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

Saturday, January 4, 2020

week ending Jan 4

A Major Bank Admits QE4 Has Started, And That Stocks Are Rising Because Of The Fed's Soaring Balance Sheet - There was a period of about two months when some of the more confused, Fed sycophantic elements, would parrot everything Powell would say regarding the recently launched $60 billion in monthly purchases of T-Bills, and which according to this rather vocal, if always wrong, subsegment of financial experts, did not constitute QE. Perhaps one can't really blame them: after all, unable to think for themselves, they merely repeated what Powell said, namely that  "growth of our balance sheet for reserve management purposes should in no way be confused with the large-scale asset purchase programs that we deployed after the financial crisis. Neither the recent technical issues nor the purchases of Treasury bills we are contemplating to resolve them should materially affect the stance of monetary policy. In no sense, is this QE." As it turned out, it was QE from the perspective of the market, which saw the Fed boosting its balance sheet by $60BN per month, and together with another $20BN or so in TSY and MBS maturity reinvestments, as well as tens of billions in overnight and term repos, and soared roughly around the time the Fed announced "not QE." And so, as the Fed's balance sheet exploded by over $400 billion in under four months, a rate of balance sheet expansion that surpassed QE1, QE2 and Qe3.... stocks blasted off higher roughly at the same time as the Fed's QE returned, and are now up every single week since the start of the Fed's QE4 announcement when the Fed's balance sheet rose, and are down just one week since then: the week when the Fed's balance sheet shrank.  The result of this unprecedented correlation between the market's response to the Fed's actions - and the Fed's growing balance sheet - has meant that it gradually became impossible to deny that what the Fed is doing is no longer QE. It started with Bank of America in mid-November (as described in "One Bank Finally Admits The Fed's "NOT QE" Is Indeed QE... And Could Lead To Financial Collapse"), and then after several other banks also joined in, and even Fed fanboy David Zervos admitted on CNBC that the Fed is indeed doing QE, the tipping point finally arrived, and it was no longer blasphemy (or tinfoil hat conspiracy theory) to call out the naked emperor, and overnight none other than Deutsche Bank joined the "truther" chorus, when in a report by the bank's chief economist Torsten Slok, he writes what we pointed out several weeks back, namely that "since QE4 started in October, a 1% increase in the Fed balance sheet has been associated with a 1% increase in the S&P500, see chart below." Not that DB has absolutely no qualms about calling what the Fed is doing QE4 for the simple reason that... it is QE4.

These Charts Show Why the Fed Is Still in a Panic Over the Repo Loan Market -  Pam Martens -After the epic financial crash on Wall Street in 2008 – the worst since the 1929 crash and ensuing Great Depression – two key reforms were put in place in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 to prevent another catastrophic meltdown on Wall Street.The first key reform was that derivatives were to be moved out of the federally-insured, taxpayer backstopped commercial banks, that had been bought up by Wall Street trading houses, into units that could be wound down in a bankruptcy proceeding. It was called the “Push Out” rule. That reform was also meant to prevent the New York Fed from ever again secretly pumping upwards of $29 trillioninto Wall Street trading houses and their derivative counterparties in order to bail out a corrupt casino banking system. (And yet here we are again today watching the New York Fed pump hundreds of billions of dollars each week into trading houses on Wall Street without offering any credible explanation to the American people as to why Wall Street is getting another bailout – and while mainstream media pretends this is as normal as apple pie by refusing to cover what’s happening.) Citigroup was able to get the Push Out rule repealed by having an amendment tacked on to a must-pass spending bill in December 2014.The other promised reform was that derivatives would no longer be opaque private contracts (over-the-counter) between banks and insurers but would gain pricing transparency and adequate collateral backing by being traded on an exchange or centrally cleared at a clearing house. But according to the most recent quarterly report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), for the period ending September 30, 2019, an outrageous 81 percent of Goldman Sachs’ derivatives remain over-the-counter. At JPMorgan Chase and Citibank, 53 percent of their derivatives remain over-the-counter black holes according to the OCC report. (See Graph 15 in the Appendix.) What the New York Fed knows that the majority of Americans do not know, is that five Wall Street investment banks – all of which own federally-insured, taxpayer-backstopped commercial banks – hold insane levels of highly-concentrated derivatives. There are more than 5,000 federally-insured, deposit-taking banks in the U.S. The vast majority of them see no reason to hold any derivatives as part of their banking business. But for reasons absolutely no one can explain, five Wall Street banks hold $230 trillion in derivatives, a stunning 85 percent of the $270.7 trillion in derivatives held by the top 25 bank holding companies in the U.S. (See OCC chart below.)

Year-End Repo Crisis Ends With A Whimper Amid Massive Liquidity Glut - It was supposed to usher in a market crisis that would prompt the Fed to launch QE4 according to repo guru Zoltan Pozsar. In the end, the preemptive liquidity tsunami unleashed by the Fed in mid-December which backstopped just shy of $500 billion in liquidity, proved enough to keep any latent repo market crisis at bay.The year's final overnight repo operation, which the Fed expanded to as much as $150 billion ended up being just 17% subscribed, as Dealers submitted only $25.6 billion in securities ($15.2BN in TSYs, $2BN in Agencies, $8.35BN in MBS) in the year, and decade's, final overnight repo meant to bridge the financial system's short-term funding needs into 2020. As a result of the Fed's massive, preemptive liquidity backstop, the overnight G/C term repo rate quickly dropped back to a subdued, and quite normal, 1.55% after starting the day north of 1.80%. One thing is certain: last New Year's firework, which saw the overnight G/C repo rate shoot up as high as 5% into Jan 1, 2019, will not repeat itself. The final hint that a repo crisis would be averted came on Dec 30, when the Turn repo rate dropped another 75 basis points from 2.75% down to 2.00%, confirming that dealers had lost all fears of a year-end funding squeeze. This happened after only $8.3 billion showed up for the 15 day term operation out of a possible $35 billion On Monday. And, as Curvature's Scott Skyrm explained yesterday, turn rates rallied and the Fed RP term operation was well undersubscribed. And while a year-end repo crisis was averted thanks to a historic surge in the Fed's balance sheeet... ... two questions emerge: i) would this have been the outcome had Pozsar not published his report warning about a repo market fireworks had the Fed not unleashed an unprecedented $500 billion liquidity backstop, and ii) will the Fed be able to successful drain the hundreds of billions in excess liquidity it injected to avoid a funding paralysis, while sending stocks to all time highs? While we will never know the answer to the first question, the answer to #2 will be made apparent in the first weeks of 2020 when the Fed decides to either keep rolling its repo operations or end them, cold Turkey, risking another funding crisis for one simple reason: the true level of cash in the market, excluding Fed intervention, has collapsed and once again the entire financial system is living on Fed generosity.

Helicopter Money Is Here- How The Fed Monetized Billions In Debt Sold Just Days Earlier - The Fed's charter prohibits it from directly purchasing bonds or bills issued by the US Treasury: that process is also known as monetization and various Fed chairs have repeatedly testified under oath to Congress that the Fed does not do it. Of course, the alternative is what is known as "Helicopter Money", when the central bank directly purchases bonds issued by the Treasury and forms the backbone of the MMT monetary cult. But what if there is at a several day interval between Treasury issuance and subsequent purchase? Well, that's perfectly legal, and it's something the Fed has done not only during QE1, QE2 and QE3, but is continuing to do now as part of its "QE4/NOT QE."  Here's how. On December 16, the US Treasury sold $36 billion in T-Bills with a 182-day term, maturing on June 18, 2020, with CUSIP SV2. And, as shown in the Treasury Direct snapshot below, of the total $34.3 billion in competitive purchases, Dealers acquired $23.7 billion. What happened next? For the answer we go to the Fed's POMO page, which shows which specific T-Bill CUSIPs were purchased by its markets desk on any given POMO day when Dealers sell up to $7.5 billion in Bills to the Fed.

  • Exhibit 1: on December 19, just three days after the above T-Bill was issued and on the very day the issue settled (Dec 19), Dealers flipped the same Bills they bought from the Treasury back to the Fed for an unknown markup. Specifically, of the $7.5BN in total POMO, the SV2 CUSIP which had been issued earlier that week, represented the biggest bond "put" to the Fed, amounting to $3.9 billion, more than half of the total POMO on that day, and by far the most of any CUSIP sold to the NY Fed's markets desk on that day.  But wait, there's more.
  • Exhibit 2: during the next POMO conducted the very next day, or December 20, and just four days after the issuance of T-Bill SV2, which as a reminder saw $23.7 billion in Dealer purchase, those same Dealers flipped more of the same Bills they "bought" from the Treasury back to the Fed. Why? To once again pocket the unspecific markup the Fed generously provided to them just because they are Dealers. Of the $7.5BN in total POMO held on Dec 20, the SV2 CUSIP once again represented the single biggest bond "put" to the Fed, amounting to $1.6 billion, the most of any CUSIP sold to the NY Fed's markets desk on that day.

So what is going on? Well, for all those saying the US may soon unleash helicopter money, and/or MMT, we have some 'news': helicopter money is already here, and the Fed is now actively monetizing debt the Treasury sold just days earlier using Dealers as a conduit... a "conduit" which is generously rewarded by the Fed's market desk with its marked up purchase price. In other words, the Fed is already conducting Helicopter Money (and MMT) in all but name. As shown above, the Fed monetized T-Bills that were issued just three days earlier - and just because it is circumventing the one hurdle that prevents it from directly purchasing securities sold outright by the Treasury, the Fed is providing the Dealers that made this legal debt circle-jerk possible with millions in profits, even as the outcome is identical if merely offset by a few days.

The Fed Just Monetized $6.4 Billion In Debt Sold Earlier This Week - Yesterday, when looking at the details of the Fed's ongoing QE4, we pointed out that the New York Fed was now actively purchasing T-Bills that had been issued just days earlier by the US Treasury, and which settled the day of the permanent open market operation, or POMO.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. As we summarized:"for those saying the US may soon unleash helicopter money, and/or MMT, we have some 'news': helicopter money is already here, and the Fed is now actively monetizing debt the Treasury sold just days earlier using Dealers as a conduit... a "conduit" which is generously rewarded by the Fed's market desk with its marked up purchase price. In other words, the Fed is already conducting Helicopter Money (and MMT) in all but name. As shown above, the Fed monetized T-Bills that were issued just three days earlier - and just because it is circumventing the one hurdle that prevents it from directly purchasing securities sold outright by the Treasury, the Fed is providing the Dealers that made this legal debt circle-jerk possible with millions in profits, even as the outcome is identical if merely offset by a few days"So 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 $21.9 billion in submissions. What was far more notable, were the actual CUSIPs that were accepted by the Fed for purchase. And here, once again, we find two particular issues that stick out: UB3 (due July 2, 2020) which was the most active CUSIP, with $5.245BN purchased by the Fed, and TM1 (due April 2, 2020) of which $1.2BN was accepted. What's so special about the highlighted CUSIPs? Well, just as we first showed yesterday, 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, TM1 was sold just earlier this week, on Monday, Dec 30, with the issue settling yesterday, on Jan 2, just one day before today's POMO, and Dealers taking down $15.9 billion of the total issue...

 Why Is Wall Street the Only Industry in America With Access to the Fed’s Endless Money Machine? By Pam Martens --Consumers represent two-thirds of GDP in the United States. And yet, when consumers run into trouble, they don’t get a handout from the Federal Reserve – they are forced to file bankruptcy. There are no Fed handouts to small business owners, farmers, or main street merchants either.  So why is it exactly that the trading houses on Wall Street, with a serial history of crimes and with the most overpaid and under-punished executives on the planet, are able to perpetually have secret communications with the New York Fed and magically turn on the flow of trillions of dollars of ridiculously cheap loans to bail out their hubris and corruption. The obscene money spigot from the New York Fed to Wall Street’s trading houses didn’t start with the epic financial crisis of 2008, as most Americans believe. It started following the bust, which was fueled by fraudulent research from Wall Street’s trading houses. The money from the Fed to Wall Street simply flowed under the cover of the 9/11 crisis.   The Fed’s money spigot to Wall Street after 9/11 took multiple forms: banks were allowed to overdraft their reserve accounts at the Fed to the tune of tens of billions of dollars and fees for these overdrafts were waived. According to a report from the New York Fed, an “unprecedented” amount of liquidity was pumped into the system. The GAO’s audit acknowledged that it did not cover all of the Fed’s secret loans to Wall Street. After losing its court appeal, the Fed was forced to turn over its data to the media. That resulted in the Levy Economics Institute finishing the GAO’s work, with a tally of $29 trillion in cumulative bailout funds from the Fed to save the Wall Street banks and their derivative counterparties. The bulk of that was funneled out by the New York Fed. Beginning on September 17 of this year, when Wall Street became unnerved that overnight loan rates spiked to 10 percent from an average of 2 percent, the New York Fed once again turned on its money spigot to Wall Street’s trading houses. On every business day since September 17, the New York Fed has been gushing out tens of billions of dollars to Wall Street. And, once again, it will not tell the public which trading houses are getting this money, how much each is getting, or why these banks need this money. The cumulative total of these Fed loans since September 17 is now in the trillions of dollars. As of this morning, the New York Fed was pumping out this money at a ridiculously low rate of interest of 1.55 percent. Without the Fed’s artificial loan market, these loans would cost 10 percent or more. All that we are allowed to know from the Fed about where this money is going is that its 24 “primary dealers” are allowed to borrow under this program. (See list below.) For the most part, those are the same trading units of the same Wall Street banks that got obscene loans after 9/11 and during the epic crash of 2007 to 2010.The credit card divisions of many of these same banks are charging struggling American consumers an average of 17 percent on their credit cards while another part of the bank is borrowing at 1.55 percent from the Fed.As Senator Bernie Sanders said after the GAO released its audit of the Fed, this is “socialism for the rich, and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else.” The Fed’s actions represent an outrage of epic proportions and yet you will not find one mainstream newspaper in America that believes what the Fed is doing is worthy of a front-page headline.

Question #1 for 2020: How much will the economy grow in 2020? -- Earlier I posted some questions for next year: Ten Economic Questions for 2020. I'm adding some thoughts, and maybe some predictions for each question.Economic growth was probably just over 2% in 2019, down from 2.9% in 2018. The FOMC is expecting more of the same with growth around 1.9% next year. Some analysts are expecting growth to pick up a little in the coming year as the trade war eases and global growth increases.  First, since I'm frequently asked, I don't see a recession starting in 2020. Here is a table of the annual change in real GDP since 2005.  Economic activity has mostly been in the 2% range since 2010.  Given current demographics, that is about what we'd expect: See: 2% is the new 4%., although demographics are improving somewhat (more prime age workers).  The FOMC is projecting real GDP growth of 2.0% to 2.2% in 2020 (Q4 over Q4).  Goldman Sachs recently projected: "Easier financial conditions, the end of the inventory adjustment, and strength in consumer spending also suggest a solid growth outlook, and we expect growth to accelerate modestly to 2.25-2.5% in 2020."The most recent CBO forecast is for 2.1% real GDP growth in 2020.  Note: The Trump administration projected 3.5% annual real growth over Mr. Trump's term: "Boost growth to 3.5 percent per year on average, with the potential to reach a 4 percent growth rate." (now removed from Trump website).  That didn't happen.As expected, there was a slowdown in growth in 2019 due to a combination of factors.  The fiscal boost faded in 2019, housing was under pressure early in the year from higher mortgage rates and the new tax policy, and the negative impact from the trade war. Looking to 2020, fiscal policy will likely have a minor impact.   Trade tensions have eased somewhat.  Oil prices have increased in 2019, and this will be a slight positive on economic growth in certain states in 2020.   Housing is getting a boost from lower mortgage rates.   However, auto sales are mostly moving sideways. These factors suggest real GDP growth probably in the 2% to 2.5% range in 2020.

North Korea's Kim Slams Trump's "Gangster-Like Demands", Warns Of "New Strategic Weapon" - According to Yonhap news, reporting on a KCNA report, North Korea will continue building up its nuclear deterrent to counter US aggression, but the degree to which it expands its weapons program will depend on the US’ attitude. Calling out US insincerity regarding discussions about the partial lifting of sanctions, Kim blasted Washington’s “gangster-like demands” as the reason no agreement had yet been reached between the two countries. The more the US stalls for time, Kim said, the more it will find itself “helpless in the face of North Korean power." Finally, Kim warned that North Korea has a “new strategic weapon” up its sleeve, and time was running out before his government would be moved to take “shocking actual action.”

North Korea's Kim Jong-un threatens 'shocking action' against US with 'new weapon' - North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has accused the Trump administration of dragging its feet in nuclear negotiations and warned that his country will soon show a new strategic weapon to the world as it bolsters its nuclear deterrent in the face of "gangster-like" US pressure.  In a key ruling party conference, Mr Kim also threatened "shocking" action and said North Korea would no longer be obligated to maintain a self-imposed suspension on the testing of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, which US President Donald Trump has touted as a major diplomatic accomplishment. But Mr Kim gave no clear indication that the restarting of such tests was imminent and seemed to leave the door open for eventual negotiations.The developments come after North Korea threatened the US with a "Christmas gift" that security experts anticipated would be a long-range or nuclear missile launch, but Mr Trump reiteratedhe hoped instead for a "beautiful vase" from Mr Kim.The prolonged standstill has dimmed hopes for achieving full denuclearisation of the country through diplomacy.

Trump says Iran will be held ‘fully responsible’ for attack on the US embassy in Iraq -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday blamed Iran for planning an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and promised to hold Tehran “fully responsible.” “Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible.” “In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!” he added. Later Tuesday, Trump amplified his harsh words for Iran. “This is not a Warning, it is a Threat,” the president tweeted. “Happy New Year!” Iran denied it was behind the violent protests and warned against any retaliation. “American officials have the astounding audacity of attributing to Iran the protests of the Iraqi people against (Washington’s) savage killing of at least 25 Iraqis ...,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a statement carried on a ministry website. Trump’s tweets came after dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and set fire to a reception area on the grounds earlier in the day. The Iraqi supporters, many dressed in military apparel, pushed into the compound using cars to break through its gate. The protesters hung a poster on the wall saying, “America is an aggressor.”

US carries out ‘precision defensive strikes’ in Iraq and Syria against Iranian-backed militia — The U.S. military carried out “precision defense strikes” in Iraq and Syria against a militia group following a string of attacks on Iraqi bases that host American servicemembers. “In response to repeated Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve coalition forces, U.S. forces have conducted precision defensive strikes against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria that will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks against OIR coalition forces,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement Sunday. “Iran and their KH proxy forces must cease their attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, and respect Iraq’s sovereignty, to prevent additional defensive actions by U.S. forces,” Hoffman added. The Pentagon said in a statement that three locations in Iraq and two in Syria were targeted by U.S. forces. The locations included weapon storage facilities and command and control locations that the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia uses to plan and execute attacks on OIR coalition forces. It was not immediately clear what U.S. military assets were used in the strikes. The U.S. military action comes on the heels of recent Kata’ib Hezbollah strikes on Iraqi military bases that host American troops. On Friday a U.S. civilian contractor was killed in a rocket attack on an Iraqi base near Kirkuk. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iranian-backed forces for a series of attacks on bases in Iraq and warned that any future attacks on Americans or U.S. allies would be “answered with a decisive U.S. response.” “As long as its malign behaviors continue, so will our campaign of maximum pressure,” Pompeo said during a December 11 press conference at the State Department. Pompeo then announced another round of fresh sanctions on Tehran, this time targeting Iran’s largest shipping company and biggest airline, saying the companies are aiding the Iranian regime’s alleged proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Trump aides call U.S. strikes on Iraq and Syria 'successful,' warn of potential further action -(Reuters) - U.S. officials said on Sunday that air strikes in Iraq and Syria against an Iran-backed militia group were successful, but warned that “additional actions” may still be taken in the region to defend U.S. interests. The U.S. military carried out the strikes on Sunday against the Kataib Hezbollah militia group in response to the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, officials said. U.S. President Donald Trump was briefed by his top national security advisers following the strikes at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. “We will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters after the briefing with Trump. Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared briefly in a club ballroom to comment on the airstrikes. Esper termed the offensive “successful,” but said that Trump was informed that a further military response could be warranted. Iraqi security and militia sources said at least 25 militia fighters were killed and at least 55 wounded following three U.S. air strikes in Iraq on Sunday. At least four local Kataib Hezbollah commanders were among the dead, the sources said, adding that one of the strikes had targeted the militia group’s headquarters near the western Qaim district on the border with Syria. The Pentagon said it had targeted three locations of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia group in Iraq and two in Syria. The locations included weapons storage facilities and command and control locations the group had used to plan and execute attacks on coalition forces, it said. A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the strikes were carried out by F-15 fighter jets. The United States had accused Kataib Hezbollah of carrying out a strike involving more than 30 rockets on Friday which killed the U.S. civilian contractor and injured four U.S. service members and two members of the Iraqi Security Forces near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Did Pompeo Go Off Reservation In Iraq Attack?  - I have to wonder who Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is actually loyal to. Because, the U.S. strike of Kata’ib Hizbullah forces near the Al Qaim border crossing with Syria in Iraq is a dangerous escalation there.And it’s completely at odds with Trump’s goals of wanting us out of the Middle East. The Al Qaim border crossing is a particular red line for Israel and their allies in the U.S. State and Defense Departments.It represents the normalization of commerce between Syria, Iraq and Iran over time. This is the so-called Shia Crescent which is the stuff of nightmares for Benjamin Netanyahu.And the U.S. has been hopping mad for months since now caretaker Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdel Mahdi opened the border because it undermines U.S. presence in Syria.The entire point of U.S. occupation of the Al-Tanf border crossing into Jordan and the oil fields in Deir Ezzor province is about starving the Syrian government of any reliable energy and revenue.When Al Qaim/Al Bukamai was opened it was only a matter of time before a major skirmish would occur over it. Israel staged a series of air attacks previously using U.S. assets and air bases to launch them back in September.Now, we have the convenient excuse for attacking these forces which are part of the Popular Mobiliztion Units, PMU, which Pompeo despises by ‘retaliating’ for a rocket attack on the K1 base near Kirkuk where one U.S. mercenary was killed and a handful of others injured.The response from the U.S. Air Force was completely out of line with the initial attack and occurred without any attempt by Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to justify it.They just invoked the phrase, “Iran-backed forces” and then bombed troops over 200 miles away where they wanted to strike anyway.And what’s important is what both Elijah Magnier and Moon of Alabama pointed out immediately, the U.S. struck member of Shia militias who were made official part of the Iraqi defense forces. In other words the U.S. just attacked and killed dozens of Iraqi military personnel.

Trump Encourages Iraqi Freedom Uprising Against Iran; Esper Sends More Troops To Embassy --President Trump just called for a mass "freedom" uprising not in Iran, but in Iraq of all places, at a moment the US embassy in Baghdad continues to be encircled by enraged protesters bent on expelling the Americans after US airstrikes killed dozens of Iran-backed Iraqi militia over the weekend.Trump's provocative tweet, coming after an hours long embassy standoff that has reportedly trapped the Marine guard inside, anxiously awaiting a defusing of the tense situation, further implies that it is ultimately Iran that's running the show inside Iraq. He blamed Iran for orchestrating the current mayhem. The country, though invaded and occupied by US forces since Bush's war in 2003, is "dominated and controlled by Iran" the president said. To those many millions of people in Iraq who want freedom and who don’t want to be dominated and controlled by Iran, this is your time!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019However, by all appearances it's the Americans that have fallen out of favor. Naturally, Iraqis across the religious and political spectrum don't like seeing their country bombed repeatedly by both the US and Israel multiple times over the past months. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has announced it will be sending additional forces as security to protect US facilities. Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the US will send additional troops to Baghdad specifically to protect the US Embassy in Iraq.  The breaking details, via Bloomberg, will include about 100 Marines sent from nearby Kuwait and two AH-64s Apaches which will fly over the embassy in a show of force. According to one defense official cited by Bloomberg, the Marines will likely fly to the embassy area in V-22 Ospreys.

Trump threatens Iran after embassy attack, but remains reluctant to get more involved in region  WaPo - President Trump on Tuesday was pulled toward the kind of Middle East tinderbox he has tried to avoid, as he blamed Iran for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq that further damaged U.S. relations with Baghdad and appeared to put Trump’s hopes for diplomacy with Tehran further out of reach.Hundreds of supporters of an Iranian-backed militia chanted “Death to America” as they breached part of the outer security layer at the vast compound in Baghdad’s protected Green Zone.U.S. diplomats were barricaded and unharmed inside the $750 million embassy, built as a powerful symbol of U.S. permanence after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that Trump has derided as the worst U.S. foreign policy blunder. But the hulking structure may now serve as a symbol of how difficult it can be to disentangle U.S. interests from Iraq and the region despite the president’s stated desire to get out of “endless wars” and reduce the United States’ footprint in the Middle East.Trump now faces a potentially combustible situation where the United States and Iran are elbowing for influence in Iraq as U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, along with some of Trump’s in-house advisers, urge a more forceful confrontation with Tehran over its aggressive tactics across the Middle East.The president struck a bellicose tone Tuesday, but it’s unclear what moves he will make next as he feels the tug between taking a tough line with Iran and trying to avoid getting more involved in the region. “Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat,” Trump tweeted late Tuesday afternoon from Florida, where he is spending the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort. “Happy new year!”

Donald Trump loses ground in fight to contain Iran as militias attack US embassy in Iraq - Tensions between the United States and Iran have been escalating throughout 2019 but these two foes waited until the last day of the year to take their relationship on a dangerous turn. In what perhaps will become an indication of where this year is headed, the US embassy in Baghdad was lit on fire and came under siege last night. The fact that the embassy in the Iraqi capital was attacked is not a surprise. The country has become a flashpoint for tensions with the Iranian regime and the Iraqi militias that align with it. But there is no doubt that this represents a rapid upsurge in tensions that have been bubbling for months as the US and Iran continue to battle for influence in Iraq. It started with an airstrike In recent months, the Iranian-back militia group Kataib Hezbollah has been firing rockets at Iraqi bases that house US troops. There have been casualties, but it wasn't until an American civil contractor was killed last week that the US decided to retaliate. America blamed the Iran-backed group and on Sunday launched five air strikes on ammunition facilities and command posts controlled by the militia group in Syria and Iraq, as the US attempted to show its enemies it wouldn't put up with the behaviour anymore. Twenty-five people died and many more were injured. It infuriated the militias and drew widespread condemnation from across the region. Even Baghdad was angry, labelling the strikes a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and warning it could destabilise the entire region. It didn't take long for the group to rally its troops and take to the streets.They managed to breach Baghdad's so-called "green zone", a heavily fortified part of the city housing international embassies, which suggests Iraqi security forces didn't try to stop them. They hurled projectiles at embassy security, lit fires and destroyed command posts, all the while chanting "death to America". It highlights the fact that the US has very few political allies left in Iraq and indicates the embassy and other US facilities have and will continue to become the epicentre of a proxy struggle between Washington and Tehran.

U.S. says 'terminated' top Iran general to thwart attack on Americans  (Reuters) - Iran promised vengeance after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad on Friday killed Qassem Soleimani, Tehran’s most prominent military commander and the architect of its growing influence in the Middle East. Soleimani, a 62-year-old general who headed the overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guards, was regarded as the second most powerful figure after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The overnight attack, authorized by U.S. President Donald Trump, was a major escalation in a “shadow war” in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and American allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia. A senior Trump administration official said the general had been planning imminent attacks on U.S. personnel across the Middle East. Democratic critics said the order by the Republican president was reckless and that he had raised the risk of more violence in a dangerous region. “Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” Trump said the United States was not seeking regime change in Iran, but that Tehran must end what he called its aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters. A top U.S. general cautioned that the plot by Soleimani could still happen despite his death. U.S. officials said Washington was sending nearly 3,000 more troops to the Middle East, joining roughly 750 sent to Kuwait this week. The attack, which also killed a top Iraqi militia commander and adviser to Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, divided Iraqi opinion. Many condemned the attacks, seeing Soleimani as a hero for his role in defeating the Islamic State militant group. Others voiced approval, saying Soleimani and Muhandis had backed the use of force against unarmed anti-government protesters last year and established militias that demonstrators blame for many of Iraq’s social and economic woes. However, many Iraqis criticized Washington for killing the men on Iraqi soil and possibly plunging Iraq into another war.

How Trump Planned the Drone Strike With a Tight Circle of Aides - Iranian general Qassem Soleimani haunted the U.S. for more than two decades, a lethal adversary blamed for the deaths of hundreds of American troops in the Middle East. Yet his stature as the second most powerful person in Iran made him almost untouchable in the eyes of Donald Trump’s predecessors. That longstanding U.S. restraint ended in dramatic fashion Thursday with Trump’s order to launch a nighttime airstrike in Baghdad that killed Soleimani and drove tensions with Iran to the boiling point. The president’s decision to target the powerful head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force came together swiftly, following the death of an American contractor in a Dec. 27 rocket attack by an Iranian-backed militia against a U.S. base in Iraq. Soon after the attack, Trump ordered a handful of his most senior aides to begin planning a strike on the Iranian general, according to three people familiar with the matter. The Trump administration had recently asked France and other allies to warn Tehran against killing Americans, according to one of the people. For the president, a red line had been crossed. Trump’s close circle of national security advisers was scattered across the country for the holidays -- Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was in Key West; National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien was in California; and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was in Washington, after canceling planned travel to Ukraine and other countries on Jan. 1. The team used secure communications lines to repeatedly discuss the strike. On Thursday, a plane from the White House fleet was sent to California to ferry O’Brien to Palm Beach to be with Trump as the attack unfolded. A small number of lawyers on the National Security Council were involved. Secrecy was paramount, as aides worried that one of Trump’s most fraught and consequential decisions would be leaked ahead of the strike.While Soleimani’s death has been cheered by many of Trump’s supporters and congressional allies, Democrats say the president’s decision risks endangering American diplomats and troops in the Middle East and beyond. Within the Trump administration, there is even concern about Iranian reprisals inside U.S. borders.

Pompeo- US Strike Thwarted Active Plot For Major Attack On Americans - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Fox News and CNN on Friday morning about the White House's rationale to take out Iran's top elite general, Qasem Suleimani, saying "there was an imminent attack" in the works and "imminent threats to American lives" which had to be stopped.Describing a "major attack" the IRGC Quds Force cheif was allegedly plotting, Pompeo said, "What was sitting before us was his travels throughout the region, his efforts to make a significant strike against Americans." He added, "There would have been many Muslims killed, Iraqis, people in other countries as well.""It was time to take action," Pompeo asserted, while also citing "dozens and dozens" of attacks by Iran and its proxies over the last few months. The US top diplomat also referenced "an American killed on Dec.27" in reference to the US contractor slain during an alleged Iraqi Shia militia rocket attack on a Kirkuk base the prior Friday.

U.S. sees signs Iran or proxies may be planning more attacks: Pentagon chief - (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday there were indications Iran or forces it backs may be planning additional attacks, warning that the “game has changed” and it was possible the United States might have to take preemptive action to protect American lives. “There are some indications out there that they may be planning additional attacks, that is nothing new ... we’ve seen this for two or three months now,” Esper told reporters, without providing evidence or details about the U.S. assessment. “If that happens then we will act and by the way, if we get word of attacks or some type indication, we will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces to protect American lives.” Iranian-backed demonstrators hurled rocks at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad during two days of protests, then withdrew on Wednesday after Washington dispatched extra troops. U.S. President Donald Trump accused Iran of orchestrating the violence. He threatened on Tuesday to retaliate against Iran but said later he did not want war. Iran has rejected the accusation. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi criticized American officials, in a statement, saying they have “the astounding audacity” to blame Iran for protests sparked by U.S. air strikes. The unrest outside the U.S. embassy followed American strikes on Sunday against bases of the Tehran-backed Kataib Hezbollah group. Washington said the air strikes, which killed 25 people, were in retaliation for missile attacks that killed a U.S. contractor in northern Iraq last week. On Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned U.S. attacks on Iranian-allied militias in Iraq, blaming the United States for violence in Iran’s neighbor. The protests marked a new turn in the shadow war between Washington and Tehran playing out across the Middle East.

 Trump Boosts U.S. Forces in Mideast as Iran Vows Retaliation - The U.S. is sending more troops to the Middle East after President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike in Iraq that killed one of Iran’s most powerful generals. About 2,800 troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne division will join roughly 700 troops dispatched to Kuwait earlier this week as part of the division’s rapid-reaction “ready battalion,” according to two U.S. officials who asked not to be identified discussing the deployment. The U.S. already had about 60,000 personnel in the region. The decision comes amid rising concern that Iran will seek to avenge the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, who led proxy militias that extended Iran’s power across the Middle East, by striking at U.S. interests and those of its allies, leading to a wider conflagration. Iran’s Supreme Leader quickly threatened “severe retaliation.” President Trump said he approved the strike because Soleimani was plotting “imminent and sinister attacks” against American diplomats and military personnel. He didn’t provide any substantiation in his brief address from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The killing sent global markets reeling. Oil futures in London and New York at one point surged by more than 4%, gold hit the highest in four months and 10-year Treasury yields headed for the biggest drop in three weeks. The S&P 500 Index fell less than 1%, paring losses that were poised to be the biggest since October as some stock investors took the opportunity to hunt for bargains. After the operation, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called counterparts and officials in France, the U.K., China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, reiterating his message of de-escalation. The U.S. State Department has issued a directive urging American citizens to leave Iraq immediately due to the tensions. The call was echoed by advisories from other countries, including the U.K. and Canada. “We don’t seek war with Iran,” Pompeo said in an interview on Fox Friday morning. “But we, at the same time, are not going to stand by and watch the Iranians escalate and continue to put American lives at risk without responding in a way that disrupts, defends, deters and creates an opportunity to de-escalate the situation.” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien declined to describe the intelligence that indicated the Iranian general was planning attacks against Americans, calling it “extraordinarily sensitive” in a briefing for reporters. He said the administration would provide Congress retroactive notification of the Soleimani strike as well as classified briefings next week, when lawmakers return from a holiday break. General Soleimani, who led the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force, was killed in a car late Thursday by a Reaper drone capable of firing laser-guided weapons as he was leaving a Baghdad airport access road, a U.S. official said. The strike also killed the deputy commander of an Iraqi militia group, the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Forces, who was with Soleimani.

Killing Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis - Most of the attention in this recent attack by a US drone at the Baghdad Airport has been on it killing Iranian Quds Force commander, Qasim (Qassem) Solmaini (Suleimani), supposedly plotting an “imminent” attack on Americans as he flew a commercial airliner to Iraq at the invitation of its government and passed through passport control. But much less attention has been paid to the killing in that attack of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq and reportedly an officer in the Iraqi military, as well as being according to Juan Cole a Yazidi Kurd, although the PMF is identified as being a Shia militia allied with Iran. The problem here is that supposedly US leaders approved this strike because there were no Iraqi officials in this group; it was supposedly “clean.” But there was al-Muhandis, with his PMF also allied to a political faction, the Fath, who hold 48 seats in the Iraqi parliament. The often anti-Iranian Shia leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, has now joined with Fath and other groups to demand a vote in the parliament to order a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. It might be good for them to go, although Trump has just sent in 3,500 more Marines to protect the US embassy that came under attack and protests after an earlier US attack on pro-Iranian militias. Solemaini may have been ultimately behind the killing of up to 600 Americans by pro-Iranian militias during the war in Iraq. But he has also worked with the US both in the aftermath of 9/11/01 against the Taliban in Afghanistan and more recently against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in Iraq, with those efforts not jeopardized by this US attack. There is much more that can be said about this, but among less noticed responses I note that although Israeli PM Netanyahu made a strong statement supporting the attack, apparently he has ordered his aides not to talk about it further, and the Israelis are worried about possible escalation of this In KSA, “Bone-Saw” MbS has said nothing, although supposedly the Saudi had sought to kill Solemaini themselves. Oh, and of course Mike Pompeo announced that this move has made Americans “safe” in the region, even as Americans have been urged to leave Iraq immediately. So, yeah, they will be more safe by getting the heck out.

Waist deep and sinking in the Middle East: We're now at war with Iran - The question of war with Iran is now settled. With President Donald Trump’s decision to authorize the U.S. military to execute Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iranian forces throughout the Middle East, the United States is at war with Iran, whether the White House acknowledges it or not. It’s the equivalent of Iran killing the commander of U.S. Central Command.Without a doubt, Iran will respond to the execution of Soleimani with deadly force. The question will be where and when?The Iran-sponsored attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the military attack that killed Soleimani are acts of war that make the nature of the relationship no longer an issue. This war is not — and is unlikely to be in the future — a conventional war as American political and military authorities would prefer. It will continue to be internationally political, unconventional and asymmetric.  In Iraq alone, the Trump administration will be fighting this war in a vulnerable position with 5,000 isolated American troops on the ground, supported by air and naval power in the region, and an embassy fortress in Baghdad surrounded by Iranian and other enemies. But that vulnerability does not mean the war will be centered in Baghdad. Today, the U.S. is at war with a capable and difficult adversary that has options to attack Americans and U.S. interests in unexpected ways around the world. The United States is not tiptoeing into a Middle Eastern quagmire. It is waist deep and sinking. The American entanglement in Iraq did not begin with Donald Trump, although he has made it significantly worse. In a historically catastrophic decision, the George W. Bush administration used a false rationale that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction to invade Iraq in 2003. With this misguided adventure — promoted by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard Cheney as unfinished business from the first Gulf War — the U.S. immediately became bogged down in Iraq.

Iran Will Respond- Here Are Some Thoughts On How - In one line: Iran will respond; the how and when is uncertain but full-scale war is unlikely.It's hard to overstate the geopolitical importance of Friday's assassination of Qassim Soleimani, architect of Iran's external military activity for more than 20 years and perhaps the most powerful man in the country after the Supreme Leader.  For deep background on Maj. Gen. Soleimani and his importance in Iran's military activity across the Middle East, both direct and via numerous proxies, see this piece from the New Yorker:  Iran right now is reeling from the assassination, but the leadership is dominated by hardliners and the question is how, not whether, they will respond.  For markets, the key issue is the impact of the Iranian response on oil prices.Our base case here is that a full-blown war between the U.S. and Iran is unlikely, though we appreciate the old adage that nothing brings a country together more effectively than an external threat, and Iran's government right now is extremely unpopular.  Sanctions imposed by the U.S. have crushed the economy and driven up inflation, triggering protests last month in which several hundred protesters were killed by army and police.  It is reasonable to think, then, that the leadership will seek to use the assassination to divert attention from the grim economy.  But Iran's leaders probably aren't suicidal; we doubt they will take action that will trigger air strikes on Tehran.  The infrastructure of the oil sector, though, is a likely target in the event of tit-for-tat escalation.Iran's military reach via proxies across the Middle East gives the leadership plenty of options, including retaliatory assassination attempts, kidnappings, bombings of U.S. government facilities, and attacks on shipping and other privately-owned U.S. entities.  Iran might also seek to draw Israel into a conflict via Hezbollah in Lebanon.  We can't rule out some sort of grand-scale attack, but an array of smaller-scale activity is our core bet. The risk that something bigger will trigger a real war, however, likely will put a premium on oil prices for the next few months, at least.

Pre-Emptive Action On The Table Against Iran Or Its Proxies- Esper - The US longstanding "deter Iran" policy is official again inside Iraq and Syria, apparently, after Defense Secretary Mark Esper underscored in statements on Thursday that "additional attacks" are being readied by Iran against US troops and interests inside Iraq. Leaving the question of the original "anti-ISIL" mission far behind after it's already been "physically defeated" Esper crucially declared "preemptive" strikes are on the table. This after over the weekend the US attacked 5 Iraqi Shia militia sites in Iraq and Syria, resulting in mob attacks on the American embassy compound inside Baghdad's 'Green Zone'. “If we get word of attacks, we will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces, protect American lives. The game has changed,” Esper said.And in a separate interview on Fox News, the Pentagon chief warned Tehran that a "severe response" is coming if anyone "challenges us". "We will action to preempt any attacks on our forces" from Iran or its proxies," he said. He also told reporters at the Pengagon: “Do I think they might do something? Yes, and they will likely regret it,” Esper said of Kataib Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia that Washington has blamed for a rocket attack on a Kirkuk base last Friday which resulted in the death of a US contractor. “There are some indications out there that they may be planning additional attacks.” Esper had a similar message when he was interviewed by Fox News earlier in the day. Fox anchor Leland Vittert had begun the interview with some of the usual mainstream pundit war-mongering rhetoric: "Is there a time that the Iranian bullies and the Ayatollahs need a punch in the nose to their leadership that goes beyond merely sanctions and rhetoric?" the Fox host questioned.“I’m not going to speculate with regard to next steps. I would just reiterate that we retain the right of self-defense, of our forces, our interests, our partners in the region,” Esper responded.“Our aim is to deter further Iranian bad behavior that has been going on now for over 40 years. It’s time that Iran started acting like a normal country,” Esper said in the interview.

Iran Has Hezbollah Sleeper Cells In The US Ready To Strike - The threat posed by Iran-backed Hezbollah sleeper cells embedded in major American cities has once again come to the fore following the killing of Iran’s Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani. Following last night’s assassination of the Iranian military leader, authorities in both New York and Los Angeles announced that they were ramping up security in readiness for possible revenge attacks on U.S. soil. This is because Iran is known to have placed Hezbollah terrorist sleeper cells throughout not just Europe but the United States too. Last year, the the criminal prosecution and conviction in New York of the Hezbollah operative Ali Kourani revealed that the terror outfit has already plotted to attack U.S. interests inside the country and is ready to activate if it considers the existence of either Hezbollah or Iran to be at stake. Following the arrest of Kourani and another Hezbollah operative named Samer el-Debek, the U.S. intelligence community reversed its belief that Hezbollah was unlikely to attempt attacks within the U.S. “It’s our assessment that Hezbollah is determined to give itself a potential homeland option as a critical component of its terrorism playbook,” said National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen.

Will there be a draft? After United States drone strike killed Iran’s top general, fears of World War III - For decades, American men over the age of 18 have gone through the ritual of registering with the government in case of a military draft. In recent years, that ritual has felt like routine paperwork, a simple checking of the box. But Friday, after a United States drone strike killed Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, prompting concerns about the possibility of war, that oft-forgotten ritual became a reason for spiking anxiety among many Americans. “World War III” started trending on social media. Many young men suddenly remembered registering after their 18th birthdays, many to apply for college financial aid. One Twitter user posted that he had blocked the account of the U.S. Army, with the (faulty) reasoning that: “They can’t draft you if they can’t see you.” Interest was so high that it overwhelmed the website for the Selective Service System, the independent government agency that maintains a database of Americans eligible for a potential draft. “Due to the spread of misinformation, our website is experiencing high traffic volumes at this time,” the agency said on Twitter, adding, “We appreciate your patience.”

Activists demonstrate in Los Angeles and other cities, call for no war with Iran – — Anti-war activists and their supporters staged a demonstration in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to voice their opposition to war against Iran, following Thursday’s U.S. killing of a top Iranian military official in Baghdad.The ANSWER Coalition, Code Pink and Veterans for Peace organized the 1 p.m. rally at Pershing Square, calling for no war on Iran, an end to economic sanctions on Iraq and an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region. At least 200 people gathered to hear speakers, then marched to the Roybal Federal Building to continue the rally, organizer John Prysner said.Los Angeles Police Department officers monitored the situation and there were no arrests reported as of 3:15 p.m., Officer Mike Lopez said.More than 70 protests were planned in cities around the United States, organizers said.

White Man's Burden - The US Has Been Fighting Forever Wars Against Muslims For 120 Years - U.S.-led wars in the Middle East have killed some four million Muslims since 1990. The recently published Afghanistan papers, provided an insight into the longest war in U.S. history and revealed how U.S. officials continuously lied about the progress being made in Afghanistan, lacked a basic understanding of the country, were hiding evidence that the war was unwinnable, and had wasted as much as $1 trillion in the process.Unfortunately, this phenomenon is nothing new. While most people accept that the United States has been interfering with Muslim populations quite heavily since World War II, the truth is that the U.S. has been fighting “forever wars” against Muslim populations for well over 100 years. (If you want to really go back into history, Thomas Jefferson was also fighting Muslims in the oft-forgotten Barbary Wars in the early 1800s).The average American school curriculum likely doesn’t feature the fact that the U.S. waged a war from 1899 to 1913 in the southernmost island of the Philippines. Known as the Moro War, it was the longest sustained military campaign in American history until the war in Afghanistan surpassed it a few years ago. As a result, the U.S. and the Philippine governments are still embroiled in a battle with Islamist insurgents in the southern Philippines, which takes the meaning of “forever war” to a whole new level.Despite over a century passing since the U.S. led a counterinsurgency war against the Islamic Moros, its similarities with the Afghanistan war are incredibly noteworthy, to say the least.“I want no prisoners,” ordered General Jacob Smith on Samar Island during the war in 1902. “I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better you will please me.”Fast forward over 100 years later and it is difficult to see how U.S. military doctrine has changed for the better. A video came to light in 2010 of then-General James Mattis saying that it was “a hell of a lot of fun to shoot” people in Afghanistan. Mattis was later rewarded for his heroism and bravery by being crowned Donald Trump’s secretary of defense for a short while.

Pentagon chief says US troops in Afghanistan to be redeployed against China - A drawdown of US troops from Washington’s 18-year-old war in Afghanistan will facilitate their redeployment to the Asia-Pacific region as part of the US military buildup against China, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters this week. The remark came amid reports that some 4,000 of the roughly 13,000 US troops now deployed in the war-ravaged country may be pulled out within weeks. During his unannounced and lightning trip in and out of the heavily fortified US Bagram air base north of Kabul on Thanksgiving, Trump said that he was considering cutting the number of troops in Afghanistan “very substantially.” US soldiers in Afghanistan [Credit: US Military]Esper explained the geo-strategic calculations underlying such a withdrawal, which have nothing to do with Trump’s demagogy about ending Washington’s “endless wars.” “I would like to go down to a lower number because I want to either bring those troops home,” he said, or order them “redeployed to the Indo-Pacific to face off our greatest challenge in terms of the great power competition—that’s vis-a-vis China.” The withdrawal of 4,000 US personnel would bring the total US troop strength back to the level that Trump inherited from the Obama administration, which had brought the number down to 8,600. Trump’s escalation of the US intervention in August 2017 came in response to demands from his then-Defense Secretary James Mattis, and over the previous objections of his fired chief political strategist, the extreme right-winger Stephen Bannon, who had opposed any escalation in the Middle East as a diversion from the US-China conflict. Responding to Pentagon reporters while flying back from a ceremony in Belgium marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Esper said that while he believed “the best solution for Afghanistan is a political agreement,” the troop withdrawal could be accomplished “with or without an agreement.”

Erik Prince's 'Secret' Meeting With Venezuelan Government Flagged By US Treasury - Earlier this month we detailed the bizarre story of controversial Blackwater founder Erik Prince's trip to meet with top Maduro government officials in Venezuela in late November. Prince had held "secret talks" with no less than Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, which reportedly included the Frontier Services Group executive pressing Caracas for the release of six imprisoned Citgo executives, something that apparently happened, according to a Bloomberg report. Other details of what was discussed or possibly agreed to remain a mystery.  At the time speculation abounded as to whether or not his trip had the approval or knowledge of the Trump administration, given that as we pointed out at the time VP Delcy Rodríguez is a sanctioned individual, meaning discussion of any business arrangement with her or other officials without authorization is against US law. Now it appears Prince could be in hot water over the meetings:Erik Prince, a major Republican donor and founder of controversial security firm Blackwater, has been referred to the U.S. Treasury Department for possible sanctions violations tied to his recent trip to Venezuela for a meeting with a top aide of President Nicolas Maduro, two senior U.S. officials said.  There’s no indication that Prince, whose sister is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, will be sanctioned for the meeting last month in Caracas with Venezuela’s Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.  Weeks ago the State Department denied that Prince was acting in an unofficial "back channel" capacity. When the reports first surfaced, the State Department even claimed it had no knowledge of the visit, with special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams saying in a statement, “Neither the meeting nor any offers made were on behalf of the United States Government and on their face such offers would appear to violate U.S. sanctions.”The entire strange episode was widely interpreted as meaning the White House had grown tired of regime change efforts inside Venezuela and that support for US-declared 'interim president' Juan Guaidó was wavering.Of course, it could also signal that an internal US government conflict over Venezuela policy is breaking out into the open, as the AP report hints: But the fact the visit was flagged underscores the concern of officials in the Trump administration over what appeared to be an unauthorized diplomatic outreach to Maduro. This, as support for opposition leader Juan Guaidó inside Venezuela — if not Washington — appears to be waning.

  Germany responds to Trump: Huawei has no back door, but Cisco has 10 Today, the Daily Mirror in Berlin, Germany, published an important article titled "Europeans should not blindly follow Trump". At a special moment, they criticized the Trump administration for its misconduct. This article reveals a very important fact that no backdoors were found in Huawei's products, and 10 vulnerabilities were discovered on Cisco products in the United States. When the news came out, the fact that many people doubted was true. Trump is suppressing Huawei not only to prevent Huawei from growing, but more importantly, to better use American equipment to monitor other countries. Even Germany’s Chancellor Merkel’s phone was intercepted by the United States, and Germany was deeply hurt. Since Germany learned that Prime Minister Merkel’s phone was intercepted by the United States, Germany’s trust in the United States has fallen sharply. Since the explosion of the Prism Door scandal, the scandal of the United States to monitor the world has been known around the world, but the United States has still not improved. When entering the 5G era, Trump found that American companies could not provide true 5G products. China's Huawei is the most powerful product supplier and service provider in the 5G era. If the world uses Huawei products, then the United States cannot monitor the people of other countries. This article from Germany is very interesting. There are several points in the following. It is worth reading and thinking.

"Beijing Accepts The Invitation": Liu He Coming To America For "Phase One" Deal Signing On Saturday - The Phase One trade deal which was "concluded" on Oct 11 may finally be getting signed. According to SCMP, China's Vice-Premier Liu He and chief trade negotiator will lead a delegation to Washington on Saturday, where he is expected to sign the phase one deal that will roll back some current tariffs in exchange for a "best effort" by Beijing to import more US ag products. "Washington has sent an invitation and Beijing has accepted it,” said the anonymous SCMP source, who added that the Chinese delegation is expected to stay “a few days” in the US until the middle of next week, even though neither side has officially confirmed the trip yet. The signing of a phase one deal during Liu’s trip would mark a point of truce in the bitter trade war between the world’s two biggest economies, one that is expected to boost global markets and brighten increasingly gloomy outlooks for economic growth. That said, it was back in May when trade talks collapsed just hours before the signing ceremony was set to take place, so one never knows... President Trump said before Christmas that he would “ultimately” have a signing ceremony with President Xi Jinping. "We will be having a signing ceremony, yes,” Trump told reporters. “We will ultimately, yes, when we get together,” he told reporters in Florida. US trade representative Robert Lighthizer said on December 13 that officials from both countries would sign the phase one trade deal "in the first week of January" and it now appears that will be the first weekend of the year, although the Chinese side has never confirmed the date of the signing, and there is appears to be no indication that Trump and Xi will meet in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, as SCMP also reports, Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with state broadcaster CGTN last weekend that Beijing will live up to its trade deal commitments. “I think we have full confidence in our negotiators. So let the two teams do their job,” Cui said. “And still they are under the guidance of the two presidents.” 

Donald Trump makes China out to be a terrible intellectual property thief. But is it? --As the US-China trade war rumbles on, with Chinaaccused of currency manipulation, obstructing market access and intellectual-property theft (through espionage and forced technology transfers), there is one issue conspi­cuously absent from the ongoing dispute, and it is this essentially two-faced US immigration policy.Allegations of labour-market manipulation in the US have been levelled against the meatpacking and agri­cultural industries for years, by the likes of activist Cesar Chavez, elected politicians Romano Mazzoli and Lamar Smith (a Democrat and a Republican, respectively), the AFL-CIO union (in its post-war days at least) and advocacy groups Farmworker Justice and Numbers USA. Unlike goods manufacturers, meat producers and growers can’t out­source their production to cheaper labour markets, being inextricably tied to the land, livestock and local water sources. What they can do, however, is insource. By maintaining a roster of unskilled, legal and illegal workers, the US artificially increases its domestic labour supply, giving many US companies, including some of its largest exporters – particularly in agriculture – a substan­tial edge. That such a system had been in place for decades before Trump’s unprecedented enforcement rhetoric shows how wedded US companies are to immigration, largely from what Trump calls “s***hole countries”   Amid the ongoing Sino-US public-relations battles, it would not be surprising if China or other countries raised this issue, but conversely it was the US that used this argu­ment against China. The mainland has volleyed claims of hypocrisy against the US with regards to agricultural subsidies, however, not specifically in the area of cheap, imported agricultural labour. The US Trade Representative’s (USTR) latest annual report to Congress on China’s World Trade Organisation compliance expressed “great concern” that “China does not adhere to certain internationally recognised labour stand­ards, including the freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively”. Likewise, the Congressional-Execu­tive Commission on China says in its latest report that the country also imposes “restrictions on workers’ rights to freely establish and join independent trade unions”.

US-China trade war – why everything you thought you knew is wrong | South China Morning Post --As 2020 approaches, US tariffs on Chinese goods have reached levels not seen since the US Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, which played a key role in exacerbating the Great Depression. A key complaint of US President Donald Trump is China’s failure to respect intellectual property rights. Trump and his trade advisers regularly accuse China of stealing US inventions, designs, and other forms of intellectual property without compensation. Many in the media repeat these allegations as a matter of course. It used to be that one could walk down the street in Vietnam, India or Mexico and easily find pirated foreign films and music on DVDs and CDs. Now that everything is digital, pirating has become less visible to tourists, even though it is probably no less rampant than before. In any case, intellectual property protections are weaker in developing countries than in rich ones. The question, then, is whether China’s record on intellectual property is better or worse than what one would expect for its income level. For systematic data on such questions, we examine countries’ outbound royalty and licence fee payments to foreign patent, copyright and other intellectual property holders, which are included in the balance-of-payments statistics compiled by the International Monetary Fund. This data reveals that a country’s income level and intellectual property payments are tightly linked, with a clear positive linear relationship (when both are measured in logarithm). As the following graph shows, a 1 per cent increase in per capita income is associated with a 1.85 per cent increase in per capita intellectual property payments, on average. The implication is that as a country grows richer – and as its economy becomes more technologically sophisticated and capital-intensive – its intellectual property protection regime tends to strengthen. (Recall that the United States was accused of violating British intellectual property in the nineteenth century.).

Why Asia weaponized rare earths, soybeans and palm oil in 2019 -- As China and the U.S. exchanged trade war salvos in May, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited a rare-earth magnet factory in the southeastern province of Jiangxi. His message was clear: China, which accounts for nearly 90% of the world's rare earths production, would have no compunction about taking the crucial elements hostage.Commodities reflect what is happening in the world. This year in Asia they echoed the U.S.-China trade war, the Hong Kong protests, global warming and deteriorating relations between nations. They also augured what is in store for 2020. "Looking back on 2019," said Yoshikazu Watanabe, president of Tsukushi Shigen Consul, a consultancy specializing in resources, "it was about weaponizing commodities."According to Watanabe, Xi's Kabuki performance came with his government consolidating domestic production of the resources that go into everything from smartphones to electric vehicles to the most modern jetliners. In 2015, the government began integrating the country's many rare earths producers into six dominant state-owned enterprises. "The integration has almost been completed this year," Watanabe said, "which means it has become much easier for the government to weaponize the natural resource."Trump noted the implied threat and turned to Australia, the second largest rare earths supplier. The two countries this year agreed to work together to finance projects related to critical minerals like rare earths.  "In 2020, we have to carefully see if China and the U.S. actually leverage rare earths as a bargaining chip," Watanabe, said. "If so, speculation over rare-earth supplies will spread, and prices will rise."The price of dysprosium, which improves permanent magnets' heat resistance, is at earlier this month was at $250 per kilogram, up 40% from last January.  But Beijing dismisses accusations that it is using rare-earth exports as trade leverage.

China Approves New GMO Crops From The US For Imports - China's agriculture ministry said Monday that it had approved two new genetically modified crops for import from the U.S., reported Reuters. The announcement comes ahead of a potential Phase 1 trade deal signing between Beijing and Washington next month. The U.S. has long demanded that China imports more genetically modified crops. According to Reuters, the new crops approved for import were Corteva AgriScience's DAS-81419-2 soybean and 55-1 papaya, developed by the USDA and Hawaii University. "This further expands channels for imports of U.S. agricultural products, and helps pave the way for buying more U.S. soybeans," said Li Qiang, chief analyst with Shanghai J.C. Intelligence Co. Ltd. Reuters also said China renewed import licenses for ten other genetically modified crops, including BASF developed T25 corn, A5547-127 soybean, T45 canola, Oxy-235 canola, and Ms8Rf3 canola. Bayer-owned Monsanto Far East Ltd's MON89788 soybean, 15985 cotton, and H7-1 beet were also reapproved for import, along with DuPont subsidiary Pioneer's 305423 soybean and 305423×GTS40-3-2 soybean. With the signing of the Phase 1 trade deal expected next month, China's Customs Administration reported last week that inbound agriculture shipments from the U.S. more than doubled to 2.6 million tons, the highest since March 2018, and up from about 1.1 million tons in October. While China is unlikely to order less soybean from either Brazil or Argentina any time soon as the two nations have emerged as the two key supply chain alternatives to the U.S., the continued push to reopen the U.S. market to Chinese importers comes as China food inflation is soaring.

 Trump Winery Fires Undocumented Employees After Harvest: Report At least seven employees were reportedly fired from Trump Winery in Virginia on Monday over their immigration status, almost a year after the Trump Organization promised to end its reliance on undocumented workers at its properties. According to The Washington Post, the firings came after the annual harvest at the vineyard and during the winter downtime. “They didn’t make this decision in the summer because they needed us a lot then,” Omar Miranda, a 42-year-old tractor driver from Honduras, told the Post. Miranda and another anonymous employee who was fired said they worked at the winery for over 10 years. “I think they wanted to get their product out well, the grapes, to make sure that was taken care of, and once things were slow, they could fire us all,” the unnamed employee said. The terminated employees were reportedly part of a small group that worked the vineyard year-round, and were separate from the legal immigrants that have worked at Trump Winery on seasonal work visas. The Trump Organization has not commented publicly on the matter.

 Interior Department removes 'sexual orientation' from anti-discrimination guideline – news video -President Trump’s Interior Department removed “sexual orientation” from a statement in the agency’s ethics guide regarding workplace discrimination.

Is Obamacare Really Unconstitutional? -Nicholas Bagley - I’ve got a new perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine discussing the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Texas v. United States. The full consequences of the ruling are not yet clear. Instead of deciding for itself how much or how little of the ACA could stand, the appeals court asked the Texas judge who originally decided the case to take a second look at the question. In the meantime, a consortium of Democrat-led states may ask the Supreme Court to intervene. But it’s by no means assured that the Court will take up the invitation. We’re in for a long period of uncertainty, and it’s unlikely that we’ll know the fate of the ACA before the 2020 election. At risk are the law’s protections for people with preexisting conditions, its prohibitions on abusive insurance practices, the Medicaid expansion, subsidies for private coverage, and much more. And whether the law survives this latest brush with death may depend on whether Trump secures a second term in office.  The piece is gated, unfortunately, but it’s available here.

What Happened When Trump Reshaped a Powerful Court -- With the help of Senate Republicans, Donald Trump spent the first three years of his presidency remaking the federal judiciary in his own image. The president has appointed 133 district court judges, 50 appeals court judges, and two Supreme Court justices—meaning about one-fifth of the nation’s federal trial judges, and one-fourth of its federal appellate judges, are Trump appointees. These jurists are leading a conservative revolution that will upend decades of precedent and enshrine reactionary policies into the law. The transformation has only just begun. But for a glimpse of where the judiciary is heading if Trump wins a second term, Americans can look to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A traditionally conservative bench, the court has been newly reshaped by Trump—and quickly got to work translating right-wing priorities into legal doctrine that will govern generations.  The 5th Circuit’s descent into lawlessness did not happen by accident. Senate Republicans would not let President Barack Obama fill several seats on the court, allowing Trump to reshape it after taking office. He appointed five of the court’s seventeen active judges, who immediately allied with the court’s existing far-right bloc, which includes extremists like Judges Jerry Smith and Edith Jones (appointed by Ronald Reagan) and Jennifer Walker Elrod (appointed by George W. Bush). There are now 11 GOP nominees on the court and just five Democratic nominees. (There’s also one vacancy, because some Republican senators deem Trump’s choice for the seat insufficiently militant.)

