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

Saturday, February 29, 2020

week ending Feb 29th

Expectations for a rate cut will fade as coronavirus fear eases, Fed’s James Bullard says --Markets expecting an interest rate cut are reacting to the coronavirus scare and likely will reverse once the fear starts to fade, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said Friday. Central bank officials have indicated that they are content to keep policy on hold as they watch economic developments play out. However, traders in the fed funds futures market are indicating about a 54% chance of a rate cut by June and a 58% probability of a second move lower by the end of the year, according to the CME’s FedWatch tracking tool. In an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Bullard pushed back on the likelihood of a cut, saying current policy seems right considering the pace of the record-breaking U.S. expansion. “There’s a high probability that the coronavirus will blow over as other viruses have, be a temporary shock and everything will come back. But there’s a low probability that this could get much worse,” he said. “Markets have to price that in, and that drags down the center of gravity a little bit. But if this all goes away, I expect that pricing will come back out of the market and we’ll be back to the on-hold scenario.” Bullard spoke the day after Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida jolted markets when he told CNBC that he pays less attention to market pricing and more to economist forecasts, which don’t see the Fed cutting. The statement helped exacerbate a sell-off that came amid heightened fear that the coronavirus spread could be even worse than thought. Aside from the virus worries, Fed officials have been generally optimistic about the outlook, saying the strong U.S. labor market and signs of a pickup in global growth are indications that rates are probably appropriate.

Fed's Clarida says 'still too soon' to speculate on coronavirus' economic hit - Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said Feb. 25 that the new coronavirus poses a risk to the global economy, but it is too early to say how it will affect U.S. growth. The U.S. economy is in a "good place," and the Fed's baseline outlook suggests it will remain there in 2020, Clarida said in a speech.  But the Federal Open Market Committee is "closely monitoring" the spread of the coronavirus, Clarida said, saying it is likely to have a "noticeable impact" on Chinese growth in the first quarter. "The disruption there could spill over to the rest of the global economy," Clarida said at a National Association for Business Economics conference in Washington, D.C. "But it is still too soon to even speculate about either the size or the persistence of these effects, or whether they will lead to a material change in the outlook." Clarida's comments are the latest instance of Fed officials acknowledging the risks posed by the spread of the virus but expressing uncertainty about its ultimate economic effects. "Although FOMC officials have not indicated a desire to cut just yet (as indicated by Vice Chair Clarida), the conversation is clearly on the table," Ian Lyngen, head of U.S. rates strategy at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients after Clarida's speech. In a Q&A session after his speech, Clarida reiterated recent comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell that the central bank will look for any economic effects from the coronavirus that are "material or persistent." The Fed's benchmark interest rate, which the central bank cut three times in 2019, likely "will remain appropriate" as long as the U.S. economic outlook does not see major shifts, Clarida said in his prepared remarks. But policy is "not on a preset course," and the Federal Open Market Committee will "proceed on a meeting-by-meeting basis" as it evaluates its next steps.

 PCE Price Index: January Headline & Core - The BEA's Personal Income and Outlays for January was published this morning by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The latest Headline PCE price index was up 0.10% month-over-month (MoM) and is up 1.73% year-over-year (YoY). Core PCE is below the Fed's 2% target rate. The adjacent thumbnail gives us a close-up of the trend in YoY Core PCE since January 2012. The first string of red data points highlights the 12 consecutive months when Core PCE hovered in a narrow range around its interim low. The second string highlights the lower range from late 2014 through 2015. Core PCE shifted higher in 2016 with a decline in 2017 and 2019. The first chart below shows the monthly year-over-year change in the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index since 2000. Also included is an overlay of the Core PCE (less Food and Energy) price index, which is Fed's preferred indicator for gauging inflation. The two percent benchmark is the Fed's conventional target for core inflation. However, the December 2012 FOMC meeting raised the inflation ceiling to 2.5% for the next year or two while their accommodative measures (low FFR and quantitative easing) are in place. More recent FOMC statements now refer only to the two percent target.The index data is shown to two decimal points to highlight the change more accurately. It may seem trivial to focus such detail on numbers that will be revised again next month (the three previous months are subject to revision and the annual revision reaches back three years). But core PCE is such a key measure of inflation for the Federal Reserve that precision seems warranted. For a long-term perspective, here are the same two metrics spanning five decades.

Chicago Fed: "Index points to an uptick in economic growth in January" - "Index points to an uptick in economic growth in January." That is the headline for this morning's release of the Chicago Fed's National Activity Index, and here is the opening paragraph from the report: The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) increased to –0.25 in January from –0.51 in December. All four broad categories of indicators that make up the index increased from December, but only one of the four categories made a positive contribution to the index in January. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, moved up to –0.09 in January from –0.23 in December. [Link to News Release] The Chicago Fed's National Activity Index (CFNAI) is a monthly indicator designed to gauge overall economic activity and related inflationary pressure. It is a composite of 85 monthly indicators as explained in this background PDF file on the Chicago Fed's website. The index is constructed so a zero value for the index indicates that the national economy is expanding at its historical trend rate of growth. Negative values indicate below-average growth, and positive values indicate above-average growth. The first chart below shows the recent behavior of the index since 2007. The red dots show the indicator itself, which is quite noisy, together with the 3-month moving average (CFNAI-MA3), which is more useful as an indicator of the actual trend for coincident economic activity.

 Q4 GDP Unchanged at 2.1% Annual Rate - From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, Fourth Quarter and Year 2019 (Second Estimate) Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP also increased 2.1 percent. The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, the increase in real GDP was also 2.1 percent. In the second estimate, an upward revision to private inventory investment was offset by a downward revision to nonresidential fixed investment. Here is a Comparison of Second and Advance Estimates. PCE growth was revised down to 1.7% from 1.8%. Residential investment was revised up from 5.8% to 6.2%. The revisions were small. This was at the consensus forecast.

Goldman cuts US first-quarter GDP forecast to just over 1% on the coronavirus - Goldman Sachs lowered its U.S. growth outlook for the first quarter as the domestic economy takes a hit from the global coronavirus outbreak. The bank slashed its U.S. GDP growth forecast to just 1.2% from 1.4%, seeing a more severe drag from the epidemic. That growth rate is drastically slower than the 2.1% increase in the fourth quarter and 2.3% for the full year 2019. “The risks are clearly skewed to the downside until the outbreak is contained,” Jan Hatzius, Goldman’s chief U.S. economist, said in a note on Monday. “An increasing amount of companies [are] suggesting potential production cuts should supply chain disruptions persist into Q2 or later.” The number of coronavirus cases outside China surged recently, stoking fears of a prolonged global economic slowdown from the virus spreading. Stocks suffered a steep sell-off on Monday, with the Dow dropping 800 points and erasing its gains on the year. South Korea raised its coronavirus alert to the “highest level” over the weekend, with the latest spike in numbers bringing the total infected to more than 750 — making it the country with the most cases outside mainland China. Meanwhile, outside of Asia, Italy has been the worst affected country so far, with more than 130 reported cases and three deaths. To be sure, Goldman still expects “a negligible hit” to U.S. overall activity from supply chain production disruptions because there seems to be ample inventory to power manufacturing for a while. “Lower production outside of China due to supply chain disruptions has remained negligible thus far, and that most sectors have enough inventory to continue production as normal until at least Q2,” Hatzius said. Goldman does see some of the activity lost coming back in the second quarter if the virus is contained. 

10-year Treasury yield falls to three-year low on coronavirus fears, 30-year rate hits record low  - Treasury yields tumbled on Monday as investors ran for cover amid fears the coronavirus is spreading globally and will slow the world economy. The 10-year Treasury yield hit its lowest level since July 2016. The 30-year Treasury yield hit a record low. The move into bonds came as stocks plunged with the Dow down more than 1,000 points. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to price, plunged 11 basis points to 1.3563%. The yield on the 30-year Treasury bond plummeted to 1.8142%. The 10-year yield reached an intraday all-time low of 1.325% on July 6, 2016. “Global pandemic concerns catalyzed an intuitive rotation out of risk assets and into safe havens to start the week,” Ian Lyngen, BMO’s head of U.S. rates, said in a note Monday. “The most important number in the US Treasury market has become ... the all-time record low yield mark set in the aftermath of Brexit. If that level is breached, look out below.” Spiking coronavirus cases in Italy, South Korea and the Middle East sparked fears of further spread beyond China. South Korea put the country on its highest alert level on Monday as infections surpassed 760 and deaths rose to seven. Meanwhile, a seventh person in Italy has died from the virus with the number of cases surging to more than 150. As of Sunday, confirmed cases of the infection has surged to 79,400 globally and the death toll has risen to 2,621. Both the 10-year and 30-year yields are down nearly 60 basis points so far this year. Coronavirus fears, coupled with the lack of inflation, pushed bond yields to record lows once again. Investors also attributed the moves in yields to global central banks’ easing measures. Amid the escalated coronavirus fears, traders are now pricing in a better-than-even – 53% – chance of an interest rate cut at the Federal Reserve’s April meeting, according to the CME. The market also assigns a 40% of three cuts before the end of 2020.

The Entire Treasury Yield Curve Is 'Inverted' - The market is now demanding almost 4 rate-cuts this year - a stunning example of the desperation for monetary policy mavens to save the world through easy money... and maintain the 'buy the dip' strategy that a generation of money managers has become conditioned to.  As former Dallas Fed's Fisher noted yesterday: "Does The Fed really want to have a put every time the market gets nervous? ...Coming off all-time highs, does it make sense for The Fed to bail the markets out every single time... creating a trap?" "The Fed has created this dependency and there's an entire generation of money-managers who weren't around in '74, '87, the end of the '90s, anbd even 2007-2009.. and have only seen a one-way street... of course they're nervous." "The question is - do you want to feed that hunger? Keep applying that opioid of cheap and abundant money?" "the market is getting ahead of itself, because the market is dependent on Fed largesse... and we made it that way... ...but we have to consider, through a statement rather than an action, that we must wean the market off its dependency on a Fed put." But the expectations have driven Treasury yields drastically lower... Source: Bloomberg With the entire curve now below the Fed Funds target rate... Source: Bloomberg And we know "it's different this time" but every other time this has happened, a recession was imminent... 

US defense secretary launches nuclear attack against Russia in Pentagon war game - As more than 20,000 US troops and 20,000 military vehicles began to arrive in Europe for the massive “Defender 2020” exercise targeting Russia, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper took part in a war game at US Strategic Command headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska involving the simulated use of nuclear weapons against Russian troops. “The scenario included a European contingency where you’re conducting a war with Russia and Russia decides to use a low-yield, limited nuclear weapon against a site on NATO territory,” the Defense Department said in a background briefing Friday. When pressed by reporters, the Pentagon made clear that as part of the exercise, the US launched a nuclear weapon against Russian troops in what the Pentagon called a “limited” response. “I mean, in the course of the exercise, we simulated responding with a nuclear weapon,” the Pentagon briefer said. None of the reporters at the background briefing asked the obvious question: Whether the use of nuclear weapons by both the United States and Russia led to a full-scale nuclear exchange. But as journalist Fred Kaplan recently commented, “No one in officialdom has ever played a war game in which a ‘limited’ attack believably stays limited. Things spiral out of control pretty quickly.” Russian authorities viewed the exercise as a threat. Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian legislature’s upper house, linked the war game to the United States’ recent withdrawal from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. “If you conduct exercises on a nuclear response to an attack by an enemy, you are thereby convincing people that such an attack is likely, and you need not to negotiate or sign arms control agreements, but arm yourself,” Kosachev told RIA Novosti on February 22.

Boeing Forced To Buy Rocket Parts From Russia For New 'Made In USA' Starliner Spacecraft - It's really a love-hate relationship with Russia. As early as 2014, the Pentagon admitted it "has no great solution" to reduce its dependence on Russian-made rocket engines.The US received a new batch of Russian RD-180 and RD-181 rocket engines in 2018, despite the US Treasury slapping tough new sanctions on the country.  At least 40% of Russian titanium aircraft parts have been sold to Boeing in the last several years. Russia has since threatened to halt titanium exports to the US. We noted if Russia banned rocket engines and titanium aircraft parts to the US, it would paralyze Boeing. It's still amazing after all these years of hard talk between Washington and Moscow -- the Pentagon continues to allow Boeing to expose critical parts of its supply chain to Russia.Sputnik News reports that Boeing's new CST-100 Starliner, the program that has been in development since 2011 to replace the Space Shuttle, uses Russian-made parts.On Friday evening, Boeing's Twitter account replied to Reuters' Joey Roulette, who asked if the Starliner program uses Russian parts.Boeing responded: "You're right, Joey. And we comply with those contract requirements. #Starliner uses a Power Converter Unit provided by Zao Orbita in Voronezh, Russia. It allows us to transfer power from @Space_Station to Starliner while docked."Boeing tweeted that the part is a "flight-proven component used for 20 years on @Space_Station."

America's Newest Most Powerful Submarine Has A Stealth Problem - The Navy's newest fast-attack submarine was recently spotted with structural damage to its stealth coating after returning from its first deployment, which brings into question the manufacturing process of the shipbuilder, reported Forbes. The USS Colorado (SSN 788), a nuclear-powered US Navy Virginia-class attack submarine, was recently photographed with large sections of its stealth coating, known as anechoic coating, missing on its starboard side. The layer is an outer skin, consisting of a sonar-absorbing material that makes the vessel virtually undetectable. Colorado was launched on March 17, 2018, and this is one of America's newest and most powerful submarines, already experiencing issues with its outer stealth coating that could make it susceptible to detection by enemy forces. (see pictures)

Sanders says he would ‘absolutely’ be willing to use military force if elected president -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he would “absolutely” be willing to use military force if he were elected president in a “60 Minutes” interview set to air Sunday. CBS contributor Anderson Cooper asked the presidential candidate if he thought there were any situations in which military action would be “warranted.” “Absolutely. Of course I do,” he said. “You know, you hopefully as rare as possible. But, yeah, we have the best military in the world.” The Vermont progressive said he would consider military action if there were “threats against the American people” or “threats against our allies,” saying he believes in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Cooper prompted Sanders with a theoretical Chinese invasion of Taiwan, to which the senator responded, “I mean I think we have got to make it clear to countries around the world that we will not sit by and allow invasions to take place, absolutely.” Sanders went on to say he would be willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, adding that meeting with adversaries is “not a bad thing to do.” “I think, unfortunately, Trump went into that meeting unprepared,” he said. “I think it was a photo opportunity and did not have the kind of the diplomatic work necessary to make it a success. But I do not have a problem with sitting down with adversaries all over the world.” The Vermont senator has been a proponent of prioritizing diplomacy instead of military action in the country’s “endless wars.”

Sanders won't attend AIPAC conference, accuses it of providing platform for 'bigotry' -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) blasted the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday in a statement confirming that he would not attend the pro-Israel organization's annual conference.Sanders tweeted that he would not attend the conference due to AIPAC's connection to "leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights," an apparent reference to the current administration of Israel headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Sanders has repeatedly criticized in the past."The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference," he wrote."As president, I will support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and do everything possible to bring peace and security to the region," Sanders continued.Sanders, who is Jewish, has criticized both AIPAC and Netanyahu in the past, and has referred to Netanyahu's government as a "right-wing" and "racist" government. "I am not anti-Israel. But the fact of the matter is Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who I think is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly," Sanders said last year during a town hall event hosted by CNN. "What I believe is not radical. I just believe that the United States should deal with the Middle East on a level playing field basis," he added at the time. AIPAC officials responded on Sunday to Sanders' remarks, pointing out that he had never attended the conference in the past and decrying the "odious" accusations as "truly shameful."

We’re Asking One Question In Assange’s Case: Should Journalists Be Punished For Exposing War Crimes? - Caitlin Johnstone - Tomorrow in the UK a judge will start the process of answering a very important question. It’s a question that many of us knew was the heart of this debate back in 2010, ten years ago, when this all started. It’s a question that they have been obfuscating, bloviating, huffily denying, smearing, gaslighting, and distracting from–basically doing anything they can to hide it from view. It’s a question that they don’t want the public to know that we are answering. A question that goes to the heart of democracy, and to the heart of the role of the fourth estate, journalism. And that question is this: Should journalists and publishers be punished for exposing US war crimes? And, ancillary to that question: should we allow them to be punished by the very people who committed those war crimes? Is that something that we want for our world, ongoing? Because our answer to this question is going to shape our society, our civilization, for generations to come. There is no coming back from this for a very long time should the answer be, “Yes! Yes, it’s fine, war criminals should go ahead and punish journalists for publishing true facts about their war crimes.” If we allow the answer to be yes, then we’re stuck with the endless stupid wars that everyone wants done with, from Melbourne to Kabul, from Sydney to Syria–right across the world people are done with these stupid wars for profit.

Trump allies assembled lists of officials considered disloyal to president: report - Allies of President Trump have reportedly been assembling lists of government officials deemed to be disloyal to the president and have worked to find pro-Trump replacements for them. Axios reported Sunday that the lists, which have become more important since Trump's acquittal in the Senate's impeachment trial, have been assembled by allies of the president outside the White House, including Ginni Thomas, wife to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  The lists and memos of targeted officials have been compiled since 2018, according to the news outlet. One list reportedly compiled by conservative activists of Groundswell, an organization with which Ginni Thomas is affiliated, contained a list of State Department employees who should be fired, including John Sullivan, the current U.S. ambassador to Russia.  At least one nomination for a top post at the Treasury Department, that of Jessie Liu, was withdrawn by the president over claims made by activists in memos reported by Axios, despite her recommendation for the post by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.  It was unclear from the Axios report how many firings in the administration could be linked to the lists compiled by conservative activists, as Sullivan at least remains in his post. News of the memos comes as the president has taken a tougher stance against leaks and whistleblowers in his office since the end of his Senate trial, in recent days forcing out officials such as acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, as well as former national security council official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who was involved in the impeachment inquiry. Vindman's brother, who was not involved in the inquiry, was also ousted.

 'America Loves India,' Trump Declares at Rally With Modi - President Trump was feted with music, dancers and more than 100,000 cheering attendees — if not the 10 million he says he was promised. It was an unabashed homage to Mr. Trump, whose name and image appeared in dozens of banners and billboards throughout the stadium. Mr. Trump looked out with satisfaction at the grand display, and said it had made a lasting impression on him.”We will always remember this remarkable hospitality. We will remember it forever,” Mr. Trump said to loud cheers, as his wife, Melania, sat nearby. “From this day onward, India will always hold a special place in our hearts.” But even as he name-checked famous cricket players and Bollywood stars, Mr. Trump betrayed unfamiliarity with the country — and even his immediate location — when he stumbled over several pronunciations, including those of Ahmedabad itself, as well as Gujarat, the state it anchors and Mr. Modi’s political home base.And although Mr. Trump said with satisfaction that 125,000 people had turned out to see him, more than one third of the crowd appeared to leave before the end of his nearly 30-minute remarks, and another third was gone by the time Mr. Modi spoke after him.The event was the mirror image of a “Howdy, Modi!” rally the two men held at a football stadium in Houston last September, and catered to Mr. Trump’s taste for a giant crowd. It also made vivid an image the leaders are jointly cultivating as larger-than-life, unapologetically brash figures leading their countries to bright new futures — even as critics call them mutual enablers in parallel assaults on democratic and religious freedoms. “Two dynamic personalities, one momentous occasion,” declared one billboard in Ahmedabad, highlighting a personal dynamic that, for now, overshadows more substantive hangups in the U.S.-India relationship. Those included Mr. Trump’s efforts to strike a peace agreement with the Taliban and slow progress toward a trade deal. Mr. Trump said that he and Mr. Modi would eventually be making “very, very major” trade deals, but added that they are in the “early stages of discussion.” Mr. Modi was “a very tough negotiator,” he joked. But that was about as critical as Mr. Trump got in remarks that hailed Mr. Modi for his “landslide” 2019 re-election, which Mr. Trump noted was the largest democratic election on Earth. Making no mention of a growing backlash against what critics call Mr. Modi’s anti-Muslim Hindu nationalism, Mr. Trump praised India for its unity and echoed the Indian leader’s own stump speeches by noting anti-poverty efforts that have provided more electricity, cooking gas and toilets to rural Indians. It was further evidence that Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi have developed a personal bond, or at least a political partnership, one Mr. Modi has skilfully created with the glue of flattery. Onstage, the two men hugged repeatedly, and Mr. Modi lavished his guest with praise. “President Trump thinks big, and the world knows what he has done to realize the American dream,” Mr. Modi said to the cheering crowd.

Trump hails Modi as his supporters engulf Delhi in communal violence - US President Donald Trump lionized Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally in Ahmedabad Monday, and continued to lavish praise on this “exceptional leader… who works night and day for his country” during the remainder of his 36-hour India visit. Even as Trump did so, the vile consequences of the fascistic, Hindu supremacist policies pursued by Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government were being bloodily spelled out on the streets of India’s capital city, Delhi. At the instigation of local BJP leaders, mobs of Hindu chauvinists chanting “Jai Shri Ram” and “Long Live the (Hindu God) Ram” ran amok in northeast Delhi on Monday and Tuesday. They attacked Muslims and vandalized and torched Muslim-owned businesses. “In embattled neighbourhood after neighbourhood in northeast Delhi,” said the Indian Express, “one story played through Tuesday from morning to midnight—groups of young men armed with sticks and rods looking for a fight, setting shops and homes owned by Muslims on fire. All right under the nose of the police who either stood as silent spectators, looked the other way or were plain missing when they were most needed.” As of Tuesday evening, 13 people had died in the communal violence, including a senior Delhi police officer, and scores had been hospitalized. Local leaders of the BJP and RSS, the shadowy Hindu supremacist organization that has long served as the BJP’s ideological mentor, are directly culpable for the communal violence now convulsing Delhi. For weeks they have been inciting violence against those protesting against the BJP government’s anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). This has included lauding the lethal violence that the BJP state government in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh has used to suppress anti-CAA protests, as well as leading their supporters in chants of “shoot them down.” On Sunday, BJP leader Kapil Mishra announced he was giving the Delhi police an “ultimatum”—if they did not clear the capital’s streets of all anti-CAA protesters within the next three days, he and his supporters would do it. Violent clashes soon followed. But Mishra is only a petty thug. It is Trump’s “true friend” Modi and his BJP government who are politically responsible—and, by all rights, the true authors—for the atrocities now being visited upon Delhi’s Muslim population.

Trump and his entourage fail to eat anything from special vegetarian menu prepared for them on India trip -Donald Trump and his entourage reportedly failed to eat a single item of a special vegetarian feast prepared for him during his trip to India. The American president and his wife, Melania, were presented with the menu during their visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, one of the former homes of the Indian independence hero. In an effort to please the famously carnivorous tastes of the president, the chef — a well-known award-winning chef called Suresh Khanna — adapted a number of famous Indian delicacies to make them more recognisable for their guests and even included more familiar items such as chocolate-chip cookies and apple pie. But neither Mr Trump nor the First Lady touched anything from the special high tea menu. “Some food items were arranged for the members of the visiting delegation, but neither the US President nor the First Lady had anything during their visit to the Ashram,” one of the Ashram’s trustees, Kartikeya Sarabhai, told the PTI news agency. Mr Trump is infamous for enjoying a classically American diet, featuring cheeseburgers, Diet Coke, well-done steak and ice cream among his favourite dishes. Many commentators wondered how he would fare during his two-day trip to India, whose population includes more than a billion Hindus who revere the cow as sacred and about 500 million vegetarians..

Trump accused Boris Johnson of 'betrayal' after slamming the phone down on him in a moment of 'apoplectic' fury  - US President Donald Trump accused UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson of "betrayal" after he slammed down the phone on Johnson during an "apoplectic" call last month. The president used the term when talking to a senior White House figure, according to The Mail on Sunday.Trump's fury was triggered after Johnson defied the president in allowing the Chinese telecom company Huawei a role in developing the UK's 5G network, according to The Mail.The president's behaviour during the call was described by officials with knowledge of the exchange as "apoplectic." After the call, Johnson cancelled his planned trip to the White House next month.A Downing Street source confirmed that the trip had been cancelled because of fears of further clashes with the president.Trump's administration has continued its threats to restrict intelligence sharing with the UK unless Johnson reverses his decision.Mick Mulvaney, Trump's chief of staff, last week told UK officials that allowing the deal to go ahead would have a "direct and dramatic impact" on the cooperation between the two countries.Despite the threats, other European countries look set to follow Johnson in giving the green light to Huawei.Earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union backed a positions paper that ruled out an outright ban on Huawei.Christian Democratic Union sources told Reuters that party leaders decided against backing an outright ban on the company and endorsed a four-page document that said "state actors with sufficient resources can infiltrate the network of any equipment maker."The paper added that "the use of strong cryptography and end-to-end encryption can secure confidentiality in communication and the exchange of data."Other European leaders are also set to follow the UK's lead in backing Huawei, Politico reported last month. The development prompted former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to label Trump's failure to persuade allies on Huawei as "the biggest strategic defeat for the United States since the early days of World War II."

 US must be ready for military clash with China, Pentagon official Chad Sbragia says  The United States must prepare for a possible military conflict with China by developing new weapons, strengthening ties with allies and improving the Pentagon’s efficiency, a senior Trump administration official said on Thursday. “The stakes of the challenge of conflict with China, in other words, are formidable,” said Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defence for China. “This is a long-term process. We have to be agile, smart.” The People’s Liberation Army is an increasingly formidable adversary that is marrying long-standing ambition with unprecedented new resources, Sbragia, the former US defence attaché in Beijing, told the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. This is allowing China and the PLA to expand the military’s global presence, modernise its capabilities and more effectively challenge US national interests, he added. China’s DF-26 ballistic missile drill sends ‘clear message’ to the U.S. As China expands its ability to project force far beyond its shores, the Pentagon needs to “build and deploy a more lethal, resilient joint force”, including more hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, robots and laser weapons, Sbragia testified. A second Defence Department priority is to strengthen alliances and attract new partners, he told the commission, which was set up by Congress in 2000 to evaluate the defence implications of US-China trade and economic ties.

Mnuchin- Washington Still Expects China To Meet Trade-Deal Commitments Despite Outbreak - After President Trump once again hinted that the Chinese might have trouble delivering on their trade deal commitments in a tweet last week, his Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has apparently contradicted his boss. Following this weekend's G-20 meeting in Riyadh, where the world's 20 largest economies promised to keep a close watch on the outbreak but stopped short of calling it a downside risk to the global economy, probably for fear of spooking the market (these are the finance ministers, after all), Mnuchin sat down for an interview with Reuters.  The contents of that interview were released overnight, and perhaps the most notable comments were related to trade. Mnuchin struck an 'optimistic' tone about the outlook for a US-UK trade deal, something that has been the subject of much speculation following Boris Johnson's decision to defy Washington and allow Huawei equipment to be used in the construction in the UK's 5G networks.Reports claimed that President Trump berated Johnson during a 'diplomatic' phone call over the decision, and even hinted that it could impact the trade deal (of course, we suspect Johnson knows what he's doing, and will use Huawei as a chit during negotiations).Trump's personal feelings aside, the Treasury secretary, a noted dove on global trade, believes a deal will be struck soon. "I’m quite optimistic. I think the prime minister and the president have a very good relationship," Mnuchin told an audience at the Chatham House think tank in London. Mnuchin said he 'had breakfast' with outgoing foreign secretary Sajid Javid, and "we’re focused on trying to get this done this year because we think it’s important to both of us" (though we suspect Javid is currently occupied by his job search). And most importantly, when asked about the UK's digital services tax which would effectively target US tech giants, Mnuchin said "the US feels very strongly that any tax that is designed specifically on digital companies is a discriminatory tax and is not appropriate," Mnuchin said.

 Mick Mulvaney says US is 'desperate' for legal immigrants, Washington Post reports - Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said at a private event Wednesday that the US is "desperate" for more legal immigrants to help grow the economy, according to audio of his comments obtained by The Washington Post."We are desperate -- desperate -- for more people," Mulvaney said during the event in England, according to the Post. "We are running out of people to fuel the economic growth that we've had in our nation over the last four years. We need more immigrants."The comments seem to put Mulvaney at odds with a number of administration officials, such as White House adviser Stephen Miller, who has advocated for severe restrictions on both legal and illegal immigrants.The White House would want said additional immigrants to arrive in a "legal fashion," Mulvaney said, according to the paper. He also said that despite President Donald Trump's reputation for being "anti-immigrant," the White House was interested in more workers from overseas, the Post reported.Mulvaney added that "we are very interested in expanding" an immigration model similar to those of Canada and Australia, of which he spoke highly, according to the Post.Jared Kushner, a senior adviser and son-in-law of the President, has made similar calls for giving greater preference to immigrants with high-level skill sets than to those looking to join family members already in the US. But Kushner's legal immigration proposal is not expected to be approved by Congress before next year, administration officials told the paper.Trump praised legal immigrants and invited them into the country during his State of the Union speech earlier this month."Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways," Trump said at the time. "I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally."

Supreme Court allows ‘public charge’ rule to take effect nationwide --The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Trump administration on Friday night in a case that contested the president’s “public charge” rule, which critics have called a “wealth test” for legal immigrants. The policy in question, the Immigration and Nationality Act, would make it harder for immigrants who are “likely at any time to become a public charge” to obtain green cards. The policy discourages legal immigrants in the process of obtaining permanent legal status or citizenship from using public assistance, including Medicaid, housing vouchers and food stamps. The case heard by the court, Wolf v. Cook County, sought to reject the policy’s effect in Illinois. The district court filed a preliminary injunction, which temporarily halted the policy in the state and sent the case to the Supreme Court. On Friday, the five conservative justices ruled in favor of the stay, while the liberal justices opposed it. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in January to lift a nationwide injunction imposed by a federal judge in New York while the case played out in appeals court. Last week, Solicitor General Noel Francisco sent a request asking the court to do the same for an injunction imposed by an Illinois district court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee, issued a dissenting opinion in Friday's ruling, accusing the court of having a tendency to rule in favor of the administration without critically examining the cases. The Trump administration first introduced the rule in August and was immediately met by opposition from immigration advocates. The White House on Saturday praised the Supreme Court's ruling. "We are gratified by the Supreme Court ruling on Friday night lifting the final remaining injunction on the public charge regulation," press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. "This final rule will protect hardworking American taxpayers, safeguard welfare programs for truly needy Americans, reduce the Federal deficit, and re-establish the fundamental legal principle that newcomers to our society should be financially self-reliant and not dependent on the largess of United States taxpayers." Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli has described the rule as simply verifying that immigrants “can stand on their two feet.”

 US Supreme Court grants border police a license to kill - On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court ruled that Jesús Hernández and María Guadalupe Güereca, the parents of Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca, who was murdered by a US Border Patrol agent in 2010, do not have legal standing to sue the agent responsible for his death. The 5-4 ruling effectively gives border police a green light to kill, allowing them to use whatever force they deem necessary while enforcing US anti-immigration laws. In the ruling, the court split between the Republican-appointed right-wing majority and the Democratic-appointed “liberal” bloc. On June 7, 2010, US Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa Jr., while standing on US territory, murdered 15-year-old Sergio, who was unarmed and playing with a group of friends in a concrete culvert that rests on the invisible line that separates El Paso, Texas from Ciudad Juarez, in Mexico. The agent justified the shooting at the time by claiming he “feared for his life” after having been “surrounded” and pelted with rocks by the youths. Cell phone video released following an investigation proved that the agent was lying. His life was never in danger and no rocks struck him. The video confirmed that nearly 60 yards separated the border cop from young Sergio, who was running in the opposite direction of Mesa when the agent fired at least two rounds into the 15-year-old, including one that struck him in the face, killing him. Subsequent internal investigations by the Border Patrol cleared Mesa of any wrongdoing. He was never charged with a crime and several US courts ruled against Mesa’s extradition to Mexico to face justice. For the past three years, Jesús Hernández and María Guadalupe Güereca, who, like their deceased son, are Mexican nationals, have sought legal standing in the US to sue Mesa for damages, arguing that the agent violated their son’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, which protect a person from unreasonable search and seizure and assure due process. Lower courts rejected their standing to sue and the parents took the case to the Supreme Court. The majority opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito denies Jesús and María their legal rights, using the fact that the victim was on the Mexican side of the border when he was shot to claim that allowing the parents to sue for damages would compromise executive authority in “foreign relations,” as well as “national security” interests in policing the border.

Justice Sotomayor warns the Supreme Court is doing special favors for the Trump administration --The Supreme Court voted along ideological lines Friday evening to allow a Trump administration rule restricting low-income immigrants’ ability to enter the US to take full effect. All four of the Court’s Democratic appointees dissented, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor writing a sharply worded dissenting opinion accusing her Court of “putting a thumb on the scale in favor of” the Trump administration.“It is hard to say what is more troubling,” Sotomayor wrote. “That the government would seek this extraordinary relief seemingly as a matter of course, or that the Court would grant it.”The Court’s decision in Wolf v. Cook County is a significant development in and of itself because of its potential impact on millions of immigrants. Last August, the Trump administration announced a new rule governing who would be classified as a “public charge essentially someone reliant on government aid programs — and thus potentially unable to enter the United States, extend their visa, or obtain a green card. The new rule gives immigration officials leeway to turn away immigrants deemed “likely to be a public charge,” based on a wide range of factors including use of certain public benefits and English language skills. As much as 69 percent of the more than 5 million individuals who received a green card over the past five years have at least one negative factor against them under the new rule, and thus might have been denied immigration benefits had the new rule been in effect.Sotomayor’s dissent focuses less on the question of whether the Trump administration's public charge rule is legal, and more on what she describes as a “now-familiar pattern” in the administration’s interactions with the Supreme Court.  At least two lower courts handed down orders blocking the new public charge rule — one of those decisions blocked the rule across the country, while the other blocked it only in Illinois. Last month, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 along familiar partisan lines to stay the lower court order blocking the rule on a nationwide basis. Friday’s order stays the decision blocking it in Illinois. Until recently, it was extraordinarily unusual for the government to seek such a stay from the justices while a case was still winding its way through lower courts. As Sotomayor warned in a dissenting opinion last September, “granting a stay pending appeal should be an ‘extraordinary’ act. Unfortunately, it appears the Government has treated this exceptional mechanism as a new normal.”

Trump has flipped the 9th Circuit — and some new judges are causing a ‘shock wave’ When President Trump ticks off his accomplishments since taking office, he frequently mentions his aggressive makeover of a key sector of the federal judiciary — the circuit courts of appeal, where he has appointed 51 judges to lifetime jobs in three years. In few places has the effect been felt more powerfully than in the sprawling 9th Circuit, which covers California and eight other states. Because of Trump’s success in filling vacancies, the San Francisco-based circuit, long dominated by Democratic appointees, has suddenly shifted to the right, with an even more pronounced tilt expected in the years ahead. Trump has now named 10 judges to the 9th Circuit — more than one-third of its active judges — compared with seven appointed by President Obama over eight years. “Trump has effectively flipped the circuit,” said 9th Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., an appointee of President George W. Bush. To assess the early impact of these appointments, The Times interviewed several judges on the 9th Circuit. Some either declined to discuss their colleagues or inner deliberations or refused to be quoted by name, saying they were not authorized to speak about what goes on behind the scenes. To be sure, some of the new appointees to the 9th Circuit have quickly won the respect of their colleagues. But the rapid influx of so many judges — most without judicial experience — has put strains upon the court and stirred criticism among judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents. “Ten new people at once sends a shock wave through the system,” a 9th Circuit judge said.Among those who have caused the most consternation is Judge Daniel P. Collins, a former federal prosecutor and partner of a prestigious law firm. Some judges said that in the early months of his tenure, Collins has appeared oblivious to court tradition. He has sent memos at all times of the night in violation of a court rule and objected to other judges’ rulings in language that some colleagues found combative, they said. Collins also moved quickly to challenge rulings by his new colleagues, calling for review of five decisions by three-judge panels, and some of the calls came before Collins even had been assigned to his first panel, judges said. Judges said it was unprecedented for a new jurist to try to overturn so many decisions in such a short period of time..

 Key Witness In Harvey Weinstein Trial Hit By Car And Hospitalized With Broken Bones - This week, a New York jury found disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein guilty on multiple charges, in relation to accusations of abuse and assault from more than 80 women, who were victimized by the 67-year-old Hollywood mogul throughout the duration of his career. Despite consistently denying the allegations against him, the amount of evidence and corroborated testimonies in the case has been overwhelming.  Following the guilty verdict on Monday, Weinstein was supposed to be on his way to Rikers Island Prison to await sentencing, but he was unexpectedly diverted to a New York City hospital after complaining of chest pains. Despite his momentary reprieve in the hospital, he still faces up to 25 years in prison for these charges, and is also awaiting another criminal case in Los Angeles, California which could end with the same verdict. Meanwhile, Dr. Barbera Ziv, a forensic psychologist who testified against Weinstein, and one of the key witnesses in the trial, was hit by a car while walking the across the street and then quickly rushed to the hospital with multiple injuries, likely somewhere near her home or work in the Philadelphia area.Very little is known about the incident, but Law and Crime reported that she was hospitalized with multiple broken bones, and the story was later confirmed by Inside Edition. Her testimony dispelled some of the victim-blaming defenses that Weinstein and his attorneys were hoping to use in the case, like the criticism that the women waited too long to make the complaints, or that they continued to work for him despite their encounter. Dr. Barbara Ziv also participated as a witness in the case against Bill Cosby. In both cases, her testimony is said to have been vital in securing the convictions. Some of the major issues that Ziv covered in her testimonies was explaining why victims may delay disclosing a sexual assault, factors that determine whether and how a victim may interact with their attacker after an assault has happened, or why a victim may not show obvious signs of an outward trauma after an assault.

Medicare for All Would Save $450 Billion Annually While Preventing 68,000 Deaths, New Study Shows - The Medicare For All plan proposed by Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars each year and would prevent tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, a new study shows. The analysis, conducted by researchers at Yale University, the University of Florida and the University of Maryland, found that transitioning the U.S. to a single-payer health care system would actually save an estimated $450 billion each year, with the average American family seeing about $2,400 in annual savings. The research, which was published Saturday in the medical journal The Lancet, also found that Medicare for all would prevent about 68,000 unnecessary deaths per year. "Our study is actually conservative because it doesn't factor in the lives saved among underinsured Americans—which includes anyone who nominally has insurance but has postponed or foregone care because they couldn't afford the copays and deductibles," Alison Galvani, an author of the study and researcher at the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis at the Yale School of Public Health, told Newsweek.Overall, the new research anticipates annual savings of about 13 percent in national health care costs, while providing better health care access to lower-income families. According to the study, about 37 million Americans do not have health insurance, while an additional 41 million people do not have adequate health care coverage. Taken together, about 24 percent of the total population does not have health care coverage that meets their needs. "The entire system could be funded with less financial outlay than is incurred by employers and households paying for health-care premiums combined with existing government allocations," the authors wrote in the study.

Medicare4All C-Span discussion sheds light on its impact - Economic Policy Institute’s Director of Research Josh Bivens and American Enterprise Institute’s Jospeh Antos addressed the issue of Medicare for All, and the larger role health care policy is playing in Campaign 2020 on C-Span’s Washington Journal Saturday.The United States needs movement forward on healthcare that makes it accessible and affordable, said Bivens during the discussion.“I think there’s a real hunger out there for something for health reform,” he explained. “Health care is something that Americans worry about the most, not just their health but would means for financial security and that worry is well-placed. We have a uniquely dysfunctional health care system.“We spend on a per capita basis about $10,000 per person, we have some great health systems in the world, number one in terms of health outcomes as France and the Netherlands who spend literally half of what we spend. One of the reasons why a single-payer plan would be expensive is because we still have 27 million uninsured people and 60 million underinsured people. So, yeah, it would be more expensive to give health care to people who need it, but that’s the virtue of a fundamental reform. Keeping costs down by keeping people excluded, seems to me as not the way to go.”   Bivens is the author of a soon-to-be released paper on the impact of fundamental health care reform, including Medicare for All, on wages and job quality.

 Is Wall Street Behind the Delay in Declaring the Coronavirus Outbreak a “Pandemic”? - A little known specialized bond created in 2017 by the World Bank may hold the answer as to why U.S. and global health authorities have declined to label the global spread of the novel coronavirus a “pandemic.” Those bonds, now often referred to as “pandemic bonds,” were ostensibly intended to transfer the risk of potential pandemics in low-income nations to financial markets. Yet, in light of the growing coronavirus outbreak, the investors who purchased those products could lose millions if global health authorities were to use that label in relation to the surge in global coronavirus cases.  On Tuesday, federal health officials at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)announced that they are preparing for a “potential pandemic” of the novel coronavirus that first appeared in China late last year.  Their Tuesday announcement riled markets, wiping out $1.7 trillion in stock market value in just two days. The CDC’s warninghas reportedly angered President Trump, who accused the agency of needlessly spooking financial markets. Notably, WHO officials have taken an even more cautious approach than the CDC in their recent comments, stating that it is still “too early” to declare the coronavirus outbreak a “pandemic” while also asserting that “it is time to do everything you would do in preparing for a pandemic.” The refusal to label the outbreak a pandemic is odd, since it refers to an epidemic or actively spreading disease that affects two or more regions worldwide. This currently describes the geographical spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus, which has now resulted in significant clusters of cases far from China, namely in Italy and Iran. Countries closer to China, like South Korea, have also recently experienced an explosion in novel coronavirus infections.It is possible that concerns over using the word “pandemic” could upset global markets and lead to economic turmoil, similar to what happened to the U.S. stock market following the CDC announcement on Tuesday. Though such concerns are valid, there is also evidence that a particular class of bonds issued by the World Bank that are closely related to official declarations of pandemics may also be responsible for having steered WHO and CDC officials away from using this term, even though the consequences of doing so could negatively impact global public health.

Congress eyes $6 billion to $8 billion to combat coronavirus - Lawmakers are discussing a spending package that would provide between $6 billion to $8 billion to combat the coronavirus, a source familiar with the talks confirmed to The Hill. The zeroing in on the higher spending range comes as negotiators want to finalize a deal by early next week, which would allow for the spending package to go to the House floor for a vote shortly thereafter. Congress has approximately 10 working days before it is set to leave for a weeklong recess, giving lawmakers a tight timeframe if they are going to finalize a deal, get it passed by both chambers and get it to President Trump's desk before leaving town. The spending levels under discussion are double to triple the initial $2.5 billion requested by the White House. That request included $1.25 billion in new funding. The rest would be taken from existing health programs, including $535 million from fighting Ebola. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) indicated on Thursday that the final figure would be "much higher" than the $2.5 billion initially requested by the White House. He also indicated that it would be more than $4 billion but that they were "not interested" in going as high as the $8.5 billion, an amount initially requested by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "We want to make sure if this stuff really spreads that we're doing our job," Shelby said. Shelby, House Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and their staffs have been working behind the scenes to try to get a deal on combating the disease. The source familiar with the talks added that while the range discussed was between $6 billion and $8 billion, negotiators are looking at the higher end of that range. The bill, according to Shelby, is being drafted to include a "clawback" option if the agencies ended up not needing the money, as well providing agencies with flexibility on spending the funds.

Coronavirus Spreading in U.S. Could Cause 'Severe' Disruption to Daily Life, Health Officials Warn - The spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, could cause "severe" disruption to daily life in the U.S., public health officials warned Tuesday.The warning was prompted by the spread of the new virus in countries outside its epicenter, such as Iran, Japan, South Korea and Italy, NPR reported."It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, who leads theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) division for immunization and respiratory diseases, said during a press release Tuesday.Messonnier said that people in the U.S. should prepare to provide childcare in the case of school closures, arrange to work remotely and investigate the possibilities of receiving remote medical care."I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe, but these are things that people need to start thinking about now," she said.So far, the new disease has sickened more than 80,000 people in 37 countries and killed more than 2,600, according to The New York Times. The U.S. has seen only 57 cases to date, and 40 of them were linked to the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was the sight of an outbreak when it docked in Japan."The immediate risk to the general American public remains low. But, as we have warned, that has the potential to change quickly," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during Tuesday's press conference, according to NBC News.So far, the U.S. has responded by issuing travel restrictions and instituting the first federal quarantine in 50 years, according to NPR, but officials do not think such methods can succeed forever. "We cannot hermetically seal off the United States to a virus," Azar told the Senate Tuesday, according to The New York Times. "And we need to be realistic about that."

Trump says he can bring in coronavirus experts quickly. The experts say it is not that simple. WaPo. It is not easy to persuade a lot of people with specialized skills to suddenly shift to federal service to help respond to a threat, said Shahpar, who now works at Resolve to Save Lives, a global nonprofit that aims to prevent epidemics and deaths from cardiovascular disease. “They have stable jobs with retirement plans,” he said. “They are not going to quit their job at the university or quit their job in the local government to go join the U.S. federal government for six months because of coronavirus. It doesn’t work like that.”

White House Moves To Screen Scientists -  As fears grow of a politicized White House response to the coronavirus outbreak, the White House has placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of messaging about the virus, the New York Times reported Thursday.Pence, who Trump said Wednesday night would be the White House point person on the outbreak, will clear public health officials’ statements on the virus, the Times reported citing several unnamed people familiar with the matter.The White House also announced Thursday that top economic adviser Larry Kudlow, along with the surgeon general and the Treasury secretary, would join the White House Coronavirus Task Force.If the Trump administration is telling public health officials at CDC or the National Institutes of Health what they can say, the Obama administration’s Ebola czar Ronald Klain tweeted of the Times’ report, “it is a danger to public health.”Public health officials — rather than Trump loyalists like Kudlow — have been praised for speaking bluntly about the virus.For example, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, Anthony Fauci, has spoken openly about the timetables for vaccines and therapies for coronavirus. While progress has been quick according to epidemiological standards, Fauci has repeatedly been clear that a vaccine is at least 12-18 months away. Trump, meanwhile, has simply said that vaccines are on the way “rapidly.” Fauci has told associates that he’d been instructed by the White House not to say anything else without clearance, the Times reported Thursday.Trump on Wednesday admitted his concern that the public’s perception of the virus was hurting markets; reports indicated he was furious about the stock market’s dive.

White House Reportedly Ordered Infectious Disease Chief ‘Not to Say Anything’ About Coronavirus Without Clearance --The New York Times is reporting that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has told associates that he has received directions from the White House “not to say anything else without clearance” about the potential coronavirus pandemic. Writing for the Times, Michael Scherer and Maggie Haberman report about recent efforts by the Trump administration to “tighten control of coronavirus messaging by government health officials and scientists, directing them to clear all statements and public appearance with the office of Vice President Mike Pence,according to several officials familiar with the new approach.”In a Wednesday evening press conference, President Donald Trump announced that Vice President Pence would be leading federal efforts to contain — and to and inform an increasingly concerned public about — a coronavirus outbreak which is looking more and more like a pandemic every day. Perhaps most troubling in the NY Times reporting, however, is news that “one of the country’s leading experts on viruses” has been effectively muzzled by a White House that appears to be putting a higher priority on an effective political narrative than a better-informed public. To wit: Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, one of the country’s leading experts on viruses and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, told associates that the White House had instructed him not to say anything else without clearance. The new White House approach came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged Thursday that a California woman with coronavirus was made to wait days before she was tested for the disease because of the agency’s restrictive criteria about who may get tested. During a Thursday morning appearance, Haberman spoke about the Trump administration’s credibility problem to an audience of CNN New Day viewers.  Haberman flatly noted the “sheer volume of things not true said by this president and some of his aides does not inspire credibility,” before explaining that this is “why they are being questioned on it at a time when they need it.”

How the coronavirus crisis could lead to four more years of Trump - South China Morning Post - It’s the economy, stupid. That was the message at the heart of Bill Clinton’s successful campaign for US president in 1992. The economy will again loom large in the 2020 race for the White House but it’s just possible that the incumbent, Donald Trump, will get a helping hand from a very unlikely source: the coronavirus disease, Covid-19. Taking the data at face value, the US economy is doing pretty well. Trump has been understandably quick to claim credit for that, as any US president would. It might therefore be logical to assume that Trump’s re-election prospects would suffer if the spread of Covid-19 were to have such an impact on the global economy that it began to negatively affect US economic data, or if a coronavirus-related dent in American corporate earnings weighed on lofty US equity prices. But that might be to draw the wrong conclusion. Minutes of the Federal Reserve’s January 28-29 meeting revealed that participants “generally saw the distribution of risks to the outlook for [US] economic activity as somewhat more favourable than at the previous meeting”, while acknowledging that the threat of the coronavirus “warranted close watching”. Indeed, as the Fed’s vice-chairman Richard Clarida told CNBC last Thursday: “The fundamentals in the US are strong: sustained growth, strongest labour market in 50 years, price stability with inflation close to our goal. It’s a good picture.” But if the spread of coronavirus starts to darken this “good picture”, then the Fed would have to disengage the autopilot. It would surely act to ease US monetary policy in an attempt to support the economy, just as central banks across Asia are already acting in the face of Covid-19. While a strong US economy could yet falter in the face of the coronavirus and Trump’s re-election campaign could lose momentum, even his bitterest political enemies would struggle to lay the blame for Covid-19 at his door. Yet, such an economic stumble could elicit a policy response from the Fed that would play well in the White House.

US Claims Russia Spreading Disinfo Blaming America For Coronavirus Outbreak -  US officials are claiming that thousands of 'Russian-linked' social media accounts have launched a coordinated effort to promote disinformation about coronavirus - including a theory that the US is behind the outbreak, according to The Guardian, which calls it an "apparent bid to damage America's image around the world." The accounts in question have popped up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, according to State department officials - with some of the suspected bad actors claiming that the United States is waging "economic war on China," and that the virus is a CIA-manufactured biological weapon.Several thousand online accounts – previously identified for airing Russian-backed messages on major events such as the war in Syria, the Yellow Vest protests in France and Chile’s mass demonstrations – are posting “near identical” messages about the coronavirus, according to a report prepared for the state department’s Global Engagement Center and seen by the AFP.The accounts are run by humans, not bots, and post at similar times in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French. They can be linked back to Russian proxies, or carry messages similar to Russian-backed outlets such as RT and Sputnik, the report said.“In this case, we were able to see their full disinformation ecosystem in effect, including state TV, proxy websites and thousands of false social media personas all pushing the same themes,” said Lea Gabrielle, the head of the Global Engagement Center, which is tasked with tracking and exposing propaganda and disinformation. -The Guardian "Russia’s intent is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence campaigns," said Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia."By spreading disinformation about coronavirus, Russian malign actors are once again choosing to threaten public safety by distracting from the global health response," Reeker added.We would note that The Guardian, nor their sources, have provided any direct evidence of these claims.

Russia Isn’t Dividing Us — Our Leaders Are - Matt Taibbi -- The latest act in the comedy began Friday, just before voting opened in the Nevada Democratic caucus. The Washington Post ran a story — sourced, I’m not joking, to “people familiar with the matter” — explaining thatBernie Sanders had been briefed that “Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic contest.” Sanders was quick to see through the gambit. “I’ll let you guess about one day before the Nevada caucus,” he said. “Why do you think it came out?” He pointed to a Post reporter: “It was The Washington Post? Good friends.” ThePost, after all, has spent years dumping on Sanders, a fervent critic of the paper’s billionaire creep of an owner, Jeff Bezos. Intelligence officials and pundits have been screeching for years that patriotism demands voters reject the foreign agent Donald Trump and the Russian asset Bernie Sanders, and support a conventional establishment politician. Voters responded by moving toward Trump in national approval surveys and speeding Sanders to the top of the Democratic Party ticket. A more thorough disavowal of official propaganda would be difficult to imagine.  Russiagate from the start smelled funny, like bad food. Multiple developments worsened the odor. Stories kept coming up wrong. There were too many unnamed sources, too frequently contradicting one another and/or overstating facts. Every hoof print was a zebra’s. Outlets stopped worrying about relaying unconfirmed rumors, which is how terms like “blackmail,” “Trump,” “Russia” and even “Golden Showers” kept appearing in headlines, without proof there ever had been blackmail.  Moreover, while ordinary citizens like Reality Winner went straight to jail for leaking, senior government officials in the past four years repeatedly and with impunity leaked Russia-related tales. The leaks often pushed still more incorrect narratives, like for instance that that Trump aide Carter Page was a foreign agent. But the biggest red flag of all was the way in which “Russia” over the past few years became shorthand to describe any brand of political deviance. I wrote this two years ago: “Since Trump’s election, we’ve been told Putin was all or partly behind the lot of it: the Catalan independence movement, the Sanders campaign, Brexit, Jill Stein’s Green Party run, Black Lives Matter, the resignations of intraparty Trump critics Bob Corker and Jeff Flake …”

Lawsuit reveals that nearly 44,000 US Postal Service workers have been fired after being injured on the job - The United States Postal Service (USPS) has fired or forced out nearly 44,000 employees who were injured on the job since 2006 through its National Reassessment Process (NRP), according to a class action lawsuit brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The class action suit is currently open and continues to process claims from approximately 28,000 victimized postal workers. According to the nonprofit organization ProPublica the EEOC ruled that the NRP “illegally discriminated against injured workers by creating a hostile work environment, taking away disability accommodations and revealing workers’ confidential medical information” in 2015 and 2017. Including the NRP case, the USPS estimates that it may owe up to $178 million in potential liabilities for pending employment claims. The USPS has fought back against the claims brought forward by the lawsuit, contesting each worker’s claim individually, alleging that injured workers never provided enough proof that they had disabilities or were actually harmed as a result of the NRP. The NRP was utilized by the USPS from 2006–2011. The program sought to significantly cut labor costs for USPS, which faced increasing operating costs from fuel price increases, decreasing revenue from reductions in the use of priority services like first-class mail, as well as increasing competition for the delivery of packages and urgent mail from giant logistics corporations like UPS and FedEx. Labor costs made up 80 percent of the USPS’ operating costs at the time that the NRP was rolled out. Former USPS workers in the NRP class action suit allege that they were discriminated against after showing proof that they had been injured at work. The suit alleges that the USPS routinely harassed and discriminated against injured workers and refused to provide reasonable accommodations to workers who had become disabled as a result of their injuries. The lawsuit also alleges that workers were fired after being moved to less physically demanding jobs, even if they provided written instructions to human resources from medical professionals restricting the type of work they were able to safely perform with their conditions.

Why Is Trump Trying to Kill a Small Agency with a Big Impact on Public Safety? - Pipe fitter Jody Gooch and welders Sedrick Stallworth and William Rolls Jr. stood just feet away when a tank exploded at the Packaging Corporation of America pulp and paper mill in DeRidder, Louisiana. The blast killed the contract workers, injured seven others and hurtled the 80-foot tank six stories into the air. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) concluded that welding sparks likely ignited turpentine vapors that built up inside the tank, and the agency released a comprehensive incident report and safety video to protect workers at other mills. The CSB regularly issues guidance like this so companies that use dangerous chemicals in the production process learn from their mistakes. But Donald Trump, who refuses to admit his own failures, can’t grasp the importance of learning from anyone else’s, either. Instead of supporting the safety watchdog, Trump wants to kill it. He allocated no funding for the CSB four years in a row. As board members’ terms expired, Trump failed to replace them. The five-person board is down to just one member, whose term expires in August. But more workers will die if he abolishes the CSB. The people who live near these plants will be at increased risk as well because explosions, leaks and toxic emissions often inflict widespread damage on nearby communities. Congress created the 22-year-old agency to conduct independent investigations of industrial chemical disasters.Congress considered the work so important that it shielded the agency from outside interference. The CSB doesn’t answer to any agency or official in the executive branch. This autonomy enables it to scrutinize not only the companies involved in disasters but also the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other federal entities regulating these industries. The CSB issues no fines or citations. It makes no regulations. Its mission is safety education.

A Travesty and a Disgrace’: Trump Quietly Issues Memo That Could Abolish Union Rights for 750,000 Federal Workers  - President Donald Trump on Thursday quietly issued a memo granting Defense Secretary Mark Esper the power to abolish collective bargaining rights for the Defense Department's 750,000 civilian workers, a move unions decried as part of the administration's far-reaching assault on organized labor. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) condemned the memo, which was published in the Federal Register (pdf) Thursday, as "a travesty and a disgrace." The memo argues that a unionized Defense Department workforce could pose a threat to "national security" and that, if necessary, collective bargaining rights at the department should be scrapped in the interest of "protecting the American people.""When new missions emerge or existing ones evolve, the Department of Defense requires maximum flexibility to respond to threats," the memo states. "This flexibility requires that military and civilian leadership manage their organizations to cultivate a lethal, agile force adaptive to new technologies and posture changes.""Where collective bargaining is incompatible with these organizations' missions," the memo continues, "the Department of Defense should not be forced to sacrifice its national security mission and, instead, seek relief through third parties and administrative fora."It is unclear whether or how Esper intends to act on his legal authority.Larry Mishel, distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, called the White House's justification for ending collective bargaining rights at the Defense Department "atrocious."The existence of the memo, which Trump signed on Jan. 29, was first reported byGovernment Executive earlier this month. The outlet noted that "the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 includes a provision allowing the president to issue an order excluding agencies and agency subcomponents from collective bargaining rules if the rules 'cannot be applied to that agency or subdivision in a manner consistent with national security requirements.'"

Trump campaign sues New York Times for libel - President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign filed a libel lawsuit against The New York Times on Tuesday, claiming an op-ed that appeared in the paper last year defamed the president by falsely suggesting there had been a conspiracy between his 2016 operation and Russian agents. In the eight-page complaint, filed in the New York State Supreme Court, the campaign accuses the Times, with which Trump has repeatedly sparred, of harboring “extreme bias against and animosity toward” the president’s campaign and sought to sway the presidential election in November while publishing defamatory accusations “at the very least ... with reckless disregard for the truth.” In the op-ed in question, headlined “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo,”author Max Frankel asserts in part that Trump’s 2016 campaign had an “overarching deal” with Russian President “Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy” in order to “help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton,” in exchange for “a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from the Obama administration’s burdensome economic sanctions.” The suit argues that the op-ed contradicts reporting published by the Times’ news division on the investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russian agents to interfere in the election.  Frankel’s piece was published about three weeks before the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which found insufficient evidence to show coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the lead-up to the election. But it came out three days after Attorney General William Barr released a four-page summary of the report stating as much, though Mueller himself raised issues with the way his findings were characterized in the memo. “At the time the defamatory article was published, the public record, and the Times’ own reporting, had already confirmed what Robert Mueller would eventually conclude: that there was no ‘deal’ or ‘quid pro quo’ between the Campaign and Russia,” the complaint claims. “The Times and its writer, Mr. Frankel, consciously disregarded all such information.” In a statement, the campaign’s senior legal adviser, Jenna Ellis, asserted that Frankel’s assertions “were and are 100 percent false and defamatory,” and that the Times published his piece knowing their inaccuracy “for the intentional purpose of hurting the campaign, while misleading its own readers in the process.”

 Is Bloomberg Buying the DNC? If So, What Does He Plan to Do With It? - Consider what Mike Bloomberg is building within the Democratic Party, within the DNC. According to the following analysis he’s turning the DNC into an anti-Sanders machine, a force loyal to himself, that will operate even after Sanders is nominated, even after Sanders is elected, if he so chooses.With that he hopes to limit and control what Sanders and his rebellion can do. It’s the ultimate billionaire counter-rebellion — own the Party machine that the president normally controls, then use it against him.Our source for this thought is Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report. Ford is one of the more vitriolic defenders of radical change in America, but in this analysis I don’t think he’s wrong, at least in making the case that Bloomberg is giving himself that option. But do decide for yourself.Here’s his case: Bloomberg Wants to Swallow the Democrats and Spit Out the Sandernistas If, somehow, Bernie Sanders is allowed to win the nomination, Michael Bloomberg and other plutocrats will have created a Democratic Party machinery purpose-built to defy Sanders — as nominee, and even as president. The details of his argument are here: Bloomberg has already laid the groundwork to directly seize the party machinery, the old fashioned way: by buying it and stacking it with his own, paid operatives, with a war-against-the-left budget far bigger than the existing Democratic operation. Bloomberg’s participation in Wednesday’s debate, against all the rules, is proof-of-purchase.In addition to the nearly million dollar down payment to the party in November that sealed the deal for the debate rules change, Bloomberg has already pledged to pay the full salaries of 500 political staffers for the Democratic National Committee all the way through the November election, no matter who wins the nomination. Essentially,Bloomberg will be running the election for the corporate wing of the party, even if Sanders is the nominee. Bloomberg advisor Timothy O’Brien made it clear that the DNC is in no condition to refuse being devoured by Bloomberg, even if they wanted to. O’brien predicted the Republicans will spend at least $900 million on the election, while the DNC has only about $8 million on hand. Even the oligarch’s underlings are telegraphing the takeover game plan. Bloomberg is not so much running for president as making sure that the Democrats don’t go “rogue” anti-corporate to accommodate the Sandernistas. He is ensuring that the Democratic Party will be an even more hostile environment for anti-austerity politics than in the past – not in spite of the phenomenal success of the Sanders project, but because of it.Ford has not much love for Bernie Sanders, as he finds Sanders (and his supporters) weak for sticking with the Democrats. Ford thinks Sanders should go “third party” in his opposition to the corrupt duopoly that owns our politics. That’s a point on which we can disagree without disagreeing that the duopoly is indeed corrupt, or that Bloomberg is setting himself up for post-electoral mischief. Ford also thinks the Party will split in the face of this anti-Sanders resistance, especially if the counter-resistance continues after a President Sanders is inaugurated.

 Angry Judge Orders Hunter Biden To Appear For Deposition In Child Support Case --Hunter Biden must appear in Little Rock, Arkansas to give a deposition in his child support case, after a judge rejected his attempt to delay until after most of the key Democratic primary debates, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  "He needs to make himself available unless his hair is on fire," said Circuit Court Judge Holly Meyer during a Wednesday conference call, denying Biden's request to delay until April. Biden's lawyer told the court this week that the former Ukrainian gas company board member was "too busy" to appear.  Biden has been ordered to show up on March 11 or March 12 to answer questions, said Meyer, while a pre-trial hearing is scheduled for March 13.  An April deposition would have meant the 50-year-old Biden's potentially embarrassing appearance would have happened after several decisive state primaries - including next week's Super Tuesday, in which his father will attempt to salvage his imperiled campaign. Hunter is being sued in the paternity case by former stripper Lunden Alexis Roberts, 28. The court determined last month that he was the father of the toddler identified as Baby Doe, after he claimed the child wasn't his.  "My client can be available April 1, 2020," Biden's lawyer Brett Langon told the court this week, adding "My client cannot be available prior to that date."  Meyer shot back with some spice: "My questions to you is, why could your client not be available until after April 1?" she asked. "All the information I have is that he’s unemployed." "It’s not good enough for him to just say, ‘I’m not available,'” she said. “I need to know why he’s not available or where he is or what could possibly be more important than what’s going in this case."

The U.S. federal tax and spending system is the biggest tool to combat inequality, but it could do much more --EPI Blog by Josh Bivens - Last week, we launched the U.S. Tax & Spending Explorer on the EPI website. It’s an interactive web feature designed to shed light on how the government (mostly the federal government) raises and spends money and how changes in taxes and spending over time either increase or decrease income inequality. There’s enough granular detail in the feature that everybody might have different takeaways from visiting it. But here’s what strikes me looking at this data:

  • Together, taxes and spending significantly reduce inequality at any given point in time relative to a world with a much smaller federal footprint. That’s the good news. The bad news is that since 1979 the inequality-reducing effect of taxes and spending hasn’t grown that much—but inequality has grown, a lot. We should use the proven inequality-fighting lever of a larger tax and spending system to combat the inequality that has risen so fast in recent decades.
  • Most of the inequality-reducing benefit of the taxing and spending done by the federal government happens on the spending side. People often have wildly incorrect ideas about what the federal government spends the most money on, but the large majority of this spending is accounted for by well-known and broadly-popular programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. Together, just these programs alone constitute almost 67% of federal spending. These programs, along with other safety net programs and social insurance programs, constitute “transfer” payments that directly support households’ incomes and living standards. These transfers are very effective in reducing inequality, with the large majority going to households in the bottom two-fifths of the income distribution.
  • The federal tax system overall is progressive, with higher-income households paying more than low- or moderate-income households. Yet the tax rate faced by the richest households, instead of rising steadily to combat the rise in inequality since 1979, has just fluctuated (sometimes a little up and sometimes a little down) in a narrow band over that time. By 2015, for example, the overall federal tax rate faced by the top 1% was actually a bit lower than the rate in 1979. In short, taxes on the richest households have been a radically underutilized tool in the effort to push back against the rising inequality of recent decades.
  • Within the federal tax system, some of the most progressive elements—like the corporate income tax and the estate tax—have been slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) throttled over time, accounting for a smaller and smaller share of federal revenue. A less progressive feature of the federal tax code—payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare—has risen in importance.
  • The still-progressive federal tax system is perhaps underappreciated by many households who face a regressive tax burden overall due to state and local systems that rely on sales and property taxes. The overall burden of taxes at the local, state, and federal level is quite flat and does much less to fight inequality than the federal system alone.
  • Finally, a surprising feature of the U.S. data is how stable taxes and spending have been as a share of the overall economy for decades. The experience of other rich countries highlights that taxes and spending could be substantially higher than what prevails in the U.S. today. One potential benefit of a larger fiscal footprint could be a substantially improved effort in fighting poverty. Compared to our international peers, our fiscal system wages only the weakest of fights against poverty.

TurboTax Is Still Tricking Customers With Tax Prep Ads That Misuse the Word “Free” - On Dec. 30, the IRS announced it was revamping a long-standing agreement with the online tax preparation industry in which companies offer free filing to people with incomes below certain levels, a category that includes 70% of filers. The change in what’s known as the Free File program came in the wake of multiple ProPublica articles that revealed how the companies in the program steered customers eligible for free filing to their paid offerings. Under the updated agreement, the companies are now prohibited from hiding their Free File webpages from Google searches, and the IRS was allowed to create its own online tax-filing system. So far, it seems, the companies are abiding by their promise to make their Free File webpages visible in online searches. But the updated agreement appears to have a loophole: It doesn’t apply to advertising. Nothing in it, the agreement states, “limits or changes the rights” of participating companies to advertise “as if they were not participating in the Free File program.” As a result, companies like Intuit, whose TurboTax is the top tax prep software, continue to confuse some customers who seek free tax prep into paying. Today, Google searches for “free tax filing” and other similar phrases still yield ads for a plethora of products such as TurboTax’s “Free Edition” (its ads promise “100% Free Tax Filing”), which lead customers to pay fees if they don’t have simple returns. TurboTax’s version of Free File — the one that doesn’t charge customers anything — typically won’t appear until the second page of search results. Intuit increased its monthly online ad spending noticeably between January 2019 and January 2020, according to search analytics firm Ahrefs. Intuit places its ads strategically in searches for “IRS” and “free file,” among thousands of related search terms.  Ahrefs and a second search analysis firm, SEMRush, say TurboTax spends more on digital ads than competitors TaxAct, TaxSlayer and H&R Block combined.

High-Income Taxpayers Now Confronted At Home By IRS Agents - The IRS announced Wednesday that it would increase at-home visitations to high-income taxpayers who haven't filed tax returns on time. Remember when the IRS under the Obama administration targeted conservative groups? Now it appears this anti-wealth attitude extends to anyone earning over $100,000 that hasn't filed a return since 2018 or prior years. During an at-home visit, IRS agents will inform the non-compliant taxpayer how to file returns and show them a pathway of regaining compliant status.  "The IRS is committed to fairness in the tax system, and we want to remind people across all income categories that they need to file their taxes," said Paul Mamo, Director of Collection Operations, Small Business/Self Employed Division. "These visits focusing on high-income taxpayers will be taking place across the country."Visitations have already started this month and will continue through March for severe cases of high-income taxpayers not filing. In the last year, the agency started aggressively targeting low-income families who neglected to pay their taxes. These struggling folks in the "greatest economy ever" are barely surviving on depressed wages, insurmountable debts, and soaring housing and healthcare inflation, have no money left over to pay taxes. If you're rich or poor and haven't paid your taxes in the last several years, watch out because Big Brother is now dispatching its agents to hunt you down.  And in case an agent confronts a non-compliant taxpayer – they will offer several options if the tax bill cannot be paid in full, such as a payment plan. But if a non-compliant taxpayer declines to pay, the IRS will inform the individual that they will pursue them in court.

The Internal Emails Big Tech Executives Never Wanted You to See  - Congress is demanding that Silicon Valley companies release their internal emails. If history is any guide, we know what to expect: revelations of anti-worker scheming, corporate power plays, and all sorts of other malevolent machinations. Big Tech’s honeymoon with the federal government has finally ended, in what some are calling the “techlash.” Government investigations are mushrooming, from the Trump administration’s antitrust probes of the biggest platform companies to congressional inquiries into abuse of platform power.Things took a fresh turn last fall, when ranking Republicans and Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee demanded extensive documents from Silicon Valley companies, including emails between platform CEOs and their subordinates. That’s bad news for big tech, which has an extensive history of being hamstrung by its own murmurings — a history looking increasingly likely to play a big role in the coming storm for Silicon Valley.With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the most significant cases of tech wrongdoing revealed by their risqué communiqués.

The House wants to know what Ring is doing with footage from your house  - Almost 1,000 police and sheriff departments around the country have partnership agreements with Ring, Amazon's home surveillance subsidiary. These arrangements are now drawing scrutiny from a division of the House Oversight Committee, which wants to know what, exactly, Ring is up to.  For starters, Congress wants a list of every police deal Ring actually has, the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy wrote in a letter (PDF) dated February 19.  After that, the Subcommittee wants to know... well, basically everything. The request for information asks for documentation relating to "all instances in which a law enforcement agency has requested video footage from Ring," as well as full lists of all third-party firms that get any access to Ring users' personal information or video footage. Ring is also asked to send over copies of every privacy notice, terms of service, and law enforcement guideline it has ever had, as well as materials relating to its marketing practices and any potential future use of facial recognition. And last but not least, the letter requests, "All documents that Ring or Amazon has produced to state attorneys general, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, or Congress in response to investigations into Ring."  In the course of those six months, Ring has repeatedly come under fire for its security, privacy, and marketing practices.  Ring has also faced pressure to describe its plans for future integration of facial recognition systems into its devices. While the company has stated repeatedly that it has no such integration, documents and video promotional materials obtained by reporters in the past several months show that the company is strongly looking into it for future iterations of the system. And all of that doesn't even get into the extremely granular location data that leaks from uploaded footage, the sharing of personal data with third-party firms, the vulnerability that exposed network passwords, or the wave of intrusions into users' devices in December and January attributable in part to lax account security (fixed this week). The request from the House Oversight subcommittee is an entirely separate congressional probe from the investigation Amazon has been facing in the Senate since September. The first exchange with senators revealed that police can do whatever they want with Ring footage, keeping it as long as they see fit and sharing it with whomever they please. In the second, Amazon admitted Ring has had to fire at least four employees for snooping on user videos.

 CFPB forced to complete small-business lending rule -  One of the last pieces of unfinished business from the Dodd-Frank Act will finally move forward after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau agreed Wednesday to develop a small-business lending regulation that has languished for more than eight years.The 2010 law requires the agency to collect information that might be used to identify instances of discrimination in small-business lending, but so far the CFPB has failed to implement that provision. The California Reinvestment Coalition is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed last May in an effort to force the bureau’s hand. Under a settlement agreement filed Wednesday, the CFPB agreed to a court-supervised process that includes public reporting and specific timetables for the development of the regulation. “The days that they can just kick the can down the road for years at a time are over,” said Nitin Shah, senior counsel at Democracy Forward, a litigation group that represented the plaintiffs.  As the first step in the rulemaking process, the CFPB agreed to convene a Small Business Advocacy Review panel no later than Oct. 15, 2020. The report that emerges from that panel’s work must be completed within 60 days. At that point, the CFPB will meet with the lawsuit’s plaintiffs to discuss an appropriate deadline for the issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement within 30 days, the plaintiffs can ask a judge to set the deadline.

 CFPB's Kraninger commits to finalizing small-business lending rule — Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger committed Thursday to finalizing a long-awaited small-business lending regulation that will protect consumer privacy and minimize burdens on small businesses, one day after a court mandate outlined a process for drafting and implementing the rule. The Dodd-Frank Act required the CFPB to develop a small-business lending regulation to collect information that might be used to identify instances of discrimination, but the agency has dragged its feet on implementing such a rule. But under a settlement filed Wednesday with the California Reinvestment Coalition, the CFPB agreed to a court-supervised process that includes public reporting and specific timetables for the development of the rule. “It's been a difficult issue since the beginning of the agency, and we have not made a lot of progress on this, but I did commit to it when I was confirmed a year ago that we will move forward with this rulemaking,” said Kraninger, speaking at a National Diversity Coalition event Thursday.The CFPB also agreed to convene a Small Business Advocacy Review panel no later than Oct. 15, 2020. The report that emerges from that panel’s work must be completed within 60 days. After that, the CFPB and the California Reinvestment Coalition must reach an agreement on a deadline for the issuance of the final rule. Under Section 1071 of Dodd-Frank, small-business lenders are supposed to be subject to data-reporting obligations that resemble the requirements for mortgage lenders under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The law requires the collection of certain information but also gives the CFPB discretion over whether additional data should be gathered.  While consumer advocates have called for strong reporting requirements, others have argued that more requirements would result in undue burdens and costs on lenders.

  JPMorgan eyes plan to tap Fed's discount window to break stigma A senior JPMorgan Chase executive said the largest U.S. bank planned to borrow funds through the Federal Reserve's emergency lending facility in an exercise designed to break the stigma attached to that program. Jennifer Piepszak, JPMorgan's chief financial officer, said Tuesday during the firm's investor day in New York that the bank would borrow from the so-called discount window from time to time this year and had discussed the plan with regulators. The remarks come less than three weeks after Randal Quarles, the Fed's vice chairman for banking supervision, spoke of the need to make it easier for banks to access emergency loans from the Fed. "The discount window is meant to be used by healthy banks when it is needed," Quarles said in a Feb. 6 speech. "While there has long been discussion about how the discount window is 'broken' because of stigma about using it, we know it is still an important part of firms' contingency planning and preparations." Quarles also discussed in his speech how improving access to the discount window could help enhance money-market liquidity. The Fed's discount window is meant to provide emergency liquidity to banks that otherwise have healthy balance sheets. Banks have become extremely reluctant to use it, however, because of the reaction it can provoke among investors, who may fear it reveals a more serious problem, and among politicians keen to attack bank bailouts.

A profit letdown for banks in 2019— With net interest income slipping and banks setting aside more reserves to cover losses, the industry's profit fell 1.5% in 2019 to $233.1 billion, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Tuesday.The agency's Quarterly Banking Profile said net income in the fourth quarter declined nearly 7% from a year earlier to $55.2 billion, driven by lower net interest income and higher noninterest expenses.FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams noted the decline in short-term interest rates as an obstacle for banks in boosting their asset yields. How new technologies are making remote ID verification faster, and safer. Sponsor content from “The record-long economic expansion continued into the fourth quarter,” McWilliams said in a statement prepared for the release of the quarterly report. “However, with three reductions in short-term rates during the second half of 2019, challenges in lending and funding persisted.” The FDIC said the full-year decline in earnings was attributed to a lackluster third and fourth quarters, when net interest income grew more slowly than expected. Net interest income for all of 2019 grew just 1%, and in the fourth quarter actually declined by 2.4% from a year earlier, the first such decline since the third quarter of 2013. The average net interest margin also declined in the fourth quarter, by 20 basis points from a year earlier, to 3.28%."The annual decline in NIM occurred for all five asset size groups featured in the Quarterly Banking Profile but was especially pronounced among banks with total assets between $10 billion and $250 billion," the FDIC report said. "Banks responded to the low interest-rate environment by growing longer-term assets, but these assets generated lower yields and contributed to the NIM decline."The agency reported that nearly half — or 45.6% — of U.S. banks reported a year-over-year decline in net income.

