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

Saturday, February 1, 2020

week ending Feb 1

Fed keeps interest rates steady, offers no new balance sheet guidance - (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve held interest rates steady on Wednesday at its first policy meeting of the year, with the head of the U.S. central bank pointing to continued moderate economic growth and a “strong” job market, and giving no sign of any imminent changes in borrowing costs. “We believe the current stance of monetary policy is appropriate to support sustained economic growth, a strong labor market and inflation returning to our symmetric 2% objective,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said at a news conference following the central bank’s unanimous decision to maintain the key overnight lending rate in a range of between 1.50% and 1.75%. He noted signs that global economic growth was stabilizing and diminishing uncertainties around trade policy, concern about both of which were key factors in the Fed’s decisions to cut rates three times last year. But, he added, “uncertainties about the outlook remain, including those posed by the new coronavirus.” The outbreak of the new flu-like virus in China has led to fears of a further slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy. “We are very carefully monitoring the situation,” Powell said, adding that while the implications of the outbreak for China’s output are clear, it is “too early” to determine its global effect or impact on the U.S. economic outlook. The Fed’s statement, calling out solid job gains and low unemployment, was little changed from the one issued after its December meeting.

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

Fed Repos Have Plowed $6.6 Trillion to Wall Street in Four Months; That’s 34% of Its Feeding Tube During Epic Financial Crash - Pam Martens - According to the data made available on the public website of the New York Fed, since September 17, 2019 it has funneled a cumulative total of $6.6 trillion to some of  the 24 trading houses on Wall Street that are known as its “primary dealers.” The giant sum has been sluiced to Wall Street in the form of repurchase agreement (repo) loans without any details being provided to the elected representatives in Congress as to which firms are getting the money or what it’s being ultimately used for. But since the stock market has set repeated new highs since the program launched, some veteran market watchers believe the Fed is fueling a Ponzi-like rally in stocks. When the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, the General Accountability Office (GAO), tallied up the cumulative total that the Federal Reserve had secretly sluiced to Wall Street from December 2007 through July 21, 2010, it came to $16.1 trillion. (See chart below.) But the GAO did not include all of the programs that came out of the New York Fed. When those other programs are added, the Levy Economics Institute, using the Fed’s own data, arrived at the tally of $19.559 trillion to the Wall Street trading houses and another $10 trillion in central bank liquidity swaps, bringing the bailout figure to over $29 trillion.  The fact that both the auditors at the GAO and the university academics working on behalf of the Levy Economics Institute found the cumulative tally to be important means that it is important to report to the American people. The cumulative tally during the financial crisis was a measure of just how long an emergency response from the New York Fed was needed to calm an epic financial crash on Wall Street.   Then, as now, the Fed loans were being made at ridiculously low rates of interest that would not even have been available to AAA-credit corporations. Many of these Wall Street trading houses were either insolvent or teetering on the verge of insolvency so the cheap loans (a significant portion of which were made at less than 1 percent interest) were a subsidy to Wall Street – a form of corporate welfare at a time when the same banks were charging consumers double-digit interest rates on their credit cards. Bloomberg Marketsmagazine reported in January 2012 that the underpriced loans amounted to $13 billion in extra income for the Wall Street banks. Today’s repo loans are being made at 1.55 to 1.57 percent interest by the New York Fed. On September 17, 2019 the free market wanted to price those loans at 10 percent. That’s when the New York Fed jumped in with both feet with a pile of money priced at fictitious interest rates.And, yet, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell refuses to say that there is any crisis on Wall Street. On November 13, 2019 Powell testified before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, stating: “The core of the financial sector appears resilient, with leverage low and funding risk limited relative to the levels of recent decades.”

 As Fed’s Powell Spoke at His Press Conference, the Market Gave Him a Taste of a Taper Tantrum -  Pam Martens - The typically calm and unruffled Fed Chairman Jerome (Jay) Powell had a furrowed brow yesterday as he walked to the podium at his press conference at 2:30 p.m. It was clear from the outset that Powell had been put on a short leash as to what he could and could not say about the underpriced repo loans that the Fed has authorized the New York Fed to shower on the trading houses of Wall Street to the tune of $6.6 trillion in just the past four months – a third of the amount of its support during the 2007 to 2010 financial crisis. Adding to the scripted quality of the press conference, about nine minutes into the press conference when Nick Timiraos of the Wall Street Journal asked Powell about the level of bank reserves the Fed might need going forward, Powell interjected with a prepared statement on repos, reading word for word from the script. Powell read the following: “As our [Treasury] bill purchases bring the underlying level of reserves up to an ample level on a sustained basis, the necessary quantity of overnight and term repo will gradually decline. We’ve already begun the gradual reduction in the quantity of repo and we’ll continue to reduce those offering amounts gradually as conditions permit. At some point we’ll also raise the minimum bid rate. Even after we reach an ample level of reserves it’s possible that repo operations might play a role as a backstop and support effective control of the Federal Funds rate. And we’ll continue to discuss that issue in review and implementation framework.” That was definitely not what the Wall Street trading houses wanted to hear. Tapering and a possible spike in the interest rate the Fed might charge them for their gambling money sent the Dow on a downward spike. The selloff accelerated with the next question from CNBC’s Steve Liesman at about 13 minutes into the press conference. Liesman posed the following question to Powell: “I know you’ve said it’s not QE [Quantitative Easing] but it’s $390 billion over five months which is a lot to expand the balance sheet…a lot of people in the market are sort of concerned that it looks like QE and they’re trading that way. Are you concerned that the market is embracing this like a QE program and that the rise in the stock market is linked to you. You may then experience something of a taper tantrum the way Chairman Bernanke did when he tried to roll it off.” Powell answered the market part of the question this way:“In terms of what affects markets, I think many things affect markets. It’s very hard to say with any precision at any time what is affecting markets. What I can tell you is that you know what our intention is: It is to return reserves to an ample level. We expect that to happen in the second quarter….” By the time the 54 minute press conference had ended at 3:24 p.m., the market had lost 143 points from where it stood at 2:06 p.m. It closed at just off the lows of the day.

Bill Dudley- The Fed's Balance-Sheet Expansion Has No Effect On The Stock Market - Today the former NYFed president and Goldman Sachs economist and current Bloomberg op-ed writer decided to lend some support to his colleague Neel Kashkari by writing yet another op-ed titled "Fed’s Repo Response Isn’t Fueling the Stock Market" in which Dudley "explains" that "equities are being driven by low rates and a healthy economy, not central bank T-bill purchases." As a reminder, two weeks ago, Neel Kashkari sparked a vocal  response among Fed watchers when he urged "QE conspiracists" to show him how the Fed is moving stock prices. And while we did just that, using none other than a recent BIS article to explain to Kashkari precisely how the Fed is "moving stock prices", Neel probably did not anticipate that one of his own FOMC colleagues, Dallas Fed president (and another former Goldmanite), Robert Kaplan, would join the ranks of "QE conspiracists" when he told Bloomberg that what the Fed is doing now is "a derivative of QE when we buy bills and we inject more liquidity; it affects risk assets" adding that "growth in the balance sheet is not free. There is a cost to it." Kashkari certainly did not expect Trump's top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, and Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman to also admit that the Fed's balance sheet expansion is quantitative easing, as more and more establishment luminaries joined the ranks of "QE conspiracists."  So with Neel suddenly feeling all alone in his lack of understanding of monetary policy, Bill Dudley decided to join the fray, and ignoring all the recent statements from Kaplan, Kudlow and Gorman, trumpeted today that he is "skeptical that the Fed’s balance-sheet expansion is having a major effect on U.S. stock prices." Dudley is of course referring to the fact that ever since the start of the repo "bailout" by the Fed in September, when Powell launched hundreds of billions in overnight and term repos and especially with the start of "Not QE" on October 11, stocks soared, something we have shown virtually every week since October when we demonstrated the uncanny correlation between the rise in the Fed's balance sheet and the S&P. This is how Dudley framed this: During the past few months, the U.S. stock market has surged as the the Federal Reserve bought hundreds of billions dollars of Treasury bills to add reserves to the banking system and calm the repo market. To Dudley none of this matters because "of course, correlation isn't the same as causation. Just because two things are moving together doesn’t mean that one causes the other" which would be a great argument if one were to exclude, for example, the fact that global central bank liquidity and the market's performance ever since the Fed's infamous pivot, have moved tick for tick. In other words, according to Dudley the chart below is pure coincidence:

The Fed’s bill-buying is not QE, but it looks shifty - The Federal Reserve’s chair Jay Powell has been at pains to point out recent bloating of the bank’s balance sheet does not constitute fresh quantitative easing. Chart, via FRED:  Powell’s Fed views the expansion, which comes as the result of its purchases of short-term t-bills, as a consequence of its attempts to lower short-term money market rates. The purchases are intended to prevent a repeat of the spike seen in repo markets towards the back end of last year when the overnight rate soared to 10 per cent. As far as the Fed is concerned, this is not a change in monetary stance, then. It is merely a means of ensuring its current policy has the desired effect by keeping key market rates, such as the overnight repo rate, close to its federal funds target range of between 1.5 and 1.75 per cent. In central bank parlance, the bloating’s all about transmission. It’s also worth noting, the Fed’s market operations team, based at the New York Fed, has been charged with managing short-terms rates via such means for decades.However, not everyone’s buying this. Some investors view the expansion as de-facto QE. The Fed, they say, is sending a signal that it is less tolerant of volatility and that it will step in and prop up markets should conditions remain volatile, via our former Alphavillains Brendan Greeley and Colby Smith: “The Fed’s extremely aggressive response to the repo blowout in September, as well as their timidity in pulling back from that response . . . could be signalling to markets that this is a Fed with a very low tolerance for market fluctuations,” noted Blake Gwinn, head of front-end rates strategy for the Americas at NatWest Markets…...Mr Powell has been at pains to say that none of its actions, in particular the decision to expand reserves held at the Fed, have added up to quantitative easing, the post-crisis stimulus programme in which the Fed expanded its balance sheet with longer-dated Treasuries.But as the equity markets in the US continued to rise over the past few months, analysts have become sceptical that there is a difference.“The market mythology has become the stock market can’t go down when the Fed is adding reserves,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.This QE/not-QE debate is not just a matter of semantics. It fundamentally changes the way in which the so-called reaction function -- that is, how the Fed shifts policy in response to economic or financial events -- is seen. And we can see the case for both points of view…

Warren asks Fed nominee to clarify policy stances — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., took aim at the policy views held by White House economic adviser Judy Shelton, asking the Federal Reserve Board nominee to clarify her stances on several issues. Shelton, an adviser to President Trump since before he took office, was officially nominated this week to fill one of two spots on the Fed's board of governors. In a letter addressed to Shelton Thursday, Warren — a presidential candidate — cited some of the positions Shelton has expressed that have sparked controversy, including favoring a return to some form of the gold standard and suggestions that the Fed ought to work more closely with Congress and the White House. "These comments raise serious questions about your understanding of the Fed's operations and your commitment to carrying out its mission," Warren wrote. Shelton's nomination is the latest attempt by the Trump administration to fill the Fed's empty seats after other possible choices floated by the president — including onetime presidential nominee Herman Cain and Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore — failed to drum up enough support in the Senate. Warren posed a series of questions to Shelton, asking the nominee to clarify her views on the gold standard, the necessity of federal deposit insurance and what a "coordinated relationship" between the Fed, White House and Congress would mean for the board's independence. Warren also asked the economist to articulate what she believed caused the financial crisis in 2008. Shelton could receive pushback from Congress about her past advocacy of the gold standard, which is largely seen as far outside mainstream economics. Shelton has also been criticized in recent months for shifting political stances, including on low interest rates. "These and many other statements you have made in your public career strongly suggest that you lack the capacity to exercise the care, consistency, and political independence expected of members of the Board of Governors by policymakers and the American public across the political spectrum," Warren wrote. Sub

Q4 GDP Advance Estimate: Real GDP at 2.1% The Advance Estimate for Q4 GDP, to one decimal, came in at 2.1% (2.08% to two decimal places), mostly unchanged from 2.1% (2.12% to two decimal places) for the Q3 Third Estimate. had a consensus of 2.1%. Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release: Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 2.1 percent.The GDP estimate released today is based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see “Source Data for the Advance Estimate” on page 3). The "second" estimate for the fourth quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on February 27, 2020. [Full Release] Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.21% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 2.28%.Here is a log-scale chart of real GDP with an exponential regression, which helps us understand growth cycles since the 1947 inception of quarterly GDP. The latest number puts us 13.6% below trend.A particularly telling representation of slowing growth in the US economy is the year-over-year rate of change. The average rate at the start of recessions is 3.35%. Four of the eleven recessions over this timeframe have begun at a lower level of current real YoY GDP.

BEA: Real GDP increased at 2.1% Annualized Rate in Q4  --From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, Fourth Quarter and Year 2019 (Advance Estimate) Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 2.1 percent. ... The increase in real GDP in the fourth quarter reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), federal government spending, state and local government spending, residential fixed investment, and exports, that were partly offset by negative contributions from private inventory investment and nonresidential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, decreased.Real GDP growth in the fourth quarter was the same as that in the third. In the fourth quarter, a downturn in imports, an acceleration in government spending, and a smaller decrease in nonresidential investment were offset by a larger decrease in private inventory investment and a slowdown in PCE.The advance Q4 GDP report, with 2.1% annualized growth, was at expectations.Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased at 1.8% annualized rate in Q4, down from 3.2% in Q3.  Residential investment (RI) increased at a 5.8% rate in Q4. Equipment investment decreased at a 2.9% annualized rate, and investment in non-residential structures decreased at a 10.1% pace.

Q4 GDP Rises 2.1%, Beating Expectations As Plunging Imports Offset Consumption Slump - After rising 2.1% in the third quarter, moments ago the BEA reported its first estimate of Q4 GDP, which was unchanged from the last quarter, rising at an annual rate of 2.1%, beating expectations of a 2.0% print despite a miss in personal consumption, with the GDP number benefiting from a surge in net trade as a result of a 1.32% boost from imports. Ironically, the trade war-related slide in imports gave an outsize boost to the GDP calculation, as consumer spending cooled and nonresidential business investment registered a third straight drop, for the longest slump since 2009. The fourth-quarter increase in real GDP reflected increases in consumer spending, government spending, housing investment, and exports which were partially offset by decreases in inventory investment and business investment. Imports, a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, decreased. What is notable is that after surging in Q2 and Q3, personal consumption moderated sharply to 1.8% SAAR from 3.2% in Q3, missing expectations of 2.0% print, and contributing 1.20% to the GDP number from 2.12% last quarter, growing at the slowest pace in three quarters.  The Q4 breakdown was as follows:

  • Personal consumption: 1.20%, down from 2.12%
  • Fixed Investment: 0.01% up from -0.14%
  • Private Inventories: -1.09%, down from -0.03%
  • Exports: 0.17% up from 0.11%
  • Imports: 1.32% up from -0.26%
  • Government: 0.47%, up from 0.30%

The increase in consumer spending reflected increases in goods (led by clothing and footwear) and services (led by health care). The increase in government spending reflected increases in both federal and state and local government. The decrease in inventory investment reflected a decrease in retail trade inventories (led by motor vehicle dealers). The decrease in business investment reflected a decrease in structures (led by mining exploration, shafts and wells) and equipment (led by industrial equipment). Government spending also gave GDP a boost, with gains in both federal and state and local outlays.As noted above, the hail mary in this report was net trade which accounted for 1.49% of the 2.08% GDP number (of which imports were 1.32%), the most since 2009. The irony is that this was actually negative as trade collapsed mostly in the form of plunging imports. Such a "boost" via net exports is the flipside to trade war and/or weaker consumption-investment-inventory figures, because unless the plunge in imports (a boost to GDP) is a function of rising domestic production (hardly), they actually reflect weaker domestic demand.

Mixed signals in Q4 2019 GDP -- This morning’s Q4 2019 GDP gave us mixed signals. As per my usual practice, I am less interested in what happened in the rear view mirror, which was an annualized gain of +2.1%, than what the number tells us about what lies ahead.The two forward-looking components of GDP are (1) private fixed residential investment, and (2) corporate profits. Both of these are long leading indicators, I.e., giving us an idea about where the overall economy will be a year or more out from here.In that regard, the news was mixed.Private residential fixed investment increased +1.4% q/q. This is in keeping with the rebound in housing construction that we have seen in the monthly data since last spring. Note that residential investment as a share of GDP increased in both nominal (blue) and real (red) terms: Meanwhile, while corporate profits won’t be reported until the final revision in GDP two months from now, the temporary placeholder of proprietors’ income rose, was. While it does not always move in the same direction as corporate profits, and sometimes lags, it a good placeholder.  Here the news was positive, as proprietors’ income rose a mere +0.2% q/q: Since the GDP price deflator rose +0.4% during the quarter, the “real” measure declined slightly. In sum, one long leading indicators increased, and one decreased. So, while in the rear view mirror, there was no recession in Q4 2019, there is more evidence of at best a stall in the producer side of the economy.

Q4 Real GDP Per Capita: 1.40% Versus the 2.08% Headline Real GDP - The Advance Estimate for Q4 GDP came in at 2.1% (2.08% to two decimals), essentially unchanged from 2.1% (2.12% to two decimals) in Q3. With a per-capita adjustment, the headline number is lower at 1.40% to two decimal points.Here is a chart of real GDP per capita growth since 1960. F or this analysis, we've chained in today's dollar for the inflation adjustment. The per-capita calculation is based on quarterly aggregates of mid-month population estimates by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which date from 1959 (hence our 1960 starting date for this chart, even though quarterly GDP has is available since 1947). The population data is available in the FRED series POPTHM. The logarithmic vertical axis ensures that the highlighted contractions have the same relative scale. The chart includes an exponential regression through the data using the Excel GROWTH function to give us a sense of the historical trend. The regression illustrates the fact that the trend since the Great Recession has a visibly lower slope than the long-term trend. In fact, the current GDP per-capita is 7.6% below the pre-recession trend. The real per-capita series gives us a better understanding of the depth and duration of GDP contractions. As we can see, since our 1960 starting point, the recession that began in December 2007 is associated with a deeper trough than previous contractions, which perhaps justifies its nickname as the Great Recession. The standard measure of GDP in the US is expressed as the compounded annual rate of change from one quarter to the next. The current real GDP is 2.08%. But with a per-capita adjustment, the data series is lower at 1.40%. The 10-year moving average illustrates that US economic growth has slowed dramatically since the last recession.

Q4 GDP: Investment --Investment was weak again in Q4, although residential investment picked up (increased at a 5.8% annual rate).The first graph below shows the contribution to GDP from residential investment, equipment and software, and nonresidential structures (3 quarter trailing average). This is important to follow because residential investment tends to lead the economy, equipment and software is generally coincident, and nonresidential structure investment trails the economy.In the graph, red is residential, green is equipment and software, and blue is investment in non-residential structures. So the usual pattern - both into and out of recessions is - red, green, blue. The dashed gray line is the contribution from the change in private inventories. Residential investment (RI) increased in Q4 (5.8% annual rate in Q3). Equipment investment decreased at a 2.9% annual rate, and investment in non-residential structures decreased at a 10.1% annual rate. On a 3 quarter trailing average basis, RI (red) is up, equipment (green) is negative, and nonresidential structures (blue) is also down. I'll post more on the components of non-residential investment once the supplemental data is released. Residential InvestmentThe second graph shows residential investment as a percent of GDP. Residential Investment as a percent of GDP increased in Q4. RI as a percent of GDP is close to the bottom of the previous recessions - and I expect RI to continue to increase further in this cycle. I'll break down Residential Investment into components after the GDP details are released. Note: Residential investment (RI) includes new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement, broker's commissions, and a few minor categories. non-Residential InvestmentThe third graph shows non-residential investment in structures, equipment and "intellectual property products". Investment in equipment and non-residential structures - as a percent of GDP - declined further.

 PCE Price Index: December Headline & Core - The BEA's Personal Income and Outlays for December was published this morning by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The latest Headline PCE price index was up 0.26% month-over-month (MoM) and is up 1.58% year-over-year (YoY). Core PCE is below the Fed's 2% target rate.  The adjacent thumbnail gives us a close-up of the trend in YoY Core PCE since January 2012. The first string of red data points highlights the 12 consecutive months when Core PCE hovered in a narrow range around its interim low. The second string highlights the lower range from late 2014 through 2015. Core PCE shifted higher in 2016 with a decline in 2017 and 2019. The first chart below shows the monthly year-over-year change in the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index since 2000. Also included is an overlay of the Core PCE (less Food and Energy) price index, which is Fed's preferred indicator for gauging inflation. The two percent benchmark is the Fed's conventional target for core inflation. However, the December 2012 FOMC meeting raised the inflation ceiling to 2.5% for the next year or two while their accommodative measures (low FFR and quantitative easing) are in place. More recent FOMC statements now refer only to the two percent target. The index data is shown to two decimal points to highlight the change more accurately. It may seem trivial to focus such detail on numbers that will be revised again next month (the three previous months are subject to revision and the annual revision reaches back three years). But core PCE is such a key measure of inflation for the Federal Reserve that precision seems warranted. For a long-term perspective, here are the same two metrics spanning five decades.

Donald Trump is ‘just wrong’ about the economy, says Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz - President Donald Trump told business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland last week that the economy under his tenure has lifted up working- and middle-class Americans. In a newly released interview, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz sharply disagreed, saying Trump’s characterization is “just wrong.”  “The Washington Post has kept a tab of how many lies and misrepresentations he does a day,” Stiglitz said of Trump last Friday at the annual World Economic Forum. “I think he outdid himself.” “The American Dream is back — bigger, better, and stronger than ever before,” Trump said. “No one is benefitting more than America’s middle class.” Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University who won the Nobel Prize in 2001, refuted the claim, saying the failure of Trump’s economic policies is evident in the decline in average life expectancy among Americans over each of the past three years.  “A lot of it is what they call deaths of despair,” he says. “Suicide, drug overdose, alcoholism — it’s not a pretty picture.”The uptick in wage growth is a result of the economic cycle, not Trump’s policies, Stiglitz said.“At this point in an economic recovery, it’s been 10 years since the great recession, labor markets get tight, unemployment gets lower, and that at last starts having wages go up,” Stiglitz says.“The remarkable thing is how weak wages are, how weak the economy is, given that as a result of the tax bill we have a $1 trillion deficit.”

 CBO Projects Budget Deficit Surpassing $1 Trillion This Year, Sees US Debt Growing Exponentially After -  For those who have been following the trajectory of the US budget deficit in fiscal 2020, which as we showed two weeks ago blew out to a nine year high in the first quarter of 2020.... it will come as no surprise that according to the latest, just released CBO forecast, in 2020 the US budget deficit will rise above $1 trillion, or $1.05TN to be specific when the fiscal year ends on Sept 30, 2020, the biggest deficit since 2011, which is $31BN more than the deficit reached in 2019. Relative to GDP, this year’s deficit would be about the same as last year’s shortfall—4.6 percent of GDP—which is the difference between revenues equal to 16.4 percent of GDP and outlays equal to 21.0 percent of GDP. As the CBO writes, the US will spend $1 trillion more than it collects in 2020 and deficits will exceed that amount every year for the foreseeable future, in other words in perpetuity. As a share of GDP, the deficit will be at least 4.3% every year through 2030, and will only grow higher after that. That would be the longest stretch of budget deficits exceeding 4% of GDP over the past century, according to CBO, to wit:CBO currently projects a federal deficit of $1.0 trillion in 2020; in its baseline budget projections, deficits average $1.3 trillion per year and total $13.1 trillion over the 2021–2030 period. Relative to the size of the economy, deficits would remain above 4.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in every year between 2020 and 2030. Other than a six-year period during and immediately after World War II, the deficit over the past century has not exceeded 4.0 percent for more than five consecutive years.Over the next decade, the CBO whose forecasts are traditionally overly optimistic, expects cumulative deficits to hit $13.1 trillion. And with spending now officially out of control, debt held by the public will be 81% of GDP this year and is projected to reach 98% by 2030. That stems from the combination of tax cuts and projected increases in spending—particularly on safety-net programs such as Medicare and Social Security.The CBO’s projections assume that Congress will allow current spending and tax law to occur without any changes. Deficits and debt would be larger than projected if Congress extends individual tax cuts beyond their scheduled expiration at the end of 2025. The biggest irony, however, is when one recalls that during his 2016 campaign, President Trump talked about paying off the federal debt within eight years. In reality, the CBO now expects that by 2030, total Federal debt will rise from $16.8TN currently (excluding debt paid in to Social Security), to a staggering $31.447 trillion in 2030...

CBO Projection: Annual Budget Deficit to be above 4% GDP for the Next Decade - Remember the promise that the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) would "pay for itself", and that the current administration would reduce the deficit?   Hoocoodanode?  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released their new The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2020 to 2030: In CBO’s projections, the federal budget deficit is $1.0 trillion in 2020 and averages $1.3 trillion between 2021 and 2030. Projected deficits rise from 4.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 to 5.4 percent in 2030. Other than a six-year period during and immediately after World War II, the deficit over the past century has not exceeded 4.0 percent for more than five consecutive years. And during the past 50 years, deficits have averaged 1.5 percent of GDP when the economy was relatively strong (as it is now).Because of the large deficits, federal debt held by the public is projected to grow, from 81 percent of GDP in 2020 to 98 percent in 2030 (its highest percentage since 1946). By 2050, debt would be 180 percent of GDP—far higher than it has ever been. The CBO projects the deficit will above 4% for the next decade.  I think their projections are optimistic.  This graph shows the actual (purple) budget deficit each year as a percent of GDP, and an estimate for the next ten years based on estimates from the CBO.  Note: the Federal government's deficit usually increases sharply during a recession - it is the only entity that can be countercyclical - and then decreases during an expansion. So no one should compare the deficit to 2008 (under Bush) or 2009 (under Obama) during the great recession. From a policy perspective and using these projections, the TCJA was a policy failure on this issue (the TCJA was also a failure on GDP growth, business investment, and the typical tax cut for most Americans).

Pentagon To Pursue Very Aggressive Expansion Of Hypersonic Weapons Testing - Over the past couple of years Putin and the Russian Defense Ministry have greatly hyped their hypersonic weapons program, even semi-frequently releasing images and videos of hypersonic missiles prototypes in action. China too has over the past months touted that it's testing hypersonic surface-to-surface missiles which US officials fear could significantly shift the balance of power in the Pacific region.And now the Pentagon has announced its own classified hypersonics program will undergo a “very aggressive” expansion over the course of the next year.Citing defense officials in a new report, Bloomberg reports this includes plans for at least "four initial flight tests of prototypes for glide bombs that can fly five times the speed of sound and maneuver en route," and further extra funding and research under the newly established Hypersonics Transition Office. In official statements last Friday Defense Secretary Mark Esper appeared to peripherally reference the program while previewing that the next Pentagon budget proposal will be aimed at drastically increasing funding for experimental and cutting edge defense technology, surpassing the already bloated current 5-year $5 billion budget. He referenced a developing “great-power competition” with China. “We have significantly ramped up flight testing and other experimentation so that we can accelerate the delivery of this capability in all its forms to our warfighters years earlier than previously planned,” Esper said.

Costliest U.S. Carrier Isn’t Ready to Defend Itself, Tests Show - Three combat systems on the $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford have been found deficient in recent tests, raising questions about whether the aircraft carrier will be able to defend itself, according to the Pentagon’s testing office.Navy evaluations of defensive capabilities for the costliest U.S. warship revealed “deficiencies and limitations” with its radar, electronic warfare surveillance system and a ship-to-ship communications data network, said in an annual Pentagon report released Thursday.“These deficiencies and limitations reduce the overall self-defense capability of the ship,” Robert Behler, the Defense Department’s director of testing, said in the report, which offers an assessment of major weapons systems including the carrier and the F-35 fighter jet. Defensive capabilities of aircraft carriers are always a concern because they are such large and relatively slow-moving targets. Behler said the Navy hasn’t budgeted funds to conduct three of four additional tests planned using a specialized “self-defense” testing vessel. “If the Navy does not conduct all of the remaining events, testing will not be adequate to assess the operational effectiveness of the CVN-78 combat system,” Behler wrote, using the Ford’s official designation.In particular, the electronic warfare surveillance system built by Lockheed Martin Corp. “demonstrated poor performance that prompted the Navy to delay additional operational tests until those problems were corrected,” the test office said.The previously undisclosed flaws add to established problems with the carrier built by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. including with the installation and certification of elevators needed to lift munitions from below deck. As of November, four of the 11 “advanced weapons elevators” that should have been installed when the ship was delivered in May 2017 are now operational.

F-35’s Gun That Can’t Shoot Straight Adds To Its Roster of Flaws - Add a gun that can’t shoot straight to the problems that dog Lockheed Martin Corp’s $428 billion F-35 program, including more than 800 software flaws. The 25mm gun on Air Force models of the Joint Strike Fighter has “unacceptable” accuracy in hitting ground targets and is mounted in housing that’s cracking, the Pentagon’s test office said in its latest assessment of the costliest U.S. weapons system. The annual assessment by Robert Behler, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, doesn’t disclose any major new failings in the plane’s flying capabilities. But it flags a long list of issues that his office said should be resolved -- including 13 described as Category 1 “must-fix” items that affect safety or combat capability -- before the F-35’s upcoming $22 billion Block 4 phase. The number of software deficiencies totaled 873 as of November, according to the report obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of its release as soon as Friday. That’s down from 917 in September 2018, when the jet entered the intense combat testing required before full production, including 15 Category 1 items. What was to be a year of testing has now been extended another year until at least October. “Although the program office is working to fix deficiencies, new discoveries are still being made, resulting in only a minor decrease in the overall number” and leaving “many significant‘’ ones to address, the assessment said. In addition, the test office said cybersecurity “vulnerabilities” that it identified in previous reports haven’t been resolved. The report also cites issues with reliability, aircraft availability and maintenance systems. The assessment doesn’t deal with findings that are emerging in the current round of combat testing, which will include 64 exercises in a high-fidelity simulator designed to replicate the most challenging Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Iranian air defenses. Despite the incomplete testing and unresolved flaws, Congress continues to accelerate F-35 purchases, adding 11 to the Pentagon’s request in 2016 and in 2017, 20 in fiscal 2018, 15 last year and 20 this year. The F-35 continues to attract new international customers such as Poland and Singapore. Japan is the biggest foreign customer, followed by Australia and the U.K. By late September, 490 F-35s had been delivered and will require extensive retrofitting. A spokesmen for the Pentagon’s F-35 program office had no immediate comment on the testing office’s report.

 US deploys “usable” nuclear weapon amid continuing war threats against Iran - The Pentagon deployed a new, smaller nuclear warhead aboard the ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee as it sailed into the Atlantic last month in the midst of the spiraling crisis with Iran. The weapon, known as the W76-2 warhead, has an explosive yield of roughly five kilotons, a third of the destructive power of the “Little Boy” bomb that claimed the lives of some 140,000 people in Hiroshima in 1945. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) revealed the deployment this week, citing unnamed civilian and military figures. It stated that two of the 20 Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles onboard the USS Tennessee and other subs will be armed with the W76-2 warheads. Each missile can be loaded with as many as eight such warheads, capable of striking multiple targets. The new weapon has been rolled out with remarkable speed. The Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review called for the development of “a low-yield SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] warhead to ensure a prompt response option that is able to penetrate adversary defenses” and close “an exploitable ‘gap’ in US regional deterrence capabilities.” The pretext for the warhead’s deployment was the unsubstantiated claim that Russia is developing similar weapons and has adopted a doctrine of “escalate to de-escalate” or “escalate to win” by utilizing low-yield nuclear weapons, with the expectation that Washington would not retaliate with strategic warheads for fear of initiating an all out thermonuclear war. The Pentagon’s argument has been that a low-yield and rapid reaction ballistic missile is needed to “restore deterrence.” The report by the FAS strongly suggests, however, that this alleged Russian doctrine is a pretext and that “it is much more likely that the new low-yield weapon is intended to facilitate first-use of nuclear weapons against North Korea or Iran.”

The Members of Congress Who Profit From War - According to a Sludge review of financial disclosures, 51 members of Congress and their spouses own between $2.3 and $5.8 million worth of stocks in companies that are among the top 30 defense contractors in the world. Members of Congress generally report the values of their investments in ranges, so it’s not possible to know exactly how much their stocks are worth. As Congress debates whether to limit President Trump’s power to take military action against Iran, the complete list of senators and representatives who own defense stocks is displayed below in this article. Eighteen members of Congress, combined, own as much as $760,000 worth of stock of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor in terms of overall defense revenues. The value of Lockheed Martin stock surged by 4.3% on the day after Soleimani’s assassination—a day in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average overall traded down. Since Dec. 27, 2019, the day an American contractor was killed by a rocket in Iraq, the aerospace and defense sector has outperformed all other sectors in the S&P 500, according to a Jan. 8Marketwatch write-up of research from Bespoke Investment Group. “Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and L3 are each more than three standard deviations above their 50-day moving average,” Marketwatch wrote. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution directing President Trump to terminate the use of the military to engage in hostilities in or against Iran unless Congress has authorized such action or to defend against an imminent threat. A similar resolution may be considered by the Senate this week.  Members of Congress’s investments in defense contractors may present more significant potential conflicts of interest than investments in other industries because the contractors rely heavily on defense spending that is approved by Congress for their revenue. More than 70% of Lockheed Martin’s $51 billion in 2018 revenue came from sales to the U.S. government, for example. Companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon are considered “pure plays” because they sell their products almost exclusively to the government through appropriations approved by Congress.

Trump’s disdain for wounds suffered by troops in Iraq sparks protest  US President Donald Trump’s cover-up and subsequent expression of disdain for the wounds suffered by US troops caught in a missile strike launched by Iran in retaliation for the assassination of Gen. Qassem Suleimani has provoked protest and anger from veterans’ groups and within US military circles. In his initial speech from the White House on the day of the January 8 strike, in which 11 missiles were fired into the al-Asad air base west of Baghdad and one into another facility housing US troops near the city of Erbil, Trump stated, “The American people should be extremely grateful and happy no Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime... We suffered no casualties; all of our soldiers are safe.”  On January 16, it was first reported that 11 US soldiers had been evacuated from Iraq aboard medical flights to Germany and Kuwait to be treated for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and symptoms of concussion caused by their close proximity to the Iranian missile blasts. Last Friday, the Pentagon revealed that the real number of troops who had suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq was 34, three times the number initially reported. Eight of the soldiers had been transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside of Washington for treatment, while nine others were being treated at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. While attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump was asked about the contradiction between his original statements and the Pentagon’s admission of medical evacuations, as well as the apparent delay in reporting the injuries suffered by US personnel in the January 8 attack. “I heard they had headaches and a couple of other things... and I can report it is not very serious,” Trump responded.

Analysis: The Pentagon has a credibility problem, and it’s only getting worse - Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief when, the morning after Iran’s Jan. 8 ballistic missile attack on Al Asad air base in Iraq, Defense Department leaders said there were “no casualties.” That initial assessment hasn't held up, and neither have the department's varying statements on the matter since then. The Pentagon confirmed Friday that 34 personnel have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries or concussions from the strike. While half have subsequently returned to duty, 17 continue to be treated in Germany and the United States, Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, told reporters. In the intervening weeks, details on the wounded have been reported in dribs and drabs, from eight initially, to 11. On Wednesday, a top commander in Iraq told reporters the number of injured was “in the teens.” In the midst of this, President Donald Trump weighed in, saying Wednesday in Davos, Switzerland, that he “heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things.” He added: “But I would say, and I can report, it is not very serious, not very serious.” On Thursday, when asked about cases of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, that stemmed from the Al Asad attack, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said he didn’t know the numbers. “Those are typically things we don't report. This is mostly outpatient stuff. So we can track that if — if you're really interested in it,” Esper said, according to the Pentagon’s transcript. The following day, his spokesman confirmed 34 diagnoses of TBI. Esper’s remarks suggested that the Defense secretary was not tracking the status of service personnel whose injuries were serious enough to warrant treatment in Germany or the United States. (It didn’t help that when Robert Burns, the Associated Press’ venerated Pentagon correspondent, called Central Command to ask for an update, a spokesman said the command will no longer “play this game,” i.e. provide factual information about the injuries, according to a tweet from Burns.) The issue also laid bare the quandary that faces Esper and the Pentagon: Answering truthfully could put them at odds with the commander in chief.

 Pentagon now says 50 service members suffered brain injuries from Iran attack - The Pentagon now says 50 American military service members suffered traumatic brain injuries following Iran’s Jan. 8 missile attack on a base in western Iraq that was housing the U.S. military personnel.Initially the Pentagon said there were no injuries in the missile attack, but as more symptoms were diagnosed, the number was updated to 11, then 34 and now 50. Officials have acknowledged that it can take time for the concussion-like symptoms to present themselves. "Of these 50, 31 total service members were treated in Iraq and returned to duty, including 15 of the additional service members who have been diagnosed since the previous report," said Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesperson. "Eighteen service members have been transported to Germany for further evaluation and treatment."  "This is an increase of one service member from the previous report, who had been transported to Germany for other health reasons and has since been diagnosed with a TBI," Campbell added.There was no update on the eight other service members who had been transported to the United States last week for evaluation and treatment. The increasing numbers of service members who suffered from traumatic brain injuries in the attack earlier this month has become a political controversy because of President Donald Trump's recent comments that the injuries were "headaches" and "not serious." This past weekend, the head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars requested that the president apologize for "his misguided remarks."

US troop injuries after Iran missile strike rises to 64 - Fourteen additional U.S. service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries from an Iranian attack on an Iraqi air base earlier this month, the Pentagon announced Thursday. A Department of Defense official said that 64 U.S. service members in total have been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury, or a TBI. The updated figures are a 14-person increase from what the department reported Wednesday. The department initially reported 34 service members had been injured last week, before upping the number to 50. Thirty-nine members have returned to duty, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col Thomas Campbell said. Twenty-one service members have been taken to Germany for further evaluation and treatment of TBI. The Iranian attack on the Iraqi airbase was in retaliation for President Trump’s order for a drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad International Airport. Trump downplayed the injuries after the initial report from the Pentagon identifying the 34 cases of TBIs. The president initially said no service members had been injured, and later said he had “heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things,” calling it “not very serious.” Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) called for Trump to apologize for his comments.

'No Blank Check For War'- House Votes To Bar Trump Military Action On Iran - On Thursday the Democratic-led House passed legislation to stop funding for military action in Iran and to repeal the 2002 war authorization for Iraq which multiple administrations have based unilateral military actions on without the approval of Congress. Predictably, Trump has threatened to veto both bills amid an ongoing struggle in which doves in Congress are attempting to reign in presumed executive war powers. The first bill blocks President Trump from accessing federal funds for "unauthorized military force against Iran” in a vote of 228-175, which largely came down along party lines.  The 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) came up for debate immediately on the heels of the passed Iran vote. A number of Republicans have invoked the AUMF to defend the Jan.3 assassination by drone of IRGC Quds force chief Qassem Soleimani."The last thing we can do is give the Pentagon another blank check," bill sponsor Rep. Ro Khanna of California Khanna (D) told reporters Wednesday. "The only time the Pentagon listens is where we exercise our power of the purse." Ahead of the vote, Trump tweeted Wednesday:"Nancy Pelosi wants Congress to take away authority Presidents use to stand up to other countries and defend AMERICANS. Stand with your Commander in Chiefs!" Both bills are expected meet their end in the Republican-held Senate, but even if not they would be vetoed by Trump.

Facebook removes pro-Soleimani Instagram content, calling it support for terrorism. Laurence Tribe says FB has it wrong - Soon after a US drone strike killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq earlier this month, President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign began touting the “swift actions of our Commander-in-Chief” in paid Facebook ads that cast the killing in a positive light. When it comes to posts that appear to support the dead general, however, it’s a different story: Facebook is employing some questionable legal reasoning about US sanctions law to justify deleting such content from its subsidiary, Instagram.Top legal experts are calling out Facebook for going further to restrict speech than even a 2010 Supreme Court ruling on sanctions against terrorist groups would seem to justify. The ruling, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, centered on human rights advocates who sought to provide training in international law and nonviolent conflict resolution to groups designated by the US State Department as foreign terrorist organizations. The majority ruled that the government wasn’t violating the First Amendment free speech rights of the Humanitarian Law Project and its co-plaintiffs by prohibiting the training they hoped to provide, on grounds that it was a form of “material support” for terrorists.In the same case, however, the court said that speech by someone independent of a terrorist organization, even if it were supportive of the group, would not violate the law. “The statute is carefully drawn to cover only a narrow category of speech” that is “under the direction of, or in coordination with foreign groups that the speaker knows to be terrorist organizations,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. In this instance, Roberts wrote, a terrorist group could use training in peaceful negotiation to buy time and prepare for new attacks. But a Facebook spokesperson said that US sanctions law, and specifically the restrictions related to the State Department’s terrorism list, require it to remove not just content from sanctioned people or groups but also content that supports a sanctioned group or person.

US to Announce an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan Without Palestinians Input - US President Donald Trump is set to unveil his administration's long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan on Tuesday, amid criticism that the administration has overtly embraced Israel's position while alienating the Palestinians at the expense of lasting peace in the region.Trump called the plan the "deal of the century" even though the Palestinians have already rejected it, saying they were never included in putting it together. However, after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday, Trump said he was confident that the Palestinians would eventually support his administration's plan, adding that it was "very good for them.""They probably won't want it initially," he said. "I think in the end they will."On Monday, Netanyahu praised Trump as "the greatest friend that Israel's had in the White House," and also described the peace plan as "the deal of the century." Major US policy reversals that have antagonized the Palestinians include moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel's claims to the Golan Heights and declining to endorse a two-state solution. Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, told DW that the Trump administration is continuing to follow a pro-Israel ideological agenda that it has made abundantly clear since it took office.

Opinion: Trump’s Middle East ‘peace plan’ delivers neither - Deutsche Welle -The Israeli–Palestinian conflict has been raging for decades. Neither wars, terror attacks, uprisings, international treaties, peace agreements nor repeated promises to honor UN resolutions have changed a thing. There is deep mistrust between both parties, and practically no willingness to strike any kind of historic compromise to achieve peace.In light of this gloomy status quo, the announcement by a US president to present a fresh peace planto get things moving again should have been cause for cautious optimism. But it's not. President Donald Trump is not exactly known for visionary peace plans. And so, unsurprisingly, his suggestions to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict offer no new ideas or solutions. On the contrary, what Trump has hailed as the "deal of the century" is actually a misnomer. It is not a deal in the actual sense of the word, it does not reflect a compromise between two equal partners. Instead, it is an attempt to impose Trump's ideas on the Palestinians.The president's so-called deal largely caters to Israel's security interests, save for a few symbolic concessions to the Palestinians. The Palestinians, who were not even consulted in the formulation of the plan, would be the clear losers should this proposal be implemented. They could lose areas currently under Israeli occupation or controlled by settlers though annexation — even though the Palestinians are entitled to these lands by international law.Trump's plan supposedly envisions an independent Palestinian state, though they must be subordinate to Israeli security interests and completely demilitarize. Jerusalem is to become Israel's "undivided" capital — as Trump unilaterally declared in 2017 — and the Palestinians may retain some eastern neighborhoods as their future "capital."Trump declared that his plan might be the last opportunity Palestinians ever have to get their own state. He was, in others words, telling them to seize this last, final chance. Trump's plan, however, will not create two equal states. Instead, it will seriously disadvantage the Palestinians. This approach is immoral and degrading because it unfairly favors the more powerful Israeli side. But the approach is also highly dangerous as it effectively leaves Israel free reign to annex further Palestinian territory.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be pleased with Trump's plan — it's been a while since any Israeli leader received such broad backing from Washington. This could lend him momentum in the election campaign, and might distract from the corruption charges he faces. Massive criticism is expected from Arab and Muslim leaders, even though not all of it will be genuine. Extremist elements, meanwhile, will happily instrumentalize this plan to carry out terrorist attacks and perpetrate violence. None of this will do anything to bring peace to the Middle East.

Palestinian Authority cuts ties with Israel and U.S. - (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority has cut all ties with the United States and Israel, including those relating to security, after rejecting a Middle East peace plan presented by U.S. President Donald Trump, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday. Abbas was in Cairo to address the Arab League, which backed the Palestinians in their opposition to Trump’s plan. The blueprint, endorsed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calls for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state that excludes Jewish settlements built in occupied territory and is under near-total Israeli security control. “We’ve informed the Israeli side ... that there will be no relations at all with them and the United States including security ties,” Abbas told the one-day emergency meeting, called to discuss Trump’s plan. Israeli officials had no immediate comment on his remarks. Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s security forces have long cooperated in policing areas of the occupied West Bank that are under Palestinian control. The PA also has intelligence cooperation agreements with the CIA, which continued even after the Palestinians began boycotting the Trump administration’s peace efforts in 2017. Abbas also said he had refused to discuss the plan by with Trump by phone, or to receive even a copy of it to study it: “Trump asked that I speak to him by phone but I said ‘no’, and that he wants to send me a letter ... but I refused it.” Abbas said he did not want Trump to be able to say that he, Abbas, had been consulted. He reiterated his “complete” rejection of the Trump plan, presented on Tuesday. 

Amid impeachment, Trump signs North American trade deal passed with Democratic support - President Trump signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal into law Wednesday, in a ceremony held on the White House lawn. The deal will replace the existing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), originally enacted in 1994. The deal, which is touted as the “signature” legislation of Trump’s presidency, passed with near-universal bipartisan support from Democrats in both houses of Congress, 89–10 in the Senate and 385–41 in the House, where Democratic supporters of the deal actually outnumbered Republican supporters by one vote. The vote in favor of the deal was only one episode in the Democrats’ extraordinary collaboration with Trump even as they are seeking to remove him from office. The vote in the House came just one day after it had passed two articles of impeachment, and the Senate vote came hours before it began the impeachment trial on January 16. Last month, Democrats voted overwhelmingly to pass a $738 billion military budget, one of the largest in American history, and Pelosi has formally invited Trump to deliver the annual State of the Union address to both houses of Congress next week. This demonstrates not only the pathetic character of the Democrats’ “mutiny on their knees,” strengthening the hand of the Trump administration even as they denounce him as a danger to America. It also shows that, for all of the vitriol on both sides, both Trump and his Democratic opponents agree on the need to shore up and expand the domination of American imperialism. The impeachment trial itself is driven by Democrats’ demands for a more consistent policy of aggression against Russia, as well as their attempts to cultivate a base of support among senior military and intelligence officers who balk at what they see as Trump’s inconsistent and transactional approach to US imperialism’s longstanding geopolitical objectives. Above all, the Democrats fully agree with the overall purpose of USMCA. This has nothing to do with creating “American” jobs—the International Trade Commission estimates that the deal will add only 50,000 US jobs and contribute a 0.35 percent growth in the US economy after 6 years. Rather, its chief aim is to transform the North American economy into an even more overt US-led trading bloc as a base of operations against America’s economic competitors, especially China. One of the most important passages in the more than 1,700 page agreement is Article 32.10, which effectively prohibits Canada and Mexico from entering into free trade agreements with China, by allowing for the rapid termination of USMCA should one of the signatories enter into such an agreement with a “non-market economy,” a legal euphemism for China. Steve Bannon, former editor of the right-wing Breitbart News and Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, spelled out the basic geostrategic aim of USMCA in a recent interview with CNBC. “China have gamed the system to use Mexico to gain materials … This is about the realignment of the global supply chain.” He added, “What you are seeing in the signing today with China and with the USMCA is the beginning of the end of the managed decline of the United States.”

US Loses Nearly 4 Million Jobs to China Since WTO Entry - Yves Smith  -A newly released study by the Economic Policy Institute reaches a devastating but not surprising conclusion: globalization has screwed American workers. However, putting numbers on how much sustained trade deficits with China translate into lost American jobs, and those numbers turning out to be large, gives free trade cheerleaders a lot less wriggle room. EPI estimates that American sacrificed 3.7 million jobs as a result of US-China trade deficits since China joined the WTO in 2001, with 3/4 of the losses taking place in manufacturing positions. They also point out that job losses to China have increased since Trump took office. The EPI estimates are consistent with earlier studies. From a 2017 Wall Street Journal article,How the China Shock, Deep and Swift, Spurred the Rise of Trump: What happened with Chinese imports is an example of how much of the conventional wisdom about economics that held sway in the late 1990s, including the role of trade, technology and central banking, has since slowly unraveled….Many U.S. factories that moved to Mexico did so to match prices from China. Some of the new Mexican factories helped support U.S. jobs. For example, fabrics made in the U.S. are turned into clothing in Mexico for sale globally by U.S. companies…. A group of economists that includes Messrs. Hanson and Autor estimates that Chinese competition was responsible for 2.4 million jobs lost in the U.S. between 1999 and 2011. Total U.S. employment rose 2.1 million to 132.9 million in the same period. Recall that the much-touted NAFTA was supposed to deliver one million American jobs, but instead resulted in job destruction, with studies estimating anywhere from nearly 800,000 jobs to over a million.  Now to the executive summary of the EPI report:

  • The growth of the U.S. trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2018 was responsible for the loss of 3.7 million U.S. jobs, including 1.7 million jobs lost since 2008 (the first full year of the Great Recession, which technically began at the end of 2007).
  • Trade deficits with China and resulting jobs losses continued to grow during the first two years of the Trump administration—despite the administration’s heated rhetoric and imposition of tariffs.
  • The growing trade deficit with China has cost jobs in all 50 states and in every congressional district in the United States.
  • The trade deficit in the computer and electronic parts industry grew the most, and that is reflected in job losses: 1,340,600 jobs were lost in that industry, accounting for 36.2% of the 2001–2018 total jobs lost.
  • Surging imports of steel, aluminum, and other capital-intensive products threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs in key industries such as primary metals, machinery, and fabricated metal products as well. These three sectors, alone, have already lost 372,700 jobs due to growing trade deficits with China between 2001 and 2018.
  • Global trade in advanced technology products—often discussed as a source of comparative advantage for the United States—is instead dominated by China.This broad category of high-end technology products includes the more advanced elements of the computer and electronic parts industry as well as other sectors such as biotechnology, life sciences, aerospace, and nuclear technology. In 2018, the United States had a $134.6 billion trade deficit in advanced technology products with China, and this deficit was responsible for 32.1% of the total U.S.–China goods trade deficit that year. In contrast, the United States had a $6.5 billion trade surplus in advanced technology products with the rest of the world in 2018. The U.S. balance of trade in advanced technology products declined by $132.7 billion between 2001 and 2018.
  • China is exporting goods to the U.S. through other countries. Although the bilateral trade deficit with China has declined in 2019 (through November), the overall U.S. trade deficit in non-oil goods, which is dominated by trade in manufactured and farm products, has continued to increase, as has China’s overall balance of trade with the rest of the world, suggesting that trade diversion (Chinese goods, and parts and materials being used in products, that the U.S. imports from other countries) has grown in importance. This is an important topic for future research.

Trump is presiding over 'the biggest strategic defeat for the US since the early days of WW2' as European allies ignore his threats and back Huawei - President Donald Trump's European allies appear set to ignore his threats and back Huawei's involvement in the development of a 5G network on the continent. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision this week to allow the Chinese telecoms company's involvement in 5G in Britain, despite multiple threats from Trump and his allies to withdraw security cooperation and impose trade penalties, is set to trigger a wave of similar decisions by other European leaders, Politico reported. The development prompted one prominent Republican on Wednesday to label Trump's failure "the biggest strategic defeat for the United States since the early days of World War II." With European allies also closing ranks on Trump's actions against Iran, the president is looking increasingly isolated on the world stage. Trump had ordered his European allies to impose a blanket ban on Huawei's 5G involvement. However, Johnson's decision provides cover for other European countries — many of whom are minded to allow Huawei to help build their own 5G networks — to defy Trump themselves. Politico reported that European countries could copy the UK's new security policies granting Huawei a limited role while restricted it from sensitive sites such as nuclear power stations. The European Union has drawn up recommendations for member states that stop short of banning Huawei. "The EU's approach was inspired by the UK one," an EU diplomat told Politico, adding that Trump's call for a blanket ban "won't be the preferred choice for most" European countries. Individual countries across the continent are likely to follow the UK's lead and allow Huawei a role in their future 5G networks, despite being on the end of intensive lobbying efforts from the Trump administration. Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands are leaning toward allowing Huawei a role in future telecoms networks, while the French government confirmed in November that it was "not following the position of the United States" and refused to exclude Huawei from bidding for its 5G network. Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the US House of Representatives, on Wednesday branded the development "the biggest strategic defeat for the United States since the early days of World War II." "I think people have got to wake up and understand this is a huge failure of our government bureaucracies to respond to a challenge we've seen coming," he told the BBC.

  S&P 500 companies are complaining about tariffs despite Trump trade deal -- Major U.S. stock benchmark indexes climbed steadily higher last year in the lead up to the U.S.- China trade deal signed on January 15, but while investors are optimistic about the impact of the agreement, many large U.S. firms do not see it making much difference to their outlooks. That’s according to a review of S&P 500 index SPX, -0.09% company earnings conference calls by RBC Capital Markets analysts, led by Lori Calvasina, head of U.S. equity strategy. She pointed out that with 17% of S&P 500 companies having reported fourth-quarter earnings so far, 45% have discussed the effects of new tariffs, the highest share since the third-quarter of 2018, when the Trump Administration began implementing broad tariffs on Chinese imports. President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed a phase-one trade deal earlier this month which removed the threat of new U.S. import tariffs on Chinese consumer goods, while reducing the tariff rate on $160 billion in annual imports from 15% to 7.5%, but it kept in place tariffs of 25% on $250 billion in imports. The deal also involved commitments by China to increase its imports of U.S. products by $200 billion over two years while China has also left some retaliatory duties in place. The continued existence of these taxes has impacted the outlook for 2020 for corporate managers, according to the RBC analysis. “Among the companies that have discussed the ongoing impacts of existing tariffs and trade relations, most have said that it is continuing to add uncertainty,’ Calvasina wrote. “Among companies that have discussed the phase one trade deal, most have been encouraged by its passage, but few have cited concrete positive impacts from it.”

US will keep tariffs on China even if coronavirus starts hurting growth, Trump advisor Peter Navarro says - White House trade advisor Peter Navarro pushed back Wednesday against the idea that the U.S. would remove tariffs on Chinese imports if the deadly coronavirus begins to weigh on China's economy."That's a spin that's coming right out of Wall Street, and it really, I think, it does a disservice to this whole crisis to bring that into the discussion," Navarro said on CNBC's "Closing Bell."Navarro was responding to a question from CNBC's Carl Quintanilla, who asked whether a tariff rollback was on the table if China was abiding by the terms of the "phase one" trade deal but started to see its economy hurt by the coronavirus.The flu-like coronavirus has now killed at least 132 people and infected more than 6,150 people worldwide, but China is the epicenter of the outbreak.Companies in China have shut down stores, factories and closed offices as the country works to contain the spread of the virus. Some have warned of severe disruption to supply chains in China, with at least American CEO predictingthe impact could last up to six months.Navarro's comments on CNBC come hours after President Donald Trump signed into law the new version of the North American Free Trade Agreement, making Canada the final country that needs to ratify it.The U.S. Senate approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Jan. 16, one day after Trump formally signed a "phase one" agreement with China.The U.S. and China have been engaging in a long-running trade war in which each side has placed billions of dollars' worth of tariffs on each other's goods.The "phase one" deal was considered the first step in larger negotiations to reach a trade détente.While it contained measures on issues such as intellectual property theft and Chinese market access, it did not include a whole-scale rolling back of tariffs, which segments of the business community want to see."We're leaving tariffs on, but I will agree to take those tariffs off if we are able to do 'phase two,'" Trump said at the time.

Coronavirus Could Hinder Beijing's Ability To Fulfill Phase One Trade Deal - China's next dilemma will be fulfilling the phase one trade deal, which states they must buy $200 billion in additional products from the U.S. over two years on top of pre-trade war levels, reported the South China Morning Post (SCMP).The outbreak of the deadly virus has dramatically slowed China's economy, with nearly 57 million people in 15 cities on lockdown for the next several weeks. Factories and transportation networks across much of the country are shut down, which means goods across domestic and international supply chains are not free-flowing in the country. Cases of the deadly virus continue to exponentially rise, as government numbers on Tuesday night show more than 6,000 infected and 132 confirmed deaths. Comparing the deadly virus with the 2003 SARS outbreak – it's important to note that coronavirus has already surpassed the number of infected by SARS in a few weeks, compared to the nine-month ordeal almost two decades ago. Traders who spoke with SCMP had  their doubts that China could hit hard targets of an additional $32 billion agriculture and $52 billion energy pledge over the next two years, mostly because the demand for the goods has collapsed. Also, countries like Brazil and Argentina have eroded U.S. market share in China over the last year with cheaper products.  "There are some cities and villages essentially in lockdown, and this will completely hamper the movements of not only people, but also agricultural goods. So hogs that are supposed to be going to the slaughterhouse, will just not be transported," said Andrei Agapi, associate pricing director for agriculture at S&P Global Platts in Singapore. Large swaths of the country's industrial complex have been shut down, expected to last for the next several weeks. Currently, there's no cure, and the spread of the virus is becoming uncontrollable, this could lead to extended shutdowns.

Wilbur Ross Says China's Coronavirus Outbreak Will Help Bring Jobs Back To America - Anxieties about the knock-on impact to the global economy from the coronavirus outbreak, which appears on track to shave whole percentage points off China's GDP, have pushed stock futures back into the red Thursday morning. But during an interview with Maria Bartiromo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross argued that the North American economy may stand to benefit from the outbreak as companies "reevaluate their supply chains" to dial back their reliance on mainland factories, along with the broader region. While Ross insisted that he d idn't want to appear insensitive, it's pretty clear to him that the outbreak could help "accelerate the return of jobs to North America.""First of all, every American's heart has to go out to the victims of the coronavirus. I don't want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate very malignant disease. But the fact is, it does give business another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain. On top of all the other things - you had SARS, you had the African swine virus there, now you have this - it's another risk factor that people need to take into account.""I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America, some to the US and some to Mexico as well," Ross said.Watch the clip below:Secretary Wilbur Ross says coronavirus will be good for [checks notes] American jobs: "I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America."— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 30, 2020Bartiromo conceded that Ross might be on to something. "Ah, that's a good point," she responded. While it might sound callous, we've heard this argument before: Remember when all the sell-side research departments advised that Hurricane Harvey would help boost GDP in the ensuing quarters?

 State Department urges Americans not to travel to China amid coronavirus outbreak - The State Department is urging Americans not to travel to China amid the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 170 people in China and infected thousands worldwide. The State Department announced Thursday evening that it had elevated its travel advisory to the highest level after the World Health Organization declared the viral outbreak an international public health emergency earlier Thursday. The advisory instructs those in China to consider leaving by commercial travel, adding that the department "has requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel to China in light of the novel coronavirus." The department warns in the advisory that travelers on commercial carriers may face restrictions with little to no notice, noting that several commercial carriers have limited or suspended travel to and from China. The State Department ordered all non-emergency U.S. government personnel and their family members to evacuate from Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, last week. It said it has limited ability to provide services to U.S. citizens in the Hubei province where Wuhan is located. A majority of the 7,834 confirmed coronavirus cases are in China, and the disease has caused nearly 200 deaths thus far. The coronavirus has spread to 18 other countries through 98 other cases, including incidents of human-to-human contraction in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the U.S. The U.S. reported its its sixth case but first human-to-human transmission Thursday in Chicago, with a patient contracting the virus from his spouse. Airlines like Delta, United and American Airlines have all been decreasing the number of flights between U.S. and China throughout the week. The first congressional hearing on the virus is scheduled for next week in a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.

Trump imposes travel restrictions, mandatory quarantines over coronavirus outbreak  - The Trump administration on Friday declared the coronavirus a public health emergency in the United States, and announced that people who pose a risk of transmitting the disease will temporarily be suspended entry into the U.S. The risk to the American public is “low” at this time, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a Friday briefing at the White House. Yet, officials said they wanted to ensure it would remain a low risk to Americans. The briefing came as markets fell on fears about the fast-spreading virus’ potential economic impact. The briefing included members of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, which includes national security advisor Robert O’Brien, Health Secretary Alex Azar and other leading officials. Earlier Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantined 195 Americans who have been evacuated from Wuhan, China. As of Friday afternoon, the coronavirus had infected roughly 10,000 people across the globe. In China, the virus is responsible for at least 213 deaths. Also Friday, U.S. airlines including Delta, United and American announced they would suspend all remaining service to mainland China after a State Department warning put a damper on demand for flights there. Airlines have said ticket sales for China have dropped sharply, a trend that will likely dent their first-quarter revenues. Dozens of other large U.S. corporations, including Apple, Ford and Kraft Heinz, have already restricted their employees’ China business travel or scaled back operations because of the outbreak.

U.S. ramps up anti-coronavirus measures at border as impact spreads - (Reuters) - The United States ramped up its response to the coronavirus epidemic on Friday, declaring a public health emergency and saying it would halt entry to foreign nationals who had been to China within the 14-day incubation period. That measure followed on from an earlier travel advisory that warned Americans not to travel to China and angered Beijing. Originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the flu-like virus first identified earlier in January has resulted in 213 deaths in China, according to local health authorities. Wuhan and the surrounding region of Hubei are in virtual quarantine. More than 9,800 people have been infected in China and more than 130 cases reported in at least 25 other countries and regions, with Russia, Britain, Sweden and Italy all reporting their first cases on Thursday or Friday. The World Health Organization said on Thursday that the epidemic constituted a public health emergency of international concern, a designation that triggers tighter global containment measures and coordination. “Following the World Health Organization’s decision... I have today declared that the coronavirus presents a public health emergency in the United States,” U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said at a public briefing on Friday afternoon. As of Sunday, U.S. citizens who had been in Hubei would be subject to compulsory quarantine, he said. Foreign nationals - aside from the immediate family of citizens and residents - who had traveled in China in the last 14 days would be denied entry, said Azar.

Trump's expanded travel ban will hit nearly a fifth of Africa's population, a continent that he once said is home to 's---hole' countries The Department of Homeland Security announced six new countries that will be added to President Donald Trump's controversial travel ban, bringing the number of total countries to 13 — including Nigeria, Africa's largest nation with more than 203 million people, and roughly 16% of Africa's overall population. The policy means the US will suspend issuing visas that could lead to permanent residence for Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Eritrea, but visas for certain temporary workers, those with special skills, and students would not be affected. Nonimmigrant visas would also not be impacted. "Diversity visas" will be suspended for Tanzania and Sudan. Four of the six new countries are African including Nigeria, Tanzania, Sudan, and Eritrea. Trump reportedly once referred to some African nations, along with Haiti, and El Salvador, as "s---hole" countries, while in a 2018 meeting, The Washington Post reported at the time. "Trump's comments about African nations being sh*thole countries were not just words. He was foreshadowing actual policy direction," Karen Attiah, The Post's Global Opinions Editor tweeted on Friday. Myanmar, which has seen a genocide against the native Rohingya Muslim minority, and Kyrgyzstan also have restrictions. Lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have already voiced their opposition to the ban and called it discriminatory. "The Trump Administration's expansion of its outrageous, un-American travel ban threatens our security, our values and the rule of law," Pelosi said in a statement. "The sweeping rule, barring more than 350 million individuals from predominantly African nations from traveling to the United States, is discrimination disguised as policy." In a press release, DHS said the countries were added to the ban after they failed to meet security criteria, and that they've updated the "methodology" used to determine compliance with the security criteria. 

Supreme Court allows Trump’s ‘public charge’ immigration rule to take effect - The Supreme Court said Monday that it will allow the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule to take effect after the immigration policy had been blocked by lower courts. The 5-4 vote was divided along partisan lines, with the court’s four Democratic appointees indicating that they would not have allowed the policy to be enforced. The court’s five conservatives, including Chief Justice John Roberts, formed the majority siding with the administration. The decision came as Roberts was presiding over President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. The rule, which was proposed in August, will make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain permanent residency, or green cards, if they have used or are likely to use public benefits like food stamps and Medicaid. Under previous federal rules, a more narrow universe of public benefits, such as cash assistance and long-term hospitalization, were considered in determining whether an immigrant was likely to become a “public charge.” Civil rights groups criticized the rule, arguing that it would penalize poor immigrants and disproportionately affect non-white immigrants.

U.S. Supreme Court lets hardline Trump immigration policy take effect   (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court gave the go-ahead on Monday for one of President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies, allowing his administration to implement a rule denying legal permanent residency to certain immigrants deemed likely to require government assistance in the future. The justices, on a 5-4 vote, granted the administration’s request to lift a lower court’s injunction that had blocked the so-called public charge policy while litigation over its legality continues. The rule has been criticized by immigrant rights advocates as a “wealth test” that would disproportionately keep out non-white immigrants. The court’s five conservative justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and two justices appointed by Trump, carried the day. The court’s four liberal justices said they would have denied the administration’s request. The action was announced even as Roberts sat as the presiding officer in Trump’s impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate. Lawsuits aiming to block the policy were filed against the administration by the states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont as well as by New York City and several nonprofit organizations. In imposing an injunction blocking it, Manhattan-based U.S. District Judge George Daniels on Oct. 11 called the rule “repugnant to the American Dream” and a “policy of exclusion in search of a justification.” The administration asked the high court to let the rule go into effect even before the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules on Trump’s appeal of the injunction. The 2nd Circuit is considering the matter on an expedited basis, with legal papers to be submitted by Feb. 14 and arguments expected soon afterward. The administration can now enforce the rule nationwide except in Illinois, where a lower court has blocked its implementation.

 US Supreme Court approves public charge rule directed against legal immigrants -- On Monday the Supreme Court approved the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule with a 5-4 vote. The highly contested rule, which was announced last August, altered existing immigration law to allow the administration to deny visas to legal immigrants if it determined that they were or could be a “public charge,” that is, someone who relies on the government’s assistance. The Supreme Court’s decision, which nullified an order from a federal judge banning the rule, not only intensifies the attacks on immigrants, affecting their health, public benefits, well-being and immigration status, but has dangerous implications for the rights of the working class as a whole. Although still being challenged in lower courts, the decision, which was issued as a response to the administration’s emergency petition, lifts a nationwide injunction imposed by a district judge in New York. After immigrant rights groups and states had challenged the rule last year, many federal judges blocked the rule’s implementation. Chief Justice Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch were in the majority, since the order remained unsigned by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, although they said they would have ruled against the administration’s request. The Supreme Court decision allows the government to immediately put into effect the public charge rule’s new standards, stopping immigrants from seeking public services, even if they qualify for it. Every immigrant using a social program is in danger of being labeled a “public charge,” which means permanent residency, citizenship or temporary visas can be denied to legal immigrants who might have accessed any kind of public benefits. This has already had disastrous consequences, with a large number of working class immigrants staying away from much-needed social services. While the rule doesn’t apply to the use of such facilities by the US citizen children of immigrants, the prevailing confusion about it and the justifiable fear of being denied green cards has led families to even keep children away from medical treatment.

Iranian student set to attend MSU detained, sent back home - An Iranian graduate student who planned to attend Michigan State University was detained at Detroit Metro Airport on Sunday, denied entry into the United States, then returned home, his attorney said. Alireza Yazdani Esfidajani was due to start classes this month, MSU spokeswoman Emily Gerkin Guerrant told The Detroit News. The 27-year-old had been approved for a student visa before flying into the country on his first American visit, said Ghazal Nicole Mehrani, the Lansing-based immigration lawyer representing him. But Yazdani told her that federal agents at the Romulus airport detained and questioned him for roughly six hours, eventually pressuring him to sign a document considered a voluntary withdrawal of admission for entry, she said. "They deemed him being inadmissible, but they never said under what grounds. They just told him it’s better to withdraw his admission. That's what he did." Yazdani told her the officials "wanted to convince him that he had done something that was not appropriate," Mehrani said. He was taken to the Monroe County Jail; friends at MSU referred the graduate student to Mehrani, who spoke with him and worked to find answers from authorities. "He was terrified and he was not happy, and today was his birthday," Mehrani said. "He just wanted to get out of the detention center." His return flight to Iran left Monday afternoon, she said. Reached for comment, a U.S. Custom and Border Protection representative said in a statement that while 1 million people seek admission every day at national ports of entry, "approximately 790 are refused entry daily." "The issuance of a visa or participation in the visa waiver program does not guarantee entry to the United States."

 Portion of newly built wall on Mexico border collapses  - High winds caused a section of wall along the border between California and Mexico to break off and land on the Mexican side Wednesday, CNN reported.The section in question had been part of a continuing project attempting to reinforce sections of the wall, according to Agent Carlos Pitones of Customs and Border Patrol’s El Centro, Calif., sector. He told the network that the portion of the wall in Calexico had recently been set in a new concrete foundation that had not yet cured at the time it broke off."We are grateful there was no property damage or injuries," he added.  The section landed in a grouping of trees across the border in Mexicali amid winds estimated to have reached 37 miles per hour, according to the network.

 Trump's expanded travel ban targets Nigeria, five other countries - (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump will issue an expanded version of his travel ban on Friday that targets prospective immigrants from Nigeria and five other countries, U.S. officials said, a move that could affect thousands of people and reignite debate over whether the policy is discriminatory.Of the six countries added to the ban, four are African nations, leading to outcry from critics that the administration is bolstering a policy they claim was originally designed to target Muslim-majority nations. The United States will suspend the issuance of visas that can lead to permanent residency for nationals of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said during a call with reporters on Friday. The visas affected are distinct from non-immigrant visitor visas, which will not be impacted by the ban, Wolf said. The U.S. government also will stop issuing “diversity visas” to nationals of Sudan and Tanzania, Wolf said. The visas - which Trump has criticized in the past - are available by lottery for applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

Trump administration announces major attack on Medicaid, capping benefits - On Thursday, the Trump administration unveiled a change in the Medicaid program that will potentially slash benefits for millions of recipients, while opening the door for a broader assault on other entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare. The announcement received little attention in Washington, which is fixated on the Trump impeachment trial in the Senate. Medicaid, a health program jointly administered by the federal government and the states, currently covers one in five Americans. There are currently 72.4 million individuals enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Trump proposal would allow states to cap Medicaid spending for poor adults without children, many of whom gained coverage through the expansion of the program under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This dramatic change would allow states to convert a portion of Medicaid funding into block grants, received in one lump sum or on a per-enrollee basis, thus capping funding. It would incentivize states to cut Medicaid spending by allowing them to recoup the unspent portion of the block grants to be used as they please. To reduce spending, states would be granted flexibility in imposing co-payments and cutting benefits and services. The “Healthy Adult Opportunity” initiative, as it is known, would be sanctioned only for adult beneficiaries younger than 65 who are not eligible for Medicaid due to pregnancy, a disability or a need for long-term care. However, states could also decide to include certain pregnant women or adults with children because their coverage is not mandated by federal law. The switch to the new model would be optional, and states would have to seek authority from the federal government to implement its features. Medicaid was expanded under the ACA in 2014 to cover all US citizens and legal residents with income up to 133 percent of the poverty line, including adults without dependent children. Thirty-six states have so far expanded Medicaid to cover these poor adults, increasing Medicaid enrollment by 13.1 million.

Trump administration demands change to California abortion policy – On Friday with the March for Life as a backdrop, the Trump administration demanded California drop its requirement that all private health insurers in the state cover abortions. “You do not force people to violate their conscience when it comes to the taking of a human life,” Department of Health and Human Services Roger Severino said. Roger Severino heads the Civil Rights Division of the Health and Human Services Department. His office sent California a notice demanding they change their policy within thirty days, calling the requirement a violation of civil rights. “You cannot discriminate against people who don’t want to perform abortions,” Severino said. “I disagree with that,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said. Senator Dianne Feinstein says the California law guarantees women the option to have an abortion if they feel it’s necessary. “I don’t think the government should regulate a woman’s reproductive system. I think her faith might play a more reasonable role than the government,” Feinstein said. If California doesn’t change its abortion coverage law, the Trump administration says it’ll cut federal funding to the state and potentially file suit. But state officials have already said they’ll continue to defend a woman’s right to choose. Several other states have similar laws to California’s. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker says taking states’ rights away is the wrong approach. “So if your goal, Mr. President, is to lower rates of abortion in this country, don’t take away women’s rights, give them access to health care. Give them access to family planning,” Booker said. So far California is the only state to receive the Trump administration warning.1:41 AM

 Trump to appoint official focused on human trafficking to White House domestic policy office: report - The Trump administration will appoint an official to their domestic policy office who will focus exclusively on human trafficking, the Associated Press reported Thursday. A White House official told the AP that Trump will announce the position at a human trafficking summit at the White House on Friday. The appointee was not disclosed to AP but they are expected to be an official from another government agency. According to the AP’s reporting, the State Department will also create a website that will provide resources for law enforcement officials, victims and advocates on government-wide efforts to combat human trafficking. The Trump administration has made human trafficking one of their top priorities since the president took office in 2017, and on Wednesday it was reported that Trump is expected to propose a $42 million budget increase to combat human trafficking. However, it was also reported Wednesday that several major anti-trafficking organizations, including Polaris, a nonprofit which runs the national anti-trafficking hotline, announced they are planning on boycotting Trump’s summit on Friday, where he plans to announce the new position. The organization points out that Trump’s professed support to cause does not, to them, match the action needed to combat the epidemic. The administration increased scrutiny of T visas, which allows entry to the U.S. for those who can prove they were trafficked illegally. “We have such a chasm between rhetoric and reality,” Martina Vandenberg of the Human Trafficking Legal Center told the Washington Post. "I don’t think any of us have the desire to be a part of a photo op."

The Attempted Corporate Takeover of .Org – Dave Dayen - On Friday, activists will take to the streets in Los Angeles to attempt to prevent a consequential giveaway of an obscure piece of technological architecture. A newly formed private equity firm named Ethos Capital is bidding to take over the registry that handles the .org domain, which is reserved for nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. Ethos would be able to raise prices without limit on website owners, and it could use its power to sell the browsing data of users of .orgs, which include practically every human rights organization in the world. Since the announcement of the proposed purchase, .org owners, advocacy groups, and members of Congress have howled in protest of this injection of the profit motive into a rare unspoiled, public service–focused corner of the internet. As a full disclosure, the Prospect is one of those nonprofits with a .org website, and we are a signatory to a petition opposing the sale, joined as of Tuesday by over 21,000 individuals and over 600 organizations. The entire market for domain name registries is broken, a troubling combination of government-granted monopoly, disinterested (at best) regulators, and eager extractors of profit. Users pay a relatively trivial amount for the rights to website names, and don’t really notice the enormous amounts of excess profit taken from them and hundreds of millions of their colleagues, a few bucks at a time. Verisign controls the registries for .com and .net, two of the internet’s most popular. All it does is administer a database and collect small sums from website owners, but with computing power rising and practically no marginal cost to adding another website to the database, the entire enterprise is a license to print money. In the third quarter of 2019, Verisign showed operating income of $205.6 million on $308.4 million in revenues, a profitability margin of 66.67 percent. This makes Verisign one of the most profitable companies in the world. Verisign’s competitors have consistently offered to provide the same service at a fraction of what Verisign charges, but the company has an exclusive contract to manage .com and .net with theInternet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit that oversees top-level domains. I wrote about Verisign for The Nation in 2018.

Leaked Documents Expose the Secretive Market for Your Web Browsing Data - An antivirus program used by hundreds of millions of people around the world is selling highly sensitive web browsing data to many of the world's biggest companies, a joint investigation by Motherboard and PCMag has found. Our report relies on leaked user data, contracts, and other company documents that show the sale of this data is both highly sensitive and is in many cases supposed to remain confidential between the company selling the data and the clients purchasing it. The documents, from a subsidiary of the antivirus giant Avast called Jumpshot, shine new light on the secretive sale and supply chain of peoples' internet browsing histories. They show that the Avast antivirus program installed on a person's computer collects data, and that Jumpshot repackages it into various different products that are then sold to many of the largest companies in the world. Some past, present, and potential clients include Google, Yelp, Microsoft, McKinsey, Pepsi, Home Depot, Condé Nast, Intuit, and many others. Some clients paid millions of dollars for products that include a so-called "All Clicks Feed," which can track user behavior, clicks, and movement across websites in highly precise detail. Avast claims to have more than 435 million active users per month, and Jumpshot says it has data from 100 million devices. Avast collects data from users that opt-in and then provides that to Jumpshot, but multiple Avast users told Motherboard they were not aware Avast sold browsing data, raising questions about how informed that consent is. The data obtained by Motherboard and PCMag includes Google searches, lookups of locations and GPS coordinates on Google Maps, people visiting companies' LinkedIn pages, particular YouTube videos, and people visiting porn websites. It is possible to determine from the collected data what date and time the anonymized user visited YouPorn and PornHub, and in some cases what search term they entered into the porn site and which specific video they watched.

 This is how a popular free antivirus program sells your data --One of the most popular antivirus companies in the world sells people’s sensitive data in a way that can put their privacy at risk, according to new reports. Avast is a multibillion-dollar computer security company based in the Czech Republic. Its software is used by an estimated 400 million people around the world. Last year it emerged that the company was sucking up user behavior data and selling it—and now the extent of that effort has been laid out in new reports from Vice and PCMag. A 2019 Forbes report first outlined how Avast and subsidiary AVG use browser extensions to watch everything their customers do. That data is then sold to corporate customers as “insights” through a subsidiary company called Jumpshot. Each deal is worth millions of dollars, and clients include Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, and McKinsey.The data is “anonymized,” but studies have repeatedly shown that de-anonymizingthis kind of data is possible. Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon known widely as a hawk on privacy issues, has been in contact with Avast since December 2019 about the selling of user browser data.   The increasingly bright spotlight on the company has already had some consequences. As of last week, Avast users must now affirmatively opt in to data collection and sale.  It’s not clear what will happen to all the data that had already been sucked up , however. Wyden insists the company should delete the data collected before it asked for consent from its customers. Avast did not respond to a request for comment.

The Rise of the Video Surveillance Industrial Complex -- THERE’S WIDESPREAD CONCERN that video cameras will use facial recognition software to track our every public move. Far less remarked upon — but every bit as alarming — is the exponential expansion of “smart” video surveillance networks.Private businesses and homes are starting to plug their cameras into police networks, and rapid advances in artificial intelligence are investing closed-circuit television, or CCTV, networks with the power for total public surveillance. In the not-so-distant future, police forces, stores, and city administrators hope to film your every move — and interpret it using video analytics.The rise of all-seeing smart camera networks is an alarming development that threatens civil rights and liberties throughout the world. Law enforcement agencies have a long history of using surveillance against marginalized communities, and studies show surveillance chills freedom of expression — ill effects that could spread as camera networks grow larger and more sophisticated. To understand the situation we’re facing, we have to understand the rise of the video surveillance industrial complex — its history, its power players, and its future trajectory. It begins with the proliferation of cameras for police and security, and ends with a powerful new industry imperative: complete visual surveillance of public space.

