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

Saturday, January 11, 2020

week ending Jan 11

Fed’s Balance Sheet Explodes by $413 Billion in 119 Days -  Pam Martens - On September 4, 2019, the assets on the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve stood at $3.761 trillion. As of January 1, that figure is $4,173,626,000,000. That’s an increase of $413 billion in just the past 119 days and the Fed does not seem inclined to turn off its money spigot to Wall Street anytime soon. At the rate the Fed is now going, its balance sheet is likely to eclipse the $4.5 trillion all-time high it reached in 2015 as a result of the unprecedented sums it funneled to Wall Street following the epic financial crash in 2008 and its three rounds of quantitative easing (QE) to keep interest rates low to appease Wall Street’s trading houses and their trillions of dollars in interest-rate derivative bets. The Fed, through its open money spigot and trading arm – the New York Fed – has been a Fairy Godmother to Jamie Dimon. It has kept short-term interest rates at historic lows since 2008 and postponed the inevitable global financial crisis long enough to allow Jamie Dimon and his pals on Wall Street to become billionaires. The flipside of Jamie Dimon’s wish list has been to impoverish millions of retirees who have seen their interest income on Treasury notes and Certificates of Deposits cut in half for more than a decade and to fuel an unprecedented corporate debt bubble in the U.S. as a result of that cheap money. Now, instead of the Fed winding down its latest money spigot that it opened on behalf of Wall Street’s trading houses on September 17, it appears to be gaining momentum. Yesterday, the $35 billion that the New York Fed provided to Wall Street in 14-day term loans was oversubscribed by $6.12 billion. On top of that, the New York Fed also pumped out $63.919 billion in overnight loans for a total of $98.919 billion – in just one day. The New York Fed’s latest money spigot has been in operation every business day since September 17 when overnight rates on repo loans spiked from an average of 2 percent to 10 percent. The New York Fed stepped in as lender-of-last-resort to bring the rate back down, despite the fact that this is clearly where the free market wanted to price these loans. Yesterday’s New York Fed loans were pumped out at the preposterously low rate of 1.55 percent interest. Repo loans are typically made between Wall Street banks, hedge funds and money market funds. The New York Fed is making its repo loans available exclusively to its 24 primary dealers, which are, in fact, the primary trading houses on Wall Street. Many of these firms could not borrow in the open market at rates anywhere near 1.55 percent. So the New York Fed is essentially providing another bailout to Wall Street and calling it part of its “open market operations.”

 Federal Reserve Admits It Pumped More than $6 Trillion to Wall Street in Recent Six Week Period - Pam Martens  -  The Fed’s December meeting minutes revealed that after multiple expansions of this vast money spigot, which was previously set to lapse in January after getting the Wall Street trading houses through the year-end money crunch, instead it may be extended through April. The minutes read as follows:“The manager also discussed expectations to gradually transition away from active repo operations next year as Treasury bill purchases supply a larger base of reserves. The calendar of repo operations starting in mid-January could reflect a gradual reduction in active repo operations. The manager indicated that some repos might be needed at least through April, when tax payments will sharply reduce reserve levels.”Corporate and individual tax payments occur every April. The Fed offers no explanation as to why this April is different and requires a multi-trillion-dollar open money spigot from the Fed.The Fed’s minutes also acknowledge that its most recent actions have tallied up to “roughly $215 billion per day” flowing to trading houses on Wall Street. There were 29 business days between the last Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting and the latest Fed minutes, meaning that approximately $6.23 trillion in cumulative loans to Wall Street’s trading houses had been made in that short span of time.During the 2007 to 2010 financial collapse on Wall Street – the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the Fed funneled a total of $29 trillion in cumulative loans to Wall Street banks, their trading houses and their foreign derivative counterparties between December 2007 and July 21, 2010. At the pace it is currently going, it would eclipse that $29 trillion before the middle of this year.And yet, there is no discernible financial collapse occurring on Wall Street. In fact, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard and Poor’s 500 Index achieved multiple record highs in the month of December 2019 – making it appear that the Fed’s money to these trading houses is going straight into the stock market. That is about as far from the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy mandate as it can get and yet there has been no editorial outcry from the Editorial Boards of American newspapers or any publicly announced Congressional investigation.The House Financial Services Committee just released its committee hearing schedule for January and there isn’t a peep about a hearing to examine the Fed’s unprecedented actions.The most recent Fed minutes also note that Lorie K. Logan was selected to serve as the head of open market operations at the New York Fed, the regional Fed bank that carried out the bulk of the $29 trillion in loans to Wall Street during the financial crisis and the one also performing that loan function today – without any publicly announced crisis.

Fed focuses on repo market exit strategy after avoiding year-end crunch (Reuters) - Wall Street’s worst fears of a year-end funding squeeze never materialized thanks in large part to the quarter-trillion dollars the Federal Reserve stuffed into the market to ensure nothing became gummed up.  The question now, though, is what it will take for the U.S. central bank to withdraw from its daily liquidity operations in the $2.2 trillion market for repurchase agreements, or repos - after it became a dominant player in a short three months. “The repo operations are a band-aid, but the wound isn’t healed fully,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, an interest rate strategist at TD Securities. The New York Fed began injecting billions of dollars of liquidity into the repo market in mid-September, when a confluence of events sent the cost of overnight loans as high as 10%, more than four times the Fed’s rate at the time. A month later, the Fed moved to expand its balance sheet - and boost the level of reserves - by snapping up $60 billion a month in U.S. Treasury bills. The Fed will continue pumping tens of billions a day into the repo market through at least the end of January. Its ability to exit from the repo market after that time will depend on how long it takes the central bank to make the balance sheet large enough so there are adequate reserves in the banking system - and the repo operations are no longer needed. “It seems implausible to me that the Fed will be able to stop their repo operations by the end of January,” said Mark Cabana, head of U.S. rates strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Minutes from the Fed’s December policy meeting released on Friday showed its staffers expected repo operations to be “gradually” reduced after mid-January. However, staff members also said the central bank may need to continue offering some repo operations until at least April, when tax payments could reduce the level of reserves. Another challenge for Fed officials: Deciding just how big the central bank’s balance sheet, which is currently about $4 trillion, should be. “There are people at the Fed who have a preference for the smallest possible balance sheet, and we just don’t know how much their views have evolved,” Fed policymakers have said they will continue purchasing Treasury bills into the second quarter of 2020 with the goal of bringing reserves back above the level seen in mid-September, when they fell below $1.5 trillion.  Bringing reserves to $1.7 trillion would provide a cushion of about $200 billion to absorb shocks during periods of tight liquidity,

Repo Panic Returns As Fed Injects $99BN In Liquidity, Including First Oversubscribed Term Repo In Three Weeks -- And just like that, the repo market is on the fritz once again. More than two weeks after the last oversubscribed term repo operation on December 16, moments ago the Fed announced that Dealers are once again scrambling for liquidity, submitting $41.12BN in securities ($30.7BN in TSYs, $10.42BN in MBS) into today's 2-week repo operation, which was oversubscribed hitting the maximum operation limit of $35BN. Today's oversubscription was ominous because while the liquidity shortage into year-end was expected, and justified the barrage of term repos ahead of the "turn", the liquidity shortage was supposed to normalize after the new year. Alas, that appears to not have happened, and today's submission was the highest since Dec 16.  One reason for today's repo spike is that as we noted last Friday, this is the first week that sees substantial term repo maturities and liquidity drainage, as follows:

  • $25 billion leaves the market on Monday,
  • $28.8 billion on Tuesday,
  • $18 billion next Friday

But wait there's more: today's oversubscribed term repo, coupled with yesterday's overnight repo surge and this morning's $63.919BN overnight repo ... means the Fed just injected a total of $99BN to keep the levitation party going, and confirms that the repo market remains paralyzed.   Worse, any attempts to drain liquidity from the repo market, or generally slow down the shrinkage of the balance sheet, will be met with failure. It is also another indication that the repo market now holds the Fed hostage, with Powell now trapped in not only injecting liquidity via QE4, i.e., the monetization of T-Bills, but continued reliance on repos in the $250BN range. Of course, should the Fed threaten to pull even a bit more liquidity than the market is comfortable sacrificing, and stocks get it. The flip side too: as long as the Fed keeps growing the balance sheet at a rate of about $100 billion per month, the market meltup will continue.

And Again: The Fed Monetizes $4.1 Billion In Debt Sold Just Days Earlier - Over the past week, when looking at the details of the Fed's ongoing QE4, we showed out (here and here) that the New York Fed was now actively purchasing T-Bills that had been issued just days earlier by the US Treasury. As a reminder, the Fed is prohibited from directly purchasing Treasurys at auction, as that is considered "monetization" and directly funding the US deficit, not to mention is tantamount to "Helicopter Money" and is frowned upon by Congress and established economists. However, insert a brief, 3-days interval between issuance and purchase... and suddenly nobody minds. So, predictably, fast forward to today when the Fed conducted its latest T-Bill POMO in which, as has been the case since early October, the NY Fed's market desk purchased the maximum allowed in Bills, some $7.5 billion, out of $25.3 billion in submissions. What was more notable were the actual CUSIPs that were accepted by the Fed for purchase. And here, once again, we find just one particular issue that stuck out: TY5 (due Dec 31, 2020) which was the most active CUSIP, with $4.136BN purchased by the Fed, and TU3 (due Dec 3, 2020) of which $905MM was accepted. Why is the highlighted CUSIP notable? Because as we just showed on Friday, the Fed - together with the Primary Dealers - appears to have developed a knack for monetizing, pardon, purchasing in the open market, bonds that were just issued. And sure enough, TY5 was sold just one week ago, on Monday, Dec 30, with the issue settling on Jan 2, just days before today's POMO, and Dealers taking down $17.8 billion of the total issue... ... and just a few days later turning around and flipping the Bill back to the Fed in exchange for an unknown markup. Incidentally, today the Fed also purchased $615MM of CUSIP UB3 (which we profiled last Friday), which was also sold on Dec 30, and which the Fed purchased $5.245BN of last Friday, bringing the total purchases of this just issued T-Bill to nearly $6 billion in just three business days. In keeping with this trend, the rest of the Bills most actively purchased by the Fed, i.e., TP4, TN9, TJ8, all represent the most recently auctioned off 52-week bills...

Fed Injects $83BN In Liquidity As Market's Repo Addiction Getting Worse - Two days after we reported that a disturbance may be brewing below the surface of the repo market again, after the first oversubscribed term repo in over three weeks, when on Jan 7 the Fed received $41.1BN in submissions for its $35BN two week repo, we got another indication just how strong the market's addition to the Fed's easy repo money has become, when moments ago the Fed announced that its latest 2-week term repo operation was also almost oversubscribed, as $34.3BN in securities ($23.3BN in TSYs, $11BN in MBS) were submitted for today's $35 billion operation, as dealers continue to scramble to the Fed for liquidity which they are no longer using for merely "regulatory" year-end purposes (since it is no longer year-end obviously), but are instead using it to pump markets directly. Today's operation, which was just shy of the maximum $35BN allowed, was the second highest term repo since Dec 16, and suggests that as repos are now maturing at a rapid burst (as we noted last week in "Mark Your Calendar: Next Week The Fed's Liquidity Drain Begins"), dealers remain as desperate as ever to roll this liquidity into newer term operations. And just in case there was any doubt that the liquidity shortage isn't getting better, moments later the Fed announced that in its daily Overnight repo operation, it also accepted $48.825BN in securities ($24.2BN TSYs, $24.625BN in MBS)...  ... for a total liquidity injection of just over $83 billion! The latest repo operations also confirmed what we discussed overnight in "Top Repo Expert Warns Fed Is Now Trapped: "It Will Take Pain To Wean The Repo Market Off Easy Cash"" in which we noted that according to Curvature Securities' repo expert Scott Skyrm, something appears amiss as the total overnight and term Fed RP operations on Friday were greater than on year end! On year-end, the Fed had pumped a total of $255.95 billion into the market verses $258.9 billion on Friday.

Top Repo Expert Warns Fed Is Now Trapped- It Will Take Pain To Wean The Repo Market Off Easy Cash - Yesterday we reported that with the Fed's first oversubscribed term repo in three weeks... ... coupled with a surge in amount of overnight repo submission, indicated that the funding situation in the repo market had again deteriorated sharply, which was odd since we are now two weeks into the new year and further away from the time when the repo market was supposedly in distress due to the year-end funding constraints.Indeed, something appears amiss, because as Curvature Securities' Scott Skyrm writes in his daily Repo Market Commentary note, the total overnight and term Fed RP operations on Friday were greater than on year end! On year-end, the Fed had pumped a total of $255.95 billion into the market verses $258.9 billion on Friday.  The problem with the broken repo market and the Fed's respective Repo operations, similar to the problem observed with QE and the Fed's balance sheet in general over the past decade, is that the market had gotten addicted to the easy Fed liquidity unleashed in September (via temporary repo ops), and then again in October (via permanent T-Bill purchases).As Skyrm writes, "it's easy to see how the Repo market can get addicted to easy cash from the Fed when the stop-out rates for the RP operations are 1.55% - behind the offered side of the market."But, as the repo strategist adds, as the Fed keeps injecting cash, the market gets used to it. Which is great in the short-term as it sends risk assets soaring, but become a major issue over the long-term: "The long-term problem is that the some investor cash (real money cash) that was once going into the Repo market is now going elsewhere", Skyrm explains.Indeed, the problem is that repo rates are trading in the lower end of the fed funds target range. When GC rates were higher in the range, Repo general collateral, as an investment, was more competitive than other overnight rates. But now that cash has gone to other markets. In short, just as the market got addicted to QE and the result was a 20% drop in the S&P in late 2018 when markets freaked out about Quantitative Tightening, the Fed's shrinking balance sheet, and declining liquidity, Skyrm cautions that "it will take pain to wean the Repo market off of cheap Fed cash" since "it's a circle" which can be described as follows:For the Fed to end daily RP ops, they need outside cash to come back into the Repo market. For the Repo market to attract cash, Repo rates need to move higher. For rates to move higher, the Fed needs to stop RP ops.

 Bernanke Hints At Negative Rates, Purchases Of Private Securities To Fight Next Recession -- Ben Bernanke delivered what he called "a relatively upbeat" assessment of the U.S. central bank’s ability to fight the next recession. Ahead of his address to the American Economic Association’s annual meeting on Saturday, Bernanke wrote in a blog post that "the new policy tools are effective," perhaps seeking to reassure himself and other central bankers rather than the population and commercial banks around the globe, which is reeling form an onslaught of populism in response to the historic wealth transfer programs initiated by central banks whose negative rate policies have brought the European financial sector to the edge of the abyss. "Central bank purchases of longer-term financial assets, popularly known as quantitative easing or QE, have proved an effective tool for easing financial conditions and providing economic stimulus when short rates are at their lower bound. The effectiveness of QE does not depend on its being deployed during a period of market turbulence."  "Quantitative easing and forward guidance can provide the equivalent of about 3 additional percentage points of short-term rate cuts." By which he meant that the Fed, which is currently engaging in QE4, can boost markets to even recorded highs, at which point trickle down may finally happen... although it won't, and instead the rich will get even richer as the US becomes an even greater Banana republic thanks to people like Bernanke.

 The Fed might be in denial about the next recession  - The economic models that have guided monetary policy in recent decades say low unemployment should lead to higher inflation. When that happens, the Fed should respond by hiking interest rates, a move that also readies the Fed to fight the next recession by cutting rates back down. Right now, however, the Fed faces remarkably low unemployment, low inflation, and low interest rates all at once, leaving the central bank with nowhere to go. Thus, everyone's wondering what the Fed can do when the next recession eventually comes, and whether the monetary policy toolkit needs an update. The central bank is currently taking a long and hard look at itself, with conclusions and any potential reforms due out later this year. But if a conference featuring former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke over the weekend is any indication, Fed officials aren't thinking nearly far enough outside the box.First, the central bank is justifiably concerned that any significant effort on its part to increase interest rates could ruin the recovery or even cause the next recession. After cutting interest rates all the way to zero to combat the Great Recession, inflation hasn't justified a hike ever since. The Fed tested out some slow and modest interest rate hikes in the last few years, but in January it concluded even that was too much, and started cutting again. The central bank's interest rate target is currently between 1.5 and 1.75 percent with no indication it's rising again any time soon. Typically, it's taken an interest rate cut of around five percentage points for monetary policy to meaningfully combat economic downturns, and needless to say, you can't cut interest rates by 5 percentage points when they're only 1.75 percentage points above zero.Now, former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke may not be in charge of the central bank any more, but his thinking is certainly indicative of the mainstream on this topic. And his presentation this weekend was strangely optimistic. Essentially, Bernanke thinks that the interest rate cuts the Fed can make, plus two of the more unusual tools it deployed in the Great Recession will be enough to combat the next downturn.Specifically, those two tools are forward guidance and quantitative easing. "Forward guidance" is basically a fancy term for the Fed doing a better job communicating its long-term plans and intentions to the financial markets. The idea here is that if the Fed makes it abundantly clear, for instance, that it's going to keep interest rates low until inflation picks back up significantly, investors will be willing to pump more money into the economy and take more risks than if they were less sure about the Fed’s determination to not hike. As for quantitative easing, that was the policy where the Fed bought lots of longer-maturity Treasury bonds and other financial instruments in an effort to lower long-term interest rates. Normal monetary policy only targets short-term interest rates, again through bond purchases and sales, as well as other tools more recently. Ultimately, quantitative easing aims to boost the economy by getting more investment into the economy over a longer time horizon. Bernanke calculates these two policies could achieve a combined effect equal to cutting short-term interest rates by three percentage points. Add that to an actual cut in short-term rates back to zero, and you could get a boost roughly equivalent to a 5-percentage point cut.

Q4 GDP Forecasts: 1.1% to 2.3% -- From Merrill Lynch   We lowered 1Q GDP growth by 0.7pp to 1.0% to reflect a likely steeper drop in inventories. As a partial offset, we boosted 2Q GDP to 2.0%. 4Q19 is tracking 2.2%. [Jan 10 estimate]  From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report: The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.1% for 2019:Q4 and 1.2% for 2020:Q1. [Jan 10 estimate] And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow: The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2019 is 2.3 percent on January 10, unchanged from January 7 after rounding. [Jan 10 estimate]CR Note: These estimates suggest real GDP growth will be between 1.1% and 2.3% annualized in Q4.

How the Pentagon Was Duped by Contractors Using Shell Companies - Shell companies have come under attack for obscuring illicit money flowing into real estate. But it turns out they’re also a problem for the Pentagon. Some Defense Department suppliers have used such front companies to fraudulently win manufacturing bids, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study of Defense Department contractors. In some cases, the shell companies helped contractors obscure that they were making U.S. military equipment abroad, the GAO said, posing a risk to national security and quality control. More often, they were used to win contracts meant for companies owned by disabled veterans or minorities, it said. The government watchdog reviewed 32 cases that made their way to criminal prosecutions or lawsuits between 2012 and 2018. Taken together, they illustrate how the Pentagon’s $350 billion in annual contracting can be gamed using companies that exist largely on paper. The problem could be far bigger, since the GAO’s study wasn’t intended to gauge its scope. The watchdog said the Pentagon had made only spotty efforts to pierce the secrecy of shell companies. “I don’t think anybody really knows the extent of the problem,” “I do know that some of these folks have become quite proficient at disguising ownership.” Although shell companies have many legitimate uses, they’ve also become an invaluable tool allowing terrorists, money launderers, human traffickers and tax cheats to evade detection. Even as countries in Europe and elsewhere are requiring greater disclosure, the U.S. remains a tax and secrecy haven, allowing so-called beneficial owners who profit from these corporations to hide their identities by registering in states like Delaware, Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota. 

Trump’s Push For Lofty Nuclear Treaty Sparks Worry Over Current Deal - President Trump and his Russian counterpart have the coming year to deal with an expiring nuclear treaty that will lapse just after the end of his first term. Trump hasn't ruled out renewing the treaty, known as New START. But he has made it clear that he would rather strike a bigger deal that includes different kinds of nuclear weapons — and that also brings China into the fold. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed arms control over the weekend. Trump has said that Russia wants to broaden the nuclear pact. And Trump claims China is also "extremely excited" about getting involved — despite Beijing's public statements to the contrary. Experts say reaching a trilateral deal within a year is highly unlikely. And some worry that Trump's focus on a bigger deal risks upending the existing treaty with Russia, which could lead to a new arms race. But Tim Morrison, the person who ran point on the matter at the White House until recently, said there is no reason to rush into an extension of the agreement with Russia. Morrison believes there is an opportunity now to broker a better deal involving both Russia and China. He was the top Russia official on the National Security Council until he resigned after testifying in the impeachment hearings. "It's sort of like, people who have a car warranty or people who have a car lease," Morrison said. "Nobody goes back to the dealer a year ahead of time and says, 'Hey, can I give you my money now to extend the lease?' No. They're going to give themselves the margin to go back and say, 'Well, maybe there'll be a better deal over the course of the next year.' " Morrison said that no one is discussing allowing the treaty to expire and that an extension could be basically written on a "cocktail napkin." He said signing now would only play into the interest of officials in Russia, who are happy with the status quo, and officials in China, who want to keep building weapons.

 Iran Will No Longer Observe Any Limits On Uranium Enrichment -In what is the final blow to Obama's landmark JCPOA, or the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran's government said on Sunday it would no no longer abide by any limits on its enrichment of uranium but would continue to cooperate with the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, according to the semi-official FARS news agency. "The Islamic Republic will no longer observe any limits on the operational aspects of its nuclear program, to include uranium enrichment capacity, enrichment percentage, levels of enriched material and research and development," Fars reported, citing a statement from the government. As a reminder, President Trump started the process of unwinding Obama's signature foreign policy deal in May 2018, when he withdrew the U.S. from the deal, setting off a chain of events that have seen tensions rise to the point where the two countries may now be on the brink of war. FARS a government statement saying Iran would not respect any limits set down in the pact on the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges it could use, which meant there would be no limits on its enrichment capacity, the level to which uranium could be enriched, or Iran’s nuclear research and development. These would from now on be based on Iran’s technical needs. The statement also said Iran’s steps could be reversed if Washington lifted its sanctions on Tehran, which of course won't happen any time soon, if ever. Instead, what will happen, is that the US will use Iran's "unilateral" exit from the nuclear deal and the "threat" of a nuclear Iran, as justification for further military intervention, one which in addition to US military, may also involve Israeli forces in the immediate future.

Will Iran’s Response to the Soleimani Strike Lead to War? Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, was one of the most influential and popular figures in the Islamic Republic and a particular nemesis of the United States. He led Iran’s campaign to arm and train Shiite militias in Iraq—militias responsible for the deaths of an estimated 600 American troops from 2003 to 2011— and became the chief purveyor of Iranian political influence in Iraq thereafter, most notably through his efforts to fight the Islamic State (ISIS). He drove Iran’s policies to arm and support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including by deploying an estimated 50,000 Shiite militia fighters to Syria. He was the point man for Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon, helping to supply the group with missiles and rockets to threaten Israel. He drove Iran’s strategy to arm the Houthis in Yemen. For all these reasons and more, Soleimani was a cult hero in Iran and across the region.In short, the United States has taken a highly escalatory step in assassinating one of the most important and powerful men in the Middle East. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump argues that Soleimani was a terrorist and that assassinating him was a defensive action that stopped an imminent attack. Both of those assertions may or may not be true, but the United States would never have felt compelled to act against the Iranian general if not for the reckless policy the administration has pursued since it came into office. In May 2018, Trump left the Iran nuclear agreement and adopted a “maximum pressure” policy of economic sanctions on Iran. For a year, Iran responded with restraint in an effort to isolate the United States diplomatically and win economic concessions from other parties to the nuclear agreement. But the restrained approach failed to yield material benefits. By May 2019, Tehran had chosen instead to breach the agreement and escalate tensions across the region. First came Iranian mine attacks against international shipping in May and June. Then Iran shot down a U.S. drone, nearly touching off an open conflict with the United States. In September, Iranian missiles struck the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia—arguably the most important piece of oil infrastructure in the world. Shiite militia groups began launching rockets at U.S. bases in Iraq, ultimately leading to the death of an American contractor last week. Retaliatory U.S. strikes eventually brought us to the Soleimani assassination.

The USA Doubles Down On Its Saudi Allegiance - For the United States to abandon proxy warfare and directly kill one of Iran’s most senior political figures has changed international politics in a fundamental way. It is a massive error. Its ramifications are profound and complex. There is also a lesson to be learned here in that this morning there will be excitement and satisfaction in the palaces of Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Tehran. All of the political elites will see prospects for gain from the new fluidity. While for ordinary people in all those countries there is only the certainty of more conflict, death and economic loss, for the political elite, the arms manufacturers, the military and security services and allied interests, the hedge funds, speculators and oil companies, there are the sweet smells of cash and power.Tehran will be pleased because the USA has just definitively lost Iraq. Iraq has a Shia majority and so naturally tends to ally with Iran. The only thing preventing that was the Arab nationalism of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Socialist Party. Bush and Blair were certainly fully informed that by destroying the Ba’ath system they were creating an Iranian/Iraqi nexus, but they decided that was containable. The “containment” consisted of a deliberate and profound push across the Middle East to oppose Shia influence in proxy wars everywhere. This is the root cause of the disastrous war in Yemen, where the Zaidi-Shia would have been victorious long ago but for the sustained brutal aerial warfare on civilians carried out by the Western powers through Saudi Arabia. This anti-Shia western policy included the unwavering support for the Sunni Bahraini autocracy in the brutal suppression of its overwhelmingly Shia population. And of course it included the sustained and disastrous attempt to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and replace it with pro-Saudi Sunni jihadists.

Trump Is Doing the Bidding of Washington’s Most Vile Cabal  - WHILE THE MEDIA focus for three years of the Trump presidency has centered around “Russia collusion” and impeachment, the most dangerous collusion of all was happening right out in the open — the Trump/Saudi/Israel/UAE drive to war with Iran. On August 3, 2016 — just three months before Donald Trump would win the Electoral College vote and ascend to power — Blackwater founder Erik Prince arranged a meeting at Trump Tower. For decades, Prince had been agitating for a war with Iran and, as early as 2010, had developed a fantastical proposal for using mercenaries to wage it.  At this meeting was George Nader, an American citizen who had a long history of being a quiet emissary for the United States in the Middle East. Nader, who had also worked for Blackwater and Prince, was a convicted pedophile in the Czech Republic and is facing similar allegations in the United States. Nader worked as an adviser for the Emirati royals and has close ties to Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince.  There was also an Israeli at the Trump Tower meeting: Joel Zamel. He was there supposedly pitching a multimillion-dollar social media manipulation campaign to the Trump team. Zamel’s company, Psy-Group, boasts of employing former Israeli intelligence operatives. Nader and Zamel were joined by Donald Trump Jr. According to the New York Times, the purpose of the meeting was “primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months, past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office.” One major common goal ran through the agendas of all the participants in this Trump Tower meeting: regime change in Iran. Trump campaigned on belligerence toward Iran and trashing the Obama-led Iran nuclear deal, and he has followed through on those threats, filling his administration with the most vile, hawkish figures in the U.S. national security establishment. After appointing notorious warmonger John Bolton as national security adviser, Trump fired him last September. But despite reports that Trump had soured on Bolton because of his interventionist posture toward Iran, Bolton’s firing merely opened the door for the equally belligerent Mike Pompeo to take over the administration’s Iran policy at the State Department. Now Pompeo is the public face of the Suleimani assassination, while for his part, the fired Bolton didn’t want to be left out of the gruesome victory lap:  Trump, who had no idea who Qassim Suleimani was until it was explained to him live on the radio by conservative journalist Hugh Hewitt in 2015, didn’t seem to need many details to know that he wanted to crush the Iranian state.

Mar-a-Lago Guests and Israel Had More Prior Knowledge of Strike on Soleimani Than Democratic Leaders  - Days ahead of the assassination of high-ranking Iranian military and intelligence official Gen. Qasem Soleimani, President Donald Trump was dropping hints to guests at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, telling them to expect something “big” very “soon” in Iraq. “He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’” a source who was at Mar-a-Lago told The Daily Beast.  The Trump administration also forewarned Israel of the intended killing. “Our assessment is that the United States informed Israel about this operation in Iraq, apparently a few days ago,” said journalist and commentator Barak Ravid, who has sources within Israel’s government, according to the Los Angeles Times. Another source, an Israeli army officer, told the paper that the attack “did not come as a surprise.” Meanwhile, contrary to tradition, Trump neglected to inform top Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer ahead of the strike. And Senate staff were told about as much as people at the resort.Even when Senate staff received a briefing on Friday following the Thursday killing, one anonymous source told The Daily Beast that Trump’s administration seemed to have no plans for de-escalating the situation or what they would do next.  “This administration has absolutely not earned the benefit of the doubt when it makes these kinds of claims. When you’re taking action that could lead to the third American war in the Middle East in 20 years, you need to do better than these kinds of assertions,” a Senate aide who attended the briefing said.Although Trump officials are claiming that the attack was made to prevent further violence, “At the very least, it furthers division in the country and raises the political temperature,” an Iraqi official said. “We need de-escalation and this is the mother of all escalations.” Aside from Trump’s seemingly strange choices regarding who knew about the attack ahead of time, some have raised concerns that the attack might have actually been illegal according to international law. Agnes Callamard, a human rights expert and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions, tweeted that the Pentagon’s statement on killing Soleimani “mentions that it aimed at ‘deterring future Iranian attack plans.’ This however is very vague. Future is not the same as imminent which is the time based test required under international law.”

U.S. Killing of Soleimani Leaves Trump ‘Totally Unpredictable’ Three years into Donald Trump’s presidency, U.S. allies and adversaries thought they had him figured out as a leader prone to bellicose talk who rarely delivered on his boldest military threats. That all changed Thursday with Trump’s decision to kill a key Iranian commander in the biggest foreign policy gamble of his time in office. With the high-stakes drone strike against General Qassem Soleimani, one of Iran’s most venerated leaders, Trump caught Tehran -- and the rest of the world -- by surprise, restoring a sense of unpredictability that could play to his advantage as world leaders are left wondering what his endgame is in the Middle East and beyond. “The Americans are now totally unpredictable,” Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador to the U.S. and the United Nations, said in an interview. “There was no response to Iranian attacks against oil tankers, a U.S. drone and Saudi oil fields, but out of the blue comes this surprising hit on Soleimani. We are depending on the unpredictable reaction of one man.” The drone strike shatters an assumption -- often repeated by Western officials in anonymous briefings -- that Trump would do his utmost to avoid war during an election year. Yet the move may only reinforce the determination of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to build a stronger nuclear deterrent, as the Iraq strike underscores that a nuclear arsenal -- which Kim’s regime possesses and Iran is capable of developing -- is the surest way to ensure a regime’s survival.  Trump built a reputation as a bellicose but risk-averse commander-in-chief. He repeatedly sought to pull troops out of the Middle East, look past North Korean violations of international sanctions and avoid what he called the “endless wars” his predecessors got the U.S. mired in. After almost three years of Trump badgering NATO allies on matters such as defense spending and praising autocrats like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kim -- who the president said he “fell in love” with -- world leaders started to think they knew how to read the former New York real estate developer. That’s gone now, probably permanently. Yet Trump’s willingness to risk an escalation in an already volatile region gives him some leverage against U.S. foes even as it raises the risk of miscalculation, diplomats and analysts said in interviews. Leaders like North Korea’s Kim and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad will have to proceed cautiously before crossing a U.S. “red line,” and Iran will struggle to come up with a suitable response that won’t further destabilize its already embattled regime. Bringing “not agreement-capable” to new heights.

Trump says 52 targets already lined up if Iran retaliates (AP) — President Donald Trump issued a stark warning to Iran on Saturday, threatening to hit dozens of targets in the Islamic Republic “very fast and very hard” if it retaliates for the targeted killing of the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. The series of tweets came as the White House sent to Congress a formal notification under the War Powers Act of the drone strike on Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a senior administration official said. U.S. law required notification within 48 hours of the introduction of American forces into an armed conflict or a situation that could lead to war. The notification was classified and it was not known if a public version would be released. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the classified document “suggests Congress and the American people are being left in the dark about our national security.” In unusually specific language, Trump tweeted that his administration had already targeted 52 Iranian sites, “some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.” He linked the number of sites to the number of hostages, also 52, held by Iran for nearly 15 months after protesters overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Thousands of Iranians lined Baghdad streets Saturday for the funeral procession for Soleimani. The Islamic Republic has vowed revenge for the Trump-ordered airstrike that killed him and several senior Iraqi militants early Friday Baghdad time. Trump appeared to respond to such threats with tweets justifying Soleimani’s killing and matching the bellicose language from Iran. “Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters,“the president tweeted. “He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years.” Trump also warned: “The USA wants no more threats!” Trump’s reference to targeting sites “important to Iran & the Iranian culture” could raise questions about whether striking such targets would violate international agreements. The American Red Cross notes on its website that the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their additional protocols, ratified by scores of nations in recent years, states that “cultural objects and places of worship” may not be attacked and outlaws “indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations.”

The latest: Iran tweets response to Trump’s threats to target cultural sites  -- Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Sunday, "Having committed grave breaches of int'l law in Friday's cowardly assassinations, @realdonaldtrump threatens to commit again new breaches ... Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME." Hossein Dehghan, the military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told CNN that Iran will target U.S. military sites in response to the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. He also claimed that Trump's threat to target 52 cultural sites would be a war crime. Information and Communications Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi tweeted: "Like ISIS, like Hitler, Like Genghis! They all hate cultures. Trump is a 'terrorist in a suit.' He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat 'the Great Iranian Nation & Culture." Friday's drone strike that killed Soleimani is the most direct confrontation from the U.S. since the Trump administration pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iran has vowed to take revenge, according to the official Iranian news site IRNA.Experts including Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel at the Defense Department, have said attacking cultural sites is a war crime.  Trump has faced criticism over the strike that killed Soleimani from some world leaders and members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who formally resigned a month ago, said the attack will lead to a "dangerous escalation," NPR reports.

Iraq’s parliament may be about to do President Trump a big fat favor - Probably due to a lack of ongoing back channels, Iran and the United States continue to misread each other. Iran believed that accelerating their disengagement from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and gradually escalating attacks on US allies, interests, and forces would force the US president to roll back some degree of sanctions. Grave misinterpretation. These actions instead reinforced the argument from US hardliners that Iran never intended to comply with the nuclear agreement and the United States should in fact be tougher on them. Similarly, Washington misread Iran and believed that tougher rhetoric would cow the regime into negotiating. Also a misinterpretation. Rather it fed the regime hardliners’ narrative that the United States is a threat looming enough to justify offensive action. On one level or another both countries’ strategies backfired. US maximum pressure intending to cripple Iran into a deal and reduce proxy activity instead resulted in more proxy attacks. Iran’s strategy to increase attacks on US interests in order to push the United States out of the region resulted in more US troops in the Gulf and Iraq. The biggest favor the Iraqi Parliament can do for US President Donald J. Trump right now is to vote to evict the United States from Iraq. The US president has been clear on his preference for drawing down the US presence in the region rather than beefing it up. Right now, he is asking his advisers why the United States should stay in Iraq, where the two stated missions are to train the Iraqi Security Forces and conduct counterterrorism operations.  We are training a security force that is overseen by pro-Iranian leaders and includes Iran-backed militias. Why should we expend US dollars to train soldiers who will be directed to serve Iran’s interests?

Trump says he’ll sanction Iraq if US troops forced to leave -- President Trump said Sunday that the United States would not leave Iraq on “friendly” terms and threatened to impose sanctions on the country if forced to withdraw American troops. “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. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Sunday afternoon when asked about the vote by Iraq’s parliament to end U.S. troop presence in the country. “If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq,” Trump added. Trump made the remarks to reporters while traveling from Palm Beach, Fla., to Washington, D.C., after a two-week stint at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Earlier Sunday, the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of a resolution calling on the country’s government to work toward ending U.S. troop presence there after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian general in the capital of Baghdad. American forces have maintained a presence in Iraq since 2014 as part of the operation targeting ISIS. The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government. Trump also at one point Sunday suggested that American forces wouldn’t leave Iraq unless the country paid the U.S. back for its “expensive air base” there, an apparent reference to the Al Asad Air Base. “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time,” Trump said. “We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”

Iraq parliament calls for end of U.S. troop presence after Soleimani death -- The Iraqi parliament passed a resolution Sunday calling for the government to expel foreign troops from the country in the wake of an U.S. airstrike that killed a top Iranian general, raising questions about the future of the allied mission that has successfully fought the “Islamic State,” or ISIS, in recent years. The resolution asks Iraq’s government to cancel the request for assistance from the U.S.-led coalition operating in the country against the “Islamic State,” which once controlled large swathes of Iraq and Syria before allied intervention. “The government commits to revoke its request for assistance from the international coalition fighting Islamic State due to the end of military operations in Iraq and the achievement of victory,” the resolution read. “The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason.” The U.S.-led coalition announced Sunday it was suspending most operations against “Islamic State,” also known in the Arab world as “Daesh.” The coalition has shifted its focus to protecting Iraqi bases from attack by Iranian-allied militias such as Kataib Hezbollah, according to an official statement. “As a result we are now fully committed to protecting the Iraqi bases that host Coalition troops,” the U.S.-led coalition said. “This has limited our capacity to conduct training with partners and to support their operations against Daesh and we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review.“ The Iraqi parliamentary resolution is non-binding on the government, but Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi urged parliament earlier on Sunday to take urgent measures and end the foreign troop presence as soon as possible.

Trump threatens to slap sanctions on Iraq 'like they've never seen before'  - President Donald Trump threatened Sunday to slap sanctions on Iraq after its parliament passed a resolution calling for the government to expel foreign troops from the country.  Tensions in the Middle East spiraled last week after Trump called for a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, the U.S. president said: “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. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.” “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” Trump said. The president added that “If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.” Soleimani, the head of a special forces unit in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was the key architect of Iran’s military operations overseas. He was killed late Thursday while leaving Baghdad airport, when his convoy was struck by a drone, ordered by the U.S. president. One of those killed with him was a key Iraqi militia leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. The Iraqi government has accused Washington of violating its sovereignty. “The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason,” read the resolution passed by the Iraqi parliament, which convened in an extraordinary session on Sunday.

Senate Republican blocks unanimous consent on resolution calling targeting cultural sites a war crime -- Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) blocked passage of a resolution on Tuesday that classified attacks on cultural sites as "war crimes." Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) tried to get unanimous consent to pass the resolution, arguing that the Senate should go on record amid President Trump's threats to target Iranian cultural sites. "The president would compound the mistake which he has made and turn it into something that could be catastrophic for that region, for our country, for the world," Markey said from the Senate floor. He added that Trump's threat to target cultural sites is a "betrayal of American values. It is wrong. It is a needless escalation which ignores international law." The page-long resolution states that "attacks on cultural sites are war crimes." It also notes Defense Secretary Mark Esper's comments from Monday, when he told reporters that the United States would not target Iranian culture sites and would "follow the laws of armed conflict." Under the Senate's rules, any one senator can request for a resolution to be passed by unanimous consent, but any one senator can object and block their request. Inhofe said he appreciated "the spirit" of Markey's resolution but that it needed to be more specific. "Since our votes carry the force of law, we need to be more specific in our resolutions, and it's simply not true that attacking cultural sites is always a war crime because there are many instances in which cultural sites have been used as staging grounds for hostilities," Inhofe said. He added that he hoped Markey would amend his resolution "to acknowledge an exception for when cultural sites are used for staging military attacks or other improper purposes."

Pentagon rejects Trump threat to target Iranian cultural sites | USA News | Al Jazeera The United States's defence secretary has contradicted President Donald Trump by saying the country's military had no plans to bomb Iranian cultural sites amid threats of retaliation from Tehran over the US assassination of its top military commander, Qassem Soleimani. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mark Esper said the US military will "follow the laws of armed conflict". When pressed if that ruled out hitting cultural sites, Esper said pointedly: "That's the laws of armed conflict". More: US military has no plans to leave Iraq: US defence chief Iran: Qassem Soleimani's remains arrive in Kerman for burial US-Iran tensions after Soleimani killing: All the latest updates In comments that sparked an international outcry, Trump first raised the prospect of attacking cultural sites in a tweet on Saturday and reiterated that view to reporters the next day. "We have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD," he tweeted.

Fifth Pentagon official announces resignation in seven days - The Defense Department’s senior adviser for international cooperation earlier this week left the Pentagon, marking the fifth top official in seven days to leave or announce their departure. Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, a longtime State Department official who began working in her Pentagon role in September 2018, resigned on Dec. 16, the Pentagon confirmed. Defense News first reported her departure. “We appreciate her service to the department and wish her continued success. ... The department remains committed to the development and implementation of international cooperative programs and defense exportability efforts to foster cooperation with U.S. allies on research, development, production and support of weapons systems and related equipment,” a Department of Defense (DOD) spokesman said in a statement. “The department will not provide anything further on this personnel matter,” the spokesman added. Michael Vaccaro, the director for international armaments cooperation, will serve as the acting senior adviser. Kaidanow’s resignation follows four other announced departures within a week. Those include the Dec. 12 notification that top Asia policy official Randall Schriver would leave after two years on the job, the Dec. 13 announcement that top official in charge of personnel and readiness Jimmy Stewart had resigned after taking the role in October 2018 the Tuesday report that Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency leader Steven Walker will leave in January, and the news earlier Wednesday that Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Kari Bingen submitted her resignation on Dec. 5 and will leave Jan. 10. Kaidanow worked under the Pentagon’s acquisition and sustainment office focusing on “the development and implementation of international cooperative programs” to bring “cooperation with U.S. allies on research, development, production and support of weapons systems and related equipment,” according to her DOD bio page.

House to vote on limiting Trump’s military powers regarding Iran, Pelosi says --The House of Representatives will introduce and vote on a war powers resolution this week to limit President Donald Trump’s military actions regarding Iran, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  In a letter to colleagues Sunday, Pelosi said the resolution is similar to one introduced in the Senate by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. “It reasserts Congress’s long-established oversight responsibilities by mandating that if no further Congressional action is taken, the Administration’s military hostilities with regard to Iran cease within 30 days,” she said.Kaine introduced his resolution on Friday. It seeks a debate and vote to prevent escalation of hostilities with Iran.Democrats have complained that Trump did not notify lawmakers before carrying out a drone strike that killed Iran’s top military commander, Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad.His killing has caused already-tense relations between the U.S. and Iran to worsen and fueled concerns of outright war in the region. On Sunday, Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution calling for U.S. troops to be expelled from the country. Trump has threatened to slap sanctions on Iraq in retaliation. In her letter, Pelosi said the Trump administration’s “provocative and disproportionate military airstrike targeting high-level Iranian military officials” had endangered U.S. “service members, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran.”

Pelosi says House will introduce ‘War Power Resolution’ aimed to limit Trump’s Iran military action - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday sent a letter to Democratic members of Congress announcing the House will introduce and vote on a "War Powers Resolution to limit the President's military actions regarding Iran" amid rising tension. The resolution, Pelosi writes, "reasserts Congress's long-established oversight responsibilities by mandating that if no further Congressional action is taken, the Administration's military hostilities with regard to Iran cease within 30 days." The letter comes as the US is deploying thousands of additional troops to the Middle East following the airstrike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. Earlier Sunday, President Donald Trump reiterated his threat to target Iranian cultural sites. "Last week, the Trump Administration conducted a provocative and disproportionate military airstrike targeting high-level Iranian military officials. This action endangered our servicemembers, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran," Pelosi writes. Pelosi said the resolution would be led by Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, who previously worked for the CIA and was an analyst for the Defense Department specializing in Shia militias. 

Suleimani’s assassination and the muddled moralism behind it - Robert Wright - Last week a civilian US military contractor was killed by a missile that presumably came from an Iraqi militia supported by Iran; The US avenged this death by killing 25 members of the militia via five air strikes. In response to these killings, Iraqi protesters, many of them backers of the militia, assembled at the US embassy in Baghdad, breached its outer perimeter, and set its reception area on fire, but dispersed without causing any deaths. In response to these protests (and purportedly to head off an attack on Americans that US officials claim was imminent, though they get pretty testy if you ask for details, and there is reason to think the claim is basically a lie), the US killed Suleimani, as well as a high-ranking Iraqi military figure.  3. This week’s rocket attack on an American military facility in Iraq, the attack that killed the US contractor, can perhaps be seen as the spillover into Iraq of this Iranian pushback, though there are other explanations for it, having to do with internal Iraqi politics. In any event, expelling US troops from Iraq is a longstanding Iranian goal, and has at times been pursued violently. Which brings us to: III. The 40-year chain of events: Suleimani has implicitly collaborated with the US—most notably in fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Still, Iran never quit wanting Americans out of Iraq, and this was the context in which a single US fatality in Iraq last week brought us rapidly to the brink of war. Note one thing about these three accounts, at different levels of resolution, of the interaction between the US and Iran: It’s far from obvious that Iran bears more responsibility than the US does for getting us to the point we’re at.

Lies, the Bethlehem Doctrine, and the Illegal Murder of Soleimani - Craig Murray -In one of the series of blatant lies the USA has told to justify the assassination of Soleimani, Mike Pompeo said that Soleimani was killed because he was planning “Imminent attacks” on US citizens. It is a careful choice of word. Pompeo is specifically referring to the Bethlehem Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Self Defence.Developed by Daniel Bethlehem when Legal Adviser to first Netanyahu’s government and then Blair’s, the Bethlehem Doctrine is that states have a right of “pre-emptive self-defence” against “imminent” attack. That is something most people, and most international law experts and judges, would accept. Including me. What very few people, and almost no international lawyers, accept is the key to the Bethlehem Doctrine – that here “Imminent” – the word used so carefully by Pompeo – does not need to have its normal meanings of either “soon” or “about to happen”. An attack may be deemed “imminent”, according to the Bethlehem Doctrine, even if you know no details of it or when it might occur. So you may be assassinated by a drone or bomb strike – and the doctrine was specifically developed to justify such strikes – because of “intelligence” you are engaged in a plot, when that intelligence neither says what the plot is nor when it might occur. Or even more tenuous, because there is intelligence you have engaged in a plot before, so it is reasonable to kill you in case you do so again. the Bethlehem Doctrine has been the formal legal justification for drone strikes and targeted assassinations by the Israeli, US and UK governments for a decade. Here it is in academic paper form, published by Bethlehem after he left government service (the form in which it is adopted by the US, UK and Israeli Governments isclassified information). So when Pompeo says attacks by Soleimani were “imminent” he is not using the word in the normal sense in the English language. It is no use asking him what, where or when these “imminent” attacks were planned to be. He is referencing the Bethlehem Doctrine under which you can kill people on the basis of a feeling that they may have been about to do something.

The Suleimani Assassination and US Strategic Incoherence - Richard N. Haas, CFR - When Donald Trump succeeded Obama close to three years ago, he was determined not to repeat the perceived mistakes of his predecessor. “America First” signaled a renewed emphasis on domestic priorities; economic sanctions and tariffs, rather than military force, became the preferred national security tool. The boom in domestic oil and natural gas production had made the US self-sufficient in terms of energy, thereby reducing the direct importance of the Middle East. Trump went out of his way to shrink the US footprint and commitment. He looked the other way when Iran attacked oil tankers, US drones, and Saudi oil refineries, and turned his back on the Kurds in Syria, although they had been America’s partner in defeating ISIS there. “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand,” was what Trump had to say this past October. The principal exception to this avoidance of military action was the US strike in late December 2019 on sites associated with Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia accused of launching an attack days before that killed an American contractor and injured several service members. It is against this backdrop that Trump ordered the targeted killing of General Qassem Suleimani, by most accounts the second most powerful man in Iran. What prompted him to do so remains unclear. The administration claims it had intelligence that Suleimani was planning new attacks on US diplomats and soldiers. But the decision to act also could have been motivated by images of the US embassy in Baghdad under attack from Iran-supported militia – images that recalled the siege and subsequent hostage-taking at the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979 or of the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that Republicans used to criticize then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Another contributing factor might have been a tweet attributed to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that taunted Trump by saying, “You can’t do anything.” Given Suleimani’s standing, Iran is unlikely to back down. It has many options at its disposal, including a wide range of military, economic, and diplomatic targets in many countries in the region. It can operate directly or through proxies; it can use armed force or cyberattacks. The US could well find itself with no alternative but to devote more military resources to the Middle East and to use them in response to what Iran does, a path that could lead to additional Iranian provocations. And that shift would occur at a time of growing concern about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Russian military threats to Europe, the weakening of arms-control arrangements meant to curb US-Russian nuclear competition, and the arrival of a new era of technological, economic, military and diplomatic competition with China.

Pence says Iran's Qasem Soleimani aided 9/11 hijackers. Experts say that's not true  -In a Friday Twitter post, Vice President Mike Pence claimed top Iranian GeneralQasem Soleimani assisted the 9/11 hijackers in traveling to Afghanistan. In a thread laying out Soleimani's "worst atrocities," Pence included how Soleimani "assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States."Links between Soleimani and the 9/11 attacks have not been proven, as experts noted. Daniel Byman, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a staff member on the 9/11 Commission, told USA TODAY, "To my knowledge, there's no evidence Soleimani was directly running the 9/11 operatives that were transiting Iran."Although there were links between Al Qaeda and Iran, it was "not true" that Iran was behind the 9/11 attacks, Byman said. As the bipartisan report from the 9/11 Commission concluded, "We have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack."  The tweet drew condemnation from experts, journalists and former government officials, who pushed back on the statement.

Pompeo gripes about European reaction to Soleimani strike - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo complained about European allies’ responses to the U.S. strike that killed a top Iranian general.“Frankly, the Europeans haven't been as helpful as I wish that they could be," Pompeo said in an interview late Friday with Fox News, describing his discussions with allies about the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. European leaders have urged restraint in the wake of the killing. While Iranian provocations had been “dangerous,” German Foreign Minister Maas tweeted on Friday, for example, “This action has not made it easier to reduce tensions. I made this point clearly to @SecPompeo as well.” Pompeo said the response from U.S. allies in the Middle East had been “fantastic,” while others “haven’t been quite as good.”"The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well," he said. "This was a good thing for the entire world, and we are urging everyone in the world to get behind what the United States is trying to do to get the Islamic Republic of Iran to simply behave like a normal nation.”

Trump’s Approach To Iran Highlights Both Parties’ Internal Divides  -President Trump’s decision to authorize a drone strike that killed Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last week has reignited broader questions about both the role of the United States in the Middle East and how and when the U.S. should use military force. And the reactions to the strike among elected Republicans and Democrats show divides not only between the two parties but within the parties as well — at least at the level of elites, and potentially among Republican voters.For the last three years, splits in the GOP have mostly revolved around Trump’s brand of conservatism (his emphasis on issues like immigration and regular attacks on institutions such as the judiciary and the press) and how much the party should adhere to Trump’s approach. But even congressional Republicans who often criticize the president, such as Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, are largely praising (or at least not criticizing) his decision to authorize the attack.Instead, the prominent Republican criticism of the military strike so far has come largely from two people: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. You might reasonably ask why it’s worth highlighting Republican opposition to the Trump strike if we can only cite two people. Two reasons: First, Carlson matters. (Yes, perhaps more than a sitting senator.) Trump isreportedly a regular viewer of Carlson’s show, and some of Trump’s tweets suggest he’s repeating ideas that he saw on Carlson’s show. The president also reportedly talks privately with Carlson about policy on occasion. And Carlson, with a prime-time show on Fox News, reaches more than 2 million people daily, giving him real clout in conservative circles.

On The Idiotic Partisan Debate Over Regime Change In Iran Or Syria - Caitlin Johnstone --By far the dumbest thing in all of US politics is the fact that Democrats tend to support regime change in Syria, while Republicans tend to support it more in Iran. I am not talking about the elected officials in those parties; I’m talking about the ordinary rank-and-file Joes and Janets who stand absolutely nothing to gain from toppling either Damascus or Tehran, but who have been brainwashed by lifelong media consumption into supporting one or the other anyway. Whenever I write against the US government’s longstanding agenda to replace the leadership of Tehran with a compliant puppet regime, I know with absolute certainty that I’m going to spend the rest of my time online arguing with Trump supporters and lifelong Republicans. Whenever I write against the US government’s longstanding agenda to do the same in Syria, I know with absolute certainty that I’m going to be arguing predominantly with so-called centrist liberals.At no time has this ever failed to occur.I’ve spent the last few days arguing with Trump supporters who are telling me I’m crazy for not celebrating the death of an Iranian general they had no idea existed one week ago, and many of these pro bono State Department propagandists began following my work because they liked what I’ve been saying about Syria.Conversely, all the fauxgressives and liberal interventionists who spent all last month telling me I’m a monster for writing about leaked OPCW documents showing we were lied to about an alleged 2018 chemical weapons incident have been staying out of my social media notifications completely these past four days.It is truly bizarre. And it is truly, deeply, profoundly stupid.It is truly, deeply and profoundly stupid because the agenda to topple Iran’s government and the agenda to topple Syria’s government are not two separate agendas. They are the same. Supporting one while opposing the other is like wanting to shoot someone in the head but being morally opposed to shooting them in the heart.

Iran’s Cyber Attack on Billionaire Adelson Provides Lesson on Strategy - As the U.S. awaits possible retribution over a recent airstrike that killed a top general, there’s at least one American businessman who can attest, in detail, to what happened after he provoked Iran. In October 2013, Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and prominent supporter of conservative politicians and Israel, appeared on a panel in New York in which he suggested that the U.S. could send a message to Iran, regarding its nuclear ambitions, by detonating an American warhead in the middle of the Iranian desert. “You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position,” said Adelson, who later became a major supporter of President Donald Trump. His comments infuriated Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who two weeks later said America “should slap these prating people in the mouth.” Months later, in February 2014, hackers inserted malware into the computer networks of Adelson’s Las Vegas casino. The withering cyber-attack laid waste to about three quarters of the company’s Las Vegas servers; the cost of recovering data and building new systems cost $40 million or more. A year after the attack, the top U.S. intelligence official confirmed that Iran was behind it. Now, as Iran vows revenge for the airstrike, the U.S. faces an aggressive adversary in which digital warfare may be among its best options to strike directly at the American population. In the years since the Sands incident, Iranian hackers have continued their attacks, targeting a U.S. presidential campaign, universities, journalists, and even a dam in suburban New York. “I’m sure the Iranians are asking their hackers for a list of options,” said James Lewis, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who oversees the policy research group’s cybersecurity program. “Cyber-attacks can be tempting if they can find the right American target.” Milan Patel, former chief technological officer of the FBI’s cyber division, said he was worried about what may come next since Iran has shown interest in targeting critical infrastructure. “Power generation like hydro and electric, that’s where they can cause the most real world damage,”

'We're going to war, bro': Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne deploys to the Middle East - (Reuters) - For many of the soldiers, it would be their first mission. They packed up ammunition and rifles, placed last-minute calls to loved ones, then turned in their cell phones. Some gave blood. The 600 mostly young soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were headed for the Middle East, part of a group of some 3,500 U.S. paratroopers ordered to the region. Kuwait is the first stop for many. Their final destinations are classified. “We’re going to war, bro,” one cheered, holding two thumbs up and sporting a grin under close-shorn red hair. He stood among dozens of soldiers loading trucks outside a cinder block building housing several auditoriums with long benches and tables. Days after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the drone killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, raising fears of fresh conflict in the Middle East, the men and women of the U.S. Army’s storied 82nd Airborne Division are moving out in the largest “fast deployment” since the 2010 Haiti earthquake. U.S. Army Major General James Mingus waded through the sea of camouflage-uniformed men and women as they prepared to leave the base near Fayetteville on Sunday. He shook hands with the troops, wishing them luck. One soldier from Ashboro, Virginia, said he wasn’t surprised when the order came. “I was just watching the news, seeing how things were going over there,” said the 27-year-old, one of several soldiers Reuters was allowed to interview on condition they not be named. “Then I got a text message from my sergeant saying ‘don’t go anywhere.’ And that was it.” 

A lasting US-Iran conflict would cause ‘broad economic, financial shock,’ Moody’s says - As tensions rise in the Middle East, Moody’s warned on Monday that any sustained clashes could have global economic repercussions. “A lasting conflict would have wide-ranging implications through broad economic and financial shock that significantly worsen operating and financing conditions,” Moody’s senior analyst Alexander Perjessy wrote in a note to clients Monday. “A protracted conflict would potentially have global repercussions, in particular through its effect on oil prices,” he added. Following Thursday’s death of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, on Sunday an Iranian state-run television broadcast said that the nation would no longer respect uranium enrichment restrictions set forth in 2015′s nuclear deal. Also on Sunday, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling for an expulsion of foreign troops, which raises question about the future of the allied mission that has successfully fought the “Islamic State,” or ISIS, in recent years. Perjessy said that the effects of ongoing tensions would hit the broader economy — not just the oil and banking sectors — as things like tourism in the Middle East, for instance, would be impacted. He also noted that “increased risk aversion” would be negative for issuers, particularly those with “large external financing needs” and “relatively smaller or insufficient reserves.” Since Thursday’s airstrike safe haven assets like gold and bonds have rallied, and oil prices have surged to multi-month highs.On Monday international benchmark Brent crude hit a session high of $70.74 — its highest since September 16 — while U.S. West Texas Intermediate climbed to $64.72, its highest since April.

‘They Fear Someone Will Go There and Tell the Truth,’ Says Iran’s Top Diplomat as Trump White House Bars Him From US -Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Tuesday confirmed reports that the Trump administration has denied him a visa to enter the U.S. for a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York this week, a move the diplomat said was motivated by a desire to suppress facts about the assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani."This is because they fear someone will go there and tell the truth to the American people," Zarif told reporters from Tehran. "But they are mistaken. The world is not limited to New York. You can speak with American people from Tehran too and we will do that." Zarif's remarks came after Foreign Policy, citing three anonymous diplomatic sources, reportedMonday that the Trump administration had decided to bar the foreign minister from entering the U.S., "violating the terms of a 1947 headquarters agreement requiring Washington to permit foreign officials into the country to conduct U.N. business."On Twitter, Zarif said the Trump administration's decision to deny him a visa "pales in comparison" to the White House's other aggressive actions against Iran, from devastating economic sanctions to threats to destroy its cultural heritage.The U.N. meeting Thursday would have been Zarif's first address to the international community since the U.S. assassination of Soleimani, which the Iranian foreign minister condemned as an "act of terrorism."According to Foreign Policy, Iran was "awaiting word on the visa Monday when a Trump administration official phoned U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to inform him that the United States would not allow Zarif into the country."Larry Johnson, a former U.N assistant secretary-general, said the U.S. is "absolutely obligated" to let Zarif into the country under the terms of the 1947 U.N. headquarters agreement. "Any foreign minister is entitled to address the Security Council at any time and the United States is obligated to provide access to the U.N. headquarters district," Johnson told Foreign Policy.

Can The US Assassination Of Qassem Soleimani Be Justified? - We know from various Congressional folks that briefers of Congress have failed to produce any evidence of “imminent” plans to kill Americans Soleimani was involved with that would have made this a legal killing rather than an illegal assassination. The public statements by administration figures have cited such things as the 1979 hostage crisis, the already dead contractor, and, oh, the need to “reestablish deterrence” after Trump did not follow through on previous threats he made. None of this looks remotely like “imminent plans,” not to mention that the Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi has reported that Soleimani was on the way to see him with a reply to a Saudi peace proposal. What a threatening imminent plan!As it is, despite the apparent lack of “imminent plans” to kill Americans, much of the supporting rhetoric for this assassination coming out of Trump supporters (with bragging about it having reportedly been put up on Trump’s reelection funding website) involves charges that Soleimani was “the world’s Number One terrorist” and was personally responsible for killing 603 Americans in Iraq. Even as many commentators have noted the lack of any “imminent plans,” pretty much all American ones have prefaced these questions with assertions that Soleimani was unquestionable “evil” and “bad” and a generally no good guy who deserved to be offed, if not right at this time and in this way. He was the central mastermind and boss of a massive international terror network that obeyed his orders and key to Iran’s reputed position as “the Number One state supporter of terrorism,” with Soleimani the key to all of that.Of course, in Iran it turns out that Soleimani was highly respected, even as many oppose the hawkish policies he was part of. He was viewed as crucial to the victory over ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in Iraq, much feared by Iranians. Shia take martyrdom seriously, and he is viewed as a martyr. It appears that even Trump took notice of the massive outpouring of mourning and praise for Soleimani there up to the point of people dying in a stampede in a mourning crowd in his hometown. But, hey, obviously these people simply do not understand that he was The World’s Number One Terrorist! Heck, I saw one commenter on Marginal Revolution claiming Soleimani was responsible killing “hundreds of thousands.” Yes, this sort of claim is floating around out there. A basic problem here is that while indeed Soleimani commanded the IGRC al Quds force that supported and supplied various Shia militias in several Middle Eastern nations, these all were (and are) ultimately independent. Soleimani may have advised them, but he was never in a position to order any of them to do anything. Al Quds itself has never carried out any of the various attacks outside of Iran that Soleimani is supposedly personally responsible for.

Trump administration offers shifting messages to justify strikes on Iran’s Soleimani - A week after the US killed Iran's second most powerful official, spiking tensions in the region and triggering fears of war, the Trump administration continues to present conflicting justifications for the deadly Reaper drone strike and clashing narratives about what has followed. Again and again, President Donald Trump's national security officials have contradicted each other about how imminent a threat Qasem Soleimani posed, whether they had specific intelligence on the threat and even what that threat was, with Trump saying one thing then another, while officials offered varying explanations.Administration officials even appear to disagree on the roles that Trump's principal advisers played, with the Defense Department pushing back on claims by sources close to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the top US diplomat was a prime actor in directing troop movements. The confusion has extended to events following Soleimani's killing, as the administration offered diverging narratives about Iran's retaliatory attack on US forces in Iraq Wednesday and the departments of Treasury and State presented mismatched details on Iran sanctions Friday.

US starts the Raging Twenties declaring war on Iran - Pepe Escobar - It does not matter where the green light came from for the US targeted assassination of Quds Force commander Major General Qasem Soleimani and the Hashd al-Shaabi second in command Abu Madhi al-Muhandis.  This is an act of war. Unilateral, unprovoked and illegal.  President Trump may have issued the order. Or the US Deep State may have ordered him to issue the order.  According to my best Southwest Asia intel sources, “Israel gave the US the coordinates for the assassination of Qasem Soleimani as they wanted to avoid the repercussions of taking the assassination upon themselves.”It does not matter that Trump and the Deep State are at war.One of the very few geopolitical obsessions that unite them is non-stop confrontation with Iran – qualified by the Pentagon as one of the five top threats against the US, almost at the level of Russia and China.  And there cannot be a more startling provocation against Iran – in a long list of sanctions and provocations – than what happened in Baghdad. Iraq is now the preferred battleground of a proxy war against Iran that may now metastasize into a hot war, with devastating consequences.We knew it was coming. There were plenty of rumbles in Israeli media by former Defense and Mossad officials. There were explicit threats by the Pentagon. I discussed it in detail in Umbria last week with sterling analyst Alastair Crooke – who was extremely worried. I received worried messages from Iran. The inevitable escalation by Washington was being discussed until late Thursday night here in Palermo, actually a few hours before the strike. Sicily, by the way, in the terminology of US generals, is AMGOT: American Government Occupied Territory.Once again, the Exceptionalist hands at work show how predictable they are. Trump is cornered by impeachment. Netanyahu has been indicted. Nothing like an external “threat” to rally the internal troops. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei knows about these complex variables as much as he knows of this responsibility as the power who issued Iran’s own red lines. Not surprisingly he already announced, on the record, there will be blowback: “A forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of other martyrs last night on their hands.” Expect it to be very painful.

Rand Paul- You'd Have To Be Brain Dead To Think Soleimani's Death Would 'Deter' Iran - Prior to Iran's overnight retaliation attack on US bases in Iraq, Senator Rand Paul shredded the entire decision-making process that led to the current dangerous escalation, accurately predicting that Soleimani's killing made it "much more likely" that Iran would escalate, instead of the administration's claim that it would be "deterred" from further aggression. "You would have to be brain dead to believe that we tear up the agreement, we put an embargo on you and we kill your major general, and they're just going to crawl back to the table and say: 'What do you want, America?'" Paul said in a CNN interview.   Breaking from other congressional Republicans, Paul blamed Pompeo and Trump for the "death of diplomacy" which can only lead to major war bad for both the Iranian and American people, and yet another 'war of choice' catastrophe for the region.  During the Monday interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Paul said that "the administration, mainly at (former national security adviser) John Bolton's behest, tore up the Iran agreement, placed a significant and severe embargo on Iran and then killed one of their major generals." "Nobody in their right mind would actually think that would lead to negotiation."  He further called the Republican line on Soleimani that his assassination was justified merely because he was "an evil bastard" tantamount to thinking like "grade-school children". And in follow-up statements on Tuesday, Sen. Paul told Fox News"The Iran agreement wasn't perfect — and I was a critic of the Iran agreement — however, I think it was a big mistake to pull out of the Iran agreement. We should have tried to build upon the Iran agreement.""We've now killed one of their major generals. I think it is the death of diplomacy and I see no way to get it back started until the revenge of the Iranian people is somehow sated."

Iran Is Not a Threat to Our Security. Trump’s Saber-Rattling Is. - Iran does pose a serious threat to American influence in Iraq, and Saudi hegemony in the Middle East. Its Islamist regime also represents a modest (though not “existential”) threat to Israeli security and regional influence, as well as a fundamental obstacle to the personal freedom of Iranians in general, and Iranian women and LGBTQ individuals in particular. But Iran poses no serious threat to American national security. That last fact is inconvenient for U.S. foreign-policy elites who would like to sacrifice American lives and wealth to the causes of maximizing Washington’s influence in Iraq, Riyadh’s hegemony in the Persian Gulf, Israeli security, or regime change in Tehran (most of the Trump administration’s foreign-policy hands fall into at least one of those buckets). Persuading America’s infamously provincial public to embrace an expansive conception of their nation’s “core interests” — let alone thespecific conception favored by America’s anti-Iran hawks — is hard. Persuading Americans that they have an interest in not dying in a terrorist attack is, by contrast, fairly easy. For this reason, a defining feature of American foreign-policy discourse is its willful elision of the distinction between threats to U.S. interests (as tendentiously defined by elite policy-makers) and threats to the physical security of the American people. Anti-Iran hawks aren’t the only ones who engage in this rhetorical sleight of hand. It is endemic to Washington’s foreign-policy community. House Democrats, and the State Department officials who testified at their impeachment hearings, routinely described Russia’s incursions into the Donbass as a threat to America’s “national security” — as though the only thing standing between Vladimir Putin’s declining petro-state and geopolitical parity with the world’s preeminent economic and military power was control of an impoverished, environmentally degraded slice of Eastern Ukraine. More broadly, the equation of challenges to American “regional interests” with threats to the nation’s domestic security is baked into our government’s basic vocabulary: But the Trump administration, and its allied anti-Iran hawks, conjure phantom threats to American security with exceptional fervor and mendacity. And not without reason: If Americans had a clearer understanding of the nature of “the Iranian threat,” they would likely have less tolerance for Donald Trump’s belligerent posture toward Tehran.

Report: Trump Cited Impeachment Pressure to Kill Soleimani - Deep inside a long, detailed Wall Street Journal report about President Trump’s foreign policy advisers is an explosive nugget: “Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate, associates said.” This is a slightly stronger iteration of a fact the New York Times reported three days ago, to wit, “pointed out to one person who spoke to him on the phone last week that he had been pressured to take a harder line on Iran by some Republican senators whose support he needs now more than ever amid an impeachment battle.”This would not mean Trump ordered the strike entirely, or even primarily, in order to placate Senate Republicans. But it does constitute an admission that domestic political considerations influenced his decision. That would, of course, constitute a grave dereliction of duty. Trump is so cynical he wouldn’t even recognize that making foreign policy decisions influenced by impeachment is the kind of thing he shouldn’t say out loud. Of course, using his foreign policy authority for domestic political gain is the offense Trump is being impeached for. It would be characteristically Trumpian to compound the offense as part of his efforts to avoid accountability for it. What kind of pressure could Trump have in mind? It seems highly doubtful that he is worried 20 Republican senators would vote to remove him from office. He could be concerned that one or two of them would defect, denying him the chance to present impeachment as totally partisan (as he did following the House vote.) More plausibly, Trump might be worried a handful of Republicans would join Democrats to allow testimony from witnesses, like John Bolton, Trump has managed to block.

Trump Complains About Not Winning the Nobel Peace Prize Days After Threatening to Commit War Crimes  -Days after authorizing an act of war backed by a shoddy rationale, President Donald Trump began this week by reiterating a threat to commit war crimes by bombing cultural sites in Iran. With the peculiar logic of an employee tanking their performance just before asking for a raise, he ended the week complaining during a rally in Ohio about not yet receiving the Nobel Peace Prize:“I made a deal. I saved a country, and I just heard that the head of that country is now getting the Nobel Peace prize for saving the country. I said ‘did I have something to do with it?’ Yeah. But you know that’s the way it is. As long as we know, that’s all that matters. I saved a big war, I saved a couple of ‘em.”The context for this frequent Trump complaint is unclear: He may be referring to his February 2019 claim that he saved 3 million people from a strike in the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib by informing the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran of a pending offensive in the region, or to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 2018 recommendation that Trump receive the award for his (all-but-futile) negotiations with North Korea.As for the “head of that country [who] is now getting the Nobel Peace prize,” in the last three years, there have been no winners from the countries Trump is presumably referring to; perhaps he has an inside line on the 2020 winner, although the nominations are still open. Here are the other highlights from the president’s first rally of the year.

Iran can't hit back over Soleimani's killing because America has only fictional heroes like SpongeBob SquarePants, a prominent cleric said - An Iranian cleric mocked the US by saying Iran would not be able to strike back in kind after the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani because the US has only fictional heroes such as Spider-Man and SpongeBob SquarePants.The cleric, Shahab Moradi, made the comment in a live TV interview on Iran's IRIB Ofogh channel. A clip of the segment was posted on Saturday evening on Twitter, but it is unclear when the program aired.In the clip, Moradi says: "In your opinion, if anyone around the world wants to take their revenge on the assassination of Soleimani and intends to do it proportionately in the way they suggest — that we take one of theirs now that they've got one of ours — who should we consider to take out in the context of America?"Think about it. Are we supposed to take out Spider-Man and SpongeBob? They don't have any heroes. We have a country in front of us with a large population and a large landmass, but it doesn't have any heroes. All of their heroes are cartoon characters — they're all fictional."

Will This Billionaire-Funded Think Tank Get Its War With Iran? - The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington, DC–based, tax-exempt organization that bills itself as a think tank dedicated to the enhancement of a foreign country’s reputation within the United States, funded by billionaires closely aligned with said foreign country, has one of its high-ranking operatives (often referred to as “fellows”) embedded within the White House national security staff in order to further the oft-stated agenda of his home organization, which, as it happens, is also paying his salary during his year-long stint there.  The FDD senior adviser on the National Security Council was Richard Goldberg. And the think tank, the FDD, funded by prominent American billionaires such as the financier Paul Singer and Home Depot magnate Bernard Marcus, has relentlessly pushed for a recklessly militaristic US policy against Iran and in the Middle East generally.  Why does this matter?On Friday, January 3, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, an Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary unit, and eight others were killed in a missile attack carried out by the US military at Baghdad International Airport. In a statement after the attack, the Pentagon claimed, without evidence, that Suleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” and that the “strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows echoing the administration’s party line. On social media, Trump’s decision to assassinate Suleimani and al-Muhandis was greeted with praise from the FDD, which gloated, via Twitter, that Iran “thought he [Trump] was a Twitter tiger; he’s proven otherwise.” FDD CEO Mark Dubowitz wrote that hebelieves that the death of Suleimani is “more consequential than the killing of [Osama] #BinLaden.”And this brings us to the FDD and its arrangement with Trump’s National Security Council (NSC). Shortly after the air strikes in Baghdad, Bloomberg News reported that a senior adviser at the FDD, Richard Goldberg, would be returning to the FDD after serving on the NSC for the past year. According to Bloomberg News’ Nick Wadhams, Goldberg’s position was created by former national security Adviser John Bolton in order to “counter what Bolton saw as a desire at the Departments of State and Treasury to weaken the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran.” Wadhams notes that the FDD continued to pay Goldberg’s salary while he was on staff at the NSC.