 FDIC: Fewer Problem banks, Residential REO Declined in Q4 -- The FDIC released the Quarterly Banking Profile for Q4 2019 today: For the 5,177 commercial banks and savings institutions insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), aggregate net income totaled $55.2 billion in fourth quarter 2019, a decline of $4.1 billion (6.9 percent) from a year ago. The decline in net income was led by lower net interest income and higher expenses. Financial results for fourth quarter 2019 are included in the FDIC's latest Quarterly Banking Profile released today....The Number of Banks on the "Problem Bank List" Remained Low: The number of problem banks fell from 55 to 51 during the fourth quarter, the lowest number of problem banks since fourth quarter 2006. Total assets of problem banks declined from $48.8 billion in the third quarter to $46.2 billion.The Deposit Insurance Fund's Reserve Ratio Stood at 1.41 Percent: The Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) balance totaled $110.3 billion in the fourth quarter, up $1.4 billion from the end of last quarter. The quarterly increase was led by assessment income and interest earned on investment securities held by the DIF. The reserve ratio remained unchanged from the previous quarter at 1.41 percent.Mergers and New Bank Openings Continued in the Fourth Quarter: During the fourth quarter, three new banks opened, 77 institutions were absorbed by mergers, and three banks failed.  The FDIC reported the number of problem banks declined slightly.This graph from the FDIC shows the number of problem banks declined to 51 institutions from 60 at the end of 2018.Note: The number of assets for problem banks increased significantly in 2018 when Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas was added to the list (it must still be on the list given the assets of problem banks). The dollar value of 1-4 family residential Real Estate Owned (REOs, foreclosure houses) declined from $2.65 billion in Q4 2018 to $2.27 billion in Q4 2019. This is the lowest level of REOs since Q1 2006.This graph shows the nominal dollar value of Residential REO for FDIC insured institutions. Note: The FDIC reports the dollar value and not the total number of REOs.Since REOs are reported in dollars, and house prices have increased, FDIC REOs are probably close to a bottom.

Fed’s Stress Tests on Banks Should Have Factored in a Pandemic -  Pam Martens -  Each year the Federal Reserve comes up with a hypothetical, severely adverse economic scenario against which it evaluates the ability of Wall Street’s mega banks to weather the storm. Called “stress tests,” this year’s severely adverse scenario features a severe global recession, unemployment of 10 percent, elevated stress in corporate debt markets and commercial real estate, along with a bank’s major counterparty defaulting if it has significant derivatives trading exposures. The stress test results are typically disclosed in June by the Fed with an immediate announcement by the banks (that get the green light from the Fed) about how many billions of dollars they plan to spend on stock buybacks and dividend increases to artificially boost their share prices. What the Federal Reserve has not planned for in its stress test is a global recession (which was looking entirely likely prior to the coronavirus outbreak) on top of a massive supply chain disruption because of a spreading virus that shuts down factories, making it impossible to supply finished goods. What the Federal Reserve has also not tested in its stress tests is a retrenchment on spending by consumers because they are afraid to go on vacation or to malls or movie theaters or other public venues. In the U.S., consumer spending represents two-thirds of GDP. We have long said that the Fed’s stress tests were nothing more than an illusion. (See related articles below.) Now the chickens are coming home to roost. The mega banks on Wall Street and their insurance company derivative counterparties continued to bleed out capital yesterday, with most down 8 to 10 percent over the two-day period. And that’s just on the possibility that the coronavirus will continue to spread.  . . It is simply common sense that the virus should be expected to spread in the United States. It has already affected almost 81,000 people worldwide with more than 2700 deaths. And while the original epicenter was in China, there are now growing outbreaks in South Korea, Iran, Italy, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. Likely as a result of the spread of the virus in Italy, where at least 325 people have been infected and whole towns locked down, new cases are also being reported across Europe – in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Switzerland. Some of the U.S. business travelers to these countries who have returned to the United States are likely carriers of the virus, whose respiratory symptoms may not occur for as long as two weeks, or not at all. Everyone that an infected person has come in contact with since their return to the U.S. is a potential new carrier of the virus.

OCC's Otting takes another swipe at Fed over CRA reform - — Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting took another swipe at the Federal Reserve Thursday over efforts to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act, suggesting that the central bank was adopting the "partisan" stance held by one governor rather than that of the entire Fed board.The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. proposed a CRA reform plan in December that would revise banks' assessment boundaries and establish a new scoring metric for all of an institution's CRA activities, among other things. Yet the Fed, which has assigned Gov. Lael Brainard to coordinate its approach to CRA, refused to sign on to the plan over concerns about the scoring metric.Asked about differences between the agencies over reforming the law, Otting appeared to suggest that Brainard — a Democratic appointee confirmed to a Fed seat under the Obama administration — was being given too much latitude to set the agency's approach.“What I would say about the division on the issue is, people have to really understand the process,” Otting said at an event hosted by the National Diversity Coalition. "The process is, we went out and asked 37 questions, got feedback, took that feedback plus 1,500 comments, worked with the FDIC and the Fed, and the OCC to put together a notice of proposed rule. And then, we're unable to convince one governor to take it to the Board of Governors.” He implied that Brainard's views were "partisan," saying, "I would say it's not the Fed — it's partisan within the Fed, also. Which is unfortunate and probably one of the things that's most disappointing to me.” However, Fed Chair Jerome Powell has more than once endorsed his agency's approach. After Brainard gave remarks last month indicating there were substantive differences between the agencies over CRA scoring, Powell said in his regular press conference that he "was comfortable with [Brainard's] speech and I'm comfortable with the work we've done." In testimony on Capitol Hill, he later reiterated his support for the views that Brainard had outlined.When the FDIC and OCC first unveiled the proposed changes to the CRA, the absence of the Fed's signature drew concern from the industry and lawmakers who said the agencies should take a consistent approach to reforming the law. In January, Brainard laid out concerns with the OCC and FDIC’s scoring methodology in a speech at the Urban Institute, where she critiqued the proposal for potentially diluting the importance of community development activity in determining a bank’s CRA score. Otting later rejected that criticism in a meeting with reporters, saying that a policy speech is not the same thing as a proposal.

FHFA to take closer look at FHLB membership rules — The Federal Housing Finance Agency is taking a closer look at its membership guidelines for the Federal Home Loan banks in light of "conduit arrangements" between Home Loan bank members and entities that are not allowed to belong to the system.In a request for information issued Monday, the FHFA said it would be conducting an overview of how it regulates the 11 Home Loan banks to ensure that they are complying with the mission of the Home Loan Bank System to advance community development, and that they can withstand an economic downturn. The review comes amid concerns that some companies are inappropriately seeking a back door to gain access to the low-cost loans and liquidity that the Home Loan banks provide. Currently, only federally insured banks and credit unions, nondepository community development financial institutions and non-federally insured credit unions are eligible to be Home Loan bank members. Up until 2016, real estate investment trusts and similar funds were able to become members by establishing captive insurance companies that could in turn become FHLB members, but the FHFA issued a rule prohibiting captive insurers from becoming members. But since that rule was finalized, REITs and other companies have been using other avenues to obtain the benefits of FHLB membership, in particular through CDFIs and special-purpose banks.

CFPB's Kraninger says QM proposal, remittance rule will be out by May — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will issue both proposed changes to the “qualified mortgage” rule and a final regulation revising policy on remittances no later than May, the agency’s director said Tuesday.CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger said both steps will come as part of an ongoing review of agency rules, and show her "commitment under the law to be effective and evidence based” to provide clarity to stakeholders.The agency's QM regulation requires lenders to verify borrowers' ability to repay and includes protection for a category of loans with certain safe features, including a 43% debt-to-income limit. But the agency has been clear in its intent to revamp the mortgage underwriting rule. The effect of the DTI cap so far has been limited since loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are exempt under the so-called QM patch. However, that patch is set to expire in 2021 or shortly thereafter, which could result in a sizable chunk of high-DTI loans suddenly being in violation.

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate Decreased in January, Lowest since 2007 - Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in January was 0.60%, down from 0.63% in December. Freddie's rate is down from 0.70% in January 2019.This the lowest delinquency rate since November 2007.Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%.These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".  I expect the delinquency rate to decline to a cycle bottom in the 0.4% to 0.6% range - so this is close to a bottom.

Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey - Mortgage applications increased 1.5 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending February 21, 2020. This week’s results include an adjustment for the Washington Birthday (Presidents’ Day) Holiday. ... The Refinance Index decreased 1 percent from the previous week and was 152 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 6 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 10 percent higher than the same week one year ago. ... “Last week appears to have been the calm before the storm. Weaker readings on economic growth caused a slight drop in mortgage rates, bringing them back to their level two weeks ago, but applications overall moved 1.5 percent higher,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Refinance applications for conventional loans dropped a bit, but FHA refinances increased more than 22 percent. Purchase volume remained strong, supported both by low rates and the increased pace of construction over the past few months. With housing supply at low levels, new inventory is a positive development for prospective homebuyers.” Added Fratantoni, “As fears regarding the coronavirus have increased, Treasury yields have dropped to record lows this week amid the ensuing financial market volatility. Next week’s results will show the impact this drop in Treasuries had on mortgage activity.” ... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) decreased to 3.73 percent from 3.77 percent, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.
emphasis added

 Coronavirus fears cause mortgage rates to plunge to 8-year low - As coronavirus fears hit financial markets, U.S. bond yields are tanking, pushing mortgage rates that loosely follow the 10-year Treasury yield toward an eight-year low. They could sink even lower. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage hit 3.34% on Monday, according to Mortgage News Daily. That is for borrowers with strong financials and credit scores. “Aggressive lenders will be at 3.25% today, and 3.375% will be the new going rate for the average lender,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer at Mortgage News Daily. That rate hit 3.34% for one day in the summer of 2016, before spiking much higher that fall. Before that, rates were this low in 2012. While rates generally follow the 10-year yield, there are certain market factors that keep rates above a certain level. “When rates fall this quickly, it’s not so much that big banks draw the line on mortgage rates, but rather, the underlying Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) market refuses to improve as quickly as the Treasury market,” said Graham. “Both mortgages and Treasuries are feeling the impact of coronavirus panic. That’s pushing rates lower. But mortgages also become less valuable to investors if they get paid off too quickly.” And those payoffs, or refinances, are surging right now. Applications to refinance a home loan are up around 165% annually, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Mortgage applications to purchase a home have not been as strong, due to the severe shortage of homes for sale. Builders, however, may be getting a boost, especially those putting up more affordable homes.

FHFA House Price Index: Up 0.6% in December - The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for December. Here is the opening of the press release:  – U.S. house prices rose in the fourth quarter of 2019, up 1.3 percent according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 5.1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2018 to the fourth quarter of 2019. FHFA's seasonally adjusted monthly index for December was up 0.6 percent from November. “Growth in U.S. home prices stabilized at the end of 2019 with fourth quarter prices increasing 5.1 percent from the same period a year ago. The revised measure of home price growth in the third quarter was also 5.1 percent. Prices in the Mountain region had the highest gains, posting a 6.7 annual growth rate in the fourth quarter," according to Dr. Lynn Fisher, Deputy Director of the Division of Research and Statistics at FHFA. [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 3.8% year-over-year in December --S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for December ("December" is a 3 month average of October, November and December 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 Growth in Annual Home Price Gains to End 2019 The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 3.8% annual gain in December, up from 3.5% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 2.4%, up from 2.0% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 2.9% year-over-year gain, up from 2.5% in the previous month.Phoenix, Charlotte and Tampa reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. In December, Phoenix led the way with a 6.5% year-over-year price increase, followed by Charlotte with a 5.3% increase and Tampa with a 5.2% increase. Twelve of the 20 cities reported greater price increases in the year ending December 2019 versus the year ending November 2019...The National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 0.1%, while the 10-City Composite posted a 0.1% increase and the 20-City Composite did not post any gains before seasonal adjustment in December. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 0.5%, while the 10-City and 20-City Composites both posted 0.4% increases. In December, 10 of 20 cities reported increases before seasonal adjustment while 19 of 20 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment. . “December’s results bring the National Composite Index to a 3.8% increase for calendar 2019. This marks eight consecutive years of increasing housing prices (an increase which is echoed in our 10- and 20-City Composites). At the national level, home prices are 59% above the trough reached in February 2012, and 15% above their pre-financial crisis peak. Results for 2019 were broad-based, with gains in every city in our 20-City Composite.  The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).

 Real House Prices and Price-to-Rent Ratio in December -- It has been almost thirteen years since the bubble peak. In the Case-Shiller release today, the seasonally adjusted National Index (SA), was reported as being 15.8% above the previous bubble peak. However, in real terms, the National index (SA) is still about 6.6% below the bubble peak (and historically there has been an upward slope to real house prices).  The composite 20, in real terms, is still 14.0% below the bubble peak. The year-over-year growth in prices increased to 3.8% nationally, as expected with lower mortgage rates and fewer homes for sell. Usually people graph nominal house prices, but it is also important to look at prices in real terms (inflation adjusted).  Case-Shiller and others report nominal house prices.  As an example, if a house price was $200,000 in January 2000, the price would be close to $291,000 today adjusted for inflation (45%).  That is why the second graph below is important - this shows "real" prices (adjusted for inflation). The first graph shows the monthly Case-Shiller National Index SA, and the monthly Case-Shiller Composite 20 SA (through December) in nominal terms as reported.In nominal terms, the Case-Shiller National index (SA)and the Case-Shiller Composite 20 Index (SA) are both at new all times highs (above the bubble peak).  The second graph shows the same two indexes in real terms (adjusted for inflation using CPI less Shelter). Note: some people use other inflation measures to adjust for real prices. In real terms, the National index is back to March 2005 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to July 2004. In real terms, house prices are at 2004/2005 levels. This graph shows the price to rent ratio (January 2000 = 1.0). The price-to-rent ratio has been moving sideways recently.  On a price-to-rent basis, the Case-Shiller National index is back to March 2004 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to November 2003 levels.In real terms, prices are back to late 2004 levels, and the price-to-rent ratio is back to late 2003, early 2004.

Zillow Case-Shiller Forecast: House Price Gains "Back on the Gas" -The Case-Shiller house price indexes for December were released yesterday. Zillow forecasts Case-Shiller a month early, and I like to check the Zillow forecasts since they have been pretty close.From Matthew Speakman at Zillow: December Case-Shiller Results & January Forecast: Back on the  Gas The final reading of 2019 confirmed that a reacceleration of home price growth has indeed begun, after growth spent nearly the entire calendar year tapping on the brakes.The national Case-Shiller Home Price Index rose 3.8% year-over-year in December. The smaller 10- and 20-city composite indices grew more slowly, at 2.4% and 2.9% year-over-year, respectively....For-sale inventory remains near its lowest level on record, which has stoked competition for the relatively few homes on the market and nudged prices back upward as a result. The rebound in home price growth is also rooted in the sustained strength of the U.S. economy, which continues to ride a robust labor market, and mortgage rates that finished the year near their lowest levels since 2016 and have fallen even further since.

New Home Sales increase to 764,000 Annual Rate in January - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 764 thousand. The previous three months were revised up, combined. "Sales of new single‐family houses in January 2020 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 764,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 7.9 percent above the revised December rate of 708,000 and is 18.6 percent above the January 2019 estimate of 644,000." The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are just at a normal level. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. The months of supply decreased in January to 5.1 months from 5.5 months in December. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is in the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973. The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is close to normal. The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In January 2020 (red column), 57 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 49 thousand homes were sold in January The all time high for January was 92 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for January was 21 thousand in 2011. This was above expectations of 715 thousand sales SAAR, and sales in the three previous months were revised up, combined. This was a strong report with sales up 18.6% year-over-year.

New Home Sales Soar To Highest Since July 2007 As Prices Hit Record High - Following a disappointing drop in Existing Home Sales, New Home Sales were expected to buck their recent trend and rebound in January. And rebound they did, jumping a shocking 7.9% MoM (vs +3.5% MoM and a major revision for December from -0.4% to +2.3%)... The monthly jump is the biggest since June 2019 and the highest SAAR for New Home Sales since July 2007... Graphs Source: Bloomberg. The median sales price jumped 14% from a year earlier to a record $348,200 as more expensive properties made up a larger share of purchases. Purchases of new homes, which account for about 10% of the market, increased in three of four U.S. regions, led by the Midwest and West. Of course, with mortgage rates crashing to 8 year lows... The supply of homes at the current sales rate declined to 5.1 months, the lowest since November 2017, from 5.5 months in the prior month.

New home sales complete data confirming rebound This morning’s new single home sales report for January came in at the highest level since July 2007.    As a brief reminder, this series is probably the most leading of all housing data, but it is extremely volatile and heavily revised, so as always take this initial number with a grain of salt. In any event, here is a graph covering the last nine years since the bottom, showing sales (blue), single family permits (red, *.7 for scale), and inventory of new homes for sale (green, *2 for scale):Both permits and sales are at new expansion highs. The difference is that permits are *much* less volatile. Note that inventory, as always, is lagging, being slightly above its bottom this past November. . For now, the takeaway is that, except for the very real concern about coronavirus, housing strength would completely negative a recession in the near future.

New Home Prices - As part of the new home sales report released today, the Census Bureau reported the number of homes sold by price and the average and median prices.  From the Census Bureau: "The median sales price of new houses sold in January 2020 was $348,200. The average sales price was $402,300." The following graph shows the median and average new home prices. During the housing bust, the builders had to build smaller and less expensive homes to compete with all the distressed sales.  When housing started to recovery - with limited finished lots in recovering areas - builders moved to higher price points to maximize profits. The average price in January 2020 was $402,300, and the median price was $348,200.The second graph shows the percent of new homes sold by price.  Very few new homes sold were under $150K in January 2020.  This is down from 30% in 2002.  In general, the under $150K bracket is going away.    The $400K+ bracket increased significantly since the housing recovery started, but has been holding steady recently.  Still, a majority of new homes (about 55%) in the U.S., are in the $200K to $400K range.

A few Comments on January New Home Sales – McBride - New home sales for January were reported at 764,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). Sales for the previous three months were revised up, combined. This was the highest sales rate since July 2007.Earlier: New Home Sales increase to 764,000 Annual Rate in January. This graph shows new home sales for 2019 and 2020 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).The year-over-year comparison are fairly easy in the first half of 2020, and sales were up 18.6% YoY in January.And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales. The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through January 2020. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s. Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales.Even though distressed sales are down  significantly, following the bust, new home builders focused on more expensive homes - so the gap closed slowly.Now the gap is mostly closed, and I expect it to close a little more.   However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes. Another way to look at this is a ratio of existing to new home sales.This ratio was fairly stable from 1994 through 2006, and then the flood of distressed sales kept the number of existing home sales elevated and depressed new home sales. (Note: This ratio was fairly stable back to the early '70s, but I only have annual data for the earlier years). In general the ratio has been trending down since the housing bust - and is getting close to the historical ratio - and I expect this ratio will trend down a little more. Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

NAR: "Pending Home Sales Ascend 5.2% in January" - From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Ascend 5.2% in January Pending home sales rebounded in January, ticking up following a decline in December, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Only the West region reported a minor drop in month-over-month contract activity, while the other three major regions each saw pending home sales grow. Year-over-year pending home sales activity was up in all four regions and thus up nationally compared to one year ago.The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, grew 5.2% to 108.8 in January. Year-over-year contract signings increased 5.7%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.... The Northeast PHSI rose 1.3% to 92.9 in January, 1.2% higher than a year ago. In the Midwest, the index increased 7.3% to 105.3 last month, 6.5% higher than in January 2019. Pending home sales in the South grew 8.7% to an index of 129.4 in January, a 7.1% increase from January 2019. The index in the West declined 1.1% in January 2020 to 92.6, still a jump of 5.5% from a year ago. This was well above 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 February and March.

Quarterly Starts by Purpose and Design --Along with the monthly housing starts for January last week, the Census Bureau released Quarterly Starts by Purpose and Design through Q4 2019.This graph shows the NSA quarterly intent for four start categories since 1975: single family built for sale, owner built (includes contractor built for owner), starts built for rent, and condos built for sale. Single family starts built for sale (red) were up 18.1% in Q4 2019 compared to Q4 2018. Owner built starts (orange) were up 15.8% year-over-year.
Condos built for sale were still near the record low. The 'units built for rent' (blue) and were up 25.3% in Q4 2019 compared to Q4 2018.

Housing: Part 362 - All residential investment flows to consumer surplus - There is a hypothesis that I would like to dig deeper into in the long term.  Looking at the long-term data on residential investment and personal consumption expenditures on rent, I would argue that all residential investment flows to consumer surplus.  This makes real estate somewhat special as an asset class. For example, if investment into communications technology increases, we would expect that to be related to a shift in more spending on communications tech.  More investment in railroads vs. airports would be related to more subsequent spending on rail travel vs. air travel, etc.  You build stuff and then people use it.  But, the odd thing with real estate is that our consumption of it is highly sensitive to our incomes.  We will tend to spend x% of our incomes, on average, on rent expenditures (both imputed and cash) regardless of whether, in our time and place, that spending gets us 3,000 square feet or 1,000 square feet.  In fact, spending on housing is a bit inelastic, so that, if anything, in times and places where x% gets us 1,000 square feet, we spend more for it than we do in times and places where x% gets us 3,000 square feet.
In terms of national accounting, residential investment and rental expenditures appear not to have much correlation at all.  For instance, we are spending more of our domestic incomes on rent than ever today, but we are at the end of a decade with basically no net residential investment after accounting for depreciation of the existing stock of homes.  We spend more because we invested less. This has important implications for how we think of real estate vs. other assets.  All residential investment leads to consumer surplus.  That doesn't mean that new units are given away for free.  It means that when profitable new units are built, they reduce the rental value of the existing stock by at least as much as the added value of the new unit.Take a look at San Francisco over the past 20 years or so.  Basically, compared to other areas, its real estate values have doubled.  This clearly is the result of restrained supply.  At some level of new supply, prices there could have been maintained at their 1997 levels, relative to other places. Compare San Francisco to Austin. The population in Austin from 1997 to 2019 roughly doubled from about 1 million to 2 million.  San Francisco went from about six and a half million to just under eight million.  The relative median home price in Austin stayed about the same while San Francisco doubled.How much building would it take in San Francisco to get rid of the excessive rents that are due to supply constraints?  What if we doubled the size of San Francisco?  What if it was now home to almost 16 million people?  That would have been a massively different 20 years.  That's building and growth at roughly 6 times the growth rate San Francisco allowed.  Would that be enough to eliminate the supply constraint and take two or three percentage points a year off of rent inflation?  Would it even take that much building?  Maybe only adding enough units to grow by 4 million would be enough to bring prices back down to the initial norm.

 NYC Hotel Loans Defaulting At Alarming Rate As Room-Rates Plunge, Tourism Tumbles - More and more New York City hotels are defaulting on their mortgages, signaling an alarming trend in the industry as "challenging market fundamentals" and new supply act as headwinds for the industry. This has resulted in room rates declining and sites like Airbnb gaining traction in the market, according to The Real Deal. The main metric to watch is the average daily room rate, which has dropped in New York City to its lowest point since at least 2013: $255.16, according to STR. More than 22,000 new hotel rooms remain in the pipeline, as well, which will further add to the supply glut and likely push room rates even lower.As a result, loans like a $260 million loan on the Row Hotel near Times Square have been in default. In the case of the Row Hotel, it's lender is looking to offload the loan on the secondary market for as little as $50 million. Meanwhile, the hotel itself has been on the market since last year, but has little interest from buyers.  Colony Credit, the lender, says there has been a “significant deterioration” in the hotel market and that feedback during the sales process has led them to mark down the value of the loan.

Personal Income increased 0.6% in January, Spending increased 0.2%, Core PCE increase 0.1% - The BEA released the Personal Income and Outlays report for January: Personal income increased $116.5 billion (0.6 percent) in January according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $101.4 billion (0.6 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $29.6 billion (0.2 percent). Real DPI increased 0.5 percent in January and Real PCE increased 0.1 percent. The PCE price index increased 0.1 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1 percent.  The January PCE price index increased 1.7 percent year-over-year and the January PCE price index, excluding food and energy, increased 1.6 percent year-over-year. The following graph shows real Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) through January 2020 (2012 dollars). Note that the y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change. The dashed red lines are the quarterly levels for real PCE. The increase in personal income was above expectations,  and the increase in PCE was below expectations.  Note that core PCE inflation was below expectations.

US Personal Incomes Grow At Fastest Pace Since 2018, Spending Growth Slows - Amid all the carnage, a sliver of good news is that incomes jumped more than expected in January (+0.6% MoM vs +0.4% MoM) and while economists will be gravely disappointed spending rose less than expected (+0.2% MoM vs +0.3% MoM) prompting a healthy rise in the savings rate from 7.5% to 7.9%... This is the biggest jump in incomes since Dec 2018 and spending growth was the weakest since Feb 2019... Charts Source: Bloomberg. On a year-over-year basis, December saw a big surge (due to Dec 2018's stocks-market-plunge-driven collapse in spending) and January saw that give back some as incomes grew at 4.0% YoY... Source: Bloomberg Under the hood, the picture was mixed with private workers wage growth slowing compared to rising government worker wage growth... Finally, we note that The Fed's favored inflation indicator - PCE Core Deflator - rose to +1.63% YoY (though less than expected)... Chart Source: Bloomberg. Of course, all of this data is 'old' and hit before the impacts of Covid-19 really started.

Subprime Credit Card Delinquencies Spike to Record High, Past Financial-Crisis Peak, as Other Consumers Relish the Good Times. Why? --  Wolf Richter The rate of credit card balances that are 30 days or more delinquent at the 4,500 or so commercial banks that are smaller than the top 100 banks spiked to 7.05% in the fourth quarter, the highest delinquency rate in the data going back to the 1980s (red line).But at the largest 100 banks, the credit-card delinquency rate was 2.48%, which kept the overall credit-card delinquency rate at all commercial banks at 2.7% (blue line), though it was the highest since 2012, according to the Federal Reserve. What’s going on here, with this bifurcation of the delinquency rates and what does that tell us about consumers? Clearly, those consumers that have obtained credit cards at the smaller banks are in a heap of trouble and are falling behind at a historically high rate. But consumers that got their credit cards at the big banks – lured by 2% cash-back offers and other benefits that are being heavily promoted to consumers with top credit scores – do not feel the pain.A similarly disturbing trend is going on with auto loans. Seriously delinquent auto loans jumped to 4.94% of total auto loans and leases outstanding. This is higher than the delinquency rate in Q3 2010 amid the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. On closer inspection, there was that bifurcation again; prime-rated loans had historically low delinquency rates; but a shocking 23% of all subprime loans were 90+ days delinquent.During the Financial Crisis, delinquencies on credit cards and auto loans were soaring because over 10 million people had lost their jobs and they couldn’t make their payments.But these are the good times – with the unemployment rate near historic lows. And yet, there are these skyrocketing delinquency rates in the subprime subset of credit cards and auto loans. It means these people are working, and they’re falling behind their debts.Consumers with subprime credit scores (below 620) can still get credit cards, but under subprime terms – namely interest rates of 25% or 30% or more. These rates comes at a time when, according to the FDIC, banks’ average cost of funding was around 1.0%. The difference between a bank’s average cost of funding and the interest it charges is its net interest margin. For banks, subprime credit-card balances, with interest rates of 30%, are the most profitable assets out there.

American Adults Have More Than $20 Billion In Unused Gift Cards, Study Finds - In the US, gift cards are widely seen as a way to give somebody a gift that's ever-so-slightly more thoughtful than simply giving them an envelope full of cash. They're also increasingly an option for consumers to redeem credit card rewards. Unfortunately, many American adults also misplace or forget about the plastic gifts, essentially handing the seller free money. Over the past couple of decades, American companies have pushed gift cards because of the tremendous benefit they provide to a company's bottom line. Not only are they essentially an interest-free loan, but since a percentage of gift cards typically aren't ever redeemed before they expire, companies can pocket the difference. How big is the difference, exactly? Well, it's probably larger than most Americans would expect. According to a recent survey by BankRate, right now, American adults have some $20 billion in unused gift cards or store credit just sitting there. One of the analysts who worked on the report said adults hoping to form good personal finance habits should be to make sure that if they aren't going to use a gift card, they either trade it in or sell it to a friend or acquaintance. "Gift cards and store credits are real money, so treat them as such," said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate. According to a survey that BankRate conducted along with its research, 25% of American adults have let a gift card expire, and 22% have lost a gift card. More than half have held onto an unused gift card or store credit for more than a year.The average value per unused gift card is $167.  Often, this is the result of forgetfulness rather than intent, because most American adults surveyed (64%) told Bankrate that they expect to use their gift cards eventually. Only one-third acknowledge that they won't use all of their gift card balance before they expire.

 Consumer Confidence: "Consumer Spending Will Continue to Support Economic Growth Through First Half" -The headline number of 130.7 was a slight increase from the final reading of 130.4 for January. Today's number was below the consensus of 132.0.“Consumer confidence improved slightly in February, following an increase in January,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators. “Despite the decline in the Present Situation Index, consumers continue to view current conditions quite favorably. Consumers’ short-term expectations improved, and when coupled with solid employment growth, should be enough to continue to support spending and economic growth in the near term.” Read more   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.For an additional perspective on consumer attitudes, see the most recent Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index. Here is the chart from that post.

P&G expects coronavirus outbreak to hit current-quarter revenue, profit (Reuters) - Procter & Gamble Co (PG.N) said on Thursday its current-quarter revenue and profit would take a hit from supply chain disruptions and weak demand due to the coronavirus outbreak in China, the consumer goods company’s second-biggest market. The epidemic, which originated in China’s Hubei province and has claimed more than 2,000 lives, has raised concerns on its economic fallout stretching further into 2020, as companies have been forced to shut stores and curtail manufacturing in the critical market. The company’s supply side has come under pressure, as it relies on 387 suppliers in China that ship more than 9,000 different materials, impacting about 17,600 different finished product items. “Each of these suppliers faces their own challenges in resuming operations,” Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller said in a presentation at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference. P&G also said store traffic was considerably down in China and had fallen in other Asian countries as well. “Some of the demand has shifted online, but supply of delivery operators and labor is limited,” Moeller added. The company, which reaffirmed its full-year targets, did not provide financial estimates for the hit it would take in the quarter ending March

U.S. Car Industry Most Reliant On Chinese Parts - As the COVID-19 crisis drags on, the epidemic’s economic impact is starting to be felt around the world. Due to China’s role in the global economy, the prolonged standstill in the country has the potential to disrupt supply chains for several key industries, including electronics, chemicals and automobiles. Considering that Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicenter, is often referred to as “China’s Motor City”, Statista's Felix Richter notes that the automotive sector is among the industries most exposed to the negative impact of the virus. Not only will Chinese production suffer a significant hit due to extended shutdowns, but many manufacturers around the world who rely on Chinese parts are facing production outages."It only takes one missing part to stop a line," Mike Dunne, an industry consultant formerly heading GM’s operations in Indonesia, told CNN.Last week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) said it would be temporarily halting production at a plant in Kragujevac, Serbia due to a lack of parts from China, while Hyundai and Renault have done the same in South Korea.China is among the world’s largest suppliers of car parts, exporting motor vehicle parts and accessories worth $34.8 billion in 2018, according to the UN’s Comtrade database. As the following chart shows, the U.S. car industry is theoretically most at risk of production outages as it relies heavily on parts sourced from China. It remains to be seen how significant the impact of the epidemic on the global car industry will be, as it depends on how quickly the flow of components from Chinese suppliers can return to the required level. While automakers are gradually reopening factories across the country, those plants located in and around Wuhan remain closed for the time being.

Unsold Class 8 Inventories Balloon To Second Highest In Industry History - The Class 8 market, which experienced a slowdown for almost all of 2019, still looks to be in trouble. The ratio of retail sales to inventories in January for the heavy duty trucks remains elevated at the second highest in industry history. This makes production cuts the next obvious move for the industry. The inventory-to-sales numbers help present a picture of the health of the heavy-truck industry. Sales of Class 8 trucks are expected to drop 33% this year compared to last year. Inventories remain high due to sluggish retail sales, despite "analysts" perpetually claiming that the industry is in good shape, just as they did throughout 2019 as orders fell all year long compared to 2018's robust order numbers. Kenny Vieth, ACT president and senior analyst, told FreightWaves that the number of trucks being built per day compared to the industry's order backlog continues to paint the picture of an industry in "good shape". Inventory of Class 8 trucks was up 3,400 units in January over December 2019, as production outpaced sales. The inventory-to-sales ratio in January was 3.9 months, second only to the 4.4 month print from April 2009. An ideal ratio is between 2 to 2.5 months. Companies like PACCAR Inc., who owns Peterbilt Motors and Kenworth Truck Co., are trying to address this issue. CEO Preston Feight said on the company's January 28th conference call: “We make sure that what we’re building has a customer name on it, so we’ve been able to adjust our build rates to align with our orders.”Vieth continued: “There comes a time in every cycle when the industry needs to start shedding inventory. High inventories were a positive contributor through most of 2018 and 2019. The total amount of inventory is going to be a headwind for production in 2020.”The U.S. tractor market, which accounts for 60% of heavy-duty truck sales, saw its inventory-to-sales ratio spike to 3.1 months from 2.5 months.

US Durable Goods Orders Show 6th Straight Month Of Annual Declines Following December's surprise jump, Durable Goods Orders were expected to slide in January, and preliminary data shows they did but only -0.2% MoM (considerably better than the -1.4% expectation). However, durable goods orders are still down 2.3% YoY - in contraction for 8 of the last 9 months... Durable Goods Orders (ex-Transport) surged 0.9% MoM (much better than expected 0.2%), but YoY remains in contraction... Charts Source: Bloomberg. Additionally, core capital goods orders, which exclude aircraft and military hardware, jumped 1.1% after a 0.5% decline the prior month that was less than initially estimated The headline durable-goods figure was depressed by the volatile transportation category, reflecting weak bookings for motor vehicles. One surprise was a surge in orders of civilian aircraft and parts, considering Boeing Co. on Feb. 11 said it received no aircraft orders in January. Defense capital- goods orders dropped 39.8% after an 87.4% surge in December. Of course, none of this matters as it prints before the virus impact.

Dallas Fed: "Texas Manufacturing Expansion Continues" --  From the Dallas Fed: Texas Manufacturing Expansion Continues: Growth in Texas factory activity accelerated further in February, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, rose six points to 16.4, suggesting stronger output growth than last month. Other measures of manufacturing activity pointed to continued expansion in February, though demand growth decelerated. The new orders index fell nine points to 8.4, down from a 15-month high in January but still slightly above average. Similarly, the growth rate of orders index fell but remained above average, edging down from 6.1 to 3.6. The capacity utilization and shipments indexes held steady at 11.3 and 8.5, respectively. Perceptions of broader business conditions were slightly more optimistic in February. The general business activity index edged up to 1.2 and the company outlook index ticked up to 3.6, though both readings remain slightly below average. The index measuring uncertainty regarding companies’ outlooks moved up eight points to 11.0 after receding in the prior two months. Labor market measures suggested flat employment levels and slightly longer workweeks this month. The employment index stayed near zero for a second month in a row, coming in at -0.9.  Another soft report from the Dallas Fed.

Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Softened in February- From the Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Softened in February Fifth District manufacturing activity softened in February, according to the most recent survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index fell from 20 in January to −2 in February. All three components of the composite index — shipments, new orders, and employment — moved lower from January. Firms also reported a decrease in backlog of orders. Still, the index for local business conditions remained positive, and manufacturers were optimistic that activity would improve in the coming months.Survey results suggest that firms saw continued growth in employment and wages in February. However firms continued to struggle to find workers with the  necessary skills, as this index dropped to −35.

 Kansas City Fed: "Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Increased Modestly" in February - From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Increased Modestly The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the February Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity increased modestly,reaching positive territory for the first time in eight months.“Regional factory activity finally expanded again in February,” said Wilkerson. “This was despite over 40 percent of firms reporting some negative effect from the spread of coronavirus so far in 2020.”...The month-over-month composite index was 5 in February, higher than -1 in January and -5 in December. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. The increase in district manufacturing activity was driven by both durable and non-durable goods plants, particularly food and transportation equipment producers. Most month-over-month indexes moved into positive territory in February, with many reaching their highest levels in over a year. However, the order backlog and employment indexes continued to fall. Year-over-year factory indexes rebounded strongly, with the composite index jumping from -7 to 5. The future composite index remained solid, inching slightly higher from 14 to 16. This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for February.Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index: The New York and Philly Fed surveys are averaged together (yellow, through February), and five Fed surveys are averaged (blue, through February) including New York, Philly, Richmond, Dallas and Kansas City. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) PMI (red) is through January (right axis). Based on these regional surveys, it seems likely the ISM manufacturing index will increase further in February.

February 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. 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. 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 February is 5.8, up from the previous month's 2.7. 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.

Trend Deviation in Freight Transportation - Menzie Chinn - Freight movement as measured by the BTS Freight Transportation Services index is down, relative to trend. Figure 1: BTS Freight Transportation Services Index, in logs, HP filtered (blue), and Hamilton filtered, using two years lead-lag span (red). NBER defined recession dates shaded gray. Source: BTS via FRED, author’s calculations. January figures are not out yet, but if the Cass Freight System numbers are any guide, they will show a decline (I use a first diffs log specification between the BTS series and CPI deflated expenditures series to predict January). Figure 2: BTS Freight Transportation Services Index, in logs (light blue), and estimated (blue square).  January based on first differences regression on Cass deflated expenditures index. Source: BTS, Cass Freight Systems, via FRED, author’s calculations. These trends are consistent with decreased movement in goods that is associated with the manufacturing sector recession, as well as the decrease in international trade. I do not think the impact of Covid-19 should be showing up much even in the January estimate.

Boeing Finds Fuel-Tank Debris in Two-Thirds of 737 MAX Jets Inspected - WSJ - Boeing Co. has found debris inside the fuel tanks of about two-thirds of undelivered 737 MAX jets inspected so far, according to federal and aviation-industry officials, indicating a bigger production-related problem than the company previously suggested. The revelation comes as the plane maker struggles to restore public and airline confidence in the grounded fleet.The scale of the problem, previously unreported, points to wider quality issues that have bedeviled the aerospace giant..

General Motors receives 75 percent local tax abatement for Lordstown battery plant - General Motors will receive a 75 percent local tax abatement over 15 years for a new battery plant next to the shuttered Lordstown Assembly Plant in northeast Ohio. The historic Lordstown plant, which operated for 50 years, was one of four US facilities shuttered by the company last year. The closures were ratified by a sellout contract engineered behind closed doors with the United Auto Workers, which was forced through after the 40-day strike last year by nearly 50,000 GM workers. In order to save face and shield itself from media criticism, GM sold the Lordstown plant to a startup, Lordstown Motors, which hopes to eventually use the site to manufacture electric trucks. However, the company has never manufactured a single car and these plans may never come to fruition. The new battery plant will employ only 1,100 workers, a quarter of the more than 4,000 who once worked at the Lordstown plant. The plant, which GM will jointly operate with the Korean company LG Chem, will operate on a separate UAW contract making poverty wages of between $15 and $17 per hour. Moreover, the new plant is not scheduled to come online until 2022. However, as is the norm for investments by major US companies, the project was contingent upon extracting massive tax breaks from the local government. The Village of Lordstown government is already hurting from loss of tax revenue stemming from the closure of the assembly plant last year. It is unclear from reports what the ultimate dollar value of the tax abatement is expected to be, but it will easily be in the millions. The overall cost to build the new plant is $2.3 billion. Under state law, a tax abatement of this magnitude requires approval from the local school board, which has been provided. The local government is asking the school district to cede to it its share of the income tax revenues from the new plant, expected to be $450,000 per year.

 Water shutoffs continue in Detroit in the face of growing opposition - Some 141,000 Detroit residences have had their water shut off since 2014, according to water records obtained by Bridge Magazine through the Freedom of Information Act. This figure corresponds to the payments collection campaign initiated after the July 18, 2013 Detroit bankruptcy filing. In 2019 alone, water was cut off for 23,500 Detroit residences that were in arrears on their payments. As many as 9,500 still remain disconnected. Each year a similar number of homes are cut off in a calculated effort to force impoverished residents to come up with enough cash to get their faucets turned back on. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, an affordable water bill is about 4.5 percent of a household’s monthly income. A recent University of Michigan study revealed that the average low-income Detroit household pays 10 percent of its income, or $45 a month more than it can afford. Keeping the water running often requires sacrificing other necessities such as gas, electricity or food. The payment assistance plan offered by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) is onerous. It is called the 10/30/50 plan. Water can be reconnected with payment of as little as 10 percent of back debt, but the balance is then added to newly-incurred water bills and spread over six to 24 months, depending on the total owed. Any failure to make regular payments raises the down payment to 30 percent the next time and 50 percent for a third reconnection. Nearly 40 percent of Detroit household incomes are below the official poverty line. As a result, the city’s policy of water shutoffs drives a large part of the population into an unhealthy and demeaning cycle of scrambling just to provide running water, electricity and heat for their families.

New Mexico Attorney General Sues Google Over Kiddie Privacy -  by Jerri-Lynn Scofield - New Mexico attorney general (AG) Hector Balderas sued Google last week for violating children’s privacy, presenting claims under the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and New Mexico’s Unfair Practices Act. See the complaint here. “Google has infiltrated more than half the nation’s primary- and secondary-schools by offering a“free” web-based service called G Suite for Education,” according to the AG’s complaint. The NY Times notes that Google has emerged as the top tech brand in schools, toping rivals Apple and Microsoft, by offering a suite of cheap, user-friendly tools, according to New Mexico Sues Google Over Children’s Privacy Violations.  From the complaint: Google has deliberately deceived parents and teachers about Google’s commitment to children’s privacy. In direct contradiction of its numerous assurances that it would protect children’s privacy, Google has used Google Education to spy on New Mexico children and their families by collecting troves of personal information, including:

  • their physical locations;
  • websites they visit;
  • every search term they use in Google’s search engine (and the results they click on);
  • the videos they watch on YouTube;
  • personal contact lists;
  • voice recordings;
  • saved passwords; and
  • other behavioural information.

Oops! Don’t be evil indeed! Until 2014, Google also mined students’ email accounts. The complaint minced no words on the seriousness of the privacy violations:  These privacy concerns – and the effects of Google’s misrepresentations and exploitation of information asymmetry between itself, on one hand, and parents and teachers, on the other – cannot be overstated. While Google publicly positions Google Education as a benign tool that is an answer to resource-deprived schools nationwide, it secretly uses Google Education as a means to monitor children while they browse the Internet, including in their private homes, on their private computers and phones, and on their private networks.This is particularly concerning considering that teenagers turn to the Internet to search for  issues they otherwise would be too embarrassed or afraid to ask  friends, parents, or relatives, such as general health information, sex education, diet advice, how to deal with bullying, anxiety and depression, puberty, and more. In fact, as many as four out of five teenagers turn to the Internet to learn about health information, such as anxiety, ADHD, and sexually transmitted diseases. As Vox reports in Google’s education tech has a privacy problem:  “Google has used this access to collect massive quantities of data from young children not to benefit the schools you have contracted with, but to benefit Google’s own commercial interests.”

Video shows Florida school police officer boasting after arresting six-year-old - Video was released Monday of the arrest of Kaia Rolle, a six-year-old student who was charged with battery and taken to a juvenile facility where she was fingerprinted and had her mugshot taken in September 2019. According to her grandmother, Rolle suffers from sleep apnea and was acting out of frustration when she struck her teachers at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, a charter school in Orlando, Florida. The video from a police body camera shows Rolle seated and listening calmly to a teacher while they wait for the officers to arrive. Dennis Turner, a police officer employed by Nixon Academy as a school resource officer (SRO), and another police officer arrived with zip ties to restrain the young girl’s arms and trundle her away in a waiting police SUV. Rolle cried out for help and broke into tears after Tuner affirmed that the ties were for her and the accompanying officer bound her arms together, her wrists too small and delicate for handcuffs. “I don’t want to go in a police car,” she sobbed, “Please, give me a second chance.” Turner bragged to school administrators that he had made more than 6,000 arrests over the course of his career, including a child as young as seven for shoplifting. Informed that Rolle was only six, Turner boasted that she had “broken the record” for the youngest person he had ever arrested. On the same day, Turner also arrested an eight-year-old student at Nixon Academy. It has also come to light that Turner has had a long record of violence. In 1998, he was charged with aggravated child abuse after beating his seven-year-old son. The child had “welts and bruises” on his torso and arms, and had reportedly received the beating after bringing home low test scores.

Children Detained in America's Prisons are Charged for Underwear, Food, Books, Even Family Visits - I teach minors who are incarcerated in the adult jail in Pima County, Arizona.A few weeks ago, a 17-year-old-girl arrived. As introduced myself, I noticed that she did not seem comfortable in her fluorescent green smock and pants. Though they were probably two sizes too big for her, she seemed to be holding them close to her small frame. She's not the first female student we've had, so I knew I had to ask an uncomfortable question: "Do you have underwear?" I spoke low, trying not to let my voice carry to the rest of the unit; its current occupants: 37 teenage boys."No," she whispered, "I don't have a bra, either." The police took it when she was arrested because it had an underwire. It and her underwear went into storage with the rest of her property. This county jail does not issue bras or underwear for free, not even to minors.Assuming someone would put money on her account, she'd be able to order both—underwear cost $3.25 a pair and a bra costs $13.50. Once the money was credited to her account, it would take three to five days to order them and another four to get them.Luckily for her, I found a sports bra and some too-big underwear in a pile of items I had in my office, but this no solution for the minors who have to pay for items like bras, socks and even for video visits with their friends or families. A single 25 minute visit costs $7.50 or $16.50 for 55 minutes.States like California passed a ban for-profit, private prison and detention centers to reduce the amount of money private companies make from housing prisoners. Yet, child (and adult) inmates across the country are, along with their families, bearing more and more of the costs of incarceration—even when it comes to bare necessities like toilet paper or feminine hygiene supplies. The U.S. charges 250,000 U.S. youth a year as adults. Their cases are processed in adult court and they often await adjudication in an adult jail. These kids bear the financial and psychological costs of jail. Not yet convicted, though likely already traumatized, they face all of the punitive aspects of incarceration, with little access to rehabilitative programs or to even relatively basic amenities at a reasonable cost. For the families of kids in jail the monetary costs add up fast. The psychological ones may last a lifetime. Imagine what happens to a kid—maybe your kid—for whom the cost of communication with family or other support is prohibitively expensive?

There’s Money in Starting School Later in the Day - (Dr Aaron Carroll, video) Last week we talked about why pushing school start times back to later in the morning is good for students. There’s also an economic argument for it. Today, Aaron talks about how starting school later in the day benefits the economy in the long run. This video was adapted from a column Aaron wrote for the Upshot. Sources can be found there.

Girl Who Sued To Stop Biological Males From Running Girls' Track Defeats Trans-Runner For Championship -It was only two days after filing a lawsuit against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) that Chelsea Mitchell made a much bigger statement than one she could have made in the courtroom.  She had sued because the CIAC was permitting biological males to compete in women's sports, leading one trans runner to win "numerous titles" in women's events, according to The Daily Wire.   So Mitchell decided not just to make a statement in court - but also to make one on the track. She defeated trans runner Terry Miller in the Class S 55-meter dash with a time of 7.18 seconds in the state championships.“Mitchell also came first in the 300-meter dash, while Miller was 16th, and Mitchell won the long jump,” according to The Daily Mail. The Class S girls 55 meter state championship goes to Canton senior Chelsea Mitchell, who edged out defending champ Terry Miller of Bloomfield. #cttrack— Shawn McFarland (@McFarland_Shawn) February 14, 2020And there didn't appear to be any pleasantries exchanged between the two runners after the race, either. The Harford Courant stated: “There was no interaction between the two before or after the race.” Mitchell didn't think her win could negatively affect her lawsuit: “I don’t think it could go against, there’s still tons of girls that lose on a daily basis,” she said. Mitchell is currently ranked the fastest biological girl in Connecticut and had lost four girls' state championships and two all New England awards to the males.

Hundreds of San Diego teachers slated to receive layoff notices due to $30 million budget deficit - Hundreds of teachers in San Diego, California’s Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) will receive pink slips in March due to a $30 million budget deficit for the 2020-2021 school year. Last Friday, District Superintendent Dr. Karen Janney released the proposal to issue approximately 237 layoff notices to teachers and staff in addition to closing all learning centers throughout the district. There are 1,500 teachers, 40,000 students and 22,000 adult learners in the district. Janney will ask the board of trustees at a board meeting tonight to approve the closures and layoffs. Large number of educators, students and parents are expected to protest the cuts prior to the meeting and during public comments. In an undemocratic move aimed at stifling opposition, the board has pushed any discussion of the layoffs and budget cuts down to the 43rd agenda item in the 45-point meeting, which could run well past 11pm. Once the layoffs are approved, teachers and staff will receive Reduction in Force (RIF) layoff notices on March 15. These teachers will remain on the job through the end of the current school year but will be told not to return the following year. Those being axed include all 23 librarians in the district. Another 32 teachers attached to alternative education learning centers would be cut under the superintendent’s plant which would close all 12 centers by July 2020. The learning centers provide alternative services for the most vulnerable students, including those with mental or behavioral issues, homeless students, pregnant students and others who need an alternative setting to complete classes and graduate high school. About 1,300 students attend the learning centers and approximately 800 of those students receive a high school diploma each year. The district plans on placing those students on “Independent Study,” a system that limits communication between students and teachers. The cumulative effect of these closures and layoffs will prove to be disastrous and drastically undermine the ability to provide high quality public education to students. In addition to eliminating the livelihoods for hundreds of teachers and staff, the slated budget cuts will continue to place a heavy burden on existing teachers and staff. Remaining teachers will face higher class sizes with an increased population of special education students in general education classrooms, class schedules will be uncertain and chaotic for weeks at the beginning of the school year and school sites will rely on substitute teachers to fill in for cut positions.

San Diego educators and students protest devastating layoffs, program closures  On Monday, over 500 teachers, staff, students, and parents protested outside Chula Vista Middle School in San Diego, California, where a district school board meeting was held to push through 237 layoffs and cuts to vital programs in the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) along the US/Mexico border. The layoff item was initially buried in the evening’s agenda to item 43 out of 45 in a bureaucratic attempt to ensure as few people would be in physical attendance to witness and protest the cuts which were passed around 11:30 PM. When the board realized hundreds were lining up for public comment, they pushed the agenda item to the beginning. While many still remained in the audience late into the night, an additional 700 viewers watched the meeting which was streamed online. The Board of Trustees voted 3-2 to approve the plan proposed by Superintendent Dr. Karen Janney to issue 237 pink slips, or layoff notices, to teachers and staff by March 15, as well as close all learning centers in the district effective July 2020. The layoffs include 182 full-time teachers, 20 counselors, 23 librarians, nine school site management positions, and 12 learning centers that serve around 1,300 at-risk students. The district claims that the proposed cuts to staff and closure of the learning centers will amount to $20 million of the $30 million needed to cover the budget deficit for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. The district is hoping to negotiate with the unions the remaining annual deficit through cuts to teachers’ wages with a proposed 7 furlough days in the upcoming year.

Four months before 2020 contract fight: Detroit schools superintendent tells teachers “no increases” - “There can be no re-occurring increases beyond this year,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told Detroit public school teachers, whose contract expires June 30. But while the political establishment claims that there is “no money” to fund public schools, the Detroit-based automakers have received billions of dollars in local tax concessions, even after ten years of record profits. Vitti threw down the gauntlet as negotiations begin on a new three-year deal between the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) and three unions, the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT), the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees (DAEOE) and the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals (DFP). The unions, with 6,000 members combined, are jointly bargaining for the first time. However, these contract talks will cover only a portion of teachers in the city. Nearly half of Detroit students attend privately operated but publicly funded charter schools, many of which are for-profit, and almost all of which are nonunion. Former US Secretary of Education under Obama, Arne Duncan, proclaimed Detroit “ground zero” in school “reform,” as managers shut schools and turned them into charters. In 2015-16, Detroit teachers organized rolling wildcat “sickouts” in defiance of the unions and Democratic Party officials, drawing worldwide attention to filthy, rodent-infested and crumbling classrooms in the city. Organizing independently across social media, the educators also highlighted the years of attacks on educators’ living standards under various Emergency Managers imposed by both Democrats and Republicans.

Ontario’s education unions “suspend” most job actions - In the wake of last Friday’s powerful one-day walkout of 200,000 Ontario teachers and support staff, the province’s education unions have moved to shut down future job actions and divide workers along sectional lines. Terrified by the mass mobilization of education workers and the broad support they enjoy within the population, the unions’ have renewed their efforts to reach a “compromise” with Trump wannabe Doug Ford and his hard-right Tory government—that is to derail the fight against austerity and impose concession-laden agreements. In a cynical maneuver aimed at disguising that it is demobilizing teachers, the 83,000-member Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) released a statement Monday that sought to give the impression it was expanding the struggle. The union is “moving to Phase 6” of its strike plan, proclaimed the statement. But it then went on to explain that under “Phase 6” the ETFO—which had been holding a day of province-wide strike and a day of rotating regional walkouts each week since the beginning of February—is suspending all job action until at least March 9. Similarly, citing the prospect of fresh talks with the government, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) has announced the cancellation of previously-announced regional rotating strikes this week at dozens of school boards across the province. The sole pretext for this move was a worthless assurance from the mediator that “meaningful” discussions will take place between the OECTA and the government. Not to be outdone in the speed of their sabotage of the growing movement for an all-out strike, the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants ontariens, which represents the 12,000 teachers at the province’s French-language school boards, announced Tuesday the cancellation of a province-wide strike planned for today. In a province where long winters and sub-zero temperatures are an annual occurrence, the union sought to justify its move by citing a forecast of “inclement weather” Thursday. However, it does not appear that the expected snowfall will stop the resumption of the union’s talks with the Ford government tomorrow.

Hot Pockets heiress faces sentencing in U.S. college admissions scandal -   Michelle Janavs is set to appear in Boston federal court after admitting to taking part in a vast U.S. college admissions cheating and fraud scheme to help her daughters gain an unfair advantage. Prosecutors are seeking 21 months in prison for Janavs, who pleaded guilty in October. Her lawyers argue Janavs deserves probation. She is among 53 people charged with participating in a scheme in which wealthy parents conspired with a California college admissions consultant to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of their children to top schools. William “Rick” Singer, the consultant, pleaded guilty in March to charges he facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and helped bribe sports coaches at universities to present his clients’ children as fake athletic recruits. The 36 parents charged since March 2019 include “Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman, was sentenced in September to 14 days in prison, and “Full House” star Lori Loughlin, who is fighting the charges. Janavs is a former executive at Chef America Inc, a closely-held food manufacturer co-founded by her father that created the microwave snack line Hot Pockets before being sold to Nestle SA for $2.6 billion in 2002. Prosecutors said Janavs paid Singer $100,000 to have an associate take the ACT entrance exam at a test center Singer controlled through bribery in place of her two daughters in order to inflate their scores.  Prosecutors said Janavs also agreed to pay $200,000 to facilitate the admission of one of her daughters at USC by bribing an athletics official at the school to designate her as a beach volleyball recruit.

Nashville art school students, alumni oppose takeover by Christian college - The proposed takeover of the 130-year-old Watkins College of Art by Belmont University, a private non-denominational Christian university, is still being fought by Watkins faculty, staff and students. The announcement of the planned merger of the two institutions, both located in Nashville, Tennessee, came late last month without any discussions with Watkins faculty, staff and students. Watkins staff would lose their jobs without any severance package in place. Faculty might be offered jobs at Belmont but would face the job requirement that they be Christians and be prepared to sign an affidavit of faith. Many if not most students were dismayed at the prospect of a Belmont-controlled school of arts where their work would be circumscribed by conservative religious thinking and they would be required to take two semesters studying the Bible. “I have heard in their live drawing classes models have to wear complete body suits which is ridiculous to me because in the Vatican there are a bunch of naked bodies,” Watkins alumna Jessica Yohn said. Yohn was one of dozens of people who attended “Watkins: The Other Side of the Story,” a pop-up art exhibit Saturday evening at Nashville’s Sevier Park organized to protest the takeover. “What’s at stake is the Watkins community we are losing here, and I have a lot of anger and frustration with the board of trustees for their lack of transparency,” Yohn continued. “One of the major issues here, this merger—better to call it an absorption because this is not really a merging—it did not give anyone a chance who would be affected personally to say something and it has—what’s the word I’m looking for?—capitalist undertones.” “The lack of transparency coupled with the fact that real estate deals are already discussed as per the sale of Watkins is misleading, corrupt, and disgusting,” Amanda Sledge commented in an online petition—now with more than 5,000 signatures—opposing the merger.

Students At Elite Law Schools Demand Increased Sexual Harassment Protections For Federal Clerks There’s a real problem in the federal judiciary. Whether you look at disgraced retired judge Alex Kozinski, who was accused of pernicious sexual harassmentin 2017; the resignation of district court judge Carlos Murguia, who wasreprimanded for his “inappropriate behavior”; the stymied inquiry into Kavanaugh’s behavior which disappearedbecause he left the D.C. Circuit when he got elevated to the Supreme Court; or the powerful testimony of Olivia Warren, who detailed the sexual harassment and abuse she was subjected to during her tenure at the Ninth Circuit by the late Judge Stephen Reinhardt, it is clear the legal industry needs to do something.The lifetime appointments of federal judges — and the inevitable power they wield, particularly for those that envision a career in the upper echelons of the profession, is enormous. So even in the face of sexual harassment allegations, the actual consequences for misconduct in the federal judiciary will be remains uncertain. The Judicial Conference working group focused on misconduct reforms was formed two years ago, and though they’ve released a report on how to change policies, actual change for clerks and other court employees on the ground hasn’t been realized.Now law students from some of the best law schools in the country are urging something concrete be done about the ongoing problem. Yesterday, the Harvard Women’s Law Association, Stanford Law School for Gender Violence Prevention, Women of Stanford Law, Yale Law Women, and the Yale Law School Title IX Working Group, and the national law student group, People’s Parity Project, signed a letter to the Judicial Conference asking for specific reforms, specifically: publicly reported federal judiciary “climate surveys,” expanding the Office of Judicial Integrity, centralized employment discrimination responses for federal judges, and information-sharing between law schools and the federal judiciary for reports of judicial misconduct.And they want it quickly, because they’re frustrated with the thus far slow response to the problem:

UC-Santa Cruz grad students continue wildcat strikes - University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC) graduate teaching assistants (TAs) entered their third week of wildcat strikes this week. At a general assembly meeting last Friday, students voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike and defy an administration ultimatum to submit final grades for Fall 2019, which 200 graduate teaching assistants have been withholding since December. The grading strike grew into a full-blown wildcat strike on February 10, in defiance of the no-strike clause and poverty wages included in the contract negotiated by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union last year. The strikers’ central demand is a substantial cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) of $1,412 per month to offset crushing rent burdens, currently over 50 percent of most graduate students’ salaries in one of the most expensive areas of the country. In the face of the popular support for the students, UC President Janet Napolitano decided not to enforce her threat to fire the grad students if they didn’t submit grades last Friday and has moved the deadline for strikers to end their action to this Thursday. Demonstrations and assembly meetings are set to continue throughout the week at UCSC with another “Doomsday” rally on Thursday. If Napolitano goes through with her threat to fire the strikers, hundreds of UCSC TAs have pledged to withhold Spring 2020 quarter grades and refuse any new TA appointments. Last Friday also saw solidarity actions spread to nearly all of the nine other campuses in the University of California system. Hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students and faculty throughout the state and nearly 1,000 protesters at UCSC marched in opposition to Napolitano’s threat to terminate striking TAs. Graduate students across the state have also taken up the COLA demand at their own campuses. UC graduate students also plan to demonstrate in Los Angeles, Davis, Merced, Irvine and San Diego. Following a general assembly meeting on Monday, grad student TAs at UC Santa Barbara formally voted to approve a one-day wildcat strike on Thursday to demand their own COLA increase of $1,800 per month.

 Grad student strike spreads to two more University of California campuses - On Thursday, hundreds of graduate students at the University of California (UC) in the cities of Santa Barbara and Davis officially began their strikes, joining the wildcat strike launched by graduate students at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) three weeks ago on February 10. The decision to spread the strike to two more campuses was in direct defiance of the UC administration, which set Thursday midnight as the deadline to submit grades or be fired, and the United Auto Workers (UAW), which negotiated a no-strike pledge in the poverty-wage contract students are working under. Strikers at UCSC defied the previous deadline of Friday, February 21 by UCSC Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer and UC President Janet Napolitano. These university executives have threatened to fire striking grad students, opening up international students to deportation, and have refused to grant any improvements in the contract because that would “undercut the very foundation of an agreement negotiated in good faith by the UAW.” Instead, the university proposed a one-time $2,500 housing supplement for this year only if students ended the strike. The UCSC graduate students have held by their demand of a $1,412 monthly COLA to adequately meet skyrocketing housing costs since they first began their grading strike last semester that expanded into a full teaching and research strike this month. The strikes on other campuses have begun with demands for monthly stipends of $1,553 at UC Davis and $1,807 at UC Santa Barbara. Yesterday’s rallies and picket lines attracted large crowds of up to a thousand at their peak. Over 200 faculty members at UC Davis have signed a non-retaliation agreement, promising to support the striking grad students while they refrain from teaching classes, taking part in their own classes, and submitting grades. As the support increases, the financial and Democratic Party establishment that backs the UAW and UC administration will work even harder to end, isolate and sabotage their struggle. The strike is approaching a crossroads, and graduate students must consider what strategy is required to defend the strike and win their demands. The fight for the basic right to livable pay, benefits, and high-quality public education is not just a fight of UC graduate students, but a fight of the whole working class. Further, this fight immediately places workers against the political establishment, particularly the Democratic Party, which has controlled the UC system through appointments to the board of regents.

WSJ Misleads Its Readers, Defends Big-Government on Student Loans - The Wall Street Journal editors recently published an editorial, The Great Student Loan Write-Down, in which they cite a recent Congressional Budget Office report claiming the government is going to be forgiving over $200 Billion in student loan debt over the next decade. They also cites another CBO report which uses so-called “fair value” accounting to claim the government will be losing $11 Billion from the lending system over roughly the next decade. Judging from the angry vitriol in the comments under this editorial, the WSJ certainly succeeded in awakening the indignation of its conservative readership. The astonishing truth is the assumptions upon which the WSJ and the CBO reports are resting their claims on are false. In fact, the opposite of what they are claiming is true. WSJ readers, and the public at large should be very concerned by what follows. Past the leap, IBRs and “fair value” costing. First, the government and its contractors are disqualifying the overwhelming majority of borrowers from participation in income-driven repayment programs. For example, we know that over 99% of the people who applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness have been rejected to date. These borrowers aren’t getting their loans forgiven, instead most are now stuck with debts far larger than what they if they never tried for the forgiveness promised in the first place. Similarly, we now know 57% of the people enrolled in IBR were being disqualified out of the program as of 2015 for administrative reasons related to income verification, and an annual burdensome process the Department of Education could easily do through the IRS, but doesn’t. This is only one of a myriad of ways borrowers are kicked out of these programs. It will be astonishing if even 10% of the people in IBR actually make it through. Second: The CBO uses a deeply flawed “fair-value” accounting method which erroneously over-estimates the government’s costs for the federal loan program. Fair value accounting, in principle, is a straightforward process where one looks to private markets (if they exist) to arrive at a reasonable, market value of an asset. For federal student loans, there is indeed a mature, stable market where federal student loans are bought and sold. Fair value accounting rules require that this market be used as a benchmark for pricing the government’s loans. The CBO does not do this. Instead they break the first rule of FVA and use private student loans as a benchmark. What is most baffling: They don’t even look at the private loan securities market, they instead consider only the interest rates of the loans. “Private student loans” are typically a loan of “last-resort” for students who have already reached their borrowing limits on federal loans. As such, these loans have significantly higher interest rates. Also, the size of the private student loan market is only about a tenth the size of the federal loan portfolio. The CBO goes on to discount the value of the federal loan portfolio based upon the large difference in interest rates, and uses this result to claim that rather than making a profit on federal student loans, the government is losing money on the federal loan program.

Discover's student loan-servicing actions investigated by CFPB - Discover Financial Services is being investigated by a federal regulator over student loan-servicing practices and its compliance with a 2015 consent order involving the business.Discover is cooperating with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to its annual regulatory filing posted Wednesday. The lender said it is enhancing the compliance plan it submitted to the CFPB in response to the consent order. Discover in 2015 agreed to refund $16 million to consumers and pay a $2.5 million fine to resolve allegations of illegal loan-servicing practices. The CFPB said at the time that the bank overstated minimum amounts due on billing statements and denied consumers information needed to obtain income tax benefits.

Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million Images Into Public Domain -Smithsonian --The Smithsonian Institution is inviting the world to engage with its vast repository of resources like never before. For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose—be it a postcard, a beer koozie or apair of bootie shorts.And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting. “Being a relevant source for people who are learning around the world is key to our mission,” saysEffie Kapsalis, who is heading up the effort as the Smithsonian’s senior digital program officer. “We can’t imagine what people are going to do with the collections. We’re prepared to be surprised.”

Musicians Algorithmically Generate Every Possible Melody, Release Them to Public Domain  - Two programmer-musicians wrote every possible MIDI melody in existence to a hard drive, copyrighted the whole thing, and then released it all to the public in an attempt to stop musicians from getting sued.Programmer, musician, and copyright attorney Damien Riehl, along with fellow musician/programmer Noah Rubin, sought to stop copyright lawsuits that they believe stifle the creative freedom of artists.Often in copyright cases for song melodies, if the artist being sued for infringement could have possibly had access to the music they're accused of copying—even if it was something they listened to once—they can be accused of "subconsciously" infringing on the original content. One of the most notorious examples of this is Tom Petty's claim that Sam Smith's “Stay With Me” sounded too close to Petty's “I Won’t Back Down." Smith eventually had to give Petty co-writing credits on his own chart-topping song, which entitled Petty to royalties. Defending a case like that in court can cost millions of dollars in legal fees, and the outcome is never assured. Riehl and Rubin hope that by releasing the melodies publicly, they'll prevent a lot of these cases from standing a chance in court.

Medicare Could Use the VA’s Negotiation Results on Insulins and Other Drugs -- I am going to dispense with the reasoning dissing the increased pricing of Insulin and go straight to a pricing strategy. Suffice it to say, the various versions developed of Insulin do not justify the pricing increases seen today.Recently, Philip Longman (“Best Care Anywhere”) was advocating for Medicare pricing for everyone using commercial healthcare insurance. The only problem with this approach is we are not getting to the root cause of increasing prices for pharma, hospital supplies, and hospitals. Kocher and Berwick breached the same topic with their plan to transition from today’s Commercial Healthcare Insurance to Single Payer by reducing insurance premium growth rates – “limit hospital prices to Medicare prices plus 20 percent.” The authors of this particular article (originally in JAMA)  on Medicare advocate using VA Pricing for Insulin.  Further down is a second article taken from JAMA Network (which I have access to) advocating the use of VA pricing for orally-taken drugs also ands using an approved formulary.Talking about VA pricing for pharmacy after the leap.While government agencies in many countries negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies helping to drive down the costs of medicines, the U.S. has long adopted a free market attitude towards prescription drugs as well as other commercial products. Drug companies through PBMs negotiate costs and pricing with private insurance companies nationally to secure the best tier possible. Historically the largest buyer of drugs has been blocked by Congress to negotiate drug prices which leaves Medicare at a disadvantage. On the other hand, the VA receives a prescription drug discount, negotiates pricing, and creates a formulary to limit outpatient drug spending. In a JAMA Internal Medicine Research Letter, William Feldman, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and colleagues reported that if Medicare Part D negotiated drug prices like the VA and used the same formulary, the government could have saved up to $4.4 billion on insulin costs in 2017. I do not have access to the complete version of this letter other than a brief JAMA Editorial Content paragraph.

  Milk and Juice Are Not as Needed as You Might Think - Is there such a thing as a healthful beverage?  In truth, there’s not much of a health case to drink any beverage other than water after the age of 2 — despite the marketing and advertising you might have seen on the benefits of things like dairy milk, plant-based milks, juices and more.  All other mammals consume only two liquids over the course of their lives: breast milk and water. The evidence for telling humans that some beverages are necessary and that others should be avoided isn’t nearly as clear as many believe.  Last year, a group of leading health organizations released recommendations on what children should drink. They convened a panel and a scientific advisory committee. They pored over documents, studies and reports from all over the world. The undertaking was about as thorough as it could be. Yet the recommendations they released are still somewhat disputed.  For children above the age of 1, dairy milk is “recommended,” although the fat content and amount changes with age. Juice should be limited, the panel says. Pretty much everything else except water should be “avoided.” This includes all plant-based milks, unless necessary because of allergies. This also includes “toddler milk,” which has increased rapidly in popularity (it contains mostly powdered milk, corn syrup and vegetable oil).  But juice is not healthful. It’s full of sugar. A 12-ounce glass of apple juice has the same amount as a can of soda (grape juice has even more). It’s also a processed food. It contains no fiber and does nothing to sate you. It’s empty calories.

Two more flu-related deaths bring total to 16 in Cuyahoga County; this flu season worse than last - — The number of flu-related deaths this season, which is considered to be at its peak, has risen by two to 16 in Cuyahoga County. The deaths of a 33-year-old East Cleveland woman and a 79-year-old Lakewood woman were reported during the week ending Feb. 22, health officials said Friday. No further information on the people was released, due to federal privacy laws covering health information. The current flu season in Cuyahoga County is more severe than last year, with nearly double the number of deaths and flu-related hospitalizations. Last year, there were nine deaths and 667 flu-related hospitalizations by this date. Those numbers are much lower than the 1,496 hospitalizations for current flu cases reported so far, according to data compiled by the Cuyahoga County Health Department. "The (hospitalization) numbers are twice as high as last year at this point,” said Richard Stacklin, data analyst for the Cuyahoga County Health Department. The fact that influenza strains A and B both hit hard this season might be the reason for more deaths and hospitalizations, Stacklin said. Strain A and B are both in circulation now, leading to elevated flu activity for the past few weeks, Stacklin said. “Flu is hitting a lot of people, whether they are elderly or younger,” Stacklin said. .

Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report | CDC - Key indicators that track flu activity remain high but decreased for the second week in a row. Severity indicators (hospitalizations and deaths) remain moderate to low overall, but hospitalization rates differ by age group, with high rates among children and young adults. The percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza at clinical laboratories decreased from 29.7% last week to 26.4% this week. Numbers of influenza B/Victoria and A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses are approximately equal for the season overall, with continued increases in influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses in recent weeks. Visits to health care providers for influenza-like illness (ILI) decreased from 6.1% last week to 5.5% this week. All regions remain above their baselines. The overall cumulative hospitalization rate for the season increased to 52.7 per 100,000. The percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza is 6.9%, below the epidemic threshold of 7.3%. 20 influenza-associated pediatric deaths occurring during the 2019-2020 season were reported this week. The total for the season is 125. Key Points:

  • Outpatient ILI and clinical laboratory data remain elevated but decreased for the second week in a row. The percentage of specimens testing positive for both influenza A and influenza B viruses decreased.
  • Overall, hospitalization rates remain similar to this time during recent seasons, but rates among school aged children and young adults are higher at this time than in recent seasons and rates among children 0-4 years old are now the highest CDC has on record at this point in the season, surpassing rates reported during the second wave of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
  • Pneumonia and influenza mortality has been low, but 125 influenza-associated deaths in children have been reported so far this season. This number is higher for the same time period than in every season since reporting began in 2004-05, except for the 2009 pandemic.
  • CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 32 million flu illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths from flu.
  • Interim estimates of 2019-2020 flu vaccine effectiveness were released last week. So far this season, flu vaccines are reducing doctor’s visits for flu illness by 45% overall and 55% in children.

11 Of 13 People Quarantined At Nebraska Hospital Test Positive For Coronavirus -- The Nebraska Medical Center (NMC) is designated as one of the safest places in the United States, and possibly even the world, for people who are infected with rare illnesses.In fact, this is the same facility that American patients infected with Ebola were sent a few years back, and it is now the place where some of the first COVID-19 coronavirus patients are being treated in the midst of the most recent outbreak. The facility houses a special containment unit that is only used every few years and is specifically designed to handle patients inflicted with the most dangerous and deadly illnesses.The containment facility was built shortly after September 11, 2001, and the subsequent Anthrax scare, because US officials were concerned that there was no place to deal with sick patients who have been infected with a virus or other biological threat.13 Americans who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship where they were exposed to the new coronavirus were also taken to the containment facility at NMC. It was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today that 11 of those 13 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus.University of Nebraska Medical Center currently has ten people in the National Quarantine Unit while three are in the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit. Most people aren’t showing symptoms of the disease, however, several others are showing some minor symptoms, and at least two are extremely ill. A Nebraska Medicine spokesperson told reporters that anyone who has a positive test has to have two negative tests 24 hours apart before being released.

Don’t Send Them Here: Local Officials Resist Plans to House Coronavirus Patients NYT - The scramble to find places to quarantine American coronavirus patients is beginning to run into resistance from local officials who do not want the patients housed in their backyards.The city of Costa Mesa, Calif., has gone to court to block state and federal officials, at least temporarily, from placing dozens of people evacuated from Asia in a state-owned residential center in their community. A hearing on the issue in federal court is scheduled for 2 p.m. Pacific time on Monday.And Alabama officials have reacted with alarm to news that coronavirus patients could be sent as early as Wednesday to a Federal Emergency Management building on a former army base in Anniston, Ala., about 90 miles west of Atlanta.Uncertainty and distrust are stymieing federal attempts to plan for quarantining Americans who are infected with the coronavirus. At least 34 people in the United States have tested positive for the virus, most of them after traveling abroad, and the authorities have warned of the seriousness of the threat.So far, no one in the United States has died of the disease, and at least four patients in this country are said to have fully recovered. Yet local officials have expressed concerns that little is being done to prepare for a potential influx of patients, and that much is still unknown about the virus, which has killed at least 2,461 people, all but 19 of them in mainland China. “We’re a compassionate community,” said the city’s mayor, Katrina Foley. “But we are not going to continue to be the place where everybody drops off their crises and expects us to correct it.”The patients involved would be people now quarantined at Travis Air Force Base who have tested positive for the coronavirus but do not have severe symptoms requiring hospital care. Several people confirmed to have the virus are quarantined in their homes across the United States, but that is not an option for some, including people who do not live alone; the authorities are trying to find a secure place for them to stay. Wherever they go, they would be kept away from contact with the public until the danger of contagion passes.Local officials in Costa Mesa were told of the plan on Thursday night, and filed a request for an emergency injunction in federal court on Friday. The court issued a temporary injunction, pending the hearing on Monday, when a judge will consider whether to extend it.

Trump 'Furious' At Rogue Bureaucrats Who Let Coronavirus Patients Fly Home Without Telling Him - President Trump was reportedly livid after 14 Diamond Princess passengers infected with coronavirus were flown back to the United States without notifying him and against his wishes, according to the Washington Post. Trump and his coronavirus task force were told last Saturday that Americans quarantined for weeks aboard the luxury cruise ship would be brought home on two chartered planes, but that infected patients or those with symptoms would remain in Japan. That decision was overruled without Trump's knowledge, according to the report. Trump was briefed on the decision and agreed that healthy passengers should not be on the plane with sick ones, three senior administration officials said. But the State Department and a top U.S. health official ultimately decided to bring back the 14 Americans who tested positive for the virus on the planes and place them in isolation — without informing the president first.  Trump learned of the decision after the fact and was reportedly angry that he wasn't consulted first - as the decision "could damage his administration’s handling of the response," according to the report. "Some members of the task force were not told in advance that the infected people would be placed on the plane and learned that only after the plane was on its way back to the United States."  "It's important to remember this was an emerging and unusual circumstance," said Principal Deputy Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Ian Brownlee.  "We had 328 people on buses, a plan to execute and we received lab results on people who were otherwise asymptomatic, un-ill people on a bus on the way to the airport," he added. "The people on the ground did exactly the right bringing them home."

Coronavirus outbreak could cause shortages of 150 drugs: report --A worsening coronavirus outbreak reportedly could threaten shortages of about 150 prescription drugs, several of them with no alternatives. China’s role in supplying the ingredients used in medications means that decreased Chinese production capability amid the outbreaks could threaten supplies of the drugs, which include antibiotics, generics, and branded drugs, two sources familiar with a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) list of at-risk drugs told Axios. The FDA did not directly comment on the list but said it was "keenly aware that the outbreak could impact the medical product supply chain” and is working to identify potential vulnerabilities connected with it, according to Axios.The agency is also coordinating with other regulators such as the European Medicines Agency, and said that while no FDA-approved vaccines, blood derivatives or gene-therapies, it is monitoring any raw materials for such products manufactured in China and other southeastern Asian nations."If a potential shortage or disruption of medical products is identified by the FDA, we will use all available tools to react swiftly and mitigate the impact to U.S. patients and health care professionals," an FDA spokesperson told Axios. The Trump administration has assembled a task force to respond to the coronavirus, but FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn is not among its appointees.

