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

Saturday, December 14, 2019

week ending Dec 14

 The Fed Is On High Alert  - Nomi Prins -   For economies and markets, this was a year marked by uncertainty over economic slowdowns, trade wars and a complete pivot in “dark money” policy initiated by the Federal Reserve and subsequently followed by other central banks around the world. Notably this year, it wasn’t just the major nations that engaged in copycat monetary policy easing. It was a plethora of emerging-market central banks jumping on the same dark money bandwagon. So as we head into the final FOMC meeting of the year next week, we know one thing for certain: The Fed won’t be cutting rates this time. And it’s recently used some fairly hawkish language. But reinforcing the dovish outlook it adopted at the start of the year that precipitated three 2019 rate cuts, the Fed remains on high-alert mode. There are two clear signs why... First, the Fed keeps creating and dumping money into the front end of the U.S. yield curve through repo operations that it initiated in September. How healthy is the banking sector overall?The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System recently published their annual Supervision and Regulation Report.The report measures the financial condition of major U.S. banks, including loan growth and liquidity in the banking system.Overall, 45% of U.S. banks with more than $100 billion in assets received a supervisory rating of “less than satisfactory.”That’s not good. As we learned during that crisis, the stability of these large banks is essential to the health of our banking system.Tellingly, the Federal Reserve report does not say which banks have these less-than-satisfactory ratings.This should not sit well with hardworking Americans who bailed out many banks during the last crisis in 2008.When bank lobbyists keep pushing for more deregulation, remember what happened a decade ago with bank bailouts and a market crash.  Iwould argue that we need more regulation, not less, if banks continue to receive less than a “C” grade on their report cards. The second indication the Fed is in high-alert mode is because of its language. It continues to note possible risks coming from more economic slowdowns and further strains due to trade wars.Just this week, President Trump re-slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on Brazil and Argentina, accusing them of devaluing their currencies and thereby hurting U.S. farmers. Though that segue might seem complex and Brazil is supposed to be a friend of the U.S., the takeaway is simple. The White House reserves the right and the practice of trade war tactics, which will continue to insert uncertainty and thereby hamper investment and economic planning around the world. Not to mention lower overall trade and benefits of the global supply chain.

Fed's Third Year-End Repo Oversubscribed Again Amid Liquidity Scramble As Dec 16 Tax Day Looms - One week after the Fed's second 42-day term repo which allowed dealers to lock in funding into the new year and which was again oversubscribed, confirming a growing scramble for year-end funding, traders were looking ahead to the result from today's third "year-end" repo, this time with a 28-day term maturing on January 6. And, as we noted last week, year-end liquidity fears remain front and center as the $25 billion - which the Fed expanded from $15 billion late last week - proved to again be roughly 40% below the required size to satisfy all liquidity demands.Dealers submitted $43 BN in bids for the 28-day op ($29.80 BN in Treasurys, $0.1BN in Agency, $13.1BN in MBS paper), resulting in an oversubscription of the $25BN in available repo, and confirming that the Fed may have to add additional "year-end" repos to satisfy all dealer liquidity demand as we enter 2020. This was modestly above the $42.550 billion submitted last week in the second 42-day repo operation conducted on December 2:  At the same time, the Fed also announced that in the latest overnight repo, it had accepted $56.4 billion in securities, a modest drop from the recent range and the lowest roll amount since the Fed expanded the available size of overnight repos to $100 billion. A big reason for this is likely that $25 billion was shifted over from overnight to 28-day term repos. The biggest concern: the repo rate over year end remains stubbornly stuck well above 3%, more than double the Fed Fund rate, and clear evidence that the US interbank plumbing remains broken. It remains a pressing question for funding markets why, even with QE4 in place and now daily overnight and short-term repo operations in place, banks continue to rush to lock in year-end liquidity, where some fear a similar explosion in overnight repo rates as was observed on Dec 31, 2018 when General Collateral soared amid a widespread liquidity shortage. Indeed, even with the Fed’s commitment to continue providing liquidity to the financial system around year-end, the market is still showing concerns, indicating that for all its telegraphed firepower, the Fed has failed to calm markets and ease counterparty risks which as the BIS observed yesterday, now involve hedge funds.

FOMC Statement: No Change to Policy --FOMC Statement: Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in October indicates that the labor market remains strong and that economic activity has been rising at a moderate rate. Job gains have been solid, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low. Although household spending has been rising at a strong pace, business fixed investment and exports remain weak. On a 12‑month basis, overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy are running below 2 percent. Market-based measures of inflation compensation remain low; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed.Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 1‑1/2 to 1-3/4 percent. The Committee judges that the current stance of monetary policy is appropriate to support sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective. The Committee will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook, including global developments and muted inflation pressures, as it assesses the appropriate path of the target range for the federal funds rate.In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its maximum employment objective and its symmetric 2 percent inflation objective.

U.S. banks' reluctance to lend cash may have caused repo shock: BIS - (Reuters) - The unwillingness of the top four U.S. banks to lend cash combined with a burst of demand from hedge funds for secured funding could explain a recent spike in U.S. money market rates, the Bank for International Settlements said. Cash available to banks for short-term funding all but dried up in late September, and interest rates deep in the plumbing of U.S. financial markets climbed into double digits. That forced the Fed to make an emergency injection of billions of dollars for the first time since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago. While the exact cause of the squeeze is unclear - with explanations ranging from large withdrawals for quarterly tax payments to a big settlement of a trade in U.S. Treasuries - BIS analysts said the growing reliance on the biggest U.S. banks to keep the repo market functioning may have been a big factor. The big four banks, which BIS did not name in its report, have become net providers of funds to repo markets as they account for more than half of all Treasuries held by banks in the United States at the Federal Reserve. The repo market underpins much of the U.S. financial system, helping ensure banks have liquidity to meet their daily operational needs. In a repo trade, Wall Street firms and banks offer U.S. Treasuries and other high-quality securities as collateral to raise cash, often just overnight, to finance their trading and lending. The next day, borrowers repay the loans plus what is typically a nominal rate of interest and get their bonds back. In other words they repurchase, or repo, the bonds. The system typically hums along with the interest rate charged on repo deals hovering close to the Fed’s benchmark overnight rate, which it cut on Wednesday to 1.75%-2.00% from 2.00%-2.25%. But in late September, interest rates shot up to as high as 10% for some overnight loans, more than four times the Fed’s policy rate, raising concerns about the fragility of U.S. dollar funding markets.

BIS Drops a Bombshell: Four U.S. Mega Banks Are Core of Repo Loan Crisis - Pam Martens - Yesterday, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) dropped a bombshell report that torpedoed the Federal Reserve’s official narrative on what has caused the overnight lending market (repo loan market) on Wall Street to seize up since September 17, leading to more than $3 trillion in cumulative loans from the New York Fed as lender of last resort.The Federal Reserve has said the repo crisis was a result of corporations draining liquidity from the system to pay their quarterly tax payments alongside a large auction of U.S. Treasury securities settling and adding to the cash drain. That excuse was clearly bogus since the Fed has provided hundreds of billions of dollars weekly into the repo market since September 17, while stating that it plans to continue this activity into next year.The BIS report dropped the bombshell that the “US repo markets currently rely heavily on four banks as marginal lenders.” Curiously, the BIS report was too timid to name the banks.  As Wall Street On Parade has regularly pointed out, there are more than 5,000 Federally-insured banks and savings associations in the U.S. but the bulk of the assets, derivatives and risk to U.S. financial stability are concentrated at just a handful of Wall Street’s “universal” banks — those making high risk trading gambles while also owning federally-insured, deposit taking banks. Ranked by assets, as of June 30, 2019, those are the bank holding companies of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs Group, and Morgan Stanley. Those six Wall Street banks hold $8.9 trillion of the $18.56 trillion in assets at the 5,213 federally-insured banks and savings associations in the U.S. That’s six banks holding 48 percent of the total assets of 5,213 banks.  The risks posed by a handful of banks in the derivatives market is even more concentrated. According to a quarterly report from the federal regulator of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), just five banks control 82 percent of the $280 trillion in notional (face amount) of derivatives at the 25 largest bank holding companies. Derivatives played a critical role in blowing up Wall Street banks in 2008 and resulted in the largest taxpayer and Federal Reserve bailout of any industry in U.S. history. Despite that epic crisis, which produced the worst economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression, Wall Street lobbyists have continued to stymie meaningful reform and have actually convinced the Trump administration to engage in weakening the inadequate regulations that Congress passed in 2010 under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. The Office of Financial Research (OFR) provided a dire warning of the risks of bank concentration in a report it issued in 2015. The OFR researchers found:“The larger the bank, the greater the potential spillover if it defaults; the higher its leverage, the more prone it is to default under stress; and the greater its connectivity index, the greater is the share of the default that cascades onto the banking system. The product of these three factors provides an overall measure of the contagion risk that the bank poses for the financial system. Five of the U.S. banks had particularly high contagion index values — Citigroup, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs.”

 The blind Federal Reserve -Ever since the secured overnight repo rate (SOFR) spiked to 10% in September, there have been dire warnings that these exceptional movements show the financial system is fundamentally broken. The story goes that the post-crisis financial system is so dysfunctional that it is unable to operate without continual injections of money from central banks. The Fed's attempt to reduce the $4.2tn of reserves it added to the financial system in three rounds of QE has dangerously destabilised the financial system, so it has now had to re-start asset purchases to restore the lost reserves and refloat tottering banks. It's fair to say that much has changed since the financial crisis.  QE disconnected Fed reserve creation from banks' need for reserves for settlement. Since banks collectively are obliged to hold all the reserves created by the Fed, they became (collectively) awash with reserves. However, reserve distribution is uneven: some banks still needed to borrow reserves, while other banks were parking excess reserves at the Fed. To create a "floor" for the Fed Funds rate, the Fed started paying interest on those excess reserves. Had it not done so, the Fed Funds rate would have fallen to zero, regardless of the FOMC's decision. But even with the Fed paying interest on excess reserves, the interbank market has become a shadow of its former self. Banks, their trust in each other permanently damaged by the crisis, now want other banks to post collateral against borrowed reserves. Most of the action has therefore moved to the repo market. The repo market isn't solely, or even mainly, an interbank market. It intermediates funds across the entire panoply of financial institutions, including broker-dealers, insurance companies, pension funds, hedge funds, mutual funds (MMFs) and real-estate investment trusts (REITs), and some non-financial institutions such as large corporations and municipalities. Most of the funds that move around the repo market aren't lent directly by banks. But all cash transactions in the repo market are intermediated by banks, without exception. Mainly, it moves between four large banks - JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo.  If a market interest rate spikes, it means market participants don't want to lend. That can be because they have stopped trusting each other, as when Reserve Primary MMF broke the buck in 2008. But it doesn't have to mean that. It might signify that they have other uses for the money or the associated collateral, for example if they need to hold more of them because of tighter regulatory requirements. Or it might simply mean there is a market shortage of cash or collateral, so they prefer to hang on to what they have rather than lend it to others and risk paying much higher funding costs themselves.

The David Einhorn Podcast: The Fed Is Monetizing Debt Again -- While David Einhorn has recently been in the press for yet another feud he is currently waging, this time with Elon Musk, in which he first accused the Tesla CEO of "Significant fraud",  followed up with even more specific accusations of accounting irregularity profiled here, in the podcast with Ryan - which marked the Greenlight CEO's first appearance in two years - Einhorn goes back to his roots and takes on his primary nemesis, the Federal Reserve, which is why among the topics covered are QE, ZIRP, MMT, fiscal and central bank stimulus. Oh, and gold, because seven years after the "Jelly Donut policy" was first coined, Einhorn remains just as bullish on the precious metal as the following excerpt confirms:  We're running a very high  deficit  to  GDP.  And this is many years into an economic recovery with something that's very close to full employment… In the event that the economy weakens, there's going to be an enormous, both natural fiscal  stimulus  that comes from higher benefits, and less tax revenue, as well as an urge for Congress to do things to help  people out in tougher economic times.  So, what you have is a deficit right now that is very high and then you combine that with  an accumulation of debt. You have a situation where the debt to GDP is much higher going into whatever the next down cycle is, and where we've had before similarly you have of monetary policy, which has been very aggressive. The balance sheet is much larger than it used to be and the rates going into down cycle are much lower than they used to be. There will be enormous pressure on the central bank to be very aggressive. And, so when you combine aggressive fiscal policy with  aggressive  monetary policy, historically that can lead to a problem with the currency and then when you realize that the same dynamic is essentially in place and in some cases worse in all of the other major developed currencies, it seems to me  it's a situation where sooner or later it might be good to have a fraction of your assets in gold, which is not subject  to appropriation by the whim of the central banks. Or rather, it is not yet subject to appropriate by central banks. Because all it takes is another Executive Order 6102 for all that to change. All this and much more in the podcast below (phonetic transcript attached below):

How The Dems & The Fed Ensured Trump's Re-Election - The story I'm not hearing...

  • July 31...Debt Ceiling Deal - July 31st of this year, Senate Democrats carried President Trump's budget deal eliminating the debt ceiling through July 31st of 2021.  This after a majority of Trump's House Republicans voted against the budget deal but House Democrats overwhelmingly passed it.  And thus the debt ceiling was no more.  Since July 31st, the Treasury has issued over $1 trillion in net new debt but that is just the start.
  • July 31...Federal Reserve begins series of interest rate cuts - On July 31st, the Federal Reserve begins cutting rates and has cut rates from 2.4% to 1.55% or a 35% reduction on the cost of overnight intra-bank lending, the foundation of credit.
  • August 21.. Federal Reserve restarts QE -  Since August, the Fed ceased quantitative tightening (QT) and restarted quantitative easing (QE).  The Federal Reserve balance sheet has expanded by over $300 billion in short order, with an $180 billion increase in Treasuries held.
  • Excess Reserves Not Restarted - With all the new QE, hardly any of it has been added to bank excess reserves...just a paltry $16 billion out of the $306 billion in new currency digitally conjured.
  • Direct Monetization - That is $290 billion in new dollars directly in banks hands...and banks do what banks do, which is leverage those dollars by 5x's to 10x's (or more), resulting in...
  • Asset Explosion - Using the Wilshire 5000 as a proxy (as it represents all publicly traded US equities), US equities have risen $2.42 trillion over the 4 month period as all the new digitally conjured cash has been passed to large banks for the "assets" they held...or about a 8.5x the quantity of new "not QE" and "not excess reserves".

What does that look like? In dollar terms over the past four months, US debt up over $1 trillion, Federal Reserve held assets up over $300 billion, Fed held Treasuries up $180 billion, Excess Reserves up only $16 billion, direct monetization of $270 billion...resulting in an increase of $2.4 trillion in the Wilshire 5000 market weighted capitalization (chart below). In percentage terms in just four months, total US debt is up 4.8%, Federal Reserve held assets up over 8%, Fed held Treasuries up 8.6%, excess reserves up just 1.2%, direct monetization up over 18%, and equities up over 8% (chart below).  Not shown is in addition to all this, the Federal Funds rate was also reduced by 35%  Summary: Trump and the Democrats agreed to spend without limits, Trump and the Federal Reserve agreed to QE4 and mainlining the digitally created cash into the economy ( assets) via direct monetization.  The result has been to massively enrich the few who own the vast majority of all assets which are surging upwards and pass all the debt along to the working stiffs. Trump is truly an evil genius...Dem's are truly self serving dolts...and the Fed is truly the best central bank money can buy.  Or the Fed is the evil genius, Dem's still self serving dolts, and Trump is the best president money can buy.  Either way, Trump, the Democrats, Republicans, and the ultra-wealthy are laughing all the way to the bank. And the vast majority of Americans have been sold into debt slavery.

Deficit spikes 12 percent in first two months of fiscal year: CBO - The U.S. government deficit rose by 12 percent in the first two months of the 2020 fiscal year, hitting $342 billion, according to new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. The deficit is on track to surpass $1 trillion in the 2020 fiscal year, which began on October 1. CBO has called the deficit path "unsustainable" and warns that the increasing debt burden will push down economic growth and could worsen future financial crises. In the first two months of the fiscal year, CBO estimated that spending increased $49 billion to reach $813 billion, largely due to increases in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Defense Department. An increase in the cost of subsidizing education loans also contributed to the increased outlays. Meanwhile, revenues only increased half as quickly, rising $12 billion in comparison to last year and reaching $471 billion. Income and payroll tax revenue grew 4 percent. CBO noted that a 14 percent spike in corporate tax income was not representative of most corporate taxation, as most companies don't have to pay their taxes until December 16th. The deficit has ballooned since President Trump took office, as the GOP tax law cut into revenues and bipartisan spending agreements pushed up funding for both defense and domestic priorities.

Compromise defense bill expands benefits, creates Space Force --Capping months of drawn-out and sometimes testy negotiations, a compromise $738 billion defense policy bill unveiled Monday night includes a major expansion of military and federal worker benefits and creates a new Space Force sought by President Donald Trump.But the final fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act excludes many top progressive national security priorities that House Democrats pushed for in their version of the bill — including limits on diverting military funding for a border wall with Mexico, protections for transgender troops, requiring congressional approval for war with Iran and withdrawing U.S. support from Yemen's civil war.One far-reaching provision, though, would grant 12 weeks of paid parental leave to the entire federal workforce.For the military, troops would get a 3.1 percent pay raise — the largest in a decade.The bill, forged by the House and Senate Armed Services committees, is the product of nearly three months of talks between Democratic and Republican congressional leaders that had lately been weighed down by issues outside the jurisdictions of the two panels. A final vote is expected in the House as early as Wednesday and later in the Senate.The four House and Senate Armed Services chairmen and ranking members called the measure "the product of months of hard-fought, but always civil and ultimately productive, negotiations." Among its provisions, the bill would repeal the "widow's tax," a widely unpopular offset in military survivor benefits offered by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. The provision would be phased in over three years.

Leadership Strips Approved Antiwar Measures From NDAA — The House version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) set aside an irresponsibly large amount of money for military spending, but it also added some antiwar amendments and other very basic limitations. The House and Senate versions have now been reconciled into a final bill, and materially all of the limitations that the House voted on and approved have been stripped away, in favor of a $738 billion bill that continues spending, but makes no attempt to rein in the military in any serious way. The House bill had included the latest attempt to use the power of the purse to end US military involvement in Yemen, something that both houses had attempted to do in a War Powers Act resolution that was previously vetoed by President Trump. That language will not be in the final bill. Nor will House language from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) amendment that said any US attack on Iran could only come with the passage of an authorization for the use of military force against Iran. That is to say, it preemptively aimed to forbid an unauthorized US attack on Iran. The language is gone, and while theoretically the president is meant to be forbidden from unauthorized attacks, that’s not the way recent administrations have treated the law. The bill also removes language that forbade the Pentagon from researching low-yield nuclear weapons. Some officials had been advocating the development of “more usable” nukes, despite concerns that this would mean the usage of search arms would become more common.

‘Gift to Trump’: Democrats and Republicans Unite on $738 Billion Blank Check for War - — A diverse coalition of more than 30 progressive advocacy groups on Tuesday condemned the bipartisan, $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act as a “blank check” to the military-industrial complex that does nothing to restrain President Donald Trump’s reckless foreign policy. With a House vote on the proposed NDAA expected as early as Wednesday, the groups urged lawmakers to vote against the measure.“The NDAA is a massive blank check,” said the coalition, which includes Win Without War, MoveOn, and CodePink.“The authorization of $738 billion is obscene,” the groups added. “Further inflating the Pentagon’s overstuffed coffers does not make us safer—it perpetuates a system that treats military intervention as the solution to all world problems. Meanwhile, every dollar spent by the Pentagon is a dollar not spent on education, healthcare, or climate. When critics attack social spending by asking ‘how will you pay for it?’ this will be our answer.”Bipartisan House and Senate negotiations over the 2020 NDAA stripped out nearly every provision progressives fought to include.The final product increases the Pentagon’s budget by $22 billion and gives Trump his long-sought “Space Force” while doing nothing to end U.S. complicity in Yemen, reverse Trump’s transgender military ban, or prevent a war with Iran.“The results of negotiations for the final text of the NDAA are disastrous,” the coalition said. “The FY2020 NDAA conference report has been so severely stripped of vital House-passed provisions essential to keeping the current administration in check that it no longer represents a compromise, but a near complete capitulation.”“It is a blank check for endless wars, fuel for the further militarization of U.S. foreign policy, and a gift to Donald Trump,” the groups added. “Its failures not only underscore how critical it is that we continue building progressive grassroots movements for a better foreign policy—it calls into question the defense authorization process altogether.”

Amazon lawsuit blames Trump for loss of Pentagon cloud contract (Reuters) - Inc on Monday accused U.S. President Donald Trump of exerting "improper pressure" and bias that led the Department of Defense to award a lucrative $10 billion cloud contract to rival Microsoft Corp. In a complaint filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Amazon said Trump launched "repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks to steer" the Pentagon cloud contract called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, popularly known as JEDI, away from Amazon Web Services. Here is a link to the complaint: The heavily redacted complaint said Trump's motive was to "harm his perceived political enemy-Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder and CEO of AWS's parent company, ... and owner of the Washington Post." Trump's interference made it impossible for the Pentagon to judge a winner "reasonably, consistently, an in a fair and equal manner," Amazon said. Trump has long criticized Bezos and Amazon over low tax payments and accused the Washington Post of acting as a lobbyist for Bezos and Amazon and spreading "fake news." Amazon called for a reevaluation of the proposals submitted to the Pentagon and a new award decision. "The question is whether the President of the United States should be allowed to use the budget of DoD to pursue his own personal and political ends," the 103-page complaint said. Amazon and the Department of Defense did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Details from the complaint were first reported by Bloomberg last week. In recent congressional testimony, a top Pentagon technology official, Dana Deasy, denied that Trump or the White House influenced the JEDI selection process. A challenge to the Defense Department's award announced in October was widely expected by legal experts, analysts and consultants, especially after Trump publicly derided Amazon's bid for the high-stakes contract.

Exclusive: U.S. Army will fund rare earths plant for weapons development -  (Reuters) - The U.S. Army plans to fund construction of rare earths processing facilities, part of an urgent push by Washington to secure domestic supply of the minerals used to make military weapons and electronics, according to a government document seen by Reuters. The move would mark the first financial investment by the U.S. military into commercial-scale rare earths production since World War Two’s Manhattan Project built the first atomic bomb. It comes after President Donald Trump earlier this year ordered the military to update its supply chain for the niche materials, warning that reliance on other nations for the strategic minerals could hamper U.S. defenses. China, which refines most of the world’s rare earths, has threatened to stop exporting the specialized minerals to the United States, using its monopoly as a cudgel in the ongoing trade spat between the world’s two largest economies. “The U.S. rare earths industry needs big help to compete against the Chinese,” said Jim McKenzie, chief executive officer of UCore Rare Metals Inc (UCU.V), which is developing a rare earths project in Alaska. “It’s not just about the money, but also the optics of broad support from Washington.” The Army division overseeing munitions last month asked miners for proposals on the cost of a pilot plant to produce so-called heavy rare earths, a less-common type of the specialized minerals that are highly sought after for use in weaponry, according to the document. The Army said it will fund up to two-thirds of a refiner’s cost and that it would fund at least one project and potentially more. Applicants must provide a detailed business plan and specify where they will source their ore, among other factors.

Saudi Trainee on Military Base Mounts Deadly Attack. Other Saudi nationals were detained for questioning, including some seen filming the attack.A member of the Saudi Air Force training to be a pilot killed three people at Naval Air Station Pensacola before he was shot dead by officers responding to the scene, the authorities said. Other Saudis on the base are being questioned. Six other Saudi nationals were detained for questioning near the scene of the shooting, including three who were seen filming the entire incident, according to a person briefed on the initial stages of the investigation. It was not known whether the six Saudis detained were students in the classroom building, and there was no immediate indication that those filming the incident were connected to the gunman, the person said. The gunman was a Saudi Air Force member training to be a pilot. The gunman, a Saudi national identified by a United States military official as Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was killed by a sheriff’s deputy. Eight people were also wounded on the base, according to Sheriff David Morgan of Escambia County.The shooting took place over two floors in a classroom, the sheriff said. Two deputies were shot in the gun battle, but were expected to recover. The gunman used a locally purchased Glock 45 9-millimeter handgun with an extended magazine and had four to six other magazines in his possession when he was taken down by a sheriff’s deputy, according to the person with knowledge of the investigation.

U.S. grounds Saudi pilots, halts military training after base shooting - (Reuters) - The Pentagon announced on Tuesday it was halting operational training of all Saudi Arabian military personnel in the United States until further notice after a Saudi Air Force lieutenant shot and killed three people last week at a base in Florida. The decision will have far-reaching impacts on visiting Saudi personnel, including grounding more than 300 Saudi Arabian military aviation students as part of a “safety stand-down,” first reported by Reuters earlier on Tuesday. The Pentagon later confirmed the Reuters report about aviation students and added the move would also affect infantry personnel and all other Saudi training, other than classroom training. Such coursework, which includes English-language classes, will continue. A senior U.S. defense official, briefing Pentagon reporters on the decision, said the move was intended to allow for a broader review of security procedures that would eventually apply to all of some 5,000 international military students in the United States. Still, the safety standdown only applied to the some 850 visiting students from Saudi Arabia. The defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the shooting “suggested that there could be a particular improvement with that (nation’s) population.” “I don’t have any evidence to suggest that there is a larger ring or larger conspiracy,” the official said, when asked what was driving the safety-standdown. The FBI has said U.S. investigators believe Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, acted alone when he attacked a U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, before he was fatally shot by a deputy sheriff. .

 Saudi murders revive 9/11′s unanswered questions — America’s veiled relationship with Saudi Arabia took another dark turn Friday when a Saudi national opened fire in a Naval Air Station Pensacola classroom and killed three student sailors. When an FBI official described the violence that also left the gunman dead and two deputies wounded as “an act of terrorism,” it offered a reminder that, when it comes to transparency, the House of Saud enjoys a significant exemption from traditional oversight. Just ask the family of entrepreneur Esam Ghazzawi. No, wait. They fled Sarasota in a rush, before anyone had a chance to ask. Details on what prompted 21-year-old Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Mohammed Alshamrani to start shooting are still being assembled. But between the tragedy in Pensacola, the coordinated assassination and dismemberment of dissident Saudi journalist/Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, and the fact that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, questions about the monarchy’s ostensible Teflon coating refuse to abate. In August, U.S. District Court Judge William Zloch ruled the FBI has, for the last seven years, unlawfully withheld a narrow window of detail of its investigation into what went on at the home of Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hiji, the son-in-law and daughter of Ghazzawi. A consultant to the Royal Family, Ghazzawi bought the home in Sarasota’s gated Prestancia neighborhood in 1995. The family abandoned their place on Escondito Circle at the end of August 2001, “quickly and suddenly,” according to an FBI analyst’s note. “They left behind valuable items, clothing, jewelry and food in a manner that indicated they fled unexpectedly without prior preparation or knowledge.” A 2002 memo from an FBI field agent with the Southwest Florida Domestic Security Task Force noted “many connections” between the al-Hijjis and three of the pilot hijackers — Mohamed Atta, Ziad Jarrah and Marwan al Shehhi. The three learned to fly planes at flight schools in nearby Venice. Records reportedly list them as frequent visitors to the al-Hijji household. But none of this information made it into the “9/11 Commission Report” released in 2004. Those records were procured through Freedom of Information Act requests by Florida Bulldog, an online investigative journalism watchdog, years after the official books were closed.

U.N. Security Council to meet over North Korea on Wednesday at U.S. request - (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council will meet on Wednesday, at the request of the United States, over missile launches by North Korea and the possibility of an “escalatory” provocation after Pyongyang conducted what it said was a key test at satellite launch site. The move comes amid growing tensions and stalled talks between the United States and North Korea that Washington hopes will lead to Pyongyang giving up its nuclear and missile programs. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has given President Donald Trump until the end of the year to offer concessions. Some diplomats and analysts are concerned that North Korea could next year resume nuclear and long-range missile testing that it suspended in 2017. Trump and Kim have met three times during that time, but no progress toward a deal has been made. At least eight countries on the 15-member U.N. Security Council had been pushing for a Tuesday meeting on human rights abuses in North Korea, sparking Pyongyang to warn it would consider such a move a “serious provocation” and that it would “respond strongly.” But the United States, which is president of the Security Council for December, decided to convene a meeting on Wednesday that will focus instead on the threat of escalation by North Korea, diplomats said. A U.S. official said earlier on Monday there would be “a comprehensive update on recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, including recent missile launches and the possibility of an escalatory DPRK provocation.”

North Korea Says Denuclearization "Off Negotiating Table" After Breakdown In Talks -  Just two days after North Korea resumed its "dotard" insults at President Trump, North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations said on Saturday morning that further denuclearization talks are no longer needed with the Trump administration as it appears negotiations have stalled, reported Reuters. In a statement to Reuters, NoKo ambassador, Kim Song, said: "We do not need to have lengthy talks with the US now and denuclearization is already gone out of the negotiating table."He added that "sustained and substantial dialogue" sought by the Trump administration was a "time-saving trick" to accommodate its domestic political agenda, likely referring to the upcoming election year where President Trump is trying to get as many wins as possible to fulfill talking points of first-term success. We noted on Friday that there was less than a month to go before North Korea's self-imposed end of year deadline to cut off nuclear negotiations with Washington if no new concessions were given in the path towards denuclearization. President Trump has told reporters he has a "good relationship" with Kim Jong Un, though he has said the US reserved the right to use military force against Pyongyang.  With talks stalled and denuclearization off the table, it appears that the US and North Korea have wasted several years in discussions and have accomplished absolutely nothing.

"Dotard" Trump Downplays North Korea Missile Test, Says Kim "Has Everything To Lose" If He Acts In Hostile Way - One day after North Korea's UN ambassador told Reuters Saturday that further denuclearization talks are "off the negotiating table" following a breakdown in talks, and the rogue country conducted a "very important" test at its Sohae satellite launch site, president Trump - whom  downplayed Pyongyang’s latest actions, including missile tests, saying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually” if he acts in a hostile way toward the U.S. Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way. He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore. He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere.... — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2019 Trump also tweeted that North Korea "must denuclearize as promised," despite the communist nation's ominous assessment that talks are now over.  Trump said Kim signed a “strong Denuclearization Agreement” when the pair met in Singapore in 2018, although steps toward North Korea giving up its nuclear ambitions were never formalized.

 US renews insults and threats against North Korea - The US administration is stepping up the pressure on North Korea as the end-of-year deadline set by Pyongyang for productive talks is looming. The breakdown of negotiations that began in June 2018, with a summit in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, could lead to a rapid escalation of hostilities. The US called a meeting of the UN Security Council yesterday and foreshadowed “a comprehensive update on recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, including recent missile launches and the possibility of an escalatory DPRK [North Korea] provocation.” US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, told the session that North Korea’s missile tests had been “deeply counterproductive” and risked closing the door on prospects for negotiating peace. She called on Pyongyang to stop “further hostility and threats” and to engage with Washington, then declared that, if not the UN Security Council had to be “prepared to act accordingly.” Craft’s comments are a warning that the US is preparing to end any negotiations if North Korea resumes nuclear testing or fires a long-range ballistic missile after the end of the year, and once again threaten Pyongyang with war. The US ambassador made clear that Washington will take no notice of North Korea’s deadline, saying: “Let me be clear: The United States and the Security Council have a goal—not a deadline.” While talks have proceeded, the US has maintained crippling economic sanctions on North Korea, both its own unilateral measures and those imposed through the UN Security Council. The sanctions regime has affected most North Korean exports, including coal and other minerals, and many of its imports, including oil and petroleum products. For its part, the US has done nothing other than suspend large scale joint military exercises with its ally, South Korea. Confronting mounting economic problems, it is hardly surprising that North Korea set a deadline in April for meaningful negotiations, after a second Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam broke down the same month. Since May, North Korea has carried out 13 missile tests—all short-range—which Washington has largely ignored. Yesterday, Ambassador Craft declared that the US was willing to keep talking and was “flexible” in its approach. “We remain ready to take actions in parallel, and to simultaneously take concrete steps towards this agreement,” she said. That is simply a lie. The talks in Vietnam floundered precisely because the Trump administration has insisted that the Pyongyang regime dismantle its nuclear facilities and programs, along with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, before the US begins the process of ending sanctions against North Korea. Moreover, the US has offered North Korea no security guarantees in return for denuclearization. Washington rebuffed Pyongyang’s offer to begin talks towards a peace treaty to formally end the 1950–1953 Korean War. Hostilities in the bloody US-led conflict which devastated the Korean Peninsula ended with an armistice, but the countries involved remain at war. The US and North Korean leaders met in June for a day in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas, but no agreement emerged about future talks.

Trump signs executive order aimed at suppressing criticism of Israel - At a Hanukkah celebration in the White House Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at suppressing criticism of the Israeli government on college campuses across the United States. The action is targeted in particular at squelching the First Amendment rights of US-based students, professors and other activists involved in the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, by classifying opposition to the policies of the state of Israel as anti-Semitism. Trump’s order expands the federal government’s interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits funding to institutions which discriminate or allow discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin, to include anti-Semitism. Trump declared that his order makes clear that Title VI “prohibits the funding of institutions which traffic in anti-Semitic hate.” He went on to proclaim that if publicly funded universities “want to accept the tremendous amount of federal dollars you get every year you must reject anti-Semitism.” The president boasted of his tremendous support for Israel as proof of his support for Jews, citing his decisions to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognize Israel’s control over the disputed Golan Heights and tear up the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration. While he didn’t specify which institutions were targeted by the order, he did explicitly call out the BDS movement, whose supporters seek to pressure Israel through protests and lobbying into ending its occupation of the West Bank, grant full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and recognize the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Leaders of the BDS movement have been blocked from entering Israel and supporters are routinely smeared as anti-Semites simply for advocating on behalf of the Palestinian people.  Critically, the executive order encourages departments enforcing Title VI to utilize the working definition of anti-Semitism outlined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), aligning policy with the staunchest right-wing defenders of Israel. The IHRA definition describes criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, listing a number of examples, including the description of the establishment of the state of Israel as a “racist endeavor” due to the expulsion of the Palestinian citizens who were already living in the region, or comparing “contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” in establishing an apartheid regime which confines Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The effort to expand the definition of anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel is supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. According to the New York Times , the initiative for the executive order came from David Krone, who had served as chief of staff for Senator Harry Reid when he led Democrats in the Senate.

U.S. panel eyes sanctions against Amit Shah over India's citizenship curb for Muslims - (Reuters) - A federal panel on religion has urged the United States to weigh sanctions against Home Minister Amit Shah if India adopts legislation to exclude Muslims from a path to citizenship for religious minorities from its neighbours. Shah is a close associate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist-led government is seen by critics as pushing an agenda that undermines the secular foundations of India’s democracy. On Tuesday, parliament’s lower house approved the measure covering citizenship for non-Muslim minorities, specifically Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs, who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 2015. The bill has prompted criticism at home and abroad, as it marks the first time India is weighing religion in granting citizenship, although it must first pass the upper house of parliament, where Modi’s party lacks a majority. The measure goes against India’s constitution, which guarantees legal equality to people of all faiths, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said. “If the CAB passes in both houses of parliament, the United States government should consider sanctions against the Home Minister and other principal leadership,” the panel said in a statement, referring to the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). The panel is a bipartisan body that makes foreign policy recommendations to the U.S. leadership.

Turkey Threatens To Revoke US Nuclear Base In Incirlik After Sanctions Bill Advances To Senate Floor - On Wednesday morning the GOP-led Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to advance Turkey sanctions legislation on an 18-4 vote, despite strong objections from the Trump administration. Senators Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz, and Tom Udall vote against it. At the same time, Ankara has threatened to take back US military bases at Incirlik and Kurecik in Turkey, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has announced, saying it would "reevaluate" their status. Sanctions legislation had been stalled by the Republican majority Senate, with the Rand Paul leading the charge against the bill, in order to give Trump more time to make a deal with Turkey over its controversial purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-air defense system. The House had passed its own sanctions legislation in October following Erdogan's ordered military incursion into northern Syria targeting US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces. The bipartisan bill sponsored by Republican Chairman Jim Risch and ranking Democrat Robert Menendez along with 16 other senators."I was willing to let the people talk," Risch told reporters last week, "Very shortly thereafter it changed, and it has gotten worse instead of better." Risch added of the next vote: "I suspect that bill's gonna pass 98-2 on the floor."The measures will including not only sanctions over the S-400 acquirement, but will target specific Turkish officials and institutions as well, including a ban on arms sales tied to operations in Syria.

 Trump meets Russia’s top diplomat amid scrap over election interference - President Trump met with Russia’s top diplomat in the Oval Office on Tuesday, creating a dramatic contrast as House Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment against him for his actions in Ukraine, an ally fending off a Russian-backed insurrection. After the meeting, Trump said he warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov not to interfere in U.S. elections and urged a resolution to the Moscow’s conflict with Ukraine, the White House said. But later in the day, Lavrov only suggested that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue during their separate meeting at the State Department, Lavrov told reporters at the Russian Embassy. The two diplomats clashed during their bilateral meeting when the veteran Russian diplomat denied any evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Pompeo declared that interference had happened and “it’s unacceptable.” Trump later tweeted a picture of himself grinning alongside Lavrov in the Oval Office that recalled one the Russians released following Lavrov’s 2017 visit. “Just had a very good meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and representatives of Russia. Discussed many items including Trade, Iran, North Korea, INF Treaty, Nuclear Arms Control, and Election Meddling. Look forward to continuing our dialogue in the near future!” Trump wrote, using a different transliteration of the diplomat’s name. Trump has repeatedly questioned the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump and harm his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. He has also given credence to a baseless conspiracy theory that Ukraine, which is fighting an irregular war with Russia, had interfered in 2016 on behalf of Clinton. Lavrov’s invitation to Washington came as House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against Trump over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. It also came one day after a meeting between Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris, where the two leaders agreed to implement a “full and comprehensive” cease-fire in eastern Ukraine by the end of the year. 

Elizabeth Warren’s “Foreign Policy” - Raúl Ilargi Meijer -Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev first met in Geneva in 1985, in a summit specifically designed to allow them to discuss the -nuclear- arms race.  Reagan’s successor George H.W. Bush met with Gorbachev first in December 1989 in Malta, and then the two met three times in 1990, among others in Washington where the Chemical Weapons Accord was signed, and in Paris where they signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. They met three more times in 1991, with one of their meetings, in Moscow, resulting in the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). One of the most interesting things agreed on during the Bush-Gorbachev meetings was that Russia would allow Germany to re-unite after the wall came down, in exchange for the promise that NATO would not try to expand eastward.  This came to mind again when I read Elizabeth Warren’s piece in the Guardian today, which made me wonder if she’s for real, if she is really as ignorant as she appears to be when it comes to foreign policy, to Russia, to Trump and to NATO. It would seem that she is, and that makes her a hazard. Not that I see her as a serious candidate, mind you, but then again, I do not see any other one either.  In her article, which reads more than anything like some nostalgic longing for the good old times when she was young, just watch her get all warm and fuzzy over the success of NATO:  Donald Trump Has Destroyed American Leadership – I’ll Restore It:  The success of NATO was a remarkable and hard-won accomplishment, and one based on a recognition that the United States does not become stronger by weakening our allies. But that is just what Trump has done, repeatedly and deliberately.  He has cast doubt on the US commitment to NATO at a moment when a resurgent Russia threatens our institutions and freedoms. He has blindsided our partners on the ground in Syria by ordering a precipitate and uncoordinated withdrawal…. Russia’s land grab in Ukraine has upended the post-1989 vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace”. The chaotic Brexit process has consumed our closest partners, while sluggish growth and rising xenophobia fuel extremist politics and threaten to fracture the European Union. To start with that last point, no. That “post-1989 vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace” was destroyed by NATO’s eastward expansion, executed in spite of US, EU and NATO promises that it wouldn’t. Moreover, you can talk about a resurgent Russia, but the country has hardly recovered economically from the 1980’s and 90’s today, and it has no designs on countries to its west.

White House, Democrats edge closer to deal on trade - President Trump and House Democrats appear to be closing in on a deal to approve a new North American trade agreement, which would set up a major legislative victory for both sides. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka briefed his labor confederation’s executive committee on the emerging deal Monday, while U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner were reportedly set to travel to Mexico. The trip suggests a last-minute move by Kushner and Lighthizer to get a final stamp of approval on the deal from Mexico. A senior House Democratic aide urged caution on Monday, telling The Hill that the caucus is “still studying the proposal” to approve Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). But the fast-moving events suggested that the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were edging closer to an agreement that would make sense for both sides even as they battle over the House’s march toward impeaching Trump. Passage of the deal would fulfill Trump’s pledge to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which cost thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs. It could also bolster Trump’s support in industrial states crucial to his electoral coalition that lost thousands of jobs after the 1993 enactment of NAFTA. “I hear they're doing very well on USMCA,” Trump said Monday to reporters at the White House, explaining that “a lot of strides have been made over the last 24 hours with unions and others.” “I’m hearing from unions and others that it’s looking good, and I hope they put it up to a vote,” Trump continued. “If they put it up to a vote, it’s going to pass. A lot of Democrats want to pass it too, and we look forward to that.” The support of the AFL-CIO could help win over skeptical Democrats and line up a vote on final passage before the end of the year. An agreement on USMCA could prompt the House Ways and Means Committee to hold a hearing on the deal as soon as this week, though a committee spokeswoman declined to comment. Pelosi is under pressure from moderates to secure a USMCA agreement to give her vulnerable colleagues political cover from an impeachment backlash in 2020.  If the two sides do reach a deal just before Christmas, it is unclear if the House will move quickly toward a vote. Doing so would require deft maneuvering as lawmakers scramble to avert a government shutdown and the House tees up articles of impeachment.

China Sees U.S. Delaying Dec. 15 Tariffs as Talks Continue - Chinese officials expect President Donald Trump to delay a threatened tariff increase set for Sunday, giving more time to negotiate an interim trade deal that both sides continue to insist is close to fruition despite a series of missed deadlines, according to people familiar with the discussions. The two sides, staying in almost daily contact, have also come closer to an agreement on scaling back the tariffs already in place. But rather than removing or rolling back existing levies, the focus has been on reducing the rate of the tariffs already in effect, according to officials and other people familiar with the talks. The U.S. has added a 25% duty on about $250 billion of Chinese products and a 15% levy on another $110 billion of its imports over the course of a 20-month trade war. Discussions now are focused on reducing those rates by as much as half. New tariffs are due to take effect on Dec. 15 on a list comprising some $160 billion in imports from China including consumer items like smartphones and toys. People familiar with the discussions say Trump is expected to meet with his trade team on Thursday as discussions continue over a potential delay. Asian stocks were off to a muted open on Wednesday as investors await developments. Japanese equities opened flat. They were modestly higher in Australia and South Korea. S&P 500 futures were little changed. U.S. Secretary Of Agriculture Sonny Perdue Speaks At Farm Progress Show Sonny PerduePhotographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg Beijing sees delaying that increase on imported consumer goods as allowing the talks to continue on the unfinished items in phase-one of the accord, two officials said on condition on anonymity because the conversations are private. While the Trump administration has yet to announce any postponement, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Monday that he believed there will be “some backing away” on a new wave of tariffs that the U.S. business community has been lobbying against. That sentiment was backed up by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who told the Fox Business Network on Tuesday that getting the right deal is more important than whether it comes before or after Dec. 15. “Every day that goes by, we are in a better negotiating position,” he said, adding that most of the tougher issues will be addressed in later phases of negotiations. Larry Kudlow, the head of the White House National Economic Council, warned Tuesday that the tariff increase remains in play for now, although he said Trump is encouraged by the progress he is seeing in the talks.

Peter Navarro Highlights Case For More China Tariffs In Memo - White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro, under the secret pen name of Ron Vara, emailed a memo around Washington, making a case for more tariffs on China to continue forcing structural change in their economy, reported The New York Times. "Much debate going on," Ron Vara wrote, referring to the current debate within the Trump administration whether to reduce tariffs or to go ahead with the next round on Dec. 15. "Here's one side that has not been in focus. Thoughts?"The Times explained Ron Vara is a fictional character that Navarro created so that he could anonymously voice his trade opinion and influence the trade debate.  Navarro was uncovered as Ron Vara in Oct. by an Australian scholar.The Times said Navarro had verified the authenticity of the memo:"On a daily basis, I speak to, or correspond with, people that I respect, and don't necessarily agree with, to receive their thoughts on issues critical to American workers and the American people," Navarro said. "This kind of active dialogue makes for the best possible decisions."He added: "Such a free exchange of ideas is essential to the success of an administration that is simultaneously putting up the best economic numbers in a half-century and achieving success after success on the trade front." He described a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico that is on track to become law as "just the latest big win." The memo says that the Trump administration should continue forcing significant structural changes in China's economy through waging a tariff war.

 U.S. offers to cancel December 15 tariffs on Chinese goods: WSJ - (Reuters) - U.S. trade negotiators have offered to cancel a new round of tariffs on imported Chinese goods set to take effect on Sunday as part of an effort to cement a phase-one deal to de-escalate the trade relationship between the two powers, the Wall Street Journal said on Thursday. Citing people briefed on matter, the Journal also said Trump administration negotiators have offered to cut existing tariffs by as much as half on roughly $360 billion of Chinese-made goods.

U.S. sources say terms set for China trade deal, but Beijing mum - - A source briefed on the status of bilateral negotiations said the United States would suspend tariffs on $160 billion in Chinese goods expected to go into effect on Sunday and roll back existing tariffs. In return, Beijing would agree to buy $50 billion in U.S. agricultural goods in 2020, double what it bought in 2017, before the trade conflict started, two U.S.-based sources briefed on the talks said. Neither Washington nor Beijing had made official statements, however, raising questions about whether the terms had been agreed by both sides. New Chinese tariffs on U.S. goods are due to take effect at 0401 GMT Sunday and new U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods will apply at 0501 GMT. Both would need to make formal announcements to postpone or cancel these tariffs. Two people familiar with the negotiations had said earlier on Thursday that Washington offered to cut existing tariffs on Chinese goods by as much as 50% and suspend the new tariffs scheduled for Sunday in order to secure a “Phase 1” deal first promised in October. It was unclear whether there was a written deal or if Beijing had even agreed to it, one Washington-based source familiar with the talks told Reuters.

China to US amid reported trade deal: 'Calm down' - China's top diplomat on Friday said that the U.S. needed to "calm down" regarding the tentative limited trade deal that was reached between the two countries Thursday. “We are willing to resolve the contradictions and differences with the U.S. through dialogue and discussions based on equality and mutual respect, but we will never accept unilateral sanctions or bullying,” Yi told reporters, according to The Washington Post. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also called the U.S. the "troublemaker of the world" in reference to Washington's support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Wang's critical comments come after the White House announced that President Trump had reached a limited trade deal with Beijing. Under the reported deal, tariffs on $160 billion of Chinese goods scheduled to go into effect Sunday have been delayed and the existing tariffs on $360 billion of Chinese goods will be reduced. In return, China will buy $50 billion of U.S. farm products, tighten domestic intellectual property laws and open its financial services markets, the Post reports. A spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry deflected when asked about the supposed deal, saying “As soon as reports suggesting the phase one deal was reached emerged, the major stock markets in the U.S. and Europe jumped." "This illustrates that a deal through negotiation is beneficial to both nations and their peoples, and it is what the international community wants,” she added.

Trump casts doubt on China deal --President Trump on Friday cast doubt on the status of a reported "phase one" deal with China that would involve a massive drop in U.S. tariffs. "The Wall Street Journal story on the China Deal is completely wrong, especially their statement on Tariffs. Fake News. They should find a better leaker!" he Tweeted.  The Wall Street Journal was among several publications that reported that Trump was preparing to scrap new tariffs scheduled to go into effect on Sunday and cut existing tariffs in half on $360 billion of Chinese imports as part of an initial trade deal.China, in exchange, would commit to major agricultural purchases, easing the pain on farmers hit by its targeted retaliatory tariffs.Other reports noted that China had not yet signed on to the deal.Stocks on Thursday had soared to new heights on reports that the deal would go ahead. Trump had touted the "Record Stock Market & Jobs!" on Twitter just 15 minutes before Tweeting about the veracity of the reports.  China's top diplomat on Friday gave a scathing speech about the United States, calling the country a "troublemaker" and urging it to "calm down," according to The Washington Post. China, he told reporters, was "willing to resolve the contradictions and differences with the U.S. through dialogue and discussions based on equality and mutual respect, but we will never accept unilateral sanctions or bullying." CNBC reported that Chinese officials were set to hold a press conference later Friday to specifically discuss the trade talks.

Trump, China announce 'Phase One' trade deal - President Trump and China on Friday announced that they had reached a "Phase One" trade deal that would see a reduction in tariffs from both sides and increase China's purchases of U.S. agricultural products. "We have agreed to a very large Phase One Deal with China," Trump wrote, adding that negotiations on "Phase Two" of the deal would begin immediately, rather than after the 2020 election. Trump separately pushed back at reports that he had agreed to halve the 25 percent tariffs on $360 billion of Chinese imports. "The 25% Tariffs will remain as is, with 7 1/2% put on much of the remainder," he wrote. In a press conference that began just minutes before, Chinese officials announced that agreement had been reached on text for the nine-part deal. The tariffs would not come down all at once, however, but rather be phased out over time. But officials also noted that specifics regarding agricultural purchases, a major sticking point for Trump, would be released at a later time. Agricultural imports from the U.S., officials conceded, would increase. The Chinese officials seemed to indicate that the value of tariff reduction would be equivalent to halving the tariffs and that they would respond in kind with reductions in retaliatory tariffs. The two sides are working toward wrapping up legal reviews and arranging for an official signing. Earlier in the morning, Trump cast doubt on the deal, saying on Twitter that a Wall Street Journal article on the deal "is completely wrong, especially their statement on Tariffs. Fake News."

China, U.S. Agree on Initial Trade Deal to Remove Some Tariffs - China and the U.S. agreed on the text of a phase one trade deal that includes the removal of tariffs on Chinese goods in stages, Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said, as President Donald Trump confirmed that some levies will be reduced and said the next round of talks will start immediately. China will increase imports from the U.S. and other countries, Wang said at a briefing in Beijing Friday. Vice Chairman of the National Reform and Development Commission Ning Jizhe added that the specifics of agricultural purchases would be released later, as the text of the agreement is still under review. The comments were China’s first response to a deal signed off by Trump on Thursday that would halt higher tariffs planned for Dec. 15 and represent the first phase in defusing the trade war that’s shaken the global economy. Trump tweeted, “we have agreed to a very large Phase One Deal with China. They have agreed to many structural changes and massive purchases of Agricultural Product, Energy, and Manufactured Goods, plus much more. The 25% Tariffs will remain as is, with 7 1/2% put on much of the remainder...” By keeping much of the existing tariffs in place, Trump told reporters later Friday that the U.S. would have leverage in the next round of talks. “We’ll use them for future negotiations on the phase-two deal,” Trump said, adding that his administration was planning to wait until after the 2020 election for the next step. “They’d like to start them sooner than that, and that’s OK.” The deal text, which comprises nine chapters, includes sections on intellectual property, forced technology transfer, food and agricultural products, finance, currency and transparency, boosting trade, bilateral assessment and dispute resolution, according to Chinese officials.

U.S., Canada and Mexico sign agreement - again - to replace NAFTA - (Reuters) - Top officials from Canada, Mexico and the United States signed a fresh overhaul of a quarter-century-old trade pact on Tuesday that aims to improve enforcement of worker rights and hold down prices for biologic drugs by eliminating a patent provision. The signing ceremony in Mexico City launched what may be the final approval effort for U.S. President Donald Trump’s three-year quest to revamp the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a deal he has blamed for the loss of millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs. The event at the National Palace was attended by Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and U.S. White House adviser Jared Kushner. The result of a rare show of bipartisan and cross-border cooperation in the Trump era of global trade conflicts, the deal was inked the same day as he became the fourth U.S. president in history to face formal impeachment. “They approved it today of all days,” Trump told reporters at the White House, calling it the “silver lining” of impeachment. The pact quickly got bogged down in more party division, however, as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would likely wait for a vote on the deal until after the impeachment trial - likely kicking ratification into next year. Friction also emerged over how intrusive foreign enforcement of labor rules would be in Mexico. Nonetheless, Lighthizer called it “a miracle” that unions, businesses and actors from across the political spectrum had come together, saying it was a testament to the benefits of the deal. Lopez Obrador credited Trump for working with him, while Freeland celebrated a win for multilateralism. “We have accomplished this together at a moment when, around the world, it is increasingly difficult to get trade deals done,” she said.

'NAFTA lite': Trump and Democrats' trade deal is similar to pact president mocked as 'worst ever' – President Donald Trump relentlessly ridiculed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada as the “worst trade deal ever” when he was running for office and promised to rip it up if he was elected.But instead of tearing the agreement to shreds, Trump mostly patched it up.The new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, known as the USMCA, that is supposed to replace NAFTA – and which appears headed for congressional approval following a deal this week between Trump and House Democrats – is in many ways similar to its quarter-century-old predecessor.More than half of the new trade agreement simply modernizes provisions already contained in NAFTA.“The president didn’t rip up NAFTA, nor is this just a rebranding of NAFTA with the Trump and House Democrats’ names on it,” said Daniel Ujczo, an international trade attorney in Ohio.Instead of demolishing NAFTA and starting over, “it’s a renovation of North American trade,” Ujczo said. “We put a fresh coat of paint on about 60 percent of the deal, so we kept what worked in the original NAFTA. But we have upgraded some applications and fixtures in terms of the technology chapters and customs chapters. And then we knocked down some walls.”Democrats, labor groups and other critics mocked the new trade proposal as “NAFTA lite” when Trump announced the agreement last year after more than a year of talks with Mexico and Canada.House Democrats insisted on revisions before they would allow the deal to be put to a vote. After months of negotiations with the Trump administration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a series of changes to the deal on Tuesday, including stronger provisions Democrats had wanted on labor, enforcement and pharmaceuticals.

House vote imminent on the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act—which would lower wages for migrant farmworkers: Hearings and assessments of impacts still needed  -- On October 30, Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Cal.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), along with dozens of other bipartisan cosponsors, introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA), a compromise bill negotiated between representatives of agribusiness, farmworker advocates, and unions that would legalize unauthorized immigrant farmworkers, make major reforms and expansions to the H-2A temporary work visa program, and require farm employers to use E-Verify, an electronic employment verification system, to verify whether newly hired workers are authorized to be employed in the United States. The FWMA could legalize hundreds of thousands of unauthorized farmworkers while restructuring the landscape for farm employment. The House of Representatives looks set to vote on the FWMA as early as this week. The FWMA would solve an important farm labor issue—perhaps the most important issue—legalizing unauthorized farm workers and their families. But it would also change the rules of a problematic temporary work visa program, H-2A, where migrant workers are indentured to their employers, often abused and exploited in the fields, paid low wages and robbed of their wages, sometimes live in substandard housing, and have at times been victims of human trafficking. The H-2A rule changes in the FWMA would expand the H-2A program to year-round occupations, prohibit wage growth that might otherwise occur in the free market, and codify into law most of a new H-2A wage regulation that was recently put into place by the Trump administration—which is geared towards lowering the wages of most migrant workers in the H-2A program—and which many worker advocates opposed publicly. These provisions should raise concerns about the impact of the FWMA on the H-2A program and the future farm labor force but have not yet been explored in any congressional hearing focusing on the FWMA or through the publication of any government reports, or even credible research by non-governmental organizations. Considering the large and emerging role of H-2A in farm labor, perhaps the single biggest question about the FWMA from a labor standards perspective is: what will happen to H-2A wage rates under the bill? The FWMA updates and codifies a new H-2A wage rule—known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate or AEWR. In the absence of any existing credible analysis of the FWMA, I offer some comments below outlining my concerns with some of the H-2A wage provisions in the bill. In order to understand its possible impact however, a brief discussion of the current AEWR and the recently proposed Trump H-2A wage rule is needed because the FWMA mostly incorporates the proposed Trump H-2A wage rule.

Border Patrol threw away migrants’ belongings. A janitor saved and photographed them - From a distance, it’s hard to make out the details of a bright yellow photograph that seems like a piece of Pop art. But up close, the carefully arranged assortment of objects — colorful pills, wrappers and ointments for treating ailments like heartburn, diarrhea, and headaches — come into full view. There’s even insulin among the ordered chaos.These items were all seized from migrants and asylum seekers trekking through the desert in an attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Deemed potentially lethal or nonessential by border officials, the medications were thrown away, along with other personal belongings, during the first stages of processing at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in southern Arizona.While working as a janitor at the same facility from 2003 to 2014, photographer Tom Kiefer secretly collected the belongings and later began shooting them. More than 100 of his photos make up the exhibition “El Sueño Americano / The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer” on view at the Skirball Cultural Center until March 8.Some photos are large. One features 15 heavy-duty, black plastic bottles wrapped in remnants of clothing or blanket. In another, 32 CDs labeled with titles including “Super Sappy Songs for Issa 2,” “Brown Pride” and “Boogie Nights” have been evenly spaced on top of a bubble-gum-pink background.  Smaller photos — of a love letter, pieces of jewelry, a rabbit’s foot keychain — show individual items seized and discarded by border officials. Throwing away the personal belongings “underscores the cruelty of the tentative punishment that the government feels the need to levy against these people,” Kiefer said. “It’s clear the majority of which are decent, contributing and who want nothing more than a better life for themselves or for their family.”

 Trump administration's plans for SNAP are a shove down, not a hand up -While most people are opening their hearts and helping others this holiday season, the administration is headed in the opposite direction, penalizing the poor by taking away their basic necessities and making it harder for them to climb out of poverty.Last week, it finalized a plan to strip Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from nearly 700,000 people – many of whom have limited education and skills and mental and physical limitations.Billed as a way to extend a “helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” this rule implies it helps Americans get jobs when you take away their food.While we can all agree a good job is the best solution to hunger and poverty, this rule does nothing to help those impacted find a stable job or get back on their feet; it will only cause hunger and hardship.Let me be clear, this rule is not a hand up. It’s a shove down.And it’s just one part of a concentrated effort from this administration to take food assistance from some of the most vulnerable among us.Over the last year, three new rules have been proposed that would restrict SNAP eligibility and reduce benefits. One of them would hit working poor fa milies with children particularly hard by eliminating SNAP benefits and putting their free school meals in jeopardy.This is poor public policy. It’s also shortsighted. SNAP is a highly effective program that lifts millions of people out of poverty and food insecurity each year. Children who receive SNAP have better health and education outcomes and even lifetime earnings. By any measure, it has an ROI that any corporate executive would envy.That is why it is so baffling that the administration would propose eliminating such effective policies and threaten the progress our country has made in the fight to end hunger. A new study from the Urban Institute shows that the combined impact of these rules, two of which are not yet final, would result in 3.7 million fewer people receiving SNAP in an average month. Millions more would see lower benefits and 982,000 students would also lose automatic eligibility for free school meals.

Justices to hear ObamaCare case with billions at stake - The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear oral arguments in the latest ObamaCare case to reach the justices, this time in a $12 billion dispute over payments insurers say they are owed by the federal government. At issue is a financial carrot that Congress dangled before insurers to encourage their participation in the early years of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) health care marketplaces. The funding program in question, known as risk corridors, sought to mitigate risk by protecting insurers against unforeseeable losses in the new markets. But Republicans later passed a measure that sharply reduced the amount of funds available for reimbursement payments, sparking legal challenges. “At its core, this isn’t really a case about health policy,” Christen Linke Young, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The Hill. “It’s a case about whether or not the government keeps its word.” It marks the fifth time the high court is weighing in on ObamaCare. And while this time the fate of the law itself is not in the balance, the case still has high stakes for insurers and for the Trump administration, which could find itself in the awkward position of having to pay out billions even as it fights to end the law. When Congress passed the ACA in 2010, they made it illegal to deny coverage or charge higher premiums for people with preexisting conditions or others who could potentially be costly to insure. This made it difficult for providers to know how much to charge in premiums to cover their expenses. To offset market uncertainty, Congress included several financial cushions for insurers who agreed to participate in the new individual and small gro Under the risk corridor program, the government agreed to reimburse certain expenses borne by insurers whose costs were higher than expected. At the same time, insurers with lower-than-expected costs were required to pay a portion of their profits into the risk corridor fund.

  Pelosi reaches deal with progressives to avert showdown over drug price bill - Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reached a deal with progressive leaders on Tuesday night to avert a showdown over her signature bill to lower drug prices. The deal with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will include two changes that progressives have been pushing for over the course of weeks. Those changes are to increase the minimum number of drugs subject to negotiation under the bill from 35 to 50 and to restore the implementation of Jayapal’s amendment, which would extend protections against drug price spikes to people on employer-sponsored health insurance plans, not just those on Medicare. The deal prevents a showdown on Thursday when the bill will come to the floor for a vote. Progressive leaders had been contemplating a rare full-scale rebellion against Pelosi, thinking of blocking a vote on the drug pricing bill by trying to vote down a procedural motion. “This is a huge win, and it shows what we can do when we stick together and all push hard for the American people,” Jayapal said in a statement. The deal comes after Jayapal and Pocan met with Pelosi on Tuesday afternoon, capping off months of meetings between progressives and Pelosi pushing for bolder moves. Progressives have long been pushing for changes to the bill and frequently complained that the process was closed-off and not allowing them enough input. The underlying bill is one of House Democrats’ top priorities as they seek to show they are addressing kitchen table issues at the same time as impeachment. Lowering drug prices was a major Democratic campaign promise in 2018. The measure allows the government to negotiate lower drug prices, with the lower prices applied to people with private insurance as well as those on Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office found the negotiation provisions would save $456 billion over 10 years. The bill is expected to die in the Senate, though, where Republicans have denounced the measure as “socialist” and warned it would hinder the development of new drugs.