Trump’s Impeachment Puts the Senate on Trial - Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial has so far proceeded along party lines, with Democrats’ requests for additional evidence blocked by Mitch McConnell’s Republicans. Assuming that partisanship continues and the outcome is locked in, does this trial still have any value?The prospect that the Senate’s Vichy Republicans will convict Trump is as remote as the zombies in the Charles Manson cult bolting from their dear leader’s compound in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Sure, one might hope for more: The facts are utterly damning, even without an infusion of new witnesses and documents, and Adam Schiff’s prosecutorial skills may join Clarence Darrow’s in American history books. As the honorable Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks idealistically put it this week, “Facts should persuade the Republicans who have so far resisted hearing the truth.” Should, but won’t. Not in a caucus that has previously failed to challenge Trump or his administration on any of its lies or crimes. But there is much good that can still come out of this seemingly open-and-shut exercise. Perhaps the single most important point Schiff has made thus far was his impassioned end-of-day reality check for the Senate: “More emails are going to come out. More witnesses are going to come forward. They’re going to have more relevant information to share. And the only question is, do you want to hear it now? Do you want to know the full truth?” Translation: This trial may be over in two weeks, but there are another nine months until Election Day during which more White House rocks will be turned over and more rot will be revealed. If you are a Republican up for reelection in a tight race, are you ready to be held accountable for your passivity, inaction, and cowardice in these proceedings? Your behavior, much of it captured on camera, will be sliced and diced in campaign ads paid for by the bottomless bank account of Michael Bloomberg.

GOP Senators Say Sekulow 'Shredded' Impeachment Case; Schiff Calls A 'Distortion' - The word of the day is "Shredded" - as in, several Republicans have described the White House counsel's presentation as having shredded House Democrats' impeachment arguments."In two hours, the White House counsel entirely shredded the case by the House managers," said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) in a statement to reporters. "What we saw today was factually relevant ... and (we) saw there were a lot of half-truths from the House managers and, frankly, pushed by the media."Rep. Elise Stafanik (R-NY) offered similar comments - saying "It took less than two hours to completely shred and eviscerate Adam Schiff’s failed case for impeachment," adding "There is no case for impeachable offenses here. And it took less than two hours to do so. I think the American people understand that."While Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) said "3 days of Democrat arguments were just shredded 2 hours."  Rep. Adam Schiff, meanwhile, says the White House counsel is trying to "deflect" away from Democrats' claims that President Trump abused his office, according to The Hill. "After listening to the President’s lawyers opening arguments, I have three observations: They don’t contest the facts of Trump’s scheme. They’re trying to deflect, distract from, and distort the truth. And they are continuing to cover it up by blocking documents and witnesses," Schiff tweeted on Saturday.

Bolton lawyer slams ‘corrupted’ White House review process after book leak - A lawyer for former national security adviser John Bolton accused White House officials of leaking details of Bolton's forthcoming book following a report that the manuscript contained the allegation that President Trump directly tied security aid for Ukraine to the country investigating his political rivals. Attorney Charles Cooper said in a statement to The Associated Press and other news outlets that he submitted Bolton's manuscript to the National Security Council's Records Management Division to review its contents for classified information on Dec. 30, a standard practice for former government officials writing books. Cooper said he was given assurances at the time that the manuscript would not be seen by those outside staffers involved in the review process. “It is clear, regrettably, from The New York Times article published today that the prepublication review process has been corrupted and that information has been disclosed by persons other than those involved in reviewing the manuscript," Cooper said in a statement. The attorney's statement stopped short of confirming the contents of the Times's report. Cooper did not respond to requests for comment from The Hill. The newspaper reported Sunday evening that Bolton writes in the manuscript of an August meeting with Trump in which the president said he wanted to continue a freeze on nearly $400 million in security aid for Ukraine until the government there agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats. The revelation complicates Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate, where senators are bitterly divided over whether to hear from witnesses like Bolton or move straight to a vote to acquit or convict the president. The exchange detailed by Bolton directly contradicts repeated claims from Trump and his defenders that the president never explicitly made security aid contingent on investigations, a central tenet of the defense team's case. The timing of the manuscript submission means the White House has had it for nearly a month, raising questions about whether the administration was aware of its contents heading into the impeachment trial.

Republicans float ‘one-for-one’ witness deal to give up John Bolton after bombshell leaks from his book implicate Donald Trump – but want Hunter Biden to testify in exchange - Republican senators have started talks of a 'one-for-one' witness deal that would see both John Bolton and Hunter Biden testify in Donald Trump's impeachment trial. 'If we get the witnesses it will be a one for one or two for two,' Republican Sen. John Barrasso told reporters in the Capitol. Republican senators Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey have taken the lead on the talks, which gained momentum in the wake of an except from Bolton's forth-coming book that claims the president told him he was with holding aid from the Ukraine until the country agreed to investigate the Joe and Hunter Biden. Trump has denied the charge. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey has started the witness swap talks. Toomey has spoken with his colleagues about summoning just two witnesses in Trump's trial - Hunter Biden and John Bolton, The Washington Post reported. The idea was talked about when GOP senators had lunch together on Monday. Romney also spoke up at the lunch about the need to have Bolton testify, the Wall Street Journal reported. Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler took to Twitter after the luncheon to criticize Romney by name, presumably for his call: 'Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It’s time to move on.' There was talk early in the trial of some sort of witness-swap deal in order for the Democrats to get the four Republican votes they need to call additional witnesses. That was off the table but the idea has re-emerged after The New York Times reported details from Bolton's book. Democrats have wanted to hear from Bolton for months and Republicans have countered they will need to hear from Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president. Trump and some of his allies have pushed the unfounded allegation that Joe Biden tried to stop an investigation of that company when he was vice president. Romney and Susan Collins - two crucial votes in the Democrats' quest to bring more witnesses in the trial - said Monday morning it's important to hear from Bolton, President Trump's former national security adviser.

Bolton Blows Up Trump Team’s Foolhardy Quid Pro Quo Defense Andrew McCarthy - Don’t build your fortress on quicksand. That’s been my unsolicited advice for President Trump and his legal team. You always want the foundation of your defense to be something that is true, that you are sure you can prove, and that will not change. Instead, the president and his team decided to make a stand on ground that could not be defended, on facts that were unfolding and bound to change. Last night, that ground predictably shifted. In a soon-to-be-published memoir, former White House national-security adviser John Bolton asserts that the president withheld $391 million in defense aid in order to pressure Ukraine into investigating Trump’s potential 2020 election opponent, former vice president Joe Biden. For months, I’ve been arguing that the president’s team should stop claiming there was no quid pro quo conditioning the defense aid Congress had authorized for Ukraine on Kyiv’s conducting of investigations the president wanted. Trials and impeachment itself are unpredictable. You don’t know what previously undisclosed facts might emerge during the trial that could turn the momentum against you. So you want to mount your best defense, the one that can withstand any damaging new revelations. Here, the president’s best defense has always been that Ukraine got its security aid, and President Volodymyr Zelensky got his coveted high-profile audience with the president of the United States (albeit at the U.N., rather than at the White House). Kyiv barely knew defense aid was being withheld, the very temporary delay had no impact whatsoever on Ukraine’s capacity to counter Russian aggression, and Zelensky was required neither to order nor to announce any investigation of the Bidens. However objectionable the calculations that led to the delay may have been, nothing of consequence happened. Therefore, there was no impeachable offense. Case closed. Except it’s not case closed, because President Trump and his advocates would not content themselves with a strong defense built on what was true. The president wants total vindication, which is not necessary in order to avoid removal from office. So he has mounted his defense on the impossible propositions that his interaction with Zelensky was “perfect” and that there was no quid pro quo. Trump defenders implausibly claim that there is no evidence that he directed a pressure campaign in which the defense aid and the White House visit were made contingent on the announcement of investigations of (a) possible Biden corruption and (b) a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for hacking Democratic email accounts in 2016. To the contrary, Trump’s ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, testified that the White House visit for Zelensky was undoubtedly withheld to coerce the investigations. Further, he says he came to realize, based on overwhelming circumstantial evidence, that the withheld defense aid was part of the pressure campaign.

#Resistance Hero John Bolton - Caitlin Johnstone - Liberals should definitely get their hopes up very, very high that John Bolton is going to provide the information needed to bring down the Trump administration and restore order to the universe. Definitely put all your eggs in that basket and invest all of your emotions in it. ~ Friendly reminder that you aren’t actually required to care about the impeachment show or have any opinions about it whatsoever. ~ The difference between the totalitarianism of dictatorships and the inverted totalitarianism of “free” societies is that in totalitarianism they allow one ideology which supports the status quo, while inverted totalitarianism allows two ideologies which support the status quo. ~ Mike Pompeo lies so reliably and so significantly that in a very real way you would gain a more accurate picture of reality by believing the exact opposite of all his public statements than you would by believing them. ~ The establishment which runs the empire is not afraid of Trump, and it is not afraid of Bernie. It’s afraid of you. They can handle one man in the White House who is less than ideal. What they absolutely cannot handle is ordinary people using their numbers to effect real change. ~ The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Scientists has moved the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, largely due to senseless recent escalations between the US and Russia. But hey, nuclear armageddon is a small price to pay if we get to retaliate for even a single one of those $46,000 worth of Russian Facebook memes. ~ Fixing the world’s problems and fixing your own inner dysfunction are inseparably unified objectives. It’s okay to emphasize one more than the other at different stages in your life, but valuing one without valuing the other is a contradictory, intellectually dishonest position. ~ Some people who learn a bit about what’s really going on in the world start believing society’s problems are being driven by otherworldly forces like reptilians or Satanism because it’s more comfortable than grappling with the reality that our ills are very, very, very human. ~ Reading The New York Times to learn about what’s happening in the world is like reading Calvin and Hobbes to learn about tigers. ~

The revelations about Bolton’s book may not be so devastating for Trump - Jonathan Turley, WaPo - A few hours after the start of the president’s defense, details from Bolton’s forthcoming book leaked, including his account of Trump asserting that $391 million in military aid would be withheld until Ukraine announced investigations into the 2016 election and the Bidens. If that seems a tad contrived for either an episode or an impeachment, that is because it is. In responding to a defense built around Trump’s insistence that his call was “perfect,” this leak was perfect to a fault. Perfect timing. Perfect content. It was so perfect that there is little doubt that the Senate is being played. The leak happened at the exact time that it would inflict the most damage on the defense and throw the trial into disarray. It occurred hours after the White House team gave opening statements that seriously undermined critical points made by the House managers, including the assertions that Trump never previously raised corruption in other countries or that this type of hold on aid was uncommon. It felt like the sudden discovery of a gun near the victim at the scene of a police shooting. That does not mean the leak will not succeed. The disclosure about Bolton’s book could well make the difference in securing the four Republican votes needed to obtain witnesses. But it could also succeed too well if it leads senators to plunge into the unknown of calling witnesses such as former vice president Joe Biden or his son Hunter. There are already indications that the leak may have secured the four votes for witnesses, while even Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.)has said the Senate may need to subpoena the book draft itself.The fact is that the story remains damaging on its face. It reaffirms not just that Bolton has relevant evidence but also that his testimony could significantly strengthen the nexus between the demand for investigations and the hold on aid. It could contradict statements made by Trump and cited by his legal team angrily denying any such connection. It would also change the account of Bolton denouncing the “drug deal” being “cooked up” by Rudolph W. Giuliani and, for the first time, make Trump the chef in chief. As damaging as that leak may prove, though, it is not on its face devastating for the defense. The leak falls short of answering key questions that would likely have to be pursued in testimony. For example, Trump allegedly told Bolton that he wanted to “continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens,” the New York Times reported. That still leaves the question of intent. Trump has never denied asking for the investigations, but insisted that they were meant to deal with his concerns over ongoing corruption in Ukraine. Moreover, the first of the two investigations could not be a basis for impeachment.  It is the Biden investigation that raises legitimate questions, but it comes down again to a question of intent. Finally, the leak refers to the freeze on the funds but does not indicate that Trump was prepared to hold the aid past the deadline at the end of September.

Guess Who Was In Charge Of Reviewing Bolton's Leaked Book At The NSC- - The identical twin brother of Democratic impeachment witness Alexander Vindman, Yevgeny Vindman, is reportedly in charge of reviewing all publications by current and former officials at the National Security Council (NSC), according to Breitbart News, which would include the recently leaked manuscript of former National Security adviser John Bolton.The report describes the reviews as a "standard process that allows the NSC to review book manuscripts, op-eds, or any other material for any classified material to be eliminated before publication." The New York Times reported Sunday evening that Bolton’s draft book manuscript, which had been submitted to the NSC for prepublication review on Dec. 30, alleged that President Trump told Bolton in August 2019 that he wanted to withhold security assistance to Ukraine until it agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, among others. It was not clear if the Times had seen the Bolton manuscript; its sources were “multiple people” who “described Mr. Bolton’s account of the Ukraine affair.”Bolton’s lawyer, Chuck Cooper, issued a statement in which he said: “It is clear, regrettably, from The New York Times article published today that the prepublication review process has been corrupted.” He did not confirm or deny the Times‘ reporting on the content of the manuscript. -Breitbart NewsWhat a coincidence! While Alexander Vindman at the NSC testifies against Trump at the House impeachment, the other brother (Yevgeny) appears to be in charge of clearing John Bolton’s book for publication. If you believe in coincidences.— Emerald Robinson ✝️ (@EmeraldRobinson) January 27, 2020Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman famously testified against President Trump during House impeachment hearings in November, where he admitted to violating the chain of command when he reported his concerns over a July 25 phone call between P resident Trump and Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky.

Impeachment- Trump Team Nails Bidens, Burisma, And Obama's Hot-Mic Moment With Russia - President Trump's defense team cut straight to the heart of the impeachment on Monday, insisting that Democrats have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bidens didn't engage in textbook corruption in Ukraine - and that President Trump's request to investigate it was out of line. Former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, a recent addition to the White House communications team, walked the Senate through the entire malarkey for 30 minutes, including Hunter Biden's 'nepotistic at best, nefarious at worst' board seat at Ukrainian gas giant Burisma. "All we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue, and that is enough," said Bondi, who noted that Hunter Biden was paid over $83,000 per month to sit on Burisma's board even though he had zero experience in natural gas or Ukrainian relations while his father was Vice President and in charge of Ukraine policy for the United States. Pam Bondi explains the Bidens’ connection to the corrupt Ukrainian gas company Burisma — RNC Research (@RNCResearch) January 27, 2020   Trump attorney Eric Herschmann said that Democrats have been "circling the wagons" to protect the Bidens - and are refusing to investigate the Bidens, claiming without conducting an investigation that all allegations against them are 'debunked.'  Herschmann then laid into former President Obama, who was caught on a hot mic asking Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for "space" until after his election.One can only imagine what would happen if the Left & the media applied their manufactured outrage to Obama's actions & statements. Remember when Obama was caught asking Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for "space" until after his election?

As vote on witnesses looms, Trump legal team tells impeachment trial: 'Time for this to end' - (Reuters) - Amid uncertainty over the question of whether to call witnesses in President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, his legal team wrapped up its opening arguments on Tuesday with an appeal for a quick acquittal. Saying “it is time for this to end,” Trump’s lawyers brushed off former national security adviser John Bolton’s explosive allegations about Trump’s conduct and accused Democrats of trying to interfere with Trump’s November re-election bid. Afterward, Republican senators met behind closed doors to discuss calling witnesses including Bolton, but said as they emerged that there was no resolution on the matter. Four Republicans would need to vote for witnesses, along with all 47 Democrats and independents. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told senators in the meeting he did not currently have the votes to block Democrats from calling witnesses at the trial because some Republicans remained uncommitted, several media outlets reported. Republican Senator John Barrasso told reporters the consensus in the meeting was “we’ve heard enough and it’s time to go to a final judgment vote.” But other Republicans said the vote count was unclear and no decision would be made until Friday. Republican Senator Kevin Cramer, a conservative defender of Trump who opposes witnesses, said Republicans were “mostly united” against witnesses, but added: “I’m pretty sure it’s not unanimous. But I don’t know what the numbers are.” Trump’s legal team sought to minimize the importance of Bolton’s unpublished book manuscript that describes Trump’s central role in a pressure campaign aimed at getting Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in this year’s election. “You cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation,” Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow told the Senate.

GOP senators believe they have the votes to block witnesses -It was clear to Senate Republicans on Wednesday after a morning meeting between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that the question of having additional witnesses is settled, and the Senate will vote Friday to wrap up the impeachment trial of President Trump. There was no discussion of witnesses at a Senate GOP lunch meeting Wednesday, which was held a couple hours after McConnell and Murkowski met for about 20 to 30 minutes. That was seen as a sign by several senators that Democrats will fail to convince four Republicans to join them in calling for witnesses. Without a vote to hear from witnesses, the trial could end as soon as Friday. “We’re going to get it done by Friday, hopefully,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said following the meeting. Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), emerging from the lunch, said, “I think I can say the mood is good.” Braun expressed confidence that McConnell will be able to keep his conference unified enough to defeat a motion to consider subpoenas for additional witnesses and documents. “If I had to guess, no witnesses,” he said. “We’ll be in a place where I think everyone is going to have their mind made up and I believe that we’ll be able to move to a verdict, and the witness question will be clear at that point,” Braun added. Murkowski did not attend the lunch. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has been the most outspoken advocate for calling additional witnesses, declined to comment as he left the lunch. Romney and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) are both expected to back witnesses. Murkowski has been seen as a third possible vote, though she had not announced any decision. Instead of discussing the possibility of having former national security adviser John Bolton appear as a witness in the trial at Wednesday's meeting, lawmakers talked about voting Friday to move quickly to an up-or-down vote on two articles of impeachment.

Dem senator to force vote requiring Roberts to weigh in on witnesses - Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is planning to force a vote on Friday to require Chief Justice John Roberts to subpoena impeachment witnesses who he believes are relevant and also rule on any claims of executive privilege. The move comes as GOP senators are increasingly confident they will have the votes to block witnesses from being called. If Democrats are able to muster four GOP votes to allow witnesses, both sides could then make motions for specific individuals and documents. Under the rules resolution, the Senate would vote on the motions. But Van Hollen's effort would let Roberts issue subpoenas if he thinks a motion is relevant. The Senate, if it disagreed with his decision, could still overrule him with a simple majority. "A fair trial includes relevant documents and witnesses. And in a fair trial the judge determines what evidence is admitted," Van Hollen said in a statement. "My motion ensures the Chief Justice will serve the same role as a judge in any trial across our country – to allow the Senate access to the facts they need to get to the truth." The motion, according to text from Van Hollen's office, would require Roberts to issue subpoenas for witnesses or documents requested by either side if he "deems them likely to have probative evidence relevant to either article of impeachment." Van Hollen would also require Roberts to referee any claims of executive privilege. Democrats want to subpoena four witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. President Trump is likely to invoke executive privilege on both to prevent them from testifying if they were subpoenaed by the Senate. “No Republican can question the fairness of this approach – the Chief Justice oversees the highest court in our land and was nominated by a Republican President. And, given his authority to rule on questions of privilege, they should not fear a drawn-out process," Van Hollen said. "I urge my colleagues to seek out the truth and the facts and to vote in support of my motion. Anything else constitutes an effort to hide the truth," he added.

Trump's impeachment trial could use a secret ballot  - “The President … shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” So reads Article II, Section 4 of our Constitution. President Donald Trump is charged with “abuse of office” and “obstruction of Congress,” crimes that professor Alan Dershowitz, a member of his legal team, has called too vague to be a charge equal to treason or bribery. In the context of the Civil War-era impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, Justice Benjamin Robbins Curtis argued for the necessity of a crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. There are difficulties with crediting this view. It has been settled by the great weight of authority that conviction of a crime is not a predicate to impeachment. Impeachment is concerned with treachery, the use of presidential power that betrays the Constitution or that elevates the personal interests of the president over those of the nation. Impeachment, as Dershowitz explained, does not depend upon the showing of a “technical” violation of a criminal statute. Thus, a president who engaged in criminal behavior, but who could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations expired, still could be impeached. The twists and turns of Dershowitz’s argument are challenging to follow, and the absolute clarity he sees is unfortunately not shared by all, or even many. What is understood is that the Constitution envisages impeachment to serve an important function different from the criminal laws. Criminal prosecution is to punish, to deter, to rehabilitate; impeachment safeguards the republican and democratic structure of the Constitution itself. This distinction is all over the document — including that which precludes indicting a sitting president. Indicting the chief executive would effectively eliminate a president’s capability to faithfully execute the law. Besides distracting him with his own defense, indictment makes a sitting president the countersign of what it means to be our chief law enforcement officer. And then there is the standard of proof. Dershowitz assumes it to be “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but that is unsettled. This most demanding standard applies when loss of liberty is in the balance. But conviction by impeachment will not “lock him up.” Perhaps Trump’s imprisonment might result, post-removal, but only after the ship of state has been anchored in the hopefully capable hands of successor.

What We Learned on Day Eight of the Trump Impeachment Trial - Day eight of the impeachment trial offered, quite literally, a change of pace. The previous six days (after a day of fights over the rules) featured uninterrupted arguments from the House managers and the presidents’ attorneys. What may turn out to be the penultimate phase of the trial involved 16 hours of questioning (half today, half on Thursday) of the contending legal teams by senators via written submissions read to the world by presiding officer John Roberts. With answers generally limited to five minutes, it was a much snappier session characterized by more direct conflict between the two sides. Having said that, the vast majority of questions have been proffered by senators to “their” side in order to reinforce well-established talking points. Democrats stuck to the basic argument that there was sufficient evidence that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation of the Bidens, then compounded that impeachable offense by covering it up via obstruction of Congress. Republicans dug in with their increasingly adamant claim that even if the House proves its case, it hasn’t met the minimum requirements for impeachment, and is trying to force the Senate to come up with evidence it could not secure. The two sides didn’t always talk past each other. They clashed early on over the adequacy of White House claims of executive privilege, as the Washington Post reported: Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked both sides why the House did not challenge claims of executive privilege and immunity during the impeachment proceedings. It was the first question requesting an answer from both the House managers and Trump’s legal team, and the two sides were required to split the five minutes of time evenly. Speaking for the managers, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Trump never raised the question of executive privilege and instead relied on a “notion of blanket defiance” or “absolute immunity” without case law or jurisprudence cited to justify it. Another early moment of drama occurred when Alan Dershowitz burnished his claims of a unique understanding of constitutional law by claiming that Trump — or any other president — could legitimately use his powers to advance the cause of reelection as inherently in the national interest. As NBC News reported, this did turn heads and cause some heartburn for Team Trump: Dershowitz said there were three possible motives for a quid pro quo in foreign policy: the public interest, personal political interest, and personal financial interest. In the end, he argued, only the latter is corrupt.

Senators take reins of impeachment trial in marathon question session - Senators on Wednesday used a roughly 10-hour long session to try to poke holes in their opponents' case and assist their own party in filling potential gaps in the impeachment trial of President Trump. Wednesday was the start of a two-day question-and-answer session in the Senate, marking a more direct role for senators who have had to sit silently during the six days of opening arguments. Senators asked more than 90 questions and ran the gamut of top targets for both sides, including former national security adviser John Bolton, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, and the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint helped trigger the impeachment inquiry. The end result was an exercise in shadowboxing as Trump’s team and the House managers tried to use the questions to target arguments made by the other side, in most cases without being able to directly rebut them. Senators in both parties acknowledged that they had largely lobbed their questions at their own party to give their side time to expand their case, and to prevent the opposing team from using an opening that could persuade a small handful of potential swing votes. “Just like it would be in any debate or any type of courtroom consideration, you want to control the dynamic,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said, while floating that the strategy could “evolve.” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) added that Democrats were using some of their first day questions to help House managers, but predicted there would be “more” questions to Trump’s team. “The reason we directed so much of our questions to the House managers is because they needed the chance to rebut the false arguments, the fallacious reasoning, the half truths and even no truths that the three days of the president’s counsel made,” Schumer said. There were notable exceptions as a trio of Republican senators — Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Utah) — bypassed the softballs that many of their GOP colleagues asked of Trump’s team. Instead, the trio used the first question of the marathon debate to ask how senators should approach the first article of impeachment — relating to Trump's abuse of power — if there are potentially multiple motives. "If the president had more than one motive for his alleged conduct, such as the pursuit of personal political advantage, rooting out corruption and the promotion of national interests, how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of Article One," Supreme Court Justice John Roberts said, reading the question from the trio. Romney also asked White House lawyers on “what specific date did President Trump first order the hold on security assistance to Ukraine and did he explain the reason at the time?" In another instance, Collins and Murkowski asked if Trump had discussed the Bidens in conversations about Ukrainian corruption during the first two years of his presidency before Joe Biden had announced his presidential campaign.

Murkowski asks why should Bolton not testify before Senate - Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) asked Thursday why former national security adviser John Bolton should not be called to testify during President Trump's Senate impeachment trial, noting that conflicting accounts about Trump’s decision to delay U.S. aid to Ukraine “weighs in favor” of hearing from additional witnesses. Murkowski, who is known for her independent streak, is considered a swing vote whether the Senate will call in witnesses like Bolton. Her question Thursday night, during the second day of a question and answer session, could signal where the senator stands. “This dispute about material facts weighs in favor of calling additional witnesses with direct knowledge. Why should this body not call Ambassador Bolton,” Murkowski asked in a question poised to the White House defense team. Murkowski noted in her question that U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), an ally of the president, have said Trump did not withhold $391 million in aid to Ukraine as leverage to press Kyiv to open politically beneficial investigations, including one into a 2020 political rival. She then said that a New York Times report of Bolton’s unpublished manuscript that says the former Trump official was referring to a direct conversation the president about the aid suggests otherwise. Patrick Philbin, a member of the president’s defense team, argued that the question is one of precedent: The House voted to impeach Trump before it collected all the evidence it wanted to use in the Senate trial. “The most important consideration, I think, that this chamber has before it…has to do with the precedent that is established here for what kind of impeachment proceeding this body will accept from now going forward,” Philbin said, warning about setting the “new normal” for future presidential impeachment proceedings. Philbin argued that the House should’ve pursued Bolton’s testimony, saying that putting the onus of calling in witnesses onto the upper chamber will do grave damage to the Senate as an institution.

John Roberts refuses to read question from Rand Paul on whistleblower - — Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts refused to read a question submitted by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during Thursday's question-and-answer session in President Trump's impeachment trial. Paul and Roberts have been battling over the question, which was expected to be about the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Because the question is thought to name the whistleblower and Roberts is responsible for reading the questions aloud, that would put him in the position of publicly outing the person on the floor of the Senate. A Senate page brought the question from Paul to Roberts, who appeared to pause to read it. "The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts said. Roberts then sat the slip of paper with Paul's query aside and the Senate moved on to the next question. Paul argued during a brief press conference after the floor drama that his question "made no reference to any whistleblower" and that Roberts's decision was an "incorrect finding." "I think this is an important question, one that deserves to be asked. It makes no reference to anybody who may or may not be a whistleblower," Paul said. Paul then read his question, which names both a staff member for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and the individual who has been reported in conservative media as the possible whistleblower, and asks about their contacts. Paul added that he wanted to ask the House managers if they know whether the two individuals named in the question were working together "to plot impeaching the president before there were formal House impeachment proceedings." Paul could have challenged Roberts's decision to refuse his question. Speculation had swirled around the Capitol on Thursday that Paul would try to overrule Roberts and potentially force the Senate to try to table his question. But Paul told reporters that while he wrestled with whether to challenge Roberts on the floor "until the very last minute," he expected the Senate would have a lengthy session on Friday and decided to bypass a vote on Thursday. Republican senators had made it clear that they did not support Paul's effort to name the whistleblower. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to make a back-handed reference to Paul at the start of Thursday's session, urging senators to be respectful of Roberts. "We’ve been respectful of the chief justice’s unique position in reading our questions, and I want to assure him that that level of consideration for him will continue," McConnell said. Paul said he had not had any discussion with McConnell about his question. Asked if he thought the GOP leader's remarks were directed at him, Paul laughed and said, "It does sound like code, didn't it?"

Impeachment trial of President Trump - CNN - The first day of questions has ended after senators spent hours asking President Trump's legal counsel and House managers specific questions stemming from the articles of impeachment.The question-and-answer session will resume tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET. In case you missed it, here's what happened today:

  • Question denied: A question that GOP Sen. Rand Paul asked today wasn't allowed because it would have named the alleged whistleblower, a source told CNN. Chief Justice John Roberts essentially said no to reading it, the source said. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called that potential scenario “despicable." Roberts was able to review questions from senators who submitted them prior to the start of today’s proceedings, according to two sources. It was during that period it was communicated to GOP leaders that he would not read the name of the whistleblower if it was included in a submitted question.
  • Key GOP senator met with Mitch McConnell: Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski met with the Senate majority leader this morning to discuss witnesses, a GOP aide tells CNN. Murkowski would not say what her current thinking is on witnesses.
  • Trump's team says trial could "drag on for months": GOP Sen. John Thune asked the President's counsel to respond to the arguments and assertions House managers just made for calling witnesses. White House deputy counsel Pat Philbin said it's important to consider what precedent calling witnesses would set for future impeachments. These sentiments were also shared by Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow.
  • Question on the quid pro quo: Republican Sen. Ted Cruz asked Trump's lawyers, "As a matter of law, does it matter if there was a quid pro quo?" Alan Dershowitz said so-called quid pro quos are frequently used in foreign policy, arguing that presidents can authorize money with conditions. "If you don't do it, you don't get the money. If you do it, you get the money. There's no one in this chamber that would regard that as in any way unlawful," he said.
  • Protesters arrested: At least 41 people were arrested after they tried to climb the Rotunda steps leading to the Capitol building Wednesday afternoon, according to US Capitol Police. Thirty-nine people were charged with crowding, obstructing and incommoding, one person was charged with that along with resisting arrest. A final person was charged with crossing a police line and failure to obey. 
  • Whistleblower conspiracy theories: Lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff did not pull punches this afternoon when discussing the whistleblower and why protecting his or her identity was so paramount. Schiff, a Democrat from California, also explained why the conspiracy theories surrounding the whistleblower, who came forward with accusations concerning Trump and his interactions with Ukraine, are "complete and total fiction."
  • White House issues formal threat to Bolton: The White House issued a formal threat to former national security adviser John Bolton to keep him from publishing his book, "The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir," sources familiar with the matter told CNN yesterday. The letter came as Trump attacked Bolton on Twitter and as Bolton's lawyer accuses the White House of corrupting the vetting process for Bolton's book by sharing the contents of the book with those outside the National Security Council's Records Management Division.

Warren puts Justice Roberts in awkward spot with Supreme Court legitimacy question  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a seemingly awkward dynamic into the impeachment proceedings when she asked if Republicans’ likely refusal to allow new witnesses in President Trump’s Senate trial would diminish trust in the chief justice or the Supreme Court. "The question from Sen. Warren is for the House managers," Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, began. "At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?" he read. The question appeared to create discomfort for Roberts, whose role as the trial’s presiding officer requires him to read senators’ queries aloud — even those raising questions about potential damage to his own legitimacy, or that of the judicial institution he has assiduously sought to shield from the political fray. It was unclear if the question was a dig at Republican obstruction, Roberts’s unwillingness so far to take a position in the witness fight or both. While some Democrats have floated a theory that Roberts can supersede the Senate and call witnesses at his discretion, this seems to be the minority interpretation of their respective powers. Most scholars agree that the Constitution gives the Senate ultimate say over all critical matters at trial and the ability to overrule the presiding officer with a simple majority vote. Lead House manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is among the Democrats who have proposed that senators cede power to Roberts on the witness issue. In addressing Warren’s question, however, the congressman opted for diplomacy, declining to put added pressure on the presiding officer. “I would not say that it contributes to a loss of confidence in the chief justice,” Schiff said. “I think the chief justice has presided admirably."

Romney to vote in favor of impeachment witnesses  - Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) will vote on Friday to allow additional witnesses and documents in President Trump's impeachment trial. Liz Johnson, a spokesman for Romney, confirmed that the freshman senator will support an initial vote to pave the way for new witnesses and specifically wants to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton. As Romney "has said, he wants to hear from Ambassador Bolton, and he will vote in favor of the motion today to consider witnesses," Johnson tweeted on Friday. Romney was widely expected to vote in favor of calling witnesses after emerging as the most vocal GOP senator in favor of hearing new testimony as part of Trump's trial. He also made the case during a closed-door lunch this week urging his colleagues to back hearing from Bolton after The New York Times reported that he will claim in his forthcoming memoir that President Trump tied Ukraine aid to the country announcing investigations into Democrats. Romney is the second Republican senator to say they will vote to allow witnesses. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate who is up for reelection in November, announced late Thursday night that she will also support the effort.

U.S. Senate rejects witnesses in Trump impeachment trial, clearing way for acquittal - (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Friday voted against calling witnesses and collecting new evidence in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, clearing the way for Trump’s almost certain acquittal in the coming days. By a vote of 51-49, the Republican-controlled Senate stopped Democrats’ drive to hear testimony from witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, who is thought to have first-hand knowledge of Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Those actions prompted the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to formally charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in December. The Senate is almost certain to acquit Trump of the impeachment charges, as a two-thirds Senate majority is required to remove Trump and none of the chamber’s 53 Republicans have indicated they will vote to convict. In Friday’s vote on witnesses, only two Republicans, Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, broke with their party and voted with Democrats. “America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities, where the Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters.

Senate rejects witnesses in Trump impeachment trial, setting the stage for acquittal - The US Senate voted Friday against hearing witnesses in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, setting the stage for the president’s likely acquittal on Wednesday. The Democrats, who hold 47 seats in the 100-member chamber, had sought to peel off four Republicans to provide the 51 votes needed to approve the issuance of a subpoena for the testimony of former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Last Sunday, the New York Times published an article reporting that Bolton, who left the White House under acrimonious circumstances in September, has written in his still unpublished book that Trump told him in July that he would release military aid approved by Congress for Ukraine only when the Ukrainian president announced a corruption investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of Trump’s potential opponent in the 2020 elections, former Vice President Joe Biden. This contradicts the president’s claims that there was no “quid quo pro” linking the military aid to an investigation of the Bidens. The 51-49 vote against calling Bolton or any other witnesses opens the way for a speedy conclusion of the impeachment trial on Wednesday, with the vote to convict and remove the president expected to fall far short of the required two-thirds majority. The vote is now slated to take place just one day after Trump delivers his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday. From the beginning of the impeachment drive, the Democrats have refused to seek Trump’s removal on the basis of the many impeachable attacks on democratic rights he has committed, including inciting violence against his political opponents, overriding Congress by means of a declaration of emergency to use Pentagon money to build his border wall, the abrogation of the right to asylum and mass incarceration of immigrants in concentration camps along the Mexican border, and his drone missile murder of a high-ranking Iranian government official, an act of war and war crime carried out without congressional authorization. Instead, the Democrats have conducted their struggle against the Trump administration as a political intrigue within the state, centered on the charge that Trump is not pursuing a sufficiently aggressive foreign policy against Russia. This campaign, carried out in alliance with disaffected sections of the intelligence, military and foreign policy establishment, was deliberately tailored to avoid arousing the widespread and intense popular The right-wing character of the Democrats’ impeachment drive was expressed in the emergence of the arch-warmonger John Bolton as their hoped-for star witness in the Senate trial. Bolton is a notorious war criminal, responsible for lying to the public, along with his co-conspirators in the Bush administration, to launch a war in Iraq that led to the deaths of over a million people. He has advocated war against Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.

Ex-MI6 spy ‘fabricated dossier on Trump and prostitutes’ --The dossier on Donald Trump compiled by the former MI6 spy Christopher Steele, which accused the US president of being compromised by Russia, was a work of “fabrication”, according to a devastating report by a leading British spy writer. Nigel West has revealed he was hired by a US Republican law firm to assess the dossier in 2017 and concluded that large parts of it were faked. Steele’s dossier claimed Russian spies held “kompromat” on Trump, including a video of him cavorting with prostitutes in Moscow, and that Russia had engaged in a conspiracy with Trump’s campaign team to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. It was used by the FBI to justify surveillance of four of Trump’s associates. The report, seen by The Sunday Times, concludes that “lapses” in the dossier “bear the hallmarks of invention” and concludes: “There is . . . a strong possibility that all Steele’s material has been fabricated.” West went public with his conclusions after the inspector-general to the US Justice Department issued a report in December depicting Steele’s dossier as “hearsay”, concluding that the FBI should not have relied on his work when applying for surveillance warrants against Trump’s associates. West claims Steele gave a “misleading impression” of his sources. He casts doubt on one key source, pointing out that Steele said he had knowledge of such disparate subjects as Trump’s sexual activities in Moscow and Russian spying in Florida. “One telltale characteristic of fabricators, in contrast to case officers handling authentic sources, is that they . . . attribute information to the wrong source,” writes West. “From a professional intelligence perspective, the dossier . . . is profoundly troubling and cannot be taken at face value.”

Hunter Biden Settles Paternity Case; Avoids Courtroom Confrontation Over Financial Info -  Hunter Biden reached a temporary settlement agreement in his child support case just 48 hours before a deadline for a mandatory court appearance to explain why he shouldn't be held in contempt for failing to submit overdue financial information. Biden's baby-mama, an Arkansas stripper, filed the paternity suit last May. On Monday afternoon, Arkansas Circuit Court Judge Holly Meyer approved the tentative agreement - postponing Biden's in-court appearance originally scheduled for Wednesday.Child support payments will begin on Feb 1, according to a copy of the order filed in the Independence County Circuit Court, which redacted the monthly amount. The final figure, however, will be determined after Biden turns over relevant financial records. He also agreed to pay support dating back to November, 2018.   dunno guys, but feels like if Trump had a son driving around in a new Porsche while pretending he didn’t have money for child support for a baby he lied about fathering with a stripper, the media in general might make a bigger deal of it — Buck Sexton (@BuckSexton) January 27, 2020"He's doing the right thing by finally stepping up and paying what he should've been paying," said Roberts' lawyer, Clint Lancaster, in a Monday statement to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Monday, adding "He's going to begin paying monthly child support. He's going to pay retroactive child support back to November of 2018. And he's going to pay attorney's fees and costs." If Biden turns over financial documents by March 1st, the contempt motions will be withdrawn.

The FBI Has Been Lying About Seth Rich - Craig Murray  - A persistent American lawyer has uncovered the undeniable fact that the FBI has been continuously lying, including giving false testimony in court, in response to Freedom of Information requests for its records on Seth Rich. The FBI has previously given affidavits that it has no records regarding Seth Rich. A Freedom of Information request to the FBI which did not mention Seth Rich, but asked for all email correspondencebetween FBI Head of Counterterrorism Peter Strzok, who headed the investigation into the DNC leaks and Wikileaks, and FBI attorney Lisa Page, has revealed two pages of emails which do not merely mention Seth Rich but have “Seth Rich” as their heading. The emails were provided in, to say the least, heavily redacted form. Before I analyse these particular emails, I should make plain that they are not the major point. The major point is that the FBI claimed it had no records mentioning Seth Rich, and these have come to light in response to a different FOIA request that was not about him. What other falsely denied documents does the FBI hold about Rich, that were not fortuitously picked up by a search for correspondence between two named individuals? To look at the documents themselves, they have to be read from the bottom up, and they consist of a series of emails between members of the Washington Field Office of the FBI (WF in the telegrams) into which Strzok was copied in, and which he ultimately forwarded on to the lawyer Lisa Page. The opening email, at the bottom, dated 10 August 2016 at 10.32am, precisely just one month after the murder of Seth Rich, is from the media handling department of the Washington Field Office. It references Wikileaks’ offer of a reward for information on the murder of Seth Rich, and that Assange seemed to imply Rich was the source of the DNC leaks. The media handlers are asking the operations side of the FBI field office for any information on the case. The unredacted part of the reply fits with the official narrative. The redacted individual officer is “not aware of any specific involvement” by the FBI in the Seth Rich case. But his next sentence is completely redacted. …

Zero Cooperation - Prince Andrew Ducks FBI Investigation Into Epstein Co-Conspirators - The FBI and federal prosecutors in New York say Prince Andrew has been uncooperative with their ongoing investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's co-conspirators, according to AP, citing US Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York. In a Monday statement outside Epstein's East 71st Street mansion on the Upper East side of Manhattan, Berman said that Andrew has yet to respond despite his public offer to cooperate in the investigation.  "To date, Prince Andrew has provided zero cooperation," said Berman, appearing with members of nonprofit victim services agency Safe Horizon. As we reported in November, attorneys for Epstein accusers have demanded Andrew's participation in the investigation. "It's great that he's stepping away from his royal duties, but it's really not about that — it's about justice and accountability for the victims, so it's important that he says he's going to cooperate with law enforcement," said victims attorney Lisa Bloom.Bloom said Prince Andrew should answer questions from all the accusers' attorneys — in particular the attorney of Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who alleges she was coerced into having sex with Prince Andrew on three separate occasions when she was 17. Giuffre has offered a detailed account of a March 10, 2001, encounter in which she said she danced with the prince at Tramp nightclub in London before he had sex with her.Guiffre publicly released a photograph of her and Prince Andrew in which he has his arm around her waist, which she says was taken at the house of Ghislaine Maxwell, who an ex-girlfriend of Epstein's who has been accused of acting as his "fixer" at the time. -Business Insider Gloria Allred, who also represents Epstein accusers, urged the prince to provide any evidence that might help victims seek justice "without conditions and without delay," including emails, texts and calendars - adding that the prince's staff should also provide relevant information, according to the BBC. Allred added that if the prince didn't offer information voluntarily, he might be asked to speak under oath in a criminal investigation into potential Epstein co-conspirators, along with civil lawsuits brought by Epstein's accusers.

We All Knew About Epstein Admits Cindy McCain - Who Did Nothing About It - Sen. John McCain's widow says "everyone" knew about Jeffrey Epstein's sex trafficking ring, but were "afraid" to do anything about it. "Epstein was hiding in plain sight," said McCain, during an appearance at the State of the World 2020 conference in Florida, according to the Washington Examiner. "We all knew about him. We all knew what he was doing, but we had no one that was — no legal aspect that would go after him. They were afraid of him. For whatever reason, they were afraid of him." McCain said a girl from her daughter's high school was one of Epstein's victims and that she hopes Epstein "is in hell." wealth and his  connections to powerful politicians and celebrities allowed him to continue trafficking young women and girls long after many had exposed his devious interests.

NY Times admits it sends stories to US government for approval before publication - The Grayzone - The New York Times has publicly acknowledged that it sends some of its stories to the US government for approval from “national security officials” before publication.This confirms what veteran New York Times correspondents like James Risen have said: The American newspaper of record regularly collaborates with the US government, suppressing reporting that top officials don’t want made public.On June 15, the Times reported that the US government is escalating its cyber attacks on Russia’s power grid. According to the article, “the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively,” as part of a larger “digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.” In response to the report, Donald Trump attacked the Times on Twitter, calling the article “a virtual act of Treason.” The New York Times PR office replied to Trump from its official Twitter account, defending the story and noting that it had, in fact, been cleared with the US government before being printed. “Accusing the press of treason is dangerous,” the Times communications team said. “We described the article to the government before publication.”“As our story notes, President Trump’s own national security officials said there were no concerns,” the Times added. Indeed, the Times report on the escalating American cyber attacks against Russia is attributed to “current and former [US] government officials.” The scoop in fact came from these apparatchiks, not from a leak or the dogged investigation of an intrepid reporter.  The neoliberal self-declared “Resistance” jumped on Trump’s reckless accusation of treason (the Democratic Coalition, which boasts, “We help run #TheResistance,” responded by calling Trump “Putin’s puppet”). The rest of the corporate media went wild.  But what was entirely overlooked was the most revealing thing in the New York Times’ statement: The newspaper of record was essentially admitting that it has a symbiotic relationship with the US government.  In fact, some prominent American pundits have gone so far as to insist that this symbiotic relationship is precisely what makes someone a journalist.

FBI Investigating Whether Ilhan Omar Married Her Brother - The FBI is looking into reports that Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) married her brother in order to ease his immigration to the U.S., the New York Post reported on Sunday.Two agents interviewed a person with knowledge of the case in Minnesota in mid-October. The person presented a trove of documents relating to the marriage of Omar and Ahmed Nur Said Elmi in 2009.A number of right-wing blogs have for years posited that Elmi, a British citizen, is Omar’s brother based on a years-old Instagram post that identified him as the “uncle” of Omar’s child. The agents are reportedly now looking into the possibility that Omar married Elmi in order to obtain a Green Card for the brother.Omar did not comment on the latest report, but has repeatedly denied the allegations she married her brother. The claims were initially sourced to a post, since deleted, on the website Somalispot, a blog forum that caters to Minnesota’s Somali community. NR's afternoon roundup of the day's best commentary & must-read analysis. Before the marriage to Elmi, Omar was engaged to Ahmed Hirsi in 2002, however the congresswoman has said she did not legally marry Hirsi. Omar and Hirsi split in 2008, but reunited in 2012, even though Omar was legally married to Elmi until 2017.Omar separated from Elmi in a no-fault divorce, which she obtained by stating under oath that she had no way of contacting Elmi. That claim came under scrutiny last year when the Daily Caller reported that Elmi may have designed source code for a website run by Omar’s sister from Nairobi, Kenya. In addition to the speculation surrounding her family, Omar has also drawn fire for a series of anti-Semitic comments on Twitter. She and Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib were refused entry to Israel in August due to their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks economic and cultural boycotts of Israel.

   Hillary Clinton refuses to be served Tulsi Gabbard's defamation lawsuit - Hillary Clinton has now twice snubbed a process server attempting to deliver the defamation lawsuit filed against her by Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, according to Gabbard’s attorney. “I find it rather unbelievable that Hillary Clinton is so intimidated by Tulsi Gabbard that she won’t accept service of process,” the congresswoman’s attorney, Brian Dunne, told The Post. “But I guess here we are.” Dunne said their process server first attempted to effect service at Clinton’s house in Chappaqua on Tuesday afternoon — but was turned away by Secret Service agents. The agents directed the server to Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, who on Wednesday claimed at his Washington, DC, firm, Williams & Connolly, that he was unable to accept service on Clinton’s behalf, said Dunne. Gabbard sued the former secretary of state for $50 million last week for calling her a “Russian asset.” Clinton has refused to retract the statement. Dunne said his team was weighing next steps. Reps for Clinton did not immediately return a request for comment.

Racist Trump Supporters Should Lose Their Vote, Says NBC. Guess Who Decides They're Racist? - Once again, the mainstream media is pushing the repugnant race card, suggesting that Trump supporters are a bunch of knuckle-dragging xenophobes whose only reason for wanting a wall on the Mexican border is because they suffer an aversion to people with different skin color than them.   What exactly do White Americans – who opened the floodgates to immigration in 1965 – need to do these days to prove they are not natural born racists? Cancel their monthly subscription to Town and Country? Stop walking their dogs, which are, of course, four-legged vehicles of “racial segregation,” or stop attending their evening yoga class, the unsuspecting breeding grounds for white supremacists? Somehow I suspect that even if White people took to burning effigies of Ku Klux Klan members on their manicured front lawns that would not even put a stop to the ugly rumors. Let’s just face it, the only thing that will finally stop the slanderous slurs is if all White Americans publicly denounce their support of the biggest race-hater of them all, Donald J. Trump. And should they refuse the itinerant Liberal Inquisition will be only too happy to do it for them. Just ask Noah Berlatsky, occasional columnist for MSNBC, whose latest piece was crowned with the zinger of a headline, ‘Trump voters motivated by racism may be violating the Constitution. Can they be stopped?’ Nice leading question there, but the premise that precedes it, that Trump voters are “motivated by racism,” is just one more election-season deceit.  Berlatsky’s article opens with the conclusion that Donald Trump “ran an openly racist campaign for president,” and that his popular rallying slogan “Make America Great Again” is actually code that can be translated into “America was greater when white people’s power was more sweeping and more secure.” Yet nowhere in any of Trump’s numerous campaign utterances or even Tweets has he ever singled out America’s White population as the intended sole beneficiary of his plans to remake the U.S. economy. In fact, just the opposite;  the unemployment rate among Blacks now stands at 5.9%, down from 7.5% at the start of his presidency. At the same time, the employment rate among Hispanics is at historic highs.

 Watch: CNN Calls Trump Supporters Stupid Illiterate Rednecks  - Don Lemon howls with laughter as panel imitate southern accents. This is CNN. During a discussion regarding the impeachment show trial, Don Lemon and a pair of talking heads devolved into imitating southern accents and declaring that anyone who can read or spell is an elitist, in an effort to mock Trump voters as stupid rednecks. In an unbridled show of arrogance, Lemon cackled while blowhard Rick Wilson and New York Times op-ed writer Wajahat Ali suggested that anyone who voted for Trump is an illiterate dummy. Wilson declared that “Donald Trump couldn’t find Ukraine on a map if you had the letter ‘U’ and a picture of an actual, physical crane next to it,” then asserted that Trump is backed only by a “credulous boomer rube demo” of Americans. “Donald Trump’s the smart one, and there all y’all, y’all elitists are duuuumb.” Wilson shouted in a faux Southern accent.  The arrogance, the dismissiveness, the smug cackling, the accents. If Donald Trump wins re-election this year, I’ll remember this brief CNN segment late one Saturday night in January as the perfect encapsulation for why it happened. — Steve Krakauer (@SteveKrak) January 28, 2020     “You elitists, with your geography and your maps and your spellin’.”   Ali joined in, with his own redneck impression. “Your math and your readin!’” Wilson added, the hilarity in full flow. “Yeah, your readin’, your geography, knowing other countries, sipping your latte,” said Ali. “All those liiines on the map,” said Wilson. “Only them elitists know where Ukraine is,” Ali added. When Lemon finally composed himself, he admitted “I needed that.” This display is a prime example of why Trump will win a second term. Sitting in a television studio on the East cost, calling Americans stupid and illiterate doesn’t tend to go over too well. The ultimate irony is that Y’all elitists really are duuuumb. 

The Establishment Doesn’t Fear Trump, And It Doesn’t Fear Bernie. It Fears You. Caitlin Johnstone - During the George W Bush administration it was popular in conspiracy circles to speculate that events might be orchestrated which would allow the Bush family to complete a coup against the US Constitution and hold on to power indefinitely.Such paranoia and suspicion of government power in the wake of the extraordinary post-9/11 advancements in Orwellian surveillance programs and unprecedented military expansionism were perfectly understandable, but predictions that the younger Bush would not cede power at the end of his second term proved incorrect. In today’s hysterical Trump-centric political environment we now see mainstream voices in mainstream outlets openly advancing the same conspiratorial speculationsabout the current administration, and those will prove incorrect as well.What these paranoid presidential prognostications get wrong is not their extreme suspicion of government, but their assumption that America’s real power structures require a certain president to be in place in order to advance depraved totalitarian agendas. As anyone paying attention knows, intense suspicion of the US government is the only sane position that anyone can possibly have; the error is in assuming that there is no mechanism in place to ensure that the same agendas carry forward from one presidential administration to the next.In a sense, the conspiracy theories about a Bush coup were actually correct: the Bush administrationdidn’t truly end. All of its imperialist, power-serving agendas remained in place and were expanded under the apparent oversight of the following administration. The same thing happened after the Obama administration, and the same thing–whether in 2021 or 2025–will happen after the Trump administration. The disturbing fact of the matter is that if you ignore election dates and just look at the numbers and raw data of US government behavior over the years, you can’t really tell who is president or which political party is in power at any given point in time.

Fed issues final rule clarifying standards for bank investors — The Federal Reserve voted Thursday to finalize a new bank control framework for determining the circumstances in which one company controls another. In an April proposal, the Fed sought to standardize how those owning less than a quarter of a bank can determine if they hold a "controlling" stake, and therefore must register as a bank holding company. The Fed historically has determined what constitutes control in part on a case-by-case basis, but that makes it challenging for investors and banks to know which circumstances trigger holding company requirements and other provisions of the Bank Holding Company Act. “The complexity and relative lack of transparency of the board’s case-by-case approach to control can impose a substantial compliance and uncertainty burden on the public, especially banking organizations and investors,” Fed Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles said in a statement, adding that the final rule will boost the predictability and transparency of the framework. Broadly speaking, the final rule is the same as the proposal that the agency issued last year. That proposal stipulated four tiers based on the amount of voting shares in a given stake. The four tiers are: less than 5%, 5-9.99%, 10-14.99% and 15-24.99%. That standard codifies existing practice, the Fed said at the time. In each tier, control would be presumed under a different set of conditions, such as the size of a company’s total equity investment and the makeup of the board of directors. “The rule clearly lays out the key factors and thresholds that the board will take into account and the combination of factors that would and would not trigger control,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said in a statement. The final rule does incorporate some technical adjustments. The tiered framework in the final rule has simplified presumptions of control based on total equity ownership compared to the proposal, and has a simplified control framework for savings and loan holding companies. The final rule also clarifies how to determine if business relationships between an investor and the company trigger control requirements. The Fed also took the recommendation from commenters to narrow the definition of a director representative to make it less prescriptive, as well as the recommendation to amend the total equity provisions in the proposal so that an investor only has to measure its total equity position when they make an investment in another company. The Fed board unanimously approved the revamped bank control framework at a meeting Thursday. “Although not directly affected by the final rule, it will be important to monitor the ownership structures of banking organizations in light of this control framework and industry trends, so the board can identify and address any financial stability, competition and other issues that arise in the future,” Fed Gov. Lael Brainard said in a statement. Sub

Regulators propose Volcker Rule changes to allow VC stakes — Banking regulators are proposing to update a portion of the Volcker Rule and allow banks to take stakes in certain investment funds, which was originally prohibited under the 2013 rule enacted after the financial crisis. The proposal — which the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. all approved Thursday — would revise the definition of a so-called covered fund. The plan would allow financial institutions to invest in funds that many stakeholders say were not meant to be the target of the Volcker Rule. The original rule, mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act and first conceived by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, allowed banks to take direct stakes in individual startup companies but not funds containing multiple investments. The proposal would ease that provision by allowing banks to invest in instruments such as credit funds, venture capital funds, customer facilitation funds and family wealth management vehicles — even if those funds contained multiple investments. The 2013 rule not only banned proprietary trading but also limited bank stakes in private-equity and hedge funds to prevent the type of short-term risky bets that helped precipitate the financial crisis. The five regulatory agencies that oversee the Volcker Rule — including the Fed, FDIC and OCC — proposed revamping the rule in 2018, and finalized high-level changes to the covered funds provision in August. But the agencies are now tackling the more granular definition of a “covered fund,” which dictates what kinds of investments banks can make. “We now have considerable supervisory experience putting that common sense prohibition into practice, and we have learned that a simpler, clearer approach to implementing the rule makes it easier for both banks and regulators to carry out the intent of the rule,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in a statement Thursday. (The Fed and FDIC both approved the proposal at board meetings on Thursday.) Yet the proposal immediately drew mixed reactions, with industry groups saying the changes would represent a prudent refinement of the post-crisis regime and Dodd-Frank supporters charging that the regulators were going too far. “Today’s proposal will allow banks to get back to some important traditional commercial banking and asset management activities that the current rule prohibits, helping businesses grow and consumers build savings,"

Verdict coming on OCC's supervision of Wells Fargo -Last week, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency rendered judgment on eight former high-level Wells Fargo executives. Still to come is a verdict on the agency’s supervision of the San Francisco bank. For more than three years, the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General has been working on an assessment of the adequacy and timeliness of the OCC’s actions in connection with sales practices at Wells Fargo. The watchdog, which opened its project just weeks after the Wells Fargo phony-accounts scandal erupted in 2016, has also been assessing the OCC’s supervision of incentive compensation at the $1.9 trillion-asset bank. Richard Delmar, deputy Treasury inspector general, said in an email Tuesday that he expects the assessment to be completed in late spring and to be made public at that time. He said that the project’s scope covers more than eight years — from January 2009 to May 2017. The IG’s assessment is likely to shine new light on an era in which many observers believe the OCC was too close with Wells Fargo. Since late 2016, that image has begun to change as the OCC has taken a series of public actions against the scandal-plagued bank. The scope of the IG’s review overlaps with that of an internal review published by the OCC in April 2017.

JPMorgan To Slash Hundreds Of Jobs Across Consumer Division  -JPMorgan Chase & Co. is expected to announce several hundred layoffs in the coming weeks, according to a Bloomberg source. Layoffs could be seen across the company's consumer unit, which houses 50% of the bank's revenue. The most affected subunits could include auto lending, home mortgages, and credit cards. The cuts come at a time when JPM recorded some of the highest profits ever with $36.4 billion, due to a 56% increase in stock and bond trading in the fourth quarter, after it single-handedly triggered the repo crisis, forcing the Fed to launch 'Not QE.' The layoffs are expected to be announced on February 6th, the source said, adding that the cut will be about 1% of employees in the unit. We noted Tuesday that JPM decided to keep annual bonuses flat across its investment bank segment for the 2019 year. Banks around the world who are supposed to benefit from rising asset prices thanks to the central banks' injecting unprecedented liquidity into markets – unveiled last year, the most significant round of job cuts in four years.Banks are slashing jobs at record speeds in response to a synchronized global slowdown and adoption of automation.  JPM has cut more than 7,000 jobs from the consumer unit in the four years through 2018, and it's likely the cuts will continue. Fifty banks in 2019 slashed upwards of 78,000 jobs, the most since 91,448 announced in 2015.

After Slashing Bonuses, Deutsche Bank Delays Promised Pay Raises -Look on the bright side: At least you still have a job.  After an almost unrelentingly demoralizing 2019, Deutsche Bank's CEO is asking his bankers to make one last sacrifice for the sake of Sewing's grand turnaround vision to keep this melting icecube intact just a little while longer. What's he doing, exactly? Well, waiting few extra months for pay raises promised last year.  But hopefully employees don't read too much into the delay: because of the pay raises taking effect on Jan. 1, bankers will need to wait until April Fool's Day instead, according to Reuters and the New York Post."After thorough discussions, we on the Management Board have taken the decision that, from 2020, any fixed pay adjustments in connection with the annual review or promotion process will be effective April 1 (not retroactively effective as of January 1)."Unsurprisingly, Sewing blamed the many scandals and penalties that have plagued Deutsche Bank, saying they've hastened the need for dramatic cost cuts. For context: The bank has paid out more than $20 billion in fines over the last decade."We carefully assessed how this decision would impact our employees and benchmarked ourselves against peers," Sewing said in a memo obtained by the New York Post.Sewing stressed that for the bank to become more competitive and avoid even more painful cutbacks, it must be run in a "disciplined manner". Perhaps he should tell that to his predecessors who allowed the global headcount at the German giant to swell to nearly 90,000. "For the bank to be competitive and meet its goals for sustainable returns to shareholders it is vital that we further manage costs in a disciplined manner," Sewing wrote. "This also relates to compensation."

FDIC advises banks to exercise caution with agricultural loans — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. issued an advisory Tuesday warning banks to exercise caution in agricultural lending. "As headwinds facing the agricultural economy persist, insured institutions must be prepared for agricultural borrowers to face financial challenges by employing appropriate governance, risk management, underwriting, and credit administration practices," the FDIC said in a letter to banks it supervises. The FDIC said banks focusing on agricultural lending have benefited from the "boom" period between 2010 and 2015, with earnings remaining robust and loss rates remaining low. But “cash flow margins for agricultural borrowers have become increasingly pressured by changes in supply and demand factors, poor weather conditions, and agricultural policy factors,” the FDIC wrote. “Given strained cash flow, debt service has been challenging for borrowers with even moderate levels of term indebtedness.” The U.S. agricultural sector has been facing substantial headwinds since 2015. In the third quarter of 2019, the FDIC's Quarterly Banking Profile pointed to an increase in the noncurrent loan rate among community banks' agriculture portfolios. The agency said the noncurrent rate of 1.27% for farm loans was the highest in all community bank categories. To guard against undue risk, the FDIC recommended that depository institutions consider the “overall financial status” of farm loan borrowers. “Smaller farms and ranches [often] rely on principals’ personal wealth and resources, including off-farm wages, to support operations,” the agency said. The FDIC also recommended that banks take a close look at whether borrowers are using secondary repayment sources such as crop insurance and hedging products, which “can reduce risks to the farming operation and the lending institution.” 

Industry to Crapo: Detach pot banking from public health debate — Legislation that the House passed last year to enable banks and credit unions to serve the cannabis industry has a dim future in the Senate, but in a last-ditch effort bankers and other backers are urging lawmakers to set aside their doubts about marijuana legalization to focus solely on the banking component in the bill. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, issued a memo in December casting a shadow on the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act that passed the House in September. He expressed concern about public health and safety, the lack of research on the effects of marijuana, and money-laundering risks. In response to Crapo inviting public feedback on how to address his concerns, banks and other supporters of the legislation said health and safety concerns about marijuana should be a separate issue from the immediate needs of cannabis businesses — in states where the substance is legal — to access financial services. Among Crapo's concerns is the use of certain vaping products, which have prompted their own public health concerns, to smoke marijuana. He emphasized the need for federal agencies to conduct national studies on the potency of cannabis, how cannabis products affect minors and pregnant women, and the ties between marijuana and vaping. A customer lights a joint at the Lowell Cafe, a new cannabis lounge in West Hollywood, California. Financial institutions say they need federal certainty they will not be penalized for providing services to the growing cannabis sector, since marijuana is still considered a banned narcotic at the federal level. Bloomberg News Aaron Stetter, the executive vice president for policy and political operations at the Independent Community Bankers of America, said that, while those are real concerns, they would be better addressed outside of the Senate Banking Committee. “We respect where Chairman Crapo was coming from on all of these fronts, but just respectfully ask and urge that that he focus on the banking aspects, and that we advance those banking aspects,” Stetter, whose group responded to Crapo with a letter, said in an interview. Crapo's memo said the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which enjoyed bipartisan House support, did not address his concerns. The bill would bar federal regulators from punishing depository institutions that serve the cannabis industry in states that have legalized marijuana. “I remain firmly opposed to efforts to legalize marijuana on the federal level, and I am opposed to legalization in the State of Idaho,” Crapo said. “I also do not support the SAFE Banking Act that passed in the House of Representatives.”

Banks Are Handing Out Beefed-Up Credit Lines No One Asked For - It might sound like a risky strategy at a time when millions of Americans are drowning in debt: keep raising the limit on people’s credit cards, even if they don’t ask.But that’s exactly what big banks have been doing lately to turbocharge their profits, leaving customers with the potential to rack up even bigger monthly bills. For years after the financial crisis, Capital One Financial Corp. resisted that step for customers who looked vulnerable to getting in over their heads. In internal conversations, Chief Executive Officer Richard Fairbank characterized the restraint as a radical theology, in part because it went beyond post-crisis requirements, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions.But then Capital One -- known for its “What’s in Your Wallet?” slogan -- reversed course in 2018, after the bank came under pressure to keep revenue growing. The company’s revenue reached a record last year.The same reversal is playing out across U.S. banking, as more customers get unsolicited access to additional credit, in what’s becoming a new golden age of plastic. The goal: to get consumers to borrow more. The question, just like in the heady 2000s, is how it will end for lenders and borrowers alike. Research shows many consumers turn higher limits into debt. And the greater the debt, the harder it is to dig out. “It’s like putting a sandwich in front of me and I haven’t eaten all day,” said D’Ante Jones, a 27-year-old rapper known as D. Maivia in Houston who was close to hitting the ceiling on his Chase Freedom card whenJPMorgan Chase & Co. nearly doubled his spending limit a year ago without consulting him. He soon borrowed much more. “How can I not take a bite out of it?”The banks say the increases are good customer service and that they raise spending limits carefully, discourage reckless borrowing and let customers reverse the increases at any time. Whatever the case, the immediate result is clear: debt, and lots of it. Outstanding card borrowing has surpassed its pre-crisis peak, reaching a record of $880 billion at the end of September, according to the latest data from the New York Fed’s consumer credit panel. That’s boosting profit at top lenders like Capital One, JPMorgan and Citigroup Inc. a decade after banks cut credit limits without warning during the crunch.

CFPB at long last defines enigmatic ‘abusive’ standard - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stated guidance on its policy for combating "abusive" industry practices — defining a standard that has befuddled financial firms since it was introduced in the Dodd-Frank Act. In a policy statement Friday, the CFPB said an “abusive” act or practice is one in which the harm to consumers outweighs the benefit. The agency said it will only seek monetary relief for abusive acts or practices from companies that “lack a good-faith effort to comply with the law.” Dodd-Frank gave the CFPB authority to punish firms for violating the longstanding federal prohibition on "unfair" or "deceptive" acts or practices, while also introducing a new "abusive" standard. In the past, the CFPB has fined companies under the abusive standard without defining it, essentially building precedent through enforcement actions. But the agency under Director Kathy Kraninger has sought to give the industry clearer guidance. “I am committed to ensuring we have clear rules of the road and fostering a culture of compliance — a key element in preventing consumer harm,” Kraninger said in a press release. “We’ve developed a policy that provides a solid framework to prevent consumer harm while promoting the clarity needed to foster consumer beneficial products as well as compliance in the marketplace, now and in the future.” The agency's statement also said it would generally avoid combining abusiveness findings with unfairness or deception violations arising from the same facts, focusing instead on "stand alone" violations of the abusive standard. Banks and financial institutions have sought for years to narrowly define the abusive standard. But the CFPB's new definition immediately drew criticism from consumer advocates who see it as an attempt to limit the agency's authority. “The CFPB is limiting the authority that Congress gave it, taking an arrow out of its quiver and limiting accountability,” . “This is something that those who defend companies accused of harming consumer have been pushing for for a long time."

 CFPB sues Citizens over card fraud claims, but bank pledges to fight - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit Thursday against Citizens Bank alleging it failed to resolve credit card disputes and miscalculated refunds to consumers with fraud claims. The agency's complaint against the $164.6 billion-asset Citizens, of Providence, R.I., says the bank denied fraud claims related to consumer credit cards. The lawsuit also alleges that Citizens failed to consistently refund all charges, including finance charges and fees, when resolving billing disputes. The lawsuit covers activities that date back to at least 2010 through February 2016. “While servicing credit cards, Citizens failed to reasonably investigate and appropriately resolve billing error notices and claims of unauthorized use, failed to properly credit consumers’ accounts when unauthorized use and billing errors occurred, and failed to provide credit counseling disclosures to consumers as required by Regulation Z,” the bureau said. The bureau’s complaint seeks an injunction from future violations, redress to consumers and unspecified civil money penalties including additional relief. Citizens made clear that it plans to fight the agency's action. “We are puzzled and disappointed by the CFPB’s stance with respect to these long-resolved issues," said Stephen T. Gannon, Citizens' general counsel, said in a statement released by the bank. "Citizens fully addressed these matters within months of self-identifying, self-reporting and voluntarily remediating them more than four years ago." Gannon added that the bureau's demands "are wholly disproportionate to the issues at hand, and we strongly believe that the Bureau’s claims are unwarranted on both the facts and the law." "We intend to vigorously contest the CFPB’s claims and are highly confident in the merits of our position,” he said. The CFPB filed the 12-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island alleging violations of the Truth in Lending Act, Regulation Z and the CARD Act. The CFPB said that in many cases Citizens miscalculated amounts that should have been refunded to customers who claimed that they were the victims of fraud. Those included finance charges and fees. It further alleged that from at least 2010 through February 2016, Citizens did not consistently send each consumer claiming fraud a written acknowledgment of a billing error claim within 30 days of the bank’s receipt of the claim, as the bank is required to do. In cases where the bank denied such a claim, Citizens allegedly failed to send consumers a written denial within two complete billing cycles. Citizens also failed for years to provide credit counseling referrals to consumers who called a toll-free number, the agency said. “The Bank had no policies or procedures in place to ensure that its employees provided credit counseling information when consumers called the designated phone line,” the CFPB said in the lawsuit. Despite the CFPB's request for consumer redress, the bank said in its statement that it took swift action years ago. Citizens said it has voluntarily paid approximately $750,000 in remediation to a far broader set of customers than required by applicable rules. There is “no harm remaining to be remediated,” Citizens said. Su

House nears passage of bills to overhaul credit reporting — The House on Tuesday moved one step closer to passing a comprehensive package of bills to reform the credit reporting system. The legislation is spearheaded by House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., as an effort by House Democrats to reduce consumer burdens and provide more opportunities for consumers to rehabilitate their credit. House lawmakers approved the rules governing debate of the legislation, setting up a final vote on the bills potentially later this week. The Comprehensive Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act includes six bills that, taken together, would limit the time that negative credit information would stay on credit reports to four years, require the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to issue rules to regulate credit scoring models, expand access to free credit reports and scores, and restrict the use of credit checks for job seekers. The legislation would also reform the credit report dispute process to shift the burden from consumers to the credit bureaus and data furnishers, and would also prevent credit bureaus from including adverse information related to private student loans on a credit report after the borrower has made nine consecutive on-time payments. The bills in the package were introduced by Reps. Rashida Tlaib; D-Mich., Alma Adams, D-N.C.; Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio; Al Lawson, D-Fla.; Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.; and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. Yet the package has divided the House along party lines, casting doubt on its chances in the Senate. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the ranking member of the committee, blasted the credit reporting bills at the House Financial Services Committee's markup of the bills in July, arguing that the committee had only held one hearing on the subject and it did not focus enough on proposals to reform the Fair Credit Reporting Act. “There was just one discussion draft of a bill attached with a hearing notice, yet this draft was not discussed once during the hearing. Not once,” McHenry said in his opening statement at the markup. “Now, six months later, without further discussion, we’re considering these bills that would make significant changes to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.”

 Credit reporting bill passes House but faces long odds in Senate - The House on Wednesday passed a package of bills by a 221-189 vote that would overhaul the credit reporting system and give consumers more chances to repair their histories. The Comprehensive CREDIT Act was pushed through by House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and would require the reporting agencies Equifax, TransUnion and Experian to make a series of changes in how they monitor consumers' credit records. The vote was split along party lines. No Republicans voted in favor of the measure, casting doubt on its chances in the Senate. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the top Republican on the committee, said on the House floor Wednesday that the bill does not stand a chance of being signed into law. The package is made up of six bills intended to fix a credit reporting system that Waters called “badly broken." “Consumers are frustrated with the current system,” Waters said on the House floor Wednesday. The package of bills includes one measure that would clear negative information from credit reports after four years and remove blemishes from private student loans if nine consecutive payments are made on time. Impacts from predatory or discriminatory loans would also be taken off credit histories under another measure. Other bills in the package would prompt the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to issue new credit reporting regulations governing scoring models and barring employers from running credit checks on job applicants. Waters also tucked in a proposal she had been working on with other lawmakers that would remove problems on federal employee credit histories that stem from government shutdowns. Republicans supported this measure on the floor but objected to the broader bill. McHenry said on the floor Wednesday that he was "no fan" of the credit reporting bureaus, but that the proposed changes to credit reports would make it riskier to lend to borrowers. “This bill will weaken underwriting standards,” McHenry said. 

FBI warns of new online threat to personal, credit card information - Federal authorities have a consumer warning for shoppers. Hidden skimming devices (commonly thought to be attached to gas station pumps and ATMs) have gone high-tech. “It’s hard to put really — definite numbers around it. But one thing we know for sure is that millions of credit card numbers have been stolen, even over the course of the past two years,” Herb Stapleton, section chief for the FBI’s cyber division told CNBC. This new type of skimming is called e-skimming or Magecart. Cybercriminals can gain access to your personal and credit card information in a number of ways. They can break into a web server directly or break into a common server that supports many online shopping websites to compromise them all and once a site has been compromised, the shopper can’t spot the difference. “It’s nearly impossible for a consumer to detect that this has happened to them before the actual occurrence. The site that they would look at, which is already infected, would look no different to a consumer,” Stapleton said.

Fed chief endorses Brainard's critique of CRA plan — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell reaffirmed his agency’s stance on efforts to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act and backed up Fed Gov. Lael Brainard’s rebuke of the proposal put forward by two other regulators. In a Jan. 8 speech, Brainard objected to a number of key elements in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s plan to overhaul the decades-old law, especially the proposal to combine several aspects of CRA evaluation into a single, final score and to use the dollar value of CRA projects — as opposed to just volume — to grade performance. “Governor Brainard has led our oversight committee over these activities for many years, and I asked her to take the lead on CRA modernization, which is a high priority for us,” Powell said during a press conference Wednesday. “I was comfortable with her speech and I'm comfortable with the work we've done, and as I said, we haven't chosen to bring a proposal forward.” At the press conference, which coincides with the meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, Powell also sided with recent comments by Fed Vice Chair Randal Quarles suggesting the agency may apply its rulemaking philosophy of tailoring rules for bank complexity to its supervision process as well. He also discussed efforts by central banks to combat climate change. On CRA, the Fed has not made any decision as to whether it might issue its own proposal, Powell said. He added that the focus has been on trying to come to an agreement with the OCC, which has led the effort to revamp CRA. “We think that an interagency final rule together would be the best outcome,” said Powell. “We're sorry we haven't been able to get there, and we still hold out some hope that we will be able to.” Powell opined on a speech Quarles gave earlier this month, in which he outlined a comprehensive set of ideas to update the Fed’s supervisory arm, including aligning the supervision of firms with the tailoring rules that the agency finalized last year and publishing key supervisory guidance for public comment. Powell said Quarles is correct that the Fed's Large Institution Supervision Coordinating Committee should correspond with oversight of only the largest and most complex banks. “I do agree with the principles that he articulated of firm and fair supervision and effective transparency and communications,” he said. “I also think it's a good thing that we would have brighter lines to define our LISCC supervisory portfolio, which we hadn't really had to date,” he said. Still, while Quarles’ recommendations are “interesting,” Powell, said, they would need further development and periods of public comment before they could be put into place.

OCC’s Otting, House Democrats spar over CRA reform — Most stakeholders agree that the Community Reinvestment Act needs to be reformed, but a congressional hearing featuring the regulator leading the reform effort showed just how contentious the process has become. During tense exchanges between Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting and Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee, the two sides were often talking past each other. Lawmakers charged that Otting's recent reform proposal undermines the mission of the civil rights law, while Otting said much of the criticism of his plan is based on misinformation. House Democrats said the proposal by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. would take CRA resources out of low-to-moderate-income communities, reward banks for financing projects lacking real community benefit such as sports stadiums, and lead to regulatory arbitrage since the Federal Reserve did not back the plan. “Your proposal decouples CRA from outcomes for intended communities, discounts the value of direct lending mortgages to low-to-moderate-income communities and communities of color, cuts out community organizations that work directly with these communities and is just not supported by data,” Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., said at the hearing Wednesday. Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said the proposal would turn the law into the “Community Disinvestment Act.” “Unfortunately, the OCC has put out a rule that runs contrary to the purpose of CRA and would lead to widespread bank disinvestment from low- to moderate-income communities across the country,” Waters said in opening remarks. But Otting held firm under the sharp questioning by the panel, responding in a defiant and at times defensive tone. Despite criticism of a single measure in the proposal that would consolidate various CRA tests into a straightforward metric, Otting said observers are underestimating the effect of other measurement factors.   While there has been consensus on the need to reform CRA for several years, Otting kicked the process into high gear upon his arrival at OCC. Despite the Fed's lack of support, the OCC and FDIC released it in December. The plan would expand CRA efforts beyond banks' traditional branch networks, establish a new metric for CRA activity that combines various tests into a single ratio and provide banks' with an "illustrative" list of eligible CRA projects. Republicans on the committee were generally supportive of Otting and his effort to reform the CRA. Early in the hearing, they called for civility and focused on the need for the law to be updated.

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate increased slightly in December - Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in December was 0.63%, up from 0.62% in November. Freddie's rate is down from 0.69% in December 2018. Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%. These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".  I expect the delinquency rate to decline to a cycle bottom in the 0.4% to 0.6% range - so this is close to a bottom.

Fannie Mae: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate unchanged in December -- Fannie Mae reported that the Single-Family Serious Delinquency was unchanged at 0.66% in December, from 0.66% in November. The serious delinquency rate is down from 0.76% in December 2018.These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure". This matches last month as the the lowest serious delinquency rate for Fannie Mae since June 2007. The Fannie Mae serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 5.59%.  By vintage, for loans made in 2004 or earlier (2% of portfolio), 2.48% are seriously delinquent. For loans made in 2005 through 2008 (4% of portfolio), 4.11% are seriously delinquent, For recent loans, originated in 2009 through 2018 (94% of portfolio), only 0.35% are seriously delinquent. So Fannie is still working through a few poor performing loans from the bubble years.

 Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey -Mortgage applications increased 7.2 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending January 24, 2020. This week’s results include an adjustment for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. ... The Refinance Index increased 8 percent from the previous week and was 146 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 5 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 2 percent compared with the previous week and was 17 percent higher than the same week one year ago.  “Mortgage applications continued their strong start to the year, as borrowers acted on the drop in mortgage rates last week. Rates were driven lower by investors’ increased concern about the economic impact from China’s coronavirus outbreak, in addition to existing concerns over trade and other geo-political risks,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “With the 30-year fixed rate at its lowest level since November 2016, refinances jumped 7.5 percent. Purchase applications grew 2 percent and were more than 16 percent higher than the same week last year. Thanks to low rates and the healthy job market, purchase activity continues to run stronger than in 2019.” … The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) decreased to 3.81 percent from 3.87 percent, with points increasing to 0.28 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 3.5% year-over-year in November -- S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for November ("November" is a 3 month average of September, October and November prices). This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index.  From S&P: S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index Continues Upward Trend for Annual Home Price Gains The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 3.5% annual gain in November, up from 3.2% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 2.0%, up from 1.7% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 2.6% year-over-year gain, up from 2.2% in the previous month. Phoenix, Charlotte and Tampa reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. In November, Phoenix led the way with a 5.9% year-over-year price increase, followed by Charlotte with a 5.2% increase and Tampa with a 5.0% increase. Fifteen of the 20 cities reported greater price increases in the year ending November 2019 versus the year ending October 2019. The National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 0.2%, while the 10-City and 20-City Composites both posted a month-over-month increase of 0.1% before seasonal adjustment in November. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index, 10-City and 20-City Composites all posted a 0.5% increase. In November, 13 of 20 cities reported increases before seasonal adjustment while all 20 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment.   “With the month’s 3.5% increase in the national composite index, home prices are currently 59% above the trough reached in February 2012, and 15% above their pre-financial crisis peak. November’s results were broad-based, with gains in every city in our 20-city composite. “At a regional level, Phoenix retains the top spot for the sixth consecutive month, with a gain of 5.9% for November. Charlotte and Tampa rose by 5.2% and 5.0% respectively, leading the Southeast region.” The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000). The Composite 10 index is up 2.2% from the bubble peak, and up 0.5% in November (SA) from September. The Composite 20 index is 6.1% above the bubble peak, and up 0.5% (SA) in November. The National index is 15.3% above the bubble peak (SA), and up 0.5% (SA) in November.  The National index is up 55.9% from the post-bubble low set in December 2011 (SA). The second graph shows the Year over year change in all three indices. Note: According to the data, prices increased in 20 of 20 cities month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

 Zillow Case-Shiller Forecast: House Price Gains "Primed for an Upswing" The Case-Shiller house price indexes for November were released yesterday. Zillow forecasts Case-Shiller a month early, and I like to check the Zillow forecasts since they have been pretty close. From Matthew Speakman at Zillow: November Case-Shiller Results and December Forecast: Primed for an Upswing: The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index® rose 3.5% year-over-year in November (non-seasonally adjusted), up from 3.2% in October. Annual growth was also up from September in the smaller 10-city index (to 2%, from 1.7%) and in the 20-city index (to 2.6%, from 2.2%)....After a yearlong slowdown in 2019, home values appear primed to go back on the upswing to start 2020.The main driver in this acceleration is clearly the ongoing and historic lack of for-sale inventory, though a strong job market, stabilizing geopolitical tensions and still-low mortgage rates have played their part. Even taking seasonal factors into consideration, the number of homes available for sale fell consistently through the latter part of 2019 and now sits near the lowest level on record. This lack of homes has made competition among buyers — buoyed by otherwise favorable economic conditions — even more fierce, in turn helping to push up prices even faster. Indeed, homebuying activity has picked up in recent months, with sales of existing homes reaching their highest level in nearly two years in December. The Zillow forecast is for the year-over-year change for the Case-Shiller National index to be at 4.1% in December, up from 3.5% in December. The Zillow forecast is for the 20-City index to be up 3.2% YoY in December from 2.6% in November, and for the 10-City index to increase to 2.7% YoY compared to 2.0% YoY in November.