CDC prepares for possibility coronavirus becomes a pandemic and businesses, schools need to be closed - U.S. health officials are preparing for the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has killed at least 2,249 people and sickened more than 76,700 worldwide, to become a pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. “We’re not seeing community spread here in the United States, yet, but it’s very possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call. “Our goal continues to be slowing the introduction of the virus into the U.S. This buys us more time to prepare communities for more cases and possibly sustained spread.”Messonnier said the CDC is working with state and local health departments “to ready our public health workforce to respond to local cases and the possibility this outbreak could become a pandemic.” The CDC is collaborating with supply chain partners, hospitals, pharmacies and manufacturers to understand what medical supplies are needed, she said.“This will help CDC understand when we may need to take more aggressive measures to ensure that health-care workers on the front lines have access to the supplies that they need,” she said. “We are reviewing all of our pandemic materials and adapting them to COVID-19.” Messonnier pointed to China, where schools and businesses have been shuttered for weeks to contain the outbreak there, saying the U.S. may eventually need to do the same.“The day may come where we may need to implement such measures in this country,” she said.

The coronavirus is picking up steam outside China, narrowing chances of eliminating it - Stat - There are worrying signs the coronavirus outbreak is entering a new phase, with spread outside of China — until recently at low levels — beginning to rapidly pick up steam. Experts point to the sharp rise of the number of cases in South Korea, which went from 30 on Monday to 204 by Friday, and in Italy, which had no cases at the start of Friday and 16 at the end of it. Five of the infected people in Italy are health workers. Iran — which began the week with no confirmed cases and ended it with 18, four of whom have already died — is a particular source of concern, having exported two cases within 36 hours of announcing it had found two patients infected with the virus. A traveler from Canada and another from Lebanon tested positive for the virus after returning home from Iran. The fact that Iran is already exporting cases suggests transmission there is far more widespread than the official numbers would indicate, said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy. “I think people are missing the importance of a case like the Canadian traveler to Iran,” he said, referring to a case reported by health officials in British Columbia on Thursday. “This tells us that there has to be a much larger number of people infected in Iran and we’re literally just detecting the tip of the iceberg.” Even Iranian health officials acknowledged that likelihood. “It’s possible that it exists in all cities in Iran,” health ministry official Minou Mohrez said, according to the official IRNA news agency.  Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, resisted the notion Friday that the outbreak was at a tipping point. But he did tell reporters that the “window of opportunity” to stop spread of the virus is shrinking. “Our window of opportunity is narrowing,” said Tedros, as he is known. “We need to act quickly before it closes completely.” The WHO has been seeking funding to help developing countries prepare to cope with the outbreak and has been urging countries to prepare their health systems to respond, if efforts to stop spread of the virus fail. “This outbreak could go in any direction. It could even be messy,” he warned. “What I’m saying is: It’s in our hands now. If we do well within the narrowing window of opportunity, we can avert any serious crisis. If we squander the opportunity, then there will be a serious problem on our hands.” As of Friday there were nearly 77,000 cases reported globally, with all but 1,200 reported by China. There were also roughly 2,350 deaths. The growth in the daily case count in China has been tamped down of late by the country’s extraordinary quarantine effort. Cities that are home to tens of millions of people have been on virtual lockdown for several weeks. While the apparent impact of those measures has instilled hope in some that there is still time to stop circulation of the virus, skeptics warn that disease levels in China could rebound when the country eases its movement restrictions and allows people to return to their jobs.

Most Patients In South Korean Psychiatric Ward Infected With Coronavirus - South Korea reported 229 new confirmed cases on Saturday, as the number of infections more than doubled in a day to 433, an eightfold jump in just four days. As the chart below shows, the number of new cases in South Korea has now doubled each day for the past 4 days, a true exponential increase. The country’s prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, called the situation "grave," according to The Korea Times, while the country's Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip told reporters that "The situation is entering a new phase." But the high number of confirmed cases is also because the country’s medical industry has high diagnostic capability, according to experts; with the implication that the real number of Chinese cases is orders of magnitude higher than officially disclosed.  Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city, is where the initial cluster of cases of emerged; it has since been designated a "special management zone." The central government is channeling medical support to the zone with more staff, hospital beds and equipment. In Daegu, more than half of South Korea's cases have been among members of a secretive religious sect who often crowd together in worship, and their relatives or contacts. Another 111 are patients or staff members at the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, where the two South Koreans who have died of the virus had been admitted. It gets worse: more than 1,250 members of the sect, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, have reported potential symptoms, and officials are still trying to locate 700 members so they can be screened. "In accordance with law and principles, the government will sternly deal with acts that interfere with quarantine efforts, illegal hoarding of medical goods and acts that spark uneasiness through massive rallies," Chung said, pointing out just how convenient the coronavirus will be when government seek to squash all future protests.It gets even worse: Samsung, the world’s biggest smartphone maker, shut down a factory after a worker tested positive. The factory, located in the city of Gumi, about an hour north of Cheongdo, is expected to resume operations on Monday morning, Samsung said. But the floor of the factory where the patient has worked will be closed until Tuesday morning, it said. We wonder how long until it truly reopens. But the scariest development in the past 24 hours is that almost all patients at a psychiatric ward of a South Korean hospital tested positive for the coronavirus, with local reports saying members of the abovementioned Shincheonji Church of Jesus sect which has rapidly emerged as the single biggest cluster of new S. Korean cases, had attended a funeral in the same complex.

Coronavirus: South Korea declares highest alert as infections surge - South Korea has raised its coronavirus alert to the "highest level" as confirmed case numbers keep rising. President Moon Jae-in said the country faced "a grave turning point", and the next few days would be crucial in the battle to contain the outbreak. Six people have died from the virus in South Korea and more than 600 have been infected. Meanwhile, Italy and Iran have announced steps to try to contain worrying outbreaks of the virus. In Italy, strict quarantine restrictions are in force in two northern "hotspot" regions close to Milan and Venice. Around 50,000 people cannot enter or leave several towns in Veneto and Lombardy for the next two weeks without special permission. Even outside the zone, many businesses and schools have suspended activities, and sporting events have been cancelled including several top-flight football matches. Amid the growing restrictions, the last two days of the Venice Carnival, on Monday and Tuesday, were cancelled. Italy has seen two deaths and the number of confirmed cases has risen to more than 100 - 89 of them in Lombardy. "The contagiousness of this virus is very strong and pretty virulent," said Lombardy's health chief, Giulio Gallera. Iran's outbreak of coronavirus has significantly worsened, with the death toll rising to eight on Sunday. The government has acknowledged 43 confirmed cases although officials have warned the virus may have spread to "all cities". Schools, universities and cultural centres across 14 Iranian provinces have been closed from Sunday. The new strain of coronavirus, which originated last year in Hubei province in China, causes a respiratory disease called Covid-19. China has seen more than 76,000 infections and 2,442 deaths. On Sunday, China's President Xi Jinping described the outbreak as the "largest public health emergency" in the country's recent history. He acknowledged "shortcomings" in China's response and said lessons must be learned. The combined situation in South Korea, Iran and Italy points to the early stages of pandemic. This means a global outbreak, with the coronavirus spreading in the community in multiple parts of the world. In each of these countries we are seeing spread of the virus with no connection to China. The lockdown efforts in Italy mirror those that have happened in China. The situation in Iran is especially worrying because the health authorities have reportedly said the virus has spread to multiple cities, and it appears the first case in Lebanon is linked to a traveller from Iran. If we have a pandemic, it will still be important to limit the speed of spread of the virus. If countries could hold it somewhat at bay until the end of winter, there is a hope that warmer temperatures will reduce the time the virus can survive in the air, as we see with seasonal flu. But this may not be certain.

Citi says fear of coronavirus in South Korea is spreading ‘at a much faster rate’ than the virus itself - South Korea is on high alert after the number of reported coronavirus infections surged past 760 cases on Monday, and Cit economists warn economic difficulties for the country will be imminent. “Fear of the virus is spreading throughout the country, at a much faster rate than the virus itself,” Marie Kim and Jeeho Yoon from Citi wrote. “We expect the economic fallout to not be limited to certain regions (and) cities.” The total number of cases rose to 833 on Monday afternoon, compared to 31 cases reported as of Feb. 18, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a jump that’s nearly 27 times higher — within about one week. Most of the new cases were detected in the city of Daegu and the surrounding Gyeongbuk area. The country’s death toll rose to seven on Monday morning and remained unchanged in the afternoon update. In a Monday morning note, the Citi economists explained that consumption in the country is declining as part of people’s efforts to minimize human contact. Stores and factories are also shutting down for various reasons, including fear of exposure to the virus, lack of supply inputs or due to continuing loss, the Citi economists said. Chart: South Korea virus spread 200224 On Sunday, the government raised the virus alert to its highest level — red — and stepped up quarantine measures to slow the virus’ spread. The same day, the education minister also said the new school year, due to start next month, will be postponed, Yonhap reported. More such measures are likely to be announced, experts said. Kim and Yoon said they expect the government to introduce a large supplementary budget to mitigate the economic fallout ahead of April elections. “Previous events suggest that the government tends to respond quickly to natural disasters or virus outbreaks,” the Citi economists said.

Iran’s holy city Qom sends SOS as virus spreads – The Iranian city of Qom, a center for Islamic studies and pilgrims, has been flagged as a new danger point for the coronavirus, with at least one traveler taking it back with her to Lebanon. “If I can say one thing, it is help Qom,” said Mohammadreza Ghadir, head of the city’s medical sciences university. “We are on the frontlines, we need help,” he told state TV. Iran’s health ministry said tests had been carried out on 785 suspected coronavirus cases since the outbreak began. “Most of the cases are either Qom residents or have a history of coming and going from Qom to other cities,” its spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. The Covid-19 outbreak in Iran first surfaced on Wednesday, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom. They were the first confirmed deaths from the virus in the Middle East. Iran reported two more deaths on Friday. The latest cases take to 28 the total number of confirmed infections in Iran. All of those who lost their lives are believed to be Iranian citizens. Neighboring Iraq on Thursday clamped down on travel to and from the Islamic republic. The Iraqi health ministry announced that people in Iran were barred from entering the country “until further notice”. Kuwait’s national carrier Kuwait Airways, meanwhile, announced it would suspend all flights to Iran.

Iran shuts schools, cultural centres as coronavirus kills six - A sixth death from the coronavirus has been reported in Iran as authorities in more than a dozen affected provinces ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres in a bid to contain the outbreak. Ali Aghazadeh, governor of the Markazi province, said late on Saturday that tests of a patient who recently died in the central city of Arak were positive for the virus. The person was also suffering from a heart problem, he told the official IRNA news agency. So far, 28 cases have been confirmed in Iran, but it was not immediately clear if the sixth fatality was among those cases. All of those who lost their lives are believed to be Iranian citizens, and the deaths in Iran account for the most in any country outside China. Since the new coronavirus emerged in December, it has killed 2,345 people in China, the epicentre of the epidemic, and more than a dozen people elsewhere in the world. Officially known as COVID-19, the infection first surfaced in Iran on Wednesday, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom, a Shia holy city south of the capital. The Ministry of Health said most of the confirmed cases are either "Qom residents or have a history of coming and going from Qom to other cities". As a "preventive measure", authorities ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres in 14 provinces across the country from Sunday, according to state television. They include Qom, Markazi, Gilan, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Zanjan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Hamedan, Alborz, Semnan, Kurdistan and the capital, Tehran. The government also announced that "all art and cinema events in halls across the country have been cancelled until the end of the week" in order to stop infections. "We are on the frontlines, we need help," head of Qom's medical sciences university said on state TV. "If I can say one thing, it is, 'help Qom,'" said Mohammadreza Ghadir.

Italy towns wake to quarantine, queue for food in coronavirus outbreak Tens of thousands of Italians prepared for a weeks-long quarantine in the country's north on Sunday as nerves began to fray among the locals faced with new lockdown measures. Two people have died from the virus since Friday and more than a hundred cases have now been reported in Italy, most of them centred around the small town of Codogno, about 70 kilometres (43 miles) southeast of Milan. Over 50,000 residents in eleven towns -- 10 in Lombardy and one in the neighbouring region of Veneto -- now face what Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday could be weeks of lockdown. Locals wearing face masks were already lined up outside a supermarket in the town of Casalpusterlengo, a 10 minute drive from Codogno, on Sunday morning. Shoppers were made to wait, then allowed to enter in groups of 40 inside the store to stock up on provisions. "It's inhuman," said one man who gave his name as Sante. "Fighting over four sandwiches is just disgusting." Another woman, Emanuela, told AFP-TV that residents including her were nervous. "I'm really scared, we're going through a really tough situation," said the woman, a nurse who works in the area. Blockades were not yet erected, and cars could be seen driving in and around the area of Codogno and Casalpusterlengo, although police cars patrolled the area. The quarantine appears to be largely dependent on individuals to respect the system but the government said those found in violation could face fines and even three months in jail It was not clear how authorities would impose the travel restrictions and whether residents would still be allowed to travel from town to town within the affected zones, without surpassing an outer limit. "We're preparing to set up the checkpoints for the containment zone," a policewoman told AFP, saying that initially the perimeter would be narrow but could widen over time.

 Italy Virus Cases Jump Even After Lockdown in North - The number of coronavirus cases continued to jump in the north of Italy even after the government imposed a lockdown and banned travel to and from an area near Milan of about 50,000 people. The number of cases in the Lombardy region jumped overnight to 89 from 54, leaving the country with more than 100 confirmed infections, about five times that of Germany, the European country second in the ranking. Two people have died in Italy from the virus, the first non-tourist deaths in Europe. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte late Saturday announced the travel ban and other emergency measures in response to the surge in cases that have occurred since a man sought medical treatment at a hospital in Lombardy on Feb. 18. He is believe to have infected dozens of patients and medical staff who then carried the virus further afield. “When doctors are infected, that means the right practices were not put into place, apart from the fact that the virus is very contagious,” Walter Ricciardi, a member of the executive council of the World Health Organization, told newspaper La Stampa. Ricciardi also criticized the government for banning flights to and from China, saying that stopped authorities from tracing arrivals as travelers could use stopovers to reach Italy. relates to Italy Virus Cases Jump Even After Lockdown in North Italy won’t seek a suspension of the Schengen agreement, which has eliminated border controls between 26 European countries. Even so, the virus surge illustrates the potential threat to borderless travel and commerce in Europe, which last came under pressure during the continent’s refugee crisis in 2015-16. The rapid number of new cases in less than a week and Italy’s inability to stem the spread from a hospitalized patient is fueling fears of broader contagion. Italy has implemented emergency measures in towns along its frontier with Slovenia. French Heath Minister Olivier Veran told Le Parisien Dimanche newspaper that “it’s very likely” the country will now face new cases and laboratories are being supplied with additional test kits. Italy asked other major economies to “work immediately on economic measures at an international level that are coordinated and sufficient to deal with the economic consequences of the virus in a timely and effective way in case the crisis worsens,” Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri said on the sidelines of a Group of 20 meeting in Riyadh. Italy’s government also plans to introduce measures to support the economy in virus-affected areas, Conte told reporters in Rome.

Coronavirus: sixth person dies in Italy amid confusion over death toll in Iran – Here’s a summary of what we know about the coronavirus outbreak so far on Monday:

Austria to close border for those suspected of carrying coronavirus - Austria has said it will stop people suspected of carrying the coronavirus from crossing its border, after parts of northern Italy were put into lockdown over the weekend following a surge in cases. The Austrian government released a travel warning for affected places in Lombardy and Veneto, following a meeting of the government’s coronavirus taskforce that included the chancellor, Sebastian Kurz. “As far as the borders and cross-border traffic are concerned, we will proceed as follows: we will further tighten warning systems with our neighbours, we will immediately order a stop in the event of suspected cases, as happened last night,” Kurz said on Monday. Austria suspended train services to and from Italy for about four hours on Sunday evening to test two passengers for the coronavirus. The train, carrying about 300 passengers from Venice to Munich, was stopped on the Italian side of the Brenner pass before being allowed to continue its journey after the two passengers tested negative.  Government sources said this did not amount to a reintroduction of border controls inside the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone. “There are no general border controls. Right now we don’t think that is the way forward,” an Austrian diplomat said. “If we do have a confirmed case, then we will check that again.”  Austrian travellers in affected parts of northern Italy are being advised to avoid crowds and follow instructions of local authorities. Italian authorities have said they will impose fines on anyone entering or leaving restricted areas. By Monday, the number of cases of the virus in Italy had risen to 229 and six people had died. Health ministers from Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia and Croatia are due to attend a meeting in Rome on Tuesday to discuss containing the virus. Italy’s government is urging its neighbours not to impose border controls, which it argues would be ineffective.

"Tsunami-Like" Coronavirus Floods South Korea With New Cases; Europe Begins To Isolate Italy: Live Updates   In a release that was about 4 hours late, China's Hubei province said it has 398 New Coronavirus Cases As Of Feb 23 and 149 New Coronavirus Deaths. Overall, China reported an additional 409 coronavirus cases across the entire nation, and 150 additional deaths as of February 23 vs. 648 additional cases and 97 deaths on February 22. This brings the total number of cases across China to 77,150, and total deaths to 2592.  None of these numbers are even remotely credible any more, and serve merely the propaganda purpose of giving the impression that Beijing is winning the war against the spread of the Coronavirus, when in reality nobody has any idea anymore what is going on on the ground in China, and is why workers refuse to show up to their place of business. Consider this: two days ago, WaPo reporters pointed to a clear case of manipulation where the authorities suppressed the true number of cases.

  • South Korea raised its national threat level to “red alert” for the first time since the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009. The total number of confirmed cases in the country reached 763, a jump of 161 overnight, and a 25-fold increase in the past week.
  • The Italian government said it has 152 confirmed cases, up from three in a matter of days. Three people have died. Authorities have locked down about a dozen small towns and canceled events across the north, including Venice’s Carnival.
  • Iran has confirmed eight deaths related to the coronavirus, the most outside of China, media reported Sunday. South Korea confirmed its seventh death.
  • 4 more cases confirmed in UK
  • 200 Israelis quarantined
  • Japan confirms more cases; Japanese Emperor expresses hope for Tokyo Games
  • Trump says US has everything 'under control' as he asks Congress for more money
  • EU's Gentiloni says he has 'full confidence' In Italian health officials
  • Turkey, Pakistan close borders with Iran as confirmed cases soar
  • Global Times says virus may not have originated at Hunan seafood market
  • Axios reports shortages of 150 essential drugs likely.

World is approaching coronavirus tipping point, say experts - The world is fast approaching a tipping point in the spread of the coronavirus, according to experts, who warn that the disease is outpacing efforts to contain it, after major outbreaks forced Italy and Iran to introduce stringent internal travel restrictions and South Korea’s president placed the country on red alert.Some of the countries most affected by the virus are scrambling to halt its progress two days after Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said the international community needed to act quickly before the narrowing “window of opportunity” closed completely.With almost 78,000 cases of Covid-19 now confirmed across the globe, experts say the situation will soon reach a critical threshold.In 11 north Italian towns, 50,000 people have been in lockdown since Friday night, with police patrolling the streets and fines imposed on anyone caught entering or leaving outbreak areas. In Iran, the authorities have ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres in 14 provinces as “a preventative measure”.On Sunday, South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, placed the country on “red alert” after it reported its sixth death and more than 600 infections. And four of the 32 British and Irish Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers flown to the UK on Saturday have tested positive for Covid-19, the Chief Medical Officer for England said on Sunday. It brings the total number of confirmed cases in the UK to 13.While the number of patients worldwide is increasing, some virus clusters have shown no obvious link to China, leaving experts struggling to determine where they started.Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia and an authority on the new coronavirus infection, echoed Tedros’s warning and said the time for containing the disease was running out. “The director general of the WHO has recently spoken of a narrowing of the window of opportunity to control the current epidemic,” he said. “The tipping point after which our ability to prevent a global pandemic ends seems a lot closer after the past 24 hours.”

Coronavirus May Be ‘Disease X’ Health Experts Warned About - The World Health Organization cautioned years ago that a mysterious “disease X” could spark an international contagion. The new coronavirus illness, with its ability to quickly morph from mild to deadly, is emerging as a contender.From recent reports about the stealthy ways the so-called Covid-19 virus spreads and maims, a picture is emerging of an enigmatic pathogen whose effects are mainly mild, but which occasionally -- and unpredictably -- turns deadly in the second week.  Emerging hot spots in South Korea, Iran and Italy have stoked further alarm.“Whether it will be contained or not, this outbreak is rapidly becoming the first true pandemic challenge that fits the disease X category,” Marion Koopmans, head of viroscience at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, and a member of the WHO’s emergency committee, wrote Wednesday in the journal Cell. The disease has now spread to more than two dozen countries and territories. Some of those infected caught the virus in their local community and have no known link to China, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. “We are not seeing community spread here in the United States yet, but it’s very possible -- even likely -- that it may eventually happen,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters Friday.  Unlike SARS, its viral cousin, the Covid-19 virus replicates at high concentrations in thenose and throat akin to the common cold, and appears capable of spreading from those who show no, or mild, symptoms. That makes it impossible to control using the fever-checking measures that helped stop SARS 17 years ago. A cluster of cases within a family living in the Chinese city of Anyang is presumed to have begun when a 20-year-old woman carried the virus from Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicenter, on Jan. 10 and spread it while experiencing no illness, researchers said Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Five relatives subsequently developed fever and respiratory symptoms. Covid-19 is less deadly than SARS, which had a case fatality rate of 9.5%, but appears more contagious. Both viruses attack the respiratory andgastrointestinal tracts, via which they can potentially spread.  While more than 80% of patients are reported to have a mild version of the disease and will recover, about one in seven develops pneumonia, difficulty breathing and other severe symptoms. About 5% of patients have critical illness, including respiratory failure, septic shock and multi-organ failure. “Unlike SARS, Covid-19 infection has a broader spectrum of severity ranging from asymptomatic to mildly symptomatic to severe illness that requiresmechanical ventilation,” doctors in Singapore said in a paper in the same medical journal Thursday. “Clinical progression of the illness appears similar to SARS: patients developed pneumonia around the end of the first week to the beginning of the second week of illness.”

Coronavirus: cases have not yet peaked, Xi Jinping tells Politburo -- Chinese President Xi Jinping said the coronavirus epidemic had not reached its peak despite a drop in the daily number of infections. State broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi as saying at a meeting of the Communist Party’s Politburo on Friday that the situation in Hubei was still serious. “The battles to defend Hubei province and Wuhan should be well fought, and measures should be taken to contain the spread of the outbreak,” he said. The meeting also said prevention measures should be properly implemented in Beijing. He Ping, director for prison administration at the Ministry of Justice, said on Friday that in Hubei province, there were 230 cases confirmed at Wuhan Women’s Prison, 41 confirmed and nine suspected cases at Hanjin Prison, and one case at the provincial centre for minors. Two prison officials were removed. In Shandong province, there were 200 confirmed cases, and 10 suspected at Rencheng Prison, and in 34 confirmed cases in Zhejiang province’s Shilifeng Prison. He added that cases were imported into prisons, and that there were no deaths in custody due to the virus. Prisoners with the disease were kept in isolation for treatment. Meanwhile, the Communist Party’s Political and Legal Affairs Commission has sent a team to investigate the Rencheng Prison cases. The team is headed by commission deputy secretary general Lei Dongsheng, and includes officials from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice. According to Shandong authorities, a prison guard at the Rencheng jail in Jining started coughing and showing other symptoms in early February. All 2,077 people held or working at the prison were given the nucleic acid test and, as of Thursday, 200 prisoners and seven prison officers had tested positive for the virus.

Xi defends China's efforts to stop 'grim and complex' coronavirus epidemic -Chinese President Xi Jinping defended China’s efforts to contain the “grim and complex” coronavirus epidemic in the country Sunday. The Chinese president addressed officials leading anti-disease efforts in a video conference calling for them to take more steps to prevent the virus, revitalize the economy and stop the disease from affecting the planting of spring crops, according to the the Xinhua News Agency, The Associated Press reported. The president called for officials to “deploy medical forces” to “cut off the source of infection,” according to the news agency. Xi reportedly said during the conference that the Communist Party’s response to the “still grim and complex” epidemic was “timely and effective,” despite criticism from the public that officials did not act fast enough.The Chinese president also warned that the situation is in a “critical stage,” as people around the world hope the disease is contained. “The current epidemic situation is still grim and complex,” Chinese news agency Xinhua cited Xi as saying. “Prevention and control are at the most critical stage.”China faces the challenge of attempting to stop the virus, while still maintaining a functioning economy, which has effectively been shut down since late January. Xi called for “low-risk areas” to “fully restore production” while higher-risk areas continue to deal with the epidemic.“We must promptly solve the outstanding problems that affect spring plowing and organize production, circulation and supply of materials to ensure production does not miss the farming time,” Xi was cited by Xinhua as saying, according to AP. Xi called the coronavirus the “fastest spread” disease and the “most difficult prevention and control” since the Communist Party took control in 1949. The coronavirus has infected more than 78,000 people worldwide and caused almost 2,500 deaths, most of which are in mainland China, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Coronavirus did not originate in Wuhan seafood market, Chinese scientists say -- The novel coronavirus that has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 people did not originate at a seafood market in the central China city of Wuhan as was first thought, according to a new study by a team of Chinese scientists. The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was instead imported from elsewhere, said researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Institute for Brain Research. The team, led by Dr Yu Wenbin, sequenced the genomic data of 93 SARS-CoV-2 samples provided by 12 countries in a bid to track down the source of the infection and understand how it spreads. What they found was that while the virus had spread rapidly within the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, there had also been two major population expansions on December 8 and January 6.According to the study, which was published on the institute’s website on Thursday, analysis suggested that the coronavirus was introduced from outside the market. “The crowded market then boosted SARS-CoV-2 circulation and spread it to the whole city in early December 2019,” it said. Earlier reports by Chinese health authorities and the World Health Organisation said that the first known patient showed symptoms on December 8, and that most of the subsequent cases had links to the seafood market, which was closed on January 1. The research went on to say that based on the genome data it was possible that the virus began spreading from person to person in early December or even as early as late November. 

Tom Cotton demands ‘answers’ after China state newspaper says coronavirus originated outside wildlife market - A Republican senator says it's time for the Chinese Communist Party to reveal what it knows about the new coronavirus after the country's state-run newspaper reported that the mystery illness may not have originated from a seafood market in Wuhan. On Saturday, Sen. Tom Cotton demanded "answers" while sharing a report from the Global Times, a Chinese daily newspaper operated by the CCP, citing new research that claims the virus is transmitted from human to human and didn't originate from animals at the seafood market. Although early reports claimed the illness was spread through food such as bat soup, snakes, or pangolins, researchers now believe "patient zero," the original person with the infection, brought the disease to the Wuhan market from "another location." The English-language Global Times confirmed the data show the infection was "introduced" to the market, adding fuel to skeptics who believe the CCP is failing to explain the full scope of the epidemic. Cotton has repeatedly challenged the prevailing narrative surrounding the coronavirus outbreak as it has infected and killed patients in countries as widespread as Iran, Italy, and Japan. In January, the Washington Times reported that Wuhan is home to China's most advanced virus research laboratory, the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The New York Post reported Saturday that Chinese Maj. Gen. Chen Wei, the country's top expert in biological warfare, was sent to Wuhan last month to deal with the crisis. Cotton has noted on several occasions that Wuhan contains the only biosafety level 4 superlaboratory in China that deals with serious infectious diseases. The Arkansas senator has led calls to ban travel with China and on Friday told Fox News's Laura Ingraham the country's leaders were "lying to the world." "The Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda rag finally admits what I’ve said for a month: coronavirus didn’t start in Wuhan food market. So where did it originate? Time for answers from CCP," Cotton tweeted late on Saturday.

Hundreds of Animals Drop Dead After Being Exposed to Virus Disinfectant  -State-run media reported at least 135 animals were found dead in one discovery near the city of Chongqing. At least 17 pieces were found to have died – including wild boar, weasels, and a number of birds.Communist Party officials have blamed the deaths on massive disinfecting efforts carried out by Chinese authorities. Videos have previously been released showing trucks driving around coronavirus hit cities spraying huge plumes of toxic liquid to kill the infection.Chinese state media said Chongqing has mobilized a force of 5,300 forest rangers to monitor wildlife in the area.They have also enlisted 200 "full-time supervisors."It is reported that animals will be buried and the sites were they were found will also be disinfected.Authorities have also insisted the animals have not died due to the coronavirus, or any other disease due to bird flu. Scepticism remains over whether or not the Chinese government is withholding information about the coronavirus outbreak. The mysterious animal death comes after at least 40 incinerators were shipped to the coronavirus ravaged city of Wuhan.Officials had said the furnaces were to be used to burn medical supplies and animal carcasses.  It comes after Chinese crematorium workers claimed they were burning bodies 24/7 in Wuhan.

Coronavirus: Panic Starting - Yves Smith - Despite what the unprecedented lockdown of areas in China that produced 70% of its GDP, and the use of hazmat suits, revealed about what Chinese officials were seeing, the rest of the world remained oddly complacent about what the novel coronavirus meant for them. How reassuring was it really if the disease had moderated as a result of the effective quarantining of the population, a condition that was clearly not sustainable? And there was the oddly optimistic view that a country of 1.2 billion could effectively be cordoned off from the rest of the world…particularly after it became clear the lockdown was implemented after the cornoavirus was meaningfully underway? As our Ignacio has pointed out, it is disconcerting how much we still don’t know about this disease. It has a troublingly long incubation period, raising the possibility that some can harbor low level infections for a long time by normal contagion standards. Individuals can repeatedly test negative yet later develop the coronavirus. The Journal of Hospital Infection reported that human coronaviruses can live as long as nine days on surfaces…but alcohol will kill it in a minute.  The rapid spread of the coronavirus in Italy, on top of clusters in South Korea and Japan, has finally kicked officials in some countries into panic, even if they aren’t sure what to do. And this follows shortly on the mishandling of the two cruise ships with infected passengers and crew. But outside the business press in the US, there’s not much evidence of concern.And on the business front, the reality is sinking in that it isn’t clear when China might get back to a semblance of normal operation. For instance, insiders leaked that the FDA had prepared a list of 150 medications, including some with no substitute, that were at risk of shortages. Equity markets, which had been complacent, are now looking rattled. South Korean averages are down more than 3.3%, the Hang Seng is off nearly 1.5%, US and European stock futures are off, and oil fell by over 3%.

Fears grow of pandemic as coronavirus takes hold internationally - Health officials sounded the alarm over the weekend due to the sudden and rapid rise of new cases of COVID-19 infections in South Korea, Italy and Iran. Of particular concern to the World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies, many of the cases lack an epidemiologic link to China, where the virus outbreak began last December in the city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. In response, global stock markets plummeted on opening yesterday. The Dow fell over 1,000 points by closing. The Nikkei 225 fell 4 percent on opening. Among the stocks that suffered the largest falls were those of airlines and technology companies. The price of Brent crude fell almost 5 percent to slightly over 55 dollars a barrel. The market turbulence provoked by fear over the impact of the virus spread came on the heels of the sour economic news that Japan’s GDP has fallen 6.3 percent and Eurozone growth has slow to 0.1 percent. The 2019-nCoV virus has proven to be a much more complex pathogen than virologists have experienced in the past. Scientists are still attempting to understand why it is so highly contagious and whether the virus is being transmitted via surfaces, water pipes, and ventilation ducts. The SARS epidemic in 2003 infected 8,000 people in 10 months. In contrast COVID-19 has caused 80,000 infections in just over two months—and many cases may have been undiagnosed. Though the overall fatality index is much lower that SARS, registering at between 1 to 2 percent of people infected, COVID-19 deaths are already triple the number caused by the 2003 outbreak. The incubation period of the virus is estimated at around 14 days, but there have been confirmed cases of people not displaying symptoms for as long as three to four weeks. Further confounding health authorities, there are indications that people who have recovered may continue to carry and spread the virus. China’s efforts to contain the virus through unprecedented quarantine measures and harsh travel restrictions appear to have brought the epidemic in Hubei and surrounding provinces under a degree of control. On Monday, 509 new cases were reported across China, of which 499 are in Hubei. The number of confirmed cases in mainland China stood at 77,658 as of yesterday and the number of deaths at 2,663. But as the WHO warned, the actions of the Chinese government only bought the world some time to prepare. That time appears to have run out, as infections rates accelerate dramatically in countries like Iran, Italy and South Korea. Though the WHO has still not classified COVID-19 as a global pandemic, it appears likely it will make that decision in the near future.

Iran rejects reported Qom death toll of 50 from new virus-- Iran's government said Monday that 12 people had died nationwide from the new coronavirus, rejecting claims of a much higher death toll by a lawmaker from the city of Qom that has been at the epicenter of the virus in the country. The conflicting reports raised questions about the Iranian government’s transparency concerning the scale of the outbreak. Five neighboring countries reported their first cases of the virus, with those infected all having links to Iran, including direct travel from a city where authorities have not even reported a confirmed case. Iran's Health Ministry said the total number of infections have risen to 61 while deaths stood at 12. But a lawmaker from Qom, Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, was quoted by the semi-official ILNA news agency as saying that the death toll was 50. Even with the lower toll of 12, the number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country, including China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread. The World Health Organization said last week that in 2% of infected cases, the virus has been fatal. In Iran, according to the Health Ministry's figures, the death toll represents nearly 20% of total infections. There are concerns that clusters of the new coronavirus in Iran, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread. Authorities in Iraq and Afghanistan, which closed their borders with Iran, announced their first confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday. Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman also announced their first cases. In all five countries, the infected patients had links with Iran.

Battle against coronavirus turns to Italy; Wall Street falls on pandemic fears -(Reuters) - The coronavirus death toll climbed to seven in Italy on Monday and several Middle East countries were dealing with their first infections, sending markets into a tailspin over fears of a global pandemic even as China eased curbs with no new cases reported in Beijing and other cities. While health experts have expected limited outbreaks beyond China, the rapid acceleration of cases in Italy going from three on Friday to 220 on Monday is concerning, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement. Just as China put cities on lockdown, Italian authorities sealed off the worst-affected towns, closed schools and halted the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases. Shops are shut, bars are closed and people speak to each other from a safe distance in northern Italy. Markets are nervous that Europe could experience disruptions similar to China, where air traffic has been disrupted and global supply chains rattled for everything from medicine to cars to smartphones. But China’s actions, especially in Wuhan - the epicenter of the outbreak - probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases, said the head of the WHO delegation in China, Bruce Aylward, urging the rest of the world to learn the lesson of acting fast. “They’re at a point now where the number of cured people coming out of hospitals each day is much more than the sick going in,” he said. The surge of cases outside mainland China triggered sharp falls in global markets as investors fled to safe havens. European equities markets suffered their biggest slump since mid-2016, gold soared to a seven-year high and oil tumbled 4%. The Dow Jones Industrials and S&P 500 posted their biggest one-day percentage drops in over two years and Nasdaq had one of its worst days since December 2018. All three indexes closed down more than 3% after notching record highs last week on optimism the coronavirus would not seriously hurt global economies.

Researchers Find 61.5% Of Coronavirus Patients With Severe Pneumonia Won't Survive - Since the Wuhan coronavirus first appeared late last year, researchers have been studying it, t hough for the first month or so, only Chinese scientists had access to the data.But now that China has shared its data with the world, research has been appearing more quickly, with more opportunities for peer review. According to a study published in the Lancet on Friday, patients who are especially vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infections - a group that includes the very old, very young and those with co-occurring conditions - die at a higher rate from COVID-19 than they did from SARS and MERS.A study of 52 critically ill adults at Wuhan Jin Yin-tan hospital found that 61.5% of patients requiring hospitalization and intense monitoring ended up becoming "non-survivors", to borrow some of the researchers' terminology. The researchers concluded that COVID-19 - or SARS-CoV-2, as they call it - is more lethal for vulnerable patients than SARS or MERS was. Like SARS-CoV and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS)-CoV, SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that can be transmitted to humans, and these viruses are all related to high mortality in critically ill patients.12 However, the mortality rate in patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection in our cohort is higher than that previously seen in critically ill patients with SARS. In a cohort of 38 critically ill patients with SARS from 13 hospitals in Canada, 29 (76%) patients required mechanical ventilation, 13 (43%) patients had died at 28 days, and six (16%) patients remained on mechanical ventilation. 17 (38%) of 45 patients and 14 (26%) of 54 patients who were critically ill with SARS infection were also reported to have died at 28 days in a Singapore cohort13 and a Hong Kong cohort,14 respectively. The mortality rate in our cohort is likely to be higher than that seen in critically ill patients with MERS infection. In a cohort of 12 patients with MERS from two hospitals in Saudi Arabia, seven (58%) patients had died at 90 days.15 Since the follow-up time is shorter in our cohort, we postulate that the mortality rate would be higher after 28 days than that seen in patients with MERS-CoV.

Chinese Workers Refuse To Go Back To Work Despite Beijing's Demands - When we commented earlier that the coronavirus pandemic means that the vast majority of Chinese small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have at most 2-3 months of cash left, a potentially catastrophic outcome that will not only crippled China's economy but its $40 trillion financial system, we summarized the circular quandary in which Beijing finds itself, to wit: ... unless China reboots its economy, it faces an economic shock the likes of which it has never seen before in modern times. Yet it can't reboot the economy unless it truly stops the viral pandemic, something it will never be able to do if it lies to the population that the pandemic is almost over in hopes of forcing people to get back to work. Hence the most diabolic Catch 22 for China's social and economic system, because whereas until now China could easily lie its way out of any problem, in this case lying will only make the underlying (viral pandemic) problem worse as sick people return to work, only to infect even more co-workers, forcing even more businesses to be quarantined. Shockingly (or perhaps not at all in light of China's tremendous human rights record), Beijing has picked output over life expectancy, and in a furious scramble to restart its economy, which as we showed earlier remains flatlined... ... according to most high-frequency metrics, it has been "advising" people to get back to work, even as new coronavirus cases are still coming in, in the process threatening to blow out the current epidemic with orders of magnitude more cases as places of employment become the new hubs of viral distribution. As Bloomberg picked up late on Sunday, following what we said earlier namely that "local governments around the country face a daunting question of whether to focus on staving off the virus or encourage factory reopenings" China's central and local governments are one again easing the criteria for factories to resume operations "as they walk a tightrope between containing a virus that has killed more than 2,400 people and preventing a slump in the world’s second-largest economy." This schizophrenic dilemma for a government which faces two equally terrible choices, was best summarized by the following two banners observed in China:

  • Banner 1 says: “If you go out messing around now, expect grass on your grave to grow soon.“
  • Banner 2 says, “Sitting at home eats up all your have, hurry up go out & find a job.”

Indeed, a perfectly schizophrenic message from the government to the people:

Virus epicenter Wuhan revokes announcement easing lockdown (Reuters) - An announcement that the Chinese city of Wuhan would relax some of its travel restrictions and allow some people to leave was made without authorization and has been revoked, the local government said on Monday. The city at the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak that has already killed more than 2,500 people said it would continue to impose strict controls over its borders in order to prevent the virus from spreading further. It said it had reprimanded the people responsible for the earlier announcement that healthy people would be allowed to leave if they had vital business. The earlier announcement came amid signs that the spread of the virus in China was slowing, with more than 20 province-level jurisdictions reporting zero new infections on Sunday and several regions lowering their emergency response levels. Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated, has been under lockdown for a month. It reported 348 new infections on Sunday, and 131 deaths. The city alone has seen an accumulated 46,607 cases of infection, amounting to around 60% of China’s national total.

Coronavirus updates: Death toll in China hits 2,663 as pandemic fears grow - China’s health officials said Tuesday the number of deaths from novel coronavirus in mainland China had reached 2,663. The number of dead stood at 2,592 a day earlier. There was an increase of 71 deaths, almost all of them in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak. More than 500 new cases have also been reported as the total number of confirmed cases across the country reached more than 77,600. The coronavirus epidemic in China is not yet a pandemic but has the potential to become one if countries don't work together to slow its spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday. A team of experts with the WHO has concluded its mission in China, reporting that the epidemic there reached its peak between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and that the number of cases have since been steadily declining. However, "the sudden increases of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing. Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi has tested positive for coronavirus, according to a tweet posted by his adviser Ali Vahabzadeh. Harirchi held a joint press conference on Monday with the government spokesman Ali Rabiee.Italian authorities have confirmed a total number of 283 cases nationwide, up from the 229 cases on Monday. Seven people have died and one person has recovered, according to Italy’s civil protection agency. Lombardy is the most affected region with 212 cases, up from 172 on Monday, followed by Veneto with 38 cases, up from 33 on Monday, the agency said.  President Donald Trump said at a business forum in New Delhi on Tuesday that the urgent $2.5 billion plan he sent to lawmakers will prepare the U.S. in case of an outbreak.Trump also said at the forum that the money will help other nations that “really aren't equipped to do it”.

Why some experts are questioning China’s coronavirus claims The number of novel coronavirus cases in China has expanded dramatically, with 77,042 people having contracted the disease as of Sunday, according to the World Health Organization, and 2,445 deaths — a 3.0 per cent mortality rate.  And while there are indications the rate of infection within the country might be slowing, the flu-like illness continues its spread in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Iran and beyond, with 1,769 cases and 17 associated deaths across 28 countries. Canada accounted for eight of those confirmed illnesses, with a ninth presumptive case, but none of the fatalities. This, against a backdrop of unprecedented measures to contain the disease. A staggering 60 million people in Hubei province remain on lockdown, largely confined to their homes, with schools and businesses closed. A total of 780 million people across China are under strict travel restrictions. And almost two dozen airlines have severely curtailed, or flat-out cancelled, their flights in and out of the country.  But questions now swirl about what the Chinese knew during the first, crucial few weeks of the outbreak, and if information about the severity and spread of the disease was being suppressed instead of shared. A possible repeat of what happened during the early days of the SARS crisis in 2002-03, when the country's Communist leadership downplayed a similar illness that eventually moved around the world, infecting more than 8,000 people, and killing 774, including 44 in Canada. " "When you started seeing this long period where the numbers either didn't budge, or even one day went backwards, to me that just looked like completely fabricated figures," says Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author who has tracked global outbreaks and epidemics for decades. "There was absolutely no reason to believe that was true, especially if this was a SARS-related virus." Yanzhong Huang, a professor of global health studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, agrees that China's early reports on the illness were severely flawed. "It seems very clear that either local government officials or the health authorities messed up in their response to the outbreak," he says. Low-balled case numbers and inaccurate information about how the disease was spreading meant that health-care workers failed to take adequate precautions to isolate patients or even protect themselves, he says.

Shocking State Media Report Exposes Widespread Undercounting Of Coronavirus Deaths In Wuhan's Nursing Homes - Despite the WHO's refusal to even consider the question during its press conference on Monday, evidence continues to mount that officials in Beijing and Hubei are seriously massaging the stats to conform to Beijing's narrative that the outbreak is under control, and is finally starting to recede.Yesterday, we shared the story of a doctor in Hunan who said out of 50 deaths at his hospital that day, authorities only counted one in the official stats.Then in the early hours of Tuesday morning, state-controlled business publication Caixin published a shocking scoop that exposed officials' undercounting, and also suggested that the exaggerations are about as bad as critics feared.It's hard to image that this wasn't a deliberate act of defiance by a journalist who was finally fed up with official lies. The death of Dr. Li Wenliang earlier this month inspired a nascent free-speech movement that just might outlast the outbreak, unless authorities move to brutally crush it.The reporters claim that a pattern of discrepancies that has emerged in the official statistics surrounding cases tied to nursing homes and other facilities specializing in elder care. The elderly are, of course, one of several vulnerable populations singled out by the WHO and the governor of Hubei for special care.But after it came to light late last week that Chinese authorities missed 500 cases in several prisons in and outside of Hubei, journalists and local officials got curious to see what else was being overlooked. One nursing home situated just blocks from the seafood market where the outbreak allegedly began reported 19 deaths recently all of which are believed to have been caused by the virus. However, a doctor told the paper that only one death was counted in the official statistics.

Exclusive: Cluster of Death Found at Wuhan Nursing Home Near Seafood Market - At least 19 people, mostly seniors, died in a social welfare facility in Wuhan located just one block away from the seafood market where the deadly Covid-19 outbreak is suspected to have originated, even though the local government acknowledged only one death from the virus. Unexplained deaths from lung ailments among the elderly at the Wuhan Social Welfare Institute and similar facilities suggest that nursing homes may be another blind spot as the government’s epidemic-fighting efforts have focused on hospitals and other communities. Last week it came to light that Chinese prisons reported more than 500 previously uncounted Covid-19 cases among guards and inmates.

Protecting the Truth About the Coronavirus in China - Since February 3, censors have deleted eight posts that I’ve shared on Weibo—all of them about the COVID-19 outbreak. Gone is an analysis of China’s governance written by high school students; a desperate message from a Wuhan resident to the rest of China: “Even if you don’t care about politics, politics will come after you”; screenshots of diary entries from a Wuhan native on how her parents’ health deteriorated and they eventually died from infection; and a plea from a rural Hubei health clinic for medical supplies. As China clamps back down on speech, it saddens me that there are human stories about the crisis that might never be seen again. But I’m relieved to know that volunteers worked together to save so many accounts and so much of the courageous reporting. If the evidence always disappears, there can never be any accountability. As of February 18, the pneumonia-causing virus that emerged in December in Wuhan, China, has killed more than 1,870 and sickened 72,528 in China. The World Health Organization reports 804 confirmed cases in 25 other countries. Getting around censorship on Weibo and Douban is a familiar cat-and-mouse game. But the outrage on these social media platforms is on a scale I’ve never seen before. The death of Li Wenliang, a doctor reprimanded for warning about a dangerous new virus that would later kill him, led to an outpouring of grief and rage and sparked demands for freedom of speech. Authorities responded by increasing censorship and launching propaganda campaigns.

Moscow targets Chinese with raids amid virus fears Since the outbreak of the new virus that has infected more than 76,000 people and killed more than 2,300 in mainland China, Russia has reported two cases. Both patients, Chinese nationals hospitalized in Siberia, recovered quickly. Russian authorities nevertheless are going to significant — some argue discriminatory — lengths to keep the virus from resurfacing and spreading. Moscow officials ordered police raids of hotels, dormitories, apartment buildings and businesses to track down the shrinking number of Chinese people remaining in the city. They also authorized the use of facial recognition technology to find those suspected of evading a 14-day self-quarantine period upon their arrival in Russia. “Conducting raids is an unpleasant task, but it is necessary, for the potential carriers of the virus as well,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said in a statement outlining various methods to find and track Chinese people the city approved as a virus prevention strategy. The effort to identify Chinese citizens on public transportation applies not only to buses, but underground trains and street trams in Moscow, Russian media reported Wednesday. Metro workers were instructed to stop riders from China and ask them to fill out questionnaires asking why they were in Russia and whether they observed the two-week quarantine, the reports said. The forms also ask respondents for their health condition and the address of where they are were staying. In Yekaterinburg, a city located 1,790 kilometers (1,112 miles) away from Moscow in the Urals Mountains, members of the local Chinese community also are under watch. Self-styled Cossack patrols in the city hand out medical masks along with strong recommendations to visit a health clinic to Chinese residents.

Coronavirus: infected health official leading South Korea’s fight against Covid-19 is member of Shincheonji Church of Jesus - A senior health official at the forefront of South Korea’s fight against Covid-19 has tested positive for the coronavirus – and identified himself as a member of the religious group linked to hundreds of other cases. The official, whose name has been kept from the public, is the head of the Infection Preventive Medicine Department in the western district of Daegu City, which is at the epicentre of the outbreak in South Korea. Daegu, population 2.2 million, and its surrounding province of North Gyeongbuk, account for 681 of the 833 infections confirmed in the country as of Monday afternoon. More than 450 of those cases have already been identified as followers of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which mainstream churches regard as a doomsday cult, and experts believe this number is likely to rise. The official, who was in charge of the district’s fight against the virus, identified himself as belonging to the controversial Christian sect after he tested positive for the virus, said Daegu City Mayor Kwon Young-jin. Consequently, 50 other health officials who worked with him have been quarantined at their homes as a precautionary measure.The news came as a police officer in Daegu diagnosed with the virus subsequently revealed himself to be a member of the sect, too, as did a female teacher at a children’s cram school in Gumi City, near Daegu. Also on Monday, Korean Air announced it was stopping all flights to Daegu until March 28, while Asiana Airlines said it would suspend all flights to the city until March 9. Citing coronavirus concerns, Vietnam’s Bamboo Airways said it would suspend all flights to South Korea from February 26.

The coronavirus is wreaking havoc across European health services as Italy becomes the most-infected area outside of Asia - With hospitals pushed to the brink, doctors in short supply, and emergency phone lines tied up due to non-stop calls, the coronavirus isn't just putting a strain on Asian healthcare systems. It's wreaking havoc across Europe too. In Italy, the most-infected country outside of Asia, a dozen cities have been put on lockdown. Business Insider spoke with a young Italian woman from Milan who was presenting flu-like symptoms and suffering from a fever. She tried to seek advice from healthcare facilities but was unable to reach anyone. "I've had a fever for three days," the woman told Business Insider. "I haven't had any direct contact with anyone from China but I can't be sure that those with whom I've come into contact in the last 14 days haven't. Or that they haven't had contact with people in Lodigiano, for that matter." According to The Guardian, the first man in the Italian region confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 was a 38-year-old passing through Lodi. The Milanese woman works in the communication services sector so she meets dozens of people every day. She explained that she felt compelled by her sense of civic responsibility to call 112, the emergency number suggested for people with symptoms in Milan, as she planned on taking "a couple of flights next week." "I waited on hold for 20 minutes," the woman said. "When I reached the operator, I was patient when I stopped and thought about the volume of calls that must need filtering. But before I'd had the chance to say anything about my flu, I was told to call an official '1500' number."She tried to call the number she'd been given, but the line was busy."Then the line went dead," she explained. "I continuously tried to get through for 24 hours but there was no answer. I called the general practitioner — their phone was also disconnected. I had to give up. I sat on the couch and watched television." It's impossible to get through to someone using the official 1500 number — Business Insider tried to get through several times, without success.

Italy’s Far-Right Seeks to Gain from Coronavirus Outbreak - AsItaly scrambles to contain the largest coronavirus outbreak outside of Asia, the country’s powerful far-right opposition party has used the virus to attack its fragile government, attempting to tie COVID-19’s spread to wider issues of border controls and migration.The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 surged in Italy over the weekend from three on Friday to more than 200 on Monday morning. The rapid spread, so far confined mostly to the country’s north, has raised international fears that the world is on the cusp of a pandemic.Italian authorities have begun to implement drastic measures to contain their outbreak, locking down an area of about 50,000 people near Milan that has become the center of Italy’s outbreak and imposing fines on those who try to enter or leave restricted zones. Schools and universities have been closed across the north.  A dozen towns in northern Italy effectively went into lockdown Saturday after the deaths of two people infected with the new virus from China and a growing cluster of cases with no direct links to the origin of the outbreak abroad. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Sunday in an interview with public broadcaster RAI that the surge in cases had “surprised” him. The far-right League party, which until August was in a coalition government with Conte’s populist Five Star movement, seized on the prime minister’s comment, calling on him to resign.League leader Matteo Salvini, who served as deputy leader in the coalition government last year, sought to link COVID-19’s spread to Italy’s acceptance of migrants and refugees – the issue that has fuelled his political rise.Salvini shared a video across his social media accounts of a migrant rescue ship arriving in Pozzallo, on the Italian island of Sicily on Sunday, with the comment: “It is simply insane that the landings continue as if nothing had happened, this government is every day more reckless and deplorable. And Conte has the courage to go and say on TV: “I’m surprised.”” He added that Italy ought to “make our borders armor-plated” in response to the coronavirus.

Coronavirus: Worst-hit countries boost containment efforts - The worst-hit countries are intensifying their efforts to contain the deadly coronavirus as the number of cases globally surpassed 80,000.In South Korea, infections have risen again, taking the total to 977. Americans have been warned against all but essential travel to the nation.Italy and Iran are both battling to contain outbreaks of the virus.In Japan shares slumped on Tuesday, reacting to a global plunge on Monday sparked by fear of further outbreaks.Wall Street and London had both suffered big drops.The World Health Organization said on Monday the world should do more to prepare for a possible pandemic - a situation where an infectious disease spreads easily between people in many countries.The WHO said it was too early to label the outbreak as such, but countries should be "in a phase of preparedness". More cases of the virus, which causes respiratory disease Covid-19, continue to emerge, with the vast majority still in China. The proportion of infected people who die appears to be between 1% and 2%, although the WHO cautions that the mortality rate is not known yet. The Chinese government has announced a ban on the consumption of wild animals and a crackdown on the hunting, transportation and trade of prohibited species, state media say. It is thought that the outbreak originated at a market in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, selling wild animals.

 US soldier in South Korea tests positive for coronavirus - A U.S. soldier stationed in South Korea has tested positive for the new coronavirus, the first such case involving a U.S. service member. United States Forces Korea said in a statement Tuesday that a soldier stationed in Camp Carroll had tested positive and is currently in quarantine at his off-base residence. "USFK is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of COVID-19 and remains at risk level 'high' for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force," the military said in its statement. COVID-19 refers to the disease caused by the coronavirus. The outbreak has spread from China to other parts of the world in a span of several months. The latest development comes a day after a U.S. military dependent in South Korea tested positive for the virus after visiting a store on Camp Walker, a military base in the southeast city fo Daegu, prompting the USFK to raise its risk level from moderate to high. The Trump administration has come under fire from public health officials and lawmakers alike over its response to the outbreak. Trump himself tweeted on Monday night that the virus was "very much under control." But as stocks plunged for the second day in a row on Tuesday amid a tidal wave of concerns over the outbreak, Republican and Democratic lawmakers chided the White House for its apparent lack of preparation. Their remarks came the same day a top U.S. health official warned the spread of the virus in the U.S. was inevitable. Still, other Trump officials on Tuesday sought to quell concerns, with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow claiming the the administration had contained it.

San Francisco declares state of emergency over coronavirus - San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) declared a state of emergency for the city on Tuesday amid concerns over the international coronavirus outbreak.While no coronavirus cases have been confirmed in San Francisco, “the global picture is changing rapidly, and we need to step-up preparedness,” Breed said in a statement.“We see the virus spreading in new parts of the world every day, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect San Franciscans from harm,” she added.  The new state of emergency will allow city officials to assemble resources and personnel to expedite emergency planning measures and boost the ability to deploy a rapid response to a potential coronavirus case in the city.The move follows a similar declaration from Santa Clara County earlier this month. The declaration is effective immediately for seven days and will be voted on by the board of supervisors on March 3. The statement from Breed comes amid stark warnings from U.S. health officials over the chances of an outbreak of the virus in the U.S. “As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Tuesday. “It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” she added. “Disruption to everyday life might be severe.”

8,000 Californians Under "Self-Imposed Quarantine", South Korea Locks Down City Of 2.5 Million People: Virus Updates - As we mentioned earlier, the state of California has thousands of individuals under a 'self-imposed quarantine'. But what, exactly, does this mean? As the SF Chronicle points out, this figure is up from 6,700 last week.  The Press Democrat reports that all of the people under self-imposed quarantine recently visited China, but have no other connection to a sick individual, and have shown no other signs of the virus. These people returned to the US either on or after Feb. 2 as countries started tightening borders.  While making a case for full-on quarantine might be difficult, Italy and SK have identified cases where the chain of infection is murky. Some haven't traveled abroad. Some visited hot zones weeks ago and are just beginning to show symptoms. It's certainly something to think about consider that, as we reported earlier, the CDC only has only tested about 400 individuals. In the latest virus-related update out of Europe, Spain just reported its third case, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais. According the report, the individual is a "traveler" from Italy. In their latest update, South Korea has admitted 60 more cases, making a total of 893. And, as the virus spreads, South Korea is about to go 'full China' on its people as Yonhap reports  the cities of Daegu and Gyeongbuk, where the virus is spreading rapidly, have been designated as special disease management areas for infectious diseases. Simply put, this means that, as Democratic Party spokesman Hong Ik-pyo explained, "A blockade is being considered by the government, and we are considering using some administrative power in areas such as movement." Locals have called this a strategy to "enforce the maximum containment policy" - in other words, full lockdown of a city of 2.5 million people (the 4th largest in the country).

Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response - Lawmakers in both parties on Tuesday expressed growing alarm that the threat of coronavirus in the United States is serious, and that the Trump administration is not doing enough to fight it. Two Cabinet members at separate hearings were grilled over what lawmakers described as an insufficient response so far, while Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said the White House's budget request to handle the disease was lackluster. “It seems to me at the outset that this request for the money, the supplemental, is lowballing it, possibly, and you can't afford to do that,” Shelby told Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a hearing on the agency's budget request. “If you lowball something like this, you'll pay for it later," he added, telling reporters he planned to recommend a “higher” amount without offering details. Democrats were unsparing on their criticism, with Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) saying the administration was showing “towering and dangerous incompetence” in its response to the virus. He called for at least $3.1 billion in funding and for the administration to appoint a czar to oversee the response. The broadsides from lawmakers came against the backdrop of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issuing a warning for the country to prepare for an outbreak of cases in the U.S., and another difficult day on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 879 points. The index lost more than 1,000 points the previous day. Messages from the White House diverged throughout Tuesday, with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow raising eyebrows with remarks in an CNBC interview stating that the virus was “contained” and that it was pretty close to “air-tight.” His remarks came the same day the CDC warned of an inevitable outbreak in the United States. “It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters. “Disruption to everyday life might be severe.” The widely different messages from administration officials coming the same day invited criticism from Democrats. “It is clear this administration is in total disarray when it comes to this crisis of the coronavirus,” Schumer said Tuesday. He also ripped the administration for budget cuts to the CDC. 

CDC Tells Americans to Start Readying for Outbreak: Virus Update -The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak at home that could lead to significant disruptions of daily life, though the warnings were downplayed by the White House. Congress was told that there’s shortage of masks needed for health workers if one occurs. New cases were reported in Europe, prompting worries of a widening outbreak there. Iran reported a total of 15 deaths, the most fatalities outside China, and a top health official tested positive. Chinese President Xi Jinpingsaid his country was confident of limiting the impact, though new cases continue to be identified elsewhere in Asia.Moderna Inc. shipped a first vaccine for testing in humans. The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is also starting a trial of Gilead Sciences Inc. drug.White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow called for calm after U.S. health officials said that an outbreak inside the U.S. could cause significant disruptions to daily life if emergency plans were put into place.“I think people should be as calm as possible in assessing this,” Kudlow said at the White House. “Emergency plans don’t necessarily mean they’ll have to be put into place.”There have been fewer than 20 coronavirus cases diagnosed in the U.S., though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it expects the pathogen to eventually spread locally.“We have contained this, I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow said. He called it a human tragedy because of the toll in China, but said it was not an economic one.

If CDC Believes US Coronavirus Outbreak Is "Imminent", Why Have Only 400 People Been Tested? -As the CDC and the State Department continue their blame game over who was responsible for breaking quarantine during the evacuation of more than 300 American passengers aboard the 'Diamond Princess', a Rutgers professor is raising interesting questions about the federal government's response to the outbreak on Twitter. Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology, pointed out that only 426 Americans have been tested for the coronavirus since the outbreak began.  That's compared with nearly 200,000 tests in China, and 28,000 tests in South Korea. No question each of those countries has a more serious outbreak. But it seems like there have been enough scares across the US to warrant more tests, especially as authorities promised to trace contacts and isolate them. As of Monday, the CDC has reported 39 cases among people returning from Wuhan or the Diamond Princess, 12 additional 'travel related' cases, as well as two cases of human-to-human transmission involving family members of those infected abroad. So, why hasn't the US taken the initiative to test more cases? It's true that the CDC warned about a shortage of quality test kids last week. And on Monday, senior White House officials warned about the vulnerable supply chain for health-care products needed to combat the outbreak, as we noted earlier. Does this mean the federal government and the CDC have obscured the seriousness of a shortage of virus tests and other medical gear? Or is this another example of the federal agency dragging its feet for some reason probably related to bureaucratic politics.

Trump spent the past 2 years slashing the government agencies responsible for handling the coronavirus outbreak President Donald Trump spent much of Tuesday reassuring the public that the coronavirus is under control. "China is working very, very hard," Trump told reporters at a business roundtable at the US embassy in New Delhi. "I have spoken to President Xi, and they are working very hard. If you know anything about him, I think he will be in pretty good shape. They have had a rough patch, but now it looks like they are getting it more and more under control. I think that is a problem that is going to go away."Trump's comments are at odds with reality. The coronavirus, or the COVID-19 virus, originated in Wuhan, China, and has killed 2,700 people and spread to 30 countries. There are at least 36 confirmed cases in the US, including repatriated citizens.On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it expected the virus to spread further within the US."It's not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more but a question of when this will happen," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press call on Tuesday. "We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad."Messonnier also said the agency was "preparing as if we are going to see community spread in the near term," adding that the outbreak could soon lead to a "disruption to everyday life."Fears of a pandemic come after the Trump administration spent the past several years gutting the very government programs that are tasked with combatting such a crisis.In 2018, for instance, the CDC cut 80% of its efforts to prevent global disease outbreaks because it was running out of money. Ultimately, the department went from working in 49 countries to just 10. Here are some other actions the Trump administration undertook to dismantle government-spending programs related to fighting the spread of global diseases, according to Foreign Policy:

 Harvard Professor Says 40-70% Of People Worldwide Will Be Infected With Covid-19 - Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch says that the coronavirus will not be containable and that 40-70 of people worldwide will be infected. In an article entitled You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus, the Atlantic explains how the coronavirus is particularly dangerous because it may cause cause no symptoms at all in many carriers of the infection. According to Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch, this contributes to his prediction that coronavirus “will ultimately not be containable.” “Lipsitch predicts that, within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,” reports the Atlantic. The professor clarifies that this doesn’t mean all of those victims will become seriously ill and that “many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic.” Lipsitch's "very, very rough" estimate (banking on “multiple assumptions piled on top of each other”) was that 100 or 200 people in the U.S. were infected. That's all it would take to seed the disease widely...  As The Atlantic noted, even if Lipsitch’s estimates were off by orders of magnitude, they wouldn’t likely change the overall prognosis. “Two hundred cases of a flu-like illness during flu season - when you’re not testing for it - is very hard to detect,” Lipsitch said. “But it would be really good to know sooner rather than later whether that’s correct, or whether we’ve miscalculated something. The only way to do that is by testing.” However, given the increasingly stringent measures being taken outside of China to stop the spread of the virus, including in Italy where people are being prevented from leaving towns, one wonders how severe the panic will be if there is a massive global pandemic.

Harvard Scientist Predicts Up to 70% of World Will Get COVID-19 Coronavirus - Cases of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus are now popping up all over the world, with full-blown outbreaks and quarantines taking place in Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea, with numerous deaths in each area. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been hesitant to officially call this outbreak a pandemic, but at a press conference this week, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that nations around the world should start preparing as if they were dealing with an active pandemic. Meanwhile, Harvard University epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch has predicted in an interview with the Atlantic, that the virus will eventually infect somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of the entire world, because it has now become “uncontainable.” However, Lipsitch does not believe that the virus will be deadly to all of these people, because some cases of the illness will be mild or nonsymptomatic.  A case study published this week by Chinese researchers in the journal JAMA has shown that a 20-year-old woman from Wuhan passed the illness on to five of her family members but never became sick herself. To make matters even more confusing, the young woman initially tested negative for the illness before testing positive days later. Doctors believe that the woman from the recent case study had an incubation period of 19 days. Other studies have suggested that the time of incubation could be up to 24 or even 27 days.

Italy is sealing off entire towns and canceling major events after 322 cases and 12 deaths made it the most infected country outside Asia - Italy is scrambling to counter a coronavirus outbreak after a sharp spike in cases and deaths made it the worst-hit country outside Asia.As of Wednesday morning, 12 people in Italy had died from the virus and at least 322 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the country.All the deaths involved people who were elderly or had other health complications, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and the Associated Press (AP) reported.The country has put 11 towns on lockdown with the hope of containing the spread. The two most infected regions are Lombardy and Veneto in the north, which contain the major cities of Milan and Venice. But the virus has also spread farther south, with regions including Tuscany and the island of Sicily also reporting cases on Tuesday and Wednesday.Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced an emergency plan to quarantine towns late on Saturday, locking down the settlements by blocking most travel to and from them. He said the quarantine could last for weeks, the BBC reported.Italian officials estimated on Monday that about 100,000 people in the country were affected by travel restrictions. Schools, museums, and theaters across the region have been closed in these areas. Police officers and members of the armed forces have been given the authority to e nforce the lockdown, the BBC reported.On Tuesday, Conte warned against panic and defended the country's response to the virus. "Obviously I can't say I'm not worried because I don't want anyone to think we're underestimating this emergency," he said, according to the AP. "But we trust that with the measures we've implemented there will be a containing effect in the coming days."

Coronavirus: Outbreak spreads in Europe from Italy BBC. Several European countries have announced their first coronavirus cases, all apparently linked to the growing outbreak in Italy. Austria, Croatia, Greece and Switzerland said the cases involved people who had been to Italy, as did Algeria in Africa. The first positive virus test has been recorded in Latin America - a Brazilian resident just returned from Italy. Italy has in recent days become Europe's worst-affected country. Authorities have confirmed more than 300 cases and 12 deaths there, the most recent a 70-year-old resident of Lombardy who died after being taken to intensive care in Parma. The country has also seen four children infected. Its neighbours, however, have decided closing borders would be "disproportionate". Health ministers from France, Germany, Italy and the EU Commission committed to keeping frontiers open at a meeting on Tuesday as new cases of the virus emerged throughout Europe and in central and southern Italy. "We're talking about a virus that doesn't respect borders," said Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza. His German counterpart, Jens Spahn, said the neighbours were taking the situation "very, very seriously" but acknowledged "it could get worse before it gets better".

  • In the UK, schoolchildren returning from holidays in northern Italy have been sent home, with the government issuing new guidance to travellers.
  • In Austria, a young Italian couple who live in Innsbruck in the Tyrol were confirmed to have the virus. The couple's home was sealed off and a hotel in which one of the pair worked was put in lockdown. Officials on Wednesday said the lockdown had been lifted, while nine people had been put in quarantine "as a precaution" following medical tests
  • Switzerland said a man in his seventies living in Ticino, bordering Italy, had been infected in Milan on 15 February and was now in isolation
  • A man in Croatia who recently returned from Italy became the first confirmed patient in the Balkans
  • On the Spanish island of Tenerife, hundreds of guests were locked down in a hotel after an Italian doctor and his wife tested positive for the virus
  • Spain reported its first case on the mainland, involving a woman in Barcelona who had been to northern Italy
  • Greece confirmed its first case, in a 38-year-old woman who had returned from a trip to northern Italy, according to reports
  • France confirmed the first death of a French national from the virus. The 60-year-old French man was the second fatality in the country, after an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died there earlier this month
  • France and Germany reported new cases involving people who had recently been to northern Italy

Coronavirus cases surge to 400 in Italy -The number of coronavirus cases in Italy has jumped to 400, amid international efforts to contain the spread of the deadly outbreak. The rise in Italy, the main focus of infection in Europe, represents a 25% surge in 24 hours. Several European countries announced new cases traced to Italy. Also on Wednesday, the World Health Organization said that for the first time the virus was spreading faster outside China, where it originated. Globally, more than 80,000 people in about 40 countries have been infected with the new coronavirus, which emerged in December. The vast majority remain in China. Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, has killed more than 2,700 people so far. Map Late on Wednesday, authorities reported a total of 400 cases - a rise of 80 from Tuesday night. The worst-affected areas are in the industrial north of the country - Lombardy, the region around Milan, and Veneto near Venice. The outbreak has killed 12 people in the country so far. Government officials have sought to reassure the public, and insisted steps were being taken to prevent the spread of the disease. Schools, universities and cinemas have been closed and several public events cancelled. Eleven towns at the centre of the outbreak - home to a total of 55,000 people - have been quarantined. There are fears that the outbreak may tip Italy into economic recession. The BBC's Mark Lowen in Milan says fear is the reason for the city's empty cafes and many hotel cancellations. EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told reporters after meeting the Italian health minister in Rome: "This is a situation of concern, but we must not give in to panic. "There are still many unknowns about this virus and in particular its origin and how it spreads." In the past two days, Austria, Croatia, Greece, Norway, Switzerland, Georgia and North Macedonia reported their first coronavirus cases. Many of them involved people who had been to Italy. More cases were also announced in Spain, France and Germany. Ireland postponed Six Nations rugby matches with Italy in Dublin that were to be held on 7 and 8 March. In the UK, where 13 cases have been reported, tests for coronavirus are being increased to include people displaying flu-like symptoms. Outside Europe, Algeria, Brazil and Pakistan also reported their first coronavirus infections. The Brazilian case marked the arrival of the virus in Latin America.

 Coronavirus cases in Italy hit 447 -Italy has 447 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday, according to The Associated Press. Earlier the same day, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the number of cases had reached 400, marking a 25 percent uptick in just 24 hours. The 47 additional cases were announced later in the evening.Seven other European nations confirmed new cases of the virus overnight, including 80 new cases in Italy alone as of Wednesday morning, with a concentration in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto. The outbreak has killed 12 people in the country so far.“The sudden increases in cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.A number of elected officials have self-quarantined to send a message to the public to limit travel in an effort to contain the disease.Soccer games have also been canceled in Italy, and at least six universities announced Wednesday that they would cancel their study abroad programs there. “In response, the Italian government has been taking swift action to try to prevent its spread,” a New York University spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday. "While we do not believe there is a pressing health threat to the NYU Florence community, the past month has taught us that countries may swiftly and unexpectedly make decisions that can significantly affect one’s ability to travel."

How One Singapore Sales Conference Spread Coronavirus Around the World - One meeting, attended by 109 people, sent virus hunters scurrying to a French Alpine ski town, a British pub and locations in Malaysia and South Korea - Wall Street Journal  -Last month, 109 people gathered in a Singapore hotel for an international sales conference held by a U.K.-based company that makes products to analyze gas.When the attendees flew home, some unwittingly took the coronavirus with them.The virus had a 10-day head start on health authorities who, after belatedly learning a 41-year-old Malaysian participant was infected, began a desperate effort to track the infection through countries including South Korea, England and France.Health investigators have found at least 20 people in six Asian and European countries who were sickened, some who attended the conference and others who came in contact with participants.After this one conference alone, 94 participants left Singapore, authorities determined. Some joined Lunar New Year dinners. Others went on vacation, one to an Alpine ski town. They had eaten, taken car rides and shared a roof with others who then boarded more planes to places the virus hadn’t yet reached.Health officials used international communications channels to share names of the potentially infected and relied on self-reporting by sickened conference-goers, creating “activity maps" that detailed their movement. They checked flight manifests and called passengers. French authorities closed down schools in sparsely populated towns. U.K. public-health officials isolated health-care workers who got the illness and searched for patients with whom they came in contact.  Tracking even a relatively small number of cases such as those linked to the conference requires meticulous detective work. To stop the contagion’s global spread, it is critical to identify people who might have caught the virus before they pass it on.

Aerial footage shows huge queues for masks in South Korea amid coronavirus panic (video)A queue of hundreds of people wanting to buy face masks from a supermarket stretched round several streets in Daegu on Monday. Customers queued outside one of Daegu's E-mart stores, which began to sell face masks at half price in the city, according to local media reports. South Korea has raised its infectious disease alert level to its highest for the first time since 2009

Hospitals in Japan refusing to test many who suspect they have COVID-19 - Some medical institutions in Japan have been rejecting possible COVID-19 patients under the strict but ambiguous testing guidelines currently in place, leaving many patients shunted from hospital to hospital. Experts point out that the vague criteria have caused confusion among medical staff. According to the health ministry, eligibility for the test is limited to two groups of people; those who have come into close contact with patients confirmed as infected with the new virus, and those who have traveled recently to infected areas in China, have a fever of at least 37.5 degrees Celsius and have pneumonia-like symptoms that require hospitalization. But the final decision on whether to test a patient is also “up to the doctor’s overall judgment.” A government worker in his 30s who lives in Tokyo visited a hospital after his temperature rose to 39 degrees on Feb. 17. When he mentioned that he had recently visited Taiwan, he was advised to go to a dedicated COVID-19 consultation center. The center told him that visitors to Taiwan were not eligible for the test. After being refused by two more hospitals due to reasons such as inadequate facilities, he was finally seen by a doctor at a general hospital where he took a lung X-ray. He was given the all-clear. A 29-year-old male company employee in Tokyo called the COVID-19 consultation center after developing a fever of 39 degrees on Feb. 12 as well as feeling lethargic and having diarrhea. He had recently been in contact with a person who had traveled to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. The center told him to visit a local hospital because he had not had close contact with the individual with Wuhan travel history. He was then refused by a hospital in Tokyo, but was later able to see a doctor at a hospital that specializes in treating infections. Symptoms of infection with the novel coronavirus may be difficult to distinguish from those of other illnesses, and it is said that most cases of infection do not become severe. A Chiba woman in her 70s who on Feb. 20 was found to have been infected had previously been told to note her symptoms, but had not been tested. She had gone on a three-day bus tour ending Feb. 18, but the symptoms continued and so she visited the hospital and then tested positive. Suggesting one reason so many hospitals have been refusing patients, a Tokyo Metropolitan Government official said, “Medical institutions are probably overreacting,” fearing the risks of in-hospital infection.

14% of Recovered Covid-19 Patients in Guangdong Tested Positive Again -- About 14% of patients who recovered from the novel coronavirus and were discharged from hospitals in southern China’s Guangdong province were tested positive again in later check-ups, according to the local health authority. A positive test suggests the recovered patients may still carry the virus, adding complexity to efforts to control the outbreak.There is no clear conclusion on why it happens and whether such patients could still be infectious, said Song Tie, deputy director of the Guangdong Center of Disease Control And Prevention (Guangdong CDC), at a Tuesday briefing.According to the preliminary assessment, experts believed the patients are still recovering from lung infections and have yet to be fully healthy, according to Song. According to the latest treatment guidelines for the Covid-19 issued by the National Health Commission, patients can be considered recovered and released from hospital when their throat or nose swabs show up negative in two consecutive tests, with a CT scan indicating no lung lesions, and when they have no obvious symptoms such as fever.The guidelines suggest recovered patients should monitor their health and limit outdoor activities for two weeks after leaving the hospital, and check in for retesting in following weeks.Some patients’ test results returned to positive in the follow-up checks, said Li Yueping, director of the intensive care unit at Guangzhou No.8 People's Hospital at the briefing.

Saudi Arabia suspends entry for pilgrims over coronavirus -- Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for visits to Islam's holiest sites for the "umrah" pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the hajj, which starts in July. The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, also suspended visas for tourists from countries with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen. Saudi Arabia, which so far has reported no cases of the virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries, said the suspensions were temporary. It provided no timeframe for when they will be lifted. "The kingdom's government has decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet's mosque temporarily," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those coming from countries, in which the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger." Gulf countries have already announced a raft of measures, including flight suspensions and school closures, to curb the spread of the disease from people returning from pilgrimages to Iran. - Logistical headache - The umrah, which refers to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts tens of thousands of devout Muslims from all over the globe each month. There was no clarity over how the move would affect the annual hajj pilgrimage due to start in late July. Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in last year's hajj -- one of the five pillars of Islam. The hajj and the umrah centre on the western city of Mecca and its surrounding hills and valleys. The hajj represents a key rite of passage for Muslims and a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites. Saudi Arabia's custodianship of Mecca and Medina -- Islam's two holiest sites -- is seen as the kingdom's most powerful source of political legitimacy.

 CDC announces first US case of coronavirus with 'unknown' origin - Officials on Wednesday announced a new case of coronavirus in California, which could be the first known instance in the United States of the virus spreading among the general public. Officials announced a case in California in which the person did not have a history of going to places with the virus or known exposure to another person with the virus. “At this time, the patient’s exposure is unknown,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. “It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States. Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown.” "It’s also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected," the CDC added. If confirmed, it would be a major milestone if the virus were spreading in the U.S. among the general public, something officials have warned is coming but so far has not happened. The case is the 15th in the United States, not counting those who returned from a cruise ship abroad.