How to Avoid Another War in the Middle East - Killing the Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani may well have been the most consequential foreign policy decision of Donald Trump’s presidency. Its repercussions will be felt for days, months, and even years to come—but what exactly they will be depends on what the Trump administration does next. The strike has been explained by senior U.S. officials as both an effort to deter future Iranian aggression and an act of preventive defense in the face of an imminent attack. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are already out crowing with patriotic tweets reminiscent of the “Mission Accomplished” banners rolled out in the first weeks of the Iraq war. But what was true then in Iraq is true now: the crisis will not end here. Iran’s retaliatory actions will unfold over time, often in ways no one expects, and they won’t be limited to Iraq or even to the Middle East. The Trump administration needs to prepare for a full range of contingencies: cyberattacks, terrorist attacks abroad and on U.S. soil, attempts to assassinate U.S. officials, and more assaults on Saudi oil fields. Iran will likely take more provocative steps on its nuclear program: in fact, the country was already expected to announce its latest move away from the 2015 nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump needs a strategy that does more than respond to Iran’s tactical moves as they come. He must decide how he wants to resolve this crisis and work backward from there. The U.S. goal at this point should be to de-escalate the situation and avoid a wider war, and to do so in a way that leaves Americans safer in the long term. To this end, the administration will need to send clear, consistent messages that are not unnecessarily provocative, while quietly working to ensure the safety of vulnerable U.S. diplomatic outposts. Washington should coordinate with U.S. allies, and it must attempt to open a diplomatic channel to Tehran, through a third party if necessary. Anything short of this risks plunging the United States into yet another costly Middle East adventure. In the near term, Iran’s response to Soleimani’s assassination will occasion crucial decisions: Does the United States continue tit-for-tat strikes? Does it escalate, which would involve substantial deployments and additional U.S. military action? Or does it to try to de-escalate, for example, by opening a diplomatic channel? The Trump administration will have to decide how best to defend U.S. personnel at vulnerable diplomatic posts abroad and whether to evacuate U.S. citizens from certain locations. Some moves—such as sending additional forces to the Middle East—will straddle the line between deterrence and escalation. And any move can be misinterpreted. At each decision point, Trump will have only bad options to choose from. He has left himself with no diplomatic channels, a divided international community, and a skeptical Congress. Sustaining a low-level tit for tat will be nearly impossible, because more miscalculations are likely on both sides—as the recent history of U.S. retaliation for Iranian-backed attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq already attests. But de-escalating will be difficult, too, given the rhetorical bravado on both sides and the lack, under this administration, of the kinds of working diplomatic channels to the Iranian government that existed under previous administrations. Further escalation, meanwhile, would probably mean a wider, conventional war. All of these decisions will unfold against the backdrop of regional turmoil: Iraq’s parliament is now considering kicking U.S. troops out of the country, a move that would hinder the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in the near term and open the way for even greater Iranian influence in Iraq over the long term.

 Trump defends ‘war crime’ threat to target cultural sites in Iran - Donald Trump has defended his threat to target Iranian cultural sites – widely seen as a war crime – if Tehran retaliates for the killing of General Qassem Suleimani. On bellicose form, the US president also lashed out at Iraq following its parliament’s demand for American troops to be expelled from that country, and vowed to respond with crippling sanctions. Trump’s comments suggest he was making no idle threat when, on Saturday night, he tweeted that the US has “targeted 52 Iranian sites ... some at a very high level & important to Iran & Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.” Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One a day later, he sought to offer a justification. “They’re allowed to kill our people,” Trump said, according to a pool report. “They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.” Targeting cultural sites is prohibited by international conventions signed in Geneva and at the Hague. In 2017, the United Nations security council passed unanimously a resolution condemning the destruction of heritage sites. The action previewed by Trump would almost certainly involve the deaths of civilians. Advertisement The Pentagon, however, sought to distance itself from Trump’s threats, with defense secretary Mark Esper saying on Monday that the US will “follow the laws of armed conflict”, including those that ruled out targeting cultural sites. Esper’s public comments reflected the private concerns of other defense and military officials, who cited legal prohibitions on attacks on civilian, cultural and religious sites, except under certain, threatening circumstances.

Pompeo orders diplomats not to meet with Iranian opposition groups amid tensions CNN  --Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a cable to all US missions overseas ordering diplomats not to meet with Iranian opposition groups without specific approval because it could further exacerbate tensions with the Iranian regime. "Many exiled Iranian opposition groups try to engage U.S. officials regularly to gain at least the appearance of tacit support and enhance their visibility and clout," Pompeo said, according to a copy of the cable obtained by CNN. He noted that many of these groups "have previously or are currently using violent means in support of their political aims.""Direct U.S. government engagement with these groups could prove counterproductive to our policy goal of seeking a comprehensive deal with the Iranian regime that addresses its destabilizing behavior," Pompeo wrote. The cable's existence, first reported by Bloomberg, is coming to light in the aftermath of the deadly US drone strike that President Donald Trump ordered last week to kill Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.Pompeo sent the instructions early this week and his indirect reference to attempts at diplomatic outreach to Iran comes as the Trump administration has refused to issue a visa to Iran's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.In recent days, Trump administration officials have not laid out any specific steps they are taking to engage in diplomacy with Iran, though they have said they are willing to do so. Iran, over the last year, has not acted upon any of Trump's comments that he is willing to meet Iranian leadership, but Zarif said publicly he was willing to discuss prisoner exchanges. The cable lists a number of Iranian opposition groups, including Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, known as the MEK, and five other Iranian opposition groups that are off limits without specific approval. John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, has previously said the MEK is a "viable opposition" to the current Iranian regime. Last month Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, met with Iranian opposition groups that are linked to the MEK. Bolton and Giuliani have also given paid speeches on the group's behalf. During one of those speeches last year, Giuliani called for regime change in Iran.

Trump floats expanding NATO to add Middle East (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he supported expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to include Middle Eastern nations, as the United States seeks to limit its troop footprint globally. “I think that NATO should be expanded and we should include the Middle East, absolutely,” Trump told reporters at the White House. Trump proposed increased NATO involvement in the Middle East on Wednesday, when he addressed the Iranian strikes against U.S. troops in Iraq, carried out in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian military commander. The military leader, Qassem Soleimani, played a major role in the fight against Islamic State militants in the region. Trump said Islamic State presented an international problem that other countries should help address. “We can come home, largely come home and use NATO,” Trump said. “We caught ISIS, we did Europe a big favor.” Trump has been a critic of NATO, demanding that Europe pay more for its collective defence and make concessions to U.S. interests on trade. Trump joked that the organisation could be called NATO-ME, or NATO plus the Middle East. He said he floated the possible name to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a call on Wednesday. NATO was created in 1949 as a mutual defence bulwark against the Soviet Union to promote the security of the North Atlantic area. The group, based in Brussels, has grown to 29 member nations, from 12 initially. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on Thursday with Stoltenberg to discuss the Iranian strikes and reiterated Trump’s call for NATO to become more involved in the Middle East, the State Department said. A State Department statement said “the two agreed NATO could contribute more to regional security and the fight against international terrorism.” 

Iraqi prime minister tells Pompeo to ‘prepare a mechanism’ for troop withdrawal - Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi on Friday called on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to send a delegation to Iraq to "prepare a mechanism" for U.S. troop withdrawal from the country, according to a Friday statement, The Associated Press reported. The request was made in a Thursday phone call between Pompeo and Abdul-Mahdi, according to a statement from the office of the Iraqi caretaker prime minister, the AP reported. It said Pompeo called the Iraqi official. Iraq’s parliament voted earlier this week to expel the U.S. military from the country after the Pentagon confirmed that President Trump authorized an airstrike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani just outside Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. Abdul-Mahdi had also previously called for the move, the AP reported. The Iraqi leader asked Pompeo to “send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism to carry out the parliament’s resolution regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq,” according to the statement, the AP reported. “The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities and this was a violation of the bilateral agreements,” the statement said. The Iraqi prime minister reaffirmed that his country rejects violations of its sovereignty, citing the attack on Soleimani in addition to the ballistic missiles that Iran fired at two bases in the country that house U.S. troops. A spokesperson for the State Department in a statement said the U.S. presence in Iraq was meant to continue the fight against ISIS and to protect Americans, Iraqis and coalition partners. The statement signaled the U.S. was not sending a delegation to Iraq to discuss withdrawing troops. "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," spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said. She said a NATO delegation was also at the State Department on Friday to discuss increasing NATO's role in Iraq. "There does, however, need to be a conversation between the U.S. and Iraqi governments not just regarding security, but about our financial, economic, and diplomatic partnership," the statement concluded. "We want to be a friend and partner to a sovereign, prosperous, and stable Iraq." Top American military leaders, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have said the U.S. will not withdraw troops from Iraq. Trump threatened this week to impose sanctions on the country if forced to withdraw American troops.

Iraqi PM To Pompeo- US Must Establish Mechanism For Troop Withdrawal - Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who is still serving in a 'caretaker' capacity, has informed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the US must establish a mechanism for the full withdrawal of remaining US troops in Iraq, which according to most estimates numbers around 5,000. Toward that end the Iraqi PM requested a US delegation be sent to work out such a plan.According to the AP, Abdul-Mahdi made the request during a phone call with Pompeo on Thursday night. Specifically, the statement urged the administration to “send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism to carry out the parliament’s resolution regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.”Despite what appears a temporary de-escalation following Iran's ballistic missile 'counter-attack' avenging the death of Qasem Soleimani, Abdul-Mahdi appears to have maintained his stance that the Americans should depart: “The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities and this was a violation of the bilateral agreements,” the statement continued. Since the summer there's been a growing political movement in Iraqi parliament to vote to formally expel the US military presence following the demise of ISIS, but most importantly after a series of unauthorized airstrikes on Iraqi soil targeting Shiite paramilitaries carried out by the United States and Israel. At the start of this week, Iraq's parliament did hold a largely symbolic vote to expel American forces which passed; however, despite international headlines suggesting it was a 'done deal', the reality is that it was merely a 'non-binding' though significant first step that could ultimately prove slow in realizing. Despite the earlier confusion over a potentially leaked Pentagon letter which claimed to initiate immediate US troops withdrawal with the Iraqis, resulting in denials and confusion running through the chain of command, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has since underscored that US troops will not be leaving Iraq. And according to Axios, US officials attempted to halt the weekend Iraq parliament vote to expel American forces. "It's our concern that Iraq would take a short-term decision that would have catastrophic long-term implications for the country and its security," one unnamed Trump administration official was quoted as saying.

US Rebuffs Iraq PM Request To Talk Troop Exit- It's Our Right As A Force For Good To Stay - Perhaps entirely to be expected, the US administration has unambiguously rejected Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi's urgent call for Washington to enact a US troop 'withdrawal mechanism' in Iraq. In a Thursday phone call to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Iraqi leader urged the administration to “send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism to carry out the parliament’s resolution regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.”Echoing prior statements of Mark Esper, the State Department underscored Friday that it's "our right" as a "force for good" in the region to maintain "appropriate force posture in the Middle East" in a statement by spokesperson Morgan Ortagus. She stated the US considers that a troop pullout is not on the table for discussion with Baghdad officials. “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," Ortagus said. The words also appear aimed at Abdul-Mahdi's assertion that US forces were operating "without permission"."America is a force for good in the Middle East," she added. "Our military presence in Iraq is to continue the fight against ISIS and as the Secretary has said, we are committed to protecting Americans, Iraqis, and our coalition partners."And yet President Trump has previously declared the total demise of the Islamic State's "territorial caliphate" which has long been the main rationale for the Pentagon being there. According to most estimates the US troop presence numbers around 5,000, which the Iraqi PM would like to see exit following a vote in Iraqi parliament early this week pushing through an initial non-binding resolution. Abdul-Mahdi requested that a US delegation be sent to Baghdad work out a precise plan for major US pullout. “The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities and this was a violation of the bilateral agreements,” the Iraqi leader's statement said.

There Is Nothing Left for Americans to Do in Iraq --The pitched debate over whether Suleimani was planning an imminent attack—something that is always in the eye of the beholder—on U.S. personnel and interests when he was struck down by a U.S. airstrike last week is important, but the fury with which it is being waged obscures a more fundamental concern about the Iranian general’s demise. It would be one thing to kill Suleimani and bear the burden of the associated risks if there was a plausible case to be made that getting rid of him would have a salutary effect on Iraq and the U.S. ability to influence events there. That seems unlikely. Iraq is in a state of terminal collapse, and the United States is isolated and impotent there. It is thus hard to understand what Washington wants, and what the Americans who were left vulnerable to the likes of Suleimani are actually able to accomplish. The hard truth is that Iraq is lost, and it is time to leave.  The hard truth is that Iraq is lost, and it is time to leave. The foreign-policy community is reluctant to relitigate the invasion of Iraq and its consequences. Perhaps it is too much for analysts and officials—former and current—to bear, but it is worth understanding how and why the trillions of dollars spent, lives lost, and untold number of injured were simply a waste.  Iraq is not a state in the sense that it has a monopoly over violence or can enforce property rights. The system of political and economic spoils set up after the 2003 invasion has led to rapacious thievery and corruption, robbing Iraq of its natural wealth and impoverishing its people. As a result, Iraqis have lost faith in virtually every institution and have poured onto the streets across much of the country to demand a new political order. They have been met with violence at the hands of people allied to and supported by the now-dead Suleimani, whose mission was to ensure that post-invasion Iraq remained so weak and unstable it could never threaten Iran again. This was an entirely predictable result, but the George W. Bush administration, 296 members of the House of Representatives, 77 Senators, and legions of pundits chose to believe fantasies about weapons of mass destruction and democracy delivered at the end of an M1A1 tank.

Hackers Deface U.S. Government Website With Pro-Iran Messages and Image of Bloodied Trump Being Punched - Hackers purporting to be from Iran reportedly defaced a U.S. government website, posting a picture of a bloodied President Donald Trump being punched in the face as well as pro-Iran messages. The homepage for the U.S. Federal Depository Library Program was briefly changed on Saturday evening, CBS News reported, to include a message that said: "Hacked by Iran Cuber Security Group Hackers. This is only small part of Iran's cyber ability! We're always ready." The website could not be accessed shortly after the image of Trump appeared and remained down in the early hours of Sunday morning. A spokesperson for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is a division of the Department of Homeland Security, said the source of the hack could not yet be confirmed. "We are aware the website of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) was defaced with pro-Iranian, anti-US messaging," the spokesperson said in a statement to Newsweek. "At this time, there is no confirmation that this was the action of Iranian state-sponsored actors. The website was taken off line and is no longer accessible. CISA is monitoring the situation with FDLP and our federal partners." Gary Somerset, the chief public relations officer for the U.S. Government Publishing Office, which runs the Federal Depository Library Program website, confirmed to CNN that the website had been taken down shortly after the hack was detected. "We are coordinating with the appropriate authorities to investigate further," he said.

“Iranian Hackers” Deface US Gov Website With Bloody Trump Photo --As tensions between the governments of the United States and Iran continue to escalate, a group claiming to be Iranian hackers has infiltrated the website of a small and mostly unknown US government agency and then replaced the home page with a post titled “Iranian Hackers!” which showed a photoshopped image depicting Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian flag, and a bloodied image of US President Donald Trump, who appears to be getting punched in the mouth by an Iranian military official. The post on the hacked website read “Martyrdom was (Suleimani’s)… reward for years of implacable efforts. With his departure and with God’s power, his work and path will not cease and severe revenge awaits those criminals who have tainted their filthy hands with his blood and blood of the other martyrs.” The agency that was hit by the cyberattack is called the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), which is a government program that was created to make US federal government publications available to the public at no cost. This agency does not have any direct connection to the military, nor would it typically be considered as a target for foreign hackers, as they do not deal with sensitive or classified information, but rather, information that is already publicly available.According to CNN, The Department of Homeland Security is investigating the hack, which a representative from the agency called a “defacement.”

Iranian Presidential Adviser Posted A List Showing Locations For All Trump’s Properties -- Over the weekend, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly hinted at striking Donald Trump’s properties in response to the targeted airstrikes that took out the high ranking military commander Qassem Soleimani. Hesameddin Ashena, one of the top advisers to the Iranian President, made a post on Twitter linking to a Forbes article which listed all the properties in the Trump real estate empire, including his hotels in New York, Las Vegas, Chicago and his resorts and golf courses that are spread out across the US and Britain.  Trump’s now infamous Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where the president was staying when he ordered the airstrikes on Iran last week is also on the list. Of course, all the sites on this list are a matter of public record, but the fact that these locations were cryptically posted by an Iranian presidential advisor has some US military officials very concerned.  Properties pictured in the Forbes list include, first in New York City:

  • 1290 Avenue of Americas
  • 40 Wall Street
  • Trump Tower
  • 6 E. 57th Street
  • Trump Park Avenue
  • Trump Parc/Trump Parc East
  • Trump Plaza
  • Trump World Tower
  • Trump International Hotel & Tower New York555 California Street, San Francisco
  • Trump International Hotel, Las Vegas
  • Trump International Hotel, Washington, DC
  • Trump Winery, Charlottesville, VA
  • Undeveloped Lots in California
  • Trump International Hotel & Tower, Chicago
  • U.S. Golf Clubs
  • Mar-a-Largo, Palm Beach, FL
  • Trump National Doral, Miami
  • Scotland & Ireland Golf Clubs

However, in another Tweet, Ashena clarified that his anger is with the Trump administration, not the American people. We have ZERO problems with the American people. We even achieved deals with previous US administrations. Our sole problem is Trump. In the event of war, it is he who will bear full responsibility. Iranian lawmaker MP Abolfazl Abutorabi called for a strike on the White House this week, in response to President Donald Trump’s order to take out Soleimani. Around the same time that those comments were made, an organizer of the general’s funeral put a price of 80 million dollars on Trump’s head, suggesting that every Iranian could give one dollar towards the bounty for the person who took out the US president.

Iraqi Militia Leader Threatens To Target American Citizens If They Re-Elect Trump - An Iraqi militia leader reacted to the airstrike on Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by suggesting American citizens could be targeted if they re-elect Trump. The deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was one of the Iraqi officials killed by the drone strike on Soleimani last week. Now Jawad Al Telbawi, a commander of one of the factions within the PMF, says American civilians may be targeted if they return Donald Trump to the Oval Office. After threatening the “fool and a blackmailer” Trump as well as the U.S. military, Al Telbawi also demanded that American citizens “pressure” Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq “before we send your soldiers back in coffins.” He also suggested American civilians could be the target of terror attacks. “If the American people re-elect Trump to the US presidency [in 2020], this would mean they support his crimes,” said Al Telbawi. “This may change our position towards the American people. All American interests in the region will be at risk.”

75% Of Registered Voters Can't Identify Iran On A Map - As thousands of American service members prepare for the worst in the Middle East following an American drone strike that killed Iran's second-most powerful man, just 23% of registered voters can identify the Islamic republic on an unlabeled map of the globe, according to a Morning Consult/Politico survey. When shown an unlabeled map of just the Middle East, the number rose to a still-abysmal 28%. Eight percent of those thought Iran was Iraq on the second map - just like Joe Biden.  Of those surveyed, men were around twice as likely as women to identify Iran on both maps - roughly in line with a 2017 Morning Consult experiment involving North Korea. Wealthier and more educated voters were also more likely to get it right. Political affiliation and age were not significant factors.

 Passenger plane with 180 people on board crashes in Iran - A passenger plane with roughly 180 people on board crashed in Iran shortly after taking off, reportedly due to technical issues. Iranian state media reported that the Boeing 737 plane, belonging to Ukraine International Airlines, crashed near the Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran, according to several news outlets. There were no immediate reports regarding casualties from the crash. The flight was headed to Ukraine. News of the crash came hours after Iran said that it had fired missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces, a marked escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday had also issued an emergency restriction for Persian Gulf airspace after Iran fired the missiles.

Iran plane crash: Ukraine jet downed by missile, U.S. and Canada say — The Ukrainian jet that crashed this week after taking off from Tehran appears to have been downed by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. Intelligence indicates the Iranian military accidentally shot down the Ukrainian airliner with a Russian-supplied anti-aircraft missile, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly. All 176 aboard the Boeing 737 were killed. Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed early Wednesday local time, shortly after Iran launched16 ballistic missiles on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers.Iran's attack was retaliation after the killing of one of its top officials, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, in a U.S. drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump that has drawn a mixed reaction from U.S. and world leaders. U.S. intelligence sensors showed Iranian air-defense radar locked onto the passenger plane, the official said. Iran’s military then launched two SA-15 surface-to-air missiles and brought the plane down in a fiery crash. It’s unclear if the Ukrainian airliner was mistaken as a threat by the Iranian military, the official said. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he, too, believed a missile was the cause of the plane crash, citing intelligence reports. Some 63 Canadians were among those who died. That missile firing could have been an accident, Trudeau said Thursday at a news conference. Still, a "full and credible" investigation is required. Asked if the U.S. should share some of the blame for the plane crash, Trudeau, who has had a testy relationship with Trump, again emphasized the need for a thorough investigation.

Iran ‘deeply regrets’ accidental shooting down of Ukrainian airliner: Iran president - (Reuters) - Iran “deeply regrets” the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner earlier this week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a tweet on Saturday.“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” he wrote on Twitter. “My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.”The investigation will continue, Rouhani wrote in a separate tweet. All 176 people aboard the airliner were killed in the crash shortly after takeoff.

'Fake' texts are informing US citizens they have been selected for draft   - The U.S. Army advised Americans that the military is not drafting individuals by any means, including through text messages. Texts have circulated this week alerting U.S. citizens that they have been selected for a military draft, according to a statement from U.S. Army Recruiting Command on Tuesday. Calling them "fake," the Army said they want to make sure "Americans understand these texts are false and were not initiated by this command or the U.S. Army." The draft was last used in 1973 during the Vietnam War. Since then, the military has been an all-volunteer force. The statement comes amid escalating tensions between Iran and the U.S. since the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who led the Quds Force. (MORE: Draft website crashes after Soleimani's death, Selective Service says 'business as usual') Soleimani was killed in an airstrike that was ordered by President Donald Trump on Jan. 2. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed a "vigorous vengeance" and said Soleimani was killed "by the hands of the cruelest of the mankind on the earth," according to a statement issued the day after the airstrike. Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles into Iraq, targeting military bases that house American troops and coalition forces at around 2 a.m. local time on Wednesday, according to Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. The Selective Service System, which holds a list of potential recruits in the event of a draft, said that they are "conducting business as usual" after experiencing high traffic volumes amid the tensions.

House approves resolution to limit Trump's war powers on Iran - The House passed a resolution to limit President Trump's ability to engage in hostilities against Iran under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, as Democrats attempt to reassert Congress' constitutional authority to declare war amid a tense standoff with the Islamic Republic. The vote passed mostly along party lines, with three Republicans joining the Democrats to vote in favor and eight Democrats voting against.   Mr. Trump on Thursday called the strike that killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani "the anti-Benghazi." "Had they gotten through, we would have had either hundreds of dead people or hundreds of hostages," Mr. Trump said at a rally Thursday night. "That wasn't going to happen. And I called up our great generals, I said get them over there now." Mr. Trump said Wednesday Iran appeared to be "standing down" after a week of soaring tension between the two countries. By Thursday, however, there were mixed messages. A senior Iranian military commander vowed there would be "harsher revenge" against the United States. The remark came a day after Iran's political leaders said the Islamic Republic had "concluded" its response to Soleimani's killing. 

The Democrats pass Pelosi’s phony antiwar resolution - The resolution adopted by the US House of Representatives Thursday evening “directing” President Trump not to go to war with Iran without congressional approval is a political fraud. It has two political purposes: to allow the Democratic Party to pretend it is opposed to war without actually imposing the slightest restriction on the military actions of the Trump administration; and to cement the ties between the Democrats and large sections of the military-intelligence apparatus who were clearly blindsided by Trump’s decision to assassinate Iranian General Qassem Suleimani. The impotent character of the House vote is demonstrated by the decision of the Democratic leadership to introduce it as a “concurrent resolution,” a designation generally reserved for empty formalities, statements of opinion by Congress that do not go to the president for his signature and therefore do not have the force of law. While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, echoed by pro-Democratic media pundits, claimed that the Democrats would compel Trump to obtain congressional authorization before going to war, the resolution does no such thing. After passing the House by a near-party-line vote of 224-194, it goes to the Senate, where the Republicans have a 53-47 majority. If the Senate should approve it, the resolution would simply be published as a declaration of the wishes of Congress. For good reason, House Republicans sneered at the action as a vote on a “press release.” At her press conference Thursday before the vote, Pelosi tried to make a virtue out of the nonbinding character of the resolution, saying: “This is a statement by the Congress of the United States. And I will not have that statement be diminished by whether the president will veto it or not.” The remarks by Democratic representatives in the course of a nearly three-hour debate combined denunciations of General Suleimani, killed by the January 3 missile strike ordered by Trump, with demands that Congress be allowed to participate as a full partner in such homicidal decisions in the future. They had no answer to the taunts of Republican speakers who noted that the Democrats had raised no such objections to the unilateral military actions of Democratic presidents, as when Barack Obama launched the war against Libya that ended in the murder of that country’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, or interventions into Syria and Yemen, or the countless drone-missile killings during the eight years of his administration. While the House vote has been accompanied by much rhetorical posturing by Democratic representatives seeking to appeal to mass antiwar sentiment, the resolution’s text is a straightforward defense of the “national interests” of American imperialism, including “preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability”—a goal that could be achieved only by destroying the country’s industrial and technical base.

 'This Is Alarming': Iranian-Americans Reportedly Detained, Asked About Political Views at US Border --Reports that dozens of Iranian-Americans were detained at the U.S.-Canada border on Saturday and questioned about their "political views and allegiances" were met with alarm by lawmakers and rights groups, particularly given the soaring military tensions between Iran and the U.S. brought on by the Trump administration.On Sunday, the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it is "assisting more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans of all ages who were detained at length and questioned at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Wash."Those detained, according to CAIR, were returning from an Iranian pop concert that took place Saturday in Vancouver, Canada.CAIR, citing an anonymous source from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), alleged that "the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a national order to CBP to 'report' and detain anyone with Iranian heritage entering the country who is deemed potentially suspicious or 'adversarial,' regardless of citizenship status."An individual CAIR identified as Crystal, a 24-year-old American citizen and medical student, said she was detained and interrogated for more than 10 hours at the Washington-Canada border before her release Sunday morning. "The vast majority of people being held last night were American citizens," Crystal said. "We kept asking why we were being detained and asked questions that had nothing to do with our reason for traveling and was told 'I'm sorry this is just the wrong time for you guys.'"

Who Started It?: A (Reverse) Timeline Of US/Iran Retaliations - What’s done is – absent an unlikely wave of antiwar people’s protests – as they say, done. Trump has changed the paradigm. See, undeclared, proxy (until now) war had long been the name of the game played by the US and Iran. As such, it was waged as a retaliatory cycle, with each side pointing blame-riddled fingers at the other. So, times being as dark as they are, let me indulge the blame-seekers, and do my best to trace the timeline of provocations and retaliations. Only, to keep it interesting – and because I think it more instructive – I’ll do so in reverse.

  • Since I don’t know when it will happen (perhaps before publication of this piece?), but am certain that it will, I’ll start with what will be Iran’s promised and likely bloody response attack on US personnel somewhere in the world. Americans will, across the spectrum, be shocked – just shocked!
  • But, Iran only responded to the American assassination of perhaps the second or third most powerful man in Tehran’s government.
  • Well, an Iranian-backed militias had “attacked” the US embassy in Baghdad – though this was, for the Americans, a bloodless event.
  • But, the US had killed some two dozen members of the militia in a series of airstrikes.
  • Well, this was in response to the group’s alleged responsibility for a rocket attack on a US base in Iraq that killed an American contractor.
  • But, Trump had been funneling extra US troops into Saudi Arabia – Iran’s sworn enemy – and de facto sanctioned numerous, illegal, Israeli airstrikes on Iranian personnel and Iraqi militias in both Syria and Iraq.
  • Well, in September, Yemeni Houthi rebels – loosely affiliated with Iran – claimed responsibility for a temporarily crippling attack on Saudi oil infrastructure.
  • But, the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition had been terror bombing Yemeni civilians for four years, causing the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster.
  • Well, in June, Iran shot down an American drone that was allegedly over international airspace.
  • But the Trump administration’s had labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – which Soleimani commanded – a foreign terrorist organization, for the first time in history. (Iran designated US Central Command – which has responsibility for the entire Middle East – a terrorist organization, in response, days later.)
  • Well, in May, Trump claimed that Iran was behind attacks on a few Saudi oil tankers.
  • But, a year earlier, Trump had unilaterally pulled out of a multinational Obama-era nuclear deal, in spite of clear evidence that Iran had followed its strictures. Furthermore, rhetoric in Washington – particularly from John Bolton – had grown increasingly pugnacious and later Bolton reportedly ordered the Pentagon to update plans to send 120,000 additional troops into the Persian Gulf.
  • Well, Iranian troops and friendly militias had long been "meddling" in Syria to back President Assad (though they were, unlike the US, invited, and partly combated the mutual enemy of ISIS)
  • But, Iran could (cogently) argue that the US had indirectly backed Al Qaeda elements in Syria and, through its ill-fated invasion of Iraq, set the conditions that created ISIS in the first place.
  • Well, according to the official Washington line, at least, Iran had backed the militias and provided the technology to kill hundreds of US troops in Iraq. (Though there is much evidence to the contrary, and much talk about the Iranian bogeyman in Iraq may be mythology.)
  • But, even so, the US had invaded both of Iran’s main neighbors – Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) – surrounding the country with American military bases. Furthermore, Iran felt genuinely threatened, which was understandable given that Bush administration officials were itching for regime change in Iran. “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran,” was a common trope around neocon circles in Washington. Heck, Bush had even included Iran in the "axis of evil" triumvirate in his speech.

PayPal blocks donations to The Grayzone that mention Iran  -Following the US government’s assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, PayPal has delayed and blocked small donations to The Grayzone that mentioned this website’s news coverage of Iran.At the same time, social media giant Facebook has censored a Grayzone video reporting on the US government’s escalation against Iran and its ally Hezbollah.In 2010, PayPal froze donations to WikiLeaks, the whistleblowing journalism organization whose publisher Julian Assange is currently being imprisoned and tortured. The online banking company also permanently suspended WikiLeaks’ account.Now independent journalism websites like The Grayzone are suffering from blockages imposed by PayPal that appear directly linked to Washington’s aggressive actions in the Middle East.On January 3, a reader tried to make a donation of $10 to The Grayzone through PayPal. The small donor, a US citizen who lives in California, wrote the following message to accompany the donation: “Thanks for all your excellent work and especially the Gray Zone’s coverage of the murder of Soleimani and war with Iran. You fellows are so insightful and brilliant.”The Grayzone promptly received an email from the tech company stating that the donation was “pending.” The message noted, “To comply with government regulations, PayPal is required to review certain transactions.”The next day, the small donor notified The Grayzone that she had gotten an email from the PayPal Compliance Department demanding that they “provide the following information”:

  • • “An explanation of the reference to ‘Iran.’
  • • The purpose of this payment, including a complete and detailed explanation of what is intended to be paid for.
  • • A sales receipt or other documentation pertaining to this transaction.
  • • Full name, address, and current location of the Beneficiary of the payment.”

Why US Hostility Towards Chinese Tech Groups Feels Like Déjà Vu -Immediately after World War II, Japan received the support of America to rebuild and modernize its economy. As Richard McGregor points out in his book Asia’s Reckoning, this strategy was so successful that, by the 1980s, CIA analysts fretted over Japan’s techno-nationalism, seen as a danger to U.S. security.Washington worried about Japan’s industrial policies, which had enabled the country to surpass the U.S. not just in low-wage manufacturing but also in high-tech industries like telecoms and semiconductors.At the outset of the Reagan administration, Japan held 100% of America’s video recorder market, two-thirds of its motorcycle market, and one-fifth of U.S. demand in the automotive sector.Confronted with a growing trade deficit with Japan, Washington engineered the Plaza Accord in September 1985 to manipulate the $/yen exchange rate. But it wasn’t enough to stop Japan’s tech ascendancy.Two years later, Reagan imposed 100% tariffs on Japanese electronic goods, complaining that the Japanese Government was guilty of turning a blind eye to counterfeiting of American products. ‘Japan-bashing’ was in full swing – when Sony bid for Hollywood studio Columbia Pictures in 1989. To placate political opposition, the electronics-to-entertainment conglomerate announced its intention to leave the business under American management.To counter the influence of Japanese industrial groups, such as Toyota and Honda in car manufacturing, Sega and Nintendo in video games, or Sony, Canon and JVC in consumer electronics, America proactively offshored its production to low-cost countries. The move was so successful that, by the mid-2010s, almost half of Apple’s suppliers were based in China and a quarter of them came from other Asian countries outside Japan. Nowadays, even if designed in California, the iPhone is assembled in China.

Trade Bust- China Won’t Increase Grain Import Quotas Despite Promise To Buy More American - China has pledged to increase more purchases of U.S. farm goods but never confirmed the exact amount for the phase one trade agreement. Han Jun, the vice-minister of agriculture and rural affairs, was quoted by Caixin on Tuesday as saying Beijing won't increase its annual import quotas for wheat, corn, and rice, reported Reuters. This comes at a time when the Trump administration has pressured China to double its $24 billion pre-trade war purchases of U.S. farm goods to nearly $40 billion – a move that would serve as an election win for President Trump and help alleviate pressures on struggling Central and Midwest farmers. Han is also part of the trade negotiating team, said last month that China would increase annual quotas on wheat, rice, and corn. But as of Tuesday, Han and the trade team have changed their minds saying the quotas "won't adjust for one country." Refinitive data shows purchases of the three grains from the U.S. totaled around $534 million. "Although there's certainly types of high-quality wheat that China would look to import, maxing out the tariff rate quota would also weigh on domestic producers," Darin Friedrichs, senior Asia analyst at INTL FCStone, said in a note Monday. "China will be facing a tough balancing act of trying to satisfy the U.S. demands for large agriculture purchases, while also not hurting the rural population," Friedrichs added. 

Bible Lobbyist: We Can’t Print Bibles in America Anymore - A few months ago, I was reading complaints about Trump tariffs filed with the United States Trade Representative’s office, and I found a whole host of industry lobbyists arguing that tariffs were bad because America can’t actually do anything anymore. I wrote about this last year. The list of products and commodities companies say they can no longer make in America is long. Nylon products, optical scanners, consumer robotics, electronics, all types of clothing, specialty chemicals…  And the arguments were always the same, which is that we can’t do things in the U.S., and if we try, consumer prices will go up and prevent Americans from getting the [insert important thing] they depend on. The head of the American Bridal & Prom Industry Association said, “we can't make wedding gowns and prom dresses in the United States.” The entire labor force for doing so, and even things like beads for hand-sown adjustments, are now in China. “It’s impossible… We can't even get the materials in this country to make this clothing.”   As I noted, “from prom dresses to point of sale terminals, the argument from American distributors is pretty much always the same. The ecosystem of production doesn’t exist in the U.S. anymore and it would be too expensive to bring it back.” I went over the hearings again, and found an even better complaint. This one was from Stan Jantz from the bible lobby. I don’t mean he’s got some religious agenda, I mean he represents the Evangelical Publisher's Association, which sells religious texts. These publishers wanted to avoid bibles being subjected to tariffs. Here’s Jantz: Chinese printers have developed the technology and the artistry to produce the kinds of bibles people want which is why over 50 percent of the bibles published by ECPA members are printed in China. In fact, more bibles are printed in China than any other country on earth. This isn’t some high tech industry, it’s printing books. It is literally the oldest mass production industry in history, with bible printing dating from the 15th century. And yet, here’s more of what Jantz had to say: While there are some domestic printing options available, the U.S. printers, as has been remarked already, that are comparable to China on price and quality do not have the capacity to meet current demand….

 In a historic vote, the House authorizes a path to legal status for undocumented farm workers - As part of a compromise to allow farmers to hire year-round foreign guest workers, the House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to create a path to legal status for over a million undocumented farm workers, in what could be the most significant action on immigration in decades.The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a sweeping, 224-page bill, passed the House by a 260-165 vote. Backed by hundreds of farm groups, and politicians on both sides of the aisle, supporters said the act would end the shadow of uncertainty and fear of deportation experienced by many field workers in the U.S. If passed in the Senate and signed into law by President Trump, it would be the first mass legalization of undocumented farm workers since the Reagan administration. The act allows undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S. to apply to become “certified agricultural workers,” a temporary legal status, if they have worked in farming for at least 180 days in the past two years and pass background checks.Legalizing between 47 and 70 percent of farm workers will reduce the stress on families and stop business disruptions.This new status, which also covers spouses and children, can be renewed indefinitely, as long as the worker stays in farming for at least 100 days per year. Certified agricultural workers can apply for a green card after paying a $1,000 fine for violating immigration law, and agreeing to work in agriculture for another four or eight years, depending on how long they’ve already been in fields. The bill requires mandatory E-Verify for all farm employers. The online system, which checks work forms against a federal security database, is already required in many states, and would phase in after the reforms are implemented.

Border Patrol begins pilot program to collect DNA from some migrants - U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is beginning a pilot program Monday to collect DNA from some migrants. CBP’s “limited, small-scale pilot program” will last 90 days in two locations and allow DNA to be taken from “certain individuals” in custody, according to a news release. Border Patrol will collect DNA from those between 14 and 79 years old who are apprehended and processed in the Detroit Sector and those who present at the Eagle Pass Port of Entry in southwest Texas for consideration of admissibility and who are also required to be detained or to go through additional proceedings. The pilot program will test the “operational impact” of a Department of Justice (DOJ) amendment mandating the patrol take DNA samples from “certain aliens” and submit it to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The patrol’s release says obtaining the DNA samples was “previously not feasible because of operational exigencies and resource limitations.” Non-U.S. citizens detained by government agencies, including by the CBP, would be required to enter their DNA into CODIS, with the DOJ amendment. The DOJ proposed the change in October to extend DNA collection beyond migrants who were prosecuted in federal court for criminal offenses.

Trump says most asylum seekers don’t show up for their court hearings. A new study shows 99% do. President Donald Trump has often claimed that the only way to ensure that migrants show up for their court hearings rather than vanish into the US is to keep them in detention or else make sure that they never step foot on American soil in the first place. But the president’s theory doesn’t hold up: About 99 percent of asylum seekers who were not detained or who were previously released from immigration custody showed up for their hearings over the last year, according to new data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, a think tank that tracks data in the immigration courts.Studies from previous years have also disproven the idea that most migrants will choose to live in the US without authorization rather than see their immigration cases through. But it’s nevertheless central to Trump’s immigration policies, including those that aim to keep migrants in Mexico rather than letting them walk free in the US.The latest data from TRAC shows that nearly every asylum seeker showed up for their court hearings over the course of 2019. That’s even though the vast majority of asylum seekers — about 4 in 5 — were not detained at all or had been released from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody before their court date. (The numbers don’t account for migrants in immigration proceedings who claimed other kinds of relief from deportation.)Migrants can end up in immigration court in one of two ways: turning themselves in to immigration agents or getting caught while trying to cross the border without authorization. In both cases, officials will initiate deportation proceedings against them and give them a date to appear in court, where they can ask a judge for asylum and other protections that would allow them to remain in the US with legal status, or else be ordered deported. On average, immigrants with currently pending cases have been waiting almost two years for their court hearings, and cases take even longer to complete. Under previous administrations, a migrant who came into contact with immigration agents would have typically been released from custody into the US during that waiting period, unless they were found to be likely to flee or a risk to public safety.

Trump demands hasty end to impeachment, accusing Democrats of a 'con' - President Trump on Monday demanded that his impeachment trial end quickly in the Senate, accusing House Democrats of a “con game” to help their chances during the 2020 election contest. Trump lashed out against impeachment in a series of tweets, deriding it as a “scam,” “hoax” and “witch hunt” and saying it was “sad” that Democrats were focused on impeaching him at a time when he is “so busy.” “The Impeachment Hoax, just a continuation of the Witch Hunt which started even before I won the Election, must end quickly,” Trump tweeted Monday morning. “Read the Transcripts, see the Ukrainian President’s strong statement, NO PRESSURE — get this done,” Trump continued, referring to the record of his calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, one of which is at the center of his impeachment. “It is a con game by the Dems to help with the Election!” Trump alleged. “This was not what the Founders had in mind!” Trump later wrote, noting that the Democratic-controlled House voted to impeach him last month without any Republican support.

GOP senators introduce resolution to change rules, dismiss impeachment without articles - Roughly a dozen GOP senators want to change the Senate’s rules and allow for lawmakers to dismiss articles of impeachment against President Trump before the House sends them over. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced the resolution on Monday, arguing the Senate's impeachment rules do not envision a scenario where the House would delay transmitting articles against a president, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has done. "The Constitution gives the Senate sole power to adjudicate articles of impeachment, not the House. If Speaker Pelosi is afraid to try her case, the articles should be dismissed for failure to prosecute and Congress should get back to doing the people’s business," Hawley said in a statement. The resolution would give the House 25 days to send articles of impeachment over to the Senate. After that, a senator could offer a motion to dismiss "with prejudice for failure by the House of Representatives to prosecute such articles" with a simple majority vote, according to Hawley's proposal. The resolution comes as some Senate Republicans have mulled changing the chamber's rules to allow them to dismiss the impeachment charges against Trump, even though the articles have not been sent over from the House. Hawley's resolution has support from GOP Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Steve Daines (Mont.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), David Perdue (Ga.) and James Inhofe (Okla.). "Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats have made a mockery of our Constitution and abused impeachment for political gain. Now, they’re undermining the role of the Senate by attempting to dictate the terms of the Senate’s trial," Cruz said in a statement. Perdue added that "if the House refuses to send over the articles, the Senate should have the ability to dismiss and move on to finding real solutions for the American people.” Talk of the Senate either trying to start Trump's trial without the articles, or dismiss them before they have formally been sent across the Capitol, has bounced across Washington as lawmakers have waited for Pelosi to reveal her next move. The House Speaker has not tipped her hand on when she will send the articles, saying last month that she wanted more details on the rules for the trial. Democrats expect she will eventually send the articles, potentially as soon as this week. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said over the weekend that he would try to work with McConnell “to change the rules of the Senate to start the trial without her, if necessary.”

McConnell: Senate should stick with Clinton 'precedent' for Trump trial - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday said the Senate should follow the "precedent" of then-President Clinton's 1999 impeachment trial as lawmakers debate the rules for President Trump's proceeding. McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, warned that House Democrats were trying to get the chamber to "deviate from a unanimous bipartisan precedent set in the 1999 trial of President Clinton and write new rules for President Trump." "House Democrats' hunger to break on Senate precedents just like they broke their own precedents could not be more telling. But the Senate does not just bob along on the currents of every news cycle," McConnell said. He added that the "House may have been content to scrap their own norms to hurt President Trump, but that is not the Senate." McConnell's comments come as he and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) remain stalemated in their negotiations for the rules of Trump's trial. The talks could come to a head within days with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expected to transmit the articles as soon as this week. McConnell has said he wants to pass two resolutions, similar to the Clinton trial. The first, passed at the outset of the trial, would establish the rules. A second resolution, passed after opening arguments and questions from senators, would determine which if any witnesses will be called. Three witnesses gave closed-door depositions during the Clinton proceeding, though McConnell, who supported witnesses in 1999, has said he does not want witnesses as part of Trump's trial. "The Senate has a unanimous bipartisan precedent for when to handle mid-trial questions such as witnesses — in the middle of the trial," McConnell said on Monday. "That was good enough for President Clinton, so it ought to be good enough for President Trump. Fair is fair." But Democrats want one resolution at the outset of the trial that tackles both the rules and a deal on specific witnesses. They've asked for four witnesses including former national security adviser John Bolton, who said earlier Monday that he will testify if the Senate issues a subpoena. Without a broader deal between Schumer and McConnell, 51 senators will be able to determine the impeachment trial process, including if witnesses will be called. If McConnell could hold together most of his 53-member caucus he could pass the impeachment trial rules that he wants over the objections of Democrats. The impeachment trial is expected to be discussed at the Senate GOP's closed-door caucus lunch on Tuesday. Democrats need four GOP senators to side with them in order to call a witness or compel Ukraine-related documents.

 Bolton willing to testify in Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed - Former national security adviser John Bolton said Monday that he would testify in a Senate impeachment trial of President Trump if subpoenaed. “The House has concluded its Constitutional responsibility by adopting Articles of Impeachment related to the Ukraine matter. It now falls to the Senate to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to try impeachments, and it does not appear possible that a final judicial resolution of the still-unanswered Constitutional questions can be obtained before the Senate acts,” Bolton, who was ousted by Trump last September, said in a statement. “I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” Bolton said. Bolton had previously said that he needed a judge to resolve whether a senior Trump adviser could be compelled to testify before Congress, and as a result did not appear before the House, as requested, in connection with the impeachment inquiry. His former deputy, Charles Kupperman, had filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to decide whether he should obey a congressional subpoena for his testimony, but the case was declared moot at the end of last month. Bolton was never subpoenaed by the House after his lawyers made clear he would not appear without a subpoena and that he would want a court to resolve the question of whether he could be forced to testify. Bolton said on Monday that because there will not be a judicial resolution as to whether senior presidential advisers can be compelled to testify by Congress before the Senate trial concludes, he is prepared to testify before the Senate if subpoenaed. The GOP-controlled Senate appears unlikely to call Bolton to testify, however.

 GOP senators introduce resolution to change rules, dismiss impeachment without articles - Roughly a dozen GOP senators want to change the Senate’s rules and allow for lawmakers to dismiss articles of impeachment against President Trump before the House sends them over. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced the resolution on Monday, arguing the Senate's impeachment rules do not envision a scenario where the House would delay transmitting articles against a president, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has done. "The Constitution gives the Senate sole power to adjudicate articles of impeachment, not the House. If Speaker Pelosi is afraid to try her case, the articles should be dismissed for failure to prosecute and Congress should get back to doing the people’s business," Hawley said in a statement. The resolution would give the House 25 days to send articles of impeachment over to the Senate. After that, a senator could offer a motion to dismiss "with prejudice for failure by the House of Representatives to prosecute such articles" with a simple majority vote, according to Hawley's proposal. The resolution comes as some Senate Republicans have mulled changing the chamber's rules to allow them to dismiss the impeachment charges against Trump, even though the articles have not been sent over from the House. Hawley's resolution has support from GOP Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Steve Daines (Mont.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), David Perdue (Ga.) and James Inhofe (Okla.). "Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats have made a mockery of our Constitution and abused impeachment for political gain. Now, they’re undermining the role of the Senate by attempting to dictate the terms of the Senate’s trial," Cruz said in a statement. Perdue added that "if the House refuses to send over the articles, the Senate should have the ability to dismiss and move on to finding real solutions for the American people.”

 Trump indicates he'd block Bolton's testimony 'for the sake of the office' -President Trump on Friday indicated that he would block former national security adviser John Bolton from testifying in the Senate’s impeachment trial, arguing that allowing him to do so would undermine his office's authority.“I think you have to for the sake of the office,” Trump told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham when asked if he would use executive privilege to block testimony from Bolton.“Especially a national security adviser,” he added. “You can’t have him explaining all of your statements about national security concerning Russia, China and North Korea — everything. We just can’t do that.”The president rattled off several other officials he said he would like to testify, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Energy Secretary Rick Perrybut said allowing them to do so could hurt future presidents.“I would love everybody to testify,” Trump said. “I'd like Mick to testify. I'd like Mike Pompeo to testify. I'd like Rick Perry to testify. I want everybody — but there are things that you can’t do from the standpoint of executive privilege.” The comments mark a doubling down by Trump, who signaled earlier this week he would block Bolton from appearing before the Senate.“So we have to protect presidential privilege — for me but for future presidents,” he said. Bolton said in a statement Monday that he would be willing to testify in a Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed, even over administration objections. Democrats have clamored to hear from the former national security adviser because of his intimate knowledge of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the focal point of the impeachment articles against him. Bolton described the effort by administration officials to press Ukraine for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a chief political rival, and Biden's son Hunter as a “drug deal,” according to witnesses who testified in front of the House during its impeachment inquiry. Bolton’s attorneys have also said he has relevant information on meetings and conversations regarding Ukraine. However, the Senate seems set to pass a resolution defining the parameters for its trial that does not include provisions for witness-calling, with Republicans apparently in agreement on rules for the proceedings.

McConnell’s win on impeachment trial procedure was months in the making Chuck Schumer demanded Tuesday morning that Republicans allow witnesses to testify during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. But Mitch McConnell already knew he had the votes to roll over his adversary. It took just a few hours for McConnell and Senate GOP leaders to clinch a final whip count in support of moving forward with a trial framework that ignores Democratic requests. And all 53 Republicans — even moderates such as Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah — have agreed to the majority leader’s proposal, according to senators involved in the process. McConnell had spent months cultivating his caucus to get to this point. And after McConnell told his colleagues of his plans at the GOP’s weekly lunch, he went out and told a media horde the same. “We have the votes,” McConnell declared, meaning Republicans can start the Trump trial with no Democratic input once Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends over the articles of impeachment. Under the tentative rules package, which is the same as those used in President Bill Clinton’s 1999 Senate trial, the House will be allowed to present its case against Trump and then the president’s defense team will respond. At that point, McConnell or any GOP senator could move to end the trial and call for a final vote on the charges against Trump. Or Democrats could try to seek witness testimony or the introduction of new documentary evidence. It will be up to a majority of the Senate to decide. Yet for McConnell and Trump, the victory is securing a path to getting the trial started. For both the Senate majority leader, whose majority is endangered, and a president facing reelection in nearly 10 months, the overwhelming concern is kicking off the proceeding so they can hurry up and acquit Trump. McConnell’s raw exercise of power is also a setback for Schumer, who had pressured Republicans for weeks to allow witnesses and new evidence to be introduced but ultimately had little leverage if McConnell could keep his caucus together. The minority leader warned that the decision would come back to haunt Republicans, especially those who go before voters in November with Trump on the top of the ballot.

  How the House destroyed its own case for the Trump impeachment -  “The Caine Mutiny” came to mind on Friday when House leaders announced that Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not move until next week in submitting the impeachment of President Trump to a Senate trial. While various Democrats have publicly grumbled about the delay, going into its fourth week, without any sign of success in forcing the Senate to call witnesses, Pelosi continued a strategy that could jeopardize not just any trial but the rules governing impeachment. Indeed, Pelosi may force the Senate into a couple of unprecedented but well deserved rulings. From the outset, the ploy of Pelosi withholding the House impeachment articles was as implausible as it was hypocritical. There was no reason why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would make concessions to get an impeachment that he loathed. More importantly, just a couple of days earlier, House leaders insisted that some of us were wrong to encourage them to wait on an impeachment vote to create a more complete record. Pelosi previously insisted that House committees could not pursue direct witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton because there was no time to delay in getting this impeachment to the Senate. She then waited a month and counting to send the articles over to the Senate. The delay now seems largely driven by a desire to preserve the image of Pelosi as a master strategist despite a blunder of the first order. Senator Diane Feinstein expressed the frustration of many members in saying, “The longer it goes on, the less urgent it becomes. So if it is serious and urgent, send them over. If it is not, do not send it over.” But she and other members were quickly pressured to “correct” their earlier statements by stating the exact opposite and praising the brilliant strategy of Pelosi. Perhaps the most pathetic change was House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, who correctly stated, “At the end of the day, just like we control it in the House, Mitch McConnell controls it in the Senate. It does not look like that is going to happen. I think it is time to send the impeachment to the Senate and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial. He ultimately is.” It took just a few hours for Pelosi to get Smith to say that he “misspoke” and praise her inspired strategy.The fact is that Pelosi played into the hands of McConnell by first rushing this impeachment forward with an incomplete record and now giving him the excuse to summarily change the rules, or even to dismiss the articles. Waiting for the House to submit a list of managers was always a courtesy extended by Senate rules and not a requirement of the Constitution. By inappropriately withholding the articles of impeachment and breaking with tradition, Pelosi simply gave McConnell ample reason to exercise the “nuclear option” and change the rules on both majority voting as well as the rule for the start of trials. That is a high price to pay for her vanity.

 Past Due - Court Declares Hunter Biden The Father Of Child In Arkansas -- In a long expected order, Arkansas Circuit Judge Holly Meyer has declared Hunter Biden, son of presidential candidate Joe Biden, to be the “biological and legal father” of a child he fathered with former GW student, 29-year-old Lunden Alexis Roberts.Biden has long denied being the father and has refused to support the child. He has also refused to turn over information on his assets, part of discovery that Meyer referred to as “past due.” It was obviously not the only element past due for Biden with regard to this child.Roberts, reportedly was a stripper at a Washington, D.C., club that Biden liked to party at while in Washington.In the order, Meyer ordered the Arkansas Department of Health to issue a birth certificate listing Biden as the father.Biden has children by at least three different women. Roberts filed papers that portrayed him as a deadbeat father, stating that Biden “had no involvement in the child’s life since the child’s birth, never interacted with the child, never parented the child,” and “could not identify the child out of a photo lineup.”The next hearing is set for January 29th on child support. That could create some fireworks as Biden has resisted disclosures of his wealth — information that could reveal how much he received from dubious Ukrainian and Chinese contracts.Ironically, Joe Biden has been attacked for a 1981 op-ed entitled “Congress is Subsidizing Deterioration of Family.”  In the column, Biden suggested that families with more income should not receive tax credits for child care because one parent should stay at home while the other works. Biden bemoaned the loss of “individual responsibility and said that day-care centers were “monuments to our growing unwillingness to accept personal responsibility.” Of course, that is particularly difficult when one of the parents not only does not support his child but denies that he ever had an intimate relationship with the mother.When asked about the court previously ordering DNA tests confirming Biden’s status as the father, Joe Biden snapped at a reporter and said “No, that’s a private matter and I have no comment.”

CBS’ 60 Minutes program raises questions on death of Jeffrey Epstein -On Sunday the CBS television news program “60 Minutes” revealed important new details about the conditions before and after the death of millionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York City on August 10. The details both substantiate and add to already existing evidence that Epstein did not commit suicide in his cell as determined by the New York Medical Examiner’s Office, but was, in fact, murdered.The 14-minute CBS segment, titled “Inside Jeffrey Epstein’s Cell,” was presented by correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi and produced by Oriana Zill de Granados. In it, Alfonsi reviews exclusive photos and other evidence from inside Epstein’s prison cell on the morning of his death.  The most important revelations emerge in Alfonsi’s conversation with the well-known forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden. Alfonsi reviews photos—including pictures of Epstein’s extracted and fractured hyoid bone and crushed larynx, as well as up-close pictures of the deceased, including his toe tag and the strangulation injuries on his neck—from the autopsy conducted by the New York Medical Examiner on August 11. In addition to the “60 Minutes” TV segment, CBS published some of the photographs, a news article, a transcript of the broadcast and a five- minute supplementary video called “Jeffrey Epstein’s Autopsy: A Closer Look” on its website.The CBS report states: “Additional forensic pathologists ‘60 Minutes’ consulted say that knowing the position in which Epstein was found would clarify certain aspects of the autopsy, including the location of the ligature around his neck, injuries found on his body postmortem, and the way lividity settled, which is the way the blood pools after death.”The report goes on: “Baden says he [Epstein] was rushed to an emergency room after guard Michael Thomas found him. But Baden believes, based on the autopsy, Epstein had been dead for two hours by then and he says the scene should have been treated as a crime scene, leaving the body alone.”The photos show a prison cell in complete disarray, with a mattress and numerous orange prison bed sheets strewn on the floor. As the CBS report says: “[P]hotos from his jail cell also appear to show inconsistencies, including questions about whether investigators examined the correct ligature used in Epstein’s death.”It continues: “At least two nooses were photographed lying on the floor of the cell, both appearing to be made from strips of orange bedsheets.“‘It doesn’t look like anybody ever took scissors to it,’ Alfonsi said. ‘So, there is some question—is that the right noose?’ “But photos of the noose taken in as evidence and presumably thought to be responsible for killing Epstein show both ends of the noose folded and hemmed, not cut. Sources have told “60 Minutes” that the guard who found Epstein cut him down before trying to revive him.”

Fake Noose- '60 Minutes' Shreds Epstein Suicide Theory -- '60 Minutes' has revealed several new data points in the death of wealthy pedophile Jeffrey Epstein which raise more questions than they answer, and suggest that the financier did not kill himself - an opinion the New York City Medical Examiner's office stands "firmly" behind. The New York City Medical Examiner's Office ruled Epstein's death a suicide by hanging, but a forensic pathologist who observed the four-hour autopsy on behalf of  Epstein's brother, Mark, tells 60 Minutes the evidence released so far points more to murder than suicide in his view. Dr. Michael Baden's key reason: the unusual fractures he saw in Epstein's neck. -CBS News   While we've heard all sorts of theories about the improbabilities of the force required by the nearly 6 foot tall Epstein to successfully hang himself while breaking an unusual three bones in his neck usually seen in strangulations, that's nowhere near the most peculiar part of Epstein's demise (notwithstanding the ol' homeless guy switcharoo theory).For the first time, we get to look at the noose Epstein used to allegedly kill himself. Photos admitted as evidence reveal a clean cloth with no blood, despite Epstein's clearly bloody neck. Moreover, both ends of the noose were hemmed, not cut - while the guard who found Epstein reportedly cut him down. Also odd is that Epstein's ligature wound, allegedly left by said bloodless noose, is fairly low on his neck. "It doesn't look like anybody ever took scissors to it," said 60 Minutes' Sharyn Alfonsi. "So there is some question—is that the right noose?"

5 Takeaways From the 60 Minutes Jeffrey Epstein Report - On Sunday, 60 Minutes gave the public its first look inside the Manhattan jail cell where Jeffrey Epstein reportedly killed himself last year. 60 Minutes published the photos taken inside the Metropolitan Correctional Center, along with photos taken during Epstein’s autopsy, at the conclusion of a five-month investigation. The photos show a chaotic scene inside the cell, where at least two nooses made from orange bed sheets were found. As is the case with much of the reporting around Epstein’s death, the story raised more questions than it answered. Here are five takeaways from the 60 Minutes report:

  • Noose may not match official account of Epstein’s death - Two nooses were photographed in the cell and one was taken into evidence, presumably because it was thought to be the noose Epstein used to kill himself. But there’s some doubt about whether the noose is the one Epstein used in his suicide. The guard who found Epstein reportedly cut him down, and the noose taken into evidence has two hemmed edges. Another noose photographed in Epstein’s cell looks to have frayed edges, though.
  • Epstein had dangerous objects in his cell: Dr. Michael Baden, the forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s brother Mark, raised doubts about why Epstein would have hanged himself with a sheet when there was a sleep-apnea machine, with an electrical cord, in his cell. Epstein also at one point had a ballpoint pen, which Baden said would never have been given to someone considered suicidal.
  • Epstein left a note: It’s not a suicide letter, but included complaints about the jail conditions. The first word on the note is the name of a guard, who Epstein writes, “kept me in a locked shower stall for 1 hour.” The next line references Tova Noel, one of the guards on duty the night Epstein killed himself. “Noel sent me burnt food,” it says. “Giant bugs crawling over my hands. No fun!!”
  • Concerns about how Epstein’s body was handled: Epstein’s body was taken to an emergency room. “That’s not normal protocol,” Baden, along with other forensic pathologists, also told 60 Minutesthat Epstein’s body should have been photographed as it was found, which would provide essential clues about how he died.
  • New questions about the wound on Epstein’s neck: Baden revived the hyoid-bone theory that he talked about on Fox News last October. As he sees it, Epstein’s broken neck bone is much more consistent with murder than suicide.  Baden also raised a new concern about Epstein’s wounds: He suggested that the placement of the marks on Epstein’s neck is not consistent with most hangings, which result in marks just beneath the jawbone. “Dr. Baden says a wound straight across the neck is more common when a victim is strangled by a wire or a cord,” 60 Minutes’s Sharyn Alfonsi said in the report.

Is Fake News Hard-Wired- Study Finds People Misremember Facts To Fit Their Beliefs -- I recently criticized NBC Meet The Press host Chuck Todd for suggesting that Trump supporters are fantasy-prone dimwits who just want to be lied to...  NBC News anchor Chuck Todd is under fire for an openly derisive comment about Trump supporters as effectively delusional drones who want to be lied to. He even added a dig at belief in biblical accounts like Noah’s Ark. It is the latest example of how open bias has become the norm on mainstream media. Imagine if Todd said Obama supporters are ignorant voters who just want to be lied to. This is precisely why the media is now driving some voters to Trump and reinforcing echo-journalism on both sides.   Half of this country opposes impeachment and over 40 percent Trump. Are they all mindless drones seeking to be lied to? Stay tuned to NBC for the developing answer. And now, a new study may indicate why people across the political spectrum tend to ignore opposing views and rest comfortably with echo-journalism. Researchers at Ohio State University found that people tend to misremember numbers to match their own beliefs. They think that they are basing their views on hard data when they are actually subconsciously tailoring that data to fit their biases. In the study, participants were given factual numerical information on four different societal issues. The researchers matched the results of two tests to support the views of the subjects and two to contradict those views. For example, one study showed that there were 12.8 million Mexican immigrants in the United States in 2007 but fewer (11.7 million) in 2014. On the divergent studies, the subjects routinely misremembered the numbers. Thus, for people on the immigration issue, the subjects were most likely to misremember the lower figure in 2014 if they opposed current immigration levels. This explains a lot, but I still insist that the Chicago Cubs have won 9 out of 10 of the last World Series championships.

Disinformation For Hire: How A New Breed Of PR Firms Is Selling Lies Online - Peng Kuan Chin pulled out his phone, eager to show the future of online manipulation.Unseen servers began crawling the web for Chinese articles and posts. The system quickly reorganized the words and sentences into new text. His screen displayed a rapidly increasing tally of the articles generated by his product, which he dubs the “Content Farm Automatic Collection System." With the articles in hand, a set of websites that Peng controlled published them, and his thousands of fake social media accounts spread them across the internet, instantly sending manipulated content into news feeds, messaging app inboxes, and search results."I developed this for manipulating public opinion,” Peng told the Reporter, an investigative news site in Taipei, which partnered with BuzzFeed News for this article. He added that automation and artificial intelligence “can quickly generate traffic and publicity much faster than people.” In the interview, he detailed his path from sending spam emails as a 14-year-old to, being recruited to help with the 2018 reelection campaign of Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia.Peng’s clients are companies, brands, political parties, and candidates in Asia. “Customers have money, and I don't care what they buy," he said. They’re purchasing an end-to-end online manipulation system, which can influence people on a massive scale — resulting in votes cast, products sold, and perceptions changed.Peng’s product is modeled on automation software he saw in China, which he believes no one else outside the mainland has. But while his technology may be unique, his company, Bravo-Idea, is not. There is now a worldwide industry of PR and marketing firms ready to deploy fake accounts, false narratives, and pseudo news websites for the right price.

Surveillance Capitalism- Weaponizing The Web To Manipulate Behavior -Over the past two decades, an entirely new economic model has taken hold, seemingly right under our noses. Whereas the Internet and digital technologies once promised to liberate humanity through disintermediation and shared connections, now they have been turned into tools for behavioral manipulation and exploitation. As we enter a new decade, we are also entering a new era of political economy. Over the centuries, capitalism has evolved through a number of stages, from industrial to managerial to financial capitalism. Now we are entering the age of “surveillance capitalism.” Under surveillance capitalism, people’s lived experiences are unilaterally claimed by private companies and translated into proprietary data flows. Some of these data are used to improve products and services. The rest are considered a “behavioral surplus” and valued for their rich predictive signals. These predictive data are shipped to new-age factories of machine intelligence where they are computed into highly profitable prediction products that anticipate your current and future choices. Prediction products are then traded in what I call “behavioral futures markets,” where surveillance capitalists sell certainty to their business customers. Google’s “clickthrough rate” was the first globally successful prediction product, and its ad markets were the first to trade in human futures. Already, surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, and ever more companies across nearly every economic sector have shown an eagerness to lay bets on our future behavior. The competitive dynamics of these new markets reveal surveillance capitalism’s economic imperatives. 

New Cambridge Analytica Leaks Reveal Psychological Manipulation Of Global Population -- On New Year’s Day 2020, Twitter account @HindsightFiles began posting documents from data firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) which expose the extensive infrastructure used to manipulate voters on a global scale.  More than 100,000 documents are said to be released in the coming months, revealing Cambridge Analytica’s activity in a shocking 68 countries, including elections in Malaysia, Kenya, and Brazil. The Guardian reported that the documents come from Brittany Kaiser, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica who turned whistleblower and star of the documentary The Great Hack.Kaiser told the Guardian:I’m very fearful about what is going to happen in the U.S. election later this year, and I think one of the few ways of protecting ourselves is to get as much information out there as possible.The latest CA whistleblower has said the dumps will contain previously unreleased emails, project plans, case studies, and negotiations. The HindsightFiles twitter account has posted data on the relationship between Cambridge Analytica and John Bolton, former National Security Adviser to the Trump administration. In 2013, the John Bolton Super PAC paid Cambridge Analytica $650,000 for voter data analysis and digital video ad targeting. The documents provide more details on that relationship, including using psychographics to play on voters hopes and fears. Psychographics is a methodology which focuses on consumers psychological attributes. Research firms attempt to develop a psychographic profile on various segments of the population by studying personality, opinions, interests, attitudes, values, and behaviors.  Known for aggressive foreign policy decisions leading to the #IraqWar, he had 3 goals w/#CambridgeAnalytica
- increase awareness of @AmbJohnBolton
- convince people that National Security is most important
- support
@SenThomTillis vs Kay Hagan in #NorthCarolina #Hindsightis2020  — Hindsight is 2020 (@HindsightFiles) January 3, 2020Ads paid for by @AmbJohnBolton were psychographically targeted meaning they tapped into voter psyche via data collection. The ads used research on voter hopes + fears. Fear was a favorite tactic. This ad went to the category #NEUROTIC #Hindsightis2020 — Hindsight is 2020 (@HindsightFiles) January 3, 2020   Cambridge Analytica first made headlines following the 2016 Presidential election after it was revealed the company had gained access to 87 million Facebook profiles..

Secretive Surveillance Company Is Selling Cops Cameras Hidden In Gravestones - A surveillance vendor that works with U.S. government agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, and ICE, is marketing spying capabilities to local police departments, including cameras that are hidden inside a tombstone, a baby car seat, and a vacuum cleaner. The brochure highlights some of the capabilities on offer to law enforcement agencies, from the novel to the sometimes straight-up bizarre. "I think one of the biggest concerns I have is about the cost/size/capabilities of these devices. They keep getting cheaper, smaller and more capable all the time, and it’s unlikely that only law enforcement will be the only actors using them," Freddy Martinez, a policy analyst from government accountability group Open The Government who obtained the brochure through a public records request told Motherboard in an email. The public records request was filed with the Irvine Police Department in California. Beryl Lipton of the government transparency nonprofit MuckRock also obtained the documents using a FOIA request. Special Services Group, the vendor behind the brochure, does not advertise its products publicly. Its logo is the floating-eye-in-pyramid logo seen on the back of the $1 bill, which conspiracy theorists associate with the Illuminati, and the company's slogan is "Constant Vigilance." The company is so secretive that, when asked for comment for this story, it threatened VICE with legal action if we published this article.

Unremovable Malware Found Preinstalled on Low-End Smartphone Sold in the US - Low-end smartphones sold to Americans with low-income via a government-subsidized program contain unremovable malware, security firm Malware bytes said today in a report. The smartphone model is Unimax (UMX) U686CL, a low-end Android-based smartphone made in China and sold by Assurance Wireless, a cell phone service provider part of the Virgin Mobile group. The telco sells cell phones part of Lifeline, a government program that subsidizes phone service for low-income Americans. "In late 2019, we saw several complaints in our support system from users with a government-issued phone reporting that some of its pre-installed apps were malicious," Malwarebytes said in a report published today. The company said it purchased a UMX U686CL smartphone and analyzed it to confirm the reports it was receiving. For starters, Malwarebytes said it found that one of the phone's components, an app named Wireless Update, contained the Adups malware. The Adups malware was discovered in 2017 by Kryptowire, and it's a malicious firmware component created by a Chinese company of the same name. Adups provides the component as a firmware-over-the-air (FOTA) update system to various smartphone makers and firmware vendors. The component is supposed to allow firmware vendors a way to update their code, but in 2017 the Kryptowire team discovered that Adups (the company) also had the ability to ship updates to users' phones, bypassing smartphone vendors and users alike. Malwarebytes says that this component was currently in use on UMX devices, and was being used to install apps without the user's knowledge. By who remains unclear.

 Chelsea Clinton reaps $9 million from corporate board position | TheHill - Chelsea Clinton has reaped $9 million in compensation since 2011 for serving on the board of an internet investment company, according toBarron’s, the financial publication. Barron’s reported Sunday that Clinton has profited handsomely as a board member for IAC/InterActiveCorp, a media and internet investment company that has an ownership stake in 150 well-known brands, such as Vimeo, Tinder, Angie’s List and Home Advisor. Clinton, the only child of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has served on IAC’s board since 2011 and receives an annual $50,000 retainer and $250,000 worth of restricted IAC stock units, Barron’s reports.

IRS Audits Plummet To Lowest Level In Four Decades ---- Individual US taxpayers are half as likely to get audited than they were in 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal, which notes that IRS tax enforcement has fallen to the lowest level in at least four decades. In FY 2019, the agency audited just 0.45% of all personal income-tax returns, down from 0.59% in 2018 - marking eight straight years of declining reviews. In a Monday report, the IRS said that in 2010, 1.1% of tax returns were audited. The report did not provide details on audits by income category, or how much revenue has been recovered from the enforcement (or lack thereof).According to the Journal, years of budget cuts and a heavier workload are to blame for the steady erosion of audit - which, experts say, is depriving the Treasury of billions of dollars while budget deficits rise.The IRS budget is about 20% below the 2010 peak  in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Congressional Budget Office. During that time, Congress has given the agency more responsibility, including the implementation of the 2010 health care law and the 2017 tax law.In Monday’s report, the IRS said the agency had lost almost 30,000 full-time positions since fiscal 2010, in areas including enforcement and criminal investigation. It now has about 78,000 workers and has been hiring over the past year. But the agency also projects that up to 31% of remaining workers will retire within the next five years. -Wall Street Journal "The audit rate reported for 2019 was less than half of what it was in 2010, underscoring the depleted state of the IRS enforcement function, which urgently needs to be rebuilt," said Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive group in Washington.

 Stock Exposure Has Exploded at JPMorgan’s Federally-Insured Bank to $2.4 Trillion - Pam Martens - Federally-insured banks are not supposed to be making large speculations in the stock market. They are supposed to be using bank deposits to make loans to worthy businesses and consumers to help grow the U.S. economy and keep the United States competitive on the global stage.But according to the official reports from the federal regulator of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), since December 31, 2010 the federally-insured bank owned by the monster trading house of JPMorgan Chase (JPMorgan Chase Bank NA) has increased its equity (stock) derivative bets from $337billion to $2.4 trillion as of its latest report for the quarter ending September 30, 2019. (The data is found in a graph titled “Table 10” in the appendix of each of the quarterly reports published by the OCC.)During the period that JPMorgan Chase’s positions in stock derivatives have exploded, both its own stock price and the Dow Jones Industrial Average have been on a sharp upward trajectory. (See chart above.)The $2.4 trillion notional (face amount) of stock derivative exposure that JPMorgan Chase has at its federally-insured bank is a very big revenue producer for the bank. According to the OCC’s report for the quarter ending September 30, 2019, all federally-insured banks in the U.S. which traded equity derivatives made $1.8 billion in revenues, of which JPMorgan accounted for $1.15 billion or 64 percent of all revenues of all banks trading stock derivatives. Just how many federally-insured banks in the U.S. have the guts to trade stocks or stock derivatives at their taxpayer-backstopped bank? Not that many. According to the OCC, for the quarter ending September 30, 2019, there was a total of $3.8 trillion in notional amounts of stock derivatives at federally-insured banks in the U.S. JPMorgan Chase accounted for 63 percent of that amount; Citibank accounted for 15 percent; Bank of America accounted for 14 percent. All other federally-insured banks and savings associations, of which there are a little over 5,000, accounted for the remaining 8 percent of stock derivatives held at taxpayer-backstopped banks. How is it that JPMorgan Chase keeps taking outsized risks, pays billions of dollars in fines, gets off easy with deferred prosecution agreements from the Justice Department for its criminal felony charges, and goes right on its merry way of taking huge risks? (See related articles below.) Below are the notional amounts that JPMorgan Chase Bank NA has held in stock derivatives at year-end since 2010 and at September 30, 2019.

