”

French strikes: A marathon everyone is forced to run — Paris is a famously walkable city. But as we head into the third week of a mass strike — this one called by unions representing transport and national rail employees in response to the government’s plan to reform the pension system — the resulting absence of public transport, save for jam-packed buses and harshly reduced rush-hour service on some metro and RER lines, is forcing Parisians to walk more than we ever have. By now, everyone is feeling the pinch. Strike fatigue is setting in. Business goes on as usual, as much as possible, but tempers are getting shorter on the roads and in the few available trains and buses. Traffic jams are explosive, car horns overlapping with ubiquitous and useless emergency sirens. Commuting times stretch into hours. People arrive at work exhausted, and often wonder, come evening, how long it will take them to get home, especially if they live in the suburbs. Those planning to visit their families for Christmas have no idea whether the trains they need to take will run. Small businesses and shops are suffering. It is hard to visit a hospitalized parent. Everything in the city feels half-suspended — a parenthesis opened without any sense of when it might be closed. People have sore feet. The strike has become a marathon everyone is forced to run. The unions have not realized that different epochs require different policies. The latest stand-off between government and unions is familiar to the French, who are protective of their social welfare privileges, preferring the status quo and distrusting novelty. These privileges were inherited from a time when politics still had something to do with social justice, and when the state could afford to be generous. But its coffers are emptying, and there are many who believe the strikers, who are refusing to accept the government’s project to replace the current 42 different pension schemes with a single point-based plan, are behaving like spoiled children. The unions have not realized that different epochs require different policies. And now we are all hostage to these potent unions, even though they represent a mere 2.6 percent of French employees. The train, metro and bus drivers embody an age-old “corporatism,” as a commuter told me in a packed metro car: They represent the interests of their own group. They are striking for themselves, exercising their rights with no regard for the impact on the rest of the country. Their sole focus is maintaining their social privileges, which include retirement at 50, something that was established in the days when trains were coal-powered. They are blind to the fact that reforms are sorely needed.

Scuffles break out as protesters occupy Paris’s Gare de Lyon station - Protesters scuffled with police at Gare de Lyon train station in Paris on Monday as a nationwide rail workers strike against plans by French President Emmanuel Macron to change the country's pension system dragged on into a 19th day. French TV station BFM showed footage of riot police tangling with around 30 protesters at the Gare de Lyon, one of the French capital's busiest stations and often used for travel to ski resorts in the Alps. Protesters let off flares and fireworks, releasing smoke that drifted down into the station concourse. The walkouts, which have disrupted Christmas preparations, have also affected other main Paris stations such as the Gare du Nord, which handles the Eurostar services to London and Brussels, and the Gare de l'Est. "I understand [the strike] but I am not OK with it as I think all French people are being held hostage and it is difficult for us to understand what the goal is," said Damien Dremont, a commuter at the Gare de L'Est. Two weeks of nationwide industrial action against Macron's pension reform, which would scrap special pensions for many public sector staff and make people work to age 64 to draw a full pension, have crippled France's transport network.

French union workers vote to halt production at key oil facility (Reuters) - French workers voted on Monday to halt production at a key oil facility that supplies Paris and the surrounding region, joining other petroleum industry shutdowns in a nationwide strike against government pension reforms.   Industrial action against President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms has also crippled train services over the past two weeks, escalating into clashes between protesters and police in the capital earlier on Monday. Production at Total’s Grandpuits oil refinery and petrol depot southeast of Paris will stop as a result of the vote by workers from the hardline CGT union. “The decision has been taken to halt Grandpuits but with a slight majority. The management has asked for an hour of reflection,” a CGT union official said. Grandpuits was already producing at minimum capacity before the union vote due to the strike, which is blocking deliveries from the refinery, Total said. The vote contrasted with a reassuring message on Monday from the French energy ministry, which said fuel supplies to gas stations were normal despite calls by the CGT to shut down production at refineries.