"Mortgage Rates Basically at Best Levels Since 2016" From Matthew Graham at MortgageNewsDaily: Mortgage Rates Basically at Best Levels Since 2016: Mortgage rates improved again today as the market continued to react to updates on the coronavirus outbreak. For top tier scenarios, the average lender is now offering rates not seen since 2016, with the slight exception of a few hours during the beginning of September 2019. Even then, today's rates at least match Sept 2019's rates on average. In other words, today is tied for the lowest levels in more than 3 years. [Today's Most Prevalent Rates For Top Tier Scenarios 30YR FIXED - 3.5 -3.625%]  This graph from Mortgage News Daily shows mortgage rates since January 2011. Not far from the record low levels of late 2012.  This graph is interactive, and you could view mortgage rates back to the mid-1980s - click here for interactive graph.

New Home Sales at 694,000 Annual Rate in December -The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 694 thousand.  The previous three months were revised down, combined."Sales of new single‐family houses in December 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 694,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 0.4 percent  below the revised November rate of 697,000, but is 23.0 percent above the December 2018 estimate of 564,000. An estimated 681,000 new homes were sold in 2019. This is 10.3 percent above the 2018 figure of 617,000. " The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate.Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are still somewhat low historically.The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. The months of supply increased in December to 5.7 months from 5.5 months in November.The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is in the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed.The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973. The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is close to normal. The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In December 2019 (red column), 47 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 38 thousand homes were sold in December. The all time high for December was 87 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for December was 23 thousand in both 1966 and 2010. This was below expectations of 730 thousand sales SAAR, and sales in the three previous months were revised down, combined.  However this was still solid with sales up 23% year-over-year.

New Home Sales Disappoint, Slump To 5-Month Lows -  Following the big upside surprise in existing home sales, analysts expected new home sales to extend gains further in December but they disappointed significantly, dropping 0.4% MoM (vs +1.5%) and worse still, November's 1.3% jump was revised drastically lower to down 1.1% MoM.The 694k SAAR is the lowest since July... Despite low rates, soaring homebuilder sentiment, and housing starts at decade highs, new home sales fall for the 3rd month in a row.The median sales price edged up 0.5% from a year earlier to $331,400.Purchases of new homes fell in the South, the largest region, and the Northeast, while they climbed in the Midwest and W est.

A few Comments on December New Home Sales - New home sales for December were reported at 694,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). Sales for the previous three months were revised down. Annual sales in 2019 were at 681,000, up 10.3% from annual sales in 2018, and the best year for new home sales since 2007.   This was well above analysts forecast for sales in 2019, and the growth mostly happened in the second half of the year.  This graph shows new home sales for 2018 and 2019 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).  The year-over-year comparison was easy in December, and sales in December were up 23.0% year-over-year compared to December 2018. Note that the comparisons will be fairly easy for the first five months of 2020, but will be more difficult in the second half of the year. And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales.  The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through December 2019. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s. Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales.Even though distressed sales are down significantly, following the bust, new home builders focused on more expensive homes - so the gap closed slowly.Now the gap is mostly closed, and I expect it to close a little more.   However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes. Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

New Home Prices - As part of the new home sales report released today, the Census Bureau reported the number of homes sold by price and the average and median prices.  From the Census Bureau: "The median sales price of new houses sold in December 2019 was $331,400. The average sales price was $384,500.  The following graph shows the median and average new home prices.  During the housing bust, the builders had to build smaller and less expensive homes to compete with all the distressed sales.  When housing started to recovery - with limited finished lots in recovering areas - builders moved to higher price points to maximize profits.  Now it appears the home builders are offering some less expensive (and probably smaller) homes. The average price in December 2019 was $384,500, and the median price was $311,400. The second graph shows the percent of new homes sold by price. Very few new homes sold were under $150K in December 2019.  This is down from 30% in 2002.  In general, the under $150K bracket is going away.    The $400K+ bracket increased significantly since the housing recovery started, but has been holding steady recently.  Still, a majority of new homes (about 57%) in the U.S., are in the $200K to $400K range.

 NAR: "Pending Home Sales Skid 4.9% in December" --From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Skid 4.9% in December: Pending home sales fell in December, taking a step back after increasing slightly in November, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Each of the four major regions reported a drop in month-over-month contract activity, with the South experiencing the steepest fall. However, year-over-year pending home sales activity was up nationally compared to one year ago.The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings,fell 4.9% to 103.2 in December. Year-over-year contract signings increased 4.6%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001....All regional indices were down in December. The Northeast PHSI slipped 4.0% to 92.4 in December, 0.1% lower than a year ago. In the Midwest, the index dropped 3.6% to 98.8 last month, 1.3% higher than in December 2018.Pending home sales in the South decreased 5.5% to an index of 118.1 in December, a 7.4% increase from December 2018. The index in the West fell 5.4% in December 2019 to 93.1, an increase of 7.0% from a year ago. This was well below expectations for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in January and February.

December pending home sales fall 4.9% as supply hits a record low - Pending home sales, which measure signed contracts, not closings, dropped 4.9% in December compared with November, as the supply of homes hit a record low during the month. Sales were projected to rise 1% month-to-month. December is historically the slowest month of the year in the housing market. Despite the month-to-month drop, though, 2019 ended up slightly stronger than the year before. Pending home sales were 4.6% higher last month than in December 2018, according to the National Association of Realtors. Regionally, pending sales in the Northeast fell 4% for the month and were 0.1% lower than a year ago. In the Midwest, sales dropped 3.6% monthly but were 1.3% higher annually. Pending home sales in the South decreased 5.5% monthly but were 7.4% stronger compared with a year ago. Pending sales in the West fell 5.4% monthly but were up 7% annually. Buyers were likely buoyed by low mortgage rates. The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage hovered around 3.75% in December, a full percentage point lower than the rate in December 2018. Home price gains accelerated last fall, after easing for much of the year, but lower mortgage rates helped to offset that increase. But supply remains an issue. The inventory of homes for sale fell to its lowest level on record in December. Supplies are leanest on the low end, where demand is strongest. That is likely to persist through 2020. “Due to the shortage of affordable homes, home sales growth will only rise by around 3%,” predicted Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NAR. “Still, national median home price growth is in no danger of falling due to inventory shortages and will rise by 4%.” Yun noted that the new home construction market looks promising. Housing starts and new home sales set to rise 6% and 10%, respectively. Both D.R. Horton and Pulte Group showed strong growth in entry-level home sales as they reported quarterly earnings this week. “The state of housing in 2020 will depend on whether home builders bring more affordable homes to the market,” added Yun. “Home prices and even rents are increasing too rapidly, and more inventory would help correct the problem and slow price gains.”

 US Pending Home Sales Suffer Worst December Collapse On Record  After  a surge in existing home sales and a 3rd monthly decline in new home sales, pending home sales for December were expected to break the tie over the state of US housing with a continued rebound. However, they very much did not, with sales crashing 4.9% MoM, the biggest monthly drop since May 2010.  All regional indices were down in December.

  • The Northeast PHSI slipped 4.0% to 92.4 in December, 0.1% lower than a year ago.
  • In the Midwest, the index dropped 3.6% to 98.8 last month, 1.3% higher than in December 2018.
  • In the South decreased 5.5% to an index of 118.1 in December, a 7.4% increase from December 2018.
  • The index in the West fell 5.4% in December 2019 to 93.1, an increase of 7.0% from a year ago.

While December crashed, pending home sales still surged 6.8% YoY (with mortgage rates down over 1%), but fell to the lowest SAAR since February 2019...  “Mortgage rates are expected to hold under 4% for most of 2020, while net job creation will likely exceed two million,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. While he noted that these factors are promising for the housing market, Yun cautioned that low inventory remains a significant longer-term concern. “Due to the shortage of affordable homes, home sales growth will only rise by around 3%,” Yun predicted.“Still, national median home price growth is in no danger of falling due to inventory shortages and will rise by 4%. The new home construction market also looks brighter, with housing starts and new home sales set to rise 6% and 10%, respectively.”“The state of housing in 2020 will depend on whether home builders bring more affordable homes to the market,” Yun said.“Home prices and even rents are increasing too rapidly, and more inventory would help correct the problem and slow price gains.”This is the worst December drop for pending home sales on record...

Home Ownership Rate: At 64.6% in Q4 2019 - Over the last decade, the general trend has been consistent: The rate of home ownership continues to struggle. The Census Bureau has now released its latest quarterly report with data through Q4 2019. The seasonally adjusted rate for Q4 is 64.6 percent, up from Q3. The nonseasonally adjusted Q4 number is 65.1 percent, up from the Q3 64.8 percent figure. The Census Bureau has been tracking the nonseasonally adjusted data since 1965. Their seasonally adjusted version only goes back to 1980. Here is a snapshot of the nonseasonally adjusted series with a 4-quarter moving average to highlight the trend. The consensus view is that trend away from homeownership is a result of rising residential real estate prices in general and limited supply of entry-level priced homes that would attract first-time buyers. Here is the YoY version of the chart going back to 1965.  For an interesting comparison to prices, here is an inflation-adjusted look at the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index.  The snapshot below gives us a crude comparison of the US homeownership rate compared to seventeen other countries. Our data source is a subset of the nearly four dozen countries in this Wikipedia entry on homeownership. We included the outliers at the top and bottom, Romania at 96.4% (2015) and Switzerland at 43.4% (2015), with the most recent data as of 2017 for New Zealand and Singapore, at 63.2% and 90.7%, respectively.

What Does Lowest Population Growth In US History Mean For Housing? - - 2019 saw US population growth at its lowest percentage level in US history aside from the pandemic years of 1918/1919 (when the Spanish flu took the lives of nearly 700,000 Americans).  The 0.5% annual growth meant US population grew by approx. 1.55 million persons in 2019. Today, I just wanted to focus on the implications of low population growth on the largest sector of the US economy, housing and in particular new housing starts.  Really take a minute to check to understand these relationships...its really important. From 1960 to 2008, annual population growth (red line) varied from about 1.8 to 3.5 million a year and the vast majority of that growth came among the under 70 year old population (yellow line).  During this nearly five decades, housing starts (blue line) varied from about 1 to 2 million units annually, with sharp inverse swings based on the cost of money represented by the changes in the federal funds rate (black line). But starting in 2008, housing starts fell below 1 million units and would remain there through 2012 despite the cost of money (federal funds rate) sitting at zero for nearly a decade.  The NAR and others suggest there is a housing shortage due to this period of significantly below trend housing starts...but if you happen to look at the red line (decelerating total population growth) and the yellow line (collapsing population growth among the under 70 year old population), perhaps something else is happening.70+ year-old elderly folks have the highest home ownership rates,.  In 2019, the 70+ population grew by about 1.3 million.  Point is, 70+ year-olds are not net home buyers but net sellers as they pay down/pay off their mortgages, downsize, move to managed care, or pass away. It is the annual growth of the under 70 year-old population that drives demand for new housing, that has high levels of employment, and the willingness to undertake long term mortgage debt.  In 2019, the under 70 year-old population grew by less than 300 thousand.  The 90%+ annual deceleration in the potential buyers versus a ten-fold rise in the annual growth of elderly has turned the housing market upside down. But last year, more new homes were started than the total population increased...something that had not happened since the early 1970's.  The chart below shows annual starts as a percentage of annual population growth moving inverse the federal funds rate.  The sharp increase in housing starts amid a population growth slowdown is definitely noteworthy.

Q4 2019 GDP Details on Residential and Commercial Real Estate - The BEA has released the underlying details for the Q4 initial GDP report this morning. The BEA reported that investment in non-residential structures decreased at a 10.1% annual pace in Q4. Investment in petroleum and natural gas exploration decreased in Q4 compared to Q3, and was down 19% year-over-year.  The first graph shows investment in offices, malls and lodging as a percent of GDP. Investment in offices decreased in Q4, but was up 3% year-over-year. Investment in multimerchandise shopping structures (malls) peaked in 2007 and was down about 32% year-over-year in Q4 - and at a record low as a percent of GDP.   The vacancy rate for malls is still very high, so investment will probably stay low for some time. Lodging investment decreased in Q4, but lodging investment was up 1% year-over-year.  The second graph is for Residential investment components as a percent of GDP. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, RI includes new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement, Brokers’ commissions and other ownership transfer costs, and a few minor categories (dormitories, manufactured homes).  Usually single family investment is the top category, although home improvement was the top category for five consecutive years following the housing bust.  Then investment in single family structures was back on top, however it is close between single family and home improvement.  Even though investment in single family structures has increased from the bottom, single family investment is still low, and still below the bottom for previous recessions as a percent of GDP. I expect some further increases.  Investment in single family structures was $282 billion (SAAR) (about 1.3% of GDP)..  Investment in multi-family structures decreased in Q4.  Investment in home improvement was at a $268 billion Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) in Q2 (about 1.2% of GDP).  Home improvement spending has been solid.

Personal Income increased 0.2% in December, Spending increased 0.3% - The BEA released the Personal Income and Outlays report for December:  Personal income increased $40.7 billion (0.2 percent) in December according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $30.6 billion (0.2 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $46.6 billion (0.3 percent). Real DPI decreased 0.1 percent in December and Real PCE increased 0.1 percent. The PCE price index increased 0.3 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.2 percent The December PCE price index increased 1.6 percent year-over-year and the December PCE price index, excluding food and energy, increased 1.6 percent year-over-year. The following graph shows real Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) through December 2019 (2012 dollars). Note that the y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change.  The dashed red lines are the quarterly levels for real PCE.The increase in personal income was below expectations, and the increase in PCE was at expectations.PCE growth was sluggish in Q4, and inflation remains below the Fed's target.

Savings Slump As US Spending Jumps With Income Growth Weakest In 2 Years - After surging higher in November, analysts expected US personal income and spending growth to slow modestly in December and it did with income growth disappointing. Personal Spending rose 0.3% MoM (as expected) in December, slightly slower than November's 0.4% MoM jump. Personal Income disappointed, rising 0.2% MoM against expectations of a 0.3% rise (and November's data was revised down from +0.5% to +0.4%). But on a YoY basis, the good 'ol American consumer refused to be restricted by weaker growth in their income (+3.9% - slowest since Jan 2017) and surged spending at a 5.9% YoY rate... Charts Source: Bloomberg Sending the savings rate to 6-month lows... Income gains accelerated for government workers in December but slowed for non-government workers... After adjusting for inflation, spending climbed 0.1%. That gain was driven by prescription drugs and health care, suggesting that discretionary outlays may be less robust than the headline figures indicate. Finally, we note that The Fed's favorite inflation indicator - The PCE Deflator - ticked up in December to its highest in 12 months...

Real Disposable Income Per Capita in December - With the release of this morning's report on December Personal Incomes and Outlays, we can now take a closer look at"Real" Disposable Personal Income Per Capita. At two decimal places, the nominal 0.15% month-over-month change in disposable income was reduced to -0.12% when we adjust for inflation. This is down from last month's 0.38% nominal and 0.28% real increase last month. The year-over-year metrics are 3.12% nominal and 1.49% real. Post-recession, the trend was one of steady growth, but generally flattened out in late 2015. Disposable income began a faster increase in 2012 and 2013 that continues. The first chart shows both the nominal per capita disposable income and the real (inflation-adjusted) equivalent since 2000. This indicator was significantly disrupted by the bizarre but predictable oscillation caused by 2012 year-end tax strategies in expectation of tax hikes in 2013. It will be interesting to see how the recent tax legislation affects the trend over time. The BEA uses the average dollar value in 2012 for inflation adjustment. But the 2012 peg is arbitrary and unintuitive. For a more natural comparison, let's compare the nominal and real growth in per-capita disposable income since 2000.  Nominal disposable income is up 98.1% since then. But the real purchasing power of those dollars is up only 38.6%.

Americans Haven't Been This Confident In The Current Economy Since The Peak Of The DotCom Bubble - After a mixed December (headline flat, current up, future down), analysts expected the ongoing ramp in stocks to have lifted the Conference Board consumer confidence survey in January. Both present situation and futures expectations jumped, lifting the headline to its highest since August.

  • Consumer confidence in January rose to 131.6 vs 128.2 in prior month.
  • Present situation confidence rose to 175.3 vs 170.5 last month
  • Consumer confidence expectations rose to 102.5 vs 100.0 last month

The present situation reading is back at the highest level since the dotcom bubble peak... Charts Source: Bloomberg The Labor Differential (Jobs Plentiful - Hard to Get) surged back near record highs...  Presumably this survey was undertaken before the latest downturn in stocks amid global pandemic concerns. Finally, we wonder if - as we have seen in the past - if the spread between dis-saving and consumer confidence has once again been stretched too wide...

 Headline Durable Goods Orders Up 2.4% In December - The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders: New orders for manufactured durable goods in December increased $5.7 billion or 2.4 percent to $245.5 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up two of the last three months, followed a 3.1 percent November decrease. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 0.1 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 2.5 percent. Transportation equipment, up following three consecutive monthly decreases, drove the increase, $5.9 billion or 7.6 percent to $82.9 billion. Download full PDFThe latest new orders number at 2.4% month-over-month (MoM) was better than the 0.4% estimate. The series is down 3.7% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods was down 0.1 MoM, which was worse than the consensus of 0.1%. The core measure is down 1.0% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is down 7.7% MoM and down 5.8% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is up down 0.9% MoM and up 1.0% YoY.For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

Boeing Implosion Leads To Worst Aircraft Orders In 11 Years, With GDP Collapse On Deck - After November's big downside surprise in Durable Goods Orders, analysts hoped for a modest rebound in December but preliminary data showed a huge rebound (up 2.4% MoM vs +0.3% MoM expected). Additionally the 2.1% drop in November was revised even further down to -3.1% MoM. Motor Vehicles and Parts orders plunged YoY.. However, if we remove Defense spending (a 168.3% surge in Defense Aircraft New Orders), durable goods orders remain ugly... Thanks to a 75% collapse in Non-Defense Aircraft New Orders...its lowest level since 2009 as Boeing implodes. Charts Source: Bloomberg There goes GDP! None of which should be a surprise, as we noted previously, Boeing's production cuts will cut Q1 GDP growth by a third.

Dallas Fed: "Growth in Texas Manufacturing Activity Picks Up" --From the Dallas Fed: Growth in Texas Manufacturing Activity Picks Up Growth in Texas factory activity accelerated in January, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, rose seven points to 10.5, suggesting stronger output growth than last month. Other measures of manufacturing activity also pointed to an acceleration in January. The new orders index shot up 16 points to 17.6, its highest reading in 15 months. The growth rate of orders index returned to positive territory, rising from -5.0 to 6.1. The capacity utilization and shipments indexes pushed further positive, coming in at 11.5 and 8.6, respectively. Perceptions of broader business conditions were largely unchanged in January. The general business activity index came in at zero, with three-fourths of respondents noting no change this month and the rest split between improved and worsened activity. Labor market measures suggested slower employment growth and no change in workweek length this month. The employment index retreated from 6.2 to 1.9, indicative of an abatement in hiring. Sixteen percent of firms noted net hiring, while 14 percent noted net layoffs. The hours worked index came in at zero. This was another weak regional report for January with the General business activity index at zero.

 Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Rebounded in January - From the Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Rebounded in January - Fifth District manufacturing activity rebounded in January, according to the most recent survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index rose from −5 in December to 20 in January, as all three components— shipments, new orders, and employment— increased. Local business conditions also improved as this index saw its largest increase since February 2013. Manufacturers were optimistic that conditions would continue to strengthen in the coming months Survey results indicate that both employment and wages rose for survey participants in January. However, firms continued to struggle to find workers with the necessary skills. They expected this difficulty to persist but wages and employment to continue to grow in the next six months. This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for January. Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index:

Chicago PMI Lowest in Four Years - 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, fell to 42.9 in January from 48.9 in December, which is in contraction territory. Values above 50.0 indicate expanding manufacturing activity.Here is an excerpt from the press release:The Chicago Business Barometer TM, produced with MNI, slipped to 42.9 in January, the lowest level since December 2015. After two straight months of gains, the index fell further into contraction, with the threemonth average falling to 45.9. [Source] Let's take a look at the Chicago PMI since its inception.

Despite thousands of job cuts, General Motors will receive $2.28 billion in Michigan tax credits - General Motors (GM), which cut the jobs of 8,000 white-collar workers last year and recently closed an assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and Baltimore, Maryland, is continuing to receive billions in tax cuts and public subsidies. In a move announced last week, the state of Michigan agreed to extend a decades-long tax credit arrangement with GM, slightly lowering the maximum credit the giant automaker can obtain to $2.28 billion through the end of 2029. The tax credit reduction amounts to $325 million over the next decade, or $32.5 million a year, a pittance for the company that made $7 billion in profits in the first three quarters of 2019 alone. According to the Michigan Strategic Fund board, GM agreed to invest $3.5 billion in the state over the next 10 years, including at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, where the bulk of the investment is expected to be focused. The tax credit agreement is part of an amendment to the 2009 Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) agreement, signed by former Michigan Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2009. Through the MEGA agreement, the state of Michigan awarded billions of dollars in tax breaks to the Detroit “Big” Three auto corporations—former Chrysler Group (now FCA), Ford Motor Company and GM—in order to keep them in the state after the 2008 financial meltdown and the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler. In May 2019, GM also won up to $50 million in tax credits from the state of Missouri over 10 years, signed by Republican Governor Mike Parson. GM agreed to invest $750 million in its Wentzville, Missouri, plant, which assembles trucks and vans. Tax credits affect the amount of actual tax owed to the government and can affect the amount of a tax rebate the corporation is eligible for. In 2018, GM recorded $4.32 billion in profits and received a $104 million tax rebate, an effective tax rate of -2.4 percent. At the same time, the tax deal struck with Michigan frees GM to further cut jobs and reduce labor costs. In return for the modest cutback on tax credits, GM can be “more flexible with staffing,” according to the Detroit News. Under the amendment, GM is required to maintain a total Michigan workforce of 34,750 to qualify for 100 percent of the tax credits granted by the agreement. GM currently employs 48,000 in the state, meaning that over 13,000 jobs could be slashed and GM will still qualify for the full credit. Furthermore, if GM employment in Michigan falls below the 34,750 threshold but stays above 27,875, it will qualify for 75 percent of the total tax credits offered.

 Philly Fed: State Coincident Indexes increased in 37 states in December - From the Philly Fed: The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has released the coincident indexes for the 50 states for December 2019. Over the past three months, the indexes increased in 39 states, decreased in eight states, and remained stable in three, for a threemonth diffusion index of 62. In the past month, the indexes increased in 37 states, decreased in nine states, and remained stable in four, for a one-month diffusion index of 56.Note: These are coincident indexes constructed from state employment data. An explanation from the Philly Fed: The coincident indexes combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing by production workers, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average). The trend for each state’s index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product (GDP), so long-term growth in the state’s index matches long-term growth in its GDP.

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Decrease to 216,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending January 25, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 216,000, a decrease of 7,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 12,000 from 211,000 to 223,000. The 4-week moving average was 214,500, a decrease of 1,750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 3,000 from 213,250 to 216,250. The previous week was revised up significantly.The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

 Cop Charged With Murdering A Handcuffed Man Previously Killed Another Person - A criminal complaint released Wednesday provided new details in the case of the Maryland police officer charged with murder after he shot a handcuffed man inside his squad car. Michael Owen, an officer with the Prince George's County police, was arrested Tuesday and charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for the death of William Green. According to the criminal complaint, police "failed to uncover any evidence" of an alleged altercation between the men. They also said no weapons were found on Green. Owen's record has also come under scrutiny; in 2011, he was involved in another fatal shooting but not charged. On Monday night, Owen was among officers who responded to reports that a driver had hit several vehicles in Temple Hills, just south of Washington, DC. Upon locating the driver, police said, he seemed to be under the influence of an unknown substance. Police called for the assistance of a drug recognition expert. Green was handcuffed with his hands behind his back and put in the passenger seat of the police car, which is standard arrest protocol, police spokesperson Christina Cotterman said. Owen then got in the driver's seat. What happened next is not clear; according to the criminal complaint, Owen then shot Green seven times. Lifesaving measures were attempted, and Green was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police initially told reporters that officers believed Green had been high on PCP and that some sort of altercation between him and Owen broke out inside the car. But in a stunning reversal later Tuesday evening, Prince George's County Police Chief Henry Stawinski announced that after reviewing details of the incident he was unable to provide a "reasonable explanation" for why Green was fatally shot. "I have concluded that what happened last night is a crime," Stawinski said in his announcement that Owen would face criminal charges. The police chief's announcement marked a dramatic departure from what was previously believed to have transpired. It also stood apart from typical cases of police killings, for which charges are rare and often only come about weeks or months afterward amid intense public pressure and media scrutiny.

Eleven inmates dead in a month of violence at Mississippi state prisons - The death toll of Mississippi prisons has risen to eleven already since the beginning of the year following a spate of violence at the end of December and beginning of this month when three men were killed and dozens wounded in a week of rioting at the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman Farm. Since December 29, eleven inmates have died in Mississippi prisons, many of them in one week during what prison official have claimed is a “gang war” among inmates, but prisoners have insisted was instigated by the prison guards who are themselves gang members. Two inmates died this week at Parchman from injuries sustained by hanging, in what Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) officials declared to be an “apparent suicide” in the case of the prisoner found dead on Wednesday and cause yet to be determined pending an autopsy for the man who died Saturday morning. As of this writing, neither man has been identified. In both cases, the men were being held in cells in the crumbling Unit 29 at Parchman Farm. Unit 29 was deemed unsafe this month by MDOC, with no power and no running water in many cells and black mold taking over the facility. While 375 inmates have been moved out of the decrepit unit, some 625 have been left to rot, while others have been moved to a section known as Unit 32, which was previously condemned in 2010 over the same conditions. Parchman is Mississippi’s only maximum-security prison for men, and Unit 29, which opened in 1980, has been used to house the state’s death row inmates. Prior to the two suicides last week, two prisoners were killed by “blunt force beatings” on January 20, according to official statements. MDOC has identified the victims as 35-year-old Timothy Hudspeth and 36-year-old James Talley; both were serving nearly ten-year sentences for felony possession of a firearm. The men were pronounced dead at the facility “following an altercation with other inmates,” according to prison officials. This month alone, Parchman has had seven inmate deaths, including three killed by other prisoners, one of natural causes and three apparent suicides. The most recent deaths have been called “isolated incidents” and are not, according to officials, related to gang reprisals or targeted assassinations. Republican Governor Tate Reeves tweeted in response to the most recent killings, “We have been working around the clock with MDOC and DPS to respond immediately and prevent this going forward.”

The Greatest Threat to the Prison-Industrial Complex - In the U.S., the nation with the largest prison population proportional to population in the world, the idea of rehabilitation long ago went from being a stated goal to a completely ignored concept. A study focusing on people released from prisons in 2005 reveals that they were arrested again in the following nine years at an astounding rate of 83%. But rather than give up on the 2.3 million primarily black and brown Americans who are incarcerated, the Bard Prison Initiative, founded in 2001, has taken a different approach. The inspiring program, which provides people incarcerated in New York with the opportunity to take college-level classes and obtain degrees from Bard College, is the subject of a PBS documentary titled, “College Behind Bars.” Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer caught up with the film’s director, Lynn Novick, and Jule Hall, a graduate of the Bard Prison Initiative, in the latest episode of “Scheer Intelligence.” “In this film, [we see Jules Hall] taking German classes, and there are people taking Mandarin Chinese classes, and there are people studying mathematics,” Scheer says in his introduction. “To my mind, the redemptive quality of education is really on display in this film, among other things, including that we can think of other human beings as throwaway people.” Hall, who received a degree from the program and now works as a program associate at the Ford Foundation, tells Scheer how the program affected him and his classmates. “One of the reasons why I joined the program is because I saw that there weren’t many constructive avenues for people to engage themselves on the inside,” Hall explains. “And my desire was to engage myself, and the Bard Prison Initiative gave me the means to do so, by sitting me in a classroom, helping me to see myself as a student, and allowing me to take a more active role in my own self-development.” Hall discusses his project, which examines how “West Germany in 1954 worked to create a multicultural society by using migrant workers called gastarbeiter,” and how he even learned German during the program. He describes powerful class discussions that the program made possible, and how he and his classmates were able to grow, despite the dire conditions they faced in prison.

 Elementary students learn about oil industry with hands-on mobile unit — Students at Ramona Elementary School got the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get their hands in the oil and natural gas industry using a mobile Oilfield Learning Unit. The oil and natural gas industry contribute billions of dollars to the state's economy, according to Todd Staples, president of Texas Oil & Gas Association. Monday, students at Ramona Elementary School saw firsthand how important this industry is for the future of Texas. State and local officials joined representatives from the Texas Oil & Gas Association and Marathon Petroleum to introduce the Mobile Oilfield Learning Unit. Interactive stations allows elementary students to experience the ins and outs of one of the industry. Staples said teaching children this young about the oil and natural gas industry is important. “We know that we need a new generation of leaders. We know that technology is a game changer, innovation to technology is enabling us to do more. A cleaner, stronger energy future that’s focused on lower emissions and environmental stewardship. And we think education brings all that together," Staples said. The oil and natural gas industry supplies millions of dollars each year to education, Staples. The mobile unit promotes STEM education and get students at a young age to think about a possible career in the oil and natural gas industry.

 Wells Fargo, Fifth Third Bank end donations to Florida school voucher program after reports of anti-gay policies --  Two of the country’s largest banks are ending donations to a Florida private school voucher program after an investigation by the Orlando Sentinel revealed some of the schools it supports discriminate against LGBTQ students. Wells Fargo confirmed with CNBC Wednesday that it will no longer give money to the program. “We have reviewed this matter carefully and have decided to no longer support Step Up for Students," Wells Fargo said in a statement to new station. "All of us at Wells Fargo highly value diversity and inclusion, and we oppose discrimination of any kind."Fifth Third Bank also dropped participation in the program after being called out by State Rep. Carlos Smith (D) on Twitter.  “We have communicated with program officials that we will not be contributing again until more inclusive policies have been adopted by all participating schools to protect the sexual orientation of all our students," the bank posted.

Major banks to pull contributions for Florida school vouchers because of anti-LGBTQ discrimination -Tampa Bay Times — Two major banks are ending their financial support of Florida’s private school voucher program because of reports of discrimination against LGBTQ students. The Ohio-based Fifth Third Bank tweeted its announcement Tuesday evening, in response to a state representative who had tagged the company in a separate tweet about their contributions to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. That program allows companies to make donations, which are deducted from their taxes, to fund private school vouchers for lower-income students.Wells Fargo also decided to halt their donations to the program, according to a statement the company issued to NBC News.An Orlando Sentinel analysis of 1,000 private religious schools that accepted the state-funded vouchers found that 83 of them have policies barring LGBTQ students, or, sometimes, the children of LGBTQ parents, from attending their schools. Seventy-three additional schools said being gay or transgender was sinful but didn’t say explicitly how that stance affected admissions, according to the Sentinel’s report.“Marching in Orlando Pride while also funding anti-LGBTQ schools is NOT okay!” tweeted Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, who tagged Fifth Third Bank’s account. Guillermo Smith is gay. “We definitely stand with LGBTQ students and parents,” the bank tweeted in response. “We have communicated with program officials that we will not be contributing again until more inclusive policies have been adopted by all participating schools to protect the sexual orientation of all our students."

 New analysis reveals alarming number of Minnesota teens reporting sexual exploitation - At least 5,000 teens in Minnesota say they’ve traded sex for something of value. That startling figure comes from researchers at the University of Minnesota and the state Health Department, who pored through data from a recent survey of high school students. Advocates say this reveals a greater need for outreach and prevention efforts.“Have you ever traded sex or sexual activity to receive money, food, drugs, alcohol, a place to stay or anything else?” That’s one of the many questions put to ninth and 11th graders across Minnesota last year as part of the triennial Minnesota Student Survey.Of the 80,000 who took the survey, 1.4 percent answered yes.This is the first time this question appeared on the survey. Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said researchers included it in part to get more insight about a broader trend — a sharp increase in students reporting long-term mental health problems.“We know that sexual exploitation is part of this picture,” Malcolm said, “because it harms mental well-being and puts children and youth at risk.” University of Minnesota nursing professor Lauren Martin, one of the researchers parsing the data, said 5,000 is a conservative estimate of the number of young people who’ve traded sex for something of value.“Some youth may be reluctant to answer yes to this kind of a question because it’s a stigmatized activity. The Minnesota Student Survey is conducted on one day in school, so it does not include youth who missed school on that day,” Martin said. Martin also notes that the teens who are more likely to be exploited — those who don’t go to school at all — were not included in the survey.

Poverty associated with suicide risk in children and adolescents - Suicide in children under age 20 has been increasing in the U.S., with rates almost doubling over the last decade. Between 2007 to 2016, nearly 21,000 children ages 5-19 years old died by suicide. While the reasons for the increase are not well understood, new research from Boston Children's Hospital shows a link between poverty and suicide in children and teens nationwide. The researchers grouped the number of suicides into five levels of poverty at the county level ranging from a low of 0-4.9 percent to greater than 20 percent. They learned that the rate of suicides in children and adolescents is 37 percent higher in counties with the highest levels of poverty - where more than 20 percent of the population in the county lives below the federal poverty level - compared with suicide rates in the lowest levels of poverty. The research was published in a paper in JAMA Pediatrics. "The results were consistent in a step-wise fashion," says Lois Lee, MD, MPH, of the department of emergency medicine at Boston Children's Hospital. "As poverty increased, so did the rate of suicide." In this study, researchers collected information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Compressed Mortality File, which includes data on all U.S deaths., including cause of death. After searching for deaths by suicide, method of suicide, and county where the suicide occurred from 2007-2016, they paired that data with county-level poverty rates from US Census data and poverty estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) Program. The findings from this study are similar to research from the CDC that found increases in suicide in youth and young adults ages 10-24 between 2000-2017.

US Colleges Are Trying To Install Location Tracking Apps On Students’ Phones - Barely over a year ago, we pointed out how dystopian it seemed when Chinese schools added “smart uniforms” to track their students’ attendance. But US colleges are already testing out a similar tactic with a location tracking app, which students are now apparently expected to install on their phones. I say “apparently” because there’s some confusion over whether the schools are actually forcing this on their students. The Kansas City Star reported that at the University of Missouri, new students “won’t be given a choice” of whether to install the SpotterEDU app, which uses Apple’s iBeacons to broadcast a Bluetooth signal that can help the phone figure out whether a student is actually in a room.But a university spokesperson told Campus Reform on Sunday that only athletes are technically required to use the app, and a new statement from the university on Monday not only claims that it’s “completely optional” for students, but that the app’s being piloted with fewer than 2 percent of the student body. What the reports do agree on: the app uses local Bluetooth signals, not GPS, so it’s probably not going to be very useful to track students outside of school. “No GPS tracking is enabled, meaning the technology cannot locate the students once they leave class,” reads part of the university’s statement. SpotterEDU is being tested at nearly 40 schools, company founder and former college basketball coach Rick Carter told The Washington Post in December. The Post’s story makes it sound remarkably effective, with one Syracuse professor attesting that classes have never been so full, with more than 90 percent attendance.   And Spotter isn’t the only company marketing this idea to administrators: another startup,Degree Analytics, uses Wi-Fi signals instead of Bluetooth to serve an additional 19 schools, the Post reports. In September, The New York Times wrote about a similar app from a company called FanMaker that provides “loyalty points” to students who stick around to watch college sports games at the stadium instead of skipping out. That app is in use at 40 schools, the Times wrote.

Mizzou Students 'Required' To Install Location-Tracking App So College Can “Pinpoint” Them - New students at the University of Missouri will be required to participate in a tracking program designed to measure and enforce class attendance, according to a new report from The Kansas City Star.  Despite privacy concerns, officials defended the decision as one to the benefit of students, as the school's athletics department has already been using the same app, SpotterEdu, to track certain student-athletes.“A student will have to participate in this recording of attendance,” Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies at MU, said in a statement to The Kansas City Star. Individual professors have to opt-in to using the app, but once they do, students in those professors' classes will not be able to opt-out. SpotterEDU, developed by a former basketball coach, is designed to monitor a user’s attendance by "pinpoint[ing] students within a classroom until they leave, providing continuous, reliable and non-invasive attendance," according to the app's website. While the app ensures that students are in the classroom during class times, it claims it does not track students' locations anywhere else. "We only care if students are in class during class; no GPS tracking means we can't locate them anywhere else," the app's website states. However, the app is not incapable of tracking students' locations outside the classroom."From labs to auditoriums our technology can expand to cover any size of space accurately and precisely," the app's website adds. In a statement to The Washington Post, SpotterEDU chief Rick Carter said that his company works with nearly 40 schools, including major schools such as Auburn, Central Florida, Indiana, and Missouri. Most schools only use SpotterEDU to track their student-athletes; however, many colleges are starting to use the app with their student bodies, like Missouri. According to the Post, colleges use the data to ensure that student-athletes who are receiving scholarships are attending classes regularly. The program emails professors automatically if a student is not in a class, or shows up more than a few minutes late. Carter told the Post that professors can look specifically at attendance patterns for "students of color" or "out of state students" for retention purposes.

Yale Cancels Prestigious Art History Course For Being Too White -  A story and "justification" so absurd and absolutely bonkers that we sincerely wish this was The Onion and not from the oldest college daily newspaper in the United States and at one of the nation's most elite Ivy League schoolsYale will stop teaching a storied introductory survey course in art history, citing the impossibility of adequately covering the entire field — and its varied cultural backgrounds — in one course.  Decades old and once taught by famous Yale professors like Vincent Scully, “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present” was once touted to be one of Yale College’s quintessential classes. But this change is the latest response to student uneasiness over an idealized Western “canon” — a product of an overwhelmingly white, straight, European and male cadre of artists.  So that's it, apparently: the great masterpieces recognized as such by the entire world for generations are now tainted by their supposed "whiteness" and must be censored by the Robespierre-like mob of the "woke".   It's not merely that the Western Civilization-focused “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present” class has been deleted, but the entire concept of "Western art" itself will be a focus of criticism in the multiple new 'more culturally sensitive' classes that will replace it.   The Yale Daily News continues: This spring, the final rendition of the course will seek to question the idea of Western art itself — a marked difference from the course’s focus at its inception. Art history department chair and the course’s instructor Tim Barringer told the News that he plans to demonstrate that a class about the history of art does not just mean Western art. Rather, when there are so many other regions, genres and traditions — all “equally deserving of study” — putting European art on a pedestal is “problematic,” he said.  Clearly, it also sounds like students who happen to favor the Western and European greats will be set up for de-platforming and ridicule.

 Harvard chemistry chairman charged with lying about alleged ties to China - The chairman of Harvard University’s chemistry department was charged with lying to the U.S. government about his alleged connections to China. Charles Lieber, 60, allegedly made false statements to the Defense Department and the National Institutes of Health about his participation in China’s Thousand Talents Program, according to the criminal complaint that was unsealed Tuesday. The Thousand Talents Program, a Chinese government-run program, seeks to recruit Chinese and foreign academics and entrepreneurs to work in science and technology fields in China. The U.S. government has been critical of the program, saying it’s designed to help China gain access to proprietary information. “In some cases, this has resulted in violations of U.S. laws, including economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and grant fraud,” John Brown, a top counterintelligence official at the FBI, said in November. According to the charging documents, Lieber was paid up to $50,000 per month in salary and $150,000 per year in living expenses by Wuhan University of Technology. He was also paid more than $1.5 million by the university and the Chinese government to build a laboratory in Wuhan. Lieber did not disclose the payments to Harvard University, which later confronted him about using its name and logo without consent for the Wuhan laboratory. In April 2018, Lieber told investigators he was familiar with the Thousand Talents Program but had never been asked to participate in it, despite evidence that he had signed a three-year agreement with the Wuhan University of Technology.

Student Enrollment Dropped 11% Since 2011, Student-Loan Balances Surged 74%. Why? - Enrollment in higher education in the United States has dropped by 11% from the peak in 2011. That’s a drop of 2.2 million students over the span of eight years, according to data from the Student Clearing House. But over the same period, when student enrollment dropped 11%, student loan balances have skyrocketed 74%, to $1.6 trillion. The biggest portion of these loans is held by the federal government. It funded them by increasing its own debt. So what’s going on here with this 11% decline in enrollment since 2011, and the crazy 74% surge in student-loan balances? Moody’s, which rates structured securities backed by student loans, and which rates universities and the bonds they issue to fund their pet projects, and which rates Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities backed by “student housing,” well, it came out with a detailed analysis of what’s causing these student-loan balances to balloon like this – and it’s not what we thought. Moody’s found that with scholarships, grants, and tuition-discounting all included, total college costs have largely tracked the increase in median household incomes since 2012. But before 2012, the ratio of college costs to household income had exploded. The big damage was done in the years between 2000 and 2012. Over this period, for students at public four-year schools, costs exploded from 14% of household income to 25% of household income.In dollar terms, costs soared 56% over the 12 years, from about $9,000 in the year 2000, to over $14,000 in 2012.These costs include room and board, tuition, fees, tuition reduction programs, grant aid, and the like.In terms of loans: In 2002, total debt per bachelor’s degree borrower – so people that actually took out loans while going to public four-year schools – was $22,500. But by 2012, this had soared to $27,000. And then it hit a ceiling. By 2018, this debt per bachelor’s degree borrower had ticked up by only $200 to $27,200.This means that there are fewer students, and those fewer students have stopped borrowing more.The total student loan balance of $1.6 trillion reflects the new loans added to that pile, minus the old loans getting paid down by former students. So this 74% surge in student loans since 2011 is a mix of those two factors:

  • New loans being added;
  • Old loans getting paid down.

And we’ll look at both of those factors.

Financialization Has Cemented Declines In Fertility Rates, Births, & Eventually Depopulation - (33 graphs) Nations with 56% of world GDP have declining annual births and childbearing populations, nations with 35% of GDP have declining births but still rising/flat childbearing populations, nations with less than 9% of world GDP have rising births and childbearing populations.Detailed below are 1950 through 2040 annual births, female childbearing, and female post-childbearing populations of worlds largest economies. Utilizing UN World Population Prospects 2019 data. In the wake of the great financial crisis of 2009, ZIRP/NIRP were utilized, federal deficit spending soared, asset prices skyrocketed, employment rose to record levels...but strangely fertility rates and total births have continued falling.  Actually, collapsing.  Record wealth has been accompanied by record low birth rates and unwillingness to have children, suggesting that those reaping the gains of the asset-price-pallooza are not of childbearing age.  The policies since 2009 have rewarded asset holders for being asset holders and penalized young, poor, and those without assets...for being without assets.Simply put, costs of living and assets have risen far faster than incomes.  Rent, daycare, insurance, education, healthcare, etc. etc. have taken a progressively greater share of income leading to fewer and later marriages, fewer and later children, and a general unwillingness to reproduce.  All this has led to collapsing populations of young (and now young adults) among the nations that consume over 90% of the worlds exports and ultimately means collapsing demand while excess capacity is set to soar.So, today I show that of the top 50+ global economies, 6 have rising annual births and childbearing populations, 9 have falling annual births but still have a rising or flat childbearing population (the precursor to depopulation), 35+ have falling births, a falling childbearing population, are in secular decline, and depopulating from the bottom up (negative birth rates coupled with declining childbearing populations).  Essentially, global consumer bases are collapsing from the young up, and this situation is only accelerating...and more debt, more QE, more interest rate cuts are only pushing birth rates and total births lower. The 20 to 40 and 40+ year-old populations of females are not so much projections as simple math, these females already exist and are just shifted forward through the next twenty years assuming existing immigration patterns.  Births from 2020 on are projections.  Nations are in order of the percentage change of their 20 to 40 year-old female childbearing populations from 2020 through 2040.  GDP and % of total global GDP are also included for relativity.

Almost half of cancer patients in the US deplete entire life assets by second year of treatment - After a colon cancer diagnosis, Deb Genetin, a 57-year-old resident of Springfield, Ohio, just outside Dayton, was denied a life-saving surgery at Mercy Health hospital because, in the words of the hospital, her “financing wasn’t in place.” Genetin has not had health insurance in 10 years and makes only $20,000 a year as an administrative assistant in a law firm. Last month, Genetin told the Times-Reporter, “They never told me how much money they needed, how much money I had to come up with. It was just a ‘No.’” Genetin had previously applied for financial aid through Mercy Health but was rejected. Genetin then sought cheaper care at Ohio Valley Surgical Hospital, where she received the necessary surgery. A team of surgeons operate on a patient [Source:] While Genetin is currently cancer-free and now has health insurance, she is struggling to both meet her payments and pay off medical debt. “I had to drop my hours and my income to get [health insurance] and now I struggle to pay the house payment,” she told reporters. Genetin is one of thousands of cancer patients in the United States who struggle to afford adequate treatment. In the last decade, researchers and physicians have begun to further explore the patient-level financial and health consequences of high-cost cancer treatment. A 2018 study from the American Journal of Medicine (AJM), titled “ Death or Debt? National Estimates of Financial Toxicity in Persons with Newly-Diagnosed Cancer, ” evaluate d the extent of financial damage caused by a cancer diagnoses in the United States. The study ’ s large sample size of 9.5 million is a significant extension of previous studies that gathered data on a smaller or state level. The data was pulled from the Health and Retirement Study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and Social Security Administration. Data was collected from 1998 to 2014 on people over 50 years old. Inclusion criteria for the AJM study involved new cancer diagnoses of any type excluding minor skin cancer. Based on the year of diagnosis, a baseline financial value was gathered from two years before the diagnosis to act as a control. The trajectory of the patient’s finances was examined at two years and four years following the initial diagnosis. Changes in the patient’s net worth were calculated based on total wealth, a figure including assets and properties and subtracting debts such as mortgages and consumer debt. The study found that 42.4 percent of the 9,527,522 new diagnoses of cancer between 2000 and 2012 had lost their entire life’s assets by year two. Thirty-eight percent had depleted their life assets by year four. The average net worth by year two was $92,098, depleted from the average initial net worth of $644,031. Large decreases of net worth were seen among those with both worsening and improving cancer status. The largest overall decreases were seen in patients over 75 years old with an average loss of $115,000. Comorbidities such as hypertension, current smoker, and lung disease increased the odds of total net worth depletion. Those with Medicaid as compared to private insurance were independently associated with financial losses at year two and four.

 Cybernetic Opioid Pushers: EHR Vendor Practice Fusion to Pay $145 Million to Resolve Criminal and Civil Investigations -Yves here. Even though we linked to this story earlier in the week about the way a software company Practice Fusion actively enabled opioid abuse, we’re highlighting it again because the details matter, and not just the sorry fact that no one is going to jail.Many commentors defend the use of electronic health records (EHR), not understanding that the way they’ve been implemented in the US makes them a danger to patient health. We are not being hyperbolic; a respected industry body, ECRI, deemed EHRs to be the biggest risk to patient health in large medical organizations (meaning hospital systems) in 2014.One problem is the systems are designed for billing, not for patient care. A second is that they often require the doctor to fill them out in the patient’s presence, distracting the physician from his exam.This post demonstrates a third risk, and one I’d never heard about. Some (many?) EHRs recommend treatment protocols based on doctor inputs. In this case, Practice Fusion had sought bribes from opioid makers in return for designing prompts to recommend opioids first on the list of suggested treatments, irrespective of whether they were appropriate.Note that this “decision support” clearly succeeds in influencing doctor behavior. It can also serve to enforce new treatment guidelines, which in the US routinely pathologize test results that are considered normal in other countries. For instance, earlier this week, we featured a story from RTE which discussed how Irish doctors disagreed with new US guidelines that lowered the threshold for what is considered to be high blood pressure. The article pointed out that the new level was based on clinician opinion, not on any data, and would have the effect of more people being prescribed medications to lower their blood pressure.Even worse, with the practice of medicine in the US increasingly corporatized, it is not hard to imagine that doctors that attempted to use their own judgment and ignored the new guidelines (and decision support prompts to pull out their Rx pad) could be sanctioned by management.

 Is the consumer genetics fad over? -The CEO of 23andMe told CNBC her company will lay off 100 people as sales of its direct-to-consumer gene tests slump.  “This has been slow and painful for us,” CEO Anne Wojcicki told the website, which estimated the cuts would pare about 15% of the company's staff.   Sales of DNA tests that tell people their ancestry and health facts started booming a few years ago, propelled by TV and Internet ads hawking the promise that people could gain unique insights from their genes. During 2018, the total number of people who had ever bought the tests doubled, swelling the databases of 23andMe, Ancestry, and several smaller companies toover 26 million people altogether.  Now, all signs are that sales of the $99 consumer tests slowed dramatically in 2019. Our own calculations suggest the largest companies sold only four to six million of them, meaning the databases would have grown by just 20% during the year. That would have been the slowest growth rate for the DNA test industry ever. It's not clear why consumers stopped buying tests in droves. It could be that the market is tapped out, and there aren't many people left curious to learn what percent French or Nigerian they are, or whether they are at risk for going bald.

Unlawful stem cell products continue to harm people as FDA deadline looms - More than two years after the Food and Drug Administration updated its regulatory framework for regenerative medicine, hundreds of businesses continue to sell unapproved stem cell products and other drugs derived from human blood and tissue. The framework clarified how the agency would oversee the growing market for these products, and it encouraged the development of new therapies while also aiming to restrain the proliferation of unproven — and often dangerous — stem cell treatments. Businesses were given three years to come into compliance, a period that ends this November. But the FDA has signaled that many clinics and providers have yet to heed approval requirements for their products. As of 2017, there were more than 700 clinics advertising stem cell products for a range of conditions, yet the agency has not received the volume of approval applications is expected. It’s increasingly clear that the FDA is going to need help from Congress to make sure regenerative therapy developers comply with the law. Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington are aware of the problem: they’ve been appropriately concerned for several years about a large number of companies that sell unapproved stem cell products. With little to no evidence, providers often claim that these products treat countless medical problems from arthritis to autism and multiple sclerosis; in fact, many have harmed patients’ health and offered no proven therapeutic benefits. Most recently, several people in Nebraska developed serious infections and sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication, after receiving unapproved stem cell products. In other cases, patients have been blinded, developed tumors at the site of drug injection, and even died. The companies that sell these products trade on the legitimate potential that cell- and gene-based therapies could one day help treat, and even cure, serious illnesses, traumatic injuries, and debilitating chronic conditions. The promise of this emerging field is real. But it takes years of careful testing to make sure that drugs are safe and effective for humans — that they will heal and not harm. So far, only a handful of cell-based therapies have been approved by FDA.

'No Safe Level of Air Pollution': Major Study Links Cardiac Arrests With Fine Particulate Matter Exposure - Researchers now say there is "no safe level" of air pollution exposure after a large-scale study found a correlation between exposure to fine particle matter, known as PM2.5, and cardiac arrests, according to theThe Sydney Morning Herald.The researchers found that exposure to PM2.5 that even fell below global standards was hazardous, suggesting that tighter regulations and cleaner energy is required, according to the study, which was published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.Scientists from the University of Sydney led the study, which analyzed air quality in Japan against 249,372 cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. They concluded that even low-level exposure was associated with an increased risk of cardiac arrest for people over 65, as The Sydney Morning Herald reported.The researchers noticed that the risk of cardiac arrest grew by up to 4 percent for every increase of 10 units in the PM2.5 levels. "Our study supports recent evidence that there is no safe level of air pollution — finding an increased risk of cardiac arrest despite air quality generally meeting the standards," said report author professor Kazuaki Negishi from the University of Sydney School of Medicine, as The Canberra Times reported.  "Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is a major medical emergency – with less than one in 10 people worldwide surviving these events – and there has been increasing evidence of an association with the more acute air pollution, or fine particulate matter such as PM2.5," said Negishi in a University of Sydney statement. "We analyzed almost a quarter of a million cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and found a clear link with acute air pollution levels."The findings are troubling for Australia, which has seen its usually pristine air plummet in quality due to the recent bushfires. In the study, more than 90 per cent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occurred at levels below the Australian standard of 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Put another way, the air quality levels ranked as "fair," "good" or "very good" under Australian standards, as the The Sydney Morning Herald reported. The U.S. and Japanese standard is less strict at 35 micrograms per cubic meter.  The researchers expect the worsening air quality will lead to more heart attack fatalities in Australia, especially among older people.

Chinese market at center of coronavirus outbreak sold wolves, rats to eat  -The Chinese market at the center of the deadly coronavirus outbreak sold live animals — including wolf pups, foxes, rats and peacocks — to eat, according to a new report.The wild animals were among 112 items that were peddled at the Huanan Seafood Market in thecentral city of Wuhan, Agence France-Press reported.Other wildlife sold at the market, which has since been shuttered, included crocodiles, giant salamanders, snakes, porcupines and camel meat.“Freshly slaughtered, frozen and delivered to your door,” said the price list for the vendor, “Wild Game Animal Husbandry for the Masses.”The disturbing list circulated widely on China’s internet but could not be independently verified by AFP.Chinese health officials believe the mysterious virus — which has so far killed at least 17 people and sickened hundreds more — originated from “wild animals at the seafood market.”It has since been confirmed to spread via human-to-human contact, as fears mount that it could become a global pandemic.The coronavirus, which causes flu-like symptoms, has spread to four other countries, including the US, where a case was detected in Washington state. Previous deadly epidemics, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), have been linked to Chinese consumption of civet meat.

Chinese Government Forces TV Host Who Popularized Eating Bats To Apologize –- The Chinese government forced the host of a TV show which popularized eating bats to apologize in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, which scientists have linked to the consumption of wild animals. Bat soup is a delicacy in some areas of China and was known to be sold at the illegal animal market in Wuhan blamed for being the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.A show called Beauty Eats Bats which originally launched in 2016 was blamed for re-invigorating the trend of eating bats across the country, prompting the Chinese Communist Party to demand that its female host discourage the consumption of bats.The woman featured in the clip took to social media to profusely apologize for her role in encouraging the consumption of bats and encouraged everyone to start washing their hands more. The video shows the woman breaking apart the corpse of a boiled bat, dipping its wing in sauce and eating it.

Lockdown: As Deadly Virus Spreads, Chinese Hospitals Overwhelmed With Patients - China's National Health Commission reported on Friday that 26 people have now died from the deadly coronavirus and at least 870 people have become infected, including a child only 10 years old.In an unprecedented move, Chinese officials have locked down at least 13 cities in central China with a combined population of about 40 million in a desperate effort to contain the outbreak. Transport in and out of these cities have either ceased or been severely restricted.The Finance Ministry has pledged 1 billion yuan ($144 million) to fight the deadly coronavirus. Other major cities across China have canceled public events linked to weeklong Lunar New Year celebration. Beijing's Forbidden City, Shanghai Disneyland and other tourist attractions have closed. Cinemas across the nation have canceled screenings. “This is unprecedented in China, and maybe even in the history of modern health,” said Yanzhong Huang, director of the center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University, New Jersey, of the travel restrictions. “It’s a tremendous legal, institutional, not to mention logistical challenge.”Health officials suspect the new coronavirus was transferred to the human population by an infected animal in Wuhan in central China, the epicenter of the crisis. Local authorities in Wuhan said Friday they will quickly build a 1,000-bed hospital to treat the coronavirus. The facility is planned for a 270,000-square-foot lot and is expected to be finished in early February.

Doctor at hospital in Wuhan dies after treating patients with coronavirus - A doctor working at a hospital in Wuhan, China — treating patients stricken with the coronavirus — died Saturday morning.Liang Wudong, 62, died after he was infected with Wuhan coronavirus.Wudong retired last year from his position as the head of the ear, nose and throat department at one of Wuhan’s top hospitals, the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese & Western Medicine, The Wall Street Journal reported.The doctor fell ill last week and was transferred to the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, also known as Jinyintan Hospital.The Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily, portrayed him as a hero for having been “at the front line fighting against” the coronavirus in a post on Twitter.The coronavirus, which causes pneumonia, has so far claimed the lives of at least 41 people while infecting at least 1,355, according to the Global Times, an English language paper in China. Most of the cases are in and around Wuhan, in central China, but at least 19 others have been found as far away as Australia, France and the US. Three people are under observation in New York State, Gov. Cuomo said Friday.

China Stiffens Defences Against Epidemic As Death Toll Hits 56 - China expanded drastic travel restrictions Monday and prolonged a public holiday to contain an epidemic that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000, as several countries prepared to evacuate their citizens from a quarantined city at the outbreak's epicentre. China has locked down the hard-hit province of Hubei in the country's centre, an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people and intended to slow transmission of the respiratory virus. Its ability to spread appears to be "getting stronger" though it is "not as powerful as SARS", top Chinese health officials said at a press conference. A working group chaired by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to tackle the epidemic decided to extend the Spring Festival holiday originally scheduled to end on January 30 "to reduce population flows," alongside unspecified changes to the starting dates of schools, state news agency Xinhua reported The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.  Outside the epicentre, Shandong province and four cities -- Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an and Tianjin -- announced bans on long-distance buses entering or leaving, a move that will affect millions of people travelling over the Lunar New Year holiday. The populous southern province of Guangdong, Jiangxi in the centre, and three cities made it mandatory for residents to wear face masks in public. The US State Department said Sunday it was arranging a flight from Wuhan to San Francisco for consulate staff and other Americans in the city. France's government and the French carmaker PSA also said they planned to evacuate staff and families, who will be quarantined in a city in a neighbouring province. Japan is coordinating with Beijing to swiftly evacuate its citizens, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

Hong Kong declares emergency alert over coronavirus - President Xi Jinping warned that mainland China was facing a “grave situation” while Hong Kong declared a state of “emergency” on Saturday as the Wuhan virus epidemic continued to spread. Nearly 2,000 people have been infected as the death toll climbed to 56 at the weekend with new cases reported from Australia to France. The virus is also appearing to be more contagious than previously thought. Research from the Imperial College of London suggests the virus can be transmitted at a rate of 2.6 to one, meaning each infected person will infect 2.6 other people. “Faced with the grave situation of an accelerating spread of the new coronavirus … it is necessary to strengthen the centralized and unified leadership of the Party Central Committee,” Xi said as reported by the official state-owned news agency Xinhua. “[But] as long as we have steadfast confidence, work together, scientific prevention and cures, and precise policies, we will definitely be able to win the battle,” he added. His comments were released as Hong Kong raised its response level from “serious” to “emergency” – the highest level after cases of infection in the city jumped to five. “We haven’t seen serious and widespread infections, but we are taking this seriously and we hope to be ahead of the epidemic,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a press conference on Saturday after holding meetings with officials and experts that lasted for hours. All flights and rail service with Wuhan will remain suspended indefinitely, Lam said. However, the government was criticized for launching this measure too late as the Hubei province had already shut down the public transport systems in eight cities, including Wuhan, and prohibited people from leaving the cities on Thursday. At least 300,000 people had left Wuhan by trains on Wednesday.

The Wuhan coronavirus has hit Xinjiang, where China has imprisoned at least 1 million Uighur Muslims. Its filthy detention camps will make inmates sitting ducks. - The Wuhan coronavirus has reached Xinjiang in western China, prompting fears that the million Uighur Muslims detained in prison camps across the region are helpless to infection.  Authorities reported two cases in the autonomous southwestern region on Thursday, Radio Free Asia (RFA) and The Wall Street Journal reported, citing local health authorities. Conditions at the prison camps are dire, with poor sanitation, hygiene, and cramped living conditions, according to former inmates. There are at least 465 scattered across the region.  Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress exile group, told RFA "the lives of millions of people will be at stake."

Wuhan, China, is scrambling to build a hospital in just 6 days to treat coronavirus patients as its health system gets overwhelmed - The Chinese city of Wuhan is rushing to build a new hospital in just six days to treat patients of the deadly coronavirus.  Excavation has started at a site in Wuhan, where the outbreak started, and where doctors describe an overwhelmed medical system.The city, and at least nine others, have had their public-transport links shut off, leaving a combined 30 million people quarantined in a bid to stop the virus from spreading further. Wuhan's strategy mirrors Beijing's efforts to control the deadly SARS coronavirus outbreak in 2003, when it built a hospital in just seven days that treated one-seventh of the country's patients.Doctors in Wuhan have said that people seeking medical attention have waited hours in line, that screening the disease is difficult, that there is not enough protective gear, and that some doctors have been told at times not to go to work over fears they could catch the virus. Video footage has captured people packed in small hallways waiting for treatment.

Wuhan leaders blamed for spread of China coronavirus as hospitals beg for supplies, death toll rises - Pressure is mounting for local leaders to be held accountable for their response to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, in the central Chinese province of Hubei, which has so far killed 56 and infected more than 1,900 people in the country. Doctors in Wuhan have been among those calling for health officials to be held to account and, in an unusually blunt statement on social media platform Weibo, a senior reporter from the province’s official Communist Party newspaper, Hubei Daily, said the city’s leaders should be removed “immediately”. “Like many people, I used to believe that a temporary decision to replace leaders with those less familiar with the situation would not be good for pushing through the [antivirus] work, but based on the worsening situation that is getting increasingly severe, those currently in the role have no capability of leadership,” reporter Zhang Ouya wrote on Friday. “For Wuhan, please change the leadership immediately,” he said in the post, which was later removed.Hours after the post was published, Hubei Daily released a statement, apologising to the city government and leaders for “making negative publicity” and confirming it had ordered Zhang to remove the post. The statement, which was widely circulated online, urged local reporters to “spread positive spirit” and said Zhang’s comments did not represent the newspaper “but still made a negative impact”. In a public letter to China’s top health authority, the National Health Commission, a doctor who claimed to be from a top hospital in Wuhan laid the blame for the serious nature of the coronavirus outbreak on the slow response by local health officials. The doctor, who did not give his name, said the numbers of patients infected with the disease had been growing since January 12 but the local health authority had failed to report new cases. “These patients were not given proper quarantine nor medical treatment and they could travel in every corner of the city,” he wrote.

China Warns of Faster Virus Spread as It Bans Wildlife Trade - China banned wildlife trade across the country as President Xi Jinping’s government comes under pressure to arrest a rising death toll from the mysterious coronavirus that authorities said is spreading more quickly. Officials told reporters Sunday that information on the new virus is limited even though the pathogen was identified relatively quickly, and its transmission is increasing. The shipping and sale of wild animals won’t be allowed, and breeding sites will be quarantined, the government said in a separate statement, warning against the consumption of wild animals. The fast-spreading virus has reached more than a dozen countries and territories outside mainland China, with more than 2,000 infections confirmed worldwide. China accounts for 98% of those, and deaths there climbed to at least 56 from only two a week ago.  Chinese authorities on Sunday said the virus isn’t yet under control despite aggressive steps by authorities to limit movement for millions of people who live in cities near the center of the outbreak. The restrictions come during the Lunar New Year, the country’s biggest celebration during which billions of trips are typically taken for vacation and visiting of family. The Chinese government is banning all outgoing overseas group tours as of Monday after suspending domestic group tours on Friday. Scientists around the globe have been working to understand the virus better, how contagious it is and where it comes from. First detected in Wuhan last month, it has sparked fears that the disease could rival SARS, the pandemic that claimed almost 800 lives 17 years ago. The Lunar New Year break is the critical period to prevent the spread of the virus, authorities said at a press conference Sunday. More than 1,600 people will be sent to Wuhan, epicenter of the outbreak, over the next two days to assist in efforts to contain the spread.

Inside the horrific, inhumane animal markets behind pandemics like coronavirus - You can usually smell the markets before you see them. Especially if you’re downwind. It’s a sickly, almost sweet and nauseating smell of death. Once inside, the fetid stench — made worse by blistering temperatures and zero refrigeration — is overwhelming, and it is places like this where the deadly coronavirus originated. In stall after stall, a mix of live and dead animals, which run the gamut from the known (pig, ox, duck, chicken) to the rare or unknown due to the condition of the carcass — stare back at you. In the wet areas of the market — usually reserved for fish and sea creatures and where the ground is slick with water and often blood — the stink is worse. The animals that have not yet been dispatched by the butcher’s knife make desperate bids to escape by climbing on top of each other and flopping or jumping out of their containers (to no avail). At least in the wet areas, the animals don’t make a sound. The screams from mammals and fowl are unbearable and heartbreaking. These unregulated and usually filthy markets are found all over Asia and Africa. In Laos, I came across a section of the local (i.e. not for tourist) market full of dead bats as well as live creatures like birds, turtles, fish and other unfortunate critters. In North Vietnam, on market days, hundreds of (live and dead) dogs were being sold for supper alongside other land and sea creatures. In Myanmar and Cambodia, fish and animals I never even knew existed were being bartered for alive and dead. Some looked so odd it was hard to believe they weren’t alien — and in colors that were stunning and strange. In South Africa, Congo and Mali there were monkeys and chimpanzee parts being sold for medicine as well as meat. Presumably, none of these animals or their carcasses from these markets are screened for rabies, anthrax, salmonella or other animal-borne diseases. And China is also full of similar markets — where live animals wait for their fresh slaughter. The market at the center of the deadly coronavirus outbreak sold live animals — including wolf pups, foxes, rats and peacocks, as well as crocodiles, giant salamanders, snakes, porcupines, and camel meat. The coronavirus is a series of viruses that include a range from the common cold to pneumonia that causes respiratory infections, which are often mild, but in rare cases are potentially lethal. Symptoms of the virus include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. It is in these markets where the deadliest outbreaks can start.

Chinese health officials: Coronavirus ‘more contagious’ than previously thought - Chinese officials on Sunday revealed that patients infected with the coronavirus can spread the deadly illness before experiencing any symptoms — prompting fears about how to contain the disease. China’s National Health Commissioner Ma Xiaowei said the flu-like virus is infectious during its incubation period of one to 14 days. He cautioned that authorities’ knowledge of the new virus was limited and they are unclear on the risks posed by any possible mutations of the virus. Dr. William Schaffner, a longtime adviser to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the new development “means the infection is much more contagious than we originally thought,” CNN reported. Schaffner warned that current preventative methods won’t be enough to battle the growing epidemic since it’s difficult to track down the contacts that a patient had before they even began experiencing symptoms. “Assuming that Ma is correct, we’re going to have to re-evaluate our strategy, that’s for sure,” Schaffner said. Meanwhile, China said it has banned wildlife animal trade until the “epidemic situation is lifted nationwide.” The mystery virus is believed to have originated from wild animals at markets in the Chinese city of Wuhan. There have been 56 deaths and more than 2,000 cases diagnosed in the country, including a 9-month-old baby in Beijing, CNN reported.

UK Researcher Predicts Over 250,000 Chinese Will Have Coronavirus In Ten Days - When it comes to estimating the human capital and potential fallout from a highly contagious epidemic, arguably the most important variable is the R0 ("R-naught") value of the disease, which represents the average number of secondary cases arising from an average primary case in a entirely susceptible population.   The higher this number, the more dangerous the disease, the more lethal the outcome. Some indicative R0s are 0.9 – 2.1 for the common flu while the 1918-1919 pandemic-causing Spanish flu was estimated to have ranged from 1.4 – 2.8, with a mean of 2. Some other notable R0s are shown below, and note that SARS was between 2 and 5:  So what about the R0 of 2019-nCoV, also known as the coronavirus that has claimed over three dozen lives in China and infected (at least) 1,000 people? Naturally, since the disease is most active in China which is notoriously opaque especially when it comes to matters that can cause a mass panic, the best one can do is guess, and that's what the World Health Organization did yesterday when it issued a statement on the coronavirus epidemic with the following projection: Human-to-human transmission is occurring and a preliminary R0 estimate of 1.4-2.5 was presented.  Needless to say, while 2.5 is quite high, and in line with that of the Spanish flu epidemic  which infected about half a billion people back in 1918, killing as many as 100 million before it eventually fizzled out, the real coronavirus R0 number may end up being far higher. That is the working hypothesis of Jonathan Read, a UK expert on the transmission and evolutionary dynamics of infectious diseases, who has published a paper with four colleagues that estimates transmission parameters for the Wuhan coronavirus, calculates that the R0 of 2019-nCoV to be between 3.6-4.0 or roughly the same as SARS, and reaches a conclusion about spread of the coronavirus epidemic that is frankly terrifying. Read wastes no time to get to his terrifying conclusion which is that if no change in control or transmission happens, then further outbreaks will occur in other Chinese cities, "and that infections will continue to be exported to international destinations at an increasing rate." As a result, in 10 days time, or by February 4, 2020, Read's model predicts the number of infected people in Wuhan to be greater than 250 thousand (with an prediction interval, 164,602 to 351,396);

Cruise Lines Act on Coronavirus Risk - Major cruise lines operating in Asia are banning tourists who have been in the city of Wuhan or come from Hebei Province in a bid to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus at sea. The virus has now infected over 2,000 people in China and killed 56. No fatalities have been reported outside China, but cases have now emerged in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, France, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, the U.S. and Vietnam. Costa Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruises, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Dream Cruises and Star Cruises have implemented policies which also include temperature checks for boarding passengers, banning people who have a fever. Some ports have also implemented temperature checks including cruise terminals in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. People from Hubei province will be banned from entering Hong Kong from Monday. The virus is believed to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife, and the Chinese government has announced a temporary ban on the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants and on e-commerce platforms. The U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society says the ban should be permanent. Dr. Christian Walzer, chief global veterinarian at for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said: “The banning of such sales will help end the possibility of future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, such as the Wuhan coronavirus. We learned this lesson with the outbreak of another zoonotic disease, SARS, in 2002. The pattern will keep repeating itself until we ban, not only in China, but in other countries, the sale of wildlife, specifically for food and in food markets. “Poorly regulated, live animal markets mixed with illegal wildlife trade offer a unique opportunity for viruses to spillover from wildlife hosts into the human population and for viruses to exchange viral components amongst the multiple species being traded creating new viruses with new host spectrums.” The Society says there are three solutions to what is a complex global challenge: close live animal markets that sell wildlife; strengthen efforts to combat trafficking of wild animals within countries and across borders; and work to change dangerous wildlife consumption behaviors, especially in cities. “This may sound daunting,” says Walzer. “However, not only is this now a global health priority that cannot be ignored, but for China’s concerned populace and government, the time is right.

China Deaths Jump as Measures Fail to Slow Spread of Virus - China’s death toll from the coronavirus climbed to at least 80 as the country extended the Lunar New Year holiday in an effort to contain an infection whose spread accelerated around the globe. Premier Li Keqiang visited Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the disease, on Monday as the government faces pressure to combat the epidemic.World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he’s heading to Beijing to meet with the government and assess the response. Chinese authorities said the virus isn’t yet under control despite aggressive steps to limit movement for millions of people who live in cities near the center of the outbreak.mDeaths in China climbed to 80, the National Health Commission said on Monday. That’s up from only two just over a week ago. There are 2,744 confirmed cases on China’s mainland, and more than 30,000 people are under observation. Asian stocks, crude oil and China’s yuantumbled. Futures on Chinese shares fell more than 5% and 10-year Treasury yields hit their lowest since October on haven buying. Stock and futures trading in China, closed for the longer Lunar New Year holiday, will resume on Feb. 3, according to people familiar with the matter. Trading had been expected to resume this coming Friday.Shares of European luxury-goods companies whose growth has been driven by Chinese consumers, including LVMH, Kering SA andBurberry Group Plc, also traded lower, while U.S. stock futures pointed to further declines. Anxiety is growing amid evidence that the disease has an incubation period of as long as two weeks before those infected start to show signs of the illness. That raises the possibility that people who are carrying the virus but don’t show symptoms could infect others. “The virus can be contagious during the incubation period, which is about 10 days, with the shortest being one day and longest being 14 days,” Ma Xiaowei, Minister of National Health Commission, told a press conference on Sunday. “This is very different from SARS.”

China New Year Holiday Extended as Virus Death Toll Climbs to 80 -- China’s death toll from the coronavirus climbed as the country extended the Lunar New Year holiday amid government reports that the infection’s spread was accelerating and a surge of new cases emerged around the globe. President Xi Jinping’s government is under pressure to combat an epidemic that shows little sign of slowing down. There are 2,744 confirmed cases on the mainland, the National Health Commission said Monday. Deaths in the country climbed to 80 from just two a week ago, as Hubei province announce 24 additional fatalities. Anxiety is growing amid evidence that the disease has an incubation period of about two weeks before infected people start to show symptoms. That raises the possibility that people carrying the virus but don’t show symptoms could infect others. The sell-off that dominated U.S. equity markets on Friday continued Monday in Asia. Japanese shares tumbled along with U.S. futures and crude oil, while the yen jumped in early trading. Chinese authorities on Sunday said the virus isn’t yet under control despite aggressive steps by authorities to limit movement for millions of people who live in cities near the center of the outbreak. China extended the Lunar New Year break until Feb. 2 from Jan. 30 originally. Government officials are delaying the end of the year’s biggest holiday, when hundreds of millions of Chinese leave cities to return to their hometowns, to avoid having travelers contribute to the spread. Mainland China accounts for 98% of confirmed global infections, while more than a dozen countries and territories reported the illness within their borders. The World Health Organization said of 29 patients with infections outside China, 26 traveled through Wuhan, epicenter of the outbreak.

Rising concerns over spread of the Wuhan coronavirus - There are now 2,744 confirmed cases and at least 80 reported deaths from the Wuhan coronavirus, including one physician treating patients—61-year-old Dr. Lian Wudong. To date, all but some 44 of the confirmed cases and all the deaths have occurred in mainland China, predominately at the center of the epidemic, Wuhan. Other cases of the infection, formally known as 2019-nCoV, or novel coronavirus, have been found in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, Nepal, France and the United States. Residents in Fanling district of Hong Kong took the streets on Sunday night to oppose the plan to house quarantined patients or medical workers in their neighborhood, that is far from Hong Kong's business center. (Photo Credit: Vincent Yu/AP) The virus so far remains uncontained, fueling confusion, panic and rising social tensions across China, where the government has partially or fully locked down 13 major population centers, encompassing nearly 60 million people. In Wuhan, citizens are calling for their local leaders to be held accountable. Doctors on the front line of treating victims of the coronavirus infection are leading this call by bluntly declaring, “The city’s leaders should be removed immediately.” These tensions have begun to spread to Shanghai, one of China’s major commercial centers and one of its most populous cities, where an 88-year-old man died as a result of the virus, sparking concerns about the complex spread of the disease and its ramifications on an international scale. In response, Chinese President Xi Jinping was forced to state, “Confronted with the grave situation of this accelerating spread of pneumonia from infections with the novel coronavirus, we must step up the centralized and united leadership under the party central.” Initial efforts to combat the epidemic include a promised 1,230 medical experts from China’s National Health Commission to assist with efforts on the ground in Wuhan. The military is also sending additional medical personnel, while the city has promised to build two new hospitals in 15 days to treat patients with coronavirus infections. The United States, French, Japanese and Russian consulates have ordered the removal of their people and are coordinating with Chinese authorities for their safe and efficient transfer out of the city. US private citizens are being offered seats on planes departing Wuhan. There are also six confirmed and 100 suspected cases in Hong Kong. The city has taken emergency measures by restricting celebration of the Lunar New Year, limiting the gathering of groups, requiring the use of face masks and shutting schools until at least mid-February. These measures have been met with resistance by demonstrators, who set fire in the lobbies of two buildings designated as quarantine sites for the developing epidemic.

 Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China - The Lancet -- By Jan 2, 2020, 41 admitted hospital patients had been identified as having laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection. Most of the infected patients were men (30 [73%] of 41); less than half had underlying diseases (13 [32%]), including diabetes (eight [20%]), hypertension (six [15%]), and cardiovascular disease (six [15%]). Median age was 49·0 years (IQR 41·0–58·0). 27 (66%) of 41 patients had been exposed to Huanan seafood market. One family cluster was found. Common symptoms at onset of illness were fever (40 [98%] of 41 patients), cough (31 [76%]), and myalgia or fatigue (18 [44%]); less common symptoms were sputum production (11 [28%] of 39), headache (three [8%] of 38), haemoptysis (two [5%] of 39), and diarrhoea (one [3%] of 38). Dyspnoea developed in 22 (55%) of 40 patients (median time from illness onset to dyspnoea 8·0 days [IQR 5·0–13·0]). 26 (63%) of 41 patients had lymphopenia. All 41 patients had pneumonia with abnormal findings on chest CT. Complications included acute respiratory distress syndrome (12 [29%]), RNAaemia (six [15%]), acute cardiac injury (five [12%]) and secondary infection (four [10%]). 13 (32%) patients were admitted to an ICU and six (15%) died. Compared with non-ICU patients, ICU patients had higher plasma levels of IL2, IL7, IL10, GSCF, IP10, MCP1, MIP1A, and TNFα. The 2019-nCoV infection caused clusters of severe respiratory illness similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus and was associated with ICU admission and high mortality. Major gaps in our knowledge of the origin, epidemiology, duration of human transmission, and clinical spectrum of disease need fulfilment by future studies.