77% Of CFOs Say Stock Market Is Overvalued Even As They Order Record Stock Buybacks - Over the past two years, a dramatic, profound divergence emerged between consumer and CEO (or corporate professional) confidence, with the former soaring to record highs while the latter tumbling to financial crisis levels. While there was no immediate explanation for this, some such as Deutsche Bank showed that CEO Confidence tends to lead the ISM Non-Mfg PMI by 12 months with uncanny accuracy, suggesting that CEO confidence and sentiment may be - as one would expect - a far more accurate indicator of where the economy is headed, where consumer confidence is merely a lagging representation of of the economy and/or stock market at any given moment. So now that we are two weeks into the new 2020, with the worst of the trade war with China behind us and the repo crisis supposedly over (if only until April tax season), has there been any material improvement in corporate executive confidence. As it turns out, according to the latest Deloitte CFO Signal Survey, the answer is not only no, but quite the opposite, because despite the record S&P high and the recent rebound in the US economy, CFOs at big US companies entered 2020 with almost all anticipating an economic slowdown against the backdrop of an overvalued stock market. The Deloitte CFO Survey - which polled 147 CFOs from U.S., Canada and Mexico from companies that have more than $3 billion in annual revenue - showed that while the corporate leaders see the economy as “good,” they anticipate that before the year is over, conditions will slow. They also see consumer and business spending slowing, and 82% anticipate taking more defensive actions, like reducing discretionary spending and headcount, as a way to stave off the looming headwinds, CNBC reported. In short, the people who know their companies - and the economy best - are confident that the conventional wisdom about a pick up in economic growth is dead wrong. According to the survey, the coming slowdown is likely to be particularly acute in Europe and China, because while 69% of respondents see conditions in North America as good, the number is just 7% in Europe and 18% in China, the latter a three-year low as the country’s shift to a more consumer-focused economy and its trade battle with the U.S. both conspiring to hold back growth.

 Four Bank Failures in 2019 - There were four bank failures in 2019. This was up from zero in 2018. The median number of failures since the FDIC was established in 1933 was 7 - so 4 failures in 2019 was well below the median.  The great recession / housing bust / financial crisis related failures have been behind us for a few years.  The first graph shows the number of bank failures per year since the FDIC was founded in 1933. Typically about 7 banks fail per year.  Note: There were a large number of failures in the '80s and early '90s. Many of these failures were related to loose lending, especially for commercial real estate.  Also, a large number of the failures in the '80s and '90s were in Texas with loose regulation.  Even though there were more failures in the '80s and early '90s than during the recent crisis, the recent financial crisis was much worse (larger banks failed and were bailed out).  The second graph includes pre-FDIC failures. In a typical year - before the Depression - 500 banks would fail and the depositors would lose a large portion of their savings.  Then, during the Depression, thousands of banks failed. Note that the S&L crisis and recent financial crisis look small on this graph.

Rural America Turning to Grocers, High-Fee ATMs as Banks Leave - The lack of financial institutions is a major challenge facing smaller towns, where more than 1,500 bank branches closed between 2012 and 2017, according to a recent Federal Reserve report. The loss of a simple credit union in Allendale speaks to deeper issues plaguing many rural communities, which are falling increasingly far behind cities even as America’s economy soars. An hour south of Augusta, Georgia, Allendale seems lost in time. People here speak about its heyday, the 1960s, as if it were yesterday. Those once-thriving motels along U.S. Highway 301 are now hulks of broken glass, peeling paint and overgrown weeds. The arrival of Interstate 95 about 35 miles to the east began a decades-long slide for the town, as motorists could bypass the community. The Federal Reserve’s November report notes that roughly 800 rural counties lost 1,533 bank branches in the five years ended 2017, or 14% of their total. Urban counties lost a more modest 9% of their branches as people migrate to online banking, because of industry consolidation and other reasons. Allendale County is among 44 “deeply affected” counties that lost at least half of their branches, according to the report, which focuses exclusively on banks as opposed to credit unions like SRP. Allendale had lost a small community bank in 2014 after it failed, leaving it with a single traditional bank, called Palmetto State, as well as with SRP. One proposal made by regulators last week to boost the flow the credit to poorer communities by updating the 1970s Community Reinvestment Act. Under the measure, lenders could see an increase in the $250 billion they have to spend annually to meet U.S. requirements for doing business in lower-income areas.

CFPB critics to Supreme Court: The agency must go - The main question in the Supreme Court case on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau deals with the president's ability to fire a CFPB director. But most legal briefs filed in the case urge the court to go much further. The case has drawn intense interest because of the questions it raises about the separation of powers. The Dodd-Frank Act says a CFPB chief, who does not answer to a board or commission, can only be removed "for cause." But the case argues that that provision is unconstitutional. Yet most of the 23 amicus briefs filed so far by House Republicans, industry groups and others say striking that provision is not enough and that the high court should invalidate the CFPB entirely. “This Court has never tolerated such an affront to the separation of powers,” 27 House Republicans said in a brief filed with the court. “Allowing it now would take a wrecking ball to one of the central pillars of our constitutional architecture.” The briefs argue that the high court must provide a check on the CFPB’s power by going further than the court has said it will go in the past. At issue is whether the "for cause" provision can be severed from the rest of Dodd-Frank, which would allow the CFPB to remain but would give the president greater oversight over its leadership. Business groups and others argued that such "severability" would result in an agency drastically different from what Congress intended, with the president able to fire the agency's director at will. "If this Court strikes down the removal restriction in this case, it should likewise invalidate the statutory powers that Congress granted to the CFPB’s independent Director," the House Republicans wrote. "This Court should not automatically reassign those powers to the President, which would usurp the legislative role. The case, Seila Law v. CFPB, is being closely watched by banks and financial firms in the event that the high court invalidates the CFPB, essentially dismantling all its rulemakings, decisions and enforcement actions taken in the past nine years. 

CFPB names longtime agency critic to chair consumer task force - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has appointed Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School, to chair a task force that will identify potential conflicts and inconsistencies in consumer finance law. Zywicki has previously been a sharp critic of the agency, calling it "the most powerful and unaccountable bureaucracy that I've ever been aware of." The agency on Thursday announced Zywicki along with three other members of the task force, which was created to produce research and provide legal analysis on modernizing and updating consumer credit laws. “The Taskforce will conduct a thorough examination of our current regulatory framework and report on how we can improve federal consumer financial laws to benefit and protect consumers,” CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger said in a press release. “I look forward to the work the Taskforce will undertake and reviewing their recommendations.” Zywicki, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and co-author of "Consumer Credit and the American Economy," will be joined by J. Howard Beales III, a former professor of strategic management and public policy at George Washington University and a former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The other task force members are Thomas Durkin, a retired senior economist at the Federal Reserve Board, and Jean Noonan, a partner at Hudson Cook and former associate director at the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection's credit practice. Matt Cameron, the CFPB's staff director of advisory boards and councils, will be staff director of the task force.

 Regulators' powerful incentive to fast-track CRA reform -- While community and industry groups are pressing regulators to extend the public comment period for proposed changes to the Community Reinvestment Act, the agencies have a powerful incentive to move quickly — a potential Democratic sweep of the 2020 elections that could enable Congress to scrap the plan before it is ever enacted. Many community groups are already mobilizing against the proposal, which they say would undermine the intent of the law meant to help ensure banks provide loans and services to disadvantaged consumers in areas in which they operate. Democrats have echoed their concern and asked the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to double the 60-day public comment period, allowing for more time for them and others to weigh in. Yet the looming possibility of a Democratic victory later this year may push regulators to resist such calls, and move faster than expected to finaliz If the Senate, House and White House are controlled by Democrats in 2021, they could potentially use a congressional procedural challenge that allows them to quickly scuttle a final CRA rule with a simple majority vote in both chambers. But such a move is only possible if the CRA plan is finalized in the last half of this year or later, providing a rationale for regulators to move quicker to avoid such a fate. “As written, this proposal is bad enough to warrant overturning in whatever way possible,” said Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. “If the Democrats win big in 2020,” such a move “will be relatively high on the regulatory agenda if the proposed changes are finalized.” At issue is the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn any recently-enacted regulation with a majority vote. Though the review law was passed in 1996, it was seldom used until after the 2016 election, which delivered the House, Senate and White House into Republican hands. The GOP used the review act to overturn two Obama-era regulations by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Some analysts predict the Democrats may strike back at Trump-era regulations if the election goes their way in 2020, with any CRA final rule a high priority. But the Congressional Review Act only covers regulations enacted within a certain time frame. If regulators were to move quickly enough, by midsummer of this year, a CRA final rule would not be eligible to be rejected by the Congressional Review Act. As a result, some predict the OCC and FDIC will attempt to move quickly to finalize CRA.

Fed's Brainard delivers sharp rebuke of CRA revamp plan A Federal Reserve governor on Wednesday issued a rebuke of several key elements of a new proposal to overhaul enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act, though she stopped short of criticizing its authors — the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — by name. Overall, Fed Gov. Lael Brainard suggested regulators need to take their time in revamping CRA and not rush into changes without proper analysis. "If the past is any guide, major updates to the CRA regulations happen once every few decades. So it is much more important to get reform right than to do it quickly," she said in a speech at the Urban Institute. Brainard’s remarks constitute the first substantial comment from the Federal Reserve since the central bank chose not to join the FDIC and OCC in their joint notice of proposed rulemaking in December. The Fed's unwillingness to sign on has raised the prospect of divided enforcement of CRA, in which banks are examined differently on the same law depending on what charter they have. Brainard said again on Wednesday that the Fed hopes to reach consensus, while at the same time not sounding optimistic it will be reached soon. She emphasized that regulators have some of the same goals in reforming the CRA, including the continued importance of physical branch locations and the need for clearer scoring guidelines. "It's important to eventually find common ground and have one interagency rule. ... But I think we want to make sure that any rulemaking we do, we feel really confident about that rulemaking furthering the core purposes of the statute," she said. Brainard proceeded to object to most of the key elements of the FDIC and OCC's plan. For example, their proposal would combine several aspects of CRA evaluation into a single, final score based in part on dollar value. But Brainard suggested such a move was a mistake. “Dividing evaluations into separate retail and community development tests is important,” Brainard said. “In contrast, an approach that combines all activity together runs the risk of encouraging some institutions to meet expectations primarily through a few large community development loans or investments rather than meeting local needs.”

GSEs might operate under consent decree, Calabria says — Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria raised the possibility Wednesday that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could operate under a consent order once they are freed from conservatorship while the government-sponsored enterprises raise additional capital. A consent decree would allow the companies to technically exit government control, while also ensuring regulators have additional safeguards to ensure Fannie and Freddie raise the capital needed to completely operate in private hands. “A consent order in my opinion is a tool in the tool box,” Calabria said at an event held by Women in Housing and Finance. “There has been no decision that that’s the route we’re going to go.” FHFA Director Mark Calabria “A consent order in my opinion is a tool in the tool box," said FHFA Director Mark Calabria in discussing potential avenues for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to raise capital. Bloomberg News A consent decree would be one way to allay concerns that Fannie and Freddie would be unable to boost capital to a sufficient level while still in conservatorship, he said, and could come into play after the GSEs reach the cap on their retained earnings. In September, the Treasury Department and FHFA amended the government’s preferred stock purchase agreements to allow Fannie and Freddie to retain a combined $45 billion in earnings, after being permitted to only hold small capital cushions of $3 billion each for seven years. But Calabria emphasized that nothing has been decided. “It would be premature to say that’s the option that we’re going to go with,” he said, noting that the agency is close to hiring a financial adviser that will be able to assist the agency in evaluating a full range of options. Calabria also raised the possibility of the FHFA entering a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure that there wouldn’t be any overlap between the GSEs and the Federal Housing Administration.

HUD proposes easing Obama-era fair housing rule — The Department of Housing and Urban Development has proposed an overhaul of an Obama-era rule meant to guide local jurisdictions in how they comply with the Fair Housing Act, sparking concerns from Democrats that local governments might be less willing to meet fair housing obligations under the new plan. After President Trump took office in January 2017, his administration suspended the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, arguing that it was too prescriptive. The rule, drafted by the Obama administration, was meant to help locales meet obligations under the Fair Housing Act to provide affordable housing options and avoid housing discrimination. Under a proposal issued Tuesday, HUD would change how participants in the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program are evaluated and would revise the definition of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing to “provide a more tailored approach that would take into account local issues and concerns by allowing local jurisdictions to create custom approaches based on their unique circumstances.” “By fixing the old Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, localities now have the flexibility to devise housing plans that fit their unique needs and provide families with more housing choices within their reach,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a press release. The new plan would require participating local governments to submit a certification that would include three goals it plans on addressing in the following years, or the obstacles it faces to increase fair housing choice, according to HUD. But HUD will not require jurisdictions to carry out specific steps to further fair housing, arguing that the approach would “allow jurisdictions to act as they deem necessary to achieve their results while allowing HUD to avoid micromanaging localities,” and would allow a degree of flexibility for state and local authorities.

Mortgage Applications Decreased Over Two Week Period in Latest MBA Weekly Survey -Mortgage applications decreased 1.5 percent from two weeks earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending January 3, 2020. The results include adjustments to account for the holidays.... The Refinance Index decreased 8 percent from two weeks ago and was 74 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 5 percent from two weeks ago. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 14 percent compared with two weeks ago and was 2 percent higher than the same week one year ago....“Mortgage rates dropped last week, as investors sought safety in U.S. Treasury securities as a result of the events in the Middle East, with the 30-year fixed mortgage rate declining to its lowest level (3.91 percent) since early October,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Despite lower rates, refinance volume decreased these last two weeks, and we expect that it will slowly trail off in the first half of 2020 as long as mortgage rates remain in this same narrow range. Homeowners would need to see a sharp drop in rates to reinvigorate the refinance wave seen in 2019.” Added Fratantoni, “The end of the year is the slowest time for home sales, so it is not at all surprising that activity was light. However, after a seasonal adjustment, purchase application volume was up relative to the pre-holiday period and started off 2020 ahead of last year’s pace. We expect that the strong job market will continue to support purchase activity this year, and the uptick in housing construction towards the end of last year should provide more inventory for prospective buyers.”.. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 3.91 percent from 3.95 percent, with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

CoreLogic: House Prices up 3.7% Year-over-year in November -- Notes: This CoreLogic House Price Index report is for November. The recent Case-Shiller index release was for October. The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA). From CoreLogic: oreLogic Reports November Home Prices Increased by 3.7% Year Over Year CoreLogic® ... today released the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI™) and HPI Forecast™ for November 2019, which shows home prices rose both year over year and month over month. Home prices increased nationally by 3.7% from November 2018. On a month-over-month basis, prices increased by 0.5% in November 2019. (October 2019 data was revised. Revisions with public records data are standard, and to ensure accuracy, CoreLogic incorporates the newly released public data to provide updated results each month.)..“The latest U.S. index shows that the slowdown in home prices we saw in early 2019 ended by late summer,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. “Growth in the U.S. index quickened in November and posted the largest 12-month gain since February. The decline in mortgage rates, down more than one percentage point for fixed-rate loans from November 2018, has supported a rise in sales activity and home prices.” CR Note: The YoY change in the CoreLogic index decreased over the last year, but lately the YoY change has been increasing.

 Update: Framing Lumber Prices Up Year-over-year --Here is another monthly update on framing lumber prices.   Lumber prices declined sharply from the record highs in early 2018, and have increased a little lately. This graph shows two measures of lumber prices: 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through Jan 3, 2020 (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures.  Right now Random Lengths prices are up 14% from a year ago, and CME futures are up 25% year-over-year.There is a seasonal pattern for lumber prices, and usually prices will increase in the Spring, and peak around May, and then bottom around October or November - although there is quite a bit of seasonal variability. The trade war was a factor in the sharp decline with reports that lumber exports to China had declined by 40%.   Now, with a pickup in housing, lumber prices are moving up again.

Hotels: A Solid Year for Occupancy Rate in 2019, STR Projects further small Occupancy Decline in Q1 2020 -From 2019’s weak growth trajectory to continue in Q1 2020: “Q1 2020 should see the fourth consecutive quarterly decline in the national occupancy level and the largest such decline … since Q3 2018,” [said] Mark Woodworth, senior managing director and head of lodging research for CBRE Hotel’s Americas Research … For Q1 2020, STR is projecting a 0.6% increase in RevPAR, pushed up exclusively by average daily rate, which is expected to increase 1.1% year over year as occupancy decreases 0.5%. From STR: US hotel results for week ending 28 December.  The U.S. hotel industry reported negative year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 22-28 December 2019, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 23-29 December 2018, the industry recorded the following:
Occupancy: -4.9% to 48.5%
• Average daily rate (ADR): -2.6% to US$127.92
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): -7.4% to US$62.00
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

Reis: Office Vacancy Rate unchanged in Q4 at 16.8% - Reis reported that the office vacancy rate was at 16.8% in Q4, unchanged from 16.8% in Q3 2019. This is up from 16.7% in Q4 2018, and down from the cycle peak of 17.6%. From Reis Senior Economist Barbara Byrne Denham: The office vacancy rate was unchanged at 16.8% in the fourth quarter. It was 16.7% in the fourth quarter of 2018 and 16.4% at year-end 2017. Both the national average asking rent and effective rent, which nets out landlord concessions, increased 0.5% in the fourth quarter. At $34.31 per square foot (asking) and $27.87 per square foot (effective), the average rents have increased 2.6% and 2.7%, respectively, from the fourth quarter of 2018. This was close to the 2.7% growth rate in 2018 and above the 1.8% growth rate in 2017.  Net absorption jumped to 12.2 million SF in the quarter, 35% above the 9.0 million SF in the third quarter. Likewise, construction was 12.5 million SF, 6% higher than the 11.8 million SF completed in the third quarter. With new completions of just under 40 million SF in all of 2019, overall office supply growth trailed the 2018 addition of 49 million SF. However, net absorption of 30.1 million SF in 2019 was much stronger than the 24.0 million SF in 2018. Nevertheless, vacancy is 0.1% higher than a year ago. ... This graph shows the office vacancy rate starting in 1980 (prior to 1999 the data is annual). Reis reported the vacancy rate was at 16.8% in Q4.  The office vacancy rate had been mostly moving sideways at an elevated level, but has increased over the last two years.

Reis: Mall Vacancy Rate Increased in Q4 2019 - Reis reported that the vacancy rate for regional malls was 9.7% in Q4 2019, up from 9.4% in Q3 2019, and up from 9.0% in Q4 2018. This is above the peak following the great recession of 9.4% in Q3 2011, and up from the cycle low of 7.8% in Q1 2016.For Neighborhood and Community malls (strip malls), the vacancy rate was 10.2% in Q4, up from 10.1% in Q3, and unchanged from 10.2% in Q4 2018. For strip malls, the vacancy rate peaked at 11.1% in Q3 2011, and the low was 9.8% in Q2 2016. Comments from Reis:The Retail Vacancy Rate rose 0.1% in the fourth quarter as overall occupancy declined by 175,000 square feet due to the closure of 16 Kmart stores in 13 metros; Asking and Effective Rent growth was 0.1% in the quarter – the lowest since 2012.The Mall Vacancy Rate rose 0.3% to 9.7% in the fourth quarter. Asking and Effective Rent growth was flat....The fourth quarter looks like it could be the start of a declining retail market. For more than two years we had remarked how the retail statistics were defying anecdotal reports of a “retail apocalypse.” But this recent data shows that the scales may have tipped as both the retail and the Mall vacancy rate increased in the quarter. The retail rent growth was a scant 0.1% while Mall rents were flat....Thus, our outlook remains cautious: if vacancies continue to rise, they should not do so at a rapid rate given how slowly the numbers have moved over the last two years. Rents should stay flat for the next few quarters. Indeed, consumers continue to buy more clothing and other goods on-line, but they are also spending more on fitness, entertainment and eating out in establishments that lease retail space. We expect these trends to continue in 2020.

A new high of over 9,300 stores closed in the US in 2019, almost double the number that closed in 2018 - The US retail industry saw 9,302 stores close last year as of December 20 — a figure that more than doubles the 4,454 openings that occurred during the same period, according to data from Coresight Research cited by Retail Dive. The number of closures is up from 5,844 in 2018 and 6,955 in 2017, with 2019 posting the most closures since Coresight Research started tracking the data in 2012, per CNN. Retailers That Closed The Most US Stores In 2019 Business Insider Intelligence A handful of retailers accounted for many of the shuttered stores, but the closures expand well beyond them. Payless' shutdown of 2,100 US stores led the industry, and its closures, along with those from Ascena Retail, Gymboree, Fred's, and Charlotte Russe, accounted for approximately 51% of US store closures last year. While 2019's surging number of shuttered stores was driven by just a few retailers, nearly half of all store closures in 2019 came from retailers that closed fewer than 400 stores each, so brick-and-mortar's struggles extend beyond this handful of retailers. And with 729 stores already closing in 2020, per Coresight Research, store closures appear to be set to persist in the future. The rise of e-commerce is likely partially responsible for the surge in store closures, but retailers can potentially save their stores and boost their overall sales by updating their locations with e-commerce in mind. Online sales are driving US retail's sales growth and stealing share in the process, which may make some merchants' stores less profitable and lead to closures. US e-commerce sales grew an estimated 17.3% annually in Q3 2019 while total retail sales jumped just 4.4% year-over-year (YoY), leading online sales to make up 10.5% of total retail sales after accounting for just 9.4% a year prior. This means sales are moving online and away from stores, damaging brick-and-mortar's performance. And with US e-commerce sales' share forecast to reach 18% by 2024, its importance is set to grow further, which might cause even more store shutdowns. Some retailers are finding success in leveraging their brick-and-mortar locations to facilitate e-commerce, potentially making stores more important and limiting their closures. Walmart has embraced buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) offerings by enabling consumers to pick up grocery and other online orders at its stores, while Target is using its stores to fulfill online orders.

 US Consumers Unexpectedly Paid Down Credit Card Debt In November Even As Student, Auto Loans Soared - One month after the burst in credit card usage, when in October revolving, i.e., credit card debt soared by $7.9BN or the most since July, in November US consumers hunkered down and just as the holiday spending was in full force, and unexpectedly repaid $2.4BN in credit card debt, the most since March, bringing the total credit card debt outstanding to $1.086 trillion, just shy of the record hit in October. Offsetting this drop, was another surge in non-revolving debt, i.e., student and auto loans, which rose by $14.9BN, the biggest monthly increase in four months, and the second highest monthly increase since August 2018. Combined, November's total increase in consumer credit was $12.5BN, which was below October's massive $19BN, and below the consensus estimate $16BN, entirely on the back of the unexpectedly drop in credit card debt. Considering the strong end to the year for retail sales, especially online, we assume this was a one-off event, and in December any credit card "shrinkage" was more than offset with aggressive year-end "charging." If not, then the US consumer may indeed be reaching the limits of their debt-funded spending euphoria.

 BEA: December Vehicles Sales decreased to 16.7 Million SAAR - The BEA released their estimate of December vehicle sales this morning. The BEA estimated light vehicle sales of 16.70 million SAAR in December 2019 (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate), down 2.3% from the November sales rate, and down 3.9% from December 2019.  Light vehicle sales in 2019 were 16.97 million, down 1.4% from 17.21 million in 2018. This graph shows light vehicle sales since 2006 from the BEA (blue) and an estimate for December (red). Note: The GM strike might have impacted sales in October.A small decline in sales last year isn't a concern - I think sales will move mostly sideways at near record levels.  This means the economic boost from increasing auto sales is over (from the bottom in 2009, auto sales boosted growth every year through 2016). The second graph showslight vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967.Note: dashed line is current estimated sales rate of 16.70 million SAAR.Sales have been decreasing slightly, but are still at a high level.  The third graph shows annual light vehicle sales since 1976.n2019 was the 7th best year for vehicle sales following 2016 (best year), 2015, 2000, 2018, 2017 and 2001.

December vehicle sales confirm deepening producer recession, consumer wobble - The BEA finally released its preliminary report on December motor vehicle sales yesterday, and it is yet more confirmation of the trends I’ve been discussing recently: there is a deepening producer recession, but the consumer is alright - although with some signs of wobbling. Let’s look at heavy truck sales first, which tells us about the producer side of the ledger. These were estimated at .497 million annualized. FRED won’t update their graph until the final numbers are in later this month, so in the meantime I have subtracted .497 from the annualized number so that December would be 0 in the below historical graph: This confirms that November’s steep plunge was not an outlier. The average of the past two months is more than 15% lower than September’s peak of .575 million annualized sales.  More often than not, this scale of decline has meant a recession within the next 6 to 12 months. There are six true positives (1973, 1979, 1981, 1991, 2001, 2007), vs. 5 false positives (1976, 1985, 1996, 2002, and 2016). There is also one false negative (1969). The longer the decline goes on, the truer the signal.   Now let’s turn to light vehicle sales, which tell us about the consumer side of the ledger. These came in at 16.7 million units annualized. As with trucks, I’ve subtracted that number so that December would show at 0 in the below FRED graph: This is about 7% off the recent peak of just below 18.0 million units annualized. In the past, it has typically taken a 10% decline off peak to signal a recession. Also, please note that  there is a lot more noise in this metric compared with heavy truck sales. The takeaway is that we have yet more evidence (on top of the worsening ISM manufacturing numbers) that there is a producer recession, and it is has been deepening. The consumer remains alright, but the trend is weakening there as well.

 Update: The Changing Mix of Light Vehicle Sales -- SUVs to the left of me, SUVs to the right.  It made me look at the changing mix of vehicle sales over time (between passenger cars and light trucks / SUVs). The first graph below shows the mix of sales since 1976 (Blue is cars, Red is light trucks and SUVs) through December 2019. The mix has changed significantly. Back in 1976, most light vehicles were passenger cars - however car sales have trended down over time. Note that the big dips in sales are related to economic recessions (early '80s, early '90s, and the Great Recession of 2007 through mid-2009. The second graph shows the percent of light vehicle sales between passenger cars and trucks / SUVs. Over time the mix has changed toward more and more light trucks and SUVs.Only when oil prices are high, does the trend slow or reverse. Recently oil prices have been somewhat steady, and the percent of light trucks and SUVs is up to 73%.

Top U.S. steelmaker raises prices fifth time in two months -  Nucor Corp., the largest U.S. steelmaker, raised prices for a fifth time since late October, adding to signs of a rebound in the industry. Prices for new orders of hot-rolled, cold-rolled and galvanized sheet will increase by $40 a short ton effective immediately, the company said in a letter to clients Wednesday. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based steelmaker didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The metal is used in construction. U.S. Midwest domestic hot-rolled coil steel index futures have rebounded 19% from a three-year low in November amid a strengthening U.S. housing market. Declining mortgage rates are making homes more affordable, boosting demand for steel, Commercial Metals Co. Chief Executive Office Barbara Smith said in an interview Monday.

U.S. Factory Orders Dropped in November - Orders for U.S. manufactured goods fell in November, likely propelled by a steep decline in defense-related orders the month before Congress authorized a fresh round of military spending. U.S. factory orders decreased 0.7% to a seasonally adjusted $493 billion in November from the previous month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected a 0.8% decrease. The November decline was driven by a drop in new orders for durable goods-items designed to last at least three years, such as appliances, autos and aircraft. Durables orders decreased 2.1% from the previous month, a slightly larger decrease than an earlier estimate of a 2% decline. Among durables, orders for military equipment in particular declined sharply in November. Orders for defense capital goods, for example, fell 35.6% from October. Orders for defense and transportation can be volatile from month to month, however. Excluding defense, overall factory orders were up 0.7% in November versus October. Orders excluding transportation rose 0.3%. Orders for nondurable goods, such as food and clothes, were up 0.6%. Tuesday’s report covers factory orders placed in November, before progress in trade talks with China and Congress’ passage of a defense-spending bill–developments that could bode well for U.S. manufacturing. Still, the report follows other recent data that signaled the U.S. manufacturing sector closed 2019 on mixed footing. The Institute for Supply Management reported on Friday that its factory index fell to 47.2 in December from 48.1 in November. Readings above 50 indicate expansion, while those below 50 signal contraction. A separate surveys of purchasing managers from data firm IHS Markit showed U.S. factory activity grew in December, but at a slightly slower pace than in November. Factory orders for October rose a revised 0.2%, a smaller increase than the previous estimate of a 0.3% rise.

US Factory Orders Tumble But ISM Confirms Service Sector Rebound -Following ISM's ugly narrative-busting manufacturing data and Markit's rebound-supporting non-manufacturing print, ISM Services is set to break the tie with expectations of a modest rebound in December, and it did, rising from 53.9 to 55.0 (above the 54.5 expectations). A rebound in sales and production lifted US Services' activity to a four-month high in December, indicating the broader economy remains stable in the face of further deterioration in manufacturing. And so for once, both ISM and Markit are in agreement - Manufacturing is weaker and Non-Manufacturing stronger in December... A very different picture between the two sectors of the economy... And this 'soft' survey data is confirmed by 'hard' data as US Factory Orders declined 0.7% MoM in November, down annually for the 4th straight month... Source of 4 graphics: Bloomberg. However, while the modest rebound MoM will be touted as significant, Bloomberg notes that the ISM’s non-manufacturing index averaged 55.5 for all of 2019, the lowest in three years and down from 58.9 in 2018. The annual average for the group’s factory gauge was the weakest in a decade.

Truck Manufacturing Orders Plunge To Decade Low In 2019 -  The painful decline in Class 8 orders that we have been documenting on a month-by-month basis has resulted in truck manufacturing orders hitting a decade low in 2019, according to Americas Commercial Transportation (ACT) Research Co., a leading publisher of commercial vehicle industry data, market analysis, and forecasting services for the North American market.Full year volume for Class 8 orders was 181,000 for the year, compared to 490,100 units in 2018. Sales in December followed the year's trend, ticking lower on a year over year basis despite showing a 14% sequential rise.Federal tax rate cuts in 2018 encouraged carriers to expand their fleets, resulting in major backlogs and tough comparable numbers for 2019, according to the Triad Business Journal. In addition to the tough comps, ACT President and Senior Analyst Kenny Vieth also blamed the issues on "lower freight demand" in 2019. Vieth said: "Overbuying through 2019 and insufficient freight to absorb the ensuing capacity overhang continued to weigh on the front end of the Class 8 demand cycle in December. Recalling July and August, orders were down 80% from the corresponding months in 2018.”As we have documented throughout the year, some truck manufacturers, like Mack Trucks and Volvo Trucks, announced layoffs. Volvo announced last year that it would lay off 700 people at its Dublin, Virginia plant. Daimler laid off 900 workers in October 2019 and Navistar will lay off 1,300 workers this month.Some trucking companies that we have profiled, like Terrill Transportation, have closed down entirely. 

AAR: December Rail Carloads down 9.2% YoY, Intermodal Down 9.6% YoY - From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission2019 was a challenging year for U.S. rail traffic. Total carloads fell 4.9% (668,075 carloads) and intermodal fell 5.1% (740,240 containers and trailers) from 2018. Total carloads of 12.97 million in 2019 were the fewest for any year since sometime prior to 1988, which is when our data begin. Intermodal volume of 13.73 million units in 2019 was the second most ever, behind 2018....In December 2019, intermodal was down 9.6% from December 2018 — the 11th straight year-over-year monthly decline and the biggest percentage decline for any month since October 2009. … In December 2019, total carloads were down 9.2% from December 2018, their 11th consecutive monthly decline and the biggest percentage decline for any month since May 2016. This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows annual U.S. Carloads and Intermodal units since 2000: U.S. railroads originated 13.73 million intermodal units in 2019, down 5.1% (740,240 containers and trailers) from 2018. … U.S. intermodal volume in 2019 was still the second highest in history, behind 2018 (14.47 million) and fractionally ahead of 2017 (13.72 million). … Total originated U.S. carloads (excluding the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads) totaled 12.97 million in 2019, down 4.9%, or 668,075 carloads, from 2018 and the fewest annual carloads since sometime prior to 1988, when our data begin. The second graph is the year-over-year change for carloads and intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers): Excluding coal, U.S. carloads in 2019 were down 2.8% from 2018, their first decline in three years. In December 2019, they were down 4.2%, their 11th straight monthly decline after 12 straight increases.

Trade Deficit decreased to $43.1 Billion in November - From the Department of Commerce reported:The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $43.1 billion in November, down $3.9 billion from $46.9 billion in October, revised.November exports were $208.6 billion, $1.4 billion more than October exports. November imports were $251.7 billion, $2.5 billion less than October imports. Exports increased and imports decreased in November.Exports are 26% above the pre-recession peak and unchanged compared to November 2018; imports are 8% above the pre-recession peak, and down 4% compared to November 2018.In general, trade both imports and exports have moved more sideways or down recently. The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum. The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products.Note that the U.S. exported a slight net positive petroleum products in September, October and November.Oil imports averaged $51.92 per barrel in November, down from $52.00 in October, and down from $57.54 in November 2018.The trade deficit  with China decreased to $26.4 billion in November, from $37.9 billion in November 2018.

US Trade Deficit Crashes To Smallest Since Trump Elected -- The U.S. trade balance (deficit) narrowed in November to the smallest in three years as exports advanced amid a thaw in the trade war with China, while imports fell to the lowest since 2017. The overall U.S. deficit in goods and services shrank to $43.1 billion in November from $46.9 billion the prior month - the smallest deficit sine October 2016 (before Trump's election)  The figures also suggest the gap may shrink on an annual basis for the first time since 2013. Aircraft exports decreased notably (Boeing) but Agricultural exports improved...

  • Overall exports of goods and services in November rose 0.7% to $208.6 billion, including gains in consumer goods, capital goods and soybeans.
  • Imports fell 1% to $251.7 billion, with declines in civilian aircraft, consumer goods and petroleum products.

Additionally, in nominal terms, the petroleum surplus edged up to a record $832 million, further boosting America’s new status as a net exporter. As Bloomberg notes, the report indicates trade is on track to contribute to fourth-quarter economic growth after having weighed on gross domestic product for the previous two periods, though the shift reflects more of a drop in imports than a gain in exports.

ISM Non-Manufacturing Index increased to 55.0% in December -- The December ISM Non-manufacturing index was at 55.0%, up from 53.9% in November. The employment index decreased to 55.2%, from 55.5%. Note: Above 50 indicates expansion, below 50 contraction. From the Institute for Supply Management: December 2019 Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business® "The NMI® registered 55 percent, which is 1.1 percentage points higher than the November reading of 53.9 percent. This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector, at a slightly faster rate. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index rose to 57.2 percent, a 5.6-percentage point increase compared to the November reading of 51.6 percent, reflecting growth for the 125th consecutive month. The New Orders Index registered 54.9 percent, 2.2 percentage points lower than the reading of 57.1 percent in November. The Employment Index decreased 0.3 percentage point in December to 55.2 percent from the November reading of 55.5 percent. The Prices Index reading of 58.5 percent is the same as the November figure, indicating that prices increased in December for the 31st consecutive month. According to the NMI®, 11 non-manufacturing industries reported growth. The non-manufacturing sector had an uptick in growth in December. The respondents are positive about the potential resolution on tariffs. Capacity constraints have eased a bit; however, respondents continue to have difficulty with labor resources." This graph shows the ISM non-manufacturing index (started in January 2008) and the ISM non-manufacturing employment diffusion index.  This suggests faster expansion in December than in November.

Markit Services PMI: "Business activity growth accelerates to five month high in December" -The December US Services Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 52.8 percent, up 1.2 from the final November estimate of 51.6. The consensus was for 52.2 percent.Here is the opening from the latest press release:Commenting on the latest survey results, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit, said:Business activity in the vast service sector picked up pace at the end of last year as rising domestic demand and signs of reviving exports led to higher workloads. Combined with indications of manufacturing lifting out of it’s recent lull, the survey data suggest the overall pace of economic growth accelerated to its fastest since last April."However, while moving in the right direction, service sector growth remains well below that seen in the early months of 2019, and the overall survey results are indicative of GDP rising at a relatively modest annual rate of 1.8% in December."The missing ingredient compared to this time last year is optimism about the future, with business sentiment regarding prospects for the next twelve months running well below levels seen this time last year, and close to the lowest for at least seven years. Indeed, much of the recent improvement in demand has come from stronger sales to consumers, with business spending and investment remaining under pressure amid this anxiety about the economic and political outlook." [Press Release]  Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.

US Services PMI Jumps To 5-Month Highs But Outlook Plummets -After a dip in Manufacturing PMI (and plunge in ISM Manufacturing), analysts expected the final December print for Services to hold at its highest since July.As US Macro data has serially disappointed, PMI's Services survey instead accelerated further in December to 52.8 (from 52.2 flash and 51.6 in November). Commenting on the latest survey results, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit, said:"Business activity in the vast service sector picked up pace at the end of last year as rising domestic demand and signs of reviving exports led to higher workloads. Combined with indications of manufacturing lifting out of it’s recent lull, the survey data suggest the overall pace of economic growth accelerated to its fastest since last April."The missing ingredient compared to this time last year is optimism about the future, with business sentiment regarding prospects for the next twelve months running well below levels seen this time last year, and close to the lowest for at least seven years. Indeed, much of the recent improvement in demand has come from stronger sales to consumers, with business spending and investment remaining under pressure amid this anxiety about the economic and political outlook." However, as Williamson notes, while moving in the right direction, "service sector growth remains well below that seen in the early months of 2019, and the overall survey results are indicative of GDP rising at a relatively modest annual rate of 1.8% in December."

 ADP: Private Employment increased 202,000 in December - From ADP: Private sector employment increased by 202,000 jobs from November to Decemberaccording to the December ADP National Employment Report®. ... The report, which is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis....“As 2019 came to a close, we saw expanded payrolls in December,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “The service providers posted the largest gain since April, driven mainly by professional and business services. Job creation was strong across companies of all sizes, led predominantly by midsized companies.”Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said, “Looking through the monthly vagaries of the data, job gains continue to moderate. Manufacturers, energy producers and small companies have been shedding jobs. Unemployment is low, but will begin to rise if job growth slows much further.”This was above the consensus forecast for 156,000 private sector jobs added in the ADP report.

 A Closer Look at Today's ADP Employment Report - In this morning's ADP employment report we got the December estimate of 202K new nonfarm private employment jobs from ADP, an increase over November's revised 124K. The popular spin on this indicator is as a preview to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here is a snapshot of the monthly change in the ADP headline number since the company's earliest published data in April 2002. This is quite a volatile series, so we've plotted the monthly data points as dots along with a six-month moving average, which gives us a clearer sense of the trend. As we see in the chart above, the trend peaked 20 months before the last recession and went negative around the time that the NBER subsequently declared as the recession start. ADP also gives us a breakdown of Total Nonfarm Private Employment into two categories: Goods Producing and Services. Here is the same chart style illustrating the two. The US is predominantly a services economy, so it comes as no surprise that Services employment has shown stronger jobs growth. The trend in Goods Producing jobs went negative over a year before the last recession.For a sense of the relative size of Services over Goods Producing employment, the next chart shows the percentage of Services Jobs across the entire series. The latest data point is below the record high. There are a number of factors behind this trend. In addition to our increasing dependence of Services, Goods Production employment continues to be impacted by automation and offshoring. For a better sense of the components of the two Goods Producing and Service Providing cohorts, here is a snapshot of the five select industries tracked by ADP. The two things to note here are the relative sizes of the industries and the relative trends. Note that Construction and Manufacturing are Production industries whereas the other three are Service Providing. For a longer-term perspective on the Goods Producing and Service Providing employment, see our monthly analysis, Secular Trends in Employment: Goods Producing Versus Services Providing, which is based on data from the Department of Labor's monthly jobs report reaching back to 1939.

December Employment Report: 145,000 Jobs Added, 3.5% Unemployment Rate --From the BLS:   Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 145,000 in December, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in retail trade and health care, while mining lost jobs....The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for October was revised down by 4,000 from +156,000 to +152,000, and the change for November was revised down by 10,000 from +266,000 to +256,000. With these revisions, employment gains in October and November combined were 14,000 lower than previously reported.... In December, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 3 cents to $28.32. Over the last 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.9 percent.  The first graph shows the monthly change in payroll jobs, ex-Census (meaning the impact of the decennial Census temporary hires and layoffs is removed - mostly in 2010 - to show the underlying payroll changes).Total payrolls increased by 145 thousand in December (private payrolls increased 139 thousand).Payrolls for October and November were revised down 14 thousand combined.  This graph shows the year-over-year change in total non-farm employment since 1968.In November, the year-over-year change was 2.108 million jobs. The third graph shows the employment population ratio and the participation rate. The Labor Force Participation Rate was unchanged in December at 63.2%. This is the percentage of the working age population in the labor force.   A large portion of the recent decline in the participation rate is due to demographics and long term trends. The Employment-Population ratio was unchanged at 61.0% (black line).The fourth graph shows the unemployment rate.The unemployment rate was unchanged in December at 3.5%. This was below consensus expectations of 160,000 jobs added, and October and November were revised down by 14,000 combined.

December Jobs Report: an emblematic end to 2019 - HEADLINES:

  • +145,000 jobs added
  • U3 unemployment rate unchanged at 3.5%
  • U6 underemployment rate declined -0.2% from 6.9% to 6.7%
  • the average manufacturing workweek was unchanged at 0.1 hour at 40.5 hours (up +0.1% with revision). This is one of the 10 components of the LEI and is positive including the revision.
  • Manufacturing jobs declined by -12,000. Manufacturing gained 46,000 jobs in 2019, a sharp deceleration from 2018’s pace of 264,000.
  • construction jobs rose by 20,000. In 2019 construction jobs were up 151,000, also a deceleration from 207,000 in 2018. Residential construction jobs, which are even more leading, fell by -1100.
  • temporary jobs rose by 6400. 
  • the number of people unemployed for 5 weeks or less increased by 39,000 from 2,020,000 to 2,065,000.
  • Not in Labor Force, but Want a Job Now: unchanged at 4.832 million
  • Part time for economic reasons: decreased by -140,000 from 4.322 million to 4.182 million 
  • Employment/population ratio ages 25-54: rose +0.1% from 80.3% to 80.4%
  • Average Hourly Earnings for Production and Nonsupervisory Personnel: rose $.02 to $23.79, up +3.0% YoY - a sharp deceleration from recent YoY growth. (Note: you may be reading different information about wages elsewhere. They are citing average wages for all private workers. I use wages for nonsupervisory personnel, to come closer to the situation for ordinary workers.) 
  • October was revised downward by -4,000. November was also revised downward by -10,000, for a net change of -14,000.
  • Overtime was unchanged at a +0.1 upwardly revised 3.2  hours
  • Professional and business employment (generally higher-paying jobs) rose by 10,000 and  was up +397,000 in 2019, a deceleration from 561,000 in 2018. 
  • the index of aggregate hours worked for non-managerial workers rose by 0.1%

SUMMARY: This report was emblematic of all of 2019. There was deceleration or decline in most of the leading sectors, adding up to a sharp deceleration for the year. Meanwhile the headline coincident data was positive or at least equal to the best levels of the expansion. Prime age work force participation continued to increase.   If there was a surprise, and it was a nasty negative one, it is that average hourly wages for non-managerial personnel suddenly declined to +3.0% YoY. Basically, the jobs market is in pretty good shape at the moment - except for the sectors which have historically led the rest. There is nothing in this report to suggest any imminent recession, but also nothing to suggest an acceleration from the recent slowdown.

December Jobs Miss Big- Payrolls Tumble To 145K As Wage Growth Slumps To 17 Month Low - While it is safe to say that the Fed - and markets - will largely ignore today's payroll print in a time when the central bank is injecting $100BN in in liquidity every month regardless of the macro data, it is still notable that the December payrolls report was a disappointing 145K, missing expectations of 160K (and the whisper number of 180K), and 111K lower from the downward revised 256K in December (revised from 266K). The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for October was revised down by 4,000 from +156,000 to +152,000, and the change for November was revised down by 10,000 from +266,000 to +256,000. With these revisions, employment gains in October and November combined were 14,000 lower than previously reported.  After revisions, job gains have averaged 184,000 over the last 3 months.Looking below the surface, the biggest surprise was manufacturing employment which after a surge in January as the GM strike ended, slumped once again in December, down -12,000, the second biggest drop since the summer of 2016.The unemployment rate came in at 3.5%, as expected, however a look at the composition revealed some weakness as black unemployment jumped to 5.9%, the highest since July 2019.There was more bad news (or good news if you are the Fed): average hourly earnings rose a disappointing 0.1% M/M in December, well below the consensus estimate of 0.3%, and just 2.9% Y/Y, which was the worst annual increase in July 2018. The silver lining: this was largely due to wages for managers and supervisors as the average hourly wages for production and non-supervisory position rose 3.7%, just shy of the cycle high recorded in November.The slowest wage gain from the prior year in hourly pay was in construction, manufacturing, education and health services, and leisure/hospitality; from November, mining and trade/transportation pay actually declined. Of course, lack of wage growth is just what economists were hoping for as it means the Fed will remain on hold even longer. Commenting on the report, Renaissance Macro economist Neil Dutta said "the important point here is that there is not much pressure on margins from this report. Wage growth cooled for both supervisors and nonsupervisors. Agg hours worked up just 1.1% SAAR in Q4 with GDP tracking above 2%. Tells you productivity is up and ULC down. Looking at the sector breakdown, job gains occurred in retail trade and health care, while mining lost jobs. In 2019, payroll employment rose by 2.1 million, down from a gain of 2.7 million in 2018.

  • In December, retail trade added 41,000 jobs. Employment increased in clothing and accessories stores (+33,000) and in building material and garden supply stores (+7,000); both industries showed employment declines in the prior month. Employment in retail trade changed little, on net, in both 2019 and 2018 (+9,000 and +14,000, respectively).
  • Employment in health care increased by 28,000 in December. Ambulatory health care services and hospitals added jobs over the month (+23,000 and +9,000, respectively). Health care added 399,000 jobs in 2019, compared with an increase of 350,000 in 2018.
  • Employment in leisure and hospitality continued to trend up in December (+40,000). The industry added 388,000 jobs in 2019, similar to the increase in 2018 (+359,000).
  • Mining employment declined by 8,000 in December. In 2019, employment in mining declined by 24,000, after rising by 63,000 in 2018.
  • Construction employment changed little in December (+20,000). Employment in the industry rose by 151,000 in 2019, about half of the 2018 gain of 307,000.
  • In December, employment in professional and business services showed little change (+10,000). The industry added 397,000 jobs in 2019, down from an increase of 561,000 jobs in 2018.  
  • Employment in transportation and warehousing changed little in December (-10,000). Employment in the industry increased by 57,000 in 2019, about one-fourth of the 2018 gain of 216,000.
  • Manufacturing employment was little changed in December (-12,000). Employment in the industry changed little in 2019 (+46,000), after increasing in 2018 (+264,000).

So what does all this mean? Well, the headline jobs print - while disappointing - is hardly a disaster, and confirms that the overall economy is slowing, hardly a shock. Meanwhile the fading wage reflation impulse will be wonderful news for the Fed which has already indicated it won't hike any time soon, and the lack of wage pressures only confirms that Powell will not tighten for a long, long time, if ever.

Where The December Jobs Were- Who Is Hiring And Who Isn't - After the "bang" of a November jobs juggernaut, when the US economy added a whopping 256K jobs (revised lower from 266K) largely on the back of a surge in mfg jobs as GM workers returned from strike, the December jobs report was decidedly a whimper, with just 145K jobs added, a sharp 111K drop from the prior month and below the 160K consensus estimate. What is more concerning than the headline payroll, was the parallel drop in average hourly earnings, which posted the lowest annual increase since July 2018. Why the wage weakness? One look at the composition of job gains in December reveals the reason for the latest poor wage print: Of the 145K December job gains, 80% went to minimum-wage and low-paying industries, namely 41.2K new retail workers, 40K Leisure and Hospitality workers and another 36K Education and health workers, a total of 117 minimum wage, or close to it, job gains. Indeed, as shown in the chart below, unlike November's blockbuster gains in professional & business service and manufacturing jobs, December's job gains were mostly across low-paying jobs.Worse, on the other ends, December also revealed big drops in some of the best paying jobs, namely manufacturing, transportation and mining, all of which shrank in December. In fact, as we showed previously, manufacturing just suffered its second worst month in 4 years, and November's huge drop was largely a function of the GM strike, so one can argue that the December manufacturing slump is the starkest consequence yet of the ongoing trade war with China.  Some other observations on who is hiring, and who isn't:

  • Retail trade added 41,000 jobs. Employment increased in clothing and accessories stores (+33,000) and in building material and garden supply stores (+7,000); both industries showed employment declines in the prior month. Employment in retail trade changed little, on net, in both 2019 and 2018 (+9,000 and +14,000, respectively).
  • Health care employment increased by 28,000 in December. Ambulatory health care services and hospitals added jobs over the month (+23,000 and +9,000, respectively). Health care added 399,000 jobs in 2019, compared with an increase of 350,000 in 2018.
  • Leisure and hospitality jobs continued to trend up in December (+40,000). The industry added 388,000 jobs in 2019, similar to the increase in 2018 (+359,000).
  • Mining employment declined by 8,000 in December. In 2019, employment in mining declined by 24,000, after rising by 63,000 in 2018.
  • Construction employment changed little in December (+20,000). Employment in the industry rose by 151,000 in 2019, about half of the 2018 gain of 307,000.
  • Employment in professional and business services showed little change (+10,000). The industry added 397,000 jobs in 2019, down from an increase of 561,000 jobs in 2018.  
  • Transportation and warehousing jobs were changed little in December (-10,000). Employment in the industry increased by 57,000 in 2019, about one-fourth of the 2018 gain of 216,000.
  • Manufacturing employment dropped in December (-12,000). Employment in the industry changed little in 2019 (+46,000), after increasing in 2018 (+264,000).

Finally, courtesy of Bloomberg, here is a breakdown of the ten industries with the highest and lowest rates of employment growth for the most recent month; it shows that there was a renaissance in museum and actor jobs as we closed out 2019.

Comments on December Employment Report -The headline jobs number at 145 thousand for December was below consensus expectations of 160 thousand, and the previous two months were revised down 14 thousand, combined. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.5%. Earlier: December Employment Report: 145,000 Jobs Added, 3.5% Unemployment Rate In December, the year-over-year employment change was 2.108 million jobs including Census hires. Typically retail companies start hiring for the holiday season in October, and really increase hiring in November. Here is a graph that shows the historical net retail jobs added for October, November and December by year. This graph really shows the collapse in retail hiring in 2008. Since then seasonal hiring has increased back close to more normal levels. Note: I expect the long term trend will be down with more and more internet holiday shopping. Retailers hired 76 thousand workers (NSA) net in December.   Note: this is NSA (Not Seasonally Adjusted). In October, November and December combined, retailers hired more seasonal workers than in the previous two years.Wage growth was below expectations. From the BLS: "In December, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 3 cents to $28.32. Over the last 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.9 percent." This graph is based on “Average Hourly Earnings” from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) (aka "Establishment") monthly employment report. Note: There are also two quarterly sources for earnings data: 1) “Hourly Compensation,” from the BLS’s Productivity and Costs; and 2) the Employment Cost Index which includes wage/salary and benefit compensation.The graph shows the nominal year-over-year change in "Average Hourly Earnings" for all private employees.  Nominal wage growth was at 2.9% YoY in December. Wage growth had been generally trending up, but weakened in 2019. Since the overall participation rate has declined due to cyclical (recession) and demographic (aging population, younger people staying in school) reasons, here is the employment-population ratio for the key working age group: 25 to 54 years old.In the earlier period the participation rate for this group was trending up as women joined the labor force. Since the early '90s, the participation rate moved more sideways, with a downward drift starting around '00 - and with ups and downs related to the business cycle. The 25 to 54 participation rate was increased in December to 82.9%, and the 25 to 54 employment population ratio increased to 80.4%. The number of persons working part time for economic reasons decreased in December to 4.148 million from 4.288 million in November.   The number of persons working part time for economic reason has been generally trending down. These workers are included in the alternate measure of labor underutilization (U-6) that decreased to 6.7% in December.This graph shows the number of workers unemployed for 27 weeks or more.  According to the BLS, there are 1.186 million workers who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks and still want a job. This was down from 1.219 million in November. Summary:  The headline jobs number was below expectations, and the previous two months were revised down.  The headline unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.5%; wage growth was well below expectations.  Overall this was a disappointing report. In 2019, the economy added 2.108 million jobs, down from 2.679 million jobs during 2018 (although 2018 will be revised down with benchmark revision to be released in February 2020).   So job growth has slowed.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Decrease to 214,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending January 4, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 214,000, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 222,000 to 223,000. The 4-week moving average was 224,000, a decrease of 9,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 233,250 to 233,500.  The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Equipment tax phase-out plan questioned — An effort to phase out the business and inventory tax on machinery and equipment faced questioning Monday by the leader of the Democratic minority in the West Virginia Senate.Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Finance received a draft resolution Monday morning during the first day of legislative interim meetings. The 2020 session of the 84th Legislature starts at noon, Wednesday.Joint Resolution 1 would eliminate the ad valorem tax on manufacturing inventory, machinery, and equipment, also known as the business and inventory tax.Jeff Johnson, counsel for the Senate Finance Committee, said the joint resolution would exempt manufacturing machinery and tangible property purchased on or after July 1, 2021, from taxation. Currently, manufacturing machinery and equipment is taxed at 6 percent, bringing in an estimated $100 million per year. The tax would be phased out over a four-year period, starting at 25 percent in 2021, 30 percent in 2022 and 2023, and 15 percent in 2024. Language in the resolution would require the state to make county governments and school systems whole — the largest recipients of the revenue from the business and inventory tax.  The joint resolution would require a two-thirds vote of both the House of Delegates and state Senate. If adopted, the resolution would be placed on the ballot for a special election, likely to coincide with the Nov. 3 general election. The business and inventory tax has been a target for more than 20 years. A report to former governor Cecil Underwood in 1999 recommended the tax be eliminated, as did a task force created by former governor Joe Manchin in 2006. Republican lawmakers have talked about removing the tax since taking the majority in the Legislature in 2014, with talk picking up again in August 2019 at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting.

 Children who experience severe deprivation early in life have smaller brains in adulthood, researchers have found. - The findings are based on scans of young adults who were adopted as children into UK families from Romania’s orphanages that rose under the regime of the dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. Now experts say that despite the children having been adopted into loving, nurturing families in the early 1990s, the early neglect appears to have left its mark on their brain structures. “I think the most striking finding is … that the effects on the brain have persisted,” said Prof Edmund Sonuga-Barke, a co-author of the study from King’s College London, who added that the results showed neuroplasticity had limits. “The idea that everything is recoverable, no matter what your experience … isn’t necessarily true – even with the best care you can still see those signs of that earlier adversity,” he said. The plight of the undernourished children, who had little social contact and received insufficient care, shocked the world when it came to light after the fall of the communist government in 1989. Ceauşescu’s oppressive policies had banned abortion and contraception, while those without children were taxed. As a result, large numbers of children ended up in orphanages living in terrible conditions. Previous studies involving the adoptees have shown they had marked cognitive difficulties as children – although these improved considerably into adulthood – while they also had high rates of conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and, as adults, high levels of anxiety and depression.

 The ultrawealthy are hiring former special-ops soldiers as 'nannies' for their kids, paying as much as $200,000 a year --Being a "supernanny" for the superrich has always been supertaxing.Business Insider's Taylor Nicole Rogers previously reported that many nannies for the rich and powerful find their jobs as demanding as they are daunting, with one nanny telling Rogers that she had to "manually clear out a toddler's bowels," and another saying she had to clean out a rat's nest for the family employing her.And though the benefits and work perks have been noted — elite nannies can make nearly $150,000 a year — it often comes at the expense of the nannies' personal lives, with late working nights and extensive travel requirements resulting in a lack of time with their own families. The role of a nanny is as complicated as ever. In addition to watching the kids, many are expected to be housekeepers, personal chefs, and now even bodyguards. The Times reported on Thursday that some families in London are hiring ex-military personnel to act as nannies for their children. This is to combat the rising crime rates in London, as well as the threat of child abduction for ransom. The more experienced "close protection guards" among this group are paid as much as £150,000 a year ($196,000), according to what Sam Martin — the cofounder of 19 London, an international staffing agency that finds staff for ultrawealthy clients' homes, offices, yachts, and private aircraft — told The Times. "People wanting this sort of protection come from places where the criminal model includes kidnapping and ransom, and in the 1990s in Russia, this was the way they operated," Sergei Migdal, a former security expert and head bodyguard for a Russian oligarch, told The Times.The Times also reported that the crime rates in two of London's most affluent neighborhoods — Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea — have risen by 25 and 15%, respectively. Magoo Giles, a former Coldstream Guard who is now the principal and founder of a £20,000-a-year ($26,252-a-year) private school, told The Times that many families both at his school and at other schools in the area have arrangements to have their children dropped off and picked up by these private security guards. "All of the bodyguards that we recruit are ex-military," Martin told The Times. "However, when it comes to close protection for children, clients tend to demand more high-level staff, someone who is trained in emergency first aid and possibly from special forces like the SAS."

‘School Lunch Fairy’ Pays off Student Meal Debts in Vt. City - Schools in two separate Vermont school districts said this week they received surprise gifts from community members to pay off students' school lunch debts. One of those donors, who spoke to NECN under the condition the news station would not use her name or image, is known as the "school lunch fairy" in the cafeteria of the Chamberlin School in South Burlington. "We're happy to do it," the mom said Friday. "Providing lunch for children in the community is just a very basic need." The fairy flew in to pay off nearly $3,000 in breakfast and lunch debt for the elementary schoolers at Chamberlin, the school said. Holly Rouelle, the principal of the Chamberlin School, said the community members have covered debts before, but their latest gift was larger because new guidelines mean fewer Chamberlin families now qualify for free and reduced school meals. That means more parents are facing challenges paying for food, Rouelle said. "I know many of our parents are struggling just to put food on their home tables, pay their bills, put gas in their car," Rouelle said. "So when that school lunch account starts to creep up into the hundreds of dollars, it gets harder and harder to pay off."

Installing Air Filters in Classrooms Has Surprisingly Large Educational Benefits - An emergency situation that turned out to be mostly a false alarm led a lot of schools in Los Angeles to install air filters, and something strange happened: Test scores went up. By a lot. And the gains were sustained in the subsequent year rather than fading away.That’s what NYU’s Michael Gilraine finds in a new working paper titled “Air Filters, Pollution, and Student Achievement” that looks at the surprising consequences of the Aliso Canyon gas leak in 2015.The impact of the air filters is strikingly large given what a simple change we’re talking about. The school district didn’t reengineer the school buildings or make dramatic education reforms; they just installed $700 commercially available filters that you could plug into any room in the country. But it’s consistent with a growing literature on the cognitive impact of air pollution, which finds that everyone from chess players to baseball umpires toworkers in a pear-packing factory suffer deteriorations in performance when the air is more polluted. If Gilraine’s result holds up to further scrutiny, he will have identified what’s probably the single most cost-effective education policy intervention — one that should have particularly large benefits for low-income children.And while it’s too hasty to draw sweeping conclusions on the basis of one study, it would be incredibly cheap to have a few cities experiment with installing air filters in some of their schools to get more data and draw clearer conclusions about exactly how much of a difference this makes.

State Lawmakers Push To Protect Girls From Competing Against Biological Males In Sports -- The Democrat-controlled U.S. House wants to force schools to let biologically male students compete in girls’ sports.State lawmakers in Tennessee and Washington have their own ideas, however, taking preemptive action to keep school sports separated by biological sex.They introduced bills last month that would require schools to identify students by their original birth certificates for the purpose of deciding eligibility in single-sex sports. Such requirements contradict the federal Equality Act, which would set sports eligibility on the subjective gender identity of student athletes.The odds for federal legislation are slim. The Equality Act is awaiting action in the Republican-controlled Senate more than seven months after the House passed it, and it’s unlikely President Trump would sign it.But the Tennessee bill, introduced by Republican Rep.  Bruce Griffey Dec. 9, faces its own hurdles as the Legislature prepares to reconvene next week. Transgender sports activist Chris Mosier tweeted about it Saturday, putting a national spotlight on an issue that galvanizes progressives.Meanwhile, the Washington bill by Republican Rep. Brad Klippert has not technically been introduced. The lawmaker “prefiled” the bill Dec. 4. The legislative session also starts next week.

Vermont Bill Would Ban Cellphone Use For Anyone Under 21  A Vermont lawmaker has introduced a new bill that would ban the use of cellphones by anyone under the age of 21. State Sen. John Rodgers’ proposal would punish anyone under the age threshold found with a cellphone with up to one year in prison, a $1,000 fine or both, news station WPTZ reported. Rodgers argued that young people are too immature to use cellphones, citing the role the devices play in fatal car crashes. “In light of the dangerous and life-threatening consequences of cellphone use by young people, it is clear that persons under 21 years of age are not developmentally mature enough to safely possess them, just as the General Assembly has concluded that persons under 21 years of age are not mature enough to possess firearms, smoke cigarettes or consume alcohol,” the bill says, according to the outlet. The bill also argues that cellphones are a driving force in bullying and can fuel radicalization. “The Internet and social media, accessed primarily through cell phones, are used to radicalize and recruit terrorists, fascists, and other extremists. Cell phones have often been used by mass shooters of younger ages for research on previous shootings,” the bill reads.

The $230,000,000 College Admission Scandal America Ignored - Rob Stegall moved 15 miles south from Richardson, Texas, to a new home situated within the Dallas Independent School District to secure his daughter’s admission to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. He did this because he sensed that Booker T. might offer an opportunity for a talented teenager interested in pursuing a career in theater.  In 2019, the 250 seniors making up Booker T. ‘s graduating class received $62 million in scholarships, roughly $250,000 per student, to elite colleges across the country — with Julliard taking half of its incoming dance majors from the one magnet school. Stegall’s daughter would have had a shot at Booker T. from outside the district — she was initially waitlisted — but the school prioritizes in-district students. Stegall was advised by the school’s theater director that a change in address would likely yield a change in admission status. And it did when his daughter joined the class of 2014.  “Late into her freshman year, as I got to know the other parents and figured out that they lived all over the place,” Stegall recalls. “Things didn’t add up.”    On weekends, Rob would drive his daughter to sleepovers inwealthy suburbs like Frisco, Allen, and Plano — towns 30 to 45 minutes away from Booker T. campus (further away than even Richardson).  He now estimates that 50 percent of his daughters’ friends weren’t living in the district at a time when Booker T. claimed the vast majority of its enrolled students hailed from Dallas proper — maybe 10 exceptions per grade. He’d drop his daughter off in towns with more than twice the median household income of Dallas and wonder how other parents had gotten their children into Booker T. without moving. In the spring of 2019, some five years after his daughter’s graduation, Stegall finally got his answer when theAdvocate reporter Keri Mitchell broke a story about how elite, suburban, wealthy parents had gamed the admissions system at Booker T. Some parents had rented apartment, others had taken out water and utility bills in their name at friend’s properties. This was not dissimilar to the College Admissions Scandal that made national news thanks to a few famous names, but it was far more extreme: Discounting the value of an exceptional high school experience, math suggests that out-of-district parents conspired to loot an eight-figure sum from a community resource, pulling millions and millions out of a lower-income community for the monthly installments of the $1,200 needed to rent an empty apartment. After the Advocate piece went live, DISD announced more rigorous address verification and on the first day of the 2019-2020 school year, some 30 students didn’t show.

“Closing The Gender Gap” At Any Cost Threatens The Academic Integrity Of STEM Education - The National Bureau of Economic Research recently published a study which concluded that the grading policies for STEM classes contribute to the gender gap in the STEM field. The study finds that STEM classes, on average, assign lower grades compared to non-STEM classes and that this tends to deter women enrolling. Women — who value higher grades more than men — are apparently put off by the lower average grades in STEM subjects. This is despite the fact that “women have higher grades in both STEM and non-STEM classes,” according to the study. The study also shows that women are more likely to switch out of STEM than men. To increase female participation, the authors propose curving all courses to around a B. They estimate that this would increase female enrollment by 11.3 percent. This may seem like a noble endeavor, but it is based on a faulty premise, and it will have adverse effects. The authors aim to solve the problem of the gender gap in STEM, but they never explain why this should be a goal. Individuals have distinct abilities, and efforts to “equalize” their abilities and interests based on gender goes against this. That men have lower attrition rates in STEM should not necessarily be seen as an advantage. For example, another study by Karen Clark, a doctoral candidate at Liberty University, shows that women are, on average, more persistent than men in staying in college. This may be, in part, because they are more likely to avoid high-attrition courses of study like STEM. The effort to “close the gender gap” in STEM represents a preference for minority status over merit that deems a student’s performance less important than her femaleness. Yet it only hurts individuals to put them in a field in which they will be unhappy or perform poorly, regardless of gender. If an individual, no matter how gifted, is averse to the risk of possibly burning out and forgoing a good grade, then maybe STEM isn't the right field. STEM curricula are deliberately rigorous, as their subjects are not easy, and bridges tend to collapse when things go wrong. This is why there are weed-out classes to discourage students from pursuing them lightly. 

WSJ Editorial Slams Iowa State's Orwellian Free-Speech Policies - The Wall Street Journal editorial board blasted Iowa State University over its controversial speech policies, calling one of them "Orwellian." In a January 2 editorial, the WSJ editorial board weighed in on the free speech nonprofit Speech First's recent lawsuit against ISU, which alleged that a number of the university's speech policies are unconstitutional. The lawsuit cited policies such as a ban on chalking, the "Campus Climate Reporting System," and the university's prohibition on students sending political emails.  The policy with which the editorial board took the most issue, however, is the Campus Climate Reporting System," calling it "Orwellian.""The university may be most legally vulnerable for its Campus Climate Reporting System, which is as Orwellian as it sounds," the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote."Under the 'system,' students are encouraged to report 'bias incidents' to a panel that includes the chief and vice chief of the Iowa State University Police Department, the dean of students, and the university counsel." ISU, for its part, told Campus Reform in a statement that it "does not punish individuals for their constitutionally protected rights to expression, nor do we have policies or practices that prohibit expression based on the content of the expression or the viewpoint of the speaker." The university added that, "as a public institution, Iowa State University fully embraces its role as a First Amendment campus and is deeply committed to constitutional protections of free expression." But according to the WSJ editorial board, "none of this is likely to save Iowa State’s policies in court."  According to Speech First's lawsuit, ISU does threaten punishment against students who violate such policies.  "Under the University’s policy, students who 'chalk' an unauthorized message face discipline," the lawsuit states. Regarding the prohibition on students sending political emails, Speech First's lawsuit says, "this content-based prohibition on core protected speech is backed by the threat of formal discipline."

School Gets $1 Million From NY State Budget For Diversity Hires - A New York university has been granted almost $1 million in funding from the state's university system to support salaries of exclusively minority faculty and to increase “diversity” within the faculty.Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York system, announced a $957,000 grant from the state system budget that will span over a three year period and support select faculty members at the university. The grant is part of the SUNY network’s new program called Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth, or “PRODiG” initiative, that seeks to “increase faculty diversity” which in turn would “renew the faculty, support student success, and promote excellence through diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences” at the college. “The goal of this system-wide initiative,” the press release stated, “is to support SUNY campuses in their efforts to recruit and retain up to 1,000 early-to-mid-career professors from underrepresented groups by 2030.”The funding received by the program this year will reportedly be used to support the salaries of six specific faculty members at Stony Brook University. Those who received funding from the grant were also invited to attend the PRODiG Cohort Institute, which took place December 3 as part of the 2019 SUNY Diversity Conference in Albany.

UC-Berkeley Threatened With Lawsuit For Mandatory Diversity Statements In Hiring - Legal action may be taken against the University of California-Berkeley after it released a document showing that mandatory diversity statements may have led to discrimination in hiring. The six-page document analyzes the taxpayer-funded institution’s new focus on hiring job candidates based on “knowledge, past contributions, and/or future plans for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.” If candidates didn’t meet UC-Berkeley’s standards in this area, they weren’t hired.The 2018-2019 summary report for the “Initiative to Advance Faculty Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Life Sciences” was written by two science professors, Mary Wildermuth and Rebecca Heald, who is also regional associate dean. They are co-chairs for the Life Sciences Initiative Committee. Daniel Ortner, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, told two academic blogs that he is “looking to challenge the University of California Policy.” He wants anyone who was required to submit a mandatory diversity statement and not hired to contact him. The policy has “several serious constitutional problems,” Ortner told The College Fix in an email. He started looking into it when “[s]ome concerned UC professors” contacted him: “[T]he more I’ve looked into it the worse UC’s actions appear.” When applicants are required to submit a diversity statement on their own experience, university reviewers would likely be able to tell the applicants’ race and gender, “allowing those factors to be taken into account,” Ortner said. That is “contrary to California Proposition 209,” the 23-year-old ballot initiative that amended the state constitution, “and potentially the Equal Protection Clause” of the U.S. Constitution.

College athletes and Ph.D. students both work for the university, but only one earns a salary -  - Beginning in January 2021, new rules will go into effect that will allow NCAA student-athletes to profit from the use of their names, images, and likeness. While the details of these new rules will require much deliberation among each NCAA division, one thing will not be considered—salaries for college athletes from the universities. Why won’t college athletes be paid a salary? Several reasons are floating around. One reason is the NCAA does not consider college athletes employees of the universities. Another reason is that these players are given a lot of perks. In a recent Los Angeles Times article, Dan Radakovich, athletic director at Clemson University, argued against paying college athletes since they have access to “world-class facilities, world-class coaching, and incredible academic support.” But there already exists a group of students who are employees of the university, have access to world-class facilities, teaching, and academic support and no one calls them selfish when they receive their salaries. Who are these students? Ph.D. students. Wait, are you saying Ph.D. Students receive a salary? Yes, because they work for the university. A large percentage of Ph.D. students are funded via fellowships or assistantships. Funding, which covers tuition and provides a stipend, varies across institutions and doctoral programs due to what can be viewed as “educational hierarchy.” Assistantships require that Ph.D. students’ work anywhere from 20 to 40 hours per week that include duties such as grading, managing labs, or lecturing. Additionally, doctoral students are awarded (or sometimes apply for) money that allows them to attend international or out-of-state conferences to present their research and network with others in their field. In short, Ph.D. students sign a contract with an institution, agree to work a certain number of hours per week, maintain a certain GPA, and conduct research. In exchange, the university covers their tuition and pays them a salary. What do college football players do? Sign a contract (you may have seen signing day on ESPN), maintain a certain GPA, and kick butt on Saturday, which requires countless hours of practice! Additionally, their success can help recruit up to tens of thousands of students and generate millions of dollars for the institution.

‘Make No Mistake: Harvard Has the Money to Pay Us Livable Wages’ -  I have been a proud member of the Harvard Graduate Students Union since I started to work for Harvard University two years ago. Now, we are on strike, fighting for the same things that my father would have fought for from his union days – fair wages, better healthcare, and protection from discrimination and harassment by supervisors. It may be difficult to empathize with Harvard student workers. Popular culture often depicts us as privileged elites, like in the movie ‘Good Will Hunting.’ However, like many of my classmates and coworkers, I am not at all wealthy. During my 3-year program, I will acquire about $70,000 in debt. I am in my early 30s and my new debt burden affects when I start a family, buy a home, and what future jobs I can consider. The wage increase we are fighting for would directly improve my situation. My story is unfortunately far better than that of some of my classmates. Through a student survey, my school, the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, found out there were students who weren’t sure they could afford food for themselves. Other students have needed food stamps to get by. Questioning how you can afford food while studying at one of the richest educational institutions in the world is absurd. To my school’s credit, they offered assistance to those concerned about money for food over Christmas break. But that is a temporary relief to a full-time problem. Moreover, I have heard stories of students on the verge of homelessness, sleeping out of cars or bouncing between friends. While the cost of living increases in the Boston area by as much as 3-4% each year, wages in many departments are stagnant. Students who have been at Harvard for five or six years cannot recall any general raises. Others received their first raise only after Massachusetts increased the minimum wage. Year after year, we fall further behind and are slowly being priced out of our communities. Make no mistake: Harvard has the money to pay us livable wages. Their endowment is valued at$40.9 billion. Last year, this money returned $2.6 billion in investment gains – more than twice as much as the university took in for all tuition costs. In other words, Harvard makes more off the stock market than it does off its students. If the endowment worked full-time, its hourly wage would be over $1.2 million. Our union is asking for pennies in comparison.