A single coronavirus case exposes a bigger problem: The scope of undetected U.S. spread is unknown - The discovery that a California woman was likely infected with the novelcoronavirus by a previously unrecognized case in her community is proof of an enormous problem the country is facing at the moment, according to public health experts. It’s clear that the virus is spreading undetected in the United States — but how broadly it’s spreading is an utter mystery. Before Thursday, a perfect storm of problems in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s development of test kits — and the agency’s reluctance to expand its recommendation of who should be tested given the limited availability of kits — meant very little testing has been done in the country. As of Wednesday, the CDC said that 445 people had been tested — a fraction of the number of tests that other countries have run.The new case in California makes it clear the virus is spreading undetected in at least one area of one state. The woman is not believed to have traveled outside the country and had no contact with a known case. As her condition worsened — she is on a ventilator — health officials in California asked the CDC to test her for the virus. Because she had not been to China and had not been a contact of a known case, the agency said no. Eventually, more than 10 days after she went into hospital, the CDC agreed she could be tested. Dozens of health workers who may have come into contact with her at NorthBay VacaValley Hospital, in Vacaville, Calif., are now being monitored. California Gov. Gavin Newsom was critical of the testing debacle in a press conference on Thursday. His state has only 200 kits to test for the new coronavirus, he said. “Testing protocols have been a point of frustration for many of us,” Newsom said. Requests for comment from the CDC on Thursday went unanswered. The New York Times reported that the Trump administration has ordered that all statements on the coronavirus be funneled through the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who was named to head the administration’s coronavirus response on Wednesday by President Trump.

Public health experts raise alarm as coronavirus spreads - A global pandemic outbreak of a new coronavirus will almost inevitably spread to the United States, public health experts are warning, putting new pressure on the Trump administration to act as cases begin to mount outside of the Chinese epicenter. Those experts, many of whom were on the front lines of the battle against an Ebola outbreak six years ago, said the coronavirus represents an even greater threat to the United States. Though much is still unknown about the virus, which first appeared late last year in Wuhan, China, it's clear it spreads easily between humans. “We’ve seen what this disease can do. We’ve seen what it did in China. We’ve seen what it did on the cruise ship,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development who directed USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance during the Ebola outbreak. “This is a highly transmissible disease, and there’s nothing magic about China that means it’s going to spread there and not here.” Experts have watched with growing alarm as clusters of cases have popped up, and multiplied exponentially, both in poor countries with weak health infrastructure like Iran and in wealthy countries with strong infrastructure like Italy and South Korea. The latest case counts showed nearly a thousand cases of the coronavirus in South Korea, just days after cases numbered in only the single digits. “This is going to continue to spread around the world like a pandemic, not like SARS or MERS, and you can’t stop it with traditional public health measures,” said Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “The only thing that would stop it is if you have a vaccine for the world. And we don’t and we won’t.” Nancy Messonnier, who directs the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters Tuesday that the virus’s spread inside the United States is now inevitable. She said she had spoken to her children about the virus Tuesday morning. “It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” Messonnier said. “Disruption to everyday life might be severe.”

Whistleblower: Feds helping evacuees lacked virus protection (AP) — A government whistleblower has filed a complaint alleging that some federal workers did not have the necessary protective gear or training when they were deployed to help Americans evacuated from China during the coronavirus outbreak.The complaint deals with Department of Health and Human Services employees sent to Travis and March Air Force bases in California to assist the quarantined evacuees. The Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates personnel issues, confirmed on Thursday that it had received the unnamed whistleblower’s complaint and had opened a case.Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., said the whistleblower recently contacted his office, also alleging retaliation by higher-ups for having flagged safety issues.“My concern from the moment I heard it is that individuals at HHS are not taking the complaints of HHS employees seriously,” Gomez said in an interview. “Their superiors are not supposed to brush them off. By retaliating against people if they do call out a problem, that only discourages other people from ever reporting violations.” The whistleblower was among a team of about a dozen employees from the agency who had been deployed to help connect the evacuees with government assistance that they might qualify for to ease their return. The team was there from mid-January until earlier this month.Although team members had gloves at times and masks at other times, they lacked full protective gear and received no training on how to protect themselves in a viral hot zone, according to a description provided by the congressional office. They had no respirators. While helping the evacuees, team members noticed that workers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were in full gear to protect them from getting sick.

 California is monitoring at least 8,400 people for the coronavirus - California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that 33 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and the state is currently monitoring at least 8,400 others —a day after U.S. health officials confirmed the first possible community transmission of the coronavirus in a Solano County resident. “This is a fluid situation right now and I want to emphaize the risk to the American public remains low,” said Dr. Sonia Y. Angell, California Department of Public Health Director and State Health Officer during a press conference. “There have been a limited number of confirmed cases to date.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t know exactly how the new California patient, who’s receiving medical care in Sacramento County, contracted the virus. The patient didn’t have a relevant travel history or exposure to another patient with the virus, the CDC said Wednesday. California health officials said the patient wasn’t under quarantine before her diagnosis and was out and about in her community. “We are currently in deep partnership with CDC on one overriding protocol that drives our principle focus right now and that’s testing, and the importance to increase our testing protocols and to have point of contact diagnostic testing as our top priority not just in the state of California but I imagine all across the United States,” Newsom said at a press conference. Newsom said five of the 33 patients who tested positive for the virus have since left the state. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the 33 positive cases were part of the group of Diamond Princess passengers who were evacuated from the cruise ship that was quarantined off the coast of Japan. The U.S. had 60 cases as of Wednesday night, 42 of which are people who were on the ship, according to the CDC. California health officials have 200 testing kits on hand and will be receiving more over the next few days, Newsom said.

Coronavirus: Trump says US risk 'very low' as Australian PM warns pandemic is 'upon us'  -- Donald Trump has sought to play down the threat from coronavirus despite mounting concerns about unchecked worldwide contagion, as Australia’s prime minister launched an emergency plan and said that the risk of a pandemic was “very much upon us”.In a press conference in Washington, the US president said the danger to Americans “remains very low” and predicted that the number of cases diagnosed in the country, currently on 15, could fall to zero in a “few days”.“We have had tremendous success, tremendous success, beyond what people would have thought. At the same time, you do have some outbreaks in some countries – Italy and various countries – are having some difficulties,” he said, in remarks that appeared to be contradicted by officials from his own administration at the same media briefing. The president also said that stock markets, which have seen substantial falls in recent days because of worries about the global economic impact of the virus, would recover, even attempting to blame the Democratic leadership debate for the losses on Wall Street.However, the growing threat of a pandemic forced the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, a staunch Trump ally, to enact the country’s emergency response plan, which could include mass vaccinations and the quarantining of large numbers of people in sports stadiums if necessary.  “There is every indication the world will soon enter the pandemic phase of the virus,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “We believe the risk of a pandemic is very much upon us and we as a government need to take steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic.” Morrison was speaking after evidence continued to mount from the rest of the world that the number of cases of the virus, which has killed nearly 3,000 people and infected more than 82,000, was rising unchecked, and as countries stepped up their policy responses:

  • South Korea reported a further 334 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total to 1,595 – the highest number outside mainland China. Most of the cases were again centred on Daegu where a church at the centre of the country’s outbreak is located.
  • Iran’s state-run Irna news agency reported that 22 people had died – more than in any country apart from China – and that there were 141 confirmed cases. Experts fear Iran is underreporting the number of cases as infections across the wider Persian Gulf have emerged in recent days linked back to the Islamic republic.
  • Saudi Arabia temporarily banned foreign pilgrims from entering the country to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
  • China reported 433 new confirmed cases, and 29 deaths.
  • Britain is preparing for a surge in cases by launching a mass public information campaign in case of an Italy-sized outbreak.
  • Denmark recorded its first case, a man returning after a skiing holiday inItaly. Estonia, Pakistan, Georgia, Norway, Macedonia, Greece and Romania were among countries to report their first case of coronavirus in the past 24 hours.
  • Italian prosecutors launched an investigation into the alleged failure of a hospital in Lombardy to test a man believed to be the first to transmit the infection in the area, as infections surged over 400.
  • Concerns continued to mount about major events such as the Tokyo Olympics, with the Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe saying athletes would have to put their health first when considering whether it was safe to attend.

Explainer: Coronavirus reappears in discharged patients, raising questions in containment fight - (Reuters) - A growing number of discharged coronavirus patients in China and elsewhere are testing positive after recovering, sometimes weeks after being allowed to leave the hospital, which could make the epidemic harder to eradicate. On Wednesday, the Osaka prefectural government in Japan said a woman working as a tour-bus guide had tested positive for the coronavirus for a second time. This followed reports in China that discharged patients throughout the country were testing positive after their release from the hospital. An official at China’s National Health Commission said on Friday that such patients have not been found to be infectious. Experts say there are several ways discharged patients could fall ill with the virus again. Convalescing patients might not build up enough antibodies to develop immunity to SARS-CoV-2, and are being infected again. The virus also could be “biphasic”, meaning it lies dormant before creating new symptoms. But some of the first cases of “reinfection” in China have been attributed to testing discrepancies. On Feb. 21, a discharged patient in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu was readmitted 10 days after being discharged when a follow-up test came back positive. Lei Xuezhong, the deputy director of the infectious diseases center at the West China Hospital, told People’s Daily that hospitals were testing nose and throat samples when deciding whether patients should be discharged, but new tests were finding the virus in the lower respiratory tract. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia who has been closely following the outbreak, told Reuters that although the patient in Osaka could have relapsed, it is also possible that the virus was still being released into her system from the initial infection, and she wasn’t tested properly before she was discharged. The woman first tested positive in late January and was discharged from the hospital on Feb. 1, leading some experts to speculate that it was biphasic, like anthrax.

Five more Chinese regions lower emergency response level as COVID-19 threat recedes - Five Chinese regions have downgraded their emergency response level after assessing that health risks from the coronavirus outbreak have receded, state media and government authorities reported. The northwestern Chinese regions of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, the southwestern province of Sichuan, the northeastern province of Jilin and the southern island of Hainan have all cut their emergency response levels. China has a four-tier response system for public health emergencies that determines what measures a region will implement, with level I the most serious. READ: Four Chinese provinces lower COVID-19 emergency response level Sichuan announced it would adjust its measures from level I to level II, while Inner Mongolia will change from level I to level III, state news agency Xinhua said on Wednesday (Feb 26). Sichuan said every locality will be required to return to work and develop targeted prevention and control programmes for areas still deemed "high-risk". The region of Xinjiang, home to China's Muslim Uighur population, also reduced its emergency response level from I to II after reporting no new cases for seven consecutive days, the official local news portal said on Wednesday. Elsewhere, Jilin province also cut its emergency response level from I to II, according to a notice posted on an official government website. As did Hainan island, from level I to III, according to a notice on the Haikou city government's official WeChat channel. The provinces of Gansu, Yunnan, Guangdong, Shanxi, Guizhou and Anhui have also cut their emergency response levels in the last few days. Some regions, including Fujian in the southeast, are also starting to dismantle emergency roadblocks designed to screen incoming vehicles and curb the contagion. The flu-like disease, which was first detected in the city of Wuhan last December, has infected more than 80,000 people globally and killed more than 2,700 in mainland China. The World Health Organization has said the epidemic in China peaked between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has been in decline since.

New Virus Cases In South Korea Surpasses China For First Time - The outbreak of COVID-19 in South Korea has just hit another unfortunate milestone: For the first time on Thursday, new cases in the tiny East Asian country of just 25 million surpassed new cases in China. While few trust the Chinese numbers, the message is still clear: the global outbreak's center of gravity is moving from Wuhan over to Daegu, and that the global spread of the virus is accelerating, putting governments and epidemiologists on edge. On Thursday, South Korea confirmed 505 new cases, compared with 433 in China, according to China's NHC. Across South Korea, total cases have hit 1,766 in the 38 days since the first case was confirmed on Jan. 20. Of these, 1,132 are from Daegu, 345 from neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, and another 56 are from Seoul. A total of 13 have died. More broadly, this week marked the first time where new cases outside China surpassed those in China. The rapid surge in cases in Daegu and elsewhere made South Korea home to the biggest cluster of cases outside the mainland as it surpassed the "Diamond Princess's" infection total earlier this week. So far, most of the cases have been connected to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus and its branch in Daegu, a city in the southeastern area of South Korea. South Korean President Moon Jae-in promised to avoid the draconian crackdowns utilized by China, even as the WHO praised Beijing's heavy handed tactics. But as the virus spreads and hysteria takes hold, with the US and South Korea cancelling military exercises for the time being, who knows what lengths the government will go to prevent the outbreak from spiraling out of control.

S. Korea reports 3 more deaths from coronavirus, death toll rises to 16 -- South Korea reported three additional deaths tied to new coronavirus on Friday, bringing the country's death toll to 16, the national public health agency said. According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), the three -- all women aged from 60-90 either quarantined at local hospitals or at home -- died of COVID-19 in Daegu, about 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. Two were posthumously diagnosed with the disease and the third had received treatment after testing positive for the virus on Sunday. Other details are not yet available. As of 4 p.m. on Friday, South Korea reported 2,337 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, with 81,167 people having been tested since Jan. 3. Nearly 70 percent of patients have been reported from Daegu, with a cluster of infections tied to the fringe religious group Shincheonji located there. S. Korea reports 3 more deaths from coronavirus, death toll rises to 16 – 1 

81% Of South Korean 'End Of Days' Worshippers Test Positive For Coronavirus - Last week we noted an in-depth report by Bloomberg on how a 61-year-old Korean 'typhoid Mary' spread coronavirus throughout her doomsday religious cult after praying with at least a thousand other adherents. "What made this case so much worse was that this person spent a considerable amount of time in a very crowded area," said Seoul National University professor of health policy, Kim Chang-yup. "There’s growing fear and resentment among the people right now." As a result, over 1,900 members of the Shincheonji Church have been screened for coronavirus, of which 1,551 - or 81%, tested positive according to the BBC's Laura Bicker. Put another way: Out of a population of 1,900 1,300 were symptomatic 600 asymptomatic 420 tested positive but asymptomatic 1,131 tested positive and symptomatic Of note, because the church's leader (who believes he's an immortal prophet sent by Jesus Christ) preaches about the end-of-days, followers have been accused of purposefully spreading the disease - however those reports are unconfirmed and there is no evidence to suggest this is occurring. What is known is that the church held religious gatherings in the Chinese city of Wuhan - the epicenter of the current outbreak. In short, expect similar results - assuming reports of purposeful infection are false - at similar places of worship around the world.

Coronavirus: Italy death toll rises to 21 as UK confirms 20th case – live updates - Italy’s coronavirus death toll has reached 21 and some 820 people have been infected, the civil protection chief has said, while number of those who have recovered from the virus is increasing. Authorities say all the victims were elderly people who had also been suffering from other health issues. Lombardy’s governor, Attilio Fontana, says the situation intensified sharply in Lodi, near Milan, on Thursday; with a sudden spike in the number of people hospitalised. “Unfortunately another emergency broke out in Lodi overnight,” Fontana, who has put himself into self isolation after a regional government employee tested positive, told La7 television. “There was a rush of hospitalisations yesterday afternoon with 51 people in a serious condition, including 17 who were put in intensive care.” Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed the latest case is a resident of Surrey and it that it’s working with the county council to manage the situation. Dr Alison Barnett, the centre director for PHE South East, said: Public Health England is contacting people who had close contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19. One of the latest cases is a resident of Surrey and we’re working closely with NHS colleagues in that area as well as Surrey county council to manage the situation and help reduce the risk of further cases. Close contacts will be given health advice about symptoms and emergency contact details to use if they become unwell in the 14 days after contact with the confirmed case.   A second coronavirus case in a northern Californian patient with no links to international travel has reportedly been identified. The Washington Post quoted Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins centre for health security, as saying: I think there’s a strong possibility that there’s local transmission going in California. In other words, the virus is spreading within California, and I think there’s a possibility other states are in the same boat. They just haven’t recognised it yet. Summary

Illness forces the Pope to cancel an event in Rome a day after showing solidarity with coronavirus sufferers and shaking hands with congregation at weekly audience - Pope Francis has been forced to cancel a planned Mass in Rome with other clergy after suffering a 'slight illness'. The Vatican said the 83-year-old pontiff had a 'slight indisposition' that meant he did not attend an event at the St John Lateran basilica in Rome on Thursday morning.A spokesman said Francis would continue with the rest of his day's business, but preferred to stay within the Vatican rather than travel across the city.   There was no word from the Vatican about the nature of his illness, but the pope was seen coughing and blowing his nose during the Ash Wednesday Mass.  Earlier in the day Francis had met with crowds in St Peter's Square where he touched hands and kissed faces, despite warnings over coronavirus.Northern Italy is currently in the grips of a coronavirus outbreak, which has spread across the country. Cases have been confirmed in Rome, where the Vatican is located.

BBC says 210 dead from coronavirus in Iran, while government says 34 -  At least 210 people have died from the coronavirus in Iran, according to BBC News, a number six times higher than the official death toll from the Iranian government.Officially, Iran says 34 people have died, but BBC spoke with sources in the country's health system that said otherwise. Iran has the highest mortality rate from the coronavirus and has become the new focal point for the virus in recent days amid growing fears that it is a pandemic. The US State Department has offered to help Iran handle the crisis.Iran's deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, on Monday denied there was an effort to cover up the extent of the virus.During a press conference on Monday, Harirchi appeared physically uncomfortable. By the next day, Harirchi announced he had contracted the coronavirus.One of Iran's vice presidents, Masoumeh Ebtekar, has also been infected — and she's been seen in meetings with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Iranian cabinet as recently as Wednesday. The fact that senior members of the government are coming down with the virus has raised concerns among public-health experts who've suggested the scale of the outbreak in the country could be far higher than the leadership is letting on.The official number of confirmed cases of the virus in Iran is 338, but the actual number of infected could be closer to 23,000, according to researchers at the University of Toronto and Dalla Lana School of Public Health, The Wall Street Journal reported. Friday prayers were canceled in Iran because of the coronavirus. Prayer cancellations are exceptionally rare in Iran, and they underscore the severity of the outbreak. Iranian lawmakers have also tested positive for the virus, and Iran's parliament has been suspended indefinitely.

Iran prepares to test 'tens of thousands' for coronavirus as number of confirmed cases spikes -- Iran is preparing for the possibility of “tens of thousands” of people getting tested for the new coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases spiked again Saturday, an official said, underscoring the fear both at home and abroad over the outbreak in the Islamic Republic.The virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes have killed 43 people out of 593 confirmed cases in Iran, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. He disputed a report by the BBC's Persian service citing anonymous medical officials in Iran putting the death toll at over four times as much.But the number of known cases versus deaths would put the virus' death rate in Iran at over 7%, much higher than other countries. That's worried experts at the World Health Organization and elsewhere that Iran may be underreporting the number of cases now affecting it.Yet even as Iran sends spray trucks and fumigators into the streets, officials still are trying to downplay the virus' reach.“During these 10 days that we are talking about the coronavirus in the country, more than 480 people of our country has been killed in traffic accidents, but no one noticed them,” Jahanpour said.The virus has infected more than 85,000 people and caused more than 2,900 deaths since emerging in China. Iran, with 43 people dead, has the world's highest death toll outside of China. Of the 730 confirmed cases scattered across the Mideast, the majority trace back to the Islamic Republic. Saturday's new toll of 593 confirmed cases represents a jump of 205 cases — a 52% increase from the 388 reported the day before. Jahanpour has warned that large increases in the number of confirmed cases would happen as Iran now has 15 laboratories testing for the virus.

Coronavirus threatens global economy as experts warn no country will be spared -  With new infections reported around the world now surpassing those in mainland China, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said even rich nations should prepare. “No country should assume it won’t get cases, that would be a fatal mistake, quite literally,” Tedros said, pointing to Italy, where 17 people have died in Europe’s worst outbreak. In addition to stockpiling medical supplies, governments ordered schools shut and canceled big gatherings, including sports events, to try to halt spread of the flu-like disease known as COVID-19 that emerged in central China more than two months ago from an illegal wildlife market. The death rate appears to be around 2 percent, although it could be lower if there are many mild, undiagnosed cases, experts say. By comparison, seasonal influenza has a case fatality rate of around 0.1%, said Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, ahead of a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, who has been put in charge of coordinating the U.S. response. “So therefore you have somewhat of a serious potential for morbidity and mortality,” he said, adding, “We’re dealing with a serious virus.” There is particular concern over a case in Japan in which a woman tested positive for the virus for a second time. Second positive tests have also been reported in China and could imply contracting the disease does not confer immunity. Scientists warned that much remains unknown about this new virus.

World prepares for coronavirus pandemic; global recession forecast – Reuters - Share prices were on track for the worst week since the global financial crisis in 2008 as virus-related disruptions to international travel and supply chains fueled fears of recession in the United States and the Euro zone. The U.S. stock market fell into correction territory with the benchmark S&P 500 index down more than 4% on Thursday, extending a market rout that has now sliced more than 10% off of its closing peak on Feb. 19. “Markets are voting and saying they think the U.S. is on its way to recession,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “And frankly at this stage after the coronavirus-related slowdown in travel plans that has busted the global supply chain apart, it will be a miracle if we avoid a recession.” Mainland China - where the virus originated late last year - reported 327 new cases on Friday, the lowest since Jan. 23. But with new infections reported around the world now surpassing those in China, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said even rich nations should prepare. “No country should assume it won’t get cases, that would be a fatal mistake, quite literally,” Tedros said, pointing to Italy, where 17 people have died in Europe’s worst outbreak. A Reuters tally showed almost 10 countries reported their first virus cases in past 24 hours. In addition to stockpiling medical supplies, governments ordered schools shut and canceled big gatherings, including sports events, to try to halt the spread of the flu-like disease known as COVID-19. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration was considering invoking special powers to rapidly expand U.S. production of protective gear, two officials told Reuters. In Europe, France’s number of reported cases doubled, Germany warned of an impending epidemic and Greece, a gateway for refugees from the Middle East, announced tighter border controls. “We have a crisis before us. An epidemic is on its way,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.

Coronavirus outbreak 'getting bigger', says WHO, warning of spread worldwide - (Reuters) - The rapid rise in coronavirus raised fears of a pandemic on Friday, with five countries reporting their first cases, the World Health Organization warning it could spread worldwide and Switzerland cancelling the giant Geneva car show. World share markets crashed again, winding up their worst week since the 2008 global financial crisis and bringing the global wipeout to $5 trillion. Hopes that the epidemic that started in China late last year would be over in months, and that economic activity would quickly return to normal, have been shattered as the number of international cases has spiraled. “The outbreak is getting bigger,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva. “The scenario of the coronavirus reaching multiple countries, if not all countries around the world, is something we have been looking at and warning against since quite a while.” Switzerland joined countries banning big events to try to curb the epidemic, forcing cancellation of next week’s Geneva international car show, one of the industry’s most important gatherings. The United States asked its military in Saudi Arabia to avoid crowded venues including malls and cinemas. Mainland China reported 327 new cases, the lowest since Jan. 23, taking its tally to more than 78,800 cases with almost 2,800 deaths.

Coronavirus Precautions: International Travelers Arriving At NYC Airports Concerned By Lack Of Screenings — With the coronavirus outbreak affecting at least 40 countries, many travelers are concerned about what’s being done to contain the virus. At JFK Airport, jetlagged passengers typically in a rush to clear immigration are now appalled by a lack of screening, especially compared to procedures in the countries they just left. Emily Ferrara and Blair Haworth just returned from Florence, Italy, where their study abroad program was canceled because of the virus. There are more than 300 cases there, one of the largest outbreaks outside China. Yet, the students told CBS2’s Christina Fan they weren’t asked a single question about potential symptoms once they landed in New York City. “We didn’t even get checked. Like we’re used to being in Florence where you get your temperature checked. Here they didn’t do anything, which is kind of crazy,” Ferrara said. “Considering, like, how much the cases have spread so fast, like, they should definitely be taking more precautions here.” Currently, the United States is only conducting health screenings for passengers who are flying in from China. Some, including Mayor Bill de Blasio this week, called for the screenings to be extended to flights from Italy, South Korea and Japan. But Dr. Teresa Amato, the chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, says the idea may not be effective. “I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult given that people are infected with no symptoms and travel areas are becoming more and more widespread with the virus,” she said. In addition to airport screenings, some passengers believe there should be more travel restrictions from countries other than China. President Donald Trump weighed in on the idea at a press conference Wednesday. “At a right time, we might do that. Right now, it’s not the right time,” he said.

Coronavirus live updates: CDC confirms second U.S. coronavirus case of unknown origin as World Health Organization raises global risk level to "very high" - Another person in Northern California has tested positive for coronavirus who wasn't known to have been exposed through travel or contact with an infected person, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The patient, an older adult woman with chronic health conditions, is the second person in the U.S. to contract the disease known as COVID-19 without officials knowing exactly how, Santa Clara County officials said. The county's health department urged residents to prepare for the possibility of widespread community transmission, where an illness spreads from an unknown source. "This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transmission but the extent is still not clear," Dr. Sara Cody, the county's health officer, said in a statement. The new patient is the county's third case of the disease. The other two patients had traveled from mainland China, and one was released from isolation last week. The virus has disrupting plans for everything from major sports tournaments and concerts to planned U.S. military exercises. The global death toll was over 2,800 and the disease made its first worrying appearance in sub-Saharan Africa.More than 83,000 cases of the COVID-19 disease have now been confirmed in more than 50 countries. While about 36,000 of those people have recovered, fast-growing outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran — along with the first case confirmed in Nigeria — show the battle to contain the virus is still in its early stages. Officials have worried the disease could spread widely in countries with weaker public health systems, specifically in Africa and Latin America.In the U.S., at least 63 people were being treated for COVID-19 as of Thursday, most of them evacuated from Asia. The origin of two cases, both women in California, have been impossible for doctors to trace, leading the CDC to warn the U.S. has likely seen its first case of "community spread."The head of the World Health Organization said that kind of transmission, of unknown origin and possibly from the general population, represented the third of four outbreak stages that every nation must be prepared for: "Every country must be ready for its first case, its first cluster, the first evidence of community transmission, and for dealing with sustained community transmission," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

California coronavirus: Latest case has no recent history of international travel - A new case of the novel coronavirus in California was announced on Friday after Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that 33 people had tested positive for the virus, noting the risk to the public remains low. An adult woman with chronic health conditions in Santa Clara County who "did not recently travel overseas" or come into contact with anyone known to be ill was confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus on Friday by CDC and California Department of Public Health officials. Dr. Sara Cody, director of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, called for individuals to keep their hands clean and avoid touching their own faces. She said families should consider "what you might need to do if you need to stay home for a week or two." State health officials and the CDC are investigating who the woman might have come into contact with while contagious. “The case is not linked to either of our other two cases in the county … we don’t have any evidence to suggest the case is linked to other cases in California," Cody said. "This is an infection that is spread person to person, so the infection would’ve been from another person that’s infected," she told reporters on Friday. Why it matters: Federal health officials anticipate COVID-19 infections will spread further, but remain uncertain about the severity. Newsom called Thursday's development a "turning point.".

Florida won’t release data on coronavirus testing — Gov. Ron DeSantis and top health officials on Thursday said Florida is preparing for the possible arrival of coronavirus, emphasizing that the state has no confirmed cases so far. DeSantis, speaking to reporters, wouldn’t say whether anyone in Florida has been tested for the virus, citing a state law that protects the identity of people under epidemiological investigation. “I actually wanted to give all the numbers,” DeSantis said. “But they actually pointed me to the regulation in the statute that says you can’t.” DeSantis said he is taking his cues on the reading of the law from Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, Florida’s health secretary, who said the coronavirus hasn’t risen yet to a public health crisis. “At the present time, we don’t have community spread in Florida, we don’t have coronavirus in Florida. So, the law dictates that we protect the confidentiality of individuals,” Rivkees said Thursday. “If those circumstances change, then we absolutely will make the public informed.” The state’s patient-protection law has three exemptions for when the public’s health is at risk — when a disease is highly infectious, when there’s a potential for further outbreaks, or when the state has been unable to locate or identify people involved in the case. State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez (D-Miami) told reporters after the DeSantis briefing that Rivkees was misinterpreting the law. The governor’s administration is handling coronavirus information differently than previous administrations handled other outbreaks, he said, such as the Zika virus in 2016. The state should be releasing aggregate information to the public, Rodríguez said, including the number of people tested and the number and whereabouts of people who have self-quarantined..

New York Is Making Its Own Coronavirus Test After The CDC’s Test Has Repeatedly Failed Federal health officials met with state and city public health labs on Wednesday to fix a crippling lack of options to diagnose the novel coronavirus, a shortfall driven by botched CDC testing kits. As a result, New York state and New York City are moving forward with developing their own test to detect the virus. The lack of adequate testing capabilities was spotlighted on Wednesday evening, when the CDC announced delayed results of the first potential case of a person contracting COVID-19 from “community spread,” meaning they got sick without traveling to China or being exposed to anyone known to have the virus.Early in February, the CDC released a US genetic test for the virus, sent to about 100 state and major city labs as well as overseas ones. Test kits contained enough ingredients to test a few hundred people for the novel coronavirus. The test proved unreliable in validation tests run by labs, however, leaving fewer than a dozen of the labs nationwide confident of the results.  The shortfall figured in the extended diagnosis of the Solano County, California, woman reported Wednesday night as the first person in the US with COVID-19 from community exposure. UC Davis Medical Center said that her test results were delayed because neither the county or state lab could run them, and because her symptoms did not initially meet federal diagnostic criteria. The test took four days to approve, and a week later, the CDC announced that the patient had tested positive. The episode is spurring concern over US testing capabilities among public health officials, as cities and states gear up for possible outbreaks across the country. As the CDC scrambles to fix its original test, officials in New York have decided to push forward on developing their own. On Thursday, the New York Times reported that the CDC and other federal scientists would no longer be allowed to make public addresses about the outbreak without the approval of Vice President Mike Pence, following President Donald Trump appointing him to oversee all coronavirus-related responses.

California Governor Rattles Stocks: A State with 40 Million Residents Has Just 200 Coronavirus Test Kits from the CDC - California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, seemed to go out of his way to stress that his administration has been working closely with the Trump administration in addressing the coronavirus outbreak. He refused to criticize Trump when questioned by reporters. What did become quite clear, however, as reporters drilled down to the situation on the ground in California, is that the state has taken in 800 repatriated Americans from countries with coronavirus outbreaks, has received thousands more passengers on domestic flights from suspect countries, while it currently has just 200 tests kits from the CDC to test for the virus. Newsom told reporters that “It’s simply inadequate to do justice to the kind of testing that is required to address this issue head on.”In exchanges with reporters, the Governor indicated that California is not alone in terms of a gross inadequacy of test kits. He said other states have the same problem.Even more alarming, the Governor made it clear that the protocol established by the CDC for when states could test a patient for the virus was so limited that it restricted his state and other states from testing a large number of patients.Newsom said that based on calls held with the CDC today, a significant increase in test kits were to be made available to California shortly and the protocol was to be revised to allow more testing. According to Newsom, the CDC assured him that the state would be allowed to “exponentially increase” its capacity to test.In President Donald Trump’s press conference on the coronavirus last evening, the President emphasized the low number of people in the United States that had tested positive for the virus, attributing it to the outstanding work of his administration. If it now turns out that the number of infected people in the U.S. has been artificially depressed because the CDC was not providing test kits to the states, Congress will be launching a wave of new hearings to see if undue pressure was put on the CDC by the Trump administration. The press conference was held as a result of news that went viral Wednesday that a woman from Solano County, who is currently hospitalized at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, had tested positive for coronavirus despite having no known ties to travel outside of the U.S. This raised the alarming possibility that the virus may be present from sources inside the United States.

Key Missteps at the CDC Have Set Back Its Ability to Detect the Potential Spread of Coronavirus - As the highly infectious coronavirus jumped from China to country after country in January and February, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lost valuable weeks that could have been used to track its possible spread in the United States because it insisted upon devising its own test. The federal agency shunned the World Health Organization test guidelines used by other countries and set out to create a more complicated test of its own that could identify a range of similar viruses. But when it was sent to labs across the country in the first week of February, it didn’t work as expected. The CDC test correctly identified COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. But in all but a handful of state labs, it falsely flagged the presence of the other viruses in harmless samples. As a result, until Wednesday the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration only allowed those state labs to use the test — a decision with potentially significant consequences. The lack of a reliable test prevented local officials from taking a crucial first step in coping with a possible outbreak — “surveillance testing” of hundreds of people in possible hotspots. Epidemiologists in other countries have used this sort of testing to track the spread of the disease before large numbers of people turn up at hospitals. This story is based on interviews with state and local public health officials and scientists across the country, which, taken together, describe a frustrating, bewildering bureaucratic process that seemed at odds with the urgency of the growing threat. It’s unclear who in the government originally made the decision to design a more complicated test, or to depart from the WHO guidance. “We’re weeks behind because we had this problem,” The CDC announced on Feb. 14 that surveillance testing would begin in five key cities, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. That effort has not yet begun.On Wednesday, under pressure from health experts and public officials, the CDC and the FDA told labs they no longer had to worry about the portion of the test intended “for the universal detection of SARS-like coronaviruses.” After three weeks of struggle, they could now use the test purely to check for the presence of COVID-19. It remains unclear whether the CDC’s move on Wednesday will resolve all of the problems around the test. Some local labs have raised concerns about whether the CDC’s test is fully reliable for detecting COVID-19.

Four new coronavirus cases in Pacific Northwest suggest community spread of the disease -- The new coronavirus may to be spreading in parts of the Pacific Northwest, with California, Oregon, and Washington State reporting Friday that they have diagnosed cases with no travel history or known contact with another case.Health officials in Santa Clara County reported a case of so-called community spread late Friday afternoon — the second in the northern part of the state in the past few days.Later on Friday health officials in Oregon reported diagnosing a case of Covid-19 — the disease the virus causes — in a person from Washington County who had neither a history of travel to a country where the virus was circulating nor close contact with a confirmed case. And a teenager from Snohomish County, north of Seattle, was diagnosed with the disease, Washington State health authorities announced late Friday. This individual had not traveled outside the country nor had contact with a known Covid-19 case, they said.  These cases raise the specter that the virus may be spreading stealthily  in the Pacific Northwest region of the country. The discovery that the virus may be spreading in the country should not come as a surprise, said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy. “It just tells us where there is testing, there are cases. And that’s what we have to understand,” Osterholm said. “There is no such thing as a barrier containment to keep these out. It’s going to happen. And what we have to do now is get on with how we’re going to deal with them.” Health officials in Oregon said the infected individual there had spent time in a school in the Lake Oswego school district and may have exposed students and staff there. An investigation is underway and employees and families of children are being contacted, a press release from the state said.

New Coronavirus Cases In California, Oregon, & Washington Suggest Community Spread- Officials -- New coronavirus cases confirmed in the Pacific Northwest suggest the new virus may be spreading in the community in the United States, officials said.Washington state, Oregon, and California officials confirmed in total four new cases on Friday. Officials do not know where or how three of the patients became infected, making them “possible” instances of community spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Community spread means that people acquire COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus, through an unknown exposure in the community.The first case of unknown origin was confirmed on Feb. 26 in northern California. Three more were reported on Feb. 28.“There was no known travel exposure for this individual. So, this is a case of community spread of the disease, much like the case from California earlier this week,” Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, told reporters on Friday.“This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transmission but the extent is still not clear,” Dr. Sara Cody, health officer for Santa Clara County, California, said in a statement.Health officials in the county reported that an older woman with chronic health conditions was tested after going to the hospital with a respiratory illness. The patient “does not have a travel history nor any known contact with a traveler or infected person,” according to county officials.

Washington Declares State Of Emergency After 1st US Coronavirus Death; New China Cases Jump: Live Updates - Following the first death of a Coid-19-infected person in the US, Washington state has declared a state of emergency.King County official Jeff Duchin says that 27 patients and 25 staff members at the long-term care facility in Kirkland, WA are showing symptoms.Here’s the letter @KIRO7Seattle got from a source.It’s the notice from @EvergreenHosp sent to patients and families about the #coronavirus death in the Seattle area. #COVID19 — Deedee Sun (@DeedeeKIRO7) February 29, 2020  CDC's Messonnier stated that "there is not a national spread of the virus in the US," and adds that US has capacity to test 75,000 people.CDC erroneously identified the patient as a female in a briefing earlier today with the President and Vice President. Update (1515ET): President Trump has finally wrapped up a lengthy press conference that most agreed was more convincing than his previous effort on Wednesday. Trump confirmed that there are now 22 cases in the US outside of the evacuees from Wuhan and the 'Diamond Princess'.Read more about it here. Washington State is expected to hold a press conference of its own at 4 pm ET.  And here comes the NHC with China's numbers from Saturday. Mainland China reported 573 new coronavirus cases. Note the ~150 case increase from 427 on Friday. 51,856 are still under "medical observation" across China. In all, there have been 79,824 confirmed cases in mainland China, though most experts believe the true total could be much higher. Here's the rest of the NHC press release, translation courtesy of the NHC: On Feb 29, 31 provincial-level regions on the Chinese mainland as well as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps reported 573 new cases of confirmed infections, 132 new cases of suspected infections, and 35 deaths (34 in Hubei province and 1 in Henan province). 2,623 patients were released from hospital after being cured. 8,620 people who had had close contact with infected patients were freed from medical observation. Serious cases decreased by 299.As of 24:00 on Feb 29, the National Health Commission had received 79,824 reports of confirmed cases and 2,870 deaths in 31 provincial-level regions on the Chinese mainland and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and in all 41,625 patients had been cured and discharged from hospital. There still remained 35,329 confirmed cases (including 7,365 in serious condition) and 851 suspected cases. So far, 660,716 people have been identified as having had close contact with infected patients. 51,856 are now under medical observation.On Feb 29, Hubei reported 570 new cases of confirmed infections (including 565 in Wuhan), 64 new cases of suspected infections (including 50 in Wuhan), and 34 deaths (including 26 in Wuhan). 2,292 patients were released from hospital after being cured, including 1,675 in Wuhan.As of 24:00 on Feb 29, Hubei had reported 66,907 cases of confirmed infections (including 49,122 in Wuhan) and 2,761 deaths (including 2,195 in Wuhan). In all, 31,187 patients had been cured and discharged from hospital, including 19,227 in Wuhan.There still remained 32,959 confirmed cases (including 27,700 in Wuhan), with 7,107 in serious condition (including 6,393 in Wuhan), and 646 suspected cases (including 393 in Wuhan).

EPA Might Finally Regulate PFAS But the Process Matters - The EPA announced last week that it is issuing a preliminary regulatory determination for public comment to set an enforceable drinking water standard to two of the most common and well-studied PFAS, PFOA and PFOS.This decision is based on three criteria:

  1. PFOA and PFOS have an adverse effect on public health
  2. PFOA and PFOS occur in drinking water often enough and at levels of public health concern;
  3. regulation of PFOA and PFOS is a meaningful opportunity for reducing the health risk to those served by public water systems.

This is a good thing and should have happened sooner, but likely as a result of public pressure and the overwhelming evidence of harms caused by exposure to these chemicals, the EPA is officially embarking upon this long and arduous regulatory process with an uncertain outcome. The process of setting such a standard, known as a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is a long one and we know that there are multiple decision points at which political interference, lack of transparency, or a failure to recognize the best available science can undermine such a process. If the EPA successfully sets a standard, it will mean that utilities will be required to monitor drinking water for PFOS and PFOA and use treatment techniques to keep levels below the standard, which will be especially helpful for communities in states that haven't set their own MCLs. The Safe Drinking Water Act was signed into law by President Ford in 1974 and sets a regulatory process for setting drinking water standards. Then in 1996, Congress issued amendments which created a long list of hurdles that weakened EPA's ability to set health-protective standards for water contaminants. Some requirements include technology assessments and risk assessments that require the agency to state each significant uncertainty related to public health effects. The amendments also require EPA to conduct a cost benefit analysis, which can weigh into the standard that is selected. In fact, EPA can choose to set a standard that "maximizes health risk reduction benefits at a cost that is justified by the benefits." As in all environmental and public health policy, it is much harder to quantify benefits to public health than it is to quantify costs to industry which makes this a natural place for industry to fight hard to document potential costs and advocate for a less stringent standard.

To combat citrus greening, farmers are spraying medically important antibiotics on their trees -  In Florida, citrus greening has led to a 70 percent drop in citrus production since it arrived 15 years ago.  Since 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency has allowed citrus farmers to spray medically important antibiotics on their groves in hopes of reversing the devastating trajectory. But this last-ditch solution has its consequences: It’s expensive, and scientists aren’t sure it works very well, while public health advocates worry it’s hastening the spread of antibiotic resistance. Citrus greening first appeared in China nearly a century ago. In the U.S., the tiny winged Asian citrus psyllid arrived years before the harmful bacteria. The pest was first confirmed in Florida in 1998, and Huanglongbing followed in summer of 2005. Within a few months, the bacteria had spread to four counties. Two years later, it had spread to 30. By 2015, it had hit every citrus-producing county in the state, and today an estimated 90 percent of the state’s citrus trees are infected.   It wasn’t long before Florida growers were desperate to try anything to stop citrus greening disease.  EPA began allowing Florida growers to spray so-called “emergency applications” of two antibiotics—streptomycin and oxytetracycline—on their citrus crops. Both are considered medically important to humans: They’re used to treat urinary tract infections, syphilis, and tuberculosis.  The agency was proposing to allow as much as 650,000 pounds of streptomycin to be sprayed on crops each year. That’s more than 10 times the amount used to treat human diseases. The concern was that the widespread use of antibiotics on crops would select for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which would then spread throughout the ecosystem.  Antibiotic-resistant infections are expected to claim 10 million human livesby the year 2050, and critics worry the spread of so-called “superbugs” will be aided by the extensive use of antibiotics in agriculture. Still, in December 2018, EPA approved the use of oxytetracycline as a routine treatment on citrus groves, meaning the antibiotic could be used without the agency having to issue its emergency exemptions. The New York Timesreported that, in doing so, the agency largely ignored objections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

Farm Numbers Show the Smallest Drop in Recent History The U.S. saw a loss of 5,800 farms in 2019 versus 2018, per USDA. But, that’s the smallest decline in recent years. Since 2012, the average year-over-year decline in the number of farms was around 12,000, with the biggest drop being between 2014 and 2015. In 2019 the total number of farms in the U.S. totals 2,023,400. By far, Texas is the winner in farm numbers, with 247,000 farms. The total land in farms, at 897,400,000 acres, decreased 2,100,000 acres from 2018. This slight year-over-year drop is on par with recent years and a sign farmland isn't vanishing as quickly as some think. The average farm size for 2019 is 444 acres, which is up 1 acre from the previous year. States in the west tend to have the largest average farm sizes.

US fertilizer consumption to rise with acreage - US fertilizer consumption this year will be the highest in over a decade as farmers are set to plant 94mn acres of corn and 85mn acres of soybeans. Nitrogen consumption should be 4pc higher than last year at 8.83mn st N across corn, soybean, wheat and cotton, Argus estimates. Phosphates consumption would rise by 5pc to 4.19mn st P2O5, potash by 6pc to 4.32mn st K2O and sulfur up by 4pc to 392,000st S. In remarks at a conference yesterday, US Department of Agriculture chief economist Robert Johansson said that US corn acreage would rise to 94mn acres — toward the upper end of previous industry estimates — as forward prices and the corn:soybean price ratio are favorable to corn. Last year farmers planted just under 90mn acres of corn as flooding and inclement weather prevented fieldwork. But Johansson also noted that the price ratio was not even, with basis in the Dakotas favoring soybean but eastern Corn Belt and southeast prices favoring corn. Northern Plains markets are a key consumer of urea, while farmers in the eastern Corn Belt use more UAN. Spring wheat planting is likely to be lower than last year's 12.7mn acres, USDA estimates, as saturated Northern Plains soils will lead farmers to plant alternative crops. Winter wheat plantings are estimated to have shrunk again to 30.8mn acres, still the second-lowest in over 100 years, as planting conditions and switching to cotton reduced Kansas and Oklahoma seedings. Soybean area will climb by 12pc to 85mn acres, though this is more of a return to trend after weather conditions prevented several million acres from being planted last spring. Rice area will climb by 21pc to 3.1mn acres, the highest since 2016, as farmers across the South increase area in response to higher prices. US fertilizer prices sank through the fall of 2019 as poor weather restricted fertilizer applications, limiting wholesale trade as retailers retained high stocks. Spring applications should finish rebalancing the market, if weather and river conditions allow.

Running out of time: East Africa faces new locust threat (Reuters) - Countries in East Africa are racing against time to prevent new swarms of locusts wreaking havoc with crops and livelihoods after the worst infestation in generations.A lack of expertise in controlling the pests is not their only problem: Kenya temporarily ran out of pesticides, Ethiopia needs more planes and Somalia and Yemen, torn by civil war, can’t guarantee exterminators’ safety.Locust swarms have been recorded in the region since biblical times, but unusual weather patterns exacerbated by climate change have created ideal conditions for insect numbers to surge, scientists say.Warmer seas are creating more rain, wakening dormant eggs, and cyclones that disperse the swarms are getting stronger and more frequent.In Ethiopia the locusts have reached the fertile Rift Valley farmland and stripped grazing grounds in Kenya and Somalia. Swarms can travel up to 150 km (93 miles) a day and contain between 40-80 million locusts per square kilometer.If left unchecked, the number of locusts in East Africa could explode 400-fold by June. That would devastate harvests in a region with more than 19 million hungry people, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned.Uganda has deployed the military. Kenya has trained hundreds of youth cadets to spray. Lacking pesticides, some security forces in Somalia have shot anti-aircraft guns at swarms darkening the skies.Everyone is racing the rains expected in March: the next generation of larvae is already wriggling from the ground, just as farmers plant their seeds.“The second wave is coming,” said Cyril Ferrand, FAO’s head of resilience for Eastern Africa. “As crops are planted, locusts will eat everything.” The impact so far on agriculture, which generates about a third of East Africa’s economic output, is unknown, but FAO is using satellite images to assess the damage, he said. This month, Kenya ran out of pesticide for about a week and a half, he said. Farmers watched helplessly as their families’ crops were devoured. In Ethiopia, the government can only afford to rent four planes for aerial spraying, but it needs at least twice that number to contain the outbreak before harvesting begins in March

To stop locust plagues, we must copy locusts - Locusts are vulnerable when they are just eggs in the ground but they are hard to spot. When they hatch into masses of what are called hoppers, they can be dealt with easily. The problem is that such colonies are often in remote areas where there is very little incentive for the host country to deal with them. Soon, they will move on and become someone else’s problem. After hatching, the hopper still cannot fly and remains an essentially solitary creature. It becomes gregarious only after it has fledged, taking to the skies en masse and riding the easterly winds to fresh pastures, just as it has since ancient times. Swarms can vary in size from 1 square kilometer, consisting of about 40 million locusts, to several hundred square kilometers. With each locust consuming roughly its own weight – 2 grams – in fresh food per day, a modest 1-square-kilometer swarm will eat as much in a single day as about six elephants, 20 camels or 35,000 people. A swarm can cover up to 130 kilometers in a day and stay in the air for many days at a time, so the Red Sea – which is barely 300km across at its widest point – presents no barrier. In 1988, one swarm took only 10 days to migrate 5,000km across the Atlantic. If conditions are right, the cycle begins again when the swarm reaches its new destination. The FAO warns of “widespread hatching and band formation” in the coming weeks in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. At the same time “above-normal breeding continues along both sides of the Red Sea coast” and new swarms are forming in the highlands of Yemen, parts of northwest Pakistan and along the southern coast of Iran. The FAO predicts there will be “an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods” in the Horn of Africa by March. Mankind is immeasurably more knowledgeable now than in the days when those first written accounts of the devastating impact of locusts were recorded. So why have we not defeated the desert locust? Killing locusts isn’t difficult. The primary method is to poison them with insecticides, using aircraft, vehicles or even hand-held sprayers.   All of this, however, requires funding and cooperation between the countries where locusts breed and the countries where they fly to and cause devastation. According to the FAO, the failure to combat the locust mainly comes down to one reason: mankind’s own inability to “swarm” and – unlike the locust – to act as one in common cause. In other words, beating the desert locust requires humans to do something we are notoriously bad at: transcending petty local differences and working together for the common good.

China’s green zombie fungus could hold key to fighting east Africa’s plague of locusts - Chinese factories are producing thousands of tonnes of a “green zombie fungus” to help fight the swarms of locusts in East Africa. Metarhizium is a genus of fungi with nearly 50 species – some genetically modified – that is used as a biological insecticide because its roots drill through the insects’ hard exoskeleton and gradually poisons them. In China it was named lu jiang jun, which means green zombie fungus, because it gradually turns its victims in a green mossy lump. There are now dozens of factories across the country dedicated to producing its spores and despite the curbs introduced to stop the spread of Covid-19, many of them have resumed operations and are shipping thousands of tonnes to Africa. These factories are set up in a similar way to breweries, growing the spores on rice which is kept in carefully controlled conditions to ensure the correct temperature and humidity. Each plant can produce thousands of tonnes of fungi powder per year, each gram of which contains tens of billions of spores. “I am sending off a truckload right now. Our stock is running out,” said the marketing manager of a production plant in Jiangxi province. “Some customers need it urgently. They need it to kill the locusts.” The need is particularly pressing in East Africa at the moment, where abnormally high levels of rainfall during the dry season allowed hundreds of billions of locusts to hatch in recent months. So far the swarms have devastated crops in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda and are moving on to neighbouring countries.

 Army of 100,000 Chinese ducks on standby to combat locust swarms - A troop of special Chinese ducks is waiting to be deployed to neighbouring Pakistan to fight a swarm of crop-eating pests that threaten regional food security. At least 100,000 ducks are expected to be sent to Pakistan as early as the second half of this year to combat a desert locust outbreak, according to Mr Lu Lizhi, a senior researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences. The ducks are "biological weapons" and can be more effective than pesticide, said Mr Lu, who is in charge of the project in tandem with a university in Pakistan. "One duck is able to eat more than 200 locusts a day," Mr Lu said in a telephone interview on Thursday (Feb 27), citing results of experiments to test the ducks' searching and predation capabilities. A trial will start in China's western region of Xinjiang later this year before the ducks are sent to Pakistan, Mr Lu said. Swarms of desert locusts have been spreading through countries from eastern Africa to South Asia, destroying crops and pastures at a voracious pace. The pest plague, together with unseasonal rain and a scourge of low-quality seeds, has hit major crops in Pakistan's largest producing regions, weighing on its already fragile economy. And it has also migrated into India.

Trump Jr. granted permit to hunt grizzly bear in Alaska: report - Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest child, has won a permit to hunt a grizzly bear in Alaska, a wildlife conservation official confirmed to Reuters on Friday. Eddie Grasser, who serves as wildlife conservation director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told the news agency that Trump Jr. was one of three nonresidents of the state to apply for permits to hunt grizzlies in Seward Peninsula, a northwestern region in the state. There were reportedly 27 spots for such permits designated for nonresidents in that area. Typically, Grasser told the news agency that the state’s Fish and Game department, which disperse hunting permits for various kinds of animals, receives “thousands of applications" for such permits. The permits are usually awarded by random drawings in the state in instances where there are more people applying for hunts than permits available. In those cases, the department says on its website that each person applying for “a hunt is entered into the pool and names are selected randomly (like pulling names out of a hat).” However, over 20 of the grizzly hunting permits that were up for grabs in the Seward Peninsula, which Trump Jr. applied for, have gone unclaimed, according to Reuters. Trump Jr. is required to pay a fee of $1,000 for a nonresident tag in order to proceed with the hunt. He will also be required to pay $160.00 for a nonresident hunting license, according to the office’s website.

2 Bald Eagles Illegally Shot, Killed In Wisconsin -Two bald eagles in two weeks have died after they were illegally shot in Wisconsin.The state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating the shootings. Marge Gibson, director of the Raptor Education Group Inc. in Antigo, said she couldn't release many specific details about the shootings because of the ongoing investigation. But she said she picked up one of the eagles on Feb. 17, and admitted another only a few days before that."This is a bird who was very large and incredibly powerful and very well-conditioned," Gibson said. "She was not in poor weight or anything like that. This was a bird that was meant to breed this year, and had probably already started that process."Both of the eagles admitted to the northern Wisconsin bird rehabilitation center have died.Bald eagles are no longer an endangered species, and populations in Wisconsin have surged. But they are still protected by multiple federal laws. Shooting one is a crime punishable with up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. It's also, Gibson said, a senseless and cruel act. "We have seen shootings before," Gibson said. "It's just that, the last two years and especially the last year, we've seen many of them," including shootings of eagles, loons and in recent weeks a trumpeter swan was injured when it was run down by snowmobilers in Portage County.

 Report: Las Vegas Group Glues Maga Hats on Pigeons - A group sent pigeons into downtown Las Vegas with hair like President Donald Trump and MAGA hats glued onto them in a satirical prank before the Democratic presidential debate, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.  The group calls itself "Pigeons, United to Interfere Now," according to the report, which spells out Putin, the Russian president Democrats accuse Trump of favoring."The release date was also coordinated to serve as a gesture of support and loyalty to President Trump," a group member who goes by the name Coo Hand Luke told the Review-Journal.The adhesive used to attach the Make America Great Again hats is women's eyelash glue, according to the report."It's what women use to put around their eyes for eyelash extensions," Luke told the paper. "The hats usually stay on for a day or two, depending on the bird's movements. We can also remove them ourselves as they fly back to the coop. They could be gone for a day, two days or a week, but they always come back."The group says it has cared for the pigeons for months at a nearby coup, feeding, bathing, and nursing them to health."We wash them with Dove [detergent] and get the grease off that usually accumulates from being underneath cars or near grease traps at restaurants while they're looking for food," the group told the Review-Journal. "A lot of the time they are found with stringfoot, and we nurse them back to health. A lot of them are malnourished, and we feed them a variety of seeds." Stringfoot is an ailment where a pigeon gets its feet tangled. The group desires to make pigeons great again in its Las Vegas-based campaign to bring awareness to the birds.

 Call to end logging of ‘protective’ native forests in wake of bushfire crisis - A group of forestry and climate scientists are calling for an immediate and permanent end to the logging of all native forests across Australia as part of a response to climate change and the country’s bushfire crisis. In an open letter, the group said forestry workers involved in logging in native forests should be redeployed to support the management of national parks. A briefing document to back the letter, coordinated by The Australia Institute thinktank, argues logging in wet eucalypt forests promotes more flammable regrowth. Dr Jennifer Sanger, a forest ecologist who is in Canberra today to deliver the letter told Guardian Australia: “As we face this climate crisis, we see our forests are worth far more standing. “We have to start taking this climate emergency more seriously and protective native forests is a simple step we could take and in my mind, a logical call.” Some experts told Guardian Australia they disagreed, saying it could effectively rule out one potential response to managing forests in the face of climate change. Among the signatories to the letter are University of Tasmania’s distinguished conservation ecologist Prof Jamie Kirkpatrick, James Cook University ecologist Prof Bill Laurance, and Prof Tim Flannery, of the University of Melbourne. The letter says: “We write to ask you to respond to the climate, fire, drought and biodiversity loss crises with an immediate nationwide cessation of all native forest logging.” Large old-growth trees are important for capturing and storing carbon, the letter said, adding that native forest logging “is heavily subsidised by our taxes, which can be better spent on fire mitigation”. Government data shows that 5m hectares of native forests are open to logging and that annually, 73,000 hectares are harvested. According to the briefing document, 12% of logs harvested in Australia come from native forests, and an end to native forest logging would directly impact 3,250 workers.

 Australia Wildfires Were Far Worse Than Climate Models Predicted - In a post-mortem of the Australian bushfires, which raged for five months, scientists have concluded that their intensity and duration far surpassed what climate models had predicted, according to a study published yesterday in Nature Climate Change.The bushfires were far more catastrophic than any climate crisis models out there, leading the scientists to call the devastation, "a fiery wake-up call for climate science," as the BBC reported.The study said that the bushfires were "unprecedented" after they burned more than one-fifth of the country'sforests."This [was] worse than anything our models simulated," said climate scientist Benjamin Sanderson to theBBC. Sanderson, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, co-wrote the article in Nature Climate Change.In fact, the models were so far off target that not only did they say that fires of such magnitude could not happen this year, but they predicted that fires of this magnitude would not happen before the year 2100, asWired reported.Sanderson and his co-author wrote, "This is perhaps one of the first really big cases where we've seen the real world do something before we've been able to have the capacity to model it properly. This event was worse than anything in any of the models at any point in this century. Only one of the models toward the end of the century started producing things of this magnitude."He warned that as the planet warms, "the more likely we are to be taken by surprise," as Yahoo Newsreported.While climate models to date have been fairly accurate in predicting how much temperatures will rise as greenhouse gases are emitted, modeling fires is extremely complex. Fire threats are determined by many variables that increase risk of fire, fuel it and spread it, including rainfall, wind, land cover and population density, as the BBC reported. "But even if you look at the few models that have fire in them," Sanderson told BBC News, "none of them simulate anything close to the scale of what happened in Australia."

PG&E Faces Record Fine of $2.1 Billion for Role in Wildfires California regulators increased penalties against PG&E Corp. to $2.1 billion for violations tied to the catastrophic wildfires ignited by the company’s power lines in 2017 and 2018. The penalty would be the largest ever imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency said in a statement Thursday. The decision, which becomes final if PG&E agrees to the terms within 20 days, increases a prior penalty settlement by about $462 million. It also would require that any tax savings associated with the payments be applied to the benefit of PG&E customers. Those savings may exceed $500 million. PG&E shares fell 1.8% before the start of regular trading on Wall Street Friday. The company was forced into bankruptcy in January 2019 after its equipment was found to have ignited deadly wildfires in 2017 and 2018, saddling it with an estimated $30 billion in liabilities. PG&E has reached multibillion-dollar settlements with wildfire victims, insurers, public agencies and bond holders as part of its effort to emerge from Chapter 11 by mid-year. PG&E said it was disappointed in the decision to increase the penalty. The utility said it had worked for months with safety staff at the commission and other parties to reach a nearly $1.7 billion deal that would also allow for “additional investments to further strengthen the company’s electric operations,” according to a statement. The state’s revised penalty would bar PG&E from recovering about $1.8 billion in wildfire-related costs from ratepayers, require the company to spend $114 million on system enhancements and corrective actions and pay a $200 million fine to the state’s general fund.

Colombia Is Still the Deadliest Place to Be an Environmental Activist, Report Finds --Colombia was the most dangerous nation in 2019 to be an environmental activist and experts suspect that conditions will only get worse.More than 100 human rights defenders were killed across the Latin country in 2019. Community leaders, teachers and park rangers are among the more than 50 human rights defenders and community leaders additionally killed since the beginning of this year.In October and November, Colombia experienced a large wave of demonstrations following divisive elections and public opposition to large projects that posed threats to the environment. In some instances, these mass protests were met with police brutality and targeted violence against human rights defenders, according to theGlobal Analysis 2019 report published in January 2020 by Irish human rights organization Front Line Defenders. The report details physical assaults, defamation campaigns, digital security threats, judicial harassment and gendered attacks against global activists at the forefront of social change.The Philippines, Honduras, Mexico and Brazil all ranked among the deadliest countries after Colombia,according to NBC. Globally, at least 304 human rights defenders in 31 countries were targeted and killed for their work. Additional findings from the report found that:

  • More two-thirds of global killings occurred in Latin America.
  • Forty percent of those killed worked on matters surrounding land, indigenous rights, and environmental issues.
  • A majority of those killed (85 percent) had previously been threatened.

Human rights defenders were targeted in almost all countries that saw waves of public uprisings and continues to threaten activists. Just last week, a 45-year-old Costa Rican indigenous defender was killed by an armed mob while trying to reclaim ancestral land, according to The Guardian. NPR reports that Mexican officials are still investigating the suspicious murder of two men connected to a butterfly sanctuary found dead earlier this month in Michoacán. In Indonesia, Mongabay reports that the family of a murdered environmental activist is calling on national authorities to take over the death investigation.

Colorado River flow shrinks from climate crisis, risking ‘severe water shortages’ - The flow of the Colorado River is dwindling due to the impacts of global heating, risking “severe water shortages” for the millions of people who rely upon one of America’s most storied waterways, researchers have found. Increasing periods of drought and rising temperatures have been shrinking the flow of the Colorado in recent years and scientists have now developed a model to better understand how the climate crisis is fundamentally changing the 1,450-mile waterway. The loss of snow in the Colorado River basin due to human-induced global heating has resulted in the river absorbing more of sun’s energy, thereby increasing the amount of water lost in evaporation, the US Geological Survey scientists found. This is because snow and ice reflect sunlight back away from the Earth’s surface, a phenomenon known as the albedo effect. The loss of albedo as snow and ice melt away is reducing the flow of the Colorado by 9.5% for each 1C of warming,  according to theresearch published in Science.The world has heated up by about 1C since the pre-industrial era and is on course for an increase of more than 3C by the end of the century unless planet-warming emissions are drastically cut. For the Colorado this scenario means an “increasing risk of severe water shortages”, the study states, with any increase in rainfall not likely to offset the loss in reflective snow.

 Climate change is drying up the Colorado River, putting millions at risk of 'severe water shortages' -- The Colorado River -- which provides water to more than 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles -- has seen its flow dwindle by 20 percent compared to the last century, and scientists have found that climate change is mainly to blame.  The Colorado River wraps around Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. A new study finds that this vital river is in grave danger due to rising temperatures.  The researchers found that more than half of the decline in the river's flow is connected to increasing temperatures, and as warming continues, they say the risk of "severe water shortages" for the millions that rely on it is expected to grow.  For each 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming averaged across the river's basin, the study found that its flow has decreased by nearly 10%. Over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries, the region has already warmed by an average of roughly 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  The study also examined the impact that action to curb pollution of heat-trapping gases could have on the river's water supply. Some decrease in the flow is likely no matter what actions are taken, but without any cuts to emissions, the report says the river's discharge could shrink by between 19% and 31% by the middle of this century.  The study -- conducted by US Geological Survey scientists Chris Milly and Krista A. Dunne and published Thursday in the journal Science -- adds urgency to efforts to protect one of the country's most vital rivers. The Colorado River starts high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, before snaking its way across the Southwest on its way to the Gulf of California. En route, water is diverted to supply major cities like Denver, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Diego, as well as farms in the US and Mexico that grow the vegetables that feed millions around the world.  All told, Milly and Dunne say the river supports around $1 trillion of economic activity each year. "Without this river, American cities in the Southwest would dry up and blow away,"

 Feds order Santa Clara County’s biggest reservoir to be drained due to earthquake collapse risk - In a dramatic decision that could significantly impact Silicon Valley’s water supply, federal dam regulators have ordered Anderson Reservoir, the largest reservoir in Santa Clara County, to be completely drained starting Oct. 1. The 240-foot earthen dam, built in 1950 and located east of Highway 101 between Morgan Hill and San Jose, poses too great of a risk of collapse during a major earthquake, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates dams, has concluded. “It is unacceptable to maintain the reservoir at an elevation higher than necessary when it can be reduced, thereby decreasing the risk to public safety and the large population downstream of Anderson Dam,” wrote David Capka, director of FERC’s Division of Dam Safety and Inspections, in a letter to the Santa Clara Valley Water District on Thursday. Anderson Reservoir is owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, a government agency based in San Jose. When full, it holds 89,278 acre feet of water — more than all other nine dams operated by the Santa Clara Valley Water District combined. In a statement Monday, Norma Camacho, the water district’s CEO, said the impacts of draining the largest reservoir in Santa Clara County will be significant. “With these new requirements, we expect to see an impact to groundwater basins that are replenished with water released from Anderson Reservoir, including South County and southern San Jose,” Camacho said. “Staff is already exploring other sources of water that will have to come from outside of the county. While residents have done an excellent job of conserving water since 2013, another drought during this time frame could require everyone to significantly decrease their water use.” Camacho also said that draining the reservoir starting in seven months is likely to kill wildlife downstream in Coyote Creek, including endangered steelhead trout, amphibians and reptiles. Coyote Creek flows from the dam through downtown San Jose to San Francisco Bay. Complicating the issue, California may be heading into a new drought. On Monday, amid a dry winter, Anderson Reservoir was just 29% full. Nevertheless, the 26,133 acre feet of water stored there is an important part of the South Bay’s water supply — holding enough water for the annual needs of at least 130,000 people, and what the district considers an emergency supply.

Massive Houston water main break floods roadways; water advisories in effect  --Massive Houston water main break floods roadways; water advisories in effect - Residents in Houston were being asked to conserve water Thursday after a massive water main break in the area of East Loop 610 around noontime flooded roadways and continued releasing water into the evening. In addition, residents were being asked to boil any water they use prior to drinking, brushing their teeth or washing, Houston’s FOX 26 reported. “This was a major, a major break," Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters at a news conference. “As you can see it produced a lot of water and it is still producing a lot of water.” Those with weakened immune systems were asked to be mindful of potentially harmful bacteria in the city’s water supply for the time being, the station reported. Video on social media showed trucks being driven in deep water in an effort to rescue stranded motorists. Water pressure was low in the city as a result of the mishap, but Turner said it "stablized" as crews continued making repairs. The main that busted was 35 years old, the mayor told FOX 26. The break was measured at 96 inches, according to the station. “This is an example of the need for infrastructure improvements, not just in this city but cities across the board,” Turner told reporters. “When you’re dealing with an aging infrastructure, you’re going to have these main-line breaks. And in some cases, they are major arteries and can cause major disruption.” 

 Eastern Kentucky Has Been Underwater, but You Probably Didn’t Notice --Central Appalachia has experienced catastrophic flooding once again. In the first two weeks of February, more than eight inches of water fell, causing the Cumberland and Kentucky Rivers to reach their highest levels in 40 years. More than 200 homes have been damaged, and nearly 100 more have been devastated. There have been more than 100 high-water rescues. In Whitley County, where I’m from, a 74-year-old man drowned in his car after he tried to drive through high water to get to his job as a security guard at a coal mine. I bet most Americans have no idea this natural disaster has been happening. When trouble comes to rural people—whether they’re in Kentucky, California, Montana, or Michigan—the media mostly shrug. The public as a whole is no better, as people seem to have little sympathy for these rural areas. I’ve been asked “Why do people live there, anyway?” These sentiments aren’t directed only at Appalachia. In 2017 President Donald Trump told unemployed people in rural New York that their best solution would be to move to a city. He gave them his condescending blessing, saying, “I’m going to explain: You can leave.”   But people in rural areas value their communities just as much as anyone else. Even after my parents lost nearly everything, they stayed to raise their family in Lily. My parents, and many other people where I am from, say they need night skies undimmed by city lights. They cannot breathe properly in places that lack hills and pastures. Their native topography is in their blood and bones.  

 With every flood, public anger over the climate crisis is surging, -Sometimes it has felt as if the rain might never stop. These storms have gone beyond the point of simply being storms now, each blurring into the next to create a strangely end-of-days feeling. Everything is freakishly sodden and swollen, and while the rural flood plain on which I live fortunately hasn’t flooded anything like as badly as some, the rivers are rising alarmingly. Yet still the lashing winds and biblical downpours keep coming. Suddenly the 40 Days of Action campaign that Extinction Rebellion (XR) will launch on Ash Wednesday (26 February), encouraging people to reflect on the environmental consequences of their actions in a kind of green Lent, feels ominously well named. This week’s stunt in Cambridge, where XR activists dug up Trinity College’s lawn in symbolic protest at the college’s plans to build on land it owns in rural Suffolk, may be just the beginning. Some ask why these activists aren’t out stacking sandbags for the poor householders of the Wye valley, or canoeing through the streets of Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, highlighting the risks of a climate crisis that can only mean more freak flooding.  Yet in some ways that was the point of targeting Trinity in the first place. Of all the Cambridge colleges, it’s the one identified by student journalists – using freedom of information requests – as the biggest investor in fossil fuel companies blamed for aggravating the climate crisis. Activists blockaded a research building run by the oil exploration company Schlumberger as well as making holes in the lawn. The clear aim is to make it toxic for institutions to maintain ties to polluting industries; and what makes universities tempting targets is that they’re already being hammered from inside by students raging against what they see as dirty money.  But universities are not alone. This week Amazon chief Jeff Bezos announced he was giving $10bn (£7.7bn) to fight the climate crisis, provoking much the same complaints that greeted BP’s recent vow to gocarbon-neutral by 2050: it’s not enough, it’s too vague, it’s just greenwashing. And yes, obviously Bezos should tackle his own company’s carbon footprint first, not to mention treating staff better andpaying more tax if he has billions to spare. But until governments have the guts to legislate for all of that, then we are where we are, which is in danger of missing a sea change in corporate life.

Rising Tides Will Force Millions of Americans to Move -- The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.The inland counties around Los Angeles, and close to New Orleans in Louisiana, will suddenly get a little more crowded. And from Boston in the north-east to the tip of Florida, Americans will be on the move.That is because an estimated 13 million U.S. citizens could some time in this century become climate refugees, driven from their seaside homes by sea level rise of possibly 1.8 meters (approximately 5.9 feet), according to new research.And they will have to move home in a poorer economic climate, worldwide. If governments and city authorities do not take the right steps, sea level rise could erode 4% of the global annual economy, says a separate study. That is, coast-dwellers could witness not just their towns and even cities washed away: they could see their prosperity go under as well.Californian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used machine learning techniques – in effect, artificial intelligence systems – to calculate what is most likely to happen as U.S. citizens desert Delaware Bay, slip away from the cities of North and South Carolina, and flee Florida in the face of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and increasingly catastrophic windstorms.In the year 2000, a third of all the planet's urban land was in a zone vulnerable to flood. By 2040, this could rise to 40%. In 2010, in the U.S., more than 120 million citizens – that is nearly 40% of the entire population – lived in coastal counties. By 2020, this proportion could already be higher. And by 2100, at least 13.1 million people could be living on land likely to be inundated if sea levels rise by 1.8 meters. Except that they won't: they will have already seen the future and moved away from it, to some settlement well away from the rising tides.

NYC Sea Wall Halted After Trump Says it's 'Costly, Foolish' - President Trump has long touted the efficacy of walls, funneling billions of Defense Department dollars to build a wall on the southern border. However, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released astudy that included plans for a sea wall to protect New Yorkers from sea-level rise and catastrophic storms like Hurricane Sandy, Trump mocked it as ineffective and unsightly. Now, six-weeks after plans for a sea wall drew the President's derision, the federal government abruptly decided to halt the project, according to The New York Times.  The sudden announcement from USACE to indefinitely postpone plans for a sea wall surprised some of its own officials, local politicians and environmental activists, all of whom see a mounting threat to New York City from the climate crisis, as The New York Times reported. The USACE official in charge of the project said it was very unusual to lose funding after more than three years of work on the project and millions of dollars spent.   Furthermore, the surprise announcement that USACE did not receive the necessary funds in its raises questions about political interference in its work plan for 2020 raises speculation that the President's whims led to the shortage of funding. Officials did not say whether or not President Trump's tweet led to the shortage of funding, as The New York Times reported.  Six weeks ago, on Jan. 18, after USACE created five possible proposals to reduce storm flooding during large coastal weather events, President Trump attacked the most expensive plan, which called for a sea barrier with retractable gates that would stretch from New Jersey to Queens. "A massive 200 Billion Dollar Sea Wall, built around New York to protect it from rare storms, is a costly, foolish & environmentally unfriendly idea that, when needed, probably won't work anyway. It will also look terrible. Sorry, you'll just have to get your mops & buckets ready!" Trump tweeted. New York was not the only Democratic-leaning area to lose funding for a project that would protect its citizens from floodwaters. Recently, similar projects in Baltimore, Rhode Island, and New Jersey also lost funding. A senior administration official said, "it is required that these studies have a reasonable cost and scope. These particular ones did not," as The New York Times reported.

 Major wind-driven ocean currents shifting toward the poles — Over the past 40 years, the major wind-driven current systems in the ocean have steadily shifted toward the poles, according to new research published in AGU’s journal Geophysical Research Letters.Eight massive wind-driven ocean currents, called ocean gyres, move water around our planet. There are three in the Atlantic Ocean, three in the Pacific Ocean, and one each in the Indian and Antarctic oceans. These rotating current systems largely determine the weather and marine productivity in our planet’s coastal regions.In the new study, experts at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), analyzed long-term global satellite data of ocean surface temperature and sea levels. Both datasets offer insights into the evolution of large-scale surface currents, and indicate that, in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere alike, the borders of the ocean gyres and their boundary currents are moving closer to the poles, at a rate of more than 800 meters (2,600 feet) per year.This displacement of tremendous water masses is chiefly driven by global warming, as calculations using a new climate model confirm. According to the researchers, the consequences of this change can already be felt by human beings and the environment alike. In affected regions, sea levels are rising, indigenous species are migrating, and storms are now following new courses.

Alaska’s Marine Ecosystem Is Changing ‘Decades Too Early’ Due to Climate Crisis - The climate crisis is accelerating the rate of change in Alaska's marine ecosystem far faster than scientists had previously thought, causing possibly irreversible changes, according to new research, as Newsweek reported.The new study from the University of Alaska Fairbanks shows that the climate crisis has warmed waters, changing ecosystems and crippling sea ice growth. The researchers told Alaska Public Media that now is the perfect time to study Alaskan waters before warmer temperatures become the new normal. Seth Danielson, one of the researchers on the paper told Alaska Public Media that their team was shocked by the record low sea ice and record high ocean temperatures of the last couple of years. "It was a bit surprising because we felt like it came a couple decades too early," said Danielson to Alaska Public Media. The study published in the journal Nature Climate Change said that 2017 showed signs of "a sudden and dramatic shift," according to the International Business Times. This dramatic changes in ocean temperatures will have large impacts on the region, not only to the marine populations, but to the commercial fishing industry and to local populations that rely on subsistence fishing, as the International Business Times reported. While the study focused on 2017, temperatures over the last two years suggest a lasting change is in the works."Many changes persisted in 2018 and even into 2019, suggesting that 2017 was not a passing oddity of brief consequence to social-ecological systems, but a sign of what is to come," according to the study, asNewsweek reported.The reduction in sea ice will open up commercial vessel lanes, which could reduce the viability of subsistence fishing, according to Danielson, as Alaska Public Media reported. It also could change the migratory patterns of the whales, walruses, and other species that migrate between the Chukchi and Bering Seas.

 Researchers find new reason Arctic is warming so fast --The Arctic has experienced the warming effects of global climate change faster than any other region on the planet. Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have developed a new theory aided by computer simulations and observations that helps explain why this occurs. A team led by Scripps researcher Emma Beer observed the changes taking place in the Arctic Ocean, which is largely covered by sea ice for most of the year. There, an unusual situation exists where the water is warm at depth and cold near the surface. The deeper waters are fed by the relatively warm Pacific and Atlantic oceans, whereas the near-surface waters are in contact with sea ice and remain close to the freezing point. Heat flows upward from the warmer water to the colder water.The scientists found that the deeper water is getting still warmer as a result of climate change, but the near-surface water below the sea ice remains close to the freezing point. The increasing difference in temperature leads to a greater upward flow of heat. Beer, et al estimate that this phenomenon is responsible for about 20% of the amplification of global warming that occurs in the Arctic."While previous work has found mechanisms related to the surface and the atmosphere that cause Arctic amplification, our finding is that there is also a fundamental reason why the ocean causes polar amplification when the polar region is covered with sea ice," Eisenman said of the National Science Foundation-supported study. The results are published in the journalGeophysical Research Letters.

A heat wave melted 20% of an Antarctic island's snow in only 9 days - A heat wave this month in Antarctica sent temperatures soaring into the mid- to high-60s across northern portions of the normally frigid continent. Surprisingly, the warmth melted about 20% of an Antarctic island's snow in only nine days, according to newly released images from NASA, leaving behind ponds of melted water where the snow had been. "I haven’t seen melt ponds develop this quickly in Antarctica," said Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist at Nichols College in Massachusetts, in a statement. “You see these kinds of melt events in Alaska and Greenland, but not usually in Antarctica.” Pelto said that during the heat wave, which peaked from Feb. 6 to 11, snowpack on Eagle Island melted 4 inches. This means that about 20% of seasonal snow in the region melted in this one event on Eagle Island, Pelto said. He added that such rapid melting is caused by sustained high temperatures significantly above freezing. Such persistent warmth was not typical in Antarctica until this century, but it has become more common in recent years, NASA said. The temperature peaked at 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit at Argentina’s Esperanza Baseon Feb. 6, which was Antarctica's warmest temperature on record. A reading of 69.3 degrees was measured a few days later at a research station on Seymour Island, on Feb. 9, but that reading has not yet been officially verified. This February heatwave was the third major melt event of the 2019-2020 summer, following warm spells in November 2019 and January 2020. "If you think about this one event in February, it isn’t that significant,” said Pelto. “It’s more significant that these events are coming more frequently." It's been a busy summer for climate news in the world's coldest continent. In addition to the record warmth, an iceberg twice the size of Washington, D.C., broke off a glacier there. Also, scientists reported that the continent's "Doomsday glacier" is melting from below because of unusually warm water.