Trump heads to court in fight over emoluments The Trump administration is heading to court this week in two lawsuits charging that the president is violating the Constitution by profiting off of his hotels and other businesses while in office. The cases revolve around the Constitution’s once-obscure emoluments clauses, which critics say President Trump has flouted, giving foreign diplomats an opening to curry favor with him by patronizing his businesses. On Monday, a panel of judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments over whether members of Congress can sue the president for alleged emoluments violations, and on Thursday, the full 4th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments over whether state attorneys general can bring their own case. The high-stakes arguments come as the president is facing an impeachment inquiry in the House and as he has appealed to the Supreme Court to shield his financial documents in multiple lawsuits. The Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause was included in order to prevent corruption and foreign influence of the federal government. It says that "no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State." Another provision known as the Domestic Emoluments Clause prohibits the president from receiving emoluments from any of the states. The Foreign Emoluments Clause has encouraged many presidents to tread cautiously in accepting gifts from foreign entities. In 2009, former President Obama consulted the Department of Justice for legal advice on whether accepting the Nobel Peace Prize would violate the emoluments clauses. Former President Kennedy sought advice on whether accepting honorary Irish citizenship would be constitutional. And every former president in recent history has opted to sell off their assets or place them in a blind trust upon taking office in order to avoid conflicts of interest, including those prohibited by the emoluments clauses. But Trump has defiantly rejected such moves, placing his family in charge of his business interests while in office. Concerns about the president mixing his official functions with business reemerged when, in October, he floated hosting the next Group of Seven summit with foreign leaders at his Trump National Doral Miami resort. Trump backed down from the plan but dismissed critics and what he called the "phony emoluments clause."

Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe - The Justice Department inspector general on Monday released a long-awaited report that found FBI agents were not motivated by political bias in opening investigations into associates of the Trump campaign in 2016. The report, however, sharply criticizes the FBI over its handling of applications to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, providing fodder for Trump and his Republican allies while at the same time undercutting a key GOP talking point that agents driven by bias improperly targeted then-candidate Trump. The findings released by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz set the stage for a partisan showdown on Capitol Hill, where he is slated to testify publicly Wednesday to answer questions from a Senate panel about the inquiry into the FBI’s Russia probe. “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations,” the report states, referring to investigations into four people on Trump's campaign: George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Page. Horowitz further concluded that the FBI had “an authorized purpose” to launch an investigation to “obtain information about, or to protect against, a national security threat or federal crime, even though the investigation also had the potential to impact constitutionally protected activity.” The report found that the FBI launched its investigation into the Trump campaign, dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane,” after it received information from a friendly foreign government on July 28, 2016, that Papadopoulos had suggested the campaign received an indication that Russia could assist in the election process by releasing damaging information on then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Horowitz did not find evidence that additional information was used as the basis to launch the investigation, but said the FBI and other intelligence agencies were already aware at the time of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. But the nearly 500-page report was deeply critical of certain aspects of the FBI’s handling of the investigation. The inspector general outlined seven “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in its application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to monitor Page, some of them related to the FBI’s assertions or omissions regarding information they received from Christopher Steele, an ex-British intelligence agent who authored the notorious Trump-Russia dossier. “We found that members of the Crossfire Hurricane team failed to meet the basic obligation to ensure that the Carter Page FISA applications were ‘scrupulously accurate,’” the report states.

Trump: Watchdog report shows FBI 'attempted overthrow' of government  -- President Trump on Monday hailed a new report from the Justice Department inspector general, claiming it showed FBI officials attempted “an overthrow of government” by investigating his 2016 presidential campaign.“This was an overthrow of government, this was an attempted overthrow and a lot of people were in on it and they got caught, they got caught red-handed,” Trump said in the Cabinet Room at the White House during a roundtable event on education.“I think I'm going to put this down as one of our great achievements. Because what we found and what we saw — never, ever should this happen again in our country,” Trump continued.Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s lengthy report issued Monday, however, said that FBI agents were not motivated by political bias in deciding to open investigations into Trump campaign associates and aides during 2016 as part of the probe into Russia's election interference, undercutting a key talking point put forth by Trump and his Republican allies.Horowitz also found that the FBI had an “authorized purpose” to launch the investigation, a conclusion that Attorney General William Barrdisagreed with on Monday in a public statement.Horowitz’s report also criticized the FBI’s handling of applications for warrants to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.The watchdog outlined seven “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the FBI’s application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to monitor Page, some of them related to the FBI’s assertions or omissions regarding information they received from ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who authored the Trump-Russia dossier.  Republicans have seized on those revelations as evidence of wrongdoing by top officials at the FBI, while Democrats have described the report as bucking Trump’s long held claim that the Russia investigation was a politically driven “witch hunt” against him.

Report unmasks FBI intervention in 2016 elections - The report issued Monday by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the FBI investigation into the 2016 Trump election campaign documents the extraordinary political role played by this key police/intelligence agency in influencing the outcome of the 2016 election. The report underscores the fraud of the effort by the Democrats to impeach Trump on the grounds that he has invited “foreign intervention” into the 2020 elections. The greatest threat to American democracy comes not from Russia or any other foreign country, but from the operations of the military-intelligence agencies of the capitalist state, which do the bidding of Wall Street and the financial aristocracy. The report shows that the conflict between the CIA-backed Democrats and the fascistic Trump is a fight between two right-wing forces, both implacably committed to the interests of American imperialism and both hostile to the social and democratic rights of the working class. The Horowitz report begins with the decision by the FBI, on July 31, 2016, to open a preliminary investigation into the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. This action was triggered by information passed to the FBI by the Australian ambassador to Britain, who encountered a Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, in London. Papadopoulos boasted that Russia had acquired a large number of damaging emails from the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign and would soon make them public. The bulk of the media coverage of the Horowitz report goes no further than this: his claim that the FBI proceeded properly, according to its own rules and regulations, in opening the investigation, and that political hostility to Trump and the Republicans played no role in that decision. But far more significant is the context in which this decision was made and the subsequent actions of the FBI operation, given the codename Crossfire Hurricane, over the next three months. Throughout the period from July through October 2016, the critical final months of the election campaign, the FBI became the focal point of political conflicts within the US ruling elite and the effective arbiter of the struggle between Clinton and Trump, the two most unpopular figures ever to run as major party candidates for the presidency.

The Inspector General’s ‘Witch Hunt’ Report: A Quick and Dirty Analysis - When you see folks crowing about errors in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications and the misconduct described in the inspector general’s report released on Dec. 9, take a deep breath and try to remember the allegations that sparked this review of the Russia investigation. It wasn’t that long ago. You can do it if you try. The allegations weren’t about sloppy handling of a FISA application, serious though that issue undoubtedly is. They weren’t even about an FBI lawyer altering an email.They were about whether the FBI’s Russia investigation was a malicious “WITCH HUNT!”: Hundreds and hundreds of television hours and countless articles, each more breathless than the next, were devoted to propagating these claims, which were repeated so often that they have become truths for millions of Americans. Even though they were never true.On Dec. 9, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz declared in more than 450 pages that the “Witch Hunt” narrative was nonsense. Yes, the investigation had problems—some of them serious. But the problems were not political in character. There was no effort to “get” candidate Trump. There was no “insurance policy.” There was no coup. There was no treason. There was, rather, a properly predicated investigation that began when the FBI has always said it began and because of the information the FBI has always said triggered it. The investigation used proper investigative techniques. And while there were errors along the way, a degree of sloppiness that warrants addressing seriously, the inspector general does not find that any authorized surveillance was illegal.I have not read the report in detail yet. But here are some initial thoughts following an effort to digest its major findings quickly.

'A Clear Abuse'- Barr, Durham Object To IG FISA Probe Findings In Stunning Statements - Following the highly anticipated release of the DOJ Inspector General's so-called FISA report, Attorney General Bill Barr and his hand-picked US Attorney, John Durham, have issued statements disagreeing with the IG's conclusions.The report found that while the FBI made serious errors investigating the Trump campaign, and relied heavily on the discredited Steele dossier, that the agency was ultimately justified in launching a counterintelligence operation, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane."The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken," Barr said in a statement released shortly after the FISA report."It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory," he continued. "Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration."Barr added that the FISA report reveals a "clear abuse" of the surveillance court."In the rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source.""The Inspector General found the explanations given for these actions unsatisfactory. While most of the misconduct identified by the Inspector General was committed in 2016 and 2017 by a small group of now-former FBI officials, the malfeasance and misfeasance detailed in the Inspector General’s report reflects a clear abuse of the FISA process."

Horowitz report is damning for the FBI and unsettling for the rest of us -- The analysis of the report by Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz greatly depends, as is often the case, on which cable news channel you watch. Indeed, many people might be excused for concluding that Horowitz spent 476 pages to primarily conclude one thing, which is that the Justice Department acted within its guidelines in starting its investigation into the 2016 campaign of President Trump. Horowitz did say that the original decision to investigate was within the discretionary standard of the Justice Department. That standard for the predication of an investigation is low, simply requiring “articulable facts.” He said that, since this is a low discretionary standard, he cannot say it was inappropriate to start. United States Attorney John Durham, who is heading the parallel investigation at the Justice Department, took the usual step of issuing a statement that he did not believe the evidence supported that conclusion at the beginning of the investigation. Attorney General William Barr also issued a statement disagreeing with the threshold statement. Nevertheless, the Justice Department has a standard requiring the least intrusive means of investigating such entities as presidential campaigns, particularly when it is the campaign of the opposing party. That threshold finding is then followed by the remainder of the report, which is highly damaging and unsettling. Horowitz finds a litany of false and even falsified representations used to continue the secret investigation targeting the Trump campaign and its associates. This is akin to reviewing the Titanic and saying that the captain was not unreasonable in starting the voyage. The question becomes what occurred when icebergs began appearing. Horowitz says that investigative icebergs appeared very early on, and the Justice Department not only failed to report that to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court but also removed evidence that its investigation was on a collision course. The investigation was largely based on a May 2016 conversation between Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in London. Papadopolous reportedly said he heard that Russia had thousands of emails from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That was viewed as revealing possible prior knowledge of the WikiLeaks release two months later, which was then used to open four investigations targeting the campaign and Trump associates. Democrats and the media lambasted Trump for saying the Justice Department was “spying” on his campaign, and many said it was just an investigation into figures like Carter Page. Horowitz describes poorly founded investigations that included undercover FBI agents and an array of different sources. What they discovered is the real point of the Horowitz report.

The FBI Inspector General’s Report Has Bad News for Democrats, Too - The long-awaited report from the Justice Department’s inspector general on the origins of the FBI’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign is now public, and it finds that the initial investigation was deeply flawed but nonetheless justified. The senior officials and agents who opened the investigation, says the report, made serious mistakes but were not motivated by political bias. Some Democrats, predictably, are claiming vindication. Some Republicans, just as predictably, are challenging its findings. Neither side is completely wrong — or right, for that matter — but the Democrats might want to show a bit more humility. The report is devastating about the FBI’s court-ordered surveillance of a Trump campaign aide in what was known as “Crossfire Hurricane,” the investigation into whether Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. In the words of Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s national security project: “When the Justice Department’s inspector general finds significant concerns regarding flawed surveillance applications concerning the president’s campaign advisers, it is clear that this regime lacks basic safeguards and is in need of serious reform.” In particular, Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report concludes that the bureau’s application for a warrant to electronically spy on a former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, was riddled with errors of fact and omitted exculpatory information. The application relied on political opposition research from a former British spy, Christopher Steele, whose credibility was exaggerated in the surveillance warrant application to a secret court. On its own, the fate of Page is not important. It matters because his surveillance gives the public a window into how the process for obtaining electronic surveillance warrants from a secret court can be easily gamed. Because surveillance of a suspected foreign agent or terrorist must be kept from the target, these court proceedings rely on FBI and Justice Department lawyers for the exculpatory information that a defense attorney would provide in an open court proceeding. In the case of Page, that process failed. The report says, for example, that FBI agents did not share with attorneys reviewing the warrant that Page had actually been cooperating with another U.S. intelligence agency on Russia, even after one of those attorneys specifically asked for such information. It also says the first warrant request failed to include that Page told a confidential FBI informant that he had never met former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, contradicting Steele’s claim that Page was acting as a conduit between the Kremlin and Manafort for dirt on Hillary Clinton. All told, the report cites 17 serious errors of fact and omissions in the Page surveillance warrant. “These errors and omissions resulted from case agents providing wrong or incomplete information,” it says. The omitted information meant that “much of that information was inconsistent with, or undercut, the assertions contained” in the surveillance warrant applications.

IG Report Confirms Brennan Lied Through His Teeth About Steele Dossier - While the hotly anticipated IG 'FISA' report was perhaps the world's loudest wrist-slap - resulting in just one criminal referral despite a mountain of evidence that the FBI's top brass made serious errors while investigating the Trump campaign, The Federalist's Madeline Osburn points out that former CIA director John Brennan was just caught in a lie when he said they did not rely on the infamous Steele dossier for the Obama administration's Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA).  The ICA report - thrown together over the course of a month, was used to inform President Barack Obama and then-President-elect Donald Trump in January, 2017 of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 US election. And according to Monday's FISA report, there was significant discussion on whether to include the Steele dossier in the main body of the ICA report - with former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe saying that "he felt strongly that the Steele election reporting belonged in the body of the ICA, because he feared that placing it in an appendix was ‘tacking it on’ in a way that would ‘minimiz[e]’ the information and prevent it from being properly considered." Ultimately, the ICA included a short summary and assessment of the dossier, which was incorporated in an appendix. “In the appendix, the intelligence agencies explained that there was ‘only limited corroboration of the source’s reporting’ and that Steele’s election reports were not used ‘to reach analytic conclusions of the CIA/FBI/NSA assessment,'” the IG report states. -The Federalist

Steele had 'personal' relationship with Ivanka Trump, DoJ report reveals --The former MI6 officer Christopher Steele had a “personal” relationship withIvanka Trump and gifted her a “family tartan from Scotland” as a present, the long-awaited report by US Department of Justice inspector general, Michael Horowitz, revealed on Monday. Horowitz’s review of the FBI’s 2016 investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign and its links with Russia includes fresh details of Steele’s interactions with the FBI, and startling claims about his relationship with the Trumps dating back to the period before he wrote a controversial dossier on Trump. The report did not mention Ivanka Trump by name but her identity was revealed by ABC News.The report said that contrary to what Donald Trump has claimed on Twitter Steele was actually “favorably disposed” to the Trump family. It was “ridiculous” to suggest he was biased against the then Republican candidate or that his memos on collusion, written at the behest of the Washington-based research firm Fusion GPS, were in any way biased, Steele told federal investigators. Steele said he had visited Ivanka Trump at Trump Tower and had been “friendly” with her for “some years”. He described their relationship as “personal”. The former British government spy had even given her a “family tartan from Scotland” as a present, the report quoted him as saying.

Horowitz Report Reveals the Steele Dossier Was Always a Joke -- Taibbi --The Guardian headline reads: “DOJ Internal watchdog report clears FBI of illegal surveillance of Trump adviser.”  If the report released Monday by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz constitutes a “clearing” of the FBI, never clear me of anything. Holy God, what a clown show the Trump-Russia investigation was.Like the much-ballyhooed report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Horowitz report is a Rorschach test, in which partisans will find what they want to find.Much of the press is concentrating on Horowitz’s conclusion that there was no evidence of “political bias or improper motivation” in the FBI’s probe of Donald Trump’s Russia contacts, an investigation Horowitz says the bureau had “authorized purpose” to conduct.  Horowitz uses phrases like “serious performance failures,” describing his 416-page catalogue of errors and manipulations as incompetence rather than corruption. This throws water on the notion that the Trump investigation was a vast frame-up.However, Horowitz describes at great length an FBI whose “serious” procedural problems and omissions of “significant information” in pursuit of surveillance authority all fell in the direction of expanding the unprecedented investigation of a presidential candidate (later, a president).Not only did obtaining a FISA warrant allow authorities a window into other Trump figures with whom Page communicated, they led to a slew of leaked “bombshell” news stories that advanced many public misconceptions, including that a court had ruled there was “probable cause” that a Trump figure was an “agent of a foreign power.”There are too many to list in one column, but the Horowitz report show years of breathless headlines were wrong. Some key points: The so-called “Steele dossier” was, actually, crucial to the FBI’s decision to seek secret surveillance of Page.

GOP senator blocks bill aimed at preventing Russia election meddling - Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) on Tuesday blocked an attempt by Democrats to pass legislation meant to prevent Russia and other countries from interfering in elections. Crapo's move came after Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) asked for consent to pass the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines, or DETER Act. Van Hollen argued the bill would underscore that there would be a "very tough price to pay" if Moscow meddles in U.S. elections. "It's designed to send a very clear and simple message to Russia or any other country that is thinking about interfering in our elections and undermining our democracy that if we catch you, you will suffer a severe penalty," Van Hollen said. Van Hollen and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) re-introduced the bill earlier this year. It requires the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to determine whether there was any foreign interference in federal elections and impose sanctions on any nations found to interfere. Specifically, if the DNI determines that Moscow meddled in U.S. elections, sanctions on Russia would have to be implemented within 30 days of the determination. Senators first introduced the legislation in early 2018, but that the bill has stalled amid pushback from GOP senators and members of leadership.

Democrats sharpen impeachment knives; Republicans circle wagons around Trump - (Reuters) - U.S. Democrats on Monday sought to bolster the case for impeaching President Donald Trump, describing his pressuring of Ukraine to investigate a political rival as a “clear and present danger” to free and fair elections and national security. In a raucous hearing that could lay the groundwork for a vote later this week on formal impeachment charges in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, the top Democrat on the panel said there was extensive proof of Trump’s wrongdoing. “The evidence shows that Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States, has put himself before his country. He has violated his most basic responsibilities to the people. He has broken his oath,” Representative Jerrold Nadler said in an opening statement. Republicans fired back, peppering the hearing with objections, points of order and other parliamentary manoeuvres, forcing Nadler to gavel them into silence. The proceedings were briefly disrupted by a man who shouted that Democrats were committing treason before he was led away by police. “Presumption has now become the standard instead of truth,” said Representative Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the panel. “They’re desperate to have an impeachment vote on this president.” The hearing on Monday was a key step before determining charges, known as articles of impeachment, that the full Democratic-controlled House is likely to vote on before Christmas. If Trump is impeached, a trial would be held in the Republican-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds majority of those present would be needed to vote to remove the president from office. A conviction is considered unlikely. The heart of the impeachment battle, which has divided Americans, is whether Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 election, and then obstructed Congress’ investigation.

 Impeachment witness Turley says wife, dog threatened: 'Who would shoot a Goldendoodle?' -Law professor Jonathan Turley told CBS anchor Norah O'Donnell that "his wife and dog" have received threats after he testified in front of the House Judiciary last week as part of impeachment proceedings.  “I know you received a lot of threats after what you did last week,” O’Donnell told the George Washington University law professor during CBS coverage of the impeachment hearings that took place on Monday.   “And my wife and dog,” Turley noted.  "To be fair, you did talk about them during your testimony. You did bring up your wife and dog," O'Donnell responded, referring to Turley's mention of his wife and dog during his opening statement last week. “Who would shoot a Goldendoodle?" Turley asked in response. "Maybe a Shih Tzu, but not a Goldendoodle. I don’t understand where the anger comes from. Although as an academic, the thought that you could talk about James Madison and that would be fighting words is something I haven’t seen outside of a law school.”The exchange between Turley and O'Donnell came after the constitutional scholar last week said in his opening statement to the Judiciary Committee that many in the country are angry.“I get it. You’re mad. The President is mad. My Republican friends are mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog seems mad, and Luna’s a Goldendoodle, they don’t get mad," he said on Dec. 4. Turley has been highly critical of the impeachment process, particularly what he sees as an accelerated timeline by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi(D-Calif.).  Turley's testimony last week was hailed by Republicans after he argued that Democrats were pushing forward with impeaching President Trump based on too little evidence. He was the sole GOP witness invited to the hearing. Three law professors invited by Democrats argued that Trump had committed impeachable offenses.

Impeachment inquiry: Nadler may add Mueller counts against Trump The Democratic chairman of the House judiciary committee, Jerry Nadler, has not ruled out including evidence from the Mueller report in articles of impeachment against Donald Trump that could be published as early as next week.On Sunday, Nadler told CNN’s State of the Union evidence showed the president’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal was part of “a pattern”, indicating “that the president put himself above this country several times”. On Monday Nadler’s committee will hold a critical hearing. Democratic and Republican lawyers from the House intelligence committee will testify following a months-long investigation of the president’s attempts to have Ukraine investigate a political rival for his own political gain.Nadler said on Sunday Democrats had presented “a very rock solid case” that Trump abused his power, and would get “a guilty verdict in three minutes flat” if the case was presented to a jury.  He has suggested that after the hearing concludes his committee will work quickly to publish impeachment articles, which could be voted on before Christmas.The scope of these articles has been the centre of significant debate in the Democratic party, with a number of centrists elected in swing districts keen to keep the focus on Ukraine rather than broader evidence included in the Mueller report into Russian election meddling in 2016, which documented evidence of attempted obstruction of justice by the president.While Nadler made no commitment to including evidence from Mueller, he argued on CNN that Trump “sought foreign interference in our election several times both in 2016 and in 2020. That he sought to cover it up all the time. And that he continually violated his oath of office.“And that all this presents a pattern that poses a real and present danger to the integrity of the next election.”Other senior Democrats, including the House intelligence committee chairman, Adam Schiff, appeared to urge their colleagues to keep the impeachment articles focused on Ukraine.

How the Schiff Report Deals with Disinformation -Over the past several years, journalists and researchers have struggled with the question of how to respond to disinformation without amplifying the very falsehoods they’re seeking to disprove. In his committee’s report on the impeachment investigation into President Trump, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff appears to have adopted one common strategy for dealing with disinformation: Deny it the attention it needs to grow.The report released by the House Intelligence Committee on Dec. 5 is a thorough document: 300 pages long with more than a thousand footnotes. It spells out in exacting, sometimes excruciating detail the story of the president’s efforts to extort the Ukrainian government for personal benefit, along with the Trump administration’s subsequent campaign to obstruct the congressional investigation into his behavior toward Ukraine. But there are some things the report doesn’t address. It’s silent on the subject of the “black ledger,” the document showing under-the-table payments from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. It says nothing about the political consultant Alexandra Chalupa. And there are exactly zero mentions of the Steele dossier.On the face of it, none of these omissions is particularly surprising; after all, none of those issues has much to do with evaluating Trump’s conduct. But the report’s silence on these matters is notable, because during the impeachment hearings, Republicans on the Intelligence Committee focused considerable attention on conspiracy theories concerning the black ledger, Chalupa, and Steele—among other things—in an effort to defend the president. Despite the prevalence of these theories in Republican talking points, the House Intelligence Committee report doesn’t spend much time rebutting them. Instead, the committee seems to have made a different call, minimally engaging the seamy, conspiratorial world of the president’s defense.

Democrats announce 2 articles of impeachment against Trump - Democrats in the House of Representatives announced they will introduce two articles ofimpeachment Tuesday morning, making clear they intend to charge President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.Both articles are based on the Ukraine scandal, meaning the party decided not to introduce any articles of impeachment solely based on the Mueller report, as some had pushed for. You can read the full articles of impeachment at this link.Articles of impeachment are essentially the “charges” against the president that the House of Representatives is considering approving. The final House votes on impeachment will be a yes or no vote on each article. If even one is approved, Trump is impeached — and the Senate will then hold a trial to determine whether to remove him from office.Article I, abuse of power, addresses Trump’s general underlying conduct in the Ukraine scandal. It alleges that Trump abused his power by trying to pressure Ukraine’s governmentinto announcing an investigation into the Bidens by withholding both a White House meeting and military aid.Article II, obstruction of Congress, is about how Trump responded to Democrats’ impeachment inquiry over the Ukraine scandal. It alleges that Trump obstructed the probe by urging witnesses not to cooperate and government agencies not to comply with subpoenas.The next step is that the House Judiciary Committee will vote on whether to approve each article later this week — which is mainly seen as a formality, as the committee has a large majority of liberal-leaning Democrats who will clearly approve both articles.After that, the action will proceed to the House floor, with a final vote on both articles of impeachment expected next week. At least one article, and probably both, are highly likely to be approved by the House of Representatives’ Democratic majority. And that would make Trump only the third president in US history to be impeached.

Democrats' impeachment charges say Trump betrayed the nation  (AP) — House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, declaring he “betrayed the nation” with his actions toward Ukraine as they pushed toward historic proceedings that are certain to help define his presidency and shape the 2020 election.The specific charges aimed at removing the 45th president of the United States: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by the chairmen of impeachment inquiry committees at the U.S. Capitol, said they were upholding their solemn oath to defend the Constitution. Trump responded angrily on Twitter: “WITCH HUNT!”Voting is expected in a matter of days by the Judiciary Committee, which begins deliberations Wednesday, and by Christmas in the full House. The charges, if approved, would then be sent to the Senate, where the Republican majority would be unlikely to convict Trump, but not without a potentially bitter trial just as voters in Iowa and other early presidential primary states begin making their choices.In the formal articles announced Tuesday, the Democrats said Trump enlisted a foreign power in “corrupting” the U.S. election process and endangered national security by asking Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, including Democrat Joe Biden, while withholding U.S. military aid as leverage. That benefited Russia over the U.S. as America’s ally fought Russian aggression, the Democrats said.Trump then obstructed Congress by ordering current and former officials to defy House subpoenas for testimony and by blocking access to documents, the charges say.By his conduct, Trump “demonstrated he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, ” the nine-page impeachment resolution says. “If we did not hold him accountable, he would continue to undermine our election,” Pelosi said later at a forum sponsored by Politico. “Nothing less is at stake than the central point of our democracy - a free and fair election.’’ Trump tweeted that to impeach a president “who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness.”

Democrats release articles of impeachment against Trump on “national security” grounds - On Tuesday, the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives published two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, now the fourth president in US history to face formal articles of impeachment, following Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon. Unlike the impeachment proceedings against Nixon, who resigned in August of 1974 before a vote was taken in the House of Representatives, the impeachment of Trump does not involve any democratic issues. It is a conflict between two reactionary factions of the ruling class, centered on differences over foreign policy. The articles of impeachment were announced at a press conference by Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The first article is for “abuse of power” and the second for “obstruction of Congress.” The impeachment resolution states that President Trump “abused the powers of the Presidency by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit.” It adds, “He has also betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.” The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote by the end of the week to approve the charges, followed by a full vote in the House—which has a Democratic majority—by the end of the year. The charges would then go to the Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans. In the Senate trial, a two-thirds majority would be required to convict Trump and remove him from office. The Democrats have centered their opposition to Trump on the most reactionary basis possible—namely, the claim that by withholding military aid to Ukraine he undermined US “national security,” i.e., the interests of American imperialism. The articles of impeachment allege that by temporarily suspending “the release of $391 million of United States taxpayer funds that Congress had appropriated…for the purpose of providing vital military security assistance to Ukraine to oppose Russian aggression,” Trump has “compromised the national security of the United States.” Trump withheld the military aid and a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the impeachment resolution alleges, in order to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation into a company connected to Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. In this way, the resolution argues, he sought to solicit “foreign interference in United States elections.” This is the first “national security” impeachment. The charge that Trump “betrayed the Nation,” i.e., that he is a traitor, is a continuation of the anti-Russia campaign the Democrats have pursued since 2016, based on the absurd claim that Trump is an agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Articles of Impeachment - Impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, of high crimes and misdemeanors – House Judiciary Committee document.

House panel battles over impeachment articles against Trump - (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives moved closer on Thursday to the impeachment of Republican President Donald Trump, as a committee considered formal charges against him that are likely to be sent to the House for a final vote next week. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve two articles of impeachment later on Thursday, which will allow a vote by the Democratic-controlled House next week that is expected to make Trump the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. If the House impeaches Trump, who is charged with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the matter would go to the Senate for a trial. The Republican-led chamber is unlikely to vote to remove Trump from office. At the start of what could be a long day of partisan wrangling, Republicans on the Judiciary panel repeatedly complained about the procedures followed by Democrats in the impeachment inquiry. Republicans requested another hearing and said their rights had been trampled in the inquiry, but were voted down by the panel’s Democratic majority. “Rules have just been thrown out the window in this process,” said Republican U.S. Representative Debbie Lesko. “It continues to amaze me how corrupt, how unfair this process has been from the start.” Democrats noted that Republicans were not addressing the substance of the charges against Trump. “Let us dispense with these process arguments and get to the substance of why we are here today,” Democratic Representative Joe Neguse said. Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter. Former Vice President Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to run against Trump next year. Trump has denied wrongdoing and condemned the impeachment inquiry as a hoax.

U.S. lawmakers begin debating impeachment articles against Trump - Reuters (Reuters) - Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives moved closer on Wednesday to impeaching President Donald Trump as a key House committee began debating formal articles of impeachment that are expected to be brought to the House floor next week. The House Judiciary Committee was meeting to consider the two articles, which accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter. “If the president can first abuse his power and then stonewall all congressional requests for information, Congress cannot fulfill its duty to act as a check and balance against the executive (branch) — and the president becomes a dictator,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary panel, said in opening remarks. But the committee’s top Republican, Doug Collins, accused Democrats of being predisposed toward impeachment and argued that the evidence did not support it. “You can’t make your case against the president because nothing happened,” Collins said. Trump has denied wrongdoing and condemned the impeachment inquiry as a hoax. But Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal said his misconduct was in plain sight.

U.S. House committee postpones votes on articles of impeachment -(Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers will vote Friday on whether to move forward with impeaching Republican President Donald Trump, as the Democratic head of the Judiciary Committee shocked Republicans by declining to hold a late-night vote after a hearing that lasted more than 14 hours.The committee had been expected to approve two articles of impeachment late on Thursday, setting up a vote by the Democratic-controlled House next week that is expected to make Trump the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. Instead, as the clock ticked toward midnight, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler sent lawmakers home for the night and said members would return to vote Friday at 10 a.m. ET (1500 GMT).

Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote - Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment Friday that charge President Trump with high crimes and misdemeanors, setting up a historic House vote next week that all but guarantees Trump will be just the third president to be impeached in U.S. history. The articles, which charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, were passed out of the committee along strict party lines, with 23 Democrats voting to send the measures to the full House, which is expected to approve them next week. One Democrat, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), was absent after undergoing an unexpected medical procedure earlier in the week. All 17 panel Republicans, meanwhile, united against both articles, arguing that the charges rested on thin evidence and that Democrats proceeding with their rapid impeachment push will set a dangerous precedent in the years ahead. The votes come two days after the panel began its debate and the morning after Democrats enraged Republicans by abruptly canceling an expected vote that would have taken place very late Thursday night or early Friday morning. “That was the most egregious violation of trust between a committee chairman and ranking member I think I’ve ever seen,” said Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on Judiciary, who said “there was no discussion” about the change of plans. “We thought we were going to do votes tonight," said Collins, who called the impeachment markups a “kangaroo court" and argued that Democrats wanted more television time for the proceedings. Democrats signaled that they wanted to prevent Republicans from arguing they had approved the articles of impeachment in the dead of night and when no Americans were watching. “We felt like they wanted us to pass this in the middle of the night, so we felt the American people deserved to see this historic vote. And it should be passed in the daylight and not in the middle of the night,” a Democratic aide said. The partisan vote came after more than 14 hours of feisty debate on Thursday over a series of Republican amendments seeking to scrub Democrats’ impeachment articles that raised allegations about Trump’s contacts with Ukraine. Democrats allege Trump used a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Kyiv as leverage to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open two investigations that would benefit him politically, including one into the son of his 2020 political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. They also accused him of obstructing Congress during their subsequent investigation of that episode.

Senate looks for holiday truce on impeachment trial --Senators are unlikely to let a little thing like impeachment ruin their holiday plans.As soon as the House impeaches President Donald Trump, the Senate is, in theory, required to immediately begin a trial. But for a multitude of reasons, both strategic and mundane, senators say they are aiming to reach an agreement to take a breather and come back for the trial in January. Despite bipartisan hopes of not letting impeachment drag on, no one in the Senate seems to want to sacrifice their Christmas or New Year’s. And though nothing has been finalized, senators expect party leaders who have sway on the matter to agree in the coming days.“That’s the last thing we want to do is be here over Christmas,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “I can’t imagine anyone will object. You never know for sure. It would be widely criticized by folks on both sides of the aisle, anybody who [fought it] and forced us to stay here.” “Impeachment is a huge issue. And I don’t think we should rush into it,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said. “We ought to find a way to wait till January, get through the holidays and then tackle it. I think to take it up before Christmas, a lot of bad things can happen, you move too fast — you don’t really hear it all.”

Republicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial - Senate Republicans are weighing a speedy impeachment trial that could include no witnesses for President Trump’s legal team or for House Democrats. The discussions come as the House is moving forward with articles of impeachment against Trump, teeing up a trial in the Senate that would start in January. The White House has indicated publicly that it has a wish list of potential witnesses, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Hunter Biden and the whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry. But Republican senators, including Trump allies and members of leadership, appear reluctant to drag themselves through a drawn-out trial with messy procedural votes when the outcome appears pre-baked. “I think a protracted period where there are motions to call witnesses offered by both sides and lots of votes … is not going to be terribly popular with either side. I think there’s going to be a desire to wrap this up in at least somewhat of a timely way,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, told reporters. He added that while a final decision won’t be made until closer to the trial, “there’s going to be a lot of people who I think are going to say, ‘I don’t really want to drag this on.’” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked about the possibility of a Senate trial where neither side got witnesses, replied: “I hope so. That’s what I like.” Pressed on the White House wanting to call individuals like Schiff, he noted that Democrats could, in turn, call Vice President Pence or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “I want to end this thing as quickly as possible,” Graham added.

McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Thursday that he doubts any Republican senators will vote to convict President Trump and remove him from office, and predicted some Democrats could also vote to acquit him. Asked during an interview with Fox News's Sean Hannity if there he would be any GOP defections in the Senate, McConnell replied: "I doubt it." "I doubt it. There's zero chance the president ... would be removed from office, and I'm hoping we'll have no defections at all," McConnell said. Republicans hold 53 seats in the Senate. Because 67 votes would be needed to convict Trump and remove him from office, it's all but guaranteed that the president will ultimately be acquitted. But there has been lingering speculation that at least one GOP senator could vote to convict Trump. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) grabbed headlines last week when he told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that he has talked to GOP senators who considering supporting impeachment but stressed "it’s a small list on one hand." Most of the public spotlight is on Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah). The three senators have been largely tightlipped about the constant stream of headlines about Trump's actions toward Ukraine and declined to speculate on the specifics of a Senate impeachment trial. McConnell, however, argued that not only is he skeptical that a GOP senator would vote to convict Trump, but that he also believes they could pick up Democratic support to acquit him. "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. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who won reelection last year in a red state, and Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who is running for reelection next year in a Trump-won state, are two Democratic senators who are viewed as potential Democratic swing votes.

Bill Weld: As many as six GOP senators privately support convicting Trump - Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R) said Thursday that as many as a half-dozen GOP senators are privately in favor of voting to convict President Trump at a likely impeachment trial. “I know most of the senior Republicans in the Senate," Weld, a long-shot candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, said in an interview at The Hill's offices in Washington. “They’re picking their words carefully when they talk to me, of all people, even though we are friends." "I wouldn’t want to get quoted,” he added. “I don’t even like to ask someone to do something which is not in their political self-interest. But yeah, I would say they’re four to six votes for removal right now.” Weld added that House Republicans who remain steadfast in their defense of the president will come to “regret” their decision to vote against impeachment. With his impeachment all but certain in the House, Trump and his allies have come to view the GOP-controlled Senate as something of a political fail-safe. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber and no GOP senator has said publicly they would vote to convict the president in an impeachment trial. But Weld suggested that, privately, some Republican senators are still on the fence about whether Trump should be removed from office for his efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate a key political rival and subsequently stonewall the congressional inquiry into his actions. Sixty-seven votes are required to convict and remove a president from office. He also said that House Republicans, who have aggressively defended the president and accused Democrats of shirking norms in the impeachment process, would pay a political price for their actions. “I’m very happy to be the canary in the coal mine or the Cassandra who points out that this could be a self-defeating succumbing,” Weld said. “This could result in electoral defeat for the Republicans, in addition to be based on shaky morality.”

Steve Bannon on impeachment: Trump is not just looking for a Senate acquittal but exoneration -President Donald Trump won’t be satisfied with an acquittal in the Senate if the House impeachment were to go forward as expected, Steve Bannon told CNBC on Thursday. Trump “needs to be exonerated,” said the former White House chief strategist, who also formerly ran far-right media outlet Breitbart News. “I don’t think Trump will look for simple acquittal. He’ll want to be exonerated.” The House Judiciary Committee has taken the first steps toward voting on two articles of impeachment introduced by Democrats. Trump is being charged with abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden while withholding aid as leverage, and with obstruction of Congress for stonewalling the House investigation. Bannon blasted the impeachment inquiry, labeling it a “show trial,” saying the high-level July phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s leader is what the president was “hired to do.” Trump “believes, and I think his followers believe, and now all of the Republican Party believes that what he did was correct,” Bannon added in a “Squawk Box” interview. The House is expected to vote on the impeachment articles next week, in the days before Christmas. That would send them to the Republican-held Senate for a 2020 trial. Bannon sees a Senate trial as a “foregone conclusion” in the president’s favor.…

‘The Interagency’ Isn’t Supposed to Rule WSJ - The Constitution gives the president, not a club of unelected officials, the power to set foreign policy. Enthusiasm over entrepreneurship is now found in every corner of society—even, apparently, within the federal bureaucracy. Witness after witness in last month’s House impeachment inquiry hearings referred to “the interagency,” an off-the-books informal government organization that we now know has enormous power to set and execute American foreign policy.The first to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, State Department official George Kent, seemed to conceive of the interagency as the definitive source of foreign-policy.  

CNN Ratings Drop To Three-Year Low Amid Constant Impeachment Coverage It has been over two months since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, and CNN has been running non-stop coverage of all the latest impeachment developments. In retrospect, that may not have been the best idea: with round the clock coverage, viewership of the rabidly partisan, far-left media outlet has actually tumbled to three-year lows, reported Nielsen Media Research.  Nielsen reported that CNN recorded its lowest prime time ratings in nearly three years during the week of November 25. Even more embarrassing for Jerry Zucker, Fox News recorded higher ratings than MSNBC and CNN combined.  Fox News recorded 2.2 million viewers in the primetime hours of 9-11 p.m. ET from Nov. 25 through Dec. 1; MSNBC saw around 1.3 million, while CNN averaged about 643,000 viewers over the same period. It was CNN’s worst performance in nearly three years and the liberal network’s worst turnout among the key demographic of adults age 25-54 in over five years. Fox News has dominated the cable news arena for the 47th consecutive week, averaging a little over 1.3 million viewers. Total Day Viewers:

  • Fox News: 1.33 million
  • MSNBC: 781,000
  • CNN: 539,000

As CNN plumbed historic lows, its conservative foil continued to enjoy strong viewership, as episodes of “Hannity,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” “The Ingraham Angle,” “The Story with Martha MacCallum” and “Special Report” with Bret Baier accounted for 15 of the 30 most-watched telecasts across all of cable during the holiday weekend. Is CNN's Trump derangement syndrome starting to bore most Americans, even liberals? Consider that the network’s special town hall event with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the day she announced that articles of impeachment against President Trump were being drafted only averaged 1.6 million viewers and 410,000 in the demo on Thursday night, well behind both Fox News and MSNBC in both categories. The American people, at least those who still watch cable TV, are increasingly ditching "objective", "imparial" mainstream media outlets and either tuning out or moving to conservative outlets, in a time when House Democrats have been focused on just one thing: not how to govern the nation, but merely focusing all their energy on impeaching the president. It appears, however, that the American people are tired of this farce and are desperate to move on. So far very few democrats have gotten the memo.

Joe Biden's 'Temper Was Overflowing' After Ukrainian Prosecutor Seized Burisma Assets- Report - The Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden got fired by threatening to withhold vital US financial aid says that the former Vice President was outraged after Ukrainian authorities seized the assets of Burisma - a natural gas firm owned by a notoriously corrupt oligarch who hired Hunter Biden to sit on its board.   The fired prosecutor, Victor Shokin, sat down with OAN News and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to explain what happened when former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko told him to stop investigating Burisma."Yes, that's what he told me. He came to me and said, "you are a patriot of Ukraine, we need this billion dollars. We are at war, and if you are a patriot you will close this case."" "My conversation with Poroshenko was in a phone call," Shokin continued. "It was after we started seizing Burisma assets in Ukraine when Poroshenko called me and said "listen, this all has to stop already. Joe Biden's temper is overflowing. This seizing of Burisma assets was the last straw."" Watch:  In January, Shokin told Giuliani and others that he was removed at Biden's request  while he was investigating Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky, the former Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources who. According to Shokin:

  1. Mr. Zlochevsky was laundering money
  2. Obtained assets by corrupt acts bribery
  3. Mr. Zlochevsky removed approximately twenty three million US dollars out of Ukraine without permission
  4. While seated as the Minister he approved two addition entities to receive permits for gas exploration
  5. Mr. Zlochevsky was the owner of two secret companies that were part of Burisma Holdings and gave those companies permits which made it possible for him to profit while he was the sitting Minister.

Epstein Was A Mossad Agent Used To Blackmail American Politicians, Former Israeli Spy Claims - Jeffrey Epstein was a Mossad asset who was used by Israeli intelligence to blackmail American politicians, according to a former Israeli spy. Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli spy and alleged “handler” of Robert Maxwell, told the authors of a new book, Epstein: Dead Men Tell No Tales, that Epstein ran a “complex intelligence operation” at the behest of Mossad.Believing that Epstein planned to marry his daughter, Maxwell introduced him and Ghislaine Maxwell to Ben-Menashe’s Mossad circle.“Maxwell sort of started liking him, and my theory is that Maxwell felt that this guy is going for his daughter,” Ben-Menashe said. “He felt that he could bless him with some work and help him out in like a paternal [way].”Israeli intelligence bosses gave the green light and Epstein then became a Mossad asset.“They were agents of the Israeli Intelligence Services,” said Ben-Menashe.When it became clear that Epstein wasn’t very competent at doing much else, his primary role became “blackmailing American and other political figures.” “Mr. Epstein was the simple idiot who was going around providing girls to all kinds of politicians in the United States,” said Ben-Menashe. “See, fucking around is not a crime. It could be embarrassing, but it’s not a crime. But fucking a fourteen-year-old girl is a crime. And he was taking photos of politicians fucking fourteen-year-old girls — if you want to get it straight. They would just blackmail people, they would just blackmail people like that.”  There’s also a Mossad connection to a different kind of sex offender; Harvey Weinstein.  Weinstein reportedly hired ex-Mossad agents to suppress allegations against him. Working for an Israeli firm called Black Cube, these agents pressured witnesses and tried to intimidate journalist Ronan Farrow in order to “bury the truth” about Weinstein’s activity.

US government drops case against Max Blumenthal after jailing journalist on false charges -The US government has dropped its bogus charge of “simple assault” against journalist Max Blumenthal, after having him arrested on a 5-month-old warrant and jailed for nearly two days.The Grayzone has learned that Secret Service call logs recorded during the alleged incident were either not kept or destroyed. The mysteriously missing evidence included print documents and radio recordings that may have exposed collusion between Secret Service officers operating under the auspices of the US State Department and violent right-wing hooligans in an operation to besiege peace activists stationed inside Venezuela’s embassy in Washington, DC.Blumenthal, who is the editor of The Grayzone, was arrested at his home on October 25 by a team of DC cops who had threatened to break down his door. He later learned that he was listed in his arrest warrant as “armed and dangerous,” a rare and completely unfounded designation that placed Blumenthal at risk of severe harm by the police.The government’s case rested entirely on a false accusation by a right-wing Venezuelan opposition activist, Naylet Pacheco, that Blumenthal and Benjamin Rubinstein had assaulted her while they were delivering food to Venezuela’s embassy in Washington, DC in the early morning on May 8. (Rubinstein is the brother of journalist and Grayzone contributor Alexander Rubinstein, who was reporting from inside the embassy at the time.) The Grayzone has reported extensively on the corruption of coup leader Juan Guaidó, whom Washington recognizes as “interim president” of Venezuela, as well as the scandals plaguing Guaidó’s “ambassador” to the United States, Carlos Vecchio.

Amazon Accuses Trump Of Seeking To Harm Political Enemy Jeff Bezos In Awarding JEDI Contract To Microsoft - The war between the world's richest man and the world's most powerful man is getting hotter by the day. Online retail giant, accused the world's most powerful man, President Trump, of exerting "improper pressure" on the Pentagon to keep the lucrative cloud-computing deal from going to his perceived nemesis, the world's richest man, Jeff Bezos. In a complaint filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, Amazon said the president "launched repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks" on the contract and the company to steer the contract away from Amazon and toward Microsoft. Trump’s aim was "to harm his perceived political enemy—Jeffrey P. Bezos," according to the complaint, which was made public Monday. While Amazon had long been considered the favorite to win the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, contract, which is valued at as much as $10 billion over the next decade, the DOD eventually gave the contract to Amazon's cloud competitor Microsoft. On July 19, Trump called for an investigation of the Pentagon contract, before the award. "I’m getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and Amazon," Trump told reporters at the time. "I will be asking them to look very closely to see what’s going on." The Defense Department investigated and cleared Amazon of conflict-of-interest allegations, but it nonetheless ruled in Microsoft was more qualified for the job. As the WSJ notes, a top Pentagon technology official, Dana Deasy, denied in congressional testimony that Trump or the White House influenced the JEDI selection process. Over the weekend, Jeff Bezos stepped up his attacks on the Trump administration, warning Saturday that America will find itself "in trouble" if the leadership of large tech companies decide not to work with the Pentagon, although it was not quite clear where else large tech companies will find such a generous client as the US government. China? “If big tech is going to turn their backs on the Department of Defense, this country’s in trouble. That just can’t happen,” he said.

 Democrats pick Hillary Clinton as 2020 frontrunner in new party poll -- A new poll of registered Democrats has Hillary Clinton as their top choice for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination — and she’s not even running. The online Harris Poll survey released by the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard found that Clinton placed first with 21% of the vote, followed closely by former Vice President Joe Biden at 20%, Sen. Bernie Sanders at 12%, Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 9% and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at 7%.

Controversy Erupts After Elizabeth Warren Reveals Millions In Corporate Consulting Income - After months of dodging questions over her income, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) revealed on Sunday night that she made nearly $2 million from legal consulting for corporate clients while she was a law professor at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and other law schools, starting in 1995. The income included $212,000 for representing Travelers Indemnity Co. in 2009, $190,000 for representing a department store chain, and $80,000 doing bankruptcy work for Enron creditors.The Washington Post immediately framed the disclosure as an example of hypocrisy, saying Warren's past income "doesn't fit neatly with her current presidential campaign brand as a crusader against corporate interests." For instance, the documents released Sunday show that Warren made about $80,000 from work she did for creditors in the energy company Enron’s bankruptcy and $20,000 as a consultant for Dow Chemical, a company that was trying to limit the liability it faced from silicone breast implants that were made by a connected firm. -Washington PostWarren's critics, such as Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, seized on the opportunity to suggest that "While she advocates for socialism she hypocritically lives a millionaire lifestyle."  What the Post did not make immediately clear, however, is that Warren made all this money over the span of 17 years ("the figures disclosed Sunday show that nearly all of the money was made from cases filed after she got her job at Harvard in 1995") - drawing immediate criticism from many who suggested that WaPo's failure to highlight the time frame until the sixth paragraph was unfair.Absurd framing, deceitful description, idiotic conclusion.  So irresponsible to publish this with zero context about time-frame, the nature of the work, how it evolved as her politics did, etc.  And one can be a critic of corporate influence without starving to death.— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) December 9, 2019

 Congress Held a Hearing on the Fed’s Bailout of the Repo Market: Here’s Why You Haven’t Heard About It -- Pam Martens - Last Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was the sole witness called before the House Financial Services Committee to answer questions on the state of financial stability in the U.S. Under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010, the U.S. Treasury Secretary also heads the Financial Stability Oversight Council (F-SOC) which is charged with monitoring any threats to the stability of the U.S. financial system in order to prevent a replay of the epic financial crash of 2008 and attendant devastation to the U.S. economy. During the hearing, Mnuchin was grilled time and again by numerous Republicans and Democrats on what is necessitating the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (New York Fed) to be pumping out hundreds of billions of dollars per week to Wall Street trading houses via the repurchase agreement (repo loan) market. But instead of reporting on that critical line of questioning and Mnuchin’s lack of meaningful answers, when the New York Times reported on the hearing it focused instead on a tiny aspect of the hearing. Its headline read: “U.S. Objects to World Bank’s Lending Plans for China.”  It made no mention at all of the still unexplained but ongoing repo crisis on Wall Street. Since the repo lending crisis started on September 17, when major Wall Street banks simply backed away from overnight lending to some financial institutions, forcing loan rates to spike to 10 percent from approximately 2 percent, the New York Times has written exactly one article on this new financial crisis. Wall Street On Parade has written more than three dozen articles on this critical topic. During last Thursday’s hearing, Mnuchin attempted to pass off the repo loan crisis as a two-day event that occurred on September 16 and 17. The reality is that the New York Fed has now pumped a cumulative total of more than $4 trillion into this black lending hole on Wall Street and has been making upwards of $100 billion a day in loans to Wall Street trading houses every business day since September 17.

OCC flags risks from banks' tech overhaul, Libor transition — Banks' efforts to keep pace with rapid-fire technological change, adoption of a new interest rate benchmark, and prepare for potential future shifts in interest rates or the credit cycle all present looming risks to an otherwise healthy industry, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said Monday. The OCC's semiannual report on warning signs for the industry flagged elevated operational risks "as banks adapt to a changing and increasingly complex operating environment." "Key drivers elevating operational risk include the need to adapt and evolve current technology systems for ongoing cybersecurity threats," the agency said. "Technology advances and innovation in core banking systems result in a challenging operational environment and potential risks if not effectively understood, implemented, and controlled." In the report, the OCC also said the agency will be “increasing regulatory oversight” of national banks' transition away from the London interbank offered rate as Libor will likely be unavailable at the end of 2021. A committee convened by the Federal Reserve has recommended the secured overnight financing rate as an alternative reference rate. Examiners will begin to evaluate “whether banks have begun to assess their exposure to Libor in assets and liabilities to determine potential impacts and develop risk management strategies,” the OCC report said. On a conference call with reporters, one official described the change as a move from “an awareness perspective towards preparedness.” “Last year, we really focused on getting the word out and making sure that everybody was aware that something was going to be happening to Libor,” the official said. “This year, we’re following the typical kind of bank oversight approach” through “the identification, measurement, monitoring and attempt to control that risk.”

Big tech banking plans may pose risk to financial stability: FSB - The efforts of big tech firms like Amazon and Google to get into banking poses risks to the financial system, according to a new report by the Financial Stability Board. The international regulatory group, which monitors and makes recommendations about the global financial system, acknowledged that tech companies' financial activities could bring benefits, like the potential for innovation, diversification and efficiency in the provision of financial services. Those included being able to help with financial inclusion to reduce the number of unbanked and underbanked populations. But those benefits might come with a significant downside risk, the FSB warned. Those included “risks that stem from leverage, maturity transformation and liquidity mismatches, as well as operational risks including those that might arise from potential shortcomings in governance, risk and process controls,” the report said. It also feared how fast and far large tech firms could move in financial services. “Some potential risks stem from how BigTech firms could use their network and infrastructure to achieve scale in financial services very rapidly,” the report said. “Competition from BigTech firms might reduce the resilience of financial institutions, either by affecting their profitability or by reducing the stability of their funding. BigTech firms’ widespread access to valuable customer data could also be self-reinforcing via network effects.” The scale and complexity of linkages between technology and financial firms could also bring risk. “Such linkages arise from financial institutions’ dependence on third-party services provided by some BigTech firms,” the report said. “Other linkages arise through BigTech firms’ partnerships with financial institutions to originate and/or distribute financial products. These risks may be particularly significant if such financial services are not readily substitutable, and if BigTech firms’ risk management and controls are less effective than those required of regulated financial institutions.”

Is Congress spoiling for another fight over ILCs? — More than a decade ago, Washington was up in arms when Walmart applied for an industrial loan company charter, leading to bipartisan legislation to ban retailers from owning such banks. The bill never passed, but opposition to Walmart's ILC was enough for the company to drop its bid. Now, community bankers are again rallying behind legislation to prevent commercial firms from controlling ILCs in the wake of a new application — from the Japanese tech giant Rakuten. But it is unclear if the latest bill, authored by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., will gain the same kind of traction. “Congress has regularly since the Walmart issue arose … declined the invitation to pass legislation to prohibit ILCs and I don’t see anything that would alter that mix right now,” said V. Gerard Comizio, senior counsel at Fried Frank. But others see a legislative initiative to stop commercially owned ILCs — which in the past has been led by small banks — potentially taking on new relevance with fintech firms being the current group looking for a way into the banking system. “This is a bipartisan initiative that used to be powerful, fueled by community banks,” said Karen Petrou, managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics. “But in my opinion, [it] is even more potent now that the banking industry as a whole is unified in the face of challenger digital banks.” She added that the legislation could be viewed favorably in that it is not a blanket prohibition on tech firms getting in the banking arena. “It’s not a generic tech-finance barrier,” Petrou said. “It’s an industrial loan charter company restriction. While you would see more tech-friendly members opposing this limit, I think there is also a very potent body of support for this.” Last month, Kennedy Introduced the Eliminating Corporate Shadow Banking Act of 2019, which would prevent ILCs — also known as industrial banks — from being controlled, directly or indirectly, by a commercial firm. The bill appears to be aimed at Rakuten, an online shopping site focused on cash rebates, but also at larger tech giants such as Google. While the bill currently has no co-sponsors, Kennedy said in a brief interview that he is “just getting started putting together support” and that he “will” have co-sponsors as the proposal moves through the legislative process.

 Senators Give Explosive Critique of Wall Street’s Top Cop as Mainstream Media Yawns -  Pam Martens and Russ Martens ~ It’s becoming clear that the reason so many Americans have their pockets picked by Wall Street scam artists year after year is that mainstream media simply won’t put the dangers of dealing with the mega Wall Street banks on their front pages. Yesterday’s Senate Banking hearing is yet one more example of mainstream media failing the interests of the American people. At yesterday’s hearing,  Senator after Senator probed the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton, on what were clearly intentional failings to hold Wall Street accountable. The scathing rebukes of the SEC came from both Republican and Democrats on the Senate panel. But you will find no reports about that hearing on the front pages of newspapers today — or in any section of leading newspapers.Particularly harsh in their appraisal of Clayton’s rein at the SEC were Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Brown is the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee and spoke at length at the opening of the session, right after the Republican Chair of the Committee, Mike Crapo, gave a far more charitable assessment of the SEC under Clayton. Brown listed example after example of how Clayton’s SEC has worked for the interests of “serial law breakers” on Wall Street over the interests of “hardworking families.” Brown’s statement appears in its entirety below.Senator Tom Cotton provided a scathing rebuke of the SEC’s failure to stop the grossly conflicted and grossly overvalued company, WeWork, from getting its prospectus to become a publicly-traded company through the SEC’s fogged lenses. The initial public offering (IPO) of WeWork didn’t get pulled this year because the SEC refused to greenlight its offering statement to the public investor. It got pulled because its obscene conflicts with its founder and CEO, Adam Neumann, went viral on social media platforms and in the business press. Those conflicts included Neumann buying up real estate and then leasing it back to his own company; trademarking the words “We Company” and then selling it to his company for $5.9 million; and attempting to list his company with a valuation of $47 billion when it was just weeks away from running out of money.

 How White Collar Criminals Get Away with Murder - White-collar crime prosecutions are at a 33-year low. Corporate leaders can cause environmental disasters, economic crashes, and the deaths of thousands and still walk free. But there’s a way out. NEP’s Bill Black talks with The Real News Network about this. You can view with a transcript here.

Boeing faces $3.9M fine for installing faulty parts on 737 planes -The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Friday that it is fining Boeing more than $3.9 million for installing faulty parts on approximately 133 of its 737 jets. The FAA said in a statement that Boeing did not sufficiently oversee its suppliers to make sure they complied with its quality assurance system, a decision that resulted in the installation of weakened parts that are located on the jets’ wings and help with takeoff and landing. The FAA also said that Boeing was made aware of the issues by suppliers and still certified the jets as airworthy. “Boeing knowingly submitted aircraft for final FAA airworthiness certification after determining that the parts could not be used due to a failed strength test,” the FAA said.The company now has 30 days to respond to the FAA’s letter proposing the civil fine of $3,916,871. Boeing did not admit liability and said it's working to address the FAA’s concerns.

  Payday Lenders Offering Installment Loans to Evade Regulations – But They May Be Even Worse - Installment loans seem like a kinder, gentler version of their “predatory” cousin, the payday loan. But for consumers, they may be even more harmful.Use of the installment loan, in which a consumer borrows a lump sum and pays back the principal and interest in a series of regular payments, has grown dramatically since 2013 as regulators began to rein in payday lending. In fact, payday lenders appear to have developed installment loans primarily to evade this increased scrutiny.  A closer look at the differences between the two types of loans shows why we believe the growth in installment loans is worrying – and needs the same regulatory attention as payday loans.  While payday loans are typically around US$350, installment loans tend to be in the $500 to $2,000 range. The potential to borrow more may benefit consumers who have greater short-term needs. Because installment loans are repaid in biweekly or monthly installments over a period of six to nine months, lenders say consumers are better able to manage the financial strain that brought them to their storefront in the first place. Payday loans, in contrast, typically require a lump sum payment for interest and principal on the borrower’s very next pay date, often just a few days away.   Finally, and perhaps most importantly, installment loans are often cheaper than payday loans, with annualized interest rates of around 120% in some states, compared with payday loans’typical 400% to 500% range.Unfortunately, some of the structural features that seem beneficial may actually be harmful to consumers – and make them even worse than payday loans.For example, the longer payback period keeps borrowers indebted longer and requires sustained discipline to make repayments, perhaps increasing stress and opportunities for error. And the fact that the loan amounts are larger may cut both ways. In a recent study, we explored the effect that the larger installment loan sizes have on borrowers. We found that borrowers with those larger loans were more likely to have subsequently taken out debt on other installment loans, storefront and online payday loans and auto title loans. Our results suggest that the higher initial installment loan might not serve its main purpose of helping borrowers manage their finances and actually may have caused increased financial strain.

 Stern warnings to lenders mulling end run around California rate caps - Policymakers in both Washington and Sacramento issued a stern warning this week to high-cost lenders that hope to evade a new cap on consumer interest rates in California: Don’t even think about partnering with banks. A recently enacted California law establishes a rate cap of around 36% for a category of installment loans that previously had no legal ceiling. Even before Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the measure, executives at three companies that charge triple-digit annual percentage rates in the Golden State spoke publicly about their efforts to make an end run around the restrictions. To do so, the companies would partner with out-of-state banks, since depositories generally have the legal ability to apply their home states’ interest rate rules across the country. But in congressional testimony Thursday, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Jelena McWilliams said that anyone who thinks so-called rent-a-bank schemes have gotten a green light from the FDIC is mistaken. “And we are not going to allow banks to evade the law,” she stated. Last month, federal banking regulators proposed rules designed to make clear that interest rates permissible on bank loans would not be affected by their sale to a nonbank. While the proposal was widely seen as industry-friendly, the FDIC also stated that it views unfavorably firms that partner with a state bank solely with the goal of evading other states’ laws. The California law applies to consumer installment loans between $2,500 and $9,999. Last year, three companies — Elevate Credit, Enova International and Curo Group Holdings — accounted for roughly one-quarter of all loans that would be covered by the new rules and had annual percentage rates of at least 100%. The law is set to take effect next month. Executives at all three lenders have indicated in recent months that bank partnerships could allow them to continue charging high rates in California.

 Powell unsure on future CRA path if Fed parts with other agencies — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said he still hopes his agency can get on board with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on a plan to reform the Community Reinvestment Act, but he is unsure on the path forward if their disagreement persists. The OCC is widely expected to release a CRA proposal this week along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., but the Fed will likely not sign on to the proposed draft. The divide reportedly stems from differing approaches to measuring CRA investments. The FDIC will vote on the proposal at its board meeting Thursday. At his recurring press conference Wednesday, Powell echoed earlier comments by Fed Vice Chairman Randal Quarles that the current disagreement over the proposal does not preclude all three agencies from coming together on a final reform plan. "We worked very hard to try to get aligned with the OCC ... and my hope is that we can still do that," Powell said following a meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. "I don’t know whether that will be possible or not. We’ll just have to see." If the agencies can’t meet that objective, the future CRA regime is less clear, said Powell. “If we can’t [reach agreement] I’m not sure what the path forward would be, but we would certainly not want to create confusion or a sort of tension between the regimes if they do turn out to be slightly different regimes,” he said. “So that’s something I hope we don’t have to face, but we will if we have to." He said the central bank has always been committed to the goal of modernizing CRA policy. “We know the CRA is a very important law and we’re strongly committed to the mission of ensuring that banks provide credit through their communities, particularly addressing the needs of low- and moderate-income households and neighborhoods. We also think it’s time for modernization,” he said. “We’ve thought that for some time.” Quarles told the House Financial Services Committee last week that the issuance of a CRA proposal is only a preliminary step. "We are only at the point of whether a notice of proposed rulemaking will go out," Quarles said. "We are not at the point of a final rule. And the objective ought to be that at the end all three agencies will join in a final rule." Sub

Maxine Waters to crash FDIC meeting on CRA revamp — House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters announced that she, along with five other panel Democrats, plans to attend a public board meeting of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. where the agency is expected to release a plan to revamp the Community Reinvestment Act. The move is extremely rare and may even be unprecedented. Lawmakers do not typically attend such meetings, even if they are discussing controversial issues, generally preferring instead to require regulators to come to Capitol Hill to explain their actions in public and private meetings. Waters' move appears calculated to send a signal to the FDIC board members that lawmakers are intensely interested in their CRA plan. The FDIC meeting to discuss the CRA proposal, along with a plan to redefine brokered deposits, is scheduled for 2 p.m. “With our visit to the FDIC today, the members of the Committee are continuing to conduct oversight over financial regulators,” Waters said in a press release. “The Board should understand that we are very carefully monitoring their activities.” Waters is attending along with Reps. Brad Sherman, the chair of the subcommittee on investor protection; Bill Foster, chair of the Task Force on Artificial Intelligence; Cindy Axne, D-Iowa; Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; and Jesús “Chuy” García, D-Ill. Waters' move comes after she and all the Democrats on the House Financial Services and Senate Banking Committees sent a letter to the FDIC and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency asking them to allow for a 120-day comment period on the CRA proposal.