Congress Just Passed Nightmare Legislation that Strips Trillions in Wealth from the Middle Class - Pam Martens -- Five days before Christmas, while the impeachment debate distracted voters, the President signed into law the so-called Secure Act – which was a sickening bi-partisan attack on the wealth-building capability of the middle class. Making the dirty deed even more Grinch-worthy, the attack on the assets of the middle class comes after the Trump tax overhaul in 2017 gave a windfall to the super wealthy by doubling their estate tax exclusion from $11 million per couple to $22 million. Now someone has to pay for that and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have stealthily decided it’s going to be Millennials – who are already buried under student loan debt with a meager average net worth of $8,000. Under the mantra of increasing 401(k) participation for workers and adding a paltry year and a half to when workers must take mandatory distributions from their sheltered retirement accounts (from age 70 ½ to age 72), the addled brains and/or corporate lapdogs in Congress just removed one of the most critically important avenues that the middle class have for accessing the benefit of tax-sheltered compounding over decades in order to maximize wealth building for those who can’t afford estate planners, tax attorneys and CPAs. Under long-established legislation, when an IRA account owner died, he or she would typically have named their spouse as the beneficiary of the IRA. That meant that the spouse could simply roll over the decedent’s IRA and continue taking the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) based on their own life expectancy and the new dollar amount of the account. When the final spouse died, the adult children were typically named as the heirs to the IRA. In many cases, this introduced the next generation to their first clear understanding of the magic of compound interest in a tax-sheltered vehicle – the most efficient form of wealth building that there is.Under the Secure Act, nothing has changed when the first spouse dies. The surviving spouse retains the same benefits previously held. The sneak attack occurs when the final spouse dies and attempts to leave the children with a wealth-building vehicle for life.Under the insidiously named Secure Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) the children who could previously inherit their parent’s IRA and take the Required Minimum Distribution based on their own age – effectively giving them the ability to compound that inherited IRA over their own lifetime on a tax-sheltered basis – will now be required to reduce the account to zero (yes, ZERO!) over a period of ten years. This former provision was previously known as the “Stretch IRA.” Now it’s become the “Shrink IRA.”In addition to wiping out one of the best chances that debt-strapped Millennials ever had to obtain a decent standard of living, the Secure Act will also involuntarily push that Millennial into a higher tax bracket in the years he is forced to take outsized distributions from a large, inherited IRA.

Secure Act includes one critical tax change ‘that will send estate planners reeling’ - On Dec. 20, President Trump signed into law the awkwardly named Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (Secure Act). The new law is mainly intended to expand opportunities for individuals to increase their retirement savings. But it also includes one big anti-taxpayer change that will send some financially comfortable folks and their estate planners reeling. The Secure Act includes some other important tax changes that have nothing to do with retirement. Before the Secure Act, you could not make contributions to a traditional IRA for the year during which you reached age 70 1/2 or any later year. (There’s no age restriction on Roth IRA contributions, and the Secure Act does not change that.) For tax years beginning after 2019, the Secure Act repeals the age restriction on contributions to traditional IRAs. So, for tax years beginning in 2020 and beyond, you can make contributions after reaching age 70½. That’s the good news. Now for the bad news. Stricter rules for post-death required minimum distributions curtail ‘Stretch IRAs’: The Secure Act requires most non-spouse IRA and retirement plan beneficiaries to drain inherited accounts within 10 years after the account owner’s death. This is a big anti-taxpayer change for financially comfortable folks who don’t need their IRA balances for their own retirement years but want to use those balances to set up a long-term tax-advantaged deal for their heirs. Before the Secure Act, the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules allowed you as a non-spouse beneficiary to gradually drain the substantial IRA that you inherited from, say, your grandfather over your IRS-defined life expectancy.  As you can see, the pre-Secure Act RMD regime allowed you to keep the inherited account open for many years and reap the tax advantages for those many years. With an IRA, this is called the “Stretch IRA” strategy. The Stretch IRA strategy is particularly advantageous for inherited Roth IRAs, because the income those accounts produce can grow and be withdrawn federal-income-tax-free.  Unfortunately, the Secure Act’s 10-year rule puts a damper on the Stretch IRA strategy. It can still work, but only in the limited circumstances when the 10-year rule does not apply (explained below). This development will have some well-off folks and their estate planning advisers scrambling for months (at least) to react. That’s especially true if you’ve set up a “conduit” or “pass-through” trust as the beneficiary of what you intended to be a Stretch IRA for your heirs. According to the Congressional Research Service, the lid put on the Stretch IRA strategy by the new law has the potential to generate about $15.7 billion in tax revenue over the next decade.

 How Cutting Food Stamps Can Add Costs Elsewhere --The Department of Agriculture recently finished work on a new rule that may take food stamps away from nearly 700,000 Americans by tightening work requirements. Several times in the past year, the government has proposed cutting food stamp eligibility. The new rule is intended to save almost $8 billion over five years.  It’s not clear how much money would actually be saved, research suggests, given the costs that might come from a decline in the health and well-being of many of the country’s 14.3 million “food-insecure” households.The Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. It affects low-income, single-parent, and black and Hispanic households the most, but it cuts across many demographic lines and affects 11 percent of American households over all. Citing a strong job market, the Trump administration has said helping able-bodied adults was no longer necessary. Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, said, “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.” Catherine Drennan, director of communications and public affairs at the Greater Boston Food Bank, emphasized that many people receiving assistance are underemployed or “the working poor.” (The Greater Boston Food Bank distributes almost 57 million meals each year in partnership with 500 food pantries, colleges and other agencies in eastern Massachusetts.) “They work one or two jobs but still aren’t earning enough to meet all their basic needs,” she said. Food insecurity is linked to worse health outcomes, including poor mental health, high blood pressure and diabetes, with children particularly vulnerable. Low-income people may be eligible for federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, better known as food stamps. The details vary by state. “SNAP recipients often work, but their employment can be unsteady,” said Dr. Seth A. Berkowitz, an internist and assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Seasonal variation in some labor markets — like agriculture or even retail consumer jobs when sales may spike around the winter holidays — can put people temporarily out of work, making it hard for them to keep food on the table. “The way these work requirements are imposed could pull support out from under people even when they are working.” One study that Dr. Berkowitz led found that receiving SNAP benefits was associated with a reduction in annual health care spending of about $1,400 per person among low-income adults. Another study found that each additional $10 of monthly SNAP benefits was linked with a lower risk of hospitalization for Maryland residents enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid. In Massachusetts, an increase in SNAP benefits slowed the increase in Medicaid hospitalization costs.

Census data projects shift in states’ congressional power - California is projected to lose a congressional seat for the first time next year, while states President Trump won such as Texas and Florida will likely gain seats, according to an analysis of new Census data by the Brookings Institution's William Frey.  It only takes a handful of seats to shift a party's power in Congress for a decade. The new data underscores the need for an accurate 2020 Census count, especially with changing demographics in states with booming populations such as Florida, Texas and Arizona. If the rate of population change from July 2018 to July 2019 holds into the next year...

  • Blue states including New York, Illinois, Rhode Island and California are projected to each lose a seat.
  • Red states such as Texas, Arizona, Montana, Florida and North Carolina are projected to gain.

 Demographics are shifting in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona, which have seen an influx of Latinos who tend to skew more Democratic and are more likely to be undercounted by the census, Frey said. Texas has slowly been turning blue, and Florida has been tightly contested for years. Three key swing states that voted for Trump in 2016 — Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — are each projected to lose a congressional seat.  Redistricting will play a crucial role in determining how much a political party benefits from congressional reapportionment. It will have a significant impact on elections in the next decade.  The changes come as total population growth in the U.S. reaches its lowest point since 1918 at just 0.48%.

So Many People Have Fled California The State May Lose Multiple Seats In Congress -California is poised to lose multiple congressional seats after the 2020 census for the first time in the state's history, thanks to an exodus of more than 200,000 people between 2018 and 2019, according to the Los Angeles Times. Top destinations include Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. "It’s got a lot to do with dispersion from California to the rest of the west," said senior Brookings fellow, William Frey. "Arizona, Texas and Colorado are all big destinations for California migrants, and they all are gaining seats." About 203,000 people left California in that period, a result of the state’s shifting migration patterns and economic strains that are making it harder to afford living here. New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Louisiana also saw large losses to other states. California’s potential loss in reapportionment, which will be determined by next year’s census count, would drop the state’s number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives from 53 to 52, said William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. -LA Times According to a relocation survey by Texas Realtors, 63,175 Californians moved to Texas in 2017, while almost 41,000 Texans moved to the Golden State. And while California may lose a seat in the House, Texas is likely to gain three seats after the 2020 census. Arizona, Colorado and Oregon may gain one seat apiece.A state's population includes all residents - citizens and non-citizens, along with overseas federal employees and their dependents from whatever state they claim as home, according to the US Census Bureau.That said, if illegal immigrants fail to participate or fail to give honest household figures, California could lose multiple seats according to state redistricting analyst Paul Mitchell, "If, as many fear, non-citizen populations and the state’s heavily Latino population either fails to participate or participates without providing full household counts, then California could lose more than one seat," said Mitchell.

Joe Biden explains why he said he’d defy a subpoena to testify in the Senate impeachment trial -- Former Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview on Friday that if he were subpoenaed to testify in President Donald Trump’s upcoming Senate impeachment trial, he would defy the order. Saturday, he began walking that statement back, and eventually seemed to reverse his position.  His Friday comments, made to the Des Moines Register’s editorial board, marked the second time this month that he’s said that he’d ignore such a congressional order. Both times he said he’d do so because he believes his testimony would serve as a distraction from the purpose of the impeachment trial.  “You guys, instead of focusing on him, you’re going to cover for three weeks anything I said. And he’s going to get away,” Biden told the Register. Republicans have indicated that they plan to defend the president at the trial by redirecting focus on Biden, by pushing unfounded claims about the vice president’s son Hunter Biden, and by promoting conspiracy theories about Ukraine meddling in the US’ 2016 election. “Look, the grounds for them to call me would be overwhelmingly specious. But so I don’t anticipate that happening anyway. But what it would do — if I went, let’s say I voluntarily, just said let me go make my case, what are you going to cover?” Biden said in the interview.  Biden went on to argue that a subpoena would be “designed to deal with Trump doing what he’s done his whole life — trying to take the focus off him.” Saturday, Biden clarified his comments on Twitter, explaining why he believes flouting a congressional subpoena would be different from the obstruction the president was charged with in one of the articles of impeachment — a charge brought for blocking testimony and ignoring House subpoenas. “I have always complied with a lawful order and in my eight years as VP, my office — unlike Donald Trump and Mike Pence — cooperated with legitimate congressional oversight requests,” Biden wrote. “But I am just not going to pretend that there is any legal basis for Republican subpoenas for my testimony in the impeachment trial. ... This impeachment is about Trump’s conduct, not mine.”

Michael Bloomberg’s massive ad spending greatly affecting TV markets - Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg isspending so much money on television spots across the country that it’s causing ad rates to soar, a new analysis shows.“The typical [TV] market increased their rates by 22 percent as the political spending poured in,” an Advertising Analytics analysis found.“Houston was among the markets that responded most actively to the new advertiser,” it added. “This is partially attributable to Bloomberg’s $1 [million] buy increasing the political spending in the market tenfold. This shock spending increase was matched by a 45% increase in rates, which is among the highest of any market.”That means the massive spending is driving up advertising costs for Bloomberg’s competitors and other advertisers, an Advertising Analytics’ analysis of the billionaire’s first week of ad spending found.The Houston ad buy is one of dozens made by the billionaire media mogul’s campaign, which is shelling out an average of $25.5 million a week on campaign ads to woo Democrats since he joined the Democratic primary race in late. Since announcing his candidacy a month ago, billionaire Bloomberg has booked $119 million in TV ads in markets throughout the country through Dec. 31 and another $15.2 million in digital ads, according to Advertising Analytics.That comes to nearly $135 million.If the pace continues, New York’s last mayor will blow through $357 million on TV ads by the March 3 primaries and $561 million by the time New Yorkers finally head to the polls on April 28. And that extraordinary total doesn’t count the campaign’s staff hiring spree to put boots on the ground in states across the country.

‘Nothing Less Than a Civil War’: These White Voters on the Far Right See Doom Without Trump - New York Times. Deeply conservative, they organize online and outside the Republican Party apparatus, engaging in more explicit versions of the chest-beating seen at the president’s rallies. — The speakers included the local Republican congressman, Paul Gosar, and lesser-known conservative personalities. There was a fringe 2020 Senate candidate in Arizona who ran a website that published sexually explicit photos of women without their consent; a pro-Trump rapper whose lyrics include a racist slur aimed at Barack Obama; and a North Carolina activist who once said of Muslims, “I will kill every one of them before they get to me.” All were welcome, except liberals. “They label us white nationalists, or white supremacists,” volunteered Guy Taiho Decker, who drove from California to attend the event. A right-wing protester, he has previously been arrested on charges of making terrorist threats. “There’s no such thing as a white supremacist, just like there’s no such thing as a unicorn,” Mr. Decker said. “We’re patriots.” As Mr. Trump’s bid for re-election shifts into higher gear, his campaign hopes to recapture voters who drifted away from the party in 2018 and 2019: independents who embraced moderate Democratic candidates, suburban women tired of Mr. Trump’s personal conduct and working-class voters who haven’t benefited from his economic policies. But if any group remains singularly loyal to Mr. Trump, it is the small but impassioned number of white voters on the far right, often in rural communities like Golden Valley, who extol him as a cultural champion reclaiming the country from undeserving outsiders. These voters don’t passively tolerate Mr. Trump’s “build a wall” message or his ban on travel from predominantly Muslim countries — they’re what motivates them. They see themselves in his fear-based identity politics, bolstered by conspiratorial rhetoric about caravans of immigrants and Democratic “coups.” Islamophobic taunts can be heard. Hate speech and conspiracy theories are staples of some far-right websites. If Trumpstock was modest in size, it stood out as a sign of extremist public support for a sitting president. And these supporters have electoral muscle in key areas: Mr. Trump outperformed Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, in rural parts of Arizona like Mohave County, where Golden Valley is located. Mr. Trump won 58,282 votes in the county, compared to 47,901 for Mr. Romney, though Mr. Romney carried the state by a much bigger vote margin.

The Leftist Cult Vs. The Trump Cult- Similarities And Differences - Political demagoguery is a valuable and effective weapon in the arsenal of the establishment elites. As long as there is a wide ideological division between groups in society, biases and desires can be tapped and manipulated.  This allows those in power to direct vast portions of the public down one path or another. When fear of an enemy and the drive to “win” become more important than truth and evidence, the population has tied its own puppet strings and handed them over to the spin doctors. This is why the false Left/Right paradigm has been so useful to the establishment for so long. Anytime the public starts to wake up to the web of control, all the elites have to do is push one or both sides of the political spectrum towards extremism and let the people rage at each other instead of picking up their torches and pitchforks and tearing down the oligarchy. This method of division and diversion keeps the masses occupied and feeling as though they are accomplishing something while actually accomplishing nothing. As Carroll Quigley, globalist insider and mentor to Bill Clinton, admitted in his book 'Tragedy And Hope': “The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies is a foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can “throw the rascals out” at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy....” The false Left/Right tactic has become more and more exposed in the past decade to the wider public, and so the elites had to change their methods to adapt to the growing awareness. Conservatives in particular have started to leave the plantation, and something had to be done to drag them back. The liberty movement has become a force in western life with tens of millions of members. It is an unpredictable element that the establishment needs to lock down and redirect if they ever hope to achieve their goal of a “new world order”. 

Trump retweeted the name of the alleged Ukraine whistleblower - Donald Trump has retweeted a post that names the alleged Ukraine whistleblower who triggered the ongoing impeachment enquiry. Late on Friday, Trump shared a post from Twitter user @surfermom77 which names the alleged whistleblower.Trump’s camp has been trying to push the name in public for months, in an apparent attempt to discredit and attack the whistleblower.The whistleblower’s identity has not been verified, and little is known about them other than the fact they are a member of the intelligence community.The person lodged a complaint in August containing a series of allegations, including a claim that White House officials had been “deeply disturbed” by a phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine, during which Trump pressured his counterpart to open an investigation into former Vice President and election rival Joe Biden.The complaint alleged that the White House had subsequently engaged in a cover-up. You can read the full details of the complaint and a timeline here. The US has laws protecting federal employees who disclose wrongdoing by the government. Experts told NPR that naming the whistleblower might not actually constitute a crime.

Twitter Scrubs Viral Trump Retweet Of Alleged Hoaxblower's Name; Blames Glitch Before Banning User - Twitter blamed a computer glitch after President Trump's retweet of a post containing the name alleged whistleblower Eric Ciaramella mysteriously disappeared from his timeline. After 'fixing' the issue and restoring the retweet, the user was simply banned from the platform so that nobody could see the tweet, which quickly went viral. "Rep. Ratliffe suggested Monday that the "whistleblower" Eric Ciaramella committed perjury by making false statements in his written forms filed with the ICIG and that Adam Schiff is hiding evidence of Ciaramella's crimes to protect him from criminal investigations," read the tweet made by by now-banned @surfermom77, which describes herself as living in California and a "100% Trump supporter." Ciaramella has been outed in several outlets as the 'anonymous' CIA official whose whistleblower complaint over a July 25 phone call between Trump and with his Ukrainian counterpart is at the heart of Congressional impeachment proceedings. Trump retweeted the post around midnight Friday. By Saturday morning, it was no longer visible in his Twitter feed. When contacted by The Guardian's Lois Beckett for explanation, Twitter blamed an "outage with one of our systems." 

Tulsi Gabbard Defends 'Present' Vote; Warns Impeachment Will Backfire -Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) has taken flack from the left after voting "present" during last week's formal House impeachment vote, and now says that the process may only "embolden" President Trump and increase his chances of reelection (which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned about before she caved to her party).  "I think impeachment, unfortunately, will only further embolden Donald Trump, increase his support and the likelihood that he'll have a better shot at getting elected while also seeing the likelihood that the House will lose a lot of seats to Republicans," said Gabbard in a Saturday interview with ABC News in Hudson, New Hampshire.Tulsi Gabbard: "Unfortunately the House impeachment of the President has greatly increased the likelihood that Donald Trump will remain the President for the next 5 years... Furthermore the House impeachment has increased the likelihood that Republicans will take over the House."— The Hill (@thehill) December 31, 2019  Gabbard also told CBS News that impeachment may allow Republicans to regain the majority in the House after the 2020 election. WATCH: I sat down with @TulsiGabbard to discuss her "present" vote on impeachment. Gabbard says the Senate trial will strengthen President Trump.

Giuliani Says Ukraine Corruption Came From 'Highest Levels Of Obama Administration'; Wants To Testify, Try Case - Rudy Giuliani is not only willing to testify in President Trump's Senate impeachment trial, he wants to "do demonstrations" in order to outline what he described as a "series of criminal acts" involving "the highest levels of the Obama administration," adding that Democrats Adam Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will go down in history like Joe McCarthy when people "calm down and watch this carefully." "What I learned is the corruption in Ukraine is vast, it's extensive, it highly involves the Democratic party - not just in 2016 but for many years," the former New York City mayor said at Trump's New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. "When the full scope of what happens in Ukraine comes out, there are going to be a lot of Americans who participated in the corruption," adding "The Bidens took millions of dollars laundered out of Ukraine, and the only reason they're getting away with it is because you and the press protect them..." When asked what he discovered, Rudy replied "I'm not going to tell you what I found out until I have a proper forum... but it's devastating," adding "We will figure out the right forum." "This is expanding, it will turn out to be a series of criminal acts. It will involve the highest levels of the Obama administration. It's the reason the Democratic party is in panic." "I would testify, I would do demonstrations, I'd give lectures, I'd give summations. Or, I do what I do best, I try the case," adding, with a smile, "I'd love to try the case." "If you give me the case, I will prosecute it as a racketeering case. Which I kind of invented anyway." (Relevant part begins at 3:15)

McConnell digs in on impeachment: ‘Non-starter’ for Pelosi to influence trial - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dug in Friday on the stalemate over impeachment, lashing out at Democrats and saying it was a "non-starter" that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would play any role in determining the trial proceedings. McConnell, speaking on impeachment for the first time in nearly two weeks, blasted House Democrats as having "cold feet" after Pelosi declined to say when she would transmit the two articles against President Trump. "We've heard it claimed that the same House Democrats who botched their own process should get to reach over here into the Senate and dictate our process," McConnell said from the Senate floor. "Let me clarify Senate rules and Senate history for those who may be confused," McConnell added. "First, about this fantasy that the Speaker of the House will get to hand-design the trial proceedings in the Senate, that's obviously a non-starter." Pelosi has held the two articles, saying she wants details about what the Senate trial would look like. Some House Democrats have argued that if they can't get a deal on "fair" rules, including on witnesses and documents, that the articles should never be sent to the GOP-controlled Senate. Pelosi did not speak to McConnell over the holiday recess, according to a Pelosi aide. The aide added that the Speaker was also not planning to negotiate with McConnell on the trial, saying she is leaving that up to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Schumer and McConnell are currently at loggerheads over the process for the impeachment trial. The two traded barbs during back-to-back floor speeches from the Senate floor on Friday, underscoring that the two-week break did little to shift the battle lines in the standoff. Schumer wants one resolution at the outset of the trial that would tackle both the rules of the proceeding and an agreement on specific witnesses. He knocked McConnell on Friday for using "feeble talking points" and "finger-pointing and name-calling" instead of explaining why the Senate shouldn't call witnesses. "The Republican leader hasn't given one good reason why there shouldn't be relevant witnesses or relevant documents. We did not hear one from Leader McConnell today or any day," Schumer added. Democrats believe a steady stream of news released over the past two weeks, including newly unredacted emails between the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget, bolster their case for calling witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Fired Anti-Trump Agent Strzok Claims FBI, DOJ Violated His Free Speech, Privacy Rights - Fired FBI agent Peter Strzok – who played a central role into the now debunked investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia – is now arguing that his politically charged anti-Trump text messages are protected under the First Amendment.  Strzok, who once was deputy head of the FBI’s counterintelligence office, is suing the Department of Justice for reinstatement into the FBI. He stressed in a new court filing Monday, with the federal district court that “firing an employee for the content of his or her non-public communications is unconstitutional, irrespective of any balancing interests,” which would include damage to the FBI’s reputation and other mitigating factors.  In his claim against the DOJ he argues that he didn’t leak his texts, instead it was the DOJ,  therefore he argues, his texts should be considered private speech. He then argues that he shouldn’t be held to a higher legal standard, using the 1968 Supreme Court case Pickering v. Board of Education. The Pickering case applied to public statements by government employees.  Strzok said he was entitled to “develop a full factual record through discovery.” He said it would be premature to dismiss the case at this early stage. Strzok’s filing was a response to the DOJ’s motion to dismiss his lawsuit to be reinstated to the FBI by November. The Justice Department slammed Strzok in its motion to dismiss Strzok’s case stating that the embattled former FBI agent admitted to conducting official FBI business on his personal iMessage account and violated FBI regulations in use of his work issued cell phone.

 Russian pranksters strike again: Fake Greta Thunberg convinces eager US politician that she has dirt on Trump - RT -- US Congresswoman Maxine Waters has allegedly fallen for a prank call in which she thought activist Greta Thunberg was offering her a tape of Donald Trump confessing to pressuring Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.YouTube pranksters Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexey Stolyarov, who go by the names Vovan and Lexus, are claiming they tricked Waters (Dem-Calif.) into thinking she was speaking to teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg.Vovan and Lexus made names for themselves by previously pranking Congressman Adam Schiff (Dem-Calif.) into thinking there were nude photos of US President Donald Trump that Schiff could get his hands on. They also claim to have pranked Waters two years ago, in a phone call where one posed as Ukraine’s prime minister.Though Waters herself has not responded to the new video, the woman at the other end of the phone identifies herself as the congresswoman and sounds an awful lot like her. In the call, the pranksters pretend to be Thunberg and her father, with help from a female colleague, and claim to have proof that Trump pressured the Ukrainian government into investigating his political rivals, something Democrats have claimed, for months now, is true.Greta’s ‘father’ says on the call that his ‘daughter’ met Trump and he admitted to wrongdoing.“He said to her, ‘You know, little girl, nobody believe you anyway, I will tell you the truth. I really pushed on Ukrainian president and you know that you will never achieve your goals like those congressional fools that accuse me,” the prankster posing as the famous teenager’s father says.  “Oh my God, he mentioned the Ukrainian president?” the woman who identifies herself as Waters responds.   ‘Greta’ then proceeds to offer to testify before Congress and Waters asks for a meeting when the teen activist is next in DC.  “And if the public knew that he talked to Greta like that, he made her cry, and told her she would never achieve – this will go against him, too,” Waters says.  The pranksters claim to have the Trump conversation recorded, which also gets Waters excited.  “You bring it to me,” she says. “You tell me what day you can get there. And we’ll arrange to meet with you as quickly as we can.”

'Guard said he’d ‘f**k each and every one of us’ – released gun activist Butina recalls humiliation in US prison — The US penal system takes lives away from female inmates and turns them into constantly humiliated slaves, Maria Butina, who returned to Russia after spending more than a year in an American prison, said. Butina, who was charged with failing to properly register as a foreign agent, spent a month in solitary confinement before pleading guilty to the charges. The Russian said she only did it because she knew that her persecution was politically motivated and a fair trial was impossible. “The worst thing is the US Marshals Services where they humiliate you; forbid you from going to the toilet for 16 hours; deny you water or food,” Butina said as she talked to RT and Sputnik news agency on a plane that was taking her from the US back to Moscow. After that a low-security prison in Tallahassee, Florida seemed like “paradise” for her as she was allowed to go for walks and got a lot better rations.“I was just a stack of bones,” she recalled, but daily jogging and other exercises helped a lot. “I had problems with my memory, but it returned to me. My eyesight also improved.”However, it’s still a very tough environment where humiliation of inmates is widespread as some officers treat prisoners“absolutely terribly.” Butina recalled that just one day before she was to be released, a guard, who became unhappy with how the prisoners were executing their duties in the kitchen, warned them: "If you will do that again I will f**k each and every one of you."

Epstein's 'Madam' Must Have 'Serious Dirt' On Powerful People- Former Associate -  Ghislaine Maxwell likely has "serious dirt" on powerful people, according to a former friend who thinks Jeffrey Epstein's alleged 'madam' thinks she can evade prosecution as a co-conspirator in the dead pedophile's decades-long sex crimes. Family friend Laura Goldman, who used to be friends with Ghislaine and her sister Isabel, told The Sun that Ghislaine is "totally convinced" she can remain in hiding as a network of rich associates cover her legal expenses.  "Ghislaine and her sister Isabel remain totally convinced that she’ll escape any criminal convictions and will eventually clear the family name and return to high society once the dust has settled," she said, adding "She has wealthy connections who hide her and even pay some legal fees. She can stay out of the public eye as long as she wants." "She obviously has some serious dirt on someone to be so sure of herself in the circumstances." In August, the 'wanted' socialite was spotted at a Los Angeles in-n-out, reading "The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives."

Jeffrey Epstein’s socialite ‘madam’ Ghislaine Maxwell ‘is being hidden from the FBI in a series of safe houses because of the information she has on powerful people’ - Daily Mail - An explosive new report has asserted that deceased sex criminal Jeffery Epstein and his alleged 'madame' Ghislaine Maxwell were foreign intelligence 'assets', and that she is currently hiding in a safehouse in Israel.'Ghislaine is protected. She and Jeffrey were assets of sorts for multiple foreign governments. They would trade information about the powerful people caught in his net — caught at Epstein's house,' a unnamed source told Page Six. Maxwell, 58, has been accused in lawsuits of procuring underage girls for Epstein to sexually traffick among his wealthy and powerful friends, and is reportedly the subject of an ongoing FBI probe.  She has always denied any wrongdoing. Her attorney did not immediately respond to an inquiry from on Wednesday evening. After Epstein's re-arrest last year and death behind bars in August, Maxwell has remained out of sight and her whereabouts unknown.Now the Page Six source claims she is being protected by powerful foreign interests. 'She is not in the US, she moves around. She is sometimes in the UK, but most often in other countries, such as Israel, where her powerful contacts have provided her with safe houses and protection,' the source said. Maxwell is being 'protected because of the information she has on the world's most powerful people,' the source said. The source also claimed that Prince Andrew begged Maxwell to come forward and clear his name, after Virginia Roberts Giuffre claimed Epstein forced her to have sex with the royal when she was 17. Prince Andrew, 59, strenuously denies having sex with Roberts and claims he can't remember meeting her despite a photograph of him with his arm around her. 'Andrew pleaded with Ghislaine to publicly defend him. She carefully considered it, but decided no good would come of it (if she came forward). It isn't in her best interests,' the source told Page Six.

Amazon and Ring Hit With Lawsuit After Camera Hacks Confirm Worst Fears of Privacy Advocates -- Home security company Ring and its parent corporation Amazon were hit with a lawsuit in federal court Thursday alleging that their cameras have been hacked on numerous occasions due to inadequate protections, confirming privacy advocates' fears about the devices.  John Baker Orange of Alabama, the plaintiff in the case, said in the lawsuit (pdf) that his Ring security camera was recently hacked while his children were playing basketball outside of his home. "Mr. Orange's children were playing basketball when a voice came on through the camera's two-way speaker system," reads the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. "An unknown person engaged with Mr. Orange's children, commenting on their basketball play and encouraging them to get closer to the camera. Once Mr. Orange learned of the incident, he changed the password on the Ring camera and enabled two-factor authentication.""Ring does not fulfill its core promise of providing privacy and security for its customers, as its camera systems are fatally flawed," the lawsuit states.The lawsuit also cites the alarming breach of a Ring security camera in DeSoto County, Mississippi, where a hacker gained access to a device installed in an 8-year-old girl's bedroom and began speaking to her. "I'm your best friend," the hacker said. "I'm Santa Claus."

Pentagon Leaders Tell Troops to Stop Using Mail-In Genealogy DNA Kits -- U.S. troops are being advised to steer clear of popular genetic-testing kits over what Pentagon leaders say is a growing concern that the personal information could be exploited or tracked.Top military brass received a memo last week warning them that some genetic testing companies are encouraging Defense Department personnel to buy genetic-ancestry or health-information products by offering military discounts.But the direct-to-consumer DNA tests are "largely unregulated," the memo states, potentially leaving their personal data or genetic information at risk. That, the memo adds, could "create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission." The memo was signed by Joseph Kernan, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and James Stewart, the assistant secretary of defense for manpower and Reserve affairs. obtained a copy of the memo, whichYahoo News first reported on this week.

Trump, Granting Lobbyist Demands, Quietly Handed Billions More in Tax Breaks to Huge Corporations: Report --A “disturbingNew York Times story published Monday detailed how President Donald Trump’s Treasury Department, led by former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin, has quietly weakened elements of the 2017 tax law in recent months to make it even friendlier to wealthy individuals and massive corporations.Lobbyists representing some of the largest corporations in the world, the Times reported, targeted two provisions in the original 2017 law designed to bring in hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue from companies that had been dodging U.S. taxes by stashing profits overseas.“The corporate lobbying campaign was a resounding success,” the Times noted. “Through a series of obscure regulations, the Treasury carved out exceptions to the law that mean many leading American and foreign companies will owe little or nothing in new taxes on offshore profits… Companies were effectively let off the hook for tens if not hundreds of billions of taxes that they would have been required to pay.”The two provisions are known by the acronyms BEAT (base erosion and anti-abuse tax) and GILTI (global intangible low-taxed income). Shortly after Trump signed the $1.5 trillion tax bill—which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%—lobbyists from major American companies like Bank of America and General Electric as well as foreign banks swarmed the White House in an effort to gut the BEAT and GILTI taxes.Trump’s Treasury Department largely granted the lobbyists’ wishes, turning what was already amassive corporate handout into an even more generous gift to big companies and banks.The Times reported:The Organization for International Investment—a powerful trade group for foreign multinationals like the Swiss food company Nestlé and the Dutch chemical maker LyondellBasell—objected to a Treasury proposal that would have prevented companies from using a complex currency-accounting maneuver to avoid the BEAT… This month, the Treasury issued the final version of some of the BEAT regulations. The Organization for International Investment got what it wanted. The lobbying surrounding the GILTI was equally intense—and, once again, large companies won valuable concessions… News Corporation, Liberty Mutual, Anheuser-Busch, Comcast and P.&G. wrote letters or dispatched lobbyists to argue for the high-tax exception. After months of meetings with lobbyists, the Treasury announced in June 2019 that it was creating a version of the exception that the companies had sought.David Enrich, financial editor for the Times, said the newspaper’s estimate that major companies received tens of billions of dollars in additional tax breaks thanks to the Treasury Department is “conservative.”“The cumulative effect,” said Enrich, “is that a tax law already disproportionately benefiting the richest of the rich has become an even greater windfall for the world’s largest companies and their shareholders.”

IRS Reforms Free File Program, Drops Agreement Not to Compete With TurboTax - Finding free online tax filing should be easier this year for millions of Americans.The IRS announced significant changes Monday to its deal with the tax prep software industry. Now companies are barred from hiding their free products from search engines such as Google, and a years-old prohibition on the IRS creating its own online filing system has been scrapped.The addendum to the deal, known as Free File, comes after ProPublica’sreporting this year on how the industry, led by TurboTax maker Intuit, has long misled taxpayers who are eligible to file for free into paying.Under the nearly two-decade-old Free File deal, the industry agreed to make free versions of tax filing software available to lower- and middle-income Americans. In exchange, the IRS promised not to compete with the industry by creating its own online filing system. Many developed countries have such systems, allowing most citizens to file their taxes for free. The prohibition on the IRS creating its own system was the focus of years of lobbying by Intuit. The industry has seen such a system as an existential threat. Now, with the changes to the deal, the prohibition has been dropped.The addendum also expressly bars the companies from “engaging in any practice” that would exclude their Free File offerings “from an organic internet search.” ProPublica reported in April that Intuit and H&R Block had added code to their Free File pages that hid them from Google and other search engines, diverting many users to the companies’ paid products.“The improved process will make Free File stronger and give taxpayers another reason to consider this valuable software option,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement. The agency hopes the changes will make the free option more accessible for taxpayers in the 2020 filing season, he said.Under the new rules, participating companies also have to standardize the naming convention of their Free File version as “IRS Free File program delivered by [product name].” In the past, many tax filers reported being confused by the difference between, for example, TurboTax Free and TurboTax Free File.

‘It’s game time’: Libor transition to pick up steam in new year — The financial industry’s transition to a new interest rate benchmark so far has been mostly relegated to the back burner. All that is about to change in the new year. “Heading into 2020, this is it. It’s game time,” said Lary Stromfeld, a partner with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. “And if you think about how much needs to be done, two years is not a lot of time.” The London interbank offered rate, or Libor, is the most dominant interest rate benchmark around the globe, but it will likely be unavailable starting at year-end 2021. The secured overnight financing rate, or SOFR, has been developed as an alternative and has gradually gained market share. Even though financial institutions still have time before the deadline, regulators stand poised in the coming year to forego softer forms of encouragement for banks to prepare for the transition — prodding through institutional reports and opinion pages of financial publications — in favor of a more direct supervisory approach. Mark Chorazak, a bank regulatory partner with Cadwalader, said regulators are getting more insistent because the switch will affect a massive amount of financial contracts, involving counterparties and affiliate offices all over the world. John Williams, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York "Everyone in the financial services industry needs to be aware that the date when the existence of Libor can no longer be guaranteed is fast approaching,” New York Fed President and CEO John Williams said in a speech in September. Bloomberg News “One of the reasons why regulators are moving from a slow to a rolling boil is a recognition that there is not only a sheer volume problem but that affected contracts are dispersed widely across an organization,” Chorazak said. “There's a recognition that an organized transition is going to take a lot of time.” Libor is referenced in $200 trillion in securities, derivatives and adjustable-rate contracts. But the interbank lending market that Libor is based on has dried up and the rate was dogged by scandal, with dozens of banks implicated in a rate-rigging scheme. To address the problem, regulators and industry representatives formed the Alternative Reference Rates Committee in 2014, which identified overnight repurchase agreements as a deep and liquid market that would be durable and resistant to manipulation. The SOFR benchmark was based on the overnight repo market.

How Ratings Agencies Inflate Credit Ratings to Get Deals & Fees - By Wolf Richter, editor of Wolf Street. There is a fairly new and popular creature in the hopping party-town of securitizations: “commercial-real-estate Collateralized Loan Obligations.” These CLOs are bonds backed by risky commercial real-estate “transitional loans,” such as loans to fix up malls, dilapidated apartment buildings, and the like, with the hope that the property will then produce higher rental income. The loan is based on this hoped-for higher cash-flow. But that calculus might be wrong. And lenders want to off-load this risk. So they package the loans into commercial-real-estate CLOs. Commercial-real-estate CLOs are a cross-breed between a regular Commercial Mortgage-Backed Security (CMBS), which is backed by mortgages on office towers, shopping malls, apartment buildings, student housing, and the like; and a CLO, which is backed by junk-rated corporate loans. So these commercial-real-estate CLOs are the riskier sisters of CMBS.Banks that extend these types of risky commercial-real-estate transitional loans try to offload that risk to investors by securitizing these loans into highly-rated bonds that investment banks then sell to investors, mostly institutional investors such as pension funds.Structured securities, including commercial-real-estate CLOs, have slices that take the first lost – the “credit enhancements” – and that carry the lowest credit rating. Investors in the higher-rated slices are protected by investors in the lower-rated slices that take the first loss. So the top slices can be rated triple-A, even if the debt that backs the security is very risky. The bigger the slices that take the first losses, the more protection investors have at the upper end. So far, so good.The challenge for issuers is how to get a larger portion of these slices to sport investment-grade credit ratings, though by definition, this would thin the protection for these slices provided by the remaining lower-rated slices. The solution: Go shopping until you find the credit rating agency that promises the highest credit ratings.Ratings agencies have responded to the competitive pressures by changing their criteria in rating commercial-real-estate CLOs in order to beat other ratings agencies and get the business.And the business is booming. In 2019, banks offloaded $21.4 billion of commercial-real estate CLOs to investors, up from less than $1 billion in 2012, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing data from TREPP, which tracks CMBS. The ratings agencies that most actively compete to rate these commercial-real-estate CLOs are Kroll Bond Rating Agency, DBRS Morningstar (after Morningstar acquired DBRS in June this year), and Moody’s. They get paid by the issuer of the bonds. And the issuers want the highest ratings on the biggest portion of the bonds. That’s where the shopping starts. According to the WSJ, banks approach the ratings agencies with a specific deal. The ratings agencies then provide “initial feedback” on how they would rate the bonds, and banks can see which agency would provide the highest credit ratings, and they hire the firms then based on that feedback.

"Party Like It's 1998": A Quarter Of $3.2 Trillion In BBB-Rated Bonds May Be Junk -Over the past two years there has been growing investor unease (if not when the Fed is actively involved in propping up risk assets) and much speculation that the massive increase in corporate US debt over the past decade, and specifically the record accumulation in the lowest investment grade-rated, BBB debt, would eventually hit a tipping point, sparking a credit crisis.Shown visually, the problem roughly reduces to the following: corporate debt has doubled from $5 trillion in 2007 to $9.5 trillion halfway through 2019 with corporate debt-to-GDP now back to levels which traditionally presage a recession. Amid this massive debt increase, the principal risk is that the biggest growth was that in BBB-rated debt (which now amounts to over $3.2 trillion), is just one downgrade away from junk, and is also why many skeptics have been warning of a barrage of "fallen angels" before or during the next recession. The biggest culprit for this surge: trillions in debt was sold in the past few years by BBB-rated "investment grade" companies who used the proceeds to buyback their stock...... a concern that is only compounded by the fact that rating agencies appear to be well behind the curve, or as Morgan Stanley (and Jeff Gundlach) have shown, despite its BBB rating, 55% of BBB corps should have a junk rating already based on leverage alone.

December 2019: Unofficial Problem Bank list increased to 67 Institutions, Q4 2019 Transition Matrix -- Note: Surferdude808 compiles an unofficial list of Problem Banks compiled only from public sources.  This is not intended as investment advice. Please contact CR with any errors. Here is the unofficial problem bank list for December 2019. Here are the monthly changes and a few comments from surferdude808: Update on the Unofficial Problem Bank List for December2019. During the month, the list increased by two to 67 institutions after one removal and three additions. Assets increased by $104 million to $51.1 billion. A year ago, the list held 78 institutions with assets of $53.9 billion. This month, the action against The First National Bank of Scott City, Scott City, KS ($116 million) was terminated. Added this month was First National Bank in Fairfield, Fairfield, IA ($145 million); KansasLand Bank, Quinter, KS ($53 million); and The First National Bank of Fleming, Fleming, CO ($22 million). The FDIC issued a Prompt Corrective Action order against The Farmers Bank, Carnegie, OK ($91 million). With the conclusion of the fourth quarter, we bring an updated transition matrix to detail how banks are transitioning off the Unofficial Problem Bank List. Since the Unofficial Problem Bank List was first published on August 7, 2009 with 389 institutions, 1,757 institutions have appeared on a weekly or monthly list since the start of publication. Only 3.8 percent of the banks that have appeared on a list remain today as 1,690 institutions have transitioned through the list. Departure methods include 996 action terminations, 409 failures, 266 mergers, and 19 voluntary liquidations. Of the 389 institutions on the first published list, only 5 or 1.3 percent, are still designated as being in a troubled status more than ten years later. The 409 failures represent 23.3 percent of the 1,757 institutions that have made an appearance on the list. This failure rate is well above the 10-12 percent rate frequently cited in media reports on the failure rate of banks on the FDIC's official list.

After Woman Killed By Falling Debris On Seventh Ave., New York Revamps Facade Inspections - 220 buildings in New York must now take protective measures after a woman was killed by a piece of a facade that fell off a 17 story building near Times Square earlier this month.  According to the Wall Street Journal, building owners must install sidewalk sheds and the city is doubling the number of its facade inspectors to 22. It's also increasing the frequency of facade inspections for buildings taller than six stories.  After 60 year old architect and philanthropist Erica Tishman was killed on December 17, building department workers went on an inspection spree, checking 1,331 buildings that had outstanding violations. About one in six of those buildings lacked proper safeguards and owners were issued summonses on Monday.  Tishman was hit by debris walking past 729 Seventh Ave. The building's owner had already been issued a violation in April for failing to maintain the facade. In September, the owner challenged the violation in a city administrative court where a judge downgraded the violation to state that it didn't pose an "immediate danger".

Regulators raise annual CRA asset thresholds — Federal regulators on Tuesday announced their annual tweaks to asset-size thresholds for smaller financial institutions under the Community Reinvestment Act. The changes, determined by a 1.6% inflation increase over the last 12 months ending in November, will affect banks with less than $1.305 billion in assets from the past two calendar years. The previous threshold was $1.284 billion. Institutions falling below the new threshold as of Dec. 31 of either of the two previous calendar years will be considered "small" for the purposes of CRA exams. Those below the new threshold but with assets of at least $326 million — up from $321 million in 2018 — will be considered an "intermediate small bank" or "intermediate small savings association." The changes announced jointly by the Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are unrelated to ongoing efforts to modernize the CRA. The current regulatory framework mandates the asset-size thresholds for CRA tests be adjusted annually for inflation. The changes will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

American Cities Are Becoming Shell Companies for the Rich  -- America’s cities are being bought up, bit by bit, by anonymous shell companies using piles of cash. Modest single-family homes, owned for generations by families, now are held by corporate vehicles with names that appear to be little more than jumbles of letters and punctuation – such as SC-TUSCA LLC, CNS1975 LLC – registered to law offices and post office boxes miles away. New glittering towers filled with owned but empty condos look down over our cities, as residents below struggle to find any available housing.All-cash transactions have come to account for a quarter of all residential real estate purchases, “totaling hundreds of billions of dollars nationwide,” the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network – the financial crimes unit of the federal Treasury Department, also known as FinCEN noted in a 2017 news release. Thanks to the Bank Secrecy Act, a 1970 anti-money-laundering law, the agency is able to learn who owns many of these properties. In high-cost cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami, it’s flagged over 30% of cash purchases as suspicious transactions. But FinCEN also cites this bill to hide this information from the public, leaving the American people increasingly in the dark about who owns their cities.For journalists, it requires undertaking a tremendous investigative effort to find the real owner of even one property, let alone millions.“It reminds me of Moldova after the fall of the Soviet Union: oligarchs running wild, stashing their gains in buildings,” James Wright, an attorney and former Treasury Department bank examiner, told me. He now helps foreign governments combat money laundering. “Back then, you’d walk down the street, and people would say, ‘That building is a washing machine.’ Everyone knew it. Today, America is not that different.”

Fannie Mae: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate decreased slightly in November - Fannie Mae reported that the Single-Family Serious Delinquency decreased slightly to 0.66% in November, from 0.67% in October. The serious delinquency rate is down from 0.76% in November 2018.  These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".   This is the the lowest serious delinquency rate for Fannie Mae since June 2007.  The Fannie Mae serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 5.59%. By vintage, for loans made in 2004 or earlier (2% of portfolio), 2.45% are seriously delinquent. For loans made in 2005 through 2008 (4% of portfolio), 4.08% are seriously delinquent, For recent loans, originated in 2009 through 2018 (94% of portfolio), only 0.34% are seriously delinquent. So Fannie is still working through a few poor performing loans from the bubble years. I expect the serious delinquency rate will probably decline to 0.4 to 0.6 percent or so to a cycle bottom.  Note: Freddie Mac reported earlier.

Higher risk of purchase mortgage application defects as market shifts - The drop in home buying power heightened the risk of misrepresentations on purchase mortgage loan applications during November, as consumers are more willing to fudge information in an uncertain market, First American Financial said.For the first time since March, the purchase component of the First American Loan Defect Index increased from the previous month, as it rose by 2.7%. Compared with November 2018, the index was 8.3% lower.At the same time, the refinance component decreased by 1.6% from October and by 17.8% from the previous year. Because of the offset, the total index remained unchanged from October, at 68. It is 16% lower than the same month in 2018, when the index was 81. The index peaked at 95 in February and March, and November was the first month since then when the overall index did not decline. Applications defects are a red flag for the possibility of the existence of mortgage fraud in a loan file.There are two reasons for the flattening of the total index and the change in direction for the purchase component, said First American Chief Economist Mark Fleming in a press release."When house buying power — i.e., how much home one can buy based on changes in household income and interest rates — falls in a supply-constrained market fraud risk may increase. Potential homebuyers feel more confident and less inclined to commit fraud when they are in a better financial position to purchase a home," said Fleming. "While house buying power remains high, the pace of growth slowed beginning in October, when mortgage rates began to inch up." For the first nine months of the year, home buying power grew by at an average monthly rate of 1.6%. But over the next two month, that fell by 0.6% compared with September.

FHFA House Price Index: Up 0.2% in October The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for September. Here is the opening of the report:Washington, DC – U.S. house prices rose in October, up 0.2 percent from the previous month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 5.0 percent from October 2018 to October 2019. The previously reported 0.6 percent increase for September 2019 was revised upward to 0.7 percent. [Read more] The chart below illustrates the monthly HPI series, which is not adjusted for inflation, along with a real (inflation-adjusted) series using the Consumer Price Index: All Items Less Shelter.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 3.3% year-over-year in October S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for October ("October" is a 3 month average of August, September and October prices). This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index. From S&P: S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index Shows Annual Home Price Gains Increased In October The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 3.3% annual gain in October, up from 3.2% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 1.7%, up from 1.5% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 2.2% year-over-year gain, up from 2.1% in the previous month.Phoenix, Tampa and Charlotte reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. In October, Phoenix led the way with a 5.8% year-over-year price increase, followed by Tampa with a 4.9% increase and Charlotte with a 4.8% increase. Twelve of the 20 cities reported greater price increases in the year ending October 2019 versus the year ending September 2019...The National Index, 10-City and 20-City Composites all posted a month-over-month increase of 0.1% before seasonal adjustment in October. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index recorded a 0.5% month-over-month increase in October while the 10-City and 20-City Composites both posted a 0.4% increase. In October, eight of 20 cities reported increases before seasonal adjustment while 18 of 20 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment. “With October’s 3.3% increase in the national composite index, home prices are currently more than 15% above the pre-financial crisis peak reached July 2006. October’s results were broad-based, as both our 10- and 20-city composites rose. Of the 20 cities in the composite, only San Francisco saw a year-over-year price decline in October.

US Home Price Gains Accelerate Again (But Not In San Francisco)- Following September's (the last data point) modest reacceleration in home prices (the first since March 2018), Case-Shiller's October data is expected to stabilize at +2.10% YoY. But instead, the 20-City Composite accelerated significantly - rising 2.23% YoY - the fastest since May... Source: Bloomberg Prices rose on an annual basis in 19 of the 20 cities in the composite measure. Phoenix led with a 5.8% increase, followed by a 4.9% gain in Tampa and 4.8% advance for Charlotte. San Francisco was the lone city to post a year-over-year decline... its firstr annual decline since April 2012... Source: Bloomberg With mortgage rates having tumbled, and accounting for the lag in Case-Shiller data and sentiment shifts, one might expect house price appreciation to re-accelerate further as next year begins... Source: Bloomberg Finally, some food for thought from Alhambra's Jeffrey Snider,, the Fed didn’t cause the housing slump with its “rate hikes.” Just like 244 bps fed funds didn’t put the economy into its downturn. And if the Fed didn’t break it, then the Fed won’t be able to fix it with a few rate cuts. The bond market has already supplied the equivalent of six of them to the average mortgage rate, and so far the real estate data is more about price sensitivity than that positive swing in payment-related buying power. The continuing depressiveness of housing suggests that as 2019 draws to a close the downside risks remain for a lot more than this one part of the economy. Despite a double dose of unintentional aid (prices and rates), there must be serious countervailing forces more than balancing those out. Ironically, that’s what the price trends and persistently low interest rates suggest, too. 

 Average US Family Can't Afford A Home In 71% Of The Country - More Americans are getting priced out of purchasing homes than ever, as soaring prices continue to outpace wages, according to a new report.ATTOM Data Solutions' Q4 2019 US Home Affordability Report says the average wage earner can't purchase a home in 344 out of 486 counties, or about 71% of the US. The report revealed the top five largest populated counties where median-priced homes outpaced wages in Q4 that made it unaffordable to the average American -- were in Los Angeles County, CA; Maricopa County (Phoenix), AZ; San Diego County, CA; Orange County, CA (outside Los Angeles) and Miami-Dade County, FL.The top ten least affordable counties in Q4 were: Kings County, NY; Dallas County, TX; Riverside County, CA; Queens County, NY; and San Bernardino County, CA.  About 142 out of 486 counties, or about 29% of the US, had an affordable median-priced home in Q4 for the average wage earner. Those counties were: Cook County (Chicago) IL; Harris County (Houston), TX; Wayne County (Detroit), MI; Philadelphia County, PA, and Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), OH.The report listed ten more counties where the average American could afford to purchase a home in Q4: Franklin County, OH; Oakland County, MI; Allegheny County, PA; Mecklenburg County, NC; and Fulton County, GA.Stagnate wages and excessive monetary policy via the Federal Reserve have contributed to an affordability crisis across the country. At least 34% of Americans, or approximately 100 million people, are in the renting economy, which has plunged homeownership rates to lows not seen since the 1960s. Almost half of US workers between ages 18 to 64 are employed in low-wage jobs, a recent Brookings Institution report found. Low wage jobs represent between 33% to 66% of all jobs in more than 400 metropolitan areas across the country.

A Third Of 18-34 Year Olds Live With Their Parents And Other 2019 Housing Market Highlights, In Charts - As Goldman housing strategist Marty Young writes in his "year in review" housing and mortgage market summary, 2019 was characterized by sharply falling mortgage rates and a strengthening housing market:

  • 120bp: 30-year mortgage rates fell by 120bp between 2018Q4 and 2019Q4.
  • +17%: single family housing starts increased by 17% from November 2018 to November 2019.
  • +3.2%: the Case-Shiller US house price index has grown by 3.2% over the past 12 months.
  • 50%: 50% of outstanding conventional 30-year mortgage borrowers have a 50bp or larger refinance incentive as of 2019Q4 (up from 6% as of 2018Q4).
  • 5bp: agency MBS spreads widened by 5bp in 2019 (vs. 60bp of tightening of IG corporate bond spreads).
  • $230bn: Federal Reserve agency MBS holdings declined by $230bn over the past year.
  • $25bn: non-QM RMBS issuance has reached $25bn in 2019 year-to-date (vs. $11bn in 2018

One remarkable observation: roughly a third of young Americans aged 18-34 now live with their parents: up from 27% before the crisis. Depending on how one looks at this data, it means that either household formation is about to soar, or an entire generation now has doubts it will ever be able to own its own house. Looking ahead, the Goldman strategist expects slightly higher mortgage rates and a strong housing market for 2020:

  • Expect mortgage rates to increase by 25bp in 2020, ending the year at 4.0%.
  • Look for single family housing starts to increase by 5% in 2020 vs. 2019.
  • Expect the Case-Shiller US house price index to grow by 3% in 2020.
  • Expect 30% of outstanding conventional 30-year mortgage borrowers to still be in-the-money for refinancing in 2020Q4.
  • Look for mortgage spreads to move sideways and for IG spreads to widen by 20bp in 2020H1.
  • Expect Federal Reserve MBS holdings to decline by an additional $220bn in 2020.
  • Expect non-QM issuance to grow again to $30bn in 2020.

And here are some of the pivotal charts recapping the housing market from the perspective of Goldman Sachs:

Prediction: Home values will drop by 25% to 50% in decade ahead – One loyal column reader inquired last week about what the decade ahead holds for California real estate and mortgage matters.Here it goes:

  • 1) Real estate agents and mortgage brokers will experience a compensation squeeze as much of their need for labor-intensive research will be disintermediated. Blame it on automation — mass scale machine learning in the artificial intelligence age.
  • 2) Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will get some competition with the inception of new government-sponsored enterprises. In order to compete in the mortgage marketplace, these new entrants will offer things like a “build-your-own mortgage.”
  • 3) With the skyrocketing cost of electricity, more than 50% of California homes will become self-contained, never to rely on PG&E, SCE or San Diego Gas and Electric again. It won’t be just solar power. Rather, it will be a new generation of home energy.
  • 4) California home prices are going to take a huge tumble. Median values will drop by 25 to 50%. The culprit? Stagflation (high inflation and slow growth). The U.S. public debt is about $23 trillion dollars and the political classes keep kicking the can down the road. California will be especially vulnerable to a regional home price collapse because of our extraordinary price gains as well as our high state and local taxes. The median southern California price will be nearly $900,000 before all of this comes crashing down.
  • 5) Roughly one-third of adult children live with their parents. With the desperate lack of affordable housing and the new California granny flat opportunities, the number of California kids who don’t leave their folks’ homes will grow to 45%. And we’ll see 15% of California households as tri-generation households.
  • 6) California mortgage shoppers will land better deals on their mortgages because mortgage-loan originator compensation will be deregulated by the feds.

  Democrats Want To Outlaw 'Racist' Single-Family Housing In Virginia - Democratic lawmakers in Virginia want to override local zoning laws and abolish single-family housing, which they say is racist and bad for the environment.  According to the Daily Caller's Luke Rosiak, "The measure could quickly transform the suburban lifestyle enjoyed by millions, permitting duplexes to be built on suburban lots in neighborhoods previously consisting of quiet streets and open green spaces. Proponents of “upzoning” say the changes are necessary because suburbs are bastions of segregation and elitism, as well as bad for the environment." The proposed changes were introduced on Dec. 19 by VA House Delegate Ibraheem Samirah (D) as part of six housing measures. "Single-family housing zones would become two-zoned," Samirah told the Caller. "Areas that would be impacted most would be the suburbs that have not done their part in helping out.""The real issues are the areas in between very dense areas which are single-family zoned. Those are the areas that the state is having significant trouble dealing with. They’re living in a bubble," he added.He said suburbs were “mostly white and wealthy” and that their local officials — who have historically been in charge of zoning — were ignoring the desires of poor people, who did not have time to lobby them to increase suburban density.In response to a question about whether people who bought homes in spacious suburbs have valid reasons, not based on discrimination, for preferring to live that way — including a love for nature and desire to preserve woods and streams — he said: “Caring about nature is very important, but the more dense a neighborhood is, the more energy efficient it is.”He said if local officials seek to change requirements like setbacks to make it impossible to build dense housing in areas zoned to preserve a nature feel, “if they make setbacks to block duplexes, there’d have to be a lawsuit to resolve whether those zoning provisions were necessary.” -Daily Caller "Because middle housing is what’s most affordable for low-income people and people of color, banning that housing in well-off neighborhoods chalks up to modern-day redlining, locking folks out of areas with better access to schools, jobs, transit, and other services and amenities," Samirah wrote on Facebook, adding "I will certainly get pushback for this. Some will call it ‘state overreach.’ Some will express anxiety about neighborhood change. Some may even say that the supply issue doesn’t exist. But the research is clear: zoning is a barrier to more housing and integrated communities."

NAR: "Pending Home Sales Expand 1.2% in November" - From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Expand 1.2% in November - Pending home sales increased in November, rebounding from the prior month’s decline, according to the National Association of Realtors®. The West region reported the highest growth last month, while the other three major U.S. regions saw only marginal variances in month-over-month contract activity. Pending home sales were up nationally and up in all regions compared to one year ago.The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 1.2% to 108.5 in November. Year-over-year contract signings jumped 7.4%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.... The regional indices had mixed results in November. The Northeast PHSI slid 0.1% to 96.3 in November, 2.6% higher than a year ago. In the Midwest, the index rose 1.0% to 102.5 last month, 5.0% higher than in November 2018. Pending home sales in the South decreased 0.2% to an index of 125.0 in November, a 7.7% increase from last November. The index in the West grew 5.5% in November 2019 to 98.4, an increase of 14.0% from a year ago. This was close to expectations for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in December and January.

U.S. construction spending rises 4.1% from November 2018 -  In November 2019, U.S. construction spending amounted to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.324 trillion, which is 4.1% above the previous year’s rate of $1.271 trillion, the Census Bureau said.When compared to October 2019, construction spending was 0.6% above the revised estimate of $1.317 trillion.Spending on private construction during November was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $985.5 billion, 0.4% above the revised October estimate of $981.1 billion, and 1.6% above a year ago.Of that, residential construction spending was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $536.1 billion in November, which is 1.9% above the revised October estimate of $526.3 billion and up 2.7% from a year ago.A measure of homebuilder sentiment, the Housing Market Index, revealed confidence improved in all U.S. regions during the month.According to the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo, which put out the monthly report, November’s sentiment levels came in at 70 points.This rate marks the second-highest level in 2019 as it was 10 points above the year-ago month. “Single-family builders are currently reporting ongoing positive conditions, spurred in part by low mortgage rates and continued job growth,” NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde said.  “In a further sign of solid demand, this is the fourth consecutive month where at least half of all builders surveyed have reported positive buyer traffic conditions.

Consumer Confidence: "Consumer Spending Unlikely to Gain Momentum in Early 2020" - The headline number of 126.5 was a slight decrease from the final reading of 126.8 for November. Today's number was below the consensus of 128.2. “Consumer confidence declined marginally in December, following a slight improvement in November,” said Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “While consumers’ assessment of current conditions improved, their expectations declined, driven primarily by a softening in their short-term outlook regarding jobs and financial prospects. While the economy hasn’t shown signs of further weakening, there is little to suggest that growth, and in particular consumer spending, will gain momentum in early 2020.” The chart below is another attempt to evaluate the historical context for this index as a coincident indicator of the economy. Toward this end, we have highlighted recessions and included GDP. The regression through the index data shows the long-term trend and highlights the extreme volatility of this indicator. Statisticians may assign little significance to a regression through this sort of data. But the slope resembles the regression trend for real GDP shown below, and it is a more revealing gauge of relative confidence than the 1985 level of 100 that the Conference Board cites as a point of reference.

Auto Lenders Have Verified Income On Just 7% Of All Loans Since 2017 - The auto industry in 2019 is starting to look a lot like the subprime mortgage market in 2007.One such example of an industry trying to move vehicle inventory by any means necessary was Mirna Lopez, a 65 year old who was able to buy a 2018 Nissan Pathfinder on monthly earnings of just $660. Her car loan's monthly payment was slated to be $809. How was this possible? The Wall Street Journal reports that an employee at the dealership that sold her the car simply listed her monthly earnings at $7,833. Nothing creative, nothing fancy: just plain old fraud.  It's no longer good enough for customers to be buying cars with debt only. Now, while the auto industry struggles to pull itself out of the recession it is mired in, some dealerships around the country are "dressing up" loan applications with fake incomes, according to consumer lawyers. Additionally, some large lenders have cut back on safeguards that could catch the fraudulent applications. The result is usually a quick default on these loans and consumers destroying their credit. Richard Feferman, a New Mexico lawyer who has sued dealerships and lenders said: “The consequence for a lot of people is to ruin them financially for five to 10 years.” The amount of false applications is "hard to quantify" according to PointPredictive, which sells software to detect loan fraud. The company estimates that more than 20% of loans have inflated incomes.  Of course, dealers have the option to ask for documentation to prove income, but over the past few years some subprime lenders have stopped checking them - partly in response to dealers demanding faster decisions. In fact, lenders verified income on only about 7% of all loans since 2017, the Journal found.

'Do Not Sell My Info': U.S. retailers rush to comply with California privacy law - (Reuters) - U.S. retailers including Walmart Inc will add “Do Not Sell My Info” links to their websites and signage in stores starting Jan. 1, allowing California shoppers to understand for the first time what personal and other data the retailers collect, sources said. Others like Home Depot will allow shoppers not just in California but around the country to access such information online. At its California stores, Home Depot will add signs, offer QR codes so shoppers can look up information using their mobile devices and train store employees to answer questions. Large U.S retailers are rushing to comply with a new law, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which becomes effective at the start of 2020 and is one of the most significant regulations overseeing the data collection practices of U.S. companies. It lets shoppers opt out of allowing retailers and other companies to sell personal data to third parties. In addition to retailers, the law affects a broad swath of firms including social media platforms such as Facebook and Alphabet’s Google, advertisers, app developers, mobile service providers and streaming TV services, and is likely to overhaul the way companies benefit from the use of personal information. The law follows Europe’s controversial General Data Protection Regulation, which set a new standard for how companies collect, store and use personal data. The European law gave companies years to comply while CCPA has given them a few months.