Carbon Dioxide Levels in the Atmosphere Hit Highest Level in 3 Million Years -According to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report, the last time carbon dioxide levels were this high was 3 million years ago "when temperature was 2°–3°C (3.6°–5.4°F) higher than during the pre-industrial era, and sea level was 15–25 meters (50–80 feet) higher than today."That period, the Pilocene Era, is unrecognizable from today. Giant camels walked around on the ice-free land above the Arctic Circle, as NBC News reported.Earth first passed the 400 million parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere in 2013. Rather than take it as a dire warning, we have become inured to that level of concentration and have seen it rise slightly in subsequent years. In 2018, the concentration was 407.4 parts per million (ppm), according to NOAA. This year, CO2 concentrations are predicted to peak at 417 ppm, according to NBC News.That level will put humans in new, unfamiliar territory. "For millions of years, we haven't had an atmosphere with a chemical composition as it is right now," said Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, to NBC News.In fact, just two weeks ago, on Feb. 10, NOAA's Mauna Loa Observatory, an atmospheric baseline station in Hawaii, recorded the daily average of CO2 levels on as 416.08 parts per million, according to Common Dreams.Carbon Dioxide concentrations are an effective measure of how many fossil fuels we are burning. Coal and crude oil contain carbon that plants have pulled out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis over million of years. However, in short order, human activity has returned that trapped carbon back into the atmosphere, asNOAA reported."We've done in a little more than 50 years what the earth naturally took 10,000 years to do," said Siegert toNBC News.Elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide are a hallmark of the climate crisis since they are associated with higher temperatures, melting ice and sea level rise, among other effects. University of Exeter geography professor Richard Betts, head of the climate impacts division at the UK's national weather service, expects this year's CO2 concentrations to be 10 percent higher than normal, with one or two percent of that carbon rise attributed to the Australia wildfires, as NBC News reported. The fires, which raged for nearly five months, released about 900 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

JP Morgan Economists Warn of 'Catastrophic Outcomes' of Human-Caused Climate Crisis -Climate campaigners on Friday expressed hope that policymakers who are stalling on taking decisive climate action would reconsider their stance in light of new warnings from an unlikely source: two economists at J.P. Morgan Chase.Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Rupert Read revealed Thursday that he had obtained a report, entitled "Risky Business: Climate and the Macroeconomy," by J.P. Morgan economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray. The report issued warnings to bank clients similar to those promoted by climate action groups — describing extreme weather events and global conditions that could result from the continued extraction of fossil fuels.In doing so, the economists implicated the bank's own investment activities in the potentially catastrophic effects of the climate crisis.J.P. Morgan is the world's largest financial backer of fossil fuel companies, helping to fund fracking, pipeline projects, and Arctic oil and gas exploration. The company has contributed $75 billion to such projects since the Paris climate agreement was forged in 2015. The agreement called on governments to reduce fossil fuel emissions to help limit global heating to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.If activities like the ones funded by J.P. Morgan continue to release fossil fuels into the atmosphere, Murray and Mackie wrote, "We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened." Failing to move away from global systems that scientists agree are causing the planet to warm "would likely push the Earth to a place that we haven't seen for many millions of years," they added.

Planet Is Screwed, Says Bank That Screwed the Planet  --JP Morgan Chase is the world’s leading financer of fossil fuel projects. And according to a report from within the company, recently leaked to the press, the world is seriously underestimating the adverse effects of climate change. The 22-page report, entitled “Risky Business: the climate and the macroeconomy” and dated January 14, 2020, has been reported by multiple outlets since Friday as containing a gloomy assessment of the risk presented by climate change in the near future. But it also offers a withering takedown of how economists in particular have tended to think about the climate crisis, criticizing findings from several of the field’s experts by name, including a recent winner of the Nobel Prize in economics. “We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened,” the report concludes. It’s a stunning bit of cognitive dissonance from a bank that is doing so much to fuel the crisis. It also shows a growing push for a more grounded assessment of the crisis than mainstream economics has offered in recent decades.  Essentially an informational document, the report—written by U.K.-based JP Morgan economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray—reviews a battery of academic literature on climate change. It examines several predictions of climate change’s impact on gross domestic product, including economist Richard Tol’s 2018 survey of 26 different climate models—one of the more comprehensive recent works. While Tol haslinks to organizations that have cast doubt on the scientific consensus around the climate crisis, as his own research has, the findings listed are not especially controversial. But the JP Morgan Chase report authors push back on those and other prominent predictions. “Most likely,” the authors conclude, “these estimates of the income and wealth effects of unmitigated climate change are far too small.”

JPMorgan Hopes to Block Shareholder Climate Risk Resolutions - Banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co. grabbed headlines Tuesday when it announced plans to phase out financing of coal production and use, and not fund fossil fuel development projects in a U.S. Arctic wilderness. But the firm is still trying to block shareholders from forcing it to reveal its exposure to climate risk and commit to additional climate action. The three resolutions, which were filed by three institutional investor members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, ask JPMorgan to disclose its exposure to climate risks that could threaten the value of their share holdings, as well as plans for ending fossil fuel lending and lowering the carbon footprint of all lending. The Interfaith Center is a coalition of 300 shareholder advocates who view the management of their financial investments as a catalyst for social change.The Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to respond to JPMorgan’s request for permission to block voting on the proposals prior to the bank’s annual general meeting, which is typically held in May."We think today’s announcement is an important first step, but it's nowhere near where they need to be in terms of reducing their climate impact,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, a nonprofit organization that works with shareholders to advocate for corporate environmental, climate, and social responsibility. The group's shareholder resolution asks JPMorgan to report on its plans to measure and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with its lending activities to a level in line with the Paris Agreement. "The company has not been willing to do that,” said Fugere.

 BP Calls It Quits with 3 Trade Associations, but Continues Membership in NAM, API, US Chamber - British Petroleum (BP) is working to clean up its climate image. In the two months since environmental law nonprofit Client Earth filed a complaint against the UK oil giant with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) alleging its ads were misleading, BP has announced intentions to reach “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, stop all “corporate reputation” advertising and, now, withdraw from trade associations with approaches on climate that are out of step with its values.The company announced this week it will resign its membership in the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and will not renew its membership with the Western Energy Alliance (WEA).The decision came after BP conducted a review comparing the climate-related policies of several trade associations to its own. The company found its policies are not aligned with those of the AFPM, WSPA and WEA.BP cited WEA’s opposition of federal methane regulation as a main area of misalignment. BP said “recent and developing differences in the area of carbon pricing” have contributed to its decision to leave the WSPA, as has its current focus on stopping a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) initiative in Washington state. But while proclaiming to support a tax on carbon, BP contributed nearly $13 million to a campaign by the WSPA to help defeat a Washington state carbon emissions fee initiative in 2018.BP listed disagreements over carbon pricing as the main reason for leaving the AFPM.However, BP will remain a member of the American Petroleum Institute (AP), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), despite finding that its policies are only partially aligned with those groups. According to its review, BP disagrees with the API’s opposition to the federal regulation of methane, disagrees with NAM over its opposition to carbon pricing and differs from the Chamber’s approach to climate science and emissions reduction efforts.Yet for now, BP will remain a member of these groups, despite the fact that the API, U.S. Chamber and NAM are well-known architects  of climate science denial.

Elizabeth Warren pushes Larry Fink on BlackRock’s pledge to fight climate change -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants Blackrock's Larry Fink to put more strength behind his pledge to have the world's largest money manager tackle climate change, and to detail how he expects to do it.In a letter made public Wednesday, Warren, D-Mass., asks Fink to support her Climate Risk Disclosure Act, which requires companies to reveal their climate-related risk. Warren is one of a number of advocates who believe creating clear, public measuring sticks is one of the only ways to hold companies accountable to their pledges of sustainability.Warren also pushed Fink to better explain how he will back up his promises of making sustainability "the new standard for investing." She asked him to describe the "concrete steps" BlackRock will take to meet its commitments and any changes in management or policies it plans to implement to support it.She asked that Fink describe BlackRock's definition of exchange-traded funds with a focus on environmental, social and governance, or ESG, issues. He pledged to double BlackRock's offerings of ESG-themed products. These funds have drawn scrutiny for including companies seemingly at odds with their objective, like fossil fuel companies. The letter, dated Tuesday, comes days ahead of Super Tuesday, in which Warren will fight for delegates in her run to be the Democratic nominee in the presidential election. Among the 14 states voting on Tuesday is California, which has been plagued by environmental disasters such as wildfires that experts have blamed on climate change.Fink announced in January that BlackRock will exit investments with a high sustainability-related risk, such as coal. He attributed the decision to "a fundamental reshaping of finance" and warned that climate change is a "defining factor in companies' long-term prospects." He also said BlackRock will join the Climate Action 100+ investor coalition, which focuses on tackling greenhouse gas.The move followed criticism of the money manager from activists who argued that its investments in coal were at odds with the societal focus Fink puts forward in his highly publicized annual investor letter. BlackRock has voted against every single resolution backed by the Climate Action 100+ investor coalition to tackle greenhouse gas.

60,000-Strong Fridays for Future Protest in Hamburg, Germany Prompts Question: 'Where Are You, USA?' - U.S.-based youth climate activists on Friday drew attention to the climate protest in Hamburg, Germany, where organizers said roughly 60,000 people took part, and hoped that Americans took inspiration from their European counterparts. Among those taking part in the large Fridays for Future action in the northern German city was school strike for climate founder Greta Thunberg of Sweden. Fridays for Future organizer Alexandria Villaseñor of New York City shared Thunberg's tweet showing the massive crowd and asked, "Where are you USA?""The United States needs these types of numbers on a regular basis," said Jerome Foster II, a high school senior and Fridays for Future organizer in Washington, DC. "What is it going to take for the U.S. to rise up like this?" wondered the Durham, N.C. branch of Extinction Rebellion. "We are in a climate catastrophe and people around the world, particularly in the global south are facing the brunt NOW! January 2020 was the warmest since we've recorded temperatures." Thunberg, who's in her 79th week of Fridays for Future actions, noted in her remarks to the Hamburg crowd that the weekly actions have spread globally. "For almost one and half years young people have been striking from school all over the world," she said. "The world is failing on ensuring us a future. And I honestly don't understand how the people in power can continue like now. How they can look their children in the eyes while they are stealing their future?" she asked."We are facing an existential crisis," said Thunberg, "but we must keep on pushing."While the Hamburg march drew attention for its size Friday, other youth-led climate actions took place in communities across the globe, which many documented on social media:

 Schools challenged to teach climate change as students join Greta strikes   - Dozens of students packed onto a boat docked in a flood-prone area of Bangladesh listen closely to a lesson highlighting the natural life of the rivers around them. It is a normal day on a school boat project which aims to keep students in classes during monsoon season - and teach them about a changing climate in a country facing increasingly devastating floods fuelled by global warming. The project is at the vanguard of a global movement pushing for schools to teach children about the impact of a rapidly warming world, with countries from Italy to New Zealand also putting climate change onto the curriculum. Students aged five to 11 in northern Bangladesh study a curriculum based on water and environment, from a nature-based alphabet to watching documentaries on climate change and how to farm more sustainably, taught on about 20 wooden boats.  "They are the future citizens. If we provide them with timely education on climate and how to survive the present challenges and prepare them for future, bigger, challenges then actually they will be able to adapt to the changing climate." Education has been highlighted as a key plank in tackling climate change by the United Nations education body UNESCO amid warnings from scientists that world leaders are failing to take sufficient action to curb global warming. The move comes as students worldwide follow the lead of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and strike on Fridays, calling for governments and companies to take action to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions. Italy last year become the first country to make climate change education compulsory in schools, and New Zealand introduced climate change curriculum last month.But many students taking part in the swelling global youth climate movement say they are being failed by their schools.The youth-led Teach the Future campaign network in Britain is demanding a new UK law that would instruct all schools to teach climate issues.

 'Anti-Greta' teen activist to speak at biggest US conservatives conference - A German teenager dubbed the “anti-Greta” – climate sceptics’ answer to theschoolgirl activist Greta Thunberg – is set to address the biggest annual gathering of US grassroots conservatives. Naomi Seibt, 19, who styles herself as a “climate sceptic” or “climate realist”, will this week address the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)near Washington, joining speakers including Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence.  Seibt is in the pay of the Heartland Institute, a thinktank closely allied with the White House that denies established science showing humans are heating the planet with dangerous consequences. CPAC will be the biggest stage yet for Seibt, a so-called “YouTube influencer” who tells her followers Thunberg and other activists are whipping up unnecessary hysteria by exaggerating the climate crisis. “Climate change alarmism at its very core is a despicably anti-human ideology,” she has said. The teenager, from Münster in western Germany, claims she is “without an agenda, without an ideology”. But she was pushed into the limelight by leading figures on the German far right and her mother, a lawyer, has represented politicians from the Alternative für Deutschland(AfD) party in court. Seibt had her first essay published by the “anti-Islamisation” blog Philosophia Perennis and was championed by Martin Sellner, leader of the Austrian Identitarian Movement, who has been denied entry to the UK and US because of his political activism.

In Massachusetts, students step up to pressure schools on renewable energy - Student campaigns are underway on more than a dozen campuses demanding a transition to 100% renewables. As momentum grows in Massachusetts for greater adoption of renewable energy, student activists are playing an increasingly vital role in the movement. Student groups on college and university campuses across the state are attempting to convince their schools to commit to using only renewable energy, and they are joining in the fight for a new bill that would transition the state to 100% renewable energy. “Young people are so important to the conversation because climate change is the biggest issue facing our generation,” said Julia Seremba, a campus organizer with the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, or MassPIRG. “We are really the generation that are going to endure some of the worst effects of climate change, and we are also poised to do something about it right now.” Earlier this month, MassPIRG student chapters across the state and partner Environment Massachusetts launched their latest campaign to lobby colleges and universities to make the switch to 100% renewable energy. Approximately 15 schools statewide — including all four of the campuses in the University of Massachusetts system — are involved in the effort, said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. While the shift to renewable energy must happen in all sectors, colleges and universities are powerful targets for change, Hellerstein said. As education and research institutions, he said, they have the power to influence how people understand issues, so it is essential that they lead by example on the issue of renewable energy. Furthermore, these institutions are large enough to make a difference in emissions on a community level, he said. “They are large consumers of energy, often some of the biggest in their communities,” Hellerstein said. “So the decisions they make about how they procure their power could have a big impact.”

Ocasio-Cortez reads entire Green New Deal into congressional record -- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) read the entirety of the Green New Deal on the House floor Wednesday, marking over a year since shefirst introduced the resolution.Republicans have sought to weaponize the ambitious climate proposal against Democrats, and the measure has failed to advance through either chamber.“But throughout this entire year, as we’ve discussed the Green New Deal, I’ve noticed there’s been an awful lot of misinformation about what’s inside this resolution, a tremendous amount of wild claims: everything from saying we’re seeking to ban airplanes to ending ice cream,” Ocasio-Cortez said on the House floor.“And, as a consequence, I’ve realized that many of my colleagues have never even read the resolution that they’re speaking on," she added. "They haven’t opened a single word of it — and it’s actually only about ... just 14 pages long. So I have decided that since some of my colleagues across the aisle could not for some reason read the resolution, that perhaps this hour would be spent best reading it to them, for the public record.”The Green New Deal seeks to move the U.S. toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions while putting a focus on "good, high-wage jobs." It offers a wide range of policy proposals, including an entirely renewable energy-driven power grid, investments in high-speed railroads and support for family farming.Ocasio-Cortez prefaced her reading by pointing to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations research group that has released catastrophic projections on the unchecked effects of man-made climate change. She noted that the issue was not brought up once at the Democratic presidential primary debate in South Carolina on Tuesday night. “As I was preparing for this evening, I would be remiss but to say that last night we had a national Democratic debate and not a single question was asked about our climate crisis,” the New York Democrat said.

Will Trump's 'deep state' purge hit energy agencies? -- Thursday, February 27, 2020 --President Trump is reportedly on the hunt for the so-called deep state across the federal government — including agencies that oversee everything from offshore drilling to hammering out energy policy. Even if the administration's search for "anti-Trump" employees doesn't result in a reshuffling of political or career staff at the Energy Department or other agencies, experts are warning "deep state" rhetoric threatens to put a chill on the federal workforce. The term hints at a conspiracy theory in some conservative circles that a secretive group of bureaucrats exists and is determined to sabotage the Trump administration's agenda. "Whether these efforts result in a widespread purge or even just the fear that will happen, they threaten to undo protections for federal civil servants that have taken more than a century to build up," said Nick Schwellenbach, director of investigations at the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight. "Those protections exist so public servants are empowered to follow the laws passed by Congress and make decisions based on facts and the broader public interest, rather than for the narrow political benefit of appointees, the president and their patrons," he said. "These efforts absolutely will create a more chilled work environment. Most feds will want to keep their heads down to survive." That, according to one DOE career official who asked to remain anonymous, is what's happening at the agency now. "Most of the appointees here keep their head down and do anything they can to not be noticed," the career staffer said. "I anticipate that there will be little interest from the White House during their purge, but who knows?" Trump acknowledged the search Tuesday, telling reporters at a press conference in India that he doesn't believe it will involve a large number of employees — and that the country will be better off because of it. "I don't think it's a big problem. I don't think it's very many people," Trump said, pointing to what he called the "fake" whistleblower who reported the president's July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which uncovered Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine and led to his impeachment by the House. "We want to have people that are good for the country, are loyal to our country, because that was a disgraceful situation," Trump said. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told Fox News in an interview Monday that it was "not a secret that we want people in positions that work with this president, not against him."

Bridgestone and Dominion in dispute over $2.7 million solar project at SC tire factory - Bridgestone, one of South Carolina’s largest tire producers, is accusing Dominion Energy of preventing the manufacturer from using a $2.7 million solar project at its factory in Aiken County. The international tire company filed a legal complaint this month with the state Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities in South Carolina. The case alleges that Dominion, the new owner of South Carolina Electric & Gas, delayed Bridgestone Americas’ use of a roughly 2 megawatt solar array for more than a year. The solar project was built to power part of Bridgestone’s 2.7 million-square-foot factory in Graniteville, where it makes tires for passenger vehicles and light trucks. But Dominion, which supplies electricity to the plant, has yet to review the new solar array and sign off on the project so it can start producing power. Dominion put the project in line behind a number of other solar projects, which are being built by independent power companies who want to sell electricity back to Dominion’s ratepayers. The utility reviews those projects in the order they are submitted. That process ensures the projects meet engineering standards and won’t cause problems on Dominion’s electric tranmission grid. Rhonda O’Banion, a spokeswoman for Dominion, said the utility is handling Bridgestone’s solar development just like it does other projects. “The law does not allow Dominion Energy to provide special treatment to any solar developer, including Bridgestone,” she said. “Dominion Energy is simply requiring that Bridgestone play by the same rules as everyone else.”

DEP’s First Step Toward Reducing Greenhouse Gases Dismissed as Too Tame by Critics - The state is proposing to clamp down on carbon pollution limited to permitted facilities under regulation by officials, a strategy faulted by environmentalists yesterday as far too tame to achieve New Jersey’s climate reduction targets. The Department of Environmental Protection proposal is its initial effort to comply with Gov. Phil Murphy’s directive to focus on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% below 2006 levels by midcentury, while also pushing the state to 100% clean energy by 2050. The issue is sure to be controversial because the agency is directed by the Murphy administration to implement far-reaching regulatory proposals to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from a variety of sources — some that have never been ratcheted down for pollution contributing to climate change. “Business as usual won’t get us to 80% reductions by 2050,’’ said Frank Steitz, director of the Division of Air Quality at the DEP. The agency hopes to propose emissions reductions to curb carbon dioxide emissions from permitted facilities by the end of the year, and adopt them by the following January, he said.

Wind has surpassed hydro as most-used renewable electricity generation source in U.S. - In 2019, U.S. annual wind generation exceeded hydroelectric generation for the first time, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Electric Power Monthly. Wind is now the top renewable source of electricity generation in the country, a position previously held by hydroelectricity.Annual wind generation totaled 300 million megawatthours (MWh) in 2019, exceeding hydroelectric generation by 26 million MWh. Wind generation has increased steadily during the past decade, in part, because the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which drove wind capacity additions, was extended. Annual hydroelectric generation has fluctuated between 250 million MWh and 320 million MWh in the past decade, reflecting a stable capacity base and variable annual precipitation. Annual changes in hydroelectric generation are primarily the result of variations in annual precipitation patterns and water runoff. Although weather patterns also affect wind generation in different regions, capacity growth has been the predominant driver of annual changes in wind generation. Both hydroelectric and wind generation follow seasonal patterns. Hydroelectric generation is typically greatest in the spring when precipitation and melting snowpack increase water runoff. Seasonal patterns in wind generation vary across the country, but wind generation is usually greatest in the spring and fall. Wind capacity additions tend to come online during the fourth quarter of the year, most likely because of tax benefits. Wind capacity additions totaled 10 gigawatts in 2019 (3.8 GW installed in the fourth quarter), making 2019 the second-largest year for wind capacity additions, second only to 2012. As of the end of 2019, the United States had 103 GW of wind capacity, nearly all of which (77%) were installed in the past decade. The United States has 80 GW of hydroelectric capacity, most of which has been operating for several decades. Only 2 GW of hydroelectric capacity has been added in the past decade, and some of those additions involved converting previously nonpowered dams. Although total installed wind capacity surpassed total installed hydroelectric capacity in 2016, it wasn’t until 2019 that wind generation surpassed hydroelectric generation. The average annual capacity factors for the hydroelectric fleet between 2009 and 2019 ranged from 35% to 43%. The average annual capacity factors for the U.S. wind fleet were lower, ranging from 28% to 35%.

 How Texas’s wind boom has spawned a Bitcoin mining rush - Is Texas the new promised land for Bitcoin miners? The backers of several big-money projects are betting yes, thanks to the state’s cheap electricity and unique regulatory environment. If their ambitious plans come to fruition, it could lead to a profound shift in the geographic distribution of an essential component of the world’s most popular cryptocurrency network. Bitcoin mining success depends heavily on how much electricity a given facility can devote to the task, which explains why the announcements of new mining sites often read like announcements of new power plants. A project that went live last week in west Texas has drawn particular attention, thanks to backing by investor Peter Thiel. Layer1 Technology, which recently raised $50 million from Thiel and other venture capitalists, has launched a facility that it says will soon have 100 megawatts of electricity devoted to mining Bitcoin. Leading mining chip maker Bitmain, which is based in China, has also moved into Texas, opening a facility with 50 MW of power in a town called Rockdale in October that it says can eventually scale up to 300 MW. A third big player, a German firm called Northern data, says it plans to build the largest mining facility in the world, also in Rockdale, which it says will devote a full gigawatt (1,000 MW) to cryptocurrency prospecting. Today, Bitcoin’s network is using just over 10 gigawatts, according to an estimate by researchers at the University of Cambridge. These are just the most high-profile mining operations laying claim to the Lone Star State. A number of other firms are either planning (or rumored to be planning) to set up facilities there, all chasing inexpensive power. Bitcoin’s heavy electricity consumption—the same researchers estimate that the network’s annual use of power ranks it between the Philippines and Belgium—stems from the way it secures its public accounting ledger, called the blockchain, without relying on a central authority. To demonstrate their trustworthiness to the network, Bitcoin’s miners, thousands of which are distributed all over the world, constantly consume huge amounts of computing power as part of a competition to solve a complicated cryptographic puzzle. Every 10 minutes, a winner earns the right to add a “block” of new transactions to the ledger, and in return they receive newly minted bitcoins. Essentially, the system deters attacks by making them very expensive.

Natural Gas Is Crushing Wind and Solar Power -  The U.S. Energy Information Administration just announced some spectacular news that should be banner headlines across the country: The price of natural gas has fallen to its lowest February level in 20 years. The data shows that natural gas prices fell to $1.77 per million British thermal units. In inflation-adjusted terms, the price of gas has plunged by some 80 percent since its high of $13.60 12 years ago. The price is down 90 percent since 2005, when prices hit nearly $20. (Quick: Can you think of anything else that now costs one-tenth of what it did 15 years ago?) The Energy Information Administration also reports that U.S. natural gas production has hit an all-time high this year.  This boom in production has affected the economy of every state, from Ohio and Pennsylvania to Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and the Dakotas. Today’s bargain-basement prices are partly due to moderate temperatures on the East Coast this winter, but this has been a long-term trend of cheaper and cheaper energy. America is now the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, and we are exporting more throughout the world than at any previous time in our history. It’s hard to believe that a decade ago, we were importing natural gas. Thanks to fracking and horizontal drilling technologies that keep getting more and more efficient, we now have hundreds of years of supply of this fuel. Yet liberal environmentalists are grousing about this good news. A recent Bloomberg news story exclaims in its headline: “Cheap Gas Imperils Climate Fight by Undercutting Wind and Solar.” “Gas is such a bargain that it’s being viewed less as a bridge fossil fuel, driving the world away from dirtier coal toward a clean-energy future,” the story tells us, “and more as a hurdle that could slow the trip down. Some forecasters are predicting prices will stay low for years, making it tough for states, cities and utilities to achieve their goals of being zero-carbon in power production by 2050 or earlier.” Ravina Advani, head of renewable energy at BNP Paribas, complained: “The fact that there’s an abundance of it makes the move to complete decarbonization much harder … (Gas is) reliable, and it’s cheap.” And that is bad news, why, exactly? It’s like saying a cure for the coronavirus is bad for hospitals and doctors..

Fossil-Fuel Subsidies Must End - Scientific American -When it comes to tackling the climate crisis, ending $400 billion of annual subsidies to the fossil-fuel industry worldwide seems like a no-brainer. For the past decade, world leaders have been resolving and reaffirming the need to phase them out. All of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have committed to eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies, and the vast majority of the American public supports doing so. International financial institutions such as the World Bank andInternational Monetary Fund have joined the chorus, pointing to the benefits of reform.In 2018, however, a group of researchers questioned the magnitude of the climate benefits of subsidy reform, reporting that their simulations showed its effect would be “limited” and “small.” Stories in the pressbegan asking whether such subsidies are such a big deal after all. We think this is wrong. In a new paper in the journal Nature, we make the case that they do matter—a lot. In the 2018 study, emissions reductions from subsidy removal were calculated by the researchers to be five hundred million to two billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. This figure is by no means “small.” It amounts to roughly one quarter of the energy-related emission reductions pledged by all of the countries participating in the Paris Agreement (four to eight billion tons). Hundreds of millions of metric tons of CO2 reductions is nothing to sneeze at, particularly when it can be achieved by a single policy approach that also brings strong fiscal, environmental and health benefits.In our analysis of the issue, we take the example of one specific subsidy: a federal tax break that allows U.S. oil producers to immediately deduct from their taxes most of the costs of constructing and drilling new wells. Conventional models assume that subsidies such as this are uniformly distributed across all oil fields, whereas in reality, governments often preferentially target new—rather than existing—capital investments. The result is a lowering of producers’ up-front cash-flow requirements, leading them to drill more new wells than they otherwise would. This process locks in and accelerates fossil-fuel production and, in turn, greenhouse gas emissions.

 U.S. renewable fuel prices climb 25% after report on small refinery waiver program - U.S. renewable fuel prices rose 25% on Wednesday, traders said, after a Bloomberg report stated that the Trump administration has decided to pare exemptions for oil refineries from the nation’s biofuel blending laws, as reported by Reuters.In late January the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit said the Environmental Protection Agency must reconsider some exemptions it previously gave to oil refineries. The administration has decided to apply that ruling nationwide, which likely would mean fewer refineries receive exemptions going forward, according to the report.Following the report, renewable fuel (D6) credits RIN-D6-US for 2019 traded at 35 cents each on Wednesday, up from 28 cents in the previous session, traders said. Credits for 2020 traded at 40 cents each.Reuters did not independently confirm the report. EPA spokeswoman Molly Block declined to comment on the report.The EPA has been seeking White House guidance on how the court decision affects the small refinery waiver program.Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, the nation’s oil refineries are required to blend billions of gallons of biofuels such as ethanol into the fuel or buy credits from those that do. But the EPA can waive their obligations if they prove compliance would cause them financial distress.According to the court’s decision, the EPA overstepped its authority to grant waivers in the past for HollyFrontier Corp’s Woods Cross and Cheyenne refineries and CVR Energy Inc’s Wynnewood refinery because the refineries had not received exemptions in the previous year.The court said the RFS is worded in such a way that any exemption granted to a small refinery after 2010 must take the form of an “extension.” According to EPA data, the agency granted seven biofuel waivers in 2015. That number rose to 35 in 2017 – meaning 28 waivers were given without having been granted in a previous year.

China dominates ‘rare earth’ industry. Can West Virginia be a player?  Near Mt. Storm, West Virginia, a pilot plant under construction will soon test a potential win-win for industry and the environment.It aims to turn a major pollutant of streams and ponds – acid mine drainage – into badly needed minerals for everything from smartphones and electric cars to jet fighters and satellites.If it works, at a price that can earn companies a profit, the process would provide a major incentive for companies to clean up waters and streams, cut costs for the mining industry, and plug a strategic hole for the United States, which currently imports most of those minerals from China.“We think it’s going to be much more competitive than opening a brand new hard rock mine,” says Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute here at West Virginia University, and the researcher who discovered the link between acid mine drainage and rare-earth metals. “There really isn’t a domestic supply chain for rare earths.”For years, U.S. companies and the military have worried about their reliance on China for rare earths. These are 17 elements, sitting at the bottom of the periodic table, with strange names like dysprosium, scandium, and yttrium. These metals are key for the manufacture of smartphones, advanced batteries, ceramics, satellite communications, and magnets used in everything from hard drives to antilock brakes. Some 80% of U.S. imports come from China. Researcher Wes Edge at the mineral extraction project in Morgantown, West Virginia. Currently most of the global supply of 17 rare-earth elements is from China. The minerals are vital for making everything from smartphones and advanced batteries to the magnets used in computer hard drives.And China has sometimes used that dominant position to sharply reduce its supply to nations (like Japan, temporarily, in a 2010 dispute) and threatened obliquely last year to do so again, this time against the U.S. in the middle of the trade war.

JPMorgan Chase takes baby step toward curbing fossil fuel loans - The Washington Post --JPMorgan Chase, one of the world’s biggest lenders to fossil fuel projects, announced Monday that it would curb loans to coal firms and bar the financing of oil and gas developments in the Arctic. But in a move that disappointed climate activists, JPMorgan will still provide loans to oil and gas projects in the Lower 48 states or other parts of the world.The bank has increasingly become a target of activists, who have denounced it for providing $196 billion in financing for coal, oil, natural gas and pipeline projects from 2016 through 2018, following the Paris climate accord. Among American banks, JPMorgan was the top financier of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and of tar sands extraction in Canada during that three-year period.The bank has also come under criticism because its board includes former ExxonMobil chief executive Lee R. Raymond, who has a long record of dismissing concerns about climate change. Bill McKibben, an environmental studies professor at Middlebury College and leading climate activist, said the bank’s new commitments were disappointing and resembled pledges made recently by Goldman Sachs.“It seems like weak beer to me, basically just copying Goldman,” McKibben said. “But it shows that even the biggest bank on Earth feels citizen pressure, so we will keep supplying that!” He added that JPMorgan would “retain the title of the doomsday bank.” Climate activists have staged protests at JPMorgan branches in recent months over the bank’s outsize role in underwriting the oil, gas and coal industries. Earlier this month, for example, Monica Nelson, a student at the University of California at San Diego, helped organize a protest at the campus’s Chase branch where activists held up a banner reading “CHASE THEM OUT.” “We would like the university not to give them the next five-year lease,” she said.

Freedom from Fossil Fuels is Good for Your Health - Freeing ourselves from reliance on fossil fuels is not only good for the planet and future generations. It also saves lives here and now. That’s the message from studies of the public health “co-benefits” that come with reduced emissions. In many cases, these alone are large enough to provide a compelling case for replacing fossil fuels with clean energy, even without counting benefits for the climate.The burning of fossil fuels releases a toxic stew of air pollutants alongside carbon dioxide, the number one culprit in climate change. Foremost among these “co-pollutants” are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are hazardous in themselves and undergo chemical reactions in the air to form suspended particulates that penetrate the lungs and further damage human health. Coal-fired power plants are the main source of sulfur dioxide emissions, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated are responsible for about 70% of the health costs from power plants.Air pollution is a leading cause of death at home and abroad. In the U.S., a 2019 study in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that outdoor air pollution kills more than 100,000 Americans each year. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that dirty air kills more than 4 million people annually.Economically, this is a big deal – even bigger than the climate damages often measured by conventional cost-benefit analysis. And politically, the deaths and ill health caused by air pollution are more immediately visible than climate instability: the costs are borne by people alive today rather than by future generations, and they are borne mainly in the same places where the emissions occur rather than by people worldwide. In a recent study I carried out with colleagues at MIT and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, we analyzed the “co-pollutant cost of carbon” in U.S. electric power generation – the premature deaths from co-pollutants per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. A prior study by MIT researchers estimated that in 2005, power plant emissions were responsible for 53,900 deaths per year nationwide. Using standard EPA measures for the value of a statistical life, we found that in 2011 the average co-pollutant cost of carbon was roughly $45/ton. This can be regarded as a conservative estimate in that it does not include the costs of non-fatal illnesses. The co-pollutant cost was 20% higher than the “social cost of carbon” estimate of $37/ton that the Obama administration used for climate damages. In other words, including the here-and-now health benefits of cutting fossil fuels – alongside the climate benefits – would have more than doubled the economic rationale for doing so.

Paul LePage says he was paid $7,500 last year to advocate for CMP corridor —— Former Gov. Paul LePage confirmed on Monday that he was paid in 2019 by a lobbying firm to advocate for Central Maine Power Co.’s hydropower corridor, which has been perhaps the hottest political issue facing his Democratic successor. The Republican said in a Monday statement to the Bangor Daily News that he was paid $7,500 last year by Mitchell Tardy Jackson, a high-powered lobbying firm that has been working for the utility since last year to fend off legislative proposals aimed at killing the $1 billion proposal. LePage could do more paid work on the corridor in the future.The issue has long been a rare point of agreement between LePage and Gov. Janet Mills, who won the 2018 election on a promise to overturn much of the former governor’s conservative legacy. LePage’s paid involvement in the corridor fight may take on added political importance since he’s considering a 2022 run against Mills.The project would bring Hydro-Quebec power to the regional grid through a 145-mile transmission line, but it is under threat from opponents who recently delivered more than 75,000 signatures to the state in a bid to put a question killing the project on the November ballot.

The UK's largest power plant to stop using coal next year, with up to 230 jobs lost - Coal-fired electricity production at the U.K.’s largest power plant is expected to end in March 2021, energy firm Drax said Thursday, with the move leading to between 200 and 230 job losses. Drax Power Station — which is located near the town of Selby, North Yorkshire — has a capacity of 3,906 megawatts and generates approximately 18 terawatt-hours of power annually, according to the firm. The facility has six units: four which have been converted to generate power using what Drax describes as “sustainable biomass,” and two which use coal. This shift, the company says, has resulted in carbon savings of over 80% compared to when the units were using coal. “Ending the use of coal at Drax is a landmark in our continued efforts to transform the business and become a world-leading carbon negative company by 2030,” Will Gardiner, the CEO of Drax, said in a statement. “Stopping using coal is the right decision for our business, our communities and the environment, but it will have an impact on some of our employees, which will be difficult for them and their families,” Gardiner went on to state. The firm is to consult with trade unions and employee representatives “over the coming months” and offer support to those impacted by the changes. While Drax said it did not expect the power station to use coal after March 2021, it added that the facility’s two coal units would “remain available until September 2022 in line with its existing Capacity Market agreements.”

Lawmakers and environmental advocates team up to support coal transition legislation - Bipartisanship was on full display Tuesday as Maryland lawmakers and environmental advocates came together to support legislation that would phase out the burning of coal at the state’s six coal-fired power plants and provide money to take care of workers who would be affected by the transition. The legislators and environmentalists spoke ahead of a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the legislation that began at 1 p.m. EST. The House Economic Matters Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill on March 5 at 1 p.m. EST. “It really is a bold step forward to say the worst of the dirty energy is something we’re targeting for termination and that we’re gonna do it in a way that doesn’t harm workers. So, that’s our overall goal,” House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, said at a news conference at the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis. “Our goal is to shut down coal in a fixed timeline and to take care of all the workers because we don’t want to forget the people who worked in these coal-fired power plants.” Barve said that the legislation calls for a five-year transition period but that the time frame will be negotiable. “We want do something that’s not too far in the future but also doesn’t provide market disruptions.” Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, described the legislation as the “right bill at the right time.” He said Maryland has “an unsustainable model for how we generate electricity using coal.” None of the state’s coal-fired power plants has thus far operated for a single day this year, West said. Last year the plants operated for 17 days, he said, adding that the plants are dying a slow death. “Any kind of a model that involves these very dirty plants trying to operate continually and make any kind of a profit at 17 days a year just doesn’t work. It’s not sustainable. These plants are going to close. Whether they close tomorrow or three years from now –they’re going to close.

Last Smokestack Demolished at Former Coal-Fired Power Plant (AP) — The single remaining smokestack at Massachusetts' last coal-fired power plant has been demolished. A controlled implosion brought down the 500-foot (152-meter) smokestack in seconds at the former Brayton Point power plant in Somerset on Saturday morning. WJAR-TV captured photos and video of the demolition. Three other chimneys were demolished in March, and two massive cooling towers were taken down in late April. Video from April showed the giant towers along Mount Hope Bay crumple to the ground and a large cloud of dust rise into the air. The company had said that the hulking concrete structures were believed to be the tallest power plant cooling towers ever brought down in a controlled demolition. The plant had burned coal since 1963, though the cooling towers were not added until decades later. The plant closed in 2017 as environmental groups pushed for cleaner sources of energy generation. The structures were long considered an eyesore by residents in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The new owners of the property, Commercial Development Co., plan to turn the site into a multi-use facility mainly dedicated to supporting offshore wind farms.

Newly opened US thermal coal mine for sale after operational, market problems - Owners of a thermal coal mine that was touted as the first to open under U.S. President Donald Trump's pro-coal administration filed for bankruptcy and is now seeking a buyer. Paringa Resources Ltd. subsidiary Hartshorne Mining Group LLC cited both market conditions and a slew of technical challenges to getting the Poplar Grove mine in the Illinois Basin operating at full capacity as it filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Feb. 20. "While the debtors continue to believe in the Western Kentucky region and the high-quality coal produced from the Poplar Grove mine, they have not been able to produce coal in the volumes necessary to generate a positive cash flow and stave off a liquidity crisis that ultimately necessitated the filing of these Chapter 11 cases," Hartshorne President David Gay wrote in a bankruptcy court declaration. Several new metallurgical coal mines opened up in the months following Trump's election in response to overseas demand for steelmaking coal that subsequently tempered. Grant Quasha, then the CEO and managing director of Paringa, told S&P Global Market Intelligence in mid-2017 that the company's Buck Creek project in Kentucky, which included the Poplar Grove and Cypress mines, was the first new coal project announced in the U.S. to target thermal coal sales under the Trump administration. "The build-out of this newly emerging producer may not have been possible without the support of the Trump and [Kentucky Gov. Matt] Bevin administrations," Quasha said. With expectations of low capital costs and known mine geology, Quasha said he expected the mine to be a "new stalwart in the dynamic Illinois Basin." At the time, the coal executive was also banking on natural gas prices climbing toward $4/MMBtu. Instead, persistently cheap gas continues to challenge the entire coal sector and recently fell below $2/MMBtu. Even without a rise in gas prices, Quasha hoped the mine could take business from higher-cost coal operations as Paringa looked to expand on a long-term coal contract struck with Louisville Gas and Electric Co. and Kentucky Utilities Co. for above spot market prices for the region. The company was also committed to providing coal to Ohio Valley Electric Corp. and Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corp. through 2020.

Citizens make voices heard at coal ash meeting  - One week after a small crowd gathered for the public hearing and question-and-answer session on the coal ash basin closure plan for the Duke Energy Mayo Plant, a much larger gathering came to the Department of Environmental Quality session on the company’s Roxboro plant on Hyco Lake at North Elementary School Wednesday night. Under a Jan. 31 consent agreement between Duke Energy, DEQ and several community groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, Duke Energy will remove nearly 80 million tons of coal ash from six of its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina, including the Roxboro plant. That ash will be removed from the basins and placed in lined onsite landfills. DEQ representative Ben Jackson gave a presentation detailing the closure plan. The Roxboro Steam Electric Plant has two basins. The East Ash Basin contains 3.89 million tons of ash. The West Ash Basin contains 12.97 million tons. The Roxboro plant will have about 16.8 million tons of uncapped coal ash moved into the a new, lined landfill that will sit adjacent to an existing lined landfill in the East Ash Basin. The existing landfill sits on top of about 3 million tons of coal ash that will not be excavated. Landfill construction is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2021. Ash excavation is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2023 and is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2035. The landfill is expected to completed and covered in the fourth quarter of 2036. The new landfill will be 180 feet above Dunaway Road. According to Duke Energy, drinking and recreational water supplies have always been safe from coal ash, but the submitted Corrective Action Plan will address the localized groundwater impacts immediately under and beside the basins. Duke Energy says the impacts are contained on company property and moving away from the plant’s neighbors.\

 Duke Energy reveals specific plans for coal ash removal  — Dozens of people showed up to North Rowan High School Monday night, with questions and concerns to voice about Duke Energy's plans to excavate 80 million tons of coal ash. According to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the move is expected to be the largest coal ash cleanup in U.S. history, requiring more excavation than what was done in four neighboring states combined. Throughout the month of February, the DEQ has hosted public hearings around the area to explain Duke's submitted plans and hear comments from the community. Altogether, 10 remaining coal ash basins will be closed, the DEQ says. At six of those, the ash will be removed and placed in lined basins on site. See the excavation and closure plans in detail below: The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has secured the excavation of more than 80 million tons of coal ash in North Carolina. Under a settlement agreement with community and environmental groups and Duke Energy that ends the appeal litigation, Duke Energy will move forward with excavation plans at the Allen, Belews Creek, Cliffside, Marshall, Mayo and Roxboro sites, moving coal ash into on-site lined landfills. Buck is one of four locations where coal ash will be excavated and recycled. Ed Mussler with the DEQ's Division of Waste Management says recycled ash will have to be burned first to remove remaining carbon, so the ash can then be incorporated into cement. Throughout the process, Mussler says environmental impacts will be tracked. In total, Duke Energy expects the project to cost $8 million to $9 million. The DEQ says the process is expected to take ten or more years. Deborah Graham lives down the street from the Buck site and came to the meeting to voice her concerns with the burning of the ash before recycling. She also thinks Duke Energy should cover the cost of the cleanup. "I know, for 33 years, I’ve lived in my house, and I’ve paid my trash man every month to pick up my trash," Graham said. "Duke Energy’s been down at the end of my street. They have not paid the trash man to pick up their trash for 33 years. Now, they want me to also pay for that. That’s just another slap in our face."

Public meeting on Marshall Steam Station coal ash basin closure today  The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is hosting a public hearing about the closure of a coal ash basin at the Marshall Steam Station Wednesday at Maiden High School at 6 p.m. As part of the process to close the ash basins in North Carolina, DEQ is holding public meetings for citizens to learn about the closure plans for each of the six plants with on-site ash basins. Marshall Steam Station is in Catawba County by Lake Norman and NC 150. Duke Energy plans to drain the ash basin by Marshall, expand the lined landfill that is also on the station property and move the dry ash to the lined landfill. Dave Renner, a Duke Energy vice president, said water from the basin will go through Duke’s filtration system before it is put into Lake Norman. The filtration system meets state standards. The company will start moving the ash in 2021 or 2022. It will be able to move about 1.5 million tons per year, and the project will be complete by 2030. Renner said after all of the ash has been transferred to the double-lined landfill, it will be covered with an impermeable barrier.The dam between Lake Norman and the current basin will remain after the basin is free of coal ash because it is an important railroad spur for the plant. Wells will also be installed around the emptied ash basin. Some wells will pull groundwater affected by the coal ash to the surface for filtration while others will inject clean water into the water table. Duke spokesperson Bill Norton said only water on plant property had been affected as groundwater directly underneath the current basin has been contaminated, but the company wants to decrease the amount of impact as much as possible.

Can county stop a TVA landfill? - — A standing-room-only crowd filled the Anderson County Courthouse courtroom as citizens lined up for a hearing on the possibility TVA may build a landfill in the Claxton Community near Bull Run Fossil Plant. However, the question remained whether the county could officially do anything to stop the utility from building the landfill, planned to possibly be near the intersection of New Henderson Lane and Old Edgemoor Road. The county has invoked the Jackson Law, a state law which allows counties to block landfills. However, Bert Robinson, with TVA’s government relations team, said the county could not use that law to stop TVA. Tennessee Code Annotated 68-211-706 states the law “shall not apply to any private landfill that accepts solid waste solely generated by its owner if the waste is solely generated within the county subject to this part and if the private landfill does not accept county or municipal solid waste or ordinary household garbage.” Brooks and Robinson have both said TVA does not plan to bring any waste in from outside the county, instead only using the landfill for waste TVA generates and which is from the Bull Run site itself. The waste will be coal combustion residuals (CCRs), such as coal fly ash and gypsum, generated from the burning of coal at the plant in the past. County Commission member Tim Isbel of Rocky Top said TVA will still need the county to rezone the land from a residential to an industrial zone in order to build a landfill on the property already purchased by TVA. Powell resident Julie Bledsoe compared the case to a similar one that happened in North Carolina in which residents defeated a landfill using zoning.

Bills targeting coal ash move as water tests worry Juliette residents - The new test results that rolled in Feb. 19 were about what Fletcher Sams expected: Out of 36 drinking wells in Juliette, all but six showed troubling levels of a cancer-causing substance that has riled residents of the small middle Georgia town. The next day, also as expected, was spent breaking the bad news to families living near the coal-fired Plant Scherer, where environmentalists say the toxic ash byproduct of burning coal suspected to be affecting their well water has long been improperly stored. “It’s emotionally draining,” said Sams, executive director of the nonprofit Altamaha Riverkeeper. “People have been dealing with this issue for a long time.” As more test results arrive, local environmentalists like Sams are watching legislation in both chambers of the General Assembly aimed at curbing the health and environmental dangers of coal ash. The issue became an environmental priority for many Georgia lawmakers as state regulators received control over permitting and monitoring sites where coal ash is stored. Lawmakers and environmentalists are especially worried about the potential effects of coal ash kept in liquid ponds at several Georgia Power Co. plants, many of which environmentalists say lack protective liners to prevent groundwater contamination. Some bills before the state House and Senate call for installing liners on all Georgia Power ash ponds and requiring the company to give advance notice when the ponds being closed will be dewatered. Other bills seek to make the collection fee for coal ash at Georgia landfills the same as for other kinds of garbage, which supporters say would discourage out-of-state power companies from sending their ash to Georgia. A bill toughening rules requiring Georgia Power to give advance notice that it will dewater ash ponds cleared a House committee on Feb. 20 – though environmentalists note dewatering has already begun at some power plants. Another bill that would raise the fee for landfills to receive coal ash from $1 to $2.50 passed out of a Senate committee earlier this month.But the big piece of legislation environmentalists are eying would force Georgia Power to install impervious lining around every site where coal ash is stored to keep contaminated water from leaching into drinking wells and underground aquifers.

 New water testing approved for Juliette amid allegations of contaminated water - Following recent claims of contaminated water, the Monroe County Board of Commissioners has agreed to fund further testing of water in Juliette.Citizens in Juliette believe coal ash from Plant Scherer has contaminated their groundwater supply. Coal ash is a by-product of burning coal and contains several different types of heavy metals.The Altamaha Riverkeeper Organization has completed testing of water in Juliette in recent weeks and claims to have found presence of contaminants in the water.In a media release Wednesday morning, Monroe County Commissioner Eddie Rowland said the commission will complete two separate water safety studies in the coming weeks.Rowland says the first study will take water samples from at least 50 different private well locations across Monroe County. Their goal is to determine whether the contaminants found in recent water testing near Plant Scherer are naturally occurring or are confined to the area near the plant. Monroe County Manager Jim Hedges says this study will cost $10,000. The results are expected back within 7 to 10 days of testing.The study will look for levels of Hexavalent Chromium. That is a compound associated with an increased risk of cancer according to the National Cancer Institute. According to the Altamaha Riverkeeper Organization, they have found high levels of hexavalent chromium, in some cases, in excess of 10 parts per billion.A second study has also been approved and will be completed by a Duke University student and professor. They will conduct an independent study of 10 to 12 wells within two miles of Plant Scherer. That testing is expected to take place March 14, 2020. Commissioners have agreed to fund the flight and rental car costs involved in the on-site testing by Duke University.

GA Senate panel seeks to block landfills near Satilla River—  Legislation that would prevent new landfills from being built near the Satilla River in southeast Georgia is advancing at the state Capitol.Senate Bill 384, sponsored by Sen. William Ligon, a Republican from Brunswick, was approved unanimously by the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee on Tuesday. It could soon move to the full Senate for more debate.The bill would prohibit landfills, including coal ash and other types of municipal solid waste facilities, from being constructed within 3 miles (4.82 kilometers) from the highwater mark of the river. It wouldn’t impact any facilities currently in operation.“This is a bill to work to protect one of the vital areas of our state, the Satilla River corridor. It’s a unique area because it’s what we call a blackwater river, which means that it has a low level of dissolved oxygen,” Ligon said.“Our coastal blackwater rivers like the Satilla are a special resource for the state,” said Satilla Riverkeeper Laura Early, who advocates for the protection and restoration of the Satilla River. “Those clear dark waters, the white sandbars and great fishing opportunities are something that attract folks from across the state and beyond to this great recreational opportunity.”

Black Lung Benefits Drop For Kentucky Coal Miners After Controversial Law Change - Lynn Estel Stanley was the kind of coal mine foreman who wanted to know if there was a safety problem, and would always be the one to go fix it himself. He was also the kind of miner who refused to slow down, even when his men told him he was overexerting himself. But when he was 69, his doctor told him it was time to stop for good. Stanley wasn’t surprised. He knew he was getting sick. “It kept getting progressively worse and harder to breathe to the point where I just couldn’t do my job, I didn’t have enough oxygen,” he said. He had watched coal-miner relatives die of black lung, a form of lung disease caused by breathing in coal and rock dust. Particulates lodge in the lungs, causing the tissue to harden and restrict the amount of oxygen that can enter the bloodstream. Stanley also knew that if he could prove to a judge that he had the disease, he would be entitled to financial benefits. So he got a chest X-ray, and was diagnosed with progressive massive fibrosis, the most serious form of black lung disease, by a radiologist named Brandon Crum. Over the next few months, three more physicians would tell Stanley he had a serious case of the disease. But in court, none of that would matter. As the epidemic of black lung disease continues in Appalachian coal country, Stanley is one of many Kentucky miners caught up in changes to state law limiting who can diagnose black lung.Two years ago, Kentucky lawmakers made a controversial change to the rules for black lung benefits.. Now, state records show that since that change, the percent of Kentucky miners diagnosed by state-approved experts as having the disease fell from 54 percent before the law change to just 26 percent. An analysis of state data by the Ohio Valley ReSource also suggests that the doctors now making decisions on claims more often side with coal companies than with coal miners.

 “Lax Oversight” Threatens Health Fund for Miners With Black Lung, Watchdog Finds - Just three bankruptcies of American coal companies have added more than $800 million in costs to a federal government program that funds health care for disabled coal miners, the Government Accountability said in a report released Wednesday. The report comes after a 2018 analysis by the same agency which found the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund faced significant financial challenges, and had borrowed taxpayer money to cover necessary expenses nearly every year since 1979. This new research shows that coal company bankruptcies have been a significant factor contributing to the fund’s financial debt, and lax oversight from the Department of Labor is partly to blame. The report is “completely consistent with the strategy coal companies have used to evade pension, retirement, and environmental obligations,” said Josh Macey, a Cornell University visiting Assistant Professor and researcher of coal bankruptcies. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund provides monthly benefits and health care coverage for disabled miners whose own employer cannot cover the cost. Coal companies pay into the fund via a per-ton tax on coal. A coal company’s liability to the trust fund is the total cost of care for the lifetime of each miner disabled by black lung due to work in the company’s mine. If a company doesn’t have enough insurance or hasn’t put up enough collateral to cover those liabilities when it goes bankrupt, the cost of care falls on the trust fund.

Trump administration resuming coal leasing on public lands The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it will be resuming coal leasing on public lands, angering conservationists. The Bureau of Land Management said in a statement Wednesday that it had completed an environmental assessment and found no significant impact from lifting the pause on processing applications for new coal leases. “Under President Trump’s leadership, the Department of the Interior has ended the war on American energy and coal, which allows local communities to prosper,” said Casey Hammond, the acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, in the statement. “Coal is and will continue to be a critical part of our nation’s energy portfolio and we are committed to the responsible development of our abundant resources and advancing American energy independence, jobs, and economic growth,” Hammond added. The administration first attempted to end an Obama-era ban on new coal leasing on public lands in 2017. A federal judge ruled last year that the Trump administration policy did not include sufficient assessments of mining's environmental impacts. According to the administration, nearly 40 percent of the country's coal is produced on federal lands and coal produced on these lands supported more than 32,000 jobs in fiscal 2018. Environmentalists criticized the review, implying it was not objective. “The result of this environmental review was cooked from the start—the Trump administration tried to end the coal moratorium three years ago, but was so sloppy that a judge told them to try again," Jennifer Rokala, the executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement. "Instead of ensuring our public lands are part of the climate solution, the former oil lobbyist in charge of the Interior Department is trying to open even more places for drilling and mining," Rokala added.

Feds Want To Halt Peabody-Arch 'Joint Venture' - The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday filed a complaint in federal court alleging that a proposal between Peabody Energy and Arch Coal to combine two coal mines in Wyoming's Powder River Basin will eliminate competition between the two largest coal-mining companies in the U.S.“Whatever the product, the antitrust laws protect customers from mergers that lead to higher prices," FTC Director of Bureau of Competition Ian Conner said in a written statement. "This joint venture would eliminate the substantial head-to-head competition between the two largest coal miners in the United States, and that loss of competition would likely raise coal prices to power-generating utilities that provide electricity to millions of Americans."  According to the complaint, Peabody and Arch Coal produced more than two-thirds of the coal mined in the Southern Powder River Basin.Coal mined in the Powder River Basin is the lowest cost coal available to the nation's power plants. Further, the complaint says, power plants that burn PRB coal rarely switch to coal from other regions in the U.S."The Joint Venture would create a single entity with a dominant share of SPRB coal reserves, and a dominant share of sales to SPRB customers," the complaint says. "Post-Joint-Venture, the combined entity would control more than 60% of SPRB coal reserves and approximately 60% of SPRB coal production." The two coal giants announced Wednesday that they intend to continue pursuing the "highly synergistic joint venture."

Coal states sue California cities and Washington state to force ports to ship exports -- Buffeted by falling domestic demand, America’s ailing coal industry set its sights a decade ago on the promise of reaching Asian markets. But that meant shipping from West Coast ports, and politicians there had other ideas.Some coastal communities, taking a stand against coal to fight climate change and protect public health, acted to block the exports. And now coal states are fighting back in the courts — all the way to the Supreme Court — and using taxpayer funds to boost a fading industry. Instead, the industry has endured one setback after another. Demand in Asia proved more volatile than expected. The home market worsened because of competition from cheap gas and renewable energy, and coal-fired power plants continued to close. President Trump’s regulatory rollbacks didn’t provide the industry renaissance he claims. On top of all that, the West Coast states and cities rebelled. Lawmakers in Oakland and Washington state blocked plans for coal-export terminals, citing health concerns and pollution risks. Just last month the Richmond City Council gave the California city’s port three years to phase out coal exports. Nearly all coal mined in Utah is exported to Japan through Richmond, an arrangement that would end under the new ordinance.Utah lawmakers, who previously agreed to spend $53 million to guarantee coal exports out of Oakland, are now weighing whether to set aside $500,000 to sue Richmond over its ban on coal handling and storage. Montana and Wyoming have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Washington’s decision to deny a water-quality permit to Millennium Bulk Terminals, which effectively blocked one potential route for coal to reach overseas markets.The two mining states depend on taxes from coal production to fund state services and public schools. In Utah, the coal industry is a smaller contributor to the state’s revenues and employment, but it has an outsized influence in rural communities; while it employs only about 2,700 miners, the jobs are some of the highest-paying in the state.Should the states lose their lawsuits, it could embolden left-leaning coastal states to use permitting decisions and zoning laws to fight global warming by preventing the export of fossil fuels. Alternatively, if the coal states win, they and other energy-producing states could try to force the West Coast to accept not only coal but also liquefied natural gas.

Santee Cooper plans $520M settlement of customer lawsuit over failed SC nuclear project  -Santee Cooper has reached a tentative legal settlement that could secure cash refunds for customers of the state-run utility and hold off a potential sale of the power provider, The Post and Courier has learned. A proposed $520 million settlement — reached early Thursday morning after two days of marathon negotiations — would reimburse the ratepayers of Santee Cooper and South Carolina’s 20 electric cooperatives for the money they poured into the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project in Fairfield County. And, in return, Santee Cooper could be freed from the class-action ratepayer lawsuit that threatens to bankrupt the 86-year-old power and water utility. The potential settlement could boost Santee Cooper’s prospects in the South Carolina Legislature, where the future of the state-run utility hangs in the balance. Santee Cooper finds itself on the state’s auction block because it wasted $4 billion on the nuclear reactors before canceling the project in July 2017. State lawmakers are currently debating whether to keep Santee Cooper under state ownership, sell it to Florida-based NextEra Energy or hire another company to manage its operations for the state. NextEra, one of the largest power companies in the country, has already reached its own, $541 million proposed settlement with attorneys representing Santee Cooper customers. Until now, NextEra could boast about its unique ability to resolve the lawsuit that threatens Santee Cooper’s viability. That calculus changed this week, according to multiple sources who confirmed details of the preliminary agreement to The Post and Courier. They said they could not speak publicly because the judge presiding over the case, former S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, has instructed attorneys to not discuss the negotiations.

 SC utility execs under investigation asked few questions— Two current executives of South Carolina’s state owned utility who remain part of a criminal investigation into the failure to finish two nuclear plants in the state showed up for a meeting Wednesday after senators demanded their appearance.Santee Cooper Senior Vice President of Nuclear Energy Michael Crosby and Marion Cherry, the utility’s on-site manager for the nuclear project that cost $9 billion and never generated power, reluctantly took an oath to tell the truth at a Senate Finance Committee meeting and then were asked almost no questions.The committee is deciding Santee Cooper’s future, deciding between bids to let the utility reform itself, sell Santee Cooper to NextEra Energy of Florida or have it managed by Dominion Energy of Virginia.Senators wanted the men and two former executives to be at a similar meeting Tuesday, but their lawyers advised them not to show up because of criminal investigations into Santee Cooper and its majority partner in the nuclear project, the former SCANA Corp. Senate leadership threatened subpoenas if they didn’t show up.Through lunch Wednesday, senators asked the men only one question about how much Santee Cooper has spent to protect equipment, material and supplies at the construction site for the reactors north of Columbia since it was abandoned in July 2017. Prompted by Santee Cooper CEO Mark Bonsall, Cherry quietly answered from his seat three rows back that it was $20 million. The equipment is in limbo as Santee Cooper and the main contractor on the failed nuclear project, Westinghouse Electric Co., have sued each other. Westinghouse declared bankruptcy about three months before the reactors were abandoned.

SCANA and former execs sued by SEC for ‘fraud’ over failed SC nuclear project - Federal authorities accused SCANA Corp. and two of its top executives on Thursday of lying to the public about the V.C. Summer nuclear project, saying it had “repeatedly deceived” investors and regulators by hiding its mounting problems. The fraud allegations, brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for South Carolina, mark the first results of a years-long federal investigation into the nuclear project and how its problems were disclosed to investors. The lawsuit is not a criminal indictment, but the 87-page filing could be a prelude to criminal charges. Derek Shoemake, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of South Carolina, said the office’s civil division assisted with the SEC’s investigation but added he could not comment on any criminal investigation. The allegations offer a new glimpse into the split reality of South Carolina’s nuclear boondoggle. It depicts how executives privately harbored dire concerns about the biggest project their company had ever undertaken and how they publicly sought to convince regulators and investors that everything was under control. One executive bluntly summarized the divide in a message obtained by federal investigators: The company’s top brass “flew around the country showing the same damn construction pictures ... while the whole (expletive) was going up in flames.” The V.C. Summer project cost more than $9 billion before it was called off in 2017, mired in construction delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns. It’s now a financial burden felt heavily by the ratepayers of South Carolina Electric & Gas, which Cayce-based SCANA owned. SCE&G customers are still on the hook for another $2.3 billion for the abandoned reactors over the next two decades even after the utility’s sale to Dominion Energy of Virginia. The project’s demise and revelations about its hidden history of problems caused SCANA Corp.’s stock price to lose billions of dollars in value and led to the company’s takeover by Dominion. “When the truth was revealed, it resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to SCANA’s investors and to South Carolinians,” the lawsuit says. The SEC’s lawsuit was filed against SCANA and Dominion’s electricity business in South Carolina, as well as two of SCANA’s top executives during the project: former CEO Kevin Marsh and former Executive Vice President Steve Byrne.

Utica Shale well activity as of Feb. 22:

  • DRILLED: 157 (157 as of last week)
  • DRILLING: 111 (109)
  • PERMITTED: 481 (475)
  • PRODUCING: 2,451 (2,451)
  • TOTAL: 3,200 (3,192)

Eight horizontal permits were issued during the week that ended Feb. 22, and 11 rigs were operating in the Utica Shale.

Ohio oil production totals increase - Horizontal shale wells in the state produced 6.8 million barrels of oil and 685 billion cubic feet of natural gas during the fourth quarter of last year, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced Friday. Oil production grew 17 percent compared to the last quarter of 2018, while natural gas production rose 3 percent.ODNR reported production from 2,452 wells, most of them tapping the Utica Shale. Those wells averaged:

  • • 2,774 barrels of oil
  • • 279 million cubic feet of natural gas
  • • 90 days of production

Horizontal wells also produced 26 million barrels of brine, a salty wastewater often found in underground oil and natural gas deposits, during the fourth quarter.

 Plant plans reason for encouragement - Residents of our region received some positive news Wednesday when it was learned that a local company has plans to build a gas-to-liquids facility in Saline Township in northern Jefferson County. Hammondsville-based Orin Holdings and county officials see a big potential for the facility, which would be located on 500 acres of ground that has sat idle for more than 30 years. According to the plan that was released Wednesday, Orin would construct on the property two state-of-the-art plants that would convert natural gas into a product that would be shipped to other plants where it would be further refined into commercial-grade diesel fuel. The twin plants will likely provide a big boost to the region’s economy. According to Trustee Danny Householder, the project will create as many as 500 jobs and will provide a significant increase to the tax base of the township. . Orin officials said the land where the proposed facility would be built sits in a sweet spot — right in the heart of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays. It also is located close to Norfolk Southern’s rail line, which runs next to the Ohio River; is close to the river itself; and is close enough to the Columbiana County Port Authority’s inter-modal terminal in Wellsville that it will have easy access to barge transportation. Plus, its proximity to Shell’s Falcon Pipeline means the facility will have easy and economical access to natural gas — the plant’s raw material. Orin said the potential exists to build an underground storage facility for natural gas in a salt cavern below the property.   Company officials explained that the facility will be one of the most modern, efficient and environmentally compliant alternative fuel plants in the world. The oil and gas industry has played an important role in our region’s economy for many years now, and it’s likely that role will expand. Construction is continuing on Shell’s ethane cracker in Monaca, and it’s expected the official announcement about a cracker in Dilles Bottom planned by PTT Global Chemical and Daelim Industrial Co. LLC will come soon. It’s not known how soon the Orin facility can get up and running. The permitting process is expected to take more than a year to complete before construction can begin.

Should county, state welcome giant petrochemical project? - The Columbus Dispatch - Plans for the Ohio River’s petrochemical buildout, including multibillion dollar “cracker” plastic plants, were laid between 2010 and 2017 when there was reason for them. “Fracking” opened two of the world’s largest natural gas deposits. The U.S. became the world’s leading oil and gas producer for the first time ever and global plastic production surged. “The world demand for plastic will triple by 2030,” gasmen quote a DuPont vice president. But since 2017, everything has changed. And so are those plans. Buckling after being assessed the largest-ever EPA fine, DuPont, the Ohio River-based Teflon plastic manufacturer, joined its competition in 2017. A staggering 32 oil and gas companies went bankrupt in 2019. National fracking leaders Eagle Ford and Halliburton ended 2019 bankrupt, losing $1.6 billion; Murray Energy, bankrupt; Parkersburg, West Virginia’s plastic cracker, scrapped. Because most of all, since the petrochemical buildout was planned the global “plastic crisis” hit. And it hit hard. In 2017 China stopped importing the world’s supply of used, “recycled,” plastic. Cities from Pittsburgh to San Diego have canceled their plastic recycling programs — or just started stockpiling it — because in practice plastic is no longer recyclable. Plastic is trash. Ninety percent of all plastic has not been recycled. It makes up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating plastic “island” 14 times the size of Ohio, and is already on track to outweigh fish in the sea by 2050. Now with no scale plastic recycling system, expect all new plastic to end up polluting either our water (as floating trash), our air (as toxic burnt plastic) or our land (as nonbiodegradable fill). But it’s not all bad. The world is responding boldly to the plastic crisis by banning plastic, especially single-use plastic, i.e. throwaway bags, bottles and packaging. Compared with 2016, the global market for plastic has lost close to 3.5 billion people, nearly cut in half, most just this past year. And companies such as Kroger, Giant Eagle and even McDonald’s are following suit. This industry promises jobs. But jobs for companies that return to us pennies in wages on every dollar in profit they take from us, that openly pass their enormous environmental and community health bills to us, that are propped up by Big Government and that will only keep going bankrupt, are not worth it. We lost nearly 10 times more jobs than this cracker plant promises when three of our local hospitals closed last year; combined they only needed about 100th the investment.Let’s build up our health, not destroy it.

Gulfport Energy writes down value of oil, gas assets in 2019, report shows An expensive write-down contributed to big losses on the year for Gulfport Energy. After markets closed Thursday, the company issued a report stating it lost about $2.02 billion, or $12.49 per share, on total revenues of about $1.35 billion for the entire year. Gulfport wrote down the value of its oil and natural gas assets by $2 billion in 2019. As part of that, the company took an impairment charge on the value of its oil and gas assets of about $2.04 billion. The Oklahoma City-based company, which owns and operates wells in Ohio’s Utica Shale and Oklahoma’s SCOOP play of the Anadarko Basin, also announced it's cutting the amount of money it expects to spend to drill and complete wells in 2020 to between $285 million and $310 million. In 2018, the company spent $602.5 million. In 2018, the company had earned a profit of about $430.6 million, or $2.46 a share, on total revenues of about $1.36 billion. David M. Wood, Gulfport’s CEO, said the company halved its capital expenditures budget for 2020 because of continued low pricing for natural gas — mostly what the company produces. “At current strip pricing, our 2020 drilling program will be funded within cash flow, ensuring a very strong liquidity position … with a relatively low amount of revolver draw,” Wood said. “The large decline in spending during 2020 also allows us to retain our high value inventory for a better gas price environment in the future.” In the Utica Shale in 2019, Gulfport drilled 16 wells and turned 47 wells to sales. Average daily production from its operations there averaged about 1.01 billion cubic feet (equivalent, officials said). This year, Gulfport intends to run one rig in the play with plans for it to drill 16 wells. In the SCOOP play of the Anadarko Basin, the company drilled 10 wells and brought 14 wells to sales.

 Lawmakers Pass Bills To Lure Petrochemical Industry To W.Va. - The West Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday passed two bills that would provide tax cuts to the natural gas industry in an effort to boost petrochemical and plastics manufacturing.    House Bill 4421 the “Natural Gas Liquids Economic Development Act” would provide tax credits to companies that transport or store natural gas liquids. These by-products of natural gas drilling include propane and ethane, which are feedstocks for chemical and plastics production. Del. Bill Anderson, a R-Wood County, speaking on HB 4421, said the measure would promote natural gas storage and pipelines in an effort to boost development of downstream manufacturing in the state.  “We must develop manufacturing of these liquids in this state,” he said. “Our alternative is simply this: Are we going to put them in a pipeline and send them to the Gulf Coast and create jobs there? Or are we going to encourage development in this state, a natural gas storage hub?”  State officials, including Gov. Jim Justice, have pushed for the development of a petrochemical industry in West Virginia. In late January, Justice told natural gas producers, currently facing record low prices, he would do  “anything” to help the state’s struggling oil and natural gas industry.  Last fall, Justice signed an executive order creating a task force aimed at bringing petrochemical manufacturers to the state. Some lawmakers worried the proposed tax cuts could shoot a hole in the state’s already precarious budget. The Legislature at the time was debating other measures that could radically change the state’s tax code.   “These things cost $200, $300, $400 million a year and we’re giving away something for $1 million,” said Del. Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton County. “That’s not going to drive the needle one way or another whether we’re going to get those investments, but that $1 million is gone and you’re wasting it.”  The fiscal note attached to HB 4421 finds the state could lose up to $500,000 in revenue in fiscal year 2022, but if and as the storage and transportation sectors grow, “local property taxes on associated machinery and inventory will likely increase significantly with revenue gains to local governments along with the potential loss in State General revenue associated with the tax credits for local taxes paid.”   HB 4421 passed 85 in favor, 14 against and 1 member not voting.  The lower chamber Tuesday also passed House Bill 4019 the “Downstream Natural Gas Manufacturing Investment Tax Credit Act of 2020.” It seeks to encourage investment in downstream natural gas manufacturing, such as the building of ethane cracker plants, by giving businesses up to an 80 percent tax credit on personal or corporate net income taxes for new investment that creates jobs.

EQT, EQM sign gas gathering pact - Independent producer EQT Corp. and EQM Midstream Partners LP (EQM) said Wednesday they’ve executed a 15-year gas gathering agreement covering Pennsylvania and West Virginia both sides call a win-win deal. The minimum volume commitment (MVC) between EQT and EQM rises to 3.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) from 2 Bcf/d, and incremental MVC increases begin with the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), Kallanish Energy reports. The MVP project is a natural gas line system that spans roughly 303 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia, and will flow up to 2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) Marcellus and Utica Shale play gas to the south. The MVP will be constructed and owned by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, a joint venture of EQM, NextEra Capital Holdings, Con Edison Transmission, WGL Midstream, and RGC Midstream LLC. EQM will operate the pipeline. The deal consolidates nearly all of EQT's existing Pennsylvania and West Virginia gathering contracts with EQM into one new consolidated agreement, the partners said. The new deal will provide EQT with gathering and compression fee relief, effective upon the MVP's in-service date, currently expected to be Jan. 1, 2021. Gathering fee relief is estimated to impact cash flow by roughly $125 million, $140 million, and $35 million, in the three years following MVP's in-service, respectively. Also part of the new pact, EQT dedicated over 100,000 additional acres in West Virginia to EQM and extended its contractual obligations with EQM to 2035. EQM has also agreed to defer approximately $250 million in current credit assurance posting requirements. Present value, using 10% discount rate (PV10), of MVC revenue is roughly $2.1 billion higher under the new 15-year gathering pact than under prior MVCs with EQT.

Pa. approves $200,000 fine and orders 'remaining life’ study of leaky 89-year-old Sunoco pipeline - State regulators on Thursday finalized a settlement with Sunoco Pipeline to atone for a 2017 leak from the aging Mariner East 1 pipeline that includes a $200,000 fine and a promise to conduct a “remaining life” study of the nearly 90-year-old pipeline. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission unanimously adopted a recommended decision by Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth H. Barnes, which requires the study be completed six months after an independent expert is selected to conduct it. A redacted summary of the study will be released to the public. The PUC cited Sunoco in 2018 for the April 2017 leak, during which 840 gallons, or 20 barrels, of highly volatile natural gas liquids escaped from a small hole that formed in the eight-inch diameter steel pipeline in New Morgan, Berks County. The PUC cited Sunoco for having inadequate cathodic protection of the pipeline, which allowed it to corrode and to leak ethane and propane. The material bubbled to the surface and evaporated without causing injury or explosion, but the episode heightened concerns about what might happen if the 300-mile pipeline experienced a larger failure.

DOJ is building a criminal case around Energy Transfer’s Revolution pipeline explosion -- The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into the 2018 natural gas pipeline explosion in Beaver County, adding to a growing list of state and federal probes into Energy Transfer’s pipeline projects in Pennsylvania. The investigation has been going on since at least November, according to a disclosure in the Texas-based pipeline company’s financial filings. Energy Transfer said the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania “issued a federal grand jury subpoena for documents relevant to the incident,” which is also being examined by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. “The scope of these investigations is not further known at this time,” Energy Transfer wrote in its annual report earlier this month. Energy Transfer disclosed Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s investigation into the Revolution pipeline’s failure in a financial filing in August 2019. The Revolution pipeline — a 40-mile link between shale gas wells in Beaver and Butler counties and a processing plant in Washington County — slid down a steep hill one rainy September morning in 2018, bursting into flames, burning down one family’s home and prompting an early morning evacuation of the Center Township neighborhood. The landslide and resulting blast occurred just days after Energy Transfer began moving gas through the pipeline. Events and decisions surrounding the routing, design and construction of the Revolution pipeline already have been the subject of other investigations, such as by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. DEP stopped reviewing any new permits for Energy Transfer across the state for nearly a year and last month announced a settlement with a historic $30.6 million fine for the Revolution explosion. DEP focused on Energy Transfer’s record of landslides and slope destabilization during the engineering and construction of the pipeline, finding that the company knew it was building in erosion-prone terrain but did not take enough precautions to avoid the problem or bolster the land. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s investigation into the Revolution pipeline is still ongoing, spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said. The PUC’s jurisdiction over the line, categorized as a gathering facility, revolves around enforcing federal pipeline safety regulations. It’s not known what documents the federal Justice Department is seeking or what criminal acts are being investigated. One aspect that could fall under federal law and hasn’t been addressed publicly by Pennsylvania regulators is the possibility that a bad weld might have contributed to the blast. This suspicion was highlighted in a lengthy document filed by the creditors of EdgeMarc Energy Corp. after they’d reviewed 24,000 documents and taken five depositions of Energy Transfer witnesses.

Chevron Launching Layoffs in April    - Chevron Corp. will be launching a round of layoffs beginning April 6 as it sells its Appalachian natural gas operations, according to a WARN notice the company sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry earlier this month. According to the notice the potential number of people affected totals 288 employees at its regional headquarters at 700 Cherrington Parkway in Moon Township, PA.The notice indicated that an unspecified number of layoffs would occur April 6 and added that some employees will be offered temporary assignments, with extended layoff dates potentially through the end of this year, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times."We are taking active steps to reduce job loss and will facilitate the placement of as many impacted employees as we can with other Chevron business units," the letter stated, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times. Chevron also indicated that any employees who are laid off would receive severance and outplacement services.Rigzone reached out to Chevron directly for comment on the matter and received the following statement via email on Feb. 24: "The WARN Act is a regulatory requirement intended to give employees advance notice before potential layoffs at a plant or facility. It’s too soon to know how many employees will be affected on or after the April 6 date indicated in the WARN letter."At the end of 2019 the  company announced a $20 billion CAPEX budget for 2020 and that it was considering strategic alternatives, including divestment, for “gas-related opportunities including Appalachia shale, Kitimat LNG, and other international projects”. During 4Q 2019 the company took a hefty write-down due to ongoing depressed natural gas prices.