Black Knight Mortgage Monitor: Servicer Retention Rates Fall in Q3 2019 Despite Refinance Volumes Hitting Highest Point in Nearly Three Years - Black Knight released their Mortgage Monitor report for October today. According to Black Knight, 3.39% of mortgages were delinquent in October, down from 3.64% in October 2018. Black Knight also reported that 0.48% of mortgages were in the foreclosure process, down from 0.52% a year ago.This gives a total of 3.87% delinquent or in foreclosure. Press Release: Black Knight Mortgage Monitor: Servicer Retention Rates Fall in Q3 2019 Despite Refinance Volumes Hitting Highest Point in Nearly Three YearsBlack Knight Mortgage Monitor: Servicer Retention Rates Fall in Q3 2019 Despite Refinance Volumes Hitting Highest Point in Nearly Three Years :This month, in light of the recent surge in refinance volumes, Black Knight looked at how servicers’ retention rates of refinancing borrowers have fared. As Black Knight Data & Analytics President Ben Graboske explained, despite refinance volumes hitting their highest point in nearly three years, retention rates fell in Q3 2019. “After hitting an 18-year low in the fourth quarter of 2018, refinance lending has nearly doubled since then,” said Graboske. “The bulk of that increase was driven by people refinancing to improve the rate or term on their current mortgage, with five times the number of such rate/term refis as there were in Q4 2018. Cash-out refinances were up as well, although by a more modest 24% over the same period. Still, cash-outs made up 52% of all Q3 2019 refinances, with homeowners withdrawing more than $36 billion in equity, the highest amount withdrawn via cash-outs in nearly 12 years. Given that tappable equity continues to grow – $6.2 trillion as of Q3 2019 – and the continued headwinds facing the HELOC market, this is a segment lenders and servicers may likely focus on in coming months. Any upward movement in rates would likely only drive the cash-out share of lending higher. Here is a graph from the Mortgage Monitor that shows the National Delinquency Rate over time.  From Black Knight:
  • While October delinquency rate declines are common, this year's nearly 4% drop was almost twice the 20-year average
  • The national delinquency rate is now 1.15% below its pre-recession (2000-2005) average, the largest such delta on record
  • As delinquencies tend to trend upward seasonally in both November and December, a rise in the coming months would not be unexpected.
The second graph shows equity withdrawn via cash-out refinances and 2nd mortgages:

 CoreLogic: 2 Million Homes with Negative Equity in Q3 2019 - From CoreLogic: CoreLogic Reports 78,000 Single-Family Properties Regained Equity in the Third Quarter of 2019 CoreLogic® ... today released the Home Equity Report for the third quarter of 2019. The report shows that U.S. homeowners with mortgages (which account for roughly 64% of all properties) have seen their equity increase by 5.1% year over year, representing a gain of nearly $457 billion since the third quarter of 2018....From the second quarter of 2019 to the third quarter of 2019, the total number of mortgaged homes in negative equity decreased by 4% to 2 million homes or 3.7% of all mortgaged properties. The number of mortgaged properties in negative equity during the third quarter of 2019 fell by 10%, or 220,000 homes, compared to the third quarter of 2018, when 2.2 million homes, or 4.1% of all mortgaged properties, were in negative equity.Negative equity, often referred to as being underwater or upside down, applies to borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Negative equity can occur because of a decline in a home’s value, an increase in mortgage debt or both. Negative equity peaked at 26% of mortgaged residential properties in the fourth quarter of 2009, based on the CoreLogic equity data analysis, which began in the third quarter of 2009.This graph from CoreLogic compares Q3 to Q2 equity distribution by LTV. There are still quite a few properties with LTV over 125%.On a year-over-year basis, the number of homeowners with negative equity has declined from 2.2 million to 2.0 million.

 "Mortgage Rates Snap Back to Lower Levels" ==From Matthew Graham at MortgageNewsDaily: Mortgage Rates Snap Back to Lower Levels Mortgage rates reacted somewhat harshly to an incredibly strong jobs report last Friday. … There will always be some obligatory response to a report as strong as that. That was indeed the case on Friday and mortgage lenders were a bit defensive in setting rates. Fortunately, the underlying bond market improved throughout the day and held onto that improvement today. As such, lenders were willing to offer much lower rates versus Friday. [Today's Most Prevalent Rates For Top Tier Scenarios 30YR FIXED - 3.75 - 3.875%]   This graph from Mortgage News Daily shows mortgage rates since 2014.  This graph is interactive, and you could view mortgage rates back to the mid-1980s - click here for interactive graph.

 Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey --Mortgage applications increased 3.8 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending December 6, 2019. The results for the week ending November 29, 2019 included an adjustment for the Thanksgiving holiday... The Refinance Index increased 9 percent from the previous week and was 146 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 0.4 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 35 percent compared with the previous week and was 5 percent higher than the same week one year ago...“Low mortgage rates continue to be the trend as 2019 comes to an end, and mortgage applications responded accordingly last week, rising 3.8 percent. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate remained under 4 percent for the fourth straight week, and rates for FHA loans declined close to their lowest level of the year. The decrease in FHA rates led to a 27 percent jump in refinance applications for those loans, and their share of refinance activity – at 14 percent – was the highest since 2016,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Purchase applications were down slightly, but were 5 percent higher than a year ago, which is in line with the gradual growth in the purchase market seen throughout this year.” The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) increased to 3.98 percent from 3.97 percent, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Fed's Flow of Funds: Household Net Worth Increased in Q3 -The Federal Reserve released the Q3 2019 Flow of Funds report today: Flow of Funds. The net worth of households and nonprofits rose to $113.8 trillion during the third quarter of 2019. The value of directly and indirectly held corporate equities decreased $0.3 trillion and the value of real estate increased $0.2 trillion.Household debt increased 3.3 percent at an annual rate in the third quarter of 2019. Consumer credit grew at an annual rate of 5.1 percent, while mortgage debt (excluding charge-offs) grew at an annual rate of 2.7 percent. The first graph shows Households and Nonprofit net worth as a percent of GDP.  Household net worth, as a percent of GDP, is higher than the peak in 2006 (housing bubble), and above the stock bubble peak.Net Worth as a percent of GDP decreased slightly in Q3.This includes real estate and financial assets (stocks, bonds, pension reserves, deposits, etc) net of liabilities (mostly mortgages). Note that this does NOT include public debt obligations. This graph shows homeowner percent equity since 1952.Household percent equity (as measured by the Fed) collapsed when house prices fell sharply in 2007 and 2008. In Q3 2019, household percent equity (of household real estate) was at 64.0% - down from Q2 Note: about 30.3% of owner occupied households had no mortgage debt as of April 2010. So the approximately 50+ million households with mortgages have far less than 64.0% equity - and about 2 million homeowners still have negative equity. The third graph shows household real estate assets and mortgage debt as a percent of GDP.Mortgage debt increased by $85 billion in Q3.Mortgage debt is still down from the peak during the housing bubble, and, as a percent of GDP is at 48.8% (the lowest since 2001), down from a peak of 73.5% of GDP during the housing bubble.The value of real estate, as a percent of GDP, decreased slightly in Q3, and is above the average of the last 30 years (excluding bubble).  However, mortgage debt as a percent of GDP, continues to decline.

Retail Sales increased 0.2% in November - On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 0.3 percent from October to November (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 3.3 percent from November 2018. From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for November 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $528.0 billion, an increase of 0.2 percent from the previous month, and 3.3 percent above November 2018. Total sales for the September 2019 through November 2019 period were up 3.5 percent from the same period a year ago. The September 2019 to October 2019 percent change was revised from up 0.3 percent to up 0.4 percent. This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 0.1% in November. The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993.  Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 3.8% on a YoY basis. The increase in November was below expectations, and sales in September were revised down, and October were revised up.

Retail Sales: Up 0.19% in November - The Census Bureau's Advance Retail Sales Report for November was released this morning. Headline sales came in at 0.19% month-over-month to one decimal and was below the forecast of 0.5%. Core sales (ex Autos) came in at 0.12% MoM (to two decimals).Here is the introduction from today's report:Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for November 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $528.0 billion, an increase of 0.2 percent (±0.4 percent)* from the previous month, and 3.3 percent (±0.7 percent) above November 2018. Total sales for the September 2019 through November 2019 period were up 3.5 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The September 2019 to October 2019 percent change was revised from up 0.3 percent (±0.4 percent)* to up 0.4 percent (±0.1 percent). [view full report]  The chart below is a log-scale snapshot of retail sales since the early 1990s. The two exponential regressions through the data help us to evaluate the long-term trend of this key economic indicator.

Happening Everywhere In Retail - Home Depot Links Surge In Thefts To Opioid Crisis - The opioid crisis is evolving and is now becoming a burden on retailers, as addicts race to brick and mortar stores, hoping to steal merchandise, and if successful, sell it on the street or pawn it for cash to pay for their next fix.An absolutely shocking account of this has come from Home Depot executives, who warn that the nation's out of control opioid crisis has sparked a massive surge in thefts in stores across the country.Bloomberg says the thefts have been so bad in 2019, that it will likely weigh on Home Depot's operating profit margins next year."This is happening everywhere in retail," Chief Executive Officer Craig Menear told investors on a Wednesday morning call."We think this ties to the opioid crisis but we're not positive about that."Home Depot is the first retailer to suggest that the opioid crisis has sparked a recent surge in in-store thefts.The National Retail Federation has said retailers lose, on average, $51 billion per year, but that number is likely to climb in the years ahead due to the opioid crisis.In one instance, Menear told investors during the call that thieves were apprehended by law enforcement after attempting to steal $16.5 million worth of goods, of which $1.4 million was headed to Home Depot's stores.He said many Home Depot stores have been taking high-value inventory, like power tools, off sales floors to avoid thefts. "We have to be vigilant about it," Ann-Marie Campbell, Home Depot's executive vice president of U.S. stores, said. "We have initiated several pilots to reduce shrink across the board."  Bloomberg said the increased thefts, possibly linked to opioids, was a "significant" reason why the home improvement retailer's operating profit margins will slide to 14% in 2020. Home Depot shares slid 2% Wednesday on the news of a weakening outlook and increased thefts.

BLS: CPI increased 0.3% in November, Core CPI increased 0.2% -- From the BLS:  - The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.3 percent in November on a seasonally adjusted basis, after rising 0.4 percent in October, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 2.1 percent before seasonal adjustment....The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.2 percent in November, the same increase as in October.... The all items index increased 2.1 percent for the 12 months ending November, a larger rise than the 1.8-percent increase for the period ending October. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.3 percent over the last 12 months. The food index rose 2.0 percent over the last l2 months, while the energy index declined 0.6 percent over the last year. Core inflation was at expectations in November. I'll post a graph later today after the Cleveland Fed releases the median and trimmed-mean CPI.

Consumer Price Index: November Headline at 2.05% - The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the November Consumer Price Index data this morning. The year-over-year non-seasonally adjusted Headline CPI came in at 2.05%, up from 1.76% the previous month. Year-over-year Core CPI (ex Food and Energy) came in at 2.32%, up slightly from the previous month's 2.31% and above the Fed's 2% PCE target.Here is the introduction from the BLS summary, which leads with the seasonally adjusted monthly data: The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.3 percent in November on a seasonally adjusted basis, after rising 0.4 percent in October, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 2.1 percent before seasonal adjustment.Increases in the shelter and energy indexes were major factors in the seasonally adjusted monthly increase of the all items index. Increases in the indexes for medical care, for recreation, and for food also contributed to the overall increase. The gasoline index rose 1.1 percent in November and the other major energy component indexes also increased. The food index rose 0.1 percent, with the indexes for both food at home and food away from home increasing over the month.The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.2 percent in November, the same increase as in October. Along with the indexes for shelter, for medical care, and for recreation, the indexes for used cars and trucks and for apparel also rose in November. The new vehicles index fell in November, as did the index for airline fares.The all items index increased 2.1 percent for the 12 months ending November, a larger rise than the 1.8-percent increase for the period ending October. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.3 percent over the last 12 months. The food index rose 2.0 percent over the last l2 months, while the energy index declined 0.6 percent over the last year. [More…] was looking for a 0.2% MoM change in seasonally adjusted Headline CPI and a 0.2% in Core CPI. Year-over-year forecasts were 2.0% for Headline and 2.3% for Core.The first chart is an overlay of Headline CPI and Core CPI (the latter excludes Food and Energy) since the turn of the century. The highlighted two percent level is the Federal Reserve's Core inflation target for the CPI's cousin index, the BEA's Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index.

Cleveland Fed: Key Measures Show Inflation Above 2% YoY in November, Core PCE below 2% -  The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI and the trimmed-mean CPI this morning: According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the median Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% (2.9% annualized rate) in November. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index rose 0.3% (3.1% annualized rate) during the month. The median CPI and 16% trimmed-mean CPI are measures of core inflation calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland based on data released in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly CPI report.Earlier today, the BLS reported that the seasonally adjusted CPI for all urban consumers rose 0.3% (3.1% annualized rate) in November. The CPI less food and energy rose 0.2% (2.8% annualized rate) on a seasonally adjusted basis.  Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details for November here.  This graph shows the year-over-year change for these four key measures of inflation. On a year-over-year basis, the median CPI rose 2.9%, the trimmed-mean CPI rose 2.4%, and the CPI less food and energy rose 2.3%. Core PCE is for October and increased 1.6% year-over-year.On a monthly basis, median CPI was at 2.9% annualized and trimmed-mean CPI was at 3.1% annualized.Overall, these measures are mostly above the Fed's 2% target (Core PCE is below 2%).

Car Makers Rushing to Copy Tesla Lack One Thing: Buyers – WSJ The auto industry is slimming down as it prepares for a time when electric cars rule the streets. But what if consumers aren’t ready for that future yet?- It has been a tough year for the auto industry. Global sales have slipped 5% and the once-hot China market is in decline. Profits have largely stalled. Autonomous vehicles, the industry’s shiniest object, need more dollars and years to go from dream to reality. It is no surprise auto executives from Yokohama to Wolfsburg to Detroit have announced nearly 75,000 layoffs in bits and pieces over the past year. One top auto executive told me there is no standing still in the car business—you’re either growing or cutting. Electric vehicles cost more than their gasoline counterparts, are cumbersome to charge and sell fewer in the U.S. than the Toyota Camry. For every eight pickups sold in America there is one pure-plug-in vehicle sold (many so-called electrics use a conventional engine as well as a battery). Still, companies are preparing for the electric age by cutting workers. This is partly to save money needed for development, but it is primarily to prepare for a vehicle design-and-production process that will be, as they say in Silicon Valley, “asset light.” Let’s be honest. Even the smartest auto executive doesn’t have a clue when the EV revolution will happen. Could be 2025, or it could be 2050. To date, the customer’s appetite for big trucks and SUVs running on cheap gasoline has ruled the market. The roar of an engine and the convenience of a gas station has won out over regulators and environmentalists telling us the world will melt if we don’t go electric. The question for automotive executives: If you fire the people who know how to make what people want to buy, what are you left with? Only people who make stuff no one wants to buy. 

Tesla’s Cybertruck Dead Last In Truck Survey - Ford and GM can rest easy: Tesla’s cybertruck may have a niche after all, but it won’t cut into Ford and GMs truck market, according to a new survey from automotive research site, Autolist.According to the survey, which polled 1,100 respondents, if they had to buy GM’s upcoming electric truck, Ford’s electric F150, Rivian R1T, or the Cybertruck, which would they would choose, if all specs were similar.Unfortunately for Tesla, the Cybertruck received the fewest votes, snagging 20% of the vote. GM’s truck came in first place, getting 29% of the vote. Ford’s EV truck was next at 27%, and Rivian—which doesn’t have near the brand name recognition that Tesla does–took home 24%.People mostly chose GM and Ford because of brand trust and reliability, whereas respondents who chose Tesla did so due to its expected performance, efficiency, and autopilot features. Those who chose Rivian liked its exterior styling.On the face of it, Tesla’s poor showing isn’t altogether abysmal, and GM’s and Ford’s results weren’t a knockout. But the results don’t show the whole picture.Of those 1,100 who actually own—or have ever owned—a truck before, only 14% would choose a Cybertruck. Meanwhile, 63% of truck owners, former or current, would choose the GM or Ford version. Where Tesla came out ahead was for those who had never owned a truck before. For that group, 25.8% would prefer Tesla’s Cybertruck—the top scorer.

GM lends millions to Lordstown Motors with option to buy back plant --General Motors is making a $40 million loan available to Lordstown Motors Corp. to help the start-up buy GM's shuttered plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and start building electric trucks. "The transaction was structured to support LMC’s strategy to launch production of their Endurance pickup," GM spokesman Jim Cain said in an email to the Free Press. "But we’re not commenting on the terms." Legal documents filed late last week and dated Nov. 7 said GM held an open-ended mortgage that enables Lordstown Motors to borrow up to $50 million from GM if necessary, the Business Journal Daily of Youngstown reported. Terms for repayment were not disclosed on the mortgage document, but a separately filed memorandum said GM has an option to repurchase the facility and all transferred assets, and holds the option to lease 500,000 square feet of the factory and another 400,000 square feet of land. GM sold the 6.2-million square-foot facility to Lordstown Motors Nov. 7 after idling the plant in March. It relocated most of the 1,600 workers there to other GM jobs in different states. GM had built the Chevrolet Cruze subcompact car there, but in November 2018 the automaker said it would close four U.S. plants including Lordstown. It was ending production of some of its sedans as customer preference shifted to SUVs and pickups. This latest news offers little comfort to some 400 former GM Lordstown workers who remain in the area, having taken a buyout rather than uproot their families to move to a GM job out of state. "The vast majority of us who lived through this entire story since last November don't trust GM," said Tim O'Hara, UAW Local 1112 president in Lordstown. "There is a lot of suspicion that once it's all said and done that GM itself will end up building electric vehicles in Lordstown after all its loyal employees and Local 1112 members had to move throughout the nation."

November Heavy Duty Truck Orders Resume Collapse, Down 39% To Weakest Since 2015 - The collapse in heavy duty trucking is getting tougher to blame on difficult YOY comps and is more and more looking like the symptom of a real manufacturing recession in the U.S. Class 8 orders against collapsed in November, culminating a dismal year that some thought had seen a reprive with October's improved bookings. But new data from FreightWaves shows that the collapse has continued its trend, indicating that the sluggish economy is to blame for lackluster replacement demand. Orders totaled 17,300 units for the month, which marks the slowest November since 2015 and a 39% collapse from November 2018. The slowdown in orders is prompting layoffs of hundreds of production workers by companies like Daimler Trucks North America, Volvo Trucks North America, Paccar Inc. and Navistar International Corp.Other names in the Class 8 supply chain are also dealing with the negative effects. For instance, engine manufacturer Cummins Inc. is "laying off 2,000 white-collar employees globally in the first quarter of 2020". Meanwhile, November used to be a month when fleets would be busy placing orders for the upcoming year. After October's slight tick up in orders, many analysts thought November could follow suit. That didn't happen, and sequentially November's order book was down 21% from October.  Tim DeNoyer, ACT Research vice president and senior analyst said: “The freight market downturn worsened in the past month, and uncertainty surrounding trade and tariffs continue to weigh on truck buyers’ psyches.”

A truckload giant just filed for bankruptcy, and it leaves nearly 3,000 truck drivers jobless The trucking "bloodbath" of 2019 is taking another remarkably dire turn as the year draws to a close.Indianapolis-based Celadon, a truckload carrier that grossed $1 billion as recently as 2015, filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 9. It's poised to be the largest truckload bankruptcy in history, leading industry publication FreightWaves reported on Friday.While the Chapter 11 filing implies that Celadon will restructure, the company is in fact shuttered. "We have diligently explored all possible options to restructure Celadon and keep business operations ongoing. However, a number of legacy and market headwinds made this impossible to achieve," CEO Paul Svindland said in a statement.And the company's drivers and employees are getting slammed.The bankruptcy has the potential to leave nearly 3,000 truck drivers stranded away from home. While the company has assured truck drivers that will not happen, some truck drivers have told Business Insider that they have had to take matters into their own hands to get home.Celadon employs 2,500 truck drivers, and works with 380 owner-operators. The shuttering also leaves some 1,300 administrative employees, most of whom work in Celadon's Indianapolis headquarters, jobless right before the holidays. An internal document shared with Business Insider revealed that employees lost health insurance before learning that the company was closing. They also will not receive unused vacation pay.   Celadon sent a message shortly after midnight on Dec. 9 informing truck drivers that the company was filing for Chapter 11 and that all loads in transit would be delivered, according to images shared with Business Insider. Celadon did not immediately respond to a Business Insider request for comment.

Trucking derails: nearly 800 companies failed in first three quarters - The demise of trucking company Celadon Group is another leg in what's proving to be a dismal drive for the industry this year. The largest ever trucking sector bankruptcy, Celadon abruptly shut down — leaving more than 3,000 drivers jobless and in many cases stranded with their rigs — amid an accounting scandal that prosecutors say cost shareholders $60 million. But the company's collapse also reflects an industrywide downturn that has taken out hundreds of other trucking companies this year. In the first three quarters of 2019, nearly 800 carriers went out of business, more than double the count of trucking failures in 2018, according to transportation industry data firm Broughton Capital. "This isn't the first time this year we've seen a trucking company fail and drivers abandoned. That's been happening a lot in 2019," Cassandra Gaines, a transportation attorney and head of Gaines Law Group, told CBS MoneyWatch, adding that it has been a "tough year" for the industry.A number of factors are behind the pileup, including escalating insurance costs, tariffs impacting the ability to get cheaper products from China, and a decline in the spot market where shippers book last-minute transportation.That said, "Celadon is a little bit of a different story — it's hard to tell how much that had to do with fraud and how much to do with our market," Gaines said.One of the largest truckload carriers in North America, Celadon had a fleet of roughly 3,300 tractors and 10,000 trailers. Its sudden closure left about 4,000 people without jobs and many truck drivers stranded mid-route."So every company driver and owner operator lost our jobs today without being notified about the closing of the doors of this mega company," one driver, Roderick Orr, posted this week on Facebook. "A lot of people I know are stuck all around the country trying to get home and look for another job." Meanwhile, the slump also has even bigger players hitting the skids, according to Donald Broughton, founder of the analytics firm bearing his name. In 2018, 310 trucking companies with an average fleet size of nine trucks failed, pulling 2,800 trucks off the road. The 795 companies that pulled the plug in the first three quarters of 2019 averaged 30 trucks, with nearly 24,000 trucks pulled off U.S. roadways, Broughton said.

U.S. business inventories rebound in October (Reuters) - U.S. business inventories increased in October, lifted by stocks at retailers, suggesting inventory investment could again contribute to economic growth in the fourth quarter.The Commerce Department said on Friday that business inventories rose 0.2% after slipping 0.1% in September. Inventories are a key component of gross domestic product.October’s increase was in line with economists’ expectations. Retail inventories rose 0.3% in October as estimated in an advance report published last month. That followed a 0.1% gain in September. Motor vehicle inventories fell 0.2% in October, rather than dipping 0.1% as previously reported. Retail inventories excluding autos, which go into the calculation of GDP, increased 0.7%, instead of advancing 0.6% as reported last month.

November Producer Price Index: Core Final Demand Unchanged MoM - Today's release of the November Producer Price Index (PPI) for Final Demand was unchanged month-over-month seasonally adjusted, down from 0.4% last month. It is at 1.1% year-over-year, unchanged from last month, on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. Core Final Demand (less food and energy) came in at -0.2% MoM, down from 0.3% the previous month and is up 1.3% YoY NSA. MoM consensus forecasts were for 0.2% headline and 0.2% core. Here is the summary of the news release on Final Demand:The Producer Price Index for final demand was unchanged in November, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Final demand prices increased 0.4 percent in October and fell 0.3 percent in September. (See table A.) On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index advanced 1.1 percent for the 12 months ended in November. In November, a 0.3-percent rise in prices for final demand goods offset a 0.3-percent decrease in the index for final demand services. The index for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services was unchanged in November after inching up 0.1 percent in October. For the 12 months ended in November, prices for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services moved up 1.3 percent, the smallest advance since climbing 1.3 percent in the 12 months ended September 2016. More… The BLS shifted its focus to its new "Final Demand" series in 2014, a shift we support. However, the data for these series are only constructed back to November 2009 for Headline and April 2010 for Core. Since our focus is on longer-term trends, we continue to track the legacy Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, which the BLS also includes in their monthly updates. As this (older) overlay illustrates, the Final Demand and Finished Goods indexes are highly correlated.

U.S. producer prices tepid; jobless claims at more than two-year high  (Reuters) - U.S. producer prices were unexpectedly unchanged in November as increases in food and gasoline prices were offset by declining costs for services, pointing to muted inflation despite a recent uptick in consumer prices. Other data on Thursday showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surged to more than a two-year high last week. The jump in jobless claims, however, likely does not signal a pickup in layoffs as the data tends to be volatile in the period following the Thanksgiving Day holiday. The reports were released a day after the Federal Reserve’s decision to keep interest rates steady. The U.S. central bank indicated on Wednesday that borrowing costs were likely to remain unchanged at least through next year amid expectations the economy would continue to grow modestly and the unemployment rate remain low. “Inflationary pressures are not an issue,” . “This supports the Fed’s strong signal that if its expectations hold, monetary easing will not continue in 2020 and rate hikes are even more unlikely.” The Labor Department said the flat reading in its producer price index for final demand last month followed a 0.4% rebound in October. The PPI gained 1.1% in the 12 months through November, matching October’s rise, which was the smallest increase since October 2016. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the PPI would rise 0.2% in November and accelerate 1.2% on a year-on-year basis. Excluding the volatile food, energy and trade services components, producer prices were also unchanged last month after edging up 0.1% in October. The so-called core PPI increased 1.3% in the 12 months through November, the smallest gain since September 2016, after advancing 1.5% in October. The dollar .DXY ticked up against a basket of currencies, while prices of U.S. Treasuries fell. Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher, buoyed by President Donald Trump’s tweet that the United States was getting very close to a “big deal” with China. The soft PPI data followed a report on Wednesday showing solid gains in consumer prices in November. The Fed, which has a 2% annual inflation target, tracks the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index for monetary policy. The core PCE price index rose 1.6% on a year-on-year basis in October and has fallen short of the target this year. November PCE price data will be published next week.

Contrary To Conventional Wisdom, US Farmers Are Having Their Best Year Since 2013 -Skimming through the mainstream media websites, one would find numerous articles decrying the plight of US farmers caught in the middle of the US-China trade war, such as these: "Farmers’ Despair Pushes States to Act", "Farm Bankruptcies Rise Again", "Amid Trump Tariffs, Farm Bankruptcies And Suicides Rise." However, there may be more here than meets the conventional eye.As Commodore Research managing director Jeffrey Landsberg writes, US farm income in 2019 is on pace for the highest income seen in six Years.  This, Landsberg continues, "is very significant as US farmers are not faring nearly as poorly as many pundits and media outlets continue to state.  As a result, US farmers collectively have not been in any real uproar and are not jeopardizing Trump’s re-election chances."The surging farm net income stands in stark contrast with the documented spike in bankruptcies, which has prompted some to whether this is a case of a handful of farmers pocketing the majority of the upside, or merely more farmers taking advantage of the political climate and filing bankruptcy for insurance or other tangential purposes. We present Commodore's full note below: Extremely noteworthy to us is that the United States Department of Agriculture recently announced that US net farm income this year will climb to its highest level since 2013. This is very significant as US farmers are not faring nearly as poorly as many pundits and media outlets continue to often report. As a result, US farmers collectively have not been in any real uproar and are not jeopardizing Trump’s re-election chances.US net farm income this year is on pace to total $92.5 billion. This would mark a year-on-year increase of $8.5 billion (10%) and would mark the highest income since 2013’s record $123.7 billion.  Federal government direct farm program payments are contributing to a large amount of the income. Federal government direct farm program payments are expected to end this year at a very robust $22.4 billion, which is $8.7 billion (64%) more than was issued in 2018. This includes the Market Facilitation Program payments, which is the official name for President’s Trump tariff payments that are going to farmers to make up for the weakness in exports. The $22.4 billion in federal government direct farm program payments marks a record for this decade (and includes $14.5 billion in Trump’s Market Facilitation Program payments).

Small Business Optimism Index Increased in November CR Note: Most of this survey is noise, but there is some information, especially on the labor market and the "Single Most Important Problem".  From the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB): November 2019 Report: Small Business Optimism Sees Major Spike in November: Small business optimism posted the largest month-over-month gain since May 2018, rising 2.3 points to 104.7 in November.  ..Finding qualified workers though remains the top issue for 26 percent reporting this as their number one problem, 1 point below August’s record high.  This graph shows the small business optimism index since 1986.The index increased to 104.7 in November. Note: Usually small business owners complain about taxes and regulations (currently 2nd and 3rd on the "Single Most Important Problem" list). However, during the recession, "poor sales" was the top problem. Now the difficulty of finding qualified workers is a top problem.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased sharply to 252,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending December 7, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 252,000, an increase of 49,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 203,000. This is the highest level for initial claims since September 30, 2017 when it was 257,000. The 4-week moving average was 224,000, an increase of 6,250 from the previous week's unrevised average of 217,750. The previous week was unrevised. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Toughest jobs? Try working in a pet store - While working a cash register or stocking shelves might seem like a relatively risk-free job, think again. In 2018, 3.5 of every 100 full-time retail workers suffered a nonfatal injury or illness while at work, according to federal labor data. That's a higher rate than in other potentially dangerous jobs, including manufacturing (3.4 nonfatal injuries/illnesses per 100), construction workers who specialize in buildings (2.7), and mining and oil field workers (1.4). The most common injuries in retail are sprains and muscle tears, as well as general soreness — risks unlikely to be alleviated during the busy holiday shopping season. Within the retail sector, the rate of injury and illness was highest at pet supply stores, where about 7% of employees suffered from non-fatal injuries in 2018, the data show. Also facing higher risks: workers in building material and garden equipment stores, tire dealers, and warehouse clubs and super centers. By contrast, clothing, electronics and liquor store employees were at lower risk of getting hurt or sick. The higher rate of injury and illness could mean greater costs for retailers. Of the roughly 410,000 retail workers who were injured or became ill on the job last year, nearly a third had to miss at least a day of work. The most dangerous industry overall? Farming, in which 5% of workers got hurt or sick last year.

What 60 Minutes Missed: 44 Percent of U.S. Workers Earn $18,000 Per Year  - A study conducted by the Brookings Institute found that 53 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 (or 44 percent of the workforce) yearly earn a median average of $18,000 (or $10.22 per hour). What this means is that a large section of our society can't afford even small mistakes, let alone major emergencies. It only takes one bad move or shock for a low-wage worker to be irrevocably thrown into a catastrophe. CBS's post about the Brookings report appeared the day after it aired the 60 Minutes episode on Seattle's homeless crisis. The Brookings report pretty much explains what the host of the 60 Minutesepisode, Anderson Cooper, considered a mystery, which could be solved with well-rounded reporting. He interviewed homeless people (all white), a Safe Seattle proponent (white), and the mayor (white again) who authorizes sweeps. (Those sweeps, however, were not mentioned in the episode. Instead, Durkan told Cooper that she's throwing lots of compassion and whatever money is available at the crisis.) I bring up race here because the Brooking study found that blacks "are overrepresented among low-wage workers." The data in the study also revealed that half of those who earn low wages are the sole breadwinner in a home. To get a sense of the seriousness of this situation, which is socially costly (or, put another way, grossly inefficient), one must keep in mind that the cost of living in America "has climbed 14 percent over the past three years." But there is more. Many Americans do not know how vast the low-wage population is. Brookings' researchers write: The existence of low-wage work is hardly a surprise, but most people—except, perhaps, low-wage workers themselves—underestimate how prevalent it is. Many also misunderstand who these workers are. They are not only students, people at the beginning of their careers, or people who need extra spending money. A majority are adults in their prime working years, and low-wage work is the primary way they support themselves and their families. This is not surprising because one of the major cultural shifts that occurred with the re-liberalization of economics (also called neoliberation, a return to economic practices and ideas that dominated the second half of the 19th century) in the early 1970s was the disaggregation of the working class and the dissolution of the very concept of class identity. The disaggregation, which also involved breaking the power of unions, led to the atomization of the job market; and the dissolution of class consciousness led to one economic group, the wide and very deep "middle class." A person with an annual income of $250,000 is somehow in the same class as a person with an income of $25,000.

US Productivity Slumps Most Since 2015 - US productivity slipped 0.2% QoQ in Q3 2019, worse than the preliminary 0.1% decline and the biggest QoQ drop since Q4 2015. Year-over-year saw productivity rise at 1.5% - the weakest since Q4 2018. Source: Bloomberg Notably, on a year-over-year basis, manufacturing productivity declined 0.1%.

  George Zimmerman, killer of Trayvon Martin in 2012, sues his victim’s family for $100 million - George Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood watchman who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in cold blood in February 2012, has filed suit for at least $100 million in damages against the family of his young victim. Martin was returning from a convenience store in the early evening on February 26 when Zimmerman, a wannabe cop who had joined the community patrol in his gated community in Sanford, Florida, decided that the young African-American man looked “suspicious.” He continued aggressively pursuing Martin, even after a 911 police dispatcher explicitly instructed him not to. After a confrontation with the unarmed teenager, Zimmerman shot him in the heart, killing him instantly. Zimmerman was at first arrested but was released a few hours later, after he claimed self-defense. He was only charged several months later, after a campaign by Martin’s parents to hold Zimmerman accountable for his reckless and deadly conduct and to denounce the authorities for their refusal to do so. The trial took place 17 months later. Zimmerman, who had attracted the support of gun advocates and other right-wing backers, did not take the stand, but his lawyers pointed to the notorious “stand-your-ground” law in Florida. This vigilante-type legislation shields those who argue that a fear of harm on their part justifies a violent and often deadly response, even where it can be shown that they could have safely withdrawn from a confrontation. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder and manslaughter after a relatively listless and ineffective case put on by the prosecution. Now, almost eight years after the death of Martin, he is making the outrageous argument that he “has suffered severe loss of reputation, goodwill and past, present and future loss of income, earnings and other financial damage.” He is claiming damages from Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, family attorney Benjamin Crump, and also from local prosecutors. The charge is based on the claim of malicious prosecution and abuse of process, because a young girl who was reportedly Trayvon’s girlfriend at the time was allegedly urged or coached to give testimony implicating Zimmerman as the aggressor in the incident. Crump is accused of defamation because of what he has written about Zimmerman. According to Crump, however, another motive for the lawsuit is to generate support for a forthcoming right-wing documentary portraying Zimmerman as an anti-crime and gun rights crusader.

Outrage After Police Use Bystanders As "Human Shields" In Florida UPS Truck Shootout - Miami police and other officers appear to have used surrounding bystanders as "human shields" when they responded to the the hijacked UPS truck following an armed heist of a jewelry store Thursday. After suspects led police on a two-county rush-hour chase through Miami which ended in a hail of gunfire in the middle of crowded traffic on Miramar Parkway and Flamingo Road, hundreds of police bullets from 19 officers firing on the truck brought it to an end.As we reported earlier, four people have been confirmed dead, including the robbers and the UPS driver, since identified as 27-year-old Frank Ordonez, who unluckily had been taken hostage on a day he was reportedly filling in for another driver. Some of his own family members are blaming the "trigger happy" Florida police for killing him in their overeagerness to stop the criminals.An investigation is underway which will also focus on the other innocent bystander that died an unidentified person shot while trapped at the intersection in one of the many surrounding vehicles. "In addition to the UPS driver - who was on his knees - the innocent bystander was shot while sitting in a car waiting at the stop light in the intersection," CBS4 News in Miami reporter Jim DeFede has confirmed. "The number of shots fired by the officers is not currently known but my source said it could exceed 200 rounds," he reported. The deceased bystander had been "inside an idle car at the scene." DeFede concluded that though police were facing a "chaotic situation" it remains that "innocent people are dead" and "questions need to be asked".  Viral video shows the UPS truck stopped amid heavy traffic with bystanders in their vehicles on either side. But the police response is now under criticism given that instead of hanging back and waiting for fewer civilians to be in the line of fire, or even establishing contact through a police negotiator, officers rushed the UPS truck in a blaze of bullets. Police had the other option of backing off the easily identifiable and trackable large brown UPS truck in order to engage with it in a more open area.

 Blind man dies by electric chair in Tennessee, Texas inmate executed amid claims of false testimony - The US will conclude 2019 having sent 22 individuals to their deaths. Executions took place in just seven of the 29 states which still have the death penalty: Florida, nine executions; Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, three each; Florida, two; and South Dakota and Missouri, one each. On Thursday, December 5, Lee Hall, 53, was executed inside the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tennessee. He chose to die by electric chair, which is a method allowed by Tennessee law. Hall was convicted and sentenced to death in 1992 for the 1991 murder of his estranged girlfriend, Traci Crozier, by throwing a lit container full of gas into her car while she was in the front seat. Crozier sustained severe burns and died the next day. Hall had to be led into the execution because he was legally blind. His attorneys say this condition was caused by glaucoma that was not properly treated while he was in prison. According to witnesses to his execution, his last words, spoken from the electric chair, were, “People can learn forgiveness and love and to make this world a better place.” Nashville Scene reported that witnesses saw what looked like smoke coming from Hall’s shrouded head during the execution. The state later told Kimberlee Kruesi of the Associated Press that it was “steam and not smoke as a result of the liquid and heat.” Travis Trevino Runnels, 46, was executed on Wednesday, December 11, at the Texas State Penitentiary’s Huntsville Unit. He died by lethal injection of one drug, pentobarbital. Runnels declined to make a final statement. Prison officials announced his time of death as 7:26 p.m., less than an hour after the US Supreme Court turned down his final appeal, allowing his execution to proceed. Runnels had already been serving a 70-year sentence for aggravated robbery when he killed 38-year-old prison supervisor Stanley Wiley in the Clements Unit boot factory in 2003, slicing his neck to the bone.   In order to give him the death penalty, a jury had to unanimously agree that Runnels would pose a future danger, even while in prison. During the 2005 trial in Wiley’s murder, his defense team said that he had killed the prison officer because he was tired of Wiley “messing with him.” and called no witnesses and didn’t present any evidence on his behalf. The prosecution’s key witness was an investigator with the state’s Special Prosecution Unit who testified Runnels would be given a mid-level “G3” security classification, where they could pose a dangerous safety risk to other inmates. This testimony was untruthful.  Not long before Runnels’ trial, prison officials rewrote their policy to ensure that inmates with a history of assaulting prison staff were barred from “G3” status. Given his crime, Runnels would have been put in solitary confinement upon return to prison.

Performance artist eats $120,000 banana duct-taped to wall, calls it ‘delicious’  -A $120,000 work of art consisting of a banana duct-taped to a wallwas ripped from its perch and eaten by a performance artist Saturday afternoon.   David Datuna posted video of his gastronomical action, which he proclaimed was an "art performance" he has titled "Hungry Artist." The banana piece, "Comedian" by Maurizio Cattelan, was on display at the annual showcase Art Basel in Miami Beach, which runs through Sunday.The Italian artist sold two editions of the piece to private collectors for $120,000 each and was negotiating a third sale to a museum for $150,000, said a spokeswoman for Paris-based Galerie Perrotin, which displayed the work in its booth at Art Basel."I love Maurizio Cattelan artwork and I really love this installation," Datuna said on Instagram. "It’s very delicious."In September, a $1 million, 18-karat gold toilet Cattelan created was stolen from a British palace that was the birthplace of Winston Churchill. In 2016, New York's Guggenheim Museum described him in a press release as "the art world’s resident prankster."

 'An outright lie': Ohio lawmaker shown to be linked to group pushing rightwing Christian bills - An Ohio legislator who said he had “no knowledge” of a rightwing Christian bill mill called Project Blitz is, in fact, the co-chair of the state branch of an organization behind the campaign. The Ohio state representative Timothy Ginter sponsored a bill called the Student Religious Liberties Act. Opponents argued the bill would provide students with a religious exemption to facts, and would frighten teachers and school administrators into including religion in school functions. The Guardian revealed the bill was nearly identical to one promoted by Project Blitz, a state legislative project guided by three Christian right organizations, including the Congressional Prayer Caucus (CPC), WallBuilders and the ProFamily Legislators Conference. Project Blitz aims to promote and help pass conservative legislation across the US to fulfil its rightwing Christian agenda. When initially approached, Ginter told the Guardian in an email from a legislative aide that he had “no knowledge of ‘Project Blitz’ and has not been working with WallBuilders or the Congressional Prayer Caucus”. However, a screenshot shows Ginter was listed as the co-chair of the Ohio Prayer Caucus, the state chapter of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, as recently as January 2019. Ginter’s former chief of staff, Chris Albanese, is currently listed as the state director of the state chapter of CPC, Ohio Prayer Caucus.

New York University charges food-insecure students for ‘free’ meals - Last month, New York University’s (NYU) student newspaper, the Washington Square News, reported that food-insecure students who had used the schools’ Courtesy Meals Program (CMP) had the cost of allegedly free meals deducted from their financial aid packages. This is in spite of the commitment on the program’s website that it “will not have an impact on a student’s financial aid.” The CMP provides 75 ‘dining dollars’ (enough for eight to ten meals) to enrolled students who are in immediate need of food assistance. It is available for anyone who seeks it and is initially offered on a no-questions-asked basis. Following the third request, however, a student must attend a meeting with staff from the Office of Financial Education in order to receive further aid. Last semester 1,933 students, nearly 10 percent of the school’s undergraduates, utilized the program. The news of the financial aid deduction will discourage students from using the service. Food insecurity is defined by Feeding America, a not-for-profit network of over 200 food banks, as “a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person in the household to have an active, healthy life.” Responding to the NYU administration’s unannounced change to the program, Senior Elaine Cho, who was unexpectedly charged $150, told the Washington Square News, “I think it’s a cash grab. I don’t think it’s the first time the university has promised us a service that’s supposed to be helpful that ended up harming students, especially vulnerable students.” Cho cited the university’s mental health program as another example of students being continuously let down. It is not the first time that CMP has been the center of controversy at the university. The program only became widely known amongst the student body in Fall 2018, when its usage increased from 30 to 1,165 students over the course of the semester. It was introduced by the “Food Insecurity Working Group” in 2016, but, for reasons that still have not been made clear, was not advertised to students. Speaking to Washington Square News in May, Malak Enaytellah said, “Even now, I don’t think it really is publicized; it’s mostly by word of mouth. That’s how I found out about it and that’s how I’ve been telling other people about it.” Even when used by students, the program acts as little more than a band-aid for a chronic issue, providing just three days’ worth of food to students with long-term food insecurity. CMP was not implemented with the intention of alleviating student hunger at NYU, but as a fig-leaf to divert the attention of legitimately outraged students away from the issue. Last semester the program cost around $200,000, a fraction of the university administration’s expenditure on services which provide no benefit to students, such as the $9 million spent on “client entertainment” in 2018 alone. Furthermore, the university boasts an endowment of $4.2 billion and many of its top administrators earn million-dollar salaries. Despite these lavish expenditures, in 2019 the school was ranked as having the third-worst financial aid in the United States by the Princeton Review.

Californian graduate students on wildcat strike - Beginning Monday, a group of graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz began a wildcat strike demanding a cost-of-living wage increase. The graduate students are demanding an end to their precarious financial situation, which many students report results in regularly skipping meals, spending some 50-80 percent of their income on housing in one of the most expensive rental markets in the US, and overall heightened stress levels in struggling to meet basic needs. The group of UC Santa Cruz graduate students is striking in defiance of their union, the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2865, and have announced that they plan to withhold students’ grades until they are given a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) raise of $1,421 per month. The strike coincides with the end of the fall quarter, with students’ grades due on Wednesday, December 18. The UAW is hostile to any genuine struggle by graduate students and has distanced itself from the strike and not made comments to media agencies. UAW officials are no doubt working behind the scenes with university officials to shut down the strike as soon as possible. Striking students have lashed out at the UAW on social media for presenting them with “a contract that didn't serve us and ignored the fact that 85% of UCSC students voted to reject the contract and strike then!” All UC unions, including the UAW, have negotiated a “no strike” clause for the duration of contracts, and verbiage that if a strike is planned the UC administration must have 10 days’ notice, giving it ample time to hire scab labor and lessen the impact. The clash between the UCSC grad students and the UAW should serve as a warning to 4,500 striking Harvard grad students, who are members of the Harvard Graduate Student Union–United Automobile Workers. The UAW has isolated the two-week strike while promoting Democratic politicians whose party has waged a war against educators no less viciously than the Republicans.

 Harvard grad student strike in second week - The strike by graduate students at Harvard University enters its second week today. The approximately 4,500 striking members of the Harvard Graduate Student Union–United Automobile Workers (HGSU–UAW), which represents more than 4,500 graduate and undergraduate teaching staff and graduate research assistance across Harvard, began their strike on December 3, the last day of classes at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, at the Ivy League school’s campuses in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Longwood in Boston. The strike has impacted teaching responsibilities covered by the student workers, including holding review sessions, grading assignments, and hosting office hours. Exams, which are set to begin today, could also be affected. However, the Harvard grad student’s union has made clear that its picket lines are “porous,” allowing students, professors and professional university staff to pass through them. Despite the support of campus workers for the grad students, there has been no effort by the UAW-affiliated HGSU to call for a shutdown of the campus, or to call for support from the tens of thousands of university workers in the Greater Boston area. Instead, the union has called on Democratic Party officials, both locally and in the US Congress, to give their half-hearted “support” for the strike. The HGSU–UAW’s website is filled with a who’s who of the Massachusetts Democratic Party establishment and presidential candidates, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, along with local Cambridge and Boston Democratic Party officials. Local and national trade unions have also indicated their support for the strike. US House Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Katherine Clark, both Democrats, spoke to striking grad students in Harvard Yard on Monday morning. Pressley said: “I want to make sure that this university hears our collective voices, to confirm the humanity and dignity of all workers… I just want to say what an honor it is to share these steps and to do this work with Katherine Clark, the vice chair of our caucus, who is the leader on so many social justice issues—from workers’ rights, to gun violence prevention.” She cited abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass in her remarks, declaring, “we have to demand basic rights for you.” Her words of support are hollow. The Democrats, no less than the Republicans, have carried out savage attacks on jobs and living standards for workers, as well as on education. The Obama administration oversaw the wholesale conversion of public school systems into for-profit charters, and his former Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel oversaw dozens of school closures as mayor of Chicago. Moreover, since the 2016 elections they have focused their opposition to Trump entirely on a pro-war basis, while ignoring the real crimes against the working class carried out by his administration.

 California Could Lose $2 Billion of Budget Surplus Due to Feud With Trump - California is bracing for a much smaller budget surplus next year because of its ongoing feud with the Trump administration about a tax involving Medicaid, one of the state's chief budget writers said Monday. California is projected to have a $7 billion surplus, with $3 billion of it available to spend on recurring programs. But nearly $2 billion of that amount would only come if California is allowed to keep in place a tax on the companies that manage Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program. California needs permission from the federal government to do that — and state lawmakers are not sure they will get it. Democratic state Assemblyman Phil Ting, chairman of the committee that writes the Assembly version of the budget, said lawmakers are planning on Trump declining to approve the tax, meaning only $1 billion of the surplus would be available to spend on recurring programs. Preparing to spend that money while facing such uncertainty “wouldn't be the right thing to do,” Ting said. “Every time there is an opportunity to fight with California, the Trump administration has really taken up that mantle and really tried at every turn to thwart many of our key policy agendas,” Ting said.

University Departments Ditch Genderless-Term "Alumni"... For Genderless-Term "Alumnx" - College departments across the country are avoiding the term “alumni,” opting instead to use “alumnx,” even though the original term is gender neutral.   A Google search of the term “alumnx” returns a long list of results from American colleges using the term, though most are specific to departments and specialized resource centers. They include the University of California-San Diego, Syracuse University, University of Michigan and Loyola University of Maryland, primarily on LGBTQ+ resource pages.The term “alumni” is a latin word that derives from the root word “alumnus,” meaning “pupil,” according to the online etymology dictionary. “Alumni” is the gender-neutral plural form of the word. Some websites use “alumnx” and “alumni” interchangeably. The discovery was made Sunday by Jordan Lancaster, a freelance contributor to The Daily Caller and Washington Examiner. She tweeted a series of screenshots from different schools with the caption “seize the endowments.” They included images from Rutgers University, UC-San Diego, UMich and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Among U.S. States, New York’s Suicide Rate Is The Lowest. How’s That? – Like other states, New York has seen its rate increase. But New York has consistently reported rates well below those of the U.S. overall. Compared with the national rate of 14 suicides per 100,000 people in 2017, New York’s was just 8.1, the lowest suicide rate in the nation. “The scientific evidence is pretty darn good that having easy access to guns makes the difference whether a suicidal crisis ends up being a fatal or a nonfatal event,” said Catherine Barber, who co-authored the study and is a senior researcher at the Harvard center.New York has some of the strongest gun laws in the country. In 2013 — after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — the state broadened its ban on assault weapons, required recertification of pistols and assault weapons every five years, closed a private sale loophole on background checks and increased criminal penalties for the use of illegal guns.This year, the state enacted laws that, among other things, established a 30-day waiting period for gun purchases for people who don’t immediately pass a background check, and prevented people who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from buying guns, sometimes referred to as a “red flag” or “extreme risk” law. The population is also heavily concentrated in urban areas, including more than 8 million people living in New York City. According to the Census Bureau, nearly 88% of the state’s population lived in urban areas in the 2010 census, while the national figure is about 81%.Suicide rates are typically lower in cities. In 2017, the suicide rate nationwide for the most rural counties — 20 per 100,000 people — was almost twice as high as the 11.1 rate for the most urban counties, according to the CDC. The trend is accelerating. While the suicide rate in the most urban counties increased by 16% from 1999 to 2017, it grew by a whopping 53% in the most rural counties. Loneliness, isolation and access to lethal weapons can be a potent combination that leads to suicide, People in rural areas may live many miles from the nearest mental health facility, therapist or even their own neighbors.

 Woman sues for sex discrimination after being denied morning after pill — A Minnesota woman is reportedly suing two pharmacies, claiming sex discrimination, after she said she was denied a "morning after" pill. Andrea Anderson has said pharmacists refused to fill her prescription at her local Thrifty White Pharmacy and later at CVS, ABC News reported, citing a lawsuit. Anderson said the Thrifty White pharmacist told her he couldn't fill the prescription due to his "personal beliefs," the lawsuit said. She also reportedly claimed she was told by the pharmacy's owner that this is not the first time the pharmacist has refused to fill a prescription. Anderson also said she was told at CVS that her prescription couldn't be filled there, the suit said, according to ABC. The CVS pharmacist also allegedly attempted to prevent Anderson from attempting to get the pill at a nearby Walgreens, telling her that it didn't have the pill in stock. Anderson then reportedly called Walgreens and was told they did have the pill and could fill her prescription. "The pharmacists I encountered ignored my health needs and my doctor's instructions," Anderson said in a statement to ABC. "I could not believe this was happening. I was angry." CVS told the news outlet in a statement that it was "reviewing and investigating the allegations made in the complaint." "CVS Pharmacy is committed to providing access to emergency contraception, whether it is at the pharmacy counter for patients who have a prescription for it, or in our store aisles where we have sold over-the-counter emergency contraception for several years," the pharmacy said.

Harvesting the Blood of America’s Poor: The Latest Stage of Capitalism  Blood has become big business in the United States and there is no shortage of corporations ready to exploit America’s most vulnerable populations in order to get a piece of the pie. For much of the world, donating blood is purely an act of solidarity; a civic duty that the healthy perform to aid others in need. The idea of being paid for such an action would be considered bizarre. But in the United States, it is big business. Indeed, in today’s wretched economy, where around 130 million Americans admit an inability to pay for basic needs like food, housing or healthcare, buying and selling blood is of the few booming industries America has left.  The number of collection centers in the United States has more than doubled since 2005 and blood now makes up well over 2 percent of total U.S. exports by value. To put that in perspective, Americans’ blood is now worth more than all exported corn or soy products that cover vast areas of the country’s heartland. The U.S. supplies fully 70 percent of the world’s plasma, mainly because most other countries have banned the practice on ethical and medical grounds. Exports increased by over 13 percent, to $28.6 billion, between 2016 and 2017, and the plasma market is projected to “grow radiantly,” according to one industry report. The majority goes to wealthy European countries; Germany, for example, buys 15 percent of all U.S. blood exports. China and Japan are also key customers. It is primarily the plasma– a golden liquid that transports proteins and red and white blood cells around the body– that makes it so sought after. Donated blood is crucial in treating medical conditions such as anemia and cancer and is commonly required to perform surgeries. Pregnant women also frequently need transfusions to treat blood loss during childbirth. Like all maturing industries, a few enormous bloodthirsty companies, such as Grifols and CSL, have come to dominate the American market. But in order to generate such enormous profits, these vampiric corporations consciously target the poorest and most desperate Americans. One study found that the majority of donors in Cleveland generate more than a third of their income from “donating” blood. The money they receive, notes Professor Kathryn Edin of Princeton University, is literally “the lifeblood of the $2 a day poor.” Professor H. Luke Schaefer of the University of Michigan, Edin’s co-author of $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, told MintPress News: The massive increase in blood plasma sales is a result of an inadequate and in many places non-existent cash safety net, combined with an unstable labor market. Our experience is people need the money, that’s the primary reason people show up at plasma centers.”

The blood of poor Americans is now a leading export, bigger than corn or soy - America is one of the only developed countries in the world that pays people to donate blood, much of it sold abroad (70% of the world's plasma is of US origin), and as commercial blood donations have soared, blood now accounts for 2% of the country's exports -- more than corn or soya. There's more growth ahead for blood products, expected to "grow radiantly" according to an analyst who was cheering 13% growth between 2016-17.One study found that the typical blood-seller derives a third of their income from selling blood. Princeton's Kathryn Edin called the commercial blood industry "the lifeblood of the $2 a day poor."Mintpress's interviews with blood-sellers reveal "a mix of disabled, working poor, homeless, single parents, and college students," who describe a system of arbitrary and predatory payments, which fluxuate wildly from day to day.  Chronic bloodletting produces lethargy and cognitive impairment.Respondents all agreed that they were indeed being exploited, but in more ways than one. Desperate Americans are allowed to donate twice per week (104 times per year). But losing that much plasma could have serious health consequences, most of which have not been studied Professor Schaefer warns, stressing that more research is necessary. Around 70 percent of donors experience health complications. Donors have a lower protein count in their blood, putting them at greater risk of infections and liver and kidney disorders. Many regulars suffer from near-permanent fatigue and are borderline anemic. All this for an average of $30 per visit. Rachel described the terrible Catch-22 many of the working poor find themselves in: I got turned away twice – once for being too dehydrated and once for being anemic. Being poor created a shitty paradox where I couldn’t eat, and because I couldn’t eat my iron levels weren’t high enough to allow me to donate. That was a week of a pay cut, money I desperately needed for rent and bills and meds.” Harvesting the Blood of America's Poor: The Latest Stage of Capitalism

 Thousands of children in New Jersey found to have elevated blood lead levels - About 4,500 children in New Jersey had an elevated level of lead in their blood during fiscal 2018, according to a report by the state’s department of health. This figure corresponds to 2.3 percent of the 191,000 children younger than 17 across the state who had their blood tested last year. In New Jersey’s largest cities, particularly those with large working-class populations, the proportion of children with elevated blood lead levels was found to be as high as 6.4 percent. The New Jersey Department of Health’s annual report shows that scandalous levels of lead contamination in public water are not limited to the city of Newark, where local officials’ criminal response made headlines this year. New Jersey is one of the wealthiest states in the country, boasting the highest percentage of millionaire residents in the United States. The lead contamination is the fruit of intentional neglect, indifference, and ruling class arrogance, allowing basic infrastructure to deteriorate, endangering the health and very lives of workers and their families. This is being carried out by Democrats, such as Governor Phil Murphy, an alumnus of investment bank Goldman Sachs with a personal worth of over $55 million, and Republicans such as former Governor Chris Christie, alike. Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause developmental, learning, and behavioral problems, particularly in children. State law requires health practitioners to screen all children for lead at ages 12 months and 24 months. Children age three years or older must be screened at least once before they turn six if they have not been screened previously. The potential danger posed by lead in water pipes, older paints, and other sources is well known, especially for children, and has been for decades. Research shows that even very small dosages can have serious consequences. Exposure to lead from drinking water and other sources is a nationwide problem, yet little or nothing is being done to systematically address it, except when a particularly egregious case is exposed to the public. In previous years, New Jersey used a threshold of 10 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dl) to define an elevated blood lead level. But in fiscal 2018, the state’s health department followed the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and adopted a more stringent threshold of 5 μg/dl. This change has more than quadrupled the number of children for whom state law requires a public health intervention such as assistance from a nurse or home assessment and pollution remediation. The lower threshold, “reflects the science behind the fact that even low levels of lead may have a negative effect on the developing brain,” Dr. Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center, noted in an interview with NJ Spotlight. Although the new threshold may be a “positive change,” as she describes it, it is insufficient. Experts agree that no level of lead in the blood is safe.

Death-Cap Mushrooms Are Spreading Across North America - Between a sidewalk and a cinder-block wall grew seven mushrooms, each half the size of a doorknob. Paul Kroeger, a wizard of a man with a long, copious, well-combed beard, knelt and dug under one of the sickly colored caps. With a short, curved knife, he pried up the mushroom and pulled it out whole. It was a mushroom known as the death cap,Amanita phalloides. If ingested, severe illness can start as soon as six hours later, but tends to take longer, 36 hours or more. Severe liver damage is usually apparent after 72 hours. Fatality can occur after a week or longer. “Long and slow is a frightening aspect of this type of poisoning,” Kroeger said. He and I were in a quiet neighborhood of East Vancouver, British Columbia. Across the street, behind St. Patrick Elementary School, kids were playing basketball, and their voices echoed between the occasional passing cars. As he shook the mushroom free of its soil and added it to the others he’d lined up on a sheet of wax paper, he surveyed the collection and said, “Enough here to kill an entire Catholic school.”  The death caps were slightly domed, with white gills and faintly greenish stems. At the bottom of each stem was a silky slipper, called the volva, which was a purer white than the rest of the mushroom. TheAmanita phalloides species accounts for more than 90 percent of mushroom-related poisonings and fatalities worldwide. Kroeger is a founding member and the former president of the Vancouver Mycological Society, and the go-to authority on mushroom poisonings in western Canada.  The first serious poisoning in British Columbia was reported in 2003, and another occurred in 2008. Both victims survived. Then, in 2016, a 3-year-old boy from Victoria died after eating mushrooms found outside an apartment complex. Kroeger thought he had anticipated the worst, but he was not prepared, he said, “for a wee child to die.”  Dr. Kathy Vo, a medical toxicologist in San Francisco, publishes case studies on rare or unusual poisonings. Amanita phalloides poisonings, she told me, are some of the worst. “When the liver starts to fail, you see bleeding disorders, brain swelling, multi-organ failure. It’s very, very rough,” she said. The levels of fluid loss, Vo said, are some of the most dramatic she’s seen. The body flushes everything it has. “The best bet for the patient is fluid, fluid, fluid; keep watching the liver, and if the liver is failing, go for a transplant.”

Flu season comes early this year due to unexpected virus - Flu season has come early this year due to a strain of the virus not typically seen during this time of year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC announced Friday there has already been an estimated 1.7 million flu illnesses, 16,000 hospitalizations, and 910 flu-related deaths this year in the United States, at a minimum. The early activity is primarily being caused by influenza B/Victoria viruses, which is unusual this early in the season, according to the CDC. CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus told "CBS This Morning: Saturday" that the B/Victoria strain "classically" happens in February or March. "Nationally, influenza B/Victoria viruses are the most commonly reported influenza viruses among children age 0-4 years (46% of reported viruses) and 5-24 years (60% of reported viruses)," reads the agency's website.  B/Victoria viruses are generally not dangerous to older people.  Flu season is considered to be underway when a significant percentage of doctors visits — for at least three weeks straight— are attributed to flu-like symptoms, the Associated Press reports. As of November 30, flu activity had been elevated in the United States for about four weeks, and is expected to increase as we move into winter, according to the CDC.   The virus has largely hit the Southern United States. At the end of November the CDC recorded high flu activity in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, among five other states and Puerto Rico.   "We don't know why the flu season happens when or where, but it's happening early, it's clear," Agus said. "It's happening in the Southern United States — New Orleans particularly hit — and 1.7-2.5 million people, that's a big number early."

