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

Saturday, December 7, 2019

week ending Dec 7

Federal Reserve Proposes New Rule To Let Inflation Run Hot Ahead Of Next Recession - As the Federal Reserve remains unable to stoke inflation (because it refuses to measure it correctly) and refuses to factor in asset price inflation.... it has now considered launching a new rule that would let inflation run above its 2% target to make up for lost inflation, reported the Financial Times.Though the Fed's policies are to protect big Wall Street banks and keep liquidity ample in the financial system, its policies have overwhelmingly created deflation through supporting zombie companies and blowing financial bubbles. So to "make up" for lost inflation, the Fed will temporarily increase the target range above 2%, also known as "symmetric" overinflation. The policy would "make it clear that it's acceptable that to average 2 percent, you can't have only observations that are below 2 percent," according to Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, who recently spoke with FT.Fed members have expressed concerns that reverting the federal funds rate to the zero lower bound will drive inflation expectations lower, a real risk of Japanification, something Albert Edwards is especially concerned about. Officials have also lamented that the since the fed funds rate is so low compared to history, any recession could make monetary policy ineffective, though there is always the reality that the Fed will merely unleash negative interest rates during the next recession.Meanwhile, Fed members have been experimenting with new monetary tools ahead of the next downturn. Janet Yellen said the new rule could be like "forward guidance," which enabled the Fed to pressure short-term interest rates lower. This eventually allowed longer-term rates to fall as well.Rosengren said, "future committees might not be as comfortable with that formulaic approach. This is why I prefer something that is a little bit more flexible, maybe not as constraining, but makes it a little clearer that we should be having [some inflation readings] over 2 percent."Fed governor Lael Brainard, spoke with reporters last week, said the new rule is to complex to elaborate on with the public. She said if inflation drops, the Fed should allow inflation to run hot, perhaps in a range of 2 to 2.5%.In plain English, the Fed is afraid that its its own policies are Japanifying the US economy and in response is willing to... drumroll... double down which will somehow push inflation run above target, when in reality it will simply unleash even more deflation!

Fed's Second 42-Day Repo Oversubscribed As Rising Repo Rate Confirms Year End Liquidity Rush  -One week after the Fed's first 42-day term repo which for the first time allowed dealers to lock in funding into the new year and which was 2x oversubscribed, confirming a growing scramble for year-end funding, traders were keenly looking ahead to the result from today's second 42-day repo which matured on January 13. And, as we noted last week, year-end liquidity fears remain front and center as the $25 billion operation proved to be roughly 40% below the required size to satisfy all liquidity demands. Dealers submitted $42.550BN in bids for the 42-day op ($29.750BN in Treasurys, $1BN in Agency, $11.8BN in MBS paper), resulting in an oversubscription of the $25BN in available repo. This was modestly below the $49.050 billion submitted in the first 42-day repo operation conducted on November 25: It remains a key 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, as Bloomberg put it, "even with the Fed’s commitment to continue providing liquidity to the financial system around year-end, the market is still showing concerns. This is due to banks’ year-end balance-sheet constraints related to capital surcharges and other regulatory requirements."The clearest indication that despite the massive liquidity injections that have taken place since mid-September liquidity remains scarce was today's initial print in the overnight General Collateral rate, which rose from 1.60% to 1.68%, the highest since the Fed cut rates on Oct 31.

 The Fed Is Expanding Its Balance Sheet At The Fastest Pace Since The Financial Crisis - Has QE4 begun? The $1.2 trillion per month hole in the repo market.In the two months since the repo market blow up, the Fed has been making repo open market operation purchases at a rate of $1.2 trillion per month. Below is the monthly rate of Fed open market purchases since 2000. In the era of QE and ample reserves, the Fed has not touched open market operations for more than 10 years before 2019. Prior to that, the highest rate of open market operations we saw in history was roughly $300 billion/month briefly after the September 11 attacks, with long‐term averages of around $50 billion/month. To say the current rate of $1.2 trillion/month is unprecedented would be an understatement The planned QE unwinding has hit a brick wall and the Fed balance sheet is now expanding at a rate matched only briefly by QE1, and faster than QE2 or QE3. Is this a temporary rescue of the repo market or the start of a sustained QE4? To answer that question, we must look at how monetary policy has evolved since the Financial Crisis.

  • 1. Pre‐2008, scarce reserves regime:
    • Total reserves: small (<$50 billion)
    • Excess reserves: none
    • Interest on excess reserves: 0%
    • Managing interest rates: to increase rates, Fed sells securities on the open market and reduces supply of reserves, vice versa to decrease rates.
    • Banks: regulations are lax and risk tolerance is high
    • Treasury department: carefully manages its cash flows to not impact the total reserve levels.
  • 2. 2008‐2019, ample reserves regime:
    • Total reserves: large ($trillions)
    • Excess reserves: large ($trillions)
    • Interest on excess reserves: positive at around Fed funds rate
    • Managing interest rates: Because there is more reserves than the banks could possibly need, Fed sets interest rates by paying a floor rate on reserves.
    • Banks: regulations are strict and risk tolerance is low
    • Treasury department: no longer actively manages its cash flows, its activities directly affect total reserve levels.
  • 3. 2019 onwards, scarce reserves regime again?:
    • A combination of QE unwinding, strict banking regulations, and a concentration of reserves in a handful of banks have once again made reserves scarce, which means a rate floor is no longer effective at managing against rate rises. This was painfully obvious in December of 2018 and September of 2019. Thus far, the Fed has chosen their pre‐2008 strategy of temporary open market operations to manage rates in this new scarce reserves environment. But because the total pool of reserves is around 50 times larger now than pre‐2008, the size of the required open market operations is in the $trillions, not $billions, per month.

Going forward, the Fed must make a choice of staying in a regime of scarce reserves or going back to ample reserves. The Fed can lower interest on excess reserves and reduce bank incentives to hold excess reserves to some degree, but the new post‐2008 regulations will still necessitate a far larger base of reserves than pre‐2008. So managing a scarce reserves banking system on a large base of reserves will require continued massive open market operations. It will likely also require a change from the Treasury department’s cash flow management.

Q4 GDP Forecasts: 0.6% to 2.0% -- From Goldman Sachs: [W]e lowered our Q4 GDP tracking estimate by one tenth to +1.8% (qoq ar) [Dec 5 estimate]    From Merrill Lynch: This week, our ... 4Q GDP tracking estimate edged down by 0.1pp to 1.6% on weaker than expected residential spend in Oct. [Dec 6 estimate]From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report:  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 0.6% for 2019:Q4 and 0.7% for 2020:Q1. [Dec 6 estimate]   And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow:The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2019 is 2.0 percent on December 6, up from 1.5 percent on December 5. [Dec 6 estimate] CR Note: These early estimates suggest real GDP growth will be between 0.6% and 2.0% annualized in Q4.

Trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, and hardly a voice of caution to be heard - In the old days, a decade or so ago, Democrats would have assailed Donald Trump's failure on federal deficits; instead of eliminating it, as promised, the deficit has doubled to a trillion dollars as far as the eye can see. Republicans would be in full fury over the spending schemes of Democratic presidential candidates; even the mainstream moderates propose huge increases for health care, education and the social safety net for the disadvantaged. Yet deficits, as a political issue, are dead. The political impact always was exaggerated, but out-of-control deficits were a staple of opposition rhetoric. There invariably was some budget-balancing blue-ribbon group, the most famous being the Simpson-Bowles Commission. For Democrats, the pressing urgency of unmet needs in health care, education, infrastructure and the social safety net far outweigh any rising debt. They favor tax hikes, mainly on the rich, to reverse the huge 2017 Republican tax cuts, but there's less premium on the green eyeshade test of paying for all spending initiatives. Most Republicans strongly want to keep those tax cuts — the only significant achievement of three years of party rule — and have little interest in tackling politically popular entitlements. In the years the Republican Party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, it focused only on gutting the Affordable Care Act. This has become the Trump Party, which overshadows the old Republican battle lines between budget balancers and tax cutters. This Republican executive is a tax cutter and budget buster. As well as the politics, Democrats have a strong policy basis for their position. Early this year, the two most prominent Democratic economists — former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, both under Barack Obama — wrote an influential article citing structural declines in interest rates. This means that “policymakers should reconsider the traditional fiscal approach that has often wrong-headedly limited worthwhile investments in such areas as education, health care and infrastructure,” they said. “Politicians and policymakers should focus on urgent social programs, not deficits,” they advised. They don't go as far as the Modern Monetary Theorists who basically argue the sky is the limit on debt unless inflation takes off. Instead, Summers and Furman claim a key is that the federal debt — as a percentage of the economy — stays at a relatively stable 3 percent to 4 percent, where it has been for the past five years.

Key GOP senator: Spending 'understanding' needed within days to meet deadline - Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) warned on Tuesday that budget negotiators need to reach an "understanding" on fiscal 2020 spending bills within days to meet a Dec. 20 funding deadline. "I think we're going to need some kind of understanding at the end of this week or the first of next week to really get something done before the 20th," Shelby said. Pressed on whether he was saying they needed an understanding on all 12 of the fiscal 2020 bills, Shelby responded, "We'll take what we can get." "If we can make headway, we haven't gotten one yet," Shelby cautioned. Shelby's comments underscore the tight time frame appropriators face as they try to avoid a shutdown days before the Christmas holiday. They'll have to decide by next week how they'll fund the government past Dec. 20 — passing either each of the 12 fiscal 2020 bills, another continuing resolution (CR) or some combination of the two. The latest CR passed by Congress runs through Dec. 20, giving members roughly 14 working days to get legislation to President Trump's desk. Shelby warned that if they can't get an agreement, they'll need another CR. Given the timeline for the House impeachment inquiry and a subsequent Senate trial, he warned that could stretch into next year. "If we don't work something out toward the end of this week ... I think it's inevitable that we get a CR, and we'll probably get one past maybe January," he said.

Democrats open door to repealing ObamaCare tax in spending talks - Senate Democrats are offering to repeal a controversial ObamaCare tax as part of a government funding deal as negotiations go on through the weekend. A congressional aide familiar with the talks told The Hill that Democratic negotiators had put repeal of the Cadillac tax "on the table in the appropriations negotiations." The aide added that the offer was made as part of "broader negotiations" and that there are "several things still unresolved" in the spending talks. ObamaCare's Cadillac tax, which has never gone into effect, was meant to keep health care costs down by discouraging overly-generous “Cadillac” health insurance plans. The House voted to repeal the Cadillac tax earlier this year in an overwhelming 419-6 vote. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the nixing the tax would cost $196.9 billion over 10 years. The tax, without action from Congress, is currently set to go into effect in 2022. The offer from Senate Democrats comes as negotiators, and their staff, are currently working through the weekend as they try to reach a deal on the fiscal 2020 spending talks. Lawmakers have until Dec. 20 to either pass the 12 fiscal 2020 funding bills or a stopgap spending patch, known as a continuing resolution (CR). Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) spoke with President Trump on Thursday night about the funding negotiations. Lawmakers still have several hurdles to getting a deal on the fiscal 2020 bills. The biggest sticking point, according to negotiators, is the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The House included no new funding for physical barriers in its Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill, while the Senate's legislation includes $5 billion for the border. Negotiators are also haggling over Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) beds and Trump's ability to shift military funds to the border wall. If Congress and the White House can't reach a deal in time, they'll need to pass another CR to avoid a shutdown.

 As Secret Pentagon Spending Rises, Defense Firms Cash -- in Classified spending has edged up faster than overall defense budget requests, and accounts for nearly 11 percent of the $716 billion proposed for 2020. The share of Pentagon spending hidden from public view is rising, as are defense contractors’ revenues from it. The U.S. Defense Department’s overall budget request increased nearly 5 percent from 2019 to 2020, but classified spending rose 6 percent, according to the consulting firm Avascent. It accounts for about $76 billion, or almost 11%, of the $718 billion requested for the current fiscal year. Military officials say they can’t talk about classified aircraft, space, and missile projects, lest they cede advantage to America’s enemies. (Critics, including House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith, D-Wash., say excessive hidden spending hinders oversight, leads to waste, and undermines public trust.)  But there is one group of people talking about classified spending: the executives of America’s largest defense firms. In recent months, what defense contractors call “restricted” projects havebecome a hot topic on quarterly earnings calls with Wall Street analysts. Firms also tout the increase in classified contracts in annual reports and regulatory filings.While the executives and corporate reports don’t disclose the details of these military projects, they often identify the specific business units receiving the cash. This year, Lockheed received about $600 million for secret work to develop hypersonic weapon technology and prototypes. Next year, that’s expected to grow to “about $1 billion,”

Media Silent as US Navy Places $22 Billion Order for Nuclear Submarines -  — It was Cyber Monday and the U.S. Navy put in a $22.2 billion order for new nuclear submarines but absolutely no headlines in the United States, pundits on Morning Joe, former presidents, nor elected politicians active on social media have been spotted asking this question in response to the massive purchase: How we gonna pay for it According to CNN, the contract issued on Monday is the Navy’s “most expensive shipbuilding contract ever” and was awarded to weapons maker General Dynamics Electric Boat and subcontractors. “The massive contract for nine nuclear-powered, Virginia class attack submarines comes just months after the head of the US Navy in the Pacific warned of a massive Chinese naval buildup and his trouble in getting enough submarines to counter it,” the news oulet reported.  As lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and 2020 Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders have pointed out, the “how we gonna pay for it” question has become a common mantra among the “elite D.C. pundit” class and “deficit scolds” when public benefits like tuition-free higher education, Medicare for All, and paid family are proposed—but rarely if ever deployed against massive military expenditures like the “ultra-costly, underwhelming” F-35 fighter jet, the $6.4 trillion thrown at the endless “war on terrorism,” or these latest Virginia class attack submarines. “If you’re following the presidential race,” Lindsay Koshgarian, director of the National Priorities Project at the Insitute for Policy Studies, wrote in a column last week, “you’ve heard plenty of sniping about Medicare for All and whether we can afford it. But when it comes to endless war or endless profits for Pentagon contractors, we’re told we simply must afford it—no questions asked.” “$22 billion could fund a lot [of kids] learning,”   “We need an education race; not a wasted arms race.”

America’s War Exceptionalism Is Killing the Planet - Ever since 2007, I’ve been arguing against America’s forever wars, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere. Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that, despite my more than 60 articles, American blood is still being spilled in war after war across the Greater Middle East and Africa, even as foreign peoples pay a far higher price in lives lost andcities ruined. And I keep asking myself: Why, in this century, is the distinctive feature of America’s wars that they never end? Why do our leaders persist in such repetitive folly and the seemingly eternal disasters that go with it? Sadly, there isn’t just one obvious reason for this generational debacle. If there were, we could focus on it, tackle it, and perhaps even fix it. But no such luck. So why do America’s disastrous wars persist? I can think of many reasons, some obvious and easy to understand, like the endless pursuit of profit through weapons sales for those very wars, and some more subtle but no less significant, like a deep-seated conviction in Washington that a willingness to wage war is a sign of national toughness and seriousness. Before I go on, though, here’s another distinctive aspect of our forever-war moment: Have you noticed that peace is no longer even a topic in America today? The very word, once at least part of the rhetoric of Washington politicians, has essentially dropped out of use entirely. Consider the current crop of Democratic candidates for president. One, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, wants to end regime-change wars, but is otherwise a self-professed hawk on the subject of the war on terror. Another, Senator Bernie Sanders, vows to end “endless wars” but is careful to express strong support for Israel and the ultra-expensive F-35 fighter jet. The other dozen or so tend to make vague sounds about cutting defense spending or gradually withdrawing U.S. troops from various wars, but none of them even consider openly speaking of peace. And the Republicans? While President Trump may talk of ending wars, since his inauguration he’s sent more troops to Afghanistan and into the Middle East, while greatly expanding drone and other air strikes, something about which heopenly boasts.

Tulsi Gabbard- Wake Up And Smell Our $6.4 Trillion Wars - The Democratic establishment is increasingly irritated.  Representative Tulsi Gabbard, long-shot candidate for president, is attacking her own party for promoting the “deeply destructive” policy of “regime change wars.” Gabbard has even called Hillary Clinton “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party.”Senator Chris Murphy complained: “It’s a little hard to figure out what itch she’s trying to scratch in the Democratic Party right now.”Some conservatives seem equally confused. The Washington Examiner’s Eddie Scarry asked:“where is Tulsi distinguishing herself when it really matters?  ”The answer is that foreign policy “really matters.”  Gabbard recognizes that George W. Bush is not the only simpleton warmonger who’s plunged the nation into conflict, causing enormous harm. In the last Democratic presidential debate, she explained that the issue was “personal to me” since she’d “served in a medical unit where every single day, I saw the terribly high, human costs of war.” Compare her perspective to that of the ivory tower warriors of Right and Left, ever ready to send others off to fight not so grand crusades.The best estimate of the costs of the post-9/11 wars comes from the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. The Institute says that $6.4 trillion will be spent through 2020. They estimate that our wars have killed 801,000 directly and resulted in a multiple of that number dead indirectly. More than 335,000 civilians have died—and that’s an extremely conservative guess. Some 21 million people have been forced from their homes. Yet the terrorism risk has only grown, with the U.S. military involved in counter-terrorism in 80 nations. Obviously, without American involvement there would still be conflicts. Some counter-terrorism activities would be necessary even if the U.S. was not constantly swatting geopolitical wasps’ nests. Nevertheless, it was Washington that started or joined these unnecessary wars (e.g., Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen) and expanded necessary wars well beyond their legitimate purposes (Afghanistan). As a result, American policymakers bear responsibility for much of the carnage.

The war crimes president: Donald Trump doesn’t understand the damage he’s causing to the military - Let me tell you why it’s so dangerous for Donald Trump to pardon or otherwise excuse war criminals. Because it makes the enforcement of lesser laws and regulations in the military much more difficult. The population on an average army post, say, isn’t like the population of the civilian town just outside the gates. To begin with, everyone on the army post is a trained killer. . Every single one of them went through basic training and qualified on a modern military rifle like the M-4, and many of them qualified on more weapons, like the 9mm pistol or the M-240 machine gun or the M-2 .50-caliber machine gun or the 81mm mortar.   It makes soldiers comfortable around deadly weapons and gives them the ability to shoot them effectively without having to think about it.   You’re dealing with a bunch of people who have gone through training that rewards aggression and gives them the skills to exercise it effectively. The problem faced by military commanders has always been the same: to harness the aggression and killing skills of soldiers while maintaining what they call “good order and discipline.” It’s not easy. The primary way this is accomplished is with training. Training hones soldiers’ skills while instilling in them an instinct to follow orders and maintain discipline.  Training produces disciplined soldiers without emphasizing rules that are written down and codified in law. It’s part of the whole thing about acting without having to think about it. Soldiers shouldn’t have to walk around thinking about the rules of warfare as written down in the Geneva Conventions. Their training should give them the discipline and confidence to act on the battlefield without worrying that they’re doing the right thing. They simply do it because they were trained to act lawfully.  Donald Trump has driven a stake into the heart of this system, which has been carefully developed and maintained by the military for decades, if not centuries. He did it when he began what amounts to his celebration of war criminals by pardoning Michael Behenna, an army officer who in 2008 stripped an Iraqi prisoner naked and shot him to death, Mathew Goldseyn, an army major who had been charged with executing a suspected Afghan bomb maker who had been captured and was being held as a prisoner of war, Clint Lorance, a former army first lieutenant who had been convicted of ordering his soldiers to shoot and kill three men on a motorcycle in Afghanistan, and Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, the Navy Seal who had been charged with stabbing an Iraqi prisoner to death with a hunting knife and shooting two civilians to death with a sniper rifle.

Freedom Rider: Liberals Love the Military - Black Agenda Report - Self-styled liberals believe they are a better class of people than Trump, but are bigger supporters of unjust wars than the so-called “deplorables.”  The trauma of Donald Trump’s presidency has created continued insanity for American liberals. They were never very trustworthy, due to their abiding belief in United States exceptionalism and an imagined right for it to intervene in the rest of the world as it pleased. Liberals could be counted on to protest wars which killed Americans in Vietnam or in Iraq. But by and large they trust in imperialist dictates if someone they like is in charge and who doesn’t allow too many of their countrymen to get hurt.Hence their dilemma with Donald Trump. Trump is their anti-Christ, a bad mannered, proudly stupid, racist who expresses the id of the great unwashed deplorable white masses. There are many reasons to oppose him but liberals generally attack from the right. The same people who remember that the surveillance state lied about the WMD threat from Iraq now parrot every word from the same people if they are anti-Trump. Their earlier opposition to war propaganda was more a result of their anti-Bush, anti-Republican stance than anything else. They didn’t really oppose U.S. interventions or stand up for peace. Instead they eagerly wait for a war they can believe in if the rationale is to their liking. “Liberals trust in imperialist dictates.”Now this group which labels itself the resistance say nothing about U.S. sanctions that kill Venezuelans and Iranians by depriving their governments of the ability to conduct transactions needed to secure food and medicines. When their favorite news outlets proclaim Evo Morales to be a “strongman” and make the case for the coup that ousted him they go right along and make the case for imperialism carried out by the president they allegedly dislike so much.The latest example of the liberal herd mentality comes in the form of love for the military. Liberals don’t associate with this institution themselves. They wouldn’t think of sending their kids to the army or the navy. But suddenly they have a love for senior officers if they voice disgust with Trump. “Donald Trump is dangerously undermining the military chain of command,” cries . Apparently the people at Slate missed the day in school which taught that we have a civilian government with the president as commander in chief of the military. No president can undermine the military chain of command. He is the military chain of command. The generals and admirals must follow his direction and they always do so quite happily.

Gary Cohn says he's 'concerned' no one is left in White House to stand up to Trump - Former White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn said in a new interview that he's "concerned" that nobody is left in the White House with the "personality" to push back against President Trump on certain issues. "I am concerned that the atmosphere in the White House is no longer conducive, or no one has the personality to stand up to tell the president what he doesn’t want to hear," Cohn, who served as the director of the National Economic Council during Trump's first year in office, said on "The Axe Files," a podcast hosed by CNN political commentator David Axelrod. Cohn made the comments after describing his relationship with Trump as "brutally honest." He said that many of Trump's key advisers during his first year in the White House had a similar relationship, arguing that it was a group "that was willing to tell the president what he needed to know whether he wanted to hear it or not." "None of us are there anymore," Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, said. Axelrod noted that Cohn's remarks echoed sentiments former White House chief of staff John Kelly made in October while discussing operations at the White House. Kelly, who left the administration at the end of last year, said that he warned Trump against hiring a "yes man" to succeed him, stating that it could lead to impeachment. "I said whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth — don’t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached,” Kelly recalled. “It pains me to see what’s going on because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of, all over the place.” Cohn exited the White House in April 2018 after Trump imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. His tenure was marked by disputes with the Trump and some of his other advisers over trade policies. Cohn told BBC in September that Trump's trade wars had effectively canceled the 2017 corporate tax cut and hindered U.S. manufacturers' opportunities for expansion. In his interview with Axelrod, Cohn said that he didn't shy away from presenting his views to Trump. "I don’t want to sound arrogant. But my view was, ‘I am here to be an adviser to the president.’ I advise some of the most important companies in the world," he said. "I made my reputation and brand in life by telling them the truth. I wasn't going to treat the president of the United States any differently. If he wanted to fire me, he could fire me."

 Former official says Trump often refused to believe his intelligence briefings - One of President Donald Trump's most common responses to intelligence briefings is to doubt what he's being told, former Deputy Director of Intelligence Susan Gordon said Tuesday. Gordon, an intelligence veteran of more than 30 years, said Monday that Trump had two typical responses to briefings."One, 'I don't think that's true,'" Gordon told the Women's Foreign Policy Group."The one is 'I'm not sure I believe that,'" Gordon continued, "and the other is the second order and third order effects. 'Why is that true? Why are we there? Why is this what you believe? Why do we do that?' Those sorts of things."Gordon's remarks about the President at the group's gathering may be her first since Trump veered from protocol to block her from rising to become the acting director of national intelligence after the July resignation of Dan Coats. Gordon seemed to suggest that it was more difficult trying to figure out where the President had gotten the information that was shaping his beliefs and opinions than dealing with his tendency to doubt what he was being told.Speaking of Trump's disbelief, Gordon said, "Remember, intelligence is fundamentally a craft of uncertainty and of possibility, so that doesn't put you off. It's trying to catch up to how you adjudicate the sources that led him to believe that and how you respond to it." Gordon's ouster came about because Trump, who has had a contentious relationship with his own intelligence services, wanted a political loyalist in the role who would "rein in" the intelligence agencies.

Welcome To The Potemkin Village Of Washington Power - What American constitutional government most urgently needs at present is for our Madisonian institutions—the presidency, the Congress, and the courts—to wrest back control of national security policy from an unelected and increasingly rogue national security establishment.  That ominous challenge to constitutionalism was on full display with the recent op-ed piece in the New York Times by retired Admiral William McRaven, in which he brashly warned that unless Trump jumped aboard the Forever War bandwagon, he must be removed, and “the sooner the better.” The U.S. must have a policy, McRaven said, that protects “the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny.”  How did we get to the point where a former senior military officer calls for the removal of a duly elected president because he doesn’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Rohingyas? McRaven’s op-ed represents something new in American politics: the assertion that an elected president is illegitimate unless he works to spread our “ideals of universal freedom and equality” through military action and alliances. McRaven also argued that it is “the American military…the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press,” all unelected institutions, that now embody the true American civic religion and protect its “ideals.”  Even though President Trump’s promises to end wars and question expensive alliances were quite popular with the electorate, in the view of many in the national security establishment, elections do not bestow constitutional legitimacy. They assume instead that their “ideals” and belligerent foreign policy represent the true animating principles and governing force of the nation. To question them is tantamount to an “attack” on America “from within.”

Iran Says U.S. Must Pay $130 Billion in Damages After World Court Rules Against Trump Administration -- Iran's top judiciary has ordered the United States to pay up $130 billion in damages about a year after the United Nation's top court ruled that President Donald Trump's administration should ease sanctions against Tehran to ensure the continued flow of humanitarian goods. Iranian Judiciary spokesperson Gholam Hossein Esmaeili told a press conference Tuesday that the country's courts responded to up to 360 complaints filed by ordinary Iranian citizens who have allegedly suffered from the tight restrictions imposed on the Islamic Republic since the U.S.' decision last year to exit a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal. He accused Washington of having committed "crimes against the nation," according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. The spat is only the latest in a decades-long series of legal battles between the U.S. and Iran, foes since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted the latter's West-backed monarchy in favor of the clerical leadership in charge today. Such measures taken at home and abroad have often turned out to be largely symbolic as the two countries refuse to recognize unfavorable rulings, though the U.S. does have a history of paying out—but never apologizing—in response to its wrongdoing.

 US Enraged After 6 More EU Nations Join Effort to Bypass Iran Sanctions — On Friday six European countries issued a bombshell joint statement declaring their intent to join INSTEX, or the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, a European special-purpose vehicle serving as a ‘SWIFT alternative’ to bypass US sanctions on Iran.Finland, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden released a joint statement asserting it’s of “the utmost importance to the preservation and full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) on Iran’s nuclear program by all parties involved.”“In light of the continuous European support for the agreement and the ongoing efforts to implement the economic part of it and to facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran, we are now in the process of becoming shareholders of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (Instex) subject to completion of national procedures,” the statement reads. Instex is an initiative set up by France, Germany and the UK in January 2019 to provide humanitarian and sanctions relief to Iran after in November 2018 the SWIFT network suspended Iranian banks under Washington pressure, months after Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear deal.  Though the new alternative financial device had shaky beginnings amid further aggressive threats from the US administration, it continued through a trial phase even though Tehran officials had complained it appeared ‘too little, too late’.  But now as this latest six country statement announces, it will serve as the European vehicle to “facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran,” while also providing incentive for Tehran to return to its commitments under the JCPOA, specifically to recently breached uranium enrichment limits. Upon the announcement, US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell lambasted the move, saying: Terrible timing – why fund the Iranian regime while its killing the Iranian people and shutting off the internet? You should be standing for human rights not funding the abusers.

 Blocking SWIFT Access Would Be Declaration Of War - Russia Warns Against US 'Nuclear Option' - Last year during the height of controversy over the Kerch Strait incident, while two dozen Ukrainian sailors were still being held by Russia, Washington’s special envoy to Ukraine at the time, Kurt Volker, floated the possibility of Washington blocking Russian banks from SWIFT. He told Voice of America at the time that it was considered "a nuclear option" and it would have huge costs which would even inadvertently impact US allies. "People refer to it as a nuclear option. It would have costs for everybody involved," he said. "Big costs for Russia, but big costs for allies as well. Ultimately, we have to keep it on the table as a possibility because we just can't continue to see Russia launch further steps of aggression in its neighborhood like this." No doubt it's still in Washington's playbook as a 'nuclear option' long after the Kerch Strait incident was diffused with an historic prisoner swap, and the Kremlin has taken note. On Thursday Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev took Washington to task over the prior warning, telling reporters that Moscow is well aware of discussions to take sanctions further, even cutting off the country's access to some 11,000 banks and financial institutions in over 200 countries by blocking SWIFT. This is exactly what the Trump White House did vis-à-vis Iran months after it pulled out of the 2015 JCPOA. Medvedev said such far-reaching action would be tantamount to a declaration of war. According to statements reported in Russian media: Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Medvedev recalled the West once seriously considered the option, and Moscow is aware of it. “This would in fact be a declaration of war, but nevertheless it was discussed,” the Russian prime minister said, adding that this is one of the reasons why the government is looking into ways to protect the Russian part of the internet.

 US denies 14,000 more troops deployed to Middle East - The Pentagon has denied a report that the United States was weighing sending up to 14,000 more troops to the Middle East in the face of a perceived threat from Iran. The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported the possible deployment would include "dozens" more ships and double the number of troops added to the US forces in the region since the beginning of this year, citing unnamed US officials. The newspaper said US President Donald Trump could make a decision on the troop boost as early as this month. But the Pentagon disputed the accuracy of the report. "To be clear, the reporting is wrong. The US is not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East," spokeswoman Alyssa Farah tweeted. The region has seen a series of attacks on shipping vessels and a drone and missile attack on Saudi oil installations in September, blamed on Iran. Washington has already ratcheted up its military presence in the Gulf and expanded economic sanctions on Tehran, elevating tensions across the region. In mid-November, the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln sailed through the Strait of Hormuz in a show of force aimed at reassuring allies worried about the Iran threat.

 Trump Boasts He Made Saudis Pay Billions For US Troops - Just before he abruptly canceled a final news conference to cap off this week's 70th anniversary meeting in London, Trump revealed a stunning conversation he says he had previously with the Saudi king. Amid a flurry of other headlines covering the tense NATO brouhaha, this one was largely under reported Wednesday: Trump boasted he got "billions of dollars" out of Saudi Arabia for the current heightened American military presence there to 'deter Iran'. "You know, Saudi Arabia - we moved more troops there. And they're paying us billions of dollars. Okay? You never heard of that before. You've never heard of that in your whole life," he said while sitting next to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in a question-and-answer session. File image: the president's 2017 trip to Saudi Arabia, via the AFP. "We moved troops and we paid nothing. And people took advantage and the world took advantage of us. But we do - we have a good relationship with Saudi Arabia, but they needed help. They were attacked. And, as you saw, we just moved a contingent of troops, and they're paying us billions of dollars and they’re happy to do so." He singled out Obama, Bush and even Bill Clinton for never actually pressing Riyadh on compensation while gloating about being the first president to do so: "The problem is nobody ever asked them to do it until I came along. Nobody ever asked. Obama didn't ask. Bush didn't ask. Clinton didn’t ask. Nobody asked. In fact, they said to me, 'But nobody has ever asked us to do this.' I said, 'I know, king, but I'm asking.'"

 Trump Hints At Use Of Military Force If North Korea Backtracks On Commitments --President Trump hinted on Tuesday that the United States may be forced to use military force against North Korea if Pyongyang doesn't temper their rhetoric, according to Yonhap. Trump revived the threat of military action as negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled over how to match the North's denuclearization steps with U.S. concessions.But the U.S. president also emphasized his close personal relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying he hopes Kim will abide by his commitment to dismantle his country's nuclear weapons program. –Yonhap  After Trump said Kim Jong Un "likes sending rockets up, doesn't he?" adding "That's why I call him Rocket Man," Trump told reporters at this week's NATO gathering: "Now we have the most powerful military we've ever had and we're by far the most powerful country in the world," adding "And, hopefully, we don't have to use it, but if we do, we'll use it. If we have to, we'll do it."In 2017, Trump threatened to "totally destroy" the communist regime, before he and Kim conducted several summits aimed at salvaging the increasingly contentious relationship between the two nations. Earlier Tuesday, North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Ri Thae-song urged the United States increase efforts to mend fences. "The DPRK has done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps it has taken on its own initiative," Ri said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. He was apparently alluding to the North's suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests since 2017.

Operation Condor 2.0: After Bolivia Coup, Trump Dubs Nicaragua "National Security Threat" And Targets MexicoAfter presiding over a far-right coup in Bolivia, the US dubbed Nicaragua a “national security threat” and announced new sanctions, while Trump designated drug cartels in Mexico as “terrorists” and refused to rule out military intervention. One successful coup against a democratically elected socialist president is not enough, it seems.Immediately after overseeing a far-right military coup in Bolivia on November 10, the Trump administration set its sights once again on Nicaragua, whose democratically elected Sandinista government defeated a violent right-wing coup attempt in 2018.Washington dubbed Nicaragua a threat to US national security, and announced that it will be expanding its suffocating sanctions on the tiny Central American nation.Trump is also turning up the heat on Mexico, baselessly linking the country to terrorism and even hinting at potential military intervention. The moves come as the country’s left-leaning President Andrés Manuel López Obrador warns of right-wing attempts at a coup.As Washington’s rightist allies in Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and Ecuador are desperately beating back massive grassroots uprisings against neoliberal austerity policies and yawning inequality gaps, the United States is ramping up its aggression against the region’s few remaining progressive governments.These moves have led left-wing forces in Latin America to warn of a 21st-century revival of Operation Condor, the Cold War era campaign of violent  subterfuge and US support for right-wing dictatorships across the region.

Who Is Making US Foreign Policy? - President Trump campaigned and was elected on an anti-neocon platform: he promised to reduce direct US involvement in areas where, he believed, America had no vital strategic interest, including in Ukraine. He also promised a new détente (“cooperation”) with Moscow. And yet, as we have learned from their recent congressional testimony, key members of his own National Security Council did not share his views and indeed were opposed to them. Certainly, this was true of Fiona Hill and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Both of them seemed prepared for a highly risky confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, though whether retroactively because of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea or for more general reasons was not entirely clear.Similarly, Trump was slow in withdrawing Marie Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer appointed by President Obama as ambassador to Kiev, who had made clear, despite her official position in Kiev, that she did not share the new American president’s thinking about Ukraine or Russia. In short, the president was surrounded in his own administration, even in the White House, by opponents of his foreign policy and presumably not only in regard to Ukraine. How did this unusual and dysfunctional situation come about? One possibility is that it was the doing and legacy of the neocon John Bolton, briefly Trump’s national security adviser. But this doesn’t explain why the president would accept or long tolerate such appointees. A more plausible explanation is that Trump thought that by appointing such anti-Russian hard-liners he could lay to rest the Russiagate allegations that had hung over him for three years and still did: that for some secret nefarious reason he was and remained a “Kremlin puppet.” Despite the largely exculpatory Mueller report, Trump’s political enemies, mostly Democrats but not only, have kept the allegations alive. The larger question is who should make American foreign policy: an elected president or Washington’s permanent foreign policy establishment? (It is scarcely a “deep” or “secret” state, since its representatives appear on CNN and MSNBC almost daily.) Today, Democrats seem to think that it should be the foreign policy establishment, not President Trump. But having heard the cold-war views of much of that establishment, how will they feel when a Democrat occupies the White House? After all, eventually Trump will leave power, but Washington’s foreign-policy “blob,” as even an Obama aide termed it, will remain.

 Trump off to London for NATO summit, under pressure to steer clear of British election (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump leaves on Monday for a NATO summit in London and he is under pressure from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resist the temptation to wade into the British election campaign coming up later in December.As a presidential candidate in 2016 and then as president since early 2017, Trump has shown no restraint in showing support for Britain’s exit from the European Union and critiquing the politicians involved in the country’s long-running Brexit debate.But with Johnson leading polls as he faces Dec. 12 elections, the prime minister who is hosting the London NATO summit wants Trump to mind the guard-rails, putting Trump in the unusual position of trying to avoid his normal impulse to comment on whatever he wishes.Trump waded into the election in October by saying opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn would be “so bad” for Britain and that Johnson should agree on a pact with Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage. Johnson’s pressure prompted the White House to stress, as a senior administration official said, that Trump “is absolutely cognizant of not, again, wading into other country’s elections.”That strategy could be put to the test as Trump faces reporters a number of times on the trip, including at what is expected to be a news conference on Wednesday. The NATO summit takes place as Trump battles an effort led by Democrats who control the U.S. House of Representatives to force his removal from office through impeachment over his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden. The impeachment imbroglio has overshadowed Trump’s presidency as he looks ahead to his own re-election fight next November. Trump, who got back to the United States on Friday from a whirlwind trip to Afghanistan, arrives in London on Monday night for two days of meetings with NATO leaders gathered for the summit. He will have separate talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and attend a working lunch with representatives from Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and the United Kingdom. U.S. officials see the NATO summit as a celebratory moment for Trump as his pressure on member nations has led many to increase their military spending.

Trump Was Right Before He Was Wrong: NATO Should Be Obsolete - The three smartest words that Donald Trump uttered during his presidential campaign are “NATO is obsolete.” His adversary, Hillary Clinton, retorted that NATO was “the strongest military alliance in the history of the world.” Now that Trump has been in power, the White Houseparrots the same worn line that NATO is “the most successful Alliance in history, guaranteeing the security, prosperity, and freedom of its members.” But Trump was right the first time around: Rather than being a strong alliance with a clear purpose, this 70-year-old organization that is meeting in London on December 4 is a stale military holdover from the Cold War days that should have gracefully retired many years ago.NATO was originally founded by the United States and 11 other Western nations as an attempt to curb the rise of communism in 1949. Six years later, Communist nations founded the Warsaw Pact and through these two multilateral institutions, the entire globe became a Cold War battleground. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, the Warsaw Pact disbanded but NATO expanded, growing from its original 12 members to 29 member countries. North Macedonia, set to join next year, will bring the number to 30. NATO has also expanded well beyond the North Atlantic, adding a partnership with Colombia in 2017. Donald Trump recently suggested that Brazil could one day become a full member.NATO’s post-Cold War expansion toward Russia’s borders, despite earlier promises not to move eastward, has led to rising tensions between Western powers and Russia, including multiple close calls between military forces. It has also contributed to a new arms race, including upgrades in nuclear arsenals, and the largest NATO “war games” since the Cold War.While claiming to “preserve peace,” NATO has a history of bombing civilians and committing war crimes. In 1999, NATO engaged in military operations without UN approval in Yugoslavia. Its illegal airstrikes during the Kosovo War left hundreds of civilians dead. And far from the “North Atlantic,” NATO joined the United States in invading Afghanistan in 2001, where it is still bogged down two decades later. In 2011, NATO forces illegally invaded Libya, creating a failed state that caused masses of people to flee. Rather than take responsibility for these refugees, NATO countries have turned back desperate migrants on the Mediterranean Sea, letting thousands die. In London, NATO wants to show it is ready to fight new wars. It will showcase its readiness initiative – the ability to deploy 30 battalions by land, 30 air squadrons and 30 naval vessels in just 30 days, and to confront future threats from China and Russia, including with hypersonic missiles and cyberwarfare. But far from being a lean, mean war machine, NATO is actually riddled with divisions and contradictions. Here are some of them:

This Time Trump Will Be Just One of The Wild Cards at NATO -What was conceived as a celebration for one of the world’s most important military alliances risks becoming a show of disunity -- and this time it’s not because of anything Donald Trump has said or done.Meeting in London this week, leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have two other presidents to worry about: France’s Emmanuel Macron, who recently has openly questioned the collective defense clause at NATO’s heart, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has troubled alliance members with his decisions to send troops into Syria and buy a Russian anti-missile system.To make matters worse, Macron and Erdogan are now trading insults in public.In fact, so much has changed since then-Prime Minister Theresa May offered to host the two-day commemoration of NATO’s 70th anniversary that her successor, Boris Johnson could be forgiven for wishing she hadn’t.“I will tell you again at NATO, first check your own brain death,” Erdogan said, addressing Macron in a speech from Istanbul on Friday. He was referring to an interview the French leader gave last month in which he not only criticized Turkey, but described the alliance as brain dead.With three significant member states bringing conflicting agendas to the table at a gathering that takes place in the closing stretch of a charged U.K. election campaign, the event risks fanning concern about NATO’s future, rather than celebrating what alliance officials and leaders routinely call the most successful military grouping in history.Officials from the U.S. and Britain were at pains last week to highlight NATO’s successes, including a renewed sense of purpose since Russia’s 2014 aggression in Ukraine. Defense spending is on the rise and NATO is expanding into counter-terrorism, cyber security, and now even space.NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pushed back against Macron’s portrayal of the alliance as ailing. The two met in Paris last week.And the alliance does continue to attract. North Macedonia, set to join next year, will bring the leaders at the table this week to 30, up from 15 when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Trump, Macron hold tense meeting: 'Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you' - President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron held a tense meeting Tuesday on the sidelines of a NATO summit, with Trump at one point telling the French leader he could send him some "ISIS fighters" if he wanted them. “Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you,” Trump said with a slight smile at the meeting, which was carried live on cable news. “You can take every one you want.” “Let’s be serious,” Macron replied sternly, reasoning that most ISIS fighters came from Syria, Iraq and Iran and disputing Trump’s common refrain that the terrorist group had been defeated. Trump has complained that European countries have been unwilling to accept ISIS fighters the U.S. had captured. The French president insisted that the number of European ISIS fighters was a “tiny” part of the overall problem of addressing destabilization in the region. He was also adamant that the terrorist group had not entirely been defeated, a break with a common declaration from Trump. “I think [the] No. 1 priority, because it’s not finished, is it to get rid of ISIS,” Macron said. “That was one of the greatest nonanswers I ever heard,” Trump said after Macron had concluded. “And that’s OK.” If the meeting was tense, the days leading up the the one-on-one session were equally so. A day before the meeting, the Trump administration announced it was prepared to impose 100 percent tariffs on wine and other products from France in response to complaints about a French tax that has hit U.S. technology companies. A myriad of disagreements between the two leaders played out in public over the course of the 40 minute meeting, which came hours after Trump called Macron’s comments critical of NATO “insulting.” The icy tone was a far cry from the warm embraces and state visit the two men have shared over the past two years.

 Macron Hits Back, Questions Trump: How Can Turkey Buy Russian S-400s & Remain In NATO? - Macron hits back after earlier in the day Trump took his NATO "brain death" comments to task saying they were "very nasty" remarks, and the French president also took a swipe at Turkey, saying "technically it is not possible" to purchase the S-400 anti-air defense system from the Russians and be a NATO member.  Sitting next to Trump and fielding questions from reporters outlining their respective views of the state of the NATO alliance, it was clear the recent 'bromance' is no longer going strong.  Trump actually laughed when Macron raised the heart of the Turkey issue, saying Erdogan can’t integrate Russian S-400 defense into NATO systems without deeply compromising the alliance. Macron questioned: How is it possible to be a member of the alliance - to work with our office, to buy our materials, to be integrated - and to buy the S-400 from Russia? Technically it is not possible...

Trump calls Canada's Trudeau 'two-faced' over jaw-dropping video remarks - (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump called Justin Trudeau “two-faced” on Wednesday after the Canadian Prime Minister appeared to be caught on camera joking about his press appearances during a chat with other leaders at a NATO summit in Britain. Trudeau was filmed at a Buckingham Palace reception for NATO leaders on Tuesday evening describing how surprised U.S. officials appeared to be by Trump’s performance at an earlier news conference. The conversation, which involved Trudeau, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Queen Elizabeth’s daughter Anne, was recorded on video and snippets were audible. “Is that why you were late?” Johnson asked Macron. “...It was like a 40-minute press conference,” Trudeau said. “Yeah, yeah, yeah! Forty minutes.” Other words were exchanged but could not be heard, before Trudeau added with a chuckle: “I just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor.” Asked on Wednesday if he had heard Trudeau’s remarks about him, Trump said: “He’s two-faced”. He suggested that Trudeau was upset because he had challenged him for failing to meet the target of spending 2% of national output on defense. “I find him to be a very nice guy but you know the truth is that I called him out over the fact that he’s not paying 2% and I can see he’s not very happy about it,” Trump said at a news conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Trump later appeared to make light of his own remarks about Trudeau. “That was funny when I said the guy’s two-faced,” the president was caught saying on an audio clip following a lunch with some of the NATO leaders.

Angry Trump Cancels Press Conference, Leaves NATO Summit Early After Video Of World Leaders Laughing At Him -  The leak by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation of a clip showing Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson caught on a hot mic appearing to ridicule President Trump at the NATO 70 year anniversary summit, appears to have made an already tense diplomatic situation, downright unbearable. Shortly after Trump told reporters that Trudeau was "two-faced" in response to questions about the hot mic video, which reportedly was also a reference to the Canadian PM's "blackface" history, Trump tweeted that he won’t hold a scheduled news conference to conclude the NATO summit, noting that he’s spoken repeatedly to reporters at meetings with world leaders that past two days, and would leave the NATO summit early, heading to Washington at the end of the day's meetings.  Then Trump, never one to turn his back on criticism amicably, issued a thinly veiled threat to his NATO peers whom he has criticized of repeatedly underpaying, saying that if they refuse to pay their required quota, he would "get them on trade," hinting that the trade war may soon spread to even more NATO member nations: So, as NYT reporter Katie Rogers, summarized: "This was a really unusual trip for Trump, who abided by Boris Johnson's wishes to not interfere in UK elections, got an earful from Macron, woke up to footage of close allies mocking him, and, on top of it all, decided not to get the final say with a presser."

NATO Names China as New Enemy, Alongside Russia — The 1949 NATO Treaty never attempted to single out a specific enemy for the alliance to fight against, and while it was clear at the time the Soviet Union was the focus, the lack of specificity has meant numerous attempts in recent history to add enemies, or make up new things for the alliance to do.  During this week’s NATO meeting, they are going to officially add a new nation to the list of “challenges,” in the form of China, with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg saying NATO has to “tackle the issue” of China’s growing capabilities.  China is a major military and economic power, though not hostile to any NATO member nations. That China is a Pacific nation makes them a strange enemy for an alliance supposedly focused on the north Atlantic to single out. NATO, however, is at a crossroads trying to figure out its identity and purpose at this point, and China’s sheer size makes its an attractive target to justify NATO’s continued existence.  Which isn’t focused just on China. NATO is continuing to set out plans for military confrontations with Russia, and likewise are cobbling together cases for NATO to focus on terror wars across the world.

Huawei chips away at US ‘security’ ban - Huawei might be persona non grata in the United States but not in the capitals of the European Union. The heavyweight high-tech group has edged closer to playing a key role in 5G infrastructure projects planned by France and Germany despite Washington pressure on Paris and Berlin. “We do not target one equipment maker,” Agnes Pannier-Runacher, a junior economy minister in French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s government, said earlier this week. “There are three equipment makers active in France. “Huawei has a 25% market share, there is also Nokia and Ericsson. Samsung is not active yet in France but is interested by 5G. The government will not exclude anyone. We are not following the position of the United States. We will proceed on a case by case basis,” she added. Last week, telecoms regulator Arcep finally launched its 5G spectrum sale. The decision came after months of intense debate between France’s operators and authorities on how to roll out ultra-fast 5G networks. It also followed heated discussions in Germany on whether to allow Huawei to help build the next generation mobile system in the world’s fourth-largest economy. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been under fire not just from the US but from her own party and parliament to ban the telecom giant. Yet freezing out Huawei could have a negative impact on the lucrative German car industry in China.A compromise has since been put on the table by her Christian Democratic Union party. “[Suppliers of 5G must fulfill a] clearly defined security catalog, which includes the exclusion of influence by a foreign state,” delegates agreed at the CDU congress recently. As the senior party in Merkel’s ruling coalition, the CDU motion carries weight and could yet become government policy.

China bans US military aircraft and ships from Hong Kong - China banned U.S. military ships and aircraft from visiting Hong Kong on Monday and slapped sanctions on several U.S. non-government organizations for allegedly encouraging anti-government protesters in the city to commit violent acts. The measures were a response to U.S. legislation passed last week supporting the protests which have rocked the Asian financial hub for six months. It said it had suspended taking requests for U.S. military visits indefinitely, and warned of further action to come. "We urge the U.S. to correct the mistakes and stop interfering in our internal affairs. China will take further steps if necessary to uphold Hong Kong's stability and prosperity and China's sovereignty," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a news briefing in Beijing. China last week promised it would issue "firm counter measures" after U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which supports anti-government protesters in Hong Kong and threatens China with sanctions for human rights abuses. There are fears that the dispute over Hong Kong could impact efforts by Beijing and Washington to reach a preliminary deal to de-escalate a prolonged trade war between the world's two largest economies. 

Trump says new U.S. law on Hong Kong doesn't help China trade talks - (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday U.S. legislation backing protesters in Hong Kong did not make trade negotiations with China easier, but added he believes Beijing still wants a deal with the United States. The law “doesn’t make it better, but we’ll see what happens,” Trump said, talking to reporters. He gave no indication when the deal would be finalized, but two other U.S. officials said a deal could still happen this year depending on China’s actions. Washington and Beijing have yet to ink a so-called “phase one” trade agreement announced in October, which had raised hopes of a de-escalation in their prolonged trade war. The global economy has shuddered with each salvo of tariff hikes by the world’s two largest economies. “The Chinese are always negotiating. I’m very happy where we are,” Trump said as he prepared to depart the White House for a NATO summit in London. “The Chinese want to make a deal. We’ll see what happens.” Chinese President Xi Jinping said last month he wants to work out a trade deal with Washington, but broader bilateral tensions have flared amid U.S. legislative action supporting Hong Kong’s protesters, and targeting camps for Uighur ethnic minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.

U.S. House Votes to Sanction Chinese Officials for Rights Abuses - The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation that would impose sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses against Muslim minorities, prompting Beijing to threaten possible retaliation just as the world’s two largest economies seek to close a trade deal. The bill is an amended version of the Senate’s S. 178 to support the Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic group in western China, and it passed Tuesday, on a vote of 407 to 1. China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday urged the U.S. to stop the bill and vowed to further respond if the legislation progresses, without providing any details. Ahead of the vote, Chinese state media warned that the government could release a list of “unreliable entities” that may lead to sanctions against U.S. companies. The Xinjiang bill follows legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters signed into law last week by President Donald Trump.   Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-backed Global Times tweeted earlier Tuesday that U.S. officials may face visa restrictions and limited travel to Xinjiang province, where the Uighur minority is concentrated. China had already moved to sanction some human rights organizations and halt U.S. naval visits to Hong Kong in response to last week’s two new U.S. laws -- one to place the territory’s special trading status under annual review and the other to ban the export of crowd control devices to the city’s police. Legislation to hold China accountable for human rights violations has received rare bipartisan support in a Congress that is otherwise bitterly divided along party lines over whether to impeach Trump, and other issues. That creates a dilemma for the president, who can’t afford to lose political capital opposing Congress but this week acknowledged that signing the Hong Kong legislation is making a trade deal this year increasingly unlikely.

Gloves Come Off- China Insists Existing Tariffs Must Be Scrapped For Phase 1 Trade Deal - Until now, China had largely kept the key hurdles in the ongoing US-China trade talks close to the vest, fearful that "breaking the embargo" so to speak on what have been confidential talks so far, could anger the US side. Now in a surprise diplomatic reversal, one which has the intent of signaling to the world that China will no longer play by Washington's unspoken if assumed rules, overnight China's nationalistic Global Times tabloid reported that Beijing now "insists" that existing tariffs must be removed as part of a "Phase 1" trade deal, well beyond the US "ask" of merely scrapping those tariffs which are set to kick in on December 15."Sources with direct knowledge of the trade talks told the Global Times on Saturday that the U.S. must remove existing tariffs, not planned tariffs, as part of the deal," said the report.  Global Times, which is published by the official People’s Daily newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, also cited another unidentified source close to the talks as saying U.S. officials had been resisting such a demand because the tariffs were their only weapon in the trade war and giving up that weapon meant “surrender.”Which is precisely what we said last night, when we noted that by going public with its demands, it would make Trump look even weaker, as the US president can no longer spin the outcome of negotiations as one where he proposed the removal of existing tariffs, but rather such an act would be seen as caving to China.  Of course, by eliminating existing tariffs, the US would lose any leverage it currently has as it is only the current tariffs squeezing Chinese exporters that make the current situation unpalatable for Beijing, and any roll back to a status quo would mean that China can now indefinitely delay any further concessions toward a bigger trade deal. Needless to say, should Trump agree, he would be squeezed by both parties as having capitulated to Beijing after a year and a half, with absolutely nothing to show for it besides the S&P at all time highs, of course, which however is not his but rather the Fed's doing.

Wilbur Ross says December tariff hike likely without China breakthrough - Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Monday on Fox Business that time is running out for the U.S. and China to agree on a trade deal before Dec. 15, when the U.S. is set to impose an additional 15% tariff on around $156 billion worth of Chinese goods. Future tariff hikes would likely further squeeze the U.S. and Chinese economies, dragging downalready declining business investment in the U.S. and possibly pushing the manufacturing industry into a deeper recession. China reported last quarter that its economic growth fell to its slowest pace since the 1st quarter of 1992. A report released Monday shows the U.S. manufacturing sector contracted for the fourth consecutive month.  “If nothing happens between now and then, the president has made quite clear he’ll put the tariffs in — the increased tariffs, Ross said.Ross said December is a "really good time" to add more tariffs because he claims it wouldn't "interfere with this year’s Christmas," since many retailers have already stocked up. "We have a very strong economy and [the Chinese] have lots of problems," Ross added. The negative impacts of Trump's trade war are already being felt by American businesses. As we've reported, big retailers are forcing their small suppliers to absorb the cost of tariffs and small business hiring has taken a major hit, along with hiring in the retail and manufacturing sectors.  One of Beijing’s priorities in talks has been removing existing U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. Increasing tariffs on Chinese goods would further complicate any hope for an agreement.

A 2019 U.S.-China trade war deal is looking unlikely - The financially focused arm of China's Global Times newspaper this weekend posted a number of new details on Twitter about how Chinese negotiators are positioned in trade discussions.The Business Source's Twitter feed: A former Chinese vice minister of commerce says he expects the "phase one" trade deal will be signed before Chinese New Year, which begins Jan. 25, but that "[r]olling back tariffs levied by the U.S. is a must."  22 of 25 "experts" surveyed say the possibility of reaching a trade deal is "greater than 50 percent." However, just "nine out of 25 experts surveyed said that a deal could be reached before the New Year, while seven think the deal will come after the New Year."  Tweets also quoted "experts" who said the "longer the #tradetalks drag on, the more difficult it gets to reach a phase one deal given the increasingly out-of-control anti-China movement in Washington." Global Times is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party and is therefore considered to have a direct line to top policymakers and reflect the party's thinking.

China warns U.S. over Uighur bill, raising doubts over early trade deal - (Reuters) - China warned on Wednesday that U.S. legislation calling for a tougher response to Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority will affect bilateral cooperation, clouding prospects for a near-term deal to end a trade war. Expectations of a quick deal had receded already, after U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that it might take until late 2020 to reach agreement. Approval by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Uighur Act of 2019, which still requires passage by the Republican-controlled Senate before being sent to Trump, has angered Beijing and further strained an already testy relationship. Several sources familiar with Beijing’s stance told Reuters that the bill could jeopardize the so-called phase one trade deal already fraught with disagreements and complications. With a new round of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods scheduled to take effect in less than two weeks, the possibility of another breakdown is growing. “Do you think if America takes actions to hurt China’s interests we won’t take any action,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters when asked whether the Uighur bill would affect the trade negotiations. “I think any wrong words and deeds must pay the due price.”

Former US envoy says Chinese officials anticipate ‘partial decoupling’ of the nations’ economies - China’s government assumes that the US-China trade war may drag on indefinitely and that the stand-off may lead to a “partial decoupling” of the two economies, a former high-ranking US State Department official said after returning from Beijing. “We met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the central party … and people at the National People's Congress in [China]. They were all pessimistic in the short to medium term about US-China relations,” Susan Thornton, a former acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said. “Almost all of them expect things to get worse.” Thornton travelled to Beijing and Shanghai as part of a fact-finding trip for the National Committee of American Foreign Policy (NCAFP), an American non-profit organisation dedicated to the resolution of conflicts that threaten United States interests. “It seemed very much that the trade-negotiation moment may have passed. At least that's the sense I got from the Chinese.” Thornton had been the longest-serving senior envoy for Asia in the administration of US President Donald Trump. A formal nomination to become assistant secretary of state failed because of opposition in the Senate from China hawks such as Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. Since leaving the government in August 2018, she has taken aim at Trump’s overall policy of confrontation with China in areas ranging from technology to trade. Speaking at the Harvard Club in New York on Tuesday evening, Thornton said that the pessimism she found in Beijing had been echoed in Washington recently as well. “I think we heard from President Trump actually echoing that … so we sort of got that line first in Beijing and now it's coming back around here, apparently. So that seems to indicate that trade negotiations are not going as well as advertised,”

Huawei Manages to Make Smartphones Without American Chips -American tech companies are getting the go-ahead to resume business with Chinese smartphone giant Huawei Technologies Co., but it may be too late: It is now building smartphones without U.S. chips.Huawei’s latest phone, which it unveiled in September—the Mate 30 with a curved display and wide-angle cameras that competes with Apple Inc.’s iPhone 11—contained no U.S. parts, according to an analysis by UBS and Fomalhaut Techno Solutions, a Japanese technology lab that took the device apart to inspect its insides.In May, the Trump administration banned U.S. shipments to Huawei as trade tensions with Beijing escalated. That move stopped companies like Qualcomm Inc. and Intel Corp. from exporting chips to the company, though some shipments of parts resumed over the summer after companies determined they weren’t affected by the ban.Meanwhile, Huawei has made significant strides in shedding its dependence on parts from U.S. companies. (At issue are chips from U.S.-based companies, not those necessarily made in America; many U.S. chip companies make their semiconductors abroad.)Huawei long relied on suppliers like Qorvo Inc., the North Carolina maker of chips that are used to connect smartphones with cell towers, and Skyworks Solutions Inc., a Woburn, Mass.-based company that makes similar chips. It also used parts from Broadcom Inc., the San Jose-based maker of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips, and Cirrus Logic Inc., an Austin, Texas-based company that makes chips for producing sound.

U.S.-China trade pendulum swings toward Beijing; commodities key - (Reuters) - Since U.S. President Donald Trump launched his trade dispute with China one of the best questions to ask in order to assess the current state of the process is who, right now, is more desperate to do a deal. For most of 18 months or so since the tit-for-tat tariffs began the conventional thinking has been Beijing is more keen to finalise an agreement, given the obvious slowing of growth in the world’s second-biggest economy. However, the abrupt swing in the Purchasing Managers’ Indexes for both China and the United States, coupled with mounting domestic political pressure on Trump as he heads into his re-election campaign, may have altered the dynamic. China’s official PMI unexpectedly returned to positive territory in November, rising to 50.2, the highest since March and moving above the 50-point level that separates expansion from contraction. However, the U.S. PMI went the other way, staying in negative territory for a fourth month, slipping to 48.1 in November, down from 48.3 in October. Of course, one month’s recovery in the Chinese PMI doesn’t yet confirm that the worst is past, but it perhaps does show that the stimulus Beijing has injected into the economy in the form of monetary loosening and infrastructure spending may be starting to filter through to real activity. Similarly, the weakness in the U.S. PMI doesn’t necessarily mean the world’s biggest economy is irrevocably on the path to recession, but it does raise concerns for Trump given his re-election hopes are likely to be centred on winning states dependent on manufacturing jobs.

Who Pays the Tax on Imports from China? - Tariffs are a form of taxation. Indeed, before the 1920s, tariffs (or customs duties) were typically the largest source of funding for the U.S. government. Of little interest for decades, tariffs are again becoming relevant, given the substantial increase in the rates charged on imports from China. U.S. businesses and consumers are shielded from the higher tariffs to the extent that Chinese firms lower the dollar prices they charge. U.S. import price data, however, indicate that prices on goods from China have so far not fallen. As a result, U.S. wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, and consumers are left paying the tax.In August 2017, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced that it had launched an investigation to determine whether Chinese policies related to technology transfer and intellectual property were actionable under the Trade Act of 1974. In April 2018, USTR announced its finding that these policies “are unreasonable or discriminatory and burden or restrict U.S. commerce.” A number of trade actions against Chinese goods have now been announced. The first tariff increase came in July 2018, and was followed by a sequence of further hikes as the trade dispute continued. By June 2019, according to the USTR estimate, some $250 billion in Chinese goods faced an additional tariff of 25 percent. Another round of sharp increases was announced in August but these moves have been largely postponed. However, an estimated $120 billion in additional goods were hit with a tariff hike of 15 percent in September. Tariffs are collected at the port of entry by the U.S. Customs, with the duty paid by the immediate U.S. purchaser of the good. In effect, the U.S. purchaser pays a sales tax to the Customs Service for the right to import the good. Who ends up bearing the burden of the higher tariffs? Chinese firms could lower the prices they charge to offset the tariff hikes in order to avoid losing market share in the United States. For example, a 25 percent tariff hike would need to be offset by a 20 percent price cut by the Chinese supplier to leave the total cost to the U.S. importer firm unchanged (1.25 x 0.80 = 1.0). Chinese firms will be more prone to lower prices to the extent that they believe U.S. purchasers can either do without their products or find alternatives from other suppliers. A May 2019 Liberty Street Economics post noted that prices on imports from China have been stable in the face of higher tariffs. This stability has continued in the face of further tariff hikes. As seen in the chart below, prices on goods from China fell by only 2 percent in dollar terms between June 2018, just before the first tariffs were imposed, and September 2019. (These data refer to the prices charged by Chinese suppliers and do not include tariff expenses.) This drop is a small fraction of the amount required to offset the increase in tariff rates. Moreover, prices on goods purchased from Mexico and the so-called Newly Industrialized Economies (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong) have fallen by roughly the same amount, suggesting that this small drop is the result of general market conditions rather than the increase in tariffs.

Trump administration to propose tariffs on $2.4B in French goods - The U.S. Trade Representative on Monday said that it has determined that France’s digital services tax discriminates against U.S. companies, and is proposing tariffs of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion of French products. “USTR’s decision today sends a clear signal that the United States will take action against digital tax regimes that discriminate or otherwise impose undue burdens on U.S. companies,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a news release. USTR in July announced an investigation into the French digital services tax, in order to determine whether it’s unreasonable or discriminatory and burdens U.S. commerce. The investigation took place under section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974, the same section that Trump has used to justify tariffs on Chinese goods.  USTR announced last week that it would be issuing its findings in its investigation Monday, after a 90-day deadline for negotiations between the U.S. and France expired. French President Emmanuel Macron signed legislation in July to establish a 3-percent tax on large companies’ revenues from digital services. The tax applies retroactively to Jan. 1. The tax has drawn criticism from major U.S. tech companies — such as Google, Facebook and Amazon — as well as from policymakers on both sides of the aisle, who argue that the law is targeting American businesses.  Silicon Valley largely applauded the USTR's conclusion on Monday night, deriding the French proposal as an effort to harm the world's largest tech companies, most of which are based in the U.S.

Market Spooked After Trump Threatens To Restore Steel And Aluminum Tariffs On South American Countries - Not surprising whatsoever that President Trump is starting the new week by threatening several South American countries with a return of steel and aluminum tariffs. Trump alleged that Brazil and Argentina have been conducting "massive devaluation of their currencies," which are harming US farmers. Brazil and Argentina have been presiding over a massive devaluation of their currencies. which is not good for our farmers. Therefore, effective immediately, I will restore the Tariffs on all Steel & Aluminum that is shipped into the U.S. from those countries. The Federal....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2019Trump then scapegoats Powell for this mess and demands "Lower Rates & Loosen - Fed!" .....Reserve should likewise act so that countries, of which there are many, no longer take advantage of our strong dollar by further devaluing their currencies. This makes it very hard for our manufactures & farmers to fairly export their goods. Lower Rates & Loosen - Fed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2019China is signing trade deals with Brazil and Argentina for agriculture products. We've noted this on several occasions. Trump is troubled with these developments and is willing to deepen the trade war as China is buying agriculture products elsewhere.  Nevertheless, overnight, AXIOS reported that the US-China trade deal was now "stalled because of the Hong Kong legislation." Likely, a phase one deal might not be seen until next year.

Nancy Pelosi Pushes to Remove Legal Protections for Online Content in Trade Pact - The Trump administration negotiated the USMCA trade deal as a replacement to Nafta. Will President Trump's new deal be ratified in the near future, or are there roadblocks ahead?  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing to strip out sweeping legal protections for online content in the new trade pact with Mexico and Canada, in what would be a blow for big technology companies. Internet firms lobbied hard to include the immunity language in the trade agreement, seeing it as a way to extend to Mexico and Canada the broad umbrella of legal protection they enjoy in the U.S.

Trump escalates global trade war - US President Trump has stepped up his trade war measures, lashing out at Brazil, Argentina and France, and has indicated he is in no hurry to conclude a “phase one” trade deal with China, making the imposition of new tariffs on $156 billion of Chinese consumer goods on December 15 a near certainty. Comments by Trump in London yesterday, where he was asked by a reporter whether he expected a deal with China to be concluded this year, sent stock markets falling, with the Dow dropping 457 points during the course of the trading day, finishing down 280 points. Responding to the question, Trump said: “I don’t have a deadline. I like the idea of waiting until after the election [in November 2020] for the China deal.” Speaking on the business channel CNBC following Trump’s comments, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the US would go ahead with its plan to impose tariffs on a range of imported consumer goods from China if no agreement were reached by the middle of this month. On Monday, in a surprise tweet, Trump said he was reversing the exemption previously granted to Argentina and Brazil from tariffs imposed on steel and aluminium imports in 2018, citing a “massive devaluation” in their currencies which had hurt American farmers. The move is directly related to the trade war against China. Exports of Brazilian soybeans to China have increased over the past year as China has cut back on purchases from the US. According to the US Department of Agriculture, Brazil supplied 77 percent of China’s soybean imports in the nine months to the end of May, up from about 40 percent previously. Trump claimed the fall in the Brazilian and Argentine currencies had been “presided over” by their governments. In fact, it is a result of their weakening economies. But Trump took the opportunity to again call on the Fed to lower the value of the US dollar, raising the prospect of a currency war. “The Fed should lower rates [there is almost no inflation] and loosen, making us competitive with other nations and manufacturing will SOAR! Dollar is very strong relative to others,” he tweeted. The reference to manufacturing points to another consideration in Trump’s trade war escalation. As the Financial Times noted in an article earlier this week, “torpor” has descended on US manufacturing this year. It said industrial activity had “stagnated across the US economy,” particularly in “several rust-belt states” that could determine Trump’s re-election bid next year.

Many firms have no contingency plans should U.S.-China trade war worsen: DHL survey -  (Reuters) - As the U.S.-China trade war drags into its 16th month and continues to disrupt supply chains, more than one-quarter of multinational firms have not made contingency plans, showed a survey from a subsidiary of courier giant DHL.The survey here by DHL Resilience360, a supply chain risk management software platform under Deutsche Post AG's (DPWGn.DE) courier unit, included 267 anonymous responses from supply chain executives across industries including healthcare, automotive and consumer. Over half of respondents were from companies with annual revenue of over 1 billion yuan ($142 million) and most were from the United States and European Union, the survey showed. Of respondents, 48% from the engineering and manufacturing industry and 40% from the automotive mobility sector reported that they had no contingency plans at all, even though both fields have been heavily targeted by both countries in the trade war. “We’re now dealing with such a new frontier that most supply chain professionals have not encountered this before and its so new that I think a lot of people are struggling to even understand what they can do to deal with it,” said Shehrina Kamal, product director for risk monitoring at DHL Resilience360. Of those that had decided against relocating or shifting production out of China, some said they were unaffected by the trade war. However, 43% said long-established connections with Chinese factories and suppliers as well cost and time were among reasons for staying put. Just 8% of respondents said they expected tariffs to eventually be removed. Of the 12% of respondents that have moved manufacturing out of China, some said they faced headaches such as a lack of skilled labor, heavy port congestion and maintaining supplier quality, the survey showed. India and Vietnam were among the most popular alternative locations. The United States and China have imposed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other’s goods since July 2018 as trade friction between the world’s two biggest economies worsened despite several rounds of negotiation. Industries that have been hit so far include automotive, retail and technology.

US farmer suicides on the rise as Trump’s trade war, extreme weather hit hard - While suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall in the US, a recent study published by the University of Iowa found that the suicide rate for farm operators and farm workers has been more than three times higher than the national rate dating back to the 1990s and early 2000s. Although the past two years have not yet been reported, mental health experts expect the numbers to be even higher for 2018 and 2019 as suicide hotlines have been receiving more calls in rural areas. This has prompted a limited response from federal and state agencies, including a $1.9 million US Department of Agriculture initiative to establish support groups for farms and ranches and $450,000 to train USDA employees in how to make mental health treatment referrals. In an interview with Time, Mike Rosmann, a clinical psychologist and farmer from Iowa, reported that he was receiving seven calls per week from farmers with mental health problems usually resulting from their struggles with finances. The death of Chris Dykshorn provides a glimpse into the devastation brought about by consecutive years of extreme weather that have cut the growing season short and destroyed crop yields, trade war, and the predation of financial institutions burying farmers in unbearable debts. Compounding the already record rainfall from the previous year, this year saw historic floods in the Midwest from melting ice and snow from the record-breaking winter, devastating crop yields primarily for corn and soybean farmers. Farmers whose fields were less affected by the flooding were still cut off from roads and railways, limiting their ability to sell their crops and transport or feed livestock. According to the USDA, only 30 percent of corn fields had been planted as of May this year, compared to the 66 percent average. In South Dakota, the amount of corn fields planted dropped to 4 percent compared to the average of 54 percent over the past five years, and 21 percent in Minnesota compared to the average of 65 percent. In addition to abysmal crop yields for this year, Trump’s trade war has driven down the buying prices of crops as China has refused to buy any crops from American farmers, leaving soybean farmers without any buyers and unable to pay off massive debts.   Farm debt in the US stands at a combined $416 billion, which is an all-time high, and more than half of all farmers have lost money every year since 2013.

Death toll put at 20 for Mexico cartel attack near US border (AP) — Mexican security forces on Sunday killed seven more members of a presumed cartel assault force that rolled into a town near the Texas border and staged an hour-long attack, officials said, putting the overall death toll at 20. The Coahuila state government said in a statement that lawmen aided by helicopters were still chasing remnants of the force that arrived in a convoy of pickup trucks and attacked the city hall of Villa Union on Saturday. Gov. Miguel Angel Riquelme said late Sunday afternoon that authorities had determined the casualty count from the gunbattles stood at 14 gunmen dead and four police officers killed. He said two civilians also were slain by gunmen after being abducted. The governor said six more officers were wounded as were four young people who had been taken by the attackers. Francisco Contreras, an official in the state security agency, said later that the two slain civilians were a firefighter and an engineer who worked for the municipality. He said a second firefighter was missing. The reason for the military-style attack remained unclear. Cartels have been contending for control of smuggling routes in northern Mexico, but there was no immediate evidence that a rival cartel had been targeted in Villa Union. Earlier Sunday, the state government had issued a statement saying seven attackers were killed Sunday in addition to seven who died Saturday. It had said three other bodies had not been identified, but its later statement lowered the total deaths to 20. The governor said the armed group — at least some in military style garb — stormed the town of 3,000 residents in a convoy of trucks, attacking local government offices and prompting state and federal forces to intervene. Bullet-riddled trucks left abandoned in the streets were marked C.D.N. — Spanish initials of the Cartel of the Northeast gang. Several of the gunmen stole vehicles as they fled and kidnapped locals to help guide them on dirt tracks out of town, the governor said. At least one of the stolen vehicles was a hearse headed for a funeral, according to the newspaper Zocalo of Saltillo.

 Salvadoran migrant sent from U.S. to Guatemala under asylum deal - The first Salvadoran citizen was reportedly sent to Guatemala from the U.S. under an agreement for the country to take in more asylum-seekers from other Central American nations.The person arrived on a plane from Arizona on Tuesday, along with 84 Guatemalan nationals and two Honduran nationals, Guatemala’s migration institute spokeswoman Alejandra Mena told Reuters.  She reportedly did not say whether the people from Honduras and El Salvador would seek asylum in Guatemala.  The agreement reached this summer requires migrants traveling through Guatemala to apply for asylum there before continuing toward the U.S.  The Trump administration this year reached similar deals with the governments of El Salvador and Honduras this year.  Under the agreements, migrants who had the chance to seek protection in these countries will be returned from the U.S. border to seek protection or asylum there, a senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told reporters in September. According to Reuters, the first migrant sent to Guatemala under its agreement arrived last month. That person is a Honduran national.  The agreements are among several Trump administration moves aimed at curbing immigration.

How McKinsey Helped the Trump Administration Detain and Deport Immigrants - Just days after he took office in 2017, President Donald Trump set out to make good on his campaign pledge to halt illegal immigration. In a pair of executive orders, he ordered “all legally available resources” to be shifted to border detention facilities and called for hiring 10,000 new immigration officers. The logistical challenges were daunting, but as luck would have it, Immigration and Customs Enforcement already had a partner on its payroll: McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm brought on under the Obama administration to help engineer an “organizational transformation” in the ICE division charged with deporting migrants who are in the United States unlawfully. ICE quickly redirected McKinsey toward helping the agency figure out how to execute the White House’s clampdown on illegal immigration. But the money-saving recommendations the consultants came up with made some career ICE staff uncomfortable. They proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees, according to interviews with people who worked on the project for both ICE and McKinsey and 1,500 pages of documents obtained from the agency after ProPublica filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. McKinsey’s team also looked for ways to accelerate the deportation process, provoking worries among some ICE staff members that the recommendations risked short-circuiting due process protections for migrants fighting removal from the United States. The consultants, three people who worked on the project said, seemed focused solely on cutting costs and speeding up deportations — activities whose success could be measured in numbers — with little acknowledgment that these policies affected thousands of human beings. In what one former official described as “heated meetings” with McKinsey consultants, agency staff members questioned whether saving pennies on food and medical care for detainees justified the potential human cost. But the consulting firm’s sway at ICE grew to the point that McKinsey’s staff even ghostwrote a government contracting document that defined the consulting team’s own responsibilities and justified the firm’s retention, a contract extension worth $2.2 million. “Can they do that?” an ICE official wrote to a contracting officer in May 2017.

Inside the Cell Where a Sick 16-Year-Old Boy Died in Border Patrol Care — Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant, was seriously ill when immigration agents put him in a small South Texas holding cell with another sick boy on the afternoon of May 19.A few hours earlier, a nurse practitioner at the Border Patrol’s dangerously overcrowded processing center in McAllen had diagnosed him with the flu and measured his fever at 103 degrees. She said that he should be checked again in two hours and taken to the emergency room if his condition worsened.None of that happened. Worried that Carlos might infect other migrants in the teeming McAllen facility, officials moved him to a cell for quarantine at a Border Patrol station in nearby Weslaco.By the next morning, he was dead.In a press release that day, Customs and Border Protection’s acting commissioner at the time, John Sanders, called Carlos’ death a “tragic loss.” The agency said that an agent had found Carlos “unresponsive” after checking in on him. Sanders said the Border Patrol was “committed to the health, safety and humane treatment of those in our custody.”But the record shows that the Border Patrol fell far short of that standard with Carlos. ProPublica has obtained video that documents the 16-year-old’s last hours, and it shows that Border Patrol agents and health care workers at the Weslaco holding facility missed increasingly obvious signs that his condition was perilous.The cellblock video shows Carlos writhing for at least 25 minutes on the floor and a concrete bench. It shows him staggering to the toilet and collapsing on the floor, where he remained in the same position for the next four and a half hours. According to a “subject activity log” maintained by the Border Patrol throughout Carlos’ custody, an agent checked on him three times during the early morning hours in which he slipped from unconsciousness to death, but reported nothing alarming about the boy. The video shows the only way CBP officials could have missed Carlos’ crisis is that they weren’t looking. His agony was apparent, even in grainy black and white, making clear the agent charged with monitoring him failed to perform adequate checks, if he even checked at all.