The Coronavirus Questions that Scientists are Racing to Answer -The outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China and its spread to more than a dozen countries has presented health experts with a rapidly evolving and complex challenge. That means there are a lot of unknowns. Here are some of the outstanding questions that doctors, scientists, and health agencies are rushing to answer. (And a reminder that, already, they’ve learned quite a lot.) One of the luckiest breaks the world got with the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003 was that people weren’t contagious until they developed symptoms. The same is true of MERS. As a result, it became easier for health officials to try to limit spread once they identified a new case.  Public health experts watching this outbreak unfold have been hoping 2019-nCoV, which is a member of the same virus family, would follow that pattern. Now they’re not so sure.  Chinese health authorities said over the weekend they’ve recorded cases where transmission occurred before the transmitting person showed symptoms. If that’s a common feature of this infection, it’s going to cause serious problems.  With some viral illnesses — like influenza for example — people can actually start infecting the people around them a day or two before they start to feel sick. That’s insidious, because it means infected people can go to work, take the subway, go to church or to the movies — unaware that they are emitting viruses that can infect others. In the past few days several papers from China describing the illness have been published or posted on preprint websites (sites that share papers before they have been peer-reviewed or published in journals). In a paper posted to bioRxiv, scientists from Guangdong province estimated the incubation period — the time from infection to symptoms — to average between four and five days, which was also the case with SARS. There is clearly a range, though; on Monday, the WHO said the information to date suggests two to 10 days. Another paper, published last Friday in The Lancet, estimated the incubation period in a cluster of six family members to be three to six days. These estimates are compatible and suggest it takes a few days for people to start feeling ill — which explains how a number of travelers who have brought the virus to other countries only realized they were sick a day or two after getting home. Most diseases have a spectrum of illness, ranging sometimes from asymptomatic infection — symptom free — to very severe disease and death. But some diseases tend to tilt toward one end of the spectrum. With SARS, most of the cases were seriously ill. While that was bad for anyone infected, it made detecting where the virus was spreading easier. In this outbreak, it’s starting to look like there are mild and even asymptomatic cases. The reports emerging suggest a pretty significant portion of cases are seriously ill. For instance, in a report China’s national health authorities posted Monday, about 17% of total cases were severely ill. And about 3% of confirmed cases had died.

Chinese Nurse Says 90,000 Already Infected In Emotional Plea For Help – 26 -A viral video, reposted on Twitter 48 hours ago, has more than 800k views and reveals an urgent message from a Wuhan nurse, who claims more than 90,000 people in China have been infected with the fast-spreading coronavirus. An unverified translation of the nurse, posted by @purplelovehime, has been retweeted more than 13.7k times since Saturday, states: "I am Jin Wei. I am currently inside the Wuhan outbreak region, Han Hou area. I would like to describe the condition inside the Hubei province, as well as the outbreak situation in the entire China. Currently, there are already 90,000 cases of pneumonia contraction." "What is the rate of contraction? If one person contracted this disease and is not properly quarantined and treated, this I individual will infect 14 people that came in contact with him. That is a significant multiplier. During the spring festival, in our culture, families like to get together, dine together. But this is unlike any other years. I hope that people can stay home, do not gather, and do not visit families. There is a spring festival every year. If everyone can stay safe, you can always get together later," the unverified translation of the nurse said. The translation went on to say that medical supplies from bio suits, medical masks, goggles, and gloves "are in great shortages."

CDC is monitoring 110 possible coronavirus cases across 26 states in US - U.S. health officials are currently monitoring 110 people across 26 states for the coronavirus, including the five patients who contracted the deadly infection in China and brought it back to America. The disease, which has killed at least 81 people in China and sickened more than 2,800 worldwide, isn’t spreading within the community in the U.S. and the risk to the public right now is still considered low, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call Monday. “We understand that many people in the United States are worried about this virus and how it will affect Americans,” Messonnier said. “Every day we learn more, every day we assess to see if our guidance or our response can be improved.” The number of “patients under investigation” in the U.S. has almost doubled from the 63 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said were under surveillance on Thursday. The CDC says 32 people have tested negative for the virus. “While that number is 110, we are certainly prioritizing based on [patients under investigation] that might be at higher risk,” Messonnier said. The CDC confirmed Sunday a fifth U.S. case of the virus — a patient in Maricopa County, Arizona, who recently traveled to Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the disease’s outbreak and where the majority of cases have been reported. Messonnier said the CDC has screened roughly 2,400 people flying from Wuhan to five major U.S. airports and is considering expanding its screening. The agency increased its travel warning for all of China, asking people traveling to practice “enhanced precautions.” “This outbreak is unfolding rapidly and we are rapidly looking at how that impacts our posture at the border. We’re certainly considering broadening of that screening,” she said.

N95 Virus Masks Sell Out Across The U.S - We noted last week how worldwide and U.S. internet searches for "virus mask" and "n95 masks" have exponentially increased as the deadly coronavirus spreads across the world. Our report from Friday confirmed virus masks and hand sanitizers were in short supply across China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao, Japan, South Korea, and other regional countries.A Japanese seller on Amazon marked up a pack of 50 N95 Disposable Respirators to $638, a 16x price increase from a suggested retail price of around $40.Short supplies aren't just across Asia. New reports suggest a run on virus masks has already begun across the U.S. Search trends for "N95 mask" started to pick up around January 13, and have soared since January 20, as the spread of coronavirus has become uncontrollable across the world. Americans in nearly every state are googling where to buy N95 masks, including search-related queries for "n95 mask walmart" and "n95 mask home depot."With three confirmed cases in California, Washington state, and Illinois, along with dozens of suspected cases, masks have been selling out across the country since Thursday.A simple google search of your local Home Depot or Lowe's will reveal the N95 mask hoarding has begun.

Coronavirus prompts automakers to evacuate workers, weigh production delays at Chinese factories - Automakers are withdrawing employees from China and weighing whether to suspend manufacturing in the country as the virus that emerged in Wuhan less than a month ago ravages the mainland. Most major automakers have restricted or banned travel to the country due to the fast-spreading disease, which as of Monday had taken the lives of at least 82 people in China and sickened 2,900 worldwide. Manufacturing in China was temporarily halted in honor of the Lunar New Year — which kicked off this weekend — but normal operations were due to resume this week. Automakers across the globe with operations in China could keep those plants closed even longer, people familiar with the matter said. Some automakers such as Honda Motor and PSA Group have taken additional actions. Both are withdrawing employees working around the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Nissan also has plans to withdrawal a majority of its employees and their families members from the Wuhan area back to Japan, a person familiar with the company’s plans told CNBC on Monday. “We take the health and safety of our employees and their families seriously,” a Nissan spokesman said in an emailed statement, declining to comment directly on the withdrawal plans. “We are carefully evaluating the epidemic situation in Wuhan and the country and keep our employees informed and provided with all necessary support and precautionary tools.” PSA Group said in an email to CNBC that the decision to repatriate its employees in Wuhan will be done “according the proposition of the French authorities in complete cooperation with Chinese authorities.”  A Honda spokesman on Monday confirmed 30 “associates and their families” who work at the nearby plant were being sent home to Japan. In Shanghai, local officials are prohibiting companies in the city from resuming operations before Feb. 9, Reuters reported. Electric car maker Tesla, which just opened its first factory in China just outside of Shanghai, didn’t return multiple requests for comment. Others automakers such as General Motors and Fiat Chrysler have expanded travel restrictions for employees to the country.

Escaping the Coronavirus in Wuhan Der Spiegel - The bad news came at a quarter to eight on Thursday morning. I had just woken up in the hotel when the phone started ringing. “We have a problem,” said my colleague, Wu Dandan, who works in Beijing’s DER SPIEGEL office and had accompanied me to Wuhan. “The authorities are shutting down the city. Nobody will be allowed out after 10 a.m.” That sort of news has a way of waking you up pretty quickly. Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, is considered to be where the new coronavirus originated. Most infections and deaths have been registered here, and the numbers keep rising. The virus is thought to have an incubation period of up to 12 days. If we don’t get out, I thought, we’ll be stuck at ground zero of the outbreak for days, perhaps even weeks. In quarantine. We had arrived on Wednesday from Beijing to take a first-hand look at the situation in Wuhan’s hospitals, in the market, at the train station and at the airport. Because even as the virus was spreading here, hundreds of millions of people across China were preparing to celebrate Lunar New Year with their families. The event would set off a wave of travelers similar to the one at Christmas in Europe. And Wuhan is one of the country’s travel hubs. What happens to a city when it is forced to prepare for an epidemic – and maybe even catastrophe? Like most people in the city, we were wearing large medical masks covering our mouths and noses. That was the virus’ first minor victory: robbing Wuhan inhabitants of their faces. The rubber straps dug into our ears and our skin grew clammy under the fabric. Still, we only took our masks off to eat. When we touched a door handle, we would immediately cleanse our hands with disinfectant. And during the entirety of those 24 hours, we didn't shake anyone's hand. It was the virus’ second small victory: isolating people, making us paranoid.

Some Practical Questions About The Coronavirus Epidemic -- Like everyone else, I've been reading the mainstream media reports on the Coronavirus epidemic. I haven't found any information about the practicalities that immediately occur to me, such as:

  • 1. When public transportation is halted and commerce grinds to a halt as people avoid public places and gatherings, thousands of employees no longer go to work. Who pays their wages while the city is locked down? The employers? Then who compensates the employers, since their income has also gone to zero?Does China have a universal unemployment insurance system that can quickly issue payments to all people who are no longer going to work and getting a paycheck from an employer?What about the thousands of migrant workers who don't have regular employers? Who pays them? If they're technically not officially sanctioned residents of the city, they don't exist in government records.
  • 2. If people idled by the lockdown are supposed to live off savings, what about all the marginal workers with few resources? What are they going to live on once their meager savings are gone?
  • 3. Given the choice of obeying the lockdown rules and starving or slipping out of the city to find paid work somewhere else, how many migrant workers will choose to slip away?
  • 4. Unlike the developed West, many people in China still have ancestral villages to return to, rural towns where their grandparents or or other close relatives live. If work has dried up and you're fearful of catching a potentially lethal virus, wouldn't it make sense to slip out of the city and make your way back to the village where you can hunker down until the epidemic blows over?Since people who caught the virus may not know they're a carrier, how will this migration not spread the disease to rural areas with few medical resources?
  • 5. The typical city has about a week's supply of food, fuel, etc. at best. If the lockdown runs longer than a few days, scarcities of essentials will ignite hoarding, and remaining supplies will be snapped up.Since the city's residents need food, fuel, etc., it must be brought in regardless of the lockdown. This brings outside workers into the city and provides residents desperate to flee avenues to escape the lockdown. Every individual involved in this system is potentially exposed to the virus or is a potential asymptomatic carrier of the virus leaving the city.These realities leave officials with an impossible choice: either truly isolate the city, which isn't possible for more than a few days, or allow the stupendous flow of goods required to sustain millions of city residents, thereby creating uncontrollable avenues for the virus to spread beyond the city as transport workers and those fleeing the lockdown travel to other cities.

Wuhan Mayor Says 5 Million People Escaped Quarantine During Coronavirus Outbreak - According to Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang, 5 million people were able to leave the city before a recent quarantine was imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. There are currently about 9 million people who remain in the city under lockdown, according to the mayor.This is not the only indication that the spread of the illness could be far worse than imagined. Over the weekend, China’s President Xi Jinping finally admitted that the country is facing a “grave” situation,Due to the Chinese Lunar New Year and the #WuhanCoronavirus, more than 5 million people left Wuhan and 9 million people remain in the city which is under lockdown: Wuhan— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) January 26, 2020In an unconfirmed video that has been widely reported in the global media this week, a masked woman claiming to be a nurse working in a Wuhan hospital says that the number of people infected is likely closer to 90,000, and that the official numbers are being under-reported. The low estimations from official government sources in China have been a subject of suspicion since the outbreak began, but few estimations have been as high as 90,000. There have been a variety of different hoax videos and articles related to this issue in recent days, and it is not clear if this video is one of them, but the number of people infected is likely far higher than the figure of just over 1,000 that authorities are willing to admit.

Coronavirus: Not Looking Good  -  Yves Smith - The aggressive and increasingly stringent measures taken in China to contain the “novel coronavirus” sure look like the officialdom is worried, if not panicked about the disease.Although we and they are suffering from bad data (for instance, shortages of tests and even in places personnel to confirm that suspected cases are the coronavirus and not something else), the facts at hand are not pretty. This coronavirus is very contagious. The estimates of the reproduction are between 2.6 and 2.9. By contrast, from a 2014 paper in BMC Infectious Diseases: We conducted a systematic review to summarize published estimates of R for pandemic or seasonal influenza and for novel influenza viruses (e.g. H5N1). We retained and summarized papers that estimated R for pandemic or seasonal influenza or for human infections with novel influenza viruses. The search yielded 567 papers. Ninety-one papers were retained, and an additional twenty papers were identified from the references of the retained papers. Twenty-four studies reported 51 R values for the 1918 pandemic. The median R value for 1918 was 1.80 (interquartile range [IQR]: 1.47–2.27). Six studies reported seven 1957 pandemic R values. The median R value for 1957 was 1.65 (IQR: 1.53–1.70). Four studies reported seven 1968 pandemic R values. The median R value for 1968 was 1.80 (IQR: 1.56–1.85). Fifty-seven studies reported 78 2009 pandemic R values. The median R value for 2009 was 1.46 (IQR: 1.30–1.70) and was similar across the two waves of illness: 1.46 for the first wave and 1.48 for the second wave. Twenty-four studies reported 47 seasonal epidemic R values. The median R value for seasonal influenza was 1.28 (IQR: 1.19–1.37). Four studies reported six novel influenza R values. Four out of six R values were <1. In other words, the reproduction rate is now reported to be meaningfully worse than for the Spanish flu and later flus deemed to reach pandemic levels. This is the reason for the freakout. The reproduction rate is, however, lower than for measles, as the Wall Street Journal cheerily points out.  China’s health minister has said he believes the disease can be transmitted during the incubation period and has reaffirmed the one to fourteen day estimate. That means screening people for fever would only be partially effective in containing its spread. The Hill confirms our concerns:A longtime adviser to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. William Schaffner, told CNN the new development means “the infection is much more contagious than we originally thought.”Schaffner called it a game changer and warned current preventative methods won’t be enough to fight off the outbreak since tracking down the contacts a patient had before experience symptoms complicates the situation. So far, this coronavirus looks pretty lethal. The latest data is 4524 confirmed cases, with 106 deaths, for a mortality rate of 2.2% But according to the Financial Times:

Martenson- The Risk Of A True Pandemic Is Higher Than We're Being Told - OK, there’s a LOT of uncertainty and confusing/conflicting information currently circulating right now about the new coronavirus outbreak that has suddenly erupted out of Wuhan, China. What’s really going on? What exactly is the ‘coronavirus’? And most important: How worried do we need to be? Given the poor communication so far by government health organizations and the media, the severity of the situation and the risk to public health, Chris Martenson filmed this important explanatory video hours ago. Dr. Martenson’s PhD is in the field of pathogenic biology, so he understands the nature of this virus more than your average scientist. In the video below, Chris explains the virus in layman’s terms, why the contagion we’re seeing is likely to spread substantially from here, and why the actions being taken so far by public health officials to contain the threat are woefully insufficient. It’s important, maybe soon critical, to be well-informed on this outbreak. The ten minutes you spend watching this video may be the most important thing you do today: After viewing, be sure to take prudent steps to secure the safety of your family’s health. Most measures are straightforward and inexpensive — there’s a huge upside to preparing now and a huge downside to delaying, so get busy. Those interested can continue to follow our updated coverage on the coronavirus here. Hopefully, authorities manage to contain this outbreak faster than it currently appears they will. But don’t bet your life on it.

 This Is How China Is Hiding The True Number Of Coronavirus Deaths -- As the world's cortisol and stomach acid levels rise every hour in parallel with the number of officially reported Coronavirus infections (and deaths), which as of Saturday morning was roughly 1,400...... the world has an unpleasant flashback to 2003 when for weeks Beijing would lie and hide the full extent of the SARS epidemic to avoid risking a social panic. To be sure, this time China has done its best to pretend it has learned from the past and it is so transparent, even President Xi Jinping warned that the country is facing a "grave situation", and that the spread of the deadly virus is accelerating after holding a special government meeting on the Lunar New Year public holiday.After staying largely silent in public about the outbreak since it first emerged in central China last month, Xi on Saturday convened a special meeting of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, calling for a more centralized response to the epidemic and asserting personal responsibility in addressing the crisis."When an epidemic breaks out, a command is issued. It is our responsibility to prevent and control it," Xi said, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. He called for the new high-level committee to "address concerns within and outside the country,” indirectly referencing mounting global concern about the epidemic, which Mr. Xi described as a “grave situation” that was accelerating. “We definitely can win the battle to contain the epidemic,” he vowed. That remains to be seen: as reported earlier, in China - which has put over 56 million people on lockdown quarantine - the coronavirus has killed at least 41 people and infected over 1,400 in China. Ominously, a UK researcher predicted that the Coronavirus would infect over 250,000 people in China in under two weeks, which has sparked a renewed fear that China will once again try to underrepresent the true severity of the diseases until it is too late.

Chinese people are using “Chernobyl” to channel their anger about the coronavirus outbreak -- One of the most popular TV shows of 2019, HBOs’s Chernobyl, is striking a chord in disease-stricken China. A core theme of the show—which was based on the nuclear explosion that happened in 1986 in northern Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union—was the ineptitude of the communist government in handling the disaster, particularly in the way that it tried to suppress information about the disaster. Some people in China, are drawing parallels with how Soviet authorities managed the nuclear disaster to how the Chinese government is handling the current coronavirus outbreak. For example, Chinese authorities only reported on Jan. 20 that the disease had spread to cities outside of Wuhan in Hubei province, where the outbreak has been traced to. However, days before China reported its first cases outside the central Chinese city, Thailand and Japan both reported infections, prompting some Chinese to joke at the time that the virus was “patriotic” as it only seemed to infect foreigners. Some people were also detained last month for spreading rumors after they posted about the virus on social media. Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang admitted in an interview (link in Chinese) today on TV that the disclosure of information about the virus outbreak wasn’t timely, but said that people need to understand that the reason for that was because he needed authorization in order to reveal relevant information in the time of an epidemic. Some 2,700 people have contracted the illness and 80 people have been killed at the latest count. Cases have also been confirmed in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and the United States. More than a dozen Chinese cities have been put on lockdown, while outbound tour groups have been banned by the Chinese government.

Two Nasty Traits Of This Coronavirus, Typically Not Seen Together – 27 - Dr. Dena Grayson, who has years of training developing Ebola treatments, shares her concerns about this coronavirus. I compiled what follows from a Series of Thirteen Tweets by physician (MD) and scientist (PhD) Dr. Dena Grayson.  Having YEARS of experience developing an Ebola treatment, I was concerned about this Coronavirus Outbreak from the outset, because this coronavirus strain is very contagious, causes severe illness, and NO treatments or vaccines are available.   Unlike H5N1 "bird flu" (which does not spread easily between people) or SARS (which was spread by only a handful of "super spreaders"), this coronavirus DOES appear to spread easily between people, even after making the jump from an animal (this is not common).  In addition to being highly contagious, this novel coronavirus can cause a SEVERE infection that can kill even healthy people. It's rare to see BOTH of these (bad) attributes in the same novel virus. Usually, it's one or the other.  One way experts judge how deadly a pathogen (virus, bacteria, etc) is by the "case-fatality rate," which is the # of deaths / # infected people. It's WAY too early to know what this is, because it takes time for patients to succumb to the infection.  Thus far, the case-fatality rate appears to be ~4%...but its' WAY too early to know what it really is, due to spotty reporting (both of deaths and cases), and because patients are still sick and could die tomorrow, next week, etc., even if no new infections occur.  Per @CDCgov, "Although there are no specific treatments (medicines to combat the coronavirus) or vaccines, excellent supportive care, such as IV fluids, intubation (on a "breathing machine"), can help support patients while their immune system battles (and hopefully, defeats) the infection.”

China Closes Foxconn, Johnson & Johnson, And Samsung Factories Amid Virus Outbreak - As the numbers of infected and dead soar exponentially, China has been forced to lock down cities and shutdown factories for the next several weeks. The outbreak of the coronavirus will likely damage first-quarter economic figures for the country, reported the Financial Times.  As of Monday, China's coronavirus outbreak has so far infected about 3,000 people, where the death toll has climbed to 80 - giving the virus a roughly 5% mortality rate.  China has ordered several manufacturing hubs and other centers of the industry to remain closed for the next one to two weeks. One of those manufacturing hubs is Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai has told millions of workers not to return for at least one week. The industrial region is home to the world's largest factories, including iPhone contractor Foxconn, Johnson & Johnson, and Samsung Electronics.  The virus outbreak is occurring as an industrial slowdown has sparked one of the slowest growth rates in nearly three decades. This will be a significant challenge for President Xi Jinping amid fears of a hard landing.Julian Evans-Pritchard, a senior China economist at Capital Economics, has suggested that "coronavirus makes a pronounced slowdown even more likely and if the disease is not brought under control quickly, then even our downbeat forecasts may turn out to be too high." Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University and senior fellow at Carnegie-Tsinghua Center, said the economic impact depends on how coronavirus spreads throughout China. Pettis said consumption is now under pressure as "people are not going out to restaurants and bars."A much larger problem in China is the shutdown of major parts of its economy, and those impacts will soon be felt globally. China is the growth engine for many economies of the world -- this is a shock that could tilt the world into a prolonged slowdown.

Canada Says Wife Of First nCoV Patient Also Has Virus - Another alarming development in the global coronavirus outbreak has been confirmed: Public health officials in Ontario are preparing to announce that the wife of Canada's first coronavirus patient has also been stricken with the virus. The significance of this news may be lost on some casual observers, as it was no doubt lost on the reporters from the Canadian Press News who got the scoop: But this might constitutes evidence of human-to-human transmission outside of China - a sign that the virus has reached a new stage of contagion that some epidemiologists and researchers dismissed as extremely improbable just last week. It's unclear whether the woman traveled to China with her husband, so it's still not certain whether she contracted the disease from the same source as her husband, or whether he actually passed it to him. The CPN reported that she has been in self-imposed isolation with her husband since arriving in Toronto (presumably for him to get treatment) last week. On Thursday, the WHO declined to designate the outbreak as a global pandemic, arguing that China had the resources to contain the virus, and that it had not yet become a global problem. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said they needed more information to reach a consensus on whether to declare a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern). Specifically, the organization wanted to see evidence of human-to-human transmission outside of China before declaring a global emergency.

Confusion and lost time: how testing woes slowed China’s coronavirus response (Reuters) - Yang Zhongyi was still waiting on Monday for a coronavirus test in the Chinese city of Wuhan two weeks after she started to show signs of a fever, even though doctors privately told her family that she almost certainly has been infected, her son Zhang Changchun told Reuters. Yang, 53, is just one of many Wuhan inhabitants finding it difficult to get tested or receive treatment for the new form of coronavirus, which authorities say has infected 2,800 people and killed at least 80 in China, a situation that may be contributing to the spread of the disease. Yang has been unable to gain full-time admission to a hospital, her son said. She has been put on drips in unquarantined areas at four separate hospitals in the city to treat her deteriorating lungs, he said, while he is doing what he can to get her tested or admitted full-time. “Every time the responses are the same: ‘There’s no bed, wait for the government to give a notice, and follow the news to see what’s going on.’ The doctors are all very frustrated too.” Officially known as 2019-nCoV, the new form of coronavirus was first identified as the cause of death of a 61-year-old man in Wuhan on Jan. 10, when China shared gene information on the virus with other countries. Some, such as Japan and Thailand, started testing travelers from China for the virus within three days. However, testing kits for the disease were not distributed to some of Wuhan’s hospitals until about Jan. 20, an official at the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Hubei CDC) told Reuters. Before then, samples had to be sent to a laboratory in Beijing for testing, a process that took three to five days to get results, according to Wuhan health authorities. During that gap, hospitals in the city reduced the number of people under medical observation from 739 to just 82, according to data compiled by Reuters from Wuhan health authorities, and no new cases were reported inside China. Despite the lack of reliable data and testing capacity in Wuhan, Chinese authorities assured citizens in the days after the virus had been identified that it was not widely transmissible. In previous weeks, it had censored negative online commentary about the situation, and arrested eight people it accused of being “rumor spreaders.”

Furious Chinese Defy Censors To Mock Local Leaders Over Bungled Virus Response -A few hours ago, the New York Times published an interesting story about how China's population, known for assiduously self-censoring their speech online, is refusing to be silent in the face of the rapidly accelerating novel coronavirus. The deluge of critical posts, along with clever tricks to dodge censors, are making it nearly impossible for Beijing to control the narrative on the mainland.Earlier, we mentioned how doctors, nurses and residents in Wuhan have demanded that their "useless" mayor follow through on an offer to resign for sluggishness in confronting the outbreak. But that's not all: though reports claimed Beijing made an effort to remove horrifying videos of the situation on the ground in Wuhan (videos that showed what appeared to be dead bodies lying in hospital hallways), according to NYT, the censors have now been completely overwhelmed. Some posters evade censors by referred to President Xi as "Trump", or by comparing the outbreak to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Public anger over the handling of the outbreak has been compounded by the cancellation of the LNY holiday. Internet critics posted scathing criticisms of public officials over often minor slights, like when officials in Wuhan wore their face masks incorrectly during a press conference.  After Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang offered to resign over his handling of the outbreak, a commenter replied: "If the virus is fair, then please don't spare this useless person," according to the NYT.

 Coronavirus: China death toll climbs to 106 with first fatality in Beijing – live updates - Chinese state media is reporting the new figures for deaths and those infected by the coronavirus. The People’s Daily says:  106 deaths, 4,193 cases confirmed in China. Just to put those figures into context ... yesterday the toll was 82, so today’s figures of 106 is an increase of 23%. Infections are up from 2,887 to 4,193, an increase of 31%. But it’s worth remembering these are still relatively small numbers of people affected relative to the population size. Wuhan – where most deaths have occurred – has a population of 11 million people.  In Australia, there’s been conflicting advice between public and private schools about when to send children back for the start of the school year after the long summer break.Australia’s federal education minister, Dan Tehan, weighed into the debate today, chastising schools for forcing healthy students returning from China to stay away.Some private schools are telling children to stay away from school for 14 days if they have recently travelled to any part of China. Publicly funded state schools say only students who have been in contact with known cases of coronavirus should be excluded until medically cleared.“Individual schools make their own decisions but the advice from the Australian government is to follow our medical advice,” Tehan told ABC radio.“I would say to all schools that they should be following the advice of the health department, that is the clear position of the Australian government. “Obviously in the end they will have to answer to their parents, but also they will have to answer to state and territory governments, who have responsibility for schools.”

WHO corrects China virus global risk level to ‘high’ - The World Health Organization on Monday admitted an error in its assessment of the global risk of a deadly virus in China, saying it was "high" and not "moderate". The Geneva-based UN health agency said in a situation report published late Sunday that the risk was "very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level." In a footnote, the WHO explained that it had stated "incorrectly" in its previous reports on Thursday, Friday and Saturday that the global risk was "moderate". The correction of the global risk assessment does not mean that an international health emergency has been declared. WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said only that there had been "an error in the wording". Asked what the risk categorisation meant, the WHO said it was "a global evaluation of risk, covering severity, spread and capacity to cope". The WHO on Thursday had stopped short of declaring the novel coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern -- a rare designation used only for the most severe outbreaks that could trigger more concerted global action. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is visiting China this week to discuss how to contain the outbreak, on Thursday said: "This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency". WHO's cautious approach can be seen in the context of past criticism over its slow or too hasty use of the term, first used for the deadly 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. During that outbreak, the UN health agency was criticised for sparking panic-buying of vaccines with its announcement that year that the outbreak had reached pandemic proportions, and then anger when it turned out the virus was not nearly as dangerous as first thought. But in 2014, the WHO met harsh criticism for dragging its feet and downplaying the severity of the Ebola epidemic that ravaged three West Africa countries, claiming more than 11,300 lives by the time it ended in 2016.

Wuhan seafood market may not be source of novel virus spreading globally - As confirmed cases of a novel virus surge around the world with worrisome speed, all eyes have so far focused on a seafood market in Wuhan, China, as the origin of the outbreak. But a description of the first clinical cases published in The Lancet on Friday challenges that hypothesis.The paper, written by a large group of Chinese researchers from several institutions, offers details about the first 41 hospitalized patients who had confirmed infections with what has been dubbed 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). In the earliest case, the patient became ill on 1 December 2019 and had no reported link to the seafood market, the authors report. “No epidemiological link was found between the first patient and later cases,” they state. Their data also show that, in total, 13 of the 41 cases had no link to the marketplace. “That’s a big number, 13, with no link,” says Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease specialist at Georgetown University.Earlier reports from Chinese health authorities and the World Health Organization had said the first patient had onset of symptoms on 8 December 2019—and those reports simply said “most” cases had links to the seafood market, which was closed on 1 January. Lucey says if the new data are accurate, the first human infections must have occurred in November 2019—if not earlier—because there is an incubation time between infection and symptoms surfacing. If so, the virus possibly spread silently between people in Wuhan—and perhaps elsewhere—before the cluster of cases from the city’s now-infamous Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was discovered in late December. “The virus came into that marketplace before it came out of that marketplace,” Lucey asserts.  The Lancet paper’s data also raise questions about the accuracy of the initial information China provided, Lucey says…

25 More Coronavirus Deaths in China, Hong Kong Restricts Travel - Governments tightened international travel and border crossings with China to try to stop the spread of a coronavirus outbreak that has sickened thousands, and Germany said it had identified a cluster of local patients infected by a woman from Shanghai who had been visiting Europe. The German cases, which are being closely monitored, appear to be one of the first clusters of transmission outside of China. It’s a worrying sign for public health authorities who have taken aggressive steps to stop what for now has been mostly a Chinese outbreak from becoming an international one. The U.S. and U.K. on Tuesday said that residents should avoid all non-essential travel to China, and United Airlines Holdings Inc., the biggest U.S. carrier to the Asian nation, said it would cut flight service after a drop in demand. Hong Kong announced restrictions on travel from mainland China. It will close some border checkpoints and restrict flights, trains and ferries from the mainland, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday. The Chinese government is also suspending visas for visitors to the territory, she said. The outbreak has rattled global markets and prompted concerns that there could be economic fallout as travel declines and Chinese business is slowed. More than 4,500 people have been infected in China, and at least 125 have died, including 25 deaths announced Wednesday morning. In Vietnam, a 65-year-old man from Wuhan became sick with the coronavirus four days after arriving in the country and subsequently infected his 27-year-old son who lived there, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. The family had traveled to four cities across Vietnam in planes, trains and taxis, raising concern about human-to-human transmission outside China, according to the report published Tuesday. And in Germany, three patients were infected by a female Chinese employee of the auto-parts supplier Webasto AG who had been visiting the company’s offices and realized she was sick on her flight back to China on Jan. 23. The patients are being watched under isolation, according to a statement Tuesday night from the Bavarian Ministry of Health.

Coronavirus Human To Human Transmission Confirmed In Europe -- A line has now been crossed in the transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, with multiple people who have not recently traveled to China having confirmed cases of the illness. This is unwelcome news considering that experts were still attempting to understand how transmittable this illness is between humans, and this confirms that the infection is more viral than initially believed. At first, researchers were hoping that most of the infections were caused by animal to human transmission, but with new cases being reported in patients who had not recently traveled to China, the situation appears to be more complex. Cases of human to human transmission have now been confirmed in Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Japan. In each case, the patient who contracted the virus had recently come into contact with someone who had traveled from China, even though they themselves had gone nowhere near the epicenter of the virus.  The number of infected and number of lives lost continue to climb as authorities attempt to get a handle on the situation. Over 100 people are said to have lost their lives from the virus, all of them in China. The virus is said to have infected at least 4,500 people, and the vast majority of them are in China as well, but the numbers outside the borders of the country are steadily climbing. Precautions are being taken all over the world, with US President Donald Trump announcing the rollout of travel restrictions and new screening measures at airports. Hong Kong has also announced similar travel bans, and will stop all high speed trains and ferries from the mainland.

Coronavirus live updates: Coronavirus outbreak tops 6,000 cases in China, exceeding SARS epidemic -- The total number of cases of the coronavirus reached more than 6,100 worldwide with 132 deaths in China, Chinese and international health authorities said Wednesday. Since the first patient was identified in Wuhan on Dec. 31, the number of coronavirus cases in China has mushroomed to more than 6,060, exceeding the total number of SARS cases in that country during the 2002-2003 epidemic. There were 5,327 SARS cases in China and 8,000 across the world between Nov. 1, 2002, and July 31, 2003, according to the World Health Organization. British Airways has stopped all direct flights to and from mainland China because of the coronavirus outbreak. The airline said the suspension would be implemented “with immediate effect” following the viral outbreak that has caused 132 deaths and infected more than 6,000 people.  The chief executive of Novartis believes it will take at least 12 months to find a new vaccine to treat the coronavirus, with the fast-spreading nature of the outbreak a threat that must be taken “really seriously.”  General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker in China, told employees there that it will keep its Chinese factories shut down through Feb. 9, a company spokesman said in an email to CNBC. China’s factories have been closed as part of a nationwide manufacturing break to celebrate the Lunar New Year, but were originally due to reopen this week. Chinese officials have extended the plant shutdown to Feb. 9 as the nation tries to contain the coronavirus outbreak. GM’s decision follows on Honda’s announcement late Tuesday that it was keep motorcycle factories in China closed to Feb. 9. Automakers across the globe have been evacuating employees and restricting travel to China.

10-Year-Old Boy Raises Fears Wuhan Virus Could Spread Undetected - The case of a 10-year-old boy who was diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus even though he showed no symptoms is raising concern that people may be spreading the virus undetected by the front-line screening methods implemented to contain the epidemic. The boy was part of a family who visited relatives in the central Chinese city over the New Year. While his parents and grandparents fell ill and were treated after they returned to their hometown, the 10-year-old appeared healthy and was only diagnosed with the virus after his parents insisted he too was tested, his doctors said, adding that he “was shedding virus without symptoms.” “You may have mild disease spreaders that would be feeding sort of a community outbreak and they don’t go to hospital because they don’t feel that bad,” said Ralph Baric, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has studied coronaviruses for decades and warned about their threat before the 2003 SARS outbreak. The boy’s case, published Jan. 24 in the Lancet medical journal, was the first to demonstrate person-to-person and health-care associated spread of the newly identified virus, dubbed 2019-nCoV. The asymptomatic infection has fueled concern the pathogen, which has already spread to 15 countries and infected close to 6,000 people, may turn out to be harder to detect and contain than SARS, the similar pneumonia-like illness that erupted into a global epidemic. While both the boy’s parents were infected, each had a normal body temperature when they sought treatment. Later, the virus spread to a sixth relative who hadn’t traveled. Similar patterns are appearing outside China. Four cases in Germany were linked to a company training event that was attended by a colleague visiting from China who had no symptoms of disease during her stay.

Citizen Journalist Exposes The Brutal Truth- China Is Losing The Battle In Wuhan - Over the past week, millions of Chinese have been worrying about the safety of friends and relatives trapped in Hubei and Wuhan. Most suspect that Chinese censors have been blocking some of the more dispiriting details of the crisis, and many believe the real number of deaths and confirmed cases is higher than the government has disclosed. And as the US, UK, Japan and other governments work to evacuate their citizens from the city, fewer reporters are daring to venture out to the hospitals in Wuhan where teams of overwhelmed healthcare workers are fighting along the front lines of the virus. Amid the media blackout, the government in Beijing has enlisted the WHO to help assuage the worries of a skeptical public that has already been exposed to videos depicting what appear to be bodies piled up in hospital corridors. Recently, one self-styled 'citizen journalist' traveled to Wuhan to try and document the situation on the ground. What he discovered was even more alarming than he had feared: By quarantining the city, the government in Beijing had basically condemned the people of Wuhan to battle the virus on their own. Hospitals are so overwhelmed, that people with obvious symptoms of the virus are still being turned away. Some severely ill people have been forced to visit five or six hospitals before being accepted for testing and treatment. Residents who don't live within walking distance of a hospital treating virus victims have few options. Each district reportedly only has four volunteer taxis picking up patients and bringing them to the hospital to be tested. Streets are closed, and public transportation has been shuttered. So if patients cant' get a taxi, they might be stuck walking many miles to a hospital. Even more alarming: Hospitals in Wuhan have struggled with dire shortages of testing kits. Some only have ~100 kits per day, dramatically slowing the process of confirming new cases of the virus. It's just the latest sign that the true number of infections in China is much higher than the numbers that have been released by the government. 

Thai Government Admits Unable To Stop Spread Of Coronavirus - At least one establishment government is finally admitting that the ruling class of the world is going to be unable to stop the spread of the coronavirus.  While globalists desperately attempt to craft a vaccine and save the day, other rulers think it could be too late. According to the Daily Mail, Thailand’s government admits it’s “unable to stop” the spread of the coronavirus. The virus has already proven deadly and could be spreading much more rapidly than mainstream media and establishment ruling classes are willing to admit. Health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said there are too many Chinese visitors to stop the virus from spreading. At least 22,000 people from Wuhan are believed to have visited Thailand in January alone. With 14 confirmed cases of the disease, Thailand is the worst-affected nation outside of China. According to the Daily Mail‘s numbers, almost 4,600 people have caught the Wuhan coronavirus around the world so far, and 106 have died in China. “Our target is we will be able to detect all carriers entering Thailand and we will apply necessary measures as the situation develops,” said Charnvirakul. “Of course, we expect more people to get sick but we aren’t able to identify all of them.”

American Airlines cancels some China service for more than a month as coronavirus spreads - American Airlines on Wednesday joined rival United in suspending some of its service to China as the coronavirus spreads and demand for those routes drop sharply. The Fort Worth-based carrier is canceling its flights from Los Angeles to Shanghai and to Beijing from Feb. 9 through March 27. American will continue to operate its China service from Dallas-Fort Worth and from Los Angeles to Hong Kong in that period. American’s reservations agents “will contact affected customers directly by email or telephone,” the airline said. “We will continue to review our flight schedules to ensure we can accommodate the needs of our customers and will make updates as needed.” American’s Pacific-region revenue had been falling before the outbreak of coronavirus and the area is a small part of the airline’s sales overall. The company last week reported Pacific-region revenues dropped 9% last year to $1.5 billion, which equaled less than 4% of total passenger revenue. Airlines, including American and United, have said they’ve seen a sharp drop in demand for China routes and are scrambling to adjust their schedules as the number of infections grows. Cathay Pacific and Air Canada have also said they would reduce service to mainland China due to the virus. British Airways earlier Wednesday said it canceled its service to Shanghai and Beijing from London.

U.S., Japan pull nationals from China, big virus economic hit forecast - (Reuters) - The United States and Japan evacuated their nationals from a quarantined city on Wednesday while British Airways suspended flights to mainland China where deaths from a virus leapt to 133 and major economic impact was predicted. Beijing’s plans to slay the “devil” coronavirus may have won the trust of the World Health Organization (WHO), but confirmation of another 1,459 cases - taking the total to 5,974 in China - only fueled global public alarm. Deaths from the flu-like virus also rose by 27 to 133. Almost all have been in the central province of Hubei, the capital of which is Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month in a live wild animal market. The situation remained “grim and complex”, Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged. In many Chinese cities, streets were largely deserted with the few who ventured out wearing masks. Starbucks coffee shops required people to have temperatures taken and masks on. “It’s my first time here in Asia, I feel very unlucky,” said Brazilian tourist Amanda Lee, 23, cutting short a trip. “I couldn’t even see the places I wanted, like the Great Wall.” There was relief, however, among those evacuated from Hubei province, home to about 60 million people and under virtual lockdown. “I was extremely worried that I was stuck there,” said Takeo Aoyama, who arrived in Tokyo on a chartered plane carrying 206 Japanese out of Wuhan, with more flights planned.

Hong Kong unions threaten strikes in push for border closure to curb virus (Reuters) - Trade unions in Hong Kong, including hospital and rail workers, are threatening to go on strike unless the government closes the border with mainland China to stop the spread of a new coronavirus that has sent jitters around the world. While Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has ordered the suspension of the high-speed rail service between the city and mainland China from midnight on Thursday and all cross-border ferry services, the unions said it was not enough. “Front-line colleagues are in a panic as they are exposed to high risk of getting the virus while at work,” said Railway Power, which represents about 500 workers from metro operator MTR Corp. The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA) said it welcomed the steps the government had taken but wanted it to close the entire border and would meet on Saturday to discuss what more action it could take. “There is still a considerable distance from our goal of full-scale preventive measures of infection control,” the union said in a statement. Chris Cheung, treasurer of the HAEA, which has more than 18,000 members, said many of them planned to begin phased strike action next week unless their demands were met. The former British colony has confirmed 10 cases of the coronavirus, with one person in critical condition. The epicentre of the outbreak is the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where it is believed to have jumped to humans from an animal in an illegal wildlife market.

Australians will need to pay $1000 to be evacuated from Wuhan - Australians trapped at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak will have to pay up to $1000 to be evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan to be quarantined on Christmas Island. The Morrison government is in high-level negotiations with Beijing to dispatch a Qantas jet to rescue hundreds of Australian nationals from Wuhan. The death toll from the virus surged by 28 per cent on Thursday, up to 170 victims from 132. There are now 7000 confirmed cases, mostly in China. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has begun contacting Australians stuck in Hubei province to inform them what they will need to do to get on the emergency flight, expected to arrive in Wuhan within days. According to evacuees, they will have to pay $1000 and sign a waiver allowing them to be quarantined at the Christmas Island detention centre for up to 14 days. After their stay on Christmas Island, they will be dropped off in Perth and have to pay their own way to their city of residence. As fears escalated for the more than 600 Australians trapped in Hubei province, Qantas and the government were on Thursday locked in talks on how to execute the evacuation plan. The design of the Christmas Island runway means the biggest Qantas plane available - the Boeing 747 - cannot land on the island with a full passenger load. As of Thursday afternoon, the government was considering the option of transporting the evacuees to the Australian mainland - possibly Darwin - before transferring them to a military aircraft and then to Christmas Island. "That's all been rehearsed – the Army and Border Force have gone through all of that detail," Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said. Mr Dutton defended the plan to send the Australian citizens to the detention centre. "I can't clear out a hospital in Sydney or Melbourne to isolate people," he said. The deliberations come after three Japanese citizens who returned from Wuhan on a government-chartered flight on Wednesday were confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus. The US has also expatriated citizens and will quarantine them at a military base in California for three days. Australia has yet to receive any official clearance from China for the evacuation after Foreign Minister Marise Payne and China's Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, discussed the operation on Wednesday.

Australia to quarantine coronavirus evacuees on Christmas Island - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a news conference Wednesday the country's national airline Qantas would evacuate "isolated and vulnerable" Australians at risk from coronavirus in China and quarantine them on Christmas Island.   Authorities would prioritize evacuating children and elderly people in the virus-hit city of Wuhan to the island, an Australian territory some 870 miles from Indonesia notorious for its now-closed refugee detention center. Citizens would also be evacuated from China's Hubei province, Morrison said. It's a joint evacuation with New Zealand, which has about 50 affected citizens. Australia has 600.

"We see people getting sick around us": foreigners trapped in Wuhan - US citizens were preparing to escape from Wuhan on Tuesday evening during the first evacuation flight to leave the center of the coronavirus epidemic in China. But thousands of foreigners from other countries remain trapped in the stricken city. They include football coaches, airline pilots, teachers and students who had found a home in central China while its economy was booming. Divyank Parekh, a 20-year-old student, said he was one of 50 Indian students who stayed in dormitories at Wuhan University Medical School. "We are very concerned because we see people getting sick around us," said Parekh. "We called the Indian consulate hotline several times, but they told us to wait. We don't know how long it will take them to help us. " I just want to share our story so that I can try to safely take my wife, son and unborn child out According to official statistics, Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province are home to tens of thousands of long-time foreign workers and students. Many were unable to leave after the local government closed the airport, public transport and road links last week in an attempt to contain the virus. The authorities have given no indication of when the measures will be lifted. There are now 5,974 cases in China, of which 1,239 are seriously ill, state media reported on Wednesday. China also reported 26 new overnight deaths, including 25 in Hubei, bringing the death toll to 132. So far, the United States, Japan, France and South Korea are the only countries that have confirmed flight schedules to evacuate citizens by air. The EU has confirmed the evacuation of "more than 100" citizens. France has declared that its citizens will be kept in quarantine after their repatriation. Japanese citizens will be examined medically before boarding the evacuation flight and will be asked to monitor their health for two weeks after their return. Other countries, including Britain, Australia, Germany and Italy, said they were planning evacuations, but did not provide details. The expatriates called their embassies and consulates for information but were frustrated with the response. "We did not have specific information about the evacuation. It was a very difficult time, ”said Giuseppe, an Italian national who works in a ceramic company in Wuhan.

White House tells airlines it may suspend all China-US flights amid coronavirus outbreak- White House officials have told U.S. airlines the Trump administration is considering suspending flights from China to the U.S. amid an escalating outbreak of a new coronavirus that has infected thousands of people across the world, people familiar with the matter said.The Trump administration is looking at a variety of measures to contain the fast-spreading virus, U.S. health officials told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. White House officials called executives at major U.S. carriers on Tuesday, telling them that a temporary ban on China flights is on the table, according to people familiar with those conversations.As of Tuesday evening, the Trump administration had not taken that step and there was no guarantee that it would do so.Two of the people said the White House told them it doesn't immediately plan to ban China air travel, but administration officials are constantly evaluating the situation. United Airlines, which has the most service of the U.S. airlines to Hong Kong and mainland China with about a dozen daily flights, on Tuesday announced it would cancel dozens of flights next month to Hong Kong and mainland China as the outbreak worsens. The Chicago-based airline said it has experienced a "significant decline in demand for travel to China." United and its rivals Deltaand American are waiving cancellation and change fees for travelers booked to China.The restrictions could affect flights into and out of China, as well as airports across the United States, administration officials said. They declined to be named because no final decision has been made.

 White House holds off on suspending China-U.S. flights amid virus outbreak (Reuters) - The White House on Tuesday opted not to suspend flights from China to the United States as it discussed ways to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters. The Trump administration told U.S. airlines after a meeting that it was not taking the step of canceling flights, airline and government officials told Reuters. The administration is holding daily meetings on the coronavirus and has considered a wide range of potential options. Two U.S. officials said the administration had not taken any options off the table, including a temporary ban on flights, if public health data supported the move. On Monday, Republican Senator Tom Cotton urged the administration to immediately halt commercial flights from China to the United States. Airlines including United Airlines Holdings Inc have said they are canceling some flights to China as demand has fallen sharply, and global companies have told their employees not to travel on deepening fears over the spread of the flu-like virus. The coronavirus that originated in the city of Wuhan has killed 132 people in China and spread across the world, rattling financial markets.

5 People in U.S. Test Positive for Deadly Coronavirus and Trump Admin Could Be Unprepared to Fight It -As a new coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, concerns have emerged that Trump administration cuts to science and health agencies have hampered the U.S. ability to respond.  The virus, which emerged in Wuhan, China at the end of last year, has killed 132 people as of Wednesday morning's reporting by The New York Times. China has confirmed 5,974 cases and the disease has spread to 16 other countries and Hong Kong. There have been five confirmed cases in the U.S., and people who had not traveled to China have fallen sick in Taiwan, Germany, Japan and Vietnam. Yet the outbreak comes after a decade of funding cuts has left the U.S. with 50,000 fewer public health employees than it had in 2008, The Nation pointed out. And some have argued that President Donald Trump is uniquely unqualified to handle the emerging disease.  "Trump's demonstrated failures of judgment and his repeated rejection of science make him the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health challenge," former Vice President and current presidential candidate Joe Biden wrote in an opinion piece for USA Today.  Biden pointed to Trump's proposal to cut funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for International Development. While CNN pointed outthat the final budget Trump signed in December actually increased NIH funding by billions of dollars, the administration has overseen several cuts to public health funding during its tenure.It slashed the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF), which funds state and local health agencies, two times, Common Dreams reported. Its 2017 tax cuts deducted $750 million from the fund and the final 2018 budget set in motion plans to reduce the fund by $1 billion over ten years. The administration also diverted millions from the CDC and NIH in 2018. However, the attacks on the PPHF began before Trump: President Barack Obama signed a bill in 2012 that siphoned more than $6 billion from its budget to pay Medicare physicians.

CDC Confirms First Case of Human To Human Transmission Of Coronavirus in The United States - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed the first case of human to human transmission of the deadly coronavirus in the United States. Reports have indicated that the illness was carried by a woman who returned from China earlier this month after caring for her sick father in the city of Wuhan during late December when widespread reports of the illness were beginning to pop up in the region.  The woman is in her 60s and she returned from China to her home in Chicago on January 13th where she transmitted the virus to her husband. This is the first case of human to human transmission reported in the United States, but health officials are also concerned about the other people who she may have come into contact with throughout the month, according to the Chicago Tribune.  This is the second case that has been confirmed in Illinois, and the sixth case in the United States. Cases of human to human transmission have also been reported in Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Japan. Both the woman and her husband are currently hospitalized and in stable condition, but their age leaves them at very high risk. Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist at the Illinois Department of Public Health said that the woman is doing well but is still being hospitalized “primarily for isolation.”

2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), Wuhan, China - CDC Resource page.

WHO to reconsider declaring global emergency as China virus evacuations begin - (Reuters) - Foreign governments flew their citizens out of the epicentre of China’s coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday, as the number of deaths jumped to 133 and the World Health Organization voiced “grave concern” about person-to-person spread in three other countries. The WHO said its Emergency Committee would reconvene behind closed doors on Thursday to decide whether the rapid spread of the new virus from China now constitutes a global emergency. “In the last few days the progress of the virus especially in some countries, especially human-to-human transmission, worries us,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva, naming Germany, Vietnam and Japan. “Although the numbers outside China are still relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak.” There have been 6,065 cases of the flu-like virus in 15 countries worldwide - all but around 70 in China - according to the latest WHO figures. All the deaths so far have been in China, where the National Health Commission said there had been 132 fatalities as of end-Tuesday. Another death was reported in Sichuan province on Wednesday. The situation remained “grim and complex”, said Chinese President Xi Jinping, who on Tuesday had vowed to defeat the “devil” virus. U.S. President Donald Trump said he had spoken to Xi and his administration was working closely with China on containing the outbreak.

Wuhan coronavirus accelerates while concerns over limited resources may prove catastrophic - According to China’s CDC, over 30,000 people are being observed for possible Coronavirus infection. As of this writing, there have been 5,974 confirmed infections and 132 deaths in mainland China, predominately at the epicenter of the epidemic, in Hubei Province. In all, 6,053 people have been infected worldwide, with Germany confirming their first case and France three. In the US, though there are only five confirmed cases, more than 100 individuals across 22 states are being monitored. There is one confirmed case in Canada. Chinese authorities’ revelations drove the market’s panic and sell-off on Monday when they disclosed that approximately 5 million residents left Wuhan before the citywide lockdown was enforced. Health officials and epidemiologists predict that there may be one infected individual for every 500 to 600 people. In other words, possibly close to 9,000 people who left Wuhan may be harboring the virus without knowing it. Epidemiologic models constructed by MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis indicate that, on average, each case has infected 2.6 other people, meaning that control measures need to block over 60 percent of transmissions to be effective in containing the outbreak. In a press conference on Sunday, the mayor of Wuhan city, Zhou Xianwang, said that health officials have warned that the virus’s ability to spread was getting stronger. Ma Xiaowei, the minister in charge of China’s National Health Commission (NHC), endorsed these speculations at a press conference on Monday: “Signs are showing the virus is becoming more transmissible. These walking ‘contagious agents’ [asymptomatic carriers of the virus] make controlling the outbreak a lot more difficult.” In another statement, Minister Xiaowei said, “The epidemic is now entering a more serious and complex period. It looks like it will continue for some time, and the number of cases may increase.” In less than one month, the present epidemic has affected more than 5,500 people and will certainly surpass those affected by the SARS coronavirus, highlighting the rapid spread and contagious aspect of this epidemic. The fatality case in the present epidemic stands at 2.35 percent. There are more than 13 cities in essential lockdown in China, affecting more than 56 million people. Infectious diseases specialist and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security told the New York Times, “If you continue to quarantine more and more places in China, you’re going to start to break normal societal interaction, normal movement of goods and people and medical supplies and food and medicine. At a macro level, it seems to me that it’s more likely to be harmful than helpful in controlling the epidemic.”

WHO declares global emergency as China virus death toll reaches 170 (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday it was declaring the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 170 people in China a global emergency, as cases spread to at least 18 countries. The vast majority of the more than 7,800 cases detected globally, according to the latest WHO data, have been in China, where the virus originated in an illegal wildlife market in the city of Wuhan. But nearly 100 cases have emerged in other countries, spurring cuts to travel, outbreaks of anti-China sentiment in some places and a surge in demand for protective face masks. In Hubei province - of which Wuhan is the capital - some 60 million people are living under virtual lockdown as China seeks to contain the epidemic. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, praised China’s response in a news conference in Geneva but said the WHO was concerned about the virus spreading to countries that did not have the resources to deal with it. “The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China but because of what is happening in other countries. Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,” he said. The move will trigger tighter containment and information-sharing guidelines to all countries, but may disappoint Beijing, which had expressed confidence it can beat the “devil” virus. Experts are particularly concerned about person-to-person transmission cases outside China, which suggest greater potential for the virus to spread further. The United States became the fourth country to report such a case on Thursday. Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the flu-like virus was confirmed in a man in Illinois, bringing the total number of U.S. cases to six. The man’s wife, who was also infected, had previously travelled to China, but he had not. “The vast majority of cases outside China have a history of travel to Wuhan or history of contact with someone with a travel history to Wuhan,” said Teros.

WHO Declares Emergency; Cruise Passengers Cleared: Virus Update - The World Health Organization called the outbreak of coronavirus in China a global health emergency, citing the risk that the sometimes-deadly virus could expand to other countries beyond the smattering of cases outside China so far.  The declaration comes hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first case of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus in the U.S., in a woman who traveled to China and then infected her husband. As confirmed cases in China have topped 8,000, nations are taking drastic measures to stop the virus’s spread.  Key Developments:

  • Recap Bloomberg’s live blog of the WHO press conference here
  • Automakers to likely cut China production by 15%, supplier says
  • Italian cruise ship will stay in port for now, despite negative diagnosis
  • What a WHO Global Health Emergency Means: QuickTake
  • Bloomberg is tracking the outlook here | Click here to view on terminal

Cruise Passengers Can Depart After Negative Test (4:21 p.m. NY): Passengers will be allowed to leave a cruise ship that was quarantined in Italy, after a woman with coronavirus symptoms tested negative for the disease. The Costa Smeralda and the 7,000 people on board had been barred from leaving an Italian port while the case was investigated. Cruise operator Carnival Corp. said Italian health authorities had diagnosed the 54-year-old passenger with the flu. Passengers will be allowed to disembark if they like, or can carry on with the ship as it continues its voyage, the company said.

Martenson Fumes- The W.H.O. Just Prioritized Money Over Human Life -- Yesterday, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) declared that the Wuhan coronavirus is indeed now a pandemic.  Scary news, right? Well...not if you kept listening. The W.H.O. then proceeded to downplay the risk to public health and took pains to make it clear it doesn’t recommend placing restrictions on global trade & travel at this time.What?!? When we may be in dealing with a viral outbreak as (or more!) virulent than the Spanish Flu? (aka The Great Influenza)Folks, this is nothing less than a political decision to keep business/commerce flowing without regard to public health.The W.H.O. has chosen money over people’s lives:As an aside, this is not the first time that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has potentially not told the 'whole truth'. As The NY Times reports, he was accused in 2017 of covering up three cholera epidemics in his home country, Ethiopia, when he was health minister.

Cripes. Coronavirus number rockets again - And it is getting worse faster. From China: At 04:00 on January 29, 31 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities) and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps reported 1737 new confirmed cases (the first confirmed case in Tibet), 131 new severe cases, and 38 new deaths. (37 cases in Hubei and 1 in Sichuan), 21 new cases were cured and discharged, and 4148 suspected cases were added. As of 24:00 on January 29, the National Health and Health Commission has received a cumulative report of 7711 confirmed cases, 31 cases of severe cases, 170 death cases, and a total of 170 patients who have been cured and discharged. There were 124 cases with 12,167 suspected cases. At present, 88,693 close contacts have been tracked. Of the 2,364 people who were released from medical observation on the same day, a total of 81,947 people are receiving medical observation. A total of 25 confirmed cases were reported in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan: 10 in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, 7 in the Macao Special Administrative Region, and 8 in Taiwan. Mortality rate holding above 2%. Tomorrow it will surpass SARS in aggregate infections. It is out of control and very soon so will be the economic fallout.

Coronavirus Is No Ebola, and That Presents a Different Problem - Ebola kills half of the people who get it. China’s last worrying viral outbreak, SARS, killed 10%. The new coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan appears far less fatal, with about 2% of the 6,000 confirmed cases dying. For many, the illness is about as serious as a cold or flu. That seems like good news, but it’s exactly what worries the scientists and public health experts who study infectious disease ranging from the terrifying to the mundane. “These hot viruses are very scary and very deadly, but unless they land in the middle of Heathrow Airport or another densely populated place, they aren’t likely to be long-lasting,” said Jennifer Rohn, head of the center for urological biology at the University College London and an expert in pandemics. “They burn fast, and burn through the population. A virus needs a host to survive.” In an epidemiological twist of fate, the coronavirus’s mildness may help it spread undetected until it hits the most vulnerable people. Experts are concerned that it could find a devastating “sweet spot”—mild enough that some patients will go about their normal routines and spread the virus far and wide, triggering an increase in deaths. And if some patients may spread the virus when they have mild or no symptoms at all, as Chinese officials have asserted, that would undercut efforts to halt transmission. The coronavirus has been compared to the flu, which every year infects 10 million to 50 million people in the U.S., leaving tens of thousands of people dead, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a mild-mannered serial killer. The aggressive response to the coronavirus is meant to stop the new pathogen from becoming a deadlier copycat. “A relatively mild virus can cause a lot of damage if a lot of people get it,” Michael Ryan, director of the World Health Organization’s Emergencies Programme, said at a briefing Wednesday.

China reports 9,692 confirmed cases of new virus, death toll rises to 213 - The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak sparked by a new virus in China that has spread to more than a dozen countries a global emergency after the number of cases spiked more than tenfold in a week, including the record number of deaths in 24 hours reported Friday. China counted 9,692 confirmed cases with a death toll of 213, including 43 new fatalities. The vast majority of the cases have been in Hubei province and its provincial capital, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. No deaths have been reported outside China. The U.N. health agency defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

This photo of a man lying dead in a Wuhan street shows the reality of the coronavirus outbreak -A grey-haired man wearing a face mask lies dead on the pavement at ground zero of China's coronavirus epidemic, a plastic shopping bag in one hand. On what would typically be a crowded street in Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million under quarantine, there are only a few passersby and they dare not go near him. Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalists saw the body on Friday, not long before an emergency vehicle arrived carrying police and medical staff in full-body protective suits. The man lay straight on his back in front of a closed furniture store. Medical staff in blue overalls gently shrouded his body with a blue blanket. The ambulance left, and police stacked supermarket cardboard boxes to hide the scene. AFP could not determine how the man, who appeared to be aged in his 60s, had died. AFP contacted police and local health officials afterwards but could not get details on his case. But the reaction of the police and medical staff in hazmat suits, as well as some of the bystanders, highlighted the fear pervading the city. A woman standing near the man, wearing pink pyjamas and a Mao cap, said she believed he had died from the virus. "It's terrible," she said. "These days many people have died." The virus, which emerged late last year, has claimed at least 213 lives and infected almost 10,000 people in China, with at least 159 deaths in Wuhan alone.

100,000 Chinese "Under Observation" As Coronavirus Deaths Soar; State Dept Issues "Do Not Travel" To China" Advisory - Summary:

  • First human-to-human transmission confirmed in US
  • 9,821 confirmed cases worldwide, 213 fatalities
  • South Korea confirms first human-to-human transmission
  • China reported largest one-day jump in fatalities on Wednesday with
  • Hong Kong warns of surgical mask shortage
  • Russia closes border
  • 6,000 quarantined aboard Italian cruise ship
  • Thailand leads with most cases outside China (14)
  • Chinese national hospitalized and quarantined in York
  • Virus arrives in India, Philippines
  • Air France suspends flights to/from mainland
  • IMF now monitoring crisis as economic fears grow
  • State Department authorizes personnel to evacuate China
  • WHO declares global pandemic
  • American Airlines pilots union files lawsuit to end travel to China
  • First 2 cases confirmed in Italy
  • Germany confirms 5th case
  • Turkish Airlines suspends China routes

Update (2100ET): Nearly two weeks since the start of the Coronavirus epidemic, which has now resulted in over 100,000 Chinese being placed under observation, and over 210 people dead, the US finally did the right thing when late on Thursday the U.S. State Department warned Americans not to travel to China because of the spreading coronavirus outbreak."Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. On January 30, the World Health Organization has determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.  Commercial carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China." The new travel advisory was issued hours after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency. "Those currently in China should consider departing using commercial means," the department said in the advisory.

US advises against travel to China; virus declared emergency  (AP) — The U.S. advised against all travel to China on Friday after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of a new virus that has spread to more than a dozen countries a global emergency. The number of cases spiked more than tenfold in a week, including the highest death toll in a 24-hour period reported Friday. The State Department’s travel advisory told Americans currently in China to consider departing using commercial means, and requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel “in light of the novel coronavirus.” China counted 9,692 confirmed cases with a death toll of 213, including 43 new fatalities. The vast majority of the cases have been in Hubei province and its provincial capital, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. No deaths have been reported outside China. Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry said it will send charter flights to bring home residents of Hubei from overseas. The one-sentence statement gave few details, but said those from Hubei and especially Wuhan would be sent directly back to Wuhan as soon as possible in light of the “practical difficulties” they were encountering. China has placed more than 50 million people in the region under virtual quarantine, while foreign countries have cut back severely on travel to the country and quarantined those who recently passed through Wuhan. The virus is believed to have a two-week incubation period, during which those infected can pass on the illness even if they show no symptoms such as fever and cough. In the seven days ending at midnight Thursday, the National Health Commission reported 596 cases have been “cured and discharged from hospital.”

Coronavirus Death Toll Hits 257 As Confirmed Cases Top 10,000 --  Summary:

  • New York Post reports first Coronavirus case in Queen, but NYC health spokesman denies.
  • Confirmed cases top 10k from 7,700 a day earlier, with 257 fatalities.
  • UK Researchers suggests 75,800 infected in Wuhan
  • Impact of virus "not fully reflected" in rigged China PMI number
  • Goldman disagrees with Ross, says virus blowback will wipe 0.4% off US GDP growth
  • 'The U.K. health department confirmed two cases of coronavirus in England on Friday, while the U.S. and Japan advised citizens to avoid traveling to China.
  • UK confirms first two coronavirus cases after multiple scares
  • Hong Kong schools shuttered until March 2
  • Singapore closes borders to Chinese travelers, first southeast Asian nation to do so.
  • More than 43 airlines cancel flights to China
  • France successfully evacuates citizens
  • 1,000 suspected virus cases 'under observation' in India
  • Confirmed cases near 10,000 as Russia confirms 2
  • JPM cuts global growth forecast
  • United and Delta allow pilots to decline trips
  • Delta expands China cancellations through April; American also suspends flights
  • CDC quarantines Americans
  • Canada announces fourth case
  • CDC confirms 6th case in US was human to human transmission

* * *Update (1720ET): It's Saturday morning in Beijing, and that means another wave of updates from Hubei and the rest of China's virus-stricken provinces.In a major milestone, the number of cases around the world has topped 10k, 2k more than SARS infected during its nearly year-long run, as Hubei reports 1,347 new cases.  The death toll in China (also the global death toll) has risen to 257, according to China's NHC. At present, 6738 cases are still being treated in the hospital (among them: 956 cases of severe illness and 338 cases of critical illness), all of them are receiving isolation treatment at designated medical institutions. A total of 41,075 close contacts have been tracked, and 36,838 people are still undergoing medical observation.

US bans foreign nationals from entry over coronavirus - The Trump administration’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, announced yesterday that he had declared the Wuhan Coronavirus a public health emergency in the United States. The order will go into effect beginning at 5:00 p.m. on February 2. It means that any American citizen who had been in China’s Hubei province in the past 14 days will be placed under a mandatory 14 days quarantine if they travel back to the US. Additionally, Azar declared: “Foreign nationals, other than the immediate family of US citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China in the last 14 days will be denied entry into the United States.” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters at Center for Disease Control and Prevention conference: “The CDC under the statutory authority of the HHS secretary has issued federal quarantine orders for all 195 passengers” who were evacuated from Wuhan. “While we recognize this is an unprecedented action, we are facing an unprecedented public health threat.” The people are presently being held at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California. The last time the US health officials issued a mandatory quarantine was for a smallpox outbreak that occurred in the 1960s. On Thursday, the first person-to-person transmission was confirmed, the husband of the Chicago woman who acquired the infection when she was visiting Wuhan. Public health officials reported that they are monitoring 21 patients in Illinois. Hospitals and medical centers are being briefed on protocols for handling and reporting of respiratory infections. A person who returned from Wuhan on January 24 has been diagnosed as infected with the virus in Santa Clara County, California. The number infected globally has surpassed 10,000 individuals. This is an increase of 2,000 over 24 hours, with an additional 45 deaths, all in Hubei province, bringing the number fatalities across China to 258 thus far. Currently, more than 20 countries and territories outside of mainland China have confirmed cases. Every province in China has been affected. The United Kingdom has now confirmed two individuals infected with the novel coronavirus. Though it remains to be determined, some economists have predicted that the outbreak will cause China’s growth rate to drop by two percentage points this quarter. In real economic terms, this means an expected loss of $62 billion. The People’s Bank of China has ensured that there is sufficient liquidity in the financial markets when they reopen after the Lunar New Year holiday period. To place this in context, the World Bank estimated that the 2003 SARS epidemic cost some $54 billion.

CDC issues mandatory quarantine for first time in more than 50 years to Wuhan passengers in California -  U.S. health officials have quarantined 195 Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, taking the rare step of issuing a mandatory order for the first time in more than 50 years to help contain an outbreak of a new coronavirus that's spread to roughly 10,000 people across the globe."CDC under statutory authority of the HHS secretary has issued federal quarantine orders for all 195 passengers," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conference call with reporters Friday. "While we recognize this is an unprecedented action, we are facing an unprecedented public health threat."VIDEO21:36President Trump's coronavirus task force holds briefing on the outbreakTrump administration officials later said they were and issuing mandatory quarantines for any U.S. citizens who have visited Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, in the last 14 days. Travel restrictions were also being issued for anyone who visited elsewhere in mainland China over the previous two weeks. The administration plans to deny entry to foreign nationals who "pose a risk of transmitting" the virus in the U.S., administration officials said at a news conference a few hours after the CDC's call."Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been in the Hubei province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they're provided proper medical care and health screening," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.The new coronavirus, which was discovered about a month ago, can spread before symptoms show, Messonnier said, citing a new report from the New England Journal of Medicine. The illness has quickly spread throughout mainland China, with 7,000 new cases confirmed over the last week and at least 213 deaths. World health officials previously said the virus is transmitted through human contact, in droplets released by coughing or sneezing and even by touching surfaces with germs.The last time U.S. health officials issued a mandatory quarantine was in the 1960s during a smallpox outbreak, they said.

Coronavirus Lurking in Feces May Reveal Hidden Risk of Spread - While doctors have focused on respiratory samples from pneumonia cases to identify coronavirus patients, they might have ignored a less apparent and hidden source of the spread: diarrhea. The novel coronavirus was detected in the loose stool of the first U.S. case -- a finding that hasn’t featured among case reports from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. However, that doesn’t surprise scientists who have studied coronaviruses, nor doctors familiar with the bug that caused SARS. Diarrhea occurred in about 10-20% of patients afflicted with severe acute respiratory syndrome about 17 years ago and was the source of an explosive SARS outbreak in the Amoy Gardens residential complex in Hong Kong. SARS and Wuhan viruses bind to the same distinctly shaped protein receptors in the body that are expressed in the lungs and intestines, making these organs the primary targets for both viruses, said Fang Li, an associate professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences at the University of Minnesota. The discovery of the Wuhan virus, dubbed 2019-nCoV, in the fecal material of the 35-year-old man treated at the Providence Regional Medical Center Everett in Washington is “interesting,” said Scott Lindquist, the state epidemiologist for infectious disease at Washington’s Department of Health. “That adds to the knowledge about this,” he told reporters on a conference call Friday. “It’s not only excreted in your respiratory secretions, it’s also secreted in your stool.” Researchers don’t yet know how exactly 2019-nCoV spreads from person to person, but suspect it’s most likely from coming into contact with virus-containing droplets that could be emitted by an infected person’s cough and transferred to their hands or surfaces and objects. That’s led to a run on face masks. But those may be of limited benefit in the event the virus is being transmitted via the fecal-oral route, said John Nicholls, a clinical professor of pathology at the University of Hong Kong. Squat latrines, common in China, lacking covers and hands that aren’t washed thoroughly with soap and water after visiting the bathroom could be a source of virus transmission, said Nicholls, who was part of the research team that isolated and characterized the SARS virus.

Pilots, flight attendants demand flights to China stop as virus fear mounts worldwide (Reuters) - Pilots and flight attendants are demanding airlines stop flights to China as health officials declare a global emergency over the rapidly spreading coronavirus, with American Airlines’ pilots filing a lawsuit seeking an immediate halt. China has reported nearly 10,000 cases and 213 deaths, but the virus has spread to 18 countries, mostly, presumably, by airline passengers. The United States has advised its citizens not to travel to China, raising its warning to the same level as those for Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. airlines, which have been reducing flights to China this week, were reassessing flying plans as a result, according to people familiar with the matter. It is possible the White House could opt to take further action to bar flights to China in coming days, but officials stressed that no decision has been made. The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American Airlines pilots, cited “serious, and in many ways still unknown, health threats posed by the coronavirus” in a lawsuit filed in Texas, where the airline is based. American said it was taking precautions against the virus but had no immediate comment on the lawsuit. On Wednesday, it announced flight cancellations from Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai, but is continuing flights from Dallas.

Hong Kong Medical Worker to Strike, Cases Approach 12,000: Virus Update - Apple Inc. said it will close all stores and offices on the Chinese mainland for a week as the number of patients infected with a lethal coronavirus cases jumped by more than 2,000 in a day.More countries restricted travel to China, the U.S. declared a public health emergency in response to the outbreak. Hong Kong medical workers voted to go on strike, demanding more curbs on travel from the mainland. The United Arab Emirates confirmed its fifth case.North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a letter to President Xi Jinping of China to express sympathy, the New York Times reported.Chinese regulators unveiled a slew of measures to ensure stability of its $45 trillion financial system ahead of markets re-opening Monday. The country’s confirmed infections topped 11,700, while millions of workers poised to leave their hometowns to return to work in bigger cities after the extended Lunar New Year holiday. China recorded 2,102 new cases for Jan. 31, with 268 new severe cases. There have been 259 deaths so far.

 Is This The Man Behind The Global Coronavirus Pandemic-- In light of growing speculation, most of it within less than official circles, that the official theory for the spread of the Coronavirus epidemic, namely because someone ate bat soup at a Wuhan seafood and animal market... ... is a fabricated farce, and that the real reason behind the viral spread is because a weaponized version of the coronavirus (one which may have originally been obtained from Canada), was released by Wuhan's Institute of Virology (accidentally or not), a top, level-4 biohazard lab which was studying "the world's most dangerous pathogens", perhaps it would be a good idea for the same Wuhan Institute of Virology to remove the following "help wanted" notice, posted on November 18, 2019, according to which the institute is seeking to hire one or two post-doc fellows, who will use "bats to research the molecular mechanism that allows Ebola and SARS-associated coronaviruses to lie dormant for a long time without causing diseases." The full job posting, which can still be found on the Wuhan Institute of Virology website can be found here (and screengrabbed below as it will be gone within a few hours).  Why is this notable? Because as it turns out, this is a job posting for the lab of Dr. Peng Zhou (周鹏), Ph.D., a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Leader of the Bat Virus Infection and Immunization Group. Some more on Zhou's background from the Institute (google translated)He received his PhD in Wuhan Virus Research Institute in 2010 and has worked on bat virus and immunology in Australia and Singapore. In 2009 , he took the lead in starting the research on the immune mechanism of bat long-term carrying and transmitting virus in the world. So far, he has published more than 30 SCI articles, including the first and corresponding author's Nature , Cell Host Microbe and PNAS . At present, research on bat virus and immunology is continuing, and it has received support from the National "You Qing" Fund, the pilot project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the major project of the Ministry of Science and Technology.  Which brings us to the punchline: courtesy of the Wuhan institute of virology, here is a press release from Dr. Zhou's lab titled "How bats carry viruses without getting sick":Bats are known to harbor highly pathogenic viruses like Ebola, Marburg, Hendra, Nipah, and SARS-CoV, and yet they do not show clinical signs of disease. In a paper published in the journal Cell Hos t & Microbe on February 22, scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China find that in bats, an antiviral immune pathway called the STING-interferon pathway is dampened, and bats can maintain just enough defense against illness without triggering a heightened immune reaction. "We believe there is a balance between bats and the pathogens they carry," says senior author Peng Zhou. "This work demonstrated that in order to maintain a balance with viruses, bats may have evolved to dampen certain pathways." "In human history, we have been chasing infectious diseases one after another," says Zhou, "but bats appear to be a 'super-mammal' to these deadly viruses." By identifying a weakened but not defunct STING pathway, researchers have some new insight into how bats fine-tune antiviral defenses to balance an effective, but not an overt, response against viruses.

Coronavirus Contains HIV Insertions , Stoking Fears Over Artificially Created Bioweapon - Over the past few days, the mainstream press has vigorously pushed back against a theory about the origins of the coronavirus that has now infected as many as 70,000+ people in Wuhan alone (depending on whom you believe). The theory is that China obtained the coronavirus via a Canadian research program, and started molding it into a bioweapon at the Institute of Virology in Wuhan. Politifact pointed the finger at Zero Hedge, in particular, though the story was widely shared across independent-leaning media.The theory is that the virus, which was developed by infectious disease experts to function as a bio-weapon, originated in the Wuhan-based lab of Dr. Peng Zhou, China's preeminent researcher of bat immune systems, specifically in how their immune systems adapt to the presence of viruses like coronavirus and other destructive viruses. Somehow, the virus escaped from the lab, and the Hunan fish market where the virus supposedly originated is merely a ruse. Now, a respected epidemiologist who recently caught flack for claiming in a twitter threat that the virus appeared to be much more contagious than initially believed is pointing out irregularities in the virus's genome that suggests it might have been genetically engineered for the purposes of a weapon, and not just any weapon but the deadliest one of all.   Dr. Feigl-Ding insists that he's not trying to promote any 'conspiracies' about the virus being a bioweapon developed by the Chinese, although it is difficult to find a proper name for what appears to be an artificial, weaponized virus. TO BE CLEAR: I am absolutely not saying it’s bioengineering, nor am I supporting any conspiracy theories with no evidence. I’m simply saying scientists need to do more research + get more data. And finding the origin of the virus is an important research priority. Goodnight — Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) January 28, 2020 Another doctor chimed in with what he thought was a solid explanation for the virus's irregularities...Dr. @ARanganathan72 might explain.— Shankara (@fondoflinux) January 31, 2020Sure. 2019-nCoV is a +ve strand RNA virus that enters human cell and first encodes its RNA-replicase to make -ve stranded RNA that serves a template to make +ve strand RNA that is then translated for daughter nCoV. Drugs Lopinavir and Remdesivir target its protease and replicase.— Anand Ranganathan (@ARanganathan72) January 31, 2020 ...Until he realized something disturbing. Oh my god. Indian scientists have just found HIV (AIDS) virus-like insertions in the 2019-nCov virus that are not found in any other coronavirus. They hint at the possibility that this Chinese virus was designed ["not fortuitous']. Scary if true.— Anand Ranganathan (@ARanganathan72) January 31, 2020 "Scary"... but relax, it's just another ridiculous "conspiracy."

Coronavirus Misinformation Is Spreading All Over Social Media - The new coronavirus roiling financial markets and prompting travel bans is taking on a life of its own on the internet, once again putting U.S.-based social media companies on the defensive about their efforts to curb the spread of false or dangerous information. Researchers and journalists have documented a growing number of cases of misinformation about the virus, ranging from racist explanations for the disease’s origin to false claims about miracle cures. Conspiracy theorists, trolls and cynics hoping to use the panic to boost traffic to their own accounts have all contributed to the cloud of bad information. Deadly Wuhan Coronavirus Spreads To Hong Kong Workers clean gates at a Hong Kong High Speed Rail Station on Jan. 29.Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images “It’s the perfect intersection of fear, racism and distrust of the government and Big Pharma,” said Maarten Schenk, co-founder of the fact-checking site Lead Stories. “People don’t trust the official narrative.” The novel coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has killed 132 people and infected over 6,000, with cases in 19 countries. One set of tweets and Facebook posts from U.S. conspiracy theory accounts said drinking bleach could protect against the virus or even cure it. On YouTube, a series of videos accusing media organizations of suppressing information had hundreds of thousands of views. Fact-checkers, medical experts and academics reviewing coronavirus-related misinformation said some of the most viral hoaxes have concerned vaccines that claim to prevent or cure the disease and that would soon be commercially accessible to the public. Though medical authorities and biotechnology companies have begun researching and developing vaccines, they’re far from being stocked on pharmacy shelves. “Rumors can travel more quickly and more widely than they could” in an era before social media, said Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, who has a forthcoming book on the history of disinformation. “That of course lends itself to conspiracies spreading more quickly. They spread more widely and they are more persistent in the sense that you can’t undo them.” Mapping the Coronavirus Outbreak Some of the internet traffic and misinformation has been outright racist against Chinese people and Asians in general. Posts attributing the coronavirus to Chinese culinary practices have blown up, and a review of a new Chinese restaurant in Toronto was swarmed by racist trolls. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and some of that can be quite dangerous,” Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the World Health Organization’s emerging diseases unit, said at a Wednesday press conference in Geneva.

CNN Is Angry That Too Many White People Are Trying To Stop The Coronavirus Spreading -- According to CNN, the real concern about the coronavirus is not the potential for a global pandemic, it’s the fact there are too many white people trying to stop it. That was the message sent by an article posted on the news network’s website entitled ‘Coronavirus task force another example of Trump administration’s lack of diversity’.  The two images illustrating the article showed Barack Obama’s circle of advisers during the 2017 Ebola outbreak and President Trump’s advisers during a recent meeting about the coronavirus outbreak. In the photograph showing Trump’s advisers, most of them are, God forbid, white men.Coronavirus task force another example of Trump administration's lack of diversity | Analysis— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 30, 2020“Who are these experts?” whined CNN’s Brandon Tensley. “They’re largely the same sorts of white men (and a couple women on the sidelines) who’ve dominated the Trump administration from the very beginning.”Tensley called the image, “a statement that’s as predictable as it is infuriating: President Donald Trump’s administration lacks diversity.”He concludes by complaining about how “Trump values the opinions of: mostly white men who are mirror images of the President himself.”Apparently, wanting to not appear racist is more important than stopping a rapidly spreading global pandemic which has now reached at least 23 countries.This is yet another example of how “diversity” just means ‘less white people’. At its heart is the flagrantly racist premise that people should not be judged on the content of their character but on the color of their skin and that people with white skin should be discriminated against.  Respondents on Twitter were incredulous. “When I lay dying of bat soup fever, I want to be able to say that the task force may not have been the most qualified, but goddamn they were a diverse bunch,”

Coronavirus Vaccine Will Take Over A Year To Develop, Warns Big Pharma Exec -- Markets soared on Tuesday after the Trump administration pumped out overly optimistic headlines of an early-stage trial for a coronavirus vaccine could start within the next three months. It appears "trade optimism" to save the stock market has turned to "coronavirus cure optimism."  The CEO of Novartis added some color on timelines of a potential vaccine for the deadly virus, which has infected over 6,000 people, with 132 deaths across China.  Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, told CNBC on Wednesday that it could take upwards of one year to find a new vaccine, which he called the outbreak across the world "very serious." "The reality is, it will take over a year in my expectation to really find a new vaccine for this so, we need to really use epidemiological controls to really get this situation in a better place," Narasimhan told CNBC's Julianna Tatelbaum. Already, scientists in Australia have attempted to create a lab-grown version of coronavirus, and it could be studied to develop virus detection tests and vaccines eventually, Reuters reported.  Investors appear less optimistic about the Trump administration's short timeline of the creation of a new vaccine and are listening to experts, like Narasimhan, who gives a rather gloomy view that the world could be without a proven vaccine for one year while the virus spreads across the globe.  We noted on Tuesday how a commercially available vaccine for the virus could "take months" to develop, but here's the catch: it would take over a year to test on animals before the drug was fit for humans. Maybe it's time to buy some more N95 masks...

Hong Kong Researchers Have Developed A Coronavirus Vaccine, There Is Just One Catch -- With scientists from around the world scrambling to be the first to market with a vaccine for the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong researchers said today they have already developed a vaccine for the deadly Wuhan diseases, although there is a catch: the vaccine will not be commercially available for months, if not a year, as it would "take months" to test the vaccine on animals and at least another year to conduct clinical trials on humans before it was fit for use. That's a problem, because at the current exponential rate of propagation, the virus may have infected several billion people by then. According to SCMP, as scientists in mainland China and the United States were racing to produce a vaccine for the new coronavirus, infectious diseases expert Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, chair of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong, revealed that his team was working on the vaccine and had isolated the previously unknown virus from the city’s first imported case.“We have already produced the vaccine, but it will take a long time to test on animals," Yuen said, without giving a specific time frame on when it would be ready for patients. Meanwhile, with the virus having already mutated once becoming "more easily spreadable" among humans according to Chinese officials, by the time the virus is finally tested, the prevalent phenotype will likely be vastly different from the one the HK researcher is currently operating on.How did the HK team come up with such a quick vaccine? HKU researchers based it on a nasal spray influenza vaccine previously invented by Yuen’s team. Researchers modified the flu vaccine with part of the surface antigen of the coronavirus, meaning it could prevent influenza viruses as well as the new coronavirus, which causes pneumonia.

Men More Prone To Coronavirus Infection Than Women, Study Finds -  The medical journal 'The Lancet' has published several pieces of cutting-edge research about the coronavirus, including the first reports that infected individuals can become contagious before symptoms appear. Now, the journal is one-upping itself by publishing research showing that men are more susceptible to the coronavirus than women. According to a study of 99 patients treated in Wuhan's Jinyintan Hospital, along with researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai, men - particularly those with preexisting health problems - are more prone to the virus. It confirmed a similar finding from an earlier study. The study also warned - somewhat unnecessarily - that early identification and treatment of the pneumonia-like illness was important, since complications like organ failure are common. So far, the virus has killed more than 170 people, all of them in China. Of the patients studied by the researchers, more than half were infected in "clusters", a sign of just how rapidly the virus can jump from an infected person to a non-infected person."We observed a greater number of men than women in the 99 cases of 2019-nCoV infection. Mers-CoV and Sars-CoV have also been found to infect more males than females," the study said, referring to Middle East respiratory syndrome and severe acute respiratory syndrome, which are also coronaviruses. "The reduced susceptibility of females to viral infections could be attributed to the protection from X chromosome and sex hormones, which play an important role in innate and adaptive immunity," it said.Another alarming finding from the study: The mortality rate among the group studied was 11%. While that number is well above the 2%-3% official death toll, other epidemiologists have suggested that the true death toll for the virus is closer to 11%. The study also offered a glimpse of the virus's more serious symptoms. One-third of the patients studied developed organ failure and other complications. Some 17% developed acute respiratory distress syndrome.Given the potential consequences should the virus be left untreated, seeking care early after symptoms emerge is crucial, the researchers said. Of course, that doesn't bode well for people in Wuhan who have reportedly been turned away from overcrowded hospitals.

Millions Could Die - Bill Gates Warned In 2018 That The World Needs To Prepare For Pandemics Like WarShould a deadly pandemic comparable to the 1918 influenza outbreak reach the US in the relatively near future, the US government would be powerless to stop it. And in all likelihood, hundreds of thousands - if not, millions - of Americans will die.That was the message Microsoft founder Bill Gates sent to the world before the Massachusetts Medical Society in April 2018. If a highly contagious and lethal airborne pathogen like the 1918 influenza were to take hold today, nearly 33 million people worldwide would die in just six months, Gates noted in his prepared remarks, citing a simulation done by the Institute for Disease Modeling, a research organization in Bellevue, Wash. Specifically, Gates said the U.S. government is falling short in preparing the nation and the world for the "significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes." Gates discussed his efforts to convince the Trump administration to set aside more funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to prioritize the creation of a national response plan that would govern how resources are deployed during a pandemic or biological weapons attack. Gates said he believed “the world needs to prepare for pandemics in the same serious way it prepares for war.” He added, That was not the first time the billionaire had warned the world. At the 2017 Munich Security Conference, Gates asked world leaders to “imagine that somewhere in the world a new weapon exists or could emerge that is capable of killing millions of people, bringing economies to a standstill, and casting nations into chaos. If it were a military weapon, the response would be to do everything possible to develop countermeasures,” he said at the NEJM event, adding that a “sense of urgency is lacking” when it comes to biologic threats. This should concern everyone said Gates, “because history has taught us there will be another deadly global pandemic. “The Ebola epidemic in West Africa four years ago was another wake-up call, as the number of confirmed cases climbed, the death toll mounted, and local health systems collapsed. Again, the world was much too slow to respond,” Gates said of the 2014-2016 epidemic, which killed 11,000 and infected more than 28,000. Eleven people were treated for Ebola in the United States during that epidemic, according to the CDC. Gates also compared future deadly global pandemics to a new type of “military weapon.”

 Coronavirus Could Shock World Into Recession, Stephen Roach Warns -  Former Morgan Stanley Asia chairman Stephen Roach published an op-ed on Monday (Jan. 27) via Project Syndicate and also appeared on CNBC's "Trading Nation" to warn about how the global economy could already be in a period of vulnerability, where an exogenous shock, such as the coronavirus, could be the trigger for the next worldwide recession. Roach reminds us that a shock of some sort is usually the cause of most recessions that propagates through the economy. For several years, the Federal Reserve's tightening, which started in late 2017 and ended in the summer of 2019, slowed the global economy. Then the trade war blew up complex supply chains and weakened developed and emerging economies even more, from 1Q18 through 3Q19. These two forces opened a cycle of vulnerability for the global economy that would make it susceptible to a shock. However, it was anyone's guess what that shock would be until now.  "With the world economy operating dangerously close to stall speed, the confluence of ever-present shocks and a sharply diminished trade cushion raises serious questions about financial markets' increasingly optimistic view of global economic prospects," Roach said via his op-ed in Project Syndicate.On Trading Nation, Roach said, "big shocks for weak economies" could trigger a recession.He cautioned that coronavirus could remain a problem in the months ahead."It's a frightening outbreak, especially when it spreads this rapidly," he said. So far, more than a dozen Chinese cities are locked down, tens of millions of people are confined to their homes, and factories and businesses are closed, as the world's second-largest economy grinds to a halt.   And perhaps Roach has found the root cause of the next global recession: coronavirus. As he ominously concludes, it won't take much to knock this over the edge: Historically, the rapid expansion of cross-border trade has been an important part of the global growth cushion that shields the world economy from all-too-frequent shocks.  . Now, however, reflecting the unusually sharp post-crisis slowdown in global trade growth, this cushion has shrunk dramatically, to just 13% over the 2010-19 period. With the world economy operating dangerously close to stall speed, the confluence of ever-present shocks and a sharply diminished trade cushion raises serious questions about financial markets’ increasingly optimistic view of global economic prospects.

Outbreaks of lethal diseases like Ebola and the Wuhan coronavirus happen regularly. The US government just cut funding for the hospitals that deal with them - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists - When a Liberian man named Thomas Duncan first showed up at a Dallas hospital in September 2014 with a fever and abdominal pain, he was sent home with some antibiotics. Days later, Duncan was dead from Ebola. Outbreaks of dangerous diseases like Ebola or the new respiratory coronavirus that’s killing people in Wuhan, China—cases of the latter now have appeared in other countries, including the United States—are a feature of modern life, not a bug. And it’s only a matter of time before a patient shows up at a doctor’s office somewhere in the United States suffering from what could be the next epidemic disease. Hospital practices can expose healthcare workers and others to infection. The type of failures that resulted in two of Duncan’s nurses becoming infected with Ebola were prolific in the US healthcare system, even beforethe 2014 crisis. According to Nina Pham, one of the nurses who contracted Ebola, her preparation for caring for an Ebola patent “consisted of what her manager ‘Googled’ and printed out from the internet.”After Duncan died, US health officials put in place a strategy to prepare hospitals to deal with patients who had diseases like Ebola, caused by so-called special pathogens. This tiered response system consists of frontline and assessment hospitals that determine whether or not patients have a serious infectious disease and higher-level hospitals that can treat patients with these dire infections. The tiered approach has significant flaws, but it’s a whole lot better than the haphazard structure that was previously in place. Unfortunately, federal funding for the program is set to expire this year, and save for a small number of specialized treatment facilities and an Ebola education center, Congress did not include funding for the program in the 2020 budget.

Something Far Deadlier Than The Wuhan Virus Lurks Near You --There’s a deadly virus spreading from state to state. It preys on the most vulnerable, striking the sick and the old without mercy. In just the past few months, it has claimed the lives of at least 39 children.The virus is influenza, and it poses a far greater threat to Americans than the coronavirus from China that has made headlines around the world.“When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza, there’s just no comparison,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison. The risk is trivial.”To be sure, the coronavirus outbreak, which originated last month in the Chinese city of Wuhan, should be taken seriously. The virus can cause pneumonia and is blamed for more than 800 illnesses and 26 deaths.British researchers estimate the virus has infected 4,000 people. Influenza has already sickened at least 13 million Americans this winter, hospitalizing 120,000 and killing 6,600, according to the CDC. And flu season hasn’t even peaked. In a bad year, the flu kills up to 61,000 Americans.Worldwide, the flu causes up to 5 million cases of severe illness worldwide and kills up to 650,000 people every year, according to the World Health Organization. And yet, Americans aren’t particularly concerned.  Fewer than half of adults got a flu shot last season, according to the CDC. Even among children, who can be especially vulnerable to respiratory illnesses, only 62% received the vaccine. “Familiarity breeds indifference,” Schaffner said. “Because it’s new, it’s mysterious and comes from an exotic place, the coronavirus creates anxiety.”

 Penn Environment, local leaders push for clean air in Pittsburgh - There were 90 days when the air quality was unhealthy in Pittsburgh in 2018, according a new report by Penn Environment. They say it is harming our health and economy. Penn Environment and two local leaders gathered outside Pittsburgh City Council chambers with this message on Tuesday: Pittsburgh loves clean air. "People here in Allegheny County are fed up and are ready to be able to breathe without putting their health at risk," said Allegheny County Council member Bethany Hallam. Hallam said the results from the 2018 report on air quality from Penn Environment are not OK. She said 90 days of bad air is 90 too many. Hallam is advocating for a more environmentally-minded county board of health and more money for the county health department. Dr. Deborah Gentile, an asthma researcher with years of experience working with children, also spoke on Tuesday. She said it is children, including those with asthma, who are suffering from this. She also said this is especially true for those living near Clairton Coke Works and Edgar Thomson Steel Mill. "This is more than double the rate we see in the country and across the state. Additionally, those children with identified asthma, 60% of them are poorly controlled, meaning they are symptomatic and sick often," Gentile said. To combat this, the speakers said greener solutions are key, such as electric buses and energy efficient buildings..

New toxic byproducts found in chlorinated water - Adding chlorine is one of the most common methods of disinfecting drinking water, but just how safe is it? Researchers from Johns Hopkins have now found evidence that reactions between chlorine and natural compounds in water may produce previously-unknown toxic byproducts. It’s well known that chlorine is a powerful disinfectant, killing bacteria, viruses and other microbes effectively. As such, it’s credited with drastically stemming the tide of waterborne disease such as cholera and typhoid, after it became widely used to treat drinking water in the early 20th century. But adding chlorine isn’t without its own problems. The chemical reacts with compounds called phenols that are naturally found in water, creating potentially-harmful byproducts. But as the World Health Organization (WHO) says in a report (PDF, page 6), “the risks to health from these byproducts are extremely small in comparison with the risks associated with inadequate disinfection.” But now, the Johns Hopkins researchers have found signs of new byproducts that have until now gone undetected. The team suspected that current methods of analyzing the chemistry of drinking water may miss some of these byproducts, so they tested another technique. The researchers used N-α-acetyl-lysine, an amino acid that’s often used in toxicology to detect harmful molecules known as reactive electrophiles. The team added this amino acid to water that had first been treated with chlorine the same way that drinking water usually is at large scales. They then left it to sit for a full day before analyzing it using mass spectrometry. And sure enough, the researchers detected two related compounds: 2-butene-1,4-dial (BDA), and chloro-2-butene-1,4-dial (BDA with chlorine). These are known to be toxic and carcinogenic, and have never been detected in drinking water before.

Bottled Water Company Admits Dumping Deadly Arsenic Into CA's Ecosystem... Nobody Goes To JailCrystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water’s bottled parent company, CG Roxane, LLC, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful storage of hazardous waste and one count of unlawful transportation of hazardous material on January 9th. Yet, to date, not one person has spent one night in jail for releasing thousands of gallons of arsenic into California’s wastewater system. Elemental arsenic and arsenic sulfate and trioxide compounds are classified as “toxic” and “dangerous for the environment” in the European Union under directive 67/548/EEC. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recognizes arsenic and inorganic arsenic compounds as group 1 carcinogens, and the EU lists arsenic trioxide, arsenic pentoxide, and arsenate salts as category 1 carcinogens.This extremely dangerous and potentially deadly practice of dumping the arsenic into the California ecosystem has essentially gone unpunished.The company earns nearly $50 million per year in revenue from its spring water but was slapped on the wrist, some might say, with a $5 million penalty for discharging arsenic tainted water back into the ecosystem. The legal problems started for Crystal Geyser when it sourced spring water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains nearly two decades ago.That water was and still is poisoned with arsenic as is much of the water in Western states. The company used sand filters to remove the arsenic. But in an effort to increase the filters’ effectiveness the company washed out the sand filters with chemicals, removing the build-up of arsenic, and releasing it into an outdoor holding pond. Yes, that’s right folks. They filtered out the arsenic, and then put it right back into the ecosystem in a concentrated form.People Magazine published the news accompanied with a press release by the U.S. Attorney assigned to the case:To maintain the effectiveness of the sand filters, CG Roxane back-flushed the filters with a sodium hydroxide solution, which generated thousands of gallons of arsenic-contaminated wastewater.The company kept all of the arsenic in the holding pond for 15 years at which time it was told it would have to dispose of the arsenic-filled wastewater, a hazardous material which could kill people. But it was ultimately how the company disposed of the arsenic which got the private company into trouble with the government. According to the press release by the U.S. Attorney:

California finds widespread water contamination of ‘forever chemicals’ — Nearly 300 drinking water wells and other water sources in California have traces of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, new state testing has found. Testing conducted this year of more than 600 wells across the state revealed pockets of contamination, where chemicals widely used for decades in manufacturing and household goods have seeped into the public’s water supply. An analysis by the Los Angeles Times found that within this class of chemicals, called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the two most common compounds were detected in 86 water systems that serve up to 9 million Californians. State officials released the water quality results on Monday, the first step in what’s likely to be a years-long effort to track the scale of the contamination and pinpoint its sources. Only a small fraction of California’s thousands of drinking water wells were tested in this initial study. Officials said they planned to examine many more, but have not committed to future statewide testing. The results offered the clearest picture yet of California’s exposure to a public health crisis that is playing out nationally. “This has the potential of being an enormously costly issue both on the health side as well as on the mitigation and regulatory side,” said Kurt Schwabe, an environmental policy professor at UC Riverside. “It’s going to be one of the defining issues in California, environmentally, for decades.” About half of the wells sampled did not have the chemicals at detectable levels — a result that state officials said was a hopeful sign the contaminants may not have spread as widely as they have in other states. Yet testing found contaminated drinking water in communities across California, from densely-populated cities with large and complex water systems to mobile home parks that depend on a single private well. Clusters of contaminated wells were found in Southern California, in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The city of Los Angeles did not detect the chemicals in its water, but neighboring Glendale did.

Virtually All Major US Drinking Water Sources Likely Contaminated With PFAS - New laboratory tests confirm that drinking water in dozens of cities across the United States is contaminated with toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at levels exceeding what independent experts consider safe for human consumption. The findings suggest that previous studies have dramatically underestimated the number of consumers exposed to PFAS through drinking water and come as the Trump administration continues to gut environmental and clean water protections.Over the past year, researchers collected tap water samples from 44 locations in 31 states and the District of Columbia ranging from large metropolitan areas to small towns. Water from every location tested positive for PFAS with the exception of Meridian, Mississippi, where drinking water is drawn from wells more than 700 feet deep, according to a study released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) last week. Some of the highest levels of PFAS were found in major metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia, Miami, New Orleans and a northern New Jersey suburb of New York City.The positive test results from 43 of the 44 locations suggest that harmful “forever chemicals” linked to cancer, liver dysfunction, fetal damage and other health problems have contaminated far more drinking water sources than previously known. Scientists and environmental watchdogs now say that various PFAS compounds are likely detectable in virtually all the nation’s major water supplies, particularly those that draw drinking water from surface sources such as rivers and lakes.Yet President Trump and Republicans in Congress oppose tough new regulations aimed at reducing public exposure to PFAS. Along with a small number of Republicans, House Democrats recently passed the PFAS Action Act of 2019, legislation that would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to establish national PFAS standards for drinking water and require polluters to assist in cleanup. Most House Republicansvoted against the bill and it’s expected to stall in the GOP-controlled Senate. Even if the PFAS Action Act were to pass the Senate, the White House has said Trump would veto the bill. His administration has systematically rolled back environmental regulations, including sweeping clean water protections. Last week, the administration ignored its own scientific advisory board and finalized a rule that exempts half the nation’s wetland and streams from regulation, leaving waterways that feed drinking water sources for 2 million people without federal protections. PFAS enters the water supply in a variety of ways, including industrial discharge and runoff from farm fields where waste from water treatment plants is used as fertilizer.

Trump administration narrows clean water protections, NC wetlands likely to suffer - In case you missed it last Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a new rule that environmentalists say will gut long-established clean water protections. Announced at a national home builders show in Las Vegas, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the Navigable Waters Protection Rule delivers on President Trump’s promise of a revised definition for “waters of the United States” and results in economic growth. But as Policy Watch’s Lisa Sorg first reportedlast September, this rule change could hold dire consequences for North Carolina: In North Carolina, wetlands cover 5.7 million acres of land, about 17 percent of the state. Most of the wetlands are in eastern North Carolina, where they provide crucial flood protection and wildlife habitat. In addition, 51,000 miles of streams — equivalent to two trips around the equator — are at risk from the WOTUS rollback. Some parts of the state, Gisler said, could lose protections for 50 percent of their streams.Even with Clean Water Act protections, North Carolina’s waters are still polluted: from coal ash pits, chemicals, hog waste, raw sewage — 85 million gallons of which spilled into the state’s waterways last year. Repealing the federal protections would likely despoil the water quality we do have.“We could see dramatic increases in number of streams plowed over, developed, paved,” if the repeal withstands legal challenges, said Geoff Gisler, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “There’s going to be a visible and noticeable difference in the quality of our waters.” And while the change is clearly intended to benefit developers and industry, the Southern Environmental Law Center notes: …. the overwhelming majority of the 626,075 public comments EPA received weighed in against the proposed rule.  the rule drew criticism from floodplain and wetland managers, state wildlife agencies and international councils, state environmental agencies, associations representing family commercial fishing businesses, several fly-fishing-related businesses, river guides and paddling outfitters, outdoor apparel company Patagonia, outdoor recreational enthusiasts represented by several organizations, 59 craft breweries, 12 scientific societies that represent more than 200,000 scientists, numerous associations representing public and children’s health advocates, cities and counties, small and family farmers, environmental law professors, faith organizations, and conservation organizations too numerous to count. 

E.P.A. is letting cities dump more raw sewage into rivers for years to come – NYT -  The Environmental Protection Agency has made it easier for cities to keep dumping raw sewage into rivers by letting them delay or otherwise change federally imposed fixes to their sewer systems, according to interviews with local officials, water utilities and their lobbyists.Cities have long complained about the cost of meeting federal requirements to upgrade aging sewer systems, many of which release untreated waste directly into waterways during heavy rains — a problem that climate change worsens as rainstorms intensify. These complaints have gained new traction with the Trump administration, which has been more willing to renegotiate the agreements that dictate how, and how quickly, cities must overhaul their sewers.The actions are the latest example of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back nearly 95 environmental rules that it has said are too costly for industry or taxpayers. That list grew on Thursday, when the administration stripped clean-water protections from wetlands, streams and other waterways. Cities that say they are renegotiating their sewage agreements with the agency include Cleveland; Seattle; Kansas City, Mo.; South Bend, Ind.; and Chattanooga, Tenn. Other cities, including Pittsburgh and St. Louis, have already concluded talks for new terms. While officials in many of these cities praise the Trump administration’s flexibility, environmentalists say that the changes threaten safety by allowing pathogens and chemicals to keep flowing into rivers and along beaches and to back up into streets or basements during storms.   Since the start of the Trump administration, the E.P.A. has undertaken rollbacks of dozens of environmental regulations, including limits on the use of pollutants near streams and wetlands, on toxic emissions from industrial facilities and on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. The latest rollback came on Jan. 23, when the E.P.A. reversed a 2015 rule that protected more than half the nation’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of small waterways. That includes seasonal streams that flow only for part of the year, and wetlands that aren’t next to large bodies of water. Farmers and property developers will now be able to release pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants directly into many of those waterways, as well as destroy or fill in wetlands for construction projects.

Global Groundwater Is Threatened by Unsustainable Practices Amid Climate Crisis - As the planet’s thermometer continues to inch upwards, one sought-after resource is only going to increase in value: groundwater.Already, about one-third of the world’s freshwater is derived from aquifers locked away beneath our feet, and they serve more than 2 billion people, though rates of use differ drastically from country to country. Just a decade ago, these reserves provided 37 percent of the total public water supply for Americans. In the European Union, groundwater supplies 70 percent of domestic use. In India, it’s even higher, with double the annual usage of either China or the U.S. Groundwater also provides nearly 40 percent of the water used globally for crop irrigation. Engines of life they may be, but many important underground aquifers have long been mismanaged through activities like over-pumping and widespread environmental contamination. Just ask hydrologist Tom Gleeson, an associate professor at the University of Victoria, in Canada. Preserving underground aquifers is an “urgent and long-term concern” that is further complicated by climate change, Gleeson told Truthout.  Indeed, aquifers in some parts of the world, like the U.S. High Plains — a subregion of the Great Plains — could be depleted within the next 30 to 50 years. This is why Gleeson recently co-authored a groundwater “call to action” and accompanying statement — the latter of which has garnered the written support of over 1,000 scientists and experts — to help foster better understanding of the current state of the world’s groundwater aquifers, and the “urgent” need to adopt sustainable groundwater practices where the current ones are lacking. Nevertheless, beyond the scope of worried experts with direct ties to the issue, broader awareness and concern about the planet’s groundwater resources has been stubbornly limited, says Thomas Harter, a professor and cooperative extension specialist in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at University of California, Davis. “The point of the initiative is to continue to stir the pot and draw attention to the issue,” Harter told Truthout, pointing to a glaring imbalance currently at play. Indeed, our current global groundwater abstraction rate is estimated to be about 3.5 times the actual area of water within underground aquifers, while roughly 1.7 billion people live in areas where groundwater resources or groundwater-reliant ecosystems — or both — are threatened. “Because we don’t have a tangible perception of how poor groundwater sustainability is, this hidden resource goes by the wayside without the public and policymakers being sufficiently concerned about it,” Harter said.

 The Dead Zone Downstream: Gulf Edition --Dean Blanchard Seafood, headquartered on the barrier island of Grand Isle in the Mississippi River Delta, is one of the largest shrimp suppliers in the United States.  In the 1990s, Blanchard said that local shrimpers would sometimes pull alongside his dock opening fire with automatic weapons, angry at the market competition Blanchard encouraged through his dealings with the immigrants. He said he always shot back.  In 2010, Blanchard graduated to political battles with BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, a spill that sent 4.9 million barrels of oil into his fishing ground. Dean Blanchard Seafood took a hit, and Blanchard later told a reporter that he estimated his business was worth 15 percent of what it was before the spill. He testified in Congress and appeared on national news shows to lobby for his industry. Increasingly, Blanchard and other Gulf Coast fishermen find themselves reckoning with a different type of pollution, a threat to ocean biodiversity and Louisiana’s $2 billion seafood industry that’s unrelated to oil and much harder to fix. “Sometimes we’ll get thousands of pounds of shrimp a day, then the next day everything’s gone,” Blanchard said. “When the dead zone comes, it just kills everything.” The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is a massive, oxygen-deprived swath of water concentrated off the coast of Louisiana and Texas, fed by polluted freshwater from states along the Mississippi River.  The Mississippi is born in Minnesota, its cold water bubbling over football sized rocks that edge the glacial Lake Itasca. From there it begins a walking-paced meander, 2,320 miles toward New Orleans. Like a topological funnel between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains, the Mississippi drains 40 percent of the contiguous United States, carrying leftover nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer spread on farmland across the Midwest toward the Delta. The chemicals encourage the growth of algae, which suck up oxygen and choke marine life. Last year, the dead zone measured as much as 6,952 square miles, larger than Connecticut and much bigger than the 5-year average of 5,770 square miles, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Studies in the journal Science state that the global area of dead zones have quadrupled in the last 50 years, driven by a growing human population and an increase in the need for corn, soybeans, biofuels, and livestock feed.

Administration eyes changes to environmental enforcement --The White House issued a notice today seeking input on efforts to "reform enforcement" — a potential boon for the energy industry.The Office of Management and Budget notice follows the "transparency and fairness" executive order last fall that Trump administration officials described as a way to protect Americans from "secretive" bureaucratic interpretation or unjust penalties, particularly in environmental cases (E&E News PM, Oct. 9).They stressed extreme examples of landowners building on federally protected wetlands and being hit with steep fines.Today's memo, which appears in the Federal Register, states that federal enforcement has ballooned in recent decades but protections for defendants has not.The administration is "evaluating a full range of options to make significant reforms," said the memo, which seeks public comment on the enforcement process.Observers noted the initiative could lay the groundwork for bold reforms should President Trump win reelection this fall.And critics say the effort intends to neuter regulatory enforcement and reinforce the administration's push to make life easier for business."This is an inquiry in search of a problem, where there is no problem," said Joel Mintz, an environmental law professor at Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad College of Law.In a phone interview, Mintz said several of the questions the document raises are unnecessary or would force federal investigators to jump through more hoops. For example, one question in the memo read: "Should investigated parties have an opportunity to require an agency to 'show cause' to continue an investigation?"

 Trump administration reportedly planning to reduce protections for birds -   The Trump administration is set to finalize a regulation Thursday that will end penalties against oil, gas and construction businesses that "incidentally" cause the deaths of birds as a result of their work, The New York Times reported.  The regulation would reduce protections for birds offered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and only punish companies that kill birds with explicit intent. Businesses would not be held accountable for the deaths of birds caused by oil spills, wind turbines or the use of illegal pesticides, according to the Times. Though the legislation is not yet finalized, the Trump administration has already advised local governments and businesses to not take steps to protect birds, and federal wildlife officials now rarely investigate bird deaths, according to internal agency documents obtained by the Times.  President Donald Trump has taken other actions to weaken environmental protections. Last week, he reduced the types of waterways protected from pollution under federal law. However, Trump has also spoken against bird deaths in the past. He has repeatedly criticized wind farms for being "bird killing." Read more about the new legislation in the Times' report.

  Genetically engineered moths have been released into the wild to wipe out pests CNN - Genetically modified diamondback moths designed to wipe out wild pest populations were released in fields for the first time in New York state. Diamondback moths are migratory pests found in the Americas, Europe, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, but especially in areas where crops can be grown yearround. In these parts -- where it's not too hot nor too cold -- are where diamondback moths cause the greatest problems, including billions of dollars in damages to cruciferous crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and canola. They're one of the most damaging insects because of their high reproduction rate and resistance to most insecticides. To address these problems in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way, researchers have successfully genetically engineered (GE) male diamondback moths to control the pest population of their wild counterparts, according to findings published Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. "There's a lot of interest in using genetically engineered insects for controlling medically important diseases," said Anthony Shelton, lead author of the study and entomology professor at Cornell University's "In agriculture, though, I think we can take the advantage of genetically engineered insects to control a major pest species." The moths were engineered by Oxitec, a developer of insect biological control systems that is known for its modified mosquito releases to reduce mosquitoes that carry malaria or dengue fever. When rearing the moths, developers incorporated what they call a self-limiting gene that makes female offspring die shortly after hatching. Typically, tetracycline, an antibiotic used to suppress the gene, is included in the moths' diet so that female moths can be produced as well. "However, when you want to release populations of males, you do not include tetracycline," Shelton said. "So all the female larvae that are feeding on the artificial diet will die. And then you'll just have thousands and thousands of males which you can release in the field." In cabbage field studies in Geneva, New York (about 260 miles from New York City) the moths were marked with different fluorescent powders, released together, then captured in a trap. The GE moths behaved similarly to their wild counterparts in regard to factors that would determine their potential to suppress pests.

Worst Locust Swarm to Hit East Africa in Decades Linked to Climate Crisis - East Africa is facing its worst locust infestation in decades, and the climate crisis is partly to blame. The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said that Ethiopia and Somalia had not seen a swarm this bad in 25 years, while Kenya was facing its largest infestation in 70 years, BBC News reported. "Vulnerable families that were already dealing with food shortages now face the prospect of watching as their crops are destroyed before their eyes," UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told Kenya's Capital News. The desert locust swarm came across the Red Sea from Yemen and was encouraged by heavy rains in late 2019, according to BBC News. The UN was already warning that the infestation could spread from Ethiopia in November. Some farmers in the country's Amhara region lost 100 percent of their crops, and a swarm forced an Ethiopian passenger plane off course in December. Locusts can travel 93 miles a day, and each adult can eat its weight in food in the same time span. A small swarm can eat enough food to feed 35,000 people in 24 hours, The Associated Press reported, and the locusts have already infested around 172,973 acres of land in Kenya. "The speed of the pests' spread and the size of the infestations are so far beyond the norm that they have stretched the capacities of local and national authorities to the limit," the FAO said, according to BBC News. The unusual size of the swarms is connected to the climate crisis, The Associated Press explained further: Heavy rains in East Africa made 2019 one of the region's wettest years on record, said Nairobi-based climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker. He blamed rapidly warming waters in the Indian Ocean off Africa's eastern coast, which also spawned an unusual number of strong tropical cyclones off Africa last year. Heavy rainfall and warmer temperatures are favorable conditions for locust breeding and in this case the conditions have become "exceptional," he said. Rainy conditions expected in March could cause the locust swarms to grow by a factor of 500 before drier weather is expected in June, the UN said.

'Biblical' Locust Plague With Mega-Swarms The Size Of Cities Descends On East Africa - As if the world's facing a looming new global pandemic weren't enough, here's yet another rare occurrence of apocalyptic proportions threatening to devastate the economy and way of life on an entire continent: the worse outbreak of desert locusts in seventy years is ravaging East Africa specifically Kenya as hundreds of millions have swarmed in from Somolia and Ethiopia, reports the Associated Press. The hum of millions of locusts on the move is broken by the screams of farmers and the clanging of pots and pans. But their noise-making does little to stop the voracious insects from feasting on their crops in this rural community. The by all accounts "huge" infestation is threatening to devastate communities and a region already long struggling with food security. One news source likened it to a Biblical Locust Plague With Swarms the Size of Cities.The invading locusts are "deadly" in the sense that these 'mega-swarms' devour crops at incredibly rapid pace at a faster rate of destruction than other natural disasters.  The numbers and immediate destructive force are staggering, according to quotes in the AP:

  • About 70,000 hectares (172,973 acres) of land in Kenya are already infested.
  • A single swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer of farmland, an area the size of almost 250 football fields, regional authorities say.
  • One especially large swarm in northeastern Kenya measured 60 kilometers long by 40 kilometers wide (37 miles long by 25 miles wide).
  • Farmers are afraid to let their cattle out for grazing, and their crops of millet, sorghum and maize are vulnerable, but there is little they can do.

“Even cows are wondering what is happening,” one local farmer laments in the AP report. “Corn, sorghum, cowpeas, they have eaten everything.”This as the mega-swarms consume the very fodder the livestock survive on.There's additional concern that new rains after March could bring another explosion of the fast breeding locusts prior to the dry season taking their numbers back down.The UN Food and Agricultural Organization is reportedly mobilizing an emergency response, given even small swarms can wipe out crop fields at sizes constituting enough food that could have fed tens of thousands of people in a single day, which makes it a humanitarian disaster in the making. It's both the nature of their small size (about a finger's length) and the fact that they swarm in millions at a time that make preventative measures nearly impossible.The UN agency listed some creative but futile methods suggested and/or initiated in the past: “Although giant nets, flamethrowers, lasers and huge vacuums have been proposed in the past, these are not in use for locust control.” It added, “People and birds often eat locusts but usually not enough to significantly reduce population levels over large areas.”

New Protections Proposed For Imperiled Crayfish Species - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service is proposing new protections for two threatened species of crayfish found in the Appalachian coalfields.Under the new proposed rule, set to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register, the agency will designate 445 miles of streams in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia as “critical habitat” for the Guyandotte River crayfish and Big Sandy crayfish. Both species have lost much of their habitat across Appalachia due to water pollution from mountaintop coal mining. The proposal includes more than 360 miles of stream for the Big Sandy crayfish in Martin and Pike Counties, Kentucky; Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise Counties, Virginia; and McDowell, Mingo, and Wayne Counties, West Virginia. Eighty-four miles of stream in Logan and Wyoming Counties, West Virginia, are proposed as critical habitat for the Guyandotte River crayfish. Researchers have confirmed the Guyandotte River crayfish has lost more than 90 percent of its range and is now found only in two streams in Wyoming County.   “This really is a ray of light for both of these species’ chances at survival into the future,” said Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. The environmental group took legal action against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the two crayfish species. The crayfish were protected in 2016 under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service will accept public comments on the proposal for 60 days.

Dungeness Crabs’ Shells Are Dissolving From the Severity of Pacific Ocean Acidification: As the Pacific Ocean becomes more acidic, Dungeness crabs, which live in coastal areas, are seeing their shells eaten away, according to a new study commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).The study authors looked at ocean acidification levels from 2016. They found that the lowered pH is dissolving the shells of young Dungeness crabs in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Without strong shells, the young crabs suffer damage to their sensory organs, as CNN reported. The findings contribute to growing concerns about the viability of the Dungeness crab as atmospheric carbon dioxide, which continues to rise, is absorbed by the Pacific Ocean and increases acidification, as The Seattle Times reported. Ocean acidity was not expected to damage Dungeness crabs so quickly. Researchers say it is a warning for the future of seafood and the health of marine life. "If the crabs are affected already, we really need to make sure we pay much more attention to various components of the food chain before it is too late,", as CNN reported.  The study was published last week in the journal Science of the Total Environment. Ocean acidification happens when the pH of ocean water drops. The primary cause is an increase in absorption of atmospheric CO2 over a long period. When CO2 is absorbed by seawater, a chain of chemical reactions is set in motion. That causes the sea water to increase its acidity as an increase in hydrogen ions tamps down carbonate ions, which would balance out the water's pH level, as NOAA explained in a statement. Crustaceans and corals need carbonate ions to help them build strong shells. In their absence, it becomes difficult for crabs, oysters and clams to build shells. It also stops corals from building strong skeletons and it weakens plankton, as CNN reported.

 Another southern resident orca feared dead -Another southern resident orca, L41, is feared dead, according to the Center for Whale Research.The whale, born in 1977, was not seen during an encounter with its family by the center’s researchers on Friday. Because of his age, and the fact that he was thin when he was seen a year ago, “we fear he may be gone and will consider him missing unless he shows up unexpectedly in an upcoming encounter,” the center reported.If L41 remains missing, that would bring the population of southern resident orcas to only 72, the second-lowest since the center first began its population census 45 years ago. There were 71 southern residents in 1976 at the end of the capture era, when a third of the pods were taken for sale to aquariums around the world.L41 was an important whale in the southern resident families. He and one other whale, J1, fathered most of the calves born to the pods since 1990. The orcas are struggling for survival against three main threats: lack of adequate food, particularly chinook salmon; vessel noise and disturbance by boats; and contaminants.

Latest UN plan to address catastrophic decline in biodiversity—more empty platitudes - The planet is now faced with the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, which will, if not averted, make the world unlivable for humanity. However, unlike the previous five, which were caused by various natural processes, the impending catastrophe is being triggered by human-induced climate change and other forms of environmental degradation caused by the irrationality of the capitalist system, and it is within our ability to stop it. Last year, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimated that approximately one million plant and animal species face extinction over the next several decades. The global rate of species extinction is already at least thousands of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years. Already during the industrial period, 75 percent of Earth’s land and 66 percent of marine ecosystems have been altered by human activity. It is estimated that nearly 600 plant species have been driven to extinction over the past 250 years. Now, a draft plan by the Working Group of the Convention on Biological Diversity, prepared for the upcoming five-day summit in Kunming, China, scheduled to start February 24, titled Zero Draft of The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, presents an initial version of a proposed plan to address this impending crisis. It warns that unless nearly a third of the planet is protected to provide livable habitats for endangered plant and animal species, and pollution cut by half, this mass extinction is inevitable. The proposed plan asserts that to avert this crisis, “transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors” are needed. It goes on to state, “Biodiversity, and the benefits it provides, is fundamental to human well-being and a healthy planet.” However, “Despite ongoing efforts, biodiversity is deteriorating worldwide and this decline is projected to continue or worsen under business-as-usual scenarios.” The plan aims to develop necessary “goals and targets” to combat this crisis, with the aim of stabilizing biodiversity over the next decade and permit ecosystems to recover by mid-century. The plan identifies 20 targets. Among them are:

  • Cutting pollution from biocides, plastic wastes, and excess nutrients by at least 50 percent.
  • Providing protected status to sites important for biodiversity—covering at least 30 percent of these land and sea areas by 2030, with at least 10 percent under “strict protection.”
  • Promoting sustainable agriculture.

A plan similar to the one now being proposed—the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020—had been formulated at a summit in Japan in 2010. Grand promises were made. However, predictably, the goals were not met, and conditions continue to deteriorate at an ever-increasing rate. The situation is dire. Every year that passes without substantial, world-wide, coordinated action brings Earth closer to irreversible devastation. Scientists have warned that at a certain point the process of global warming would reach a “tipping point” beyond which a positive feedback loop would be initiated whereby environmental degradation would re-enforce itself, making any future efforts to stabilize the environment difficult or impossible. This tipping point may be reached sooner rather than later.

'This is not how sequoias die. It’s supposed to stand for another 500 years'  -- Standing quietly on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the Californian giants can survive almost anything – fire, disease, insect attack, cold years, hot years, drought – so the story goes. The largest living organisms on the planet can grow over 90 metres (300ft) tall. When they do die after 3,000 years or so, the oldest trees, known as monarchs, usually succumb to their own size and collapse. Their giant trunks will rest on the forest floor for another millennium. But the miraculous story of the near-indestructible giant trees that millions of Americans tell their children is no longer true.  For the first time in recorded history, tiny bark beetles emboldened by the climate crisis have started to kill giant sequoia trees, according to a joint National Park Service and US Geological Survey study set to be published later this year. Twenty-eight have gone since 2014. The combination of drought stress and fire damage appears to make the largest sequoias susceptible to deadly insect infestations that they would usually withstand. One of the 28 is the optimistically named Lazarus, which stands in the Giant Forest in Sequoia national park, surrounded by other sequoias and a handful of cedars and pines that died in California’s great drought.  When Dr Christy Brigham, who is responsible for the welfare of the ecosystems in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, saw Lazarus for the first time, all she could do was weep. “This is a tree that has lived through 2,000 years of fires, other droughts, wet years, dry years, hot years, cold years. It’s been here longer than Europeans have been in this country and it’s dead. And it shouldn’t be dead. This is not how giant sequoias die. It’s suppose to stand there for another 500 years with all its needles on it, this quirky, persistent, impressive, amazing thing, and then fall over. It’s not supposed to have all of its needles fall off from the top to the bottom and then stand there like that. That’s not how giant sequoias die,” she says, standing next to the skeletal Lazarus as the occasional tourist wanders past.  Dr Nathan Stephenson, a forest ecologist with the US Geological Survey, emphasises that there is still further research to do on how bark beetles are killing giant sequoias but he is clear on one thing. “I think beyond reasonable doubt in the limited set of circumstances, which was the most severe drought on record and all the trees had had a recent fire at their base, you can weaken giant sequoias to the point that bark beetles can kill them.”

Elon Musk At War With German Environmentalists Protesting His New Gigafactory -  It was just a couple of days ago that we first reported that Tesla would need to cut down "thousands of trees" in order to build its Gigafactory 4 in Germany.In that article, we noted that the company needed to clear so much forest space to put up its factory that dozens of protesters recently organized a gathering known as a "Forest Walk" to protect against Tesla's tree removal activities at the site, according to Teslarati.  The protesters were dressed in yellow vests, replicating the "Yellow Vest Movement" in France and are also concerned about what the deforestation may do to the drinking water in the area. This past weekend, in a fit of hilarious and ironic virtue signalling cognitive dissonance, Musk responded to the criticism, saying on Twitter "this is not a natural forest — it was planted for use as cardboard & only a small part will be used for GF4."Oh, well in that case, just cut down as many trees as you want, Elon.  Musk also responded to criticisms about water usage at Gigafactory 4, lying saying "Tesla won’t use this much net water on a daily basis. It’s possibly a rare peak usage case, but not an everyday event."Company planning documents, however, estimate that the factory would need about 98,000 gallons of water per hour. The company remains in the process of "jumping through hoops" to get the plant up and running, according to Bloomberg.One of those hoops included clearing the area of wartime bombs. Disposal officers carried out controlled detonations of seven wartime bombs on Sunday at the site.The next step will be "harvesters and trucks" rolling in to clear those thousands of trees...

Trump Admin Manipulated Wildfire Science to Encourage Logging - Respecting scientists has never been a priority for the Trump Administration. Now, a new investigation fromThe Guardian revealed that Department of the Interior political appointees sought to play up carbon emissionsfrom California's wildfires while hiding emissions from fossil fuels as a way to encourage more logging in the national forests controlled by the Interior department.The appointees looked to frame a story around the fires that would encourage a thinning of the forest through logging, which President Trump has said would help prevent forest fires. Experts have refuted his assertion.The trove of emails that The Guardian uncovered show a coordinated effort to frame the carbon emissions from the 2018 wildfires as a blight that could be remedied by cutting down trees for logging.The Trump administration has tried to make it appear that over-regulation, mismanagement, and forest protection are responsible for the severity of recent wildfires. However, a recent review published two weeks ago has concluded that the changing climate is the main culprit behind the sharp increase in wildfire risk."Overall, the 57 papers reviewed clearly show human-induced warming has already led to a global increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather, increasing the risks of wildfire," said Matthew Jones, senior research associate at University of East Anglia's Tyndall Centre and lead author of the review, in a statement. "This has been seen in many regions, including the western US and Canada, southern Europe, Scandinavia and Amazonia. Human-induced warming is also increasing fire risks in other regions, including Siberia and Australia."

Australia wildfires: Devastating photo shows extent of damage - A stark image taken by a fire service official has laid bare the extent to which wildfires have devastated Australia’s landscapes and the wildlife they once hosted. The charred remains of trees dominate the photograph as far as the eye can see in the formerly lush valleys in East Gippsland, a region home to koalas, kangaroos and wombats. The picture, taken by Dion Hooper of Victoria’s forest fire management service, goes some way to illustrating the aftermath of national bushfires estimated to have killed a billion animals, incinerated thousands of homes and left at least 32 people dead. A deluge of rain provided a brief respite for firefighters tackling the infernos, which have raged since October, more than halving the number of blazes in New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and Queensland. But meteorologists warned on Monday that this was likely to change in the coming days, forecasting a return to scorching weather that would raise the risk of blazes spreading once again. “Unfortunately, the reprieve may be short-lived with a blast of heat likely late this week in some areas,” the NSW Bureau of Meteorology wrote on Twitter. As of Monday, some 59 bush and grass fires were burning in the state, where fire authorities explained how they had been capitalising upon the recent upturn in conditions, and preparing for the coming weeks. “More than 1,300 firefighters are using more favourable conditions to slow the spread of fires and strengthen containment lines, ahead of forecast increasing temperatures later in the week,” NSW Rural Fire Service said. Temperatures are predicted to hit 41C on Friday in Melbourne, which is hosting the Australian Open tennis tournament. Australia’s capital Canberra was again blanketed in a smoky haze on Monday as a result of the fires in NSW, with firefighters also tackling a new blaze in the nearby Namadgi National Park.

Crashed tanker was protecting Two Thumbs koala sanctuary, now destroyed by blaze -- It’s been revealed that the large air tanker which went down Thursday afternoon with the loss of all those aboard was protecting the Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust Koala Sanctuary in the Peak View district near Jerangle. The Two Thumbs Sanctuary’s sheds, houses, machinery and all the koalas in its care were also destroyed in the blaze. Snowy Mountains Wildlife Rescue says they are deeply distressed by the loss of the air tanker and the three American crew who were killed while on firefighting duties with the RFS.   Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust is a trio of koala sanctuaries and a rehabilitation centre two hours south of Canberra established by James Fitzgerald. The sanctuaries comprised Hammer’s Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Kalandan Wildlife Sanctuary and Irwin’s Corner Wildlife Sanctuary.The sanctuaries also provided enclosures and other facilities for wildlife rehabilitation and a base for scientific research. Local wildlife rescue groups including Wildcare NSW, LAOKO (Looking After Our Kosciuszko Orphans) and NARG (Native Animal Rescue Group) have used the sanctuaries as a safe release site. They are also home to a number of other threatened species, including greater gliders, squirrel gliders, Rosenberg’s goanna and the quoll. The feeding program in the area has been suspended due to the dangerous and active fire activity there at the moment.

The cause of Australia’s bushfires – what the SCIENCE says -  YouTube Video - Arson? Lack of hazard reduction? Nothing new? This video looks at what fire chiefs and scientists say is the REAL cause of the 2019-2020 fires in Australia, in response to amateur theories proposed by media commentators and bloggers. (long list of sources)

$500 million has been donated for bushfire relief, but only a fraction has reached victims. Here’s why. -“Where’s the money?”It’s the question being asked of bushfire donations, with NSW minister Andrew Constance, local member for one of the worst-Bega, one of the worst-affected areas, calling on charities and government to move quickly.“The money is needed right now, not sitting in a Red Cross bank account earning interest so they can map out their next three years and do their marketing,” Constance told media this week.Constance isn’t alone in his frustration. A significant amount of money destined for bushfire-affected regions has been held up, leaving those affected in the lurch.“The recovery has been too slow and I think that criticism is just,” NSW disaster minister John Barilaro said this week, announcing some Service NSW staff were to exclusively deal with bushfire assistance.Around $500 million has generously been raised so far for bushfire relief, including more than $50 million by comedian Celeste Barber, multi-million dollar donations by celebrities and companies, and of course, countless smaller individual donations.Many however are now asking where that money is, how it will be spent, and why it hasn’t in many cases reached the people who need it most. Since Constance gave it a tongue lashing, the Red Cross has defended its strategy, explaining that while it has received $115 million, only $30 million will be spent on immediate relief so the charity can guarantee its ongoing support.“Communities take a long time to recover. So what we are using our donated funds for is supporting our teams on the ground, at the evacuation centres and recovery centres… helping communities with their immediate needs but also their longer-term recovery which will take many years,” NSW and ACT director Poppy Brown told ABC Breakfast on Thursday, noting anyone who had lost a house was eligible for an immediate $10,000 grant.Those families who have lost a family member to the fires are eligible for a $20,000 bereavement payment to meet unmet needs such as funerals and related expenses, the Red Cross has advised Business Insider Australia. Those two forms of payment have seen about $1 million go “out the door” every day, Brown said. The Red Cross denied however the remainder was only going to marketing, with Brown revealing a maximum of 10%, or roughly $11.5 million of the money, would be spent on administrative items like fuel for cars and computers.

Australia’s fire crisis continues while flash floods hammer northern Queensland - Australia’s population has had another horror week of so-called natural disasters, again exposing the consequences of decades of inaction on climate change as well as the critical lack of civil planning and the inadequate resources for disaster management. Amid heatwave conditions, bushfires again threatened southern parts of the country. In Canberra, a state of emergency was declared by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government on Friday as a fire in Namadgi National Park posed the greatest bushfire threat to the capital’s residents since 2003. The blaze began when the landing light of a military helicopter ignited tinder-dry grass while carrying out “routine aerial reconnaissance” as part of fire preparations. As the season’s bushfires have exposed the woefully inadequate resources of firefighting services across the country, many have called for greater military deployment to help combat the fires. This incident exposes the dangers of relying on the armed forces as a substitute for properly-trained and prepared firefighters. As with many of the hundreds of bushfires this season, firefighters were shocked by the speed with which the fire spread. ACT Rural Fire Services (RFS) Commissioner Joe Murphy said: “This is not a fire that is operating under normal rules.” On Friday evening, the RFS warned that Canberra’s southernmost suburbs, Conder, Banks and Gordon, and the village of Tharwa, may face spot fires as a result of flying embers on Saturday afternoon, as temperatures soar past 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Residents of rural areas south of Canberra were advised to leave amid fears that it would soon become too dangerous to drive. Following the disastrous 2003 bushfires, in which four people were killed, more than 200 injured, and hundreds of houses were destroyed, many residents criticised the lack of information provided by emergency services to warn of immediate danger. In a sign that little improvement has been made in 17 years, the Emergency Services Agency’s website—the official source for current information about the bushfire threat—went down on Friday. This followed a two-and-a-half hour outage on Thursday January 23, which has been blamed on a fault at Amazon Web Services. In Tasmania, unusually warm conditions have fuelled fires at Winkleigh and Glengarry, in the north of the state, and Rossarden in the northwest. In New South Wales (NSW), with the temperature forecast to reach 41 degrees on parts of the South Coast today, residents and tourists are again being urged by authorities to evacuate some areas that were devastated at the beginning of the year.

Canberra Fires: Terrifying Wall of Flames Heads Toward City -  Extraordinary images emerging from the fires in Canberra. The Australian Capital is under threat tonight as a massive bushfire emerges amid soaring heat and high winds. A huge wall of flames moving over hills toward the Australian capital of Canberra tonight. Images posted to social media show the terrifying display of Mother Nature, as massive flames consume the hills near the city.  Outer suburbs of Australia’s capital Canberra are under threat from a massive blaze tonight.The blaze is the worst fire emergency the city has faced since the devastating 2003 fires which hundreds of homes, the Chief Minister of ACT said.From the emergency servies in the ACT:“Fire situation near #Canberra is developing and escalating quickly this evening. Residents in southern areas & nearby parts of #NSW should check the latest information now, & then remain up to date through tonight.”The ACT emergency services authority issued an emergency warning to residents of Tharwa at 4:30pm saying it was too late to leave and to seek shelter immediately.“The fire may pose a threat to all lives directly in its path,” the advice said. “People in these suburbs are in danger and need to seek immediate shelter as the fire approaches.”“The fire is also threatening properties in rural areas on Boboyan, Apollo, and Top Naas roads.”The fire is fast moving and people are evacuating.The southernmost suburbs of Canberra are within range of possible spotting/ember attacks from the massive blaze in the Nnamadgi National Park. The rural hamlet of Tharwa is already facing the beast.Embers from the fire have already reached populated areas.The Australian Defence Forces said the fire may have started when a helicopter landed in the area yesterday. The bushfire ignited due to heat from a landing light on a military helicopter, a MRH-90 Taipan, which was conducting operations in Namadgi National Park, the Guardian said.Winds are now gusting northeasterly at speeds up to 40km/h, according to ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) commissioner Georgeina Whelan.

Moving a Capital City to the Jungle -- As a year of fires around the world from Brazil to Australia drew to a close, Indonesia’s capital was having the opposite problem. On the last night of 2019, more than 35 centimeters (14 inches) of rain fell on the sprawling city, causing rivers to burst their banks and inundate thousands of homes. At least 60 people died, with floodwaters rising as high as a single story house.   For Jakarta, a city on the island of Java saddled with some of the worst superlatives in the region⁠—most polluted, most congested, fastest sinking⁠—the floods were an old story, the third time deluges have killed dozens since 2007. The problems have become so overwhelming that, even before the latest catastrophe, President Joko Widodo had decided to build a new capital 1,200 kilometers away on the island of Borneo.   Poor urban planning and decades of pumping groundwater from under the capital city set the stage for floods, and efforts to boost the nation’s economy have made an outsize contribution to the global emissions blamed for rising sea levels. In the past two decades, more than 25 million hectares of tree cover has been lost, much of it logged or burned to plant oil palms. Worse still, Indonesia is the world’s biggest exporter of the bête noir of global warming⁠—power station coal.  Ironically, the president’s site for the new capital is near the heart of one of its biggest mining regions. . The place earmarked for the new capital is in East Kalimantan, a province the size of Louisiana that is almost entirely dependent on natural resources. Locals call it coal country.  The gateway to the region and to the proposed capital is Balikpapan, Kalimantan’s financial heart and a city that owes its existence to petroleum. The former fishing village has grown into a modern urban center, but the source of the port’s wealth still dominates the shoreline⁠—an oil refinery run by state-owned PT Pertamina.  PT Pertamina, which didn’t respond to requests for comment, is now expanding the refinery to increase output by more than a third to 350,000 barrels a day.  Oil wells still dot the area but the fuel has been overtaken by coal. At PT Bayan Resources Balikpapan Coal Terminal further up the coast, snaking red conveyor belts stretch out into the bay, carrying the fuel to waiting ships. The company declined to allow access to the site and didn’t respond to e-mailed questions about pollution.

Could mega-dams kill the mighty River Nile? (an interactive report) | Al Jazeera - For the 280 million people from 11 countries who live along the banks of the Nile, it symbolises life. For Ethiopia, a new dam holds the promise of much-needed electricity; for Egypt, the fear of a devastating water crisis. Large hydroelectric dams are touted as a green source of electricity, but they can leave a trail of environmental damage and water insecurity. In this interactive scientific report, Al Jazeera partnered with earth and space scientist Dr Essam Heggy to analyse the impact of large dams on the Nile as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) nears its completion date in 2023. The mega-dam has triggered a major dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over access to the Nile’s vital water resources. How much will each country get and who controls the flow? This green triangle in the north of Egypt is the Nile Delta. The lush area was formed in ancient times by the accumulation of silt brought downstream along the River Nile. North to south, the Delta measures 161km and covers the Egyptian coastline from Alexandria in the west to Port Said in the east. It is one of the largest deltas on Earth and is home to more than 40 million people. About half of Egypt's agricultural produce comes from this fertile area. However, scientists have warned that Egypt's largest food basket is under threat. In 1971, more than 750km to the south, Egypt inaugurated the Aswan High Dam. It generated around half of Egypt's electrical power at the time, but this mega-dam also triggered the gradual decline of the Delta's ecosystem.   Dams, especially the ones with large reservoirs, interrupt the natural cycle of flooding that distributes organically rich silt on river banks, enriching the arable land available, and contributing to the rhythms of the native ecosystem. The sediment held back by the large reservoirs also helps build up the Delta and, without it, erosion has resulted in an accelerated intrusion of sea water from the Mediterranean into the Delta, effectively destroying once-fertile farmland. Today, with the construction of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, scientists are warning that a further disruption to the Nile's ecosystem could cause irreversible damage to the region.

Brazil's pick of a creationist to lead its higher education agency rattles scientistsThe appointment of a creationism advocate to lead the agency that oversees Brazil’s graduate study programs has scientists here concerned—yet again—about the encroachment of religion on science and education policy.President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration on Saturday named Benedito Guimarães Aguiar Neto to head the agency, known as CAPES. Aguiar Neto, an electrical engineer by training, previously served as the rector of Mackenzie Presbyterian University (MPU), a private religious school here. It advocates the teaching and study of intelligent design (ID), an outgrowth of biblical creationism that argues that life is too complex to have evolved by Darwinian evolution, and so required an intelligent designer.Researchers are decrying the move. “It is completely illogical to place someone who has promoted actions contrary to scientific consensus in a position to manage programs that are essentially of scientific training,” said evolutionary biologist Antonio Carlos Marques of the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Biosciences.  CAPES is a key federal agency within Brazil’s Ministry of Education. It is responsible for regulating, supervising and evaluating all graduate-level programs at Brazilian universities, and funds thousands of scholarships for master’s and doctoral students. It also issues funding calls for research and provides training for teachers in primary and secondary education. Aguiar Neto was recently quoted in an MPU press release as saying that ID should be introduced into Brazil’s basic education curricula as “a counterpoint to the theory of evolution,” and so that creationism could be supported by “scientific arguments.” He made the comments prior to the second Congress on Intelligent Design, which was held at Mackenzie in October 2019. The event was organized by Discovery Mackenzie, a research center created by MPU in 2017 to mirror the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which also promotes ID.

Turkey earthquake: At least 36 dead, 1,607 injured - At least 36 people died and more than 1,607 have been hospitalized in eastern Turkey after an earthquake rattled the region on Friday evening, according to state broadcaster TRT Haber.The 6.7-magnitude quake struck near the town of Sivrice, in eastern Elazig province, causing at least 10 buildings to collapse, Interior Minister Sulyman Soylu said.About 1,607 people were hospitalized, Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management President (AFAD) said on Sunday.At least 45 people have been rescued from collapsed buildings, AFAD said, adding that 1,521 buildings have been inspected, with 76 found to be collapsed and 645 heavily damaged. Most of the injured were in Elazig province, the epicenter of the earthquake. Video from Turkey's IHA Broadcasting Services shows emergency crews rescuing injured people from a collapsed building. The earthquake caused five buildings to collapse in Elazig and heavy damage to a number of buildings in the area, Minister of Environment and Urbanization Murat Kurum told reporters..Preliminary reports say the earthquake lasted 40 seconds, AFAD said, adding that 3,699 search and rescue personnel have been deployed.Fifteen aftershocks have been felt in the wake, with the strongest registering at 5.4 magnitude, Soylu said. The quake struck at a relatively shallow depth of 10 km (6 miles), according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), which enhances the shaking felt at the surface.

Puerto Rico: Earthquake Aftershocks and Aftermath -- Recent years have not been kind to the island of Puerto Rico, nor to her people. First, Puerto Rico’s public finances were ravaged by vulture funds, leading to the imposition of extreme austerity policies, followed  by weak and inadequate  attempts by Congress to address the island’s woes  and place its finances on a viable long-term footing (see Puerto Rico Is Getting Squeezed, and It Will Cost All of Us). Then came the 2017 hurricane – followed by the failure to provide sufficient crisis aid, and the inability to restore access to drinking water and power to the island, among other calamities (seeWall Street Got a Bailout, Why Not Puerto Rico?; The Situation in Puerto Rico: Power, Water, and PROMESA; Senators Press for Expanded Probe of FEMA Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico Relief Efforts,McKinsey: Doing God’s Work in Puerto Rico, among other coverage).  And most recently, the island was slammed by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake, the most powerful in a century. Significant aftershocks follow  daily and continue, including a 5.0 magnitude tremor on Saturday morning, according to CBS News, 5.0 magnitude earthquake hits southern Puerto Rico amid ongoing tremors). Residents worry that the worst is yet to come. According to  the Morning Call, Earthquake aftershock in Puerto Rico is ‘psychological torture,’ Lehigh Valley delegation tells Rep. Wild at summit: A waitress’ “funny” story about her life in Puerto Rico during the recent earthquakes now haunts Victor Martinez, who was part of a Lehigh Valley delegation that surveyed the devastation last weekend. Her home hasn’t been damaged yet, but her family still feels the earth’s violent shakes. So, they sleep outside and only venture inside to get what they need. It unfolds like a game. Her husband stands at the front door. Flip flops, next to the door, she shouts. He races to retrieve it. The next request: shorts, second drawer in the bedroom. He runs in and out again — one item at a time — just in case the “big one hits.” Martinez said the story may conjure a comical image, but it really underscores the emotional toll on Puerto Ricans after a series of earthquakes began rocking the Caribbean island Dec. 28. One measured a magnitude of 6.4, the most powerful there in a century.“This keeps happening, and no one knows if the next one is the big one, and if this is the big one, maybe we get a tsunami,” said Martinez, owner of La Mega Radio. “They are scared. They are afraid. … That is the psychological torture that these people are going through.”

Magnitude 7.7 earthquake strikes between Cuba, Jamaica - An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.7 struck between Cuba and Jamaica Tuesday afternoon, with shaking reported as far north as Miami.The quake hit to the south of Cuba and to the northwest of Jamaica, but it was initially unclear if there were any injuries or damages.Floridians felt the effects in Southwest Miami-Dade where the Datran building in the Dadeland area started shaking, Fox 7 reported. Authorities evacuated the building, but no visible damage was detected.Other buildings in the Brickell and downtown areas were vacated along with The Stephen P. Clark Government Center. There were no initial reports of damage or injuries in the area.It was also felt at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the southeastern coast of the island. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damages, said J. Overton, a spokesman for the installation, which has a total population of about 6,000 people.The quake triggered warnings of a tsunami that ultimately fizzled, according to The U.S. Geological Survey. Its epicenter had a shallow depth, six miles beneath the surface, but the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially issued a threat forecast and said additional local alerts may follow.

7.7 Earthquake Strikes Near Jamaica Causing Evacuations and Tsunami Warnings - A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.7 hit the Caribbean region on Tuesday. The epicenter of the quake is roughly 80 miles from Jamaica, and could be felt as far as Miami. While there have been warnings of potential tsunamis throughout the region, only a small wave of less than a foot was recorded in the Cayman Islands at George Town, but the waters have been relatively calm considering the severity of the earthquake.The region has also faced numerous aftershocks, including one with a magnitude of 6.1, according to the US Geological Survey.The quake comes at a time of intense seismic activity in the region, including a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit Puerto Rico. Experts believe that this earthquake is a “strike-slip earthquake,” which means that tectonic plates slide against each other causing movement on the surface.  This would actually be good, because if this is the case, that means that tsunamis are less likely to happen, as they are most commonly associated with “thrust earthquakes,” in which the crust is thrust upward and causes the water to push up and outward, ultimately creating a tsunami.

 7.7 Earthquake in Caribbean Prompts Evacuations as Far Away as Miami -  A 7.7 magnitude earthquake shook the Caribbean Tuesday, rattling people from Miami to Mexico.The quake struck at 2:10 p.m. and had its epicenter 86 miles northwest of Montego Bay, Jamaica and 87 miles southwest of Niquero, Cuba. It prompted evacuations in Miami and opened sinkholes in the Cayman Islands, but so far there have been no reports of major damages or injuries."This one was serious. It put the fear of God into many people today," Jamaican ad executive Knolly Mosestold NPR.The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned that "hazardous tsunami waves" could impact Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, BBC News reported. However, those warnings were later withdrawn.The earthquake was felt in Kingston, Jamaica and Havana, Cuba. It was also strongly felt in Cuba's largest eastern city, Santiago, The Associated Press reported. However, the colonial city emerged unscathed."It felt very strong but it doesn't look like anything happened," Belkis Guerrero, who works at a Roman Catholic cultural center there, told The Associated Press.  In the Cayman Islands, the shaking blew the covers off manholes and blasted sewage into the streets. The Cayman Islands also felt a series of aftershocks — one reached a magnitude of 6.1. Water was shut off to most of Grand Cayman Island and schools were closed Wednesday.   Cayman Compass editor-in-chief Kevin Morales said that the island was unaccustomed to earthquakes and that newspaper staff were not at first sure what they were experiencing. "It was just like a big dump truck was rolling past," Morales told The Associated Press. "Then it continued and got more intense."  In Miami, meanwhile, the shaking prompted evacuations from at least eight high-rise buildings in downtown Miami, Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell told CNN affiliate WPLG, as the main network reported. Ryan Gold of the U.S. Geological Survey told the Miami Herald that it was not surprising that the quake was felt in Miami, as BBC News reported. "It's a very large earthquake which can produce a lot of seismic energy," he said. The earthquake was also felt in five Mexican states including Veracruz, on the Gulf Coast, The Associated Press reported.

Florida sits on $900M in aid while storm victims wait — Tens of thousands of Floridians hammered by a run of deadly hurricanes are eligible for almost $900 million in federal disaster aid, but three years after Hermine, Matthew and Irma tore across the state, that money has barely been touched. The state, like many others, is caught in the bureaucratic knot that governs disaster relief funds administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program, which by design has few set rules, has long been criticized for its complexity. Some states have coped by setting up their own bureaucracies specifically to manage HUD disaster relief block grants. Not so Florida, the state most vulnerable to hurricane damage. There, the biggest obstacle to disaster relief is the Department of Economic Opportunity, which currently is standing between residents — some living in or near poverty — and $891.5 million in HUD block grants. The state agency has spent only $29 million of that funding as of Jan. 1, nearly $21 million of which went to Innovation Emergency Management, a consulting firm the agency hired two years ago to help navigate the grants. Now, Florida is anticipating an additional $735.5 million from HUD for Hurricane Michael and localities still reeling from the 2018 Category 5 storm have asked Gov. Ron DeSantis if they, not the department, can manage the cash. “It will be better to have the money right here, where the hammers are swinging, versus 100 miles away in Tallahassee,” Bay County Manager Rob Majka Jr. said. “We know our needs better than anyone else.” HUD disaster grants are meant to support “full and swift recovery” and many states susceptible to catastrophic weather, including North Carolina, Louisiana, and New Jersey, have beefed up their bureaucracies so they can distribute the federal funds quickly after misfortune strikes. But Florida, the country’s lightening rod for hurricanes, hasn’t. Instead, the state has left much of the tricky application process to counties with no experience and few resources. With disaster aid sitting unused, thousands of people are living in temporary housing. Schools and police departments are closing, fire halls are clinging to life. Acres of towering pines are still pinned to the ground after 155-mile-an-hour winds stripped them of their bark.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! The Midair Collisions Menacing Air Travel -  To lead their anti-bird campaigns, airports hired full-time biologists who understand the peculiarities of avian behavior. These scientists have often devised “habitat modification” programs that involve subtly altering landscapes to discourage birds. When Nick Atwell became the resident biologist at Oregon’s Portland International Airport in 1998, for example, he noticed that much of the facility’s green space was flat, and more significant, free of any obstacles. So he oversaw the erection of simple barriers that caused a wave of anxiety among the airport’s most troublesome birds. “Geese like to go to large open areas where they have the ability to escape and avoid predation,” Atwell says. “When you break up their line of sight, they don’t have the confidence that there’s not a predator around the other side of that barrier. That uncertainty kind of keeps them moving.” Aside from tweaking the topography of airports, biologists have also deployed an array of hardware designed to irritate birds. The propane cannons of yesteryear are still in use, but now they’re networked and can be fired remotely—either from a laptop or by tuning a field radio to a specific frequency. Airport biologists who are fans of sonic weapons have also invested heavily in portable speaker systems like the HyperSpike, which emits undulating wails that can exceed 150 decibels—far louder than even the loudest bands on earth. There is current interest among bird-strike specialists for lasers—surprising, perhaps, given the many instances in which pilots have reported being temporarily blinded by scoundrels wielding laser pointers. Tools such as the handheld Aerolaser allow airport personnel to focus green beams on birds that otherwise won’t budge. Since birds have more green cones in their eyes than mammals, the tactic is particularly effective. “You illuminate that beam right by them and you slowly cross it over their mid-body, and they’re seeing it as a large threatening object—sort of like a lightsaber from Star Wars,” Atwell says. “So they think they’re going to get hit by something, and they get up and go.”

Fears mount that two old satellites will SMASH into each other above US this week Space debris tracking service LeoLabs has sounded the alarm after discovering that two defunct and decommissioned satellites are hurtling towards each other and may collide over the continental US this week. The pair of satellites are expected to cross paths on January 29 at 23:39:35 UTC, at an altitude of around 560 miles (901 kilometers) above Pittsburgh, PA. At a relative velocity of 9.1 miles per second (14.7 kilometers per second), the machines are expected to come within 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 meters) of each other. However, there is a one in a hundred chance they'll hit each other and create a huge debris field in orbit. The bigger of the two is the decommissioned IRAS space telescope which was sent up in 1983, measuring 11.8 by 10.6 by 6.7 feet (3.6 by 3.24 by 2.05 meters) and having a launch mass of 2,388 pounds (1,083 kg). Its potential doomsday date is the GGSE-4, a defunct science payload from 1967, which weighs just 10 pounds (4.5 kg) but is attached to the 187-pound (85 kg) recently declassified military satellite Poppy 5. Earth specialists have no way of communicating with either satellite to alter their respective courses and prevent a possible collision. “There's potentially a large amount of debris that will be created,”

In Glacier National Park, Ice Isn't the Only Thing That's Disappearing - High up in the mountains of Montana's Glacier National Park, there are two species of insect that only a fly fishermen or entomologist would probably recognize. Known as stoneflies, these aquatic bugs are similar to dragonflies and mayflies in that they spend part of their lives underwater before emerging onto the land, where they transform into winged adults less than a half inch long. However, unlike those other species, stoneflies do their thing only where cold, clean waters flow.In fact, these flies live pretty much exclusively downstream from glaciers, snowfields, and frigid alpine springs, and they have evolved a nifty suite of antifreeze compounds to make it all possible. It's a pretty cool trick — one that has helped the insects survive for hundreds of millions of years in frigid conditions that have sent others packing. But what makes these insects special may also be their undoing — and soon.In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the western glacier stonefly (Zapada glacier) and the meltwater lednian stonefly (Lednia tumana) to the Endangered Species List, both under the designation of threatened. And while the two species are extremely sensitive to pollution, as all stoneflies are, another very significant risk factor is what triggered the listing."All of the glaciers in Glacier National Park are expected to be gone by 2030," said Noah Greenwald, director of endangered species for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Like, all of them all of them. Ten years from now. And without giant chunks of ice to chill their streams and supply life-sustaining meltwater, the stoneflies cannot exist."In 1900, there were 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park," said Greenwald. "There are now 25." According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the disappearance of the park's glaciers could also bring morewildfires to the region and negatively affect native trout species, which have also evolved to live in cold water.

Steven Mnuchin's wife, Louise Linton, sides with Greta Thunberg on climate -- Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, displayed her support for environmental activist Greta Thunberg in a now-deleted Instagram post just days after her husband mocked the Swedish teen for her views on climate change.“I stand with Greta on this issue,” Linton wrote on her page.  “(I don’t have a degree in economics either) We need to drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels. Keep up the fight @gretathunberg.”The Scottish-born actress, who describes herself as “Not a Republican. Not a Democrat. Humanitarian & Animal welfare activist. Pro-Environment. Vegan ” removed the posting on Saturday but screenshots of it were widely circulated on Twitter.Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, Mnuchin questioned 17-year-old Thunberg’s credentials after she warned the gathering about the consequences of using fossil fuels.“Is she the chief economist or who is she? I’m confused,” Mnuchin mocked Thunberg.  “After she goes and studies economics in college she can come back and explain that to us.” Thunberg responded to Mnuchin on Twitter last Thursday. “My gap year ends in August, but it doesn’t take a college degree in economics to realize that our remaining 1,5° carbon budget and ongoing fossil fuel subsidies and investments don’t add up,” wrote Thunberg, who was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in December.

Ugandan climate activist cropped out of photo taken with her white peers –  The Associated Press news agency (AP) has apologized after cropping a Ugandan climate activist from a photograph where she had posed with her white peers after a press conference in Davos, Switzerland. Climate activist Vanessa Nakate said she was invited to attend a youth climate science event. When news coverage of the event emerged, she noticed she had been cropped out of a photograph, where she appeared alongside alongside activists Greta Thunberg, Isabelle Axelsson, Luisa Neubauer and Loukina Tille. "This is the first time in my life that I understood the definition of the word racism," Nakate said in a video statement released online. Nakate confronted AP about the incident on Twitter, writing "Why did you remove me from the photo? I was part of the group!"In a video statement published online, Nakate said: "I see the photos and I clearly see how I was cropped out of the photos. "My message was left out, and my photo was left out as well," she said."You didn't just erase a photo. You erased a continent. But I am stronger than ever," Nakate said later on Twitter.In a statement released on Friday, AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee apologized for the incident."We regret publishing a photo this morning that cropped out Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, the only person of color in the photo. As a news organization, we care deeply about accurately representing the world that we cover," Buzbee said.  "We train our journalists to be sensitive to issues of inclusion and omission. We have spoken internally with our journalists and we will learn from this error in judgment," she added. Thunberg said the incident was "completely unacceptable."

How Minnesota students are combating climate change, one school building at a time -- Students at Stillwater Area High School began adjusting to a small — yet significant — change at the start of the new year: no more plastic forks and spoons. Single-use plastic utensils have been replaced with metal flatware in the school lunchroom. Julia Bennett, 17, and Isabella Schaak, 18, both seniors at Stillwater, had set out on a mission to eliminate the use of single-use plastics in their school’s lunchroom. The initiative grew out of an open-ended final project prompt in their AP government class. “Climate change is really coming into effect and it’s going to affect our generation the most, and future generations,” said Schaak, listing the wildfires in Australia as a current example. Through social media, she follows MN Youth Climate Strikes, a youth-led group that coordinates climate strikes across the state, including sit-ins at the Capitol to demand action from state leaders. But, for her and Bennett, taking action at the school level felt like the natural place to start. “We were thinking of something local where we could make a change — because that’s important to us — and we decided to start here,” Bennett said. It’s a sentiment shared among their peers in other school districts as well. From eliminating single-use plastic items to pressing school boards to commit to 100 percent clean energy, Minnesota students are changing how schools respond to climate change.

The University of Minnesota should do more for the climate, student group says - A University of Minnesota student group is calling on the school to do more to address climate change. University of Minnesota Climate Strike met with lawmakers and administrators Friday to lay out a list of demands. The group insists the University divest from fossil fuels and establish more curriculum around the topic, among other actions. The student group met with lawmakers as part of a joint meeting between the House higher education committee and the newly-formed Climate Action Caucus. The joint committee heard testimony and discussed issues related to climate change with administrators, faculty and students from colleges and universities statewide. University of Minnesota Climate Strike’s demands for the University include declaring a climate and ecological emergency, developing an environmental justice major and discontinuing investment in fossil fuels. “We're personally frustrated with the University's focus on sustainability and focus on individual action by students on campus to reduce emissions and to make change, and that we don't really talk about the systemic ways that the institution of the University of Minnesota can make change,” said Savannah Wery, a co-founder of the group. University Vice President for Research Chris Cramer outlined several ways the University is attempting to address climate change. In the last 12 years, the University established the Institute on the Environment research program and various undergraduate and graduate climate-related areas of study. Cramer also pointed to sustainability efforts in the University’s operations and facilities. The Climate Action Plan implemented by former-University President Eric Kaler in 2011 aims to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2020 and offset 100 percent of emissions by 2050. As of 2018, the University has reduced emissions by 37 percent on the Twin Cities campus and 32 percent system-wide, Cramer said. “Climate change is real. It affects our state, it’s affecting our University too — our students, their families [and] our facilities,” Cramer said at the meeting. Divestment meeting Representatives from multiple student groups, including University of Minnesota Climate Strike, also met with staff from the University’s Office of Investments and Banking Friday. With help from an independent financial adviser, the groups discussed the feasibility of divestment from fossil fuels with Stuart Mason, OIB associate vice president and chief investment officer, and Andrew Parks, OIB senior director of investment strategy and research. Mason and Parks explained the University’s investment process and more sustainable initiatives OIB is already taking part in, like excluding coal in their portfolio. The two administrators also discussed how hiring managers to specifically divest from fossil fuels would be more expensive. Mason said that while OIB would always be looking for cleaner options, there was only so much the department could do to make large strides towards sustainability without involvement from the Board of Regents.

Democrats' draft climate bill charts path to carbon neutrality by 2050  --Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday unveiled a draft of their new climate plan, which aims for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050. The Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future Act, the draft of which is more than 600 pages long, would force dramatic changes in many sectors of the economy, from pushing utilities work toward 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 to requiring the transportation sector to reduce emissions not just from cars but also from airliners. However, the legislation is much broader, pushing for cleaner buildings, efforts to force industry to clean up its supply chain and a host of new regulations targeting pollution from the energy industry. ”Our draft bill is the first comprehensive climate effort in a decade. Its approach is unprecedented, with a mix of innovative and established policy tools that build from the ground up. Taken together, they will propel the vast economic transformations we need to reach an ambitious but necessary science-based target of net-zero greenhouse gas pollution by no later than 2050," Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), who spearheaded the effort, said in a statement to The Hill. And it achieves much of that progress with climate solutions that have never been seen before at the federal level.” The legislation puts the onus on states to play a role in ensuring that the entire nation reaches its carbon-neutral goal, while creating a first-of-its-kind National Climate Bank to help spur the technological developments needed to get there. Democrats expect feedback from stakeholders ranging from the energy industry to environmental groups, but any eventual package would likely face resistance in the Republican-held Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to bring a number of climate-focused bills to the floor.