EU countries gear up for post-Brexit trade battle -The EU's Brexit unity is about to come under severe strain. Speaking from one script was Brussels' greatest asset in the first phase of Brexit. It prevented London playing divide-and-rule and ultimately forced concessions from the U.K. in the talks. But while it was relatively easy to forge a common position on the Brexit bill, citizens' rights and Northern Ireland, agreement on trade priorities will be much harder. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he wants to conclude the talks by the end of next year, with no extension of the transition period. That's very tight. “It won’t be possible in this very [limited] time frame to do everything, but we will do everything that is possible,” EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday. Just as in phase one of the talks, Barnier is already trying to use the ticking clock to his advantage, by framing the trade talks as a choice between different options made necessary by the lack of time to agree something more bespoke. “At a certain point there are going to be trade-offs necessary. We have to stay united to get a deal within this timeframe, but it won’t be easy” — EU diplomat “Does the U.K. wish to distance itself, and to what extent, from our regulatory model?” Barnier asked, adding that Britain would have to answer that question “in the next weeks.” “That will determine the level of our ambition,” he added. But in truth, the ticking clock also presents new challenges for the EU side. The constricted timescale means it has to make rapid and uncomfortable choices about what to include in the trade deal and what to leave out. “At a certain point there are going to be trade-offs necessary,” said one EU diplomat. “We have to stay united to get a deal within this timeframe, but it won’t be easy.” EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speaks to reporters in Brussels on October 28, 2019 | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images Limited versus ambitious deal On the EU side, the fight over what to prioritize in the talks is set to begin in early January. The Commission will use input from each of the 27 national capitals to frame a draft mandate by February 1, the U.K.'s first day outside the EU. The talks are set to be concluded at the end of February so that negotiations with the U.K. can start in March — leaving just 10 months to conclude trade talks and ratify the agreement before the end of next year. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called that timetable “extremely challenging.”

Boris Johnson made politics awful, then asked people to vote it away - The recent UK election was a quarrel about the character of politics. On the one hand, the Labour Party argued that it can be used for good, ‘for the many’. They promised to transform lives and communities, to take action on climate change and poverty.The Conservative Party, conversely, claimed that politics is bad. They promised to banish it from your life, to ‘get Brexit done’, so that we can all forget about it and get on with Christmas shopping.The Conservative strategy was, therefore, simple: wage war on the political process, on trust, and on truth. Ensure the whole experience is miserable, bewildering and stressful, then ask voters to make it go away.At the heart of this strategy was a campaign of disinformation and deceit.According to independent fact checkers, 88% of Conservative party Facebook adverts in the recent UK election contained lies, while none of Labour’s did. During the first leaders’ debate, the Conservative party press office changed its Twitter account to “FactCheckUK”, granting itself a big tick, implying that it’s a verified, independent fact checking service. Boris Johnson was sacked from two previous jobs for lying to his bosses. His most famous contribution to journalism was the invention of the Euro-myth: laughable lies told by Britain’s press about the EU which framed England’s understanding of it for decades. He is famed for leading a campaign with a fabricated statistic on the side of a bus. Before becoming prime minister, he was already notorious for being wayward with reality. But in this election, he and his team and their fleet of well funded outriders took lying from a character trait to a brutally effective political strategy.