U.S. homeland security proposes face scans for citizens (Reuters) - The Trump administration intends to propose a regulation next year that would require all travelers - including U.S. citizens - to be photographed when entering or leaving the United States, according to the administration’s regulatory agenda. The proposed regulation, slated to be issued in July by the Homeland Security Department, would be part of a broader system to track travelers as they enter and exit the United States. The plan has already drawn opposition from some privacy advocates. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, blasted the idea in a written statement on Monday. “Travelers, including U.S. citizens, should not have to submit to invasive biometric scans simply as a condition of exercising their constitutional right to travel,” he said. The Trump administration contends in its regulatory agenda that the face scan requirement will combat the fraudulent use of U.S. travel documents and aid the identification of criminals and suspected terrorists. The public typically has 30 to 60 days to comment on a proposed U.S. regulation. The federal agency then needs to review and respond to comments, a process that can be time-consuming for major regulations. The Trump administration also said in its regulatory agenda that it plans to issue a separate fast-track regulation this month that would allow the entry-exit project to move beyond a pilot status. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is part of DHS, has already conducted pilot programs that collect photographs and fingerprints from foreign travelers.

Trump’s drug importation plan faces resistance in US, Canada - President Trump’s proposal to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada faces significant headwinds from U.S. pharmaceutical companies and the Canadian government. Canadian officials warn their country is too small to supply their neighbors to the south with prescription drugs, an argument that American drugmakers quickly seized on after years of aggressively opposing all drug importation efforts. But Trump — eager for a win on drug prices amid the impeachment inquiry and heading into 2020 — is showing no signs of backing off. Trump recently tweeted that the White House and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar “will soon release a plan to let Florida and other states import prescription drugs that are MUCH CHEAPER than what we have now!” “Hard-working Americans don’t deserve to pay such high prices for the drugs they need,” he added. “We are fighting DAILY to make sure this HAPPENS.” The Food and Drug Administration expects to release the proposal in January, according to the fall regulatory agenda published last week. State and federal lawmakers have looked for solutions to high drug costs as prices soar and patients increasingly struggle to pay for their medications. Trump has made lowering drug prices a key goal of his presidency but has made little progress almost three years after taking office. Under his plan, state governments could seek permission from HHS to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canadian suppliers that meet stringent requirements. Florida, Colorado, Vermont and Maine are in the process of drafting such proposals. But it’s not clear if the U.S. will find a willing partner in Canada, whose support of drug importation would be crucial for the proposal to take off.

Workers will lose more than $700 million dollars annually under proposed DOL rule -- In October, the Trump administration published a proposed rule regarding tips which, if finalized, will cost workers more than $700 million annually. It is yet another example of the Trump administration using the fine print of a proposal to attempt to push through a change that will transfer large amounts of money from workers to their employers. We also find that as employers ask tipped workers to do more non-tipped work as a result of this rule, employment in non-tipped food service occupations will decline by 5.3% and employment in tipped occupations will increase by 12.2%, resulting in 243,000 jobs shifting from being non-tipped to being tipped.  Given that back-of-the-house, non-tipped jobs in restaurants are more likely to be held by people of color while tipped occupations are more likely to be held by white workers, this could reduce job opportunities for people of color. The background: employers are not allowed to pocket workers’ tips—tips must remain with workers. But employers can legally “capture” some of workers’ tips by paying tipped workers less in base wages than their other workers. For example, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but employers can pay tipped workers a “tipped minimum wage” of $2.13 an hour as long as employees’ base wage and the tips they receive over the course of a week are the equivalent of at least $7.25 per hour. All but seven states have a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. In a system like this, the more non-tipped work that is done by tipped workers earning the sub-minimum wage, the more employers benefit. This is best illustrated with a simple example. Say a restaurant has two workers, one doing tipped work and one doing non-tipped work, who both work 40 hours a week. The tipped worker is paid $2.50 an hour in base wages, but gets $10 an hour in tips on average, for a total of $12.50 an hour in total earnings. The non-tipped worker is paid $7.50 an hour. In this scenario, the restaurant pays their workers a total of ($2.50+$7.50)*40 = $400 per week, and the workers take home a total of ($12.50+$7.50)*40 = $800 (with $400 of that coming from tips). But suppose the restaurant makes both those workers tipped workers, with each doing half tipped work and half non-tipped work. Then the restaurant pays them both $2.50 an hour, and they will each get $5 an hour in tips on average (since now they each spend half their time on non-tipped work) for a total of $7.50 an hour in total earnings. In this scenario, the restaurant pays out a total of ($2.50+$2.50)*40 = $200 per week, and the workers take home a total of ($7.50 + $7.50)*40 = $600. The restaurant’s gain of $200 is the workers’ loss of $200, simply by having tipped workers spend time doing non-tipped work.

Virginia targets historic push on equal rights amendment for women - The Hill. The election of a Democratic legislature in Virginia is breathing new life into a decades-long push for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would enshrine equality for women into the U.S. Constitution. Ratifying the ERA, a long-standing goal for women’s rights advocates, needs approval from just one more state to cross the three-fourths threshold of support needed to become a constitutional amendment. Proponents believe ERA will protect women from discrimination and gender-based violence at a time of heightened sensitivity to women's issues sparked by the #MeToo movement. And they are hopeful that Virginia will become the 38th state that could ratify the ERA, completing a necessary step needed for a constitutional amendment, after advocates campaigned hard on the issue during the elections in November that gave Democrats control of the legislature for the first time in decades. Incoming Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D), the first woman to hold the title, told The Hill in an interview that ratifying the ERA will be a “top priority” when the new legislature convenes next year. “Our Democratic delegates, incumbents and the candidates made it clear that ERA ratification is a priority,” Filler-Corn said. “It’s past time that women are included in the founding document of our country and we’ll continue this fight until it’s won, and quite clearly that will be very soon after we gavel in in January,” the Speaker-elect added. She declined to give a specific timeline as to when ratification legislation would be tackled, but said she believes it will be one of the first issues taken on. Her tenure as Speaker will come as the largest number of women were elected to Virginia's General Assembly in its history, winning 41 of the legislature’s 140 seats.

Trump Administration Moves to End Food Stamps for 750,000 - The Trump administration announced a plan Wednesday to end food-stamp benefits for about 700,000 Americans, issuing a new regulation that makes it harder for states to gain waivers from a requirement that beneficiaries work or participate in a vocational training program. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the new rule will move more food-stamp recipients “toward self-sufficiency and into employment.” Conservatives have long sought cuts in the federal food assistance program for the poor. House Republicans tried to impose similar restrictions last year when Congress renewed the program but were rebuffed in the Senate. The work requirement covers “able-bodied” recipients. A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said it doesn’t apply to recipients who are over 50, disabled or pregnant, or anyone with a child under 18. The measure would be the first of three Trump administration initiatives curtailing food stamp benefits to take effect. The Urban Institute estimated in an analysis last month that the measures together would cut 3.7 million beneficiaries from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, often known by its previous name, food stamps. Currently, states can receive waivers for work requirements if their unemployment rates are at least 20% above the national rate, which was 3.6% in October. The regulation, which will be published in the Federal Register Thursday, imposes stricter standards for the waivers. ‘Grinch’ Move Democratic Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio said the new regulation was worthy of “the Grinch who stole Christmas.” In an emailed statement, she called it “an unacceptable escalation of the Administration’s war on working families.” A Brookings Institution study published last year found more stringent work requirements are likely to hurt people who are already working but whose employment is sporadic. Recipients must work an average of 20 hours a week each month to meet the requirement.

Nearly 700,000 to lose food stamp benefits under new Trump Administration rule -- The Trump administration has announced a new rule aimed at depriving several hundred thousand American citizens of critical food stamp benefits. The Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is currently providing critical federal assistance to over 36 million Americans. Under existing rules, all able-bodied adults without dependents can receive SNAP benefits only for three months over a three-year period, unless they are working or enrolled in an education or training program for at least 20 hours a week. However, states have been able to waive the work requirement and ensure access to SNAP benefits beyond the time limit given challenging economic conditions. The new rule severely limits the ability of states to apply such waivers. From April 2020 onwards (when the new rule will take effect), only states that have an official unemployment rate of 6% or above can apply for work waivers. As a comparison, under the current system regions with unemployment rates as low as 2.5% were included in the waived areas. It is anticipated that the new rule will affect about 7% of SNAP recipients, those designated as “Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents” (ABAWD). The rule aimed at limiting work waivers is tied to two other proposals—one capping deductions for utility allowances, and the other aimed at cutting SNAP benefits for working-class families. A study by the Urban Institute estimates these three proposals combined would cut 3.6 million people from SNAP benefits per month, reduce monthly benefits for millions more, and lead to 982,000 students losing access to reduced-cost or free school meals. Each of these proposals has been presented by the Trump administration and its supporters as an essential trimming of a bloated federal budget, and a gesture of respect to hard-working taxpayers. Given the passage of the biggest Pentagon budget as yet, vast amounts spent on the war against immigrants and the massive tax-cuts granted to corporations, this claim holds no water. Discussing the new rule with reporters on a conference call, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue used typical right-wing logic: “Americans,” he declared, “were generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch.” However, it was time to restore “the original intent of food stamps … moving more able-bodied Americans to self-sufficiency.” Perdue reiterated this claim in an op-ed published yesterday in the Arizona Daily Star. Entitled “The dignity of work and the American dream,” the piece reads like a grotesque caricature of the reality faced by millions of working-class Americans. The economy, Perdue claims, is booming primarily due to “President Trump’s policies … [which are] putting people back to work and increasing wages.”

Trump administration food stamp cuts spell hunger and destitution for millions - The Trump Administration announced Wednesday a rule change that will deprive nearly 700,000 people of benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, increasing hunger for countless families. SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, currently provides vital federal assistance to over 36 million people. Beginning in April 2020, the rule will make it much harder for adults, aged 18 to 49, who are without dependents to obtain benefits. It will make it more difficult for states to waive a requirement that these individuals work at least 20 hours a week or lose their benefits by allowing only those states with an official unemployment rate of 6 percent or above to apply for waivers. Currently, some regions with jobless rates as low as 2.5 percent are included in the waived areas. The print and broadcast media have largely ignored the move, which will lead untold thousands of households to go hungry. Congressional Democrats have remained virtually silent, focused on their impeachment proceedings against Trump centering on claims that his policies are insufficiently aggressive against Russia. That is because, in attacking the living conditions of masses of people, Trump is carrying out a bipartisan policy supported by both parties of big business. In 2014, President Obama signed legislation into law that cut $8.7 billion in food stamp benefits over the next decade, causing 850,000 households to lose an average of $90 a month. According to a study from earlier this year when the change was first proposed, it will affect the poorest and most vulnerable: 97 percent of SNAP participants affected live in poverty; 88 percent have household incomes at or below 50 percent of the poverty level, or less than $600 a month. The work rule change is tied to two other proposals—one capping deductions for utility allowances and another that would lead to nearly 1 million students losing access to reduced-cost or free lunches. Taken together, the Urban Institute estimates that these three proposals would cut 3.6 million people from SNAP benefits. In the words of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, these measures—which will literally snatch food from the mouths of children, the destitute and the most vulnerable in society—will “restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population, while also respecting the taxpayers who fund the program.” In reality, Perdue’s dystopian vision has nothing to do with restoring the “dignity of work” and everything to do with plunging millions of Americans further into poverty while increasing the wealth of the already super-wealthy who have been the beneficiaries of Trump’s tax cuts and attacks on social programs.

House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law - A majority of House and Senate Democrats are calling on the Supreme Court to block a Louisiana abortion law. The court is set to hear oral arguments in March challenging the law, which would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, a requirement that critics say is designed to force abortion clinics to close. A group of 161 House Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), and 36 Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), filed an amicus brief in support of the law’s challengers, June Medical Services. It will be the first abortion case taken up by the Supreme Court since President Trump's two nominees — Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — were confirmed to the bench. According to the lawmakers, admitting privilege requirements “serve no medical benefit, while imposing undue burdens on access to abortion through increased costs and reduced availability of care. These burdens cause unnecessary delays and impose health risks to women.” The brief notes that the Supreme Court in 2016 struck down an almost identical law in Texas because it resulted in the closure of half of the state’s abortion clinics, which would place an “undue burden” on women seeking a legal abortion. If the Louisiana law goes into effect, only one clinic and one abortion provider would remain in the state. Despite the Supreme Court's 2016 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld the Louisiana law last year in a 2-1 vote, ruling it “does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women.” Proponents of the law, including Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who filed his own amicus brief, argue the Court should maintain the law because it does not represent a burden for all women in the state, only some. Lawmakers said the case still represents a direct challenge to the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade, even though Louisiana and its supporters have not asked the Court to formally overturn Roe. The Democrats said upholding Louisiana’s law would allow states to effectively eliminate abortion. “As with other statutes targeting abortion providers and facilities, the actual legislative intent here is to mandate requirements so difficult to fulfill that the inevitable outcome is the shuttering of abortion clinics and elimination of safe and legal abortions,” the Democrats wrote.

Lawmakers Admit Lobbyists Helped Write Their Anti-Medicare For All Op-Eds - Three state lawmakers, two Democrats and one Republican, have now admitted that a lobbyist for an “undisclosed client” either wrote portions of their anti-Medicare for All op-eds, or he made significant revisions to them. Ethics aside, this is the kind of propaganda that we will have to fight hard against in order to get the healthcare system that this country desperately needs in order to survive. Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins discusses this. Three state lawmakers, two Democrats, one Republican have now been forced to admit that. Yeah, a health care industry lobbyist helped write their recent op-eds attacking single payer healthcare and Medicare for all the law makers include Montana state representatives, Cathy Kelker and John Jen- Gross, excuse me. Uh, both Democrats both from the state of Montana. Uh, Kelker is a representative. Gross is a Senator and they had their op-eds attacking Medicare for all written by a man by the name of John MacDonald who, uh, was working on behalf of the partnership for America’s healthcare future in MacDonald. According to these, uh, two state law makers actually reached out to them. They didn’t reach out to him. He reached out to them and said, Hey, here’s an idea. How about we write an op ed, you won’t list anywhere in the op ed that I’m writing it for you. You just slap your name on it. I’ll get you in a bunch of papers with it and we’ll take down Medicare for all. Now, the third person is a Ohio state Senator, Steve Hoffman. And he had his anti Medicare for all op-ed written by a woman by the name of Kathleen Deland, who’s a lobbyist in Ohio. And uh, Mr. Huffman happens to be a Republican. So again, two Democrats, one Republican, all three had their op-eds against Medicare for all written by lobbyists working for the healthcare industry. And we know this to be true because the Washington post got their hands on the emails between these people and uncovered the truth. So here’s the thing, this is the kind of crap we are up against in the fight for Medicare, for all these groups, like the partnership for America’s healthcare, future funded by hospital corporations, big pharma insurance companies. Those are the people fighting back against giving you healthcare against universal coverage for every single person, the rich and the poor alike. They don’t want it to happen because if we do, if we get healthcare for everybody in this country, their profit party that has been going on for decades comes to an end. Suddenly it’s last call for them and they’re left with nowhere to go. Parties over. Folks don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. And that’s what they’re terrified of.

 Democratic strategist: 'Medicare for All' exposes generational gap within party - Democratic strategist Colin Rogero said Friday that issues like “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal expose a “generational gap” within the Democratic Party. "The Green New Deal and Medicare for All [are] widely popular with younger generations and working class,” Rogero, a partner at political consulting firm 76 Words, told Hill.TV. “And then when you get into the white liberal establishment, they’re like, ‘No, I’m more focused on beating Trump,'" he continued. "We’ll see in the primary where we actually end up."  Rogero’s comments come after former Vice President Joe Biden downplayed enthusiasm for Medicare for All among Democrats, claiming that the majority of the party was not supportive of the policy idea."I don’t think the bulk of the enthusiasm in the Democratic Party is for Medicare for All," Biden said Tuesday in Iowa.Biden made similar remarks during an interview with “Axios on HBO,” saying the “party’s not there at all” on the progressive policy proposal.  "You all thought that what happened was the party moved extremely to the left after Hillary. AOC was a new party. She's a bright, wonderful person. But where's the party?" Biden told Axios's Mike Allen. Medicare for All has been one of the major dividing lines between progressive candidates, such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and more centrist ones like Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D). Biden been repeatedly warned against moving towards a Medicare for All system that does away with private health insurance, calling it unrealistic, and has instead proposed a plan that would expand the the Affordable Care Act. Under Biden’s proposal, people would have the option to select a government plan or use private insurance.

Revealed: Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib targeted in far-right fake news operation - Two Muslim US congresswomen have been targeted by a vast international operation that exploits far-right pages on Facebook to inflame Islamophobia for profit, a Guardian investigation has found. A mysterious Israeli-based group uses 21 Facebook pages to churn out more than a thousand coordinated fake news posts per week to more than a million followers around the world. It milks the traffic for revenue from digital advertising. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who earlier this year became the first Muslim women to serve in the US Congress, have been singled out for vicious attacks by the coordinated effort. Somali-born Omar is the most frequent target. She has been mentioned in more than 1,400 posts since the network began two years ago. Tlaib has been mentioned nearly 1,200 times. Both totals are far higher than any other member of Congress. Omar and Tlaib are members of a group of progressive women of color known as “the squad” that also includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. They have been subject to racist insults from Donald Trump. The Guardian uncovered contacts between a group of mysterious Israel-based accounts and 21 far-right Facebook pages across the US, Australia, the UK, Canada, Austria,Israel and Nigeria. The posts exacerbate Islamophobia by amplifying far-right parties and vilifying Muslim and leftwing politicians. Their content is a blend of distorted news and pure fabrication. An analysis by Queensland University of Technology’s digital media research centre indicated a single entity is coordinating the publication of content across the Facebook pages. Using web archiving services and domain registry information, the Guardian has been able to confirm a key figure in the network is Ariel Elkaras, a thirtysomething jewelry salesman and online operator living on the outskirts of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.  Elkaras did not respond to multiple requests for comment via email and phone, but the Guardian was able to track him down in the Israeli town of Lod, near Tel Aviv, where he denied involvement in the network. “It’s nothing related to me,” he said through a translator.

Trump golf cart rentals have now cost US taxpayers more than half a million dollars - US president Donald Trump is almost two weeks into the impeachment hearings that have roiled his administration. But it hasn’t prevented him from making some winter plans to play a little golf.  The president spends a lot of time on the links, almost exclusively at his own properties. At the end of October, Trump made his 224th visit to one of his 17 golf courses since assuming office three years ago. On each outing, the Secret Service must follow. And with their golf carts comes a big bill for the American public.  As Trump rides around with his invited guests—on his last visit to the Trump National Golf Course in Potomac, Maryland, he was accompanied by Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, and Republican senators Lindsey Graham and David Perdue—the Secret Service is never far behind, in their own carts. As Quartz first reported, the carts require modifications that allow them to go at least 19 mph, about 5 mph faster than a standard cart.  The Secret Service has rented 84 golf carts for Trump’s planned visits to Florida between now and May 2020, costing US taxpayers more than $50,000, according to federalprocurement filings. That brings the total cost of the agency’s cart rentals for Trump’s golf outings to more than $550,000. The vendor supplying the golf carts this time around—a company called Maddox Joines Inc, which does business as “Sunshine Golf Car”—is a 24-mile drive down the turnpike from Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. The president’s protective detail rented the same number of carts from Maddox Joines last winter, plus 36 additional cartson an “as needed, periodic basis.”

Deutsche Bank, Capital One must comply with congressional subpoena for Trump’s financial records  — House Democrats can access President Trump’s private financial records from two banks, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, finding a “public interest” in refusing to block congressional subpoenas. The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit comes in the ongoing legal battle Trump has waged to shield his private business records from disclosure — including in two cases that have already reached the Supreme Court. The New York-based appeals court upheld Congress’s broad investigative authority and ordered Deutsche Bank and Capital One to comply with the House subpoenas for the president’s financial information. The court gave the president seven days to seek review by the Supreme Court in the case, which predates the public impeachment proceedings in the House. In a 106-page ruling, the court said the House committees’ “interests in pursuing their constitutional legislative function is a far more significant public interest than whatever public interest inheres in avoiding the risk of a Chief Executive’s distraction arising from disclosure of documents reflecting his private financial transactions." “The Committees have already been delayed in the receipt of the subpoenaed material since April 11 when the subpoenas were issued. They need the remaining time to analyze the material, hold hearings, and draft bills for possible enactment,” according to the ruling written by Judge Jon O. Newman, who was joined by Judge Peter W. Hall. The president’s attorney Jay Sekulow said in a statement Tuesday that Trump’s legal team believes the subpoenas are “invalid as issued” and is reviewing the ruling to determine next steps, “including seeking review at the Supreme Court.” In a statement, Deutsche Bank said, “We remain committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations and will abide by a court order regarding such investigations.” Capital One declined to comment. 

Supreme Court halts subpoena to Deutsche Bank for Trump records - The Supreme Court on Friday granted President Trump's emergency request to temporarily block a congressional subpoena for his financial records from Deutsche Bank. The court's order came just hours after the president's legal team asked for a temporary stay of an appellate court decision ordering Deutsche Bank to comply with subpoenas from the House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees for a broad range of documents concerning Trump's finances and his businesses. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who oversees the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, issued an administrative stay of that court's decision that will be in effect until Friday, Dec. 13, while the court deliberates on whether to grant a longer stay and to give Trump's lawyers time to prepare a formal appeal. The committees are investigating Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank, which had given him $2 billion in loans and is reportedly being investigated for its role in money-laundering scheme involving Russia. Earlier this week, a three-judge panel on the Second Circuit had ruled that there was a "clear and substantial" public interest in granting the House subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and the credit card company Capital One. "It is the interest of two congressional committees, functioning under the authority of a resolution of the House of Representatives authorizing the subpoenas at issue, to obtain information on enforcement of anti-money-laundering/counter-financing of terrorism laws, terrorist financing, the movement of illicit funds through the global financial system including the real estate market, the scope of the Russian government’s operations to influence the U.S. political process, and whether the Lead Plaintiff was vulnerable to foreign exploitation," they wrote.

Lisa Page speaks out on Trump attacks - Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page blasted President Trump in an interview published Sunday, hammering his public references to her and former partner Peter Strzok, a former FBI agent who served on the special counsel investigation into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Page, who was thrust into the spotlight when private texts between her and Strzok were released, told The Daily Beast's Molly Jong-Fast that she had endured public humiliation at the president's hands and referred to his public impersonations of her, including mocking personal messages between her and Strzok, with whom she had an affair, during a Minnesota rally earlier this year. “Honestly, his demeaning fake orgasm was really the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Page told the publication. “It’s like being punched in the gut," she continued. "My heart drops to my stomach when I realize he has tweeted about me again. The president of the United States is calling me names to the entire world. He’s demeaning me and my career. It’s sickening.” She added that she purposely avoids supporters of the president in public to steer clear of confrontations about her and Strzok's role in former special counsel Robert Mueller's now-shuttered inquiry into the Trump campaign and Russian election interference. Trump acted out a fake conversation between Page and Strzok in October at a rally in Minnesota, months after both former officials had left public service and returned to private life.

Illustrated Mueller report hits No. 1 on Amazon prerelease list in graphic novel category - An illustrated version of the Mueller report has hit number one on Amazon’s prerelease list for educational and nonfiction graphic novels, according to the website.The book titled “The Mueller Report Illustrated: The Obstruction Investigation” was produced by the staff of The Washington Post and illustrated by artist Jan Feindt. It features a comic book-style version of the events detailed in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report released earlier this year.It is set to be released Tuesday and “brings to life the findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in an engaging and illuminating presentation,” according to the Amazon description. “With dialogue taken directly from the report, The Mueller Report Illustrated is a vivid, factually rigorous narrative of a crucial period in Trump’s presidency that remains relevant to the turbulent events of today,” the description says. The paperback version of the book is $16, while the Kindle version is $11.99. The Washington Post also published a book of the Mueller report earlier this year, which became a New York Times bestseller, according to Amazon.

Here are the 5 biggest revelations from the newly released FBI interview notes from the Mueller investigation - Hundreds of pages of documents related to the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation were released Monday as part of a public-records lawsuit brought forward by BuzzFeed News andCNN. In response to the lawsuit, the Justice Department on Monday released 295 pages of witness memoranda and summaries of FBI interviews as part of Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Last month, both CNN andBuzzFeed published the first installment of documents released by the Justice Department.The documents released Monday include heavily redacted interview notes and memos from President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, the former White House chief of staff John Kelly, and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, among others. Here are the five biggest revelations from the newly released documents:

  • 1. Vice President Mike Pence pushed Trump to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn. The 2016 Trump campaign aide Rick Gates said in an April 2018 interview that Vice President Mike Pence was involved in the national security adviser Michael Flynn's firing.
  • 2. Michael Cohen told Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow that there was more contact with Russia than they were telling Congress, but Sekulow brushed it off.  According to the summary, Cohen told Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow that there were more details about discussions on a Trump Tower Moscow and communications with Russia than Cohen disclosed in a letter to Congress.  Cohen said in his interview that Sekulow told him not to elaborate on any of those details and to keep his letter "short and tight."
  • 3. John Kelly appeared to back up the former White House counsel Don McGahn's testimony. Summaries shed light on Kelly's August 2018 interview, which appeared to corroborate testimony made by the former White House counsel Don McGahn. McGahn had essentially been Mueller's key witness on attempts by Trump to obstruct justice in his reported efforts to fire Mueller.
  • 4. Hope Hicks predicted that the 2016 Trump Tower meeting was going to be a 'massive story,' but it was dismissed by Jared Kushner
  • 5. Trump asked Chris Christie if he should fire Mueller, and Christie told him it would be 'political suicide'.  "Christie told him that there were two issues he saw," the summary said. "The first was that Mueller has given Trump no substantive reason to fire him. The second was that it would be political suicide and Trump would lose the Republicans in Congress if he did so."

US Attorney General William Barr’s brief for presidential dictatorship - On November 15, US Attorney General William Barr gave a speech at the right-wing Federalist Society’s 2019 National Lawyers Convention in Washington, DC. To repeated rounds of applause from the audience, Barr delivered a blustering and provocative manifesto for unbridled executive power. Even by the degraded standards of American political discourse at present, Barr’s speech was exceptional for its essentially anti-democratic and fascistic content. Barr denounced the description of the American Revolution as “a rebellion against monarchial tyranny.” Instead, according to Barr, the American Revolution served to consolidate supreme, unchecked power in the office of the president. All executive power, Barr argued, must be consolidated in the hands of a single individual, the exercise of whose powers is not subject to challenge. In addition, according to Barr, the president must be free to act without any legal restraint whatsoever in “exigent circumstances.” Barr received a standing ovation. This lecture came on the heels of a speech at the University of Notre Dame earlier in November, in which Barr went on the offensive against the separation of church and state. In that speech, he announced that the American revolutionaries believed that “religion was indispensable to sustaining our free system of government.” Barr’s two speeches combined craven efforts to ingratiate himself with President Trump, off-the-charts lying about history, and a grunting, insulting delivery. For all their crudeness, the speeches appear to represent a deliberate effort on the part of Trump and his circle of fascistic advisers to lay out different elements of the ideological framework for an American presidential dictatorship.Barr, a multimillionaire, is a former CIA analyst, Department of Justice official, and Verizon Communications general counsel who served as the attorney general under George H. W. Bush from 1991 to 1993. His long career as a hardline reactionary includes authoring an infamous report titled The Case for More Incarceration in 1992, in which he advocated an increase in the rate of imprisonment.  He opened his Federalist Society speech by invoking “originalism,” the pseudo-legal doctrine most closely associated with the late far-right Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. According to this doctrine, whatever reactionary outcome is desired by a judge is justified by declaring (often falsely) that it represents the “original” intent of the authors of the American Constitution. After invoking “originalism” in his speech, Barr denounced the “steady encroachment on Presidential authority by the other branches of government,” which he claimed has “weakened the functioning of the Executive Branch, to the detriment of the Nation.”

House Intelligence Committee to review impeachment investigation report Monday  -The House Intelligence Committee will begin reviewing a report Monday on its investigation into President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, a committee official confirmed to The Hill.The committee is then expected to consider and adopt the report Tuesday evening. The report and any minority views will be sent to the House Judiciary Committee, which could draft articles of impeachment against the president in the next few weeks, according to Politico. This is a major event, moving impeachment proceedings one step closer to a possible impeachment trial in the Senate. "We expect to allow HPSCI Members to view a draft report in committee spaces beginning Monday evening. On Tuesday, the Committee will hold a business meeting, following our regularly scheduled briefing, at 6 pm to consider and adopt the report. The report — along with any Minority Views — will then be forwarded to the Judiciary Committee pursuant to H.Res. 660," the committee official told The Hill. The committee scheduled a consideration of the report that is "Part of the House of Representatives’ Impeachment Inquiry" on Tuesday of next week. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told Democratic lawmakers in a “Dear Colleague” letter earlier this week that the committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry were preparing a report for the Judiciary Committee that they hoped to send shortly after lawmakers return to Washington from the Thanksgiving recess. The earlier letter did not contain a specific date.Schiff said the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform committees continue to investigate the president, and he did not rule out the possibility of further hearings or depositions.  “Over the course of our inquiry, we have uncovered a months-long effort in which President Trump again sought foreign interference in our elections for his personal and political benefit at the expense of our national interest. As the evidence conclusively shows, President Trump conditioned official acts—a White House meeting desperately desired by the new Ukrainian president and critical U.S. military assistance—on Ukraine announcing sham, politically-motivated investigations that would help President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign,” Schiff wrote Monday.

Phone records detail extent of Giuliani, White House contacts- The House Intelligence Committee released phone records on Tuesday showing extensive communications between Rudy Giuliani and the White House as well as several other key figures in the impeachment inquiry. The phone logs revealed frequent contact between President Trump’s personal attorney and the Office of Management and Budget as well as interactions involving Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Giuliani associate Lev Parnas and John Solomon, a conservative columnist formerly with The Hill. In one instance, on Aug. 8, Giuliani was in regular contact with the White House as other administration officials sought to finalize a meeting in Washington between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Giuliani connected with the White House switchboard for roughly two minutes at about 12:45 p.m. that day, and he exchanged texts with an unspecified White House phone number roughly 20 minutes later. A phone number associated with the Office of Management and Budget connected with Giuliani’s phone at about 3:13 p.m. that day for a call that lasted 13 minutes, according to the records. That evening, a caller from an unidentified number tried to reach Giuliani several times in the span of about 60 seconds. Minutes later, Giuliani phoned the White House switchboard and connected for 47 seconds, the records show. About 16 minutes after that, the afternoon caller from an unidentified number connected with Giuliani for a call that lasted just over four minutes. The records do not contain the contents of the calls or identify the individuals Giuliani was reaching out to, but they include details such as the dates, times and durations of the calls. Giuliani could not immediately be reached for comment. Representatives for Nunes and Parnas did not immediately return requests for comment. Solomon, when reached for comment on the phone records and his contacts with Parnas, said he met him in spring 2019 and "Parnas volunteered to help facilitate some interviews with Ukrainian government officials." "Mr. Parnas came recommended by several people and acted professionally whenever I asked for help," Solomon said in an email to The Hill. "He occasionally helped translate or ensure interviews I conducted were accurately translated."

'No Quid Pro Quo' Says Ukraine's Zelensky In New Interview - Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky says in a new interview that he and President Trump never discussed a "quid pro quo" - though he was unhappy to have learned that US security aid had been blocked."I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing," Zelensky told TIME in an interview published Monday."I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We’re at war," he continued. "If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying."Allegations that President Trump abused his office are at the heart of impeachment proceedings in the House, as Democrats claim he 'pressured' Zelensky to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as a claim that the hacked DNC server was located within Ukraine. Unbeknownst to Zelensky, nearly $400 million in US military aid had been paused - with Democrats claiming it was used as leverage for the Biden investigation, and the Trump administration claiming that they were concerned about how the money would be used in the notoriously corrupt country. In 2014, Hunter Biden was hired to sit on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma - allegedly to protect its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, who was under investigation for money laundering, bribery, granting himself drilling permits while he was the Minister of Ecology, and other crimes. Zlochevsky's investment in Hunter Biden appeared to pay off, after Joe Biden notoriously threatened to withhold $1 billion in US aid to Ukraine if they didn't fire the country's head prosecutor who was leading the investigation.

Trump Committed "No Quid Pro Quo, Bribery, Extortion, Or Abuse Of Power," House Republicans Find - Expanding on the staff memo issued before the farce of the public impeachment hearings, Axios reports that Republicans on the House committees investigating the Ukraine controversy have concluded, in a 100-plus-page prebuttal report, that President Trump committed “no quid pro quo, bribery, extortion, or abuse of power," but rather that the president made "entirely prudent" decisions driven by a "reasonable skepticism" about corruption in the country.  The report - to be released to Congress as soon as this evening - will reportedly provide the basis for Republicans' rejection of Democrats' anticipated articles of impeachment against the president for the remainder of the House proceedings. The Hill reports that a draft of the document echos the president's arguments in his own defense, with Republicans refusing to admit any wrongdoing: “Understood in this proper context, the President’s initial hesitation to meet with President Zelensky or to provide U.S. taxpayer-funded security assistance to Ukraine without thoughtful review is entirely prudent,” the draft impeachment report reads.Specifically, the GOP paints a picture of "unelected bureaucrats" disagreeing with the president's style, world view and foreign policy decisions.Additionally, Republicans attack the impeachment inquiry led by Democrats as a partisan campaign to shake up the political system.“The Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is not the organic outgrowth of serious misconduct; it is an orchestrated campaign to upend our political system,” the draft reads.“Democrats in the House of Representatives have been working to impeach President Trump since his election.”Asserting that that the Democrats’ impeachment case rests “almost entirely on hearsay, presumption and emotion” to arrive at a “predetermined outcome.”Axios notes that, according to officials, The White House had no level of involvement in the drafting of the document. "They gave us no direction or input," one of the officials said.

Democrats Lay Path to Quick Vote to Impeach Trump on Obstruction - House Democrats laid out their most comprehensive case yet for impeaching Donald Trump, declaring the president “a clear and present danger” over his rush to get foreign governments to investigate a political rival and making his intimidation of witnesses tantamount to a crime. The report by the the House Intelligence Committee on the Democrats’ months-long investigation concluded that Trump abused his power, compromised national security and then tried to cover it up -- findings that make a formal House impeachment vote all but certain. “The evidence of the president’s misconduct is overwhelming, and so too is the evidence of his obstruction of Congress,” the report said. “Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a stronger or more complete case of obstruction than that demonstrated by the president since the inquiry began.” The report, which was approved by the committee Tuesday night on a party-line vote, acknowledges that more information may still come to light in their inquiry. But it tries to make the case that Trump’s actions require urgent attention by Congress. Democratic leaders are pushing for a formal impeachment vote by the full House by the end of the year to avoid pushing that debate deep into the 2020 presidential campaign. “We do not intend to delay when the integrity of the next election is at risk,” Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said. “I am gravely concerned that if we merely accept this, that we invite not only further corruption of out elections by this president, but we also invite it of the next president.”

 Democrats accuse Trump of abusing power, obstructing Congress' impeachment probe -(Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump solicited foreign interference to boost his re-election chances, undermined national security and ordered an “unprecedented” campaign to obstruct Congress, Democrats said on Tuesday in a report that lawmakers will use as the basis of any formal impeachment charges. In the 300-page report, Democrats leading the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee leveled allegations of sweeping abuse of power by Trump, saying he used U.S. military aid and the prospect of a White House visit to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to undertake investigations that would benefit Trump politically. Republican Trump, who will stand for re-election in November 2020, denies any wrongdoing and calls the inquiry a hoax. The heart of the impeachment probe is whether Trump misused the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 election. The public release of the report is a milestone in a weeks-long investigation into whether Trump should be removed from office over his dealings on Ukraine. It summarizes hours of private testimony and televised hearings in which former government officials described a months-long effort to pressure Ukraine to carry out the investigations sought by Trump in July.  The report’s completions hands the process over to the House Judiciary Committee, which will now be responsible for drafting actual articles of impeachment should lawmakers decide to move forward.  In the report, Democrats detail accusations that Trump obstructed their investigation, including refusing to provide documents and testimony from his top advisers, unsuccessful attempts to block career government officials from testifying and intimidation of witnesses. The Democrats argue that “damage ... will be long-lasting and potentially irrevocable if the President’s ability to stonewall Congress goes unchecked.” Making their case to move forward with impeachment, the report said that “any future President will feel empowered to resist an investigation into their own wrongdoing, malfeasance, or corruption, and the result will be a nation at far greater risk of all three.”

US House to draft impeachment charges against Trump: Pelosi - US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she has instructed the House Judiciary Committee to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump over his effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival. "The facts are uncontested. The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security by withholding military aid and (a) crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival," Pelosi said in a televised statement. "Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our Founders and our hearts full of love for America, today I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment," she said, referring to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. "The president leaves us no choice by to act." Pelosi made the remarks a day after the Judiciary Committee held a hearing in which three constitutional law experts called by Democratic politicians said Trump had engaged in conduct that represents impeachable offences under the Constitution. A fourth expert called by Republican politicians called the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry rushed and flawed. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham on Twitter said Pelosi and Democrats "should be ashamed". Trump "has done nothing but lead our country - resulting in a booming economy, more jobs & a stronger military, to name just a few of his major accomplishments. We look forward to a fair trial in the Senate." The House Intelligence Committee this week submitted findings from its inquiry into Trump's push for Kyiv to launch an investigation related to former United States Vice President Joe Biden, a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Trump also wanted Ukraine to look into the discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 US election. Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine - a US ally facing Russian aggression - to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to announce the investigation.

What’s Next on Impeachment -As the House Judiciary Committee holds its first hearing under procedures adopted in October guiding the ongoing impeachment inquiry, it is worth assessing how this stage of the impeachment process will differ from the last portion, which took place under the direction of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. The Intelligence Committee is finishing up its impeachment investigation and passing the baton to the Judiciary Committee, which is now tasked with deciding whether to write articles of impeachment against the president. The latter committee is holding ahearing today, Wednesday, Dec. 4, to hear from four constitutional scholars. But other than that, much remains in flux.Schiff’s promised report on L’Affaire Ukrainienne has only just been released. (Lawfareissued its version of a report on the matter last week.) Even then, Schiff has said that after he submits his report to the Judiciary Committee, he may need to submit addendums based on new facts and documents that the Intelligence Committee is still receiving. For their part, Republican ranking members for three of the House committees tasked with managing the impeachment inquiry have already released aRepublican staff report that forcefully argues against any wrongdoing by the president.What’s more, it’s not yet clear what witnesses beyond Wednesday’s four scholars the Judiciary Committee will call. It’s also not clear if the committee will address evidence outside of the Ukraine issue, such as evidence of obstruction of justice in Volume II of the Mueller report. Additional outside developments—like the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s ruling that the House can access certain of Trump’s financial documents—could mean that yet more conduct by the president could be rolled into the impeachment proceedings. And the question of whether or not the president or his counsel will avail themselves of opportunities provided in the impeachment inquiry procedures to participate in future hearings is a moving target. Recognizing that a host of questions remain unanswered, what factors will shape what the inquiry will look like as it moves forward?

Turley: Democrats offering passion over proof in Trump impeachment -- In my testimony Wednesday, I lamented that, as in the impeachment of President Clinton from 1998 to 1999, there is an intense “rancor and rage” and “stifling intolerance” that blinds people to opposing views. My call for greater civility and dialogue may have been the least successful argument I made to the committee. Before I finished my testimony, my home and office were inundated with threatening messages and demands that I be fired from George Washington University for arguing that, while a case for impeachment can be made, it has not been made on this record. Some of the most heated attacks came from Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee.   One senior Democrat on the committee apologized to me afterward for the attack from Swalwell. Yet many others relished seeing my representations of an accused federal judge being used to attack my credibility, even as they claimed to defend the rule of law. Indeed, Rachel Maddow lambasted me on MSNBC for defending the judge, who was accused but never charged with taking bribes, and referring to him as a “moocher” for the allegations that he accepted free lunches and whether such gratuities, which were not barred at the time, would constitute impeachable offenses. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank expanded on this theme of attacking my past argument. Despite 52 pages of my detailed testimony, more than twice the length of all the other witnesses combined, on the cases and history of impeachment, he described it as being “primarily emotional and political.”  In my testimony Wednesday, I stated repeatedly, as I did 21 years ago, that a president can be impeached for noncriminal acts, including abuse of power. I made that point no fewer that a dozen times in analyzing the case against Trump and, from the first day of the Ukraine scandal, I have made that argument both on air and in print. Yet various news publications still excitedly reported that, in an opinion piece I wrote for the Washington Post five years ago, I said, “While there is a high bar for what constitutes grounds for impeachment, an offense does not have to be indictable,” and it could include “serious misconduct or a violation of public trust.” That is precisely what I have said regarding Trump. You just need to prove abuse of power. My objection is not that you cannot impeach Trump for abuse of power but that this record is comparably thin compared to past impeachments and contains conflicts, contradictions, and gaps including various witnesses not subpoenaed. I suggested that Democrats drop the arbitrary schedule of a vote by the end of December and complete their case and this record before voting on any articles of impeachment. In my view, they have not proven abuse of power in this incomplete record.

Here are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump -- Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) caused a stir Friday when he said a “handful” of Senate Republican colleagues have privately told him they would consider voting to remove President Trump from office.Murphy conceded “it’s a small list, on one hand,” but Democrats would consider it a major victory if they could tout a bipartisan vote in the Senate to remove Trump from office in an election year.His remarks created buzz since no congressional Republicans have publicly said they would even consider taking such a step, and not one House GOP lawmaker voted for the resolution establishing the rules for the impeachment inquiry. But Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), an independent who left the Republican Party in July, said Friday he would vote for articles of impeachment.Senate insiders and outside political observers say there are only three GOP senators who might vote to convict Trump on any articles of impeachment. Here they are, along with a handful of others who could entertain the idea but are almost certain to vote to acquit.

Yes, Ukraine Meddled in the 2016 US Election -- Yasha Levine - I know I’ve written about this before, but I feel like I have to address it again — seeing how just about every impeachment witness has repeated the claim that meddling by Ukrainian government officials did not happen in 2016 and that anyone who says otherwise is spreading toxic Russian propaganda. I’ve been dipping into these hearings every now and again and I’ve seen this said over and over. It reminds me of those new age quantum-mind-over-matter types in the The Secret:” Repeat the mantra often enough and convince yourself it’s true and…it is!Let’s start with a fact: Meddling in the 2016 election by Ukrainian politicians and government agencies happened.The above is true and no amount of denial is going to change that. What’s more: Ukrainian nationals didn’t just meddle on their own, they also worked with Americans — including Ukrainian-American political operatives on the payroll of the Democratic Party. Not only did all this happen, it was written up as fact by establishment papers and outlets as varied as Yahoo, Politico, and The Financial Times in 2016 on the eve of the election. (See this by me here.)The involvement of Ukrainian pols and officials in all of this has never been secret. It was acknowledged at the time. The principal actors openly talked and bragged about their exploits in the press. And why not? Back in 2016, no one thought that Trump would win the presidency. So why bother hiding it?

Judge Orders Hunter Biden to Reveal How Much He Made at Ukrainian Oil Company— Hunter Biden has been ordered by an Arkansas judge to produce five years of financial records in his paternity case – a period which includes the majority of his time on the board of Ukrainian gas giant Burisma, which paid Biden’s firm over $80,000 per month.  Hunter’s baby-mama, stripper Lunden Roberts, will also have to disclose how much she made in tips at a DC strip club where the two met, according to the Daily Mail – reporting on location in Batesville, Arkansas. Originally Judge Don McSpadden, who is presiding over the court in Batesville, Arkansas, had only asked for three years’ records.  But now he says he needs five years of records before making a decision on how much the former vice-president’s son should pay to support his child.On Tuesday, McSpadden sent out a blunt letter to attorneys in the case — including the one that Biden fired minutes before a hearing on Monday. –Daily MailRoberts is asking for $11,000 in legal fees as well as child support for their child – who she has argued qualifies for Secret Service protection as the grandchild of former Vice President and 2020 candidate Joe Biden. “Baby Doe’s paternal grandfather, Joe Biden, is seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party for President of the United States of America. He is considered by some to be the person most likely to win his party’s nomination and challenge President Trump on the ballet in 2020,” reads a filing by Roberts. “The members of the Biden family either are protected or eligible to be protected by the United States Secret Service as a direct result of Joe Biden’s political status.”

 Fox News host Tucker Carlson: Putin does not hate America like liberals do - Russia may be “a cold and vodka-soaked and only marginally relevant place”, according to Tucker Carlson, but the Fox News host seems determined to make controversial statements about it central to his primetime show. On Monday night, a week after making waves by saying he was “rooting” for Russia in its conflict with Ukraine – and then claiming to have been joking – the host blasted critics of the Trump administration employed by cable news.“Putin,” he said, “for all his faults, does not hate America as much as many of these people do.”Bemoaning with Spiro Agnew-esque verve the “sneering accusations of our mindless public intellectuals and hair hats in the television anchor’s seat”, the public intellectual and TV anchor began by taking aim at NBC Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, for his questioning of Louisiana Republican senator John Kennedy on Sunday. Todd and Kennedy engaged in a fiery exchange over the senator’s insistence that the theory Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, rather than Russia, merits further investigation. Todd responded: “You realize the only other person selling this argument outside the United States is this man, Vladimir Putin!”He’s a living metaphor, he’s the boogeyman! Step out of line and you’re a traitor in league with Vladimir Putin!  The US intelligence community agrees it was Moscow not Kyiv which interfered in 2016, in the aim of helping Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton. Nonetheless, as Trump faces impeachment for his conduct regarding Ukraine, his supporters in Congress are pushing the Ukraine conspiracy theory. Carlson called Todd a “mouth-breather” who “went full Joe McCarthy” on Kennedy and claimed special counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated Russian interference in 2016, links between Trump and Moscow and possible obstruction of justice by the president, found nothing amiss. “It’s not really a story,” he insisted, “it never happened, there was no collusion, Russia didn’t hack our democracy. The whole thing was a ludicrous talking point invented by the Hillary Clinton campaign on or about 9 November 2016”, the day after the election.Mueller did not prove criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow. He also emphasised that “collusion” is not a term in US criminal law.But he did chart extensive contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow and associates of the president including campaign chair Paul Manafort,national security adviser Michael Flynn, lawyer Michael Cohen and close aide Roger Stone have been convicted on charges arising from the inquiry. The special counsel also indicted 26 Russian nationals and three Russian companiesand detailed extensive attempts by the president to obstruct the course of justice.

Pedophile Mueller Witness Charged With Steering Illegal Campaign Contributions To Hillary Clinton - A convicted pedophile who became a key witness in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation has been indicted on charges of illegally funneling campaign funds to Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign using straw donors, according to Politico. Lobbyist George Nader, who was arrested this June at JFK airport for sex-trafficking a 14-year-old boy, has lobbied on both sides of the aisle for Middle Eastern associates - acting as an informal conduit to the Trump campaign, while embarking on a scheme to gain influence in Clinton's inner circle when everyone thought she was a sure-winner in the last election.While the DOJ did not reveal which 2016 candidate Nadler funneled funds to, Politico reports that "campaign finance records make clear that the candidate was Clinton."Nader was named along with Ahmad "Andy" Khawaja - a Lebanese-American businessman who has donated to Clinton, Adam Schiff, Joe Biden, Chris Coons, Dianne Feinstein and a host of other Democrats who received up to $3 million in campaign funds. He also gave $1 million to Priorities USA, the primary super PAC supporting Clinton, and $1 million to Trump's inaugural fund. Khawaja was appointed to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in June of 2018. Nader embarked on the scheme in a bid to gain influence in Clinton’s circle while reporting to a foreign official, according to the Justice Department. Among his alleged co-conspirators is Ahmad “Andy” Khawaja, the CEO of a payments processing company, according to the Justice Department news release announcing the unsealing of the indictment, which was made by a grand jury in the District of Columbia. Nader conspired with Khawaja to secretly fund $3.5 million in donations that were made in the name of Khawaja, his wife and his firm, Allied Wallet Inc., according to the indictment.

Clintons Vacationed Extensively At Epstein's New Mexico 'Baby-Making Ranch': Report - The Clintons regularly stayed at Jeffrey Epstein's weird New Mexico ranch where the deceased pedophile had grand plans to seed the human race with his DNA, according to his estate manager. Bill, Hillary and even Chelsea visited the 10,000-acre estate "almost every year after they left the White House," according to the Daily Mail. The former first family didn't stay at the property's main compound, however - they spent their time in a custom cowboy-themed village Epstein built a mile south of his mountaintop villa. the Clinton family bunked down in a special cowboy-themed village created by Epstein, which is a mile south of his own luxury mountaintop villa. They'd use one of the two guest houses, which look like they're straight out of the 19th century. Seen in exclusive DailyMailTV images, the guest homes are next to other traditional Wild West-style buildings such as an old schoolhouse and saloon bar. An American flag is raised high above the village, which is next door to Epstein's private airstrip, where he arrived on his private planes, including his infamous 'Lolita Express'. This is all according to security expert Jared Kellogg, who was brought in by long-standing ranch manager Brice Gordon to improve security and set up a camera system at the main house and 'cowboy village'. -Daily Mail The Clintons maintain that they had minimal contact with Epstein, despite records proving he flew on the disgraced financier's 'Lolita Express' Boeing 727-200 no fewer than 27 times (which Epstein sold one week before his July arrest on suspicion of sex-trafficking minors).

Will The Epstein Story Ever be Fully Told?- - More than four months after Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest - and three months after his alleged suicide -  it requires no opinion poll to know that few Americans believe the story of the international sex trafficking ring orchestrated by Epstein and his alleged “co-accomplices” will ever be fully  More specifically, many Americans believe that most (if not all) of the key questions regarding the case will remain unanswered. For example …

  • How many Epstein “associates” actually received sexual “services” from underage girls? Will all (or even any) of these people be identified, exposed and perhaps prosecuted? Were any of these individuals blackmailed, extorted or in any way compromised?
  • Did employees within agencies of the U.S. government turn a blind eye to Epstein’s activities? Was Epstein, in fact, “intelligence” and, if so, on whose orders was Alex Acosta allegedly told to leave Epstein alone?
  • Did Epstein continue his sex-trafficking operation even after being released from jail in 2009? If so, how was this possible?
  • Where did Epstein receive the money to fund his operation, including the acquisition of the largest private residence in Manhattan, two secluded private islands in the Virgin Islands, a secluded “ranch” in New Mexico, two large jets and a helicopter?
  • Why, for years, did the “watchdog” press display no interest in a scandal that, if fully told, could qualify as the “story of the century,”  a story that might implicate many more powerful people and government agencies than Watergate?
  • Pertinent facts surrounding Epstein’s death, ruled a suicide, have also yet to be disclosed. One unanswered question: How was it possible an inmate who may have possessed “dirt” on the most powerful people in the world could be left alone in his cell?

In short, at least in the opinion of many, the public will never learn how massively corrupt our system of justice may be, and if a privileged class is in fact held to a different standard of justice, and/or is protected by the powers that be. Nor will the public learn how prurient, immoral and brazen a cross-section of the world’s elite may be.Of course, authorities may, in fact, do their jobs and ultimately disclose the entire scale of Epstein’s operation. Prosecutions and plea deals to come could include a “Who’s Who” of the world, and expose any government agencies that may have “looked the other way.”At least theoretically, our government could  expose a decades-long criminal operation, a revelation that very possibly would change the way millions of people view the U.S. government; not to mention how the public views many powerful VIPs who navigate in the orbit of politicians and policy-makers.

The Billionaire Problem - Simon Johnson - Our billionaire problem is getting worse. Any market-oriented economy creates opportunities for new fortunes to be built, including through innovation. More innovation is likely to take place where fewer rules encumber entrepreneurial creativity. Some of this creativity may lead to processes and products that are actually detrimental to public welfare. Unfortunately, by the time the need for legislation or regulation becomes apparent, the innovators have their billions – and they can use that money to protect their interests.  This billionaire problem is not new. Every epoch, dating at least from Roman times, produces versions of it whenever some shift in market structure or geopolitics creates an opportunity for fortunes to be built quickly. Writing in the 1830s, as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace, Honoré de Balzac anticipated the broader social concern: “The secret of great fortunes without apparent cause is a crime that has been forgotten, because it was properly carried out.” Or, in the more popular paraphrase: behind every great fortune lies a great crime. The United States has long exhibited a particularly potent strain of the billionaire problem.  US leaders were long willing to let private enterprise take on new projects that elsewhere fell into the hands of the state.2 When the US government did become involved in economic activity, it was mostly to open up new frontiers – creating more opportunity for individuals and private business. As Jonathan Gruber and I have argued recently in our book Jump-Starting America, the post-war federal government’s strategic investments in basic science spurred remarkable private-sector innovation – including productivity gains and widely shared increases in wages. Vast new fortunes were created. The political consequences of America’s post-war private-sector boom were felt within a generation, and they were not always positive.  In some entirely new sectors, particularly in the digital domain, entry was possible at least during an early phase. The entrepreneurs who built the first Internet companies were not able to put up effective entry barriers – hence the runaway success (and greater billions) of more recent companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and Uber.  But now the controlling shareholders of these new behemoths operate pretty much in the same way as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and the original J.P. Morgan once did. They use their money to buy influence and resist any kind of reasonable restraint on their anti-competitive and anti-worker behavior – even if it undermines democratic institutions.

The New York Fed Has Some Explaining to Do Over Morgan Stanley’s Unreported Trading Losses --By Pam Martens -- James Gorman is the Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley. He also sits on the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (New York Fed), one of Morgan Stanley’s regulators. The New York Fed is one of 12 regional Federal Reserve banks – but the only one willing to turn on a multi-trillion dollar money funnel to Wall Street’s mega banks when they need a secret bailout. Since September 17 of this year, the New York Fed has pumped upwards of $3 trillion in revolving loans to trading houses on Wall Street, without naming which firms are getting the money and why they’re getting it. Today, the New York Fed will only say that it’s making these new loans, which tally up to hundreds of billions of dollars each week, to some of its 24 “primary dealers.” For the most part, those “primary dealers” are the high-risk trading units of big commercial banks in the U.S. and abroad. (See list below.)  One of the primary dealers that is eligible to be taking these multi-billion dollar loans from the New York Fed is Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC. Morgan Stanley describes that unit as follows: “Its businesses include securities underwriting and distribution; financial advisory services, including advice on mergers and acquisitions, restructurings, real estate and project finance; sales, trading, financing and market-making activities in equity and fixed income securities and related products, and other instruments including foreign exchange and commodities futures; and prime brokerage services.” At 11:36 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Bloomberg News dropped the bombshell report that foreign currency traders at Morgan Stanley had hidden a trading loss of upwards of $140 million. Two of the traders involved in the losses were based in London, according to the Bloomberg report.  Morgan Stanley had not informed its shareholders via any public statement nor had it informed the Securities and Exchange Commission via a public filing. Thus it is also highly likely that it had not informed the New York Fed, another of its regulators, despite the fact that its CEO, James Gorman, sits on the Board of the New York Fed. The Bloomberg article suggests that the firm itself is just now investigating what actually happened, meaning that an outside news agency attempting to place a realistic figure on the amount of the losses is suspect at best.

Is the Fed’s $3 Trillion in Loans to Trading Houses on Wall Street Legal? -  Pam Martens --The House Financial Services Committee has released its memorandum outlining the topics that will be raised in its hearing tomorrow with Federal bank regulators, which will include Randal Quarles, Vice Chairman of Supervision at the Federal Reserve. Noticeably absent from the list of topics is what legislative authority the Federal Reserve has that gives it the legal power to be pumping out hundreds of billions of dollars each week in revolving loans to the tradinghouses of Wall Street. Since September 17, the Federal Reserve has allowed its New York Fed branch to funnel approximately $3 trillion to unnamed trading houses on Wall Street, much of it at interest rates of less than 2 percent while the behemoth banks that own those trading houses charge their mom and pop credit card customers 17 percent on their credit cards. This looks like more of what Senator Bernie Sanders calls “socialism for the rich, and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else.” Since the Fed turned on its money spigot to Wall Street on September 17, not one hearing has been called in Congress to examine what gives the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, the legal authority to provide cheap loans to the trading houses on Wall Street. These are the same Wall Street trading houses that blew themselves up with derivatives in 2008 and took down the U.S. economy in the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression. Why should the Federal Reserve encourage more of that activity by providing cheap money? Most of these trading houses are units of mega Wall Street banks that have publicly traded shares. If a publicly traded company cannot obtain loans from anywhere other than the cheap money spigot of the Federal Reserve, it needs to publicly disclose that to its shareholders and potential buyers of its stock. That’s a material fact that legally must be disclosed. The legal argument could be made that the Federal Reserve is aiding and abetting a fraud upon the investing public by failing to name the trading houses that are receiving these massive loans. The loans started out as just overnight loans but they have since morphed to include 15-day and 42-day loans, strongly suggesting that one or more of these firms can’t obtain long-term funding elsewhere. There is also the question as to whether the Federal Reserve is following its legal requirement to advise the House Financial Services Committee and Senate Banking Committee about these emergency loans. The Fed has attempted to pass off the loans as part of its routine open market operations, which are not subject to Congressional oversight. But open market operations don’t last for two and a half months (with the plan to extend them into next year) while pumping out $3 trillion to unnamed Wall Street trading houses. The fact that the Fed keeps increasing the amount of the loans and extending the length of the loans means that it sees some type of emergency situation.

Federal Reserve V.P. Grilled at House Hearing on Hundreds of Billions in Fed Loans to Wall Street - Pam Martens - While the Democrats focused on the continuing predatory practices of U.S. banks and the Federal Reserve’s coziness with those same banks, three Republicans at yesterday’s House Financial Services Committee hearing delved into why the Federal Reserve is showering Wall Street’s trading houses with super cheap loans on the pretext that it’s simply part of the Fed’s routine monetary operations. Since September 17, the Federal Reserve, through its New York Fed branch, has been funneling hundreds of billions of dollars each week to Wall Street’s trading houses, intervening in what had been a private overnight lending operation (called repurchase agreements or repo loans) between banks and other financial institutions. Since September 17, the Fed loans have grown in both size and duration with some loans extended out as far as 42 days – suggesting to many on Wall Street that there is one or more banks in trouble that peer banks simply don’t want to lend to. The Fed, however, has stuck to the mantra that this is just a routine response to a liquidity blip. The Republican Co-Chair of the Committee, Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC), began the questioning on the repo matter early in the hearing, asking the Fed’s Vice President for bank supervision, Randal Quarles, to explain what has necessitated these loans on the part of the Fed. Quarles responded: “There were a complex set of factors that contributed to those events in September. Not all of them were related to our regulatory framework. But I do think that as we have considered what were the driving factors in the disruption in the repo market in September, we have identified some areas where our existing supervision of the regulatory framework, less the calibration or structure of the framework itself, may have created some incentives that were contributors. “They were probably not the decisive contributors but they were contributors. And I think we need to examine them. Particularly among them are the internal liquidity stress tests that we run that create a preference, or can create a preference at some institutions, for central bank reserves over other liquid assets including Treasury securities for the satisfaction of their liquidity requirements under the liquidity framework that’s put in post the crisis.” This garbled response, which effectively said nothing, triggered a request for clarification from McHenry. Quarles answered:“The regulation was intended to be structured so that banks would be indifferent between central bank reserves and other forms of liquid assets, particularly Treasury securities in satisfying their High Quality Liquid Asset (HQLA) retention requirements and the Liquidity Coverage Ratio (LCR) itself does not make any distinction.” McHenry responded that there appears to be a distinction. Later in the hearing, Congressman French Hill (R-Arkansas) brought up the Fed’s repo loans again, saying that he had had discussions on this matter with Quarles over “the last few weeks.” Hill wasn’t buying Quarles’ earlier response to Congressman McHenry. Hill said: “When you see the amount of the reserves held by the banks they’re extensive; they’re far above any requirement by the Dodd-Frank rules. The four largest banks collectively have more cash with the Fed than the next 24 combined. How does the Fed make clear to the banks that interday lending is a good thing, that is, that other banks have access to those amounts of cash that are far in excess of what they need regulatorily.”

Congress may need to step in on Libor switch, Mnuchin warns — The Treasury Department may need congressional help to ease the transition to a new interest rate benchmark, Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers Thursday. Mnuchin suggested a role for the legislative branch at a House Financial Services Committee hearing, where lawmakers echoed regulators' concerns about the likely demise of the London interbank offered rate in 2021. The Financial Stability Oversight Council warned in its annual report that the end or waning use of Libor does have the potential to “significantly disrupt trading in many important types of financial contracts.” While the Alternative Reference Rates Committee has developed fallback language for loan documents as banks prepare for the transition to the recommended secured overnight financing rate, Mnuchin said legislation mandating such language may be necessary. “I can assure you that this is something we are very, very focused on,” he said. “We may need to come back to Congress at some point and suggest some regulatory language and law to deal with this.” When Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., asked Mnuchin if Treasury has the authority to issue regulation requiring this fallback language, Mnuchin didn’t answer, and reiterated the possibility that his department might ask Congress to pass legislation. “This is not on your 2021 calendar. This should be on your December calendar or January,” said Sherman. “I need to know whether you need legislation and I need to know what you need.” Mnuchin also provided some insight into his thinking on whether the Federal Reserve should develop a digital currency, saying that he has met with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell multiple times on the topic. “I think we both agree for the near future, in the next five years, we see no need for the Fed to issue a digital currency,” he said. He also mentioned that Treasury has had about a dozen meetings with Facebook on its proposed Libra cryptocurrency, and that it was also discussed at the G-7 and the G-20 meetings. Several lawmakers also asked about the recent turmoil in the overnight repurchase agreement market. In the aftermath of a price spike for overnight repos, Fed officials attributed the spike to several factors, but disagreement persists about the root cause.

Warren releases plan to overhaul bank merger approval process — Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced a bill Wednesday to overhaul the bank merger review process in the wake of regulators’ approval of a deal between BB&T and SunTrust Banks. The Massachusetts Democrat and presidential candidate introduced the Bank Merger Review Modernization Act with Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García, D-Ill., which would require Consumer Financial Protection Bureau approval of bank mergers and set standards for banks’ Community Reinvestment Act compliance in order to get merger approval, among other things. "Nearly two years ago, [Federal Reserve] Chairman Powell confirmed my worst suspicions that the Fed has not declined a single merger request since before the financial crisis,” Warren said. "The bill Congressman García and I are announcing today would ensure that regulators do their jobs by stopping mergers that deprive communities of the banking services they need, reward banks that cheat or discriminate against their customers, and risk another financial crisis.” The current framework for bank merger approval requires a green light from the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Those regulators consider factors such as whether the merger will create local monopolies for banking services, whether the merged bank will be well managed, whether the new bank creates risk to the financial system, and the merger's overall effects on the public, including consumers. But the lawmakers said in a press release that, in practice, regulators almost exclusively focus their analyses on the impact of the merger on competitiveness and often preview the merger “in secret with banks before they announce it publicly.” Of the 3,819 bank merger applications the Fed received between 2006 and 2017, the Fed did not decline any. Warren’s bill would require CFPB approval for mergers when at least one of the parties offers consumer financial products. It would restrict merger approval to banks with the highest rating in two out of three of their last CRA exams. And it would require disclosure of discussions between the institutions and regulators before a merger application is filed. The legislation would also require regulators to use a quantifiable metric developed by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision to evaluate systemic risk in a merger, examine how the merger would impact market concentration for individual banking products, and review the leadership of the merged institution to ensure they have strong records with respect to risk management.

Bombshell Report: The Fed Has Not Rejected One Bank Merger Application Out of 3800 Submitted in Past 11 Years - Pam Martens - In advance of its December 4 hearing to question if federal bank regulators are adequately watching over the nation’s banks, the House Financial Services Committee issued a Memorandum on some of the key concerns. Buried on page three of the Memorandum was this bombshell:“Concerns have been raised about federal financial regulators rubber stamping prior merger and acquisition applications. For example, based on data provided by the Federal Reserve, from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2017, over 3,800 merger applications were submitted to the agency. During this eleven-year period, however, the Federal Reserve did not reject any merger application. On November 20, the Federal Reserve and FDIC granted approval of the merger between BB&T and SunTrust, creating the sixth-largest bank in the United States.”What is not mentioned in that paragraph is that during that 11-year period, the biggest banks in the U.S. blew up the U.S. economy with subprime debt and reckless derivative bets and proved beyond question that big is not better when it comes to banking. The United States continues to suffer from its disastrous experiment in merging Wall Street trading casinos with Federally-insured banks via subpar economic growth since the financial crisis of 2008. The Atlanta Fed’s very reliable GDPNow is predicting just 1.5 percent GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2019. By failing to reject any of these merger applications in more than a decade, the Federal Reserve has aided and abetted the too-big-to-fail banking model which threatens the financial stability of the U.S. By simultaneously being allowed by Congress to incompetently supervise these merged banking behemoths, the Federal Reserve poses a double threat to the safety and soundness of banking in the United States. And by also being allowed to electronically print money out of thin air to the tune of trillions of dollars to bail out these same banking monsters, the Fed has effectively seized control of the nation’s economic future, opting to mint billionaires at hedge funds and Wall Street banks while forcing the working class to go deeper into debt to survive and allowing the bridges, tunnels and roads of the country to go to hell in a handbasket for lack of funding. By using its money-printing capability to aid the banks and the one percent who own the vast majority of stocks and bonds in the U.S., the Federal Reserve has directly contributed to the greatest wealth and income inequality that the U.S. has seen since the late 1920s – a period when deposit-taking banks were also allowed to be owned by Wall Street’s casino investment banks.

America's Giant Debt-For-Equity Swap Exposed - Since the mid-1990s, the number of companies listed on US stock exchanges has been steadily shrinking. There are currently just over 4,000 companies listed, up from the 2012 low but way down from a peak of more than 8,000 in 1996. Europe has not been immune; only 84 companies have listed this year, the lowest in a decade and the lowest by deal value since 2013. European capital markets have always been less equity-centric than the US, but even here the number of listings has shrunk by 29 percent since 2000.  In the post–financial crisis period, three factors have driven the retreat of listed equity:

  1. the rise of private equity (an industry that is estimated to be sitting on more than $2 trillion in capital awaiting new opportunities),
  2. the slower pace of new companies launching on public markets (due to the availability of private venture capital),
  3. and mergers of existing listed companies. Behind these factors lies a more powerful force: artificially low interest rates.

In a low–interest rate environment, the appeal of debt financing increases relative to equity. This seemingly benign influence has profound implications for capital markets and the economy more broadly. By means of debt finance, earnings per share can be enhanced without the need for productivity gains. For the executives who direct those companies, the incentive to borrow externally, rather than improve internally, increases as debt-financing costs decline. Conversely, in a rising–interest rate environment these same executives are incentivized to improve the internal efficiency of their enterprises. To this extent, higher financing costs can contribute to improved productivity. Financing costs have generally been falling since the 1980s. During this same period, executive compensation, especially via the award of stock options, has risen dramatically. Owning call options gives an investor a different incentive from a stockholder. The option holder’s preference is for capital over income; high dividends directly reduce capital value. Executive holders of stock options favor lower dividend payouts and higher earnings per share. Falling interest rates have also impacted income-seeking investors. Faced with declining returns from fixed- and floating-rate investments, these investors have been forced to accept higher risk in the form of increased duration, greater credit risk, or leverage.  Duration risk is unique to fixed-income investment. All other things equal, the longer the maturity of a fixed-rate bond, the longer the duration — and therefore the more sensitive the price to a given change in the yield to maturity. As short-term interest rates have approached zero, the normally upward-sloping yield curve has flattened. In developed markets, this has been exacerbated by the central bank policy of quantitative easing. By this process, income investors are forced to look elsewhere for returns.

Record $2.4 Trillion Bond Binge Is Threatening Investor Returns - An unprecedented frenzy of debt sales around the world is threatening to cool this year’s hot returns on corporate bonds. Companies have sold a record $2.44 trillion so far this year across currencies, surpassing previous full-year records. Investors rushed to snap up all this debt because they were desperate for yield as central banks cut rates. That has pushed up valuations. Now, some troubling signs for the direction of those valuations are converging. Recent data suggest that the worst may be over for the global economy, which means many central banks could have less reason next year to guide down borrowing costs. That will all make it harder to top the double-digit returns that some investors scored on corporate bonds this year. “Valuations are tight in parts of the market, meaning there is not much margin for error,” said Craig MacDonald, global head of fixed income at Aberdeen Standard Investments. There could be “fairly muted positive returns, if you miss the problem credits, rather than the very strong returns of this year,” he said. There are also some wild cards lurking: the ultimate course of U.S.-China trade talks, for starters. Signs of progress in the negotiations have buoyed financial markets in recent weeks, but political factors in the U.S. and China could make the path to any final agreement harder. Any shocks that pushed up financing costs would be of particular concern at weaker companies that have loaded up on debt. There are plenty such borrowers after bond issuance in Asia and Europe marched ahead at record pace this year, and U.S. debt sales remained high. “The low hanging fruits are gone after a year of strong rally,”

Ten trillion dollars of US corporate debt set off alarm bells - Alarm bells are starting to be rung over the increase in corporate debt in the US and other major economies, fuelled by the policies of major central banks in supplying ultra-cheap money to financial markets. The Washington Post published an article on Saturday noting that US corporate debt had reached almost $10 trillion, an amount equivalent to 47 percent of gross domestic product. It warned that 10 years after the global financial crisis the debt surge “threatens to unleash fresh financial turmoil.” The newspaper commented that the danger was not “immediate,” but cited regulators and investors who said the borrowing “could send financial markets plunging when the next recession hits.” This year, the “weakest firms” had accounted for most of the debt growth. It was being used, not to finance investment in plant and equipment, but rather for “financial risk-taking such as investor payouts and deal making.” One of the most significant features of the debt binge is the purchase by companies of their own stock in order to boost share market valuations. According to Federal Reserve data, US companies have spent more than $4 trillion since 2009 for this purpose, much of it in the past five years. The quality of the debt is deteriorating, with a rapid rise in lower grade corporate bonds, rated just above junk status. Investors now hold $4 trillion of such bonds, including $2.5 trillion issued by US firms, according to the Standard and Poor’s rating agency. The article cited comments by Emre Tiftik of the Institute of International Finance, a major finance industry association, who warned: “We are sitting on the top of an unexploded bomb and we don’t really know what will trigger the explosion.” The rise in corporate debt was highlighted by the International Monetary Fund in its Global Financial Stability Report issued in October, in which it said that “corporate debt vulnerabilities” were “significantly elevated” in a number of countries. The fear is that these “vulnerabilities” could set off a crisis if there is a downturn in the global economy. “In a material economic slowdown half as severe as the global financial crisis, corporate-debt-at-risk (debt owed by firms that are unable to cover their interest expenses with their earnings) could rise to $19 trillion--or nearly 40 percent of total corporate debt in major economies--above crisis levels,” the IMF said. The IMF said very low interest rates, which have seen the amount of bonds with negative yields rise to $15 trillion, were “prompting investors to search for yield and take on riskier and more illiquid assets to generate targeted returns.”

CFPB proposes expanding safe harbor in remittance rule -- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is proposing to expand a safe harbor in its remittance rule to more institutions. The agency announced changes Tuesday meant to reduce compliance costs and allow some institutions to provide estimates rather than disclose exact prices, fees and exchange rates for international money transfers. The notice of proposed rulemaking would amend Regulation E, which implements the Electronic Fund Transfer Act's protections for consumers sending remittances. The bureau is proposing that institutions receive a permanent safe harbor if they provide 500 or fewer remittance transfers a year. Currently, institutions receive a safe harbor if they issue just 100 transfers annually. The bureau’s 2013 rule gave a temporary exception to banks and credit unions but the exception expires in July 2020 and cannot be extended. In April, the CFPB issued a request for information asking for public comment on how to proceed. Banks and credit unions collectively send roughly 45% of the dollar volume of all remittance transfers a year.

Warren, Brown object to CFPB plan to issue formal advisory opinions -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau policy to issue formal advisory opinions could harm consumers and give companies immunity from consumer protection or anti-discrimination laws. The senators sent a letter Thursday to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger stating that while agency guidance may be appropriate in some situations, it should be “broadly applicable to industry,” and not tailored to allow specific companies to skirt laws. “We have serious concerns that issuing advisory opinions tailored to companies' specific circumstances is not appropriate, especially if companies could use these opinions to circumvent consumer financial laws or as a defense in litigation by the Bureau or other parties,” the letter stated. CFPB Deputy Director Brian Johnson said in November that the bureau is considering creating a formal advisory opinion process that would allow companies to request an opinion from the agency on the legality of new products and services before they are offered to consumers. In September, the CFPB unveiled a fintech sandbox framework and a revised policy for sending firms “no action,” letters, which offer a legal safe harbor and relief from supervisory and enforcement actions. Warren and Brown said in the letter that a formal advisory opinion policy lacked transparency and could give political appointees undue influence over the process. “The process for requesting or providing guidance should also be transparent, not an opaque process that would conceal companies' efforts to push for interpretations of rules that could weaken critical consumer protections,” the senators said. “In addition, an advisory opinion process should not give political appointees authority to overrule or unduly influence longstanding Bureau policies or practices or the determinations of Bureau career staff. Subscri

Early-bird special: CFPB to reward firms that quickly fix violations - OCC The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is planning to give companies accused of wronging consumers a chance to get released early from consent orders. The CFPB will announce a policy soon in which companies that have entered into settlements with the bureau can petition to have an order terminated ahead of schedule once terms of the agreement are met. The move is seen as consistent with Trump administration efforts to reduce the costs of regulations and enforcement actions. Some also see the move as part of a broader effort by CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger to bring more transparency to the bureau’s processes. “There have been some questions about how does this work?” said Lucy Morris, a partner at Hudson Cook and a former CFPB deputy enforcement director. “So Kraninger is now committing to some transparency about what the criteria will be, how the policy works, and what happens if they grant a request.” CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger “We are currently identifying ways to improve this process to promote consistency, and we are also committed to ensuring consent orders remain in effect only as long as needed to achieve their desired effects," said CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger. Bloomberg News Companies accused of violating consumer finance laws typically enter into consent orders with the CFPB without admitting or denying wrongdoing. An order typically lasts five years and can include paying a civil money penalty, remediation to consumers and corrective actions that must be completed before an order can be terminated. Consent orders often come with compliance obligations such as sending reports to the bureau on what progress the company has made to resolve outstanding issues. Companies also can negotiate an early release or shorter time frames for such orders. Yet the agency has lacked a standardized process for terminating orders before they are scheduled to end.

Ocasio-Cortez: 'Won't you look at that: Amazon is coming to NYC anyway' - Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) slammed Amazon's announcement that it's building a headquarters in New York City, but touted the fact that it will not receive any financial incentives from the local or state government. “Won’t you look at that: Amazon is coming to NYC anyway - *without* requiring the public to finance shady deals, helipad handouts for Jeff Bezos, & corporate giveaways,” she tweeted. “Maybe the Trump admin should focus more on cutting public assistance to billionaires instead of poor families.” The comments come after The Wall Street Journal reported that the tech giant has agreed to take new office space in Manhattan, a reversal from February when it announced it would not open a second headquarters in New York City. Amazon said it had signed a new lease for a 335,000 square-foot space on Manhattan’s West Side, where it will take on more than 1,500 employees; yet in a silver lining for progressives, the move will not be accompanied by any special tax credits or other financial incentives. Ocasio-Cortez was one of the leading opponents to Amazon’s move to the city, arguing that the city would shell out billions in incentives to attract the company and that the move would raise real estate prices beyond the means of local residents, forcing many to move. The New York progressive claimed victory Friday, citing criticism she got for pushing against the move, which Amazon supporters said would attract thousands of jobs.

FDIC's McWilliams 'inclined' to join OCC on CRA but still has concerns — Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chair Jelena McWilliams said she is "inclined" to back a forthcoming proposal to revamp the Community Reinvestment Act, but added she still has some concerns about how the plan will affect CRA assessment areas and compliance metrics. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency will reportedly move ahead with a proposal to reform the 40-year-old law that grades banks on their loans to the communities they serve. The OCC collected public feedback last year on possible changes to CRA, but since then it has been unclear if the agencies would move together or separately on a proposal. But McWilliams said at a Women in Housing and Finance event Tuesday that she does want to work with Comptroller Joseph Otting and broadly agrees with his ideas. “Ultimately, the end goal is to provide more dollars into the communities, and so if we can come to a point where banks benefit from having more certainty, we can address the digital channels … and the footprints that are changing, and provide more dollars into the communities, I think we can have a win-win,” she said. Still, McWilliams has conditions, she said. For example, she said she would not sign off on a proposal that would measure CRA performance with a single metric. “A metric in a market would be one of the components we could consider, and we would have to go into the intricacies of the individual markets to understand exactly, so there can’t just be one number that ascertains where we are and how the bank is doing,” she said. “It has to be a more nuanced approach, and again, it’s going to require more calculations and analysis on the part of the regulated entities.” McWilliams also hinted at challenges in determining a bank’s assessment area, and said she believed an assessment area should be determined based on where the customer lives. However, that data is not available to the FDIC, and she said collecting it could raise privacy issues.

Democrats seek assurance regulators won't weaken CRA — Bank regulators have not yet even published their long-awaited draft on reforming the Community Reinvestment Act and Democratic lawmakers are already worried that the plan will weaken the original intent of the law. A day after House Democrats pleaded for the heads of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the Federal Reserve to get in sync on their revamp of the decades-old CRA, Senate Democrats on Thursday said they were worried that the agencies’ plans will reduce access to credit. “Studies show that without the Community Reinvestment Act, the homeownership rate in our country, and especially for Latinos and African-Americans would be much lower,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., at the Banking Committee hearing with leaders from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Federal Reserve and National Credit Union Administration. “How would proposed changes to the CRA close the racial, ethnic homeownership gap?” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said he was concerned that regulators would enable certain banks to opt in to the new CRA framework, rather than have it apply to everyone. “I would hope that as you decide how to move forward on potential changes to the CRA, you’ll take the heart the need to strengthen the CRA so that more Americans benefit from this important civil rights law,” he said. The hearing came as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and FDIC are expected to issue a CRA reform proposal within days, without support from the Fed. For the second time in two days, an oversight hearing with the regulators did not include Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting, who has spearheaded the CRA effort. Cortez Masto pressed FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams at the hearing to ensure that changes to the CRA can help close racial and ethnic homeownership gap. In response, McWilliams urged lawmakers to be open to the benefits of a revised CRA. “The act frankly can be revised to do more for those communities and it can do a whole lot more for rural communities, for small businesses, small farms, family farms, Indian country,” McWilliams said. “The act has not been updated since 1995 and all I’m asking from folks is that, be open-minded to see when these proposal changes come through. Give us feedback if there is something that you’re concerned about that’s not in the proposal, let us know.”

Tucker Carlson Tears into Vulture Capitalist Paul Singer for Strip Mining American Towns --Yves Smith -In a bit of synchronicity, Lambert gave a mini-speech tonight that dovetails with an important Tucker Carlson segment about how hedge funds are destroying flyover. As UserFriendly lamented, “It is beyond sad that Tucker Carlson is doing better journalism than just about anywhere else.” That goes double given that Carlson has only short segments and TV isn’t well suited to complicated arguments.  Lambert fondly recalled the America he grew up in in Indiana, before his parents moved to Maine, where most people were comfortable or at least not in perilous shape, where blue collar labor, like working in a factory or repairing cars, was viewed with respect, and where cities and towns were economic and social communities, with their own businesses and local notables, and national chain operations were few. Yes, there was an underbelly to this era of broadly shared economic prosperity, such as gays needing to be closeted and women having to get married if they wanted a decent lifestyle.  I’m not doing his remarks justice, but among other things, the greater sense of stability contributed to more people being able to be legitimately optimistic. If you found a decent job, you weren’t exposed to MBA-induced downsizings or merger-induced closures. Even in the transitional 1970s, Lambert got his first job…in a mill! He liked his work and was able to support himself, rent an apartment, and enjoy some modest luxuries. Contrast that with the economic status of a Walmart clerk or an Amazon warehouse worker. And even now, the small towns that remain cling to activities that bring people together, as Lambert highlighted in Water Cooler earlier this week: Please watch this clip in full. Carlson begins with an unvarnished description of the wreckage that America’s heartlands have become as financial predators have sucked local businesses dry, leaving shrunken communities, poverty and drug addiction in their wake.

  Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications decreased 9.2 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending November 29, 2019. This week’s results include an adjustment for the Thanksgiving holiday. ... The Refinance Index decreased 16 percent from the previous week and was 61 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 33 percent compared with the previous week and was 24 percent lower than the same week one year ago....U.S. Treasury rates stayed flat last week, as uncertainty surrounding the U.K. elections offset positive domestic news on consumer spending,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Despite the 30-year fixed rate remaining unchanged at 3.97 percent, mortgage applications fell last week, driven down by a 16 percent drop in refinances. Purchase applications were up slightly but declined 24 percent from a year ago. This week’s year-over-year comparisons were distorted by Thanksgiving being a week later this year.”Added Kan, “The purchase market overall looks healthy as we enter the home stretch of 2019. The seasonally adjusted purchase index was at its highest level since July, as a combination of wage gains, slower home-price appreciation, and slightly easing inventory conditions continue to support increased activity.”... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) remained unchanged at 3.97 percent, with points increasing to 0.32 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

30 Year Mortgage Rates at 3.75% Top Tier Scenarios --From Matthew Graham at Mortgage News Daily: Mortgage Rates Up To 2-Week Highs:Mortgage rates increased moderately to begin the new week/month and had been increasing in general during the previous week. The net effect is some lenders are quoting rates that are an eighth of a point higher compared to those seen at the beginning of last week, and an average rate quote that's as high as it's been in just over 2 weeks. In the bigger picture, this amount of movement is fairly tame. [Most Prevalent Rates For Top Tier Scenarios 30YR FIXED 3.75%]

CoreLogic: House Prices up 3.5% Year-over-year in October - This CoreLogic House Price Index report is for October. The recent Case-Shiller index release was for September. The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA). From CoreLogic: CoreLogic Reports October Home Prices Increased by 3.5% Year Over Year Home prices nationwide, including distressed sales, increased year over year by 3.5% in October 2019 compared with October 2018 and increased month over month by 0.5% in October 2019 compared with September 2019 (revisions with public records data are standard, and to ensure accuracy, CoreLogic incorporates the newly released public data to provide updated results).“Local home-price growth can deviate widely from the change in our U.S. index. While we saw prices up 3.5% nationally last year, home prices also declined in 22 metropolitan areas. Price softness occurred in some high-cost urban areas and in metros with weak employment growth during the past year.” Dr. Frank Nothaft, Chief Economist for CoreLogicThe CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates that home prices will increase by 5.4% on a year-over-year basis from October 2019 to October 2020. On a month-over-month basis, home prices are expected to increase by 0.2% from October 2019 to November 2019. The CoreLogic HPI Forecast is a projection of home prices using the CoreLogic HPI and other economic variables. CR Note: The YoY change in the CoreLogic index decreased over the last year, but is now moving sideways at around 3.5%.

 Black Knight: House Price Index up 0.3% in October, Up 4.3% year-over-year - Note: I follow several house price indexes (Case-Shiller, CoreLogic, Black Knight, Zillow, FHFA and more). Note: Black Knight uses the current month closings only (not a three month average like Case-Shiller or a weighted average like CoreLogic), excludes short sales and REOs, and is not seasonally adjusted. From Black Knight: Based on the latest data from the Black Knight HPI, October was a strong month for home price gains. And it makes perfect sense.  The annual home price growth rate rose from 3.9% in September to 4.25% in October.  This graph from Black Knight shows their estimate of the MoM and YoY change in House Prices. This index suggests a pickup in house price appreciation.

San Francisco has nearly five empty homes per homeless resident -Oakland housing activists Moms 4 Housing, who made national news by taking over a vacant West Oakland house in November, frequently cite a statistic alleging that there are four empty homes in Oakland for every homeless person—a figure alluded to in the group’s name. But is this true? The answer to that question: It’s complicated. Estimating both housing and homeless populations can be a tricky chore; depending on the method, San Francisco’s 2019 homeless count ranges from just over 8,000 to nearly 17,600 persons. And while the U.S. Census tallies both the housing totals and the occupancy rates for American cities every year, these estimates have a margin of error in the thousands.Be that as it may, the best available public figures, variable though they may be, do support the four-to-one claim. In fact, the entire Bay Area has far more empty houses than people without homes in 2019.Using the latest point-in-time counts from earlier this year and census estimates from 2018 (the most recent year for which data is available), here’s where the Bay Area’s most populous areas sit.

  • San Francisco: The city’s official point-in-time homeless count for 2019 is homeless count 8,011, despite various conflicts suggesting that it should be higher. The previous year, the city had 38,651 empty homes (margin of error: 4,395).
  • Alameda County: Oakland’s homeless count came out to 4,071 in 2019, while home vacancies total 15,571 (plus or minus 2,415). Note that this is a ratio of about 3.8 to one; the four to one figure cited by Moms 4 Housing came from a 2018 MotherJones article. Fremont has 608 homeless persons to a comparably whopping 4,275 vacancies (plus or minus 1,459), and Hayward a ratio of 487 to 3,033 (plus or minus 1,051).
  • East Bay: Concord has the highest homeless count in Contra Costa County, estimated at 350 this year, with a vacancy rate of 1,413—still enough to cover the homeless after a margin of error of 816. Vallejo is the next most populous East Bay city. Solano County doesn’t delineate its homelessness estimates per individual city;for the entire county the count is 1,150, and number of vacant homes countywide is 6,254 (margin of error: 1,527).
  • North Bay: Santa Rosa has 1,803 homeless persons in the most recent count, versus 3,157 vacant homes (plus or minus 1,277). Notice the comparably very low vacancy rate—partly a product of the 2017 fire season, but still enough to cover the homeless count this year.
  • South Bay: San Jose has the second highest estimated homeless population in the Bay Area after San Francisco, with 6,097 persons. It also has the second most home vacancies, estimated at 13,958 (margin of error: 2,907). Neighboring Santa Clara’s homeless count is just 326, but it has potentially ten times the number of homes available—3,457 (plus or minus 1,343). Sunnyvale has nearly twice as many homeless at 624, but a comparable number of homes empty: 3,131 (plus or minus 1,164).

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Increased Sharply Year-over-year due to Timing of Thanksgiving - Note: Due to the timing of Thanksgiving, the occupancy rate was up sharply YoY last week, and will be down sharply YoY in the report next week. From STR: US hotel results for week ending 23 November: The U.S. hotel industry reported positive year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 17-23 November 2019, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 18-24 November 2018, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: +17.7% to 61.2%
• Average daily rate (ADR): +10.8% to US$124.71
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): +30.4% to US$76.32
STR analysts note the positive performance is due to the year-over-year comparison with the week of Thanksgiving in 2018. The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

Construction Spending Decreased in October - From the Census Bureau reported that overall construction spending decreased in October: Construction spending during October 2019 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,291.1 billion, 0.8 percent below the revised September estimate of $1,301.8 billion. The October figure is 1.1 percent above the October 2018 estimate of $1,277.4 billion. During the first ten months of this year, construction spending amounted to $1,086.5 billion, 1.7 percent below the $1,105.2 billion for the same period in 2018. Both private and public spending decreased: Spending on private construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $956.3 billion,1.0 percent below the revised September estimate of $966.1 billion. ... In October, the estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of public construction spending was $334.8 billion, 0.2 percent below the revised September estimate of $335.6 billion.This graph shows private residential and nonresidential construction spending, and public spending, since 1993. Note: nominal dollars, not inflation adjusted. Private residential spending had been increasing - but turned down in the 2nd half of 2018 - and is now 25% below the bubble peak. Non-residential spending is 8% above the previous peak in January 2008 (nominal dollars). Public construction spending is 3% above the previous peak in March 2009, and 28% above the austerity low in February 2014. Year-over-year Construction SpendingThe second graph shows the year-over-year change in construction spending. On a year-over-year basis, private residential construction spending is up slightly. Non-residential spending is down 4% year-over-year. Public spending is up 10% year-over-year. This was below consensus expectations, however construction spending for August and September were revised up.

Update: Framing Lumber Prices Up Year-over-year --Here is another monthly update on framing lumber prices.   Lumber prices declined from the record highs in early 2018, and are now mostly unchanged year-over-year.  This graph shows two measures of lumber prices: 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through Nov 15, 2019 (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures.  Right now Random Lengths prices are up 10% from a year ago, and CME futures are up 4% year-over-year. There is a seasonal pattern for lumber prices, and usually prices will increase in the Spring, and peak around May, and then bottom around October or November - although there is quite a bit of seasonal variability.  The trade war is a factor with reports that lumber exports to China have declined by 40% since last September.

 October Credit Card Usage Surges To All Time High As Americans Regain Their Spending Mojo - After a torrid summer which saw a surge in revolving (i.e., credit card) debt in July and a near record surge in non-revolving credit in August, in October consumer credit growth crumbled, as Americans only added $9.6 billion to their total debt, largely as credit card usage crumbled in both August and September. However, things were promptly back to normal in October, when total consumer credit jumped by $18.9 billion, almost doubling the previous month's total, driven by a fresh surge in credit card usage. Total consumer credit rose a 5.5% annual rate to $4.165t, more than double the rate of growth of the broader economy. While the monthly increase in non-revolving credit, or student and auto loans, which was $11 billion to $3.077 trillion, was in line with recent trends, and higher than September's $9.4 billion... ... it was the $$7.9 billion surge in revolving credit (to a new all time high of $1.089 trillion) that was notable, as it reversed the decline of the prior two months (September was revised to a modestly positive print), and back was the second highest print of 2019 as Americans once again went on a credit-fueled shopping spree. And while US consumers had little problem in once again spending like drunken sailors armed with a credit card, when it comes to student and auto loans, there were no surprises, with the former increasing by $33 billion in the third quarter, when auto loans increased by $21 billion, both series hit new record highs, to wit: student loan is now $1.639 trillion, and auto loans are now $1.194 trillion, both all time highs.

 They Loan You Money. Then They Get a Warrant for Your Arrest. — Cecila Avila was finishing a work shift at a Walmart. David Gordon was at church. Darrell Reese was watching his granddaughter at home. Jessica Albritton had pulled into the parking lot at her job, where she packed and shipped bike parts. All four were arrested by an armed constable, handcuffed and booked into jail. They spent anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days behind bars before being released after paying a few hundred dollars in bail or promising to appear in court. None of the four, who live in northern Utah and were detained last year, had committed a crime. They had each borrowed money at high interest rates from a local lender called Loans for Less and were sued for owing sums that ranged from $800 to $3,600. When they missed a court date, the company obtained a warrant for their arrest. Avila was handcuffed and marched down the main aisle in the Walmart in front of customers and co-workers. “It was the most embarrassing thing,” said Avila, 30, who has worked at the store for eight years. At the time of the arrest, Loans for Less had applied to garnish her wages. “It just didn’t make any sense to me,” she said. “Why am I being arrested for it?” It’s against the law to jail someone because of an unpaid debt. Congress banned debtors prisons in 1833. Yet, across the country, debtors are routinely threatened with arrest and sometimes jailed, and the practices are particularly aggressive in Utah. (ProPublica recently chronicled how medical debt collectors are wielding similar powers in Kansas.)

Freedom Is Meaningless Under Insurmountable Debt  - What would Timothy Howe, a Reconstruction-era congressman who opposed slavery, have made of the story of Raedell Piaso? A few years ago, Piaso was making a little less than $23,000 a year as a receptionist in Albuquerque when she couldn’t make her rent for her apartment.  Facing eviction, she took out a loan. She signed over the title to her family’s 2004 Ford F-150 as collateral and agreed to an annual interest rate of 300 percent. She thought she could make it work by cutting back—from macaroni and cheese, say, to ramen noodles. Her payment history shows her trying to keep up. Over 13 months, she gave more than a quarter of her take-home pay to the lender—$5,617—on a loan of $1,971. But the lender applied less than $2 of that to the loan principal; the rest vaporized in fees and interest.She fell behind, and the lender threatened to seize her truck. She drove west and left it with her parents on the Navajo Reservation, where the lender couldn’t reach it. And after that, she took the bus to work.  Piaso is one of millions of low-income Americans who use high-cost loans to bridge the gap between stagnant wages and the cost of living, and who live months or years trying to pay off loans they cannot afford—and so remain in debt. The condition of their lives raises the question: Are these Americans fundamentally free?

AAR: November Rail Carloads down 7.5% YoY, Intermodal Down 7.4% YoY -- From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators.Rail traffic continues to struggle because U.S. manufacturing is soft, trade disputes and the uncertainty they entail are ongoing, and economic growth abroad isn’t what it could be....In November 2019, total U.S. rail carloads were down 7.5% and total intermodal originations were down 7.4% from November 2018 — making 10 straight monthly declines for both.  This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the year-over-year changes in U.S. Carloads. That U.S. railroads are in a prolonged slump isn’t in doubt, and it’s not something a few visits with a sports psychologist can break. In November 2019, total originated carloads on U.S. railroads fell 7.5% (77,166 carloads) from November 2018 — their tenth consecutive monthly decline. In the first 11 months of November, total carloads were down 4.6% (574,287 carloads) and were the lowest for any year since sometime before 1988, when our data begin. The second graph is the year-over-year change for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers): U.S. intermodal originations in November 2019 were down 7.4% from November 2018, also their tenth consecutive decline. Year-to-date intermodal volume was 4.7% lower (635,001 containers and trailers) than in the same period in 2018.

Trade Deficit decreased to $47.2 Billion in October -From the Department of Commerce reported: The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $47.2 billion in October, down $3.9 billion from $51.1 billion in September, revised. October exports were $207.1 billion, $0.4 billion less than September exports. October imports were $254.3 billion, $4.3 billion less than September imports. Both exports and imports decreased in October. Exports are 25% above the pre-recession peak and down 1% to October 2018; imports are 10% above the pre-recession peak, and down 5% compared to October 2018.In general, trade both imports and exports have moved more sideways or down recently.The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum. The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products. Note that the U.S. exported a slight net positive petroleum products in September and October.  Oil imports averaged $52.00 per barrel in October, down from $53.12 in September, and down from $61.25 in October 2018.The trade deficit with China decreased to $31.3 billion in October, from $43.1 billion in October 2018.

U.S. factory orders rebound in October; shipments unchanged - (Reuters) - New orders for U.S.-made goods rebounded in October after two straight monthly declines, lifted by rising demand for machinery and transportation equipment, but gains were likely to be limited amid persistently weak business confidence. Factory goods orders increased 0.3% also as bookings for computers and electronic products rose, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. Data for September was revised down to show orders dropping 0.8% instead of falling 0.6% was previously reported. October’s gain in factory orders was in line with economists’ expectations.Factory orders decreased 0.4% compared to October 2018.The government also said October orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, which are seen as a measure of business spending plans on equipment, increased 1.1% instead of surging 1.2% as reported last week.Shipments of core capital goods, which are used to calculate business equipment spending in the gross domestic product report, rebounded 0.8% in October as previously reported.With business confidence remaining depressed, the improvement in orders is probably unsustainable. A survey on Monday from the Institute for Supply Management showed its measure of national factory activity contracting for a fourth straight month in November as a gauge of new orders slumped back to around the lowest level since 2012.  Business sentiment has been hurt by a 17-month trade war between the United States and China, weighing on manufacturing, which accounts for 11% of the economy.  Manufacturing has also been hampered by an inventory overhang and the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX plane after two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.Transportation equipment orders rebounded 0.7% in October after dropping 3.2% in the prior month. Orders for civilian aircraft and parts increased 10.7% after decreasing 19.0% in September.Orders for computers and electronic products rose 0.6%. Machinery orders jumped 1.2% in October after dipping 0.1% in September. But orders for electrical equipment, appliances and components dropped 1.8% after rising 0.9% in September. Shipments of manufactured goods were unchanged in October after falling 0.4% in the prior month. Unfilled orders at factories nudged up 0.1% after being unchanged in September. Inventories edged up 0.1 in October after rising 0.3% in September.

ISM Manufacturing index Decreased to 48.1 in November - The ISM manufacturing index indicated contraction in November. The PMI was at 48.1% in November, down from 48.3% in October. The employment index was at 46.6%, down from 47.7% last month, and the new orders index was at 47.2%, down from 49.1%. From the Institute for Supply Management: November 2019 Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®: “The November PMI® registered 48.1 percent, a decrease of 0.2 percentage point from the October reading of 48.3 percent. The New Orders Index registered 47.2 percent, a decrease of 1.9 percentage points from the October reading of 49.1 percent. The Production Index registered 49.1 percent, up 2.9 percentage points compared to the October reading of 46.2 percent. The Backlog of Orders Index registered 43 percent, down 1.1 percentage points compared to the October reading of 44.1 percent. The Employment Index registered 46.6 percent, a 1.1-percentage point decrease from the October reading of 47.7 percent. The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 52 percent, a 2.5-percentage point increase from the October reading of 49.5 percent. The Inventories Index registered 45.5 percent, a decrease of 3.4 percentage points from the October reading of 48.9 percent. The Prices Index registered 46.7 percent, a 1.2-percentage point increase from the October reading of 45.5 percent. The New Export Orders Index registered 47.9 percent, a 2.5-percentage point decrease from the October reading of 50.4 percent. The Imports Index registered 48.3 percent, a 3-percentage point increase from the October reading of 45.3 percent. November was the fourth consecutive month of PMI® contraction, at a faster rate compared to the prior month. Demand contracted, with the New Orders Index contracting faster, the Customers’ Inventories Index remaining at ‘too low’ levels and the Backlog of Orders Index contracting for the seventh straight month (and at a faster rate). The New Export Orders Index returned to contraction territory, likely contributing to the faster contraction of the New Orders Index. Consumption (measured by the Production and Employment indexes) contracted, due primarily to lack of demand, but contributed positively (a combined 1.8-percentage point increase) to the PMI® calculation. Inputs — expressed as supplier deliveries, inventories and imports — were again lower in November, due primarily to contraction in inventories that was partially offset by supplier deliveries returning to ‘slowing.’ This resulted in a combined 0.9-percentage point decrease in the Supplier Deliveries and Inventories indexes.   “Global trade remains the most significant cross-industry issue."

Markit Manufacturing: "November PMI at seven-month high..." - The November US Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 52.6, up 1.3 from the 51.3 final October figure. Markit's Manufacturing PMI is a diffusion index: A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector; below 50 indicates contraction.Here is an excerpt from Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit in their latest press release:A third consecutive monthly rise in the PMI indicates that US manufacturing continues to pull out of its soft patch. New orders and production are rising at the fastest rates since January, encouraging increasing numbers of firms to take on more workers. Exports are also back on a rising trend, firms are buying more inputs and re-building inventories, adding to the signs of improvement." [Press Release]  Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.  Here is an overlay with the equivalent PMI survey conducted by the Institute for Supply Management (see our full article on this series here, note that ).

December starts out with a thud -- The first reports in December are in, and both were negative. Let’s start with construction spending. Overall construction spending declined -0.8% in October. The more leading residential construction spending declined -0.9%, the second decline in a row (blue in the graph below): Since actual spending on residential construction doesn’t take place until the house is started, it lags building permits (red in the graph above). So given the strong rebound in permits, I’m not concerned at this point about a renewed decline in construction, as I expect it will follow permits as well. The same can’t be said for the second negative piece of news this morning, in the ISM manufacturing index. The overall index came in at 48.1, while the more leading new orders index came in at 47.2: In the past it has typically taken at least two readings below 48 for the overall ISM manufacturing index to indicate recession, so the main indication here is that manufacturing may be in a shallow recession, but the economy as a whole is close to flat. On the other hand, the new orders index is already at a level which has been consistent over the past 70 years with a recession in the very near future - although it is also consistent, as for example in 1966, with a slowdown only (note: ISM doesn’t allow FRED to publish its new data, so the below is a long term historical graph that ends in 2013): Since the manufacturing sector in the economy is a smaller segment now than at any point since these series were started almost 75 years ago, the shallow downturn there will have less repercussions than in the past. A year ago I pointed to this quarter as being the epicenter of when I expected the downturn in the long leading indicators to have the most impact. That certainly appears to be the case. As the same time, I think the economy as a whole is more likely to remain in a slowdown than an outright contraction.

Chicago PMI Rose in November - The Chicago Business Barometer, also known as the Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index, is similar to the national ISM Manufacturing indicator but at a regional level and is seen by many as an indicator of the larger US economy. It is a composite diffusion indicator, made up of production, new orders, order backlogs, employment, and supplier deliveries compiled through surveys. Values above 50.0 indicate expanding manufacturing activity.The latest Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index, or the Chicago Business Barometer, rose to 46.3 in November from 43.2 in October, which was below the forecast of 47.0 and in contraction territory. Values above 50.0 indicate expanding manufacturing activity.Here is an excerpt from the press release: The Chicago Business BarometerTM, produced with MNI, rose 3.1 points in November, hitting a two-month high 46.3. However, the index remains in contraction for the third month straight, resulting in a further fall of the 3-month average to 45.5. [Source] Let's take a look at the Chicago PMI since its inception.

BEA: November Vehicles Sales increased to 17.1 Million SAAR -- The BEA released their estimate of November vehicle sales this morning. The BEA estimated sales of 17.09 million SAAR in November 2019 (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate), up 3.4% from the October sales rate, and down 1.7% from November 2019. Sales in 2019 are averaging 16.92 million (average of seasonally adjusted rate), down 1.6% compared to the same period in 2018. This graph shows light vehicle sales since 2006 from the BEA (blue) and an estimate for November (red).Note: The GM strike might have impacted sales in October. A small decline in sales to date this year isn't a concern - I think sales will move mostly sideways at near record levels.This means the economic boost from increasing auto sales is over (from the bottom in 2009, auto sales boosted growth every year through 2016).  The second graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967.Note: dashed line is current estimated sales rate of 17.09 million SAAR.

Driverless cars aren’t safe enough to share our streets - US safety investigators are right to be fed up with rules allowing companies to unleash driverless cars on streets, while “self-certifying” that their testing methods are safe. “In my opinion they’ve put technology advancement here before saving lives,” Jennifer Homendy, a member of the US National Transportation Safety Board, said at a recent hearing into the March 2018 fatal crash involving an Uber self-driving car. To understand why that vehicle killed a pedestrian as she crossed the street with her bicycle and why such accidents may be hard to avoid in the future, think about my drive to buy groceries in a middle-sized British city. I have to navigate narrow streets, past dozens of parked cars. It is a complicated process: I must wait for drivers coming the other way and decide whether they are going to let me go first or if I should give way. Sometimes, if I am in a hurry, I will be slightly bolder and hope the oncoming traffic will wait. If that driver does the same thing, I must dart behind a parked car or we must squeeze past each other while keeping our wing mirrors intact. This chaotic, improvised negotiation usually works remarkably well. But now imagine having to model this traffic negotiation, writing down each choice. It becomes hideously convoluted. Each day presents new challenges: different road layouts, cars, pedestrians, bicycles, prams and, of course, weather. Then try to turn this model into a computer algorithm an autonomous car might follow. Solving this problem is the motoring equivalent of passing the Turing test, which challenges a machine’s ability to exhibit behaviour indistinguishable from a human’s. Many of us have seen impressive videos of Tesla drivers switching on autopilot while on motorways, where they happily sit reading as the car speeds along by itself. But the problem of moving these cars into the tighter confines of towns and cities, where traffic negotiation is commonplace, has scarcely been addressed. This may prove a decisive limiting factor in the development of autonomous vehicles. These problems are too hard to solve with current algorithms. Each time another complication is added, all the calculations have to be reprogrammed. No one set of algorithms will suffice because there are limitless possibilities and combinations. Even machine learning may struggle. Artificial intelligence ideally requires millions of photographs simply to learn to differentiate between pictures of cats and dogs. How much more complex are traffic negotiations?

ISM Non-Manufacturing Index decreased to 53.9% in November- The October ISM Non-manufacturing index was at 53.9%, down from 54.7% in October. The employment index increased to 55.5%, from 53.7%. Note: Above 50 indicates expansion, below 50 contraction.From the Institute for Supply Management: November 2019 Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business®  “The NMI® registered 53.9 percent, which is 0.8 percentage points lower than the October reading of 54.7 percent. This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector, at a slightly slower rate. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index decreased to 51.6 percent, 5.4 percentage points lower than the October reading of 57 percent, reflecting growth for the 124th consecutive month. The New Orders Index registered 57.1 percent; 1.5 percentage points higher than the reading of 55.6 percent in October. The Employment Index increased 1.8 percentage points in November to 55.5 percent from the October reading of 53.7 percent. The Prices Index increased 1.9 percentage points from the October reading of 56.6 percent to 58.5 percent, indicating that prices increased in November for the 30th consecutive month. According to the NMI®, 12 non-manufacturing industries reported growth. The non-manufacturing sector had a slight pullback in November. The respondents hope for a resolution on tariffs and continue to be hampered by constraints in labor resources.”  This graph shows the ISM non-manufacturing index (started in January 2008) and the ISM non-manufacturing employment diffusion index.

Markit Services PMI: "Business activity growth strengthens in November" - The November US Services Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 51.3 percent, up 1.0 from the final October estimate of 50.3. The consensus was for 51.6 percent. Here is the opening from the latest press release:Commenting on the latest survey results, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit, said:“With both services and manufacturing reporting stronger rates of expansion, the November PMI surveys indicate the fastest pace of economic growth for four months. The improvement is coming from a low base, however, and even at these higher levels the survey is merely indicative of annualised GDP growth in the region of 1.5%.“Similarly, while reviving order book growth has encouraging more companies to take on extra staff after two months of net job losses being reported, the survey’s employment index continued to run at a level consistent with monthly jobs growth of only around 100,000."Weakened business activity and jobs growth compared to earlier in the year also led to widespread caution with respect to pushing up selling prices in the face of an uncertain outlook. Business expectations for the year ahead continue to run at one of the lowest levels recorded by the survey since 2012 with firms worried about trade wars, slowing economic growth at home and abroad, as well as the possibility of next year’s election cycle causing customers to postpone spending decisions.” [Press Release] Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decrease to 203,000 -- The DOL reported: In the week ending November 30, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 203,000, a decrease of 10,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 213,000. The 4-week moving average was 217,750, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's unrevised average of 219,750. The previous week was unrevised. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

ADP: Private Employment increased 67,000 in November - From ADP: Private sector employment increased by 67,000 jobs from October to Novemberaccording to the November ADP National Employment Report®. ... The report, which is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis...“In November, the labor market showed signs of slowing,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “The goods producers still struggled; whereas, the service providers remained in positive territory driven by healthcare and professional services. Job creation slowed across all company sizes; however, the pattern remained largely the same, as small companies continued to face more pressure than their larger competitors.”Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said, “The job market is losing its shine. Manufacturers, commodity producers, and retailers are shedding jobs. Job openings are declining and if job growth slows any further unemployment will increase.”This was below the consensus forecast for 140,000 private sector jobs added in the ADP report.

 ADP Employment Data Disappoints, Second Lowest Print In A Decade - The last few months have seen ADP employment gains trending lower, alongside the plunge in ISM/PMI survey data (driven by job losses in the goods manufacturing sector), and November's data confirms that slowdown (just as we warned here).  ADP National Employment Report prints +67k (drastically below expectations of +135k and October's +121k) The Goods-producing sector lost 18k jobs (as services added 85k)... “In November, the labor market showed signs of slowing,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “The goods producers still struggled; whereas, the service providers remained in positive territory driven by healthcare and professional services. Job creation slowed across all company sizes; however, the pattern remained largely the same, as small companies continued to face more pressure than their larger competitors.” Full Breakdown highlights the job losses in Mining, Manufacturing, and Construction... Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said: “The job market is losing its shine. Manufacturers, commodity producers, and retailers are shedding jobs. Job openings are declining and if job growth slows any further unemployment will increase.”

November Employment Report: 266,000 Jobs Added, 3.5% Unemployment Rate --From the BLS: Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 266,000 in November, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 3.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in health care and in professional and technical services. Employment rose in manufacturing, reflecting the return of workers from a strike. ... The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for September was revised up by 13,000 from +180,000 to +193,000, and the change for October was revised up by 28,000 from +128,000 to +156,000. With these revisions, employment gains in September and October combined were 41,000 more than previously reported. ... In November, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 7 cents to $28.29. Over the last 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.1 percent. The first graph shows the monthly change in payroll jobs, ex-Census (meaning the impact of the decennial Census temporary hires and layoffs is removed - mostly in 2010 - to show the underlying payroll changes). Total payrolls increased by 266 thousand in November (private payrolls increased 254 thousand). Payrolls for September and October were revised up 41 thousand combined. Year-over-year change employmentThis graph shows the year-over-year change in total non-farm employment since 1968. In November, the year-over-year change was 2.204 million jobs. The third graph shows the employment population ratio and the participation rate. The Labor Force Participation Rate decreased in November to 63.2%. This is the percentage of the working age population in the labor force. A large portion of the recent decline in the participation rate is due to demographics and long term trends. The Employment-Population ratio was unchanged at 61.0% (black line). The fourth graph shows the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate decreased in November to 3.5%. This was well above consensus expectations of 180,000 jobs added, and September and October were revised up by 41,000 combined. A solid report.

JOBS REPORT: U.S. payrolls jump by 266,000, smashing expectations -The U.S. economy added far more jobs than expected in November and the joblessness rate edged down to a 50-year low, as the domestic labor market continued to fire on all cylinders.The Department of Labor delivered its November jobs report at 8:30 a.m. ET Friday. Here were the main results from the report, compared to consensus data compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Change in non-farm payrolls: +266,000 vs. +180,000 expected and +156,000 in October
  • Unemployment rate: 3.5% vs. 3.6% expected and 3.6% in October
  • Average hourly earnings month over month: +0.2% vs. +0.3% expected and +0.4% in October
  • Average hourly earnings year over year: +3.1% vs. +3.0% expected and +3.2% in October

The latest jobs report also included upward revisions to both September’s and October’s headline payroll figures. September’s change in total non-farm payrolls was revised up by 13,000 to 193,000, while October’s level was revised up by 28,000 to 156,000. These updates raised the three-month average of job gains to 205,000.At just 3.5%, the November unemployment rate matched September’s level for the lowest since 1969. The total labor force participation was nearly unchanged at 63.2%, just a hair below October’s 63.3%, which had reflected the largest share of the working population employed or looking for work since 2013.Stock futures added to gains in early trading following the estimates-topping report, with the Dow up more than 150 points. Treasury yields surged, and gold prices fell as investors piled into risk assets. “Along with the upward revisions to earlier months, these numbers are telling us that job growth in the U.S. has stabilized,” Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch Ratings, wrote in an email Friday. “This highlights that conditions remain firmly in place for the consumer and the service sector to cushion the economy from external risks and related weakness in U.S. manufacturing.” Heading into the report, consensus economists expected that headline employment gains would get a boost from the return of thousands of General Motors (GM) workers, after a 40-day United Auto Workers strike contributed to a net decline of 43,000 manufacturing payrolls in October, revised from a loss of 36,000 previously reported. In November, the manufacturing sector added 54,000 positions, topping expectations for 40,000 and “reflecting the return of workers from a strike,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics wrote in its report. Motor vehicles and parts industries added 41,300 jobs during the month, just about reversing the decline of 42,800 from October. But strength in the November jobs report was broad-based, even outside of the one-time impact of the strike’s abatement. The private sector on the whole added 254,000 positions during the month, well above the 178,000 expected and 163,000 added in October. This result contrasted sharply with the weaker than expected results of ADP/Moody’s report on private sector employment published earlier this week, though many economists had pointed out that the survey serves as an imperfect indicator of the Department of Labor’s jobs report. Education and health services industries added 74,000 jobs during the month, more than double these industries’ additions from the month prior. Business services and leisure also saw strong gains, adding 38,000 and 45,000 positions, respectively, during the month. Only two industries saw job losses during the month, and even these were relatively sanguine. Mining and logging industries lost 7,000 positions in November, while wholesale trade industries lost 4,300. That said, job gains slowed considerably for retail trade heading into the holiday season, with just 2,000 new jobs added in November after 22,000 additons in October.

November jobs report: an excellent report for ordinary working households that takes recession off the table for now HEADLINES:

  • +266,000 jobs added
  • U3 unemployment rate down -0.1% from 3.6% to 3.5%
  • U6 underemployment rate down -0.1% from 7.0% to 6.9%
  • the average manufacturing workweek rose 0.1 hour  from 40.4 hours to 40.5 hours. This is one of the 10 components of the LEI and is positive.
  • Manufacturing jobs rose by 54,000 (but would have risen by 13,000 were it not for workers returning from the GM strike). YoY manufacturing is up 76,000, a sharp deceleration from 2018’s pace.
  • construction jobs rose by 1,000. YoY construction jobs are up 146,000, also a deceleration from summer 2018. Residential construction jobs, which are even more leading, rose by 1800.
  • temporary jobs rose by 4800. 
  • the number of people unemployed for 5 weeks or less increased by 52,000 from 1,968,000 to 2,020,000.
  • Not in Labor Force, but Want a Job Now: increased by 78,000 from 4.753 million to 4.831 million 
  • Part time for economic reasons: decreased by -16,000 from 4.438 million to 4.322 million 
  • Employment/population ratio ages 25-54: unchanged at 80.3%
  • Average Hourly Earnings for Production and Nonsupervisory Personnel: rose $.07 to $23.84, up +3.7% YoY. Last month was revised higher with a YoY rate of +3.8% a new expansion high. (Note: you may be reading different information about wages elsewhere. They are citing average wages for all private workers. I use wages for nonsupervisory personnel, to come closer to the situation for ordinary workers.)
  • Overtime declined -0.1 hour from 3.2  hours to 3.1 hours
  • Professional and business employment (generally higher-paying jobs) rose by 38,000 and  is up +417,000 YoY. 
  • the index of aggregate hours worked for non-managerial workers rose by 0.2%
  • the index of aggregate payrolls for non-managerial workers rose by 0.5% 
  • the overall employment to population ratio for all ages 16 and up was unchanged at 61.0% and is up 0.4% YoY.    
  • The labor force participation rate declined -0.1% from 63.3% to 63.2% and is up 0.3% YoY.

SUMMARY: Obviously this was an excellent report, which it has to be said was completely at odds with the manufacturing and consumption data that has been reported in the past month. There were very few weak spots: short term unemployment rose slightly, as did those not even in the labor force who nonetheless want a job, and overtime. Everything else was positive to strongly positive. Aside from the headline employment number, the standout was non-supervisory wages, which rose 3.7% in November after a revised 3.8% YoY rate in October, a new expansion high. Almost all of the leading indicators in employment were also positive. In particular temporary jobs, completely contradicting private data, have risen strongly in 3 of the past 4 months. Involuntary part time employment also fell to a new expansion low. Aggregate hours and payrolls also rose strongly. Revisions were positive. Bottom line: this report completely takes recession out of the picture for the next several months, and was good news for ordinary working households.

November job gains beat expectations, as Wal S’yas (reversed Say’s Law) takes hold --Jared Bernstein -- Payrolls rose by 266,000 last month and the unemployment rate ticked down slightly to 3.5%. Hourly wage growth for all private sector workers remained where it has been, up 3.1%, year-over-year, while the pay of lower-wage workers–the 82% of payroll employment that’s blue collar in factories and non-managers in services–has been trending up a bit, and was up 3.7% last month (a slight tick down from 3.8% in October). With inflation running around 2%, this translates into solid real wage gains for these workers. The stronger trend for lower-paid workers is also a reminder of who disproportionately benefits from persistently high-pressure labor markets. The November jobs number of 266K was boosted by the return of almost 50,000 strikers due to the end of the GM strike. Thus, much like we discounted the loss of those workers in the previous month’s jobs report, we should discount their return (I discuss the trend in manufacturing employment below). Even so, our monthly smoother implies, if anything, there’s been a slight acceleration in job gains in recent months (the smoother averages monthly payroll gains over 3, 6, and 12-month windows, and thus smooths out the strike effect).  In tandem with the wage results, payroll gains of this magnitude suggest that the persistently high-pressure labor market is boosting labor supply at both the extensive and intensive margins, i.e., pulling people in and adding hours for incumbent workers. I often stress the positive wage effects of high pressure labor markets, but the supply effects are structurally important, as they imply the potential for increased economic capacity. Fans of economic theory will recognize this as reversed “Say’s Law.” That is, Say’s Law, which is now widely viewed as erroneous, argued “supply creates demand.” It appears more accurate to argue that demand–in this case, persistently strong demand for labor–creates (labor) supply. A hugely important policy question is whether that supply lasts past the next recession. This will surely require employment-oriented policies to avoid last-hired, first-fired outcomes when demand eventually lags. Such policies include subsidized employment, training, and apprenticeship programs. Turning to one key, and less favorable, recent sectoral development, many different data sources have shown weakness in manufacturing employment, driven by the trade war and slower global growth. What is sometimes not emphasized enough in this context is that both of these factors tend to put upward pressure of the US dollar. As trade economist Rob Scott pointed out in a recent op-ed: “The dollar has climbed 10 percent since the tariffs first took effect in March 2018, and has also risen 11 percent against the [Chinese] yuan in the same period. This lowers the cost of imports and raises the cost of U.S. exports…” As the next figure shows (and note the figure smooths out the strike effects), there’s but a large deceleration in manufacturing job gains as the above-named factors have seriously dinged manufacturing activity. The U.S. job market continues to post impressive job gains. While overall wage trends remain stalled, those of lower-paid workers serve as a reminder of one of the benefits of high-pressure job markets. At the micro-level, especially given low inflation, this means real paycheck gains for working Americans. At the macro-level, it means we can expect the American consumer to continue to fuel the already record-long expansion. Against this broadly favorable backdrop, Trump’s trade war is a clear negative, demonstrably hurting factory workers.

Here Is The Main Reason For Today's Blockbuster Jobs Report - Following a disastrous ADP print two days ago, which showed that the US economy added just the second fewest number of private payrolls since March 2010, and a sellside "whisper" number that was about half the consensus expectation of 183K, moments ago the BLS stunned markets and delighted the administration with a blockbuster jobs report, according to which the US economy added 266K jobs, the biggest monthly increase since January, and leading to a near record divergence with what ADP indicated. To be sure, peaking behind the headlines revealed some questionable data, like only an 83K increase in employment according to the Household survey, a 7K drop in mining jobs, a 4K decline in wholesale trade, a stagnant construction sector, lot of seasonal hiring, a catch up in census worker hires, and so on. Warts aside, many are confused what was behind the surprise upside print, and how the payrolls print came 29K jobs more than the highest forecast among 78 economists. The simple answer: a surge in manufacturing workers. As shown in the chart below, 54K manufacturing workers were added in November, the most in over two decades, or since 1998, as a result of about 41K GM striking workers returning to their jobs.  That said, the November surge was an offset to the 43K slide in October, so on net, the print was largely a wash between the two months.So besides the one-time surge in manufacturing workers, where else did the jobs come from? Well, as the chart below shows, excluding a drop of 7K miners and 4.3K wholesale traders, every single job category was positive in November, as follows:

  • As has been the case for much of the past decade, in November the biggest job gains came from health care, which added 45,000 jobs, following little employment change in October (+12,000). The November job gains occurred in ambulatory health care services (+34,000) and in hospitals (+10,000).
  • Employment in professional and technical services increased by 31,000 in November; this included 4.8K new temp jobs.
  • As noted above, manufacturing employment rose by 54,000 in November, following a decline of 43,000 in the prior month.  Within manufacturing, employment in motor vehicles and parts was up by 41,000 in November, reflecting the return of GM workers who were on strike in October.
  • In November, employment in leisure and hospitality continued to trend up (+45,000).
  • Employment in transportation and warehousing continued on an upward trend in November (+16,000). Within the industry, job gains occurred in warehousing and storage (+8,000) and in couriers and messengers (+5,000).
  • Financial activities employment also continued to trend up in November (+13,000), with a gain of 7,000 in credit intermediation and related activities.
  • Mining lost jobs in November (-7,000), largely in support activities for mining (-6,000). Mining employment is down by 19,000 since a recent peak in May.
  • In November, employment in retail trade was about unchanged (+2,000). Within the industry, employment rose in general merchandise stores (+22,000) and in motor vehicle and parts dealers (+8,000), while clothing and clothing accessories stores lost jobs (-18,000).
  • Employment in other major industries--including construction, wholesale trade, information, and government--showed little change over the month.

Comments on November Employment Report -The headline jobs number at 266 thousand for November was above consensus expectations of 180 thousand, and the previous two months were revised up 41 thousand, combined. The unemployment rate decreased to 3.5%. Earlier: November Employment Report: 266,000 Jobs Added, 3.5% Unemployment Rate.   In November, the year-over-year employment change was 2.204 million jobs including Census hires. Typically retail companies start hiring for the holiday season in October, and really increase hiring in November. Here is a graph that shows the historical net retail jobs added for October, November and December by year. This graph really shows the collapse in retail hiring in 2008. Since then seasonal hiring has increased back close to more normal levels. Note: I expect the long term trend will be down with more and more internet holiday shopping. Retailers hired 466 thousand workers (NSA) net in November. Note: this is NSA (Not Seasonally Adjusted). In October and November combined, retailers hired about the same number of seasonal workers as in the previous two years. Wage growth was below expectations. The graph shows the nominal year-over-year change in "Average Hourly Earnings" for all private employees. Nominal wage growth was at 3.1% YoY in November. Wage growth had been generally trending up, but has weakened recently. Since the overall participation rate has declined due to cyclical (recession) and demographic (aging population, younger people staying in school) reasons, here is the employment-population ratio for the key working age group: 25 to 54 years old. In the earlier period the participation rate for this group was trending up as women joined the labor force. Since the early '90s, the participation rate moved more sideways, with a downward drift starting around '00 - and with ups and downs related to the business cycle. The 25 to 54 participation rate was unchanged in November at 82.8%, and the 25 to 54 employment population ratio was unchanged at 80.3%. From the BLS report: "The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 4.3 million, changed little in November. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs." The number of persons working part time for economic reasons decreased in November to 4.332 million from 4.438 million in October. The number of persons working part time for economic reason has been generally trending down. These workers are included in the alternate measure of labor underutilization (U-6) that decreased to 6.9% in November. This graph shows the number of workers unemployed for 27 weeks or more. According to the BLS, there are 1.224 million workers who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks and still want a job. This was down from 1.264 million in October. Summary: The headline jobs number was above expectations, and the previous two months were revised up. The headline unemployment rate decreased to 3.5%; however, wage growth was below expectations. Overall this was a solid report. Note> The conclusion of the GM strike boosted employment in November, after negatively impacting employment in October. In 2019, the economy has added 1.969 million jobs through November 2019 ex-Census, down from 2.452 million jobs during the same period of 2018 (although 2018 will be revised down with benchmark revision to be released in February 2020). So job growth has slowed.

US unemployment is the lowest in 50 years. Here's why Wall Street thinks that's actually a bad thing. - The unemployment rate stands at 3.5%, the lowest in a half-century, according to the latest figures released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The last time it reached that level was December 1969.It's an astonishing recovery for the American economy only a decade after the collapse of major financial institutions like Lehman Brothers helped spark a global financial crisis.Conventional economic thinking maintains that low unemployment signals the economy is robust and prospering on all fronts. That's good for Americans who are looking for work, as it tends to be a period when employers raise wages and compete to hire workers.But one powerful sector actually thinks it's a bad thing: Wall Street. Investors usually balk at the idea of low unemployment because it adds pressure to the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates and make it more expensive to borrow money. It guards against runaway growth and inflation, when the prices of goods rise and cash buys less.Higher interest rates cause government bonds to become more appealing than stocks as a safe investment. Whereas stocks don't have a return guarantee, bonds do, lowering their risk for investors.Mark Hulbert of Marketwatch delved into the S&P 500's performance since 1948 and found that its biggest returns occurred when unemployment was above 7.2%. It was only about 2.8% when unemployment stood below 4%.But investors probably don't need to worry about a looming rise in rates, according to Bloomberg. The Fed has cut rates three times this year, and the strong November jobs report makes it less likely it will cut rates further amid the nation's strong economic performance."The Fed can now sit back on the shelf, not have to worry about having to be pestered about lower rates," Ward McCarthy, the chief financial economist at Jefferies, told CNBC.However, the strong job market is pushing some experts to reevaluate how fast the economy can grow with inflation and interest rates still lo w, at 1.6%. With a booming stock market, investors may yet learn to love the low unemployment that's anchoring the US economy.

Life Under the Algorithm - The bargain represented what would become the defining compromise of twentieth-century American capitalism: Increase your output, get paid more. Wages go up with productivity. Until, it turns out, they don’t anymore. The unwinding of this agreement in recent decades, such that workers must continue to produce more without expecting it to show up in their pay stubs, has now been the subject of a good deal of discussion and debate. The decline of unions, the rise of inequality, the crisis of liberal democracy, and the changing face of American culture all, in one form or another, relate to this transformation. We work and work and barely get by, while wealth pools up in obscene quantities out of view. Pile more pig iron, but don’t imagine you’re high-priced. What, ask new books by Emily Guendelsberger and Steve Fraser, is this colossal insult doing to our heads? No wonder, Guendelsberger observes, the country is collectively “freaking the fuck out.” In her new book, On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane, Guendelsberger re-creates a version of Barbara Ehrenreich’s famous experiment in Nickel and Dimed. Guendelsberger, a reporter for the alt-weekly Philadelphia City Paper until it was sold off and shut down in 2015, went undercover at three low-wage workplaces: an Amazon warehouse in Indiana, a call center in North Carolina, and a McDonald’s in San Francisco. Whereas Ehrenreich’s main discovery was that there still existed an exploited working class—a controversial point in the late 1990s and early 2000s—Guendelsberger takes inequality and exploitation as given, asking instead what these jobs are doing to the millions who work them. What does the phrase “in the weeds” mean to you? In the professional-managerial class, “in the weeds” signifies knotty detail (as in the Vox public policy podcast, The Weeds). In the working class, Guendelsberger points out, “in the weeds” means the same thing “swamped” does in professional-speak: overwhelmed and stressed out. And America’s working class, Guendelsberger argues, is in the weeds all the time, increasingly subjected to an automated neo-Taylorism. Workers are scheduled by algorithm, their tasks timed automatically, and their performance surveilled digitally. This was what she learned on these jobs: “The weeds are a terribly toxic place for human beings. The weeds make us crazy. The weeds make us sick. The weeds destroy family life. The weeds push people into addiction. The weeds will literally kill you.”

63% Of All U.S. Jobs Created Since 1990 Have Been Low-Wage Jobs - If you have a good paying job, you should probably try to hold on to it as hard as you can, because those types of jobs are steadily becoming rarer. Since 1990, the U.S. economy has produced millions of jobs, but as you will see below nearly two-thirds of them have been low wage jobs. Of course this is one of the biggest factors causing the systematic erosion of the American middle class. Today, half of all U.S. workers make less than $33,000 a year, but meanwhile the cost of living has been steadily increasing. Housing costs, health insurance and other basic necessities have been rising much faster than our paychecks have, and this has put an enormous amount of financial stress on hard working American families. A job making making chicken sandwiches at Popeye’s is not equivalent to a structural engineering job. In other words, the quality of the jobs that we create is perhaps even more important than the number of jobs that we create.  Yes, the U.S. has been creating a lot of jobs in recent years, but meanwhile the overall quality of our jobs has degraded rapidlyAlthough the U.S. is on a record streak for job creation, many Americans still feel like they can’t get ahead. It’s not their imagination. The past three decades have seen the economy churn out more and more jobs that offer inadequate pay, a group of researchers found.“The history of private-sector employment in the U.S. over the past three decades is one of overall degradation in the ability of many American jobs to support households — even those with multiple jobholders,” they wrote. In fact, if you go back to 1990 about half of all jobs in the U.S. were good jobs. But since that time, a whopping 63 percent of the jobs that have been created have been “low-wage, low-hour jobs”

Our workforce is dying faster than any other wealthy country, study shows --The engine that powers the world’s most potent economy is dying at a worrisome pace, a “distinctly American phenomenon’’ with no easily discernible cause or simple solution.Those are some of the conclusions from a comprehensive new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University showing that mortality rates for U.S. adults ages 25-64 continue to increase, driving down the general population’s life expectancy for at least three consecutive years.The report, “Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates in the United States, 1959-2017,’’ was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study paints a bleak picture of a workforce plagued by drug overdoses, suicides and organ-system diseases while grappling with economic stresses. In a trend that cuts across racial and ethnic boundaries, the U.S. has the worst midlife mortality rate among 17 high-income countries despite leading the world in per-capita spending on health care.And while life expectancy in those other industrialized nations continues to inch up, it has been going in the opposite direction in America, decreasing from a peak of 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.6 in 2017, the last year covered by the report.By comparison, according to the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker, the average longevity in similar countries is 82.2 years. Japan’s is 84.1, France’s 82.4 and Canada’s 81.9. They left the U.S. behind in the 1980s and increased the distance as the rate of progress in this country diminished and eventually halted in 2011. Steven Woolf, the study’s lead author, said the reasons for the decline go well beyond the lack of universal health care in the U.S. – in contrast with those other nations – although that’s a factor.“It would be easier if we could blame this whole trend on one problem, like guns or obesity or the opioid epidemic, all of which distinguish the U.S. from the other countries,’’ Woolf told USA TODAY. “But we found increases in death rates across 35 causes of death.’’

As politics heat up, so do hiring bias worries - Employees are discussing national politics in the workplace now more than ever. This is making some employees uncomfortable, if not irritated. But political leanings may become more than just an office irritation. Managers tend to hire people of similar ideology, and doing so could create a hiring bias. In recruiting, some employers try to reduce hiring bias by anonymizing demographic-related information. This may involve automated removal of candidate photos and names to help recruiters focus on qualifications, not on gender, race or other characteristics that may bias the recruiter. But political leanings aren't as easy to hide on a resume. Hiring managers can find clues in volunteer work or veteran status, as well as social media posts. There are employment discrimination protections for gender, race, religion and other characteristics. But political affiliations are not a protected class under the law. Two new surveys of workplace attitudes on politics point to what some believe is a problem. The Society for Human Resource Management surveyed just over 500 workers, and 34% said their workplace "is not inclusive of differing political perspectives." Robert Half International Inc., a consulting and staffing firm, surveyed about 1,000 workers. In the survey, 66% agreed that political discussions in the office are more common today than in recent years. Only 22% of the respondents felt the conversations were appropriate. Robert Half recommends job candidates consider setting social media profiles to private. But it advises hiring managers to welcome the diversity of viewpoints.

Amazon warehouses are ‘cult-like’ sweatshops run by robots: ex-employee -- I’ve been a waitress, a newsroom clerk, an EMT and spent summers on a dairy farm in Ireland. At every job I’ve ever had, there was a sense it was a team effort. But when I walked into that Amazon warehouse, there wasn’t a team anything. It was just, “Do your job!” I soon learned that only difference between an Amazon warehouse and a third-world sweatshop were the robots. At Amazon, you were surrounded by bots, and they were treated better than the humans. After passing an online test that included organizing boxes on the back of a truck, I went to orientation at the Hilton Garden Inn with 50 or 60 others, an across-the-board mix of people from Staten Island, Brooklyn and New Jersey. A very enthusiastic woman from the South in T-shirt and jeans — that’s the uniform — bragged that Amazon was the “best” company, “beyond huge.” She reeled off all the perks: Stock shares. Employee discounts. Full benefits. Four-day work weeks, with not a ton of mandatory OT. I was sold. And the pay was awesome — $16 and change an hour. The Staten Island fulfillment center was an antiseptic, four-story warehouse known as JFK8. They name the buildings after the closest airport in the state to the location. They told us it was big enough to fit 18 football fields inside. I would soon learn that the sheer size of the place is a big problem for workers.On the first day, about 100 of us newbies gathered in a conference room, and a bunch of managers got up to talk. They were all the same. They all drank the Kool-Aid. They all said, “This is the best place to work.” Looking back, it was cult-like. They assigned me as a “stower.” I stocked shelves, called racks. Squat, square orange robots — they looked like an ugly cousin to the Roomba — carried 8-foot-tall yellow racks with dozens of compartments. The bots would whiz around to the stowers and stop. Somebody called a “water spider” would bring me boxes of items to stow. I would lift the items out of the box, scan them and put each item into a compartment in the rack. When the rack was full, I pressed a button, and the robot would zip away with the rack, and another robot would arrive with an empty rack for me to fill.

 How poor people survive in the USA  - DW Documentary YouTube -- Homelessness, hunger and shame: poverty is rampant in the richest country in the world. Over 40 million people in the United States live below the poverty line, twice as many as it was fifty years ago. It can happen very quickly.Many people in the United States fall through the social safety net. In the structurally weak mining region of the Appalachians, it has become almost normal for people to go shopping with food stamps. And those who lose their home often have no choice but to live in a car. There are so many homeless people in Los Angeles that relief organizations have started to build small wooden huts to provide them with a roof over their heads. The number of homeless children has also risen dramatically, reaching 1.5 million, three times more than during the Great Depression the 1930s. A documentary about the fate of the poor in the United States today. We closed the commentary section because of too many inapproriate comments.

L.A.'s Head Of Homelessness Resigns After 33% Increase in People Sleeping On Streets - Los Angeles’ head of homelessness is resigning after presiding over a 33% increase in homelessness over the course of just five years. Peter Lynn, head of the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, announced that he would leave at the end of the year, with the LAHSA having splashed out a total of more than $780 million to no avail. The city’s homeless population jumped a further 12% from 2018 to 2019 but despite Lynn’s total failure, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti claimed he did an excellent job and oversaw “historic action.” One wonders how badly Lynn would have had to perform for officials to consider his tenure a failure. Lynn’s $242,000-a-year role appears to have had little success in addressing not just homelessness, but also the directly related problems of leprosy, typhoid fever and even bubonic plague. Earlier this year, Dr. Drew Pinsky said the public health situation in America’s second largest city was in utter turmoil. “We have a complete breakdown of the basic needs of civilization in Los Angeles right now,” said Pinsky. 1.5 per cent of rats in L.A. now carry bubonic plague. If that figure hits 2 per cent, the medieval disease will start jumping to humans. In other words, if LA doesn’t sort out its trash problem and its homeless problem, the return of bubonic plague is virtually guaranteed.

South Florida UPS driver, motorist killed in reckless police shootout in rush hour traffic -- A Miami, Florida area UPS driver was killed in a shootout Thursday between police and two carjackers who had taken the driver hostage and commandeered his vehicle after fleeing a jewelry store robbery in the wealthy suburb of Coral Gables. Another innocent bystander was also killed, along with the carjackers. The UPS worker, Frank Ordonez, a 27-year-old father of two, was working as driver alone for the first time, covering the route for a co-worker who had called-in sick. The incident started around 4 p.m. on Thursday when the two unidentified men attempted to rob a jewelry store located in the upscale shopping district known as Miracle Mile. This resulted in a shootout with the store owner and the men fleeing the scene. A woman in the store at the time was reportedly injured.As the shootout spilled out onto the street, bullets struck nearby buildings, including city hall. The two robbers reportedly abandoned their getaway vehicle and then hijacked the UPS truck driven by Ordonez, who was in the area making a delivery.The robbers then led police on a high-speed chase across Dade and Broward counties, ending miles away in Miramar when the UPS truck got stuck on Miramar Parkway, a section of I-75, during rush hour traffic. At least nineteen police officers then surrounded the vehicle on three sides and began exchanging fire with the two criminals. In video of the incident police officers can be seen taking cover behind vehicles with drivers and passengers still inside, unable to escape the deadly gridlock.Police officers from five different agencies participated in the shootout, firing at least 200 rounds. As footage of the incident spread social media users denounced the police for recklessly opening fire while Ordonez was still being held hostage and endangering innocent bystanders caught in the hail of bullets. One video posted on social media showed police firing dozens of shots at one of the robbers through the passenger side door as Ordonez, on his knees, tried to crawl to safety. It was at this time that he was likely killed by police gunfire.

An Oregon town couldn’t afford to hire cops for the night shift, so it proposed installing security cameras manned by volunteers who can identify ‘hardcore criminals’ just by looking at them -- A small Oregon town that can’t afford to employ police officers for night shifts plans to install security cameras and recruit a group of volunteers to man them.Cave Junction’s city council voted unanimously last month to install eight cameras on streetlights and give a local group access to the live feeds. The proposal still needs final approval from Josephine County officials.The idea has sparked condemnation from civil-rights advocates who have raised concerns about racial profiling – especially after one town official said the volunteers would be able to identify “hardcore criminals” just by looking at them.“They can identify by the way that they dress, because they have a certain apparel that they wear all the time, the way that they walk, sometimes they carry certain things with them all the time – it could be something as simple as a skateboard,” Rebecca Patton, Cave Junction’s city recorder, told Jefferson Public Radio. “But they have learned to identify these people very quickly and then they know how to respond.”Patton added that the volunteers will not receive formal training but that she might implement “some sort of background check” before giving them access to the live feeds. One local group tweeted, “Civil rights violation incoming in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”

A Facebook rumor about white vans is spreading fear across America - Terrifying rumors initially propelled by Facebook's algorithms have sparked fears that men driving white vans are kidnapping women all across the United States for sex trafficking and to sell their body parts. While there is no evidence to suggest this is happening, much less on a national, coordinated scale, a series of viral Facebook (FB) posts created a domino effect that led to the mayor of a major American city issuing a warning based on the unsubstantiated claims.  The latest online-induced panic shows how viral Facebook posts can stoke paranoia and make people believe that spotting something as common as a white van, can be deemed suspicious and connected to a nationwide cabal.  "Don't park near a white van," Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young said in a TV interview on Monday. "Make sure you keep your cellphone in case somebody tries to abduct you."   The mayor said he had not been told of the apparent threat by Baltimore Police but said it was "all over Facebook."  Matthew Jablow, a spokesperson for the Baltimore Police Department, told CNN Business on Tuesday that while the department is aware of posts on social media it had not received "any reports of actual incidents."

Tales From the Teenage Cancel Culture - The New York Times --A few weeks ago, Neelam, a high school senior, was sitting in class at her Catholic school in Chicago. After her teacher left the room, a classmate began playing “Bump N’ Grind,” an R. Kelly song.  Neelam asked the boy and his cluster of friends to stop playing the track, but he shrugged off the request. “‘It’s just a song,’” she said he replied. “‘We understand he’s in jail and known for being a pedophile, but I still like his music.’” She was appalled. They were in a class about social justice. They had spent the afternoon talking about Catholicism, the common good and morality. The song continued to play.That classmate, who is white, had done things in the past that Neelam described as problematic, like casually using racist slurs — not name-calling — among friends. After class, she decided he was “canceled,” at least to her. Her decision didn’t stay private; she told a friend that week that she had canceled him. She told her mother too. She said that this meant she would avoid speaking or engaging with him in the future, that she didn’t care to hear what he had to say, because he wouldn’t change his mind and was beyond reason. …  It took some time for L to understand that she had been canceled. She was 15 and had just returned to a school she used to attend. “All the friends I had previously had through middle school completely cut me off,” she said. “Ignored me, blocked me on everything, would not look at me.”Months went by. Toward the end of sophomore year, she reached out over Instagram to a former friend, asking why people were not talking to her. It was lunchtime; the person she asked was sitting in the cafeteria with lots of people and so they all piled on. It was like an avalanche, L said. Within a few minutes she got a torrent of direct messages from the former friend on Instagram, relaying what they had said. One said she was a mooch. One said she was annoying and petty. One person said that she had ruined her self-esteem. Another said that L was an emotional leech who was thirsty for validation. “This put me in a situation where I thought I had done all these things,” L said. “I was bad. I deserved what was happening.” Two years have passed since then. “You can do something stupid when you’re 15, say one thing and 10 years later that shapes how people perceive you,” she said. “We all do cringey things and make dumb mistakes and whatever. But social media’s existence has brought that into a place where people can take something you did back then and make it who you are now.”

U.S. Students Fail to Make Gains Against International Peers  - Asian students remain far ahead of Americans; performance gap widens domestically - U.S. teenagers made no significant gains on an exam taken by students around the world, and continue to trail students in Asian countries. The exam, called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, is considered a barometer of future economic competitiveness and is given every three years. It covers math, reading and science and targets 15-year-olds in private and public schools. “The scores are flat. We’re struggling in math in comparison to our peers around the world,” said Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner of assessments for the National Center for Education Statistics. “We’re sliding with regard to our most struggling readers.”

How Dumb Have We Become- Chinese Students Are 4 Grade Levels Ahead Of US Students In Math -  How in the world is America supposed to remain “the greatest country on Earth” when other nations are absolutely running circles around us when it comes to education?  As you will see below, one survey found that 15-year-old students in China are almost four full grade levels ahead of 15-year-old students in the United States in mathematics.  This is one of the most damning indictments of our education system that I have ever come across, and it is yet another clear indication that what we are doing is simply not working.  Our children are not being given the tools that they need to compete in our modern society, and we have only ourselves to blame. Perhaps you are thinking that the survey must be flawed somehow. Well, this wasn’t some fluky survey that was only given to a handful of students.  Every three years, the Program for International Student Assessment evaluates 15-year-old students all over the world in a variety of subject areas, and in 2018 approximately 32 million students participatedThe Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a survey given to 15-year-old students around the world every three years, which tests the core subjects of reading, mathematics, and science. In 2018, 79 countries and economies participated, representing about 32 million 15-year-olds.  When your sample size is 32 million students, I think that it is safe to say that the results of the survey should be taken seriously.  And what the survey discovered is that U.S. students continue to fall behind in math.  In particular, we have fallen way, way behind the Chinese.  The following comes from Psychology TodayThere is no excuse for the US when students in Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang (B-S-J-Z) performed near four grade levels ahead of US students in mathematics.In addition, the survey also discovered that the “most disadvantaged” students in China actually performed on par with the average U.S. student“The 10% most disadvantaged students in Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang (B-S-J-Z) or in Macao or Estonia… those students actually do as well or better than the average student in the US. So clearly some countries do better with their disadvantaged students, where you see less variability with students from the most privileged backgrounds,” said Andreas Schleicher.What in the world has happened to us? We used to have the best education system in the entire world, but now we have become a nation of drooling idiots that can’t even think straight.

Maryland school district officials adopt calendar that gives off Muslim holiday - Elected officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, which lies just outside of Washington, D.C., voted Tuesday to give students a day off on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. The change will go into effect for the 2020-2021 school year, designating May 13 as a teacher professional day so students can celebrate the holiday, the Washington Post reported. College Board, the organization that facilitates testing for Advanced Placement classes, said tests planned for May 13 will be given a second time for Montgomery County students on May 18. Muslim parents and students pressed for the day off at a recent school board meeting, the Washington Post reported. Montgomery County makes up Maryland’s largest school system with an enrollment of more than 165,000 students, and it gives students the day off for two Jewish holidays and multiple days around Christmas and Easter. “This is a big victory for our students,” said Samira Hussein, a longtime advocate for the move told the Washington Post. “They will feel accepted and acknowledged by their teachers, their Board of Education, their superintendent.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil liberties organization, applauded the shift and the school board for lobbying the College Board to make the calendar work for students. The organization said the action shows “a strong commitment to inclusivity, diversity and equity.” “This kind of decision sends a message to these students that you are not only welcome here but you belong here and you are celebrated here — we want you to feel like you have a place in the school system,” Zainab Chaudry, the organization's director of Maryland outreach told the Washington Post. The calendar will also give students the day off for Lunar New Year, which is celebrated by many Asian families. That date will fall on Feb. 12, 2021 in the 2020-2021 school year.

Ontario high school teachers stage one-day walkout Wednesday - More than 60,000 Ontario high school teachers will walk off the job today in opposition to the sweeping cuts the provincial Conservative government is making to education and their terms of employment. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) has said that the walkout will be called off if a deal is reached with government negotiators by midnight Tuesday. But by all accounts that is an impossibility. “In three and a half days of bargaining,” said OSSTF President Harvey Bishof Tuesday afternoon, “they have not made one proposal to move things forward.” The one-day strike, the first province-wide walkout by Ontario high school teachers in 22 years, is indicative of teachers’ determination to resist real-terms wage cuts, increased class sizes, the slashing of support staff, and the introduction of mandatory e-learning courses. In a strike vote last month, the teachers, who have been working without a contract since August 31, voted 95.5 percent in favour of strike action. The fact that teachers have remained on the job without a contract for over three months and are now only striking for one day is due solely to the right-wing politics of the OSSTF leadership. The union is determined to head off a direct clash between the working class and Ontario’s right-wing populist premier, Doug Ford, and his Tory government. From the outset, the OSSTF and the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) have sought to prevent a teachers strike, including by appealing to the anti-worker Ontario Labour Relations Board to intervene in stalled bargaining with the government. Only when confronted with an overwhelming strike vote and fearing that the opposition among teachers could escape its control did union president Harvey Bischof and his fellow bureaucrats sanction a one-day walkout. The OSSTF’s stalling and the refusal of the four Ontario teachers’ unions to join forces against a government manifestly intent on bludgeoning the teachers and public education has handed the initiative to Ford and his henchmen, who have savaged spending on public education and other critical services in the 18 months since they came to power.

Ontario teachers strike against government assault on public education – I joined a one-day, Ontario-wide strike Wednesday, the first province-wide teachers’ strike in over two decades. The strike, directed against a sweeping assault on public education by Ontario’s Doug Ford-led Conservative government, won widespread support from parents and students. Ontario’s teachers, who are divided into four separate unions, have been working without contracts since late August. Over 95 percent of the members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the union that called Wednesday’s walkout, voted in favour of strike action last month, expressing their deep opposition to the Tories’ demands for a substantial increase in class sizes, a cut in real wages, and deep cuts to local education funding. As one striking teacher told the World Socialist Web Sitein Kitchener, “The main thing I want to say is that we are out here for the kids, not for ourselves. What Ford wants to do is absolutely terrible. If you don’t have a quality education system, how are you going to give students the tools they need? It’s hard enough for kids in this world as it is.” At picket lines across the province, passing motorists honked their horns in support. High school students joined marches to support teachers, including in Toronto.

Buttigieg: ‘I was slow to realize’ South Bend schools were not integrated -- South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) said Sunday during a campaign stop in North Carolina that he had wrongly assumed in the past that desegregation had been successful in his county's schools. Buttigieg, one of the top-tier candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, said at the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro that he was previously under the "illusion" that public schools in St. Joseph County were largely integrated before learning that most minority students in the county were confined to one school district: South Bend's community school district, which is independent from the city itself. "I have to confess that I was slow to realize — I worked for years under the illusion that our schools in my city were integrated ... But what I slowly realized ... if you looked at the county, almost all of the diversity of our youths was in a single school district," he said in an interview with Rev. William Barber III, a prominent civil rights activist. His comments on the issue come as Buttigieg has worked to improve his poll numbers among African American voters, a key demographic that will decide several delegate-rich Southern states during the Democratic primary including South Carolina, the third contest of the primary season. The mayor recently announced a program to incentivize integration of local school districts on the basis of race and economic background backed by a $500 million grant fund.

AOC Schools Mayor Pete on Why Means Testing Free College Is Such a Bad Idea - Jerri-lynn Scofield - -- Here’s the tweet, which embeds the Buttigieg ad that triggered AOC’s response. Although not named, the ad is clearly targeted at the free public college for all plans of Senator Sanders and Warren. Do make thirty seconds to view the ad that is embedded in the tweet. At the moment, I don’t have a functioning TV, so I’m blessedly insulated from some of the worst electoral nonsense. Until I saw the ad, I just didn’t realize how smarmy Buttigieg is. If you’re similarly innocent, it’s high time to dispel your ignorance. For those who don’t use twitter much, if you click on the little blue > in the lower right -hand corner, you can see the entire thread.  But, don’t worry, I’ll discuss each of AOC’s points briefly. Her points are a necessary corrective to neoliberal nonsense and far more useful than the silly advice on how to talk to friends and family about politics over the holiday dinner table.  Let’s take AOC’s points in turn.

  • 1. Universal public systems are designed to benefit EVERYBODY! Everyone contributes & everyone enjoys. We don’t ban the rich from public schools, firefighters, or libraries bc they are public goods.  This translates the larger policy issue into an example everyone can understand. Although private fire companies date back to 1699 in England, they long ago became a public good, and even Margaret Thatcher milk snatcher didn’t seek to revive them.
  • 2. Universal systems that benefit everyone are stronger bc everyone’s invested! Message: we’re all in this together. There’s an alternative to the neoliberal dog eat dog universe. No division between haves and have nots. Can’t argue with that.
  • 3. When you start carving people out & adding asterisks to who can benefit from goods that should be available to all, cracks in the system develop. Yes, and we then find ourselves squabbling among ourselves for the meager spoils, accepting the artificial constraint imposed by a public budget many of our betters try and erroneously compare to a household budget – rather than heeding the lessons of modern monetary theory (MMT).
  • 4. Many children of the elite want to go to private, Ivyesque schools anyway, which aren’t covered by tuition-free public college! I happen to think that those who attend or aspire to the elite private universities would also benefit from a universal free public college whether or not they or their progeny avail themselves directly of its benefits. The very existence of free public college for all might lead more people to ask:  how much better is Stanford than Berkeley, to take just one example, of which there are many. If enough people decide the answer is – not so much –  that might then force private institutions to reduce their fees to attract the most talented students.
  • 5. Lastly, and I can’t believe we have to remind people of this, but it’s GOOD to have classrooms (from pre-k through college!) to be socioeconomically integrated. Having students from different incomes & backgrounds in the same classroom is good for society & economic mobility.

Mixing up socioeconomic classes. This is necessary for us to revitalize communities and is  is a very important point to emphasize, particularly during the festive season. And to bring in another point, that I made in an earlier post this week about health care (and that Yves and others have previously made many times): the extreme inequality we see and the erosion of a sense of community doesn’t just hurt the poorest among us. It also affects the health of the entire population.

Harvard University grad students set to strike over pay, grievance procedures, healthcare - Graduate students at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts are poised to strike Tuesday after last-minute negotiations between their union and university officials failed to reach an agreement. Some 2,500 of Harvard’s more than 4,000 grad students voted in October to authorize a strike. The Harvard Graduate Students Union–United Automobile Workers (HGWU-UAW) and the administration reportedly have not reached an agreement on sticking points in the agreement, including on pay packages and grievance procedures for sexual harassment complaints filed by graduate students. Grad students at Harvard help teach classes, grade papers and work in research labs. Most classes are coming to the end for the term, but a strike could potentially cancel tutoring sessions for undergraduate students and delay the grading of tests and papers. The university has called on faculty to do the work of graduate students and scab on them in the event of a strike. Forty-five members of the Class of 1969 sent a letter to Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow on November 17, calling on him to improve pay and job security for graduate students and non-tenure-track faculty. According to their analysis, 65 percent of teachers at the university are not tenured or on the tenure track. Provost Alan M. Garber has responded to grad students’ demands, identifying that there are a number of “core issues” that remain outstanding in the negotiations. He said that allowing collective bargaining over “financial aid, grades, and assessment of academic achievement” is “unacceptable,” because these are academic issues. Specifically, the university’s proposal would bar the union from negotiating over the terms of graduate student workers’ stipends, which are the meager financial payments received by the grad students. HGWU-UAW wants compensation proposals to include provisions covering the stipends. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean income of graduate teaching assistants is just $36,390. By contrast, former Harvard President Drew G. Faust made just over $1.7 million in compensation in 2017, her last full year as president. Current president Bacow’s compensation will not be released until next year.

 Harvard University graduate student union begins strike over pay, conditions - Graduate students at Harvard University began strike action on Tuesday after negotiations between their union and the administration failed to reach an agreement on Monday. Several hundred members of the Harvard Graduate Students Union–United Automobile Workers (HGWU-UAW) began picketing at 10 a.m. in Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Some 2,500 of the university’s more than 4,000 grad students voted in October to authorize a strike. After more than a year of negotiations, and 28 bargaining sessions, the two sides have failed to come to an agreement on key issues, including healthcare, compensation and sexual harassment and discrimination grievance procedures. HGWU-UAW members include teaching fellows, course assistants and graduate research assistants. Participating union members will stop their paid instructional work, including maintaining office hours and grading assignments and exams. Striking research assistants will withhold 20 hours of paid research work not related to their personal academic program. During the last bargaining session Monday, the union offered sizeable concessions to the university. On wages, HGSU is now asking for a 5 percent wage increase this year and 3.5 percent in each subsequent years of the contract, down from its previous demand of a 4.25 percent annual wage increase for salaried research assistants and hourly workers, and a 5 percent annual increase for salaried teaching staff. HGSU also reduced its demand on minimum wages for grad student workers. The union had previously asked for $28 to $34 per hour, depending on academic discipline, but is now asking for only $25 per hour, or 5 percent above the current rate for all workers. Union negotiators also significantly altered proposals on dental and healthcare coverage for members’ adult dependents. HGSU also changed its threshold for members to be eligible for benefits from about seven hours per week to “an average of 17.5 hours/week” in a semester. Proposals for retirement and professional development benefits were also withdrawn. Harvard graduate students on the picket line Despite the union’s concessions on virtually all provisions of the contract, the administration has remained intransigent. The university has indicated that no additional bargaining sessions have been scheduled, according to Harvard spokesman Jonathan L. Swain. Swain wrote in an email Monday that the university believes that a strike is “unwarranted.”

Harvard University retaliates against striking graduate students - The administration of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts has begun to retaliate against the strike by graduate students, which began on Tuesday. Members of the Harvard Graduate Students Union–United Automobile Workers (HGSU–UAW) struck on both the Cambridge and Longwood campuses of the Ivy League school after more than a year of negotiations and 28 bargaining sessions failed to reach an agreement. The strike has already caused the cancellation of some tutoring sessions for undergraduate students and delays in the grading of tests and papers. UPS drivers organized in Teamsters Local 25 have refused to cross picket lines to deliver packages. Grad students help teach classes, grade papers and work in research labs. The university had called on faculty to do the work of graduate students and scab on them in the event of a strike. If the strike continues, it could disrupt exams, which begin December 10. In an attempt at intimidation, several academic departments emailed graduate student teaching staff asking whether they are participating in the strike, prompting anger among striking union members and faculty. The memo, which was originally sent to Government Department affiliates by Chair Jeffry A. Frieden, informed graduate students that they are responsible for reporting whether they are working and that those who strike should not expect to be paid. University faculty were also reminded that they are “management” and are responsible for their “instructional responsibilities.” In a statement, Frieden wrote that he has “emailed all graduate students who are serving as Teaching Fellows to ask if they are working,” and to inform them that “We are collecting that information, as requested by the administration.” Other departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences later sent out similar memos to their graduate students and faculty. “Please respond to this email to confirm whether or not you intend to fulfill your responsibilities as a Teaching Fellow,” reads a segment included in some emails from administrators at Harvard Divinity School, the Physics Department and the African and African American Studies departments. “Please note that by not responding to this message, you are confirming your decision to strike.” Administrators from other departments, including the Classics, Celtic Languages and Literatures, Astronomy, Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Germanic Languages and Literatures departments, declined to send similar emails to students.

The top 10 college majors American students regret the most -College is a significant investment that comes with the hope of a better, richer life. It doesn’t always work out that way.Some experts say the value of a bachelor’s degree is fading. Starting salaries for new college graduates have grown less than 1% over the past two years, remaining at around $50,000.Worse yet: A decade after leaving school, more than 1 in 5 graduates are working in a job that doesn’t even require a degree. However, obtaining a diploma is almost always worth it in the long run, according to “The College Payoff,” a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.Bachelor’s degree holders generally earn 84% more than those with just a high school diploma, the report said — and the higher the level of educational attainment, the larger the payoff.When broken down by areas of study, however, the difference is striking. Students who pursue a major specifically in science, technology, engineering and math — collectively known as STEM disciplines — are projected to earn the most overall. In addition to STEM, health and business majors are among the highest paying, leading to average annual wages that are higher at entry level and significantly greater over the course of a career compared to liberal arts and humanities majors, the Georgetown Center found. All in, the top-paying college majors earn $3.4 million more than the lowest-paying majors over a lifetime. Of course, income isn’t the only consideration. After adding in satisfaction, stress level and job opportunities, among other factors, jobs marketplace ZipRecruiter found that the majors college students most regretted choosing spanned the arts and sciences. English, communications, biological sciences and law all made the list, according to ZipRecruiter’s survey of more than 5,000 college graduates who were looking for a job. “This generation, more than any other that came before it, is looking for work with purpose and meaning,” said ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel.“They are more aware of what their peers are doing” he added, and “it creates a little bit of the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ effect.” On the upside, students who focused on computer science, business, engineering and health administration felt very good about their choices, ZipRecruiter found.

The Student Loan Bubble - Gambling With Your Future - The student loan bubble continues to inflate. Student loan balances jumped by $32.9 billion in the third quarter this year, pushing total outstanding student loan debt to a new record. Student loan balances have grown by 5.1% year-on-year.Over the last decade, student loan debt has grown by 120%.  Student loan balances now equal to 7.6% of GDP. That’s up from 5.1% in 2009. This despite the fact that college enrollment dropped by 7% between 2010 and 2017, with enrollment projected to remain flat.In a nutshell, we have fewer students borrowing more money to finance their educations.Before the government got involved, college wasn’t all that expensive. It was government policy that made it unaffordable. And not only did it manage to dramatically drive up the cost of a college education, but it also succeeded in destroying the value of that degree. Actual studies have shown the influx of government-backed student loan money into the university system is directly linked to the surging cost of a college education. Millions of Americans carrying this massive debt burden is a big enough problem in-and-of-itself. But it becomes an even more significant issue when you realize the American taxpayer is on the hook for most of this debt. Education Secretary Betsy Devos admitted that the spiraling level of student debt has “very real implications for our economy and our future.” The student loan program is not only burying students in debt, it is also burying taxpayers and it’s stealing from future generations.”. Despite the campaign rhetoric coming out of the Democratic Party presidential primary debates, it seems highly unlikely Congress will do what is necessary to address the growing student loan bubble. And the Democrats’ solution seems to be to simply erase the debt – as if you can just make more than $1 trillion vanish without serious implications.

How Biden helped create the student debt problem he now promises to fix  - In 10 weeks’ time Joe Biden will lay “Joe’s vision for America” at the feet of Iowa’s caucus-goers in the hope that the first voters in the Democratic presidential race will put him on the road to the White House. Among his promises is that he will fix the student loan crisis saddling 45 million Americans with crippling debt now totalling a staggering $1.5tn. One idea is to allow people struggling to repay private student loans owed to banks and credit card companies to discharge them in bankruptcy. The pledge is one of the most striking policies on offer from Democratic candidates in the 2020 race, given how the problem Biden now proposes to resolve came about in the first place. Private student loans were largely stripped of bankruptcy protections in 2005 in a congressional move that had the devastating impact of tripling such debt over a decade and locking in millions of Americans to years of grueling repayments. The Republican-led bill tightened the bankruptcy code, unleashing a huge giveaway to lenders at the expense of indebted student borrowers. At the time it faced vociferous opposition from 25 Democrats in the US Senate. But it passed anyway, with 18 Democratic senators breaking ranks and casting their vote in favor of the bill. Of those 18, one politician stood out as an especially enthusiastic champion of the credit companies who, as it happens, had given him hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions – Joe Biden. Student debt has become a hot-button issue on the Democratic campaign trail. Candidates are vying to position themselves as having the most radical solution to the crisis, which now holds more than one in three young adults in its grip as well as 3 million Americans beyond the age of 60 still laboring to honor college loans they took out decades ago. More than 1 million people default on their student loans every year. By 2023 the proportion of borrowers falling behind with repayments is expected to reach 40% – puncturing a massive hole in the system. But very little discussion has been devoted to how this monumental disaster came about. How was it, for instance, that the sum of outstanding educational loans borrowed from private financial entities shot up from $56bn in 2005 to $150bn in just 10 years – contributing to an overall student debt burden second in the US only to home mortgages.

Congress told 80,000 firefighters and teachers it would forgive their student loans. Over 10 years later, a tangle of mismanagement has kept them from receiving anything. -  Despite Congress promising widespread student loan forgiveness over 10 years ago, over 80,000 workers — many of them teachers, police officers, and firefighters — have yet to see their debt removed.  Congress created the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) in 2007 to encourage graduates to go into low-paying but necessary jobs — such as teaching and law enforcement — without worrying about paying off student loans. Qualifying graduates need to work full-time for federal, state, and local government agencies, make 120 on-time payments, and work a decade in their respected field.Yet since 2017, the first loan forgiveness year, more than 80,000 professionals had been denied student loan debt forgiveness, according to a New York Times report by Erica L. Green and Stacy Cowley. Fewer than 1% of applicants in 2017 got accepted that year. The writers reported that mismanagement, poor record keeping, and miscommunication from the forgiveness program are to blame.  The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, the unit that manages PSLF and has a contractual relationship with the Department of Higher Education, failed to accurately track monthly payments for the PLSF applicants, the Times reported. The agency told many applicants they were on track for loan forgiveness, but ended up rejecting their application for not meeting requirements.  "When the PSLF program was written more than a decade ago, the Department provided technical assistance to Congress and made Congress aware that only a small fraction of borrowers would qualify," US Department of Education Press Secretary Angela Morabito told Business Insider in a statement. "Since the legislation was passed, the Department has been faithfully implementing the program as it was written." The reported shoddy management of PSLF has driven some professions, most notably teaching, into a crisis. Public school teachers already earn nearly 20% less than other jobs that require a bachelor's degree, and many of them get even higher levels of education. The American Federation of Teachers unionsued the Department of Education for failing to step in and correct the mistakes. A union-sponsored survey found a third of teachers have defaulted on their student loans. Some jobs that qualify for public service loan forgiveness havehigher rates of depression and suicide than the general population. Emergency responders have higher rates of suicide than the general public, and many of them work multiple jobs to make ends meet,MONEY Magazine's Kristen Bahler reported. Some of the rejections are due to miscommunication on part of private loan servicers. Congress mandated all PSLF applicants take out federal loans, not bank loans, and to pay back the debt using a program tied to their incomes. Many applicants weren't aware of these rules, the Times reported.

US Fertility Rate Hit Record Low In 2018 -  The US fertility rate dropped for the fourth straight year in 2018, and has fallen approximately 15% since 2007, according to the National Center for Health Statistics - which reports that there were 59.1 births for every 1,000 women of childbearing age. In total, 3,791,712 births were recorded across the country last year - extending a steep decline that began during the 2008 Recession, according to the New York Times.  As one user in Reddit's "Childfree" forum notes: "Babies are expensive, and we're all broke," to which another user replied "Also, pregnancy and its effects on the body are gross and not worth it." There you go.

Concussions, broken bones, and more: a week of football in the U.S. News about concussions and other injuries to young football players appears with alarming frequency, as do reports of the long-term damageto NFL players.Young pro players are leaving the game for fear of permanent harm to their brains and bodies. Last month, Joshua Perry discussed his retirement at age 24 after suffering six concussions. He’s following in the footsteps of A.J. Tarpley, who retired at age 23, also because of concussion concerns.In March, USA Today called for a ban on tackle football for kids under 14, and one month later the journal Pediatrics reported results from a survey in which a majority of parents who responded supported age restrictions on tackling. Still, as our third annual Football Injury Highlight Reel attests, the injuries keep coming. As in the 2018 and 2017 editions, this year’s emphasizes injuries among youths, because those under 18 represent the overwhelming majority of football players in the United States. We include pro stats as a comparison and to indicate the persistence and prevalence of injuries.College football injuries, which number in the several hundred already this season and include a number of season-ending injuries, could easily fill their own article. On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a feature exploring whether the millions of fans of college football “worry about the physical price its players pay.”This year we also include concussions, both because of the threat to developing brains they pose and because they have been the subject of so much reporting over the past year. These reels are just a snapshot of the monthslong football season.

If ‘Pain Is an Opinion,’ There Are Ways to Change Your Mind -- Some days I’m grumpy; other times, my head hurts or my feet or my arms do. Yet when I play the trumpet, my mood improves and the pain disappears. Why?  Alternative medicine — including music therapy — is full of pain-relief claims. Although some are simply too good to be true, the oddities of pain can explain why others hold up, as well as why my trumpet playing helps.  One thing we tend to believe about pain, but is wrong, is that it always stems from a single, fixable source. Another is that pain is communicated from that source to our brains by “pain nerves.” That’s so wrong it’s called “the naïve view” by neuroscientists.  In truth, pain is in our brain. Or as neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran put it, “Pain is an opinion.” We feel it because of how our brain interprets input transmitted to it from all our senses, not necessarily because of the inherent properties of the input itself. There are no nerves dedicated to sensing and transmitting pain.  Pain can be experienced and relieved in phantom limbs. Discomfort and swelling increase when people believe a painful hand or knee is larger. They decrease when it seems smaller, for example in a distorted image or based on virtual reality technology. Injections are less painful when we don’t watch them. Nobody wants to hear, let alone believe, it’s made in our head. “Many pain patients say, ‘I know my pain is real because I can feel it,’” said Lorimer Moseley, a clinical scientist and pain researcher at the University of South Australia. “All pain is real, no matter what is causing it. But also, all pain is made by the brain in response to the information available to it.” According to his work and that of others, the degree of pain is not a reliable indicator of the severity of injury. And sometimes there is pain without any tissue damage at all.  An extreme example came from a 1995 report in the British Medical Journal. A builder jumped onto a nearly six-inch nail, which penetrated his boot’s sole, the tip visibly protruding from its top. To relieve his excruciating pain, doctors administered fentanyl and a sedative. But, when they removed the boot, the doctors discovered that the nail had passed between his toes, leaving his foot unharmed.  If something in the mind — fear — can make pain worse, can some other thoughts or mood make it better? Yes, to an extent.

Why Hospitals Never Have Enough Nurses: The Explanatory Power of “Prasad’s Law” of Wealth Concentration - There’s a huge amount of money that floats around our medical system (about 18% of GDP), and yet, for some things, there is never enough money. One of those things there is never enough money for is truly adequate nurse staffing in hospitals. A recent story in the Houston Chronicle about a recently released CMS report on MD Andersonrelates how overworked nurses there are, resulting in problems such as inadequate monitoring that have led to deaths.The report concluded that MD Anderson’s inadequate number of licensed registered nurses “to provide care to all patients to meet their needs” resulted in “an inability to provide care ordered for the patient.”MD Anderson is a very wealthy institution, but . . . that didn’t prevent this. There is seemingly never enough money for adequate nurse staffing.In a similar vein, Andy Lazris laments in his book, Curing Medicare, that he can easily arrange, with the stroke of a pen, to overtest and overtreat and hospitalize his patients, but it’s impossible for him to arrange home assistance or meal delivery, and – though sometimes possible – crazy difficult and time-consuming for him to get home health visits or an electric wheelchair for his patients.Vinay Prasad, the hematologist-oncologist who, with Adam Cifu, wrote Ending Medical Reversaland who hosts the Plenary Sessionpodcasts, complains in those podcasts that there are a number of things patients really need that he is powerless to get for them (e.g. rides to his office); but, with no problem, he can order up marginally effective and super-expensive chemotherapy regimens. Prasad has a theory about which actions that would improve patient health will get paid for by the “system” and why. He elaborates on this (while acknowledging he doesn’t have proof) in a discussion with Dr. Stacie Dusetzina (Plenary Session podcast 1.67 from 44.50 minutes into the podcast onward) and in a discussion with Dr. Gilbert Welch (Plenary Session 2.21 1.55 into the podcast). My briefer version of Prasad’s Law (as I’m dubbing it) is:  Prasad’s Law: Medical goods and services that concentrate wealth can be paid for; medical goods and services that disperse wealth are “unaffordable.” I think this is an enlightening law with broad explanatory power; and I imagine each reader can think of their own examples.

This Doctors Group Is Owned by a Private Equity Firm and Repeatedly Sued the Poor Until We Called Them — After nine visits to the emergency room at Baptist Memorial Hospital in 2016 and 2017, Jennifer Brooks began receiving bills from an entity she’d never heard of, Southeastern Emergency Physicians. Unsure what the bills were for, Brooks, a stay-at-home mother, said she ignored them until they were sent to collections. She made payment arrangements, but when she was late, she said the collection agency demanded $500, which she didn’t have. In December, Southeastern sued her for more than $8,500 in unpaid bills — a third of what her husband makes per year as a cook. The case against Brooks is one of more than 4,800 lawsuits Southeastern has filed against patients in Shelby County General Sessions Court since 2017. In the first six months of this year, Southeastern filed more lawsuits than local hospitals Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Baptist and Regional One combined. Lawsuits against poor patients over unpaid medical debts have received widespread media attention over the past few years. In almost all cases, the plaintiff has been a hospital system, often a nonprofit. What sets the practices of Southeastern, and its parent,TeamHealth, apart is that it is a physician staffing firm that contracts with the doctors who treat patients in four of Baptist’s emergency rooms around the region. Physicians historically have avoided suing patients en masse, instead choosing to send unpaid bills to collections or writing them off as bad debt. TeamHealth is owned by the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm. In 2017, Blackstone acquired TeamHealth and its subsidiary Southeastern in a $6.1 billion deal. It was just one in a growing number of large private equity investments in health care in the last decade. TeamHealth initially defended the lawsuits in an interview with MLK50 and ProPublica, saying they reserved legal action only for patients who’d made no attempt to pay. But late last week, faced with additional questions by the news organizations, the company reversed course, issuing a statement saying it would no longer sue patients and wouldn’t pursue the lawsuits it has already filed. “It’s difficult to ensure that only patients with a strong ability to pay are ultimately impacted, so we’ve decided to eliminate it,” a TeamHealth spokesman said.

Opening of Formerly Secret FDA Database Exposes Medical Device Failures, Spurring Lawsuits - Lorraine Bonner felt as though she was the only one. The surgical staples used to seal her colon after surgery had leaked, she has alleged in a lawsuit, spurring additional surgeries and a long, difficult recovery. And then, just over a year after the ordeal, she read a Kaiser Health News investigation that described worse cases. KHN revealed that the Food and Drug Administration had allowed stapler maker Covidien to quietly file tens of thousands of reports of stapler malfunctions into a then-hidden database. Alarmed that others had been harmed and reports had been hidden, Bonner, a retired Oakland, Calif., doctor, decided to go forward with a lawsuit against the stapler maker. “If the information had been out there, then maybe Covidien would have changed the design of the staplers and made them safer,” she said, “and that would have obviated the problem in the first place.” Bonner’s lawsuit is one example of how a vast cache of records that were released this summer are taking on a life of their own. For almost 20 years, malfunctions and injuries linked to 108 medical devices, including dental implants and pacemaker leads, were funneled into an FDA database that few patients, doctors or even FDA officials knew existed. In 2016, for example, Covidien reported 84 injuries or malfunctions in the public database known as MAUDE, while nearly 10,000 incidents flowed into the hidden database, KHN reported in March. A few MAUDE reports mentioned the existence of an “alternative summary reporting” program, but until this summer, the FDA made that internal data available only through the Freedom of Information process, which can take up to two years.

Why It Was Easier to Be Skinny in the 1980s - A 2016 study published in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that it’s harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did, even at the same levels of food intake and exercise.The authors examined the dietary data of 36,400 Americans between 1971 and 2008 and the physical activity data of 14,419 people between 1988 and 2006. They grouped the data sets together by the amount of food and activity, age, and BMI. They found a very surprising correlation: A given person, in 2006, eating the same amount of calories, taking in the same quantities of macronutrients like protein and fat, and exercising the same amount as a person of the same age did in 1988 would have a BMI that was about 2.3 points higher. In other words, people today are about 10 percent heavier than people were in the 1980s, even if they follow the exact same diet and exercise plans.  In an interview, Kuk proffered three different factors that might be making harder for adults today to stay thin.  First, people are exposed to more chemicals that might be weight-gain inducing. Pesticides, flame retardants, and the substances in food packaging might all be altering our hormonal processes and tweaking the way our bodies put on and maintain weight.  Second, the use of prescription drugs has risen dramatically since the ‘70s and ‘80s. Prozac, the first blockbuster SSRI, came out in 1988. Antidepressants are now one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S., and many of them have been linked to weight gain. Finally, Kuk and the other study authors think that the microbiomes of Americans might have somehow changed between the 1980s and now. It’s well known that some types of gut bacteria make a person more prone to weight gain and obesity. Americans are eating more meat than they were a few decades ago, and many animal products are treated with hormones and antibiotics in order to promote growth. All that meat might be changing gut bacteria in ways that are subtle, at first, but add up over time. Kuk believes the proliferation of artificial sweeteners could also be playing a role.

This Ohio anti-abortion bill says that ectopic pregnancies can be moved to the uterus — but that isn't scientifically possible -- An Ohio state representative introduced a new bill [Ohio House Bill 182] last month, which aims to prohibit insurance coverage of abortions that occur where the mother's life is not "endangered if the fetus were carried to term." The bill includes exceptions, including one for a procedure that does not exist. GOP Rep. John Becker introduced House Bill 182, which allows for two situations where insurers could offer coverage for abortion services. One is a "procedure, in an emergency situation, that is medically necessary to save the pregnant woman's life." The other, the bill says, is a procedure for an ectopic pregnancy, "that is intended to reimplant the fertilized ovum into the pregnant woman's uterus." In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tubes outside the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy is not a viable pregnancy and it very often can put the mother's life at risk. The pregnancy either ends in a miscarriage or is ended with drugs or surgery. "An ectopic pregnancy cannot move or be moved to the uterus, so it always requires treatment," according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The exception in the bill for an ectopic pregnancy, therefore, is not scientifically possible. "That doesn't exist in the realm of treatment for ectopic pregnancy. You can't just re-implant. It's not a medical thing," said Jaime Miracle, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, earlier this month, according to the Statehouse News Bureau.

How safe is vaping? New human studies assess chronic harm to heart and lungs - Reports of lung injuries from e-cigarettes splash across the news these days, but the nicotine-delivery devices are also spawning a quieter worry: whether users risk long-term health effects that may not manifest for decades. Studies in animals and people are now starting to probe whether e-cigarettes pose chronic risks to the lungs and cardiovascular system and how the chemicals they contain might disrupt healthy biology. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices containing nicotine and other substances, such as solvents that dissolve the nicotine and flavorings that enhance their appeal. Heat converts the mix into an aerosol that users inhale. Manufacturers tout e-cigarettes as tools to help smokers quit, although data are mixed. But one thing is clear: Millions of young people who didn't smoke cigarettes have taken up vaping. And given that e-cigarettes vary more than conventional cigarettes in their chemical composition, "We're asking medical science to do a huge, heavy lift" to pinpoint health impacts across people, says James Stein, a preventive cardiologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He and others believe they have no choice but to try. This month, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute gave a boost to studies of acute and chronic effects when it announced supplemental funds for ongoing e-cigarette research, on which the institute spent $23 million this year. . Animal studies are already yielding clues about longer term effects of e-cigarette use. In September, a paper in The Journal of Clinical Investigation described mice exposed to e-cigarettes for 4 months, nearly one-quarter of their life span. Farrah Kheradmand, a pulmonologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, who led the work, says that, at first, "There was absolutely no emphysema, nothing" in the animals that inhaled aerosol from e-cigarettes. That finding jibes with earlier research showing combustion products are the cause of airway inflammation in smokers.

What’s behind the spike in death rates among young adults in Minnesota? If you pick up a newspaper and flip to the obituaries, you’ll mostly find the stories of long lives well-lived; of people with grandkids and great-grandkids, and veterans of wars fought long ago. But if you’ve noticed more and more people on those pages whose lives were cut short long before old age, it’s not just your imagination. Mortality rates are rising in Minnesota, caused by a combination of an aging population and a rise in so-called “deaths of despair.” No age group has seen a larger increase in death rates than young adults, ages 25 to 34. Between 2010 and 2017, rates of death for this group rose by more than a third in Minnesota, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. The increase in deaths among young adults mirrors national trends, and represents the fastest increase in death rates of any age group in that time period. That hasn’t escaped the notice of Dan Dahl, of Dahl Funeral Home in East Grand Forks and the former president of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association. “The older I get, the younger everyone else gets. I’m 59, and it used to be when I was 35, 35-year-olds didn’t die, it seemed like. It kind of sticks out now the older you get,” he said. “We’re not supposed to be burying our kids, our kids are supposed to be burying us.”

 U.S. regions hard hit by opioids to ditch class action, pursue own lawsuits (Reuters) - Local governments in regions hard hit by the U.S. opioid epidemic have opted out of massive litigation taking aim at the drug industry over the crisis, potentially weakening a novel legal mechanism created to help settle thousands of lawsuits. Overall, 98% of some 34,000 local governments agreed to be bound by a class action against companies such as drug distributor McKesson Corp, drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc, according to a Monday court filing. However, the 541 local governments that opted out included Florida’s Palm Beach County and counties in West Virginia, according to attorneys, raising the prospect that companies could face expensive trials even if they settled with the class. The two regions are among the hardest hit by the crisis, which has contributed to more than 400,000 deaths since 1997. Officials from Houston’s Harris County, one of the largest U.S. counties, have said it would opt out, meaning they would pursue their own lawsuit and not receive funds from a nationwide settlement. The court filing did not identify opt-outs. U.S. Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, who has been overseeing 2,600 consolidated opioid lawsuits, is pushing hard for a settlement to help get funds to those most in need in a timely fashion. He approved the novel “negotiation class” as a way to reassure companies that any deal to resolve the lawsuits would bind remaining governments and prevent them from filing a case. The lawsuits generally allege that drugmakers improperly marketed opioids while distributors and pharmacy chains failed to stop suspicious orders. The defendants deny the allegations. Typical class actions allow members to opt out after a settlement has been reached, but the negotiation class fixes the members first. Any settlement must be approved by 75% of the class. Lawyers said towns and counties less affected by the crisis had little reason to opt out, while areas ravaged by opioids, like West Virginia, had more incentive to pursue and control their own lawsuit.

‘Dark Waters’ Tells the Origin Story of a Public Health Nightmare. We’re Still Living It. - - About a third of the way into the film Dark Waters, Rob Bilott, has pieced together a harrowing story. DuPont has been dumping a chemical called “C8” into the air and water outside of its plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia, for decades, and withholding information about the dangers it posed to human health. Bilott gets out of bed, boots up a boxy PC from the early 2000s, and begins typing a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency outlining everything he’s gathered about DuPont’s cover-up. That letter became known as “Rob’s Famous Letter” among Bilott’s colleagues, as Nathaniel Rich reported in the New York Times Magazine article that inspired the film. If Bilott had never sent it, the world might still be blind to the dangers of C8 and other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known collectively as PFAS — a class of nearly 5,000 substances called “forever chemicals” because of how long they persist. The nickname is hardly an exaggeration. Some of them, like C8, literally never break down in the environment.So what do companies like DuPont use them for? PFAS are great for repelling water and fats, which makes them a miracle coating in a range of products, like non-stick pans, waterproof clothing, and food packaging. The chemicals have only been manufactured since the 1940s, when 3M first licensed them, but in their short tenure on earth, they have spread to every corner of the planet and made their way into the blood of 99 percent of all human beings. Scientists have found a probable link between C8 exposure and high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension. Dark Waters chronicles the true story of Bilott’s nearly 20-year battle to hold DuPont accountable. In the end, the story is triumphant: Bilott exposes the company’s cover-up, wins a class-action lawsuit, orchestrates the first major epidemiological study that links C8 to several diseases and cancers, and makes DuPont pay hundreds of millions of dollars to its victims and their families. The film offers a much-needed dose of hope that there are people out there fighting for a more safe, just, and honest world … and winning! But viewers should know that the battle is far from over. The story told in Dark Waters is really just the first chapter in a public health nightmare that’s continuing to play out all over the country.

House Democrats pull key PFAS provisions from defense bill - House Democrats have dropped their bid to include key provisions regulating PFAS in the annual defense bill, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations — a move that could imperil the bill's chances in the lower chamber. According to the sources, House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) have pulled from negotiations the provisions that would force the cleanup of the chemicals PFOA and PFOS under the Superfund law and to regulate them in drinking water. The Superfund provision, in particular, had been a major source of tension as House and Senate negotiators seek to finalize a deal on the defense bill this week. “Republicans have resisted Dem efforts for months to include strong PFAS provisions in the NDAA. This week, Democrats and Republicans were finally close to a good deal on PFAS provisions, but in a rush to quickly pass the NDAA, Chairman Smith — at the behest of Rep. Pallone — unilaterally took PFAS off the negotiating table,” one source said by email.  But a congressional aide said the move could imperil the bill's chances in the House, where 68 members said in October that they would vote against the defense bill if it did not include strong PFAS provisions. "How do House Democrats take a Senate provision and make it worse, not better, when this is an issue that is in pretty much every single member of Congress’ newspaper every single day?" the aide said. The aide said the conference report is in the final stages of completion to reconcile the House- and Senate-passed bills, H.R. 2500 (116) and S. 1790 (116).

Permanent Hair Dyes and Chemical Straighteners May Be Linked to Breast Cancer, Study Says - Two common beauty products—permanent hair dyes and chemical straighteners—may be associated with an elevated risk for breast cancer, according to a new studypublished in the International Journal of Cancer.  Hair dyes have been linked to other cancers before, though the research is inconclusive. Bladder and blood cancers have been examined most closely,according to the American Cancer Society, with the most consistent results pointing to a small increase in bladder cancer risk for salon employees. Meanwhile, most studies to date looking specifically at dye and breast cancer have not found a connection. The picture is similarly unclear for hair straighteners. While a major study using data from the mid-1990s did not find a link between straighteners and breast cancer, other, more recent studies have—and the researchers behind the new paper note that some straightening formulas popularized since the 1990s, namelykeratin treatments, have been found to either contain the carcinogen formaldehyde, or release it during the application process. The new study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, tracked 46,700 U.S. women enrolled in the Sister Study, which recruited breast-cancer-free women whose sisters had been diagnosed with the disease. At enrollment, the women ranged in age from 35 to 74. They answered questions about their health, lifestyle (including hair product use) and demographics at the beginning of the study, and provided researchers with updates over a follow-up period of, on average, eight years. More than half of the women reported use of permanent hair dyes in the year before they joined the study, and about 10% said they had used chemical straighteners. These women, the researchers found, had a greater chance of being among the nearly 2,800 study participants who ended up developing breast cancer—especially if they identified as black. Overall, using permanent dye was associated with a 9% higher risk of developing breast cancer, compared to non-use. But black women who used permanent dye had a 45% higher risk of breast cancer, compared to non-users, and those who used these products every eight weeks or more often had a 60% higher risk.

Critics say an EPA rule may restrict science used for public health regulations - In science, transparency is typically considered a virtue. But a rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, billed as a means to keep environmental regulations rooted in reproducible science, is getting pushback from the scientific community.The proposal, titled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” would require studies that factor into EPA rule-making to be based on publicly available data. Doing so, the agency argues, would ensure that other researchers could access that data and verify the findings of any study. The EPA administrator would be able to handpick allowances for studies whose data cannot be made public. But according to a Nov. 12 EPA news release, “this should be the exception instead of the way of EPA doing business.” That stipulation has some scientists worried that EPA regulations may then be able to ignore relevant evidence from many studies based on private information.Among the critics are editors of six major scientific journals — Science, Nature, Cell, theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PLOS and the Lancet — who voiced their concerns in a statement published online November 26 in Science. “We support open sharing of research data, but we also recognize the validity of scientific studies that, for confidentiality reasons, cannot indiscriminately share absolutely all data,” the authors write. Ignoring pertinent information in creating and updating policies like public health regulations simply because results are based on private data “would be a catastrophe.” The EPA is still hashing out the exact terms of its proposed policy, which was announced in April 2018 and will not be finalized until 2020. Science News spoke with Holden Thorp, editor in chief of the Science journals, and May Berenbaum, editor in chief of theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, about the potential effects of the rule.

Doctors are turning to YouTube to learn how to do surgical procedures, but there’s no quality control - When Dr. Justin Barad was a medical resident, he would often encounter a problem he’d never managed or be asked to use a device without much training. So he’d turn to YouTube.Barad, who completed his surgical training at UCLA in 2015, said YouTube has become a fixture of medical education. He’d often get prepped by watching a video before a procedure. Sometimes he’d even open a YouTube video in the operating theater when confronted with a particularly challenging surgery or unexpected complication. “I don’t know a surgeon who hasn’t had a similar experience,” said Barad, who has now started a surgical training company called Osso VR.  CNBC found tens of thousands of videos showing a wide variety of medical procedures on the Google-owned video platform, some of them hovering around a million views. People have livestreamed giving birth and broadcast their face-lifts. One video, which shows the removal of a dense, white cataract, has gone somewhat viral and now has more than 1.7 million views. Others seem to have found crossover appeal with nonmedical viewers, such as a video from the U.K.-based group Audiology Associates showing a weirdly satisfying removal of a giant glob of earwax. Doctors are uploading these videos to market themselves or to help others in the field, and the amount is growing by leaps and bounds. Researchers in January found more than 20,000 videos related to prostate surgery alone, compared with just 500 videos in 2009.The videos are a particular boon for doctors in training. When the University of Iowa surveyed its surgeons, including its fourth-year medical students and residents, it found that YouTube was the most-used video source for surgical preparation by far.But residents and medical students are not the only ones tuning in. Experienced doctors, like Stanford Hospital’s vascular surgeon Dr. Oliver Aalami said he turned to YouTube recently ahead of a particularly difficult exposure. “It was helpful, but I kept thinking that some of these videos should be verified,” he said, “A bit like Twitter and its blue badges.”

China gene-edited baby experiment 'may have created unintended mutations' - The gene editing performed on Chinese twins to immunise them against HIV may have failed and created unintended mutations, scientists have said after the original research was made public for the first time.Excerpts from the manuscript were released by the MIT Technology Review to show how Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui ignored ethical and scientific norms in creating the twins Lula and Nana, whose birth in late 2018 sent shockwaves through the scientific world.He made expansive claims of a medical breakthrough that could “control the HIV epidemic”, but it was not clear whether it had even been successful in its intended purpose – immunising the babies against the virus – because the team did not in fact reproduce the gene mutation that confers this resistance.A small percentage of people are born with immunity because of a mutation in a gene called CCR5 and it was this gene that He had claimed to have targeted using a powerful editing tool known as Crispr which has revolutionised the field since 2012. Fyodor Urnov, a genome-editing scientist at the University of California, Berkeley told the MIT Technology Review: “The claim they have reproduced the prevalent CCR5 variant is a blatant misrepresentation of the actual data and can only be described by one term: a deliberate falsehood.“The study shows that the research team instead failed to reproduce the prevalent CCR5 variant.”While the team targeted the right gene, they did not replicate the “Delta 32” variation required, instead creating novel edits whose effects are not clear.Moreover, Crispr remains an imperfect tool because it can lead to unwanted or “off-target” edits, making its use in humans hugely controversial. Here, the researchers claimed to have searched for such effects in the early-stage embryos and found just one – however it would be impossible to carry out a comprehensive search without inspecting each of the embryo’s cells, and thus destroying it.The parents’ lack of access to any kind of fertility treatment might have motivated them to take part in the experiment despite the huge risks to their children, Jeanne O’Brien, a reproductive endocrinologist at Shady Grove Fertility told the MIT Technology Review. The father was HIV positive, which carries a significant social stigma in China and makes it almost impossible to have access to fertility treatment, even though a well-established technique known as “sperm washing” prevents the infection being passed to unborn children.

Samoan Government To Close Its Offices Amid Measles Crisis - The Pacific island nation of Samoa will shut down government services for two days so that civil servants can focus on a nationwide immunization drive as the country struggles to end a measles outbreak that has claimed more than 50 lives, most of them children. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi announced the closure on Monday, saying the government is relying on "village councils, faith-based organizations, and church leaders, village mayors and government women representatives" to persuade the public to get vaccinated. As a result, he said, all but public utility government services will be shuttered Dec. 5 and 6. More than 3,700 measles cases have been reported since the outbreak began in October, with 198 recorded within a 24-hour period. Fifty-three people have died and of those, 48 are children under 4 years old. Tuilaepa discouraged people from turning to traditional healers for remedies, adding, vaccinations are "the only cure." The situation in the small country has been compounded by the low measles vaccination rate among its population, which numbers just under 200,000 people. Just 31% of the population had been vaccinated prior to the epidemic, according to the World Health Organization. Immunizations in Samoa plummeted last year after a high-profile scandal in which improperly prepared vaccine caused the deaths of two infants. "As a result of that, the vaccination program was halted while they investigated the cause," Keni Lesa, editor of the Samoa Observer told NPR. "In the end, two nurses were charged, and they were found guilty of manslaughter," he said. But despite the convictions, the public remained distrustful of the vaccination, leaving room for the anti-vaccine movement to pick up steam. "They really found a gap there to really hammer home their message. And a lot of parents became scared to take their kids to get vaccinated," he said.

Samoa: Death toll mounts in devastating measles epidemic - Every day the death toll from measles increases in Samoa, a small Pacific island country with about 200,000 inhabitants. The outbreak began in mid-October. So far 55 people have died—up from 14 on November 17—the vast majority of them children. As of today, over 3,800 have become sick. Scientists at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, predict that before Christmas the death toll will reach 70 and the number of infected will pass 6,500, more than 3 percent of the population. A tragedy of terrible proportions is unfolding. The government of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi declared a state of emergency on November 15. Schools, universities, swimming pools and night clubs have been closed and gatherings of children banned. Streets in the capital Apia are largely deserted and many Christmas events have been cancelled. Some families have lost more than one child. The Guardian recently reported that Tu’ivale Luamanuvae Puelua and his wife Fa’aoso have buried three children, all aged under four. Puelua said: “Your mind becomes empty and you are speechless because there are no words on this earth to describe how my wife and I feel having to say goodbye to our children.” The outbreak is a man-made disaster. Measles is a preventable disease, but Samoa’s vaccination rate is extremely low: about 30 to 40 percent among young children according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), down from 84 percent four years ago, which is still too low to prevent an outbreak. Vaccinations plummeted after two babies died in July 2018 from contaminated doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The government responded by suspending all MMR immunisations until April 2019, a period of eight months. This extraordinary delay was nothing less than a criminal act of negligence by the state: it left thousands of infant children unimmunised. The crisis has been compounded by pernicious, unscientific anti-vaccination campaigns emanating from the US, Australia and other countries. The Washington Post noted that anti-vaccine activist “Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a nephew of President John F. Kennedy, visited [Samoa] in June” and met with Australian Samoan anti-vaccine activist Taylor Winterstein. Some faith healers and conmen have reportedly sought to profit from Samoa’s epidemic by selling bogus treatments and dissuading people from seeking medical care.

Samoa shuts down in unprecedented battle against measles crisis - Samoa entered a two-day lockdown Thursday to carry out an unprecedented mass vaccination drive aimed at containing a devastating measles epidemic that has killed dozens of children in the Pacific island nation. As the death toll climbed to 62, officials ordered all businesses and non-essential government services to close, shut down inter-island ferries and told people to keep their cars off the roads. Residents were advised to obey a dawn-to-dusk curfew, staying in their homes and displaying a red flag if any occupants were not yet immunised. Hundreds of vaccination teams, including public servants drafted in for the operation, fanned out across the nation of 200,000 in the early hours of the morning. They plan to go door-to-door in villages and towns to administer mandatory vaccinations in red-flagged houses. The markets on Apia's waterfront, usually packed with tourists buying handicrafts, were silent as stalls stood empty, while there was hardly any traffic in the city centre. "It's very, very quiet out here. I can just hear a few barking dogs. The streets are empty. There are no cars," UNICEF's Pacific islands chief Sheldon Yett told AFP. "People are staying at home waiting for the vaccination campaign. The teams are getting their supplies together and getting ready to go out." The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt measles infection rates that have been inexorably rising since mid-October, with most of the victims young children. "I've seen mass mobilisation campaigns before, but not over an entire country like this," Yett said. "That's what we're doing right now. This entire country is being vaccinated."

Measles Killed More Than 140,000 People in 2018, Mostly Young Children, Despite a Safe VaccineMeasles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed more than 140,000, according to new estimatesfrom the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most of the people who died were children under five years old.  The figures come as vaccination rates have stalled in the last ten years. WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimate that 86 percent of children received the first dose of the measles vaccine in 2018 and fewer than 70 percent received the second dose, but WHO says a vaccination rate of 95 percent is necessary to protect communities from disease outbreaks."The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world's most vulnerable children," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said in a press release. "To save lives, we must ensure everyone can benefit from vaccines — which means investing in immunization and quality health care as a right for all."  In poorer countries, vaccination rates are low because of problems with or interruptions in health services,The Guardian explained. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), one of the five countries most affected by measles in 2018, conflict and an inadequate health care system have prevented children from receiving the vaccine. Measles has killed more than 4,500 people in the country this year, claiming a higher death toll than an Ebola outbreak. Along with the DRC, the other most impacted countries were Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine, which together saw almost half of the global measles cases this year.

Doctors treating Ebola flee DR Congo's east amid deadly violence - The non-profit group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) pulled its foreign staff out of an eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo after an armed group tried to enter its compound. The group is the latest aid agency to withdraw its staff from the Biakato region, after three health workers treating Ebola were killed in an unclaimed attack last week at an accommodation camp in Biakato Mines in Ituri province. That attack prompted the World Health Organization to withdraw its staff from the area. MSF said that on Tuesday night a group wielding machetes and sticks broke into the Biakato Health Centre, where it operates an Ebola Treatment Centre. There were no casualties and the group did not enter the Ebola facility, it said. A separate group with the same weapons then tried but failed to enter the MSF facility in Biakato Mines. The NGO said they threw stones but did not do any damage. "Due to a deterioration in the security situation, MSF made the difficult decision to withdraw all non-local staff from the Biakato region," MSF said in a statement. According to local authorities, the attackers from last week's incident are likely to be members of the Mayi-Mayi armed militia group, which is fighting for a share of the country's wealth. The DRC is undergoing its 10th Ebola epidemic, which is the second-deadliest on record. An outbreak of the much-feared haemorrhagic virus has killed 2,206 people mainly in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri, according to the latest official figures. Insecurity has complicated the epidemic from the outset, compounding resistance within communities to preventive measures, care facilities and safe burials. On November 4, the authorities said more than 300 attacks on Ebola health workers had been recorded since the start of the year, leaving six dead and 70 wounded, some of them patients.

Mapping Eastern Europe's Deadly HIV Problem (infographics) Sunday marks World AIDS Day, which aims to promote awareness of the disease and mourn those who have died from it. The event came into existence in 1988 and it has been widely observed by health officials, governments and non-governmental organizations since then. The good news is that the number of deaths from the HIV/AIDS pandemic has fallen. In 2018, there were 770,000 AIDS-related deaths, down from 1.7 million in 2005.  You will find more infographics at Statista.   But, as Statista's Niall McCarthy notes, there is some bad news which needs to be highlighted more frequently: the growing infection rate across Eastern Europe and Russia in particular. You will find more infographics at Statista According to new data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and World Health Organization, there were 71 new HIV diagnoses per 100,000 people in Russia last year. Ukraine came a distant second with 37 while third-placed Belarus had 26. The lowest rates of new diagnoses per 100,000 people were recorded in Bosnia and Herzegovina (0.3), Slovakia (1.3) and Slovenia (1.9).

Deaths from antibiotic drug resistance are at historic highs, aided by Trump's policies --It’s a pretty standard ritual, especially at this time of year: A cough develops and isn’t going away, a fever spikes a little too high, a scrape begins to ooze a little too much, and before you know it, a provider like me is writing a prescription for an antibiotic. We’re all creatures of habit (patients and docs alike) and we expect antibiotics will work because they generally have in the past. So patients seek them out, and doctors lean on them when they have to. But as with all good things, nothing lasts forever. This decade is ending with a dubious distinction: Deaths from antibiotic drug resistance have now reached an all-time high, with 35,000 people dying in the U.S. each year alone, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This spring, the United Nations declared this problem an urgent global crisis in need of immediate action.  Antibiotic resistance means that the bacteria that exist all around us, such as E. Coli and MRSA, are mutating in ways that make existing medications like penicillin ineffective. Mutations are changes in the genetic makeup of bacteria, a literal rearrangement of genes to improve the chances that bacteria can survive exposure to an antibiotic. The odds that they develop resistance increase the more antibiotics are used in daily life. It’s like any threat that exists in this world: The more you’re exposed to it, the more you can learn to adapt.  Which means the more we receive antibiotics in clinics and hospitals, the more likely we are encouraging the development of resistance.   Sadly, there’s little hope of doing better on the national scale needed so long as President Donald Trump remains in office. As dire warnings about bacteria becoming more resistant to antibiotics have reached a fevered pitch, the response of the White House has been utter indifference. In fact, the policy steps that the Trump administration has taken have worsened the problem, including proposing budget cuts to nationwide, hospital-based programs dedicated to the issue and ignoring World Health Organization guidelines on ways to minimize the use of antibiotics in agriculture, a key contributor to this growing epidemic.

Walmart Pork Found To Have "Superbug" Bacteria Resistant To Antibiotics - A new study published by animal-welfare group World Animal Protection has arrived at some stunning findings about pork products begin sold at Walmart. The report, published by FoodDive, found that pork samples purchased from Walmart contained "superbug" antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 80% of samples tested from Mid-Atlantic Walmart stores were resistant to at least one antibiotic. Additionally, 37% of the bacteria in the Walmart samples were resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics. In sum, about 27% of the resistant bacteria found on Walmart’s pork were resistant to classes categorized as Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials by the World Health Organization. 160 samples of pork were tested by researchers at Texas Tech University: 80 were from Walmart and 80 were from a competing national retail chain in the Mid-Atlantic region. The samples were tested in 32 batches for E. coli, salmonella, enterococcus and listeria. Researchers said they found enterococcus in 13 batches, E. coli in 10 batches, salmonella in 6 and listeria in 3 batches.  Alesia Soltanpanah, executive director of World Animal Protection U.S., said: "The presence of multidrug-resistant bacteria on pork products illustrates the role the pork supply chain plays in the global health crisis caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The fact that pork from one of the nation's largest retailers contains bacteria resistant to antibiotics critically important to human health is particularly alarming and should raise concerns."​  In addition to Walmart, researchers also tested pork sample from another national retail chain and also found antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, the second batch tested did not contain two strains of multidrug-resistant bacteria in a single batch (as the Walmart batch did) and none of the samples were resistant to antibiotics considered "critically important to human health".  The report didn't name the second retailer, but FoodDive speculates that it is Costco, Kroger or Target, based on the report noting that the second retailer has "has committed to strengthen its animal welfare policies for its pork suppliers, including working towards a commitment to complete elimination of gestation crates for breeding sows."

If Factory Farm Conditions Are Unhealthy for Animals, They’re Bad for People Too - In 2014, the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, commissioned by the UK government and Wellcome Trust, estimated that 700,000 people around the world die each year due to drug-resistant infections. A follow-up report two years later showed no change in this estimate of casualties. Without action, that number could grow to 10 million per year by 2050. A leading cause of antibiotic resistance? The misuse and overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Flourishing antibiotic resistance is just one of the many public health crises produced by factory farming. Other problems include foodborne illness, flu epidemics, the fallout from poor air and water quality, and chronic disease. All of it can be traced to the current industrial approach to raising animals for food, which puts a premium on "high stocking density," wherein productivity is measured by how many animals are crammed into a feeding facility.  Oversight for the way factory farms operate and manage waste is minimal at best. No federal agency collectsconsistent and reliable information on the number, size and location of large-scale agricultural operations, nor the pollution they're emitting. There are also no federal laws governing the conditions in which farm animals are raised, and most state anti-cruelty laws do not apply to farm animals.  In 2017, nearly 11 million kilograms of antibiotics—including 5.6 million kilograms of medically important antibiotics—were sold in the U.S. for factory-farmed animals. Factory farms use antibiotics to make livestock grow faster and control the spread of disease in cramped and unhealthy living conditions. While antibiotics do kill some bacteria in animals, resistant bacteria can, and often do, survive and multiply, contaminating meat and animal products during slaughter and processing.  People can be exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria by handling or eating contaminated animal products, coming into contact with contaminated water or touching farm animals, which of course makes a farmworker's job especially hazardous. Even if you don't eat much meat or dairy, you're vulnerable: Resistant pathogens can enter water streams through animal manure and contaminate irrigated produce.

Fire Blight Spreads Northward, Threatening Apple Orchards — Across the country, hundreds of kinds of apples were meticulously developed by orchardists over the last couple of centuries and then, as farms and groves were abandoned and commercial production greatly narrowed the number of varieties for sale, many were forgotten. Some of this horticultural biodiversity, though, has been nurtured by dedicated growers who want to preserve the forgotten flavors and other traits of apples from the past. For example, some of the best apples ever developed for baking pies are no longer grown commercially, experts say, but are still thriving in heirloom orchards. “They are a piece of our history as a variety and part of our cultural identity,” “They are an insurance policy against a catastrophe.” A burgeoning threat is coming for apples, though, both of the historical varieties and the popular ones grown in the orchards today. A disease called fire blight, easily managed for a long time in apple and pear orchards, is becoming more virulent as the climate changes and as growers alter the way the trees are configured to produce higher yields. Some researchers say newer varieties may be more vulnerable, too.  It is another example of threats to the nation’s fruit crops, as citrus greening has hammered Florida’s orange groves and a fungus called Tropical Race 4 has devastated the world’s banana plantations.  “Commercial apples are getting hit fairly hard by fire blight,” said Kerik D. Cox, a plant pathologist who has studied the disease for a decade at Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences here. “And the intensity of it appears to be new.”The blight — caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora — is native to the United States and predates the introduction of apple trees to North America. Apple and pear growers have long managed the disease, by trimming dead branches and in recent decades, spraying antibiotics like Streptomycin. But the blight is becoming resistant to the antibiotics, some say, and has become more aggressive, wiping out hundreds or even thousands of trees in some places.The blight is spreading to places where it had not been seen before, into New York’s Champlain Valley and parts of Maine for example.Tower Hill Botanic Garden was forced in November to raze its orchard of 238 heirloom trees — two each of 119 antique varieties. The orchard is dedicated to apples developed in this country, Europe and elsewhere long ago.One of the varieties, the Roxbury Russet, dates back to the mid-17th century, and is believed to be the oldest apple variety cultivated in the United States.

US may face French fry shortage due to poor potato crop: report -The U.S. may face a French fry shortage due to a poor potato crop caused by cold and wet weather this year, Bloomberg reported Monday. Potato producers told the news outlet that they are attempting to purchase potatoes from across the continent after multiple harvests in Canada and the U.S. were ruined. The potato crop forecast in the U.S. is at the lowest since 2010, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Last month, frost hit potato farms across North America, with farmers in Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota losing crops. About 18 percent of the potato acreage in Manitoba went unharvested because of the weather, and 6.5 percent of Alberta crops experienced frost damage, according to Bloomberg. Manitoba and Alberta are the second- and third-largest growers in Canada, respectively, and the government is expected to release crop estimates Friday. Canada also is expected to have a higher demand for potatoes because of an increase in fry-processing capacity, which could prompt higher prices and limited potatoes for the U.S., according to Stephen Nicholson, a senior grains and oilseeds analyst at Rabobank.

 673 Million People Still Defecate Outdoors (Not Just In San Francisco) - With World Toilet Day having just passed, the United Nations released a report focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene around the world. It has found that approximately 2.2 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water, 4.2 billion have to go without safe sanitation services and three billion lack basic handwashing facilities. Additionally, as Statista's Niall McCarthy notes, the report also examined the state of open defecation and progress in eliminating it. As recently as 2015, close to a billion people were still defecating outdoors, resulting in widespread disease and millions of deaths. That drove the UN to call for an end to the practice and some parts of the world have proven hugely successful in eradicating it.In 2000 for example, the rate of open defecation was even worse with 21 percent of the global population - 1.3 billion people - practicing it. The impact of the UN's call to action has been telling and by 2017, the global share of people practicing open defecation had fallen to just 9 percent - 673 million people.Ethiopia saw the largest fall during that period, -57 percent. Cambodia and India also experienced declines of -53 and -47 percent respectively. The latter has been particularly ambitious in installing proper toilets. Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, just under 40 percent of India's population had access to a household toilet. He promised to change that and billions of dollars were invested under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan ("Clean India") campaign which kicked off in October 2014. India's Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation states that toilet coverage today stands at an impressive 99.22 percent.Altogether, 91 countries reduced open defecation by a combined total of 696 million people between 2000 and and 2017 with Central and Southern Asia accounting for three quarters of that figure. The news isn't positive everywhere though and 39 countries experienced increases during the same period, totaling 49 million people. The majority of that increase occurred in Sub-Sahara Africa which has experienced steady population growth since 2000. That of course means that there's still a lot of work to do but as India has shown with its toilet building marathon, progress can be rapid.

 Nestlé cannot claim bottled water is 'essential public service', court rules - Michigan’s second-highest court has dealt a legal blow to Nestlé’s Ice Mountain water brand, ruling that the company’s commercial water-bottling operation is “not an essential public service” or a public water supply. The court of appeals ruling is a victory for Osceola township, a small mid-Michigan town that blocked Nestlé from building a pumping station that doesn’t comply with its zoning laws. But the case could also throw a wrench in Nestlé’s attempts to privatize water around the country. If it is to carry out such plans, then it will need to be legally recognized as a public water source that provides an essential public service. The Michigan environmental attorney Jim Olson, who did not represent Osceola township but has previously battled Nestlé in court, said any claim that the Swiss multinational is a public water utility “is ludicrous”.“What this lays bare is the extent to which private water marketers like Nestlé, and others like them, go [in] their attempts to privatize sovereign public water, public water services, and the land and communities they impact,” Olson said. The ruling, made on Tuesday, could also lead state environmental regulators to reconsider permits that allow Nestlé to pump water in Michigan.The Osceola case stems from Nestle’s attempt to increase the amount of water it pulls from a controversial wellhead in nearby Evart from about 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute. It needs to build the pump in a children’s campground in Osceola township to transport the increased load via a pipe system.The township in 2017 rejected the plans based on its zoning laws, and Nestlé subsequently sued. A lower court wrote in late 2017 that water was essential for life and bottling water was an “essential public service” that met a demand, which trumped Osceola township’s zoning laws.However, a three-judge panel in the appellate court reversed the decision.The appellate judges acknowledged that water was “essential to life”, but wrote that the context in which water is sold also had to be considered. Marketing bottled water in an area where tap water is available is unessential.“The circuit court’s conclusion that [Nestlé’s] commercial water bottling operation is an ‘essential public service’ is clearly erroneous,” the judges wrote. “Other than in areas with no other source of water, bottled water is not essential.”

Deer found dead in Thailand with over 15 pounds of trash in its stomach, including plastic bags and hand towels  -A deer was found dead in a Thai national park with more than 15 pounds of trash in its stomach, according to officials.Some of the items found inside the deer's intestinal tract included instant noodle flavoring bags, plastic bags, rubber gloves, hand towels, men's underwear and a straw rope, according to Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.The deer was found Monday at the Khun Sathan National Park in Nan, news agency AFPreported.Thai forest rangers show plastics found in a dead deer at Khun Sathan National Park in the north province of Phrae, Thailand, Nov. 25, 2019.more +When animals eat trash, they often die of starvation because their stomachs are full but they are not receiving any nutrients from its contents. Kriangsak Thanompun, director of the protected region in the Khun Sathan National Park, described the deer's death as a "tragedy" and called for the use of "nature-friendly products" rather than plastic. "It shows we have to take seriously and reduce... single-use plastic," he told AFP.

Sperm whale found dead on Scotland beach with 220 pounds of trash in stomach -  A sperm whale found stranded on a beach in northeast Scotland had more than 220 pounds of trash in its stomach when it died, according to the organization that found it. The whale was found on Luskentyre beach on Saturday and had been dead for 48 hours by the time workers from the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (SMASS) got there.The debris found inside the whale included "a whole range of plastic," including plastic cups, gloves, packing straps and tubing as well as bundles of rope and sections of netting, Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme said in a Facebook post. The material was packed into the whale's stomach "in a huge ball" and some of it had likely been ingested some time ago, according SMASS. Overall, the whale was not in poor condition, and it is unclear whether the trash contributed to its death. "This amount of plastic in the stomach is nonetheless horrific, must have compromised digestion, and serves to demonstrate, yet again, the hazards that marine litter and lost or discarded fishing gear can cause to marine life," the organization said, describing the issue as being caused "by a whole host of human activities."

Hermit Crabs Are Making Homes in Plastic Litter and It's Killing Them - Plastic debris washed up on remote islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans has killed hermit crabs, which mistake the plastic for shells, as CNN reported. The researchers visited Cocos (Keeling) Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean that sits west of Christmas Island, and described the tropical paradise as "literally drowning in plastic." In fact, they found an estimated 414 million pieces of plastic. The researchers also found dead hermit crabs in the bottles and containers that washed ashore, according to The Washington Post. The scientists estimate that 508,000 hermit crabs died mistaking plastic for safety on Cocos (Keeling) Island, while another 61,000 perished the same way 8,000 miles away on Henderson Island in the south Pacific, according to CNN. "When we were surveying debris on the islands, I was struck by how many open plastic containers contained hermit crabs, both dead and alive," said Jennifer Lavers, a researcher at the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, who led the study, in a university statement. The study was published in theJournal of Hazardous Materials. "We decided to do additional surveys across a range of sites of how many containers there were, including how many were open, how many were in a position likely to trap crabs, and how many contained trapped crabs." Hermit crabs do not have their own shells so they use found, hollow objects for shelter and protection — objects like shells, according to CNN. They spend a large portion of their lives seeking out shells for protection that will fit their growing bodies. The hermit crabs that climb into plastic bottles find the surface too slippery to get traction. Therefore, they cannot climb out of them, according to The Washington Post.  "The question was, is Cocos unique, or is this a more widespread problem that could be happening anywhere?" said Lavers to The Washington Post. "That's what these two islands suggest: A lot of places where you have crabs and debris, this is probably happening." The washed up plastic creates a cascade of death for the hermit crabs. When one hermit crab dies, it starts a chemical reaction that emits an odor to other crabs signaling that a shell is available. Therefore, a crab that dies sets off a chain-reaction, drawing more and more crabs to the plastic with a scent that increases in strength, according to Alex Bond, a a curator at London's Natural History Museum who contributed to thestudy, as The Washington Post reported.   "It's not quite a domino effect. It's almost like an avalanche,"

Polar Bears’ Diet Is 25% Plastic, Russian Scientists Say -  Plastic waste makes up one-quarter of polar bears’ diet as climate change pushes them closer to human settlements, Russian scientists have said while warning that the plastic risks killing the animals. Polar bears have been forced to scavenge for food on land as climate change damages their sea-ice habitats. The animals have increasingly come into contact with people, and images of them wandering into cities in Siberia and rummaging through garbage in the Russian Arctic made international headlines this year. This increasing contact allowed scientists to examine the gut and excrement contents of polar bears that eat out of garbage dumps, Ivan Mizin, deputy director of the Russian Arctic national park, told Interfax on Tuesday. “When polar bears visit landfills, up to 25% of their stomach and excrement contents is [made up of] various plastic waste: bags, wrappers, etc.,” Interfax quoted Mizin as saying Tuesday. “Exceeding a certain percentage threshold means that the animals will begin to die,” Mizin warned on the sidelines of a forum on Arctic tourism and marine debris in the northwestern Russian city of Murmansk. Arctic birds and marine mammals were also found to have plastic in their organs, Interfax cited Mizin as saying. Marine debris including plastics — though not as widespread as in the tropics and mid-latitudes — is also a cause of death for marine mammals, he added. He cited an unprecedented 2015 case in which a bowhead whale beached in the Arctic after getting tangled in fishing nets. “This was the first such finding, there’s no documented data of that happening before,” Mizin was quoted as saying.

Reusable plastic shopping bags are actually making the problem worse, not better - Over the past few years, reusable plastic shopping bags began showing up in grocery stores in many parts of the world. They are sturdier than the flimsy plastic bags that have become a symbol of the global movement against disposable plastics, and so can be used many times, lending to their marketing as the ethical choice for the environmentally conscious shopper. But of course, these thicker bags require more plastic to make. That means they could only improve the overall situation if they led to stores handing out overall less plastic, by volume, than they would without them—by, say, replacing thousands of single-use plastic bags a shopper might otherwise use over the years. Because no matter the style of plastic bag, it will still contribute to the global problem of forever-trash entering the environment, and the greenhouse gases associated with manufacturing the bag from fossil fuels in the first place. But it seems they haven’t. A new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace looking at grocery stores in the UK suggests that the plastic “bags for life” utterly failed to do the one thing they were ostensibly meant to. So far in 2019, the top 10 UK grocery stores reported selling 1.5 billion of these bags, which represents approximately 54 “bags for life” per household in the UK.For comparison, the top eight UK grocery retailers—representing over 75% of the market—sold 959 million such bags in 2018. Some supermarket chains have seen particularly big spikes in sales. The frozen-food store Iceland sold 10 times more plastic “bags for life” this year, 34 million, than last.  The UK introduced a 5-pence charge for plastic bags in 2015, and the government urged shoppers to instead bring their own reusable “bags for life,” which led to a surge in purchasing of the reusable plastic bags from markets.   Overall, those same supermarkets increased the volume of plastic packaging they put out—including the “bags for life”—by 18,739 tons (17,000 metric tons) from 2017 to 2018. “It’s shocking to see that despite unprecedented awareness of the pollution crisis, the amount of single-use plastic used by the UK’s biggest supermarkets has actually increased,” the EIA’s Juliet Phillips told the Guardian. The grocery stores’ plastic-footprint increase was caused in part by the reusable plastic bags. “We have replaced one problem with another,” Fiona Nicholls, a Greenpeace UK campaigner who is one of the report’s authors, told the New York Times. “Bags for life have become bags for a week.” The bags, the report says, should be banned. Instead, customers could bring their own bags to the market. “When we go shopping, we should remember our bags like we remember our phones.”

Environmentalists Demand Stricter Pollution Standards For Plastics Industry - (CN) – Seeking stricter accountability for the plastics industry, more than 350 public interest groups filed a petition with the Environmental Protect Agency Tuesday demanding higher standards and lower emissions for plastics manufacturers.“Plastics production is poisoning our communities, choking our oceans and exacerbating the climate crisis,” said Lauren Packard, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.  Packard spoke outside the EPA’s regional office in downtown San Francisco before the group walked inside to deliver a petition signed by 364 conservation and community organizations.The petition asks the EPA to list facilities that produce chemicals used in plastics manufacturing – such as ethylene, propylene, polypropylene – as sources of emissions subject to regulation. That would open the door for the EPA to create new emissions standards for those plants.It also demands such facilities be powered by 100% renewable energy and that new air pollution and technology standards be adopted to reduce the emission of planet-warming gases and air toxins.The EPA has three years to respond to the petition. According to Packard and other advocates, “cheap fracked gas” is driving the push to build more plastic production facilities in the U.S. Oil and natural gas can be refined to create chemicals that serve as the building blocks and ingredients in plastic products. The plastics industry has invested more than $200 billion for 333 new or expanded facilities since 2010, according to the American Chemistry Council, which represents plastics manufacturers. “The glut of fracked gas is fueling a plastics boom at a time when the climate crisis demands that we put an end to fracking and stop overproducing polluting plastics,”  Critics say emissions from petrochemical plants and plastic production facilities are most harmful to low-income communities where such facilities are typically located. Filmmaker and plastics expert Stiv Wilson, who joined Packard and others in front of the EPA’s San Francisco office Tuesday, noted that residents of a Houston neighborhood surrounded by chemical plants suffer from higher rates of cancer, asthma and other health problems. The Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental nonprofit, found in 2016 that residents of the Harrisburg-Manchester neighborhood were at least 24 times as likely to develop cancer compared to residents in “the wealthier and predominantly white west Houston communities.”

‘The Best Thing You Can Do Is Not Buy More Stuff,’ Says ‘Secondhand’ Expert  - Author Adam Minter remembers two periods of grief after his mother died in 2015: the intense sadness of her death, followed by the challenge of sorting through what he calls "the material legacy of her life."Over the course of a year, Minter and his sister worked through their mother's possessions until only her beloved china was left. Neither one of them wanted to take the china — but neither could bear to throw it out. Instead, they decided to donate it.Waiting in the donation line at Goodwill, Minter began wondering what would happen to the dishes: "It occurred to me this is a very interesting subject," he says. "Nobody really knew what happened beyond the donation door at Goodwill."Minter had spent nearly two decades reporting on the waste and recycling industries. Now he began looking into the market for secondhand goods, both domestically and in Africa and Asia."Your average thrift store in the United States only sells about one-third of the stuff that ends up on its shelves," he says. "The rest of the stuff ends up somewhere else." Minter visited Goodwill donation centers in the U.S. and watched as employees engaged in a sophisticated sorting and pricing system. He noted that while designer clothes might be set aside as "boutique" items, other products — including heavy wooden furniture and outdated exercise equipment — were often destined for the dump."A 300-pound oak dining room table ... becomes a problem," he says. "You will see some of this very nice oak furniture, if it can't be sold, it will end up in the landfill."   Minter's new book, Secondhand, explores the afterlife of donated clothes and electronics. His previous book, Junkyard Planet, was about the recycling industry.

Victoria Falls dries to a trickle after worst drought in a century -- For decades Victoria Falls, where southern Africa’s Zambezi river cascades down 100 metres into a gash in the earth, have drawn millions of holidaymakers to Zimbabwe and Zambia for their stunning views.But the worst drought in a century has slowed the waterfalls to a trickle, fuelling fears that climate change could kill one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions.While they typically slow down during the dry season, officials said this year had brought an unprecedented decline in water levels. “In previous years, when it gets dry, it’s not to this extent,”  “This [is] our first experience of seeing it like this. “It affects us because ... clients ... can see on the internet [that the falls are low] ... We don’t have so many tourists.”As world leaders gather in Madrid for the COP25 climate change conference to discuss ways to halt catastrophic warming caused by human-driven greenhouse gas emissions, southern Africa is already suffering some of its worst effects – with taps running dry and about 45 million people in need of food aid amid crop failures. Zimbabwe and Zambia have suffered power cuts as they are heavily reliant on hydropower from plants at the Kariba dam, which is on the Zambezi river upstream of the waterfalls. Stretches of this kilometre-long natural wonder are nothing but dry stone. Water flow is low in others.  Data from the Zambezi River Authority shows water flow at its lowest since 1995, and well under the long-term average. The Zambian president, Edgar Lungu, has called it “a stark reminder of what climate change is doing to our environment”. Yet scientists are cautious about categorically blaming climate change. There is always seasonal variation in levels. Harald Kling, a hydrologist at engineering firm Poyry and a Zambezi river expert, said climate science dealt in decades, not particular years, “so it’s sometimes difficult to say this is because of climate change because droughts have always occurred”.  “If they become more frequent, then you can start saying: OK, this may be climate change.”

 PG&E Had Systemic Problems With Power Line Maintenance, California Probe Finds   Investigation by state utilities commission concludes company failed to properly inspect and maintain transmission lines for years. Wall Street Journal. PG&E Corp. failed to adequately inspect and maintain its transmission lines for years before a faulty line started the deadliest fire in California history, a state investigation has found. In a 700-page report detailing the problems that led the Caribou-Palermo transmission line to malfunction on Nov. 8, 2018, sparking the Camp Fire, investigators with the California Public Utilities Commission said they found systemic problems with how the company oversaw the safety of its oldest lines. State fire investigators had previously determined that PG&E equipment started the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people, and the company hasn’t disputed the findings. But the new [700 page] report goes well beyond earlier findings, alleging numerous serious violations of state rules for maintaining electric lines and specific problems with upkeep of the transmission line that started the fire….“The identified shortcomings in PG&E’s inspection and maintenance of the incident tower were not isolated, but rather indicative of an overall pattern of inadequate inspection and maintenance of PG&E’s transmission facilities,” the report by the commission’s safety and enforcement division found… The findings of the utilities commission report could lead California to impose fines and other penalties. It could also influence ongoing investigations by law-enforcement agencies, including the Butte County District Attorney and the California Attorney General, that are deciding whether to file criminal charges against the utility and its executives. It could also become a factor in PG&E’s probation. The company is on federal probation for failure to properly inspect and maintain its gas pipeline system, which led to an explosion in 2010 that killed eight people. The federal judge overseeing PG&E’s probation has indicated that the company has violated the terms of its probation and is weighing further sanctions.

PG&E Agrees to Pay $13.5 Billion in Settlement With Victims of California Wildfires. Pact removes obstacle to utility’s emergence from chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. WSJ -   PG&E Corp. has reached a settlement with victims of the wildfires that pushed California’s largest utility into bankruptcy, agreeing to pay them $13.5 billion in damages. The pact removes a significant obstacle to PG&E’s emergence from chapter 11 protection and includes reforms meant to address criticism that the company enriched shareholders while leaving customers exposed to danger from aged, unsafe equipment.

Brazilian President Blames Leonardo DiCaprio For Amazon Fires - While speaking to a gathering of his supporters in Brasilia last week, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro made a bizarre claim about Leonardo DiCaprio. Bolsonaro blamed the actor for the recent Amazon fires, claiming that the DiCaprio paid to have the forest burned down, while offering no evidence to support his allegations. “DiCaprio is a cool guy, isn’t he? Giving money to set the Amazon on fire,” Bolsonaro said.  The president was referencing a number of charities that are being investigated by his administration, but there is still no evidence that these organizations had anything to do with the fires. In a statement to the Associated Press on Friday, DiCaprio said that he has not funded any of the groups that are being investigated, but says that they are still worthy of support. “While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted. The future of these irreplaceable ecosystems is at stake and I am proud to stand with the groups protecting them,” DiCaprio’s statement read. Then on Saturday, DiCaprio made a statement on Instagram saying: “At this time of crisis for the Amazon, I support the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage. They are an amazing, moving and humbling example of the commitment and passion needed to save the environment. The future of these irreplaceable ecosystems is at stake and I am proud to stand with the groups protecting them. While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted. I remain committed to supporting the Brazilian indigenous communities, local governments, scientists, educators and general public who are working tirelessly to secure the Amazon for the future of all Brazilians.”

Amazon fires are causing glaciers in the Andes to melt even faster  - Fires occur in the Amazon rainforest every year, but the past 11 months saw the number of fires increase by more than 70% when compared with 2018, indicating a major acceleration in land clearing by the country’s logging and farming industries.The smoke from the fires rose high into the atmosphere and could be seen from space. Some regions of Brazil became covered in thick smoke that closed airports and darkened city skies.  As the rainforest burns, it releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and larger particles of so-called “black carbon” (smoke and soot); in any given year, the burning of forests and grasslands in South America emits a whopping 800,000 tonnes of black carbon into the atmosphere.  Not only does this absurd amount of smoke cause health issues and contribute to global warming but, as a growing number of scientific studies are showing, it also more directly contributes to the melting of glaciers.In a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, a team of researchers has outlined how smoke from fires in the Amazon in 2010 made glaciers in the Andes melt more quickly. When fires in the Amazon emit black carbon during the peak burning season (August to October), winds carry these clouds of smoke to Andean glaciers, which can sit higher than 5,000 metres above sea level. Despite being invisible to the naked eye, black carbon particles affect the ability of the snow to reflect incoming sunlight, a phenomenon known as “albedo”. Similar to how a dark-coloured car will heat up more quickly in direct sunlight when compared with a light-coloured one, glaciers covered by black carbon particles will absorb more heat, and thus melt faster. Crucially, the authors also found that the effect of black carbon depends on the amount of dust covering a glacier – if the amount of dust is higher, then the glacier will already be absorbing most of the heat that might have been absorbed by the black carbon. Land clearing is one of the reasons that dust levels over South America doubled during the 20th century. In South America, glaciers are crucial for water supply – in some towns, including Huaraz in Peru, more than 85% of drinking water comes from glaciers during times of drought. However, these truly vital sources of water are increasingly under threat as the planet feels the effects of global warming. Glaciers in the Andes have been receding rapidly for the last 50 years.

 Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Creates Huge Waterfalls, Increasing Concerns About Sea Level Rise -- Scientists in the Arctic watched a glacial lake in Greenland turn into a waterfall that drained five million cubic meters of water, or 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, in just five hours, worrying scientists that the world's second largest ice sheet is becoming unstable, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The waterfall that the scientists observed was triggered by cracks in the ice sheet. When those cracks form, massive amounts of lake water falls below the surface to the area beneath the ice. There the meltwater expands the lake by weakening the ice. In the new study, the researchers captured the lake draining when its edge met a fracture in the ice that had formed one year earlier, according to the study.  The scientists watched the water plummet more than 3,200 feet to the lowest layers of the glacier where the ice forms on top of bedrock. At the base layer, the water weakens the ice and helps it move out to sea, as The Washington Post reported. The team of scientists, led by researchers from the University of Cambridge in England, captured the drone footage in July 2018. The researchers suggested that what they observed may represent an overlooked issue that is affecting the Greenland ice sheet.  "We propose that many lakes thought to drain slowly are, in fact, draining rapidly via hydrofracture. As such, rapid drainage events, and their net impact on ice sheet dynamics, are being notably underestimated," thestudy reads. This means scientists may need to tweak their computer models to form a more accurate picture of the rate of melting and projections for sea level rise. "We need to gain a more complete picture of these processes so that we can properly predict the impact of climate change on the Greenland Ice Sheet in the 21st century,"

Thinning Ice Around Antarctica Is Weakening Its Ice Sheet - For the first time, scientists have proven that the thinning ice shelves floating around Antarctica are driving ice loss from the interior of the continent as well, according to new research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.  The weakening of the ice shelf means that more ice is flowing from the interior of the continent into the ocean. The study finds that there is an immediate link between the ebbing thickness of the ice shelves and the acceleration in the glaciers feeding behind them, which spells trouble for sea level rise. The findings upend the notion that there is a delay between the ice shelves melting and the glaciers moving towards the sea, as the BBC reported.In other words, the glaciers will speed up as the floating ice gets weaker, and then they will dump themselves into the ocean."The response is essentially instantaneous," said Hilmar Gudmundsson who led the research team from Northumbria University in the UK, to the BBC. "If you thin the ice shelves today, the increase in flow of the ice upstream will increase today — not tomorrow, not in 10 or 100 years from now; it will happen immediately."The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers about 98 percent of the continent and is Earth's largest single ice mass. As it loses size, it adds to sea level rise. It has always been held in place by the floating ice shelves encircling Antarctica. However, those ice shelves are starting to thin out either from warming waters or changes in ocean circulation, as Newsweek reported.To examine the effect that the shelf has on the Antarctic Ice Sheet, Gudmundsson and his team of scientists pored over nearly 25 years of satellite data from the 1990s to 2017 and homed in on the point where the land-based ice sheet meets the floating ice shelf, a point known as the "grounding line."The team then used a state-of-the-art ice-flow model and measurements of changes in the geometry of ice shelves to calculate the changes in grounded ice flow. When the modeled results were compared with those obtained by satellites over the last 25 years, the researchers found what they described as 'striking and robust' similarities in the pattern of ice flowing from the ice sheet into the ocean, according to a statement from Northumbria University. The biggest changes were spotted in Western Antarctica, which already makes a significant contribution to sea level rise. With one of the glaciers there, evidence of the changes in the floating shelf and the diminishing ice sheet could be seen 100 miles inland from the grounding line, according to a university statement.

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

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

As sea engulfs coastline, Indonesians pay high price to shield homes - (Reuters) - Indonesian fisherman Miskan says the once-abundant catches he used to enjoy have been dwindling in recent years on this stretch of the Java Sea. Indonesian fisherman Miskan says the once-abundant catches he used to enjoy have been dwindling in recent years on this stretch of the Java Sea. His meager income is being further strained by having to borrow cash to shore up his home against lapping waves coming further inland on this vulnerable coastline. “If you have a house on land and then work at sea, it’s hard. But now I work at sea and I live at sea,” said Miskan, 44, who uses one name, speaking outside his small home, where a caged songbird hangs from the rafters. His community’s battle against inundation, blamed on both man-made environmental destruction and the impact of climate change, reflects the risks posed to millions of people by a sinking coastline on Indonesia’s most populous island of Java. The flooding in Tambaklorok in Central Java province is now so bad that Miskan uses a window to enter his home since his door is half blocked by dirt piled up to keep out the sea.Miskan had to borrow from neighbors to pay roughly 7.2 million rupiah ($500) to hire workers to truck in earth. Thousands of people in Asia and Europe joined rallies demanding more action on climate change on Friday, aiming to force political leaders to come up with urgent solutions at a United Nations conference that starts on Monday. Indonesia, an archipelago of thousands of islands, has about 81,000 km (50,300 miles) of coastline, making it particularly vulnerable to climate change along with neighbors like the Philippines. It is also home to more than a fifth of the world’s mangrove forests, which naturally help keep out high tidal waters. But for years, coastal communities have chopped down mangrove forests to clear the way for fish and shrimp farms, and for rice paddies.

You just lived through the warmest decade on record – and it's only going to get hotter - Global warming shows no signs of letting up. The years from 2015 to 2019 and from 2010 to 2019 “are, respectively, almost certain to be the warmest five-year period and decade on record,” the World Meteorological Organization said in a report released Tuesday. “Since the 1980s, each successive decade has been warmer than the last,” the agency said. The year 2019 concludes a decade of exceptional global heat, retreating ice and record sea levels driven by greenhouse gases from human activities, according to the WMO. “If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human well-being,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “We are nowhere near on track to meet the Paris Agreement target.” Climate change impact: Hot temperatures shorten pregnancies, study suggests Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming – hit a record level of 407.8 parts per million in 2018 and continued to rise in 2019. Carbon dioxide lasts in the atmosphere for centuries and the ocean for even longer, thus locking in climate change, the WMO said. And 2019 itself is on course to be the second- or third-warmest year on record, with 2016 still holding the all-time temperature record. This year was hotter than average in most parts of the world, including the Arctic. “In contrast a large area of North America has been colder than the recent average,” the WMO said.

Global Warming Prediction Sounds Alarm for Climate Fight - The world’s average temperature is rising faster than previously thought, headed for a gain that may be triple the goal set by almost 200 countries. The findings by the World Meteorologic Organization suggest an increase of 3 degrees to 5 degrees Celsius (5.4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. It’s another indication of how far off track the planet is in meeting its target to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since the dawn of the industrial revolution. That was the ambition in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, a level that scientists identify as one where the worst impacts on the environment could be avoided. While a fluctuation of that level hardly registers during the course of a day, when applied to the climate it would mark the biggest shift in temperatures since the last ice age ended some 10,000 years ago. “If we wanted to reach a 1.5 degree increase we would need to bend emissions and at the moment countries haven’t been following on their Paris pledges,” WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas told reporters in Madrid, where envoys from almost 200 countries were attending a two-week United Nations conference on the issue. A 4-degree gain would trigger vast changes to the environment, according to research by the Pottsdam Institute for Climate Impact and Research and Climate Analytics.  Some of those changes include:

  • Ice vanishing from both poles.
  • Many rainforests turning to desert.
  • Rising sea levels flooding into the interior of continents.
  • Irreversible loss of diversity among plants and animals.

The WMO report set the stage for this year’s round of climate talks hosted by the United Nations in Madrid. Rising temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions are putting pressure on governments and companies to raise their ambition for cutting back on the fossil fuels that damage the atmosphere.

Global emissions to hit 36.8 billion tonnes, beating last year’s record high  Global emissions for 2019 are predicted to hit 36.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂), setting yet another all-time record. This disturbing result means emissions have grown by 62% since international climate negotiations began in 1990 to address the problem.The figures are contained in the Global Carbon Project, which today released its14th Global Carbon Budget. Digging into the numbers, however, reveals a silver lining. While overall carbon emissions continue to rise, the rate of growth is about two-thirds lower than in the previous two years. Driving this slower growth is an extraordinary decline in coal emissions, particularly in the United States and Europe, and growth in renewable energy globally.A less positive component of this emissions slowdown, however, is that a lower global economic growth has contributed to it. Most concerning yet is the very robust and stable upward trends in emissions from oil and natural gas.The burning of coal continues to dominate CO₂ emissions and was responsible for 40% of all fossil fuel emissions in 2018, followed by oil (34%) and natural gas (20%). However, coal emissions reached their highest levels in 2012 and have remained slightly lower since then. Emissions have been declining at an annual average of 0.5% over the past five years to 2018. Coal emissions hit a peak in 2012 and have been declining ever since. Global Carbon Project 2019In 2019, we project a further decline in global coal CO₂ emissions of around 0.9%. This decline is due to large falls of 10% in both the US and the European Union, and weak growth in China (0.8%) and India (2%).The US has announced the closure of more than 500 coal-fired power plants over the past decade, while the UK’s electricity sector has gone from 40% coal-based power in 2012 to 5% in 2018. Whether coal emissions reached a true peak in 2012 or will creep back up will depend largely on the trajectory of coal use in China and India. Despite this uncertainty, the strong upward trend from the past has been broken and is unlikely to return.

We need to halve emissions by 2030. They rose again in 2019. -  The world likely needs to halve greenhouse-gas emissions within the next decade to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. Instead, year after year, we’re still pumping out more climate pollution. Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels will rise for the third straight year in 2019, ticking up an estimated 0.6% to a record 37 billion metric tons, according to the closely watched annual report from the Global Carbon Project. Slight declines in the US and European Union were offset by projected increases in China, India, and other parts of the world, where economic growth is fueling rising energy demands. In fact, carbon pollution is likely to climb again in 2020, given expected increases in use of oil and natural gas in emerging economies. “Even with all the attention of the youth movements and growing climate focus around the world, we still haven’t turned the corner to stabilize and bring emissions down,”  The conclusions were published in Environmental Research Letters, Earth System Science Data, and Nature Climate Change on Tuesday, underscoring the stakes as delegates from more than 200 nations meet in Madrid this week and next for the 25th UN Climate Change Conference. Unless countries collectively commit to and follow through on much more aggressive action, carbon dioxide levels are likely to continue rising through 2030. Likewise, global temperatures could soar as much as 5 ˚C above pre-industrial levels this century, accelerating the melting of ice sheets, the surge in sea levels and the destruction of coral reefs.  This week’s analysis found that China’s carbon dioxide emissions rose an expected 2.6% this year, driven by increases in the use of oil, natural gas, and coal as well as cement production. Moreover, recent reports found that the nation is in the midst of a building boom for coal plants, even as its investments in solar and wind projects have plummeted in recent years. Meanwhile, India’s emissions likely increased 1.8% this year, which would at least mark a sharp decline from the 8% growth the year before. Unfortunately, the nation’s aggressive push to develop giant solar and wind projects has fizzled in recent months, amid growing regulatory uncertainty and financing challenges.

Climate change: From the beginning, models have been remarkably accurate -  There are dozens of disciplines and subdisciplines within the broad ambit of climate science, studying everything from ancient geology to the spread of disease. But one discipline in particular is exposed to intense public scrutiny, the subject of long-running political and legal disputes: modeling. As interesting as the details of climate science may be, what society most needs from it is an answer to a simple question: What the hell is going to happen? What are we in for? That’s the question models seek to answer. It turns out that attempting to understand, model, and predict the entire global biophysical/atmospheric system is complicated. It’s especially tricky because there’s no way to run tests. There’s no second Earth to use as an experimental control group. The best scientists can do is use their knowledge of climate history and climate physics to build models of Earth systems and then test the models against future emission scenarios. This reliance on models has always been a bête noire for climate change deniers, who have questioned their accuracy as a way of casting doubt on their dire projections. For years, it has been a running battle between scientists and their critics, with the former rallying to defend one dataset and model after another. Now, for the first time, a group of scientists — Zeke Hausfather of UC Berkeley, Henri Drake and Tristan Abbott of MIT, and Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies — has done a systematic review of climate models, dating back to the late 1970s. Published in Geophysical Research Letters, it tests model performance against a simple metric: how well they predicted global mean surface temperature (GMST) through 2017, when the latest observational data is available.Long story short: “We find that climate models published over the past five decades were generally quite accurate in predicting global warming in the years after publication.”This is contrary to deniers, who claim that models overestimate warming, and contrary to thebizarre op-ed the New York Times ran in November, which claimed that scientists underestimate warming. As it happens, models have roughly hit the mark all along. It’s just, nobody listened. The good news, as the authors say, is that this result “increases our confidence that models are accurately projecting global warming.”   The bad news is that the projections from those models are unrelentingly grim, so accuracy isn’t very reassuring. Let’s take a quick look at how the review worked.

Carbon Calculus - IMF –- The scientific consensus is clear: climate change is associated with increasingly frequent and intense natural disasters ranging from droughts and wildfires to hurricanes and coastal flooding. While the extent of the economic damage cannot be known for certain, strong evidence suggests it could be quite severe. The challenge for policymakers will be to decide how much to spend on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To do that, they must be able to compare the costs of various options, including renewable-energy sources and electric cars.  The challenge is taking on increasing urgency in the policy world as climate scientists argue that emission reductions must be rapid and deep, with a goal of reaching net zero by 2050, if not sooner (Millar and others 2017). That goal, which many countries have already embraced, will require a vast transformation of the energy sources used to power the global economy, and it would mean going far beyond business-as-usual technological progress. Indeed, the US Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2019 projects that fossil fuels will still generate 57 percent of electricity in 2050. How much would it cost to move beyond business as usual and come within striking distance of net-zero emissions by 2050? To answer this question, it’s important to distinguish between short- and long-term costs. In the short term, there are some inexpensive ways to reduce emissions, but deeper cuts run up against quickly rising costs. However, some activities—especially those involving fledgling low-carbon technologies—that appear expensive in the short term may actually turn out to be low-cost approaches in the long term, because of induced innovation. This insight suggests that the longer-term cost of mitigation may be lower than is widely assumed.

UN chief warns of ‘point of no return’ on climate change - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Sunday that the world’s efforts to stop climate change have been “utterly inadequate" so far and there is a danger global warming could pass the “point of no return.”Speaking before the start Monday of a two-week international climate conference in Madrid, the U.N. chief said the impact of rising temperatures — including more extreme weather — is already being felt around the world, with dramatic consequences for humans and other species.He noted that the world has the scientific knowledge and the technical means to limit global warming, but “what is lacking is political will.” “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” Guterres told reporters in the Spanish capital. “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”

Decrying ‘Utterly Inadequate’ Efforts to Tackle Climate Crisis, UN Chief Declares ‘Our War Against Nature Must Stop’ --On the eve of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres decried the “utterly inadequate” efforts of governments to curb planet-heating emissions and called for “a clear demonstration of increased ambition and commitment” from world leaders to tackle the crisis. “For many decades the human species has been at war with the planet. And the planet is fighting back,” Guterres told reporters in Madrid Sunday. “We are confronted now with a global climate crisis. The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling towards us.”“Our war against nature must stop,” he declared. “And we know that that is possible. The scientific community has provided us with the roadmap to achieve this.”Guterres referenced various U.N.-affiliated reports from recent years, including three released in the weeks leading up to COP 25, the climate conference that will begin Monday and run through Dec. 13. The annual Emissions Gap report, published Tuesday by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), warned that global temperatures are on track to rise as much as 3.2°C by the end of the century and countries’ commitments under the 2015 Paris agreement—a key focus of the upcoming conference—are insufficient to avert climate catastrophe. The latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, published Monday by the World Meteorological Organization, revealed that levels of long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit record highs in 2018. The previous week, the UNEP and leading research organizations published The Production Gap, which found that planned levels of fossil fuel production through 2030 are “dangerously out of step” with the Paris accord goals. “According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030,” Guterres noted. “The commitments made in Paris would still lead to an increase in temperature above three degrees Celsius. But many countries are not even meeting those commitments.”

Neoliberalism and Climate Change - We are in the midst of a terrifying climate emergency. Whether it’s the record-challenging cold of this week, devastating wildfires, Category 5 hurricanes, flooding on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester when it’s not raining, the permanent disappearance of glaciers, intensifying drought and climate migration, or the relentless upward march of average temperatures, signs of climate disruption are all around us. This is partly due to the power of neoliberal economics.  Naomi Klein has made an interesting observation about the relation between the two, which is that it was bad luck that neoliberalism surged just as we figured out the need to do something about greenhouse gas emissions.  In any case, evidence of the ability of a now discredited economic approach (neoliberalism) to hang on long past its sell-by date is all around us. One sign is last year’s Nobel Prize—starting with the exclusion from the prize of Martin Weitzman, whose work on fat tails (i.e., catastrophic climate impacts) was a truly pioneering contribution in a subfield that has lagged far behind on incorporating theoretical innovation from elsewhere in the discipline.  The omission of Weitzman contrasts with the awarding of the prize to William Nordhaus. Nordhaus’ work has been central in stalling effective climate progress. His position was epitomized by his Nobel lecture. One of his slides labeled 4° Celsius of warming as “optimal,” rather than the truly devastating increase scientists have determined it will be. The levels of ecosystem and human disruption that will prevail with a  4° increase are massive, and whether humans would even be able to “adapt” to that level of increase is questionable. Furthermore, the likelihood of tipping points that lead the climate system to spiral out of control are much greater with an increase of 4°. Only a truly deranged economic paradigm could label such a pathway as “optimal.” What accounts for such a result? The ostensible rationale for go-slow climate policy is that income today is worth more than income in the future. But aside from the patent immorality of that view, it doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. That’s because growth today is mainly yielding increases in the incomes and wealth of the already wealthy. While the standard models such as Nordhaus’s Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy (DICE) model, don’t incorporate this distortion of the growth process, it is now well-documented that business-as-usual growth is yielding increased concentration of wealth at the very top. So the neoliberal approach to the climate crisis essentially says that we should destroy the planet to further enrich a tiny sliver of humanity that already has an obscene amount of wealth.

Economists and climate change: Building castles in the sky -- Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said that "the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable." Unfortunately, when some economists turn their sights on the economics of climate change, their unreliable methods imperil not just the economic life of humankind but its very existence. I have written previously about this phenomenon in 2007 about how economists underestimate the critical importance of small (by economic value) but critical parts of the economy such as agriculture, forestry, and energy and in 2012 about how unsuited our current infrastructure is to the unfolding climate.The trouble is that against all evidence, some climate economists keep building castles in the sky. Nobel Prize winner William Nordhaus is among the most prominent economists working on climate change and its economic effects. In short, Nordhaus, who is mentioned both in my 2007 and 2012 pieces, tells us not to worry too much about climate change. It will be cheaper to adapt to it than to prevent it or slow it down.The problem with Nordhaus' thinking (and that of many others like him) is that he cannot conceive of abrupt discontinuities in the workings of the planet or the workings of human society. In short, he cannot conceive that climate change could alter our environment so thoroughly and disrupt our agriculture so completely that it would lead to catastrophic results. It is for this failure of imagination that economist Steven Keen recently took Nordhaus to task, showing through a careful critique of Nordhaus' equations, that even those equations demonstrate catastrophe ahead when provisioned with the proper numbers and understanding. When Keen adds in what we know about tipping points in the climate system, he finds that Nordhaus' own equations reveal that "[a]t 3 degrees, damages are 8 times as high. At 4 degrees, the ratio doesn’t matter, because the tipping point function says there would be no economy." What a difference understanding the nonlinearity of the climate system makes!   A report in Yale Climate Connections mentions Nordhaus and others whose models seem to predict absurd things. One author calculated that when using Nordhaus' model, "not until global warming reached 19 degrees C (34 degrees F – a global temperature that is virtually incompatible with life) did the model yield a 50% reduction in economic output."

UW students plan Friday climate strike, prepare petition for renewable energy demands - Students, faculty and community members at the University of Wisconsin-Madison plan to demand stronger environmental policies with a campus climate strike on a day of global action. Campus Leaders for Energy Action Now and co-sponsors will host a rally at Library Mall at 12 p.m. Friday to demand specific university actions against climate change. Organizers will collect signatures for a clean energy petition, which calls Chancellor Rebecca Blank and the administration to commit to power the university exclusively with renewable energy by 2050 and derive all electrical power from renewable resources by 2030, according to a press release. While CLEAN’s original goal was to transition entirely to renewable energy by 2030, conversations with administrators helped create a standard that is both challenging and realistic, said CLEAN executive board member Cara Nastali. “I’m really excited to see students show up. I hope it’s informational,” Nastali said. “I don’t know that every student knows about where our energy comes from on campus, and I think it’s super important that there’s that knowledge out there.” Colleges and universities are significant energy users and influential institutions in their communities, the petition says, and action at UW-Madison will “set an example for the rest of the nation” to move toward cleaner, renewable energy sources. The petition also asks that the Sustainability Advisory Council open up meetings to increase student involvement and representation, as well as have a concrete action plan to reach these goals by the end of January 2021.

No Plan B for Planet A - Environmentalists and Green New Deal proponents like to say we must take care of the Earth, because “There is no Planet B.”  Their Plan A is simple: No fossil fuels. Keep them in the ground. More than a few Democrat presidential aspirants have said they would begin implementing that diktat their very first day in the White House. Ask them for details, and their responses range from evasive to delusional, disingenuous – and outrage that you would dare ask. The truth is, they don’t have a clue. They’ve never really thought about it. It’s never occurred to them that these technologies require raw materials that have to be dug out of the ground, which means mining, which they vigorously oppose (except by dictators in faraway countries)…..Using wind power to replace the 3.9 billion megawatt-hours that Americans consumed in 2018, coal and gas-fired backup power plants, natural gas for home heating, coal and gas for factories, and gasoline for vehicles – while generating enough extra electricity every windy day to charge batteries for just seven straight windless days – would require some 14 million 1.8-MW wind turbines. Those turbines would sprawl across three-fourths of the Lower 48 US states – and require 15 billion tons of steel, concrete and other raw materials. They would wipe out eagles, hawks, bats and other species. Using solar to generate just the 3.9 billion MWh would require completely blanketing an area the size of New Jersey with sunbeam-tracking Nellis Air Force Base panels – if the Sun were shining at high-noon summertime Arizona intensity 24/7/365. (That doesn’t include the extra power demands listed for wind.) Solar uses toxic chemicals during manufacturing and in the panels: lead, cadmium telluride, copper indium selenide, cadmium gallium (di)selenide and many others. They could leach out into soils and waters during thunderstorms, hail storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and when panels are dismantled and hauled off to landfills or recycling centers. Recycling panels and wind turbines presents major challenges.Their models, reports and headlines bear little or no resemblance to the real world outside our windows – on temperatures,hurricanes, tornadoes, sea levels, crops or polar bears. But the crisis is real, the science is settled, and anyone who disagrees is a denier.So for the moment, Let’s not challenge their climate or fossil fuel ideologies. Let’s just ask: How exactly are you going to make this happen? How will you ensure that your Plan A won’t destroy our economy, jobs and living standards? And your Plan B won’t devastate the only planet we’ve got?

The Case for Carbon Taxes, Part I:  Political Subversion - Economists support carbon taxes on efficiency grounds.  By putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, a carbon tax creates a strong incentive for people reduce their carbon footprint.  They can do this by switching to clean technologies or simply by reducing their use of fossil fuels – by driving less or turning down the air conditioning, for example.  Other policies can also be used to get people to reduce their use of fossil fuels, but carbon taxes allow people to reduce their carbon footprint in the least costly way.  Given that decarbonizing the economy will be a large and expensive undertaking, keeping costs as low as possible is clearly important.Economists have made some headway persuading policymakers that carbon taxes should be a central part of any plan to limit global warming, but many people remain quite skeptical.  The most important doubts revolve around the political sustainability of carbon taxes.  Carbon taxes appear to be politically vulnerable because they directly and visibly lead to higher energy prices, and spending on energy is a major item in the budgets of most families. I will discuss the politics of carbon taxes in two posts.  In this post I make a simple political argument for carbon taxes:  carbon taxes are clearly constitutional and can function effectively even if most Republicans remain opposed to action on climate change and gain control of the executive branch.  In contrast, the main alternatives to carbon taxes, mandates and subsidies, are highly vulnerable to political subversion by Congress and conservative courts and regulators.  This point alone is sufficient to justify including a carbon tax in any plan to avoid the worst effects of climate change.  In the next post I will argue that carbon taxes with per capita rebates will tend to generate their own support over time as people make investments that only pay off if the tax remains in place.  This does not ensure that a carbon tax will be politically sustainable – any ambitious climate policy will remain controversial for years – but it gives policymakers and activists another reason to support carbon taxation.

 COP25 climate summit starts as UN chief says the planet faces a 'point of no-return' - The COP25 climate summit got underway Monday, with the UN secretary general warning that "the point of no-return is no longer over the horizon."The summit, which will end on December 13, is taking place in Madrid, Spain. It was originally due to be held in Santiago, Chile, but was moved to Europe after civil unrest in the South American country.In remarks delivered Sunday, Antonio Guterres emphasized that his message was "one of hope, not of despair" but sought to highlight the urgency of the problems faced by the planet.  "We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions," he said."In the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments — particularly from the main emitters — to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050," he went on to state.While Guterres stressed the importance of unity and collaboration, ensuring that all countries are on the same page is a huge challenge.  China, for instance, is constructing more coal-fired power plants and approving new mines, according to Reuters. The country has built 42.9 gigawatts of new coal-fired power capacity since the beginning of 2018, Reuters said, compared with 35 GW in 2017.As COP25 begins, the shadow of COP21, which took place in Paris in 2015, looms large.As well as a commitment to make sure global warming stayed "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, world leaders at Paris also agreed to "pursue efforts" to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  The Paris Agreement suffered a setback on November 4 when the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, officially announced in a statement that the country had started the process to withdraw.  "Per the terms of the Agreement, the United States submitted formal notification of its withdrawal to the United Nations," he said. "The withdrawal will take effect one year from delivery of the notification."

Wealthy Countries’ Approach to Climate Change Condemns Hundreds of Millions of People to Suffer -In Madrid, Spain, the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference—known as COP25—began on December 2. Representatives of the world’s countries gathered to discuss what is decidedly a serious problem for the planet; no one, except dangerous political forces in the neofascist right, denies the reality of climate change. What prevents a transfer from carbon-based fuel to other fuels is not the stubbornness of this or that country. The main problems are three:

  1. The right wing that denies climate change;
  2. Sections of the energy industry that have a vested interest in the continuation of the use of carbon-based fuels;
  3. The refusal by the Western advanced countries to admit both that they have caused the problem and that they should use their vast wealth to finance the transfer from carbon-based fuels to other fuels in countries whose wealth has been siphoned off to the West.

The first two blockages—the right wing and sections of the climate industry—are related, since it is often money from the climate industry (the Koch brothers, for instance) that finances the climate deniers and sows confusion about the immense reality that confronts us. The third blockage is serious, and it has prevented the United Nations process from bearing fruit. At the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, the countries of the world negotiated a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In that document—which was ratified at the General Assembly two years later—the governments agreed to a key principle, namely that the impact of colonialism cannot be divorced from discussions of the climate crisis. “The global nature of climate change,” the parties wrote, “calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions.” The main phrase here to consider is “common but differentiated responsibilities.” This means that the problem of climate change is something that is common to all countries, and that no one is immune to its deleterious impact; at the same time, the responsibility of countries is not identical, and some countries—which benefited for centuries from colonialism and carbon fuel—have a greater responsibility for the transition to a less damaging energy system.

The hidden costs of New England’s demand for Canadian hydropower - -Amid the last 20 years of worsening impacts from climate change, environmentalists in Vermont and New Hampshire have scrambled to nudge state leadership toward ambitious renewable energy goals. And a key component of meeting those goals has been Canadian hydropower, a cost-effective, reliable resource that is often billed as clean, green energy. The New England ISO, which regulates New England’s electricity infrastructure, currently gets 1.4 Terawatt hours of electricity from damming projects from the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, some of which goes to New Hampshire. About a third of Vermont’s energy comes from Canadian hydro plants through the Highgate interconnection. That’s enough to power about 400,000 New England homes. And even with the permitting failure of the proposed Northern Pass project — a 192-mile transmission line across New Hampshire that would have carried hydropower to southern New England — those numbers are expected only to increase. But hundreds of miles to the north, indigenous residents say the “green” power purchased by New Englanders comes at a great cost to native communities’ local environment, livelihoods and their health. “Think about what you’re buying here,” 78-year-old Alex Saunders said in his graveled voice last month, in his living room in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador. “You’re buying the misery from the local people of northern Canada. That’s not a good thing.”   By the 1940s the forces of colonization had a long-established pattern of ripping apart First Nations communities in the region. His mother was orphaned at 6 when the Spanish flu decimated her Inuit village of Okak in 1918, and his father, of Innu and English descent, was orphaned at 7. Thousands of children were separated from their families and forced to attend English-only residential schools, while Inuit and Innu were compelled to trade their independent, nomadic lifestyle for a wage-based economy and living in what Saunders calls “white people houses.” To many Inuit, the damming projects along the Churchill River are just the latest — and in some ways the worst — expression of ongoing colonization of their people.

EPA chief says addressing biofuel industry concerns over blending mandates: source -  (Reuters) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler told a biofuels company on Thursday that the agency is working to address industry concerns over biofuel blending rules that have sparked outrage across the Farm Belt, according to a source familiar with the matter. Biofuel producers and representatives of corn farmers are unhappy with the EPA’s expanded use of waivers exempting oil refineries from their annual ethanol blending requirements. They say that agency’s efforts to address the issue with proposed tweaks to the 2020 blending requirements are not enough. The EPA plans to send the proposed 2020 blending mandates to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for approval by the end of the week, according to two sources familiar with the matter. It is not clear whether that plan will include any changes since the agency unveiled the proposal in October. The agency has already missed a Nov. 30 deadline to finalize the 2020 blending rules. Wheeler acknowledged in a phone call that the industry wants greater certainty on blending requirements and said the agency was working to address the issue, the source said.

Wood pellets cause more climate pollution than coal when they’re burned. So why does Europe call them ‘carbon neutral’? -  In fact, the European Union’s original designation of biomass as “carbon neutral” has little to do with how quickly trees reabsorb pollution released when pellets are burned. Instead, it comes from an inspection of just one side of the climate ledger.It’s a loophole that dates back nearly 30 years, linked to scientists’ understanding of the carbon cycle and how its disturbance has led to the climate crisis. Burning fossil fuels disrupts the “slow” cycle, releasing carbon accumulated in the earth over millions of years. But there is also a “fast” carbon cycle: Over decades rather than millennia, trees and plants grow and store carbon; it’s emitted when these plants decay, burn, or feed animals that respire. The fast cycle is so closely tied to plant life that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels even fluctuate with the seasons, shrinking as plants grow and spiking when they die or go dormant.  As countries around the world came together to tackle the problem of climate change in 1990, the United Nations developed a framework for tracking carbon and other planet-warming pollutants in the atmosphere. The accounting system is complex, but essentially focuses on two sides of the ledger: the energy sector, where carbon dioxide is mostly released, and the land use sector, where carbon is stored by trees and other plant life.  A scientists’ panel advising the United Nations on the framework made two crucial decisions that inspired the global biomass trade that followed. It chose to track carbon dioxide emissions from bioenergy in the land use sector instead of the energy sector. And it chose to track those emissions by fluctuations in forest cover, not by molecules measured at the biomass smokestack.   To comply with the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first international climate treaty, it set a goal of 20% renewable energy by 2020 and deemed biomass as emissions-free as solar or wind. To meet the energy-focused Kyoto targets, coal-dependent member nations like Britain began offering financial incentives to coal plants to convert to bioenergy.  Those inducements spurred a massive pellet industry with southern U.S. forests as its foundation, supplemented by Canada and the Baltics. North Carolina alone has risen to become the single largest exporter of pellets in the world. The flaws in this scheme aren’t hard to spot. Manufacturing wood pellets and shipping them creates carbon pollution; burning them for electricity creates vastly more. While pellet life-cycle emissions are regulated, smokestack emissions, effectively, are not: they’re supposed to be tracked in the land use sector, but that sector is only loosely regulated in the Kyoto Protocol, and the United States and Canada aren’t parties to it.The loophole means that Britain’s Drax, the largest biomass power plant in the world, emits over 8 million tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide that the British government counts as zero and that the United States ignores completely.

Estonia is beginning to see the cost of wood pellets. Is North Carolina next? - Trees loom large in North Carolina lore. “Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine,” begins the state toast, a tribute to the vast savannas that once covered the eastern coastal plain.  But since British colonial ships were first bound with tar, North Carolina forests have been as much a source of commerce as of custom. Now, the state is set to become the world’s largest single source of wood pellets, capsules of dried wood that have become a controversial substitute for coal in power plants in Europe and Asia.  As scientists say more natural, diverse woodlands are needed to suck carbon out of the atmosphere, North Carolina climate advocates have been pleading with state officials to rein in the industrial biomass industry. Across the Atlantic, the country of Estonia offers a cautionary tale for what could happen if they don’t. Home to the world’s second largest pellet company, the small Baltic nation is converting many of its own storied forests from natural stands to tree farms. Activists say sacred groves and tourist attractions are suffering as a result, and government officials predict the timber plantations will store dramatically less carbon — with costly consequences for the country’s climate targets. The risk in North Carolina is less immediate. The administration of Gov. Roy Cooper has a plan to zero out emissions by 2050, but it doesn’t yet carry the force of law. Still, Estonia’s example is a warning signal to any government serious about keeping temperatures from rising above dangerous levels, advocates say. The message is to curb the growth of the industry and rethink the industry forestry model altogether.  Spruce, birch, pine, aspen and oak covered most of Estonia until the advent of agriculture. But as in North Carolina, the pellet trade has also become a key part of the forests products industry.  As a result, this country of 1.3 million has rapidly become a top producer of pellets on the continent.   Satellite data from the University of Maryland, compiled by the World Resources Institute, shows Estonia lost 15% of its forest cover since 2001, with only a fraction getting replaced with new tree canopy. Data from the Ministry of Environment show more and more land is clear cut or cut to leave only middle-aged trees that can produce seeds. In fact, such “regeneration felling” has more than doubled in the last decade. “One thing that hasn’t gotten that much attention is really the scope of destruction that has already taken place,” said Martin Luiga, international communications coordinator for Estonian Forest Aid, a citizen-driven forest protection group he helped found in 2016.

First US steel plants powered by wind, solar, are coming for industry with big carbon footprint  - The steel industry has a massive carbon footprint, as much as 6% to 7% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Rocky Mountain Institute study. A new Nucor steel microplant in Missouri is trying to put a dent in that number. Nucor’s micromill in Sedalia, Missouri, is set to be the first U.S. steel plant to run on wind energy, according to Evergy. The $250 million plant, which is expected to open by the end of the year, is a partnership between the steel company and local utility Evergy, which will power the plant after a 75 megawatt power purchase agreement between the companies. With sustainability goals becoming increasingly important to companies, plants like this one could be built more frequently, and Evergy senior vice president Chuck Caisley says that the Midwest is in a prime position for more projects like the Nucor plant. “We sit in the Saudi Arabia of wind,” Caisley said. “I think that increasingly there will be sustainability requirements companies will want to meet. In Kansas and midwest Missouri we have great wind to meet current and prospective customers with price competitiveness and sustainability. It reduces our environmental footprint in the area and creates jobs.” The Nucor plant was not initially conceived with a goal of using wind energy, but the Evergy executive said a competitive price ended up attracting the steel-producing company to Missouri over other wind-rich states, like Nebraska and Kansas, who were finalists for the project. Caisley said that the price competitiveness, along with helping Nucor meet sustainability goals, were important to get the project to Missouri. There is a law in the state that lets utilities apply for discounted electric rates for aluminum and steel producers that buy significant amounts of energy.

EPA Watchdog: White House Blocked Part of Truck Pollution Investigation, Caused Lack of Public Information -- The Trump administration pushed through an exemption to clean air rules, effectively freeing heavy polluting, super-cargo trucks from following clean air rules. It rushed the rule without conducting a federally mandated study on how it would impact public health, especially children, said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General Charles J. Sheehan in a report released yesterday, as the AP reported.The gift to the trucking and fuel industry was one of Scott Pruitt's last acts as EPA Administrator before he resigned under a cloud of ethics violations in July 2018. The EPA inspector general not only faulted the EPA for failing to conduct a mandatory study into air pollutionand how it affects children's health, but also the White House budget office for failing to provide requested information, according to CNN."The lack of analyses caused the public to not be informed of the proposed rule's benefits, costs, potential alternatives and impacts on children's health during the public comment period," the report reads.  "Such actions call into question the quality of EPA rulemaking processes and leave the public and stakeholders without the information necessary to make informed comments on EPA regulatory actions," the inspector general's report warned, as the AP reported. The rule in question pertains to "glider trucks," which are trucks with older engines that do not meet current air pollution rules. Glider trucks are a booming sector of the cargo industry, in which an older diesel engine is refitted with a new big rig body. Emission tests show that glider trucks are far more damaging to people's health than trucks with newer engines, emitting up to several hundred times the amount of certain pollutions, according to the AP. The New York Times reported that EPA scientists found that these older diesel engines can emit up to 55 times more soot than newer trucks. The rush to pass the Glider Repeal Rule came after Pruitt met with several executives from Fitzgerald Glider Kits, the largest maker of gliders. Following, the executives welcomed Donald Trump to one of their plants during the 2016 campaign, as the AP reported.

Rapid EV adoption brings queues at some EV chargers on Thanksgiving weekend - As expected, throngs of Thanksgiving holiday travelers pushed highways and airports to their limit this weekend. With the ranks of Tesla drivers growing by about 150,000 vehicles in the past year, queues also formed at some of the most popular Supercharger locations. The bad news? A few EV drivers had to wait in queues. The good news? It’s a known and solvable problem — with more chargers and faster-charging rates already under way. A YouTube video from Thanksgiving day showed about 15 Teslas waiting in a queue for vehicles using about a dozen Superchargers in San Luis Obispo, California. In a video from a day earlier, Tesla — anticipating increased traffic ­— deployed a so-called rollingMegapack with 10 72-kilowatt Superchargers on board.Tesla reportedly said the Megapack carried enough energy to charge about 100 cars. On November 30, the queue in San Luis Obispo was reportedly two hours. But earlier today, a driver tweeted that only one person was in the line in San Luis Obispo. It took more than a century to develop a network of about 120,000 redundant gas stations in the US. The combined system of Tesla and other highway charging stations, built over the past decade, is expected to reach about 4,000 locations in the next couple of years. Fortunately, EV charging stations are commonly networked, providing a way for drivers to know via mobile apps and dashboard indicators if a charging spot is free — or otherwise reroute to an available location. Of course, nearly all EV charging takes place at home.  Ultimately, the solution is faster charging and more of it. Tesla is in the process of rolling out V3 versions of Superchargers capable of 250-kilowatt charging. On Tesla’s most efficient vehicles, like the Long Range Model 3, the company says the new Supercharger V3 can add up to 75 miles of range in five minutes. However, the pace of deployment has not been as fast as expected.

Tesla cars built in China have been recommended for government subsidies, report says -China’s industry ministry has put Tesla Model 3 cars that are built inside the country on a list of vehicles recommended for government subsidies, according to a Reuters report on Friday. Reuters, citing a document published by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said the level of subsidy that Tesla would receive was not yet clear. Two types of the Model 3 were on the recommendation list for new energy vehicle subsidies, it said. Tesla shares rose 1.5% in extended hours trade on the back of the news. The Chinese city of Shanghai is home to Tesla’s Gigafactory 3, where groundbreaking on the facility took place in January 2019. In its third-quarter update toward the end of October, Tesla said trial production of the Model 3 in Shanghai had started ahead of schedule. Elon Musk’s firm noted that the Chinese facility was, in terms of capital expenditure per unit of capacity, approximately 65% less expensive to construct than its U.S.-based Model 3 production system. Worldwide electric car sales hit 1.98 million in 2018, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), with global stock reaching 5.12 million. China’s electric car market is the biggest on the planet — a little over 1 million electric cars were sold there last year — the IEA says, with Europe and the U.S. following behind.

GM, Korea's LG Chem in venture to build factory in Ohio (AP) — General Motors and Korea’s LG Chem have formed a joint venture to build an electric vehicle battery cell factory near Lordstown, Ohio, east of Cleveland. The companies also will work together on battery technology to bring down the cost for future GM electric vehicles. The new plant will create more than 1,100 jobs in the area around Youngstown, Ohio, and the joint venture plans to invest $2.3 billion in the plant and for battery development. GM says it will be among the largest battery factories in the world. They’ll break ground on the new plant sometime next year, but the exact location wasn’t disclosed. The new battery plant comes after GM closed a sprawling small-car assembly plant in Lordstown earlier this year. The battery plant was announced last fall during contract talks with the United Auto Workers union, but it won’t make up for the lost jobs at the small-car plant. The Lordstown factory stopped making cars in March. Just two years ago it employed 4,500 workers on two shifts who made the Chevrolet Cruze compact car. Most of those employees either retired or transferred to other GM factories. GM has been working with LG Chem on electric vehicle batteries since 2009, shortly before the Chevrolet Volt rechargeable gas-electric hybrid went on sale. LG Chem now supplies battery cells for the Chevrolet Bolt fully electric vehicle. The joint venture likely will pay less than the roughly $30 per hour that GM pays unionized assembly plant workers. Barra said the plant will follow GM’s component manufacturing strategy, where workers are paid less than at assembly plants. She said it will have to be cost-competitive.

Battery prices fall nearly 50% in 3 years, spurring more electrification: BNEF - Average market prices for battery packs have plunged from $1,100/kWh in 2010 to $156/kWh in 2019, an 87% fall in real terms, according to a report released Tuesday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Prices are projected to fall to around $100/kWh by 2023, driving electrification across the global economy, according to BNEF's forecast. Customers purchasing batteries at a commercial scale for electric vehicles and energy storage, as well as using high energy density cathodes to store energy more efficiently in battery packs, are all spurring the price decline. BNEF's latest forecast, from its 2019 Battery Price Survey, is an example of how advancements in battery technology have driven down costs at rates faster than previously predicted. Three years ago, when battery prices were around $300 per kWh, BNEF projected they would fall to $120/kWh by 2030. Now, "the path to achieving $100/kWh by 2024 looks promising, even if there will undoubtedly be hiccups along the way," BNEF said in a statement. "There is much less certainty on how the industry will reduce prices even further," from $100/kWh to BNEF's forecast of around $60/kWh in 2030. Further price reductions are not "impossible," BNEF said, but will be more complicated because "there are a variety of options and paths that can be taken," such as standardizing battery pack designs across different EV models or introducing new technologies to improve the batteries themselves, like new cathode materials.  The cost of lithium-ion batteries mandates the cost of electric vehicles for consumers and the ability of battery storage projects to compete in electricity markets. As they get cheaper, batteries will be used in more industry sectors.  . Earlier this year, Amazon placed an order for 100,000 all-electric delivery vans from Michigan-based start-up manufacturer Rivian. Just this week,Reuters reported that DHL will run pilot programs for its StreetScooter electric delivery vehicles in U.S. cities, starting in 2020. The use of batteries in specific vehicle applications like commercial delivery could lead to more differentiation in battery cells in response to customer demand, with some customers putting greater value on cycle life over price declines, according to BNEF. But low battery prices will still be "the most critical goal" for mass market electric vehicles.

An Introduction to the State of Energy Storage in the U.S. - Energy storage has been used for decades to accommodate fluctuations in electricity demand that baseload power plants – particularly those running on coal and nuclear – cannot ramp up quickly enough to address. Pumped storage is one technology that meets this need, taking water from a lower-elevation reservoir or a flowing water source and pumping it to an upper basin where it becomes a source of supplemental hydropower. Pumped storage plants total 22.9 gigawatts in capacity nationwide – more than any other energy storage resource. Yet most of these plants were built between 1960 and 1990, and no new ones are under development.  Far less commonly used are utility-scale flywheel systems, only three of which now operate in the U.S. Flywheels convert electricity to stored kinetic energy that can be released within milliseconds to ensure stable voltage on the grid. They cannot, however, deliver a sustained stream of energy over longer periods – multiple minutes, hours, or days. That constraint, along with the bankruptcy of one industry leader, has slowed flywheel deployment, currently yielding just a few tens of megawatts of storage capacity. Pumping compressed air into underground cavities is another storage technology that has drawn some attention, but only one such facility has been built in the U.S. Molten salt is used as a storage medium for heat captured by sun-tracking mirrors at a small number of concentrating solar power plants in the Southwest. However, both of these storage technologies face high operating costs and technical hurdles that have dimmed their prospects for broader introduction. To meet the storage needs of a renewable energy-reliant grid, nothing compares with the versatility and scalability of electrochemical battery storage. Batteries can play a critical role in maintaining consistent voltage on the grid – a function called frequency regulation. They can also store energy over multiple hours, accommodating the variable flow of electricity from wind farms and solar plants. Several other battery storage technologies are emerging, but lithium ion leads the field. The high-energy density (storage capacity per volume) of lithium ion batteries makes them a great match for portable electronics, which is why they are widely used for mobile phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. Though developed for these smaller applications, lithium ion accounts for more than 80% of utility-scale battery storage.

U.S. solar group says Trump tariffs killing jobs; White House says 'fake news' - (Reuters) - The U.S. solar industry warned on Tuesday that the Trump administration’s tariffs on imported panels will cost the United States 62,000 jobs and $19 billion (£14.81 billion) in investment, an estimate the White House dismissed as “fake news”. The industry’s top trade group, the U.S. Solar Industries Association (SEIA), said the lost investment equated to 10.5 gigawatts in missed solar energy installations, enough to power about 1.8 million homes. President Donald Trump imposed the four-year tariff program on imported panels in early 2018, starting at 30% and dropping by five percentage points each year. The SEIA report based its gloomy forecasts on that regime remaining unchanged, saying the industry will create 62,000 fewer jobs than it otherwise would have between 2017 and 2021. That’s more than the 53,000 workers employed in U.S. coal mining, an industry Trump has promised to revive. “Solar was the first industry to be hit with this administration’s tariff policy, and now we’re feeling the impacts that we warned against two years ago,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president of SEIA, said in a statement. The White House slammed the report, which came two days before a scheduled mid-term review by the International Trade Commission that could influence whether President Donald Trump maintains, changes, or cancels the tariff program. Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade and manufacturing advisor, said the report was “classic fake news dressed up in academic mumbo jumbo.” Navarro called SEIA “a loose confederation of Chinese solar companies seeking to destroy American solar manufacturing jobs and U.S. solar installers that want cheap Chinese panels and don’t care how many American jobs are destroyed by China’s heavily subsidized industry.” Trump announced the solar panel import levy in January 2018, his opening salvo in a trade war aimed at helping U.S. manufacturers rebound from years of decline. Solar installers opposed the move because they rely on cheap imported panels to compete with fossil fuels.

How to Stop NJ from Triggering More Carbon Pollution in Other States -- A state agency is looking at whether New Jersey by rejoining a regional initiative to clamp down on greenhouse gases from power plants could wind up increasing climate-altering pollution elsewhere. The issue, known as leakage, has been raised previously by environmentalists and energy consultants who questioned whether New Jersey’s proposal to re-enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative might increase emissions from states not part of the program. In essence, critics argued the caps set by the Murphy administration on carbon pollution from power plants were at such a level that cheaper and dirtier generating units out of state would run more frequently than expensive and less polluting facilities in New Jersey, leading to more global warming pollution. As a result, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, recognizing that modeling suggests potential leakage, will hold a meeting with stakeholders to determine policy to fix the problem if significant global warming pollution increases. The meeting will be held Dec. 13 at Montclair State University’s Center for Environmental and Life Sciences from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. “It makes sense to do this analysis,’’ . “It is an important issue for states to look at to get a handle on this issue.’’

Massachusetts divestment movement seeks to capitalize on fossil fuels’ decline --An analysis released by Massachusetts climate activists concludes the city of Somerville’s retirement fund lost out on $475,000 when state authorities barred it from removing fossil fuel investments from its portfolio. The report arrives just as the state Legislature is considering a bill that would clear the way for county and municipal pension funds to pull out of fossil fuel stocks. “There is an opportunity cost that has been suffered by Somerville pensioners,” said Colby Cunningham, spokesperson for MassDivest, the organization that completed the analysis. “The fossil fuel industry is in decline — that’s a continuing trend.”The idea of fossil fuel divestment, in which investors pull their money out of any companies in the fossil fuel business, has gained momentum this year. Last month, the European Investment Bank, the lending arm of the European Union, announced its plans to phase out financing for fossil fuels by 2021. Students at colleges and universities across the country are demanding their schools divest their endowments; last week, divestment campaigners from Harvard and Yale stormed the field at the universities’ football game to protest the schools’ continued investments in fossil fuels. More than 1,140 institutions have pledged to remove $11.5 trillion from investments in the fossil fuel sector, according to Fossil Free, a project of climate action group

Senate approves successor to Rick Perry as energy secretary(AP) — President Donald Trump’s pick to succeed Rick Perry as energy secretary won easy Senate confirmation Monday, despite a Democratic senator’s objections that the nominee hadn’t fully answered questions related to the Trump impeachment investigation. Several other Democrats joined Republicans in approving Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette’s promotion, 70-15. Confirmation of Brouillette, who’d been responsible for day-to-day operations at the Energy Department for two years under Perry, came a day after Perry’s resignation became effective. Perry has said his departure had nothing to do with his energy work in Ukraine for the Trump administration and that he was focused on longstanding U.S. policy to lessen that country’s dependence on Russia for fuel. A House impeachment panel is scrutinizing Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate a company employing a son of rival Joe Biden. Perry has refused to testify before the panel. Some other administration officials who have appeared before impeachment investigators described Perry as one of what the Trump White House allegedly called the “three amigos” — administration figures who consulted with Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, one of the main focuses of the impeachment probe, on Ukraine issues. Brouillette, a veteran in state and federal energy regulatory matters, easily won bipartisan support since Trump nominated him Nov. 7. He told a Senate committee hearing last month he knew nothing about any of the Ukraine conversations under scrutiny.

New Energy secretary: Trump has directed agency to find 'different ways to utilize coal' --Acting Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said this week he has received a directive from President Trump to boost the struggling coal industry. "What the president has directed us to do is to look for different ways to utilize coal," Brouillette told the Washington Examiner in an interview Monday alongside former Energy Secretary Rick Perry. The Senate confirmed Brouillette in a 70-15 vote Monday night. He has yet to be sworn in. Brouillette appears set to follow Perry’s path in looking for ways to bolster an industry that has been losing ground to renewables and natural gas. Renewable energy production in the U.S. surpassed coal-fired generation over the summer for the first time, and coal-fired power plants have been struggling to obtain financial backing. During his confirmation hearing, Brouillette said he was in favor of an “all of the above” energy strategy but cautioned against moving away from fossil fuels that could support baseload power as the renewable energy industry develops more reliable long-term battery storage. In Monday's interview, Brouillette said the plan isn’t to subsidize coal or reinforce its standing in electricity generation but rather look for other ways to extract value from coal. “There are other uses for this product in the marketplace today,” Brouillette said. “We can make carbon from it, we can extract rare earth metals from it. We can look at the residue, for instance, from coal ash, and pull out critical materials for battery storage. There's a bright future for coal, we're just going to continue to develop it as it goes along.”

EPA ignores health benefits of coal rule it plans to weaken: economists - (Reuters) - A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to weaken a rule on coal plant pollution fails to consider billions of dollars in health benefits for Americans, economists from universities including Harvard and Yale said on Wednesday. The six economists said the proposal to change the rule on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants ignores an Obama-era estimate that it would slash U.S. healthcare bills by $33 billion to $90 billion per year. The rule would save billions of dollars in healthcare costs because it requires plants to not only cut emissions of mercury, but also fine particulates that cause heart and lung illnesses, they said. But the Trump administration, which has aimed to slash regulations governing fossil fuel production, last year proposed revising the mercury rule while scrapping its estimate of the cost savings from reductions in emissions of fine particulates. The administration is expected to throw out an Obama administration finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate power plant emissions when it finalizes the proposal in coming weeks. “Instead of weighing all the costs against all the benefits, the EPA is cherry picking,” said Yale University’s Matthew Kotchen, who released a report on the agency’s proposal with the other economists. “They pulled the biggest public health benefit off the scale.”

McDowell Co. Mine 57 shutdowns temporarily - Due to poor market conditions impacting mining operations across the country, Bluestone was forced to temporarily idle Pay Car 57 Mine in McDowell County. The news of Mine 57 being idled is no surprise to McDowell County native, Doug Christian. "It's nothing new, you work save a bit of money in the bank then you strike or get laid off, and have to start all over again," Christian said. "I mean it just happens all the time, it's normal around here. They go idle, for a while and then they open up again," Molina Roberts, Executive Director of McDowell County Economic Development Authority added. The Charleston Gazette-Mail obtained violation reports. These documents say that Mine 57, which is owned by Governor Jim Justice's family is one of three in West Virginia that failed to install life-saving technology that would help prevent miners from being crushed to death by fast-moving machinery in underground coal mines. "It's scary for one. People don't realize that you're inside the earth. Things happen, and we fear for them," Roberts described.

Lawsuit says UNC power plant is polluting too much. - Two environmental groups claim in a federal lawsuit that UNC-Chapel Hill is spewing too much air pollution from coal-burning boilers in violation of a federal permit. The campus burned too much coal in its boilers and failed to maintain logbooks of required inspections, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club said in their lawsuit. Pollution from the power plant can trigger asthma attacks, decrease lung function and even cause early death, the lawsuit said. UNC-Chapel Hill has a plant with two boilers that burn coal, natural gas, and fuel oil to produce electricity and steam. Former Chancellor Holden Thorpe said in 2010 that the campus would end its use of coal by 2020. The university has applied for a five-year renewal of the air quality permit covering the plant, The News & Observer has reported. The campus set a new goal in 2015 to be “climate neutral” by 2050. In response to emailed questions, UNC-Chapel Hill forwarded a nine-page letter dated Nov. 15 that Jonathan Pruitt, vice chancellor for finance and operations sent to Perrin de Jong, a North Carolina-based lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity. Pruitt said the university strongly disagrees with claims of repeat violations. “There have been a few, isolated instances of record-keeping discrepancies and other minor errors that have been reported as appropriate,” the letter said. Pruitt’s letter says UNC-Chapel Hill needs the electricity and steam the plant produces to fulfill its teaching, research and public service mission.

Dominion outlines progress on coal ash pond closure law (AP) — A company official says Dominion Energy is on track to meet the mandates Virginia lawmakers set out earlier this year for closing its coal ash ponds. Mark Mitchell is the utility’s vice president of generation construction. He told lawmakers on the State Water Commission on Monday the company thinks the law’s timeframe is doable and its recycling mandate is realistic. The law affects 11 ash ponds at four power stations. It requires the company to recycle at least a quarter of the estimated 27.3 million cubic yards of ash. Coal ash is waste left from burning coal to produce electricity. For years, the company argued that leaving it in unlined pits was safe and the best alternative. Mitchell says coal ash cleanup is expected to cost $3 billion.

Coal Ash Is Still Polluting Kentucky's Green River - Often, pollution is invisible.  But at the Green Station Landfill in Webster County, it’s obvious. At times, the coal ash leachate shimmers black like an oil slick. At other times, it oozes chemical green. Sometimes, it stains the soil the color of rusted molasses. And in videos, the coal ash liquids trickle off the landfill like teal glacial waters leaving behind a pale salty residue. This mixture, containing elevated levels of carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals, is seeping from the Green Station Landfill into the Green River toward its confluence with the Ohio. Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet has seen “problems with the site and its management” since 2004, when the state first placed the ash landfill under assessment for polluting groundwater, said John Mura, cabinet spokesman. Inspectors first reported the leachate flowing into the river in the summer of 2017, but it wasn’t until May of this year the Energy and Environment Cabinet presented Big Rivers Electric Corporation with a violation for the pollution. “You know we can’t change the past, but we are confident that there’s a good faith effort being made to fix this problem and right now, that is our biggest concern,” Mura said. And yet, the pollution continues. The site was still leaking as of November, Mura said. Big Rivers declined an interview for this story, but said in a statement that workers have dug trenches to route the pollution to a nearby pond with a “permitted discharge” back into the Green River; a river that local residents say people still occasionally use for catfishing and boating.The Green Station Landfill is one of 37 coal ash waste sites around the Commonwealth that have shown evidence of polluting Kentucky waters, according to Earthjustice reviews of compliance data. The ash leftover from burning coal for electricity has proven itself a persistent environmental challenge across the country. One study found 91 percent of coal-fired power plants with monitoring data are contaminating nearby groundwater with unsafe levels of pollution, according to an Environmental Integrity Project report.

Utilities Running Uneconomic Coal Plants Cost Consumers $3.5 Billion From 2015-2017 -Investors paying attention to energy economics understand coal-fired power is a great way to lose money. Murray Energy’s bankruptcy makes it clear coal can’t compete in the electricity sector, yet coal keeps clinging to life, especially when owned and operated by monopoly utilities.These utilities hold roughly $95 billion in coal power plant debt on their balance sheets, many of which operate within competitive wholesale electricity markets, where decisions on when to run those plants – and pay off their debt – are controlled by an independent market operator. Fast-falling clean energy costs haverendered 74% of U.S. coal plants uneconomic, meaning they recover less and less debt.But regulated monopoly utilities can also recover coal plant costs from customers, subject to regulatory oversight. Recovering those costs depends on justifying the plants’ continued operation. Unfortunately for those utilities, continuing to operate these plants costs customers billions.Last year, UCS senior analyst Joe Daniel outlined how regulated monopoly utilities operating in competitive markets are receiving a “billion-dollar coal bailout” by exploiting competitive markets to run coal-fired power plants even when doing so is uneconomic, i.e. when cheaper power is available from competitors. Transparent competitive wholesale markets allow analysts to identify when these plants are running “out of merit,” meaning their monopoly operators are self-committing them rather than taking dispatch orders from market operators. The deeper analysts dig, the clearer it becomes that utilities are operating these plants at significant losses and sticking customers with the bill.

U.S. coal plant retirements linked to plants with higher operating costs –EIA- Since peaking at nearly 318 gigawatts (GW) in 2011, U.S. coal-fired electric generating capacity declined to 257 GW in 2017 after several coal power plants retired. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) undertook a study with Sargent & Lundy to improve modeling for the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO). The results show the relationship between plant retirements and a plant’s operating and maintenance costs. According to the report, a larger share of plants with higher operating and maintenance costs retired by 2018 than those with relatively low operating and maintenance costs. Sustained relatively low natural gas prices has allowed natural gas-fired generators to become more competitivewith coal-fired units, leading to a general decline in using coal-fired capacity. A decline in use leads to a decline in revenues at a plant, which generally translates to lower operating margins, less ability to cover costs, and in many cases, retiring that capacity.EIA’s analysis did not cover the entire fleet of coal power plants in the United States because not all plants report their variable operating and maintenance costs to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on FERC'sForm 1, Electric Utility Annual Report, which was used as a basis of the study. In 2008, about 55% of the U.S. coal fleet reported Form 1 data.EIA sorted these coal plants into three groups based on their average operating and maintenance costs. The highest cost group operated at costs ranging from $28 per megawatthour (MWh) to $40/MWh, and the lowest cost group operated at $20/MWh to $26/MWh. A middle group operated near the fleet average, ranging from $26/MWh to $28/MWh from 2008 through 2017. In general, the group with the lowest variable operating and maintenance costs tended to run more often, which resulted in higher capacity factors. Capacity factors reflect a power plant’s electricity output as a percentage of its generating capacity. As natural gas prices fell and coal use decreased, capacity factors at coal-fired power plants fell from 75% in 2008 to 54% in 2017. The number of operating coal plants in the highest operating cost group fell by more than the fleet average, from 75% in 2008 to 47% in 2017.

Coal power becoming 'uninsurable' as firms refuse cover -The number of insurers withdrawing cover for coal projects more than doubled this year and for the first time US companies have taken action, leaving Lloyd’s of London and Asian insurers as the “last resort” for fossil fuels, according to a new report. The report, which rates the world’s 35 biggest insurers on their actions on fossil fuels, declares that coal – the biggest single contributor to climate change – “is on the way to becoming uninsurable” as most coal projects cannot be financed, built or operated without insurance. Ten firms moved to restrict the insurance cover they offer to companies that build or operate coal power plants in 2019, taking the global total to 17, said the Unfriend Coal campaign, which includes 13 environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Client Earth and Urgewald, a German NGO. The report will be launched at an insurance and climate risk conference in London on Monday, as the UN climate summit gets underway in Madrid. The first insurers to exit coal policies were all European, but since March, two US insurers – Chubb and Axis Capital – and the Australian firms QBE and Suncorp have pledged to stop or restrict insurance for coal projects. At least 35 insurers with combined assets of $8.9tn, equivalent to 37% of the insurance industry’s global assets, have begun pulling out of coal investments. A year ago, 19 insurers holding more than $6tn in assets were divesting from fossil fuels. Peter Bosshard, one of the Unfriend Coal campaign co-ordinators, said: “We hope within two to three years it will be so difficult to obtain insurance that most coal projects won’t be able to go forward. “We’ve seen the acceleration [in firms pulling out of coal] for a good reason – people are freaking out.” As global temperatures climb, hurricanes, wildfires and floods have become more frequent and severe, resulting in higher claims bills for insurers. Lloyd’s, the world’s biggest insurance market, is the only major European firm which continues to insure new coal projects.

In China, coal creeps back in as slowing economy overshadows climate change ambitions -  (Reuters) - China is building more coal-fired power plants and approving dozens of new mines, despite assurances from the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter that it was serious about fighting climate change. China’s 2021-2030 policy plans are under close scrutiny as the United Nations climate change conference gets under way in Madrid, especially after a new UN report said the world needs to cut carbon dioxide by 7.6% a year over the decade in order to limit temperature rises. But with the country’s economic growth at its slowest in nearly 30 years, industry data as well as speeches from leaders and industry officials suggest a willingness to lean on coal for power, especially in old mining regions. “We continue to work hard to advance the fight against climate change, but on the other hand, we are indeed facing multiple challenges such as developing the economy, improving the people’s livelihoods, eliminating poverty and controlling pollution,” said Zhao Yingmin, China’s vice environment minister, at a briefing last week. Beijing promised this year to show the “highest possible ambition” when revising its emissions pledges next year, although it did not commit to more stringent binding targets. But it has built 42.9 gigawatts of new coal-fired power capacity since the start of last year, with another 121 GW under construction. That compares with 35 GW of coal-fired power added in 2017 and 38 GW in 2016. Although no net figures are available, regulators also approved 40 new mines with nearly 200 million tonnes of annual capacity in the first three quarters of 2019, compared with 25 million tonnes in all of 2018. Major state-owned utilities want to shed as much of a third of their older and less-efficient coal-fired capacity in an effort to reduce debt, according to a government document seen by Reuters and confirmed by four sources. But even if they go ahead, the cuts will be offset by newer capacity added elsewhere.

Coal Is Dead, But China Is Reviving It --  The cheapest of the fossil fuels is still a popular one among smelters and power utilities. Its consumption on a global scale is indeed declining, but this decline only began in the current decade. Recently, a study projected that this year will see a record coal use drop of 3% globally, but the end of coal is still not in sight. “It is clear that the economics of coal production no longer make sense in many parts of the world where it is simply cheaper to generate electricity from natural gas and renewables,” a climate change researcher told the BBC last month. Yet there are many other parts of the world where coal still makes the best economic sense for a variety of reasons, including lack of access to renewable technology and the funds to invest in it.  The Belt and Road Initiative is an ambitious international investment program devised by Beijing that involves infrastructure projects worth a total of $12 trillion and spanning as many as 126 countries.  Most of these are developing countries and many have yet to join the renewable crusade against climate change. But coal is widely available and cheap, so it will power the industrialization of these countries with China’s financial help.A study by Global Energy Monitor cited by Corporate Knights estimates that the countries covered by the Belt and Road initiative could end up producing 66% of the world’s carbon emissions by 2050. That would increase their current level of accounting for 28% of global CO2 emissions and would cancel out the rest of the world’s efforts in restraining temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius.But is coal the single culprit for emissions? Hardly. A recent research paper from the Global Carbon Project had disappointing news for the millions of people worried about climate change. This year, the authors warned, our carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high despite everything that is being done to arrest the rise in these emissions.The culprit: natural gas. The data compiled by the GCP researchers revealed that natural gas has replaced coal as the biggest driver of carbon dioxide emissions growth in the last few years. It has also become, because of its abundance and low price, the biggest source of electricity generation in one of the biggest polluters, the United States. “Natural gas may produce fewer carbon emissions than coal, but that just means you cook the planet a bit more slowly,” a research director with the Center for International Climate Researchtold The New York Times. “And that’s before even getting into the worries about methane leaks,” Glen Peters, who helped compile the data for the CGI report, added.

South Korea’s Dust Dilemma Forces Coal Plants Into Hibernation - South Korea plans to halt several coal-fired power plants this winter to try and clear toxic dust that forces residents to wear face masks and confines children indoors. South Korea will shut as many as 15 coal plants and run all others at 80% of capacity for three months from Dec. 1 as part of efforts to cut emissions by 44%, according to a Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy spokesperson. On weekends when outdoor activity is the highest, the government will force plants to reduce run rates even more. This is the first time South Korea is restricting coal in winter after regularly shutting plants in the spring, which is typically the worst time of the year for dust. Air quality has worsened in recent years, and it’s common for Koreans to download apps warning them when smog and dust approach dangerous levels. Some new apartments come equipped with air purifiers and special enclosures before the front door to keep dust out. Indoor playgrounds are gaining popularity as children often can’t play outside. Even with the shutdowns, South Korea’s power grid will have ample spare capacity, the ministry said. The move may boost demand for liquefied natural gas by one or two cargoes a month, although given the supply abundance, it probably won’t have a major impact on prices, said Jeff Moore, a Singapore-based analyst at S&P Global Platts.

Germany Will Close All of Its Nuclear Power Plants, but Needs to Put Its Nuclear Waste Somewhere - All seven of Germany's nuclear power plants are slated to close by 2022, but questions remain about where the European country can safely bury nearly 28,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste that will stay there for the next million years, as CNN reported. The decision to close the country's nuclear plants came after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in March 2011. Japan is still struggling to cool and to contain the nuclear waste from the plant, which is part of the reason that Germany is wrestling with the puzzle of where to offload nearly 2,000 containers of nuclear waste, which measures about six Big Bens. The site that Germany chooses for the nuclear waste must be completely impervious to water and safe enough not to leak in the event of an earthquake, as CNN reported. It needs to find a repository that "offers the best possible safety and security for a period of a million years," said Germany's Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, according to CNN. Professor Miranda Schreurs, who is part of the team searching for a storage site, called the puzzle a "wicked problem," and added that the storage site needs to be beyond rock solid. There are remarkable technological challenges in solving the issue, such as transporting the waste, finding a way to encase it, and even letting generations far off in the future know that it is there, according to CNN. "We need to find a way to tell them 'curiosity is not good here,'" said Schreurs to CNN. She added that the site must be "very, very stable. It can't have earthquakes, it can't have any signs of water flow, it can't be very porous rock." Ideally, Germany would store the waste in granite, but the country does not have rich deposits of granite, according to India-based Republic World. However, all those problems need to be solved in tandem with a communications challenge — how Germany will convince one of its communities to bury the nuclear waste in its backyard. The challenges for a nuclear graveyard need to be solved by the government's deadline of 2031 when a final repository for all the nuclear waste must be chosen. The project of transporting and securing the waste will then continue for generations. The storage facility is scheduled to be sealed somewhere between 2130 and 2170, according to CNN.

Nuclear waste in Paducah, Kentucky poses extra threat to region facing historic flooding - Built in a horseshoe bend of the Ohio River, the 750-acre Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant was the last uranium enrichment facility for nuclear fuel and weaponry in the U.S. before it shuttered its 50-year operation in 2013. It turned a solid — uranium — into a gas called uranium hexafluoride, or UF-6, which was then shipped off to facilities like Oak Ridge in Tennessee (infamous for its role in the Manhattan Project). Due to the presence of hazardous and radioactive wastes contaminating soil, groundwater and surface water, the Environmental Protection Agency added the plant to its Superfund National Priorities List in 1994. Bookended by the Tennessee River to the east and the Mississippi River thirty miles to the west, Paducah is the commercial center of western Kentucky. It’s part of the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail, memorialized in larger-than-life murals along the concrete floodgates separating downtown from the wide waterway. Home of the National Quilt Museum and a UNESCO Creative City, Paducah is now a vibrant arts community.  For over half a century, the plant was Paducah’s main employer, providing up to 7,000 jobs in a place where nearly a quarter of people now live in poverty. But poor working conditions and unregulated waste disposal also harmed Paducah residents. The legacy of these problems have cost the town and taxpayers. Despite multiple recommendations from a watchdog government agency, the Department of Energy is decades behind schedule on cleanup efforts. Some experts say the federal government doesn’t know the full cost or scope of what cleaning them up will entail, and that becomes more complicated with more frequent extreme weather.  It’s a problem Superfund sites — and especially nuclear waste sites — around the country face.  Lynn said there’s a lot of secrecy surrounding the cleanup, as well as the health risks that may be associated with it. He’s just one Paducah resident, along with a slew of former workers, who say they’ve been left in the dark about problems with a complex cleanup.

Nuclear Regulators Extend Life of Turkey Point Reactors to 80 Years  The Nuclear Regulatory Agency granted two controversial license extensions to Turkey Point’s aging nuclear reactors on Thursday.The 20-year extensions - which extend the life of the reactors to 80 - are the first of their kind in the U.S. The licenses for the 1970s-era reactors overlooking Biscayne Bay were set to expire in 2032 and 2033. Florida Power & Light had planned to replace them with new reactors, but shelved plans after Westinghouse, the company that designed the new reactors, filed for bankruptcy in 2017 amid swelling costs at similar plants in Georgia and South Carolina.Environmentalists, who have challenged the licenses, say they were caught off-guard by Thursday’s approval. Miami Waterkeeper attorney Kelly Cox said the NRC notified them just Wednesday that it needed more time to review the group's appeal.“We’re going to continue to move forward on the appeal, but having this back door license issued is frustrating,” she said.  Miami Waterkeeper and others have asked the agency to hear concerns that FPL used outdated sea rise projections for the low-lying plant.

Activists denounce 'zombie' Bellefonte Nuclear Plant as regulators consider license transfer for new owner to finish facility -  A year after the Tennessee Valley Authority tried to terminate the sale of its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant because the buyer didn't have a nuclear license, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is moving ahead to consider such a license transfer. Former Chattanooga developer Franklin L. Haney, who is trying to become the first individual American to finish and own a commercial nuclear plant, submitted additional information this year in his attempt to gain the first transfer for a construction permit of an unfinished nuclear plant in the United States. Haney's Nuclear Development LLC won the bidding at a November 2016 auction by TVA of the Bellefonte site with his $111 million bid. But the sale was never completed because TVA claimed Haney had failed to obtain the required permission from federal regulators to transfer the construction permit at Bellefonte.Haney didn't submit his request for such a license transfer to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission until November 2018 and regulators said the initial request was incomplete and could not be processed. But after TVA tried to scrap the sale of Bellefonte, Haney sued TVA to maintain the sales agreement and a court ruled this spring that the dispute over the plant sale must proceed to trial, which is likely in 2020. While TVA and Haney squabble over the sale of Bellefonte, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proceeding with reviewing the plans submitted by Nuclear Development LLC, including additional filings this year to supplement what regulators said initially were inadequate reports about the proposed buyers. "The NRC staff will review the transfer application for the existing permits, separately from any potential hearing on the matter," NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said Tuesday.

Contaminated cylinders found in Richland from Carolina nuclear plant - Two contaminated cylinders were trucked across the country from the Westinghouse nuclear fuel factory in South Carolina after plant workers failed to properly examine the containers for signs of excessive radioactivity, according to a federal agency that oversees the site. Only after the cylinders arrived in Richland, Wash., did workers there discover radiation levels that exceeded federal standards, records show. The contamination showed up on and near valve covers on the outside of the tanks, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Westinghouse was shipping cylinders emptied of material for nuclear fuel fabrication to Framatome ANP on Horn Rapids Road in Richland for cleaning so they could be reused. Framatome services U.S. nuclear facilities across the country.  The contaminated cylinders, shipped on a flat bed trailer that took two days to reach Washington, didn’t endanger the public, the NRC says. But the matter was serious enough that the agency issued a violation notice last week. Regulators hit Westinghouse with what is known as a Level 4 violation, which means the misstep doesn’t warrant a fine but is notable, NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said. The NRC violation notice is the latest in a line of troubles the 50-year-old plant has encountered since 2016, when radioactive material accumulated to potentially unsafe levels inside an air pollution control device.

Wind power supporters argue referendum could kill industry | Toledo Blade — Business and environmental groups told state lawmakers Tuesday that subjecting proposed wind farms to votes of the people would likely kill the industry in Ohio. “House Bill 401 is an alarming proposal that would take away landowners’ rights by subjecting wind energy development to a local vote that could result in the cancellation of a project after the permitting,” said Susan Munroe, economic development director for Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy and former president of the Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce. “It pits neighbor against neighbor,” she told the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It’s an attack on landowner property rights. No other development, much less energy resource development, has to endure this type of legislation at the local level.” The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Reineke (R., Tiffin), is also opposed by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. The measure would allow voters living in townships to petition to place a referendum on the ballot to undo wind farm site approvals by the Ohio Power Siting Board. The effort is largely driven by opponents of several large wind farms in varying stages of development, with a total of 189 turbines, on farmland in Seneca, Sandusky, Erie, and Huron counties. Paulding County has four wind farms totaling 182 turbines, a fifth under construction with 31 turbines, and a sixth in development, generating income that Commissioner Roy Klopfenstein said could not be duplicated by other development. A turbine will soon be built on his own property. “It is our opinion that the referendum process in this case is just wrong,” he said. “We as commissioners receive far more calls on livestock operations than wind farms. Are we as a community going to permit other industries to be subject to a ‘do I like my neighbor?’ vote?”

Supreme Court dismisses power plant lawsuit | Toledo Blade —The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out FirstEnergy Solutions’ lawsuit arguing that the recently enacted law bailing out its two nuclear power plants on Lake Erie cannot be subjected to voter referendum. With just four of the seven justices participating, the court said there was no “justiciable controversy” for it to decide. The court issued no opinion. FES had argued that the surcharges imposed on consumers by the law to fuel a $170 million-a-year fund—$150 million for the nuclear plants and $20 million for large-scale solar projects—amount to a tax and, therefore, could not be subjected to a referendum. The law does not call the surcharge a tax, and lawmakers went out of their way during the debate to say that it was not. However, FES had noted that opponents of the law had referred to it as a tax during hearings. “This decision correctly rejects FirstEnergy Solutions' argument that H.B. 6's billion-dollar bailout is not subject to referendum, one of many desperate and greedy FES maneuvers trying to deny Ohioans' right to vote on bad legislation,” said Gene Pierce, spokesman for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, the group behind the so-far unsuccessful referendum effort. “The argument was ridiculed from the first time it was aired in public, and this legal proceeding was a waste of the Ohio Supreme Court's time and taxpayers' money,” he said. FES, however, saw “victory” in the court’s recognition that the referendum effort is indeed over. “Those opposed to the bill were unable to gather the requisite number of signatures to initiate a referendum, therefore, there is no longer a need for the court to rule on the case,” it said in a statement. “H.B. 6 allows the Davis Besse and Perry nuclear plants to continue providing 90 percent of Ohio’s carbon free power, in addition to substantial employment and economic benefits for the state.”

FirstEnergy Solutions claims victory on nuke bailout referendum, but proponents push forward --Proponents of a referendum to undo Ohio's new law subsidizing nuclear power plants continue their efforts to legally extend the period to garner signatures to get the measure on the state's November 2020 ballot, after the state Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit brought by FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) opposing the referendum effort. The dismissal is a win, FES said in a statement, because the Supreme Court "recognizes the attempted referendum on HB 6 is over" by calling its complaint "moot." However, the Court said the pending challenge for the referendum petition is not impacted by the dismissal.  Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts had to get at least 265,774 valid signatures (6% of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election) within 90 days of the law's passage, to get the measure on the November 2020 ballot. The group claimed only 52 days were available for voters to sign because the Attorney General and the Secretary of State took 38 days from the passage of HB 6 to certify the petition."Those opposed to the bill were unable to gather the requisite number of signatures to initiate a referendum, therefore there is no longer a need for the court to rule on the case," FES said.Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts sued the Ohio Secretary of State in October, alleging a full 90 days is needed for petition signatures to be collected for a referendum. The group asked the federal court to order the state to give them an additional 38 days to gather the necessary signatures. Other groups supporting the nuclear subsidies, such as Ohioans for Energy Security, filed a brief in the ongoing proceeding to say that the 90-day rule is a deadline that does not guarantee 90 days would be available for signatures. The group asked a federal court to dismiss the referendum effort based on lack of sufficient signatures, which posed the question to the Ohio Supreme Court. Groups opposing HB 6 have also tried to ask state regulators to ensure consumer-funded subsidies don't reward coal-based generation owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation in addition to FES nuclear plants. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio rejected this assertion in a Nov. 21 ruling.

Ohio's coal, nuclear push ignites political war -- Thursday, December 5, 2019 -- An Ohio energy law signed this year weakening renewable standards and boosting coal and nuclear plants has created a political bloodbath, with ads circulating and activists claiming they've been assaulted. Will the measure make a difference in the 2020 presidential race?

Davis-Besse, Perry and Beaver Valley nukes will get operating licenses transferred, NRC says  — Operating licenses for the Davis-Besse, Perry, and Beaver Valley 1 and 2 nuclear plants will be transferred to a new company being established to run and maintain the facilities once bankruptcy proceedings for FirstEnergy Solutions is completed, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Tuesday. The new company will be called Energy Harbor Corp., which will wholly own Energy Harbor Nuclear Generation LLC and Energy Harbor Nuclear Corp. The transfer is being made from FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. and FirstEnergy Nuclear Generation Co., which have been part of FirstEnergy Solutions. Advance approval for the transfer is expected to make the transition smoother. The FirstEnergy companies had requested the transfer as part of the bankruptcy proceedings. The license-transfer also applies to spent fuel storage installation facilities, the NRC said. The commission said the transfer becomes effective upon completion of the bankruptcy and formation of Energy Harbor Corp. “The NRC staff’s review of the license transfer application concluded that Energy Harbor Nuclear Generation LLC is financially qualified to own Beaver Valley, Davis-Besse, and Perry, and that Energy Harbor Nuclear Corp. is financially and technically qualified to operate the plants,” the NRC said. Davis-Besse is in Ottawa County near Oak Harbor, Ohio, along the western Lake Erie shoreline about 30 miles east of downtown Toledo. It is licensed to operate through April 22, 2037. Perry also is along the Lake Erie shoreline, about 35 miles northeast of Cleveland. It is licensed to operate through March 18, 2026. Beaver Valley Unit 1 and Beaver Valley Unit 2 are on a twin-reactor complex northwest of Pittsburgh. They are scheduled to permanently shut down in May 2021 and October 2021, respectively.

Rover pipeline asking for assessment reduction - – Rover Pipeline’s unofficial request for a 50% average reduction to the tax year 2019 assessment could cause a domino effect of consequences for school districts and other entities counting on the revenue they expected to receive. “It isn’t official yet,” said Wayne County Auditor Jarra Underwood, but Rover did contact the Ohio Department of Taxation Equalization seeking the reduction. Underwood subsequently alerted those who could be impacted by it over the Thanksgiving holiday. If the matter is not settled before the first tax collection due in February, Rover will be billed the original amount, Underwood said, based on the assessment from the Ohio Department of Taxation. The Rover Pipeline runs natural gas from West Virginia to Michigan, a little more than 700 miles. It enters the southeastern portion of Wayne County through Paint Township and proceeds through Salt Creek, Franklin, Wooster and Plain townships, where it then enters neighboring Ashland County. It goes through four school districts in the county: Southeast, Triway, Northwestern and ?Hillsdale. Work on the Wayne County portion of the pipeline began in spring 2017 and continued into 2018. If Rover chooses not to pay the full bill when it is due, but rather the reduced amount it is asking to pay, a 10% penalty will ultimately be applied or assessed, Underwood said. On top of that will be the interest prescribed by the state. The same penalty and interest will apply if an agreement is not reached by the second collection, which is scheduled in July. If Rover is successful with its request, those penalties and interest would be remitted by the county. Similarly, if Rover paid the full amount originally assessed and the reduction was approved, part of that revenue would then have to be “pulled back” from the recipients by the county, Underwood said. The full impact on local school districts, for example, is not yet known. Although the reduction request by Rover is 50% overall, “it might not be 50% everywhere,” she said.

Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio Purchases 19744 Shares of ONEOK, Inc. - Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio raised its position in ONEOK, Inc. (NYSE:OKE) by 13.8% during the 3rd quarter, reports. The institutional investor owned 163,153 shares of the utilities provider’s stock after acquiring an additional 19,744 shares during the period. Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio’s holdings in ONEOK were worth $12,023,000 as of its most recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  ONEOK, Inc, together with its subsidiaries, engages in the gathering, processing, storage, and transportation of natural gas in the United States. It operates through Natural Gas Gathering and Processing, Natural Gas Liquids, and Natural Gas Pipelines segments. The company owns natural gas gathering pipelines and processing plants in the Mid-Continent and Rocky Mountain regions.

 As fracking rises in Ohio, officials eye protecting the Great Miami Aquifer - — While fracking is raising concerns in other parts of Ohio and the country, it’s not an issue in Butler County or other areas where the Great Miami Aquifer, which provides drinking water for many area residents, is located.  That makes life easier for Tim McLelland, manager of the Hamilton-to-New-Baltimore-Area Ground Water Consortium, whose job is protecting the underground water reserve that contains 1.5 trillion gallons of water and provides drinking water for 3 million consumers. “The good news, at least in my opinion, is there is no fracking going on in this area,” McLelland said. “The type of shale that they are in, the Marcellus shale, is more southeast in Ohio,” and not located in this area of the state.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a report that found fracking has harmed drinking water reserves in some circumstances, including when wells are not properly designed to avoid leaking, or when the liquids on the surface leak into the ground or streams.  “For folks in the southeast part of the state, I’m sure they’ve got concerns about the potential for groundwater contamination, but fortunately, we don’t have to worry about it in our neck of our woods.,” McLelland said.  If there were shale of the desirable type in this region, “it would be a pretty difficult thing to stop, because there’s a lot of support for it, both at the state level and nationally.” Tish O’Dell of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based non-profit law firm, said fracking isn’t the only issue people wanting to protect water sources in Ohio are facing. Another issue in Williams County and elsewhere is companies that want to export groundwater from one place to another, as one business has sought to do through privatization of the Michindoh Aquifer. “Someone up there who has a water company wants to put a pipeline in and possibly sell it to suburbs of Toledo,” O’Dell said. “And so all of a sudden, (residents) woke up and went, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ And once you allow one pipeline to go in, that person can then sell that to say, Nestle, or someone else. “Everyone takes water for granted, and it’s under threat from so many more issues than they even realize.”

Ohio governor meets with proposed 'cracker' plant developer — Ohio’s Republican governor and lieutenant governor met Wednesday with officials from one of the companies proposing to build a multi-billion dollar ethane “cracker”plant in southeast Ohio. A spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine said no “substantive update” would be provided from the meeting in Columbus with board members from Thailand’s PTT Global Chemical. State and local officials for nearly two years have anticipated an announcement about whether PTT in partnership with South Korea’s Daelim Industrial Co. would build the plant along the Ohio River in Belmont County. Cracker plants convert ethane, a byproduct of natural gas drilling, into the raw material for plastic and other products used in everyday life. Royal Dutch Shell is building a similar plant about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Thousands of construction workers would be needed to build the plant in an unincorporated area of Belmont County called Dilles Bottom with hundreds then hired to operate it. The project is seen as an economic savior for an Appalachian region that has long struggled economically from the loss of jobs in steel, aluminum and glass manufacturing decades ago. The hope among state and local officials is that the plant will spur further development and revitalize the region. PTT board members met Tuesday in Belmont County with locals officials and representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy and JobsOhio, a private nonprofit corporation that supports economic growth in the state. No Daelim representatives were at that meeting or the one Wednesday with DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.

As Petrochemical Industry Extends Along Ohio River, Pollution Follows Close Behind – WOSU -  Two out of every five power plants that burned coal to make electricity in 2010 were shut down by 2018, largely replaced by natural gas power plants — the result of a decade-long fracking rush. Few places have been quite as dramatically impacted as the northern Ohio River Valley, where shale well pads now lace the backroads of Appalachia's former coal towns. Twenty-nine new gas-fired power plants are planned or under construction in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia alone. Historically, coal and steel marched hand in hand — coal powered the steel mills that built the Rust Belt. Now, with natural gas, industry can make a different kind of raw material, one that drillers and the International Energy Agency say represents the future of global demand for oil and gas: plastics.The vast majority of petrochemical production in the United States has always taken place along the Gulf Coast. But, drawn by low-priced shale gas from fracking in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, the petrochemical industry is increasingly eyeing the Ohio River Valley as a manufacturing corridor. Oil giants are banking on plastics and petrochemicals to keep the fossil fuel industry expanding amid rising concern over climate change. "Unlike refining, and ultimately unlike oil, which will see a moment when the growth will stop, we actually don't anticipate that with petrochemicals," Andrew Brown, upstream director for Royal Dutch Shell, told the San Antonio Express-News last year. Industry analysts have projected the region could support as many as seven additional plants on a similar scale. The American Chemistry Council has tallied $36 billion in potential investment that could be tied to an Ohio River Valley petrochemical and plastic manufacturing industry.Projects currently on the drawing board would unleash a flood of newly manufactured plastic from the region, using raw materials from fracked shale gas wells. Shell's $6 billion ethane cracker in Potter Township in Beaver County, Pa., is projected to create roughly 3.5 billion pounds of polyethylene pellets each year. A similar volume is expected from a second plant proposed just over an hour's drive south in Dilles Bottom, Ohio — to be built on the site of the razed R.E. Burger coal-fired power plant. Green-lighting petrochemical projects along the Ohio River could bring new industrial vitality to a region that's been hard hit by the slow decline of American coal and steel. It could also bring a host of issues. Shell's cracker will be permitted to pump out 522 tons of volatile organic compounds into the air — nearly double the amount that the state's current largest source, U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works, produced in 2014 (the most recent year available). State permits also allow Shell to produce 2.25 million tons of carbon dioxide. That means this one plant, with its 600 jobs, will wield a carbon footprint one-third the size of Pittsburgh (population 301,000).Plastic made on the banks of the Ohio is likely to reach the farthest corners of the globe. Shale Crescent USA, an industry group, projects that half of the plastic made on the Ohio would be shipped to Asia for use there. Only 9% of the plastic ever made has been recycled, with the vast majority of the rest winding up in landfills or oceans.

Manufacturers want more pollution related to plastics allowed in rivers and streams - Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, noted Wednesday that several pollutants the West Virginia Manufacturers Association is recommending be permitted in West Virginia waterways at higher levels are those associated with the petrochemical industry. During a public meeting on West Virginia water quality standards at West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection offices, Rosser noted that some of the pollutants are related to an industry that both Gov. Jim Justice and the manufacturers association have said they hope to see boom in response to natural gas extraction in the state, as part of an "Appalachian Petrochemical Renaissance" in West Virginia. "We can't delay protections when it comes to human health," Rosser said. "We can't keep our citizens at risk. It's time to move on these. In light of the governor's commitment to expanding the petrochemical industry, there is more at stake." In 2015, the EPA recommended that West Virginia update water quality standards for 94 pollutants known to have human health effects, including carcinogens. The standards specify concentrations of pollutants, such as pesticides, allowed in rivers and streams. In May 2018, following hundreds of public comments, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection submitted to the Legislature its proposal for a regulation that would have updated standards for pollutants known to have human health effects for 56 pollutants instead. For two-thirds of the pollutants, the proposal would have required lower amounts of those pollutants in rivers and streams. During the 2019 legislative session, at the request of the Manufacturers Association, West Virginia lawmakers opted not to do so, while Jennie Henthorn, a scientist representing the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, reviewed the recommendations. The Legislature would then revisit the subject in the 2021 legislative session. Wednesday, Henthorn unveiled a proposal with weaker protections for 63 percent of the pollutants and stronger protections for 20 percent, in comparison to the DEP proposal they had opposed. Meanwhile, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition released a proposal, supported by eleven other citizen groups, to strengthen protections. Or, if the EPA and DEP had proposed weakening protections, they proposed leaving standards at current levels instead.

UPDATE: Large gas leak in south Parkersburg is stopped - Dominion Energy says the 3-inch medium natural gas line was hit by a contractor nearby at 6:30 p.m. The line has been isolated, and the flow of gas is suspended. One commercial customer will be without service until it's repaired. This is a release from West Virginia Dominion Energy: "At approximately 6:30pm a 3-inch, medium pressure natural gas distribution line was hit while a contractor was working near 305 Erickson Blvd. Dominion Energy West Virginia (DEWV) arrived on site and immediately began safely isolating the impacted area. Emergency personnel are at the site to maintain a safe perimeter while DEWV crews make the necessary repairs. The flow of natural gas has been suspended to this line while repairs are safely completed. During this time, one commercial customer will experience a temporary service interruption. DEWV anticipates repairs will be completed later tonight at which time natural gas will be safely restored to the line."

Texas construction company no longer working on Mountain Valley Pipeline - A Texas corporation that has put down roots in Raleigh County is no longer working on a controversial natural gas pipeline in West Virginia, after the pipeline's major stakeholder unexpectedly cancelled the Texas company's contract last month. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a joint project of EQM Midstream Partners LP, Con Edison Transmissions Inc., NextEra US Gas Assets LLC, WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in October halted construction of the 303-mile, interstate pipeline in October, pending the outcome of a series of court challenges launched by environmental groups.In the last week of November, EQM Midstream Partners LP cancelled a work contract for Trinity Energy Services of Argyle, Texas, Trinity spokesman Bob McKibbon verified Monday.  "We've all been kind of in the dark with it, as far as not much detail," McKibbon said Monday. "There's nobody else talking to us about it." On Tuesday, he reported that he had no new information to share. He referred The Register-Herald to EQT Midstream. EQM Midstream and Mountain Valley Pipeline representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Monday or Tuesday.  Mountain Valley began work on the pipeline in February 2018, with partners anticipating the project would be completed by the end of 2019, at a cost of $3.7 billion. In October, MetroNews reported, Mountain Valley announced plans to have the pipeline operational by mid-2020, at a cost of $5.3 to $5.5 billion.

Tracing the path of the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline | Grist  (reporter travels the 600-mile route of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline) The pink ribbons start in northern West Virginia. Tied to flimsy wooden posts stuck a few inches into the earth, they’re easy to miss as they whip in the crisp, fall wind. Heading south, they dot landscapes for 600 miles, marking the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. They pass over cave systems and watersheds, climb up and down densely forested Appalachian slopes. They stamp quiet hollers and hillside family cemeteries. They divide historic African American communities and indigenous land. The route stretches from the Marcellus Shale region of West Virginia, through Virginia, to southern North Carolina — though the energy companies behind the pipeline have floated the idea of extending it into South Carolina. If completed, the hundreds of miles of 42- and 36-inch diameter steel would carry 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day — enough to power 5 million homes daily. Three compressor stations along the route would help transport the gas, and, like much of the pipeline, would be built in lower-income, rural communities, bypassing more affluent property owners. The project is part of a pipeline boom in the United States prompted by the fossil fuel industry’s shift from a fuel source on the decline, coal, to one on the rise, natural gas. Dominion Energy owns the majority share of the project, which was first proposed in 2014. Some of the most powerful utilities in the Southern U.S. — Duke Energy and Southern Company — own the rest. Those utility companies are also the wholesalers that would profit by reselling the gas to their ratepayers. The companies say the project is necessary because they and other utilities serving Virginia and North Carolina need cheaper gas. And they claim it would be an economic boon to the region, estimating that it would provide 17,000 construction jobs and generate $28 million each year total in property taxes for the 25 counties and two cities it will pass through. But economists, environmentalists, researchers, and many residents in the places the pipeline would pass through say the project’s risks and costs outweigh its potential short-term benefits.

Trump Lawyers Defend Pipeline’s Route Across Appalachian Trail -- The U.S. Forest Service has full authority to allow natural gas pipelines to cross the Appalachian Trail, industry lawyers and the Trump administration told the Supreme Court in a pair of Dec. 2 legal filings. Government and industry lawyers say a lower court got it wrong when it ruled that only the National Park Service can oversee development across the trail.“Simply put, there is no basis in any federal statute to conclude that Congress intended to convert the Appalachian Trail into a 2,200-mile barrier separating critical natural resources from the eastern seaboard,” lawyers for Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC told the court in a brief.The case, set for oral argument before the justices in February, controls the fate of the $7.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It could have broader ramifications for infrastructure projects across the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Maine to Georgia and crosses nearly 1,000 miles of national forestland along the way.When Congress established the trail, it put the Interior Department’s National Park Service in charge of managing it. Environmental groups opposed to the Atlantic Coast pipeline say the Forest Service—which is housed in the Department of Agriculture—overstepped when it granted a right-of-way under the Mineral Leasing Act for the project to cross beneath the trail in Virginia.The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit sided with the challengers. Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco argued that the Fourth Circuit misunderstood the National Trails System Act, which established a management system for national trails.The law puts the Appalachian Trail itself into the National Park System, but doesn’t change the management of the adjacent lands, the government’s brief says. Congress would not have tucked in “a sweeping prohibition against pipeline rights-of-ways under the Mineral Leasing Act for all federally owned land crossed by the roughly 2000-mile-long Appalachian Trail” without being explicit about it, the brief says.

Shale's Debt-Fueled Drilling Boom Is Coming To An End - The financial struggles of the U.S. shale industry are becoming increasingly hard to ignore, but drillers in Appalachia are in particularly bad shape.  The Permian has recently seen job losses, and for the first time since 2016, the hottest shale basin in the world has seen job growth lag the broader Texas economy. The industry is cutting back amid heightened financial scrutiny from investors, as debt-fueled drilling has become increasingly hard to justify.But E&P companies focused almost exclusively on gas, such as those in the Marcellus and Utica shales, are in even worse shape. An IEEFA analysis found that seven of the largest producers in Appalachia burned through about a half billion dollars in the third quarter. Gas production continues to rise, but profits remain elusive. “Despite booming gas output, Appalachian oil and gas companies consistently failed to produce positive cash flow over the past five quarters,” the authors of the IEEFA report said.  Of the seven companies analyzed, five had negative cash flow, including Antero Resources, Chesapeake Energy, EQT, Range Resources, and Southwestern Energy. Only Cabot Oil & Gas and Gulfport Energy had positive cash flow in the third quarter.  The sector was weighed down but a sharp drop in natural gas prices, with Henry Hub off by 18 percent compared to a year earlier. But the losses are highly problematic. After all, we are more than a decade into the shale revolution and the industry is still not really able to post positive cash flow. Worse, these are not the laggards; these are the largest producers in the region.  The outlook is not encouraging. The gas glut is expected to stick around for a few years. Bank of America Merrill Lynch has repeatedly warned that unless there is an unusually frigid winter, which could lead to higher-than-expected demand, the gas market is headed for trouble. “A mild winter across the northern hemisphere or a worsening macro backdrop could be catastrophic for gas prices in all regions,” Bank of America said in a note in October.   The problem for Appalachian drillers is that Permian producers are not really interested in all of the gas they are producing. That makes them unresponsive to price signals. Gas prices in the Permian have plunged close to zero, and have at times turned negative, but gas production in Texas really hinges on the industry’s interest in oil. This dynamic means that the gas glut becomes entrenched longer than it otherwise might. It’s a grim reality plaguing the gas-focused producers in Appalachia.

Dominion suspends plan to add 1.5 GW of peaking capacity as Virginia faces gas glut - Dominion Energy on Wednesday announced it suspended a request for proposals (RFP) that targeted up to 1,500 MW of dispatchable peak capacity in its Virginia territory, which observers said would have likely resulted in natural gas additions. Announced in November, the utility said the RFP aimed to replace retiring generation and provide system balancing needs as more renewables are added onto the grid. Dominion said it may reissue the RFP in the future, if it determines the capacity is needed. The utility's announcement follows reporting from S&P Global that the company has been over-forecasting its demand for years in order to justify spending on new natural gas facilities. Dominion declined to give a reason for the RFP cancellation, but opponents of the plan said the utility's decision is a recognition that Virginia does not need or want more fossil-fuel based generation, and instead must add significant clean energy resources to meet the state's goal of delivering carbon-free electricity by 2050.The utility's plans to add more gas resources "have stretched the bounds of credulity with regulators and lawmakers,"  Walton Shepherd, Virginia policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Utility Dive.Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, D, in September set the state on a course to reach 30% renewables by 2030, and 100% carbon-free power by 2050. "The regulatory environment was looking less favorable,"

Early November cold weather prompts fuel switching in PJM and MISO – EIA - A historic November cold snap sent temperatures below freezing in 75% of the Lower 48 states. Because of this cold snap, the price of natural gas increased from an average of less than $2.00 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in October to a mid-November high of $5.11/MMBtu at the Tetco M3 hub, located in northeast Pennsylvania in the PJM Interconnection (PJM). Prices rose about $1.00/MMBtu and reached nearly $3.00/MMBtu at the Chicago Citygate hub in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). These price increases resulted in coal-fired power generation replacing natural gas-fired generation starting in late October in both of these regional transmission organization markets. In both PJM and MISO, where strong competition exists between natural gas- and coal-fired generation, relative shifts in fuel prices can influence which type of power plant operates. Throughout all of 2019, natural gas-fired generation has accounted for an increasing share of power generation in PJM and MISO, averaging 35% in PJM and 27% in MISO. This summer, the natural gas market in the Lower 48 states experienced record-high natural gas consumption, relatively low natural gas prices, retirements of coal-fired generation, and increasing natural gas-fired capacity. In October, when regional natural gas prices were particularly low because of moderate autumn temperatures, natural gas-fired generation in MISO reached its highest level for 2019 at 36%. However, as natural gas spot prices in the PJM and MISO regions approached nearly $2.70/MMBtu in late October, the coal-fired generation share increased from its earlier lows.  The PJM Interconnection spans states in the U.S. Middle Atlantic. On November 9, the share of natural gas-fired generation in PJM decreased to 34%, its lowest level since May. Conversely, the share of coal-fired generation increased to 31% on November 14, which was the highest coal share since March. MISO covers much of the U.S. Midwest and part of the Gulf Coast. For several days in October, the share of natural gas-fired generation was higher than the share of coal-fired generation in the region for the first time in 2019. With low natural gas spot prices, natural gas-fired generation peaked at a 36% generation share on October 14. In contrast, coal’s generation share fell to 25% on October 12 because natural gas prices were lower than $2.00/MMBtu and wind generation was strong. However, by November, lower wind power and higher natural gas prices made coal-fired generation more economically attractive.

Natgas Ready To Soar- Next Cold Pattern Could Spark Energy Demand For 118 Million Americans -- The Global Forecast System (GFS) weather model shows for the next 6-10 days, below-average temperatures could be seen up and down the East Coast. The result of colder than average temperatures would increase energy demand for nearly 118 million people, reported Ed Vallee, head meteorologist at Empire Weather, adding that increased energy demand could put a bid in natural gas spot prices."We continue to watch for much colder risks next week across the Mid Continent as the pattern re-shuffles. This will bleed into key heating demand areas of the Great Lakes and Northeast later in the 6-10 day period, upping demand risk with temperatures well below normal. Beyond this time frame into mid-month, most data remains cooler than normal, especially in the northern tier of the country, and into the Northeast. This would allow heating demand to remain elevated, but upcoming weather data and forecasts will help drive price action as this challenging forecast period is sorted out," said Vallee.GFS day 11. One run change. 20+°F of change across the Plains. Live tweeting this model and/or following it is a fool's errand at best. Yikes!#natgas $UNG— Ed Vallee | Empire Weather LLC (@EdValleeWx) December 4, 2019  Cold risk into Mid-December is legitimate, but there are plenty of questions. We continue to advise clients on the risks to the forecast in our live blog.

 Weather Volatility Continues: Colder Trends Erase More Than Half Of The Black Friday Natural Gas Selloff - One thing you can typically count on in the winter season is weather volatility, often in both directions, and this season is proving to be no different so far. Late last week, we were watching a sizable shift in the weather guidance toward a warmer pattern, which culminated with a massive selloff of nearly 23 cents in prompt month natural gas prices back on Friday. Mind you, anyone who has been around in the natural gas market for awhile will tell you that one must be careful trusting moves during a holiday period, as lower liquidity can exaggerate moves in either direction, but the picture did not look pretty for bulls either way. How quickly things can change. The largest change has come in the GEFS model since Friday. We previously picked on this model for busting to the cold side, but to show that weather is an equal-opportunity offender in both directions, here is what the GEFS shows currently for the 6-10 day upper air pattern:
Notice the ridge along the west coast up into Alaska, favorable for cold air transport southward into the U.S, seen in its temperature forecast for the same period.Now let's look at what this same model showed back on Friday, valid the exact same dates. There was no upper level ridging around Alaska, and as such, the flow was more progressive, almost zonal, which is not conducive for cold weather in the U.S. Here is what the model showed for temperature anomalies. Whoa! It does not take more than a very quick glance to see that this pattern is not close to what it is showing today. Now, it is worth pointing out that the change in the ECMWF model (not shown here, but often a more reliable model, skill score wise) is not this drastic, but it, too, has moved colder due to similar reasons. The modeling clearly is struggling to resolve the features that will drive the upcoming pattern, which is great for price volatility, but can drive weather forecasters batty. As of this writing, prompt month natural gas prices have made up around 13 cents of the nearly 23 cent selloff from Black Friday.

US natural gas in underground storage decreases 19 Bcf: EIA — US working natural gas volumes in underground storage dropped 19 Bcf last week, falling by less than half of the five-year average, while the remaining NYMEX Henry Hub winter strip made modest increases following the number's release Thursday morning. Storage inventories fell to 3.591 Tcf for the week ended November 29, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday. Stocks are now nearly 600 Bcf above year-ago levels. There is little indication that figure will decline in the coming weeks. The pull was slightly below an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 21 Bcf draw. Survey responses ranged from withdrawals of 15 Bcf to 27 Bcf. The withdrawal was much less than the 62 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2018 as well as the five-year average draw of 41 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 591 Bcf, or 19.7%, more than the year-ago level of 3 Tcf and 9 Bcf, or 0.3%, less than the five-year average of 3.6 Tcf. The draw was even less than the 28 Bcf pulled from working gas in storage reported for the week ended November 22. US supply and demand balances were slightly wider for the week ended November 29 as demand trended down more than supply. Total supplies fell 0.2 Bcf/d to an average 96.1 Bcf/d during the week, as a roughly 0.8 Bcf/d increase in US onshore production was matched with a 1.1 Bcf/d drop in net Canadian imports, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Texas drove the bulk of production growth, while the drop in net Canadian imports was spread out across border crossings with the US in both eastern and western Canada. The NYMEX Henry Hub balance-of-winter contract strip was trading 2 cents/MMBtu higher Thursday, but prices remain challenged amid a normal to above-normal weather outlook in the coming weeks. Despite small gains, Thursday gas prices are roughly 30 cents lower than they were two weeks ago. Platts Analytics' supply and demand model forecasts a draw of 70 Bcf for the week ending December 6, which is 2 Bcf more than the five-year average. Total supplies are averaging 96.6 Bcf/d this week, with most of the gains stemming from higher Canadian imports to meet higher US demand. Total demand is averaging 105.8 Bcf/d, led by sharp increases in residential and commercial demand primarily in the East storage region, but also joined by higher loads in the South-Central and Midwest regions.

US natgas futures fall on less cold midday weather forecasts - US natural gas futures fell almost 4% on Friday following the release of midday weather forecasts calling for less cold over the next two weeks than previously expected. Traders noted prices were already down a bit Friday morning on forecasts for less cold next week. “The market is simply oversupplied by the massive amount of production that has been added in the past two years," said Kent Bayazitoglu, director of market analytics at Gelber & Associates in Houston, noting, “It will take an Ice Age of a winter to threaten storage levels come March or April." Front-month gas futures for January delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 9.3 cents, or 3.8%, to settle at $2.334 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). That put the front-month up about 3% for the week after falling over 14% last week in its biggest weekly decline since December 2018. Futures for calendar 2020, meanwhile, dropped to $2.34 per mmBtu, their lowest on record, according to Refinitiv data going back to 2016. That boosted the premium of calendar 2021 over 2020 to its highest since August. The latest weather forecasts at 12 p.m. EST projected heating degree days (HDDs) in the US Lower 48 states would only reach 413 over the next two weeks. That is lower than an earlier forecast at 6:00 a.m. calling for HDDs to reach 430 and compares with a 30-year average of 412 HDDs for this time of year. HDDs measure the number of degrees a day's average temperature is below 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). The measure is used to estimate demand to heat homes and businesses. Despite the outlook for less cld, Refinitiv projected average gas demand in the Lower 48 states, including exports, would rise from 115.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 119.7 bcfd next week and 131.2 bcfd in two weeks with the seasonal cooling of the weather. Those demand forecasts, however, were lower than Refinitiv's estimates on Thursday of 115.3 bcfd this week and 121.2 bcfd for next week. Gas flows to liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants rose to 7.7 bcfd on Thursday from 7.0 bcfd on Wednesday, according to Refinitiv data. That compares with an average of 7.3 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 7.9 bcfd on Nov. 28. Pipeline flows to Mexico, meanwhile, edged up to 5.4 bcfd on Thursday from 5.3 bcfd on Wednesday, according to Refinitiv data. That compares with an average of 5.4 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 6.2 bcfd on Sept. 18.

Natural gas is one of the few trades that hasn't worked on Wall Street, down 50% in 12 months - Pretty much every trade has worked on Wall Street this year except one:natural gas.Futures prices fell to a one-month low on Friday after plunging more than 12% for the week. The commodity is currently trading around $2.34 per million British thermal units, which is nearly 50% below where it traded a year earlier. It's down 21% for 2019.Excess supply is pressuring prices. Inventory built up last spring following a warmer-than-expected winter, and U.S. production has climbed to a record high, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.A milder fall season is also having an impact on prices. According to Credit Suisse, temperatures since September have been 4% warmer than they were last year, although they are 20% below the 5-year average. Bespoke Weather chief meteorologist Brian Lovern said that since the middle of the summer the weather has been bullish, but that the excess supply is what's keeping prices lower. Going forward he said to expect volatility as different weather patterns play out, all of which could have a drastically different impact on prices. "From here, we feel that we will have a lot of volatility in the weather pattern, with some warming seen as we move into December (a big reason prices fell so much this week), but there will be more cold threats either late in December, or into the middle portion of winter," he said to CNBC.  Lovern said that a "normal" winter could see prices decline to the $2.25 level while a colder-than-expected winter could "still save the market." An uptick in demand for heat could chip away at inventory levels, in which case Lovern said prices could reach $2.75. On the flip side, he said a rise in temperatures would be "disastrous" and could send prices well under $2.00. With winter approaching, colder temperatures have started to eat away at inventories. For the week ending Nov. 22 stockpiles decreased by 28 billion cubic feet — the second straight week of declines — bringing total inventory to 3.61 trillion cubic feet. The last two weeks mark a turning point, before which inventories had been steadily increasing since the middle of March.

Chester County DA charges Energy Transfer security manager, others in scheme to use constables for Mariner East pipeline security -- The Chester County district attorney alleged Tuesday that Energy Transfer — parent company of Mariner East 2 pipeline builder Sunoco Logistics — hired armed Pennsylvania constables to illegally provide security for the pipeline, then hid how the constables were paid. DA Tom Hogan said in a news release that he has filed bribery, conspiracy and related charges against Energy Transfer’s security manager, Frank Recknagel; James Murphy and Richard Lester of Raven Knights LLC, a Harrisburg-area security firm; as well as Nikolas McKinnon and Michael Boffo from the international security firm TigerSwan. “State constables sold their badges and official authority,” Hogan said in the release. “Energy Transfer bought those badges and authority, then used them as a weapon to intimidate citizens. And the defendants attempted to conceal their activity through a maze of companies and payments.” The charges stem from a criminal investigation Hogan launched in December 2018 following the appearance of sinkholes in West Whiteland Township and an explosion at another Energy Transfer line in Beaver County. But what began as an investigation of potential environmental crimes quickly included a probe into the security services after a plain-clothed Chester County detective encountered an armed private security guard at a construction site, where the guard tried to prevent the detective from parking on a public street. Residents also reported feeling intimidated by state constables who restricted movement on their own property.

N.J. dodged a bullet in Philly refinery blast. Will we be so lucky next time? --In June, according to a recent report from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), a million residents of South Jersey and Pennsylvania narrowly escaped exposure to hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic gas, after a preventable series of explosions at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery.Hydrofluoric acid (HF) can burn and penetrate your skin, and cost you a lung or a limb – or even your life.The Philadelphia refinery suffered severe fire damage in the June 21 incident and has been shut down. Its future is unknown. But the PBF Energy Paulsboro Refinery in New Jersey is still operating and still uses HF as a chemical catalyst.The Philadelphia Energy Solutions explosions released more than 5,200 pounds of HF gas. “It’s likely, though we have no way of measuring this, that it just dissipated into the atmosphere,” said Kristen Kulinowski, the chemical safety board’s interim executive.“No way of measuring”? That’s not very reassuring. Even more alarming, a much greater quantity of toxic HF would have been released if not for rapid response by four refinery workers. An HF cloud from Philadelphia Energy Solutions, according to the company’s own worst-case data, could travel seven square miles, threatening more than a million people. The Paulsboro refinery, located just across from Philadelphia in Greenwich Township, has an even bigger footprint: An HF release there could travel 19 square miles, endangering 3 million people.What can be done to reduce or eliminate this risk?First, PBF Energy could convert to a safer alternative to HF to dramatically reduce or eliminate off-site risks. Safer alternatives have been known for years. Some refineries have recently committed to stop using HF gas. Chevron’s Salt Lake City refinery is converting to ionic liquid catalyst, which will eliminate an HF danger zone of 1 million residents. The Wynnewood Refining Co. is Oklahoma is switching to a solid acid catalyst. So far, the PBF site in South Jersey has chosen not to make such a change.

One lesson of the Philly refinery disaster: Executives shouldn't be rewarded for that failure -- News of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery explosion on the morning of June 21, 2019, was frightening, first and foremost as we worried about the safety of the plant’s employees and neighbors, and then about the short-term and long-term effects on those same employees, neighbors and the environment. But what happened in the boardroom aftermath of that explosion should also make you sick. PES executives pocketed roughly $4.59 million in retention bonuses after the explosion and fire led to the plant’s closure, the golden parachute money paid out mere weeks before the company filed for bankruptcy. Stunningly, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer and others recently, PES is seeking an additional $2.5 million in bonus payments as part of the plan to reorganize or sell the company. Meanwhile, the majority of the company’s 1,100 employees was laid off in rapid-fire succession, with minimal or even zero severance pay, and nary an offer of health insurance coverage because PES terminated its group health insurance plan. What’s more, seven years ago, PES accepted $25 million in taxpayer money to support its dealings. That’s in addition to environmental liability waivers, plus local and state tax breaks. So while the company’s chief executive officer, Mark Smith, figured out how to spend his $1.545 million retention bonus – and various other executives did likewise with their six- and five-figure bonuses – the men and women who showed up to work every day; who regularly risked their safety on behalf of the company; were recklessly tossed aside to fend for themselves; to wonder how their next electric bill would be paid; or how they might afford life-saving prescription drugs, or when they might actually be able to fix the muffler on their vehicle.

Gas Pipeline Caught in Cuomo Standoff Pulls N.J. Applications -- The natural gas pipeline that was caught up in a months-long feud between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and utility National Grid Plc has pulled its applications for permits in New Jersey. Pipeline developer Williams Cos. took an “administrative step” to withdraw the New Jersey applications for its Northeast Supply Enhancement project, spokeswoman Laura Creekmur said in an email. The company is evaluating next steps for the project, she said. A representative for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said Williams has indicated it will resubmit the applications, while a representative for Cuomo declined to comment. Within three months,... To read the full article log in. To learn more abou.

4 arrested as protesters block entrance as work begins at Weymouth compressor station — Protesters waving signs and chanting “Go home Enbridge” blocked construction crews Thursday morning in Weymouth at the site of a 7,700-horsepower natural gas compressor station fiercely opposed by nearby residents and elected officials alike. After nearly five years of protests and standoffs, opposition letters and lawsuits, construction started Wednesday on the Algonquin Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Enbridge. About 30 protestors had gathered at 50 Bridge St., where just days earlier crews had begun preliminary work on a station that will allow for the expansion of a natural gas pipeline from New Jersey into Canada. Four protesters were arrested. Protestors sang and unfurled a banner reading “Fore River residents say no more toxins” in front of a large truck, the Patriot Ledger reported. Protesters had visited the site several times since soil remediation work began Tuesday but not in such large numbers. Alice Arena of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station said opponents were at the site since Tuesday, had warned that they would not stay away. Algonquin received initial approval for the compressor station in January 2017 from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, known as FERC. The company also needed several state permits, all of which were granted by regulators despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents. The town of Weymouth alone filed two dozen lawsuits attempting to stop the project.

Offshore drilling ‘creates pressing threat’ to Massachusetts’s environment, residents’ health, report says - An Environment America report released this week suggests offshore drilling could severely impact communities throughout Massachusetts and other coastal states.The report warned that expansion of offshore drilling, pushed by the Trump administration last year in a plan that is tied up in court, would result in onshore infrastructure that could damage the environment, including pipelines through sensitive coastal habitats and harmful greenhouse gas emissions from oil refineries. Environment America is a coalition of 29 state environmental groups, including Environment Massachusetts.“We want to visit clean beaches, smell the ocean breeze, and admire the marine life off our coast — not avoid pipelines, choke on pollution from oil refineries, and contend with oil barges,” Ben Hellerstein, Environment Massachusetts’s state director, said in a statement. “The onshore infrastructure necessary to drill for dirty fossil fuels creates a pressing threat to the health of both our ecosystems and Massachusetts residents.”The 32-page report highlights how pipelines from offshore rigs to inland processing facilities could increase the chances of oil spills and worsen water quality in estuaries. The report also argues toxic waste brought onshore from drilling operations could pollute land and drinking water.Proponents of offshore drilling say expansion could tap into vast available resources and boost the U.S. economy.The Cape Cod Times reported that Jason McFarland, president of the In ternational Association of Drilling Contractors, has said that inclusion of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans and expansion of Gulf of Mexico drilling areas were vital steps in U.S. energy dominance. McFarland cited U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that world energy demand could jump almost 50% over the next two decades.

A tale of two oil pipelines and their place in the presidential race ⋆ The political debate over how to regulate the fossil fuel industry in the United States is more important — and ideologically divisive — than ever before, as the 2020 election is fully underway. One of the core arguments is over the need for and the ethics of energy pipelines. With 2.4 million miles of pipeline, the United States has more than than any other country in the world. And the oil industry isn’t done expanding, even with protests raging over the climate crisis. Enbridge Energy is the largest pipeline company in North America. It is perhaps best known as a partial owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the oil pipeline which fueled huge protests in 2016 and led to violent clashes between indigenous people and law enforcement. The Canadian company’s Line 5 pipeline in Michigan and Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota both converge in Northeast Wisconsin and have been at the center of intense fights from activists and indigenous people for years. Michigan and Minnesota also happen to be the sites of the two largest inland oil spills in U.S. history, both of which came from Enbridge pipelines. Last month, Wisconsin and Minnesota lent their support to Michigan’s legal fight against Line 5, which the company says is necessary to provide energy to northern Michigan. “If you’re a state like Michigan or Minnesota, and you’re looking at two of the greatest lakes in the world, being faced with the possibility of an Enbridge oil spill [from] some 50- or 60-year -old pipelines, you’d be pretty worried,” said Winona LaDuke, a former Green Party vice presidential candidate and executive director of Honor the Earth, an indigenous environmental justice nonprofit based in Minnesota.  “And you should be.” Both pipelines are more than a half-century old and facingstructural issues. And environmentalists note that both have a history of leaks and carry major risks to ecosystems if a major rupture were to occur, even as the company says it’s taken precautions. With the backdrop of increased activism, such as this fall’s climate strikes held in Michigan and across the globe, some presidential contenders are starting to take notice. So far, two current Democratic presidential candidates — U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — have declared their opposition to Minnesota’s Line 3 replacement project.  Sanders also has publicly opposed Line 5 in Michigan. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose presidential campaign was centered around the climate crisis, spoke out against both pipelinesbefore dropping out of the race in August. “This fight … it was hard at first to get anyone to listen. Now, a lot of people are listening,”

Enbridge sampling work leaves debris in Straits for months -On Sept. 12, while crews were collecting rock and soil samples for Enbridge Energy in the Straits of Mackinac, a bore hole collapsed, leaving mechanical debris at the bottom of the waterway. The company waited two months — until the sample work was done — to tell anyone. As a result of the incident, 40-feet long piece of three-inch drill rod became lodged beneath the lakebed, and another 45-feet long piece of the equipment fell on top of the lakebed. The company completed the sampling work Nov. 17. According to documents obtained by the News-Review, they reported the drill rod debris to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy two days later, on Nov. 19. In a phone interview Wednesday, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said the two-months span between the date of the incident and the report were spent determining the best way forward. And now, after that delay, the company won't be able to retrieve the debris until at least spring 2020. "We were evaluating ways to go down and get it, and looking at the best way to go forward," he said. "We hoped to do it this season, this year, but it became unsafe with the change in the weather. It would be a dive operation that would be high risk in the cold weather, so we're just going to retrieve it in the spring." He said the debris does not pose any inherent safety or environmental risk. The rod is in a portion of the straits that is about 240 feet deep. "The crew had some difficulties retrieving (the rod), so ... the crew and Enbridge made the decision to lean the rod on the lake bottom until it can be retrieved in the spring, and it doesn't pose a threat of interfering with traffic or anything like that."

‘Oil destroys life’: Winona LaDuke on why she fights Midwest pipeline projects ⋆ Michigan Advance -Winona LaDuke is internationally known as a vocal indigenous activist in northern Minnesota, where Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy has been attempting for years to construct a new Line 3 pipeline through tribal lands and sacred wild rice lakes. She is also an economist, writer, author of seven books and co-author of many more. LaDuke is perhaps best known as Ralph Nader’s Green Party running mate during the 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns.But her true passion lies in activism. LaDuke is co-founder and executive director of Honor the Earth, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization that works toward environmental justice for indigenous people. Battling pipeline projects is one of the group’s main objectives.Honor the Earth has been involved in a number of resistance efforts to combat fossil fuel infrastructure projects that would negatively impact tribal land; the most well-known being the infamously violent confrontation between law enforcement and Standing Rock activists their supporters over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).LaDuke is Ojibwe herself and moved to Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation several decades ago before becoming an activist. “People ask me where I live, to describe it, and I say, ‘Where the wild things are.’ That’s where I live.. …We just want to keep it that way,” she said. “[An oil spill here] would destroy life. Oil destroys life.”

Enbridge takes two steps forward on controversial Line 3 oil pipeline project - Enbridge this week took two steps forward on its controversial oil pipeline project, but the company is still waiting on a Minnesota regulatory process that could take several months to play out. Labor contracts were signed Tuesday for the $2.6 billion Minnesota portion of the 340-mile pipeline across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis. On Sunday, Calgary-based Enbridge opened the 665-mile Canadian portion of the new pipeline. The project will replace Enbridge’s Line 3, a 1960s vintage pipeline that is aging and corroding and can operate at only 51% capacity due to safety concerns. The new Canadian Line 3 will run at 53% of its capacity of 760,000 barrels of crude since the oil must be transferred to the current Line 3 at the Canadian-Minnesota border. Since new Line 3 in Canada is carrying a little more oil than old Line 3 can handle, Enbridge is shunting some crude to its other pipelines at the border. Enbridge has a six-pipeline corridor across northern Minnesota, the largest conduit of Canadian oil into the U.S. Enbridge says the new Line 3 in Minnesota — which would restore the pipeline’s full flow of oil — is needed for safety reasons. Environmental groups and some Ojibwe bands have fought the new Line 3, which would partly follow a new route. They say it would add to global warming and open a new region of Minnesota waters to degradation from oil spills. Enbridge in August chose two general contractors to build the Minnesota portion of Line 3, which would be one of the state’s largest construction projects in recent history. Brownsville, Wis.-based Michels Corp. would be responsible for pipeline construction to Clearbrook, Minn.; Precision Pipeline, an Eau Claire-based unit of the Florida-based multinational construction company MasTec, would handle the rest. Minnesota Limited in Big Lake, an arm of Houston-based CenterPoint Energy, has a contract to build four of eight new Line 3 pump stations; Michels would build the other four. The contractors Tuesday signed a project labor agreement with four unions that represent workers who would build Line 3: the International Union of Operator Engineers, which represents heavy equipment operators; the United Association, which represents pipeline welders; the Laborers International Union; and the Teamsters. The Line 3 project is expected to employ 4,000 at its peak, according to the unions. Only construction of the $800 million Essentia Health complex in Duluth would appear to employ more in the next few years, with about 5,600 workers at its peak. Site preparation on that three-year union project started in September. Pipeline construction is specialized, whereas a big building requires workers from a dozen different trades who come in at different stages of construction. The unions are hoping that construction on the Minnesota leg of Line 3 starts by “midyear at the latest,” s

8 Mile oil spill in the Atchafalaya Basin causes concern for wildlife -An oil spill in the Atchafalaya Basin has state and industry officials on alert. This particular spill could have severe impacts on the environment since the barge has been leaking oil since Monday. The oil now reaching 8 miles into the basin. After oil began spewing into the Basin for 5 days Thyssen Petroleum Inc. began the clean up process.“The company has provided resources to be able to recover the oil which includes containment,” says one Coast Guard representative. Some hunters like Mark Patin are already planning to scrub down their boats “I would think it’s going to leave a film on the side but I mean aluminum boats are very simple to clean otherwise if you have a fiberglass boat it may take a little work to get it off,” says Patin. But are even more worried about the wildlife in the area.Mark adds, “…because of any further 14’15’ and you’re looking at affecting wildlife.” “It could have very significant impacts in the basin.”  Founder of Atchafalaya Basin keeper Dean Wilson says small oil and chemical spills happen often through out the basin but this spill is more concerning because of where the spill is located.Dean says, “…of all the oil spills in the basin they’re very easy to contain because they have been a swamp or place without a current but my concern with this oil spill in particular is the fact there is a river with the current.”Though the Coast Guard says the spill has been contained Dean is still worried that their still may be some oil lingering out there. “I’d be very surprised if they could have contained all this oil that’s been going down occurring for so long,” adds Dean.” Dean also tells News 15 he’s especially worried about the fish and other wild life in the basin, since other larger animals feed on them. They could contaminate land animas that migrate through the winter. At this time the spill has again been contained but not totally cleared. Crews will continue operations tomorrow morning.

Report: Offshore oil, gas drilling creates new onshore risks -  Devastating oil spills of the Deepwater Horizon variety aren’t the only risk posed by expanded offshore drilling in waters off the United States, a new environmental report says. New oil and gas drilling along the country’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts — which the Trump administration proposed but put on hold — would spur a flurry of energy development on dry land, raising the risk of broken pipelines and refinery pollution in coastal areas, according to a report released Wednesday by Environment America, a coalition of 29 state environmental groups.“Whether it causes oil spills off our coast or pollution on our shores, offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous,” report co-author Kelsey Lamp, oceans advocate for Environment America Research & Policy Center, said in a news release.President Donald Trump has previously supported expanding offshore drilling, including signing an executive order in 2017 aimed at opening coastal areas to offshore fossil fuel development, the News & Observer reported in April. But Trump’s moves were opposed by North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and other leaders in states bordering the Atlantic and Pacific, according to the News & Observer, which reported that “offshore drilling is already allowed in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coasts of Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama.”California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom also vocally protested expanded offshore drilling, writing that “the catastrophic harm from an offshore oil spill is well-established,” and “California has perhaps the highest risk from an oil spill and the most to lose,” according to The Sacramento Bee. Environment America said Trump’s administration “increased the likelihood of more offshore drilling in January 2018, when it released a plan to open more than 90 percent of America’s oceans to oil and gas drilling” — a plan that’s temporarily on hold. Trump’s offshore drilling plan is supported by the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas industry group, according to the News & Observer.

Florida senator blocks Trump Interior nominee over offshore drilling - (Reuters) - Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio has placed a hold on the Senate confirmation of President Donald Trump’s pick to become the deputy secretary of the Interior Department over concerns about the agency’s plans to expand offshore drilling, his office said on Wednesday. The move underscores opposition in most U.S. coastal states to a stalled Trump administration plan to open up nearly all U.S. offshore waters to drilling. Environmentalists and lawmakers of both parties have expressed concern that an oil spill could pose a risk to wildlife and beaches, hurting tourism and the fishing industries. “When it comes to offshore drilling and exploration, the Florida delegation is united in opposition to allowing our shores to be subjected to new leases,” Rubio spokesman Nick Iacovella told Reuters by e-mail. Rubio’s hold on Katharine MacGregor, who Trump nominated to take on the No. 2 position at Interior after Secretary David Bernhardt, will continue “until our office is able to discuss our concerns regarding offshore drilling with her directly,” Iacovella said.

 Gulf oil spill- The new flood of BP lawsuits hitting Mobile’s federal court – Nearly a decade after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a new wave of lawsuits against BP is hitting the federal courts. The new litigation is the result of a court ruling that blocks thousands of people from a medical settlement negotiated after the 2010 environmental disaster. It threatens to clog court dockets for years. It also means plaintiffs like Sherry Carney might have to wait a long time for their day in court. “It was a fine line between life and death; I can tell you that,” Carney said, reflecting on how the oil spill changed her life. Carney was a Dauphin Island city councilwoman at the time. She said she had planned to make her house on the island’s fragile west end her “forever home.” But she said that months of breathing in toxic fumes took a toll on her health. In 2012, she said she spent 34 days in the hospital, part of it the intensive care unit. She said the ordeal included four different stints on a ventilator. At times, she added, she was worried she would not make it. Even after recovering, she said deterioration of her lungs has killed her long-distance running hobby. “My respiratory system after those four episodes of ventilation won’t ever be the same,” she said. “I was a runner. I do a lot of walking. But I can’t run anymore.” After the oil spill, the federal courts consolidated all lawsuits under U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans. Part of that litigation involved a medical settlement for coastal residents and clean-up workers with spill-related health issues. But under a ruling by Barbier, the fund is not available to anyone who did not have a doctor’s diagnosis by April 16, 2012 – two years after the accident. That shuts out people with cancer and other conditions to take a long time to develop. It also bars people like Carney who say they felt the effects shortly after the spill but did not get a prompt diagnosis. Court records indicate that a doctor diagnosed Carney with chronic sinusitis and chronic bronchitis in April 2013 – a year too late. “Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t understand that part,” said Craig Downs, a Miami lawyer who represents some 2,000 people from Florida to Texas. Potential to clog court dockets Barbier has been transferring the lawsuits to the federal courts with jurisdictions over where the plaintiffs live. More than 500 suits have been filed in Mobile’s federal court since the beginning of the year. BP lawyers have asked that Carney’s case also be transferred.

Shreveport city leaders concerned over proposed pipeline - A new oil and gas company wants approval for a natural gas pipeline under Cross Lake in Shreveport, the city's main drinking water supply. Representatives from Pine Wave Energy Partners explained their idea to some city leaders Thursday and got mixed reaction. The company is looking at southwestern portion of the lake. Specifically, south of South Lake Shore. This proposed pipeline could impact the drinking water of 300,000 people. Pine Wave Energy Partners wants an agreement to use the lake to move natural gas from the Haynesville Shale. Company representatives tried to convince city leaders that the pipeline is safe. But, citizens and city leaders are concerned about the potential impact of the pipeline on the water source. Also, some present Thursday weren't impressed by Pine Wave Energy Partners because they showed up late and couldn't answer a lot of questions. "I think that the oil and gas industry has had such a comfortable relationship with Louisiana that they haven't actually expected Shreveporters in particular to be so savvy and to be so concerned. And, I think that it's time for people to realize that while we might be open for business, we are going to have some demands of our own," said Councilwoman LeVette Fuller. Councilwoman Fuller tells KTBS the issue will come up at the next council meeting. Council members plan to withdraw the proposal, hear from experts about the pipeline, and then resubmit it. Pine Wave representatives said the city will get $150,000 for a 20-year servitude agreement. They also said this project could result in royalties for property owners and local governments. Their estimate of total royalties over the 20 years is a half-billion dollars. There is already a natural gas pipeline under Cross Lake. It's been there since before the lake was created. But its condition and depth are unknown.

Audubon: Commonwealth LNG could destroy habitat of rare, elusive marsh bird -   Environmentalists are raising concerns that building a new liquefied natural gas export terminal along the mouth of the Calcasieu Ship Channel in southwest Louisiana could harm a shy and elusive marsh bird that is expected to be added to the endangered species list. In a public letter filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday, the Audubon Society of Louisiana wrote that the proposed Commonwealth LNG export terminal could destroy habitat for the eastern black rail, a rare marsh bird that fits in the palm of the average person's hand.Described as "shy and elusive" by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the rail is one of 41 species of animals that have been nominated to be added to the agency's endangered species list next year. Exact population figures remain unclear but with an estimated 1,300 left along the coastal prairies of Texas and less than 1,000 breeding pairs along the Atlantic Coast, Audubon Louisiana has captured and banded more than three dozen of the rare birds on private lands along Highway 82 in southwest Louisiana. The environmental group said the rail prefers habitat heavy with gulf cordgrass, which is visible on the proposed LNG project site.

Port Neches plant explosion: Another burning tower falls, officials say no airborne asbestos found -- Another distillation tower toppled late Saturday as fire continued to burn at the Port Neches, Texas, chemical plant that exploded Wednesday night. Area residents have been cleared to return to the area since Friday, and officials said Saturday that they have found no measurable concentration of asbestos in the air. They say the fire continues to be contained, and that the falling tower had no impact outside the TPC Group facility. Insurance adjusters are assessing the damage at homes Sunday. The plant, which has been cited for environmental violations in the past, experienced two explosions that forced a mandatory evacuation for 50,000, while sparking fears of asbestos contamination. Officials noted that some of the equipment that had exploded from the TPC Group chemical plant site contained asbestos insulation, adding that toxicology consulting firm CTEH will be leading lead removal efforts. "Specialists will be assessing homes and yards within approximately one-half mile of the TPC Port Neches Operations fence line," TPC Group said in an update. "Please be aware that the cleanup specialists are required to wear protective clothing to remove debris beyond the fence line. We expect assessments and clean up to begin immediately." Smoke and fire are visible from the TPC Group Port Neches Operations explosion on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Port Neches, Texas. (Marie D. De Jesus /Houston Chronicle via AP) Three plant workers were injured in the blasts, including two TPC employees and a contractor, who have since been treated and released from hospitals in Port Arthur and Houston, said Troy Monk, TPC's director of health, safety and security.

Texas Petroleum Chemical Plant Explosion, and Our Petrochemical 'Collective Suicide' -  A plume from the Texas Petroleum Chemical (TPC) plant hung over Port Neches, Texas on Thanksgiving as emergency workers continued to fight the fire following explosions at the plant on Nov. 27. A mandatory evacuation that called for 60,000 people within a four-mile radius from the plant to leave their homes the day before the holiday was lifted on Nov. 29.  However, officials warned that returning residents be aware of the plume's location because elevated levels of particulate matter associated with the plume near the plant could be "harmful to sensitive groups," and direct exposure could result in respiratory irritation.  I visited the evacuation zone on Thanksgiving, figuring not everyone would heed the order.  Driving in from Louisiana, I spotted the plume from ten miles to the east in Bridge City, Texas, close to the Louisiana state line.  I photographed homes within a half-mile of the plant and chatted with residents who were out on the street sharing holiday greetings with their neighbors. They were talking about damage to their homes and the size and the direction of the plume. TPC's plant manufactures highly flammable 1,3 butadiene, a known human carcinogen used to make rubber tires and plastics. The explosion was a reminder of the potential risk for those that live near petrochemical plants.  Environmental advocates are questioning if the Trump administration's rolling back of standards established by President Barack Obama's administration following the 2013 West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion, could be responsible for the 2019 explosion. Heather McTeer Toney, who was an EPA regional administrator under the Obama administration, said, "What we can say with all certainty is that rules like this are critical to ensuring that we're at least aware and are doing everything that we can to prevent these types of explosions." "I woke up this morning tired, depressed and scared. I cannot be the only person terrified of this disastrous path we're on," Angela Blanchard, a Houston-based long-term disaster recovery expert and Brown University senior fellow, told me in an email.  Although she has been committed to developing solutions for community challenges that the rest of the country will face due to sea level rise from climate change, she didn't offer any of the optimistic, uplifting thoughts she usually dispenses. Instead she concluded, "The plant expansions continue at a record pace. We are committing a kind of collective suicide."

'Stop going to social media to get your information': Officials lift Port Neches evacuation, give updates Thursday — Officials say levels of 1, 3-Butadiene have been "greatly reduced to non-irritating amounts" in Port Neches in the area of the TPC Group plant. The voluntary evacuation and shelter in place have been lifted, according to the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management. In a Thursday afternoon news conference, officials with the Chemical Safety Board said worker's descriptions of events leading up to the explosions are consistent with a butadiene release. CSB teams can do a full investigation once the area is stable and safe. They goal for the group is to 'determine the root cause' for the explosions. They say a fundamental failure in the system at the facility is to blame for the release. Officials say the investigation is in the early stages, but they do not believe employees were working on the equipment that failed. Officials said it's too early to say how much butadiene has been released. Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said he stayed in his home in Port Neches on Wednesday night, but the voluntary evacuation order was put in place for anyone who felt uncomfortable or had symptoms of butadiene exposure. Judge Branick said about 5:30 Wednesday evening, air quality readings started to show 'hits,' leading to the order. He said the hits were detected about a half mile to the southwest of the TPC site. He said the levels are far below anything that might cause long-term health risks. Jason Sanders, Environmental Manager at TPC Group said they're working to remove all materials that are still on site. Sanders said the goal is to do it as safely as possible. According to Sanders, the tanks hold butadiene, crude butadiene and rafinite. He said to ensure there aren't any more leaks or releases, they'll perform 'mechanical integrity assessments' to make sure there aren't breaches in the equipment.

Trump administration plans to open national forests in Texas to more oil and gas drilling - Environmentalists and other opponents are fighting Trump administration plans to open more than 1.9 million acres of national forests and grasslands in Texas to more oil and natural gas drilling activity, which would include plans to drill thousands of feet under Lake Conroe — the principal drinking water source for thousands of people in suburban Montgomery County. Seeking to overturn an Obama-era moratorium, the administration is proposing to lease large areas of Sam Houston National Forest, Davy Crockett National Forest, Angelina National Forest, Sabine National Forest, Caddo National Grasslands and LBJ National Grasslands to oil and natural gas companies. The forests are part of the Haynesville shale of East Texas and Louisiana, and the grasslands are part of the Barnett shale of North Texas. Oil and gas companies have drilled on those lands for decades, but new leasing on them stopped in 2016, when the Obama administration bowed to pressure from environmentalists and other opponents concerned about the effects of hydraulic fracturing. More Information Proposed Drilling on Federal Lands in Texas The Trump administration is seeking to open more than 1.9 million acres of federal lands in Texas on more oil and natural gas drilling. Location Proposed Wells Angelina National Forest 202 Caddo National Grassland 4 Davy Crockett National Forest 98 Lyndon B. Johnson National Grassland 475 Sabine National Forest 624 Sam Houston National Forest 127 Total 1,530 Source: U.S. Forest Service Company Drilling Permits Filed in 2019 Rockcliff Energy 38 Sabine Oil & Gas 32 Aethon Energy 30 Tanos Exploration 25 Sheridan Production Company 24 BP 21 Exxon Mobil 19 Comstock Resources 18 KJ Energy 13 CCI Texas 11 Read More

Texas among top states in country to cut funds to environmental agencies - Texas slashed funding to its environmental enforcement agency by more than a third over the last decade, a new study has found, raising concerns about how closely the oil and gas industry is being policed at a time when the sector is booming and petrochemical plant fires in the Houston region are drawing national attention.The Lone Star State cut funding for pollution-control programs at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality by 35 percent between fiscal years 2008 and 2018, even as the overall state budget grew by 41 percent, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.The analysis of states’ budget cuts comes as the Trump administration has eased environmental rules and sought to reduce funding to the Environmental Protection Agency. “The Trump Administration has been trying to roll back EPA’s authority and funding by arguing that the states will pick up the slack and keep our air and waters clean,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project. But it’s just a shell game, he said, “because state agencies are often badly understaffed and the EPA workforce is already at its lowest level in more than thirty years.” Nationwide, the Austin- and Washington, D.C.-based group found that 30 states had cut funding from their respective environmental agencies and 40 had reduced staffing over the decade reviewed. Texas and Louisiana tied for second place, with only Wisconsin reducing a larger share.

Hill Country pipeline construction could begin in January — Kinder Morgan, the company that's building the Permian Highway Pipeline, said construction is underway. Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan vice president, said roughly 100 miles of pipeline is under construction in West Texas. The more than 400-mile pipeline would carry natural gas from West Texas to an area near Katy, Texas, near Houston. Fore said the company is preparing for construction in the Hill Country. "We’re finalizing land acquisition," he said. "We’re over 95%, so the land has been acquired for the properties. We have over 1,000 landowners that are part of this, so that’s significant progress there." He said there has been some kickback from property owners, typically ones in the Hill Country. "A lot of the landowners, this is the first time they’ve experienced pipelines and negotiations and evaluations and those types of things," said Fore. "And, also, understanding what we’re talking about and what we’re planning on doing. What is a pipeline? Is it buried underground? What are your construction techniques and plans? So it’s been a lengthier process in the Hill Country, expected to be, and part of that is making sure everyone understands what the process actually is." Karen Smith, who's lived in the Woodcreek area for five years, is one of the concerned homeowners. "It’s very disturbing. It makes me sick to my stomach. I know some people whose land is being taken, and it’s just not right," said Smith, saying she worried about the impact on the community and environment.

EIA updates geologic maps of the Delaware Basin’s Bone Spring formation -- The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has released new maps and geologic information for the Bone Spring play in the Delaware Basin, which spans from southeastern New Mexico to western Texas. The updated information includes formation geology, deposition history, and regional tectonic features. The Delaware Basin is in the western part of the larger Permian Basin, one of the most prolific areas for oil and natural gas production in the United States.The Bone Spring formation lies directly under the Delaware Mountain Group and over the Wolfcamp formation. The Bone Spring formation consists of interbedded (settled between existing layers) siliciclastic, carbonate, and shale rocks up to 4,000 feet thick and is divided into four intervals. These intervals are named, from top to bottom, the First, Second, and Third Bone Spring. The Avalon shale is within the First Bone Spring carbonate. Each interval has very low permeability, which means that oil and natural gas cannot flow easily. Recent advances in completion techniques have increased oil recovery factors to as high as 34%, meaning 34% of the estimated resource base in an area is produced.With the introduction of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, hydrocarbon p roduction has increased considerably in the Bone Spring. The number of producing wells in Bone Spring grew from 436 wells in January 2005 to 4,338 wells in mid-2019. These wells have become more productive over time: average initial daily crude oil production per well for the first six months of operation increased from 67 barrels per day (b/d) in 2005 to 770 b/d in 2019. In that same period, average natural gas production per well for the first six months of operation grew from 0.1 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d) to 1.6 MMcf/d.

Railroad Commission sued for lax oversight of natural gas flaring  - A major pipeline operator is suing the Texas Railroad Commission — the state agency that regulates oil and gas drilling — alleging that it has blatantly disregarded longstanding state law that restricts the controversial and growing practice of burning off natural gas. The lawsuit, filed Nov. 20 in Travis County District Court, is the latest development in a first-of-its-kind dispute between Tulsa-based Williams Cos. and Exco Operating Co. over the Dallas-based company’s authority to flare natural gas that comes up with the oil it pumps from the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas. In December 2017, Exco asked the Railroad Commission for permission to burn off excess gas from dozens of oil wells and later asked for a two-year extension of that authority. The request was unusual because the wells were already connected to a pipeline gathering system owned by Williams that's capable of transporting the fossil fuel to market. When oil and gas producers ask the Railroad Commission for permission to flare, which they have increasingly done amid a historic oil boom in the state, it is often because they are unable to hook up to a pipeline. But in this case, Exco, which emerged from bankruptcy in July, said it was because the company didn't have a contract with Williams and couldn’t afford its rates to transport the gas even if it did. The company also noted that Williams historically had only been able to accept 70% of its gas, so it would need a permit to flare, anyway.With oil production reaching historic levels in the Permian Basin as new pipeline construction has lagged, the price of natural gas in West Texas has traded in negative territory several times this year, prompting oil producers to flare it or pay pipeline operators with spare capacity to take it away. Williams filed a protest with the commission early last year, arguing Exco didn’t need to flare because it had the ability to move the natural gas to market — and that the cost-benefit analysis Exco submitted to justify its flaring request used only revenues from dirt-cheap natural gas and omitted revenues from far more valuable oil so the Railroad Commission would think the company was barely scraping by. According to Williams, it was the first time anyone had ever protested an oil producer's request for long-term flaring. Approving the request, the company argued, would be an unnecessary waste of the state’s valuable natural resources, which is heavily restricted by state law and frowned upon in the state constitution.

ENERGY IMPACTS: Toxic, briny water surfaces in Okla. Is oil to blame? -- Contaminated brine bubbling from the ground in Oklahoma could endanger groundwater and highlights the challenge for an oil and gas industry running out of places to dispose of waste. It also could signal a new problem for industry as salt water breaking out without a conduit like an old well is extremely unusual.

EPA May Allow Disposal of Oil Waste in Waterways. Is Public at Risk? - Oklahoma Watch - Within a year, Oklahoma could get approval from EPA to start issuing permits that will allow the oil industry to dispose of briny oil field waste in waterways, alarming environmentalists and making it the first of three Southwestern states to step into a thorny regulatory landscape closely watched by the industry. If it catches on, the plan could help the oil industry cope with a growing waste disposal problem — one exacerbated by industry-linked earthquakes. And it could boost a multibillion-dollar industry that has grown up to manage oil field wastewater. But environmentalists are warning that the industry could wind up polluting waterways by releasing the treated water before it fully understands what’s in the fluid. Once the wastewater is handed off to other users or allowed into surface water, “we can’t bring those discharges back,” said Nichole Saunders, a senior attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate and Energy Program. Historically, the industry has disposed of wastewater, also known as produced water or salt water, in deep injection wells. Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico are exploring the idea of allowing oil companies to recycle the fluid and either transfer it to other users or release it into surface water like streams and rivers. Both sides agree it could happen quickly, although the regulations on releasing treated wastewater into surface water will likely vary from state to state. Oklahoma has already asked EPA for authority to issue permits for oil field waste disposal, and both Texas and New Mexico enacted laws this spring that require their environmental agencies to explore the idea.

Energy Transfer Expands Pipeline Network - Energy Transfer LP reported Thursday that it has added crude oil and natural gas liquids gathering and transmission pipelines in the DJ Basin in Colorado and Anadarko Basin in Oklahoma and Kansas as well as natural gas gathering and processing assets in Western Canada’s Alberta Basin. The larger pipeline network, along with a major crude oil terminal near Houston, come with the completion Thursday of Energy Transfer’s approximately $5 billion cash and stock acquisition of SemGroup Corp. During a special meeting Wednesday, holders of a majority of Tulsa-based SemGroup’s stock voted to approve the deal, Dallas-based Energy Transfer said in a written statement. Effective with the opening of the market Thursday, SemGroup ceased to be a publicly traded company and its common stock discontinued trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Energy Transfer added. It contends that combining both firms’ operations will save more than $170 million annually, yielding “commercial and operational synergies of $80 million, financial savings of $50 million and cost savings of $40 million.” As Rigzone reported in September – when the companies revealed their agreement to merge – the assets from SemGroup complement Energy Transfer’s infrastructure in the Permian Basin and on the Gulf Coast. Moreover, the combination adds the Houston Fuel Oil Terminal (HFOTCO) on the Houston Ship Channel to Energy Transfer’s holdings. Energy Transfer is adding to its pipeline assets further by building the Ted Collins crude oil pipeline, a 75-mile (121-kilometer) conduit linking HFOTCO to the acquiring firm’s existing terminal in Nederland, Texas. The company stated Thursday that the pipeline – with an initial capacity of 500,000 barrels per day – should begin service in 2021.

 North Dakota oil pipeline spill cleanup continues -- TC Energy crews worked through the holiday weekend as cleanup efforts continue at the oil spill site outside Edinburg. A company spokesperson said that as of Saturday, Nov. 30, workers had clocked about 65,000 man hours on the site with about 40 to 50 people on-site per day. The pipeline, operated by Canada-based TC Energy, spilled about 383,000 gallons of crude oil on Oct. 29, contaminating nearly five acres of wetlands outside of Edinburg. TC Energy spokesperson Sara Rabern said crews are continuing to remove and test contaminated soil, though it is unclear when cleanup will be completed. "Our crews continue to clean and (remove contaminated soil), which we hope to have completed in the coming weeks," Rabern said. "But again, this depends on the weather. We will continue to monitor and follow the appropriate precautions with the winter weather conditions. We do not have a deadline as we want to do so safely and accurately." With temperatures expected to drop below zero next week, TC Energy spokesperson Sara Rabern said crews will be on "high alert" monitoring hours to make sure no one is working in the cold for too long. TC Energy crews prepare for frigid temperatures as Keystone pipeline oil spill cleanup continues Rabern added that the pipeline is still running at reduced pressure as the investigation of the incident is finalized, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has not yet lifted the pressure reduction requirement. Edinburg is about 75 miles northwest of Grand Forks.

Saltwater leaks from Burke County well abandoned in 1980s - A saltwater spill occurred last week from a disposal well abandoned in the 1980s at a gas plant in Burke County, the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality reported Monday. The Alberta-based company Steel Reef estimates that 1,980 barrels of saltwater leaked from the well at its Lignite Gas Plant about a mile east of the town of Lignite, according to the department. The amount is equal to about 83,000 gallons. The company first reported the leak to the state on Nov. 24, but the volume of the fluid spilled was unknown at the time. Most of the liquid leaked into surrounding farmland, said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the department. The well was plugged and capped in the 1980s, and Suess was not aware of any past problems at the site. He said the saltwater that leaked came up through a threaded fitting. The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division is investigating the cause of the spill. Leaks from abandoned saltwater disposal wells are not common, spokeswoman Katie Haarsager said. The saltwater that spilled appeared to be a mixture of naturally occurring water in the Dakota rock formation and brine from oil and gas development decades ago, Suess said. Its salt content is less than what’s typically considered brine or “produced water" within the oil and gas industry.Brine comes up alongside oil and gas at well sites, and it’s typically injected back underground for permanent storage. It can render farmland infertile when it spills. Steel Reef said it's working with state regulators as it responds to the incident.

Digital roughnecks: Oil and gas workforce changing as tech’s role grows - Scrum master. Agile coach. Data scientist. Cloud architect. Jobs in the oil and natural gas industry are changing as technology plays an ever larger role in extracting fossil fuels beneath the ground and under the sea. A younger, diverse class of tech workers holding these and other titles, such as big data engineer or user experience designer, are increasingly replacing roughnecks, roustabouts and other blue collar workers who toil under the hot Texas sun or on platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Energy companies, fighting to stay profitable with oil prices stuck in the $50 to $60 range, are making a major push to digitize and automate operations, allowing drilling in West Texas or in the middle of the ocean to be operated and monitored from control rooms in Houston. That push is driving the growth of six-figure tech jobs that prize skills such as coding, design, data analysis and computer system architecture over physical prowess. While statewide employment in the oil and natural gas industry is down by 3 percent compared to a year ago, tech jobs in the sector appear to be growing, especially in Houston where nearly two-thirds of the estimated 228,000 tech jobs in the region are outside of traditional technology companies such as Google, Amazon and Dell. “There’s a misnomer that energy companies and pipeline companies are not technology companies,” said Al Monaco, CEO of the pipeline company Enbridge. “Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, industrial applications like ours are a treasure trove of opportunity.”

US Drops Five Oil Rigs - The U.S. idled five oil rigs and added two gas rigs for a net loss of three rigs this week, according to data from Baker Hughes Company. This week’s variations bring the nation’s total number of active rigs to 799, which is 276 fewer rigs than the count of 1,075 one year ago. Texas led all states in declines, dropping five rigs this week. Louisiana and Oklahoma shed one rig apiece. North Dakota and Pennsylvania were the only states to add rigs, tacking on one each. Among the major basins, the Permian idled five rigs this week. This brings the Permian’s number of active rigs to 400, which accounts for more than half of the nation’s total. The Cana Woodford and the Haynesville each shed two rigs. The Granite Wash, Marcellus and Williston each added one rig this week.

Ban fracking? Good luck with that, Mr. or Ms. President -- The Democratic presidential candidates who promise to ban fracking are keeping a secret: The president can't do that. At least five contenders for the Democratic nomination have called for a "fracking ban" in their plans for fighting climate change and shifting to renewable energy. The slogan appeals to the party's most left-leaning voters. But banning hydraulic fracturing would take an act of Congress. And getting Congress to do it would be difficult, even if the Democrats control both chambers. The oil and gas industry, though, shouldn't take much comfort from that, energy analyst Kevin Book says. There are still a lot of ways for a president to affect the industry unilaterally. "This is probably one of those areas where it makes sense to take them seriously rather than literally," said Book, of ClearView Energy Partners. There are signs the industry is taking the prospect seriously. The energy arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report this week warning of the economic effects of ending fracking in New Mexico, where Permian Basin oil drilling is boosting the state's budget. And the American Petroleum Institute, after an October Democratic debate in Ohio, accused pro-ban candidates of undermining that state's economy. And major oil companies are being pressed on what they would do if the federal government were to enact policies to limit or end drilling (Energywire, Nov. 4). A president could ban new drilling and fracking on public lands, a concept supported by most of the Democratic contenders. That is a stark contrast to President Trump — who has prioritized increased domestic production. It's also a contrast to former Democratic presidents, including Barack Obama, whose administrations routinely presided over public land drilling. Still, only about 10% of the country's drilling occurs on federal land. The administration could also use regulations to clamp down on the industry's emissions, making it too expensive to operate. But oil companies and others might be able to block such rules, or a public lands drilling ban, in court for years. With a Congress united behind him or her, a president could enact laws with even more impact on oil and gas production, and that includes banning fracking. But lawmakers would have to get past the political might of the oil and gas industry, the thousands of jobs in the sector, and voters very sensitive to increases in the price of gasoline.

People Who Want to Ban Fracking Immediately, Says Joe Biden, 'Oughta Vote for Someone Else' - If you want a candidate committed to banning fracking in the United States immediately, find another candidate than Joe Biden. That's the advice of Biden himself, given to an activist from the Sunrise Movement in a video posted online Thursday after the two discussed the former vice president's adviser Heather Zichal and Biden's plans for the future of fracking. In the video of the interaction posted on Twitter by Sunrise Thursday afternoon, Biden appears confused about Zichal's connections to the natural gas industry, protesting that the adviser "worked for us in the administration." "No, no, I know," the Sunrise activist patiently explains as Biden grabs him by the shoulders. "But she also worked—" "If you look at my record," Biden begins, "look at my record. Just look at my record." The two discuss fracking as well. Biden tells the activist that "you can't ban fracking right now" because "you gotta transition away from it." "You're gonna ban fracking all across America, right now, right?" Biden asks the Sunrise activist. "I would love to," the activist replies. "I'd love to, too," says Biden. "I'd love to make sure we can't use any oil or gas, period. Now, now, is it possible?" "Yes," replies the Sunrise activist. "Well, you oughta vote for someone else," says Biden, releasing the young man and moving on.

This U.S. Shale Giant Is On The Brink Of Collapse - One of the shale gas pioneer companies in the United States said earlier this month that depressed oil and natural gas prices may force it to breach loan covenants over the next year and that a massive debt pile threatens its ability to “continue as a going concern.” Chesapeake Energy—which helped propel the shale gas revolution in the late 2000s with leading positions in the Marcellus, Barnett, and Haynesville shale basins—is now facing tough times trying to heal its balance sheet, on which US$9.7 billion in total debt weighs. The company is looking to improve its balance sheet and is evaluating multiple options to reduce debt and to become, finally, free cash flow positive next year.  Chesapeake Energy’s troubles are indicative of the current woes of the whole U.S. shale patch—firms now have to focus on generating free cash flow and successfully manage the debt they had taken on to boost production instead of profits. Squeezed between the scarce availability of capital from debt and equity markets and investors demanding more profits, many U.S. oil and gas firms are reducing capital expenditure plans for 2020. Producers are also cutting production targets and now admit that the fast-paced growth of the past two years will slow down to moderate growth over the next few years.   In this challenging environment, aggravated by low commodity prices, Chesapeake Energy warned in early November that “If continued depressed prices persist, combined with the scheduled reductions in the leverage ratio covenant, our ability to comply with the leverage ratio covenant during the next 12 months will be adversely affected which raises substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.”

Meet The Biggest Losers Of The US Shale Bust -After a decade of unprecedented growth and seemingly endless investments, the writing is now on the wall: the Great American Shale Boom is slowing down and this could have some grave consequences both the industry and the financial markets.  A total of 32 oil and gas drillers have filed for bankruptcy through the third quarter, with the total number of bankruptcy filings since 2015 now clocking in at more than 200.Unlike Phase 1 of the oil bust that featured shale production declining due to an epic global price collapse, the current slowdown is being driven partly by industry-wide core operational issues, including declining production due to wells being drilled too close to one another as well as production sweet spots running out too soon. Yet, the most important underlying theme precipitating the collapse is a growing financial squeeze as banks and investors pull in the reins and demand that shale drillers prioritize profitability over production growth.The shale industry has been built on mountains of debt and the day of reckoning is finally here. As many company executives who hoped to drill their way out of debt are belatedly discovering, trying to squeeze a profit from shale-fracking operations is akin to trying to draw blood from stone with the industry having racked up cumulative losses estimated at more than a quarter of a trillion dollars.From the Permian of the Southwest to the Eagle Ford in Texas and the Bakken of central North America, the future is looking decidedly bleak for shale companies that racked up the most debt and expanded too aggressively.Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE:CHK) is widely considered the posterchild of debt-fueled shale investments gone woefully wrong. A decade ago, the company’s deceased CEO, Aubrey McClendon (aka the Shale King), was the highest paid Fortune 500 CEO. McClendon had a rather unusual modus operandi: instead of trying to sell oil and gas, he was essentially flipping real estate using borrowed money to acquire leases to drill on land, then reselling them for 5x- 10x more.He was unapologetic about it, too, claiming it was far more profitable than the drilling business.McClendon’s aggressive leasing tactics finally landed him in trouble with the Oklahoma authorities before he was killed in a car crash shortly after being indicted.  He left the company that he founded in a serious liquidity crunch and corporate governance issues from which Chesapeake has never fully recovered--CHK stock has crashed from an all-time high of $64 a share under McClendon in 2008 to $0.60 currently.

Chesapeake Debt Deal Skirts Bankruptcy -- Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s move to tame its $10 billion debt load alleviates immediate concerns about the oil and gas producer’s viability, yet fundamental issues threatening the company’s long-term outlook remain. The company’s shares and bonds gained Wednesday after it said lenders agreed to loosen some restrictions on its ability to incur debt, clearing up a prior “going concern” issue. Chesapeake also announced it was securing an additional $1.5 billion loan package from a group of banks, as well as plans to buy back $700 million of notes due in 2025 at discounted prices and swap other bonds into new securities. The company’s financing proposals could reduce leverage from its current level of around 4 times a measure of earnings and trim its overall debt load. Yet it doesn’t change the fundamental trajectory for the Oklahoma City-based energy producer, which has struggled to generate positive cash flow in recent years as weak oil and gas prices cast a pall over America’s shale boom, according to James Spicer at TD Securities. “I’m not sure that it solves their problems,” said Spicer, a high-yield analyst focused on the energy sector. “The underlying issue is generating free cash flow. The company is saying it can, but I think it’s very much a show-me story for investors.” The company’s bonds had extended losses since the driller warned last month that its financial survival was in doubt. Its fortunes rose during the boom years under Aubrey McClendon, when it became the second-largest U.S producer of natural gas. But Chesapeake was brought down by years of low prices as the market was flooded with new supply. The company needs oil prices around $60 a barrel and natural gas prices around $2.75 MMBtu in order to maintain production and generate free cash flow, Spencer Cutter, a Bloomberg Intelligence energy analyst, said in an interview. They were trading at around $58 a barrel and $2.38 MMBtu respectively on Wednesday.

Oil-Sands Crude Could Get Heavier Amid Pipeline Shortage - Canada’s struggling oil-sands industry has a plan to cut costs while exporting more of their crude: Make it even heavier. Companies including Cenovus Energy Inc., Gibson Energy Inc., Imperial Oil Ltd. and MEG Energy Corp. are looking to remove condensate and other light oils from the oil-sands bitumen they produce, so they can get more of it onto rail cars. Doing so would dramatically reduce the cost of shipping crude by rail to the U.S. Gulf Coast, which otherwise can cost twice as much as shipping by pipeline. Removing the light oils, called diluent, would make rail shipments...

Coast Guard responds to oil sheen off Afognak Island - Coast Guard officers responding to an oil sheen in Kitio Bay off Afognak Island say containment boom is in place and the leaking underground transfer line at the Kitoi Bay Hatchery that caused the spill has been replaced. Seven hundred feet of containment boom was in place, plus an additional 300 feet of secondary containment boom to absorb the sheen from discharges from the leaking transfer line. Staff at the hatchery, which is owed by the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, took all the right measures and are doing the cleanup themselves, the Coast Guard said. Coast Guard Sector Anchorage Incident Management Division and Marine Safety Detachment Kodiak said the command center received a spill report at 4 p.m. Nov. 22 from hatchery officials. A pollution response crew, funded with $15,000 from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, was on scene on Nov. 23, the Coast Guard said. Coast Guard officials said their focus was to assess the situation and provide guidance for effective pollution response. The Kitoi Bay Hatchery is on the west side of Izhut Bay, some 30 miles north of the city of Kodiak.

U.S. petroleum exports exceed imports in September - In September 2019, the United States exported 89,000 barrels per day (b/d) more petroleum (crude oil and petroleum products) than it imported, the first month this has happened since monthly records began in 1973. A decade ago, the United States was importing 10 million b/d more petroleum than it was exporting. Long-running changes in U.S. trade patterns for both crude oil and petroleum products have resulted in a steady decrease in overall U.S. net petroleum imports.  Net petroleum trade is calculated as total imports of crude oil and petroleum products less total exports of crude oil and petroleum products. Although the United States currently imports more crude oil than it exports, it exports more petroleum products than it imports, resulting in net total petroleum exports.  Increasing U.S. crude oil production, which rose from an average of 5.3 million b/d in 2009 to 12.1 million b/d in 2019 (through September), has resulted in a decrease in U.S. crude oil imports from an average of 9 million b/d in 2009 to 7.0 million b/d in 2019 (through September). The decrease in U.S. crude oil imports also corresponded with a decrease in the number of sources the United States imported crude oil from. In December 2015, the United States lifted restrictions on exporting domestically produced crude oil. Since then, U.S. crude oil exports have been the largest contributor to U.S. petroleum export growth; U.S. crude oil exports have grown from 591,000 b/d in 2016 to 2.8 million b/d in 2019 through September. Despite increasing exports of crude oil, however, the United States remains a net importer of crude oil. The United States continues importing primarily heavy high-sulfur crude oils that most U.S. refineries are configured to process, and more than 60% of U.S. crude oil imports come from Canada and Mexico.  At the same time, U.S. refineries responded to increasing domestic and international demand for petroleum products (such as distillate fuel, motor gasoline, and jet fuel) by increasing throughput. Gross inputs into U.S. refineries rose from an annual average of 14.6 million b/d in 2009 to 17.0 million b/d through the third quarter of 2019, and they have regularly set new monthly record highs. The increase in refinery production of petroleum products has outpaced the increase in U.S. consumption, contributing to an increase in petroleum product exports. The United States has gone from net petroleum product imports of 698,000 b/d in 2009, to net petroleum product exports of 3.2 million b/d so far in 2019. In the first nine months of 2019, the United States exported 1.4 million b/d of distillate, 1.1 million b/d of propane, and 864,000 b/d of motor gasoline, the three largest petroleum product exports.

U.S. oil output growth slows: just how much is anyone's guess - (Reuters) - U.S. oil producers could expand daily output by 1 million barrels next year, or by as little as 100,000 barrels, with the wide gap creating huge uncertainty as OPEC officials gather this week to weigh production curbs. Shale output has routinely defied naysayers over the past three years as U.S. production has surged to nearly 13 million barrels per day (bpd), making the nation the world’s largest crude oil producer and a major exporter with an average of just under 3 million bpd so far this year. But the outlook for 2020 comes with growing skepticism from those inside the industry - and should growth fall short, it could shift the balance of power in world supply back to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. An increase in U.S. crude output by 1 million bpd would satisfy nearly all of the 1.2 million bpd increase in world demand next year, the International Energy Agency expects. [IEA/M] That would keep a lid on prices, pressure OPEC to extend production cuts and leave shale producers still trying to achieve elusive profits. As a result, most industry executives and consultants said they expect slower U.S. shale growth. OPEC and its allies, which have cut output by 1.2 million bpd, meet in Vienna on Dec. 5-6 to weigh their next steps. The current supply cuts now run through to March.

Oil and Gas Industry Rebukes Fracking Ban Talk as UN Shows Just How Much Fossil Fuel Plans Are Screwing Climate Limits - The American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s largest oil and gas trade association, is promoting a new video touting domestic natural gas production as essential to energy security. The video, titled “America’s Energy Security: A Generation of Progress At Risk?” comes at a time when calls for halting new fossil fuel production and infrastructure are getting louder and coincided with the release of a United Nations report highlighting the misalignment between global climate goals and countries’ plans to develop fossil fuels. API’s video is part of a broader strategic campaign by the oil and gas industry to quash public support for a national ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and to promote itself as the “natural gas and oil industry.” The lobbying group released its video last week to coincide with the fifth Democratic presidential debate, saying, “some Democratic presidential candidates are now proposing restrictive energy policies that would erase a generation of American progress.” Several leading Democratic presidential contenders have said they would include a ban on fracking as part of their climate plan. The fact that presidential candidates are even talking about a fracking ban undoubtedly has the petroleum industry concerned, as the new API video implies. The video features former presidents from both political parties, from Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, declaring the importance of ending reliance on foreign oil and speaking to progress in advancing domestic petroleum production. The video, which also features patriotic images like the Statute of Liberty and American flags, concludes with the message: “Support America’s Energy Security. Oppose a Fracking Ban.”  Patriotic imagery is central to the branding and messaging of another organization pushing gas industry talking points. That group, The Empowerment Alliance (TEA), is a new dark money organization devoted to “securing America’s energy independence” by singularly promoting natural gas.  The oil and gas industry pushback comes at a time when momentum is building in the U.S. and abroad towards serious climate action that includes a just transition away from fossil fuels. In September on the eve of the massive global climate strikes, over 400 activists sent a letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres calling for a worldwide ban on fracking. The United Kingdom announced a temporary fracking ban in early November, and on November 14 the European Investment Bank announced that it would end financing for fossil fuel projects by 2021. In the U.S., California Governor Gavin Newsom recently took a step towards banning fracking in the state by announcing a moratorium on steam-injected drilling along with stricter review and regulations on oil and gas extraction. And last week, the greater Boston community of Brookline, Massachusetts, passed a ban on oil and gas systems in new buildings and renovations, following the lead of California communities that have passed similar measures.

Equinor says Sverdrup oil field output now at around 350,000 bpd – (Reuters) - Oil production at Norway’s giant Johan Sverdrup oilfield has risen to around 350,000 barrels per day (bpd), operator Equinor told Reuters on Tuesday. The North Sea field, which began output on Oct. 5, is now western Europe’s largest oil producer with output exceeding fields such as Equinor’s Troll and ConocoPhillips’ Ekofisk in Norway and Britain’s Buzzard, operated by a unit of China’s CNOOC. The production ramp-up is progressing “very well” and Equinor’s goal of reaching phase-one capacity of 440,000 bpd in the summer of 2020 remains unchanged, said Arne Sigve Nylund, the company’s head of Norwegian output. Equinor’s partner Lundin Petroleum, which discovered Sverdrup in 2010, has said two to four new production wells could be needed to reach full capacity. Eight wells were drilled before the field’s startup in October. Svedrup’s oil loading program showed 19 cargoes are expected in January, totaling 11.8 million barrels or 381,000 bpd, up from an expected 337,000 bpd in December, analysts at DNB Markets said last week. Daily production is expected to peak at 660,000 barrels after phase two development comes on stream in late 2022.

Shell Victorious in Banning Activists From North Sea Oil Platforms - (Bloomberg) -- Royal Dutch Shell Plc won a court ruling preventing environmental protesters from boarding unmanned oil installations in the North Sea. Greenpeace activists in October boarded two of Shell’s offshore platforms in the Brent field to protest decommissioning plans they claimed will leave “hazardous oily sludge” in the sea. A judge in Edinburgh, Scotland, said that the protesters had no right to enter the installations, and are now banned from going within a 500-meter (1,640-feet) safety zone around the platforms. “This is a setback, but the public will understand the real concern here is Shell’s plan,” Meike Rijksen, a Greenpeace campaigner, said in a statement. “We will continue to fight alongside experts and governments against Shell’s intention to dump 11,000 tons of oil in the North Sea.” Shell said it sought the court order “only to prevent protesters breaching the statutory 500-meter safety zones around platforms in the Brent field, putting themselves and Shell staff at risk.” The oil major has asked for a reprieve from international rules, and sought permission to leave some massive structures in the sea as part of the process of closing the Brent fields. Shell claims that it would be safer and more cost effective to leave some parts of the platforms in place because the remaining oil in the structures has a low risk of contaminating the sea. But Greenpeace opposed the company’s plan saying the platform “legs” contain oily sediments that would eventually leak into the sea.

Shell wins oil spill court case against Nigeria - Shell has won a court ruling that blocks the enforcement of more than a half a billion dollars for damages against the oil supermajor in a decade-old oil spill case in Nigeria, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.   A Nigerian court ruled back in 2010 that Shell was liable for an oil spill in the Ejama-Ebubu community in 2001, and awarded the sum plus interest to the community. Shell, which has fought several lawsuits over oil spills in the Niger Delta in the 1990s and early 2000s, has also sought to have the cases transferred to Nigerian courts instead of in UK courts.The Ejama-Ebubu community, however, had the award claim registered in London, which could have potentially meant that UK courts could enforce the award against Shell.  But UK judge Jason Coppel set aside the registration on Thursday, thus preventing UK courts from enforcing the award.  A lawyer for the Nigerian community told Bloomberg they would appeal today’s UK court decision, while a Shell spokesman said that the supermajor continues to believe that “no payment was due” in the case that is still being tried in Nigerian courts.Shell and its Nigerian unit have also been dragged through the courts over the supermajor’s alleged complicity in abuses of human rights in Nigeria’s military suppressing protests in the oil-rich Niger Delta in the 1990s, especially in the Ogoniland area.  In early 2018, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that Nigerian communities cannot pursue Shell in UK courts over oil spills in the oil-rich Niger Delta, upholding a previous High Court ruling that UK-based multinational companies cannot be tried in England for the actions of their subsidiaries overseas.

CMA CGM and Total to develop LNG ship refuelling in Marseille - (Reuters) - Container shipping firm CMA CGM will use the French Mediterranean port of Marseille for refuelling some of its planned gas-powered vessels, backed by a supply partnership with energy group Total. Total will supply liquefied natural gas (LNG) and a refuelling barge to enable CMA CGM to refuel LNG-powered vessels at the Marseille-Fos hub starting in 2021, the companies said in a joint statement on Wednesday. The initiative covers five vessels with a capacity of 15,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) each that will come into service from 2021 and operate between the Mediterranean and Asia. Total will supply around 270,000 tonnes of LNG per year over 10 years at Marseille, while also providing a complementary refuelling service in Singapore, according to the statement. LNG has been promoted as an alternative to bunker fuel oil for shipping lines facing a January 2020 deadline to meet new international standards on emissions. French-based CMA CGM, the world’s fourth-largest container shipping line, turned to LNG two years ago when it ordered the first-ever giant container vessels to be powered by gas. These nine 23,000-TEU ships, the first of which is due to come into service next year on the Europe-Asia route, will be refuelled at Rotterdam in a similar partnership with Total. “We’re in the process of creating an LNG market for very large ships,” Farid Trad, CMA CGM’s head of bunkering, said by telephone. “We’re looking at ports everywhere, the idea is to roll out LNG worldwide.”

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

Brazil mulls fund to combat oil leaks - Brazilian lawmakers are mulling the idea of creating a fund to combat the effect of oil spills on the coast.   The debate comes as a lower house commission (CPI) was meeting to investigate the source of an oil spill that has been affecting scores of beaches in the northeast and southeast regions since August, in what is considered the country’s biggest offshore disaster to date.    The CPI was set up last month to identify the origin of the spillage and propose measures to prevent new leaks. The navy has been investigating the origin of the spill for months but has yet to reach a conclusion. Molecular analyses concluded the oil was from Venezuela.   “The Brazilian parliament has the responsibility to be at the center of this debate and build a more efficient state not only for the investigation and prevention of natural disasters but also more efficient in damage mitigation,” congressman João Campos, who requested the creation of the CPI, recently argued.    Oil institute IBP, which is giving technical support to the government and started studies to identify the origin of the oil, believes the country is learning from the accident and information from the case could be used to create good response practices to emergencies.    Specialists, however, say creating a fund with resources from producing companies to deal with spills in the future would not be the best solution since the operators currently working in Brazil already follow best practices and are unlikely to cause similar incidents.    Anderson Dutra, an associate member at consultancy KPMG, argues that such a fund could cause legal disputes, as firms that will not contribute could be the ones needing to use it. He said that in order for it to work it would be necessary to impose a tax on the entire sector, which would also be complicated.  

Oil spill on Taranaki beach is under investigation - An investigation is under way in to an oil spill on one of Taranaki's most popular beaches. The Taranaki Regional Council is investigating the spill on Oakura Beach. It is looking to find the source of oil that has washed up at the beach's southern end, Fred McLay, TRC director of resource management, said in a press release issued on Wednesday. A member of the public had made a complaint, McLay said.The council is also cleaning up a small amount of oil that has been found and checking other locations, he said. "Contaminated sand is being manually removed from the beach for appropriate disposal at a licensed facility.  Staff from the Taranaki Regional Council clean up small amounts of oil which have washed up on the south end of Oakura Beach. On Wednesday afternoon, several TRC staff were near the Ahu Ahu Rd end area of the beach, looking for small pieces of sand contaminated by oil drops. Most patches were very small, about the size of seaweed marbles. The workers had shovels and were scooping the contaminated sand and some seaweed into black plastic bags.It is the second oil spill in the region in as many weeks.

Cause of Oakura Beach oil spill remains unknown - The oil spill that left contaminated sand on Oakura Beach, Taranaki, remains under investigation.In a statement issued on Thursday morning, Taranaki Regional Council director of resource management Fred McLay said officers had removed what contaminated sand they have found, and were continuing to check if there is more."Given the evidently small scale of the event, there is unlikely to be a health risk to the public."  Most patches of oil were quite small. On Wednesday TRC staff were collecting pieces of contaminated sand and removing them from the beach. Most patches were quite small, about the size of seaweed marbles - some slightly larger.

Pirates Board Oil Supertanker, Kidnap 19 Crew Members-- Pirates boarded a fully loaded supertanker off the coast of Nigeria, an act that is sure to ring alarm bells for insurers about the risk of collecting oil from Africa’s biggest producer. Nineteen crew were kidnapped and remain missing, a spokeswoman for Navios, the ship’s owner said by phone Wednesday. The incident happened late Tuesday about 77 nautical miles from Bonny Island, a key loading point for Nigerian crude. The vessel had only recently collected its cargo. The waters of the Gulf of Guinea have suffered from sporadic incidents of piracy for a few years, but an attack on a supertanker is a rare event. Nigeria suffered a spate of militancy that crippled its oil industry in 2016, but it rarely strayed into shipping. Out of 95 attacks worldwide where hijackers boarded the vessel in the first nine months of 2019, 17 took place in Nigerian waters, according to data from the International Maritime Bureau, a piracy watchdog. As a region, the Gulf of Guinea accounts for for almost 82% of the crew kidnappings globally. The crew that didn’t get kidnapped were able to sail the vessel to a safe location, the Navios spokeswoman said, adding that the company’s priority is the safe return of those who are missing. The vessel, the Nave Constellation, can carry 2 million barrels of oil. It was full when it was hijacked and there was no damage.

Thai ship sinks, oil spill spreads over Vietnam coast - An oil spill covered over three km of Ha Tinh’s coast after a Thai ship sank near the Son Duong port last Saturday. Local authorities are cooperating with the Central Committee for Natural Disaster Management, and the Vietnam National Committee for Search and Rescue to contain the spill. They have dispatched personnel to the scene to try and prevent the environmental disaster from getting worse. Pool floats have been set up around the shipwreck area and pumps used to move the remaining fuel in the sunken ship out onto barges. Ha Tinh Province marine forces and the ship owner have also joined forces to make sure maritime traffic and local trading at ports go on smoothly. Local fishermen and farmers have been advised not to use seawater at this time. The operations are expected to end on December 15. Nordana Sophie HSCP2, a cargo ship, departed from Hong Kong to Son Duong Port in central Vietnam with 18 Thai crew members. As it neared the port early morning of November 28, the crew discovered that seawater had leaked into the ship through a hole in the hull. The ship sank soon afterwards. Ha Tinh authorities deployed rescue boats and personnel after hearing about the incident. At noon, all 18 crew members were safely brought ashore. 

 India's diesel demand growth seen stuck in low gear until mid-2020 -  (Reuters) - India’s demand for diesel will remain subdued until the second half of 2020, when analysts expect various policy measures aimed at stimulating industrial activity to kick in and soak up excess fuel. Until consumption picks up in Asia’s third-largest economy, where economic growth has slowed to six-year lows, refiners are likely to extend their recent stretch of rare diesel exports, which have weighed on refining margins in the region. Diesel accounts for about two-fifths of refined fuel demand in India, which has grown by its slowest pace since fiscal year 2014 this year amid tight credit markets, contracting auto sales and slowing rail and air traffic. Diesel exports could climb by up to 8 million tonnes in the 2019-20 fiscal year from the 28 million tonnes shipped the year before, said an executive at a state refiner who could not be named due to company policy.Ship-tracking data compiled by Refinitiv show India’s diesel exports since the fiscal year start in April have jumped 8.9% from the same period in 2018 to 17.7 million tonnes, the highest for that time span since at least 2015. India consumed 83.5 million tonnes of diesel in the 2018/19 fiscal year, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas data show, which was a record and 3% above the prior year’s total. But demand growth in 2019/20 could be “flat or 1%”, according to K. Ravichandran, group head for corporate sector ratings at ICRA Ltd, a local of arm of Moody’s.

Asian refiners strive to finish IMO preparations in hunt for profits -  (Reuters) - At SK Energy’s largest refinery in South Korea, engineers are rushing to complete a new processing unit ahead of schedule as the firm looks to boost sales of low-emission fuels before new marine fuel standards take effect in just one month. In Japan, the country’s second-biggest refiner Idemitsu Kosan Co is taking a more cautious stance, increasing capacity for low sulphur fuel oil (LSFO), but also relying on blending to produce IMO2020 compliant bunker fuel. The different approaches come as refiners across the world grapple with the shipping industry’s most drastic fuel transition since it moved from burning coal to oil early last century. New International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules from Jan. 1, 2020 prohibit ships from using fuels containing more than 0.5% sulphur, compared with 3.5% now, unless they are equipped with exhaust-cleaning “scrubbers”. The changes affect demand from 50,000 merchant ships consuming about 4 million barrels of marine fuel a day. When completed in January, three months earlier than planned, SK Energy’s 40,000 barrels-per-day vacuum reside desulphurisation (VRDS) will be its first plant solely devoted to producing compliant LSFO. “We conservatively expect (the new unit) to create 200 billion won ($170 million) worth of profits annually depending on market conditions,” Lee Duk-hwan, project leader of SK Energy’s optimization operation office, told reporters during a site visit last week. “If market conditions are favourable we see 300 billion won worth of profits,” Lee said. The unit will start commercial operations in March after making fuels on a trial-basis. The refiner has so far relied on its trading arm to create useable blends from a mix of produced and purchased fuels and oil. With shipping companies delaying fuel orders until the last minute, global refiners do not have clear indications of what fuels will be most in demand. Refiners also have not been able to guarantee the quality and compatibility of fuels they supply, the Chamber of Shipping of America said last week.

Asian oil refiners' shipping fuel profits grow on IMO 2020 demand - (Reuters) - Asia’s oil refiners are starting to see a surge in demand for cleaner fuels that is pushing up processing profits for very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) and gasoil just weeks before new rules take effect for fuel products burned in ships. Most ships have to switch from high-sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) to cleaner fuels such as VLSFO and marine gasoil (MGO) when new sulphur emissions rules set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), known as IMO 2020, start on Jan. 1. Ships will have to use fuels containing not more than 0.5% sulphur, compared with 3.5% now, unless they are equipped with exhaust-cleaning “scrubbers”. The oil industry stocked up on IMO-compliant fuel, expecting high demand and a big boost in profits ahead of the rules taking effect, but ship owners kept their purchases to a minimum until this month, delaying a run-up in demand that refiners had expected earlier in the fourth quarter.

China to launch new state oil and gas pipeline group next week: notice - (Reuters) - China plans to launch its long-awaited national oil and gas pipeline company on Monday, part of a sector-wide reform aimed at providing fair market access to infrastructure and boost investment in oil and gas production. Most of the country’s pipeline infrastructure is controlled by energy giant PetroChina, CNPC’s listed arm, and small, non state-owned oil and gas producers and distributors often don’t have access to the pipelines at competitive rates, analysts have said. This also hinders companies from investing in oil and gas exploration as they are concerned about access to the pipelines. Beijing started considering reforming the sector nearly a decade ago to improve access but only approved the plans early this year, spurred by a national campaign to boost consumption of the cleaner burning natural gas and curb dirtier coal.

Oil Tankers Idling Off China Possess Key to Shipping Rates-- The fate of at least 15 oil tankers idling off the coast of China holds the key to determining the path of global freight rates. The vessels are owned by a unit of Chinese shipping giant COSCO that was sanctioned by the U.S. in late September for carrying Iranian oil. They’ve been floating off the coast for over a month, ship-tracking data show, in limbo as owners, charterers and potential customers await clarity over the sanctions. For as long as they’re stuck there, effectively removed from the market, global freight rates are likely to remain supported. The impact of the sanctions was magnified by the fact that many customers avoided booking any COSCO vessels due to confusion over whether they would run afoul of the U.S. In the weeks after the penalties were announced, shipping fees spiked and, while they’ve since retreated, they’re still well above where they were. Some clarity could come on Dec. 20, a U.S.-imposed deadline for charterers and business partners of the companies to wind down their activities. COSCO’s lawyers have been in discussions with American authorities regarding potential sanctions relief, while the Chinese government has also reportedly asked the White House to lift the penalties as part of trade-deal negotiations. “The ships are likely waiting for more sanction clarity after Dec. 20,” said Michal Meidan, director of the China Energy Program at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. This could take a while and unless COSCO Shipping can clearly explain its ownership structure to the market and insulate itself from the sanctioned units, these vessels, as well as some of the company’s other ships, may remain offline for a few more months, she said. It’s unclear if any of the 15 or so vessels, owned by COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Co., have been transferred to other COSCO units. Nobody at COSCO Shipping Energy Transportation Co., the Dalian unit’s parent, or China COSCO Shipping Corp. answered phones or responded to emails seeking comment.The Baltic Exchange Dirty Tanker Index, a gauge of the costs of shipping crude and fuel oil, surged 130% to an 11-year high on Oct. 14. It’s still 48% higher than just before the penalties. The higher costs have also flowed through to vessels carrying fuels such as gasoline and diesel, with the Baltic Exchange Clean Tanker Index also at elevated levels.

Russia opens Siberian pipeline to China as Beijing expands its influence in the Arctic - A new natural gas pipeline connecting Russia and China is the latest example of increasing collaboration between Moscow and Beijing in the Arctic Circle. The pipeline comes after China unveiled a plan nearly two years ago called the “Polar Silk Road,” expanding its campaign for influence to the Arctic. While Beijing has branded itself as a “near-Arctic state,” that far-stretched claim on the region is dependent on its partnership with Russia. In a $400 billion deal signed in 2014, the 3,000 km long “Power of Siberia” pipeline stretches from Russia’s Siberian fields to China’s historically coal-burning northeast. ″(The pipeline) diversifies import supplies for China. It will be very competitive gas at the border and I think gradually improves gas penetration for the northeast part of China,” said Scott Darling, head of Asia Pacific commodities research at J.P. Morgan. That region is an attractive market for Russia, as it “has low affordability for high-priced gas” compared with regions farther south which already have “well-established gas markets” with a diverse supply mix, IHS Markit said in a Monday report. “New exports to this rapidly growing gas market is a growth strategy for the company,” but the European market will still remain a “top priority,” IHS said. Reuters reported that Russia’s Gazprom expects the LNG pipeline to initially supply 4.6 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas in 2020 before ramping up to its full capacity of 38 bcm by 2025.

Putin and Xi oversee launch of landmark Russian gas pipeline to China - (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday oversaw the launch of a landmark pipeline that will transport natural gas from Siberia to northeast China, an economic and political boost to ties between Moscow and Beijing. The start of gas flows via the Power of Siberia pipeline reflects Moscow’s attempts to pivot to the East to try to mitigate pain from Western financial sanctions imposed over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. The move cements China’s spot as Russia’s top export market and gives Russia a potentially enormous new market outside Europe. It also comes as Moscow is hoping to launch two other major energy projects — the Nord Steam 2 undersea Baltic gas pipeline to Germany and the TurkStream pipeline to Turkey and southern Europe. The 3,000-km-long (1,865 mile) Power of Siberia pipeline will transport gas from the Chayandinskoye and Kovytka fields in eastern Siberia, a project expected to last for three decades and to generate $400 billion for Russian state coffers. “This is a genuinely historical event not only for the global energy market but above all for us, for Russia and China,” said Putin, who watched the launch via video link from the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. “This step takes Russo-Chinese strategic cooperation in energy to a qualitative new level and brings us closer to (fulfilling) the task, set together with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, of taking bilateral trade to $200 billion by 2024.” The new pipeline emerges in Heilongjiang, which borders Russia, and goes onto Jilin and Liaoning, China’s top grain hub. Xi told Putin via a video link on Monday that the newly launched gas pipeline is “a landmark project of bilateral energy cooperation” and an “example of deep integration and mutually beneficial cooperation”. 

Why Did Oil Prices Plunge This Black Friday? - It was a pretty big drop, nearly 5 percent for the day for both West Texas and Brent crude, with the latter now just above $60 per barrel. The big headline is the resignation of Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi. The immediate trigger of that was that it was demanded by Iraq’s most influential cleric, Ali Sistani. This came after weeks of mounting protests in Iraq against the government, both in Baghdad, but also among Shia in the South, with Sistani a Shia cleric. He is based in Najaf, the Shia holy city where Imam Ali is buried, the son-in-law of the Prrophet Muhammed. Protestors had just torched an Iranian consulate there. The supposed reason this might justify a fall in oil prices is that it is thought that the protests have reduced exports from Iraq, which is currently the second largest oil exporter in OPEC. I do not know if that will result, but if indeed this leads to Iraqi oil exports rising, then indeed a price drop is justified. While less headline-generating but arguably more important are rumors regarding a major OPEC meeting in Vienna next week. Supposedly the Saudis have gotten tired of cutting oil production to offset increases by other OPEC members. This may not help out the ARAMCO IPO going on, with falling oil prices resulting. But that would certainly portend a reasonable basis for them to fall. On top of that there are also reports that non-OPEC member Russia is now withdrawing from agreements over the last three years, largely with the Saudis, to restrain their production, especially of condensates. This too would reasonably push oil prices down. There are also reports of snags in US-China trade talks, a less important item that might reveese tomorrow, but one that makes all the markets nervous, and indeed stock markets were down today also. So, while “Black Friday” in the US means businesses supposedly coming out of negative red territory on their profit accounts, in the the oil patch it looks more like something unwanted, black indeed.

Oil jumps on Chinese factory growth, hopes for deeper OPEC cuts - Oil prices rose more than 1% on Monday as signs of rising manufacturing activity in China pointed to increasing fuel demand, and hints that OPEC may deepen output cuts at its meeting this week indicated supply may tighten next year. Brent crude futures rose 76 cents, or 1.3%, to $61.25 a barrel by 0415 GMT. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures rose 91 cents, or 1.7%, to $56.08 a barrel, having risen by more than $1 earlier. On Friday, WTI futures settled 5.1% lower while Brent plunged 4.4% on concerns that talks to end the trade war between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest oil users, would be disrupted by U.S. support for protesters in Hong Kong. But oil rose on Monday after factory activity in November in China, the world’s biggest oil importer, increased for the first time in seven months because of rising domestic demand amid government stimulus measures. “At the open, prices remain supported by the surprising resilient China factory activity with the forward-looking PMI’s beating expectations,” said Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AxiTrader. Prices were also supported after Iraq’s oil minister said on Sunday that OPEC and allied producers will consider deepening their existing oil output cuts by about 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.6 million bpd. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, known as OPEC+, are expected to at least extend existing output cuts to June 2020 when they meet this week. The OPEC+ group has coordinated output for three years to balance the market and support prices. Their current deal to cut supply by 1.2 million bpd that started from January expires at the end of March 2020. OPEC’s ministers will meet in Vienna on Dec. 5 and the wider OPEC+ group will meet on Dec. 6.

Oil Markets Remain Hopeful Of OPEC Cuts - Broader financial markets saw some downward pressure on concerns of new trade conflicts, but oil markets are holding out some hope for deeper OPEC cuts. JP Morgan said that the group may increase the reductions from 1.2 to 1.5 mb/d.  The rumor mill says that OPEC+ may look at a deeper production cut in the neighborhood of 400,000 bpd, but with so many obstacles standing in the way, the odds still seem remote. Most analysts see an extension as the most likely outcome. The world is on track for 3 to 5 degrees Celsius warming by the end of the century, a faster pace than previously thought, according to the World Meteorologic Organization.  Saudi Aramco attracted bids worth around $44.3 billion as of last Friday, putting it on track for a $1.6 to $1.7 trillion valuation. Most of the subscriptions come from Saudi investors, while major international investors have largely stayed away.  The “Power of Siberia” pipeline is set to open on Tuesday, a long-distance, 3,000-km natural gas pipeline connecting Russia and China. The project was initially inked back in 2014, and the contract lasts for 30 years. The pipeline could knock out coal demand, as well as LNG imports, in China. Global coal consumption is set to fall this year, but China also has plans to build 121 GW of new coal-fired power plants and also open new mines, hurting global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Iran said that 200,000 people took part in protests last week, arguably one of the biggest anti-government protests in decades. The protests were initially sparked by a hike in fuel prices, which itself was a symptom of the weakening economy, largely because of U.S. sanctions. The Wall Street Journal reports that Iran is in a deeper financial crisis than most analysts previously thought.  Iraqi security forces reportedly killed at least 45 people on Thursday, after protesters burned an Iranian consulate. It was one of the bloodiest days since the protests began a month and a half ago.  While the EIA and IEA, among others, predict strong U.S. oil production growth lasting through 2020, the drillers themselves are more pessimistic. “I can’t remember another time when oil was $55 and the industry was in such shambles,” Frank Lodzinksi, an industry veteran, told Bloomberg. There is a wide gap between the bullish and bearish forecasts for U.S. oil production growth for 2020, ranging from 1 mb/d down to almost nothing. OPEC+’s likely decision to extend cuts rather than deepen them suggests the group also sees U.S. shale slowing down.

Oil Up as OPEC Output Slips - -- Oil extended gains as OPEC’s crude output dropped before the group and its allies meet this week to set the path for future production cuts. Futures added 0.7% in New York even as Asian stocks declined following the announcement of fresh tariffs by President Donald Trump. Output from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries slipped by 110,000 barrels a day last month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, while an analyst survey predicted a weekly drop in U.S. crude stockpiles. Crude has climbed since early October on signs the U.S. and China are close to a breakthrough on an initial trade deal. Iraq said on Sunday that OPEC+ may consider deepening output cuts, contrary to expectations, while Saudi Arabia has signaled it will no longer tolerate cheating by other members on quotas. “The global oil supply-demand balance requires an extension of the current OPEC+ cuts,” Damien Courvalin, an analyst at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., wrote in a report. “Already large speculative buying in recent weeks and some expectations for a longer/larger cut suggests that an uneventful three-month extension is unlikely to provide much upside to current prices.” West Texas Intermediate for January delivery advanced 40 cents to $56.36 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 9:05 a.m. London time. Brent for February settlement gained 33 cents to $61.25 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange. The global benchmark crude traded at a $5 premium to WTI for the same month. The drop in OPEC’s production last month was led by Angola, whose output fell to the lowest in more than a decade. Iranian volumes, already squeezed to the lowest since the 1980s by U.S. sanctions, dwindled even further. U.S. crude inventories probably shrank by 1.5 million barrels last week, according to the Bloomberg survey of analysts. If that’s confirmed by Energy Information Administration data on Wednesday, it would be the first decrease in six weeks.

Brent oil ends near 5-week low, but U.S. prices rise as traders weigh prospects for deeper OPEC+ output cuts - Oil futures ended on a mixed note Tuesday, with Brent oil prices logging their lowest settlement in almost five weeks, but U.S. benchmark prices were up a second straight session.Traders weighed the potential for deeper production cuts when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies meet later this week, as well as comments from President Donald Trump, who said it might be better to wait until after the 2020 election to complete a trade deal with China. The lack of a trade deal has fed uncertainty over energy demand.“Energy traders are unlikely to see oil prices break above [their] recent trading range unless we see OPEC and its allies deliver deeper production cuts,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda.West Texas Intermediate crude for January delivery rose 14 cents, or 0.3%, to settle at $56.10 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, following a gain of 1.4% on Monday.   Global benchmark February Brent crude, however, lost 10 cents, or 0.2%, to finish at $60.82 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe—the lowest front-month contract settlement since Oct. 31, according to Dow Jones Market Data. “We should not be surprised if the Saudis lead the charge for higher oil prices,” he said in emailed commentary. “Too much is at stake for the Saudis with their Aramco IPO just around the corner.”

WTI Extends Gains After Bigger Than Expected Crude Draw - Oil prices managed a modest gain today, after Friday's big plunge (and yesterday's modest gains) thanks to investors hope that the upcoming OPEC+ meeting that could lead to deeper supply cuts by some of the world’s biggest crude producers.“With the OPEC meetings coming up, there are expectations that not only will there be an extension of the existing cuts but also a further production cut,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston.Crude also bounced above its 50-day moving average - and the dollar was weaker - which both helped technically but all eyes are once again on inventories tonight... API:

  • Crude -3.72mm (-1.5mm exp) - biggest draw since September
  • Cushing -251k
  • Gasoline +2.931mm
  • Distillates +794k

After 5 straight weeks of builds, API reports that crude inventories drew down more than expected in the last week (-3.72mm vs -1.5mm exp)...

Oil Up Despite Trade-Deal Bearishness-- Oil defied trade-deal bearishness to rise for a third day after an industry report pointed to shrinking U.S. crude stockpiles and before OPEC+ decides on its output-cut policy later this week. Futures added as much as 0.9% in New York as Asian stocks dropped amid heightened uncertainty over whether the U.S. and China will reach their much-touted limited trade agreement. The American Petroleum Institute reported crude inventories fell by 3.72 million barrels last week, according to people familiar with the data. That would be the biggest decline since September if confirmed by Energy Information Administration figures due Wednesday. Oil has been rising since early October on optimism the U.S. and China are close to an initial deal, suggesting crude has room to fall if the two sides can’t reach an agreement. However, the likelihood that OPEC and its allies will extend production cuts and toughen compliance, together with some signs that they could deepen them, appears to be propping up prices this week. “Oil’s getting support as the market widely expects OPEC+ to extend the current output curbs when they gather this week,” said Will Sungchil Yun, a commodities analyst at HI Investment & Futures Corp. in Seoul. If U.S.-China trade relations worsen again, crude will likely be driven downward, he said. West Texas Intermediate for January delivery climbed 27 cents, or 0.5%, to $56.37 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:42 a.m. in London. The contract rose 0.3% to close at $56.10 on Tuesday following a 1.4% gain on Monday. Brent for February settlement added 37 cents, or 0.6%, to $61.19 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange. The global benchmark crude traded at a $4.88 premium to WTI for the same month. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect the EIA to report a 1.5-million barrel decline in U.S. crude inventories, according to the median estimate. That would be the first drop in six weeks.

Deeper oil cuts and stricter compliance top agenda as OPEC+ gathers in Vienna  - An upcoming meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC allies could see the group deepen oil production curbs, energy analysts told CNBC, although an extension of existing cuts and an emphasis on stricter compliance is still seen as the most likely outcome. OPEC members will host a meeting in Vienna, Austria on Thursday to discuss the next phase of their oil production policy. The 14-member group will then hold talks with non-OPEC allies on Friday. The wider group, sometimes referred to as OPEC+, has reduced output by 1.2 million barrels per day (b/d) since the beginning of the year. The current deal, which runs through to March 2020, replaced a previous round of production cuts that began in January 2017. “I think there is a possibility that we see around 400,000 barrels per day deeper cuts,” Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects, told CNBC’s Dan Murphy in Vienna on Wednesday. “Saudi Arabia is definitely keen to surprise the market to the upside,” Sen said, but cautioned deeper production cuts had “definitely not been firmed yet.” International benchmark Brent crude traded at $62.93 on Thursday morning, down around 0.1%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $58.29, down more than 0.2%. Oil prices have rallied in recent trading sessions, boosted by intensifying speculation about the potential for deeper production cuts. However, Brent crude futures remain around 15% lower when compared to an April peak, with WTI down 12% over the same period.

Iraq, one of OPEC’s biggest over-producers, is urging deeper production cuts — Iraq’s oil minister on Wednesday endorsed dramatically higher crude production cuts for OPEC and its non-OPEC allies, known as OPEC+, in order to lift global oil prices after a year of lackluster demand. The comments, from a country that has consistently pumped beyond its agreed output targets, came as the price of Brent crude rose 1.8% in morning trade London time. “The 1.2 (million barrels per day) is not really that effective,” Thamer Ghadhban told CNBC’s Dan Murphy in Vienna, referencing the communal output cuts agreed by OPEC+ in December of 2018 that were extended last June. Oil ministers are now convening to discuss whether to carry on or deepen the cuts. Iraq, the second-largest oil producer of OPEC’s 14 members, is also one of its most chronic over-producers, having consistently violated output cut agreements due to its complicated political situation and heavy reliance on hydrocarbon revenues for reconstruction after years of war. But Ghadhban, ahead of OPEC+ meetings on Thursday and Friday, voiced his support for a further 400,000 barrel per day (bpd) production cut across the group’s members. “The 1.6 (million bpd) ... I think it would be more effective, no doubt about that,” the minister said. “It would improve the situation within the oil supply and demand. And it is not only OPEC now who is the main player — OPEC contributes oil about 30%, and the number one producer is the U.S. So there are new realities in the world.” The minister maintained that it was too early to know whether such cuts would be unanimously approved by the group’s 24 members, something that is required for any production cut agreement.

OPEC considering deeper production cuts, but its meeting is in disarray before it even gets started- OPEC’s meetings appear to be in disarray even before they begin this week, but analysts see a growing chance the fractured group may ultimately agree to deeper production cuts. Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meet Thursday in Vienna, and they will be joined by Russia and other non OPEC producers Friday. That larger group, known as OPEC plus, had been expected to extend an existing agreement to cut 1.2 million barrels a day through June. The agreement had been set to expire in March. Helima Croft, RBC head of global commodities strategy, said it is now her understanding that a larger cut had the support of the OPEC core operating group, as well as its partner Russia. Croft, speaking from Vienna, said it appears the defacto operating group of OPEC has agreed to larger cuts, but it was not discussed at a meeting on Tuesday of the Joint Technical Committee that monitors the production deal. Iraq oil minister Thamer Ghadhban Wednesday told CNBC’s Dan Murphy in Vienna that the current cuts are not enough, and the group should cut 400,000 more. Croft said the Iraqi minister’s comments created a stir and helped send oil prices about 4% higher Wednesday. “If the plan was for a surprise party, it has been been dashed,” she said. “The problem with the Iraqi oil minister putting this information out there is now it has set market expectations. Now if they come out with just an extended cut, and not deeper, and just honor the rolling agreement to go to March, that’s a bearish outcome. He really did upend everything.”

JP Morgan expects bigger OPEC production cuts and no more ‘free passes’ for U.S. shale drillers - Many analysts expect OPEC and its partners to extend their current production agreement by three months when they meet later this week, but J.P. Morgan analysts expect further cuts of another 300,000 barrels a day. The J.P. Morgan analysts said their base case now is that the deal will be for cuts of 1.5 million barrels a day, extended through June. The ongoing agreement between OPEC, Russia and other non-OPEC producers is for a 1.2 million barrel a day reduction. That deal was set to expire in March. OPEC and Russia and other producers, or OPEC plus, meet Thursday and Friday in Vienna. The J.P. Morgan analysts said they held a conference call with Jaafar Altaie, managing director and founder of Manaar Energy, on the OPEC plus outlook. Their main takeaway from the call is that Manaar expects OPEC to agree to deeper cuts. Manaar expects Saudi Arabia’s oil minister to commit to production of 10 million barrels a day, down from its current quota of 10.3 million barrels a day. Larger cuts should make the market tighter and help boost prices. The J.P. Morgan analysts said they also understand from Manaar that OPEC has been focused on the growth of U.S. shale production and wants no more “free passes” for U.S. producers. U.S. shale production has surged to 12.9 million barrels a day, while OPEC and its partners have held oil off the market. U.S. oil exports also increased by about 1 million barrels a day this year, boosting market share at the expense of OPEC and others Goldman Sachs oil analysts expect OPEC plus to keep its production cut at current levels and to extend them through June, when the OPEC plus group is next scheduled to meet. The Goldman analysts expect oil prices to be choppy around this week’s meeting because there is so much uncertainty about what the producers will do. “Already large speculative buying in recent weeks and some expectations for a longer/larger cut suggests that an uneventful 3 month extension is unlikely to provide much upside to current prices,” the Goldman analysts wrote. They noted that Brent should trade around $60 per barrel in 2020, absent any geopolitical shocks. Brent futures were trading just over $61 per barrel in afternoon trading, while West Texas Intermediate crude was around $56 per barrel.according to Goldman Sachs energy analysts. The J.P. Morgan analyst said Saudi Arabia would like to see a higher price, and its fiscal ‘comfort level’ for near-term Brent is around $60 to $70 per barrel. Saudi Arabia has been bearing the brunt of the cuts, while some members, like Russia, Nigeria and Iraq, are still not in complete compliance. Oil analysts have expected OPEC plus to continue pressing members that are not holding to production quotas.

Oil Slides After Saudis Threaten To Boost Production If Oil Producers Don't Comply With Output Cuts -  Three days after oil tumbled following a Bloomberg report that Saudi Arabia was angry at its (N)OPEC co-members for not complying with production quotas, and was no longer willing to compensate for excessive production by other members of the cartel, the WSJ reports that Riyadh, furious that the price of oil refuses to rise and set to take Aramco public, is threatening to boost oil production and unilaterally flood the market if "some" OPEC nations continue to defy the group’s output curbs.The surprising ultimatum which reeks of what Saudi Arabia did in November 2014 when it effectively dissolved the cartel, and flooded the world with oil in hopes of putting shale producers out of business only to fail miserably as it never accounted for cheap money and the greed of US junk bond investors, comes one day ahead of a gathering between OPEC and non-OPEC nations including Russia on Thursday and Friday in Vienna.As the WSJ reports, at a technical meeting Tuesday, a Saudi delegate said his government is growing tired of indirectly benefiting the budgets of countries that are flouting the OPEC pact by overproducing oil, said a person who was present. If the noncompliance continues, "the Saudi official signaled that the kingdom would begin merely complying with its commitment—rather than overcutting to make up for laggards in the group."The target of Saudi ire are reportedly three specific nations, namely Iraq, Nigeria and Russia; this emerged during a slide presentation by a Saudi official who said the trio of oil-producing nations weren’t adhering to the pact that commits the 14 OPEC nations and 10 allied countries to a collective 1.2 million-barrel output curb. Saudi Arabia, the argument goes, is contending with weak oil prices and members of the cartel who aren’t complying with the collective output cut they agreed to last summer. As a result, the Saudis are considering radical measures, including a new pact that would deepen production cuts although if there is one thing the cartel is notorious for, it is ignoring self-imposed production limits when it suits the individual member states as the Crown Prince is finding out now. The stakes for Riyadh are huge: the (N)OPEC spat comes as Saudi Arabia is finalizing the IPO of its national oil company, Aramco, and hopes to bring the company public at the highest possible price, however that also needs a much higher oil price. While the company wasn’t mentioned at the meeting, another delegate said the Saudi position was "all about the IPO of Aramco."

Saudi Arabia denies pushing OPEC allies to commit to a deeper round of production cuts, source says - OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia has denied pursuing a deeper round of production cuts, one senior oil official told CNBC on Thursday, despite intense speculation the global oil-producing group was on the cusp of imposing further output curbs. The oil-rich kingdom was widely considered to be pushing for other OPEC members to sign up for at least an additional 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) of production cuts. But, one anonymous Saudi oil official told CNBC on the sidelines of a meeting in Vienna, Austria that this was not the case — and Riyadh had not proposed any figures. OPEC and non-OPEC allies — sometimes referred to as OPEC+ — have gathered in Vienna this week to discuss the next phase of their oil production policy. The 14-member group will hold talks on Thursday, before meeting with non-OPEC allies, including Russia, on Friday. The energy alliance has reduced output by 1.2 million bpd since the beginning of the year. The current deal, which runs through to March 2020, replaced a previous round of production cuts that began in January 2017. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $63.53 on Thursday afternoon, up more than 0.8%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $58.76, approximately 0.5% higher. Oil prices have rallied in recent trading sessions, boosted by growing speculation about the potential for deeper production cuts. However, Brent crude futures remain around 15% lower when compared to an April peak, with WTI down 12% over the same period.

Saudis Offer OPEC+ Quid Pro Quo-- Saudi Arabia is offering fellow OPEC+ members a quid pro quo: If you stop cheating, we’ll curb production. With just hours to go before the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ meeting in Vienna, it was unclear if the kingdom was simply offering to return to its average output for 2019 -- ending a brief surge to compensate for the September attacks on its oil facilities -- or whether it was willing to take even more oil off a market that’s looking oversupplied in early 2020. What was becoming clear, according to OPEC delegates, was new Saudi Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman’s reluctance to endorse the status quo, in which countries including Iraq, Nigeria and Russia have consistently failed to implement their pledged output cuts, leaving the kingdom carrying most of the burden of supporting crude prices. “The kingdom has explicitly communicated to OPEC that it will no longer tolerate under-compliance,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. “If it continues, Saudi Arabia can easily return to producing at or above its current quota.” The outcome of the meeting remained in the balance on Thursday as OPEC officials shuttled between sit-downs in the suites of luxury hotels. Iraq, the country with the poorest track record complying with the pact, had been the main advocate for a deeper cut of about 400,000 barrels a day, but later on Wednesday the minister said instead he favored an extension of the current accord until the end of 2020. For the oil market, a new deal could be a psychological boost as traders fret about possible oversupply next year, but may take relatively few barrels out of the physical market. Saudi Arabia has already been pumping significantly below its official OPEC level, and few are likely to believe that nations such as Iraq, Nigeria or even Russia, which haven’t complied with the deal so far this year, are about to start. Crude prices jumped 4.2% in New York on Wednesday, the biggest gain since September. West Texas Intermediate crude was little changed at $58.42 a barrel as of 5:36 a.m. local time on Thursday. The so-called OPEC+ alliance has an agreement to reduce output by about 1.2 million barrels a day since the start of the year in order to eliminate a surplus and bolster crude prices. That deal expires at the end of March, right in the middle of what looks to be a tricky patch for the oil market. Demand growth is slowing and another big expansion in rival production is coming down the pipeline.

WTI Hovers Above $58 After Bigger-Than-Expected Crude Draw - Oil prices, led by hope-ridden trade-deal headlines and OPEC+ chatter, have soared back above $58, erasing Friday's losses... But, after API's reporting a bigger than expected crude draw, all eyes are on the official government data this morning... DOE:

  • Crude -4.856mm (-1.5mm exp) - biggest draw since August
  • Cushing -302k
  • Gasoline +3.385mm
  • Distillates +3.063m - biggest build since July

DOE data shows an even bigger crude draw than API reported (and an even bigger build in gasoline stocks)...  US crude production held at record highs... And WTI was unsure where to go now that the algos ran the stops...

Oil jumps 4% on U.S. stockpiles drop; further OPEC output cuts seen -(Reuters) - Oil prices surged 4% on Wednesday on expectations that OPEC and allied producers would extend production curbs, and as U.S. government data showed a large drop in domestic crude stockpiles. Brent crude LCOc1 futures were up $2.44, or 4%, at $63.26 a barrel by 11:09 ET (1609 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures were up $2.38, or 4.2%, at $58.48. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, could approve deeper crude output cuts when they meet in Vienna this week. U.S. crude stocks fell by 4.9 million barrels in the week to Nov. 29 as refineries hiked output, the Energy Information Administration said, a much deeper draw than expected. Analysts had forecast a decrease of just 1.7 million barrels. “A jump in refining activity and ongoing subdued net imports have helped yield the first draw to oil inventories in six weeks,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at Clipper Data. Iraqi oil minister Thamer Ghadhban told reporters in Vienna on Tuesday that “a deeper cut is being preferred by a number of key members”. On Wednesday, Ghadhban said he would support at least extending existing cuts to end-2020 from March. “We have to give a positive signal to the market and to me at least we should roll-over the present agreement,” he said. Some in the market remained skeptical of whether OPEC+ will deepen cuts, though many analysts expect an extension of the existing supply pact. OPEC members meet on Thursday, with the OPEC+ group meeting the following day. OPEC+ has been curbing supply since 2017 and is expected to keep the cuts in place to balance out record production in the United States. Oil prices had been held back by the uncertainty over prospects for a trade deal between the United States and China. The dispute between the world’s two biggest economies has weakened the global economy and limited oil demand growth.

Oil Holds Surge as Stockpiles Add to Trade Optimism-- Oil held its biggest surge in more than two months as signs of a potential U.S.-China deal and tightening American crude stockpiles bolstered prices ahead of the OPEC+ meeting. Futures were little changed in New York after jumping 4.2% on Wednesday, the biggest gain since the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s energy facilities. The U.S. and China are moving closer to agreeing on the amount of tariffs that would be rolled back in an initial trade deal, according to people familiar. American crude inventories fell more than expected last week, while Oman’s Oil Minister Mohammed Al Rumhi said Gulf Arab members of the OPEC+ coalition have reached a consensus on the need to prolong output cuts. Oil has rallied since early October on optimism Beijing and Washington are close to a breakthrough in the prolonged trade war that has dented demand. While Iraq backed away from a proposal for steeper production curbs, Saudi Arabia may lead the way in deepening cuts if other countries better comply with their quotas, according to delegates from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The precise terms of any proposed deal remain unclear. “Any hint of tariff rollback is absolute positive mood music to the oil market’s ears,” Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AxiTrader, wrote in a note. “An extension of the existing OPEC+ agreement and stricter enforcement of compliance would be the bare minimum to expect, but the real debate is on whether deeper cuts will be announced.” West Texas Intermediate for January delivery fell 17 cents to $58.26 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 8:02 a.m. in London. The contract advanced $2.33 to close at $58.43 on Wednesday, the highest level in two weeks. Brent for February settlement lost 13 cents to $62.87 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange. The contract gained 3.6% to close at $63 on Wednesday. The global benchmark crude traded at a $4.71 premium to WTI for the same month. U.S. negotiators expect a phase-one deal with China to be completed before American tariffs are set to rise on Dec. 15, people familiar with the talks said. Outstanding issues include how to guarantee China’s purchases of American agricultural goods and exactly which duties to roll back, they added.

Oil whipsaws in choppy trade as Street awaits OPEC output decision - Oil moved between gains and losses on Thursday as traders awaited the decision from OPEC on its production policy. Ahead of the meeting in Vienna, Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said that OPEC+ was discussing a larger-than-expected 500,000 barrel a day production cut for the first quarter of 2020. Oil briefly gave back its gains after Novak also said to Bloomberg that the deeper cuts would only be implemented if each member complies with its current production quota. U.S. West Texas Intermediate settled unchanged at $58.43. Brent crude futures gained 44 cents to hit $63.45. Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Iraq said that it was pushing for a 400,000 barrel a day production cut on top of the existing agreement for cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day. Helima Croft, RBC head of global commodities strategy, said to CNBC ahead of the meeting that it was her understanding that a larger cut has the support of the OPEC core operating group, as well as its partner Russia. 24-country OPEC+ has cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day since the beginning of the year, and the current deal runs through March of 2020. Production cuts were first implemented in January of 2017 in an attempt to bolster prices as the U.S. kicked up its shale oil production, among other things. As the meeting kicked off reports conflicted over who proposed the cuts. WTI briefly sold off after CNBC reported that one senior Saudi oil official denied pursuing a deeper round of production cuts. On Monday Reuters had previously reported that Saudi Arabia could be in favor of deeper cuts in order to give Aramco a boost as it hit the public market. Also in focus will be individual country’s production output. Again Capital’s John Kilduff said that he believes Saudi Arabia is “open” to a cut, but that the most important thing to the nation is that country’s comply with the quotas that are currently in place.

Oil Sputters After OPEC+ Fails to Pin Down Details-- Oil sputtered near $58 a barrel as the OPEC+ coalition failed to pin down the details of an agreement to adjust its official output target even after six hours of talks in Vienna. Futures were little changed in New York after gyrating throughout the previous session. While the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is nearing a deal to deepen its output cut by 500,000 barrels a day, ministers left the cartel’s headquarters on Thursday without cementing an agreement. Saudi Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, in his first meeting as energy minister, left reporters with a promise of “beautiful news tomorrow.” Oil is still on track for the biggest weekly gain since September as shrinking American crude stockpiles and signs of progress on a possible U.S.-China trade deal added to the bullish tone. Full compliance to cuts got easier for Russia, which has achieved its targeted curbs in just three months this year, after OPEC agreed to exclude a very light oil called condensate from the country’s quota, while the new target for Iraq was a particular sticking point. “We may even see oil prices falling if the group officially excludes condensate from Russia’s quota and fails to come up with a solution to improve Iraq and Nigeria’s compliance level,” said Kim Kwangrae, a commodities analyst at Samsung Futures Inc. in Seoul. “Details will matter when OPEC makes an official announcement.” West Texas Intermediate for January delivery lost 8 cents to $58.35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:45 a.m. London time. The contract closed unchanged on Thursday after swinging between gains and losses. Prices are up 5.8% this week, the most since the week ended Sept. 20. Brent for February settlement fell 10 cents, or 0.2%, to $63.29 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange. The contract is up 1.4% this week. The global benchmark traded at a $5.03 premium to WTI for the same month. A reduction of 500,000 barrels a day by OPEC and its allies would largely be symbolic, simply formalizing the extra supply reductions the group has already been making for most of this year, rather than taking barrels off the market. The emphasis on compliance reflects Saudi Arabia’s unhappiness with the status quo, in which countries including Iraq and Nigeria have consistently failed to implement their promises.

‘Is this the beginning of the end?’: OPEC discord raises questions about its long-term future -The future of OPEC looks increasingly uncertain, energy analysts told CNBC Friday, citing a deepening rift among the 14-member group.OPEC and non-OPEC partners, sometimes referred to as OPEC+, have gathered in Vienna, Austria to decide the next phase of their oil production policy.Led by Saudi Arabia, the oil cartel agreed in principle on Thursday to cut production by an additional 500,000 barrels per day (b/d) through to the end of March 2020, according to CNBC sources.But it was initially unclear whether OPEC members had secured a deal, following an acrimonious meeting that ran late into the evening.Herman Wang, OPEC and Middle East specialist at S&P Global Platts, said Thursday’s meeting had caused him to question the long-term future of OPEC.Speaking to CNBC’s Dan Murphy in Vienna on Friday, Wang said: “What we saw last night was not a unified OPEC. Is this the beginning of the end?”Wang highlighted several issues that suggested a cause for concern, including Ecuador’s decision to quit the group at the end of the year, media reports of Angola’s delegate walking out of the OPEC meeting, Iraq consistently over-producing its quota and a strained relationship between OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC leader, Russia. “It’s all about the unity of OPEC. Can they hold this coalition together to keep oil prices from falling?” he added.

OPEC meeting ends with market expecting deep production cut - Global oil-producing group OPEC reportedly considered cutting production by an additional 500,000 barrels per day as its biannual meeting kicked off Thursday in Vienna. The meeting of the 14-member cartel ended just after 11 p.m. local time. While initially it was unclear if a deal had been reached, Dow Jones reported that Iran’s oil minister said a deal had been reached although he would not comment further. Earlier, sources told CNBC’S Brian Sullivan that the organization still had multiple issues to resolve, and just before 4 p.m. ET OPEC announced that it was canceling its customary press conference that usually follows the meeting. The reported 500,000 cut is larger than the numbers floated ahead of the meeting. It would bring the total production cut to 1.7 million barrels per day. On Friday, OPEC and its allies — known as OPEC+ and which includes Russia — will meet to finalize any proposed measures, including how any cuts would be implemented by each country. Earlier Thursday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that the steeper cuts would extend through the first quarter of 2020 and would only be implemented if each member complies with its current production quota. Novak also said, according to reports, that condensates would no longer be quoted as part of output for countries, a move which would reduce the total impact of the cuts. In after hours trading international benchmark Brent crude gained 21 cents to trade at $63.21. U.S. West Texas Intermediate shed 10 cents to trade at $58.33.

 OPEC and its allies agree to deepen oil production cuts - Energy ministers from some of the world’s largest oil producers have agreed to deepen recurring production cuts by an additional 500,000 barrels per day (b/d) through to March 2020. OPEC and non-OPEC allies, often referred to as OPEC+, decided to implement tighter oil production policy at a biannual meeting in Vienna, Austria on Friday. The new deal, which is much larger than many analysts had expected, will see OPEC+ reduce total oil output by 1.7 million b/d. The energy alliance has said it plans to review the policy at an extraordinary meeting on March 5-6. Oil prices rallied shortly after the OPEC+ announcement. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $64.70 on Friday afternoon, up around 2%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $59.63, over 2% higher. However, Brent crude futures remain around 15% lower when compared to an April peak, with WTI down almost 12% over the same period. Compliance quotas Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told reporters on Friday that the oil-rich kingdom’s quota would be an additional 167,000 b/d through to March 2020. Sitting alongside OPEC delegates at a press conference shortly after the meeting, Abdulaziz explained his country would also extend a voluntary cut of 400,000 b/d. This means the energy alliance’s total cuts would effectively amount to 2.1 million b/d, he said, before emphasizing that OPEC+ would only be able to achieve this figure with improved compliance. OPEC’s de facto leader, Saudi Arabia has been adamant those that have previously been overproducing — such as Iraq and Nigeria — must comply with the group’s quota. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow’s quota would be 300,000 b/d during the first three months of 2020. This measurement excludes gas condensate — a high-value light crude extracted as a by-product of gas production. The energy alliance was prompted to act after global oil prices tumbled in mid-2014 due to an oversupply, but U.S. shale producers are not a part of the deal and shale oil supply has grown exponentially.

Saudi energy minister defends US shale producers: ‘They are creating jobs’ - Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman played down any rivalry between U.S. shale producers and more established oil producers in the Middle East. Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble following an OPEC decision in Vienna, Austria, on Friday, Abdulaziz said: “They (U.S. shale producers) didn’t do anything wrong, they produced more barrels, they put the U.S. on the map in terms of its energy requirements, they are growing the economy, they are creating jobs.” The U.S. is now the world’s largest oil producer hitting 12.3 million b/d in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, up from 11 million b/d in 2018. It now produces more oil than Saudi Arabia and Russia, although there are signs that production growth is slowing in the States. Due to the boom in U.S. shale production, alongside other factors, the OPEC energy alliance was prompted to act after global oil prices tumbled in mid-2014. U.S. shale producers were not part of that deal and shale oil supply grew exponentially as OPEC producers curbed output. “They did a remarkable job,” Abdulaziz told CNBC regarding the U.S. energy industry. He spoke of “legal limitations” when asked whether there could be pact with shale producers in the future, but said that Saudi Aramco — his country’s state-owned oil firm — “would go more and more international.” In May, Aramco signed an agreement to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas from San Diego-based utility Sempra Energy, which helped to advance its ambitions to become a player in the growing international gas market. The new deal, which is much larger than many analysts had expected, will see OPEC+ reduce total oil output by 1.7 million b/d. However, Abdulaziz told reporters on Friday that his country — the de facto leader of OPEC — would also extend a voluntary cut of 400,000 b/d, saying that the energy alliance’s total cuts would effectively amount to 2.1 million b/d.

Oil Jumps After OPEC Agrees To 500,000 bpd Production Cut - One day after the latest OPEC summit in Vienna ended in chaos and disarray, with the cartel unable to decide whether it will cut output further or instead punish violators of the current quote, leaving oil journalists asking questions and begging for pizza, on Friday Saudi Arabia and Russia surprised markets when they spearheaded a deal in which OPEC and non-OPEC nations committed to some of the deepest oil output cuts this decade aiming to avert oversupply and support prices amid declining global demand. The group of more than 20 producers agreed to an extra 500,000 barrels per day in cuts for the first quarter of 2020, taking the total to 1.7 million bpd, or 1.7% of global demand, in hopes of boosting sagging oil prices in an environment where Saudi Arabia has been increasingly vocal in accusing cartel members and other producers of not sticking to pre-agreed quota levels. Under the new deal, OPEC will agree to 372,000 bpd in fresh cuts and non-OPEC producers - mostly Russia - an extra 131,000 bpd. Brent jumped more than 2%, rising above $64 a barrel after Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said effective cuts could be as much as 2.1 million bpd as Saudi would carry on cutting more than its quota. The impetus behind the cut was all Saudi Arabia, which has been eager to provide a floor for oil in the aftermath of the Aramco IPO which priced yesterday at the top of its range, yet some $300BN below the $2 trillion target previously revealed by Crown Prince MbS. "The Saudi goal was not necessarily to push oil prices significantly higher, but rather - fresh on the heels of the Aramco IPO - to put a firm floor under them during the first quarter to temper any seasonal weakness," said Amrita Sen, co-founder of Energy Aspects, quoted by Reuters

Oil posts best week since June as OPEC and allies announce deep production cut  - Oil moved higher on Friday as OPEC and its allies agreed to deepen oil production cuts to 500,000 barrels a day through to March 2020. This brings the total production cut to 1.7 million barrels a day. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures gained 77 cents, or 1.3%, to settle at $59.20 a barrel. For the week WTI gained more than 7%, for its best week since June. During Friday’s trading session Brent gained 1.6% to settle at $64.37. Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told reporters on Friday that the oil-rich kingdom’s quota would be an additional 167,000 barrels per day. He also said that the kingdom would continue to exceed its quota by 400,000 barrels a day, which means the overall production cut will actually be closer to 2.1 million barrels a day. The country is OPEC’s de facto leader, and has been adamant that those who were previously overproducing — such as Iraq and Nigeria — comply with the group’s quota. Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said that the country’s additional and voluntary cut would be contingent on other countries abiding by their allocation. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow’s quota would be 300,000 b/d during the first three months of 2020. This measurement excludes gas condensate — a high-value light crude extracted as a by-product of gas production. The energy alliance said it plans to review the policy at an extraordinary meeting on March 5-6. Ahead of the decision On Thursday the 14-member cartel, as well as its allies, which is known as OPEC+ and includes Russia, agreed in principle to reduce output by an additional 500,000 barrels per day. But as day two of meetings in Vienna kicked off Friday, there were still many questions, including how the quota would be allocated, and how long the agreement would stretch for. Friday’s meeting followed a tumultuous and marathon session Thursday. Talks stretched on for hours, and the customary press conference held after the meeting wraps was abruptly cancelled. The duration of the deal was one of the key unknowns. On Friday OPEC said it would meet again on March 5-6. The cartel typically meets every six months, so the announcement had led some on the Street to believe the increased cut would only extend through the first quarter. “It remains unclear what would occur in 2Q20, potentially reflecting Saudi’s new stance that they could walk away from this deal if other countries did not comply fully,” Goldman Sachs analyst Damien Courvalin said in a note to clients Thursday. Another key factor was compliance. Currently several members including Iraq, Nigeria and Russia are over-producing. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, exceeds its current target cut, and signaled ahead of OPEC’s meeting that stricter rules should be implemented.

Saudi Aramco prices shares at top of the range, valuing it at $1.7 trillion — Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Saudi Aramco, priced its IPO at 32 riyals ($8.53) per share — the top of its indicative range — which puts the company on track to raise $25.6 billion. The state-owned company’s public debut will become the largest on record, topping the $25 billion Alibaba raised when it went public in September 2014. Aramco’s initial public offering may have priced at the top of its range, but the $1.7 trillion valuation is below what the kingdom had initially been targeting. The long-awaited IPO of the world’s largest and most profitable company will list locally on the Tadawul, Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange, and forms the centerpiece of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 aimed at transforming the Saudi economy. The pricing announcement follows a weeklong local roadshow around the Middle East that saw Aramco’s local listing oversubscribed by nearly three times, attracting offers worth 189.04 billion riyals ($50.4 billion), according to banks advising the listing. Institutional investors had between Nov. 17 and Dec. 4 to place their orders. Aramco has said in the past that 0.5% of its listed shares would be available to individual retail buyers, while the remaining 1% would be for institutional investors. That 1% is equivalent to 2 billion shares. In the first 2½ weeks of Aramco’s book-building period, it drew subscription orders for 5.9 billion shares. The IPO’s size is well short of the crown prince’s initial valuation of $2 trillion. The kingdom needed to rely predominantly on local investors after canceling roadshows in London and New York on the back of lackluster international interest.

OPEC supply cut not timed for Aramco listing, Saudi energy minister says  -Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told CNBC that an agreement to further trim global oil supply wasn’t intentionally timed to coincide with the initial public offering (IPO) of state-owned energy company Saudi Aramco. On Thursday, Aramco priced its IPO at 32 riyals per share ($8.53), putting it on track to raise $25.6 billion in what would be the largest IPO ever conducted. On Friday, OPEC and its allies — a wider grouping termed OPEC+ — agreed to cut an extra 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) of their oil production during the first three months of 2020. Following the announcement, Abdulaziz told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble that the two events weren’t linked. “The fact that they coincided, people try to draw a correlation between the two. Some media outlets tried to use that as a way to explain what we are trying to do at this meeting,” he said. Abdulaziz said Saudi Aramco’s value couldn’t be evaluated by “a tweak here or a tweak there” in the oil supply. He said that the list of institutional investors for Aramco signaled that organizations were keen to back the firm for the long term. A small portion of Saudi Aramco will start trading on the local stock exchange on Wednesday, December 11. He described the decision to list locally as the “brightest day of his life,” as the benefit of the listing would go, first and foremost, to “our people” and to others who “believe in Saudi Arabia.”

Exclusive: Saudi Aramco pursues war cover after attacks - sources - (Reuters) - Saudi Aramco is looking to buy insurance against war and terror attacks after a damaging drone and missile attack on some of its oil facilities in September, two sources told Reuters. Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, has been looking for cover from insurers including those based at Lloyd’s of London and elsewhere in the London market, they added. The firm is seeking cover for facilities in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, its oil heartland, where it suffered the September attacks, one of the sources said. Aramco said in the prospectus of this month’s planned listing that it did not insure against all risks and its cover may not protect it from terrorism or acts of war. At the launch of the IPO, which could be the world’s biggest and raise up to $25.6 billion, Aramco said that it did not expect the Sept. 14 attack to have a material impact on its finances and operations.

Houthi rebels say 2nd aircraft shot down over Yemen in 2 days - Spokesman --   Houthi Rebels said they have shot down an unmanned drone over northern Yemen just a day after claiming to bring down a Saudi Apache helicopter, Yahya Sarea, the group's military spokesman, said on Saturday, Eurasia Disry reports on Sputnik News. "Yemeni air defences were able to shoot down a Chinese-made Wing Loong fighter reconnaissance aircraft in the Hiran district of Hajjah province this evening during hostilities", Sarea said in a post in Twitter.Sarea added that the operation was caught on tape and that footage will be published shortly.Earlier in the day, Yemeni news outlet Almasirah released footage it said showed the Saudi Apache military helicopter shot down on Friday. Sarea on Friday said that two crew members on board the helicopter died.The purported spike in hostilities comes after a week which saw peace overtures from the Saudi-led coalition. A statement by the Saudi defence ministry on Tuesday announced the release of 200 Houthi captives from its prisons and the reopening of the airport in Yemen's capital Sanaa for medical patients.The International Committee of the Red Cross later confirmed the return of 128 Yemeni prisoners from the kingdom. The armed conflict in Yemen between the government forces and Houthi rebels has been ongoing since 2015. The former is backed by a military coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia.

Why the resignation of Iraq’s prime minister will not automatically stop the mass uprising on the horizon - Patrick Cockburn. -Protesters in Iraq have won their first big success by forcing the resignation of the Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, after the killing of 45 unarmed protesters by the Iraqi security forces in a single day. As the news spread, the crack of celebratory fireworks replaced that of gunshots in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, which has been the centre of demonstrations since they began two months ago. The impending departure of Mahdi is a symbolic victory for the protests, but too many people have been killed for it to quell what is close to a mass uprising by the majority Shia community. He had proved an ineffectual leader and the entire ruling elite in Iraq is probably too corrupt and too determined to hang on to power to make the radical reforms demanded by the protesters.    The announcement that the prime minister was stepping down came after 36 hours in which the security forces had switched from killing individual demonstrators to massacres on a larger scale – with as many as 50 people shot dead on a bridge in the southern city of Nasiriya – bringing the number killed to 408, as well as thousands more wounded, since 1 October. Compare this horrific casualty list over eight weeks with that in Hong Kong, where just one protester has been killed and one has died accidentally since protests started six months ago.  Probably the world has got used to Iraqis being murdered in large numbers, whether it is by Isis, Saddam Hussein or the US air force, so it is no longer considered news. But history is made by unreported massacres. “It plants hatred in the heart,” a Palestinian once said of a mass killing by Israeli troops decades ago in Gaza in which his uncle had been killed. The violence is seen as only affecting Iraqis, but it has the potential to reshape the politics of the Middle East. Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, one of the most powerful political and military forces in the region has been the increasing strength of Shia communities under Iranian leadership.   But in the last two months, this victorious, Iranian-led Shia coalition has been fractured as pro-Iranian sections of the Iraqi security services and paramilitary groups repeatedly shot down Shias protesting about the lack of jobs, inadequate social services and pervasive corruption on the part of Iraq’s ruling elite. These protests were initially on a small scale and only gained momentum because of the government’s overreaction to what was at first a very minor threat. 

Iraq parliament approves PM Adel Abdul Mahdi’s resignation - Iraqi legislators approved Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's resignation on Sunday during a parliament session held in the capital Baghdad amid weeks of deadly anti-government protests. An embattled Abdul Mahdi had announced on Friday that he would quit, after 50 demonstrators were killed the previous day by security forces in Baghdad and Iraq's mainly Shia southern cities of Nasiriya and Najaf. The prime minister also faced criticism from Iraq's top Shia leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who condemned the use of lethal force against the protesters and called for a new government. A cabinet meeting on Saturday had approved Abdul Mahdi's announcement, which also suggested the resignation of key members of the Iraqi government, including the prime minister's chief of staff. Legal experts told Al Jazeera that the government would assume a caretaker role for 30 days or until the largest bloc in parliament agrees on a new candidate to replace him. "Based on the constitution, this resignation includes the whole government - ministers and the deputy prime minister," legal expert Tareq Harb told Al Jazeera. "The government has now become a caretaker government which will only address urgent issues until a new government is elected," he added.

 The Superpowers Battling Over Iraq’s Giant Oil Field  - Ever since the U.S. signalled through its effective withdrawal from Syria that it now has little interest in becoming involved in military actions in the Middle East, the door has been fully opened to China and Russia to advance their ambitions in the region. For Russia, the Middle East offers a key military pivot from which it can project influence West and East and that it can use to capture and control massive oil and gas flows in both directions as well. For China, the Middle East – and, absolutely vitally, Iran and Iraq – are irreplaceable stepping stones towards Europe for its era-defining ‘One Belt, One Road’ project. Earlier this week an announcement was made by Iraq’s Oil Ministry that highlights each of these factors at play, through a relatively innocuous-sounding contract award to a relatively unknown Chinese firm. Specifically, it was announced that China Petroleum Engineering & Construction Corp (CPECC) has been awarded a US$121 million engineering contract to upgrade the facilities that are used to extract gas during crude oil production at the supergiant West Qurna-1 oilfield in Iraq, 50 kilometres northwest of the principal oil hub of Basra. The project is due to be completed within 27 months and aims to increase the capture of gas currently being flared across the site. Two factors that were not highlighted in the general announcement were firstly that CPECC is a subsidiary of China’s principal political proxy in the oil and gas sector, China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), and secondly that the gas capture project will also include the development of the oil reserves at West Qurna 1. The current level of oil reserves at West Qurna 1 is just under nine billion barrels but, crucially, the site is part of the overall massive West Qurna reservoir that comprises at least 43 billion barrels of crude oil reserves.  Certainly it makes sense for Iraq to finally begin to monetise its associated gas that it has been burnt off for decades as a product of its burgeoning oil production. Aside from the negative environmental impact of this practice, there is the bizarre practical result that Iraq – which holds some of the biggest oil and gas reserves in the world – has to go to its neighbour Iran every year and beg for electricity imports to plug the huge power deficits that afflict it, particularly during the summer months.

Officials confirm 25 dead, 130 wounded after gunman targets Iraqi protests - Iraqi officials confirmed Saturday that 25 people died and 130 are wounded after a gunman targeted anti-government protesters in the country’s capitol overnight. Three of the dead were law enforcement officers and the rest were protesters, CBS News reported. The gunfire continued until early Saturday morning, shots fired in Baghdad’s Khilani Square and Sinak Bridge. These areas have been the center of the uprising, and chaos erupted after the electricity was cut and people fled into mosques and other areas to escape the shooting. A car park that protesters were using as a base for their sit in was lit on fire, as shots were fired into surrounding buildings. Protesters raised a bloody white flag as they returned to the site Saturday, according to CBS News. Iraqi security forces were deployed to the square early Saturday morning. A prominent Shiite cleric, Muqtada sl-Sadr, the head of the country’s parliament’s Sairoon bloc, said a drone targeted his home in Najaf Saturday as well. Nassar al-Rubaie, head of Sairoon's political committee, sharply criticized the attack in televised remarks and called for an emergency parliamentary session to address the violence. Anti-government protestors initially blamed supporters of Iran-backed Iraqi militias, which have attacked past protests. A string of knife attacks also targeted protesters this week, after the militias held a counter-demonstration in Baghdad.

Iranian General: Our Missiles Are Aimed at 21 US Bases — In a speech over the weekend in the city of Bushehr, Iranian General Allahnoor Noorollahi talked of Iran’s substantial military power, particularly as it relates to conventional missiles, declaring them the fourth most powerful missile system behind the US, Russia, and China. And with tensions between the US and Iran mounting, and the US constantly emphasizing military perspective, the Iranian general was doing the same, saying Iran’s missiles are aimed at all 21 US bases in the region. This is both a reflection of how dangerous the environment in the region is getting, with both the US and Iranian militaries being told to gear up for a potential conflict, and how little of an accident it might take to lead to a full-scale war. Gen. Noorollahi’s comments reflect the reality of Iran’s posture toward a long-threatened US attack, which they are trying to deter with retaliatory capabilities. It seems risky to count on that, however, with both sides constantly scaling up their capabilities, and relations getting progressively worse.

US Enraged After 6 More EU Nations Join Effort to Bypass Iran Sanctions (ZH) — On Friday six European countries issued a bombshell joint statement declaring their intent to join INSTEX, or the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, a European special-purpose vehicle serving as a ‘SWIFT alternative’ to bypass US sanctions on Iran.Finland, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden released a joint statement asserting it’s of “the utmost importance to the preservation and full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) on Iran’s nuclear program by all parties involved.”“In light of the continuous European support for the agreement and the ongoing efforts to implement the economic part of it and to facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran, we are now in the process of becoming shareholders of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (Instex) subject to completion of national procedures,” the statement reads. Instex is an initiative set up by France, Germany and the UK in January 2019 to provide humanitarian and sanctions relief to Iran after in November 2018 the SWIFT network suspended Iranian banks under Washington pressure, months after Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear deal.  Though the new alternative financial device had shaky beginnings amid further aggressive threats from the US administration, it continued through a trial phase even though Tehran officials had complained it appeared ‘too little, too late’.  But now as this latest six country statement announces, it will serve as the European vehicle to “facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran,” while also providing incentive for Tehran to return to its commitments under the JCPOA, specifically to recently breached uranium enrichment limits. Upon the announcement, US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell lambasted the move, saying: Terrible timing – why fund the Iranian regime while its killing the Iranian people and shutting off the internet? You should be standing for human rights not funding the abusers.

These photos show what it’s really like in Iran, where — despite its antagonistic relationship with the US— life is surprisingly normal - Business Insider

Iranian government kills hundreds in bid to suppress the worst protests in decades - According to reports from international rights organizations, opposition groups and local journalists, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s security forces have killed more than 400 people since the eruption of mass protests by workers and youth on November 15. The upheavals were triggered by an overnight hike in gas prices and widespread economic hardship. A further 2,000 people have reportedly been wounded and 7,000 arrested during the government crackdown. Given the government’s five-day internet blackout and the hostility of the Western media towards Iran, it is difficult to know how accurate these figures are and the veracity of the claims and counterclaims as to who was behind the brutal suppression of the protests. The government acknowledged that 12 people had been killed after three days of protests, while Amnesty International claimed that at least 161 people had been killed across 10 provinces, mostly as a result of live fire. According to the New York Times, which has close links to the US military and security apparatus, the death toll from the government’s crackdown during the last two weeks was between 180 and 450. Interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said that 731 banks, 140 public spaces, nine religious centres, 70 gasoline stations, 307 vehicles, 183 police cars, 1,076 motorcycles and 34 ambulances were attacked and damaged. He said that there had been protests in 29 out of 31 provinces and 50 military bases had been attacked. If true, it implies a level of coordination unseen in previous demonstrations in 2009 and 2017-18, or indeed elsewhere in protest movements in the Middle East. “They were like a gang, marching in the streets with faces covered, destroying specific targets like banks” and they looked like “professionals with sophisticated tools.” He added that some of them “must have been led by foreign forces.” The IRGC claimed that some of the protesters were carrying tools not normally available in Iran. While the protests began in response to a new rationing system that allows just 60 litres (16 gallons) per month to each passenger vehicle (more for taxis and commercial vehicles) for 15,000 rials per litre—a 50 percent increase, and 30,000 rials per litre, a 300 percent increase on purchases over the 60 litres—they soon spread to encompass broader social, economic and political demands.

Iran says it killed ‘rioters’ in deadliest unrest in decades (AP) — Iran acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that its security forces shot and killed protesters across the country to put down demonstrations last month over the sharply spiking price of gasoline, the deadliest unrest to hit the country since the turmoil of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. A report by Iranian state television sought to portray those killed as “rioters” or foreign-backed insurgents who threatened military posts, oil tanks and the public. It acknowledged that the violence also killed passers-by, security forces and peaceful protesters without assigning blame. However, online videos of demonstrations purport to show security forces firing machine guns and rifles at crowds. Amnesty International believes the unrest beginning in mid-November and crackdown that followed killed at least 208 people. An Iranian judiciary official disputed the toll Tuesday as “sheer lies,” without offering any evidence to support his position. The demonstrations show the widespread economic discontent gripping Iran since May 2018, when President Donald Trump imposed crushing sanctions after unilaterally withdrawing the United States from the nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers. Trump himself, speaking to journalists before a NATO summit in London, claimed without evidence Iran has killed “thousands.” The demonstrations followed months of attacks across the Middle East that the U.S. blames on Tehran. Meanwhile, Iran has begun breaking the limits of the nuclear deal in hopes of pressuring Europe into finding a way for Tehran to sell its crude oil abroad despite the American sanctions. The state TV report alleged that some of those killed were “rioters who have attacked sensitive or military centers with firearms or knives or have taken hostages in some areas.” Some sought to access arsenals inside the police and military posts, the report said. In one case, the report said security forces confronted a separatist group armed with “semi-heavy weapons” in the city of Mahshahr in Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan province. The Arab population of the surrounding oil-rich province long has complained of discrimination by Iran’s central government, and insurgent groups have attacked oil pipelines there. Iran blamed both area separatists and the Islamic State group for an attack on a military parade in the region in September 2018 that killed at least 25 people.

Understand The OPCW Scandal In Seven Minutes - Caitlin Johnstone - One of the annoying things about continuing to write about the OPCW/Douma scandal in the near-total absence of mainstream media coverage is the fact that it’s difficult for a new reader to just jump in on this developing story without having followed it from the beginning. There are a lot of details to go over to introduce someone to the story, and if I repeat them every time I write an article on the subject I’m twelve paragraphs in before I get to the new developments, and by that time I’ve bored all the readers who didn’t need the introduction. I’m sure other alternative media figures commenting on this story have encountered the same problem. Fortunately for us, In The Now and journalist Dan Cohen have stepped up to the plate and put together a concise, easy-to-follow video on both Twitter and Facebook explaining the OPCW scandal in a way that enables anyone to familiarize themselves with the story in seven minutes. This article exists solely to draw attention to this excellent resource. Cohen has been really great about quickly getting concise, quality videos out to help people make sense of specific developing stories which the haze of western propaganda makes difficult to understand; his recent videos on the Bolivia coup and the Hong Kong protests were very helpful in the same way. He uses robust arguments and independently verifiable facts to clearly show that there’s much more to these stories than the mass media have been letting us know. I’ll definitely be linking to this video in my articles going forward to enable anyone who hasn’t been following the OPCW scandal closely to quickly familiarize themselves with the story. The more of these lucid, accessible resources we’ve got circulating within the information ecosystem, the better.

‘When they come, they will kill you’: Ethnic cleansing is already a reality in Turkey’s Syrian safe zone - The brutal killings were not hidden, nor were they meant to be. From the very beginning of Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria, the fighters it sent across the border to carry out the mission have proudly documented their own war crimes. Videos posted online by soldiers of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) – showing summary executions, mutilation of corpses, threats against Kurds and widespread looting – have struck terror into the tens of thousands who find themselves in the path of the offensive.The ethnic dimension to many of the crimes has resulted in a mass exodus of Kurds and religious minorities from these once diverse borderlands. Now, stranded in displacement camps across northeast Syria and in neighbouring Iraq, they fear they may never be able to return home. And that, they believe, was precisely the point.   “No one can go back there now, it’s impossible,” says Muhammad Amin, 37, a Kurdish man who fled with his family from the city of Ras al-Ayn in the first days of the Turkish-led operation. “We’ve seen the videos,” he tells The Independent at a camp near the Syrian town of Tal Tamr. “They are shooting Kurdish people where they find them.” Turkey launches offensive into Syria Show all 25 The same story is being told by countless others like Amin, in the camps and temporary shelters that have sprung up in the past two months. Taken together, they paint a picture of a dramatic demographic change. Turkey launched a long-planned incursion into Syria on 9 October to establish what it described as a “safe zone” some 20 miles deep and 300 miles wide along the border. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, claimed the offensive was aimed at removing the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – a group his country classifies as a terror organisation for its links to Kurdish separatists inside Turkey.

Turkey Declares Ownership On Half Of Eastern Mediterranean Waters -  A Turkish diplomat has revealed a map which delineates waters in the Mediterranean claimed by Turkey, amid an ongoing months-long standoff with Cyprus and Greece over Turkish oil and gas exploration and drilling inside Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). "After signing deals with its own puppet state in occupied northern Cyprus and with the pseudo-government in Libya's Tripoli, Turkey declares that it owns half of the eastern Mediterranean," Aron Lund, an analyst at The Century Foundation, observes of the newly published map. New map outlining Turkey's claimed continental shelf and the borders of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), via Hurriyet Daily. Meanwhile the entire eastern side of Cyprus is claimed by the internationally disputed "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus."And Turkey's Hurriyet Daily explains: "With the chart, Çağatay Erciyes showed the outer boundaries of Turkey's continental shelf and EEZ, designated in a 2011 agreement between Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), the median line between Egypt and Turkey's mainlands and a recent memorandum with Libya."Over the past year Turkey has sent both oil and gas exploration ships, as well as military transport vessels, into Cypriot waters in the East Mediterranean related to expanded claims based on the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus (since 1974), earning the condemnation of both Nicosia and top EU officials, who have defended EU-Cyprus' interpretation of the conflict.

US carries out fresh massacre in Afghanistan, killing entire family with drone strike - A US drone strike in Afghanistan last Friday wiped out an entire family after they were leaving a clinic, including a woman who had just given birth to a child. Gul Marjan Kochi, the head of the local council in the Alisher district of Khost province, where the strike took place, told Pajhwok Afghan News that the attack was launched against a carload of civilians who were heading home from a local hospital after the birth of the baby. He said that three women, two men and the newborn were all slaughtered in the attack. The account appeared to have been confirmed by the director of the Al-Madina clinic whom Pajhwok reported saying that the family had brought in a pregnant woman Friday night and had been discharged at around 11:30 pm after the birth. He said that among those who were present was a nine-year-old girl. Only later did he learn that they had all been killed. Another account from Afghan officials said that the 25-year-old woman had been brought to the clinic because her health had deteriorated after giving birth at home, and that the baby had not been in the car. The horrific war crime came just a day after US President Donald Trump flew into the devastated country for a Thanksgiving photo-op with American troops, where he boasted about how much money his administration has funneled to the major military contractors and told the assembled military personnel at Bagram air base that “Victory on the battlefield will always belong to you, the American warrior.” The logistical preparations for Trump’s hurried visit—he flew for a total of 32 hours there and back from his Mar-a-Lago Florida resort to spend barely three and a half hours at Bagram—provide a different perspective regarding the US “victory on the battlefield” in Afghanistan. The US president was compelled to fly into Afghanistan under a veil of total secrecy, in an unmarked plane fitted with a port-a-potty, with its lights out and windows shut and all cellphones dead. While there, he was surrounded by a convoy of heavily armed troops even while moving through the most fortified US base in the country.

NK Threatens 'Imbecile' Shinzo Abe With Real Ballistic Missile Over Japan -- Amid stalled talks with the US we have the dangerous Thanksgiving specter of multiple North Korea ICBM launches in the past month or were they? Pyongyang has lashed out at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, calling him a "political dwarf" for 'misidentifying' missiles used in the latest tests. In the fourth known recent test of a new "multiple launch rocket system," two short-range projectiles were fired into waters off NK's east coast on Thursday. It's sparked an intense debate over the nature of the missiles, and whether they were banned ballistic missiles under United Nations Security Council resolutions, which would constitute a threat to the region and the world.On Saturday a North Korean Foreign Ministry official called Abe “the most stupid person ever known in history” after the Japanese leader publicly characterized the latest rocket test as a likely ballistic missile launch. “It can be said that Abe is the only one idiot in the world and the most stupid man ever known in history as he fails to distinguish a missile from multiple launch rocket system while seeing the photo-accompanied report,” NK's Foreign Ministry’s Department of Japanese Affairs said on the North’s official Korean Central News Agency channel.All of this has led an enraged Pyongyang to issue a more direct threat of "a real ballistic missile" which concluded the fiery and bizarre "political dwarf" comments: “Abe may see what a real ballistic missile is in the not distant future and under his nose,” the statement said. And followed with, “Abe is none other than a perfect imbecile and a political dwarf without parallel in the world.”

China implements mandatory face scans for mobile phone users, report says -  Chinese telecom operators are now reportedly required to scan the faces of people registering new phones. The mandatory "portrait matching," which officially began Sunday, means customers have to record themselves turning their head and blinking if they want to register for a new phone number. The mandate is part of China's plan to tighten cyberspace controls and crack down on fraud. A notice about the change from the country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology went out in September, according to a Sunday report from AFP. The notice, obtained by AFP, said that telecom operators should use "artificial intelligence and other technical means" to verify a person's identity when they get a new number. In addition, the notice said the ministry will continue to "increase supervision and inspection." China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile, the country's three largest carriers, are state-owned. It's not known at this time how the law will apply to existing accounts, according to Reuters. Facial recognition has been gaining momentum in China. The country is home to Megvii and SenseTime, two of the world's leading facial recognition companies. Supermarkets, subway systems and airports already use facial recognition technology. Alibaba, an online e-commerce company, lets people pay with their face in some locations, according to Reuters.  By 2020, China plans to give all of its 1.4 billion citizens a personal score, based on behavior, using facial recognition, artificial intelligence, smart glasses and other technologies to monitor and rate its citizens -- a plan that's raised numerousprivacy concerns among US officials.

The Nature of the Hong Kong Protests  Should peace and justice advocates support pro-democracy efforts whenever they arise in the world? Even some U.S. alternative media identifying as liberal and progressive have joined the chorus, portraying the protests in Hong Kong as the noble pursuit of democratic freedoms, brave resistance to the authoritarian Chinese government oppressing the people.  Democratic freedoms aside, many nations in the world but particularly the U.S., Britain and China have interests to protect in Hong Kong. The island-city is a special administrative district within China with a unique history. It was subject to British colonial rule for approximately 150 years but, under an agreement with the People’s Republic of China, in 1997 it was returned to China and governed as “one country, two systems” with its own legal and administrative systems. Hong Kong’s special status enabled it to become a leading financial center and tax haven for international corporations. Its free market is so free from regulation and accountability that the conservative American think tank, the Heritage Foundation, has consistently ranked the city as No. 1 in its Index of Economic Freedom.The arrangement has been of mutual benefit to both foreigners and the PRC. As a Reuters primer explains: “China uses Hong Kong’s currency, equity, and debt markets to attract foreign funds, while international companies use Hong Kong as a Launchpad to expand into mainland China.”   Hong Kong’s particular legal characteristics have not only enabled China to rise as an economic power and shelter foreign corporations from taxes and tariffs but they have also allowed an individual to get away with murder. That’s because Hong Kong lacks an extradition treaty for those who commit crimes in Taiwan and China. When a resident of Hong Kong was alleged to have murdered his pregnant girlfriend while on vacation in Taiwan in 2018, the accused fled back to Hong Kong where he couldn’t be prosecuted. Hong Kong’s administrative government attempted to amend its extradition law as a result of the incident. But protesters claimed extradition would extend to overreach by the People’s Republic and cause Hong Kong citizens to be deprived of their freedoms.

Hong Kong police consider use of wooden bullets to tackle unrest - The Hong Kong police have said they will not rule out using wooden bullets to disperse protesters.Police Commissioner Chris Tang told reporters during a tea gathering on Thursday that the force may consider using wooden baton rounds – or wooden bullets – which would cause more damage to the human body than rubber bullets, to clear protesters, reported Sing Tao Daily.  Police Senior Superintendent of the Operations Branch Wong Wai-shun said at a press conference on Friday that the force had adopted rubber bullets and replaced wood baton rounds 16 years ago, owing of their effectiveness. But Wong denied that wooden bullets would cause more damage, and said the police will use different weapons wherever it was appropriate, and will use the minimum force necessary.“The police will constantly review the effectiveness of our ammunition,” he said.The Civil Rights Observer group have accused the police of misusing or abusing the use of crowd control weapons including tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds. A reporter was previouslyblinded by a projectile after being shot in the face.“The police commissioner seeking to do more damage with non-live ammunition and non-lethal weapons is a violation to the spirit of the United Nations’s ‘Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials’ to avoid deaths and injuries caused by force,” the group said. Large scale protests have lasted for more than five months, initially against the now-withdrawn extradition bill. The sometimes-violent demonstrations have morphed into a wider movement seeking democracy and accountability over the police use of force. More than 5,800 people have been arrested in relation to the protests, police have said.

India’s Economy Is Stalling. Critics Blame a ‘Climate of Fear.’ Data released last week shows that India’s economy expanded by just 4.5 percent between July and September, its sixth consecutive quarter of slowing growth. The new figures represent a stunning decline: The country’s GDP was growing by more than 9 percent at the start of 2016, and by 8.1 percent as recently as early 2018. While national growth statistics rarely mean much to individual citizens, other indicators point to a struggling economy. The unemployment rate stood at around 7.5 percent in November, with a record-low 42 percent labor participation rate. As a result, consumer demand has weakened, leading to a perpetual cycle of slowing manufacturing, production, investment, and job creation. Climate of fear? Critics say that it is not just risk aversion but fear that is causing low levels of investment and lending, contributing to the slowing growth. In an opinion essay in the Hindu last month, the economist and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describes a “palpable climate of fear” across the country. He writes: “Many industrialists tell me that they live in fear of harassment by government authorities. Bankers are reluctant to make new loans for fear of retribution. Technology start-ups … seem to live under a shadow of constant surveillance and deep suspicion. Policymakers in government and other institutions are scared to speak the truth or engage in intellectually honest policy discussions. There is profound fear and distrust among people who act as agents of economic growth.” Industrialists speak up. This sentiment was echoed over the weekend at an Economic Times event by the billionaire Rahul Bajaj, the chairman of the Bajaj Group. “We are afraid … but no one will talk about it,” he said. The comments—rare among the typically pliant industrialist class—were met with applause. Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah offered an equally rare response to Bajaj at the same event: “As you are saying, an atmosphere has been created, we too will have to make an effort to improve it. But I want to say that no one needs to be afraid.” The government’s damage control continued Monday, as Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addressed Parliament: “To say that this government does not listen to criticism is unfair … ours is a government that hears and responds,” she said.

Indian woman who alleged gang rape dies after burn attack - — An alleged rape victim in northern India who was set on fire while heading to a court hearing in the case has died in a New Delhi hospital, officials said Saturday. The woman was attacked in the state of Uttar Pradesh by a group of men that included two of the five she had accused of gang rape last year, police said. The two were out of custody on bail. Five men were arrested in connection with the burn attack, police said. The 23-year-old woman suffered extensive injuries and was airlifted Thursday from Uttar Pradesh to Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, where she died late Friday of cardiac arrest, said Dr. Shalab Kumar, head of the hospital’s burn unit. Yogi Adityanath, the state’s chief minister, said that the case would be heard in a fast track court and that the “strictest of punishment will be given to the culprits.” Priyanka Gandhi, general secretary of the opposition Congress party, faulted the Uttar Pradesh government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, for failing to provide the woman with security, even after a similar case in the state in which a woman who accused a BJP lawmaker of rape was severely injured in a vehicle hit-and-run incident. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, is known for its poor record regarding crimes against women. According to the most recent available official crime records, police registered more than 4,200 cases of rape in the state in 2017 — the most in India. Government figures for 2017 also show that police registered 33,658 cases of rape in the country. But the real figure is believed to be far higher as many women in India don’t report cases to police due to fear. Indian courts also seem to be struggling to deal with these cases. Data shows that more than 90% of cases of crimes against women are pending in city courts.

More than 600 Pakistani girls 'sold as brides' to China - More than 600 poor Pakistani girls and women were sold as brides to Chinese men over a period of nearly two years, according to investigations by authorities in the South Asian nation of 200 million people. A list of 629 girls and women, obtained by The Associated Press, was compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country's poor and vulnerable. The list gives the most concrete figure yet for the number of women caught up in the trafficking schemes since 2018.But since the time it was put together in June, the investigators' aggressive drive against the networks has largely ground to a halt. Officials with knowledge of the investigations say this is because of pressure from government officials fearful of hurting Pakistan's lucrative ties to Beijing. The biggest case against traffickers has fallen apart. In October, a court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking. Several of the women who had initially been interviewed by police refused to testify because they were either threatened or bribed into silence, according to a court official and a police investigator familiar with the case.

Pakistan to Become World's 6th Largest Cement Producer By 2030 - Pakistan's rank as world's leading cement producer will rise from 12th in 2018 to 6th by 2030. It will replace Japan among the world's top 10 cement producing nations in 2030, according to World Cement Association forecast. Cement consumption is an important indicator of development activity and economic growth. Pakistan's domestic cement sales are continuing to grow, up 9.2% in October, 2019 from the same month last year. Total sales (local and export) in 4-month period between July and October 2019 stood at 16.117 million tons, 4.5 per cent higher than 15.419 million tons during the same period last year. Last year, Pakistan produced 41.14 million tons of cement, according to International Cement Review. The country's cement industry has already built capacity to produce 59.5 million tons in anticipation of future demand for housing and infrastructure.  World Cement Association expects Pakistan to produce 85 million tons, 2% of the world's cement production in 2030. Currently, China produces more than half of all the cement used in the world. India produces 8% and  and European Union 3%. The three will continue to be at the top in 2030. However, China's share will drop to 35% while India's share will double to 16%. Pakistan's domestic cement sales grew 9.2% in October, 2019 from the same month last year. Total sales (local and export) in 4 months period between July and October 2019 stood at 16.117 million tons, 4.5 per cent higher than 15.419 million tons during the same period last year.  Cement consumption is an important indicator of the state of economy. It is the most important construction material. It drives construction industry that is among the biggest employers in the world. Cement is used to build homes, factories, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, ports and all kinds of other infrastructure.  Development of infrastructure under China Pakistan Economic Corridor projects is continuing to drive cement demand in the country. In addition, major new housing communities are underway. One example of such a community is Karachi's Bahria Town. It is being built on the outskirts of Pakistan's financial capital is among the world's largest privately developed and managed cities.  When completed, Bahria Town will house over a million people, more than the entire population of San Francisco.

Bolivia’s Coup Gov’t is Trying to Convict Evo Morales of “Crimes Against Humanity” - Bolivia’s new coup government is filing a case at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands, against ousted President Evo Morales for alleged “crimes against humanity.” New Interior Minister Arturo Murillo accused Morales of sedition and terrorism, announcing Friday that the official charges will be forthcoming shortly. The ex-President “must answer for what he has done, and is doing, in addition to his accomplices who have participated in the tragic events that Bolivians have experienced” Murillo said. Morales faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.  Morales was the country’s first indigenous president and had led Bolivia since his inauguration in 2006. He won an unprecedented fourth term in office in October. However, on November 10, army generals publicly demanded his resignation. Bolivia’s majority white opposition also mounted a campaign of intimidation and terror against their opponents in an attempt to force him out of power. Morales fled to Mexico, where center-left President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador granted him asylum. The ousted leader, for his part, accuses the new “dictatorship” of their own crimes against humanity, claiming that it is carrying out “genocidal policies” against the people of Bolivia.  MintPress News has been closely covering the violence in Bolivia and has multiple journalists on the ground there. At least 33 people have been killed since the October 20 election, and 30 since Morales was overthrown, as the country’s indigenous majority have resisted the new government and been met with force. The new President, Jeanine Añez, whose party received 4% of the vote in the October election, was handpicked by the military to be the new president. She is a strongly conservative Christian who publicly stated her desire to cleanse Bolivia’s cities of indigenous people (the majority of the country’s population), whom she describes as “satanic.”  CodePink founder and MintPress News contributor Medea Benjamin was at the scene of the Senkata killings, witnessing the fallout from the massacre. She describes how a local church became “an improvised morgue,” with doctors conducting autopsies on bodies laid on pews, many still dripping with blood, seeing dozens of people with bullet wounds and listening to the anguished yells of the fallen: “They’re killing us like dogs”, one woman said to her.

Police massacre nine youth in repression of dance in Sao Paulo favela - Nine people were killed during an action carried out by the Military Police (PM) in a favela in Sao Paulo in the early morning hours Sunday. Among the dead were four adolescents, three 16-year-olds and one 14-year-old. The youth were at a funk dance—a popular kind of party in Brazil—which was attended by close to 5,000 people, when they were violently attacked by the police. It is still not known if the youth were killed outright in the brutal police attack by or if they were trampled to death. The crowd, corralled by the cops in the narrow streets of the favela, attempted in vain to escape gunfire (there are reports of the police using live ammunition in addition to rubber bullets) along with tear gas and stun grenades. The barbaric police action in Sao Paulo took place precisely as the government of Brazil’s fascistic President Jair Bolsonaro is attempting to push through a series of measures to intensify repression. They include an act guaranteeing complete impunity for military personnel acting to “guarantee law and order”, which is tantamount to a license to kill. The Military Police in Sao Paulo, which each year sets a new record in state murders, has clearly understood the message being sent by the president and is already acting in the spirit of the proposed new measures. The pretext presented by the police for launching the massacre was that they were pursuing criminals, who supposedly entered the funk dance to hide within the crowd. Besides this explanation justifying not a single death, the arguments of the police fall apart in the face of various reports and the testimony given by eye-witnesses. Several youth have described the police action as an ambush—the military cops prepared a siege of the party, blocking off all four roads leading in and out of the dance and then began to fire tear gas and brutally attack the crowd. One of the videos of the assault posted on the internet shows police using clubs against youth and repeatedly kicking people knocked to the ground.

Mexican officials detain suspects in massacre of members of Mormon sect - Mexico's government said Sunday that it had detained multiple suspects in the slaying of several members of a fundamentalist Mormon sect with dual U.S.-Mexico citizenship. An official with the office of Mexico's attorney general told The New York Times that multiple suspects had been detained Sunday in an operation, though no other information was immediately available. The arrests followed the detention of another suspect in Mexico City earlier this month, according to the newspaper. Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador did not address the arrests Sunday at a public event celebrating his first year in office, but firmly stated that his government would not accept assistance from U.S. military forces on battling drug traffickers. “We won’t accept any kind of intervention. We’re a free and sovereign country," he said, according to the newspaper. Nine members of the La Mora Mormon fundamentalist settlement in Sonora, Ariz., were killed in early November, while traveling to the Mexican state of Chihuahua for a wedding, by gunmen suspected to be working for an international drug cartel. Their deaths caused widespread condemnation from U.S. lawmakers, including President Trump, who threatened to take action over the killings. "This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!" Trump tweeted in response.

Mass breakout: 1,300 Cubans escape from immigration centre in Mexico -- At least 1,300 mainly Cuban immigrants have fled on foot from a detention centre on Mexico’s southern border in the largest mass escape in recent memory and a fresh sign of how a surge in arrivals has stretched the country’s resources to the limit.The National Immigration Institute said late on Thursday that 700 of the Cubans returned voluntarily to the Siglo XXI facility in the border city of Tapachula in Chiapas state, but 600 were still on the loose. Mexican newspaper Reforma reported that Haitians and Central Americans were also among those who fled the facility, which has been crammed with people.The institute said agents inside the compound weren’t armed and there was no confrontation. Federal police with riot shields later streamed into the compound to control the situation, as a crowd of angry Cubans whose relatives were being held at the facility gathered outside. The Cubans claimed the detainees reported overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at the facility.The escape was embarrassing for the government, coming on the same day Mexico’s top human rights official toured the facility to check conditions.Mexico has returned 15,000 migrants in the past 30 days, officials have said, amid pressure from US President Donald Trump to stem the flow of people north.On Wednesday Trump reiterated threats to close part of the border if Mexico doesn’t block what he described as a new caravan of migrants headed north. Most migrants moving through Mexico are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, but Cubans are also joining in large numbers. More than 1,000 people from Cuba are now in Chiapas, according to Mexican officials.

Mexico homicide record: 127 deaths reported in a single day -The battle against drug crime in Mexico took a deadly turn as the country registered its worst day of violence so far this year. Mexican Secretariat of Public Security reported a total of 127 people killed on December 1, the same day that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador marked his first anniversary in office. The areas with the most homicides were Coahuila with 21, the state of Mexico with 14, followed by Guanajuato and Oaxaca with 10 killings each. In Coahuila, the government said 16 gunmmen, four police officers, and two civilians were killed after a convoy of vehicles from a suspected local drug cartel drove into town and began firing. The attack was confirmed as the deadliest in Mexico's peacetime history. Previously, the day with the highest number of homicides was July 28 this year with 106 people killed.

Meanwhile In Canada- Terrible Jobs Report, Worst Since The Financial Crisis - As the US was basking in the warm glow of the best jobs report since January, it was a different story over in Canada, where BMO's chief economist Robert Kavcic had one recommendation to clients: "avert your eyes." Here's why: Canadian employment unexpectedly tumbled by 71,200 in November, the biggest decline since the financial crisis. For those hoping that the details might serve up better news, they too were disappointed: Full-time employment was down 38.4k, and the private sector shed 50.2k. The jobless rate also rose sharply, up four ticks, and also the biggest monthly jump since the recession, to 5.9%. Hours worked fell 0.3%, and remain an area of persistent disappointment—they’re now up just 0.25% y/y, much more muted than the 1.6% annual job gain. Oddly enough, the one area of strength was wages, with growth accelerating to match a cycle high at 4.5% y/y, according to Kavcic. Putting it together, BMO's "grading system" gave this report a 12.1 rating out of 100, which is pretty much as bad as it can possibly get (it is in fact the worst rating in about six years of tracking). The BMO economist wasn't alone in slamming the report: it’s a "terrible jobs report," said Wells Fargo strategist Brendan Mckenna. "There’s really not much you can point to that is positive about those numbers. We’ll probably hover around these levels til year-end." With that said, the LFS has been known to have some violent swings, and we could be getting a lot of payback for previous outsized strength in one fell swoop. Looking at 1.6% y/y job growth, and an average monthly gain of 26k through November, those numbers look pretty consistent with underlying economic performance. The "terrible" number may force the BOC to reassess its monetary policy. Earlier this week, the Bank of Canada presented a strong defense of its decision to stand pat on its policy rate for a ninth straight meeting. Deputy Governor Timothy Lane said policy makers believe Canada’s economy is near capacity. Recent developments, both domestic and global, have bolstered the central bank’s confidence that growth is poised to accelerate over the next couple of years, despite “enduring” uncertainty, he said. 

Sea-Change For Canada Foreign Policy As Freeland Replaced By Pro-Chinese Politico  - Former Liberal Minister of Infrastructure from Shawinigan Quebec, Francois-Philippe Champagne has taken over Freeland’s portfolio and with him it appears a new pro-Eurasian policy may be emerging in Canada much more conducive to the long term survival (and strategic relevance) of Canada. This shift has already been noted by China which has responded by sending a new Ambassador to Ottawa, while a new Canadian Ambassador with a long history of working towards positive Chinese relations in the private sector (Dominic Barton) has just begun working in Beijing. Barton was the first Ambassador to China since “old guard” politician John McCallum was fired in January 2019 for defending Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou to a group of Chinese journalists. In opposition to the cacophonic voice of Freeland, Champagne had spoken positively of China in 2017 saying: “In a world of uncertainty, of unpredictability, of questioning about the rules that have been established to govern our trading relationship, Canada, and I would say China, stand out as [a] beacon of stability, predictability, a rule-based system, a very inclusive society.” Champagne is a long-standing protégé of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien and world travelled businessman who has worked in the European nuclear sector and has promoted industrial development with China for years. Jean Chretien, who campaigned for Champagne’s recent re-election, represents everything Freeland hates: A “practical” old school politician who recognizes that World War III and alienating Eurasian nations who are shaping the future is bad for business. In 2014, Chretien was given the “Friend of Russia” award and has played a major role in the private sector working with Quebec-based Power Corporation which runs the Canada-China Business Council (CCBC) and has brokered major contracts throughout China since ending his term as PM in 2003. Chretien is also the father in-law of current CCBC chair Paul Desmarais Jr. who is the heir to the PowerCorp dynasty. While these are not groups that in any way exemplify morality, they are practical industrialists who know depopulation and world war are bad for business and would prefer to adapt to a China-led BRI system over a “green technocratic dictatorship”. Since December 2018, Chretien has attacked Freeland’s decision to support Meng Wanzhou’s extradiction to the USA, and has volunteered to lead a delegation to China in order to smooth tensions.

Global Manufacturing Inches Back Into Expansion, Despite Ongoing Slump In Export Orders --Global manufacturing - according to JPMorgan  - is back in expansion in November, rising to 50.3, a seven-month high.Output and new orders saw marginal gains, while the trend in employment stabilised after job cuts in the prior six months.International trade remained a drag on the sector, however, as new export business decreased for the fifteenth successive month. Eleven of the nations for which November PMI data were available registered expansions, with the strongest growth signalled for Greece, Colombia and Brazil. The USA, China and France were also among the nations seeing an improvement. Germany and the Czech Republic remained at the bottom of the growth rankings. Business optimism stayed relatively subdued in November, continuing the recent trend of lacklustre confidence. The lowest readings for the Future Output Index (which was first compiled in July 2012) have all been recorded during the past seven months.

In Turkey, Schools Will Stop Teaching Evolution This Fall - When children in Turkey head back to school this fall, something will be missing from their textbooks: any mention of evolution. The Turkish government is phasing in what it calls a values-based curriculum. Critics accuse Turkey's president of pushing a more conservative, religious ideology — at the expense of young people's education. At a playground in an upscale, secular area of Istanbul, parents and grandparents express concern over the new policy. "I'm worried, but I hope it changes by the time my grandchildren are in high school," says Emel Ishakoglu, a retired chemical engineer playing with her grandchildren, ages 5 and 2. "Otherwise our kids will be left behind compared to other countries when it comes to science education." With a curriculum that omits evolution, Ishakoglu worries her grandchildren won't get the training they'll need if they want to grow up to be scientists like her. Nearby, an American expat who's married to a Turk pushes her toddler on the swings and describes a book they've been reading at home. "It's for 3- to 5-year-olds, and it teaches evolution," says Heather Demir. "It starts off, 'I used to be fish, but then I grew some legs.' "The Demir family plans to leave Turkey before their son reaches grade school, in part because of this new curriculum. 

Plumbing the depths of despair in Turkey  - A couple of weeks ago, police in Istanbul's Bakirkoy neighbourhood opened the door to an apartment after neighbours complained of a chemical smell. Inside, police found three dead bodies. A 38-year-old jeweller had poisoned himself, his wife and their 6-year-old son with a cyanide solution used in mining. The man who took his family with him to his death is said to have been experiencing financial problems. The case, like two others in which families were found dead of cyanide poisoning, has shocked Turkish society. Earlier in November, residents in Istanbul's Fatih neighbourhood found a note on the door of an apartment. "Warning: This apartment is contaminated with cyanide," the note read. "Call the police. Do not enter." When the police finally did go in, they found the bodies of two males and two females, all between the ages of 48 and 60. They were siblings.  In the coastal city of Antalya, police found the bodies of a woman, her husband, and their 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. They had died after ingesting cyanide. Media reported that the man, who was unemployed, left a suicide note reading: "I beg forgiveness, but there is nothing more I can do."  Not only do all three cases have death by poisoning in common. Each of the cases was preceded by problems such as poverty, debt or unemployment. According to Turkish media reports, the electricity in Fatih was switched off immediately after the corpses were removed from the apartment; the four siblings had not paid their electricity bills for months. The deaths have been re-hashed on news and social media sites – conspiracy theories also make the rounds. Some question the perceived connection between the economic crisis in Turkey and the recent spate of suicides. The opposition claims that unemployment and the decline in the value of the Turkish lira have contributed to a climate of despair.

OECD highlights temporary labor migration: Almost as many guestworkers as permanent immigrants --The 2019 edition of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) annualInternational Migration Outlook report included a new chapter, “Capturing the ephemeral: How much labour do temporary migrants contribute in OECD countries?” It’s a good question, and one that had not yet been answered.There is a dearth of data on temporary labor migration programs (TLMP) or schemes—aka guestworker programs, where migrants are employed temporarily in a country outside their own—and it hinders the ability of policymakers to make informed decisions. The OECD declared TLMPs are “a core concern in the public debate across OECD countries” but warns that their impacts are “understudied.” This information deficit exists despite the fact that TLMPs are controversial and make up an increasing share of labor migration, and in the United States in particular have been at the center of debates about how to reform the U.S. immigration system.Why are TLMPs controversial and at the center of public debates? First, their size. One of OECD’s key findings is that the 4.9 million temporary labor migrants that entered OECD countries in 2017 is “almost as many… as permanent migrants in all categories combined.” Ignoring temporary labor migration in the OECD means ignoring nearly half of all migration.Many employers want larger TLMPs and fewer regulations governing their use. But there are high economic, social, and psychological costs for the migrant workers who participate in temporary programs, including frequent human rights violations suffered in both countries of origin and destination. Further, some abuses that are technically legal are facilitated by the legal frameworks of TLMPs. In most TLMPs, employers control the visa status of their temporary migrant employees or “guestworkers”—which means getting fired makes them deportable. In part, that’s why TLMPs have been called things like “The New American Slavery.”TLMPs raise technical issues that are not easily resolved. For example: W hich industries are permitted to hire migrant workers? How will appropriate numerical limits in TLMPs be determined? What rights will migrants have once they’ve been admitted into receiving country labor markets? Can they bring their families? Will migrants be tied to one employer or be allowed to change jobs and employers? How will receiving country governments ensure that migrants return after their employment contracts end, or will migrants be allowed to become permanent residents? Do citizens in receiving countries have first preference for jobs that employers want to fill with migrants? Will migrants be paid the same wages as similarly situated local workers?

Dozens dead as migrant boat sinks off Mauritania coast: UN - At least 58 people, including children, were killed after a boat carrying dozens of migrants capsized in the Atlantic Ocean off the West African nation of Mauritania, the UN's migration agency said. The perilous sea passage from West Africa to Europe was once a major route for migrants seeking jobs and prosperity. The sinking is one of the deadliest incidents since the mid-2000s when Spain stepped up patrols and fewer boats attempted the journey. The boat carrying at least 150 people ran out of fuel and was stranded for days when approaching Mauritania before it capsised. Some 83 people swam to shore. The survivors were being helped by Mauritanian authorities in the northern city of Nouadhibou, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said. Survivors said the vessel left The Gambia on November 27.IOM's Leonard Doyle said the boat was unseaworthy and overcrowded when it overturned. "It speaks really to the callousness of the smugglers who of course have made their money and disappeared into the wilderness. That's the problem here, people are being exploited, people are looking for a better life," Doyle told Al Jazeera. An unknown number of injured were taken to hospital in Nouadhibou. There was no immediate statement from authorities in The Gambia, a small West African nation from which many migrants set off in hopes of reaching Europe.

 'People Here Will Start Dying': Dire Warnings as Stranded Refugees Freeze in Hellish Conditions Near Bosnia-Croatia Border - Human rights defenders and aid organizations are issuing dire warnings this week after witnessing the hellish conditions of an encampment of stranded refugees in the freezing forests of Bosnia and Herzegovina.An envoy of officials on Tuesday visited the camp known as Vucjak—situated approximately five miles from the nearby border with Croatia in a forest that has grown atop a former landfill—where they saw hundreds of migrants huddled in leaking and drafty tents as temperatures in the region have dropped to freezing or below."Vucjak must be shut down today," said Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe and a member of the delegation. "Otherwise the people here will start dying."Mijatovic said that as a citizen of Bosnia, she was "ashamed" of how the refugees were being treated, decried the conditions of the refugee camp as "not for human beings," and called for immediate relief for those languishing there.According to Reuters: Bosnia is struggling to deal with an upsurge in migrant numbers since Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia closed their borders against undocumented immigration. The migrants hope to get to wealthy western Europe and find work there. Some lacked warm clothes and were wrapped in blankets, some traipsed through the snow and mud in flip-flops to collect firewood. One man brushed snow from the roof of his tent to prevent it collapsing.  Al-Jazeera also reported Tuesday from the Vucjak camp: (video)

 After student sets himself on fire, French youth protest: “Precariousness kills” - Following the self-immolation of Anas K., a student from the city of Lyon, demonstrations organised by student unions mobilized thousands of students across all of France last Wednesday, including in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Grenoble and Rennes.  Anas K., 22, is studying political science at the University of Lyon. His self-immolation on November 8 triggered protests throughout the country. His desperate action and his scathing denunciation of the Macron government and of capitalism reverberated powerfully among tens of thousands of students who face the same conditions. Anas K., with burns to 90 percent of his body, is still in hospital in a grave but stable state. Another suicide attempt, this time by a senior high school student aged 18, who tried to burn herself to death on Monday in a suburban Paris high school, is an indication of the immense social distress that students in France are suffering. In his letter, Anas described the poverty-stricken conditions that students are enduring: “This year, doing the second year of my degree for a third time, I had no government assistance. And even when I did, is 450 euros per month enough to survive?” He then directly denounced the government: “I condemn the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, and by extension the entire government. Let us fight this rising tide of fascism which does nothing but divide us and create liberalism, which creates inequality. I accuse Macron, Hollande, Sarkozy and the EU of killing me.”   Anas was living under conditions of very severe economic insecurity, according to his friends. During the first year of his degree, he was living with his parents in St. Etienne and was making the daily trip to Lyon (approximately 55 km away). Having obtained university accommodation last year, he lost it this year along with his bursary, and accommodation subsidy. It was cancelled by CROUS because he had to re-take some classes. He was also refused any emergency assistance. Even with his bursary, Anas was having difficulty in paying his bills. “Furthermore, his accommodation was unhealthy and substandard. It was infested with bed fleas and cockroaches,” according to a female friend, who describes him as “proud of his home town’s popular working-class traditions.” Anas’ act was followed by dozens of student meetings and demonstrations in university towns as well as barricades being set up at numerous universities.

France shuts down: Mass strike hits trains, Eiffel Tower - — The Eiffel Tower shut down, France’s vaunted high-speed trains stood still and several thousand people protested in Paris as unions launched open-ended, nationwide strikes Thursday over the government’s plan to overhaul the retirement system.Paris authorities barricaded the presidential palace and deployed 6,000 police as activists - many in yellow vests representing France’s year-old movement for economic justice - gathered in the capital in a mass outpouring of anger at President Emmanuel Macron and his centerpiece reform.Unions and their supporters fear that the changes to how and when workers can retire will threaten the hard-fought French way of life. Macron himself remained “calm and determined” to push it through, according to a top presidential official.The Louvre Museum warned of strike disruptions, and subway stations across Paris shut their gates. Many visitors - including the U.S. energy secretary - canceled plans to travel to one of the world’s most-visited countries amid the strike.Unprepared tourists discovered historic train stations standing empty Thursday, with about nine out of 10 of high-speed TGV trains canceled. Signs at Paris’ Orly Airport showed “canceled” notices, as the civil aviation authority announced 20% of flights were grounded.Some travelers showed support for the striking workers, but others complained about being embroiled in someone else’s fight. “I had no idea about the strike happening, and I was waiting for two hours in the airport for the train to arrive and it didn’t arrive,” said vacationer Ian Crossen, from New York. “I feel a little bit frustrated. And I’ve spent a lot of money. I’ve spent money I didn’t need to, apparently.”Vladimir Madeira, a Chilean tourist vacationing in Paris, said the strike has been “a nightmare.” He hadn’t heard about the protest until he arrived, and transport disruptions foiled his plans to travel directly to Zurich.Beneath the closed Eiffel Tower, tourists from Thailand, Canada and Spain echoed those sentiments.Bracing for possible violence along the route of the Paris march, police ordered all businesses, cafes and restaurants in the area to close. Authorities banned protests in the more sensitive neighborhoods around the Champs-Elysees avenue, presidential palace, parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral.

 Western France Runs Out Of Gas As Massive Strikes Set To Paralyze Entire Nation -- France is bracing for major transportation disruptions throughout the country starting Thursday, as trade unions launch a strike in response to changes President Emmanuel Macron wants to make to the country’s retirement system, while port blockades have resulted in widespread fuel shortages across the country. Much of the Paris Metro will be shut down, as will many national and international train lines, including certain Eurostar services. Flights will also be canceled, as air traffic controllers say they will join the protests through Saturday. Hundreds of filling stations around western France have run out of gasoline and diesel as blockades of oil refineries enter their second week according to industry group UFIP. According to The Local, construction workers have been blockading refineries in Brittany since last week and a blockade at La Rochelle has resumed.French media reported on Tuesday morning that 390 filling stations have no fuel at all, and another 389 have limited supplies. The areas affected include Brittany, the west of France, the south east coast area around Marseille and some parts of eastern France near the Swiss border.For an interactive map of which filling stations are affected, click here. Workers are staging blockages at depots in Brest, Lorient, Le Mans and Vern-sur-Seiche. Further south, in the region of La Rochelle, another blockade was cleared at 4.30pm on Friday, but resumed at midnight on Monday. The blockaders belong to the public construction group BTP, Bâtiments et Travaux Publics (“Buildings and Public Construction”). They are protesting a fuel tax hike planned for 2020, which they say will have a negative financial impact on their companies. Until now, the so-called gazole non routier (GNR), used mainly by construction workers and farmers, is subject to a tax benefit that is planned to be phased out in 2020. According to the workers this will increase their fuel prices by 45%, adding an hourly cost of about €10 for an average mechanical excavator, which they fear will hurt especially the smaller construction businesses.

 Photos show hundreds of thousands of people protesting in France in the biggest strikes against Macron yet -On Thursday, hundreds of coordinated strikes, featuring hundreds of thousands of people, have slowed the country. Trains and flights have been canceled. Schools have closed.The strikes are in response to President Emmanuel Macron's plan to unify France's generous, differing pension scheme. Currently, there are 42 different schemes, and he wants to make it one.The biggest demonstration was in Paris, but protesters planned strikes in 245 locations, including other major cities like Lyon and Marseille. Here's what the strikes are like.

Merkel government in peril as leftwing duo take charge of SPD - The future of Angela Merkel’s government is in doubt after the election by her junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), of a new leftwing leadership duo who have pledged to renegotiate the terms of the alliance. Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, from the left of the SPD, have called for major policy concessions from Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), and say they are prepared to pull the plug on the partnership. Germany is facing the prospect of months of political uncertainty with the collapse of the coalition, which has been fragile since its inception after the 2017 election, a growing likelihood. It also raises the prospect that Merkel, who has said she will not run for another term in office, will face an earlier exit from the political stage than she intended. Walter-Borjans and Esken narrowly secured first place in the SPD leadership vote on Saturday on 53%, beating the expected winners Olaf Scholz, the finance minister and vice-chancellor, and Klara Geywitz by eight points in a second-round runoff. The immediate focus is now on Scholz. If he decides he has to resign from his ministerial roles as a result of the defeat, the coalition would in effect be over, even if an election would not happen until well into next year. The central plank of the leadership campaign by Walter-Borjans and Esken was their opposition to the SPD’s participation in the coalition, which is in part blamed for its decreasing support. Many in the party believe that governing in Merkel’s shadow has contributed to its poor showings in regional and European elections this year, which in turn led to the resignation of Andrea Nahles, the SPD’s first female leader. Among their main demands are an increase in the minimum wage from €9 an hour to €12 and a backtrack on the government’s central fiscal policy of balancing the federal budget, known as the “schwarze Null” or the “black zero”, to allow for more spending on infrastructure and welfare programmes. They are also calling for a more radical approach on the climate emergency. The CDU has made it clear it is unlikely to accept such demands. Speaking after the result, Paul Ziemiak, the party’s general secretary, said: “Our aim is to govern Germany well, and the foundations for this are in our coalition agreement. This internal decision by the SPD changes nothing in this regard.” If the coalition dissolves, Merkel, who has been in power since 2005, would have to choose whether to resign, call a confidence vote, or attempt to lead a minority government under her leadership or that of someone else within the CDU, or to start negotiations over the formation of a new government.

Opinion: New SPD leadership could bring Germany closer to new election  -Who would have thought it? The Social Democrats (SPD) have voted for revolution. Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, two party members who, up to this point, had been relatively unknown, are set to become the new SPD chairs. That was the narrow, but unmistakable, result of the party's leadership election. Both clearly belong to the party's left and have made no secret of the fact that they don't support a continuation of the current grand coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU). Those who, until now, have had a say in the running of the SPD have been duped — federal and state ministers alike. Ahead of the vote, the party's crop of senior politicians had explicitly backed another pair contesting the leadership, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Brandenburg state politician Klara Geywitz. And no wonder. The two candidates had pledged to stay in the governing coalition until the next scheduled election in fall 2021. Another pledge was to restore peace to the government. Given that Germany will assume the EU Council presidency in 2020, and given the poor polling results of the SPD and CDU, neither party is keen to hold an early election. Anyone who has made it to the front row, and thus has much to lose, has no interest in political suicide. Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken are different. He is 67 years old and had practically retired. She is 58, has only been politically active for a few years and isn't heavily involved in the SPD's parliamentary group. Both are convinced that the SPD is only in such a weak position because it's moved too far towards the political center. They want to bring the party back to its social democratic roots, heralding a new beginning with a radical change of course. That's what they'll call for at the SPD party conference next weekend when delegates are set to officially approve the leadership. The duo's endorsement is considered a sure thing. But what will be exciting to watch is how long it will take Esken and Walter-Borjans to push for the SPD's withdrawal from the grand coalition, and how they go about it.The party conference is supposed to decide on the future of the grand coalition. The new leaders are set to put forward their own recommendation for that future. Esken has previously insisted that the SPD leave the partnership. But she's since changed tack, calling instead for the coalition agreement to be renegotiated. This step, which the conservatives have so-far refused to take, could be seen as an attempt to blame the CDU/CSU for the Social Democrats' political failings. If the coalition partners don't yield, the SPD would have no choice but to pull out.

 Italy Uncovers Plot To Create New Nazi Party -- Italian police made several arrests and seized a cache of weapons amid a nearly two-year, nationwide investigation of Nazi groups sparked by the participation of Italian fighters in Ukraine's armed conflict in the Donbass region.  During their probe which stretched from the island of Sicily to the Alps in Northn Italy, Authorities uncovered a plot to form a new Nazi party called the Italian National Socialist Party of Workers, according to Reuters.  The probe revealed a “huge and varied array of subjects, residents in different places, united by the same ideological fanaticism and willing to create an openly pro-Nazi, xenophobic and anti-Semitic movement”, a police statement said.Police did not say how many people joined the group or how many arrests were made. In Italy “defense of fascism” and efforts to revive fascist parties are crimes. –Reuters   The weapons, confiscated during searches of 19 properties, included pistols, hunting rifles and crossbows. Police also found a range of Nazi paraphernalia, including photos of Adolf Hitler and swastikas.  During their raids, police discovered a French-made Matra air-to-air missile that appeared to have once belonged to the Qatar armed forces. Subsequent checks showed the weapon was in working condition but lacked an explosive charge.  Police said the suspects had tried to sell the missile in conversations with contacts on the WhatsApp messaging network. –Reuters

EXCLUSIVE-EU antitrust regulators say they are investigating Google’s data collection Regulators are quizzing companies about the details of any agreements to share data with the tech firm, according to a document seen by Reuters. (Reuters) - EU antitrust regulators are investigating Google's collection of data, the European Commission told Reuters on Saturday, suggesting the world's most popular internet search engine remains in its sights despite record fines in recent years. Competition enforcers on both sides of the Atlantic are now looking into how dominant tech companies use and monetise data. The EU executive said it was seeking information on how and why Alphabet unit Google is collecting data, confirming a Reuters story on Friday. "The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google's practices relating to Google's collection and use of data. The preliminary investigation is ongoing," the EU regulator told Reuters in an email. A document seen by Reuters shows the EU's focus is on data related to local search services, online advertising, online ad targeting services, login services, web browsers and others. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has handed down fines totalling more than 8 billion euros to Google in the last two years and ordered it to change its business practices. Google has said it uses data to better its services and that users can manage, delete and transfer their data at any time. (

Backlash grows against sale of domain names company  - The Netherlands chapter of The Internet Society has hit out against the sale of the .org domain to private equity firm Ethos Capital, over concerns that it will lead to censorship and increased prices. Earlier this month, The Internet Society (ISOC) – a U.S. non-profit which oversees internet standards - announced plans to sell the Public Interest Registry (PIR) to Ethos for an undisclosed sum.The PIR sells the rights to use the suffix .org to non-profit organisations (NGO). Those rights will now pass to newly set-up Ethos if the buyout group completes the deal which is scheduled to close by the first quarter of 2020. There are more than 10 million .org domain names registered worldwide. Ethos has pledged to set up a Stewardship Council to “uphold PIR’s core founding values and provide support through a variety of community programs”.  Some critics of the deal say that without ISOC’s oversight, Ethos could abuse recently-changed rules to take advantage of the NGO sector. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – which is a non-profit in charge of the domain-name system - removed the price cap that banned the PIR from charging more than $8.25 per domain and gave permission to implement protections which may make it easier for some governments to censor NGO websites.

 Thousands of teachers strike in Croatia - Thousands of teachers have been on strike in Croatia for over a month. They are demanding increased wages and improved working conditions in schools and colleges, as well as better facilities for schools. The teachers’ strike is the biggest labor dispute in Croatia since the emergence of the state following the b reakup of Yugoslavia almost 30 years ago.According to the teachers’ union, 90 percent of publicly employed teachers are currently taking part in the strike. Last week around 20,000 teachers protested in the capital city of Zagreb, and their representatives have announced they intend to continue the strike until the government meets their demands. Initially, the strike was limited to a few days and focused on selected cities and towns. When the government failed to respond, however, teachers extended their protest to the entire country on November 19.The Croatian prime minister, Andrej Plenkovic, from the right-wing HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), declared that he was prepared to negotiate, but no agreement has yet been reached. Last Friday, the unions rejected a government offer to increase salaries by 10 percent in four stages beginning next year. A total of 68,000 are employed in the education service and 240,000 in the entire public sector. Average wages for teachers are about 1,200 euros per month, and it is virtually impossible to provide for a family on such a salary. The cost of living in Croatia has become comparable to that of Germany after the country joined the EU, and this is why the strike is receiving broad public support. The rally last Friday was attended by many other public employees. Parents of students are also supporting the teachers’ demands, because their children are suffering from the miserable conditions prevailing in the schools.It is the education sector which has suffered most from the series of spending cuts introduced in the past years and decades. Teachers are even worse off than other public sector employees. Successive governments in Croatia have implemented the same neoliberal policies aimed at dismantling social services and public services and institutions. Fresh talks between the government and the trade unions took place last weekend, aimed at ending the strike quickly. The unions are working together with the extreme right-wing government, which is hostile to the teachers. The HDZ was founded in 1989. It pursued an extreme nationalist course under its leader at that time, Franjo Tudjman, which plunged the former Yugoslavia into a bloody civil war. Despite all the party’s protestations that the HDZ has become a mainstream conservative party, this spirit of nationalism continues to prevail.

What rich countries get wrong about the EU budget - There's a major fallacy at the heart of the EU's budget debate. The story rich western European countries tell themselves is a nice one: They are generous souls helping out their poorer eastern neighbors, who rely on EU subsidies and the goodwill of the EU's so-called "net payers." They also like to paint these countries as ungrateful aid recipients, pointing to the Euroskeptic rhetoric of leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Polish leader Jarosław Kaczyński.But the larger macroeconomic picture tells a different story.Contrary to popular wisdom, most of the money in Europe flows from East to West, not the other way around.. When Eastern European countries started joining the European Union, a deal was made. Eastern governments agreed to remove trade barriers so western companies could access a vast pool of consumers impatient to make the most of their new capitalist lifestyle. In exchange, western governments promised to transfer EU money eastward so the former Soviet bloc could build the infrastructure it desperately needed.Investment poured into the East. Former state licences were bought for a pittance and western businesses cut themselves a good share in every sector of the eastern economy. As a result, sophisticated consumer goods entered eastern households. Large cheques were written to the most underdeveloped regions. This was hailed as a success. The EU’s “cohesion policy” was working its magic: The East started to catch up with the rest of the club. But the biggest "winners" of this development have been western European countries, some of which are now tightening their purse strings and insisting they can no longer "pay significantly more to the EU than we get back."In reality, the money western countries send to Eastern Europe through the EU budget pales in comparison with the profits western companies make from investments in the East.

Luxembourg’s PM says the UK must play by EU rules or accept No Deal — The prime minister of Luxembourg today urged the U.K. to accept the rules of the EU single market or face a cliff edge at the end of 2020. Xavier Bettel, who is in London for the NATO summit, told an academic audience that the U.K. must decide what it wants from its future relationship with the European Union. “We cannot accept cherry-picking. You decided to leave. I won’t accept that you destroy the single market. We have rules and you will have to accept these rules. It is not that the U.K. will change Europe,” he said. Bettel was speaking about how the EU should promote its interests and values on the global stage at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His visit comes four months after his British counterpart Boris Johnson was left humiliated during a chaotic official trip to Luxembourg. In a stark warning to Johnson, Bettel said “there’s a possibility to have a cliff edge, to have nothing” at the end of 2020. He dismissed suggestions the Brexit transition could be extended if the U.K. and the EU have failed to strike a deal on their future relationship when it expires in December 2020. "We cannot accept cherry-picking. You decided to leave. I won’t accept that you destroy the single market." — Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel “If you ask for a new delay, because you think you’re going to have a better deal, then no. We have to respect procedures, but the fact is that we shouldn’t postpone it,” Bettel said. He described Brexit uncertainty as a “poison for society” and said both U.K. and EU citizens living in Britain want clarity over what is going to happen. Asked whether the U.K. could rejoin the EU within the next 50 years, Bettel replied: “That could happen. It’s your choice. Not our choice.” .

Brexit: the debasement of politics  -In a development that probably has Conservative Party strategists cheering, the Sunday Timespublishes a YouGov poll which shows the Tory lead shrinking to nine points, as Labour pile on two points to reach 34 percent, as against a static 43 percent for the Tories. All the other recent polls show Tory leads of varying size, from 15 points (Opinium) to BMG on a mere six points, although there are clear signs that Labour is beginning to narrow the gap, with just 12 days to go before the vote. Thus, as long as Labour does not gain further ground, this is just enough to dispel any sense of complacency amongst the Tory faithful, making it easier (in theory) to get the vote out on the day.   And, with the BBC caving in to allow Johnson on the Marr show, to talk about the latest terrorist outrage, the prime minister in office will doubtless extract all the political capital he can. He has already indulged in high-flown rhetoric, pledging to "lock terrorists up and throw away the key" and we can expect more of this today and in the days to come. Broadly, such incidents tend to favour the incumbent and Johnson is well-placed to exploit public concerns, especially when contrasted with Corbyn who has been plagued by accusations that he endorses terrorists.Nevertheless, even the fanboys in The Sunday Telegraph concede that Johnson has also had his own problems to deal with recently. He has faced hostility in the two television debates last week over his trustworthiness and ability to tell the truth, while additionally has had to field questions regarding Islamophobia in the Conservative Party and comments on race and faith he has made in the past.Given the identity of the slain terrorist, though, Johnson may find that an Islamophobic tinge may prove to be to his advantage, as voters are able to put two and two together and point fingers in directions that the politicians don't dare to go. Nevertheless, Brexit is likely to remain the key issue and, if my local constituency of Bradford South is any guide, Labour is vacating the field. Incumbent Judith Cummings (no relation), in her election address, barely mentions the subject.

NHS Staff to Lead Protest Against Trump During His Trip to the UK Amid Rising Privatization Concerns -Nurses and doctors from the United Kingdom's National Health Service are planning to lead a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump next week amid mounting concerns about potential privatization of the U.K.'s decades-old public healthcare system.The Stop Trump Coalition—which helped organize massive protests against the U.S. president when he visited the U.K. in July 2018—said in a statement Friday that "the health workers' bloc will tell Trump 'hands off our NHS,' as concerns intensify about a trade deal letting U.S. firms muscle in on the health service."Trump is scheduled to arrived in the U.K. late Monday, ahead of a two-day summit to mark the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Demonstrators plan to gather at Trafalgar Square Tuesday evening, then march toward Buckingham Palace, where Trump is set to attend a banquet with the Queen.Supporters of the demonstration include the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Keep Our NHS Public, U.K. Student Climate Network, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, People's Assembly, Muslim Association of Britain, Kurdish Solidarity Campaign, and Quakers in Britain."This week we discovered just how great a threat Donald Trump is to our NHS,"explained Nick Dearden of trade campaign group Global Justice Now, who is set to speak at the upcoming protest. "That's why Tuesday's demonstration will be led by nurses and doctors—to symbolize the millions of people who will stand up for our health service against a U.S. president who simply represents the biggest, greediest corporate interests in the world.""We will make clear that Britain is not for sale," Dearden added. U.K. Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Boris Johnson "might be happy to be bullied by Trump, but on Tuesday we will make clear to the world that we are not."

Boris Johnson refuses to rule out leaving EU on WTO terms --Boris Johnson has left the door open to coming out of the EU on World Trade Organization terms next year, after his foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said it was “absolutely” right to keep a no-deal outcome on the table in trade talks. The prime minister was grilled about Raab’s statement after his cabinet minister appeared to let slip the government’s negotiating plans in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday.Johnson shook his head as it was mentioned but then three times declined the opportunity to refute Raab’s position or to tell businesses to stop theirno-deal planning.Asked if businesses should continue spending money getting ready for no deal, he said: “We have a great deal. It’s going to allow us to come out smoothly and efficiently on 31 January.” Pressed that it was actually 31 December 2020 when the danger of no deal occurs, he simply repeated: “We have a great deal that will allow us to come out of the EU smoothly.”Asked again whether he would advise companies to cease no-deal preparations, he parroted the same line: “We have a great deal which will allow us to come out smoothly, efficiently, seamlessly on 31 January.”Johnson’s words will fuel suspicion that the prime minister still intends to use the threat of leaving transitional arrangements on World Trade Organization terms at the end of 2020 as leverage in trade talks with the EU. Last week, he defended the continuation of no-deal preparations, saying they were “thoroughly useful in many ways” and arguing that it was right for businesses to “keep in a state of readiness”. The prime minister has repeatedly stressed that he believes a trade agreement with the EU can be done by the end of 2020 and the Tory manifesto commits to ending transitional arrangements at that point. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that he is also not ruling out leaving on WTO terms if no deal has been done, rather than extending the transition period.

What Jolly Good Fun It All Is - Boris Johnson seems to find all of this tremendously fun, and that actually tells you a lot. It is easy, when politics will have no real material consequences for you or any of your friends, to see it as a kind of game, a continuation of your roguish school days. Here in the United States, we have the West Wing fantasy: boys from Ivy League schools who dream of strutting down White House corridors and outfoxing Republicans. Boris Johnson does a different kind of Live Action Role Play: He sees himself as Winston Churchill, tempered with some self-deprecating buffoonery from the pages of Waugh and Wodehouse. I don’t know if there is anybody in Britain who believes Boris Johnson is in politics because he genuinely believes in effecting positive social change. From the time he was a boy, he had the disturbing fantasy of being “world king,” and he now enjoys being a famous person who gets to sleep with a lot of women. (Johnson once made the unbelievably revolting comment that he had to have a lot of affairs because he was  “literally bursting with spunk.”)  To Boris Johnson, politics is a lark. He makes that very clear. He has no moral core. Those who have known him closely have described him as a person almost completely without principles. When he began his career as a journalist covering Europe, he invented quotes and exaggerated stories, because to him being a foreign correspondent was just a chance to act out Waugh’s Scoop. He made up nonsense about the European government, nonsense that had the direct consequences of fomenting anti-European sentiment and helping to precipitate Brexit. Did Johnson care? Did he think that perhaps telling lies has consequences and could hurt people? He did not. Life, to Boris Johnson, is a novel about a cheeky, witty Oxford lad who pokes the Establishment in the eye. To you and me, politics is something serious, something that determines whether dozens of working class Londoners will be burned alive in their flats. To Boris Johnson, politics is a jolly jape. Let us consider racism. Why isn’t racism funny? Why is it acceptable to make fun of someone’s big floppy hat but not to make fun of their race? Because the history of racism is a history of terror and mass murder. Now, you and I understand this quite easily. Boris Johnson does not understand this. Racism, to Boris Johnson, is a laugh. When he became the editor of the conservative Spectator, the magazine had an openly racist columnist on staff, Taki Theodoracopulos. And I do not mean “openly racist” in any debatable sense. His columns literally contained racial slurs. Theodoracopulos referred to Puerto Ricans in New York as: A bunch of semi-savages … fat, squat, ugly, dusky, dirty and unbelievably loud. They turned Manhattan into Palermo faster than you can say “spic.”… There has never been—nor will there ever be—a single positive contribution by a Puerto Rican outside of receiving American welfare and beating the system.  At the time Johnson became his editor, Theodoracopulos was known to “peppe[r] his conversation with words like ‘wop,’ ‘yid’ or ‘dago.’” Of Africa, he wrote: “Democracy is as likely to come to bongo-bongo land as I am to send a Concorde ticket to my children.”

What are Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats so desperate to hide? -As editor-in-chief, when the award nominations and accolades pour in, you get to bask in the glory of your brilliant, tenacious colleagues.Equally, when your organisation gets threatened by powerful, sometimes dangerous people who want to silence it, it’s your job to take that heat.Often those threats come in the form of expensive lawyers’ letters, usually from the expected quarters. Oligarchs. Criminals. Sex offenders.But something happened recently which was completely unexpected. We’ve decided to go public about it, not only because the Liberal Democrats have some serious questions to answer. But also because it stinks of the cynicism and fakery we’ve seen across politics during this election.And it would be quite funny – except it’s not.It all started when we published a story by my colleague Jim Cusick, a highly experienced political reporter. It was about how the Liberal Democrats had sold voter data to the official Remain campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, for £100,000 back in 2016.The Lib Dems have always maintained there was nothing wrong with the lucrative deal, but it raised eyebrows, and the Information Commissioner launched an investigation. You can read more about that here.As is normal, Cusick approached the Liberal Democrat press office for comment before publication. No reply was received. We noted that fact in our story, and reported their previous statements on the issue.A day after we published, Cusick got an email from a senior official in the Lib Dems press team. They asked why we hadn’t included the party’s response in our piece. Cusick replied that he’d never received a comment from the Lib Dems, but that if they sent him one, he’d add it in straight away. The press office never got back to him.Two days later we received a letter from the pricey legal firm Goodman Derrick. It denied that the Lib Dems had done anything wrong and called our st ory “irresponsible”.  The lawyers said our article was “evidently intended to be disparaging against our client in the run up to the election” and was “likely to cause, if not already done so, serious harm to the Liberal Democrats election campaign”.They also took issue with our choice of image to illustrate the story – a photo of Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson – because she was not an MP at the time of the data sale. The article made it clear Swinson was not Lib Dem leader at the time, but they suggested that in putting this picture above our article we might have broken electoral law. Then came the threat. They wanted us to remove “all derogatory and disparaging statements” from the article – or take it down. If we didn’t, they said, the Lib Dems might want to start taking formal legal action against us. You can read the letter here.

 Why the UK Needs a Financial Transaction Tax --The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that the Labour Party will probably raise less than the £8.8bn it predicts by extending the UK Financial Transaction Tax (FTT). The reasons it cites are the same general criticism of FTTs posed by lobbyists.Labour cites my work in their tax design, a design that reduces the specific risks the IFS cites and makes conservative assumptions on impact and collection. It is fake news that FTTs are hard to do and raise little. Labour’s proposal borrows from the best examples of the 40 countries that already raise £30bn per year from FTTs. They exist in the biggest financial centres like those in the US, Switzerland and Hong Kong, and in the fastest growing markets like India, China and Singapore.The best FTTs, unlike a 1980s Swedish brokerage tax, are not based on where a transaction takes place. Currently, anyone who switches from trading a UK share in London to Hong Kong, still pays the 0.5% stamp duty on share purchases because their transaction will be legally unenforceable if they do not. No investor wants to save 0.5% of an investment to risk losing the other 99.5% of it. The UK stamp duty on shares has one of the lowest levels of evasion.Previous governments have allowed the tax-take from the existing FTT to slip by allowing high frequency traders to claim that they are market makers. High frequency traders buy and sell shares when liquidity is already plentiful but when markets are sliding, they use a combination of superior technology and conflicted interests to run ahead of long-term investors and sell more, using up liquidity and making markets fragile and volatile. Labour proposes to end the abuse of the market making exemption. Where a derivative instrument is issued is easy to shift and so extending the FTT to derivatives needs to be done on the basis of whether the beneficial owner is a UK tax resident. This limits the amount that will be collected but also ensures there will be no relocation of trades out of London. A UK tax resident will not save tax by shifting the trade abroad and foreigners aren’t paying the tax on derivatives so they wont shift their trades either.

On London Bridge -Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were killed at London Bridge on Friday, at a conference on prisoner rehabilitation. Their murderer, Usman Khan, had been imprisoned for terrorist offences, and was released last year; theGuardian warned at the time that the police and probation services lacked the resources to deal adequately with a wave of prisoner releases. Khan was electronically tagged, and had been given permission to go to the conference. It seems he planned the attack, making himself a fake suicide vest. He was stopped from further bloodshed when members of the public, including other former prisoners at the conference, intervened to stop him. Police, responding to the hoax vest, shot and killed him. Merritt’s grieving father made this plea: ‘My son, Jack, who was killed in this attack, would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily.’ That wish has already been trampled. The major parties paused their campaigning on Saturday, but Boris Johnson wasted no time in exploiting the attacks: in a flagship article in the Mail on Sunday, and in an interview with Andrew Marr on BBC One, the prime minister peddled a plan – conjured out of thin air with expeditious cynicism – for harsher and more draconian sentences; he blamed Labour for Conservative policies; he slid into conspiracy theory while rambling that Corbyn wanted to abolish MI5. The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, added this morning that his department would be looking at ‘a few hundred’ people who may not have committed offences but hold ‘extreme’ views – suggesting that they might also be detained, in contravention of the Human Rights Act. The spiral into law-and-order posturing is the only option left for a Conservative government that has presided over a prison system rife with violence and abuse. The chief inspector of prisons said last year that the appalling conditions had ‘no place in an advanced nation’. Recruitment to terrorism in jail can fester unchecked. The prisons budget has been cut by nearly 40 per cent under successive Tory administrations. Its ‘deradicalisation’ programmes are risible, unserious efforts by a government unwilling to face the problem and baulking at the hard, one-to-one work needed for real success: the desultory efforts now in place are often inaccessible, even to the few – including Khan, according to his former lawyer – who ask for them.

UK Retail Sales Collapse In November By Most On Record-  Retail sales in Britain crashed by 4.9% YoY (on a like-for-like basis) in November - the biggest drop in the 25 year history of The British Retail Consortium's reporting... However, as Paul Martin, Partner, UK Head of Retail, KPMG, notes: "At first glance, November’s decline in like-for-like retail sales of -4.9% will leave retailers reaching for the smelling salts, but context is key. If adjusted for the later timing of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, sales are more likely to have increased by a more palatable 0.4% like-for-like." But added that: "The key question will be whether demand can rebound enough to make up for several disappointing months of trading this year." Susan Barratt, CEO, IGD, notes that "Food and grocery sales saw a continued slowdown in November and it is unclear if it will pick back up as the festive season approaches..." "Shoppers’ financial confidence remains subdued, with a slight improvement recently as the focus moves away from Brexit to Christmas." Finally, Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, warned that: "If the next Government wishes to see retail spending remain healthy in 2020 it is essential they clarify our future relationship with the EU as soon as possible. If consumers are to avoid price rises, and reduced availability, politicians must put frictionless, tariff-free trade at the top of their new agenda. " Retailers have their foot to the floor during this critical trading period, but it won’t be until Christmas trading reports land in January that we’ll truly know whether their strategies have proved fruitful.

UK could drop plans to tax tech firms in rush to secure US trade deal -- Boris Johnson’s plans for a multibillion-pound tax on tech companies such as Google and Facebook may be dropped in the post-Brexit rush to secure a trade deal with the US, trade experts have suggested. The prime minister said internet companies needed to make a “fairer contribution”, as he indicated on Tuesday he would push ahead with a digital sales tax, despite opposition within his cabinet and a US backlash against similar plans from the French government. There is a growing political consensus outside the US that the profit-shifting model is unsustainable. Labour included a pledge to tax large tech firms in its manifesto, while last year the Conservative party under Theresa May said it would introduce a digital services tax. However, doubts have emerged about the government’s ability to raise taxes on one of the US’s largest export industries at the same time as securing a wide-scale trade deal with the US. David Henig, the director of the UK trade policy project at the European Centre for International Political Economy thinktank, said one option could be that Britain trades a digital sales tax in return for the removal of tariffs on British goods. In October, the US imposed tariffs of 25% on UK products such as whisky, biscuits and Savile Row suits after a World Trade Organization ruling against Airbus. Johnson has made it clear he perceives a trade deal with the US as one of the key opportunities of leaving the EU, potentially putting the UK in a weaker negotiating position, Henig said. “They’re bigger and we want preferential access so the UK will have to give way on some issues.” Guardian Today: the headlines, the analysis, the debate - sent direct to you Read more Matthew Oxenford, the lead UK analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said: “If the UK isn’t going to put agricultural standards on the table, NHS pharmaceutical procurement on the table, access for US tech firms on the table, they’re running out of things to negotiate.” A digital sales tax would represent a major change in the way multinationals are taxed. Under one common arrangement used by US tech firms, they lower their profits artificially in countries where they earn large revenues – such as the UK – by paying licensing fees to sister companies in lower-tax jurisdictions such as Ireland or Luxembourg.

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