USPS Could Privatize As Early As Next Year - Fortune - The United States Postal Service shipped more than 13 billion pieces of mail and packages this holiday season. But now that gift-giving has abated, the agency, which falls under President Trump’s jurisdiction, is facing another deadline: find a new Postmaster General by January 2020. The new leadership will be handpicked and approved by the Postal Service’s Board of Governors: a group of five men (mostly with investment banking and private banking experience), three of whom were appointed by Trump, along with the current Postmaster General and her deputy. Once the new leadership is in place, the board will also be tasked by the Trump administration with creating a package of large, structural changes intended to help the ailing Postal Service. Those changes will likely include privatizing and selling pieces of the public service off, according to the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), which represents more than 200,000 current and retired postal employees.In 2018, Trump issued an executive order to create a postal task force, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The group was charged with figuring out how to make the postal service a more profitable entity. They recommended that the agency roll back collective bargaining rights for postal workers and sell off pieces of the service to private industry.“The USPS’s current business model has become outdated due to changes in technology, markets, and customer needs and preferences,” the report stated. “It is unsustainable and must be fundamentally changed if the USPS is to avoid a financial collapse and a taxpayer-funded bailout.” Around the same time in 2018, the White House Office of Management and Budgetalso proposed privatizing parts of the USPS and ending package delivery—something that alarmed the APWU.“The OMB report suggests that the U.S. Postal Service should be sold off to private interests and perhaps shouldn’t even be allowed to ship packages. Most Americans oppose the OMB’s recommendations,” said APWU president Mark Dimondstein, in a statement. “We need to send a clear message to the next Postmaster General that the U.S. Mail is not for sale.”

How to Privatize the Post Office: Piece by piece, step by step - A few days ago, the Trump administration announced that one of its goals is to privatize the Postal Service. A private postal system, says the White House proposal, would deliver mail fewer days per week, shift to cluster boxes instead of door and curb delivery, adjust prices and negotiate wages and benefits without government interference, and “shrink its physical and personnel footprints,” i.e., close post offices, consolidate processing facilities, sell buildings, and shed jobs. According to Trump’s proposal, before privatization can happen, the Postal Service must show that it can be profitable, so it needs to cut costs on delivery, wages, benefits, and footprint sooner rather than later. That process is actually well underway, and it has been for decades. The following post was originally published in July 2011, but it seems as relevant as ever, so it’s reprinted here with a few minor edits to update some numbers.

US Goods Trade Deficit Shrinks To Smallest Since Trump Elected -- According to advance good trade balance data from the Census Bureau, November saw the smallest goods trade deficit since before President Trump was elected.  The $63.2 billion deficit was considerably smaller than the $68.7 billion expected:

  • Imports fell 1.3% in Nov. to $199.568b from $202.249b in Oct.
  • Exports rose 0.7% in Nov. to $136.375b from $135.450b in Oct.

Auto exports rose 3.4%.  And if the relationship with Manufacturing PMI holds up, the deficit is set to shrink further...

Used Heavy Duty Truck Prices Collapse As Much As 50% As Ugly Outlook To Continue -  It isn't just the automobile industry that, globally, has been mired in recession. We have also noted the stunning collapse in heavy duty trucking orders over the last 18 months, as the industry continues to deal the consequences of aggressive over-ordering in 2018 and a domestic economy that simply isn't supporting growth Class 8 trucks like it once did. For instance, we reported just two weeks ago that trucking company Navistar had cut more than 1,300 jobs. And after several months of "analysts" suggesting that trends could be improving and that the worst may be over, the reality for heavy duty trucking seems to remain that the industry is still grinding slower. Wells Fargo analyst Andrew Casey released a note on Thursday morning suggesting that truck demand conditions "remain weak" and that pricing is "deteriorating for used trucks". Casey believes that "most truckers [will] continue to avoid investing in new vehicles due to 'transport overcapacity vs. relatively low freight demand' and pressure on trade-in values". He also noted that Class 8 orders for December, which should be released over the next several business days, would come in around 17,500-20,500 vs November’s 17,512. But don't let the numbers fool you. “While this may be an optical positive, conditions behind that order number appear to be deteriorating,” Casey says in his note. Meanwhile, dealers are reporting a collapse in used truck prices, which are down 20% to 50% y/y. Casey says this could lead to "discount programs and further pressure on manufacturer earnings". Steve Tam, Vice President at ACT Research commented in late December: "Dealers are reporting used truck sales are lagging, inventory is building, prices are falling, and the used truck market remains a buyer’s market."

Worst Market In 30 Years - 400,000 Commodity Railcars Sit Idle Amid Industrial Recession - Wells Fargo, Citigroup, PNC Financial Service Group, and CIT Group accumulated hundreds of thousands of commodity hauling railcars in North America over the last decade. These banks believed railcars carrying coal, grain, and other commodities were going to be highly profitable but have recently turned out to be a major headache as many cars are now in storage because of new regulations and demand woes brought on by fluctuating commodity markets. David Nahass, president of Railroad Financial Corp., which provides advisory services to railroad firms, told The Wall Street Journal that "the industry is suffering, there are no two ways about it. Lease rates are down, and there's not a source of hope about when it will start to improve." The Journal, citing the Association of American Railroads (AAR), said about 400,000 railcars currently sit in storage with no use at all, and many are bank-owned. CIT estimated railcar lease rates fell 10% to 15% in 2019 over the prior year. GATX Corp., a nonbank lessor, said specific car lease rates crashed 20% in 3Q Y/Y as an industrial recession worsened. Wells Fargo is the largest railcar lessor in the US, with 175,000 total cars under management. The Journal provided no details on how many railcars from the bank were sitting idle. The railroad crisis has hit certain types of railcars the hardest. For instance, coal shipments have plunged since 2011, which diminished the demand for coal hopper cars. "It's the worst market I've seen in my 30-plus years in the industry," railcar appraiser Patrick Mazzanti told the Journal. Mazzanti said new regulations have also been the reasoning behind many oil cars sitting idle, as these cars must be retrofitted with modern technology to meet new federal requirements

Rail Traffic Continues To Plunge Amid Industrial Recession - US freight railroads have long been used as a barometer of the country's economic health, continue to show declines in traffic, suggesting the industrial recession could persist into 2020.  The Association of American Railroads (AAR) published a new report that shows US weekly rail traffic for the week ending December 21 was down 10.5% to 507,589 carloads and intermodal units compared with the same week last year.Total carloads for the week were 245,048 carloads, down 11.5% compared with the same week in 2018, while weekly intermodal volume was down 9.5% to 262,541 containers and trailers. The AAR tracks ten carload commodity groups on a weekly basis -- with Petroleum and Petroleum Products and Other segments showed marginal growth over the week as all other segments including Chemicals; Coal; Farm Products excl. Grain, and Food; Forest Products, Grain, Metallic Ores and Metals; Motor Vehicles and Parts; and Nonmetallic Minerals registered declines.  For the first 51 weeks of 2019, US rail traffic across all segments was 12,780,814 carloads, down 4.8% from the same period last year; and 13,550,432 intermodal units, down 5.1% from last year. Total rail traffic in the first 51 weeks was 26,331,246 carloads and intermodal units, a 5.9% drop over last year.

Airbus Deliveries Soar To Record High As Boeing's Crash -  A new report from Reuters specifies how Airbus locked in a record number of aircraft deliveries in Dec. to exceed full-year delivery targets while outshining troubled Boeing in becoming the world's top planemaker.  By midnight on New Year's Eve, Airbus delivered 863 aircraft for the year, up 7.9% from 800 in 2018, sources told Reuters. The sources said the numbers aren't official and must be audited before officially published.  Shown in The Seattle Times chart below (updated on Dec. 29), the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max and now suspension of its production had more than halved deliveries from 806 in 2018 to 370 in 2019.  With Max sales stalled, deliveries tanking, and production halted, Airbus is now soaring ahead as Boeing is facing its biggest crisis in 100 years with no word on a timeline of an ungrounding.

ISM Manufacturing Survey Crashes To Lowest Since June 2009 -  Manufacturing surveys from ISM and Markit have decoupled in the last few months (the latter rising, the former falling) but Markit's PMI slipped back in December and expectations were for today's ISM data to print slightly higher but still in contraction (sub-50).However, the situation was considerably worse, ISM Manufacturing printed 47.2 in December (below the 49.0 expectation and 48.1 prior). This is the fifth straight month of contraction...  The deterioration was driven by the weakest gauges of new orders and production since April 2009. The data show American factories remain plagued by pullbacks in business investment at home, softer demand throughout the world and, until recently, an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China.

  • Production fell to 43.2 vs 49.1; lowest level since April 2009
  • New orders fell to 46.8 vs 47.2
  • Employment fell to 45.1 vs 46.6

Pull-Back In Hiring - US Manufacturing PMI Disappoints As Hoped-For Rebound Falters - Following Europe's disappointing downturn this morning (and UK), US' final Manufacturing PMI print for 2019 was expected to confirm a slight deceleration in the late-year rebound.However, it was a disappointment, as the final US Manufacturing data dipped from 52.6 in November (and 52.5 in flash December data) to 52.4...  Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit said: "The US manufacturing sector continued to recover from the soft-patch seen in the summer, ending 2019 with its best quarter since the early months of 2019."The overall rate of expansion nevertheless faltered somewhat in December and remains well below that seen this time last year, suggesting producers are starting 2020 on a softer footing than they had enjoyed heading into 2019."Business sentiment about the outlook remains especially subdued compared to a year ago, reflecting ongoing worries about geopolitics and trade wars, especially the impact of tariffs, as well as fears that political and economic uncertainty surrounding the 2020 elections could dampen demand."The impact of tariffs was clearly evident via higher prices, while the relatively subdued level of business confidence manifested itself in a pull-back in hiring, hinting at risk aversion and cost-cutting."

Chicago PMI "Rose to 48.9 in December" - Earlier from the Chicago PMI: Chicago Business Barometer™ – Rose to 48.9 in December  The Chicago Business BarometerTM, produced with MNI, rose 2.6 points in December, hitting a four-month high of 48.9.  Business sentiment dropped by 1.2 points to 46.2 in Q4, marking the lowest quarterly reading since Q2 2009. The index was below the 50-mark for the second successive quarter.... While Employment cooled to 47.4 in December, showing the largest monthly decline, it also scored the biggest quarterly gain, up by 11.1% to 48.9. CR Note: "An indicator reading above 50 shows expansion compared with a month earlier while below 50 indicates contraction." This was another month of contraction.

Dallas Fed: "Texas Manufacturing Activity Expands Modestly" -- From the Dallas Fed: Texas Manufacturing Activity Expands Modestly: Growth in Texas factory activity resumed in December, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, rebounded to 3.6 after dipping into negative territory last month. Most other measures of manufacturing activity also rebounded in December. The new orders index rose from -3.0 to 1.6. The growth rate of orders index moved up but remained in negative territory for a third consecutive month, coming in at -5.0. The capacity utilization index shot up 13 points to 7.8, and the shipments index rose from -4.5 to 3.0. Perceptions of broader business conditions were mixed in December. The general business activity index remained slightly negative at -3.2, while the company outlook index inched up three points to 1.3. Both indexes have oscillated between positive (expansionary) and negative (contractionary) territory this year. The index measuring uncertainty regarding companies’ outlooks receded 12 points to 5.6, its lowest reading since March. Labor market measures suggested rising employment levels and slightly longer workweeks this month. The employment index rose from 0.9 to 6.2, indicative of a pickup in hiring.  This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for December.

December Regional Fed Manufacturing Overview - Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia.Regional manufacturing surveys are a measure of local economic health and are used as a representative for the larger national manufacturing health. They have been used as a signal for business uncertainty and economic activity as a whole. Manufacturing makes up 12% of the country's GDP.The other 6 Federal Reserve Districts do not publish manufacturing data. For these, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book offers a short summary of each districts’ manufacturing health. The Chicago Fed published their Midwest Manufacturing Index from July 1996 through December of 2013. According to their website, "The Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index (CFMMI) is undergoing a process of data and methodology revision. In December 2013, the monthly release of the CFMMI was suspended pending the release of updated benchmark data from the U.S. Census Bureau and a period of model verification. Significant revisions in the history of the CFMMI are anticipated." Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia. The latest average of the five for December is 0.3, down from the previous month's 1.5. It is well below its all-time high of 25.1, set in May 2004. Here is the same chart including the average of the five. Readers will notice the range in expansion and contraction between all regions.

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims at 222,000 -The DOL reported:In the week ending December 28, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 222,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 2,000 from 222,000 to 224,000. The 4-week moving average was 233,250, an increase of 4,750 from the previous week's revised average. This is the highest level for this average since January 27, 2018 when it was 235,750. The previous week's average was revised up by 500 from 228,000 to 228,500. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

U.S. companies are forcing workers to train their own foreign replacements  -- Opponents of job outsourcing are making a holiday-season appeal to President Trump: Stop U.S. companies from forcing American workers to train the very same cheaper foreign laborers who will soon replace them.  Trump promised voters he'd end abuses of worker visa programs and save U.S. jobs — but as he campaigns for re-election, advocates say he hasn't done enough.   AT&T is poised to send thousands into the new year hunting for new jobs after assigning them to train their own foreign replacements, according to conversations with current and former workers and documents obtained by Axios. Many have worked for the company for over a decade. They aren't being offered severance or early retirement, and may not easily find a comparable job elsewhere with similar pay.  Sara Blackwell, a Florida-based lawyer who represents Americans displaced by workers on visas or overseas, told Axios: "American workers are tired of waiting for President Trump to do something on this issue." "They’ve gone from great hope in President Trump's administration, to great discouragement."  Despite receiving a $3 billion tax cut last year, AT&T announced new and expanded alliances with bigoutsourcing companies to replace workers with foreign or cheaper domestic talent. Like many major U.S. companies, AT&T has been shifting jobs for years now — but 2019 was especially noteworthy, as workers claimed that as many as 3,000 finance jobs were being outsourced to Accenture. AT&T denied the 3,000 figure, but declined to provide Axios with its own number.  AT&T also signed multi-year deals with IBM, Tech Mahindra and Amdocs this year. Accenture, IBM and Tech Mahindra were in the top 10 companies to request H-1B high-skilled worker visas this year.  "We are continuously working to be more efficient in our operations," AT&T's Jim Kimberly told Axios. When possible, AT&T is "helping employees find other positions within the company,” he said.

 Football Coaches Highest Paid People ESPN. - Who's the most powerful person in your state? Well, based on public employee salaries, it's likely a college coach (sorry, governors). A whopping 28 college football coaches are the best-paid employees in their states, along with 12 college hoops coaches who top the state payrolls. Check out the map below to find your state's top-earning public official, plus the governor's salary.

Washington state legislator investigated for ties with violent far-right groups - Republican Representative Matthew Shea of the Washington state legislature is now the subject of an investigation due to public allegations of past involvement in far-right political violence. Shea is just one of many state and federal personnel whose ties to fascistic and racist groups have been exposed, though he is the first sitting legislator to face investigation for far-right violent activities. The Washington State House of Representatives commissioned a full report by the private investigation firm Rampart Group to discover whether Shea “engaged in, planned, or promoted political violence.” Matt Shea has served in the lower house of the state legislature since 2009, representing Washington’s 4th legislative district, that encompasses a large part of the central rural region. While the investigation takes place, the House Republican leadership suspended Shea from his committee positions in the House, including the Environment and Energy Committee, though his expulsion as a representative cannot take place until the legislature is in session. The Rampart report notes: “Investigators have obtained evidence that Representative Shea, as a leader of the Patriot Movement, planned, engaged in, and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States Government in three states outside the State of Washington over a three-year period to include 2014, 2015, and 2016.” The Patriot Movement includes a collection of ultra-right militia groups, which generally advocate extreme anti-government views, fantasize conspiracies of “globalists” to take away the rights of small property owners, open the United States to invasion by non-white immigrants, and replace the American Constitution with Muslim Sharia Law. In 2014, Shea mobilized Patriot Movement members to take part in an armed occupation of a federal government facility in Bunkerville, Nevada that lasted 41 days. The standoff between federal and militia troops centered on the longstanding attempts of cattle rancher Cliven Bundy to utilize land owned by the federal government. Shea’s calls for support on the Liberty For All III% (3 Percenters) website reportedly helped to generate a turnout of 1,500 armed militia members from different groups within the Patriot Movement, such as the Oath Keepers.

City Tells Church It Will Lose Religious Designation Because It Shelters Homeless People- Earlier this week, on Christmas Eve, an order from the city of Cleveland was posted on the door of the Denison Avenue United Church of Christ, demanding that they kick out the homeless people that they had been allowing to sleep on their property or face losing their status with the city as a religious organization. The order came from the Cleveland Division of Fire, citing code violations that they claim are dangerous for the inhabitants. The city is following the letter of the law, in this case, suggesting that it is illegal to change the official use of the building without first filling out the required paperwork and making significant changes to the property. According to the city’s building department, for the church to give shelter to homeless people, they would need to go through a costly process of not only updating the building but also getting the required permits and licenses that would designate the building as a homeless shelter.  Today, on Christmas Eve, Denison UCC was issued a Cease of Use notice even after Fire Chief Calvillo agreed to meet this AM as a result of yesterday’s action.  Let’s not forget that these threats arise from Councilwoman Brady’s efforts to keep homeless people out of her ward.— NEOCH (@clevhomeless) December 25, 2019 Pastor Nozomi Ikuta has promised to appeal the ruling, saying that the church has been battling the city for months over their right to help the homeless. “According to the city, it is improper for us to allow the Metanoia Project to use our building to provide overnight hospitality. They are telling us to apply to change the use of our building from a church to a shelter,” Ikuta told Ikuta said that the church is happy to make changes to their building to make it safer, but she doesn’t believe that the church should have to change its designated purpose. “In essence, this forces us to choose between our identity as a church and helping homeless people. We want to work with the fire department to resolve any concerns it might have, but we don’t think we should have to stop being a church just so we can help keep people off the street,” she said.  Local homeless advocates have argued that it is more dangerous to keep these people out on the streets than it is to house them in a building that may not be entirely up to code.“Six people have frozen to death over the past few years and the unsheltered homeless population continues to rise,” NEOCH executive director, Chris Knestrick told Scene.

US saw highest number of mass killings on record in 2019, database reveals - BBC News - The US suffered more mass killings in 2019 than any year on record, according to researchers. A database compiled by the Associated Press (AP), USA Today and Northeastern University recorded 41 incidents and a total of 211 deaths. Mass killings are defined as four or more people being killed in the same incident, excluding the perpetrator. Among the deadliest in 2019 were the killings of 12 people in Virginia Beach in May and 22 in El Paso in August. Of the 41 cases in 2019, 33 involved firearms, researchers said. California had the highest number of mass killings per state, with eight. The database has been tracking mass killings in the US since 2006, but research going back to the 1970s did not not reveal a year with more mass killings, AP reported. The year with the second-highest number of mass killings was 2006, with 38. Though 2019 had the highest number of incidents, the death toll of 211 was eclipsed by the 224 people who died in mass killings 2017. That year saw the deadliest mass shooting in US history, when 59 people were gunned down at a festival in Las Vegas.. Many mass killings in the US fail to make headlines because they involve family disputes, drug deals or gang violence, and don't spill into public places, the researchers said. The number of mass killings in the US had risen despite the overall number of homicides going down, said James Densley, a criminologist and professor at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota. "As a percentage of homicides, these mass killings are also accounting for more deaths," he told AP. Prof Densley said he believed the spike was partly a consequence of an "angry and frustrated time" in US society, but he added that crimes tended to occur in waves. "This seems to be the age of mass shootings," he said.

Kansas cop admits McDonald's coffee cup reading 'F---ing Pig' was fake - The Kansas police officer who claimed he got a McDonald’s coffee with the words “F–ing Pig” scrawled on the cup resigned Monday after admitting the story was a hoax.The 23-year-old cop, who wasn’t publicly identified, made the story up “as a joke,” Herington Police Chief Brian Hornaday told reporters at a news conference.“This was completely and solely fabricated by a Herington police officer who is no longer employed with our agency,” Hornaday said.Hornaday had originally written in a Facebook post Saturday that an employee at the Junction City McDonald’s wrote the expletive on an officer’s coffee cup, calling it a “black eye” on the community.“This is now, absolutely, a black eye on law enforcement,” Hornaday told reporters Monday. An investigation by Hornaday and McDonald’s found that no staffer at the fast-food eatery had written the missive. The owner of the McDonald’s had previously said that surveillance footage refuted the cop’s claims.

Homeless Youth: One Day I’m Going to Have My Own House - I became homeless at the age of 8 or 9 after my mom enrolled in a 90-day rehab program. My dad was a part of the problem and wasn’t present after she took the steps to a better life. While she was there, my grandma’s sister moved into our apartment to take care of my older brother and me. But when my mom got back, we moved into a family shelter in Berkeley.   After that, we never really stayed anywhere for longer than a year. We stayed in most of the family shelters in Berkeley, such as Sankofa, which was specifically for women with children. After moving through those, we started living with family friends. It’s hard to keep track of how many places I’ve lived. I am one of the homeless youth living in California. The reality is that many young people are fighting the conditions of homelessness when we’re still works in progress. According to the 2019 Point-in-Time count, California is home to 12,396 unaccompanied homeless youth between the ages of 18 and 25 — one- third of the nation’s total. In Berkeley, 225 such youth were counted in 2019. YEAH!, an emergency youth homeless shelter program in Berkeley, reports the demographics: three-quarters male, 54 percent Caucasian, 85 percent local, 73 percent active drug or alcohol users, 36 percent with mental health problems, half are not high school graduates, and 79 percent have no source of income. Couch surfing youth are not counted under the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition of homelessness. Advocates suggest that when accounting for that demographic, the number of unhoused youth in Berkeley hovers around 400.  But I am more than a statistic.

 Louisiana investigates homeless killings amid concern over rise in violence The killings of three homeless people this month in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, could be connected, and come at a time when the homeless are being subject to increasing violence and homeless issues are becoming a dangerous political football. Last Friday, investigators found 50-year-old Tony Williams shot dead on the porch of a vacant home about two blocks away from where two other homeless people, Christina Fowler, 53, and Gregory Corcoran, 40, had been found dead two weeks earlier. Police officials are now investigating whether the three deaths are linked. The deaths in Louisiana’s capital come as homeless advocates worry about an increase in violence against homeless people, and after Donald Trump used the homeless crisis in California as a political stick to try and attack top Democrats such as House speaker Nancy Pelosi and California governor Gavin Newsom. Last week Trump attacked Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who has led the effort to impeach him, and told her to “clean up her filthy dirty district & help the homeless there”. And on Christmas Day, Trump launched a Twitter tirade against Gavin Newsom for his “bad job” on “taking care of the homeless population in California”. Trump’s criticisms came as violent attacks targeting homeless people have risen in California in the past year. In Los Angeles, there have been at least eight incidents in which people have thrown makeshift explosives or flammable liquids on homeless people or their tents, according to officials and the Los Angeles Times. Trump’s repeated tweets about homelessness have been labeled “vile and reprehensible” by activists. The killings in Baton Rouge are likely to heighten the sense that homeless people are becoming more vulnerable. Amanda Owens says she is part of Baton Rouge’s homeless population and she told the Advocate newspaper the recent crimes have put the community on edge. “Do I have a target on my back or what?” she said. Baton Rouge police are investigating links between the crimes, although it is not yet certain whether homeless people are being targeted, Chief Murphy Paul said Friday. He added that steps are being taken to protect the community, and local shelters are expanding services in the wake of the violence, the Advocate reported Monday. One such shelter, St Vincent de Paul, has increased its capacity, executive director Michael Acaldo said. Darrell Blanks, 63, has been staying at a nearby shelter for the past four years and said the killings have made him uneasy. “Someone’s got hatred in their heart for the homeless,“ Blanks told the newspaper.

Wealthy Virginia School District Says Students Can Be Excused To Attend Protests - One of America's largest school districts has made the controversial decision to allow students in grades 7 through 12 to apply for one excused absence per year to participate in school-day protests.More specifically, the new policy, clearly inspired by Greta Thunberg and her "school strike" climate protests (though there's no mention of the school-aged activist anywhere in the Washington Post's story about it), will allow students one loosely-defined "civic engagement" absence per year.As proponents of the policy eagerly highlighted, "civic engagement" doesn't necessarily mean "protest". Students can use the absence to go on trips to the state capital, speak with legislators or volunteer on political campaigns.The policy is being adopted by Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, and will take effect on Jan. 27. There are about 188,000 students in the Fairfax district, ranking it in the top 12 districts by student population. It's also worth noting that Fairfax is located on the Northern tip of Virginia, making it a suburb of Washington DC. Unlike the bulk of the state, Fairfax and its neighboring counties supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. The wealthy suburbs have been driving Virginia's shift toward becoming a "purple" swing state. This is just one more reason why the school district's new policy is drawing criticism at the national level - although district administrators insist it wasn't meant to be a political decision. Instead, the district told WaPo that as students increasingly participate in rallies for gun control and climate change, it's the district's responsibility to change along with these shifting mores. Fairfax School Board member Ryan McElveen, who introduced the policy to the board, said he thinks his district is setting a precedent that will be followed across the US.

California's Woke Legislation For 2020- Students Can't Be Suspended -Among the dumbest of the state of California's new 'woke' legislation for 2020 is that it's set to ban all public and charter schools from suspending students for 'willful defiance' in this upcoming year:   A California bill that passed the Legislature would prohibit schools, including charter schools, from suspending students for willful defiance. That means if a student is acting up in class, teachers and school officials will not be able to suspend them from school.As if California public schools weren't already woefully behind national education standards, despite the state pouring $90 billion into the system this year alone, schools will now be forced to keep kids on campus no matter their level of constant defiance and disruption to the educational process of others. Under the law, SB 419, the only exception for which a student could still be suspended suspended will be for bringing a weapon or illegal drugs to school.And what's the rationale? Because of course, racism. As a local NBC affiliate reported earlier when the bill was passed by the state House and SenateThe bill by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would ban the suspension of students in grades K-8 for refusing to obey a teacher or administrator, a practice known as willful defiance. “I’ve dealt with a lot of these cases,” said Berry Accius, founder of Voice of the Youth, a nonprofit mentoring program in Sacramento. “Unfortunately, I’ve had kids that have been suspended for sometimes three months.” Accius said school suspensions are used disproportionately against students of color. “African American males and females, they are suspended at a higher rate — especially the African American males,” Accius said. No doubt the jobs of California school teachers and administrators just got immensely harder. It will take effect starting July 1, 2020.

 'It was very hurtful' – what really happens when Queer Eye comes to town?  - Jonathan Van Ness was the first pom-pom boy in Quincy, Illinois. In the fourth season of Queer Eye, he, along with the rest of the show’s Fab Five, went to perform a makeover on his favourite music teacher, Kathi Dooley, a woman famed for her fiery red mullet. Van Ness bounded into his high-school gym and launched into a full cheerleading routine, hitting every high kick (in high heels) while a huge crowd cheered from the bleachers. The Queer Eye circus had sashayed into town. But in reality, the reception was far more frosty than the show made it seem. Although Dooley felt the love in that room, plenty of parents refused to allow their kids to appear on the Netflix hit, complaining that “it” – the LGBT lifestyle – should not be championed by a public school. “The principal kept me out of the fray of parents who were complaining,” Dooley says. She describes Quincy as a “sheltered, very conservative and highly Republican town”, although one that is proud of its own. “They also don’t try to rock the boat.” One pastor did try to publicly attack Queer Eye, however. He wrote a letter to the local paper, which is owned by Van Ness’s family. His mother chose to print the letter, which speaks of the “homosexual lifestyle … being condemned by God” and adds: “The further we allow ourselves to drift from His truth, the greater darkness we will be walking in. What are we teaching our children?” “That was very hurtful to Jonathan,” says Dooley of the letter itself, especially as the pastor and his wife were close to his family. “She was actually their cleaning lady and kind of a nanny to Jonathan growing up. Jonathan did tell me she thought she could read a few Bible verses and ‘fix him’, or that he would see the light. Obviously, that didn’t happen.”

Digital Divide: What It’s Like to Be a Student Without Internet at Home --A video that recently circulated on Twitter shows a young student apparently using a model tablet at a mall store to finish his homework. A commenter's response to it went viral: “Schools making it mandatory for kids to have internet access to do homework is just another way for poor kids to get left behind and continue the cycle of generational poverty. I’m bothered.” With over 185,000 retweets, the message clearly struck a nerve about the extreme lengths students sometimes have to go to complete basic educational responsibilities.According to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, nearly one in five students lack a high-speed internet connection at home. As with many other educational inequities, low-income students and students of color are much more likely to lack this resource.News coverage often focuses on the underserved students in rural communities, where extending broadband can be difficult. A 2018 report by the U.S. Census Bureau noted that counties classified as "mostly rural" and "completely rural" lagged behind counties classified as "mostly urban" in broadband access, across income levels. But the story is a bit more complicated. The same Census Bureau report featured an analysis of internet subscription rates in Memphis, Tennessee, showing high connectivity in the suburbs around the city, but noticeably large gaps in both the urban core, and in rural areas. As a recent Washington Post headline put it, “cities, not rural areas, are the real Internet deserts.” And education experts interviewed by Teen Vogue say that internet connectivity is just one of many issues creating a digital divide among students.

San Diego teachers notified of looming pink slips and layoffs -- Newer teachers in the district are slated to receive a Reduction in Force (RIF) layoff notices, also known as “pink-slips” on March 15, 2020. These teachers will be able to carry out their jobs through the end of the current school year but will be told not to return the following year. The district initially announced in late 2018 that it faced a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, a total deficit of approximately $68 million. Investigations have pointed to millions of dollars missing under the former Director of Finance Doug Martens and Chief Financial Officer Karen Michel. Martens and Michel both mysteriously retired from the district months before the shortfall was made public. According to a 2019-2020 Financial Status Report issued in December by SUHSD Chief Financial Officer, Jenny Salkeld, the district now faces a $26 million shortfall for the 2020-2021 school year and projects that enrollment will decrease by approximately 400 students. Despite the fact that the district has been mired in a series of ongoing fraud and mismanagement investigations over their accounting practices, the SUHSD with the assistance of the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA), plans to continue to push through drastic budget cuts in order to pay off its debt over the course of the next 2 school years. The continued cuts will guarantee not only the removal of jobs, but also vital programs and services. Located in southwestern San Diego County, near the US-Mexico border, SUHSD is the largest secondary school district in California with 34 schools—13 high, 11 middle, three charter, three alternative education, and four adult. It has more than 1,500 teachers, 40,000 students, and 22,000 adult learners. It serves some of the most vulnerable populations, including hundreds of students who cross on a daily basis to attend school in the US. Parents of children with special needs across the border in Tijuana work especially hard to ensure their children can access services in US schools.

From Full House To The Big House- Lori Loughlin Learning Martial Arts As Trial Looms - "Aunt Becky" from Full House is preparing for the possibility of doing hard time over the college admissions scandal, hiring a prison coach to train her on fighting and 'prison lingo,' according to RadarOnline. "She’s knuckling down, learning the lingo and practicing martial arts to give off the impression she’s tough and to ward off potential bullies," an insider told Radar, adding that the 55-year old Laughlin "knows there will be plenty of them in federal prison." Loughlin and her 56-year-old husband Mossimo Giannulli have been accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into the University of Southern California. They contend they are not guilty, and that federal prosecutors have intentionally withheld evidence in their case. They have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, honest services fraud, money laundering and federal programs bribery."Prison is going to be sink or swim and Lori doesn’t intend to sit back and take the abuse without a fight," the insider added."Besides the physical training she’s getting lots of advice from prison professors on how to earn one’s keep behind bars ... It’s a sure sign she knows deep down she’s facing an inevitable stretch and will need to be prepared."Loughlin faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted on all charges - though the chances of this actually happening fall somewhere between slim and none based on the short sentences handed out to other offenders in the scandal. Loughlin faced two years under a plea deal she declined, according to TMZ.

Even More Colleges Are Now Taking Equity Stakes In Their Students As Tuition - The trend of colleges foregoing traditional tuition in favor of now taking an "equity stake" in their graduates looks like it is catching on. The idea was first floated by Milton Friedman back in 1955, who suggested an incoming sharing agreement between the universities and the graduates once they enter the work force and begin to earn a regular salary. This obviously shifts much of the liability to make "workforce ready" graduates to the institution. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled 27 year old Alex Ross, who took advantage of General Assembly coding school's $14,700 design boot camp. She hasn't been able to find work yet, but that's not bothering her, as she took advantage of General Assembly's income-share-agreement program, which requires her to make monthly payments of 10% of her paycheck for 48 months - but only after she lands a job paying $40,000 per year or more. No matter how much she earns, her payback won't exceed a $22,000 cap. Ross said: “I considered taking out a loan, but didn’t want to start making payments right away. I didn’t want the pressure before I was employed full-time.” Tonio DeSorrento, co-founder and CEO of Vemo Education, a company that helps schools design and implement income sharing programs, said: “It’s not the best thing for everyone, every time. But the fact that the school stands behind its product serves as proof it offers value.” There's now more than 60 universities that offer ISAs nationwide, including Purdue and the University of Utah. In the New York City metropolitan area, there is the Flatiron School and Holberton School, in addition to General Assembly. 

Should colleges really be putting smart speakers in dorms? - MIT Technology Review -- Schools as wide-ranging as Arizona State University, Lancaster University in the UK, and Ross University School of Medicine in Barbados have adopted voice-skill technology on campus. Some, including Northeastern University, have taken the technology a step further and now give students access to financials, course schedules and grades, and outstanding fees via voice devices. In late 2018, Boston’s Emerson College announced it was one of 18 recipients of a grant from Amazon to advance voice--enabled technology on campuses, part of the tech giant’s Alexa Innovation Fellowship. Emerson has created a dedicated voice lab where students can interact and experiment with Alexa skills, and it plans to install Alexa devices in places like theaters and outside elevator banks. Administrators at some of these schools told me they believe Alexa will bolster enrollment and reduce dropout rates. Several also said they believe voice technology can increase their students’ success and boost their overall happiness.However, there are plenty of people on campus who see a dark side. “When it comes to deploying listening devices where sensitive conversations occur, we simply have no idea what long-term effect having conversations recorded and kept by Amazon might have on their futures—even, quite possibly, on their health and well-being,”  . “ We still don’t really know just how much data voiceskill hosts like Amazon—or third parties that rely on Amazon—are harvesting, or what they’re doing with that information.” Other faculty members I spoke to echoed Newman’s objections. What if data harvested from students’ conversations affected their chances of getting a mortgage or a job later on? What if it were used against foreign students to have them deported, possibly to home countries where they could be imprisoned for their political views?   So given all the risks, why are colleges so eager to fill their campuses with AI-enabled microphones? What’s in it for them?  Colleges and universities face several looming crises. After years of soaring enrollment numbers, US schools are seeing declines in admissions, a trend expected to worsen over the next decade.  State contributions to public university budgets have lagged since the last recession. Private colleges are also struggling; more than a quarter of them are now in the red. In recent years, 20 private, nonprofit colleges closed their doors, and many more are considering merging or consolidating. Meanwhile, half of all students who enter college fail to graduate within six years. Many have full-time jobs. Some care for children or siblings or aging parents. And with an average of $35,000 in student loan debt after four years in school, the prospect of dropping out can be tempting. For many college administrators, AI offers appealing solutions to these predicaments.

How Colleges Dupe Parents And Taxpayers - - Colleges have been around for centuries. College students have also been around for centuries. Yet, college administrators assume that today's students have needs that were unknown to their predecessors. Those needs include diversity and equity personnel, with massive budgets to accommodate.  According to Minding the Campus, Penn State University's Office of Vice Provost for Educational Equity employs 66 staff members. The University of Michigan currently employs a diversity staff of 93 full-time diversity administrators, officers, directors, vice provosts, deans, consultants, specialists, investigators, managers, executive assistants, administrative assistants, analysts and coordinators. Amherst College, with a student body of 1,800 students employs 19 diversity people. Top college diversity bureaucrats earn salaries six figures, in some cases approaching $500,000 per year. In the case of the University of Michigan, a quarter (26) of their diversity officers earn annual salaries of more than $100,000. If you add generous fringe benefits and other expenses, you could easily be talking about $13 million a year in diversity costs. The Economist reports that University of California, Berkeley, has 175 diversity bureaucrats.  Diversity officials are a growing part of a college bureaucracy structure that outnumbers faculty by 2 to 2.5 depending on the college. According to "The Campus Diversity Swarm," an article from Mark Pulliam, a contributing editor at Law and Liberty, which appeared in the City Journal (10/10/2018), diversity people assist in the cultivation of imaginary grievances of an ever-growing number of "oppressed" groups. Pulliam writes: "The mission of campus diversity officers is self-perpetuating. Affirmative action (i.e., racial and ethnic preferences in admissions) leads to grievance studies. Increased recognition of LGBTQ rights requires ever-greater accommodation by the rest of the student body. Protecting 'vulnerable' groups from 'hate speech' and 'microaggressions' requires speech codes and bias-response teams (staffed by diversocrats). Complaints must be investigated and adjudicated (by diversocrats). Fighting 'toxic masculinity' and combating an imaginary epidemic of campus sexual assault necessitate consent protocols, training, and hearing procedures -- more work for an always-growing diversocrat cadre. Each newly recognized problem leads to a call for more programs and staffing." Campus diversity people have developed their own professional organization -- the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. They hold annual conferences -- the last one in Philadelphia. The NADOHE has developed standards for professional practice and a political agenda, plus a Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

“They’re abysmal students”: Are cell phones destroying the college classroom? - In the early 2000s, when I taught freshman writing at the University of North Carolina, disengaged students couldn't rely on the Internet to distract them—they had to make their own fun. One male student used a light "get to know each other" first-day exercise as a chance to tell the whole class an aggressive story about how he once peed in his much-despised stepfather's aftershave; another female student delivered a "professional presentation" to the whole class while wearing a sheer shirt and no undergarments. And you know what? I respected them both. That's the kind of old-school subversion of the classroom experience, the unspoken challenge to the authority of the teacher, that I can get behind. It takes creativity, it takes guts, it takes rebellion. Today, who's got the energy for that kind of acting out? I've been in and around universities for my entire adult life, and in the last few years I've observed an astonishing "tuning out" taking place in the classroom. I've seen a student, in a course where cell phones and laptops were forbidden by the professor, slip his phone out of his pocket every two minutes, checking for messages and occasionally tapping out a quick reply under the table, apparently convinced that the professor did not notice this. (He did.) I've seen students shop for boots in class, log in to their stock market portfolios (!), read the newspaper, write emails, and even work on papers for other classes. One spent each class period scrolling through his Twitter account on a laptop, pausing to watch every moving GIF and video clip. This is not just my experience. Take yesterday's piece in MIT Technology Review, where philosophy professor Ron Srigley writes about what cell phones have done to his own classroom. His conclusion is sobering: "I have a real fondness for my students as people. But they’re abysmal students; or rather, they aren’t really students at all, at least not in my class. On any given day, 70% of them are sitting before me shopping, texting, completing assignments, watching videos, or otherwise occupying themselves. Even the 'good' students do this. No one’s even trying to conceal the activity, the way students did before. This is just what they do."

UCLA Professor Comes Clean On The Diversity Delusion: "Conservative Students Are Harassed, Stalked, & Threatened" - In a somewhat shockingly 'frank and honest' blog post, Stephen Bainbridge, the William D. Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law, published his diversity statement titled “I submit herewith my “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” statement for my merit raise at UCLAW.” Professor Bainbridge provides the following background:“As regular readers know, I’m up for a merit raise at UCLAW this year and am now required to submit a statement of how I contribute to the University’s goals in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I have just emailed the statement to the administration."It reads as follows: Although I am aware and respectful of the many dimensions within which a university properly seeks a diverse faculty and student body, I have long been particularly concerned with the lack of intellectual diversity at the law school. A survey of U.S. law professors in general found that white Democratic professors (both male and female), Jewish professors, and nonreligious professors “account for most (or all) of the overrepresentation among racial, gender, religious, and ideological groups in law teaching.”[1]The groups that “account for most of the underrepresentation among racial, gender, religious, and ideological groups in law teaching” are Republicans (both male and female), Protestants, and Catholics.[2]This disparity persists even though “religious and political diversity are probably more important for viewpoint diversity than gender diversity and roughly as important as racial diversity.”[3]At UCLA, we know that the campus as a whole leans substantially to the left. “A study of various university faculties showed that at Cornell the ratio of liberal to conservative faculty members was 166 to 6, at Stanford it was 151 to 17, at UCLA it was 141 to 9, and at the University of Colorado it was 116 to 5.”[4] Conservative students at UCLA have been “harassed, stalked, and threatened.”[5] […]Because conservative students and students of faith often feel alienated and estranged in an environment that is so relentlessly liberal and secular, I have made particular efforts to reach out to and support such students. I have served as a mentor for leaders of The Federalist Society and Christian Law Students Association. I have given talks to both organizations. I taught a Perspectives on law and Lawyering seminar devoted to Catholic Social Thought and the Law, which gave students - whether Catholic or not - an opportunity to consider how their faith (or lack thereof) related to the law and an opportunity to learn about a coherent body of Christian scholarship that might inform their lives as lawyers.

I've Had Professors Who Educate, And Ones Who Indoctrinate. Here's What I Learned From Both... I’m prepared for the real world... Earlier this month I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. As I look back on my time on campus, I can honestly say I am thankful for both the professors who challenged me intellectually and were open to my conservative views — as well as the professors who tried to indoctrinate me, belittled my principles, or allowed me to be verbally bullied by classmates. That’s because both types of experiences taught me how to better defend my beliefs as I enter the next stage in my life: real life. As I consider law school, I know that my potential future career as an attorney would be built upon defending my stances with wisdom and logic. With that, I appreciate the tutelage the intellectual sparring on campus gave me. It toughened me up, taught me how to argue the facts. That’s not to say that I support professors who shut down their students’ thoughts and opinions. Nor did I enjoy being condescended to as an undergrad. But looking back, in hindsight, it did help me grow. Prior to my university experience, I was home-schooled from first grade through twelfth grade. I felt this non-traditional start to my educational journey might put me at a disadvantage, or at least at a different starting point, than some of my classmates. What I came to discover after some time in the classroom was that I was well-prepared to defend my beliefs. Often I was the only conservative student to speak up in class, and I did have my fair share of leftist professors who badgered me over my opinions on abortion, immigration and economics. For example, one professor my sophomore year labeled me “anti-choice” in front of the class when I expressed that the government should have a Constitutional responsibility to protect pre-born children. But there’s another side to this story, too. I also had some professors who heard me out when I questioned their political views. I can still recall the time I challenged one of my professor’s anti-capitalism opinions during a lecture. After class he walked up to me, and my stomach was gripped with tension of the unknown. Yet to my pleasant surprise, he offered me an extra credit opportunity to write an essay on why I believe capitalism is the best economic system.

The 1619 Project and the falsification of history: An analysis of the New York Times’ reply to five historians - On December 20, the New York Times replied to a letter signed by five prominent historians requesting that the Times correct the historical falsifications upon which the 1619 Project, launched in August, is based. The historians are among the most widely read and respected authorities on US history. Together, they have dedicated a combined 250 years to analyzing the American Revolution, the Civil War and Reconstruction.  The five signatories assert their “strong reservations about important aspects of the 1619 Project” and state they “are dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.” The scholars continue: These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or “framing.” They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds—that they are the objections of only “white historians”—has affirmed that displacement.   The signatories focus on the central falsification: [The Times] asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain “in order to ensure slavery would continue.” This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding—yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false. The New York Times Magazine editor in chief Jake Silverstein rejected the historians’ objections and refuses to correct the mistakes or explain the process leading to the publication of the 1619 Project essays. “We are familiar,” writes Silverstein, “with the objections of the letter writers, as four of them have been interviewed in recent months by the World Socialist Web Site.”He continues: The project was intended to address the marginalization of African-American history in the telling of our national story and examine the legacy of slavery in contemporary American life. We are not ourselves historians, it is true. We are journalists, trained to look at current events and situations and ask the question: Why is this the way it is?  Silverstein’s response to questions raised by the historians about the background of the 1619 Project is evasive and disingenuous. The 1619 Project is not merely a journalistic endeavor. It was launched by the Times with the explicitly declared intention of changing fundamentally the teaching and understanding of the history of the United States. The introduction to the project states that its purpose is to “reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”

US Records Slowest Population Growth In Century As Births Decline - New figures from the US Census Bureau detail a troubling trend in the "greatest economy ever," one where this year's population growth is the slowest in a century due to decline births and lower immigration trends, reported AP News.From 2018 to 2019, the population in the US expanded at .48% or about 1.5 million people, with a total population outstanding of around 328 million.  The report mentions how a lack of migrants entering the country along with a decline in natural increase has led to waning population growth since the 2008 financial crisis. William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, told AP that the 2019 population growth is the slowest since 1917/18."With the aging of the population, as the Baby Boomers move into their 70s and 80s, there are going to be higher numbers of deaths," Frey said. "That means proportionately fewer women of childbearing age, so even if they have children, it's still going to be less."The Census Bureau said the natural population increased by 957,000 from 2018 to 2019, which is the first time it has breached 1 million since the late 1970s. Immigration has also been on the decline since adding 1 million in 2016. From 2018 to 2019, immigration inflow only added 595,000 to the total population. On a state by state analysis, New York lost 77,000 people; Illinois lost 51,000 residents; West Virginia lost 12,000 people, Louisiana lost 11,000 residents, and Connecticut lost 6,200 people. Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Vermont each lost about 5,000 residents over the period. Regionally, the South recorded .8% population growth from 2018 to 2019, due mostly to natural increases and inbound domestic immigration. The Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions saw population declines for the first time in a decade, declining .1% because of people moving to the South. And while the population increases across the world are mainly behind us, the next big demographic trend is one where the global fertility rate could collapse in the coming decades.

Hospital Group Mum As Members Pursue Patients With Lawsuits And Debt Collectors  - The American Hospital Association, the biggest hospital trade group, says it promotes “best practices” among medical systems to treat patients more effectively and improve community health. But the powerful association has stayed largely silent about hospitals suing thousands of patients for overdue bills, seizing homes or wages and even forcing families into bankruptcy. Atlantic Health System, whose CEO is the AHA’s chairman, Brian Gragnolati, has sued patients for unpaid bills thousands of times this year, court records show, including a family struggling to pay bills for three children with cystic fibrosis.AHA, which represents nearly 5,000, mostly nonprofit hospitals and medical systems, has issued few guidelines on such aggressive practices or the limited financial assistance policies that often trigger them.In a year when multiple health systems have come under fire for suing patients, from giants UVA Health System and VCU Health to communityhospitals in Oklahoma, it has made no concrete move to develop an industry standard. “It seems unconscionable if they are claiming to serve the community and then saddling patients with these financial obligations that are ruinous.” Nonprofit hospitals are required to provide “community benefit,” including charity care in return for billions of dollars in government subsidies they get through tax exemptions. But the rules are lax and vague, experts say, especially for bill forgiveness and collections. The Affordable Care Act requires nonprofit hospitals to have a financial assistance policy for needy patients but offers no guidance about its terms.

What Happens When Sheriffs Release Violent Offenders to Avoid Paying Their Medical Bills - Joel Tucker was booked into Alabama’s Fayette County Jail in December 2014 after being charged with the violent assault of his sister. According to court records, he punched her in the face, leaving her with a brain hemorrhage, a broken shoulder and other injuries.  Nonetheless, the following month, the Fayette County sheriff released Tucker on his own recognizance, citing “medical reasons.” Sheriffs across Alabama and the U.S. regularly find ways to release sick and injured inmates from county jails to avoid paying for their hefty hospital bills, a practice often referred to as medical bond that and ProPublicareported in September. Some sheriffs defend the practice as a way to keep jail medical costs down while allowing people who aren’t a threat to society to access care. In Alabama, it’s now clear that some of those inmates were in jail awaiting trial on charges that they’d committed violent crimes, even murder, and ProPublica have found. Tucker is one of more than a dozen violent offenders released from Alabama jails via medical bond that and ProPublica have identified. One shot and killed another man in a nightclub. Another shot and killed a man outside his house. A third man was released the day after he was charged with second-degree assault. With convictions that include domestic violence and manufacturing and selling drugs, Tucker, now 47, has been in and out of jails and prisons since the 1990s. While he was out on medical bond after hitting Gugaria, Tucker committed additional crimes, for which he is now serving a 17 ½ year federal prison sentence in Terre Haute, Indiana. He could not be reached for comment. Rodney Ingle, who at the time was sheriff of Fayette County, said this month that he did not recall the details of Tucker’s case and could not say whether he believed he was right to allow Tucker to be released. But Ingle, whose term as sheriff ended in January, said he does not “think it’s a good idea” to let violent criminals out of jail on medical bond. “If you’re a violent offender, just because you’ve got a medical issue you shouldn’t be bonded out,” he said. “I don’t think they should be able to get right back out. I don’t agree with that.”

 Trump signs bill to eliminate rape kit testing backlog - President Trump signed a bill Monday to help eliminate the number of rape kits that need testing and are currently stalled in a backlog. The legislation will provide funding from the Department of Justice to help local governments get through the backlog of untested rape kits. Currently, there are more than 100,000 untested rape kits across the U.S., according to ABC News. The White House said the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2019 will ensure that “criminals are brought to justice,” according to a statement from press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “We know that DNA is much more likely than fingerprints to result in the identification of a criminal, yet thousands of rape kits currently sit untested in labs and on police storage shelves across the Nation,” Grisham’s statement read. The legislation will provide $151 million to the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program, $12.5 million for DNA training and education programs, and $30 million for the Sexual Assault Forensic Exam Grant Program, ABC News reported. The bill, which was originally passed in 2004, was named after a victim who was attacked in 1989 and whose evidence wasn’t tested until five years later.

This Is My Biological Truth - Transgender Trailblazer Legally Reclaims Original Sex -An Oregon court that granted the first individual legal recognition for his “non-binary” sex designation has rescinded the status and restored the sex on his birth certificate to “male.”  In a dramatic repudiation of the transgenderism movement and the industry that supports it, the request for the change came from James Shupe, an icon of transgender activism, who denounced the movement and the idea that one can change one’s sex as a fraud. “I’m saying my experience should very much serve as a cautionary tale, to everyone, from males like me with sexual paraphilias and false beliefs about being women, to the lawyers, doctors, judges, therapists, and lawmakers that allowed this whole sordid tale to happen,” Shupe told The Epoch Times via email. Paraphilias, according to WebMD, are “abnormal sexual behaviors or impulses characterized by intense sexual fantasies and urges that keep coming back.” News of Shupe’s restored male sex status broke in a Dec. 31 interview with Tyler O’Neil of PJMedia. “The charade of not being male, the legal fiction, it’s over,” Shupe said. “The lies behind my fictitious sex changes, something I shamefully participated in, first to female, and then to non-binary, have been forever exposed. A truthful accounting of events has replaced the deceit that allowed me to become America’s first legally non-binary person.

 Exclusive: Drugmakers from Pfizer to GSK to hike U.S. prices on over 200 drugs (Reuters) - Drugmakers including Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK.L) and Sanofi SA (SASY.PA) are planning to hike U.S. list prices on more than 200 drugs in the United States on Wednesday, according to drugmakers and data analyzed by healthcare research firm 3 Axis Advisors. Nearly all of the price increases will be below 10%, and around half of them are in the range of 4 to 6%, said 3 Axis co-founder Eric Pachman. The median price increase is around 5%, he said. More price increases are expected to be announced later this week, which could affect the median and range. Soaring U.S. prescription drug prices are expected to again be a central issue in the presidential election. President Donald Trump, who made bringing them down a core pledge of his 2016 campaign, is running for re-election in 2020. Many branded drugmakers have pledged to keep their U.S. list price increases below 10% a year, under pressure from politicians and patients. Drugmakers often negotiate rebates on their list prices in exchange for favorable treatment from healthcare payers. As a result, health insurers and patients rarely pay the full list price of a drug. Pfizer will hike prices on more than 50 drugs, including its cancer treatment Ibrance, which is on track to bring in nearly $5 billion in revenue this year, and rheumatoid arthritis drug Xeljanz. Pfizer spokeswoman Amy Rose confirmed the company’s planned price increases. She said the company plans to increase the list prices on around 27% of its portfolio in the United States by an average of 5.6%. Of the medicines with increases, she said 43% of them are sterile injectibles, and many of those increases are less than $1 per product. GlaxoSmithKline said it will raise prices on more than 30 drugs. The company will raise prices on the blockbuster respiratory treatments it delivers through its Ellipta inhaler, its recently acquired cancer drug Zejula and on several products in its HIV-focused ViiV joint venture, according to 3 Axis Advisors. Price increases ranged between 1% and 5%. Sanofi said it will raise prices on around 10 of its drugs, with hikes ranging between 1% and 5%.

FDA Failed to Make Sure Opioid Prescriptions Were Safe, Documents Show -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to use its regulatory power meant to protect consumers to make sure that a program meant to stop improper prescribing of opioids was effective, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers found that the weak oversight occurred just as the opioid crisis was taking root and tens of thousands of people were dying from overdoses every year, according to The New York Times.  The researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at nearly 10,000 pages of FDA documents about the agency's "risk evaluation and mitigation strategy," which it launched in 2012 to address the risks that accompanied extended-release and long-acting opioids, as CNN reported.  Although these drugs "can be clinically useful among appropriately selected patients, they have also been widely oversupplied, are commonly used nonmedically, and account for a disproportionate number of fatal overdoses," the authors wrote, as CNN reported. The FDA did ask the makers of OxyContin and other highly addictive long-acting painkillers for safety training for the more than half the physicians prescribing the opioids in 2011. The FDA also asked the drug makers to track the efficacy of their training and steps they are taking to reduce addiction and overdoses, as The New York Times reported. However, the FDA was never able to determine if their request was effective because the drug makers failed to collect the proper data. The researchers found that when the FDA realized through its own review that it was apparent the drug makers were not tracking their training regimen correctly, the agency still did not demand improvement to the risk evaluation and mitigation strategy program, as The New York Times reported.  The study found that after more than five years after implementation, the FDA had no ability "to assess whether these outcomes were achieved," as CNN reported."What's surprising here is the design of the program was deficient from the start," said Caleb Alexander, the senior author of the study, who serves as a paid expert witness in litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors, according to The New York Times. "It's unclear why the FDA didn't insist upon a more scientifically rigorous evaluation of this safety program."

FDA Failed to Police Opioids Makers, Thus Fueling Opioids Crisis --  Jerri-Lynn Scofield - 2019 closes with release of a new study showing the FDA’s failure to police opioids manufacturers fueled the opioids crisis.This is yet another example of a familiar theme: inadequate regulation kills people: e.g. think Boeing. Or, on a longer term, less immediate scale, consider the failure of the Environmental Protection Agency, in so many realms, including the failure to curb emissions so as to slow the pace of climate change.In the opioids case, we’re talking about thousands and thousands of people.On Monday, Jama Internal Medicine published research concerning the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) program to reduce opioids abuse. The FDA launched its risk evaluation and mitigation strategy – REMS – in 2012. Researchers examined nearly 10,000 documents, released in response to a Freedom of Information ACT (FOA) request, to generate the conclusions published by JAMA. As the Gray Lady tells the story in As Tens of Thousands Died, F.D.A. Failed to Police Opioids: In 2011, the F.D.A. began asking the makers of OxyContin and other addictive long-acting opioids to pay for safety training for more than half the physicians prescribing the drugs, and to track the effectiveness of the training and other measures in reducing addiction, overdoses and deaths. But the F.D.A. was never able to determine whether the program worked, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found in a new review, because the manufacturers did not gather the right kind of data. Although the agency’s approval of OxyContin in 1995 has long come under fire, its efforts to ensure the safe use of opioids since then have not been scrutinized nearly as much. The documents show that even when deficiencies in these efforts became obvious through the F.D.A.’s own review process, the agency never insisted on improvements to the program, [called a REMS]. . . The FDA’s regulatory failure had serious public health consequences, according to critics of US opioids policy, as reported by the NYT: Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis, said the safety program was a missed opportunity. A leader of a group of physicians who had encouraged the F.D.A. to adopt stronger controls, and a frequent critic of the government’s response to the epidemic. Dr. Kolodny, who was not involved in the study, called the program “a really good example of the way F.D.A. has failed to regulate opioid manufacturers. If F.D.A. had really been doing its job properly, I don’t believe we’d have an opioid crisis today.”

How Chemists, Chinese Factories, and ‘Dark Web’ Dealers Spread Fentanyl Across the US - Ben Westhoff, in Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic, charts this progression in harrowing detail. We are now dealing, he writes, with “the harshest drug challenge in our history.” His book is one of the first to address what the Centers for Disease Control has called the “third wave” of the opioid crisis: first OxyContin, then heroin, and now fentanyl and its analogues. Earlier accounts of this crisis—Sam Quinones’s Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic or Beth Macy’s Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America—had in Purdue Pharma the benefit, structural and dramatic, of a villain. More or less everyone can agree that pharmaceutical companies should refrain from wantonly pursuing profit at the expense of public health. Dopesick is rarely a pleasant read, but Macy’s account of Purdue’s first major court battle—which culminated in criminal convictions for three executives and $600 million in fines—provided at least some measure of catharsis. Westhoff, reporting from the flayed, despairing center of this crisis, can’t offer any comparable relief. Purdue Pharma is now dead, and responsibility has devolved, in this third wave, to thousands of loosely affiliated actors: Dark Web distributors, small-time dealers, chemists whose skills and moral scruples vary widely. Like the cryptocurrencies that mask countless NPS transactions, these networks are decentralized: Members taken down are just as quickly replaced. But there is consolation in clarity, and the achievement of Westhoff’s book is to press this sprawling cast and the forces that gave rise to it into something like a coherent narrative, forming legible patterns out of widespread chaos.  As Westhoff points out, many of the most dangerous NPS were developed under completely legal circumstances, by tenured professors at prestigious universities. These experimental compounds—as well as the steps taken to produce them—were written up in small, peer-reviewed science journals and more or less forgotten, until the underworld began to repurpose these articles as recipes for recreational drugs. David Nichols, the utopian chemist who once dreamed of a drug that would end all war, now finds himself faced with the grief of parents like Eric Brown, whose son Montana overdosed on 251-NBOMe, which was brought into the mainstream through his research. If Fentanyl, Inc. does have a primary antagonist, it’s the Chinese government. Virtually all of the fentanyls that have flooded the United States in recent years have been manufactured in China, where many NPS are legal, an arrangement that allows legitimate businesses to churn them out on a scale inconceivable to illicit drug makers in North America. This process has been heavily underwritten, as Westhoff demonstrates, by “lucrative tax incentives, subsidies, and direct financial support” from the Chinese government, as part of its breakneck bid to expand the country’s biotechnology sector.

China’s gene-editing ‘Frankenstein’ jailed for three years in modified baby case -Chinese scientistHe Jiankui, who created the world’s first “gene-edited” babies, has been sentenced to three years in prison and fined 3 million yuan (US$430,000).He, along with two others named Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, was convicted by a Shenzhen court on Monday on charges related to the “illegally carrying out human embryo gene-editing intended for reproduction”, which led to the births of three genetically edited babies, according to state news agency Xinhua.The scientist, from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen,claimed in November last year that he had manipulated the embryos with a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR in a bid to make them immune to HIV infection.  He – who has been called “China’s Frankenstein” – dropped the bombshell that healthy twin girls had been born with edited genes via a video posted on the internet. He went silent for two days before revealing the existence of another pregnancy involving a gene-edited baby.

Mysterious Respiratory Virus Strikes 44 People in China - An unidentified form of viral pneumonia has struck several dozen people in the Chinese city of Wuhan, sparking concerns that the country may be facing an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).  Back in 2002 and 2003, SARS spread to 26 countries, infecting more than 8,000 people with a severe, flu-like illness and claiming more than 750 lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The outbreak began in China, where 349 people died from the disease on the mainland and 299 more perished in Hong Kong, according to Asian news channel CNA. The SARS virus spreads through person-to-person contact and can be expelled from an infected individual when they cough or sneeze, contaminating both people and nearby objects. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that China was free of SARS in 2004, but now, a mysterious bout of viral illness has led to speculation that the disease is back. Forty-four cases of the unidentified illness have been reported so far, including 11 "severe" cases, according to the international news agency AFP. Many of the infected individuals were stall holders at Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which health authorities have closed until further notice, according to the South China Morning Post. In a further effort to contain the outbreak, airports in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have ramped up screenings for fever among their passengers.  The cause of the infections remains unknown, but the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission has ruled out "influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus infection and other common respiratory diseases" as potential culprits, according to TK. "At this point, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus is not yet confirmed or excluded as the cause of the outbreak," said Gauden Galea, WHO's representative in China, AFP reported.  In response to speculation about a SARS outbreak, the Wudan police announced Wednesday (Jan. 1) that eight individuals had been punished for "publishing or forwarding false information on the internet without verification,"

Polio Eradication Program Faces Hard Choices as Endgame Strategy Falters - The “endgame” in the decadeslong campaign to eradicate polio suffered major setbacks in 2019. While the effort lost ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which recorded 116 cases of wild polio—four times the number in 2018—an especially alarming situation developed in Africa. In 12 countries, 196 children were paralyzed not by the wild virus, but by a strain derived from a live vaccine that has regained its virulence and ability to spread. Fighting these flare-ups will mean difficult decisions in the coming year. The culprit in Africa is vaccine-derived polio virus type 2, and the fear is that it will jump continents and reseed outbreaks across the globe. A brand new vaccine is now being rushed through development to quash type 2 outbreaks. Mass production has already begun, even though the vaccine is still in clinical trials; it could be rolled out for emergency use as early as mid-2020. At the same time, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is debating whether to combat the resurgent virus by re-enlisting a triple-whammy vaccine pulled from global use in 2016. That would be a controversial move, setting back the initiative several years, as well as a potential public relations disaster—an admission that the carefully crafted endgame strategy has failed. “All options are on the table,” says viro-logist Mark Pallansch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the five partner organizations in GPEI. “We are clearly in the most serious situation we have been in with the program,” adds Roland Sutter, who recently stepped down as the director of polio research at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Mile high ugh: What you should know before you eat airplane food - An NBC News investigation of airline catering found an industry with limited oversight in which outbreaks are difficult to track. Food safety for airline caterers and airlines is regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration, which requires inspections of this industry far less frequently than it recommends local health agencies inspect restaurants. When airline food inspections do occur, they can reveal serious safety violations — as many as 22 in a single inspection — but rarely lead to penalties. Under the FDA's rules, the agency only has to inspect airline caterers every three to five years. FDA rules for airlines are even looser than for caterers: planes receive random FDA inspections "when time and opportunity allow," according to an agency manual. In contrast, the FDA's food code, which guides the food safety rules adopted by state and local governments, recommends that local authorities inspect food establishments every six months, with exceptions for low-risk facilities. But airline catering facilities don't always fall under those codes. The FDA considers them different from restaurants because caterers do not sell food directly to consumers, instead contracting with airlines that do. In the past four years, FDA inspectors have found condensation dripping onto food, fans blowing dust on food, thermometers off by as much as 25 degrees, raw meat contaminating cooked meat, moldy bread, live birds and insects, as well as bird and rodent poop and more at airline catering facilities, according to more than 1,000 pages of inspection reports obtained by public records request. Whether those violations may have led to illnesses is difficult to say, according to food safety experts. NBC News also found that tracking foodborne illnesses from airplane food is particularly challenging. First of all, the victims disperse. "Outbreaks from airline food are very difficult to identify because the people get dispersed into various locations," said Roy Costa, an environmental health inspector and trainer who has worked as a state food inspector and served as an expert witness in food safety lawsuits. "It's not like having a cluster of people that you can identify all had one exposure, so it's difficult to pin them down."