An evolving 6-point plan for British Labour -  Bill Mitchell - In the last few days, since the British General Election last Thursday, I have seen the rising denial of so-called progressives trying to come up with all sorts of excuses for Labour’s devastating defeat. I have seen various aggregations of the votes presented on Twitter and elsewhere attempting to claim that, in fact, the vote was a vote for Remain rather than Brexit. The line being spun is that the Tories do not have a mandate to implement Brexit, that the strong majority of British voters want to remain in the European Union and that, and that Labour’s defeat was about other things. Other things certainly impacted – such as the UK Guardian’s relentless and ridiculous campaign against Jeremy Corbyn which gave air to the anti-semitism ruse. And, the continued passive insurgency within the Parliamentary Labour Party from the Blairites who could not move beyond the past. And, the neoliberal framing that John McDonnell insisted on using to disseminate his economic plan, as a result of being advised poorly by a bunch of economists who couldn’t even get their studid Fiscal Credibility Rule right (given they had to change it at the last minute when it was obvious to all that it would fail). And John McDonnell himself, who told the British people in the months leading up to the election that he would support Remain. And the Deputy leader, who should have been expelled long ago from the Party. And those who conspired to ditch Chris Williamson for the most spurious reasons and thus cost Labour the seat of Derby North. And on it goes. But the result that transpired has been staring the Labour party in the face since the June 2016 Referendum and the Party chose to ignore the warnings. And the so-called progressive apparatchiks, economists and others, who were advising the Labour Party, not only told the Party leaders to ignore the warnings but actively set about vilifying those on the Left, including yours truly, every chance they could. The egg is … as they say!  I thought this graph was a good summary of the British election results. It is taken from The Telegraph article (December 16, 2019) – Election Result: Conservatives win historic majority  If you cannot see that the traditional Labour heartland in the old industrial and mining towns in the north deserted Labour for the Tories then you are blind.And if you think that the almost 100 per cent correlation between the strength of the Leave vote and the change in seats in the heartlands is not meaningful then you lack analytical capacity (being polite).To aggregate the vote for Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats etc into a ‘Remain’ vote and then claim that the British people actually want to Remain rather than to Leave is just being part of the problem that caused Labour’s electoral demise.

Another humiliation for Jeremy Corbyn: Six Labour MPs defy their leader to vote for Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal as dozens more abstain - Jeremy Corbyn suffered a fresh humiliation today as half a dozen Labour MPs defied his orders and voted for Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. Mr Corbyn had whipped his MPs to reject the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement Bill. But six rebelled in order to vote for it: Sarah Champion, Rosie Cooper, Jon Cruddas, Emma Lewell-Buck, Grahame Morris and Toby Perkins. Meanwhile, in a further blow to Mr Corbyn's authority 32 Labour MPs opted to abstain on this afternoon's crunch vote which Mr Johnson won by 358 to 234, a majority of 124. Some of those 32 MPs are believed to have been given permission to miss the vote. But Labour sources told MailOnline that as many as 25 had not and had actively decided to abstain. Those Labour MPs who failed to record a vote included shadow cabinet ministers Ian Lavery and Jon Trickett. A total of nine Tory MPs failed to vote but it is thought that they all had permission not to be there. Ms Lewell-Buck said during today's debate that she did not want to 'just oppose for opposition's sake' as she declared her intention to back the PM's deal.

Labour’s Brexit position set MPs up to fail, says Lisa Nandy-  Labour faces a hard road back in its former heartlands because the party’s decision to back a second referendum cemented a sense that it had stopped listening, the potential leadership candidate Lisa Nandy has argued. Nandy, the Wigan MP who served in Jeremy Corbyn’s first shadow cabinet, said that offering a softer Brexit was the “only way that you would have prevented the scale of the collapse” in seats across the north, Midlands and Wales. Speaking to the Guardian in a pub in Wigan, she said it was easy to blame Corbyn and believe that without him “everything will be resolved”. But she said the party’s Brexit position was also responsible. “In all honesty, Brexit just played into the sense that we are adrift from communities like these, that we don’t speak for them, we don’t stand for them, we don’t understand them, and worse than that: we’re deeply disrespectful towards them. And that has been building for the last 15 to 20 years,” she said. “It’s been a long time in the making, I hope it won’t take a long time to resolve. But it’s going to be a hard road back.” Nandy is expected to enter the race to succeed Corbyn as Labour leader in the new year, with rivals likely to include Rebecca Long-Bailey, Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry and Clive Lewis. Starmer, Thornberry and Lewis were all advocates of a second Brexit referendum, and had declared publicly that they would campaign to remain in the EU. But Nandy insisted the policy was a mistake. “Once we adopted the position of a second referendum, there were a lot of Labour candidates in seats that voted overwhelmingly to leave who knew that they didn’t stand a chance of winning the election,” she said. “More importantly, [they] knew they didn’t stand the chance of getting a hearing or gaining the trust of the people in their own communities, including lifelong Labour voters who felt voting Labour was very much part of their identity. And the reason for that was because it was about respect.”