Climate Change Could Mean Shorter Winters, But Longer Flu Seasons - The flu has a paradoxical relationship with the weather. In the United States, the flu thrives in the winter, when the air is cold and crisp, and then ebbs in the spring, when the disease is stymied by hotter temperatures. However, in tropical countries, where it is usually warm, humid and rainy, people get sick with the flu all year round. Scientists are studying why this happens, but they have no answers as of yet. “It’s there all the time. We just don’t know why,” said William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University. It’s a real puzzle, since flu viruses spread more easily in cold, dry air than in heat, but they are a perennial problem in the tropics. This contradiction could have major implications for the future of the flu in the United States. While climate change promises shorter, warmer winters, which could yield milder flu seasons, scientists say that the way the flu operates in the tropics suggests that in the coming decades, warmer, wetter weather could make the flu a year-round problem for Americans. “It would not be surprising to see the year-round influenza zone expand as the world warms,” said Robert. T. Schooley, an infectious diseases specialist and editor of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Schaffner agreed. “A warm climate promotes sustained transmission as opposed to seasonal outbreaks, so we might get flu year-round,” he said. A longer flu season could upend annual vaccination programs. The flu vaccine grows less effective over time, especially in the elderly. That’s why public health officials urge Americans to get vaccinated in the fall, so they are best protected through the winter. If the flu becomes a perennial problem, people might need to get vaccinated more than once a year, a prospect that makes health experts shudder.

Leading anti-vaxxer jailed as measles death toll rises to 63 in Samoa  Samoa’s most prominent locally based anti-vaccine advocate will stay behind bars as officials go door to door vaccinating residents against a massive measles outbreak that has already killed 63—nearly all of whom are children under 4 years old.  Officials arrested Edwin Tamasese Thursday, December 5, charging him with "incitement against the Government vaccination order[s]," according to the Samoa Observer. He faces two years in jail.  The arrest came after he allegedly posted a message on social media about the current vaccination campaign that read, "I will be here to mop up your mess. Enjoy your killing spree." Officials denied Tamasese bail. That means he will spend the remainder of the government’s vaccination campaign in jail, awaiting the next available court date. Police said they had given him written warnings to cease his anti-vaccination rhetoric prior to the arrest. The attorney general's office cited the likelihood that he would reoffend as a reason to deny bail.  Tamasese, a manager of a coconut farmers’ collective in Samoa, is a vocal anti-vaccine advocate who has garnered an international following. Though he has no medical or scientific background, he questions the safety of life-saving vaccinations. He also claims to be a Samoan Taulasea [traditional healer] and falsely says he is able to cure measles with vitamins A and C. (There is no specific treatment for measles.)   A Taulasea who spoke with a New Zealand news outlet, however, noted that healers employ natural resources from the area to treat mainly tropical ailments. "With introduced diseases like measles, you must go to the hospital. We have no plants that can heal this,” the healer said. “Taulasea work hand in hand with Western medicines on diseases like this."

Samoa: Anger grows over escalating measles toll - The population of Samoa was subjected to an unprecedented nationwide quarantine last week as the government struggled to stem the Pacific country’s deadly measles epidemic. Police were reportedly deployed “in force” to impose the shutdown. On December 5–6, all public and private services, offices, and businesses were closed and road travel prohibited to all except essential traffic. The government previously closed schools and banned children from public gatherings. People not yet vaccinated were told to remain indoors and tie a red cloth in front of their homes while awaiting mobile vaccination teams. Despite more than 20,000 inoculations carried out over the two days, the toll from the disease has continued to rise. Over the past 24 hours the total number of deaths has reached 70, of which 61 are children aged 4 years or younger. Another 112 new cases were registered, bringing the total to 4,693 since the outbreak began. Currently 159 people are hospitalised, including 17 critically ill children. According to Auckland University immunisation specialist, Dr Helen Petousis Harris, up to 3 percent of Samoa’s population of 200,000 could be hit with the deadly virus before it is eventually contained. Addressing a press conference last Friday, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi admitted the epidemic remained beyond the government's ability to control it, despite an influx of international medical aid and personnel. He launched an urgent financial appeal for $US10.7 million to help the overwhelmed health system. UN spokesperson Simona Marinescu warned that there are still 110,000 vulnerable people at risk. The government faces mounting public anger over its failure to prevent what was an entirely foreseeable and preventable outbreak. Relatives of children who have died maintain the authorities must have known that the population was at grave risk of infection. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in the last five years levels of vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) collapsed in Samoa, particularly among the most at-risk groups of infants, from 90 to just 31 percent. Dr Petousis-Harris posted on social media that while the compulsory immunisation campaign may mitigate the crisis, “for many it is too late.” The low immunisation coverage has left Samoa extremely vulnerable to measles, comparing it to “a lit match to dry tinder and gasoline.” With the global resurgence of measles, the risk of an outbreak was “almost inevitable.”

When a DNA Test Says You’re a Younger Man, Who Lives 5,000 Miles Away - Three months after his bone marrow transplant, Chris Long of Reno, Nev., learned that the DNA in his blood had changed. It had all been replaced by the DNA of his donor, a German man he had exchanged just a handful of messages with. He’d been encouraged to test his blood by a colleague at the Sheriff’s Office, where he worked. She had an inkling this might happen. It’s the goal of the procedure, after all: Weak blood is replaced by healthy blood, and with it, the DNA it contains. But four years after his lifesaving procedure, it was not only Mr. Long’s blood that was affected. Swabs of his lips and cheeks contained his DNA — but also that of his donor. Even more surprising to Mr. Long and other colleagues at the crime lab, all of the DNA in his semen belonged to his donor. “I thought that it was pretty incredible that I can disappear and someone else can appear,” he said.  Mr. Long had become a chimera, the technical term for the rare person with two sets of DNA. The word takes its name from a fire-breathing creature in Greek mythology composed of lion, goat and serpent parts. Doctors and forensic scientists have long known that certain medical procedures turn people into chimeras, but where exactly a donor’s DNA shows up — beyond blood — has rarely been studied with criminal applications in mind. Tens of thousands of people get bone marrow transplants every year, for blood cancers and other blood diseases including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia. Though it’s unlikely that any of them would end up as the perpetrator or victim of a crime, the idea that they could intrigued Mr. Long’s colleagues at the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department, who have been using their (totally innocent) colleague in IT as a bit of a human guinea pig.   The implications of Mr. Long’s case, which was presented at an international forensic science conference in September, have now captured the interest of DNA analysts far beyond Nevada.The assumption among criminal investigators as they gather DNA evidence from a crime scene is that each victim and each perpetrator leaves behind a single identifying code — not two, including that of a fellow who is 10 years younger and lives thousands of miles away.

Former Monsanto CEO Ordered to Testify at Roundup Cancer Trial - Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company's Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers. Grant, who led St. Louis-based Monsanto from 2003 until the company was sold to Bayer AG of Germany in June of 2018, and spent a total of 37 years working for Monsanto, was subpoenaed by lawyers for plaintiff Sharlean Gordon, to testify at a trial slated to begin Jan. 27 in St. Louis County Circuit Court.The Gordon trial was originally scheduled for August of this year but was delayed as part of an effort to undertake settlement talks between Bayer and lawyers for tens of thousands of plaintiffs who are suing Monsanto with claims similar to Gordon's.Two other trials set for January, both in courts in California and both involving children diagnosed with cancer, were recently postponed due to continued settlement talks.Bayer estimates that there are currently more than 42,000 plaintiffs alleging that exposure to Monsanto's Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides made by Monsanto caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Grant did not have to testify live at the three Roundup cancer trials that have taken place so far because they were all held in California. But because Grant resides in St. Louis County, plaintiffs' attorneys saw an opportunity to get him on the stand in person. Attorneys for Grant have been fighting the subpoena, arguing that he is not a scientist or regulatory expert and he has already provided information in deposition testimony. Grant has also argued that he should not have to testify because he plans to be out of the country starting Feb. 9. But in a decision handed down Dec. 5, a special master appointed to the case sided with Gordon's attorneys and ruled that Grant was not entitled to an order quashing the subpoena for trial testimony.

 Scientists call for a complete ban on GLITTER because the particles are polluting oceans Glitter may be sparkly, but reports show it also has a dark side. These tiny particles are making their way into water sources, leading scientists to call a complete ban on glitter saying it is causing an environmental disaster. Because glitter is so small, marine life is mistaking it for food, which in turn is damaging their livers and affecting their behavior functions. And every tiny sparkly bit takes thousands of years to break down. Dr. Trisia Farrelly of New Zealand's Massey University told CBS News in 2017, 'I think all glitter should be banned because it's microplastic.' 'Producers should not get away with making a profit out of the production of disposable, single-use plastics, while bearing little responsibility for the damage.' The US and UK have taken steps towards banning glitter, by outlawing cosmetics and care products containing microbeads. The move is aimed at protecting the marine environment from one source of plastic pollution, as microbeads are washed down the drain and can enter the seas and be swallowed by fish and crustaceans with potentially harmful effects.

Elizabeth Warren helped company to avoid clearing up toxic waste, document reveals - The memo from then-professor Elizabeth Warren was written on Harvard University law school letterhead, a symbol of gravitas for a scholar renowned as a champion for consumers victimised by predatory banks and other big businesses.  But on this occasion, Ms Warren was not arguing on behalf of vulnerable families, nor was she offering the sort of stinging rebuke of corporate greed that would later define her political career. Rather, Ms Warren was representing a large development company that was trying to avoid having to clean up a toxic waste site.  The memo, which Ms Warren wrote in 1996, used legalistic and often dense language to argue that businesses faced the “risk of the unknown” from a growing threat of lawsuits, and that defended the company's right to “maximise its returns to its unpaid creditors and to survive as an employer.” “Environmental claims, product liability claims, and mass tort claims, for which we have currently only seen the tip of the iceberg, are multiplying against American businesses,” wrote Ms Warren, who, according to her campaign, was arguing that a different company should bear the cleanup costs.  The eight-page memo, which has not previously been reported, offers a rare glimpse of Warren in action during her past work as a corporate consultant - one whose arguments were at times out of step with the liberal presidential campaign she is running today. Ms Warren's compensation in the 1996 case was included in a summary released by her campaign late on Sunday night showing that she had been paid about $2m (£1.5m) as a legal consultant during her time as a professor, most of it between 1995 and 2009.

Is This the End of Recycling?  - After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans arefinally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately. But now much of that carefully sorted recycling is ending up in the trash. For decades, we were sending the bulk of our recycling to China—tons and tons of it, sent over on ships to be made into goods such as shoes and bags and new plastic products. But in 2018, the country restricted imports of certain recyclables, including mixed paper—magazines, office paper, junk mail—and most plastics. Waste-management companies across the country are telling towns, cities, and counties that there is no longer a market for their recycling. These municipalities have two choices: pay much higher rates to get rid of recycling, or throw it all away. Most are choosing the latter. “We are doing our best to be environmentally responsible, but we can’t afford it,” said Judie Milner, the city manager of Franklin, New Hampshire. Since 2010, Franklin has offered curbside recycling and encouraged residents to put paper, metal, and plastic in their green bins. When the program launched, Franklin could break even on recycling by selling it for $6 a ton. Now, Milner told me, the transfer station is charging the town $125 a ton to recycle, or $68 a ton to incinerate. One-fifth of Franklin’s residents live below the poverty line, and the city government didn’t want to ask them to pay more to recycle, so all those carefully sorted bottles and cans are being burned. Milner hates knowing that Franklin is releasing toxins into the environment, but there’s not much she can do. “Plastic is just not one of the things we have a market for,” she said. The same thing is happening across the country. Broadway, Virginia, had a recycling program for 22 years, but recently suspended it after Waste Management told the town that prices would increase by 63 percent, and then stopped offering recycling pickup as a service. “It almost feels illegal, to throw plastic bottles away,” the town manager, Kyle O’Brien, told me.

Human Composting Home to Open in 2021 - No longer will the options when we die be a choice between just burial or cremation. Soon it will be possible to compost your remains and leave your loved ones with rich soil, thanks to a new funeral service opening in Seattle in 2021 that will convert humans into soil in just 30 days, as The Independent reported. Recompose markets itself as a service offering "natural organic reduction" to the public, according to its website. The facility is meant to recognize that death is a momentous spiritual event and to take the opportunity to reconnect funeral rites with nature and to offer a greener alternative to burial or cremation, according to Fast Company. Recompose, which will be able to hold 75 bodies in its flagship facility in Seattle, says it will turn a dead body into usable soil in just 30 days in a process that is much less resource-intensive than cremation or burial. In fact, according to the The Independent, the process will use one-eighth the energy of cremation and save a metric ton of CO2 from being emitted, compared to most forms of burial. A burial usually requires chemical-laden embalming, while cremation is energy intensive, according to the architects at Olson Kundig who designed the new facility, as Fast Company reported. "Our service - recomposition - gently converts human remains into soil, so that we can nourish new life after we die," Recompose's website says. "Recompose takes guidance from nature. At the heart of our model is a system that will gently return us to the earth after we die." "By converting human remains into soil, we minimize waste, avoid polluting groundwater with embalming fluid, and prevent the emissions of CO2 from cremation and from the manufacturing of caskets, headstones, and grave liners," the company's website explains. "By allowing organic processes to transform our bodies and those of our loved ones into a useful soil amendment, we help to strengthen our relationship to the natural cycles while enriching the earth." A single body plus the woodchips, alfalfa and hay will net one cubic yard of soil, or several wheelbarrows full. Some families will take the soil home to use, while others can donate it to conservation projects on the slopes of Bells Mountain in Washington, according to the Seattle Times.

Trump says the EPA is looking 'very strongly' at 'sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms' because people are flushing their toilets 10 to 15 times - At a Friday meeting at the White House, President Donald Trump talked at length about water and energy conservation, saying the Environmental Protection Agency is looking into restrictions in part because, he said, people are flushing their toilets 10 to 15 times instead of once and are therefore using more water."We have a situation where we're looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms, where you turn the faucet on in areas where there's tremendous amounts of water, where it all flows out to sea because you could never handle it all, and you don't get any water," he said. "They take a shower and water comes dripping out, very quietly dripping out. People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once; they end up using more water. So EPA is looking very strongly at that, at my suggestion."You go into a new building, new house, a new home, and they have standards where don't get water, and you can't wash your hands practically; there's so little water," he added. "And the end result is that you leave the faucet on, and it takes you much longer to wash your hands, and you end up using the same amount of water. So we're looking very seriously at opening up the standard, and there may be some areas where we go the other route, desert areas, but for the most part, you have states where they have so much water where it comes down — it's called rain — that they don't know what to do with it." In his comments, Trump appeared to be referring to the standards set by the National Energy Policy Act of 1995, federal regulations that stipulated that all newly manufactured toilets had to use a maximum of 1.6 gallons of water per flush, a significant decrease from previous standards.  Earlier in the meeting, Trump also jokingly complained about energy-saving lightbulbs. "They got rid of the lightbulb that people got used to," he said. "The new bulb is many times more expensive, and I hate to say it, it doesn't make you look as good. Of course, being a vain person, that's very important to me. It gives you an orange look. I don't want an orange look. Has anyone noticed? So we'll have to change those bulbs in rooms where I'm in."

Trump Makes Strange Claim About Water Efficient Toilets: 'People Are Flushing Toilets 10 Times, 15 Times' -President Donald Trump mocked water-efficiency standards in new constructions last week. Trump said, "People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water." Trump asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a federal review of those standards since, he claimed with no evidence, that they are making bathrooms unusable and wasting water, as NBC News reported.Trump delivered his bizarre tangent on the state of modern bathrooms at a White House meeting about small business and red tape reduction.He started by suggesting his beef with low-flow plumbing was for the American worker and is common sense. "But together, we're defending the American workers. We're using common sense," Trump said just before railing against modern plumbing, according to the White House's official transcript. "We have a situation where we're looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms, where you turn the faucet on — in areas where there's tremendous amounts of water, where the water rushes out to sea because you could never handle it," Trump said."You turn on the faucet and you don't get any water. They take a shower and water comes dripping out. Just dripping out, very quietly dripping out," Trump continued, lowering his voice as he spoke about the drips, as CNN reported.He continued, "You go into a new building or a new house or a new home, and they have standards, 'Oh, you don't get water.' You can't wash your hands, practically, there's so little water comes out of the faucet. And the end result is you leave the faucet on and it takes you much longer to wash your hands. You end up using the same amount of water," according to NBC News. It was not clear what standards President Trump was referring to or what exactly he asked the EPA to look into. However, he continued and suggested that most states have a water surplus that make low-flow toilets and sinks unnecessary.

 Donald Trump Jr killed rare endangered sheep in Mongolia with special permit - On a hunting trip to Mongolia earlier this summer the US president’s son Donald Trump Jr killed a rare species of endangered sheep. A permit for the killing was retroactively issued after Trump met with the country’s president, according to new reporting from ProPublica.Trump was accompanied by security from both the US and Mongolia on the trip, the outlet reported. The argali sheep, with its large horns, is considered a national treasure there, and permission to kill one is “controlled by an opaque permitting system that experts say is mostly based on money, connections and politics”.In between the killing and the issuing of the permit the month after he left the country, Trump is said to have met with the president, Khaltmaagiin Battulga, suggesting the possibility of special consideration being given to the son of the US president. “Trump Jr shot his argali at night, using a rifle with a laser sight, the guides said,” according to ProPublica. “He stopped the local hunting guides from dismembering it at the kill site, instead instructing them to use an aluminum sheet to carry the carcass so as not to damage the fur and horns, said Khuandyg Akhbas, 50, one of the guides. He also killed a red deer, which similarly required a permit.The legality of the importation of big game trophies into the United States has been, like many other issues in the Trump administration, confusing and ever-changing. The president himself has spoken out against the practice, calling such hunting practices a “horror show” despite his two sons being avid trophy hunters. In order to import trophies of animals on the endangered species list, a US hunter must show that its killing would be beneficial overall to the species at large. In 2017, the Trump administration pushed back against such restrictions on trophy hunting from the Obama era before reinstating the ban. A court ruling found thereafter it was done improperly, allowing imports to continue.

Drive-by Shooters in Brazilian Amazon Kill Two Indigenous Leaders, Injure Two Others - Two indigenous leaders were killed in a drive-by shooting in Northeast Brazil Saturday, and two others were injured.  The murdered men belonged to the Guajajara tribe, which is known for organizing guardians to defend theirAmazon rainforest territory against illegal tree clearing, The Guardian pointed out. Violence against Brazil's indigenous communities has increased during the presidency of far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro, who has spoken against indigenous reserves and promised to open more of the Amazon to agriculture and industry. Saturday's killings come little over a month after illegal loggers shot and murdered forest guardian Paulo Paulino Guajajara. "How long will this go on? Who will be next?" Sonia Guajajara, leader of Brazil's Indigenous People Articulation (APIB), told The Guardian. "The authorities need to look at our indigenous people. They're taking away our lives." One indigenous witness recorded a video of the scene, along with a plea for help."Please spread this video so that people can know the state of vulnerability we are in, for lack of security, for illicit acts that some people practice. And now our relatives have had to pay with their own lives," the filmer said, according to Amazon Watch. "This can't keep happening. Brazilian authorities and responsible bodies must take action on this."  Homens em um veículo atiram contra indígenas e deixa mortos e feridos na BR-226 no MAYouTube   The murdered men were chiefs named Firmino Prexede Guajajara and Raimundo Guajajara, according to Amazon Watch. They were riding a motorcycle on their way back from advocating for indigenous rights at a meeting with Brazilian electric utility Eletronorte and Funai (Brazilian National Indigenous Foundation). When they reached the part of a highway near El-Betel village, the murderers opened the windows of a moving car and opened fire, tribal spokesman Magno Guajajara said, according to The Guardian. "They were shooting at everyone," he recounted.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro Calls Greta Thunberg a 'Brat' for Speaking up for Indigenous Rights -- Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is angry that 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is speaking out for indigenous rights. On Sunday, Thunberg tweeted a response to the killing of two indigenous leaders in Northeast BrazilSaturday."Indigenous people are literally being murdered for trying to protect the forest from illegal deforestation," she wrote. "Over and over again. It is shameful that the world remains silent about this."Bolsonaro, whose pro-development policies and rhetoric have been blamed for the uptick in violence against indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon, lashed out against Thunberg Tuesday."Greta said the Indians died because they were defending the Amazon (forest). How can the media give space to a brat like that," Bolsonaro told reporters, as Reuters reported.  Bolsonaro used the Portuguese word "pirralha," which means roughly "little brat" or "pest," according to The Guardian. Thunberg then responded by temporarily changing her Twitter biography to "pirralha."

South African mines grind to halt as floods deepen power crisis - (Reuters) - Mines across South Africa shut down on Tuesday after flash flooding triggered the most severe power blackouts in more than a decade, threatening a key export sector in a further blow to the country’s already slowing economy. Heavy rains across parts of South Africa have submerged entire neighborhoods, leading to evacuations and aggravating problems at state-owned utility Eskom, which has been struggling to keep the lights on since 2008. Harmony Gold, Impala Platinum and Sibanye-Stillwater all said they had been forced to cut production since Monday because of power shortages. The mining industry contributed 351 billion rand ($24 billion) to the South African economy in 2018, the Minerals Council says, equating to about 7% of gross domestic product (GDP). Eskom said on Tuesday that it plans more load-shedding, referring to intentional power cuts, having cut up to 6,000 megawatts (MW) from the national grid on Monday after flooding triggered failures at its Medupi coal-fired plant. President Cyril Ramaphosa cut short a state visit to Egypt to meet Eskom officials, local news agency EWN said on Tuesday. “The ongoing load shedding is devastating,” Ramaphosa said in a statement earlier in the day. “The energy challenges in this country will not be resolved overnight.”

20% of Global Population at Risk From Climate Chaos, Rising Demand of Mountain Water, Study Says - The drinking water of 1.9 billion people is at risk from the climate crisis and the demand for water is rising, a study published Monday in Nature has found. The study set out to assess the vulnerability and importance of 78 natural "water towers" — mountain ecosystems that both generate and store water in glaciers, snowpack and alpine lakes. "I think when we've talked about climate change and ice loss, a lot of the narrative has been around sea-level rise," research team member Dr. Bethan Davies from Royal Holloway, University of London told BBC News. "But actually over the next 100 years, climate change is going to affect drinking water for people, water for power, water for agriculture - and in these water towers, we're talking about the supply to about 1.9 billion people. That's more than 20% of the world's population. We need to adopt urgent mitigation strategies or we will face severe water shortages." The researchers found that both the most important and most vulnerable water tower is the Indus, which is fed by the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Ladakh and Himalayan mountains and sustains populations in Pakistan, India, China and Afghanistan, The Guardian reported. If current trends continue, temperatures will rise to 1.9 degrees Celsius by mid-century and rainfall will only increase by less than two percent, but population will increase by 50 percent. The "water tower" currently supplies more than 200 million people, according to BBC News.

Victoria Falls Dries Drastically After Worst Drought in a Century - The climate crisis is already threatening the Great Barrier Reef. Now, another of the seven natural wonders of the world may be in its crosshairs — Southern Africa's iconic Victoria Falls. The falls are located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. They are also called Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means "the smoke that thunders" in the indigenous Lozi language, according to AccuWeather. But contrasting photographs taken by Reuters in January and December 2019 show how a severe drought has shrunk the falls into something closer to the steam that whispers. Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu also tweeted images of the dried-out falls in October. "These pictures of Victoria Falls are a stark reminder of what climate change is doing to our environment and our livelihood," he wrote at the time. "It is with no doubt that developing countries like Zambia are the most impacted by climate change and the least able to afford its consequences."  The falls usually decline somewhat during the dry season, but the worst drought to bake the region in a century has reduced its water flow to the lowest level in 25 years, Reuters reported. This has led to concerns that the attraction that draws millions of visitors to Zambia and Zimbabwe could dry up all together.  "In previous years, when it gets dry, it's not to this extent. This (is) our first experience of seeing it like this," Dominic Nyambe, who sells crafts to tourists on the Zambian side of the falls, told Reuters. "It affects us, because ... clients ... can see on the Internet (that the falls are low) .... We don't have so many tourists." The dwindling falls isn't the only way drought has impacted the two countries. Both Zambia and Zimbabwe rely on hydropower from the Kariba Dam, located on the Zambezi River that also feeds the falls. The reduced water flow has led to power cuts. In southern Africa overall, around 45 million people require food aid because of crop failures. AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews said that it was unclear if this year's drought was caused by climate change. And hydrologist Harald Kling, who is an expert on the Zambezi River, cautioned Reuters it isn't always possible to blame the climate crisis for one dry year.  While climate models predicted more droughts for the region, Kling said their recent frequency has still been "surprising." The last drought was only three years ago.

How California's Government Plans To Make Wildfires Even Worse - Not every square inch of the planet earth is suitable for a housing development. Flood plains are not great places to build homes. A grove of trees adjacent to a tinder-dry national forest is not ideal for a dream home. And California's chaparral ecosystems are risky places for neighborhoods. This is nothing new. While people many Americans who live back East may imagine that something must be deeply wrong when they hear about fires out West, the fact is things are different in North America west of the hundredth meridian. The West is more prone to extreme temperatures, hundred-year droughts, and fires in the wilderness. Many of these ecosystems evolved with this fire risk.  Efforts to blame them primarily on climate change ignore the long standing reality. The Sacramento Bee notes, for example: It’s also not enough to blame the growing devastation of recent wildfires solely on climate change, researchers said. While drier, warmer conditions have lengthened the fire season and likely increased the severity of the blazes, wildfires are only destroying more homes today than decades before because of rapid growth in rural areas. It's not that fires are more devastating in the natural sense. The problem is that human beings insist on putting their property in places where fires have long destroyed the landscape, over and over again. The Bee continues: [T]he fires aren’t getting closer to us — we’re getting closer to the fires. “We’re seeing wildfires that have always been a part of the landscape that are now interacting more and more with us..." So, why do people keep building homes in these places? Part of it is natural populations growth, of course. But the manner and rapidity with which this development expands out into the fringes of metro areas is also partly due to government policy and infrastructure.  In an unhampered market, it would be very expensive to extend a new neighborhood out into ever-further-out regions near metro areas. In order to reach these places, housing developers would need to find a way to finance both the new housing construction and the roads that give access to them. Certainly, developers often provide part of the funding through development fees demanded by governments. But these roads are often also subsidized by state and local governments, especially in the form of ongoing maintenance. Once a road to a new semi-rural community is built, governments will often maintain it, while spreading the cost across all the jurisdiction's taxpayers. This system of subsidy allows more rapid and more dispersed development. Unsubsidized roads would tend to force more close-in and more dense development.

 Australia fires: blazes ‘too big to put out’ as 140 bushfires rage in NSW and Queensland Dozens of fires will burn across Australia for weeks, fire authorities say, including a “mega-fire”, already the size of greater Sydney, that is too big to put out. At 6am on Sunday there were 96 bush and grass fires in NSW - 47 of which were not contained. Five fires are at a watch and act level. Conditions eased on Sunday morning, allowing firefighters a chance to do critical back-burning and containment work ahead of Tuesday, when the mercury is tipped to soar into the 40s in parts of the state. NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said overnight conditions had improved. “We’ve got much more benign conditions, particularly a dominant easterly influence which will stretch pretty much right across most of our fire grounds,” he told Seven News. “Which means hundreds - as a matter of fact more than 1600 - firefighters are around again today doing really important and critical back burning and containment-line consolidation to try and gain the upper hand before we see those conditions deteriorate into Tuesday.” Already this fire season, six people have died and more than 1,000 homes have been lost across NSW and Queensland. The largest conflagration, the “mega fire” at Gospers Mountain near Sydney’s north-western outskirts, was likely to burn for weeks until substantial rain falls, likely at the end of January or early February. The NSW Bureau of Meteorology said the largest fires simply could not be extinguished by water-bombing aircraft or firefighting crews on the ground. “The massive NSW fires are in some cases just too big to put out at the moment … they’re pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange and even appearing like significant rain on our radars,” the bureau said.The bureau has forecast a grim week ahead, with strong winds forecast for fire-affected areas and no rain relief in sight. A months-long drought in eastern Australia has left bushland tinder dry and prone to ignition, especially from dry lightning strikes. Temperatures are expected to reach 43C in western Sydney, and 44C in the Hunter region immediately north of Australia’s largest city. Temperatures will also soar in the state’s north-west, where they are forecast to hit 44C in Bourke and 43C in Colbar. Residents within an three-kilometre-squared exclusion zone were ordered out as the firefront was waterbombed but fire crews warned they might not be able to stop the fast-moving blaze.

Australia Burns as Leaders Worry About Coal More Than Climate – - For weeks now, I’ve not been sleeping properly. Lying down has provoked paroxysmal, bronchial coughing, as drifting clouds from bushfires around Australia’s east coast have settled on my home city of Sydney. A thrumming headache has been a constant. Taking my daughter for an asthma checkup last week, we walked through haze filled with swirling motes of ash. Tuesday was the worst yet. As I wrote this article, a building fire alarm went off in Bloomberg’s office, caused by the permeating fumes. Thick smoke has rendered the Sydney Harbour Bridge invisible. Ambulance calls for breathing problems have risen 30% on typical seasonal levels. Beaches are black from settling embers. You’d think that Australia’s political class would be under pressure to come up with solutions to the disaster spreading over nearly 10 million people — about two-fifths of the population — across some 1,000 kilometers (more than 600 miles) from the capital Canberra north to the third-largest city of Brisbane. The air-quality levels for Sydney are currently worse than New Delhi and Beijing. In fact, the silence has been deafening.  The reason is coal. Australia’s largest export last year has a crucial role in the climate change that’s already making spring in southeastern Australia warmer and drier, which in turn increases the odds of the extreme weather that causes severe bushfires. The relationship between climate change and fire season is one that many politicians are unwilling to highlight. After the Labor party suffered a battering in coal-mining seats in May elections where they’d been equivocal in backing the industry, there’s now bipartisan support for a policy of downplaying the link. This is an extraordinary situation. Wildfire pollution is a major public health problem wherever it occurs, causing respiratory problems, heart disease, pregnancy complications, and other ailments. Some 184 bushfire-affected days in Sydney between 2001 and 2013 resulted in 197 premature deaths and 1,223 hospitalizations that could be attributed to smoke exposure,according to a separate 2018 study. Just a handful of days in that 13-year analysis saw concentrations of PM2.5 — fine particles of pollution capable of penetrating the bloodstream and reaching all the tissues of the body — above 50 micrograms per cubic meter. Over the past month alone, there have been nearly 20 days above 50; average concentrations Tuesday were running as high as 1,085 in parts of Sydney. 1 With little respite expected from extreme fire weather for weeks, possibly months, it’s likely that many hundreds will suffer severe health problems or even death from the current conditions. Yet inside the political bubble, you could be forgiven for seeing it as a non-issue.

Sydney Is Choking on Bushfire Smoke, Poorest Residents Struggling Most - The brushfires raging through New South Wales have shrouded Australia's largest city in a blanket of smoke that pushed the air quality index 12 times worse than the hazardous threshold, according to the Australia Broadcast Corporation (ABC). Still winds on Tuesday left a stagnant haze over the city so smoky, it set off fire alarms in buildings and train stations, stopped ferries from running on the city's famed harbors, and hid iconic landmarks like the Sydney Opera House, according to Reuters. "This smoky period we've been experiencing for the past month or so, it is unprecedented, so these conditions are a risk to people's health," said Richard Broome, the New South Wales government's director of environmental health, as Reuters reported. Satellite imagery shows that a 37-mile long wildfire is tearing through an area northwest of the city and pushing smoke east over the city and over the Pacific Ocean, all the way to New Zealand, according to Reuters. In total, 81 fires are burning across New South Wales and 39 have yet to be contained, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Heavy rains are not expected until the end of January and temperatures hit a high of 107 degrees Fahrenheit today. Outdoor events were canceled over the weekend and respiratory illness is on the rise as smoke, ash and particulate matter irritate lungs, according to Sky News Australia. Sydney schools canceled outdoor trips, recess and sports. The Fire Brigade Employees Union said firefighters have responded to four times as many false alarms on Tuesday as a typical day because of the lingering smoke, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The smoke haze is predicted to linger until at least Saturday. Even though the air will clear up a bit net weekend and the winds will shift to give firefighters a chance to make headway, the air will be far from healthy. "It'll be another few weeks if not longer, depending on the weather conditions," The hazardous air quality is particularly frightful for the city's poorest residents who are often unable to afford air conditioners, air filters, or even masks. Rouse Hill, a neighborhood in Sydney, saw the air quality index, a measure of particle pollution, hit 430 on Tuesday. Anything above 200 is considered hazardous. Some suburbs saw the AQI index hit an unprecedented 2,200, as The Guardian reported. The worst air quality reading was in Rozelle on Tuesday afternoon, where the AQI was 2,552, according to ABC.

Sydney’s air 11 times worse than ‘hazardous’ levels as Australia’s bushfires rage Sydney disappeared behind a thick layer of bushfire smoke that blanketed the city and pushed air quality 11 times higher than considered “hazardous” on Tuesday, while Australia’s weary firefighters faced what authorities warned were the potentially “lethal” combination of high temperatures and heavy winds. Across Sydney, buildings were evacuated regularly as fire alarms were triggered at random. During the morning commute, the sound of the ferries using their fog horns due to the poor visibility filled the area surrounding the harbour before the entire fleet was finally grounded. Schools kept children inside during their lunch break and face masks became a regular accoutrement as Sydney’s landmarks were lost in the haze. Images of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach shrouded in smoke were shared widely on social media as the usual joie de vivre that greets the beginning of summer in this city gave way to anxiety over the lengthening bushfire crisis. A domestic cricket match between New South Wales and Queensland continued under a pall. Footage of the former Australian test player Steve O’Keefe bowling spin in near darkness seemed to sum up the uncanny feeling that settled across the city. Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, in town as part of an Australian tour, reflected it better than most: “Sydney looks spooky as fuck with all this smoke proper shitting it,” he wrote on Twitter. A NSW Ambulance superintendent, Brent Armitage, said paramedics were attending up to 100 respiratory-related call-outs per day and the state’s health department warned residents to stay indoors as much as possible amid “unprecedented” smoke pollution. The state’s director of environmental health, Dr Richard Broome, said the smoke in Sydney was “some of the worst air quality we’ve seen”. “Certainly in Sydney we have experienced very poor air quality episodes in the past and the one I’m most aware of is the 2009 dust storm episode where we had extremely high levels, but certainly this smoky period we’ve been experiencing for the past month or so, it is unprecedented, so these conditions are a risk to people’s health,” Broome said.

No End for Drought as Sydney Disappears Into Smoke - Sydney has disappeared, at The Guardian: The New South Wales environment minister Matt Kean has split from his federal Coalition counterparts, arguing climate change is behind the bushfire crisis and calling for greater emissions reduction. Kean’s intervention piles pressure on Scott Morrison to do more on emissions reduction and disaster management after his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull urged him to step up his government’s response to the “national security issue” and former emergency services chiefs pushed for a national summit. As Sydney suffered through air quality 11 times worse than hazardous levels on Tuesday, Kean told the Smart Energy Summit that weather conditions were “exactly what the scientists have warned us would happen”. “Longer drier periods, resulting in more drought and bushfire,” he said. “If this is not a catalyst for change, then I don’t know what is. “This is not normal and doing nothing is not a solution. “We need to reduce our carbon emissions immediately, and we need to adapt our practices to deal with this kind of weather becoming the new normal.” At least the pollies are now choking too, via Canberra Times: ACT school principals have been urged to keep students indoors during recess and lunch and to cancel all physical activity, as the smoke haze engulfs Canberra. In a letter to principals, the ACT Education Directorate has recommended all outdoor activities at schools be cancelled on Tuesday and Wednesday due to the smoke. The smoke haze from bushfires burning near Braidwood and on the South Coast has blanketed the city since Saturday, causing air quality in Canberra to plummet.   No relief in sight, at The AustralianThere will be no relief for drought-ravaged regions over the summer, with Bureau of Meteorology officials telling a meeting of state and federal ministers there would be no significant rain until at least April. The ministers gathered in Moree, in NSW’s northwest, to discuss the best strategies to combat the enduring drought. Federal Drought and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud vowed to work with drought co-ordinator-general Shane Stone by February to cut bureaucratic red tape so desperate farmers did not have to make separate state and federal applications for assistance.

Australia may be the canary in the climate change coal mine - Australia? It’s not the end of the world as we know it, but you might be able to see it from there, if it were not for all the smoke. Last week scattered bushfires burning close to Sydney converged and formed a “mega-fire,” casting a dense pall of smoke over the city, which is Australia’s largest and one of the world’s most beautiful. This week Sydney’s air quality plummeted, measuring 11 times the level deemed hazardous to human health. The smoke is so bad that fire alarms are being triggered in many parts of the city.More than 100 fires are raging in three Australian states: New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria. So far, they have burnt more than 2.5 million acres of bushland. Mercifully, only a handful of human lives have been lost thus far, and only 800 houses have been destroyed. But firefighters are making little or no progress in extinguishing the blazes and little rain is expected before the end of January. With Australia’s summer rapidly approaching and daytime highs already exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit in many areas, no relief is in sight.Australia is often referred to as “the lucky country” because of its strong economy and abundance of natural resources. But its luck may be running out. Severe drought, soaring temperatures, and the growing threat of bushfires on the world’s driest continent may ultimately destroy the quality of life enjoyed by its 25 million residents.Sydney is increasingly threatened by water shortages. This week, the state of New South Wales imposed “level two” water restrictions to regulate the watering of gardens, and much tighter restrictions may be coming as reservoirs continue to shrink. If it doesn’t get drought relief, Sydney could be approaching a “Day Zero” when it runs out of water in the next few years. Australia is a major exporter of wheat, but wheat production is expected to fall by 20 percent in the 2019/2020 crop year. Tourism is another major source of income, but if summer bushfires continue to threaten air quality and dump ashes on popular beaches, foreign visitors may look elsewhere for vacations.Climate change is threatening Australia’s beloved koalas, with bushfires so far this year killing more than 1,000 of them. Conservationists warn they are in danger of becoming “functionally extinct” in New South Wales, Queensland, and other parts of Australia. It’s too early to write off koalas as a species, but then Australia, like the rest of the world, is only in the early stages of climate change. The worst, almost certainly, is yet to come.

More than two dozen people feared missing after New Zealand volcanic eruption kills 5 - (Reuters) - More than two dozen people were feared missing on Tuesday, a day after a volcano that is a tourist attraction suddenly erupted off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, killing at least five people and injuring up to 20. Police said early on Tuesday they did not expect to find any more survivors from the volcanic eruption, which occurred on White Island on Monday at about 2:11 p.m. (0111 GMT), spewing a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air. About 50 people, New Zealanders as well as foreign tourists, are believed to have been nearby at the time and several were seen near the rim of the crater minutes before the eruption. “No signs of life have been seen at any point,” the police said in their statement early on Tuesday after rescue helicopters and other aircraft had carried out a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island. “Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.”#160;Tour operators took some people off the island before it was declared unsafe. Twenty-three people were rescued, police said on Monday, adding that others were still on the island. “Police (are) working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died...” their statement said, adding that a ship would approach the island at first light on Tuesday to further “assess the environment”. Many day tours visit the island regularly. One from a 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, was there at the time. “Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists are believed to (have been) involved, and a number were from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship,” the police statement said.

Live: White Island erupting: At least five people dead; cruise ship tourists missing New Zealand Herald - Police say there are "no signs of life" on White Island and they believe anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of Monday's evacuation.  Five people have been confirmed dead and eight are still missing, presumed killed. Thirty-one people are in seven hospitals with a range of injuries following the instant eruption of the island volcano at 2.11pm. Some of the injured have burns to 90 per cent of their bodies and a source said they may not survive the horrific injuries. "The Police Eagle helicopter, rescue helicopter and NZDF aircraft have undertaken a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island since the eruption," police said in a statement early Tuesday.
• There were 47 people in total on the island, 38 of them were from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas
• Thirty-four injured people and five bodies were taken off the island by heroic rescuers in the face of extreme danger, says PM
• Many of the victims are tourists from Australia, the UK, China, Malaysia and the US
At least one of the dead is a local man - a popular tourist guide
The alert level on the island volcano was raised several weeks ago
Scientists say the volcano erupted instantaneously
White Island erupts: Why were tourists allowed on unsettled island?
Scientist: White Island eruption was 'basically instantaneous'
'I can't think of anything worse' - Survivor on being abandoned on an erupting volcano
White Island eruption caps off a decade of drama at angry volcano

 Multiple deaths from New Zealand volcanic eruption - Five people are dead and eight missing, presumed dead, after a volcanic eruption on White Island, also known as Whakaari, in the Bay of Plenty, off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Another 31 people are in hospital, many with serious burns, and reports indicate that some may not survive. The small, uninhabited island is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, with 17,500 visitors last year. It is the country’s most active volcano. Forty-seven people, reportedly from two separate tour groups, were on the island when the crater suddenly erupted at 2:11pm on Monday producing a huge cloud of rock and ash. Several tourists were photographed shortly before the eruption standing near the crater. One survivor who gave first aid to the victims, Geoff Hopkins, told the New Zealand Heraldthat almost all were “horrifically burnt” and in agonising pain, with some drifting in and out of consciousness. Conditions remained too hazardous today for search and rescue teams to explore the island. Bodies were sighted this morning by reconnaissance flights. There is a risk of further eruptions and landslides. The full circumstances of the tragedy are yet to emerge, but questions are already being raised about why visitors were allowed on the island. Professor Ray Cas, a volcano expert from Monash University, told Sydney’s 2GB radio station that he had felt for years that White Island “is a dangerous place to allow the public to visit.” He noted its isolation, 50 kilometres offshore, with “no emergency services immediately available” and no means to escape in the event of an eruption, which can happen without warning. Tour groups typically explore inside the crater, which was transformed on Monday into a horrific inferno. GNS Science, a government agency monitoring seismic activity, raised the alert level for White Island from 1 to 2 due to increased seismic activity on November 18, indicating that eruptions were more likely than normal. Professor Shane Cronin, a vulcanologist at the University of Auckland, told Radio NZ that GNS could issue advice and warnings, but had no authority to stop people visiting the island, which is privately owned by the Buttle family. He said “people often underestimate” the volcano and “we’ve probably taken it a little bit too much for granted.” Tours have been taking place for about 30 years and there have been several minor eruptions over that time, none of which resulted in casualties. This appears to have been purely by chance.

Newly identified jet-stream pattern could imperil global food supplies, says study - Scientists have identified systematic meanders in the globe-circling northern jet stream that have caused simultaneous crop-damaging heat waves in widely separated breadbasket regions-a previously unquantified threat to global food production that, they say, could worsen with global warming. The research shows that certain kinds of waves in the atmospheric circulation can become amplified and then lock in place for extended periods, triggering the concurrent heat waves. Affected parts of North America, Europe and Asia together produce a quarter of the world food supply. The study appears this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. "We found a 20-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heat waves in major crop-producing regions when these global-scale wind patterns are in place," said lead author Kai Kornhuber, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University's Earth Institute. "Until now, this was an underexplored vulnerability in the food system. During these events there actually is a global structure in the otherwise quite chaotic circulation. The bell can ring in multiple regions at once."  Kornhuber warned that the heat waves will almost certainly become worse in coming decades, as the world continues to warm. The meanders that cause them could also potentially become more pronounced, though this is less certain. Because food commodities are increasingly traded on a global scale, either effect could lead to food shortages even in regions far from those directly affected by heat waves. "Normally, low harvests in one region are expected to be balanced out by good harvests elsewhere," said study coauthor Dim Coumou of the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU University Amsterdam, who has been studying Rossby waves for years. "These waves can cause reduced harvests in several important breadbaskets simultaneously, creating risks for global food production." The scientists showed that in years when these amplified waves occurred during two or more summer weeks, cereal production went down 4 percent when averaged across all the affected regions, and as much as 11 percent in a single affected region. Food-price spikes often followed. The waves have hit in 1983, 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2018, when many temperature records fell across the United States, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia. In addition to killing crops, the waves have killed thousands of people, especially in Europe and Russia, where air conditioning is far less common than in North America.

 ‘Hurricane Truthers’: Bonkers Conspiracies Are Putting Lives in Danger -  With warming waters providing extra fuel, tropical cyclones have become more frequent and more intense in recent years, causing deadly flooding, widespread power outages, and hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. Some people (ahem) see a sinister plot behind it all, an attempt to overhype the threat of disasters so that Big Government can take over (or something). This bonkers “hurricane trutherism” has spread from right-wing blogs to a much broader audience. And it might already have real-world, fact-based consequences. A working papersuggests that by downplaying hurricane risk, conservative media hosts like Rush Limbaugh could be discouraging people from getting out of harm’s way. Before Hurricane Irma struck Florida in 2017, causing more than 100 deaths and $50 billion in damages, hurricane trutherism got a lot of attention. Limbaugh — the most popular talk show host in the country — cast doubt on Irma’s severity and the motivation behind advisories prodding people to evacuate. “Here comes a hurricane, local media goes on the air, ‘Big hurricane coming, oh, my God! Make sure you got batteries. Make sure you got water. It could be the worst ever. Have you seen the size of this baby? It’s already a Cat 5.” Limbaugh went on to suggest that the hype about Irma would lead to a bigger audience for TV stations, a boost in local business from worried residents stocking up on supplies, and of course, “panic” over climate change. Shortly thereafter, Limbaugh evacuated from his South Florida home to escape Irma’s wrath.The right-wing commentator Ann Coulter followed with her own take on Twitter: “HURRICANE UPDATE FROM MIAMI: LIGHT RAIN; RESIDENTS AT RISK OF DYING FROM BOREDOM.” Limbaugh and Coulter’s comments were covered by the mainstream media, and Google searches for “hurricane conspiracy” reached an all-time high.The damage was done. For their study, the researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles found that only 34 percent of Floridians who likely voted for President Trump in the 2016 election evacuated before Irma hit, compared to 45 percent of Hillary Clinton voters. But ahead of two other hurricanes — Matthew in 2016 and Harvey in 2017 — when skepticism of hurricane threats was less widespread in the media, the researchers found that Trump and Clinton voters evacuated at similar rates.

Climate change: Oceans running out of oxygen as temperatures rise - Climate change and nutrient pollution are driving the oxygen from our oceans, and threatening many species of fish. That's the conclusion of the biggest study of its kind, undertaken by conservation group IUCN. While nutrient run-off has been known for decades, researchers say that climate change is making the lack of oxygen worse. Around 700 ocean sites are now suffering from low oxygen, compared with 45 in the 1960s. Researchers say the depletion is threatening species including tuna, marlin and sharks. As more carbon dioxide is released enhancing the greenhouse effect, much of the heat is absorbed by the oceans. In turn, this warmer water can hold less oxygen. The scientists estimate that between 1960 and 2010, the amount of the gas dissolved in the oceans declined by 2%. That may not seem like much as it is a global average, but in some tropical locations the loss can range up to 40%. Even small changes can impact marine life in a significant way. So waters with less oxygen favour species such as jellyfish, but not so good for bigger, fast-swimming species like tuna. 

The Ocean Is Running Out of Oxygen, Largest Study of Its Kind Finds - Human activity is smothering the ocean, the largest study of its kind has found, and it poses a major threat to marine life. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report combined the work of 67 scientists from 17 countries to conclude that oxygen levels in the ocean had declined around two percent since the mid-20th century, and the volume of waters entirely deprived of oxygen had increased four-fold since the 1960s. The report was released Saturday at the COP25 UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid, CBS News reported, in hopes of persuading world leaders to protect the oceans from future oxygen loss."Urgent global action to overcome and reverse the effects of ocean deoxygenation is needed," IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme director Minna Epps said, as CBS News reported. "Decisions taken at the ongoing climate conference will determine whether our ocean continues to sustain a rich variety of life, or whether habitable, oxygen-rich marine areas are increasingly, progressively and irrevocably lost." Ocean deoxygenation comes from two major causes: nutrient pollution and the climate crisis.Nutrient pollution has long been understood as a threat to ocean oxygen levels. Run-off from sewage and agriculture, as well as nitrogen from fossil fuel emissions, encourages the excessive growth of algae, which depletes oxygen. This process is relatively fast and easy to fix. But in recent years scientists have come to understand how rising ocean temperatures are also lowering oxygen levels. Warmer water can't hold as much oxygen, and it is also more buoyant, which means it mixes less with deeper, less-oxygenated water, reducing oxygen circulation overall. Rising temperatures are likely responsible for around 50 percent of the oxygen loss in the top 1,000 meters (approximately 3,281 feet) of the ocean, which are also the most abundant in biodiversity. Climate-change-related oxygen loss is difficult or impossible to reverse."This is one of the newer classes of impacts to rise into the public awareness," Kim Cobb, a Georgia Tech climate scientist who was not involved with the study, told The New York Times. While a two percent decrease in overall oxygen levels might not sound like a lot, there are environments where a small change in oxygen can make a huge difference,  "[I]f we were to try and go up Mount Everest without oxygen, there would come a point where a 2 percent loss of oxygen in  our surroundings would become very significant," he said.He also said the oxygen loss was not evenly distributed. Some waters in the tropics had seen a 40 to 50 percent decrease in oxygen. The number of oxygen-deprived areas has also increased, from 45 before the 1960s to 700 in 2011, according to the report.

Warren's Blue New Deal Aims to Protect and Restore Oceans - Sen. Elizabeth Warren expanded her vision for combating the climate crisis on Tuesday with the release of her Blue New Deal — a new component of the Green New Deal focusing on protecting and restoring the world's oceans after decades of pollution and industry-caused warming. The plan includes proposals for an array of ocean-related issues — including fossil fuel emissions, ocean acidification, overfishing and the destruction of coastal communities. The Massachusetts Democrat and 2020 primary contender wrote in a Medium post that "a Blue New Deal must be an essential part of any Green New Deal." "As we pursue climate justice, we must not lose sight of the 71% of our planet covered by the ocean," Warren wrote. "While the ocean is severely threatened, it can also be a major part of the climate solution — from providing new sources of clean energy to supporting a new future of ocean farming." In keeping with the Green New Deal's focus on a "just transition" for fossil fuel sector workers, the plan aims to expand offshore renewable energy exploration as Warren follows through with an earlier promise to impose a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling.Along with reversing President Donald Trump's inaction on offshore renewables, Warren wrote that she will "work to streamline and fast-track permitting for offshore renewable energy, including making sure projects are sited with care based on environmental impact assessments." Coastal communities hosting the projects will be consulted regarding transparency, environmental and labor standards, and community agreements will ensure that those living in these areas see a share of the benefits. With Warren's planned investment in the industry, she wrote, the U.S. could come closer to filling 36,000 well-paying offshore renewable energy jobs.

Climate Tipping Points Are Closer Than We Think, Scientists Warn - Research now shows that there is a higher risk that "abrupt and irreversible changes" to the climate system could be triggered at smaller global temperature increases than thought just a few years ago. There are also indictations that exceeding tipping points in one system, such as the loss of Arctic sea ice, can increase the risk of crossing tipping points in others, a group of top scientists wrote Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature.  "What we're talking about is a point of no return, when we might actually lose control of this system, and there is a significant risk that we're going to do this," said Will Steffen, a climate researcher with the Australian National University and co-author of the commentary. "It's not going to be the same conditions with just a bit more heat or a bit more rainfall. It's a cascading process that gets out of control."  The scientists focused on nine parts of the climate system susceptible to tipping points, some of them interconnected:

  • Arctic sea ice, which is critical for reflecting the sun's energy back into space but is disappearing as the planet warms.
  • The Greenland Ice Sheet, which could raise sea level 20 feet if it melts.
  • Boreal forests, which would release more carbon dioxide (CO2) than they absorb if they die and decay or burn.
  • Permafrost, which releases methane and other greenhouse gasesas it thaws.
  • The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a key ocean current, which would shift global weather patterns if it slowed down or stopped.
  • The Amazon rainforest, which could flip from a net absorber of greenhouse gases to a major emitter.
  • Warm-water corals, which will die on a large scale as the ocean warms, affecting commercial and subsistence fisheries.
  • The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which would raise sea level by at least 10 feet if it melted entirely and is already threatened by warming from above and below.
  • Parts of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet that would also raise sea level significantly if they melted.

Greenland’s Ice Sheet Is Melting at Rate That Surpasses Scientists' Expectations, Study Shows --The rate that Greenland's ice sheet is melting surpassed scientists' expectations and has raised concerns that their worst-case scenario predictions are coming true, Business Insider reported.A new study published in the journal Nature from a team of scientists at NASA and the European Space Agency looked at satellite imagery from 1992 to 2018 from 26 independent data sets. The images revealed a massive amount of ice loss that is picking up steam as time goes on. In fact, the researchers found that Greenland has lost 3.8 trillion tons of ice over the 26-year period studied. In the 90s, Greenland lost an average of 25 billions of ice per year. That number has picked up to an annual average loss of 234 billion tons per year. The study finds that the acceleration in melting will mean a three to five-inch rise in global sea levels by 2100, which is in line with the worst-case scenarios set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC).That rate will mean 400 million people will be at risk of flooding every year, instead of the 360 million that the IPCC's main prediction forecasted, as The Guardian reported."The most surprising aspect by far is that the increased sea-level rise, which may seem small to most people but is enough to cause an extra 40 million people to experience annual floods," said Andrew Shepherd toBusiness Insider. Shepherd is from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modeling at the University of Leeds in the UK, and he is the study's lead author. "Small changes in sea-level rise do matter."It also means some of the irreversible effects of the climate crisis will happen sooner than scientists first predicted, as The Guardian reported. In fact, every centimeter of sea level rise makes a big difference and increases the chances that a storm surge will breach any sea wall. "Storms, if they happen against a baseline of higher seas - they will break flood defenses," said Shepherd to the BBC. "The simple formula is that around the planet, six million people are brought into a flooding situation for every centimeter of sea-level rise. So, when you hear about a centimeter rise, it does have impacts."

 Greenland has lost 3.8 trillion tonnes of ice since 1992  - Greenland has lost 3.8 trillion tonnes of ice since 1992, according to our latest research. It can be hard to imagine a number that big: 3.8 trillion tonnes is 3,800 billion tonnes or even 3.8 million billion kilograms. If you put all that ice into a single cube it would be 16 kilometres along each side and twice the height of Mount Everest. But what’s really important here is the impact this has globally. All that ice making its way into the ocean has already caused the sea level to rise by more than a centimetre, and future sea level rise will mean lots more coastal flooding. For example, a rise of 60cm by the year 2100, as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), would put 200 million people at risk of permanent inundation and 360 million people at risk of annual flooding. And 60cm is only the IPCC’s “central estimate” – in that period the sea could rise by as little as 28cm or as much as 98cm.   By far the largest uncertainty in sea-level projections concerns the ice stored in Antarctica and Greenland, both of which have complex interactions with the climate system and are difficult to model. Greenland alone holds enough frozen water to raise the sea by 7.4 metres were it to melt. Therefore, finding out how much ice it has lost so far is hugely important for us scientists who are trying to determine how much it will contribute to sea level rise in future.  This is why we used satellites to measure Greenland’s ice loss between 1992 and 2018. Our assessment, now published in the journal Nature, is produced by an international team of scientists who combined the results of 26 different surveys as part of a programme known as the ice sheet mass balance inter-comparison exercise (IMBIE). In all, measurements from 11 different satellite missions launched by the European Space Agency and NASA were used to track changes in the ice sheet’s volume, speed and gravity. We found that the Greenland ice sheet lost around 3,800 billion tons of ice in that 26-year period. This is enough water to cause the sea level to rise by around 10.6mm.

Greenland's ice sheet melting seven times faster than in 1990s --Greenland’s ice sheet is melting much faster than previously thought, threatening hundreds of millions of people with inundation and bringing some of the irreversible impacts of the climate emergency much closer.    Ice is being lost from Greenland seven times faster than it was in the 1990s, and the scale and speed of ice loss is much higher than was predicted in the comprehensive studies of global climate science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to data.   That means sea level rises are likely to reach 67cm [26 in] by 2100, about 7cm more than the IPCC’s main prediction. Such a rate of rise will put 400 million people at risk of flooding every year, instead of the 360 million predicted by the IPCC, by the end of the century.   Sea level rises also add to the risk of storm surges, when the fiercer storms made more likely by global heating batter coastal regions. These impacts are likely to strike coastal areas all around the world.  Greenland has lost 3.8tn tonnes of ice since 1992, and the rate of ice loss has risen from 33bn tonnes a year in the 1990s to 254bn tonnes a year in the past decade. Greenland’s ice contributes directly to sea level rises as it melts because it rests on a large land mass, unlike the floating sea ice that makes up much of the rest of the Arctic ice cap.  About half of the ice loss from Greenland was from melting driven by air surface temperatures, which have risen much faster in the Arctic than the global average, and the rest was from the speeding up of the flow of ice into the sea from glaciers, driven by the warming ocean.

A 14-year-old climate activist inspired by Greta Thunberg sits outside the UN on Fridays. She says she's been getting death threats. -- Over a year ago, teen climate activist Greta Thunberg delivered an impassioned speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland. Her remarks caught the attention of Alexandria Villaseñor, a New York middle-schooler who was 13 at the time.   Villaseñor had just visited family in northern California, and the trip coincided with the deadliest blaze in the state's history: the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed at least 85 people. She'd stayed in a town about two hours away from the flames, and said the smoke caused her asthma to flare up. "I was sick," Villaseñor told Business Insider, adding that she donned a face mask and placed wet towels in the crevices of windows and doors at her family's home. "So I started to really research wildfires and I saw the connection between them and climate change." When she came across a video of Thunberg's COP24 speech, Villaseñor said, she decided that she could help prevent a future climate-related disaster by joining Thunberg's Fridays for Future movement. The initiative encourages students to skip school to demand action on climate change from their governments, and it has swelled to encompass thousands of student activists like Villaseñor. She now sits outside the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan on Fridays. Each time, Villaseñor brings a sign that reads "COP24 Failed Us," a reference to the fact that global emissions have continued to rise since that conference in December 2018. This week marked the one-year anniversary of her strike; she goes rain or shine and even sat outside the UN during a polar vertex.   But joining Thunberg's movement also comes with challenges: namely, criticism from adults. Villaseñor said she has been harassed on social media and even received death threats from climate-change deniers. But that hasn't stopped her from protesting.

Greta Thunberg Is Time's Person of the Year 2019 - Greta Thunberg is Time Magazine's Person of the Year, the magazine announced this morning. "Thunberg is not a leader of any political party or advocacy group," the magazine's article on Thunberg lays out. "She is neither the first to sound the alarm about the climate crisis nor the most qualified to fix it. She is not a scientist or a politician. She has no access to traditional levers of influence: she's not a billionaire or a princess, a pop star or even an adult.  She is an ordinary teenage girl who, in summoning the courage to speak truth to power, became the icon of a generation. By clarifying an abstract danger with piercing outrage, Thunberg became the most compelling voice on the most important issue facing the planet." For a deeper dive:  TIME

Even as 500,000 March in Madrid, Greta Thunberg Warns Climate Movement Has 'Achieved Nothing' Until Emissions Fall - Before taking part in a 500,000-strong climate march in Madrid, teen activist Greta Thunberg spoke plainly yet forcefully Friday about the impact the global climate strike movement has had thus far and reiterated the demand of the climate justice movement for global leaders to act with the urgency the planet's ecological emergency mandates. Speaking to reporters at the cultural center La Casa Encendida in Madrid, Spain—where COP 25 is underway—Thunberg called herself "just... a climate activist—a small part of a big movement" that needs even more activists to effect change. Global delegates attending the UN Climate Change Conference, Thunberg said, must heed the young marchers' call and commit to real action. "I sincerely hope that the COP 25 will lead to something concrete and that will lead to also an increase in awareness among people in general." She said she hopes that those in power "grasp the urgency of the climate crisis because right now it doesn't seem like they are." "We have been striking now for over a year and still, basically, nothing has happened," said Thunberg. "The climate crisis is still being ignored by those in power and we cannot go on like this. It is not a sustainable solution that children skip school." The strikers, Thunberg said, "don't want to continue. We would love some action from the people in power... because people are suffering and dying from the climate and ecological emergency today and we cannot wait any longer." A lot has been achieved, added Thunberg. "We have have raised public awareness and we have created opinion and that is a big step in the right direction. But of course it's nowhere near enough." "The CO2 emissions aren't reducing. They are in fact increasing," Thunberg continued, "so of course there is no victory because the only thing we want to see is real action and real action has not been happening. So of course we have achieved a lot," she added, "but if you look at it from a certain point of view we have achieved nothing."

 Youth Climate Activists Storm COP 25 Stage -  Young activists took over and occupied the main stage at the COP 25 climate conference in Madrid, Spain Wednesday and demanded world leaders commit to far more ambitious action to address the ecological emergency. Happening now: Youth activists from all around the world storm the stage at #COP25 to demand real climate action! Dear leaders, your empty words will not solve this crisis. — Fridays For Future Germany (@FridayForFuture) December 11, 2019  "Nobody has ever done an action like this before," said youth climate striker Dylan Hamilton of Scotland. "The times are changing."Video posted by Brussels-based climate activist Damien Thomson shows protesters with Fridays for Future walking onto the stage and siting down. The group's chants included, "What do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now!"They also shouted, "We are unstoppable, another world is possible!"  "World leaders have left us no choice," said 14-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor of New York about the sit-in.  U.N. security threatened to "de-badge" the activists unless they left the stage.  The action took place after a plenary that included speeches from teen activist and newly-minted Time Person of the Year Greta Thunberg of Sweden and youth climate activist Hilda Flavia Nakabuye of Uganda.  "I am the voice of dying children, misplaced women and people suffering at the hands of the climate crisis created by rich countries," Nakabuye told the audience.  Reacting to the sit-in, author and climate act Bill McKibben said on Twitter, "Time for negotiators to face the people whose lives they are negotiating away."