Student Loans, Meet Greece: Extend and Pretend Bond Maturities by Yves Smith - For those of you who remember the multiple Greek bond restructurings, the gimmicks now being used to pretty up the prospects for student loans look awfully familiar.One of the devices Greece’s creditors used to make it more plausible that broke and prostrated Greece might someday make good was extending maturities to lower the amount due in any year. This was particularly true of the loans that came from European governments, where payments in the 2015 restructuring were deferred to 2020 and 2022. We pointed out that the maturities of various borrowings had already been pushed out so far (40 to 60 years) that additional deferrals would buy little in the way of payment relief.The Wall Street Journal tonight describes how a similar trick is being used with student loans. Unlike Greece, investors in bonds that have Federally-guaranteed student loans as the source of their cash flows will eventually get their money. However, as the article explains, the timing is in question. And unlike Greece’s creditors, who were more concerned about optics than discounted cash flows, bond investors know that payments that come in late are less valuable than ones that come in as scheduled.Bond rating agencies are playing along with this “kick the can” strategy, typically issuing a downgrade at the time the maturity is extended, then marking it back up to triple A. From the Journal:Because borrowers were taking longer to pay off their loans, there was a risk the bonds backed by the loans wouldn’t be paid off in time. Bond-rating firms were watching and getting ready to downgrade the highly rated bonds, potentially causing losses for investors.The issuer of the bonds and the investors who owned them hatched a plan to avoid the downgrades. Their solution: make sure bonds were paid off in time by extending their maturity dates by decades… Bond-ratings firms like Moody’s Corp. and Fitch Ratings follow strict rules. They will downgrade a security if they don’t think it will pay off by the due date, even when the underlying loans are guaranteed by the federal government…Investors who hold on will eventually get paid back, but a downgrade might cause them to suffer a temporary loss….Some bonds went on a ratings roller-coaster ride, including a $406 million chunk of triple-A debt that Moody’s downgraded to junk on Nov. 1, 2016. Later that month, the maturity date was moved from 2026 to 2055. Within weeks, Moody’s upgraded the bond back up to triple-A. Other bonds ended up with widely divergent ratings. A $30 million chunk of a 2008 student bond deal is either triple-A, if you believe Moody’s, or deep inside junk territory, if you believe Fitch. That bond is also now due in 2083. Mind you, this payment delay issue applies only to a subset of student loans, ones that Congress allowed to participate in an income-based repayment scheme, which limits monthly payments to 15% of discretionary income. The program was short-lived, ending with loans from 2010, but still has $262 billion in principal outstanding, of which roughly 26% is in default. The later loans total $1.2 trillion, with about 10% in default.

 Health care paperwork cost US $812 billion in 2017, 4 times more per capita than Canada -- A study published today (January 6) in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that health care bureaucracy cost Americans $812 billion in 2017. This represented more than one-third (34.2%) of total expenditures for doctor visits, hospitals, long-term care and health insurance. The study estimated that cutting U.S. administrative costs to Canadian levels would have saved more than $600 billion in 2017. Health administration costs were more than fourfold higher per capita in the U.S. than in Canada ($2,479 vs. $551 per person) which implemented a single-payer Medicare for All system in 1962. Americans spent $844 per person on insurers' overhead while Canadians spent $146. Additionally, doctors, hospitals, and other health providers in the U.S. spent far more on administration due to the complexity entailed in billing multiple payers and dealing with the bureaucratic hurdles insurers impose. As a result, hospital administration cost Americans $933 per capita vs. $196 in Canada. The authors note that in Canada hospitals are financed through lump-sum "global budgets" rather than fee-for-service, much as fire departments are funded in the U.S. Physicians' billing costs were also much higher in the U.S., $465 per capita vs. $87 per capita in Canada. The analysis, the first comprehensive study of health administration costs since 1999, was carried out by researchers at Harvard Medical School, the City University of New York at Hunter College, and the University of Ottawa. The authors, who also performed the 1999 study, analyzed thousands of accounting reports that hospitals and other health care providers filed with regulators, as well as census data on employment and wages in the health sector. They obtained additional data from surveys of physicians and government reports. The researcher found that administration's share of overall U.S. health spending rose by 3.2 percentage points between 1999 and 2017, from 31.0 % to 34.2%. Of the 3.2 percentage point increase, most (2.4 percentage points) was due to the expanding role that private insurers have assumed in tax-funded programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. Private managed care plans now enroll more than one-third of Medicare recipients and a majority of those on Medicaid; Medicare and Medicaid now account for 52% of private insurers' revenues. Private insurers' increasing involvement has pushed up overhead in those public programs; private Medicare Advantage plans take 12% or more of premiums for their overhead, while traditional Medicare's overhead is just 2%, a difference of at least $1,155 per enrollee (per year).

Cancer Deaths See Largest Drop On Record As Overdoses, Suicides Soar - As an increase in so-called 'deaths of despair' - suicides, overdoses and other fatalities related to substance abuse or depression - has caused the overall life expectancy for Americans to decline for a third consecutive year, it looks like doctors finally have some good news: As drug overdose deaths soar, deaths from cancer decreased by the largest margin on record in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available. Advances in treatment for lung tumors, like improvements in video-assisted surgery, have helped prolong the lives of patients who previously faced a grim prognosis. We're talking, specifically, about those suffering from difficult-to-treat lung cancers, as these technological advances have had the largest impact on the ability to treat lung cancer, according to Bloomberg. Of course, mortality rates for lung cancer have been declining for 26 years, thanks largely to the fact that fewer people smoke cigarettes. But between the end of 2016 and the end of 2017, the number of cancer deaths dropped by 2.2%, the most ever in a single year, according to a report by the American Cancer Society. That's compared with a 1.5% yearly decline over the decade. The 2.2% drop translates to roughly 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths than would have occurred had cancer-related mortality rates remained at their peak. For lung cancer specifically, the mortality rate declined 4.3% annually from 2013 to 2017. "It is really lung cancer that is driving this," said Rebecca Siegel, scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society, and lead author on the new study. "We found increases in survival for lung cancer at every stage in diagnosis." 

How diet affects mental health -- what's the evidence? - A new expert review confirms that diet significantly influences mental health and wellbeing, but cautions that the evidence for many diets is comparatively weak. This, the most up to date overview of the new field of Nutritional Psychiatry, is produced, by the Nutrition Network of the ECNP and is published in the peer-reviewed journal European Neuropsychopharmacology (see download details below). Lead author, Professor Suzanne Dickson (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) said: "We have found that there is increasing evidence of a link between a poor diet and the worsening of mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. However, many common beliefs about the health effects of certain foods are not supported by solid evidence". The researchers found that there are some areas where this link between diet and mental health is firmly established, such as the ability of a high fat and low carbohydrate diet (a ketogenic diet) to help children with epilepsy, and the effect of vitamin B12 deficiency on fatigue, poor memory, and depression. They also found that there is good evidence that a Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables and olive oil, shows mental health benefits, such as giving some protection against depression and anxiety. However, for many foods or supplements, the evidence is inconclusive, as for example with the use of vitamin D supplements, or with foods believed to be associated with ADHD or autism.

McDonald’s Says 20-Year Old Burger is ‘By No Means’ the Same as When Originally Purchased - The fast-food chain responded to criticism after David Whipple of Utah revealed that an old hamburger he purchased from the fast-food chain hadn't decomposed, despite the fact that he bought it in 1999. McDonald's told Fox News that despite looking fine, the burger had definitely undergone some changes internally. “In the right environment, our burgers, like most other foods, could decompose,” said Anne Christensen, Director of Field Brand Reputation for McDonald’s. “But, in order to decompose, you need certain conditions — specifically moisture.” “Without sufficient moisture – either in the food itself or the environment – bacteria and mold may not grow and therefore, decomposition is unlikely. So if food is or becomes dry enough, it is unlikely to grow mold or bacteria or decompose. Food prepared at home that is left to dehydrate could see similar results.  Donald W. Schaffner, Ph. D., professor and extension specialist for the Food Science graduate program at Rutgers University, told Fox News that the explanation provided by McDonald’s was an “entirely factual response.” He outlined, however, that there’s still a lot of information we don’t know about how the burger was stored in the years after it was initially bought, as under the right conditions any burger, not just a fast-food burger, could be preserved like this. According to Schaffner, as McDonald’s cooks their burgers well-done, that would likely dry the burger out and kill off many (but not all) of the micro-organisms that would cause decomposition. He added that Utah typically has a very arid environment, so it’s entirely possible that the burger dehydrated before the bacteria could start the decomposition processes.

Fecal Bacteria In California’s Waterways Increases With Homeless Crisis - President Donald Trump, a self-described germophobe, has made no secret of his disgust with California’s growing homeless problem, which he has called a “disgrace” and “inappropriate” and equated to “living in hell.”  “We should all work together to clean up these hazardous waste and homeless sites before the whole city rots away,” Trump tweeted about San Francisco on Oct. 26. “Very bad and dangerous conditions, also severely impacting the Pacific Ocean and water supply.”  San Francisco officials were quick to dispute Trump’s claims. But some of California’s most prized rivers, beaches and streams are indeed contaminated with levels of fecal bacteria that exceed state limits, threatening kayakers, swimmers — and the state’s reputation as a bastion of environmental protection. The presence of fecal bacteria in water is usually the result of problems with sewer systems and septic tanks. But water quality officials agree that the source of at least some of the fecal bacteria is California’s growing homeless population, most of whom don’t have reliable access to toilets.“I’ve carried 5-gallon buckets that were unambiguously being used as toilets,” said David Gibson, executive officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, describing his experience cleaning up homeless encampments. “They were taking it to the San Diego River, dumping it there, and rinsing it out there.” Fecal contamination of waterways is a widespread problem and becoming more urgent in states with large homeless populations. In Seattle, homeless people living in RVs are accused of dumping raw sewage straight into storm drains, which flows directly to local waterways. In Oregon, workers cleaning up homeless camps along the Willamette River in Eugene routinely find feces and needles.  California has the largest homeless population in the nation, estimated at more than 151,000 people in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. About 72% of the state’s homeless slept outside or in cars rather than in shelters or temporary housing. In addition to Trump’s tweets, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencysent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 26 alleging that the state’s lack of urgency on homelessness threatens public health by polluting nearby water with untreated human waste. It then issued a notice to San Francisco accusing it of violating the federal Clean Water Act.

Feces from a giant kettle of vultures is disrupting CBP communications on the US-Mexico border  -A US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) radio tower near the Texas-Mexico border has become home to some 300 vultures, which have coated the structure’s entire surface, both inside and out, as well as the ground below, in “droppings mixed with urine,” according to a request for information the agency issued to vendors this week.A smoothly-functioning communications network is essential for CBP officers to do their jobs. The agencies under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security, of which CBP is one, havesuffered from radio problems in the past.The birds in the Texas tower have been roosting there for more than six years, a CBP spokesperson told Quartz, adding, “They will often defecate and vomit from their roost onto buildings below that house employees and equipment. There are anecdotes about birds dropping prey from a height of 300 feet, creating a terrifying and dangerous situation for those concerned.” As a defense, vultures “regurgitate a reeking and corrosive vomit,” explains a factsheet from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This kills bacteria on the birds’ legs, but also eats away at the metal in radio towers, reducing the life of the structure and making it unsafe for the maintenance workers who climb it. Vulture droppings can also carry a range of diseases such as histoplasmosis, salmonella, and encephalitis.Large groups of vultures smell “like a thousand rotting corpses,” one homeownertold a reporter last August after a vulture colony set up shop at a South Florida country club, forcing the family from their $700,000 vacation home. The scavenging species feeds mostly on carrion, and undigested fur and bones are commonly found at the base of communications towers within which vultures roost. Black vultures in particular have been known to disembowel and kill young or sick livestock. “Although black vultures have killed calves up to several days old, they are often attracted by and feed on placentas before damaging a newborn calf or lamb,” according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “The scent of afterbirth can attract vultures from great distances.”  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which was first enacted in 1918,prohibits the killing of vultures, and violators can be fined up to $200,000 and receive up to a year in federal prison.

Flu Now Widespread in 45 States, What to Know - Just as health officials predicted, flu activity picked up significantly over the holidays.Forty-five states plus Puerto Rico are now seeing widespread activity, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported today — a big jump from what we saw before the holidays.At the start of the season, the string of states between Texas and Georgia experienced the most severe flu activity. But now northern and western states are being hit just as hard.Pennsylvania, for example, saw a 56 percent increase in flu activity during the stretch between Christmas and New Year's Eve.Flu cases in New Jersey, the Carolinas, Maryland, and Virginia have soared as well.Overall, there have been at least 6.4 million flu illnesses, 55,000 hospitalizations, and 2,900 flu-related deaths, according to the CDC's latest flu report.There have also been 27 reported pediatric deaths — the majority of which were linked back to influenza B viruses. "Since mid-December, influenza activity has really ramped up," said Marie-Louise Landry, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease expert and the director of the Yale Clinical Virology Laboratory. "All four influenza strains are circulating, but so far A/H1 and B/Victoria have been more common."

Why This Flu Season May Be the Worst In a Decade, Doctors Explain - Experts say it’s shaping up to be the worst flu season we’ve seen in a decade. As of right now, at least 2,900 people have died of the flu this season, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and flu activity is “widespread” in the country.Flu season officially began in October and, since then, the CDC has estimated that at least 6.4 million people have gotten the flu, while 55,000 have been hospitalized with the illness. That’s a lot for this part of the season, says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “The flu season started early, it started vigorously, and cases and hospitalizations have been surging up as though it were a rocket,” Dr. Schaffner says. “It looks as though it will be on track to be a very severe season, and there’s no sign of a downturn yet.”Infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agrees. “The cases have been going up and up but, the question is, when it will go down?” he says. “We are on track to have a season like the 2017-2018 season, which was severe.” During the 2017-2018 flu season, approximately 900,000 people were hospitalized and 80,000 people died due to flu complications. This season has been dominated by a form of the flu called influenza B, “which is completely odd,” Dr. Schaffner says, since influenza B doesn’t typically create large outbreaks. H1N1 flu viruses are also starting to rise and “we may have a double-barrel season of influenza B followed by H1N1,” Dr. Schaffner says. “We have all these odd ingredients coming together so that we have, at this juncture, an awful lot of flu with the potential for being as bad as our last bad year, if not worse.”

Novel human virus? Pneumonia cases linked to seafood market in China stir concern - Stoking fears that a novel virus may have begun to infect people, health authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late on Friday local time announced they have documented 44 unusual cases of pneumonia—a sharp jump from their initial report of 27 cases on 31 December 2019. Although the city is being praised for quickly sharing information, infectious disease specialists around the world are eager to get more details on the mysterious pathogen and the disease it produces in patients. In today’s report, Wuhan officials ruled out influenza, avian flu, and adenovirus; they call the disease a “viral pneumonia of unknown cause.”  Hints of trouble first surfaced publicly on 30 December, when a directive from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission asking hospitals to report unusual cases of pneumonia was reported by local media. The next day, the commission posted a notice in Chinese on its website stating that a number of local hospitals had reported cases of pneumonia linked to the wholesale Huanan Seafood Market. The commission had turned up 27 cases in the city of 11 million, 690 kilometers west of Shanghai. Seven of the patients were in serious condition, two had recovered and were nearing discharge, and the remaining number were stable. All patients were isolated and their close contacts were under surveillance, the notice stated.  At that time, no human-to-human transmission had been identified. The commission updated that information today, saying 11 of the 44 cases are considered serious. The new patients are also in isolation. An additional 121 close contacts of patients are under surveillance, although the commission has so far ruled out human-to-human transmission.  The city has shut the seafood market, according to local press reports. Guan says there are unconfirmed reports of a mother and her son contracting the same illness, a situation that would have stood out and was, perhaps, something that caught the health commission’s attention. Guan, who is not involved in the investigations in Wuhan, says this does not necessarily involve human-to-human transmission; the son reportedly ran a stall at the implicated seafood market and his mother frequently visited him there. “They could have been exposed [to the same pathogen] simultaneously,” he says.

 Hong Kong Activates Serious Response As Chinese Mystery Illness Prompts Hospital Lockdown -Authorities in Hong Kong have activated a recently created "serious response" threat level Saturday as a mysterious SARS-like respiratory illness begins to spread throughout central China, according to AP.While just 44 people have been admitted to the hospital with the unidentified virus - eleven of them in serious condition, authorities in Wuhan, China have put 121 people under observation who have been in close contact with the infected. Five cases, meanwhile, have been reported in Shanghai - around 570 miles north of Hong Kong.  A Wuhan government official told SCMP that his wife, a nurse in the infectious disease unit at the Central Hospital, has been unable to go home for the past several days because her ward has been on "lockdown."   "My kids and I can still call her on her mobile," he said, adding "[But] we are very worried for her, although she said all is fine."Five possible cases have been reported of a viral pneumonia that has also infected at least 44 people in Wuhan, an inland city west of Shanghai, about 900 kilometers (570 miles) north of Hong Kong. The outbreak, which emerged last month, has revived memories of the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic that started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in the mainland, Hong Kong and elsewhere.AP  The most common symptom of the new disease is fever, shortness of breath and lung infections. Method of transmission / infection is unknown. Investigations have ruled out bird flu and the common flu, as well as adenovirus infection and other common respiratory diseases. Further laboratory tests are ongoing according to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. Hong Kong's 'serious response' level is the second highest in a newly-launched three-tier system unveiled Saturday, designed to respond to infectious diseases of unknown origin.

China's mysterious outbreak could be new virus, WHO says -   Chinese state media said on Thursday that an outbreak of more than 50 pneumonia cases in the central city of Wuhan could be caused by a new strain of coronavirus. The announcement came hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) had made similar statements. The United Nations' public health body said Chinese authorities have ruled out SARS, MERS, bird flu and influenza, among others. "A new coronavirus cannot be excluded," the WHO said in a statement. Coronaviruses can be spread via coughing, sneezing or touching someone who is infected. They are a large family of viruses with many types that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to MERS and SARS. Read more: Unknown lung disease in China People cover their mouths during a SARS outbreak in China China is attempting to avoid a repeat of the deadly SARS outbreak of 2003 Attempts to 'determine the source' As of Sunday, local authorities said at least 59 people have been treated for respiratory illness, including seven who are in critical condition. The outbreak is believed to have occurred between December 12th and the 29th. "More comprehensive information is required to confirm the pathogen, as well as to better understand the epidemiology of the outbreak, the clinical picture, the investigations to determine the source, modes of transmission, extent of infection and the countermeasures implemented," said the WHO. History of outbreaks Chinese authorities have struggled to contain similar outbreaks in the past. In 2002-2003, a SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak infected more than 8,000 people, killing 775 of them in the process. Beijing had initially attempted tried to cover up the 2003 outbreak before its spread internationally. In 2012, China was hit by another outbreak, this time the highly-contagious Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Chinese Officials Confirm Latest Health Crisis Caused By SARS-Like Coronavirus -- Headlines about a new pneumonia-like illness spreading through China have appeared in the Western press over the past week. Officials in the region, including in Hong Kong and Taiwan, have been fearful of the virus's spread since Beijing delivered a notice warning about the virus on Dec. 31, when just 27 people were infected. As of Thursday, a little more than a week later, the number had risen to 59 - with seven in critical condition. Now, it appears public health officials worst fears have been confirmed: Preliminary tests indicate the mysterious illness may be caused by a new coronavirus, according to lead scientist Xu Jianguo, who delivered the news to China's official Xinhua news agency, according to the BBC.  Xu said he and his researchers found the "new type" of coronavirus by testing infected blood samples and throat swabs collected from 15 people. Crucially, coronaviruses can be the cause of a wide range of illnesses, from common colds, to infections like the SARS virus that originated in China in 2002 and 2003 and ended up killing 700 people around the world.  Beijing's confirmation seems to affirm the WHO's suspicion that a coronavirus could be to blame for the outbreak.  While identifying the virus type is a start for authorities, "further investigations" are still necessary, said Gauden Galea, The WHO representative for China. For example, pathology investigators still need to understand how the virus spreads.  So far, zero cases of human to human transmission have been confirmed, while the Wuhan cases are thought to have been caused through exposure to animals linked to a live seafood and animal market. Of note, no healthcare workers have fallen ill with the mystery virus.

The FDA Announces Two More Antacid Recalls Due to Cancer Risk  --  Among the top medical stories of 2019 was the discovery of contaminants in common medicines, and ranitidine—best known as Zantac—took up a large share of those headlines. A cancer-causing substance known as NDMA has been repeatedly found in one of the most popular antacid drugs in the United States. The scary news continues in 2020. On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration announced voluntary recalls of prescription forms of ranitidine by two generic drug companies, Appco Pharma and Northwind Pharmaceuticals, bringing the total number of ranitidine recalls to 14 in the past five months. The agency also reported that Mylan Pharmaceuticals recalled three lots of Nizatidine (Axid), a similar drug, again because of NDMA.This week’s recalls are a new cause for alarm for the 15 million Americans who take ranitidine at prescription levels, and the millions more who regularly take lower-dose, over-the-counter versions. More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. Zantac was once the best-selling drug in the world. For people worried about past use of Zantac and cancer risk, here’s some back story and a bit of perspective.

Struggling to breathe in 48217, Michigan’s most toxic ZIP code - Carmen Garrison avoids the outdoors because she's certain the air is poisoning her. […] Garrison is among more than 7,000 people who live in 48217 — the most polluted ZIP code in Michigan. The community is inundated with a toxic stew of chemicals wafting from steel mills, coal-fired power plants, gas flares, billowing smokestacks, towering piles of coal and petroleum coke, a salt mine, wastewater treatment plant, and one of the nation's largest oil refineries — all looming over schools, neighborhoods, parks, senior centers, and a recreation center. A nauseating stench of rotten eggs, burnt plastic, and gasoline permeates the air. Heavy-duty trucks spewing harmful emissions rumble to and from factories all day and night, often carrying toxic chemicals and debris. More than three dozen pollution-spewing facilities are scattered across 48217 and neighboring River Rouge and Ecorse — an area that residents call the Tri-Cities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers the area a non-attainment zone because of dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide — a known contributor to asthma — and ozone that exceeds what's permitted under the Clean Air Act. Toxic chemicals such as benzene, hydrogen cyanide, and chromium also permeate the air and can be deadly. Hydrogen cyanide, a byproduct of processing crude oil, was used in concentrated forms by the Nazis to kill prisoners in death camps. Even low levels of hydrogen cyanide can cause headaches, nausea, breathing trouble, and chest pain. The Tri-Cities are predominantly Black and low-income, with a sizable Hispanic population. Residents suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma, cancer, brain damage, heart disease, respiratory problems, miscarriages, birth defects, and cognitive impairments — all of which are tied to air pollution. Just a brief exposure to many of the emissions can cause shortness of breath, coughing, sore throat, a runny nose, and vomiting.

Brake dust air pollution may have same harmful effects on immune cells as diesel exhaust - Metal particles from the abrasion of brake pads - up to a fifth of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution at roadsides - may cause inflammation and reduce the ability of immune cells to kill bacteria a new study has found, similarly to particles derived from diesel exhaust. The scientists, primarily funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, say this suggests that particulate pollution from brake wear could be contributing to increased susceptibility to airway infections and other negative effects on respiratory health. It is estimated that only 7% of PM2.5 pollution from traffic comes from tail pipe exhaust fumes at roadside sites - the rest comes from sources such as tyre, clutch and brake wear, as well as the resuspension of road dust. Brake dust is the source of approximately 20% of total PM2.5 traffic pollution. These are particles small enough to be inhaled into the deepest regions of the lung - PM2.5 means the particles are less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. Much of the research into the effects of traffic air pollution has focused on the effects of particulates derived from the tailpipe of diesel vehicles, but this new study has investigated if the particulate matter in brake dust has similar effects.

Plasticizers may contribute to motor control problems in girls - Scientists at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) have uncovered a link between prenatal exposure to phthalates--a ubiquitous group of plasticizers and odor-enhancing chemicals--and deficits in motor function in girls. Phthalates are widely used in consumer products from plastic toys to household building materials to shampoos and are thought to disrupt endocrine function, and possibly interfere with brain development in utero.  The researchers measured seven phthalate metabolites in maternal spot urine obtained during the third trimester of pregnancy. Motor function was evaluated at age 11. After adjusting for potential confounders, they saw a decrease in fine-motor functions among girls, not boys, following exposure to high levels of specific metabolites. Accounting for mixtures of phthalates and motor functions, the analysis pointed to three phthalates most linked to the deficits: mono-butyl phthalate (MBP), mono-benzyl phthalate (MBzP), and mono-isobutyl phthalate (MiBP)--none of which are metabolites of Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalates (DEHP), the most common category of phthalates."There a growing awareness of the problem of plastics, which are destructive to animal life and ecosystems," says senior author Pam Factor-Litvak, PhD, professor of epidemiology. "In this study, we have found new evidence that phthalates--chemicals commonly used in cosmetics and plastics--are harmful to children's health. Girls with deficits in fine motor skills may have difficulty with their schoolwork, particularly related to problems writing and using electronic devices. They may also have problems with hand-eye coordination." Phthalates are easily unbound from plastics and released into the environment; most exposure is from diet (where they are part of food packaging), air (as they are used in air fresheners, perfumes, etc.), and skin absorption (as they are used in personal care products). Phthalates cross the blood-placenta barrier and are associated with shortened gestational age, disrupted male reproductive development, and deficits in cognitive function and behavioral outcomes.

Lands’ End sued by Delta Air Lines employees who claim uniforms cause health problems - Dodgeville-based Lands’ End faces multiple lawsuits by Delta Air Lines employees who claim their required uniforms manufactured by the clothing company cause severe medical problems. Two class-action lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Madison — the first on Oct. 3 and the second on Tuesday — claim the uniforms caused numerous Delta employees to break out in skin rashes, suffer migraines and experience breathing difficulties, among other problems. They claim that the chemicals and finishes used to create high-stretch, wrinkle- and stain-resistant, waterproof, anti-static and deodorizing garments for the uniforms led to employees’ health problems. The lawsuits, which echo claims made in a similar lawsuit in New York in May, contend Lands’ End was negligent in issuing the uniforms and failing to recall the garments.

Two workers die in Texas while cleaning chemical tank - Two workers died while cleaning out a chemical tank near Houston, Texas, on December 28. Shawn Jarmail Brown, 44, and Sidarieub Lozano, 29, were cleaning the insides of a trailer-mounted chemical tank when the two died after becoming overwhelmed by toxic fumes. Several other employees were also injured as a result of the incident. The facility is run by Qualawash Holdings LLC, the largest single commercial wash rack operator in North America. The company operates 53 locations across the United States alone. The facility where the two men died Saturday is located in Pasadena, a small city outside of Houston. The plant was previously a division of Alpha Technical Services before being bought by Qualawash in 2017. Efforts to drastically cut costs and raise profits have resulted in a slew of safety violations since the acquisition. Only last May, cleaning technician Ernesto Poblano became ill after he was ordered to enter a “sludge tank” with a shovel, bucket and nothing more than a thin protective suit. Poblano had only been working with the company for three weeks at the time. In a lawsuit filed against the company, Poblano alleged that “numerous deadly chemicals” had burned his skin and caused him to start suffocating. The company, according to the lawsuit, did not allow him to wash off the chemicals for more than an hour after the incident and he wasn’t provided with any medical treatment for three hours. Poblano, in fact, drove himself to the emergency room after the 3 hour “observation” period by the company had ended. In the case of Lozano and Brown, emergency calls were not made until four full hours after their bodies were found inside the tank.

Trump officials voice opposition to 'forever chemical' bill | TheHill -- The White House announced Tuesday that President Trump would likely veto legislation designed to manage a class of cancer-linked chemicals leaching into the water supply. The chemicals, known by the abbreviation PFAS, are used in a variety of nonstick products such as raincoats, cookware and packaging and have been found in nearly every state in the country. They are considered “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the environment and in the human body, with 99 percent of those tested having PFAS traces in their body. After failing to include a measure to broadly regulate PFAS in the annual defense policy bill late last year, House lawmakers introduced sweeping legislation in November that would force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set a drinking water standard for PFAS. The EPA said it would determine whether to regulate PFAS by the end of 2019, a self-imposed deadline the agency missed. A vote on the House bill is slated for Thursday, and the measure is widely expected to pass the Democratic-controlled chamber. The bill was expected to face resistance in the GOP-led Senate, with the administration's statement Tuesday further diminishing the legislation's prospects. The White House argued in a statement that the bill would “bypass well-established processes, procedures, and legal requirements of the Nation’s most fundamental environmental laws, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; the Safe Drinking Water Act; the Toxic Substances Control Act; the Clean Air Act; and the Solid Waste Disposal Act” while stressing that the EPA should take the reins in developing a drinking water standard. “The regulatory process works best when EPA and other agencies are free to devise regulations based on the best available science and careful consideration of all the relevant facts. By truncating the rulemaking process, this legislation risks undermining public confidence in the EPA’s decisions, and also risks the imposition of unnecessary costs on States, public water systems, and others responsible for complying with its prescriptive mandates,” the statement added.

Trump to Veto Bill Intended to Keep Forever Chemicals out of Groundwater - The White House announced Tuesday that it plans to veto the PFAS Action Act of 2019, which aims to keep harmful forever chemicals out of groundwater, as Newsweek reported.  'Forever' chemicals, which are often referred to as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals), are a class of heat and water-resistant chemicals used in a variety of industrial products, flame retardants and nonstick products, such as raincoats, cookware and packaging and have leeched into water supplies in almost every state in the country, according to The Hill. They are known carcinogens and do not degrade in the environment nor in the human body. The bill before congress is sponsored by congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) with the intention of reducing unintended, involuntary exposure to PFAS. "PFAS is a clear threat to human health and our environment," wrote Dingell in a November 2019 statement, as Newsweek reported."The reality is a lot of contamination is connected to military sites and the Defense Department," Dingell's statement continued. "We are continuing to champion strong provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act to identify PFAS as a hazardous substance for the purpose of clean up under the EPA's Superfund program and facilitate coordinated response between local communities and the military."The sweeping legislation that Dingell proposed came after there was no mention of regulating PFAS in the annual defense policy bill. Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it would decide whether or not to regulate PFAS by the end of 2019, but it missed its own self-imposed deadline, according toThe Hill.A vote on Dingell's bill is scheduled for Thursday, where it is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House. However, it is likely to face a backlash in the Republican-controlled Senate, according to The Hill. It also may never come up for a vote in the Senate after the White House announced its intention to veto the legislation.

What really happens to plastic drink bottles you toss in your recycling bin The infinite triangular loop of arrows that we know as the recycling symbol adorns millions of plastic pop and water bottles we carefully sort in the blue bin. It comforts us with the idea that each one will be recycled over and over again forever. But unfortunately, most of the time, it's a lie.Many bottles aren't recycled at all, and those that do get recycled usually aren't turned into other bottles or recycled again after that.Instead, they end up in the world's landfills — or worse, in the ocean. In Canada, plastic bottles and caps were the top plastic trash items collected during shoreline cleanups in 2019, just behind cigarette butts. They're also typically among the top three items in shoreline cleanups worldwide.That's led some people to question why drinks are still sold in single-use plastic bottles at all.Here's a closer look at what actually happens to those bottles after use and what needs to happen to boost recycling in the future.

How de Blasio bombed in his attempt to fix New York’s garbage crisis - Dozens of diesel-engine trucks belching exhaust travel 150 miles north of New York City, hauling tons of construction debris as they roll past clapboard houses toward a sprawling landfill that towers over this 3.3-square-mile city. On the other side of the dump on a chilly November morning, a few hundred yards from the stench of rotten eggs, children begin filing into the local school complex. This scene is the consequence of New York City’s failure to contain its trash. Two consecutive mayors of the city launched their presidential bids last year on a promise of combating climate change, yet neither was able to stem the tide of garbage flooding the nation’s largest metropolis. Bill de Blasio, the current mayor whose national campaign lasted four months, and Mike Bloomberg, his predecessor who began his White House bid in November, both fell short of ambitious recycling and waste reduction goals that other major American cities have realized.And for nearly two decades, New York City has entirely outsourced its trash burden to other communities across the country.The proximity of working-class students to a heap of waste and a daily convoy of long-haul garbage trucks has so alarmed residents that last year they elected a new Republican mayor in this Democratic stronghold after he campaigned on a promise to shutter the Dunn Landfill, which opened in 2015.  If New Yorkers recycled at their maximum potential, about 68 percent of the 3 million or so tons of trash produced in the city's homes, municipal buildings and schools each year would be diverted from landfills. Yet the residential recycling rate stands at 18 percent — a shortcoming owed to a public housing system that mixes virtually all its garbage, a stalled program to recover food scraps and a lack of financial incentives to reform behavior. This all underscores de Blasio’s abandoned pledge to virtually zero out the city’s garbage exports by 2030 to combat the effects of climate change.The city’s bustling construction industry helps keep the Dunn Landfill in business: More than 77,000 tons of waste were shipped there from the five boroughs in 2018, according to the most recent data available. And Dunn is just one of three dozen or so landfills and incinerators around the country that received some of the 12 million-plus tons of construction, commercial and residential refuse exported from the city that year.

Time for a closer look at Pyrethroid insecticides - In an invited Commentary just published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health professors Drs. Steven Stellman and Jeanne Mager Stellman offer their perspective on results from a recent study on Pyrethroid, among the most widely used insecticides in the world for public health control of vector-borne illnesses, including West Nile virus. While the insecticides are generally regarded as posing low health risks to humans in ordinary exposure situations, a recent study reported a 50 percent increase in total mortality and three-fold increase in heart disease deaths in persons with high urinary levels of 3-PBA, a metabolic product of pyrethroids indicative of human exposure. Pyrethroid pesticides are a large family of synthetic analogues of naturally occurring pyrethrins that are also widely used in numerous consumer products. Collectively, they are the second most-used insecticides in the world, totaling thousands of kilograms and billions of dollars in U.S. sales. Unlike pesticides, such as DDT and dieldrin, which can persist in adipose tissue for decades, the biomarker 3-PBA has a very short half-life, as low as 5.7 hours. The prevalence of detectable levels of a rapidly eliminated pyrethroid metabolite in a large, geographically diverse population is suggestive of chronic exposure, which also makes it important to identify specific environmental sources, note the Stellmans.

'Because Insects Are Key to Our Own Survival,' 73 Scientists Unveil Global Roadmap to Battle Bugpocalypse -- Highlighting the "strong scientific consensus that the decline of insects, other arthropods, and biodiversity as a whole, is a very real and serious threat that society must urgently address," 73 international scientists on Monday published a roadmap to battle the world's "bugpocalypse."The roadmap, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, explains that a mounting body of research shows "a suite of anthropogenic stressors—habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, invasive species, climate change, and overharvesting—are seriously reducing insect and other invertebrate abundance, diversity, and biomass."The scientists note that in September 2019 the German government announced a €100 million ($111.9 million USD) "action plan for insect protection" that includes safeguarding key habitats, restricting pesticides, reducing light pollution, and investing in research. "This funding should act as a clarion call to other nations across the world—especially wealthier ones—to follow suit," the letter says of the German initiative, calling for "the immediate implementation of several 'no-regret' measures" on a global scale. Among the immediate steps that the scientists propose to protect bugs worldwide are:

  • Aggressively curbing planet-heating emissions;
  • Cutting back on the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers;
  • Limiting light, water, and noise pollution;
  • Preventing the introduction of invasive and alien species;
  • Pursuing conservation efforts for vulnerable, threatened, and endangered species; and
  • Funding programs targeted at the public, farmers, land managers, policymakers, and conservation workers.

 The great dismantling of America's national parks is under way  - Under this administration, nothing is sacred as we watch the nation’s crown jewels being recut for the rings of robber barons.  The change began within 24 hours of the inauguration when Donald Trump complained that the NPS was reporting smaller crowds on the National Mall than Obama had drawn. Perhaps this is when the NPS wound up on the list of transgressors. Soon the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, attempted to double the entrance fees, rescinded climate policies and moved seasoned senior national park superintendents around to force their retirements.  After Zinke’s abrupt resignation, secretary David Bernhardt populated too much of the department’s political leadership with unconfirmed, anti-public land sycophants, and announced a reorganization to install his own lieutenants to oversee super regions, realigning NPS from seven regions to twelve in the name of greater efficiency. Next came the proclamation that career staff in Washington would be sent to the field to be closer to the people they serve, but in reality, to be out of the way and no longer an impediment to his agenda. Then came the decisions to leave the parks open to impacts during the unfortunate government shutdown, illegally misuse entrance fees, open park trails to e-bikes, suppress climate science, kill wolf pups and bear cubs in their dens to enhance “sport hunting”, privatize campgrounds, and issue muzzle memos to park managers. With a waiver of environmental laws, bulldozers areplowing ancient cacti in national parks along the southern border in order to build a wall. Senior career park managers are likely to be replaced with unqualified political hacks. This is a systematic dismantling of a beloved institution, like pulling blocks from a Jenga tower, until it collapses. You ask, why on earth would someone want to do that to the popular National Park Service? Because if you want to drill, mine and exploit the public estate for the benefit of the industry, the last thing you want is a popular and respected agency’s voice raising alarms on behalf of conservation and historic preservation.

AUSTRALIAN INFERNO: Stunning images from space reveal the shocking extent of Australia's bushfire crisis – You Tube

Sydney's Penrith the hottest place on Earth amid devastating bushfires - The western Sydney suburb of Penrith was the hottest place on Earth on Saturday, reaching a high of 48.9 degrees Celsius. The highest-ever temperature for the area, recorded by the Bureau of Meteorology just after 3pm, smashed a record that had stood for 80 years. At the same time, world temperature map website World Weather Today showed Penrith was the hottest place in the world. Three hours later, at 6pm, the website showed the places with the top ten highest temperatures recorded globally over the previous 24 hours were all in Australia. Penrith’s temperature also set a new record for the Sydney basin, beating the previous mark of 47.8 degrees in Richmond in 1939. Canberra also broke records as the mercury climbed to 43.6 degrees on Saturday afternoon. The previous Canberra record was 42.8 degrees at the now-closed Acton observation site in 1939. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said there were no fires burning in the territory, but the impact of blazes across the border was being felt. "For Canberrans who are experiencing this day, obviously it is uncomfortable, and I know there is a lot of anxiety in the community, particularly as they see what is unfolding in surrounding New South Wales," he said. There are 11 emergency alerts active in Victoria's east, as weather changes make fire conditions worse. The nation's capital has been choked with smoke from bushfires for days, with the hazardous air pollution forcing shops and attractions to close. Conditions across Sydney and southern New South Wales were expected to worsen through Saturday evening, with a cool change expected to hamper firefighting efforts. The southerly change was expected to reach inner Sydney at 11pm, then the Blue Mountains by midnight.

US sends additional support to Australia to help battle apocalyptic wildfires - -- Wildfires raged on Saturday in Australia, choking the sky with smoke, forcing thousands to flee and prompting the U.S. to send more fire personnel to help battle the blazes. The added personnel, nearly two dozen from the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service, "will continue to support Australia with the resources needed during this unprecedented fire situation," according to a statement from U.S. Forest Service Fire Director Shawna Legarza. The country's wildfires began in September and are expected to last for several months as the hot weather continues. As of Saturday, the coast in New South Wales was shrouded in bush fires, according to an interactive map from MyFireWatch. At points, the flames in Batemans Bay, New South Wales, were so intense that firefighters had to stop battling the wildfires for their own safety. Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and Southern Australia have also battled wildfires. The additional support from the U.S. is on top of the more than 74 fire personnel from DOI and USFS that have already been deployed, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. "Our focus remains on helping the people of Australia and keeping people safe in these unprecedented conditions," DOI Wildland Fire Deputy Director Craig Leff said in a statement. Residents have described the scene as apocalyptic. "The blackness, the darkness, the intensity of it. It's like the apocalypse," Lake Conjola resident Paula told ABC News. "It's like something that you've never experienced before."Thousands have evacuated from their homes in the wake of the fires and worsening conditions. High winds of 100 mph were reported in some communities Saturday and temperatures were well over 100 degrees. Radio reports pleaded with those who didn't evacuate to shelter in place.

New Zealand glaciers turn brown and 'could melt faster because of Australia's bushfires' -Smoke and ash drifting from the Australian bushfires have caused New Zealand's glaciers to turn caramel brown, with one expert fearing this could increase the risk of them melting faster this year.A jet stream transporting large amounts of smoke and ash this week from the blazes in Victoria and New South Wales deposited them along the way in New Zealand's South Island as they traveled east, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.Pictures and videos taken on New Year's Day show that the yellow haze had discolored the snowy mountain peaks and glaciers in the Southern Alps.New Zealand's former prime minister Helen Clark tweeted that the impact of Australian ash on glaciers "is likely to accelerate melting." That's because of the so-called Albedo effect, Guy explains.  "This is when the whiteness of an object reflects radiation away impacting its temperature," he continues. "Thus, areas on the planet that are covered in ice and snow do not absorb the radiation as fast because it reflects it, causing lower temperatures than areas with a lower whiteness value which are quick to absorb the radiation and increase and hold on to the temperatures." Guy added that this year, glacier melt may quicken "since the color will be a little darker than true white."While it's too early to say exactly how the particles will affect the glaciers in New Zealand, scientists have found that forest fires in the Amazon have caused glaciers in the Andes mountains to melt faster, with pollutants such as black carbon and dust lodged in the ice, reducing the glacier's ability to reflect sunlight.

Australia commits billions of dollars to wildfire recovery (AP) — Australia’s government said Monday it was willing to pay “whatever it takes” to help communities recover from deadly wildfires that have ravaged the country. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committing an extra 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) toward the recovery effort in addition to the tens of millions of dollars that have already been promised. “The fires are still burning. And they’ll be burning for months to come,” Morrison said. “And so that’s why I outlined today that this is an initial, an additional, investment of $2 billion. If more is needed and the cost is higher, then more will be provided.” Morrison’s announcement of the funds, which will go toward rebuilding towns and infrastructure destroyed by the fires, came as the death toll from the disaster rose with the discovery of a body in a remote part of New South Wales. The body is believed to be that of a 71-year-old man who was last seen on New Year’s Eve moving equipment on his property on the state’s south coast, police said in a statement. Police found the body on Monday between the property and a car, both of which had been destroyed by fire. Another person in southern New South Wales was reported missing, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. Nationwide, at least 25 people have been killed and 2,000 homes destroyed by the blazes, which have so far scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland.

I spent New Year’s trapped by Australian bushfires that looked like a scene from a warzone - Business Insider. Photo essay, takes time for page to build. - I spent my New Year’s Eve in an evacuation shelter along the South Coast of New South Wales, Australia, stranded alongside thousands of other residents and tourists as bushfires roared all around us.It was certainly not how I envisioned ringing in the new decade when I excitedly booked these travel plans with four friends months ago.Before the trip even began, we revised our vacation plan several times, copping losses for Airbnb’s and campsites that were already paid for but were located in areas suddenly under threat of bushfires in the weeks leading up to our trip.We were careful – to some of my Australian friends, overly so – in crafting our trip. We took every precaution, downloaded every app to keep tabs on bushfire warnings, and shrunk the length of our trip in order to mitigate the danger. We are five smart, young women, travel-savvy and familiar with the areas we were travelling to. My friends and I are based in Melbourne in the state of Victoria. We decided to drive from Melbourne up the South Coast of the neighbouring state of New South Wales, which has seen a tourism boost in recent years thanks to new developments and pristine national parks and beaches. When we left on December 27 bushfires were devastating Sydney and its surroundings. We thought it best to avoid those areas completely.

Western Australia bushfires devastate the Stirling Ranges — one of the world's richest biodiversity hotspots -  Rare and unique flora and fauna in Western Australia's Stirling Range may never fully recover from a massive series of fires which devastated the national park, which is considered one of the world's most important biodiversity hotspots.  Sparked by lightning, intense fires tore through more than 40,000 hectares of land in the park, about 400 kilometres south-east of Perth, between Boxing Day and the New Year.-The series of fires left almost half the rugged park scorched.With efforts from over 200 fire crew across the week, the fire was brought to advice level without any lives or property damaged.But there are now concerns for the park's unique flora and fauna, which has faced multiple large-scale fires in the past two decades.The south-west of Western Australia is recognised internationally as a biodiversity hotspot, largely thanks to the Stirling Range.The National Park has more than 1,500 species of flora packed within its boundaries — more than the entire British Isles.At least 87 of those species are found nowhere else in the world — including rare mainland quokkas.Chief executive of Gondwana Link, a private conservation enterprise, Keith Bradby described the park as "one of the most precious jewels of the region" but said frequent fires in the park had put species under a lot of stress.He said the landscape would never fully recover. "It will be changed for decades, if not centuries," he said."If [there is] fire too frequently you'll be taking out plant species before they have a chance to set seed again. "You will be favouring a few plant species, you'll totally change the flora and vegetation and you'll totally change the whole feeding pattern of wildlife — the whole food chain alters."   Mr Bradby said he was most concerned for the Montaigne thickets and the quokka population."It's one of the few mainland populations of quokkas left, and they were in that part of the park," he said. "And the Montaigne thickets are already damaged because of dieback."Whether they're on a downhill trajectory or whether we've terminated it — we don't know."

Australians leave homes as heat and wind escalate fire danger— Thousands of people fled their homes and helicopters dropped supplies to towns at risk of nearby wildfires as hot, windy conditions Friday threatened already fire-ravaged southeastern Australian communities. The danger is centered on New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states, where temperatures and winds spiked after a few days of relatively benign conditions. Firefighters were working into the night to keep the fires from reaching communities as fierce winds whipped the blazes in multiple directions. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service had warned that coastal towns south of Sydney including Eden, Batemans Bay and Nowra could again be under threat weeks after losing homes to the fires. By Friday evening, the wildfires burning in that region were holding within containment lines, but winds could cause them to flare anew, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the extent of any damage from the fires wouldn’t be known until Saturday morning. “We know it’s going to be a long and difficult night,” Berejiklian said. In neighboring Victoria, evacuation orders were issued in alpine areas, and Premier Daniel Andrews pleaded with residents to heed alerts and avoid complacency even though no fresh destruction was being reported. “Despite this unprecedented fire activity, we have nobody who is unaccounted for, we have no further people who have died, and we have no further communities who have been cut off,” Andrews told reporters..

The Irwin family has saved over 90,000 animals, including many injured in the Australia wildfires – CNN - The Irwin family is continuing Steve Irwin's legacy of rescuing and saving wildlife in danger.Bindi Irwin, Steve's daughter, and the rest of the Irwin family have rescued and treated over 90,000 animals, many of which were injured in Australia's recent devastating wildfires.Ollie, an orphaned platypus, was patient number 90,000 at the Wildlife Hospital, Bindi's brother, Robert Irwin, said on Instagram."With so many devastating fires within Australia, my heart breaks for the people and wildlife who have lost so much," Bindi said in an Instagram post on Thursday.The 21-year-old confirmed that the Australia Zoo, which is owned and operated by the Irwin family, and their conservation properties are not endangered by firesThe zoo's Wildlife Hospital has been "busier than ever," Bindi said in the caption of the photo which shows her smiling in front of a picture of Steve and his mother holding a crocodile."My parents dedicated our Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital to my beautiful grandmother. We will continue to honour her by being Wildlife Warriors and saving as many lives as we can," Bindi said.The environmental activist and conservationist shared another post on Saturday picturing Blossom the possum who died after being rescued from the bushfires burning in Queensland despite the hospital "working so hard to save her life."Steve Irwin, the TV presenter known as the "Crocodile Hunter," died in 2006 after being stung by a stingray in a marine accident off Australia's north coast.Blossom is just one of the many animals who have been killed in Australia's fires. Almost a thirdof koalas in Australia's New South Wales region may have been killed in deadly bushfires, which have been burning out of controlThree fires combined on Saturday to form a single blaze bigger than the New York borough of Manhattan, as Australian firefighters battle what has been predicted to be the most catastrophic day yet in an already devastating bushfire season. At least 24 people have died in Australia wildfires and in the state of New South Wales alone, more than 1,300 houses have been destroyed.

25 Humans, More Than One Billion Animals Dead in Australia Wildfires --Twenty-five people and more than one billion animals are dead in historic Australian wildfires that are now expected to burn for months.  Conditions improved over the weekend, but hot, windy weather is expected to return at the end of the week,NPR reported Monday."There is no room for complacency," New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told BBC News.  There were 130 fires burning in NSW alone as of 4 a.m. on Tuesday, and 69 were uncontained on Monday, according to NSW Rural Fire Service.  Most of the deaths — at least 19 — have taken place in NSW, according to NPR. The others occurred in Victoria and South Australia. Officials are concerned fires in NSW and Victoria could combine into a "mega blaze," according to BBC News. Meanwhile, the toll on wildlife has been even more devastating than previously reported. Chris Dickman, an ecologist at the University of Sydney who estimated that nearly half a billion animals had perished in the flames, told HuffPost Tuesday that his estimate did not take all of Australia into account."The original figure ― the 480 million ― was based on mammals, birds and reptiles for which we do have densities, and that figure now is a little bit out of date. It's over 800 million given the extent of the fires now ― in New South Wales alone," Dickman explained. "If 800 million sounds a lot, it's not all the animals in the firing line."  800 million does not include bats, frogs and invertebrates. It also leaves out livestock."The number of cattle and sheep killed is still being tallied, but the losses are expected to be enormous," Jason Beaubien reported for NPR. There are also reports that officials will kill thousands of camels in northwestern Australia as they compete with humans for water while drought and fires persist, according to HuffPost. "Over a billion would be a very conservative figure," Dickman told HuffPost of the total animal death toll from the fires so far.

Nothing left to eat' for animals after bushfires - BBC News video As bushfires rip across parts of Australia, experts are warning of an immense loss in biodiversity and threat to the lives of millions of animals. One estimate is that in the state of New South Wales alone, nearly half a billion animals have been affected by the fires. John Marsh works at the Potoroo Palace nature sanctuary in the fire-hit Merimbula, New South Wales. He explains how even after the fires pass, surviving animals will face an uncertain future.

Up to 10,000 Camels Are Being Shot and Killed Amid Australia Drought - Aboriginal officials in Australia approved the rounding up and killing of up to 10,000 camels because of drought conditions, claiming that the thirsty camels are drinking up too much of a dwindling water supply, as CBS News reported. The officials in the sparsely populated part of the northwest corner of South Australia said in a statement that the wild camels are endangering locals and pastoral lands as they struggle to find water during Australia's prolonged drought and blistering heat. The hunting of the camels on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands began today and will continue for five days. The statement did say that other feral animals are also hunting for water, but the camels are the primary target of the cull. Some feral horses will also be killed, according to the BBC. "With the current ongoing dry conditions [and] the large camel congregations threatening the APY communities and infrastructure, immediate camel control is needed," APY said on Facebook, as USA Today reported. Australia's Department of Environment and Water is sending sharpshooters to the aboriginal lands to cull the camel, according to the BBC. "We have been stuck in stinking hot and uncomfortable conditions, feeling unwell, because all the camels are coming in and knocking down fences, getting in around the houses and trying to get water through air-conditioners,"   "They are roaming the streets looking for water. We are worried about the safety of the young children." Camels are not native to Australia, but were brought by British settlers from India, Afghanistan and the Middle East in the 19th century, according to the BBC. While an exact number of camels roaming through the central, desolate parts of Australia is unknown, it is estimated that they number into the hundreds of thousands and there may be up to 1.2 million. Their numbers are rapidly growing, according to CNN.

 Australian Police Say Arsonists & Lightning To Blame For Bushfires, Not Climate-Change --Authorities in Australia are working on the premise that arsonists and lightning strikes are to blame for bushfires that have devastated numerous areas of the country, not “climate change” as many global warming alarmists have claimed.  Since November, the fires have struck various regions of the state of New South Wales, destroying thousands of buildings and killing at least 22 people.Despite the fact that bushfires are not uncommon in Australia, the severity of the damage led numerous climate change alarmists to blame the disaster on man-made global warming.Earlier this week, Bernie Sanders blamed those who were “delaying action on climate change” for “the blood-red sky and unbreathable air in Australia because of raging forest fires.”However, according to those tasked with investigating the fires, climate change has nothing to do with it.“Police are now working on the premise arson is to blame for much of the devastation caused this bushfire season,” reports 7 News Sydney.Authorities in the country have formed Strike Force Indarra, comprising of detectives from homicide and arson units in an attempt to find the culprits.Other causes for the fires include lightning strikes and a natural weather phenomenon called Dipole, again neither of which have anything to do with man-made climate change.Many bushfires are also actually caused by environmentalist ‘green’ policies which prevent land owners from clearing their own vegetation to protect themselves.

Latest News - NSW Police Public Site - Police take legal action against more than 180 people so far during 2019/2020 bushfire season - The NSW Police Force has taken legal action against more than 180 people for bushfire-related offences since late last year.Numerous bush and grass fires have impacted the state, claiming the lives of 18 people and destroying hundreds of millions of animals and livestock, thousands of homes, and more than 4.9 million hectares of land, so far this bushfire season.Since Friday 8 November 2019, legal action – which ranges from cautions through to criminal charges – has been taken against 183 people – including 40 juveniles – for 205 bushfire-related offences.Of note:

  • 24 people have been charged over alleged deliberately-lit bushfires
  • 53 people have had legal actions for allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban, and
  • 47 people have had legal actions for allegedly discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land.

Strike Force Tronto, comprised of detectives from the Financial Crimes Squad’s Arson Unit, has been working closely with individual police area commands and police districts to provide specialist assistance and advice to police on the ground.Investigations into the cause, origin and overall impact of fires are continuing and since the latest State of Emergency was declared last Thursday (2 January 2020), Strike Force Tronto has provided expertise to six Police Area Commands and eight Police Districts.As inquiries continue, police are appealing to the community to provide footage and/or images from phones, dashcam, or other devices, that show any of the fires in their infancy, even if only from a distance. Vision of images can be provided to local police stations or uploaded through Crime Stoppers online.

Police contradict claims spread online exaggerating arson's role in Australian bushfires -Victoria police say there is no evidence any of the devastating bushfires in the state were caused by arson, contrary to the spread of global disinformation exaggerating arsonist arrests during the current crisis.A misleading figure suggesting 183 arsonists have been arrested “since the start of the bushfire season” spread across the globe on Wednesday, after initial reports in News Corp were picked up by Donald Trump Jr, US far-right websites and popular alt-right personalities.The figure included statistics from some states covering the entirety of 2019, rather than just the current bushfire season, which began in September.In Victoria, 43 alleged arsonists were counted among the 183 arrested “in the past few months” and “since the start of the bushfire season”. That Victorian figure was, in fact, the figure for the year ending September 2019, meaning it had no relation to the current bushfire season.“There is currently no intelligence to indicate that the fires in East Gippsland and the North East have been caused by arson or any other suspicious behavior,” a Victoria police spokeswoman said. The reported figure of 183 also includes 101 individuals from Queensland who were “picked up for setting fires in the bush”. But a Queensland police spokeswoman said the figure included a broader range of offences than arson, including the breaching of total fire bans, and was not a total of arrests, but a total of “police enforcement actions”. “Enforcement action includes charging, restorative justice or cautioning,” she said. Queensland police said between 10 September and 8 January there had been 1,068 reported bushfires in the state, of which 114 had been deliberately or maliciously lit through human involvement and have been subject to police enforcement action.

Australia, where lies and conspiracy theories spread like bushfire - As the fast-moving Australian fires have incinerated communities, taken lives and destroyed wildlife, the speed of their progress has been matched only by the conspicuous amplification of online conspiracy theories to explain them. A few weeks ago, there was a chorus of insistence that the fires weren’t really happening, and communists at, um, CNN were digitally enhancing photos of the blood-red fire skies with the devil’s own brand of MS Paint. Since the fires have expanded, smoke haze has stained skies as far away as New Zealand, and the conspiracy theories have adapted to a changing environment. For taking a visible leadership role in the defence of his burning state, the Labor premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, has been rewarded with anonymous online memes insisting – despite verified evidence to the contrary – on his plunder of firefighting resources, that he bathes in money, and, presumably, marches around his home in slippers made from the skulls of baby seals. These aren’t even the most pernicious of the rumours. A hazy map that tries to claim the fires are some kind of deliberate scheme to clear land for a high-speed rail is of concern because it directly copies an easily debunked claim made during the California wildfires. Even more concerning are the online conspiracy theories seeping into mainstream discourse. There’s an adamant refrain that Australia’s tiny, powerless Greens party has magically banned hazard reduction burns despite holding but one seat among the 151 in the federal parliament. In truth, you can book a hazard reduction burn – with the assistance of government services – by filling in an online form, but members of Liberal Scott Morrison’s own government have been repeating the “ban” myth for months. Today, both Donald Trump Jr and Rupert Murdoch’s local News Corp brands have been pushing the “arson emergency” theme to our fires, blaming them on nefarious firebugs. News Corp are citing figures for “arson” arrests that are, politely, inconsistent with those released by the police. Again, the Victorian premier has confirmed police information that not a single fire currently raging in this state has been deliberately lit. Yet the arson myth has already been dogging social media commentary for weeks – and a QUT study reported on Tuesday its appearance is no hapless whisper but conforms to the patterns of a coordinated disinformation campaign.

Record-breaking 4.9m hectares of land burned in NSW this bushfire season - A record-breaking area of land has been burned in New South Wales this bushfire season, according to the latest figures released by the Rural Fire Service. A total of 4.9m hectares – an area larger than Denmark – has been destroyed in the state during the nationwide fire crisis. The total area burned across NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania has now reached 8.4m hectares – an area larger than Scotland. At least 25 people have been killed, including three volunteer firefighters, and thousands of homes destroyed. In NSW alone, 4.9m hectares burned was the largest area destroyed in the state since records began, Associate Professor Owen Price from the University of Wollongong said. According to data collected by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, the previous NSW record was 3.54m hectares burned in the widespread grassfires of 1974–75. Figures compiled by the 2004 National Inquiry into Bushfire Mitigation and Management record that 4.5m hectares were burned in 1974–75 – higher than the NSW OEH figures, but still below this year’s record. As well as setting a record for area burned, Price said this year’s fires were burning through a large amount of forest, rather than grasslands. This has made the current fires more devastating, harder to fight and more dangerous to people and to wildlife, he told Guardian Australia. “The 1974 fires were 4.5m, and that was mostly in the arid and semi-arid grasslands,” Price said. “The actual impact of that was far less.

On Fires in Australia - The fires of Australia in their summer 2019-20 are in the news constantly, partly because the media survive on death and destruction and partly because to date we have never seen a whole continent burn up. It is hardly a ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene”  kind of event to celebrate, and the northern media display the fires as nearly all news of the Southern Hemisphere is treated, something unusual, often bad, but of no general importance to the real world of the Northern Hemisphere. What do we hear from a cacophony of public opinion?
“Nothing unusual. We have always had fires in the past. Why in 1863…..”
“Nothing to do with climate change. Climate has always been changing….(see point 1)
“Main cause had been Green Policies. If we had more forestry, there would have been many fewer trees to burn….”
“Inadequate controlled burning because of the Greens’ policies….(see point 3)
“Why doesn’t the Government do something about this?”
“Fortunately these fires are a rare event and not likely to occur again…….
In reply an ecologist might offer these facts:

  1. Much research by plant geographers and ecologists have shown how many plant communities are dominated by fire. The boreal forest is one, the chaparral of Southern California is another, the grasslands of Africa and the Great Plains of the USA are yet more.
  2. By preventing fire in these communities over time the fuel load builds up so that, should there be a subsequent fire, the fire severity would be very high.
  3. By building houses, towns, and cities in these plant communities fire danger increases, and an active plan of fire management must be implemented. Most of these plans are effective for normal fires but for extreme conditions no fire management plan is effective.
  4. Climate change is now producing extreme conditions that were once very rare but are now commonly achieved. With no rainfall, high winds, and temperatures over 40-45ºC fires cannot be contained. Severe fires generate their own weather that accelerates fire spread with embers being blown kilometers ahead of the active fire front.
  5. The long-term plan to have controlled patch burns to relieve these fire conditions are impossible to implement because they require no wind, low temperatures, and considerable person-power to prevent controlled burns getting away from containment lines should the weather change.

Since a sizeable fraction of dangerous fires are deliberately set by humans, methods to detect and prevent this behaviour could help in some cases. Infrastructure such as power lines could be upgraded to reduce the likelihood of falling power poles and lines shorting out. All this will cost money, and the less the fire frequency, the fewer the people willing to pay more taxes to reduce public risk. Some serious thinking is needed now because Australia 2020 is just the start of a century of fire, drought, floods, and high winds. We do not need the politicians of 2050 telling us “why didn’t someone warn us?

Australia’s Bushfires Are A Wake-Up Call: We Must Build A More Humane Economy Before It’s Too Late -  Bushfires rage across the country, fuelled by record heat, and are now surging through acres of parched land dryer than ever after the worst drought in a generation.In response, the Australian Prime Minister has held fast to a vision that a growing economy is the only option. He told a national TV station that "What we won't do is engage in reckless and job-destroying and economy-crunching [green] targets which are being sought".What Morrison is effectively asserting is that the economy matters more than the science – in fact, that a certain model of the economy matters more, one in which the sole purpose of the environment is as an input to production and where it is assumed that growth will translate to benefits for all. This positions the economy at the top of the food chain, dropping crumbs to communities and extracting from the planet rather than something that is dependent on society which operates as a sub-set of the natural world.Believing that the economy’s pre-eminence warrants downplaying all other concerns is a mindset that dismisses reams of scientific evidence and warnings. It turns a blinkered eye to why communities are being told to take shelter on beaches, why the Australian Navy is being brought in to rescue them and why a toddler was given a medal to posthumously honour his firefighter father who was killed with two other volunteer ‘firies’ (as us Aussies affectionately term them) when a tree fell on their vehicle.What is happening in Australia is unprecedented.It is what scientists have warned would happen. It is going to be the new normal. Perhaps most importantly, it is the loudest wake up call mother nature could send humanity to tell us that the wounds we have inflicted on her are taking an untenable toll.  While Australia continues to burn, we can hope that what most Australians have been recognising will finally be heeded: that this monstrous cry for help from the planet is what flips back the agenda, so that economics returns to its deference to, and awe of, science. That scientific and natural laws will trump dubious dreams of trickle down. That now that wealthy and powerful people are also being hit by nature’s fury, they will join the ranks of frontline communities around the world and lend their voices and resources to mobilising for the transition that countries like Australia need to make towards an economy that respects the planet and priorities social justice and a healthy environment.

Australia’s leaders unmoved on climate action after devastating bushfires (Reuters) - Australia’s government is sticking firmly to a position that there is no direct link between climate change and the country’s devastating bushfires, despite public anger, the anguish of victims and warnings from scientists. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, say Australia does not need to cut carbon emissions more aggressively to limit global warming, even after a three-year drought and unprecedented bushfires. Instead they say Australia, which contributes 1.3% of the world’s carbon emissions but is the second-largest emitter per capita behind the United States, should be rewarded for beating its emissions reduction targets for 2020. “When it comes to reducing global emissions, Australia must and is doing its bit, but bushfires are a time when communities must unite, not divide,” Taylor said in emailed comments to Reuters on Tuesday, while he was busy at bushfire relief centers in his constituency in New South Wales state. Stepping up efforts to cut emissions would harm the economy, the government argues, especially if it hurt Australia’s exports of coal and gas. The country last year overtook Qatar as the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas. “In most countries it isn’t ­acceptable to pursue emission­reduction policies that add substantially to the cost of living, ­destroy jobs, reduce incomes and impede growth,” Taylor wrote in The Australian newspaper on Dec. 31. “That’s why we won’t adopt (opposition) Labor’s uncosted, reckless, economy-destroying targets that will always result in a tax on ­energy, whether it is called that or not.” Taylor did not detail exactly how cutting emissions would raise the cost of living.

 Australian bushfire catastrophe exposes the contempt of the ruling elites for working people - Since late August, an unprecedented 8.4 million hectares of bush and prime agricultural land has gone up in flames. Some 2000 homes have been destroyed and at least 25 lives lost. Hundreds of millions of wild animals have been killed and incalculable ecological destruction wrought. And the January–March period of the fire season, when the worst and most destructive fires have historically occurred, has only begun. For weeks, a large proportion of the population has been forced to go about their daily lives with the acrid smell of smoke containing hazardous levels of toxic particles. Cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and the national capital Canberra are regularly the most polluted urban centres on earth. Smoke from the massive Australian blazes is shrouding New Zealand’s cities and has reached South America. Politically, however, the most significant and enduring aspect of the 2019–2020 fire crisis is that it has laid bare the gulf between the working class majority and the minuscule financial and corporate oligarchy that controls the productive forces and dictates the policies of government.  Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will go down in history as the political leader who secretly went on holiday to Hawaii last month, while the country burned.  Morrison epitomises the political type that has emerged to impose the dictates of the capitalist oligarchs. Morrison has built his political credentials with the Australian ruling elite through right-wing demands for corporate and personal income tax cuts, the abolition of social programs, and the slashing of wages and working conditions.For at least three decades, climate scientists have documented, with increasing alarm, how global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions is fundamentally altering world weather patterns. In regard to Australia, warning after warning has been issued that the further drying out of large tracts of what was already the driest continent would vastly increase the regularity, scope and intensity of fire events.Yet Morrison is notorious for dismissing these concerns and denying the need to reduce fossil-fuel use, so as to protect the vested corporate interests of the coal and associated energy industries. For months, he continued to dismiss the fires as the natural cycle in Australia, with no relationship to global warming. On his return from his holiday in Hawaii, Morrison denounced a tweet by teenager Greta Thunberg, calling for greater emissions reductions as “reckless” and not in Australia’s economic interests—that is, the interests of the mining conglomerates and the banks that underwrite their vast operations. On January 2, however, Morrison was brought face-to-face with the mass popular anger that is burgeoning over the inaction and indifference of his government, and the entire political establishment, towards the bushfire catastrophe. Working class residents in the fire-devastated town of Cobargo refused to shake his hand, shouted abuse and demanded that he leave.

Australia’s fires have pumped out more emissions than 100 nations combined  - The wildfires raging along Australia’s eastern coast have already pumped around 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further fueling the climate change that’s already intensifying the nation’s fires.That’s more than the total combined annual emissions of the 116 lowest-emitting countries, and nine times the amount produced during California’s record-setting 2018 fire season. It also adds up to about three-quarters of Australia’s otherwise flattening greenhouse-gas emissions in 2019.And yet, 400 million tons isn’t an unprecedented amount nationwide at this point of the year in Australia, where summer bush fires are common, the fire season has been growing longer, and the number of days of “very high fire danger” is increasing. Wildfires emissions topped 600 million tons from September through early January during the brutal fire seasons of 2011 and 2012, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.But emissions are way beyond typical levels in New South Wales, where this year’s fires are concentrated. More than 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres) have burned across the southeastern state since July 1, according to a statement from the NSW Rural Fire Service.Climate change doesn’t spark wildfires. But rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall dries out trees, plants, and soil, converting them into fuel that can amplify fires when they do break out.A 2018 report by Australia’s national science agency and the Bureau of Meteorology concludes climate change has contributed to the nation’s worsening fire conditions, noting that average temperatures have risen more than 1 ˚C.  In turn, these huge fires are speeding up climate change. As trees and plants burn, they release the carbon stored in their trunks, leaves, branches, and roots. That creates a vicious feedback loop, as the very impacts of climate change further exacerbate it, complicating our ability to get ahead of the problem.

West’s ‘dust bowl’ future now ‘locked in’, as world risks imminent food crisis - Research sponsored by global credit ratings agency Moody’s concludes that by the end of century, parts of the US and Europe are now bound to experience severe reductions in rainfall equivalent to the American ‘dust bowl’ of the 1930s, which devastated midwest farming for a decade. These consequences are now ‘locked in’ as a consequence of carbon emissions which we have already accumulated into the atmosphere. But that’s not all. A spate of new scientific research released through 2019 has thrown light on nearer-term risks of a global food crisis in coming decades, such as a multi-breadbasket failure — due not just to climate change, but a combination of factors including population growth, industrial soil degradation, rising energy costs, groundwater depletion, among other trends. Taken in context with a number of climate change models produced over the last decade, the heightened risk of droughts in the 2020s means that a global food crisis could be imminent. Over 1,700 published climate models examined by the University of Leeds point to the risk of a global food crisis after 2030; and 12 models point to this risk emerging and amplifying in just three years. The ‘locked in’ impacts of climate change are bound to produce “severe” impacts on societies over the next decades, according to new research sponsored by one of the world’s biggest financial agencies. Among those impacts, the degradation of global freshwater supplies in particular threatens to destabilise the global food system. Historic carbon emissions appear to have made it inevitable that by the end of this century, some of the world’s most important agricultural producers will experience conditions similar to the ‘dust bowl’, the worst human-induced ecological disaster in American history.The new report comes from climate-risk data firm Four Twenty Seven, affiliated to one of the world’s three biggest credit ratings agencies Moody’s. It explores societal risks from the impact of past carbon dioxide emissions implying certain levels of global warming are now unavoidable. The report is designed to inform financial investors of unavoidable impacts due to previous carbon emissions, as well as likely dangers from continuing emissions.

Climate Change: Bad News from Australia, Indonesia, and the US - by Jerri-Lynn Scofield - As Australia burns and Indonesia drowns, the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration yesterday released 2019 climate data for the United States, Assessing the U.S. Climate in 2019. Yesterday’s release is only a summary of key findings; the full report will be published later this week. Neither the government of Australia nor that of Indonesia is doing much about the changing climate  and instead each still pursues policies that exacerbates the crisis. The headline of yesterday’s piece in The Independent tells you what you need to know, Australia wildfires: Scott Morrison continues to deny climate threat despite ‘apocalyptic’ blazes. The problem:  Though Australia just produces a bit more than 1 per cent of the world’sgreenhouse gas emissions, it’s the world’s biggest exporter of coal, whose use is a major factor in the warming of the planet. The bush fires alone have emitted some 350 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since last September. As for Indonesia, Jakarta has been slammed by intense monsoon rains, which have caused mass flooding, and deaths. The situation is by far the worst on the island of Java – where Jakarta is located – but other islands in the Indonesian archipelago, such as the tourist mecca, Bali, have also recently endured worse than normal rains. Grist reports in It’s not just Australia — Indonesia is facing its own climate disaster on how Indonesia, on Indonesia’s disasters:  New Year’s Day was the heaviest downpour in a 24-hour period since Dutch colonists began record-keeping in the 1860s.  Jakarta, which is home to about 10 million people, is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels and extreme weather. It also has dangerous levels of air pollution and the largest uncovered landfill in Southeast Asia. On top of that, the city’s rapidly growing population has faced major water shortages in recent years due to a dearth of groundwater. Meanwhile, rivers are polluted with garbage, and researchers say that at least 20 tons of trash are dumped in the Jakarta Bay each day Nonetheless, Indonesia, too, continues to pursues policies that exacerbate climate change.  Likewise in the United States. It’s well known that the Trump administration is promoting policies that promote fossil fuels. Many Democrats have colluded in these policies – and have certainly not supported the drastic changes that are now necessary to stem the climate change crisis. I’m not going to discuss these failures in this post, in which I instead wish to concentrate on the NOAA’s findings.

66 Dead After Rapidly-Sinking Jakarta Pummeled By Worst Monsoons This Century -- Indonesia  The death toll from some of the most devastating flooding that has rocked Indonesia's capital city of Jakarta has risen to 66, with two people still missing, according to local authorities cited by CNN. Flooding that began when Indonesia was hit by some of the most powerful monsoons the country has seen in years. Thanks to its position along the "Ring of Fire", Indonesia is regularly rocked by devastating tsunamis, earthquakes, eruptions and floods. But the flooding that kicked off the new decade forced thousands to flee their homes, or risk being trapped by landslides.More than 173,000 residents were seeking refuge on Friday, and it's very likely that things are going to get worse before they get better. Heavy rain and thunderstorms are forecast to continue for the coming days. As CNN pointed out, the rainfall is some of the worst Jakarta has seen this century:  The current inundation is some of the worst the Indonesian capital has seen this century. Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency measured 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain at an East Jakarta airport on January 1, the highest flood reading since 1996, Reuters reported. Jakarta and the surrounding area of central Java, Indonesia's largest island by population, are expected to be pummeled by up to 4 inches of rain in the next few days.  As search and rescue operations continue, the Red Cross has started spraying Jakarta with disinfectant to stop the spread of dangerous waterborne diseases. Photos from Jakarta and the surrounding area (which, with about 30 million people, is one of the world's largest cities) show people wading through chest-high water, and using inflatable rafts to navigate city streets.