Report: Pa. natural gas production grew in 2019 but at lower rate -Total natural gas production in Pennsylvania grew by 7.6% in the fourth quarter of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018 — the lowest growth rate in more than two years, a report by the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office said.Pennsylvania remains the second-highest natural gas producing state after Texas, with 6.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas produced in 2019, the Natural Gas Production Report said.“Through November 2019, nationwide (natural gas) production grew by 10.2% compared to the prior year, largely driven by significant gains in Texas and Pennsylvania,” the report said.Production volume for horizontal wells in the fourth quarter of 2019 reached 1,775 billion cubic feet, the report said. All of the production growth for the quarter was from unconventional wells — i.e., wells requiring horizontal drilling into deep formations and fracturing with fluids.Horizontal well production in Pennsylvania has grown for 14 consecutive quarters, but average production-per-well growth moderated in 2019, the report said.There were 9,319 producing horizontal wells in the state in the fourth quarter of 2019 — an 8.3% increase over the previous year. Since the fourth quarter of 2017, total producing wells increased by 18.2%, the report said.Southwestern Pennsylvania has four of the top 10 natural gas producing counties in the state — Washington (No. 2), Greene (No. 3), Butler (No. 8) and Allegheny (No. 10), the report said.Allegheny County, although representing only 2.1% of the production volume in the state, had the highest rate of production growth — 34.4% — from 2018 to 2019, the report said. The IFO report is based on data from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Voters divided on fracking - - Voters in Pennsylvania — the second-largest natural-gas producing state in the country — are closely divided over whether they support a ban on fracking, a process used in natural gas drilling that spurred a surge in production here over the last decade. That’s according to a new statewide Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll, which found 42% of Pennsylvanians oppose a ban on fracking and 38% support a moratorium, with 20% undecided. The finding comes as Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are calling for a halt to fracking, arguing its effects on the environment are greater than the economic benefits. The new poll showed Pennsylvania voters are split on whether fracking has more positive than negative: 38% said they strongly or somewhat agree that it has had more positive effects, 37% strongly or somewhat disagreed, and 24% were not sure. On the economic effects, half of respondents said the industry has been “a major boost” to Pennsylvania’s economy. Another 26% disagreed, and 25% weren’t sure. Asked whether natural gas drilling poses a major health risk to state residents, 44% agreed and 36% disagreed, with 20% who were not sure. With Pennsylvania a critical battleground state in this year’s presidential election, some Democrats have concerns that having a nominee at the top of the ticket who supports a fracking ban could be politically risky in a state where gas drilling has boomed. “This could be something that poses some challenges to Sen. Sanders,”

DEP fines landfill near Pittsburgh for problems tied to fracking waste - The Pennsylvania Department of Envirommental Protection has fined a Westmoreland County landfill that had been passing pollution from oil and gas drilling waste into a local sewage treatment plant. The fine is part of a consent agreement with Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill to find a solution for the plant’s leachate, the liquid waste formed when rain and moisture percolates through the landfill. As part of the settlement, the landfill will pay a $24,000 fine and reduce the amount of waste it generates by closing up part of the landfill’s open area and installing an evaporator and other treatment equipment for the liquid waste.  Ro Rozier, a spokeswoman for the landfill, said the company was “committed to investing substantial amounts of capital to purchase and install technology and equipment capable of treating and evaporating the leachate generated from the landfill on site. We are confident that our plan for onsite treatment and evaporation will resolve the landfill’s recent leachate disposal issues.”In May, a Fayette County judge ordered the landfill to stop sending its liquid waste to the Belle Vernon Municipal Authority’s sewage treatment plant, which had reported problems meeting water quality standards for its treated sewage. The sewage plant sought the injunction because the leachate it was receiving from the landfill was high in salts and radioactive materials found in drilling waste, which the landfill had been taking for several years.  The landfill’s own waste reports showed the leachate it was sending the treatment plant had an “oil like” or “petroleum sheen.” The agency says it wants the landfill to find a local disposal site for the waste to cut down on truck traffic from the landfill. For now, the waste will be sent to sewage plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

Natural gas synthesis plant proposed – An effort has been underway for 16 months to explore the development of a natural gas synthesis plant in western Clinton County by Frontier Natural Resources and a new company formed for the purpose called, ‘KeyState Agri’, both of Bellefonte.Perry Babb, spokesman for the KeyState stopped at The Express on Thursday to informally introduce the proposed $500,000,000 project that could potentially generate 600 to 800 jobs during construction and 150 to 200 permanent jobs.A natural gas synthesis plant uses the methane in natural gas as a feedstock to produce a range of products used in agriculture, industry, medicines and transportation. A synthesis plant is not a ‘cracker plant’. The majority of CO2 generated in gas synthesis processes is captured and used in the making of other products. More than a dozen similar plants have been built and safely operated across the US in the last 30 years.“The economic development impact would be profound and generational,” Babb said. “Commercial and other activity generated would go beyond Clinton County, impacting areas of Cameron, Centre and Clearfield, local rail siding and road upgrades, housing for the construction workforce proposed to be converted to permanent affordable housing, coordination of workforce development programs with the surrounding county high schools, vo-tech schools as well as Lock Haven, Penn College and Penn State University, substantial research activities with the surrounding universities and major wildlife habitat enhancement in reclaimed mining and other areas funded,” he continued.

 Op-Ed: PennEast Has a Pipeline to Sell You -You’ve‌ ‌heard‌ ‌the‌ ‌saying,‌ ‌“If‌ ‌you‌ ‌believe‌ ‌that,‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌got‌ ‌a‌ ‌bridge‌ ‌to‌ ‌sell‌ ‌you.”‌ ‌The‌ ‌pipeline‌ ‌that‌ ‌PennEast‌ ‌has‌ ‌tried‌ ‌to‌ ‌sell‌ ‌us‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌past‌ ‌five‌ ‌years‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌like‌ ‌that‌ ‌bridge.‌ ‌Now,‌ ‌adding‌ ‌insult‌ ‌to ‌injury,‌ ‌they‌ ‌want‌ ‌to‌ ‌sell‌ ‌us‌ ‌‌half‌‌ ‌a‌ ‌bridge.‌ ‌Do‌ ‌they‌ ‌think‌ ‌we’re‌ ‌suckers?‌ ‌Faced‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌court‌ ‌decision‌ ‌barring‌ ‌PennEast‌ ‌from‌ ‌seizing‌ ‌state-preserved‌ ‌land‌ ‌in‌ ‌New‌ ‌Jersey,‌ ‌and‌ ‌iron-clad‌ ‌evidence‌ ‌from‌ ‌gas‌ ‌experts‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌NJ‌ ‌Ratepayer‌ ‌Advocate‌ ‌that‌ ‌the‌ ‌pipeline‌ ‌isn’t‌ ‌needed,‌ ‌PennEast‌ ‌is‌ ‌desperately‌ ‌trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌build‌ ‌something‌ ‌— ‌‌anything‌‌ ‌—‌ ‌to‌ ‌gain‌ ‌the‌ ‌excessive‌ ‌profits‌ ‌the‌ ‌federal‌ ‌government‌ ‌guarantees‌ ‌for‌ ‌such‌ ‌projects,‌ ‌needed‌ ‌or‌ ‌not.‌ ‌PennEast‌ ‌recently‌ ‌asked‌ ‌the‌ ‌Federal‌ ‌Energy‌ ‌Regulatory‌ ‌Commission‌ ‌(FERC)‌ ‌for‌ ‌approval‌ ‌to‌ ‌build the‌ ‌pipeline‌ ‌in‌ ‌two‌ ‌phases,‌ ‌constructing‌ ‌in‌ ‌Pennsylvania‌ ‌by‌ ‌2021,‌ ‌then‌ ‌crossing‌ ‌the‌ ‌Delaware‌ ‌River‌ ‌into‌ ‌New‌ ‌Jersey‌ ‌by‌ ‌2023.‌ ‌Maybe‌ ‌they‌ ‌think‌ ‌a‌ ‌half-loaf‌ ‌is‌ ‌better‌ ‌than‌ ‌none,‌ ‌but‌ ‌leaders‌ ‌in‌ ‌both‌ ‌states‌ ‌should‌ ‌reject‌ ‌this‌ ‌faulty‌ ‌premise.‌PennEast‌ ‌says‌ ‌it‌ ‌has‌ ‌contracts‌ ‌for‌ ‌only‌ ‌half‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌gas‌ ‌that‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivered‌ ‌by‌ ‌phase‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌project‌ ‌and‌ ‌has‌ ‌provided‌ ‌no‌ ‌information‌ ‌about‌ ‌who‌ ‌the‌ ‌customers‌ ‌would‌ ‌be.‌ ‌That‌ ‌doesn’t‌ ‌even‌ ‌meet‌ ‌FERC’s‌ ‌weak‌ ‌test‌ ‌of‌ ‌public‌ ‌need.‌ ‌FERC‌ ‌should‌ ‌put‌ ‌the‌ ‌brakes‌ ‌on‌ ‌this‌ ‌scheme‌ ‌and‌ ‌treat‌ ‌PennEast’s‌ ‌new‌ ‌proposal‌ ‌as‌ ‌an‌ ‌entirely‌ ‌new‌ ‌project‌ ‌requiring‌ ‌intense‌ ‌scrutiny.‌ ‌PennEast‌ ‌also‌ ‌claims‌ ‌the‌ ‌Delaware‌ ‌River‌ ‌Basin‌ ‌Commission‌ ‌(DRBC) no‌ ‌longer‌ ‌has‌ ‌authority‌ ‌over‌ ‌phase‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌project.‌ ‌That’s‌ ‌an‌ ‌end‌ ‌run‌ ‌around‌ ‌the‌ ‌agency‌ ‌charged‌ ‌with‌ ‌protecting‌ ‌water‌ ‌quality‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌area,‌ ‌supplying‌ ‌drinking‌ ‌water‌ ‌to‌ ‌over‌ ‌seven‌ ‌million‌ ‌people.‌ ‌The‌ ‌DRBC‌ ‌shouldn’t‌ ‌let‌ ‌them‌ ‌get‌ ‌away‌ ‌with‌ ‌it.‌ ‌ This‌ ‌all‌ ‌smacks‌ ‌of‌ ‌desperation‌ ‌for‌ ‌PennEast.‌ ‌The‌ state Department of Environmental Protection ‌rejected‌ ‌the‌ ‌company’s‌ ‌application‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌permits‌ ‌needed‌ ‌to‌ ‌build‌ ‌the‌ ‌pipeline.‌ ‌A‌ ‌federal‌ ‌court‌ ‌ruled‌ ‌that‌ ‌PennEast‌ ‌can’t‌ ‌use‌ ‌eminent‌ ‌domain‌ ‌to‌ ‌take‌ ‌land‌ ‌owned‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌state.‌ ‌And‌ ‌now‌ ‌PennEast‌ ‌says‌ ‌it‌ ‌will‌ ‌appeal‌ ‌that‌ ‌decision‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌Supreme‌ ‌Court‌ ‌in‌ ‌hopes‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌ruling‌ ‌that‌ ‌could‌ ‌pave‌ ‌the‌ ‌way‌ ‌for‌ ‌construction‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌pipeline‌ ‌that‌ ‌no‌ ‌one‌ ‌needs‌ ‌but‌ ‌PennEast.‌

Energy giant drops proposed Constitution Pipeline — Williams Companies, the Oklahoma energy giant, confirmed Friday that it has shelved the Constitution Pipeline, a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that triggered a prolonged battle between environmental activists and pro-development advocates.“Williams — with support from its partners, Duke, Cabot and AltaGas — has halted investment in the proposed Constitution project,” the company said in response to questions from CNHI.“While Constitution did receive positive outcomes in recent court proceedings and permit applications, the underlying risk adjusted return for this greenfield pipeline project has diminished in such a way that further development is no longer supported,” Williams added.Anne Marie Garti, an environmental lawyer who helped form the opposition group Stop the Pipeline, said the group “fought this epic 8-year battle with courage, conviction and intelligence, adding: “Perseverance pays off.”Williams disclosed this week in a financial report that the investors in the Constitution Pipeline took a $345 million “impairment,” suggesting that the investment in the mammoth 124-mile pipeline was being written off.“Impairment” is an accounting term meaning a reduction in the recoverable amount of a fixed asset.Despite being approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project skidded into trouble when New York regulators refused to issue water-crossing permits, citing environmental concerns.Constitution’s footprint would have crossed hundreds of real estate parcels in Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties. Garti said Stop the Pipeline’s next mission is to ensure easements acquired by Constitution are removed from landowners’ deeds.

Scrapped pipe project for New York a dire sign for other Northeast gas proposals - The cancellation of a proposed natural gas pipeline into New York may be a sign of challenges ahead for other projects, both at the grassroots level and in Washington, D.C., according to energy analysts. Anti-fossil-fuel activists have grown more successful in recent years, but Williams Cos. Inc.'s move to scrap the Constitution Pipeline Co. LLC project earned a rare designation in the history of energy infrastructure, according to Katie Bays, co-founder of energy consultancy Sandhill Strategy. "It does take a lot to kill a pipeline project," Bays said. "There's really only a handful that have been killed by public policy. I think that was certainly a milestone." Williams announced it would shelve the project after years of opposition from New York and environmentalists. The proposed line from Pennsylvania's shale gas fields became a symbol of the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground and a trend of Northeast states with ambitious clean energy goals denying key water permits to pipeline projects. SNL Image After Constitution won a favorable ruling at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Bays suspected Williams would have to choose between building it and another pipeline, the Northeast Supply Enhancement project. Constitution became so mired in acrimonious politics that continuing to do battle with New York over the project likely would have closed the door to other plans, Bays said. New York has also opposed the Northeast Supply Enhancement proposal, and the line continues to face headwinds, analysts said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration has refused to grant a water permit to that project as well, as the state uses all policy options to achieve its clean energy goals.

US NRC checks review of gas pipeline at New York nuclear plant after report  — The chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ordered a review of the agency's safety analysis of a natural gas pipeline near the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York after NRC's inspector general said in a report made public Wednesday the staff review was flawed and might need to be redone. The NRC IG's report also said NRC missed an opportunity to correct those flaws when it rejected a subsequent petition from consultants for the town of Cortlandt, New York seeking to reverse the agency's conclusions.The NRC's 2014 review of the 42-inch-diameter Algonquin Incremental Market pipeline, designed to ease gas constraints in New England, was the basis for US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval of that project in 2015. The pipeline, which has a capacity of 342 MMcf/d, went into service in January 2017. NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki directed agency staff Monday to promptly examine whether any immediate action should be taken in response to the report, and determine within 45 days whether the original analysis or the response to the petition should be changed. She also told staff to study whether any modifications to agency practice or procedures are needed.

Hotly Contested Proposal to Build Gas Pipeline Into NYC and LI Returns –   A hotly contested proposal to build a pipeline to take natural gas to customers in New York City and Long Island is back before New Jersey regulators.The Northeast Supply Enhancement Project would add to the existing Transco pipeline and would carry enough gas to heat 2.3 million homes. It would take gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey and its Raritan Bay to New York.Oklahoma-based Williams Companies plans to spend $926 million on the project, saying that it is needed to ensure adequate heating and energy supplies to New York City and Long Island, and that it can be built safely with minimal environmental disruption. But opponents say it is unneeded and will encourage the burning of fossil fuels at a time when climate change is causing serious harm.Williams filed its latest application with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on Jan, 21, a filing made public Thursday by the state. It is at least the fourth time the Tulsa company has applied for permission to build the project, which includes more than 23 miles of pipeline through Raritan Bay into New York, and a compressor station to be built in Franklin Township in Somerset County, New Jersey.The company withdrew its application twice before, and New Jersey regulators denied it once. “Nasty NESE is back for an unbelievable fourth time, and the environmental impacts of this unnecessary, climate-changing project will still be severe and devastating,” said Cindy Zipf, Clean Ocean Action’s executive director. “They’re trying to wear us down. We will not give up. We have too much to lose: our ocean, bay, air, and coastal economy and communities.”

 After clash with Cuomo, National Grid warns of widening NY gas shortage - Downstate New York's growing demand for natural gas will begin outstripping supply next winter, creating a gap that will continue to grow for at least the next decade absent a long-term solution, National Grid USA forecast in a new report. Possible solutions include new pipelines and other large-scale projects, smaller-scale infrastructure or energy efficiency programs, and other workarounds, the gas and electric power utility operator said. Without some combination of those fixes, undersupply reaching 265,000 Dth/d by the onset of winter 2032-2033 in a low-demand scenario, or 415,000 Dth/d in the winter of 2034-2035 in a high-demand scenario. "National Grid's current capacity of 2,888 MDth/day is challenged to meet existing peak demand during cold winter days, leaving our network with little room for error," the company said. "And looking ahead, our existing and planned expansion capacity to supply natural gas is not sufficient to meet forecast demand." National Grid presented its outlook in a 116-page report, part of a $36 million settlement with its New York state regulator, the Public Service Commission, over the utility's six-month moratorium on new downstate gas hookups. The standoff reached a climax in November 2019, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave National Grid two weeks to present a remedy or else lose its license to deliver gas to 1.9 million customers of subsidiaries KeySpan Gas East Corp. and Brooklyn Union Gas Co. across Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.

 National Grid offers options to meet projected gas supply constraints -Options to meet long-term natural gas supply constraints for the downstate region include a deep-water liquefied natural gas port for the waters off Long Island, two barges that could deliver liquefied gas during peak demand times and a pipeline that National Grid has long proposed, according to a company report.The report was released Monday in response to a state settlement last year over its controversial moratorium on new gas hookups, In it, National Grid laid out the pros and cons of seven different large-scale and so-called distributed solutions to its gas supply constraints, along with green-energy options to help further curtail use.Growth in natural gas usage across the downstate region is expected to increase in coming years, the company said, but at a slower rate than the historic annual jump of 2.4%. The company cited growth in electrification and the anticipated jump in electric heat pumps, along with efficiency measures, efficient appliances and demand-reducing programs, in projecting that demand could slow to 0.8% to 1.1% per year through 2035. But National Grid said increased demand continues to strain the system. To handle short-term supply worries, National Grid had 42 trucks last winter and 108 this winter at the ready to deliver compressed national gas into the system, when needed, on peak demand days. Earlier this year the company had said warming weather meant the company didn’t need to deploy those planned short-term measures this year. .”Among three large-scale infrastructure options to meet the increased demand is an offshore LNG deep-water port for the waters off New York that would take six to eight years to complete, the company said. “There is a potential location in Long Island Sound that would enable delivery of up to 400 million dekatherms per day to Commack, NY, or Hunts Point, NY,” the report says. “An alternative location exists off the South Shore in the Atlantic Ocean” with an underwater connection to an existing subsea pipeline.

NEW YORK: Utility warns of gas shortages in Cuomo pipeline fight -- Wednesday, February 26, 2020 -- Fresh off a high-profile battle with New York's governor over natural gas supplies, National Grid PLC is warning once again it might have to refuse gas customers if the state doesn't allow construction of new pipelines.

 How New York City plans to end natural gas, oil use in buildings - New York City's path to limiting natural gas in buildings could look very different than the course that California towns and cities have charted — and, as a result, could go farther than other measures already in the works. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced his administration will aim to end the use of natural gas and fuel oil in buildings by 2040, following a wave of gas bans and building electrification codes in California, the Boston area and Seattle. The announcement on Feb. 6 signaled that the nation's most populous city could soon set about electrifying a portion of its more than 1 million buildings. "One of the reasons why the mayor is so strongly stating this kind of goal in the State of the City is that we have to take very comprehensive action," Mark Chambers, director of the mayor's Office of Sustainability, said. "And so I think that we are very committed to being more aggressive, more thoughtful and intentional ... and moving forward as quickly as possible because the urgency of the climate crisis demands it." City officials do not envision a swift prohibition on gas hookups in new buildings as Berkeley, Calif., pioneered, and instead are considering building on previous legislation and existing city programs in ways that could create a new template for other cities. The transition would likely challenge Consolidated Edison Inc. and National Grid USA to accelerate plans to evolve their local gas distribution companies' New York operations. The de Blasio plan is short on details for now as the administration embarks on the earliest stages of shaping the policy, Chambers told S&P Global Market Intelligence. To date, the administration has said its goal is to stop using gas and other fossil fuels in "large building systems" by 2040. It also said it would start with government buildings and work with City Council to "ensure new permits for building systems are aligned with our goal of carbon neutrality by 2050." That language would seem to indicate the city is at least contemplating the California model: deny building permits to new buildings or renovations that include gas hookups, or else use the permitting process to incentivize all-electric systems.

The Perfect Storm Sends Natural Gas Crashing - If you’re waiting for natural gas prices to recover, you might be in for a considerable wait, as inventories are expected to hover well above their five year average for the remainder of the year, the EIA has forecast, painting a rather sour picture for the industry that has seen investments stifled due to the lower prices. In fact, inventories later this year will reach levels never seen before if forecasts prove accurate. According to the Energy Information Administration Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), working natural gas in storage in the Lower 48 will end the current heating season—which ends on March 31—at 1,935 billion cubic feet. This is 12% above the previous five-year average. Now, we’re about to head into what the industry refers to as “the refill season”. Normally, the end of the heating season is when inventories are at their lowest. Now, we’re heading into this stockpiling season with inventories that are high. So we will be amassing even more nat gas in inventory as heating demand falls off. The EIA estimates that we will end the refill season, which runs until the end of October, with 4,029 billion cubic feet. This would be the largest monthly level of nat gas we’ve ever had in storage. At the end of January, inventories had already reached 2.6 trillion cubic feet. The COVID-19 outbreak—likely soon to be pandemic—might be the obvious target on which to lay blame for the increasing inventories. After all, it is responsible for demand in crude oil.  But that is only a piece of the puzzle, with weather, weather, weather topping the list of critical factors that are affecting natural gas inventories. January 2020 was the fifth warmest January on record—that’s out of over 125 years of data. January 2020 saw average temperatures of 35.5 degrees F across the United States. This is 5.4 degrees more than the 20th Century average, according to the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The problem? It’s just been so warm that the need for heating has been reduced, depressing demand. And while production has not fallen with demand, inventories have bloomed. Add to that unfavorable price scenario the fact that COVID-19 is spooking the market and further denting demand, and you have a perfect storm for lower nat gas prices.

US natural gas futures fall to four years low - US natural gas futures plunged over 4% to a near four years low on Thursday on a smaller-than-expected weekly storage draw, forecasts for milder weather over the next two weeks and a drop in oil futures to their lowest in over a year. “A trend to milder weather and reduced storage withdrawals going into March are exacerbating bearishness and price impacts," Daniel Myers, market analyst at Gelber & Associates in Houston, said in a report, noting last week's storage withdrawal “was a bit of a letdown as it likely contained the last relatively strong cold shot of the winter season." The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said utilities pulled 143 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended February 21. That is much less than the 158-bcf decline analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with a decline of 167 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2015-19) average reduction of 122 bcf for the period. The decrease for the week ended February 21 cut stockpiles to 2.200 trillion cubic feet (tcf), 8.9% above the five-year average of 2.021 tcf for this time of year. On its first day as the front-month, gas futures for the most active contract for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 8.5 cents, or 4.6%, to settle at $1.752 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), their lowest close since March 2016. US crude futures dropped over 3% to their lowest since January 2019 as a rise in new coronavirus cases outside China fueled fears of a pandemic that could slow the global economy and dent oil demand. Since hitting an eight-month high of $2.905 per mmBtu in early November, gas futures have collapsed 40% as record production and mild winter weather enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making fuel shortages and price spikes unlikely. Meteorologists projected weather in the Lower 48 US states will fluctuate between warmer and cooler than normal over the next two weeks, with the most cold weather expected between February 27-29 and March 6-10. That forecast was milder than Wednesday's outlook. With the weather warming with the coming of spring, data provider Refinitiv projected average demand in the Lower 48, including exports, would ease from 117.7 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 114.0 bcfd next week. That forecast for next week is lower than Refinitiv's 114.8-bcfd projection on Wednesday. The amount of gas flowing to US liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants edged up to 8.9 bcfd on Wednesday from 8.8 bcfd on Tuesday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 8.5 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 9.5 bcfd on January 31.

Covid-19 Fears Combine with Warmer Weather Forecasts to Send Natural Gas Futures Below $1.70 --After being driven sharply lower by an increasingly mild weather forecast, natural gas futures sustained even more damage on Friday as global fears of the coronavirus continued to hammer stocks and energy commodities. The April Nymex gas futures contract plunged to an intraday low of $1.642/MMBtu before going on to settle at $1.684, down 6.8 cents from Thursday’s close. May also fell 6.8 cents to land at $1.732. Spot gas, which traded Friday for delivery on Sunday and Monday, also moved lower as any remnants of the blustery conditions that hit the United States in the final days of February were set to dissipate. NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. dropped 10.5 cents to $1.525. The latest weather data, already fairly warm, trended further milder overnight Thursday as the American model lost more than 10 heating degree days (HDD) and the already warmer European model lost three to four more HDD, according to NatGasWeather. The midday Global Forecast System continued to trim demand from its outlook, losing another four HDD, the firm said. However, while the warmer weather trends undoubtedly aided Friday’s selling, the move lower also was likely influenced by major moves in commodity and equity markets because of the coronavirus fears, according to NatGasWeather. Stocks continued to plunge on Friday, and energy commodities went along for the ride. West Texas Intermediate front month futures dropped below $44/bbl early Friday before recovering a bit, while Brent crude broke below $50. The global markets were poised to extend the worst losing streak since the 2008 financial crisis, with the virus, officially dubbed Covid-19, forecast to pound productivity levels this year. “Our current assessment forecasts that Covid-19 could result in global E&P investments falling by around $30 billion in 2020 — a significant hit to the industry,“ said Rystad Energy’s Audun Martinsen, head of oilfield service research. Some of the investments are likely to come back in 2021, he said, but the situation is expected to worsen in March, slamming the global services industry well beyond Asia.

 Columbia Gas to plead guilty in Merrimack disaster, pay $53 million fine; parent company must leave Mass. - The Boston Globe — The utility company responsible for the 2018 gas pipeline disaster in the Merrimack Valley has agreed to plead guilty to violating federal regulations and will sell off its operations in Massachusetts, helping to bring closure to a community that has remained rattled since fires and explosions forced residents to evacuate their homes.Columbia Gas of Massachusetts also agreed to pay a $53 million criminal fine, which federal prosecutors called the largest-ever for a pipeline safety violation. And its parent company, NiSource, would turn over to a federal victims’ fund any profits it reaps from the sale of the Massachusetts property, according to an agreement reached with prosecutors.Wednesday evening, Eversource Energy announced that it had agreed to purchase Columbia Gas’s natural gas assets in Massachusetts for $1.1 billion from NiSource.“This disaster was caused by a wholesale management failure at Columbia Gas,” US Attorney Andrew Lelling said Wednesday in announcing the penalties.He said no one person could be held responsible for the disaster, which killed one person and injured more than 20 others, but instead blamed it on a series of systemic failures.“The company as a whole had simply failed to do what it was supposed to do to ensure public safety," Lelling said. Company representatives are slated to plead guilty in federal court in Boston on March 9. The agreement was welcomed by Merrimack Valley residents, who say they have lost trust in the area’s gas distributor, because of both the disaster and its botched response. Federal investigators have said the event, which set fire to more than 130 homes across Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, would not have occurred had proper mechanisms been in place.

Miles-long oil slick from leaking equipment spotted on Midland-area rivers - Anyone walking along the Pine or Tittabawassee rivers around Midland may see and smell oil.Residents notified Midland city officials about the oil slick on Tuesday. Investigators found oil on about four to five miles of the Pine River.The Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Environment sent investigators to search for the source. They found a piece of heavy equipment leaking in a yard near St. Louis, according to Midland officials.The oil was entering the Pine River and flowing into the Tittabawassee River. Residents along the rivers may continue to notice oil as it continues flowing through the watershed.State environmental officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening about the amount of oil that spilled and whether any cleanup activities were taking place. Anyone with concerns or more information about the spill can call the Michigan Pollution Emergency Alerting System hotline at 1-800-292-4706.

 Buttigieg tweets opposition to Line 5 ⋆ Michigan Advance - In a tweet Monday evening, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg became the second Democratic presidential contender currently in the race to call for Enbridge’s controversial Line 5 oil pipeline to be decommissioned. “With such a high risk of an oil spill under the Great Lakes, Michigan can’t afford to keep the Line 5 pipeline in operation. In every community, we need new clean energy solutions to meet our climate crisis,” Buttigieg wrote. The tweet links to a Michigan Radio article from earlier this month about Enbridge’s replacement of a Line 5 segment under the St. Clair River. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who dropped out of the race in August, was the first presidential contender to publicly oppose Line 5. Inslee called the Line 5 tunnel project “a clear and present threat” in early July 2019. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted his opposition to Line 5 later that month, on the nine-year anniversary of Enbridge’s Line 6B oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. Attorney General Dana Nessel has been fighting the pipeline in court and praised Sanders earlier for his support. On Monday, she tweeted her thanks to Buttigieg, as well.* Nessel told the Advance again Monday that she is not planning to endorse in the Democratic primary, reiterating that she will campaign “as hard as I can” for the party’s nominee.* As the Advance has reported, the fierce Line 5 debate in Michigan (and ensuing legal battles) is just one example of oil pipelines becoming a more important national issue for the presidential cycle, as the debate on how to regulate fossil fuels in the era of climate change activism rages on.

 Elizabeth Warren calls to shut down Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline across Michigan, joining Sanders and Buttigieg - mlive.comDemocratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren joined calls to shut down a controversial oil pipeline running across Michigan through the Straits of Mackinac.With less than two weeks before Michigan holds its March 10 primary, Warren said the pipeline is “a threat to millions who rely on the Great Lakes for clean water and a healthy economy” in a statement on Twitter. Warren voiced her opposition the day after Democratic opponent Pete Buttigieg made a similar statement, while Bernie Sanders called for the pipeline to be shut down last summer.Warren also touted her “Green New Deal” agenda to address climate change and create a new clean energy economy. The Massachusetts senator seeks to transition the United States to 100% clean energy within a decade while spurring new investments in renewable energy technology to create new jobs and alleviate fossil fuel dependence.Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline spans 645 miles between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario, carrying 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids per day. Environmentalists are particularly concerned about the impact of an oil spill in a four-mile segment divided into dual pipes that extend across the Straits of Mackinac, linking Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.Enbridge reached a deal in 2018 with then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to decommission the twin underwater pipes and replace them with a single pipe housed in a tunnel built in bedrock beneath the straits.  The idea remains controversial for environmentalists and some Democrats in the state Legislature, who would prefer no oil be transported across the straits at all. Republican lawmakers say there is no other alternative to satisfy the demand for energy, and closing the pipeline would cost thousands of jobs. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has tried to block the Snyder-Enbridge deal, but the Michigan courts have backed Enbridge so far, the latest being a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling last month. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the pipeline and a proposed replacement tunnel a “clear and present threat” to the environment last year while he was running for president. Inslee since suspended his campaign.

Democratic candidates' drilling ban would cost U.S. economy $7 trillion: oil group -(Reuters) - Banning hydraulic fracturing and halting new drilling on federal land would cost the U.S. economy $7 trillion in the next decade and kill millions of jobs, the U.S. oil industry’s main lobby group said on Thursday in a report targeting the climate plans of top Democratic presidential candidates. The report from the American Petroleum Institute underscores mounting concern in the U.S. drilling industry over the possibility a candidate in favor of rapidly ending the fossil fuel economy to fight global warming will win the Democratic Party’s nomination to face Republican President Donald Trump in the November election. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist who is the current front-runner to win the nomination, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is also in the race, have vowed to ban hydraulic fracturing style-drilling nationwide, stop offering drilling leases on public land, and re-impose a moratorium on crude oil exports if elected. Other Democratic presidential candidates have offered more moderate plans here “The U.S. energy revolution ... is dynamic and game-changing for the U.S. economy and energy security. Yet, banning fracking and halting federal natural gas and oil leasing has been proposed,” API said, without mentioning the presidential race. The group said its modeling showed that proposals to ban fracking and end public drilling leases would lead to a $7.1 trillion reduction in cumulative gross domestic product by 2030, and cut millions of jobs in places like Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. It added that it expected such proposals would increase U.S. reliance on foreign energy sources, and boost costs for homeowners and farmers.

East Chicago train derailment: Freight train carrying crude oil derails near Euclid Avenue -   A freight train carrying crude oil derailed Wednesday in East Chicago, Indiana.The CSX train derailed about 5:20 p.m. in the 4600 block of Euclid Avenue, East Chicago and CSX police said. About 18 tankers containing crude oil came off the tracks, CSX police said. Hazmat crews were called to the scene. No injuries were reported, officials said. None of the tankers spilled any oil. Euclid Avenue is closed between 144th Street and Chicago Avenue, and police are asking drivers to avoid the area.The cause of the derailment remains under investigation.

EQT Corp sells half its stake in pipeline operator, strikes rate relief deal(Reuters) - EQT Corp said on Thursday it renegotiated its gas transportation rates and sold half its stake in pipeline company Equitrans Midstream Corp as the largest U.S. natural gas producer tries to cope with low fuel prices. U.S. natural gas prices are trading at their lowest in nearly two decades, hurting producers, many of whom have disclosed asset writedowns in the last few months. EQT recorded $1.6 billion non-cash impairment charge in the fourth quarter. Shares of EQT were down 3.3% at $4.79 amid a broader 4% drop in the S&P Energy index .SPNY. The Pittsburgh-based company has been looking to sell assets to pay down debt and said on Thursday that it had refined its hedging strategy and cut annual capital expenditure. The company expects 2020 capital expenditure between $1.15 billion and $1.25 billion, compared with a prior outlook of between $1.25 billion and $1.35 billion. It has hedged 87% for 2020 and 26% for 2021, assuming flat production. The company, which focuses on production from the Marcellus and Utica shale basins in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, said it expects 2020 sales volumes in the range of 1,450-1,500 billion cubic feet equivalent (bcfe).

Oil spill under investigation in Baltimore Harbor - A fuel oil spill in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor covered the water into an eerie red sheen Saturday, prompting a big environmental emergency response.The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) estimates 50 gallons of red-dyed #2 heating fuel oil spilled into the outfall of the Jones Falls at President and Pratt Streets. The Baltimore Fire Department worked with MDE and a U.S. Coast Guard contractor to help contain the spill. On Saturday the Coast Guard contractor used a vacuum truck in an attempt to recover some of the fuel. MDE deployed a 100-foot-long piece of floating sorbent material to the spot where the Jones Falls emerges from underground, near Port Discovery and Power Plant Live. That should “help determine whether there is additional oil coming down the falls,” MDE spokesman Jay Apperson tells Bay Bulletin. MDE says it doesn’t know the source of the spill.

Coast Guard continues to search for source of oil in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; spill might be growing - U.S. Coast Guard crews are continuing to search for the source of an oil spill in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as photos from the scene Sunday appeared to show the spill possibly growing in size. Petty Officer 3rd Class Isaac Cross, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, said crews have still not located the source of an oil spill where the Jones Falls meets the Inner Harbor. The spill of red-dyed No. 2 fuel oil was first spotted Saturday morning near the Port Discovery Children’s Museum, where a U.S. Coast Guard contractor attempted to recover fuel at the site using a vacuum truck. Maryland environmental officials estimated about 50 gallons of oil were deposited into the harbor. Jay Apperson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the department has “no indication this is an ongoing release.” “We do not know the source. We have checked some storm drain systems but the Jones Falls outfall services a massive area, making it difficult to trace back for a potential source without a report of a spill,” Apperson wrote in an email. He added that people should avoid contact with the water and that the vacuum truck is continuing to try to recover the fuel from the scene. As of Sunday afternoon, the spill had yet to be contained, said Cross, who added that crews are still trying to locate the source of the original spill and make sure there is not a second source adding to the problem. He said that while the maximum estimate for the spill would be 200 to 300 gallons of oil, he could not estimate how much had spilled into the water Sunday. Alex Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at Blue Water Baltimore, said images from the scene might show there are two separate oil spills. She said some of the spill “is really globular” while, in other areas, the substances “is almost like gasoline.”

With Inner Harbor Oil Spill Mostly Cleaned Up, Officials Turn Focus To Finding Source – CBS Baltimore — The U.S. Coast Guard is still trying to find the source of an oil spill that was first spotted in the Inner Harbor over the weekend. Coast Guard officials said they’ve been vacuuming the oil out of the water but there is still a little bit left. Now their concern is getting the smell of oil out of the air. “I smell the oil, and I walk here frequently, like almost every day,” Baltimore resident Lelle O’Connor said., “Yeah, I can smell it.” In total, officials believe around 50 gallons of red-dyed number two fuel oil seeped into the harbor over the weekend. “(The fuel is) very similar to a diesel fuel that you might put inside your car but the most common use is oil you use in your home to burn for heat,” said Lt. Justin Valentino with the Coast Guard. The oil was first found Saturday morning near Port Discovery. The trash wheel and boomers helped keep it contained until crews could vacuum the majority out of the water. “It’s very concerning; the water is already very dirty to begin with,” said Baltimore resident Summer Rahe. Officials are now focused on finding the source of the oil. “There’s more than a thousand miles of drains under the city that lead there,” Valentino said. “We have been working with the Maryland Department of the Environment and Baltimore City Fire Department popping open manholes and trying to investigate where that flow goes.” The remaining oil left in the water is expected to evaporate on its own. While there’s no threat to the public, officials warn people to stay away from the water.

Bill aims to answer pipeline question: 'Is this necessary?'  (AP) — As Dominion Energy spearheads the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Virginia lawmakers are advancing legislation sponsored by a Republican who says he wants to protect the company’s captive ratepayers from possible overcharges. Under legislation from Del. Lee Ware, Dominion’s Virginia electric utility would have to demonstrate the need for a new fuel source and show that it “objectively studied” other options, among other conditions, before the State Corporation Commission could approve passing along costs from the natural gas pipeline. Ware said his bill “makes very clear the question that I’ve always wanted answered: Is this necessary for the ratepayers ... or is this entrepreneurial on Dominion’s part?” The legislation has passed the House and is scheduled for a hearing Monday in a Senate committee stacked with Dominion-friendly lawmakers. Richmond-based Dominion, the lead developer of the project that would run from West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina, is a giant energy company heavily invested in natural gas infrastructure with customers in 18 states. Dominion’s electric utility is Virginia’s largest and covers about two-thirds of the state. The company is developing the pipeline with partner Duke Energy. Southern Company recently sold its small stake in the project to Dominion. Electric and gas utilities owned by those three companies have signed up to receive about 96% of the the pipeline’s gas once it’s built. Critics say that setup raises questions about whether the gas is truly needed and whether customers could be on the hook for costs that have soared as the project faced numerous delays. Ware said he wants to make sure Dominion customers don’t overpay. The SCC previously rejected a bid by environmentalists to weigh in on the prudency of the pipeline before it goes into service.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Appalachian Trail Case Heads to Supreme Court | West Virginia Public Broadcasting --A battle over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court Monday, Feb. 24. Oral arguments are scheduled in the case U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association for Monday, Feb. 24. At the heart of the case is whether the U.S. Forest Service has the authority to grant the Atlantic Coast Pipeline a permit to cross under the Appalachian Trail, federal land, that is a unit of the National Park Service. The ruling could have big impacts for the route of the 600-mile natural gas project, which begins in West Virginia and crosses through Virginia and North Carolina. In December 2018, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Forest Service improperly granted the pipeline a permit to cross under the Appalachian Trail, a popular 2,200-mile hiking route that goes from Georgia to Maine. Ahead of the case being argued in the high court, both the pipeline’s supporters and opponents say they are cautiously optimistic. Federal Barrier? “We think that the Fourth Circuit clearly erred,” said Republican West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, speaking at a recent press conference at the capitol in Charleston. Morrisey led a group of 18 state attorneys general who filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s ruling. “You cannot set up literally an impenetrable federal barrier to economic development, not only under our constitution or a law, but under the statutes, the Mineral Leasing Act,” he said. Pipeline spokesperson Ann Nallo said more than 50 other pipelines cross under the Appalachian Trail. In court briefs, pipeline developer Dominion Energy argues if the lower court’s ruling is upheld, that would upend decades of precedent and permits. “So, where the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is currently routed, is underneath one-tenth of a mile stretch about 600 feet below the surface of the Appalachian Trail,” she said. “If it's now going to be understood that it's National Park Service land, where a pipeline can't cross without congressional approval, that essentially turns it into a 2,200-mile barrier.” Other Obstacles But environmental groups say this case is different. Greg Buppert is an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, one of the groups that will defend the lower court’s decision. “Yes, to be sure other pipelines cross the Appalachian Trail. What's different here is that the crossing is proposed on federal land,” he said. “There's never been a new right of way for a pipeline on federal land in the last 50 years.”

Supreme Court hears battle over Atlantic Coast Pipeline - The Supreme Court on Monday appeared ready to remove an obstacle to construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, with a majority of justices expressing skepticism about a lower court ruling that tossed out a key permit needed for the natural gas pipeline to cross under the Appalachian Trail. Justices on the court grilled a lawyer for environmental groups who sued and won a 2018 ruling from the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal throwing out a special-use permit for the 605-mile (974-kilometer) natural gas pipeline. The 4th Circuit found the U.S. Forest Service did not have the authority to grant a right-of-way to allow the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest. But conservative justices, who hold a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, expressed reservations about the ruling, with Chief Justice John Roberts at one point saying the lower court’s finding would “erect an impermeable barrier” to any pipeline from areas where natural gas is located to areas where it is needed. “Absolutely incorrect,” attorney Michael Kellogg, representing the environmental groups, responded. Kellogg said there are currently 55 pipelines that run under the Appalachian Trail, 19 of them on federal land with easements granted before the Appalachian Trail was designated as a national scenic trail under the 1968 National Trails System Act. The remaining pipelines are on state and private land, he said. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh told Kellogg that the environmental groups’ position has “significant consequences to it, enormous consequences.” The 4th Circuit found that the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act allows rights-of-way for pipelines on federal land, except for land in the National Park System. The court found that the trail is considered a unit of the National Park System, so the Forest Service doesn’t have the authority to approve a right-of-way.

Justices grapple with $8 billion pipeline that would cross Appalachian Trail - The Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in a high-profile case that could block construction of an $8 billion gas pipeline seeking to cross the Appalachian Trail. The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) would carry natural gas 604 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina and would tunnel below the famed trail that runs more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. At issue is whether jurisdiction over the affected land belongs to the U.S. Forest Service or the National Park Service (NPS). The case presents the justices with a complex tangle of federal laws that will determine if the land is open to energy development or must be preserved for recreational use under the park service's mandate. The Forest Service issued a permit that would allow the pipeline to cross the trail, but that decision was challenged in the courts by a number of environmental groups. They argue that because the National Park Service oversees all of the federal lands that make up the trail, other agencies don't have authority to issue a permit. And because the park service's mandate is focused on conservation, only an act of Congress could allow the pipeline to cross the trail. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, revoking the Forest Service permit. The government and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — on the same side in this case — appealed the decision to the high court. The federal government's lawyer on Monday argued that the Forest Service had the right to issue a permit. "If a tree falls on Forest lands over the trail, it's the Forest Service that's responsible for it. You don't call the nine Park Service employees at Harpers Ferry and ask them to come out and fix the tree," argued Anthony Yang with the Office of the Solicitor General, referring to one of the main park service outposts along the trail. In the lower court, lawyers for the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) argued the permit to cross the Appalachian Trail was only secured due to a change in administration, the first in the trail’s roughly 50-year history. That permit, they argued, threatened pipeline construction over steep and sensitive terrain before tunneling 600 feet below the trail, creating a “scar” on the landscape. “ACP developers should be playing by the rules, but instead they used political pressure to push a risky project through that, in the end, would harm our public lands,” SELC lawyer DJ Gerken said in a press conference after the hearing. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is already tied up in a number of other legal challenges and lacks several other required permits, but the Supreme Court case could determine the fate not only of this pipeline, but others that seek to cross Appalachia. In a 2018 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit sided with the environmental activists based on its interpretations of several interconnected federal laws. The court determined that a 1968 statute called the National Trails Act transferred control over the Appalachian Trail to the National Park Service. And a separate law, the Mineral Leasing Act, prevents the NPS from granting land access, known as a right-of-way, for energy development. But lawyers advocating for the pipeline construction say the lower court misread the law. They argue the National Trails Act did not wrest control of the Appalachian Trail from the Forest Service, which, unlike the NPS, does have the power to grant rights-of-way.

Supreme Court seems ready to back pipeline across Appalachian Trail - New York Times - A challenge from environmental groups to an $8 billion natural gas pipeline that would cross the Appalachian Trail seemed to falter at the Supreme Court on Monday, with even some of the court’s more liberal members expressing skepticism about the breadth of the groups’ legal theory.The case concerns the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would deliver gas from West Virginia through Virginia, where it crosses the famous hiking trail, to North Carolina.The legal question for the justices is whether the U.S. Forest Service was entitled to grant a right of way to the pipeline. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., said no, citing a federal law that bars agencies from authorizing pipelines in “lands in the National Park System.”Monday’s argument was by turns metaphysical and practical.Anthony A. Yang, a lawyer for the federal government, arguing in support of the pipeline’s developers, said the trail, administered by the National Park Service, was distinct from the land underneath it.Justice Elena Kagan said that was “a difficult distinction to wrap one’s head around.”“When you walk on the trail, when you bike on the trail, when you backpack on the trail, you’re backpacking and biking and walking on land, aren’t you?” she asked. “It’s like you’re imagining some thing that goes on top of it somehow.”Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. proposed a different distinction, one that would allow the pipeline but avoid the more difficult question.“When I think of a trail, I think of something that is on top of the earth,” he said. “And when I think of a pipeline that is 600 feet below the surface, that doesn’t seem like a trail. So instead of having to draw this distinction between the trail and the land, why can’t we just say that the trail is on the surface and something that happens 600 feet below the surface is not the trail?”That solution seemed to intrigue Justice Stephen G. Breyer, and Paul D. Clement, a lawyer for the project’s developers, said he was willing to prevail on that basis. “I represent the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Mr. Clement said. “It’s not my job to resist winning this case on a narrow ground.”Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked about the practical consequences of a broad ruling against the pipeline in the case, U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association, No. 18-1587.“It really does erect an impermeable barrier,” he said of the trail, “to any pipeline from the area where the natural gas, those resources, are located and to the area east of it where there’s more of a need for them.”Michael K. Kellogg, a lawyer for the environmental groups, disputed that, saying there are 55 pipelines running under the Appalachian Trail, including some on federal land built before the federal law and others on state and local land. But he conceded that, under his theory, the trail would act as a barrier on federal land.Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested that Mr. Kellogg’s argument may have been too sweeping and thus unlikely to satisfy her more skeptical colleagues.Justice Alito said that “there may be all sorts of very good environmental reasons why this pipeline shouldn’t be built,” adding that a lower court was still considering them. “But do you,” he asked Mr. Kellogg, “have more than a ‘gotcha’ argument?”

Virginia proposal would take a new look at Dominion Energy’s surplus profits - The Fair Energy Bills Act would give state regulators power to order refunds when the utility collects excessive revenue. Virginia environmental advocates expect Dominion Energy’s planned investments in solar, offshore wind, and coal ash dump cleanup will lead to some justifiable rate increases for customers in the coming years. The problem, they argue: Right now, the utility’s rates are excessively high. Five years after the General Assembly voted to let Dominion keep excess profits in exchange for freezing base rates for seven years, a bill advancing in the legislature would revisit that position ahead of the company’s next rate case. The Fair Energy Bills Act would empower state regulators to examine Dominion’s earnings, decide how much is fair, then direct the utility to refund the surplus to customers. The legislation sailed out of the House of Delegates this month on a 77-23 vote. It’s now in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. “Dominion opposes it and still it got out of House,” said Will Cleveland, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “But it faces strong headwinds in the Senate.” HB 1132 has support from green groups, social justice organizations, and the manufacturing sector. If passed, the oversight measure would apply to Dominion’s 2021 rate case, when utility regulators will examine four years of records — from 2017 to 2020 — and set Dominion’s next base rate and allowed profit level. Dominion has overcharged customers by more than $1.3 billion since 2015, according to State Corporation Commission figures. Two sets of calculations by regulators estimate refunds would be between $7 and $9 a month for a typical residential customer.

Wetland bank won’t halt gas pipeline - A months-long dispute that pitted a proposed wetlands mitigation bank against an expanded natural gas pipeline is over. The pipeline won, but owners of the Fauquier farm on which the pipeline will be built say the result is a “win, win, win” for all involved. Shannon Jensen, one of the owners of the Catlett property impacted by the expansion of Transco’s natural gas pipeline, said the company made an offer to settle that works for everyone. “The settlement will still allow Virginia Waters and Wetlands to undertake other conservation projects on the property and will also help them to be able to expand their conservation efforts throughout the area,” Jensen said Tuesday, Feb. 18. “I believe this worked out to be a win, win, win for all involved.” The proposed, 30-acre wetland bank, called the Miller Stream Bank Phase II, would have restored 6,700 linear feet of stream channel and 30 acres of wetlands and associated riparian and upland buffers on the Catlett property. The firm estimated the value of the proposed wetland bank at $5 million. Prior to the agreement, Virginia Waters and Wetlands Vice President Andrew Hindman likened Transco’s actions to “bullying.” The firm’s President Joseph Ivers said Transco was attempting to intimidate the firm into accepting “pennies-on-the-dollar” for a deal that would kill the wetland mitigation project. Now, it appears the parties have reached an agreement. The details of the settlement have not been disclosed, however, because both Virginia Waters and Wetlands and Jensen have signed non-disclosure agreements with Transco.

Takoma Park works to eliminate gas by the year 2045  - The proposal would ban all gas appliances, close fossil fuel pipelines, and move gas stations outside city limits by 2045. — Takoma Park – deemed the 'Berkeley of the East' – is working toward a total reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, which includes phasing out such things as heating, water heating, lawn care equipment and cooking equipment that are fossil-fuel based. The city of nearly 17,000 in Montgomery County that voted back in 1983 to become a 'nuclear-free zone' is considering an overall ban on fossil fuels, all originating from a nationwide effort by local governments to address what they see as a lack of federal action on climate change.The resolution, which was first raised in a new climate resolution, would ban all gas appliances, close fossil fuel pipelines, and even move gas stations outside the Takoma Park city limits by 2045. The new plans are spelled out in resolution proposed by the Takoma Park City Council, which officials say are not mandatory. The resolution, which is expected to be adopted on March 4, lays out how Takoma Park plans to move toward the elimination of all fossil fuels – including adding to the tree canopy, making current houses and all new structures more energy-efficient and even convincing residents to walk and use public transportation rather than purchase or use cars.Additionally, Takoma Park is aiming to set up a Sustainability Assistance Reserve Fund that will be used to help pay for improvements and updates by low or middle-income residents and business owners.

EIA forecasts natural gas inventories will reach record levels later this year - In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) February Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that the Lower 48 states’ working natural gas in storage will end the 2019–20 winter heating season (November 1–March 31) at 1,935 billion cubic feet (Bcf), with 12% more inventory than the previous five-year average. This increase is the result of mild winter temperatures and continuing strong production. EIA forecasts that net injections during the refill season (April 1–October 31) will bring the total working gas in storage to 4,029 Bcf, which, if realized, would be the largest monthly inventory level on record.Mild winter temperatures for the current winter have put downward pressure on natural gas prices and led to smaller withdrawals from natural gas into storage. Year-over-year growth in dry natural gas production and natural gas exports—especially liquefied natural gas (LNG)—throughout 2019 also affected natural gas storage levels. On October 11, 2019, the total natural gas in storage surpassed the previous five-year average—an indicator of typical storage levels—for the first time since mid-2017. The total natural gas in storage at the start of this heating season was 3,725 Bcf on October 31, 2019. EIA expects withdrawals from working natural gas storage to total 1,790 Bcf at the end of March 2020. If realized, this would be the least natural gas withdrawn during a heating season since the winter of 2015–16, when temperatures were also mild.Injections into and withdrawals from natural gas storage balance seasonal and other fluctuations in consumption. Natural gas demand is greatest in the winter months, when residential and commercial demand for natural gas for space heating increases. Natural gas consumption in the power sector is greatest in summer months, when overall electricity demand is relatively high because of air conditioning.

Buyer Cancels LNG Cargoes From Cheniere-- A buyer of liquefied natural gas has canceled two cargoes from Cheniere Energy Inc., the biggest U.S. exporter, as a global glut pummels prices for the fuel and threatens to shut a key outlet for shale production. Spanish utility owner Naturgy Energy Group SA has decided not to take delivery of two shipments from Cheniere, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. The cargoes, one of which was scheduled for April delivery, were rejected by Naturgy’s clients Repsol SA and Endesa SA, who had originally purchased the volumes from Naturgy and will now pay a contractual fixed fee, the people said. Cancellations of U.S. cargoes were closely watched and highly anticipated amid a grim outlook on global prices. It could be an early sign that global oversupply is poised to hammer the U.S. gas market, which is already straining under the weight of a domestic glut. Prices in Europe and Asia collapsed as storage levels rose during a mild winter, making it tougher for LNG buyers to make a profit reselling U.S. cargoes abroad. The coronavirus outbreak in China is stifling LNG demand from the world’s fastest-growing importer. While the Asian nation hasn’t directly imported any U.S. cargoes in more than a year amid trade tensions, the virus has contributed to the global price rout. The virus has wreaked havoc on commodity markets from LNG to copper while disrupting global industrial production, travel and supply chains. As Chinese demand for the fuel declined, PetroChina Co. is said to have delayed discharge of multiple cargoes. Qatar and the world’s biggest LNG trader, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, said they’re working with customers to reschedule or reroute deliveries. While lower prices are opening up demand in places such as India and Turkey, they’re also testing Europe’s ability to absorb extra supply in a weak market.

  Time Will Tell - Sagging Supply and Rising Demand for Jones Act Ships to Send Rates Higher -This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, a federal law whose section 27 is better known as the Jones Act for its author, Senator Wesley Jones of Washington state. As we said in The Sea and Mr. Jones, the Jones Act requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flagged ships constructed in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, crewed by U.S. citizens, and registered in the U.S. As it applies to the energy sector, the Jones Act fleet consists of five main categories of vessels: smaller inland barges that typically carry either 10 Mbbl or 30 Mbbl of crude or refined products and operate on inland waterways as well as coastal canals; regional offshore tank barges (e.g. New York Harbor) with capacities of 50 MMbbl to 135 Mbbl; coastal barges, including larger articulated tug barges (ATBs) with capacities of 142 Mbbl to over 320 Mbbl; tankers that operate in both coastal and international waters and generally carry ~330 Mbbl of crude oil or refined products; and large crude oil tankers in the Alaskan trade. In Flirtin’ With Disaster, we explained that the maritime industry is well known for its boom-and-bust shipping cycles, when periods of strong charter rates lead to overbuilding and subsequent rate collapses. A boom in charter rates for ATBs and tankers last occurred in 2013-14, when sharp increases in U.S. crude and condensate production spurred extraordinary demand for Jones Act vessels. Back in 2013-14, a run-up in demand for Jones Act tankers and large articulated tug barges –– and a spike in time charter rates — spurred orders for a flotilla of new vessels. By the time the new tankers and ATBs were built and launched, however, demand for them had fallen off. That decline was mostly due to the mid-decade slump in U.S. crude oil production and, with the lifting of the ban on most U.S. crude exports, the drop in crude shipments from one U.S. port to another. Term charter rates plummeted and ship owners stopped ordering new tankers and large ATBs. Now, for the first time in more than five years, there are barely enough Jones Act vessels to go around, and charter rates are on the rise. Today, we discuss recent trends and how they’re impacting crude oil and refined products transportation costs. The “shot heard ‘round the world” for those in the Jones Act trade was Koch Industries’ re-letting (or sub-chartering) of the Jones Act product tanker American Phoenix for $120,000/day in the spring of 2014; there were also several other charters of $100,000/day or more that same year. The combination of high demand for Jones Act vessels and soaring charter rates prompted a flood of orders at U.S. shipyards. The capacity of U.S. shipbuilders to construct new vessels is limited, though. There are only two U.S. shipyards currently able to build Jones Act tankers: General Dynamic’s NASSCO in San Diego, CA, and the Philly Shipyard in the City of Brotherly Love.  It now takes about three years for new-order product tankers and large ATBs to be contracted, built and delivered. And, as everyone in the energy and shipping businesses knows, a lot can happen in three years.

Senator Rubio confident Trump administration will extend Florida offshore drilling ban -  (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Marco Rubio on Tuesday said he was confident the administration of President Donald Trump will extend a ban on oil and gas drilling off Florida, despite its enthusiasm for opening much of the country’s coasts to petroleum development. “I expect that the Trump Administration will not act to oppose or defeat my efforts to extend the offshore drilling moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond its current expiration in 2022,” Rubio, a Florida Republican, said in a statement. In December, Rubio lifted a hold he had placed on the confirmation of Katharine MacGregor as deputy secretary of the Interior Department. He had voiced concern that MacGregor, a proponent of Trump’s expansive oil and gas production policy, would work to lift the ban off Florida. Florida Senator Rick Scott, Rubio’s fellow Republican, also opposes drilling off the state. Not extending the ban would face fierce opposition by coastal tourism, real estate and environmental interests in Florida. The U.S. Senate will not likely pass a permanent moratorium on the drilling, Rubio believes, so he has sponsored a bill to extend the ban through 2027. Trump’s offshore drilling plan, which MacGregor helped develop, was sidelined after a court ruling blocked drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic, but it could resurface after November’s U.S. presidential elections.

Evacuations in order following gas leak in Yazoo County - (WJTV) – Several agencies are responding to a gas leak along Highway 433 and Highway 3 in Yazoo County.Corporal Kervin Stewart with Mississippi Highway Patrol said multiple people were transported to the hospital, while others have been treated near the evacuation area.According to Vicksburg News, Yazoo County authorities notified Warren County of a toxic chemical release in the Satartia area around 7:35 p.m. on Saturday.Yazoo Emergency Management Director Jack Willingham said that they may be dealing with a carbon dioxide gas leak. Authorities are asking people to stay out of the State Highway 3 and Highway 433 area until further notice.The Yazoo Co. Emergency Management Agency released the following statement:“To all residents of Satartia, if you are located within 1/4 mile of Satartia hill you need to take one of the following actions: If you are in a solid structure as a house or sturdy trailer you can shelter in place. Cut off all heaters and air conditioners. If you can smell a noxious odor in your home, whether trailer or house, you need to evacuate.”

48 hospitalized after gas leak in Yazoo County (WJTV) – Authorities said weather may have contributed to a gas leak in Sataria on Saturday. They said the ground may have shifted due to the recent rain.The pipeline was transporting carbon dioxide used by Denbury Resources for oilfield operations.At least 48 people were taken to the hospital because of the leak. 300 neighbors were evacuated from the area near MS 3 and MS 433. The Mississippi Department of Transportation reopened the roads Sunday morning.Officials said homes were inspected, and environmental specialists escorted neighbors to their houses on Sunday.Denbury released a statement about the leak:At approximately 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 22nd, a leak was detected on a carbon dioxide pipeline operated by Denbury Onshore in Yazoo County, MS near the town of Satartia.  The affected area of the pipeline was isolated within minutes, and the leak site was evacuated as a precaution. Denbury has been working closely with state and local officials in the response and evacuation efforts to ensure the safety and welfare of the community, its residents and the environment, which is Denbury’s top priority. It is important to note that no injuries have been reported, the area is secure and poses no threat to the public, and local authorities lifted the evacuation at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning permitting residents to return to their homes. Company and local officials are available to assist residents as they return.  The cause of the release is under investigation.

Gas Pipeline Rupture Injures 46, Forces 300 to Evacuate in Mississippi - More than 300 people were forced to evacuate and 46 were sent to the hospital after a gas pipeline ruptured in Mississippi Saturday.The pipeline was used by the company Denbury Enterprises to transport carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide for oilfield operations, according to The Yazoo Herald. It ruptured around 8 p.m. near the town of Satartia in Yazoo County, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA)."Residents in the area complained of green gas and a noxious odor," MEMA said.People near the leak experienced headaches and dizziness, and some lost consciousness, the Vicksburg Daily News reported. The leak overwhelmed Yazoo County emergency rooms and at least five of those injured had to be transferred to Warren County. Among the injured were three people discovered non-responsive in a vehicle near the leak site by emergency workers just before 10 p.m.Those taken to the hospital were expected to recover, and evacuees were allowed to return to their homes after 9:30 a.m. Sunday, The Weather Channel Reported.Denbury shut off the gas as soon as it learned of the rupture, according to The Weather Channel."[T]he affected area of the pipeline was isolated within minutes, and the leak site was evacuated as a precaution," the company said in a statement reported by TIME.An initial investigation suggests the rupture was a result of recent heavy rainfall in Mississippi."It appears the ground caved into a ravine damaging the 24-inch pipe," MEMA said. Parts of the state near the rupture have seen 23 inches of rain since Jan. 1, the Weather Channel reported. Jackson, the state's capital, has had its wettest start to the year on record as of Feb. 22. Its Pearl River crested at 37 feet Feb. 17, its third highest water level in recorded history, The New York Times reported. More than 2,400 structures are likely to have been damaged by the flooding, authorities estimate.

U.S. crude oil production increases; imports remain strong to support refinery operations --United States refineries are some of the most complex in the world and can process a wide range of crude oil qualities. Although U.S crude oil production has grown significantly since 2009, having access to imports from oil producers around the world provides refiners with the range of crude oil quality that is optimum for each refinery’s configuration, maximizes profitability, and enables the refinery to either supply petroleum products for domestic consumption or export at competitive prices.In general, domestically produced crude oil is light when compared with imported oil. For example, in 2018, 56% of the oil produced in Texas, the largest crude oil-producing state, was relatively light with an API gravity between 40 and 50 degrees. At the same time, 58% of imported crude oil was relatively heavy with an API gravity of less than 25 degrees. By augmenting the relatively light domestic crude oil production with relatively heavy crude oil imports, the United States has significantly increased its ability to export refined product. Because of higher domestic production, the United States has exported more oil and petroleum products, combined, than it has imported since September 2019.U.S. refineries rely on imports as feedstock to optimize production and maximize profits. For example, as of January 2019, U.S. refineries had more than 3 million barrels per day of coking capacity. This capacity is used to process heavy and medium crude oils efficiently and would likely be underutilized if a refinery chose to only run domestically produced light crude oil because coking units are designed to convert heavy, low-value intermediates into high-value naphthas and distillates.In addition to the differences in crude oil quality, the refiner acquisition cost of crude oil can be different for domestic and imported barrels. The refiner acquisition cost is the total amount that a refiner can expect to pay for crude oil, including freight costs and other transportation fees. Traditionally, heavy and medium crude oils trade at a discountto light, sweet crude oils. Since 2012, the increase in the share of imported crude oils with lower API gravity (heavier oil) has resulted in a lower refiner acquisition cost for imported crude oil when compared with the domestically produced higher API gravity (lighter oil) volumes.

Proposed Settlement Seeks To Offset Emissions From Refinery Explosion  - Husky Energy will have to upgrade safety and install solar panels to offset emissions from the2018 explosion at its Superior refinery. The projects are part of a proposed settlement filed Friday in federal court. Husky, which does business as Superior Refining Co. in Wisconsin, will make safety upgrades to its hydrofluoric acid (HF) tank under the agreement with state and federal justice officials. Concerns about an HF release prompted a temporary evacuation for some of the city’s 27,000 residents during the aftermath of the explosion April 26, 2018. While no release occurred, Husky has already said it will make safety improvements to its HF unit as part of its $400 million rebuild. The improvements include installation of a rapid acid transfer system that can move hydrofluoric acid to an emergency holding vessel in the event of a release. Planned upgrades also include enhanced leak detection with a laser detection system and cameras, as well as additional layers of water protection. "Superior Refining shall retain a qualified, third-party consultant or consultants with knowledge in refinery processes and operations relevant to the HF Unit to assist Superior Refining's development and implementation of each of the upgrades," states the proposed settlement. The agreement also includes a study of physical barriers or other measures that could mitigate the effects of an HF release. . "This is a refinery in the middle of an urban area. Increasing safety, mitigating risk is an ongoing permanent effort. Having a major energy producer in your community always carries with it some level of risk," Superior Mayor Jim Paine said. "We always have to be assessing that and making that refinery and the community that surrounds it safer."The proposed settlement also requires Husky to spend at least $290,000 to replace or retrofit inefficient wood-burning stoves or furnaces at homes, churches or schools spanning a seven-county region and several reservations in northern Wisconsin. At least 12 percent of the funding must be dedicated to rebates or discounts for low-income households. The work must be completed within four years. 

Exxon Baton Rouge, Louisiana, refinery aims to restart CDU this week: sources -  (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp plans to restart the large crude distillation unit (CDU) and a coker this week at its 502,500 barrel-per-day (bpd) Baton Rouge, Louisiana, refinery this week, sources familiar with plant operations said on Monday. The 240,000 bpd PSLA 10 CDU and the 50,000 bpd coker were shut on Feb. 12 following a natural gas pipeline fire that idled most of the production units at the refinery, the sources said. Exxon spokesman Jeremy Eikenberry said on Monday operations were continuing at the Baton Rouge refinery and adjoining chemical plant. He declined to discuss the status of individual units. m PSLA 10 and the coker could restart as early as the middle of this week, if all goes as planned, the sources said. Three of the four CDUs at the refinery were shut by the fire. The pipeline that caught on fire supplies natural gas that fuels boilers on the units, the sources said. The CDUs do the primary breakdown of crude oil into the hydrocarbon feedstocks, from which motor fuels like gasoline and diesel and plastics are made in other production units at the refinery.

Momentum Builds to Monitor Cancer Alley Air Pollution in Real Time After Exxon Refinery Fire in Louisiana -  A large fire at ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge oil refinery late on February 11 lit up the sky for miles and continued until dawn. The night of the fire, ExxonMobil representatives claimed that air monitoring inside the plant and in surrounding neighborhoods did not detect the release of harmful concentrations of chemicals, a claim echoed by first responders and state regulators. What unfolded, however, reinforced a growing community movement to require real-time independent air pollution monitoring at industrial facilities.A week after the incident, Exxon filed a required “seven-day report” to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) indicating the plant released four toxic chemicals during the incident, including benzene, butadiene, and sulfuric acid in quantities above allowable limits, and sulfur dioxide. Exxon said in its report that thousands of pounds of unspecified flammable vapor released in the incident were burned off by the fire and that little, if any, escaped the refinery in concentrations that could have posed a risk to nearby residents. However, many in the community were outraged about how much time passed before they were notified of potential hazards and expressed doubt that the fire had no significant effect on the air quality around the plant.The incident reignited calls from environmental advocates for more real-time monitoring of a class of potentially toxic chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at chemical plants and refineries. They say that with this kind of publicly available monitoring, residents near such facilities won’t have to rely on industry for health warnings in case of an emergency.  “Everyone in the community has the right to be safe and secure in your homes,” Louisiana Senator Cleo Fields, a Democrat representing Baton Rouge, said at a community meeting he organized a week after the fire. Flares were visible from the Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church’s parking lot where the meeting was held, near Exxon’s 2,100-acre complex that includes the refinery and multiple chemical plants. At the meeting, Fields promised to craft legislation aimed at improving emergency notifications, implementing 24/7 real-time air monitoring, upgrading the current supply of safety devices, and establishing a clear and transparent emergency plan for chemical facilities and refiners statewide. For residents near Exxon’ refinery and adjacent chemical plants in Baton Rouge, a sense of safety and access to clean air are not a given. The plants lie at the northern end of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, an 80-mile stretch along the Mississippi River with more than a hundred petrochemical plants and refineries woven among the river’s communities.

The market for hydraulic fracturing is expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 8.55% during the forecast period of 2019. - announces the release of the report "Hydraulic Fracturing Market - Growth, Trends, and Forecast (2019 - 2024)" -On the flip side, environmental concerns and lack of capital market & incentives are restraining the market growth.
- Horizontal well type is expected to be the fastest growing well type. The majority of the wells active in the Permian Basin are horizontal wells (more than 2,000). As of April 2019, the total number of drilled wells in the Permian basin reached 555, repressing an increase of around 4.7% compared to the previous year value in the same month.
- The economic viability of using CO2 and nitrogen-based ‘foam’ fluids, capable of providing waterless fracking, presents a growth opportunity for the companies.
- North America to dominate the market across the globe in the future, with the majority of the demand coming from the US and Canada.
- New technique of horizontal drilling and combined it with the pre-existing hydraulic fracturing techniques making it favorable for drilling in shale gas regions.
- The United States can be considered as the country, which has benefited the most from the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The shift from vertical to horizontal wells is the most important change to occur over the last decade, allowing for greater formation access, while only incrementally increasing the cost of the well.
- The country’s natural gas production increases since 2005 have mainly been the result of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques, notably in shale, sandstone, carbonate, and other tight geological formations.
- Since 2010, horizontal good drilling activity has dominated and currently accounts for the vast majority of drilling activity in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin (WCSB). Therefore, an increase in horizontal well drilling activities propels the demand for the hydraulic fracturing market.

Yale study finds link between STIs and fracking - Yale Daily News - Increased rates of sexually transmitted infections in Texas are associated with high levels of shale drilling activity, according to findings in a recent Yale study. In early January, researchers at the School of Public Health published a study on the reported rates of STIs and the number of active shale wells in Texas, North Dakota and Colorado. Investigators found increased rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea in Texas counties during years of high drilling activity. Still, the study shows no statistically significant relationship between the prevalence of STIs and drilling in North Dakota or Colorado. This was the first multi-state, multi-region analysis of shale drilling activity and STI rates in the United States. “Previous studies have examined the relationship between shale drilling activity and rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis in counties throughout the eastern [United States]. Our intent was to assess whether this phenomenon could be observed in other geographies,” said lead author Nicholaus Johnson SPH ’19. “I think this [is] important because [it] demonstrates the often unexpected ways in which resource extractive processes can impact human health.” As the leading global producer of crude oil and natural gas, the United States is home to many specialized workers that often migrate across state lines to meet the demands of fracking companies installing new drilling rigs. The temporary workcamps house a labor force that is 80 percent male and, according to the study, serve as cradles for “masculinized culture,” hot spots for sex workers and breeding grounds for STIs.  Researchers analyzed data provided by the Centers for Disease Control on STIs in the three states. The authors obtained information on the number of active shale wells from the online database Enverus. Counties with high rates of shale drilling activity were classified as those with 50 operational hydraulic fracking wells. Data spanned the time frame from 2006 to 2016, to provide a comparison of STI rates before and after the start of drilling activity in the areas of interest. The analysis showed increased rates of chlamydia as high as 10 percent and increased rates of gonorrhea as high as 15 percent in Texas counties during years of high drilling activity, with no notable difference in STI rates associated with drilling in North Dakota or Colorado counties. Deziel speculated that the incongruous findings between the three states “may reflect the higher level of [Texas] drilling activity and a greater number of densely populated metropolitan areas compared to other regions.”

To Many’s Dismay, Permian Produces More Gas and Condensate Instead of Oil and Profits - 0As oil prices plummet, oil bankruptcies mount, and investors shun the shale industry, America’s top oil field — the Permian shale that straddles Texas and New Mexico — faces many new challenges that make profits appear more elusive than ever for the financially failing shale oil industry.  Many of those problems can be traced to two issues for the Permian Basin: The quality of its oil and the sheer volume of natural gas coming from its oil wells.  The latter issue comes as natural gas fetches record low prices in both U.S. and global markets. Prices for natural gas in Texas are often negative — meaning oil producers have to pay someone to take their natural gas, or, without any infrastructure to capture and process it, they burn (flare) or vent (directly release) the gas.  As DeSmog has detailed, much of the best oil-producing shale in the Permian already has been drilled and fracked over the past decade. And so operators have moved on to drill in less productive areas, one of which is the Delaware sub-basin of the Permian. Taking a close look at the Delaware Basin highlights many of the current challenges facing Permian oil producers.  The Delaware Basin is where most of the new oil production is coming out of the Permian. As a Bloomberg Wire story reported in December, “in recent years investments have shifted to the Delaware, where output is much gassier than in the historic Midland portion of the Permian.”  The last thing a Permian oil producer wants is to have natural gas coming out of the ground with the oil because, as Bloomberg notes, this persistent “nuisance” is “undercutting profits for explorers.” That’s a generous assessment because many explorers have no profits to undercut, only losses to grow.  Shale wells become “gassier,” or produce more natural gas, as they age and oil production falls. And this problem hasn’t improved for wells in the Delaware that are drilled closer together, compounding the Permian’s gas problem. With natural gas prices often going negative in Texas, producers are turning to flaring and venting more of the gas, which is mostly the powerful greenhouse gas methane.  Fracking CEOs have been publicly noting that this issue U.S.\ shale industry can’t flare or vent its excess methane, those companies will likely be forced to shut down oil production due to cost.

'It's A Joke': Flaring Expert Finds Big Problems In Report From Texas Oil And Gas Regulator -- The amount of natural gas that oil companies burn off in Texas as a waste product could power every home in the state. It’s an industry practice known as “flaring,” and as it grows, so does pollution and waste associated with oil extraction. So, last week, a top state oil and gas regulator produced a report on it.The Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the oil and gas industry in the state. It's run by three commissioners who are elected statewide. Commissioner Ryan Sitton wrote that he produced the paper “to evaluate the nature of potential changes to regulation [around flaring] and the potential impacts of those changes.”The report was notable for naming names. Sitton ranked different oil producers by how much they flare. It also provides some historical context for flaring. The commissioner also argued the state is actually flaring less than it did decades ago.Industry groups applauded the effort, but a leading flaring researcher has found plenty to criticize.   “It’s not a report,” Gunnar Schade, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, said. “It looks more like a political manifesto to me” because it relies so heavily on pro-industry talking points.  Schade also said the report is misleading.In the paper, Sitton wrote that he “established a metric that relates the amount of gas flared to the amount of oil produced, referred to herein as flaring intensity.”When Schade reads that, it makes him think Sitton is trying to take credit for creating a metric that is nothing new and often used to downplay the impact of natural gas flaring.Sitton “would receive an F for this report at A&M [his alma mater] for blatant plagiarism” of a well-known research metric, Schade wrote in an email.“The industry has been promoting this flaring intensity metric for a very long time,” he said. “One of the reasons the industry likes this type of metric is that it lets them compare themselves against others in terms of efficiency.”It's a way for the industry to brag about how efficient it is, he said, while downplaying the amount of gas being burned off. "The metric itself is not too useful from an environmental point of view,” he added, “because what matters to the environment is the total amount of flaring that you have in the region.”

 Apache Ditches Alpine High After $3B Writedown  -- Apache Corp. is officially calling it quits on a highly publicized but disappointing shale discovery in West Texas after vehemently defending the play’s prospects for about three years. The Houston-based company posted a roughly $3 billion writedown on its Alpine High project, a find from 2016 that fizzled when it turned out to hold more natural gas than oil. Apache will instead focus on offshore riches in Suriname, where the explorer recently struck crude and enlisted French oil titan Total SA as a partner. “Apache has no current plans for future drilling at Alpine High,” Clay Bretches, chief executive officer of Apache’s pipeline spinoff, Altus Midstream Co., said in a statement. The discovery was announced in September 2016 to much fanfare and claims the field held 3 billion barrels of crude and 75 trillion cubic feet of gas. But it quickly became apparent that that corner of the prolific Permian Basin was far richer in natural gas and its byproducts than more-valuable oil. The Alpine High became even more worrisome for investors as gas supplies in the region ballooned and prices cratered. Until recently, Apache executives defended the Alpine High, saying in May that investors didn’t yet “have an appreciation for the potential cash flow generation from the liquids play at Alpine High.” But roughly five months later, the star Apache geologist who led discovery of the field abruptly left. At the time, the departure of Steven Keenan, Apache’s senior vice president of worldwide exploration, raised red flags for the company’s other high-profile prospect -- offshore Suriname. Apache calmed investors who were nervous Suriname would be a bust last month when it disclosed a major discovery. The announcement came shortly after Apache brought Total aboard to help develop the project on Suriname’s Block 58. The company will now shift its capital spending to focus on Suriname rather than on “near-term growth opportunities,” Christmann said. Altus Midstream, meanwhile, will look for new customers to fill its pipes. “We are aggressively pursuing third-party volumes to replace declining production from Alpine High and maximize throughput at our Diamond processing facility,” Bretches said in Altus’ fourth-quarter earnings statement.