Climate scientists try to cut their own carbon footprints - For years, Kim Cobb was the Indiana Jones of climate science. The Georgia Tech professor flew to the caves of Borneo to study ancient and current climate conditions. She jetted to a remote South Pacific island to see the effects of warming on coral. Add to that flights to Paris, Rome, Vancouver and elsewhere. All told, in the last three years, she’s flown 29 times to study, meet or talk about global warming. Then Cobb thought about how much her personal actions were contributing to the climate crisis, so she created a spreadsheet. She found that those flights added more than 73,000 pounds of heat-trapping carbon to the air. Now she is about to ground herself, and she is not alone. Some climate scientists and activists are limiting their flying, their consumption of meat and their overall carbon footprints to avoid adding to the global warming they study. Cobb will fly just once next year, to attend a massive international science meeting in Chile. “People want to be part of the solution,” she said. “Especially when they spent their whole lives with their noses stuck up against” data showing the problem. The issue divides climate scientists and activists and plays out on social media. Texas Tech’s Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist who flies once a month, often to talk to climate doubters in the evangelical Christian movement, was blasted on Twitter because she keeps flying. Hayhoe and other still-flying scientists note that aviation is only 3% of global carbon emissions. Jonathan Foley, executive director of the climate solutions think-tank Project Drawdown, limits his airline trips but will not stop flying because, he says, he must meet with donors to keep his organization alive. He calls flight shaming “the climate movement eating its own.”

EU sets out plans for climate neutrality by 2050 - The EU has released details of its “European Green Deal,” describing it as a “roadmap” to make the bloc’s economy sustainable. One of the plan’s key aims is for the EU to be climate neutral by the year 2050. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said Wednesday it would propose a European Climate Law to “enshrine the 2050 climate neutrality objective in legislation.” Other goals include revising the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reductions target for the year 2030, boosting it to “at least 50% and towards 55%” compared to levels in 1990. The Commission said the deal covered all economic sectors, including transport, agriculture, energy and buildings. Industries such as cement, steel, information and communication technology, chemicals and textiles are also covered. In addition, a “Just Transition Mechanism” is set to be established in order to support “those regions that rely heavily on very carbon intensive activities.” In a press statement issued Wednesday the Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen said the deal focused on cutting emissions, as well as creating jobs and boosting innovation. “I am convinced that the old growth-model that is based on fossil-fuels and pollution is out of date, and it is out of touch with our planet,” von der Leyen said. “The European Green Deal is our new growth strategy — it’s a strategy for growth that gives more back than it takes away,” she added. The Commission’s plans drew comment from a wide range of voices. “The proposed package is comprehensive, identifying the right areas for action — from biodiversity and nature restoration to climate change and stopping deforestation — and it presents us with a number of new and potentially transformational initiatives,” Ester Asin, director of the WWF’s European Policy Office, said in a statement. “However, by emphasising continued economic growth as a key objective, the Commission has missed an opportunity to challenge the traditional growth paradigm in favour of an approach that would respect planetary boundaries,” Asin added.

China’s climate titan steps down - As world leaders arrive in Madrid for a second week of climate talks, missing among the familiar faces will be Xie Zhenhua, China’s climate negotiator for over a decade. In his place, Zhao Yingmin, vice minister of ecology and environment, will head the Chinese delegation.There’s unlikely to be an official announcement but multiple sources say that Xie has left his position as the country’s special representative on climate change. Xie has steered China’s climate diplomacy since 2007, and has been critical to forging agreement on international climate action to avoid dangerous global warming.According to a special report by Li Jing in Dialogo Chino, China has become the world’s largest annual emitter of greenhouse gases over the past decade. Yet in that time the country has also shifted from stubbornly defending its right to uncontrolled emission growth to actively embarking on a low-carbon path. That transformation has become a national strategy and Xie Zhenhua’s personal role as a facilitator has been indispensable according to former colleagues, fellow negotiators and civil society representatives. The mantle of head of the Chinese delegation has been passed on to Vice Minister Zhao Yingmin, s protégé of Xie Zhenhua. But a number of observers have questioned whether China’s leadership will retain a special representative for climate change, a position that carries a broader mandate and greater diplomatic flexibility than vice minister. This could affect China’s climate diplomacy at a time when most countries must deliver a step change in their commitments to reduce emissions to meet the Paris Agreement 2C target.

SUPREME COURT: Kavanaugh opens door to carbon rule challenge -- Monday, December 9, 2019 -- Experts say the Supreme Court's new conservative majority may seek to revive a long-dormant legal doctrine that could jeopardize U.S. efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.

 The Trump carbon bump: Climate crime or misdemeanor?The international climate community, currently meeting in Madrid for COP 25, will try its best to manage the fallout from the president’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. However, recent data points to a new, tangible and potentially more severe climate challenge: global energy emissions are once again on the rise, driven in part by President Trump’s policies. These policies, and the bump in emissions they have helped to create (what can be called a “Trump carbon bump”), do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. They are Presidential policy preferences, but for many voters, they likely also constitute a crime against the climate they think justifies his removal from office next election. The International Energy Agency reported last month that global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from energy rose 0.6 gigatons in 2018, which followed on a smaller increase in 2017. The U.S. contributed 25 percent of this 2018 rise and China 40 percent. In contrast, global emissions had remained essentially flat for the three years beginning in 2014. While many things changed between 2014 and 2018, one of the most significant for climate was the inauguration of Donald Trump as president pledging to promote fossil fuels and weaken controls on CO2 emissions. The results are now in from his initial years as president and we are seeing a definite bump in carbon emissions, one which is attributable at least in part to three of his most visible policies that are driving greater fossil use domestically and abroad. These policies involve: domestic oil, coal and gas; international oil prices; and trade with China.

The pitfalls of the 'social cost of carbon' -Most of us are rightly concerned about global climate change and its implications for human and ecological wellbeing. However, the most popular metric for assessing the benefits from reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is of little practical use for policymakers. This is creating uncertainty about what we should do to mitigate climate change, and — in some cases — it may even undermine the credibility of such efforts. The most common metric used by economists to value the impacts of CO2 emissions is the “social cost of carbon” (SCC). The SCC is an estimate of the dollar value of the damage of emitting an additional ton of CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s used by federal regulatory agencies to determine the desirability of individual regulations targeting global warming. It is hard to know, for example, how much money society should be willing to spend on a policy expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 100,000 tons. But if the SCC is $40, then these emissions reductions could be assigned a dollar value of $4 million to compare against the anticipated financial costs of the policy. This seems simple enough — and it is what agencies like the Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Transportation (DOT) do — but it’s also a mistake. That’s because it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. The SCC is an estimate of the impact of climate change on consumption — the value of goods, services, and even environmental amenities climate change forces society to forgo enjoying. The compliance costs of a regulation are different. They displace some consumption, but inevitably displace some investment, too. A dollar’s worth of investment and a dollar’s worth of consumption are two different things, but federal agencies routinely treat them as if they are the same in their regulatory analysis. Some of the most widely cited economic estimates of the effect of climate change suggest its effects will hit consumption in a largely one-time fashion. Over the course of the next century, it’s as if we lose about a year’s worth of economic output. As troubling as that is, it’s relatively finite, at least according to the prevailing wisdom. Meanwhile, regulating involves paying an economic cost — taxes, government spending, business expenses, etc. — for an expected future benefit. That means foregoing investments that could otherwise compound and eventually swamp whatever finite, one-time future hit to consumption the SCC value represents. Even a $1 investment can, with enough time, overtake any static dollar amount, no matter how large. Keep in mind that one could easily argue that climate change will very much impact investment, for example because the economic models used to calculate the SCC are unreliable. Yet we shouldn’t dismiss the notion outright that climate change won’t impact investment much: The developer of one the most popular models for estimating the SCC, known as the DICE model, was William Nordhaus, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2018 for his work in this area.

ENERGY TRANSITIONS: Move over, coal: Gas now emits more CO2 in U.S. -- Greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use now exceed coal emissions in the United States and Europe. And while coal and oil still emit more globally, gas is now the primary driver of emissions growth worldwide.

Natural Gas Rush Drives A Global Rise In Fossil Fuel Emissions -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.Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are also failing to cut emissions fast enough, the report says, as much of their growth has provided new energy supplies instead of displacing fossil fuels.The findings of the study, published Tuesday, support those from other recent studies that found the world is continuing to rely on fossil fuels—including coal—to meet growing energy demand, even as renewable energy sees soaring growth.“Globally, most of the new natural gas being used isn’t displacing coal, it’s providing new energy. That’s the key interaction, and that’s true for renewables even,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and the report’s lead author. “We need renewables that displace fossil fuels, not supplement them.”Jackson’s paper, published in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, is one of three included in Global Carbon Project‘s annual update on the global carbon budget. They show that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are expected to grow by 0.6 percent this year. That would be significantly slower than last year, when emissions grew by 2.1 percent. But it would mark the third straight year of growth, after three years of stable emissions. The assessment does not include the methane emissions released by producing and shipping fossil fuels.

Exxon Wins Over NY in Climate Accounting Case-- Exxon Mobil Corp. won a closely watched securities-fraud trial that delved into its internal accounting for the financial risks of climate change, a striking rejection of New York state’s claim that the company misled investors for years. The ruling Tuesday by New York Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager in Manhattan is a blow to the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, who accused the energy company of lying about its use of a “proxy cost” for carbon to account for future climate-change regulations. “The office of the Attorney General failed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that ExxonMobil made any material misstatements or omissions about its practices and procedures that misled any reasonable investor,” Ostrager wrote in a 55-page ruling. The AG “produced no testimony either from any investor who claimed to have been misled by any disclosure,” the judge said. Exxon said in a statement that the ruling affirmed that the company gave its investors “accurate information on the risks of climate change” and that New York “failed to make a case even with the extremely low threshold of the Martin Act in its favor.” New York’s Martin Act empowers officials to target a wide range of corporate behavior that could hurt shareholders. While New York claimed Exxon intentionally misled shareholders, under the act it didn’t have to prove intent to win, or that any investors were misled. “Lawsuits that waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change,” Exxon spokesman Casey Norton said in the statement. “ExxonMobil will continue to invest in researching breakthrough technologies to reduce emissions while meeting society’s growing demand for energy.”

‘Abrupt’ climate policies could see high-emitting firms lose 43% of their value, research claims  - Companies with the highest level of carbon emissions will lose 43% of their value by 2025 as governments around the world implement climate policies, a new report has claimed. Published Monday, the report from the UN-backed Principles of Responsible Investing (PRI), Vivid Economics and Energy Transition Advisors estimated how hard the world’s most valuable firms would be hit by environmental policies in the coming decades. It analyzed how companies in the MSCI ACWI index — which includes more than 2,700 firms across 49 countries — would be impacted by “an abrupt and disruptive policy response to climate change.” According to the report, an “inevitable policy response” would permanently wipe up to $2.3 trillion from the value of the companies in the index. The 100 highest-emitting companies in the index would lose 43% of their market capitalization by 2025, equivalent to a total loss of $1.4 trillion, it claimed, while the 100 best-performing firms could see their value increase by 33%, a total gain of $700 billion. Fossil fuel companies would be hardest hit, PRI said, with the report’s authors expecting the sector to lose a third of its value as margins were squeezed by “demand destruction.” Among the biggest losers would be coal companies, according to the forecast, with PRI expecting them to lose 44% of their value and 64% of their profits as a result of new climate policies. PRI claimed the 10 most valuable companies in the oil and gas sector, meanwhile, could see their valuations drop by 31%, an equivalent loss of half a trillion dollars. The report predicted that oil would peak around 2027, with corporate profits from the commodity falling by 34%. Natural gas was expected to peak around 2040, with profits from gas expected to decline by 29%, PRI claimed.

 US adds 2.6 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics in third quarter, new figures show - The solar market in the U.S. added 2.6 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics in the third quarter of 2019, with total solar capacity — which includes both photovoltaic and concentrating solar power — hitting 71.3 GW, according to a new report. The figures, released Thursday morning, come from the most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight Report from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Photovoltaic refers to a way of directly converting light from the sun into electricity. The SEIA describes concentrating solar plants as using mirrors “to concentrate the sun’s energy to drive traditional steam turbines or engines that create electricity.” The 2.6 GW of capacity added during the third quarter represents a 45% increase compared to the third quarter of 2018 and a 25% increase compared to the second quarter of 2019, the SEIA said. Breaking the figures down, the third quarter saw the U.S. residential market install 712 megawatts (MW) of solar. California led the way in this market, installing almost 300 MW. For 2019 as whole, Wood Mackenzie is forecasting year-over-year growth of 23% and expecting 13 GW of installations. To put things in perspective, China added 44 GW of solar photovoltaics in 2018, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). In 2017, the country added 53 GW, the IEA says. While Thursday’s figures are encouraging, there is clearly still work to be done for solar in the U.S. Figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that utility-scale electricity generation sites in the U.S. produced around 4,171 billion kilowatt hours in 2018. Fossil fuels were responsible for 63.6% of this generation, while renewables accounted for 16.9%. Breaking the EIA’s numbers down further, solar’s share of the total was just 1.5%. The U.S. figures come after SolarPower Europe published its first EU Market Outlook for Solar Power earlier in the week. According to its report, an estimated 16.7 GW of installations took place in the EU in 2019, a significant increase compared to the 8.2 GW in 2018. Spain represented the largest market for additions in 2019, increasing its capacity by 4.7 GW, according to SolarPower Europe.

A final chance for climate progress in Congress this year - Congress has not been especially productive during the Trump years, to say the least. And it’s safe to say that most of the action has not been notably pro-clean energy. But there’s at least a chance Congress could get something positive done here in the waning days of Trump’s first term. (Yes, believe it or not, it’s still the first term.)By December 20, Congress must pass a spending bill to keep the government running. The Democratic House must agree to the bill. Right now there are furious negotiations taking place as Democrats try to secure a few key political wins, just under the wire.House Democrats are trying to figure out what to prioritize. Many in the party want a boost in the earned income tax credit (EITC) and/or child care tax credits and are pressuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to push for them. The other candidate for top priority is a package of clean-energy tax credits.Last month, Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee distributed a discussion draftof a bill called the Growing Renewable Energy and Efficiency Now (GREEN) Act, which would extend or create tax credits for a whole suite of clean energy technologies, from solar to on- and offshore wind, energy storage, new and used electric vehicles (EVs), carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), and biomass. It is unlikely that anything so ambitious will get through a Republican Senate, but there are some credits, especially for EVs, offshore wind, and storage, that have strong bipartisan backing, or at least backing from some big industries.

Trump says U.S. will finalize new fuel efficiency rules next year - (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that his administration will finalize its rollback of Obama-era vehicle emissions standards next year and expected it would provoke a new legal challenge by California. The administration had signaled in recent months it could finalize its proposed revisions to the requirements before the end of 2019. The administration has argued that the rollbacks are necessary for economic and safety reasons but California and environmentalists reject that analysis, saying consumers would spend hundreds of billions more in fuel costs. In August 2018, the administration proposed freezing vehicle efficiency requirements at 2020 levels through 2026, which would result in average fuel efficiency of 37 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2026, compared with 46.7 mpg under rules adopted in 2012. The Trump administration’s “preferred option” would hike U.S. oil consumption by about 500,000 barrels per day by the 2030s but reduce automakers regulatory costs by more than $300 billion. Republican Trump has sought to reverse his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama’s climate change policy, which was aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Trump said on Friday that the dispute was over “a tiny amount of fuel - of which we have plenty.” He said the rules would lead to “safer and more affordable vehicles.” Trump, without citing any evidence, said the existing rules would require “extra computers put on the engine.” The administration has said the rules would reduce traffic deaths because it would cut future vehicle price hikes and prod speedier purchases of safer vehicles. But some EPA staff disputed that contention, according to documents released last year, arguing it would actually lead to more traffic deaths in some years because of an increase in vehicle travel.

Los Angeles wants to build a hydrogen-fueled power plant. It’s never been done before As Los Angeles weans itself off the last of its coal-generated electricity, the city needs to replace that fuel with a climate-polluting natural gas plant in Utah, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power staff insisted Tuesday. But they also pledged the facility would eventually burn renewable hydrogen instead of natural gas — something that has never been done before. Following pressure from climate change activists, DWP laid out its most detailed timeline yet for transitioning from planet-warming gas to clean-burning hydrogen at a new facility that would replace the coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant. If the utility succeeds, the Intermountain plant could become a model for governments and power companies around the world. “There is no way to get to 100% renewable energy that I can see right now without hydrogen in the mix. It doesn’t exist,” DWP General Manager Marty Adams told the utility’s board of commissioners on Tuesday. Utility staff told the board it’s critical to build an 840-megawatt gas-fired power plant to replace the coal-burning facility that DWP operates today. Without a traditional power plant, they said, the city might have trouble keeping the lights on when there’s insufficient electricity being generated by solar panels and wind turbines. But for the first time, DWP leadership committed to installing turbines capable of burning a mix of 30% hydrogen and 70% gas when the new power plant opens in 2025. Under the timeline described Tuesday, that ratio would steadily change until the plant burns 100% hydrogen in 2045, the deadline set by state lawmakers for a 100% climate-friendly electricity supply. “We will do everything we can to accelerate this,” Adams said.

How much should Colorado customers pay for Xcel’s clean energy transition? -A case before state utility commissioners foreshadows what’s likely to be an ongoing debate as the utility cuts carbon.Colorado utility regulators this week will begin to untangle one of many complicated questions surrounding Xcel Energy’s ambitious clean energy transition: How much should customers pay?The long-term potential costs include not only added renewable, storage and transmission resources but also financial accounting for fossil fuel plants that are closed before the end of their originally planned lifespan.Xcel Energy, which delivers electricity to more than 60% of Coloradans through its subsidiary, Public Service Co. of Colorado, is seeking a base rate increase of 3.99%. The utility says the proposed increase is fair and necessary to help it move toward eliminating carbon emissions by 2050 while maintaining reliability.Others, including the Sierra Club, contend that the utility should not be rewarded for past investments in coal-based generation that now look imprudent. Western Resource Advocates does not challenge past investments in coal plants but does recommend that Colorado’s utility regulators use the rate case to begin embracing performance-based regulation, giving the utility specific incentives for taking steps that align with Colorado decarbonization policies.The arguments are playing out before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission as it prepares to discuss the case on Wednesday, Dec. 11.Performance-based regulation was already on the commission’s agenda. Colorado legislators this year ordered commissioners to investigate performance-based regulation. The commissioners approved a plan Wednesday for the investigation to be supervised by John Gavan, one of the three commissioners. Jeffrey Ackermann, the commission chair, said Colorado is in an interesting and in many ways enviable position. It has done work in many areas but not as robustly in performance-based regulation and can now benefit from the experiences of others. Colorado intends to consult other states’ experience with performance-based regulation in producing a report for legislators by Nov. 27, 2020. Rate-base cases typically tend toward complex, but this one maybe more so because of its many overlapping elements, including wildfire mitigation, decoupling, and renewable energy credits. Through November, some 1,300 documents were filed, including 10,000 pages of testimony in a three-week flurry during early autumn.

Indigenous activists fight expansion of Canadian hydropower - Though her father says it’s sometimes better for First Nations people to adapt to the widespread changes sweeping their region, Erin Saunders hasn’t given up on pushing back against the rampant effects of colonization. “I’m young,” the 35-year-old mother of two said, sitting in a modest apartment associated with a local social services organization. “I can still fight.” Like her father, Saunders lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, a town of 8,100 on the banks of the Churchill River. Upstream, a 5,428-megawatt hydroelectric plant called Churchill Falls has generated power for New England for years; a second, 824-megawatt plant called Muskrat Falls is expected to come online next year, and a third, 2,500-megawatt plant called Gull Island is on the drawing board for Nalcor, an energy company owned by the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Hydropower has been the lynchpin in a mutually beneficial cross-border arrangement; Canada has gained a major source of revenue, while Vermont and New Hampshire have gained a major source of reliable, renewable energy. But Saunders wants New England purchasers of Canadian hydropower to understand that, while large scale Canadian hydroelectricity is renewable, it’s not green. “It’s not good for our environment,” she said. “For us, everything is at stake.” A primary concern for Saunders, and for many in the watershed that lies downstream from Churchill Falls, is the release of methylmercury into the environment — when land is flooded, the water brings naturally occuring mercury from the soil into contact with water-borne bacteria that transform it into the neurotoxin methylmercury. The methylmercury is absorbed by microscopic plankton, and then is increasingly concentrated as it passes up the food chain, eventually turning fish, seals and waterfowl into potential health risks for humans. That is of particular concern to those who, like Saunders, rely on hunting and fishing for a significant part of their diet. While Nalcor and the Inuit’s Nunatsiavut Government disagree with each other on the impact Muskrat Falls will have on local food sources, Saunders and others in her community deeply resent any poisoning of their food supply by state-owned Nalcor.

 Study: Black, low-income Americans face highest risk from power plant pollution - Academic researchers found racial and economic disparities in the distribution of fine particle pollution. Nationwide, black and low-income people face the highest risks for death from power plants’ fine particle pollution, according to new research. The pollution likewise causes thousands of deaths across state lines. Those findings come from a study by researchers at the University of Washington and Stanford University in the Nov. 20 issue of the Environmental Science & Technology journal. The study supports continued regulation of particulate pollution from power plants and raises questions for future research into environmental justice issues. The team used the latest available data for power plant emissions from 2014, along with census data, health statistics and other information to calculate deaths from fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. Particulate emissions cause damage to the heart, lungs and brain, as well as other health problems. For the year studied, most PM2.5 came from coal plants, although natural gas plants also emitted particulates. Nationwide, low-income black people have the highest risk of death from power plants’ fine particulate emissions, followed by middle-income black people, low-income white non-Latinos, and upper-income black people. Risks for upper-income white non-Latinos are close to the nationwide average of 5.3 premature deaths per 100,000 people, with lower levels for other ethnic groups. On a regional basis, black people have the highest risk for death in the MISO and PJM transmission regions as well. The most at-risk group in each state varies, however. For example, black residents faced the highest risk gap in Michigan and Kentucky, as opposed to white non-Latinos in Ohio. Such variations can result from differences in population totals and where people live in relation to power plants, explained lead author Maninder Pal Singh Thind at the University of Washington. Thind hopes the paper will inspire others to “really raise a voice for the environmental justice issues” faced by different racial and income groups. The research also lays the groundwork for other researchers to dig deeper. “What are the reasons behind the disparities that we’re seeing?” Thind asks. .

Climate Activists Arrested Trying To Block Coal Train From Reaching N.H. Power Plant  ---More than 20 protesters were arrested Sunday trying to block a train from delivering coal to Merrimack Station power plant in Bow. The climate activists who organized the blockades also marched on the plant at a demonstration in September, when dozens more were arrested. Lila Korman-Glaser is an organizer with one of the protest groups, 350 New Hampshire Action. She says they want to end to the burning of planet-warming fossil fuels in the region. "It is crucial that the actions that we take not be one-off actions,” she says. “They are part of a campaign, and we will continue until the power plant is taken offline once and for all." Two people were charged with resisting arrest, as well as trespassing, after climbing a railway bridge on the coal train's route through Hooksett. She and about 100 others joined the protest Sunday, delaying the train at three different points along its route – in Worcester and Ayer, Massachusetts, and in Hooksett. About two dozen people were arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges. Two who climbed a railway bridge in Hooksett and were removed by police are also charged with resisting arrest. Korman-Glaser says their goal is to speed the region's transition to renewable energy. "We have decided that we're not going to allow business as usual to proceed at the plant,” she says. “That means that we're not going to allow coal trains to arrive to Bow unhindered, and it means that we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that the plant cannot run." Merrimack Station is New England's largest remaining coal-fired power plant that doesn't have a retirement date. It typically runs most when energy demand is at its peak.

TVA plans new coal ash dump at Cumberland power plant - The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to begin construction of a new coal ash dump at its Cumberland coal-fired plant in 2021 and is investigating whether its current waste storage system is threatening private and public water sources, officials announced Tuesday.  Coal ash waste is the broad term for the byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity. It is a toxic stew of cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive material.At least 15 million tons of the toxic waste is stored at the Cumberland City plant in a complex of unlined dirt pits — with wet coal ash stacked in vertical piles so tall TVA creates coal ash “benches” every 30 feet to keep water flowing downhill — along with coal ash wastewater ponds and a vertical stack of dry coal ash waste.The coal ash labyrinth spans 332 acres. TVA discharges coal ash wastewater into the Cumberland River, according to its permits. The Cumberland is a source of water for two of Stewart County’s largest public water suppliers: the Dover Water Department and North Stewart Utility District. The city of Erin also gets its water supply from the Cumberland River. According to TVA’s reports, the coal ash waste dump complex at the Cumberland plant is leaking, with “seepages” of coal ash waste escaping through holes in dirt walls, and coal ash toxins including arsenic and radium leaking into groundwater monitoring wells. Contamination discovered in monitoring wells does not mean it has reached drinking water supplies — monitoring wells are dug to understand where and how far contamination is from a storage site. Unsafe levels of arsenic, cobalt and lithium were discovered last year. "None of us should be surprised trace contaminants are showing up around our landfills," "We don't see any evidence there is any migration. That doesn't mean it's not a threat ... That doesn't mean we don't monitor it." The utility produces 1.5 million tons of coal ash waste each year at the Cumberland plant. TVA said it wants to shut down its current complex of waste dumps but, for now, will be leaving the bulk of the coal ash in the dumps unless later ordered by regulators to dig it up and store it away from the Cumberland River. TVA said it will build a new coal ash dump on 242 acres of undeveloped land at the plant. The new dump can hold as much as 20 million tons of coal ash waste, according to a report.Lyash, TVA Vice President Scott Turnbow and TVA staffer Danny Stephens said the utility also is constructing new lined water basins to better handle and treat water contaminated by coal ash.

Tennessee Valley Authority removing asbestos near plant (AP) — The Tennessee Valley Authority started removing asbestos-contaminated material last week that was unearthed during construction near its Kingston Fossil Plant. Officials at the utility have said they do not know where the material came from but it could be part of an old burn pit. It was discovered in September while digging to create a new landfill for coal ash disposal. The Knoxville News Sentinel first reported on the asbestos, which requires a special permit for disposal. TVA got the permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation on Dec. 3, Brooks said. The permit says up to 22,000 cubic yards (16,820 cubic meters) of material will be removed, including up to 40 cubic yards (30.6 cubic meters) of asbestos-containing material. “We think it will turn out to be more like 10-20 cubic yards, but we won’t know until we’ve done all the removal,” Brooks said in an email. That is about 8-15 cubic meters. Brooks said the permit covers removal of “everything we found like wood, metal, etc.” but there is no practical way to separate that from the asbestos-containing material. It is all going to a landfill in Loudon County that is permitted to store asbestos. The Kingston plant was the site of a massive coal ash spill in 2008.

What insurers allege about Duke Energy's knowledge of coal-ash risk at NC plant - Charlotte Business Journal - In court filings, insurers contend “Duke intended to contaminate the groundwater, or at the very least, that it was substantially certain that the contamination would take place” at its Mayo Steam Electric Station.

Bill to Ban Coal in Bay Area City Tabled by Mayor, Maybe Permanently - A Dec. 3 meeting of the Richmond City Council ended suddenly, and without explanation, before its slated vote on the eventual ban of coal and petroleum coke storage in the city. And it’s unclear whether the ban will ever get a vote. One hundred people had testified for four hours regarding the ban. Richmond’s Democratic Mayor Tom Butt motioned to table the item until the City Council’s Jan. 14 meeting. Countering Butt’s move, City Council member Jael Myrickfailed to get the five votes needed to override the motion tabling the bill.Butt’s only explanation during the council meeting for tabling the vote was that he was doing so “under the Mayor’s prerogative.” Myrick said that he attempted to overturn Butt’s decision because “We’ve been delaying since 2015.”  After the four hours of testimony, the City Council abruptly voted to halt the meeting. Butt told The Real News that he pulled the item from consideration because it was getting late, with the clock striking midnight by the time the public comments were finished. He said he hopes to broker a deal between stakeholders “without legislation and without litigation” with a “goal of moving coal out of Richmond.” In other words, a vote may never occur at all. “You know, it’s just not–it’s just good to continue debating and taking the vote on something that late,” said Butt. “Another reason is that we all received a flurry of letters and reports, you know, all kinds of documents in the last 12 to 24 hours before that meeting and nobody really had a chance to go through them and read them. A third reason is that it gives us some time to sit down with Levin and see if we can find some resolution other than legislation to cure this issue.”  Butt said that some of those letters and reports came from Phillips 66 and actors within the coal industry. Phillips 66 owns a nearby tar sands oil refinery in the city of Rodeo, which produces the petroleum coke (“petcoke”) stored at the Levin-Richmond terminal. Petcoke is a coal-like by-product of the tar sands oil refining process, described by U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI) as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.” Extracting bitumen from tar sands is the most carbon-intensive oil extraction process in the world.

Youth Help Identify Causes Of Ohio Valley’s High Lung Disease Rates - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of adults in Letcher and Harlan Counties reported having an asthma diagnosis, compared to 8 percent nationally. Rates of COPD were also higher in eastern Kentucky. Higher rates of smoking explain some of that disparity, said Mountain Air Project manager Beverly May, but not all of it. “The question from a research perspective is,” May asked, “what other things might be contributing to the disease, and could it be our environment?” In addition to an epidemiological study, researchers employed a research practice called Photovoice, which asks people in a given community to use photography to share their experiences and perspectives with researchers who are typically not from that community. After receiving photography lessons from esteemed Appalachian photographer Malcolm Wilson, 10 young people between the ages of 12 and 18, all attending Letcher County schools, set out with digital cameras to document contributors to lung disease in their communities. “To our knowledge, this is the first Photovoice project in the Appalachian region to specifically involve youth focusing on environmental health,” said University of Kentucky researcher Katie Cardarelli. Researchers analyzed the students’ photographs to identify larger themes which might have gone unnoticed in a traditional health study. One such theme was the choices many eastern Kentuckians have had to make to earn a living. Several photographs expressed deep concern for the dangers that coal mining posed not only to individual coal miners, but to whole communities exposed to particulates from resource extraction. One student submitted a photo of a coal-transport railroad visible from their backyard. “Our area has been coal country for years,” wrote the student photographer, “exposing us to things that people in most parts of the country are not exposed to.” Several earlier studies show higher incidence of disease in communities near large-scale strip mines. This one, however, did not. UK researcher Jay Christian said his analysis of the current contributors to lung disease did not point to environmental exposure from coal mining or oil and gas drilling. “We’re not finding clear evidence of population-level exposures that appear to be driving the high rates of lung disease,” Christian said. But previous exposure may still have contributed to current instances of disease. “Coal mining has decreased very rapidly in the region,” he said. “So it’s hard to know how airborne particulate levels in the region now compare to those 20 years ago.” Occupational exposure to coal dust remains a significant factor in the region, with rates of black lung disease skyrocketing in recent years.

Study Shows Surface Coal Miners Are Exposed To Toxic Dust That Causes Black Lung -Appalachian surface coal miners are consistently overexposed to toxic silica dust, according to new research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and surface mine dust contains more silica than does dust in underground coal mines. The research is the first to specifically analyze long-term data on exposure to toxic silica dust for workers at surface mines. The work reveals that while attention has been trained on a surge in disease among underground coal miners, surface miners are similarly at risk of contracting coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease. Black lung disease has been identified in coal miners in every coal-mining state at both surface and underground mines. NIOSH researchers were specifically interested in surface miners’ exposure because those mines produce the most coal and, in 2017, twice as many miners worked at surface mines compared to underground mines. Researchers analyzed 54,040 coal dust samples taken on surface mines between 1982 and 2017 to determine the percent of that coal dust that was silica, and found that the level of silica was above the permissible limit in 15 percent of those samples. Silica dust comes from quartz in the rock layers near coal seams, and it is significantly more harmful to lung tissue than coal dust alone.  After decades of successful reduction in black lung disease through safety controls in coal mines, black lung disease has been on the rise among coal miners for the last two decades. Central Appalachia has seen a marked increase in the most severe form of black lung, known as progressive massive fibrosis. A recent investigation from NPR and PBS Frontline found that federal regulators and the mining industry knew that exposure to silica dust was a major factor contributing to the surge in disease but failed to act to protect miners’ health. The surge in disease is putting strain on the already-indebted federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, and as younger miners become disabled due to black lung, thestrain on Appalachian mining communities continues to grow.  “Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is a particularly novel finding,” NIOSH epidemiologist Scott Laney said. “The evidence is very clear. We know that silica and mine dust are toxic, and we have the technology to suppress it, and yet coal miners are still exposed to way too much of it. So from a public health perspective, there’s ample evidence to suggest that further safeguards are necessary.”

 Report: black lung funding cut will cost taxpayers billions (AP) — A cut to the tax coal companies pay to fund a trust for sick miners will cost taxpayers at least $15 billion by 2050, according to a new report from a national watchdog group. An excise tax rate on mined coal that funds the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund expired at the beginning of 2019 due to inaction by Congress. That led to a reduction in the amount coal companies pay into the fund, which pays benefits and medical bills for miners diagnosed with black lung disease. “By failing to extend the excise tax, Congress is shifting billions of dollars in liabilities from coal companies to taxpayers,” Taxpayers for Common Sense said the fund’s debt could be as high as $26 billion by 2050. The U.S. Department of Labor earlier this year confirmed to The Associated Press that a funding shortfall in the Black Lung Trust Fund would be covered by borrowing from the U.S. Treasury. A excise tax rate of $1.10 per ton of underground mined coal was cut by more than half to about 50 cents in the new year. The fund took in about $450 million in revenue in fiscal year 2017. The cut came as a surge of black lung disease scars miners’ lungs at younger ages than ever. Dr. Brandon Crum, who has watched the epidemic unfold at his Pikeville, Kentucky, radiology clinic, said earlier this year that he has seen 200 miners diagnosed with a severe form of black lung disease in less than four years. The nation had 31 such diagnoses in the 1990s, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The mining industry supported the higher tax rate’s expiration. Black lung disease, or pneumoconiosis, is caused by inhaling dust in the lungs and has no cure. It has killed about 78,000 miners since 1968

Ohio Valley Lawmaker Plans To Halt Senate Action Over Coal Miners' Benefits - West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin pledged Wednesday to block all legislation until pensions and health benefits are secured for coal miners. Manchin said no legislation will pass the Senate until he is assured that coal miners’ benefits will be in the spending bill used to fund the federal government. The Bipartisan American Miners Act would permanently secure pensions for about 82,000 coal miners who could lose their retirement benefits by sometime next year without congressional action. In remarks on the Senate floor, Manchin said miners can’t wait another year for congressional action. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky recently signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill with Manchin and other Ohio Valley lawmakers to shore up those benefits. McConnell had blocked earlier Senate action on miners’ pensions. For example, in 2017 McConnell introduced his own bill to provide for miners’ health benefits without dealing with pensions. McConnell did not immediately return a request for comment. The miner’s pension plan was weakened by a series of coal industry bankruptcies. Murray Energy of Ohio was the last major employer contributing to the fund before its bankruptcy declaration in October. In its bankruptcy filing, Murray reports more than $8 billion in obligations under various pension and benefit plans. A bankruptcy court will decide if the company can escape those obligations. Manchin said that uncertainty about pensions is a burden for miners and retirees. “Can you imagine being one of the coal miners trying to enjoy your holidays this year knowing you might wake up January 1st with no health care coverage and a reduction in your pensions?” he said.

Canada may store its worst nuclear waste at site near Lake Huron - Canada has narrowed to two communities its list of potential hosts for a permanent national repository for its most radioactive waste — spent fuel from nuclear power generation. And one of those two finalists is on the shores of Lake Huron. If chosen, Huron-Kinloss/South Bruce, in Bruce County, Ontario, could host a large repository, 1,650 feet or more underground, to which the entire nation's spent nuclear fuel supply would be transported and stored, essentially forever. "This is the worst of the worst" waste, said Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist with the nonprofit Beyond Nuclear, based in Tacoma Park, Maryland. "It’s highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel. It is dangerous forever." For perspective, as the U.S. considered a similar underground repository for its spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, Nevada — a proposal that has since stalled amid backlash from Nevadans — a federal Court of Appeals in 2004 ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop standards to protect people and the environment from the site's radiation for up to one million years. Canada has an inventory of almost 2.9 million used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored above-ground in wet pools and dry containers at the nuclear plant sites where the waste is generated. That's about 128 million pounds of highly radioactive material, a number that is growing. The site along Lake Huron is in the same county where another underground storage facility — this one for low-to-intermediate-level radioactive waste from Ontario's 19 nuclear reactors — was proposed. That plan, still under consideration, generated loud opposition throughout the Great Lakes Basin beginning about five years ago, especially in Michigan. “This makes no sense," U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said. "Canada has as much at stake as we do in protecting our Great Lakes. There is no justification for a nuclear waste site so close to Lake Huron to even be under consideration."

 Nuke plant owner gave to justices — FirstEnergy Solutions fears the fate of its two nuclear power plants on Lake Erie may rest in the hands of the Ohio Supreme Court as it considers issues that could breathe new life into an effort to kill a recently passed consumer bailout. But six of the seven justices sitting on the court have received campaign cash from the electricity generator and supplier’s soon-to-be-former parent company, FirstEnergy Corp., at some point in their judicial careers. One of them, Republican first-term Justice Pat Fischer, last week recused himself from considering the case without citing a reason. Justices decide for themselves whether they fear they may have a conflict of interest. A review of the Ohio secretary of state’s campaign finance database shows that FirstEnergy Corp.’s political action committee contributed more than $78,000 to state Supreme Court candidates — and in one case, a future justice early in his judicial career — since 2010. Of that, about $43,000 went to jurists now sitting on the bench. “The thing Ohioans need to remember is that when any rule affecting consumers is challenged, it goes to the Ohio Supreme Court,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of government watchdog Common Cause of Ohio. “In fact, FirstEnergy has a real vested interest in how business friendly that justice is,” she said. “Since 2000, the first time I looked at campaign contributions, FirstEnergy has been a major player year after year.” The company’s support has heavily favored Republicans who dominate the bench 5-2. But it has on rare occasions supported Democrats, including $1,000 for current Justice Melody Stewart, elected last year. In fact, it financially supported three of last year’s four candidates running for two seats on the bench. The utility also poured more than $400,000 into state legislative campaigns during the 2017-18 election cycle that helped fashion the General Assembly that this year passed House Bill 6. It also gave to statewide candidates, including nearly $23,000 last year to the campaign and subsequent inaugural celebration of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who signed House Bill 6 into law. Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Ohio 'Anti-Protest' Bill Could Move to House Floor - An Ohio House committee could vote today to approve so-called "anti-protest" legislation. The House Public Utilities Committee is holding its seventh hearing on Senate Bill 33, which would increase penalties for those who physically damage or tamper with critical infrastructure facilities. Randy Cunningham with the Cleveland Environmental Action Network says it is similar to legislation in other states backed by the oil and gas industry after the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests. "They have applied it to virtually everything you can think of: railroads, refineries, pipelines, injection wells," says Cunningham. "The goal of it is to chill the conversation, to chill dissent." Rob Eshenbaugh with Capitol Advocates represents a group of businesses and trade groups supportive of SB 33. He contends it's needed to protect public safety. "There have been increased threats to critical infrastructure in Ohio, and the enhanced penalties in this bill (are) hopefully going to be a deterrent for any of those actions in the future," says Eshenbaugh. The Ohio Senate passed SB 33 in May by a 24 to 8 vote. Opponents argue the measure would discourage protests by making organizers or groups civilly responsible for the criminal offenses of an individual participant, with penalties up to $100,000. However, Eshenbaugh says organizations would not be held responsible for one person's rogue actions. "Organizations are only held liable under the bill if they direct or compensate someone to perform an action of intentional destruction," says Eshenbaugh. "It is not simply someone that has gone onto property if they are just at a protest." Cunningham says the measure is pitting civil rights against corporate interests. "David vs. Godzilla is what it is," says Cunningham. "It is about money vs. rights. Maybe eventually the rights win out, but right now I'll bet on the money any day. And they're wasting their time if they think they're going to keep us from protesting."

ALEC Influence in Ohio Greases Skids for Anti-Protest Bill | PR Watch - When anti-protest legislation pushed by oil, gas, and utility interests was introduced in the Ohio state Senate this year, it met a receptive audience and passed easily on a mostly party-line vote. It has since moved to the state House, where almost one-third of legislators are ALEC members, and will likely pass at the beginning of 2020. The legislation, SB 33, is modeled after an ALEC proposal, and its corporate backers are big contributors to the Republican party and legislators in Ohio.ALEC is the corporate bill mill where state legislators and corporations meet behind closed doors to write and advocate for legislation on the environment, criminal justice, health care, and most of the other domestic issues that affect us.The bill, the "Critical Infrastructure Protection Act," being pushed by ALEC around the country makes it a felony for protestors to trespass on energy company property, such as pipelines, refineries, and power plants. Prompted by the well-publicized stand-off at the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline in 2016, the industry's full-court press is working. Ten states, using ALEC's template bill, have enacted increased criminal penalties through legislation very much like SB 33.     The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has extensively reported on the controversy surrounding this type of legislation, including an article last month on Wisconsin's bill, signed by the new Democratic Governor, Tony Evers. According to the legislature's Office of Research and Drafting, the Ohio bill "adds a new prohibition under the offense of 'criminal trespass' that expressly prohibits a person, without privilege to do so, from knowingly entering or remaining on a 'critical infrastructure facility.'" While the offense for an individual protester is a misdemeanor - or a third-degree felony for destroying or tampering with "critical infrastructure" property - the bill would hit any organization found to be "complicit" in the violation with a fine ten times the maximum allowable fine for the protester. Roxanne Groff, a former county commissioner in Ohio and spokesperson for the Buckeye Environmental Network, testified before the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee that, This bill was created to impose fear upon citizens who have become increasingly aware and vocal about the threats to their health, and their wellbeing as a result of the oil and gas industries’ assault on the land and people of this state by extraction of oil and gas, injection of toxic radioactive waste from this extraction and the infrastructure build outs of pipelines and gas compressor stations....

Rover Pipeline decision upheld - — The 5th District Court of Appeals has upheld the ruling of a Stark County judge who dismissed the state’s lawsuit against Rover Pipeline. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office sued Rover in November 2017, alleging environmental violations in more than a dozen counties due to sediment-laden stormwater, leaks of clay-based drilling fluid and the release of water used to pressure-test the pipeline. Common Pleas Judge Kristin G. Farmer ruled in March that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency waived its right to regulate the pipeline’s construction under the Clean Water Act. The state had a year to act on Rover’s application seeking to discharge pollutants under the Clean Water Act, and failed to do so, the judge wrote. Instead, Ohio EPA asked Rover to resubmit its application, which was approved. In a ruling this week, a three-judge panel voted unanimously to uphold Farmer’s decision. The lawsuit had asked the court to order Rover to comply with Ohio EPA’s orders and pay a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per day for each violation, as well as reimburse the Ohio EPA and pay the cost of the court action.

Nexus, Rover seek lower valuations of pipelines Officials in Wood and Sandusky counties have been notified that the operators of natural gas pipelines have appealed to the Ohio Department of Taxation for lower valuations of the lines. Wood County auditor Matthew Oestreich said the Rover and Nexus pipelines have filed appeals to reduce the valuations to 54 percent and 62 percent respectively of their original valuation assessments set by the tax department. In Sandusky County, auditor Jerri Miller said Nexus is asking for a reduction to 62 percent of the preliminary assessment. For the counties, townships and school districts and local governments along the paths of the pipelines, the appeal process itself could cause a temporary loss of tax revenues as the pipeline companies will only be required to pay taxes on the requested lower valuations until the appeal is decided – which could take more than a year, Oestreich said. If either company loses its appeal, it will be billed the difference plus interest for the time they paid taxes on the appeal value. “I hope the department of taxation adheres close to the original value their formula calculated on these pipelines. 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,” Oestreich said. In October, the state tax department informed the Sandusky County auditor that the preliminary tax assessment for the section of the Nexus pipeline in the county was $257.1 million. A 38 percent reduction would lower that valuation by about $99 million to $158.2 million. The affected taxing districts in the county and the preliminary assessed valuation of the pipeline in their jurisdictions are: Rice Twp. /Fremont schools - $3.1 million; Riley Twp. /Fremont schools - $31.5 million; Riley Twp. /Clyde schools - $2 million; Sandusky Twp. /Fremont schools - $32 million; Townsend Twp. / Margaretta schools - $106 million; Washington Twp. / Fremont schools - $16 million; Washington Twp. /Gibsonburg schools - $17.4 million and Woodville Twp./Woodmore schools - $48 million.

Windfall from Rover, NEXUS pipelines likely to be far less than what was expected | Toledo Blade Two major natural gas pipeline systems built across Ohio in response to America’s fracking boom could generate far less tax revenue than promised for area schools, townships, parks, senior centers, and other services. Owners of both the Rover and NEXUS pipeline systems have filed separate requests with the Ohio Department of Taxation to have the values of their respective pipelines lowered significantly. Values vary from county to county and are ultimately determined by the state. But, in many cases, those two pipeline owners are hoping to get the values of their assets reduced about 50 percent and 30 percent, respectively. Department spokesman Gary Gudmundson said he could not provide exact figures because “taxpayer information is confidential by law.” The lengthy appeal process creates more uncertainty among cash-strapped local school districts that were depending on those taxes as a new source of income to help stabilize their finances, county auditors said. Some may have no choice but to seek higher property tax levies from voters to offset the difference between the dollars they expected from the pipelines and the dollars they’ll get. Valuations are what auditors use as a basis for charging property taxes. Pipeline companies can, by law, seek to have them lowered annually. Requests for the next taxing year were due by Dec. 6. Rover pipeline owner Dallas-based Energy Transfer LP and NEXUS pipeline co-owners DTE Energy and Enbridge, Inc., all exercised that option before the deadline. While the companies are within their rights to seek lower valuations on their assets and, thus, save on their property taxes, the process makes it especially hard on school districts — the units of government often most dependent on the windfalls — to plan ahead, said Mike Kovack, former president of the County Auditors’ Association of Ohio. Appeals typically take months. The state taxation department does not have to choose between the original valuations it sets itself and much lower figures the companies want. The agency can settle on a number somewhere in between, Mr. Kovack said. Either way it’s hard for school districts to plan if they’re counting heavily on those pipeline property taxes, he said.

Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio Raises Holdings in Chevron Co. - Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio lifted its position in Chevron Co. (NYSE:CVX) by 0.4% during the third quarter, according to the company in its most recent Form 13F filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The institutional investor owned 1,225,830 shares of the oil and gas company’s stock after buying an additional 4,604 shares during the quarter. Chevron makes up approximately 0.8% of Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio’s portfolio, making the stock its 21st biggest holding. Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio owned approximately 0.06% of Chevron worth $145,383,000 at the end of the most recent reporting period.

Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio Purchases New Holdings in Antero Midstream Corp - Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio purchased a new stake in Antero Midstream Corp during the 3rd quarter, Holdings reports. The fund purchased 58,643 shares of the pipeline company’s stock, valued at approximately $434,000. Antero Midstream Corporation owns and operates midstream energy assets servicing rich gas production in North America. It owns and operates an integrated system of natural gas gathering pipelines, compression stations, processing and fractionation plants, and water handling and treatment assets in the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale basins.

Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio Grows Position in SemGroup Corp - Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio boosted its holdings in shares of SemGroup Corp by 28.0% during the third quarter, according to the company in its most recent disclosure with the Securities & Exchange Commission. The institutional investor owned 8,922 shares of the pipeline company’s stock after purchasing an additional 1,953 shares during the quarter. Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio’s holdings in SemGroup were worth $146,000 as of its most recent SEC filing. SemGroup Corporation provides gathering, transportation, storage, distribution, marketing, and other midstream services for producers, refiners of petroleum products, and other market participants. The company operates in three segments: U.S. Liquids, U.S. Gas, and Canada. The U.S. Liquids segment operates crude oil pipelines, truck transportation, storage, terminals, and marketing businesses; stores, blends, and transports refinery products and refinery feedstock through pipeline, barge, rail, truck, and ship; and operates a residual fuel oil storage terminal in the U.S.

Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio Acquires 5225 Shares of Kinder Morgan Inc - Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio raised its holdings in shares of Kinder Morgan Inc (NYSE:KMI) by 0.4% in the third quarter, according to its most recent 13F filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The institutional investor owned 1,232,122 shares of the pipeline company’s stock after purchasing an additional 5,225 shares during the quarter. Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio owned 0.05% of Kinder Morgan worth $25,394,000 as of its most recent SEC filing.The company operates through Natural Gas Pipelines, Products Pipelines, Terminals, and CO2 segments. The Natural Gas Pipelines segment owns and operates interstate and intrastate natural gas pipeline and storage systems; natural gas and crude oil gathering systems, and natural gas processing and treating facilities; natural gas liquids (NGL) fractionation facilities and transportation systems; and liquefied natural gas facilities.

 “Government Failed You” — Pittsburgh State Rep. Drafts Bill to Stop Radioactive Fracking Waste (TENORM) From Entering Public Waters -  Pittsburgh’s Freshman State Representative Sara Innamorato is drafting a bill to regulate TENORM (Technically Enhanced Radioactive Material) from fracking waste in response to Public Herald’s leachate investigation.Innamorato’s effort would take on a regulatory loophole described in Public Herald’s August 2019 report that allows radioactive fracking waste dumped at landfills to be sent as leachate to sewage treatment plants and discharged to public waters. Fracking waste contains high levels of radionuclides known as TENORM which are water soluble and end up in the landfill leachate, but are unregulated and cannot be treated or removed by sewage plants.Rep. Innamorato told Public Herald that there’s still a lot of work to be done before this effort becomes a bill. But she’s confident her office will produce something with “teeth.” As Public Herald reported, not only is this a reality for at least 15 sewage facilities in Pennsylvania; states like Ohio, New York, North Dakota, West Virginia, and more are playing a part. Any landfill that accepts fracking waste and discharges leachate to sewage plants would undergo the same pollution to waterways. Where and how this is all happening is best illustrated in the Public Herald interactive map “How Radioactive Fracking Waste Gets Into Pennsylvania Waterways” — produced with FracTracker Alliance. Click on the map to view the details. The waste is moving into new areas. Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) came under fire this month for working to change TENORM regulations at landfills in order to accept waste from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. It’s unclear as of yet where these landfills in Montana will send their leachate.In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a cradle-to-grave TENORM study in 2016 that found radionuclides throughout the life cycle of fracking waste. But these findings were successfully buried, as news organizations and NGOs alike echoed DEP’s 2015 press release: “DEP Study Shows There is Little Potential for Radiation Exposure from Oil and Gas Development.”Public Herald analyzed the study and found the Department excluded serious environmental health and safety discoveries in public statements. If DEP’s own records are correct, current amounts being discharged to waters of the commonwealth far exceed pollution levels of concern established by the EPA. Each landfill DEP tested in the study who accepted TENORM from fracking detected radiation in their leachate. In one location Radium-226 was measured in leachate at 378 pCi/L — the safe drinking water level set by the EPA is 5pCi/L. With a half-life of 1600 years, the legacy of radium from fracking will create exposure pathways for centuries in public water sediment if treated by sewage plants.

Is shale development worth the costs? A CMU study says no.   Although the massive shale gas build-out in the Appalachian Basin has produced significant economic benefits, a new Carnegie Mellon University study says all the drilling, fracking and cracking isn’t worth the environmental, health and climate damage. The study estimates air pollution from shale gas development activities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia from 2004 to 2016 resulted in 1,200 to 4,600 premature deaths in the region, and while most of the added employment occurred in rural areas, most of the health impacts were felt in urban areas. Advocacy groups on either side of the issue reacted to the study with a mix of skepticism and praise. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents oil and gas companies, cited other studies that found little pollution impact and significant economic benefits. The Breathe Project, a coalition that includes environmental advocates, public health professionals and academics, hailed the CMU study as groundbreaking and said such a comprehensive analysis is long overdue. The study is the first to put dollar values on some of the external and cumulative costs of shale gas development, and could help better evaluate the positive and negative impacts, said Jared Cohon, former CMU president and one of the study authors. Specifically, the study looked at public health, environmental impacts and climate change in assessing the industry impact. Premature deaths had an economic toll of $23 billion, based on mid-range calculations that were the median and most likely outcomes of a wide range of potential results. according to the peer-reviewed study, which appeared in the Nov. 18 journal Nature Sustainability. Climate impacts produced mid-range costs of an additional $34 billion based on emissions from 2004 to 2016 and those will persist generations longer than gas industry jobs, the study found. The jobs and related economic benefits have an estimated mid-range value of $21 billion, based on employment calculations in counties throughout the region. Meanwhile, the study found that the cumulative impacts of natural gas development on water and air quality, ecosystem, climate, labor markets and public health “are still largely unexplored and unaccounted for in public and private decision-making.”

CMU Study Shows Natural Gas In The Region Has Brought Economic Benefits, But Also Premature Deaths | 90.5 WESA - A new study by Carnegie Mellon University finds that in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia region, the economic boost from shale gas drilling has been less than the cost of premature deaths caused by pollution from the industry.  The study, published last month in the journal Nature Sustainability, estimated that between 2004 and 2016 shale development created a regional economic boost of $21 billion, compared with $23 billion in the costs related to the 1,200 to 4,600 premature deaths linked to air pollution from the industry.  Lead author Erin Mayfield, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, wanted to build on the growing body of economic, environmental and health research to create a cost-benefit analysis of the gas industry over time.  “These are largely unexplored areas, and really unaccounted for in public and private decision making,” Mayfield said.  She wanted to look at cumulative impacts, both positive and negative, of the industry. “So, who are winners and who are losers?”  “We show that the biggest employment effects are in outlying rural areas. And not surprisingly, those communities have benefited in some ways from this,” Muller said. “The natural gas extraction activity, however, where we find the greatest concentration of premature mortality from the local air pollution is in both the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and also the bigger cities to the east where that air pollution eventually flows.”The study found that 54 percent of shale related jobs were in rural areas (and an additional 31 percent in rural-urban mixed areas), while 76 percent of premature deaths associated with the gas industry occurred in urban areas.  The study looked at “job-years,” defined as a full- or part-time job over a single year, not a long term job or career, created by or related to the industry. The shale industry supported an estimated 469,000 job-years over the 12-year study period.  The peak year, 2014, meant 74,000 estimated shale related jobs in the tri-state region, but also the highest estimated premature mortality.  “For every three industry jobs in a year, someone in our region had life cut short for a year,” said Matthew Mehalik, director of the Breathe Project, a non-profit in Pittsburgh.  In statement, the Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer said all energy sources create impacts and tradeoffs, and “…natural gas is unquestionably enhancing our environment and air quality, boosting job creation and making American more secure.”  He also pointed to the benefits to consumers from “the availability of low-cost, affordable and clean-burning American natural gas.”

Feds Approve Plan to Ship Liquefied Natural Gas to South Jersey by Rail  --Plans to build New Jersey’s first liquefied natural gas terminal moved forward when federal regulators approved the use of trains to ship the fuel to Gibbstown on the Delaware River from Wyalusing in northeastern Pennsylvania — the first route in the nation where tr --ansportation of LNG by rail would be allowed.The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration published its approval on Friday of the plan by Energy Transport Solutions, a logistics subsidiary of New Fortress Energy, which wants to liquefy natural gas from the abundant reserves in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, and export it via a yet-to-be-built terminal at Gibbstown in Gloucester County.The idea of carrying the super-cooled natural gas by train about 175 miles to South Jersey was an unexpected development after earlier plans to use at least 360 truck trips a day. It is unclear whether trains would substitute for trucks or will be in addition to them.The pipeline regulator said it was satisfied that Energy Transport Solutions could safely operate the trains despite protests by environmental groups that the highly explosive liquids carried in them represent a grave risk to public safety, especially if they travel through densely populated areas like Philadelphia or Camden.“PHMSA’s technical evaluators have determined that the special permit provides an equivalent level of safety to what is required under the Hazardous Materials Regulations, and recommend that the permit be granted,” the agency said in a statement. It authorized a special permit for shipments only between the two points, in a specific type of tank car; directed the applicant to submit its plans for the quantities of LNG to be shipped, and their timing, within 90 days, and said it must prepare local emergency responders to deal with any incident involving the release of LNG. The company must comply with the conditions within an estimated 6-12-month period before the shipments begin. And in an instruction that will fuel critics’ fears of a growing volume of shipments, the agency ordered the company to say how it will handle an expected increase in the volume of LNG by rail.

Marcellus LNG “Bomb Trains” Approved for Travel thru Philadelphia to New Jersey - Environmentalists on Monday decried the federal government’s approval of permits to move liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail from northern Pennsylvania to a new port terminal in Gibbstown, N.J., across the river from Tinicum. The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on Friday approved a request by Energy Transport Solutions LLC to move LNG, produced from fracking Pennsylvania shale gas wells, to the Repauno Port and Rail Terminal in Greenwich Township. The special permit would allow the company to move as many as 100 rail cars of fuel a day from a plant in Wyalusing, Pa., to the marine terminal, built on the site of the former DuPont Repauno Works in New Jersey. LNG is made from natural gas that has been cooled to -260 degrees to convert it into a liquid, and would be carried in double-walled insulated tank cars specifically designed to transport cryogenic materials. The Trump administration has championed LNG exports as a means to influence international policy, but climate activists say the exports enable more fossil fuel development. Local environmental groups, including the Empower NJ coalition that opposes expansion of fossil fuel use, opposed the permits on safety and environmental grounds, and denounced the permit approval as “reckless.” So did the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio, who condemned the approval as “deeply disturbing” and “irresponsible.” The route is not prescribed, but Norfolk Southern serves the Wyalusing area, and its lines cross Philadelphia and feed traffic across the Delair Bridge, which crosses the Delaware River between Port Richmond and Pennsauken, N.J., just below the Betsy Ross Bridge. The permit could entail the use of “unit trains” that include 20 or more rail cars carrying the same product. According to PHMSA’s final environmental assessment, moving LNG by rail is more cost-efficient and has fewer environmental impacts than transporting it by truck, and “will not result in significant impacts to the human environment.”

Pipeline to move fracked gas across Pennsylvania as critics cry foul -  A subsidiary of the company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline has begun construction on a pipeline that will move as much as 700,000 barrels of liquid natural gas across Pennsylvania. Local groups are concerned about the project‘s safety. Just hours after Sunoco Logistics‘ two pipelines – known as the Mariner East 2 pipeline project – received permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), construction crews began work on the 350-mile line system, to the Times Herald. The 20-inch Mariner East 2 and the 16-inch Mariner East 2X pipelines will move flammable natural gas fluids – including propane, butane, and ethane – extracted from the Marcellus and Utica shale wells in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex along the Delaware River in southeast Pennsylvania. The combined initial capacity for the two lines will be 275,000 and 250,000 barrels of liquid per day, respectively. The capacity of the larger Mariner East 2 could reach 450,000 barrels per day, according to reports. The Mariner East 2 project will use the horizontal directional drilling technique to install piping between 20 and 180 feet underground, according to the the Times Herald. The project‘s path will cross more than 2,000 streams, wetlands, paved roads and railways across Pennsylvania, the Tribune-Review . In response to the project, which has been in the works for roughly two and a half year, ecological advocacy groups have pushed the state to hold Sunoco to a rigorous standard of environmental stewardship, but to no avail, they have . Prior to the state DEP‘s final approval of the Mariner East 2 project, environmental advocacy groups had appealed the issuance of permits, saying the DEP had failed to consider the negative effects of the pipelines. The groups – including the Clean Air Council, the Mountain Watershed Association and the Delaware River Waterkeeper – said citizens along the Mariner East 2 route have flagged “additional discrepancies” in Sunoco‘s latest permit requests, and that the company‘s applications are “both incomplete and full of critical errors.” Environmental advocates are demanding an immediate stop to construction and are calling for a reevaluation, if not a wholesale rejection, of Sunoco‘s latest permit application.

Chevron to take $10bn write down on shale gas glut - Chevron has put shale gasfields up for sale in the prolific US Appalachian region as it plans to write down more than $10bn from these and other businesses, underlining how persistently low natural gas prices have stung big producers. The oil major holds hundreds of thousands of net acres in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions running through the Appalachian states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and eastern Ohio. Gas production from Appalachia has climbed 18-fold in the last decade to almost 34bn cubic feet per day, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The booming supply has kept gas prices stubbornly cheap at about $2.50 per million British thermal units, the lowest 20 years. Chevron acquired its Appalachian assets when it purchased Atlas Energy for $5.5bn in 2011. In 2018 it produced 240m cu ft/d from the region. Late Tuesday Chevron said it was evaluating alternatives including divestment of its Appalachian shale assets as well as international projects and Kitimat LNG, a liquefied natural gas export project in Canada in which it holds a stake. It also took an impairment charge on Big Foot, an offshore oil project in the Gulf of Mexico. The writedowns combined will trigger impairment charges of $10bn-$11bn in the fourth quarter, more than half of them related to Appalachia, Chevron said. Strong gas production has led to a race to built terminals capable of liquefying it for export abroad. By the middle of next decade this battle for market share may lead to “material oversupply,” analysts at Tudor Pickering Holt said. Chevron said it would exit its 50 per cent interest in Kitimat LNG in British Columbia, where its partner is Woodside Petroleum of Australia. The stake “may be of higher value to another company,” Chevron said. The announcement came as Chevron announced a capital spending plan of $20bn for 2020 focused on oil-rich areas in the Permian Basin of the US south-west, deepwater projects in the US Gulf and a project at the its Tengiz oilfield in Kazakhstan.