Persistent organic pollutants in mother's blood linked to smaller fetal size - Pregnant women exposed to persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, had slightly smaller fetuses than women who haven't been exposed to these chemicals, according to an analysis of ultrasound scans by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and other institutions. The researchers also found that the women in their study had lower levels of POPs than women in the 2003-2004 U.S. Health and Nutrition Survey, the most recent comprehensive study of these compounds in U.S. pregnant women. The latest findings suggest that the chemicals, which are no longer produced in the United States but persist in the environment, may have lasting health effects even at low levels. The study appears in JAMA Pediatrics and was conducted by Pauline Mendola, Ph.D., an investigator in the Epidemiology Branch at NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and colleagues. Persistent organic pollutants are chemicals once used in agriculture, disease control, manufacturing, and industrial processes. They include the pesticide DDT and dioxin, a byproduct of herbicide production and paper bleaching. POPs are slow to break down, may persist in water and air, and may be passed through the food chain. Their health effects vary, but some compounds have been linked to reproductive disorders and a higher risk of birth defects. Earlier studies of the potential effects of POP exposure during pregnancy have produced conflicting results. According to the authors, most of these studies looked at infant birth weight and length, measures that could suggest impaired fetal growth but could also indicate genetic factors that lead to smaller birth size and weight. Moreover, previous studies have investigated POPs as individual chemicals, but people typically are exposed to a mix of these compounds. "The differences we found in fetal growth measures may be more sensitive indicators, compared to birth size, of the potential effects of these compounds," said Dr. Mendola. "Even at low levels, there is evidence of a possible effect on fetal growth."

Malibu wants to ban all pesticides. The state of California says that’s against the law - Wilmar Mejia shimmied into the house’s low-slung attic, crawling through tufts of white insulation studded with fresh rat droppings. “You’ve got tenants and they’re not paying rent!” the exterminator said with a grin. Mejia has been evicting vermin from Malibu for more than a decade. In lieu of brodifacoum blood-thinners — ubiquitous poisons so effective that hawks regularly bleed to death after eating mice that have eaten them — his new boutique pest control company, Tree of Life, uses snap traps and steel wool to keep rodents in check. “It’s about controlling the problem without the use of poisons that affect everything else,” Mejia said. “That hawk flying around, that’s what we’re protecting.” If the city of Malibu gets its way, Mejia’s methods will soon be the rule. Earlier this month, the City Council approved a sweeping chemical ban that could pave the way for other coastal cities looking to protect wildlife by limiting toxicants. But state officials say it runs afoul of the law. “We passed a ban not just on rodenticides but on all pesticides,” said Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Mikke Pierson. “Of course, the Department of Pesticide Regulation said absolutely we can’t do it.” California is one of more than 40 states that restrict how local governments can regulate pesticides. For decades, the state’s food and agriculture code has preempted municipalities like Malibu from limiting their use in almost any way. But Malibu officials say their ban skirts that law in a bureaucratic pas de deux with the Coastal Commission, a state agency not subject to preemption. The commission is expected to approve the anti-pesticide measure as an amendment to Malibu’s local coastal program early next year. If successful, it could be a model for scores of other cities in the commission’s area of responsibility.

Science Panel Staffed With Trump Appointees Says E.P.A. Rollbacks Lack Scientific Rigor – NYT — A top panel of government-appointed scientists, many of them hand-selected by the Trump administration, said on Tuesday that three of President Trump’s most far-reaching and scrutinized proposals to weaken major environmental regulations are at odds with established science.Draft letters posted online Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board, which is responsible for evaluating the scientific integrity of the agency’s regulations, took aim at the Trump administration’s rewrite of an Obama-era regulation of waterways, an Obama-era effort to curb planet-warming vehicle tailpipe emissions and a plan to limit scientific data that can be used to draft health regulations.In each case, the 41 scientists on a board — many of whom were appointed by Trump administration officials to replace scientists named by the Obama administration — found the regulatory changes flew in the face of science.A forthcoming rule on water pollution “neglects established science” by “failing to acknowledge watershed systems,” the scientists said. They found “no scientific justification” for excluding certain bodies of water from protection under the new regulations. They saw “significant weaknesses in the scientific analysis of the proposed rule” to roll back vehicle emission standards, a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s effort to combat climate change.As for the proposal to limit scientific data in health regulations, the scientists wrote that “key considerations that should inform the proposed rule have been omitted from the proposal or presented without analysis.” The letters come as the Trump administration contends with mounting criticism that its policies have ignored, distorted or marginalized scientific data at the expense of the environment, public health and legal obligations.  Legal experts said the advisory body’s opinion could undermine the Trump administration’s rollbacks in the courts. “The courts basically say if you’re going to ignore the advice of your own experts you have to have really good reasons for that,” said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law with the Vermont Law School. “And not just policy reasons but reasons that go to the merits of what the critiques are saying.”

Why a corporate lawyer is sounding the alarm about these common chemicals -According to Rob Bilott, we face a “unique health threat” from a class of industrial chemicals that most Americans have never heard of. These chemicals are widely used in everyday products such as non-stick cookware and stain-resistant fabrics, even though science shows they are linked to a range of deadly diseases, reproductive problems and other ailments. Powerful corporations are fighting to protect the use of these profitable chemical compounds, Bilott says, and US regulators are doing next to nothing to stop them. It’s worth listening to what Bilott has to say. He has spent the last two decadesadvocating for people in West Virginia and Ohio whose water was contaminated with one of these toxins, a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. Bilott achieved a class-action settlement with DuPont in 2004, part of which paid for a six-year health study. That study found links between PFOA and high cholesterol, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, high blood pressure, pregnancy-induced hypertension and thyroid disease. In a follow-up case in 2017, Bilott achieved a multimillion-dollar settlement of thousands of personal injury claims against DuPont. His two decades of work negotiated water filtration and treatment for affected communities, the establishment of a novel scientific panel for human health studies, and the introduction of a medical monitoring program for thousands of people exposed. His work led to DuPont and other manufacturers phasing out the use of PFOA in the US, though similar replacement chemicals have prompted fresh concerns. Bilott’s battle against DuPont, documented in a memoir, has been made into the feature film Dark Waters, released to theaters across the country this month.  Dark Waters tells of Bilott’s journey from a chemical industry defense attorney to a plaintiffs’ champion who uncovered evidence that DuPont knowingly hid the dangers of PFOA, even as its manufacturing facility near Parkersburg, West Virginia, was spilling the toxin across the landscape. DuPont’s own lawyers and scientists raised concerns about the local community’s exposure to PFOA, Bilott told me. “Unfortunately what we saw was decisions made for business purposes to continue using the chemical, releasing it, and exposing people to it,” Bilott says.

Seattle Company Used Secret Drain To Dump Toxic Waste Directly Into Sewer System -- According to a 36-count grand jury indictment, a Seattle company used a hidden drain to dump a highly-corrosive chemical solution directly into the sewer system. The King County sewer system eventually reaches the Duwamish Waterway and the Puget Sound.After “a sensitive sewer flow meter tipped them off to something strange,” agents sent a robot into the sewer to investigate, the Seattle Times reports.Inside the sewer, the robot’s camera recorded a white stain of unknown origin and, according to a federal indictment handed down earlier this month, federal agents executed a search warrant after real-time monitoring equipment they installed indicated an unusual spike in the water’s pH.During the search, a portable pump covered in a high-pH liquid and a hidden drain that had never been disclosed were both discovered. It turns out, both the company’s owner and the manager of the plant, who happen to be cousins, have been lying to regulators since at least 2009, according to the indictment. The scheme was discovered in 2018.The Seattle Barrel and Cooperage Company collects used 55-gallon industrial drums and resells them after undergoing a reconditioning process that involves washing them in a tank full of highly-corrosive chemical solution. The family-owned company is legally obligated to dispose of the caustic solution properly.

Hexavalent chromium contamination likely leaking onto Detroit-area freeway since 2016 - The toxic leak onto a Detroit-area freeway discovered by motorists before Christmas has likely been seeping into the soil and groundwater since 2016, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press on Monday.The Free Press made the determination after conducting its own analysis of Google Street View images of the location where the green-yellow substance froze into a blob on the shoulder of the service drive of the eastbound lanes of the I-696 interstate on Friday, December 20. The report notes, “Google Street View images of the area on the freeway … show what appears to be a small stream of clear liquid draining from the wall in the same spot beginning in at least July 2016. The amount of liquid seeping out appears to be increasing in an August 2018 photo, and even more in a photo from May 2019. There appears to be a small amount of greenish liquid at the base of the wall in the May photo.” Indicating that the seeping of the chemical onto the freeway shoulder began sometime in 2016, the Free Press report says, “The pavement appears dry in eight Google map images of the spot taken at various times between 2008 and October 2015.” The evidence of the chemical leak in the Google Street View images was brought to the attention of the Free Press by a reader on the newspaper’s Facebook page. After the right lane of the freeway was closed on December 20 and a cleanup operation began, state and federal environmental officials determined that the chemical was the highly dangerous hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6. Officials said the leak was coming from the basement of a metal plating factory just above the freeway embankment that had been shut down in December 2016 by regulators for numerous hazardous waste violations. Hexavalent chromium is a known cancer-causing chemical that humans should never come into direct contact with. On November 6, Gary Sayers, the owner of Electro-Plating Service, Inc. of Madison Heights, Michigan was sentenced to one year in federal prison and ordered to pay $1.45 million in restitution for what was supposed to have been the cleanup of the site after it was closed in 2016. As is clear from a press release by the US Attorney’s office at the time, Sayer’s storage of the hazardous chemicals in the basement of his facility was well known. It says, “Sayers stored the hazardous waste in numerous drums and other containers, including a pit dug into the ground in the lower level of the EPS building in Madison Heights. For years, Sayers stonewalled state efforts to get him to legally deal [with] the hazardous wastes. Ultimately, the EPA’s Superfund program spent $1,449,963.94 to clean up and dispose of the hazardous wastes.”

A plateful of plastic: Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat - Reuters graphics - Microscopic pieces of plastic have been discovered in the most remote locations, from the depths of the ocean to Arctic ice. Another place that plastic is appearing is inside our bodies. We’re breathing microplastic, eating it and drinking plastic-infused water every day. Plastic does not biodegrade. Instead, it breaks down into smaller pieces, and ultimately ends up everywhere, including in the food chain. Pieces that are less than five millimeters in length, around the size of a sesame seed, are called “microplastics.” Dozens of reports have been published on microplastics but the scientific community is still only scratching the surface of understanding just how much plastic we consume and how harmful it could be. People could be ingesting the equivalent of a credit card of plastic a week, a recent study by WWF International concluded, mainly in drinking water but also via sources like shellfish, which tend to be eaten whole so the plastic in their digestive systems is also consumed. Based on the findings of the study, Reuters created the following images to illustrate what this amount of plastic actually looks like over various time periods.

  • Every week: 5 grams of plastic. That’s about the same weight as a plastic bottle cap and enough shredded plastic to fill a porcelain soup spoon.
  • Every month: 21 grams of plastic. That’s about the same weight as five casino dice and enough shredded plastic to half-fill a rice bowl.
  • Every 6 months: 125 grams of plastic. That’s enough yellow shredded plastic flakes to fill a cereal bowl, as pictured below.
  • Every year: 250 grams of plastic. That’s a heaped dinner plate’s worth of shredded plastic, as pictured below. Every 10 years: 2.5kg of plastic. Reuters did not have enough shredded plastic to weigh in order to visualise this comparison. However, a standard life buoy weighs 2.5 kilograms so we found one of those.
  • In our lifetime: 20kg of plastic. The average human lives for 79 years. Using the current estimate of microplastic in our diets and assuming the situation doesn’t improve or worsen, that equates to 20 kilograms of plastic consumption. That’s more plastic than the two mobile recycling bins shown below, which only weigh 10kg each. 

London Tops Global Study for World’s Worst Microplastics Pollution - Jerri-Lynn Scofield - Over the last couple of years, news accounts have highlighted the ubiquity of microplastics  in environments previously regarded as pristine. Despite  evidence that microplastics are everywhere, there’s a lack of scientific consensus so far on the impact this pollution has on human health. Note that this is not because microsplatics are harmless, but rather, that the study of how they affect  human health is in its infancy.This week, a study published in Environment International, Atmospheric microplastic deposition in an urban environment and an evaluation of transport, reported the highest ever concentrations of such pollution  yet recorded in samples taken from a London rooftop – awarding London the dubious accolade of worst microplastics contamination ever.The London samples showed a rate of microplastics deposition twenty times higher than that of Dongguan, China; seven times higher than that of Paris, France; and nearly three times higher than Hamburg, Germany.As the Guardian reports in Revealed: microplastic pollution is raining down on city dwellers:The level of microplastic discovered in the London air surprised scientists. “We found a high abundance of microplastics, much higher than what has previously been reported,” said Stephanie Wrightfrom Kings College London, who led the research. “But any city around the world is going to be somewhat similar.”“I find it of concern – that is why I am working on it,” she said. “The biggest concern is we don’t really know much at all. I want to find out if it is safe or not.” These findings seem to contradict the conventional  wisdom that such pollution is less in cities such as London, which exercise some degree of environmental regulation, compared to more widely known polluted environments, such as Asian countries with high pollution density: e.g,, China, India, Indonesia, to name just some  examples. I’m not particularly concerned about which city shows the worst microplastics contamination. What we can say is that this pollution is more widespread than was realized even recently.  But the potential health impacts of inhaling plastic particles from the air, or consuming them via food and water, are unknown. People eat at least 50,000 microplastic particles per year, according to one study.

Against Recycling -  Earlier this month, the New York Times posted a video op-ed correctly debunking “The Great Recycling Con.” According to the Times, the plastics industry has sold generations of consumers a lie about just how much of the waste they produce could be recycled in order to create the false possibility of eco-friendly, guilt-free consumption.  It comes painfully close, but misses the full story. The true “Great Recycling Con” runs far deeper than lies about which products can and cannot be recycled; it is an ongoing political battle waged by waste-generating corporations against the public to evade regulation, shift responsibility for environmental destruction onto consumers, and protect the ecocidal and highly profitable business model that lies at the heart of industrial capitalism. The tragedy of the Great Recycling Con is not just that corporations have gotten away with planetary murder and passed the costs of cleaning up their mess onto consumers. At this point, it is not a question of fair labor distribution at all. It is a question of survival.  Individual recycling alone is simply not sufficient to save the planet. Even the most diligent and civically minded recyclers, the modern-day Susan Spotlesses, face structural obstacles to minimizing their waste footprint. And even if we were all Susan Spotlesses and the recycling systems worked perfectly, the means of production of American industrial capitalism will continue to generate an unending supply of waste-to-be in the production process.  We have no choice but to take on the producers of waste. We have an obligation to keep our focus on the owners of the means of waste production — on those who can be coerced by state regulation into making the grand-scale, systemic changes required for any climate mitigation.

The World’s Recycling System Is Falling Apart. What’s Going On?  -- According to one calculation, all the garbage produced in the U.S. for the next one thousand years could fit into a landfill 100 yards deep and 35 miles across on each side—not that big (unless you happen to live in the neighborhood). Put another way, it would take another 20 years to run through the landfills the U.S. has already built. So the notion that we’re running out of landfill space—the original impetus for the recycling boom—turns out to have been a red herring.What we do know is that the complex admixture of government programs, private contractors, profits and subsidies, media propaganda, and stark realities have now reached the point of collapse. For decades, the economic growth of communist China created a voracious demand for every resource, introduced labor rates a fraction of those in some developed countries, and showed a willingness to accept some pollution and waste as the price of economic growth.  To an extent almost unimaginable, the developed world “recycled” literally billions of tons of waste over decades—metals, plastics, paper, wood—by shipping it to the People’s Republic of China on Chinese ships returning from delivering Chinese goods for sale in developed countries. China accepted it all, paid for it, and used its huge and eager workforce—paid often less than one-tenth of comparable U.S. labor—to transform whatever was in truth recyclable into materials for its industrial-manufacturing-construction powerhouse. In fact, though, as we now know, somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of what was promiscuously shipped out of the developed economies to be “recycled” was actually dumped by China, as unusable, into landfills and the oceans of Southeast Asia, where it has become a major cause and poster-child of environmentalists as an “island” (sometimes) or a “sea” (sometimes) of floating plastic waste.  Today, we know this in far more detail and know that the developed world never really faced the “economics” of recycling—impossible without the market pricing system. We know it now because, on the first day of 2018, China announced to the world its “National Sword Policy.”

Lies, Damned Lies, and Recycling The Baffler -- Recycling is dead—or close to it. China no longer wants our trash and its neighbors are following suit, shedding the region’s undesirable role as a dumping ground for the Global North. This reversal was several years in the making, but after decades of offshoring our low-quality recyclables and generally neglecting our domestic waste infrastructure, American towns and cities have proved woefully ill-equipped to handle the logjam of unwanted material. As municipal waste commissioners and their private industry counterparts scramble to find alternatives, many of the items collected in blue and green bins are being discreetly rerouted into landfills and incinerators, extinguishing any last pretense that recycling can alleviate our ballooning waste footprint. American recycling has died several times before, the result of falling commodity prices, low participation rates, or the entry or exit of a major scrap buyer. But China’s latest effective ban—dubbed the “National Sword,” it cuts imports on more than two dozen types of scrap material through severe anti-contamination measures—comes at a peculiar moment for the U.S. political economy. Devastating images of plastic marine pollution have reawakened public anger over the dangers of unregulated production, prompting several states to implement bans on single-use items such as straws, bags, and foam containers. At the same time, consumers flock towards on-demand services from the likes of Amazon and Uber Eats that churn out epic rivers of waste. As our consumer overlords deploy armies of robots and drivers to deliver the world to our doorsteps, they continue to avoid widespread scrutiny over the wastelands of packaging that lie in their imperial wakes. It’s not yet clear how this moral friction might resolve into political action. Amid the fray of proposed federal legislation are several worthy and overdue measures—around “producer pays” (or “cradle-to-grave”) laws and single-use packaging bans—as well as one old Trojan horse that certainly represents the worst case scenario. Last month, on America Recycles Day, Representatives Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) and Larry Bucshon (R-IN) unveiled the RECOVER Act, a bill written by the plastics industry that would invest up to $500 million towards “modernizing” America’s recycling infrastructure. The announcement included vague allusions to “public-private partnerships and a new grants program” that would “clean up our nation’s environment” and “make an impact on sustainability from coast to coast.”Bailing out the recycling industry may sound like a benign proposal. The funds might even be a wise infusion at such a precarious moment for scrap buyers, processors, and sellers. But the hazy aspirations of the RECOVER Act are just the latest cover in a long-running deceit that for more than half a century has deflected responsibility from the companies who profit from pollution while ensuring our broader waste problem goes unaddressed.

The Missing 99%: Why Can’t We Find the Vast Majority of Ocean Plastic? - Every year, 8m tons of plastic enters the ocean. Images of common household waste swirling in vast garbage patches in the open sea, or tangled up with whales and seabirds, have turned plastic pollution into one of the most popular environmental issues in the world. But for at least a decade, the biggest question among scientists who study marine plastic hasn’t been why plastic in the ocean is so abundant, but why it isn’t. What scientists can see and measure, in the garbage patches and on beaches, accounts for only a tiny fraction of the total plastic entering the water. So where is the other 99% of ocean plastic? Unsettling answers have recently begun to emerge. What we commonly see accumulating at the sea surface is “less than the tip of the iceberg, maybe a half of 1% of the total,” says Erik Van Sebille, an oceanographer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “I often joke that being an ocean plastic scientist should be an easy job, because you can always find a bit wherever you look,” says Van Sebille. But, he adds, the reality is that our maps of the ocean essentially end at the surface, and solid numbers on how much plastic is in any one location are lacking. It is becoming apparent that plastic ends up in huge quantities in the deepest parts of the ocean, buried in sediment on the seafloor, and caught like clouds of dust deep in the water column. Perhaps most frighteningly, says Helge Niemann, a biogeochemist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, it could fragment into such small pieces that it can barely be detected. At this point it becomes, Niemann says, “more like a chemical dissolved in the water than floating in it”.

Thailand Begins the New Year With Plastic Bag Ban - Thailand rang in 2020 with an effort to tackle the plastic crisis filling the country's waste sites and choking its waterways. The country's ban on plastic bags at major retailers began as soon as the clock struck midnight in Bangkok. A complete ban of bags that includes smaller shops will go into effect in 2021, as Reuters reported.The campaign to reduce single-use plastics, especially plastic bags is an ongoing effort by the country's government to reduce land and sea debris. There has been a public backlash to the plastic waste crisis in Thailand after several animals were found dead with inordinate amounts of plastic stuck in their digestive tracts, including land and sea mammals like deer and dugongs, as The Hill reported. Green sea turtles were also found to have choked on plastic, according to France 24. The epidemic of man-made litter killing Thailand's wildlife led to some soul-searching from government and business leaders in Thailand."Thailand was ranked sixth among the world's top countries that dumps waste into the sea," said Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Varawut Silpa-Archa to reporters on New Year's Day after handing out reusable bags to the public, as Reuters reported. "During the past five months, we were down to 10th ... thanks to the cooperation of the Thai people."Major mall retailers and the ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience stores will no longer distribute plastic bags under the new law. Instead, customers will have to bring in their own bag or pay a small fee for a reusable cloth-bag, according to France 24.Some consumers were offended by the idea of paying for a bag. "Instead, I will go to the local markets because they still give us plastic bags," said Viroj Sinchairokekul, a 63-year-old said, at a Bangkok mall, to France 24.

Palau bans ‘reef-toxic’ sunscreen - Palau's pioneering ban on "reef-toxic" sunscreens took effect Wednesday as the tiny Pacific island nation introduced strict environmental measures that also include one of the world's largest marine sanctuaries. "We have to live and respect the environment because the environment is the nest of life, and without it nobody in Palau can survive," President Tommy Remengesau told AFP as the new laws took effect. Palau, which lies in the western Pacific about halfway between Australia and Japan, is renowned for its marine life and is regarded as one of the world's best diving destinations, but the government is concerned its popularity is coming at a cost. Remengesau said there was scientific evidence that the chemicals found in most sunscreens were toxic to corals, even in minute doses. With Palau's popular dive sites regularly packed with tourists there were concerns a build-up of these chemicals would irreparably harm the reefs. From New Year's day, any reef-toxic sunscreen imported or sold in Palau will be confiscated and the owner will be fined US$1,000. "When science tells us that a practice is damaging to coral reefs, to fish populations, or to the ocean itself, our people take note and our visitors do too," Remengesau said. "Toxic sunscreen chemicals have been found throughout Palau's critical habitats, and in the tissues of our most famous creatures. "We don't mind being the first nation to ban these chemicals, and we will do our part to spread the word. With better education and awareness, more jurisdictions will have the confidence to take this necessary action. "The science is clear, and once that message has spread, we will be the first of many." Along with the sunscreen ban, Palau’s much-touted marine sanctuary came into effect on January 1, closing 80 percent of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to fishing and other marine activities including mining and shark finning. "It is a very ambitious and worthy goal for Palau's future," Remengesau said. The marine sanctuary prohibits commercial fishing in about 500,000 square kilometres (190,000 square miles) of ocean.

Avian Flu Outbreak Hits Europe's Largest Poultry Producers  -- Reuters reports Wednesday that bird flu, also called avian influenza, has been detected in Europe's largest poultry producers, located in eastern Poland.  Reuters, citing local media reports, said up to 40,000 turkeys could be culled in the coming days to prevent a further outbreak.  This is the first outbreak of the bird flu since France culled 800,000 birds to prevent the spread of H5N8 in 2017.  Andrzej Danielak, president of the Polish Association of Breeders and Poultry Producers, said three large scale farms, in close proximity of each other, have detected an outbreak of the deadly virus -- puts at least 350,000 turkeys at risk.  "Veterinary services are implementing virus eradication procedures in this situation," said government officials in Lubartowski county, a region in eastern Poland, at a Tuesday press conference outlining the virus was a subtype of H5N8 bird flu that can spread to people. Officials warned that if residents developed common "flu-like" symptoms: fever, chills, headache, coughing, and weakness -- seek immediate medical attention. The virus cannot kill people, but it's very deadly to turkeys -- it can kill them in a matter of hours. Local broadcaster Polsat said, "to prevent the virus from spreading, the police blocked roads in the vicinity of infected farms. Within a radius of three kilometers, it can be up to 350 thousand pieces of poultry."  More developments are expected in the days ahead of how many turkeys will be culled.

'Heartbreaking' Vulture Poisoning in South Africa Raises Alarm - Another mass vulture poisoning incident has ended the year on a sour note for Wildlife ACT rangers in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. Soon after releasing two rehabilitated vultures, rescued from a different poisoning scene earlier this year, WildLife ACT was alerted to another incident on Dec. 23, on Rolling Valley Ranch, located between Pongola and Mkuze in the far north of the province. "Arriving at a scene like this with everything so fresh, but too late to assist in saving any poisoned birds is heartbreaking. Losing one vulture is always a tragedy. Losing at least 16 birds at one feeding is a crisis," said PJ Roberts, manager of Wildlife ACT's Emergency Response Team.  The first bird found, a white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus), hinted at Roberts's worst fears: "It had a full crop (still containing undigested food), contorted feet and many dead flies were scattered around its remains — all clear signs of fast-acting poison.  The team swept the area, but it took an aerial search to locate more victims. "We landed to find the devastating remains of multiple birds hidden at the base of the tree. Included in this discovery was the removed, yellow, wing tags of H065; a young lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) tagged in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in October 2017 as a fledgling," said Roberts. "No more than 30m away, the morbid discovery of 13 processed and harvested white-backed vultures, with their heads and feet removed, were found very purposefully hidden in a thick bush," added Roberts. Nearby was the body of an impala — snared, killed, and laced with poison. The rangers burned all the contaminated carcasses to ash to remove the poison from the ecosystem. It is the fourth vulture poisoning incident in northern Zululand this year, bringing the total recorded number of vultures harvested for body parts in this region alone to 53. The actual number of birds killed is believed to be much higher as many incidents are never detected. According to records kept by EWT, more than 1,200 vultures have been deliberately poisoned in Southern and Eastern Africa this year. Culprits include poachers who poison the carcasses of elephant and other game in an apparent effort to conceal illegal activities from rangers. Africa's vulture populations have already declined by an average 62 percent over the past three decades — with seven species crashing by 80 percent. Experts recently warned that the continent's vulture populations face the prospect of collapsing, in much the same way as vulture species did in Asia thirty years ago.

Furry, cute and drooling herpes: what to do with Florida’s invasive monkeys? Visitors to Florida’s picturesque Silver Springs state park have been warned that they may encounter an unusual threat: hundreds of wild, herpes-infected monkeys.The monkeys, rhesus macaques, originate from two small groups released into the Silver Springs state park almost 100 years ago by an eccentric boat captain. Their numbers have soared since then, and experts predict there could be 400 roaming the park by 2022.A video captured by a Florida kayaker in October showed how close humans can come to the monkeys. The footage showed the rhesus macaques hurling themselves into the Silver River from the treetops.“I personally am concerned,” said Steve Johnson, an associate professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida. Johnson and a colleague, Jane Anderson, published research into the monkeys in 2018.About 25% of the monkeys harbor herpes B, which can be fatal to humans, and 4-14% of them were found to be “shedding the virus orally by mouth” – meaning a bite could transmit the virus.“There’s a low risk, but very high consequence should something happen. Fortunately nothing has happened yet, but I wouldn’t want to have that looming over me if I was the state,” Johnson said.It’s not just the risk of herpes infection that troubles scientists. The monkeys are also having a detrimental effect on native wildlife. Anderson found that the monkeys were “major predators” on artificially placed birds’ nests. “So if that translates to real nests there’s the potential for predation there, and so the environmental impact of something from an invasive species is what I’m concerned about,” Johnson said. “Even though the monkeys have been there over 100 years they’re not native, they’re not supposed to be there. There were brought there by people. They’re like feral hogs, or feral cats.

Widespread Mussel Die-Offs Worry Scientists (video) Scientists are scrambling to understand why thousands of dead mussels are turning up in several rivers across the United States and Europe, including one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. Experts worry that the rapid decline of mussels in Appalachia's Clinch River may be a sign of a worldwide die-off of the important water cleaners. VOA's Steve Baragona has more.

New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction - A new report shows that groundwater needed to construct Trump's border wall will increase the likelihood of extinction for eight species, as Newsweek reported. A plan to construct the 30-foot tall border wall along the edge of the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Arizona threatens the likelihood that the rare Rio Yaqui fish will continue to survive. The protected desert springs and streams provide the only habitat for the fish, as The Guardian reported.In addition to the Rio Yaqui fish, three other fish rely on the groundwater there that is rapidly depleting as construction marches forward on a 20-mile stretch of wall. The Yaqui topminnow; chub; beautiful shiner; and Yaqui catfish are all directly threatened by the loss of groundwater. The federally protected Chiricahua leopard frogs, Huachuca water umbel, Mexican garter snakes and Aplomado falcon are also threatened, as Newsweek reported. "There's good reason to believe that the Yaqui fish's only U.S. habitat is drying up as a result of tens or hundreds of thousands of gallons of groundwater being pumped to build the border wall," said Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity who recently visited the area, as the The Guardian reported.The endangered species there were already under threat from a prolonged drought and extensive heat waves fueled by the climate crisis. Furthermore, water-intensive crops like alfalfa and pecans are straining aquifers in the region, according to The Guardian. To construct the border wall, the Trump administration claimed a national emergency, which allowed it to divert Department of Defense funds earmarked for national security and counter-drug programs towards construction of a wall. To accelerate construction, the federal government waived 28 laws designed to protect clean air, clean water, public lands and endangered wildlife, as the Center for Biological Diversity noted in apress release.The Trump administration waived some of the bedrock environmental protections, including the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Fish and Wildlife Act and Migratory Bird Conservation Act. All of these acts require extensive scientific, environmental and costs analysis before a proposed project can move forward, according to The Guardian.

Extreme heat wipes out almost one third of Australia's spectacled flying fox population - An extreme heatwave in far north Queensland last month is estimated to have killed more than 23,000 spectacled flying foxes, equating to almost one third of the species in Australia. The deaths were from colonies in the Cairns area where the mercury soared above 42 degrees Celsius [107.6 F] two days in a row, breaking the city's previous record temperature for November by five degrees [9 F]. Ecologist, Dr Justin Welbergen from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (Western Sydney University) is collating the numbers of bat deaths and said it was the second-largest mass die-off of flying foxes recorded in Australia and the first time it had happened to this species.  "These are certainly very serious wildlife die-off events and they occur at almost biblical scales," he said."[The biggest] was in south-east Queensland back in 2014 where about 46,000 animals (predominantly black flying foxes) died."The population size of the spectacled flying fox in Australia is estimated to be about 75,000 individuals, give or take, so for all intents and purpose that means we have lost close to a third of the entire species in Australia. "Losing a third of the species on a hot afternoon I would argue certainly strengthens the case for both the Federal and Queensland Governments to consider lifting the species from 'vulnerable' to 'endangered', if not 'critically endangered'."   Flying foxes dropped dead from roosting trees around Cairns during the heatwave with some residents forced to leave their homes due to the smell from thousands of rotting carcasses.

Thousands of Koalas Feared Dead in Australia Wildfires - Australia is still on fire. And now thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney. "Up to 30 percent of their habitat has been destroyed," Environment Minister Sussan Ley told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Friday. "We'll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made." Land clearing and development over time has meant a loss of habitat for the tree-dwelling koalas. Last year, a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia report said there were fewer than 20,000 koalas left in New South Wales and they risked becoming extinct as early as 2050, largely because of "excessive tree-clearing for farming." Minister Ley said up to 30% of the koalas in the region had been killed in recent days. Australia has just endured a heatwave that broke records for highest temperature ever for consecutive days. And the fires accelerated on Saturday in the country's east as temperatures soared. "I think this is the single loudest alarm bell I've ever heard on global heating," said Kees van der Leun, a director at the American consultancy firm Navigant. Common Dreams has reported that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attacked environmental activists in a November speech, warning of a “new breed of radical activism” that was “apocalyptic in tone” and pledging to outlaw boycott campaigns that he argued could hurt the country’s mining industry. “We are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians, especially in rural and regional areas,” Morrison said. “New threats to the future of the resources sector have emerged,” he said. “A new breed of radical activism is on the march. Apocalyptic in tone. It brooks no compromise. It’s all or nothing.”

Photos of a koala hospital in Australia show just how devastating recent bushfires have been for the iconic marsupial - Bushfires throughout the Australian territory of New South Wales have devastated its koala population.So far, the wildfires have ravaged about 12.35 million acres of land, killing nine people and destroying more than 1,000 homes. Moreover, the feared ecological loss is enormous. Australia’s environment minister, Sussan Ley, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that her ministry estimated that up to 30% of koalas’ habitat had been destroyed. Exactly how much has been lost won’t be known until the fires die down.But some Australians have been galvanised to save one of their country’s most beloved animal species. As Australia continues to face extreme heat and bushfires, videos of koalas being given water have spread across social media. And the grassroots support doesn’t stop there.Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, a small koala hospital in New South Wales, raised over 2.2 million Australian dollars after starting a GoFundMe page with a goal of just 25,000 AUD. The GoFundMe is one of the most successful in Australian history, and it even caught the attention of the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.Pictures from the hospital s how the devastation Australia’s koalas are facing and the efforts of ordinary Australians to save the iconic marsupial.

Australia bushfires: More than 500 million animals and plants die --There are real concerns entire species of plants and animals have been wiped out by bushfires following revelations almost 500 million animals have died since the crisis began.Ecologists from the University of Sydney now estimate 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been lost since September. That figure is likely to soar following the devastating fires which have ripped through Victoria and the NSW South Coast over the past couple of days, leaving several people dead or unaccounted for, razing scores of homes and leaving thousands stranded. This morning more than 130 fires were raging across NSW and Victoria, with millions of hectares of national park already burnt.  Harrowing scenes of kangaroos fleeing walls of fire, charred bodies of koalas and cockatoos falling dead out of trees have horrified the world as it tries to take in the scale of the unfolding disaster.  Koalas have been among the hardest hit of Australia’s native animals because they are slow moving and only eat leaves from the eucalyptus tree, which are filled with oil, making them highly flammable.

Australia fires worsen as every state hits 40C - Scores of fires are burning out of control across Australia amid a heatwave that has seen temperatures exceed 40C (104F) in every state. The most dangerous fires on Monday were in the state of Victoria. About 30,000 residents and tourists were urged to flee East Gippsland - a popular holiday region - but evacuations were later deemed too risky as fires encroached on major roads. A volunteer firefighter died battling a blaze in the state of New South Wales. In total, 10 people have died in the nation's bushfire crisis since September. Meteorologists say a climate system in the Indian Ocean, known as the dipole, is the main driver behind the extreme heat in Australia. Authorities said the volunteer firefighter was killed and two others suffered burns after their truck rolled over in extreme winds while they were battling a blaze east of the city of Albury. "Words fail at times like this," New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklia wrote on Twitter. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said another firefighter was injured in a separate vehicle. The volunteer firefighter is the third to be killed so far this fire season. Two volunteer firefighters, both fathers to young children, died on 19 December battling a blaze near Sydney. Scorching temperatures, strong winds and thunderstorms created dangerous conditions in Victoria on Monday. In East Gippsland, three fires burning near the towns of Bruthen, Buchan and Bonang rapidly expanded as temperatures soared to the mid-40Cs. Officials said the wind-driven blazes were "racing" towards the coast, and had moved faster than predicted. Residents in northern Melbourne were told to "act immediately to survive" as firefighters struggled to battle an out-of-control fire. Officials said the fire in Bundoora, some 16km (10 miles) north of Melbourne city centre, was "threatening homes and lives". "The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately. It is too late to leave,"

‘A day we do not often see’: Australia’s southeast under huge fire threat (Reuters) - A volunteer firefighter was killed battling Australian bushfires on Monday as “columns” of flames generating their own dangerous weather systems bore down on a tourist region, prompting the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. The firefighter, and two others who suffered burns, were working on a fire about 70 km (45 miles) east of Albury in New South Wales (NSW) when, it is believed, their truck rolled after being hit by strong winds, authorities said on Twitter. The incident took the death toll from the country’s raging bushfires to nine and added pressure on authorities to reconsider New Year celebration plans for the city of Sydney. Around 100 fires are burning across Australia, with as many as 14 “emergency” warnings in place for Victoria while fires are also threatening homes and infrastructure in South Australia and Tasmania. Tens of thousands were evacuated as “columns of fire” fuelled by extreme heat and high winds bore down on the popular tourist region of East Gippsland in Victoria state in Australia’s southeast. Wildfires that have plagued the country’s eastern coast for weeks flared again to danger levels in East Gippsland, an area encompassing two national parks, lakes and coastal plains that is half the size of Belgium. By late afternoon, officials warned holiday makers to stay off the roads because of thick smoke and unpredictable, fast-moving fires, adding that it was now too late for people who had not left the region to do so. “Leaving now would be deadly,” authorities said. The state’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said “columns of fire” were punching into the atmosphere and generating their own erratic weather systems. “There’s lightning coming out of these columns,” Crisp told reporters. “It is unpredictable, it’s dangerous out there.” With some firefronts stretching more than 1,000 km (620 miles) and temperatures reaching as high as 43 Celsius (109 Fahrenheit), Crisp said the danger will remain high into the evening. Bushfires have destroyed more than 4 million hectares (10 million acres) - an area the size of Japan — across Australia in recent weeks.

Sydney Fireworks Show to Go Forth Despite Fire Risk - Despites calls by politicians and more than a quarter of a million signatures on an online petition to cancel Sydney's New Years' Eve fireworks show, city officials are pushing forward and saying the show will happen, as CNN reported. The petition now approaching 300,000 signatures asks for the money spent on the iconic fireworks display to be given to the firefighters and farmers struggling to battle the prolonged brushfires in New South Wales, according to NPR.  Temperatures in the harbor near the Sydney Opera house will push past 90 degrees on Tuesday, while temperatures in Western Sydney are expected to exceed 100 degrees. The heat wave coupled with the smoke already in the air and the threat of more brushfires has forced several towns in New South Wales to cancel their fireworks displays, according to The Guardian. Deputy Premier of New South Wales John Barilaro took to Twitter to say the Sydney show should be cancelled. "Sydney's New Years Eve Fireworks should just be cancelled, very easy decision," Barilaro tweeted. "The risk is too high and we must respect our exhausted RFS volunteers." The NSW Rural Fire Service forecast "severe" fire danger for the region on Tuesday and did not lift the total fire ban for several rural communities that had applied for an exemption to the ban so they too could have a fireworks display. Several mayors of towns where fireworks were cancelled said the wind conditions made it irresponsible to continue with a fireworks display, according to the The Sydney Morning Herald. As one of the first cities in the world to welcome in the new year, Sydney invests heavily in a spectacular fireworks show in the city's harbor, which generates roughly $90 million for the New South Wales economy, asThe Sydney Morning Herald reported

The holiday is over – get out NOW! More than 30,000 tourists are forced to cut short their breaks and are ordered to flee picturesque seaside town before extreme bushfires shut major highway -- Residents and holidaymakers are being told to leave a massive part of Victoria amid worsening fire conditions. About 30,000 holidaymakers in Lakes Entrance along with locals have been given the blunt warning. 'We are asking you to now leave East Gippsland from that area, east of Bairnsdale, along the coast there, into the parks, into the forest,' Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp told reporters on Sunday. 'You should not be there tomorrow, and we want you to get out now.' Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews posted a Tweet urging tourists to leave. 'If you are in East Gippsland you should leave today while it’s safe to do so,' Mr Andrews posted. 'Residents should activate their fire plan and consider staying with friends and family outside the area. If you are visiting, you should leave today. Please DO NOT travel to the area.' Bureau of Meteorology Kevin Parkyn said a wind change in East Gippsland about midnight is 'very problematic when it comes to fires and the landscape'. 'It's a very serious life-threatening situation. Make no mistake about it,' he said.The combination of the hot, dry windy conditions coupled with the wind change across the state on Monday will fuel the nasty fire conditions. If visitors and locals refuse to budge from the area, Mr Crisp warned there won't be enough trucks to go around and people may be stuck for days due to road closures. More than 70 helicopters and planes will be working on Monday if conditions allow. Richard Darby from the Swifts Creek General Store told The Herald Sun that ignoring the warnings could have devastating consequences. 'It’s going to be a very bad day tomorrow, they are telling everyone to get out while they can,' Mr Darby said. 'There are 100kmh winds tomorrow, that could be suicide.'

Australia fires: Thousands flee to the sea as fires race to coast - BBC News - Thousands of people in Australia have fled to the seafront to seek shelter from bushfires racing to the coast. One blaze moved into the Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota, throwing embers towards homes. Locals described a "terrifying experience" of camping on wharves and boarding boats under blood-red skies. Meanwhile, officials confirmed another two people had died in blazes in New South Wales. There are now 12 deaths linked to the nation's bushfire crisis. The beach town where fires turned day to night Several holiday spots along the coast between Sydney and Melbourne are currently cut off by fire fronts. More than a dozen "emergency-level" blazes span a 500km (310 miles) stretch across two Australian states - from Batemans Bay in New South Wales (NSW) to Bairnsdale in Victoria. The bodies of two men - believed to be a father and son - were found in the town of Corbargo in NSW. A massive blaze had ripped through the town's main street on Tuesday. "Very tragic set of circumstances," said NSW police deputy commissioner Gary Worboys. "[They were] obviously trying to do their best with the fire as it came through in the early hours of the morning." Authorities said there were five more people missing in the region - four in Victoria and another man in NSW. Victoria's state premier Daniel Andrews said navy ships may be called upon to provide food, water and power to the cut-off townships. The main road in the region - the Princes Highway - has been closed off. "Some of these isolated communities can be accessed by sea," he said. Authorities had urged people in the region - many of them tourists - to stay put because by Monday it was too late and dangerous to evacuate.

Australia Wildfire Forces 4,000 to Flee to Sea --An out-of-control wildfire in the Australian state of Victoria forced thousands of people to flee towards the coast Tuesday. Residents of the town of Mallacoota hunkered down in their homes or headed for the relative safety of the beach when a siren sounded around 8 a.m., BBC News reported. Victoria's state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp said 4,000 sheltered by the water."It's mayhem out there, it's armageddon," evacuee Charles Livingstone told The Guardian Australia. He said he had evacuated to the town's jetty Monday night with his wife and 18-month-old baby, but moved to the community center to escape the smoke. The fire that prompted the flight to the coast sparked Sunday in Wingan, according to The Guardian, but CNN reported that there were more than 10 fires burning Monday in the East Gippsland area where Mallacoota is located. Three of those fires have been burning for more than a month, and several new blazes were started Sunday by dry lightning and then spread because of hot, dry, windy weather. Mallacoota was not evacuated along with the rest of East Gippsland Sunday, and by Monday it was too dangerous for anyone to move, The Guardian explained. Instead, residents fled to the water's edge, and the fire followed them around 1:30 p.m.  "It should have been daylight but it was black like midnight and we could hear the fire roaring," local business owner David Jeffrey told BBC News. "We were all terrified for our lives."  He said residents planned to jump off a sea wall into the water if the flames came too close. Luckily, a change in the wind redirected the fire away from the town.  However, residents will now have to deal with fire damage. Warrington told CNN that "a number of houses" were destroyed or damaged. Mallacoota residents estimated on social media that around 20 homes, the school, golf club and bowling club had been burned, according to The Guardian.

Australia Burning; Tourists in New South Wales and Victoria Flee to Beaches – Yves Smith - Seeing what is happening to Australia, even from this remove, is sickening, for its people, for its wildlife, and for what it bodes for the future of significant swathes of the planet. As most readers know, I lived in Sydney from 2002 to 2004. Even though Australia had been moving in a neoliberal direction, it was still well behind the US and UK. It was strongly egalitarian. People mixed across lines. Even in a commercially-minded town like Sydney, the prevailing ethic was to work hard and play hard. It had fine amenities like its public transportation system and beaches. Of course, this was also the same Australia that joined the Iraq “coalition of the willing” even though 94% of the population, a level pretty much never seen in polling, had opposed the I remember the two days when I was a Sydney resident when brush fires got close enough to Sydney to turn the sky a sickly yellow and give an acrid smell to the air when it blew from inland to the harbor. That was disconcerting, yet it’s a pale shadow compared to what is happening now.  By way of background, why Australia is going up like a torch. From a November 20 article in Science: Driven in part by a severe drought, fires have burned 1.65 million hectares in the state of New South Wales, more than the state’s total in the previous 3 years combined… David Bowman, a fire ecologist and geographer and director of the Fire Centre at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, spoke with Science about the crisis. The flames have charred even moist ecosystems once thought safe, he says…. We’re seeing recurrent fires in tall, wet eucalypt forests, which normally only burn very rarely. A swamp dried out near Port Macquarie, and organic sediments in the ground caught on fire. When you drop the water table, the soil is so rich in organic matter it will burn. We’ve seen swamps burning all around. Even Australia’s fire-adapted forest ecosystems are struggling because they are facing increasingly frequent events. In Tasmania, over the past few years we have seen environments burning that historically see fires very rarely, perhaps every 1000 years.  So worsening conditions were likely even before the super hot days set in. Lambert found this National Museum of Australia article on the Federation Drought of 1895 to 1903, which gives some perspective on contemporary droughts and fires. Very much worth reading in full. Some key bits: In 1892 Australia had 106 million sheep, two-thirds of which were in the eastern states. By 1903 the national flock had almost halved to 54 million. The nation lost more than 40 per cent of its cattle over the same period, nearly three million in Queensland alone. Droving took an immense toll on sheep and cattle with losses of up to 70 per cent recorded, particularly in regions where watering points could be 100 kilometres apart. In 1902 local newspapers reported that more than 2000 steers lay dead along the Goondiwindi to Miles route in Queensland….

The bushfires in Australia are so big they're generating their own weather — 'pyrocumulonimbus' thunderstorms that can start more fires -- The bushfires in Australia are now so big that they are generating their own weather, in the form of giant thunderstorms that start more fires, according to the Bureau of Meteorology in Victoria. "Pyro-cumulonimbus clouds have developed to altitudes over 16km in East #Gippsland this afternoon. These fire-induced storms can spread fires through lightning, lofting of embers and generation of severe wind outflows," the bureau tweeted on Monday. Satellite photography shows the intense smoke generating atmospheric clouds: Intense fires generate smoke, obviously. But their heat can also create a localized updraft powerful enough to create its own changes in the atmosphere above. As the heat and smoke rise, the cloud plume can cool off, generating a large, puffy cloud full of potential rain. The plume can also scatter embers and hot ash over a wider area. Eventually, water droplets in the cloud condense, generating a downburst of rain — maybe. But the "front" between the calm air outside the fire zone and a pyrocumulonimbus storm cloud is so sharp that it also generates lightning — and that can start new fires. If powerful enough, a pyrocumulonimbus storm can generate a fire tornado, which happened during the Canberra bushfires in 2003. Scientists worry that "pyroCbs" are on the rise around the world, driven by warmer temperatures and more intense fires, Yale E360 reported. Their plumes are so strong that they can even shoot smoke into the stratosphere, 6 to 30 miles above the Earth's surface. Here is a time lapse of a pyrocumulonimbus storm in action, from a different Australian fire:

Australia is becoming a nation of dread – and the world looks on with pity and scorn - We know the sight by heart: corrugated iron on a low pile of ash with a chimney left standing. Another house gone. And the pattern of bushfires is part of our lives too. They burn until a cold wind blows up the coast when it buckets down dousing the flames. But that’s not the pattern now. The downpour has been postponed officially until late January. Things are looking up: it was April. Either way the experts are saying the weeks ahead are looking dry, tinder dry. As that news sank in this summer an unfamiliar emotion took hold in Australia: not fear so much as dread. These fires are not going out. We know the language of fires. All our lives we’ve waited to hear a blaze is “under control”. Sweet words. But these days they come with a caveat: only for a few days until the wind shifts and the fire jumps the lines. And the rain never comes. We’re used to seeing the bush growing back quickly, green shoots appearing within days on burnt trunks. Eucalypt forests have amazing regenerative powers. But these fires are tearing through ancient forests that have never burnt before. They are done for. And the burnt gums are waiting for rain. We’re taught not to look at the sun. Every child on earth is given the same warning. But in Australia these days you can stare all you like. Take a good long look at that pink disc sinking in the murk. It can’t do you much harm. It’s been tamed by smoke. The smoke is new too: cities suffocating. We’re used to a day or two in town when there’s a bit of smoke about and the light turns a horrible yellow. That’s every summer. But this is different. Deep in cities, miles from the fire front, the smoke is so thick you can’t see to the end of the street. Yet we’ve never seen so much before. Everyone is a photographer now. And until the transmission towers burn and batteries flatten extraordinary images are making their way to the media. We’re seeing these horrors in all their detail. On the beach at Mallacoota, families sat in the smoke under a sky of flame. It’s all on camera. The scene was repeated up and down the coast. At Malua Bay in New South Wales, children, their parents and grandparents were trapped for a day and night between fires and the sea. One of the duties of a leader is to find the words in times like these. So many have died. So much has been destroyed. But how can Scott Morrison speak to the experience of the country if he can’t admit we are living through unique times?  He says instead: “We have faced these disasters before.” Watch and act, Prime Minister. Watch and act. If Morrison could face the truth, he might speak not only to his country but the world. If Australia were taking effective action against climate change, this catastrophe would give us the right to demand better of the great rogue states on climate, China and the USA. We’re doing our bit, he says as the country burns and the world looks on with a mix of pity and scorn.

Queensland government was warned about risks of Chinese company’s water extraction - Queensland government experts raised repeated warnings about the long-term sustainability of groundwater extraction at a southern Queensland property which has since been approved to operate as a commercial water mine. The approval for the 96m litre a year bottled water extraction operation at Cherrabah – in a severely drought-hit area where locals are on water rations andcommunities at imminent risk of running dry – has raised significant questions about the oversight and regulation of critical water resources in Queensland. Documents obtained by Guardian Australia show how longstanding concerns about groundwater security at Cherrabah were overridden by changes to Queensland law enacted by Campbell Newman’s government in 2013. Under the changes, the Chinese-owned company Joyful View Garden Real Estate Development Resort Pty Ltd was automatically granted a 94-year extraction permit at Cherrabah when a short-term allocation expired in 2017. Written concerns outlined in the documents obtained by Guardian Australia include the expert review of a study commissioned by Joyful View in 2009 that was the basis for its subsequent water extraction applications. The study contained repeated qualifications that its modelling could not be relied upon for a period longer than 12 months. One bureaucrat detailed “not small or irrelevant errors” in that study, including that it overstated the amount of rainfall recharge to groundwater “by a factor of almost 20”. The public servant, whose name is redacted from the document, calculated an annual recharge of 40m litres – less than half the Cherrabah allocation. Another public servant, the principal natural resource officer for groundwater, wrote that he had concerns about Joyful View, which at the time had wanted the allocation to support plans for a massive resort development. He raised concerns the company might seek to exert political pressure to gain the permit.

10 children allegedly started recent Queensland bushfires, police say - More than half of the 18 people who have been dealt with by police over recent Queensland bushfires are children, police have revealed. Since a state of emergency was declared in Queensland on November 9, police said they had taken action against 18 people for deliberately lighting fires. Of that, police said, 10 are juveniles who are being dealt with under the Youth Justice Act.In the two years to the end of 2018, 136 children were charged with endangering property in Queensland by lighting fires — just 18 were convicted.Several teens were charged over recent fires including a 16-year-old boy who allegedly started a fire west of Yeppoon that destroyed 30 structures and two other teens over a September blaze at Peregian on the Sunshine Coast.Police chose not to charge two teenagers who were believed to have accidentally started a fire from a cigarette which gutted Binna Burra Lodge in the Gold Coast Hinterland in September. Attorney General Yvette D'Ath said statistics showed there were more effective ways to deal with young offenders than youth detention.

Firefighters face 20m high wall of flame | The Canberra Times - Fire crews are battling catastrophic fire dangers in Victoria with flames leaping 20 metres into the air and 14 km high smoke columns creating fire-generated thunderstorms. Multiple emergency alerts have been issued for out-of-control blazes in Victoria's far east and northeast. A fire is also threatening lives and homes in Melbourne's northern suburb of Bundoora, where residents have been told it's too late to leave. The worst is yet to come with a dangerous wind change expected to sweep fire grounds across Victoria around midnight on Monday. The state is now bracing for the potentially ferocious wind change, which could bring gusts up to 120 km/h across East Gippsland into Tuesday morning, the weather bureau has warned. "It is quite an extreme day for us, really the first really bad day that we've had on this group of fires since they started on November 21," East Gippsland fires incident controller Ben Rankin told reporters at Bairnsdale. "(It's) comparable almost to Black Saturday in some ways, if the forecast does eventuate as given to us." Earlier, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said firefighters had faced 20 metre high walls of flames generating massive smoke columns. "It is unpredictable, it's dangerous out there. A fire that started mid-afternoon moved about 24 km within four or five hours as the wind changed direction," he said. "It put up a column, punching into the atmosphere 14km high. These columns are generating their own weather. There's lightning coming out of these columns." Of the more than 30 bushfires burning across the state, 17 started due to dry lightning.

Australia's temperate mountains evacuated as bushfires approach  (Reuters) - Hundreds of residents and holiday-makers have been ordered to evacuate Australia’s temperate Snowy Mountains region in the state of New South Wales as fierce fires threaten from two sides, authorities said on Thursday.The order covers the Kosciuszko National Park, a near 7,000 square km (2,700 square mile) area popular for snow sports in winter, requiring hotels and other businesses to close and people to leave by Friday morning.“This is not a fire season that New South Wales has seen before,” the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Service said on Thursday.“It is hotter and drier than we have previously experienced.” The mountain area is located 200 km (125 miles) inland from a mass exodus occurring along Australia’s south-east coast where fires fueled by extreme temperatures are decimating small towns.Huge bushfires have been burning for weeks across Australia, with new blazes sparked into life in bushland left tinder dry after a three-year drought.Although the valleys and mountains around Mount Kosciuszko, the country’s highest peak, are much cooler than the fire zones further east, fires are threatening to the west and south of the national park and are unlikely to be immediately contained, authorities said.While the mountainous region is best known for its winter ski fields, it also attracts a large number of tourists in summer enticed by the cooler climate.Poole said there were typically several  hundred people staying in the area’s main tourist hubs at this time of year.

 Bushfire emergency declared on Hobart's outskirts, lives and homes in danger -  A major bushfire burning out of control on the outskirts of Hobart will put lives in danger and may destroy homes, the Tasmania Fire Service has warned. The blaze, which is listed at an emergency level, is burning at Collinsvale Road in Glenlusk, in a rural area north-west of the city. The Tasmania Fire Service has urged Glenlusk residents and those in surrounding areas to leave immediately, as thick smoke and thousands of embers are likely to put surrounding homes in danger. It is unclear at this stage what caused the blaze. Water bombing aircraft have been called in, while 10 fire crews are on foot working to bring the fire under control. The blaze is described as fast-moving and is in an area close to several homes and the Collinsvale Primary School. An evacuation centre has been set up at Collinsvale Recreational Ground and War Memorial Hall. Dozens of bushfires continue to burn across the rest of the state. Five watch and act alerts are in place for the Fingal area, in Tasmania's north-east, and four advice warnings are in place in Pelham, Longford and in the state's south-west. The weather bureau has forecast warmer temperatures over the weekend. More to come.

Seventeen people missing in fire-ravaged East Gippsland - Victorian authorities are ramping up efforts to reach and evacuate cut-off communities in East Gippsland, where 17 people remain missing after destructive bushfires tore through the region.  Rescue crews were battling to clear roads to reach them so they could evacuate before the risk increased this weekend, he said. "I'm very sad to have to report that there are at least 17 people at this stage that we can't account for," Mr Andrews told reporters this afternoon. "I want to reassure every Victorian that Victoria Police are sparing no effort to try to locate these people," he said. A body found in a home at Buchan has been identified as 67-year-old Mick Roberts. Authorities are trying to help evacuate anyone who wants to leave the town before the fire danger rises with more hot and windy weather on the weekend. Nine satellite phones had also been dropped into other isolated communities, Mr Andrews said. The charity group Need for Feed has also organised fodder to be dropped across East Gippsland to help isolated farmers trying to stop their livestock from starving. Meanwhile, some of the 4,000 people trapped in the coastal town of Mallacoota are waiting to be evacuated by a Navy ship that arrived this morning.

Navy prepares for mass evacuation of Mallacoota - Sick and vulnerable people, including children, could be evacuated from the bushfire-ravaged town of Mallacoota by air later today if smoky conditions allow. But most residents and tourists will have to wait until tomorrow morning to evacuate on board a naval ship that is docked off shore. About 800 people are expected to board the HMAS Choules when the evacuations begin at 7:00am on Friday. Mr Andrews said it may be necessary for the ship to make multiple journeys. "Some people will want to go, some people will be happy to stay," he said. "Air becomes an option too, to evacuate further people, but not while this very, very dense smoke makes it unsafe." Victoria Police assistant commissioner Michael Grainger said the priority would be to evacuate the sick, children and vulnerable people and then those who want to leave. "We have aircraft ready to fly immediately and I'm advised by this afternoon, late this afternoon today, we'll be in a position to evacuate some people from Mallacoota by air," he said. Brown-grey smoke covers a pier, jutting out into the water. About 3,000 tourists and 1,000 locals are stuck in Mallacoota as roads remain cut off after a fire tore through on New Year's Eve.They have been told to attend public meetings which will be held throughout the day, and register their interest if they want to leave. Elsewhere in East Gippsland, 17 people are still missing.

NSW fires: State of emergency declared as PM urges calm amid mass exodus - The New South Wales government has declared a seven-day state of emergency ahead of dangerous bushfire conditions forecast for Saturday. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the state of emergency will allow officials to conduct forced evacuations, road closures and "anything else that we need to do as a state to keep residents safe and to keep properties safe". NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said 113 fires are burning across the state and that large parts of the state are expected to be affected by the dangerous fire conditions on Saturday. "We are focusing very much on south-eastern quadrant of New South Wales but not at the exclusion of all these other fires we have across the state." He said efforts to contain the fires are continuing to prevent multiple fires from converging. "[On Saturday, it will be a] pretty volatile stretch along the coastal stretch like we saw on New Year’s Eve with the wind strengths, gusting particularly 70, 80km/h or more in some parts. "It is going to be a very dangerous day. It’s going to be a very difficult day." Parts of the NSW South Coast are in "chaos" as a mass exodus of holiday-makers begins before a return of extreme fire danger on Saturday. Tourists who have been ordered to leave fire-hit communities on the NSW South Coast are facing shortages of food, water and fuel shortages.Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Australians to remain calm. "My simple request is to be patient, to have confidence in the state agencies," Mr Morrison told media in Sydney on Thursday.

NSW Premier declares state of emergency, as thousands flee South Coast ahead of horror fire weekend (photos) NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared a seven-day state of emergency starting at 9:00am on Friday due to the ongoing bushfire crisis. It will mean forced evacuations and road closures for people in bushfire zones ahead of Saturday's forecast "horrible" fire conditions. NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Saturday was likely to bring conditions more dangerous than New Year's Eve, when bushfires left seven dead and thousands in peril. "There'll be real challenges and very real risks associated with what's being forecast and predicted for fire spread under the sorts of weather conditions we're expecting as we head into Saturday," he said."The conditions on Saturday are likely to be worse than New Year's Eve and a lot of those areas in the south-east quadrant of the state have the potential to be impacted — and impacted very heavily."A "tourist leave zone" has been declared for a 14,000-square-kilometre area between Nowra and the edge of Victoria's northern border. The NSW RFS initially declared a leave zone between Batemans Bay down to the border, but extended that zone to the area between Nowra and Ulladulla late on Thursday. It is the "largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we've ever seen," NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said.RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said it was a race against the clock to get tourists out before Saturday."We have so many fires still burning down there … and quite close to communities as well," he said.  "We won't get containment on those fires before Saturday." Strong winds, scorching temperatures and low humidity are forecast for Saturday with temperatures set to hit 41 degrees Celsius on the South Coast.  The Princes Highway is closed between Milton and Tomerong, and between Batemans Bay and Moruya.  Police and emergency services have been escorting people out of the Bendalong, Manyana and Cunjurong areas — north of Ulladulla — about 20 cars at a time. Those villages were cut off after the Currowan fire decimated large swathes of Conjola Park.