Williams seeks to raise $5B in pipeline sale - Williams Companies Inc is seeking a partner to invest in a network of its pipelines in the western United States, a deal that could raise close to $5 billion for the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based company, people familiar with the matter said, as reported by Reuters. Contract.jpg The investment would be larger than the joint venture that Williams clinched last year with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) in the Marcellus and Utica shale basins of Appalachia, which gave the pension fund a 35% stake in the assets for $1.33 billion. The deal would underscore how pipeline operators are cashing out on some of their assets, so that they can pay down debt and put money into new projects, which have the potential to give them better returns. The latest collection of pipelines that Williams is offering a stake in transfers hydrocarbons away from oil and gas drilling sites, usually to larger pipelines which reach storage facilities or customers - known in the energy industry as gathering and processing (G&P) assets. It generates 12-month earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of around $1 billion, according to the sources. As with the CPPIB deal, Williams is seeking to remain the operator of the pipelines, the sources added. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as the information is not public.

Ducey Signs Bill Banning Local Bans on Natural Gas Into Law  -Governor Doug Ducey has signed into law a bill that will prevent cities and towns in Arizona from banning natural gas, despite clear opposition from major cities. Spokesperson Patrick Ptak said that Ducey signed House Bill 2686, which was fast-tracked through the State Legislature this month with companion bills in the House and Senate, on Friday. On its face, the new pre-emption law prevents municipalities from discriminating against different utilities in issuing building permits and making zoning decisions. They cannot "deny a permit application based on the utility provider proposed,” the bill reads, and they cannot pass codes or ordinances that could “have the effect of restricting a person’s or entity’s ability to use the services of a utility provider.” But the new law is expected to benefit, in particular, the gas industry. The bill was pushed by Southwest Gas, a major gas company in Arizona, where more than half of its some 2 million customers live. It is backed by others in the industry and its business-minded allies. Last year, its sponsors in the Legislature received their largest donations from Southwest Gas. Southwest Gas has said that the legislation would ensure “homeowners, builders, or business owners have access to balanced energy solutions that are efficient, affordable, and clean.” The legislation was proposed just as the gas industry nationwide began looking to undercut efforts by a growing number of cities to curb or end the use of natural gas, which leaks methane and produces carbon dioxide, in an attempt to mitigate climate change at a local level. Now, with the help of a new law preserving its customer base and protecting its profits, the gas industry doesn't have to worry about such bans happening here in Arizona. Before it became law, major cities in Arizona registered opposition to the bill, for other reasons. Mayor Kate Gallego of Phoenix has criticized the legislation as undermining local authority. “City government is the branch of government closest to the people it serves,” she said in a statement earlier this month. “We think pre-emption of local control in any form sets a bad precedent.” Regina Romero, the mayor of Tucson, voiced similar concerns. "I will always be against state legislation that needlessly micromanages cities and tells us what we can and cannot do. Tucsonans know what is best for our community, not the State Legislature,”

Major California refinery explosion, fire temporarily shuts down 405 Freeway - A major refinery fire in Carson, California, temporarily shut down the 405 Freeway in both directions late Tuesday night. The thick smoke and flames could be seen from miles away as the plumes of smoke were hundreds of feet into the air. The fire started after an explosion around 11 p.m. local time in a cooling tower at the Maraton refinery, according to the Los Angels County Fire Department. Authorities said Marathon personnel are "keeping flames in check" while they work to depressurize the system. Flames shut down the freeway for less than an hour before officials reopened the interstate. No injuries have been reported. Fire and refinery officials said on-site monitors had not reported any harmful products in the air "emanating" from the facility as a result of the fire. The Marathon refinery, according to ABC Los Angeles station KABC, is believed to be the largest refinery on the West coast. It processes around 360,000 barrels per day, the station reported.

Crews battle large fire at Los Angeles-area refinery after explosion - It was not immediately clear what caused the fire in the city of Carson. Local residents reported hearing an explosion and seeing a fireball. An explosion and a large fire erupted at a Los Angeles-area refinery late Tuesday. The blaze at a Marathon refinery in the city of Carson happened about 11 p.m. Tuesday. The Los Angeles County Fire Department tweeted that an explosion preceded a fire in the cooling tower, and that Marathon fire crews were keeping the flames in check while the system was being depressurized. No injuries were reported by the county fire department, which was assisting. Carson is a city in southern Los Angeles County, south of Compton. Resident Pricilla Reyes told NBC Los Angeles in a phone interview that her niece came running over to ask whether she heard an explosion and that they saw the fire from their home, which is about four blocks from the refinery. "I heard about four or five explosions, really loud," said Reyes. "You could see the flames and the smoke from our house,” she said. Reyes said she shut the windows of her home in case the smoke was harmful. Michael Molina told NBC Los Angeles he saw sparks and then “a big fireball in the air." "I heard a couple more thumps, and I could see like a big ball of smoke,” Molina said. Molina, a truck driver who works in the area, said the force of the blast shook his truck. The city of Carson did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Carson station tweeted crews had secured a perimeter around the facility but did not anticipate needing to evacuate residents. The fire department was monitoring air quality. Marathon Petroleum’s Los Angeles refinery is the largest on the West Coast with a crude oil capacity of 363,000 barrels per day, according to its website.

 Investigation into cause of explosion at California oil refinery - — Investigators are looking into what sparked a tremendous explosion and fire at the largest fuel refinery on the West Coast. The blast there was felt miles away and a huge ball of fire could be seen at the center of the facility. "There were several explosions, up to potentially three explosions, that preceded the fire itself," according to LA County Fire Department inspector Sean Ferguson. The boom could be heard at least 25 miles away. One of the busiest freeways in the nation — the 405 — shutdown overnight when more than three dozen LA County firefighters raced to extinguish the blaze. It happened at the Marathon Petroleum Refinery, south of LA. What burned was not crude oil. Fire officials told CBS News the incident was a massive propane explosion. The cause still under investigation and the bulk of the refinery, back up and running. This refinery produces more than 360,000 barrels of oil a day and there are no signs that will be impacted. Fire officials told CBS News there were no injuries, and there does not appear to be a threat to the public. They continue to monitor air quality, making sure there are no toxic hazards to surrounding neighborhoods.

Vessel sinks, spills oil in Anacortes -  A vessel sunk and spilled oil in Anacortes Thursday The state Department of Ecology said they responded to the spill in Skyline Marina in Anacortes along with personnel from the US Coast Guard.They deployed a boom around the 44-foot vessel, using absorbents to recover oil and diesel, and a dive team closed off fuel vents and other openings to stop any more from spilling out.The department lifted the vessel Friday afternoon and were working to remove all fuel in the water.

Express Yourself, Part 3 - What REX Pipeline's Contract Changes Mean for Gas Flows, Prices --After a major decontracting and partial recontracting last fall, Tallgrass Energy’s Rockies Express Pipeline headed into 2020 with 839 MMcf/d in firm, long-haul commitments for natural gas moving east out of the Rockies for delivery into the Midwest. That volume is down from 1.3-1.8 MMcf/d in firm commitments previously. The contracted volume is also much lower than the peak — and even the average — historical gas flows on the route to the Midwest markets in recent years. At the same time, Tallgrass’s Cheyenne Connector pipeline and Cheyenne Hub Enhancement projects are expected to bring as much as 800 MMcf/d of new firm gas supply from the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin to the REX mainline at Cheyenne Hub. What will these changes mean for Rockies’ eastbound flows and prices? Today, we wrap up our series on REX’s recontracting with an assessment of how the recent contract changes could affect REX gas flows.

Oneok announces expansions of new natural gas liquids pipeline, processing plant -  Oneok plans to expand its new natural gas liquids pipeline that runs from the Bakken to Kansas, and it also intends to add onto a new processing facility. The company’s Elk Creek Pipeline started operating in December. It can transport up to 240,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids, such as ethane, propane and butane that are removed from the raw gas that comes up in wells alongside oil. Under certain temperatures and pressures, those components exist in liquid form. Now Oneok seeks to add 10 pump stations along the line in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas to boost its capacity to 400,000 barrels per day. The company, which announced the expansion this week, estimates the upgrades will cost $305 million. Oneok plans to start transporting more natural gas liquids via the pipeline in early 2021 and ramp up to the line's full capacity by the third quarter of the year. “That expansion will be necessary in order to keep pace with growth,” said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. North Dakota processes just over 600,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids, and that figure is expected to increase in the years ahead, he said. The Elk Creek Pipeline begins in Richland County in eastern Montana and runs for 900 miles to Kansas. It does not cross through North Dakota, although it carries natural gas liquids from the state that it receives via other pipelines. Once those liquids arrive at their end destination, the various components are further separated so they can be used to manufacture plastics or to make cooking fuel, to name a few applications.

Brine, oil spill in North Dakota mostly recovered -- An estimated 26,000 gallons of produced water and 1,900 gallons of oil spilled Thursday, Feb. 20, at a saltwater disposal well in Mountrail County, N.D., according to a news release from the state Department of Environmental Quality.Produced water is a mixture of saltwater, oil and sometimes, drilling fluids, that is created during oil and gas production.Saltwater disposal company Goodnight Midstream reported that a tank leak caused the spill, which occurred about eight miles northeast of New Town. Nearly all of the spilled brine and oil was recovered on-site when the spill was reported to the state on Friday, according to the release, and cleanup continues. Department officials will continue inspecting the site and monitoring remediation efforts.

Valve leak spills treated produced water in NW North Dakota (AP) — The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division reports a valve leak has spilled 105,000 gallons of treated produced water in northwestern North Dakota.The release was reported Monday at Justin SWD 1 saltwater disposal well, about five miles (eight kilometers) southwest of Tioga.Bosque Disposal System, LLC reported Tuesday that 2,500 barrels of treated produced water was released due to a valve/piping connection leak. The product was contained on-site and at the time of reporting all of the spill had been recovered.A state inspector has been to the location and will monitor any additional cleanup required. The produced water was mixed with hydrochloric acid which was neutralized with sodium bicarbonate as part of the cleanup. Hydrochloric acid is a commonly used acid in oil and gas production.

Canada: police clear rail blockade by Indigenous anti-pipeline activists - Police in Canada have removed Indigenous activists from a railway line in Ontario, where a two-week protest against a contentious natural gas pipeline has blocked train traffic and fueled a growing political crisis for prime minister Justin Trudeau. Ten members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk nation were arrested on Monday when officers moved in to lift the blockade which had been erected in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia who are fighting a 416-mile pipeline through their traditional territory. Ontario provincial police had warned the activists that they had until midnight Sunday to leave the area, or face arrest and charges. Wet’suwet’en activists opposing the C$6.6bn (US$4.98bn) Coastal GasLink pipeline were forced to leave a remote camp which had been blocking construction on 10 February. But secondary protests sprang up across the country as demonstrators blocked railways, government buildings and ports. Canadian National, which owns the rail line, won an injunction to clear the blockade near the city of Belleville, Ontario, in early February. But police, wary of violent standoffs in the 1990s with Indigenous groups, had so far been unwilling to forcefully remove the demonstrators. Shortly after sunrise on Monday morning, however, dozens of officers descended on the blockade. Police barred media from the operation, but the confrontation was broadcast on a Facebook live broadcast. Tyendinaga Mohawk activists heckled a phalanx of police officers, telling them they were standing on Indigenous land and had no authority. ADD Officers warned that people standing near the rail line were in violation of the injunction and faced imminent arrest. Moments later, dozens of officers tackled a number of protestors, forcing them to the ground and cuffing their hands with zip-ties. “Stay back,” police shouted to the remaining demonstrators. The two sides remained in a tense standoff until members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk nation received orders from community leaders to back away. The blockade of rail lines through Tyendinaga Mohawk territory has crippled much of Canada’s freight and commuter rail traffic, and the string of protests have been blamed for 1,400 layoffs at Canada’s main rail companies, propane shortages in eastern Canada and economic hardship for farmers. The protests have piled pressure on Trudeau, who came to power promising reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations, but has supported the country’s fossil fuels industry.

Domestic Terror?- Canadian Environmentalist Protesters Attempt To Derail Train -- Shocking video out of Ontario, Canada shows left-wing environmentalist protesters attempt to derail and then set fire to a train. Members of the Mohawk First Nation, who are engaging in rail blockades in an effort to stop the construction of a pipeline, were filmed standing in front of a train before pelting it with rocks and then laying thick tree branches on the tracks. Another video shows firefighters attending to a car that was engulfed in flames and placed on the railway tracks. A car was engulfed in flames on Wednesday on the railway tracks at Shannonville Road in Tyendinaga, Ont. Firefighters arrived on scene to extinguish the fire and it is currently unknown if protesters set the fire. It's time to call a spade a spade. As violence spreads on the tracks, and professional protestors attempt to light trains on fire, a PM must act, or resign. “It is extremely concerning to see people endangering their own lives and the lives of others by trying to interfere with the trains,” remarked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. According to Quebec Premier Francois Legault, some of the demonstrators have also been seen carrying AK-47s. While some of the protesters have been arrested while manning the blockades, no charges have been brought. 

Teck drops C$20.6 billion oil sands Frontier project, to take writedown  (Reuters) - Canadian miner Teck Resources Ltd has withdrawn an application to build its C$20.6 billion ($15.7 billion) Frontier oil sands mine in Alberta, days before the federal government was to decide on whether to approve a project opposed by environmentalists and indigenous groups. Teck said on Sunday it would write down the C$1.13 billion ($852.12 million) carrying value of the project. The news was first reported by the Globe and Mail newspaper. The company released a letter by Teck Chief Executive Don Lindsay to Canada’s environment minister, stating Teck was “disappointed to have arrived at this point”. The fate of the mine, which was first proposed in 2011, was expected to be decided next week in what had become a test of Canada’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and repair relations with the country’s indigenous people. At full capacity, the mine would have produced 260,000 barrels of crude oil per day, making it one of the largest in Alberta’s carbon-intensive oil sands. “The growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved,” Lindsay wrote in his letter. “In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project.” On Friday, the Canadian miner floated a potential exit from the oil sands and warned of the possible C$1.13 billion hit should Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government reject the Frontier bitumen mine.The decision was a complicated one for Trudeau who made a 2019 election pledge to put Canada on the path to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But unhappiness with the government’s energy and pipeline policy cost Trudeau’s Liberals all their seats in Alberta, where the project was considered essential for employment and growth. “The withdrawal of Teck’s Frontier Mine application is more devastating news for the Canadian economy, especially for Albertans and indigenous people,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted on Sunday.

  Almost 100 oil barrels removed from ghost ship; Council now closing down the wreck - NINETY-FIVE oil barrels were airlifted by helicopter from the MV Alta ghost ship today in an operation co-ordinated by Cork County Council before the cargo ship was “closed down”. Among the 95 barrels were 62 full containers and another 33 which were empty. The removed containers were taken to a designated drop-off point where they were transferred to a vehicle and removed by an environmental agent. As a further precaution, Cork County Council has left oil-absorbent pads and booms at some locations onboard the ship where there could be residual seepage from pipe systems which have been drained. The waste oil will be disposed of by a licensed contractor and will be recycled for use in bituminous road-making materials. The MV Alta was shipwrecked on Ballycotton rocks during Storm Dennis after spending a year and a half wandering the seas unmanned. The cargo ship has a complex and mysterious past that begun on a voyage from Greece to Haiti in 2018. Ten crew members were rescued by the US coast guard, whisked off the boat ahead of a looming hurricane, and a tug vessel was reportedly contracted to tow the MV Alta to Guyana, but it is not thought to have made it to port. Six months before washing up in Cork, the ghost ship was spotted off the coast of West Africa. Cork County Council said it was now closing down the wreck with the removal of the pilot ladder and any other access points, rendering the ship inaccessible. “The wreck is now essentially empty, having had no cargo, and with any significant documentation and equipment removed,” said a spokesperson. “Cork County Council continues to ask members of the public to stay away from the wreck location as it is located on a dangerous and inaccessible stretch of coastline, is in an unstable condition and on private property.”

PDVSA shifts oil cargoes to different Rosneft unit, U.S. threatens action - (Reuters) - State-run PDVSA has shifted several oil cargoes from Rosneft Trading SA, which was hit by U.S. sanctions last week, to another affiliate of the Russian oil giant, internal documents from the Venezuelan company showed, prompting the U.S. special envoy to warn that more firms could be penalized if they “play games.” According to PDVSA’s trade reports seen by Reuters, four cargoes carrying some 6.7 million barrels of Venezuelan oil which had previously been allocated to Rosneft Trading for February loading were changed in recent days to another unit of the Russian firm, TNK Trading. Two of the cargo changes occurred in the first week of February. The other two came after the U.S. sanctions date, the data shows. Rosneft absorbed TNK Trading International after it completed the purchase of TNK BP in 2013. TNK Trading and Rosneft Trading share an address in Geneva, according to online company registry Moneyhouse. PDVSA and Rosneft did not respond to questions about the changes. Reuters could not determine whether the move was in response to U.S. sanctions. U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told Reuters on Monday that he was aware of the cargoes shifted to TNK Trading. “I’d only say that if they play games like that with OFAC, all that will happen is additional companies will get sanctioned,” he said, referring to companies trying to work around the sanctions from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. In an escalation of its “maximum pressure” strategy designed to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Washington imposed sanctions last week on Rosneft Trading SA - PDVSA’s main business partner - and its boss, Didier Casimiro. U.S. officials accused Rosneft Trading, which last year became the largest intermediary for Venezuelan oil, of propping up PDVSA following the imposition of U.S. sanctions on the state firm at the beginning of last year and engaging in “tricks” to hide the country of origin of some cargoes.

Russia's Rosneft Still Quietly Exporting Venezuelan Oil Via Sanctions-Free Affiliate - Last week's announced US sanctions on an arm of Russia's Rosneft for helping Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro circumvent US punitive measures by propping up Venezuela's oil sector already appear to be failing.Specifically, the Feb.18 sanctions targeted Rosneft Trading SA, a unit of Russia's state-owned oil giant Rosneft, as well as company’s executive Di dier Casimiro as part of Trump's heightened pressure campaign on Venezuelan oil, but in fresh reporting Monday Bloomberg finds, "Now, another company affiliated with Moscow-based oil giant Rosneft PJSC that isn’t sanctioned — and thus can trade freely — is ramping up shipments from Venezuela."A subsidiary company acquired by Rosneft in 2017 called TNK Trading is greatly increasing its shipments of Venezuelan crude while Rosneft Trading SA hasn't shipped since January 29, according to data examined by Bloomberg. In the month up to Rosneft Trading being sanctioned, it accounted for up to half of the country's 850,000+ barrels a day in exports. By all appearances TNK is now busy picking up the slack. Bloomberg details further:TNK Trading International SA is scheduled to load 14.3 million barrels of Venezuelan crude in the first two months of 2020, compared with 5 million in all of 2019, according to shipping reports compiled by Bloomberg. That may offset any lost oil revenue for the Maduro administration, underscoring the difficulty of shutting Venezuela’s access to the global market.This allegation of Russia's continued assistance to Maduro for sanctions-evading comes after last week a senior Trump administration official accused Rosneft of “actively evading sanctions — engaging in ruses, engaging in deception.”But Rosneft's position has been that US sanctions are illegal and that its own operations in Venezuela are commercial in nature, not political. Over the past months the company's cooperation with state-run PDVSA has been an "open secret".

US LNG leaned on Europe in 2019, but it might not be able to in 2020  - Exporters of U.S. LNG in 2019 relied increasingly on Europe to absorb a flood of new natural gas supply, but there is growing skepticism among market observers that the European market can continue to provide the same level of relief this year. If Europe cannot, one of the few bright spots for the U.S. gas market could dim. Experts are warning that exporters may have to curtail LNG production. LNG prices have collapsed as rising supplies, especially in the U.S., met weaker-than-expected demand in a mild winter. On top of that, the coronavirus outbreak has crippled industrial demand for gas in China, which is supposed to be the world's fastest-growing importer of LNG. Recent figures from the U.S. Department of Energy underscored the dependence of U.S.-based exporters on European markets last year. In 2019, the combined Europe and Central Asia region, which includes Turkey, took about 40% of LNG cargoes exported from the U.S., while about 30% of cargoes went to the East Asia and Pacific region, which includes major end-users like Japan and South Korea, according to an analysis of monthly DOE export figures released Feb. 18. The top destinations in Europe for U.S. cargoes were the U.K., Spain and France. Many of the purchases were concentrated in the second half of 2019, as prices weakened and trade tensions between the U.S. and China continued. In the fourth quarter of 2019, about 53% of U.S. cargoes went to Europe, while the East Asia and Pacific region accounted for about 32%. The U.K. received about 95.9 Bcf worth of U.S. LNG during the fourth quarter, which was the majority of the approximately 120.6 Bcf that the U.K. imported from the U.S. in all of 2019.

Eni Sees Oil Peak Just 6 Years Away- Eni SpA predicted its oil and gas output will top out within six years as it announced a more ambitious climate plan, following the lead of peers in pledging to offset emissions from the fuels it makes and sells. The Italian energy giant sees output reaching a plateau in 2025 and targets an 80% cut in net emissions by 2050, it said Friday. That commitment illustrates the mounting pressure on oil companies to act on climate change -- not only from environmental activists but a growing proportion of major investors too. “We have designed a strategy that combines economic sustainability with environmental sustainability,” Chief Executive Officer Claudio Descalzi said in a statement. “This will allow Eni to be a leader in the market supplying decarbonized energy products.” Eni’s plan expands on a previous goal to reach net-zero emissions from its own exploration and production operations by 2030. The new strategy refers to so-called scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, covering “the entire life-cycle of the energy products sold and a 55% reduction in emission intensity compared to 2018,” according to the Rome-based company. The raft of recent climate pledges by Europe’s major oil companies marks a big step for an industry that produces the bulk of the world’s planet-warming gases. Earlier this month, BP Plc stunned investors with a promise to eliminate emissions from its operations by 2050. It also vowed to halve the carbon intensity of the fuel it sells but doesn’t produce itself. That followed moves by Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Repsol SA to adopt new emission targets. The industry’s plans are likely to necessitate an expansion of renewables and better technology to capture and store carbon, as well as a retreat from the most polluting fossil fuels.

Control of offshore gas and oil provokes conflicts in eastern Mediterranean - The dispatch of Turkish troops to Libya, the bitter dispute between France and Italy over military policy at December’s NATO summit in London, and the formation of a French-Greek military alliance against Turkey indicate the extent to which oil and gas have become the source of ever widening conflicts. While it was popularly understood that the US/UK-led invasion of Iraq was a war for oil, this is less well understood in the case of Libya, which contains the largest deposits of oil in Africa and in 2010 was one of the 10 largest oil producers in the world. The struggle for Libya and its oil has now, moreover, become embroiled in the escalating conflict over the newly discovered gas fields in the Levantine Basin. A new “scramble for Africa” is being tied into a new “scramble” for the eastern Mediterranean, as Turkey, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Lebanon and the European powers compete over gas exploration, production licenses and pipelines. According to a US Geological Survey report published in 2010, the Levantine Basin, which straddles the maritime borders of Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, contains an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 122 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas. It estimates that eventually there will be enough gas to meet regional and European power demand for decades. In 2009 and 2010, Israel discovered gas reserves of 11 trillion cubic feet in the Tamar field, and 22 tcf in the Leviathan field, ensuring sufficient capacity for both its domestic needs and exports, although some of these fields lie in waters claimed by Lebanon and Gaza. In 2011, Cyprus discovered an estimated 8 tcf of gas reserves in the Aphrodite field. With Turkey claiming ownership of the natural resources around Cyprus, divided between Turkish and Greek zones since the 1974 war, this heightened tensions in the region, leading to violent ship collisions and even the suspension of drilling in 2016. By far the largest field in the region is Egypt’s Zohr field, discovered in 2015, with an estimated 30 tcf. Located north of the Suez Canal, it is owned jointly by Italy’s Eni (50 percent), Russia’s Rosneft (30 percent), the Anglo-American BP (10 percent) and Egypt’s Mubadala Petroleum (10 percent). Last week, Egypt signed a $43 million oil and gas exploration deal with the German company Wintershall DEA to explore oil and gas in the East Damanhour Bloc in the Nile Delta.

Crew Kidnapped from Oil Tanker - Reporting indicates that the Alpine Penelope crude oil tanker has been attacked while in transit towards Lagos, resulting in the kidnap of nine personnel, Dryad Global has revealed on its website. The identities of the kidnapped crew remain unknown, although Dryad highlighted that the vessel is known to have a crew of 24 personnel, consisting of Georgians, Filipino and Ukrainian nationals. Dryad, which outlined that the “source confidence level” of the incident is “high”, said the fate of the crew remains unclear at this stage. This is the seventh incident to occur in the waters off Cotonou since January 19, according to Dryad. Of those, five have resulted in illegal boardings offshore, two of which resulted in kidnappings of crew, Dryad pointed out. “Within 2019 the waters off Lome and Cotonou witnessed an increase in both volume and severity of maritime crime incidents,” Dryad said in a company statement posted on its website. “Dryad advise that all vessels transiting the area be subject to thorough transit risk assessment prior to entry into the area and implement full mitigation measures,” Dryad added. Dryad describes itself as an expert in maritime risk and global security. According to the company’s website, there have been 544 attacks on commercial shipping in the last two years.

 OPEC hasn’t run out of ideas, Saudi energy minister insists as oil prices slump  - OPEC and its allied oil-producing nations are still working well together and still have options to try to rebalance global crude markets, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said Tuesday. “We do communicate with each other, we use every opportunity to talk with each other,” he said, speaking to reporters at the ICCUS conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. “We did not run out of ideas, we haven’t lost our phones and there are always good ways of communicating through conference calls and technology is very helpful.” His comments came amid speculation that there is tension in the alliance, known as OPEC+, over whether to cut oil production further. Prices continue to be weighed on by ample supply and falling demand and, lately, fears surrounding the coronavirus and its impact on the global economy. Prince Abdulaziz insisted that the producer countries in the alliance communicate and he was “confident of our partnership,” adding that every producer was a “responsible” one. OPEC and its non-OPEC allies, led by Russia, will meet in Vienna on March 5-6 but there is uncertainty over whether the entire group will agree to cut their collective oil output further with rumors that Russia is still undecided. As it stands, the alliance has reduced its total oil output by 1.7 million barrels a day in a bid to stabilize oil prices. The technical committee of OPEC+ met earlier in February to debate a possible oil output cut but the meeting ended with no solid recommendation.

Oil prices skid on demand concerns as virus spreads globally - Oil prices tumbled 4% on Monday, as the rapid spread of a coronavirus in several countries outside China left investors concerned about a hit to demand.Global shares also extended losses as worries about the impact of the new virus grew, with the number of infections jumping in Iran, Italy and South Korea.Brent crude was down $2.42, or 4.1%, to $56.09 a barrel. U.S. crude futuresfell by $2.12, or 4%, to $51.26."Oil prices will remain vulnerable here as energy traders were not pricing in the coronavirus becoming a pandemic," said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA."While some parts of China are seeing improving statistics with the coronavirus, financial markets will remain on edge until we start seeing the situation improve in Iran, Italy, South Korea and Japan."South Korea's fourth-largest city, Daegu, grew increasingly isolated as the number of infections there rose rapidly, with some airlines suspending flights to the city until March 9 and March 28, respectively. The country reported its seventh death after raising its infectious disease alert to its highest level.Italy reported a third death from the flu-like virus and 150 infections.Iran said it had confirmed 61 cases and 12 deaths, with most of the infections in the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom. Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey imposed travel and immigration curbs on the Islamic Republic."We should not underestimate the economic disruption as a super spreader could trigger a massive drop in business activity around the globe of proportions the world has never dealt with before," Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at AxiCorp, said in a note on Monday.Oil prices received some support after local health officials in China said on Monday that four provinces had lowered their virus emergency response measures.Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Sunday the world's largest energy consumer will adjust policy to help cushion the blow to the economy from the virus outbreak.Goldman Sachs said commodity prices could fall sharply before Chinese stimulus efforts later this year helps the sector achieve its 12-month return forecast of about 10%."The promise of stimulus has made commodity markets act like equity markets, building up risks of a sharp correction," the bank said in a note

Oil falls 5%, sliding into bear market territory as coronavirus sparks demand fears - Oil slid more than 4% on Monday, falling into bear market territory as the number of coronavirus cases outside of China surged, worrying investors that a subsequent slowdown in the global economy could dent the demand for crude.U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude slid 5%, or $2.68, to $50.70 per barrel, while International benchmark Brent crude fell $3.06, or 5.2%, to trade at $55.44 per barrel. Raymond James cut its oil outlook on Monday as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. "There is no escaping the fact that China — the world's largest oil importer — will have meaningfully weaker near-term oil demand than we had envisioned as the year began," analyst Pavel Molchanov wrote in a note to clients. Molchanov said demand in the first quarter will be reduced by an average of 1.5 million barrels per day. He said that a warmer-than-normal winter across the Northern Hemisphere is also hitting demand.Total confirmed cases of the coronavirus now stands at more than 79,400, while the death toll is more than 2,621. On Monday Italian news agency ANSA said that a seventh person has died in the country, with the number of confirmed cases exceeding 220.Citi was among the other firms cutting its oil outlook as cases of the coronavirus accelerate."The oil market is confronting new signs of weakness, largely from the coronavirus and its impacts on refinery demand for crude oil and from Russia's refusal to agree to an emergency OPEC+ meeting to curb oil production," the firm said in a note to clients.Citi said that it now believes inventories could grow to 2 million barrels per day in February alone, which will put "even more sustained pressure on prices." A week ago, the firm's forecast stood at a potential build of over one million barrels per day for the quarter.The firm also raised its first quarter build projection from 112 million barrels to 145 million barrels, and lifted its second quarter forecast from 53 million barrels to 94 million barrels. "However, our draws for 3Q are lower vs. last week's estimates," the firm added.Molchanov added that since the virus and weather issues are transitory, "the global oil market will need sustainably higher prices in order to avoid a major undersupply in 2021 and beyond." 

 Oil Ends Sharply Lower On Virus Jitters - Crude oil prices plunged sharply on Monday amid rising concerns about the outlook for energy demand due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus outside China. According to reports, the number of new cases of coronavirus infection is rising in South Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and Italy. A report from Reuters, quoted Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser as saying the coronavirus impact will be "short term". This probably pulled oil prices from the day's lows. West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for April ended down $1.95, or about 3.7%, at $51.43 a barrel, after falling to a low of $50.45 in the session. Brent Crude futures declined $2.20, or about 3.8%, to $56.30 a barrel. On Friday, WTI Crude oil futures for April ended down $0.50, or about 0.9%, at $53.38 a barrel. South Korea has raised its coronavirus alert to the "highest level" for the first time in a decade, following a rapid spike in cases over the weekend. Reports say the total number of cases so far in South Korea has risen to 763. Italy became Europe's epicenter for coronavirus cases over the weekend. Iran has confirmed an uptick in infections. Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo has reportedly decided to close 4 branches in the country as the government imposed strict quarantine restrictions in two northern "hotspot" regions close to Milan and Venice. Iran has confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths, with most of the infections in the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan imposed travel and immigration restrictions on the Islamic Republic. The virus has now killed 2,592 people in China, which has reported 77,150 cases. The rapid spread of the deadly virus in several countries outside China left investors concerned about a hit to demand. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said it is worried about the growing number of cases without any clear link to China.

Oil falls more than 1% as virus fears outweigh supply cuts -- Oil slipped towards $56 a barrel on Tuesday, falling for a third day, as concerns about the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on oil demand outweighed OPEC output cuts and Libyan supply losses.Crude fell almost 4% on Monday, with other commodities also reporting losses while U.S. and European equities suffered their steepest declines since mid-2016 on concern the coronavirus outbreak could turn into a pandemic.Brent crude fell 61 cents, or 1.2%, to $55.64 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude slipped 74 cents, or 1.4%, to $50.69."Oil prices are naturally feeling the full wrath of the coronavirus spread," said Craig Erlam, analyst at brokerage OANDA, who added the $54 level for Brent was looking "vulnerable".South Korea aims to test more than 200,000 members of a church at the centre of a surge in coronavirus cases. The virus is also spreading in Europe and the Middle East.Concern about the demand impact from the virus has pushed Brent down by almost $10 a barrel this year despite the shutdown of most of Libya's output and a supply pact between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies.Prices received further support as lawmakers based in areas of eastern Libya on Monday said that they would not participate for now in peace talks.However, oil could come under more pressure from the latest U.S. supply reports.Crude inventories are expected to rise for a fifth week running. The first of this week's two supply reports, from the American Petroleum Institute (API), is due at 2130 GMT.Potential support for prices could also come from OPEC and allies including Russia, which are considering whether to curb output further. However, scepticism is growing about the chance of further action."Doubts are emerging about the willingness of OPEC+ to extend and expand the necessary production cuts," said Commerzbank analyst Eugen Weinberg. The producers are due to meet in Vienna over March 5-6 to decide policy.Saudi Arabia's energy minister on Tuesday said OPEC+ should not be complacent about the coronavirus. But Russia, key to any deal, has yet to announce its position on further curbs.

Oil Futures Settle At 2-week Low - Crude oil prices declined sharply on Tuesday, extending recent losses, amid concerns about the outlook for energy demand due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on global growth. West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for April ended down $1.53, or about 3%, at $49.90 a barrel, the lowest settlement in about two weeks. Brent crude futures declined $1.48 to $54.86 a barrel. On Monday, WTI crude oil futures for April ended down $1.95, or 3.7%, at $51.43 a barrel. According to reports, the number of new virus cases in China outside Hubei continued to drop. Countries around the world have stepped up efforts to prevent a pandemic of the flu-like virus, with the U.S. pledging $2.5 billion to fight the disease. South Korea said it aims to test more than 200,000 members of a church at the center of a surge in coronavirus cases. On Monday, the World Health Organization insisted it was premature to declare the deadly outbreak of a novel coronavirus a pandemic even though it had the potential to reach that level. According to a report from Reuters, Saudi Aramco expects the coronavirus impact on oil demand to be short-lived. Saudi Arabia's Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said that OPEC+ should not be complacent about the coronavirus. Traders were also looking ahead to the weekly inventory reports from the American Petroleum Institute (API) and Energy Information Administration (EIA). While the API's report is due later today, the EIA is scheduled to come out with its inventory data Wednesday morning.

Everybody Wants To Rule The World, Part 3 - Coronavirus, the Crude Price Slide and OPEC Production Cuts --Oil-production restraint by OPEC and 10 cooperating countries grows more challenging with time, and just when market projections began to hint at relief for the OPEC-Plus group, the spread of the new coronavirus in China and beyond became a sudden and possibly serious impediment to global economic growth and oil demand. Yesterday’s slide in crude oil prices amid newly heightened concern about the potential pandemic’s effects will only add to the challenges that OPEC-Plus countries will face in managing crude supply. So far, the OPEC-Plus group has achieved unprecedented compliance with its production ceilings, which it implemented in January 2017 and has adapted a few times since in response to market pressure. That effort has kept the crude price above the ruinous levels of 2015, memories of which have encouraged quota discipline. But the threat of a major, coronavirus-related slowdown in global oil demand could seriously undermine OPEC-Plus’s efforts, which already had been hurt by dissent within its ranks. Today, we continue our series with a look at Monday’s price drop, the latest supply and demand forecasts and a discussion of the obstacles that might affect OPEC-Plus going forward.

WTI Back Above $50 After Smaller Than Expected Crude Build - Oil prices roundtripped overnight after running back above $50 following the smaller-than-expected API-reported crude build, sliding back lower overnight, and ramping back to $50.00 ahead of the official government data thanks to promises from OPEC+ that they will meet, despite the virus concerns:“The OPEC secretariat is in contact with the authorities in the city of Vienna on the recent reported cases of infections in Austria,” Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo says while returning from meeting in Riyadh.“While we continue in earnest with the preparations for the meetings of the extraordinary conference next week, we are continuing to monitor developments closely”  'There will be blood' comes to mind. Additionally, Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Energy Analyst Vince Piazza says E&Ps have professed heightened capital discipline in 2020, which should slow oil-production growth in the U.S and help tighten balances. But global demand remains a broader concern, with the fears of the coronavirus spreading even as oil exports from the U.S recovered recently. DOE:

  • Crude +452k (+2.8mm exp)
  • Cushing +906k
  • Gasoline -2.691mm (-1.9mm exp)
  • Distillates -2.115mm (-900k exp)

The official crude inventory data showed an even smaller build than API (and notably less than expected)

 Oil little changed as pandemic fears deepen, but smaller than expected inventory build caps losses - Crude prices slid for a fourth day on Wednesday as Asia and oil producing countries in the Middle East reported hundreds of new coronavirus cases and the United States warned of an inevitable pandemic.Brent crude fell 48 cents, or 0.8%, to trade at $54.49 per barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 15 cents, or 0.3%, to $49.75 per barrel.The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that inventories for the week ending Feb. 21 increased by 500,000 barrels. According to FactSet, analysts had been expecting a build of 1.8 million barrels.Pandemic fears intensified as authorities around the world battled to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has now been found in about 30 countries. World stocks tumbled for the fifth straight day on Wednesday, while safe-haven gold rose back towards seven-year highs and U.S. bond yields held near record lows after governments and health authorities warned of a possible coronavirus pandemic.Goldman Sachs reduced its 2020 oil demand growth forecast to 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 1.2 million bpd, and lowered its Brent forecast to $60 a barrel from $63."We see oil prices improving through the year assuming demand begins to normalize in 2020," it said, referring to the second half of 2020.Earlier, oil prices rose on short-covering and amid hopes for deeper output cut by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+.Saudi Arabia's energy minister said on Tuesday he was confident that OPEC and its partners, known as OPEC+, would respond responsibly to the spread of the coronavirus.

Oil prices drop to lowest in more than a year as coronavirus spreads -Oil prices fell to their lowest in more than a year on Wednesday after hundreds of new coronavirus cases reported in Europe and the Middle East stoked fears that energy demand would decline, and on concerns that the virus could spread across the United States. Brent crude settled at $53.43 a barrel, shedding $1.52, or 2.77%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude settled at $48.73 a barrel, down $1.17, or 2.34%. Earlier in the session, both benchmarks hit their lowest since January 2019, with Brent sinking to $53.03 a barrel and WTI dipping to $48.30. Oil followed equities lower after reports that 83 people were being monitored in New York for possible coronavirus exposure. “Every time a headline comes out, especially one regarding new cases in the U.S. such as New York, that comes in and forces additional selling and pushes normal fundamental input to the sidelines,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates. First cases of the virus were confirmed in countries including Greece, Georgia and Brazil, while authorities enacted more travel restrictions and quarantines across multiple continents. The U.S. heating oil crack reached its lowest since 2017, reflecting reduced diesel demand due to the virus spread. Prices briefly turned positive after the U.S. government reported a drop in gasoline inventories last week. Crude stocks grew by 452,000 barrels to 443.3 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration said, which was less than the 2-million-barrel rise analysts had expected.   Goldman Sachs cut its 2020 oil demand growth forecast to 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 1.2 million bpd, and lowered its Brent forecast to $60 a barrel from $63.

Oil falls for fifth day as coronavirus spreads outside of China - Oil prices fell for a fifth day on Thursday to their lowest since January 2019 as a growing number of new coronavirus cases outside of China fuelled fears of a pandemic which could slow the global economy and lower crude demand. Brent crude was down $1.47, or 2.8%, at $51.96 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate futures fell $1.35, or 2.7%, to trade at $47.38 per barrel. In the five trading sessions through Thursday, Brent has dropped 10.6%, while WTI has declined 10.4%, their biggest five-day percentage losses since August 2019. On Wednesday, for the first time ever, the number of new coronavirus infections outside China, the source of the outbreak, exceeded the number of new Chinese cases. The spread to large economies including South Korea, Japan and Italy has caused concerns that fuel demand growth will be limited. On Wednesday, consultants Facts Global Energy forecast oil demand growth will only 60,000 barrels per day in 2020, or “practically zero”, because of the widening outbreak. U.S. President Donald Trump assured Americans on Wednesday evening that the risk from coronavirus remained “very low”. However, Asian share markets fell on Thursday morning, as investors fear the coronavirus spread will disrupt the global economy as quarantines and other measures taken to halt its advance slow trade and industry.

US to Sell 12 Million Barrels of Oil as Virus Hits Demand-- The U.S. will sell up to 12 million barrels of oil from its emergency government stockpile just as global crude demand takes a hit from the spreading coronavirus. The crude would be delivered to U.S. Gulf Coast pipelines in April and May, adding incremental barrels to an already oversupplied market at a time when oil demand is expected to slump. The International Energy Agency and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries both expect fuel consumption to contract in the second quarter. OPEC and allied producers will gather in Vienna next week to discuss ways to stabilize oil prices, which have tumbled as supplies swell. The Energy Department sale announced Friday is part of a regular drawdown schedule intended to raise $450 million for government programs in fiscal year 2020. That goal may prove difficult as oil prices have plunged more than 20% this year on the back of the coronavirus contagion. The U.S. benchmark on Thursday settled at the lowest level in more than a year. Up to 6 million barrels will be sold from agency’s Bryan Mound site in Texas, with 6 million more coming from its Big Hill, Texas, and West Hackberry, Louisiana, sites. Earlier this month, the Trump administration proposed selling 15 million barrels of oil from the emergency stockpile as part of its fiscal 2021 budget plan and has previously proposed reducing it by half. The oil reserve, set up after the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s, has also been tapped in response to emergencies, such as Hurricane Katrina.

Coronavirus and the O&G industry The coronavirus outbreak seems to be moving towards containment in China, but the epidemic is gaining steam worldwide and it could be a matter of time before it becomes a pandemic. Although the fatality rate of the virus is smaller than the flu, its unknown nature is driving uncertainty and fear in markets across the globe. And the oil and gas industry isn’t immune to this.Whether Covid-19 has and will continue to slash crude oil and gas demand, or whether sentiment is pushing commodities prices to historic lows, you need to be in the know. Here’s our latest coverage:

  • Upstream's biggest coronavirus fear is prices, not project delays. The greatest impact of the outbreak is expected on oil prices, and consequently, companies’ cash flow and dividends. So far, the threat from potential project delays is “a mere scratch on the surface of global supply,” said Wood Mackenzie.
  • Crude falls for 5th day on demand concerns. Crude oil prices fell for a fifth straight trading day last Thursday, to their lowest point in 13 months, as a growing number of new coronavirus cases outside China fueled fears of a pandemic, which could slow the global economy and lower crude demand. Brent crude was down $1.47, or 2.8%, at $51.96 per barrel, while WTI fell $1.35, or 2.7%, to trade at $47.38/Bbl.
  • Coronavirus outside China obstructs oil market recovery. Signs of worsening outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran are getting in the way of recovery. “These are not small demand markets and, together with China, nearly one in five global demand barrels is located in countries facing public health emergencies,” said IHS Markit.
  • Chevron’s London employees continue working from home. The oil major asked staff in its Canary Wharf offices to work remotely to reduce exposure to the virus, after one employee showed flu-like symptoms. Italy’s Saipem has also minimized staff in offices and operations, particularly in northern Italy, where the virus is growing.
  • Coronavirus will meaningfully impact oil demand growth. Dallas Fed economists believe the coronavirus presents a serious risk to demand growth globally, as China consumes 14% of total global oil demand. As a consequence, U.S. crude oil output growth is expected to decline to roughly 0.4 Mmbpd in 2020. This is also heavily influenced by dramatic pressure for capital discipline.
  • Consumers unlikely to feel benefit of lower oil prices: IEA. Covid-19 is set to affect 435,000 Bpd of crude demand in the first quarter, compared to the same period last year, the IEA forecast. This will be the first quarterly contraction in more than a decade. For 2020, the loss is estimated at 365,000 Bpd, dropping demand growth to 825,000 Bpd – the lowest level since 2011.
  • Chinese oil demand to fall by 200,000 Bpd in H1: Opec. The estimated loss will result in a 400,000 Bpd retraction in demand globally, the group said.
  • Global LNG markets’ struggles intensify with coronavirus. The outbreak couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the global LNG market, amid weak demand due to a mild winter and a supply glut. Spot prices are at historically low levels of roughly $3.15/MmBtu, while long-term contract prices are around $8.33/MmBtu.
  • Coronavirus slashes global oil demand growth: Rystad. The estimate is a plunge of 25%, to 820,000 Bpd, due to the virus and its travel-related restrictions. In a worst case scenario, Rystad forecast growth could be slashed to 650,000 Bpd in 2020.

Oil prices could remain weak even if OPEC cuts, S&P Global Platts says - Even if OPEC cuts production by 600,000 barrels a day, oil prices could remain weak until April, according to a senior analyst at S&P Global Platts. That’s because inventories are rising amid lower oil demand due to the coronavirus outbreak, Kang Wu, Asia’s head of analytics, told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Thursday. Oil prices have been under pressure because of the virus that shuttered Chinese businesses for weeks and forced flight cancellations around the world. As the economic impact of the coronavirus unfolded, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries slashed its global oil demand outlook. For China, where the outbreak began, OPEC revised its demand forecast down by 0.2 million barrels a day for the first half of the year. International benchmark Brent crude futures were at $52.81 a barrel, down 1.16% on Thursday afternoon in Asia, while U.S. crude futures fell 1.33% to $48.08 a barrel. OPEC’s Joint Technical Committee met over three days in early February and reportedly recommended a cut of 600,000 barrels a day, according to Reuters. That’s what S&P Global Platts expects at the March 5 and 6 OPEC meeting, Wu said.

OPEC+ Meetings Now on Critical Path - The upcoming OPEC+ meetings on March 5 and 6 are now on the critical path.That’s according to a new research note from Jefferies, which reveals that the company now believes OPEC+ needs to make “much steeper” cuts than the 600,000 barrel per day recommendation from their technical committee to support prices.“At least a one million barrel per day cut for 2Q strikes us as necessary to merely moderate inventory builds, and we confess to underestimating demand destruction over the last several weeks,” Jefferies stated in the note.Jefferies said the two-week backwardation pattern in the Brent forward curve that had given it some encouragement “completely collapsed” this week.“Flat prices have fallen sharply and the return to contango is a signal that the market is preparing for a longer duration of coronavirus demand destruction,” Jefferies stated in the note.Jefferies’ current Brent crude oil price estimate for 2020 is $59 per barrel. The company estimates that Brent will average $58 per barrel over the first two quarters of the year and $60 per barrel over the final two quarters.On Thursday, Rystad Energy revealed that it had cut its 2020 Brent crude oil price forecast from nearly $60 per barrel to around $56 per barrel. In addition to the cut, the company warned that another negative revision “might be around the corner” due to increasing downside risk.Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) also cut its Brent oil price forecast for 2020. The EIA’s Brent spot average forecast for this year is now $61.25 per barrel. Its previous forecast stood at $64.83 per barrel. Fitch Solutions Macro Research (FSMR) also revised down its Brent oil price forecast for 2020 in February. FSMR now sees Brent averaging $62 per barrel this year, which marks a $3 drop compared to its previous forecast in January.

Worst Oil Week Since 2011 Puts Pressure on OPEC+-- Oil was on course for its biggest weekly loss since 2011 as the fast-spreading coronavirus roiled global markets, intensifying speculation that OPEC and its allies will strike a deal to support prices. Futures in New York fell a sixth day after fears over the outbreak sent shares on Wall Street down by the most in almost a decade. With crude prices down more than 14% this week, there are signs that OPEC and its allies could be nearing agreement on action to stem the rout before meeting in Vienna next week. The group’s top official said the cartel and its allies are displaying a “renewed commitment” to reach an accord as the virus puts the world economy on course for its worst performance since 2009. Saudi Arabia has been pushing for deeper production cuts over the last few weeks, but Russia has so far taken a more cautious stance. One silver lining for markets is that prices are now at a level that may be uneconomic for U.S. shale producers. “Whatever production cuts that might be forthcoming next week are too little too late, given how oil prices have declined so rapidly,” said Howie Lee, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore. “If OPEC+ cuts by 1 million barrels, that can shore up prices a little, but anything less is going to disappoint.” West Texas Intermediate futures for April delivery fell 3% to $45.68 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:30 a.m. in London. They closed down 3.4% on Thursday and have lost 14.4% so far this week, the most since May 2011. Brent for April settlement dropped 2.7% to $50.75 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange after falling 2.3% on Thursday. It’s down more than 13% for the week. The global crude benchmark traded at a $5.07 premium to WTI. The OPEC+ talks are scheduled for March 5-6 after Russia, whose budget is more resilient to lower oil prices, rebuffed pressure from Saudi Arabia for an earlier emergency meeting to deal with the outbreak. Combined OPEC output, not including Russia and other allied producers, is already at the lowest level since 2009.

U.S. oil futures suffer largest weekly percentage loss in over a decade – - Oil futures finished sharply lower on Friday, with U.S. benchmark prices down over 16% for the week, the largest weekly decline in more than 11 years, with the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic around the world expected to significantly dent demand for crude. The oil market looks like it’s pricing in “demand grinding to a halt,” Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at The Price Futures Group, told MarketWatch. “It’s the wild west in crude at this point, and we are at the mercy of the market sentiment.” West Texas Intermediate crude for April delivery dropped $2.33 on Friday, or about 5%, to settle at $44.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The U.S. benchmark saw a weekly fall of over 16%, the largest weekly decline since the period ended Dec. 19, 2008, according to Dow Jones Market Data. For the month, the front-month contract ended over 13% lower. Global benchmark April Brent crude fell $1.66 on Friday, or 3.2%, to settle at $50.52 a barrel on the contract’s expiration day, with prices ending nearly 14% lower for the week, for the largest week loss since the period ended Jan. 15, 2016. It registered a monthly decline of just over 13%. The April WTI and Brent crude contracts marked their lowest settlements since December 2018. May Brent crude, which is now the front month, dropped $2.06, or 4%, to $49.67 a barrel—the lowest most-active contract price since July 2017. Analysts said the tumble puts increased pressure on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies as they prepare to meet next week to discuss the possibility of additional production cuts in a bid to balance supply and demand. Read: Coronavirus and Russia pose the biggest challenges for OPEC+ efforts to lift oil prices “Any remaining bullish optimism likely rests on the prospect of further OPEC+ action at next week’s meeting,” said Robbie Fraser, senior commodity analyst at Schneider Electric. The oil producers will meet in Vienna on March 5-6. “Russia has offered more supportive comments of late, while Saudi Arabia has already stated their backing for steeper cuts to combat lost demand” due to COVID-19, said Fraser. Saudi Arabia has also reportedly slashed exports to China by 500,000 barrels a day, “though that figure represents only a small portion of total demand loss.” “Moving forward, OPEC+ action appears likely, but the reality may be more muted. As usual, actual supply cuts will likely depend heavily on Saudi Arabia, where cuts already far exceed official quotas,” he added. New reports on Friday said that key OPEC members were looking favorably on a larger-than-previously-expected output cut. “OPEC and its allies may move ahead with deeper production cuts when they meet next week” said Lukman Otunuga, senior research analyst at FXTM. “This move would cushion oil’s downside losses.” “However, the path of least resistance for oil will point south, as long as demand is missing from the equation,” he told MarketWatch.

Oil Sinks in Worst Week Since 2008 - -- Oil had it worst week since the financial crisis as panic over the coronavirus pandemic battered global markets.Futures in New York fell 16% this week, marking the biggest weekly drop since December 2008. The viral outbreak showed no signs of relenting, with the World Health Organization raising global risk to “very high” from “high.” The collapse of financial markets prompted U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to assure investors that the central bank is prepared to cut interest rates to mitigate the virus’ threat to economic activity. “A month ago the concern was only China,”  . “This meltdown is a fear of a global pandemic. The risk is we will see the same disruptions we saw in Asia, from travel restrictions to quarantines, materialize all over the world.” Oil prices have tumbled almost 27% this year on concerns the coronavirus outbreak will dent crude demand. OPEC and its allies have signaled the coalition could reach an agreement to stem the rout before meeting in Vienna next week. Saudi Arabia is reportedly pushing for collective OPEC+ production cuts of an additional 1 million barrels a day, of which it would bear the brunt.However, Riyadh’s proposal may not be enough to balance the oil market, according to a coronavirus-scenario analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Salih Yilmaz and Rob Barnett. The alliance’s overall compliance with production cuts has not been enough to support oil prices. The re-emergence of Libyan barrels also remains a risk. “We may be too far deep for any OPEC cuts to have a meaningful impact,”   “If the virus keeps spreading, that is just going to keep hurting demand and cause another wave of panic selling. A production cut could give it a bounce, but these lows will persist for the foreseeable future without a vaccine.”West Texas Intermediate futures for April delivery fell $2.33, or 5%, to settle at $44.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.Brent for April settlement, which expired Friday, lost $1.66, or 3.2%, to end the session at $50.52 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange. The more active May contract fell 4% to $49.67.Brent’s so-called red spread -- the difference between December contracts in consecutive years -- sank deeper into bearish contango, settling at lowest level since 2018. Oil market drivers:

  • Gasoline futures fell 1.1% to settle at $1.3955.
  • The U.S. will sell up to 12 million barrels of oil from its emergency government stockpile just as global crude demand takes a hit from the spreading coronavirus.
  • The volume of crude that will be shipped to China from West Africa next month is set to drop by at least ten million barrels as the demand destruction caused by the coronavirus hits home.
  • The Trump administration is ready to unleash the full impact of sanctions on Chevron Corp.’s operations in Venezuela as the U.S. seeks to further squeeze the Maduro regime.

 Iran's Hardliners Win Landslide Victory In Low Turn-Out Parliamentary Elections  - Early results from Friday's nationwide Iran parliamentary elections show a landslide for conservative and hawkish anti-West candidates, with forecasts showing them taking more than two-thirds of the seats. Iranian state TV announced Sunday that hardliners won a landslide all 30 seats in Tehran, AP reports. Much of this conservative group is led by old guard supporters of ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a victory seen as a major blow to 'reformist' President Hassan Rouhani and his supporters. US state-funded Radio Farda identifies "that least 15 former cabinet ministers and provincial governors close to former ultraconservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's have also won in the elections" among them Habibollah Dahmardeh, Ebrahim Azizi, Abdolreza Mesri, Hamid Reza Hajibabai, and Ali Nikzad.And The Guardian notes of the early results that "The reformists, the largest grouping in the outgoing parliament, have been decisively beaten, with predictions showing them taking only 17 seats in the 290-strong parliament. The principalists – or conservatives – were on course to take around 200 seats, including all 30 seats in the capital, Tehran, previously a stronghold of the reformers."  This after Iran's election watchdog, dubbed the Guardian Council, admitted to disqualifying thousands of candidates just days before the vote. The State Department has said this translated to over 7,000 candidates that were denied a place in Friday's parliamentary elections, for which the Trump administration leveled sanctions against key Iranian individuals on the Guardian Council. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei still lambasted a "conspiracy" of external US and Israeli attempts at interference in the elections, but still praised the election as a "shining" victory affirming "the people's religious and revolutionary beliefs."

Iranian hardliners win all parliamentary seats in Tehran: report - Iranian hardliners won all of the parliamentary seats in Tehran, as the country experienced the lowest voter turnout since the Islamic Revolution four decades ago, state TV said, according to The Associated Press. Iran’s interior ministry said Sunday the voter turnout reached 42.57 percent, The Associated Press reported, noting it could be a sign of dissatisfaction with the government and the economy as U.S. sanctions continue. Comparatively, the turnout in 2016 was almost 62 percent and has consistently been above 50 percent since the Islamic Revolution. More than 7,000 potential candidates were disqualified from their races, most of whom were reformists and moderates. Ninety of those disqualified were sitting members of Iran’s parliament, which has 290 seats. Iranian officials had encouraged voters to turn out to stand up against the U.S. sanctions. The coronavirus also could have impacted voter turnout as the country reported its first cases and deaths two days before the election, the AP noted. Iran has reported eight deaths and 43 infections across five cities, including the capital. Voters showed up at the polls with facemasks. In Tehran, 25.4 percent of eligible voters showed, which Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said, “we believe that the number of votes and the turnout is absolutely acceptable,” according to the AP. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized the high number of disqualifications and alleged enemy “propaganda” attempted to scare voters away from the polls by exaggerating the extent of the coronavirus, the AP reported.

U.S. Military Raises Injury Toll In Iran Missile Attack In Iraq - The Pentagon has raised to 110 the number of U.S. service members who suffered traumatic brain injuries during an Iranian missile attack on an air base in Iraq last month. The total figure announced on February 21 is one higher than the toll announced on February 10. It represented the sixth time the U.S. military has raised the total of those suffering injuries in the attack that took place on the night of January 7-8. President Donald Trump initially said that no Americans were harmed in the attack on the Ain al-Asad Air Base, which came amid tensions between Washington and Tehran. Iran said the missile attack on Ain al-Asad and another air base hosting U.S. troops in Iraq was revenge for the killing of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force, in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad's airport on January 3. The Pentagon said all of the wounded in the base attack were diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury and that 77 of them have already returned to duty. It added that 35 others have been transported to Germany for further evaluation, 25 of whom have been sent on to the United States.

Who “Got” Iraqi Oil?  -Not the US. Dick Cheney collaborated with US major oil companies in a plot to at least take over operating the oil production in Iraq, OPEC’s second largest producer and exporter, if not get to own the oil itself outright (which has not happened as oil in the ground was and remains owned by the Iraqi government, which is the way it is in pretty much all OPEC members).  Of all people, Juan Cole and many other progressives agreed that the war was all about controlling Iraq’s oil.  So the US overthrew Saddam Hussein, but then what followed was civil war and discombobulation, and oil production was seriously disrupted for a long time, with those US oil companies not getting any business for a long time. Of course, Donald Trump has repeatedly argued that the worst thing about the Iraq war was that “we did not get thee oil.”  Of course, the only reason he has left any troops in northeastern Syria is that somwbody told him there is oil there and he should leave troops there to keep terrorists from getting at the oil.  So there we have US troops occupying some of these wells, although there is basically no way they will ever be operated by US companies, much less owned by them.  Trump is deluded if he thinks “we have got” that oil.So what about now?  According to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, there are 23 foreign corporations operating in the Iraqi oil sector.  Four of these are Chinese, three are Russian, and one is American: Exxon Mobil.  Last year Exxon Mobil reduced its workforce in Iraq due to security issues.But now Russian interests are increasing their presence.  Yesterday Simon Watkins reported that the Russian Oil Ministry has announced that several Russian oil companies are planning to spend US$20 billion in Iraq.  That this is happening reflects a shift in attitudes in Iraq as well.  Watkins reports that the Iraqi leadership is upset by two things coming out of the US.  One is Trump’s sudden abandonment of the Kurds in northeastern Syria.  The other, of course is Trump’s attack without justification that killed both Iran’s General Soleimani as well as Iraqi General al-Muhandis.

Syria Stands As A Mega-Embarrassment For America  - For a long time, America has tried to ignore and distance itself from its role in making Syria the disaster it is today. Syria stands as a mega-embarrassment that shines a spotlight on America's failed foreign policy. To say President Obama blew it is an understatement. His inexperience took us down a rabbit hole with each turn revealing more ugliness than the one before. Both Obama and Trump pledged to reduce America's role in Afghanistan and Iraq but it has proven easier said than done, it has also had massive far-reaching ramifications. By reassuring and almost encouraging the people of Syria to rise up and overthrow their brutal leader Obama started a series of events that has taken countless lives and destroyed millions of others. Three of the most damaging developments flowing from this are the development of ISIS, the flow of millions of refugees into Europe, and the bombing and destruction of cities and innocent civilians.Continued violence in the region over the last decade has spurred the destabilizing mass migration of millions of people from the area.Many people do not realize the formation of ISIS is rooted in this mess and flowed out of America's meddling. A failed attempt to build an army to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad backfired.  A report published by Reuters claimed that 200 men were trained and that over 1200 were to be added in a plan to prepare to free Syria from the rule of President Bashar but General Ibrahim al-Douri. who had been on the US most-wanted list since the second Gulf War took over control. This left the group with a problematic leader and a huge war chest at his disposal. Most of the money had come from US allies, including Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, all are Sunni-based countries that originally supported ISIS. For years, day after day, week after week, month after month, the American people have busied themselves with ignoring the Pandora's box of misery Obama opened and unleashed is his arrogance. Please don't take this as an Obama bashing, he didn't do it alone. The same old group of clowns that have infected American foreign policy for years weighed in and helped bring us to where we are today. America simply can't mind its own business.

 Idlib Is the New Face of Conflict. The World Needs to Catch Up - The scenes and stories from Idlib province in Syria should be shocking – but it seems from the lack of reaction by western governments that we have been numbed. Children freezing to death in -11 degree temperatures after being bombed by their own government should never be normalized. But in fact the type of conflict we are seeing in Idlib is the new face of conflict. Diplomats and humanitarians need to catch up.The assault on Idlib is not just another turn in the Syrian conflict. It is intended to be one of the last. And the statistics show that it is the most brutal at least as measured by the flight of victims. 900,000 people have fled since December, over 100,000 in the past seven days alone, and over 300,000 still risk joining them. This is the largest civilian displacement since the conflict started nine long years ago. Among those forced to flee are 30 local IRC staff who, despite being displaced themselves, have continued their work helping others in the areas in which they've relocated.There is a current UN Inquiry into the attacks on health facilities and other civilian infrastructure. But it is limited to a mere seven incidents and it remains unclear if the findings will be made public and if the report will name perpetrators. So, it is not providing a credible deterrent to the current escalation of violence, or the ongoing attacks on civilians and the facilities they depend on for their survival. In the past few weeks alone, the IRC and the organizations it works with have had to suspend operations in a number of health facilities and relocate an entire fleet of ambulances. Faced with ongoing and deliberate targeting of aid workers, medical staff and their facilities, it is legitimate to fear that there will be no doctors and nurses left to help spare life and limb on the ground.The catastrophe in Idlib is a symptom of the utter failure of diplomacy and abandonment by the international community of Syrian civilians. But it also foreshadows an even darker trend towards an Age of Impunity—an era characterized by the total disregard for the rule of law and an equally grave deficit of international diplomacy, which allows the suffering of civilians to continue unabated. These changes create greater risks for civilians and aid workers and increase the likelihood that we'll be dealing with the repercussions for a generation. The danger is that Syria becomes not just a disaster, but a precedent for a new normal of brutal, divisive, contagious conflict—a testament to a global shift in the waging of war in four key ways.

Watch: Turkish-Backed Jihadists Attempt To Down Russian Jet Over Idlib With MANPADS - A new video released on Friday showed the Turkish military and their allied militants attempting to hit a Russian aircraft with an anti-aircraft missile in the Idlib Governorate yesterday. In the short video, the Turkish forces and their allies militants can be seen on the roof of a building, where they later attempted to shoot down the Russian aircraft in the skies of the Idlib Governorate. As shown in the video, however, the anti-aircraft missile fails to hit the Russian aircraft that had just flown over their positions in what is presumably the eastern countryside of Idlib. The Russian jet is seen deploying counter-measures seconds after the surface-to-air missile is fired. Prior to the release of this video, another film was released on Thursday that showed the militant forces in the Idlib Governorate trying to shoot down a Russian Su-24 aircraft that had just got done bombing their positions. Below is the video that was released on Friday of the attempted downing of the Russian aircraft:

Putin Keen To Cool Turkish Hawk Down – Pepe Escobar -  Idlib is Erdogan's last stand, but the fighting goes way beyond Syria - it’s shaping as another NATO-Russia proxy war That pesky “Assad regime” simply won’t go away. The new Western narrative on Syria is that the regime is about to “massacre” over 900,000 people fleeing the not really de-escalated zones across the countryside in Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Context, as always, is absent. The fleeing masses – essentially conservative Sunnis – had been living in these areas under the yoke of myriad incarnations of al-Qaeda in Syria. Either they supported them, did their best to basically survive, or now know for sure the offensive by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is for real, and all jihadi holes, protected or not by human shields, will be bombed. The most relevant story, once again, is what Sultan Erdogan wants. Ankara and Moscow – partners in the Astana Process that theoretically would pave the way for peace in Syria – are at a crossroads. There were lengthy talks earlier this week, and a crucial phone call between Erdogan and Putin on Friday night. The stalemate prevails – they appear to have only agreed to “intensify contacts”. Ankara officially “does not accept the [de-escalation] map” put forward by Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stresses it’s the same map: there have been no additional demands. But Erdogan is, impulsively, threatening a remix of “Euphrates Shield” or a “Spring of Peace”, as in invading Idlib “at any moment”. Moscow, nearly exasperated, is one inch away from reading him the riot act. Idlib is Ankara’s last stand in terms of having anything to negotiate with when it comes to the peace process in Syria. Erdogan and his advisers, realistically, should know the north and western sides of Aleppo are back under Damascus’ control for good. The Turkish military are mostly in the countryside east of the Idlib city and in a town called Atarib. The real fighting on the ground in Idlib is not conducted by Turkish soldiers – but over 80% by the militia nebulae of jihadis and proto-jihadis that the West loves to describe as “rebels”; Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, aka al-Qaeda in Syria), the Turkistan Islamic Party and other smaller outfits. Ankara’s spin is that those “rebel” units will be dissolved once there is a political settlement. But that is nonsense. The Turkish government expects people to believe that one day these tens of thousands of “rebels” are weaponized, and the next they will drop everything, go back home and open a kebab stall. 

More Turkish Troop Deaths In Idlib Bring Russia & Turkey To Breaking Point - After on Monday there were new unconfirmed reports of several Turkish Army soldiers killed or wounded in a Russian air strike on a Turkish convoy, already tense relations between Moscow and Ankara are at a breaking point. "Several soldiers from the Turkish Army were reportedly killed or wounded this afternoon following the joint airstrikes launched by the Syrian and Russian air forces in the Idlib Governorate," Beirut-based Al Masdar News reports. "According to pro-opposition media, as many as ten Turkish soldiers were killed or wounded as a result of the joint Russian-Syrian airstrikes near the town of Kansafra."And British-Syrian journalist Danny Makki, who reports from inside Syria lists "10 Turkish casualties between killed and wounded in the Russian airstrikes today sources suggest, 4 armoured vehicles also purportedly destroyed." However, there's yet to be official confirmation out of Turkey of these new alleged casualties. Ankara did previously confirm at least one soldier killed in fighting on Sunday.Turkey's Defense Ministry has in total acknowledged 16 of its soldiers killed amid the renewed Syrian-Russian offensive to take back Idlib, which began early December.  These increasingly direct clashes between Syrian-Russian allied forces and Turkish national troops have led to renewed urgent talks announced Monday between Russian and Turkish officials. Russian FM Sergey Lavrov announced Monday that "Another series of consultations is now being prepared and we hope it will help us reach an agreement on how to ensure that this really becomes a de-escalation zone and terrorists don’t boss around there."  The Kremlin is further trying to downplay what Turkish officials are describing as a "crisis" also given President Erdogan has lately vowed to not allow Idlib to be taken by pro-Assad forces. "Russian-Turkish relations should not be depicted as in crisis even after an escalation in political tensions over Syria's last rebel-held enclave of Idlib, Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday," according to TASS news agency.

President Erdogan's options narrow as Russia presses Syrian crisis to Turkey's doorstep – (Reuters) - With nearly one million displaced Syrians massing near the Turkish border in the face of a Syrian government military offensive, President Tayyip Erdogan’s options are narrowing.  He feels blindsided by Russia’s push into Syria’s Idlib region and the risk of full-blown conflict is growing, but Turkey’s Erdogan remains hopeful a deal with Moscow may offer a way out of the crisis, according to Turkish government officials and other sources. Erdogan has repeatedly warned that Turkey, which backs rebels in Syria’s northwest province, would push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops away from territory taken in the recent months if they didn’t pull back by the end of February. But as Saturday’s deadline has drawn closer, the Russia-backed Syrian offensive has continued to gain ground and a third round of talks between Ankara and Moscow this week were not expected to quickly break the deadlock. Turkish government and Syrian opposition military officials, diplomats and analysts said while a full-scale Turkish-backed military operation is still a possibility, depending on how hard Russia bargains, Erdogan is more likely at this late stage to agree a deal with Moscow that has him withdraw some of Turkey’s military presence in exchange for a role in deciding Syria’s future. They added that Erdogan has been taken aback by what Turkey views as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s uncompromising stance in the field and in discussions.

Dozens of Turkish soldiers killed in strike in Idlib in Syria - Dozens of Turkish soldiers have been killed in an airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province, in a dramatic escalation in the battle for control of the country’s last opposition stronghold. Turkish officials said at least 33 of its military personnel were killed in the attack on Thursday night. Military sources among moderate and jihadist rebel factions fighting in the north-western province bordering Turkey said the deaths followed a precision strike on a two-storey building in the village of Balioun. A Turkish convoy, part of reinforcements sent to the area to aid rebel groups earlier this month, was subjected to heavy shelling on Thursday morning. The soldiers had taken cover in Balioun, basing themselves in the local council building. Rahmi Dogan, the local governor of the south-eastern Turkish province of Hatay on the border with Idlib, said ambulances streamed from a Syrian border crossing to a hospital in the nearby town of Reyhanli on Thursday night. Turkish officials have blamed the Syrian regime for the attack, but several sources in Idlib and unverified footage of the nighttime strike suggested it had been carried out by the Russian air force, which has helped Damascus conduct a ferocious three-month-old offensive on Idlib. After the attack the United Nations called for urgent action in north-west Syria, warning that “the risk of greater escalation grows by the hour.” Nearly a million civilians have been displaced in Idlib near the Turkish border since December as Russia-backed Syrian government forces seized territory from Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, marking the worst humanitarian crisis of the country’s nine-year war.

Turkish Army Is Targeting Russian Planes In Idlib With Shoulder-Fired Missiles- Report -We reported previously that an increasing number of advanced shoulder fired "Man-portable air-defense systems" or MANPADS are showing up in Idlib, alarmingly in the hands of al-Qaeda linked factions such as US terror designated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.But now the Kremlin is charging Turkey's military with orchestrating the campaign to shoot down Russian aircraft over the war-torn northwest Syrian province. Reuters now reports that "Russian state television said on Thursday Turkish military specialists in Syria's Idlib region were using shoulder-fired missiles to try to shoot down Russian and Syrian military aircraft." The report aired Thursday the Rossiya 24 channel:"Their own and Russian planes are saving the lives of Syrian troops in a literal sense," said the Rossiya 24 report. "Syrian and Russian planes are stopping the rebels again and again. But the sky above Idlib is also dangerous. The rebels and Turkish specialists are actively using portable air defense systems."Recent footage out of Idlib showed Russian aircraft deploying countermeasures to escape an incoming shoulder-fired rocket.The following video was published to social media and was widely circulated last week:Turkish soldiers firing a MANPADS against a Russian jet over Idlib in Syria yesterday, the missile missed the jet #Syria #Turkey #Russia— CNW (@ConflictsW) February 21, 2020 Jihadists on the ground fighting a major Syrian-Russian air and land offensive have over the past month downed at least two Syrian helicopters and possibly other aircraft.

Turkey says it will let refugees into Europe after troops killed in Syria - (Reuters) - Refugees in Turkey headed towards European frontiers on Friday after an official declared that borders had been thrown open, a response to the escalating war in Syria where 33 Turkish soldiers were killed by Russian-backed Syrian government troops. European officials rushed to respond to Turkey’s direct threat to reverse an agreement that halted the migration crisis of 2015-2016, when more than a million people arrived by sea in Greece and crossed the Balkans on foot. Moscow and Ankara traded blame over the strike in northwest Syria, the deadliest attack suffered by the Turkish army in nearly 30 years. Turkish financial markets plunged over the prospect of the country being pulled far more deeply into a new escalation of the nine-year-old war across the border in Syria. “We have decided, effectively immediately, not to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe by land or sea,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “All refugees, including Syrians, are now welcome to cross into the European Union,” the official said, adding that police and border guards had been stood down. Within hours, a column of dozens of migrants was heading on foot towards the European frontier in the early morning light. A man carried a small child in his arms. Others rode in taxis.

Greece Sends 50 Naval Vessels & Commandos To Block Refugee Wave Out Of Turkey -  Greece sealed its key land Kastanies border crossing with Turkey Friday after Ankara declared it's allowing refugees to flee Idlib and on to Europe for at least 72 hours, in response to Syrian-Russian airstrikes killing 33 Turkish troops Thursday.Germany's Bild newspaper reported Friday that Greece is taking further emergency measures to prevent Erdogan from effectively "opening the gates" on new waves of refugee and migrant hordes seeking entry to the EU, noting the country "completely closed off its borders with Turkey: not just for refugees, but for EVERYONE."The newspaper said 50 naval ships, likely most of them small patrol vessels, have been deployed by the Hellenic Navy to ensure those coming out of Turkey don't get through.  Citing a top Greek government official, Bild reported further this will include air support."According to BILD information, the government sent 50 warships to the Greek islands to protect the EU's external borders," the German tabloid said. "Ten helicopters are also supposed to secure the transitions to Turkey on land."Greece's Ekathimerini newspaper said military commandos were being sent to key crossings following an emergency meeting of key government officials Friday to deal with the crisis:Patrols along the land and river border in northeastern Evros have been bolstered since Friday morning, when the first large groups of migrants began to arrive following an announcement on Thursday night by a Turkish government official saying that Ankara would no longer try to prevent Syrians fleeing war in their country from attempting the crossing to the European Union.  The army has also dispatched two commando units to help the Hellenic Police guards at the border, and particularly to patrol the more dangerous sections of the Evros River.Turkish TVs broadcast footages showing migrants are boarding boats off Turkish coast, departing to Greek islands

Third election in a year deepens Israel’s political crisis - In a criminal move caught on video, an Israeli military bulldozer scooped up and moved the body of a young Palestinian demonstrating near Gaza’s fence with Israel on Sunday. To compound the crime, troops fired on Palestinians trying to retrieve his body, wounding two. Twenty-seven-year-old Mohammed Ali al-Naim, a member of Islamic Jihad, had been shot by Israeli forces who lyingly claimed he was laying a bomb near the fence. This war crime, one of countless such criminal acts, and the image of al-Naim’s corpse hanging from the teeth of the bulldozer, caused outrage among the Palestinian citizens of Gaza who have suffered a 13-year-long blockade at the hands of Israel and latterly Egypt and the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.Israel followed this up with dozens of air strikes throughout the besieged entity as tensions escalated and Palestinian group retaliated by firing rockets into Israel. The army said it was closing roads, schools and a train line near the Gaza Strip.Fighter jets simultaneously launched air strikes on Islamic Jihad positions—Israel views the group as an Iranian proxy—near the Syrian capital Damascus, killing two of its fighters and four pro-Iranian fighters.This stepped-up aggression, launched by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a desperate bid to boost his position as “Mr. Security,” takes place in the run up to the election on March 2, the third in less than a year. The result is the deepening paralysis of a government that has almost ceased to function amid the stench of a corrupt and decaying political system that is careening towards fascism and militarism.Like their counterparts all over the world Israeli voters have no substantive choice, despite an array of political parties, as Israel’s democracy has withered under the twin pressures of the decades-long military suppression of the Palestinian people and rising social inequality, among the highest in the world. This latest ballot follows two inconclusive elections in April and September, when neither caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, a former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff, were able to secure a coalition that could command a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. The first bloc is led by Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party and his coalition of religious and fascistic parties. The second bloc, the supposedly “centrist” Blue and White party named after the colours of Israel’s flag, is led by Gantz.

Israel Takes Out Islamic Jihad Militants In Damascus & Gaza In Rare Simultaneous Air Strikes -Damascus once again was rocked by Israeli airstrikes Sunday night, with Syria saying its anti-air defenses were active in confronting a wave of "enemy rockets" from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. In a rare acknowledgement of the attack, Israel confirmed in was behind it, and linked it to rocket fire from the Palestinian territory, Gaza. The Israeli army said in a statement that it targeted Islamic Jihad leaders living in Damascus. "In the Adeliyah region, outside of Damascus, an Islamic Jihad compound was struck, used as a hub of Islamic Jihad's activity in Syria," the statement said. "Israeli military planes targeted Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza" it said further.  Palestinian Islamic Jihad confirmed that two of its members were killed in Damascus Sunday night, in a relatively brief attack which war monitors say killed a total of six people. The other four were alleged to be members of a pro-Iranian militia.   But Syrian state-run SANA said the country's air defenses were effective, noting they “caused the missiles to deviate from their path, destroying most of the remainder before reaching their goals, and the results of the aggression are still being examined.” Like with prior attacks over the past two years, Israeli jets were said to have fired from outside of Syrian airspace most of the time from over neighboring Lebanon. Historically, wanted or exiled leaders of Palestinian militant and "resistance" groups have had headquarters in Damascus. 