Trump plan would speed up Louisiana infrastructure projects; critics call out threat to environment - — Louisiana's crucial coastal restoration projects and infrastructure priorities such as roads and bridges could be fast tracked under a plan President Donald Trump outlined Thursday. U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Baton Rouge Republican, a supporter of the proposed change, referred to the current system as “paralysis by analysis.” But critics of the proposal argue the changes would threaten the environment. Already, environmental groups have announced plans to challenge the changes in court. Trump, at a news conference Thursday, promised that under the new system, environmental reviews, which are required for all projects that rely on federal funding or other resources, would be limited to two years and “maybe less.” “Many of America’s most critical infrastructure projects have been tied up and bogged down by an outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process,” said Trump, who was surrounded by supporters that included construction workers in hard hats and cattle ranchers in cowboy hats, among the more typical suits and ties. “These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground, and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers," Trump said. “We’re going to have very strong regulation, but it’s going to go very quickly.” Darryl Malek-Wiley, an organizer with the Sierra Club of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, decried the move. “The environmental policy laws were put in place so we could make sure we don’t have disastrous consequences from projects,” he said.

The Mekong Delta: an unsettling portrait of coastal collapse - FT -- Some environmental disasters present themselves over years; others come with a bang — or a splash. The latter happened one day in August, when residents of Binh My, a commune in Vietnam’s lush Mekong Delta, heard a loud cracking sound. They went outside to watch a 30-metre-long chunk of the highway that runs alongside their houses collapse into the river as the asphalt gave way.  One of Asia’s biggest wetlands is subsiding into the sea, the result in part of rising sea levels created by climate change.  But when asked what caused the collapse, a local farmer who gave his name as Bo points to a crane mounted on a boat mid-river — about a kilometre away — that is mining sand. “They are making the bed of the river deeper and deeper,” he says, miming a scooping action. Researchers monitoring the Mekong say a crisis that has been building on the river for years has turned into a full-blown emergency in recent months. They blame two man-made phenomena: the mining of sand from the riverbed and the building of new dams upriver in Laos and China that are altering the river’s flow, sediment content and even its colour. Part of a road that collapsed into the Hau river after being eroded from below © Hai Thanh/FT Mining boats are everywhere in the delta. Sand is in brisk demand for the concrete needed to build Ho Chi Minh City’s high rises and for land reclamation across the sea in Singapore. Yet all the activity masks the growing cost of sand mining, a globally buoyant but deeply opaque and minimally regulated trade. What’s at risk is not an untrammelled eco-paradise, but an economically vital, densely populated region that the Vietnamese call their “rice bowl”. Equivalent in size and population to the Netherlands, the delta is the garden of Ho Chi Minh City and the country’s biggest inland fishery — a leading source of shellfish, fish and fruit.  The first dams of 11 planned on the mainstream of the lower Mekong are beginning operations, a development scientists say will change the river forever. Hundreds of kilometres upriver in Laos, two of these came into commission last year, blocking sediment that used to be nature’s way of replenishing the sand that the mining boats dredged.  “It’s like your house: when it’s eroded in the foundations, your house collapses,” says Duong Van Ni, chief executive of the Wetland University Network, a group of researchers who have tracked the delta with growing alarm.

Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans still without electricity, water days after earthquake - All across Puerto Rico, residents continued to reel from the damage inflicted by the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck the impoverished US territory on Tuesday. At least two thirds of the island’s population remained without electricity as of Thursday, and 250,000 without clean water. Everywhere, residents could be seen sleeping outside, fearful of aftershocks. One death has been attributed to the earthquake so far, a figure likely to rise as officials continue to assess the damage. As many as 40 aftershocks with a magnitude of 3.0 or higher have occurred since the quake on Tuesday, further damaging structures and slowing relief efforts. Thousands of homes and other structures have already collapsed, with many more fatally compromised by the tremors. Most of the island's infrastructure was constructed before new building codes were enacted in 1987 to require modern seismic safety standards. This includes as many as 95 percent of the island's schools, according to a statement made by Eligio Hernandez, Puerto Rico's education secretary. Classes for public schools were canceled indefinitely as officials assessed the safety of school buildings across the island. According to the New York Times, an effort to retrofit schools up to modern safety standards was enacted a decade ago but abandoned after only around 100 schools were renovated. Many of Puerto Rico's power plants are located along the southern region of the island most affected by the earthquake, including the Costa Sur power plant in Guayanilla that provides power for a quarter of the island and suffered heavy damage. Jose Ortiz, the CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) predicted that it could take up to a year to repair the aging plant, telling CBS This Morning, "To be honest, those plants have over 60 years, basically... Imagine you have a taxi, 60 years old, and you are required to run that 24/7." The Trump administration declared an emergency in Puerto Rico after Tuesday's earthquake, ostensibly allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to release funds for disaster relief. Given FEMA's record in responding to natural disasters generally, it is unlikely that an adequate amount of funding will ever be provided to the victims of the earthquake. Tuesday's quake was the strongest so far in a series of tremors that have affected the island since December 28th. The epicenter of the earthquakes has been located approximately eight miles offshore of the town of Indios on the southern coast of the island. The US Geological Survey has warned that there is an 82 percent chance that another earthquake of 5.0 magnitude or higher will occur in the next week. The impact of the earthquakes has been compounded by the fact that the island has still not recovered from Hurricane Maria in 2017, which killed 5,000 residents and destroyed much of Puerto Rico's infrastructure. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that, of the $19.9 billion appropriated by Congress in Housing and Urban Development funds for disaster relief in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, only $1.5 billion has been disbursed so far, with the Trump administration claiming they are withholding funds due to concerns about corruption on the island. This is in spite of the fact that the disaster relief bill passed by Congress mandated that $8.3 billion be made available by September 4th of last year, meaning the current withholding of funds is illegal.

Puerto Rico hit with another major earthquake as aftershocks continue - Puerto Rico was hit by yet another aftershock on Friday, with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake striking the island just days after its largest quake in decades. According to Reuters, Friday's earthquake took place at 6:26 p.m. local time, its epicenter located approximately two and a half miles from Indios on the southern coast.The U.S. territory was struck by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday, as well as aftershocks, which left at least one dead and homes and crucial infrastructure destroyed. Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced declared a state of emergency earlier this week in response to the quakes, as did several mayors of Puerto Rico's 78 municipios.President Trump has since approved federal emergency funding for the island.It's unclear what new damage may have been caused by the latest earthquake, but reports from earlier in the week show hundreds of homes were destroyed and a major power plant on the island was so severely damaged that two-thirds of customers, totaling millions, were left without electricity. The New York Times reported Friday that three people had died from heart attacks in addition to a man killed by a collapsed wall.

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dip, Trump policies put future cuts in doubt: study - (Reuters) - U.S. emissions linked to climate change fell last year on a record drop in coal-fired power generation, but further declines are unlikely without rapid policy changes, according to an estimate released on Tuesday. Emissions fell 2.1% in 2019 as coal-fired electricity output dropped 18% to the lowest level since 1975, according to the estimate here by independent researcher Rhodium Group, which analyzed preliminary U.S. energy and economic data. It was a change of direction from 2018, when emissions rose between 1.5% and 2.5% due to increased heating demand and a robust economy that pushed planes and trucks to guzzle fuel, according to the group’s estimate. Official U.S. data on 2018 and 2019 emissions have yet to be released. “The good news is we’re making really impressive progress in reducing emissions from electricity,” Trevor Houser, the head of energy and climate at Rhodium said in an interview. “The bad news is that electricity is only 25% of total U.S. emissions, and we’re making almost no progress anywhere else in the economy.” U.S. utilities have been shuttering scores of old and inefficient coal-fired power plants in recent years due to competition from lower-cost natural gas, incentives for solar and wind power, and concerns about climate change. But emissions from transportation, which makes up nearly 30% here total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, have been harder to cut. They fell only 0.3% in 2019, Rhodium said, while direct emissions from buildings rose 2.2%, and emissions in agriculture, land use, and methane leaks from oil and gas operations rose by 4.4%. U.S. vehicle emissions were basically flat in 2019 as an increase in miles traveled was offset by efficiency standards put in place during the Obama administration, Houser said. President Donald Trump’s administration froze the Obama-era standards on vehicle efficiency - part of a broad campaign to slash regulations and boost output of oil and natural gas.

U.S. Emissions Dropped in 2019: Here's Why in 6 Charts | InsideClimate News -Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States dropped last year after a sharp increase in 2018, new data released Tuesday show. The drop resumed a long-term downward trend driven chiefly by a shift away from coal power generation. The story of the emissions decline has largely been one of market forces—rather than policies—that have made utilities close coal plants in favor of cheaper natural gas and renewable energy. But this shift to lower-carbon energy has been restricted to the electricity sector, and the nation's emissions cuts are still not on track to meet the targets it agreed to under the Paris climate accord. In order to meet those goals, experts say, federal policies will likely need to target other sectors that collectively make up a majority of U.S. emissions. Overall, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell about 2 percent in 2019, according to preliminary estimates by Rhodium Group, an economic analysis firm. The previous year, strong economic growth and other factors had pushed emissions up roughly 3 percent.The 2019 drop was driven by a nearly 10 percent fall in emissions from the power sector, the biggest decline in decades, according to Rhodium. And the story there is all about coal. Coal generation in the U.S. fell by 18 percent last year, the largest annual decline on record, according to Rhodium. Another study, published in December, found a smaller but still dramatic drop for coal generation last year. Renewable power sources such as wind and solar have seen sharp increases in recent years as their costs of generation have fallen below that of coal. But natural gas has replaced far more coal generation capacity than renewables.Emissions from natural gas power generation increased by more than 40 million metric tons last year, compared to a drop of 190 million metric tons for coal, according to Rhodium. That does not include emissions during oil and gas production, such as methane, a potent short-lived climate pollutant, which are counted separately (see below). But the good news on emissions cuts ends with the power sector. Transportation is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and emissions were essentially flat in 2019, declining by 0.3 percent.Some of the change from 2018 to last year can be explained by the economy.In 2018, U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP (the value of all final goods and services produced in the country), expanded by a relatively robust 2.9 percent. But the first three quarters of last year saw slower GDP growth of 2.3 percent, according to Rhodium. A slower economy tamped down growth in domestic air travel and also in shipping by trucks.Yet emissions from other sectors of the economy continued to rise.Emissions from industry rose slightly last year and are now greater than those from coal-fired power plants. Emissions from buildings were up, too. And emissions from other sectors of the economy collectively grew by more.Much of the growth within the "other" category came from methane emitted by oil and gas production. The U.S. is now the world's top oil and gas producer, and it is projected to continue expanding output in coming years. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has started the process of pulling out of the Paris accord, and it has been working to roll back regulations adopted by the Obama administration that limited methane emissions from new and existing oil and gas wells.

Oil and Gas Emissions Are Reversing Progress from Coal’s Decline - Arizona’s Navajo Generating Station, a gargantuan coal plant responsible for more than 16 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, shut down in November. Its closing capped a decade in which coal generation in the United States was cut in half — a development recently creditedwith reducing nationwide greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent last year.But thanks in large part to the booming oil and gas industry, that slight decline in emissions is likely just a blip on the radar. Emissions from a single proposed petrochemical complex in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, for example, would replace the lion’s share of the greenhouse gas pollution prevented through closing the Navajo Generating Station. Once built, the $9.4 billion Formosa plastics plant is expected to release more than 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases per year.The St. James facility is just one of dozens of new polluting plants expected to contribute to ballooning emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry in the coming years. According to a new report published Wednesday by the Environmental Integrity Project, or EIP, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., the industry is slated to pump an additional 227 million tons of planet-warming gases into the atmosphere in 2025 — a 30 percent increase over 2018 emissions — bringing its total emissions close to one billion tons per year. That’s equivalent to the full-time greenhouse gas pollution of well over 200 major coal-fired power plants.About 60 percent of that rise is from expanding fossil fuel drilling, new liquified natural gas plants, and other additional oil and gas infrastructure. The remaining increases in emissions are expected to come from refineries and chemical plants that process crude oil and natural gas into gasoline, plastics, fertilizers, and other products.Those emissions “would eat up more than half of the reductions that we expect to get out of the power sector,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the EIP. “We need to get on top of the runaway growth in greenhouse gas emissions from oil, gas, and petrochemicals and get standards in place to restrain that growth before it’s too late.” The report is based in part on historical emissions data submitted to the EPA by oil and gas producers. To estimate future emissions, the EIP used the industry’s permit applications for new facilities as well as the Energy Information Agency’s projections for future fossil fuel production.

U.S. states must target gas, oil use to meet climate goals: report - (Reuters) - Ten U.S. states, led by New York, California and Illinois, account for 56% of carbon emissions from buildings nationwide, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions that needs to be tackled over the next decade to combat climate change, according to a report released on Monday. The Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit that promotes clean energy, analyzed the impact of fossil fuels in buildings nationwide, an economic sector that unlike power providers has not decarbonized over the last decade and accounts for one-tenth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. With the contraction of coal mining and retirement of coal plants over the last 10 years, electric power-sector emissions have fallen by a quarter. But emissions from natural gas and other fossil fuels burned in buildings has not budged, the report said. “To address the climate crisis, emissions reductions in every sector need to be made,” said Bruce Nilles, manager for building electrification at the Rocky Mountain Institute, in an interview. “But until now, buildings have escaped focus.”

Representative Sherrill Introduces Legislation to Prevent Methane Leaks - Today, Representative Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) and Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-At Large) introduced H.R. 5542, the Mitigate Methane Now Act, legislation to encourage the replacement of old, home distribution pipelines which are a major source of methane leakage across the country and to help mitigate climate change immediately.  New Jersey is home to some of the oldest natural gas infrastructure in the country. These aging pipes that bring natural gas to New Jersey homes leak harmful gases like methane into our atmosphere. Methane is 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide – and though a relatively short living gas, it’s effect on warming the climate cannot be understated: the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that methane is more than 80 times as effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, making it a prime culprit for our warming temperatures. States through the Northeast have been working with their utility commissions to strategize on how to replace these old and leaking pipes. Typically, costs of essential pipeline repair and replacement are passed on to consumers. This bill will help ensure that lower- and fixed-income consumers are protected from increases in their monthly bill when these important repairs and modernization efforts occur. H.R. 5542 provides money to states to offset rate increases for low-income consumers. “New Jersey’s aging infrastructure is an issue for our families and our environment,” said Representative Sherrill. “While there is interest in our communities to accelerate the replacement of worn distribution pipelines for safety, reliability, and environmental benefits, a variety of barriers exist, including cost. Our bill will help replace old pipelines, mitigate methane emissions, and have an immediate effect on our efforts to tackle climate change.”

Oil Lobby Takes on Democrat Climate Plans-- The oil industry’s top lobbying group on Tuesday is launching a campaign to counter attacks from 2020 Democratic hopefuls vowing to phase out fossil fuels.Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have called for banning fracking and curbing the use of fossil fuels as part of efforts to combat climate change. Other candidates have also outlined ambitious environmental plans.The American Petroleum Institute will air advertisements that highlight the industry’s role in paring greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change while encouraging a truce in heated political debates over energy.“We have different perspectives on the best way forward, but on issues that matter, like climate change, we’re more alike than we think,” one of the API advertisements intones over images of people hiking, jogging and commuting. “We want cleaner solutions, and that means working with each other.”API representatives declined to detail the cost of the campaign, saying only it amounted to seven-figure spending. “No nation on earth has reduced annual carbon emissions more than we have,” API President Mike Sommers is set to say Tuesday in prepared remarks at the group’s “State of American Energy” event in Washington. “And we have the capacity, desire and grit to keep stepping up.”

World’s largest asset manager BlackRock joins $41 trillion climate-change investing pact  - BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with more than $6.8 trillion under its control, becomes the latest signatory to Climate Action 100+, an influential big-money pact that’s pushing — although with spotty results so far — many of the world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitters to take action on man-made climate change. BlackRock joins more than 370 global investors, including pension giant CalPERS and HSBC Global Asset Management, already participating in the initiative, which aims to sway companies ranging from fossil-fuel producers to consumer-product conglomerates to be carbon neutral by 2050. With BlackRock on board, total assets under management represented by Climate Action 100+ now top $41 trillion. “Given BlackRock’s size and influence, their commitment to accelerating engagements with the largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters on climate change sends a powerful signal to companies to reduce emissions, improve corporate governance and strengthen their disclosure,” said Mindy Lubber, a member of the Climate Action 100+ steering committee and CEO and President at Ceres, which advocates for sustainability-minded investors, in a release. As for BlackRock, “this is a natural progression of the work our Investment Stewardship team has done to date. We believe evidence of the impact of climate risk on investment portfolios is building rapidly and we are accelerating our engagement with companies on this critical issue,” said spokesman Farrell Denby, in an e-mail response to a question asking why the firm has joined now. BlackRock Chairman and CEO Larry Fink in an annual letter released more than a year ago shook up the sustainable investment world with an explicit declaration that asset managers could and should enjoin conscientious market choices and a focus on returns, and no longer consider one exclusive of the other. “Sustainable investing will be a core component for how everyone invests in the future,” Fink wrote then.

 Russia Unveils Plan to 'Use the Advantages' of Climate Change - The Russian government has unveiled a plan to adapt the country's economy and population to climate change.  The 17-page document was published online by Russia's Ministry of Economic Development on Saturday, and outlines measures to mitigate the damage caused by climate change as well as to "use the advantages" of warmer temperatures. It acknowledges that changes in the climate have had "a prominent and increasing effect" on industry, socioeconomic development and the health and well-being of the population.  The two-year scheme covers the first phase of the country's adaptation to climate change until 2022, with the aim to "lower the losses" of global warming.  Climate change, the report says, poses a threat to public health, endangers permafrost and heightens the likelihood of infections and natural disasters. Russia will likely see longer and more frequent droughts, extreme precipitation and flooding, increased risk of fire as well as the displacement of different species from their habitats, according to the plan.  Expected positive effects of climate change, the plan says, include the reduction of energy consumption during warm periods, shrinking levels of ice which will foster increased access to navigational opportunities in the Arctic Ocean, and expanded agricultural areas.  The plan lists 30 economic and social steps designed to minimize the vulnerability of the Russia's population, economy and natural resources to climate change.  These measures include considerations such as the government's calculation of the risk of Russian products becoming uncompetitive if they fail to meet new climate-related standards, and preparing new educational materials to teach climate change in schools. The list also suggests dam building and shifting to drought-resistant crops, in addition to crisis-preparation measures like offering emergency vaccinations or evacuations in case of a disaster.  Russia is warming faster than the global average — its average annual air temperature has increased 2.5 times more rapidly than the average global air temperature since the mid-1970s. The country experienced its hottest year on record in 2019, according to the country's meteorological office.

CA Democrats propose 2020 Green New Deal for climate change  - Under the banner of a so-called California Green New Deal, liberal state lawmakers on Monday unveiled sweeping new goals to reduce homelessness, cut greenhouse gas emissions and improve living standards in poor communities within 10 years. Their bill does not yet include any specifics about how they want the state to reach those goals or how they’d pay for the mandate. Among other things, the plan aims to hasten the state’s compliance with targets that are already in place under California law to wean the state off of fossil fuels. Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, said his legislation will grow to become more meaningful as it moves through the Legislature. He expects it to include concrete goals that would require Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature. Bonta called his proposed California Green New Deal “a big, ambitious bill” that would “establish a framework of firm principles and goals.” The name of the plan is modeled after a national Green New Deal bill proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. Cortez’s plan includes a federal jobs guarantee, universal access to clean water and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Bonta said his proposal adopts a more California-centered focus.  Nine Assembly Democrats, including Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, joined Bonta at a news conference Monday to promote the plan. Details surrounding the cost and revenue source are still being ironed out, though Bonta acknowledged the plan will be “expensive but necessary.” “We can’t afford not to pay for it,” Bonta said. “There’s no bigger threat to our planet, people, existence, state, all the residents of California than climate change. It is existential. When the federal government decides to go to war, sometimes endless war, we don’t ask how it’s being paid for. There’s many things we do we don’t ask how it’s going to be paid for. The money shows up. It turns up. When we’re trying to save our planet, you would think there would be a political will to make the investment.”

 California has big clean energy ambitions, and is looking for better energy storage to realize them  -The California Energy Commission (CEC) is putting up to $11 million on the table for developers of energy storage technologies other than lithium-ion batteries, according to a solicitation launched last month. The agency is looking for one group of projects based on emerging customer-side storage technologies and a second to focus only on customer-side electrolytic hydrogen storage. Applications are due by Feb. 4.The solicitation is largely driven by California’s 100% clean energy statutory requirement and the need for a diverse set of longer-duration storage technologies, Jason Burwen, vice president of policy at the Energy Storage Association, told Utility Dive. But newer storage technologies are likely to face a host of challenges in the market.Lithium-ion batteries have dominated the storage space for the last decade, largely due to declining costs caused by global build-out of storage manufacturing capacity for electric vehicle markets, according to Burwen. The technology is also familiar to the financial sector and investors. But California’s ambitious clean energy goals cannot be met only with current storage technologies, according to the CEC, due to inadequate energy density, longevity and pricing for them to be feasible at a larger scale across the state. As California increases its share of renewables on the grid, the state will need more cost-effective and high performing storage systems, which would require branching out to emerging technologies, the agency said in its solicitation. “The timing is right for supporting emerging technologies that can out-perform existing energy storage technologies because a substantial amount of the energy storage in California was installed in the last few years and will need to be upgraded or replaced in the next [seven to] 15 years,” the CEC said. The CEC is offering funding to storage projects that are still in the research and development stage. The first group of non-lithium ion projects could include technologies like flow batteries, flywheels, thermal storage and compressed air systems — developers will have to demonstrate how their facilities improve energy density, and promote resiliency, reliability and affordability vis-a-vis current technologies. In particular, the CEC is looking for storage technologies that provide longer durations, have a longer life cycle, and are operationally safer than lithium-ion batteries, according to Burwen.

Department of Energy Issues Final Determination for General Service Incandescent Lamps, Finds More Stringent Standards are More Costly to the American People and Not Economically Justified | Department of Energy — Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a final determination that the current standards for incandescent light bulbs do not need to be amended because the benefits of more stringent standards do not outweigh the cost to the American people. DOE’s analysis concluded that increasing the efficiency of incandescent lamps could cost consumers more than 300 percent compared to the price of today’s incandescent lamps. “Today the Trump Administration chose to protect consumer choice by ensuring that the American people do not pay the price for unnecessary overregulation from the federal government,” said Secretary Brouillette.  “Innovation and technology are already driving progress, increasing the efficiency and affordability of light bulbs, without federal government intervention. The American people will continue to have a choice on how they light their homes.”On September 5, 2019 DOE proposed a determination that the existing standards for general service incandescent lamps (GSILs) do not need to be amended. After considering data and a wide range of public comments, today DOE is announcing its final determination that the existing standards for GSILs will not be amended because stricter standards are not economically justified. For more information on the final determination please click HERE.Due in part to more than a decade of innovative, early-stage research and development in energy-efficient lighting, the average cost of light-emitting diodes (LED) light bulbs has dropped by nearly 90% since 2008. Over that same period, total installations of home LEDs has increased from 100,000 to nearly 202 million. DOE expects that progress to continue in the absence of more stringent standards for GSILs. Today, DOE released a new report entitled, "Energy Savings Forecast of Solid-State Lighting in General Illumination Applications," which finds that due to continued technological innovation, LED bulbs and luminaires are anticipated to hold the vast majority of lighting installations by 2035, comprising 84% of all applications, up from 20% today and 1% in 2010. LED lighting already offers 1.1 quads of energy savings in 2017 (equivalent to the annual energy consumption of over 14 million average U.S. households), and if LED lighting installations continue at the current pace, a total annual energy savings of 4.8 quads is possible by 2035.

EPA To Tighten Restrictions On Pollution From Heavy Duty Trucks In An Uncharacteristic Move From Agency | Kaiser Health News -- The regulations would address a pollutant that's linked to heart and lung disease. Health and environment groups are skeptical of the new rules, worrying that they could stymie even tighter restrictions that are expected out of California.

  • The Washington Post: EPA Says It Will Cut Pollution From Heavy Duty Diesel Trucks - The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday said it would soon propose tougher restrictions on pollution from heavy-duty trucks, an uncharacteristic move to tighten existing standards from an administration that has prided itself on a series of regulatory rollbacks. Heavy-duty vehicles are the largest mobile source of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant linked to heart and lung disease. They also tend to remain in service far longer than other vehicles. (Dennis, 1/6)
  • The New York Times: E.P.A. Aims To Reduce Truck Pollution, And Avert Tougher State Controls - While the move could give President Trump a nominal environmental achievement for the 2020 campaign, public health experts say the truck regulations are not as out of line with administration policy as they would appear. The emerging rule will quite likely limit nitrogen dioxide pollution more than current standards, they say, but still fall far short of what is necessary to significantly prevent respiratory illness and even premature deaths. (Davenport, 1/6)
  • The Hill: Critics Skeptical Of EPA Plans For Tougher Truck Standards - But environmental and health groups expressed concern Monday the EPA regulations may not be as stringent as they could or should be, while stymying efforts in California to set ambitious nitrogen oxide standards of their own. “There’s a fear that there’s an attempt by the truck engine manufacturers to undermine or weaken what California is pursuing by going through EPA,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association. (Beitsch, 1/6)

Exclusive: China suspends national rollout of ethanol mandate - sources -  (Reuters) - China has suspended its plan to implement a nationwide gasoline blend containing 10% ethanol this year, three sources briefed on the matter said, following a sharp decline in the country’s corn stocks and limited production capacity of the biofuel. The reversal is a heavy blow to domestic producers that have built new plants, as well as biofuel exporters, including the United States and Brazil, which were looking to benefit from growing Chinese demand. China was expected to increase imports of U.S. ethanol after the recent announcement of Phase 1 of a trade agreement. Beijing announced in September 2017 that the national gasoline supply would contain 10% ethanol from 2020, part of a broad reform of its corn industry that at the time was suffering from a massive surplus. But at a meeting in late December with ethanol producers and oil majors, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said it will now halt the rollout of ethanol-gasoline supplies beyond the current handful of provinces that have already implemented full or partial blends, according to two of the three sources briefed on the meeting. Beijing’s mandate - known as the E10 target - was conceived as a way to digest the country’s huge state corn reserves and reduce pollution in the world’s largest car market by using the cleaner-burning fuel. China is now unlikely to require large ethanol supplies without the mandate.

PJM: Electric vehicles could boost load 1.5 GW by 2035 | Utility Dive  -PJM Interconnection on Dec. 30 published its 2020 annual long-term load forecast, concluding summer and winter loads will each grow 0.6% annually over the next decade. Of the grid operator's total expected load, 37% is anticipated to be residential, 37% commercial and 26% industrial.  The grid operator has made significant changes to its load forecasting model, and compared with the 2019 report, the new forecast reduces estimates for the 2020 summer peak by 1.9% or 2,778 MW. Winter load in 2020 is expected to rise 0.1% relative to the previous report. This is the first report where PJM has included data on the anticipated load impacts of electric vehicles (EVs). The forecast predicts plug-in vehicle loads will rise from 200 MW in 2020 to an estimated 1,500 MW by 2035, which is less than 0.1% to average annual growth rate. PJM has made several changes to its forecast to take into account the growth of distributed resources and an increased focus on energy efficiency. In particular, the latest report considers the growing impacts of distributed solar generation, estimates of future installed solar capacity, weather patterns and efficiency in appliances.The grid operator says residential electricity consumption is expected to grow 0.6%  from 2020 to 2035, down from a growth rate of 0.9% from 1998 to 2018. Commercial consumption is expected to grow by 0.6% annually across the same period, down from a 1% growth rate from 1998 to 2018, while industrial consumption is expected to grow 0.4% annually, up from a 0.5% decline between 1998 and 2018."That depressed rate is a result of lingering overall effects from the Great Recession," the operator explained in a Jan. 6 blog post."Absent the impacts of new solar installations and improving appliance efficiency," PJM said load would have grown by about 1% annually, compared to the current forecast of 0.5% each year. "Of that trim to the load growth rate," the operator said solar accounts for 0.2% and efficiency for 0.3%.

2020s US electric sales to pivot on EVs, rooftop solar - After a decade of soft to diminishing sales of electricity, U.S. utilities could see a sustained rebound in the 2020s. Or not. Sales in the next decade will pivot largely on two distinct energy transition wild cards: the rollout of electric vehicles, which boost demand for grid power, and continued growth in rooftop solar, which reduces it. Economic output will also play a large role, as will the spread of energy efficiency measures, which curb overall electricity demand, and the electrification of other sectors of the economy, which could expand it dramatically. For investor-owned utilities in select states, there is the added uncertainty of customer migration to local government-run retail power agencies known as community choice aggregators, or CCAs. Diverging scenarios in California, the leading U.S. market for electric vehicles and distributed solar arrays, highlight the planning challenges that, to varying degrees, will affect the power sector nationwide over the next decade. The California Energy Commission's latest draft integrated energy policy report, released in November, describes a trio of possible paths that range from reinvigorated growth of retail electricity sales in the 2020s to ongoing deterioration. Up for approval in January, the agency's assessment will help guide the state's decisions on how to provide grid reliability and expand infrastructure as it embarks on the transition to a zero-carbon economy by midcentury. Dip or jump Investor-owned utilities Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., along with the state's other electric utilities and CCAs, could see combined sales dip under 245,000 GWh in the early 2020s, from roughly 255,000 GWh in 2018, or jump to nearly 290,000 GWh by 2030, according to the preliminary analysis. Uncertainties around the adoption of electric vehicles and behind-the-meter solar account for much of the discrepancy.

Solar gets break that could hurt customers, utility says The state Public Service Commission changed course Friday on a solar energy decision that environmentalists said could have doomed the expansion of non-polluting solar farms in South Carolina. In a 5-0 ruling, the PSC agreed that Dominion Energy should pay solar farm developers more for the power they produce than the commission had approved in November. Friday’s decision sparked sharply different opinions on how customers would be affected. Dominion indicated the ruling will cause customers’ normal utility bills to rise. Sun power boosters said the ruling will be good for South Carolina customers over the long run. “The decision today reverses course on the doomsday scenarios they set in motion back in November,’’ said John Tynan, director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. “While everything is not settled, this is a step in the right direction.’’ Solar energy backers say that requiring utilities to pay more for sun power will encourage the growth of the solar industry. That will, in turn, better ensure power bills remain stable for customers by reducing reliance on natural gas and other forms of energy, while also increasing competition, they say. But utilities say they might have to charge customers more on their current monthly bills if the rates power companies pay solar farms are too high.

Kansas solar installations drop by more than a third after utility adds demand fee -Solar installers say Evergy’s demand fee has made residential solar finances less certain and more complicated. The number of customers seeking to connect solar panels in eastern Kansas plunged in the year after the region’s utility placed a new fee on solar customers. Evergy, the state’s largest electric utility, instituted a demand fee on residential solar customers in October 2018. The customers now pay an additional charge each month based on their peak electricity use during a billing period. Solar installers say the fees have made the financial case for residential solar panels less certain and more complicated, which has led to a significant decrease in sales. One even abandoned the market altogether as solar and environmental groups continue to challenge the fee in court. “People are pretty nervous to go solar when they have to agree to the additional demand charge,” said Andy Rondon, sales manager for Good Energy Solutions in Lawrence. He estimated that the company’s residential sales in the state have fallen by about 20% since the demand fee was put in place. The overall drop in projects in the region is even greater. A spokesperson for Evergy said the company had received 201 solar interconnection requests in 2019 through the end of October. That put it on pace to finish the year down by more than a third from 2018, when it received 385 requests. Demand fees are a standard feature for commercial customers but a rarity for home-energy users. They’re designed to capture the value a utility provides from being able to meet a customer’s highest demand at any time, regardless of how much power they actually use most of the time. Even a customer who uses little power can wind up with a high demand charge if their air conditioner, toaster and refrigerator happen to all kick on at the same time.

Huge offshore wind project near Virginia selects turbine supplier - Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE) has been chosen as the preferred turbine supplier for the 2.64 gigawatt (GW) Dominion Energy Virginia Offshore Wind project. The site of the project is 27 miles off the coast of Virginia and covers an area of 112,800 acres. In an announcement Tuesday, Dominion Energy described the scheme as the “largest offshore wind power project in the United States.” The turbine model and final number of units to be supplied have yet to be determined, according to SGRE, although installation is expected to be finished by 2026. The agreement is subject to a number of conditions, including government permission and a final investment decision from Dominion Energy. “Virginia aims to become a national leader in offshore wind, and we are encouraged to see progress toward that goal,” Ralph S. Northam, the governor of Virginia, said in a statement issued Tuesday. “For Virginia, it’s about two things: jobs and a cleaner environment,” Northam added. “Wind energy is one of our top economic priorities and a critical component of Virginia’s clean energy strategy, and this is an important step forward.”

 Utilities 'caught in the crosshairs' as US-Iran tensions rise; experts say domestic cyberattack likely - As tensions between the United States and Iran rise, observers say the Middle Eastern nation is likely considering a reprisal attack on critical domestic infrastructure — putting the utility sector square in the "crosshairs" of an international conflict. The United States military last week killed Iran Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani with a drone strike, heightening tensions in the region. ​Cybersecurity experts say Iran wants to avoid a "shooting war" and over the years has developed its cyber capabilities to the point where an attack on several sectors is possible. Most utilities today use data analytics extensively — both for historical context and to predict future trends. Learn how AI extends this opportunity by adding a key capability that autonomously makes assumptions, tests those assumptions and learns. "The two most likely types of responses are an overseas terrorist attack or a domestic cyberattack. I think a domestic cyberattack is the most likely of all scenarios," Jamil Jaffer, vice president for strategy and partnerships at IronNet Cybersecurity, told Utility Dive.Jaffer said Iran has for years been probing and studying several sectors, including the electric sector, oil and gas, financial services, healthcare and government."Heavy industry, oil and gas, electrical generation and the attached grid infrastructure, as well as other critical infrastructure are all caught in the crosshairs as of this moment." "We know Iran has the capabilities to deliver destructive attacks. They have a strong set of capabilities," Jaffer said. "They are now very much a top-tier threat." Iran's capabilities are not equal to the U.S. or Russia but are more along the lines of North Korea, according to experts. And the country has a history of taking action. In 2016, Iran executed a cyberattack on a New York dam. Before that, in 2014, the nation levied a cyberattack on the Las Vegas Sands casino. "There is ample evidence to suggest that Iranian-sponsored actors have invested considerable time and effort over the past several years to infiltrate the computer systems that control the critical infrastructure of the United States and its allies," PAS Global COO Mark Carrigan said in an email. "At some time these actors may leverage a successful infiltration to launch a cyber attack."

Future For Troubled Hartford Waste-To-Energy Plant Remains In Question -The head of a trash-to-energy plant in Hartford says its ability to stay operational is “in doubt.” During an informational meeting with member towns on Wednesday, Tom Kirk, head of the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, said the aging waste-to-energy plant on the banks of the Connecticut River is struggling. “It’s a nonsustainable situation such that in a couple of years the plant will either be shut down, or will shut itself down,” Kirk said. MIRA, which is more than 30 years old, handles trash for 51 Connecticut towns, providing about one-third of the state’s solid waste disposal. But its future remains an open question. Past mechanical failures led to shutdowns and piles of garbage accumulating at the plant, which then needed to be hauled out of state. And a recent deal to renovate the plant has stalled over disagreements about paying for an anticipated $330 million price tag. Kirk said he wants to get member towns to commit to the development deal by mid-2020, but price remains a sticking point. Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said he doubts the state would foot that $330 million bill through bonding or energy credits during a non-budget year. That could leave towns on the hook. Bronin said other options like “pay as you throw” programs, which charge customers directly for the trash they throw out, could reduce the amount of trash people put in the barrel and “eliminate the need for a MIRA altogether.” “Part of my eagerness to look for alternatives comes from the fact that I think this is a strategic mistake for the state,” Bronin said. “I think we’re pursuing this particular site for the reason that many of us in municipal government despise most, which is because it’s the way we’ve always done it.” Kirk said if a redevelopment deal fails, trash that the plant is contracted to take would likely end up in landfills in Ohio, New York or Virginia.

Vietnam in deals to buy Laos electricity from 2021 (Reuters) - Vietnam’s electricity firm EVN has signed five new deals to buy electricity from Laos starting from next year, the state-run company said. The southeast Asian nation faces severe power shortages from 2021, as demand outpaces construction of new plants, with demand expected to exceed supply by 6.6 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2021, and 15 billion kWh in 2023. Pacts signed in Hanoi over the weekend with Laos’ Phongsubthavy and Chealun Sekong groups provide for EVN to buy electricity from five hydropower plants, beginning in 2021 and 2022, EVN said. The plants have combined capacity of 363 megawatts, it added, but gave no details.

Former Australian Coal Executive Calls For Clean Energy Amid 'Existential Threat' Of Climate Change - Coal is a big business in Australia. Economically, coal is Australia's most valuable export, with black coal resources occurring in a majority of the country’s states. Politically, the industry is closely tied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a vocal advocate for coal. Morrison has deemphasized the link between the raging bushfires and climate change. The government, hand in hand with the country’s coal industry, has repeatedly chosen a denialist stance on climate change science, says Ian Dunlop, senior member of the advisory board for the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, an independent think tank based in Melbourne. “There is no question that the continued use of coal is impacting the climate,” Dunlop says. “And obviously our coal industry has to think very hard about that.” Dunlop is no stranger to the fossil fuel industry — he was once an international oil, gas and coal executive and former chair of the Australian Coal Association. He says he left his position in the late ‘80s after recognizing the science behind climate change and since then, has been an advocate for clean energy. “As time’s gone by over the years, the science has improved dramatically and the evidence has gotten clearer and clearer, and there comes a point when you have to do something about it,” he says. There will be a cost in making the switch to a low-carbon economy, but in the long run, it’s worth it, he says. “It's not just going to happen easily. It is going to have an impact on economies all around the world,” he says. “But the costs of doing nothing are far greater, as we're now starting to see in Australia, because the impact on the economy of what is now happening in the last three or four or five weeks is going to be enormous.” Dunlop is working toward making sure Australia’s political leaders and corporate executives aren’t allowed to “deny reality” — a delusion he says can be partially attributed to Rupert Murdoch-run conservative media outlets. Australian-born Murdoch, founder of News Corps which owns Fox News, has a history of political activity in Australia. The more the country’s wildfires have become a worldwide concern, he says, “people like the Murdoch press have become ever more hysterical in trying to deny it.”

America's Coal Consumption Entered Free Fall in 2019 - Here’s the good news, such as it is, for the climate: American coal consumption plunged last year, reaching its lowest level since 1975, as electrical utilities switched to cheaper natural gas and renewables. Over the past decade and a half, coal’s collapse has saved tens of thousands of lives nationwide, according to new research, and cut national greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 10 percent. The bad news is almost everything else. Outside of the power sector, the country’s planet-warming pollution continued to grow last year. Almost three decades after climate change first became a political issue, the American economy remains a continent-size machine that guzzles fossil fuels and excretes money.Those are the major takeaways from an estimate of the United States’ 2019 greenhouse-gas emissions, published today by the Rhodium Group, a private energy-research firm. Last year, American greenhouse-gas pollution fell by 2.1 percent, driven almost entirely by coal’s decline and a plodding economy. While that overall decrease is nominally good—especially compared with 2018, when American emissions actuallyincreased overall—it is not happening fast enough. “We see nothing currently planned at the federal or the state level that is going to put the U.S. on track for the Paris Agreement target,” Trevor Houser, an author of the report and a partner at the Rhodium Group, told me. “It is still possible to reduce emissions fast enough to meet that target, but it would require a rapid and ambitious change in federal climate policy.”The United States is the world’s second-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which cause both ocean acidification and global warming. While the United States is responsible for about 14 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions today, it is the largest all-time source of cumulative carbon-dioxide pollution. And because it is the world’s largest consumer market, its energy system and federal policies play an outsize role in helping new technologies achieve mass scale and low cost.The new report tells two different stories about emissions last year. The first—and far more upbeat—is that coal consumption is cratering. American coal use fell 18 percent, pulling down the power sector’s overall emissions by almost 10 percent. It was the largest one-year drop in coal consumption in history. “Coal ended the decade at less than half the level that it started the decade, which is remarkable,” Houser said. As coal declined, the health of ordinary Americans improved. From 2005 to 2016, coal-plant shutdowns led to such significant air-quality improvements that they saved the lives of about 26,000 Americans, according to a separate study published this week in Nature Sustainability. (Data are not yet available to extrapolate those results to 2019.)

Texas Produced More Energy from Renewable Sources than Coal Last Year - Last year Texas generated more energy from renewable sources than from coal, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Texas produces the most wind energy of any state in the nation, and its solar energy capacity is growing rapidly. Earlier this year, as the Dallas Observer reported, Texas' wind energy output surpassed its coal energy production for the first time. At the time, ERCOT said the trend wasn't likely to hold through the rest of the year. Texas uses the most coal in summer and winter, during which hot and cool temperatures lead to high air conditioning and heat use and put more demands on the energy grid. In July, when we first reported on this, Warren Lasher, the council's senior director of system planning, pointed out that a mild spring last year kept temperatures moderate and energy use down. But, while Lasher's prediction about wind power was correct, in 2019, the sum total of renewable energy produced in Texas did turn out to be more than coal. Last year, energy facilities in the state produced 21.5% of energy from renewable sources (wind, solar, hydro and biomass) and 20.3% from coal. Here's the catch: Those hoping to see Texas produce primarily renewable energy, have a long wait ahead. The state still makes more energy from gas, a largely non-renewable resource, than from any other form of energy. Although Texas generates three times the wind energy of the next most prolific state, Oklahoma, and is poised to increase solar power production by up to 30 times the current level, according to the council's numbers, this year Texas generated 47.3% of its energy from gas sources.

Trump Kneecapped NEPA. Could that Increase Uranium Mining in Texas? - Donald Trump fulfilled his vow to slash “intrusive” environmental regulations in favor of monied energy conglomerates. Shortly after taking office, he announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. In 2018, he moved to formally replace Barack Obama’s landmark Clean Power Plan. Trump lowered limits on methane emissions from drilling operations on public lands; stalled stricter rules for power plants that discharge mercury and other toxic contaminants into waterways; and intervened on behalf of Alaskan miners eyeing deposits beneath the country’s largest salmon run. Altogether, The New York Times counts at least 95 environmental rules the president has rolled back, many of which are seen as a boon to the county’s energy sectors. Now you can add another reversal to the list: On Thursday, Trump announced that his administration will weaken a longstanding set of regulations designed to assess the environmental impact of proposed highways, oil and gas pipelines, and other large-scale projects. The president has taken aim at the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which for the past 50 years has required federal agencies to conduct comprehensive environmental reviews of projects before giving their seal of approval.  The changes could have an outsized impact on rural Texas, where new sections of an interstate highway from Laredo to Texarkana are being hotly pursued and sweeping natural gas pipelines are creeping from West Texas to the Gulf. But it could also spur the development of widespread mining across South Texas, where a rare underground resource has largely been left untapped. This part of Texas, starting just below San Antonio and moving south along the Gulf Coast, has long been known to host sizeable deposits of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake,” a crucial ingredient for producing nuclear power. The South Texas deposits are the third largest in the country, behind sections of Colorado and Wyoming. In 2015, the United States Geological Survey reported that it had located an additional 220 million pounds of uranium throughout the region’s sedimentary formations, a discovery that more than tripled the amount that had previously been identified.

N.Y. set to close last coal plant -- Monday, January 6, 2020 -- New York's last coal-fired power plant could shutter as early as March, another potential casualty for the shrinking U.S. fleet of coal-fired plants.

Tri-State Generation to close all of its Colorado, New Mexico coal-fired power plants and coal mines —  Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association will close all of its coal-fired power plants and mines in New Mexico and Colorado by 2030, the power provider that serves nearly 20 rural electric cooperatives in Colorado announced on Thursday. Tri-State says it will close its Escalante Power Plant in Prewitt, New Mexico, by the end of 2020. It plans to close Craig Station and the ColoWyo Mine in northwest Colorado by 2030. Tri-State has been pressured by its rural electric co-op members — including Brighton-based United Power and Durango-based La Plata Electric Association — to make a faster transition to renewable energy in recent years. The pair have sought to break up with Tri-State as a result of the power wholesaler’s reluctance to use more renewables and in seeking more say over their power sources. Two co-ops have already negotiated exits from Tri-State. They are the Delta-Montrose Electric Association and the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in Taos, N.M. Tri-State, a Westminster-based, nonprofit power provider, retired its Nucla Station coal-fired power plant in September. The utility says the closures won’t cause electric rates to rapidly rise.

Xcel Minnesota: Running coal seasonally will save customers millions, reduce emissions | Utility Dive - Xcel Energy Minnesota wants to run some of its coal under economic and seasonal dispatch instead of through self-scheduling practices, it told state regulators in December.The utility submitted a filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to begin offering its two remaining coal plants seasonally into the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), rather than self-committing the plants to the market, which leads to market distortions, according to research from the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The move is part of an ongoing proceeding opened by state regulators in November, and several clean energy groups in the state have been pressing the utility to consider moving away from self-scheduling.The measures are estimated to reduce customer costs by tens of millions of dollars and 5 million tons of carbon emissions annually by optimizing use of the plants. Minnesota's PUC was the first state commission in the country to open up a docket on this issue, according to UCS Senior Energy Analyst Joe Daniel, whose research implies the market distorting effects of self-scheduling are widespread across regional power markets.Once an obscure back-office function, logistics is now recognized for its strategic importance and ability to affect both the bottom line and customer experience. Learn how to streamline your supply chain with a 3PL logistics consultation. Xcel's filing with state regulators shows clear environmental and economic benefits to seasonally dispatching its coal units, and those results would likely be magnified if utilities across the country did the same thing, according to Daniel. "Extrapolate [Xcel's results] out to the US Coal fleet and we are talking about a double-digit reduction in US electric sector emissions overnight while simultaneously reducing energy costs to customers," he said in a Tweet Tuesday.

Shutdown of coal-fired plants in US saves lives and improves crop yields- The decommissioning of coal-fired power plants in the continental United States has reduced nearby pollution and its negative impacts on human health and crop yields, according to a new University of California San Diego study. The findings published this week in Nature Sustainability use the U.S. transition in recent years from coal towards natural gas for electric power generation to study the local impacts of coal-fired unit shutdowns. While the shift from coal to natural gas has reduced carbon dioxide emissions overall, it has also changed local pollution levels at hundreds of areas around the country. In particular, the burning of coal creates particulate matter and ozone in the lower atmosphere--often experienced as "smog" --which can affect humans, plants and regional climate. These pollutants (aerosols, ozone and other compounds) from coal burning can wreak havoc on human health when inhaled, and also have damaging effects on plant life. They also alter local climate by blocking incoming sunlight. The author, Jennifer Burney, associate professor of environmental science at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, combined data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on electric power generation with satellite and surface measurements from the EPA as well as NASA to gauge changes in local pollution before and after coal-fired unit shut-downs. She also studied changes in county-level mortality rates and crop yields using data from the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Burney found that between 2005 and 2016, the shutdown of coal-fired units saved an estimated 26,610 lives and 570 million bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat in their immediate vicinities. The inverse calculation, estimating the damages caused by coal plants left in operation over that same time period, suggests they contributed to 329,417 premature deaths and the loss of 10.2 billion bushels of crops, roughly equivalent to half of year's typical production in the U.S.

 Shutdown of US coal power facilities saved over 26,000 lives: study  -The human toll from coal-fired pollution in America has been laid bare by a study that has found more than 26,000 lives were saved in the US in just a decade due to the shift from coal to gas for electricity generation. The shutdown of scores of coal power facilities across the US has reduced the toxic brew of pollutants suffered by nearby communities, cutting deaths from associated health problems such as heart disease and respiratory issues, the research found. An estimated 26,610 lives were saved in the US by the shift away from coal between 2005 and 2016, according to the University of California study published in Nature Sustainability.  The coal sector has struggled in recent years, with 334 generating units taken offline during the period analyzed in the study. A cheap glut of natural gas has displaced coal, with 612 gas-fired units coming online during this time. As a result, more than 300m tons of planet-heating carbon dioxide has been saved, while levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, emitted by coal plants and linked to irritations of the nose and throat, dropped by 60% and 80%, respectively.  “When you turn coal units off you see deaths go down. It’s something we can see in a tangible way,” said Jennifer Burney, a University of California academic who authored the study. “There is a cost to coal beyond the economics. We have to think carefully about where plants are sited, as well as how to reduce their pollutants.”  The natural gas that is replacing coal is “not entirely benign”, Burney’s research points out. Gas is, like coal, a fossil fuel and its production involves the release of vast amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Previous research has shown that both coal and gas will need to be rapidly replaced by zero carbon alternatives such as solar and wind, or to at least deploy technology that captures emissions, if the world is to avoid more disastrous global heating.

Coal stakeholders urge WV lawmakers to protect industry  — Representatives of the coal industry and the United Mine Workers of America gathered Wednesday afternoon at the state Culture Center on the grounds of the Capitol Complex for the annual West Virginia Coal Forum Legislative Briefing. Industry stakeholders urged lawmakers to prioritize protecting coal mining and coal-fired power generation during the 2020 session of the Legislature. Chris Hamilton, co-chair of the Coal Forum, asked legislators in attendance to do “everything humanly possible” to help support the state’s nine remaining coal-fired power plants. “They are located strategically around the state — each one generates upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars,” Hamilton said. “We want the Legislature and the state of West Virginia to become more involved with the operation of those plants — partnering with the utilities to ensure that they maintain those plants in a state of operational acceptance and that they retool and perform all the maintenance on those plants going forward so we can preserve those plants and increase the life of those plants.” Hamilton said one of the Coal Forum’s main aims is to find ways to encourage more use of West Virginia coal. “The goal is to increase our consumption here within the state, to increase our state’s reliance so we can maintain the jobs, maintain the hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity in our local and statewide communities,” he said. Fred Tucker, co-chair of the Coal Forum, spoke about his family’s long history in the mining industry and the importance of coal mining culture to West Virginia. “I was born and raised in coal. My whole family was coal,” he said. “I come from one of 13 children. My daddy worked in the coal mines 57 years, and you could count on one hand the number of days that he didn’t work in the mine.” Among all the members of his family combined, there are nearly 400 years of coal-mining experience, Tucker said. “My family, my dad, my brothers, my sister — 389 years,” he said. “I know what it is: When coal is up, times are better. When coal is down, times are not so good. That’s the bottom line.”

Dozens of Kentucky coal miners go unpaid after layoff -- Employees of Perry County Coal, who were laid off last month, report they have not received their final paycheck or payment for unused vacation days, putting the miners in a strikingly similar position to former employees of Blackjewel LLC, who protested in Harlan County last year over unpaid wages. David Mullins, former general manager of Perry County Coal, told the Herald-Leader on Monday that about 75 employees did not receive their final paychecks, and that the remaining maintenance crew of 24 workers and security guards have not been paid since mid-December. Perry County Coal’s workforce of nearly 300 miners quickly deteriorated to a skeleton crew after American Resources Corporation purchased it in September. The company was previously owned by Cambrian Coal, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year and sold nearly all of its assets in Eastern Kentucky. Recent court filings showed that American Resources Corporation is blocked from acquiring new permits by federal regulators. Records from the U.S. Department of the Interior show the company has 36 outstanding violations in Kentucky.

Community concerned over North Carolina energy provider’s plan to store coal ash in new landfill - — Duke Energy’s latest plan to store coal ash in a new Buncombe County landfill brought people out to Biltmore Park Club House on Saturday. The utility’s requesting a permit to place more than a million tons of coal ash at Duke’s Lake Julian power plant. Duke says the new coal ash landfill would have no chance of leaking, but many are skeptical. Created about two weeks ago, an online petition against the plan has grown past 2,000 signatures. A nearly three-hour meeting took place on Jan. 4, 2020, filled with about 150 people, where both sides of the argument were heard. Some spoke up in support of the landfill, saying it’s the safest and most ethical option available. But the majority was against, raising two questions that were repeated throughout the meeting: Can the coal ash be safely moved to another location? And if it does stay local, what happens if the landfill leaks? “The best outcome, I think, is to not have the coal ash here,” one member at the meeting said. “Why don’t we just have all the politicians step aside,” another member suggested. “Well, some of them are talking about valuable things.” About 10 million tons of coal ash has been produced at Duke Energy in Asheville since the start of production in the mid-60’s. Since 2008, most of the ash has been moved to the Asheville Regional Airport as part of the runway project or trucked to a site in Georgia. Duke Energy District Manager, Jason Walls said those are no longer available options. “We have 1.14 million tons of ash sitting at the plant today,” Walls said. Duke recently submitted a permit to secure the remaining coal ash at the Lake Julian power plant. That’s something many locals at the meeting made clear they don’t want to see.

TVA seeking input on coal ash storage plan in Gallatin (WATE) — The Tennessee Valley Authority is seeking public input on its plans for storage of coal ash at the Gallatin Fossil Plant in Sumner County, including a plan that would expand storage and remove graves near the property. Comments will be accepted through Feb. 18, 2020. TVA is also hosting a public open house from 5 to 7 p.m. CST on Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Gallatin Civic Center, 210 Albert Gallatin Ave. In June, TVA and the state agreed to close the wet impoundments at Gallatin by removal. The public utility has to decide how and where to dispose of the coal ash in those impoundments. TVA has eliminated from consideration the option of closure-in-place following the agreement. Details on the options are available in a draft Environmental Impact Statement available at Options being evaluated in the draft EIS include placing the coal ash in an expansion of the existing dry storage landfill onsite, removal to an offsite landfill, and the potential for beneficial reuse.

Charah appeals judge's ruling on coal ash disposal in Chatham County - A court case about the practice of burying coal ash in old clay mines is dragging on into its fifth year, raising questions about where Duke will deposit some of its 80 million tons of the material. Charah/Green Meadow is asking a Mecklenburg Superior Court judge to reverse a decision issued last month by the Office of Administrative Hearings that prohibits coal ash from being deposited in unexcavated areas of old clay mines. In court documents filed on Dec. 27, Charah attorneys argued that Administrative Law Judge Melissa Lassiter wrongly invalidated state permits that had allowed the company to deposit coal ash in these areas of the old Brickhaven Mine. The 7.2 million tons of ash — encompassing 5.1 million cubic yards — were used as structural fill in both the excavated areas and in new portions of the mine, which is near Moncure in Chatham County. The NC Department of Environmental Quality had issued the permits to the Kentucky-based company in 2015. The ash came from Duke Energy’s Sutton and Riverbend plants as part of the utility’s full excavation of unlined ash basins. However, Duke Energy is not part of Charah’s lawsuit. DEQ has not filed an appeal. Lassiter’s ruling also covered the Colon Mine in Lee County, but no ash has been deposited there. Charah disputed Lassiter’s interpretation of the Coal Ash Management Act. State lawmakers passed CAMA, as it’s known, in 2014, after the Dan River disaster, and amended it in 2016. CAMA was intended to prevent Duke or any public utility from building new — or expanding the existing — unlined coal ash basins or impoundments in North Carolina. Since the structural fill is in a lined cell, and Charah is not a public utility, the company argued that its activities at Brickhaven are not violating the act.

Are toxins in coal ash posing risks to nearby communities? | PBS NewsHour - Today we travel from Missouri to Louisiana with reporting on the environmental and economic hazards of rising waters. We begin in Labadie, Missouri, where one of those hazards is coal ash, the residue created when coal is burned. The U.S. produces more than 100 million tons of coal ash each year, and storing it carries the potential for toxic materials leaching into groundwater. NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano has our story.  Ivette Feliciano: Labadie, Missouri, a town of just over three thousand, sits on the southern bank of the Missouri River. A notable sight is the Labadie Power Plant—the largest coal burning plant in the state. It's owned by Ameren–Missouri's biggest energy supplier. In burning coal, the plant produces a byproduct: coal ash. Both the plant and the ash stand in what's called a floodplain—an area next to a river or stream that is prone to flooding during storms. That's a point of concern for some here, because coal ash is known to contain heavy metals–like arsenic, chromium, and lead–which can cause cancer, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease in humans.

 Study Finds Coal Closures Saved Thousands Of Lives in Ohio Valley | WKU Public Radio -A new study finds the closure of coal-fired power plants and transition to natural gas generation across the United States over a decade saved an estimated 26,610 lives due to a reduction in air pollution, with about a fifth of those avoided deaths in the Ohio Valley.The coal-rich Ohio Valley states received outsized health benefits from the shift from coal to gas. The analysis found about 5,300 deaths were avoided in  Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. The study, published Monday in the Journal Nature Sustainability, examined the impact of the closure of 334 coal-fired units between 2005 and 2016. During that same time period, 612 new natural-gas-fired units were brought online.The analysis found that when coal plants closed, air pollution including particulate matter, ozone and other toxic substances decreased in nearby communities, reducing deaths from respiratory diseases, stroke and heart disease. “We see that on average, across the country, the mortality rate, the number of people dying in a given population size goes down by about one percent when a unit shuts down,” said Jennifer Burney, an associate professor at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and author of the study.

Fossil Fuel Knocks the Wind Out of Renewable Energy Movement in Ohio - With no shortage of wide-open land, Ohio is ripe for a transition to renewable energy, but instead the state has become a hotbed for corporate-driven attacks on wind energy. As a result of increasingly restrictive laws on renewables, the state was recently ranked second to last among U.S. states in its renewable energy generation, with only 2.3 percent of its energy generated through renewable sources. A closer look at the workings of the anti-wind-energy movement in Ohio offers a glimpse of the dynamics that are also at work to suppress wind energy generation elsewhere throughout the country. One of the most recent attacks on wind energy in Ohio came in July, when the Ohio state legislature passed a bill that essentially neutralized renewable energy standards and bailed out dying coal plants, all under the guise of maintaining a free market and helping ratepayers. The bill, HB 6, was called the “worst energy bill of the 21st century” by Vox and the worst clean energy rollback in the nation by Leah Stokes, writing forThe Guardian. It sets a low renewable energy standard that most utilities have already met, and will end up costing ratepayers more in the long run. “Ohio is a hotbed of attacks on renewable energy and has been for quite a few years,” says Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager at the Energy and Policy Institute. Following a bipartisan clean energy standard passed in the state legislature in 2008, fossil fuel producers, utilities like FirstEnergy and outside groups like ALEC lobbied to push back against renewables, according to Anderson; in the ensuing years, Republicans continually tried to repeal and succeeded in stalling the clean energy mandate.  From a climate and local health standpoint, according to a Harvard study published in October, the Midwest has the most to gain from renewables; and, according to a 2018study done by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, increasing energy efficiency by 15 percent nationwide would save Ohio $1.6 billion in health impacts in one year.  Nevertheless, wind energy in particular has fierce rivals in the state. In 2014, state legislators snuck a rule into a budget bill that mandated what wind energy manufacturers say are among the strictest setback laws in the country; the American Wind Energy Association released a report in 2017 saying that the state had missed out on nearly $1.6 billion from already approved projects that were thrown into limbo or cancelled due to the setback law.

 Can Ohio's electricity market be competitive again? -- Americans keep hearing bold claims about wind and solar power. Advocates say wind and solar are growing more affordable, and are cheaper than natural gas or coal. But much of that advantage actually comes from significant taxpayer support. And without such hefty subsidies, a different picture emerges. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — which regulates the sale of electricity in the U.S. — recently decided to address the way that wind and solar are impacting America’s power sector. It expanded something called the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR). And it did so in the largest electricity market in the nation — PJM Interconnection, which serves 65 million customers in 13 states, including Ohio. FERC’s decision tells us a lot about the state of electricity in the U.S. The agency acted because it believes that the same subsidies that once helped to launch the wind and solar boom are now upending and overwhelming the nation’s electricity markets. Why did FERC act? Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia follow “renewable portfolio standards” that mandate a certain percentage of their electricity must come from renewable sources. These requirements mean that taxpayer money is used to reduce the cost of electricity from wind and solar systems. While these subsidies were once marginal, they’ve now snowballed—and have pushed large, baseload power plants out of the marketplace. Key coal plants, for example, have been going out of business in the face of artificially low wind and solar prices. Some cheer this, but it’s now driving a potential grid reliability problem. Essentially, there are competing considerations. Wind and solar only generate electricity under ideal weather conditions. And natural gas power plants depend on continuous delivery of natural gas across thousands of miles of pipelines. Conversely, coal plants are uniquely able to store months of fuel on site, and to continuously generate 24/7 electricity for millions of customers. Yet they’re now disappearing from the grid.  Losing reliable baseload power plants means eliminating a balanced mix of on-demand fuel sources. Currently, when natural gas prices rise, for example, utilities ramp up coal generation to reduce the financial pressure on consumers. But as America’s coal fleet disappears, that option is disappearing, too.

Ohio utility customers pay for more than power. So what’s on an electric bill? | Energy News Network -- With different utilities serving specific parts of the state, Ohioans’ electric bills and the tariffs that govern them vary. But they all have one thing in common: They’re hard for many people to understand. And the bills don’t clearly detail all charges to consumers. Here’s a guide to what all the small print says — and what it doesn’t say — on a sample bill for a residential customer of FirstEnergy’s Illuminating Company. Bills from other utilities will vary. However, many of the concepts will be similar. Bills will also jump by a few dollars each month after utilities implement a new law,House Bill 6, meant to bail out two of FirstEnergy’s nuclear plants and two 1950s-era coal plants. It will also scale back the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards.

Natural gas company explains need for pipeline - While officials are objecting to a proposed gas line coming through Union County, Columbia Gas of Ohio says its plan meets the needs of the region. In December, Columbia Gas submitted a Letter of Notification, indicating it intended to construct a natural gas pipeline, known as the Marysville Connector. The 4.78-mile line would begin at Watkins-California Road, between U.S. 42 and Derio Road, and ending on Industrial Parkway near Veyance Technologies. “The Project will provide natural gas service to new industries and residential development along the route,” according to the letter. County officials say they are not opposed to the plan, but believe it does not go far enough to help customers outside of Marysville. If approved, Columbia Gas says it intends to begin the pipeline construction on Feb. 21, 2022, and have the project completed by the end of that year. Eric Hardgrove, manager for communications and community relations at Columbia Gas of Ohio, said the company looked at 30-year growth trends and predictions for the region. “We have done the studies and looked at a number of options,” Hardgrove said. “We have looked at how we can best meet the needs and we believe this plan will meet the needs of our current customers as well as future growth.”

Fracking explosion detailed - The Columbus Dispatch - For 20 days after workers lost control of a horizontal gas well in Belmont County, a raging fire released harmful methane emissions into the air around the eastern Ohio community. State records also show that during the February 2018 incident, fluid from the ExxonMobil-owned Schnegg well entered a tributary of Captina Creek, and residents as far as a mile away were evacuated.It was unknown how much natural gas was released, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said.However, a team of Dutch and American scientists were able to detect the blowout using an orbiting satellite to measure methane.It turns out there were 120 tons of methane released per hour. Overall, the blowout released an estimated 60,000 tons of methane, according to the researchers.That’s more methane than some countries release in a year.“In fact, annual oil and gas emissions from only three of the European Union’s 15 countries, plus Switzerland and Norway, are estimated to be higher than that of the blowout,” said Steven Hamburg, a chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund.Hamburg was one of several scientists who published the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The emissions in Belmont County were twice the peak emission rate of the Aliso Canyon event in California in 2015 — one of the worst natural gas leaks in the country.The methane emissions from the Belmont County blowout were a quarter of the reported annual methane emissions from the oil and gas sector for the entire state of Ohio. Methane is often described as a greenhouse gas and is considered a significant contributor to climate change. When there’s a leak, it absorbs the sun’s heat 80 times more readily than carbon dioxide and contributes to warming the atmosphere. Ohio’s temperatures, which are already warming, are expected to continue to rise by four to six degrees by mid-century if emissions aren’t lowered.

Low natural gas prices hurting producers - Booming natural gas production in eastern Ohio and other parts of Appalachia has been great for consumers and businesses. It’s a different story for oil and gas companies operating in the region, as they struggle to turn a profit because soaring gas production has crimped prices. Just last summer, seven large producers that operate in the region spent $500 billion more on drilling than they earned in selling oil and gas, according to a recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Other companies not included in the report also have struggled. The result: Producers are scaling back drilling, writing down the value of their investments and cutting workers. “It’s hard to see where this is going except more bankruptcies and debt defaults,” said Kathy Hipple, one of the institute analysts who prepared the report. Because of low natural gas prices, Chevron, for example, announced last month it will reduce funding for various gas-related projects, including in the Appalachian shale region, and take a noncash accounting charge of $10 billion to $11 billion to reflect lower gas prices. More than half of that charge is tied to Appalachian shale. Other producers are expected to wipe billion of dollars off the value of natural gas assets across the country in coming months because of gas prices hovering around 25-year lows, Reuters reported last month. Low prices over the long term would be a drag on the economy in Ohio, where production in the Utica and Marcellus shale regions in the eastern part of the state has taken off over the past several years. “Low prices are obviously very good for the downstream business for

Pa. shale gas fee revenue projected to drop 21% on low gas prices - Last year’s low natural gas prices are to blame for an expected $53.6 million drop in the amount of impact fees Pennsylvania will collect from shale gas companies this year, the state’s Independent Fiscal Office said. Pennsylvania is projected to raise $198.2 million for the calendar year from fees assessed on wells drawing gas from the state’s Marcellus and Utica shales, the office reported Thursday. Last year, the state collected a record $251.8 million. The 21% drop in expected fees is being driven by gas prices that averaged $2.63 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange in 2019 — the lowest level in three years. At that price, gas companies will have to pay $5,000 less for each horizontal well than they did last year. Impact fees also decrease as wells age, although new wells offset that decline. The 616 wells that were drilled in 2019, which will be subject to the fee for the first time, will each pay $45,700, the fiscal office said. The 7,800 wells that are four years old or older will each pay $15,200. The slump in fees was not unexpected. Growing gas production has outpaced demand, driving prices lower, with gas companies, shareholders and royalty owners feeling the squeeze. Last year’s record total was also boosted by a court decision in favor of the state that limited which low-producing wells do not have to pay the fees. Companies paid $9 million in overdue fees last year for wells they previously claimed to be exempt. Impact fees are paid by gas companies in April and distributed in July. Counties and municipalities that get payments for hosting shale wells will split a smaller pot of money, expected to be $108 million. Impact fee revenue is also allocated to state environmental, infrastructure, emergency management and housing programs.

DEP issues $30.6 million fine after 2018 landslide causes pipeline to rupture, catch fire— A 2018 fire that burned acres of forest, a single-family home, a barn and multiple vehicles was sparked by gas that ignited from a pipeline that had ruptured, according to emergency officials. A landslide caused the pipeline to break open, and now the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has fined the owner $30.6 million for the landslide, explosion and fire.On Sept. 10, 2018, the explosion, which occurred in a line owned and operated by ETC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, led to the evacuation of people from 25 to 30 homes. Power was knocked out to the area after six high-voltage transmission towers collapsed, and schools were closed. The 24-inch gas pipeline was buried about 3 feet below the surface. The fire eventually burned itself out after an automated system shut down valves on the pipeline.  DEP officials said their investigation found ETC failed to stabilize “a number of areas along the pipeline resulting in additional slides," had failed to address stormwater runoff, and that the company “illegally impacted” streams and wetlands along the pipeline. The state agency said the money from the fine will go toward oversight of the oil and gas industry and projects improving Pennsylvania’s waterways. “Energy Transfer Partners has shown, time and again, that it prioritizes profits above the safety and well-being of Pennsylvania’s residents and the environment. Even before the announcement of this unprecedented civil penalty regarding the Revolution Pipeline, Energy Transfer had already incurred nearly 100 violations and more than $13 million in fines associated with its Mariner East 2 pipeline. This company has shown no respect for Pennsylvania’s laws or its people, and PennFuture applauds the DEP for holding this bad actor accountable for its environmental degradation and repeated violations.”

EXCLUSIVE: Family Believes Mariner East Pipeline Construction Led To Water Being Contaminated With Chemicals Found In Jet Fuel – (CBS) — What’s in the water? That’s what a Delaware County family wants to know after a problem turned their daughter’s bath water brown. An Edgmont Township homeowner says she fears their water system has been contaminated by disturbances from construction of the Mariner East Pipeline. Eyewitness News spoke exclusively with the family on Monday. This photo captures what Erica Tarr says has been a nightmare. It shows her 2-year-old daughter in what she quickly realized was a bathtub full of dirty water. “One day the water turned brown-orange-tinged while she was in the tub,” Tarr said. Not only was the tap water alarming, it wasn’t supposed to be happening again for this Glen Mills family. Tarr, a pediatric nurse, says she posted the photo on Facebook in a moment of anger and frustration. They had been living with contaminated water, according to tests, for months. “It worsened, really bad to the point that it smelled and tasted like gasoline. Some days it smelled like nail polish,” she said. Tens of thousands of dollars later, a complex filtration system was installed. A second well was even drilled. Even with all the equipment and remedies, the water in the bathtub suddenly looked discolored again. It wasn’t long before that well showed serious signs of contamination, including volatile compounds found in petroleum products, like jet fuel.

In wake of pipeline settlement, Dinniman says DEP fails to manage pipeline projects  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has fined a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners more than $30 million, but appears to have green-lit resumption of construction on various ETP pipeline projects including Mariner East II — leaving one local state legislator, state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19), expressing anger at the state’s inability to manage pipeline projects and protect the safety of Chester County residents. DEP spokespeople announced Friday that it has issued a $30.6 million civil penalty to ETC Northeast Pipeline (ETC), a subsidiary of ETP, for violations related to the 2018 Revolution Pipeline explosion and fire. The penalty is one of the largest civil penalties collected in a single settlement, according to DEP. “ETC’s lack of oversight during construction of the Revolution Pipeline and their failure to comply with DEP’s October 2018 compliance order demanded serious accountability. Their inaction led directly to this unprecedented civil penalty,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement. “DEP is committed to holding permittees accountable for permit compliance and will continue to provide active and stringent oversight over the construction of their projects. Permittees are obligated to ensure that their projects are constructed without incident and in full compliance with permits. If a permittee fails to do so, they will be held accountable.” But Dinniman made it clear he is not buying it, saying DEP does not and cannot properly inspect and supervise pipelines currently under construction. “No amount of money, no matter how large, addresses the fundamental and ongoing problem with pipeline construction and siting in Pennsylvania and that is the complete lack of oversight and accountability,” Dinniman said in a statement, Friday. “There’s no independent inspection of pipeline construction. There’s no regulation of pipeline placement or siting. And there is no agency that is either willing or able to work to ensure pipeline construction and safety standards. Neither the DEP nor the PUC appears to want to get involved until something goes drastically wrong.

Lawmakers want pipeline opponents to be heard - State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, and state Sen. Katie Muth are taking steps this week to ensure that residents affected by a proposed route modification to the Mariner East Pipeline in Upper Uwchlan Township have every opportunity to make their complaints heard. In the Dec. 14 PA Bulletin, the Department of Environmental Protection published notice of a 30-day public comment period concerning Energy Transfer/Sunoco's proposed permit revisions for portions of the Mariner East Pipeline, including a segment along Meadow Creek Lane in Upper Uwchlan Township.On Jan. 3, DEP lifted a statewide permit bar after reaching a Consent Order and Agreement with ETC Northeast Pipeline, the Energy Transfer subsidiary responsible for the 2018 explosion in Beaver County that leveled a house and barn. Lifting the permit bar, which had been in place since February 2019, clears the way for permit approvals and new pipeline drilling and construction. ET/Sunoco is liable for a $30 million fine on the Revolution Pipeline. The planned and 98 percent complete Sunoco Mariner East Pipeline stretches 350 across the state. It runs 21 miles across high density portions of of Chester and 11 mile of Delaware counties. Residents have fought the pipeline during dozens of rallies and several residents have been arrested. “We knew it was inevitable that the permit bar would be lifted at some point,” Otten said. “It’s unfortunate that our lack of regulatory oversight has allowed this bad actor to continue to damage property, put people’s lives at risk, and impact the health and safety of Pennsylvania residents across the state.” The proposed route modification in Upper Uwchlan would bring the pipeline down the middle of Meadow Creek Lane, obstructing residents’ access to their driveways and homes during construction and raising concerns about impacts on ground water and public safety both during construction and once the pipeline is in operation. The public comment period, initially scheduled to close on Jan. 13, was extended at Otten’s request. Comments will now be accepted until Jan. 28.

Casey introduces legislation for chemical disclosure -- Tuesday, January 7, 2020 -- Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is backing legislation to force natural gas companies to disclose chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

Report: Pittsburgh's fracking industry shed 400 jobs in 2019; More could be on the way for 2020  - The shale tax is Governor Wolf’s white whale. He’s been seeking one since taking office in 2015. He got close in 2017, when the GOP Senate included it in a revenue package that the House promptly sunk. The severance tax component of Restore PA ran into opposition from anti-tax Republicans and progressives who didn’t like the reliance on fossil fuels. And some reporting last week by Pittsburgh City Paper’s Ryan Deto may have made it that much harder for Wolf to argue the case for a tax to legislative Republicans and Democratic allies in western Pennsylvania who are concerned about hometown job growth. As Deto writes, Pittsburgh’s fracking industry cut 400 jobs in 2019. And there’s every reason to think that more reductions might be on the way on 2020. More, from Deto:“These job cuts have been blamed on an economic slowdown within the natural gas industry. According to Washington County’s Observer-Reporter, the number of drilling rigs operating in Pennsylvania has dropped from 47 to 24.“Analysts have noted that there is currently an oversupply of natural gas, meaning that more natural gas is being produced than demand requires, which leads to price drops. The prices have been dropping for the last four years, and the Wall Street Journal reported today that the slide is continuing into 2020.“Andy Brogan, head of the oil and gas global sector at accounting giant EY, recently told the Pittsburgh Business Times he doesn’t expect that slide to turnaround immediately but says it could bounce back.”And right there, friends, in three tidy paragraphs, is reinforcement for the arguments that severance tax opponents have been making for a decade-plus. Namely, that the industry is butterfly-wing fragile and that an extraction levy would almost certainly be a job-killer when gas prices are already at remarkable lows.As Deto writes, some of the Pittsburgh region’s biggest players: EQT, CNX and Range Resources, all cut positions, with the biggest share coming from EQT at 300 jobs. Industry giant Chevron announced in December that it planned to pull out of the Pittsburgh region entirely, leaving 400 jobs in doubt, the Post-Gazette reported at the time.

Oil and gas industry, leaning on Pittsburgh region, punches back against fracking ban in messaging campaign  - The American Petroleum Institute used its annual policy event here to make clear it would punch back against calls for nationwide bans on fracking proposed by leading Democratic presidential candidates. The Pittsburgh region was among seven areas of the country that the industry trade association highlighted as places energy jobs are embedded into the fabric of the local economy. A ban on the drilling technique, an API report estimated, would mean 7.3 million lost jobs. “Here’s a glimpse at that vision: Millions of jobs lost, a spike in household energy costs, a manufacturing downturn, less energy security in the short run,” said Mike Sommers, the association’s president and CEO. “A fracking ban in America would quickly invite a global recession.” Mr. Sommers, in a conference call with reporters, said oil and gas companies have gradually lowered emissions, all while making the United States the top producer of oil and gas in the world. Energy independence has been the goal of the last seven American presidents, he pointed out. Mr. Sommers called fracking — which over the past two decades has unlocked pools of natural gas in Pennsylvania previously trapped by shale rock — “one of the most important environmental achievements in this country.” Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, and Pennsylvania’s shale drilling boom pushed down the cost of natural gas enough to replace coal as the country’s primary source of power generation. “We are stepping up to the plate to address the issue of climate change,” he said, by supporting “smart regulation” and laws to encourage carbon capture and storage technologies. Yet the group has pushed back against climate policies, drawing criticism from environmental advocates. The industry successfully pressed for a relaxation of Obama-era federal methane rules, which aimed to require natural gas operators to fix methane leaks and cut down on flaring. Methane is a significantly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

For sale: 1,300 acres in South Philly. Next 7 days could decide the fate of bankrupt refinery. - The next seven days could determine the fate of the bankrupt Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery complex, which shut down following a catastrophic June 21 fire and explosion. Final bids from potential buyers of the refinery’s assets are due at noon on Friday. The bids will trigger a rapid series of events that could conclude a week later, on Jan. 17, with an auction conducted at a law office in New York. The 1,300-acre property, which is larger than all of Center City, could be sold to one buyer, or broken up into pieces and sold to several buyers. The site has been used for petroleum refining for more than 150 years. But the refinery’s shutdown, and its continued struggles with financial viability as a conventional oil processing plant, have also raised hopes among urban planners, environmentalists, and the refinery’s neighbors that a new, cleaner use can be found for a large property at the city’s southern gateway. “The site could be used for “just about anything,” though much depends upon remediation of more than a century of soil contamination. Still, because of the property’s installed infrastructure — one of two refineries in the complex was undamaged by the fire — and its transportation links to rail, road, water, and pipelines, many observers believe that the logical buyer would continue to use some of the land for energy production or fuel storage. Even if a new owner continues refining oil on the site, advocates for a clean-energy future view the bankruptcy process as part of a longer, inevitable transition as the nation shifts from fossil fuels.

Poughkeepsie common council opposes Danskammer - – The Poughkeepsie Common Council adopted its first resolution since being sworn in last week by opposing the construction of the new Danskammer power plant in the Town of Newburgh. In a 6-1 vote Monday night with two members absent, the council passed a non-binding memorialization asking the state to prohibit the proposed build-out of the new Danskammer. The project seeks to replace an antiquated power generation plant with a modern facility.   The new Danskammer plant is poised to use natural gas derived from the controversial “fracking” process which has been outlawed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.  The governor has prohibited the practice of fracking for fossil fuels in New York but has stopped short of prohibiting new power plants from using gas collected via fracking in other states. 

FERC Approves Eastern Shore Natural Gas Company Expansion - Chesapeake Utilities Corporation (NYSE: CPK) announced today that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued an order approving the Company's proposed Del-Mar Energy Pathway Project (Docket No. CP18-548-000). The order, which was applied for in September of 2018 by Eastern Shore Natural Gas Company, Chesapeake Utilities' interstate natural gas transmission subsidiary, approves the construction and operation of new infrastructure facilities in Kent and Sussex counties in Delaware, and Wicomico and Somerset counties in Maryland.The project will add approximately 12 miles of natural gas infrastructure in Kent and Sussex counties and nearly seven miles of infrastructure in Wicomico and Somerset counties. Construction of the Del-Mar Energy Pathway Project is expected to commence within the first quarter of 2020. The estimated completion date will be the fourth quarter of 2021.Once in service, the new natural gas infrastructure will provide approximately 11.8 million cubic feet per day of additional natural gas firm transportation service and 2.5 million cubic feet of off-peak transportation service to Chesapeake Utilities' natural gas distribution subsidiaries on the Delmarva Peninsula and one industrial customer.The estimated cost of the project is approximately $37 million. The anticipated annual gross margin for the Del-Mar Energy Pathway Project is $5.1 million.

 Enviros to Fight WV Bill to Fund Natural Gas Storage Hub -- One of the first bills introduced in West Virginia's 2020 legislative session, which opened Wednesday, is by Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw to create a state investment fund to kickstart new businesses.But environmental groups in the state oppose the bill because the fund's first project would be a giant underground natural gas storage plant called the Appalachian Storage Hub, according to Jim Kotcon, political chair of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.Kotcon says the hub would store and transport natural gas liquids produced from fracking, such as ethane, which is used in making plastics.  “This would dramatically expand the use of fossil fuels and, in particular, natural gas drilling in West Virginia," he points out. "And we need to be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, not increasing it."The Appalachian Storage Hub has support from the state's congressional delegations and Gov. Jim Justice, who says it will bring much needed jobs to the depressed Ohio Valley region and could turn West Virginia into a national economic center for the natural gas and plastics industries. In the works for nearly a decade, the mammoth project is expected to cost as much as $10 billion for a plant that can hold 10 million barrels of natural gas liquid byproducts.Kotcon says the nation has similar natural gas industrial centers, including one along the Mississippi River in Louisiana between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. He says that facility has emitted so much air and water pollution over the years that the surrounding area is called Cancer Valley. "West Virginia already has very high cancer rates, and we have not seen anything to suggest that our industry would develop in any way safer than what's already being done elsewhere," he states.

Federal court overturns Union Hill compressor station permit - Calling Virginia’s review of a controversial compressor station in the historic Buckingham County freedmen’s community of Union Hill “arbitrary and capricious,” a federal court on Tuesday stripped the facility of its permit and ordered the State Air Pollution Control Board to reconsider the case. The decision is the latest blow to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline being developed by a consortium of companies led by Dominion Energy. The proposed Union Hill station is one of three compressor facilities planned along the 600-mile route from West Virginia to North Carolina. “It’s the eighth permit that this pipeline has lost, either in federal court of having been withdrawn by a federal agency,” said Southern Environmental Law Center attorney David Neal, who represented the Friends of Buckingham group in opposition to the facility. One such permit revocation has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear the case in February. Wednesday’s ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, penned by Judge Stephanie Thacker and joined by Chief Judge Roger Gregory and Judge James Wynn, offered harsh criticisms of both the Department of Environmental Quality and the air board, which issued a permit for the compressor station last year. The judges condemned the agency and the board for their failure both to consider the use of electric motors rather than gas-fired turbines at the proposed station and to evaluate the environmental justice impacts of the facility. Using motors, station opponents argued, “would eliminate almost all” of the site’s air pollution. According to the ACP’s permit application, 83 percent of the expected nitrogen oxide emissions and 95 percent of its particulate matter emissions would be due to its use of gas turbines.

'Important Victory' for Historic Black Community Over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline - A historic African American community in Virginia has dealt another blow to the embattled Atlantic Coast Pipeline.A federal court threw out a permit Tuesday that the pipeline's owners needed to build a natural gascompressor station in Union Hill, a community founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. In doing so, the judges sided with the community and their lawyers, who argued that the compressor would disproportionately harm the health of the mostly African American residents who would live near the station, The Associated Press reported."Five years ago, Dominion told us that there was going to be a compressor station in Union Hill and there was nothing we could do about it. That's not fair, and it's not American. This is a win for a group of citizens who were committed to protecting their community and never ever gave up," Chad Oba, a Union Hill resident and president of Friends of Buckingham, a community group that fought the pipeline, told The Hill. "Today we showed that our community, our community's history, and our community's future matters more than a pipeline."Dominion Energy, the pipeline's lead developer, argued that the compressor station would have fewer emissions and more air quality monitoring than any other station in the U.S., according to The Associated Press. The State Air Pollution Control Board accepted that argument when it granted the permit.The board's Deputy Solicitor General Martine Cicconi said during a hearing in October that the board "absolutely grappled" with environmental justice issues when making the decision, but granted the permit because the station's emissions would be much lower than other compressor stations in Virginia and would meet national air quality standards. However, the three judges from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected those arguments, ruling that the state did not consider the "unequal treatment" of people living near the compressor site. They also ruled that the state failed to consider zero-emission alternatives such as electric turbines.

Enbridge retrieves ½ of mechanical debris on Line 5 pipeline — but plans to leave the remainder in lakebed ⋆ Last month, Canadian oil pipeline company Enbridge released a statement announcing its successful retrieval of a 45-foot steel borehole rod segment that had been lost to the Straits of Mackinac in September.  Left unsaid was the detail that the recovered segment was only about half of the original rod length, meaning that a steel rod segment measuring at least 40 feet long remains embedded in the lakebed, which Enbridge does not have plans to retrieve.  “It originally was one long piece of drill rod. We had to cut it at the mudline and we retrieved the 45-foot section that was above the lakebed and the section that was stuck below the lakebed cannot be retrieved,” Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said in an email on Monday. The drill rod became stuck on Sept. 12, when geological work for the company’s planned Line 5 tunnel project resulted in an equipment collapse. The incident was not reported to Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) until mid-November. Enbridge had originally planned to wait until the spring to retrieve the steel rod from the Straits, citing safety concerns. But “favorable weather conditions at the Straits in recent weeks prevented the water from icing over, providing Enbridge a window of opportunity to complete this work,” according to a Dec. 30 statement from the company. The statement announced that the rod had been successfully retrieved on the evening of Dec. 28.  The statement also noted that when Enbridge’s remote underwater vehicle retrieved the 45-foot segment, it was discovered that it “had moved from its original position near the pipeline and was found resting on the west leg of the [Line 5] pipeline.” Nonetheless, Enbridge has continued to deny that the debris ever posed any safety or environmental risk to Line 5 and the Straits of Mackinac.

Editorial: Mother Nature is sending a message on Line 5 -  - Mother Nature’s statements often are directions, not suggestions. They’re written in wind, waves, rain and clouds. And not heeding her guidance often ends in disaster. That’s why last week’s news from the Straits of Mackinac was at once unsurprising and alarming. Officials with Michigan’s department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy told reporters they were taken aback by the scene workers found during recent efforts to remove debris left behind on the lakebed by a summertime core sampling work by Enbridge Energy. The company used a remotely-operated vehicle last weekend to retrieve a 45-foot-long section of steel rod it dropped during earlier work to drill core samples from the bedrock beneath the Straits.The previous work was part of Enbridge’s effort to construct a tunnel beneath the Straits to house its proposed new Line 5 pipeline.The retrieval effort didn’t find a leak in the 66-year-old, twin Line 5 oil pipelines — most people’s biggest fear.No, instead it found an explicit statement from Mother Nature, a not-so-subtle piece of advice: stop underestimating the power of nature. “We just didn’t see it as a real urgency that it get out of there in an instantaneous or super-urgent manner,” he told LaFond. “In hindsight, (Enbridge) reported upon removal that that rod had migrated 150 feet and was leaning against the west leg of the pipeline. I don’t think anybody expected that such a low-profile, heavy, probably 250 pound piece of steel would have migrated 150 feet.” We probably shouldn’t be surprised at the overwhelming power of the Great Lakes, especially in an area where currents are notoriously strong. Such clear evidence also lends credence to an independent technical report authored in 2017 by retired Dow Chemical engineer Ed Timm. In his analysis, Timm supposed that bends in the twin Line 5 pipes, and long unsupported spans could be attributed to the force of strong currents that sweep through the lakebed where it pinches between the peninsulas.

Gulf of Mexico Hits Record Daily Production - The U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM) made history in August 2019 as it exceeded oil production of 2 million barrels per day (MMbopd), according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). The record average daily production from the GOM comes after the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) experienced a record-setting 2018. This included oil production of more than 640 million barrels in federal waters. Production increases in 2019 paved the way for $2.34 billion more offshore royalty revenue for the Federal Treasury. In addition, GOM production will continue to set records through 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “This is incredible news for the nation,” said BSEE director Scott Angelle. “Under the Trump administration, BSEE is stressing safety and environmental sustainability while at the same time promoting robust energy production offshore, and it’s paying off.”

LNG, Plastics and Other Gas Industry Plans Would Add Climate Pollution Equal to 50 New Coal Plants – This week, plans to build one of the world’s largest plastics and petrochemical plants in St. James Parish, Lousiana — the heart of the state’s notorious Cancer Alley — inched forward as Louisiana approved air quality permits that could allow the plant to release 13.6 million tons per year of greenhouse gases — equal to three coal-fired power plants — and a host of other pollutants.The St. James plant would be the single most polluting facility of 157 planned new or expanding refineries, liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects, and petrochemical plants that have sought or obtained air pollution permits in the U.S., according to a report published today by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).Within the next five years, these plants could create as much as 227 million tons of additional climate-changing greenhouse gas pollution, bringing the industry’s cumulative annual emissions to 990.5 million tons by 2025. Those planned facilities create an impact equal to adding 50 new coal-fired power plants to the U.S. electrical grid, the report concludes.“The U.S. is already struggling to meet climate commitments and transition to a low-carbon future,” Courtney Bernhardt, Research Director at the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement accompanying the report. “This analysis shows that we’re heading in the wrong direction and really need to slow emissions growth from the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries.” In addition to the climate impacts, the planned projects could have significant impacts on public health. “According to their permit documents, the facilities could emit every year up to 119,000 tons of volatile organic compounds, which are a component of smog; 11,100 tons of fine particles that contribute to asthma and heart attacks; 8,800 tons of sulfur dioxide, which damages the lungs; and 47,200 tons of nitrogen oxides, which feed fish-killing ‘dead zones’ in waterways,” EIP wrote.In 2019, actual coal-fired power plants were retired at a record-setting rate. Power generation in the U.S. from coal dropped 18 percent from 2018 to 2019, according to estimates released January 7 from the Rhodium Group. All told, the power sector reduced its carbon emissions by 150 million metric tons this past year. But the planned oil and gas expansion described in EIP’s report would move even more rapidly, undercutting the impacts of the power sector’s transition away from coal. A massive American oil and gas production boom, unleashed by fracking, has hit right as the impacts of climate change have become increasingly clear.

Louisiana appeals court hears arguments in pipeline lawsuit (AP) — A Louisiana appeal court heard arguments Wednesday on a lawsuit challenging state laws that let oil pipeline operators take private land for construction. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles could take weeks or months to decide the case involving the 162-mile-long (260-kilometer) Bayou Bridge Pipeline, attorney Pamela Spees of the Center for Constitutional Rights said after the hearing. The pipeline began operating in March. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that oil companies have been granted power of eminent domain. ... They don’t have to go through the courts” to take private property for pipelines in Louisiana, Spees said in a news conference livestreamed by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental nonprofit. The Center for Constitutional Rights represents three owners of land in St. Martin Parish. Attorneys for Energy Transport Partners, the partnership which built the pipeline, said in their brief that pipeline opponents had failed to come up with any previous federal or state court rulings to back up their contention that the law is unconstitutional. But the landowners also argue that Judge Keith Comeaux made errors before ruling in May that Energy Transport Partners trespassed on the land, but that construction was legal. Energy Transport Partners released a brief statement Tuesday saying Wednesday’s hearing was part of the eminent domain process and the pipeline “has been safely operating since March of 2019.” Siblings Katherine and Peter Aaslestad and Theda Larson Wright, who is not related to the Aaslestads, are among nearly 900 owners of the 38-acre (15-hectare) tract in St. Martin Parish, pipeline attorneys said. Comeaux awarded them $150 each, finding that the land was seized for a legitimate public purpose and was of little value to the three out-of-state owners. “As a human, it’s really important to me that the wetlands are preserved,” Katherine Aaslestad said during the news conference. She said she grew up in Louisiana, though she now teaches history at West Virginia University.

Train 2 at Gulf Coast export terminal now producing LNG - The second liquefaction train at a Louisiana Gulf Coast liquefied natural gas facility is now producing LNG for future export to global power generation markets. EPC partners McDermott International and Chiyoda International announced that Train 2 of the Cameron LNG project in Hackberry, La., is in operation. Train 1 went into operation earlier in 2019. McDermott and Chiyoda have provided the engineering, procurement and construction for the Cameron LNG project since the project’s initial award in 2014. The project includes three liquefaction trains with a projected export of 12 million tonnes per annum of LNG, or approximately 1.7 billion cubic feet per day. Cameron LNG is jointly owned by affiliates of Sempra LNG, Total, Mitsui & Co., Ltd. and Japan LNG Investment, a company jointly owned by Mitsubishi Corp. and Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK). Sempra LNG is a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Corp., which also own utilities San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas.

Saudi Aramco and Sempra Take Step Forward on Port Arthur LNG  -- American utility giant Sempra Energy and Saudi Aramco announced Monday that they have signed an interim agreement for their joint Port Arthur LNG export project, which is currently under development in Jefferson County, Texas. The deal remains subject to final review and authorization on both sides. The firms signed a heads of agreement last May, which calls for Aramco to purchase five million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of liquefied natural gas and make a 25 percent equity investment in the Port Arthur LNG project. The initial phase of the Port Arthur LNG project is fully permitted, and it is expected to include two liquefaction trains, up to three LNG storage tanks and the facilities to export up to 11 mtpa of LNG on a long-term basis. Earlier this year, Sempra LNG initiated the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process for an expansion that would add two additional liquefaction trains, bringing the total export capacity to 22 mtpa. Aramco expects the global demand for LNG to increase by four percent per year, potentially exceeding 500 mtpa by 2035. Natural gas provides a natural complement to Saudi's core oil business; it is the world's most valuable oil company (and the most valuable company of any kind). Port Arthur LNG is one of Sempra's five LNG development projects in North America; the firm ultimately aims to build out the export infrastructure for 45 mtpa. Its Cameron LNG plant in Louisiana is in commercial operation now, and all three liquefaction trains in the first phase of its development should be producing by the end of 2020.

Enterprise exports first ethylene cargo from Morgan's Point - Houston pipeline operator Enterprise Products Partners and British liquefied gas shipping company Navigator Holdings have exported their first cargo of ethylene from their newly completed dock at Morgan's Point. A Liberian-flagged tanker named the Navigator Europa left the Enteprise's docks on Jan. 2 with a 25 million pound shipment of ethylene for the Marubeni Corporation in Japan. The liquefied petroleum gas tanker is currently waiting to move through the Panama Canal before heading to Asia. The cargo marks the first ethylene export shipment for Enteprise and its Morgan's Point facility. “Because of abundant natural gas liquids thanks to the shale revolution, the U.S. is now a global leader in ethylene production, with an unprecedented buildout of mostly ethane crackers along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to local economies,” Enterprise Products Partners CEO Jim Teague said in a statement. Capitalizing on that abundance of natural gas liquids from the Permian Basin of West Texas and other shale plays, Enterprise and Navigator entered into a 50-50 joint venture to build storage terminals and a dock for ethylene exports at Enterprise's terminal in the town of Morgan's Point. Located along the Houston Ship Channel, the Morgan's Point export terminal receives ethylene and other products via pipeline from Enterprise's salt dome storage terminal in Mont Belvieu, a town and natural gas liquids processing hub about 30 miles east of Houston.

Natural Gas Looks Awful Now That It's 2020 - Massive discoveries of natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of the US increased the supply side of the fundamental equation for the energy commodity. At the same time, technological advances in extracting the gas from the crust of the earth, together with a supportive energy policy under the Trump administration caused the cost of production to decline. Meanwhile, replacing coal with natural gas for power generation and the ability to send liquid natural gas around the globe by ocean vessels expanded the demand side of the natural gas market. In 2016, the price of nearby natural gas futures traded in a range from $1.611 to $3.994 per MMBtu. The following year, the trading band was from $2.522 to $3.568. In 2018, volatility returned, and the price was between $2.565 and $4.929 per MMBtu. In the year that ended last Tuesday, the range was from $2.029 to $3.722 per MMBtu.  In 2015, natural gas traded below $2 for the first time since 2012, and the price action in December was a lot like what we witnessed last month.  Natural gas began trading on the NYMEX futures exchange in 1990. In its first decade, the range was from $1.02 to $4.60. From 2000 through 2010, wild volatility took the price from $1.875 to $15.65 per MMBtu. In the decade that just came to a close, the range was narrower, as the energy commodity traded between $1.611 and $6.493. The fourth decade of natural gas futures trading began on Thursday, with the price below $2.20 per MMBtu.  I had gone into the winter season looking for a rally to the $3 per MMBtu level, and I was wrong. It was warm across the United States during the holiday season this year. The demand for heating was well below average. The price of natural gas continued its decent over the past week and fell to a new low. In 2019, the price of the energy commodity fell by over 25.50%. During the fourth quarter, natural gas was over 6% lower during the time of the year when it tends to exhibit price strength.

Natural Gas Futures Rally as ‘Weekend Risk’ Expected From Forecasts - The prospect of a return to something resembling winter temperatures later this month provided enough impetus Friday to lift natural gas futures ahead of another potentially pivotal weekend of weather data. The February Nymex contract picked up 3.6 cents to settle at $2.202/MMBtu; March settled at $2.168, up 2.0 cents.

US working natural gas in underground storage decreases by 44 Bcf: EIA | S&P Global Platts — US working gas stocks fell at rate less than one-third the five-year average last week as NYMEX Henry Hub winter futures remain in the doldrums with more bearish draws likely in the weeks ahead. Storage inventories fell by 44 Bcf to 3.148 Tcf for the week ended January 3, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The pull was less than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 50 Bcf draw. Responses ranged from a draw of 41 Bcf to a draw of 63 Bcf. The withdrawal was much weaker than the 94 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2019, as well as the five-year average draw of 184 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 521 Bcf, or 20%, more than the year-ago level of 2.627 Tcf and 74 Bcf, or 2.4%, more than the five-year average of 3.074 Tcf. The draw was weaker than the 58 Bcf pulled from working gas in storage reported for the week ended December 27. Total demand fell by 3.4 Bcf/d to average 100.9 Bcf/d, after a combined 5.5 Bcf/d drop in the Northeast and Southeast was partly offset by a notable 1 Bcf/d increase in the Rockies, an impressive jump of more than 30% for the relatively low-demand region, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Upstream, supplies were down 0.4 Bcf/d to an average 95.7 Bcf/d. Continuing the theme from the past several weeks, almost all of the change in the supply stack came from Canadian imports, which fell by 0.6 Bcf/d, while onshore production remained rigid, falling by only 42 MMcf/d, or less than 0.05%, week over week. Price weakness is by now seemingly locked-in at the fundamental level, and near-term NYMEX Henry Hub contracts have shown no signs of improving in recent weeks. The balance of winter February-March strip is trading at $2.12/MMBtu during Thursday trading, flat to yesterday's close and flat to a week ago as well. The transition from an inventory deficit to a surplus this week no doubt does little to assuage concerns of a market in oversupply, though. With the first quarter just getting underway, producers are entering the new decade with a considerably more capital-disciplined approach and potentially a primed grip on the lever. A pullback in production growth, or even a decline in supplies outright, could help rebalance the market, and prices have plenty of room to increase. Looking ahead to the week ending January 10, total US demand is on the upswing, currently averaging close to 4.2 Bcf/d higher than the week prior, according to Platts Analytics. Also, lower production in the Northeast and Texas is affecting supplies, which are averaging roughly 400 MMcf/d lower week over week. A forecast by Platts Analytics' supply and demand model calls for a draw of 79 Bcf for the week ending January 10, which would increase the surplus to the five-year average by more than 100 Bcf.

Enbridge withdraws application for Texas COLT offshore crude oil export terminal -  Canadian pipeline operator Enbridge is setting aside plans to build an offshore crude oil export terminal that would have been able to receive supertankers in the Gulf of Mexico just southwest of Houston. In a filing over the holidays with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, or MARAD, Enbridge withdrew the company's permit application to build the Texas Crude Offshore Loading Terminal, or Texas COLT project off the coast of Brazoria County. Enbridge's decision to scrap the Texas COLT project came shortly after the company decided to join forces with Houston pipeline operator Enterprise Products Partners to build the Sea Port Oil Terminal, or SPOT terminal. The United States is currently exporting nearly 3.1 million barrels of crude oil per day. But with several companies vying to build export terminals that support Very Large Crude Carriers, the market can only support one or two of the projects. Known as VLCCs, the supertankers can haul 2 million barrels of crude oil in a single shipment.

Permian Pipeline Competition Heats Up  -- It’s gone from a dearth to a glut of oil pipeline projects competing to serve slowing production growth in the Permian Basin. Five new oil pipelines are set to open in the Permian Basin through 2021, expanding a gap between production and takeaway capacity that’s already forcing companies to cut fees and could mean lower profits and cutthroat competition ahead. Producers in the West Texas and New Mexico oilfield are pumping about 4.72 million barrels a day, according to Rystad Energy AS. That compares with nearly 6 million barrels of pipeline capacity that could rise by about 3.5 million barrels in the next two years as planned new conduits come online. Most of those planned projects were announced when the Permian was posting annual growth rates in excess of 1 million barrels a day. Now, some analysts see yearly growth slowing to as little as 650,000 barrels a day, with older wells producing less and oil companies preparing to curb spending this year to boost investor returns. Competition will heat up particularly among pipeline companies seeking to renew long-term shipper contracts that are set to expire, including those seeking to proceed with new pipeline projects, said Sandy Fielden, director of research for Morningstar Inc. “There is a chance that some of the projects would get canceled or consolidated and that would depend on shipper commitment.” Adding to this, the difference between the price of crude on the coast compared with Midland in the Permian has plummeted in the last year, making it more difficult for shippers to make money after paying the pipeline fees. Operators of legacy pipes in the oil patch already started cutting tariffs last year to retain or lure shippers to keep their systems fully loaded. In August, Energy Transfer Partners LP cut rates for users on portions of their Permian Express system, while Magellan Midstream LP issued incentive rates for large-volume shippers on its Bridgetex pipeline. Epic Pipeline Co LP halved its transportation rate prior to the line coming into service.

Texas oil and gas greenhouse pollution could negate progress on emissions, report says - Oil and gas industry expansions could add as much greenhouse gas pollution as the equivalent of 50 coal plants by 2025 — with much of that increase coming from Texas and Louisiana — at a time when pressure to slow down global warming rises, a new report found.Over the next five years, the industry plans to build or expand 157 plants, in addition to more drilling that could release up to 227 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions — up to 30 percent more more than 2018, according to the Environmental Integrity Project’s new report, “Greenhouse Gases from Oil, Gas, and Petrochemical Production.”Although greenhouse gas emissions in the United States fell about 2 percent last year, mostly as a result of a decrease in coal consumption, that modest progress is being undercut by the expansion in the oil and gas industry, said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that advocates for enforcement of environmental laws. It was founded in 2002 by former Environmental Protection Agency attorneys. “We think this is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and that the amount that’s already here and what is likely to be added into the atmosphere is pretty alarming,” Schaeffer said.Reid Porter, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, said that the industry is improving in controlling emissions. “Industry initiatives, including efforts like The Environmental Partnership,” he said, “underscore the industry’s commitment to leveraging new technologies and innovative practices that reduce emissions and establish clear pathways for continuous environmental improvement.” For its analysis, EIP focused on companies that extract or refine oil and gas, export liquefied natural gas, or manufacture petrochemicals, plastics, or fertilizers. The group based its data on industry reports to the EPA, the Department of Energy’s estimate of future oil and gas production, and from permits that authorize increased emissions from proposed oil, gas, and chemical projects. It doesn’t include smaller projects that aren’t required to obtain permits that limit greenhouse gases.

Study warns of rise in greenhouse gas pollution from oil and gas firms by 2025  Oil, natural gas and petrochemical companies could release about 30 percent more greenhouse gas pollution by 2025 than they did in 2018, according to a new report. Expected growth from these companies could release about 227 million tons of additional greenhouse gas pollution by the end of 2025, with a projected total of 990.5 million tons of emissions, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project. In 2018, the companies reported emitting 764 million tons, the study said. It pointed in particular to possible increases from 157 projects that had not been operating by the end of 2018. It said the projects had the potential to increase emissions by up to 193.8 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. The report called for changes such as stronger emissions monitoring by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and stronger permits by the states and the EPA that “include cost-effective measures to minimize greenhouse gas pollution.” “This glut of oil and gas is fueling growth in industries that release significant amounts of greenhouse gases, such as liquefied natural gas export terminals, plastics manufacturing and other petrochemical production,” the report said. “The U.S. is already struggling to meet climate commitments and transition to a low-carbon future. The industries responsible for driving fossil fuel extraction and production need to be held more fully accountable for their actions and the consequences of those actions,” it concluded. Spokespeople for the EPA did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

Climate Watchdog Warns US Fracking Boom Leading to 30% Rise in Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2025   - Planet-heating pollution from the U.S. oil, gas, and petrochemical industries could rise about 30% by 2025 compared with 2018 because of additional drilling and 157 new or expanded projects "fueled by the fracking boom," an environmental watchdog group warned Wednesday.That estimated emissions increase is equal to "as much greenhouse gas pollution as 50 new coal-fired power plants," the U.S.-based Environmental Integrity Project (EIP)explained in a statement announcing the new analysis.  The EIP report—titled Greenhouse Gases from Oil, Gas, and Petrochemical Production(pdf)—details recent and potential future emissions from U.S. petroleum and natural gas systems, chemical manufacturing, and oil refineries based on data reported to the Environmental Protection Agency, fossil fuel production projections from the Department of Energy, and permits that companies are seeking or have acquired."Facilities in these sectors reported emitting 764 million tons of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide equivalent tons) in 2018, an eight percent increase since 2016," the report says. "Expected growth in oil and gas production and large new and expanded oil, gas, and chemical plants have the potential to add up to 227 million additional tons of g reenhouse gases by 2025.""That could bring total emissions to nearly one billion tons, equivalent to the greenhouse gas output from more than 218 large coal-fired power plants operating around the clock at full capacity," the report continues, noting that the estimates "likely understate emissions growth from the oil, gas, and petrochemical sectors." Aided by both the Obama and Trump administrtions, the expansion of the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries in the United States continues despite repeated and increasingly urgent warnings from experts that the U.S. fracking boom is threathening ecosystems and making people sick.Scientists have called for all countries—but particularly the world's wealthiest—to rapidly phase out fossil fuels in favor of 100% renewable energy to prevent the worst impacts of the global climate emergency.

Oil and gas group launches campaign touting its efforts as good for climate - The American Petroleum Institute (API) is launching an advertising campaign portraying oil and gas energy as a way to combat climate change, despite many environmental groups arguing that the industry hurts such efforts. In a seven-figure ad buy, API will call for “common ground” on the energy debate in 2020 and beyond, according to a spokesperson. The campaign touts oil and gas energy as a way to reduce climate change by lowering carbon levels. “The innovators in America’s natural gas and oil companies have teamed up with the country’s brightest minds and reduced carbon emissions levels to the lowest in a generation,” one ad says. During an event in Washington on Tuesday, API President and CEO Mike Sommers similarly stressed the industry’s commitment to fighting climate change while expressing opposition to a fracking ban endorsed by some Democratic presidential candidates. “The size and scope of the climate challenge requires a tremendous response and it requires innovation from everyone, including our members,” he said. Mitch Jones, the policy director at the environmental group Food & Water Watch, slammed the API campaign as “laughable.” “This is just more of the oil and gas industry’s attempt to greenwash their dirty, climate-change-forcing industry,” Jones told The Hill. “The science says very clearly we have to stop extracting fossil fuels and we have to stop burning fossil fuels and that includes not only coal, but also oil and fracked natural gas,” he added.

How the oil industry has spent billions to control the climate change conversation - America’s oil companies are trying to rebrand themselves as part of the solution to the climate crisis, launching a campaign to counter top Democrats’ proposals to rapidly cut pollution from the power plants and cars that run on the industry’s petroleum and natural gas. They say natural gas – a fossil fuel that emits heat-trapping carbon dioxide – is helping to slow climate disruption by providing an alternative to coal. “We’re taking our message of energy progress to every corner of the country to show just what’s at stake in Washington and in state capitols around the country,” said Mike Sommers, CEO of the oil trade group the American Petroleum Institute (API), on a press call announcing the plan. The campaign is part of a strategy in which the oil industry has funneled billions of dollars into its defense, threatening to outpace climate action advocates, say frustrated environmental activists who are increasingly calling on Democrats in Congress to take a tougher line on the sector. But Sommers depicted a dark future if a presidential candidate who wants to ban fracking for natural gas wins the 2020 election: millions of jobs lost, hundreds of billions of dollars more for household energy costs and a global recession. However, opponents of the industry say the only path to significant US climate action is through legislation and that lawmakers won’t be able to legislate unless they reveal how the industry has controlled the public dialogue around climate change and put a stop to its misdeeds. Geoffrey Supran, a research associate who studies global warming politics at Harvard University, is urging House committees to demand more information from oil companies about their influence over public policy. Supran said obtaining corporate documents is “one of the most important actions Congress could take to address the climate crisis”. Sign up to the Green Light email to get the planet's most important stories Read more “The reality is that as much as we know about fossil fuel interests’ denial and delay, we’ve really found those skeletons in the closet just by looking through a tiny keyhole – everything we know is based on just a few hundred documents scrounged from various sources,” Supran said. “From my perspective every indication of this evidence is once that closet door gets blown open, the skeletons are going to come tumbling out.”

Apache, 2 other Houston oil companies cut nearly 600 jobs - Three Houston oil and gas companies Thursday said they would slash nearly 600 jobs in Texas, a day after Occidental Petroleum began a massive staff reduction. Oil and gas producer Apache Corp. announced the largest of the cutbacks, saying it would eliminate more than 270 positions as it closes its regional San Antonio office. Meanwhile, oil field services company Enterprise Offshore Drilling said it would lay off around 60 workers, part of a planned release of a Gulf of Mexico oil rig. A third company, Valerus Field Solutions, said it’s closing an oil and gas equipment plant in Sealy, west of Houston, in March and eliminating about 250 jobs. Valerus is a division of SNC-Lavalin Group, the Montreal-based company that bought it in 2014. Modest oil prices and spending cuts have contributed to the loss of nearly 5,000 oil and gas jobs in Texas from June through November, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Thursday’s announcements followed news that Occidental began cutting workers in the wake of its August acquisition of The Woodlands-based Anadarko Petroleum. Houston-based Apache said it is reducing its global workforce by up to 15 percent — about 500 jobs — as part of a broader restructuring announced late last year. The job cuts include those eliminated through attrition, but some of the San Antonio jobs will be moved to Houston or other offices, an Apache spokesman said. The San Antonio closing and the 272 job cuts will be finalized in early March, according to a letter the company filed with the Texas Workforce Commission. Apache had a difficult 2019, reporting a larger-than-expected $170 million loss in the third quarter. Its stock price plunged more than 50 percent from late 2018 through a recent December low. The stock rebounded this week with the company’s discovery of oil off the coast of Suriname in South America. The stock fell nearly $1 early Thursday before rebounding to close down just 13 cents at $32.60 per share. The company expects to save $150 million per year in its reorganization. In addition, Apache aims to slash capital spending this year by up to 20 percent — a cutback of $250 million to $500 million.

Rick Perry Rejoins Pipeline Company After He Steps Down From Trump Admin Energy Department - Former Trump administration Energy Sec. Rick Perry, who resigned from his cabinet-level post effective last month, has joined the board of directors of the general partner of Energy Transfer LP, according to a filingmade today with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Energy Transfer. Before joining the Trump administration, Perry had served on the board of Energy Transfer, the pipeline company behind controversial projects including Dakota Access, Bayou Bridge, and Mariner East, but resigned to become Secretary of the Department of Energy. On January 1, 2020, Perry was appointed as a director of LE GP, LLC, the general partner of Energy Transfer LP, according to today's SEC filing, made after the market closed. ("Energy Transfer is structured as a master limited partnership," Bloomberg reports.)  The news comes on the same day that Pennsylvania regulators announced a record $30.6 million fine for Energy Transfer over an explosion of the company's Revolution pipeline. State regulators said they would resume permitting for the firm's Mariner East project. Energy Transfer is currently seeking to roughly double the flow of fossil fuels along its Dakota Access project, raising the pipeline's capacity to 1.1 million barrels a day, up from the 560,000 barrels of oil currently flowing through the Dakota Access system. Perry first joined the board of the company, then known as Energy Transfer Partners, in February 2015, as he was facing state-level felony charges, dismissed a year later, for abuse of power during his term as Governor of Texas. In 2017, after being chosen by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the Department of Energy, Perry said that he regretted his previous statements about eliminating the very department he would go on to lead. During his tenure in the Trump administration, Perry sent a proposed rule to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to speed the approval of a proposal which would ensure that nuclear and coal plants received compensation for the "resilience" they give to the power grid, The Washington Examiner reported.  The Trump administration has come under fire over revolving door concerns before — often involving the hiring of former corporate lobbyists for government roles. "At the halfway mark of President Donald Trump's first term, his administration has hired a lobbyist for every 14 political appointments made, welcoming a total of281 lobbyists on board, a ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations analysis shows," ProPublica reported in October.

Energy Transfer Lays Off 108 Oklahoma Workers - Energy Transfer LP has laid off 108 employees at its Tulsa, Oklahoma office, according to a notice sent to the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development. The layoffs come as a result of the Dallas-based pipeline company’s acquisition of SemGroup Corp., which was finalized in early December 2019. According to the notice, layoffs began Jan. 6. No further information surrounding the layoffs was provided in the notice. Representatives for Energy Transfer declined further comment, telling Rigzone the company “does not comment on personal matters.” Energy Transfer’s recent merger with SemGroup created a much larger pipeline network for the company by adding assets in Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas and Canada. On Jan. 1, former U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was appointed to the board of LE GP LLC, the general partner of Energy Transfer. 

Dominion fires oilfield worker after he saved 50 waterfowl | WyoFile --Dominion Energy fired an oilfield worker in Rock Springs after the employee saved an estimated 50 waterfowl from wastewater ponds. Adam Roich said he’s rescued about that many waterfowl in the last five years after they landed in tainted ponds at his worksite about 50 miles south of Rock Springs. He would take the oil-slicked birds to a company facility, wash them with Dawn household soap, warm them in his truck, then set them free on clean water, he told WyoFile in an interview.“I got fired a couple days before Christmas for rescuing these guys throughout the years,” he posted recently on Facebook above many photographs of his avian patients. “I only did what I thought was right.” Dominion terminated Roich on Dec. 19 for violating company policy, according to a letter obtained by WyoFile. His firing followed an internal investigation, the seven-sentence letter read.Dominion wouldn’t say why it fired Roich, calling the issue “an internal matter.”“[T]he company has fully complied with the applicable laws and company policies with respect to the individual,” Dominion’s Don Porter, media relations manager, wrote WyoFile. “[W]e abide by federal regulations which direct us to notify the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service only in the event of a bird fatality.”Roich described a sad scene at the water’s edge: “They’d get oil on their feathers,” he said. “They’d just go to the bank and sit there. They’d freeze to death if I didn’t grab them.”Four ponds, the largest about the size of a football field, dot the Canyon Creek energy field complex along the southern border of the state, Roich said. “It’s really toxic water,” he said. “Slicks of oil on them accumulate over time.”

Google and Amazon are now in the oil business - Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have been very vocal about their efforts to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. But as the Wall Street Journal and Gizmodo have reported, these same companies are currently teaming up with the fossil fuel industry to help them squeeze as much oil and gas out of the ground as possible.Oil has always been hard to find and hard to extract, and so the industry has teetered precariously on the edge of profitability several times throughout its history. Over and over again, experts have predicted that we’ll soon run out of accessible, affordable oil — but so far, they’ve been wrong. Just when things look bleakest for black gold, new technology swoops in to keep the industry afloat.In the early days, that technology came in the form of better drills and pumps. As we explain in the video above, today’s technological savior is artificial intelligence. Computer algorithms that perpetually improve themselves can automate the discovery of new reserves and streamline fossil fuel extraction — a big boost for companies that now have to compete with wind and solar.In 2018, the oil and gas industries spent an estimated $1.75 billion on AI — a sum that is projected to balloon to $4 billion by 2025. To get their piece of that pie, big tech companies are developing AI for oil companies, even as they publicly celebrate their sustainable initiatives.We reached out to Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Total for comment on this piece. None of them responded.  You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. And join the Open Sourced Reporting Network to help us report on the real consequences of data, privacy, algorithms, and AI.

 Net US oil, gas rig count falls one to 835, gas rigs lowest since late 2016— The net number of US oil and gas rigs decreased by one to 835 during the first full week of 2020, with total rigs chasing natural gas at the lowest level since December 2016, data consultants Enverus said Thursday. In an unusual twist this past week, oil rigs added to the US fleet rose by 10 to 680, while gas rigs dropped 10 to 153. The one-rig net loss domestic count came from neither oil nor gas-directed rigs, but rather other classifications. Two largely gas-prone basins – the Haynesville Shale of East Texas/Northwest Louisiana and Marcellus Shale largely sited in Pennsylvania – are each at their lowest rig tallies since early 2017. The Haynesville was down four to 44 while the Marcellus was down three to 34. The Haynesville's rig count is the lowest since April 2017, while Marcellus rigs are the lowest since January 2017. This week's three-rig loss came from the Dry Marcellus, leaving 15 rigs. The Wet Marcellus stood at 19 rigs this week, unchanged. US upstream operators have dropped rigs steadily in the past 14 months. From a recent peak of 1,237 in mid-November 2018, fully 402 rigs – about a third – have left the oil patch. Despite ongoing budget austerity, upstream companies produced 1.1 million b/d more oil in December 2019 than in the same month the year before. And, Lower 48 natural gas production was up by 6 Bcf/d to 95 Bcf/d. "[That] all happened in the face of continued infrastructure constraints – crude prices that fell from the mid-$60s/b in April to average $55/b from May through October and gas prices that in several months were crushed to the lowest level in 20 years," RBN Energy analyst Nick Cacchione said in a recent report. In the past week, prices for both oil and gas prices improved a bit, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. WTI averaged $61.96/b, up 43 cents on the week, while WTI Midland averaged $62.74/b, up 49 cents. The Bakken Composite price averaged $56.19/b, up 29 cents. Gas prices also rose slightly on the week. At Henry Hub, prices averaged $2.06/MMBtu, up 5 cents, and at Dominion South, the average was $1.70/MMBtu, up 3 cents. Experts project an overall 7% drop in US capital budgets this year but still think the rig count could climb some, owing to capex increases by some larger players. "The US land rig count is currently stalled out ... due to continued capital discipline amid uncertain oil and gas prices headed into 2020," Bob Williams, Enverus' director of content, said. "The beneficiary will be the Permian Basin because it features the best economics, generally speaking," Williams added. "And [nearly] half of the existing active fleet is already there."

E&Ps Continuing to Pull Back as US Rig Count Plunges Further - Further signaling the significant headwinds facing exploration and production (E&P) companies going into 2020, the latest Baker Hughes Co. (BKR) rig count showed another steep drop in U.S. drilling activity for the week ended Friday (Jan. 10).The combined U.S. count tumbled 15 units -- 11 oil-directed and four natural gas-directed -- for the week to end at 781. That’s down nearly 300 units from the 1,075 U.S. rigs active in the year-ago period.Most of the declines occurred on land, with one rig departing in the Gulf of Mexico. Six directional units and six vertical units packed up shop, joined by three horizontal rigs, according to BKR.Canada’s rig count, meanwhile, bounced back during the week, jumping 118 units overall, including 93 oil rigs and 25 gas rigs. The Canadian count ended at 203, up from 184 in the year-ago period.Among the major plays, the Permian Basin (down six) and the Haynesville Shale (down four) posted the sharpest losses on the week. The Permian ended the week with 397 active rigs overall, down from 488 a year ago. The gassy Haynesville finished at 45, versus 53 at this time last year.Also among plays, the Ardmore Woodford, Cana Woodford and Marcellus Shale each added one rig, while the Denver Julesburg-Niobrara, Utica Shale and Williston Basin each dropped one.Among states, the week/week changes mirrored the shift in the plays, with Texas (down seven) and Louisiana (down three) accounting for the largest drops. New Mexico saw two rigs pack up during the week.Also among states, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania each added one rig, while Alaska, Colorado, North Dakota, Ohio and Wyoming each dropped one.The natural gas and oil sector is coming to grips with a bevy of uncertainties in 2020, as capital markets are drying up, investors are fleeing and the global community voices increasing concerns about fossil fuels.Energy industry prognosticators see a foggy 2020, potentially a repeat of sorts from 2019, with a mild increase in capital expenditures for the E&P sector and continued pain for oilfield services (OFS).The Evercore ISI analyst team led by James West recently compiled the 2020 Global E&P Spending Outlook, an annual sampling in which data was collected from more than 250 oil and gas operators of all stripes --  publics, privates, domestic and internationally focused, from the smallest of the moms-and-pops to the supermajors.The “tale of two markets” is arriving this year, West said. The pain in North America “is being felt all around,” with more than 32 bankruptcy filings by North American E&Ps last year amounting to around $13 billion in debt.

This Isn't Your Father's Oil and Gas Rig Count - Every Friday, the Baker Hughes oil and natural gas rig count gets released. This is vital field information that energy analysts eagerly await. In essence, the count is supposed to convey the current thinking of the U.S. oil and gas industry. As it is supposed to go, higher oil prices mean higher rig counts which mean higher production. And in the opposite direction, lower prices mean less rigs and falling production. While it is true that more rigs usually enter the fields when prices go up, it can take months of higher prices before drillers are confident enough to bring additional rigs into service. And there is also a lag time with dropping prices, not immediately dragging the rig count lower. Many times lower prices just mean removing the less efficient rigs from the field. There is an evident connection between the U.S. oil-directed rig count and prices (see Figure 1). As measured from -1.0 to +1.0, the Correlation Coefficient for these two variables measures a strong +0.85, with both moving in the same direction up or down. Yet to be sure, incredible efficiency gains in the U.S. shale industry over the past five to seven years have changed things a bit. Burdened with a crushing low price environment from 2014 to 2017, the U.S oil and gas business faced a simple option: either improve operations and significantly cut costs or ready the bankruptcy papers. The innovations of shale companies continue to surpass anything thought possible.For production, the progress has been clear. The powerful combination of faster and better horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has helped grow output even when the rig count falls (see Figure 2). Depending on the play, of course, numerous shale companies can at least breakeven when oil prices are in the $40 range, or when gas prices sit below $2.30. In fact, ongoing improvements for shale might be the most underestimated reality in our national energy-environment discussion. Renewable energy technologies like wind and solar will not be competing with oil and gas as they are now but as they will become. 

Oxy to Cut $7.8B Debt With Pipeline Split - Occidental Petroleum Corp. plans to make the pipeline business it acquired as part of last year’s takeover of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. a stand-alone company, removing about $7.8 billion of debt from its balance sheet. Occidental plans to reduce its holdings in Western Midstream Partners to less than 50% by the end of this year but “expects to maintain a significant economic interest” in the company, the Houston-based oil explorer said in a statement Monday. The amount of debt taken off the balance sheet amounts to about 15% of Occidental’s total borrowings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Western is among the crown jewel assets that Occidental has sought to sell to reduce leverage incurred in the purchase of Anadarko, the biggest oil merger of the past four years. Monday’s announcement may signal Occidental hasn’t been able to attract a high enough price, or that potential suitors found the entangled management structure burdensome. Blackstone Group Inc., Apollo Global Management Inc., Global Infrastructure Partners and KKR & Co. were all said to be interested in bidding for Western as recently as late 2019. But it’s been a challenging environment for pipeline companies. In November, Western Chied Executive Officer Michael Ure said the company was seeking new customers in the Rockies and the western edge of the Permian Basin to reduce reliance on Occidental. Western fell 29% last year -- its worst performance since 2015 -- amid a slowdown in drilling and plunging prices for natural gas byproducts.

Exxon signals fourth quarter weakness in chemicals and refining, offset by asset sale - (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp’s (XOM.N) fourth quarter operating results will decline from a year ago due to weakness in chemicals and refining, according to a regulatory filing and analyst comments on Friday. Some analysts slashed earnings projections to about 50 cents per share, down from the average earlier estimate of 71 cents, according to Refinitiv IBES. The estimates exclude gains from asset sales. Exxon on Friday provided its expectations for fourth-quarter results compared with the prior quarter. It will officially report results for the latest quarter on Jan. 31. Exxon in the filing projected a loss in chemicals and a sharply lower operating profit in refining, two of its three major businesses. The company earned about $1 billion per quarter in chemicals as recently as 2017. Operating profit in its largest business, oil and gas production, could be $2.3 billion based on the midpoint of its estimate, up from the third quarter but down from a year ago, according to the filing. Offsetting the weak results, Exxon will report a gain of as much as $3.6 billion from the sale of its Norwegian oil and gas production, part of a plan to divest about $15 billion in assets by 2021.“The asset sale proceeds will help cover the dividend, but that’s not a sustainable strategy,” Rowland said.

Core Labs’ latest move is a sign the oil market is not getting better anytime soon, Cramer says - Core Laboratories’ decision to cut its dividend in late December illustrates the oil market’s tough future, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said Wednesday. “Management wouldn’t cut it unless they had some serious long-term concerns that the oil industry just isn’t coming back the way it’s supposed to when the price of crude goes higher,” the “Mad Money” host said. Core Labs reduced its dividend from 55 cents to 25 cents, at a time when the oil business is “the worst I have ever seen it,” Cramer said, arguing it is even worse than January 2016, when oil traded below $30 per barrel. Core Labs — an oil services company — is thoughtful and makes decisions on traditional return on equity, not on a “drill-baby-drill” hypotheses, Cramer said. It would not make the decision to cut its dividend without thoughtful consideration, Cramer argued. This is especially true, he said, because the company also reduced its fourth-quarter earnings forecasts by roughly 15% yet slashed the dividend by 55%. “That doesn’t make any sense unless management has come to the conclusion that the oil business has fundamentally changed,” he said.

 Carney Suggests Billions In Worthless Assets Plague The Oil & Gas Industry --Investors, pension funds and companies need to get ahead of the financial risk from climate change, as many fossil fuel assets risk becoming worthless. “We can’t have a financial sector that ignores an issue, and then all of a sudden has to deal with it,” Mark Carney, the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England, said in a recent interview with BBC. Carney is referring to the fact that current plans by fossil fuel companies, and investors who own assets in those companies, are to continue on a path that puts the world on a trajectory of 3.7-3.8 degrees of warming, “far above the 1.5 degrees that governments say they want and that people are demanding.” Government action to limit emissions, however, would obviously disrupt that trajectory. As a result, the valuation of so many assets will remain at a certain level, until all of a sudden there is a massive repricing of companies and entire sectors. “How many of those assets that exist today are actually going to be stranded?” Carney has lamented that the predicament amounts to a “tragedy of the horizon,” which refers to the fact that the problem of climate change is a long-term one, which makes it difficult to convince investors and companies to act. The problem is, once the real-world climate problem becomes impossible to ignore, there will be draconian policies put in place. And, in financial terms, once it becomes impossible to ignore, a sharp loss in value becomes impossible to avoid. That’s exactly why he is urging investors to get ahead of this issue. That means pension funds, banks and many other financial institutions need to put limits on their fossil fuel investments, and also to disclose more information about their exposure. Carney will soon be taking on a role of UN special envoy for climate action and finance. He has been sounding the alarm about stranded assets and the financial risk of climate change for years.  “A question for every company, every financial institution, is ‘what’s your plan?’” Carney said. “If there is no action, we will be in a climate emergency.” Every pension fund and investor needs to justify their stakes in fossil fuels, he said.

Iran-Driven Oil Rally Boon to Struggling US Producers  | Rigzone -- The U.S. airstrike that killed a powerful Iranian general and heightened tensions in the oil-rich region could boost the fortunes of troubled North American energy companies. If the rally in oil prices persists, or if Middle Eastern supplies are cut off, deeply indebted producers like Whiting Petroleum Corp. and California Resources Corp. could lock in hedges above $60 a barrel, according to Spencer Cutter of Bloomberg Intelligence. That’s a potential cash-flow boost that they didn’t have two weeks ago, he said. Notes issued by some of the weakest energy companies led the biggest gainers in high-yield bond indexes on Friday after reports that Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a drone attack authorized by President Donald Trump. West Texas Intermediate oil reached its highest level since September at about $62 a barrel “That doesn’t mean that any of these companies that were distressed are going to be suddenly rolling in cash,” Cutter said in an interview. “But it does give them a bit of a lifeline.” Representatives for Whiting and California Resources didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Whiting’s unsecured 2023 notes rose 2.75 cents to 87.5 cents on the dollar, their best level since August, and second-priority notes due 2022 issued by California Resources soared above 50 cents for the first time since September. Energy companies are the largest cohort of the U.S. distressed-debt universe, according to Bloomberg Intelligence, and they were the biggest source of defaults in 2019, S&P Global Ratings reported. Companies in that sector went bankrupt in 2019 at the fastest pace since the 2015-2016 slump that claimed more than 200 producers and servicers. The sector never showed a meaningful recovery as record oil production kept prices muted, so any sign of reduced output from the Middle East could benefit U.S. producers and the balance sheets of the weakest companies. Even companies that already went bankrupt could be helped if rising prices boost assets and cash flow projections, giving creditors a bigger pie to divide up.

US Not Considering Immediate Oil Release in Response to Iran Crisis - The Trump administration isn’t actively considering an immediate release of oil from the national petroleum reserve in response to the Iran crisis that has sent oil prices higher, according to a person familiar with deliberations within the White House. Oil prices jumped almost 5% in New York and London after a U.S. airstrike killed General Qassem Soleimani, one of Iran’s most powerful generals. Although President Donald Trump has the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at his disposal to offset potential supply disruptions, no talks have taken place within the administration about selling some of the stockpiled crude, said the person who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “A persistent spike in oil prices will likely trigger verbal assurances that the SPR is available and may be tapped, but President Trump has had a high hurdle for actually drawing down strategic stocks,” said Bob McNally, a former energy adviser to President George W. Bush and president of the consulting firm Rapidan Energy Group. “Hence an actual drawdown is unlikely unless there was a real risk of disruption.” The Department of Energy, which operates the reserve, didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment. Trump authorized the release of oil from the reserve in September after a series of drone attacks in Saudi Arabia knocked out half of the kingdom’s crude output, or about 5% of world supplies, and sent prices surging. In the end, no oil was released as prices came down and the kingdom was gradually able to restore output.

U.S. energy consumption hit by economic slowdown: Kemp - (Reuters) - U.S. manufacturers and freight hauliers were hit last year by the sharpest slowdown since the 2008/09 recession and it filtered through into a noticeable dip in energy consumption. Use of electricity, natural gas and diesel by industrial customers all showed large declines, or at least sharp slowdowns, in the nine months ending in September 2019. In July to September, industrial users' total energy consumption fell 1% compared with the same period a year earlier, according to statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That was the biggest decline since the mid-cycle manufacturing slowdown in 2015/16 and before that the recession of 2008/09 ("Monthly energy review", EIA, Dec. 23). Within the total, industrial consumers' electricity consumption fell by almost 5% in the third quarter from a year earlier, easily the biggest decline since the recession. Power consumption exhibits a lot of short-term variability based on both the weather (which affects heating and cooling demand) and the state of the economy, so the data must be interpreted with care. But industrial users' consumption showed a much more pronounced third-quarter slowdown than for residential customers, which suggests most of the weakness was economic rather than weather-related. In contrast to electricity, industrial users’ gas consumption continued to grow, mostly because of the strong increase in demand from petrochemical producers (  Even so, gas consumption rose by just 0.75% in July-September compared with a year earlier, down from a growth rate of 7% year on year in early 2018. The manufacturing and freight slowdown has also hit petroleum demand, especially consumption of the middle distillate fuel oils such as diesel used by manufacturers, railroads and trucking firms. Economy-wide distillate consumption was down almost 3.4% in August-October compared with a year earlier ("Petroleum supply monthly", EIA, Dec. 31). Like electricity use, distillate consumption closely tracks industrial output and manufacturing surveys, so the slump in fuel use confirms the severe hit to manufacturing activity in the middle of last year. Slackening distillate demand has been reflected in a slowdown in refining activity and reduced profitability for many refining firms, including some of the oil majors. U.S. oil refineries processed 17.0 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil and other inputs during 2019, down 300,000 bpd (1.8%) compared with the previous year. U.S. refinery processing was below year-ago levels for 41 out of 52 weeks in 2019, a sign of tepid consumption ("Weekly petroleum status report", EIA, Jan. 3). The manufacturing and freight recession was even worse across Europe and Asia, as rising tariffs and intensifying business uncertainty have taken their toll on investment and activity. The result has been a worldwide slump in distillate consumption that has hit refining throughput, margins and profits for refiners across North America, Europe and Asia. 

White House aims to roll back bedrock environmental law to speed development - The White House on Thursday issued sweeping changes to one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, allowing greater industry involvement in environmental reviews of projects and diminishing the role climate change plays in those assessments.The changes target the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires agencies to evaluate how pipelines, highways and some oil and gas development affects the environment and nearby communities.The law has been a repeated target of President Trump, who has vowed to speed the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure and eliminate barriers to construction projects.Flanked by industry leaders at Thursday morning press conference, Trump described the measure as a complete overhaul.“From Day One, my administration has made fixing this regulatory nightmare a top priority. And we want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways bigger, better, faster, and we want to build them at less cost,” he said.The changes, which will be posted to the Federal Register on Friday, would limit the law's scope, excluding some projects from undergoing NEPA review, like those that receive little federal funding. It also opens the door for more industry involvement in reviewing the environmental impacts of their projects.While NEPA serves a noble purpose, it has “paralyzed commonsense decisionmaking for a generation,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said on a call to present the proposal, listing a wide range of projects that have been delayed by environmental analyses."This is a really, really big proposal. It affects virtually every big decision made by the federal government that affects the environment, and I think it will be the most significant deregulatory proposal you ultimately implement," Bernhardt told Trump.The proposal from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) would no longer require consideration of the “cumulative” effects of new projects. Courts have largely interpreted that as studying how a project might contribute to climate change, say by contributing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, or how it might be influenced by effects of climate change like extreme weather.Under the changes proposed by the Trump administration, officials would need to consider effects of a project that are “reasonably foreseeable” and show “a reasonably close causal relationship.” Environmentalists say those changes would allow the government to look the other way when projects contribute considerable amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

White House unveils plan to speed big projects permits - (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled a plan to speed permitting for major infrastructure projects like oil pipelines, road expansions and bridges, one of the biggest deregulatory actions of the president’s tenure. The plan, released by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), would help the administration advance big energy and infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline or roads, bridges and federal buildings that President Donald Trump and industry groups complained have been hampered by red tape. “For the first time in over 40 years today we are issuing a new rule under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to completely overhaul the dysfunctional bureaucratic system that has created these massive obstructions,” Trump said at the White House on Thursday. The proposal to update the how NEPA, the 50-year bedrock federal environmental law, is implemented is part of Trump’s broader effort to cut regulations and oversight to boost industry. “This proposal affects virtually every significant decision made by the federal government that affects the environment,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said, adding that the NEPA reform would be the “most significant deregulatory proposal” of the Trump administration.

Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning - The New York Times— Federal agencies would no longer have to take climate change into account when they assess the environmental impacts of highways, pipelines and other major infrastructure projects, according to a Trump administration plan that would weaken the nation’s benchmark environmental law. The proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act could sharply reduce obstacles to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects that have been stymied when courts ruled that the Trump administration did not properly consider climate change when analyzing the environmental effects of the projects. According to one government official who has seen the proposed regulation but was not authorized to speak about it publicly, the administration will also narrow the range of projects that require environmental review. That could make it likely that more projects will sail through the approval process without having to disclose plans to do things like discharge waste, cut trees or increase air pollution. The new rule would no longer require agencies to consider the “cumulative” consequences of new infrastructure. In recent years courts have interpreted that requirement as a mandate to study the effects of allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It also has meant understanding the impacts of rising sea levels and other results of climate change on a given project. The act requires the federal government to prepare detailed analyses of projects that could have significant environmental effects, including long-term impacts that courts have said include climate change. Since 1970, when the law was enacted, it has undergone only one major change. That was in 1983, when the White House Council on Environmental Quality limited the use of worst-case scenarios in project reviews. But the Trump administration has been aggressive in its efforts to roll back environmental regulations. The 50 or so pages of revisions that the Council on Environmental Quality is expected to make public on Wednesday would not amend the act itself. Rather, they would revise the rules that guide the implementation of the law. Once the proposed rules are filed in the federal register, the public will have 60 days to comment on them, the official said. A final regulation is expected before the presidential election in November.

Crude oil, produced water spill reported in Dunn County- Three hundred seventy barrels of crude oil and 660 barrels of produced water spilled at a facility in Dunn County. The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality says the incident occurred Sunday about 8 miles northwest of Halliday. The spill was caused by an equipment failure after high winds caused a power outage, leading to tanks overflowing. Most of the spill was contained on site, but high winds pushed some materials into nearby land.

 Produced water & oil spill caused by equipment failure - A produced water and oil spill caused by equipment failure due to a power outage triggered by high winds occurred at a saltwater disposal facility near Halliday on Sunday.The incident in which multiple tanks overflowed occurred at the facility about 8 miles northwest of Halliday. It was reported the next day to the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.The saltwater disposal facility is operated by Hunt Oil Company.Initial estimates indicate approximately 660 barrels of produced water and 15,540 gallons of crude oil overflowed the tanks. Most of the released material was contained on site; however, the high winds resulted in some of the material being blown into adjacent pastureland. Personnel from the state are inspecting the site and will continue to monitor the investigation and remediation.

Gas plant slated for Williams County could ease flaring in northern North Dakota - A batural gas plant proposed west of Williston could help reduce wasteful flaring in the northern part of the Bakken oil patch. Denver-based Outrigger Energy II plans to build the facility in Williams County to process up to 250 million cubic feet of gas per day, with the option of expanding to handle up to 450 million cubic feet. The company also intends to build a 70-mile gathering pipeline that starts in eastern Williams County and ends at the processing plant. It has entered into an agreement with XTO Energy to transport gas from the producer’s wells. Keanini said XTO “is the big fish” in the area, but the line will be located near wells operated by other producers, too, and it has the potential to service them down the road. The Outrigger processing plant is the sixth facility of its kind in the works in North Dakota. Officials hope the investments will significantly curb the amount of excess gas that is flared in the state. Combined, the proposed facilities would have the capacity to process an additional 1.075 billion cubic feet per day of gas, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. They follow four plants that came online in the latter half of 2019 and can accommodate up to 670 million cubic feet per day. The latest figures available show that more than 500 million cubic feet per day of gas is flared at oil wells in North Dakota. That accounts for 18% of gas produced in the state, which is above North Dakota’s 12% flaring target. The amount of gas flared gas flared peaked during the summer of 2019 amid a lack of pipelines and processing facilities as oil production climbed.

3 Arctic Wilderness Areas to Watch as Trump Tries to Expand Oil & Gas Drilling -When President Donald Trump entered the White House in 2017, his intention was clear: His would be an administration defined in part by a no-holds-barred effort to open lands for oil and gas drilling, and there was no place more appealing than the Alaskan Arctic.For three years, that effort has been carried out at break-neck speed on three fronts: the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, offshore Arctic waters, and the crown jewel of wilderness lands—the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."The Trump administration is going full speed ahead, and, if anything, accelerating the pace of trying to get as much of the public land in the Arctic under lease—to try to give as much away to the oil companies as it can—as it approaches the end of its first term," said Erik Grafe, an attorney at Earthjustice.Once land is leased, it's a complicated process to undo. That's why environmental groups want to stop lease sales in sensitive areas before it's too late.The dance that's been underway between the Trump administration and environmental groups looks like this: The federal government races to put together environmental documents, working at such a fast pace it's more likely to make errors; environmental groups pounce on those errors and sue; and then it's up to the courts. Once a decision is handed down, the loser appeals—and the process continues.In the Arctic, that has resulted in many things happening at once—environmental reviews in each of the three frontiers, lawsuits for various aspects of those reviews, and then appeals.Here's a breakdown of what happened in each targeted area in 2019, and what to expect during the final year of Trump's first term in office.

The Quake Threat to Dams Posed by Fracking Was Long Warned - For years now BC Hydro and the Oil and Gas Commission have been reluctant to publicly talk about the risks earthquakes triggered by the oil and gas industry pose to critical dam infrastructure throughout northeastern B.C.  But a freedom of information request by Parfitt at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has shed new light on what has been a long and often acrimonious internal debate.Hundreds of emails, letters, memos and meeting notes released by the utility in response to Parfitt’s request and his just publishedinvestigation make the following important revelations:Officials at BC Hydro have been concerned about the shale gas industry since 2007 when coal bed methane extraction resulted in seismic activity at the Peace Canyon Dam near Hudson Hope.The Peace Canyon Dam, which provides six per cent of the province’s electricity, is built on fragile shale rock and wasn’t built to withstand even modest earthquakes. BC Hydro officials warned numerous people in the provincial government, including senior bureaucrats and unidentified ministers, “that fracking near its dams could have grave consequences, including the worst possible outcome—an outright dam failure. Yet its repeated calls for firm no-frack zones near its dams continue to go unanswered,” reveals Parfitt.After CNRL triggered a 4.5 Magnitude earthquake in November of 2018 that forced the evacuation of the Site C Dam site, its engineers have begun to reassess seismic safety at the dam and to expand on previous studies done prior to its approval. The issues are dramatic and will become more significant as fracking and waste water disposal activity increases to support the province’s push for LNG exports to Asia.In the last decade, as The Tyee has reported in numerous articles since 2011, the petroleum industry has repeatedly broken seismic records in the vast Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin and has caused geologic changes, especially in the Montney shale basin in northeastern B.C. It has triggered thousands of earthquakes including dozens of significant felt events reaching a magnitude 3 or 4.6. Fracking blasts significant amounts of water, chemicals and additives into shale rock over short periods, while waste water disposal injects large amounts of water over long periods of time. Both technologies can change pressures along fault lines and cause earthquakes.

Keystone spill last fall depresses Canadian trade deficit -  An 11-day flow halt following a spill on TC Energy Corp.’s Keystone oil pipeline to the United States depressed Canadian international trade into deficit territory last fall, according to Statistics Canada.“Energy products drove the overall export decrease, down 7.4% on lower exports of crude oil,” according to the monthly trade assessment issued Tuesday.“Export volumes were behind the crude oil decline in November, a month that was marked by disruptions in crude oil pipeline transportation following a rupture that occurred in late October,” said Statistics Canada, the government’s recordkeeping agency. The spill on the North Dakota leg of the 590,000 b/d Keystone pipeline shut in about 16% of Canada’s 3.8 million b/d exports to the United States from Oct. 29 to Nov. 9.Deliveries from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas were cut off while a 200-strong emergency response crew repaired the leak and recovered about 6,540 bbl, or 72% of the 9,120 bbl spilled.The loss on oil was only offset partially by a 31% increase in the value of Canadian natural gas exports to the United States following severely depressed prices in late summer and early fall, according to the Statistics Canada data.TC subsidiary Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. last month said gas-related drilling and pipeline expansions in the United States had escalated rivalries across all destinations for Canada gas. Value gains on other export items such as metal products were also too small to eliminate Canada’s overall international merchandise trade deficit, which was C$1.1 billion ($825 million) for last November.The cause of the Keystone spill remains under investigation by TC, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and North Dakota’s Department of Environmental Quality.  The mishap has become ammunition in continuing protest lawsuits against the hotly contested second stage of Keystone XL, TC Energy’s 830,000 b/d oilsands export pipeline.

Venezuelan oil exports fell by a third in 2019 as U.S. sanctions bit: data -  (Reuters) - Venezuela’s oil exports plummeted 32% last year to 1.001 million barrels per day, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and state-run PDVSA’s reports, as a lack of staff and capital drove output to its lowest level in almost 75 years and U.S. sanctions shrank exports markets.  The drop would have been steeper if some of PDVSA’s largest customers had not bought Venezuelan oil through intermediaries or trans-shipped cargoes off several ports around the world so the country of origin was blurred, according to industry sources, vessel trackers and Eikon data. In terms of customers, Russia’s Rosneft was the largest receiver and intermediary of Venezuelan oil with 33.5% of total exports, followed by state-run China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) and its units with 11%, and Cuba’s state-run Cubametales with 7%, the data showed. PDVSA did not reply to a request for comment. China emerged as the first destination for Venezuelan oil in 2019 as sanctions deprived PDVSA of its primary market, the United States. That was despite CNPC and its units halting the loading of crude at Venezuelan ports in the second half.

Exclusive: Weakened by sanctions, Venezuela's PDVSA cedes oilfield operations to foreign firms -(Reuters) - Venezuelan state company PDVSA is letting some joint venture partners take over the day-to-day operation of oilfields as its own capacity dwindles due to sanctions and a lack of cash and staff, according to a former oil minister, an opposition lawmaker and industry sources.  Crude production by PDVSA and its joint ventures has fallen to about a third of its peak 20 years ago. The steepest fall has occurred since military officials with no oil industry experience took over PDVSA’s management in late 2017 and Washington imposed sanctions on the state-run company in early 2019 in a bid to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro. Maduro’s government and the opposition last year discussed allowing partners in PDVSA-led joint ventures to operate the oilfields, which would reverse a legal requirement that PDVSA control the operations. That could give Maduro more breathing room by encouraging fresh investment in PDVSA’s operations, potentially boosting oil revenues. However, it would be controversial after late President Hugo Chavez, an iconic figure to many Venezuelans, made nationalization a flagship policy. Rafael Ramirez, a former oil minister and PDVSA president who left office after clashing with Maduro in 2014, said the company had already effectively handed control to joint venture partners even though an agreement had not yet been formally reached. Ramirez, an adviser to some international energy firms that have recently worked in Venezuela, said PDVSA had been reduced to little more than an administrator of contracts with oil companies. “PDVSA is no longer producing. It’s signing contracts for others to produce in a de facto privatization,” Ramirez told Reuters during an interview at a location he requested not be disclosed. Ramirez named Russia’s Rosneft (ROSN.MM) and China’s CNPC among the companies helping to keep PDVSA alive by operating joint oilfields or injecting cash to the state company by buying larger stakes in some ventures. CNPC and Rosneft did not respond to requests for comment. PDVSA and the Information Ministry, which handles media requests for Maduro’s government, did not respond to Reuters questions.

 Mooring accident leads to spill off Danish petroleum terminal - On Saturday morning, the product tanker Stone 1 spilled vacuum oil into the water off Aabenraa, Denmark, a small town in Jutland near the German border. According to local media, the Stone 1 was moored at the Ensted Bulk Terminal and was unloading her cargo of vacuum oil. Due to foul weather, her mooring lines parted, and she had to leave the pier. "To avoid more accidents and to avoid crashing, the crew of the ship had to start the engine and sail from there," said Defense Operations Center officer in charge Claus Rasmussen, speaking to DR. During this evolution, about 8,000 gallons (30 cubic meters) of her cargo of vacuum oil was accidentally discharged into the water. The pollution is not considered dangerous to humans, but it poses a risk to birds due to the possibility of oiling. Denmark's defense ministry deployed vessels and helicopters from the Danish Navy and the Marine Home Guard to assist a cleanup effort, and the pollution control vessel Gunnar Seidenfaden is now under way to the scene. On Saturday, as an initial response, the pollution control team deployed floating containment booms to keep the oil contained to one area near Hostrupskov, just southeast of the terminal. On Sunday, a wind change led to the contamination spreading, and efforts to contain and control it continue. Two Danish Marine Home Guard patrol boats have used a length of containment boom to skim the surface of the bay, pair trawling for oil. As of early Monday morning, the Stone 1 was anchored off Aabenraa, away from the spill area. Local media reported that she will remain in port until authorities have completed an investigation.

Russia Halts Oil Supply To Key European Transit Hub - Russia has halted oil supplies to Belarus amid a disagreement over tariffs, according to officials at a Belarusian oil refinery in the northern city of Navapolatsak. The officials told RFE/RL that the shipments stopped on January 1 and the facility is currently processing only Russian oil delivered before that date.Belarus has been at odds with Russia over oil-transit prices for some time against a backdrop of increasing pressure by Moscow on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to deepen integration between the two countries.A two-month deal on natural-gas prices hours before a December 31 deadline helped the sides avoid a gas shutoff to start the year.Belarus is heavily reliant on Russia for fuel and funding and is a key transit route for Russian energy supplies to Europe. And now, Russia has just broken a new oil production record.Moscow and Minsk signed an agreement in 1999 to form a unified state, but little progress has been made in the ensuing two decades.Meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenka last year failed to bring the two sides together as the Belarusian president complained he was merely seeking "equal" terms.Belarusian protests in December targeted the perceived secrecy of the talks and objected to closer ties to Russia.Mike Pompeo this week postponed a planned visit to Minsk to meet with Lukashenka in w hat would have been the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state to that post-Soviet country in a quarter century.

Turkey, Russia launch TurkStream pipeline carrying gas to Europe - (Reuters) - The presidents of Turkey and Russia on Wednesday formally launched the TurkStream pipeline which will carry Russian natural gas to southern Europe through Turkey, part of Moscow’s efforts to reduce shipments via Ukraine. The pipeline project, stretching 930 km (580 miles) across the Black Sea, reinforces strong energy ties between Moscow and Ankara, which have also increased defense cooperation after Turkey bought advanced Russian missile defenses last year. Russia and Turkey are also coordinating military deployments in northeast Syria, although they back opposing sides in the conflict in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region and also in the battle for control of Libya. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated the project at a ceremony in Istanbul also attended by the leaders of Serbia and Bulgaria. The pipeline was a sign of “interaction and cooperation for the benefit of our people and the people of all Europe, the whole world”, Putin said at the inauguration ceremony. Russia has already started European gas deliveries through the pipeline, gas operator Bulgartransgaz said on Sunday. The pipeline terminal is near the Turkish village of Kiyikoy, some 20 km (12 miles) from the Bulgarian border. Russia is also doubling the capacity of Nord Stream across the Baltic Sea to Germany as part of plans to bypass Ukraine, which is currently the main route of transit to Europe.

Greece, Israel & Cyprus Sign Landmark EastMed Gas Pipeline Deal Despite Turkey's Wrath -Long in the works, but coming at a geopolitically sensitive moment for the region given expanding Turkish maritime claims, the East Med gas pipeline deal was signed this week between the countries of Greece, Cyprus and Israel. The three signed the deal on Thursday to build a 1,900 km (1,180 mile) subsea pipeline to transport supplies from the rapidly advancing gas fields of the eastern Mediterranean to Europe. A massive undertaking to supply energy-hungry Europe, the East Med pipeline project was first proposed by Greek energy minister Yannis Maniatis in 2014, and has since been hailed as "the longest and deepest gas pipeline in the world". At an initial estimated cost of $6-7 billion, it will be financed by "private companies and institutional lenders," according to prior Israeli Energy Ministry statements. The underground, sub-sea pipeline is proposed to connect Israel, via Cyprus, to Greece and Italy, in a massive construction project estimated to take five or six years to complete, and which once online is expected initially pump 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year.The energy ministers of Greece, Israel and Cyprus - Kostis Hatzidakis, Yuval Steinitz and Yiorgos Lakkotrypis - attended a signing ceremony in Athens which finalized the project's moving forward, according to Reuters. Predictably, Turkey is actively opposing the project, given its own expanding oil and gas exploration claims which have now completely surrounded Cyprus (using the excuse of "rights" based on the contested so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) and have even cut into Greece's Exclusive Economic Zone as well. Per ReutersAlthough Turkey opposes the project, the countries aim to reach a final investment decision by 2022 and have the pipeline completed by 2025 to help Europe diversify its energy resources.  Last month a Turkish official said there was no need to build the EastMed pipeline because the trans-Anatolian pipeline already existed. Turkey's Foreign Ministry complained this week that the East Med pipeline "ignored the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots" and thus would be doomed to failure.

Pakistan to Auction 18 Oil, Gas Blocks: Press -The Pakistani government is likely to issue tender for 18 oil and gas exploration blocks on January 8, local media reported on January 7.Special assistant to prime minister on petroleum affairs Nadeem Babar said on January 6 that the government was working on giving incentives to E&P investors by halving the number of necessary approvals. “From field to production, the sector needed to take 28 different approvals we have brought them down to 14 now,” Babar was quoted as saying by The News.Pakistan is looking to develop more gas resources to overcome problems with supply security. With local production lagging behind demand, the country has relied on more costly imported LNG. Pakistan has two import terminals located at Port Qasim. The south Asian nation started importing LNG in 2015 with the commissioning of the Exquisite FSRU. Pakistan commissioned its second FSRU in late 2017.

PetroChina Offers Lowest Price in Pakistan LNG Tender - PetroChina International Singapore, a unit of Chinese state PetroChina, has offered the lowest price for an LNG cargo that would be delivered to state-run Pakistan LNG in February, a document on the Pakistani company’s website showed December 18. PetroChina’s offer was at 8.59% of Brent crude oil prices. Gunvor, Trafigura and Socar Trading were other bidders, the document showed.

China opens up oil and gas exploration, production for foreign, domestic firms -  (Reuters) - For the first time, China will this year allow foreign companies to explore for and produce oil and gas in the country, opening up the industry to firms other than state-run energy giants, as Beijing looks to boost domestic energy supplies. The long-awaited opening accompanies a reshuffle of the so-called “midstream” pipeline business, but experts say it may not excite immediate interest from global drillers because of the poor overall asset quality of China’s hydrocarbon resources. From May 1, foreign firms registered in China with net assets of 300 million yuan ($43 million) will be allowed to take part in oil and gas exploration and production, the ministry of natural resources announced at a news conference. The change will also apply to domestic companies that meet the same condition. “China is accelerating the sector reform due to growing energy security concerns,” said Zhu Kunfeng, the Beijing-based associate director of upstream research at IHS Markit. “Vitalising the industry by diversifying the participants, including foreign and private investors, is the focus of that reform.” China now imports 70% of the crude oil it refines and nearly half its natural gas consumption, and state firms face an uphill battle boosting reserves and production outside the country amid growing geopolitical risks. Previously, international companies could enter the industry only via joint ventures or cooperation with Chinese firms, mainly state-owned majors such as China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), China Petrochemical Corp (Sinopec) or their listed vehicles.

Apache and Total Hit Oil Pay Offshore Suriname - Apache Corp. and Total. S.A. reported Tuesday that they have made a significant oil discovery at the Maka Central-1 well on Block 58 offshore Suriname – and adjacent to neighboring Guyana’s Stabroek Block.In a joint written statement the companies, which each own a 50-percent interest in the well, noted that Maka Central-1 encountered 240 feet (73 meters) of oil pay and 164 feet (50 meters) of light oil and gas condensate pay. The Noble Sam Croft drillship drilled the Apache-operated well, and the discovery owners stated that appraisal drilling is underway. “The well proves a working hydrocarbon system in the first two play types within Block 58 and confirms our geological model with oil and condensate in the shallower zones and oil in deeper zones. Preliminary formation evaluation data indicates the potential for prolific oil wells. Additionally, the size of the stratigraphic feature, as defined by 3-D seismic imaging, suggests a substantial resource.”Hydrocarbons in Maka Central-1 exist in multiple stacked targets in the upper Cretaceous-aged Campanian and Santonian intervals, Apache and Total continued. The firms stated the shallower Campanian interval contains 164 feet of net hydrocarbon-bearing reservoir, with preliminary fluid samples and test results showing light oil and gas condensate with API gravities ranging from 40 to 60 degrees. They added the deeper Santonian interval holds 240 feet of net oil-bearing reservoir, with preliminary fluid samples and tests showing API oil gravities from 35 to 45 degrees.Apache and Total stated that Maka Central-1 also targeted a third interval – the Turonian – that they describe as a geologic analogue to offshore West Africa oil discoveries. Before the well reached the Turonian, it encountered significantly over-pressured oil-bearing reservoirs in the lower Santonian, they noted. The firms added that drilling subsequently concluded at approximately 20,670 feet (6,300 meters) but that future drilling will test the Turonian interval.

Why Pirates Are Giving Up On Oil   - Piracy in some of the world’s most critical oil chokepoints is on the rise--but now, pirates are resorting back to another method of income generation better suited to times of lower oil prices: taking human captives.  Sometimes, black market oil prices just aren’t lucrative enough. In the days of $100 oil, oil theft was a hot commodity. Today, pirates are supplementing their stolen oil income with ransomed sailors, creating a whole new set of problems for the oil industry to tackle.  Piracy is being dealt with fairly successfully in certain regions of the world. In others, efforts to shore up maritime security have failed. But the threat of pirates taking human captives is alive and well in all regions.  Once a piracy hotspot, piracy off Somalia’s coast has fallen in recent years as the international community--including Iran--stepped up to tackle this pressing problem that disrupted the flow of goods, including oil, through the critical oil route. Somalia, too, has stepped up its ability to prosecute pirates. The East Africa area includes the Bab-el-Mandeb between Yemen and Djibouti, as well as the Gulf of Aden. Piracy incidents here hit a high of 54 in 2017, before falling back to just 9 in 2018, according to One Earth Future’s annual report The State of Maritime Piracy 2018.  But while piracy off Somalia has toned down in recent years, the problem of using captive humans as an additional income stream has not gone away. One Iranian seafarer, for example, who was held captive by Somalia pirates was finally released after four years due to poor health. Three of his shipmates, however, are still being held to this day. While things appear to be cooling off in the pirate world off Africa’s east coast, the west side is seeing a disturbing rise in piracy. And not just any piracy--piracy with a human captive component. The area most subject to piracy here is off the coast of Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea in general. So much so has this alarming shift risen from oil to persons over the course of the last year in West Africa, that India--the most prolific source of maritime sailors in the region--has banned all Indian seafarers from working on vessels in Nigerian waters and in the Gulf of Guinea. On the line here for Nigeria is $10 billion annually in crude oil sales to India, who purchases more than one-third of all Nigerian oil.   Just last month, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea hijacked two Indian oil tankers in two separate instances. But they didn’t stop with the crude oil. They also took the Indian crewmembers hostage both times. While one set of hostages have since been released, the second batch is still being held in captivity, adding to the growing unrest in the region as shippers and sailors fear for their own safety and for the safety of their crew. 

Expect Low Oil Prices In 2020; Tendency Toward Recession  - by Gail Tverberg  - Overall, I expect that oil and other commodity prices will remain low in 2020. These low oil prices will adversely affect oil production and several other parts of the economy. As a result, a strong tendency toward recession can be expected. The extent of recessionary influences will vary from country to country. Financial factors, not discussed in these forecasts, are likely also to play a role. The following are pieces of my energy forecast for 2020:

  • [1] Oil prices can be expected to remain generally low in 2020. There may be an occasional spike to $80 or $90 per barrel, but average prices in 2020 are likely to be at or below the 2019 level.
    • Figure 1. Average annual inflation-adjusted Brent equivalent oil prices in 2018 US$. 2018 and prior are as shown in BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Value for 2019 estimated by author based on EIA Brent daily oil prices and 2% expected inflation.
    • Figure 2 shows in more detail how peaks in oil prices have been falling since 2008. While it doesn’t include early January 2020 oil prices, even these prices would be below the dotted line.
  • [2] World oil production seems likely to fall by 1% or more in 2020 because of low oil prices. Quarterly oil production data of the US Energy Information Administration shows the following pattern:  The highest single quarter of world oil production was the fourth quarter of 2018. Oil production has been falling since this peak quarter.  To examine what is happening, the production shown in Figure 3 can be divided into that by the United States, OPEC, and “All Other.”  Figure 4 shows that the production of All Other seems to be steady to slightly rising, more or less regardless of oil prices.
  • [3] In theory, the 2019 and 2020 decreases in world oil production might be the beginning of “world peak oil.”  --If oil prices cannot be brought back up again after 2020, world oil production is likely to drop precipitously. Even the “All Other” group in Figure 4 would be likely to reduce their production, if there is no chance of making a profit.The big question is whether the affordability of finished goods and services can be raised in the future. Such an increase would tend to raise the price of all commodities, including oil.
  • [4] The implosion of the recycling business is part of what is causing today’s low oil prices. The effects of the recycling implosion can be expected to continue into 2020. With the rise in oil prices in the 2002-2008 period, there came the opportunity for a new growth industry: recycling. Unfortunately, as oil prices started to fall from their lofty heights, the business model behind recycling started to make less and less sense. Effective January 1, 2018, China stopped nearly all of its paper and plastic recycling. Other Asian nations, including India, have been following suit.
  • [5] The growth of the electric car industry can be expected to slow substantially in 2020, as it becomes increasingly apparent that oil prices are likely to stay low for a long period. Electric cars are expensive in two ways:
    • In building the cars initially, and
    • In building and maintaining all of the charging stations required if more than a few elite workers with charging facilities in their garages are to use the vehicles.
  • Once it is clear that oil prices cannot rise indefinitely, the need for all of the extra costs of electric vehicles becomes very iffy. In light of the changing view of the economics of the situation, China has discontinued its electric vehicle (EV) subsidies, as of January 1, 2020. Prior to the change, China was the world’s largest seller of electric vehicles. Year over year EV sales in China dropped by 45.6% in October 2019 and 45.7% in November 2019. The big drop in China’s EV sales has had a follow-on effect of sharply lower lithium prices.
  • [5] Ocean going ships are required to use fuels that cause less pollution as of January 2020. This change will have a positive environmental impact, but it will lead to additional costs which are impossible to pass on to buyers of shipping services. The net impact will be to push the world economy in the direction of recession.

Oil Hits $70 as Supply Disruption Fear Deepens - Oil extended its dramatic surge above $70 a barrel as the fallout between the U.S. and Iran escalated after the assassination of one of the Islamic Republic’s most powerful generals. Futures jumped by another 3% on Monday as the U.S. State Department warned of a “heightened risk” of missile attacks near military bases and energy facilities in Saudi Arabia. Prices got a further boost as President Donald Trump reiterated threats of retaliation should Iran “do anything” and vowed heavy sanctions against Iraq if American troops are forced to leave OPEC’s second-biggest producer. The wild ride continues for oil as Washington and Tehran trade bellicose rhetoric, ratcheting up fears of a wider conflict that could disrupt supply from the world’s most important producing region. Crude was last this high when Saudi production facilities were attacked in September, knocking out about 5% of global output. Trump said he’s prepared to strike “in a disproportionate manner” and attack more than 50 sites if Tehran retaliates against the killing of General Qassem Soleimani. The Middle East nation said it has to “settle a score with the U.S.” and that it would no longer abide by limits on its enrichment of uranium. A vote by Iraq’s parliament to expel U.S. troops from the country deepened the fallout. “Crude has some more risk pricing to do,” said Bob McNally, president of Rapidan Energy Group in Bethesda, Maryland, adding that he expected Iran to attack oil vessels and facilities in response. “We are going to grind through the $70s up towards $80 Brent as Iran calibrates and executes its retaliation,” the former oil official at the White House under President George W. Bush said in a Bloomberg TV interview. Brent futures rose as much as 3.1%, or $2.14, to $70.74 on ICE Futures Europe and were at $69.99 at 8 a.m. in London. The contract surged 3.6% on Friday. West Texas Intermediate advanced 1.7% to $64.10 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The deepening crisis continued to spill over into other markets. Asian equities from Japan to Hong Kong fell while U.S. and European stock futures retreated. Gold surged to the highest in more than six years and Treasury yields ticked lower as investors sought havens from the turmoil.

Crude briefly turns lower, giving up earlier gains despite fears of Iran retaliation against US interests - After rallying more than 2% during early trading on Monday, crude briefly turned lower in late morning trading despite ongoing fears of Iran’s retaliation against U.S. interests. Prices soon after re-entered positive territory, although were little changed for the day. U.S. West Texas Intermediate gained 18 cents, or 0.3%, to trade at $63.23. Earlier, WTI rose to $64.72, its highest level since April. International benchmark Brent crude gained 40 cents to trade at $69.00 per barrel, paring gains after hitting a more than three-month high of $70.74 earlier in the session. Following Thursday’s death of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, on Sunday an Iranian state-run television broadcast said that the nation would no longer respect uranium enrichment restrictions set forth in 2015′s nuclear deal.. On Friday Brent gained 3.55%, with WTI gaining 3.06%. Both posted their fifth straight week of gains. Iran has vowed to retaliate against the U.S., and the form that this retaliation takes will determine oil’s next move, according to Wall Street analysts. For instance, if the nation targets production in Saudi Arabia or Iraq — OPEC’s two largest producers — prices could move higher for longer. On Friday, Citi global head of commodity research Ed Morse said that Brent prices will top $70 in short order, while Again Capital’s John Kilduff said that if Iraq production takes a hit “oil prices will spike higher.” Iraq is OPEC’s second largest oil producer, pumping around 4.6 million barrels per day in December. On Sunday the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling for an expulsion of foreign troops, which raises question about the future of the allied mission that has successfully fought the “Islamic State,” or ISIS, in recent years.

Oil up Slightly After Brent Blows Past $70 on U.S.-Iran Crisis– Oil prices remained in bull territory on Monday, with global crude benchmark Brent piercing the key psychological $70-per-barrel mark, before coming off that peak, as Washington and Tehran exchanged strike threats after the U.S. killing of an Iranian general. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, settled up 22 cents, or 0.3%, at $63.27 per barrel. WTI hit an eight-month high of $64.72 earlier. Brent, the global oil benchmark, settled up 31 cents, or 0.5%, at $68.91. It surged to $70.75 earlier. The last time Brent traded above $70 was in the aftermath of the September drones attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing complex, which the United States accused Iran of masterminding. “The situation today is very different from the attack on Abqaiq,” said Olivier Jakob at oil risk consultancy PetroMatrix in Zug, Switzerland. “After the attack on Saudi Arabia, both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia rapidly toned down instead of escalating. The opposite is true today, with both Iran claiming revenge and President (Donald) Trump threatening to blow Iran apart.” Oil prices closed 2019 with their largest gains in three years. Brent rose 24% on the year while West Texas Intermediate gained 34%. A day after trading for 2020 began, the rally reached new heights as a U.S. drone attack near Baghdad airport killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force. Since Soleimani's killing, Iran has said it was abandoning limits to uranium enrichment, a step required for making nuclear weapons. Iraq’s parliament, meanwhile, has voted to expel U.S. forces from the country, prompting Trump to threaten Baghdad with sanctions. Rockets also fell all over Iraq on Monday, with no human casualties reported. Separately, fighting has also broken out in Libya. Tehran and Washington have exchanged strike threats, with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini vowing “harsh revenge” and Trump saying he has identified 52 targets in Iran, including sites of cultural prominence, in a counter attack that may be “disproportionate.” Iran, Iraq and Libya, along with Saudi Arabia, are among the largest oil producers in the Middle East, which accounts for 40% of the world’s crude supply. Oil traders fear a breakout of war will seriously hamper movement of crude from the region to the rest of the world. Middle East crude supplies are already expected to be tighter this year than in 2018 due to sharper production cut pledges by OPEC and its top ally Russia under the OPEC+ initiative. Oil up Slightly After Brent Blows Past $70 on U.S.-Iran Crisis Comments (1)

Oil Down on Uninterrupted Mideast Supplies-- Oil retreated after its dramatic start to the year as the uninterrupted flow of Middle East supplies tempered fears over the fallout from the U.S. airstrike that killed a top Iranian general. Futures in London fell on Tuesday after two days of wild trading that pushed prices briefly above $70 a barrel for the first time since September. While Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said the Islamic Republic is assessing 13 retaliation ‘scenarios’ against the U.S., and the White House ordered additional forces to the Middle East, immediate concerns that a deeper conflict could disrupt output or exports from the region are yet to materialize. It’s been a turbulent start to 2020 for the oil market after the U.S. airstrikes sparked an escalation in hostilities between Washington and Tehran, reigniting fears of conflict in the world’s most important producing region. Crude remains about 3% higher since the attack, but futures are pulling back as the likes of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. says it’ll take a major disruption to output to keep prices elevated. “The market is recovering from the initial shock and closely monitoring how Tehran will respond,” said Will Sungchil Yun, commodities analyst at VI Investment Corp. “As current signals indicate traders and investors don’t see a full-blown war coming, prices are likely to remain relatively steady without a significant development.” Brent crude dropped 48 cents, or 0.7%, to $68.43 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange as of 7:55 a.m. in London. The contract ended Monday just 0.5% higher after earlier rising as much as 3.1% in intraday trade. West Texas Intermediate futures lost 40 cents, or 0.6%, to $62.87 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Goldman Sachs said this week there’s a greater risk of prices falling in coming weeks and being long gold is a better hedge than oil for geopolitical risks. Oil markets still have a comfortable supply cushion should there be a disruption. OPEC is sitting on huge amounts of spare capacity after reducing supplies for most of the past three years and the U.S. recently reported its first months as a net exporter of petroleum for the first time in roughly 75 years. Consuming countries from the U.S. to China also control millions of barrels stored in strategic petroleum reserves that can be deployed to offset any shortage.

Energy infrastructure attacks are 'probable': Oil traders fear supply disruptions in the Middle East - A dramatic escalation of geopolitical tensions will most likely result in an unplanned oil supply shortage in the Middle East, energy analysts told CNBC on Tuesday, elevating the likelihood of another spike in oil prices. International benchmark Brent crude rose to its highest level since September in the previous session, briefly climbing above $70 a barrel, as U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) surged to its highest value since April.The gains follow intensifying fears about the prospect of retaliatory action from Tehran, after the U.S. killed a top Iranian general late last week."The consequence one can draw from the latest chapter of the U.S.-Iran relationship is that the geopolitical risk premium is more likely to turn into unplanned supply shortage than disappear," Tamas Varga, senior analyst at PVM Oil Associates, said in a research note published Tuesday."The only questions are when and in what form," Varga said. The death of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani has ratcheted upalready-high tensions between Washington and Tehran, with many investors increasingly anxious that a widening conflict could disrupt global oil supplies.Oil prices pared some of their recent gains on Tuesday afternoon, with Brent crude trading down almost 1% at $68.23 a barrel.U.S. WTI stood at $62.73 at 12:45 p.m. London time, around 0.9% lower. Analysts at Eurasia Group said an almost $10 price jump in Brent futures since the start of December highlighted a "significant increase in the geopolitical oil price premium" after the death of Soleimani last week.As a result, the political risk consultancy said its base case oil price for 2020 is a range of $65 to $75 a barrel, "with risks to the upside.""With Tehran promising retaliation for the U.S. strike and Washington also threatening more attacks, there is an elevated likelihood of substantial oil supply disruptions in the Middle East and resulting price spikes," analysts at Eurasia Group said in a research note published Monday."While an intensification to all-out war is unlikely, further lethal action between U.S. and Iranian forces and attacks against energy infrastructure are probable and will keep markets on edge.""It is not clear how the current crisis will end," they added.

Is The Oil Price Rally Already Over? - Oil prices fell back late Monday and in early trading on Tuesday. Goldman Sachs had predicted that the rally following the prospect of war in the Middle East would be temporary unless oil supplies were actually disrupted. Traders apparently are taking note, selling off oil at the start of the week. However, events are fluid and developing quickly.  Iran said that it would abandon limits on uranium enrichment following the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani. The U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement in 2018, and Iran has gradually ratcheted back its commitments in response. Iran said its moves were reversible upon U.S. returning to the nuclear deal.  Some reports suggest the Trump administration is drawing up sanctions on Iraq as revenge for the Iraqi parliament pushing for a U.S. troop withdrawal.  “A lasting conflict would have wide-ranging implications through broad economic and financial shock that significantly worsen operating and financing conditions,” Moody’s said Monday. “A protracted conflict would potentially have global repercussions, in particular through its effect on oil prices.” Chevron withdrew its expatriate staff from Kuridstan, the company said, but left behind local workers to keep operations uninterrupted. The oil majors are on edge, and BP and Royal Dutch Shell have not disclosed details yet.  BP has created a subsidiary that aims to stand up five $1 billion businesses by 2025 that produce low-carbon energy. “We are trying to build unicorns in the energy business,” said Stephen Cook, managing partner of Launchpad and chief commercial officer in BP’s technology division, according to the FT In a regulatory filing, ExxonMobil said that its fourth-quarter operating results would be hit by weakness in chemicals and refining, although that could be offset by asset sales. The update “is like Groundhog’s day - once again chemicals and downstream weakness will drag down overall earnings,” Jennifer Rowland, analyst at Edward Jones, told Reuters. “The asset sale proceeds will help cover the dividend, but that’s not a sustainable strategy,” she said.

Oil Down Most Since 2020 Start as Some Argue Market Overbought on US-Iran Conflict (Sputnik) - Global oil prices fell their most on Tuesday since the start of 2020 as some market participants argued that crude had risen too much, too fast on the US-Iran conflict, nearing four-month highs above $70 per barrel. Brent, the global benchmark for crude, was down 64 cents, or nearly 1 percent, at $68.27 per barrel by 9:50 a.m. ET (14:50 GMT). It had risen a cumulative 4.5 percent in three prior sessions, hitting $70.75 on Monday, its highest since mid-September. Brent’s run-up was largely driven by the US killing of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani on Friday that set the two countries on a collision course, putting the Middle East and the world on the edge.West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the US crude benchmark, slid 40 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $62.87.  WTI had risen more than 3 percent net over the past three sessions, reaching a more than the eight-month high of $64.72 on Monday. “The ‘pain trade’ is not up for oil prices in the near term,” Scott Shelton, energy futures broker at the ICAP commodities brokerage in Durham, North Carolina, wrote in a market commentary. “While the outcome of the market could be explosive under the right scenario Iran retaliation, there is clearly more selling in the market than buying.” Oil prices have spiked in recent days on a rash of tensions following Soleimani's killing last Friday on the outskirts of Baghdad. Iraq’s parliament voted to expel US forces from the country, prompting President Donald Trump to threaten Baghdad with sanctions. Rockets also fell all over Iraq on Monday, with no human casualties reported. Separately, fighting broke out in Libya.  Tehran and Washington, meanwhile, exchanged strike threats. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “harsh revenge” for Soleimani’s death while Trump said he has identified 52 targets in Iran, including sites of cultural prominence, in a plan for a counter-attack that may be “disproportionate."

Oil Algos Confused After Iraq Rocket Strike, Crude Draw, & Product Builds - Oil prices suffered their first loss of the year today as war premia were wrung out of WTI - despite the escalating verbal threats between Tehran and Washington.“It’s difficult for traders to keep buying on the promise of more geopolitical risk” after the Iranian incident, said Michael Loewen, director of commodity strategy at Scotiabank in Toronto. But, for a few brief minutes tonight, the algos will turn their attention to fundamentals... API:

  • Crude -5.95mm (-3.6mm exp)
  • Cushing -1.0mm (-660k exp)
  • Gasoline +6.70mm (+2.7mm exp)
  • Distillates +6.4mm (+3.9mm exp)

After the prior week's huge crude draw and massive distillates build, the last week saw more of the same with a bigger than expected crude draw and bigger than expected product builds... WTI has erased most of the post-Soleimani spike... ...but spiked ahead of the API print after 5 rockets hit Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, only to tumble, then pop, as algos went wild...

Oil prices will climb above $100 a barrel if Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz, analysts predict - Oil prices would skyrocket if Iran moved to completely cut off the Strait of Hormuz, energy analysts told CNBC on Wednesday. Elevated geopolitical tensions have sparked fears of a widening conflict in the Middle East, with energy market participants increasingly concerned that the fallout could soon disrupt regional crude supplies. It has thrust the world’s most important oil chokepoint back into the global spotlight. Speaking to CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Wednesday, James Eginton, investment analyst at Tribeca Investment Partners, said a move by Iran to completely shut off crude supplies in the Strait of Hormuz would send oil prices “through the roof.” Situated between Iran and Oman, the Strait of Hormuz is a narrow but strategically important waterway that links crude producers in the Middle East with key markets across the world. In 2018, daily oil flow in the channel — which is just 21 miles wide at its narrowest point — averaged at 21 million barrels per day. That’s the equivalent of about 21% of global petroleum liquids consumption. “If you block the Strait of Hormuz, you will send oil through $100,” Eginton said. “Over the next few days, if we start seeing the Iranians start trying to block the Strait of Hormuz then we should be set for much higher oil prices.”

‘Iran has been overplaying its hand’: Oil analysts weigh in on US killing of Iranian general - The U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top military general has escalated tensions between the two nations and injected fresh uncertainty Friday around geopolitics and financial markets.Analysts weighed in Friday on CNBC, offering their insights into how the death of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani will impact the oil industry and the economy, as well as the potential for further conflict between the U.S. and Iran.  While oil prices surged by up to 4% on Friday, Sadad al-Husseini, former executive vice president of exploration and production operations at Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, said he would not describe the uptick as substantial or sustainable.“I think the markets are pretty well saturated with supply, so we have to wait and see how the situation unfolds,” he said. “But currently I wouldn’t say that we’ve had a very strong move.”When asked about the threat of Iran retaliating against the U.S. or other actors in the Middle East, al-Husseini said he thought any response from Tehran would be narrowly focused. “I believe the problem is really between the U.S. and Iran at this point. It’s not about the oil fields or the other countries in the [Persian] Gulf,” he said on “Squawk Alley.” “I think Iran has been overplaying its hand ... I don’t think they would want to do anything with the other countries in the region. That wouldn’t advance or affect their issue with the U.S.”

Oil rally is in its seventh or eighth inning, energy analyst Tom Kloza says  - Energy expert Tom Kloza expects oil prices to resume rallying on renewed hostilities with Iran. But Kloza, who runs global energy analysis for the Oil Price Information Service, believes the bullish activity is temporary. “We’re in the seventh or eighth inning of a rally that’s sustainable,” he told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Tuesday. “I’m pretty confident that we’re going to exit the year at a much lower number.” WTI crude and Brent fell about 1% on Tuesday. The commodities returned to levels seen before last Thursday’s U.S. airstrike that killed a top Iranian commander. But that doesn’t mean there’s no gas left in the canister. He believes oil prices could rise another $5 a barrel this week. “We need to be on guard for attacks like [what] occurred in mid-September at Abqaiq which was the Saudi facility,” he said. “A $70 handle is always possible for a short period of time.” However, his biggest concern in connection to rising Mideast tensions would have the opposite effect on oil prices. “I’m a little bit more worried about if there are soft targets or targets that have to do with transportation,” added Kloza. “It doesn’t take much to spook Americans into not driving. It doesn’t take much to spook the Western world or even emerging markets to lay off of the transportation.”

Middle East tensions have put a floor under oil prices, says Marathon Oil CEO  - Marathon Oil Chairman and CEO Lee Tillman said that while oil prices may not be spiking in response to Thursday’s airstrike in Iraq, ongoing tensions in the Middle East will support higher oil prices going forward. He attributed the lack of a stronger initial price reaction to the United States’ surge in production. “I think the dampening effect ... is really the impact of the U.S. energy renaissance,” he said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” from the Goldman Sachs energy conference in Miami Beach, Florida. “We make up about 8% of the global supply today, and those are reliable, highly secure barrels that the market is counting on, and I do believe that’s reduced this risk premium from returning back into the market.” That said, he argued that U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude prices will “likely” end the year higher since tensions are “likely going to persist” which “creates a bit of a floor under oil and gas pricing.” Tillman’s comments come as oil prices spiked more than 3% on Friday following Thursday’s killing of Iran’s top commander Qasem Soleimani. But since then some of the enthusiasm has faded. On Monday oil settled little changed, and on Tuesday prices declined 1%.

Oil prices fall as alarm over Iran rocket strike fades – Oil futures fell on Wednesday from peaks hit in frenzied early trading after a rocket attack by Iran on American forces in Iraq raised the spectre of a spiralling Middle East conflict and disruption to crude flows. Prices gave up most of their early gains as oil production facilities remain unaffected by attacks. Tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump and Iran’s foreign minister also appeared to signal a period of calm – for now. Brent crude futures were down 49 cents, or 0.72 per cent, at 67.78 dollars by around 1254 GMT, after earlier rising to their highest since mid-September at 71.75 dollars. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were down 76 cents, or 1.21 per cent, at 61.94 dollars a barrel. WTI has seesawed through the day. The futures earlier hit 65.85 dollars, the highest since late April last year, before briefly being down by over 1 dollar from the previous close. Iran’s missile attack on U.S.-led forces in Iraq came early on Wednesday, hours after the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the country’s elite Quds Force killed in a U.S. drone stroke on Jan. 3. Tehran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles from Iranian territory against at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S.-led coalition personnel, the U.S. military said on Tuesday. Stock, currency and gold markets were also roiled by the attacks. Trump said in a tweet that an assessment of casualties and damage from the strikes was underway and that he would make a statement on Wednesday morning U.S. time. “All is well!” Trump said in the Twitter post.

Oil Crashes Back Below 'Soleimani Dead' Levels After Trump-Zarif De-Escalation - Well that all de-escalated quickly... thanks to a pair of tweets from Trump and Zarif that "all is well" and "operations are concluded," all war premia has been removed from WYI...  Echoing the price action after the attack on Saudi Arabia's Abqaif refinery...  Bears will be hoping that Trump doesn't re-escalate the rhetoric in this speech due any second.   Oil prices exploded overnight after the initial leg from API and then the Iranian missiles strikes, but thanks to a pair of tweets from Trump and Zarif that "all is well" and "operations are concluded," prices reverted back to unchanged. “Not a single drop of oil supply has been lost due to the recent incidents and that is why the oil price so quickly has fallen back down again,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, Oslo-based chief commodities analyst at SEB AB. Last night's API data did move the crude market, before the Iranian chaos started, so we suspect - after the overnight rollercoaster - that this morning's official data will spark some notable reaction.  DOE

  • Crude +1.164mm (-3.6mm exp)
  • Cushing -821k (-660k exp)
  • Gasoline +9.137mm (+2.7mm exp) - biggest build since Jan 2016
  • Distillates +5.33mm (+3.9mm exp)

A big draw in the prior week, and big draw reported by API, were blown away by a surprise crude inventory build and huge product builds...  US Crude production was unchanged on the week, remaining near record highs...  WTI was trading just below $62 ahead of the DOE data and dropped to the day's lows on the surprise build...

Oil logs lowest finish since mid-December as Trump speech cools Iran war worries - Oil futures fell sharply on Wednesday, logging lowest settlement since mid-December, as comments from President Donald Trump calmed nerves surrounding a potential war with Iran. Prices had seen a sharp but brief spike late Tuesday, brought on by Iranian missile strikes at bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are stationed. In a speech Wednesday, Trump said Iran “appears to be standing down” following those strikes, and announced fresh sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Trump said the U.S. suffered no casualties. “Trump’s statement on Iran delivered more saber-rattling with hints of a premature victory lap,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda. “Risk assets extended their gains after it was clear this speech was de-escalating the US-Iran conflict.” Ahead of the Trump’s speech, perceptions that the assault could mark the end of the U.S.-Iran conflict rather than an escalation, as well as data showing an unexpected weekly climb in U.S. crude stockpiles, had combined to pull oil prices lower. West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell $3.09, or 4.9%, to settle at $59.61 a barrel. That was the lowest finish for a most-active contract since Dec. 12, according to Dow Jones Market Data. March Brent crude lost $2.83, or 4.2%, to $65.44 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, for the lowest finish since Dec. 16. WTI jumped as high as $65.65 a barrel, its highest intraday mark since late April, while Brent soared to $71.75 a barrel, the highest in more than three months, shortly after Iran launched attacks on two bases used by the U.S. in Iraq.

Oil Prices Edge Up After Falling 5% On Trump’s Comments - Oil prices rebounded on Thursday in Asia after slumping as much as 5% overnight as U.S. President Donald Trump refrained from further military hostilities with Iran. U.S. Crude Oil WTI Futures rose 0.7% to $60.02 by 12:30 AM ET (04:30 GMT), while International Brent Oil Futures gained 0.6% to $65.83. Oil prices were highly volatile this week, with WTI hitting an April 2019 high of $65.65 on Wednesday amid news of the Iran attack on two U.S.-Iraqi airbases, but settled down 5% lower at $59.61 overnight after Trump offered Tehran chances for talks if it “changed its behaviour.” While the president said the U.S. will hit Iran with heavier sanctions. But he did not speak of a counterattack, easing concerns of further escalation of conflict between the two nations. Last week, Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad.Iran has vowed to retaliate following the attack. Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that U.S. crude stockpiles rose by 1.2 million barrels for the week ended Jan. 3. The market was looking for a decline of 3.6 million barrels, according to analyst forecasts compiled by Gasoline inventories soared by 9.1 million barrels, compared with expectations for a rise of 2.7 million barrels, the EIA said. Distillate stockpiles climbed by 5.3 million barrels, versus forecasts for a build of 3.9 million barrels.

Trump’s press conference points to the big reason oil prices are low — and why that gives America a big advantage – Past turmoil in the Middle East has often been a sure-fire way of bidding oil prices sharply higher. For example. after Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) quickly jumped from $42 to $76 on an inflation-adjusted basis, a spike of about 80%.   But when news broke last week that Iranian General Qassem Soleimani had been killed in an American-ordered drone strike, markets responded far more modestly: Brent crude climbed $2 to $68, with West Texas Intermediate moving in similar fashion, up about $2 to $63. Even after events of the last 24 hours—Iranian missile attacks on American bases in Iraq—prices have been muted: Brent  gained another dollar, but WTI has actually slipped a bit.  President Trump has threatened to bomb dozens of targets in Iran, which would undoubtedly bring a nasty reaction—perhaps an Iranian attack on an oil tanker or, say, another bombing of Saudi oil facilities, like the one in September. You’d think this these jitters would cause a spike in prices, but no. Why?  It could be that no one really believes that Trump would start another Mideast war.  Indeed, the president appeared to take the off ramp with his remarks made Wednesday—signaling that there will be more sanctions, but no military attack on Iran itself. But the smallish gains for oil could also be because of something else—the rise of fracking, which has dramatically lessened America’s dependence on imported oil, and with it, our sensitivity to supply disruption. In 2018, for example, about 11% of the oil the United States uses was imported—the lowest level since 1957. Of that, our biggest supplier, by far, is right next door: Canada. An OPEC embargo in 1973-74 and Iran’s revolution in 1979 led to sharply higher gasoline prices here, gas stations running out—and the U.S. economy falling into two nasty recessions. But—as Trump said —American policymakers today have far more wiggle room to decide how to best advance our country’s interests without worrying about oil prices. This is a strategic advantage, and a big one at that. It’s also supportive of one of the big themes Trump campaigned on four years ago: to reduce America’s footprint in the Middle East. We don’t need their oil, and other than supporting Israel and keeping shipping lanes open, there are fewer reasons for us to be there. Speaking of keeping shipping lanes open, perhaps countries that are more dependent on Mideast oil than we are—China and Japan, for example—could do more to help out.

Oil eases as focus shifts from Iran tensions to U.S. crude build -(Reuters) - Oil prices retreated further on Thursday, adding to sharp losses in the previous session as the market shifted focus toward rising U.S. crude stocks and away from worries about the conflict between the United States and Iran. Broadly, prices were moving back toward where they stood before a Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general, prompting an Iranian rocket attack on Iraqi air bases hosting U.S. forces. These events pushed crude to its highest in four months. “The way the market gives a geopolitical risk premium and then takes it right back indicates that the market fundamentally isn’t very strong,” said Gene McGillian, director of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. “A lot of participants in the market think that there’s a lot of oil around the world that consumption doesn’t take care of.” After falling 4.1% on Wednesday, Brent crude futures settled down 5 cents at $65.37 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate fell 7 cents to $59.56 after sliding nearly 5% the previous day. During European trading hours Iranian media carried reports of military commanders speaking of further action aimed at expelling U.S. troops from the region. On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump stepped back from further military action, depressing oil prices and diverting attention to a surprise weekly build of 1.2 million barrels in U.S. crude stockpiles. The build, reported on Wednesday by the Energy Information Administration, shocked the market after analysts forecast a drop of 3.6 million barrels.

Crude prices drop to lowest level since July - After spending almost three weeks above the $60 level, crude prices retreated about 6 percent to close just above $59 on Friday. Having briefly climbed above $65 a barrel in overnight trading early in the week as tensions rose between the U.S. and Iran, oil prices retreated to their lowest level since July as both countries appeared to take a step back. West Texas Intermediate on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 52 cents to close at $59.04 a barrel Friday. The posted price dropped to $55.50 a barrel. Natural gas prices posted a gain for the week, adding 3.6 cents to close at $2.202 per Mcf on the NYMEX. Gas prices had started the week at $2.135 per Mcf.

U.S. oil futures post their biggest weekly loss since July - Oil futures settled lower on Friday, with U.S. benchmark prices down more than 6% for the week, marking their largest weekly percentage decline since July, according to FactSet data. Baker Hughes BKR, -0.72% reported a third weekly fall in the number of active U.S. rigs drilling for oil, but the news failed to support prices, which have now fallen for four consecutive sessions following a lack of significant developments in the U.S.-Iran conflict. February West Texas Intermediate oil declined by 52 cents, or 0.9%, to settle at $59.04 barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. For the week, the front-month contract fell 6.4%, marking the biggest weekly percentage decline since July.

Rocket attack in Baghdad, Syria gas field shelled after Soleimani killing - Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah Brigades warned Iraqi security forces to be at least 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) away from all American bases starting Sunday evening. Syrian regime forces and Iranian militias fired three shells at the Conoco gas field in the Deir Ezzor area of eastern Syria and two rockets were fired at the Green Zone where the US embassy is located on Sunday evening in the aftermath of the US airstrike that killed IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, according to Arab reports. No casualties were reported in the Conoco attack, according to local news source Deir Ezzor 24. According to Reuters, six rockets fell in and near the Green Zone in Baghdad. Several civilians in the area were injured, according to Al Arabiya. Iran-backed Iraqi militia commander Qais al-Khazali said on Sunday if US troops do not leave Iraq, they would be considered an occupying force. Khazali was speaking after Iraq's parliament backed a recommendation by the prime minister to end the presence of foreign troops in response to the Soleimani attacks. Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah Brigades warned Iraqi security forces to be at least 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) away from all American bases starting Sunday evening. The brigades cautioned Iraqi forces from serving as human shields for US forces. The shelling came after Iranian-backed militias and US forces traded blows on Saturday night, as rocket attacks targeted Baghdad's Green Zone and a base housing US forces, followed by a series of attacks on bases housing Iranian and pro-Iranian forces in Iraq and Syria.

US denies new air strike on pro-Iran convoy ahead of Soleimani funeral - Iranian state TV claimed that there was a fresh air strike on pro-Iran fighters in Iraq early Saturday. However, both the Iraqi military and the PMF itself later denied any air strikes had taken place in the area. The US-led coalition fighting Islamic State also said it did not conduct any recent attacks near the camp north of Baghdad.  The killing of Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Friday was the most dramatic escalation yet in spiralling tensions between Iran and the United States, which pledged to send more troops to the region - even as President Donald Trump insisted he did not want war. Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, told CNN that the killing was an “act of war on the part of the United States”. The Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iraqi paramilitary network dominated by Shiite factions with close ties to Iran, claimed a new strike had taken place early on Saturday morning, targeting one of their convoys. It alleged further air strikes near camp Taji had killed six people and critically wounded three when they hit a convoy of medics. The Hashed did not say who it held responsible but Iraqi state television reported it was a US air strike. This came hours ahead of a planned a mourning march for Soleimani, who was killed alongside Hashed number two Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in the precision drone strike. As head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign operations arm, Soleimani was a powerful figure domestically and oversaw wide-ranging Iranian involvement in regional power struggles—and anti-US forces.

Supreme leader in tears as huge crowd mourns slain commander in Tehran – (Reuters) - Iran’s supreme leader wept in grief with hundreds of thousands of mourners thronging Tehran’s streets on Monday for the funeral of military commander Qassem Soleimani, killed by a U.S. drone on the orders of U.S. President Donald Trump. As the coffins of General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who also died in Friday’s attack in Baghdad, were passed over the heads of mourners, Soleimani’s successor vowed to expel U.S. forces from the region in revenge. The killing of the 62-year-old Soleimani, architect of Iran’s drive to extend its influence across the Middle East, has stoked concern around the world that a broader regional conflict could erupt. Trump has listed 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites, that could be hit if Iran retaliates with attacks on Americans or U.S. assets, although U.S. officials sought to play down the president’s reference to cultural targets.

At least 50 killed in stampede at Iranian general's funeral, Tehran weighs response to U.S. attack - (Reuters) - At least 50 people were killed in a stampede as mourners packed streets for the funeral of a slain Iranian military commander in his hometown on Tuesday, forcing his burial to be postponed, state media reported. Tens of thousands of people had gathered in the southeastern city of Kerman to pay tribute to General Qassem Soleimani, whose killing in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq on Friday plunged the region into a new crisis and raised fears of a broader conflict. A senior Iranian official said Tehran was considering several scenarios to avenge his killing. Other senior figures have said Iran will match the scale of Soleimani’s killing when it responds but that it will choose the time and place. Tuesday’s stampede broke out amid the crush of mourners, killing 50 people, Iran’s ISNA news agency said, quoting the chief coroner for Kerman province, Abbas Amian. About 213 people were injured, an emergency services official told the semi-official Fars news agency. The burial of Soleimani had been postponed, ISNA said, without adding long any delay would last. “Today because of the heavy congestion of the crowd unfortunately a number of our fellow citizens who were mourning were injured and a number were killed,” emergency medical services chief Pirhossein Kolivand told state television.

Iran: deadly crush during funeral for Gen Qassem Suleimani – latest updates:

Soleimani Was In Baghdad On Peace Mission To De-Escalate With Saudis- Report -- Many rightly immediately questioned the official Trump administration narrative that Qasem Soleimani was in Baghdad on the night of his death by US drone strike in order to organize more attacks on Americans and US interests. This key claim served as the White House's post hoc justification for killing the top Iranian general.  And now it has emerged that the slain IRGC Quds Force chief had arrived at Baghdad airport last Thursday night as part of ongoing diplomatic efforts to mediate peace and an easing of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This according to no less than Iraqi (caretaker) Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. Iraq had been reportedly serving as intermediary for crucial Saudi attempts at diplomacy which saw tensions soaring between Tehran and Riyadh after a summer of "tanker wars" and the Sept.14 Aramco attacks, widely blamed on Iran and its proxies in the region. Adel Abdul Mahdi told parliament in a speech on Sunday the Soleimani's killing was a "political assassination" by the US, according to The Daily Mail, which reports further: Abdul Mahdi suggested that the Iranian military leader was in Baghdad as part of Iraqi-mediated negotiations with Iran’s main regional rival, Saudi Arabia.He said that Soleimani was going to meet him on the same day that he was killed.‘He came to deliver me a message from Iran, responding to the message we delivered from Saudi Arabia to Iran,’ Abdul Mahdi told The Washington Post.The Iraqi leader did not provide any further details.This would mean the high level assassination further served to disrupt peace efforts on a huge scale something which Iran hawks, including Israeli government officials, likely saw as an additional benefit to the strike.  Iraq has further identified that Soleimani had been traveling in the capacity of a "formal" and "high profile" guest of the Iraqi government, and had been delivering Tehran's reply to a Saudi de-escalation letter at the moment he was killed. 

Iran Abandons Nuclear Deal as Killing Fallout Widens -Fallout widened from last week’s killing of a top Iranian military commander by a U.S. drone in Baghdad, as Iraq’s parliament voted to expel U.S. troops from the country and Iran said it would no longer abide by any limits on its enrichment of uranium.Iran no longer considers itself bound by the 2015 nuclear agreement negotiated with the U.S. and other world powers, its government said on Sunday, according to the semi-official Fars news organization. U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the pact in 2018.Iraq’s parliament, which denounced the drone strike early Friday as a violation of the nation’s sovereignty, asked the government to revoke its 2014 request for foreign military intervention to beat back Islamic State, which had conquered large chunks of the country.The developments led Trump to double down late Sunday on his tactics. Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump repeated a threat to strike Iranian cultural sites if U.S. citizens or sites are struck in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. He also sent a warning to Iraq, saying that U.S. troops won’t leave the nation without billions in payment for a base there -- or, they’d leave and Trump would apply sanctions to the country, which is an ally. Iraqi parliamentary session held to discuss presence of foreign forces in Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan. 5. “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build, long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,“ Trump told reporters as he returned to Washington from Florida. “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. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.” Trump’s Iraq threat is his latest effort to ratchet up warnings against any counter-attack in the aftermath of Soleimani’s death. Earlier, a Lebanese proxy nurtured by Soleimani, vowed to attack U.S. soldiers and bases as Gulf Arab states tried to head off the kind of retribution that would plunge the combustible region into a broad military confrontation.

Iraq Votes To Expel US Troops As Iranian MPs Chant Death To America -- Interim Iraqi prime minister, Adil Abdul Mahdi, stressed during the session, that while the US government notified the Iraqi military of the planned strike on Soleimani, his government denied Washington permission to continue with the operation.  As RT reports, Mahdi said after the incident that it was clear it was in the interest of both the US and Iraq to end the presence of foreign forces on Iraqi soil. "Despite the internal and external difficulties that we might face, it remains best for Iraq on principle and practically."  Still there are plenty more US bases around...  Meanwhile, as the Iraqi government voted, the Iranian parliament took to the Parliament podium to chant "death to America."  After a speech by parliamentary Speaker Ali Larjani, who exclaimed "Mr. Trump, this is the voice of the Iranian nation," MPs surged united to the podium...  The Iranian MPs echoed a popular sentiment heard on the streets as 1000s mourned the death of Qasem Soleimani.

British soldiers in Middle East on high alert amid warnings they WILL be killed as 'collateral damage' as Boris Johnson backs Donald Trump over 'self-defence' killing of Qassem Soleimani - Boris Johnson today backed America's right to 'self-defence' as the fallout from Donald Trump's killing of Qassem Soleimani escalated. The PM's official spokesman refused to criticise the dramatic drone strike despite threats from Tehran that UK forces could be 'collateral damage' in reprisals. But Downing Street did caution that attacks on cultural sites - an idea Mr Trump has mooted - could break international law. And the government has again appealed for Iraq not to expel British and US troops, pointing out that they are in the country to combat ISIS. In a phone call with Iraqi counterpart Adil Abdul Mahdi today, Mr Johnson stressed his commitment to 'Iraq's stability and sovereignty' after the killing on its territory. He 'emphasised the importance of the continued fight against the shared threat' from the terrorist group. Mr Johnson is back in Westminster after his Caribbean holiday, but finds himself walking a tightrope between Mr Trump and other allies who want to ease tensions. He met Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace this afternoon to take stock of the situation. Speaking afterwards Mr Raab said: 'We have been very clear that cultural sites are protected under international law and we would expect that to be respected.'

To prevent US-Iran war, we must withdraw from Iraq - Iranian retaliation is now clearly inevitable for President Trump’s decision to order the killing Thursday of terrorist Gen. Qassem Soleimani. It appears this will set off a chain reaction of strikes and counterstrikes that will plunge America into a new “endless war” in the Middle East – unless we act to prevent it. This is a war we don’t need. The best way to keep it from happening is to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq – a nation where the government no longer wants us, and which has allied itself the virulently anti-American regime next door in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The truth is that we have no vital U.S. interest in Iraq and there is nothing there worth fighting for. Right now the only question is when and where the Iranians will strike, and how the U.S. will respond. News reports Saturday quoted Iranian Big. Gen. Gholamali Abuhamzeh as saying dozens of U.S. military bases and other targets are possible targets for Iran. And the Iranian-supported Iraqi terrorist militia Kataib Hezbollah – which led the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Tuesday – issued a warning to Iraqi security forces to stay more than a half-mile from American military bases starting Sunday night. Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted Saturday: "Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD." Unfortunately, Iran knows exactly how to rain rockets down on American installations in Iraq, crippling critical roads and killing and maiming our troops with armor-penetrating roadside bombs. Iran has had 17 years of practice attacking U.S. forces in Iraq and controls parts of the Iraqi security forces that are supposed to be allied with America. Of course, the U.S. military has planned for this and – as President Trump said in his tweet – is prepared to defend and fight back. Like it or not, this will most likely escalate into a full-scale U.S.-Iran war..

There’s a silver lining in a potential US-Iran war - The US is in a very strong position versus Iran. It has a vastly superior air force including stealth bombers and fighter planes, modern and effective naval forces including aircraft carriers, missile defense Aegis cruisers and nuclear submarines. The US also has superb intelligence and situational awareness, something the Iranians lack. Iran has short, medium and some long-range rockets, and the ability to use terrorism to its advantage. Beyond that, Iran has little else. The Iranian navy is worthless as a fighting force. Its air force is made up mostly of old planes that are hardly flightworthy. It does not have precision weapons. Iran does have drones and aging Russian cruise missiles. It also has proxy forces that can cause trouble for Israel in the form of Hezbollah and, to a degree, Hamas. But not much more.   The US has formidable allies in the region. Israel has a first-rate air force, missile defenses, submarines and strike naval assets. It has a well-disciplined and trained army along with civil defense to protect its citizens. Like the US, Israel has excellent situational awareness and intelligence assets, formidable command and control capabilities, and deep fighting experience. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other allies in the region also have frontline fighter aircraft and competent naval assets. Like Israel, they also have some missile defenses. They are supported by the US, have precision weapons, and in a setting of general war can be useful and effective assets. Given the nature of the Iranian regime, its tendency toward extreme posturing and its ambition to dominate the Middle East and Persian Gulf, nothing can be ruled out. But if Iran does go to war, there is a silver lining: heightened conflict could provide the opportunity to end the country’s budding nuclear ambitions. If conflict breaks out, the US could use its bunker busters and precision weapons to annihilate as much of Iran’s missile and nuclear weapons centers as possible. That would definitely end the Mullahs’ rule and the Middle East would be spared the growing threat of nuclear war.

The Real Reason the U.S. Is Interested in Iran -  The American obsession with Iran is about oil and natural gas. If these two resources had been absent, it is hard to imagine such an intense American focus on the country from the time of a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency-backed coup of Iran’s elected government in 1953 to today. The Foreign Policy magazine piece linked above is based on declassified CIA documents and summarizes the coup this way: “Known as Operation Ajax, the CIA plot was ultimately about oil.”  This should come as no surprise. Iran was an oil power back in 1953 and it remains one today. Iran is presumed to have the third largest oil reserves in the world and the second largest natural gas reserves. Even if the numbers cited are somewhat inflated, Iran’s reserves are not small, and the country is likely to play a large role in world energy markets for many years to come. The recent escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran because of the U.S. assassination of a prominent, popular and by all accounts highly effective Iranian general will allow the advocates of war to trot out all manner of excuses for such a war: terrorism, regime change, the credibility of the United States, Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons, and the United States’ geostrategic posture vis-à-vis big power rivals such as Russia and China. (Does anyone really know what the last one means?) What won’t be discussed are the deep historical antagonisms which have developed starting with the 1953 CIA-backed coup, and few people remember that the United States supplied economic aid, dual-use (both civilian and military use) technology, training and arms through other countries to Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War.  Iran is said to have suffered over 1 million deaths during the eight years of conflict which also created a large class of disabled people.It turns out that the Iranian focus on America and its worldwide military, intelligence (covert and otherwise) and diplomatic operations is but a mirror image of the American focus on Iran and its worldwide network of intelligence and allied surrogates that Iran uses to strike at the United States and its allies.Behind it all are the vast stores of hydrocarbons that make Iran’s power possible and its importance substantial in the world. What is strange about this American obsession is that successive American administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have told us that soaring domestic production of oil and natural gas from shale deposits in t he United States would free us from foreign sources and lighten our military and security burden abroad. “Energy dominance” became the watchword in the U.S. oil and gas industry. So, why is the U.S. government and national security establishment still obsessing over Iran? Here are three possible energy-related explanations:

  • There isn’t as much U.S. shale oil and natural gas as we are being told.
  • Iran is a competitor of the U.S. oil industry.
  • Iranian energy exports are a way for Iran to extend its influence.

 Israelis quietly hail Soleimani killing as they brace for retaliation WaPo — Israelis reacted with muted satisfaction Friday to the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a man they considered the mastermind behind decades of terrorism directed against their country, even as they braced for potentially deadly retaliation by Iran and its proxies at a time of pitched tension in the region. Israel’s embassies around the world were put on heightened alert, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Greece to monitor the situation from Jerusalem. Businesses bustled as usual on the morning before the beginning of the Sabbath, but officials closed the Hermon ski area, a resort in the Golan Heights that has been targeted in the past by missiles fired from Syria. Israel’s official reaction to Soleimani’s killing by a U.S. drone strike was restrained, so as not to further inflame the moment or imply any Israeli involvement. Netanyahu instructed government officials not to comment but hailed the attack in remarks to reporters while traveling. “Qasem Soleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks,” Netanyahu said. “President Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively.” [Iran vows revenge after U.S. drone strike kills elite force commander] Analysts said Israel was preparing for possible reprisals from any direction, from Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon in the north to the Gaza Strip in the south, where the ruling Hamas faction and Islamic Jihad cells had long-standing ties to Soleimani.

Iranian Revenge Will Be A Dish Best Served Cold - Scott Ritter e assassination by the United States of Qassem Suleimani, a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general and commander of the Quds Force, an Iranian paramilitary force specializing in covert operations on foreign soil, has sent shock waves through the Middle East and around the globe. The Trump administration has justified its action, citing unspecified intelligence that indicated Suleimani was in the process of finalizing plans for attacks on U.S. personnel and interests in the region, claiming that Suleimani’s death “saved American lives.” This narrative has been challenged by Lebanese officials familiar with Suleimani’s itinerary, noting that the Iranian general had been in Beirut on diplomatic business, and had travelled to Baghdad via a commercial air flight, where he had been diplomatically cleared to enter. These officials claim Suleimani was killed while riding in a convoy on his way from Baghdad International Airport into the city of Baghdad. In any event, Suleimani’s death resonates in a region already on edge because of existing tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has announced three days of mourning for Suleimani, an indication of his status as national hero. Khamenei also vowed revenge on those who perpetrated the attack. Concern over imminent Iranian retaliation has prompted the State Department to order all American citizens to leave Iraq, and for U.S. forces in the region to be placed on the highest level of alert. Hundreds of American soldiers have been flown into the region as reinforcements, with thousands more standing by if needed. For many analysts and observers, Iran and the U.S. are on the cusp of a major confrontation. While such an outcome is possible, the reality is that the Iranian policy of asymmetrical response to American aggression that had been put in place by Qassem Suleimani when he was alive is still in place today. While emotions run high in the streets of Iranian cities, with angry crowds demanding action, the Iranian leadership, of which Suleimani was a trusted insider, recognizes that any precipitous action on its part only plays into the hands of the United States. In seeking revenge for the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, Iran will most likely play the long game, putting into action the old maxim that revenge is a dish best served cold.

Iran moving drones, missile batteries as US forces placed on alert: report - Iran is moving some drones and missile batteries as U.S. forces were placed on high alert Monday night, CNN reported.   U.S. forces and air-defense missile batteries in the Middle East were told to monitor for potential Iranian drones after intelligence suggested an attack on U.S. targets, two U.S. officials told CNN.  Intelligence saw Iran moving military equipment, including drones and missiles, over the last several days. U.S. officials told CNN the recent development could mean they are moving them in fear of a potential U.S. strike or they are preparing to conduct their own strike.   An official told the news source that "there were indications that we needed to monitor the threats" more closely than at current levels. Another said the situation required "all Patriot batteries and forces in the area [to be] on high alert" against an "imminent attack threat."  The U.S. is preparing for strikes in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan based on intelligence, CNN reported, and the U.S. Maritime Administration has cautioned commercial ships in the Middle East about potential “Iranian action against U.S. maritime interests in the region.”  Iran has used missiles on its drones in other attacks, including a prominent strike at two Saudi oil refineries last year.

Missiles hit Iraq base housing US troops; Iran claims responsibility - President Trump was briefed Tuesday evening after Iran claimed responsibility for the launch of missiles at an Iraqi military base housing U.S. troops, a marked escalation in the conflict between the two countries following the U.S.'s killing of a top Iranian general. The Pentagon in a statement said Iran had "launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq," adding, "It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Irbil." Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in the statement that the bases had been on high alert since the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week. “We are aware of the reports of attacks on US facilities in Iraq,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “The President has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif) team also said it had been briefed on the matter, not long after Pelosi had met in the Capitol basement with the other members of the Gang of Eight for a briefing on the decision to launch the drone strike in Baghdad last week that killed Soleimani. "We must ensure the safety of our servicemembers, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence," the Democratic leader tweeted Tuesday night, adding: "America & world cannot afford war." Pelosi had huddled earlier Tuesday with members of the Democratic Steering Committee in another part of the Capitol, where she was handed a note about the latest strike on the base in Iraq. She then left the meeting to gavel open the floor ahead of Tuesday evening's votes and four minutes later spoke by phone with Vice President Pence, who briefed her on "the Iranian attacks on facilities housing U.S. troops in Iraq," according to spokesman Drew Hammell.

Trump Threatens To Hit Iran “Hard and Fast” After Rockets Strike US Targets In New Attacks --US officials suspect that the Iranian government has followed through on its promise of retaliation for the airstrike that took out general Shahid Qassem Suleimani this week, as US encampments in Iraq and Syria were targeted by rocket fire just days after Iranian officials promised a severe response to the attack.The militaries of Iran and the United States have continued to square off in the middle east over the past week, with rocket fire exchanged in multiple countries. US forces have targeted locations in both Iraq and Syria that are affiliated with Iran, while the government of Iran is being blamed for a number of ‘Katyusha’ unguided missiles that were fired into a heavily fortified “green zone” in Baghdad, which is home to the US embassy and other government buildings. In the green zone attack, 5 people were wounded but no casualties were reported.Balad airbase, a military base near Baghdad where many US troops are stationed was also hit by rockets. In that attack, there were 3 people wounded, but luckily no one was killed in that incident either. The Al-Kindi base in Mosul was also bombed in the same 24 hours of fighting, but there have been no reports of injuries or casualties. Following the attacks, Hezbollah warned Iraqi Security Forces to stay away from US bases, as more attacks are expected to be coming.Most recently, late on Saturday, reports came in that US aircraft attacked Iranian positions near the eastern Syrian city of Al-Bukamal. The video below, shared by the Nonpartisan International Relations and National Security analysis group, Strategic Sentinel reportedly shows fires in the aftermath of the US-led strikes on Al-Bukamal.

US War Against Iran in the Dominion of Production - As I write there’s little but confusion on whether Iran launched a bona fide strike on a US base in Irak or whether this was a pantomime meant to let both sides save face and remain within the realm of fakeness. Contrary to Trump’s lies about US early warning systems, the US was tipped off ahead of time and was able to move its personnel and any important equipment. The question seems to be whether Iran informed only the Iraki prime minister who then treacherously tipped off the Americans, or whether Iran itself tipped off the Americans through the Swiss. Especially if the latter, this only delays the inevitable reckoning with reality. That would be typical behavior of the berserker leadership, in spite of the reality of the psychological impacts on the masses of the Mideast and the West. Ultimately the biological force of the masses will force reality upon the nations, however much their berserker leadership classes dig ever deeper into their delusions. (This fakeness has much in common with the climate-industrial movement and corporate environmentalism in general. These are committed to a fake pantomime of caring and action while always reassuring the economic civilization that it can continue the binge, that there is no reality beyond this binge being necessary, sustainable and desirable.) This Potemkin exercise, if that’s what it was, looks unimpressive. It’s not remotely “proportional” to US crimes. The Iranian people and Shiites everywhere will take this as an insult unless the leadership assures them this is only the beginning. In the meantime we’d be left where we started in the world of fakeness. This house of mirrors is the US home terrain, the fake world of dollars and Dominion mirages, Mammon and media. The system depends upon these mirrors for its entire position. The domineering dollar is only the beginning of it. Anyone who thinks they’re going to win by out-faking the arch-faker is likely to be disappointed. The prospect that in the minds of the respective leaders this is Phony War doesn’t change the reality of the psychological whip-sawing the American masses must be undergoing, from day to day being summoned by the media to constant Two Minute Hates, then an actual beginning to war, then “All is well!” and a toning down of the alarmism, then more fatuous boasting from Trump, and then what next? Regardless of what the berserkers at the helm think they’re doing, however fake or not the action and/or the spin on the action may be, the psychological effect on the masses is real. One thing the drivers definitely are doing is scorching all earth where any kind of sane mass psychology could try to build itself.

 War Least Desirable Outcome for US and Iran - Full scale war is the least desirable outcome for both the United States and Iran. That’s what Fitch Solutions believes, according to Richard Taylor, an oil and gas analyst at the company. Taylor added, however, that the business sees a “high risk” of retaliatory action by Iran for the killing of General Soleimani, “which will keep a geopolitical risk premium in Brent in the near term”. “We at Fitch Solutions view it as most likely that Iran will respond in a way that seeks to bolster its power of deterrence and its projection of strength while still remaining below the ‘threshold of war’,” Taylor told Rigzone. “That being said, there is still a substantial risk of miscalculation on either side, with retaliatory attacks eventually ending up crossing the respective governments’ ‘red lines’ and causing a direct military confrontation,” he added. Taylor said that for Brent, the elevated tension and lingering threat of disruption to physical oil infrastructure will add a “bullish near-term impetus to price”. The Fitch Solutions representative noted that the extent to which Brent maintains this geopolitical risk price premium now becomes a key question, “with previous attacks in the region having caused a sharp but ephemeral run-up in the oil price before retracing within a matter of days”. “In our view, the increased likelihood of a period of reciprocal attacks and incidents between the U.S., Iran and their regional proxies will mean the current price premium in Brent is likely to be more persistent through the next few months,” Taylor stated. Will Scargill, a managing oil and gas analyst at GlobalData, said increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran “certainly add risk to the global oil market” but added that the effect on the oil market of these heightened tensions is likely to be time and value-limited. “More significant market effects would likely only come from a major escalation in Iran’s response, such as major disruption to oil transit through the Strait of Hormuz,” Scargill stated.

Tanker Operators Suspend Travel Through Strait Of Hormuz - Following Iran's decision to lob missiles at US-Iraqi bases last night, several major tanker operators have suspended sailing through the Straits of Hormuz, the site of several tanker attacks last year. Petrobras, Bahri - Saudi Arabia's state-run tanker operator - and other tanker companies have suspended sailing through the Straits of Hormuz, WSJ reports, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Meanwhile, Gulf officials are already trying to convince the world that there's nothing to worry about in what's essentially a tinderbox inside another tinderbox. United Arab Emirates’ Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei said on Wednesday he saw no immediate risk to oil passing through the critical gateway through which 20% of the global supply of crude travels. al-Mazrouei made the comments on the sidelines of a conference in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital. The source of their concerns is clear: Iran carried out its "retaliation" for the killing of General Suleimani last night - though the Pentagon has confirmed that there have been no American casualties from Iran's strikes. However, many fear that Iran isn't finished with its retaliation. Mazrouei added that OPEC was not discussing any precautionary steps at the moment, but would re-evaluate the situation if a supply shortage emerged, according to Reuters. He said earlier that the global oil market was well supplied. Oil prices initially moved higher after last night's attacks, but prices have since settled, and the market largely ignored the news about the tanker suspensions, as it was already largely priced in. 

How the world's most important oil chokepoint could factor into escalating US-Iran tensions -A critical gateway to the world’s oil industry has been thrust back into the global spotlight, following a dramatic escalation in geopolitical tensions since the targeted killing of a top Iranian general. The death of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani at the end of last week has ratcheted up already-high tensions between Washington and Tehran, with many investors increasingly anxious that a widening conflict could disrupt global oil supplies. Analysts at Eurasia Group predicted the most likely outcome of Soleimani’s death would be a months-long “escalatory cycle” of tit-for-tat responses in the Middle East, before mediation efforts eventually lead to de-escalating U.S.-Iran tensions. watch now VIDEO01:28 Gen. Soleimani’s daughter threatens attack on US troops during funeral procession But, as tensions continue to ramp up initially, analysts at the political risk consultancy said they would expect to see Iran harass commercial shipping in the Gulf — “and shipping in the Strait of Hormuz will be temporarily disrupted with navy drills.” Situated between Iran and Oman, the Strait of Hormuz is a narrow but strategically important waterway that links crude producers in the Middle East with key markets across the world. It was the focal point of heightened U.S.-Iran tensions in May and June last year, when six oil tankers and a U.S. drone were attacked in, or near, the waterway. Energy security in the Gulf Oil prices were trading higher on Monday, extending gains following Friday’s more than 3% jump. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $69.62 at around 12:15 p.m. London time, up around 1.5%, having briefly climbed above $70 a barrel earlier in the session. It was the first time since May that Brent futures had surpassed this psychologically important level. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $63.78 Monday morning, up more than 1.1% for the session.

Asia’s crude supplies could be disrupted if Iraqi oil facilities are targeted - Investors are worried about possible attacks on oil facilities in Southern Iraq that could affect crude supplies into Asia, an analyst told CNBC on Thursday. Iraq is the second-largest oil producer in OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. A disruption to its output level could make it hard for the oil cartel to replace the shortfall, Henning Gloystein, director for global energy and natural resources at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said on “Squawk Box.” “That southern facility is right at the heart of the geopolitical risk world at the moment,” he said referring to oil facilities in Iraq’s southern province of Basra. “This is where the oil market fears a confrontation because if that gets hit, markets will get into trouble, especially in Asia.” Basra, which is near the Umm Qasr port, accounts for nearly 85% of Iraq’s crude oil production, according to the Associated Press. Tensions in the Middle East soared after Iran on Wednesday local time launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against Iraqi military bases housing American troops. It was an act of retaliation in response to the U.S. killing of Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani. The attacks did not destroy major energy infrastructure that could have disrupted global crude supply. Oil prices initially surged more than 4% at news of the missile attacks, but they subsequently dropped almost 5% when U.S. President Donald Trump said Washington would impose sanctions on Tehran instead of another military strike as feared by some investors. But the situation remains volatile and the likelihood of possible strikes on tankers or oil facilities in the region remains.

The Latest: Germany: Russia, China say UN must address Iran crisis (AP) — At the United Nations, Russia and China say they strongly oppose the New Year’s Eve attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. But Moscow and Beijing say they have decided to block a U.N. Security Council statement condemning that attack because it doesn’t address the subsequent U.S. killing of Iran’s top general. The U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad had been stormed by Iran-backed Shiite militias. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Monday that Moscow agreed with the proposed U.S. statement condemning the embassy attack. But he says it would be “impossible” not to take into account the U.S. killing of Gen. Qassam Soleimani inside Iraq last Friday. Mideast tensions have since reached a boiling point. Nebenzia says the focus must now be to “prevent developments going down the drain in the direction of a major conflict.” ___ 11:00 p.m. The U.S. Embassy in Israel has issued a warning to Americans to stay on the alert “in the event of mortar or rocket fire.” The embassy’s website said it posted the security alert Monday “out of an abundance of caution.” The warning addressed U.S. citizens in Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Tensions in the Middle East have been at a boiling point since the U.S. killed a top Iranian last week in Iraq. Israel, a key U.S. ally and longtime foe to Iran, has kept a low profile since the killing. The U.S. has said it will bomb Iran if Tehran retaliates. A former Iranian Revolutionary Guard leader then suggested the Israeli city of Haifa and others could be targeted should the U.S. attack Iran. ___

Iran crisis: Germany, France, UK urge de-escalation - German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday called on "all parties to exercise utmost restraint" as tensions continue to rise in the Middle East. The three leaders issued a joint statement saying there was "an urgent need for de-escalation" and that the "current cycle of violence in Iraq must end."  The trio reiterated their "attachment to the sovereignty and security of Iraq," saying that "another crisis risks jeopardizing years of efforts to stabilize Iraq." Fighting against Islamic State in the region "remains a high priority," the statement added. The leaders urged Iraqi authorities to continue providing support to the US-led alliance fighting the militant group after Iraq voted to expel foreign troops linked to coalition forces fighting IS.  Top EU diplomat Josep Borell tweeted on Monday that the EU "deeply regrets" Iran's announcement that they will no longer abide by the terms of the nuclear deal. The joint statement from the UK, Germany and France came as German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas on Monday morning branded US threats of sanctions against Iraq in response to voting to oust US troops as "not very helpful." "I don't think it works to convince Iraq with threats but with arguments," said Maas, talking to Germany's Deutschlandfunk public radio.In their Sunday statement, the European leaders also responded to Iran's announcement that it would no longer stick to the limits set out in the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA).The statement called on Iran to refrain from any violence or nuclear activities and to reverse any measures that do not comply with the terms of the nuclear agreement.Officials from Germany, Britain and France will meet to discuss the Iran nuclear deal on Monday, Maas told Deutschlandfunk, saying it could "not simply be shrugged off." The three countries would react later in the week to Tehran's announcements. Merkel, Johnson and Macron made reference to the latest rocket attack on coalition troops stationed in Iraq, saying "we are deeply concerned about the negative role that Iran has played in the region, in particular with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the al-Quds unit under command of General Soleimani."

 Iranian MPs Pass Bill Labeling All US Military Personnel “Terrorist Entities” - Lawmakers of the Islamic Consultative Assembly on Tuesday have labeled the Pentagon and its affiliates as terrorist entities under a new law, according to Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Iran’s new legislation was overwhelmingly approved by 223 lawmakers, according to IRNA. The law comes in response to the US' assassination of top Iranian general Qasim Suleimani last Friday. The law states, "all members of the Pentagon, all affiliated companies, institutions, agents and commanders," are now considered terrorist organizations in the eyes of Iran. This means, all those Silicon Valley technology companies that have contracts with the Pentagon, are now all classified as terrorist organizations and could be targeted if war broke out. The nation's Supreme National Security Council has already designated the U.S. Central Command as a terrorist organization. The Trump administration recently identified the IRGC as a terrorist group after Trump pulled out of the 2016 nuclear deal with Iran. As both countries are designating each other as a terrorist organization, Iran is now on the verge of conducting a retaliation attack against the U.S. President Trump has warned that if retaliation is seen, the U.S. the U.S. military will strike 52 "very high level" Iranian cultural and state targets. Iran responded Tuesday and said it has considered 13 "revenge scenarios" in retaliation for Soleimani's killing. Fars News Agency quoted Iranian Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani on Tuesday as saying that "even if there is consensus on the weakest scenario, carrying it out can be a historic nightmare for the Americans."

Germany partially withdraws troops from Iraq --Germany has reduced the number of its troops stationed in Iraq due to growing regional security concerns, the Bundeswehr confirmed via a press release on Monday.Overnight, 35 German soldiers were brought to either Kuwait or Jordan, the military said. "These forces can be brought back at any time if training in Iraq is to resume."The German military contingent in the country will be "temporarily thinned out," with around 30 out of the 130 personnel serving in the country to be redeployed to neighboring countries, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer had said in a letter to their ministries.The transfer mainly applied to soldiers stationed in Iraq's capital, Baghdad, and Taji to the north. Iraq's parliament voted for anti-IS coalition soldiers to leave the country following the fatal drone attack on Qassem Soleimani.The German Bundeswehr supports regional efforts against Islamic State in Iraq, providing military training, Tornado reconnaissance jets and tanker aircraft for air-to-air refueling. Most of Germany's soldiers in Iraq are stationed in the northern Kurdish region of the country.

Chevron pulls American oil workers from Iraq - Chevron has evacuated all of its American oil workers from Iraq following last week’s United States airstrike in Baghdad. Chevron, the United States' second largest oil company, is pulling its American workers out of Iraq. (Credit: CNN) All of its employees and contractors who are U.S. citizens have left the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq as a precautionary measure. Chevron does not have oil workers elsewhere in Iraq. A Chevron spokesperson says the safety of its people and facilities is the top priority globally. The company says local staff are overseeing Chevron’s ongoing operations in the Kurdistan region. Exxon Mobil, another major U.S. oil company, has operations in southern Iraq. Britain’s BP and Anglo-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell also work in the region. In a statement, Exxon says it is closely monitoring the situation and it has measures in place to provide security. Other oil companies, including BP and Shell, declined to comment.

Rockets reportedly hit Baghdad Green Zone a day after Iran fires missiles at US targets in Iraq- Two rockets hit the Green Zone in Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, a day after Iran launched missiles at bases housing U.S. and other coalition forces in Iraq, according to a report Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average pared gains following reports of an explosion in Baghdad. It closed 161 points higher but about 80 points lower than it had been just before the news. Iraq’s military said two Katyusha rockets fell inside the Green Zone, the section that contains the U.S. Embassy, other embassies of Western nations and foreign businesses, according to Reuters. There were no casualties, according to the statement from Iraq’s military. The White House and Pentagon had no immediate comment. The rockets were fired several hours after President Donald Trump declared that Iran appeared to be standing down from military conflict with the U.S. — remarks that sent stock indexes surging higher. On Tuesday night Eastern time, Iran launched missile attacks against two Iraqi bases that house U.S. military and coalition forces. The barrage was retaliation for the killing on Thursday of Iran’s top military leader, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad. Trump on Wednesday defended the decision to target Soleimani, who has been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in the Middle East.

FAA issues emergency restriction for Persian Gulf airspace after Iran missile strike - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday issued an emergency restriction for Persian Gulf airspace after Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. “All flight operations in the overwater area of the Tehran flight information region (FIR) (OIIX) above the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman only are prohibited until further notice due to heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the region, which present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations and potential for miscalculation or mis-identification,” the FAA said in the restriction. The FAA pointed to the recent escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran as well as Iran’s shooting down of an unmanned U.S. drone in June while it was above the Gulf of Oman. The emergency restriction applies to all U.S. air carriers and commercial operators and all operators of other aircraft registered in the U.S. The order comes as tensions skyrocket between Washington and Tehran after a U.S. drone strike killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who directed the country’s international network of proxy forces. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “harsh retaliation” over the killing of Soleimani, who was known to be a close associate of the Iranian leader. The Pentagon confirmed Tuesday that Iran launched more than a dozen missiles against two Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces. 

Commercial Flight Carrying 180 Passengers Crashes In Ball Of Flames Near Iran Airport -- According to Iranian state television, a Boeing 737 carrying 180 passengers and crew has crashed near the airport in the capital city of Tehran. The aircraft was reportedly on its way to the Boryspil airport in Kiev, Ukraine, when it crashed just a few minutes after taking off from the Imam Khomeini International Airport.Civil aviation spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh said in a statement that an investigation team was at the site of the crash to asses the damage.  The crash comes amid increased tensions between the governments of Iran and the United States, as Iran struck back at the United States military sites for taking out the top ranking Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. As the military actions have been launched on both sides, America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an emergency flight restriction, which prohibited civilian aircraft from entering the airspace over Iraq and Iran. The restrictions included the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

At least 63 Canadians dead in Iran plane crash - -- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed his government will get answers after a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed, killing at least 63 Canadians, just minutes after taking off from Iran's capital. Trudeau said Wednesday 138 passengers on the flight were connecting to Canada. The flight included many international students who were studying at universities across Canada. Newlyweds and a Canadian family of four were also on the flight. Trudeau said his government is reaching out to his international counterparts. Getting answers from Iran might prove difficult as Canada closed its embassy in Iran in 2012 and suspended diplomatic relations. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is calling for cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash. The crash of the Ukraine International Airlines plane came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, but Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the 3½-year-old Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Ukrainian officials initially agreed, but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is ongoing. "There is a clear need for answers," Trudeau said. “Canada is very concerned on this." Trudeau said he spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump earlier Wednesday. Asked if he could say whether the plane was shot down or not, Trudeau said: “I cannot. It's too early to speculate.” Trudeau said Canadian victims' families want and deserve answers. Authorities said they found the plane's so-called black boxes, which record cockpit conversations and instrument data. But it was not immediately clear how much access to the information the Iranians would allow.

Amphibious Assault Ship Bataan With 2,000 Marines On Board Is Headed Toward Iraq - The Iraqi parliament voted on Sunday to expel US troops out of the country but so far, it appears that nobody in the US got the memo. In fact quite the contrary.According to the US Naval Institute, amid rising tensions with Iran, the US Navy is scrapping an exercise with Morocco as it redirects the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) and embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit with roughly 2,000 marines on board to the Middle East, a defense official confirmed to USNI News.#UPDATE: 2,000 US Marines en route to the Middle East onboard USS Bataan Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, USS New York San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock & USS Oak Hill Harper’s Ferry-class dock landing ship  4,000 US troops from 82nd Airborne also being/been deployed— ELINT News (@ELINTNews) January 6, 2020   Members of the 26th MEU and Bataan crew were slated to train with members of the Moroccan military as part of the joint Exercise African Sea Lion. Indeed, the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group had just arrived off the coast of Morocco this week before its new tasking, according to the USNI Fleet tracker. The ARG deployed quietly from the East Coast in December. Now, Bataan and the 26th MEU are moving closer to the Middle East, as shown in the most recent map of naval deployments.

Six B-52 Bombers Ordered To Indian Ocean Base To Be Available Against Iran - As more than 3,000 US troops are readying to deploy to the Middle East this week following the killing of the IRGC's Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani, the Pentagon will additionally send major military hardware in the form of an additional B-52 strike force. CNN's Barbara Starr reported late in the day Monday that a US defense official has confirmed the Pentagon will being sending six B-52 bombers to the major US military base at Deigo Garcia.Starr reports the B-52s will be "available for operations against Iran if ordered". However, the CNN correspondent noted that "the deployment does not signal that operations have been ordered." The major US military base at Diego Garcia, located in the middle of the Indian Ocean on the largest island in the Chagos archipelago, is often used as a staging ground for operations in the eastern hemisphere.  Currently, American B-52 Stratofortress bombers are stationed at a US airbase in Qatar, after a strike group was previously ordered there by US Central Command (CENTCOM) last May over increasing tension with Iran.For that prior deployment, the Trump administration said it had been sending a "message to Iran".Meanwhile, Iranian state media channels on Monday began "answering" US threats, broadcasting military "shows of force" against the United States to its population:

 Iran likely downed Ukraine airliner with missiles, Canada's Trudeau says, citing intelligence -(Reuters) - A Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard, was likely brought down by an Iranian missile, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said on Thursday, citing intelligence from Canadian and other sources. The destruction of the airliner, which carried 63 Canadians, “may well have been unintentional,” Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa. “We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said. The Ukraine International Airlines flight to Kiev from Tehran crashed on Wednesday hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq, and Iranians were on high alert for a U.S. military response. Trudeau said his government would not rest until it had obtained closure, transparency, accountability and justice. Earlier on Thursday, a U.S. official, citing an extensive review of satellite data, said Washington had concluded with a high degree of certainty that anti-aircraft missiles brought down the plane. The official said the Boeing 737-800 (BA.N) had been tracked by Iranian radar. The U.S. government believes Iran shot down the plane by mistake, three U.S. officials told Reuters. The data showed the plane was airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected, one of the officials said.

Video of Iran crash appears to show missile strike as Canada and UK say they have intel Iran shot down Ukrainian plane - CNN has obtained video on Thursday that appears to show a missile being fired into the Tehran sky and striking an object, around the same time that a Ukrainian plane crashed just after taking off from the city's airport.News of the video comes hours after the leaders of Canada and Britain said that they have intelligence that the Ukrainian airliner was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost 63 citizens in the crash of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 earlier this week, said Canada's intelligence, as well as intelligence provided by allies, shows that the commercial aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. He called for a thorough investigation into what caused the crash but would not provide additional details about the evidence and intelligence he cited."This may have been unintentional," Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa.Not long after Trudeau's news conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his country's intelligence service had come to the same conclusion."There is now a body of information that the flight was shot down by an Iranian Surface to Air Missile. This may well have been unintentional. We are working closely with Canada and our international partners and there now needs to be a full, transparent investigation," Johnson said in a statement."The UK continues to call on all sides urgently to deescalate to reduce tensions in the region," he added. CNN reported earlier Thursday that the US increasingly believes Iran mistakenly shot down the airliner, according to multiple US officials. The working theory is based on continuing analysis of data from satellites, radar and electronic data collected routinely by US military and intelligence.A US official familiar with the intelligence said the plane was shot down by two Russian made SA-15 surface to air missiles. The US saw Iranian radar signals lock onto the jetliner, before it was shot down.The morning after the incident, US analysts discovered the data but took another day to verify, the official said.Video sent to CNN appears to show a missile fired into the Tehran sky early Wednesday morning and striking an object in the sky. Around that time, the Ukranian airliner crashed shortly after takeoff.  CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the video, but the buildings seen in it appears similar to ones that are in the Iranian capitol suburb of Parand. The Ukrainian plane crashed just north of the suburb.  The video sent to CNN and the New York Times, shows a light in the sky, moving left to right and then exploding. CNN has asked for more information from the individual who sent the video and how they obtained it, but has not yet received a response.

Iran accidentally attacked a Ukrainian plane, causing its crash -  Just a few hours after Iran launched an attack against US bases in Iraq in retaliation for the US killing of Qassem Soleimani, a Boeing passenger jet bound for Ukraine crashed shortly after it took off from Tehran. All 176 people on board — including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians, and 11 Ukrainians — were killed. Iran originally claimed the crash was not caused by any military action. However, by Saturday morning, Iranian officials admitted the plane was shot down after it “took the flying posture and altitude of an enemy target.”Iranian officials called the act the result of “human error,” and President Hassan Rouhaniapologized in a statement on Twitter, writing, “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake. My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.”The admission followed Thursday reports by the US and Canada that their intelligence agencies had found a missile was responsible for the crash.“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday afternoon. “The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. It may well have been unintentional.”Trudeau declined to elaborate on the evidence, but said that these developments confirmed “the need to have an in-depth investigation into this matter.”And shortly after Trudeau’s address, the New York Times published a video showing the airliner being hit by what appeared to be a missile. Despite the statements by the US and Canada — as well as the Times’ release of the video — Iran continued to deny that a missile felled the plane. Iranian officials accused the US of“spreading lies.”

Iran's Day Of Reckoning- Tehran Invites US, Ukraine, France & Canada To Examine Crash Data - After vehemently denying that a misfiring of its missile defense system essentially shot UIA Flight 752 out of the sky, Tehran has decided that it will allow international investigators access to data from the plane's 'black box' which could help shed some light on what caused the crash, WSJ reports. Iran's top transportation ministers initially said that they wouldn't share the data, citing the escalating tensions with the US and the West as justification. However, an outpouring of criticism from alleged US intelligence sources, along with trained aerospace analysts, have suggested that "a shootdown scenario" most likely caused the deadly crash, has apparently changed their mind. Even President Trump has said that he doubts the Iranians' explanation.  So Tehran has invited representatives from Boeing, the US, Ukraine (where the plane's operator, Ukraine International Airlines, is based), France and Canada to join in the probe.Officials from Iran's Civil Aviation Organization said Friday during a televised news conference that they would try and analyze the black box data, including the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, in Iran, though experts in Russia, Ukraine, France and Canada are standing by to lend assistance.

In Stunning Reversal, Iran Admits Accidentally Shooting Down Ukrainian Passenger Jet - After multiple denials, and demands for proof from foreign entities - accusing them of spreading "psychological warfare" lies, President Hassan Rouhani has admitted Iran accidentally shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that took off from Tehran's international airport amid this week's tensions. In a pair of tweets, Rouhani admitted that "Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people," adding that "The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake." The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.  My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 11, 2020The army said Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was flying close to a sensitive Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps military site when it was downed because of “human error,” adding that the “culprits” would be identified and referred to judicial authorities.“Iran’s armed forces went on high alert following U.S. threats to target Iranian sites,” the army said in the statement.“Under such highly sensitive and critical circumstances, the Boeing Flight 752 flew close to a sensitive IRGC military site at an altitude and angle that made it appear as a hostile target. The plane was hit due to human error and unintentionally.”In the aftermath of the incident, Rouhani arranged for “compensation” payments to the victims' families, and ordered reforms of the country’s air defense system to prevent similar disasters in the future. Iran will reportedly send the black boxes of the crashed jet to France as it lacks the technology to decode them, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.  Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed “human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism” for the disaster. Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.  — Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 11, 2020

 Iran detains British ambassador amid Tehran protests -- U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab criticized Iran and warned that it could become an international “pariah” after the British ambassador to the country was arrested during protests in Tehran.Ambassador Rob Macaire reported he was “safe and well” in the British embassy after being detained for over an hour by Iranian authorities Saturday, the Guardian reported.His arrest came as anti-government protesters filled the streets of the city after the Iranian government admitted that it mistakenly shot down a Kyiv-bound commercial airplane.Raab said in a Saturday statement that, “The arrest of our ambassador in Tehran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law."“The Iranian government is at a crossroads moment. It can continue its march towards pariah status with all the political and economic isolation that entails, or take steps to de-escalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forwards,” he continuedThe ambassador was attending a vigil for the victims of the crash at Amir Kabir University. Although the ambassador tried to leave as the event turned into a protest, he was arrested outside of the university on suspicion of organizing, provoking and directing radical actions, according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency, the Guardian reported.State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus tweeted Saturday, “The Iranian regime a rrested the British ambassador to Iran. This violates the Vienna Convention, which the regime has a notorious history of violating. We call on the regime to formally apologize to the UK for violating his rights and to respect the rights of all diplomats.”

 Israel had advance notice of U.S. plan to kill Iranian general Suleimani, report says — Israel had advance notice of the U.S. plan to kill Iranian military leader Gen. Qassem Suleimani, Israeli military and diplomatic analysts reported Friday night while refraining from providing further details due to heavy military censorship. “Our assessment is that the United States informed Israel about this operation in Iraq, apparently a few days ago,” Barak Ravid, a journalist and commentator with deep sources in the Israeli security establishment, said on Channel 13. An Israeli army officer with knowledge of Israeli military assessments, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak to reporters, told the Los Angeles Times that the attack on Suleimani “did not come as a surprise.” The reactions of Israel’s political leadership to Suleimani’s assassination were mostly positive, though deep concern was registered throughout the leadership. Iran and Israel maintained warm relations for almost four decades before the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the shah and imposed a theocratic Shiiite Muslim regime that for four decades now has called for “death to Israel” and is accused of backing and masterminding numerous terrorist attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets, including the 1992 and 1994 attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that left over 100 people dead. Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based Iranian proxy militia, has in recent years been accused of perpetrating further attacks against Israeli targets in India, Thailand and Bulgaria.

Occupied Palestinian Territories: Israel approves 1,936 new settler homes: watchdog - Israel has approved the construction of 1,936 new settler homes on occupied Palestinian territories, watchdog Peace Now said Monday. The green light was given on Sunday and Monday, Peace Now said, adding that 89 percent of the new homes will be erected in “settlements that Israel may have to evacuate under a future peace agreement with the Palestinians”. The watchdog says settlement building has vastly increased under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ally US President Donald Trump. Netanyahu has been fighting for his political survival faced with corruption charges and after failing to form a new coalition government following April and September elections. The premier, who was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, is now facing a third general election in March.

 Israel Bombs Weapons Depot Run By Iranian Militia -- Tensions continued to climb in the Middle East Thursday evening as reports of another air strike have been confirmed, but this time, it was the Israelis doing the shelling.  According to reports by domestic and western media, the Israeli air force carried out an attack against an Iran-backed militia reportedly headquartered on the border between Syria and Iraq.  Tribal sources in Iraq apparently told reporters that the Israeli shelling targeted trucks and individuals associated with Iranian-backed militias near the Iraqi-Syria border. Artillery and shelling was also reported, though it's unclear who fired those shots. The weapons are believed to have been destined for Hezbollah.Casualties have been reported, though the exact number is so far unclear.  Sources claimed that the airstrikes were targeting weapons shipments, according to the Washington Post. The Kataib Imam Ali, an Iran-backed militia, was apparently moving weapons, possibly in preparation for a strike against US interests.Al Mayadeen reported that the strikes targeted ballistic missile warehouses run by the group. The warehouse was situated outside of the city of Al Bukamal

US Airstrike Failed to Kill an Iranian General in Yemen Last Week — On January 2, the US launched an airstrike at Baghdad International Airport, killing Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani, and multiple Iraqis. It turns out, that was not the only US assassination bid that day. US officials are now reporting that they also took a shot at Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Abdul Reza Shahlai, who was in Yemen at the time. They failed to kill him. Officials are declining to offer specifics, but the Treasury Department accused him of “a long history of targeting Americans and US allies globally.” Officials are also not talking about what specifically the justification for the attack was. The Trump Administration has struggled to justify the killing of Soleimani, and has offered no public evidence of allegations of an “imminent” attack. Shahlai would need to be involved in a whole other plot in Yemen, starting a whole new call for evidence on that too. That the US kept the failed assassination under wraps for more than a week is raising questions on whether the US carried out any more attacks, or was planning to kill even more Iranian leaders at the time.

US and Israel escalate Middle East tensions in wake of Suleimani assassination - A week after Washington’s drone missile assassination of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani at Baghdad’s international airport, a series of actions by the US and its principal regional ally, Israel, have escalated the drive toward a full-scale war throughout the region. On Thursday, it was reported that a US drone strike killed or wounded more than 60 civilians in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat, close to the border with Iran. Wakil Ahmad Karkhi, a member of the Herat provincial council, confirmed the mass casualties to TOLO news, saying the civilians were killed and maimed in a US attempt to eliminate the leader of a split-off from the Taliban, known as Mullah Nangyalay. The Pentagon has made increasingly indiscriminate use of air strikes in an attempt to stave off the Taliban, which controls the largest areas of the country since the regime it headed was overthrown by the US invasion more than 18 years ago. US strikes killed 579 civilians in the first 10 months of last year alone, a third more than in 2018. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin brief reporters about additional sanctions placed on Iran, at the White House, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, in Washington. [Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci] Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes struck targets on the Syria-Iraq border early Friday morning, killing eight members of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, the coalition of predominantly Shia militias that is considered part of the Iraqi armed forces. The air strike took place near the Albu Kamal-Qaim border crossing between Syria and Iraq, the same area that was struck by US F-15E fighter jets on December 29, resulting in the deaths of 25 members of the Kata’ib Hezbollah Iraqi militia and the wounding of over 50 more. Those bombing raids, carried out on the pretext of retaliating for a missile attack that claimed the life of a US military contractor, provoked angry protests that breached the security walls of the US embassy in Baghdad on December 31. Three days later, the US drone strike killed Suleimani, considered the second most important figure in the Iranian state, along with the top commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and eight other Iranians and Iraqis. This assassination attack amounted to an act of war against Iran and a war crime, punishable under both US and international law.

US assassination of Suleimani staggers Turkish government - Washington’s cold-blooded murder of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, who led forces fighting US-backed Al Qaeda-linked militias in Syria and ISIS in Iraq, has staggered the Turkish government. Ankara took 10 hours to react to this illegal act of war carried out by its decades-long NATO ally, specifically by President Donald Trump, whom Erdoğan has described as a “friend of mine.” Turkish Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said on Friday that “Turkey once again calls on all parties to act with common sense and avoid steps that will further escalate tensions.” Later the same day, the Turkish Foreign Ministry declared its “deep anxiety about the escalating US-Iranian tensions in the region.” It added, “Turkey has always been opposed to foreign intervention, assassinations and sectarian conflict in the region.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ( This statement came from a government that supported the illegal US invasion of Iraq in 2003, backed violent Islamist sectarian forces in the war for regime-change against the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and has waged a decades-long war against Turkey’s Kurdish population. Nonetheless, it reflects Ankara’s fear of a possible US war against Iran that would engulf Turkey, as well as of the outrage among workers across the Middle East at Suleimani’s murder. President Erdoğan’s first reaction to the killing was cited by Iran’s IRNA news agency after a phone call between Erdoğan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday. Rouhani reportedly said, “[W]e expect that all our friends and neighbors should explicitly condemn this crime,” adding that “if we remain silent against the US, it will become bolder and more aggressive.” He reportedly thanked the “Turkish president for his sympathizing with the Iranian government and nation on the sad occasion of the loss of the top Iranian general.” Erdoğan replied: “Foreign interference and fighting in the region prevent the region from attaining calm and stability, and we should not allow such measures to endanger regional peace and stability.” He gave a televised interview Sunday night to repeat his position, saying that “Turkey always stands against foreign intervention and regards the recent US attack in Baghdad with this same understanding.” Erdoğan said he had a phone conversation with Trump only a few hours before the assassination of Suleimani, adding, “So the matter was planned. We were shocked to hear the news. I specifically advised him not to increase tensions with Iran.”

Russia Declares Ceasefire Deal With Turkey In Idlib To Stem Refugee Tide - With all eyes on Iran and Iraq, and with the potential for a near-future US troop withdrawal from Iraq looming, the media has largely moved on from the other great festering problem which at any time could again become ground zero for full blown international proxy war: Idlib province. Following a month-long major Russian-Syrian offensive against jihadists in Idlib, which has witnessed hundreds of aerial bombings and the exit of tens of thousands of civilians toward Turkey (and according to both UN figures and Erdogan this is over 250,000), Moscow and Ankara have announced a new ceasefire agreement for the contested northwest Syrian province. "According to the agreements with the Turkish side, the ceasefire regime was introduced in the Idlib de-escalation zone starting from 14:00 Moscow time (11:00 GMT) on January 9, 2020," Russian Major-General Yury Borenkov announced Thursday. This has reportedly resulted in a "paused" Syrian Army offensive, which is to allow in humanitarian aid. However, the key to any potentially lasting or significant pause in fighting relates to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham's (HTS) acceptance. The al-Qaeda group issued no initial comment on the Russian announcement.The new ceasefire is part of a broader attempt by Turkey, Russia, and Iran to "de-escalate" the war in Idlib, also following pressure and threats out of Washington over the Syrian national offensive to liberate the territory from terrorists. Past attempts at any lasting ceasefire have witnessed sporadic mortar and missile attacks launched by al-Qaeda forces in areas south of Idlib, resulting in renewed Syrian Army operations to root out the insurgency. Additionally, Moscow is engaged in broader efforts to 'normalize' Assad's standing at the UN and among the so-called international community. As for Turkey, President Erdogan has lately voiced the impossibility of his country potentially absorbing millions more refugees from the Idlib war fallout while also repeating his well-known 'blackmail' threats to 'open the gates' of Syrian refugees on Europe.

Turkey’s operation in Libya: Targeting gas reserves - Erdogan is using a well-worn gimmick to halt that trend: He is appealing to nationalist sentiments among the Turkish population. Presenting the Turkish government as a powerful regional player scores him points with a portion of the population, especially those who are religious and conservative. Erdogan waxes poetic when speaking to the public, noting that Kemal Mustafa Ataturk himself, the founder of modern Turkey, fought in Libya during the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The fact that military operations in northern Syria and Libya are taking place in what was the former empire's territories has awakened dreams of past grandeur among some Erdogan supporters. It is also suspected that Erdogan intends to hold Turkey's presidential election — scheduled for 2023 — this year. And by employing nationalist rhetoric, he is seeking to line up supporters behind him. Turkey is also pursuing economic interests with its military engagement. The agreement that Erdogan signed with al-Sarraj in November encompassed more than just military co-operation. Another point that was agreed to in Tripoli had to do with international maritime borders that were redrawn to Ankara's advantage. This will theoretically enable Turkey to access massive gas reserves discovered off the southern coast of Cyprus about 10 years ago. But the find has also become a bone of contention, as the third-largest island in the Mediterranean has been split into a Turkish (northern) and a Greek (southern) half since 1974, with both sides claiming sovereignty over the valuable gas reserves. The Republic of Cyprus — the Greek part of the island — has cited maritime law, which guarantees every country an exclusive economic zone extending 200 nautical miles from shore, to bolster its claims. All natural resources found in this area belong to the country in possession of the shoreline, and that country has the right to exploit those resources economically. But in the case of Cyprus, the issue is a bit more complicated, because Ankara claims that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is also a sovereign state with all the rights that go with that distinction — including its own exclusive economic zone. The international community, however, does not recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as a sovereign state. That has led other countries in the region to ignore Turkey's claims to the gas reserves off Cyprus. Coincidentally, on the same day the Turkish parliament approved the deployment of its army, Israel, Cyprus and Greece signed an agreement to push forward with the EastMed pipeline project. The 1,900-kilometer-long (1,180-mile-long) pipeline is intended to transport gas from Israel and Cyprus to Greece and other European countries, such as Italy. Ankara was never invited to participate in negotiations over the project. Turkey's agreement with Libya is designed to deliver Ankara from its isolated role among its Mediterranean neighbors.

Libya's Haftar Rejects Russia-Turkey Ceasefire Plan After Huge Advances - When Russia's President Putin attended the launch ceremony for the TurkStream natural gas pipeline this week, at the top of the list of difficult geopolitical crises addressed with Turkey's Erdogan was the rapidly unfolding Libya war. Some analysts say that the new Libya conflict and war for control of the oil and gas rich North African country between Benghazi-based Gen. Khalifa Haftar and the UN-recognized GNA in Tripoli is set to dominate world headlines in 2020 alongside the US-Iran showdown. Pundits were surprised when on Wednesday the Turkish and Russian presidents agreed to jointly issue an urgent call for ceasefire in Libya proposed to start from Saturday (Jan.12) midnight.That surprise cooperative agreement (given Russia and Turkey back separate sides of the war) to come to the negotiating table was swiftly rejected Thursday by Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA). This as the death toll continues to climb as Haftar is vowing the ongoing siege of Tripoli is the "final offensive" to wrest control of the city. Haftar went so far as the call his offensive a war against "terrorists" that cannot cease until definitive victory.  In a video statement, Haftar's military spokesman said, "We welcome [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's call for a ceasefire. However, our fight against terrorist organizations that seized Tripoli and received support of some countries will continue until the end," according to Al Jazeera.At least 1,000 people have been killed since the LNA's military offensive began months ago though fighting has been sporadic for years with at least 5,000 others wounded, according to United Nations estimates. Meanwhile, Turkish troops are said to have touched down in the Libyan capital earlier this week after Turkey's parliament voted through a plan for military assistance to the besieged GNA. This after reports that Ankara has actually sent Turkish-backed Syrian militants with the FSA as mercenaries to assist in the campaign. Currently pro-Haftar forces are claiming to be a mere few kilometers away from the center of Tripoli. “The Libyan Army is now in Tripoli, and they are positioned only a few kilometers from the city center,” an LNA military spokesman said in an Arabic statement Thursday.

Rosneft, BP Hires Turkish Firm for Russian Gas Project -- A Rosneft-BP joint venture has hired Turkish construction firm Tekfen to build a new gas pipeline in Western Siberia. The 90-km pipeline will connect the Kharampurskoye gas field in the Yamalo-Nenets area with Russia's national grid system, Tekfen said in a statement on January 4.22 hours ago

Iraq escalations could hamper Afghan peace quest: EU – Roland Kobia, the European Union Special Envoy for Afghanistan has expressed anxiety over the possibly damaged to the Afghan peace talks due to the recent escalation in Iraq, saying that “Afghanistan is again squeezed in power politics but this time the Game is not so Great.” The concerns about the possible damage to the peace process have been raised after a US drone has targeted a top Iranian commander, Qassem Soleimani last Friday in Baghdad. “Middle East and South Asia strategies clash. The Afghan Peace Process needs in-depth solutions in Afghanistan but also a conducive regional, global context. Iraq events go the other way and jeopardize peace. Afghanistan again squeezed in power politics but this time the Game is not so Great,” the envoy said,” Kobia said in a tweet. Most of the experts believe that Soleimani’s assassination would pose sever tensions in the region. The Afghan presidential palace in a tweet has called on US and Iran to resolve the chaos through negotiations. In a telephonic conversation with the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, President Ashraf Ghani has emphasized that Afghanistan sovereignty would not be used against any country. Later today (Sunday), he also talked with Iranian president and assured that Afghan soil will never be used against any country. Meanwhile, Second Vice President, Sarwar Danish has expressed concern over the death of Soleimani, saying that any type of violence acts in the region could jeopardize the regional stability.

US Contractors Accused of Funding Taliban Attacks Against American Troops — Nearly 400 people who were either wounded while serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan or are family members of service members who died in the conflict sued a group of companies on Friday they say helped fund attacks against Americans by making protection payments to the Taliban. “Defendants supported the Taliban for a simple reason: Defendants were all large Western companies with lucrative businesses in post-9/11 Afghanistan, and they all paid the Taliban to refrain from attacking their business interests,” the 288-page complaint filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Friday states. “Those protection payments aided and abetted terrorism by directly funding an al-Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgency that killed and injured thousands of Americans.” Relying on confidential witnesses, internal documents and publicly available information from journalists, government watchdogs and congressional hearings, the complaint alleges companies that worked in war-torn Afghanistan commonly acceded to the Taliban’s mob-style demands for payment in exchange for the guarantee that their businesses interests would not be attacked. One unnamed American executive who worked in Afghanistan is quoted in the complaint as saying “We don’t need any security if the payments are made. Nobody f—s with us.” The payments allegedly climbed as high as 40% of the value of the company’s project and were often facilitated through subcontractors. The subcontractors, such as private security firms that were known to pay off the Taliban, would sometimes send money through Afghanistan’s traditional money transfer network, which can be hard to trace. Other times, the companies would simply hire Taliban operatives to work as guards. The companies had significant interests to protect. One of the named defendants, the South African telecom firm MTN, was the largest cell-service provider in the country, while the other companies either had government development contracts or security deals. “Defendants decided that buying off the terrorists was the most efficient way to operate their businesses while managing their own security risks – even though doing so jeopardized other American lives,” the complaint states.

Trump Threatens Mass Destruction in Afghanistan -- Nick Turse: - As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it later, both awkwardly and passively: “A decision was made to fire the Hellfire missile. It was fired.” That air-to-ground, laser-guided missile — designed to obliterate tanks, bunkers, helicopters, and people — did exactly what it was meant to do. As it happened, though (and not for the first time in its history either), the CIA got it wrong. The dead, local witnesses reported, were civilians out collecting scrap metal, ordinary people going about their daily work just as thousands of Americans had been doing at the World Trade Center only months earlier when terror struck from the skies. In the years since, those Afghan scrap collectors have been joined by more than 157,000 war dead in that embattled land. That’s a heavy toll, but represents just a fraction of the body count from America’s post-9/11 wars. According to a study by the Costs of War Project of Brown University’s Watson Institute, as many as 801,000 people, combatants and noncombatants alike, have been killed in those conflicts. That’s a staggering number, the equivalent of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But if President Donald Trump is to be believed, the United States has “plans” that could bury that grim count in staggering numbers of dead. The “method of war” he suggested employing could produce more than 20 times that number in a single country — an estimated 20 million or more Afghans, almost all of them civilians. It’s a strange fact of our moment that President Trump has claimed to have “plans” (or “a method”) for annihilating millions of innocent people, possibly most of the population of Afghanistan. Yet those comments of his barely made the news, disappearing within days. Even for a president who threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea and usher in “the end” of Iran, hinting at the possibility of wiping out most of the civilian population of an ally represented something new. After all, America’s commander-in-chief does have the authority, at his sole discretion, to order the launch of weapons from the vast U.S. nuclear arsenal. So it was no small thing last year when President Trump suggested that he might unleash a “method of war” that would kill at least 54% of the roughly 37 million inhabitants of Afghanistan. And yet almost no one — in Washington or Kabul — wanted to touch such presidential comments. The White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department all demurred. So did the chief spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. One high-ranking Afghan official apologized to me for being unable to respond honestly to President Trump’s comments. A current American official expressed worry that reacting to the president’s Afghan threats might provoke a presidential tweet storm against him and refused to comment on the record.

 Inside the U.S. military raid against its own security guards that left dozens of Afghan children dead – Once the Americans left, the survivors started digging. There were too many dead and not enough shovels, so a local politician brought in heavy machinery from a nearby construction site. He dug graves deep enough to fit mothers with children, or children with children. Some were still in their pajamas, their hands inked with henna tattoos from the party preparations the night before. Villagers picked through the rubble of what had been an entire neighborhood, looking for remains to wrap in white linens for burial. A boy clutching a torn rug walked in a daze on top of the ruins. A young man collapsed in grief by a pile of mud bricks where his home once stood – where his wife and four children had been sleeping inside. . The local doctor recorded a cellphone video to document the dead faces, freckled with shrapnel and blood, coated with dust and debris. Some were Afghan men of fighting age, but most – dozens of them – were women and children. Taza was 3 years old. Maida was 2. Zia, 1. The hot summer wind kicked up dust, smoke and the smell of gunpowder as villagers tried to make sense of why their remote village was demolished by an American airstrike in the middle of the night. A clue was found near several of the dead Afghan fighters: ID badges from the private security company at the American-controlled airfield up the road. Why had a team of U.S. soldiers and Marines battled its own paid security detail? After more than a decade, those who buried their families still don’t know. U.S. military officials publicly touted the August 22, 2008, Azizabad raid – Operation Commando Riot – as a victory. A high-value Taliban target had been killed; the collateral damage was minimal; the village was grateful. None of it was true. The Taliban commander escaped. Dozens of civilians were dead in the rubble, including as many as 60 children. The local population rioted. It remains one of the deadliest civilian casualty events of the Afghan campaign. But the story of how the operation turned tragic has been largely hidden from the public. USA TODAY spent more than a year investigating the Azizabad raid and sued the Department of Defense to obtain almost 1,000 pages of investigative files previously kept secret because it had been deemed “classified national security information.” The records included photographs of the destruction in Azizabad and sworn testimony from the U.S. forces who planned and executed the operation.

3 Dead, 2 Wounded After Terrorist Attack On US Base In Kenya - U.S. Africa Command has confirmed militants attacked a base used by U.S. forces in Kenya on Sunday. The Sunday attack was led by terrorist organization al-Shabaab at Manda Bay Airfield. U.S. Africa Command said, "Working alongside our Kenyan partners, the airfield is cleared and still in the process of being fully secured" adding that the security situation at Manda Bay is "fluid." "Al-Shabaab is a brutal terrorist organization," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Gayler, U.S. Africa Command director of operations. "It is an al-Qaeda affiliate seeking to establish a self-governed Islamic territory in East Africa, to remove Western influence and ideals from the region, and to further its jihadist agenda. U.S. presence in Africa is critically important to counter-terrorism efforts." There were reports on Twitter that infrastructure and equipment on the base were heavily damaged during the intense firefight. Twitter handle Intel Air & Sea provided several pictures of a commercial twin-engine passenger aircraft engulfed in flames. The U.S. military’s Africa Command confirmed that one American serviceman and two Department of Defense (DOD) contractors were killed on Sunday when the al-Shabaab terrorist group attacked the Manda Bay Airfield in Kenya. Two additional DOD members were also wounded in the assault, according to a Sunday afternoon statement from Africa Command, adding that they are being evacuated and are in stable condition. 

China replaces top Hong Kong envoy after months of unrest China replaced its top envoy to Hong Kong, Wang Zhimin, on Saturday, according to state-run media. "Wang Zhimin has been dismissed from his position as head of the Liaison Office" for Hong Kong affairs and was replaced by Luo Huining, state broadcaster CCTV said, without giving further details. Wang, 62, headed the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, a Chinese government body, housed in a heavily guarded Hong Kong skyscraper, through which official communications between the semi-autonomous city and China are conducted. The office has come under criticism in Hong Kong for being isolated and out of touch with the situation following months of protests in the city. "The Liaison Office has been mingling with the rich people and mainland elites in the city and isolated itself from the people," a Chinese official had said in November. "This needs to be changed." Wang, who had been director of the liaison office is will be replaced by 65-year-old Luo Huining, according to the official website of China's Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. Luo was also made deputy head of the National People's Congress Financial and Economic Affairs Committee, according to Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK. Luo had been semi-retired after serving as secretary of the Shanxi Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China.

China’s sovereign currency ‘progressing well’, central bank says, but there’s still no launch date --A report by Forbes in August, citing an unidentified source, said the cryptocurrency was set to be launched on November 11 to coincide with the Singles’ Day online shopping promotion, but that did not happen.The PBOC is not alone in the world in considering how best to adapt to digital currencies.Sweden’s Riksbank said last month it had awarded a one-year contract to professional services firm Accenture to build a pilot platform for a new digital currency called e-krona, with the aim of broadening the central bank’s “understanding of the technological possibilities”. When the bank’s digital currency research institute stepped up its rhetoric on the issue last year – after plans for Libra’s launch were announced in June – there was speculation that a Chinese sovereign currency could arrive as early as November.  A report by Forbes in August, citing an unidentified source, said the cryptocurrency was set to be launched on November 11 to coincide with the Singles’ Day online shopping promotion, but that did not happen.The PBOC is not alone in the world in considering how best to adapt to digital currencies.Sweden’s Riksbank said last month it had awarded a one-year contract to professional services firm Accenture to build a pilot platform for a new digital currency called e-krona, with the aim of broadening the central bank’s “understanding of the technological possibilities”.But it might still be some time before a currency is launched, as the bank said the pilot project may be extended for up to seven years. Also last month, Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda said that while the country had no immediate plans to issue a digital sovereign currency, as there was no demand for one, the bank would conduct “technical and legal research” into digital currencies. While the PBOC, which has been considering the possibility of a sovereign digital currency for about five years, was reticent about an issue date, Mu Changchun, the official in charge of its development, was quoted by Shanghai Securities Newslast month as saying that the “top-level design, formulation, functional research and testing” of the digital currency electronic payment, as it is formally known, had been completed.

A look inside the factory around which the modern world turns - Accompanied only by the night-time striddling of cicadas and the squeaky pedal on your borrowed bicycle, you head west through cabbage and sugarcane towards red neon signage on the horizon. By the time you reach the fields’ end, the hum of air-filtration systems drowns out the insects. Five factory buildings loom in the darkness behind steel fences. High-tension wires dive down into a substation from steel pylons, bringing with them enough megawatts to power a small city. Unless you are in the semiconductor business, or some allied trade, the letters on the neon signs on the factory roofs—tsmc—probably mean a lot less to you than the names of most of the other 29 of the world’s 30 most valuable public companies. But Apple (the second most valuable on average over the past six months, at $1trn), Alibaba (seventh, $458bn), Visa (9th, $380bn), Disney (21st, $249bn) and many of the others would be nowhere without the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (26th, $228bn). Unlike most of those other megacorps, tsmc does not sell products or services to the public, but its fabrication plants—or “fabs”—provide many of the high-performance chips which make those products and services possible. Phones, online marketplaces, smart cards, streaming video and much more all depend on them. With up to 90% of the market for the third-party manufacture of advanced chips, tsmc dominates the production of the infrastructure on which the modern world relies by manipulating matter with a precision no other company can match. That unique capability makes tsmc important in a way that goes far beyond the commercial. Vital to the advanced industries of both the United States and China, its unmatched capabilities in the realm of the nanoscule have implications at the highest levels of geopolitics. Semiconductors are mazes of circuitry consisting of components such as transistors carved into silicon. The exponential increase in computer capabilities known as Moore’s law (named after Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, a chipmaker) is possible because making a chip better and cheaper requires little more than making those components smaller. But creating extraordinary shrinking circuits requires an extraordinarily increasing physical infrastructure.

Nationalist mob goes on rampage at secular university in Delhi - Students and teachers have been attacked by a mob at one of India’s most prestigious academic institutions, inflaming tension between protesters and the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi. A masked group armed with sticks stormed New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on Sunday evening, beating students and faculty members involved in a months-long agitation against fee hikes. Students allege that the ABVP, the student arm of the powerful Hindu rightwing organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was behind the attack on the university, which is seen as the academic epicentre behind the secular idea of India. ABVP accused “left goons” of instigating the violence. “A mob was allowed to enter the campus, they had their faces covered and they had sticks in their hands. They went on a rampage,” said Ranjani Mazumdar, a JNU professor. “Just outside the gate the mob is shouting slogans: ‘all you anti-nationals inside should be killed with bullets’,” said Ms Mazumdar. “No one is feeling safe.” Videos of the attack that spread on social media were met with instant condemnation, including from Nirmala Sitharaman, the finance minister and a JNU alumna. “Horrifying images from JNU — the place I know & remember was one for fierce debates and opinions but never violence,” tweeted Ms Sitharaman. “I unequivocally condemn the events of today.” The university attack comes as India is convulsed by a wave of protests against Mr Modi’s Hindu-first policies and his government’s heavy-handed response to dissent, representing the first big backlash to the ruling Bharatiya Janata party since winning power in 2014. Demonstrations against a new citizenship bill flared following a police crackdown on students protesting against a new faith-based citizenship law at Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh and Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. Muslims worry that proposed citizenship reforms will make it difficult for them to prove their Indian nationality. Protests have entered their fourth week since beginning in mid-December, with an estimated 200,000 people gathering in Kochi city, in the south, on New Year’s Day. In New Delhi, protesters have claimed a section of a highway and set up tarpaulin tents to ward off one of the coldest winters in recent memory. While not directly linked to the citizenship protests, the attack on JNU has put the spotlight back on the security forces and raised questions on why the crowd was not stopped by police stationed near the campus. “There was a period of abject terror. It felt like a co-ordinated attack,” said a JNU student who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. “We feel this is part of a larger attack on campuses across the country.”

‘They wanted to teach a lesson in terror’: An account of Sunday night violence at JNU -- At around 6 pm on January 5, a violent mob wreaked havoc inside Jawaharlal Nehru University,: beating professors and guards, abusing and assaulting students, and breaking doors and windows. The situation subsided by 8 pm. The main gate of the university was closed by the Delhi police, which looked on as groups of rowdy men outside chanted slogans, attacked journalists and beat up JNU students. Students, mostly those affiliated with the Left, took over this space by 11 pm, as pedestrian harassment was replaced by loud slogans of “Aazadi”. The police held a flag march inside the campus and exited the university by 3.10 am. “They came to Periyar hostel first around 6 pm, these men with masks who wore shawls,” said a student who stays at one of the hostels, on the condition of anonymity. “I was sleeping in my room. The mob was only targeting some people and thrashing them. I ran and went to my friend’s hostel.” The student then described the second wave of attacks. “By the time it was 7-7.30 pm, we thought things had calmed down. Students were scared so they came out on the streets. But then the mob arrived at Sabarmati hostel and they started beating anybody and everybody,” the student said. “They had no time to distinguish someone from anyone. They had masks and wore shawls. Many of us ran to the hostels and others hid in the woods. I was there myself in the woods for more than an hour.” When asked who he suspected these men were, Lobiyal said the men did everything in the presence of a passive police force, so “one can guess who it is”. Naushad MK, a PhD student in Discrimination and Exclusion Studies, found his room on Sabarmati’s second floor torn apart when he returned there late in the evening. The floor was littered with shattered glass. “The minorities and the students belonging to the left-wing political groups were attacked. It is very clear as some other rooms are left untouched,” he said, implying rooms of students associated with right-wing groups remained pristine.

Living Through JNU’s ‘Bloody Sunday’: A University in Grave Crisis - The Wire - As a teacher of history, I have taught about Bloody Sunday, the event which sparked off protests in Russia in 1905.Yesterday, I lived through Bloody Sunday right in very the campus I teach at: Jawaharlal Nehru University. It was a balmy afternoon when my research group met at my house. A student presented a chapter of her thesis, on which there was an extensive discussion. The students dispersed at around 5.30 pm, mostly headed to nearby dhabasfor tea. One of them, along with my niece, stepped out towards Sabarmati Dhaba. My niece saw a group of students, many masked and holding lathis and rods, assembled outside Periyar hostel. She continued towards the dhaba only to find herself, other students and teachers set upon by this group. She ran for her life and hid under a table at 24/7, a popular eatery outside Sabarmati. She saw students being thrashed and teachers fleeing to escape this armed mob – which included women too.  Large stones were hurled. To escape, many students ran into neighbouring Sabarmati hostel for shelter. The masked group chased them into the hostel, battering everything in their way, from windows to doors – creating scenes of terror. As many as 15 students took shelter in a room and prevented the door from being broken down by the sheer weight of their bodies.  One of my colleagues, Sucharita Sen, had also been hit by a stone on her forehead and was admitted to the trauma centre at AIIMS. JNU Students’ Union President Aishe Ghosh, clearly a target, was hit on the head, and bled profusely. I began to receive calls from students who were holed up in their hostel rooms, fearing attacks. Apart from recognised students from left groups, many Muslim students sought advice on what to do. I advised them to stay in their rooms until the situation settled. But rather than settling down, trouble came from another quarter as militant, Bajrang Dal type groups mobilised from surrounding villages like Munirka and Ber Sarai, amassed at the main gate, and now posed a threat to the safety of all of JNU’s residents.  I felt as though I was in a gladiatorial arena, awaiting with dread the bloodthirsty mob which might be “allowed” to push their way in. The popular ‘Azaadi’ slogan associated with Kanhaiya Kumar was inverted to “Naxalvad se Azadi”, “Naxalvaadiyon se campus mukt karo”. All this while, on Sunday, we were frantically calling those who we knew in the media and in the police to intervene. I wrote in a JNU alumni group that we needed support, including the presence of sympathisers in large numbers. Soon, groups of students and teachers from Jamia and Delhi University began to reach Jawaharlal Nehru University. Gradually, they outnumbered the groups baying for our blood. We could now turn to escorting marooned students to their hostels or outside campus. In all this, the security personnel were glaringly absent. When my husband came into the campus at 6.30 pm, there were many police personnel at the main gate, but none where they were required. The police later said that they had been asked not to come in by the Vice Chancellor. The police was given permission to enter only after images of the  reign of terror streamed continuously on television channels.

 Widespread opposition among South Australian teachers to union-government sell-out agreement - Widespread opposition has emerged among teachers and support staff in the state of South Australia over a sell-out wages and conditions agreement, which was reached last month between the Australian Education Union (AEU) and the state Liberal government of Steven Marshall. The AEU claims that the government’s offer, put to a ballot of union members in the last days of the school year, from December 3–12, was passed by a narrow margin of 54–46 percent. The recording of such a large “no” vote in a state-wide education agreement in Australia is unprecedented. The agreement does nothing to address the pressing issues confronting teachers of class sizes, resources in the classroom, casualisation of the workforce or intolerable teacher workload. Moreover, it will enforce a real wage cut that is below the rate of inflation. The union had announced that it would put the government’s proposed agreement to a vote on December 3. Aware of mass opposition to the deal among educators, however, it claimed it would not make a recommendation to either accept or reject the offer, fraudulently claiming that this was out of respect for the “democratic will of the members.” The AEU allowed only seven school days for teachers to read the agreement, discuss and debate its contents, call a union meeting and vote, under conditions where educators are exhausted, stressed and overloaded, as they staggered through to the final days of the year. Within minutes of the announcement of the ballot result, teachers took to social media to express their shock at the outcome and disgust at the role of the union leadership in pushing the agreement through. One teacher, Bryce, commented, “Very, very disappointed and feeling hung out to dry. The executive needs to be removed immediately for sending the offer to members WITHOUT RECOMMENDATIONS. The timing is also highly suspicious as people are on leave, changing schools and roles. Tired, stressed and unable to comprehend the complexities… Will seriously be considering cancelling my membership tomorrow. I hope the Executive read these comments. People feel betrayed and shattered…… This last 2 weeks an absolute joke…”

Venezuela: Guaido Replaced as Parliament Head in Disputed Vote - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido was handed a defeat Sunday in his bid to secure reelection as president of the country’s National Assembly (AN).With the votes of reportedly 81 of 150 lawmakers, opposition Deputy for Yaracuy State Luis Parra was named president of the legislature. Franklin Duarte of the Social Christian COPEI party will serve as first vice president, Deputy Jose Noriega as second vice president, and Democratic Action (AD) party legislator Negal Morales as secretary. The parliamentary leadership is renewed annually on January 5, according to Venezuela’s Constitution.The leadership slate was presented Sunday morning by Deputy Jose Brito in opposition to that headed by incumbent Juan Guaido.Following his election to the top parliamentary post last January, Guaidoproclaimed himself “interim president” of Venezuela and was immediately recognized by Washington and its allies. In the subsequent twelve months, the opposition leader repeatedly attempted to oust the Maduro government by force, while seeing his popularity plummet amid a series of scandals, including his role in the alleged embezzlement of “humanitarian aid” and links to Colombian paramilitary outfits.On Sunday, Guaido never entered the legislative palace, claiming he was barred from doing so by security forces. A video circulated on social media even showed the opposition politician trying to scale a fence some time before the vote.However, his version of events has been called into question by other opposition deputies, who did take part in the session and suggested Guaido could have done the same. AD Deputy William Davila, a staunch Guaido loyalist, was seen freely entering the chamber, and later told reporters that all but a handful of lawmakers were allowed to do so. Video footage showed Guaido refusing to enter except in the company of several deputies whose parliamentary immunity had been revoked for alleged criminal offenses. Other top opposition legislators, including AD’s Henry Ramos Allup and A New Era’s Stalin Gonzalez were present for the vote. According to Second Vice President Noriega, 31 opposition deputies joined the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela and other Chavista parties in electing the new leadership. No finalized tally has been released and the identity of the dissident opposition lawmakers remains unknown at the time of writing.

January 2020 Global Economic Prospects: Slow growth, policy challenges – World Bank - Following its weakest performance since the global financial crisis, the world economy is poised for a modest rebound this year– if everything goes just right.Hanging over this lethargic recovery are two other trends that raise questions about the course of economic growth: the unprecedented runup in debt worldwide, and the prolonged deceleration of productivity growth, which needs to pick up to bolster standards of living and poverty eradication.Global growth is set to rise by 2.5% this year, a small uptick from 2.4% in 2019, as trade and investment gradually recover, the World Bank’s semi-annual Global Economic Prospects forecasts. Advanced economies are expected to slow as a group to 1.4% from 1.6%, mainly reflecting lingering weakness in manufacturing. Emerging market and developing economies will see growth accelerate to 4.1% from 3.5% last year. However, the pickup is anticipated to come largely from a small number of large emerging economies shaking off economic doldrums or stabilizing after recession or turbulence.  For many other economies, growth is on track to decelerate as exports and investment remain weak.  A worrying aspect of the sluggish growth trend is that even if the recovery in emerging and developing economy growth takes place as expected, per capita growth will remain below long-term averages and will advance at a pace too slow to meet poverty eradication goals. Income growth would in fact be slowest in Sub-Saharan Africa – the region where 56 percent of the world’s poor live.

Baltic Dry Plunges Most Since 2008 As Tariff-Frontrunning Ends - The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index fell for the 20th consecutive session to an eight-month low (the longest streak of losses since Nov 2015) as world trade continues to slump amid signs the so-called "front-loading" effect ahead of tariff deadlines has ended.The Baltic Dry Index, which tracks rates for capesize, panamax and supramax vessels that ferry dry bulk commodities across the world, plunged 2.3%, or about 18 points, to 773 on Wednesday (according to Refinitiv data), the lowest level since April 2019:

  • The capesize index .BACI fell 74 points, or 5.8%, to 1,197 - its lowest since May 8. Average daily earnings for capesizes, which typically transport 170,000-180,000 tonne cargoes including iron ore and coal, decreased $2 to $9,020.
  • The panamax index .BPNI declined 42 points, or 5%, to 803 points, its lowest since Feb. 27.
  • Average daily earnings for panamaxes, which usually carry coal or grain cargoes of about 60,000 tonnes to 70,000 tonnes, dipped $386 to $7,223.
  • The supramax index .BSIS fell 18 points to 593.

Beleggers Belangen analyst Karel Mercx tweeted that "the Baltic Dry Index is the most important indicator for the rates of bulk shipping. The rate is determined based on the rates that are paid to transport raw materials on the 25 busiest shipping routes. Prices are falling sharply due to the cooling global economy."

We Don’t Have Another Europe and We Don’t Have Another Russia Valdai Disciussion Club - The coming year is expected to be peaceful with a low probability of global shocks, and at the same time action-packed in terms of Russia’s relations with its key partners. Observers cannot fail to be intimidated and alarmed by the chaotic state of international relations and the routine efforts to dismantle all kinds of regimes, from arms control to the informal rules governing matters to do with foreign policy. This is further exacerbated by the fact that all these developments are viewed through the prism of relatively established rules and norms of conduct inherited from the time of the Cold War. With the freeze brought on during the Cold War gradually dissipating over the past 30 years, global politics was gradually freeing itself up from the past constraints. Today, the artificial restraining factors that used to weigh on national foreign policies have all but disappeared. Every international subject has its own rich historical, strategic and cultural background, making futile any attempt to impose any constraints on the international community. Besides, there is nothing bad about enhancing the democratic nature of international affairs. On the contrary, it helps people better express their aspirations, and consequently makes it easier for the Russian diplomacy to find the best solutions. Europe is not an exception in this politically diverse environment.   In late 2019, the European parliament adopted a resolution equating Hitler’s Germany with the USSR and referring to them as the two countries responsible for the outbreak of WWII. Quite predictably, Russia responded with outrage and disgust with even the President of Russia feeling obliged to react to this document. It is true that taking a reserved posture, as the Russian diplomacy usually does in cases of this kind, would have been inadequate. However, the debate that is poised to unfold in the months ahead of the 75th anniversary of Victory raises a number of questions about Russia’s foreign policy that will have to be answered, sooner or later, especially since they relate to a very important neighbor in terms of economic relations and national security. . To survive in this new world, Europe must come up with an adequate foreign policy. For this reason, it is quite natural for European politicians to treat history as some kind of an auxiliary tool, and the history of WWII is no exception. Throughout its history, Europe went through a great number of wars and disasters. Moreover, the unique diversity of states belonging to the European civilization enabled Europeans to apprehend and conceptualize its experiences. In fact, European hypocrisy and lack of sensibility results from Europe’s historical past rather than being a congenital mental defect.

Opinion: Trump has Europeans caught in a trap --It was a dramatic start to a year that threatens to become a wild political rollercoaster ride. The Europeans, whose holiday peace was upset by the news of the unexpected killing of Iran's second-most powerful man, must now suffer the consequences. Uninformed and powerless as usual, they once again face the fallout from the US president's spontaneous unilateral decisions. They are caught in the Trump trap and cannot free themselves on their own. Any illusions about the possibility of an even partially rational cooperation on foreign policy with the government in Washington have long been shattered. Cynical remarks by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accuses the Europeans of not giving enough support in the Middle East, underline their helplessness. What might he be thinking of after Soleimani's death — troops for a US-led war in the Middle East? It is that hint of madness in his and President Trump's statements that makes the dangerous situation even more disturbing. The US president had actually promised to end endless wars in the Middle East and bring American soldiers home. Even experienced observers of US Middle East policy have been unable to explain how this fits in with the strike against Soleimani. They fear there is no strategy to follow up on the current blind flurry of activity, including the drone attack at Baghdad airport.  This is not even about "America first," Trump's declared goal when it comes to economic relations. The Europeans find themselves in the trap of a kind of US foreign policy that is marked by the emotional eruptions of an unpredictable president and his power-drunk neocon supporters, who have returned to power in Washington. Basically, their only explanation for killing Soleimani is: "Because we can."

 Macron under pressure as France sees longest strike in 30 years -  French President Emmanuel Macron is under growing pressure from trade unions as he seeks to reform the country’s pension system. Public sector workers entered their 30th day of industrial action on Friday – the longest protest in France since 1986, when transport workers demonstrated for 28 days. The latest dispute doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, with trade unions criticizing Macron for “living in his own bubble.” “The process will be protracted, strikes could last for another month,” Tomasz Michalski, professor of economics at HEC Paris business school, told CNBC Thursday. There will be a new round of talks between government officials and trade unionists Tuesday. Workers are set to take to the streets again later next week. During his new years’ address, President Macron asked for a “rapid compromise” between his government and workers. “What has he said that was new about this famous social … reform? Nothing. I have heard this speech 1000 times before. We have the impression that the President of the Republic has closed himself within his own bubble,” Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the General Confederation of Labour, a trade union, told BFM TV Wednesday. The Federation Syndicale Unitaire, another French trade union, also said in a statement Wednesday that the President is in “denial of the social reality.” The open-ended strike is an attempt by public sector workers to show their dissatisfaction with the government’s plan to update the pension system. France has one of the most expensive pension systems in the world, according to data from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). President Emmanuel Macron vowed ahead of his election in 2017 to make the current setup simpler. Macron is pushing for a single, points-based system. This would replace the current 42 different pension plans that vary according to profession and region, which means some workers are currently entitled to a full pension before the minimum retirement age of 62. The proposed regime aims to make pensioners contribute the same amount and give them equal rights.

Germany's 'misery continues' as industrial orders fall unexpectedly -  (Reuters) - German industrial orders fell unexpectedly in November on weak foreign demand and a lack of major contracts, data showed on Wednesday, suggesting that a manufacturing slump will continue to curtail growth in Europe’s largest economy. FILE PHOTO: German carmaker Porsche hosts a photo tour showing the production and the manufacturing of the new Macan in Leipzig, Germany, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel -/File Photo Germany’s export-dependent manufacturers are struggling with sluggish demand from abroad as well as business uncertainty linked to trade disputes and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. “The misery in manufacturing continues,” VP Bank economist Thomas Gitzel said, noting that the military escalation between the United States and Iran was now posing an additional risk for businesses. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told reporters in Berlin that the situation in the Middle East had become “very dangerous”. But he added that he did not expect any major consequences for growth, because Germany’s domestic economy remained stable and there were signs the Sino-U.S. trade dispute was easing. Contracts for German goods decreased by 1.3% from the previous month, posting the steepest drop since July, data from the Economy Ministry showed. That confounded the Reuters consensus forecast for a 0.3% rise. Demand from other countries fell 3.1%, the biggest drop since February. Orders from domestic clients rose 1.6%. The reading for October was revised up to a rise of 0.2% from a previously reported decline of 0.4%. DIHK economist Katharina Huhn said that orders from the euro zone had weakened significantly, suggesting a broader malaise in the region. “In addition to the decline in foreign orders, there has also been a gradual decline in domestic demand,” Huhn warned.

 German Car Production Crashes To 23 Year Low -- Car production in Germany has tumbled to its lowest levels in 23 years, according to Bloomberg. Names like Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler produced 4.66 million cars in German factories last year, which is the weakest number since 1996.The 9% decrease was blamed on waning demand from international markets and estimates are for deliveries to drop to 78.9 million vehicles this year, from 80.1 million in 2019. Pollution concerns led by Volkswagen's 2015 diesel-cheating scandal have threatened to dethrone Germany as a global manufacturing powerhouse. Combined with the global auto recession, trade conflicts and slowing economies, it's a recipe for falling output. Germany has been more susceptible to emission regulations due to the country's propensity for making high performance vehicles. Brands like BMW, Porsche and Audi have made their names focusing on power and performance. Meanwhile the industry is focused on investing in cleaner vehicles and self-driving features. The market has been rewarding these companies, with ride-sharing company Uber posting a market value nearly equivalent to Daimler.This has been leading the industry to "explore unusual projects", according to Bloomberg:  At the CES electronics show in Las Vegas, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz unveiled a concept car inspired by the film Avatar. The electric-powered vehicle features lateral crab-like movement and biometric controls to allow “human and machine to merge.” The country's domestic autos market grew 5% last year after buyers registered 3.6 million new cars, the most since 2009. But the industry expects the market to contract this year and there is anticipation of job cuts amid the transition to electric vehicles. Germany maintained its lead over Norway as Europe's biggest EV market, after selling 63,281 EVs last year.

Brexit: Johnson to open trade talks with Ursula von der Leyen - Boris Johnson is expected to open talks on the country’s post-Brexit trade deal with the new president of the European commission when she visits Downing Street next week. The prime minister will meet Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday for the first time since she took up her post, three weeks before Britain’s departure from the EU on 31 January. Von der Leyen suggested last month that Johnson should reconsider his refusal to extend the 11-month timeframe available for agreeing a deal on the UK’s future relationship with the EU after Brexit. During the post-Brexit transition, Britain will remain in the bloc’s customs union and single market, meaning it continues to trade under EU rules, until the end of 2020. Johnson has ruled out the option of maintaining those arrangements for a further two years. He claims there is enough time to negotiate a deal with the EU covering issues including trade, internal security, transport and data sharing. Comprehensive trade deals between the EU and countries such as Canada, Japan and Singapore have previously taken between six and eight years to agree. Britain’s withdrawal agreement allows for a prolongation of the transition period to be negotiated by 1 July. If no trade deal is in place by the end of 2020 and there is no extension, the UK faces major disruption to its economy with tariffs and quantity restrictions immediately applied to goods sold into the single market. Von der Leyen, a former German defence minister, said last month in an interview with French newspaper Les Echos: “It’s not only about negotiating a free trade deal but many other subjects. It seems to me that on both sides we must ask ourselves seriously if all these negotiations are feasible in such a short time. “I believe that it would be reasonable to review things in the middle of the year, if necessary to see if an extension is needed.”

Brussels Warns BoJo Full Trade Deal By Year's End Is Basically Impossible - During a speech at the London School of Business early on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with British PM Boris Johnson, new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned that it will be "basically impossible" for the UK to negotiate the entirety of a hoped-for trade deal with the European Union, increasing the likelihood that the trade relationship between the two former partners will revert to WTO rules at the end of this year.Following his dynamic election triumph last month, Johnson has been working to enshrine a deadline for negotiations into law, part of a plan to keep the pressure on the EU after the debacle over negotiating Johnson's revised withdrawal agreement. Von der Leyen insisted that 'both sides' must pick priorities during the negotiation. The message to Johnson is clear: Just because he'll be dealing with a new EU Commission, doesn't mean he's going to face an easy path. The negotiations will be tough, and the EU is more than willing to walk away from the table. She also described Johnson's insistence on finishing negotiations by the year's end as unrealistic."The transition time is very, very it is basically impossible to negotiate all that I have been mentioning, so we will have to prioritise," she said.Following her remarks, which were chronicled in detail by the FT and Reuters, Von der Leyen offered a summary of her remarks in a twitter thread published after her talk: (transcript)

Boris Johnson's chief adviser posted a bizarre advert calling for 'super-talented weirdos' to help run the UK government - Boris Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings has posted a bizarre blog in which he invites "super-talented weirdos" to apply for new jobs in Downing Street. In a move well outside Whitehall's usual hiring processes, Cummings — who has cultivated a reputation as a maverick — set out plans to overhaul the types of civil servants entering Number 10, listing the "unusual" qualities he wanted to see. He pledged to hire more people with science degrees as well as "weirdos and misfits with odd skills," and warned successful applicants that he will "bin you within weeks if you don't fit" and added: "Don't complain later because I made it clear now." One of the applicants would become his personal assistant, he said. The advert is part of a wider plan by the new Tory government to reform the civil service and its hiring processes, of which Cummings is a long-standing critic. Setting out his plans, Cummings said there were "profound problems at the core of how the British state makes decisions," saying he wanted to bring in "super-talented weirdos" with "genuine cognitive diversity" and hire fewer civil service applicants with arts degrees from Oxford and Cambridge University. "We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand 'diviner' who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger or that Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB. "If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don't want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about [French psychoanalyst Jacques] Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news," he wrote. Cummings said the government's 80-strong majority meant the government had "little need to worry about short-term unpopularity while trying to make rapid progress," meaning it could take unpopular risks that previous administrations could not. Applicants were instructed to send a one-page email outlining their skill sets and ideas to "," an unofficial email account, with the subject line "Job." "We want to hire an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds to work in Downing Street … The categories are roughly: data scientists and software developers; economists; policy experts; project managers; communication experts; junior researchers one of whom will also be my personal assistant; weirdos and misfits with odd skills," he wrote.

Salami tactics loom for Brexit trade talks -- Facing a brutal timetable to negotiate a comprehensive deal on their future relations by the end of the year, Brussels and London are weighing up a more slice-by-slice approach to talks. While both sides insist a traditional, all-inclusive trade pact is still possible, they are now also considering more piecemeal tactics to avoid a catastrophic cliff edge of tariffs and trade barriers from January 2021. For the EU side, that means a potential plan B of more sector-by-sector agreements, while the British are mapping out the attractions of negotiations that move forward by incrementally locking in wins, rather than waiting for one last-minute finale. “We are very clear we want to get on in terms of negotiating a deal and so maybe the approach of nothing is agreed until everything is agreed which characterized previous negotiations is not an approach that we are interested in taking,” a British government spokesperson said during a briefing in London while U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was meeting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" is a long-standing mantra for EU trade negotiators, who have never faced such a tight political deadline on a major pact as December 31, when the transition period runs out — and which Johnson says he won't extend. "We might want to take a reconsideration of the time frame before July 1" — Ursula von der Leyen The logic of keeping all the elements on the table in talks is that both parties will be able to play to their strengths — one side could be strong in farming, the other in chemicals, for example — and the endgame will provide an opportunity for the final big cross-sectoral trade-offs. EU officials have always insisted that this kind of wide-reaching, ambitious agreement is their goal. One of their chief fears is that Britain could emerge as a light-regulation competitor to the EU after Brexit, so they have traditionally not wanted Britain locking down small sector-by-sector, zero-tariff trade deals before it commits not to deviate from EU rules and regulations.

UK car sales hit 6-year low but electric vehicles see surge in demand  -New car registrations in the U.K. fell by 2.4% in 2019, new figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show, with demand for new cars at a six-year low, according to the organization’s chief executive. Overall, there were 2,311,140 registrations last year, compared to 2,367,147 in 2018. “A third year of decline for the U.K. new car market is a significant concern for industry and the wider economy,” the SMMT’s Mike Hawes said in a statement issued Monday. “Political and economic uncertainty, and confusing messages on clean air zones have taken their toll on buyer confidence, with demand for new cars at a six-year low,” Hawes added. While the bigger picture is challenging, one section of the U.K.’s automotive sector is enjoying something of a boom. Battery electric vehicle registrations grew to 37,850 in 2019, an increase of 144% compared to 2018, when 15,510 were registered. Breaking the SMMT’s figures down, while petrol cars saw registrations grow by 2.2% in 2019, reaching 1,498,640, diesel registrations fell by 21.8% to 583,488. By contrast, in addition to the 144% growth in battery electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicle registrations increased by 17.1% to 97,850 units.

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