Antero Resources plans to sell assets in Marcellus, Utica - Another big name in the Appalachian shale play plans to sell off assets in 2020. Antero Resources Corp. (NYSE: AR), a pure-play in the Marcellus and Utica with a big presence in West Virginia, announced plans to sell between $750 million and $1 billion in assets in 2020 in an effort to reduce its debt. Antero is the largest natural gas producer in West Virginia, with 547 million cubic feet of production in 2017, according to data from the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. That's more than 200 million cubic feet of production more than No. 2, EQT Corp. (NYSE: EQT). Antero has a much smaller presence in Pennsylvania, with three wells in Washington County and about 100 permits in the state, according to the 2019 Pittsburgh Business Times Book of Lists. "Antero is in the advantageous position of having a variety of options available for asset monetization," said Antero President and CFO Glen Warren in a statement. "These options include undeveloped leasehold, minerals, producing properties, an extensive hedge book and midstream ownership." Antero has 584,000 net acres in Appalachia and production of 3.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, with 10.4 trillion cubic feet of producing reserves. Antero already announced it would get the asset sales started with a $100 million sale of Antero Midstream common stock to Antero Midstream (NYSE: AM), part of its $715 million stake in Antero Midstream. It also plans to cut $375 million in Antero's capital and operating budgets in 2020. And in September, Antero announced it would idle a pioneering wastewater treatment plant it built two years ago south of Morgantown, West Virginia.

Chevron plans to leave Appalachia, following the footsteps of other giants - California-based energy company Chevron Corp. is putting its Appalachian oil and gas business up for sale, the company reported this week. It has about 400 employees in the unit and a regional office in Coraopolis. Chevron controls about 890,000 acres in the Marcellus and Utica shales across Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The Appalachian shale operations contributed to more than half of a massive impairment charge that the company revealed for the fourth quarter. That charge, which writes down the value of assets on Chevron’s books, will be between $10 billion and $11 billion, the company disclosed Tuesday. Chevron burst onto the scene in Appalachia in 2011 with a $4.3 billion acquisition of shale gas firm Atlas Energy Inc. Two years later, it paid $17 million for a stretch of land in Moon Township where the company planned to build a new regional headquarters. In 2014, those plans were put on indefinite hold and never materialized. The following year, the energy giant cut more than 150 positions from its Appalachian division as natural gas prices slumped. Still, Chevron maintained a high profile in the region, working to weave itself into its business and cultural networks. In leaving the region, Chevron follows in the footsteps of other multinationals that tried out the Marcellus and Utica shale regions but moved on in favor of other projects around the globe. Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd bought Pennsylvania Marcellus assets in 2010 only to sell them off for a third of the price in 2017. Noble Energy Inc., a Texas-based firm that also has projects in West Africa and Israel, made a bet on Appalachia with its $3.4 billion joint venture with CNX Resources in 2011. Six years later, it sold its stake in the venture and left this region. Royal Dutch Shell, the Dutch giant whose chemicals subsidiary is building a massive ethane cracker plant in Beaver County, shelled out $4.7 billion for Warrendale-based East Resources in 2010. For years now, its drilling activity in Pennsylvania has been pared down significantly after underwhelming results and asset sales.

Pennsylvania gas-fired power plant's early completion could weigh on power prices — Commercial startup Tuesday of the 1,050-MW, natural-gas fired CPV Fairview Energy Center in Pennsylvania occurred several months ahead of schedule, which could offer downside to PJM Interconnection winter power prices and marginal upside to power burn. Competitive Power Ventures and Osaka Gas developed the $1 billion power plant in Jackson Township near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, that will serve the PJM markets. CPV Fairview Energy Center and Tyr Hickory Run Energy Station totaling 2.1 GW were expected to come online in the first quarter of 2020 and are currently the only combined-cycle gas turbines expected online in 2020, according to a Monday S&P Global Platts Analytics' research note. When operating at full capacity the nameplate heat rate is below 6,500 Btu/kWh, according to Platts Analytics. This heat rate will likely ensure the plant runs at a high capacity factor, offering marginal upside to gas burns in the region and the potential to lower PENELEC zone prices. Considering the high efficiency and anticipated low gas price, Platts Analytics anticipates CPV Fairview could displace some less efficient gas in the region, but a large portion of the coal-fired generation in PENELEC runs self-scheduled at base load. "Thus, the ability for CPV Fairview to influence West Hub price outside of the PENELEC zone will largely be contingent upon how much power can be transferred to major load centers located in Eastern PJM and displace more expensive generation in these regions," Platts Analytics said.

Natural Gas Boom Fizzles as a U.S. Glut Sinks Profits - — A decade ago, natural gas was heralded as the fuel of the future. In shale fields across the country, hydraulic fracturing uncorked a lucrative new source of supply. Energy giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron snapped up smaller companies to get in on the action, and investors poured billions of dollars into export terminals to ship gas to China and Europe. The boom has given way to a bust. A glut of cheap natural gas is wreaking havoc on the energy industry, and companies are shutting down drilling rigs, filing for bankruptcy protection and slashing the value of shale fields they had acquired in recent years. Chevron, the country’s second-largest oil and gas giant after Exxon, said on Tuesday that it would write down $10 billion to $11 billion in assets, mostly shale gas holdings in Appalachia and a planned liquefied natural gas export facility in Canada. The move was an energy company’s clearest acknowledgment yet that the industry has been far too optimistic about the prospects for natural gas. While cheap natural gas continues to take market share from coal in the electricity sector, supply of the fuel has far outstripped demand. As a result, once-booming gas fields in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas have become quiet backwaters. Some analysts said the gas slump could persist for some time because the cost of wind and solar energy has tumbled in recent years, making those renewable sources of energy more attractive to power producers. Nowhere are the declining fortunes of natural gas more in evidence than in Appalachia, where the Marcellus field centered in central and western Pennsylvania was once viewed as the most promising in North America. With gas prices slashed nearly in half from a year ago, the number of drilling rigs operating in Pennsylvania has dropped to 24, from 47, over the last 12 months. EQT, one of the premier producers in the Marcellus, recently cut nearly a quarter of its work force, eliminating 196 positions. That is a far cry from the picture Chevron painted when it acquired Atlas Energy almost exactly 10 years ago for $3.2 billion, while assuming $1.1 billion in debt, cementing its foothold in southwestern Pennsylvania. At the time, George L. Kirkland, then Chevron’s vice chairman, predicted that the “strong growth potential of the asset base and its proximity to premier natural gas markets make this targeted acquisition a compelling investment.” Other energy companies have also acknowledged losses, though not to the same extent. Exxon Mobil wrote down the value of its American natural gas assets by $2.5 billion in recent years after buying the natural gas producer XTO Energy for more than $30 billion in 2010.

Blame Sunspots: Climate Science Denial Continues at Shale Gas Pipeline Industry Conference   Last month, 11,258 scientists from virtually every country in the world published a study on climate change, writing that they collectively declared “clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” Despite this widespread scientific agreement, shale pipeline executives attending this year’s Marcellus Utica Midstream conference last week in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, heard a very different message on the climate.“There's a premise that has now become standard that I don't accept: the idea that we know,” Mark Mathis, president of the Clear Energy Alliance, told the gathered pipeline executives. “For a scientist, for a climatologist to say, 'we know that we're the cause,' okay, 'and the consequences are extreme' — well, we've got these giant natural factors, you know, sun spot activity, oceans, cloud formations, these are all extraordinarily complex things, okay?”“There's a lot that we don't understand,” Mathis continued. “We're just now trying to get our finger on it.” It’s a mantra that’s been heard for decades from fossil fuel advocates — but it’s worn increasingly thin as the world comes to grips with the political and scientific reality of the ongoing climate crisis. The United Nations warned in March that the world has “only 11 years left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.” At the December 3–5 pipeline conference, Mathis called for more study, and falsely claimed that the science does not back up the notion that fossil fuel–burning has caused climate change. For the record, the science does in fact back up the notion that people — mainly by burning fossil fuels — are causing the climate to rapidly warm. Climate scientists have carefully examined the role of the sun and sunspots in climate change, as Marshall Shepherd, director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program and former president of the American Meteorological Society, explains in detail in Forbes. The short version: Scientists have measured the amount of the sun’s energy arriving at the top of our atmosphere since 1978 and have found no rising trend. In fact, a study released the same day that Mathis spoke at the Marcellus Utica Midstream conference found that climate models have proved to be remarkably on point. Even some of the earlier climate models going back to the 1970s, which have been refined and updated in significant ways since, accurately predicted the warming that we’ve seen in the past 40 to 50 years.

New U.S. Energy Secretary Slams NY for Blocking Gas Pipelines (Reuters) - New U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette slammed New York state regulators on Thursday for blocking pipelines that would bring natural gas from Appalachia to New England, but did not specify whether the Trump administration could do anything to push the projects forward. "Certain bad actors are trying to slow job creators and decrease the benefits for consumers," said Brouillette, who succeeds former secretary Rick Perry, a figure in the House of Representatives' impeachment probe who stepped down amid questions about his role in Ukraine. Brouillette said the government must deal with what he called threats to energy delivery. "Due to one state’s extremist policies the entire New England region is cut off from receiving cheaper American natural gas," said Brouilette, who was sworn in by President Donald Trump on Wednesday. Brouillette praised the gas industry which has seen prices pushed toward a 25-year low as it is produced as a byproduct of the shale oil boom. The glut threatens to force energy companies to write off billions of dollars worth of assets. New York State has blocked the construction of several pipelines that would transport fracked natural gas from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania to New England, including Williams Cos Inc's Constitution and Northeast Supply Enhancement and National Fuel Gas Co's Northern Access. During an extreme cold spell early last year, a tanker of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, arrived in the Boston Harbor from a sanctioned facility in the Russian Arctic. The Trump administration blamed the need to import this LNG on New York's policy on the pipelines. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent agency of the Energy Department that oversees pipeline construction, has been battling New York for years on permitting for Northern Access. State regulators have denied that pipeline and others on environmental grounds.

6 more protesters arrested at Weymouth compressor site - — Six people were arrested near the base of the Fore River Bridge on Wednesday as protesters again tried to stop crews from preparing for the construction of a 7,700-horsepower natural gas compressor station fiercely opposed by nearby residents and elected officials. The protests at the edge of the Fore River are escalating as compressor opponents find themselves with fewer legal and political avenues for stopping a project that they say will vent toxic gases into nearby neighborhoods and put the entire region at risk. Last week, as crews were starting to prepare the site, four protesters were arrested, though none were charged. Want news like this sent straight to your inbox? Head over to to sign up for alerts and make sure you never miss a thing. You pick the news you want, we deliver. The protesters arrested Wednesday were Kiki Fluhr, of Weymouth; Andrea Cuetara, of West Roxbury; the Rev. Betsy Sower, of Weymouth; the Rev. Michelle Walsh, of Quincy; Sue Donaldson, of Cambridge; and Carolyn Barthel, of Mendon. They were charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace, but the Norfolk County district attorney’s office asked to have criminal charges reduced to civil infractions in Quincy District Court. The six women were then released from custody and met by supporters who had brought snacks. “I expect there will be ongoing protest at the site,” the Rev. Sower said after her release.

Report finds Vermont Gas pipeline is 'generally' in compliance – – An independent investigator hired by the state found the Addison County natural gas pipeline to be “generally” in compliance with state and federal requirements with a few exceptions. In a report filed Wednesday with the state Public Utility Commission, the investigator confirmed that construction plans for the Addison County natural gas pipeline were not stamped by a professional engineer and that parts of the pipeline under a swamp were not buried as far as required. But the report also says that Vermont Gas “was diligent in their efforts” to comply with state regulators and federal safety regulations, often exceeding those standards.  Three months after the pipeline was completed in April 2017, the state Public Utility Commission began looking into claims that the pipeline was not buried deep enough. The state’s Agency of Natural Resources and Department of Public Service requested last year to expand the investigation into pipeline construction methods and operation.James Dumont, an attorney representing five Monkton and Hinesburg residents who oppose the pipeline, filed a motion in November 2018 to expand the investigation further to assess whether a professional engineer had signed off on the pipeline construction plans.The $165 million pipeline runs 41 miles from Colchester to Middlebury, where natural gas is injected into the company’s smaller, low-pressure distribution lines and carried to customers. The exhaustive report is a critical component for the PUC’s decision, but the investigation is far from over.

 They Built a Life in the Shadow of Industrial Tank Farms. Now, They’re Fighting for Answers. The seventh in an ongoing first-person series by InsideClimate News reporter Sabrina Shankman about the growing fears of residents in South Portland, Maine, as they try to solve a mystery: Are the fumes emanating from the storage tanks of the nation's easternmost oil port harming their kids? The Falatkos spent 14 years renovating their South Portland home to feel just so, with a free library box out front and bird feeders along the side. With four kids, ages 9 to 16, they don't plan on going anywhere—even knowing what they know now. Their idyllic home is in a neighborhood that is sandwiched between two petroleum tank farms, each less than a quarter-mile from their doorstep. The tanks have been there far longer than the Falatkos, but they only recently learned—along with the rest of the city—that some of them were emitting far more dangerous chemicals than their permits allow. These chemicals, called volatile organic compounds, are at the root of a smell that can permeate South Portland. When the air is especially bad, people complain of headaches and say the air stings their noses. Some VOCs, like benzene, are known carcinogens and can contribute to respiratory illness. Others, like naphthalene, can also have neurological impacts. Since the state began monitoring South Portland's air this summer, both have been found at times at elevated levels. When the Falatkos tested their air with state-issued canisters, the samples were among the most alarming gathered in the 12-week study. Now, five monitors are scattered across the city, sampling the air for 24 hours every six days. The Falatkos and other concerned residents worry that the 24-hour monitors are located too far from the tanks to accurately measure their emissions. Many of these people were unknowingly breathing the tank fumes for years. Now that they know that some tanks were in violation of the Clean Air Act, they don't want to waste another minute. At the City Council meeting that night, Maine's state toxicologist would be offering the first insight into the potential health implications of an emissions problem that had, in many ways, rocked the Falatkos' world since the city first learned about it in March.

W.Va. AG Morrisey Files Amicus Brief Urging Supreme Court To Overturn ACP Ruling - A group of 18 states, led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that blocked construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline under the Appalachian Trail.  In an amicus brief filed Monday, Morrisey argued if a December 2018 decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is upheld, the 1,000 miles of federal land along the Appalachian Trail would become off limits to this and other natural gas pipelines and into “a near-impenetrable barrier to energy development.” Last December, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the U.S. Forest Service should not have granted the 600-mile natural gas pipeline a permit to cross under national forest lands, including the Appalachian Trail.  Judge Stephanie Thacker cited Dr. Suess’ “The Lorax” in the opinion and said the agency failed to examine environmental impacts of the project when it issued the approval.  “We trust the United States Forest Service to 'speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,'" Thacker wrote. "A thorough review of the record leads to the necessary conclusion that the Forest Service abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources." The court threw out the pipeline’s right of way for the Appalachian Trail and found that the Forest Service does not have the authority to grant the Atlantic Coast Pipeline approval to cross under it.  The ruling could have big impacts for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s route. Pipeline developer Dominion Energy appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the friend of the court brief, Morrisey and 17 other state attorneys general said, if upheld, the lower court’s ruling could turn all federal trails into barriers to energy development.Environmental groups who brought the case, including Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Sierra Club and others, argue in a brief filed with the Supreme Court that the 4th Circuit’s ruling should stand. In addition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s Appalachian Trail right-of-way, other permits and issues remain unresolved before the project can resume construction.  Oral arguments in the case are set for Feb. 24, 2020.

DEQ: New law won’t slow pipeline project - Amid concerns about the proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline, Virginia lawmakers last year approved a more thorough approval process for natural gas pipelines. But according to state officials, the new law won’t apply to the 7.7-mile expansion of an existing pipeline proposed in Fauquier and Prince William counties because of the timing of the law.  The application for the Williams Partners Southeastern Trail expansion project was filed April 11, 2018 – about three months before the new law went into effect on July 1, 2018 – meaning the new rules won’t apply, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.  “Since the application was submitted prior to the effective date of the statute, neither a Virginia Water Protection permit or an upland 401 water quality certification is required,” said DEQ Director David Paylor in a Nov. 25 letter to the Fauquier Board of County Supervisors. The law requires that new natural gas pipelines greater than 36 inches in diameter receive a state water protection permit and additional water quality certifications, including an individual review of each proposed water-body crossing.The proposed 7.7 mile “Manassas Loop” pipeline is 42 inches in diameter and will cross 20 water bodies in Fauquier and Prince William counties, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s environmental assessment of the project. The local area affected by the natural gas pipeline expansion. The green boxes show existing transcontinental compressor stations. Existing transcontinental pipelines are shown in blue. The red line marked with a 1 shows a new section dubbed the "Manassas Loop." Fauquier Board Chairman Chris Butler said the DEQ’s response is not reasonable, and that the project should go through the permitting process just as it would for any other natural gas pipeline project.  “I think anyone undertaking such a project should have to go through the same process as any other. Stormwater management is a huge issue, as well as disturbance of agricultural land,” Butler, R-Lee, said in an email. “We want to process to be fair to and for everyone.”

North Carolinians battle the $7.5-billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline | Grist – short documentary - Residents living in the rural parts of Eastern North Carolina are no stranger to environmental hazards. Various industries have pinpointed the region — where the environmental justice movement was born — for projects, such as coal ash dumps, liquid fertilizer plants, and concentrated hog farms. Local grassroots activists have fought off many of these efforts. The latest threat?The proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is slated to carry natural gas from West Virginia to near the North Carolina/South Carolina border.

The U.S. Dominates New Oil And Gas Production – Forbes - The American fracking for oil and natural gas boom will continue on through the 2020s. And why not? Since fracking took off in 2008, we have more than doubled our proven oil reserves to ~65 billion barrels. Natural gas reserves have surged over 80% to ~430 trillion cubic feet. Already the largest oil and gas producer, the U.S. is set to increase its share of ~17% of global oil production and ~23% of gas. In the 2020s, the U.S. is set to supply over 60% of new oil and gas (see Figure below).This is according to experts at Rystad Energy, “an independent energy consulting services and business intelligence data firm” based in Norway. Rystad says the U.S. shale industry will continue to mount production even if prices drop. The reality is that oil and gas companies already have. Oil prices have been sliced in half since the triple-digits seen in mid-2014, yet U.S. crude oil production has still jumped over 50% to nearly 13 million b/d. For 2019 alone, the weekly oil rig count has plummeted 25% to 663 rigs as of Friday, yet weekly output has risen another 1.2 million b/d. Natural gas prices have fallen 17% this year and gas rigs are down 34%, yet gas U.S. output has still risen over 10%.As companies focus on “cash flow discipline and free cash flow generation,” Rystad says that even with an 11% reduction in shale oil investments next year, U.S. tight oil production alone will be closing in on 11 million b/d by 2022, up from 9.1 million b/d this month. This jump in shale output comes even as WTI prices fall to $54 in 2020 and 2021. For natural gas, although the associated gas supply coming from the Permian will help keep U.S. prices low, another 10% rise in U.S. shale gas output to above 100 Bcf/d is to be expected over the next two years. This means that we will soon be producing 50% more gas than Russia, just having passed it in 2009. Indeed, Rystad’s bullish outlook for U.S. shale is hardly alone. The Paris-based International Energy Agency reported in November that the U.S. will supply 85% of the new oil and 30% of the new gas through 2030. The current bear oil and gas market will not last forever - nothing ever does. Surviving through the pain of lower pricing, the industry has so sharpened its knife that higher prices will offer drastically easier times.

Natural Gas Rush Drives a Global Rise in Fossil Fuel Emissions - 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. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are also failing to cut emissions fast enough, the report says, as much of their growth has provided new energy supplies instead of displacing fossil fuels. The findings of the study, published Tuesday, support those from other recent studies that found the world is continuing to rely on fossil fuels—including coal—to meet growing energy demand, even as renewable energy sees soaring growth. "Globally, most of the new natural gas being used isn't displacing coal, it's providing new energy. That's the key interaction, and that's true for renewables even," said Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and the report's lead author. "We need renewables that displace fossil fuels, not supplement them." Jackson's paper, published in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, is one of three included in Global Carbon Project's annual update on the global carbon budget.They show that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are expected to grow by 0.6 percent this year. That would be significantly slower than last year, when emissions grew by 2.1 percent. But it would mark the third straight year of growth, after three years of stable emissions. The assessment does not include the methane emissions released by producing and shipping fossil fuels.Each year of growth makes it harder and more expensive to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) from pre-industrial levels.

Challenges remain for bumping up Appalachian NGL demand - Appalachian Basin natural gas producers have long hoped that natural gas liquids demand growth would relieve the pain of low gas prices, but significant roadblocks remain to getting to market the bulk of NGLs produced in the basin. Appalachia's production of NGLs -- including ethane, propane and butane -- has increased significantly in recent years, along with the rise of gas production from the Marcellus and Utica shales. The US Department of Energy projects Appalachian Basin ethane production will surge to 640,000 b/d by 2025, more than 20 times 2013 levels. Historically, ethane sales in the Northeast have been dominated by contracted deals between producers and buyers, driven by the producers' need to recover the ethane in order to bring their gas to within pipeline specifications, according to S&P Global Analytics.  In the next several years, ethane demand is expected to be boosted by in-region petrochemical projects, the largest of which (and furthest along) is a steam cracker being built by Shell in Monaca, Pennsylvania. The 1.5 million mt/year plant, which will crack ethane molecules to manufacture polyethylene used in plastics manufacturing, is expected to add about 100,000 b/d of ethane demand in the region. . Another source for increased ethane demand comes from expansion of existing pipeline projects, such as the recently closed open season on the Appalachia-to-Texas (ATEX) ethane pipeline. Owner Enterprise Products Partners plans to expand the 145,000 b/d pipeline to carry 45,000 b/d of additional ethane to markets in the Gulf Coast region. There are also two pipelines that can transport ethane out of the Appalachian region to Canada, Energy Transfer Partners' Mariner West pipeline and Kinder Morgan's Utopia Pipeline, which together have an export capacity of about 100,000 b/d. A third source of NGL demand pull is expected to come from completion of Energy Transfer's Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2x (ME 2X) pipelines. Platts Analytics projects that Mariner East 2, which is currently in service at a reduced capacity, would deliver 354,000 b/d of ethane, propane and butane to a marine export terminal at Energy Transfer's petrochemical complex in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania.   Platts Analytics does not expect Mariner East 2 and ME 2x to have a significant impact on demand growth as the ethane volumes shipping on the Mariner East system are under long-term contracts and there isn't enough of a spot market for ethane to increase demand for volumes above what is already under contract. The story is different for heavier NGLs, specifically for propane and butane, where the upside potentially is substantial, as netbacks to producers are estimated to be 5 cents to 10 cents/gal higher for exports from Marcus Hook compared with those from the Gulf Coast.

Williams Sees Gulf Coast LNG Exports Driving Atlantic-Gulf Pipeline Expansions - Tulsa-based pipeline giant Williams is expecting robust demand growth on its Atlantic-Gulf corridor natural gas pipelines over the coming years, driven largely by liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, executives said Thursday during the company’s analyst day in New York City.LNG exports are forecast to account for more than half of the 24.4 Bcf/d of demand growth in the United States for the 2018-2025 period, CEO Alan Armstrong said, citing forecasts from Wood Mackenzie.Gas flows to LNG facilities on the flagship Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co. LLC (Transco) pipeline stood at about 2.25 Bcf/d as of November, up from around 0.6 Bcf/d in January 2017. Williams currently delivers about 30% of all LNG feed gas in the United States.Senior Vice President Chad Zamarin, who handles corporate strategic development, said Williams plans to seek to connect gas supply from the Haynesville Shale and Permian Basin to the Transco mainline to meet growing gas demand from LNG exporters on the Gulf Coast.Although the Permian now suffers from a lack of long-haul takeaway capacity, the economics today do not support an investment in a large-diameter, long-distance pipeline from the basin, Zamarin said. Armstrong highlighted that emerging economies will account for the overwhelming majority of energy demand growth between now and 2040, presenting an opportunity for Lower 48 LNG exporters. Williams has a backlog of 19 projects that it is actively pursuing, including eight to transport gas to LNG facilities, seven to serve industrial demand or local distribution companies, and four to transport gas to power generators.The company has $3.2 billion of expansion projects in execution in the Atlantic-Gulf corridor, COO Michael Dunn said.These projects have targeted in-service dates ranging from 2019-2023, and include theNortheast Supply Enhancement (fall 2021), Leidy South (late 2021), Regional Energy Access (4Q2023), and Gateway (4Q2019) expansion projects, which could add about 2 Bcf/d of combined capacity to serve Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.Plays in the Northeast, namely the Marcellus and Utica shales, will continue to be the country’s largest suppliers of gas over the coming years, Zamarin said. He noted there is more than 10 Bcf/d of excess takeaway capacity coming out of the Northeast.

Kinder Morgan's Elba Island LNG poised for first export shipment - All eyes in the liquefied natural gas industry are on Kinder Morgan's Elba Island LNG export terminal in Georgia, where a tanker has docked and observers are waiting to see if it will leave with the facility's first export shipment. Following a two-week voyage from The Netherlands, the Greek-flagged LNG tanker Maran Gas Lindos arrived at the Savannah, Ga., LNG plant on Sunday, data from the tanker tracking website Marine Traffic shows. Kinder Morgan confirmed the arrival of a tanker at the facility but declined to comment further. Citing concerns over commercial confidentiality, Kinder Morgan's commercial partner, the European oil major Shell, also declined to comment.Despite the two companies remaining tight-lipped, observers of the liquefied natural gas industry are waiting to see if Maran Gas Lindos will leave with the facility's first export shipment. Located on an island in the Savannah River, the facility has 10 small-scale liquefied natural gas production units known as trains that, once in operation, will be able to make 2.5 million metric tons of LNG per year. Kinder Morgan began the months-long startup process at the export terminal in February. Crews have been testing the equipment by using natural gas fed to the facility via pipeline for months. The company reported that the plant started commercial service in October, but the facility has yet to send out its first export shipment.

The Disconnect Between Natural Gas - Crude Oil Pricing -- December 9, 2019 - From Rigzone, shale has "de-lined" pricing for natural gas and crude oil:The diversion between oil and gas prices came in 2008-2009. This is right when the U.S. shale oil and gas revolution took off, when the deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies became widespread. So just looking over this century, there have really been two distinct periods for oil and gas: the “pre-shale era” (2000-2008) and the “shale era” (2009-present).   Talk about coincidental. Saturday I pointed out that crude oil is international in scope whereas natural gas is much more regional. Natural gas can be transported long distances, but like crude oil that comes at a cost, and .... well, here is Rigzone again --This is all noteworthy because both U.S. oil and gas production have boomed since 2009. Domestic crude output has risen 150 percent, with gas up 60 percent. The vital difference between these two commodities, however, is that oil is easily transportable and therefore sold on an immense international market with linked prices. For oil consuming nations, outside forces and decisions reverberate around the world. The U.S. shale oil boom is simply not able to shelter the domestic market like shale gas has. Gas remains a regional product with distinct markets: over 70 percent of the world’s oil usage is internationally traded, versus just 30 percent for gas. I also mentioned that I could not imagine the price of natural gas dropping any further. But here is Rigzone again: Looking forward, higher oil prices will generally mean lower U.S. gas prices. That is because of the Permian basin in West Texas, the largest oil field in the world. Higher prices will lead to more oil drilling and more associated gas supply. To illustrate, despite not having a single gas-directed rig in 16 months, the Permian now accounts for almost 20 percent of U.S. gas output. In the reverse, lower oil prices can lift gas prices by lowering gas production. The reality is that gas remains a secondary resource to oil, and its market is just too small to have a material impact on oil prices.

The Disconnect Between Natural Gas - Crude Oil Pricing -- Part 2 -- December 9, 2019 - Link here to part 1. I do not think it is yet widely recognized just how profound - and widespread - are the effects of the divergence of Henry Hub pricing (aka US production) and benchmarks for crude (WTI, Brent, amongst many). Focusing only upon the cost/price impacts on US LNG exports, get a load of these ...

  • Algeria is cutting back on piped gas exports to Europe 
  • Cyprus is mulling over an LNG terminal (FSRU to start) rather than commit to a short, 12 inch pipeline from the nearby Israeli gas field as the ~$5.50/mmbtu LNG price is cheaper than the ~$6/mmbtu price of the piped gas 
  • Singapore is on track to completely end its imports of piped gas from nearby Malaysian and Indonesian fields when contracts expire in 5 years as imported LNG will be substantially cheaper 
  • New, massive Siberian/China gas pipeline may not provide cheaper gas than LNG in southern regions of China due to cost of transportation 
  • Turkey was importing LNG via the world's largest FSRU rather than increasing purchases of Gazprom's piped gas as the LNG was almost 2 bucks/mmbtu cheaper.

One common thread to these developments is that historical pricing for piped gas is tied to indexed crude oil pricing.  As the US-centric Henry Hub pricing continues to maintain a surreal level of rock bottom numbers, traditional LNG or piped gas suppliers are simply getting rocked out of their boots. These players include Australia, Qatar, Algeria, Russia ... virtually any existing or emerging country looking to export natural gas. ... just as political and social factors come into play with oil revenues vis a vis domestic monetary distribution, the natural gas producers are in the same boat. With LNG module fabrication yards in China and Italy affiliated with McDermott, Fluor, BHGE, et al, cranking out ready-to-assemble components ... With small and mid scale operators plunging in with innovations at blinding speed ... It is simply incontestable to state that the global order in the energy world will see upheavals in the coming years unlike anything witnessed in years gone by.

Warmer Weekend Weather Changes Torpedo Natural Gas Prices - Natural gas prices gapped lower Sunday evening, with prompt month prices falling as low as 2.158 before rebounding somewhat, though still closed today just over 10 cents lower than back on Friday.  This also marked the lowest close of the life of the current January contract.
The reason for the leg lower? As is most often the case at this time of the year, the weather is to blame. Our "Pre-Close" update sent out to clients back on Friday highlighted this risk, taking a slightly bearish stance, despite the market having sold off considerably already at the end of last week.  The change wound up even exceeding our expectations, with both the GEFS and the ECMWF EPS showing very large warmer changes compared to the last runs the market saw back on Friday afternoon.  Today's models did bend back marginally colder, but the damage had been done, with the overall pattern over the next couple of weeks now set to average warmer than normal in key areas for natural gas consumption, as seen in our official forecast maps.  While lower prices appear to be contributing to stronger trends in the supply / demand balance, it is not enough to support the market as long as weather stays warmer.  Is this warmer change sustainable, or will this week's models gravitate back toward the colder side?

Weekly Gas Storage: Inventories Decrease by 73 Bcf - Working gas in storage was 3,518 Bcf as of Friday, December 6, 2019, according to EIA estimates. This represents a net decrease of 73 Bcf from the previous week. Stocks were 593 Bcf higher than last year at this time and 14 Bcf below the five-year average of 3,518 Bcf. At 3,518 Bcf, total working gas is within the five-year historical range. All regions except the South Central, and salt count in South Central region experienced a net decrease this week. Stocks in every region except the East, Midwest and South Central nonsalt are below the five-year average.  The Pacific region is the farthest below the five-year average, at 11.5% below the average.

US natural gas storage volume slips by 73 Bcf to 3.518 Tcf: EIA — US working natural gas volumes in underground storage dropped by 73 Bcf last week, decreasing by more than the five-year average for only the second time this heating season, while the remaining NYMEX Henry Hub winter strip made modest gains following the number's release on Thursday morning. Storage inventories fell to 3.518 Tcf for the week ended December 6, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday. The EIA's estimate just missed an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 74 Bcf draw. The survey has missed the estimate by an average of 2 Bcf over the past four weeks. The withdrawal was slightly less than the 75 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2018, but was more than the five-year average draw of 68 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 593 Bcf, or 20.3%, more than the year-ago level of 2.925 Tcf and 14 Bcf, or 0.4%, less than the five-year average of 3.532 Tcf. The draw was much stronger than the 19 Bcf pull reported for the week ended November 29. During the first week of December, population-weighted temperatures across the US dropped 3 degrees. Total demand rose by 8.1 Bcf/d to average 106.7 Bcf/d, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Although the Henry Hub winter strip added several cents following the above-average draw, it remains below the upcoming summer strip. Henry Hub future prices for the balance of the winter dipped below the summer 2020 strip even before peak winter demand starts as supply has outpaced demand by 6.1 Bcf/d so far this winter, doing little to reduce storage inventories, according to Platts Analytics. The balance-of-winter Henry Hub strip last closed at $2.22/MMBtu. Meanwhile, the summer strip, April through October, averaged just higher at $2.23/MMBtu. Even if the US experiences unseasonably cold winter weather in January and February, it will likely not be enough to offset the storage surplus and production gains. The weight of supply will also eventually erode any premium the 2020 summer strip currently holds compared to the balance of winter 19-20 strip. An early forecast by Platts Analytics shows a net withdrawal of 92 Bcf for the week ending December 13, which is 20 Bcf less than the five-year average draw. It would flip the slight deficit to the five-year average to a surplus.

Revised Line 3 Pipeline study addresses potential impact of oil spill on Lake Superior - - A revised Environmental Impact Statement filed Monday states there would be "no risk" to Lake Superior should an oil spill happen from the proposed Line 3 Pipeline Replacement project.The Department of Commerce said it selected the crossing of the Little Otter Creek in the Lake Superior watershed for modeling in the EIS."The Little Otter Creek site was chosen because it is the location in Minnesota where a hypothetical oil release is more likely to enter the St. Louis River (with the potential to reach Lake Superior) than the other options under consideration," a letter to the Public Utilities Commission said."By design the model did not take into account any response, mitigation or cleanup efforts for 24 hours and even then, none of the simulations resulted in oil reaching Spirit Lake or entering Lake Superior even in high flow conditions," Julie Kellmner, an Enbridge spokesperson said.In June, the appeals court ruled the original EIS was inadequate because it failed to "specifically address the potential impact of an oil spill into the Lake Superior Watershed".The revised EIS states the "most significant" environmental effects of the spilled oil in Little Otter Creek would be the potential for effects on fish as concentrations of toxic components of the oil in the water column may be high for short periods of time due to entrainment and dissolution in the turbulent waters located in the rapids, as well as the overflow, of the Fond du Lac Dam. As part of the review process, the Public Utilities Commission is holding a public comment period on the 13,500 page EIS.

Fresh Line 3 review: ‘Unlikely’ any spilled oil would reach Lake Superior  - Minnesota officials have released a revised environmental review of the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline replacement, a step that will restart the regulatory approval process for the oft-delayed, controversial project. The new environmental impact statement, or EIS, completed by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, was revised to include an analysis of the impacts of a potential oil spill into the Lake Superior Basin. The addition was made after the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in June that the EIS needed to consider such a spill. Environmental groups and tribes had sued to try to block the project, arguing, among other things, that the project’s EIS was inadequate. The Court upheld the majority of the environmental review but sent it back to the state commerce department to update it with the additional analysis of Lake Superior. The updated review analyzes a hypothetical oil spill into Little Otter Creek near Cloquet, which eventually flows into the St. Louis River, before tumbling over rapids and waterfalls into Lake Superior. The new analysis found that even with a worst-case spill that released oil for 24 hours into the creek, “it is unlikely that any measurable amount of oil would reach Lake Superior.” Enbridge officials called the release of the revised EIS a very important step forward for the project. The spill analysis, by design, did not include any response from Enbridge or other emergency crews for a 24-hour period. “In reality,” the company said in a statement, “Enbridge crews would respond immediately and aggressively to actively address the spill and begin cleanup.” Line 3 was built in the 1960s, one of five pipelines Enbridge operates that transport oil from Alberta, across northern Minnesota, to its terminal in Superior, Wis. But the line is cracking and corroding and requires regular maintenance. Because of those integrity concerns, Enbridge has reduced the amount of oil it pumps through the pipeline to about half its original capacity. The company has proposed replacing the line with a new one, which would be able to pump nearly 400,000 barrels of additional oil per day, along a new route across northern Minnesota. Environmental and tribal groups have bitterly fought the project for years, arguing it would worsen climate change, and risk spills in sensitive lakes and rivers in northern Minnesota, including land where Native Americans retain rights to hunt, fish and gather wild rice.

Byhalia Connection pipeline would run from Memphis to Mississippi - A nearly 45-mile crude oil pipeline that would run from Memphis to Marshall County, Mississippi, is being proposed by a joint venture of Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corp. The pipeline, named the Byhalia Connection, would connect two existing crude oil pipelines: the Diamond Pipeline that supplies the Valero Memphis Refinery with crude oil and the Capline Pipeline that runs between Illinois and the Gulf Coast. The currently proposed route has the pipeline start near North Rivergate Road in South Memphis. It would then snake south into Mississippi and go east into the Hernando area. The pipeline would then cross Interstate 55 before traveling through DeSoto County and going into Marshall County, south of Collierville. Karen Rugaard, manager of communications and public affairs for Plains All American Pipeline, said the proposed route comes after months of discussions with local leaders and landowners, but added that it could change. Byhalia will hold open houses about the pipeline starting in January.

 An oil spill in the Atchafalaya Basin has been contained, floating boom remains - A containment boom remains at the site of an oil leak from a barge near Butte La Rose that was reported last week. The oil leaked out of a hole in a Thyseen Petroleum barge moored in Bayou Bouillon, a tributary of the Atchafalaya River, according to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. The hole spilled up to 50 barrels, or 2,100 gallons of oil. The leak was reported to authorities on Dec. 2. One dead red-eared slider turtle was collected from the spill site by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The release was secured by pumping the remaining crude oil out of the barge. Containment boom and absorbent boom were placed to contain and collect the spilled product. The oil that was thick enough to be recovered has been collected, but emulsified oil and a sheen remain. The cause of the leak is under investigation, according to the U.S. Coast Guard District 8. Enforcement action is under review, according to LDEQ spokesman Gregory Langley. Dean Wilson, executive director of the environmental group Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, flew over the site of the spill Wednesday. "I think they got it under control," he said. "There’s nothing that we can tell from the air."

Talos Energy goes on $640M buying spree in Gulf of Mexico - The Houston offshore oil and gas producer Talos Energy announced the results of a $640 million buying spree, picking up a slew of assets in the Gulf of Mexico from multiple companies backed by Riverstone Holdings and other private equity firms. Talos, which focuses on both the U.S. and Mexican sides of the Gulf, would acquire substantially all the assets of Houston portfolio companies ILX Holdings and Castex Energy, as well as additional offshore acreage from Dallas-based Venari Resources. Talos said the deals will give the company 19,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day production, as well as multiple exploration prospects. The additions give Talos 72,000 barrels of daily oil equivalent output overall. Houston-based ILX and Castex are both portfolio companies owned by New York-based Riverstone Holdings. Venari Resources is backed by the private equity firms Warburg Pincus, Kelso & Company, Temasek, and The Jordan Company. While Talos is a publicly traded company, its largest owners are Riverstone and the private equity firm Apollo Global Management. Talos plans to pay for the assets through a mix of cash, debt and the issuance of new Talos shares. The deals are expected to close in the first quarter of 2020.

U.S. allows Tellurian to start site prep work on Louisiana Driftwood LNG export plant - (Reuters) - U.S. energy regulators approved Tellurian Inc’s request to start site preparation work at its proposed $27.5 billion Driftwood liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project in Louisiana. The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said on Wednesday that Driftwood could start vegetation clearing and grading, demolition and removal of existing buildings, and dredging of marine berths, among other activities. “With FERC’s approval, we are doing some preliminary work on the site,” Tellurian spokeswoman Joi Lecznar said in an email on Thursday, noting “we have progressed to completing over 27% of our engineering, and we have ordered some equipment in order to prepare for construction.” Driftwood is designed to produce 27.6 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) of LNG or about 3.6 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of natural gas. One billion cubic feet of gas is enough to fuel about 5 million U.S. homes for a day. Tellurian has said it plans to start building the liquefaction plant in early 2020 and produce the first LNG from the facility in 2023.

Another Gulf Coast LNG Project Hits Milestone - One week after announcing a milestone on a Louisiana liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project, McDermott International, Inc. on Monday reported progress on another major liquefaction terminal project in neighboring Texas. Train 1 of the Freeport LNG project has begun commercial operation, McDermott noted in a written statement emailed to Rigzone. A joint venture of McDermott, Chiyoda International Corp. and Zachry Group constructed the train. “The past few months have brought significant accomplishments for Train 1 of the Freeport LNG project – starting with introduction of feed gas in July, first liquid in August, shipment of first cargo in September and now commercial operation,” commented Mark Coscio, McDermott’s senior vice president for North, Central and South America. “Congratulations to the joint venture project team whose commitment to safety and quality has remained strong throughout the project.” Train 1 is the first of three trains that Zachry, McDermott and Chiyoda are working on at Freeport LNG, located on Quintana Island near Freeport, Texas. According to McDermott, the Zachry-led joint venture’s project scope includes three pre-treatment trains, a liquefaction facility with three trains, a second loading berth and a 165,000-cubic-meter full-containment LNG storage tank. McDermott added that trains 2 and 3 are on track to meet previously announced schedules, with first liquid from Train 2 achieved on Dec. 6, 2019, and initial LNG production from Train 3 expected during the first quarter of 2020.

Texas Deepwater Oil Port Project Advances -Enbridge Inc. and Enterprise Products Partners L.P. have agreed to jointly develop and market a deepwater offshore crude oil export terminal capable of fully loading very large crude carrier (VLCC) vessels, Enbridge reported Monday. The companies have signed a letter of intent under which they will finalize an equity participation agreement granting Enbridge an option to purchase an ownership interest in Enterprise’s Sea Port Oil Terminal (SPOT) if SPOT receives a deepwater port license.According to a written statement from Enterprise, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) is reviewing the SPOT application and the project’s construction hinges on obtaining required approvals and licenses. Enterprise also noted the SPOT project would comprise onshore and offshore facilities including a fixed platform approximately 30 nautical miles off the Brazoria County, Texas, coast in approximately 115 feet of water. The company added that SPOT would be designed to load VLCCs at rates of approximately 85,000 barrels per hour – equating to approximately 2 million barrels per day. “This collaboration leverages our jointly owned and highly competitive Seaway system and capitalizes on each of  our capabilities to drive out highly capital efficient export infrastructure for our customers,” Enbridge President and CEO Al Monaco stated. Monaco also noted that Enbridge’s involvement in SPOT will help the company provide its North American light and heavy crude customers with access to the Houston-area refining market and growing global demand.

Natural Gas Flaring Is On The Rise And Texas Is Mostly To Blame | Texas Standard podcast - When there aren’t enough pipelines available, oil and gas companies will burn off the natural gas that comes as a byproduct of oil extraction. The practice is called “flaring,” and the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that it’s growing nationwide. But it’s happening the most in Texas.  Matt Smith is the director of commodity research for ClipperData. He says new data shows that oil and gas companies are burning off over 1% of everything they extract from underground, and releasing it into the atmosphere. “A lot of this natural gas is … coming out of oil wells,” Smith says. “As oil production continues to rise, you’re continuing to get more natural gas, which just isn’t being captured.” What you’ll hear in this segment:

  • – Whether flaring or so-called venting is worse for the environment
  • – Why flaring is so common in Texas
  • – What can be done to reduce flaring

Texas Oil Regulator Defends Flaring, Slams Warren Frack Ban -  One of Texas’ top oil and gas regulators defended the agency’s practice of granting shale producers permits to flare natural gas and slammed proposals by Democratic presidential candidates to ban fracking. The Texas Railroad Commission, which doesn’t actually regulate train traffic, oversees the shale industry in America’s biggest oil and gas-producing state. That includes the controversial practice of flaring, by which producers burn off gas that comes up with their crude oil. The commission has recently attracted criticism for effectively approving every flaring request that comes its way. Pipeline operator Williams Cos. is now suing the agency over its decision to grant a permit to Exco Resources Inc., despite the fact that the producer has the option to connect to a Williams gas pipeline. “That’s a very unique case that we almost never see,” Ryan Sitton, a Republican commissioner at the agency, said on Bloomberg Television Thursday. “All we did was grant a permit for seven months to allow the producer to continue to flare while we try to work this out.”The Railroad Commission has granted almost 7,000 permits to flare or vent natural gas this fiscal year, the most ever and a more than 40-fold increase from a decade ago. Texas, home to the Permian Basin, accounted for just over half of total vented and flared gas in the U.S. last year, the Energy Information Administration said last week. The Texas Railroad Commission has granted almost 7,000 permits this year For more on Texas gas flaring permits, click hereSitton said Williams was asking Exco to pay rates that were “ten times” the market rate for gas pipeline capacity. “We weren’t going to force a producer to pay exorbitant rates,” he said.When asked about proposals from Democratic presidential candidates including Elizabeth Warren to ban hydraulic fracturing, the process by which shale rock is broken apart to release oil and gas, Sitton called it a “political ploy.” “The rhetoric does not match the economics,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to see that.”

Texas on track to complete fewer oil and gas wells in 2019: regulator - (Reuters) - Texas is on track to complete fewer oil and gas wells this year, the state regulator said in a statement on Tuesday, as companies tighten spending to adjust to lower oil prices and a push from investors to focus on returns. The state’s oil and gas regulator has processed 8,629 well completions so far this year, marking nearly a 16% decline versus the same period last year, the Railroad Commission of Texas said. U.S. oil prices have hovered below $60 a barrel for most of the year, prompting many energy firms to cut staff and reduce budgets, even as major oil exporting countries have curbed production. Last week, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies agreed to deepen those cuts by 500,000 bpd to 1.7 million barrels per day through March 2020. Although fewer wells have been completed in Texas this year, U.S. production has continued to surge and is expected to rise another 930,000 bpd next year to average 13.18 million bpd, the EIA said on Tuesday. That is lower than its previous growth forecast of 1 million bpd. Although the rate of U.S. crude production growth is anticipated to slow in 2020 due to a decline in drilling rigs, it is still on pace to set new records in 2019 and 2020. The EIA anticipates that decline to be offset by greater rig efficiency and well productivity, it said on Tuesday. Hydraulic fracturing companies that pump sand, water and other chemicals into the ground to help complete wells have been hard hit by lower activity. Last week, consultancy Primary Vision estimated some 50 hydraulic fracturing spreads left the Permian Basin in 2019.Leading hydraulic fracturing company Halliburton Co has had several rounds of layoffs this year across its North America business, and Pumpco Energy Services, a unit of Superior Energy Services, last week became the latest firm in the oilfield services sector to cut jobs.

Analysis: US oil, gas rig count falls by 4 to 691, Permian totals slide - The number of active US oil and gas rigs tumbled by four to 691 this week, the lowest count since March 2017, with a slowdown in the prolific Permian Basin leading the decline, data from consultants Enverus showed.The Permian lost six rigs, with totals now down 103 since last November, as operators look to tighten budgets and improve drilling efficiencies in a lower-price environment. The bulk of the decline has occurred in the Texas portion of the basin. Still, despite the steep rig falloff, production continues to set new records in the basin, with additional oil and gas growth expected in 2020.With only one month left in the year, 2019 production is forecast to grow a little over 800,000 b/d year over year. In 2020, growth is expected to continue, however, at a slightly slower rate, increasing just shy of 700,000 b/d on year. Natural gas production in the Permian is also forecast to increase from 4.3 Bcf/d in 2019 to 5 Bcf/d in 2020, according to Platts Analytics. During the last wave of quarterly earnings reports, most operators in the Permian either reiterated their existing capital spend guidance or tightened it slightly — a signal that efficiency gains are still managing to offset some of the pressures brought on by a weak price environment and lack of capital infusion. Capital and production efficiencies have proven their worth. A number of producers — including Nobel, Devon, Cimarex, Parsley Energy, Pioneer Natural Resources and Marathon Resources–have managed to not only tighten or meet their budgets, but also increase their production guidance. As with prior quarters, operators continued to budget around the $50/b mark, prioritizing free cash flow generation and increased returns to investors. Some operators, like EOG Resources, already wary about the historical volatility of commodity prices, noted if crude prices improve, they will refrain from growing their guidance further and continue to focus on existing plans. Week over week, US oil and gas fields lost a net total of four rigs from 695 to 691. The Bakken, Marcellus and SCOOP-STACK all added one rig each, while Ohio’s Utica Shale slipped by one to 13.

Oil Company Baker Hughes Commits to 100% Clean Power in Texas - Baker Hughes Co., one of the world’s largest oil-services companies, is pledging to power all its Texas operations with wind and solar. Switching to renewables at more than 170 of the Houston-based company’s facilitates in the state will eliminate 12% of its global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a statement Wednesday. While Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Total SA and other oil giants have begun taking steps to address climate change, Baker Hughes and its peers -- the hired hands of the oil patch -- have largely sat on the sidelines. Baker Hughes now aims to eliminate carbon emissions on a net basis by 2050. The move comes as clean energy has become affordable enough to compete with fossil fuels. That’s especially true in Texas, where oil production is driving up demand for power and wind is the cheapest source available. Exxon Mobil Corp. last year agreed to buy 500 megawatts of wind and solar power in Texas.

US Loses Thousands of Upstream Jobs in November -The U.S. saw a sharp decline in support activities for mining in November, according to data released Friday from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.The U.S. saw a sharp decline in support activities for mining in November, according to data released Friday from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).The BLS, which categorizes oilfield services under “support activities for mining,” reported a loss of 5,700 jobs for the month.The nation added 100 jobs in mining support activities in October, but has experienced declines every other month this year.     Additionally, jobs in oil and gas extraction declined by 800 in November after adding 300 in October.Citing a challenging market environment, several upstream companies have continued to reduce their staff, including natural gas producer Range Resources, shale and gas p roducer Gulfport Energy and frac sand supplier U.S. Silica.   

The company behind the Keystone pipeline shouldn't be allowed to run a gas station at this point --  Of all the many reasons to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline—the continent-spanning death funnel and conservative fetish object—the utter bad faith of TC, the Canadian energy giant formerly known as TransCanada, is right at the top of the list. It is a truism in this shebeen a) that pipelines leak, and b) that, when an inevitable leak happens, the companies that build and own pipelines will lie about it. What many people don’t realize is that TC already owns and operates the Keystone 1 pipeline. Last month, because it is a pipeline and pipelines leak, the Keystone 1 loosed almost 400,000 gallons of oil onto the landscape of North Dakota. And, because it is a pipeline company, TC is now accused of low-balling the extent of the damage. From CNN:Initial reports of the leak released by TC Energy and North Dakota's Department of Environmental Quality estimated about 2,500 square yards of land were affected by the spill. Now, they have both revised the size of the impacted area to 4.8 acres, or 23,232 square yards -- that's almost ten times the original estimate.The new estimate includes both the surface and subsurface impact of the leak. The initial 2,500-square-yard estimate was based on visual observations alone, the company told CNN. "During our initial response to the incident, we immediately sectioned off a larger area (approx. 25,000 square yards) around the visibly impacted section to secure the area, provide for wildlife deterrent and air monitoring purposes," a TC Energy representative told CNN in an email. Despite this initial identification of 25,000 square yards to be blocked off, TC Energy did not update their website to reflect this number until Tuesday -- after media reports of the large increase in impact estimates were released. Honest to blog, enough with these people. There is no reason in the world to allow this company to run so much as a filling station at this point, let alone allow it to build and operate a death-funnel that transports the dirtiest fossil fuel ever discovered through some of the most delicate and valuable farmland on the planet.

Well spills oil in western North Dakota after tank bolt comes off — A vibration in an oil tank apparently caused a bolt to come off and spill more than 20,000 gallons of oil in western North Dakota, the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division said. The spill happened Saturday at a well about 6 miles west of Watford City. Newfield Production Co. reported Sunday that 20,160 gallons of oil was released after an equipment failure at the location. All of the spilled oil has been recovered. The spill was contained by dikes, state Oil and Gas Division spokeswoman Katie Haarsager said. A state inspector has been to the site and will continue to monitor the cleanup and remediation.

Wison Offshore & Marine starts work on Arctic LNG 2 project - Wison Offshore & Marine has begun work on Novatek Arctic LNG 2 project at the Zhoushan yard in China. Wison Offshore & Marine said on Wednesday that the fabrication of Arctic LNG 2 project began on November 29, 2019. According to the company, the module fabrication contract was awarded by Technip France S.A., a wholly-owned subsidiary of TechnipFMC. The French company was awarded an EPC consolidated contract valued at $7.6 billion by Novatek in late July. Novatek, the largest independent natural gas producer in Russia, is the operator of the Arctic LNG 2 project. As for the project, the Arctic LNG 2 project comprises three LNG trains at 6.6 million tons per annum each. Wison’s work scope is engineering, procurement, fabrication, and commissioning of modules in train one with a total weight of 48,000 mt. The project participants include Novatek (60 percent), Total (10 percent), CNPC (10 percent), CNOOC Limited (10 percent) and the Japan Arctic LNG, consortium of Mitsui & Co and JOGMEC (10 percent). It is worth noting that with the continuous support of Novatek, TechnipFMC, Wison achieved first steel cutting ahead of schedule, which might save time and decrease costs during project execution.

Wanted: Fossil fuel whistleblowers -- Monday, December 9, 2019 -- A new campaign seeks to expose climate-related corruption at fossil fuel companies, amid a slate of court battles and media exposés about the industry's accounting of its greenhouse gas emissions and liability for climate change. The National Whistleblower Center's Climate Corruption Campaign, announced this morning, aims to educate potential whistleblowers about laws protecting them. The effort also hopes to help them lawyer up to prosecute companies for fraud, public misinformation campaigns about climate science and other wrongdoing. "Individuals working in the fossil fuel and logging industries with evidence of fraud and other law-breaking in their companies should know that there are safe ways to report crime without losing their jobs," NWC Executive Director John Kostyack said in a statement. "Our campaign will help secure for whistleblowers protections from retaliation and, where feasible, rewards for helping prosecutors win large-scale penalties." The NWC, a nonprofit whistleblower advocacy group, says it's the first sustained effort of its kind. The group has enlisted attorney Sharon Eubanks, who in the early 2000s led the federal government's successful Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) enforcement case against the tobacco industry, to contribute to the whistleblower campaign. Eubanks, who recently joined NWC as chief counsel, testified before a House panel in October, when she drew comparisons between science misinformation campaigns run by Exxon Mobil Corp. and the tobacco industry (Climatewire, Oct. 24). In short, she said Exxon embarked on a decadeslong conspiracy to cast public doubt on climate science, even as its own scientists did work that confirmed the emerging scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions were warming the planet.

‘Major milestone’: US could become a sustained net oil exporter as soon as next year, IEA says  - The International Energy Agency (IEA) believes the U.S. is on track to become a sustained net oil exporter in either late 2020 or early 2021, after briefly achieving this “major milestone” earlier in the year. In September, the U.S. exported 89,000 barrels per day (b/d) more petroleum (crude oil and other petroleum products) than it imported, according to official data published earlier this month. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), an independent entity within the Energy Department, said this was the first time it had happened since monthly records began in 1973. A decade ago, the EIA recorded the world’s largest economy was importing 10 million b/d more petroleum than it was exporting. But, it said long-running changes in U.S. trade patterns for both crude oil and other petroleum products had resulted in a steady decline of net U.S. petroleum imports. “On a historic note, in September, the United States momentarily became a net oil exporter… This is a major milestone on its path to becoming a sustained net exporter, which is likely to be late in 2020 or early in 2021,” the IEA said in its closely-watched report published on Friday. “However, this does not mean that energy independence has been achieved: The United States remains a major crude oil importer.” Energy independence The U.S. surpassed Russia in 2011 to become the world’s largest producer of natural gas and surpassed Saudi Arabia in 2018 to become the world’s largest producer of petroleum, according to the EIA. But, at present, the U.S. still imports a large share of the petroleum it consumes and relies on those imports to help meet demand.

Trump Offers Hunter Biden Job In Energy Department Based On Oil Industry Experience —Touting his impressive record of serving on the board of a notable natural gas company, President Donald Trump offered Hunter Biden a job in the U.S. Department of Energy Monday based on his experience in the oil industry. “Given his unparalleled background in this sector, I am pleased to have Hunter Biden joining the Energy Department as the new Deputy Secretary for the Office of International Affairs,” said Trump, explaining that Biden’s long list of contacts with major Eastern European petroleum firms would be indispensable in promoting the administration’s interests as they pursue energy contracts abroad. “Hunter grew up in politics, so he’s primed for the job, and he came very highly recommended by several big-time energy executives. He’s a really great guy who knows how to get things done in this business. Hunter will start tomorrow, getting right to work securing the best deals possible for the American people.” At press time, Trump nominated Hunter Biden to replace a retiring Rick Perry as energy secretary at the end of the year.

CP Rail train hauling crude oil derails east of Saskatoon --A section of Highway 16 east of Saskatoon is closed after a train derailment and fire early Monday morning.Canadian Pacific Railway said the train hauling crude oil derailed west of Guernsey, Sask., at around midnight and no injuries were reported. Officials have not said how many cars were involved or how many caught fire but said there are no evacuations at this time. Truck driver Ken Popadynec drove by the crash shortly after it happened.   “The flames, like it was so thick, I couldn’t see my headlights. It was so thick.”  Melanie Loessl was woken up by firefighters knocking on her door to advise her of the derailment and warn she may have to evacuate.  She then received a call from her daughter who lives down the road and right across from where the train derailed. Loessl went to her home and watched as flames and smoke rose into the sky.“We couldn’t believe it,” she said. “We were thinking, ‘what if those other rail cars are going to blow up?'”Loessl was unable to leave her home as she was trapped behind the blockade.“The whole field across from our yard is full of trucks and campers and backhoes and bulldozers.”  CP said emergency and hazmat crews were sent to the scene to work with local first responders to minimize the impact on the surrounding area.There is no impact on any local waterways, a CP spokesperson said.  Humboldt RCMP said the highway between Guernsey and Plunkett is closed until further notice due to a lack of visibility from the fire.

 1.5 million litres of crude oil spilled in Saskatchewan CP train derailment -- The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released new details regarding the Canadian Pacific Railway train derailment near Guernsey, Sask.  The train originated in Rosyth, Alta., — right next to Hardisty, which is home to a large oil storage and terminal facility — and was destined for Oklahoma.It was heading east and travelling at about 70 kilometres per hour when it derailed just after midnight on Monday.TSB said Wednesday its preliminary examination suggests 19 of the 34 cars that derailed lost its entire load, releasing an estimated 1.5 million litres of crude oil into the ground and atmosphere.The spill became engulfed in fire, which burned for approximately 24 hours.“A more precise determination of the tank car damage and the amount of product released will be made as product is recovered and the investigation progresses,” the TSB said in a statement.It noted the findings are preliminary and subject to change. The TSB said the derailed cars included a mix of Class 117R and CPC-1232 Class 111 tank cars.   Class 117R cars are an upgraded version considered to have improved safety features over the cars that were involved in the 2013 fatal explosion and fire in Lac Megantic, Que.The TSB website says in 2015, Transport Canada announced that Class 111 tank cars (including the CPC-1232 tank cars) in flammable liquid service would be gradually phased out.No waterways appear to be affected, and no injuries were reported. The Ministry of Environment was monitoring the air quality and did not issue any advisories.Ongoing work continues as the TSB sent six investigators to the site, where they continue to examine mechanical and track components. Guernsey is roughly 115 kilometres east of Saskatoon.

Thunberg Urges NO and CA to Wind Down Production-- Greta Thunberg and 15 other youth climate activists urged Norway and Canada to wind down their oil and gas production, which they said violates children’s rights around the world. In letters to the prime ministers of both countries, the campaigners contrasted their self-professed roles as international leaders in the fight against climate change against their planned increase in fossil-fuel production, according to a statement from law firm Hausfeld LLP, which represents the petitioners. Higher output breaches commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the activists said. It’s not the first time Thunberg, 16, has gone up against Norway, which neighbors her native Sweden. In October, she criticized the Scandinavian countries’ emissions record, and cited Norway’s oil policies as one of the reasons for rejecting the Nordic Council Environment Prize. “Norway must honor its responsibilities to children everywhere,” Thunberg and the 15 other activists said in the letter to Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. “It must demonstrate how a major fossil fuels producer and exporter can transition away from these pollutants, blazing a trail for other fossil fuel-reliant economies to follow.” The same 16 petitioners, including children from Nigeria, the U.S. and the Marshall Islands, filed a legal complaint with the UN in September against France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey for not doing enough to tackle climate change. Their latest missives coincide with the UN’s COP25 meeting in Madrid, where Thunberg arrived last week after sailing back across the Atlantic following her trip to the UN Climate Climate Action Summit in New York in September. Norway is western Europe’s biggest oil and gas producer. After three years of decline, its crude production is set to surge next year following the start of the giant Johan Sverdrup field in the North Sea. Output will then drop again from the middle of the next decade. Canada, which has the world’s third-biggest proven oil reserves, pumped more than OPEC’s second-biggest contributor Iraq in 2018, according to BP Plc data. The North American nation’s energy regulator expects crude output to grow by almost 50% by 2040.

Mexico’s Giant Oil Find May Not Be Cure-All for Ailing Pemex - Even as Mexico’s president and Petroleos Mexicanos’s CEO touted the country’s most important find in three decades, it appears to be far from a panacea for the beleaguered state driller. Pemex called the Quesqui deposit -- which is believed to contain 500 million barrels of proven, probable and possible, or 3P reserves -- the most important discovery since 1987. Another onshore field Ixachi discovered during the previous administration was touted as the largest find in 25 years, with some 1.3 billion barrels of 3P reserves. The discovery -- of very light oil, or condensate, and natural gas -- is a welcome development for the beleaguered state driller that has experienced almost 15 years of output declines and has about $100 billion in debt, the highest of any oil company. But one analyst cautioned against over-optimism at this point. “Productivity-wise, it seems to be smaller than Ixachi,” said Pablo Medina, vice president of Welligence Energy Analytics, an energy consultant. “There hasn’t been a development plan submitted for it, so it’s too early to talk about reserves based off one single well.” The field is expected to reach 69,000 barrels a day of oil production and 300 million cubic feet of gas production next year, Pemex said in a statement on Friday. Pemex is drilling another delineation well and the volume could increase by as much as 200 million barrels, Pemex’s Chief Executive Officer Octavio Romero Oropeza said in a press conference with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday. Turnaround Struggle Pemex has been struggling to turn around production declines and revamp its refineries to make the country more self-sufficient, a major goal of the administration. The company said that oil output will reach 1.778 million barrels a day by the end of December, up from 1.712 million at the start of the month -- but still down by half since 2004. In June, Fitch Ratings Inc. cut Pemex’s bond rating to junk, and the company could face a fresh downgrade by another credit agency. The find could help Pemex’s credit rating by boosting reserves, according to Romero. Mexico will incorporate an additional 500 million barrels of proven reserves next year, bringing the total to 7.5 billion barrels, he said.