Exclusive: The Brits who won’t Brexit (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a thumping election victory last week on a campaign to “get Brexit done,” but not before some wealthy donors to his Conservative Party quietly took steps to stay inside the European Union. FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a final general election campaign event in London, Britain, December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo Cyprus government documents seen by Reuters show that Conservative Party donors have sought citizenship of the island, an EU member state, since Britain voted to leave the bloc in 2016. They include billionaire Alan Howard, one of Britain’s best-known hedge fund managers, and Jeremy Isaacs, the former head of Lehman Brothers for Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Cyprus’ interior ministry recommended that both men’s applications be approved, the government documents show. The Conservative Party won another term in office last week after an election campaign that was dominated by Brexit. Johnson called the election to try to gain a majority in Parliament to push through his plan to take Britain out of the EU early next year. That some Brits who made a career out of assessing risk have applied for second passports may suggest sagging confidence in Britain’s economy after it leaves the EU. A broker who makes his living handling such passports says he’s seen a surge of enquiries from Brits looking for ways to keep their European Union citizenship. “Brexit is the only factor driving this,” says Paul Williams, chief executive of passport brokerage La Vida Golden Visas. The right to live, work, study or set up business anywhere in Europe, says Williams, “that all changes with Brexit.”

Next Bank of England governor looks to ease rules after Brexit --Andrew Bailey, named on Friday as the next governor of the Bank of England, has signaled a readiness to diverge from EU regulations after Brexit.Bailey will be one of the most influential policymakers in the country when he takes office next March 16 for a period of eight years — exceeding the mandate of elected politicians. He replaces Mark Carney, who governed since 2013 and won praise for putting climate change on the agenda for finance.Sajid Javid, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister) said Bailey's appointment "is one of the most important decisions I will make."While the government was looking for a new head of the central bank in 2019, Bailey said the U.K. should simplify its rules for the financial sector once it leaves the EU, seeking an “outcome-based approach” rather than identical requirements.Bailey's appointment was widely expected among financiers and observers, who know him well from years overseeing the sector. Described by Carney as “an extraordinary public servant,” Bailey has already worked at the Bank of England as deputy governor in charge of banking regulation. Since 2016, he has led the Financial Conduct Authority. During his tenure at the FCA he oversaw an increase in the regulator’s scope, penalties, and staff numbers. While the authority has been under the shadow of industry misconduct scandals — including inappropriate practices in bond sales, abuse of small businesses by lenders and closures of investment funds — Bailey maintained a cordial relationship with the members of parliament who scrutinized his work.

Bank of England audio leak followed loss of key cybersecurity staff -The Bank of England restructured its security department and lost multiple senior employees in charge of protecting some of Britain’s most critical financial infrastructure shortly before it suffered a major breach, the Observercan reveal. After the central bank admitted that hedge funds had gained early access to its market-moving press conferences via a backup audio feed, multiple former employees contacted the Observer to warn that the Bank was struggling with the departure of key staff responsible for protecting it against external threats.The sources said at least 20 of the Bank’s staff tasked with information security had left or been reassigned elsewhere within the bank within the past year, raising questions over the protection of the nation’s payment systems and other critical infrastructure vital for the British financial system. The Observerwas able to verify 13 of these departures using information from social media and other sources.The revelations come at a sensitive time for the Bank as it prepares for the handover of power in March from Mark Carney, the outgoing governor, toAndrew Bailey, the current chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority. Threadneedle Street has also played a central role in efforts to improve the safety and integrity of the financial system since the 2008 banking collapse, including warning the industry to improve its cyber and information security operations. It is responsible for key parts of the nation’s critical infrastructure, including the payments systems that carry every bank transfer made in Britain, the wages of millions of people, cheques, and payments between businesses of all sizes. On an average day in 2018, the Bank’s real-time gross settlement system (RTGS) settled transactions worth £651bn.