Netanyahu Threatens All-Out War After 90 Rockets Fired From Gaza - Monday witnessed significant escalation over Gaza as Palestinian Islamic Jihad sought to avenge the deaths of three commanders killed in Israeli air strikes on Gaza and Damascus the day before. Israeli media counted some 90 total rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip throughout the day since the attacks began Sunday night, with the IDF claiming its Iron Dome defense system had intercepted the vast majority which came near populated areas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier threatened to initiate broader war if the rocket fire didn't cease. Despite an Islamic Jihad spokesman announcing a unilateral cease-fire by the early evening, the rocket fire was reported as continuing later into the night Monday. “We are now hitting with planes, tanks, and helicopters,” Netanyahu said while inspecting an Iron Dome unit in the south. “I’m talking about a war,” Netanyahu, who is entering a final week of campaigning before Israeli national elections, had further told Israel’s Army Radio station. “I only go to war as a last option, but we have prepared something you can’t even imagine.” He also appeared to threaten to kill the heads of Hamas and Islamic Jihad if the rockets continued, saying: “We will continue to strike until the calm returns. If there isn’t quiet, you’ll be next.”

Sanders: Israel run by 'reactionary racist' in Netanyahu - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “reactionary racist” while defending his support for Israel at Tuesday night’s Democratic debate. "I'm very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months. But what I happen to believe is that right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country," Sanders said at the debate in Charleston, S.C., just days ahead of the state's Democratic primary. Sanders's comments came the same week that he said he wouldn't be attending the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, accusing the pro-Israel lobbying group of providing a platform to “leaders who express bigotry.” “The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security,” Sanders tweeted Sunday. “So do the Palestinian people. I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” AIPAC shot back that Sanders “has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment.” “By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel,” AIPAC said in its statement. AIPAC, founded in 1963 with a mission of promoting the U.S.-Israeli relationship, has long been seen as a power player in Washington politics. The organization garners bipartisan support, but tensions with progressive Democrats have increased in recent years. AIPAC announced earlier Tuesday that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is also running for the Democratic nomination and was on the debate stage Tuesday night, will speak at this year’s conference.

U.S. halts offensive military operations in Afghanistan as part of Taliban deal - — The United States has ceased offensive military operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban in accordance with an agreement to reduce violenceahead of a possible peace deal, the top U.S. military commander here announced Saturday.Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller told reporters in Kabul that “our operations are defensive at this point. We stopped our offensive operations as part of our obligations, but we remain committed to defend our forces.”The week-long reduction in violence is a precondition to a U.S.-Taliban peace deal that both parties have said they plan to sign at the end of the month.U.S. and Afghan officials have cautioned that the deal is fragile, as there are many armed groups in Afghanistan who don’t see peace as being in their interest. But U.S. officials said monitoring mechanisms in place will be able to identify whether attacks are the work of “spoilers.” Just hours after the agreement went into effect, local security forces reported a number of clashes between government and Taliban forces. But Miller and senior Afghan officials said the violence does not necessarily constitute a breach of the agreement.Afghanistan claims the Islamic State was ‘obliterated.’ But fighters could regroup.Standing beside the Afghan acting minister of interior and acting minister of defense, Miller described the reduction in violence as a “trial period” during which U.S. and Afghan government forces reserve the right to defend themselves if attacked.“This is a conditional effort. It’s a trial period,” he said. “We are all looking at this to see that all sides are able to meet their obligations.”If it holds, the United States and the Taliban have said they will sign a peace deal in the coming days.

No Financing And No Demand- Chinese Refiners Run Into Trouble  -International banks are suspending credit lines for some independent oil refiners worried about the growing risk of defaults across industries because of the coronavirus epidemic, Reuters reports, citing industry sources. According to the sources, at least three private refiners, or teapots, have had credit lines to the tune of $600 million suspended by banks including French Natixis, Dutch ING, and Singapore DBS Group Holdings.“All our applications for new open-account credits are frozen ... these clean credits are pivotal as we buy 6 to 8 million barrels of oil each month,” one source told Reuters.Refiners, both private and state, have already reduced their run rates in response to the slump in fuel demand resulting from the outbreak, and now they have deepened these cuts, Bloomberg reported last week.The average as of last Thursday was about 10 million bpd, down by 25 percent on the same time last year, when the average run rates were at a record high of close to 13 million bpd. Analysts expect the low run rates to continue at least until the end of this month, but if it spills into March, some refiners—notably independent refiners—will start experiencing a lack of storage space, too, after earlier this month they took advantage of low prices to stock up on crude.Now, on top of that, the teapots that have accounted for a large portion of China’s increased thirst for oil that was instrumental in oil price recovery after the crisis, are having financing trouble.“We were told by our banks that so long as the open-account credits are for oil heading to Shandong, it will be very hard chance winning approvals,” another Reuters source said.The three refiners refused credit line extensions have combined oil import quotas of about 240,000 bpd, R euters reports. If more banks become wary of defaults among refiners, this could hit imports over a longer term.

Shipping lines face troubled waters as oil tankers, container carriers and cruise lines stop calling on China for fear of catching the coronavirus  --Port calls to China are becoming less frequent, as fear of catching the coronavirus and a slowdown in the Chinese economy have deterred cruise liners, container ships, oil tankers and bulk carriers alike from stopping at the country’s harbours.Commercial vessels have stopped arriving, with port calls falling by an estimated 30 per cent in February, and container throughput estimated to decline by between 20 and 30 per cent, according to Clarksons – a shipping research company. The coronavirus outbreak, which has sickened more than 75,000 around the world and killed more than 2,400, is adding to the woes of an industry that is already suffering from the US-China trade war. As many as 600 of the 3,700 passengers on the cruise ship Diamond Princess – moored in Yokohama outside Tokyo – contracted the virus while in close proximity to one another, which further deterred vessels from calling on mainland China, where more than 99 per cent of confirmed afflictions and deaths are. As China’s labour force returns to work in phases after an extended Lunar New Year holiday imposed by the government in an effort to contain the epidemic, shipyards are slowly ramping up construction.Still, vessel owners expect delivery to be delayed. Nine of the 19 Chinese shipyards surveyed by Clarksons put their yards on complete suspension on February 14, with none at full production.“We foresee the delay to be between one to two months, depending on the capability and resilience of different shipyards,” said Zhou Jian-Feng, managing director of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings, which has two ships under construction at Chinese shipyards, and has several other projects underway.

China's top container ports unclog backlog as virus curbs ease - (Reuters) - China’s top container ports are loosening the backlog of cargoes on their docks as workers return to their jobs after coronavirus travel curbs that kept them away and jammed up global supply chains have been eased. The flu-like epidemic, which originated in the city of Wuhan, an inland logistics hub in Hubei province, has killed more that 2,700 and infected over 78,000 in China alone, and caused massive port congestion due to labor shortages caused by city lockdowns across the country. China is the largest container cargo handler - processing around 30% of global traffic or around 715,000 containers a day in 2019 - and the virus clampdown impacted supply chains of everything from sneakers and machine parts to technology components and food items. Executives from U.S. poultry processor Sanderson Farms Inc (SAFM.O) said on an earnings call on Thursday that operations at China’s ports were slowly getting back to normal and most of its shipments have been delivered. The company has shipped or received orders from Chinese buyers for about 18 million pounds of chicken products since Beijing lifted a ban on imports of U.S. poultry late last year. The average wait time for container vessels at Zhoushan (601018.SS) in southern China - the third-largest container port in the world by annual handling capacity - spiked to more than 60 hours in the week of Feb. 11-17, when travel curbs on workers returning from the prolonged Lunar New Year holiday forced ports to operate with skeleton staffing.

Oil Trader Collapse Sparks Alarm Over China's Private Refiners- The collapse of an oil trader linked to one of China’s independent refiners is ratcheting up concern over the financial stability of a sector that accounts for about a quarter of the nation’s crude processing capacity. Hontop Energy, which purchases oil on behalf of private refiner Shandong Tianhong Chemical Co., went into receivership in February, according to documents filed with Singapore’s accounting regulator. Its demise brings focus onto the financial health of many of China’s private refiners, known as teapots, which have built up massive debt loads to modernize infrastructure and procure crude on a global scale. Hontop’s fall is reverberating across the world of oil trading as many Western merchants and oil companies like Trafigura Group and BP Plc have built teams over the last five years that are dedicated to supplying teapots. And as the coronavirus epidemic threatens profit margins and coincides with a broader credit crunch in China, traders and bankers are increasingly wary about their exposure to the refiners. “Many of the teapots are already on a credit redflag list of banks in Singapore,” Michal Meidan, director of the China Energy Programme at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies said. “The virus has certainly tightened cash-flows and exacerbated banks’ concerns.” While traders don’t expect the financial problems of teapots to have much of an impact on China’s overall crude demand, they say it will likely result in widespread delays and isolated cases of distressed cargoes as buyers and sellers reassess relationships. Both Hontop and Shandong Tianhong are units of Chinese conglomerate China Wanda Group, which itself has been struggling to juggle its debt load. Repeated attempts to get comment from Hontop and Wanda were unsuccessful.

Coronavirus flight cancellations top 200,000, sending jet fuel prices to more than 2-year lows - Airlines have canceled more than 200,000 flights as the coronavirus continues to spread, prompting travel restrictions and a sharp drop in demand for trips to and within China. More than 76,700 people have been sickened by the virus, which has killed at least 2,249 people, health officials said. Close to 98% of the reported cases are in China but some officials are worried about a crop of new infections elsewhere, including Iran and South Korea. Airlines around the world, including the three U.S. carriers that serve China — Delta, United and American — have halted service to the mainland and Hong Kong because of the virus. In February alone, the number of flights that were scheduled to fly to, from and within China are down 80% from a year ago, according to aviation consulting firm Cirium. From Jan. 23 to Feb. 18, 99,254 scheduled flights didn’t fly, close to 90% of them domestic China trips, the firm added. That’s sending jet fuel prices, generally airlines’ second-biggest expense after labor, down sharply. While benchmark jet fuel prices in the U.S. and Singapore have recovered some ground from hitting the lowest levels since mid-2017, they’re each down 17% so far this year, according to data from S&P Global Platts. “Pent-up demand” may help firm up prices in the second half of the year but “2020 is compromised as far as jet [fuel] demand is concerned,” said S&P Global Platts energy analyst Claudio Galimberti. Normally, lower costs would be welcome news for airlines, but weaker demand is expected to hit revenue and profits this year. The Asia-Pacific air travel market has become more important since the SARS outbreak that began in 2002. The region accounted for 35% of global demand last year, up from 27% in 2002, the trade group said. China is expected to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest air travel market by the middle of this decade. Air travel demand globally is set to fall for the first time since 2009 and cost airlines some $29 billion — mostly in the Asia-Pacific region — in revenue, the International Air Transport Association said Thursday.

3 Energy Sectors Most Threatened by the Coronavirus - At a time when the energy sector is weighed down by debt and reeling from low commodity prices, American energy producers are now bracing for the biggest demand shock to hit the markets in decades: the effects of the coronavirus outbreak in China and beyond.  While the outbreak may not sweep the globe as swine flu did in 2009, the fear of a global epidemic managed to shave 975 points off the Dow Monday morning, and experts seem to agree that the economic effects of the fallout are likely to be more severe.Here are the three energy sectors that are likely to be hardest hit by the coronavirus epidemic, and why:

  • #1 Oil, Grounded by Demand. Oil and natural gas prices have remained low for the past year and could remain that way with the biggest oil importer now grounded.China, the world’s top oil importer, bought 41.24 million tonnes of crude in 2019, equivalent to 10.04 million barrels per day (bpd). But just two months after the outbreak of the virus, Chinese oil demand is down sharply because of dwindling air travel, road transportation and manufacturing.China consumes 13 of every 100 barrels of oil that the world produces, and global oil companies are likely to feel the heat to some extent. Bloomberg has reported that Chinese oil demand hasdropped by about 3 million barrels a day, or ~20% of total consumption.The d rop marks the largest demand shock in the market since the global financial crisis that ended in 2009. It’s also the most sudden shock the market has suffered since the Sept. 11 attacks nearly two decades ago.
  • #2 Natural Gas, Already A Wreck. Natural gas prices recently tumbled to historical lows and are down nearly 15% since the start of 2020 with excess supply and inventory build up pressuring prices. The coronavirus outbreak is not helping the situation, either. The global LNG leader Royal Dutch Shell has warned that the coronavirus outbreak is alreadyhurting LNG demand and forcing it to reroute supplies previously earmarked for mainland China.And the situation might not improve any time soon. Last year, RBC predicted that natural gasprices might take years to fully recover.
  • #3 Battery and Energy Storage.Last week, Utility Dive—which covers news and trends in the utility industry—warned that the coronavirus epidemic “… is going to be a very big deal” with respect to Chinese manufacturing. Eight provinces in the country have already announced work stoppages as a result of the outbreak, which has negatively impacted multiple solar manufacturing campuses. This is highly significant considering that most of the world’s solar panels are made in China.China also happens to be home to most of the world’s lithium-ion battery manufacturing. Utility Dive has warned that the country’s battery storage production capacity could contract by 10%–or 26 GWh–compared to earlier forecasts.

Top China steelmakers Baowu, Shagang see Q1 output down due to virus outbreak -(Reuters) - China’s biggest steel producer, China Baowu Steel Group, expects output to fall 5% in the first quarter of 2020 due to coronavirus disruptions, a company official said on Saturday. The steel giant, which churned out 96 million tonnes of crude steel in 2019, sees its first-quarter output down by 1 million tonnes from the same period last year, Zhang Jingang, vice general manager of the group, told an industry news conference held by the China Iron and Steel Industry Association (CISA). Baowu said its steel units are mostly operating normally, including Wuhan Iron and Steel Co, which needs to provide oxygen to local hospitals and guarantee household utilities. Wuhan, in central China, is the epicentre of the outbreak that has killed over 2,000 people and caused widespread economic disruptions.

Coronavirus is double shock for China's giant aluminium sector - (Reuters) - The outbreak of the deadly coronavirus could not have come at a worse time for the aluminium market. A worker checks aluminium rolls at a warehouse inside an industrial park in Binzhou, Shandong province, China April 7, 2018. China Daily via REUTERS Global aluminium demand fell last year for the first time since the global financial crisis. Expectations of a demand recovery rested on China, which showed encouraging signs of a manufacturing revival towards the end of 2019. The virus and the accompanying quarantine measures have since chilled economic activity, representing a short-term demand shock for the world’s aluminium market. It’s why the London Metal Exchange (LME) aluminium price sank to a three-year low of $1,685 per tonne at the start of February. The fear is that China’s aluminium smelters will keep churning out metal even as the country’s demand implodes. Since China is the world’s largest producer of primary aluminium, accounting for 56% of global output last year, this could have huge ramifications. At the same time, China’s complex production logistics chain is undergoing massive stress and a supply shock is building upstream. DEMAND SHOCK Aluminium usage is highly exposed to the construction and transport sectors, meaning a double short-term hit to end-use demand. Chinese construction activity is being hampered by quarantine restrictions on workers returning from Lunar New Year holidays. Already weak automotive sales look set to collapse over the coming months. Passenger car sales slumped by 92% in the first half of February, according to the China Passenger Car Association. The more immediate concern is China’s aluminium processing sector, which converts metal into semi-manufactured products. Most fabricators tend to close their plants or at least run at reduced rates over the holidays. Many are yet to restart, being in locked-down quarantine zones.

It Begins- Chinese Business Conditions Crash Most On Record - For the past two weeks, even as the market took delight in China's doctored and fabricated numbers showing the coronavirus spread was "slowing", we warned again and again that not only was this not the case (which was confirmed by the latest data out of South Korea, Japan and now Italy), but that for all its assertions to the contrary, China's workers simply refused to go back to work (even with FoxConn offering its workers extra bonuses just to return to the factory) and as a result the domestic economy had ground to a halt, something we described previously in:

Unfortunately, one month after the start of the Lunar New Year it's not getting any better, as the latest high frequency updates out of China, courtesy of Goldman Sachs, demonstrate. First, here is China's daily coal consumption which have barely pushed off the lows, and are roughly 50% where they were a year ago this time.With coal demand in the doldrums, it is also to be expected that coal supply is depressed as well, and indeed coal volumes over the past week remain 25% lower than the past 3 years' average, and roughly 33% below the 2019 level. One of the better indicators of real-time commerce, traffic congestion, remains virtually unchanged, and substantially below where it was in previous years. Yet, hilariously, this being China even with no transport, no commerce, and virtually no power plant use, pollution is finally starting to ramp up. One wonders what is causing this if it's not coal demand, or transportation: maybe all those crematoriums working overtime?

Virus hits China's economic heart -- its small businesses. Over 85% expect to run out of cash within three months-- When Danny Lau reopened his aluminum facade panel factory in China's southern city of Dongguan last week, after an extended Lunar New Year break, less than a third of its roughly 200 migrant workers showed up. Most of his workers hail from central-western China, including 11 from Hubei Province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people. Many said they had been banned from leaving their villages as authorities race to contain the epidemic. Lau's business had already been hurt by the 25% tariff on aluminum products the U.S. imposed in its tit-for-tat trade war with China. Now he worries the production constraints will give American customers another reason to cancel orders and switch to Southeast Asian suppliers. This same double blow is hitting small and midsize enterprises across China, prompting a growing chorus of calls for the government to step in and offer lifelines. The stakes could not be higher: These smaller employers account for 99.8% of registered companies in China and employ 79.4% of workers, according to the latest official statistics. They contribute more than 60% of gross domestic product and, for the government, more than 50% of tax revenue. Companies like Lau's that have resumed some production are the lucky ones. Many factories and other businesses remain completely stalled due to the virus. Some owners can do little but pray that things return to normal before they careen off a financial cliff. Eighty-five percent of 1,506 SMEs surveyed in early February expect to run out of cash within three months, according to a report by Tsinghua University and Peking University. One-third of the respondents said the outbreak is likely to cut into their full-year revenue by more than 50%. "Most SMEs in China rely on operating revenue and they have fewer sources for funding" than large companies and state-owned enterprises, said Zhu Wuxiang, a professor at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management and a lead author of the report. Employers need to pay landlords, workers, suppliers and creditors -- regardless of whether they can regain full production capacity anytime soon. "The longer the epidemic lasts, the larger the cash gap drain will be," Zhu said, adding that companies affected by the trade war face a greater danger of bankruptcy because many are already heavily indebted. "Self-rescue will not be enough. The government will need to lend help."

China's central bank to ensure ample liquidity through targeted RRR cuts - (Reuters) - China’s central bank said on Thursday that it will ensure ample liquidity through targeted reserve requirement ratio (RRR) cuts in appropriate time.The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) will as far as possible reduce the impact of the coronavirus epidemic to help achieve economic goals for this year, PBOC vice governor Liu Guoqiang said at a presser in Beijing. Liu also said that China will keep the macro leverage ratio and prices stable.

China Mobile Phone Sales Crash Most On Record - China's mobile phone industry cratered in January as shipments plunged by more than a third, according to a new report from China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT). China shuttered dozens of cities, closed major manufacturing hubs, shutdown retail stores, and placed more than 700 million people in lockdown for virus containment purposes, creating one of the most massive demand shock the country has ever seen, resulting in the bust of the mobile phone industry in January. CAICT reported domestic mobile phone shipments were around 20.8 million units, down 38.9% year-over-year.  The report noted mobile phone shipments by local brands reached about 18.3 million units, down 42.9% year-over-year, which accounted for 88% of the domestic mobile phone shipments.  It also noted, smartphone shipments were 20.4 million units for the month, down 36.6% year-over-year, which accounted for nearly 98% of all domestic mobile phone shipments in the month.  We’ve cited several estimates in the last several weeks that made it entirely clear that China's economic paralysis would lead to a full meltdown of its tech industries.  The first hint was Qualcomm earlier this month, warned the virus outbreak would disrupt the mobile and smartphone industry.  On a quarterly view, research firm Canalys suggested China's smartphone sales could plunge upwards of 50% for 1Q, as retail phone stores and production of semiconductors/smartphones remain closed. "Vendors' planned product launches will be canceled or delayed, given that large public events are not allowed in China," Canalys said. International Data Corporation (IDC) estimated that shipments over the quarter could tumble by 30%.  TrendForce slashed its 1Q global smartphone production forecast by 12% Y/Y, due to factory closings across Greater China. It warned global smartphone production in 1Q would be around 275 million units, a 5-year low in production.

China auto sales plummet as coronavirus threatens to trigger global downturn - Car sales in China, the world’s largest automobile market, plunged 92 percent in the first two weeks of February compared to a year earlier. The fall was driven largely by the impact of the novel coronavirus, which continues to cause widespread disruption to economic activity and daily life both in China and a growing number of countries. In China, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, average sales dropped to a staggeringly low 811 vehicles a day in the first week of February, according to a report by the China Passenger Car Association. “The market is dead. There is no one buying cars,” Dalibor Petkovic, a China auto analyst, bluntly told the Financial Times. “We can’t expect an upsurge in sales for a while.” Stock markets internationally have fallen sharply over the last two days, as revised projections for the further global spread of the novel coronavirus have led to fears that the disease is increasingly likely to tip the already fragile world economy into a major recession. The US Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced its biggest two-day point decline in history since Monday, with other indexes in Asia and Europe seeing even bigger percentage declines. With a global jobs massacre already well underway, with over 500,000 auto-industry jobs cut in 2019 and at least 100,000 more projected for 2020, the international working class is being forced to shoulder the costs of the economic crisis. The areas of China most significantly impacted by the coronavirus, centered on the city of Wuhan (dubbed China’s “Motor City”) and the Hubei province, are also those which account for a substantial portion of both auto production and sales in the country. The Financial Times cited an analysis by LMC Automotive, which indicate that the regions with more than 500 cases of the coronavirus are responsible for 61 percent of passenger car sales and 54 percent of production. GM, Honda, Nissan, Renault, and the PSA Group all have auto plants within Wuhan. Hubei has announced it will continue its shutdown of non-essential business through March 11. Dealerships in the country expect sales to be down by as much as 80 percent for the month, according to a report by the China Automotive Dealership Association. Although roughly 20 percent of dealerships have showrooms open, sales are only at approximately five percent of their typical level. Both automakers and the Chinese state view the slump in sales with increasing nervousness, but have yet to undertake significant measures in response. Geely, one of China’s top automakers, recently launched an online buying service in an effort to make up for the drop in in-person purchases at dealerships. The Chinese government has signaled it will take as-yet undefined steps to offset the impact of the outbreak on the auto industry, with the commerce ministry stating last week that it would work to stabilize sales. Bloomberg News cited an unnamed source who indicated the government is considering reintroducing subsidies for electric vehicles.

China Reports Catastrophic Data- PMIs Crash To Record Low, Confirming Coronavirus Collapse -- One week ago, ahead of today's Chinese data release which would for the first time capture the devastation from the coronavirus pandemic, we wrote that "to those who have been following our series of high-frequency, daily indicators of China's economy, it will probably not come as a surprise that the world's second biggest economy has ground to a halt, its GDP set to post the first negative print in modern history. To everyone else who is just now catching up, we have some news: it's going to be bad."Specifically, we said that ahead of official Chinese economic data which will soon start capturing the period when the coronavirus crippled the country's economy, Nomura's Chief China economist Ting Lu pointed out that China’s Emerging Industries PMI (EPMI), which gauges momentum in the country’s high-tech industries and is closely correlated with official manufacturing PMI, slumped to 29.9 in February (from 50.1 in January!), its lowest-print on record, which was a "pure reflection of the devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak."What would this mean for the closely followed China manufacturing PMI? As Nomura added, "even adjusting for seasonality and expected progress in business resumption in the coming week, we estimate the official manufacturing PMI could drop to a range of 30-40 in Feb."In retrospect, it turns out that Nomura's dire forecast was optimistic, because moments ago China's National Statistics Bureau reported the latest, February PMIs and they were absolutely catastrophic:

  • Manufacturing PMI crashed to 35.7 in Feb, far below the 45.0 consensus estimate, and sharply down from 50.0 in January. A record low.
  • Non-Manufacturing PMI plummets to 28.9, also far below the 50.5 consensus, estimate, and down nearly 50% from the 54.1 in Jan. This too was a record low.

Japan Urges Telecommuting, Staggered Shifts To Curb Coronavirus (Reuters) - Japan urged businesses on Tuesday to have staff work from home to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and its top-flight soccer division announced it was postponing matches, just months before the country is due to host the Summer Olympics. A new government strategy for fighting the disease, unveiled at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, urged companies to recommend telecommuting for workers and stagger their shifts. People with symptoms of cold or fever were advised to stay at home, and event organizers told to consider whether to proceed with plans. Japan has 160 cases of infections from the disease known as COVID-19, as well as 691 discovered on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked south of Tokyo. On Tuesday, broadcaster NHK reported a fourth death among passengers. Japan has been preparing for years to host the Olympics, which begin in Tokyo in July. Its top flight soccer J.League said it had postponed seven cup matches scheduled for Wednesday and was considering postponing all domestic soccer through the first half of March. .. (Reuters) - A woman working as a tour-bus guide in Japan has tested positive for the coronavirus for a second time, Osaka’s prefectural government said, the first known person in the country to do so amid growing concerns about the spread of the infection. The second positive test comes as the number of confirmed cases in Japan rose to 186 by Thursday from around 170 the day before. Tokyo has urged big gatherings and sports events be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks to contain the virus while pledging the 2020 Olympic Games will still go ahead in the city. The 186 cases reported by Japan’s health ministry are separate from 704 reported from an outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise liner that was quarantined off Tokyo earlier this month. A total of seven people have died, including four from the ship. Though a first known case for Japan, second positive tests have been reported in China, where the disease originated late last year. The outbreak has spread rapidly and widely, infecting about 80,000 people globally and killing nearly 2,800, the vast majority in mainland China. The woman, a resident of Osaka, in western Japan, tested positive on Wednesday after developing a sore throat and chest pains, the prefectural government said in a statement, describing her as being in her forties. She first tested positive in late January and was discharged from hospital after recovering on Feb. 1, according to the statement.

As coronavirus looms over Olympics, Japan PM urges two-week curbs on sports events(Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on Wednesday for sports and cultural events to be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks, as two more coronavirus deaths heightened concerns the contagion might scupper the summer Tokyo Olympics. Abe’s call came as Tokyo’s baseball league said it would hold games without spectators until March 15. Two businesses in central Tokyo confirmed infections a day after the government told firms to get staff to work from home or stagger commutes. An 80-year-old man who had not traveled overseas and had no known contact with an infected person died in a Tokyo hospital, media reported, while the northern island of Hokkaido - the region most affected after Tokyo, reported a death, taking Japan’s total to six, including four from a cruise liner. Hokkaido will close some schools from Thursday through March 4. “Taking into account that the next one to two weeks are extremely important in stopping the spread of infection, the government considers there to be a large risk of transmission at sports, cultural events and large gatherings of people,” Abe said in parliament. By mid-afternoon on Wednesday, Japan had close to 170 cases of infections from the flu-like virus, separate from the 691 reported from a cruise ship quarantined off Tokyo this month.

PM Abe asks all of Japan schools to close over coronavirus - (Reuters) - Japan’s entire school system, from elementary to high schools, will be asked to close from Monday until spring break late in March to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday. The dramatic escalation of Japan’s fight against the virus follows rising criticism of what has been seen as a lukewarm government response. “This coming week or two are an extremely important period,” Abe told a coronavirus task force. “Prioritizing children’s’ health and safety above everything else, we will ask all the elementary, junior high and high schools across Japan to temporarily close from March 2 to spring break.” The Japanese school year ends in March, with spring vacation usually starting the last week of the month. A woman working as a tour bus guide was reinfected with the coronavirus, testing positive after having recovered from an earlier infection, Osaka’s prefectural government said. Her case, the first known of in Japan, highlighted how much is still unknown about the virus even as concerns grow about its global spread. The number of cases in Japan rose on Thursday to more than 200, up from the official tally of 186 late on Wednesday. On the main northern island of Hokkaido, 15 new cases, including two children under the age of 10, were confirmed. The government has urged that big gatherings and sports events be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks to contain the virus while pledging that the 2020 Summer Olympics will go ahead in Tokyo. But its handling of the virus has drawn increasing criticism, including from opposition politicians.

World Economy Shudders as Coronavirus Threatens Global Supply Chains WSJ - Manufacturers’ increased reliance on more interconnected China sees shortages ripple around the globe—The last time a coronavirus outbreak hit China in 2003, the global economy emerged relatively unscathed. Now, nearly two decades later, the growth-damping effects of a similar pathogen threaten to ripple around a world transformed by China’s boom. Chinese consumption and production power growth from Asia to North America, Europe and beyond. Manufacturers world-wide are tethered to China by the tentacles of a supply chain that relies on the country’s factories for many intermediate and finished goods.

Supply Chain Disruptions Impact On Global Growth- $570 Billion & Growing - In a previous post, we mentioned that stagflation is a risk that central planners are ignoring. However, this risk is not just an isolated challenge focused on economies like Mexico, India or Argentina. Even in countries like Germany and Japan the trend of inflation, particularly in non-replicable goods, is diverging from economic growth. Inflation is picking up, while growth is slowing down. Central banks continue to pump liquidity to disguise the rising risks to the global economy, but the coronavirus epidemic is showing to investors three important lessons:
  1. Containment of the epidemic is taking significantly more time than what many market participants estimated. Calls fro a rapid recovery that would not only offset the first-quarter impact but improve it, are disproved.
  2. The impact on supply chains is significantly larger than most analysts expected. China is now 17% of the global economy and provinces that count for 89% of the country’s exports remain in lockdown.
  3. Global excess capacity is a mitigating factor on rising inflation only for replicable and highly competitive goods. There is clearly ample capacity to offset supply chain disruptions in energy commodities, metals, and industrial goods but there are severe problems surfacing in sectors that are very dependent on Chinese supply, particularly auto parts and technology components.

Market participants started to realize last week that the coronavirus effect was not going to be a two-month issue that would be followed by strong growth. In a recent PriceWaterhouse Coopers report, it showed that the global impact could reach at least 0.7% of GDP. This estimate uses Eric Toner´s infected and casualty estimates (John Hopkins Center for Health Security) and the economic impact using McKibbins & Lee methodology (the ones that estimated the SARS impact).The key factor in this supply chain disruption risk is that while headline inflation may remain weak due to falling commodity prices, the prices of essential goods may continue to rise faster than official inflation and generate more unrest among citizens all over the world

 Disruption Escalates: Proctor And Gamble Says Over 17,000 Products Potentially Impacted By Coronavirus -While mom and dad on Main St. still aren't getting the dire warning that the coronavirus has been offering up to Asia and the rest of the Eastern world over the last several weeks, perhaps a lightbulb will finally go off when Jane Q. Public heads to the grocery store and is unable to buy shampoo and toothpaste.  Proctor and Gamble, one of the world's biggest "everyday product" manufacturers, has now officially warned that 17,600 of its products could be affected and disrupted by the coronavirus. The company's CFO, Jon Moeller, said at a recent conference that P&G used 387 suppliers across China, shipping more than 9,000 materials, according to said: “Each of these suppliers faces their own challenges in resuming operations.”And it's not just everyday consumer goods that are going to feel the impact of the virus.  Smartphones and cars are so far among the consumer products that have been hardest hit from the virus. In fact, according to TrendForce, "forecasts for product shipments from China for the first quarter of 2020 had been slashed, by 16% for smartwatches (to 12.1m units), 12.3% for notebooks (30.7m units) and 10.4% for smartphones (275m units). Cars have dropped 8.1% (19.3m units)."Their report states: “The outbreak has made a relatively high impact on the smartphone industry because the smartphone supply chain is highly labor-intensive. Although automakers can compensate for material shortage through overseas factories, the process of capacity expansion and shipping of goods is still expected to create gaps in the overall manufacturing process.”A separate coronavirus analysis by Mintec says that "Chinese demand for copper (it has hitherto been responsible for consuming half the world’s output), will fall by 500,000 tonnes this year, and falls in demand have already impacted prices. From December to January the price of copper fell 9.6%."The report notes: “Millions of people have been affected by the travel lockdown in Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak. This has been responsible for a glut of jet fuel and diesel on global markets at a time when petroleum supplies were already abundant.” Other products that have been negatively affected so far include pork, which is up 11% this month, chicken, garlic and dried ginger.

French Tourism Crashes By 35% Amid Virus Outbreak; Europe On Recession Watch -- French Minister of Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, told CNBC's Dan Murphy on Sunday at the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors' Meetings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that the Covid-19 outbreak will have a material impact on the French economy and the world. The country's finance minister warned France's tourism sector has plunged following the outbreak of the virus last month. "We have fewer tourists, of course, in France, about 30%, 40% less than expected," Maire said. "That's, of course, an important impact for the French economy," he said. Tourism represents 10% of GDP in the country and supports upwards of 3 million jobs. Maire said France welcomed 2.7 million Chinese tourists last year, "It won't be the same, of course, in 2020," he said, referring to the more than 200,000 flight cancellations since the virus broke out in China last month. France has reported 12 confirmed cases of the virus, and one death as the country "activates" 70 new hospitals in preparation for a much broader outbreak. Following a Sunday meeting with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Health minister Olivier Veran said: "Until now we have had [only] 38 health establishments prepared to welcome ill people - basically university hospitals [centres hospitaliers universitaires; CHUs].""I have decided, in agreement with the Prime Minister, that 70 establishments with a SAMU [urgent response team, service d'aide médicale urgente] will be activated tomorrow to increase our response capacity if necessary."Veran said the country would boost its "testing capacity," adding that protective gear, such as virus masks and biological suits, will be ordered in "large quantities."  He added: "We are acting quickly and decisively in the face of the threat of an epidemic...We are taking all the necessary measures to ensure the safety of the French people."

China's Tourism Ministry Warns Travelers To Avoid US Over 'Racist' Treatment Amid Outbreak - In retaliation for Washington's travel ban targeting Chinese citizens and recent visitors, not to mention the CDC and State Department travel advisories, Beijing is finally putting its foot down: China's Ministry of Culture & Tourism warned on Monday that Chinese citizens shouldn't travel to the US because of "excessive outbreak prevention measures."Yes, you read that right: China isn't contesting that the US has the outbreak under control. Rather, it believes the US has gone too far. After the WHO insisted that travel restrictions weren't necessary, the US and myriad other countries (most recently Israel) tightened their borders anyway.  Now, the People's Daily is accusing the US government of "unfair treatment of Chinese people". In other words, Beijing is playing the race card. Put another way: A government that has been accused of jailing millions of Muslims in de fact concentration camps is now arguing that the US's precautions to prevent a coronavirus outbreak were racist. People's Daily: China's Ministry of Culture & Tourism warns citizens not to travel to the US due to excessive #COVID19 outbreak prevention measures & a security situation which has led to unfair treatment of Chinese people. It also advises awareness of security measures.  Beijing claimed on Monday that tourists had received "unfair treatment" in parts of the US, and China's tourism bureau also warned that the "domestic security" situation in the US is lacking - possibly referring to several viral videos of Asian-Americans being berated in public, the Daily Mail reports.

Photos of deserted, nearly empty airports around the world show how coronavirus has decimated air travel 

How coronavirus has hit life in Switzerland as car shows and football matches are cancelled Switzerland on Friday cancelled football matches, carnival celebrations, concerts and the Geneva International Motor Show in a drastic bid to stem the country's new coronavirus outbreak in its early stages. The government announced it was suspending all public and private events with more than 1,000 participants until at least March 15th, invoking emergency powers to do so. The ban will even include a Catholic mass due to be held for the first time in 500 years on Saturday at the Geneva cathedral - a bastion of the Protestant Reformation. In Zurich, concerts by US shock rock pioneer Alice Cooper and guitarist Carlos Santana also had to be cancelled. The organisers of Baselworld, one of the world's biggest watch fairs, said on Friday they would cancel the 2020 event. "For health safety reasons and in accordance with the precautionary principle following the bans of large-scale public and private events, ... Baselworld announces that it has taken the decision to postpone the show," it said in a statement. Popular carnival feasts in Basel and the town of Payerne in western Switzerland will also not go ahead. "Large-scale events involving more than 1,000 people are to be banned. The ban comes into immediate effect and will apply at least until 15 March," the government said in a statement, after the country registered 15 cases. Hundreds of thousands of people typically attend the Geneva auto show. The government said that even for gatherings of fewer than 1,000 people "event organisers must carry out a risk assessment in conjunction with the competent cantonal authorities to decide whether or not the event can be held".

 World Bank, IMF considering 'virtual' meetings amid coronavirus scare: report - The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are considering either scaling back their Spring Meetings planned for April or holding them via teleconference amid growing concerns of the coronavirus, according to Reuters. The Spring Meetings are planned for April 17 through April 19 and are set to host 10,000 people from across the globe at their headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. As the virus grows in scope, the global economy has declined, particularly in China, where the virus originated. However, the virus has spread to Europe as well, with 447 cases confirmed in Italy alone as of Wednesday evening. The officials who spoke to Reuters noted that talks about the meetings are preliminary and will involve testing to see if they could be held virtually. Though specific officials spoke to Reuters under the condition of anonymity, the two entities also issued a joint statement to the wire service. "The question of arrangements for the Spring Meetings is one on which Bank and Fund have been coordinating with our respective Corporate Secretariats, which are our primary liaisons with shareholders," the statement read. "We anticipate a decision on the scale and scope of Spring Meetings will be made in the coming days." As Reuters noted, the World Bank previously canceled its meetings after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

$5 Trillion Wiped Out From World Stocks Amid Fastest Collapse In History - MSCI World Stocks collapsed from a record high into 'correction' in just five days. The plunge in global equities has wiped out more than $5 trillion in value, or equivalent to nearly Japan's annual GDP.  On Thursday afternoon, Guggenheim's Scott Minerd said, "this is possibly the worst thing I have seen in my career... it's hard to imagine a scenario in which you can contain the virus threat," adding that "Europe and China are probably already in recession and US GDP will take a 1.5-2.0% hit." "The stock market could be down 15-20%... and would likely force The Fed's hand."Guggenheim's Scott Minerd says the coronavirus crisis is possibly the worst thing he's ever seen in his career: "This has the potential to reel into something extremely serious"   tMSCI ACWI is a market capitalization-weighted index with broad equity market exposure across the world, plunged 10% in the last five days, its biggest drop since August 2011... The Dow Jones just saw its fastest collapse from an all-time peak since 1928, just ahead of The Great Depression. And the S&P 500 suffered its fastest peak-to-correction plunge ever...  As for the Federal Reserve’s ‘Not QE’ last-ditch effort to prop the stock market up last fall, all equity gains have been erased. As we noted yesterday, the worsening global threat from the virus prompted Goldman Sachs to revise its earnings growth story for 2020:"US companies will generate no earnings growth in 2020. We have updated our earnings model to incorporate the likelihood that the virus becomes widespread. Our revised baseline EPS estimates are $165 in 2020 (previously $174) and $175 in 2021 (previously $183), representing 0% and 6% growth. Our reduced forecasts reflect the severe decline in Chinese economic activity in 1Q, lower end-demand for US exporters, supply chain disruption, a slowdown in US economic activity, and elevated uncertainty. Consensus forecasts imply EPS will climb 7% in 2020 and 11% in 2021." The drop in stocks shouldn't be a total surprised given the plunge in EPS expectations... But we give the last word to's Sven Henrich, who highlights the real tragedy in all this... Most likely the popular narrative will be to blame the coronavirus as the unforeseen event, nobody could have seen this coming, this was not something anyone could have prepared for. While that’s true on the surface it completely misses the larger point: The Fed, with it liquidity operations masked all the underlying issues in the markets over the past year. We had no earnings growth in 2019, we had multiple expansion. The bond market never confirmed the reflation trade, Gold had been rallying for months signaling something was amiss. And now the Fed left itself vulnerable to not being able to deal with a real crisis and basically openly invited people to TINA chase stocks into high valuations. And now everyone will blame the virus, but not the reckless chase into stocks into historic valuations to begin with.

Coronavirus threatens the global economy with a ‘sudden stop’ - Covid-19 is self-evidently beyond the point of meaningful containment. Virologists and infectious disease experts have known for three weeks that this was highly probable, and certainly not a mere tail-risk as suggested by equity market pricing. We are now there.The global economy may be heading for some sort of "sudden stop" in supply chains, trade flows and tourism more akin to the outbreak of the First World War than the Lehman or dotcom crises.What happens or does not happen in Wuhan has been overtaken by events in Iran, Italy, the Pacific Rim and no doubt Africa as well if there were surveillance data. The bond market is already signaling a downward lurch into global deflation. Yields on 10-year US Treasuries have fallen to all-time lows. Evercore ISI says zero yields are coming into "plausible" range. The question is whether this will be a short-sharp episode followed by a V-shaped recovery in the second quarter (priced by stocks), or a slower elongated "U-shaped" recovery (priced by the dollar, Swiss franc, and safe haven bonds), or a Spanish cedilla (priced by almost nobody) as real fear of central bank impotence starts to take hold in the markets for the first time.I don’t wish to digress too far into Covid-19 science, except to point out that much of the global virology fraternity has lost patience with the World Health Organisation – deemed a political captive of China – and is exasperated by the reflexive reassurances of public health officials.I suggest tuning out media noise – much of it dwelling on the malevolent distraction of which individual may have been spreading Covid-19 – and going straight to research papers being released daily by PubMed Central, the data bank of the US National Library of Medicine.That way you avoid the sort of misunderstanding I just heard on the BBC, which stated that the death rate is comparable to flu. No, it is not. The average morbidity of flu annually is 0.1pc; Covid-19 is an order of far greater magnitude.The latest tracking data as of Feb 22 (unreliable, but the best we have) is that the mortality rate is 4pc in Wuhan, 2.8pc in Hubei, and 0.8pc in other regions of China, though all figures are creeping up as slow deaths hit the data.There can be long lag times after infection so it is too early to infer ratios from South Korea, Italy and Iran, but this is surely more like the Spanish Flu of 1918 than anything we are used to. Chinese data suggests that roughly 14pc of those infected over the age of 80 are dying.

NYT: "The Coronavirus Is Not A Civilization-Ender But..." -- Just because the New York Times Opinion Section is a perennial object of ridicule by both the right and the left doesn't mean its writers don't occasionally make a good point.And today, we'd like to draw our readers' attention to a column published Tuesday by Ross Douthat, a member of the NYT's editorial board.As Douthat points out, the outbreak has put Democrats, and liberals more broadly, in a difficult position. Eager to jump at every opportunity to criticize President Trump, many are secretly hoping the outbreak gets worse in the US because it could hurt Trump's chances of reelection. Many, including top Dems like Schumer, Pelosi etc., have already accused the administration of being unprepared and not doing enough. But if the outbreak does get worse, it could deal another savage blow to the system of global frictionless exchange of people, goods, services and capital, by making countries more suspicious of allies and enemies alike.This is why liberals are bashing Trump while arguing that pointing out China's failures is "racist."Republicans also have an incentive to play down the outbreak, as Trump is doing: They need to keep the market buoyant and stave off a recession that could tilt the election in favor of the insurgent socialists backing Bernie Sanders.In other words: The virus may not be a civilization-ender, as Douthat points out. But it could be the straw that breaks globalization's back.  Read the text below:

Helicopter money is here -- Amid the border closures and flight cancellations, comes one trip that — were it not for the coronavirus — might never have happened. The money helicopter has arrived. Via the South China Morning Post: Hong Kong permanent residents aged 18 and above will each receive a cash handout of HK$10,000 (US$1,200) in a HK$120 billion (US$15 billion) relief deal rolled out by the government to ease the burden on individuals and companies, while saving jobs. Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po confirmed an earlier Post report when he unveiled the payment during his budget speech on Wednesday morning, along with a full guarantee on loans taken out by companies to pay wages and taxes. This follows similar efforts by Macau, which will offer residents shopping vouchers, and Singapore, which will give people between $100 and $300 in a one-off payment.  Much touted but seldom tried, economists have long seen helicopter money as the most radical tool that central bankers could deploy to fight a weak economy. The idea is usually credited to doyen of monetary economics Milton Friedman.* Unlike most monetary policy measures, people tend to get excited when it is mentioned — unsurprisingly given the image of loads hundred dollar bills being thrown out of helicopters and falling to the ground that it conjures up. It’s all very Hollywood in a way that, say, buying bonds on electronic screens is not. However in these latest instances it’s the politicians leading the charge. We are not sure whether that would happen in somewhere more fiscally conservative, such as Northern Europe, or whether it would fall on the shoulders of the European Central Bank. Hopefully, we will not need to find out.  Has the measure worked in the past? The most often cited example of the policy in action comes from Japan, which in 1999 dolled out consumption vouchers that people had to spend within six months. The results on that occasion were far from staggering. Will it work now? We haven’t a clue. Some say officials should just cut taxes instead. Maybe, but that is far less exciting. It might all depends on how the policy is designed and whether people think more trouble is in store (when they often decide to save one-off payments instead). But if the virus continues to haunt us consumers in the weeks and months ahead, expect more authorities to try it.

China Has More Billionaires Than U.S. And India Combined: Hurun Report -Despite a slowdown in the economy and trade tensions with the U.S., China had 799 billionaires in 2019, more than both the U.S. and India put together, according to the annual Hurun Global Rich List, which measured the wealth of some 2,816 billionaires from 71 countries and regions. “China today has more billionaires than the U.S. and India combined,” said Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman of the Shanghai-based Hurun Report, which published the rankings Wednesday. He added that a boom in tech valuations and strong stock markets in China, the U.S. and India pushed the number of global billionaires to a record high of 2,816. In 2019, China created 182 billionaires, three times the number as those in the U.S., according to the Hurun Report. Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who retired in September last year, climbed a place to become the world’s 21st richest person with a net worth of $45 billion last year, retaining his title as China’s wealthiest person. Ma ranked just ahead of Tencent’s Pony Ma with a net worth of $44 billion and Xu Jiayin of property developer Evergrande with $33 billion. An overseas pushback against Huawei and a U.S. blacklisting did not prevent the company’s founder, 76-year-old Ren Zhengfei from growing his personal fortune by 7% to $3 billion. He ranked at 903rd, the same as U.S. President Donald Trump. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was the world’s richest man for a third consecutive year with a $140 billion fortune, according to the list.

CAA: Donald Trump will discuss religious freedom in India with PM Modi during visit, say reports - United States President Donald Trump will discuss the matter of religious freedom in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to India next week, the White House said on Friday, according to media reports. Trump will be in India with a 12-member delegation on February 24 and 25, and visit Ahmedabad and New Delhi.“President Trump will talk about our shared tradition of democracy and religious freedom both in his public remarks and then certainly in private,” PTI quoted an unidentified senior official as saying at a conference call. “He will raise these issues, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is extremely important to this administration.”The official was responding to a question about the president’s plans to speak to Modi about the ongoing all-India protests against theCitizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens, ANI reported. “We do have this shared commitment to upholding our universal values, the rule of law,” the official added. “We have great respect for India’s democratic traditions and institutions, and we will continue to encourage India to uphold those traditions.”The official pointed out that religious freedom, respect for religious minorities and “equal treatment of all religious” are protected by the Indian Constitution. “So this is something that is important to the president and I’m sure it will come up.”The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11, offers a fast track to citizenship for non-Muslim undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The government’s critics fear that the law, along with the citizens’ register – which will be used to identify undocumented immigrants – will be used to harass and disenfranchise Muslims. Last year, a report by the United States Congress’ think tank had said the citizenship law and the NRC might affect the “status of India’s large Muslim minority of roughly 200 million”. “Its [Citizenship Amendment Act] key provisions allowing immigrants of six religions from three countries a path to citizenship while excluding Muslims may violate certain Articles of the Indian Constitution,” said the two-page report by the Congressional Research Service, referring to Articles 14 and 15.

The Fight Against US-Styled IP Is Not Only in Pharma, but Also on the Farm Front - As the countdown for President Donald Trump’s India visit begins, there has been much speculation about the nature and extent of the trade deal that could or could not be agreed upon between the two countries.Irrespective of all other details, an issue that is certainly on the table is intellectual property (IP). India will need to tread with caution in the light of demands on that front not only in pharma, but also in the area of agriculture. Lest it be forgotten, the US government raised a dispute at the World Trade Organisation’s dispute settlement body (DSB) soon after the WTO was set up. On July 2, 1996, the US requested consultations with India under the WTO concerning the alleged absence of patent protection for not only pharmaceutical but also agricultural chemical products in India, which it claimed were in violation of the provisions (Articles 27, 70.8 and 70.9) of WTO’s TRIPS Agreement. India lost that case and the amendments to the country’s Patent Act of 1970 subsequently followed. But what is critical to retain and respect in the domestic patent law vis-a-vis agriculture is Section 3(j) that excludes from patentability “plants and animals in whole or in any part thereof other than microorganisms  but including seeds, varieties, and species, and essentially biological processes for production or propagation of plants and animals”. US seed multinational corporations (MNCs) want nothing less than patents on seeds. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) annually prepares a report from a review of the state of IP protection and enforcement in US trading partners around the world. This report has been made every year since 1989 under its Trade Act of 1974.In the report, it puts countries into different categories depending on the level of IP standards and how those are enforced. This exercise by USTR is to identify trade barriers to US companies from what it sees as inadequacies to IP protection in other countries. Ever since 1989, India has repeatedly been placed in either the ‘Priority Foreign Country’ category or listed on the ‘Priority Watch List’ for not having the IP levels that US wants. Therefore, an IP agreement can be anticipated. Any such agreement can only be about how to discipline India on IP.

More than a dozen killed, hundreds injured as New Delhi riots overshadow Trump visit - (Reuters) - More than a dozen people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes between opposing groups of protesters in New Delhi, hospital officials said on Tuesday, as riots overshadowed U.S. President Donald Trump’s first visit to India. The clashes, the worst in the capital since unrest over a new citizenship law began in December, started at the weekend but turned deadly on Monday. Violence erupted again in multiple areas of northeast Delhi on Tuesday, just miles away from where Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met for talks. India’s capital has been a focus of unrest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, which makes it easier for non-Muslims from three neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship. Local TV channels showed huge clouds of smoke billowing from a tire market that had been set ablaze and Reuters witnesses saw mobs wielding sticks and stones walking down streets in parts of northeast Delhi, amid further incidents of stone-throwing. India’s junior home minister G. Kishan Reddy told Reuters’ partner ANI on Monday that the violence was “a conspiracy to defame India”, at a time when Trump was visiting the country. Some of those protesting at the citizenship law alleged, however, that Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters were targeting Muslims and instigating the violence.  “We have no weapons, but they are firing at us,” said Mohammad Shakir, a demonstrator opposed to the law. “This BJP is targeting Muslims. They want to turn India into a Hindu country.” The Hindu nationalist BJP denies any bias against India’s more than 180 million minority Muslims. Reuters witnesses at a local hospital spoke with both Hindu and Muslim victims, who were injured in the violence on Tuesday. A few victims on both sides of the violence had suffered bullet wounds, and many had visible injuries on their heads and bodies.

As Trump embraces Modi, communal violence convulses India’s capital - US President Donald Trump has been feting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a two-day visit to India, even as the vile consequences of the fascistic, communalist policies pursued by Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government are being bloodily spelled out on the streets of Delhi.Just hours before Trump arrived in India’s capital Monday, local BJP leaders instigated anti-Muslim violence in northeast Delhi that has continued today and at the time of writing (8 p.m. local Delhi time) has resulted in at least 10 deaths. Delhi has been a centre of the nationwide mass protests against the BJP government’s anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its plans to bully and ostracize Muslims in the name of a crackdown on “illegal immigrants.” Since the law was rushed through parliament last December, hundreds of Muslim women have been staging an around-the-clock sit-down protest in the Shaheen Bagh neighbourhood of South Delhi, blocking a major road to all but emergency traffic.The CAA is itself only the latest in an ever-escalating series of anti-democratic, communalist actions taken by the Modi government. In August, it stripped Jammu and Kashmir, India’s lone Muslim majority state, of its semi-autonomous constitutional status and has placed the region under a massive security lockdown ever-since.During the just completed campaign for the Delhi National Capital Territory assembly election, BJP leaders celebrated the violent suppression of anti-CAA protests in Uttar Pradesh and other BJP-led states and led crowds in calling for the shooting down of “traitors” and “anti-nationals.” (See: “Shoot them down”—India’s government incites violence against opponents of its anti-Muslim citizenship law) From all reports, Delhi BJP leader Kapil Mishra initiated the violence currently convulsing India’s capital. On Sunday, he launched a pro-CAA counter-protest, involving the occupation of a street in northeast Delhi by hundreds of his Hindu communalist supporters and issued an “ultimatum” to Delhi police. Mishra vowed that his supporters would clear Delhi’s street of anti-CAA protesters, if the police didn’t do it within “three days.”Incidents of rock-pelting, between pro- and anti-CAA protesters, soon followed. But the violence escalated dramatically on Monday, when, according to the Chennai-based Hindu newspaper, mobs began singling out Muslims “whether they were on foot or in vehicles” and began thrashing them.Despite what the Modi government, which controls the police forces in the Delhi Territory, says is a massive police mobilization, the violence continued to escalate Monday and today.The Wire reports Muslim shops have been vandalized and torched by communalist mobs shouting, “Jai Shri Ram” or “Long Live the (Hindu God) Ram.”

Delhi Riots: Mosques and Huts Burned, Children Attacked, at Least 2 Dead in Mustafabad - The Mustafabad area in north east Delhi also saw violence on Tuesday evening as a Hindutva mob attacked the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protest site, injuring several people including children. According to residents, a mob of around 50 men gathered in the area and began to pelt stones. At least two mosques in the area have been vandalised and attacked with stones, by the same mob. Residents told The Wire that men armed with rods and pistols gathered outside the mosques in the area and attacked them. At the time, several children were inside the mosque and were attacked. The locals rescued several children from the mosque and some have severe injuries. The Wire saw a 15-year-old boy with severe head and leg injuries being rescued from inside the mosque. He was unable to walk and claimed that he had been attacked by rods. According to locals, around 20 people have been injured in the violence at Mustafabad. Several people have received gunshot wounds. At least one person has died and was brought dead to a local clinic while two others were brought injured. The Delhi high court was told that a second person has also died in Mustafabad. The Wire has visuals of the dead and the injured at the clinic, but is refraining from publishing them at this time. In the area, several houses and shops have been set on fire and continue to be ablaze.

Mosque set on fire as violent protests continue across New Delhi - Al Jazeera - A mosque has been set on fire in the Indian capital New Delhi as violent protests continue across the city with the death toll rising to 11. Indian website The Wire reported that a mob shouting "Jai Shri Ram", translated to "hail Lord Ram", paraded around the burning mosque in the Ashok Nagar area of the capital on Tuesday. Video footage shared on social media showed a mob climbing to the top of the mosque's minaret where they attempted to plant a saffron flag. Local media reported that shops in the area were also being targeted by the mob. Police imposed a restriction on large gatherings in northeast Delhi as reports emerged of stone-pelting and more structures being set ablaze. "I can confirm that 11 people have died in the violence, including a policeman who died yesterday," Sunil Kumar, medical superintendent of Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, where the injured were taken to, told Al Jazeera. Another official at the hospital, Rajesh Kalra, told AFP news agency that 31 people, including 10 who were seriously hurt, were admitted earlier on Tuesday. "Since yesterday, we've been calling the police to enforce a curfew, to send reinforcements," Saurabh Sharma, a student from a riot-hit area who took his injured friend to the hospital, told AFP. Anil Mittal, a senior police officer, said approximately 150 people were injured in the violence that started as US President Donald Trump arrived on a two-day India trip. "Some of the people brought in had gunshot wounds," Rajesh Kalra, additional medical superintendent at the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, said of Monday's violence. Fresh violence has been reported from Muslim populated areas such as Karawal Nagar, Maujpur, Bhajanpura, Vijay Park and Yamuna Vihar, while stones were thrown in neighbourhoods such as Maujpur. Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal appealed to residents to maintain peace after an urgent meeting of his newly elected legislators in the capital. The clashes erupted on Sunday after supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed by Parliament last December, attacked anti-government protest sites. The CAA, dubbed "anti-Muslim", has triggered nationwide protests, especially by Muslims.

 India: Death toll in BJP-instigated violence in Delhi rises to 38 - After three days during which Delhi was convulsed by horrific communal violence, instigated by local leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), police and government authorities claimed Thursday that “order” had been restored to India’s national capital. By all accounts, Delhi and especially the city’s northeast—ground-zero for the city’s worst communal violence in decades— remain on tenterhooks. Yesterday, thousands of police and paramilitaries were deployed, and Delhi’s streets and the city’s northeast remained under curfew and other restrictions under Section 144 of the country’s criminal code. With the violence subsiding, traumatized Delhi residents began to take stock of the damage to their homes, shops, neighbourhoods, and lives. Whether the Muslims who fled in terror from dwellings in integrated areas will be able to return to their homes—now, or ever—is entirely unclear. Yesterday, as more bodies were found and several persons who had previously been hospitalized succumbed to their injuries, the official death toll rose by 10 to 38. The seriously injured number in the hundreds. This week’s events constitute far and away the worst outbreak of communal violence in Delhi since 1984, when Congress Party leaders instigated an anti-Sikh pogrom, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Evidence, including from CCTV footage, photographs and cell-phone videos, has begun to emerge that depicts not only vicious communalist attacks on Muslims and the torching of Muslim-owned homes and businesses, but also the connivance of the Delhi police in Hindu supremacist violence. There are numerous eyewitness accounts of police officers allowing Hindu thugs to attack Muslims unimpeded and even joining in their attacks. Although the Delhi National Capital Territory (NCT) is governed by a rival party, the Delhi police are under the control of the national BJP government, not the NCT administration, and directly answerable to Home Minister Amit Shah, the chief henchman of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Shah, like Modi, is a notorious Hindu supremacist. The BJP is furiously trying to shift the blame for the Delhi rampage onto its political rivals. This includes claims that the opposition parties “agitated” Muslims and encouraged “violent” antigovernment protests over the past two months, with their denunciations of the recently adopted and patently anti-Muslim, Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). But nothing can cover up the political responsibility of Modi and his BJP government for the explosion of Hindu communalist violence in India’s capital.

Malaysia’s Mahathir submits resignation, ‘quits’ his party  - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced his resignation but was asked to stay on as interim leader by the country's monarch. Mahathir said in a two-line statement that he had informed the country's king of his resignation at 1pm Kuala Lumpur time (05:00 GMT) on Monday. Mahathir also reportedly resigned from his own party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, according to Reuters news agency, citing three sources. Mahathir's party also announced that it was quitting the ruling government coalition, Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope), casting doubt on the future of the partnership. Mahathir's decision follows a weekend of political wrangling, after it was reported on Sunday night that his party was planning to form a new government that would exclude his anointed successor, Anwar Ibrahim. The king accepted Mahathir's resignation after meeting with him later on Monday, Chief Secretary Mohd Zuki Ali said in a statement. "However, His Highness has given his assent to appoint Mahathir Mohamad as interim prime minister, while waiting for the appointment of the new prime minister. Hence until then, (Mahathir) will manage the country's affairs until a new prime minister and cabinet are appointed," Mohd Zuki said.

Protesting Haitian Police Exchange Gunfire With Soldiers Outside National Palace - Haitian police officers exchanged gunfire for hours Sunday with soldiers of the newly reconstituted army outside the national palace, in a dangerous escalation of protests over police pay and working conditions. At least three police officers were wounded, fellow officers told The Associated Press. The army’s high command said in an online statement that a soldier had been wounded by a bullet in the back. Haiti’s raucous three-day Carnival celebration was to have started Sunday afternoon in Port-au-Prince and other major cities but the government announced Sunday night that Carnival was cancelled in the capital “to avoid a bloodbath.” Police protesters and their backers had burned dozens of Carnival floats and stands at recent protests, saying they did not believe the country should be celebrating during a crisis. Shortly after noon Sunday, AP journalists saw dozens of men who said they were off-duty officers march with hundreds of supporters toward the palace in the latest in days of demonstrations demanding better pay for Haitian law-enforcement officers. The protest stopped outside the army headquarters, which faces the palace. AP journalists then saw soldiers at the headquarters building fire into the air. Shortly afterward, an exchange of fire erupted between the soldiers and police. It was not clear which side began firing at the other first.

French Car Market Slammed 18%, Adding To Global Auto Industry Meltdown - The French car market has fallen a staggering 18% since the beginning of the year, demonstrating that the recession is running far and deep - and this is without the impact of the coronavirus hitting France. Nissan West Europe Managing Director Guillaume Boisseau at a press conference outside Paris on Monday: "This is very preoccupying." The French sales slump is being attributed to a pull forward of sales to the end of 2019 in order to skirt new emission rules, in addition to tax modifications, according to Bloomberg.  Boisseau expects the French market to be "slightly down" this year and Nissan has held firm on its goal to grow sales in France for the upcoming year after a 27% drop last year. Since the beginning of the year, Nissan sales in France are up 11%. We'll see if those forecasts are revised as the coronavirus makes its way through Europe.Meanwhile, one silver lining for France has been its EV market. All electric models jumped 258% in January despite the market falling 13% over the same course of time, according to CleanTechnica. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles were up 238% over the same course of time.

Leaked Reports Show EU Police Are Planning a Pan-European Network of Facial Recognition Databases The Intercept  EU Police Push for Pan-European Facial Recognition Network -- According to leaked internal European Union documents, the EU could soon be creating a network of national police facial recognition databases. A report drawn up by the national police forces of 10 EU member states, led by Austria, calls for the introduction of EU legislation to introduce and interconnect such databases in every member state. The report, which The Intercept obtained from a European official who is concerned about the network’s development, was circulated among EU and national officials in November 2019. If previous data-sharing arrangements are a guide, the new facial recognition network will likely be connected to similar databases in the U.S., creating what privacy researchers are calling a massive transatlantic consolidation of biometric data.  The report was produced as part of discussions on expanding the Prüm system, an EU-wide initiative connecting DNA, fingerprint, and vehicle registration databases for mutual searching. A similar system exists between the U.S. and any country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program, which includes the majority of EU countries; bilateral agreements allow U.S. and European agencies to access one another’s fingerprint and DNA databases.  The European Commission has also, separately, paid 500,000 euros to a consortium of public agencies led by the Estonian Forensic Science Institute to “map the current situation of facial recognition in criminal investigations in all EU Member States,” with the aim of moving “towards the possible exchange of facial data,” according to a project presentation sent to national representatives in Brussels.  “This is concerning on a national level and on a European level, especially as some EU countries veer towards more authoritarian governments,” said Edin Omanovic, advocacy director for Privacy International. Omanovic worries about a pan-European face database being used for “politically motivated surveillance” and not just standard police work. The possibility of pervasive, unjustified, or illegal surveillance is one of many critiquesof facial recognition technology. Another is that it is notoriously inaccurate, particularly for people of color.

EU police departments preparing massive international facial recognition database Internal documents leaked to The Intercept show that the European Union (EU) is creating the legislative framework for implementing an international facial recognition database that will likely be integrated with a similar system already in place in the US. The Intercept reported on Friday that an unnamed European official “who is concerned about the network’s development” leaked information revealing that Austria is leading 10 EU police departments “to introduce and interconnect such databases in every member state.” The Austria-led report states that face recognition is a “highly suitable” method for identifying suspects and should be implemented “as quickly as possible.” The report was circulated in November 2019 among EU officials and representatives from individual countries as part of ongoing discussions about the development of a continent-wide biometric data repository. Known as the Prüm system, the database enables DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data to be mutually searched by law enforcement and EU intelligence services across all 27 member countries. The Intercept report states that the preparations for the legislation have included an investment of €700,000 (US$750,000) in a study by the consulting firm Deloitte “on possible changes to the Prüm system, with one part of the work looking at facial recognition technology” and €500,000 paid to a consortium of agencies to “map the current situation of facial recognition in criminal investigations in all EU Member States.” One of the leaked documents was a project presentation that was sent to national representatives in Brussels that outlined the goal of the initiative as moving “towards the possible exchange of facial data” among EU countries. The Intercept report explains that legislation was passed by the EU last April that “established a database that will hold the fingerprints, facial images, and other personal data of up to 300 million non-EU nationals, merging data from five separate systems.” When Deloitte initially proposed to the 10 police forces that facial images be integrated into this system, “the idea was met with unanimous opposition from law enforcement officials.” However, the police organizations recognize the value of having all European facial recognition systems linked with each other and with the US. The Intercept writes that as early as 2004, the US Embassy in Brussels was calling for “expansive exchanges and sharing all forms of data, including personal data.” Since 2015, the Department of Homeland Security has demanded data sharing agreements with countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. There are no US laws governing this unconstitutional activity, which is a violation of at least the First and Fourth Amendments. A face image gathered by security services at an airport or at a highway toll booth can be combined with travel details and license plate information and stored into a federal criminal database without the permission or knowledge of the individual being photographed.

Is Europe over (central)banked? -The Economist has a little article in this week’s edition querying the vast staff counts employed at Europe’s central banks – that’s the European Central Bank as well as the national central banks of the nation states that use the single currency. Via its website:Many national central banks in the euro area have shed staff in the two decades since they ceded many of their responsibilities to the ECB. Yet they still look flabby: the central banks of Germany, France and Italy have many more employees than the Bank of England, whose duties have grown over the same period.The size of some of the national central banks, more than 21 years on from the euro’s introduction, is staggering. Here are the figures, put together by Central Banking Publications, a trade journal:The French and Germans have central banks that are more than double the size of the Bank of England (4,502) and the Bank of Japan (4,636), despite having similar-sized economies. The Economist then points out that the US central bank is an even bigger operation than any of Europe’s national central banks. But we don’t agree with the article’s insinuation that it’s a less efficient set-up.  The Federal Reserve in Washington and the 12 regional Feds dotted around the country do employ more than 21,000 (again, the figures are from Central Banking Publications):   But that’s less than half the 48,500 that work for central banks managing the euro. And the Fed is in charge of the world’s most important currency, represents a bigger economy, while its population is only marginally smaller.

The EU and UK: A collapse in trust ahead of trade talks - For the EU and UK it was not a good week on the trust front. It began with what was described as a "sniping" speech by David Frost in Brussels, and ended with both sides all but accusing each other of bad faith over the level playing field issue and whether or not a Canada-style trade deal was on offer. In between, disagreements smouldered over the obligations of the Irish Protocol, there was a bizarre appearance by the Elgin Marbles, and what the EU side saw as a snide question from Number 10's official Twitter account over what kind of trade deal was on offer. "If a politician had said it, fine," complained one source. "But it’s at a time when we’re trying to build some semblance of a relationship. It really pissed people off." All of this just a few weeks ahead of the trade negotiations. On Monday there were great expectations around the speech by David Frost, Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator, at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) London saw it as an opportunity for a Brussels audience to finally "get" some fundamental UK positions - where better than at the former alma mater of no small number of senior EU civil servants, including Michel Barnier’s deputy Clara Martinez Alberola. Frost spoke at length about his intellectual journey from being a "typical pro-European" on assignment in Brussels in 1993, to turning against the EU through an every day "form of cognitive dissonance...about the value of my work". Brexit, he said, was not a reaction against austerity but "a revolt against a system - against as it were, an 'authorised version’ of European politics, against a system in which there is only one way to do politics". Rather than indicate where this "authorised version" fell down, Frost steered the narrative towards an abstract set of markers: Europe lacked the "organic creation" of Edmund Burke’s nation state, which was "entwined with custom, tradition and spirit" and so could never win the allegiance of the British. Brexit heralded, therefore, the return of the nation state; "who can deny that we see something a bit like it in different forms across the whole continent of Europe," said Frost. David Frost Critics would say the EU has never attempted to mimic a nation state nor the organic impulses of tradition and spirit, and that, shorn of the federalist ambitions of the 1980s, it has since focused on issues that are cross border in nature, or that pose a global challenge that would overwhelm a single nation state acting on its own. Whatever the arguments, Frost’s references to France and the failures of the French Revolution were seen as deliberately rankling Paris as it holds a tough line on the level playing field issue (an idea dismissed by British sources).

Downing Street rejects EU’s ‘onerous’ opening trade offer -  No 10 has accused the EU of trying to give the UK a worse trade deal than those offered to the US, Canada and Japan, as the two sides clashed ahead of crucial talks scheduled to take just 40 days. With the opening round of talks due to start on Monday, Downing Street publicly rejected the EU’s opening offer for a trade deal and said it did not recognise the need for a “level playing field” for competition. It said Brussels was trying to impose “onerous commitments” that would undermine the UK’s legal autonomy and right to set its own regulations. “The EU has respected the autonomy of other major economies around the world such as Canada and Japan when signing trade deals with them. We just want the same,” a No 10 spokesman said. “We agree the UK’s trade with the EU is significant. The US’s [trade] is on the same scale – yet that did not stop the EU being willing to offer the US zero tariffs without the kind of level playing field commitments or the legal oversight they have put in today’s mandate.” The EU’s mandate stated that any future relationship with the UK should be “underpinned by robust commitments to ensure a level playing field for open and fair competition, given the EU and the UK’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence”. This accords with the political declaration signed by both parties when Brexit took place. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, also unveiled a compromise position on regulation that falls short of requiring the UK to follow all EU rules in future. The offer involves Brussels retaining the right to apply tariffs or other sanctions if any divergence between the two sides over time leads to “disruptions of the equal condition of competition”, with EU law being the “reference point”. However, Downing Street reacted negatively to the suggestion and claimed it did not recognise the need for a “level playing field” between the UK and EU at all, in spite of the goals of the political declaration. “Level playing field is an EU construct, not a piece of terminology which we use,” Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said. “We have been very clear on our commitment to discuss open and fair competition as part of negotiations, but we will not accept any demands for the UK to follow EU rules, just as we would not expect the EU to accept UK laws.” Johnson’s spokesman also accused the EU of reneging on the political declaration by not sticking to its timetable governing talks on financial services and data adequacy. The first four days of talks are due to start on Monday, with fresh rounds every couple of weeks alternating in location between London and Brussels. The two sides expect 10 rounds of four days, taking the total time set aside to about 40 days before the autumn.

The EU will tell Britain that it cannot have a trade deal unless it bans chlorinated chicken The European Union is set to tell Boris Johnson's UK government that it cannot have a free trade deal unless it agrees to continue to prohibit chlorinated chicken and other banned imports from the US.The EU's negotiating guidelines, which the bloc will publish on Tuesday, will say that the UK must uphold the EU's strict rules relating to food hygeine and animal welfare, according to The Guardian newspaper.The key clause states that both the EU and Britain must maintain "health and product sanitary quality in the food and agriculture sector" as part of a post-Brexit free trade agreement.It comes amid growing concern in the UK that Johnson's government is preparing to compromise on food standards in order to make it easier to strike a wide-ranging free trade deal with the Donald Trump administration.The UK Environment Secretary George Eustice at the weekend refused to explicitly rule out the UK accepting chlorinated chicken into its markets as part of a free trade deal with the US. Prime Minister Johnson has insisted that the UK will not lower its food standards now it has left the EU.However, the National Farmers Union wants concrete reassurances and has called on the UK government to include legal safeguards for food in legislation called the Agriculture Bill. The UK government is refusing to do so.

The Race to Slash ‘Red Tape’ in Post-Brexit Britain Has Begun. How Can It Be Resisted? -- Shortly before leaving office, the former Chancellor Sajid Javid announced a Brexit ‘red tape challenge’ for the upcoming budget. For avid followers of the deregulation agenda, these are three words that have become all too familiar. Javid is merely the latest in a long line of ministers to use them. Despite Javid’s departure, this looks set to be a big year for cuts to regulations, as the UK and EU prepare to negotiate their new economic relationship. Today the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has called on the government to “minimise red tape through negotiations so companies can focus on jobs and growth.” They won’t be the last lobby group to do so. In this context, it is important to understand the ideology underlying the ‘red tape’ agenda, and why big business embraces it so wholeheartedly. We urgently need better healthcare, large-scale environmental action, safe buildings and food, and well-defended labour rights.  Together with privatisation, tax cuts for high earners and corporations and public funding cuts, deregulation is a central tenet of neoliberalism – the economic and political philosophy that has dominated policy-making in Britain since the 1980s.  The process of deregulation comes in many shapes and forms. Technocratic rule-cutting exercises such as the business impact target, or the one-in-three-out rule aim to cut the ‘costs’ that laws impose on businesses. The one-in-three-out rule in Britain – which stipulates that “for every pound of new regulatory burden introduced, government departments must reduce burden elsewhere by at least three times that amount” – is indicative of the arbitrariness of this legislation. The drive to reduce regulation is based on ideology rather than evidence. Other deregulatory instruments include measures to prevent new regulations from being introduced, or deregulating by stealth by not enforcing existing regulation. What these methods all have in common is a narrative which sees laws as a burden to business and society, rather than tools to shape and protect the kind of society in which we want to live. This framing of laws as inherently burdensome has given big corporations seats at the policymaking table alongside democratically elected lawmakers. When this happens, the scale of state capture (where private companies are able to influence a state’s decision-making process to their own advantage) that results is mesmerising: big oil and tobacco firms even managed to initiate an ongoing EU-wide programme of deregulatory reform called ‘Better Regulation’. Better Regulation paints itself as providing more scrutiny and transparency in lawmaking, but in reality it creates fast tracks for firms to shape legislation in a way that serves them. Shrouded in technical reports, driven by revolving doors between regulators and industry and protected by huge lobbying budgets, the immediate effects of deregulation are often difficult to pin down, which is part of the reason why there has only been limited pushback against it. But athree-year research project by the New Economics Foundation has identified cases from the health and safety and the health sectors.

Boris Johnson, Not Donald Trump, Is the Real Blue-Collar Conservative - Marshall Auerback -- Call him an upper-class Etonian twit if you like, but the reality is that Boris Johnson, not Donald Trump, might be the 21st century’s first genuine blue-collar conservative. Since becoming prime minister, Johnson has represented a profound break from the prevailing market fundamentalist ideology of the past 40 years in terms of both his rhetoric and, more importantly, his actions. His policies evoke a 1970s-style economic corporatism (much derided by Margaret Thatcher) or, in more historic terms, a reversion to a kinder, gentler form of “one nation conservatism.” In the words of UK-born, U.S.-residing pundit Andrew Sullivan, the core of Johnson’s ideology is an appeal to “the working poor and aspiring middle classes, [by being] tough on immigration and crime, but much more generous in spending on hospitals and schools and science.”Is it for real? Recall that this was also the promised policy formula that helped elect Donald Trump president in 2016, but which he hasn’t implemented while in office. By contrast, Johnson’s actions suggest a more serious intent, which could have long-lasting consequences for British politics and beyond. The center-left of Europe and the U.S. ignores this phenomenon at its collective peril. To caricature Johnson as a “British Trump” is a lazy narrative that grossly mischaracterizes what he has done already during his comparatively short tenure leading the United Kingdom. When Donald Trump first entered the White House, his then-chief domestic policy adviser Steve Bannonpushed the president to raise taxes on the wealthy and embark on a big program of infrastructure reconstruction to consolidate his political gains with white working-class voters who provided him with his margin of victory in 2016. Of course, we now know that Trump rejected this advice, as the president hewed instead to Paul Ryan’s austerity politics, attacking existing health care plans, and government social welfare programs, all the while promoting corporate tax “reform” where the benefits skewed heavily toward the top tier. Similarly, on infrastructure, Trump has done nothing, and so far as immigration policy goes, his signature proposal to build a wall has been a case of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Trump and the GOP accordingly paid the price in the midterm elections of 2018, one of the biggest congressional wipeouts over the past half-century.  In his victory speech, he acknowledged that voters in the traditional Labor heartlands merely “lent” their votes to him, and that more needed to be done to consolidate their long-term support. With that in mind, he has already backed off his party’s original plan to cut corporate taxes by 2 percent, so that his government could spend more on voters’ priorities, including the state-funded National Health Service. On infrastructure, Johnson has greenlit approval for the construction of a high-speed train line to the Midlands and northern England, a $130 billion venture that many have derided as a wasteful money pit, but which the PM views as a crucial means of regenerating these depressed regions outside the home counties. At the same time, Johnson has been able to culturally connect with voters in the post-industrial Midlands and northern England, who wanted nothing to do with Labor’s “woke” identity politics.

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