The Shocking Size Of The Australian Wildfires -The devastating California wildfires of 2018 and last year’s fires in the Amazon rainforest made international headlines and shocked the world, but, as Statista's Katharina Buchholz details below, in terms of size they are far smaller than the current bushfire crisis in Australia, where approximately 12 million acres have been burned to date.  Fires in remote parts of northern Russia burned 6.7 million acres last year, but most of the regions were sparsely populated and no casualties were reported.While the California fires of 2018 have long been put out and the Amazon fires have been reduced at least, Australia is only in the middle of its fire season. Ongoing heat and drought are expected to fan the flames further. This week, shocking pictures of bright orange skies in Queensland and flames ripping through towns captured the world’s attention.The bushfires grew more severe amidst a heatwave that saw Australia record its hottest day and simultaneously driest spring on record, according to The New York Times. New South Wales has been affected disproportionately, plunging Sydney into dark smoke in mid-December. Around 10 of the 12 million burned acres are located in the state. Bushfires frequently occur in Australia, with some years bringing more severe destruction that others. Scientists are claiming that in connection to climate change, fires will become more frequent and more severe when they happen.

Massive currents of smoke from Australian fires reach New Zealand - Bushfires in Australia are spewing a massive current of smoke across the Tasman towards New Zealand, and it's likely to continue for a while. Imagery from the Japanese weather satellite Himawari-8 shows a blanket of smoke wide enough to cover the entire South Island has been blowing our way all afternoon. Metservice meteorologist Aidan Pyselman said they had been tracking the smoke for several weeks since the fires began. Bushfire smoke from Australia is blowing across the Tasman Sea towards the South Island. "It's off and on, when we get a particular setup with the way the upper winds are it tends to come across. We haven't had it consistently but at the moment we've got a front moving on to the South Island." "It's been happening for quite some time since the Aussie bushfires have been going. At the moment it's definitely more noticeable, especially over the South Island," he said. People in the South Island may notice a light haze up high in the sky, even in fine weather. The smoke wouldn't have any impact on weather or temperatures in New Zealand, Pseylman said. "It's only a really thin haze, temperatures are pretty warm but it's not really anything to do with that." Winds will continue to push smoke towards New Zealand for the next few days, but wind directions should change around he said. "It will probably peter out. At the moment its coming across on norwesterly flow, but later in the week the winds will be more souwesterly, so we probably won't see as much."

Blood red sun greets NZ on New Years Day as Australian bushfire smoke stains skies - An orange haze is covering the sky around New Zealand, reducing visibility to as little as 10km in affected areas. Bushfires in Australia are spewing a massive current of smoke across the Tasman towards New Zealand, and it's likely to continue for a while. Imagery from the Japanese weather satellite Himawari-8 shows the blanket of smoke is wide enough to cover the entire South Island. Visibility in the affected areas is as low as 10km due to the hazy skies. MetService said a change in wind direction is expected to clear the smoke later in the afternoon. The haze is particularly obvious in Otago where a light yellow cloud cover gives the area a sepia-toned feel. In Lyttleton, Christchurch, Dudley Jackson snapped an image of the rising sun with a deep orange hue. From a boat at Waiheke Island early in the morning, Glyn Kerr captured a remarkable red sky and a dramatic reflection off the water.

'We've lost our beautiful town': Mogo residents flee as bushfire rages up NSW south coast  - Lorena Granados stayed behind in the small New South Wales village of Mogo, until she could stay no longer. She and her family members were among the last to flee the bushfire as it began to envelop buildings along the main street.“The wind was so strong and furious and it just took over everything,” Granados told Guardian Australia.“We couldn’t breathe. We couldn’t see. The flames were just ferocious, they were furious, they were angry. There was nothing we could do, we had to pretty much save ourselves.”Granados and her partner, Gaspar Roman, live in Mogo, just south of Batemans Bay, and own a building in the heritage village centre, from where they run a leather shop. She said they knew about the fire threat late on Monday night and were warned about 5am on Tuesday to consider leaving. Family members spent much of the morning with three hoses, attempting to protect the leather shop. But by late morning it was consumed by the fire front. Granados does not know whether the family home has survived. “We fought to the end to save the leather shop,” Granados said. “It’s just catastrophic. There were three people who came to us that completely lost their homes. Gas bottles were exploding. It felt like we were in a war zone. Of what I’m aware three people have already lost their homes ... we fought the flames, the flames were on top of us. When we left we were basically on fire, we had to leave. “We didn’t expect it to come so quickly, we were expecting to have to evacuate, but not so soon. My girlfriend rang me [early on Tuesday] and said ‘the fire is coming to Mogo you’ve got to get out of there’. As soon as she rang me I started getting things in the car, we started getting the hoses out and started fighting.  Having left town and headed towards the coast, Granados and her family were unable to reach evacuation centres because roads in both directions were cut. “We’re here on the water and we can see the whole coast burning,” she told Guardian Australia about 2pm, about three hours after fleeing Mogo. “It’s burning right around us. The wind is just swirling.“I’m feeling really numb at the moment. I don’t know what we’re going to eat tonight, where we’re going to sleep tonight. I don’t know what we’re going to do.“We can’t get to the evacuation centres because we’re blocked out. We’re blocked off, we can’t go north or south, right now we have nowhere to go. “Just put the word out there, we’ve lost our really beautiful town.”

 Half a Billion Animals May Have Been Killed by Australia Wildfires -- Ecologists at the University of Sydney are estimating that nearly half a billion animals have been killed in Australia's unprecedented and catastrophic wildfires, which have sparked a continent-wide crisis and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in desperation. News Corp Australia reported Wednesday that "there are real concerns entire species of plants and animals have been wiped out by bushfires following revelations almost 500 million animals have died since the crisis began.""Ecologists from the University of Sydney now estimate 480 million mammals, birds, and reptiles have been lost since September," according to News Corp. "That figure is likely to soar following the devastating fires which have ripped through Victoria and the [New South Wales] South Coast over the past couple of days, leaving several people dead or unaccounted for, razing scores of homes and leaving thousands stranded."The horrifying figures come as images and videos of animals suffering severe burns and dehydration continue to circulate on social media.Mark Graham, an ecologist with the National Conservation Council, told the Australian parliament that "the fires have burned so hot and so fast that there has been significant mortality of animals in the trees, but there is such a big area now that is still on fire and still burning that we will probably never find the bodies."Koalas in particular have been devastated by the fires, Graham noted, because they "really have no capacity to move fast enough to get away."As Reuters reported Tuesday, "Australia's bushland is home to a range of indigenous fauna, including kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, possums, wombats, and echidnas. Officials fear that 30 percent of just one koala colony on the country's northeast coast, or between 4,500 and 8,400, have been lost in the recent fires." Australia's coal-touting Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced growing scrutiny for refusing to take sufficient action to confront the wildfires and the climate crisis that is driving them. Since September, the fires have burned over 10 million acres of land, destroyed more than a thousand homes and killed at least 17 people —including 9 since Christmas Day.On Thursday, the government of New South Wales (NSW) declared a state of emergency set to take effect Friday morning as the wildfires are expected to intensify over the weekend."We've got a lot of fire in the landscape that we will not contain," said Rob Rogers, deputy commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service. "We need to make sure that people are not in the path of these fires."

Climate change has cut Australian farm profits by 22% a year over past 20 years, report says -- Climate change has reduced Australian farms’ average annual profitability by 22%, or around $18,600 per farm, in the past two decades, according to the agriculture department. In a report released on Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences has found that since 2000 changes in climate have reduced the revenue of Australian cropping farms by a total of $1.1bn a year. The report notes that average temperatures increased by about 1C since 1950 and compares Australia’s climate over the period 2000 to 2019 with the period from 1950 to 1999 by holding other variables, including farm output and commodity prices, constant. Since 2000, climate change has had a negative effect on the profitability of broadacre farms in Australia. Only Northern Territory farms improved profitability, up 8.7%, with massive cuts to profit in Victoria (–37.1%), Western Australia (-25.8%) and New South Wales (-25.5%) attributed to climate change. Cropping farms were the worst hit, with revenue down 8% or around $82,000 a farm, and a 35% reduction in profits, or $70,900 for a typical cropping farm. Report co-author David Galeano said adaptation to climate variability “is certainly helping” – and without it farms would have experienced a 26% reduction in profit, and cropping farms’ profits would be down 49%. Sheep farms experienced an 18.2% reduction in average annual profit, or $6,100 per farm. Beef farms were “less affected overall” with a reduction in average profits of 5%, although some areas – including south-western Queensland – were more affected than others. Climate conditions have “also contributed to increased risk in terms of more variable cash income and profitability, particularly for cropping farms”, the report says. Climate change increased downside risk, with the chance of “very low” profits – below 2% – more than doubling since 2000. The Abares report says that the current drought across much of eastern Australia “has demonstrated the dramatic effects that climate variability can have on farm businesses and households”. It says that drought-affected NSW recorded “large falls in profit in 2018–19” but less drought-affected regions, including Western Australia, increased profits due to high commodity prices for grain and livestock. Abares warns that drought policy faces “an almost unavoidable dilemma: that providing relief to farm businesses and households in times of drought risks slowing industry structural adjustment and innovation”. “In some cases, well-intentioned policies can also disadvantage farmers who have been better prepared – or luckier – than farmers who are provided assistance and relief, diluting management incentives and raising difficult equity issues.”

In Pictures: India’s homeless bear brunt of record cold- The Indian capital of New Delhi entered 2020 reeling under an intense cold wave, with the homeless people on its streets bearing the maximum brunt. The Delhi government set up nearly 200 night shelters, but they are not enough to host all the city's homeless, forcing hundreds of them to spend their nights in the open. "We have around 40 beds which can accommodate a maximum of 60 people, depending on the size of the families who can share a bed," Sunil Kumar, who manages a night shelter near the Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station, told Al Jazeera. "We can provide two or three blankets a person, but it doesn't serve the purpose in such biting cold. There should be some room heaters too," he said. While some kept themselves warm by lighting bonfires on the sidewalks, dense fog blanketed the city on Wednesday with the night temperature falling to 2.4 degrees Celsius (36.3 degrees Fahrenheit), disrupting road, air and rail traffic. On Monday, the Indian capital recorded its coldest December day since 1901, with the maximum temperature plummeting to the lowest ever at 9.4C (48.9F). "The maximum temperature also dipped to less than 10 degrees in large parts of northern India," Kuldeep Shrivastava, head of the regional weather forecasting centre in New Delhi told Al Jazeera. Apart from the capital, Indian states and territories that continued to face a severe cold wave included Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. "Usually temperature dips in the month of January, but this time mercury has broken the record of decades in December itself," Shrivastava added.

A Call to Action as World is Rapidly Depleting Essential Groundwater - Nearly 1,100 scientists, practitioners and experts in groundwater and related fields from 92 countries have called on the governments and non-governmental organizations to "act now" to ensure global groundwater sustainability. In their 'Call To Action', the group said: "Groundwater, the invisible water beneath our feet, represents 99% of Earth’s liquid freshwater, making it critical for supplying drinking water, ensuring food security, adapting to climate variability, supporting biodiversity, sustaining surface water bodies and meeting the UN's Sustainable Development Goals."

  • Action Item 1: Put the spotlight on global groundwater sustainability by completing a UN World Water Development Report, planning a global groundwater summit and recognizing the global importance of groundwater in the UN's Sustainable Development Goals by 2022.
  • Action item 2: Manage and govern groundwater sustainability from local to global scales by applying a guiding principle of groundwater sustainability by 2030.
  • Action item 3: Invest in groundwater governance and management by implementing groundwater sustainability plans for stressed aquifers by 2030.

Groundwater is the drinking water source for more than two billion people, and provides more than 40% of the water for irrigated agriculture worldwide. Groundwater use has impacted environmentally critical streamflow in more than 15% of streams globally, and could impact the majority of streams by 2050. Around 1.7 billion people live above aquifers (geologic formations that provide groundwater) that are stressed by overuse. Poor groundwater quality disproportionately hits poor people with access to insecure drinking water sources - often unprotected shallow groundwater resources.

Megafarms and deeper wells are draining the water beneath rural Arizona – quietly, irreversibly - Vast expanses of lush green fields are multiplying in the Arizona desert, forming agricultural empires nourished with billions of gallons of groundwater in the otherwise parched landscape. Arizona’s groundwater levels are plummeting in many areas. The problem is especially severe in unregulated rural areas where there are no limits on pumping. The water levels in more than 2,000 wells have dropped more than 100 feet since they were first drilled. The number of newly constructed wells is accelerating, and wells are being drilled deeper and hitting water at lower levels. This free-for-all is draining away the water that homeowners also depend on, leaving some with dry wells. As the groundwater is depleted, Arizona is suffering permanent losses that may not be recouped for thousands of years. These underground reserves that were laid down over millennia represent the only water that many rural communities can count on as the desert Southwest becomes hotter and drier with climate change. Unfettered pumping has taken a toll on the state’s aquifers for many years, but just as experts are calling for Arizona to develop plans to save its ancient underground water, pumping is accelerating and the problems are getting much worse. Big farming companies owned by out-of-state investors and foreign agriculture giants have descended on rural Arizona and snapped up farmland in areas where there is no limit on pumping. Buying property from struggling small farms and homeowners, they’ve drilled wells a thousand feet deep or more, often spending more than half a million dollars per well to irrigate tens of thousands of acres of hay, corn, pistachios and other thirsty crops, with the expectation that they’ll soon be raking in profits. In unregulated rural areas where water tables are dropping, homeowners and politicians are calling for the state to step in to halt well-drilling, or create new rules to limit pumping. In these predominantly conservative communities, where the ethos is to take care of yourself and be wary of government regulation, prominent local officials are suggesting a moratorium on drilling, or the formation of new managed areas where drilling would be restricted.

 Drought, what drought? Largest snowpack in 4 years, most stored water in Southern California history paint rosy picture – With snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada registering at 90% of normal Thursday and state reservoirs at record historic levels, the urban water supply picture for 2020 could hardly be any rosier. Southern California water managers are trying to restrain their joy, not because of a picture-postcard mountain top, but for the bounty that will come in spring when the snow melts, sending pristine water into state reservoirs and more importantly, southward via the State Water Project aqueduct, a source that supplies 30% of Southern California’s drinking water. Once that happens, local ground water managers will take a portion to restore overpumped basins still low from the five-year drought that ended in 2016, water managers say. And Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest wholesaler of water in the nation, says it will be there to facilitate that water transfer as long as its member agencies can pay for the purchases. “We are going into this year with 3.1 million acre-feet of storage — water in the bank. That is the highest storage level we’ve ever had,” said Demetri Polyzos, MWD resource planning team manager on Thursday, Jan. 2. (One acre foot equals 326,000 gallons, about as much as a Southern California family uses in a year). MWD cannot take any more water at its Diamond Valley Lake Reservoir in Hemet, which sit 98% full as of Jan. 2. Instead, it wants to supply basins in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties with extra storage. “We are here to provide supplemental water to the region. We certainly have the supplies,” Polyzos said. Other MWD reservoirs are also filling up: Lake Mathews in Riverside County is 84% full; Lake Skinner in western Riverside County, 87%; Castaic Lake in northern Los Angeles County, 79%. Major state reservoirs are doing even better: Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir, near Redding, is currently 73% full, or 117% of normal. Lake Oroville, in Butte County, is currently 59% full, or 96% of normal. New Melones Lake, in the Sierra Foothills of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, is 83% full, or 143% of its historic average. And San Luis Reservoir, near Los Banos, is 63% full, or 96% of its historical average. As of Thursday, the statewide Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at 90% of its historical average — the highest total in early January in four years, when it came in at 101% on Jan. 2, 2016.

Jakarta floods leave 21 dead and 30,000 homeless - Torrential rain has caused flash floods to inundate large parts of Indonesia’s capital and nearby towns, killing at least 21 people and forcing thousands more to evacuate. Deaths were caused by hypothermia, drowning and landslides, while four died after being electrocuted by power lines, the country’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on its website on Thursday morning. Nearly 30,000 Jakaratans had been evacuated to temporary shelters throughout the city by Thursday morning, the authorities said. Social affairs ministry spokesman Joko Hariyanto said in a message to Reuters that the death toll had now reached 21 after standing at nine overnight More rain and thunderstorms were forecast for later on Thursday. Television footage showed cars almost completely submerged and people wading through murky brown water in some parts of the capital. Water levels in east and south Jakarta as well as in the satellite cities of Tangerang and Bekasi in West Java province started to rise from 3am local time (2000 GMT) on Wednesday, according to the disaster mitigation agency. Indonesia’s state electricity utility said it had switched off the power in hundreds of districts in Jakarta, which is home to 30 million people. The floods also caused the temporary closure of the runway at Jakarta’s domestic Halim airport, with flights redirected to the capital’ bigger Soekarno airport.

21 Dead, 62,000 Displaced in Deadliest Flooding to Swamp Jakarta in Years -At least 21 people have died in some of the deadliest flooding to swamp Jakarta in years, according to the latest report from Reuters.  Unusually heavy rain began to fall in and around the Indonesian capital Dec. 31, 2019: 377 millimeters (approximately 14.8 inches) were recorded New Year's Eve at an East Jakarta airport by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). That's the highest rainfall tally for a single day since records began in 1996, BBC News reported."This rain is not ordinary rain," the BMKG said in a statement reported by The Jakarta Post.The BMKG said the extreme rainfall was caused by the combination of a monsoon and the fact that warmer Indian Ocean temperatures south of Java had allowed more water vapor to accumulate in the atmosphere.  Jakarta is especially vulnerable to flooding because it is the fastest sinking city in the world: a combination of sea level rise and land sinking caused by the drilling of groundwater wells and the weight of its buildings means much of North Jakarta could be underwater by 2050. Because of this, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced plans to relocate the capital last year.The current New Year's flooding has displaced more than 62,000 people in Jakarta alone, according to Reuters."It has not flooded for so long here. We didn't have the chance to bring anything," 52-year-old evacuee Umar Dani told Reuters. "I have to live on the streets now."The extreme weather also cut power and disrupted train service. Floodwaters swamped the runway at Jakarta's Halim Perdana Kusumah domestic airport, closing it and stranding around 19,000 people, Al Jazeera reported.The death toll is the highest for flooding since 2013, BBC News reported. The victims, aged between eight and 82, died from hypothermia, drowning and landslides. One 16-year-old boy, Arviqo Alif Ardana, was electrocuted, Al Jazeera reported.

Indonesia: Death count rises as Jakarta flood conditions worsen - Indonesia: Deadly flood forces tens of thousands to leave Jakarta - At least 21 people have been confirmed dead since severe flooding hit Jakarta and surrounding area on New Year's Day, Indonesian authorities said on Thursday. Several more are considered missing. National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said some of those who died were electrocuted. Over 62,000 people were evacuated in Jakarta alone, the Reuters news agency quoted Wibowo as saying. "The floods hit without warning," said one survivor from western outskirts of Jakarta, Munarsih. "The water came very fast and it rose quickly. We couldn't manage to get our stuff out, including my car," she told AFP news agency.. Images from the affected neighborhoods showed waterlogged homes and cars, with people using rubber lifeboats or inner tubes to navigate the floodwater. East Jakarta resident Umar Dani said he and his family were evacuated overnight after water levels reached his neck. "It has not flooded for so long here. We didn't have the chance to bring anything," the 52-year-old told Reuters. "I have to live on the streets now." A horse takes on the floods in Jakarta (picture-alliance/D. Roszandi) A horse takes on the floods in Jakarta on January 1 Landslides on the edge of Jakarta The flooding began on Wednesday after water inundated the Indonesian city after 18 hours of heavy rain. Homes were submerged and vehicles washed away. Water levels reached up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) in parts of the Indonesian capital. The rain and abrupt flooding also triggered deadly landslides on the city's outskirts. Indonesian President Joko Widodo tweeted about the emergency response, promising to restore public infrastructure with anti-flooding measures. A domestic airport also shut and tens of thousands of people were displaced, Wibowo added. Monsoon rains and rising rivers submerged at least 169 neighborhoods.

Pittsburgh received 50+ inches of precipitation for first time ever in consecutive years  - Last year was the third wettest year on record in Pittsburgh history. More than 52 inches of precipitation fell over Southwestern Pennsylvania. This was only the fourth time in recorded history, in well over 100 years, that Pittsburgh received that much rain and snow.One of the other times was last year, which was the region’s wettest in modern history. That makes the last two years the first time in Pittsburgh history that more than 50 inches of precipitation fell in back-to-back years. Had Hurricane Ivan not hit Pittsburgh in 2004, which dropped almost 6 inches of rain in one day, 2019 would have been the second wettest year on record. It’s safe to say Pittsburgh is getting wetter and it is happening pretty rapidly.

It's Not Just You—Wild Swings in Extreme Weather are Rising  - From 2011 to 2016, California experienced five years of extreme drought, during which numerous high temperature records were broken. These hot, dry years were followed by the extremely wet winter of 2016 -2017, when, from October to March, an average of 31 inches of rain fell across the state, the second highest winter rainfall on record. All that rain meant a bumper crop of grasses and other vegetation, which, as hot and dry conditions returned, likely contributed to a combustible mix of fuels that played a role in the severe fires that have swept California in the past two years.These wild swings from one weather extreme to another are symptomatic of a phenomenon, variously known as “climate whiplash” or “weather whiplash,” that scientists say is likely to increase as the world warms.  Researchers project that by the end of this century, the frequency of these abrupt transitions between wet and dry will increase by 25 percent in Northern California and as much as double in Southern California if greenhouse gasses continue to increase. “There has been an assumption that the main thing we have to contend with climate change is increased temperatures, decreased snowpack, increased wildfire risk” on the West Coast, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Those things are still true, but there is this other dimension we will have to contend with — the increased risk of extreme flood and drought, and rapid transitions between the two.” Last year in Montecito, California, one of the state’s worst wildfires swept through the region. Weeks later, torrential rains fell on the burned ground, causing mudslides that wiped out houses and killed 21 people. In Europe this year, late spring frosts that damaged crops were followed by heavy rains that washed the crops out of the ground and flooded fields for weeks.In the future, weather whiplash could mean an intense drought year followed by record rains that don’t allow planting or that wash fertilizer into waterways. Extreme swings between freezing and thawing can kill buds on trees, or lead to rain in northerly climes that is followed by freezing weather, forming a barrier of ice that prevents foraging animals like caribou from reaching vital winter browse.

'Remarkable' high as Scottish temperature record is broken - Northern Scotland registered a “remarkable” overnight temperature of 16.8C (62.2F) in the early hours of Sunday – a record high for this time of year. North-eastern England and northern Wales were also unusually warm, with 13.3C recorded in Chillingham Barns, Northumberland, and 11.5C in Rhyl. The Scottish figure, recorded by the Met Office at 3am on Sunday in Cassley in Sutherland, is the highest on record for 29, 30 or 31 December. Forecasters have attributed the unseasonably warm weather to a meteorological pattern called the Foehn Effect. It occurs in mountainous areas, creating wet and cold conditions on one side of a mountain and warm and dry conditions on the other. The phenomenon occurs when humid air is pushed over high ground by strong winds. As the moisture-filled air rises, it cools and condenses, resulting in clouds and rain. This then releases dry air, which moves down the mountain’s other side, heating up and raising ground level temperatures as it travels. The effect coincided with gusts of warm air arriving from the southern Atlantic, which have resulted in Britain being warmer than Athens and Rome. This pattern is usually seen in eastern Scotland, north-eastern Wales and north-eastern England. Alex Burkill, a meteorologist for the Met Office, said it was extremely rare to see such high temperatures overnight this late in the year. “Getting temperatures of 16 or 17 degrees in December isn’t all that unusual but it’s remarkable that this was during the night,” he told the BBC. The current record for the highest daytime maximum temperature in December in the UK is 18.3C, registered in Achnashellach in the Scottish Highlands on 2 December 1948.

Moscow resorts to fake snow in warmest December since 1886 -  Moscow has been so warm this December that the government has resorted to sending trucks filled with artificial snow to decorate a new year display in the city centre. Videos of the delivery for a snowboarding hill went viral as observers noted the irony of bringing snow to a city that spends millions each year on its removal. The Moscow region is in the throes of one of its warmest winters since temperatures began to be systematically recorded 140 years ago. The temperature in the Russian capital rose to 5.4C on 18 December, topping the previous record for the month set in 1886. Concerns are growing about the effects of global heating on Russia. Permafrost under the country’s northern towns is slowly melting, and receding Arctic ice is driving hungry polar bears to forage in urban areas. The thaw in the northern permafrost has even set off a “gold rush” for mammoth ivory by making the tusks previously buried in ice more accessible to prospectors. The balmy December weather has interrupted hibernation at Moscow zoo and caused crocuses, lilacs and magnolias at Moscow State University’s apothecary garden to flower early. Zoo officials said they had put five jerboas – a type of hopping rodent with long hind legs – into specially refrigerated enclosures to encourage them to hibernate. The most visible impact, however, has been the lack of snow, which usually begins blanketing Russia in October or November. Light flurries have fallen in Moscow and its parks are dusted white, but most of the snow in the city centre has melted. The country virtually shuts down for more than a week after the new year, as Russians eat and drink their way through early January with ample time to recover before returning to work. This year, Moscow has closed down central avenues near the Kremlin and is erecting large soundstages for concerts during the holiday. The warm temperatures have kept Russians off cross-country skis and skating ponds, with children playing football in the courtyard rinks that usually host hockey matches at this time of year. One popular meme showed cupfuls of snow being sold for 50 rubles, or 62p.

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

Record hit for most ice to melt in Antarctica in one day, data suggests: "We are in a Climate Emergency" by Kashmira Gander The record in recent decades for the highest level of ice to melt in Antarctica in one day was reached on Christmas Eve, data suggests. Around 15 percent of the continent's surface melted on Monday, according to the Global Forecast System (GFS) by the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). The data comes from the Modèle Atmosphérique Régional (MAR), a model used for meteorological and climatic research. Xavier Fettweis, a climatologist at the University of Liège in Belgium, who tweeted the data on Friday, said this is the highest melt extent in Antarctica in the modern era, since 1979. He added the production of melt water is a record 230 percent higher than average since November this year. That's despite the melting season not yet being over.  For the first time, Fettweis said, the melting seemed to explain a negative anomaly in data on Antarctica's surface mass balance (SMB). This is the net balance between what causes a glacier's surface to grow or deplete, for instance because it evaporates or melts away. "It should be noted that this process is currently missing in most of SMB estimations over Antarctica as melt has been negligible until now. But the climate is changing..." Fettweis said. Fettweis told Newsweek Antarctica has been "significantly warmer than average" this melting season. But he stressed the data is from a model, and not an in situ observation. The melting could be driven by a number of factors, and experts will need to wait two to three melting seasons to confirm what is going on. "We have observed a crash of the Antarctica polar vortex just before this melting season," explained Fettweis, referring to low pressure near the pole. "A weaker polar vortex allows warm air masses to reach easier the ice sheet (which is usually protected by its polar vortex as it was the case the previous summer). The fact that the sea ice extent is very low also enhances the possibility of warm air masses to reach the ice sheet."

Climate Disasters in 2019 Cost Billions, Report Finds -- Climate change is getting costlier and deadlier. A new report from British charity Christian Aid found that 15 of the world's largest natural disasters in 2019 — including wildfires, hurricanes, typhoons and more — had links to a warming world. All 15 of those disasters cost more than $1 billion in damages, and seven of them cost more than $10 billion each. Record rainfall in the spring caused more than $12.5 billion in damages throughout the midwest and southern U.S. due to flooding. On the flip side, a dry summer and record heat waves, which spurred massive wildfires in California, cost more than $25 billion in damages. The report, however, states many of the totals have likely been underestimated."These figures are likely to be underestimates as they often show only insured losses and do not always take into account other financial costs, such as lost productivity and uninsured losses," the report states.Although the financial burden of these extreme events is severe, developing nations are experiencing the worst loss. More than 1,300 people lost their lives to Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi in March. Another 1,900 were killed in Northern India from June to October when monsoon flooding hit record levels. And 673 people were killed during Hurricane Dorian, which many regard as the worst natural disaster to ever hit the Bahamas."The great tragedy of climate change is that it is the poorest and most vulnerable who suffer the most, despite us doing the least to cause it," Dr. Adelle Thomas from the University of the Bahamas said in apress release. "However as this year has shown, no continent is immune from global warming and its impacts." This year is projected to be the second hottest year on record and losses from these extreme weatherevents are likely to get worse going into the new decade. The report urges world leaders to begin taking serious steps toward mitigating these losses.

We Broke Down the Last Decade of Climate Change in 7 Charts - As this hottest-on-record, godforsaken decade draws to a close, it’s clear that global warming is no longer a problem for future generations but one that’s already displacing communities, costing billions, and driving mass extinctions. And it’s worth asking: Where did the past 10 years get us? The seven charts below begin to hint at an answer to that question. Some of the changes they document, like the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the number of billion dollar disasters that occur each year, illustrate how little we did to reduce emissions and how unprepared the world is to deal with the warming we’ve already locked in. Even though more people believe in human-caused climate change now than 10 years ago, a growing chasm in political partisanship makes it more difficult than ever for Congress to pass climate legislation. But by other measures, we might one day look back on the 2010s as a turning point in our civilization’s approach to climate change. The growth of renewable energy and rapid retirement of coal-burning power plants this decade illustrate that crucial changes to the world order are currently well underway.

  • 1. Atmospheric carbon dioxide rose by about 25 parts per million.  The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has not only continued to rise over the past 10 years, but it is also now rising at a faster rate than ever before.  In 2013, the famous atmospheric carbon monitoring station on Mauna Loa, first installed by Charles David Keeling in 1958, measured levels above 400 parts per million for the first timeever. By 2016, that number became the annual low. The earth’s atmosphere has not contained this much carbon dioxide in millions of years — since before Homo sapiens walked the earth. And unless we find some way to suck carbon out of the atmosphere, the Keeling curve will not dip below 400 parts per million again in your lifetime, your children’s lifetime, or their children’s lifetime, because carbon dioxide can hang around in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.
  • 2. Climate change got expensive. One of the best-established consequences of global warming is that it makes natural disasters, like fires and floods, more frequent and severe. In the 2010s, the costs of this consequence came into sharp focus as billion-dollar disasters struck the United States again and again. Hurricanes Irene and Sandy pummeled the Northeast, Maria forever changed Puerto Rico, Florence shook upNorth Carolina, and Harvey drowned Houston, Texas just weeks before Irma sank Florida. Super Typhoon Yutu, the worst storm to hit U.S. soil since 1935, wreaked havoc on the northern Mariana Islands in the Philippines. There was record flooding in the Midwest and Californians were struck by some of the largest and most destructive fires the Golden State has ever seen.

Rise In Climate-Related Deaths Will Surpass All Infectious Diseases, Economist Testifies - More people will die from climate-driven temperature changes in 2100 than the number who die today from all infectious diseases combined, a leading economist told members of Congress last week. Michael Greenstone is the Milton Friedman Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and the co-director of the Climate Impact Lab (CIL), a collaboration of climate scientists, economists, computational experts, researchers and analysts at multiple universities who are working to establish a precise data-driven estimate of the impact of the climate crisis.The lab’s work is not done, but Greenstone revealed some of what they’ve concluded so far. “The main CIL finding to date is that the increase in the global mortality rate due to climate change-induced temperature changes in 2100 is larger than the current mortality rate due to all infectious diseases,” Greenstone said Dec. 19 to members of the United States House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Environment.The lab used data from 40 countries and accounted for both costs and benefits of climate change and adaptation. It estimates “the full mortality risk due to climate change to be an additional 85 deaths per 100,000 in 2100,” he said. In 2018, according to his figures, all infectious diseases accounted for about 75 deaths per 100,000.The lab also monetized this impact on society for its ongoing calculation of the social cost of carbon.Mortality from temperature change makes up only a fraction of the total social cost of carbon, Greenstone said, yet that fraction alone will cost society $23.6 per metric ton of carbon emitted. The Trump Administration estimates the total social cost of carbon at $1-$7 per ton.

I wouldn't have wasted my time on Trump, says Greta Thunberg - (Reuters) - Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg said on Monday that talking to U.S. President Donald Trump at a United Nations summit on global warming would have been a waste of time since he would not have paid any attention. In an interview with BBC radio’s Today program, for which she was the guest editor on Monday, Thunberg also said she regarded personal attacks on her as funny and that she hoped to go back to having a normal life. A video of the 16-year-old Swedish campaigner giving Trump what media described as a “death stare” at a U.N. climate summit in New York in September went viral on social media. Trump has questioned climate science and is pulling the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on global warming. Asked what she would have said to the president if they had spoken, Thunberg said: “Honestly, I don’t think I would have said anything because obviously he’s not listening to scientists and experts, so why would he listen to me?”  “So I probably wouldn’t have said anything, I wouldn’t have wasted my time,” she said. This month Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called Thunberg “a brat”. Trump has said on Twitter she needs to work on her anger management problem. “Those attacks are just funny because they obviously don’t mean anything,” she said. “I guess of course it means something - they are terrified of young people bringing change which they don’t want - but that is just proof that we are actually doing something and that they see us as some kind of threat.”

Amazon threatens to fire employees who speak out on climate change -- A group of Amazon employees say the company has threatened to fire them for speaking out against the company’s environmental policies. In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said that several employees were contacted by legal and HR representatives, who said they were in violation of the company’s external communications policy. Maren Costa, a user experience experience designer, was one of the employees Amazon threatened to fire. In the statement, Costa said: “This is not the time to shoot the messengers. This is not the time to silence those who are speaking out.” Two employees were told their roles would be terminated if they continued to speak out about Amazon’s business, a spokesperson for the group told CNBC. Amazon also threatened to terminate Jamie Kowalski, a software development engineer, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the news on Thursday. Kowalski and Costa said they received letters from one of Amazon’s lawyers after speaking out publicly in October, the Post reported. In the statement, the employee group claimed that Amazon changed its policy in September, claiming that the updated policy “requires employees to seek prior approval to speak about Amazon in any public forum while identified as an employee.” However, Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokesperson, said the company’s communications policy isn’t new. In September, Amazon actually tried to make it easier for employees to speak out by adding a form on an internal web site where employees could seek approval; prior to that, they had to get direct approval from a senior vice president. She added that employees are “encouraged to work within their teams” and can suggest “improvements to how we operate through those internal channels.” Amazon employees have increasingly pressured the company to address its environmental impact. At Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting in May, thousands of employees submitted a proposal asking Bezos to develop a comprehensive climate-change plan and reduce its carbon footprint, though it was ultimately rejected. The proposal was built on an employee letter published in April that accused Amazon of donating to climate-delaying legislators and urged the company to transition away from fossil fuels.

How Sales Shopping Is Killing the Planet --  Things started six weeks before Christmas with Singles Day, which began in China and is now the world’s biggest shopping day. This was followed by Black Friday, Cyber Monday sale, the pre-Christmas sales and now the period of post-Christmas or New Year sales. Soon it will be time for Valentine’s Day sales, Easter sales and so on. The sale events don’t seem to pause but instead persevere throughout the year and in various forms.  For consumers, sales provide one or more “legit reasons” for spending and gifting, either to oneself, others or a bit of both. Indulgent spending is expected and even encouraged when discounts or bargains are widely available to be snatched up. . Emotionally, they may drive consumers to spend money they do not have and then feel regret or guilt afterwards. Financially, they may entrap shoppers into (more) financial debt because of the faux sense of “entitled” indulgence or spending when there is a sale on. Psychologically, it may exacerbate compulsive buying disorder, also known as “oniomania”, by legitimising gifting and spending. All this adds up to some serious environmental costs.  I think there are two “behavioural lenses” that are applicable here: The throwaway lens, particularly visible in fashion, suggests that the more we buy, the more we throw away. While the correlation is yet to established empirically, it is logical to think that sales promote more buying and in turn mean there is more to throw away. This proposition can be supported by the phenomenon of dwindling living space. In the UK, bedrooms are shrinking and on average living rooms in new build homes are a third smaller than in the 1970s.  The product returns lens suggests a possible correlation between sales and the rate of product returns. Sales such as Black Friday have become digitally-oriented, with around three quarters of purchases being made online. Online returns can involve a number of environmentally damaging activities. Consumers sending items back, and couriers collecting and redistributing them, all means extra driving and thus traffic congestion and carbon emissions. Cleaning, repairing and/or repackaging returned items mean consuming more natural resources and potentially using more materials that contain fossil fuels or palm oils. Processing, transporting and landfill of single-use or non-recyclable packaging used in returns mean more land use and a greater carbon footprint.

Firms must justify investment in fossil fuels, warns Mark Carney  - The outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said all companies and financial institutions must justify their continued investment in fossil fuels, and warned that assets in the sector could end up “worthless”. In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme being broadcast on Monday, Carney said that although the financial sector was starting to cut back on investment in oil and gas companies, the process was not moving quickly enough. Carney, who will focus on his new role as UN special envoy for climate change and finance after he steps down from the governorship in the new year, agreed to appear on the programme for an edition edited by the climate crisis campaigner Greta Thunberg, one of several guest editors on Today over the holiday period. Carney has been one of the most vocal central bank governors on the need for the financial sector to do more to transition towards a zero-carbon economy.He told the programme that the climate crisis was a “tragedy on the horizon” and that more extreme weather events were inevitable. “By the time that the extreme events become so prevalent and so obvious, it will be too late to do anything about it,” he said. Political leaders had to “start addressing future problems today”. On the issue of whether investors should be divesting from companies in the fossil fuel sector, Carney said fund managers would “have to make the judgment and justify to the people whose money it ultimately is”. When pressed on whether pension funds should divest from oil and gas companies even if the returns were attractive, he replied: “Well that hasn’t been the case but they could make that argument. They need to make the argument, to be clear about why is that going to be the case if a substantial proportion of those assets are going to be worthless.” He warned: “If we were to burn all those oil and gases, there’s no way we would meet carbon budgets. Up to 80% of coal assets will be stranded, [and] up to half of developed oil reserves. A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer: what’s your plan?” The Bank of England has said assets worth up to $20tn (£16tn) could become worthless very quickly if the financial sector and business do not make a smooth transition towards a zero-carbon economy.

Going Green Will Pay For Itself in Seven Years, Study Finds -  A Stanford University professor whose research helped underpin the U.S. Democrats’ Green New Deal says phasing out fossil fuels and running the entire world on clean energy would pay for itself in under seven years. It would cost $73 trillion to revamp power grids, transportation, manufacturing and other systems to run on wind, solar and hydro power, including enough storage capacity to keep the lights on overnight, Mark Jacobson said in a study published Friday in the journal One Earth. But that would be offset by annual savings of almost $11 trillion, the report found.“There’s really no downside to making this transition,” said Jacobson, who wrote the study with several other researchers. “Most people are afraid it will be too expensive. Hopefully this will allay some of those fears.”Some of Jacobson’s past findings have been questioned, notably a 2017 journal article that criticized his methodology on measuring the cost of phasing out fossil fuels.The biggest challenge of ditching fossil fuels may not be economic. Even some clean-power advocates acknowledge technology isn’t available yet to run power grids entirely on renewables without jeopardizing reliability. The report published Friday looked at 143 countries that generate more than 99% of the world’s greenhouse emissions. The savings would come from not extracting fossil fuels, using higher-efficiency systems and other benefits of shifting entirely to electricity. It follows a paper Jacobson published in 2015 laying out a state-by-state plan for the U.S. to convert to 100% renewables.

York to ban private car journeys from city centre within three years  - The medieval city of York has announced plans to ban private car journeys from the city centre within three years in an effort to cut carbon emissions. Councillors spelled out the “unashamedly ambitious” goal that would follow the lead of Bristol, which is due to become the first UK city to ban diesel cars by 2021. The historic Yorkshire city, which attracts nearly 7 million visitors a year, is one of several UK cities with illegally high levels of air pollution. The ban would stop all non-essential private car journeys inside York’s city walls by 2023, with an exemption for people who rely on cars such as disabled residents. Jonny Crawshaw, a Labour councillor in the city, said: “People’s first response might be to be a bit anxious about what we’re proposing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. The public mood is changing – particularly in relation to climate change.” Councillors voted in favour of the plans by a majority. The City of York council is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2030, 20 years before the British government’s net zero target. The UK government has been ordered by the courts to bring air pollution levels down to legal limits in the shortest possible time. A pollution map released by campaigners in February found levels of air pollution that exceed safety limits in almost 2,000 locations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The worst place for nitrogen dioxide pollution in 2017 was Kensington and Chelsea, followed by Leeds and Doncaster. York, which attracts millions of tourists every year to its medieval walls, cobbled streets and 13th-century Gothic cathedral, does not escape the smog. According to the data, compiled by Friends of the Earth, 12 locations in the city centre exceeded national air quality standards of 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre (ug/m3). A bus stop on Rougier Street was the city’s most polluted spot in 2018, the data shows, followed by a taxi rank outside the railway station (59.9 and 57.7 ug/m3 respectively). Crawshaw, who represents a city-centre ward on City of York council, said the proposal was not about stopping tourism or preventing those living in the city centre from having a car. He said: “This is about reducing and removing non-essential car journeys across the whole city, while improving the range and attractiveness of alternative travel options.

The European Auto Industry Is Racing To Ditch Diesel - As if the downturn due to a trade-war-induced slowdown in China were not enough, the European automotive industry is facing the challenge of a rapid switch from diesel to petrol engines that has been gathering pace for the last two years. At the same time, the industry has also had to deal with the implementation of new legislation designed to reduce car makers’ overall fleet emission levels. An article in the Financial Times explains the impact of the new legislation on Europe’s automakers, an industry that supports some 14 million workers across the continent. Quoting Max Warburton, an auto analyst at Bernstein, the article says each carmaker faces its own CO2 target based on the weight of its vehicles. A business selling smaller cars, such as PSA, therefore has a lower CO2 target than a company with a heavier average vehicle, such as Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler. The targets for each company vary from around 91 g/km to just over 100 g/km. Some carmakers, like PSA, have already made good progress, switching less fuel-efficient, four-cylinder GM engines in their new Astra range to new three-cylinder PSA engines has improved efficiency by some 21 percent. However, carmakers like PSA do not have a lot of luxury saloons and SUVs in their lineup. Daimler, BMW and JLR do, and the situation is made worse by a rise in sales of such vehicles in recent years. Europe — once the home of the small, fuel-efficient compact — has fallen in love with the SUV. Some 40 percent of cars sold in the E.U. are now SUVs and automotive carbon emissions have, as a result, risen for the first time in a decade. Potential fines for missing these new fleet emission limits are punishing, the FT states. Every gram over the target incurs a penalty of €95 — multiplied by the number of cars sold by the carmaker, the costs could be crippling. “It’s just stunning how much is going to have to be achieved in the next 18 to 24 months,” Warburton is quoted as saying. If the industry sold exactly the same mix of vehicles in 2021 as it did last year, carmakers together would face penalties of €25 billion, the Financial Times reports. 

Rust Belt region banks on becoming hub for electric vehicles - The day Youngstown’s steel mills began shutting down 40 years ago remains fresh in the minds of those who live in the blue-collar corner of Ohio. Community leaders don’t want the recent closing of General Motors’ massive assembly plant to leave that same lingering gloom. The region is embarking on an ambitious plan to become a research and production hub for electric vehicles and carve out a new economy for itself by mixing its industrial past with emerging technology. There are positive signs already. GM in early December announced it will form a joint venture and hire more than 1,100 people at a new plant that it says will be among the largest electric vehicle battery cell factories in the world. And the Lordstown assembly plant that GM shut down in March has been sold to a newly formed company that intends to begin making electric trucks by late 2020. But the Youngstown region, which for decades has been a symbol of the American Midwest’s declining industrial might, faces plenty of competition from places like Detroit, Silicon Valley and China — all of which also are positioning to be centers for electric and autonomous vehicles. While the electric transformation within the auto industry is just beginning to take shape, it’s clear that fewer workers and factories will be needed to make cars that require fewer parts. Where those next clusters of electric vehicle manufacturing will sprout is yet to be determined. Economic development leaders point out that the Youngstown area already is home to a electric battery testing lab and business incubators that are focused on energy and additive manufacturing through 3-D printing. Youngstown State University is breaking ground on an advanced manufacturing technology center and wants to play a part in training students to work in the electric vehicle industry. “We want to take charge of our future. An opportunity like this really plays to our regional strengths,” said Mike Hripko, the university’s associate vice president for economic development and government relations.

 Planes could fly together in V-shaped flocks to save fuel and cut down on emissions amid growing ‘flight shame’ over their environmental impact - Planes could soon by flying in V-shape formations like migrating birds in a bid to save fuel and emissions. Airbus says flight technology is now mature enough to use the formation which would allow aircraft to effectively ride on the coattails of each other. The tactic is often seen in cycling where racers 'draft' behind leaders of the racing peloton, following in their slipstream. Within six months, two A350 planes will make a long-haul formation flight to prove the so-called 'wake energy retrieval' can be accomplished, according to The Times. Then early in 2021, an airline will pair two jets, with the second flying nearly two miles from the first, on a transatlantic passenger route. Within five years, airlines will be encouraged to use the formation in a bid to save up to 10 per cent of fuel, lowering costs, as well as lowering carbon emissions. For every tonne of fuel saved, three tonnes less carbon dioxide will be left in the plane's trail. It comes amid a growing trend of moral objection to flying by plane among environmentalists, with climate activist Greta Thunberg famously sailing to and from the US. She popularised the Swedish term flygskam, meaning flight shame, to discourage others from flying due to its environmental impact.

Report MD Emissions Plan Will Set Climate Movement Back - -- Maryland's climate action plan, which was released in October by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, will not help the state reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 44% by 2030 as promised, according to a new report. Scott Williamson is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Climate Strategies, which released the report. He says the emissions-reduction estimate is based partly on an unsupported prediction that the electric vehicle industry in the state is going to explode. "Maryland, right now, sells reliably less than 10,000 electric vehicles a year within the state," says Williamson. "And this plan basically takes on an assumption that that number is going to rocket north of 100,000. That's a pretty quick statement that the automobile market in the state is going to transform." Officials say their proposal, plus Hogan's announcement last week of new clean-energy legislation, shows the administration's strong commitment to leading the charge on affordable clean energy, climate change and greenhouse-gas emissions reductions. But Williamson says the draft of Maryland's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act sets the entire climate movement back. He points out that one of the plan's agendas is to reduce congestion on Maryland's I-270, the Capital Beltway and the Baltimore Washington Parkway. It supports Hogan's controversial proposal to widen those busy highways and install toll lanes, which the administration says will result in less traffic and less emissions. "Case studies have found that in the very short term, this does occur," says Williamson. "They also find that what's called 'induced demand' -- or simply, more driving on these corridors -- also occurs immediately after these corridors are widened. And they continue to occur over the course of the following decade."

Natural gas development is speeding up in Virginia. Legislators will have to square that with state climate goals.   - This September, Gov. Ralph Northam took the stage at the inaugural Virginia Clean Energy Summit to announce he was committing the state to a carbon-free grid by 2050. But as the governor received a standing ovation, elsewhere in the commonwealth work was underway to massively expand infrastructure supporting a very different — and decidedly not carbon-free — type of energy: natural gas. The past year has seen a flow of investments in natural gas in Virginia, from ongoing work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline and continued efforts to construct the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to plans by state utilities and private investors to build up to 12 new natural gas plants. Now, as the General Assembly prepares to convene this January under new Democratic leadership, lawmakers are struggling to chart a course for Virginia’s energy policy in a state split between carbon-free goals and intensive natural gas investment. “I would rather we not (build new natural gas plants),” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, shortly after she and Democratic Dels. Rip Sullivan of Fairfax, Jennifer Carroll Foy of Prince William and Alfonso Lopez of Arlington introduced a sweeping proposal to transition Virginia to clean energy. “But I think we are going to have to make sure that while we’re in this transition, we can meet demand.” Utilities, and a handful of private investors, have contended that to meet that demand and keep Virginia’s lights on, natural gas is a necessary bridge. But many clean energy advocates and industry analysts say there are other options — and that continuing to build out the natural gas grid bears environmental and financial risks for the state.

Duke Energy to dig up coal ash at six sites in North Carolina - Duke Energy will dig up nearly 80 million tons of coal ash at six sites in North Carolina in a legal settlement with the state Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ said the excavation would be the largest coal-ash clean up in U.S. history. Last year, DEQ ordered the utility to dig up ash from nine basins at six sites. Duke Energy had planned to keep the ash in place at those locations, sealed with a cap. The utility sued DEQ over the order. The settlement was signed Dec. 31. “North Carolina’s communities have lived with the threat of coal ash pollution for too long,” DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan said in a statement. “We are holding Duke accountable and will continue to hold them accountable for their actions as we protect public health, the environment and our natural resources.” A 2014 spill that dumped contaminated water and tons of toxic coal ash from a Duke Energy containment pond into the Dan River brought to public attention the environmental hazards posed by coal ash basins. Most of the coal ash at the six sites will be excavated. The settlement says the ash is to be put into lined landfills or used to make building materials. Among the sites to be cleaned up: Duke Energy’s Marshall Steam Station at Lake Norman and the Allen Steam Station in Gaston County. At the Allen plant on Lake Wylie, coal ash storage sites have polluted groundwater with contaminants including arsenic, cobalt and lithium at levels exceeding federal safety standards, according to a report released by environmental groups in 2019. Groundwater at the Marshall plant and 10 other Duke Energy sites has contained high levels of radioactivity, according to a 2018 report by an environmental group. Charlotte-based Duke Energy has pushed back against such reports, insisting there is no reason for concern about nearby drinking water wells or lake water. The Catawba River Keeper Foundation said it has been fighting Duke Energy in court for eight years over coal ash. At a news conference on the banks of Lake Wylie across from Duke Energy’s Allen Steam Station, Catawba River Keeper Brandon Jones said the organization felt good about the settlement. “Our goal was to protect the Catawba River and remove the coal ash from threatening it,” he said. “It’s really just a weight off our shoulders.” Duke Energy is closing all its coal ash basins, including 31 in North Carolina.

COAL ASH: Will Duke's sweeping cleanup plan influence EPA? -- Friday, January 3, 2020 -- Duke Energy Corp. has committed to the largest coal ash cleanup in the nation, and environmental advocates hope the Trump administration is watching.

Navajo Generating Station, coal mine face years of breakdown, cleanup  – They may have turned out the lights, but the party’s not over at the Navajo Generating Station and its affiliated Kayenta coal mine. The owners of both facilities face several years of decommissioning and cleanup as well as the possibility of decades of environmental monitoring of the sites, which closed down for good this fall after a two-year fight over their futures. At least some of the complex will live on, through salvaged parts and relocated jobs. But the remaining work will likely employ only a fraction of the facilities’ hundreds of workers, many of whom were members of the Navajo and Hopi tribes, whose economies relied on the facilities. Contractors for the Salt River Project, which owns the power plant, have already started a three-year process of decommissioning the 43-year-old coal-fired power plant. National Service and Salvage Corp. of Indiana is dismantling the electrical system that powered the train that delivered coal from Kayenta to NGS, the mine’s only customer. An Ohio company, Independence Demolition, will begin this year removing hazardous materials and additional electrical equipment before demolishing the plant itself. SRP has not announced the contractors who will do coal ash and coal pond cleanup at the site, but those processes are not expected to start until mid to late in the year. SRP says all of its main contractors have been instructed to give preference to Navajo Nation members and companies in hiring and awarding subcontracts on the project. SRP estimates 90% of the material will be recycled, going so far as to set up a website where members of the public can purchase everything from office equipment to industrial parts salvaged from the plant.

U.S. senators ask for government investigation of coal tax credit program -  (Reuters) - Three U.S. Democratic senators have asked the investigative arm of Congress to evaluate a $1 billion-a-year subsidy for burning chemically treated refined coal, after research has shown that some power plants using the fuel produced surging amounts of mercury and smog instead of cutting pollution.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, as well as Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, on Friday requested the Government Accountability Office investigate the tax credit program for refined coal, according to a letter viewed by Reuters. The request for an investigation comes after a Reuters Special Report in December 2018 revealed that many power plants burning refined coal pumped out more smog, not less. After the Reuters report, a study by independent nonprofit Resources for the Future found that power plants using refined coal were not reducing mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution to levels required by the tax credit program. Those pollutants rose sharply at some power plants after they began burning refined coal, the study said. Others showed reductions, but not enough to meet the requirements for taxpayer subsidies, according to the study by the Washington, D.C., research institution. “(This) raises questions about the extent to which the use of refined coal is actually achieving the emissions reductions required to claim the refined coal production tax credit,” the senators wrote in their letter to the GAO.

How Worcester activists are stopping coal trains headed to NH  --Despite its leadership on climate change, New England still permits natural gas and coal to be used and burned in its borders, which has riled Worcester residents into action. In December alone, Worcester, Mass., residents stopped two coal trains, delaying them from reaching a New Hampshire power plant, and protested against a gas compressor station. On Dec. 28, climate activists blocked a train carrying coal in the Green Island neighborhood in Worcester. According to organizers, 10 were taken into custody by the Worcester Police Department for disturbing the peace. The local action was organized by the Climate Disobedience Center as part of the No Coal, No Gas campaign. The coal train was on its way to the Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H., one of the largest of three coal-burning plants in New England. Activists were ready for the train to leave Worcester at 7 p.m., and fully stopped the train for a half-hour at 7:20. Ari Nicholson, 22, a climate activist who was present at a similar coal stopping on Dec. 7, said they do this because, “we should not be burning coal in 2019.” The Merrimack Station receives the coal it burns from outside the state, and, according to Nicholson, “Worcester is in a key position on the route the coal train makes to the plant.” “Worcester locals are part of the fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Emma Schoenberg, 27, an organizer with the Climate Disobedience Center. “Rate payers, those connected to the electric grid around New England, are on the hook for keeping this coal plant alive through forward capacity payments, which pay for fossil fuels that haven’t been burned yet.” Saturday’s coal train stopping is just one of various Worcester-based actions for regional climate causes going on this winter season. A similar action occurred Dec. 7, which was largely attended by activists from Clark Climate Justice, a student group of climate activists from Clark University. Activists were ready from 7 a.m. that day to stop the coal train, which arrived late in the evening. The students were able to stop the coal train in its tracks for four hours, until railroad police issued a warning. “Our goal was to delay the train long enough so people coming from all different corners of New England had enough time to get in place” to protest farther down the track, said Nicholson, who flagged the train to a halt. Organizers expect several more coal trains to travel via Worcester. “We have to ask ourselves,” said Nicholson, “if fossil fuel infrastructure is rolling through our town, what are we going to do? I’m going to be on the tracks.”

Western Kentucky Coal Mine Closing in Early 2020 -- A coal mine in Ohio County will close in a couple of months, forcing the layoff of about 250 workers. In a WARN notice sent to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training on Thursday, the Western Kentucky Coal Company announced plans to close its Genesis Mine in Centertown on Feb. 24. The decision comes after parent company Murray Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October. Murray Energy also owns Midway Mine in Centertown and Pride Mine in Muhlenberg County. Coal companies are struggling to stay afloat as industries switch from coal to cheaper and cleaner forms of energy.  Ohio County Judge-Executive David Johnston didn't return a call from WKU Public Radio, but told WFIE-TV the closure will not only impact employees, but will also lower the amount of coal severance money the county receives from coal production.

Sen. Ryan Weld To Tackle Mine Subsidence Rules  — West Virginia Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld sees a need to protect property owners’ rights in incidents involving mine subsidence. As state lawmakers prepare to return to Charleston for the start of their regular 60-day session Wednesday, Weld, R-Brooke, is preparing legislation giving the State Department of Environmental Protection authority to determine property owner compensation in mine subsidence cases. A long-standing rule in both state and federal law presently permits coal companies to choose the method of compensation they will provide to the property owners. They decide whether they will step in and fully repair the land subsidence, or determine the financial amount they will reimburse the property owner for the decrease in their property’s value, according to Weld. “I’ve been doing a lot of research into how other states handle mine subsidence damages,” he said. “Just because something was done a certain way in West Virginia, or because it was done that way in federal law, doesn’t me we have to continue to do it that way.” Weld’s legislation is modeled after Pennsylvania’s legislation, which directs the property owner to file a claim with the DEP. The agency would then investigate and determine the amount of compensation due the property owner from the coal operator. “This protects property owners from having to hire legal counsel and filing a legal suit against the coal operator,” he said. “Also, it protects them in that it is not just the coal operator who is determining the amount of compensation, but is instead a neutral party.”

Coal-fired plants around New Delhi running despite missing emissions deadline -  (Reuters) - Coal-fired utilities around New Delhi were still operating on Wednesday despite threats from the Indian authorities to close them down if they had not installed equipment to cut emissions of sulfur oxides by the end of the year. Three senior executives at companies operating power plants around New Delhi and facing an end-2019 deadline said they had not received direction on whether they could continue to run the plants having not installed the kit. Only one out of the 11 utilities in the national capital region had installed the equipment. India had already extended its December 2017 deadline for its utilities to meet the emissions standards - posing a further challenge to the authorities grappling with the pollution that can cause lung disease and blights air quality. Officials from the India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), who had threatened a shut down for non-compliance, did not respond to repeated calls and text messages seeking comment. Reuters reported last month that more than half of India’s coal-fired power plants and 94% of the coal-fired units ordered to retrofit equipment to curb air pollution would likely miss the phased deadlines. The air quality index for the Indian capital, the worst affected major city, indicated “severe” conditions on Wednesday - like most days this winter - a potential risk for even healthy people. Real-time data government data showed both power plants in the country’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh which had a Dec. 31 deadline were operating. In Punjab, Vedanta-owned TSPL units were producing power, as were state-run plants at Ropar and Bhatinda. Mohammed Shayin, managing director at northern Haryana state-run power generator HPGCL said all units other than ones under scheduled maintenance were operational, adding that the utility was “pleading” with federal authorities to extend the emissions deadline.

Just 2 per cent of Britain’s power now comes from coal. In Australia, it’s more like 75 per cent - Renewable energy has overtaken fossil fuels to become Britain's largest source of electricity in a historic shift that could signal the "beginning of the end" for coal across Europe. National Grid data released on New Year's Day revealed coal represented just 2.1 per cent of Britain's overall electricity output in 2019. By comparison, black and brown coal fuelled 74 per cent of Australia's energy mix in 2018. The new figures show 48.5 per cent of the United Kingdom's energy came from zero carbon technology in 2019, while coal, gas and oil crashed to just 43 per cent - down from 75.5 per cent in 1990. In 1990, coal alone accounted for 75 per cent of all generation. That figure fell to 30 per cent in 2009 and now stands at only 2.1 per cent following a tsunami of power plant closures and nationwide boom in wind and solar. Just a handful of coal-fired power stations remain operational and all will be shuttered by 2025 under a plan legislated by former Tory prime minister Theresa May and embraced by her successor Boris Johnson. Gas made up 38.4 per cent and biomass and waste 8.2 per cent last year in the UK. The country also imported about 8 per cent of its energy via undersea cables from continental Europe - the majority from green sources. Wind, solar and hydro power totalled 26.5 per cent, while nuclear - which is classified as a zero carbon source - added 16.8 per cent to the mix. That meant renewables pumped out 48.5 per cent of all generation in 2019 - well above the 24.4 per cent figure recorded in 1990 - in a result that eclipsed fossil fuel's dominance for the first time in history. While renewables are on the rise in Australia, their contribution to the national energy grid is nowhere near the scale of the UK. Renewable sources grew by 25 per cent in Australia between 2017 and 2018 but their overall contribution to generation was still well below half of what it was in Britain. Even if nuclear was removed from the UK's total renewable figure, wind, solar and hydro would still be more widely used in Britain than Australia.

Visualizing Every Coal Power Plant In The World (1927-2019) - If you live in a developed country, it’s been clear that the appetite for coal power is falling.Not only has coal been singled out as a primary source of carbon emissions and air pollution, but, as Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins details below, it’s also been getting phased out in favor of cheap natural gas in some regions around the world.In the U.S., electricity generation from coal has been dropping since the late 2000s, and in Europe the departure from coal has accelerated even quicker. In fact, it’s estimated that European coal power output could fall 23% in 2019 alone. However, despite a growing consensus around the use of thermal coal in the West, the global story is actually quite different.Today’s animation from SVT Nyheter details every coal power plant in the world from 1927 to 2019, and it shows that coal power — especially in South Asia — has continued to ramp up.As of 2019, there are an estimated 2,425 coal-fired power plants in the world, combining for an operating capacity of about 2,000 GW and roughly 15 billion tonnes of CO₂ emissions. However, it seems that this could be the year that the story changes.Preliminary data suggests that Indian coal consumption could drop in 2019 for the first time in over a decade. Meanwhile, it’s expected that China’s growing coal capacity could be fully offset by decreasing use of the fossil fuel in developed nations.As a result, according to Carbon Brief, global coal power generation could fall 3% in 2019:If this trend continues, it could be a sign of a tipping point in global coal consumption — and if the sentiment around coal shifts the same way in China, the potential impact could be amplified even further.