'Green New Dud, Not a Green New Deal': Climate Groups Denounce Draft Bill From House Democrats - Environmental advocacy groups issued mixed responses Tuesday after Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released the legislative text of a draft bill for a national climate plan, with critics charging that the proposal isn't ambitious enough to address the planetary crisis. The draft Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation (CLEAN) Future Act—largely seen as a "competing plan" to the Green New Deal—was announced earlier this month by the committee's chair, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). Crafted after 15 committee hearings, the bill (pdf) aims to ensure that the United States achieves net-zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050.In a joint statement with Reps. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Pallone said Tuesday that "every day, communities across the country are paying the price for inaction through record wildfires, flooding, and drought, and Congress cannot afford to simply watch from the sidelines.""The CLEAN Future Act treats this climate crisis like the emergency that it is, while also setting the foundation for strengthening our economy and creating good paying jobs for a clean and climate-resilient future," they added. "We look forward to continuing to work with all impacted stakeholders on this proposal in the coming months."Food & Water Action policy director Mitch Jones was quick to provide critical feedback with a statement of his own Tuesday."At a moment when we need bold, decisive action from Democrats in Congress in order to stand a chance of averting climate catastrophe, Rep. Pallone and the House Energy and Commerce Committee have come up far short," he said. "Simply put, this legislation is a 'green new dud,' not a Green New Deal." Detailing some of the ways in which the CLEAN Future Act falls short of adequately addressing the crisis, Jones added: This proposed clean electricity goal represents a wholly inadequate approach that would allow for the continued long-term use of an array of dirty energy sources—including fracked gas with unproven, undeveloped 'carbon capture' methods. A 'technology-neutral' approach leaves us primed for decades more greenhouse gas emissions. A bold climate plan must call for a ban on fracking and all new fossil fuel infrastructure, and a swift and just transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy across all sectors of the economy. We have no time to rely on market-based schemes, dubious offset programs, or unproven carbon capture technologies designed to prolong the life of the fossil fuel industry.

57 Climate Scientists Object After Biden Falsely Claims "Not a Single Solitary Scientist" Thinks Sanders' Green New Deal Can Work - After former Vice President Joe Biden late last week falsely claimed that "there's not a single solitary scientist that thinks" the kind of bold Green New Deal initiative put forth by his 2020 Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders "can work," more than four dozen U.S. climate scientists responded Tuesday to make clear that just isn't true. "Not only does your Green New Deal follow the IPCC's timeline for action, but the solutions you are proposing to solve our climate crisis are realistic, necessary, and backed by science." —Open Letter to Bernie Sanders Sanders' Green New Deal is a sweeping proposal that calls for "100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization by at least 2050" while investing $16.3 trillion over ten years to create an estimated 20 million new jobs, support vulnerable communities and a just transition for workers, and fund a massive infrastructure project. The Vermont senator has said such a plan is necessary to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Biden made his comment attacking the plan during a campaign event in Claremont, New Hampshire on Friday, but climate experts like meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus were quick to object: Sanders also rejected the comment, telling a crowd in Iowa, "Well, Joe, you're wrong." Proof of that support came Tuesday in the form of the succinct yet forceful letter (pdf) addressed to Sanders by 57 climate researchers and scholars. "The top scientific body on climate change, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), tells us we must act immediately to bring the world together to stop the catastrophic impacts of climate change," the letter states. "The Green New Deal you are proposing is not only possible, but it must be done if we want to save the planet for ourselves, our children, grandchildren, and future generations," it continues. "Not only does your Green New Deal follow the IPCC's timeline for action, but the solutions you are proposing to solve our climate crisis are realistic, necessary, and backed by science. We must protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we call home."

This Year’s Other Big Climate Election? It’s for a Texas Railroad Bureaucrat - An election held in the U.S. in 2020 could do a lot to shape global climate outcomes in the immediate future. It won’t feature Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, and the winner won’t live in the White House. It’s a race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, which holds immense power over the state’s vast oil and gas industry. Booming oil and gas production across the Permian Basin of West Texas has made this little-known regulator, with three voting members, a pivotal decision-maker for the American contribution to climate change. The reason for this comes down to natural-gas flaring. Drillers in Texas, as in other places, are allowed to burn off vast amounts of natural gas that is a by-product of oil production. This is done, in part, because of the expense involved in capturing the gas, putting it into pipelines, and moving it to processing facilities. And it happens with permission from the Texas Railroad Commission. Burning off the gas prevents the unchecked release of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas that causes as much as 36 times more warming than carbon dioxide in the 100-year period after its release, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But allowing Texas drillers to burn their unwanted gas—something the Railroad Commission almost always does—is a harmful solution: Tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants enter the atmosphere, without yielding any useful energy. Global gas flaring emits more than 350 million tons of CO2-equivalent each year, according to the World Bank. That’s equal to all the natural gas consumed in Central America and South America each year.  “This is the most important environmental race in the country,” says Chrysta Castañeda, 56, one of four Democratic candidates vying to become the first non-Republican commissioner in more than 25 years and the first Democrat to win statewide office since the 1990s. The commission “is not enforcing the laws” on flaring. “What’s going on in Texas is one of the biggest contributors to the issue worldwide.”

Is Your Rep Invested in Fossil Fuels? - At least 100 members of the House of Representatives and their spouses own fossil fuel company stocks or mutual funds despite the conflicts of interest the investments pose for addressing climate change. Use the interactive map below to see if your representative owns fossil fuel investments and, if so, which companies and funds they are invested in. Sludge’s analysis includes stocks in oil, gas, and coal companies, utilities that burn fossil fuels, and conglomerates like Berkshire Hathaway and General Electric that own subsidiaries in oil and gas or fossil fuel-driven electricity industries. If you don’t know your district, you can check here.

We can’t recall the planet if we mess up: Climate change is risky business WaPo -If we handled climate risk the way that businesses manage risk every day, we would have tackled climate change a long, long time ago. But that’s not how we as a society are responding — even though the potential consequences are a lot worse than most business risks. Consider how climate change risk is expressed in key reports like those from the U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).The NCA says there is at least a two-thirds chance that your asthma or hay fever will get worse because of climate change. There’s a more than 90 percent probability that extreme precipitation (think flooding) will increase in frequency and intensity. What aboutheat waves increasing? There’s a 99 percent probability. In fact, heat waves kill more people than any other weather-related event in the United States.

To Fly or Not to Fly? The Environmental Cost of Air Travel - According to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) estimates, there were 3.7 billion global air passengers in 2016 — and every year since 2009 has been a new record-breaker.By 2035, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts a rise to 7.2 billion. Like the planes themselves, the numbers just keep going up. And given the damage flying does to the planet, that is food for thought.Not Just the CO2Many estimates put aviation's share of global CO2 emissions at just above 2 percent. That's the figure the industry itself generally accepts.But according to Stefan Gössling, a professor at Sweden's Lund and Linnaeus universities and co-editor of the book Climate Change and Aviation: Issues, Challenges and Solutions, "That's only half the truth."Other aviation emissions such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), water vapor, particulates, contrails and cirrus changes have additional warming effects. "The sector makes a contribution to global warming that is at least twice the effect of CO2 alone," Gössling told DW, settling on an overall contribution of 5 percent "at minimum."But IATA spokesperson Chris Goater told DW the science behind this so-called 'radiative forcing' is "unproven."Even if we accept the 2 percent emissions figure as final, if only 3 percent of the world's population flew last year, that relatively small group still accounted for a disproportionate chunk of global emissions.A few years ago, environmental group Germanwatch estimated that a single person taking one roundtrip flight from Germany to the Caribbean produces the same amount of damaging emissions as 80 average residents of Tanzania do in an entire year: around four metric tons of CO2.  "On an individual level, there is no other human activity that emits as much over such a short period of time as aviation, because it is so energy-intensive," Gössling explained.

Congress Now Funding Controversial Geoengineering 'Plan B' To Spray Particles In The Sky To Cool Earth -  It was reported this month that the top climate change scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has received $4 million in funding from Congress along with permission to study two highly controversial geoengineering methods in an attempt to cool the Earth.According to Science Magazine, David Fahey, director of the Chemical Sciences Division of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, told his staff last week that the federal government is ready to examine the science behind “geoengineering” - or what he dubbed a “Plan B” for climate change. What could possibly go wrong?  Over the past several years, the “conspiracy theory” of spraying particles into the sky to cool the Earth has become more mainstream. It came to a head last year when CNBC put out a video titled How Bill Gates-Funded Solar Geoengineering Could Help End Climate Change. The video is nothing short of an infomercial for chemtrails. It is truly bizarre how this subject has moved from the fringes of conspiracy circles and into the mainstream and no one is even batting an eye. Now that Bill Gates has endorsed and funded it, the world is suddenly open to the idea of attempting to modify the planet’s weather by spraying chemicals into the atmosphere to block out the sun.Now, the government is throwing their hat into the mix as well. This “Plan B” approach is two pronged, according to NOAA. One is to inject sulfur dioxide or a similar aerosol into the stratosphere to help shade the Earth from more intense sunlight. It is patterned after a natural solution: volcanic eruptions, which have been found to cool the Earth by emitting huge clouds of sulfur dioxide.The second approach would use an aerosol of sea salt particles to improve the ability of low-lying clouds over the ocean to act as shade.

US Threatens Retaliation Against the EU Over Proposed Carbon Tax. The US commerce secretary has warned that the Trump administration would “react” to the EU’s plans for a carbon tax with possible punitive measures against Brussels, even as officials attempt to strike a truce in their trade feud.  Speaking to the Financial Times, Wilbur Ross compared the EU’s plans for a carbon tax to moves by several European countries to impose a digital services tax, which has angered US officials and caused Washington to threaten tariffs on EU products.“Depending on what form the carbon tax takes, we will react to it - but if it is in its essence protectionist, like the digital taxes, we will react,” Mr Ross said. The commerce secretary’s comments are among the clearest signs that the EU’s plans for a carbon tax - a top priority under the new commission led by president Ursula von der Leyen - could emerge as a major new irritant to transatlantic relations. Ever since President Donald Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the EU and US have been at odds over global policies to tackle climate change, but those tensions had not yet spilled over into the trade arena. Mr Trump and Ms von der Leyen said last week in Davos that they would try to strike a limited truce in their trade war this year, easing fears of full-blown escalation. Officials have said there could be common ground in areas ranging from agricultural trade and standards, to technology and energy, that could be settled fairly rapidly. But the potential for new flare-ups remains. US officials have repeatedly threatened to impose tariffs on the EU automotive sector, and the split on climate policies appears to be widening.  During the Davos meetings, Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, sparred with Christine Lagarde, the European Central Bank president, over ways to tackle climate change. Mr Mnuchin described a carbon tax as “a tax on hard working people.”

U.S. environmental groups plan to sue Trump administration on airplane emissions - (Reuters) - Environmental groups said on Thursday they planned to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to regulate aircraft emissions after a 2016 agency determination that those emissions pose a danger to public health. “The Trump administration’s refusal to curb plane pollution is fueling the climate crisis,” said Clare Lakewood, climate legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which along with Friends of the Earth filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA if the agency did not act within six months. “Airplane pollution is increasing at really worrying rates, but the EPA just keeps refusing to address this skyrocketing threat to our rapidly warming planet,” Lockwood said. Airplanes are the third-largest source of U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions and the largest not subject to greenhouse gas emissions standards. By 2020, emissions from global international aviation are projected to be about 70% higher than in 2005 because of rising travel demand. Worldwide, passenger numbers are forecast to double from 2017 levels to 8.2 billion by 2037. Commercial flying currently accounts for about 2% of global carbon emissions and about 12% of transport emissions. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency “is working to address this issue in 2020” and agency documents say it intends to issue proposed rules in February. The EPA said last year it would release a proposed rule by September 2019, but failed to do so.

 Lordstown Motors looking for $200M loan — Lordstown Motors Corp. would ask for $200 million from a federal loan program that helps automakers develop more efficient vehicles to ready its Lordstown assembly plant to produce electric pickup trucks. Congressman Tim Ryan, who’s leading a bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators and representatives from Ohio urging the U.S. Department of Energy to approve Lordstown Motors’ application when it’s filed, said the money, he believes, mostly would be spent on capital investments to repurpose the plant to build the battery-powered vehicle. The $200 million Ryan confirmed Thursday also would leverage private sector financing for investment into the company that wants to begin production of the Endurance truck by the end of the year. “This is part of what public / private partnerships are about,” Ryan, D-Howland, said. “The government has to play a positive, impactful role to make this happen and help the risk taker who is putting all the money in.” His office Wednesday released a letter sent to the energy department encouraging the agency to support Lordstown Motors’ request through the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program. Lordstown Motors in a statement Wednesday evening said the company is talking with government leaders about exploring the loan program “as an avenue for advancing” the startup automaker.

Plastics Plants Are Poised to Be the Next Big Carbon Superpolluters - A boom in petrochemical plants driven by cheap natural gas could lock in greenhouse emissions for decades to come.  The Sunshine Project, a gargantuan petrochemical complex planned on 2,500 acres along the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge, La., will be one of the largestgreenhouse gas emitters in America when it becomes fully operational in 2029. Earlier this month, Louisiana regulators approved an air quality permit that will allow the facility to pump 13.6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That’s equivalent to adding 2.6 million cars to the road annually. No industrial facility in the United States reported emissions of that magnitude between 2011 and 2018, according to an E&E News review of EPA data. In 2018, only 13 coal plants emitted more. Sunshine is at the forefront of an often-overlooked boom in America’s petrochemical sector, one that climate advocates worry could undo recent greenhouse gas reductions by locking in a new source of planet-warming pollution for decades to come.   A recent study identified 88 petrochemical projects along the Gulf Coast that are either in the planning stage or under construction. If all are completed, their combined emissions output could reach 150.8 million metric tons, the equivalent of 38 coal plants. “It is not something that has been on people’s radars. When it comes to the oil and gas sector and emissions, we talk about upstream methane, and we talk downstream end use, tailpipes, electricity, etc.,” said Andrew Waxman, an economics professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and a lead author of the study. Petrochemicals, he added, are “not as big as a focus, and it should be part of the conversation.”

Burning Trees For Heating Won't Help With Climate Change: UK Think Tank -- A suggestion by the UK Committee on Climate Change to burn more wood and plant replacement trees as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels has drawn criticism from think tank Chatham House, which says this is hardly the best approach to reducing emissions. "Expanding forest cover is undoubtedly a good thing, if you're leaving them standing," energy expert Duncan Brack told the Daily Telegraph. However, Brack, who served as special adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, suggested that burning wood for heating was not the most sustainable way forward. Calling wood burning a carbon neutral process is “highly dubious,” Brack added.These claims, according to the Telegraph’s environment editor, Emma Gatten, rest on the assumption that the carbon footprint of chopping down trees and burning them is offset by planting new trees to replace them. This assumption excludes the fact that older trees absorb more carbon and that it takes time to replace a forest."You can leave trees standing and they will continue to absorb carbon for decades," Brack says. "But the biomass industry implicitly assumes that forests at some point stop reach a saturation point for carbon intake and can be harvested and simply replaced." The benefit of planting trees to mitigate the effects of climate change has been put to the test on a wider scale as well. A study released last year found that reforestation could work, but it had to be done at a massive scale. We need to plant 25 percent more trees than there are on Earth right now, or more than half a trillion in total, the study found. This would reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by a quarter, erasing 20 years of emissions. Yet it would not solve the climate problem on its own, without a sustained effort to cut emissions, commentators on the study said.

Court forces U.S. EPA to reconsider three refinery biofuel waivers - (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency must reconsider three of the biofuel waivers it recently granted to small oil refineries, arguing the agency’s justification for approving the exemptions was flawed. The decisihere from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit dated Jan. 24 came after a coalition of biofuel industry groups had challenged the 2016 exemptions for Holly Frontier's Woods Cross and Cheyenne refineries, as well as CVR Energy's Wynewood refinery. The biofuel industry has been incensed by a surge in biofuel waivers granted under President Donald Trump’s administration, which it says is hurting farmers by undermining demand for corn-based ethanol. Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, the nation’s oil refineries are required to blend billions of gallons of biofuels such as ethanol into the fuel or buy credits from those that do. But the EPA can waive their obligations if they prove compliance would cause them financial distress. According to the court’s decision, the EPA overstepped its authority to grant the Holly Frontier and CVR waivers because the refineries had not received exemptions in the previous year. The court said the RFS is worded in such a way that any exemption granted to a small refinery after 2010 must take the form of an “extension”. “Because an ‘extension’ requires a small refinery exemption in prior years to prolong, enlarge or add to, the three refinery petitions in this case were improvidently granted,” according to the court’s 99-page decision. “We remand these matters to the EPA for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” Biofuel groups cheered the decision and said it could raise questions about numerous other waivers granted to small refiners in recent years. The Trump administration has roughly quadrupled here the number of waivers it has handed out to small refiners.

Bio-methane from cow manure could be a 'new gold rush' on the farm - The back end of a cow generates 80 pounds each day of what Dennis Haubenschild, who owns 750 of them near Princeton, refers to as a “non-depletable renewable resource.” Now, technology and policy are aligning for farmers to take advantage of all that manure in a surprising way — by turning it into gas that can fuel vehicles. Haubenschild was among the first dairy farmers in the state to experiment with biogas production, and he uses manure-turned-gas to generate heat on his farm. But climate change policies in California and Oregon have created a different, national market for the gas that comes from livestock manure. Farmers who capture the methane, a greenhouse gas more immediately potent than carbon dioxide, can earn lucrative low-carbon credits. Dairies across the country, especially large ones, are investigating the prospect. “It’s the new gold rush,” Haubenschild said. Two large dairies in northwest Indiana are already certified for credits in California. Three Wisconsin dairies are producing biogas for transportation fuel and three more projects there are under construction, according to the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas.. In Minnesota, Riverview LLP, the company with an archipelago of massive dairies near Morris, aims to become the state’s first dairy to produce gas from cow manure for transportation fuel and low-carbon credits. Environmentalists and climate activists are watching the development with caution. While they are eager to see any industry reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some worry that government incentives prodding farmers to produce biomethane will reward only very large operations.

Tree clearing begins as Green Development prepares to construct solar farm - With its final appearances before the Planning Board approaching, Green Development has begun preparation work on its 38.4-megawatt solar farm, including tree clearing on the 400-acre property off Iron Mine Hill Road. On Jan. 16, the company issued a statement on the project, which will nearly double its renewable energy holdings in Rhode Island. Along with obtaining state permits for stormwater runoff, wetlands and forestry management, the company has begun clearing land and surveying the site for ledge and soil content to determine the final design of the project. In a follow-up email to The Valley Breeze, Green Development spokesperson Bill Fischer confirmed the company has begun clearing trees in preparation for site development. “The cutting allows for soil and ledge testing throughout the property, which is required to finalize design with the solar equipment manufacturers prior to construction,” he said. Last year, the company submitted a “notification of intent to saw or cut” to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. That permit was approved on Dec. 4 after representatives from the RIDEM inspected the property. Tree clearing has proved one of the more divisive parts of the project, which promises nearly $5.4 million in tax payments to the town. According to the company’s permits, the clearing will involve 120 acres of land owned by Ralph Ferra and another 63 acres of land owned by the Faridoon Khan Revocable Trust. Approximately 80 acres will be replanted as pollinator habitat for bees and other insects. Town Planner Tom Kravitz said he recently inspected the property after receiving a call from a resident. He confirmed clearing has taken place in the northwest portion of the property near where a proposed substation will connect the solar farm to National Grid power lines.

Processing wood infested by emerald ash borer into fuel or mulch has a cost - State and local officials are seeking a $5 million annual state subsidy to continue burning much of the metro area’s tree waste as the region faces rapidly growing piles of emerald ash borer-infested wood. “We’re at the point where the [ash borer] infestation is expanding greatly and we’re getting more trees,” “It’s hard to comprehend the volume.” St. Paul Cogeneration burns the wood infected by the invasive beetles and converts it to energy that helps heat and cool buildings in St. Paul. The energy is also sold to Xcel for electricity. The problem is that other ways of generating power are becoming more cost effective, so elected leaders are pushing for a state subsidy to make the tree-burning process competitive with lower-cost power generating methods. Officials are concerned that Xcel is unlikely to continue buying electricity from St. Paul Cogeneration when the contract expires in three years, as solar and wind energy now are less expensive options, partly due to their own tax subsidies. Randy Fordice, an Xcel spokesman, said the Minneapolis-based utility has been discussing its contract with District Energy of St. Paul since 2017 but declined to share details of those talks. The company is committed to reducing carbon emissions, he said, and renewable energy sources like wind are cheaper than ever. “As we evaluate energy contracts, the law requires us to look at price, as those costs are passed on directly to our customers,” he said. Losing that contract would jeopardize the future of St. Paul Cogeneration, said Ken Smith, CEO and president of District Energy, a nonprofit that uses biomass energy to heat and cool buildings in downtown St. Paul. If the plant shutters, wood refuse from across the state — much of it diseased ash trees — will stack up. Almost all the brush and wood chips at the St. Paul site are ash trees, he said. And downtown St. Paul would have to rely more on natural gas, Smith said.

Missouri House passes bill targeting wind energy line (AP) — Lawmakers in Missouri’s Republican-led state House on Monday voted to ban the use of eminent domain for a large wind-energy power line, a move that could present a major setback for the project. House members voted 118-42 to prevent the use of eminent domain to acquire easement rights for the Grain Belt Express power line. The high-voltage power line is to carry wind energy from Kansas across Missouri and Illinois before hooking into a power grid in Indiana that serves eastern states. Missouri utility regulators last year granted approval for the project, which could let developers pursue condemnation if landowners won’t sell easements. House lawmakers last year tried to forbid the project owners from using eminent domain for the line, but the proposal died in the state Senate after senators filibustered the bill. The proposal now heads to the Senate again for consideration.

Solar energy would get 10-year reprieve under KY House bill  - A state lawmaker is proposing a 10-year delay in controversial new rules for residential solar panel owners in Kentucky who want to sell their excess energy onto the utility grid. Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, said Tuesday that he’s trying to build support for his House Bill 323. Under the bill, anyone who gets solar panels installed by Dec. 31, 2024, could operate under existing “net metering” rules, which allow solar customers to sell excess energy to electric utilities for the same price they pay when they buy energy. The bill would extend the current net metering rates for these solar panel customers through the end of 2029. Last year, at the request of the electric utilities, the General Assembly passed a law requiring the Kentucky Public Service Commission to determine the net metering rates at which residential solar customers are compensated. The solar industry has protested, arguing that newer rates are likely to be unpredictable and less generous. No new net metering rates have been set so far. But after a public hearing, the PSC agreed to hire an “expert consultant” to help it review the rate applications expected to be filed by electric utilities in coming months. DuPlessis said his bill will give Kentucky’s nascent solar industry “a little breathing room” by stabilizing the rates — essentially, locking in the known costs and benefits — for people considering whether to invest $10,000 or more in home solar panels. “We don’t want to be pulling the rug out from under the local installers,” DuPlessis said. “Right now, it’s hard for them to put in a system when they can’t tell their customers what the overall costs are going to be, when they don’t know what rates are going to look like in a year, in two years.”

BlackRock Targets Energy Storage With New Multi-Billion-Dollar Renewable Energy Fund - The world’s largest asset manager has a new multibillion-dollar renewable energy fund in the works, and a good chunk of it may go to batteries.Long a major global investor in wind and solar energy, BlackRock has more recently begun buying into energy storage projects — including its acquisition last year of GE’s distributed solar and storage business. Looking out over the next few years, energy storage is one market “where we’ll see the opportunity set expand,” said Martin Torres, head of the Americas at the renewables group within BlackRock Real Assets.Torres and his team are also "eagerly watching" the emergence of the U.S. offshore wind market, he told GTM.  BlackRock shook the financial universe this month when CEO Larry Fink said the company will put sustainability at the “center” of its investment approach.  Exactly what Fink’s announcement will mean for BlackRock's fossil fuel investments remains to be seen. But in the realm of renewables, at least, BlackRock’s green bona fides need little burnishing.

Newsom says PG&E ‘no longer exists,’ doubles down on state takeover -- Exactly one year after PG&E Corp. filed for bankruptcy, Gov. Gavin Newsom said PG&E “no longer exists” and doubled down on a state takeover if the utility doesn’t shape up by June 30.“There’s going to be a new company or the state of California will take it over,” Newsom said at an event with the Public Policy Institute of California in Sacramento about the future of the state’s energy Wednesday.“Because if PG&E can’t do it, we’ll do it for them. Period, full stop. We’re sick of excuses and delays,” he said.PG&E’s problems have been among the most pressing issues for Newsom since he was inaugurated as California’s 40th governor last year. He has taken an active role in the company’s bankruptcy and has recently challenged the utility’s plan to resolve it while threatening a state takeover on multiple occasions. Newsom was also sharply critical of PG&E’s mass blackouts last year, and he championed a new state wildfire law that would help shield the company from future fire costs if it resolves its bankruptcy by June 30, among other provisions.“Bankruptcy turned out to be an extraordinary opportunity for the state,” Newsom said Wednesday. “I never would have imagined that a year ago today. I thought it was a huge burden, one I didn’t anticipate spending as much time and energy on.”Related Stories BIZ & TECHBY J.D. MORRISPG&E says talks with Newsom will probably lead to governance...What it gave state regulators is the chance to transform the 115-year-old company into a 21st-century utility, he said.In response, PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said by email that the company’s employees are “striving every day to become the utility of the future.” She said the company is still seeking feedback from Newsom’s office and will file an updated bankruptcy exit plan “in the coming days.”

Guardian to ban advertising from fossil fuel firms - The Guardian will no longer accept advertising from oil and gas companies, becoming the first major global news organisation to institute an outright ban on taking money from companies that extract fossil fuels.The move, which follows efforts to reduce the company’s carbon footprint and increase reporting on the climate emergency, was announced on Wednesday and will be implemented with immediate effect. The ban will apply to any business primarily involved in extracting fossil fuels, including many of the world’s largest polluters.“Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world,” the company’s acting chief executive, Anna Bateson, and the chief revenue officer, Hamish Nicklin, said in a joint statement.They said the response to global heating was the “most important challenge of our times” and highlighted the Guardian’s own reporting on how lobbying by energy companies has explicitly harmed the environmental cause.Environmental groups have long argued that energy companies use expensive advertising campaigns to “greenwash” their activities, paying to highlight relatively small investments in renewable energy while continuing to make the vast majority of their revenue from extracting fossil fuels. They have called for news outlets to reject such advertising, although until now only a handful of small outlets have adopted this approach.Last year, the editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, announced the Guardian wouldadjust its style guide to represent the scale of the environmental challenge facing the Earth, using terms such as “climate emergency” and “global heating” rather than “climate change” and “global warming”. At a corporate level, the company has emphasised its commitment to becoming carbon-neutral by 2030, while also almost entirely divesting its Scott Trust endowment fund from fossil fuel investments. The decision to reject the advertising money from fossil fuel firms comes at a tricky time for the media industry, with the Guardian Media Group board warning the business is facing substantial headwinds this year. Advertisingmakes up 40% of GMG revenue, meaning it remains a key way to fund the journalism produced by Guardian and Observer journalists around the world.

New Research Facility in West Virginia Aims to Diversify the Use of Carbon -- West Virginia's coal industry is performing better than it did during its lowest point in generations in 2015 and 2016. But with domestic competition from natural gas and the volatile nature of foreign markets, experts say coal's future is unpredictable.West Virginia, one of the states most reliant on coal, will soon be home to a research facility to transform coal into carbon products. Ramaco Carbon, a Wyoming-based carbon technology company, will be opening the research facility in Charleston, the state's capital. Both the company and West Virginia officials have high hopes for how much this technology could impact the coal industry and the country's top coal producers, though others say it's too early to know if this new research will yield significant results, and environmental groups oppose the coal industry's expansion. "West Virginia is truly blessed with an abundance of natural resources and our coal is as good and as plentiful as it gets," Republican Gov. Jim Justice said in his State of the State Address Jan. 9. "We absolutely need to continue doing all we can to harness the power of coal in every way possible and having this facility to test new ways to convert this dynamic resource is a great opportunity for all," he said.

Millions owed in taxes on Cloud Peak legacy coal mines - The New owner of Spring Creek Mine owes $4.4 million in back taxes in Montana and $10 million in federal royalty payments for coal mined in Montana and Wyoming. Navajo Transitional Energy Company says it is negotiating payment plans for state and federal taxes on mines it purchased last fall in the bankruptcy sale of Cloud Peak Energy. The company objected to records-based reporting that indicated NTEC taxes are unpaid and past due. “NTEC has made all royalty and tax payments since acquiring the Montana and Wyoming mines on Oct. 24, 2019. The assertion that NTEC is behind on payments if factually incorrect,” the company said in a Friday statement. NTEC went on to say that taxes owed to the federal government were accumulated under Cloud Peak and that the Department of the Interior is now “doubling down on receipt of delinquent payments,” which NTEC said it has agreed to pay in installments. Spring Creek Mine Coal is loaded into a truck in this aerial view of Cloud Peak Energy's Spring Creek Mine in 2013 near Decker. On Tuesday, Cloud Peak was trading at just 16 cents per share. Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette Montana tax records kept by Big Horn County, where Spring Creek mine is located, indicate that NTEC does owe property and gross proceeds taxes totaling $4,461,608.78, according to Treasurer Denise Rios. The taxes aren’t on a payment plan. The Montana Department of Revenue, which collects coal severance taxes, said payments, made quarterly, aren’t due until the end of January.

Ohio EPA Terminates Permit For Proposed Mine In Perry State Forest | WOSU Radio -- The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced it will cancel a wastewater discharge permit for a proposed coal mine in the Perry State Forest. The Ohio EPA said Thursday that CCU Coal and Construction's wastewater discharge permit was terminated at the company's request, effective April 1. This calls into question the company's plans to place a mine on 500 acres of the Perry State Forest in eastern Ohio's Perry County. That land was already clear-cut to make way for the project. CCU Coal and Construction did not immediately respond to WOSU's request for comment. Residents have been fighting to block the mine for about a year now, citing environmental and health concerns. Many nearby residents rely on well water.

A pointless mandate or a Trojan horse? Intrigue surrounds Indiana coal bill -  An Indiana bill moving through the legislature would place unprecedented new burdens on utilities before they could close coal-fired power plants.But under amendments proposed in the past week, it’s unclear if the bill would have any impact at all on utility resource planning.That is not necessarily a relief to clean energy advocates, citizens groups, industrial customers and others who oppose it. Rather, it makes some worry that the bill is a “Trojan Horse,” in the words of Citizens Action Coalition executive director Kerwin Olson, that could become more insidious with revisions after it is passed, namely the removable of a July 2021 sunset provision currently in the bill. HB 1414 would require utilities get approval for coal closures from the state regulatory commission, and order that plants can only close because of federal mandates unless it’s proven that closure is in the public interest.No coal plants are slated for closure before the July 2021 sunset date, except for one that has an exemption in the bill. Hence the proposal would have no apparent impact.But opponents worry the sunset provision is meant to assuage concerns over the bill, while still leaving the door open for future legislation or last-minute amendments to remove it. Republican state Rep. Edmond Soliday, sponsor of the bill, has framed the current version (with the sunset) as creating a “pause” on plant closures until a state energy task force finishes a report due next year.But Olson says it “begs the question: what are we pausing? It doesn’t pause anything if the sunset date is real since it wouldn’t affect closures in the next year.” The Indiana Energy Association that represents the state’s utilities has opposed the bill. But advocates also worry that legislators and coal industry interests supporting the bill are trying to sweeten the deal for individual utilities so that they will support it.

Kentucky officials worry bankrupt mines may abandon cleanup — Kentucky officials are concerned that two bankrupt coal companies could abandon their environmental obligations. At a hearing this week in West Virginia, officials said Blackjewel LLC and Revelation Energy might leave Kentucky taxpayers with a bill for millions in mine reclamation costs, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Reclamation is a process of improving the natural areas affected by mining; at surface mines that typically means restoring the contours of the landscape and planting grass and trees. State officials told the court that Blackjewel’s violations account for about 30 percent of the total outstanding noncompliance notices issued by the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources at the end of 2019. Blackjewel made national headlines last year when the company suddenly laid off hundreds of miners and failed to pay them for past work. Several employees protested the move by blocking loads of coal from moving on railroad tracks in Harlan County. The company eventually paid the workers. At a bankruptcy hearing in Charleston, West Virginia, on Wednesday, Kentucky officials referred to a letter the state filed Jan. 13 in which the department reviewed 20 percent of permits held by Blackjewel and Revelation. It found that the bonds used to cover reclamation liabilities would fall about $38 million short of covering the estimated costs. Blackjewel has said in court that it has sold, or is planning to sell, many of the permits that require reclamation work.

Coast Guard investigating after towing vessel hits bridge, setting 15 coal barges adrift in Ohio River — The Coast Guard and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet are investigating after a towing vessel carrying 15 barges of coal hit the Caroll Lee Cropper Bridge in Boone County on Tuesday. The bridge goes over the Ohio River between Indiana and Kentucky, crossing on I-275. The crash happened in the early hours of the morning when a Tennessee Valley Towing vessel traveling north carrying 15 barges of coal collided with the bridge, separating the barges from the vessel. Coast Guard officials said other tow vessels in the area were able to collect all of the barges and no damage was done to any of them and no debris was left in the river. "The tow boats would take them, one at a time, and tie them off and bring them safely to a location where they can put them all back together," said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Jim Brendel. No injuries were reported, officials said. Inspectors didn't find any damage to the bridge The Coast Guard is investigating how the crash took place.

NARUC releases white paper on impact coal-fired power plants - The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) released a white paper that examines the impacts of changes in the electricity generation mix on operating coal-fired power plants. Over the past two years, about 30 gigawatts of coal capacity having retired. The report, called Recent Changes to U.S. Coal Plant Operations and Current Compensation Practices, looks at the shift from coal generation towards natural gas and renewables. For example, in Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma, coal was replaced almost entirely by wind generation. In Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, coal was replaced with natural gas generation. The report offers an overview of strategies for coal plant owners and operators to manage costs while providing flexible electricity. “State energy regulators need to ensure that reliable power can be delivered to customers, regardless of whether or not the sun is shining or wind is blowing,” NARUC Chairman Kara Fornstrom of the Wyoming Public Service Commission, vice chair of NARUC’s Subcommittee on Clean Coal and Carbon Management, said. “This report looks at challenges faced by coal plants that are now operating as cycling resources, and presents options for operators and regulators.”

 Bankrupt Murray Energy coal company still banks on Trump, FEC records show - - The Murray Energy Corp. may have filed for bankruptcy, but the coal company’s political action committee is still banking on President Donald Trump. New filings at the Federal Election Commission show the PAC for the Ohio-based company that declared bankruptcy in October donated $160,000 in July to a “Trump Victory” fund dedicated to the re-election of a president who campaigned on bringing back the coal industry.The company’s chairman, Robert Murray, hailed Trump’s election as “a great day for coal miners and their families and for all Americans who depend on reliable, low-cost electricity, which coal provides." Soon after Trump took office, Murray presented him with a list of policy requests. Trump acted on several of them, including pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, repealing a Clean Power Plan implemented by the Obama Administration, and cutting staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

 S&P: Fourth quarter results for U.S. coal sector likely to be dismalS&P Global Market Intelligence: Fourth-quarter 2019 earnings reports are likely to be rough on U.S. coal producers yet again when miners begin reporting results over the next few weeks. Every major U.S. coal company is expected to report earnings per share for the period that is either worse than the prior quarter or year-ago quarter, an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of analyst forecasts shows. For many producers, quarterly earnings per share will be worse compared to both periods. Moody’s Investors Service recently said it expected EBITDA across its rated portfolio of U.S.-based coal companies to fall by about one-third. Deterioration in coal export volumes will likely lead to even lower cash flow in 2020, Moody’s added in its recent report reiterating its negative outlook on the sector. “We anticipate that companies in their year-end earnings calls will outline steps they are taking to continue to generate positive free cash flow and navigate weak market conditions,” Moody’s stated. “While coal companies have not reported earnings for the fourth quarter of 2019, CSX Corp., which is more tied to exports than some other railroads, reported a 17% drop in coal volumes for the fourth quarter, and expects a 14% drop in coal revenue in 2020.” Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal, two of the largest miners in the U.S. by volume with exposure to both metallurgical and thermal coal, are expected to report a loss to shareholders for the fourth quarter of 2019. Thermal coal producer Hallador Energy Co. and increasingly metallurgical coal-focused Contura Energy Inc. are also expected to report negative earnings per share for the period.

Low gas prices, warm weather pushing coal out of European generation market - Cheaper natural gas prices this year are likely to cement Europe’s shift away from coal as a fuel for producing power. Abnormally mild winter weather has cut demand for the fuel as a flood of new supplies entered the world’s biggest gas market. That along with higher costs for carbon-emissions allowances has tilted the economics of generating electricity away from coal and toward using more gas. “Policy makers in Europe are now happy with such low natural gas prices,” said Ewout Eijkelenboom, senior consultant at the Netherlands-based industry adviser Kyos Energy Consulting. “It makes the coal phase-out easier than expected — it is almost a natural way of exiting coal.” Falling gas prices are a global phenomenon. Liquefied natural gas projects are pumping out record numbers of cargoes, cutting wholesale gas costs from the U.S. to Asia. That in turn has helped push down the cost of electricity across Europe, taking some of the heat out of the political debate about energy. Benchmark gas in Amsterdam plunged to a five-month low last week because of the global glut. Market rates for the coming summer are at the lowest since at least 2007. It’s especially notable that the weakness has arrived during the winter, which is peak-demand season. “We’ll need to do something with all that surplus gas,” said Elchin Mammadov, a European utilities analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “I’m expecting a further drop in prices and more coal-to-gas switching.”

Can Europe’s Largest Economy Survive Without Coal? -- One of the greatest moral dilemmas that has been creeping into the everyday activities of specialists working with coal, oil and in some cases even gas (despite its being perceived a natural bridge to a low-carbon future) could be phrased in the following way: how do you stop producing fossil fuels when you still have cheap ample reserves?  In stark contrast to oil and gas – of which Germany has traditionally been a major net importer and in both cases looking back to a more than 50-year history of depending on primarily Russian hydrocarbon riches – Europe’s leading economy has substantial reserves of coal, lignite in particular. In fact, Germany remains the world’s largest producer of lignite and burns most of it for power generation, accounting for some 22 percent of the nation’s gross electricity output. Ironically, lignite production is more CO2 intensive than hard coal as it is done by extracting coal from open-cast pits, nevertheless, its mid-term future looks a lot better than that of hard coal mining in Germany. Whilst lignite remains economically competitive, Germany’s hard coal production went downhill after the government ended its subsidy schemes. The last hard coal mine closed its gates in December 2018, ending a 200-year history of the Ruhr Region and potentially starting a new development phase of Westphalia, a geographical phenomenon inextricably intertwined with coal. Yet even though Germany ceased to extract hard coal itself, it continues to use it. Around 12 percent of power generation is coming from hard coal, imported primarily from Russia, Canada and the United States. Once Germany’s flagship industry, the steel sector consumes almost 40 percent of the nation’s hard coal. If Germany is to remain an industrial powerhouse, it would need to keep on importing hard coal as it remains an indispensable element of steel-making. This would in turn compel it to rely on imports from Russia (Murmansk and Ust-Luga, to be precise), thereby creating a triple dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. If one is to take monthly statistics in the past 3 years they would find that 53 percent of all imported coal came from Russia, a dependence which has palpably deepened in the past 24 months thanks to the vicinity of large coal-handling ports in the Russian Baltics. Oil, gas and coal – in all three instances Germany imports more than a third of its needs from Russia; in the case of gas it will be significantly higher very soon with NordStream-2 being slated for a mid-2020 commissioning and Groningen going to a government-mandated halt.

As Xcel moves toward coal-free, will natural gas remain part of energy mix?  - When Xcel Energy announced last year that it plans to stop burning coal in Minnesota by 2030, environmental groups applauded the company's effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.But one part of Xcel's plan is being met with less enthusiasm: It’s proposing to replace a coal-fired power plant in the central Minnesota town of Becker with a brand-new plant that would burn natural gas to generate electricity.Xcel says it needs natural gas as part of its transition to carbon-free electricity. But some advocacy groups say building a new fossil fuel plant is unnecessary — and may be unwise.The proposed gas plant is part of a resource plan Xcel Energy submitted in July to the state Public Utilities Commission. In Minnesota, utilities are required to file a resource plan every few years, outlining the different energy sources they need to serve their customers for the next 15 years. The PUC must approve the plan.Xcel’s plan calls for retiring its remaining two coal-fired power plants in the Upper Midwest — both in Minnesota — by 2030, adding new solar and wind to its energy mix and keeping its nuclear plant in Monticello, Minn., operating at least until 2040.Xcel received special authority from the state Legislature three years ago to build the natural gas plant in Becker to replace the coal-fired plant it’s planning to close there, bypassing the traditional route of getting approval from state regulators.But Xcel isn’t required to build the new plant. And the PUC could require that it be smaller than the 786-megawatt size Xcel proposed.In the initial public reaction to the plan, the proposed natural gas plant received some of the sharpest criticism. "We would be one of the first to sort of recognize that Xcel has been making really bold commitments about reducing their carbon emissions, and they're obviously very serious about those goals,” said Kevin Lee, director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy’s Climate and Energy Program. But he added, “To us, a large investment in gas is one of the most obvious ways in which we think that they've missed the mark."

Defying Climate Goals, New York Approves Rate Hike to Pay for New Natural Gas Infrastructure – DeSmog -  One of the first tests of New York’s ambitious climate plan didn't go well, as the New York Public Service Commission voted on January 16 to raise electricity rates on customers by $1.2 billion over the next three years to help Consolidated Edison, or Con Ed, pay for new natural gas pipelines and infrastructure.New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) targets 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To meet those goals, any new gas infrastructure constructed now and in the future would have to be retired well before the end of its useful life, becoming stranded assets.Con Ed's plans for the funds include the expansion of natural gas pipelines in Queens and the Bronx and the addition of potential new natural gas infrastructure projects. Over a billion dollars of the rate hike funds would go toward fixing leaking natural gas pipelines.Environmental activists opposed the rate hike based on the grounds that it stands in contradiction of the state's climate goals.“Governor Cuomo’s administration is starting off 2020 by ignoring the CLCPA and supporting climate denialism,” said Lee Ziesche, Sane Energy Project Community Engagement Coordinator. “We have just 10 years left to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and Con Ed’s plan spends the next three years and hundreds of millions of our ratepayer dollars going in the wrong direction.” New York isn't alone in raising questions of greenwashing. Oil companies, major investment firms like BlackRock, banks like Bank of America, and tech companies like Microsoft are all making public relations efforts that assert the companies are taking climate change seriously. Meanwhile, they are still investing in or otherwise supporting the expansion of oil and gas production.

Local Climate Policy Run Amok, Bellingham Edition - Earlier this month the New York Times ran a story about Bellingham, Washington, a picturesque town that looks out across Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands. Bellingham is home to Western Washington University, but rational thought is in short supply when it comes to climate activism.What got the country’s attention is a proposal before the city council to require all homeowners to switch from natural gas to electric heating by 2040. A number of cities already require new construction to use electric heat, but Bellingham would be the first to mandate a complete phaseout for everyone.The opposition is spearheaded by, surprise, the privately owned gas and electric utilities, which plan a PR campaign talking up the wonders of CH4. Real estate interests are unhappy too. They will face off against the enviros, who all seem to see this as a big step toward municipal carbon neutrality. I hesitate to draw conclusions about what people think or don’t think based on reading a few news articles, since I live hundreds of miles away and have no personal connections to Bham. Nevertheless, I’ve checked out a number of sources representing a range of views, and I’ve yet to see anyone making the obvious point that electric heating mandates are just as likely to increase carbon emissions as reduce them. The problem, of course, is that Bellingham proposes to significantly increase local electricity consumption but is making no corresponding effort to reduce the role of fossil fuels, and especially natural gas, in electrical generation.  Where will the new electricity come from? At the margin, the “green” heating Bham homeowners will turn to when the gas is turned off is likely to come from…..gas. This is because renewables will not supply the full load at any point in the foreseeable future, and the home heating law will just increase electricity demand above what it would have been otherwise. Since conversion to electricity absorbs about half the energy content of the gas used to spin turbines, more gas may end up being burned that way than if the city had taken no action and the fuel had been piped directly to the houses heating with it. Amazingly, this point is expressed by exactly no one in a slew of articles that quote an array of business owners, politicians and activists. So I’m dumbfounded twice over, first by the push for a policy that has an unclear relationship to its ostensible goals, and then by the apparent absence of any awareness of the problem on the part of the entire cast of characters.

Is Natural Gas Really Helping the U.S. Cut Emissions? |  Can natural gas be part of a climate change solution?  That's what the American Petroleum Institute argues in a new campaignit has launched ahead of this year's elections, pushing back against some Democratic candidates who support bans on new development of oil and gas. The campaign echoes a refrain that supporters from both political parties have pushed for years: that gas is a cleaner fuel than coal and can serve as a bridge to a low-carbon future.The industry points to data showing the nation's greenhouse gas emissions are at their lowest level in decades, as coal power generation has been replaced by gas, which produces about half the carbon dioxide emissions when burned, and by renewable energy sources like wind and solar. But experts agree that those official figures understate emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas released in leaks throughout the oil and gas development supply chain. And while there's uncertainty about how much methane is leaking, several studies show that the benefits of the switch from coal to gas over the last decade are smaller than government data suggests, perhaps substantially smaller.  Many oil and gas companies have pledged to reduce their methane emissions. But beyond the methane leaks, emissions from new petrochemical plants and liquid natural gas export facilities in coming years, spurred by the gas boom, are set to surge. With costs of renewable energy sources like wind and solar now competitive with natural gas, many experts who have studied the industry's emissions say that even though the switch from coal to gas has likely provided some climate benefits, marginal as they may be, it's harder to argue that it can continue doing so in the future.  Official EPA data says methane emissions from the oil and gas industrywere down slightly from 2005 to 2017 and were down significantly from 1990 levels. Yet while EPA hasn't published data for the past two years, other sources suggest methane emissions may be rising. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says the industry's venting and flaring—venting is the intentional release of methane to the atmosphere, while flaring burns the methane to emit carbon dioxide instead—jumped by about 66 percentin 2018. That doesn't include unintended leaks from equipment. Ananalysis by the Rhodium Group of more recent data found that the industry's methane emissions were up last year.

Chattanooga remains heartbeat of TVA's nuclear power future, CEO Jeff Lyash says | -Despite the loss of thousands of TVA jobs in Chattanooga over the past four decades, Chattanooga remains the heartbeat of TVA's single-biggest source of power and will remain one of Chattanooga's biggest employers, the head of federal utility said Thursday. In a speech to the Chattanooga Rotary Club, TVA President Jeff Lyash called Chattanooga "the nuclear heartbeat" for TVA, which is looking at ways to both develop the next generation of smaller reactors and extend the life of its existing atomic plants. TVA, the nation's biggest public utility, derives more than 40% of its electricity from its seven nuclear reactors — more than twice the U.S. average and twice the share of any other of TVA's generation sources. Lyash said TVA is currently studying the potential of building small modular reactors in Oak Ridge near where America's "Atoms for Peace" program after World War II first developed nuclear energy. TVA also is considering whether to seek another 20-year life extension to the Browns Ferry, Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear plants in Tennessee and Alabama. Lyash, a nuclear engineer and trained senior reactor operator who previously worked at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, wants TVA to improve its nuclear plant performance and potentially expand nuclear output even as other U.S. utilities are shutting down aging nuclear plants.

Billions at stake: Santee Cooper case back in state court - A class action lawsuit resulting from the failed V.C. Summer nuclear plant and involving South Carolina-owned power company Santee Cooper is back in state court. That’s the latest turn of the legal screw in a lawsuit involving more than 2 million of Santee Cooper’s customers. A key issue is whether Santee Cooper’s customers will be stuck with paying several billion dollars that the power company is said to owe due to the nuclear project’s failure in mid-construction in July 2017. Another affected matter is whether the historic state-owned utility, which began as a rural electrification project in the 1930s, will eventually be sold to a big out-of-state energy company or remain under state control. Last year, Santee Cooper’s partner in the doomed V.C. Summer nuclear venture — SCANA, a publicly traded company suffering financial woes because of the project — was sold to Dominion Energy, one of the nation’s largest power companies. The state’s 170 lawmakers will be mulling the possible sale of Santee Cooper in this legislative session. Last week, U.S. Judge Terry Wooten ordered that the Santee Cooper case — which had temporarily been transferred to federal court — be sent back to state court to be tried before special Judge Jean Toal, a former S.C. Supreme Court chief justice. It is unclear when a trial will begin. Toal had originally set Feb. 24 as the trial start date in the case. But Judge Wooten’s order could be appealed to the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, delaying the trial.

Santee Cooper suffers setbacks in fight to charge customers for failed nuclear project - — Santee Cooper suffered a series of setbacks Thursday in a major court fight over whether South Carolina’s state-owned utility can charge its customers billions of dollars more for a nuclear plant construction project that was never finished. Jean Toal, a former S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice who is handling the case, rejected Santee Cooper’s request to stop the case from becoming a class-action lawsuit, a move that would have greatly reduced the number of South Carolinians seeking refunds and rate cuts from the utility.Santee Cooper lawsuit over failed SC nuclear project booted back to state court Toal also dismissed Santee Cooper’s petition to limit the case’s potential monetary penalties against the 85-year-old utility. Finally, Toal sided with the group of attorneys who are suing Santee Cooper on customers’ behalf in agreeing to postpone the case’s Feb. 24 trial date to April 20 in Greenville.  Ratepayer attorneys said they wanted more time to prepare their case against Santee Cooper and S.C. Electric & Gas, its partner in the failed, $9 billion V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion project. They also wanted time to notify the 2 million South Carolinians who get Santee Cooper’s power — either directly or through an electric cooperative — of the class action lawsuit.  The case seeks to force Santee Cooper to refund customers what they have already paid in higher power bills for the project while also preventing the utility from charging customers any further for the unfinished plant. Santee Cooper and SCE&G abandoned the project in July 2017 after years of construction site dysfunction and rapidly escalating costs. SCE&G’s new owner, Virginia-based Dominion Energy, last year agreed to a lawsuit settlement that lowered SCE&G customers’ power bills but still requires them to pay $2.3 billion more for the failed project.

TMI watchdog denied hearing on downsized emergency response at closed nuclear power plant - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has denied a request for a hearing on a proposal to scale back some emergency response-related measures at Three Mile Island in Dauphin County. The request for the hearing came from Three Mile Island Alert, a watchdog organization which opposes plans by the TMI owner to reduce its role in emergency planning as of early next year. The NRC concluded TMI Alert lacks the legal standing to compel the hearing. TMI Alert has 25 days to appeal. TMI owner Exelon is asking the NRC for an exemption that would, among other things, remove the 10-mile evacuation zone surrounding TMI and end off-site radiation monitoring and regular testing of sirens to warn the public of an accident. Exelon also would reduce its involvement in off-site emergency planning, and its financial contribution toward local planning and response capabilities. Exelon says those things will eventually become unnecessary because of reduced threat of serious accident at TMI, which shut down for good in September. Specifically, Exelon says they will become unnecessary as of 488 days after the Sept. 20, 2019 shut down date. That’s when fuel rods, now submerged in a cooling pool, will have cooled to the point they are unlikely to cause a serious fire and release of radiation if the pool were to leak and allow them to heat up, according to Exelon..

Tepco estimates 44 years to decommission Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant - Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. has estimated that it will take 44 years to decommission its Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant. Tepco presented the outline of decommissioning plans to the municipal assembly of Tomioka, one of the two host towns of the nuclear plant, on Wednesday. The Fukushima No. 2 plant is located south of the No. 1 plant, which suffered a triple meltdown accident in the wake of the March 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami. According to the outline, the decommissioning process for the No. 2 plant will have four stages, taking 10 years for the first stage, 12 years for the second stage and 11 years each for the third and fourth stages. Tepco will survey radioactive contamination at the nuclear plant in the first stage, clear equipment around nuclear reactors in the second, remove the reactors in the third and demolish the reactor buildings in the fourth. Meanwhile, the plant operator will transfer a total of 9,532 spent nuclear fuel units at the plant to a fuel reprocessing company by the end of the decommissioning process, and 544 unused fuel units to a processing firm by the start of the third stage. Tepco will submit its finalized decommissioning plans for the Fukushima No. 2 plant to the Nuclear Regulation Authority after gaining approval from the municipal governments of Tomioka and the other host town, Naraha, as well as the Fukushima Prefectural Government.

Hearing on Ohio bill to limit protest ends in — what else? — protest - The Columbus Dispatch - State troopers were called to clear protesters in the Statehouse upset over a bill that would limit protests. The chairman of an Ohio legislative committee told a packed room Wednesday that he wouldn’t allow spoken testimony on a bill that most in the audience believe is intended to stifle protest. Unsurprisingly, the matter ended in loud protest. The House Public Utilities Committee approved, largely along party lines, Senate Bill 33, a measure that supporters say is intended to protect from vandalism and other attacks “critical infrastructure” — energy pipelines, coal mines, power plants and the like. Critics, however, say it’s an industry-funded measure intended to intimidate people and the groups they’re associated with from protesting projects they believe are harmful. The bill is fashioned after model legislation promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group funded in part by energy companies such as Findlay-based Marathon Petroleum Corp. and Koch Industries. Ten states so far have enacted similar laws, starting in the wake of 2016′s protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota to which Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers were dispatched. It would make it a first-degree misdemeanor to “knowingly enter or remain on” pipeline rights of way even when they’re on public land or when protesters have property owners’ permission to be there. It also would make it a third-degree felony to “knowingly destroy or improperly tamper with” a pipeline or other critical infrastructure. But its supporters in October wouldn’t define “tamper.” Further, the bill would subject groups to which people committing such felonies belong to fines of up to $100,000 — an amount that could devastate nonprofit environmental groups and churches, the bill’s critics say. “It’s meant to intimidate nonprofits and it’s meant to intimidate us into not using our voice,” said the Rev. Marian E. Stewart of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus. Listen to the latest Buckeye Forum politics podcast: In the run-up to Wednesday’s hearing, the seventh on the bill, 45 people filed written testimony on Senate Bill 33. They were all opposed to the measure.

Kinder Morgan Inc Shares Sold by Strs Ohio – Strs (State Teachers Retirement System) Ohio trimmed its holdings in Kinder Morgan Inc by 5.3% in the fourth quarter, according to its most recent 13F filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The fund owned 1,327,296 shares of the pipeline company’s stock after selling 74,099 shares during the quarter. Strs Ohio owned 0.06% of Kinder Morgan worth $28,098,000 as of its most recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Kinder Morgan, Inc operates as an energy infrastructure company in North America. The company operates through Natural Gas Pipelines, Products Pipelines, Terminals, and CO2 segments. The Natural Gas Pipelines segment owns and operates interstate and intrastate natural gas pipeline and storage systems; natural gas and crude oil gathering systems, and natural gas processing and treating facilities; natural gas liquids (NGL) fractionation facilities and transportation systems; and liquefied natural gas facilities.

Strs Ohio Has $166.44 Million Holdings in Chevron Co. - Strs Ohio lessened its stake in Chevron Co. by 4.8% in the 4th quarter, according to its most recent 13F filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The institutional investor owned 1,381,114 shares of the oil and gas company’s stock after selling 69,365 shares during the quarter. Chevron comprises approximately 0.7% of Strs Ohio’s investment portfolio, making the stock its 22nd biggest holding.  Strs Ohio owned approximately 0.07% of Chevron worth $166,438,000 as of its most recent SEC filing.  Chevron last announced its quarterly earnings results on Friday, November 1st. The oil and gas company reported $1.36 earnings per share for the quarter, missing the Zacks’ consensus estimate of $1.47 by ($0.11). Chevron had a net margin of 8.70% and a return on equity of 8.89%. The company had revenue of $36.12 billion during the quarter, compared to the consensus estimate of $37.69 billion. During the same period in the previous year, the firm posted $2.11 EPS. The business’s quarterly revenue was down 17.9% compared to the same quarter last year. As a group, analysts predict that Chevron Co. will post 6.37 EPS for the current fiscal year.

YFD Battalion Chief speaks on fracking dangers at YSU - (WKBN) – A Youngstown Fire Battalion Chief was part of a speaking event at YSU Saturday afternoon. Senior Battalion Chief Sil Caggiano spoke on the potential hazard crews face when responding to gas and oil wells.Science journalist Justin Nobel presented years of research on fracking. Those findings were recently published in an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine. .Caggiano says in Mahoning County there are two wells that pose a risk.“We’ve got at least two wells in Mahoning County that we know of that are testing three hundred times over the acceptable limits, so these things are just stuff we’re just starting to discover as we dig further and further and peel the onion of this thing back, and we’re starting to discover this stuff,” said Caggiano.Caggiano has served the citizens of Youngstown and Mahoning County for over 37 years.  He has been working to increase the safety of handling hazardous materials nationwide.

Writer warns of radioactive hazards of oil and gas work - Martins Ferry Times Leader — A Rolling Stone writer was joined by an expert in the field for a community discussion on the hazards posed to workers and communities by the often-overlooked hazard of radiation associated with oil and gas work. Justin Nobel, a freelance science journalist, said he spent 20 months working on the story“America’s Radioactive Secret,” uncovering the impact of radioactive material in extracted oil and gas, as well as the lingering contamination of the equipment used to extract the material and transport it. Nobel was joined Friday evening at Ohio University Eastern’s Shannon Hall by scientist Julie Weatherington-Rice, who has spent decades studying the fields of geology and soil science.  Weatherington-Rice recounted a time in the 1960s in Morrel County, north of Columbus, Ohio, when oil and gas development was just beginning. She said lack of oversight of the oil and gas companies took a toll on the communities. “It was the wild west,” she said. “No regulations. They were buying family cemetery plots and putting rigs up. They were putting rigs on townhouse lanes. … Everybody’s plants were turning brown from the salt. In 1986, the state of Ohio said they were going to ‘do something’ about the companies, make them more responsible, get rules into place, allow for local zoning, and the (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) tried to stop it, saying the legislature didn’t know anything about it, so they wouldn’t stop it.” Weatherington-Rice also touched on the radioactivity of materials such as barium and uranium in the earth, and the time it takes those materials to decay — often thousands to billions of years. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” she said. .  Nobel and Weatherington-Rice both stressed that the radioactive material present pose a threat both to communities where oil and gas are extracted and to the workers who interact on a more personal level. “What came up in the reporting, what the first line of concern is, is really the workers,” Nobel said. “Workers are not receiving proper protection. The brine trucks that we see all the time are not just carrying water, as some workers are told. They’re carrying a substance that has toxic salts, toxic heavy metals, and naturally occurring radioactivity, through the element radium. What I found in the report is that there’s enough radium in one Marcellus brine truck to appropriately be labeled a radioactive hazard. That means the driver doesn’t know what they’re carrying — if it were labeled appropriately, that driver would need hazmat training and couldn’t go on certain roads, by schools, by reservoirs …\

Investigation: Oil and Gas Workers Exposed to Radioactivity from Fracking Waste -  Journalist Justin Nobel was trying to wrap his head around fracking and gas development in the Marcellus and Utica shale in Pennsylvania and Ohio. So he spent two weeks on the ground, learning from residents and activists in the region. At the end of his trip, a community organizer happened to mention something about radioactivity in the waste produced from gas development. That was two years ago. Nobel’s investigative piece, “America’s Radioactive Secret,” about the dangers of radioactive oil and gas waste was published recently in Rolling Stone. The piece focuses on worker and community safety and health concerns over the wastewater that comes up out of oil and gas wells and the regulatory black hole that puts people at risk. Justin Nobel talked with The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple about his story in this bonus episode of our podcast:

The Oil Industry's Radioactive Secret - “All oil-field workers are radiation workers.” That quote comes from a blockbuster investigation by Justin Nobel writing in Rolling Stone, who has spent more than a year and a half researching and reporting on radioactivity in fracking waste.When a well is drilled, it produces a ton of brine, a salty substance that comes out of the ground. Shale wells can produce as much as ten times more brine than they do oil and gas. While hydrocarbons prove to be useful, the brine needs to be hauled somewhere for disposal. Often it is reinjected into disposal wells, or, in some cases it is sent to water treatment plants.The problem is that the brine can be radioactive. As Nobel writes in Rolling Stone, radioactive brine may be dramatically increasing the cancer risk for people who come in contact with it. The workers who handle the waste are most obviously at risk. But there are plenty of others. The brine is used for de-icing roads, so municipalities are essentially spreading radioactivity all over roads in various parts of the country.Old oilfield equipment is also repurposed. Rolling Stone spoke with a Louisiana inspector who saw a child sitting on a fence that was so radioactive that someone might receive a full year’s radiation dose in a single hour.The oil and gas industry dismisses the risk of radioactivity in the brine, which is naturally occurring, as not something that anybody should be worrying about. However, some of the experts that Nobel interviewed argue otherwise.First of all, the notion that just because something exists naturally in the world somehow makes it benign, is odd.“Arsenic is completely natural, but you probably wouldn’t let me put arsenic in your school lunch,” one nuclear-forensics scientist told Rolling Stone. Second, the industry is barley regulated, if at all, when it comes to handling radioactive substances. Officials at EPA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sounded perplexed when Nobel presented questions to them about the risk, each indicating that they were not responsible for regulating radioactivity in the oil and gas industry.  Nobel profiled several people who have come in contact with brine and have suffered from an array of worrying health problems. This is not just an environmental story or a public health story, but it could also be a financial one. This is a whole aspect of the oil and gas industry that is mostly unregulated, underreported and largely unknown to the public. And it could yet turn into a massive liability for the industry if local, state or the federal government ever decided to get serious about it.

Local Residents Take Cracker Plant Concerns to Columbus — Some concerned area residents met with representatives of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Gov. Mike DeWine to express concerns about an ethane cracker plant proposed for Belmont County.The project, being considered by PTT Global Chemical America and Daelim Industrial Co. Ltd., would use the ethane contained in the local natural gas stream to make plastic. If the plant is constructed, it would be located at the former site of FirstEnergy’s R.E. Burger coal-fired electric generating station at Dilles Bottom, south of Shadyside along the Ohio River.“The facility has been issued water pollution discharge permits by the OEPA despite concerns about pollution in the Ohio River, which more than 5 million people depend on for clean drinking water,” the group wrote in a news release distributed after the meeting. “The OEPA issued these permits without testing existing levels of toxic chemicals in the Ohio River, leaving the public in the dark about additional pollution from the proposed facility. Recent testing by the Environmental Working Group has revealed that both Cincinnati and Columbus already have dangerous levels of ‘forever chemicals’ like PFAS in their drinking water.”Group members pointed out that DeWine has met with PTTGCA officials but thus far has not met in person with concerned residents. The group presented the OEPA and governor’s staff with letters Wednesday that lay out their concerns and requests.“One goal of our meeting with Governor DeWine’s staff today was to directly ask the Governor to pull his support of the PTTG ethane cracker plant proposed for Belmont County,” said Bridgeport resident Bev Reed. “As a Belmont County citizen and young person, I feel deeply that investing in more fossil fuel extraction and plastics right at the moment in time when we should be divesting from both is a terrible mistake. Governor DeWine should represent his constituents in Ohio rather than major overseas corporations and pull his support of this project.” DeWine’s office declined to comment on the meeting, deferring to the OEPA.

Edgeworth council approves restrictions on natural gas development - Every municipality in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must provide for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, within its borders. While there are no known plans for a fracking operation in the small, highly-developed borough of Edgeworth, residents have voiced concerns about the lack of an adequate location for any future equipment.As the practice of fracking becomes more widespread in Pennsylvania, municipalities like Edgeworth have taken steps to preemptively update their zoning ordinances to account for the activity. After holding a public hearing Jan. 21, Edgeworth council voted unanimously to amend the borough’s zoning ordinance relating to oil and gas resources development after receiving feedback from residents.“We already had an ordinance in place, but we had been approached by some residents who wanted us to make sure we had some extra provisions for health, safety and welfare,” Borough Manager John Schwend said.Edgeworth is about 1.7 square miles and largely residential. The borough’s new zoning ordinance provides for gas resources development as a conditional use in the C-1 and C-2 commercial districts that run along the length of the borough between Route 65 and the Ohio River. Gas resources development was previously permitted as a special exception in the C-1 district, borough code shows.In an interview, Hugh St. Martin, an Edgeworth resident who attended the Jan. 21 hearing, expressed concern about the proximity of the bustling commercial district to residential areas. He noted a contradiction between the state constitution – which guarantees residents the right to clean air and water – and the minimum setback requirement. Multiple scientific studies have found an association between proximity to fracking sites and adverse health impacts. One 2014 survey of residents in Washington County, conducted by researchers from Yale, found that residents living near gas facilities were more likely to develop health issues like headaches and nosebleeds. Incidents of health problems doubled for residents living within two kilometers (or roughly one and one-quarter miles) of a gas well.

'Rule of capture' applies to fracked wells: Pa. Supreme Court — The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania said oil and natural gas coming from shale wells drilled and hydraulically fractured are protected by the common "rule of capture," but left open the possibility that neighbors to a fracked well could claim trespassing if fissures opened by fracking extended onto their land. The ruling brought a quiet sigh of relief to Pennsylvania's shale gas drillers. Under the rule of capture, oil and gas that flow into a well are the property of the well owner, regardless of how those molecules got there. Had the court ruled that fracked wells illegally pull in a neighbor's gas, the entire land and lease assumptions of the shale gas industry that produces 19.6 Bcf/d from state wells would be called into question."The risk of complex litigation may lead to a vast reduction of development activities throughout the commonwealth," the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group for the state's shale gas industry, said in its April 2018 amicus brief on the appeal to the state Supreme Court. "Developers who use hydraulic fracturing may rely on pressure differentials to drain oil and gas from under another's property, at least in the absence of a physical invasion," the court said in an opinion issued Wednesday.  The case, Southwestern Energy Co. v. Briggs, arose when the Briggs family, whose Susquehanna County farm is adjacent to a Southwestern well, sued in November 2015, claiming that by virtue of fracking, Southwestern was draining gas from their property as well as trespassing on their land, presuming that any shale fractures extended into the shale beneath their farm. After the county common pleas court issued a summary judgment in favor of Southwestern, the Briggs family appealed and the state's Superior Court found that hydraulically fractured wells were different from conventional vertical wells because they artificially create and stimulate the flow of gas molecules (Superior Court of Pennsylvania No. 1351 MDA 2017). Southwestern appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court.The Supreme Court said the appeals court erred in assuming a distinction between artificial and natural well construction techniques, noting that all oil and gas drilling is an artificial imposition on the land. The appeals court also erred in assuming without evidence that because a well is fracked, fissures extend outside the boundary of the driller's leasehold, the high court said (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania 63 MAP 2018).

Falling natural gas prices batter National Fuel - Tumbling natural gas prices are putting a hurt on National Fuel Gas Co. The Amherst-based energy company's first-quarter profits fell by 16% and warned that its profits this year will be about 12% lower than it forecast in October. With natural gas prices falling and expected to drop even further, National Fuel said it is further scaling back its natural gas drilling operations in western and central Pennsylvania, cutting spending on its drilling program by about $100 million from a year ago and dropping to a single drilling rig beginning this summer, down from three rigs a year ago. "We remain steadfast in our commitment to the responsible development of our integrated Appalachian asset base, with responsible capital allocation at the heart of our financial decisions." Those decisions center largely around the continued decline in the price of natural gas produced in from its Pennsylvania drilling territory. Natural gas prices dropped by 11% during the first quarter and the company projects that they will fall by about 14% this year. A lack of available pipeline capacity in the drilling region is causing natural gas produced there to sell for less than the national spot market prices. Even with its reduced drilling, National Fuel still expects its oil and gas production to rise by about 14% during the current fiscal year as the company brings wells now being drilled online.

US natural gas futures fall to four years lows - US natural gas futures fell to their lowest in almost four years on Wednesday on forecasts for milder weather through mid February than earlier expected. On its last day as the front-month, gas futures for February delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 5.7 cents, or 2.9%, to settle at $1.877 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), their lowest close since March 2016.The March future, which will soon be the front-month, lost about 4 cents to $1.865 per mmBtu. “With the rollover to the March contract, the weather influence will further diminish and the possibility of a sustained cold spell capable of erasing the current supply surplus will be further reduced," Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Illinois, said in a report, noting “we still see appreciably more downside than upside price risk from current levels."Since hitting an eight-month high of $2.905 per mmBtu in early November, futures have collapsed 35%. Record production and mild weather have enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making shortages and winter price spikes much less likely.Meteorologists projected the weather in the US Lower 48 states will turn from warmer-than-normal now to mostly colder from Feb. 9-13. That, however, is warmer than Tuesday's outlook, which called for cold from Feb. 5-12. So far, this winter has been milder than usual with average daily temperatures 3 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal in December and 5 degrees higher in January.Refinitiv projected average demand in the Lower 48 states, including exports, would rise from 120.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 120.6 bcfd next week. The forecast for next week is lower than Refinitiv's 123.6-bcfd estimate on Tuesday due to an expected drop in heating demand. The amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants was on track to jump to a record 9.4 bcfd on Wednesday, according to early pipeline flow data from Refinitiv. The US gas industry is counting on LNG exports, which soared 53% in 2018 and 68% in 2019, to remain the biggest driver of future demand growth.

US working natural gas in underground storage decreases by 201 Bcf: EIA — US natural gas working stocks fell by 201 Bcf last week, which marked the first above-average pull of 2020, but futures continued to decline as the heating-demand spike subsided. Storage inventories fell to 2.746 Tcf for the week ended January 24, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The pull was less than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 207 Bcf draw. The withdrawal was more than the 171 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2019 as well as the five-year average draw of 143 Bcf, according to EIA data. Stocks were 524 Bcf, or 23.6%, more than the year-ago level of 2.222 Tcf and 193 Bcf, or 7.6%, more than the five-year average of 2.553 Tcf. Cold weather moved across the central and eastern US for the week ended January 24, driving residential and commercial demand to the highest weekly average so far of the winter season, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Total demand increased by 17.6 Bcf/d to an average of 124.1 Bcf/d as the Northeast region contributed more than half of the gains. Temperatures in both the Northeast and the Southeast fell by 17 degrees from the average a week earlier, boosting total demand nearly 50% week over week to nearly 32 Bcf/d overall, up from 21.7 Bcf/d. Even with demand hitting its highest level of the season last week, the weakening of prices at NYMEX has continued unabated. Both the February and March contracts have traded in the sub-$2/MMBtu range since January 17, and look to be testing new lows as the February contract settled Wednesday at $1.88/MMBtu, only 1 cent higher than where March, now the prompt month, opened Thursday. A slightly smaller-than-expected withdrawal pushed March lower by 3 cents to $1.84/MMBtu following the EIA announcement Thursday morning. This also deepens the backwardation in the curve, putting March NYMEX at a more than 10-cent discount to May, for example, with each month sequentially valued higher all the way through August.  A forecast by S&P Global Platts Analytics' supply and demand model calls for a much lesser draw of 115 Bcf for the week ending January 31, which would add to the surplus. Total demand is 12 Bcf/d lower week over week to average 112.1 Bcf/d, as temperatures warmed in the Midwest and Northeast US, driving declines in residential and commercial demand. However, LNG feedgas demand continues to inch higher, reaching an average of nearly 9.2 Bcf/d in spite of weak netbacks worldwide for US LNG exports. Upstream, US supplies are down by 1.4 Bcf/d, due to a large decline in LNG sendout, down 1 Bcf/d, and a smaller drop in net Canadian imports, down 0.3 Bcf/d. Both are mainly due to the warmer weather across the eastern half of the US.

'We can't live like this': residents say a corrupt pipeline project is making them sick -  A community in Pennsylvania says clay-colored water appeared during a drilling mud spill, but the pipeline company insists it’s not to blame.  The Tarrs, who moved into their spacious detached home in semi-ruralPennsylvania last April, have relied upon bottled water and family generosity since June, when their crystalline tap water first turned murky.Since then, they’ve spent more than $32,000 on new equipment, lab tests, bottled water, repairing pipes and parts damaged by the turbid water. It still isn’t safe, and they don’t know why. “It’s sad and frustrating, I can’t bathe my daughter, wash my hands or do a load of laundry, it’s like living in constant crisis. We’re not the only ones in this situation, but we feel so alone,” said Erica Tarr, 31, a paediatric nurse. The clay-colored water appeared around the time of a drilling mud spill at a nearby construction site for the Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipeline – a beleaguered multi-billion dollar project transporting volatile natural gas liquids from the shale fields of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania to an export facility in Delaware county, ready to ship to Europe to manufacture plastics. The ME2 horizontal directional drilling (HDD) project – which is subject to multiple criminal and regulatory investigations – hascontaminated surface and groundwater sources in hundreds of mud spills, and created sinkholes in parks, roads and backyards since construction began in early 2017. HDD drilling is particularly susceptible to spills known as inadvertent returns, in which lubricating mud erupts through weak spots in the rock.But as the Tarrs’ tap water became increasingly turbid and the pressure plummeted, the pipeline company Sunoco Logistics, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer LP, insisted the project was not to blame.   So, in October they installed a sophisticated filter system and drilled a new well in their picturesque wooded backyard, a couple of hundred meters from the worksite. The water seemed fine for a few days. But then it started smelling strongly of nail polish and burned Erica’s mouth when she brushed her teeth. Lab results detected toluene and MTBE – volatile organic compounds found in fuel.

Magistrate finds pipeline opponents guilty in trespass case that exposes tensions between residents and pipeline construction | StateImpact Pennsylvania - A Chester County district magistrate judge found two pipeline opponents guilty of summary trespass and disorderly conduct in a case the defendants say illustrates ongoing intimidation by private security hired to guard Energy Transfer’s Mariner East construction sites. Magistrate judge John Bailey found Mark Clatterbuck guilty of trespass, and his wife Malinda guilty of disorderly conduct Tuesday, ordering them each to pay a $100 fine plus court costs. The charges relate to an incident that occurred in mid-December when Uwchlan Township resident Carrie Gross was showing the Lancaster couple a Mariner East 2 pipeline construction site on Devon Drive in the township. Gross and the Clatterbucks say they complied when a security guard asked them to leave the sidewalk in front of the site. They were surprised to be pulled over by Uwchlan Township police after driving away. The security guard, Charles Hall, had called 911 to report a group of trespassers. Uwchlan Township police officer Philip Owen charged Mark Clatterbuck with trespassing, and arrested Malinda Clatterbuck when she got out of the car to film her husband’s arrest. She was charged with disorderly conduct. “The security guards are just intimidating people,” Malinda Clatterbuck said. “We did nothing wrong. We just walked away when he told us to. And the court upholds the lies of the industry to intimidate us.” Those who live along the pipeline path say the tactic has been used repeatedly by the pipeline company: call local police and report trespassing on easements that run through backyards, parks and roads in densely populated Chester and Delaware counties.  In December, the Chester County district attorney went after Energy Transfer’s security team, charging members with bribery in illegally hiring state constables to guard construction sites while carrying badges and guns. On the 911 call, Crystle said, Charles Hall told the dispatcher he worked for Energy Transfer, but on the stand, Hall told the court he worked for the construction company.

Lawsuits ensnare energy giant, threaten projects -- Thursday, January 30, 2020 -- Energy Transfer Partners is in the crosshairs of trial attorneys who say an FBI investigation into approval of one of its pipelines points to fraud. Will the legal fight thwart plans for some of the nation's well-known energy projects?

U.S. FERC sides with PennEast natgas pipeline NJ eminent domain case - - The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday supported the view of companies developing the $1 billion PennEast natural gas pipeline that they can use federal eminent domain to gain access to properties owned by New Jersey. PennEast sought the FERC decision after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in September that the company could not use federal eminent domain to condemn land controlled by the state. FERC in January 2018 approved PennEast’s request to build the pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, and the company promptly sued in federal court under the U.S. Natural Gas Act to use the federal government’s eminent domain power to gain access to properties along the route. New Jersey opposed construction of the pipeline and did not consent to PennEast’s condemnation suits on properties the state owns or in which it has an interest. PennEast needs the land to build its 120-mile (190-km) pipeline, which is designed to deliver 1.1 billion cubic feet per day of gas from the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania to customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. One billion cubic feet is enough gas to supply about 5 million U.S. homes for one day.

Stymied in N.J., PennEast proposes building gas pipeline only into Lehigh Valley for now -   With approvals being held up in New Jersey, PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC announced plans Thursday for construction terminating in the Lehigh Valley for now.The consortium of natural gas companies behind the proposal has been working since August 2014 to get permits for a 120-mile, 36-inch-diameter underground line. It would originate near Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas-producing region in Dallas, Luzerne County, and end at Transco’s pipeline interconnection near Pennington, Mercer County, in New Jersey.PennEast now says it is looking for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval to break the project into two phases. Phase One would consist of 68 miles of 36-inch pipe, constructed entirely within Pennsylvania and ready to carry natural gas by November 2021. Phase Two would complete the route through Northampton County and New Jersey, with a targeted completion of 2023.  FERC on Jan. 18, 2018, gave PennEast two years to build the pipeline. The company earlier this month asked the agency for a two-year extension on that approval into 2022. The pipeline is planned to serve exclusively domestic customers, rather than for export, PennEast has maintained. Under the phased approach, PennEast says it would have three delivery points within Pennsylvania, tying in to UGI Utilities Inc.'s system to serve the Blue Mountain Ski Resort and new interconnections with Columbia Gas and Adelphia Gateway.

 Now Trump administration would like to see bankrupt Philadelphia refinery kept open - The bankrupt Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil-refinery complex, where fuels have been produced for 150 years, is not dead yet. Even the White House has become involved in efforts to maintain the site as a petroleum processing facility. Industrial Realty Group, the spurned bidder for the company that shut down after a devastating June fire, has teamed up with former refinery chief executive Philip Rinaldi to try to upstage a bankruptcy court sale to rival Hilco Redevelopment. Hilco’s bid in a recent bankruptcy auction was $25 million less than IRG’s, but Hilco was selected as the winner, according to a court filing. “We think we offer a superior solution from every single aspect that you can think of,” Rinaldi, whose company is called Philadelphia Energy Industries, said in an interview Tuesday. “We think it’s a better solution for the estate. It’s a better solution for Philadelphia. It’s a better solution for the region.” Rinaldi and labor union leaders have pressed Peter Navarro, the assistant to the president for trade and manufacturing policy, to put the Trump administration’s weight behind a bid to keep the 335,000-barrel-per-day refinery operating. They argue that more than a thousand jobs and national security interests would be affected by the closure of the East Coast’s largest oil refinery and make the Northeast too dependent upon fuel imports. It’s unclear what type of influence the White House could bring to bear on a bankruptcy process that is scheduled to be decided at a Feb. 6 confirmation hearing in Wilmington. But the union leaders suggested the administration might send a signal to the bidders, who will eventually require approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to either operate a refinery or to clean up the heavily contaminated site for a new occupant. “The EPA would have to get involved -- it’s going to take millions upon millions of dollars to clean the place up,” said Jim Snell, business manager of Steamfitters Local 420 and one of four labor leaders who met Thursday with Navarro.

Newly revealed restrictions challenge redevelopment of bankrupt Philly refinery’s land - Advocates for restoring the Philadelphia Energy Solutions complex in South Philadelphia as an oil refinery say the 1,300-acre property comes with legal restrictions that inhibit its reuse as anything unrelated to energy or chemical production, complicating the property’s potential bankruptcy sale to an industrial redeveloper. A deed restriction on the properties, included as part of a previous sale, provides that the land can be used only for commercial or industrial activity. The language specifically excludes schools, nursing homes, residential-style facilities, and “publicly accessible recreation areas,” which some community activists had hoped would replace refining operations. Another deed restriction appears to even more narrowly circumscribe potential uses of the property by limiting disturbances of its soil, which is seriously contaminated after 150 years of oil processing. The deed language provides that “disturbance of the subsurface strata and soils of the premises shall be avoided,” except as may be necessary when constructing and developing improvements to the refinery, or “installing new operations, business or processes at the refinery that are related to the refinery business, the energy industry generally and the chemical industry.”

Fighting the Fossil Fuel Economy in Appalachia - About 30 miles outside of Pittsburgh, along the Ohio River, lies one of the largest active construction projects in the United States. Dozens of cranes dominate the more-than-300-acre site, where hundreds of construction workers assemble a massive petrochemical facility set to convert natural gas into plastic pellets used to develop a range of products from plastic bottles to car parts. The ethane cracker plant being developed in Monaca, Pennsylvania, by Royal Dutch Shell is one of at least five currently under construction or being planned throughout Appalachia’s Ohio River Valley, where the petrochemical industry is beginning to expand from its base along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast (grimly known as “Cancer Alley”).Thousands of fracking wells drilled throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia since 2012 have driven growth in natural-gas production in the Appalachian region.. Pennsylvania state lawmakers offered Royal Dutch Shell nearly $1.7 billion in over a 25-year period to construct the plant in Pennsylvania, with job creation and economic opportunity as a driving argument in favor of its construction. Though the fracked-gas industry’s supporters have extolled the economic prosperity the plant is projected to bring to the region, signs are already showing those promises are falling far short. Many jobs aren’t going to locals and residents are left to suffer from the pollution created by these industries. A Green New Deal would provide the resources to develop sustainable economic infrastructure, from energy infrastructure to resources to develop and sustain clean manufacturing, without destroying the environment.  Despite the myth that the petrochemical industry creates jobs, the reality is quite different. The southwest region of Pennsylvania has continued to face a steady population decline throughout the fracked-gas boom. Republicans often credited the industry with providing over 200,000 jobs in the state, but in 2015, the state’s department of labor stated that roughly 160,000 of those jobs had been erroneously attributed to the industry. By contrast, there are currently more than 90,000 clean-energy jobs in Pennsylvania, growing at a rate five times faster than the state’s overall employment rate. Even so, the state’s incentives and goals for clean energy continue to lag far behind the rest of the U.S. Building Shell’s Monaca cracker plant has brought around 6,000 temporary construction jobs to the region, though only an estimated 600 permanent jobs will be created once the plant goes into operation. Rather than using local steel, the project is utilizing imported steel, mostly from China. What the plant will bring to the region is more carbon emissions. An estimated 1,000 active fracking wells are required to operate the plant at any given moment once production fully beginsin the early 2020s. The annual carbon emissions from the plant would effectively eliminate the gains from carbon emissions reductions the city of Pittsburgh plans to make by 2030. The plant is little more than a last-ditch effort to squeeze profit out of an industry that is destined to become obsolete in favor of green, sustainable technologies.

W.Va. committee votes for tax credit for natural gas storage hub— In the hopes of bringing a natural gas liquids storage hub to West Virginia, the West Virginia House of Delegates Energy Committee passed a tax credit for the natural gas industry on Tuesday.  House Bill 4421, sponsored by Del. Eric Householder, R-Berkeley and chairman of the Finance Committee, would give tax credits against personal income tax or corporate net income tax to natural gas liquids storers or natural gas liquids transporters.  Lawmakers critiqued the vagueness of the fiscal note, and then passed an altered version of the bill rending the fiscal note invalid. The original version would have given tax credits to natural gas liquids producers, natural gas liquids storers, natural gas liquids users or natural gas liquids transporters.The fiscal noted had noted that, "numerous businesses use at least one natural gas liquid for general heating purposes or general operation purposes such as fueling forklift vehicles. West Virginia businesses collectively pay more than $400 million each year in local personal property taxes, mainly on machinery, equipment and inventory."  In an interview following, Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, an environmental scientist and a member of the committee who voted against the bill, said that the fiscal note basically meant "this would impact some portion of that $400 million dollars."  "The fiscal note didn't have any estimate in terms of how much this would cost the state or local communities so I thought it was irresponsible to vote for something without knowing how much it would cost," he said. "This could potentially be big. It could be in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to the state budget."   Vivian Stockman, the executive director of OVEC, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, who was present at the meeting, said she walked out "shellshocked and flabbergasted" that no comments abut environmental impact, including impacts on air, water and climate, were made during the meeting. Stockman said the proposed Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub would run along 400 miles or so of the Ohio River, leading to more underground storage of natural gas liquids, six major pipelines, thousands of miles of minor pipelines, cracker plants, and "a huge increase in fracking to supply the feedstock for this petrochemical complex of which the end-product would be plastic." "Worldwide, we have a huge movement against single-use plastic because our seas are choking with it, our bodies – apparently we eat about a credit card's worth of plastic a week," she said. "People are sick from the pollution related to plastic. Plastic's bad for the climate and bad for the water. It's kind of like 'we would prop up a dying industry and give it tax breaks in order to pollute ourselves?'"

Recovery plan proposed for endangered bumble bee involved in pipeline litigation - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a draft of a $13.4 million recovery plan designed to secure a stable population of an imperiled bumblebee species that played a key role in a federal appeals court decision that brought construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to a halt 13 months ago. The once-common rusty patched bumblebee could be found in two Canadian provinces and 28 states from Maine to Georgia and across the upper Midwest prior to the 1990s, when the species entered a sharp decline. The bee has since disappeared from 90 percent of the areas in which it was once found, and is now known to exist in small, scattered populations in 13 states, including West Virginia, and one province, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Reasons for the decline are unclear, although contributing factors are believed to include spread of a pathogen carried by domestic bees, use of certain pesticides and herbicides, and climate change. As populations of the bee continued to plummet and become more isolated during the first decade of the current century, scientists determined that the bee was on the brink of extinction, and recommended it be listed for Endangered Species Act protection. In January 2017, the rusty patched bumblebee became the first bee species to make the federal Endangered Species list. Since then, West Virginia and Virginia have been the only states east of Illinois to produce live rusty patched bumblebees in scientific surveys. In a biological opinion allowing the ACP to receive a permit for building the pipeline through West Virginia and western Virginia, the USFWS concluded that populations of the rusty patched bumblebee and three other endangered species in the project area were unlikely to be harmed by pipeline work.

Charge dismissed against Mountain Valley Pipeline opponent - A misdemeanor charge that an opponent obstructed construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Montgomery County was dismissed Thursday. General District Judge Gino Williams ruled that pipeline officials brought the wrong charge against Phillip Flagg during a July 13 encounter in which Flagg secured himself to a concrete structure in the pipeline’s right of way, blocking work for several hours. Flagg was charged with obstructing the free passage of others in a public place. But the easement on which the incident occurred was private property, according to defense attorney Jennifer French of Wytheville. French said she was prepared to make that argument after the prosecution presented evidence Thursday, but Williams dismissed the charge with no prompting. Flagg, 24, of Austin, Texas, is one of more than 50 people charged with trying to block pipeline construction in multiple ways since work on the project began in early 2018. Burying the 303-mile pipeline along steep slopes has caused widespread problems with erosion. Opponents also decry Mountain Valley’s use of eminent domain to obtain land for the project, and say burning natural gas will contribute to climate change. Before the July 13 incident, Flagg spent several months in a tree stand, blocking Mountain Valley crews from cutting trees in the Elliston area. He did not face charges related to the tree-sit, which is continuing a short distance from where he was arrested. “I’m not too proud to admit that the time I spent in the oak simply isn’t enough to stop this pipeline,” Flagg said in a statement released by Appalachians Against Pipelines shortly after his arrest. “Each of us has our piece to contribute — when one person steps up, others will follow.”

Virginia Tech professor seeks to change Mountain Valley Pipeline agenda  -Virginia Tech Appalachian studies professor Emily Satterwhite chained herself to a site excavator in protest against Mountain Valley Pipeline construction June 28, 2018, to bring attention to the Appalachian community.“I have always admired the people who have stood up to power (against) corporations,” Satterwhite said. “When the fossil fuel industry announced an expansion into the county — where I live in Appalachia — I knew immediately that it was something I would have to take a stand against.”At dawn, Satterwhite ascended into the morning air on top of Brush Mountain. A 30-foot construction excavator, which was owned by the Mountain Valley Pipeline, became the subject of Satterwhite’s protest where she demonstrated opposition to the project’s presence in Southwest Virginia. Determined to protect her Appalachian community, Satterwhite climbed the imposing structure to act as a physical barrier and delay construction. Satterwhite bound herself to the excavator’s hydraulic piston through a steel lockbox, known as a sleeping dragon, securing her forearms to the structure.   “I wanted to block construction,” Satterwhite said. “I chose Brush Mountain because it’s so close to Blacksburg and Virginia Tech as this special, sacred place for us here. When they were using heavy equipment to degrade the ecosystem, I climbed an excavator and locked myself to it at dawn.” According to The Roanoke Times, authorities met Satterwhite with aerial platforms and removed her bonds with a grinder shortly before arresting her for trespassing. Despite legal ramifications, Satterwhite vocalized her and her community’s opinions toward the pipeline. Banners surrounded Satterwhite saying, “Water is Life — we won’t back down,” to encourage the dismissal of the pipeline.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring asks Supreme Court to block Atlantic Coast Pipeline - Virginia’s attorney general wants the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a decision striking down a permit to let the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cross the Appalachian Trail in a brief that also challenges the need for the pipeline. Attorney General Mark Herring filed an amicus brief in the appeal from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Supreme Court is slated to hear next month. And he goes beyond the permit question at issue in the appeal to attack outright the $7.8 billion joint venture by Dominion Energy Inc. (NYSE: D), Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) and The Southern Co. (NYSE: SO). Herring disputes the pipeline’s claim that “the project is necessary to address an unmet and growing demand for natural gas in Virginia and North Carolina.” “That claim does not withstand scrutiny,” he says. “Indeed, recent analyses indicate that the demand for natural gas will remain flat or decrease for the foreseeable future and can be met with existing infrastructure.” Herring’s brief has been hailed by environmental groups who have argued from the outset that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed in its initial duty years ago to make an independent determination of whether the pipeline is warranted. Greg Buppert of the Environmental Law Center, which represents the groups in the Supreme Court case, says the center’s position is that FERC allowed the partners in the pipeline to contend their demand for additional pipeline capacity simply on the strength of their own utilities contracting to transport gas through it. FERC, he contends, should have looked at other issues, including whether their needs could be met by the Transco Pipeline that already serves North Carolina and Virginia. “This is a duplicative scheme for Duke and Dominion shareholders to make a 15% return on their investment on the backs of their utility rate payers,” he says. Utility customers cannot be charged directly for the cost of building the project. But the utilities will buy the gas with the cost of the pipeline — including the 15% return — built into what they pay for any gas they buy from the pipeline to produce electricity. As a result, Buppert says electricity customers ultimately pay the costs.

Delaware City refinery agrees to pay $70,000 to settle air pollution problems - Delaware environmental regulators announced Monday that the Delaware City Refining Company will pay $70,000 for months of air pollution violations. That includes a February 2019 fire that shut down Del. 9 and Del. 72 for hours and sent more than 6,000 pounds of "various pollutants" into the air, according to a press release from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.That fire largely included the release of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide into the air, according to DNREC records. Both chemicals are considered poisonous and can cause a slew of health problems if inhaled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The settlement announced Monday would resolve the refinery's air pollution-related violations that occurred between November 2018 and June 2019.According to DNREC's environmental release notification system, the refinery reported releases of benzene, hydrogen sulfide, fuel oil, crude oil and petroleum in late 2018 and the first half of 2019. Since July 2019, the refinery has reported eight other hazardous releases of sulfur dioxide, propylene, propane and petroleum products, one as recently as Jan. 25.Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, poisonous and flammable gas that smells like rotten eggs. Acute exposure to the chemical can impact heart rate, blood pressure, the respiratory system and may cause skin irritations, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and neurological effects such as giddiness, irritability and dizziness.In worst cases, exposure can lead to coma or death, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's CAMEO Chemicals database. Sulfur dioxide is a colorless, poisonous, corrosive gas that can have a choking or suffocating odor, according to the CAMEO database. It states the chemical is "very toxic by inhalation and may irritate the eyes and mucous membranes. ... It may cause death or permanent injury after very short exposure to small quantities."  People with asthma or heart problems are at greater risk during exposure to these chemicals, according to the EPA.

Demonstrators ask Michigan Gov. Whitmer to shut down Line 5 --Chanting "no oil tunnel," demonstrators gathered outside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office on Monday to hand over 14,039 petition signatures, asking her to shut down the Line 5 pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac. "I love my beautiful lakes," Jackie Schmitz of Middleville said. " And I don't want to see them poisoned." Organized by the environmental group Oil and Water Don't Mix, more than 50 people walked from the Capitol to the George W. Romney Building, which houses Whitmer's office. Outside the Romney building, they presented a binder full of the petition signatures to Kara Cook, Whitmer's energy and environment policy adviser. Demonstrators gather outside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office in downtown in Lansing on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, to deliver 14,039 petition signatures asking the governor to shut down Line 5.Buy Photo Demonstrators gather outside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office in downtown in Lansing on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, to deliver 14,039 petition signatures asking the governor to shut down Line 5.  The petition says that instead of "leaving a vulnerable and hazardous oil pipeline operating in the Mackinac Straits for years," Whitmer should "take action now to decommission Line 5." The demonstration occurred two days before Whitmer's second State of the State address on Wednesday. Attorney General Dana Nessel has asked a state court for an order to shut down and decommission Line 5 because its 67-year-old easement is a public nuisance and violates public trust and environmental laws. Sean McBrearty, Michigan campaign organizer for Clean Water Action, told reporters that the demonstrators are hoping to hear that Whitmer will take the "necessary steps to address climate change" and "shut down" the pipeline. Environmentalists fear a spill from Line 5 in the straits, where the 67-year-old dual span transports up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil and natural gas liquids. Enbridge, which owns the pipeline, is advancing plans to build a tunnel to house the pipeline in the Straits. This month, a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling reaffirmed Enbridge's right to move forward with plans for tunnel construction.  But McBrearty said Monday the "whole pipeline needs to go." "The pipeline crosses over 400 different water crossings in Michigan," McBrearty said. "So a 4.5-mile tunnel is a 4.5-mile Band-Aid on a 645-mile problem."

 Commissioners asked how county would react if Line 5 spilled-- If there was an oil spill from Enbridge's Line five pipeline would Cheboygan County be ready to react? That is the question Straits of Mackinac Alliance representative asked at the Cheboygan County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday. If there was a spill in the Straits of Mackinac, oil could spread to Cheboygan County shorelines within 36 hours. The Line 5 pipeline also crosses inland through Indian River. An oil spill would affect the environment, health and economy of Cheboygan County. "Our focus is narrow, it's not dealing with whether or not this pipeline is going to shut down, but unfortunately we're at the tip of the spear,” Straits of Mackinac Alliance representative Roger Gauthier said. “We are the ones who are going to have to react the most and we're the ones who are most likely to incur the most amount of damage." To make sure the county is ready, Gauthier suggested the board take three actions. Address realistic oil spill hazards, secure funding from Enbridge so first responders can get hazardous material equipment and conduct emergency response exercises.

 State, Enbridge join forces to defend Line 5 screw anchor permits— A day after Enbridge Energy apologized to the state of Michigan for drilling debris left near Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, the state and Canadian pipeline giant joined forces to defend permits for the oil pipeline. In a nearly two-and-half-hour hearing, attorneys for the state and Enbridge argued that current permitting laws only require the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to assess the damage anchor supports could cause to the actual dirt of the lake bottom and not the overall risk such a construction poses to the Great Lakes. “EGLE is preempted from denying a permit because it might harm the design of an interstate pipeline, that is absolutely correct,” said Assistant Attorney General Daniel Bock, arguing instead that federal agencies had purview over the pipeline’s design. Administrative Law Judge Daniel Pulter said the department appeared to be “putting its head in the sand” and “being over-simplistic” regarding its responsibilities over the dual pipeline. "This is Flint water happening all over again,” Pulter told Bock. “This is a case where the department should be out in front looking at it.” Enbridge and Michigan’s unlikely alliance in the hearing, where Enbridge functioned as an intervenor, comes as Attorney General Dana Nessel is working in Ingham County Circuit Court to shut down Line 5 on the grounds that it is a public nuisance and environmental hazard. Nessel's office supported the defense of the permits in a statement Wednesday, arguing that the pipeline should be anchored as long as it is in the water. "There is no conflict or inconsistency in arguing that Line 5 should be removed as soon as possible –which the AG is trying to do through her lawsuit against Enbridge – and wanting the Line to be as secure as possible while it remains in the water," said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Nessel.

State regulators to hear public comments on Line 3 pipeline project once again | MPR News - State utility regulators are once again preparing to make a decision on the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved Enbridge Energy's Line 3 project, which would replace the aging oil pipeline that runs across northern Minnesota, in June 2018.But last summer, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the project first needed a revised environmental study in order to move forward. The court said the project’s original environmental review didn't adequately address the potential impact of a spill in the Lake Superior watershed.On Friday, the PUC will meet in St. Paul to take public comment on the revised study. On Monday, PUC commissioners will decide whether to accept it — and whether they will again approve the controversial project.The new pipeline would replace one of the five Enbridge pipelines that carry oil across northern Minnesota. It has drawn strong opposition from environmental groups, tribal groups and some tribal governments and climate change activists.Enbridge says the project is necessary — that the current Line 3 pipeline has been transporting oil across northern Minnesota from Alberta, Canada, since the 1960s and needs to be replaced. Labor and industry groups support the project for the construction jobs it would create. Local government officials tout the benefits of the tax revenue it would generate for the counties it crosses.But opponents argue that a new pipeline would enable more oil to be transported — and then burned — worsening the effects of climate change. They say they are concerned about the risk of oil spills in a part of Minnesota replete with lakes and rivers.If the project is approved, E nbridge has said it hopes to begin construction later this year. The controversial project has already attracted several legal and other challenges, and more are expected.

Cheniere Energy's 1,000th LNG cargo headed to France -  Houston liquefied natural gas company Cheniere Energy hit a milestone 1,000th export shipment of LNG — and the cargo is headed to France. The Norwegian-flagged LNG tanker Hoegh Galleon left the company's Corpus Christi LNG export terminal with the company's 1,00th cargo on Monday morning. Cheniere Energy CEO Jack Fusco told the Houston Chronicle that the tanker is headed to France and that the milestone shipment comes less than four years after the company's first cargo was sent out from Sabine Pass LNG in Louisiana in February 2016. The 1,000 cargoes, he said, carried enough natural gas to power all 7.4 million home in Texas for nearly five years.

Kinder Morgan faces new lawsuit from Hill Country property owners regarding pipeline construction | — Several property owners in Texas' Hill Country have filed a new federal lawsuit against Permian Highway Pipeline, LLC; Kinder Morgan Texas Pipeline LLC; and several other companies in an attempt to prevent the Permian Highway Pipeline to be built on their properties.The lawsuit, which was filed on Jan. 24, states four property owners have either declined to sell their claims to the land or sold it due to the defendants' threat of using eminent domain provisions to forcefully purchase the land.According to the lawsuit, the defendants did not actually have the legal authority to use Texas' eminent domain provisions outlined by Chapter 21 of the Texas Property Code since the pipeline in question is an interstate gas pipeline, and therefore under exclusive jurisdiction of the Natural Gas Act.The Natural Gas Act forbids the construction or operation of interstate gas pipelines without a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which is issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).The act also limits the use of eminent domain for interstate pipelines to certificate holders, which the lawsuit alleges the defendants did not have. The lawsuit claims that the defendants' use of Texas eminent domain authority deprived, and is depriving, the property owners of rights that are guaranteed by federal law.

Kinder Morgan obtains final pieces of right of way for controversial pipeline - Houston pipeline operator Kinder Morgan says it has obtained rights to the final pieces of land needed to route a controversial natural gas project through the picturesque and environmentally sensitive Texas Hill Country. With the land under its control, Kinder Morgan can build the 430-mile Permian Highway Pipeline, a project to move 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Permian Basin of West Texas to the Katy Hub near Houston, the company’s president of natural gas Tom Martin told investors during a Tuesday morning meeting in downtown Houston. “Last week, we announced during our earnings call that we had 99 percent of the right-of-way but now, we’re at 100 percent,” Martin told investors. “We have all the permits, except for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit. But we expect that to come in the very near future.” Plans to build the $2 billion pipeline through Hill Country face stiff opposition from a coalition of landowners, environmentalists, cities, counties and groundwater conservation districts. Opponents plan to file two endangered species lawsuits to stop the project. One of the lawsuits focuses on destruction of habitat of the golden-cheeked warbler, an endangered songbird that makes its home in the forests of the Hill Country. The other focuses on concerns about pollution to the Edwards Aquifer, an underground freshwater reservoir that is home to endangered and threatened species such as the Texas blind salamander, Barton Springs salamander, Austin Blind salamander, San Marcos salamander, fountain darter, Comal Springs dryopid beetle and the Comal Springs riffle beetle. Those lawsuits could be filed as early as Friday, said Jessica Karlsruher, executive director for the Texas Real Estate Advocacy and Defense Coalition, or TREAD Coalition, a landowner group opposing the project. “Municipalities and landowners want to make a point,” Karlsruher said. “The lawsuits are the only course of action they have in the absence of due process for pipeline routes.” Neither the TREAD Coalition nor its members oppose the oil and natural gas industry, but they want to reform state eminent domain laws that favor pipeline companies over landowners, Karlsruher said. The coalition and its allies lost a lawsuit opposing the project on state constitutional grounds in June 2019 but Karlsruher said organization and its members will be lobbying for reforms when the Legislature meets again in 2021. “How Kinder Morgan conducts business in Texas is very un-Texan,” Karlsruher said.

Texas oil well blowout kills 1 worker, injures 3 others (AP) — One worker was killed and three others were injured Wednesday during the blowout of a Central Texas oil well. All four were contractors working at a Chesapeake Energy well site on a county road near Deanville, Texas, 28 miles (45 kilometers) southwest of Bryan, when flames erupted from the wellhead about 3:30 p.m., Chesapeake spokesman Gordon Pennoyer said in an email. A blowout is an eruption of oil or gas from the wellhead that can erupt in flames if there is an ignition source, such as a spark. Pennoyer provided no information on the conditions of the three injured workers, who he said were airlifted to hospitals in Austin and Houston. Emergency responders were still at the scene, including a wild-well control crew, he said.

Texas energy sector declined for 10 straight months in 2019 -  The health of the Texas energy sector declined for 10-straight months to close out 2019, even as oil and gas production steadily rose throughout the year, according to a new report from the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. An index measuring the strength of the Texas oil industry fell by almost 10 percent last year, showing a steady decline, but certainly not on par with the most recent oil bust of 2014-16, or even the shorter downturn in 2008. Last year was defined by weaker oil and gas prices, job losses, plunging rig count and drilling activity, a smaller number of state drilling permits issued, and a dip in well completions through hydraulic fracturing, said Texas energy economist Karr Ingham, who heads the Texas Petro Index.But things could be worse, he cautioned, with crude oil prices languishing in the range of $50-$60 per barrel. Plenty of exploration and production continue in Texas, especially in the Permian Basin. "Unlike the previous two contractions, crude oil prices actually stabilized in 2019, helping to sustain higher levels of E&P activity than would otherwise be the case in a sharply declining price environment, and this helped to sustain industry employment on the operating-producing side of the industry employment ledger," Ingham said. The index is calculated using a variety of industry benchmarks, including oil and gas prices, rig counts, drilling permitting, well completions, production volumes and employment levels, among other factors. The Texas rig count declined by almost 25 percent during the calendar year, but the 2019 average was down only about 10 percent from the 2018 average.

Chevron posts $6.6 billion loss in the fourth quarter - Chevron on Friday posted a $6.6 billion loss in the fourth quarter due to $10.4 billion worth of write-offs related to shale gas production in Appalachia and deep-water projects in the Gulf of Mexico. In December, the company warned that this charge would be $10 billion to $11 billion. Shares slid 3.85% on Friday after the company reported $36.35 billion in revenue for the period, which missed analyst expectations and was down 14% year over year, hurt by weakness in the company's upstream division.Chevron said it earned $1.49 per share excluding items, down from $1.95 per share a year earlier.Here's how the energy giant's results fared on an adjusted basis relative to Wall Street expectations:Adjusted earnings: $1.49 cents per share vs. $1.45 expected by a Refinitiv survey of analystsRevenue: $36.35 billion vs. $38.639 billion expected by RefinitivA year earlier, the company earned $3.7 billion. Total earnings for 2019 slid 80%, to $2.924 billion, compared with $14.824 billion in 2018.Oil-equivalent production at 3.08 million barrels per day was unchanged year over year, although the company said its annual daily production exceeded 3 million barrels per day for the first time.The company's upstream operations in the U.S. lost $7.5 billion in the quarter, down from earnings of $964 million a year earlier. That was primarily due to $8.2 billion in write-offs related to Appalachia and Gulf of Mexico operations, as well as lower crude and natural gas prices.

The Financial Noose Tightens At Denbury Resources - Earlier this year Denbury Resources (DNR) management initiated yet another debt swap that resulted in about $245 million of convertible notes issued. These notes are initially convertible into 370 shares per note with a provision that the board of directors can increase that conversion ratio if the board feels this is in the best interest of the company to do so. Currently the potential dilution is approximately 90 million shares and mandatory conversion can be triggered of the stock price trades for more than $2.43 in any 10 day period of fifteen consecutive trading days. Clearly some financial issues are coming to the fore when a clause like that is part of the convertible bond issue. Management still reports a total principal debt balance of $2.436 billion. While that is lower than the previous year, the working capital deficit expanded to offset a fair amount of the long-term debt decreases. Clearly, the cash flow is not available to pay down the debt. Therefore, shareholders can look forward to more dilution as equity is exchanged periodically to bring the debt levels to a more manageable amount. On December 23, 2019, the company announced that it had sold a 50% working interest in some properties for $50 million and a carried interest in 10 new wells. This will cost the company (initially) about 500 BOED (mostly oil). Furthermore, the company should only receive about a 6.25% royalty interest from the 10 new wells initially until payout. The interest would revert to a 50% interest after payout. In addition the company had earlier announced a voluntary separation plan that will result in a $17 million charge. The company estimates a short payback time for the separation plan. Labor savings can be substantial as long as they do not impair operating activities of the company. Still, all of this taken together points to a company that is increasingly desperate to decrease its debt load. If the company now has cash flow of only $344 million from operating activities at the current time, then there is not much flexibility for lower oil prices in this financial structure.

Cramer sees oil stocks in the 'death knell phase,' says they are the new tobacco - CNBC's Jim Cramer said Friday that he's done with fossil fuel stocks because young investor's concerns about climate change are holding them down.On "Squawk Box," Cramer compared oil and other fossil fuel stocks to the sigma attached to investing in tobacco companies, saying they are in the "death knell phase." He added, "They're tobacco. I think they're tobacco." "I'm done with fossil fuels ... they're just done. We're starting to see divestment all over the world," Cramer said. "You're seeing divestiture by a lot of different funds. It's going to be a parade. It's going to be a parade that says, 'Look, these are tobacco and we're not going to own them.'" Cramer said there are reasons to think that some of the fossil fuel stocks look like attractive buying opportunities, but the desire of money managers and funds to avoid the sector makes him stay away. The "Mad Money" host's comments come a few weeks after BlackRock chiefLarry Fink used his annual letter to the world's biggest companies to warn that climate change will soon cause a "significant reallocation of capital." BlackRock, with more than $7 trillion in assets under management, will put "sustainability at the center of our investment approach," from portfolio construction to launching new investment products that screen fossil fuels, Fink wrote. "Look at BP; it's a solid yield, very good. Look at Chevron; they're buying back $5 billion worth of stock. Nobody cares," Cramer said Friday. "This has to do with new kinds of money managers who frankly just want to appease younger people." Shares of Chevron and Exxon both fell in early trading Friday after announcing quarterly results. Chevron missed revenue expectations and saw its adjusted earnings decline, and Exxon's earnings per share came in below what analysts expected.  However, Cramer said that better financial performance for oil companies wouldn't even turn their stocks around.

 Exxon at 10-Year Low - It’s almost as if the last decade never happened for investors of Exxon Mobil Corp. shares. Once the gold-standard of Big Oil, the stock closed Monday at its lowest since October 2010, amid a slump in oil prices due to concerns about weak demand coupled with a glut. The S&P 500 also posted its worst one-day decline since October. But for Exxon, which dropped out of the index’s top 10 largest companies by market value for the first time last year, the malaise runs deeper than the state of the crude market. Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods is running a counter-cyclical strategy by investing heavily in new oil and gas assets, at a time when many investors are demanding energy companies improve returns for shareholders. Some shareholders are even demanding a plan to move away from fossil fuels altogether. Exxon is betting on a “windfall of cash” to arrive from its investments sometime in the mid to late 2020s, said Noah Barrett, a Denver-based energy analyst at Janus Henderson, which manages $356 billion. “Right now there’s higher value placed on generating cash flow today.” Exxon is ramping up capital spending to more than $30 billion a year, without a hard ceiling, as it develops offshore oil in Guyana, liquefied natural gas in Mozambique, chemical facilities in China and the U.S. Gulf Coast, as well as a series of refinery upgrades. Woods is convinced the world will need oil and gas for the foreseeable future and sees an opportunity for expansion while competitors shy away from such long-term investments. The short-term cost of those investments is that Exxon can’t fund dividend payouts with cash generated from operations, instead resorting to asset sales and borrowing, according to Jennifer Rowland, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. Exxon is the “clear outlier” among Big Oil companies on that front, she said. Exxon declined to comment. Exxon’s current challenges stem in large part from flag-planting deals made when commodity prices peaked during the past decade. It spent $35 billion on U.S. shale gas producer XTO Energy Inc. in 2010 when shale oil promised outsize returns. It has invested $16 billion in Canadian oil sands since 2009, only to remove much of those reserves from its books. Former CEO Rex Tillerson’s 2013 exploration pact signed with Russia was caught behind a wall of sanctions and later abandoned.

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

 Potential US fracking ban would have little immediate impact on nationwide oil and gas production - Recent analysis conducted by Rystad Energy suggests that if fracking activity were to be eliminated on federal acreage – in accordance with a stated policy goal of at least one presidential candidate – the result would be a widespread shift of capital from federal to private and state-owned acreage in a bid to replace the lost oil volumes. In other words, a potential fracking ban would likely have little immediate impact on nationwide oil and gas production figures. “Even in the long-term, the impact might be quite negligible as seen from the greater industry perspective,” says Artem Abramov, Head of Shale Research at Rystad Energy. “However, the effects of such a ban could have stronger negative effects on one key shale producing region in particular – the New Mexico portion of the prolific Permian Delaware Basin.” New Mexico has more than half of the most prospective property under federal acreage, in Eddy and Lea counties. While there is federally-owned land across the nation and in each individual state, the distribution is not uniform and is generally more concentrated in the west, especially in the Rockies and along the West Coast. There are 10 states in the US (excluding Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico) with more than 20,000 square miles of land owned by the federal government, of which three states can be viewed as important contributors to domestic hydrocarbon production – Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado – each of which has between 40,000 and 50,000 square miles of federal land. “New Mexico has the highest relative contribution to activity on federal acreage, where the share of federal lands has been fluctuating at around 60% in recent years. Both Wyoming and North Dakota saw the share of federal acreage, relative to total activity, at close to 25% in the three-year period from 2017 through 2019, whereas horizontal activity on Colorado’s federal land is insignificant,” says Abramov. Oil production from federal lands surpassed 1 million bpd during the summer of 2019, doubling over the most recent two-year period. New Mexico accounted for the largest share of oil production growth in 2018-2019, as shown in the chart above. In North Dakota, federal lands represent only 6% of overall territory, but much of that acreage is concentrated within the core Bakken shale basin; this explains the state’s high contribution of production from federal property. Total gas production on federal lands in the US Lower 48 excluding GoM exhibits a lower growth rate, largely due to the vast gas production base coming from western and central Wyoming. Still, gas production increased by about 50% between the second half of 2016 and the third quarter of 2019. Associated gas output from Delaware New Mexico’s federal acreage was a key growth driver, yet significant additional contributions came from the Utica Shale in Ohio.

 Colorado finds 50,000 oil, gas well reports were incomplete, missing - Over two years, more than 50,000 required monthly oil and gas well production reports weren’t turned in or were incomplete, which meant the state of Colorado wasn’t getting a complete picture of the taxes owed by the industry, according to a state audit released Tuesday.The state auditor’s report, which reviewed activities from 2016-18, found that of the 420 operators actively producing oil and gas, 316 of them turned in 1,209 incomplete required monthly well reports and/or failed to submit as many as 50,055 well reports. That matters because the taxes operators pay are based on gross income tied to oil and gas production.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission did not verify that oil and gas operators were properly maintaining and calibrating equipment used to measure the accuracy of the reporting of oil and gas production, the audit said.If the COGCC had imposed the maximum $200 daily fine for each well, the state would have received as much as $308 million, the auditor calculated.  COGCC Director Jeff Robbins, who took over the agency in 2019, said his staff has started making improvements and implementing the audit’s recommendations.The Revenue Department has also started following through on the audit’s recommendations, spokesman Dan Carr said. He stressed that the COGCC reports aren’t the sole source of information the department uses to determine what taxes are owed. “It’s not what we use to determine gross revenue,” Carr said. Eight of the 11 operators in the audit’s sample did not submit oil and gas withholding statements with their severance tax returns. The statements are used to identify mineral interest owners who haven’t filed severance taxes. The Department of Revenue didn’t always use complete production data when auditing oil and gas severance taxes to verify production amounts reported on tax returns, according to the audit.After exemptions and tax credits are applied, Colorado’s effective severance tax rate is 0.54% on oil and gas, the lowest out of nine states in the region, according to the audit. For coal, the effective rate is 0.62%

Lawsuit planned to stop Idaho-Wyoming natural gas pipeline (AP) — Two environmental groups have given notice they intend to file a lawsuit to stop a proposed underground natural gas pipeline from Idaho to Wyoming the groups say will harm protected grizzly bears and other wildlife. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection sent a required 60-day notice to sue to the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week. The groups contend the Forest Service’s approval of the pipeline project in November violated the Endangered Species Act. The groups also say the 18-mile (29-kilometer) portion of the 50-mile (80-kilometer) pipeline would cut a corridor through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and create a road through six Inventoried Roadless Areas. The 2001 Roadless Rule prevents road construction and timber harvest in designated roadless areas, which are typically 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) or larger. “That means motorized vehicles will use this corridor in perpetuity to maintain and inspect the pipeline and remove vegetation,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Sarah Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. About 26 miles (40-kilometers) of the pipeline crosses private land and about 4 miles (6 kilometers) crosses state land. Wyoming-based Lower Valley Energy wants to build the pipeline that would start near Montpelier in southeastern Idaho and run to Afton, Wyoming. The company on its website says it has some 5,000 natural gas customers in Afton. It has been trucking natural gas to the town, but officials say delivery has been unreliable and the town has nearly run out several times.

Two North Dakota oil companies face enforcement actions - The North Dakota Industrial Commission is pursuing multiple enforcement actions against two oil companies with locations in Williams County, the Henry Hill Oil Services Company and Samson Oil and Gas USA. According to the complaint filed with the North Dakota Industrial Commission by the Department of Mineral Resources, Henry Hill Oil Services failed to report a blowout on or about Aug. 25, 2019, that occurred at the Ellis Federal #1-5 SWD well in Williams County. The company also did not properly test blowout prevention equipment as required by state law, and allowed production fluids, including saltwater and drilling mud, to pool on the ground. North Dakota law requires spills to be contained and removed so that they don’t infiltrate the soil. Henry Hill Oil Services reported the spill on Sept. 4, but, according to the complaint, the company willfully under-reported the size of the spill, and has still not responded with the appropriate resources to clean up the spill. The company also did not use a qualified, third-party inspector on at least four occasions during construction of several of its gathering systems. The complaint lists these occasions as May 29 and June 24 at the Billy Batts Gathering System, Aug. 14 at the Micky Gathering System, and Aug. 14 at the Franky Gathering System. Hydrostatic and pneumatic testing documents, required by North Dakota law, have also not been filed, the complaint says. These are listed as the Maston Gathering System, in service November 2017; the Crescent Point Gathering System, in service on or about Dec. 19, 2018; the Hanson Gathering System, in service Jan. 26, 2018; the Sonny Gathering System in service on or about Sept. 18, 2018; the Nine Point Gathering System, in service on or about March 12; the Nine Point Gibbons Gathering System, in service May 21; and the Billy Batts Gathering System, in service on or about June 4, 2019. In all, the company faces potential fines for 20 counts, as well as costs totaling $2,136 for expenses incurred to investigate the matter. The amount of fines will be determined as the enforcement action proceeds, based on responses, or lack thereof, from the company. The complaint against Samson lists a spill at the Kermit 1-13H well in Williams County, where fluids were allowed to pool on the surface of the land and infiltrate the soil.

What's next for the Keystone XL pipeline in South Dakota? (AP) — Plans for construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline inched forward last week with several approvals at both the federal and state levels, but opponents in South Dakota say they haven’t given up on preventing, or at least slowing, the pipeline’s construction. Plans for the $8 billion project have been over a decade in the works. TC Energy, the Canadian company building the pipeline, plans to begin construction in South Dakota in August, according to a court filing in Montana that also spells out planned work in that state and Nebraska. The company plans to move equipment to construction sites starting in February and prep worker accommodation sites in March. After the South Dakota Water Management Board approved five water permits for the pipeline’s construction last week, Sara Rabern, a spokeswoman for TC Energy, said the company does not need any more permits from South Dakota agencies, but is working to “finalize” permits from other authorities. The pipeline would stretch 1,200-miles (1,930-kilometers) from western Canada to Nebraska, where it would connect with other lines that go to Gulf Coast refineries. It would be capable of pumping 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude oil a day. TC Energy says the project would provide a $3.4 billion boost to the U.S. economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from trains that transport oil. Opponents say that burning the tar sands oil will make climate change worse and worry that an oil spill could cause major environmental damage. Legal battles still loom.The Army Corps of Engineers must approve TC Energy’s plans to drill beneath three major rivers along the route, which include the Cheyenne River in South Dakota and the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers in Montana. The approval for TC Energy to cross the Cheyenne River was suspended in August after TC Energy withdrew their notice for the project. The Sierra Club, along with several conservation and landowner groups, is suing the Army Corps of Engineers in federal court in Montana. They argue that the Corps should be more stringent in their requirements for water crossing permits. The South Dakota Water Board’s decision to approve the water permits for construction last week can also be challenged in court. Several opponents who contested the permits have said they’re weighing whether to continue.

U.S. crude oil production efficiency continues year-over-year improvements -  U.S. EIA - U.S. oil production from tight formations increased in 2019, accounting for 64% of total U.S. crude oil production. This share grew because of the increasing productivity of new wells that were brought online during 2019. Since 2007, the average first full month of oil production from new wells in regions tracked by the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Drilling Productivity Report (DPR) has increased. The growing initial production rates have helped oil production from tight formations to increase despite the slowdowns in drilling activity when oil prices fell between 2015 and 2016. Since 2017, recovering oil prices and more efficient production from new wells have helped producers cover costs of drilling, production, and the development of new technologies. The average new well in each DPR region produced more oil in 2019 than wells drilled in previous years in those same regions. This trend has persisted for more than 10 consecutive years. More effective drilling techniques, including the increasing prevalence of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, have helped to increase these initial production rates. In particular, well productivity was improved because of the injection of more proppant during the hydraulic fracturing process and the ability to drill longer horizontal components (also known as laterals) and perforate more stages. Increasing well productivity has supported crude oil production even in years such as 2015, when oil prices fell and rig counts dropped. In 2016, rig counts continued to decline sharply, and total U.S. crude oil production decreased for the first time in 10 years. Fewer wells were drilled; however, those that were drilled were drilled more quickly and located in more productive areas, which led to increasing per-well production.Rig counts have fluctuated throughout 2019 in all DPR regions. The aggregate rig counts declined 16% in the first 11 months of 2019. Despite the decrease in rig count, producers are capable of drilling more efficient wells faster to keep U.S. crude oil production growing.

EIA forecasts U.S. crude oil production will keep growing through 2021, but more slowly -- In the January 2020 update of its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that U.S. crude oil production will average 13.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2020, a 9% increase from 2019 production levels, and 13.7 million b/d in 2021, a 3% increase from 2020.U.S. crude oil production growth slows because of a decline in drilling rigs during the past year. EIA expects this trend will continue through most of 2020. Despite the decline in rigs, EIA forecasts production will continue to grow as rig efficiency and well-level productivity rise, offsetting the decline in the number of rigs until drilling activity accelerates in 2021.EIA’s U.S. crude oil production forecast is based on the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) price forecast in the January 2020 STEO, which rises from an average of $57 per barrel (b) in 2019 to an average of $59/b in 2020 and $62/b in 2021. The price forecast is highly uncertain, and any significant divergence of actual prices from the projected price path could change the pace of drilling and new well completion, which would, in turn, affect production.Crude oil production in the Lower 48 states has a relatively short investment and production cycle. Changes in Lower 48 crude oil production typically follow changes in crude oil prices and rig counts with about a four- to six-month lag. Because EIA forecasts WTI prices will decline during the first half of 2020 but begin increasing in the second half of the year and into 2021, EIA forecasts U.S. crude oil production will grow slowly until the end of 2020. Crude oil production in Alaska and the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico—which collectively accounted for about 19% of U.S. total crude oil production in 2019—is driven by long-term investment that is typically less sensitive to short-term price movements. Once final data are available, EIA expects the data will show that Lower 48 crude oil production reached its largest annual average volume of 9.9 million b/d, and EIA expects it to increase further by an average of 1.0 million b/d in 2020 and 0.4 million b/d in 2021. EIA forecasts that production from the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico will grow by 0.1 million b/d in 2020 to 2.0 million b/d and to remain relatively flat in 2021 because several projects expected to come online in 2021 will not start producing until late in the year and will be offset by declines from other producing fields. Alaska’s crude oil production will remain relatively unchanged at about 0.5 million b/d in both 2020 and 2021. EIA forecasts that Permian crude oil production will average 5.2 million b/d in 2020, an increase of 0.8 million b/d from 2019 production levels. For 2021, the Permian region will produce an average of 5.6 million b/d. EIA forecasts that the Bakken region in North Dakota will be the second-largest growth area in 2020 and 2021, growing by about 0.1 million b/d in each year.

US oil output growth to slow, but peak still over a decade away: EIA - — The US shale oil boom will not burn out, but will spend the next 20 years fading away, the US Energy Information Administration said Wednesday in its latest Annual Energy Outlook. Annual US crude oil output climb to 14 million b/d by 2022, an increase of nearly 7.6 million b/d in a decade, but domestic will then level off, increasing by less than 400,000 b/d over the next decade as operators move to less productive plays and well productivity declines, according to EIA projections in the report. US oil output will begin a slow decline in the mid-2030s, falling another 500,000 b/d over the next decade and declining below 12 million b/d by 2050, EIA said. The projection is the reference case for EIA's production outlook, a forecast in between low and high oil and gas supply cases. In its reference case, EIA forecasts production in the Lower 48 to account for 70% of cumulative domestic output, peaking at 13.84 million b/d in 2032, accounting for 96% of total US output that year. Oil production in Alaska will climb from 480,000 b/d in 2019 to a peak of 910,000 b/d in 2041, due mainly to development of fields in the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska before 2030 and by the development of fields in the 1002 Section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after 2030, EIA said. The agency said it remains unclear, however, if prices will make exploration and development of ANWR fields economical. EIA said US Gulf of Mexico production will reach a record 2.4 million b/d in 2026, due to deepwater discoveries of oil and natural gas resources. "Many of these discoveries occurred during exploration that took place before 2015, when oil prices were higher than $100 per barrel, and they are being developed as oil prices rise," EIA said. "Offshore production increases through 2035 before generally declining through 2050 as a result of new discoveries only partially offsetting declines in legacy fields."

Green Myths Canada's LNG Sales Force Tells the World - Representatives of the British Columbia, Alberta and federal governments are making the global rounds these days to sell the notion that liquefied natural gas exports can help the climate crisis.Dave Nikolejsin, deputy minister of the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, for example, flew to Japan last September along with members of the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources.There they tried to impress upon the Japanese attendees “the role of Canadian LNG in meeting global climate policy objectives and reducing emissions of carbon dioxide.”The pitch goes like this: According to LNG Canada, the big Shell project now under construction in northern B.C., could replace 20 to 40 coal-fired plants in countries like China and India with Canadian methane, and reduce their emissions by 60 to 90 million tonnes.That’s impressive, says LNG Canada, because 90 million tons equals about 80 per cent of Canada’s car pollution. Or all of B.C.’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.In fact, Darren Gee, president and CEO of Peyto Exploration, which fracks for gas in B.C., believes Canada has a “moral obligation to provide the rest of the world with the country’s clean, responsibly-developed energy to improve lives and preserve the environment.”And so, while the blockaders of northern B.C.’s LNG Canada pipeline await police eviction while claiming to stand up for Indigenous sovereignty and climate protection, backers of the project lay claim to their own moral high ground.Such claims are problematic, if not false. The best evidence to date reveals two quite inconvenient truths.One, B.C.’s LNG is not cleaner than coal, due to leakage rates in our fracked shale fields of three per cent.Two, there is no guarantee that China will use Canadian gas to actually displace coal power production, given that coal-fired plants already operate as efficiently as methane-fueled ones. Let’s take those in order.

Global LNG Poised for Terrible Year as Supply Floods Market – Liquefied natural gas prices are poised to test record lows this year thanks to an onslaught of new supply and warmer winter temperatures curbing consumption.The startup of new export projects from Australia to the U.S. has flooded the market, while brimming stockpiles in Europe and an expected slowdown in Chinese demand have dumped cold water on consumption prospects. LNG for spot delivery to North Asia is on track to hit an all-time low this summer, while gas prices in Europe and the U.S. are trading at the weakest seasonal levels since 1999. “The outlook for natural gas over the next year or so isn’t great,” said Marco Dunand, chief executive officer of trading house Mercuria Energy Group Ltd. ”There’s a surplus already in the U.S. and Europe. And the mild winter in Asia means another surplus is building up there,” he said in an interview. Mercuria jumped into LNG trading last year with hires from EDF Trading Ltd. U.S. gas exports have surged amid the nation’s shale boom, but plummeting prices may now throttle back shipments or encourage sustained maintenance while firms weather the storm. Producers and companies with off-take agreements may decide not to load cargoes because prices are too low to earn a profit after accounting for shipping costs.“The global oversupply of LNG has been building and building and building,” said Ron Ozer, founder of gas-focused hedge fund Statar Capital LLC in New York. “The gas market can’t stomach the oversupply and warm weather, and it’s getting both.”With cargoes from the Gulf of Mexico currently priced around $2.65 per million Btu, cash margins are positive only because of weak U.S. benchmark prices, according to Robert Sims, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie Ltd.

Venezuela Weighs Privatizing Oil in Face of Economic Free Fall - Facing economic collapse and painful sanctions, the socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has proposed giving majority shares and control of its oil industry to big international corporations, a move that would forsake decades of state monopoly. Maduro’s representatives have held talks with Russia’s Rosneft PJSC, Repsol SA of Spain and Italy’s Eni SpA. The idea is to allow them to take over government-controlled oil properties and restructure some debt of state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA in exchange for assets, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The proposal, which could offer a balm to the country’s disintegrating oil industry, is in early stages and faces major obstacles. Venezuelan laws would have to be changed, there is disagreement over how to finance the operations, and Washington’s sanctions bar any U.S. companies from doing business with the Maduro regime without a waiver. The sanctions have also discouraged non-U.S. firms from investing in Venezuela. Once an admired state-dominated company producing 3.5 million barrels per day, PDVSA is pumping at a record-low of 700,000, despite sitting on the world’s largest known reserves. Its finances are in tatters: The central bank’s hard-currency reserves have plunged to the lowest in three decades while the government’s cash holdings total less than $1 billion. For the U.S. Treasury to change its policy would almost certainly require sign-off from opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is backed by Washington over Maduro and is the leader of the National Assembly, where laws are passed. While Guaido and the opposition favor increasing foreign participation and investment in Venezuela, they don’t want to do anything that would help Maduro survive. They are pushing for him to step down and permit new presidential elections.

Brazilians mobilize to clean up massive mysterious oil spill -- A major oil spill, coming from a mysterious source in the South Atlantic Ocean, has been contaminating Brazil’s coastline since Aug. 30. The oil has already reached a 1,500-mile stretch of the coast across 11 Brazilian states. It’s contaminated beaches, coral reefs, estuaries, mangroves, and at least 14 nature conservation areas. And it has been impacting the health of traditional coastal communities, including the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people. While the oil was spreading out of control, President Jair Bolsonaro was on a tour around the Middle East, seeking to strengthen relationships with oil-producing countries. Left with no choice, the population from affected regions, especially those that rely on the sea to make a living, together with civil society organizations, volunteered to clean up the oil mess. “The government took over 40 days to activate the emergency plan — or National Contingency Plan — which should have been activated immediately,” said Thiago Almeida, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Brazil. “Due to the inaction and inability of the government to deal with the problem, the population literally rolled up their sleeves and went to do it themselves.” A group of residents has been on the frontline of the emergency response in Pernambuco, one of the Brazilian states most affected by the oil spill. The Salve Maracaípe group, through Instagram, raised awareness about the urgent need in removing the oil from beaches and coastal environments, and mobilized thousands of volunteers to help. They also created crowdfunding campaigns, on national and international platforms, to raise funds for buying personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as safety masks, gloves and chemical resistant clothing, including water and food for those involved in the heavy cleanup activities. These essential resources have not been provided by the government at the urgency and scale needed. “We saw the need to mobilize, to act, to purchase PPEs [for safe oil cleanup by volunteers],” said Daniel Galvão, leader of the Salve Maracaípe group and a specialist in oceanography. “But we had no money for that. So we started a crowdfunding campaign.” Now with over 60,000 followers, Salve Maracaípe’s page on Instagram has tripled its visibility in recent months, as many people shared their messages and got sensitized about the need to help clean up the oil. In short time, the group gathered almost $30,000 with the crowdfunding campaigns, which allowed them to acquire health and safety resources and to increase the clean up efforts throughout the state. Embed from Getty Images

French NGOs and local authorities take court action against Total  - An alliance of 14 French local authorities and several NGOs will take unprecedented court action this week against the French oil firm Total to try to force the firm to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.It is the first climate change litigation against a private company in France. Campaigners want the court to ensure Total does more to curb its emissions.Total is on the list of top 20 global fossil fuel companies whose joint exploitation of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves can be directly linked to more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era, according to analysis last year.The towns and local authorities that have brought the case range from Bayonne, in the south-west, to La Possession, on Réunion island in the Indian Ocean, and Sevran, north of Paris. They argue that the climate emergency is already being felt by ordinary citizens and not enough is being done by large firms. Under a French law called the duty of vigilance, large companies must set out clear measures to any prevent human rights violations or environmental damage resulting from their activities. The non-governmental organisations bringing the case said Total had not included enough substantial detail in its vigilance plan to curb emissions, and the firm was out of step with the Paris climate agreement’s goals on limiting global heating. On Tuesday, a court summons will be made in Nanterre, outside Paris. Sandra Cossart, the head of Sherpa, a French NGO working on economic transparency and corporate-related human rights, said: “It’s the first climate litigation in France against a private company, and it aims to change that company’s strategy in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.” Sign up to the Green Light email to get the planet's most important stories Read more Sandra said that under the duty of vigilance law, “Total is legally required to identify the risks resulting from its contribution to global warming and to take the necessary measures to reduce its emissions.” She said the case was an “important moment” to show that big companies have to step up on the climate emergency. “The more impact you have, the more responsibility you have.”

Oil major pledges to become carbon neutral by 2030, drawing sharp criticism from climate activists  - Sweden’s oil major Lundin Petroleum has pledged to become carbon neutral by the end of the decade, announcing plans to replace “Petroleum” with “Energy” in its name. The company, which is one of Europe’s largest independent oil producers, said Monday that it will achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 by reducing emissions from operations, improving energy efficiency and developing carbon capture mechanisms. “We have a target of 2030 to reach carbon neutrality across our operations and we have set out a realistic and deliverable pathway towards this, which clearly differentiates us as an independent oil and gas producer in our industry,” Alex Schneiter, President and CEO of Lundin Petroleum, said in a statement published Monday. The board of Lundin Petroleum has also proposed changing the firm’s name to Lundin Energy, as part of a broader so-called ’decarbonization strategy.” The move has been sharply criticized by Greenpeace Sweden, with the climate activist group accusing the energy company of hypocrisy. Isadora Wronski, head of Greenpeace Sweden, told CNBC via email on Monday that the “only real answer” to the climate emergency is to quickly phase out all extraction and burning of fossil fuels. “There is an inherent paradox in Lundin Petroleum setting a goal of ‘carbon neutrality’ while their ambition is being a ‘leading provider of oil and gas in the future,’” Wronski said. “Ridding ‘Petroleum’ from the company name does not change the fact that Lundin is in the oil business and their product is one of the environmentally most harming products there is. The Lundin Petroleum proposed name change and ‘decarbonization strategy’ reflects that oil companies understand that they are a dying breed.” “Lundin simply has to pivot or die,” Wronski said.

Oil spill from S-Oils offshore buoy contained off the coast of S.Korea - A crude oil spill from South Korea's S-Oil's offshore buoy was contained off the southeastern coast of South Korea, the country's coast guard and the refiner said on Wednesday. The leak occurred early Wednesday as the offshore buoy's pressure gauge was broken but the source of the leak was sealed, the Ulsan Coast Guard said in a statement. The exact leaked volume is not yet known, but there was no damage to nearby fish farms, the coast guard said. The oil slick was hundreds of metres long and 150-200 metres (218.72 yards) wide, according to South Korea's Yonhap News agency. S-Oil is looking into details of the leak, a spokesman said. S-Oil, whose top shareholder is Saudi Aramco, runs a 669,000 barrels per day refinery in the southeastern city of Ulsan.

Vizhinjam port plans steps to tackle oil spill - The upcoming International Multi-purpose Deepwater Seaport at Vizhinjam here will be the first port in the State to have Facility Level Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan in line with the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP). The preparation of the contingency plan involves detailing the port structures, port vessel types that will operate in the region, the fuel they use, chemicals and fuels they will carry, and assessment of the chances of oil or chemical spill even in remote cases. The contingency plan will enable the port authorities to utilise resources at hand to deal with any accident or emergency situation. PPP dreamThe Adani Vizhinjam Ports Private Ltd (AVPPL), the multi-port operator tasked with the execution of the ambitious project, has entrusted the preparation of the OSDC plan to KITCO Ltd, the premier public sector technical consultancy agency. The contingency plan is in the final stages of approval and this will enable the port authorities to have all the equipments, resources and people to handle any emergency situation, according to KITCO officials. The plan will also detail the likely trajectory in the event of an accident, rescue measures to be undertaken, and preventive steps to avoid accidents. The contingency plan being worked out for Vizhinjam seaport assumes significance, as none of the ports across the State have the facility level contingency plans. Kerala also does not have a State-level oil disaster contingency plan in place.

OPEC mulls extending oil production cuts through end-2020 - OPEC members are discussing a potential extension of the oil production cuts through the end of 2020, an OPEC source told Russian news agency TASS on Friday. Talks are at early stages, but there is an understanding that after March, the cuts should be extended until the end of the year, the OPEC source told TASS on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. “Certainly, we can review any agreement at the meeting in June,” TASS’s source at OPEC said.According to the source, it is “unlikely” that the cartel decides to relax the quotas in March, because the market is still very bearish in its demand growth outlook.At the OPEC+ meeting in December, OPEC and its Russia-led partners decided to deepen the oil production cuts by 500,000 bpd in the first quarter of 2020, when demand is expected at its weakest for 2020. This brings total production reductions at 1.7 million bpd—that is if rogue members fall in line with their quotas.Considering the pledge from OPEC’s largest producer and de facto leader Saudi Arabia that it would continue to significantly overcomply with its share of the cuts, the total OPEC+ cuts could be as high as 2.1 million bpd, OPEC said.The agreement in its current form expires at the end of March and OPEC and its allies ar e set to meet early that month to decide how to proceed with the deal.

Price of OPEC daily basket drops - OPEC Secretariat calculations showed that the prices of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) daily basket decreased on Monday to set at USD61.98 per barrel in comparison with USD62.52 per barrel on Friday. The OPEC basket, which is also known as the OPEC reference basket of crude (ORB), is a weighted average of oil prices from different international OPEC members. For now OPEC averages the prices of oil from 14 different countries which are Algeria, Angola, the Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

Oil Falls to Three-Month Low as Virus Spread Raises Demand Fear -  Oil tumbled to the lowest in more than three months as China’s deadly coronavirus crippled the world’s second-largest economy and threatened worldwide energy demand. Futures pared losses on Monday in New York after earlier dropping close to $52 a barrel. Traders spooked by the worsening viral outbreak took some comfort from the Saudi Arabian assurances that the world’s biggest crude exporter is closely monitoring the situation and its impact on oil markets. “I think it’s relieving some of the pressure,” Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc. “People are overreacting based on a worst case scenario of no OPEC response.” The Saudis are signaling that once the impact of the virus is clearer, they’re “willing to re-balance the markets,” Lynch said.  The virus is the latest upheaval for the oil market, which has been struggling with demand concerns for months. Investors are selling crude and other commodities amid a broad withdrawal from riskier assets and fears the virus will curtail fuel consumption as travel is restricted. Gasoline futures tumbled to the lowest price in more than 11 months. West Texas Intermediate for March delivery was down 2.1% to $53.07 at 10:47 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after earlier dipping to the lowest intraday price since Oct. 10.Brent futures were down 2.5% at $59.20 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange after sinking as much as 3.6%. Hedge funds boosted bullish bets on New York-traded futures by 2.8% in the week ended Jan. 21, the most in a month, a day before prices tipped into the worst three-day slump since September.

Oil tumbles into bear market, hits more than 3-month low on fears coronavirus will slow global growth -Oil dropped to its lowest level since October on Monday, as fears over a potential slowdown in crude demand, sparked by the coronavirus outbreak, continued to pressure prices. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 1.9%, or $1.05, to settle at $53.14 per barrel, for the fifth straight session of losses, and the lowest closing price since Oct. 15. At its low, WTI dipped more than 3% to hit $52.13, a price not seen since Oct. 10. The contract is coming off its third straight week of losses and worst week since July, and is now trading in bear market territory after falling more than 20% from its recent April high of $66.60. International benchmark Brent crude fell 2.5%, or $1.53, to $59.16. It’s also coming off its third straight week of losses, and its worst week since Dec. 2018. The flu-like coronavirus, first identified on Dec. 31 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has now killed 82 people, according to Chinese officials, with at least 2,900 confirmed cases worldwide. The virus has spread to 10 additional countries, including South Korea, Japan and the United States, where the fifth case was confirmed on Sunday. A slowdown in China’s economy would hit oil demand since the nation is the world’s largest crude oil importer —importing a record 10.12 million barrels per day in 2019 — and the world’s second-largest oil consumer, according to data from the General Administration of Customs. “Supply risk has been tested in acute fashion over recent months, but the coronavirus presents the first major severe test to demand in years,” RBC analyst Michael Tran said in a note to clients Monday. “Concerns surrounding the virus and the negative impact on demand have taken the oil market hostage and have sent oil prices on a five-day losing streak.”

Oil prices log lowest finish in over 3 months as coronavirus stokes fears of weak demand - Oil prices fell for a fifth session in a row on Monday, settling at their lowest in more than three months, as the growing death toll and spread of China’s deadly influenza over the weekend incited fresh fears that the illness could hurt global energy demand. “The virus is fuelling fears of a cooling of oil demand, which would mean that the global oil market would be oversupplied to an even greater extent if no further measures are taken to reduce supply,” said analysts at Commerzbank, in a note to clients. West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery declined by $1.05, or 1.9%, to settle at $53.14 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices for the front-month contract, which fell 7.5% last week, settled Monday at their lowest since Oct. 15, according to Dow Jones Market Data. March Brent crude fell $1.37, or 2.3%, to $59.32 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe following a 6.4% decline last week. Prices for the global benchmark logged their lowest finish since Oct. 21. China extended this week’s Lunar New Year holiday and took increasingly drastic measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, amid warnings it was growing more contagious. As of Monday, the death count rose to 80 and the number of infected neared 3,000 confirmed cases. In the U.S., there are now five confirmed cases, with a handful of infections in other countries, such as France and Japan. Rattling investors, in Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the virus’s outbreak — the mayor said that five million of the city’s 11 million people had left the city before the travel ban was imposed. As well, reports that the virus may be infectious during its incubation period may make containment even more difficult. For the oil markets, “the real question remains whether the virus will continue to cause disruption beyond the near-term, with an extended outbreak, related quarantines, and general slowing of economic activity capable of imposing significant downside risk for global oil demand,” said Robbie Fraser, senior commodity analyst at Schneider Electric.

Oil prices likely to ‘stay down’ for months: Analysts fear impact of fast-spreading coronavirus Oil prices slumped to multi-month lows on Monday, with energy market participants increasingly concerned about demand growth as the coronavirus spreads globally. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $58.99 a barrel Monday afternoon, down nearly 2.8%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $52.70, tumbling over 2.7%. Both crude benchmarks have slipped to lows not seen since early October, as oil traders closely monitor the outbreak of a deadly pneumonia-like virus. On Sunday, Chinese officials confirmed there had been more than 2,700 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 461 people in a critical condition as the death toll rose to 80. The virus, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has spread to other major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Macao and Hong Kong. China has warned the ability of coronavirus to spread is getting stronger, spooking financial markets and prompting a sharp fall in oil prices. Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in a statement on Sunday that he was confident the outbreak would be contained.

Oil falls for sixth day as China virus spreads - Oil futures slipped on Tuesday, extending losses into a sixth session as the spread of a new virus in China and other countries raised concerns about a hit to economic growth and slower oil demand.Brent crude was down 15 cents, or 0.3%, to $59.17 at around 0114 GMT, after touching a three-month low on Monday at $58.50.U.S. West Texas Intermediate was down 12 cents, or 0.2%, at $53.02, after slipping to its lowest since early October in the previous session at $52.13.The United States warned against travel to China and other countries put out advisories as the death toll from the spreading coronavirus outbreak rose to 100 people and left millions of Chinese stranded during the biggest holiday of the year.Oil investors are concerned travel advisories, other restrictions and any fall-off in economic growth in the world's second-biggest economy and elsewhere will dampen demand for crude and its products, amid plentiful supply."Jet fuel demand has already been negatively impacted given our real time observation of Chinese flight activity," RBC Capital Markets said in a note.U.S. crude stockpiles likely rose last week, according to a Reuters poll, underlining the supply side concerns.

OPEC Considers Deeper Oil Cuts Amid Virus Market Meltdown - As leading OPEC producers downplayed fears of crippled demand growth in an attempt to calm the oil market on Monday, the cartel is said to be considering extending the ongoing production cuts or even deepening them to stave off excessive price slides due to the coronavirus outbreak in China, an OPEC source told S&P Global Platts.  According to S&P Global Platts’ source in OPEC, the ministers of the OPEC+ coalition are in discussion to closely watch the market and get ready “to do anything if there is a need for it.”  OPEC members were already said to be discussing a potential extension of the oil production cuts through the end of 2020, because of the still bearish outlook on oil demand growth, an OPEC source told Russian news agency TASS on Friday. A day earlier, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman had said that all options are on the table for the next OPEC+ meeting in March, including further cuts in oil production.But the spread of the coronavirus and the rising death toll from it spooked market participants in the past few days and dragged oil prices below $60 a barrel Brent Crude, below OPEC’s supposedly comfortable level of prices and way below the $80 a barrel price which OPEC’s leader and largest producer, Saudi Arabia, needs to balance its budget this year. The Saudis tried to jawbone the market higher early on Monday, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) chimed in to downplay what it called a “market over-reaction” over fears that the virus will erode oil demand in China—the world’s largest oil importer and main oil demand growth driver. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ producers have the capability and flexibility needed to respond to any developments, by taking the necessary actions to support oil market stability, if the situation so requires,” Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.In a separate statement, the UAE’s energy minister Suhail al-Mazrouei said, as carried by Reuters:  “It is important that we do not exaggerate projections related to future decreases in oil demand due to events in China, and the market does not over-react based on psychological factors, driven by some traders in the market.” 

OPEC wants to extend oil production cuts until June -- OPEC is inclined to extend the ongoing production cuts at least through June and could discuss deeper cuts if need be, OPEC sources told Reuters on Tuesday, as oil prices continue to slide on fears that the coronavirus outbreak in China will impact oil demand. OPEC is very likely to extend until June the current cuts, which expire in March, one source in OPEC told Reuters, while another added that “A further extension is a strong possibility and a deeper cut is a possibility.”The cartel could also consider rolling over the cuts as-is until the end of the year, or even deepen the cuts if the demand destruction turns out to be significant, according to the sources.Even Russia—which has always been OPEC’s reluctant partner agreeing to rollover of the cuts at each OPEC+ meeting at the very last moment and which is said to want out after March—is reportedly considering staying in the pact if oil prices continue to be below $60 a barrel.Oil prices have dropped by around 10 percent since the first reports of the deadly coronavirus came out of China last week.Early on Tuesday, oil prices were on track for a sixth consecutive day of losses, with WTI Crude trading below $53 and Brent Crude barely hanging to the $58 a barrel handle. On Monday, OPEC’s leader Saudi Arabia tried to jawbone the market higher, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) chimed in to downplay what it called a “market over-reaction” over fears that the virus will erode oil demand in China—the world’s largest oil importer and main oil demand growth driver. But while the leading OPEC producers downplayed fears of crippled demand growth in an attempt to calm the oil market, the cartel was said to be considering extending the production cuts or even deepening them to stave off excessive price slides due to the coronavirus outbreak in China, an OPEC source told S&P Global Platts on Monday.

OPEC+ Halts Slide In Oil Prices - The coronavirus continues to send panic through global markets. Oil prices turned positive on Tuesday, with WTI trading close to $54 and Brent just above $59. With tens of millions of people essentially locked down in China, oil demand is expected to take a hit.   The sharp drop in oil prices over the past week and fears about a renewed oil supply surplus has OPEC+ turning on the rumor mill again. An OPEC source says that the group will consider extending the cuts until June, while other source said the group might also consider a deeper cut from current levels. The current deal expires in March.  Oil has declined by around $7 per barrel in a little over a week, and some analysts think the selloff has gone too far. “Several questions remain unanswered about the potential fallout from the coronavirus, but if the experience from the 2003 SARS outbreak is any indication, demand worries are likely overdone,” Barclays said in a note. Others agreed. “We believe coronavirus is a Chinese jet fuel demand story for now and not yet a global demand story,” RBC Capital Markets wrote.Libya’s oil production has plunged to 280,000 bpd as the LNA continues to blockade the country’s oil export terminals. Libya has very little storage capacity so once filled, output could soon fall further. The head of the National Oil Corp. said that the country’s oil production is rapidly falling to zero.  Exxon’s stock closed at a 10-year low on Monday. Bloomberg notes that the oil major is running a counter-cyclical strategy – spending heavily at a time when prices are low and supply is readily available – in order to profit from the next cycle. Most if its big projects – Guyana, Mozambique, Gulf Coast petrochemicals – will not “meaningfully begin contributing” to cash flow until 2023-2025, Scotiabank said. Goldman Sachs said that its “concern” is the “lack of [free cash flow] in the business model if oil prices do not recover.” Gazprom will move forward without foreign companies in order to complete the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The project is nearly complete but has been delayed because of U.S. sanctions. “The Nord Stream 2 project, which is already 94 per cent complete, will be finished by the Russian side,” Gazprom deputy head Elena Burmistrova said

Oil Claws Back Some Virus Losses  -- Oil extended its recovery from a virus-induced slump as a report showing a drop in U.S. crude inventories, a rebound on Wall Street and speculation OPEC+ will step in to prop up prices reassured investors. The American Petroleum Institute reported stockpiles fell by 4.27 million barrels last week, which would be the biggest drop this year if confirmed by government data due later on Wednesday. That took some attention away from the novel coronavirus, which kept spreading as confirmed cases in China overtook the official number of infections during the SARS epidemic. Oil has rebounded 1.6% after closing at a three-month low on Monday amid concern over the potential impact of the outbreak on travel and economic activity in China, the world’s biggest energy consumer. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies could deepen output cuts at its next meeting in March to take account of lower demand due to the virus, according to Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Citigroup Inc. Oil prices stabilized in line with broader risk sentiment, and prices were further bolstered by the API report, Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AxiCorp, said in a note. A potential supply response from OPEC “should provide some semblance of a floor until oil traders receive concrete evidence that containment is working and that infection rates are slowing,” he said. West Texas Intermediate for March delivery rose 1% to $54 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:45 a.m. in London. The contract finished 0.6% higher on Tuesday. Brent for March settlement added 0.9% to $60.05 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange after closing up 0.3% on Tuesday. The global crude benchmark traded at a $6.05 per barrel premium to WTI. U.S. crude stockpiles are currently at a three-month low after big declines in December. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg are forecasting a 1.29-million barrel drop in inventories ahead of the official Energy Information Administration data.

WTI Extends Gains After Surprise Crude Draw - Oil prices rebounded markedly (snapping a 5-day losing streak) from mid-October lows today on no particular news out of China at all (except bad news). There’s some short-covering “after the worst-case demand scenario got priced in,” . Sentiment improved after the sell off captured the attention of Saudi Arabia and China ramped up efforts to contain the outbreak.  “They’ve shown the market they’re not going to take this lying down.”For now, let's see what the initial impact of oil demand fears were on inventories. API

  • Crude -4.27mm (+500k exp)
  • Cushing +1.02mm (-870k exp)
  • Gasoline +3.27mm (+1.3mm exp)
  • Distillates -141k (-1.1mm exp)

Despite expectations for a modest build, API reported a crude inventory drawdown of 4.27mm... WTI was hovering around $53.50 ahead of the print, and jumped modestly higher on the API data... Despite the gains on Tuesday, investors remain cautious of the pathogen’s potential to destabilize oil demand.  There’s a wait-and-see attitude that seems to be driving markets right now,” The virus fears are really a question of how much demand destruction occurs and how long that lasts,”

Oil rises more than 1% as markets wait on virus impact, US stocks fall  -Oil prices rose for a second day on Wednesday, recouping some losses after a five-day rout on talk that OPEC could extend oil output cuts if a new coronavirus hurts demand, while data showing a decline in U.S. stockpiles helped steady prices. Brent crude rose 81 cents, or 1.4%, to $60.36 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 81 cents, or 1.5%, at $54.29 per barrel. Financial markets that have been hit by the spread of the virus out of China are trying to assess the economic fallout, with the death toll rising to 132 and airlines reducing flights to China. “While the coronavirus continues to the spread both in and outside China the market is trying to adjust positions across all asset classes,” said Saxo Bank analyst Ole Hansen. “Commodities, most of which depend on global growth and demand, have been caught in the crosshairs of these developments ... China (is) the world’s biggest buyer of most commodities, from crude oil and fuel to copper and iron ore.” British Airways suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China after Britain warned against all but essential travel to the country, and jet fuel demand has slumped in Asia as airlines have cancelled connections. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries wants to extend oil production cuts until at least June from March, and may deepen the reductions, should demand for oil in China be significantly reduced by the spread of the virus, OPEC sources said. OPEC and its allies including Russia, have been trying to stabilise prices amid questions over the global demand outlook and rising supplies, particularly out of the United States. “A further extension is a strong possibility and a deeper cut is a possibility,” one OPEC source told Reuters. Any fallout of the China virus on oil demand is likely to be clearer over the coming week, the source said. In the United States, crude oil inventories fell by 4.3 million barrels last week, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday, compared with analysts’ expectations of a gain of 482,000 barrels.Gasoline stocks were up by 3.3 million barrels, compared with forecasts in a Reuters poll of a 1.3 million-barrel gain. Distillate fuel inventories, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 141,000 barrels, against expectations of a 1 million barrel drop.

OPEC’s waning influence laid bare as coronavirus outbreak hammers oil prices, analysts say - OPEC’s battle to support oil prices as China’s coronavirus spreads internationally shows the producer group is struggling to wield the same influence over global crude markets, energy analysts have told CNBC. It comes amid speculation that OPEC and non-OPEC producers, sometimes referred to as OPEC+, could extend production cuts if the intensifying outbreak of the coronavirus hampers oil demand growth. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $59.85 a barrel Wednesday afternoon, up over 0.6%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $53.59, around 0.2% higher. Both crude benchmarks have pared some of their recent losses, after slumping to multi-month lows earlier in the week. “Will deeper OPEC supply curbs provide the panacea for the current oil market malaise? Probably not,” OPEC is starting to realize they have ‘less influence’ China’s National Health Commission confirmed Wednesday that the coronavirus had infected 5,974 people, with 132 deaths and 103 cured. The virus, which was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has spread to other major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Macao and Hong Kong. Financial markets have been spooked by the spread of a deadly pneumonia-like virus, with energy market participants trying to assess the potential economic fallout.

U.S. crude stockpiles rise more than expected as refiners cut runs-EIA – (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose far more than anticipated last week as refiners cut runs on the back of weakened demand for fuel, with gasoline inventories building to a record high, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. Crude inventories rose 3.5 million barrels in the week to Jan. 24 to 431.7 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 482,000-barrel rise. That came as refiners cut back runs sharply, with utilization rates dropping 3.3% last week to 87.2% of total capacity. Refinery crude runs fell by 933,000 barrels per day, EIA said. Overall demand in the last four weeks has sagged, with gasoline product supply - a measure of demand - down by 4.4% from the year-ago period, and distillate fuel demand down 8.3%, EIA said. Oil prices were little changed following the news, but remained weak as a consequence of ongoing concern about the effects of the coronavirus on travel, and by extension, fuel demand. [O/R] U.S. crude futures dropped 16 cents, or 0.3%, to $53.33 a barrel as of 10:50 a.m. ET (1550 GMT), while Brent was up 27 cents to $59.78 a barrel. “A big drop in refining runs was a bit disappointing, leading to a bigger than expected build in crude,” “Because the market was oversold anyway, there’s a chance to recover, because the products (inventories) were pretty much in line with expectations.” U.S. gasoline stocks rose for a 12th straight week, growing by 1.2 million barrels to an all-time high at 261.2 million barrels, the EIA said. Analysts had expected a 1.3 million-barrel rise.​ Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell 1.3 million barrels in the week to 144.7 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.1 million-barrel drop, the EIA data showed. U.S. Gulf Coast distillate inventories last week rose by about 2 million barrels to 48.9 million barrels, the highest since September 2017.

WTI Extends Losses After Failed Missile Attack, Big Crude Build -  Oil prices surged overnight after API's surprise draw and headlines about a Houthi missile attack on Aramco facilities, but after tagging unchanged from Friday's close (erasing the post-virus drop), comments that all missiles were intercepted sent prices lower and refocused traders' attention on the potential for an imminent demand crisis due to the 'Devil'-Virus spreading across the world. Refinery utilization rates have been sluggish for this time of year,  “If refineries are not operating at capacity, it’s because they don’t have the demand, a lower draw or a build could make the demand fear worse” So all eyes once again revert to inventories.. DOE:

  • Crude +3.548mm (+500k exp)
  • Cushing +758k (-870k exp)
  • Gasoline +1.203mm (+1.3mm exp)
  • Distillates -1.289mm (-1.1mm exp)

A big surprise crude draw from API was not enough to trump china demand fears but the official data from DOE shows a much bigger than expected 3.548mm crude buil As Bloomberg warns, the world is swimming in refined products. Gasoline stockpiles hit a seasonal high in data going back 29 years in last week’s report. Demand is likely to be soft, especially if we see a big slowdown in exports to Asia as fears persist about the coronavirus. US Crude production remains at a record high, as forward-looking rig-counts begin to stabilize after their collapse...

Oil prices fall as EIA reports the biggest weekly U.S. crude-supply climb since November - Oil futures saw mixed trading on Wednesday, with U.S. prices down after government data revealed that domestic crude inventories posted a bigger-than-expected weekly climb—their largest since November. Global benchmark crude prices, meanwhile, inched higher on the back of reported conflicts in the Middle East. West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery CLH20, -0.65% on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 20 cents, or 0.4%, to $53.28 a barrel, while April Brent crude BRNJ20, -0.29% was down 21 cents, or nearly 0.4%, at $59.30 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. “Brent is being driven by Houthi attacks on Aramco and by fire on tanker in the region,” Meanwhile, “WTI being driven by softening refinery demand for crude and poor US margins.” Early Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. crude supplies rose by 3.5 million barrels for the week ended Jan. 24. Analysts polled by S&P Global Platts forecast a much smaller rise of 1.4 million barrels, while the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday reported a decline of 4.3 million barrels.“The large crude stock build is the first thing to notice, a result of a decline in refinery utilization...and inputs, while production stayed at a record high,”

Oil falls for 6th time in 7 sessions on coronavirus fears, higher inventories - Oil fell on Wednesday as worries about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on demand and a larger-than-expected build in U.S. inventory weighed on prices, although losses were offset by talk that OPEC could extend oil output cuts. Brent crude gained 30 cents to settle at $59.81 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude slid 15 cents, or 0.3%, to settle at $53.33 per barrel, for its sixth negative session in 7 trading days. Financial markets that have been hit by the spread of the virus out of China are trying to assess the economic fallout, with the death toll rising to 132 and airlines reducing flights to China. “Following the outbreak of coronavirus, commodities markets suffered from a technical selloff,” said Michel Salden, senior portfolio manager of Vontobel Asset Management, who argued that oil prices would likely soon rebound. “While coronavirus might lead to a drop in oil demand equivalent to 200-300,000 barrels per day ... all this combined makes this years selloff in oil, -14% from peak, overdone versus the mild correction in equity markets, only down 2% from peak. British Airways suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China after Britain warned against all but essential travel to the country, and jet fuel demand has slumped in Asia as airlines have cancelled connections. U.S. crude stocks and gasoline inventories grew more than expected last week as refiners cut runs, the Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report. Crude inventories rose by 3.5 million barrels in the week to Jan. 24 to 431.7 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 482,000-barrel rise.