Public Opposition is 'Root Cause' of Fracking Failures in UK – Government Report - Industry and government blamed public opposition to fracking for the slow progress of the UK shale gas industry, according to a secret official report finally released. The document, prepared by civil servants for 10 Downing Street in 2016, was disclosed to journalists from Greenpeace’s Unearthed after a 22-month Freedom of Information campaign. It is heavily redacted. 34 of the 46 pages are completely blacked out. Only the front page has no redactions and says: “No part of this report or its appendices is to be released under the Freedom of Information Act”. But the document does reveal industry frustration at what was seen as barriers to shale gas. It is also clear that government was willing to take many steps to speed up fracking. Based on interviews with 28 representatives of industry and government, the report concluded that progress had so far been slow: “Industry and government agree that the root cause for this is the current low public acceptance of shale, which drives a set of more practical barriers”. It said public opposition was driven by “concerns re: local quality of life and safety, environmental protection, crowding out of renewables.” The document, prepared by the Implementation Unit in the Cabinet Office, looked at how these barriers could be overcome. Most of the recommendations are redacted. But those that remain indicate that government saw public acceptance as a communications issue. It acknowledged that “public acceptability concerns may remain at least until several wells fracked w/out [without] incident.”

Shell shuts unit at Pernis oil refinery after crude spill (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell said on Monday it had shut a unit at its Pernis oil refinery in the Netherlands after a crude spill a day earlier. Shell did not specify the unit concerned, but industry monitor Genscape said the 200,000 barrel per day (bpd) crude unit (CD6) was shut on Monday morning. Genscape said one of the furnace stacks of the cogeneration unit was also shut on Monday morning. Shell did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The refinery is Europe's largest and has a capacity to process 404,000 bpd of crude. 

As Winter Comes, Pipeline Wars Heat Up - For all of 2019, December has been a magnet. A number of major geopolitical issues come to head this month and many of them have everything to do with energy. This is the month that Russian gas giant Gazprom was due to finish production on three major pipeline projects – Nordstream 2, Turkstream and Power of Siberia. It is only Nordstream 2 that continues to lag behind because of insane levels of pressure from the United States that is dead set against this pipeline coming online. And the reason for that is the last of the major energy issues surrounding Gazprom needing resolution this month, the gas transit contract between it and Ukraine’s Naftogaz. The two gas companies have been locked in legal disputes for years, some of which center on Crimea’s decision to break away from Ukraine and rejoin Russia in 2014. Most of them, however, involve disputes over costs incurred during the previous and expiring gas transit contract.  Ukraine has sued Gazprom in courts, like in Sweden, that rule not by the tenets of contract law but rather through the lens of social justice. These have been political decisions that allowed Naftogaz to seize Gazprom’s European assets, further complicating any resolution to the conflict. These policies were pursued aggressively by former Ukrainian President and long-time US State Department asset Petro Poroshenko and they have done nothing to help Ukraine. All they have done is strip-mine the country of its assets while keeping a war to prevent the secession of the Donbass alive.  Opposition to Nordstream 2 in the US is all about leveraging influence in Ukraine and turn it into a client state hostile to Russia sharing a border with Russia. If there’s no gas transit contract and there’s no Nordstream 2 then US LNG suppliers can sell gas there and deprive Russia of the revenues and the business. It’s truly that simple. But that strategy has morphed over the years into a convoluted chess match of move/countermove in the vain hope of achieving something that looks like a victory. But this isn’t a game of real chess but rather a timed match. Because the end of 2019 was always coming. And Ukraine would eventually have to decide as to which direction it wanted to go. Moreover, that same choice was put in front of the EU who have clearly, in the end, realized that the US under President Trump is not a long-term reliable partner, but rather a bully which seeks its goals through threat and intimidation. Stay with the US or green light Nordstream 2. The choice in Europe was clear. Nordstream 2 gets finished, as Denmark finally granted the final environmental permit for its construction in October.

US to impose sanctions on companies involved in European Nord Stream 2 pipeline - The US House of Representatives adopted sanctions by a large majority on Wednesday against firms involved in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The firms and their managers are threatened with the withdrawal of their visas and the freezing of their wealth in the United States. Nord Stream 2 connects Russia directly with Germany across the Baltic Sea. From there, the gas is distributed by land to other European countries. The pipeline runs parallel to Nord Stream 1, which has been in operation since 2011, doubling its capacity from 55 billion to 110 billion cubic metres. Germany currently uses almost 90 billion cubic metres of gas per year. The Turkish Stream pipeline, which runs from southern Russia across the Black Sea to Turkey, is also impacted by the sanctions. However, the laying of that pipeline, against which the sanctions are directed, has already been completed. Nord Stream 2 is also largely complete. Over 1,000 of 1,230 kilometres of pipeline have already been laid. Half of the €10 billion cost is being covered by Russia's Gazprom, while the other half is divided among the five European companies, OMV, Wintershall Dea, Engie, Uniper, and Shell. The German government also supports the project. Both parties in the US Congress backed the sanctions, which were introduced by Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. It was adopted by 377 votes to 48 within the framework of the $738 billion military budget, the largest in the country's history.   Trump is expected to sign it into law by the end of the year. Nord Stream 2 has long come under criticism in Eastern Europe and the United States. American politicians have accused Germany of making itself dependent on Moscow, strengthening Russian President Vladimir Putin, and weakening Ukraine, which until now has been the main transit country for Russian gas, allowing it to cash in on high transit charges and use its control of pipelines to apply political pressure. Poland and the Baltic states also oppose Nord Stream 2 because they fear Germany and Russia reaching an accommodation at their expense. The German side rejects this, claiming that Nord Stream 2 is essential for its own and Europe's energy independence. They also accuse the United States of trying to drive up gas prices so as to be able to supply Europe with expensive American liquified natural gas (LNG). The importance attached to the project by Germany is shown by the fact that former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has served as a member of the Nord Stream supervisory board for 14 years, formally as a Gazprom representative. German political and business figures angrily denounced the sanctions and sharply criticised the United States. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared that Europe's energy policy “will be decided in Europe, not in the United States. We are opposed in principle to external interventions and extraterritorial sanctions.” The head of the German-Russian Chamber of Foreign Trade (AHK), Matthias Schepp, urged the German government to take counter-measures.

Gas flaring remains issue for Russia - While the Russian government is looking for ways to fulfill the aims of the Paris Climate Accord, further support for the petrochemical industry may help tackle one of Russia’s most pressing ecological issues – flaring of gases associated with oil extraction. Associated petroleum gas (APG) is a byproduct of oil exploration. When there is no strong commercial case or enough incentives to bring the gas to market, petroleum producers simply flare it, releasing residual methane and toxins into the atmosphere. Flaring is therefore in essence an economic waste that is harmful to the environment.  Large amounts of burned gas cause major ecological harm. Visible from space, flaring produces large amounts of black carbon that can travel thousands of kilometers. Even when located far from populated areas, it still carries risks of increased rates of asthma and various respiratory problems, as well as posing threats to the environment, including accelerated ice melting due to temperature increases. Although the practice has been in decline since 2004, it is still considered routine throughout oilfields worldwide in the absence of adequate infrastructure to utilize and transport the APG. Recent data via satellite imaging showed the volume of burned-off gas increased globally by 3% to 145 billion cubic meters between 2017 and 2018, which is equivalent to the annual gas consumption of Central and South America. Despite being a global phenomenon, four nations are alone responsible for almost half of all flared gas. Data from the World Bank show that Russia is responsible for 15%, Iraq and Iran 12%, and the United States 10%. Last year the United States contributed the biggest share of the increase of gas flaring. Driven by booming oil production in Texas and North Dakota and recovery from the slump of the previous years, gas flaring in the US spiked by more than 7%, marking the largest shift of all other major flaring countries. Despite efforts to curb gas flaring, the practice continues to tick up. Russia, considered the global leader in APG flaring, has contributed to recent declines, marking a shift toward improving energy efficiency and stricter legislation. However, it’s unclear whether it can sustain decreases in the future.

UK judge blocks Nigerian courts oil spill damages order against Shell - Royal Dutch Shell Plc units won a U.K. ruling preventing London courts from enforcing a $516 million Nigerian judgment for damages caused by an oil spill half a century ago. Judge Jason Coppel on Thursday overturned an attempt to carry over a 2010 ruling by a Nigerian court to the U.K., saying that those proceedings were unfair because Shell was denied an opportunity to present a defense. Shell’s Nigerian units have been beset by lawsuits, many of them in U.K. courts, for their part in oil spills on the Niger Delta. The oil conglomerate has often sought to transfer the cases to Nigeria, with one even going to the U.K. Supreme Court to decide its jurisdiction. Thursday’s case originated from a claim brought in 2001 by the Ejama-Ebubu community. They claimed that an oil spill by Shell had made their water sources unfit for human consumption. Shell disputed responsibility for the spill and said it had made substantial progress clearing it up. After nine years of wrangling, in which Shell was alleged by a Nigerian judge to have tried to frustrate proceedings, the court awarded the community the damages plus interest, which by that time had increased the award to more than 10 times its initial value of 33 million pounds. Shell appealed to the Nigerian Supreme Court, initially having their application dismissed. A further hearing is due to take place in January. Meanwhile, the claimants had the original Nigerian award registered in London using a century-old law, allowing the U.K. courts to enforce the award if necessary. Thursday’s judgment sets aside the registration, preventing its enforcement in the U.K. Nicholas Ekhorutomwen, a lawyer for that Ejama-Ebubu community, said they were “disappointed” with the decision and would appeal.

Australia to appear before United Nations - On August 21, 2009, the Montara-H1 well blew out on the wellhead platform. An uncontrolled spill continued pumping up to 2,000 barrels of oil per day into the Timor Sea until November 3, after a relief well was drilled and the leak stopped. The blowout caused the worst oil spill in the history of Australia's offshore oil and gas industry. Overnight prominent international barrister Monica Feria-Tinta from Twenty Essex chambers announced she had brought a human rights claim against the Commonwealth of Australia on behalf of 13 communities from West Timor, Indonesia. The claim against Australia was filed in Geneva and formally lodged with the United Nations Special Rapporteurs to Australia on Wednesday last week. The communities argue the leak from the Montara wellhead platform not only damaged the environment, but the health and livelihoods of fishers and seaweed farmers from 13 regencies in West Timor. "As instructed Counsel leading the case, I prepared the complaint and filed it on behalf of 13 regencies of West Timor and East Nusa Tenggara," Feria-Tinta told Energy News in a statement. "It is a ground-breaking ‘diagonal' human rights claim, set to create an important precedent on reparation for transboundary harm," she said. The basis for the claim draws on findings from the 2010 government Montara Commission of Inquiry report. The report found evidence that "hydrocarbons entered Indonesian and Timor Leste waters to a significant degree." Feria-Tinta will argue that Australia's federal government ignored the West Timor and East Nusa Tenggara communities affected by the spill, allowing extensive environmental damage and communities to suffer economic losses due to the spill. Specifically the claim alleges that Australia broke international law by not preventing cross-border human rights risks. Articles on Prevention of Transboundary Harm from Hazardous Activities were adopted by the International Law Commission at its fifty-third session, in 2001. "A key principle in that area is the principle that " polluter pays". The applicable law also crucially includes international human rights law which entails the right to a healthy environment,"

Oil Market Report - December 2019 – Analysis – IEA – Highlights: Global oil demand increased by 900 kb/d y-o-y in 3Q19, the strongest annual growth in a year. Nearly three-quarters of the growth occurred in China. Indian demand rose 135 kb/d, but OECD deliveries fell for the fourth straight quarter and are expected to decline 75 kb/d overall in 2019. For 2019 and 2020 we have left unchanged our global oil demand growth forecasts at 1 mb/d and 1.2 mb/d, respectively. Faced with potential oversupply in early 2020, OPEC+ countries agreed to deepen existing cuts to 2.1 mb/d in 1Q20. This implies a reduction in supply of 500 kb/d from current levels. Despite the additional curbs and a reduction in our forecast of 2020 non-OPEC supply growth to 2.1 mb/d, global oil inventories could build by 0.7 mb/d in 1Q20. In November, global oil supplies held steady at 101.36 mb/d, down 1.2 mb/d y-o-y. The sharp drop in refining margins in November in all markets revealed the delicate balancing act between global crude oil and product markets. Labour strikes in November in several countries were factors in the downward revision to our 4Q19 throughput forecast, now expected to be flat y-o-y. In 2020, refining throughput growth is also revised down to 1 mb/d, after a 0.2 mb/d decline in 2019. OECD commercial stocks drew 32.5 mb in October to 2 904 mb. They were 2.9 mb below the five-year average and covered 60.6 days, one day below the average. Preliminary data for November showed total inventories falling in all regions, by 23.5 mb. Short-term floating storage of crude oil fell 2.1 mb in November to 62 mb. The number of Iranian VLCCs used for floating storage decreased by one to 26. ICE Brent futures rose above $64/bbl following the OPEC+ meetings. Physical markets appear to have tightened with steeper backwardation for both North Sea Dated and Dubai, and rising differentials for many crudes, particularly sweet grades. Product cracks eased, with the exception of naphtha which was boosted by petrochemical demand. HSFO cracks continued to be pressured by the IMO regulations and fell to record lows.

China November crude oil imports hit record high as refiners race to use up quotas - (Reuters) - China’s crude oil imports hit a record high on a daily basis in November, as refiners operated at high run rates to use up annual import quotas. The world’s top oil buyer imported 45.74 million tonnes of crude, equivalent to 11.13 million barrels per day (bpd), according to data released by the General Administration of Customs on Sunday. That compared with 10.72 million bpd in October and 9.61 million bpd in November last year. For the first 11 months of 2019, China brought in a total of 461.88 million tonnes, or 10.09 million bpd, up 10.4% from the same period last year, the data showed. As the year draws to a close, private refineries, known as teapot refiners, are ramping up output to use up their crude import quotas for the year in order to be able to apply for more quotas next year. State-backed oil refiners, meanwhile, have maintained stable throughput levels. Looking ahead, Sinopec’s Maoming refining plant has scheduled an overhaul in December, but two mega-refineries - Zhejiang Petrochemicals and Sinopec’s Zhanjiang refinery - are expected to start purchasing more crude in December to prepare for a ramp-up in their operations. Customs data showed that China sold 7.31 million tonnes of refined oil products overseas in November, up 63.5% from a year earlier. Exports for the first 11 months were 60.22 million tonnes, up 14.2% from the same period last year. Total natural gas imports, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) and pipeline, in November rose 3.3% from the same period last year to 9.45 million tonnes, customs data showed.

China's crude imports, fuel exports, are as vital as OPEC+ cuts: Russell (Reuters) - China’s record imports of crude oil in November underscore both the challenges and risks facing OPEC and its allies as they attempt to drive prices up by deepening output cuts. The market often focuses on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including top exporter Russia, because the group holds regular meetings that capture the attention of the media and allow for considerable commentary over what the group is planning. A case in point was the OPEC+ group’s decision at its Dec. 6 meeting in Vienna to deepen output cuts by 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), with number one exporter Saudi Arabia leading the way by trimming an additional 400,000 bpd more than its quota. What receives less attention is the fact that for 2019 the demand side of crude oil is almost entirely a China story. China’s imports of 11.13 million bpd in November were a record high on a daily basis, and brought imports for the first 11 months of the year to 10.09 million bpd, up 10.4% from the same period in 2018. With 11 months of the year completed, China’s imports are running at about 957,000 bpd more than for the same period last year. Given that the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts total global oil demand to increase by about 1 million bpd for 2019, it’s clear that without China’s ravenous crude appetite, the demand side of the equation would be extremely weak. The new OPEC+ measures mean the total output cut from the group, which accounts for about 40% of world’s crude production, is 1.7 million bpd, and potentially higher with the extra Saudi commitment. The move, if successfully implemented, will tighten the global crude oil market, but doubts remain as to whether prices will move substantially higher, or whether what OPEC+ is effectively doing is putting a floor on how low the price can fall.

China Sets Up National Pipeline Company-- China announced the creation of its long-planned national oil and gas pipeline company, officially kicking off one of its biggest energy revamps aimed at helping supply keep pace with swelling demand. The move marks a “key step” in China’s efforts to deepen reforms of its oil and gas sector, the official Xinhua News Agency said Monday. The government will merge the networks operated by its three state-owned giants under a single company, an important step toward removing barriers that have hampered domestic production, and which dovetails with efforts to use more gas instead of coal. A main development to watch is the valuation of assets, said Neil Beveridge, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. It may take six to nine months for that detail to emerge, based on a similar reform of telecom carriers in 2015 that created China Tower Corp., Beveridge said. The pipeline company’s creation has been considered since at least 2014 and is part of President Xi Jinping’s drive to streamline industrial capacity among state-owned enterprises. The government is seeking to spur wider natural gas distribution and upstream exploration by shifting ownership from competing producers into a single operator, which can make decisions based on overall national energy needs. The reform is also designed to help smaller private or foreign firms, which have found access to infrastructure blocked or prohibitively expensive. With the assets stripped from the hands of the big three state firms, other companies can gain access and move supply to where it’s needed.

China Quietly Ramps Up Oil Production In Iran - The supergiant Azadegan oil field, comprising major north and south sites, is as important to Iran’s overall strategic plan to survive the current sanctions environment and to prosper when they are lifted as the flagship South Pars supergiant gas field and the added-value products of its petrochemicals sector. Last week Iran’s Petroleum Engineering and Development Company (PEDEC) announced that five new development wells and an appraisal well are to be spudded in North Azadegan to maintain current production levels. understands from various senior energy sources in Iran that this is only part of the picture, with much bigger plans having been agreed for rollout in the coming six months with the help of China and Russia.  Located around 80 kilometres west of Ahvaz, close to the Iraqi border, the entire 900 square kilometre Azadegan field is the third-largest hydrocarbon reserve in the world after the Ghawar oil field in Saudi Arabia and the Burgan oil field in Kuwait. Its total reserves are estimated at about 42 billion barrels of oil, with around 7 billion barrels currently deemed recoverable. The first exploration well was drilled in 1976 but, despite its potential, a long lead time across the four main layers – Sarvak, Kazhdomi, Godvan, and Fahilan – of the site has meant that the pace of production has been slower than at many neighbouring fields, especially those over the border in Iraq.  A key reason for this was the attitude of Chinese firms active in Iran around that time, which can be broadly characterised as doing the minimum necessary to generate some oil flows from the fields back into China whilst not spending too much money. This attitude, though – particularly when Iran was already in the process of negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the run-up to its being agreed in 2015 – resulted in the National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC) cancelling China National Petroleum Corp’s (CNPC) contract to develop Phase 11 of the South Pars natural gas field in 2013. A year later – with CNPC having drilled only 7 of the 185 wells it had planned at the South Azade­gan field - the NIOC also cancelled this development contract with the Chinese company as well. As it stands, with CNPC still the key foreign developer at North Azadegan, the relationship dynamic between Iran and China has shifted again. With re-imposed U.S. sanctions still in place, Iran cannot afford to alienate China and over the past few months has offered it extremely advantageous deals to return to previous developments or to take on an even greater role in existing ones. The most notable of these have been South Azadegan and Phase 11 of the supergiant South Pars non-associated gas field, although others are in the offing.

OPEC+ finalizes deal to cut 500K additional barrels -- OPEC and Russia agreed Friday to a stronger-than-expected deal to further scale back oil production and help offset an oncoming glut of new crude flowing from Texas shale and other non-OPEC countries. The surprisingly deeper cutbacks, led by Saudi Arabia, are designed to keep crude prices from plunging below $50 per barrel and could help prop up a struggling Houston energy sector that has shed jobs and cut costs all year. The U.S. benchmark for crude oil jumped to nearly $60 a barrel Friday — its highest level since September missile attacks in Saudi Arabia — and settled at $59.20 a barrel. “It’s also a good day for our friends in Oklahoma and Texas,” said Saudi Arabia’s new energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, after announcing the pact. On paper, the deal follows the broad strokes of the agreement outlinied earlier week, bascially deepening the production cuts to 1.7 million barrels a day from 1.2 million at least through March. But what sent oil prices leaping was a commitment by Saudi Arabia to hold production some 400,000 barrels a day below its quota of 10.14 barrels a day and similar commitments by previous quota violators such as Russia, Iraq and Nigeria to make additional cutbacks and comply with the agreement. Ultimately, any long-term gains for oil prices will depend on the Organization of the Petroluem Exporting Countries and its allies, collectively known as OPEC+, following through with their promises and working to balance oil supply and demand through the entirety of 2020, said Jamie Webster, senior director at Boston Consulting Group’s Center for Energy Impact in Washington, who attended the OPEC meetings in Vienna. “The proof will be in the pudding though with how many barrels they actually take off,” Webster said.

OPEC's Decision To Cut Production Is A Risky One, Here's Why - OPEC and Russia delivered an agreement to cut oil production by a total of 500,000 barrels per day for in the first quarter of 2020. According to new production quotas, which were released on OPEC’s website, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf oil producers will shoulder most of the cuts, with Saudi Arabia committing to cut even more that its quota. This will be a real test the power of OPEC+ in the current market, and in particular, whether the cartel can instigate a durable price bump. In a market primarily concerned with global economic weakness, lagging demand growth and high production from North American shale oil, this was a risky move by member nations. Evidence has indicated that the market might be unwilling to respond to such production cuts in the sustained fashion OPEC producers desire.Market response to OPEC’s headlines has been fairly muted so far. Brent traded up a little over 2% after the cut was announced but then lost half of the gains in a short period. If today’s decision fails to sustain a higher price for oil, it will be seen as a desperate move by a weak organization. OPEC and OPEC+ will have trouble convincing the market to pay attention the next time they act. It was a particularly risky move to make at this juncture because this is a large enough cut that OPEC and Russia hope it will influence the market, but, given the institutional cheating, the cut seems unlikely to be able to make a real difference in global oil output. Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, gamely tried to convince the media, analysts and market watchers that over-producers would curb their production inline with their agreed upon quotas. Both the Nigerian and the Iraqi oil ministers spoke directly about their intentions to cut production. Nigeria said that as November ended its production was in completely compliance. “Our production is at OPEC cut levels,” the Nigerian oil minister said. “Going forward we are still very committed.”

Saudi Arabia Faces Trouble Making New OPEC Oil Deal Stick - Like so many in the past, the latest deal by the world’s major oil producing countries to reduce supply and boost prices relies on persuading the cheats to adhere to the output cuts they’ve agreed to. I don’t hold out much hope that they will change their behavior and that will leave Saudi Arabia with a choice between two bad options — continue to bear a disproportionate share of the burden, or open the taps to teach them a lesson. Saudi Arabia’s new oil minister Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman brought a quasi-religious language to his attempt to bolster a new output deal ahead of Friday’s OPEC+ gathering in Vienna. “Like religion, if you are a believer you have to practice. Without practice you are an unbeliever.” “I do not assume that anyone here in the room is an unbeliever, but I would reiterate to our friends that further commitment and further conformity would allow us all to benefit.” That message was very clearly directed at Iraq and Nigeria — the members who have so far failed to meet their obligations under the existing deal — although he stopped short of naming them. The new output target for Saudi Arabia — 9.744 million barrels a day — means that it is once again bearing the lion’s share of the burden. From an almost identical starting point, Russia is cutting about a third of that amount. But this time, while the kingdom is dangling the carrot of deeper, unilateral output cuts, it is also brandishing a big stick. The agreement, which comes into effect on Jan. 1, will be reviewed in early March and, to quote the post-meeting press release, “is subject to full conformity by every country.” The straightforward mathematics of oil deals leaves members with nowhere to hide. Saudi Arabia could turn a blind eye, as it has in the past. But that doesn’t seem in keeping with the style of the new oil minister. It was telling that his colleagues from the two countries with the weakest compliance record were both at the post-meeting press conference and were effectively invited to say how they would improve their performance. It almost felt like being witness to some kind of Maoist self-criticism session. So what’s Saudi Arabia’s other option? It would be essentially to say, if you’re not going to pull your weight, then neither are we. This is exactly what the kingdom intimated it has in mind, I was told by a member of one of the other delegations at the meetings, who asked not to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak to the press. The kingdom has tried this route in the past. Each of those output boosts triggered a spectacular price crash. And a similar response in March 2020 would have exactly the same effect. The prince no doubt hopes that the prospect of such an event will scare the laggards into complying.

Saudi Prince’s First OPEC Outing Brings Last-Minute Oil Surprise - Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has attended OPEC meetings for three decades, but this was the first time he’s been the star turn. For two days, Saudi Arabia’s new oil minister appeared to have stage fright. As he shuttled between Vienna’s ultra-luxury Park Hyatt hotel and the headquarters of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, he said almost nothing to the massed reporters ready to transcribe his every word. He set the tone for the entire meeting. Normally chatty officials said they couldn’t talk. Ministers used backdoor entrances to their hotels. The traditional manic media scrum that opens the meeting was canceled. Then after two days of often fractious talks on the cartel’s oil policy, he sprung two surprises at the closing press conference: Saudi Arabia will voluntarily cut supply deeper than the new deal requires, and the kingdom is gunning for a $2 trillion valuation for its newly public oil producer, Aramco. The two are linked. By trying to juice the oil market, he wants to do a favor for his half-brother, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who’s staked his reputation on the $2 trillion figure. Saudi Aramco will start trading on Riyadh’s Tadawul exchange on Wednesday with a value of about $1.7 trillion.Although he’s the ultimate Vienna insider, his first meeting in charge contrasted with his immediate predecessor, Khalid Al-Falih, a brainy but brusque technocrat who was rarely shy of the cameras. His style owes more to Ali Al-Naimi, who ran the Saudi energy minister from 1995 to 2016 and liked to keep the market guessing to give policy changes more impact. The prince also shares Naimi’s taste for consensus building. Al-Falih had leaned heavily on his oil-market alliance with Russia, first forged just three years ago. Prince Abdulaziz sought to win over OPEC’s established members, persuading those producing over their limit that they need to carry their share of the burden. 

Saudi energy minister talks OPEC+ unity, backs Aramco to soar - (Reuters) - OPEC and its allies would only ease supply curbs and pump more oil once global crude inventories fall and pricing reflects a tighter market, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister told Reuters. Saudi Arabia spearheaded a deal on Friday with Russia and the other so-called OPEC+ oil producers to deepen output cuts through the first quarter of 2020. In his first interview with Reuters since he became energy minister in September, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said he expected OPEC+ producers to continue cooperating beyond March. “The jury is still out where will we be in March,” he said regarding the level of supply the market will need then. OPEC+ producers pump more than 40% of the world’s oil and have constrained output since 2017 in an effort to balance rapidly rising output from the United States. While all oil producers would like to increase output, Saudi Arabia would only do so when it saw global inventories fall, he said. Saudi Arabia would like to see stocks within the range of the last five years and the average of 2010-2014, he added. “The more we are inside this contour, the better...” he said, adding another indicator would be prompt oil prices moving higher than longer dated ones, known as backwardation, which reflects a tighter market.

Oil Near 12-Week High after Surprise Saudi Curbs- Oil traded near the highest level in almost 12 weeks after Saudi Arabia surprised the market Friday with a significant supply cut beyond what was agreed to with fellow OPEC+ members. Futures in New York edged lower after climbing 1.3% Friday to cap a 7.3% weekly advance, the most since mid-June. The kingdom voluntarily pledged to pump 400,000 barrels a day less than mandated by OPEC+, translating to total overall curbs for the group of 2.1 million barrels a day. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. raised its 2020 Brent forecast after the move, saying it was a shift to managing short-term physical imbalances rather than trying to correct long-term imbalances through open-ended commitments. The announcement came after hedge funds had earlier slashed bullish wagers on WTI crude. Meanwhile, there was more gloom on the demand side with data showing Chinese exports fell unexpectedly in November. “The OPEC+ decision may have a put a slightly higher bottom under crude prices,” said Vandana Hari, founder of Vanda Insights in Singapore. “But as the dust settles on Vienna deal, it’s only going to be natural for the oil market to return its focus to the U.S.-China trade war and its global economic fallout.” West Texas Intermediate for January delivery fell 30 cents, or 0.5%, to $58.90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:26 a.m. in London. The contract closed at $59.20 on Friday, the highest since Sept. 17. Brent for February settlement dropped 22 cents, or 0.3%, to $64.17 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange. The contract rose 1.6% on Friday, ending the week 3.1% higher. The global benchmark crude traded at a $5.36 premium to WTI for the same month. Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman sent prices soaring on Friday with the promise to take the kingdom’s production down to levels not seen on a sustained basis since 2014, data compiled by Bloomberg show. After two days of grueling talks in Vienna that focused on adjusting OPEC+ quotas, Russia, Iraq, Kuwait and U.A.E. were among the nations that took the largest cuts other than the Saudis.

OPEC sees small 2020 oil deficit even before latest supply cut (Reuters) - OPEC on Wednesday pointed to a small deficit in the oil market next year due to restraint by Saudi Arabia even before the latest supply pact with other producers takes effect, suggesting a tighter market than previously thought. In a monthly report, OPEC said demand for its crude will average 29.58 million barrels per day (bpd) next year. OPEC pumped less oil in November than the average 2020 requirement, having in previous months supplied more. The report retreats further from OPEC's initial projection of a 2020 supply glut as output from rival producers such as U.S. shale has grown more slowly than expected. This will give a tailwind to efforts by OPEC and partners led by Russia to support the market next year. OPEC kept its 2020 economic and oil demand growth forecasts steady and was more upbeat about the outlook. "On the positive side, the global trade slowdown has likely bottomed out, and now the negative trend in industrial production seen in 2019 is expected to reverse in 2020," the report said. Oil prices were steady after the report's release, trading near $64 a barrel, below the level some OPEC officials have said they favour. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers, a group known as OPEC+, have since Jan. 1 implemented a deal to cut output by 1.2 million bpd to support the market. At meetings last week, OPEC+ agreed to a further cut of 500,000 bpd from Jan. 1 2020. The report showed OPEC production falling even before the new deal takes effect. In November, OPEC output fell by 193,000 bpd to 29.55 million bpd, according to figures the group collects from secondary sources, as Saudi Arabia cut supply. Saudi Arabia told OPEC it made an even bigger cut in supply of over 400,000 bpd last month. The kingdom had boosted production in October after attacks on its oil facilities in September briefly more than halved output. The November production rate suggests there would be a 2020 deficit of 30,000 bpd if OPEC kept pumping the same amount and other factors remained equal, less than the 70,000 bpd surplus implied in November's report and an excess of over 500,000 bpd seen in July.

 Saudis Not Getting Bullish About Oil for 2020- A year after a rare bullish call on oil, Saudi Arabia isn’t counting on much of an uplift from crude prices in 2020. The world’s biggest oil exporter has designed next year’s budget under the assumption that Brent will average about $65 per barrel, according to calculations by Ziad Daoud, Bloomberg’s chief economist in the Middle East. EFG Hermes puts the budget’s assumed oil price at $60 to $62, while Capital Economics has it between $55 and $60. That’s barely higher than where the global benchmark crude traded on Tuesday and compares with a price of $80 that was originally built into Saudi Arabia’s public finances for 2019. Saudi Arabia doesn’t disclose its oil-price assumption. Analysts see Brent at just under $61 a barrel next year, according to the median of forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. “The budget this time around is based on a more realistic oil-price assumption,” Daoud said. “The basing of last year’s budget on an extremely bullish assumption for crude was an aberration because of a sharp decline in prices that wasn’t reflected in the final budget.” Saudi Arabia has led a campaign to support crude prices, surprising the oil market last week with deeper production cuts after talks in Vienna with OPEC and its partners. For next year, the kingdom sees a wider budget deficit and projects its oil revenue at 513 billion riyals ($137 billion), a decline of almost 15% from 2019, according to plans unveiled on Monday. “The widening of the deficit, despite spending cuts, is a clear reflection of the fiscal challenges facing the Saudi budget at current oil prices,” said Mohamed Abu Basha, head of research at Cairo-based investment bank EFG Hermes.

Oil markets hit by profit-taking ahead of China tariff deadline: Kemp - (Reuters) - Hedge funds scaled back their bets on higher oil prices last week, with futures and options markets hit by a wave of selling after a jump in positions the week before. While much of that can be put down to profit taking, the shaky economic outlook and rapidly approaching deadline for more U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods means fund managers are likely to moderate their bullishness for the time being. Hedge funds and other money managers sold the equivalent of 107 million barrels in the six major futures and options contracts linked to petroleum prices in the week to Dec. 3 (  That reversed three-quarters of the 144 million barrels purchased the previous week, according to position records published by ICE Futures Europe and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Sales were concentrated in NYMEX and ICE WTI (-42 million barrels), Brent (-18 million) and U.S. gasoline (-26 million), with smaller sales in U.S. diesel (-11 million) and European gasoil (-9 million). The distribution was the mirror image of the previous week’s purchases, which suggests much of the selling was driven by short-term profit-taking after a sustained rally in oil prices through most of October and November. Positions were reported before Saudi Arabia and its partners in the expanded OPEC+ group of major oil exporters announced an agreement to deepen their production cuts in the first quarter of 2020. The selling suggests many investors were not optimistic about the willingness and ability of the OPEC+ countries to eliminate predicted surpluses in the crude market next year.   The surprise cut could normally be expected to prompt a fresh wave of fund buying but price reaction has been muted so far, suggesting traders see the agreement as codifying the status quo rather than removing extra barrels from the market.  Meanwhile the United States' threat to impose a further round of tariff increases on imports from China with effect from Dec. 15 is unsettling financial markets. The risk is for a major escalation of the trade conflict, or at best an extension to the current undeclared truce. Until some uncertainty surrounding the economic outlook and oil consumption is resolved, it is hard to see most hedge fund managers doing anything other than limiting their bullish commitment.

Oil prices slip as weak China exports highlights trade war impact - Oil prices fell on Monday after data showing China's overall exports of goods and services shrank for a fourth straight month, sending shivers through a market already concerned about damage being down to global demand by theU.S.-China trade war.Brent futures were down 21 cents, or 0.3%, at $64.18 per barrel by 0220 GMT, after gaining about 3% last week on the news that OPEC and its allies would deepen output cuts.West Texas Intermediate oil futures were down 28 cents, or 0.47% to $58.92 a barrel, having risen about 7% last week on the prospects for lower production from 'OPEC+', which is made up of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and associated producers including Russia.Monday's sudden chill came after customs data released on Sunday showed exports from the world's second-biggest economy in November fell 1.1% from a year earlier — a sharp reversal from expectations for a 1% rise in a Reuters poll.The weak start to the week came despite data showing China's crude imports jumped to a record, revealing just how deep jitters are embedded in the market over the U.S.-China trade row that has stymied global growth and oil demand.The sagging export data is "a casualty again of the protracted trade war," said Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AxiTrader.Washington and Beijing have been trying to agree a trade deal that will end tit-for-tat tariffs, but talks have dragged on for months as they wrangle over key details.Monday's declines also went against signs on Friday that China was easing its stance on resolving its trade dispute with the United States, confirming on Friday that it was waiving import tariffs for some soybean and pork shipments.The price drops also put an end to a strong run in previous sessions fueled by hopes for the OPEC+ production curb deal.On Friday, those producers agreed to deepen their output cuts from 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) to 1.7 million bpd, representing about 1.7% of global production.

Oil Prices Fall Modestly -West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude oil prices finished lower Monday.WTI for January delivery shed 18 cents to settle at $59.02 per barrel. The benchmark traded Monday within a range from $58.23 to $59.25.February Brent also posted a modest loss, declining 14 cents to end the day at $64.25 per barrel.“Both WTI and Brent cannot seem to trade up,” said Tom McNulty, Houston-based managing director with Great American Group. McNulty commented that production cuts announced Friday by the OPEC+ alliance will fail to overcome the following three factors:

  • Negative global trade data
  • The “certainty” that alliance members will cheat on their production quotas
  • The likelihood that the large debt burdens of North American oil producers will cause the region’s crude output to rise, regardless of oil prices.

The theme of small price movements extended to reformulated gasoline (RBOB). The January RBOB contract price edged slightly upward Monday, gaining nearly one cent to settle at $1.65 per gallon.The price of Henry Hub natural gas, however, showed a more dramatic change during Monday’s trading. January gas futures lost 10 cents to close at $2.23 – a loss of more than four percent against Friday’s settlement price.McNulty observed that Monday’s significant drop in the natural gas contract price shows “how sensitive it is to a warm weather forecast, when we have so much supply.”

Oil Steady as Stockpiles Offset Trade Anxiety -- Oil was steady near a 12-week high as investors weighed a forecast drop in American crude inventories against a looming deadline for the U.S. to impose more tariffs on China. Futures in New York were little changed after declining 0.3% Monday. U.S. stockpiles shrunk by 2.5 million barrels last week, a Bloomberg survey showed before government data due Wednesday. The White House is scheduled to put tariffs on a further $160 billion of Chinese goods Sunday, although Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said they’re unlikely to be implemented. Oil closed at the highest level since mid-September on Friday after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies surprised the market with deeper-than-expected output cuts. Attention has now turned back to the seemingly intractable U.S.-China trade war and whether the two sides can nail down a much-hyped phase one agreement. “The focus has shifted to demand as concerns over supply have been largely reduced,” said Will Sungchil Yun, a commodities analyst at HI Investment & Futures Corp. in Seoul. “All eyes are now on the outcome of trade negotiations between the world’s top two economies.” West Texas Intermediate for January delivery fell 5 cents to $58.97 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:57 a.m. in London. The contract closed 18 cents lower on Monday after jumping 7.3% last week. Brent for February settlement declined 4 cents to $64.21 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange after slipping 0.2% Monday. The global benchmark crude traded at a $5.34 premium to WTI for the same month. It would be the second straight weekly drop in U.S. stockpiles if the Bloomberg survey is confirmed by Energy Information Administration data. Inventories are still near the highest since mid-July after rising in 10 of the 11 weeks through Nov. 22.

Oil prices slip again as specter of trade war, demand concerns haunts market -  Oil prices dropped on Tuesday for a second straight session as the cons of a slowing global demand outlook outweighed the pros of OPEC’s agreement with associated producers at the end of last week to deepen crude output cuts in early 2020. Brent futures were down 11 cents, or 0.2%, at $64.14 per barrel by 0204 GMT while West Texas Intermediate oil futures were down 7 cents, or 0.1% to $58.95 a barrel. The benchmarks fell 0.2% and 0.3% respectively on Monday. “The euphoria (on output cuts) was short lived, with an unexpected fall in exports from China highlighting the impact of the trade conflict,” said ANZ Bank in a note on Tuesday. Data released on Sunday showed exports from China in November fell 1.1% from a year earlier, confounding expectations for a 1% rise in a Reuters poll. That weakness came amid with fresh fronts in the trade war between Washington and Beijing that has stymied global economic growth coming up fast: Washington’s next round of tariffs against some $156 billion Chinese goods are scheduled to take effect on Dec. 15. U.S. President Donald Trump does not want to implement the next round of tariffs, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Monday — but he wants “movement” from China to avoid them. “With the swathe of new tariffs due to kick in on 15 December, the market is watching negotiations closely,” said ANZ. Analysts said that, though overshadowed for now, the move by ‘OPEC+’ — the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and associated producers like Russia — to deepen output cuts from 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) to 1.7 million bpd would remain a mid-term support factor. “While risks remain into year-end on U.S.-China trade talks, the OPEC decision removes a fundamental uncertainty,” said Stephen Innes, market strategist at AxiTrader. “So, prices aren’t about to fall off a cliff anytime soon if OPEC has a say in the matter.”

Oil rises but U.S.-China trade war weighs on demand outlook - (Reuters) - Oil prices inched up on Tuesday as OPEC’s deal with associated producers last week to deepen output cuts in 2020 continued to provide a floor for prices, but U.S.-China trade tensions clouded the demand outlook. Brent crude settled up 9 cents at $64.34 a barrel, and West Texas Intermediate oil rose 22 cents, or 0.4%, to $59.24 a barrel. The benchmarks fell 0.2% and 0.3%, respectively, on Monday. Last week, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and associated producers like Russia agreed to deepen output cuts from 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) to 1.7 million bpd to support prices. However, a Dec. 15 deadline for the next round of U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports weighed on markets. “Now that the producers announced a production cut last week, the market is holding just below three-month highs,” said Gene McGillian, director of market research at Tradition Energy. “Without a U.S.-China trade deal, the market is having trouble heading into a new leg in this rally.” U.S. President Donald Trump does not want to implement the next round of tariffs, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Monday - but he wants “movement” from China to avoid them. The Wall Street Journal reported that officials from both sides were laying the groundwork for a delay of a fresh round of tariffs. Also the growth rate of China’s imports of major commodities has accelerated in recent months, indicating Beijing’s stimulus efforts may be bearing fruit and that the impact of a trade war may not be as bad as feared. But investors remained on edge ahead of other events this week, with the British election on Thursday and U.S. and European Central Bank meetings.

Oil Prices Settle Higher - West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude oil edged upward during the second trading day of the week. The January WTI contract gained 22 cents Tuesday to settle at $59.24 per barrel. It traded within a range from $59.52 to $58.52. Brent crude for February delivery posted a more modest nine-cent gain, ending the day at $64.34 per barrel. Vance Scott, Houston-based managing director in the energy practice at global multi-industry consulting firm AlixPartners LLP, observed that crude prices have risen markedly since last week’s OPEC+ announcement of a deal to reduce alliance members’ oil production quota by an extra 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) – bringing total agreed-upon output curbs to 1.7 million bpd. “However, even with this recent rally, the market remains cautious on those countries’ ability to hold the line, and there is uncertainty in how condensate factors into the overall pricing calculus,” said Scott. “Plus, there are other constraining factors on the horizon.” Scott explained that constraints include the fact that Permian, Eagle Ford and Haynesville producers are highly leveraged. Given their hedged positions, they likely will not enjoy the near-term price rally and continue to drive production volumes to make their interest and debt-maturity payments before their hedges roll off, he added. “That said, North American volume growth will likely be somewhat offset by stabilizing economies elsewhere,” continued Scott. “Plus, there’s the news this week that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada, or USMCA, trade deal could be getting close to passage in the U.S. Congress. A key wildcard in the overall picture, though, remains the mixed messages of late on the U.S.-China trade front, where both sides seem to be talking around each other.” Tuesday’s price movement was also modest for reformulated gasoline (RBOB) – but downward. January RBOB lost well under one cent, settling at $1.65 per gallon

WTI Slips From 12-Week Highs After Surprise Crude Inventory Build - Oil prices held near three-month highs today, helped by OPEC+ production plans, trade deal optimism, and, as we will see tonight, hope that inventories are starting to drop.“For the market to push even higher, the key element is the signing of a trade agreement” between China and the U.S., said Gene McGillian, manager for market research at Tradition Energy. “That will rekindle expectations of economic growth and fuel demand growth.” Nevertheless, “we don’t have proof that there’s actually going to be a trade agreement,” he said. After rising for 10 of the last 11 weeks, crude inventories are expected to decline for the 2nd week in a row... API:

  • Crude +1.41mm (-2.5mm exp)
  • Cushing -3.53mm (-2.3mm exp)
  • Gasoline +4.92mm (+2.5mm exp)
  • Distillates +3.24mm (+1.6mm exp)

But, against expectations, API reported a surprise 1.41mm barrel crude build - the 11th build of the last 13 weeks... and product inventories also showed big builds.   Notably, despite inventories at their highest since July, oil closed at its highest since September...

Oil prices slip on surprise U.S. crude inventory build - (Reuters) - Oil prices fell on Wednesday after industry data showed a surprise build in crude oil inventory in the United States and as investors waited for news on whether a fresh round of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods would take effect on Sunday. Brent futures fell by 37 cents, or 0.6%, to $63.97 per barrel by 0121 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude slipped by 30 cents, or 0.5%, to $58.94 a barrel. “Oil fell from its highest close in almost three months after the API inventory reported a build bearish to consciences while uncertainly over the December tariff deferral added to the soft tone,” referring to U.S. crude’s close on Dec. 10. U.S. crude stocks clocked a surprise rise in the most recent week while gasoline and distillate inventories also rose, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute shows. Crude inventories rose by 1.4 million barrels in the week to Dec. 6 to 447 million, while analysts were expecting a fall of 2.8 million barrels. The weekly EIA report is due later on Wednesday. The U.S. is on track to become a net exporter of crude and fuel for the first time on record on an annual basis in 2020, the EIA said, due to a production surge that has dramatically reduced its dependence on foreign oil. Also adding to global supply, U.S. producers Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and Hess Corp (HES.N) plan to export the first-ever shipments of crude oil from Guyana between January and February, a milestone for Latin America’s newest oil producer, sources with knowledge of the plans said. U.S.-China trade tensions continued to cloud demand outlook with a Dec. 15 deadline for the next round of U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports weighing on markets. Investors are also eyeing other major events this week including the British election on Thursday and U.S. and European Central Bank meetings for further trading cues.

WTI Tumbles After Unexpected Crude Inventory Rise, Huge Product Builds - Oil prices remain lower overnight after API reported a surprise crude build (and products also built notably) but the constant hype of OPEC+, Aramco's launch, and a trade deal 'any minute' are still providing a bid... “The post-OPEC bullish jolt is all but a distant memory,” said Stephen Brennock, an analyst at PVM Oil Associates Ltd. in London. “Oil prices have struggled for traction this week as demand concerns returned to the fore. The cautionary mood is likely to prevail as investors await fresh cues on the trade front.”The question is - will official data confirm API's bearish data. DOE

  • Crude +822k (-2.5mm exp)
  • Cushing -3.393 (-2.3mm exp) - biggest draw since Feb 2018
  • Gasoline +5.405mm (+2.5mm exp) - biggest build since Jan 2019
  • Distillates +4.118mm (+1.6mm exp) - biggest build since July 2019

After the prior week's surprise crude draw, analysts expect further inventory drops in the last week (despite API's surprise build) but official data showed a 822k barrel build (smaller than API but still a build). This is the 11th weekly build of the last 13 weeks...

 Oil drops on surprise U.S. crude build but tariff deadline eyed –   (Reuters) - Oil prices dropped almost 1% on Wednesday following a surprise build in U.S. crude inventories, and as investors waited to see if a fresh round of tariffs by Washington on Chinese goods would come into force on Sunday. Brent futures settled at $63.72 per barrel, down 62 cents. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 48 cents to settle at $58.76 per barrel. U.S. crude stockpiles rose unexpectedly last week, while gasoline and distillate inventories jumped sharply higher, the Energy Information Administration said. Crude inventories rose 822,000 barrels last week, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2.8 million-barrel drop. At 447.9 million barrels, crude stocks were about 4% above the five-year average for this time of year, the EIA said. However, stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for WTI fell 3.4 million barrels last week, their biggest decline since February 2018, the EIA said. U.S. inventories of gasoline jumped 5.4 million barrels and distillates, which include diesel and heating oil, rose 4.1 million barrels - both more than double analysts’ expectations. U.S. gasoline RBc1 and heating oil HOc1 futures were down about 2%. “The inventory data was rather bearish when you consider the fall in refinery run rates and the cratering of gasoline demand,” Gasoline demand “had held up most of the year, quite extraordinarily.” Refinery utilization rates fell 1.3 percentage points last week to 90.6% of total capacity. Finished motor gasoline consumption fell to 8.8 million barrels per day (bpd), the lowest since February, according to EIA data.

 Oil prices stabilise on OPEC supply deficit forecast (Reuters) - Oil prices steadied on Thursday with the market mood switching to relief as OPEC forecast a supply deficit next year, from doom and gloom over data showing a surprise increase in U.S. crude inventories. Brent futures rose 19 cents, or 0.3% to 63.61 a barrel by 0100 GMT, after skidding 1% on Wednesday on the U.S. stocks build-up. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 9 cents at $58.85 a barrel, following a 0.8% drop the previous session. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on Wednesday said it now expected a small deficit in the oil market in the next year, suggesting the market is tighter than previously thought - even before the latest pact with other producers to curb supply takes effect. The revised forecast by OPEC marks a further retreat from a prediction of a glut in 2020 as U.S. production growth begins to slow. Still, U.S. inventories are on the rise. Crude stockpiles last week rose unexpectedly, gaining more than 800,000 barrels, compared with a Reuters poll that forecast a 2.8 million barrel decline. Inventories of petroleum products also increased with gasoline stocks surging by more than 5 million barrels and distillates gaining a bit over 4 million barrels - with both more than double expectations. “The overall report was very bearish as demand fell off a cliff and total stockpiles climbed to the highest level in seven months,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA. Beyond the balance between inventories and supply, investors are also awaiting news on negotiations between Washington and Beijing to end a long-running trade war and get an agreement before another round of U.S. sanctions kicks in.

Oil prices settle higher on trade deal optimism, central-bank stimulus -Oil futures settled higher on Thursday, nearly recouping all losses from a day earlier, following a tweet from President Donald Trump that hinted the U.S. was close to a trade deal with China. “Getting VERY close to a BIG DEAL with China. They want it, and so do we!”Trump tweeted on Thursday, prompting a move higher in oil prices in the minutes after the tweet. A deal would ease worries about a slowdown in energy demand. “The tweet itself was somewhat direct and bullish on the surface, but I think you have a market that is beyond fatigued in terms of the deal or no deal cycle we’ve been in for months now,” Robbie Fraser, senior commodity analyst at Schneider Electric, told MarketWatch. “For a tweet to have real impact at this point, it’s going to need to start offering details and substance rather than the latest round of speculation.” As of Thursday afternoon, Bloomberg News reported, citing people briefed on the plans, that U.S. negotiators reached terms of a phase-one trade deal with China, which awaits Trump’s approval. Prices already were on the rise after central banks signaled a willingness to keep interest rates low and maintain economic stimulus for the foreseeable future which may help to boost the global economy and buoy crude demand. The Federal Reserve on Wednesday said its decision to hold benchmark interest rates unchanged in a range of 1.5% and 1.75% is at least partly due to worries about the potential harm from Sino-American trade clashes. In addition to the Fed, on Thursday the European Central Bank announced its decision to keep its main deposit rate at negative 0.5%, while maintaining its rate of asset purchases at €20 billion a month, as widely expected by analysts.

Oil Prices Finish Higher Amid Mix of Factors  - West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude oil finished higher Thursday, buoyed reports of progress on the U.S.-China trade front and other factors. January WTI settled Thursday at $59.18 per barrel, reflecting a 42-cent gain. The benchmark traded within a range from $58.75 to $59.72. Also rising Thursday was the February Brent contract, which added 48 cents to settle at $64.20 per barrel. Traders have for months monitored developments in ongoing trade negotiations between the United States and China. On Thursday, various media reports stated that a tentative deal had been reached. Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted that a “BIG DEAL” with China was near. “Crude oil is up today due to a combination of macro factors: China, OPEC cuts, easy U.S. monetary policy and decent inventory numbers,” “All of these factors lead to a bullish view on the crude outlook in a relatively calm year-end market. Without any radical changes between now and New Year’s, Brent and WTI will likely continue their slow climb.” Anish Kapadia, U.K.-based oil and gas consultant and managing director with Akap Energy Ltd., told Rigzone the most recent data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) show an above-normal decline in crude inventories for October versus the five-year average. Also he noted that November OPEC production was 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) lower month-on-month, driven by Saudi Arabia, Angola and Iraq. “Given the fragile global economy, it was also positive to see no downward revisions to demand growth for 2019 and 2020, maintained at 1 million bpd and 1.2 million bpd, respectively,” Kapadia said. “On the more bearish side Venezuela has shown some signs of a mild recovery in production, and Libyan production continues to surprise on the upside with further potential growth in 2020.” Reformulated gasoline (RBOB) posted a slight increase. January RBOB gained well under one cent, finishing the day at $1.63 per gallon.10:20 AM

Oil nears three-month high as trade hopes, UK election boost sentiment - (Reuters) - Oil rose on Friday to its highest in nearly three months as investors cheered progress in resolving the U.S.-China trade dispute and a decisive general election result in Britain. Washington and Beijing announced a “Phase one” agreement that reduces some U.S. tariffs in exchange for increased Chinese purchases of American farm goods. Brent LCOc1 futures, the global benchmark, gained $1.02, or 1.6%, to settle at $65.22 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 rose 89 cents, or 1.5%, to $60.07. Both contracts settled at their highest since Sept. 16, up a little over 1% for the week. China has agreed to buy $32 billion of additional U.S. farm products over two years as part of a phase one trade pact, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told reporters on Friday, adding the deal would be signed the first week of January. Chinese officials, however, offered no specifics on the amount of U.S. agricultural goods Beijing agreed to buy, a sticking point in negotiations to end the 17-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Britain’s ruling Conservative Party won a large majority in Thursday’s general election, paving the way for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to remove the country from the European Union. Uncertainty about Brexit had also weighed on oil prices. “With a large win for Boris Johnson in the UK general election and an ‘almost there’ for the U.S.-China trade war, it’s up we go for Brent crude,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, an analyst at SEB. “Oil demand growth will likely rebound along with a rebound in global manufacturing.” A drop in the U.S. dollar .DXY coupled with a strong pound also helped boost commodities.

Oil ends at 3-month high as the U.S. and China reach a preliminary phase one trade deal - Oil futures ended higher on Friday, with U.S. and global benchmark prices at their highest levels since mid-September, after the U.S. and China said they have reached a preliminary agreement on a phase one trade agreement.The lack of a trade agreement had been a major headwind to crude demand, but oil prices got a boost Thursday when President Donald Trump tweeted that the U.S. was “getting VERY close to a BIG DEAL with China.”Some reports then emerged saying that Trump approved a phase-one trade deal with China, possibly averting new tariffs on some $160 billion in consumer goods that were set to take effect Sunday, and bolstering hope that the harm done to global economic growth may fade.China confirmed Friday that it reached a deal on the text of a phase one pact, according to a translation reported by CNBC, but that the deal would need to first go through legal procedures before it is signed. Trump separately announced a phase one deal Friday and scrapped tariffs on Chinese goods that were set to go into effect on Sunday.“The trade war is back in focus for the energy markets and the lack of clarity surrounding the status of the deal” caused significant volatility on Friday, said Tyler Richey, co-editor at Sevens Report Research. U.S. benchmark prices briefly topped $60 a barrel for the first time since September, “which is positive from a near term momentum standpoint,” he said. “However, the key resistance band between $60 and $62 [a] barrel dating back to late May remains intact for now, leaving oil stubbornly rangebound for the time being.” West Texas Intermediate crude for January delivery rose 89 cents, or 1.5%, to settle at $60.07 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. For the week, prices for the front-month contract rose 1.5%, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Oil Prices Up for the Week - West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude oil futures settled higher Friday, buoyed by progress on trade between the United States and China and the outcome of Thursday’s U.K. general election.The January WTI contract gained 89 cents to settle above the psychologically important $60-mark – $60.07 per barrel, to be exact. The light crude marker traded within a range from $59.27 to $60.48. Compared to the Dec. 6 settlement, WTI is up nearly 1.5 percent. February Brent ended that day at $65.22 per barrel, reflecting a $1.02 gain. For the week, Brent is up 1.3 percent.“It was another rollercoaster ride for crude oil this week as the daily saga of U.S.-China trade relations ebbed and flowed while a bearish inventory report, a slight increase in drilling activity and bullish carryover from last week’s OPEC meeting all fueled the volatility,” said Tom Seng, Assistant Professor of Energy Business at the University of Tulsa’s Collins College of Business. Seng referenced the Trump administration’s announcement Friday that China had agreed to a “phase one” of a potential trade deal and that the U.S. will only impose 50 percent of new tariffs set to take effect on Dec. 15. Moreover, he pointed out the outcome of the U.K. election – giving Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his center-right Conservative Party a stronger mandate – adds some certainty to the country’s direction and bolsters chances for Brexit to move forward. Citing the latest Weekly Petroleum Status Report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Seng observed the oil market resource revealed:

  • A 0.8 million-barrel increase in U.S. commercial crude inventories, countering a 2.8 million-barrel decrease projected by Wall Street Journal analysts and a 1.4 million-barrel decline reported by the American Petroleum Institute
  • 448 million barrels of total crude oil in storage – four percent higher than the five-year average for this time of year
  • A 3.4 million-barrel decline in oil storage at the Cushing, Okla., hub to 40.4 million barrels total, or approximately 53 percent of capacity
  • A one-percent rise in refinery utilization to 16.54 million barrels per day (bpd)
  • A 17-percent year-on-year decrease in oil imports
  • Steady U.S. oil production at 12.85 million bpd

Aramco Soars in Debut to Hit Market Value of $1.88 Trillion - Saudi Aramco shares surged after the oil producer’s initial public offering, valuing the company at a record $1.88 trillion in the culmination of a four-year effort by the kingdom to list its crown jewel. The stock jumped the daily 10% limit to 35.20 riyals when trading began at 10:30 a.m. in Riyadh as Aramco board members, Saudi officials and invited guests cheered at a ceremony at the Fairmont Hotel in the kingdom’s capital. The shares stayed there through the market close, putting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s goal of a $2 trillion valuation within reach. Aramco raised $25.6 billion in the biggest-ever IPO, selling shares at 32 riyals each and overtaking Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. as the most valuable listed company. The start of trading in Riyadh marks the end of a saga that’s been intertwined with the crown prince’s rise to global prominence and his Vision 2030 plan to reform the Saudi economy. First announced in an interview with the Economist in January 2016, the IPO came after a tumultuous period that included the murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi and the imprisonment of prominent Saudis in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton. The sale ultimately fell short of the $100 billion international offering with a valuation of $2 trillion that the prince once proposed. Saudi officials pulled out all the stops to ensure that the stock traded higher after an offering that international investors largely rejected, citing the valuation and concerns including governance issues and possible security threats. The stock price also should be underpinned by demand from index-tracking funds, since Aramco will be added to emerging-market benchmarks. “Aramco should easily get to the $2 trillion valuation as soon as tomorrow; there is plenty of appetite for it,” “And more money should flow soon with the international index inclusions. The start couldn’t be better.” Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, is so big that it easily dwarfs the rest of the companies in the Saudi market, which have a combined value of about $500 billion. Adding in Aramco at its current market value, the kingdom’s bourse becomes the world’s seventh-biggest stock market, overtaking Canada, Germany and India. Saudi Arabia, though, only sold 1.5% of the company’s capital, meaning that barely any of its shares will trade.

Saudi Aramco hits $2 trillion market cap on second day of trading  — Shares of Saudi Aramco surged on their second day of public trading, pushing the kingdom’s record IPO to a gargantuan $2 trillion valuation and briefly touching Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s long-held target for the company. Share rose 10% to 38.7 riyals apiece ($10.32) but slipped back to 37 riyals within minutes of the market open. The figure, nearly $1 trillion higher than the world’s next-largest public companies Microsoft and Apple, was long ridiculed and regarded with disbelief by much of the international financial community. Riyadh on Wednesday made history by listing 1.5% of its state-run oil giant on its local stock exchange, the Saudi Tadawul, in what was the largest IPO on record. Shares went limit up, rising 10% in price as trading started, giving the company a valuation of $1.88 trillion on its first day of trading. While the massive valuation will be seen as a win for the Saudi crown prince, it lacked the international interest the kingdom had hoped for, relying instead on local investors after the company canceled overseas roadshows in London and New York. The long-awaited IPO of world’s most profitable company forms the centerpiece of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program aimed at transforming the Saudi economy. The crown prince first floated the idea in 2016, stunning market observers with his suggestion of the $2 trillion valuation. That figure was brought down by financial advisors and banks earlier this year to a range of between $1.5 trillion and $1.7 trillion.

Saudi Aramco hits Crown Prince's $2 trillion goal despite valuation doubts (Reuters) - Saudi Aramco hit the $2 trillion target sought by de-facto Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday as its shares racked up a second day of gains, despite some scepticism about the state-owned oil firm’s value. Aramco’s initial public offering (IPO) is the centerpiece of the Saudi crown prince’s vision for diversifying the kingdom away from its oil dependence by using the $25.6 billion raised to develop other industries. But that is well below his 2016 plan to raise as much as $100 billion via a blockbuster international and domestic IPO. Riyadh scaled back its ambitions after overseas investors baulked at the proposed valuation and only 1.5% of Saudi Arabian Oil Co (Aramco) shares were listed on the Riyadh stock exchange on Wednesday, a tiny free float for such a huge company. Aramco shares hit 38.7 riyals ($10.32), lifting its market value above $2 trillion and closed at 36.8 riyals, a rise of 4.5% from Wednesday’s close and valuing the company at $1.96 trillion, Refinitiv data showed. While a 10% jump in the stock on its debut, the maximum allowed by the Riyadh exchange, was hailed by the Saudi government as a vindication, support was largely from loyal Saudi and Gulf rather than overseas investors. But Bernstein analysts put Aramco’s value at around $1.36 trillion, which compares with U.S. energy giant Exxon Mobil’s (XOM.N) market capitalization of less than $300 billion.

Saudi Aramco is called a ‘polarizing stock’ as investors question its independence - Saudi Arabia made history this week as it debuted its crown jewel, Saudi Aramco, for public trading on the kingdom’s stock exchange. Shares shot up to the maximum allowed for the world’s largest-ever IPO at its launch, surging 10% on Wednesday and again on Thursday to briefly hit a valuation of $2 trillion before paring gains. The listing of 1.5% of the kingdom’s state-run oil giant reached a $1.88 trillion market cap on its first day of trading, putting it well above that of Microsoft and Apple. The astronomic $2 trillion figure, long pursued by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since he announced his idea of the float in 2016, defied the expectations — and the ridicule — of much of the global finance community. But weak international interest, suspicions of heavily government-influenced local demand and scrapped plans to book-build outside the Gulf region have raised the question of how genuinely successful the public listing really is ⁠— and whether it could perform similarly if tested in international markets. “It’s not exactly what you might call a free market price,” John Rutledge, chief investment officer at investment firm Safanad, told CNBC in Abu Dhabi shortly after trading began on the Saudi Tadawul. “I think it was a managed sale with a lot of government involvement,” said Rutledge, who served as an economic advisor to three U.S. administrations and the government of Kuwait. “They managed creating the book of buyers, but they also determined how many shares were sold. And so with that, you’ve got both levers. You can make the market cap almost whatever you want at that level.”

Saudi Arabia plans for lower 2020 oil revenues on OPEC cuts, global trade disputes | S&P Global Platts — After three years of record budgets to spur growth, Saudi Arabia said Monday it plans to scale back government spending through 2022, forecasting lower oil revenues and a lesser reliance on its lifeblood industry as its ambitious economic reforms take hold. The Middle East's largest economy and the world's largest crude exporter plans to spend Riyal 1.02 trillion (US$272 billion) in 2020, down 2.6% from 2019, according to its budget statement. Government expenditures will fall further to Riyal 990 billion in 2021 and Riyal 955 billion in 2022, it added, as the kingdom expects its initiatives to diversify its economy away from oil and foster new industries to begin to bear fruit. Crude oil production cuts implemented by OPEC, largely at the behest of Saudi Arabia, will weigh on 2020 revenues, which are expected to fall 14.8% from 2019 levels to Riyal 513 billion, the kingdom said. The budget deficit will widen to 6.4% in 2020 from 4.7% in 2019 as the government earns less from oil. In addition to the OPEC cuts, the budget cited "challenging global economic and international market conditions," including global trade disputes. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a statement that Budget 2020 arrives amid a global economic climate that presents "challenges, risks and protectionist policies, which requires flexibility in managing the public finances and enhancing the ability of the economy to address these challenges and risks." The government said it would extend a cost-of-living allowance to state employees, military personnel, retirees and students -- started in January 2018 to head off citizen complaints over rising costs -- through the end of 2020. The Saudi government does not publish its fiscal breakeven oil price, but in a report in October, the International Monetary Fund forecast that Saudi Arabia would need a breakeven oil price of $83.60/b in 2020 to balance its budget.

Saudi Arabia’s finance minister rejects claims the kingdom is running short of cash  - The finance minister of Saudi Arabia rejected claims that the kingdom is slowly running out of money, saying that it’s in a better financial position that many other nations across the globe. “No we are not running out of money,” Mohammed al-Jadaan told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble when asked about recent perceptions regarding its reserves. In November, the former chief of the CIA David Petraeus highlighted the issue, telling CNBC that he believed Saudi Arabia is “gradually running out of money,” aiming his comments at the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Saudi Arabia does not openly publish the amount of assets it holds within its wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund (PIF). The Institute of International Finance estimated in a report in June that the kingdom has assets worth around $300 billion with roughly a quarter of its holdings overseas. The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute puts the figure closer to $320 billion. Speaking to CNBC in Riyadh after Monday’s budget announcement, Al-Jadaan stated that the kingdom currently held the third-largest pot of foreign cash reserves in the world. He added that it had “significant funds” and a “lot of assets” were at the country’s disposal. “Unlike so many other countries we also have government reserves, deposits, with the central bank that other governments don’t have,” he said. “That stands today at about 500 billion Saudi riyals, short of 500 billion Saudi riyals,” he added, saying that the country’s aim was to build the reserves as it controlled its expenditure.

  Newsweek Journalist Quits After Editors Kill Report on Syria Chemical Attack Scandal — A top journalist has resigned from his post after management killed his report on the bombshell news that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) suppressed a mountain of evidence suggesting that the 2018 Douma Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria was staged. Newsweek’s Tareq Haddad announced on Twitter that, rather than accepting top-down censorship on an important issue, he was publicly walking away from his job at the New York-based magazine.“I have collected evidence of how they suppressed the story in addition to evidence from another case where info inconvenient to US government was removed, though it was factually correct,” Haddad said, adding that he will publish full details about the event shortly but that “I was threatened with legal action” from his employers, who had inserted a confidentiality clause into his contract for just such an occasion as this. He also stated that he is seeking legal advice from specialists in whistleblowing and that, “At the very least, I will publish evidence I have without divulging the confidential information.”The shocking news that the OPCW fixed its own report in order to frame the Syrian government for a chemical weapons attack that likely did not even happen, according to its own expert investigators, has been roundly ignored by corporate media, but not by MintPress News, who has covered the news in depth.Members of the OPCW team have come forward, expressing their “gravest concern” about the “selective representation of the facts” and the “intentional bias” “undermining the credibility of the report.” Even former OPCW Director-General Dr. Jose Bustani stated that the whistleblowers’ testimonies have “confirmed the doubts and suspicions” he already had about the organization and Syria.The alleged chemical weapons attack was immediately used as a justification for foreign intervention in the conflict. Within days, the U.S., France and the United Kingdom launched bombings campaigns on the country, risking a potential nuclear conflict with Russia to the g reat approval of corporate media. Not one of the top 100 American newspapers by circulation opposed the extremely hasty actions.

 The Average Cost Of An Illegally Purchased M16 - In 2017, Statista put together an infographic about the price of an AK-47 on the black market and the weapon had an average cost of anywhere between $1,135 in Belgium and $2,100 in Syria. Calibre Obscura, a fascinating website and Twitter account devoted to research on arms in the hands of non-state groups, has now published data on the average price of an M16 in various countries.  Focusing on the Middle East and North Africa, the price levels are based on local sources, focusing on the M16A2 and A4 variants of the American assault rifle in late 2019. Those weapons end up on sale in a variety of ways from the Taliban capturing them from Afghan army and police units to those same security forces themselves deciding to sell their weapons to various groups. It is also likely that U.S.-manufactured weapons have been captured from Saudi forces in the Yemen conflict where they have subsequently gone on sale.As the chart shows, perhaps the great arbitrage trade in the world is shipping M16s from Syria to Lybia... just be careful... Across the Middle East and North Africa, the gun has the highest average price in Tripoli where it is said to cost in excess of $12,000, though it is thought to be practically unobtainable there.Elsewhere, it's far cheaper, however, fetching between $2,500 and $3,000 in parts of Yemen. In Helmand province in Afghanistan and Idlib in Syria, the weapon can be purchased for less than $1,000.

What really happened in Iran? – Pepe Escobar - On November 15, a wave of protests engulfed over 100 Iranian cities as the government resorted to an extremely unpopular measure: a fuel tax hike of as much as 300%, without a semblance of a PR campaign to explain the reasons. Iranians, after all, have reflexively condemned subsidy removals for years now – especially related to cheap gasoline. If you are unemployed or underemployed in Iran, especially in big cities and towns, Plan A is always to pursue a second career as a taxi driver.Protests started as overwhelmingly peaceful. But in some cases, especially in Tehran, Shiraz, Sirjan and Shahriar, a suburb of Tehran, they quickly degenerated into weaponized riots – complete with vandalizing public property, attacks on the police and torching of at least 700 bank outlets. Much like the confrontations in Hong Kong since June.President Rouhani, aware of the social backlash, tactfully insisted that unarmed and innocent civilians arrested during the protests should be released. There are no conclusive figures, but Iranian diplomats admit, off the record, that as many as 7,000 people may have been arrested. Tehran’s judiciary system denies it. According to Iran’s Interior MinisterAbdolreza Rahmani Fazli, as many as 200,000 people took part in the protests nationwide. According to the Intelligence Ministry, 79 people were arrested in connection with the riots only in Khuzestan province – including three teams, supported by “a Persian Gulf state,” which supposedly coordinated attacks on government centers and security/police forces. The Intelligence Ministry said it had arrested eight “CIA operatives,” accused of being instrumental in inciting the riots. Now compare it with the official position by the IRGC. The chief commander of the IRGC, Major General Hossein Salami, stressed riots were conducted by “thugs” linked to the US-supported Mujahedin-e Khalq (MKO), which has less than zero support inside Iran, and with added interference by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Salami also framed the riots as directly linked to “psychological pressure” from the Trump administration’s relentless “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. He directly connected the protests degenerating into riots in Iran with foreign interference in protests in Lebanon and Iraq.Predictably, the American narrative framed Lebanon and Iraq – where protests were overwhelmingly against local government corruption and incompetence, high unemployment, and abysmal living standards – as a region-wide insurgency against Iranian power.

How Iran Got North Korean Subs  - Tensions continue to mount between Washington and Iran, with every week bringing forth a new round of diplomatic threats and accusations. Most recently, Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami gave a blistering speech in which he assured the Iranian parliament that the “vulnerability” of American aircraft carriers will prevent the U.S. military from challenging Iranian power in the Persian Gulf. Such rhetoric is par for the course for Iranian officials and state media, who project unwavering confidence in Iranian military capabilities.But just how capable is Iran’s conventional military, and do they really have the means to effectively resist a U.S. offensive? The National Interest previously looked at this nuanced question with overviews of Iran’sair force and surface navy. We now turn to what is arguably the core of Iran’s conventional military strength, and the reason why it boasts the fourth-strongest navyin the world: its submarine force. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Iran’s submarine roster is its sheer size, especially in relation to the rest of its navy. Whereas Iran’s combined output of operational corvettes, frigates, and destroyers hardly exceeds 10, it currently fields a whopping 34 submarines. The vast majority of these are midget-class--or “littoral”--diesel-electric vessels, with roughly two dozen from Iran’s homemade Ghadir class and several more from the North Korean Yugo class. Impressively, the Ghadir is much smaller but still has strong offensive capabilities; Ghadir vessels boast the same 533 mm torpedo tubes as the handful of Iran’s much larger Kilo vessels, only fewer at two versus six. To be sure, Iran’s heavy concentration of mini-submarines makes for unflattering comparisons with the much more robust submarine fleets of its American and Russian counterparts. However, their roster makes a great deal of military sense within the context of Iran’s strategic objectives. Iran has no need to project power sea power around the world, or even across the Middle East. Instead, the Iranian navy is constituted and organized around the specific goal of securing the Persian Gulf and specifically the Hormuz Strait. The limited range of Iran’s diesel-electric submarines is irrelevant in therestrictive and shallow confines of the Gulf, while their near-undetectability mine-laying capability makes them ideal candidates for patrol and ambush operations against hostile surface vessels.

Exclusive: U.S. says drone shot down by Russian air defenses near Libyan capital (Reuters) - The U.S. military believes that an unarmed American drone reported lost near Libya’s capital last month was in fact shot down by Russian air defenses and it is demanding the return of the aircraft’s wreckage, U.S. Africa Command says. Such a shootdown would underscore Moscow’s increasingly muscular role in the energy-rich nation, where Russian mercenaries are reportedly intervening on behalf of east Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar in Libya’s civil war. Haftar has sought to take the capital Tripoli, now held by Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, who leads Africa command, said he believed the operators of the air defenses at the time “didn’t know it was a U.S. remotely piloted aircraft when they fired on it.” “But they certainly know who it belongs to now and they are refusing to return it. They say they don’t know where it is but I am not buying it,” Townsend told Reuters in a statement, without elaborating. The U.S. assessment, which has not been previously disclosed, concludes that either Russian private military contractors or Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army were operating the air defenses at the time the drone was reported lost on Nov. 21, said Africa Command spokesman Air Force Colonel Christopher Karns.

Turkey Ready To Deploy Troops In Libya Against Haftar Offensive: Erdogan - Turkey and Libya have signed an expanded maritime, security and military cooperation agreement which gives Turkey the right to deploy troops there if requested by authorities in Tripoli, President Erdogan has told state-run TRT television in an interview on Monday. "In the event of such a call coming, it is Turkey's decision what kind of initiative it will take here." Erdogan said, as reported by Reuters. "We will not seek the permission of anyone on this," he underscored. This at a moment the country is still divided between Gen. Khalifa Haftar's advancing LNA forces and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. Turkey has been the most aggressive backer of Tripoli, offering military equipment and even air power, while the UAE has provided most weaponry for Haftar's 'rebel' army in the developing proxy war. While Washington officially recognizes the GNA, the Trump administration has for months verbalized support for Haftar, long seen as the 'CIA's man in Libya'. "Haftar is nothing but a pirate," Erdogan said earlier this year after six Turkish sailors were briefly detained by pro-Haftar forces. Erdogan also claimed that based on the bilateral memorandum, signed on Nov. 27, Turkish forces entering Libyan territory or waters at the request of the GNA would not be a violation of the UN arms embargo on the war-torn country."With this new agreement between Turkey and Libya, we can hold joint exploration operations in these exclusive economic zones that we determined. There is no problem," Erdogan said. "Other international actors cannot carry out exploration operations in these areas Turkey drew (up) with this accord without getting permission. Greek Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Israel cannot establish a gas transmission line without first getting permission from Turkey," he warned.

 Turkey’s Erdoğan threatens to send troops into Libya- Turkey is prepared to send troops into Libya should the war-ravaged north African nation’s besieged government in Tripoli ask for Ankara’s aid, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned Tuesday. The threat of intervention came as the Libyan capital, a metropolitan area comprising some two million inhabitants, appeared to be on the brink of an all-out battle between the collection of militias supporting the Tripoli-based, UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), which is aligned with a rival government based upon the Libyan House of Representatives in the eastern port city of Tobruk. Libya, once the wealthiest country in Africa, boasting the continent’s largest oil reserves, was transformed into a so-called failed state and plunged into a permanent state of chaos and bloodshed by the 2011 US-NATO war for regime change. A seven-month-long bombing campaign was launched in support of CIA-backed Islamist militias to destroy Libya’s security forces and vital infrastructure and overthrow the government of Muammar Gaddafi, who was tortured and murdered by an Islamist l Turkey is the sole power providing significant material support to the GNA of Prime Minister al-Sarraj in Tripoli. The Tobruk government and the LNA, which is commanded by the 76-year-old “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar, has won backing from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, France and Russia. Washington’s attitude toward the conflict has been ambiguous. While the US formally recognizes the GNA in Tripoli and has called for a ceasefire, President Donald Trump spoke personally to Haftar last April as his forces were mounting a previous siege of Tripoli and, afterwards, praised him for playing a “significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources.” A former Gaddafi general turned CIA asset, Haftar spent two decades living near the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, collaborating in US plots against the Gaddafi government, before returning to Libya shortly after the NATO war began in 2011 to lead NATO-backed “rebels.” Haftar’s forces have appeared to gain the upper hand amid reports of Russian aid in the form of military contractors as well as warplanes and air defense systems that have given them control of Libyan airspace.On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he had discussed Libya the day before with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Washington, and had insisted that there was “no military solution.” He also reiterated US support for an arms embargo imposed against Libya in 2011, an embargo that was blatantly violated by the CIA in supplying arms to the Islamist militias in the country, weapons that later found their way to Al Qaeda-linked forces in Syria and elsewhere.

Israel Conducted Nuclear Missile Test Aimed At Iran - FM Zarif - Iran is crying foul after Israeli's Defense Ministry confirmed a major test of a mystery new "rocket propulsion system" on Friday morning.  “The defense establishment conducted a launch test a few minutes ago of a rocket propulsion system from a base in the center of the country,” the ministry said. “The test was scheduled in advance and was carried out as planned.”  Giving no further details, international reports were rife with speculation over the nature of the rocket, with many saying it was a nuclear-capable ballistic missile. This was enough for Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to go off, saying in a statement posted to Titter: “Israel today tested a nuke-missile, aimed at Iran.” And he further complained that the West looks the other way when it comes to “about the only nuclear arsenal in West Asia,” but that it “has fits of apoplexy over our conventional defensive [rockets].” The mystery Israeli test was significant enough to require the temporary diversion of all inbound flights to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. Israeli media publications also considered the possibility that it was a ballistic missile test, likely nuclear warhead capable surface-to-surface Jericho system, an intercontinental ballistic missile which according to foreign reports can support a nuclear payload. It comes at a tense time in the region following Israeli airstrikes on Syria and even Iraq, against what the IDF alleges were 'Iranian targets'. According to the Times of IsraelIsrael does not publicly acknowledge having ballistic missiles in its arsenals, though according to foreign reports, the Jewish state possesses a nuclear-capable variety known as the Jericho that has a multi-stage engine, a 5,000-kilometer range and is capable of carrying a 1,000-kilogram warhead.

Israel Becomes Major Hub in the International Cocaine Trade, Abuse Rising -  Haartetz - On a wall of a Israel Police classified intelligence unit hangs a map of the world. The countries of Central and South America are highlighted in red, the countries of western Africa are highlighted in green and arrows drawn the length and width of the map indicating drug trafficking movements all point to one country, whose name is highlighted: Israel. It should be noted that Israel has a “star role” in the World Drug Report for 2013 issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and released last June. In the report, which discusses trends in the world, Israel is not infrequently listed in connection with cocaine. Over recent years, there has been a significant increase in cocaine trafficking to and from Israel: “Limited but non-negligible amounts of cocaine have also been seized in the Syrian Arab Republic, Lebanon and, notably, Israel, which registered an increase in 2011; hence a link between this emerging route and the Near and Middle East cannot be excluded.” In its annual report for 2012, the International Narcotics Control Board lists Brazil and Israel among the “countries that are major manufacturers, exporters, importers and users of narcotic drugs.” Whereas Israel is mentioned in the same breath with Brazil with regard to the cocaine trade, it is difficult to find up-to-date figures in Israel on the scope of cocaine trafficking at the local level. However, the latest survey by Israel’s Anti-Drug Authority on cocaine, which appeared in 2009, noted a clear trend: In comparison with 2005, the amount of cocaine used in Israel had doubled by 2009 and close to one percent of all Israelis aged 18-40 indicated they had used cocaine by then.

China copper imports hit 13-month high in November on improved factory activity (Reuters) - China’s copper imports rose 12.1% in November from the previous month to their highest in more than a year, as an unexpected improvement in the manufacturing sector drove up demand. Imports of unwrought copper including anode, refined and semi-finished copper products into China stood at 483,000 tonnes last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Sunday. That was the highest since September 2018. The imports were up from 431,000 tonnes in October, and 5.9% higher than 456,000 in November 2018. For the first 11 months of 2019, imports of unwrought copper were down 8.5% from a year earlier at 4.45 million tonnes. The higher monthly number comes as factory activity in China, the world’s top copper consumer, improved unexpectedly in the manufacturing sector in November, as demand rose on stimulus measures to steady growth.

World Bank says lending to China to drop - The World Bank said Saturday its loans to China have fallen and will continue to be reduced, amid criticism from US President Donald Trump over lending to the world's second-largest economy."World Bank lending to China has fallen sharply and will continue to reduce as part of our agreement with all our shareholders including the United States," it said in a statement."We eliminate lending as countries get richer," it added.The World Bank on Thursday adopted a low-interest loan aid package to China of $1 billion to $1.5 billion (€900 million-1.36 billion) annually through June 2025. The plan calls for lending to "gradually decline" from the previous five-year average of $1.8 billion. The announcement prompted Trump on Friday to demand lending to China stop completely."Why is the World Bank loaning money to China? Can this be possible? China has plenty of money, and if they don't, they create it. STOP!" Trump wrote on Twitter Friday.The Trump administration has argued China is too wealthy to receive World Bank loans, which are normally meant for poor countries.It is a position shared by World Bank chief David Malpass when he was a US Treasury official. The public rebuke of the World Bank comes as the United States and China are striving to strike a deal to end an 18-month trade war.

China has its own Hong Kong protest game that lets you beat up activists --Remember the game Liberate Hong Kong? That’s the one that lets you play as a Hong Kong protester dodging rubber bullets. Now there’s a game for the other side.A new anti-protest propaganda game in China called “Everyone Hit the Traitors” lets players smash black-clad, bleary-eyed Hong Kong protesters and prominent pro-democracy activists. And just so you know where the game stands on Chinese sovereignty, the title screen includes in bold letters, "Hong Kong is part of China, and this can't be meddled with by outside powers." Joshua Wong gets to heal protesters in this game. When you strike him down, he gets arrested. The game is free to play on the web at, using the Chinese word for rat. When you fire it up, the game tells you there are a number of “traitors” who are instigating protests in Hong Kong and colluding with Western powers, a common allegation from the Chinese government.The people labeled traitors in the game are depicted by crude caricatures of themselves. Martin Lee, considered by some as Hong Kong’s “father of democracy,” is depicted as a rat crawling through the streets with his tail painted red, white and blue. The game also includes activist Joshua Wong, media tycoon Jimmy Lai and former government official Anson Chan. Some of these figures are pictured in a huddle with US diplomat Julie Eadeh.

Violence Is Sometimes the Answer - Whenever protesters fight with police, burn vehicles, or smash windows, a familiar chorus rings out, from a safe distance: Why can’t they be nonviolent, like Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King Jr.? With anti-government protests raging around the world since the summer, this common refrain has returned. Even United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, while reminding governments to allow free assembly and expression, said protesters must “follow the examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and other champions of nonviolent change.”  This creates a double standard: Protesters are expected to remain nonviolent, even in the face of attacks by powerful, heavily armed governments. Yet no matter what protesters do, governments always portray them as “thugs” or “criminals” to legitimize violent crackdowns, as in Iran in recent weeks. The FBI accused King himself of inciting violence.  Government security forces are considered restrained if they use rubber bullets, tear gas, and other such weapons termed “nonlethal,” instead of live ammunition. But protesters are labeled and condemned as violent as soon as the first rock flies, justifying even harsher state repression. The violence of the state is normalized—and even excused—by those who claim to decry violence of all stripes. Even careful use of force by protesters, however, such as targeted property destruction or direct resistance to police brutality, becomes an excuse to condemn the whole movement.   I endorse nonviolence as an ideal. In the face of repression by pro-government forces, though, this ideal may be untenable. One can oppose aggressive violence but recognize that violence in self-defense or responding to attacks is justified. Even when a cause seems hopeless, fighting back may give protesters a sense of agency and self-worth, rather than suffering in the hope of a hypothetical change in the future—a future they might not live to see.  Calls for nonviolence often come from residents of Western democracies, where the scope of domestic state violence is relatively limited or restricted to targeting particular minorities, including black Americans and people of Middle Eastern and African descent in France, and where protests tend to be augmented by secure access to the courts and ballot box. Yet globally, protest movements willing to use violence are sometimes more effective in achieving regime change or democratization. Many cases celebrated as successes by nonviolent resistance advocates, such as Egypt’s Arab Spring protests andUkraine’s Maidan movement, were actually accompanied by significant strategic anti-police violence that led security forces to desert or abandon the regime.

Protests erupt as India pushes for religion-based citizenship bill - (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in India on Monday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government offered a controversial bill in parliament that would give citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from three neighbouring countries.  Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in India’s lower house amid raucous debate. Opposition parties stood against the proposed law that would, for the first time, create a legal pathway to grant Indian nationality on the basis of religion. The bill was originally introduced in 2016 during the Modi government’s first term but lapsed after protests and an alliance partner’s withdrawal. It proposes to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslims who came to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan before 2015. Oppositions politicians inside parliament, and protesters in several Indian cities, said the bill discriminated against Muslims and violated India’s secular constitution. Shah and Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which had included the CAB as part of its manifesto in the last general election, insist that it is necessary. “In these three countries, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians, followers of these six religions have been tormented,” Shah said, before the bill was tabled after a vote. But protesters returned to the streets in Assam - one of the states that had previously opposed the bill - and blocked roads, burnt tyres and painted walls with slogans against the new proposal. Student groups called for dawn-to-dusk shutdown in four districts of the state. Shops, businesses, educational and financial institutions remained shut and public transport stayed off the roads.“We will fight and oppose the bill till the last drop of our blood,” All Assam Students’ Union adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya told Reuters, underlining the region’s resistance against migrants amid fears that tens of thousands of settlers from neighbouring Bangladesh would gain citizenship.

Eight in 10 girls in western Nepal forced to sleep outside during periods --Teenage girls are still being forced to sleep outside during their periods in parts of Nepal despite a string of deaths and a law banning the ancient custom, researchers said on Tuesday. A new study published days after the latest victim suffocated to death found nearly eight out of 10 girls in Karnali, a province in western Nepal where the practice is prevalent, were banished from their homes while menstruating. Because menstruating girls and women are viewed as impure, many have to sleep in huts, where they are at risk of being raped, bitten by snakes or dying from carbon dioxide poisoning from fires lit to keep warm. "The women and girls we spoke to were terrified of snakes and animals coming in at night, or of being attacked by strangers," said Jennifer Thomson, who worked on the study, published in the journal Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters. "Even if they hadn't experienced that directly, the psychological stress of that was quite real," added Thomson, a lecturer in comparative politics at Britain's University of Bath. The centuries-old Hindu practice known as chhaupadi was outlawed in 2005, but penalties including a fine and jail time were only introduced last year after the deaths of a teenager and a mother and her sons led to a parliamentary investigation. Researchers interviewed 400 girls aged between 14 and 19 in mid-Western Nepal's Karnali province for the study and found 77% practised chhaupadi despite the ban. Even in wealthier urban households, where it was less common, about two-thirds of girls said they practised chhaupadi.

Students keep driving protests demanding change in Chile (AP) — Nearly two months ago, Catalina Santana jumped a turnstile in the Santiago metro and helped launch a movement that changed the course of Chilean history. Student protests over a fare hike morphed into a nationwide call for socioeconomic equality and better social services that brought millions to the streets and forced President Sebastián Piñera to increase benefits for the poor and disadvantaged and start a process of constitutional reform. But Santana, 18, isn’t done. Although the headlines have faded, she and thousands of other young people are still taking to the streets of Santiago and other Chilean cities almost daily to demand the government follow through on its promises of chance. Two similar student-driven movements over the last decade and a half led to significant but limited reforms in education policy, including lower costs for university students. The young protesters are hoping that this time around they will be able to force the government to make deep-rooted structural changes that address the fundamental causes of inequality, economic injustice and poor social services in Chile. “If my grandmother retires, she shouldn’t die of hunger,” Santana said during a recent protests in central Santiago. “If I go to a hospital, I shouldn’t die waiting for treatment. The professor teaching my classes shouldn’t be paid so little money. It can’t be this way.” Starting with high-school students in 2006, then university students five years later, Chile has been hit by regular, large-scale protests led by young people that have won concessions from the government. High school students’ protests won discounts on public transportation and the waiver of charges for university entrance exams for most students. University students won free tuition for nearly half the students in the country, and lower interest rates on student loans. In several cases, student protesters went on to become left-wing legislators who are now pushing for the reforms demanded by the street protesters.

“Less-Lethal” Weapon Abuse in Chile - Sebastian Piñera’s government confused the human rights NGO with an armament manufacturer and requested a quote for 100,000 tear gas cartridges, 50,000 rubber bullets and 7,000 liters of pepper spray. Social protest had sparked a week before and the government was getting equipped to face it. Police and military repression in the last 6 weeks in Chile has left a toll of arrests, injuries and deadly victims unseen since the days of Pinochet. These events have made clear that the use of less-lethal weapons (LLW) is unfit for crowd control. They are misused by the forces who manipulate these weapons without any supervision or evaluation. This situation renders it impossible to diminish, prevent and investigate abuse in the forces’ management of social protest. The last two months in Chile have been exceptional. An increase in the price of subway tickets in mid-October paved the way for a generalized cry of discontent that brought millions of people to the streets questioning the social and economic model of their country. “It’s not the 30 pesos, it’s the 30 years”, was the expression of exasperation that could be read on protest signs lifted from North to South of the Andean country, about the lack of social reform since the democratic transition of 1990.Since the beginning of the unrest, the authorities’ reaction has been hard, repressive, sustainedly violent and indiscriminate. Multiple organizations of civil society and public institutions are monitoring human rights violations. Murder, torture, sexual abuse, arbitrary arrests, persecution of community leaders and illegal use of force are some of the situations reported by the international observers who traveled to Chile early November 2019. When the human rights organizations mission arrived in Santiago, the protests’ death toll had already reached 20 and hundreds had been injured. The mission’s conclusions and recommendations are eloquent. A notable trait that the mission observed in Chile is the widespread abusive, disproportionate and illegal use of rubber bullets and pellet rounds by Carabineros. The police have provoked until now over 200 eye injuries which have lead to total loss of vision in some cases. As the Chilean Red Cross reported to the Reuters news agency, more people have lost an eye in the first three weeks of protest than in the past 20 years.

Brazil to send security force to indigenous land after two shot dead (Reuters) - Brazil will send an emergency security force to the indigenous reserve of Cana Brava in the northeastern state of Maranhao to protect the Guajajara tribe after two members were shot dead over the weekend, a government decree said on Monday. The decree, signed by Justice Minister Sergio Moro, said the National Security Force would be sent to the region from Dec. 10 to Mar. 8 and would work to protect the indigenous tribe. Indigenous tribes in Brazil are facing escalating violence under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, who has promised to reduce tribal rights and encouraged the commercial exploitation of their protected lands. Tribes have faced violence especially from illegal loggers and miners. On Saturday two men of the Guajajara tribe were shot dead and two others were wounded. The attack took place not far from where Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a prominent tribesman and part of a vigilante group defending the forest, was shot in a confrontation with illegal loggers last month. Moro said earlier on Monday on Twitter that the Federal Police will investigate the most recent murders.

Brazil’s beef export hit record, prospects bright on China demand (Reuters) - Brazil is poised to break its own beef export record next year as it boosts trade ties with Asia, tries to enter the Japanese market for fresh beef and expands sales to Russia, an exporter group said on Tuesday. Brazil’s 2019 beef exports reached an estimated 1.828 million tonnes, up from the previous record of 1.643 million tonnes in 2018, according to Abiec. Next year, volumes are projected to soar 13% to 2.067 million tonnes, it said. Brazilian sales abroad were bolstered by an outbreak of African swine fever in Asia, which spurred a surge in Chinese beef imports. The expected rise in Brazilian beef exports next year should come from access to new markets like Japan, which does not yet buy Brazil fresh beef, Antonio Camardelli, head of Abiec, told a press conference. Local exporters are also keen to keep steady supplies to Asia and expand sales in markets like Russia, which needs to compensate a fall in beef imports from Argentina, Camardelli said.

Bolivia after Morales: An ‘ungovernable country’ with a power vacuum  -Evo Morales is hardly Bolivia’s first president to be ousted in a mass uprising. Both of his immediate predecessors – Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Carlos Mesa – resigned after waves of mass protest. So did at least seven other Bolivian presidents since 1870.The power of the Bolivian people is so formidable that former president Mesa, upon resigning in 2005, declared the country “ungovernable.”Bolivia’s new interim president, Jeanine Añez, may well echo the sentiment. Deadly protests have gripped Bolivia since she took power on Nov. 11, and Morales’ socialist party, MAS, retains a two-thirds majority in both the lower and upper houses of Congress.Añez, a former senator from Bolivia’s weak opposition, has virtually no power. Her party stands little chance of passing legislation. And protests against her government continue. Throughout Bolivian history, protests have been an important way indigenous people and rural peasants, long excluded from the halls of power, have made their voices heard.Whether to force more equitable land distribution in the 1952 Bolivian National Revolution, demand the return of the coastal province conquered by Chile in 1883 or call for the nationalization of resources such as oil and gas, these marginalized communities have often earned major concessions via protest.  Bolivian government institutions are so weak that effective governance requires at the least some populist compromise.Indigenous Bolivians organize massive marches, blocking roads into major urban centers to prevent food and fuel from entering and exploding dynamiteto highlight their dismay. By paralyzing cities, including the seat of government, these indigenous protest strategies have effectively overwhelmed numerous Bolivian governments. That’s how Morales himself rose to power: He was the highly visible leader of the 2003 and 2005 protests that ousted his immediate predecessors.

Evo Morales heads to Cuba amid talk of an eventual comeback Bolivia’s recently toppled president, Evo Morales, has left Mexico for Cuba as part of what some observers suspect is the first step in a bid to stage a dramatic political comeback. On Friday night, less than a month after being forced into exile in Mexico, Morales flew out of the country on a plane bound for Havana. Mexico’s foreign relations ministry confirmed that Morales had left for Cuba on Friday, on what it called a temporary visit. The Mexican newspaper El Universal said official sources had confirmed Morales’ departure for the communist-run Caribbean island. Last month a commentator from the same newspaper, Salvador García Soto, had predicted Bolivia’s first indigenous president would relocate to another Latin American country “where he would be able to organise his resistance plan and strategy to attempt to return to Bolivia to recover power in the near future”. Morales touched down in Mexico on 12 November after Mexico’s leftist leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, sent an airforce plane to rescue him from the South American country he had governed since 2006. Morales fled Bolivia after being forced to resign on 10 November in what political foes celebrated as a popular uprising against an increasingly authoritarian leader but which Morales’ supporters branded a right-wing coup d’état. “It is a racist coup,” Sacha Llorenti, Morales’ former ambassador to the United Nations, said in a recent interview. López Obrador’s administration had welcomed Morales to Mexico and offered him political asylum. However, García Soto, the Mexican commentator, argued that a lengthy stay in Mexico would have damaged already fragile US-Mexico ties. Donald Trump’s White House would not have appreciated seeing Mexico’s government “support, and much less finance, a campaign by the deposed president to retake power in Bolivia”, he argued. “That is why Evo’s presence cannot last too long ... because the more time that passes the more likely it is to become a source of tension between Mexico and the US.” On Friday, Spain’s El País reported that Morales was also unlikely to spend much time in Cuba and instead planned to relocate to Argentina once that country’s new leftist leader, Alberto Fernández, took office next week.

‘It’s now or never’: Russia and Ukraine hold peace talks in Paris  - There is cautious optimism that talks between the leaders of Russia and Ukraine on Monday could end the stalemate over a long-running conflict in the Donbass region. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky will be joined at the talks in Paris by France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel; the group is known as the “Normandy Four.” Macron and Merkel have previously tried to broker several peace agreements, known as the “Minsk agreements,” but these have yet to be fully implemented. It will be the first time that Putin and Zelensky have met face to face and the first time that the Normandy Four group has met since October 2016. Relations between Russia and Ukraine nose-dived after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in early 2014 and then supported a pro-Russian uprising in the Donbass region in the east of the country where two republics (of Donetsk and Luhansk) were declared by pro-Russian separatists. The conflict is now in its fifth year and has been largely characterized by clashes and skirmishes between separatists and the Ukrainian army. Nevertheless, 13,000 people (including civilians and combatants from both sides) have died in the conflict since 2014, according to the United Nations, and hostilities have affected 3.9 million civilians living in the region. The summit comes amid a tentative rapprochement between Russia and Ukraine that has taken place since Zelenksy came to power in May.

Ukraine’s leader hopes for lasting truce, prisoner swap (AP) — Ukraine’s new president has said he believes an international summit next week will help achieve a lasting cease-fire in the country’s separatist conflict. Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late Friday ahead of talks with the leaders of Russia, France and Germany in Paris on Monday that he also hopes to negotiate a quick deal to exchange all prisoners held by the warring parties. More than 14,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels since the conflict erupted in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Ukraine and Russia struck a prisoner exchange deal in September and agreed on a troop pullback from two locations in eastern Ukraine as part of efforts to pave the way for the Paris talks. Russia has also released three Ukrainian navy ships it seized in a Black Sea incident a year ago. “It was a signal that Russia is ready for a conversation,” Zelenskiy said during a TV talk show. Zelenskiy, a 41-year old comic actor with no previous political experience, was elected in a landslide in April on promises to end the fighting. Opinion surveys have shown broad public support for Zelenskiy’s peace efforts, but some in Ukraine fear that the novice Ukrainian leader could make concessions to the steely Russian president. The Paris talks will focus on implementation of the 2015 Minsk agreement, a deal that was brokered by France and Germany. The document was signed after a series of defeats for Ukrainian forces and envisaged broad autonomy for the rebel-held regions and a sweeping amnesty for the separatists. It also contains a provision that Ukraine could only regain control of the border in the separatist-controlled regions after they hold elections and receive the autonomous status — a diplomatic coup for Russia, which backed the separatists across the frontier.

It’s Time for Ukraine to Let the Donbass Go - As the Dec. 9 meeting of the Normandy group tasked with resolving the war in Ukraine’s Donbass approaches, Ukrainians would do well to consider that Russia’s occupation of the territory has actually been a godsend for their country.The Donbass has consistently supported Ukraine’s most retrograde, anti-reformist, anti-European, pro-Russian, and pro-Soviet political forces. It was the Donbass that made Viktor Yanukovych, whose political career was dedicated to bringing Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit, president in 2010. It was out of the Donbass that came his corrupt Party of Regions. And it was the Donbass that opposed popular pro-democracy uprisings in 2004 and 2014. The protests and prisoner exchange may put talks with the United States further off.  Russian President Vladimir Putin’s occupation of the eastern Donbass in the summer of 2014 effectively disenfranchised its voters. That was bad for the voters, but it enabled pro-democratic forces in unoccupied Ukraine to win the presidency and control of the country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, in 2014. Most of the reforms that have been adopted in the past five years—along with Ukraine’s steady march toward Europe—would have been impossible had the Donbass remained a part of Ukraine.If the eastern Donbass is brought back into Ukraine’s fold, many of these changes could be reversed or stalled, and whatever hopes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has for pursuing more reform would be dashed. By the same token, Putin would be emboldened by Ukraine’s appetite for self-destruction to make even greater encroachments on its sovereignty.

US Army Prepares Biggest Deployment to Europe in 25 Years — In 2020, the US Army will be carrying out its biggest deployment in 25 years into Europe. The deployment will send 20,000 US troops, and 13,000 pieces of equipment across Europe for wargames beginning in May and running through June. US Gen. Christopher Cavoli would not define the operation as aimed at Russia, but did tie it to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, saying it “changed everything.” The large deployment will be difficult.That’s because as with most recent operations, the US will be sending forces largely into former Warsaw Pact countries, and those countries have railroads incompatible with Western Europe. Moreover, the bridges in those countries were built without envisioning having to support the heaviest of US tanks.  According to Gen. Cavoli, the large deployment of US troops is meant to “demonstrate the US military’s ability to quickly deploy a large force.” This comes amid constantly escalating rhetoric against Russia.

France fines Morgan Stanley $22 million for bond manipulation (Reuters) - France’s markets watchdog AMF said on Tuesday it had fined U.S bank Morgan Stanley (MS.N) 20 million euros ($22 million) for manipulation of sovereign bonds. AMF said the fine related to manipulating the price of 14 French government bonds (OAT) and 8 Belgian bonds (OLO) on June 16 2015, and also of an OAT futures contract. AMF had noted a large sale of government bonds on June 16, 2015 disrupted the French MTS Global Market bond trading system, causing transactions to be suspended for four minutes and liquidity levels to drop for about an hour. Morgan Stanley said it intended to lodge an appeal. “The activities in question were undertaken in accordance with market practice and as part of the firm’s role and obligations as a market maker,” the bank said in a statement. AMF said on June 16 at 0920 local time Morgan Stanley International, located in London, had “aggressively purchased” futures in French, German and Belgian debt on Eurex, the derivatives exchange of Deutsche Boerse (DB1Gn.DE). At 0944 local time on the same day the U.S. bank’s European Governments Bonds and Agencies Desk instantaneously sold 815 million euros ($898.29 million) worth of 17 different government bonds on MTS France and Broker Tec platforms, as well as via MTS Belgium. The watchdog said that Morgan Stanley fixed prices on some of the bonds at abnormal and artificial levels, citing high volumes negotiated by traders and the fact that the bank’s large trade had the biggest positive impact on the futures prices that day. AMF also said Morgan Stanley had said that price variations were “normal” given the volumes traded and that they were mainly due to the exceptional circumstances of June 16, 2015. The watchdog also said Morgan Stanley had said the acquisition of futures on French government debt was part of a move to “unwind a deficit position” and that there was no motivation to impact the pricing.

France set for further transport chaos on sixth day of pension strikes -Unions estimated that some 885,000 demonstrators turned out across France by 5 pm Tuesday, as opposed to the 1.5 million they said protested on December 5. The French Ministry of the Interior put those numbers considerably lower, saying that 339,000 people showed up today and 806,000 last Thursday.Travellers across France faced a sixth day of turmoil amid massive strike action over the government's controversial plans to overhaul the country's pension system.Union leaders have rejected the government's overtures and vowed to keep up the fight over the reforms, which are set to be finalised and published on Wednesday.The unions want Macron to abandon his plan for a single pension scheme that would scrap dozens of individual ones enjoyed by train drivers, sailors, lawyers and other professions.They are calling on rail workers, doctors, teachers and other public workers to turn the screws on the French president before his government unveils its proposals in detail.Critics say the planned reform will force millions to work later in life to get the same benefits, but Macron has promised not to touch the official retirement age of 62.The strike is among the biggest since 1995, when then-prime minister Alain Juppe was forced to abandon an overhaul of the pension system after weeks of industrial action, a defeat from which he never recovered.Most Paris metro lines remained shut on Tuesday leading to huge traffic jams in and around the French capital.Just one in five high-speed TGV trains were running, and Air F rance cut 25 percent of domestic flights and 10 percent of its shorter international flights.

Emmanuel Macron Wants to End France’s Welfare State  --France was paralyzed by strikes on Friday, as workers from train drivers to teachers revolted against Emmanuel Macron’s attack on pensions. While the liberal president fancies himself as a French “Thatcher,” his bid to tear up France’s welfare state now faces its most powerful opposition yet. There’s no doubting the importance of Friday’s strikes in France. The actions on December 5 provided a powerful rebuke to Emmanuel Macron’s assault on pensions — and showed that millions of people are prepared to resist the planned dismantling of France’s welfare state. Reflected in local mobilizations in hundreds of towns and cities across France, this was not just a “day of action,” but the first day of what even now looks like a protracted strike movement. Already on Friday, the turnout was impressive. Economic activity in Paris and its environs came to a standstill, with nearly all metro stations shut. Nationwide, over 90 percent of train services were cancelled, while public-sector employees as diverse as posties, energy workers, and magistrates also joined the strike in significant numbers. Even more surprising was the mass involvement of schoolteachers, facing not only heavy pension cuts but also a buildup of “reforms” piling pressure on the sector. Private-sector workers participated in lower but still significant numbers: by Thursday, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union had received strike calls from at least two thousand workplaces in the private sector across the country. As expected, oil refinery workers joined the strike in massive numbers, and there was also significant participation in France’s domestic airlines. The size of street demonstrations was another key test for the mobilization. And again, these numbers demonstrated a real dynamism. While official sources claim that 70,000 people took part in protests in Paris and 806,000 across the country, trade unions estimated 250,000 for the capital and 1.5 million for France as a whole; various figures from local media easily add up to one million nationwide.

German industry slump sparks renewed economic growth fears - (Reuters) - Germany’s industrial output unexpectedly dropped in October, reviving worries about its economic growth outlook as its manufacturing backbone takes a blow from global trade conflicts and disruptions in the auto sector. Industrial output dropped 1.7% on the month against expectations for a 0.1% rise, Statistics Office figures showed on Friday. Production of capital goods slumped by 4.4% on the month, the steepest decline in more than five years. Europe’s biggest economy is going through a soft patch as its export-oriented manufacturers struggle against a backdrop of trade friction, an ailing car industry and uncertainties over Britain’s planned departure from the European Union. “Now the trepidation starts again about GDP growth in the final quarter,” said Jens-Oliver Niklasch, economist at Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg. German industry now expects output in the coming months to fall more slowly than was foreseen a month ago, a survey of 2,300 firms in the sector by the Ifo economic institute showed. In its 10th successive year of growth, Germany’s economy has been relying on strong consumption as exports weaken, which resulted in a second-quarter GDP contraction of 0.2%. The economy grew by just 0.1% in the third quarter, narrowly avoiding recession, which economists usually define as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. “Trade conflicts, global uncertainty and disruption in the automotive industry have put the entire German industry in a headlock, from which it is hard to escape,”

How Russian Agents Hunt Down Kremlin Opponents - In the summer of 2013, a killer in Moscow rode a bicycle toward his victim. The Russian businessman Albert Nazranov saw him, and a short brawl ensued. The killer shot the man in the head and upper body at close range. Then he rode away. All of that can be seen in surveillance footage of the crime.In the summer of 2019, a killer also rode a bicycle toward his victim, only this time in Berlin. He shot Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, of Georgia, in the head and upper body at close range, before riding away. That's how witnesses described the scene.  Reporting by DER SPIEGEL, Bellingcat, The Insider and The Dossier Center now reveals that not only were both murders very similar -- they were also likely carried out by the same person. A forensic comparison of both perpetrator photos reveals clear similarities. The man who carried a passport bearing the name Vadim Sokolov in Berlin was the Russian Vadim Krasikov, the killer who is thought to have also struck in Moscow. German General Federal Prosecutor Peter Frank has now assumed responsibility for the investigation into the Berlin murder case at the federal level because, he says, they are of "special importance." Germany's chief prosecutor believes that Russian government authorities deliberately issued Krasikov's new identity, an assumption based on the fact that Moscow took the surprising step in 2015 of revoking an international search warrant for Krasikov and issuing a new identity card to him with the name "Vadim Sokolov" a short time later. It's not likely to have been a coincidence.

 Strikes continue in Finland after Social Democrat prime minister resigns - Finland’s prime minister, the Social Democrat Antti Rinne, was forced to resign last week after disagreements erupted within his five-party coalition government over the handling of a nationwide strike by 10,000 postal workers. His Social Democratic successor, Sanna Marin, took office yesterday amid three days of strikes by over 70,000 workers in the technology and industrial sectors. The two-week strike at the national postal service Posti was triggered by the revelation that 700 parcel delivery workers would be transferred to a collective agreement with an outsourced subsidiary of Posti, resulting in wage cuts of up to 30 percent. In response, thousands of transport workers launched a solidarity strike, resulting in the cancellation of some 300 flights by national airline Finnair. The upsurge of class struggle in Finland is part of an international process that has seen strikes and protests spread across every continent over the past two years. The issues driving the strike wave in Finland—savage austerity, rising inequality, attacks on wages, and growing opposition to the entire political establishment—are the same as those radicalising working people around the world. The strikes continuing in the technology sector this week are in opposition to a push by the employers’ organisation to enforce a wage increase of 0.5 percent for 2020, which amounts to a cut in terms of real wages. The broad support for the postal workers was driven by sustained austerity measures implemented by successive governments aimed at gutting public services and deregulating the labour market. Faced with the threat of Finland’s ports being shut down by a sympathy strike, which would have hit corporations hard in a country where 40 percent of GDP is made up of exports, Posti management withdrew the outsourcing proposal in late November. Shortly before the final deal was reached, Prime Minister Rinne demagogically asserted that workers’ rights would not be trampled underfoot while his government was in office. This comment proved too much to bear for the Centre Party, the second-largest party in Rinne’s coalition. A liberal party with a predominantly rural support base, Centre enforced sweeping spending cuts and attacks on wages and working conditions under Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, who ruled between 2015 and 2019 in coalition with the right-wing National Coalition Party and the far-right Finns Party. Centre Party leader Katri Kulmuni denounced Rinne, a former trade union leader, alleging that he had sided with the workers in the postal negotiations when it was necessary to remain neutral. After extended government talks, the Centre Party withdrew its support for Rinne and threatened his government with a vote of no confidence, prompting the Prime Minister to resign on 3 December. Marin, the new Prime Minister, was Transport Minister in Rinne’s cabinet, while Kulmuni will occupy the post of Finance Minister. The end result of the change of faces in the Finish government will thus be a political turn to the right. Behind all the hype about the country having the world’s youngest prime minister, a coalition made up of five parties led by five women and a government pledge to make the country carbon neutral by 2035, the SDP-led government will deepen the assault on working people and public services.

 Belgian boy wonder drops out of Dutch university at the age of 9 - Laurent Simons made headlines around the globe last month, as he looked set to complete a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Eindhoven’s University of Technology before the end of the year - which would have made him the world’s first ever graduate under the age of 10. But on Monday, the university told Laurent and his parents that plan no longer looked feasible, considering the number of exams he still needed to finish before his birthday on Dec 26. “Laurent is an exceptionally gifted boy, who is going through his studies at an unprecedented pace”, the university said in a statement. As the original plan looked unachievable, the university said it had offered “a still phenomenally quick scheme in which he would end his education mid-2020.” However, the boy’s parents decided not to accept the offer and immediately ended Laurent’s study in Eindhoven. “Until last week everything was fine, and now suddenly they see a delay of six months,” Laurent’s father, Alexander Simons, told Reuters on Tuesday. The exact date of Laurent’s graduation had never really been an issue for the family, he said, but became one as they felt the university was reacting to their plans to move the boy’s further education abroad. “It’s very peculiar that this all comes right at the time when we were finalizing our plans for Laurent’s PhD at a different university”, Simons senior said.

Calls grow to stop Boris Johnson with tactical voting as race tightens A cross-party alliance of opposition politicians has launched an 11th-hour appeal to anti-Tory voters to consider switching allegiance in Thursday’s general election, amid signs that a late surge of tactical voting in a few swing seats could deprive Boris Johnson of a majority in parliament. The calls from senior Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP figures come as a major poll suggests Johnson’s likely majority has been cut in half in the last two weeks – from 82 a fortnight ago to just 40 with four days to polling day. The analysis of almost 30,000 voters, for the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, also finds that tactical votes by as few as 40,700 people in 36 key seats could prevent Johnson from forming a majority government. Without a majority, Johnson is unlikely to be able to deliver the central promise of the Tory campaign – “to get Brexit done” – as he will struggle to get enough MPs’ votes. The DUP, which agreed to prop up the Tories after the 2017 general election, is now fiercely opposed to Johnson’s Brexit deal. The special polling analysis concludes that if tactical voting keeps the Tories out in the three dozen seats, the Conservatives would have 309 MPs, Labour 255, the SNP 49, the Lib Dems 14, Plaid Cymru three and the Greens one. To guarantee a majority, a governing party needs 325 MPs. Naomi Smith, Best for Britain’s chief executive, said: “This election is on a knife-edge, and, if enough Remainers hold their nose and vote for the candidate with the best chance of stopping the Tories, we’re heading for a hung Parliament and a final-say referendum.”

Johnson pledges transformative Brexit as nerves are rattled by UK polls - (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was nervous about his narrowing lead in opinion polls ahead of Thursday’s election but pledged to deliver a “transformative” Brexit that will allow lower immigration. The Dec. 12 election will decide the fate of Brexit and the world’s fifth-largest economy with a stark choice between Johnson’s pro-market Conservatives and the socialist-led opposition Labour Party. “Brexit is the most radical and profound change to the management of this country,” Johnson told Sky, adding that he would lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Jan. 31 if he wins a majority in the 650-seat parliament. “Brexit is indispensable - you can’t move forward without Brexit,” said Johnson, the face of the leave campaign in the 2016 referendum before winning the top job in July after Prime Minister Theresa May failed to deliver Brexit on time. Johnson called the snap election after more than three years of political crisis over the United Kingdom’s most significant geopolitical move since World War Two. Voting takes place from 0700 and 2200 GMT on Thursday, with Johnson likely to need more than 320 seats to ensure he can remain prime minister and ratify the Brexit deal he struck with the EU in October. Opinion polls put Johnson ahead of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, though his lead has narrowed in recent weeks and such polls largely failed to predict the 2016 referendum result or May’s loss of her majority in the 2017 snap election. Asked if he was nervous about narrowing polls, Johnson said: “Of course, we are fighting for every vote. I think that this is a critical moment for this country.”

Jewish group names UK’s Corbyn top anti-Semite of 2019 -The Simon Wiesenthal Center named UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as its the top anti-Semitic person or event for 2019, and warned that Britain would become a “pariah” if it elects the hard-left leader as prime minister this week.Jewish groups and others have rung alarm bells over the prospect of Corbyn’s promotion to 10 Downing Street with increasing distress as the December 12 British election has approached, accusing him of allowing a massive rise in anti-Semitism within the ranks of the party and of being anti-Semitic himself.  “‘No one has done more to mainstream antisemitism into the political and social life of a democracy than the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, the head of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the British Daily Mail.“If Jeremy Corbyn wins, he will make Britain a pariah on the world stage,” Hier said. “To have a person seeking the highest office who ignored anti-Semitism for years, who did everything in his power to encourage it is shocking.” Dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Marvin Hier seen at Fox 2000 Pictures special screening of ‘The Book Thief’ held at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, on Saturday, November, 2, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Twentieth Century Fox/AP Images) Hier, whose center is named for the famous Nazi Hunter Wiesenthal, also appeared to compare the dangers of Corbyn to those of Nazi Germany, saying people cannot stay silent. “We don’t want to get it wrong again. We cannot sit back and watch this happen again.”This is not the first time Corbyn has found himself on the annual list, which also includes anti-Israel events. In 2016, Labour anti-Semitism under Corbyn was listed as No. 2 by the Center, behind the US abstention on a UN vote on West Bank settlements. In 2017, Labour anti-Semitism placed 10th and last year Corbyn was listed as No. 4. The list is normally published in late December or early January; the earlier release this year may have been timed to come out ahead of the upcoming UK vote. Corbyn’s placement on the list was first reported by the conservative Mail on Sunday tabloid, which devoted a full page to it.

Northern Ireland customs protocol could thwart Brexit plans Northern Ireland customs arrangements may thwart Boris Johnson’s plan to leave the EU by December 2020, according to a document said to be leaked from civil servants in the Department for Exiting the EU. In the document, seen by the Financial Times, staff raised concerns about the readiness of the new customs arrangement, calling the protocol to keep part of the EU customs code in Northern Ireland, a “major” obstacle to Brexit delivery. The FT reported that the document was sent to senior Whitehall officials last week and said that implementing the Northern Ireland protocol before next December was a “strategic, political and operational challenge”. The protocol would implement a form of customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – an alternative arrangement to the Northern Irish “backstop” in the withdrawal agreement. Civil servants reportedly highlighted the “legal and political” repercussions both within the UK and Europe of failing to deliver Brexit on time, which Boris Johnson has made it the focal issue of his election campaign. Doubt was also cast on the free-trade agreement that Johnson has pledged to establish with the EU next year, with the document, marked “official sensitive”, reportedly stating that “delivery on the ground would need to commence before we know the outcome of negotiations”. The government said it did not comment on leaks, but insisted that its deal with the EU would comprehensively withdraw the whole of the UK – including Northern Ireland. It reiterated its commitment to complete the process before December 2020. The exposure came after Labour released leaked Treasury reports last week that concluded customs checks could be required on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, with the possibility that tariffs could also be imposed.

This may be Brexit Britain’s finest hour - In Europe, it’s common knowledge that the United Kingdom is falling apart. Perhaps it was former Prime Minister Theresa May’s excruciating speech at the Tory Party Conference in 2017, where the falling stage dressing seemed to sum up Britain’s future after Brexit. Or maybe it was all of those late nights of voting in Westminster, where nobody could agree on any type of Brexit, or all that chatter about whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson would go to jail for ignoring legislation that would avoid a no-deal Brexit. On this side of the Channel, these events have been consumed with a Meghan-and-Harry type fascination. Britain, viewed from the Continent, looks to be on a slow and steady decline, losing itself further and further down the Brexit rabbit hole. Europeans like to mock Brexiteer mantras such as “taking back control” and glibly assume Brexit will bring about economic contraction, social unrest, an independent Scotland and even (God forbid) a united Ireland. Britain will be well positioned to carve out a global niche as a good location for business — irrespective of its future trading relationship with the EU. But Europe’s view of Brexit Britain has been biased by Westminster’s political weakness over the past few years. What the parliamentary turmoil has obscured is the fact that Britain, true to its slogans and despite its Brexit stumbles, will all but certainly emerge from the Brexit process able to pursue its global ambitions. As a flexible, innovative, culturally open and highly deregulated (by Continental standards) society, Britain will be well positioned to carve out a global niche as a good location for business — irrespective of its future trading relationship with the EU. And contrary to much Continental derision, Britain has both the financial means and the governance ability to successful reinvent itself as a global trading powerhouse. To a large extent, it already performs this role within the EU. With manageable debt and a very low ratio of public spending relative to its economy, Britain is well placed to dramatically increase public investment — as both the Conservatives and Labour are promising to do — to help offset the chaos of Brexit’s painful birth.

Brexit: a lack of focus -- It is increasingly difficult to focus on general election news. It is getting increasingly manic, especially over the treatment of four-year-old Jack Williment-Barr, and Johnson's reaction to it when questioned by ITV's Joe Pike.  The subsequent Twitter storm raises more questions than answers, and once a story gets to this level of intensity, it is very hard to separate truth from fiction – especially at the height of the campaign when everything you hear and see is suspect. Produced for the local candidate, Kulvinder Singh Manik, the man claims to be from Bradford, having lived there all his life. But he gives his current address as Pudsey, which is that no-man's land between Leeds and Bradford. It certainly isn't Bradford.Yet, on Twitter, he tries to give the impression he is a local lad, complaining about the closing down of a local sports centre, put down to the "the tragic spoils of 75yrs Lab MPs & 40yrs of Lab-dominated Bfd Councils". "The loss of Bradford’s proud heritage", he declares, "must stop".  If Kulvinder Singh Manik was the local lad that he pretended to be, then he would have known this. But it's all for show from a man who knows nothing at all of our area or the local issues.But, with the famine broken, on the Monday we got two more leaflets from Labour and, almost taking our breath away, an election address from our Conservative candidate, Narinder Singh Sekhon.At least with this son of a millionaire property developer, there is no pretence. There is no concession at all to local issues in his leaflet. It is entirely generic, a universal text that could have served for any number of constituencies. I think the technical term for this is "taking the piss", but certainly no-one can accuse Narinder Singh Sekhon of actually trying to win the seat. As for the Lib-Dems, we still await anything from them. But then they have even less incentive to try than the Tories. They have absolutely no chance of getting anywhere and, this time round, might even lose their deposit.

More than Brexit: High stakes for the United Kingdom's foreign policy -Unsurprisingly, Brexit was at the heart of yesterday's very consequential election in the United Kingdom, as it has dominated domestic politics since the June 2016 referendum. The general public, frustrated by the paralysis caused by Brexit, hoped that this election would finally break the deadlock. And Prime Minister Boris Johnson campaigned relentlessly on the promise to “get Brexit done.” Bolstered by his clear victory in the election and the comfortable majority for his Conservative Party, Johnson will now have the chance to do just that and ensure his country’s orderly withdrawal from the European Union.But the constant focus on Brexit during the campaign has obscured equally important foreign policy challenges that will require close attention. Once out of the European Union, the United Kingdom might gain some autonomy of action. But it will also have to navigate a more uncertain international context marked by renewed great power competition. Johnson and his government will not be able to avoid unpleasant choices, especially about how it engages with the European Union, the United States and China.As Jennifer Rankin pointed out in The Guardian, this new challenging reality for the United Kingdom will start the very day after Brexit. Exiting is just phase one of the process. Phase two will involve initiating a fundamental negotiation to determine the future terms of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, especially over trade.Johnson has claimed repeatedly that such negotiations would be straightforward, opening the prospect for a potential agreement within 11 months. But most trade negotiators believe that this turn of events would be highly unlikely, since trade agreements are notoriously complex and hard to complete. The EU, additionally, has already warned the United Kingdom that any accord would involve trade-offs. If Johnson pushes for regulatory changes that diverge dramatically from EU rules, British industry will have to contend with more restrictive access to the EU’s Single Market. Moreover, the decisions in the U.K.-EU trade negotiations will have ramifications beyond their bilateral discussions. The Conservative Party manifesto placed great emphasis on its desire to aggressively negotiate free trade agreements with other key countries, including the United States.However, achieving a substantive deal with both the U.S. and EU is likely to be elusive. The very different regulations in the EU and the U.S., especially over agricultural standards and drug pricing, will be controversial and are likely to stand in the way. London will have to make a similar choice – gravitating more toward Washington or Brussels – when it comes to Iran. The U.S. and EU have been increasingly at odds over Iran following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May 2018.

Winning big, Johnson on course to deliver swift Brexit - (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a resounding election victory on Friday that will allow him to take Britain out of the European Union in matter of weeks. For Johnson, whose 20-week tenure in power has been marked by chaotic scenes in parliament and stark division on the streets over Britain’s tortuous departure from the European Union, victory in Thursday’s contest was vindication. Educated at the country’s most elite school and recognizable by his bombastic style, the 55-year-old must not only deliver Brexit but also convince Britons that the contentious divorce, which would lead to lengthy trade talks, is worth it. A landslide Conservative win marks the ultimate failure of opponents of Britain’s departure from the European Union who plotted to thwart a 2016 referendum vote through legislative combat in parliament and prompted some of the biggest protests in recent British history. Johnson won an outright majority in the 650-seat parliament after an exit poll showed the Conservatives on course to win a landslide 368 seats, the biggest Conservative national election win since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 triumph. “I think this will turn out to be a historic election that gives us now, in this new government, the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people,” Johnson said after winning his seat of Uxbridge. He said the Conservatives appeared to have won “a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done”. Labour were forecast to win 203 seats, the worst result for the party since 1935, after offering voters a second referendum and the most radical socialist government in generations. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would step down. With results from across Britain indicating the exit poll was accurate, Johnson’s bet on a snap election has paid off, meaning he will swiftly ratify the Brexit deal he struck with the EU so that the United Kingdom can leave on Jan. 31 - 10 months later than initially planned.

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