Germany Aims To Close All Nuclear Plants By 2022 -Germany is going forward with its plan to phase out nuclear reactors by 2022 as another nuclear power plant went offline last night. Power company EnBW has said that it would take the Philippsburg 2 reactor off the grid at 7 p.m. local time on New Year’s Eve.  This leaves Germany with six nuclear power plants that will have to close by 2022.  In the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, Germany ordered the immediate shutdown of eight of its 17 reactors, and plans to phase out nuclear power plants entirely by 2022. The Philippsburg 2 reactor near the city of Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany has provided energy for 35 years. The Philippsburg 1 reactor—opened in 1979—was taken offline in 2011.Over the past few years, nuclear power generation in Germany has been declining with the shutdown of its nuclear plants, while electricity production from renewable sources has been rising.In January 2019, Germany became the latest large European economy to lay out a plan to phase out coal-fired power generation, aimed at cutting carbon emissions—a metric in which Berlin has been lagging in recent years.A government-appointed special commission at Europe’s largest economy announced the conclusions of its months-long review and proposed that Germany shut all its 84 coal-fired power plants by 2038. Germany, where coal, hard coal, and lignite combined currently provide around 35 percent of power generation, has a longer timetable for phasing out coal than the UK and Italy, for example—who plan their coal exit by 2025—not only because of its vast coal industry, but also because Germany will shut down all its nuclear power plants within the next three years. The closure of all nuclear reactors in Germany by 2022 means that Germany might need to retain half of its coal-fired power generation until 2030 to offset the nuclear phase-out, German Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier said earlier this year.

Holtec Projects $2.3 Billion Price Tag for Indian Point Decommissioning - Holtec International believes it can complete decommissioning of the three nuclear reactors at the Indian Point Energy Center in upstate New York in 12 to 15 years at a cost of $2.3 billion, according to a new filing with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Power company Entergy said in April it would sell the Buchanan, N.Y., plant to the New Jersey energy technology specialist. That will require the NRC to approve the transfer of Indian Point’s reactor and spent-fuel storage licenses, which the companies hope will happen by May 31, 2021, Holtec said in its post-shutdown decommissioning activities report (PSDAR). In the PSDAR, Holtec said it would begin active decommissioning (DECON) immediately upon taking possession of the property. “The plan described in this PSDAR and the cost estimate provided in Enclosure 1 reflect HDI’s current decommissioning plan resulting in obtaining NRC issuance of a license amendment reducing the IP1, 2 & 3 licensed area to the [independent spent fuel storage installation] and permitting partial site release within 12 years of sale closure and license transfer,” the Dec. 19 document says. “While the cost estimate presented herein is based on a 12-year schedule for partial site release, HDI expects that the cost estimates would bound a project schedule supporting partial site release out to 15 years.” Reactor Unit 1 at Indian Point was retired in 1974 and subsequently underwent limited decommissioning. Entergy plans to shut down Unit 2 by April 30, 2020, and Unit 3 by April 30, 2021. The joint Entergy-Holtec license transfer application was submitted to the NRC in November. The PSDAR breaks down the decommissioning cost estimate for each reactor, divided by three main categories of cleanup: license termination, spent fuel management, and site restoration. Work on Unit 1 is estimated to cost $598.2 million: $485 million for license termination, $72.4 million for spent fuel management, and $40.8 million for site restoration. The total expense projection for Unit 2 is $701.8 million: $469.5 million for license termination, $188.3 million for spent fuel management, and $44.1 million for site restoration. Finally, decommissioning Unit 3 is estimated at just over $1 billion: $583.2 million for license termination, $371.4 million for spent fuel management, and $47.8 million for site restoration.

Comment Period on Disposal of Savannah River Defense Waste Extended --The U.S. Department of Energy is extending the comment period by more than a month on its draft environmental assessment for the plan to treat and dispose of about 10,000 gallons of recycled wastewater from the Savannah River Site at a low-level radioactive waste site located out of South Carolina. Stakeholders now have until Feb. 10 to file comments on commercial disposal of recycled wastewater from the Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF). The prior deadline was Jan. 9.The agency published the draft environmental assessment on Dec. 10. The commentextension notice was posted Monday.Treating the Savannah River Site wastewater would be the first test of the Energy Department’s much-discussed June reinterpretation of what constitutes high-level radioactive waste (HLW).According to the agency, the definition of high-level waste under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the Atomic Energy Act means not all waste resulting from spent fuel reprocessing is highly radioactive. As a result, the agency is looking at options such as sending the material to low-level radioactive waste disposal sites run by EnergySolutions in Utah or Waste Control Specialists in Texas. The waste could be grouted for stabilizaion either before or after it leaves the Savannah River Site. Prior to a disposal decision, the agency would determine if the recycled wastewater meets its new standards for disposal as non-HLW. The Energy Department is not officially redefining any high-level waste at SRS but rather saying some of it poses low-enough risk to be disposed of at a low-level site.

Utica Shale well activity as of Dec. 28 -

  • DRILLED: 134 (136 as of last week)
  • DRILLING: 150 (152)
  • PERMITTED: 481 (482)
  • PRODUCING: 2,422 (2,422)
  • TOTAL: 3,187 (3,192)

Two horizontal permits were issued during the week that ended Dec. 28, and 12 rigs were operating in the Utica Shale.

Ohio sales / use tax: Statute expanding oil & gas exemption applies retroactively to purchases of hydraulic fracturing equipment - JD Supra --The Tenth District Ohio Court of Appeals recently applied a statutory amendment clarifying the oil & gas exemption for Ohio sales & use tax retroactively. Interestingly, while this appeal was pending at the Board of Tax Appeals, the legislature amended the statute to clarify the scope of the exemption for fracking equipment. Although legislation is generally applied prospectively, this amendment was considered remedial and expressly stated that it clarified existing law and applied retroactively, including to current appeals.   R.C. 5739.02(B)(42)(q). Stingray Pressure Pumping, LLC v. Tax Commr. of Ohio, 2019-Ohio-5198. This decision opens up refund opportunities for taxpayers in the oil & gas industry, even those currently appealing an assessment.The particular issue in this case was whether a sales tax exemption applied to certain equipment used by Stingray Pressure Pumping, LLC in the production of crude oil and natural gas by fracking. The BTA initially denied exemption for equipment used to mix liquids and materials before being pumped into wells. Under previous case law, this type of property was taxable since it was considered adjunct to the drilling process, rather than used directly in the production of oil and gas.[1]However, while Stingray’s appeal of the BTA’s decision was pending, the General Assembly amended R.C. 5739.02(B)(42) to clarify the scope of the exemption for fracking equipment by identifying certain exempt property and activities that may not have been contemplated when the sales tax exemption was originally enacted decades earlier. See H.B. No. 430; R.C. 5739.02(B)(42)(q). Although amendments are generally prospective, since the statutory amendment expressly clarified the scope of an existing exemption, the amended statute applied retroactively to cases pending on appeal. The BTA did not have the opportunity to apply the clarified statute and, therefore, the Court remanded the appeal to the BTA to determine the taxability of the equipment under the clarified scope of the sales tax exemption.

NEXUS pipeline seeking tax cut in Sandusky County - Local school districts and government entities are still waiting to see how much they will get in tax revenues from the NEXUS pipeline. The natural gas pipeline, completed in 2018, has asked the state for a tax cut and has the option of paying 62.5% of the expected $668,000 in ad valorem taxes to Sandusky County while its appeal is being decided. Sandusky County Auditor Jerri Miller said NEXUS Gas Transmission filed a valuation appeal in late 2019 with the state's Department of Taxation and is seeking close to a 40 percent reduction in its public utility property taxes. Support local journalism. The NEXUS pipeline, which spans 32 miles across Sandusky County, had been expected to add about $668,000 in 2020 to the county’s general fund budget, Miller said. She said NEXUS has the option to tender pay (pay the lower amount of 62.5% of the expected tax revenues) while the appeal is being decided by the state. "If that happens the county general fund will receive a little more than $400,000," Miller said. Jan Day, the county's deputy auditor, said Friday that NEXUS will make two tax payments in 2020, with due dates in February and July. Adam Parker, a spokesman for NEXUS Gas Transmission, told the News-Messenger Friday via e-mail that the Ohio Department of Taxation recently issued a preliminary valuation notice to local tax officials for the newly constructed Nexus Gas Transmission pipeline. "Consistent with how individuals, homes and businesses are taxed, our property tax assessment should reflect the true market value of the pipeline. After reviewing the preliminary assessment, we have elected to file a petition for reassessment through the formal process established by the Ohio Department of Taxation," Parker said.

County opposing natural gas pipeline - The Union County Commissioners are filing an appeal to a project that would bring nearly five miles of gas line from Jerome Township and into Marysville. “While we are not so much opposed to what they are doing, we just don’t feel it goes far enough,” said Tim Hansley, Union County Administrator. In December, Columbia Gas submitted a Letter of Notification, indicating they intended to construct a 4.78 miles natural gas pipeline, known as the Marysville Connector, beginning at Watkins-California Road between U.S. 42 and Derio Road and ending on Industrial Parkway near Veyance Technologies. While Columbia Gas says the majority of the 12-inch natural gas main will be constructed within permanent private pipeline easements, paperwork from the company says it does not actually have any of those easements yet. In addition to the 4.78-mile length of the pipeline right-of-way, Columbia Gas says it will obtain land rights for staging areas that will be situated along the pipeline right-of-way and other areas needed during construction. 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. Rather than go through the typical approval process, Columbia Gas is applying for an accelerated certificate. Local officials are saying the accelerated process is not appropriate for this project. Officials say the Marysville Connector is part of the much longer Northern Loop. The Northern Loop Project is “designed to bring natural gas from pipelines on the eastern side of Franklin County, where supplies are abundant, to areas north and west of Columbus.” In his response to the notification, Michael J. Settineri, an attorney for the Ohio Gas Access Partnership, Inc., argues that the Northern Loop, “will likely connect with the Marysville Connector.” “Columbia itself refers to the Northern Loop and the Marysville Connector as a single project,” Settineri wrote, noting that the overall project should not qualify for the accelerated project due to its size. The Ohio Gas Access Partnership, Inc. (OGAP) is a collaborative group of public and private entities in Union, Madison, Logan and Franklin counties, “and have an interest in pursuing long-term regional solutions to current natural gas capacity concerns.” “OGAP appreciate Columbia’s recognition that there are natural gas supply constraints in western Central Ohio, but believes that the project is not an effective or correct way to address those concerns,” according to Settineri’s comments.

Reader Responds to Fracking Impact Report - Editor’s Note: The following letter to The Business Journal was submitted Dec. 27 in response to a story published Dec. 20. By Lauren Schroeder – The article “Fracking Ban Could Cost Ohio $245B, US Chamber Reports” in the Youngstown Business Journal is disingenuous. The underlying article “What if Hydraulic fracturing was banned? The economic benefits of the shale revolution and the consequences of ending it” by the Global Energy Institute of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not mention the cost of global warming resulting from combustion of fossil fuels, including natural gas. These costs include increased flooding, intensity and frequency of storms, droughts, forest fires, desertification, disease outbreaks, and extinction of millions of species, migration of millions of people from coastal flooded areas or interior regions where climate warming reduces food production, direct hyperthermia deaths of millions of people and the list goes on. These consequences of climate warming attributed to burning fossil fuels from will far exceed the Chamber’s estimate of $245 billion national loss from a fracking ban.The Chamber’s report also failed to mention the economic benefits from an expanding renewable energy industry.    An honest assessment of a hydraulic fracking ban must also take into account the external cost of climate warming and the economic benefits of an alternative fuel industry.

Gulfport sells non-core Utica operations - Gulfport Energy has shed some of its non-core Utica Shale operations. Gulfport Energy, based in Oklahoma City, recently sold some of its non-core operations and provided an update on the continuation of discounted debt repurchases.The company agreed to sell non-operated interests in the Utica Shale for $29 million. That deal was set to close before the year ended. Gulfport netted $7 million with the sale of royalty assets held in the Bakken Formation, which is in part fo North Dakota and Montana.In a separate deal, Gulfport will divest water infrastructure assets in Oklahoma to a third-party water service provider. The company expects to receive $50 million when the deal closes — likely in January — and could possibly net another $50 million over the next 15 years.Gulfport has repurchased $85.6 million of aggregate principal amount of unsecured senior notes for $60.1 million in cash. So far this year, the company has repurchased $190.1 million aggregate principal amount of unsecured notes for $140.4 million in cash. The repurchases will give Gulfport more that $7 million in annual interest savings.

Gulfport Energy: Weak Natural Gas Prices May Limit Its Positive Cash Flow In 2020 - Gulfport Energy has continued to repurchase debt at a discount and also sold non-core assets. This helps reduce Gulfport's net debt, although weak natural gas prices are threatening its ability to both maintain production and generate significant positive cash flow in 2020. It is hedged on around 44% of its natural gas production in 2020, but has no natural gas hedges in place for 2021, so it needs substantial improvement in natural gas prices by then. Gulfport announced a couple asset sales that it had previously discussed that it was exploring. It sold its SCOOP water infrastructure assets to Bison for $50 million upfront and the potential to earn over $50 million in incentive payments over the next 15 years. It also sold some non-operated interests in the Utica Shale for $29 million.It does not appear that Gulfport mentioned the expected impact of these transactions to its production and financials. I am assuming that the SCOOP water infrastructure sale adds around $6 million per year (at current production levels) to Gulfport's costs. The initial $50 million payment would be a roughly 8.3x multiple to EBITDA in this case. I am also assuming that the non-operated Utica Shale sale reduces its Utica Shale production (which is around 97.5% natural gas) by around 15 MMCFE per day.Gulfport has also continued to do debt repurchases at a discount, repurchasing another $85.6 million in unsecured notes for $60.1 million in cash in Q4 2019. This results in over $3 million in annual interest savings, as debt with a roughly 6.375% interest rate gets replaced with 30% less debt (credit facility borrowings) with a 3.52% interest rate. Gulfport would now be expected to produce around 1,365 MMCFE per day in 2020 with a maintenance capex budget, proforma for the divestitures. The 2020 NYMEX strip for natural gas is now at around $2.29, resulting in Gulfport's estimated 2020 revenues coming down by a fair bit from earlier estimates. WTI oil prices have increased to near $60, but only a small amount (around 2%) of Gulfport's production is oil, so the oil price increase doesn't come close to offsetting the weak natural gas prices.

Pittsburgh’s fracking industry cut more than 400 jobs in 2019, with more cuts likely on the way  - Last year, Pittsburgh’s fracking industry cut hundreds of jobs, and the outlook for 2020 could be even worse for the natural gas extraction field. Local natural gas players like EQT, Range Resources, and CNX have cut a combined total of more than 400 jobs since January 2019. EQT, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, led the way with almost 300 job cuts last year. The energy company laid off about 100 last January and then announced an additional 196 job cuts last September. CNX, which is headquartered in Washington County, cut 70 positions last year, while Range Resources cut 40 jobs from its Pittsburgh regional offices. Range Resources, a Texas company, also cut 50 jobs from its headquarters in Houston. 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. “In the short term, the gas market is oversupplied and is likely to remain so for the next few years,” said Brogan. “It’s a cyclical business, and we’re at the bottom of the cycle.” But the slowdown has created casualties. Energy giant Chevron announced last month they would be pulling out of the Pittsburgh region entirely. That means Chevron is leaving its regional offices in Coraopolis, and the fate of its 400 Pittsburgh area jobs is uncertain.

Energy Transfer given $30M penalty for Beaver County pipeline explosion - The early morning landslide and pipeline explosion that lit up a Beaver County neighborhood in September 2018 has yielded a $30.6 million penalty for the pipeline owner, Energy Transfer Corp.Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has signed an agreement with the Texas-based company that also allows Energy Transfer to resume getting environmental permits.The DEP had stopped issuing new permits in February — effectively holding up several big pipeline projects — because the company kept violating environmental rules while trying to stabilize soil around the ruptured Revolution pipeline and along the right of way for its major Mariner East natural gas liquids pipelines. The parallel Mariner East pipelines stretch across the southern part of Pennsylvania, bringing Marcellus and Utica shale gas to terminals near Philadelphia. Problems with underground drilling in the construction of the parallel pipes — a number of sinkholes in the eastern part of the state mobilized the attention of residents and lawmakers there — have already garnered more than $12 million in civil penalties for Energy Transfer.  The settlement announced Friday means the company can also begin the process of repairing the Revolution pipeline, which links shale wells in Beaver and Butler counties to an Energy Transfer gas processing plant in Washington County. The Revolution pipeline was activated just days prior to the 2018 landslide and explosion. Its two major customers are embroiled in lawsuits with Energy Transfer, including one company that has filed for bankruptcy because of the explosion. Environmental regulators have been investigating the conduct of Energy Transfer and its contractors since the Revolution pipeline ruptured and have indicated that poor construction and oversight practices led to the disaster. For example, while the company knew as early as January 2016 that the explosion site had a “high susceptibility to slope failure,” it did not provide the report with this information to the engineers who submitted Energy Transfer’s pipeline permits. During construction, what would later become known as the explosion site was a problem months before the line was activated.In April 2018, according to an internal company report cited in DEP’s agreement, a landslide pushed soil off the right of way. An employee wrote that “there is a significant and very steep drop off on the edge of the ditch-line which will make it difficult to restore properly.”  But Energy Transfer did not consult an engineer or geotechnical expert on how to stabilize the ground there. Instead, the crew on site dried out the drenched soil and moved it back uphill, installing underdrains without a permit. It was that fill — the soil that was placed there by the company — that slid and caused Revolution to rupture, according to a February 2019 consultant’s report commissioned by Energy Transfer.

Pennsylvania Officials Investigate Potential Link Between Fracking And Cancer Cases - - Health officials in Pennsylvania have opened an investigation into the health effects of fracking, following what appears to be a cluster of rare cancer cases affecting teens and young adults that may be linked to the natural gas mining operations. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the Pennsylvania Department of Health is looking into a potential link between hydraulic fracturing operations in the Washington County area and an unusual number of cases involving Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosed in the same area. More commonly referred to as “fracking”, hydraulic fracturing involves drilling and fracturing of shale rock to release oil and gas. Fracking results in the injection of water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressures, to crack the surrounding rock, thus releasing the natural gas underground and allowing it to flow to the head of the well. Problems from fracking have previously been linked to negative environmental effects to the surrounding communities, due the impact on drinking water, as well as increased dust and exhaust from drilling rigs, compressors and the transportation of the water, sand and chemicals. The process has also been linked to increased earthquake activity. The extent of the potential harm to humans living close to these fracking sites has yet to be determined. Concerns in Pennsylvania come from an uptick in recent years of Ewing’s sarcoma. In a typical year, about 250 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease, which affects bones or the surrounding soft tissue. However, in and around Washington County there have been at least 31 cases diagnosed from 2006 through 2017, including two cases in 2018. Since 2008, six cases occurred in one school district, according to the Wall Street Journal. In April, state investigators initially dismissed the cluster as statistically insignificant. But at the behest of parents in the area, Dr. Rachel Levine, the state’s secretary of health, agreed to move forward with the investigation. There are more than 1,800 fracking wells in Washington County, all tapping into what is known as the Marcellus Shale.

PennEast Pipeline seeks two-year in-service delay, citing permitting — PennEast Pipeline asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a two-year extension to put its federally approved 1.1 Bcf/d natural gas pipeline project in service after difficulties in obtaining permits and right of way in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. PennEast, backed by affiliates of Enbridge, Southern Company, New Jersey Resources, South Jersey Industries and UGI, sought a new deadline of January 19, 2022, in a request Monday. FERC issued Natural Gas Act certificates for the pipeline project January 19, 2018, and required the developer to put the pipeline in service by January 19, 2020. "As the commission has explained, good cause [for an extension] can be shown by a project sponsor demonstrating that it has made good faith efforts to meet its deadline, but has encountered unforeseeable circumstances, such as difficulties in obtaining permits," PennEast told FERC. One of the largest obstacles is a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit that not only limited pipeline companies' ability to use eminent domain to obtain right of way on lands in which a state holds an interest, but complicated PennEast's application for a Clean Water Act permit from New Jersey. Based on the court decision, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection denied the application. "PennEast continues to diligently pursue all available legal remedies in an effort to obtain the individual permit," including a planned petition to the US Supreme Court for review of the 3rd Circuit opinion, the company told FERC. For the part of the project in Pennsylvania, PennEast said it is working with the state and the US Army Corps of Engineers on permits and authorizations under the National Historic Preservation Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, and the Clean Water Act. The pipeline would carry gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania to East Coast markets and pipeline connections. The pipeline company said it is committed to placing the approximately $1 billion project in service "as soon as possible"

New Jersey utility gains access to Gateway gas pipeline extension - Natural gas infrastructure firm Williams has placed its Gateway Expansion pipeline project into service for several utilities in the New Jersey and tri-state region. PSEG Power and UGI Energy Services are among the customers for the Gateway Expansion, which ties into the interstate Transco Pipeline system owned by Tulsa-based Williams. The project was completed 11 months ahead of schedule, according to the company. Converting heating resources from oil to natural gas could be equivalent to removing about 590,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to Williams. Natural gas availability was a concern for many utilities in the northeast U.S. in recent past.  Construction on the Gateway Expansion Project began in early 2019, with an original in-service projection of November 2020. The project minimized community and environmental impacts by maximizing the utilization of existing pipeline infrastructure, with virtually all project activities confined to Transco’s existing footprint in New Jersey. To facilitate the expansion, Williams added electric horsepower to an existing Transco meter station in Essex County, New Jersey and replaced an existing station in Passaic County. With this expansion, the Transco pipeline’s system-design capacity is increased to 17.3 million dekatherms per day. The system includes approximately 10,000 miles of pipeline between South Texas and New York City. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas has dramatically increased its share of the power generation mix in the nine northeast states. The share is now more than 40 percent, nearly double from 14 years ago.

Hanshaw pushes a new W.Va.-led investment fund to reopen door to China deal and more - — House Speaker Roger Hanshaw traveled to China last spring and heard a lot about the holdup on roughly $84 billion in proposed investments in West Virginia by China Energy. “One of the first things we learned on that trip to China was the reason we haven’t seen the kind of $84 billion investment that was promised in West Virginia was that there is uncertainty among the potential investors about how safe their investment would be here,” Hanshaw, R-Clay, said during an interview in his House of Delegates office earlier this week. “They were hungry for a vehicle that would make their investment in West Virginia safe.” So the first bill Hanshaw plans to introduce for the annual legislative session that kicks off next week is one — House Bill 4001 — aimed at renewing confidence in the China deal while also, potentially, kickstarting additional capital investment in West Virginia. The bill would establish a Mountaineer Impact Fund, using state financial assets that have been allocated already, so West Virginia could serve as an official partner in investment deals. In most cases, as Hanshaw envisions it, West Virginia’s state government would be a minor investor but could be the controlling partner, essentially the sponsor of the projects. In other words, West Virginia would be endorsing the investment with the state’s name. “The benefit to the state is we have some small presence. It will indeed be small,” Hanshaw said. “The honest to goodness upside is the downstream effects of investment in our state.” But, he acknowledged, “The criticism will come from people who say the state should not be picking winners and losers.” He said that won’t be the case, though. “What we are talking about is a vehicle to facilitate private investment in the state of West Virginia under our banner,” he said. He added, “The investors themselves will decide who wins and who does not, just as private capital always should.” China Energy and CFIUS Although the investment structure allowed under the bill would apply to a range of possible investments, its impetus was the enormous but dormant China deal. When the China investment opportunity was announced in late 2017 in Beijing, officials hinted at money flowing toward an Appalachian natural gas storage hub, ethane crackers, natural gas-fired power plants and more. But, a couple of years later, with no tangible results, people started asking why. National news outlets like CNBC, for example, declared last summer “West Virginia still waiting on $84 billion investment from China.” One of the factors CNBC hit on was the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. In case that entity, what you need to know is that CFIUS can intervene in foreign investment deals if it believes they affect national security.

US natural gas production reached record highs in 2018 - U.S. natural gas production saw the largest annual increase on record in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Production grew by 10.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), an 11 percent increase from 2017, marking a record high for the second consecutive year. U.S. natural gas production measured as gross withdrawals averaged 101.3 Bcf/d in 2018, which is the highest volume on record, according to EIA’s Monthly Crude Oil, Lease Condensate and Natural Gas Production Report. Production measured as marketed production and dry natural gas production also hit record highs of 89.6 Bcf/d and 83.4 Bcf/d, respectively. U.S. gross withdrawals of natural gas increased every month during 2018 except for June, reaching a record monthly high of 107.8 Bcf/d in December 2018. Marketed natural gas production and dry natural gas production also reached monthly record highs of 95.0 Bcf/d and 88.6 Bcf/d, respectively, in December. The volume of natural gas exports through pipelines and as liquefied natural gas (LNG) increased for the fourth consecutive year, reaching 9.9 Bcf/d, EIA said. Total natural gas exports grew by 14 percent in 2018, and LNG exports increased by 53 percent to 3.0 Bcf/d. Pipeline and LNG exports both reached record monthly highs in December of 7.7 Bcf/d and 4.0 Bcf/d, respectively. The United States again exported more natural gas than it imported in 2018, after doing so in 2017 for the first time in approximately 60 years. In September 2018, for the first time in nearly 20 years, the United States exported more natural gas by pipeline than it imported by pipeline. Forecasts in EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook suggest that natural gas exports by pipeline will surpass natural gas imports by pipeline in 2019 for the year

Natural gas industry ends 2019 on a (mostly) down note -Pennsylvania has about half as many natural gas rigs working at the end of the year as it did at the beginning of 2019.The latest tally from oilfield services firm Baker Hughes finds 25 rigs in the commonwealth, up one from last week. This year especially, with commodity prices stuck in the deep freeze at near-record lows, more natural gas producers have scaled back production.Pennsylvania, situated in the Marcellus and Utica shales, has seen that in particular: It began the year with 47 rigs, rising to 49 in early January. Things have declined ever since thanks to pricing.The drops are shown particularly in the Marcellus, which according to energy analysis firm Enverus is down 39 percent year to date.The other two Appalachian natural gas producing states are seeing their fortunes diverge, with West Virginia seeing a late-year increase while Ohio has fallen in rig activity.West Virginia has seen an increase of three rigs in December. There are 16 now, up from 13 at the beginning of the month. That’s higher than the 12 that it began 2019 with but still below the highwater mark of the year of 22 recorded as late as July, according to Baker Hughes data. Ohio, on the other hand, has seen a drop of two rigs during the month of December. It now has 11 compared to 13 at the beginning of the month. And that’s far below the 20 rigs that were running as of May, which was Ohio’s record for the year.

Natural Gas Ends The Year On A Sour Note -The United States Natural Gas Fund tracks the price of natural gas that trades in the NYMEX division of the CME in the futures market. The end of 2019 is turning out to be similar to late 2015, the last time the price of the energy commodity traded at such a low price during the beginning of the winter season. The monthly chart highlights that the last time the nearby natural gas futures chart traded as low as it has in December 2019 during the final month of the year was in December 2015 when the price fell to a low at $1.684 per MMBtu. In 2016, the low was in December was $3.24, following year it fell to $2.568 during the same month. Last year, the low was $2.93. Last Friday, the price declined to a low at $2.138 on the nearby futures contract.A larger than expected inventory withdrawal of 161 billion cubic feet for the week ending on December 20 lifted the price back over the $2.20 level by the end of the session. However, long-term price momentum and relative strength remain in oversold territory. A total of 3.250 trillion cubic feet in storage around the U.S. is keeping a lid on the natural gas market as there are plenty of stocks to meet demand during the peak winter season.Meanwhile, if this period is anything like 2015/2016, we will see lower levels for natural gas in the spring.The December 2015 low in the natural gas futures market led to a correction that took the price to a high at just under $2.50 in January. By March, the price dropped to a lower low at $1.611 per MMBtu, which was the lowest level since July 1998 at $1.61.Last August, the price fell to $2.029 before the uncertainty of the coming peak season lifted natural gas to just over the $2.90 level but buying dried up and selling pressure has been a dominant force since early November. Based on the level of stocks, and the overall sentiment in the natural gas arena, any corrective rally will attract sellers over the coming weeks. In the New Year, markets will look towards spring, and speculative shorts could push the price lower to challenge the $2 level and perhaps the March 2016 low at $1.611.

Once a booming industry, natural gas is in midst of a bust -The boom began in October 2004, although it didn’t resonate like a boom at the time. . Range Resources, a Texas-based oil and natural gas exploration company, found a spot in Mt. Pleasant Township, called it Renz Well 1, and drilled down a mile, then out laterally. It sent a mix of water, sand and chemicals to break up the rock and release gas hydrocarbons to the surface. . Suddenly and unofficially, the shale boom began in the basin, and suddenly, fracking became part of the tri-state lexicon. In a few years, the boom became a nationwide BOOM! – which grew with each succeeding year. Companies positioned themselves to take advantage of these resources. Larger firms bought smaller ones, investors spent billions of dollars to build terminals to export gas to China and Europe. Good times rolled for an extended period, and led to Pennsylvania becoming the nation’s No. 2 gas producer behind Texas. Then about four years ago, declining commodity prices began to hit the producers and continued to hit them. And is still hitting them, with prices half of what they were a year ago. Natural gas is still being produced, and there is now a serious glut, supply outstripping demand to the point that it is causing energy firms to slash costs. Some companies are shuttering drill sites, filing for bankruptcy protection, laying off employees and curtailing operations. In the past year, the number of drilling rigs operating in the Keystone State has plummeted from 47 to 24.  Boom has, indeed, gone bust. “Natural gas is in the tank,” “We’re looking at a project right now of over 200 wells in Montana that are for sale, but they are uneconomic. Not only are the wells uneconomic, the gathering of the gas is uneconomic.” The industry’s quandary was underscored recently by the decision of Chevron Corp., the second-largest oil and gas operator in the United States, to market for sale its natural gas interests in the Appalachian Basin. Those assets include 890,000 acres in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays across the tri-state, valued at about $10 billion to $11 billion. The company, which employs about 400 at a regional office near Pittsburgh International Airport, attributed the sale directly to suppressed gas prices. This followed third-quarter layoff announcements at EQT Corp., Range Resources and CNX Resources Corp. – all major players locally. “By every measure, this is very tough news, as Chevron has been a true leader on any number of fronts in the communities across Pennsylvania and the broader region. “This difficult business decision ultimately reflects the fragile nature of the commodity landscape along with permitting, regulatory and tax challenges as well as the intense level of competition for limited capital resources not just in Pennsylvania or the tri-state, but across the country and the world.

Market, investor pressures to weigh on Appalachian natural gas production growth next year — Growing pressure on Appalachian producers from low prices, midstream constraints and a hawkish investor community could be enough in 2020 to finally pause a decade-long rise in the basin's natural gas production. While obstacles to growth are nothing new in Appalachia, the recent confluence of challenges has raised serious doubts for market observers about producers' capacity to keep output growing in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays during 2020. Perhaps the biggest test for producers has come from the market itself. Over the past nine months, gas prices at Appalachia's primary supply hub, Dominion South, have averaged less than $2/MMBtu, testing wellhead breakeven values, even for the most efficient, low-cost producers. The Northeast's low-price environment doesn't show much potential for improvement either. For calendar year 2020, the forward price curve at Dominion South is currently sitting at just $1.90/MMBtu with peak winter-season prices barely eclipsing the $2/MMBtu threshold. Lower liquids values have added to the recent price pain for Appalachian producers. In the fourth quarter, prompt propane prices at Mont Belvieu have averaged 50 cents/gal, which is down about 16 cents, or nearly 25%, compared to the first quarter, S&P Global Platts data showed. Other NGL prices have seen similar downward pressure this year. While the surplus in liquids should get some relief from winter heating demand through the early months of 2020, an oversupplied market is likely to return as that seasonal uptick ebbs in March.

Analyst expects more consolidations and less natural gas production growth for 2020 - Changing dynamics in the shale-dominated U.S. oil and gas industry are prompting predictions of a surge in company consolidations and a significant easing of natural gas production growth.Enverus, an on-demand software and data analytics company that follows the industry, made those predictions recently as part of evaluations it provides to clients.Potential sellers within the industry, Enverus states as part of its mergers and acquisitions analysis, continue to face tough capital-access conditions this year and may be willing to accept lower buyout values.And the analysis also states potential buyers — larger companies that spent the past year cutting costs and boosting efficiencies — are turning the corner by generating free cash flows, instituting dividends and buying back shares to reward investors.At the same time, their stock prices are rising because of those operational improvements and tailwinds from an improving global economic picture and rising oil prices.As investors grow more confident in a company’s ability to deliver on free cash flow, they also become more open to acquisitions, provided asset quality is high and the price is reasonable, Enverus’ market analysis states.In addition, larger exploration and production companies should be better positioned to deliver on returns to investors by leveraging economies of scale, more efficient development and more favorable service and midstream contracts.“We saw an uptick in December in the pace of deals and more positive investor reactions to acquisitions,” said Andrew Dittmar, Enverus’ senior mergers and acquisitions analyst. “That should bode well for mergers and acquisitions in 2020.”Enverus’ analysis noted shale company consolidations happen through acquisitions by multi-national companies or mergers among the smaller to midsize players like was seen in 2019.Enverus tracked $96 billion of U.S. oil & gas mergers and acquisitions in 2019, including $11 billion in the year’s final quarter.The biggest deal of the year, Occidental’s $57 billion acquisition of Anadarko, was the largest of the decade and the fourth largest ever.Outside of that, there were $39 billion in deals in 2019. 

2020: A Year of Pipeline Court Fights, with One Lawsuit Headed to the Supreme Court - After years of mounting opposition to the increasing build-out of oil and gas infrastructure, 2020 is shaping up to be the year that pipeline opponents get their day in court.One case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court takes a closer look at whether parts of the Appalachian Trail are off-limits to fossil fuel infrastructure and may determine the fate of two multi-billion-dollar pipelines. A defeat there, the industry argues, would severely limit its ability to get natural gas from the Marcellus shale to East Coast cities and export terminals. Another case weighs state sovereignty against pipeline interests and could have implications nationwide.Meanwhile, a question of potentially greater significance looms: Can pipeline companies continue to justify taking private land as the public benefits of fossil fuel pipelines are increasingly questioned and the risks they pose to the environment and climate increase? The rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, launched a natural gas boom that has fueled a rush of  pipeline construction in recent years, with pipeline companies spending an average of $10 billion per year on expanding their pipeline network, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That rush has racked up environmental violations in several states, and it has triggered a pushback by states, environmental groups and landowners.Even in oil- and gas-rich Texas, where fossil fuel interests dominate state politics, landowners are pushing back on pipeline companies' use of eminent domain. In the case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the fossil fuel industry argues that its very ability to ship natural gas from the sprawling Marcellus and Utica shale basins to the East Coast is at risk. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on Feb. 24 related to a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC's proposed $7.5 billion natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to eastern portions of Virginia and North Carolina. It would cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and that's where the pipeline has run into trouble. Justices will consider whether the U.S. Forest Service has the authority to grant permits for pipelines that cross the iconic backcountry footpath, which runs from Georgia to Maine and is part of the National Park System. Attorneys representing the Trump administration are also a part of the suit, arguing that the Forest Service does have jurisdiction to grant permits across the trail. In a brief filed Dec. 2, federal attorneys added that  the pipeline would lie "more than 600 feet below" the surface of the Trail and would be constructed using a "horizontal directional drilling technique" with entry and exit points on private lands not be visible from the Trail.

Natural Gas' Slide Continues Into The Turn Of The New Year --The turn of the new year did nothing to stop the downward move in natural gas prices, with the prompt month February contract currently down nearly 6 cents as of this writing. It is not too difficult to see why when taking a look at the latest weather forecast maps.  That is a lot of warmth at typically our coldest time of the year, not good if looking for above normal natural gas demand, as our forecast Gas-Weighted Degree Day (GWDD) chart shows relative to normal.  It is for this reason that we alerted clients in our early morning report that risks to prices were still to the downside despite the already very low price environment, taking a "slightly bearish" stance for the day.  This worked out well so far, as prompt month prices have fallen 5 cents since the report was issued.  While weather wins at this time of the year, it is interesting that we still are seeing production at levels well under the high set in late November.  This decline is keeping supply / demand balances tighter, which will become important if the weather is able to shift out of this very warm mode, even if only to a more "normal" background state.

US working natural gas in underground storage decreases by 58 Bcf: EIA  — US natural gas in storage fell by less-than-expected levels last week as the NYMEX Henry Hub February contract dipped to its lowest price for this time of year since 1998. Storage inventories fell 58 Bcf to 3.192 Tcf for the week ended December 27, the US Energy Information Administration reported Friday morning. The pull was below an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts, which called for a 67 Bcf draw. Responses ranged for a draw between 54 Bcf and 78 Bcf. The pull was stronger than the 24 Bcf draw reported during the corresponding week in 2018, but below the five-year-average draw of 89 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 484 Bcf, or 18%, above the year-ago level of 2.708 Tcf and 38 Bcf, or 1.2%, below the five-year average of 3.230 Tcf. The draw was weaker than the 161 Bcf pulled from working gas in storage reported for the week ended December 20. US supply and demand balances were looser compared with the week before on widespread demand declines over the holiday break, particularly in the Midwest. Total demand fell 12.9 Bcf/d week on week to an average 104.4 Bcf/d for the week ended December 27, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. In contrast to the large demand swings seen in the past few weeks, upstream supplies have been notably static, falling only 0.4 Bcf/d during the reference week, mostly from lower Canadian imports. The NYMEX Henry Hub February contract remained flat at $2.125/MMBtu following the weekly storage report. The balance of winter NYMEX Henry Hub strip continues to reflect a market in oversupply, with February and March trading at $2.12/MMBtu and $2.10/MMBtu, respectively. The February contract has dropped by nearly 10 cents this week alone on a consensus, warmer-than-normal weather outlook.  Click here for full-size infographic.  The February contract is at its lowest price at this time of the year since 1998. Even during the downturn of 2016 the contract at this time in January was trading around $2.30/MMBtu. But it closed at a monthly low of $2.09/MMBtu January 18, 2016. A forecast by Platts Analytics' supply-and-demand model calls for a draw of 55 Bcf for the week ending January 3. If the forecast holds, the withdrawal would be less than one-third of the five-year-average pull of 184 Bcf.

US oil, gas rig count down by 4 to 836, lowest since early 2017: Enverus— The US oil and gas rigs count dropped by four on the week to 836, the lowest total since early February 2017, consultants Enverus said Thursday, in the first rig tally of the 2020s. The number of rigs chasing crude oil for the week ended January 1 was down by three to 670, while gas-oriented rigs moved up by one to 163. Totals for rigs not classified as either oil or gas dropped by two. The total domestic rig count has lost just over 400 rigs, or 32%, since the recent peak of 1,237 in mid-November 2018. The US rig count fell 27% this year, starting at 1,145 rigs before shedding 309. In the coming months, S&P Global Platts Analytics forecasts "subtle" rig declines across the board, analyst Taylor Cavey said, before totals "hold relatively flat." "Some producers are taking a maintenance-mode approach and are dropping rigs here and there, whereas other operators plan to keep drilling steady and grow production slightly via further efficiency gains," Cavey said. Activity-wise, operators ushered in the new year and decade on a low note for some of the US' largest oil and gas basins. The number of rigs in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico was up by one on the week to 396, but last week's 395 was the lowest number in the giant play since July 2017. In recent weeks, the Marcellus Shale, mostly sited in Pennsylvania, and the Haynesville Shale, in East Texas and Northwest Louisiana, have also hovered at levels last seen in 2017. On Thursday, the Haynesville was up one rig on the week to 48, while the Marcellus had dropped by two to 37. Specifically, the Dry Marcellus (18 rigs) and Wet Marcellus (19 rigs) were each down one. Most basins either gained or lost a rig or two over the Christmas-to-New Year holiday week.Click here for full-size image.  The Denver-Julesburg Basin in Colorado gained two rigs on the week for a total 20, while the Williston Basin (54 rigs), in North Dakota and Montana, and the SCOOP-STACK (42 rigs), in Oklahoma, each gained one. The Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas lost two rigs leaving 79, and the Utica Shale, mostly in Ohio, slipped by one to 11. While the Eagle Ford was mostly range-bound with a rig count in the 70s and 80s for most of 2019, that was not true of the SCOOP-STACK, which fell 60% over the full year. The Oklahoma basin began 2019 at 105 rigs. Apart from recent weeks, the last time it posted rig counts in the low 40s was in August 2016. Many operators with acreage in that play have opted to shift capital dollars to the Permian, which is more productive.

Directional Drilling Market Research Report (2019-2026) By Business Growth, Trend, Segmentation, Top Key Players, Revenue and Industry Expansion Strategies - Increasing demand for onshore exploration activities is expected to boost the global directional drilling services market value to US$ 18 bn by 2026 from US$ 9 Bn in 2018, reveals Fortune Business Insights in its report, titled “Directional Drilling Market Size, Share and Global Trend By Type (Conventional, Rotary Steerable System), By Service (Logging-While-Drilling, Measurement-While-Drilling, Rotary Steerable System, MUD Motors, Others), By Application (Onshore, Offshore), and Geography Forecast Till 2026.” The report also incorporates valuable analysis of the market trends and key factors that will play an influential role in the forecast period. According to the report, the global directional drilling services market is projected to register a CAGR of 9.52% till 2026. Directional drilling is targeted drilling which involves attacking wells from multiple angles and to better access oil and gas reserves. The process uses different instruments such as mud motors, whip stocks, 3D measuring devices, and drill bits. This type of drilling also allows for boring of multiple wells using the same vertical bore, which reduces the environmental impact of the process.

As Shale Wells Age, Gap Between Forecasts and Performance Grows – WSJ- Thousands of shale wells are on track to produce less oil and gas than companies projected to investors, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows The early promises of blockbuster shale wells that many fracking companies made to investors are looking even more suspect as the wells age. For years, frackers touted estimates of how much oil and gas their wells would produce as they sought to raise capital and entice shareholders. Many of those estimates are falling short.

U.S. shale producers to tap brakes in 2020 after years of rapid growth - Spending cuts and production declines common to shale wells mean U.S. output growth is expected to brake from 2019’s pace that pushed domestic production past 13 million barrels per day (bpd). Some analyst forecasts for next year call for growth to slow, potentially to a rate of just 100,000 new bpd. Over the latest decade, the shale revolution turned the United States into the world’s largest crude producer and a force in energy exports. Yet the revolution did not translate to higher stock prices. The S&P 500 Energy sector only gained 6% for the decade, far less than the 180% return for the broader stock market. The decade-long oil expansion failed to boost profits, which has discouraged investors. The shale industry was squeezed by an OPEC price war that began in 2014, sending U.S. crude prices below $30 per barrel at one point. Production temporarily slowed, but accelerated into the end of the decade as companies cut costs and grew more efficient. Now, with investor returns flagging, the industry no longer believes in drilling its way to success even at higher prices. “The drumbeat has been loud and uniform from investors,” said Parsley Energy (PE.N) Chief Executive Officer Matt Gallagher. The shale producer’s spending next year will drop about 15% and will not rise even if oil prices do, instead using higher returns to pay down debt, he said.

Is The Shale Boom Running On Fumes? - Shale drilling does not produce as much oil and gas as the industry promised, raising questions about the productivity, profitability and, ultimately, the longevity of the fracking boom.The Wall Street Journal published a damning investigation into the productivity of thousands of shale wells, finding that as time has passed, oil and gas production from shale wells has proved to be more disappointing than previously thought. The report adds more evidence to the conclusion that the WSJ came to nearly a year ago, which raised serious questions about problems endemic to shale drilling.After an initial burst of production, shale wells decline rapidly, a fact that has been widely known since the fracking boom began more than a decade ago. However, companies promised that these wells would stay online for years, perhaps even decades, even though they would produce at a small fraction of their initial peak.But as time has passed, wells drilled years ago are now producing a lot less than previously thought. The WSJ collected data on the 29 largest shale producers. A year ago, the WSJ found that wells produced from those companies were on track to extract 10 percent less oil and gas over their lifespans than the companies promised. Now, with new data, the WSJ finds that those wells could produce 15 percent less than initially advertised.That adds up to a gap of around 1.4 billion barrels of oil and gas over 30 years, the WSJ says, or around $60 billion at current prices. Put another way, the 29 largest shale companies are set to produce $60 billion less value than they initially told investors. The WSJ pointed to the example of Whiting Petroleum, which told investors that each of its wells drilled in North Dakota in 2015 would produce a cumulative 700,000 barrels of oil and gas over their full lifetimes. In early 2019, using data from Rystad, the WSJ found that the real figure might be more like 590,000 barrels. As 2019 comes to a close, the WSJ found that the most up-to-date data now pegs that estimate at 540,000 barrels. In other words, Whiting’s wells are on track to produce nearly a quarter less than previously thought.There are some serious implications from this revelation. Shale companies may not be as valuable as investors previously thought. Shale drilling in general may be less profitable than previously thought, and it has long been dogged by a questionable business model. Moreover, to keep output from falling, companies will have to spend more and drill at a faster rate. In the end, the U.S. may not produce as much oil and gas as expected. Critics of the shale industry have raised similar concerns in the past. For instance, the Post Carbon Institute has repeatedly published reports questioning the longevity of the shale boom. The latest analysis came in November, in which author J. David Hughes said the EIA’s reference case for U.S. oil and gas production from each shale basin through 2050 is “extremely optimistic for the most part, and therefore highly unlikely to be realized.”

Shell Makes Haynesville Shale Deal - Castleton Commodities International LLC’s subsidiary, Castleton Resources LLC (CR), has acquired the East Texas and North Louisiana Haynesville shale assets of Shell’s subsidiary, BG US Production Company LLC. As a result of the deal, CR will hold approximately 222,400 net acres in the region and produce approximately 334 million cubic feet equivalent per day (net), according to CR. The value of the deal was not disclosed by CR. “Castleton Resources will execute this transaction with no increase in ongoing general and administrative expenses,” Craig Jarchow, president and chief executive officer of CR, said in a company statement.. In parallel with the Shell transaction, Tokyo Gas America Ltd. will increase its interest in Castleton Resources from 30 percent to approximately 46 percent. “We are pleased to complete this important transaction and take yet another step towards becoming a leading gas producer in the region,” Jun Tabei, president and chief executive officer of Tokyo Gas America Ltd, said in a company statement..

Magnolia LNG's supply deal with Vietnam takes another step forward - A liquefied natural gas supply deal between the proposed Magnolia LNG export terminal in Louisiana and the Vietnamese government took a major step forward. In a Dec. 19 decision, the Vietnamese government added the Bac Lieu LNG-to-Power project to its National Power Development Plan. Under the plan, Singapore-based Delta Offshore Energy will build a natural gas-fired power plant in Bac Lieu province and a supporting offshore LNG import terminal. LNG Limited, the Australia and Houston-based company developing Magnolia LNG export terminal in Lake Charles, landed a 20-year deal in September to supply 2 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas per year to Delta's 3,200-megawatt power plant. The addition of the project to Vietnam's National Power Development Plan clears the path for Delta to negotiate and finalize the power purchase agreement for the natural gas-fired power plant, which had originally been planned as a coal-fired facility. Magnolia LNG has yet to be built, but the company holds a federal permit to build a plant that will produce 8 million metric tons of LNG per year. LNG Limited is seeking permission to boost that production by another 800,000 metric tons per year; the Vietnamese supply represents one-fourth the proposed plant's currently permitted production.Delta Offshore Energy plans to build a natural gas power plant in Bac Lieu province as well as an offshore LNG import terminal, known in the industry as a floating storage regasification unit, or FSRU. Tankers from Magnolia LNG will arrive at the planned FSRU, where the supercooled liquid fuel will be converted back into its gas form and fed into an underwater pipeline that will move the natural gas to the onshore power plant.

Interior: Lack of alert system worsened 2017 Gulf spill -- Friday, January 3, 2020 --A 2017 oil spill that leaked 16,000 barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico wasn't stopped sooner because there was no alert system to flag the unfolding crisis nearly a mile beneath the water's surface, according to a panel investigation. Investigation- Fuel spill at diesel storage facility — Clean-up crews, with absorbent pads and an excavator, are currently working at Eastern Propane's bulk storage facility on Twombley Road in North Berwick. A spokesman from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection tells NEWS CENTER Maine a 700-gallon diesel fuel spill was 'promptly' reported the day before Thanksgiving.  A DEP Responder and Members of the Division of Technical Services Tech Services were called to the scene and Clean Harbors remained at the facility while remediation is ongoing.  Eastern Propane, based out of New Hampshire, did not immediately return calls for comment. A NEWS CENTER Maine investigation unveiled this isn't the first time crews have responded to this address for a spill. There have been two separate incidents while the property was owned by Falls and Webb Oil, Inc. and Falls, Inc. in 2008 and 2007 respectively. A full spill report filed in the Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management Hazadarous and Oil Spill System shows on Dec. 31, 2007, a leak was reported. Crews disposed of over 4,000 tons of contaminated soil and recovered 2,400 gallons of oil. The report says 415,000 gallons of groundwater was treated as a result.

Enbridge retrieves rod from bottom of Straits of Mackinac (AP) — Enbridge Inc. said Monday that it retrieved a 45-foot steel rod that was resting against an underwater oil pipeline where lakes Michigan and Huron converge. The debris had been at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac since September, when a borehole collapsed during geotechnical work in advance of the construction of a tunnel to surround the Line 5 pipes. Enbridge deployed a remote-operated vehicle to remove the rod on Saturday night, said spokesman Ryan Duffy. “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,” he said. The rod had moved from its original position near the pipeline and was found resting on the west leg. It never posed a safety or environmental risk to Line 5, the water or ship traffic, Duffy said. The Canadian-based company’s initial decision to wait two months to report the incident irked state regulators. The twin pipes are part of Line 5, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids used to make propane. The underground line runs between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario. The Straits of Mackinac segment is divided into two adjacent pipes.

 What’s Behind Big Oil’s Promises of Emissions Cuts? Lots of Wiggle Room. --The oil and gas industry seems to have entered a state of cognitive dissonance. Like never before, energy companies are publicly acknowledging the threat posed by climate change and the need for society to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, oil and gas production in the U.S. and globally continues to soar. Major oil companies have announced a series of commitments to reduce their emissions, even as they continue to invest in new projects that will boost production of the very fossil fuels that are driving climate change. This tension has given rise to statements that seem to defy logic. In October, Michael Rubio, Chevron's general manager for environmental, social and governance engagement, told The New York Times that "you can increase your fossil-fuel production, deliver superior returns for your shareholders, and still be compliant with Paris.""Paris" is the Paris climate accord, by which countries worldwide agreed to reduce emissions to slow global warming. To meet its goals, fossil fuel burning will have to peak and fall rapidly within a couple of decades.Instead, the world is on track to produce more than 40 percent more oil and gas by 2040 than would be consistent with the Paris goal of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, aUnited Nations report published in November found. Another recent report, published by the climate and financial think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative, found that the largest investor-owned oil companies had recently invested billions in new projects that are not consistent with that goal.If all that oil and gas is produced as planned, dangerous levels of warming become likely, if not a sure bet. If it is not all produced—if nations do start to bend the emissions curve sharply downward—the oil and gas industry will have a problem: Its business model depends on growing demand for oil and gas.

Big oil asks government to protect its Texas facilities from climate change - As the nation plans new defenses against the more powerful storms and higher tides expected from climate change, one project stands out: an ambitious proposal to build a nearly 60-mile "spine" of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast.The plan is focused on a stretch of coastline that runs from the Louisiana border to industrial enclaves south of Houston that are home to one of the world's largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities, including most of Texas' 30 refineries, which represent 30 percent of the nation's refining capacity.Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities.That followed Hurricane Harvey, which roared ashore last Aug. 25 and swamped Houston and parts of the coast, temporarily knocking out a quarter of the area's oil refining capacity and causing average gasoline prices to jump 28 cents a gallon nationwide. Many Republicans argue that the Texas oil projects belong at the top of Washington's spending list.But the idea of taxpayers around the country paying to protect refineries worth billions, and in a state where top politicians still dispute climate change's validity, doesn't sit well with some. "The oil and gas industry is getting a free ride," said Brandt Mannchen, a member of the Sierra Club's executive committee in Houston. There's all this push like, 'Please Senator Cornyn, Please Senator Cruz, we need money for this and that.'" Normally outspoken critics of federal spending, Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz both backed using taxpayer funds to fortify the oil facilities' protections and the Texas coast. Cruz called it "a tremendous step forward."  Texas has not tapped its own rainy day fund of around $11 billion. According to federal rules, 35 percent of funds spent by the Army Corps of Engineers must be matched by local jurisdictions, and the GOP-controlled state Legislature could help cover such costs. But such spending may be tough for many conservatives to swallow.   "Texans are proud of their conservatism, but, unfortunately, when decisions get made in Washington, that frugality goes out the door."

Friends (And NGL Storage) In Low-Lying Places, Part 4 - MPLX's BANGL, Fracs And Exports Plan -- Over the past two years, MPLX has been ramping up its midstream development activity in the Lone Star State, or more specifically in the “Permian-to-Gulf” market, where it’s been building or buying into gathering systems, gas processing plants, and crude and natural gas takeaway pipelines, among other things. Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s midstream-focused master limited partnership also has been in hot pursuit of a number of possible NGL-related projects, including MPLX’s proposed Belvieu Alternative NGL (BANGL) Pipeline and three big fractionation plants in the Sweeny, TX, area, and a planned LPG export terminal in Texas City, TX. As a group, these projects would require millions of barrels of underground salt-cavern storage capacity for y-grade and NGL purity products along the Texas coast, as well as multiple pipeline connections to move the stuff to where it needs to be. Today, we continue our series on Gulf Coast NGL storage with a look at the NGL side of the MLP’s Permian-to-Gulf strategy. Texas’s Gulf Coast is in the midst of a major build-out of new fractionation plants (or “fracs”), steam crackers and LPG export facilities, all spurred by rising U.S. production of natural gas liquids. As we said in Part 1 of this series, this incremental NGL output and these new projects have been putting serious pressure on existing NGL pipeline and storage infrastructure, and prodding the development of new salt-cavern storage capacity for mixed NGLs and NGL purity products such as ethane, propane, normal butane, isobutane and natural gasoline. The most economical and practical way to transport and store these commodities is in their liquid state, which necessitates that the transport and storage occur under high pressure. And the most cost-effective way to provide large volumes of storage capacity at high pressure is to develop underground storage caverns within salt dome formations. There is currently about 260 MMbbl of NGL-related storage capacity in place at the NGL hub in Mont Belvieu, TX (red star in Figure 1). Elsewhere along the Texas coast, there is a total of about 100 MMbbl of NGL storage capacity, much of it tied to either fractionators or steam crackers. The companies holding the bulk of this “non-Mont Belvieu” storage capacity — at places like Stratton Ridge, Markham, Clemens Caverns and Hull (blue stars) ­­— include Dow with about 40 MMbbl, Chevron Phillips Chemical with ~20 MMbbl, and Keyera, Phillips 66, Texas Brine, BP and others with ~10 MMbbl or less each for a combined 40 MMbbl.

Plains All American's Cactus II Ramps Up Corpus Deliveries - Permian oil prices are significantly stronger than they were at the end of 2018, averaging more than $60/bbl over the past week, compared to around $40/bbl this time last year. Some of that gain has been driven by an overall increase in world oil prices, a topic we will reserve for another time. However, much of the strength has been the result of Permian oil no longer needing to carry a huge discount to other domestic hubs as shippers compete for super-scarce pipeline space. For example, in December 2018, prices for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at the Midland trading hub in the Permian were more than $12/bbl lower than the price of similar quality crude oil at the Magellan East Houston (MEH) hub along the Texas Gulf Coast. This year, that spread has narrowed to just over $2.00/bbl, while absolute prices on the coast are up almost $10/bbl. What’s driving this change? There are a variety of factors at play, but chief among them is the new pipeline infrastructure that has helped lift Permian producers’ oil price realizations. Today, we check in on the status of one of the major new pipelines that have contributed to the seismic shift in the Permian oil market this year. In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the prospective market impacts of one of the capacity additions: Plains All American’s new Cactus II Pipeline. Here, we provide an update on Cactus II, take a look at its most recent flow data, and begin to explore how its operation is affecting crude oil flows from the Permian.  Cactus II (dark green line in Figure 1) consists of 575 miles of new 26-inch-diameter pipeline and extends from McCamey, TX, in the southern Midland Basin to delivery points near Corpus Christi. Note that Cactus II can also access the oil hub at Wink, TX, in the Delaware Basin via a capacity lease on another Plains-operated pipeline (segment under the dashed black oval). Cactus II can also source barrels from across the extensive Plains pipeline system in the Permian, although we have left those pipelines off Figure 1. Cactus II closely follows the route of Plains’ original Cactus Pipeline (light green line), and runs to Ingleside, TX, which is just across the bay from Corpus Christi. A final segment of Cactus II (dashed lime green line between Taft and Corpus) is expected to be completed to the Corpus Christi Ship Channel by the end of the first quarter of 2020.

Crude inventories plunge from record-high exports amid Iranian tensions --The nation’s stockpiles of commercial crude oil plunged by 11.5 million barrels last week thanks to record-high crude exports, adding more bullish news to oil prices that already were spiking worldwide amid an escalating U.S. conflict with Iran. Crude inventories plunge from record-high exports amid Iranian tensions- oil and gas 360 Source: Houston Chronicle The U.S. exported nearly 4.5 million barrels of crude per day last week – easily a new weekly record – as concerns of a new war brewed in the Middle East. The big drop in crude inventories was offset by gains in refined motor gasoline – 3.2 million barrels – and in distillate fuel oil – 8.8 million barrels – that’s used to make diesel and heating oils. However, drops in other grades of oils contributed to a cumulative dip of 2.9 million barrels of total U.S. petroleum stocks. This new year is the first in which the U.S. is expected to become a net exporter of petroleum, including refined products. But the U.S. will remain a net importer of crude oil. The U.S. is churning out an estimated record high of 12.9 million barrels of crude oil per day and exporting – at least last week – more than one-third of those supplies. Crude prices jumped about 4 percent Thursday evening and Friday morning after President Trump ordered the targeted killing of a top Iranian general and an allied Iraqi militia leader. The U.S. benchmark for oil traded well above $63 a barrel on Friday – its highest level in nearly nine months. The killings – and the potential Iranian counterattacks – put the U.S. and Iran on the brink of a broader conflict and potential war.

The US Crude Export Chronicles: December 2019 – Argus - Last month we devoted the entire blog to the Port of Corpus Christi and its emergence as a key outlet for US crude exports. Why? Some big new pipelines — including Cactus 2 and Epic — started service to that port.Blog post - The US Crude Export Chronicles: November 2019   US crude exports hit a record high of about 3.4mn b/d in October, according to the latest Census Bureau trade data. And that number will likely continue to climb. Keep in mind that the latest major pipeline from the Permian to Corpus Christi – Phillips 66’s 900,000 b/d Gray Oak pipeline, did not start initial service until late November, so expect more record highs as trade data is released in the new year. Gray Oak will also have destinations near Houston when it goes into full service in the first quarter of 2020.  Lots of big midstream news lately as port expansions and crude carrier projects become the next frontier to move more US crude to global markets. Epic has loaded an Aframax-sized vessel with crude at its converted dock on the Inner Harbor of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. Epic repurposed the former grain facility to export crude while a larger export terminal is under construction. The larger terminal will load Suezmax tankers and is expected to start service in the third quarter of 2020. Further out on the water, we may be seeing the first signs of consolidation in the race to build offshore very large crude carrier (VLCC) ports. Enbridge is joining Enterprise’s project to develop a VLCC terminal off the coast of Freeport, Texas. The two companies have executed a letter of intent agreeing to negotiate a deal which would allow Enbridge to buy into the project after it receives a deepwater license from US regulators. The VLCC projects tend to have catchy names and the Enterprise port is no exception – going by “SPOT” which is short for Sea Port Oil Terminal. Enbridge is also part of a competing project with Oiltanking with another memorable name, Texas Colt — short for the Texas Crude Offshore Loading Terminal. Enbridge said that it will work to market and seek customers for SPOT first "while positioning Texas Colt or a similar project to proceed in the future if the export market grows to require it."

Burn, Pay, Or Shut It Down- Three Evils For Permian Drillers - There was a time when natural gas was a welcomed byproduct of crude oil drilling, and drillers in the prolific Permian basin enjoyed this consolation prize--at least when natural gas prices were on the rise. All good things come to an end, though, and the amount of natural gas now exceeds the capacity to get rid of it.  With pipeline capacity fully exploited and natural gas prices squarely in the red, Permian drillers today are faced with three lousy choices: burn off the natural gas, pay to have the gas removed, or slow oil drilling activities to staunch the flow of natural gas.  Now, there is simply too much natural gas, and drillers in the American shale patch must face the not-so-pleasant music, with only one question remaining: which shale drillers can hold on until more pipeline capacity comes online? The first option for drillers trying to weather the natural gas storm is to burn it off.  This is flaring--and it’s a rather unpopular method, publicly speaking, due to the negative impact on the environment. For drillers, though, it’s a cost-effective way of dealing with the glut, and since they all must answer to shareholders and lenders, flaring is the first choice when it comes to watching the bottom line.   According to Rystad Energy, flaring and venting in the Permian basin reached an all-time high from July to September 2019--at 750 million cubic feet per day. Venting and flaring may be the cheapest option for oil and gas companies, but it’s also the most harmful to the environment, with flared and vented gas contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Venting releases methane into the atmosphere, while flaring--which gets rid of the methane--still releases carbon dioxide into the air.Another method open to oil and gas companies in the Permian is to have their natural gas taken away. Oil drillers who come up with natural gas as a byproduct can--and do--pay to have it removed. Typically, as producers pay pipeline companies for use of the pipeline. They recoup their cost through natural gas profits, and those will longer term deals are essentially immune. For those companies who don’t have long-term contracted rates and contracted shipments, they are now paying others who have allotted space to take it--and at a huge loss, which has recently been considered a rather unpleasant cost of doing business in the oil industry. Finishing off our list of terrible options for oil drillers is to slow production until more pipeline capacity can be brought online. Oil production in the United States has increased by 1 million barrels per day from the beginning of the year. In the Permian specifically, oil production has increased from less than 2 million barrels per day just three years ago to nearly 5 million bpd today. And according to the EIA’s Monthly Drilling Productivity Report, January is expected to increase by 48,000 bpd over December.  With every month, the natural gas problem grows. And as oil prices climb, the thought of shutting wells in looks less and less attractive.