Licensed to Kill: Court Rules British MI5 Agents Can Murder, Kidnap and Torture - Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5 can authorize its agents to engage in criminal activities, potentially including murder, kidnap and torture, a London court ruled, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new government prepares to overhaul espionage laws. Judges on the Investigatory Powers Tribunal declared in a majority decision that MI5 has the power to permit informants to operate in criminal groups, even if the policy itself confers no legal immunity. The case focused on powers that were only disclosed last year by then-Prime Minister Theresa May. “The case raises one of the most profound issues which can face a democratic society governed by the rule of law, Judge Rabinder Singh said in the ruling. The decision comes as Johnson seeks to update laws to bring them in line with the U.S. in a crackdown on spies, saboteurs and hackers working for foreign states such as Russia, North Korea and Iran. Preventing MI5 from running agents in criminal organizations “would strike at the core activities of the Security Service,” the judges said. U.K. to Crack Down on Russian, North Korean Spies and Saboteurs The tribunal cited the agency’s own guidelines to agents and handlers that said the authorization “will be the service’s explanation and justification of its decision,” if the agent’s activities were to be scrutinized by police or other prosecution authorities. Human rights campaigning groups including Reprieve had asked the court to grant an injunction “restraining further unlawful conduct.” The request was dismissed in a 3-2 decision, which was also the first time a dissenting opinion has ever been published in the tribunal’s 20-year history, Reprieve said. “The IPT’s knife-edge judgment, with unprecedented published dissenting opinions, shows just how dubious the government’s secret policy is,” Maya Foa, Reprieve’s director, said in a statement. She said the groups planned to seek permission to appeal. “The use of covert agents is an essential tool for MI5 as it carries out its job of keeping the country safe,” a spokesman for the Home Office said in a statement.

Number of older people diagnosed with malnutrition trebles in a decade - The number of older people diagnosed with malnutrition has more than trebled to almost 500,000 in the past decade, according to research. More than 1 million people aged 60 and over – one in 10 – are either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, the NHS Digital figures showed. But because the vast majority of these people – 93% – live at home, their malnourishment often goes unnoticed. The independent Malnutrition Task Force have said that Christmas is an ideal opportunity to spot the signs that people might be struggling to eat enough to keep themselves well.“It is shocking that 1.3 million older people suffer from or are at risk of malnutrition in our country and the root of the problem doesn’t just lie with poverty,” said Dianne Jeffrey, the chair of the Malnutrition Task Force.“There are other contributing factors which add to the risk. Public health messages that don’t always relate to this age group; a lack of ability to shop, eat and drink at home without help. As well as loneliness and isolation, grief and bereavement, poor physical and mental health or a lack of awareness of the risks by health and social care staff,” she added. Data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (Elsa) showed various factors are contributing to the rise in diagnoses of malnutrition among older people. These include over 230,000 people aged 75 and over having difficulty with the physicality of eating, such as cutting up food, and above 1.9 million having difficulty eating food because of a dental condition.  Not being able to afford to eat may be another cause of malnutrition, particularly for those older people living in poverty. Elsa’s data shows that over 360,000 people aged 50-64 and over 29,000 of 65-74 year-olds admit having to cut or skip meals because they didn’t have enough money.  “Increasing numbers of people diagnosed with malnutrition is a cause for concern because poor nutrition can be both a cause and consequence of ill health,” said Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, a member of the task force.

UK Girl Buys Christmas Card, Finds Help Us Note From China Prisoners Who Made It - A British retailer with thousands of stores around the world said on Sunday that it has suspended work with a Chinese factory as it investigates allegations of forced labor behind its Christmas cards - spurred by a plea for help that a 6-year-old girl reportedly found scrawled in her family's purchase. Supermarket chain Tesco said it has also stopped selling the cards after the Sunday Times described an all-caps note, attributed to foreign prisoners in a Shanghai facility, that urges its reader to contact a human rights group. The report, which Tesco's supplier and the Chinese government have strongly disputed, follows years of other notes allegedly penned by abused workers that have raised concerns among unsuspecting shoppers and prompted inquiries. Tesco said in a statement that it was stunned by the accusations of forced labor and would cut ties with the cards' supplier if it was found to have violated Tesco's rules against prison labor. The company said it has a "comprehensive auditing system," adding that the cards' supplier "was independently audited as recently as last month" and that no evidence of wrongdoing surfaced. The supplier that Tesco says it is investigating, Zhejiang Yunguang Printing, has denied any use of forced labor. The company told the Global Times in China that it was not aware of the allegations until foreign media outlets reached out.