Oil falls as virus death toll in China climbs -- Oil prices fell on Thursday on concerns over the potential economic impact of the coronavirus that continues to spread worldwide, while the market also considered the possibility of an early OPEC meeting.Brent was down $1.24, or 2%, at $58.56 per barrel, having risen 0.5% on Wednesday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down $1.21, or 2.3%, at $52.12 per barrel, after dropping 0.3% in the previous session.Countries have started isolating hundreds of citizens evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to stop the spread of an epidemic that has killed 170 people as worry about the impact on the world's second-biggest economy rattled markets.Prices have steadied in recent days at three-month lows as investors tried to assess what economic damage the virus might inflict and to demand for crude oil and its products.But now the rising death toll from the virus and its spread has again turned screens red, with global equities falling. The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 countries, fell 0.5% as European shares followed Asian indexes down."The market is really driven by Asia and the China virus. The only thing that can change the current trend is an emergency OPEC meeting,"  ."The World Health Organisation's Emergency Committee is set for another meeting later on Thursday to reconsider whether the rapid spread of the virus should be considered a global emergency.Major multinationals are closing operations in China and Airlines around the world are suspending or reducing direct flights to China as travel warnings are issued by governments and passenger numbers drop.Algeria's energy minister Mohamed Arkab said on Wednesday it was very possible that an OPEC meeting could be advanced to February instead of the scheduled meeting in March. ING cautioned that outages in Libya - where production has been steadily declining amid a blockade - should not be discounted .The bigger than expected build in U.S. crude oil inventories last week also kept pressure on prices.Crude stocks rose by more than seven times market expectations, gaining 3.5 million barrels in the week to Jan. 24, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday.Gasoline stocks rose to a record high, increasing for a 12th consecutive week to 261.1 million barrels, the EIA said.

Oil falls to new three-month lows as virus fears grow, OPEC mulls meeting - Oil futures dropped on Thursday, with U.S. prices logging their lowest settlement since early August, as worries rise over the potential economic impact from the continued spread of the coronavirus. “Alarm bells are going off in global markets after the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying they deeply regret calling the outbreak of the coronavirus moderate,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at The Price Futures Group, in a note. That’s “raising fears that the virus is much worse than official Chinese channels are telling us. If that fear permeates the public in other parts of the world, it could be a real risk to global economic growth.” On Thursday afternoon, WHO declared that coronavirus is a public health emergency of international concern. West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery CLH20, +0.14% on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell $1.19, or 2.2%, to settle at $52.14 a barrel, after trading as low as $51.66. The settlement was the lowest for a front-month contract since Aug. 7, according to Dow Jones Market Data. March Brent crude BRNH20, +0.05%, which expires at Friday’s settlement, shed $1.52, or 12.5%, to $58.29 a barrel, for the lowest front-month contract finish since Oct. 8. Chinese authorities on Thursday said more than 7,700 people have been infected, with at least 170 dead. World Health Organization officials expressed “great concern” over the virus’s spread outside of China. “Assessing demand destruction in real time is difficult, and the market has clearly adopted a sell first, ask questions later approach to the coronavirus,” strategists at RBC Capital Markets wrote in a research note dated Thursday.

Oil slides as virus outbreak shakes economic growth predictions - (Reuters) - Oil prices fell on Friday and were on track for a fourth straight weekly loss on mounting worries about economic damage from the coronavirus that has spread from China to around 20 countries, killing more than 200 people. Prices briefly found support after Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Russia was ready to bring forward a meeting of OPEC and its allies to February from March to address a possible hit to global oil demand from the virus. Novak said he was in discussions with OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and that the oil-producing nations would need several more days to assess the impact and decide on the date of the meeting. “The cartel stands ready to act again if necessary but may accept the short-term pain for now on the expectation that the economic consequences won’t be as bad as people fear and (the) price will bounce back to more acceptable levels on its own,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA. Brent crude LCOc1 fell 13 cents to settle at $58.16 a barrel and was down about 4% on the week. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) CLc1 fell 58 cents to end the session at $51.56 a barrel, down 4.8% on the week. During the session, prices sank to as low as $50.97 a barrel, the lowest since early August. Both benchmarks had risen more than $1 a barrel early in the session. Global equity markets were poised for their first monthly loss since August and Wall Street’s main averages tumbled more than 1% on Friday, as mixed corporate earnings added to worries over the impact of the coronavirus. Disruptions in supply chains and travel curbs prompted economists to temper growth expectations for China, the world’s second-largest economy. Goldman Sachs said the outbreak was likely to shave 0.4 percentage point from China’s economic growth in 2020 and could also drag the U.S. economy lower.

U.S. oil futures fall almost 16% in January - Oil futures settled lower on Friday, with U.S. prices down nearly 16% for the month of January. That was the biggest monthly percentage decline since May of last year. Concerns over a slowdown in the global economy and demand for oil kept pressure on prices for the commodity. March West Texas Intermediate oilCLH20, +0.14% fell 58 cents, or 1.1%, to settle at $51.56 barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That was the lowest front-month contract finish since Aug. 7, according to FactSet data. Prices lost 4.85% for the week and 15.6% for the month.

Brent Oil Has Worst Run in 14 Months as Virus Cripples Big Oil Buyer China - Oil prices had their worst monthly loss in more than a year on Friday as top buyer China remained virtually crippled by the coronavirus crisis. Attempts by OPEC and its allies to expedite a meeting to prop the market also barely helped. Brent, the London-traded global benchmark for crude oil, settled down 71 cents, or 1.2%, at $56.52. Brent struck a four-month low of $56.16 in intraday trade. New York-traded West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark for U.S. crude, settled down 58 cents, or 1.1%, at $51.56 per barrel. WTI hit a near-six-month low of $51.11 earlier. With January coming to a close Friday, Brent posted a monthly loss of just over 14%, its biggest slide since November 2018, when it lost 22%. WTI fell nearly 16%, its worst since May. Friday’s losses came despite Russia’s news agency Ifax reporting that Energy Minister Alexander Novak was agreeable to the plan by Saudi Arabia and others in the OPEC+ group to bring forward to next month their scheduled meeting in March, in an attempt to put a floor under the market. Bloomberg, in a separate report Thursday, said Moscow appeared resistant to expediting a meeting as it would mean deeper output cuts for those involved — something independent oil producers in Russia were against. The Ifax report, however, suggested that the only problem for Moscow was agreeing with the rest of OPEC+ on a new date for the meeting. Data showed China’s factory activity faltered in January, adding to fears about the fallout to the economy from the month-long coronavirus epidemic, which showed no signs yet of coming under control after having killed more than 200 people and infected nearly 10,000. Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) revised down China's 2020 GDP growth expectations to 5.5% from 5.9%. Global markets briefly calmed late on Thursday after the World Health Organization gave China top marks for its efforts in battling the epidemic and containing it largely within its borders, despite its spread to nearly two dozen other countries. Yet, when trading resumed Friday, sentiment crashed again.

Iraqi security forces kill protester, rockets hit U.S. embassy (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces shot at anti-government protesters in Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least one person, and unidentified men set fire to sit-in tents in a southern Iraqi city, police and medics said, as months-long civil unrest escalated. Separately, at least one of five Katyusha rockets fired at Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone hit the U.S. embassy, wounding three people, in a rare direct targeting of the compound, security sources said. Reuters could not independently verify the rocket attacks. Anti-government protests erupted in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and quickly turned violent. Security forces and unidentified gunmen have shot protesters dead. Nearly 500 people have been killed in the unrest. The protests are an unprecedented leaderless challenge to Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim-dominated and largely Iran-backed ruling elite, which emerged after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Demonstrators are demanding that all parties and politicians be removed, free and fair elections be held and corruption rooted out. The government has responded with violence and piecemeal reform. The international community has condemned the violence but not intervened to stop it. In Baghdad, one protester was killed, police sources and medics said, and more than 100 others hurt across the country after the security forces tried to clear protest camps. At least 75 of those hurt were in the southern city of Nassariya. A Reuters witness said protesters set fire to two security vehicles and hundreds of other demonstrators controlled key bridges in the city. Later, unidentified men set fire to tents that are part of a months-long sit-in in the city centre. Protests have flared in the last two days after populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, many of whose supporters had participated, said he would no longer be involved in anti-government demonstrations.Sadr opposes all foreign interference in Iraq but has aligned himself more closely in recent months with Iran and the Tehran-backed parties that dominate state institutions in Baghdad.

Iraqi government cracks down on anti-US protests - Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi ordered a brutal crackdown on peaceful mass demonstrations that erupted on Friday. Protesters chanted “get out, get out, occupier,” and called for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from the country. For the last three days, security forces have fired teargas and live ammunition, killing at least 12 people and wounding dozens more in the capital, Baghdad, and in the southern cities of Basra, Nasariyah, Dhi Qar and Diwaniya, in a bid to disperse the protests. According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, more than 500 people have been killed since the protests began on October 1 with several rights groups accusing security forces of using excessive force. There have been reports of kidnappings, torture, snipers on rooftops and armed gunmen in drive-by shooting of protesters. The protests, sparked by unemployment, particularly among young people, the lack of electricity and water, poor services and rampant corruption, rapidly escalated, with calls for the government to resign, a new prime minister independent of the main political blocs, fresh elections, an end to the sectarian-based political system and the prosecution of those implicated in corruption and the killing of protesters. While the protests have mainly taken place in Baghdad and nine predominantly Shia provinces, they have generally been supported by Sunni Iraqis. Most of the Sunni politicians, however, have remained silent over the protests. Although Abdul Mahdi resigned last month, he remains in office until a new prime minister is appointed. Candidates nominated by the government have been rejected by the protesters as being too close to the old corrupt setup. But a new prime minister must have the support of the largest bloc, Sairoon, led by populist Shiite cleric Muqtadr al-Sadr, as well as Hadi al-Amiri’s Fatah bloc that is closely linked to the Hashd al-Shabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia, that is aligned with Iran. These blocs fear that under a more politically independent politician, they will lose their own power and influence, not to say access to the country’s oil resources. The crackdown came just hours after Moqtada al-Sadr withdrew his support for the “million strong march” he had called on Friday, amid fears that the protesters might attack the presidential palace or the heavily-fortified Green Zone that houses the US embassy and other foreign missions. He said he was ending his support—always qualified—for the anti-government demonstrations, as part of his bid to retain political control over the government and choice of prime minister and so avoid fresh elections. Al-Sadr has millions of supporters in Baghdad’s poorest neighbourhoods and the south and heads the largest political bloc in Iraq’s parliament, which holds several ministerial posts. Al-Sadr, who has long sought to balance between Washington and Tehran, has found it increasingly difficult to contain his supporters’ hostility to the corrupt politicians that have ruled the country since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. His support for Friday’s demonstration was aimed at bolstering his own support, while keeping anti-US sentiment under control.

Iraq Protest Death Toll Soars Past 600 After Fresh Weekend Unrest - Over a weekend which late Sunday witnessed what was presumably Iraqi militia-fired missiles score a rare direct hit on the US Embassy in Baghdad, mass protests across multiple cities against both the Iraqi government and American forces' continued presence inspired by Shia firebrand cleric and nationalist Moqtada al-Sadr continued. While the protests stalled on Saturday after Sadr the night before appeared to have withdrawn support for the demonstrations, they were unleashed again Sunday with new ferocity which left at least two more protesters dead amid clashes with police.  Large anti-government protests have been intermittent for the past few months; however, the last three days have been particularly intense with at least 15 killed and over 200 injured, according figures produced by Independent High Commission for Human Rights of Iraq.  This brings the total death toll since protests began in October to more than 600, according to the commission as well as Amnesty International. Sadr has both given support to the 'nationalist' protests and "million man march" demonstrations which erupted last week calling for an end to American military occupation; however, he's faced accusations of betraying the protesters to Iran when he briefly withdrew support Friday into Saturday, and given he's seen as part of the Shiite religious establishment. His political faction is also the largest bloc in Iraqi parliament. The popular cleric stirred resentment upon announcing Friday that a "temporary halt" in the resistance to US occupation was needed. “We will do our best to prevent taking Iraq to another possible war,” he said.

US embassy attack: Rockets strike embassy compound in Baghdad - - Three rockets struck the US Embassy compound in Baghdad on Sunday, leaving one person injured, a US official told CNN initial reports indicate.The official said the injury was minor and the individual had since returned to duty.In a call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "expressed his outrage at the continued assaults by Iran's armed groups against US facilities in Iraq, including yesterday's rocket attacks against our Embassy, which resulted in one injury," a readout from State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said. “The Secretary underlined once again that these attacks demonstrate a wanton disregard for Iraqi sovereignty and a failure to rein in these dangerous armed groups. He appreciated Prime Minister Abd al-Mahdi's commitment to strengthen security to protect American personnel and diplomatic facilities," Ortagus wrote. "The Secretary noted that we view last night's attack on the Embassy as an attempt to distract Iraqi and international attention away from the brutal suppression of peaceful Iraqi protesters by Iran and its proxies."Ortagus said that Pompeo expressed the US' "willingness to discuss the scope of our forces in Iraq over time."There have been numerous rocket attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone, where the embassies of the US and several other western countries are located, and the area surrounding it in recent months. However, the whole of Iraq is on a heightened state of alert as tensions between the US and Iran have dramatically increased in recent weeks after the US killing of key Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iran's retaliatory missile attack on an Iraqi base housing US troops. No one immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack. Since September there have been more than 14 attacks by Iran and Iranian-supported militias on US personnel in Iraq, according to the State Department.

US stops weapons delivery to Iraq amid tensions with Baghdad - The United States stopped all weapons deliveries to Iraq in the midst of the growing tensions with the government in Baghdad, the US-based Inside Defense news site reported, APA reports quoting Sputnik.The freeze includes halting supplies for the new F-16 fleet, the report said on Monday citing Air Force spokesperson Brian Brackens.The Pentagon will resume shipments "when the environment in Iraq is safe enough," Brackens said, according to the report. On Sunday, three missiles landed on the US embassy's territory in Baghdad, with one of the missiles hitting the embassy’s restaurant. Several people were reportedly injured.

US Military Announces Three New Bases in Iraq After Iraqis Demand Full Withdrawal  -Less than a week after millions of Iraqis took to the streets demanding the U.S. military leave for good, the United States announced that is planning to build three new military bases in Iraq, according to military news service Breaking Defense. The three sites chosen – Erbin, Sulimania and Halabja – are all extremely close to Iran, with Halabja (the site of the 1988 chemical weapons attack) just eight miles from the border.The news will come as a shock to the Iraqi parliament, who earlier this month voted overwhelmingly (with some abstentions) to expel American forces from the country. But the U.S. government has flatly refused to leave. “At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, adding, “We strongly urge Iraqi leaders to reconsider the importance of the ongoing economic and security relationship between the two countries… We believe it is in the shared interests of the United States and Iraq to continue fighting ISIS together.” Earlier this month the U.S. decided to send an extra 3,000 troops to the region.President Trump responded by threatening sweeping mass punishments against the Iraqi people. “We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it…If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever,” he said. U.S.-led sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s are thought to have killed over one million people, including over half a million young children. Successive U.N. diplomats in charge of Iraq during the sanctions denounced them as genocide against its people. Trump said his sanctions would make the ones on Iran look tame by comparison. “If there’s any hostility,” he said, “we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions.” Trump also threatened to commit genocide against the people of Iran, destroying their cultural heritage sites in a move condemned by many and compared to the Taliban’s destruction of the world-renowned Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan.

Lula: We knew that Blair knew there were no Iraqi WMDs - Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva revealed in an exclusive interview with Brasil Wire and the Michael Brooks Show that Brazil already knew that then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was lying about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction in the build up to the Iraq war. Lula says that they knew that Blair knew Saddam Hussein did not possess such weapons, through Brazilian diplomat and director general of the OPCW, José Bustani, as the UK Prime Minister used the phantom weapons to make a worldwide case for an invasion of the middle eastern country. The invasion is now regarded as a catastrophic decision, which cost a million lives and is blamed for triggering a spiral of violence and suffering which continues to this day. Iraq this month demanded the exit of all US forces from the country. “I had a good and respectful relationship with Tony Blair. And I had a good relationship with Gordon Brown. Those were the two (UK) governments with which I had contact. Unfortunately the role of Tony Blair in deciding to enter the war in Iraq was regrettable. He knows it was regrettable. He suffers aggression today on the streets of London because of the war in Iraq.” remarked Lula, as he recalled his relations with the British Government during his 2003-2011 presidential terms “And he knew there were no chemical weapons in Iraq.” Lula stated. “Do you know why we also knew about this? It was Ambassador Bustani. He was the the secretary who dealt with chemical weapons. And he exausted himself saying, “they don’t have them”. Because he said they didn’t have them, the Americans demanded that (Lula’s predecessor) Fernando Henrique Cardoso remove Bustani, and he was removed.” Lula explained.

Another US Soldier Dies In Syria Under Trump's Secure The Oil Mission - A year after four Americans died in a bomb blast in northern Syria - the single deadliest day for the some 700 troops still there - another US solider has died.  A 22-year-old U.S. Army Reserve soldier identified by the Pentagon as Spc. Antonio Moore was killed Friday in a vehicle rollover accident.  His combat engineering unit based out of North Carolina was conducting a route clearing operation in Deir Ezzor province in Syria's east, where US forces have been supporting Syrian Kurdish forces (SDF) in "securing the oil fields" as President Trump has recently described the mission. Though numbers have varied, most reports put current troops levels in Syria at over 500, with the AP in a new report saying 750 troops deployed in the country, citing Defense Department officials. An official Army statement issued Saturday reads: “The 363rd Engineer Battalion is deeply saddened at the loss of Spec. Antonio Moore.” It continued: “Antonio was one of the best in our formation. He will be missed by all who served with him. We will now focus on supporting his family and honoring his legacy and sacrifice.” Moore's reserve unit - 363rd Engineer Battalion, 411th Engineer Brigade, out of Knightdale, N.C. - was only somewhat recently established, in 2015, and includes only 100 service members.

Iran’s Bid to Integrate With Global Economy Coming to an End - Iran’s six-year push to integrate with the global economy appears to be coming to an end. On Monday, Iran threatened to withdraw from its last remaining commitments to the 2015 deal that limited its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. On the same day, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif pulled out of this week’s World Economic Forum, the global economy’s annual networking event in Switzerland. The moves follow a speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday, in which he accused Europe of joining the U.S. campaign to “bring Iran to its knees.” His regime had hoped the so-called EU-3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- would help Iran to circumvent U.S. President Donald Trump’s return to “maximum pressure” sanctions by upholding the nuclear deal. But that no longer seems feasible, if it ever was. The EU-3 last week said they would trigger a dispute mechanism at the United Nations Security Council that’s likely to finally kill the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The deal lay at the heart of President Hassan Rouhani’s strategy of opening up to international markets in order to answer the Islamic Republic’s perennial dilemma of how to meet popular economic expectations, while still maintaining defiance of the U.S.

20,000 US Troops Have Surged Into Middle East Since Last Spring to ‘Counter Iran’ -  — The Associated Press reports a staggering surge of US troops into the Middle East since last Spring: “Over the past eight months, the United States has poured more than 20,000 additional troops into the Middle East to counter the escalating threat from Iran that peaked with the recent missile attack on American forces in Iraq.” This despite President Trump’s multiple prior pledges to “bring the troops home” especially related to Syria and Iraq. Following the Soleimani assassination and subsequent Iranian ballistic missile retaliation on Ayn al-Assad airbase, where Friday it was reported that 34 soldiers suffered traumatic brain injuries (a dramatically increased figure up from the prior 11), this trend in force build-up looks to continue. Here’s breakdown of the staggering numbers via the AP: The top commander for US forces in the Middle East told a gathering of Marines and sailors during a speech aboard the USS Bataan on Thursday they could be there for “quite a while”. Gen. Frank McKenzie addressed the question of any near-term potential draw down of the extra forces: “we’ll work that out as we go ahead,” he said. Underscoring the Iran constitutes a serious “threat” he admitted:“I’m not sure how long you’re going to stay in the theater. We’ll work that out as we go ahead. Could be quite a while, could be less than that, just don’t know right now.”On the Iran threat specifically, he said further, “I do believe that they are deterred right now, at least from state-on-state actions by our response. And so I think that while that threat remains, I think we’re in a period where they’re certainly not seeking to escalate anything.” Ironically Gen. McKenzie’s words were given a day before possibly up to one million Iraqis protested across the country Friday demanding an end of America’s military presence.

No, Iran Won’t Have A Nuclear Bomb ‘In A Matter Of Months’ American Conservative. Scott Ritter. As Iran puts the final nail in its nuclear agreement with the West, hyperbolic headlines have warned that the Islamic Republic could have a nuclear weapon “within months.” Politicians have said it, pundits have repeated it, and hawkish national security experts proclaim it with barely disguised excitement. Don’t believe it for a second. The entire formulation of Iran’s “breakout period” after which they would present their first and only nuclear bomb is based on an artificial construct—great for talking points and fear mongering from podiums, but in no sense a scientific reality.  The fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon has been at the top of a list of so-called malign activities undertaken by the Iranian government that the Trump administration alleges threaten regional security and by extension U.S. national interests. While the issues on this list are not new (having defined U.S.-Iranian relations for the better part of two decades), the stakes involved have never been higher. The framework of agreements that have held the Iranian nuclear program in check during this time have deteriorated to the point of collapse, and the ramifications promise to be dire. At the heart of the crisis with Iran is a nuclear enrichment program that has been subjected to an unprecedented degree of international scrutiny, and about which there is virtually nothing that is unknown in terms of its present composition and functioning. As a signatory to the nonproliferation treaty (Iran signed the NPT in 1968 and ratified it in 1970), Iran’s nuclear activities are subjected to safeguards inspections carried out under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Pentagon Now Says 50 US Troops Suffered Brain Injuries in Iran’s Missile Strike - — The Pentagon casually slipped in an update to their ever evolving casualty numbers from the Jan.8 Iranian ballistic missile attack on Ayn al-Assad air base in Iraq, which the American public was initially told resulted in “no casualties” and that “all is well”:   The Pentagon now says 50 American military service members suffered traumatic brain injuries following Iran’s Jan. 8 missile attack on a base in western Iraq that was housing the U.S. military personnel. — ABC News“Of these 50, 31 total service members were treated in Iraq and returned to duty, including 15 of the additional service members who have been diagnosed since the previous report,” Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell said late Tuesday. “Eighteen service members have been transported to Germany for further evaluation and treatment.”To review, Trump’s first address to the nation following the major unprecedented attack on US forces in retaliation for Qassem Soleimani’s death indicated “no casualties” and that “all is well!”. Two weeks later, the Pentagon stunned reporters by indicating 11 US troops actually suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI). And two days after this the count shot up to 34, and it became evident that among these up to half had serious enough injuries to be evacuated to hospitals outside the country, with most transferred to Germany, and some later taken back to the United States for continued observation. Four days following last Friday’s “34” update, we’re now up to 50 troops injured. In summary, the figures went from zero to 11 to 34 to 50… and who knows where from here. It must also be remembered that US officials and media pundits slammed Iranian state media for its repeat claims that the Jan.8 ballistic missile attack resulted in major casualties. Iranian media went so far as to report emergency medical evacuations of US personnel from the scene. US officials scoffed and laughed at this “fake news” at the time and just days ago the semi-official major Iranian media outlet Fars News had its English news website taken offline by order of US Treasury for sanctions violations and state propaganda.

Iran's Fars News Knocked Off Web By US Treasury Order - Iran's well-known state media outlet Fars News Agency says US sanctions have knocked it off the internet. As of Friday and into early Saturday the domain remained inaccessible while the outlet says it quickly alternately established English content on, which remains live. Iran says the US Treasury Department shut down international access to its English news site due to new regulations related to US sanctions. Domain Blocked Under US Sanctions— Fars News Agency (@EnglishFars) January 25, 2020   It's not the first time state-linked Iranian media outlets have had access to Western audiences blocked, with PressTV complaining in recent months about being blocked on YouTube and other popular social media sites; however it's less common for their domains to be blocked. Fars outlet issued a Farsi language tweet Friday which reads according to a translation"From an hour ago, audience access to the Fars News Agency site has encountered a problem due to being placed on America's sanctions list, and the technical part of [this] News Agency is working to create access for the audience on the domain."It further said administrators of its state-controlled site were notified Friday that it was being shut down after the US Treasury Department ordered the drastic action it due to sanctions violations.

“It’s a Disaster for Europe To Be So Subservient to the U.S” - Der Spiegel. In an interview, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warns of the threat of escalation in the nuclear dispute. He says Tehran won't rule out negotiations with Washington, even after General Qassem Soleimani's assassination, if the U.S. changes course and lifts sanctions. He also shows understanding for the protests against the government.

Russian mercenaries, a CIA-linked general and lots of oil: Explaining Libya’s war - Libya has seen its oil production slashed by 75% in just one week as warring factions within the country attempt to use the key commodity to seize control. Output from Africa’s third-largest oil producer has plummeted from around 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) to just over 320,000 bpd, its state oil company said — an estimated loss of $256 million in revenue. That’s thanks to pipeline closures and blockades of export terminals last week by rebel groups under the command of rogue general Khalifa Haftar, whose militias are battling the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli to take control of the Libyan capital. Fighting in Libya resurged over the weekend, torching a cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey in early January. The move is a power play for Haftar, the charismatic leader whose fleet of Libyan militia groups, collectively known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), launched an assault on Tripoli last April that’s taken thousands of lives and displaced more than 140,000 people. The rabidly anti-Islamist Haftar is seen as the strongest power player within Libya — whose nearly decade-long conflict now involves several international powers — and his militias control the country’s east and much of its south. The east is home to the lion’s share of Libya’s oil facilities. The output drop in the OPEC state sent the price of Brent crude spiking last week and could be devastating for the Libyan economy. But regional analysts are calling it a quick leverage grab and questioning how long it will last, while noting that ample global crude supply and fears over China’s coronavirus are keeping a heavy lid on oil prices. The 76-year-old commander, who is credited with a major role in defeating Islamic State militants in 2016 alongside U.S. airstrikes, also happens to be an American passport holder. A rival of longtime Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Haftar lived in the Virginia suburbs for several years while working as a CIA asset to plot against the former leader. After the Arab Spring, he apparently spent several years back in Virginia to “enjoy his grandchildren,” he told the New Yorker Magazine in a 2015 interview. So Haftar poses a massive headache for the U.S. A former ally, they can’t exactly sideline him; but his violent assault for power stands in the way of a democratic Libya that Washington had hoped for after its NATO intervention helped topple Gadhafi in 2011 during the Arab Spring.

Turkey’s Erdogan: No military solution to the conflict in Libya -Unilateral recourse to force will not bring peace to Libya, Unilateral recourse to force will not bring peace to Libya, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cautioned on the first of a two-day visit to Algeria. "We reiterated that a solution to the conflict in Libya cannot be achieved through military means," Erdogan said during a press conference with his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, on Sunday. "We are constantly in touch with neighbouring countries and major international actors to reach a permanent ceasefire and a return to political dialogue." Erdogan earlier in the day lambasted eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar for violating a fragile truce between his Libyan National Army (LNA) and forces loyal to the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). Since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has hardly had a stable government. Fighting escalated in April after Haftar launched an offensive to wrest control of the capital, Tripoli, from the GNA, headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Haftar, who is affiliated with a rival government in the east and enjoys the backing of, among others, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France, says his military campaign is aimed at "cleansing" western Libya of "terrorist groups". His critics accuse him of being a new Gaddafi in the making.:

The War in Libya Will Never End - General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) continue to partly encircle Libya’s capital, Tripoli. Not only does the LNA threaten Tripoli, but it is within striking distance of Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata. Both Tripoli and Misrata are in the hands of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is backed by the United Nations and—most strongly—by Turkey. The second-largest city—Benghazi—is in the hands of Haftar’s LNA. Haftar’s LNA is backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Russia. There has always been a whiff of suspicion that Haftar himself is an old CIA asset—having lived under the shadow of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, for decades. What the NATO war on Libya did to that country is to turn it into a battlefield of other people’s ambitions, to reduce Libya into a chessboard for a multidimensional game that is hard to explain and even harder to end. On January 19, the United Nations and the German government held a conference in Berlin on the Libyan question. Curiously, the two belligerent parties from Libya were in Berlin but did not attend the conference. General Haftar of the LNA and Fayez Serraj of the GNA stayed in their hotels to be briefed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the UN representative on Libya Ghassan Salamé. In 2012, the UN had said that no conference should be held that is not “inclusive” and does not have the stakeholders at the table. Nonetheless, the point of this exercise was not so much to create a deal within Libya as to stop the import of arms and logistics into Libya. “We commit to refraining from interference in the armed conflict or in the internal affairs of Libya,” agreed the external parties, “and urge all international actors to do the same.” External backers of each of the sides—Egypt, France, Russia, Turkey, the United States—were all signatories of this agreement. You can imagine that none of them will take it seriously. Merkel hastened to Istanbul after the Berlin conference to solidify the pact she has made with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who then flew to Algeria to say that he would not appreciate external intervention into Libya. It is not Erdoğan alone who sounded bewildering—all the other leaders who came to Berlin made similar remarks. You stay out of Libya, they said, but we will have to be involved in any way we think appropriate. Turkey has provided the GNA with arms and logistical assistance, and it has helped bring a few hundred Syrian jihadis to Libya to assist the GNA-backed militias. The UN released a statement recently with a clear indication that the deal is not worth its paper. “Over the last ten days,” the UN notes, “numerous cargo and other flights have been observed landing at Libyan airports in the western and eastern parts of the country providing the parties with advanced weapons, armoured vehicles, advisers and fighters.” It does not name the countries that continue to violate the embargo, but everyone knows who they are.

Turkey Deploys Warships, Air Defenses & Heavy Armor To Libya - The Libyan National Army (LNA) announced that Turkey had deployed two Turkish warships, anti-aircraft missiles and air defense systems to the capital city of Tripoli.In addition to this accusation, the LNA said the Turkish military sent at least 3,000 Syrian militants to Libya since late December. “The number of Syrian mercenaries transported by Turkey to Libya exceeded three thousand,” the Libyan National Army spokesman, Major General Ahmed al-Mesmari said at a press conference yesterday evening, noting that “Ankara transported dangerous terrorists from Syria to Libya through the Misrata and Mitiga airports and Port of Tripoli.”Weeks after the Turkish government announced plans to send various forces to Libya to support that country's internationally recognized government, there are now indications that those deployments are well underway. Two Turkish Navy Gabya class frigates have appeared off the coast of Tripoli, the official Libyan capital, and there are reports emerging now that Turkish troops and heavy armor are arriving in that city, too.The French President, Emmanuel Macron, accused Turkey of violating the pledges it had made during the Berlin conference held on January 19 to settle the Libyan crisis, noting that France had monitored during the past days ships transporting Syrian mercenaries to Libya. — The DriveBig News: Turkish Frigates Appear Off Tripoli, Libya amid Reports of Turkish Troops and Tanks Landing Ashore  Islamist Erdogan's warships, soldiers & tanks arrive from Turkey to support GNA militias & Syrian mercenaries against Libyan Parliament-backed LNA— James Wheeler (@wheelertweets) January 29, 2020Macron said, during a press conference with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Paris, that “Turkey has broken its promises it made during the Berlin conference.” Macron further said, “In recent days, we detected Turkish ships carrying Syrian mercenaries who arrived in Libya.”

Turkey Demands Greece "Demilitarize" 16 Aegean Islands Amid Gas Drilling Dispute - At a moment tensions are soaring over Turkey's expansive East Mediterranean claims, and after starting early last summer it began sending oil and gas exploration and drilling ships off Cyprus' coast, Ankara is demanding that Greece “demilitarize” its islands in the Aegean Sea, reports Bloomberg. The demand from Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who formally requested Greece move to withdraw armed forces and weaponry from 16 Aegean islands near Turkey on Wednesday, is rich given it's Turkey that's been provocatively sending warships and military jets to accompany illegal gas drilling in the area, something lately condemned by the EU. “Greece, arming 16 out of 23 islands with non-military status, in violation of agreements in the Aegean sea, should act in accordance with international law,” said Defense Minister Akar, cited in state-run Anadolu Agency. “We expect Greece to act in line with international law and the agreements it has signed,” he added. Though becoming increasingly internationally isolated over the drilling issue in EU-member Cyrpus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Turkey has remained unmoved and at times is positively boastful about it.  Not shying away from admitting Turkish maritime claims now stretch from Cypriot waters all the way to Libya (based on a controversial recent maritime boundary 'deal' signed with the Tripoli Government of National Accord), Akar further had this to say according to state mediaIn addition to the fight against terrorism, Turkey's activities are ongoing in the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean, off Cyprus, and Libya, Akar said, adding that they are carried out in accordance with international law and the territorial integrity of the countries. Turkey is a guarantor country for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and is committed to fulfilling its responsibilities, he said. "The Cyprus issue is our national issue. Whatever we need to do there, we've done so far and will continue to do so. We will continue to protect the rights of both our own and Cypriot brothers," he added.

Turkey Moves Toward Passage Of Controversial "Marry Your Rapist" Law - We have often discussed the struggle of women in Muslim countries in resisting religious-based requirements for coverings and limitations on their movements and interactions. Turkey was once the exception among these countries as a secular, modern nation. That was before the rise of Islamic parties under the authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey under Erdogan has already rolled back on protections for girls and women in abuse cases. Now the country is considering a horrific law aptly called the “marry-your-rapist” bill.  Under this legislation, men accused of having sex with underaged girls could avoid punishment if they marry their victims. We have discussed the continuing practice of forced marriages and sexual abuse of girls in Muslim countries, including clerics who insist that girls as young as nine are ready for marriage. This law would effectively allow men to buy their way out of punishment by striking a deal with a victim’s family. Since many girls come from poor families, the opportunity to buy your way out of a rape case is high. Not only has Erdogan destroyed the country’s secular traditions but eviscerated civil liberties and press freedoms. Women quickly felt the pressure of his Islamic parties. Erdogan himself declared that a woman who did not bear children was “incomplete” and that equality with men was “against nature.” He declared bluntly: “You cannot put women and men on an equal footing. It is against nature.”

 Yemen's Houthis seize key route in deadly clashes around capital - Yemen's Houthi rebels made gains against government troops north and east of the capital Sanaa on Monday, seizing a strategic road in deadly fighting, loyalist military officials said. The pro-government sources told the AFP that the rebels had captured the route that connects Sanaa to the provinces of Marib, to the east, and Jawf to the north. Dozens have been killed or wounded in the fighting around Sanaa in the past 48 hours, according to the military sources, but they were not able to give precise figures. "The Houthis are now seeking to take Hazm, the capital of Jawf province," one official told AFP on condition of anonymity. The rebels were now just five kilometres from the city, this source added. Before the latest upsurge in fighting, Jawf province had been mostly controlled by the Houthis, with its capital still in the hands of the government. Marib province is partly under Houthi control, with its capital also held by government forces. The renewed fighting erupted nearly two weeks ago with a 18 January missile strike on a pro-government military camp that killed 116 people.

 Yemen's Houthis Launch Failed Missile Attack On Saudi Aramco Facility - Yemen's Houthis claimed Wednesday its Shia militants targeted Saudi Aramco facilities with a missile strike in Jizan on the Red Sea in the kingdom's south, which caused a brief surge in oil, jumping above $54 a barrel in New York, before it slipped back down to a nearly 3-month low on reports that no missiles reached their intended targets, leading to skepticism about the Houthi statement. An hour after the announcement briefly rattled oil markets, a Saudi oil official indicated that all missiles were intercepted by Saudi defenses — though details still remain unclear and unconfirmed, especially the timeline of when the attack allegedly happened. It marks the first such Houthi attack on Aramco facilities since the major Sept.14 drone and missile strikes which severely damaged two facilities deep inside Saudi Arabia, knocking all the country's production offline for at least a day. Reuters reports: "Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saria did not give a timeframe for the assault." State oil giant Aramco itself has not issued confirmation or denial. And further, the Houthi military statement indicated "the group that has been battling a Saudi-led military coalition for nearly five years had also targeted non-energy Saudi facilities near the border with Yemen," according to Reuters. Typically either the Saudis or Houthis themselves release some level of video evidence for such major rocket attacks. In past rocket attacks from Yemen onto Saudi soil, Riyadh has released images of missile debris which fell short of the intended target. The Saudis have yet to provide proof that an "intercept" did in fact take place. The Jazan facility, while not a crude oil production or major export site, is home to a 400,000 barrel-a-day Aramco refinery, which is further expected to operate at full capacity by the end of 2020.

U.S. Navy Confirms Incident Off Coast Of UAE As Oil Tanker Burns - Footage of a crude tanker off the coast of the Emirate of Sharjah, UAE, surfaced on Twitter about an hour ago.Thick black smoke is seen billowing from the mid-section of a massive crude tanker moored off the coast.BREAKING: Footage of Tanker on fire off the coast of the Emirate if Sharjah, UAE #oott #tanker #fire— Katie McQue (@katiemcque) January 29, 2020   The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet has just confirmed there's an incident off the coast of UAE'S SHARJAH but didn't describe what was happening.  The "incident" comes hours after Yemen's Houthi rebels launched a missile attack on a Saudi Aramco facility, but an official report has indicated missile defense systems intercepted the projectiles before they could hit their intended targets. Tensions in the Middle East are surging again as crude plunges almost 20%, or just about the technical level of declaring a bear market, in 14 sessions as the coronavirus outbreak across China has traders more worried about a reduced demand outlook.

Trump leaps into Middle East fray with peace plan that Palestinians denounce - (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday proposed creating a Palestinian state as part of a Middle East peace plan, drawing Palestinian condemnation for imposing strict conditions and agreeing to let Israel maintain control of long-contested West Bank settlements. Trump announced his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace at a White House event with embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing at his side. It includes what Trump called a four-year freeze by Israel on new settlement activity. Although Trump’s stated aim was to end decades of conflict, the plan he advanced favored Israel, underscored by the absence of Palestinians from Trump’s announcement. It seemed unlikely to immediately advance Israeli-Palestinian talks that broke down in 2014, but the plan was called “an important starting point for a return to negotiations” by the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia and Egypt also offered encouraging statements. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, however, mocked what Trump has called the “deal of the century,” describing it as the “slap of the century.” Palestinians have refused to deal with the Trump administration in protest at pro-Israel policies such as moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the eastern part of which is sought by the Palestinians. Trump set in motion a four-year timeline for Palestinians to agree to a security arrangement with Israel, halt attacks by the Islamist militant group Hamas and set up governing institutions in order to establish a Palestinian state with its capital in Abu Dis, a part of east Jerusalem. That too poses a potential problem for Palestinians. Abu Dis is a West Bank village just east of the Israeli municipal boundaries for Jerusalem. Palestinians living in Abu Dis are cut off by a high concrete Israeli security wall and checkpoints. Palestinians reject any proposal that does not envision a Palestinian capital in all of East Jerusalem, which includes the walled Old City. Trump’s plan says that barrier should serve as a border between the capitals of the two states, adding that Jerusalem should remain Israel’s undivided, sovereign capital.

Deal of the century offers non-sovereign Palestinian state - US President Donald Trump’s deal of the century offers a non-sovereign Palestinian state which would not have an army or call East Jerusalem its capital, Rassd reported yesterday. Quoting Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Rassd said Trump expects Palestinian Authority (PA), PLO and Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas to reject it. He will, therefore, give the deal a four-year-preparation period in the hopes of Abbas’ successor accepting it. Yedioth Ahronoth reported Israeli officials saying that the non-sovereign Palestinian state will be established on 70 per cent of the area of the occupied West Bank with Jerusalem’s neighbourhood of Shuafat as its capital. Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa Mosque and all other holy sites, would remain under Israeli control. The Muslim and Christian sites would, however, be administered jointly by the PA and Israel. Between 30 and 40 per cent of Area C in the occupied West Bank will be annexed by Israel. Fifteen Israeli Jewish settlements would remain isolated and 60 settlement posts with 3,000 settlers will be dismantled. According to the Oslo Accords, the occupied West Bank is divided into three areas: A, B and C. Area A, which includes 18 per cent of the West Bank, is under full administrative and security control of the PA. Area B, which includes 21 per cent of the occupied West Bank, is under the administrative control of the PA and the security control of the Israeli occupation. Area C, which includes 61 per cent of the West Bank, is under full administrative and security control of Israel. During the four years of preparation, building in Area C is to be frozen completely.

Trump unveils farcical Mideast “peace plan” as Netanyahu is indicted - Donald Trump joined with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House Tuesday to publicly unveil what the US president described as his “vision for peace” in the Middle East. It was a farcical proposal, endorsing all of the policies of the Israeli right while guaranteeing rejection by the Palestinian people. The timing of the release of the “vision,” which is supposedly the brainchild of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and the product of over two years of work, was patently set to meet the immediate political needs of both Trump and Netanyahu. It came as Trump’s impeachment trial in the US Senate continued into its second week and only hours after Netanyahu was formally indicted on charges of fraud and bribery. The indictment came after Netanyahu dropped a futile attempt to win a vote in the Israeli Knesset granting him immunity from prosecution. Trump’s announcement clearly was aimed at boosting the badly tattered image of Netanyahu, who faces his third election contest in less than a year. During the last round of voting, Trump similarly tried to promote the Israeli prime minister’s chances by announcing US recognition of Israel’s illegal claim to the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. The Trump administration has also recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving its embassy there, and has cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians. Late last year, it announced that it no longer regarded Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory as “inconsistent with international law.” In what amounted to self-parody, Trump proclaimed a “historic breakthrough” for the plan on the grounds that he had succeeded in winning approval from both Netanyahu and his rival in the Israeli elections set for March 2, Benny Gantz, the Blue and White Party candidate, who is a former chief of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Gantz, in an attempt to offset the obvious effort to boost Netanyahu’s status as a world statesman, flew to Washington on Monday and met with Trump privately before flying back to Israel for the anticipated vote on Netanyahu’s bid for immunity. That this “breakthrough” included absolutely no discussion, much less agreement, with any Palestinian representative was taken as a matter of course. The US president allowed that the Palestinians would have four years to accommodate themselves to the US-Israeli diktat, while his son-in-law threatened that this would be their “last chance” to obtain an independent Palestinian state.

Israel Will Vote Sunday To Annex West Bank Lands Delineated In Trump's 'Peace Plan' -Immediately following Trump's unveiling details of his 'deal of the century' Mideast peace plan alongside Israeli PM Netanyahu at the White House, Netanyahu announced that Israel will move forward to vote Sunday to annex some 30% of all West Bank territory.Netanyahu said that "Israel will apply its laws to the Jordan Valley and to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria." This means a million or so Palestinian residents could come under Israeli rule, which sparked a fierce backlash both internationally and among some members of US Congress.  Look on Bibi’s face tells you how good #DealOfTheCentury is to Palestinians — EHSANI2 (@EHSANI22) January 28, 2020   "This is not a peace plan. It is theft. It is erasure," Left-wing congresswoman Ilhan Omar tweeted following Trump and Netanyahu's midday remarks. It was immediately seen by many pundits as setting up Israeli hardliners for a big land grab which concedes all to Israel without even consulting the Palestinian side on the 'deal', per The Washington Post: The package is expected to propose a redrawn border between Israel and the West Bank that would formalize Israeli control over large Jewish settlements. It would give U.S. blessing to some forms of Israeli security control over the territory Israel seized in 1967 and has occupied since, according to two people familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity before the plan’s release. Another Democrat, Michigan representative Andy Levin, slammed the plan for not in reality being a "two-state solution" - instead he noted it's "in name only".  This is what a future State of Palestine can look like, with a capital in parts of East Jerusalem. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2020"Don't be fooled," Rep. Levin wrote on Twitter. The proposed plan not is not promising "a lasting peace that will protect Israel's future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people or fulfill Palestinians’ aspirations for self-determination," he said. Aside from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority under Abbas immediately rejecting the plan to which they were not privy, nor had any negotiating role (after already declaring it would be dead on arrival), Turkey was among the first internationally to condemn it.

Palestinian Authority cuts ties with Israel and U.S. - (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority has cut all ties with the United States and Israel, including those relating to security, after rejecting a Middle East peace plan presented by U.S. President Donald Trump, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday. Abbas was in Cairo to address the Arab League, which backed the Palestinians in their opposition to Trump’s plan. The blueprint, endorsed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calls for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state that excludes Jewish settlements built in occupied territory and is under near-total Israeli security control. “We’ve informed the Israeli side ... that there will be no relations at all with them and the United States including security ties,” Abbas told the one-day emergency meeting, called to discuss Trump’s plan. Israeli officials had no immediate comment on his remarks. Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s security forces have long cooperated in policing areas of the occupied West Bank that are under Palestinian control. The PA also has intelligence cooperation agreements with the CIA, which continued even after the Palestinians began boycotting the Trump administration’s peace efforts in 2017. Abbas also said he had refused to discuss the plan by with Trump by phone, or to receive even a copy of it to study it: “Trump asked that I speak to him by phone but I said ‘no’, and that he wants to send me a letter ... but I refused it.” Abbas said he did not want Trump to be able to say that he, Abbas, had been consulted. He reiterated his “complete” rejection of the Trump plan, presented on Tuesday. 

Israel's settlements: Over 50 years of land theft explained - Al Jazeera interactive - To the casual visitor or tourist driving through the occupied West Bank or Jerusalem, Israeli settlements may appear as just another set of houses on a hill. The middle-class suburban style townhouses, built fast and locked in a grid of uniform units, stand like fortified compounds, in direct contrast to the sprawling limestone Palestinian homes below. Settlement homes, mostly constructed of cement with a cosmetic limestone cladding, tend to fashion a similar look: American-style villas topped by red-tiled roofs and surrounded by lush, neatly trimmed green lawns. By 2018, there were 611,000 Israeli settlers living in 250 settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law. The largest settlement, Modi'in Illit, houses more than 70,000 Israeli Jews in the occupied West Bank. The mega-settlement has its own mayor, as well as schools, shopping malls and medical centres. Some settlements even have their own universities. Today, between 600,000 and 750,000 Israelis live in these sizeable settlements, equivalent to roughly 11 percent of the total Jewish Israeli population. They live beyond the internationally recognised borders of their state, on Palestinian land that Israel occupied in 1967, comprising East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Since then, the Israeli government has openly funded and built settlements for Israeli Jews to live there, offering incentives and subsidised housing. So why have these housing compounds caused so much rancour and been called a threat to the prospect of peace in the Holy Land? Follow this journey to find out.

Families in Disbelief After Israeli Army Kills Three Gaza Teens — On Tuesday afternoon, just before maghrib – the fourth daily Muslim call to prayer – Mohammed Abu Mandel, Salem al-Naami and Mahmoud Saed decided to take a break from their studies and spend some time on family farmland in the northern besieged Gaza Strip. The plan, family and friends told Middle East Eye, was to light a bonfire and relax ahead of the high-pressure tawjihi exams that would mark the end of high school in a few months’ time. But the three 17-year-olds never came home.That evening, Israeli forces shot and killed the three boys, alleging that they had crossed the separation barrier between the blockaded Palestinian enclave and Israel in an attempt to carry out an attack. The teenagers’ families have vehemently rejected the accusations, as they seek to understand what happened to their sons, whose bodies Israel is now withholding. According to a friend of the slain teenagers, who asked not to be named, Mohammed, Salem and Mahmoud gathered in the square of the village of al-Zawayda on Tuesday afternoon after a long day at school.“It was about an hour before sunset, and they decided to go to some farmland owned by Salem’s family,” the friend told MEE. “They just wanted a break from hard studying.”The Naami family’s land is located some 200 metres from the fence that separates Gaza from Israel east of the Maghazi refugee camp. While the area is often monitored by Israeli forces – which enforce a ‘buffer zone’ hundreds of metres into the Palestinian territory – the teenagers regularly came to the area to relax around a bonfire, the friend said.“I had plans at home, so I didn’t go with them,” he recalled. “I was busy and forgot about them, until later that night when I heard the news. I called their families to find out what happened, but none of them had returned home.” At around 11 pm that night, a relative called Mohammed’s father, Hani Abu Mandel, asking in veiled terms if he knew where his son was after reading news about young Palestinians being killed by Israeli forces. Hani said Mohammed was out with his friends, but began to worry. He tried to call his son’s phone, only to get no response.An Israeli army statement said the three teenagers had crossed some 400 metres into Israel and were hiding in a thicket when a military jeep approached them. The army said that the young men threw two objects believed to be explosives at the jeep, prompting soldiers to open fire, killing them all.But Mohammed’s father refused to believe the army’s version of events.“The closest he ever got to resisting [against Israel] was by attending the Great March of Return protests a few times,” Hani said of his son. “He never held a gun, he didn’t participate in any military groups and I’m sure he didn’t know how to make a grenade. “If the boys crossed the border, I bet they did it for entertainment only and were unaware of what the consequences could be. The Israelis are lying.”

US airstrikes in Afghanistan hit ten-year high in 2019 - The US Air Force reported Monday that it carried out more airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2019 than any year in the last decade. Manned and unmanned aircraft dropped 7,423 bombs, topping the previous decade high of 7,362 in 2018. Nearly two decades into its criminal neocolonial occupation, the United States government is dropping an average of 20 bombs on the country per day. The rise in airstrikes has resulted in an increase of civilian casualties at the hands of the US military with a UN report from December finding that American attacks from January to October had claimed the lives of 579 civilians and wounded 306, a third higher than in 2018. Among the US massacres which made headlines last year was a drone strike at the end of November which killed an entire family, including three women, in Khost province. The attack came just one day after President Donald Trump made a Thanksgiving Day photo-op appearance at Bagram Air Base, flying in and out in the dark of night. In September a drone strike in Nangarhar province, along the border with Pakistan, killed 30 farm workers and injured 40 others as they were sleeping after a day’s work picking and shelling pine nuts. By conservative estimates, the 18-year-old US-led war and occupation of the country has directly resulted in the deaths of more than 157,000 people, including 43,000 Afghan civilians, with hundreds of thousands of others dying from the effects of the fighting. More than 3,500 US and other NATO soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan and thousands more wounded over the years. Seventeen American soldiers died in Afghanistan in 2019, the highest number since 2015. Even as the number of US troops in the country has fallen to 12,000—down from a peak of 100,000 during Barack Obama’s surge in 2009—and 4,000 more expected to leave the country soon, the Pentagon has pursued a dramatic increase in the pace of airstrikes as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure the Taliban into agreeing to a settlement in the longest war in American history. Trump threatened last year that he could quickly kill “10 million” Afghans and wipe the country of 35 million “off the face of the Earth,” while insisting that he hoped for a negotiated agreement. The Afghan-Pakistan border was the chosen site for the dropping of the largest nonnuclear weapon in the US arsenal, the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, in April 2017, demonstrating that there were no restraints on what the US military would do in pursuit of American imperialist interests.

Taliban Claims It Shot Down US Spy Plane Over Afghanistan - In a stunning breaking development, video and images from the crash site of a downed aircraft in Afghanistan appears to show that an Air Force airborne communications jet has crashed. The Taliban is claiming responsibility while further saying "high ranking US military personnel" and "CIA members" were on board, though this is not verified."A U.S. Air Force’s E-11A BACN (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node) crashed during the morning on Jan. 27, 2020 in Afghanistan," aircraft analysis site The Aviationist writes, noting identifying features from local video. "The mishap happened in the Taliban-controlled area in Dih Yak, Ghazni. Early reports identified the jet as a passenger aircraft from Ariana Afghan Airlines, but the company immediately denied the reports." Other independent aviation and military analysts were quick to agree that it's an Air Force surveillance and communications aircraft, after international headlines described that a "mystery crash" occurred over Taliban-controlled territory.  It's unclear how many crew members and personnel were on board, but local footage doesn't appear to show survivors. Local Afghan government officials have confirmed a plane went down. CBS is reporting the bodies of at least two crew members have been found among the wreckage. The US Army is said to be investigating. Update (0955ET): The Taliban is now claiming that all U.S. military personnel on the U.S. Air Force's E-11A BACN plane were killed. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said, "a special American aircraft which was flying over Afghanistan for an intelligence mission was technically shot down by the Taliban." Mujahed said the crash occurred in the Taliban-controlled Sado Khel area of the Deh Yak district in Ghazni province on Monday. He added that "all on board including high-ranking CIA officers were killed."

Top CIA Chief 'Killed in Downing of US Jet' - Iranian media outlets claim “many CIA” officers were killed in a plane crash in Afghanistan on Monday. The Taliban initially asserted large numbers of Americans were killed, and Russian media and Iranian media then said a senior CIA officer responsible for killing IRGC Gen. Qasem Soleimani was on board. The claim has been greeted with skepticism.Michael D’Andrea’s name began to appear in Farsi media in the wake of the Soleimani killing when articles at Mehr News and Radio Farda claimed he was involved in planning the US operation. Later, on January 27, his name appeared again in rumors after the plane crash. There are many who might have an interest in spreading conspiracies about the Taliban downing high-ranking US intelligence officers. Nevertheless, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency ran with the story, quoting Russian sources that said the “assassin of Soleimani was on the plane and [was] killed in the crash.” It claims that D’Andrea “is the most prominent figure in the US CIA in the Middle East. He has been in charge of operations in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.” The Taliban was quoted as saying it had shot down the plane. Tasnim refers to D’Andrea as “Ayatollah Mike” and “the Prince of Darkness,” relying on old US newspaper clippings. Press TV of Iran has also included the report, claiming top CIA officers were killed and repeating rumors about D’Andrea. But the original reports from the Taliban only spoke of a plane being shot down and some CIA members allegedly being on it. The US says an American E-11A plane was shot down in Ghazni province, around 900 km. from the Iranian border.Linking its downing to the Soleimani killing would be a major development and appear to show that Iran is active in Afghanistan with the Taliban,a claim that has been made in the past. Iran watches US movements in Afghanistan carefully and has met with the Taliban recently. Iran has also tried to down US drones that stray near Iran’s border. The US has dropped a record number of bombs on the Taliban in the last year, as it also tried to push it toward the peace table.

Hundreds of Huts of ‘Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants’ Razed in Bengaluru, Turns Out All Are Indians  -Days after BJP MLA Arvind Limbavalli tweeted a video of shantytowns in North Bengaluru’s Kariyammana Agrahara area, claiming that the settlements belong to illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, the houses were razed to the ground on Sunday and rendered thousands homeless. The electricity and water supply to the location was cut off three days ago.After the demolition of the shanties, the residents, mostly migrants from Assam, Tripura, some even from North Karnataka, were allegedly asked to vacate the land.The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), in a letter, stated that the sheds were built illegally by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who converted the area to a slum, which led to the deterioration of conditions in the neighbourhood, following which the municipality received several complaints. Earlier, on Januray 11, the Bengaluru police issued a notice to the owner of survey no. 35/2 that said that the sheds were built on the land without proper approval. The cops claimed that the sheds housed illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and the notice asked the owner to clear the encroachments and furnish details of the residents. "We have not asked anyone to move. We have asked the owners to furnish details of the residents there. This is after 60 Bangladeshi illegal immigrants were detained from North Bengaluru in October 2018," said MN Anucheth, DCP, Whitefield, adding that he did not know of police asking them to vacate.

As Angola Accuses Billionaire Isabel Dos Santos Of Fraud, Her Empire Begins To Unravel - Isabel dos Santos amassed an empire worth more than $2 billion as the daughter of Angola’s former long-time president. Now it looks like that empire is beginning to crumble.On Wednesday—as the Attorney General of Angola held a press conference to provisionally charge Isabel dos Santos with embezzlement and money laundering, according to the BBC—a bank in Portugal where she has been a significant shareholder issued a statement saying that Dos Santos’ stake is being sold.   EuroBic, a small privately held bank in Lisbon in which Dos Santos has owned a 42.5% stake, issued a statement on Monday that it was severing its business relationship with Dos Santos and the entities related to her. On Wednesday EuroBic announced that Dos Santos had decided to sell her stake in the bank, which has about $8 billion in assets. Forbes recently valued Dos Santos’ 42.5% stake at around $200 million.Dos Santos has come under intense scrutiny this past week after a number of media outlets, including the New York Times, the BBC and The Guardian, published articles based on the “Luanda Leaks”—a cache of some 700,000 documents related to Dos Santos’ allegedly corrupt business dealings that were released to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).Dos Santos was appointed to head Angola’s state oil company, Sonangol, in 2016, when her father was still president of the country. (He retired in 2017 after ruling Angola for 38 years.)

Australia Asked Gay Asylum Seekers If They Could Stay In The Closet To Avoid Persecution - Gay asylum seekers seeking protection in Australia were asked by government officials if they could pretend to be straight to avoid persecution in their home countries. The questioning by Australian immigration officers is revealed in a 2018 internal review of 21 interviews with people seeking asylum because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, which BuzzFeed News obtained under freedom of information laws. In four of the 21 randomly-chosen interviews, asylum seekers were asked whether they could be discreet about their homosexuality to avoid harm if they were returned to their home country. Three had claimed they were discreet about their sexuality in Australia as well as their home countries. Their interviewers then asked whether they could continue to be discreet — effectively, if they could stay in the closet — to avoid harm if they were returned to their home countries. In the fourth case, an openly gay Iranian man was asked how he would have to live in Iran, and whether he would have to be discreet or could live openly as a gay man. In 2003, deciding on a case of two men who claimed protection because they were gay and in a relationship but were not out in Bangladesh, Australia's highest court ruled that sexuality-based claims could not be dismissed simply because a person could act discreetly in their home country. Instead, officers and tribunals are meant to ask what would happen if a person lived openly, and whether they have remained in the closet because of a genuine risk of harm. The review showed that "some 20% of LGBT applicants are still not getting a fair hearing of their claims", Equality Australia's legal director Ghassan Kassisieh told BuzzFeed News.

Mexican Military Stops Migrant Caravan In Its Tracks - A caravan of Central American migrants was stopped in its tracks last week by the Mexican National Guard, which arrested migrants as they crossed the river at the border town of Tecun Uman and hauled them off to a detention center in the nearby city of Tapachula. "I can see that these caravans are no longer going to pass," said 56-year-old Mexican street merchant Miguel Ángel Vázquez, who has seen throngs of migrants stream past his front door while making the northbound journey to the United States southern border. On Thursday, migrants and Mexican national guard troops faced off on a rural highway in the far-southern Mexican city of Frontera Hidalgo - across from the river border between Mexico and Guatemala that hundreds of mostly-Honduran migrants crossed before dawn. After walking for hours before stopping at the crossroads where Vázquez's food stand lies, hundreds of national guard troops advanced their lines to within 100 yards of the migrants. Following a brief negotiation, members of the caravan knelt to the ground, chanting "we want to pass." The national guardsmen instead advanced on the group, banging their plastic shields with batons as they shoved and pepper sprayed the migrants in a massive round-up. In total, around 800 migrants were detained. 

Turkey Behind Major 'State-Backed Cyber-Espionage' Targeting Europe & Middle East - After prior widespread state cyber-espionage operations were revealed connected to both Iran and Saudi Arabia in the past months, a new bombshell Reuters investigation has exposed a new alleged Turkish government-linked hacking operation which has targeted organizations across Europe and the Middle East for the past two years. Citing multiple senior Western defense and security officials as well as public internet records the new report concludes at least 30 organizations ranging from government ministries to embassies to international companies have been targeted by hackers who appear to be doing the bidding of Turkey. Notably the Greek and Cypriot governments and their state email services have topped the list of targets. The Cypriot government confirmed it was targeted as part of the operation but did not give details. Iraq's government, specifically national security offices, were also identified in the report as a prime target. Security officials said that infrastructure registered in Turkey was used in the hacks, but did not reveal further details related to confidential intelligence assessments. But interestingly, at least one entity inside Turkey itself was allegedly hacked - a Turkish chapter of the Freemasons said to have ties to US-based Turkish opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen. The DNS-hijacking campaign is said to be similar in methodology detailed in separate prior reporting related to Iran known as DNSpionage. Reuters explains and summarizes the alleged Turkish hackers' methods as follows: The hackers used a technique known as DNS hijacking, according to the Western officials and private cybersecurity experts. This involves tampering with the effective address book of the internet, called the Domain Name System (DNS), which enables computers to match website addresses with the correct server.By reconfiguring parts of this system, hackers were able to redirect visitors to imposter websites, such as a fake email service, and capture passwords and other text entered there. Reuters reviewed public DNS records, which showed when website traffic was redirected to servers identified by private cybersecurity firms as being controlled by the hackers. All of the victims identified by Reuters had traffic to their websites hijacked - often traffic visiting login portals for email services, cloud storage servers and online networks — according to the records and cybersecurity experts who have studied the attacks. The new hacking revelations also come as tensions between Turkey and its longtime enemies Greece and Cyprus are soaring over Turkey oil and gas exploration and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, which the EU says has illegally cut into both countries' Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).

 EU Army Ambitions Crushed As German Troops Forced To Use Their Own Cars In War Drills  -French President Emmanuel Macron has routinely boasted about the creation of a powerful EU Army, but Macron's 'Napoleonic' ambitions may have run into a major issue with the German military falling apart.The latest report exposes how a major war exercise, which started last Thursday across Europe, had German troops using their own vehicles because of a shortage of infantry tanks as many were in disrepair.  The shortage of infantry vehicles is so bad that some soldiers are using their own cars, RT News said, citing local reports.  The exercise is one of the most massive drills in two decades, started last Thursday with thousands of German troops, along with other soldiers from ten different nations.  RT News said only about one-fifth of Puma infantry fighting vehicles were operational in mid-2019, which is one of the top reasons why combat troops had to use non-military vehicles for transportation during drills. .

A New Type of Conflict: France’s Ongoing Struggle for Pensions - Last October, I first started to get wind of a strike against Macron’s pension reform. As I am under 30, I didn’t think twice about it. I had yet to discover that this unprecedented call to strike is the clearest example to date of the changing nature of workers’ movements in France. Some call the shift a giletjaune-isation, because it comes from the bottom. A local assembly of trade unions at the RATP (Paris’ transport agency owned by the state) decided to strike on December 5. The strike was announced two months in advance and quickly rallied the railway workers. It has now lasted over 50 days. As I write, the strike is ongoing but has failed to produce concrete results, despite the very new modalities of action which express such profound human creativity and solidarity. Tensions have been extremely high since December 5, most notably in the first couple of weeks. On a couple of occasions, the Paris metro has been shut down and half of the trains in the country were not functioning. Companies have promoted working from home and university exams were either delayed for a month or even cancelled. The government and the “reformist” unions (centrists like the CFDT and UNSA) called for a truce during the Christmas holidays, which the workers in the major transport companies disobeyed. Both of those unions have since shown support for the reform, leading to a disconnect between their base and their leaders. Many have continued to strike and protest, while others have symbolically ripped up their membership cards and left the CFDT. The remainder of the unions, the Gilets Jaunes and individual citizens have called for a complete withdrawal of the pensions reform. The government had originally planned to present the pensions reform in 2019, but had to postpone this because of the Gilets Jaunes uprising. Since then, all that was known was that there would be a point-based system, which Belgium had rejected after mounting a large protest movement of its own. As the right-wing presidential candidate François Fillon famously told business owners in 2017, the only advantage of a point-based system is that it is easy to reduce pensions. Macron’s campaign promise concerning pensions was that he would create a universal pension scheme instead of the many schemes for different professions. The government insists the reform is about justice between different pension plans. They will be calculated based on one’s entire career, whereas it is currently the 25 best years in the private sector and the last six months of your career in the public sector where wages rise over time which are accounted for. Soon after the movement began in December, the government withdrew plans to change the pension scheme for stewards, police officers and the military to avoid trouble in key sectors. In all the precipitation and mishaps around the law, one thing has become apparent: there is little logic behind such a major law, as was expressed by the Conseil d’Etat (highest administrative court) last week. It will open a market of 320 billion euros for private pension funds, in which people will have to invest to live decently through retirement. One of the major targets of the law’s opponents is Blackrock, the famous American hedge fund, whose president of French operations received the Légion d’honneur, the French equivalent of a knighthood. Jean-Paul Delevoye, the minister in charge of the pensions reform, was pushed to quit once the public became aware of his multiple jobs including conflicts of interest regarding his involvement with insurance companies. So far, this has been the only true concession to the law’s opponents.

French Firefighters Set Selves Ablaze, Spar With Riot Cops As Yellow Vest Chaos Resumes - French firefighters have joined the mass anti-government protests raging across the country, with some setting themselves on fire and fighting with riot cops while arguing for a pay raise of 25%. Des pompiers s'immolent symboliquement avenue de la République #greve28janvier #grevepompiers  — Fabien Rives (@Fabien_Rives) January 28, 2020   Tensions en cours. Les #pompiers matraqués par la police #greve28janvier  — Jonathan Moadab (@MoadabJ) January 28, 2020    Fire brigade unions are demanding better pay and conditions and organised the demonstration in the capital’s Place de la Republique to bring attention to their cause today.They want a pay rise of 25% arguing their work is made increasingly difficult due to staff cuts and attacks against them.Paris police said firefighters who tried to break down or scale fencing near the Nation area of the city were dispersed by water cannon.Firefighters previously demonstrated in October – marked by clashes with the police – calling for better pay, guarantees of their pension benefits and greater respect for their profession.

More Trade Wars? British Prime Minister Boris Johnson To Threaten US, EU With Tariffs To Speed Up Trade Deals - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may use the threat of tariffs to force the U.S. and European Union to pursue trade deals with Britain, the London Times reported Saturday. The U.K. is set to leave the EU on Jan. 31, with the country needing new trade agreements to help it navigate the global economy.The Times said that Johnson could use 30% tariffs on French cheese and 10% duties on German cars in order to push the EU towards a new deal. If Johnson decides to pursue such a strategy, it could cause the EU or U.S. to retaliate with tariffs or measures of their own. Experts have expressed skepticism that the U.K. can soon achieve a comprehensive trade agreement.“It is more than a daunting task,” Lourdes Catrain, a partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells in Brussels, told the New York Times. “I am not saying it is impossible, but I am saying that it requires a lot of resources and very clear policies.” The U.K. and the U.S. hope to have a stronger trade relationship post-Brexit. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said that he is “quite optimistic” about reaching a trade deal with the U.K. this year.At the same time, the U.S. is unhappy with a proposal by the U.K. to implement a 2% digital tax on big tech companies. Digital taxes in France and Italy have previously angered the Trump administration, as they tend to overwhelmingly target U.S. tech companies such as Amazon and Google.  Johnson may be getting his tariffs strategy from President Trump, who has waged a trade war against China. Trump has implemented tariffs on Chinese goods, which he believes would revive U.S. manufacturing.

US treasury chief warns Javid to shelve plans for big tech firm tax Guardian -One of the most senior figures in the US government has warned Sajid Javid to delay a “discriminatory” tax on big tech companies, in the latest sign of tensions with Donald Trump’s administration ahead of critical trade talks.Steven Mnuchin, the US treasury secretary, used a breakfast meeting with the chancellor on Saturday to warn him directly against applying the new tax as part of his forthcoming budget. The confrontation comes as the US mounts a last-ditch attempt to stop Britain using technology from China’s Huawei in its 5G network.The US president again pressed Boris Johnson on Friday night not to give the green light to the use of Huawei technology, despite reassurances from Britain’s security services that they can mitigate any security risks posed by the company.It is among a mounting number of issues developing with the US in the run-up to trade deal talks later this year. The UK has also sided with European allies over the treatment of Iran, while the US has refused to extradite a woman charged with causing the death of teenage motorcyclist Harry Dunn.Speaking at Chatham House, in London, Mnuchin revealed that he had raised his concerns about the proposed digital services tax, which would mean a 2% levy being applied to sales of big tech firms, during a meeting at 11 Downing Street. “We believe that the [digital services tax] is a discriminatory tax,” he said. “We don’t think it’s appropriate.” He added that such a tax contained “violations to our tax treaties”.“We’re working through that and I think we have a good outcome of trying to give some room now in 2020 to continue these discussions,” he said. The UK has become isolated over the issue of a digital services tax after France announced it would drop its plan for a 3% levy on the revenues of large technology companies. Javid has so far resisted calls to ditch his version of the tax, although he has said it would be lifted once an international solution to taxing big tech companies was agreed. Going ahead with the levy is likely to provoke retaliation from the US, most likely in the form of tariffs on cars.

Brexit: a manifesto for peace  -Whatever else has been the result of the 2019 general election, the net effect has been to crush the "remainers" as an organised protest. Calls for another referendum have all but disappeared and, although a disconsolate rump is embracing a "rejoin" movement, it is unlikely that this will gain any political traction for the foreseeable future.All of this has led to a somewhat morose Nick Cohen to write in the Observer that, with Boris Johnson in control, "the danger is that liberals will give up the fight". From where he gets this "liberal" schtick, I really don't know, but I have difficulty with the idea that support for the EU is a liberal (with a small "l") value. Nevertheless, one takes the poor man's point – he is lamenting not only the demise of the anti-Brexiteers but their descent into "torpor"."The listless acceptance", he writes, "extends to those who believe that leaving the European Union is an act of monumental folly". What he concedes as "Brexit's inevitability", plus the possibility that we are in for another decade of right wing rule, is leading opponents of the status quo to retreat into private life, as the defeated so often do. I must say that I have found the idea of chucking this blog to concentrate on my passion for building scale models is increasingly attractive, and have already retreated from Twitter where the cacophony of aimless noise and the self-referential love-fests serve no useful purpose. But, taking heed of the warning that, if you don't take an interest in politics, it will take an interest in you, I am prepared to continue to invest the six hours and more spent daily researching and writing posts – and the many more hours monitoring and moderating the comments. Where Cohen does himself less than a favour though is that, while he is full of dire predictions of the woes that are about to befall us, he has little to offer by way of any remedies. Thus, he tells us, "the hard break the government is proposing as the only way to leave the EU without following EU law will be a direct attack on the pharmaceutical, chemical, aerospace, food processing, farming, fishing and car industries". As if we didn't know already, he goes on to warn that "businesses that rely on the frictionless movement of goods will suffer", almost revelling in the prospect of our decline and fall as he regurgitates what is fast becoming the received wisdom of the dispossessed. Amongst the evils we face, Cohen says: The absence of regulatory checks and arguments about the source of components and applicable tax rates is essential for their health, just as the absence of border checks on perishable food is essential for fresh food and fish exports. Hundreds of thousands of jobs and everyone's living standards are at stake. The Food and Drink Federation said last week that the Johnson administration's policies sounded like the "death knell" for frictionless trade with the EU and were likely to cause food prices to rise.

Leaving the EU is horrible, but it is the only way to preserve our democratic liberal nation state -Ambrose Evans-Pritchard --  Brexit is not about trade, and nor are the details of customs clearance or rules of origin as important as we keep being told. They are not trivial but they are second order issues. The elemental question is who runs this country. Do we wish to be a self-governing democracy under our own courts, or a canton of a higher supra-national regime that keeps acquiring more powers – beyond its ability to exercise them competently – through the Monnet Method of treaty creep? There is no mechanism for removing this overweening hybrid executive in Brussels, even when it persists in error as did in nearly accomplishing the extinction of North Sea cod by sheer ecological vandalism, or when it forced half of Europe into a debt-deflation spiral from 2010 to 2015 based on economic doctrines discredited a century ago. How do you dislodge the European Council from the Justus Lipsiuswhen it behaves outrageously? Can you impeach it? No, you can’t. Commission fonctionnaires may be urbane, talented, and hard-working, but they are not a civil service. They can launch dawn police raids. They can impose vast fines on their own authority. They have quasi-judicial powers and the prerogative of legislative initiative. They are more like the Roman Curia. Nothing like this has existed in British political life since the Reformation. How do voters hold this Caesaropapist structure to account? They cannot do so. That is what Brexit is about.  There are great numbers of us in Britain, France, Holland, the Nordics, or the Czech Republic, who think the precious liberal nation state – inspired by the redemptive values of the English Bill of Rights and theDéclaration des droits de l'homme – has been a resounding success.  We think it is the only forum of authentic democracy, the agent of the greatest moral progress the world has ever seen. We think the systematic attempt to discredit the nation state by blaming it for two world wars is an historical sleight of hand, a lie fed to two generations of European school children though the co-ordinated Franco-German curriculum in a systematic brain-washing exercise. We see it as the guarantor of social solidarity and a bulwark against religious agitation, fracture, and the unforgiving clash of communitarian identities. We think it should not be discarded lightly.   The ousted Greek and Italian prime ministers discovered this during the eurozone crisis. When the euro’s survival was a stake, the imperial reflex was to replace these mercurial leaders with reliable EU apparatchiks – nice gentlemen, to be sure, but usurpers shoehorned into office with the connivance of captured local elites.The implacable difficulty is that no empire has ever been democratic, even if the imperial mother country can itself be democratic in internal matters. So what do you do if you think that the EU is in fundamental and dangerous constitutional conflict with your nation state, sapping the lifeblood out of your institutions?

Backlash over 5G Huawei deal: US officials and British MPs accuse Boris Johnson of sacrificing security as he clears China tech giant to work on new network - Boris Johnson was fighting to contain a ferocious backlash at home and abroad last night after giving Huawei the green light to take part in the rollout of the 5G network. After months of Cabinet wrangling, the Prime Minister yesterday announced the controversial Chinese tech giant will be permitted a role – despite pressure from the US and Tory MPs to ban the firm. Under the compromise solution, Huawei equipment can be used in 'non-core' parts of the network. But its market share will be capped at 35 per cent. And Downing Street said it would work with allies to find alternatives in the hope of driving down the firm's share over time. Officials had warned that banning Huawei could slow down the rollout of 5G and full-fibre broadband by up to three years and cost the economy tens of billions of pounds in lost competitiveness. Britain's security services classified Huawei as a 'high-risk vendor' because of its close links with the oppressive Chinese state. But GCHQ and other spy agencies advised the PM that the risk could be contained provided Huawei remains banned from core functions. Donald Trump, who has urged the UK to ban Huawei completely, made no public comment on Tuesday night after being talked through the decision by Mr Johnson in a tense phone call. A UK security source also played down the risk of losing intelligence sharing with 'Five Eyes' partners in the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The source said: 'There have been no threats of withdrawal of intelligence sharing.' But ministers are braced for a potential row with the US administration today when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in London for a two-day visit. One source said Mr Pompeo was 'at the hawkish end' of the issue. Senior US politicians in Congress reacted with fury. Republican Senator Tom Cotton called for a review of US intelligence sharing with the UK, and likened the decision to 'allowing the KGB to build its telephone network during the Cold War'. He added: 'I fear London has freed itself from Brussels only to cede sovereign to Beijing.'

Brexit D-Day -  Yves Smith - Brexit Day is upon us. Having written so much about Brexit since 2016, I’m not sure what to say, since the symbolic importance of the departure date obscures that this juncture is still the start of a process with many twists and turns still to come.Moreover, as much as my status as an outsider helped in looking at the negotiations in a clinical matter, it seems inappropriate to say much about an event that has such great significance to the many parties with direct stakes in what comes next. I feel sad because I have many friends and readers in the UK. While some may do well individually as a result of Brexit, the UK as a whole will become poorer and I worry with Tory ideologues at the helm, more mean-spirited. If Chris Grey is correct, my mood is in line with that of most Brits:Certainly there is no evidence of a general upsurge of joy, and no mood of national confidence or renewal. The more widespread sense seems to be, at best, one of exhaustion coupled with uncertainty about what has been done and what is to come. For many already realise that today marks only a stage in a very long, painful and uncertain process. But of course that stage is of fundamental, historic significance because Britain, definitively, leaves the EU with no possibility of revoking that decision. Hence as many, if not more, are mourning as celebrating, and some will even be in despair. Crucially, there is clear, sustained polling evidencethat more people think that it was wrong to vote to leave the EU than think it was right. The current figures, from 26 January 2020, are 47% to 40%. Even more,56%, think Brexit will be economically damagingcompared with just 21% who think it will be beneficial. Two of the four constituent countries of the UK voted against Brexit, and the parliament/assemblies of three of them have rejected the legislation enacting it.And, yet, today it will happen. As an Irish Timeseditorial put it yesterday, “no state in the modern era has committed such a senseless act of self-harm”. As we stressed from the outset, it might have been possible for the UK to come out of Brexit at only a moderate cost, with a more equitable division of winners and losers, had its proponents understood the magnitude of the task and put in motion a war-level mobilization. Instead, the nation has suffered from poor leadership thanks to the erosion of the UK’s once vaunted civil service and the rise of soft and overt corruption across the Anglosphere. Times of crisis is when the caliber of the ruling classes matters. The slow-moving crisis of extricating the UK from the EU and trying to enter into replacement arrangements will test the current crop and find them sorely wanting.

Brexit Is Finalized As The UK Officially Leaves The European Union - After many years of debate, the United Kingdom has officially left the European Union. The official departure comes over three years after the referendum that decided the fate of the union, and left many people in the country bitterly divided.The United Kingdom is the first nation to withdraw from the European Union in the 47-year history of the superstate. Next, the country will go through an 11-month transition period, where trade negotiations with the EU will be finalized. The occasion was a cause for celebration for some, and a moment of despair for others, depending on their political leanings. There was a large Brexit party at Parliament Square in London, although fireworks and live music were banned. Meanwhile, many UK residents sat at home in disappointment for both their government and their neighbors.In a pre-recorded speech, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama. And yes it is partly about using these new powers – this recaptured sovereignty – to deliver the changes people voted for. Whether that is by controlling immigration or creating freeports or liberating our fishing industry or doing free trade deals. Or simply making our laws and rules for the benefit of the people of this country.” Johnson went on to say that the current action was the “right and healthy and democratic thing to do,” and that the EU no longer suits the needs of the UK.

 Brexit happens -The UK has officially left the European Union after 47 years of membership - and more than three years after it voted to do so in a referendum.The historic moment, which happened at 23:00 GMT, was marked by both celebrations and anti-Brexit protests.Candlelit vigils were held in Scotland, which voted to stay in the EU, while Brexiteers partied in London's Parliament Square.Boris Johnson has vowed to bring the country together and "take us forward". In a message released on social media an hour before the UK's departure, the prime minister said: "For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come."And there are many of course who feel a sense of anxiety and loss."He said some had worried the political "wrangle" would not end but it was his job to take the country forward. Brexit parties were held in pubs and social clubs across the UK as the country counted down to its official departure.Thousands gathered in Parliament Square to celebrate Brexit, singing patriotic songs and cheering speeches from leading Brexiteers, including Nigel Farage. The Brexit Party leader said: "Let us celebrate tonight as we have never done before."This is the greatest moment in the modern history of our great nation."Pro-EU demonstrators earlier staged a march in Whitehall to bid a "fond farewell" to the union - and anti-Brexit rallies and candlelit vigils were held in Scotland.Police in Whitehall arrested four men and also charged one man with criminal damage and being drunk and disorderly, while in Glasgow one man was arrested.Meanwhile, other symbolic moments on a day of mixed emotions included:

  • The Union flag being removed from the European Union institutions in Brussels
  • The Cabinet meeting in Sunderland, the first city to declare in favour of Brexit when the 2016 results were announced
  • A light show illuminating 10 Downing Street and Union flags lining The Mall
  • A 50p coin to mark the occasion entering circulation
  • The building of the UK government's delegation to the EU changed its name and sign

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