 Department of Environmental Quality sees declines in oil industry -- The Department of Environmental Quality says they've seen a decline in oil industry issues since 2013.  They don't handle all oil spills, they split jurisdiction with the Department of Mineral Resources. They've seen a decline of more than 30 cases per year, and millions less in fines since 2013. Though it spiked in 2017."Designs are getting better, the companies are beginning to understand what's expected of them, and that we also have field inspectors that will go out and follow, if there's a report of a spill, that we will follow up on that and make sure on that it wasn't bigger than they've identified," said David Glatt, director.The director says that it isn't about bringing in money for the state, instead encouraging better protection of the environment.  They allow companies to pay up to half of their fines on environmental improvement projects.

US judge rejects bid to kill Keystone pipeline lawsuits (AP) — Environmentalists and Native Americans can proceed with lawsuits challenging President Donald Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, a federal judge in Montana ruled Friday. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris expressed skepticism over government arguments that Trump has unilateral authority to approve the $8 billion pipeline. In a separate ruling, the judge said the Rosebud Sioux and Fort Belknap Indian tribes had valid claims that approval of the line violated their treaty rights. But Morris denied a request from environmentalists to impose a court injunction blocking preliminary work on the pipeline, since no such work is planned until spring 2020. Morris had blocked work on the line in 2018, prompting Trump to issue a new permit in March in an attempt to circumvent the courts. The 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude daily from western Canada to terminals on the Gulf Coast. Opponents worry burning the tar sands oil that will be carried by the line will make climate change worse, and that it could break and spill into water bodies such as Montana’s Missouri River. TC Energy of Canada first proposed the project more than a decade ago but has been unable to get past the numerous lawsuits against it. Trump has been a strong supporter and revived Keystone XL after it was rejected under President Barack Obama.

Dakota Access pipeline owners want to pump more oil through Illinois. Critics worry the move will increase the risk of leaks or a devastating spill. Oil has been flowing through the Dakota Access pipeline across Illinois since the summer of 2017, traveling underground from the Mississippi River to a hub in a tiny central Illinois town. Every day, an average of 560,000 barrels of oil flows through the pipeline. Now the company that owns the pipeline, which begins in North Dakota, wants to nearly double the volume, pumping up to 1.1 million barrels from the oil-rich Bakken region through South Dakota and Iowa into Illinois. To increase the flow, the company wants to build a series of new pump stations along the 1,172-mile route, including in western Illinois, and upgrade its facilities where Dakota Access links up with other Midwestern pipelines. In Illinois, the oil companies filed a petition for the upgrades with the Illinois Commerce Commission, seeking authorization to build a new pump station in Hancock County, north of Quincy, and replace and add pumps at the oil tank complex in Patoka, about 80 miles east of St. Louis. The petition also requests authorization to build a new pump station on another pipeline at the southern edge of Illinois, near the town of Joppa on the Ohio River. But the June filing drew objections from two environmental groups and a landowner with property near the pipeline. Save Our Illinois Land and the Sierra Club filed objections to block the expansion, arguing that pumping more oil through the pipeline will increase the risk of spills and leaks along the rural route. “I don’t trust these people to operate in a safe and rational manner,” said Bill Klingele, who owns farmland adjacent to the pipeline in Brown County in western Illinois.

Federal agencies are required to consult with tribes about pipelines. They often don’t. -  In Montana, the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path cuts underneath the Missouri River at the edge of the Fort Peck Reservation’s southwestern border. The Fort Peck Reservation is home to several bands of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, and a spill from the pipeline could contaminate their main source of drinking water. Federal agencies are required by law to work with Native American tribes that might be affected by oil and gas projects. But there hasn’t been a single public hearing on the Fort Peck Reservation yet, even though the pipeline has been a source of controversy for about a decade. There are similar stories in Virginia, New Mexico, and elsewhere across the country, according to Indian law experts tracking oil and gas projects. Tribal officials say they try to contact federal agencies and don’t hear back, or that agencies make key decisions before contacting them. Sometimes an agency sends letters asking for tribes’ input to the wrong address or never contacts them at all. “It’s difficult for tribes to know what to expect when they get into the process because some agencies are not fulfilling their obligations,” said Marion Werkheiser, a founding partner at the law firm Cultural Heritage Partners, which works with tribes, developers, and local governments on cultural and historic preservation.  The Monacan Indian Nation, a federally recognized tribe that Werkheiser represents, sent several letters in 2019 to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for approving an extension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through southern Virginia and central North Carolina. They’re worried about protecting burial sites and cultural resources along the pipeline’s route. But the agency hasn’t responded, Werkheiser said. Last year, the Bureau of Land Management announced that it’s considering leasing land near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico for oil and gas leasing. In a letter to the agency, Brian Vallo, governor of the Pueblo of Acoma, said that at the time nearby tribes had not been notified about it. He also said that calls by tribal members to local field offices went unanswered. The Government Accountability Office contacted officials from 57 tribes about their experience working with the federal government and laid out a range of problems in a report last year. It found a lack of communication between agencies and tribes, a lack of respect for tribal sovereignty, and little accountability. That’s despite requirements to “consult” with tribes enshrined in two federal laws as well asexecutive orders by presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Crews work to contain fuel spill, recover locomotives after train derails into Kootenai River - A rock slide damaged and blocked BNSF train tracks along the Kootenai River late on New Year’s Day, sending two train operators, the lead locomotive, two other train engines and six empty rail cars into the waterway. The train operators were rescued from atop the sinking locomotive around 9 p.m. after Boundary County sheriff’s rescue crews maneuvered a boat alongside it 10 miles east of Bonners Ferry. Neither operator was injured. Boundary County declared a local emergency due to the incident and enacted an emergency order that closes all boat traffic on the stretch of the Kootenai River from the Rocky Point Boat Launch upriver to the Montana border, except for emergency response personnel, through Wednesday. Crews deployed containment booms into the water to contain the fuel leaking from the lead engine, according to Boundary County Emergency Management. BNSF officials estimated the engine contained at least 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel but did not know how much may have leaked into the river. “There are crews in boats on the river right now who are doing that investigation,” Boundary County emergency management spokesman Andrew O’Neel said on Thursday afternoon. “At this point it doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot that’s being captured … it doesn’t look like it’s leaking a lot right now,” O’Neel said. “They’re looking for places where there’s a collection of diesel fuel that they can then clean up.” O’Neel said it won’t be known how much fuel leaked until the locomotive is removed from the water. Removing all of the engines will take days at least, O’Neel said.

 Sunken tugboat carrying 8K gallons of diesel pulled from Port of Stockton— Officials brought in two crane barges to pull a sunken tugboat from the Port of Stockton. The 64-foot tugboat, which was carrying an estimated 8,300 gallons of diesel, sunk Christmas Day, according to the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response. The crane barges were brought in from the Bay Area to lift the boat Sunday. Before pulling the boat out of the water, crews collected an oil sheen above the ship. Officials said that no "visibly oiled" wildlife was seen. It's not yet known why the boat sunk.

FERC makes Cal-ISO gas constraint tool permanent as Aliso Canyon limitations persist — California Independent System Operator has received the go-ahead to make its maximum gas burn constraint a permanent operational tool to help avoid blackouts in Southern California amid continued limited operations at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. When conditions warrant, the constraint allows Cal-ISO to limit the amount of natural gas that can be burned by power plants in the Southern California Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric regions. Cal-ISO was previously authorized to use the tool on a temporary basis. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Monday approved the grid operator's October 31 proposal (ER20-273) to make permanent three tariff provisions associated with the constraint. One of the tariff provisions authorizes enforcement of the constraint, while another gives Cal-ISO the authority to override competitive path assessments based on actual system conditions in order to deem certain transmission constraints uncompetitive when the gas constraint is enforced. The last provision permits Cal-ISO to suspend virtual bidding if the bids are introducing adverse market outcomes in conjunction with the use of the gas constraint. When Cal-ISO applied for the permanent extension, it asserted that using the maximum gas constraint provides itself and market participants "with a least cost market solution for dispatch of resources when the gas system is constrained, and it provides a more effective tool for managing the system reliably than exceptional dispatch." FERC agreed, finding that permanent implementation of the tariff provisions at issue would "help ensure that [Cal-ISO] continues to have the tools necessary to address risk associated with the potential impacts of the continued limited operability of Aliso Canyon on the reliability of [Cal-ISO's] system."  Pacific Gas & Electric filed comments expressing concern with the financial impact on customers from real-time imbalance offset costs generated when the gas constraints are enforced. But FERC sided with Cal-ISO's argument that those uplift costs correlated to high gas costs in Southern California, not use of the constraint. Because allocation of those costs was not up for review, FERC found PG&E's comments to be beyond the scope of this proceeding. "Moreover, ... the use of exceptional dispatch, which is the alternative to using the constraint, also generates uplift costs that may extend beyond Southern California," FERC said.

US oil sector could face headwinds amid 2020 election uncertainty — Oil markets may be underestimating the risks to US production and export growth from the upcoming 2020 US presidential election, analysts told S&P Global Platts. Analysts expect that if a Democrat wins in November, the incoming administration will likely introduce new regulations limiting fracking, flaring, offshore drilling, and possibly exports, but it remains unclear how far these initiatives may go. "The market has become a little complacent in pricing in re-election for President Donald Trump," OANDA senior market analyst Edward Moya said. "The risks are pretty high. While Trump is still favorite, we still could see a progressive candidate come out with the nomination. It would be bad news for the US oil industry." Among the highest polling candidates, populists Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) and Bernie Sanders (I, VT) have pushed hardest for policies aimed at severely limiting the US oil sector, including a ban on exports, fracking and leasing on federal waters. Other candidates, including frontrunner Senator Joe Biden (D, DE), have taken a more measured approach, not committing to all-out bans, but indicating that new limits and additional regulation would be considered. "If [President Donald] Trump wins it is status quo, but any Democrat - even if it's not a populist - would be under tremendous pressure to throw the base a bone and this is a bone they could throw," Confluence Investment Management chief market strategist Bill O'Grady said. US oil output has surged in recent years following the lifting of a decades-old crude oil export ban in late 2015 that allowed producers to ship surplus barrels abroad. Previously, most US production had to be consumed domestically by refineries, the bulk of which are tooled to run cheaper heavy, sour crude imports from the Middle East and Venezuela. This limited domestic appetite effectively put a ceiling on the mostly light, sweet crudes being produced in the Permian and other tight oil plays. The build-out of significant US Gulf Coast pipeline infrastructure during the Trump administration further incentivized US production by de-bottlenecking West Texas oil plays and propelled US crude output and exports to records heights in 2019. US crude production steadily increased in 2019 to more than 12.8 million b/d in December from around 11.8 million b/d in January, and exports soared to a weekly peak of 4.46 million b/d in late December, according to US Energy Information Administration.

2020: The Year Of The Oil Bankruptcies - A bankruptcy boom has hit the oil and gas industry, and it’s just getting started. Investors have lost their appetite for shale, and energy debt has become among the least desirable in the market.  The industry has been teetering on the verge of mass hysteria for much of 2019 as a record number of energy companies folded.   According to Energy and Restructuring law firm Hayes and Boone’s, a grand total of 50 energy companies filed for bankruptcy during the first nine months of the year, including 33 oil and gas producers, 15 oilfield services companies and two midstream companies.In contrast, 43 oil and gas companies filed for bankruptcy for the whole of 2018. The biggest oil and gas bankruptcy of the year--indeed, the biggest since 2016--was EP Energy, which filed for bankruptcy in October, unable to pay back some $5 billion in debt. Now, some observers are warning that the shakeout will pick up serious momentum in 2020. During the latest shale boom, the putative class valedictorian of the modern energy industry, American drillers binged on mountains of readily available debt as they capitalized on investors and financiers willing to gamble on the premise that fracking operations could be significantly cheaper and more efficient than conventional drillers.Before long, oil markets were flooded with a deluge of the commodity far outstripping demand. In what few could have foreseen, the US became the world’s largest oil producer, with its nearly 13 million b/d output turning it from a net importer to a net exporter of crude. Predictably, prices tanked by a sizable margin, dropping to levels well below the breakeven points of many drillers.Suddenly, investors became wary of the shale industry and energy debt became anathema.They have good reason to be scared.  Companies with junk-rated bonds have been defaulting on interest payments at record levels, while dozens of smaller drillers that had saddled themselves with too much debt have been dropping like flies.Now analysts see this taking an even sharper turn, with more mergers and more debt restructurings required to get the industry back in shape.  As Ken Monaghan, Amundi Pioneer co-director of high yield, has told CNBC: “We’re at the early stages [of the shakeout]. The problem is some of these companies still have a bit of rope to go. they don’t have [debt] maturities that are coming up in 2020 and 2021. They’re going to try to outrun the clock and hope that oil prices move higher.” Michael Bradley, energy strategist with Tudor, Pickering, Holt, has expressed a similar sentiment, saying that the market is no longer rewarding energy companies with aggressive expansion schemes, preferring instead to see profits and money returned to shareholders.

First Nation looks ahead after court sides with natural gas company -- A hereditary chief with the Wet'suwet'en First Nation says the community is expecting further police action after the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in favour of a natural gas company that wants to build a pipeline through its territory. Na'moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said he wasn't surprised that the court granted Coastal GasLink an interim injunction against members of the First Nation and others who oppose the pipeline. The Dec. 31 ruling came just under a year after the RCMP enforced an injunction granted by the same court that drew international attention with the arrest of 14 people on Jan. 7, 2019. "We do expect the RCMP to bring it to another level. They did it last year, they'll do it again this year," he said in a telephone interview. The RCMP said in a statement that it respects the ruling and the judicial process, but it would not say if or when police would enforce the latest injunction. "The RCMP respects the rights of individuals to peaceful, lawful and safe protest and we are committed to facilitating a dialogue between all parties. We are impartial in this dispute and it is our hope that this can be resolved peacefully," Corp. Madonna Saunders said. The $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline would transport natural gas across 670 kilometres from northeastern B.C. to the LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat. The company has said it signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the path, however five hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suweten First Nation say the project has no authority without their consent. Na'moks said the First Nation is also exploring options for court action, including an appeal of the decision and a constitutional challenge. "We have a number of avenues open to us that we're looking at right now." The latest ruling expands the existing interim injunction. Following police enforcement last year, the hereditary chiefs reached an agreement with RCMP that Na'moks said at the time was to ensure the safety of local members. Under the agreement, the company must give the First Nation 24-hour notice of workers entering the site, he said. The agreement did not represent consent for the project and Na'moks said members remain firm in their opposition. "Our stance hasn't changed," he said Thursday. "Our people have said no to this, so we've said no."

The US sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the danger of World War III - The decision by the US Congress to impose sanctions on companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline underscores the sharp divisions between the imperialist powers and the acute danger of world war. In the past, the cutting off of energy supplies was considered an act of war. The US sanctions have brought the almost completed $10 billion project to a standstill, after the withdrawal of the Swiss firm Allseas, which was providing specialised ships to lay the pipeline. Russia plans to complete the pipeline with its own ship. But the vessel is currently docked in a Pacific harbour and must be refitted for the job, meaning that the completion of the pipeline, if it ever takes place, will be delayed by at least a year. The US sanctions not only target Russia, which relies on the income generated by gas exports, but also Germany, which views the pipeline as a strategic project that is essential for its energy security. Nord Stream 2 directly connects Russia and Germany across the Baltic Sea. The US has attempted in the past to impose its will on other states through sanctions. But these were directed against weaker states, like Iran or Venezuela, that Washington had declared to be its enemy, not against a NATO partner and the fourth largest economy in the world, after the US, China, and Japan. The reactions from Berlin, which range from accusations of interference in internal affairs to calls for retaliatory measures, have been predictably furious. But Germany is not the innocent victim it is claiming to be. Germany has been rearming for years in order to play a role on the world stage that corresponds to its economic might, and to enforce its imperialist interests independently of, and if necessary against, the United States. German arms exports reached a new record high last year.  But the conflict over Nord Stream 2 is not the only one between Germany and the US. Germany, together with France and Britain, also rejected US sanctions on Iran and sought to bypass them. There are also sharp differences over China policy. Despite significant pressure from Washington, Berlin has to date rejected calls to exclude Chinese company Huawei from the building of its 5G network. There are also disagreements over the Chinese automaker BAIC’s plan to invest in Daimler. The US is seeking to prevent BAIC from purchasing a 10 percent stake in the German automaker, 10 percent of which is already owned by Chinese automaker Geely.

Russia Strikes $3B Deal With Ukraine on Gas Transit — In line with a recent deal for Moscow to supply Europe with gas through Ukraine for at least five years, Russian energy company Gazprom announced Friday that it paid $2.9 billion to Ukraine’s state-owned oil company Naftogaz.The deal marks a major settlement between the countries. After Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 escalated tensions, the two arbitrated over gas prices and transit fees for years in Stockholm. Naftogaz confirmed receipt of the payment.“Today, Naftogaz of Ukraine has received from Gazprom $2.918 billion, which includes the outstanding portion of the compensation awarded by the Stockholm Arbitral Tribunal in February 2018 and accrued interest,” the company said on its website Friday. “In total, Naftogaz received $5 billion from Gazprom in the result of the transit arbitration.”The new agreement dictates that Gazprom, which provides Europe with more than a third of its gas, can send 225 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas using Ukraine’s pipelines. Ukraine, in return, is expected to withdraw its claims in all remaining arbitration litigation.“The parties [will] continue to negotiate conditions of further cooperation after 1 January 2020 when the current contract expires,” the Naftogaz release notes.Alexey Miller, chairman of the Gazprom management committee, announced on Dec. 21 that the contract would restore “the balance between the interests of [both] parties.”Russian President Vladimir Putin had noted earlier this month at his annual end-of-year news conference that Moscow wanted to continue to transport gas through Ukraine, despite Russia having built its own pipelines to Europe since it last struck a deal with Ukraine in 2010.“The question is the volume of this gas and the dates of the contract,” he said, maintaining that Russia was interested in giving Ukraine the business. Ukraine takes in close to $3 billion per year by sending Russian gas to Europe. Transit issues between the two countries began after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Although Ukraine held control of the pipeline structures, Russia cut off its gas supplies several times in the 1990s.

Russia Goes For Global Gas Dominance - Despite the newly announced U.S. sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 project, Russia says it will build and launch next year the natural gas pipeline that has divided Europe for half a decade.   With Nord Stream 2, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will have several major natural gas projects completed in the past few years, Bloomberg Opinion’s Europe columnist Leonid Bershidsky writes.These projects will complete Putin’s plan to have Moscow not only continue holding a large share of gas supplies to Europe, but branch out Russian gas exports to the fastest growing gas import market, China, and seize a growing share of the global liquefied natural gas (LNG) market.Nord Stream 2 is the latest project in Putin’s plan for energy and geopolitical dominance in the world. Russia already holds a third of Europe’s gas imports. Nord Stream 2, when completed—because Russia believes it will be completed next year despite the sanctions—is set to further solidify Moscow’s reach into the north European market bypassing Ukraine.Before Nord Stream 2, Russia will have launched TurkStream, through which Russia’s gas giant Gazprom will carry pipeline gas to Turkey and south and southeastern Europe—a region already heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies. Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are set to officially launch the TurkStream gas pipeline on January 8.Early in December, Gazprom—which also leads the Nord Stream 2 project to carry Russian gas to Germany—launched the huge Power of Siberia pipeline project to deliver gas to China, whose gas consumption and imports are only set to increase over the coming years and decades. While Gazprom is launching new pipelines east and west, Russia’s largest private gas producer Novatek is boosting its presence on the global LNG market. Novatek, which already exports LNG from the Yamal LNG plant, gave in September the go-ahead to its second large LNG project, Arctic LNG 2 on the Gydan Peninsula.This year, Russia has supplied large volumes of LNG to Europe, apart from its pipeline supplies which account for a third of the European Union’s (EU) gas imports.In Q2 2019, thanks to the LNG supply glut and converging prices, the EU’s LNG imports jumped by 102 percent on the year, with Russia accounting for 19 percent of LNG imports, second only to Qatar with 30 percent, and ahead of the U.S. with 12 percent, the European Commission’s Quarterly Report on European Gas Markets shows.

Russian oil, condensate output surges to record-high in 2019 - (Reuters) - Russian oil and gas condensate production C-RU-OUT hit a record-high 11.25 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, beating the previous record of 11.16 million bpd set a year earlier, Energy Ministry data showed on Thursday. The figures show Russia continues to ramp up its oil and gas condensate production despite the impact of a tainted oil crisis earlier in the year which constrained output, as well as voluntary production cuts under a global deal to prop up prices. The ministry did not separate out figures for crude oil production and gas condensate production, which was excluded from output reduction quotas under its deal with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Russian oil production has been rising for the past decade thanks to the startup of new fields and the introduction of new technologies at mature deposits. In tonnes, Russian oil and gas condensate output rose to 560.2 million last year, up from 555.84 million in 2018, as small-sized oil producers cranked up their output. According to the data, oil and gas condensate output at small producers jumped last year by almost 3% to 83.612 million tonnes, or 1.68 million bpd. In December, total oil and gas condensate stood at 11.262 million bpd, up from 11.244 million bpd in November, according to the data. In tonnes, oil output reached 47.629 million last month versus 46.019 million in November. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak expects Russian oil and condensate production of between 555 million tonnes and 565 million tonnes in 2020, or 11.12-11.32 million bpd using a conversion rate of 7.33 barrels per tonne of oil. Novak has said that Russia reduced its oil output excluding gas condensate by 240,000 bpd in late December compared with levels in October 2018, the baseline for the global deal.

NLNG takes Train 7 FID -Nigeria LNG Ltd.  (NLNG) has taken final investment decision (FID) for its Train 7 project at its Bonny liquefaction plant. The project will increase capacity of NLNG’s plant to 30 million tonnes/year (tpy) from 22 million tpy.Award of contracts for engineering, procurement, and construction activities will follow closure of financing, and finalization of commercial agreements, expected in early 2020.Construction will take about 5 years, with first LNG expected in 2025. NLNG is joint venture of Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. (49%), Shell Gas BV (25.6%), Total Gaz Electricite Holdings France (15%), and Eni International NA NV (10.4%).

Nigerian communities struggle with devastating oil spills - Martha Alfred used to harvest 20 bags of cassava each year before an oil spill forced her to abandon her field and hawk roasted fish to survive. Her smallholding at Ikarama-Okordia, a community in southern Nigeria's Bayelsa state, became unfit for growing crops after crude from a nearby Shell facility spewed into the environment last August, she says. Today, the 33-year-old mother of two looks angry and helpless, her woes compounded by downpours during the last rainy season that flooded her land. "The soil has become infertile because of the spills," Alfred told AFP. "Each time I remember the spills and now the floods, my heart bleeds," she said. "People from Shell came and promised to do something for me. Up until now I have not heard from them." Ikarama-Okordia, a collection of villages, is one of the most polluted sites in the oil and gas-rich Niger Delta. A major pipeline that passes through the fishing and farming community of 50,000 people has been the subject of spills and militant attacks for over 20 years. Shell said it recorded a total of 21 spills in the area between 2009 and 2018. Overall, rights groups say that millions of barrels of crude have leaked out across the Niger Delta region over the years. The oil companies blame most of the leaks on sabotage from local residents and criminal gangs stealing the crude. But under Nigerian laws, the firms are obliged to clean up all spills whatever their cause. Villagers argue some spills are due to operational factors. "It's not completely true all the incidents are caused by sabotage. Some of them are due to equipment failures," Ikarama community leader Morris Lamiengha told AFP. Asked about the allegations from the residents of Ikarama-Okordia, Shell insisted it meets its obligations on all clean-ups and helps affected communities whatever the reasons for the leakages.

Brazilian northeast beaches hit by second oil spill (Reuters) - Crude oil smudges have been spotted at some Brazilian beaches in the northeast state of Ceará, the country’s navy said on Monday, almost two months after the area was hit by another oil slick. That was part of a broader spill, whose origin remains a mystery, that stained hundreds of beaches on Brazil’s northeast coast between September and November, threatening marine life, tourism and fishing. The navy said samples of the new spill were being sent for analysis to a marine studies institute, adding that sailors, volunteers, members of environmental agency IBAMA and others were recovering the oil traces from the beaches.Tourism operators in the community of Caetanos de Cima, in Ceará state, also expressed concern about the spill. “There was a lot of oil in the beaches in the morning. It seems to be more than we saw the first time that this happened, in early November,” said Helena Soares, who works with community tourism in the area. Rivelino Cavalcante, an ocean researcher at the Federal University of Ceará, told news website G1 that a large quantity of the same oil that appeared on beaches earlier this year still lay in the seabed and was moving to shore because of ocean currents. Brazilian government officials have said that tests indicated Venezuela as the probable origin of the oil. The country dismissed that assertion.

Mysterious oil washes up on Brazilian shores - For the past three months, thick crude oil blobs have washed up on beaches along more than 4,400 kilometers (2,700 miles) of Brazil’s coastline, mangroves and reefs in the worst oil spill in the country’s history. The exact date the oil first reached Brazil’s shores is unclear, but government reports point to August 30. As of December 18, the oil had polluted more than 950 beaches, including some of the country’s most famous, such as Porto de Galinhas, in the state of Pernambuco, and Praia do Forte, in Bahia. The sludge had reached 127 municipalities and 11 states, according to the federal environmental agency Ibama. An estimate of 5,000 tonnes of oil have been removed but new areas continue to be affected. Lab tests conducted by the Brazilian Navy indicated that the oil washing ashore shared the same properties as crude originating from Venezuela. Caracas and state oil firm PDVSA have denied any involvement in the spill. Despite identifying the oil’s characteristics, authorities and experts were unable to identify the origin of the spill. An unproven prevailing theory is that the oil came from a botched “ship-to-ship” transfer when oil was piped between ships at sea. Tracking the oil is especially difficult because the oil is heavy crude so dense that it does not float. Instead, it travels below the water’s surface, making it almost impossible to gauge the full scale of the spill. “Because the oil doesn’t appear on satellite images, we can’t predict the areas it’s going to affect,” said Cristiane de Oliveira, Ibama’s environmental risk prevention and management coordinator. “This is an unprecedented incident in the world in terms of characteristics and dimension.” In October, the engineering institute of Rio de Janeiro’s federal university Coppe conducted a study to simulate possible points of origin of the oil. Considering factors like ocean currents and winds during the 80 days before the first clumps appeared, the study identified three areas between 300 and 600 kilometers away from the shore that could be where the oil first originated. Researchers are comparing that information with ship tracking data but have not released findings. Recent studies conducted by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), however, indicate that the oil would have moved from the coast of southern Africa in April to the Brazilian coast in September.

PPL discovers Balochistan hydrocarbons - Pakistan Petroleum Ltd. (PPL) has made a hydrocarbons discovery from its first Margand block exploratory well, Margand X-1, in Kalat district, Balochistan province. Margand X-1 spudded June 30, 2019, and reached 4,500-m MD inside Chiltan limestone. Modular dynamics testing proved the presence of hydrocarbons. During drillstem tests the well flowed 10.7 MMcfd of gas at 1-in. choke size with flowing well head pressure of ~516 psi and 132 b/d of liquid. The liquid’s makeup is being investigated. The well has potential to flow at higher rates after acid stimulation. This is the first gas discovery on Kalat plateau, according to PPL, which also said the discovery has opened a new sub-basin for further hydrocarbon exploration.

Indonesian farmers seek $21b in Montara compensation - Indonesian seaweed farmers and fishermen have filed a formal claim with the United Nations for $US15 billion ($A21 billion) in compensation from Australia over the environmental damage from the Montara oil spill. A blowout on the Montara rig off Western Australia on August 21, 2009, spewed oil and gas into the Timor Sea between the two countries. The West Timor Care Foundation, representing the Indonesian claimants, says the spill killed the livelihoods of more than 100,000 people, caused the communities "strange diseases" and destroyed coral reefs. "These claims are not excessive and are based on a credible socio-economic loss count," the organisation said in a statement. A class action brought in June 2016 against PTTEP Australasia (Ashmore Cartier) Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of the Thai state company that operated the rig during the spill, is still being heard in the Federal Court in Sydney.

OPEC Aims to Prop Up Oil Prices - At December’s meeting in Vienna, OPEC plus agreed production cuts of 500,000 barrels a day for the first quarter of 2020. This is over and above the production cut of 1.2 million b/d (m b/d) announced a year ago. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia continues to shoulder most of the extra voluntary cuts in output, in an attempt to balance the market and support crude prices. However, in reality both Nigeria and Iraq will continue to produce more than their allotted quota thus reinforcing the Paris based IEA ‘s projection that, even if all OPEC members and Russia were to comply 100 percent, global oil inventories could still rise by 700,000 barrels a day in the first quarter, due to weak demand in the global economy. This would hold prices down. Oil traders are not very impressed with OPEC’s decision, which in truth; just made official the unofficial extra production cuts they have made for much of the past year. In addition, Rystad Energy market research modelling suggests that in order to balance the market, OPEC would need to reduce crude production to 28.9 million bpd – a drop of 0.8 million bpd from the level seen in the fourth quarter of 2019-levels. This projection is based on forecasts for demand, estimates of non-OPEC supply increases from Brazil, Canada, Norway and Guyana, as well as the impact of new International Maritime Organisation 2020 regulations on oil used as fuel for ships. Therefore, global output will continue to exceed OPEC and its alliance’s production cuts. The flood of crude will arrive even as concerns about climate change are growing and worldwide oil demand is slowing. And it is not coming from the usual producers, but from Brazil, Canada, Norway and Guyana, countries that are either not known for oil, or whose production has been lacklustre in recent years. Together, these four countries alone stand to add nearly a million barrels a day to the market in 2020 and a further million more in 2021. That boost in production, along with global efforts to lower emissions, will almost certainly push oil prices down. But above all, on the supply side is the emergence of the U.S. as a major oil producer, which has turned the country into a net oil exporter for the first time in decades. Burgeoning shale oil has succeeded in holding down crude prices to between $60-$70 a barrel. However, some traders are betting that U.S. shale production could slow in 2020, after a period of lower prices and signs that the industry is no longer prepared to spend so aggressively to fund growth.

‘Big uncertainty’ over US oil output will be key to oil prices in 2020, analysts say - The question of how much crude U.S. producers may be able to add this year could be pivotal for oil prices in 2020, analysts told CNBC, while warning of the potential for “vicious corrections” in the coming months. Speaking to CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Thursday, Chris Weafer, a senior partner at Macro-Advisory, suggested three “critical factors” were set to have the greatest influence over crude futures this year. The first two factors were identified as oil demand growth and the current deal between OPEC and its allied partners. The group, often referred to as OPEC+, agreed to cut oil production by an additional 500,000 barrels per day (b/d) from Jan. 1, further deepening their previous cut of 1.2 million b/d. “The big uncertainty this year — and it is already beginning to be talked about — is: Can or will U.S. producers be able to continue to add as much extra volume as they have been for the last seven or eight years?” “This is a huge question,” Weafer said. The International Energy Agency projected last month that total U.S. oil production growth will slow to 1.1 million b/d in 2020, down from 1.6 million b/d in 2019. In such a scenario, Weafer said that, assuming the OPEC+ deal remains in place, oil prices should trade in the $60 to $70 price range. Nonetheless, he warned many were becoming concerned that U.S. production growth might have passed its peak, amid speculation the industry will not be able to increase production at the same rate in 2020 as it has done in previous years.

 Oil prices are at a three-month high, buoyed by expected U.S.-China trade deal - Oil prices rose on Monday to three-month highs, lifted by optimism over an expected China-U.S. trade deal and upbeat industrial data, while traders kept a close watch on the Middle East following U.S. air strikes in Iraq and Syria. International benchmark Brent reached US$68.99 a barrel, while U.S. crude futures hit US$62.34 a barrel, both the highest since Sept. 17. For the year, Brent has risen around 27 per cent in 2019, and the U.S. benchmark is up about 36 per cent. Futures eased during the session, with Brent crude futures rising 28 cents to settle at $68.44 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 4 cents to settle at US$61.68 a barrel. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News in an interview that the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade deal would likely be signed in the next week. He cited but did not confirm a report that Chinese Vice Premier Liu He would visit this week to sign the deal. “Washington has sent an invitation and Beijing has accepted it,” the South China Morning Post quoted a source as saying. “U.S.-China trade optimism continues to spur demand for risky assets such as oil, other industrial commodities, equities,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of trading advisory firm Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. In China, factory activity likely expanded again in December although markets await details on the trade truce, a Reuters poll showed. Elsewhere, investors are closely watching events in the Middle East after the United States carried out air strikes on Sunday against the Kataib Hezbollah militia group, while protesters in Iraq on Saturday briefly forced the closure of its southern Nassiriya oilfield. READ MORE: U.S. slams ‘coercive’ ongoing detentions of 2 Canadians as China row continues Libyan state oil firm NOC said it is considering closure of its western Zawiya port and evacuating staff from the refinery due to clashes nearby.

Oil ends slightly lower, snapping 4-day winning streak -  Oil futures ended with small losses Monday, snapping a four-day winning streak in quiet trading in the next-to-last trading session of the year. West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery CLG20, -0.02% on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 4 cents, or less than 0.1%, to end at $61.68 a barrel. March Brent crude UK:BRNG20, the most-active contract, fell 20 cents, or 0.3%, to close at $66.67 a barrel on ICE Europe. Monday marked the expiration day of the February Brent contract CLG20, -0.02%, which rose 28 cents, or 0.4%, to close at $68.44 a barrel. Both grades traded at their highest levels for most-active futures contracts since mid-September, when a drone attack on Saudi oil facilities caused crude prices to spike. WTI crude, the U.S. benchmark, and Brent, the global benchmark, are up around 11.8% and 10.4% this month, respectively. That puts WTI on track for a 36% gain so far this year, while Brent is up around 24%. “Both the Brent and WTI oil markets have rallied nearly 20% over the past couple of months of trading to three-month highs just below $69.00 and just above $62.00 in Brent crude and WTI oil, respectively, as easing fears of slowing global oil and fuel demand growth underpinned by a U.S.-China trade agreement, increased OPEC plus output cuts, and fears of Middle East supply disruption propelled the markets to levels not seen since the middle of September,” wrote analysts at TFS Energy, in a note. “However, expectations of increased non-OPEC production growth in the coming year will likely provide resistance to rising oil prices in the coming months.”

Oil prices steady, on track for biggest yearly rise since 2016 - Oil prices held steady on the final day of the year on Tuesday, heading for their biggest annual rise since 2016, supported by a thaw in the prolonged U.S.-China trade dispute and supply cuts. Brent crude futures for March delivery, the new front month contract, were at $66.66 a barrel, down 1 cent, by 0258 GMT. Brent for February delivery closed on Monday at $68.44 . U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for February was down 3 cents at $61.65. Brent has gained about 24% in 2019 and WTI has risen roughly 36%. Both benchmarks are set for their biggest yearly gain in three years, backed by a breakthrough in U.S.-China trade talks and output cuts pledged by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies. The White House’s trade adviser said on Monday that the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade deal would likely be signed in the next week. “Oil prices have followed the general de-risking drift into year-end despite a rise in Middle East tensions and last week’s bullish-for-oil-price inventory draws as the broader markets appear to be losing some of that holiday cheer,” said Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AxiTrader. Tensions remain high in the Middle East after U.S. air strikes on Sunday against the Katib Hezbollah militia group in Iraq and Syria. Operations resumed at Iraq’s Nassiriya oilfield resumed on Monday after protesters briefly halted production. Looking ahead, U.S. crude inventories are expected to fall by about 3.2 million barrels in the week to Dec.27, heading for a third consecutive weekly fall, a preliminary Reuters poll showed on Monday. U.S. stockpiles fell by 5.5 million barrels in the week to Dec. 20. The figures will be released on Friday. Innes said traders would also closely watch the EIA’s U.S. October crude production figures, set to come out later on Tuesday. “It’s expected to show robust continuous growth in the agency’s short-term outlook,” he said. The United States is on track to become a net petroleum exporter on an annual basis for the first time in 2020, with output expected to rise by 930,000 barrels per day (bpd) to a record 13.18 million bpd next year, the EIA said earlier this month.

Oil Prices Fall on Final Day of 2019 - West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude oil prices finished lower on the final day of 2019. The February WTI contract price lost 62 cents Tuesday, settling at $61.06 per barrel. It traded within a range from $60.63 to $61.88. Brent crude for March delivery ended the day 67 cents lower at an even $66 per barrel. Oil markets had traded flat Monday, with WTI closing at $61.68 per barrel as traders contemplated potential supply risks following U.S. airstrikes on Iranian-backed militia in Iraq Sunday, Monday’s settlement was down less than 0.2 percent from the Christmas holiday-week close. He added that Brent was down marginally as well for the same period, losing 0.4 percent to close at $66.62. “Oil market participants are working to understand if the first major use of U.S. air power in Iraq under the Trump administration – and the first since American forces were reinstated there in 2014 – substantially changes Middle East supply risk,” “The relatively flat oil-price response so far might be an indication that U.S.-Iran tensions are already factored into pricing assumptions.” Scott also suggested that two recent positive supply developments from Guyana may have offset concerns about the situation in the Middle East: pre-Christmas first oil from the Liza field and Shell’s securing the rights to lift and market the first cargoes. “Markets are also trying to incorporate the implications from recent – and apparently well-researched – reports indicating U.S. independently operated shale oil wells are, on the net, producing less oil than originally predicted,” continued Scott. “Meanwhile, our recent research at AlixPartners conducted in the Permian and Eagle Ford shows productivities and recoveries per horizontal footage drilled has increased over the last five years among several operators. Unfortunately, more challenged operators typically have higher debt loads and are drilling to drive volumes and related revenues to service current debt payments – which in turn contributes to their lower capital efficiency.” Scott added that drilling could accelerate overall if crude prices stay firm – and in part if capital markets reopen or exploration and production players find “innovative” financing options or merger partners. “Overall, we anticipate considerable uncertainty remaining well into the new year,”

Oil Dips as 2019 Ends; Big Gains on Year, Big Challenges Ahead - Oil prices fell on the last day of 2019, but still rounded the year out with the biggest annual gains in three. A rebound forecast in U.S. shale crude production could, however, pose greater challenges for the market in 2020. New York-traded West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, settled down 62 cents, or 1.0%, at $61.06 per barrel. Despite that drop, WTI rose 11% for December, its largest monthly gain since January. London-traded Brent, the global oil benchmark, settled down 67 cents, or 1%, at $66.65 per barrel. Notwithstanding Tuesday’s slide, the U.K. crude standard settled up 7% for December, its largest monthly advance since April. For the year, WTI rose 34% while Brent had a 24% gain, the biggest annual gains since 2016 for both benchmarks. Oil’s 2019 rally was largely helped by production cuts carried out by OPEC. Since January, the Saudi-led OPEC, joined by its ally Russia under the OPEC+ alliance, has tried to observe a daily production cut of 1.2 million barrels. In December, as that arrangement was about to expire, OPEC+ said it would deepen those cuts to 2.1 million barrels per day from the start of 2020. Despite its plan for stiffer production cuts, OPEC+ could have a tougher time keeping oil prices up in 2020 as U.S. shale oil output could rebound next year, some long-time traders in oil said. While U.S. crude production as a whole hit a record high of 12.9 million barrels per day in 2019, shale oil output, which accounts for more than half of U.S. total production, has been somewhat restrained this year. U.S. crude producers as a whole cut the number of actively-operating oil rigs in the country to 677 this year from 885 at the end of 2018, a drop of 208 rigs, or 24%. “The main reason for the 24% cutback in actively-drilling U.S. oil rigs this year was the price uncertainty that persisted midyear,” WTI hovered between $50 and $55 during most of the summer months, weighing on the broader oil market. Kilduff said with the OPEC decision to double down on production cuts taking effect only in early December, it will take U.S. drillers some time to turn their spigots back on in full and plow ahead with production. “With oil prices being the way they are, one can bet on more challenges ahead for production,” Kilduff added. “WTI at above $60 is very, very remunerable to U.S. shale. OPEC will have to take a lot more off the market to face that wall of shale supply headed the global market's way.”

 Oil surges 35% in 2019 and hedge funds are betting on more gains next year - West Texas Intermediate crude futures have rallied 13% this quarter and nearly 35% this year, posting oil’s best annual performance since 2016. And now big investors are starting to get on board with the trade. “Hedge funds have swung from extreme bearishness to extreme bullishness,” Ned Davis Research energy strategist Warren Pies said in a note Monday. “In two months, hedge fund short positioning in crude oil futures has gone from above 35% to below 9%.” That said, it is important to note that much of the current quarter’s gain is retracing a decline that started at the end of September and stretched into the current quarter. Brent crude futures climbed nearly 23% this year. One of the factors boosting prices is the deeper-than-expected cut that OPEC and its allies announced on Dec. 5. The cartel said it was cutting production by an additional 500,000 barrels per day through the first quarter of 2020, bringing the total production cut to 1.7 million barrels per day. WTI on Tuesday was trading at $61.16, down 52 cents on the day. Following the larger-than-expected OPEC cut, Goldman Sachs raised its 2020 Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate crude forecast by $3 to $63 and $58.50 per barrel respectively, due to “more favorable inventories” following the cut. Pies said that he heading into the end of the year he remains “officially bullish on crude oil,” especially since the long and short term trends — key technical indicators — are rising. That said, he noted that the bull case is weakening and that investors should keep an eye on inventory reports going forward. RBC’s Helima Croft said that an improving macro outlook should continue to boost oil prices going forward. “The fact that the trade war is not dominating the headlines, the fact that people see light at the end of the tunnel, that’s a really important story for oil right now because the macro story was really holding oil back,” she said.

Oil Enters 2020 With Bullish Trend -Oil closes out 2019 on a bullish note, pushed higher by renewed economic optimism, the OPEC+ cuts and a thawing U.S.-China trading relationship. “Prices ended the year with optimism close to 70$ /bbl for Brent and we expect them to stay supported through Q1,” OilX chief executive Florian Thaler told Oilprice. “In March all eyes will remain on OPEC and OPEC+ and whether the action of production adjustment will be extended further.”  Royal Dutch Shell sold off its last position in the Haynesville shale, selling about 55,000 net acres to Castleton Resources. “The divestment is part of Shell’s ongoing strategy to optimize its shale portfolio and direct capital toward developing our high-margin assets located in the Permian, as well as in Canada and Argentina,” a Shell spokesman said in a prepared statement.   The massive Leviathan gas field in offshore Israel finally came online. The $3.6 billion project has been a decade in the making. Noble Energy and Delek Drilling said the project would double Israel’s gas production, and gas will soon flow to Egypt and Jordan. “Israel is now an energy powerhouse, able to supply all its energy needs and gaining energy independence,” said Delek Drilling Chief Executive Yossi Abu.  Outraged after U.S. airstrikes struck an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia over the weekend, protestors broke through the outer wall of the heavily-fortified U.S. embassy in Baghdad. They did not enter the main embassy, but the protests are another sign of a deteriorating security situation in Iraq, which follows on the heels of massive protests in Basra.  The U.S. said that any attempt to hurry up work to complete the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will be met with sanctions. President Trump recently signed into law new sanctions on any companies working on the pipeline, although privately, U.S. officials have admitted that they probably won’t be able to stop the project from reaching completion.  The outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said that companies and financial institutions need to justify ongoing investment in fossil fuels. He also warned that many assets could end up being “worthless” as the world transitions to renewables. “If we were to burn all those oil and gases, there’s no way we would meet carbon budgets. Up to 80% of coal assets will be stranded, [and] up to half of developed oil reserves,” Carney said. “A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer: what’s your plan?”  Permian premium comes to an end. The premium paid for deals in the Permian has decidedly come to an end, Bloomberg reports. Acquisitions in the Permian were met with investor skepticism this year. “The market does not want to see large premium deals get done,” Steve Trauber, Citigroup Inc.’s global head of energy, told Bloomberg. “The market has reacted negatively, in some cases violently so, when those deals are announced.”

Oil climbs on US-China trade optimism, Middle East tensions - Oil prices kicked off the new year higher on Thursday as warming trade relations between the United States and China eased demand concerns, while rising tensions in the Middle East fuelled worries about supply.Global benchmark Brent crude futures, were up 22 cents, or 0.3%, to 66.22 a barrel by 0430 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was up 18 cents, or 0.3%, at $61.24 per barrel.Oil markets were closed on Wednesday for New Year's Day.Both benchmarks ended higher in 2019, posting their biggest annual gains since 2016, buoyed at the end of the year by a thaw in the prolonged trade dispute between the United States and China - the world's two largest economies - and a deeper output cut pledged by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies."Oil remains supported by the back-burner trade truce and the uptick in political unrest in Iraq," said Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AxiTrader.The U.S. military carried out air strikes against Iran-backed Katib Hezbollah militia group over the weekend. Angry at the air strikes, protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, although they withdrew after the United States deployed extra troops.In 2020, Brent is forecast to average $63.07 a barrel, up from December's estimate of $62.50, while WTI is forecast to average $57.70 a barrel, up from December's estimate of $57.30, as the OPEC-led supply cuts and the expectations of a U.S.-China trade deal boosted analysts' views on the prospects for the year, a Reuters poll showed.U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade deal would be signed on Jan. 15 at the White House.January also marks the start of the deeper output cuts by OPEC and its partners, including Russia. OPEC and its allies have agreed to cut a further of 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Jan. 1, on top of their previous cut of 1.2 million bpd that started on Jan. 1 a year ago.A fall in U.S. crude inventories last week also supported prices. U.S. crude stocks fell 7.8 million barrels in the week ended Dec. 27, compared with analysts' expectations for a decrease of 3.2 million barrels, according to data from the American Petroleum Institute (API) released on Tuesday.Official data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) is due on Friday as the release has been delayed by two days by the New Year's holiday.

Oil moves between gains and losses, boosted by trade hopes; pressured by stronger dollar - Oil prices moved between gains and losses on Thursday, supported by signs of improving Washington-Beijing trade relations and rising tensions in the Middle East but pressured by a strong U.S. dollar. Brent crude futures were unchanged at $66.00 per barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was shed 13 cents to trade at $60.93 per barrel. The dollar rose 0.44%, recovering from a six-month low after a downbeat December left the index virtually unchanged for 2019. A stronger dollar makes oil more expensive for holders of other currencies. Losses in oil prices were limited by optimism that a trade truce between the world’s two largest economies will support energy demand. U.S. President Donald Trump has said Jan. 15 would mark the signing of the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade deal. “Any delays could put a pullback in the market here,” said Bob Yawger, director of futures at Mizuho in New York. January also marks the scheduled start of deeper output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its partners, including Russia. The group agreed to cut output by a further 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Jan. 1, on top of their previous cut of 1.2 million bpd.

 Brent jumps nearly $3 after U.S. air strike kills Iran, Iraq officials - (Reuters) - Brent crude futures jumped close to $3 on Friday to their highest since September after a U.S. air strike killed key Iranian and Iraqi military personnel, raising concerns that escalating Middle East tensions may disrupt oil supplies. Brent crude futures LCOc1 jumped nearly $3 to hit a high of $69.16 a barrel, the highest since Sept. 17. The front-month Brent March contract was at $68.25 a barrel, up $2.00, or 3%, by 0258 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 rose $1.76, or 2.9%, to $62.94 a barrel. Earlier, it touched $63.84 a barrel, highest since May 1. “The supply side risks remain elevated in the Middle East and we could see tensions continue to elevate between the U.S. and Iran-backed militia in Iraq,” said Edward Moya, analyst at brokerage OANDA, in an e-mail to Reuters. An air strike at the Baghdad International Airport early on Friday killed Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi militia spokesman told Reuters. The Pentagon later confirmed it was a U.S. air strike that killed Soleimani. Oil prices were also lifted by China’s central bank saying on Wednesday it was cutting the amount of cash that banks must hold in reserve, releasing around 800 billion yuan ($115 billion) in funds to shore up the slowing Chinese economy. This came shortly after data showed China’s production continued to grow at a solid pace and business confidence shot up.

WTI Holds Overnight Gains After Huge Crude Draw, Record Exports -  With oil prices surging on fears from possible "severe retaliation" after the killing of Iran's Soleimani, some wonder if this morning's inventory and production data will impact prices at all. We suspect it will.“This is more than just bloodying Iran’s nose,” Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at AxiTrader Ltd. said in a note. “This is an aggressive show of force and an outright provocation that could trigger another Middle East war.”Analysts are expecting another crude draw in the last week (the 4th in the last 5 weeks) after API reported a major drop in crude inventories. DOE:

  • Crude -11.46mm (-3mm exp) - biggest draw since Aug 2018
  • Cushing -1.449mm - 8th weekly draw in a row
  • Gasoline +3.212mm - 8th weekly build in a row
  • Distillates +8.776 - biggest weekly build since Jan 4th 2019

As a reminder, historically, December would be when the Texas oil industry drains crude stocks ahead of year-end tax assessments, known also as ad valorem. However, the massive 11.46mm barrel crude draw is exceptional and we note that Distillates inventories exploded higher (most in a year)

Oil settles more than 3% higher after U.S. airstrike kills Iranian military commander - Oil futures rallied Friday, lifting U.S. prices to their highest finish in more than seven months, after a U.S. airstrike in Iraq killed one of Iran’s top military commanders, sparking fears of an escalation of tensions in the Middle East that could disrupt the flow of crude. “Of concern is that Iran has been pushed so much in the corner by President [Donald] Trump, that it has nothing to lose, and therefore may weigh extraordinary steps in response,” said Manish Raj, chief financial officer at Velandera Energy. Still, Friday’s relatively “modest WTI price jump reflects [the] market’s base case assumption that the conflict will continue, but without any disruption to oil production or distribution,” he told MarketWatch. “If there is an actual disruption in production...then WTI price would jump to the 70’s and Brent to the 80’s.” West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery CLG20, -0.02% on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose $1.87, or 3.1%, to settle at $63.05 a barrel, paring some of their earlier gains after trading as high as $64.09. The settlement was the highest for a front-month contract since May 20, according to Dow Jones Market Data. For the week, prices added roughly 2.2%. The global benchmark, March Brent crude rose $2.35, or about 3.6%, to $68.60 a barrel on ICE Europe after trading as high as $69.50 a barrel. The settlement and intraday levels were the highest since the aftermath of a September attack on Saudi oil infrastructure widely blamed on Iran. For the week, Brent oil rose 2.6%. 

Iraq’s 550,000 Bpd Oil Deal Is In Jeopardy -The much-vaunted deal involving the transfer of oil from the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq’s north in exchange for budget disbursements from the federal government is in Baghdad in a lot of trouble for a lot of reasons. Not only are both sides of the country in the midst of enormous domestic political upheaval but also both find themselves in a tug of war between disparate foreign powers, each looking for a piece of the enormous oil and gas resources spread across the region. In fact, it will be Russia, China, and Iran that will decide whether the oil-for-budget-payments deal goes ahead.Just a month or so ago, there was the usual fanfare of optimistic comments that accompanies the announcement of all resumptions of the oil-for-budget-payments deal. The longstanding framework for this was the deal struck between the two sides in November 2014 in which the government of the Kurdistan region (the KRG) agreed to export up to 550,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from its own fields and Kirkuk via Baghdad’s State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO). In return, Baghdad would send 17 per cent of the federal budget after sovereign expenses per month in budget payments to the KRG.Since then, both sides have relentlessly cheated on the deal. The KRG has at various times stopped all oil shipments to SOMO, preferring instead to try to sell it to a range of other countries, including much of the energy-starved Former Soviet Union states, Turkey, and Israel, among others. Baghdad has sought to take the KRG to court repeatedly to stop such activity on the basis that it is illegal.In fact, it is absolutely unclear what the legal position of such unilateral sales is. According to the KRG, it has authority under Articles 112 and 115 of the Iraq Constitution to man­age oil and gas in the Kurdistan Region extracted from fields that were not in production in 2005 - the year that the Constitution was adopted by referendum. Baghdad, however, believes that under Article 111 of the Constitution, oil and gas are under the ownership of all the people of Iraq in all the regions and governorates and consequently the oil cannot be sold off and the proceeds kept by just one of those regions.

Iraq condemns U.S. air strikes as unacceptable and dangerous – (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Monday condemned U.S. air strikes on Iranian-backed Iraqi militia bases, a move that could plunge Iraq further into the heart of a proxy conflict between Washington and Tehran. The United States military carried out air strikes on Sunday against the Kataib Hezbollah militia in response to the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, officials said. Iraqi sources said at least 25 militia fighters were killed and 55 wounded. “The prime minister described the American attack on the Iraqi armed forces as an unacceptable vicious assault that will have dangerous consequences,” his office said.Tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington - Iraq’s two main allies - since last year when President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions. Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iranian-backed forces for attacks on bases in Iraq and said any attacks by Tehran or proxies harming Americans or allies would be “answered with a decisive U.S. response.” U.S. officials said Washington had exhibited patience amid escalating provocations from Iran and its allies, but that it was time to re-establish deterrence against aggression. “After so many attacks it was important for the president to direct our armed forces to respond in a way that the Iranian regime will understand,” U.S. special representative for Iran Brian Hook said in a news briefing.

Iraqi protesters storm US embassy compound in Baghdad - Iraqi protesters and militia fighters angry over recent deadly US airstrikes on an Iran-backed Shiite militia group attacked the heavily fortified US embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday. Hundreds of men waving Iraqi and militia flags torched a security post and hurled stones at security forces, as embassy guards fired stun grenades and tear gas to disperse crowds that breached the outer wall of America's largest embassy. There were no reports of casualties, but the breach was one of the worst attacks on a US embassy in recent memory. The Pentagon said it had deployed extra troops to protect the mission. Meanwhile, the State Department said there were no plans to evacuate the compound. US President Donald Trump blamed Iran for "orchestrating" the attack and said Tehran would be held "fully responsible." "We expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy," Trump tweeted. The militiamen were demonstrating against US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on Sunday targeting Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Iraqi militia. At least 25 militiamen were killed. Iraqi security forces allowed thousands of protesters to march to the heavily-fortified Green Zone after a funeral held for those killed, letting them pass through a security checkpoint leading to the area. Many in the crowd shouted "Down, Down USA!'' and "Death to America'' and "Death to Israel'' outside the embassy compound as they threw objects over its walls.The US blamed Kataeb Hezbollah for a rocket barrage on Friday that killed an American defense contractor and wounded four US soldiers at the K1 Iraqi military base in Kirkuk in the north of the country. Since late October, at least 11 attacks have targeted Iraqi military bases where US soldiers or diplomats are deployed. There were no casualties in any of the attacks. The US has blamed Iran-backed militia and warned of retaliation.

Protesters at US embassy in Baghdad gear up for sit-in - Hundreds of pro-Iran protesters surrounded the United States embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday to demand an end to US "intervention" in the country. Raising flags of the powerful paramilitary group Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces), the crowds chanted "down, down USA". Tuesday's rally was completely distinct from the recent, months-long protest movement which has seen tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrate against the political establishment. Most at the US embassy were supporters of the Hashd Al-Shaabi. Dressed in army fatigues, they gathered around the heavily fortified embassy in the Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies in Baghdad are based, arguing in favour of a state-backed militia. Within hours, dozens had broken into the embassy compound after smashing a main door and setting fire to the reception area, according to witnesses. Protesters told Al Jazeera that they stormed the embassy in response to US air attacks over Kataib Hezbollah positions in Iraq and Syria. At least 25 members of Kataib Hezbollah forces, which belongs to the PMF, were killed and 51 others were injured in the attacks on Sunday. The US said it launched the air attacks in retaliation to a rocket attack on Friday near Kirkuk - a raid that killed an American civilian contractor, and that Washington blamed on Kataib Hezbollah. "We are the Hashd and we are here to take revenge," said a protester in his 40s, who refused to give his name for security reasons. "We [are] protesting here to condemn the US strikes on the Hashd," said Haydar, a protester in his 20s. "The Hashd are the ones who protected Iraq against terrorism."

US caught off guard as protesters storm Baghdad embassy: analysts  Hundreds of protesters breached the outer walls of the heavily fortified US embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday, setting parts of its parameter on fire - an angry reaction to deadly US air raids days earlier against Kataib Hizbollah, an Iran-backed militia. Most of the protesters, members of the paramilitary group Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces, or PMF), were clad in military fatigues. PMF is an umbrella organisation of several armed militia groups – including Kataib Hezbollah - funded and armed by Iran, but with formal links to the Iraqi armed forces. Shouting "Down, Down USA!", the crowd hurled rocks and water bottles and vandalised security cameras outside the embassy grounds. The US said it launched the attacks on Sunday - killing at least 25 fighters - in Iraq and Syria in response to a rocket attack on Friday near Kirkuk, which killed an American civilian contractor - an assault Washington blamed on Kataib Hezbollah. Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi warned the protesters to leave the compound in an effort to bring the increasingly volatile situation under control. But Mahdi's warning appeared to have come too late. Government security forces did not block militia members and their leaders from entering the heavily fortified Green Zone where the US embassy is located, a sign that the Iraqi government may not have full control over the current events. With US personnel holed up at the embassy and exposed to risk, President Donald Trump issued a stern warning to Iran and Iraq, writing on Twitter: "Iran has orchestrated the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad". He warned the US would "hold Iran for responsible" for the rapidly unfolding events in the Iraqi capital. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Prime Minister Mahdi and President Barham Salih that the US "will protect and defend its people, who are there to support a sovereign and independent Iraq", the State Department said in a statement. A US government official told Al Jazeera, on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, that "we are not going to mess around" in terms of protecting US personnel and facilities.

The Backfiring Iran Obsession and the Baghdad Embassy Protests  - The growing Iraqi backlash to the recent U.S. airstrikes escalated significantly with a massive protest that broke into the American embassy in Baghdad. Kelley Vlahos has already discussed this on our State of the Union blog:  Protesters have stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and reportedly set fire to the main entrance area, shouting “Death to America” and “Down, Down, USA”. The protesters are made up of members of the Popular Mobilization Forces, and they are demanding the expulsion of U.S. forces from Iraq. Far from “restoring deterrence,” the airstrikes have provoked a massive and hostile reaction that puts U.S. forces in greater jeopardy and completely undermines whatever influence the U.S. still had in Iraq. I said yesterday that this was Trump’s big Iraq blunder, and that may have understated how significant it was. The New York Times reports on the protests:  Protesters broke into the heavily guarded compound of the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday and lit fires inside to express their anger over American airstrikes that killed 24 members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend. The men did not enter the main embassy buildings and later withdrew from the compound, joining thousands of protesters and militia fighters outside who chanted “Death to America,” threw rocks, covered the walls with graffiti and demanded that the United States withdraw its forces from Iraq. The situation remained combustible, with protesters vowing to camp outside the compound indefinitely. Their ability to storm the most heavily guarded zone in Baghdad suggested that they had received at least tacit permission from Iraqi security officials sympathetic to their demands.  The president has feebly insisted that the Iraqi government protect the embassy after ordering an attack that went against their wishes and violated their country’s sovereignty. It is a bit rich that he invokes international conventions when the president has made a habit of trampling on them and tearing them up. The host government should protect all diplomatic facilities, but then most host governments haven’t just been subjected to an armed attack on their security forces by the same state that now demands protection. You can’t violate another country’s sovereignty on Sunday and expect them to respect yours on Tuesday. For all of Trump’s national sovereignty rhetoric, it has always been clear that he thinks of sovereignty as a one-way street where the U.S. gets to do what it wants to everyone else and the rest just have to take it. More dangerously, the president has blamed Iran for the consequences of his own bad decisions:

 A New Year and a New Trump Foreign Policy Blunder in Iraq -It’s a new year, and the U.S. has found a new enemy – an Iraqi militia called Kata’ib Hezbollah. How tragically predictable was that? So who or what is Kata’ib Hezbollah? Why are US forces attacking it? And where will this lead?Kata’ib Hezbollah is one of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) that were recruited to fight the Islamic State after the Iraqi armed forces collapsed and Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, fell to IS in June 2014. The first six PMUs were formed by five Shiite militias that all received support from Iran, plus Muqtada al-Sadr’s Iraqi nationalist Peace Company, the reincarnation of his anti-occupation Mahdi Army militia, which he had previously disarmed in 2008 under an agreement with the Iraqi government.Kata’ib Hezbollah was one of those five original Shiite militias and it existed long before the fight against IS. It was a small Shiite group founded before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and was part of the Iraqi Resistance throughout the US occupation. In 2011, it reportedly had 1,000 fighters, who were paid $300 to $500 per month, probably mainly funded by Iran. It fought fiercely until the last US occupation forces were withdrawn in December 2011, and claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that killed 5 US soldiers in Baghdad in June 2011. Since forming a PMU in 2014, its leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, has been the overall military commander of the PMUs, reporting directly to the National Security Adviser in the Prime Minister’s office.In the fight against IS, the PMUs proliferated quickly. Most political parties in Iraq responded to a fatwa by Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani to form and join these units by forming their own. At the peak of the war with IS, the PMUs comprised about 60 brigades with hundreds of thousands of Shia fighters, and even included up to 40,000 Sunni Iraqis.In the context of the war against the Islamic State, the US and Iran have both provided a great deal of military support to the PMU and other Iraqi forces, and the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga have also received support from Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif in New York in September 2014 to discuss the crisis, and US Ambassador Stuart Jones said in December 2014, “Let’s face it, Iran is an important neighbor to Iraq. There has to be cooperation between Iran and Iraq. The Iranians are talking to the Iraqi security forces and we’re talking to Iraqi security forces… We’re relying on them to do the deconfliction.” US officials and corporate media are falsely painting Kata’ib Hezbollah and the PMUs as independent, renegade Iranian-backed militias in Iraq but they are really an official part of the Iraq security forces. As a statement from the Iraqi prime minister’s office made clear, the US airstrikes were an “American attack on the Iraqi armed forces.” And these were not just any Iraqi military forces, but forces that have borne the brunt of some of the fiercest fighting against the Islamic State.

4,000 US Troop Surge To Middle East Could Be Imminent Amid Baghdad Chaos - Three U.S. defense officials told Fox News on Tuesday that the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division's alert brigade has been given orders to deploy to Kuwait amid the social unrest in Baghdad.  Even though all supporters of Iran-backed militias have withdrawn from the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, the reinforcement of U.S. troops could be imminent.  Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement on Tuesday that 750 troops are immediately deploying to the Middle East because of the attack on the U.S. embassy.  The US says it’s sending 750 troops to Iraq after its embassy in Baghdad was stormed by protesters. Read more:  — Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 1, 2020   Esper said he had authorized the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the 82nd Airborne Division. "This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today," Esper said in a statement.Apart from the rapid deployment, the three sources told Fox that approximately 4,000 paratroopers could be deployed to the region in the coming days.There are 5,000 US troops currently stationed in Iraq supporting local forces, among the more than 60,000 troops positioned in military bases across the Middle East.President Trump blamed Iran for the attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad in a tweetstorm on Tuesday. "Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will," tweeted Trump. "Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible.""In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!" he added.Trump said, "....Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!" It appears that Trump isn't pulling out of the Middle East after all, but rather a massive surge in troops into the region could be seen in the coming days. Is conflict with Iran nearing?

Iran, Russia and China hold joint naval drills in Indian Ocean amid US war threats- Iranian, Russian and Chinese warships are finishing today a four-day naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman, near the Iranian coast and the oil-rich Persian Gulf. The exercise marked the first time that Moscow and Beijing sent warships for joint maneuvers with Iranian forces in the Indian Ocean. The chief of the Iranian fleet participating in the exercise, Rear Admiral Gholamreza Tahani, said that its purpose was to demonstrate the close relations between Iran, Russia and China. “The message of this exercise is peace, friendship and lasting security through cooperation and unity, and its effect will be to show that Iran cannot be isolated,” Tahani said. He added, “Us hosting these powers shows that our relations have reached a meaningful point and may have an international impact.” The exercises were in fact a signal sent to ruling circles in Washington and in the imperialist capitals in Europe that a US-led war with Iran could rapidly escalate into a direct, all-out conflict involving the world’s major nuclear powers. In June, after Iran shot down a US drone over its territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, Trump tweeted that he had aborted US missile strikes ten minutes before they were to begin. With Iran, Russia and China all facing stepped-up military threats and pressure from Washington, Beijing and Moscow decided to send warships to strategic waters off Iran’s coast to signal that a US or NATO war with Iran would not remain confined to the Middle East. The exercise itself unfolded under the shadow of growing US and Israeli war threats against Iran, which have escalated since Washington unilaterally scrapped a six-party nuclear treaty with Iran last year and re-imposed devastating sanctions on Iran’s economy. As Russian warships arrived in Iran on Wednesday, Israel’s Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi called for military action against Iran. “It would be better if we weren’t the only ones responding to them,” Kohavi said, in what the Times of Israel called a rebuke to Washington, the Saudi monarchy and other Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms for not attacking Iran earlier. Kohavi added that Israeli forces would operate openly as well as clandestinely across the area, “even at the risk of war.” Russian and Chinese officials guardedly expressed concern over possible war and their support for Iran. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “We are dealing with the issues of maintaining stability in the region, security and the fight against terrorism. This co-operation and interaction are built on both a bilateral and multilateral basis but exclusively on a legal basis.”

Japan to deploy military forces to aid US operations against Iran - On Friday, the Japanese cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe approved plans to dispatch naval personnel to the Middle East, ostensibly to protect oil vessels in the region. The deployment consists of a destroyer with helicopters, as well as one of two P-3C patrol aircraft from its base at Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, Japan’s only overseas military base. The deployment could begin as soon as January and will last for at least one year, according to government sources. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga meets with former United States Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel in September 2013 (State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain) Tokyo claims the mission will be limited to intelligence gathering to ensure “peace and stability” in the Gulf of Oman, the Gulf of Aden and the northern Arabian Sea. It also claims that this will be done independently of other nations. However, speaking at a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said these operations could be conducted in “coordination with relevant countries”—i.e., the United States. Since Washington ratcheted up its pressure on Iran by abandoning the 2015 nuclear agreement in May 2018 and then accusing Iran of carrying out attacks in the region this past summer, the Trump administration has pushed allies like Japan to contribute forces in preparation for a military conflict. Japan has been reluctant to join this operation as nearly 90 percent of its oil comes from the Middle East and, unlike Washington, Tokyo maintains friendly relations with Tehran. The previous week, Abe met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tokyo, where the prime minister reportedly briefed his counterpart on the deployment. Tokyo is attempting to show the deployment as a compromise between the demands of Washington and relations with Tehran, stating that the Japanese military will not join US patrols through the Strait of Hormuz, although this has not been ruled out in the future. “We cannot abandon Japan-related vessels,” a government source stated in relation to the possibility of more aggressive actions in the region. The Abe administration is using the deployment as another opportunity to further its militarist agenda. While Article 9 of Japan’s post-World War II constitution, known as the pacifist clause, legally bars Japanese governments from maintaining a standing military or deploying it overseas, Tokyo has for decades used “reinterpretations” to allow Japan to operate the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), the formal name of Japan’s military.

Iran's Soleimani and Iraq's Muhandis killed in air strike: militia spokesman –   (Reuters) - Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed late on Thursday in an air strike on their convoy in Baghdad airport, an Iraqi militia spokesman told Reuters.“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces umbrella grouping of Iran-backed militias.

Ayatollah Vows "Severe Retaliation" Against "Criminals" Responsible For Killing Iranian General -Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, warned in a statement that the "criminals" responsible for the death of a top Iranian general will face "severe revenge", and that his work fighting on behalf of the Iranian people "won't be stopped by his martyrdom," according to a statement published on Twitter. The statement was issued in response to Friday morning's "game changing" drone strike (the attack took place late Thursday evening in the US) that killed Iran's most revered and respected military commander, General Qasem Suleimani, the leader of the IRGC's Quds Force - a powerful regional player responsible for overseeing Iran's proxy war in Yemen, as well as Iran-backed forces in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.  The statement was published in English by an unverified but widely-cited Twitter account, and though Zero Hedge hasn't personally verified whether the statement is genuine, it is being reported as legitimate by many media outlets around the world, including the Washington Post, which cited part of it. The statement reads as follows:

Iran Deploys F-14 Fighter Jets, Places Ballistic Missile Bases On 'High Alert' - Tehran has deployed Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighter jets to its borders hours after the U.S. killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike at Baghdad international airport, according to Sputnik News. NBC News Tehran Bureau Chief Ali Arouzi tweeted that "Iranian f14 fighters jets maneuvering on the western skies and on alert and patrol."  Al-Mayadeen news tweeted: "Iran: Revolutionary Guard Agency of Iran: Armed forces in the army and Revolutionary Guard are awaiting orders from the highest command."  In other related news, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned in a statement that the "criminals" responsible for the death of a top Iranian general will face "severe revenge," and that retaliation could be a regional war.And defense analyst Babak Taghvaee tweeted that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) "has put all of its ballistic missile bases on high-alert. #IRGC affiliated news media of #Iran's Islamic Regime claim that they are ready to launch missiles at several airbases which host #USAF airplanes in #UAE, #Qatar, #SaudiArabia & #Jordan!"

American Oil Workers In Iraq Exiting Country At US Government Request - Hours after the US drone attack which killed IRGC Quds Force General Qasem Suleimani, the US State Department issued an emergency alert urging all American citizens currently in Iraq to depart the country "immediately" due to "heightened tensions" in the region.While urging Americans to take the earliest flights out of the country, it also informed citizens they must stay away from the US Embassy in Iraq, after earlier this week the Green Zone compound was stormed by pro-Iranian protesters and the outer walls set on fire. The US Embassy in Baghdad has already suspended all public consular activities. #Iraq: Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, we urge U.S. citizens to depart Iraq immediately. Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all consular operations are suspended. U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy. Some European countries have also begun issuing travel alerts for their citizens in Iraq, with the French government informing people to avoid any public or large gatherings, and to stay "prudent and discreet" while also avoiding taking photographs in public venues. Additionally, foreign oil workers have begun departing Iraq, with Iraq’s Oil Ministry confirming early Friday that “a number of employees with US citizenship” working for oil companies in the south are readying to depart the country “in response to the request of their government.”“The ministry asserts that the conditions are normal in oil fields throughout Iraq. Production and export were not affected,” the statement added, underscoring that the request for Americans to evacuate oil fields did not come from Baghdad authorities, but from Washington.

Round Two: US Drone Airstrikes Kill Six Pro-Iran Militia Commanders -   Trump appears to be on a rampage to recreate the end of The Godfather. Less than 24 hours after a US drone shockingly killed the top Iranian military leader, Qasem Soleimani, resulting in equity markets groaning around the globe in fear over Iranian reprisals (and potentially, World War III), the US has gone for round two with Reuters and various other social media sources reporting that US air strikes targeting Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units umbrella grouping of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias near camp Taji north of Baghdad, have killed six people and critically wounded three, an Iraqi army source said late on Friday. Iraqi official media has also confirm that two vehicles were targeted north of Baghdad, carrying commanders of the pro-Iran militias in the PMUs. Iraqi officials media now confirm that two vehicles were targeted north of Baghdad, carrying commanders of the pro-Iran militias in the PMUs. #iraq #QassemSuleimani — Hassan Hassan (@hxhassan) January 3, 2020  Two of the three vehicles making up a militia convoy were found burned, a Reuters source said, as well as six burned corpses.  According to unconfirmed reports, a US MQ-9 Reaper drone targeted a convoy carrying several high ranking officials of PMU (Hashd al-Shaabi) in Taji, North of Baghdad. The casualties are said to be mostly among members of the IRGC-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq. It is not known whether Qais al-Khazali is dead or alive. Separate reports claim that Shibl al-Zaidi, a commander of Kataib Imam Ali brigades, an Iranian-backed militia and the PMU's 40th Brigade, is among those the six who were killed in the strike.

U.S. reportedly strikes pro-Iran convoy in Iraq ahead of funeral for Soleimani– A fresh airstrike hit pro-Iran fighters in Iraq early Saturday, as fears grew of a proxy war erupting between Washington and Tehran a day after an American drone strike killed a top Iranian general. The killing of Quds Force commander Gen. 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.” A new strike on Saturday targeted a convoy belonging to the Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iraqi paramilitary network dominated by Shiite factions with close ties to Iran. The Hashed did not say who it held responsible but Iraqi state television reported it was a U.S. airstrike.

Strait of Hormuz, the world’s biggest oil chokepoint, in focus as Iran tensions flare - The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway in the Middle East that marks the most sensitive transportation choke point for global oil supplies, was back in focus Friday after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian military commander and heightened fears of a confrontation between the two countries. A U.S. airstrike at Baghdad’s airport killed Qassem Soleimani, leader of the foreign wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Pentagon said President Donald Trump ordered the strike in a defensive action, alleging that Soleimani had planned to direct attacks on U.S. diplomats and service members in the region. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared three days of mourning for Soleimani’s death and said that a “hard revenge awaits criminals.” Oil prices jumped, with West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, rising to an eight-month high, and Brent crude, the global benchmark, trading at its highest level since September when an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, widely blamed on Iran, temporarily knocked half of the country’s output offline. Global stocks sold off, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.81% dropping more than 300 points in early action. The Dow remained off by around 210 points, or 0.7%, at midday, while the and S&P 500 lost 0.6%. Iran is widely expected to retaliate, and analysts see the potential for renewed attacks on the waterway off of the country’s southern coast. Attacks on ships around the strait last year caused temporary jumps in crude oil prices. Here’s a look at the Strait of Hormuz and why it’s a key concern for oil traders:

Reprisals against US to come at time and place of Iran’s choosing - Iran has spent decades preparing for a moment like this, developing methods and networks around the world that give Tehran the widest possible choice when it comes to taking revenge. In the weeks immediately after the airstrike that killed Iran’s most powerful general, the threat against Americans and their allies will be greatest in the Middle East, but the risk will balloon out across the globe over the months and years to come. Any US outpost in Syria and Iraq, military or diplomatic, is vulnerable to attacks, likely to come from Iranian-backed militias linked to Kata’ib Hezbollah, which has served as Tehran’s most reliable fist in Iraq. In Iraq, there will be even less protection from the state, which is furious about the attack outside Baghdad airport. The second ring of possible reprisals could follow an already familiar path, targeting oil shipments through the Persian Gulf. The leadership in Tehran will be conscious that one avenue of revenge against Donald Trump would be strike at his chances of re-election. An oil price spike, coupled with a backdrop of global instability and US vulnerability, would certainly hurt his campaign. In Afghanistan, Iran has longstanding ties with Hazara militias and solid basis for operations in Herat. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has long been Iran’s right arm, and can strike Israel and US regional interests at any time. And Hezbollah has networks much further afield where there are pockets of Lebanese Shia diaspora, for example in Latin America and West Africa. Iranian intelligence has carried out assassinations in Europe, and there are a string of other attacks globally in which Iran or Hezbollah is suspected but not proven to be involved. US intelligence certainly believes Hezbollah was behind the bombing of an Israeli-Argentinian cultural centre in Buenos Aires in 1994, and the bombing of a bus full of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, in 2012. The CIA was also convinced that Iran was involved in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, in reprisal for the accidental downing of an Iranian airliner, Iran Air 655, five months earlier. While Tehran has ample choices, it also has limitations. It will want to avoid triggering an all-out war with the US and its allies. It may now decide to build up a covert nuclear arsenal, no longer bound by the 2015 nuclear deal which Donald Trump walked out of. It would be harder to go down that road in the middle of a firefight. And each act of retribution could use up the political capital Iran has around the world, most importantly backing from Russia and China. But while Iran is likely to choose its targets carefully, with an eye to deniability, there is little doubt that reprisals will come at a time and place of Tehran’s choosing. The constant sense of insecurity that Americans and allies will feel will be part of the revenge. “I frankly have never seen the Iranians not respond – tit for tat. It’s just never happened,” said Robert Baer, a former CIA officer. “It’s so in their DNA, [as is using] a proxy, which makes it more difficult to respond to. And their options are unlimited.”

Saudi Arabia Arrests 200 People for Violating 'Public Decency'  - Saudi Arabia has arrested more than 200 people for violating "public decency" - including by wearing immodest clothing - and "harassment", police said, in the first such crackdown since the conservative kingdom began easing social norms.Some 120 men and women have been arrested over the past week for offending public morals, including wearing "inappropriate clothes", Riyadh police said in a series of statements on Twitter since Tuesday. It added that unspecified penalties were imposed on the violators. Another 88 people were arrested in various harassment cases, police have added in separate statements, after several women complained on social media that they were harassed at the MDL Beast music festival in Riyadh earlier this month. The electronic music festival, which drew tens of thousands of fans, was billed by organisers as the biggest ever to be hosted in the kingdom. Police did not offer any further details, including the duration of the detentions. This marked the first such mass crackdown since de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began easing social restrictions in the ultra-conservative kingdom, lifting decades-long bans on cinemas and women drivers while allowing gender-mixed concerts and sporting extravaganzas.

Media’s Deafening Silence On Latest WikiLeaks Drops Is Its Own Scandal -- Caitlin Johnstone  --WikiLeaks has published yet another set of leaked internal documents from within the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) adding even more material to the mountain of evidence that we’ve been lied to about an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria last year which resulted in airstrikes upon that nation from the US, UK and France. This new WikiLeaks drop includes an email from the OPCW Chief of Cabinet Sebastien Braha (who isreportedly so detested by organisation inspectors that they code named him “Voldemort”) throwing a fit over the Ian Henderson Engineering Assessment which found that the Douma incident was likely a staged event. Braha is seen ordering OPCW staff to “remove all traces, if any, of its delivery/storage/whatever” from the organisation’s secure registry. The drop also includes the minutes from an OPCW toxicology meeting with “three Toxicologists/Clinical pharmacologists, one bioanalytical and toxicological chemist”, all four of whom are specialists in chemical weapons analysis. According to the leaked minutes from the toxicology meeting, the chief expert offered “the possibility of the event being a propaganda exercise” as one potential explanation for the Douma incident. The other OPCW experts agreed that the key “take-away message” from the meeting was “that the symptoms observed were inconsistent with exposure to chlorine and no other obvious candidate chemical causing the symptoms could be identified”. Like all the other many, many, many, many different leaks which have been hemorrhaging from the OPCW about the Douma incident, none of the important information contained in these publications was included in any of the OPCW’s public reports on the matter. According to the OPCW’s Final Report published in March 2019, the investigative team found “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place. This toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine. The toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.” We now know that these “reasonable grounds” contain more holes than a spaghetti strainer executed by firing squad. This is extremely important information about an unsolved war crime which resulted in dozens of civilian deaths and led to an act of war which cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and had many far-reaching geopolitical consequences. Yet the mass media, freakishly, has had absolutely nothing to say about this extremely newsworthy story.

Narrative Managers Claim White Helmets Founder Was Driven To Suicide By Syria Skeptics - Caitlin Johnstone - Imperialist spinmeisters are trial-ballooning a new Syria narrative that is so breathtakingly stupid it needs its own article solely for the purpose of mockery.  On Christmas Eve PBS aired a bizarre segment on the death of James Le Mesurier, the former military intelligence officer who founded the extremely shady propaganda construct known as the White Helmets. The segment makes relentless, ham-fisted appeals to emotion, even attempting to associate the White Helmets with Armistice Day using wistful camera pans over poppy flowers and misty war memorial art exhibits, but by far the most yogurt-brained part is its repeated suggestions that Le Mesurier killed himself because people had been accusing him of being a propagandist. “And now a story of a humanitarian trying to help Syria: the suspicious death in Turkey last month of James Le Mesurier, the co-founder of the White Helmets rescue organization in Syria,” opens PBS News Hour’s Judy Woodruff. “Friends and colleagues fear that he may have been murdered or driven to suicide by a campaign of character assassination.”  “Whatever the cause, Le Mesurier was a victim of a very modern war,” the special’s narrator solemnly intones.“There is no hiding place in cyberspace. Le Mesurier was at the epicenter of a propaganda war, and his friends are appalled at what they regard as a campaign of character assassination.” “The amount of abuse, the amount of ill-placed propaganda, disinformation that’s on social media and the Internet coming out of Russian bots and Syria, Syrian regime, and others was unbearable,” Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon mourns. This ridiculous narrative was picked up and run with by Syria narrative managers on Twitter. It is true that both Beeley and the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media have accused Le Mesurier of running a propaganda operation on behalf of western governments using western government funding. But if Ahmad truly believed that accusing people of conducting propaganda caused them to kill themselves, he should turn himself in for attempted murder, because he accuses people of being propagandists constantly. Here’s a link to Ahmad calling journalist Max Blumenthal a “propagandist for Maduro”. Here’s a link to Ahmad calling Beeley a “pro-regime propagandist”. Here’s a link to Ahmad calling award-winning journalist Jonathan Steele “a fabricator and a propagandist”. Here’s a link to Ahmad calling CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou “a propagandist for Putin”. Talk about “lethal disinformation”, Idrees.

 Netanyahu to seek immunity from criminal charges - Washington Post — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday that he would ask the Israeli parliament to grant him immunity in three criminal cases, tying up further the already lengthy legal proceedings against him in a political system that has been gripped by deadlock for the past year.  Netanyahu’s immunity request to the Knesset would shield him from prosecution at least while he remains in office. It also pitches the country’s political establishment against the legal system ahead of an unprecedented third general election in less than a year. That election is set for March 2. Twice in 2019 Netanyahu failed to form a government following earlier rounds of voting in April and September. Part of the stalemate is the reluctance of his political rival, Benny Gantz — former military chief of staff and head of the centrist Blue and White faction — to join a coalition with a leader charged with crimes. In November, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit concluded that there was enough evidence to prosecute Netanyahu in three cases involving allegations that he and his wife, Sara, accepted more than $260,000 worth of luxury goods in exchange for political favors and that he interceded with regulators and lawmakers on behalf of two media companies in exchange for positive news coverage. Netanyahu has criticized the prosecution as a politically motivated “coup” to oust him from office. But the allegations have cast a shadow over his legacy and forced him to justify why and how he can continue to run for office.    In a statement broadcast live Wednesday on Israeli television, Netanyahu said that he was not trying to escape prosecution and that the immunity provision would only last for the duration of the next parliament’s term. In the address, Netanyahu said that the criminal cases were an attempt to frame him and that it was up to the public and not the courts to decide whether he should continue leading the country.

"Why Don't They Open The Gates?" Erdogan Questions Europe As 250,000 Flee Idlib -  As Russian and Syrian jets have dramatically stepped up their bombardment of jihadist-held Idlib over the past three weeks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again warned a massive wave of refugees is headed into Turkey, but that his country is without help and thus is seeking to prevent the new influx. “Right now, 200,000 to 250,000 migrants are moving toward our borders,” Erdogan said while addressing a conference in Ankara. “We are trying to prevent them with some measures, but it’s not easy. It’s difficult, they are humans too.”This after the UN on Monday said that of Idlib province's some 3 million civilian population, up to 284,000 are currently on the move.  International reports commonly put the current numbers of Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey at about 3.7 million, which Erdogan has of late constantly reminded Europe of as he seeks support for foreign military intervention in places like northeast Syria and now even Libya. During his latest comments, Erdogan actually put the number of refugees across all provinces of Turkey at a whopping 5 million which would be larger than many small countries. Crucially, during his speech on Thursday, he alluded to his prior threats to "open the gates" and allow refugees to flood into Europe, starting with Greece and other Mediterranean nations:

Foreign Fighter 'Rat Line' In Reverse- Turkey Sends Syrian 'Rebels' To Libya -Bloomberg has confirmed on Friday the prior rumors that Turkey will be sending mercenaries to Libya where it is propping up the UN-backed government in Tripoli (the GNA) are true. "Turkey is preparing to deploy troops and naval forces to support the internationally-recognized Libyan government, joining a planned push by Ankara-backed Syrian rebels to defeat strongman Khalifa Haftar," reports Bloomberg. Though Ankara has yet to confirm or deny the new reports, Erdogan's Turkey has for years overseen a Libya-to-Turkey-to-Syria arms "rat line" which saw both heavy weaponry and jihadists fighters transported for the purpose of toppling Assad. But now with Erdogan's eyes set on defeating Benghazi-based General Khalifa Haftar, it appears this arms and jihadist rat line has conveniently been reversed. This also as President Erdogan in a speech on Thursday presented plans to send Turkish national troops bolster Tripoli as well.Possibly thousands from among the so-called Turkish Free Syrian Army (formerly the FSA), with most of its fighters currently attacking Syrian Kurds in the ongoing 'Operation Peace Spring', will now be sent into Libya.There are reports suggesting Turkey is ready to pay $2,000 a month for each Syrian 'rebel' willing to go to Libya.

 Turkey's Gunboat Gambit In The Mediterranean - Turkey, since 2011, has been waging a pro-Sunni proxy war in Syria, in the hope of one day establishing in Damascus a pro-Turkey, Islamist regime. This ambition has failed, costing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Turkey violent political turmoil on both sides of Turkey's 911-km border with Syria and billions of dollars spent on more than 4 million Syrian refugees scattered across the Turkish soil.In Egypt, in 2011-2012, Erdoğan aggressively supported the failed Muslim Brotherhood government and deeply antagonized the incumbent -- then-general but now president -- Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Since Erdoğan's efforts in Syria and Egypt failed, his Sunni Islamist ambitions have found a new proxy-war theater: Libya.On December 10, Erdoğan said he could deploy troops in Libya if the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli (which Turkey supports) requested it. Erdoğan's talks with GNA's head, Fayez al-Sarraj, who is fighting a war against the Libyan National Army (LNA) of General Khalifa Haftar, produced two ostensibly strategic agreements: a memorandum of understanding on providing the GNA with arms, military training and personnel; and a maritime agreement delineating exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean waters.Greece and Egypt protested immediately while the European Council unequivocally condemned the controversial accords. Meanwhile, the deals apparently escalated a proxy competition between Turkey's old (Greece) and new (Egypt and the United Arab Emirates) rivals.With the al-Sarraj handshake, Erdoğan is apparently aiming to:

  • minimize Turkey's isolation in the Mediterranean, one which has gradually worsened since 2010, following one diplomatic crisis after another with Israel;
  • counter strategic cooperation between Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and Israel, including joint diplomatic, energy and military initiatives;
  • cut into the emerging Cypriot-Greek-Egyptian-Israeli maritime bloc;
  • push back against Arab (Egyptian and UAE) pressure on al-Sarraj;
  • fill the European vacuum in Libya; and
  • emerge as a deal-breaker in the Mediterranean rather than a deal-maker.

Turkey's Parliament Authorizes Military To Deploy Troops In Libya - At a time when pro-Haftar Libyan forces have reportedly made advanced near Tripoli International Airport, Turkey's parliament has voted to approve Erdogan's next controversial foreign military adventure sending troops to Libya to bolster the government under Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj based in Tripoli. Turkish lawmakers approved the motion (325 to 184) at an emergency session on Thursday to grant a one-year mandate for troop deployment, despite the clearly ratcheting destabilization in the North African country which has been in essentially a state of anarchy since US-NATO regime change aimed at decades-long ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Interestingly, among the key arguments that supporters of deeper Libya involvement advanced during Thursday's parliament vote is that national security would be weakened by continued fighting in Libya. “A Libya whose legal government is under threat can spread instability to Turkey,” ruling party legislator Ismet Yilmaz argued. “Those who shy away from taking steps on grounds that there is a risk will throw our children into a greater danger.” Turkey's main opposition party, CHP, argued that it would unnecessarily embroil the country into a complicated conflict with no end in sight that would inevitably contribute to the further "shedding of Muslim blood." One option considered is to simply expand Turkish military training to GNA Libyan troops.

Libyan Rebels Shoot Down Turkish Plane Moments After Ankara Approves Sending Troops  -A mere hours after Turkey's parliament in an emergency session voted to authorize its military to send troops to war-torn Libya in order to stave off advancing pro-Haftar forces on the capital, there are new reports rebel forces have downed a Turkish plane, likely a drone, south of Tripoli. Benghazi-based General Khalifa Haftar had already long ago essentially declared he would enforce a No Fly Zone for all foreign aircraft, especially Turkish aircraft.  Sky News Arabia was the first to report Thursday: "Based on our sources, the Libyan army shoots down Turkish plane to the south of the capital Tripoli." And in a statement immediately after the Turkish aircraft downing of what appears to be a UAV drone, a spokesman for Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA), said according to Sky News:We reject the existence of any foreign power in Libya no matter what.Though details are as yet unclear, if confirmed it would be the second Turkish military aircraft within three weeks brought down by the LNA, after a drone was shot down on Dec.14. The timing is clearly meant to send a message given earlier in the day Turkish lawmakers approved a controversial motion (325 to 184) at an emergency session to grant a one-year mandate for troop deployment to fight advancing Haftar forces.

Somalia Truck Bomb Attack Rocks Capital During Rush Hour, At Least 90 Dead -At least 90 people are reported dead and 125 more wounded after a massive car bomb was detonated at a busy intersection in the Somali capital of Mogadishu on Saturday. The apparent suicide attack happened during rush hour traffic at about 8am, according to early reports, and authorities are cautioning that the death toll is expected to rise as area hospitals continue to fill.  Among the dead are 17 Somali police officers, CNN reports, while most have been described as university students on their way to classes. It's the deadliest attack in Mogadishu since the 2017 twin truck bombings that killed more than 500 people and leveled a hotel. Though initial reports put the death toll at 78 or more, Reuters has cited local sources who say it's actually more than 90 killed.Rescuers carried bodies past the twisted wreckage of a vehicle and a minibus taxi smeared with blood. A report by the international organization, which did not want to be named, said the death toll was more than 90.A Somali MP also tweeted that he had been told the death toll stands at more than 90, including 17 police officers. — ReutersSpecifically Saturday's car bomb went off on a busy street outside a tax collection center. The truck reportedly barreled into a security checkpoint manned by over a dozen police, killing scores of both civilians and security forces. Suicide-bomber driving a car laden with explosives detonates at #Mogadishu’s Ex-control Afgoye. Casualties of this horrific blast is yet to clarify. #Somalia. — Bashiir Maxmud (@BashiirMaxmud) December 28, 2019Details are as yet uncertain, but local eyewitness say gunfire erupted just before or after the blast. "Dozens of injured people were screaming for help but the police immediately opened fire and I rushed back to my house," 55-year-old Sabdow Ali told Reuters.No group initially claimed responsibility for the deadly attack; however, likely authorities are eyeing Al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab, which has carried out similar attacks in the recent past.

Russia says its hypersonic missile is now in active service -- Russia's vaunted hypersonic missile is now in service -- though to what degree isn't clear. The country's Ministry of Defense has announced that the Avangard system is in use with its first regiment as of the morning of December 27th. The addition theoretically gives Russia the ability to strike targets around the world with relative impunity. The weapon launches like a conventional ballistic missile, but the re-entry vehicle glides into the atmosphere at extreme speeds while staying highly maneuverable at high altitudes -- it could be virtually impossible to stop using existing anti-missile systems.The news comes as an apparent response to earlier concerns that trouble finding carbon fiber could lead to Avangard missing its planned 2019 debut.As with earlier claims, it's difficult to tell how ready the technology really is. How many missiles are there, and how quickly could they be put into use? Will they work as well as claimed? American experts were allowed to inspect the Avangard system on November 26th under the terms of a 2010 nuclear arms treaty, but it's not clear if the US believes this to be a credible threat. If there are only a handful of missiles or there's a protracted launch sequence, the missile might not be as intimidating as it sounds.Still, the claimed deployment is bound to make other countries nervous. Countries like the US, Australia and China are working on their own hypersonic missile systems, but none has reached active duty. Russia's rush to be first theoretically gives it a bargaining chip with any country that would dare challenge its agenda -- do what we say or you're guaranteed to face casualties. Unfortunately, that may lead to other countries stepping up their own efforts and reproducing the arms race of the Cold War era.

China and Russia plan to boost scientific cooperation with focus on artificial intelligence and other strategic areas - China and Russia are moving to expand their scientific collaboration after promising to work on developing information technology, artificial intelligence and other strategic areas. With Moscow still under US and European economic sanctions imposed following its annexation of Crimea in 2014, and Beijing facing increasing Western concern about its tech industry, the two countries have promised to make next year a focus for science and innovation. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree, designating 2020 as the year of Russian-Chinese Scientific, Technical and Innovation Cooperation. Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign ministry has identified fields such as communications technology, artificial intelligence and the “internet of things” as promising fields for collaboration. The focus on tech cooperation was agreed by Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in June, when they stressed that China-Russia relations had entered a “new era of comprehensive and strategic partnership”, a unique upgrade in Beijing’s foreign policy lexicon. The focus on science and technology comes on the heels of the two countries’ long-standing military cooperation. Russia has supplied China with a range of equipment – including the S-400 advanced air defence system – and is also helping it to develop a missile defence warning system.

Chinese metal mines feed the global demand for gadgets. They’re also poisoning China’s poorest regions. WaPo — Day and night, overfilled trucks rumble down Nanjiu Road in the saw-toothed hills that stretch to the Vietnam border. It's a procession at the heart of one of China's most hazardous industries. The trucks load up on metal ore in the valley below, where 13 miners died in October in underground shafts laden with tin, copper and zinc. Then the trucks motor up the mountain toward belching smelters — the culprit, researchers say, behind arsenic levels in Dachang’s dust reaching more than 100 times the government limit. Across southern China — far from the affluent coasts and Beijing’s gaze — a vast metals industry has fed the country’s manufacturing boom and sated global demand for components used in products from smartphone batteries to electric motors to jet airframes. China’s production of material such as aluminum, copper, lead and zinc, known as base or nonferrous metals, has soared as the country has become the world’s factory floor. Combined output was 57 million tons last year, up from 6 million in 1998, according to the China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association. But some of the country’s most isolated, impoverished communities are paying the price. In Guangxi, a balmy southern region that has some of China’s most concentrated mineral deposits, large tracts of farmland lay wasted by runoff carrying cadmium and lead. Metal miners toil in shafts deadlier than China’s notorious coal pits. Villagers roll up their sleeves to show deformities caused by ingesting food contaminated by heavy metals. Residents wait daily for shipments of fresh water. In the past decade, China’s top leaders have steadily tightened regulations on the metals industry, including introducing the country’s first soil pollution law last year. After an eight-year study that began as a state secret, the Chinese government said in 2014 that 20 percent of the country’s farmland was contaminated and a third of its surface water unfit for human contact. Top officials said last month that they had set aside $4 billion to clean up contaminated soil — similar to the U.S. Superfund — yet it’s a fraction of the $1 trillion that some Chinese experts predict is needed.

Why China’s crackdown on academic freedom will backfire - Chinese academics and intellectuals should not have been enraged by the communist leadership’s move to drop a written statement about academic freedom from the charters of a handful of universities. Not only has there rarely been such freedom in China since the founding of the people’s republic in 1949, this rarity is commonplace in communist-ruled nations. But when the government’s decision to drop the statement from the charter of Shanghai’s Fudan University came to light on December 17, it sparked a rare act of defiance. Students gathered in a cafeteria during their lunch break and joined in a rendition of school’s official anthem, which extols “academic independence and freedom of thought”. Professors and educators continued to show their discontent by joining in a chorus of the anthem on December 21, when they gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the school’s world economics department. A video clip of the protests that went viral on social media triggered not only alarm among faculty and students alike, but also an explosive proliferation of critical and satirical comments before the government’s ever-vigilant censors acted to delete the clip.The education ministry said it had approved alterations to the charter for three universities. The key word “independently” was removed from the original, which reads “the school independently and autonomously runs the university” and “teachers and students independently and autonomously conduct academic studies”. The revised version says that the university needs to “equip its teachers and employees” with “Xi Jinping Thought”, which was enshrined in the party’s constitution in 2017. Established in 1905 by Ma Xiangbo, a famous Chinese Jesuit priest and educator, Fudan is considered one of the most prestigious and liberal campuses in China. Fudan got its name from the Confucian quotation “Its light shines heavily day after day”, committing its members towards undertakings that will brighten society.

China's Next Real Estate Bubble- Building EV-Production Cities Across The Country - Just in time for Tesla's big move to China, entire cities are popping up from within the country dedicated solely to making electric vehicles.  Shunde New Energy Vehicle Town in China is taking shape inside of the city of Foshun as a hub for EV production and research. It is estimated that the city could eventually generate $15 billion in revenue per year. Bloomberg calls the cities "at least 20 electric-centric versions of Detroit under construction as China" as the country continues to bet big on EV technology. President Xi Jinping hopes that EV manufacturers will help boost other industries. He aims for the country to become a "manufacturing superpower" by 2025, in hopes that it'll make China more self-sufficient and diversified.And cities in China are working to shift their economies to become a part of Xi's new plan. They are offering cheap land and tax breaks to bring in car makers, parts supplies and engineering labs, in hopes of bolstering their own local economies. He Xiaopeng, chairman of Xpeng Motors Technology Ltd., said: “The new-energy vehicle industry is a bet local governments must take. A successful EV maker could bring at least 200 companies in the industry chain into a province.’’ So far, about $30 billion has been committed to developing these EV towns. The commitments range from fixed asset investments to development costs. It's a move that's typical of China's "command-led" approach to its economy, as Bloomberg calls it. To us, it looks similar to the country's real estate strategy: try to build it, and hope they come. That's what China has been doing, erecting industrial parks, apartments and schools while laying out their offers - and sitting back, hoping that companies come in to take them up on thier offers. Between 2009 and 2017, the country spend about $36.5 billion subsidizing EV sales. This could be why China now accounts for more than half of all passenger EV sales worldwide.

 China Launches Stealth Rate Cut By Switching Benchmark Lending Rate, Lowering Funding Costs- More than 4 years since the last official Chinese rate cut (not of its far more targeted Required Reserve Ratio but its broad Benchmark rate), economists and pundits were wondering when, if ever, Beijing would finally cut its main rate again to ease financial conditions again at the broadest level and boost fading corporate profits while kickstarting the country's moribund economy whose GDP is now growing below 6% GDP, the lowest on record. To be sure, China has had its share of setbacks in the past year preventing it from implementing the type of monetary policy it desires, most notably soaring food inflation as a result 110% pork CPI... ... even as producer prices, a driver of industrial profits, slumped below zero earlier in 2019, a clear indicator that China's enterprises desperate for lower rates. And yet, a wholesale easing, such as cutting the benchmark rate, could potentially spark even more food inflation, setting off violent popular protests. After all, the Chinese population's patience is already running thin, forcing Beijing to scrap import tariffs on US pork exports, a move which Xi Jinping (and Trump) quickly spun as a trade war concession, but in reality was a matter of preserving the peace for China which is desperate for any sources of cheaper protein to keep its 1.4 billion people fed, and happy. Well, overnight China finally did what so many had been expecting to do, if once again it did so in a roundabout way. Remember that back on August 17, China’s central bank unveiled detailed measures on its long-awaited interest rate reform by establishing a reference rate for new loans issued by banks to help steer corporate borrowing costs lower and support a slowing economy. As a key part of the rate overhaul, the Loan Prime Rate (LPR) would eventually become the new Benchmark Reference Rate to be used by banks for lending which is aimed at supporting funding as well as lower borrowing costs for small businesses; the rate will be set monthly (20th of every month) and will be linked to the Medium-term Lending Facility rate. The current 1 year LPR stands at 4.15% after its latest cut on Nov 30 versus the Benchmark Rate 4.35%. So even with the PBOC pushing the LPR lower by 10bps since its August inception, the benchmark rate has remained unchanged at 4.35% since October 2015. 

China Non-Manufacturing PMI Slides Back Near Multi-Year Lows - Following a big, surprise jump in November, China’s official PMIs were expected to fall back a little in December (but remain - handily - above 50 and the 'expansion/contraction' divide), helped by an improvement in industrial production and hopes after the 'phase one' trade deal was (allegedly) completed. A mixed bag though with manufacturing PMI flat at 50.2 (better than the expected 50.1) and non-manufacturing PMI lower at 53.5 (from 54.4) and below expectations of 54.2. New manufacturing orders picked up (the last time the reading was above 50 was May 2018), but the improvement in manufacturing was concentrated in large- and medium-sized enterprises with small enterprises plunging deeper into contraction (at 47.2). New non-manufacturing orders slowed as prices (selling and buying fell), pushing employment further into contraction (48.3). The slide in Services dragged the composite PMI for China overall lower (but still well above the rest of the major world economies)... We wonder how long this re-excitement of hope about Chinese economic growth will last given the massive amount of stimulus has produced a very meager credit impulse...

75% Of Young Want To Escape South Korean "Hell" - From afar, South Koreans might appear to be blessed among East Asians.Citizens of a prosperous democracy that has birthed a hero-to-zero national success story, world-beating corporate brands, a futuristic infrastructure and the glitzy K-pop universe that is beloved across the region, they boast enviable looks, lifestyles and quality of life.Up close, things look different. According to a recent survey of 5,000 persons, 75% of 19-34 year old natives of the world’s 11th richest nation want out.The shock finding, reported in the popular Hankyoreh newspaper on December 29, was revealed at Korea Women’s Development Institute’s 119th Gender Equality Policy Forum, in a presentation titled “Diagnosis of Gender Conflicts from a Youth Standpoint and Suggested Policy Responses for an Inclusive State: A Gender Analysis of Fairness Perceptions.”The survey found that 79.1% of young women and 72.1% of young men want to leave Korea, that 83.1% of young women and 78.4% of young men consider Korea “hell” and that 29.8% of young women and 34.1% of young men consider themselves “losers.”Beyond gender differences, the survey suggests massive popular dissatisfaction with local life.But does it demand that Seoul’s elite sit down and seriously ponder the Korean Dream? Or does it merely reflect superficial talk among youth who live decent lives and have no real intention of leaving?A catchphrase has become current among young Koreans in recent years to describe their country: “Hell Joseon” – “Joseon” being the name of a long-dead Korean kingdom. That phrase is being superseded by a new term, “Tal-Jo” – a pormanteau comprising “leave” and “Joseon,” which, vernacularly, might be best be translated as “Escape Hell.” “As a joke, we call Korea ‘Hell Joseon,’ but there is another term called ‘Tal-Jo’ which we use a lot more than ‘Hell Joseon’ nowadays,” Park Ji-na, a 20-something Seoul undergraduate, told Asia Times. “Me and my friends just use this in conversation as joke, but if I had a good opportunity to go abroad and work, I would.”

Rahul Gandhi says NPR, NRC will be more disastrous than demonetisation Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday attacked the Narendra Modi-led government over the National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens exercise, saying it will be more disastrous than the 2016 demonetisation, PTI reported. “The basic idea of these exercises is to ask all poor people whether they are Indian or not,” Gandhi told reporters at the party headquarters in Delhi where he was attending an event to mark Congress’ 135th foundation day. “His [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] and his 15 friends will not have to show any document and the money generated will go into the pockets of those 15 people.” “This will be more disastrous for the people than demonetisation,” the 49-year-old leader added. “This will have twice the impact of demonetisation.” On November 8, 2016, Modi had announced that the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were then in circulation would no longer be valid. Citizens were given less than two months’ time to exchange the notes for the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes. Gandhi also accused the BJP of lying about the detention centres in Assam, NDTV reported. “You all saw my tweet,” he asked. “I shared Narendra Modi’s speech where he is saying there are no detention centres in India and in the same video there are visuals of a detention centre. You decide who is lying.” His comments came a day after the BJP had lashed out at Gandhi for saying the National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens were “tax on the poor”. Union minister Prakash Javadekar had dubbed Gandhi “liar of the year”, and claimed that people were behind the Centre’s proposed moves.

The ‘lathi’: India’s colonial vintage anti-protest weapon - As Indian protests against a new citizenship law have intensified, so has police use of "lathis", sturdy sticks used to whack, thwack and quell dissent since British colonial times -- to sometimes deadly effect. At least 27 people have died in the past two weeks of protests, mostly from bullets, but hundreds more have been injured in clashes between demonstrators and riot police wielding the bamboo canes. Images shot by AFP and other media of officers hitting people with them, in some cases apparently indiscriminately lashing out at passers-by and even minors, has only fuelled public anger. One video of a group of Muslim women in New Delhi protecting a cowering male fellow student from a police lathi barrage spread like wildfire on social media in India. Those who have experienced a blow from a lathi, measuring five or six feet (1.5-1.8 metres) and made of stout bamboo or plastic, say it leaves a numbing sensation that lasts for days. Multiple strikes can break bones, cripple and even kill. "From being used as means to regulate crowds, lathi has turned into a lethal weapon," said V. Suresh, the secretary general of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), a non-profit rights group. "It is... being freely used, so much so that as a country we have become inured to it. Lathi is seen as a normal but it is a horrible weapon," Suresh told AFP. "Nothing legitimises its brutal use." Many believe the lathi originated as a martial arts accessory in South Asia. It was also used by feudal landlords against poor peasants, emerging as a symbol of unquestioned power and authority.

Tourists stay away from Taj Mahal, other Indian attractions as protests flare (Reuters) - India’s tourism industry has been hit by a wave of violent anti-government protests against a new citizenship law that have rocked several cities this month, with at least seven countries issuing travel warnings. At least 25 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters, and demonstrations against the law continue. Officials estimate about 200,000 domestic and international tourists canceled or postponed their trip to the Taj Mahal in the past two weeks, one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions. “There has been a 60% decline in visitor footfalls in December this year,” said Dinesh Kumar, a police inspector overseeing a special tourist police station near the Taj Mahal who has access to visitor data. He said the decline was compared to December last year. “Indian and foreign tourists have been calling our control rooms to check security. We assure them protection, but many still decide to stay away,” said Kumar. The 17th century marble monument is in Uttar Pradesh, the northern state that has witnessed the highest number of deaths and intense bursts of violence in two weeks of unrest. A group of European tourists traveling in a group across India said they now planned to cut short their 20 day trip. “We are all retired folks, for us travel has to be slow and relaxing. The newspaper headlines have led to a sense of concern and we will leave sooner than we had planned,” s The Taj Mahal, situated in the town of Agra, attracts over 6.5 million tourists every year, generating nearly $14 million annually from entrance fees. A foreign tourist pays 1,100 rupees (about $15) to enter the grounds, although nationals from neighboring countries get a discount. Managers in luxury hotels and guest houses around the Taj Mahal said last minute cancellations during the festive season have further dampened business sentiment at a time when the country’s economic growth has slowed to 4.5%, its slowest pace in more than six years.

Just 11 Days a Year with Her Daughter - Tasnia Begum has 11 days off. For the entire year. And because she wants to use every single minute of her time, she has decided to travel through the night. Normally, she says, she would never do such a thing. Traveling alone as a woman, after all, isn't altogether safe and could even be dangerous. But to make it as safe as possible, she has reserved seat Nr. 1, right behind the bus driver. The ticket set her back 600 taka, the equivalent of around 6 euros or $6.68. It's about what the 25-year-old textile worker makes sewing T-shirts for two days. Her employer is a company that used to supply H&M and now sends its wares to Walmart. She works in a nameless textile factory in an industrial area in Chittagong, a cement-gray city of 2 million residents located on the Bay of Bengal. It is the second-largest textile production site in southern Bangladesh. It's 9 p.m. on the evening of June 3, 2019, the last workday before Eid, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Millions of Muslims head home on this day and the mood is reminiscent of the day before Christmas in Europe or elsewhere: Trains and buses are full, adults are stressed and children look forward to the sweets they see in their near future. The more than 4,600 registered textile factories in Bangladesh, which account for 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product, all close down on this day, with the 4.5 million workers finally able to enjoy several days off. It's as if someone has pressed pause on the controls of this otherwise hectic city. Nevertheless, Tasnia Begum -- a whip-smart woman with a booming voice and the lithe figure of a 12-year-old -- says: "It would be easier to stay in Chittagong. Even before the break starts, I begin thinking of how painful it will be to say goodbye again." Begum isn't just going on holiday and celebrating one of the most important holidays in Islam. For two weeks a year, she goes home to be a mother. According to a recent survey by the NGO Oxfam Australia, one-third of all textile workers live separated from their children. "I have no choice," says Tasnia Begum. "There are no jobs for me in the countryside."

Bolivia declares Mexican, Spanish diplomats persona non grata (Xinhua) -- The interim government of Bolivia supported by the opposition declared a Mexican ambassador and Spanish diplomats persona non grata on Monday.The name list includes the ambassador of Mexico to Bolivia, Maria Teresa Mercado, the charge d'affaires of Spain, Cristina Borreguero, and the Spanish consul, Alvaro Fernandez.Jeanine Anez, leader of the interim government of Bolivia, made the announcement at a press conference at the government palace in La Paz.She said that these diplomats must leave Bolivia within 72 hours, but clarified that the decision does not imply the rupture of diplomatic relations with Spain and Mexico."This group of representatives of the governments of Mexico and Spain has seriously harmed the sovereignty and dignity of the people and the government of Bolivia," said Anez.

The World’s 500 Richest People Increased Their Wealth by $1.2 Trillion in 2019 - The world’s richest people had a good year in 2019, increasing their wealth by a staggering 25 percent. A new analysis of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index found that the 500 richest people on the planet increased their vast wealth by $1.2 trillion in the past year, bringing their total wealth to $5.9 trillion. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos remains the richest person in the world, even in a year that saw him lose around $8 billion due to his divorce from ex-wife McKenzie. She is now 25th on the Bloomberg index, with $37.5 billion.  Among the top gainers of the year were Mark Zuckerberg, whose wealth jumped by $27.3 billion, and Bill Gates, who is $22.7 billion richer than he was at the start of the year. French magnate Bernard Arnault, the third richest person in the world, saw his wealth increase by $36.5 billion in 2019. One billionaire not on the list is Michael Bloomberg, who owns the website that published it. According to Forbes, Bloomberg’s net worth is around $53.4 billion, which would rank him 19th on the list. But Bloomberg News does not cover Bloomberg LP, so the boss is not on the list. Incidentally, Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading proponents of soaking the rich in the Democratic race for the presidency, released a new explainer of her wealth tax this week. What timing.

Video shows Greek authorities performing illegal “push backs” at refugee crossing -In an exposure of the nightmare confronting refugees seeking passage into Europe, footage published by the German newspaper Der Spiegel shows Greek authorities performing illegal “push backs” at the Greek-Turkish border in northeastern Greece. The footage confirms what refugees and non-government groups have described as taking place for years.  Push backs stand in violation of international law and violate both the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Geneva Convention. International law states that refugees have the right to asylum processing and cannot be forced to return to a country that does guarantee their safety. In this case, the many fleeing to Greece are escaping violence and possible death from imperialist-instigated war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The push backs flow from the anti-refugee policies of the right-wing New Democracy (ND) government, inherited and built upon from policies and attacks on refugees by the previous pseudo-left Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) government. The pretensions of Syriza as being left were used as cover to ram through austerity measures and increase attacks on desperate refugees. Such a bitter experience makes clear that the defense of refugees must be waged by the international working class not only against right-wing parties such as ND but also against pseudo-left groups like Syriza, which represent the interests of the upper middle class and the financial elite, not the working class. Footage from a total of eleven videos shows masked men, some donning military garb, transporting groups of migrants and refugees from the Greek side of the Evros River to the Turkish side. The footage is from a security camera on the Turkish side and a cell phone camera, possibly from a Turkish border official. Of the latter, the man is holding a cell phone as he walks along the Turkish side of the Evros. People, likely refugees, appear. On the opposite side of the river, masked men can be seen pulling an inflatable boat from the water into the Greek side. The man filming is heard yelling “no deport” in English.

German Welfare Payments To Foreigners Double In 12 Years - According to figures released as a response to a parliamentary inquiry submitted by Germany's far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), German daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung reported on Friday that the amount in welfare that foreigners receive in Germany has almost doubled from 2007 to 2019.

  • In 2007, some €6.6 billion ($7.3 billion) were disbursed to non-Germans.
  • That figure rose to €12.62 by 2019, but it was slightly lower than the €12.9 billion registered in 2018.

As reports, Germany's social welfare program for the long-term unemployed, known as Hartz IV, was introduced in 2005 and dispenses aid to recipients while requiring them to regularly engage with a job-center advisor and show they're actively looking for work or enrolled in approved work-preparatory skills-training programs. It is available to all Germans who qualify as well as other EU citizens in Germany and asylum-seekers permitted to work but unable to find employment.

German Arms Exports Surge To Record High, Hungary Biggest Buyer - After three years of declines, German arms exports exploded higher in 2019 as critics suggest this proves controls on weapons deliveries are not working. Following requests for the data from the socialist Left Party and the Greens, reports that, according to documents they have seen from the Economy Ministry, German arms exports rose 65% from January to mid-December 2019 compared to 2018 and hit a record of €7.95 billion ($8.8 billion). The largest number of German weapons deliveries in 2019 went to Hungary, where exports reached €1.77 billion.Exports to Budapest made up almost a quarter of the total value of all approvals. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing, nationalist government is currently engaged in a massive military upgrade.However, in spite of government assurances that Germany would no longer arm countries involved in the Yemen conflict as part of the coalition deal reached in 2018, DW reports that the documents showed that two of Germany's top 10 arms export customers, Egypt at number two and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at number nine, were also active participants in the war in Yemen."The most important thing is to ask is where the war weapons go, and to which countries," Katja Keul, Green party parliamentarian and arms policy spokeswoman, told DW."And the number of war weapons exports have doubled since last year."The most controversial exports are those to so-called third countries: defined as neither European Union or NATO members (or "NATO-equivalent," such as Australia)."That is certainly striking, because the government has said it is being more restrictive," said Keul."If you export weapons of war into crisis regions to countries that are not bound to us by any kind of alliance, you are of course destabilizing the region."

Woman dies after being set on fire during surgery in Romania  - A woman has died after being set on fire during surgery in Romania, the country’s health ministry has said, in a case that has cast a spotlight on the ailing Romanian health system. The patient, who had pancreatic cancer, died on Sunday after suffering burns to 40% of her body when surgeons used an electric scalpel despite her being treated with an alcohol-based disinfectant. Contact with the flammable disinfectant caused combustion and the patient “ignited like a torch”, Emanuel Ungureanu, a Romanian politician, said on his Facebook page, citing medical staff at Floreasca urgent care hospital in Bucharest. A nurse threw a bucket of water on the 66-year-old woman to prevent the fire from spreading. The health ministry said it would investigate the “unfortunate incident”, which took place on 22 December. “The surgeons should have been aware that it is prohibited to use an alcohol-based disinfectant during surgical procedures performed with an electric scalpel,” the deputy minister, Horatiu Moldovan, said. The victim’s family said medical staff had spoken of an “accident” but declined to offer details.

UK manufacturing output slides at fastest rate since 2012: PMI -  (Reuters) - British factory output fell in December at the fastest rate since 2012 as a tepid global economy hurt demand and businesses further reduced stocks of goods they had built up in case of a no-deal Brexit, a survey showed on Thursday. The output gauge in the IHS Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 45.6 from 49.1 in November, its lowest since July 2012. Readings below 50 denote contraction. The broader headline PMI, which combines gauges of output, employment and orders, fell to 47.5 from 48.9 - revised up only slightly from a preliminary reading of 47.4 and marking a four-month low. “With demand weak and confidence remaining subdued, input purchasing was pared back sharply and jobs were cut for the ninth successive month,” said Rob Dobson, an economist at survey compiler IHS Markit. Official data last month showed British economic growth slowed to an annual 1.1% in the third quarter of 2019, and it has not been below this rate since 2010, and industrial output dropped by 1.3% year-on-year.

Nationalism is transforming the politics of the British Isles – its power as a vehicle for discontent grows ever stronger - Nationalism in different shapes and forms is powerfully transforming the politics of the British Isles, a development that gathered pace over the last five years and culminated in the general election this month. National identities and the relationship between England, Scotland and Ireland are changing more radically than at any time over the last century. It is worth looking at the British archipelago as a whole on this issue because of the closely-meshed political relationship of its constituent nations. Some of these developments are highly visible such as the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) to permanent political dominance in Scotland in the three general elections since the independence referendum in 2014. Other changes are important but little commented on, such as the enhanced national independence and political influence of the Republic of Ireland over the British Isles as a continuing member of the EU as the UK leaves. Dublin’s greater leverage when backed by the other 26 EU states was repeatedly demonstrated, often to the surprise and dismay of London, in the course of the negotiations in Brussels over the terms of the British withdrawal. Northern Ireland saw more nationalist than unionist MPs elected in the general election for the first time since 1921. This is important because it is a further sign of the political impact of demographic change whereby Catholics/nationalists become the new majority and the Protestants/unionists the minority. The contemptuous ease with which Boris Johnson abandoned his ultra-unionist pledges to the DUP and accepted a customs border in the Irish Sea separating Northern Ireland from the rest of Britain shows how little loyalty the Conservatives feel towards the northern unionists and their distinct and abrasive brand of British nationalism.Welsh nationalism is a lesser force. Much more difficult to trace and explain is the rise of English nationalism because it is much more inchoate than these other types of nationalism, has no programme, and is directly represented by no political party – though the Conservative Party has moved in that direction.

 Did Macron And Johnson Negotiate A Hard Brexit In October? - Something odd is happening with Brexit. It looks like Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pushing for a hard Brexit much to my surprise.  Johnson’s strong showing in the recent election which secured the Tories its biggest majority since the days of Margaret Thatcher should have set the stage for the great Brexit bait and switch. This has been my argument for months since Johnson became the front-runner to replace Theresa May. All Johnson had to do was manipulate events to get a majority which marginalizes the hard Brexiteers of the European Research Group (ERG). Then he could undermine Brexit by giving back all the concessions during his subsequent negotiations with the EU over a trade deal. This analysis should have been the correct one given the staunch opposition by the political elite in the U.K. to Brexit. But something has changed. Johnson is practically channeling Nigel Farage in his stance to trade negotiations with the European Union. The modified Withdrawal Bill that passed Parliament with six Labour defectors significantly strengthens Johnson’s hand in trade negotiations by removing any potential extension beyond the end of 2020. There are a ton of changes the Guardian article linked above covers. The two year transition period EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier was planning on using to bully Johnson around with is dead. January 31st Brexit happens. And if no trade deal happens between then and the end of 2020, the U.K. leaves on WTO terms and the so-called Hard Brexit happens. Hard Brexit is back on the table and Parliament has been sidelined. While this isn’t news anymore what it means is. Given the context of his negotiations with French President Emmanuel Macron in October which secured the current Withdrawal Treaty, I think the way forward is clearer now.The key to understanding what’s happening is the ever-shifting dynamic between France, Germany and the U.K. in relation to their relationship with the United States.Macron is pushing France to unseat Germany as the de facto rule-setter for the EU.

 Brexit: the end of the beginning - In a tedious piece that probably could only be written by a Guardian columnist, Zoe Williams tells us that Brexit is a Conservative disaster that the Conservatives must own, and then goes on to say that, by 2024, "Brexit will be in the past, and the government will be trying to blame its inevitable woes on some enemy other than Europe".This sentiment is somewhat typical of the chattering classes. For decades before Brexit, they were intent on ignoring the EU and (especially) the Eurosceptic movement and now, with Brexit still centre-stage, they cannot wait to consign it to oblivion and return to obsessing about their own preoccupations.But a small hint as to why little Zoe's prediction might be somewhat premature comes via the somewhat unprepossessing figure of European trade commissioner, and full-time Irishman, Phil Hogan (pictured). He has taken advantage of the Christmas hiatus to make a few provocative comments about the UK's coming negotiations, telling the Irish Times that Johnson will abandon his pledge on the Brexit transition period and will, after all, go for an extension.One must understand, though, that this is not the revelation of a Brussels insider primed with knowledge of matters beyond the reach of mere mortals. It is nothing more than the man's "belief", given prominence because of his exalted position. We could all make such predictions but, prestige being what it is, none of them would be printed in the Irish Times, or anywhere else for that matter. Anyhow, with Hogan in full-flow, he tells his esteemed national newspaper that, "In the past, we saw the way the prime minister promised to die in the ditch rather than extend the deadline for Brexit, only for him to do just that", then delivering his verdict, expressed in suitably forthright terms.Warming to his theme, Hogan goes on to say that Johnson had delivered "a very impressive majority" in the general election but he now needed "to show leadership and use that majority for the good of the nation".A "good Brexit deal", he says, "could have a unifying effect after what had been a divisive period for the UK, but on the flipside a no-deal Brexit would pour salt into wounds and risk dividing families, communities and regions".

Sexual Exploitation Epidemic In England As Nearly 19,000 Children Identified As Victims - There’s a new official epidemic in England and it can’t be tackled with increased hand washing or a new vaccine. In the past year, nearly 19,000 children have been sexually groomed, according to official numbers. But some say the real figure is much higher. Five years ago, 3,300 suspected victims of child sexual exploitation were identified by authorities. That number rose to a shocking 18,700 in 2018-2019.Grooming was not officially recorded as an assessment factor during referral to social care until 2013.Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, told the Independent that the grooming of children “remains one of the largest forms of child abuse in the country.”“Too many times, government has said it will ‘learn lessons’, yet 19,000 children are still at risk of sexual exploitation.The government has singularly failed to tackle this issue head on. Its approach has been piecemeal and underfunded.”According to the Independent, the Home Office has begun an analysis of data regarding the cases and will use the results to inform new policy and prevention strategies, but the Queen’s Speech did not mention anything about a public review.The Independent also reports that investigations into grooming gangs are ongoing throughout the country. In fact, abusers in Huddersfield have already been jailed.Sammy Woodhouse, a victim from Rotherham, told the Independent:“You hear this bullshit line, ‘lessons have been learned’, but they haven’t learned anything.” Woodhouse, who isn’t surprised by the newly released numbers, helped expose a scandal in 2012 that involved the abuse of an estimated 1,500 victims.

 Should Racists Get Health Care?  - Ron Paul- Political correctness recently took a dangerous turn in the United Kingdom when the North Bristol National Health Service Trust announced that hospital patients who use offensive, racist, or sexist language will cease receiving medical care as soon as it is safe to end their treatment. The condition that treatment will not be withdrawn until doing so is safe seems to imply that no one will actually suffer from this policy. However, health-care providers have great discretion to determine when it is “safe” to withhold treatment. So, patients could be left with chronic pain or be denied certain procedures that could improve their health but are not necessary to make them “safe.” Patients accused of racism or sexism could also find themselves at the bottom of the NHS’s infamous “waiting lists,” unable to receive treatment until it truly is a matter of life and death. Since many people define racism and sexism as “anything I disagree with,” the new policy will no doubt lead to people being denied medical care for statements that most reasonable people would consider unobjectionable. This is not the first time NHS has withheld treatment because of an individual’s behavior. A couple years ago, another local health committee announced it would withhold routine or nonemergency surgeries from smokers and the obese. Since reducing smoking and obesity benefits both individual patients and the health care system as a whole, this policy may appear defensible. But denying or delaying care violates medical ethics and sets a dangerous precedent. If treatment could be denied to smokers and the obese, then it could also be denied to those who engage in promiscuous sex, drive over the speed limit, don’t get the “proper” number of vaccinations for themselves and their children, or have “dangerous” political views.

No comments: