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

Saturday, May 23, 2020

week ending May 23

Powell Says Fed Prepared to Use ‘Full Range of Tools’ to Support Economy – WSJ - Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank will use its “full range of tools to support the economy” as a result of the economic shock caused by the coronavirus pandemic in testimony prepared for delivery to a congressional panel on Tuesday. Mr. Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are set to appear by videoconference before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday morning as part of regular testimony required by the $2 trillion economic-relief package President Trump signed into law in March. The legislation provided the Treasury with $500 billion to provide direct aid and to backstop credit markets, including $454 billion to cover losses in Fed lending programs. The Fed is in the process of establishing operations to lend to businesses, cities and states, an unprecedented expansion of the central bank’s powers to support the U.S. economy during a period of severe distress. The Treasury has provided $195 billion so far to indemnify the Fed against losses in those lending programs. One open question is how the Treasury plans to allocate the remainder of that money. The remaining $259 billion will be used to “create or expand programs as needed, as we continue to monitor a variety of economic sectors closely,” said Mr. Mnuchin. Mr. Mnuchin said he expected economic conditions to improve in the second half of the year in his prepared testimony, which was released Monday afternoon by the Senate Banking Committee. Mr. Powell didn’t announce any new programs in his testimony, and instead recapped the steps the central bank has taken since it cut interest rates to near zero in mid-March. “The Federal Reserve has been entrusted with an important mission, and we have taken unprecedented steps in very rapid fashion over the past few months,” Mr. Powell said in his prepared testimony. STAY INFORMED Get a coronavirus briefing six days a week, and a weekly Health newsletter once the crisis abates: Sign up here. Those actions have helped buoy asset values, and the Fed’s trickiest task now is to get the programs up and running. In one particular novel operation, the central bank will lend through banks to middle-market firms that are too large for aid from the Small Business Administration and too small to borrow in Wall Street debt markets in a forthcoming Main Street Lending Program. Mr. Powell said the Fed would continue to adjust the terms for lending operations “as we learn more” about borrower demand.

Taxpayers Are on the Hook for 98 Percent of the Fed’s $6.98 Trillion Balance Sheet -  Pam Martens - The Federal Reserve Board of Governors consists of seven individuals appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. As of today, only five of those Governor seats have been filled. As of last Wednesday, these five unelected individuals were overseeing a balance sheet of $6.98 trillion at the Federal Reserve, which is 28 percent of the $25.3 trillion federal government debt that is overseen by 100elected Senators and 435 elected members of the House of Representatives.Over just the past year, those five unelected Fed Governors have grown the Fed’s balance sheet by $3 trillion in order to bail out bad bets on Wall Street.The $6.98 trillion balance sheet at the Fed is created out of thin air at the electronic push of a button by the 12 regional Fed banks. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York (New York Fed) has been pushing that money-creating-button more than all of the other 11 regional Fed banks combined. As of last Wednesday, the New York Fed’s balance sheet stood at $3.9 trillion or 56 percent of the balance sheet tally for all 12 regional Fed banks.Why has the New York Fed run up such a monster balance sheet? It’s because the New York Fed is privately-owned by some of the largest, most dangerous banks in America which, since 2008, have been habitually propped up by cheap money from the New York Fed. Those mega banks include JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.If the New York Fed is privately owned by the member banks in its region (as are all of the 12 regional Fed banks) and has run up a $3.9 trillion balance sheet, its share owners should be on the hook for its liabilities, correct?This is where another of those rarely discussed structural wealth transfer mechanisms for the one percent comes in. If the Fed and its rapidly growing $6.98 trillion balance sheet blows up, the U.S. taxpayer will be on the hook for 98 percent of the losses. We obtained the share totals for each of the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks. Those share totals are listed on the individual financial statements located here. We multiplied the share totals by their $100 par value, and then as the above indicates, multiplied that total by 2. The shocking news is this: the mega banks that own the New York Fed are only responsible for $42.6 billion of its liabilities, despite the fact that those liabilities total $3.9 trillion. When we did the math for all 12 regional Fed banks, the bank share owners were responsible for just 1.8 percent of the $6.98 trillion in liabilities that the Federal Reserve has created with the flick of an electronic button. In other words, an institution controlled by five unelected people, with the insane power to create money out of thin air by pushing an electronic button, have put taxpayers (and the next generation) on the hook for $6.85 trillion.

The Fed Enters Monetary Light Speed - On April 9, 2020, the Fed made the jump to light speed with their announcements of even more remarkable stimulus packages. The new operations were in addition to the myriad of operations in March and prior months.To define monetary light speed, the Fed’s balance sheet rose from $3.76 trillion at the end of August 2019 to $4.16 trillion at the end of February 2020 – a change of $400 billion. As of May 13, 2020 it was at $6.93 trillion. A shocking increase of $2.77 trillion in ten weeks, dwarfing anything seen during the financial crisis. Having  promised to purchase Treasuries, mortgages, and municipal bonds, in whatever amount necessary, they set off on a new path. Now they can buy investment grade corporate securities, high yield bonds (junk), and even certain Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs – the securitized form of high-risk leveraged loans). These operations will take place through the newly formed Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF). Per the Federal Reserve Act, the Fed can only purchase or lend against securities that have a government guarantee. So how can they purchase non-government guaranteed securities?The simple answer is the Treasury is enabling the Fed to side-step the law, or to be more accurate, break the law.As the Fed’s accomplice, the Treasury Department provides $75 billion of initial funding from the Exchange Stabilization Fund. The funds are deposited into a special purpose vehicle (SPV), and specifically aimed to purchase secondary market corporate bonds. Technically, the Treasury, not the Fed, is buying those securities on behalf of taxpayers. Enter the co-conspirator. The Fed, acting as an intermediary and employing asset manager BlackRock, intends to leverage that amount ten times. This allows the Fed to buy an additional $675 billion in securities and select Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). As John Hussman described on April 20, 2020, Congress never granted that authority (the leverage) to the Fed, making such a maneuver illegal.“… additional purchases to “leverage” that funding are neither secured by non-financial collateral, nor have security sufficient to protect taxpayers from losses. They are illegal, both under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act, and under Section 4003(c)(3)(B) of the CARES act, which “for the avoidance of doubt” specifically invokes 13(3) “requirements relating to loan collateralization, taxpayer protection, and borrower solvency.”Given the leverage and speculative nature of the securities the Fed is acquiring in the SMCCF (SPV) scheme, a 10% drop or more in the value of the SPV assets would result in immediate insolvency and losses to taxpayers. In simple terms:

  • The Treasury Department funds the SMCCF SPV with $75 billion (a legal action)
  • The Fed acting as the intermediary of the SPV, stated they may leverage those funds 10 times (an illegal action)
  • If at any point up to the $750 billion of investments made through the SPV, the value of held assets drops by more than the initial $75 billion funded by the Treasury, the loss is in breach of what Congress authorized.
  • The assets the Fed will buy do not meet the stated requirement of sufficient security intended “for the avoidance of doubt” about the potential for loss (to the taxpayer). It is an illegal structure.

The Fed’s $600 Billion Challenge: Lending Directly to Businesses – WSJ -The Federal Reserve is preparing to lend directly to middle-market businesses, filling a hole left by the government’s economic crisis relief efforts, and it is shaping up to be one of the trickiest things it has ever done. The risk for the Fed is that it goes where the central bank has rarely ventured and that not many businesses seek help, creating both financial and political headaches. The program is designed to assist companies like LMI Aerospace, a St. Charles, Mo.-based maker of airplane parts that is too large to get help under the Small Business Administration’s loan program but too small to benefit from the Fed’s other corporate-lending backstops. Under the Fed’s middle-market program, a company would get a loan from a bank, which would then sell up to 95% of the debt to the Fed. This leaves the bank with less additional debt on its books and free to make more loans to other borrowers. LMI, which has cut its workforce by 600 employees since the start of the year to 1,600, has spoken to its lenders in recent weeks about participating in the program, and found them hesitant. “They’re not saying, ‘No, we don’t want to do it,’ but they don’t want to do this when their balance sheets may have a lot of borrowers that are going to be underperforming for some time,” said Ed Dickinson, the company’s chief executive.After credit markets started seizing up amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Fed responded in March and April with promises to backstop them—including corporate and municipal debt markets—reducing borrowing costs and lifting stocks. Now, “its biggest challenges are making these programs work,” said former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in an interview. With the midsize business program, a key challenge is setting the terms so the Fed doesn’t become a dumping ground for bad loans—but not so onerous that companies don’t want to participate.

 Fed receives bipartisan critique for stalled Main Street lending - The Federal Reserve received a bipartisan critique Wednesday from members of a congressional oversight panel who said the central bank has been slow to launch a key emergency lending program for midsize companies. Rep. French Hill, an Arkansas Republican, and Rep. Donna Shalala, a Florida Democrat, expressed concern that the Main Street Lending Program — which targets companies too large for small business assistance and too small to qualify for corporate lending facilities — was not yet operational. "I'm disappointed that it's taken as long as it has," Hill said in an interview of the program, which was announced April 9. The central bank received more than 2,000 comments on the program from April 9 to 30, and then announced that it would be broadened to include more businesses. Fed Chair Jerome Powell says the program will be operational by early June and disputed the notion that the central bank could be moving more quickly. "We are working literally around the clock and have been for weeks to have this ready," Powell said. Both the Fed and the Trump administration have projected economic hardship at least through June as the U.S. copes with the coronavirus pandemic. Powell has warned of broad dangers to the economy, saying a recovery would take time and that the country was at risk of long-term economic damage. Trump's economic advisers say the economy could contract 40% for the second quarter through June. More than 36 million people already have lost their jobs. The Fed and Congress have pumped trillions of dollars into the economy to stem the damage, but the central bank is still grappling with what Powell has called "complex and challenging" emergency facilities. "Main Street is in a class by itself," he told senators Tuesday during a virtual hearing. "These are small and medium-sized businesses. They live in a world of bank lending. That's a world of negotiated documents. We're trying to enter that world and make loans to qualifying buyers." The Fed, when it expanded the facility, said participants should make "commercially reasonable" efforts to refrain from laying off workers. Lawmakers say that while Congress did not place restrictions on retaining payroll levels in exchange for federal support that comes from the central bank, the Fed should still require it to follow the spirit of the law. Hill said he plans to ask Treasury and Fed officials what they mean by "commercially reasonable." "The principal mission of the Main Street Lending Program is to bridge companies cash-flow needs across this coronavirus impact on the economy and keep as many Americans employed as possible," Hill said in the interview. "That's certainly the full intent of not only the the law but also the regulations."

The Fed's $600 Billion Middle Market Main Street Lending Facility Is A Total Disaster -  The Fed is currently undertaking one of the trickiest projects it has ever taken on: lending $600 billion directly to companies that need it. It's an area where the Fed hasn't really ventured, as the WSJ points out, and one that puts them far closer to the realm of directing fiscal policy in the country than they have ever been. In other words, it's a political and financial headache - even for the Fed. The goal of the program is to get cash to companies that are too large to get small business loans, but too small to benefit from the Fed's other genius programs, like buying junk bond ETFs.The Fed's middle market "Main Street" program instead allows companies to get loans from banks, who turn around and sell up to 95% of the debt to the Fed. In other words, the Fed is hell-bent on becoming the world's worst counterparty.  The move is part of a broader response by the Fed, who initially sought to un-freeze credit markets after the coronavirus pandemic started. According to former Fed chair Ben Bernanke, the Fed's biggest challenge is now "making these programs work". A major challenge is the obvious: how do you make the Fed's balance sheet become more than just a dumping ground for toxic loans? Former Fed chair Janet Yellen even addressed that issue: “The Main Street program is going to be tremendously complicated. One of the problems with this program is that it may turn out to be insufficiently generous.”The Fed remains sensitive to political blowback, like the kind it faced after 2008, which could be prompting them to do far more than they need - or should - be doing. Regardless, the political buy-in remains key for the Central Bank. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said:  “It’s very important if you’re going to engage in this, that you get take-up.”  The Fed says it is working to "fine tune" the program. “We’re learning as we go,” said Fed Chairman Jerome Powell last week. Meanwhile, the Fed has had to use "special powers granted by congress and the Hoover administration" to make these types of loans. The Main Street program, which is a result of discussions between Jay Powell and Steve Mnuchin, is open to companies with up to 15,000 employees or less than $5 billion revenue. More than 19,000 companies had between 500 and 15,000 employees in 2017 and they collectively employed between 30 and 40 million people. Under the program, banks can lend up to $25 million in new loans or refinance up to $200 million in an existing loan if a firm’s total debt. Senator Mark Warner has been advocating for loan forgiveness in the program - also known as just handing out billions of dollars in free money - but the Fed has pushed back. Barely.

Fed Chair Powell Promises “Transparency,” then Draws the Dark Curtain Tighter  -Pam Martens - During his appearance before the Senate Banking Committee this past Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told Senator Jon Tester that the Fed “has committed to disclose all of the borrowers and the amounts in a timely way.” Powell was referring to the alphabet soup of emergency bailout programs for Wall Street that the Fed has established under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act. In a statement released by the Fed on April 23, it also said this on the subject of transparency: “…the Board will report substantial amounts of information on a monthly basis for the liquidity and lending facilities using Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act funding, including the: Names and details of participants in each facility… on its website at least every 30 days and without redactions.” The Fed has a website page that publishes its reports to the public and Congress every 30 days. If you click on the PDFs for the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, and the Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility – three programs to benefit Wall Street – you will not find one iota of information on the names of borrowers or amounts they borrowed. (The Primary Dealer Credit Facility is not slated to use CARES Act money but it is established under the 13(3) emergency programs of the Fed.) The Primary Dealer Credit Facility and Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility showed up on the Fed’s balance sheet on March 25 of this year, with balances of $27.7 billion and $30.6 billion, respectively. As of yesterday, the Fed showed the following balances for those two programs: $7.5 billion and $36.4 billion, respectively. But when the Fed released its March 25 and April 24 reports on these two programs, there was not a scintilla of information on the names of borrowers or amounts borrowed.The Commercial Paper Funding Facility showed up on the Fed’s balance sheet on April 15 with a balance of $974 million. It currently has a balance of $4.29 billion. But when the Fed filed its report to Congress on April 24, there was zero information on names of borrowers or amounts borrowed. But one program that has been operational for the past eight months is the Fed’s Repurchase Agreement (repo loan) facility. It had funneled $6 trillion in emergency, below-market rate, revolving loans to Wall Street’s trading houses before the first case of coronavirus had appeared anywhere in the United States. It is likely to remain behind the Fed’s dark curtain forever under the excuse that it’s part of the Fed’s open market operations. That program started on September 17, 2019 when the overnight lending rate on repo loans shot up from around 2 percent to 10 percent – signaling that Wall Street banks were backing away from lending to other financial institutions, the precise activity that heralded the financial crisis of 2007 to 2010. By March 14, the Fed had pumped out more than $9 trillion in revolving repo loans to the trading houses on Wall Street that are known as its primary dealers. (See list below.) Almost all of these trading units are attached to giant commercial banks that trade publicly. The Fed has yet to provide the names of borrowers or amounts they individually borrowed. Shareholders of a publicly traded company have a legal right to know if a bank is experiencing a liquidity crisis and needs to borrow from the Fed. The public has a right to know if the Fed has once again failed the American people in its oversight role of the behemoth Wall Street banks.

Testimony by Chair Powell on the Federal Reserve's response to the coronavirus and the CARES Act --Note: Chair Powell provides an overview of the actions taken so far by the Fed. From Fed Chair Jerome Powell: Coronavirus and CARES Act Before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. The Federal Reserve's response to this extraordinary period has been guided by our mandate to promote maximum employment and stable prices for the American people, along with our responsibilities to promote stability of the financial system. We are committed to using our full range of tools to support the economy in this challenging time even as we recognize that these actions are only a part of a broader public-sector response. Congress's passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was critical in enabling the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department to establish many of the lending programs that I discuss below.

Powell says GDP could shrink more than 30%, but he doesn't see another Depression - The U.S. economy could shrink by upwards of 30% in the second quarter but will avoid a Depression-like economic plunge over the longer term, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told "60 Minutes" in an interview aired Sunday. The central bank chief also conceded that jobless numbers will look a lot like they did during the 1930s, when the rate peaked out at close to 25%, However, he said the nature of the current distress coupled with the dynamism of the U.S. and the strength of its financial system should pave the way for a significant rebound. Asked by host Scott Pelley whether unemployment would be 20% or 25%, Powell said, "I think there're a range of perspectives. But those numbers sound about right for what the peak may be." Pressed on whether the U.S. is headed for a "second depression," he replied, "I don't think that's a likely outcome at all. There're some very fundamental differences." In a part of the interview that did not air, Powell said shrinkage of U.S. economic growth "could easily be in the 20s or 30s," according to a CBS transcript. He said that growth could return in the third quarter. "I think there's a good chance that there'll be positive growth in the third quarter. And I think it's a reasonable expectation that there'll be growth in the second half of the year," Powell said. "I would say though we're not going to get back to where we were quickly. We won't get back to where we were by the end of the year. That's unlikely to happen." Among the factors that he said are different from the Depression era are an activist Fed and a Congress that already has passed close to $3 trillion in rescue funds and is contemplating another round. Also, the cause of this downturn is not an asset bubble or another associated more fundamental reason but rather a self-induced economic freeze brought on by efforts to combat the coronavirus. Those efforts have led to 36.5 million Americans filing unemployment claimsover the past two months and an unemployment rate currently at 14.7% and headed higher. The Atlanta Fed estimated Friday that the data so far in the second quarter suggest a drop in GDP of 42%. That would be far and away the worst the U.S. has seen.

Powell cautions U.S. recovery could stretch through end of 2021 The U.S. economy will recover from the coronavirus pandemic, but the process could stretch through until the end of next year and depend on the delivery of a vaccine, said Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. “I think you’ll see the economy recover steadily through the second half of this year,” the U.S. central bank chief said in an excerpt of an interview conducted Wednesday and aired on Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” show. “For the economy to fully recover people will have to be fully confident, and that may have to await the arrival of a vaccine,” he said. More than 36 million Americans have lost their jobs since February as the economy shuttered to limit virus spread. Countless companies, especially small businesses, are hurtling toward bankruptcy, while states and cities are confronting gaping budget shortfalls that could provoke a massive second wave of layoffs from the public sector. The Fed chief said people should never “bet” against the American economy, but he took care not to promise a swift, so-called V-shaped rebound. “This economy will recover. It may take a while,” he said. “It could stretch through the end of next year. We really don’t know.” Powell’s full interview will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Washington time on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” Powell’s remarks follow his grave warning Wednesday that the U.S. economy faces lasting harm from the pandemic if the government doesn’t step up. The comments add support to calls for more congressional spending as Democrats push for a fresh US$3 trillion in virus aid on top of a record US$2.2-trillion package agreed in March. On Friday, the House passed the measure, though it has no future in the Republican-led Senate.

Pandemic Poses Most Serious Threat to Fed’s Goals ‘In Our Lifetimes,’ Says Top Fed Official – WSJ The coronavirus pandemic poses the most serious threat “in our lifetimes” to the Federal Reserve’s goals of maintaining strong employment and stable prices, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said Thursday. Mr. Clarida said he expected the shock to demand for goods and services to be more severe than the hit to the economy’s capacity to supply them, putting downward pressure on inflation. “The Covid-19 shock is going to be disinflationary, not inflationary, both in the near term and the medium term,” Mr. Clarida said during a discussion that followed online remarks to the New York Association for Business Economics. Separately, New York Fed President John Williams said he sees little inflation risk right now and played down worries about a large increase in federal borrowing. “There is enormous global demand for U.S. Treasury securities,” Mr. Williams said. “I’m not so worried on long-term effects on U.S. interest rates because of higher deficits and debt right now.” Even before the pandemic crisis hit in mid-March, inflation was running below the central bank’s 2% target. The Fed has cut interest rates to near zero, and declining inflation would mean that short-term interest rates, adjusted for inflation, could rise, posing a challenge for Fed policy makers as they seek to provide more stimulus in the coming months. Federal Reserve officials began contemplating last month how to provide more monetary stimulus in the months ahead. Messrs. Clarida and Williams, who are top lieutenants to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, suggested the central bank wasn’t feeling rushed to roll out new guidance. The next meeting of the Fed’s rate-setting committee is scheduled for June 9-10. “It’s going to take some time for us at the Fed to get a sense of what this economy, what the rebound potentially can look like,” Mr. Clarida said. The Fed would have a better handle on the economy’s path by September, he said.

Merrill: "Most of the slowdown occurred due to voluntary social distancing rather than lockdown policies" -- This is an important note and suggests the economy is dependent on the course of the pandemic. Merrill Lynch economists put out a note this morning: Nordic Lessons. Here are a few brief excerpts: One of our core views is that both voluntary and mandated social distancing have significant impacts on the economy. A new academic paper out of the University of Copenhagen and CEBI quantifies the effect of each kind of social distancing on consumer spending during the COVID-19 pandemic. ... Let us start with the facts. The outbreak began at the end of February in Denmark and Sweden. … Since then the two countries have diverged significantly in terms of health care outcomes. As of May 18, Denmark had 95 deaths per million people, while Sweden (363 per million) has had among the highest COVID-19 mortality rates in the world.  This difference points to a large healthcare benefit from lockdown policies. What about the economic costs?The paper finds that consumer spending dropped by 25% in Sweden and by 29% in Denmark. The 4pp difference between the two declines quantifies the cost of lockdown policies. While 4% of consumer spending is not trivial, it is a small share of the total decrease in consumer spending. Therefore the data indicate that most of the slowdown occurred due to voluntary social distancing rather than lockdown policies....If the paper’s results are applicable to other countries, they have important implications for the economic outlook. … Even as restrictions are lifted, consumer spending will likely remain highly impaired, with services getting hit the hardest. Ending lockdowns might also limit the activity of more vulnerable people, further delaying the recovery. In summary, the economic downturn has been primarily because of the virus, not the policy response.

"This Is The Biggest Shock We've Had For Generations": El-Erian Says 'Buckle Up' For Bumpy Ride - Mohamed El-Erian does not see a smooth, V-shaped recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in the cards - and instead says that it will probably look more like a series of Ws."Think of a pendulum swinging, and we don't know the magnitude of the swings, and we don't know the duration of the swings or the settling point. So it really is an uncertain outlook," he told Fox News' Chris Wallace in a Friday interview which aired on "Fox News Sunday."We should not forget how bad this picture is. With the additional three million [unemployed], that is 36 million people who have signed up for jobless claims in 8 weeks. That's one quarter of our labor force. So it's an enormous shock," he added.El-Erian also says that reopening the economy will be an uphill battle, and that until a vaccine is readily available, it will take time for people to resume normal activities."It's very difficult for me to convince you I'm healthy and for you to convince me I'm healthy until we get a vaccine," he said, while noting that the pandemic has "shaken consumer confidence," and that it will take a while before a public that "isn't wired for social distancing" to adjust to the new normal.Another variable is that states are reopening on different timelines, and that it's unclear how businesses will resume operations with "different states doing different things.""We have these three massive uncertainties all in play at the same time, and it's very hard to say, oh everything's going to be resolved overnight," El-Erian added (via Fox Business). "We hope so, but I think we should buckle our seatbelt that it's going to get bumpy still."

A prolonged depression is guaranteed without significant federal aid to state and local governments -- EPI Blog - Congress is currently debating a new relief and recover package—the HEROES Act—that would deliver significant amounts of fiscal aid to state and local governments—more than $1 trillion over the next two years, all told. This is a very welcome proposal. The incredibly steep recession we’re currently in is guaranteed to torpedo state and local governments’ ability to collect revenues . Further, nearly all of these governments are tightly constrained—both by law as well as by genuine economic constraints— from taking on large amounts of debt to maintain spending in the face of this downward shock to their revenues. The result will be intense pressure for large cutbacks in public spending by state and local governments in coming years. Such cutbacks would be absolutely devastating to the cause of restarting the economy and allowing people to find jobs, even if the virus has completely abated. We know how devastating these cutbacks would be because we have lived through the mistake of allowing them to drag on growth in the quite recent past. State and local governments became relentless anti-stimulus machines during most of the recovery from the Great Recession of 2008–09. This post highlights a couple of findings from that period that should inform policymakers’ decisions this time around.

  • Growth in state and local spending was far slower during the recovery following the Great Recession than in any other post-World War II business cycle on record.
  • This state and local spending austerity dragged heavily on growth during that time. If this spending had instead followed the trajectory it established following the recovery from the similarly steep recession of the early 1980s, pre-recession unemployment rates could have been achieved by early 2013 rather than 2017. In short, this austerity delayed recovery by over four years.
  • Recent justifications for denying aid to state and local governments sometimes rest on claims that this spending has been profligate in recent years. This is absolutely not so—growth in state and local spending has been historically slow for nearly two decades. Given the importance of what this spending focuses on (education, health care, public order), this decades-long disinvestment should be reversed, not accelerated due to an unforeseen economic crisis.
  • If federal aid is passed that is sufficient to close the enormous revenue shortfalls the economic crisis will cause for state and local governments, it will create or save roughly 5–6 million jobs by the end of 2021. Without this aid, we will remain at least that far away from a full economic recovery by then.

Maybe This Is Not (Technically) A Recession? - Here I am using what is the journalistic definition of a “recession,” also used in many nations although not officially in the US, where these things are determined ex post by an NBER committee. Anyway, that “journalistic” definition is that there be two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. Today in the Washington Post I saw a story on global carbon emissions, which are very closely correlated with GDP, if not perfectly. Anyway, it appears that global carbon emissions hit bottom on April 7 and have been slowly rising since then (not sure about US separately, although US somewhat behind most other nations on the covid curve and so on the economic impact as well). I note that April 7 is one week into the second quarter. This means it is very likely that at the global level we shall see positive economic growth in the second quarter, basically rising since the end of the first week of the quarter, although due to reporting lags in many countries this will not show up as positive growth in the data until later, possibly by the end of the month. This growth is slow, but it is positive, definitely not a V. So, assuming this slow growth continues,the world will have seen a massive shock in the first quarter, with most of that in a single month, March, the largest such short term shock in recorded history by far. But it looks that it may have hit bottom quite quickly, then to turn into a slow recovery shortly after the end of the first quarter. First quarter is certainly going to be negative, but second looks very well like it might be positive, at least at the global level, hence, not technically quite a “recession” according to this journalistic definition. 

Q2 GDP Forecasts: Probably Around 40% Annual Rate Decline --Important: GDP is reported at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR). So a 40% Q2 decline is around 9% decline from Q1 (SA).  From Merrill Lynch: We are tracking 2Q GDP at -40% qoq saar, down from -30% earlier. [SAAR May 22 estimate] From Goldman Sachs: We left our Q2 GDP forecast unchanged at -39% (qoq ar) but raised our estimate of the initial vintage by 0.3pp to -31.5% (released on July 30th). [May 22 estimate]     From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report:  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at -30.5% for 2020:Q2. [May 22 estimate]   And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNowThe GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in thesecond quarter of 2020 is -41.9 percent May 19, up from -42.8 percent on May 15. [May 19 estimate]

America Has Opted for a Bad Recession - People keep saying that the coronavirus crisis has presented America with a difficult choice: the lives of our parents and grandparents versus the economic well-being of our children. I beg to differ. The real choice is, and has always been, between a sane national strategy for containing the pandemic and economic disaster.I don’t like getting sick. If you have a bad cold, I’d rather not shake your hand. Similarly, I’ll do a lot to avoid getting Covid-19, even if I’m pretty sure it won’t kill me. As a 45-to-64-year-old, my odds of being hospitalized if infected look to be about 1 in 25. 1 No thanks! I’ll pass on getting on a plane or going to a crowded restaurant.I’m not the only one. Millions of Americans are engaging in self-imposed austerity to stay on the safe side. As Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell put it on Sunday, “for the economy to fully recover, people will have to be fully confident.” This is the challenge policy makers face: how to give people the level of security needed to support a real recovery.One option, which Powell emphasized, is to develop a vaccine for SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. But this takes time. No vaccine for any disease has ever been rolled out in less than four years. It might never happen: SARS-Cov-2 is one of seven known human coronaviruses, none of which has a vaccine.The other option is herd immunity, in which so many people get the virus and develop antibodies that there aren’t many people left to infect. But, for you fans of Sweden out there, it’s not clear that infection confers immunity. Four of the known human coronaviruses can reinfect people relativelyquickly. Scientists don’t know about the rest.This leaves policy makers with two paths. The first, and best, is to devise an effective and comprehensive national testing, tracing and quarantining program, which would enable us all to feel a lot more confident that we’re not going to run into people with Covid-19. So far, though, the U.S. remains wedded to its local vision of public health governance, in which states largely do their own thing. The result will be a patchwork approach to contact tracing. Connections that cross state or even county lines will likely be missed, allowing recurring outbreaks to undermine consumers’ confidence.The second path: Let the economy evolve organically to provide the assurance that people demand. This would entail a vast transformation, as both workers and consumers demand considerably more space to ensure their safety. The process would probably be very slow, involving persistent unemployment and sluggish growth. Consider, for example, how long the U.S. economy struggled to adjust to high-priced oil in the 1970s.On the merits, the decision would seem a no-brainer: a vigorous national public health response versus a horrific recession. I hope for the former. Sadly, given the evidence so far, I expect the latter.

Dance Macabre -  Kunstler - Western Civ’s most infamous encounter with pandemic disease, so far, was the big first wave of the Black Death that had a marathon run from 1346 to 1353. That bug was the real deal. It killed folks left and right, every age group, every social station, and it killed them ugly. Few who caught it survived. Up to half the population of Europe perished, along with a lot of their social and economic ways.  Covid-19 seems rather a punk-ass illness compared to the Black Death. Its victims by far are people already on a fast track to the last roundup. We know exactly what causes it, if not so exactly its origin, and yet the response among our experts has been far more ambiguous than those long-ago bishops of Christendom to the Great Plague. The various scientists, physicians, public health officers, and politicians seem, to the casual observer, about equally divided between those who consider the corona virus a grave threat and those who insist it’s hardly worse than any annual flu. What is one to believe? Or do? Which brings us to the verge of the Great Opening-up. The current nostalgia for pre-Covid-19 business-as-usual is understandably intense. Gone especially from daily life are all the ceremonies of human togetherness, from gatherings of friends to the casual shoulder-rubbings of urban life to the crowded venues of the lively arts to the great moiling orgies of pro sports. The life of the perpetual jigsaw puzzle, YouTube, and Netflix has proved inadequate to human aspiration. Gone, too, are livelihoods, revenue streams, and rewarding roles in everyday existence. The itch to get out and do, get out and make, get out and be, is overwhelming. Behind those plain yearnings, though, looms the specter of a system that appeared to be already foundering before Covid-19 entered the scene. There is, at least, considerable agreement that the disease catalyzed the disorders of finance and economy and accelerated the damage ­— just not among the people most responsible for engineering the fragilities that actually crashed things Jerome Powell, Pope of the Church of the Federal Reserve, went on the 60-Minutes show last night to reassure the nation that things will eventually get back to normal. “I think you’ll see the economy recover steadily through the second half of this year.” Yessir, if you say so. Were his fingers crossed? You couldn’t tell because the camera had him framed in a head-shot. Personally, I think the Fed Chairman was blowing smoke up the nation’s wazoo. Spooky as it’s been, the Covid-19 virus has also been a great cover-story for the natural collapse of a severally unbalanced, ecologically unsound, and dishonestly represented set of arrangements that are now unspooling at horrifying speed. The car industry is dying. The airline industry is laying out its fleet of big birds in desert graveyards. The college racketeering operation went off a cliff, along with medical profiteering. Agribusiness no longer has a business model. Hundreds of kinds of services no longer have customers who can afford their offerings from acupuncture to zymurgy. None of that will be fixed by injections of miracle money borrowed from ourselves in quantities that would turn every US citizen into a millionaire — if it wasn’t just pounded down the rat-holes of the stock and bond markets. The big question about the Great Opening-up is when the recognition of all that turns to raw emotion. Covid-19 may still be with us then, but it will be the least of our problems. The masks will come off. The dance will commence.

What Could Go Wrong? - (dozens of graphs) - In 2019, US population growth fell to +1.55m or +0.5%...this was due to a trifecta of declining births, lower immigration, and higher deaths than anticipated. However, as with everything "2020", all three trends are only intensifying to blow away 2019. Births are falling faster and further, deaths moving higher with Corona-virus and drug related overdoses, and immigration nearly non-existent. Thus, US population growth will likely dip to "just" 1 million or +0.3% this year. And while I anticipate (or think it feasible) that immigration could return to 2019 levels eventually, births will almost surely continue falling and deaths rising more than anticipated. The simple outcome of this is an ongoing collapse in US population growth which is far larger than in scope than the current Corona-virus pandemic. Census Population Estimates...Wildly Overstating Growth The chart below shows the 2008, 2014, and 2017 Census US total population projections through 2050. Some quick math shows that in 9 years time from '08 to '17, the Census downgraded US population growth through 2050 by 50 million persons. But due to the factors mentioned above, the 2020 Census projection through 2050 will need another massive downgrade...I'd suggest something on the order of another 29 million person downgrade. The most significant contributor to decelerating population growth is declining births. This is true among the native population and true among immigrants. On average, they are all having significantly fewer children than anticipated. As the Census estimates from '00, '08, '12, '14, and '17 show...the Census models just can't fathom the fast declining births taking place in the US. But each Census estimate is still far too high, and perhaps in '20 the Census will "fix" their models and portray reality (ok, not likely)...but I offer a more realistic picture below. However, the downgrades in population are specifically among the younger populations. Obviously, declining births and immigration means declining young. The about face from '08 to '20 is stunning in the suggestion that the US truly is far more Japanese than immune to depopulation. Supporting the decline of young is the flattening and eventual decline of the childbearing population. Again, the ongoing declines in projections means that a flat childbearing population with declining fertility rate will continue having fewer children unless something intercedes. One place that will not see significant downgrades in population growth are the elderly. Despite Corona-virus, the elderly population is likely to continue swelling. Below, the rising fertility and births amid "better" economic times and declining among "worse" economic times. The clear insinuation is that the "recovery" since '07 has been no recovery for those young adults of childbearing age as their willingness / capability to undertake childbearing has continued to wane. Below, annual births again but including the cost of money (FFR%), marketable federal debt, and the Federal Reserve Balance sheet (QE).  Ever more debt to be repaid/serviced/monetized by ever fewer...what could go wrong?

 U.S. to pull out of Open Skies treaty, Trump's latest treaty withdrawal (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it would withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies treaty allowing unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, the Trump administration’s latest move to pull the country out of a major global treaty. The administration said Russia had repeatedly violated the pact’s terms. Senior officials said the pullout would formally take place in six months, but President Donald Trump held out the possibility that Russia could come into compliance. “I think we have a very good relationship with Russia. But Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty. So until they adhere, we will pull out,” Trump told reporters. His decision deepens doubts about whether Washington will seek to extend the 2010 New START accord, which imposes the last remaining limits on U.S. and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear arms to no more than 1,550 each. It expires in February. Trump has repeatedly called for China to join the United States and Russia in talks on an arms control accord to replace New START. China, estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons, has repeatedly rejected Trump’s proposal. White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Fox News Channel later on Thursday that he did not expect the United States to leave the New START accord.

US withdraws from Open Skies Treaty, heightening danger of war with Russia - On Thursday, the Trump White House announced it will unilaterally withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which permits participating states to conduct limited, unarmed reconnaissance flights over the territories of other member states in order to collect data on military forces and activities. The scrapping of Open Skies heightens the likelihood of a major conflict between the United States, Russia and the major European powers. The treaty, signed in 1992 after the dissolution of the USSR, has been in full force since 2002. It has been ratified by 34 states, including almost all NATO and EU members, Russia and most countries of the former Soviet Union. The US withdrawal from Open Skies, which will take effect within six months, comes amidst growing tensions with Russia. In June, Washington and its NATO allies will stage major war games just 35 miles from Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave in Europe. Russian media report that NATO is convening an extraordinary session on Friday, May 22, to discuss the situation. Trump’s move is universally seen as a sign that the US will also soon end the 2010 New START treaty with Russia, which limits the number of deployable nuclear missiles to 1,550 for each country. It is the last remaining treaty constraining the arsenal of the world’s two largest nuclear powers. The American withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty means that Russia and other member states can no longer conduct observational flights over the US that provide information, among other things, about the growing nuclear capabilities of the US. Washington will no longer provide advance notice to other states before it conducts surveillance flights or limit its activities to dictates established by the treaty. The White House argues that the US withdrawal is justified by Russia’s alleged “violation” of the treaty. “Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty. So until they adhere, we will pull out, but there’s a very good chance we’ll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together,” Trump said at a press briefing on Thursday. The alleged violations refer to the fact that Russia has excluded Kaliningrad, a small piece of Russian territory that abuts Poland and Lithuania, and the Georgian breakaway republics of Ossetia and South Abkhazia in the south Caucasus, from the treaty. Moscow does not allow Open Skies surveillance of these areas. In 2008, Georgia provoked a war with Russia over Ossetia and South Abkhazia with the full backing of the US, bringing NATO and Russia to the brink of all-out war. Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko sharply criticized Washington’s withdrawal from Open Skies. “Our position is absolutely clear and is invariable: The withdrawal of the US from this treaty will come as yet another blow to the system of military security in Europe, which is already weakened by the previous moves by the administration.” Indicating that Russia might now also withdraw from the treaty, the spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, declared on Thursday that the US itself violated the treaty. Since 2002, the US has undertaken three times as many reconnaissance flights over Russia than Russia has over the US.

Trump fires State Department inspector general -- Late Friday night, President Donald Trump informed Congress that he was firing the top watchdog within the State Department, Inspector General Steve Linick. The dismissal is the latest move in a purge of inspectors general aimed at eliminating any internal monitoring of the administration and establishing an authoritarian, personalist government. Over the past six weeks, Trump has removed the inspectors general of the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services, in addition to Friday's action. Three of the four moves have been announced late on Friday night, when news coverage is generally more sparse and Congress is not in session. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump offered no explanation for the sudden firing, other than to say he no longer had "the fullest confidence" in Linick, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration who was appointed to the State Department post by Barack Obama in 2013. Trump said the dismissal would take effect in 30 days. A White House official told the press that Trump had fired Linick on the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Media reports quoted an unnamed Democratic aide as saying that Linick was investigating Pompeo’s alleged misuse of a political appointee to perform personal tasks for himself and his wife. Pelosi denounced the move in a statement issued Friday night. House Foreign Affairs Chair Elliott Engel and Robert Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced an investigation Saturday into Linick’s removal. They wrote letters to the White House, State Department and Office of the Inspector General to preserve all records related to Linick’s dismissal and turn the information over by May 22. They said the firing “may be an illegal act of retaliation” because the inspector general was investigating Pompeo.

Trump fired watchdog who was probing Saudi arms sales: lawmakers - (Reuters) - President Donald Trump may have fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick because he was investigating U.S. military sales to Saudi Arabia, Democratic lawmakers said on Monday, although Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he sought Linick’s removal because his work was undermining the department. Trump announced the planned removal of Linick in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday. He was the fourth government inspector general that the Republican president has ousted in recent weeks. Pompeo told the Washington Post he had asked Trump to fire Linick, while declining to describe specific concerns. Pompeo said no reason had to be given, contradicting Congress’ interpretation of the inspector general law. “I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department,” Pompeo said. Another State official told the Post concern over Linick had grown because of leaks about investigations, although there was no evidence Linick was responsible. Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member on Senate Foreign Relations, said Linick had been investigating Trump’s declaration of a national emergency last year to clear the way for $8 billion in military sales, mostly to Saudi Arabia. Engel and Menendez announced on Saturday they were launching an investigation of Linick’s firing.

U.S. Blocks Russia's UN Text on Mercenaries in Venezuela - The United States refused to adopt a UN text written by Russia Wednesday denouncing the use of mercenaries in a supposed plot to overthrow the Venezuelan government. The U.S. rejected the document during a Security Council meeting organized at the request of Moscow, which backs Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The leftist Venezuelan leader announced earlier this month that the country's military had thwarted a beachfront invasion that was allegedly planned at the White House and carried out by mercenaries. Among arrests made by Venezuela were two former U.S. soldiers who have been charged with "terrorism, conspiracy, illicit trafficking of weapons of war and (criminal) association." Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN Dmitri Polyanskiy called on Security Council members "to unequivocally condemn the attempt of invasion in Venezuelan sovereign territory." The short text proposed that the Council reiterated its rejection of "the use or threat of use of force" under resolutions linked to the "condemnation of terrorism" and use of mercenaries. However U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft rejected the document, which she said made "fantastical accusations" against the United States, pointing out that Russia and Cuba "routinely send military officers and mercenaries" into Venezuela. The United States and some 50 other nations recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president. At the meeting Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, urged a negotiated agreement but said "the path of negotiation seems stalled." "Venezuela is mired in a deepening protracted crisis that only Venezuelans can resolve," she said.

China Pledges to Implement U.S. Trade Deal Amid Rising Tensions  -- China reiterated a pledge to implement the first phase of its trade deal with the U.S. despite setbacks from the coronavirus outbreak, and as tensions escalate between the world’s two biggest economies. “We will work with the United States to implement the phase one China-U.S. economic and trade agreement,” Premier Li Keqiang told an annual gathering of lawmakers in Beijing on Friday. “China will continue to boost economic and trade cooperation with other countries to deliver mutual benefits.” Li Keqiang bows after delivering his speech during the opening session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on May 22. Over the past two years, the Trump administration had imposed punitive duties on roughly $360 billion in Chinese goods, and China retaliated by raising levies on more than half of America’s exports. The two sides signed a phase-one trade pact on Jan. 15 and rolled back some of the tariffs, but the agreement has come under threat as the two nations escalate disputes on many fronts. The centerpiece of the January agreement was China’s promises to buy more U.S. goods and services, but even before the coronavirus hit analysts were questioning whether those targets were realistic. Now, with both Chinese demand and U.S. manufacturing and transport capacity down due to the virus -- and prices falling for energy and other goods -- those promises look even further out of reach. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier this month pledged to create favorable conditions for implementing the trade deal and cooperating on the economy and public health. But President Donald Trump said later in an interview that he is having “a very hard time with China” and last week said the U.S. would “save $500 billion” if it cut off ties with China. China on Friday also abandoned its usual practice of setting a numerical target for economic growth this year due to the turmoil caused by the virus, breaking with decades of Communist Party planning habits in an admission of the deep rupture that the disease has caused. Beijing is using the legislative session to pass a bill establishing “an enforcement mechanism for ensuring national security” for Hong Kong, setting up a potential showdown with Trump, who has come under pressure in Washington to reconsider the city’s special trading status. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has delayed an annual report on whether the city still enjoys a “high degree of autonomy” from Beijing, telling reporters Wednesday that he was “closely watching what’s going on there.”

 Fed’s Powell, Treasury’s Mnuchin show bipartisan support for corporate bailout and back-to-work drive - US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee on the government response to the coronavirus pandemic. The event demonstrated the bipartisan support of Democrats and Republicans for the massive bailout of the banks and corporations as well as the back-to-work drive that threatens hundreds of thousands of workers with disease and death. At the end of March, the Senate voted unanimously for the CARES Act, which nominally allocated $2.2 trillion to cover the losses of wealthy investors and speculators, but actually authorized the pumping of more than $6 trillion of virtually free money into the financial markets. That unprecedented transfer of wealth to the financial aristocracy halted the stock market plunge triggered by the spread of the pandemic and fueled a record 35 percent rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the past seven weeks. Over the same period, more than 36 million workers have been laid off, official unemployment has reached Depression levels, and mile-long food lines have appeared across the country. The failure of the government to organize comprehensive testing, tracing and quarantining has resulted to date in over 1.5 million infections and more than 91,000 deaths, and health experts agree that these official figures are a substantial underestimation. Yet despite rising infections and deaths, all 50 US states have begun “reopening,” manufacturing is resuming, and workers are being told if they do not return to work they will be cut off of unemployment and other benefits, threatening them with homelessness and destitution. In the hearing, a number of Democrats and Republicans on the Banking Committee criticized Mnuchin for moving too slowly to distribute the bailout money allocated by the CARES Act to businesses, a few Democrats complained that not enough was being done to prevent layoffs and provide income to displaced workers, and others sought to nudge Powell to call on Congress to pass a new bill to provide aid to states and cities being bankrupted by the collapse of tax revenues. None of them, however, called for the repeal of the CARES Act or opposed the ongoing corporate bailout, and none called for a halt to the premature return to work being imposed on the working class. There were no proposals for a comprehensive, nationally coordinated program of testing, contact tracing, quarantining and treatment to contain and halt the pandemic and save lives. Nor did any senator oppose the push to provide legal immunity to private companies, including senior living facilities, from suits filed in behalf of workers sickened or killed due to a lack of protection from the coronavirus. The unstated premise accepted by both parties as well as those giving testimony was the abandonment of any centrally directed effort to combat the virus and the rapid restarting of business operations to resume the extraction of corporate profit from the working class. Underscoring that the Fed would guarantee the wealth of the ruling elite, he said, “There’s a lot more we can do … I will say that we’re not out of ammunition by a long shot. No, there’s really no limit to what we can do with these lending programs that we have. So there’s a lot more we can do to support the economy, and we’re committed to doing everything we can as long as we need to.”

4 takeaways from Senate grilling of Mnuchin, Powell on relief plans -  — Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee urged Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to ensure companies receiving coronavirus relief loans use the funds to pay employees, while Republicans zeroed in on aspects of the Fed's emergency liquidity facilities. The hearing Tuesday was Powell and Mnuchin's first quarterly update to Congress on the implementation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which was signed into law in March. Senators grilled Powell and Mnuchin on the deployment of CARES Act funds, while also seeking feedback on potential future measures Congress could take to stabilize the economy in the midst of the pandemic. The hearing came less than a week after House Democrats passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, without any Republican support. Democrats on the Banking Committee emphasized the need for additional economic stimulus, while Republicans were hesitant to support more relief until the funds from the CARES Act were fully dispersed.  Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the committee, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pushed Mnuchin to ensure that companies are accountable for how they use CARES Act funds.“You've set up CARES act programs that will lend trillions of dollars to companies,” Brown told Mnuchin. “Am I right that you are not requiring companies to use the money they borrow to keep their workers on the payroll?"  Without saying whether companies are required to keep workers on payroll, Mnuchin said the Treasury Department is implementing the CARES Act appropriately. Warren further pressed Mnuchin on whether corporations will be criminally charged for misusing CARES Act funds or providing false information on how they are using funds. Powell also provided an update on the much-anticipated Main Street Lending Program, saying it is expected to be propped up before the end of May or early June. Lawmakers have been pushing for the Fed to move quickly to make the program operational. While the Paycheck Protection Program was intended to help primarily small businesses, the MSLP will be focused on middle-market relief. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said he was concerned that some businesses won’t qualify for loans in any of the programs.  Mnuchin said the administration is focused on helping as many companies as possible. The Fed’s Municipal Liquidity Facility has sparked bipartisan concerns. Both committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said the population thresholds set by the Fed for cities to qualify have made certain communities ineligible to receive aid. The thresholds "are established at such a level that many of the small cities and counties across the United States cannot apply for individual loans,” Crapo said in questioning Powell. “You have indicated that it would be contemplated that the states be able to apply for loans for these smaller cities and counties and there's a lot of concern out there about this.” Democrats argued that Congress must pass additional coronavirus relief. They cited comments Powell made last week in which he called for more fiscal measures and said “the passage of time can turn liquidity problems into solvency problems."“So Congress needs to think about more than just the national debt right now,” Brown said. “It's less costly to act today to help people than to pay for our failure to act in the future. Is that right, Mr. Chairman?” But Powell tried to walk back his previous comments to some extent, saying, “This is really a question for Congress to weigh.”

Senators Express Outrage at Hearing over Mnuchin’s Sneakiness with $500 Billion of Taxpayers’ Money -  Pam Martens --  Both Republicans and Democrats lashed out at Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for effectively cooking up a deal that put him in charge of $500 billion of taxpayers’ money under the stimulus bill known as the CARES Act and has now left Congress in the dark about how that money is being spent. During the hearing, which was held virtually, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts summed up the situation to Mnuchin like this: “You are boosting your Wall Street buddies and leaving Americans behind.”The hearing was called to hear from both Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jerome Powell.  The CARES Act, irresponsibly, gave Mnuchin control of $500 billion, of which $454 billion was earmarked to go to the Fed to be leveraged into a $4.54 trillion bailout program. Apparently, Democrats were promised the money would go to help Main Street while the actual crafters of the legislation conveniently forgot to put that language in the bill. The bulk of the numerous programs set up by the Fed, which will use CARES Act money to absorb losses, are structured as bailout programs for Wall Street or the fossil fuels industry. During the hearing yesterday, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren derided the $500 billion as a “slush fund” while Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana described it as a backroom deal put together by Mnuchin, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, and Chuck Schumer and then forced on other members of Congress who didn’t get to participate in the negotiations. Kennedy said Congressional members “moan and groan and complain and then moo and follow their leaders in the shoot like cattle.” Kennedy promised Mnuchin that the next deal he attempts to bring to Congress on this basis is going to receive “serious pushback from Republicans and Democrats in both houses.”  Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and other Senators sent a letter to Powell asking him to expand the Fed’s emergency programs to include buying longer-term municipal bonds in order to bring down the costs of borrowing for state and local governments. Powell said he would take a look at the proposal. Mnuchin told Senator Jon Tester of Montana that he has complied fully with releasing information on who is getting the money from the CARES Act and said it has been posted online at the Treasury’s website. Tester told him that “I’m not seeing any of it.” (Wall Street On Parade also could find no list of recipients of the $500 billion on the Treasury’s website.) Tester asked Powell how much money from its leveraged facilities has already been spent to help the U.S. economy. Powell said the largest facilities “are just coming on line,” so “it’s all ahead of us.” Powell added that the amount of money thus far is “fairly modest.” Powell told Tester that the Fed “has committed to disclose all of the borrowers and the amounts in a timely way.”   Wall Street On Parade, using the Fed’s own weekly balance sheet report, tallied up that the Fed Hasn’t Spent a Dime Yet for Main Street Versus $735 Billion for Wall Street. Thus far, the Fed has not released the name of any recipient of funds that went to Wall Street banks or trading houses.

What did eight weeks and $3 trillion buy the U.S. in the fight against coronavirus? - (Reuters) - Unemployment checks are flowing, $490 billion has been shipped to small businesses, and the U.S. Federal Reserve has put about $2.5 trillion and counting behind domestic and global markets. Fears of overwhelmed hospitals and millions of U.S. deaths from the new coronavirus have diminished, if not disappeared. Yet two months into the United States’ fight against the most severe pandemic to arise in the age of globalization, neither the health nor the economic war has been won. Many analysts fear the country has at best fought back worst-case outcomes. For every community where case loads are declining, other hotspots arise and fester; for states like Wisconsin where bars are open and crowded, there are others such as Maryland that remain under strict limits. There is no universal, uniform testing plan to reveal what is happening to public health in any of those communities. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people a day continue to die from the COVID-19 disease in the United States, and between 20,000 and 25,000 are identified as infected. If there is consensus on any point, it is that the struggle toward normal social and economic life will take much more time, effort and money than at first thought. The risks of a years-long economic Depression have risen; fact-driven officials have become increasingly sober in their outlook; and the coming weeks and coming set of choices have emerged as critical to the future. Faced with two distinct paths - a cavalier acceptance of the mass deaths that would be needed for “herd immunity” or the truly strict lockdown needed to extinguish the virus - “we are not on either route,” Harvard University economist James Stock, among the first to model the health and economic tradeoffs the country faces, said last week. That means no clear end in sight to the economic and health pain.

Congress Eyes Military-Style Budget Carve-Out for Pandemic Prep – WSJ  - CONGRESS LOOKS TO MAKE PANDEMIC PREP PERMANENT through an appropriations mechanism used for some military funding. The relatively quiet effort by senior appropriators, endorsed by senior members of both parties, is playing out below the din of recrimination between the Trump administration and members of the Obama administration about who is to blame for shortcomings in the U.S. coronavirus pandemic response. A House Appropriations health subcommittee is working out the details of a proposal that would set up health funds exempt from discretionary spending caps—meaning the money would flow every year regardless of the political or budgetary climate—similar to the Defense Department Overseas Contingency Operations account. The idea could run into some resistance, however: Budget and transparency hawks in both parties have criticized the Pentagon account as a slush fund.For now, though, top health appropriators Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) and Tom Cole (R., Okla.) continue to discuss the idea ahead of the expected beginning of 2021 appropriations negotiations next month. DeLauro has pushed a version of the bill for years, including in the aftermath of the Ebola and Zika outbreaks—she reintroduced the legislation in late January, before the first known coronavirus death in the U.S. The pandemic “has made clear the necessity for this type of account,” DeLauro told the Journal. The negotiations are taking place amid a bitter partisan blame game over pandemic preparations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the Obama administration of not leaving behind “any kind of game plan for something like this.” The Biden campaign responded by posting the 2014 Obama administration “Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats.” McConnell later conceded that the Obama administration had indeed left behind a plan: “I clearly made a mistake.”

U.S. COVID-19 Contact Tracing Programs Designed for Failure, Despite Bloomberg Money; Why Can’t the U.S. Copy the Lessons of Hong Kong’s Success? - Jerri-Lynn Scofield - After weeks of voluntary national lockdown, some states are easing their social distancing requirements.The new magical thinking for U.S. management of this pandemic: contact tracing. Michael Bloomberg has made a significant investment in this strategy. According to Wired: As with testing and acquiring personal protective equipment, the federal government has left the challenge of recruiting and training an army of new contact tracers up to state and local public health departments. Absent a national plan, epidemiologists at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health stepped in to create a crash course that they hope will help public health departments rapidly expand their workforce. Their first remote students will be the thousands of people who’ve already applied to be contact tracers in New York state, the American epicenter of Covid-19. “To be honest, we’ve never done contact tracing at this scale in our living memory,” says Emily S. Gurley, an infectious disease epidemiologist who is leading the program. “So a lot of this is brand new.” In late April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to hire as many as 17,000 tracers for the state. Bloomberg’s philanthropic organization donated $10.5 million to the effort. Some of that money went to funding the creation of the Johns Hopkins course, which—in addition to further training—will be a requirement for anyone hoping to be hired into the New York tracing corps. Cuomo told The Washington Post this week that the online course is a “key component of our program that will provide tracers with the tools to effectively trace Covid-19 cases at the scale we need to fight this pandemic.”  Incredibly, U.S. states are only now rolling out contact tracing programs, many months after places that have successfully managed the pandemic: Hong Kong (4 deaths, 1056 cases), South Korea (11,065 cases, 263 deaths), Taiwan (440 cases, 7 deaths), Thailand (3031 cases, 56 deaths), Vietnam (320 cases, 0 deaths) – have run test, trace, and isolate programs. I have written three previous posts (see here, here, and here) on what has made Hong Kong’s approach so successful. For each of these, I’ve been able to draw on the wisdom of my old Oxford friend, Dr. Sarah Borwein, a Canadian who has practiced medicine in Hong Kong for fifteen years, and before that, in Beijing. Densely-populated Hong Kong has 7.5 million residents, and so far, has recorded four deaths, and just over 1000 cases, despite a slow and bungled initial response by chief executive Carrie Lam and by eschewing misplaced reliance on any techno-fix apps that carry significant risks to civil liberties (see here, where I discuss these points in detail; and this FT article discussing the limitations of contact tracing apps, Coronavirus contact tracing apps struggle to make an impact). And I turn to Sarah again to discuss some necessary conditions for successful contact tracing…

U.S. mulls paying companies, tax breaks to pull supply chains from China –  (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers and officials are crafting proposals to push American companies to move operations or key suppliers out of China that include tax breaks, new rules, and carefully structured subsidies. Interviews with a dozen current and former government officials, industry executives and members of Congress show widespread discussions underway - including the idea of a “reshoring fund” originally stocked with $25 billion - to encourage U.S. companies to drastically revamp their relationship with China. President Donald Trump has long pledged to bring manufacturing back from overseas, but the recent spread of the coronavirus and related concerns about U.S. medical and food supply chains dependency on China are “turbocharging” new enthusiasm for the idea in the White House. On Thursday, Trump signed an executive order that gave a U.S. overseas investment agency new powers to help manufacturers in the United States. The goal, Trump said, is to “produce everything America needs for ourselves and then export to the world, and that includes medicines.” But the Trump administration itself remains divided over how best to proceed, and the issue is unlikely to be addressed in the next fiscal stimulus to offset the coronavirus downturn. Congress has begun work on another fiscal stimulus package but it remains unclear when it might pass. The push takes on special resonance in an election year. While anti-China, pro-American job proposals could play well with voters, giving taxpayer money or tax breaks to companies that moved supply chains to China at a time when small business is flailing may not.

Democrats Split Over Scope of Coronavirus Oversight – WSJ - HOUSE CORONAVIRUS OVERSIGHT responsibilities get chopped up and spread among committees. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and newly designated chairman Jim Clyburn of the special coronavirus committee say that panel will be used for oversight of the $2 trillion stimulus package and its many loan programs. Many Democrats and progressive groups have been distressed by Clyburn’s comment that the committee wouldn’t “be looking back on what the president may or may not have done back before this crisis hit.” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff wants a 9/11-style independent commission to review the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The House Oversight Committee has started some reviews, including an inquiry into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s medical equipment stockpiles. Rep. Katie Porter has begun her own investigations; this week her office released a report on the Defense Production Act and medical equipment exports to China during the first months of the pandemic.

Nancy Pelosi’s Lobbying Ban in Stimulus Package Quickly Nixed by K Street and Senate – WSJ - NANCY PELOSI TRIED TO BAN LOBBYING by firms that receive funds as part of the coronavirus stimulus package, but the provision tucked into page 728 of House Democrats’ draft proposal quickly caught the eye of lobbyists who were assured by Hill contacts that the provision had no chance of being included in the final legislation hammered out by the Senate. “The corporation may not carry out any Federal lobbying activities,” the House draft said.It was one of several conditions on federal aid to corporations in Pelosi’s bill. Others included bans on stock buybacks, restrictions on executive pay and a ban on paying dividends to shareholders until the federal assistance was fully repaid. Some of those corporate-accountability conditions were ultimately included in the Senate legislation.Some legal experts saw the lobbying provision as a Democratic messaging effort that wouldn’t have survived legal scrutiny. “It’s highly likely to be struck down as unconstitutional under the ‘unconstitutional conditions’ doctrine,” because it violates corporations’ First Amendment rights to petition the government, said Robert Kelner, a partner at Covington & Burling who advises companies on lobbying-disclosure rules. Lobbying by firms that receive bailout money was controversial during the financial crisis, too, and had uneven outcomes: Major banks continued to employ lobbyists, while American International Group took a yearslong break from lobbying after feeling pressure from Congress. It restarted in 2014 after it had repaid its $182 billion bailout.

As Congress Weighs COVID Liability Protections, States Shield Health Providers --Coronavirus patients and their families who believe a doctor, nurse, hospital or other provider made serious mistakes during their care may face a new hurdle if they try to file medical malpractice lawsuits.Under pressure from health provider organizations, governors in Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois and several other states have ordered that most providers be shielded from civil ― and, in some cases, criminal — lawsuits over medical treatment during the COVID-19 health emergency. In New York and New Jersey, immunity is now part of state law. In California, six hospital, physician and long-term care provider groups are pressing Gov. Gavin Newsom to also issue an order assuring immunity.The efforts are attracting congressional attention as well and threatening to derail the next federal coronavirus stimulus package on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is demanding that Congress include liability protections against COVID-related suits for businesses and health care providers. The contentious issue of legal liability claims in health care has divided congressional Republicans and Democrats for years. “We are not going to let health care heroes emerge from this crisis facing a tidal wave of medical malpractice lawsuits so that trial lawyers can line their pockets,” the Kentucky Republican said in the Senate on Tuesday. “This will give our doctors, nurses and other health care providers a lot more security as they clock in every day and risk themselves to care for strangers.”A coalition of 36 physician and hospital associations has appealed as well to congressional leaders for federal legislation.Some legal experts and seniors’ advocates worry that the state immunity guarantees go too far, leaving patients with no way to hold providers accountable. Supporters argue that health care providers and facilities deserve protection from lawsuits as they battle a deadly virus during an unprecedented public health emergency.

Trump expresses opposition to extending coronavirus unemployment benefits enacted in response to pandemic -  President Trump on Tuesday privately expressed opposition to extending a weekly $600 boost in unemployment insurance for laid-off workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to three officials familiar with his remarks during a closed-door lunch with Republican senators on Capitol Hill.The increased unemployment benefits — paid by the federal government but administered through individual states — were enacted this year as part of a broader $2 trillion relief package passed by Congress. The boost expires this summer, and House Democrats have proposed extending the aid through January 2021.  But congressional Republicans have said they are concerned that some workers are making more money on unemployment insurance than if they were on a payroll and therefore have less incentive to return to work or find a new job.“You can extend some assistance, but you don’t want to pay people more unemployed than they’d make working. You should never make more than your actual wages,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who said he raised the issue with Trump during the lunch. While Trump did not explicitly say he would not sign another bill if it contained a benefit boost, Graham said “he agrees that that is hurting the economic recovery.”Many economists fear cutting off the benefit extension could hamper the economic recovery. Government spending on unemployment benefits rose by $45 billion from February to April, offsetting slightly more than half of the decline in private wages and salary, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution. Republicans have maintained that the higher benefit will give workers an incentive to stay at home rather than go to work, but eliminating the massive cash infusion could further depress demand amid fears consumers are already cutting back dramatically on spending. Trump’s advisers have expressed confidence the economy will quickly recover, a view at odds with many economists.

Nancy Pelosi’s Lobbying Ban in Stimulus Package Quickly Nixed by K Street and Senate – WSJ - NANCY PELOSI TRIED TO BAN LOBBYING by firms that receive funds as part of the coronavirus stimulus package, but the provision tucked into page 728 of House Democrats’ draft proposal quickly caught the eye of lobbyists who were assured by Hill contacts that the provision had no chance of being included in the final legislation hammered out by the Senate. “The corporation may not carry out any Federal lobbying activities,” the House draft said.It was one of several conditions on federal aid to corporations in Pelosi’s bill. Others included bans on stock buybacks, restrictions on executive pay and a ban on paying dividends to shareholders until the federal assistance was fully repaid. Some of those corporate-accountability conditions were ultimately included in the Senate legislation.Some legal experts saw the lobbying provision as a Democratic messaging effort that wouldn’t have survived legal scrutiny. “It’s highly likely to be struck down as unconstitutional under the ‘unconstitutional conditions’ doctrine,” because it violates corporations’ First Amendment rights to petition the government, said Robert Kelner, a partner at Covington & Burling who advises companies on lobbying-disclosure rules. Lobbying by firms that receive bailout money was controversial during the financial crisis, too, and had uneven outcomes: Major banks continued to employ lobbyists, while American International Group took a yearslong break from lobbying after feeling pressure from Congress. It restarted in 2014 after it had repaid its $182 billion bailout.

 Senate Adjourns Without Approving Deal to Extend PPP Spending Window – WSJ The Senate was unable to finalize a deal to extend the amount of time companies have to spend loans obtained through the Paycheck Protection Program, putting off the likely passage of revised small-business aid rules to next month.Amid broad bipartisan support, senators worked on Thursday to coalesce around a plan to double the time period to 16 weeks, but failed to garner unanimous consent on the agreement before leaving for a Memorial Day recess. The PPP is intended to help small businesses keep workers employed and pay other expenses during the coronavirus pandemic.Under the current rule, the earliest recipients of PPP funds must finish using them by May 29. Senators also sought to extend the deadline for program applications to Dec. 31 from June 30, and allow businesses to use funds to pay for investments needed to reopen safely and buy personal protective equipment for employees.”I don’t think we’re going to have a problem getting something done one way or the other on it,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), the chairman of the small-business committee.Some senators had hoped to pass new PPP legislation before the break, even as GOP leaders have urged a go-slow approach on a broader aid package.On Wednesday, Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) said it was “unfathomable” for the Senate to leave for recess without passing coronavirus-related legislation, adding that he would block the Senate from adjourning. Mr. Gardner, who faces a tough re-election fight, said Thursday that the Senate was “very close to a number of things that are needed” and didn’t object to the Senate adjourning.Separately, House Democrats are expected next week to vote on a bill to change the $660 billion program’s time frame, and change some of the repayment terms. The House proposal has support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, the National Retail Federation and several other outside groups.As states across the country start to loosen restrictions on non-essential businesses, shopping malls in some states were open this weekend and provided a look at the desire for in-store shopping during the pandemic. Photo: Elizabeth FindellTo become law, either bill would have to pass both chambers and be signed by the president. The program requires businesses to put 75% of its funding toward keeping workers on the payroll for the loan to be forgiven, and to do so within eight weeks. But that has proven difficult for many businesses—such as restaurants and hair salons—that have remained closed and have little or no work to offer employees.

Mnuchin: Strong Likelihood We’ll Need Another Stimulus Package – WSJ —Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. economy “will be great again” in 2021, a day after the Congressional Budget Office forecast that unemployment will remain elevated through the end of next year. Mr. Mnuchin said Thursday that the recession caused by efforts to contain the novel coronavirus will likely bottom out in the second quarter—a view shared by many economists—and predicted a “gigantic increase” in output in the fourth quarter. He reiterated the preference of the Trump administration and Senate Republicans to hold off on approving additional support for the economy, though he said there’s a “strong likelihood” more will be needed. “With the great advancement in medical progress in killing this virus we expect our economy will be great again next year,” Mr. Mnuchin said in a virtual event hosted by The Hill. The Treasury secretary’s comments came as economists and other policy makers grow increasingly somber about the economic outlook beyond the current quarter, which is widely expected to see the largest decline in output since the Great Depression. The Congressional Budget Office projected Wednesday that the unemployment rate, which shot up to 14.7% last month, would remain at 8.6% at the end of 2021. That’s more than double the 3.5% level seen in February. Since March, Congress has passed economic-relief packages expected to inject more than $3 trillion into the economy. But with health experts cautioning against a full-fledged reopening of restaurants, stores and tourism, many economists believe more aid will be needed to prevent further layoffs by businesses and governments hit by declining tax revenues. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed an additional $3 trillion relief package last week that Republicans say they are unlikely to take up in the Senate. Mr. Mnuchin said Thursday the House bill “obviously is a partisan bill, so that’s not something we’re focusing on at the moment.” He suggested the Trump administration would want to modify a provision in the Cares Act that provides an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits to laid-off workers because it allows many low-income employees to receive more money than they did working.

Farmers won't see coronavirus money until June as bankruptcies soar - Struggling farmers and ranchers, many of whom have seen their markets collapse as the pandemic upended supply chains, won't see coronavirus relief money until June -- about two months after Congress appropriated the funds.The US Department of Agriculture said this week that farmers can begin applying for the money next Tuesday. Secretary Sonny Perdue said he expects the checks to be sent a week to 10 days after a farmer signs up.Farmers who saw at least a 5% drop in price loss due to the pandemic will be eligible for payments worth up to $250,000.As demand from restaurants and schools disappeared, farmers have already had to dump milk,euthanize hogs and destroy fresh produce as suppliers try to reconfigure the supply chain and get more food to grocery stores and food banks."This aid can't arrive soon enough as many farmers file for bankruptcy, facing unprecedented losses," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall in a statement.Farm bankruptcies are up 23% over the past year and are likely to keep rising because of the pandemic, according to the group.Farmers were already suffering before the coronavirus outbreak. They became a specific target of President Donald Trump's trade war with China, which has been ongoing for two years. The Trump administration gave $28 billion in direct payments to farmers hurt by China's tariffs, but it didn't make them whole.New agricultural purchase commitments made by Beijing in February in a preliminary trade deal have mostly failed to come to fruition as the pandemic slowed global trade."After several difficult years of trade disputes, depressed prices, and extreme weather, the agricultural economy was finally starting to recover," said National Farmers Union President Rob Larew in a statement sent to CNN. But he added that now "it's clear that this is going to be yet another bad year for family farmers and ranchers."

  Medicaid Providers At The End Of The Line For Federal COVID Funding - Casa de Salud, a nonprofit clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, provides primary medical care, opioid addiction services and non-Western therapies, including acupuncture and reiki, to a largely low-income population. And, like so many other health care providers that serve as a safety net, its revenue — and its future — are threatened by the COVID-19 epidemic. “I’ve been working for the past six weeks to figure out how to keep the doors open,” said the clinic’s executive director, Dr. Anjali Taneja. “We’ve seen probably an 80% drop in patient care, which has completely impacted our bottom line.” In March, Congress authorized $100 billion for health care providers, both to compensate them for the extra costs associated with caring for patients with COVID-19 and for the revenue that’s not coming in from regular care. They have been required to stop providing most nonemergency services, and many patients are afraid to visit health care facilities. But more than half that money has been allocated by the Department of Health and Human Services, and the majority of it so far has gone to hospitals, doctors and other facilities that serve Medicare patients. Officials said at the time that was an efficient way to get the money beginning to move to many providers. That, however, leaves out a large swath of the health system infrastructure that serves the low-income Medicaid population and children. Casa de Salud, for example, accepts Medicaid but not Medicare. State Medicaid directors say that without immediate funding, many of the health facilities that serve Medicaid patients could close permanently. More than a month ago, bipartisan Medicaid chiefs wrote the federal government asking for immediate authority to make “retainer” payments — not related to specific care for patients — to keep their health providers in business. “If we wait, core components of the Medicaid delivery system could fail during, or soon after, this pandemic,” wrote the National Association of Medicaid Directors. So far, the Trump administration has not responded, although in early April it said it was “working rapidly on additional targeted distributions” for other providers, including those who predominately serve Medicaid patients. In an email, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said officials there will “continue to work with states as they seek to ensure continued access to care for Medicaid beneficiaries through and beyond the public health emergency.” In the administration’s explanation of how it is distributing the relief funds, Medicaid providers are included in a catchall category at the very bottom of the list, under the heading “additional allocations.”

Federal Government Buys Riot Gear, Increases Security Funding, Citing Pandemic -- THE FEDERAL government has ramped up security and police-related spending in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including issuing contracts for riot gear, disclosures show.The purchase orders include requests for disposable cuffs, gas masks, ballistic helmets, and riot gloves, along with law enforcement protective equipment for federal police assigned to protect Veterans Affairs facilities. The orders were expedited under a special authorization “in response to Covid-19 outbreak.” The CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion stimulus legislation passed in late March, also authorized $850 million for the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program, a federal grant program to prepare law enforcement, correctional officers, and police for the crisis. The funds have been dispensed to local governments to pay for overtime costs, purchase protective supplies, and defray expenses related to emergency policing.The CESF funding may be used for a range of coronavirus response efforts by law enforcement, including medical personal protective equipment, overtime for police officers, training, and supplies for detention centers. The grants may also be used for the purchase of unmanned aerial aircraft and video security cameras for law enforcement. Motorola Solutions, a major supplier of police technology, has encouraged local governments to use the new money to buy a range of command center software and video analytics systems.While the pandemic has coincided with a historic drop in violent crime across the country, analysts have expressed concern that the rapid spread of the virus will fuel confrontations.There have been multiple inmate riots in response to Covid-19 outbreaks in prisons and jails, which have become dangerous hotspots for the disease. The economic upheaval and disagreements over coronavirus-related policy have also fueled demonstrations across the country.The federal funding requests contrast sharply with the rosy rhetoric from President Donald Trump, who has lavished himself with praise for his response to the crisis and issued optimistic predictions that recovery is around the corner. Last month, the federal government secured a contract to purchase 100,000 body bags to dispose of deaths related to the Covid-19 outbreak.

US courts revoke emergency protections in coronavirus pandemic - Over the past week, the US Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court have issued a series of antidemocratic decisions that place countless lives at risk and increase the hardships faced by workers in the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, the US Supreme Court declined to reinstate an order requiring Texas prisons to provide proper safeguards against the coronavirus. Two prisoners, Laddy Valentine, 69, and Richard King, 73, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of inmates against a geriatric prison in Grimes County, Texas. Valentine and King argued that the prison’s lack of safeguards violated the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. The prison, Wallace Pack Unit, holds over 1,200 inmates, 827 of whom are over 65. Leonard Clerkly, an inmate at the prison, died last month of complications from COVID-19. Since then, other prisoners have tested positive for the virus. A district court had ruled in favor of the prisoners and ordered the prison to implement multiple safety measures, including access to hand soap and hand sanitizer in public areas. Additionally, the prison was required to provide a detailed plan to test all inmates. The court also mandated cleaning and disinfecting protocols and ordered the prison to educate inmates on the pandemic. In issuing the decision last month, District Judge Keith P. Ellison said, “The government has a constitutional duty to protect those it detains from conditions of confinement that create a substantial risk of serious harm.” A week later, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, put Ellison’s order on hold pending an appeal. A three-judge panel argued that the district court’s requirements went further than the recommended guidelines issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the panel admitted that COVID-19 poses a risk of “serious or fatal harm,” it asserted that many of the protective measures already taken by the prison already matched the district court’s order. Valentine and King asked the US Supreme Court to reinstate the district court order, but the justices denied the request. In court briefs, Texas argued that its Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) had worked “diligently” to protect prisoners from the pandemic. “Much of the relief plaintiffs sought involved safety measures already in place,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told the Supreme Court. He added, “Plaintiffs have not shown any irreparable harm because there is no evidence that TDCJ’s COVID-19 measures are inadequate, nor is there any evidence that the district court’s laundry list of commands will protect them any better than what Defendants are already doing.” None of the “liberal” justices on the Supreme Court dissented from the decision. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that they supported the court’s decision but held reservations on certain “disturbing” details of the case. In another attack on democratic rights, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday to place a hold on an expansion of voting by mail-in ballots during the pandemic. The court blocked a lower court’s decision allowing voters without immunity to the coronavirus to qualify for absentee ballots by claiming a disability. Efforts to curb mail-in voting, spearheaded by the Trump administration and the Republican Party, are justified with false claims that mail ballot fraud is rampant.

Immigrant Advocates See Fatal Flaws in Detention Centers - From its very beginning the Trump administration has aggressively used detention as part of its immigration enforcement strategy. Between 2016 and 2019, immigration detention in the U.S. grew by 45 percent, according to figures based on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s annual reports. ICE’s use of detainer requests — 165,487 last year — requires the cooperation of local or state law enforcement to transfer people into prolonged detention in the country’s immigration detention facilities. Transfers of people from criminal custody to immigration detention facilities already constituted a detention-to-deportation pipeline prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but advocates now worry that ICE is transferring people into virus hotbeds. While local and state authorities have granted incarcerated people early release from jails and prisons, people are being caught by ICE’s dragnet use of detainers, further risking the spread of the virus. ICE detention facilities have already become hotspots for the virus throughout the country. Some, like Sonoma County resident Coraima Sanchez Nuñez, were transferred to an immigration detention facility before the pandemic. Nuñez was arrested for a probation violation last July, and said she planned, upon release from Sonoma County Jail, to take up her reserved spot in a rehabilitation center. But ICE issued a detainer, a request to state and local law enforcement agencies to notify them of a person’s release date and to facilitate the transfer of custody, which officials aren’t required by state law to comply with. Nuñez was moved to a facility in San Francisco, then transferred to the Mesa Verde immigration detention facility in Bakersfield, California, where she was held for eight months. As an asthmatic, Nuñez is particularly vulnerable to the virus, but said poor sanitary conditions in Mesa Verde put everyone detained there at risk of getting COVID-19. For weeks, according to Nuñez, soap dispensers were absent in communal restrooms, and only around mid-April — long after local and national public health officials had issued physical distancing and sanitation recommendations — did Mesa Verde staff finally install one at the entrance to the women’s dorm, after detainees went on a hunger strike. Immigration officials provide one small shampoo bottle and one bar of soap every other day for personal hygiene, including washing hands, bathing and cleaning personal products. Nuñez said detainees, responsible for cleaning the dorm and restrooms, used shampoo, toothpaste and lotion to clean common spaces. Nuñez went on a two and a half week hunger strike to demand access to protective equipment and testing. “It was like no virus ever existed,” she said. She added that when people exhibited coronavirus symptoms, they were not isolated from other detainees at Mesa Verde.

Trump Says Places of Worship Are Essential Services – WSJ —President Trump called on governors to reopen the nation’s places of worship as essential services Friday, pointing to new safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and declaring that he would “override” any state leaders who don’t agree.The president said some governors have deemed abortion clinics and liquor stores as essential but hadn’t put churches and other places of worship in that category. Mr. Trump, who since the coronavirus crisis began has asserted that he has authority over state governors only to walk back his position, didn’t say how he would overrule the states, which have set their own rules in the crisis.“I call upon the governors to allow our churches or places of worship to open,” Mr. Trump said at a hastily scheduled appearance in the White House briefing room Friday. “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.”“The ministers, pastors, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders will make sure their congregations are safe as they gather and pray,” he said.The president’s announcement came as he is pushing for the country to reopen. It reflected his close ties to evangelical Christians, a group that has voiced frustration about the lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, and one that Mr. Trump sees as key to his re-election bid in November.Most U.S. churches have closed their doors for now and moved to virtual services amid concerns over the virus, but others have sought to continue to bring congregants together physically in some way, prompting some litigation and tensions with local authorities.

Trump Declares Houses Of Worship Essential, Says Governors Must Allow Services Or 'I Will Overrule Them’ - President Trump on Friday declared churches to be 'essential', and says he will 'overrule' governors who don't allow them to open "right now.""Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It's not right," he said.BREAKING: President @realDonaldTrump announces that the CDC will be issuing guidance declaring places of worship ESSENTIAL, allowing them to re-open as of this weekend!  — Team Trump (Text TRUMP to 88022) (@TeamTrump) May 22, 2020   According to Axios, the announcement comes after a disagreement between the Centers for Disease Control and the White House over the specifics regarding reopening the country, after the CDC released a 60-page roadmap.

Inside Trump’s coronavirus meltdown - When the history is written of how America handled the global era’s first real pandemic, March 6 will leap out of the timeline. That was the day Donald Trump visited the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. His foray to the world’s best disease research body was meant to showcase that America had everything under control. It came midway between the time he was still denying the coronavirus posed a threat and the moment he said he had always known it could ravage America.Shortly before the CDC visit, Trump said “within a couple of days, [infections are] going to be down to close to zero”. The US then had 15 cases. “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” A few days afterwards, he claimed: “I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” That afternoon at the CDC provides an X-ray into Trump’s mind at the halfway point between denial and acceptance.We now know that Covid-19 had already passed the breakout point in the US. The contagion had been spreading for weeks in New York, Washington stateand other clusters. The curve was pointing sharply upwards. Trump’s goal in Atlanta was to assert the opposite.Wearing his “Keep America Great” baseball cap, the US president was flanked by Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, Alex Azar, the US secretary of health and human services, and Brian Kemp, governor of Georgia. In his 47-minute interaction with the press, Trump rattled through his greatest hits. He dismissed CNN as fake news, boasted about his high Fox News viewership, cited the US stock market’s recent highs, called Washington state’s Democratic governor a “snake” and admitted he hadn’t known that large numbers of people could die from ordinary flu. He also misunderstood a question on whether he should cancel campaign rallies for public health reasons. What caught the media’s attention were two comments he made about the disease. There would be four million testing kits available within a week. “The tests are beautiful,” he said. “Anybody that needs a test gets a test.” Ten weeks later, that is still not close to being true. Fewer than 3 per cent of Americans had been tested by mid-May. Trump also boasted about his grasp of science. He cited a “super genius” uncle, John Trump, who taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and implied he inherited his intellect. “I really get it,” he said. “Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability.” Historians might linger on that observation too.

As death toll mounts, White House steps up efforts to scapegoat China for pandemic --In a round of interviews on US television talk shows, the top Trump trade adviser and anti-China hawk, Peter Navarro, stepped up the White House attack on Beijing, suggesting that it had purposely started the global COVID-19 pandemic. Making China the scapegoat for the outbreak not only serves to deflect attention from the Trump administration’s criminal responsibility for the horrific death toll in the United States but feeds directly into the anti-China trade war measures for which Navarro has aggressively advocated. Speaking on the “This Week” program on ABC News, Navarro repeatedly referred to COVID-19 in xenophobic terms as the “China virus”—a patently unscientific term intended to blame Beijing for the pandemic. While declaring he did not say that China deliberately unleashed the virus on the world, he immediately made clear that was exactly what he was implying. Claiming to present “the facts,” Navarro stated: “The virus was spawned in Wuhan province. Patient zero was in November. The Chinese, behind the shield of the World Health Organization, for two months hid the virus from the world, and then sent hundreds of thousands of Chinese on aircraft to Milan, New York, and around the world to seed that.” In another demonstration that the entire US media and political establishment is on board the anti-China campaign, ABC presenter George Stephanopoulos did not dispute any of these so-called “facts.” In reality China was wrestling with the sudden emergence of a previously unknown disease: its causes, let alone the means for testing and treating it, had to be identified and developed. Any objective examination of the record shows that Chinese authorities provided information as it became available to the World Health Organization (WHO) and other countries, including the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States.

In Latest Escalation, President Trump Blames China For "Mass Worldwide Killing" -  A day after the WHA approved a resolution authorizing a WHO-led investigation to the origins of the coronavirus in China, President Trump just lashed out at China's state-approved conspiracy-peddlers who are desperately trying to convince the Chinese people that the virus didn't come from China - but actually originated in the US.Some wacko in China just released a statement blaming everybody other than China for the Virus which has now killed hundreds of thousands of people. Please explain to this dope that it was the “incompetence of China”, and nothing else, that did this mass Worldwide killing!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2020The rhetorical tit-for-tat between the US and China has intensified in recent days, as the White House lambasted President Xi's promise to share a vaccine "with the world" and pump $2 billion into the WHO's effort to help the poorest countries as a "token" gesture to try and obviate China's obvious culpability.Trump and many members of his administration have bashed the WHO for uncritically accepting information provided by the CCP - despite having an office on the ground in Beijing - and writing glowing reports praising China's early response while the government knowingly withheld information that could have inspired a more stringent response.Instead, the organization hemmed and hawed, playing down the virus's destructive potential, and celebrating China's response as "a model" for other developing nations.Twitter blue checks immediately pounced on the comment, reminding the world of the Trump Administration's "failings".Some wacko in the White House is blaming everyone but himself for the disastrous spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in America.  The original sin is China's but the Trump administration had plenty of time to deal with the gathering storm. It's not like it arrived unannounced.— Khaled Diab (@DiabolicalIdea) May 20, 2020

The Trump administration makes Taiwan latest front in anti-China campaign - The Trump administration has taken another provocative step in its escalating anti-China campaign by openly siding with the re-elected Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen and pressing Taiwan’s case at the annual World Health Organisation (WHO) ministerial assembly. China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, has reacted angrily to steps that breach longstanding protocols associated with the so-called One China policy, under which countries, including the US, recognise Beijing as the government of all China, including Taiwan. In a written statement yesterday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Tsai Ing-wen on her inauguration for a second term and was effusive in his praise for her “courage and vision.” He added that the US has “long considered Taiwan a force for good in the world.” It is the first time that a US secretary of state has formally congratulated an incoming Taiwanese president. In response, China’s defence ministry issued a statement expressing “strong dissatisfaction” and “firm opposition” to Pompeo’s remarks and reasserting that “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.” The Chinese foreign ministry declared that Pompeo had seriously damaged the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait and warned that China would take necessary countermeasures. As the Trump administration is well aware, Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan is regarded by Beijing as one of its most sensitive core concerns. It has sought to cultivate close economic relations with Taipei and is particularly hostile to the efforts of President Tsai Ing-wen, with the Trump administration’s backing, to boost Taiwan’s military forces. Tsai belongs to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which, while stopping short of advocating a formal break from China, has pushed for greater political and diplomatic independence. The Chinese regime has in the past warned that it would react militarily to stop any formal declaration of independence. Trump has deliberately cultivated closer diplomatic, economic and military relations with Taiwan. He signaled his attitude just prior to being inaugurated in 2017 when he declared that he did not regard the One China policy as sacrosanct, and took a congratulatory phone call at the time from Tsai. His administration has given the green light for several huge arms sales to Taiwan that significantly bolster its armed forces. US military strategists regard Taiwan, situated close to the Chinese mainland, as crucial in any US war with China. The Trump administration further angered Beijing by backing Taiwan’s push for observer status at the international WHO meeting this week. Taiwan is excluded from UN gatherings as it has no independent status under the One China policy recognized by the United Nations. China’s ambassador to the UN, Chen Xu, branded US arguments for Taiwan’s inclusion as “political hype” and its conduct as “not acceptable”.

 China Claps Back: New National Security Bill A "Death Knell" For "US Influence" In Hong Kong - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has issued a statement responding to China's new "National Security" law effectively criminalizing all forms of political dissent in the territory. In it, he unequivocally insisted the US would "stand with Hong Kong" and oppose Beijing's decision to "unilaterally and arbitrarily" crack down on Hong Kong's freedoms, which were supposedly enshrined in the "one country, two systems" deal with the British back in the 1980s.Beijing has capitalized on a loophole in HK's "Basic Law" requiring the city state to have some kind of National Security law. But the sensitive political climate has kept an official law off the books for decades. Now, it's being extraneously imposed by Beijing. The United States condemns the PRC proposal to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong and strongly urges Beijing to reconsider. We stand with the people of Hong Kong. — Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 22, 2020As Hong Kongers prepare to take to the streets in protest, Pompeo hinted that the law - which would be a "death knell" for political freedoms and autonomy for Hong Kong - would result in the US stripping the city-state of its special economic status, which was contingent on China keeping its hands off Hong Kong. As Trump's top diplomat, Pompeo has become the object of intense anger by the CCP and the Chinese press. A quick look through Global Times editor Hu Xijin's twitter feed reveals many "clap backs" - rebuttals to hawkish comments about China made by the secretary of state.Friday was no different, as Hu, an English-language mouthpiece for the CCP, tweeted that the new security bill targeting Hong Kong isn't a "death knell" for the city state's autonomy, but rather a "death knell" for "US influence" in the territory. Aping Trump's playbook, Hu also branded Pompeo with a new nickname: 'Lying Pompeo'... It is a death knell indeed, however, not sounding for high-degree autonomy of HK, but for the US intervention in HK. Americans are dying and US economy is moaning. What remains strongest is the mouth of secretory of state which can earn him an “honorable” nickname: “Lying Pompeo” — Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) May 22, 2020   ...We feel obligated to note that nicknames don't really carry the same bite when applied to the surname, instead of somebody's first name. For example, they should have went with "Lying Mike" Pompeo.

    White House Weighs Economic Retaliation Against China As Hassett Warns "All Options Are On The Table" -  While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slams China over its planned 'National Security' law, which clearly aims to suppress all political dissent and "foreign influence" in Hong Kong, while hinting that the special trade status enjoyed by the city-state might soon be revoked, White House economic advisor Kevin Hassett appears on CNN Friday to play 'bad cop' to Pompeo's 'good cop'. As Huawei scrambles to find suppliers not based in the US, Hassett insisted that the White House is "absolutely not going to give China a pass" and is already considering any and all forms of economic punishment, including, presumably, more laws to force the de-listing of Chinese companies on US exchanges, or even the cancellation of US debt held by Beijing."We’re absolutely not going to give China a pass. All the options are on the table," Hassett said.He added that the new law was a "scary move" as it shows Beijing is starting to care less and less about the objections of the West."And that’s going to be very costly to China and the people of Hong Kong. So, yeah, I think it is a very difficult, scary move and that it is something that people need to pay close attention to," he said.Ultimately, a less-free Hong Kong will hurt the city-state's status as a financial hub. "If Hong Kong stops being Hong Kong, the open place it is, then it is no longer going to be the financial center that it is."

    Trump official blames high US coronavirus death toll on the diversity that “unfortunately” exists in the population - During an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper on Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Alex Azar implied that the reason the US leads the world in COVID-19 deaths is due to the “diverse” nature of the US population and not the government's inability to implement an effective testing and contact tracing program in the early months of the outbreak. Azar’s comments are indicative of the attitude of the ruling class as a whole towards the pandemic. Unable to mask their criminal indifference to mass suffering and death, their only recourse is to blame those suffering the brunt of the fatalities and disease, while at the same time revealing their own backward thinking. Tapper had asked the HHS secretary about the US having the highest death toll: “But it's worse for us than it is for anyone else.” Azar protested, citing “mortality rates,” which Tapper replied, “I'm just looking at the number of dead bodies.” To which Azar responded: “Unfortunately, the American population is a very diverse and—and it is a—it is a population with significant unhealthy comorbidities that do make many individuals in our communities, in particular African-American, minority communities, particularly at risk here because of significant underlying disease health disparities and disease comorbidities.” This statement leaves little to the imagination. If African-Americans and other minorities suffer disproportionately from coronavirus, Azar is saying, it’s their own fault, not Trump’s. As the WSWS has explained, the reason for the increase in death rates among urban populations, regardless of skin color, is due to mass poverty and inequality. The fact that so many deaths have been among African-Americans suffering from “comorbidities,” that is, multiple underlying health conditions, is a product of the capitalist system, which Azar defends.

    'All the psychoses of US history': how America is victim-blaming the coronavirus dead - Why do Americans represent less than 5% of the world’s population but nearly a third of the known coronavirus death toll? Not because of government incompetence, the Trump administration is arguing, but because Americans are very unhealthy. The United States’ organized response to the pandemic had been “historic”, Trump’s health secretary, Alex Azar, told CNN on 17 May, but America “unfortunately” has a “very diverse” population, and black Americans and minorities “in particular” have “significant underlying disease”. Jake Tapper, the CNN anchor interviewing Azar, paused and squinted. Surely, he asked, Azar was not arguing that “the reason that there were so many dead Americans is because we’re unhealthier than the rest of the world?” Azar doubled down: “These are demonstrated facts.” “That doesn’t mean it’s the fault of the American people that the government failed to take adequate steps in February …” Tapper said. “This is not about fault. It’s about simple epidemiology,” Azar said, adding in a pious tone: “One doesn’t blame an individual for their health condition. That would be absurd.” Blaming black Americans for dying from a novel virus because they had diabetes or high blood pressure was precisely what Azar was doing. Someone had to be held responsible for an American death toll approaching 100,000 people, worse than any other country’s reported deaths. In order for the Trump administration to remain blameless, someone else had to be blamed, and the administration was now blaming the dead.

    Trump tears into '60 Minutes' after segment with whistleblower Bright — President Trump took aim at CBS News and its flagship news magazine program, "60 Minutes," on Sunday after the program interviewed whistleblower Rick Bright, former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. In a tweet, the president excoriated CBS and its "third place anchor, @NorahODonnell," whom he accused of "doing everything in their power to demean our Country, much to the benefit of the Radical Left Democrats." "Tonight they put on yet another Fake 'Whistleblower', a disgruntled employee who supports Dems, fabricates stories & spews lies. @60Minutes report was incorrect, which they couldn’t care less about. Fake News!" he tweeted. "This whole Whistleblower racket needs to be looked at very closely, it is causing great injustice & harm. I hope you are listening @SenSusanCollins I also hope that Shari Redstone will take a look at her poorly performing gang. She knows how to make things right!" Trump added, tagging Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Redstone is the chairwoman of ViacomCBS. The Hill has reached out to CBS News for comment. Bright, who last week slammed the Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 crisis during testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told CBS News that he was not "disgruntled," as Trump has described him, but instead was frustrated with the administration's response to the virus threat. "Remember, the entire leadership was focused on containment. There was a belief that we could contain this virus and keep it out of the United States," he said. "Containment doesn't work. Containment does buy time. It could slow. It very well could slow the spread. But while you're slowing the spread, you better be doing something in parallel to be prepared for when that virus breaks out. That was my job."

    CNN's Kaitlan Collins clashes with Trump over her mask removal, evokes coronavirus death toll - CNN's Kaitlan Collins clashed with President Trump after he called her a "CNN Faker!" in a tweet that included video of the White House correspondent removing her mask in the James S. Brady briefing room immediately after a press conference ended on Friday. The back-and-forth came after a C-SPAN video feed showed Collins removing her protective mask as other reporters in the room kept theirs on while exiting the indoor briefing room. The video quickly went viral on social media, with Eric Trump also sharing it. "A CNN Faker!" President Trump tweeted to his 80 million followers. Collins responded by evoking the death toll in the U.S. as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. "Nearly 90,000 Americans have been killed by coronavirus, and the president is tweeting about me pulling my mask down for six seconds on Friday," Collins said in a tweet that tallied nearly 57,000 likes as of Monday morning.

    Trump Admits To Taking Hydroxychloroquine With Zinc As Preventative Measure President Trump admitted on Monday taking Hydroxychloroquine with zinc as a precaution against coronavirus - telling reporters "I happen to be taking it," and "I'm not going to get hurt by it."Trump said that while he hasn't been exposed to the virus, he was given permission by the White House doctor to take the controversial treatment, and began taking it approximately 10 days ago - right around the time Mike Pence's press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive for the virus."I happen to be taking it," says @POTUS of hydroxychloroquine . "I'm not going to get hurt by it.” "A lot of front-line workers" are also taking hydroxychloroquine. "I'm taking the two -- zinc and hydroxy."  "I just want to open with the American public. I happen to think it's good," adds @POTUS. — Steve Herman (@W7VOA) May 18, 2020   "A lot of good things have come out about the hydroxy. A lot of good things have come out. You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it," said Trump.While medical experts - including Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House coronavirus task force have cautioned against taking the drug, Hydroxychloroquine and Zinc has been successfully used by doctors around the world, who claim dramatic improvement in patients with coronavirus.  "Every patient I've prescribed it to has been very, very ill and within 8 to 12 hours, they were basically symptom-free," said Los Angeles doctor Dr. Anthony Cardillo, adding "So clinically I am seeing a resolution." Cardillo, CEO of Mend Urgent Care, says that the drug must be used in conjunction with Zinc, as the hdroxycholoroquine opens a 'channel' for the mineral to enter cells and prevent the virus from replicating. That said, the drug has been shown to raise heart risks and rates of death when combined with the antibiotic azithromycin, according to Bloomberg, which notes that it can interfere with the heart's electrical signals in extremely rare cases.

    Trump describes medical researchers as enemies because he doesn’t like their results - There was a specific reason for President Trump’s sudden announcement on Monday that he was taking the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. His goal was to undermine a whistleblower who had raised questions about the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a whistleblower who claimed that it was his skepticism about the utility of the drug that led to his firing. How could hydroxychloroquine be as dangerous as former top vaccine official Rick Bright suggested, Trump offered, given that he himself was using it?The revelation quickly prompted reporters to ask what evidence Trump had that the drug was at all efficacious in addressing the virus and disease it causes, covid-19. Simple, Trump replied: Lots of people called him and said it worked. “The only negative I’ve heard was the study where they gave it — was it the VA?” Trump said, referring to the Department of Veterans Affairs. “With, you know, people that aren’t big Trump fans gave it.”  This idea that there was this study undercutting the utility of the drug Trump has been championing for two months clearly stuck with the president. Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon after a meeting with Republican senators, he again disparaged the study.“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old. Almost dead,” Trump said. He described the study as “a Trump-enemy statement.” A few hours later, again pressed on his use of the drug for an unproven purpose, Trump again suggested that opposition to it was simply political. “There was a false study done where they gave it to very sick people, extremely sick people, people that were ready to die,” he said. “It was given by obviously not friends of the administration.” He later added that it “was a phony study and it’s very dangerous to do it.” As is often the case, Trump is repeating one of his go-to lines even in a situation where it doesn’t really make sense. Every time someone on television criticizes him, that person is necessarily a never-Trumper.. And, now, this study — necessarily a product of opposition to him and his administration. It’s a bizarre claim in general, that a team of seven doctors would conspire to study the efficacy of an antimalarial drug to undermine the president politically. But it’s an even more ridiculous claim when you consider how the study was completed.

    Hydroxychloroquine drug promoted by Trump as coronavirus ‘game changer’ increasingly linked to deaths - For two months, President Trump repeatedly pitched hydroxychloroquine as a safe and effective treatment for coronavirus, asking would-be patients “What the hell do you have to lose?”Growing evidence shows that, for many, the answer is their lives.Clinical trials, academic research and scientific analysis indicate that the danger of the Trump-backed drug is a significantly increased risk of death for certain patients. Evidence showing the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating covid-19 has been scant. Those two developments pushed the Food and Drug Administration to warn against the use of hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital setting last month, just weeks after it approved an emergency use authorization for the drug.  Alarmed by a growing cache of data linking the anti-malaria drug to serious cardiac problems, some drug safety experts are now calling for even more forceful action by the government to discourage its use. Several have called for the FDA to revoke its emergency use authorization, given hydroxychloroquine’s documented risks. “They should say, ‘We know there are harms, and until we know the benefits, let’s hold off,’ ” said Joseph Ross, a professor of medicine and public health at Yale University, who added that the original authorization may have been warranted but new evidence has emerged about the drug’s risks. “I’m surprised it hasn’t been revoked yet,” said Luciana Borio, who served as director for medical and biodefense preparedness of the National Security Council and was acting chief scientist at the FDA. Testimony this week from a former top vaccine official removed from his post last month further highlighted allegations that Trump’s White House pressured government scientists to quickly sign off on the untested drug in March, at the same time the president was pitching it as a “game changer.” Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, told Congress on Thursday that political pressure forced “dozens of federal scientists” to spend a harried 48-hour stretch rushing to put together a protocol for approving hydroxychloroquine for widespread use in covid-19 patients. Ultimately, that approach wasn’t taken. The FDA issued an emergency authorization for hospitalized covid-19 patients who cannot participate in a clinical trial.

     White House Vaccine Czar Sells $12 Million Slug Of Moderna Options For Massive Profit  -Last night, as dozens of biotech companies rushed to issue stock following the massive spike in Moderna shares on some extremely preliminary trial results inspired the biggest short-squeeze in US equities since the beginning of May, we warned that Moderna shareholders might be in for a bruising "bait-and-switch" as reports about insider share sales emerged, and Moderna, along with dozens of other biotech companies the company, seized on the demand to issue more shares.But it's not only Moderna's billionaire founder/CEO Stephane Bancel - once compared to a post-scandal Elizabeth Holmes - who stands to profit from the action: the White House's new vaccine czar also holds - or rather, held - more than 150,000 options contracts on Moderna shares worht more than $12 million, and had resisted pressure to divest them despite the blatant conflict of interest. We were joking yesterday when we speculated that he would probably be glad to exercise these options at current prices. But just as every joke contains a nugget of truth, that one turned out to be prophetic, too. As Moderna shares rallied yesterday, the White House said the new vaccine czar, Moncef Slaoui, who had resigned from the biotech company's board just days before, planned to sell his options. A press release touting the sale hit newswires this morning at around 530amET. Most members of the Washington Press Corps are still sleeping off their hangovers at that hour, so it's hardly surprising that the news seems to have attracted little, if any, media attention on Tuesday.White House COVID-19 Vaccine Chief to Divest $10 Million Stock Options in Moderna $MRNA— Steven Spencer (@sspencer_smb) May 19, 2020Slaoui brushed off accusations that he might be biased about the efficacy of Moderna's vaccine. Still, considering that Moderna is already working with the NIH, we certainly found it surprising that such preliminary results involving a group of just 8 patients could have such an outsize impact on the market.

    Taibbi- Democrats Have Abandoned Civil Liberties - by Matt Taibbi: - Emmet G. Sullivan, the judge in the case of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, is refusing to let William Barr’s Justice Department drop the charge. He’s even thinking of adding more, appointing a retired judge to ask “whether the Court should issue an Order to Show Cause why Mr. Flynn should not be held in criminal contempt for perjury.” Pundits are cheering. A trio of former law enforcement and judicial officials saluted Sullivan in the Washington Post, chirping, “The Flynn case isn’t over until a judge says it’s over.” Yuppie icon Jeffrey Toobin of CNN and the New Yorker, one of the #Resistance crowd’s favored legal authorities, described Sullivan’s appointment of Judge John Gleeson as “brilliant.” MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner said Americans owe Sullivan a “debt of gratitude.” One had to search far and wide to find a non-conservative legal analyst willing to say the obvious, i.e. that Sullivan’s decision was the kind of thing one would expect from a judge in Belarus. George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley was one of the few willing to say Sullivan’s move could “could create a threat of a judicial charge even when prosecutors agree with defendants.” Whatever one’s opinion of Flynn, his relations with Turkey, his “Lock her up!” chants, his haircut, or anything, this case was never about much. There’s no longer pretense that prosecution would lead to the unspooling of a massive Trump-Russia conspiracy, as pundits once breathlessly expected. In fact, news that Flynn was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller inspired many of the “Is this the beginning of the end for Trump?” stories that will someday fill whole chapters of Journalism Fucks Up 101 textbooks. The acts at issue are calls Flynn made to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on December 29th, 2016 in which he told the Russians not to overreact to sanctions. That’s it.  In a secrets-laundering maneuver straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook, some bright person first illegally leaked classified details to David Ignatius at the Washington Post, then agents rushed to interview Flynn about the “news.” A Laurel-and-Hardy team of agents conducted the interview, then took three weeks to write and re-write multiple versions of the interview notes used as evidence (because why record it?). They were supervised by a counterintelligence chief who then memorialized on paper his uncertainty over whether the FBI was trying to “get him to lie” or “get him fired,” worrying that they’d be accused of “playing games.” After another leak to the Washington Post in early February, 2017, Flynn actually was fired, and later pleaded guilty to lying about sanctions in the Kislyak call, the transcript of which was of course never released to either the defense or the public. Warrantless surveillance, multiple illegal leaks of classified information, a false statements charge constructed on the razor’s edge of Miranda, and the use of never-produced, secret counterintelligence evidence in a domestic criminal proceeding – this is the “rule of law” we’re being asked to cheer.

    Declassified Rice Email Confirms Obama, Biden And Comey Targeted Flynn -A newly declassified version of an email that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent to herself confirms that President Obama, VP Joe Biden and former FBI Director James Comey were actively targeting Michael Flynn over his discussions with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.According to The Federalist, "In the email, portions of which were not declassified until recently, Rice recorded that Flynn, who at the time was the incoming national security adviser for Trump, was personally discussed and targeted during the meeting with Obama.""Comey said he does have some concerns that incoming NSA Flynn is speaking frequently with Russian Ambassador Kislyak," Rice wrote too herself in a now-declassified portion of the letter, adding "Comey said that could be an issue as it relates to sharing sensitive information.""President Obama asked if Comey was saying the NSC should not pass sensitive information related to Russia to Flynn," the email continues. "Comey replied ‘potentially.'""[Comey] added that he has no indication thus far that Flynn has passed classified information to Kislyak, but he noted that 'the level of communication is unusual,'" Rice wrote - which The Federalist points out does not explain how it would be "unusual" for an incoming national security adviser to hold discussions with foreign leaders prior to the inauguration. Many observers believe the calls between Flynn and Kislyak were little more than pretext to hide the Obama administration’s spy campaign against Trump from the newly elected president’s team and to justify a continued inquisition against Flynn.The newly declassified portions of the Jan. 5 Rice email confirm that the targeting of Flynn was coordinated within the inner sanctum of the White House and that both Obama and Biden were deeply involved in the campaign to take down Flynn. -The Federalist

    Phone Calls Between Biden And Ukraine's Poroshenko Leaked; Details $1 Billion "Quid Pro Quo" To Fire Burisma Prosecutor - Leaked phone calls between Joe Biden and former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko explicitly detail the quid-pro-quo arrangement to fire former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin - who Poroshenko admits did nothing wrong - in exchange for $1 billion in US loan guarantees (which Biden openly bragged about in January, 2018).The calls were leaked by Ukrainian MP Andrii Derkach, who says the recordings of "voices similar to Poroshenko and Biden" were given to him by investigative journalists who claim Poroshenko made them. S hokin was notably investigating Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that hired Biden's son, Hunter, to sit on its board. Shokin had opened a case against Burisma's founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, who granted Burisma permits to drill for oil and gas in Ukraine while he was Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources. In January, 2019, Shokin stated in a deposition that there were five criminal cases against Zlochevesky, including money laundering, corruption, illegal funds transfers, and profiteering through shell corporations while he was a sitting minister. The leaked calls begin on December 3, 2015, when former Secretary of State John Kerry starts laying out the case to fire Shokin - who he says "blocked the cleanup of the Prosecutor Generals' Office," and sated that Biden "is very concerned about it," to which Poroshenko replies that the newly reorganized prosecutor general's office (NABU) won't be able to pursue corruption charges, and that it may be difficult to fire Shokin without cause.Later in the leaked audio on February 18, 2016 - less than three months after the Kerry conversation - Poroshenko delivers some "positive news.""Yesterday I met with General Prosecutor Shokin," says Poroshenko. And despite of the fact that we didn't have any corruption charges, we don't have any information about him doing something wrong, I specially asked him - no, it was day before yesterday - I specially asked him to resign. In, uh, as his, uh, position as a state person. And despite of the fact that he has a support in the power. And as a finish of my meeting with him, he promised to give me the statement on resignation. And one hour ago he bring me the written statement of his resignation. And this is my second step for keeping my promises." To which Biden replied: "I agree."

    Ukraine Judge Orders Joe Biden Listed As Alleged Perpetrator Of Crime In Prosecutor's Firing - The infamous story of Joe Biden’s effort to force the firing of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor in 2016 has taken a new legal twist in Kiev, just as the former vice president is sewing up the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in America.In Kiev late last month, District Court Judge S. V. Vovk ordered the country’s law enforcement services to formally list the fired prosecutor, Victor Shokin, as the victim of an alleged crime by the former U.S. vice president, according to an official English translation of the ruling obtained by Just the News.The court had previously ordered the Prosecutor General’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigations in February to investigate Shokin’s claim that he was fired in spring 2016 under pressure from Biden because he was investigating Burisma Holdings, the natural gas company where Biden’s son Hunter worked.The court ruled then that there was adequate evidence to investigate Shokin’s claim that Biden’s pressure on then-President Petro Poroshenko, including a threat to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees, amounted to unlawful interference in Shokin’s work as Ukraine’s chief prosecutor.But when law enforcement agencies opened the probe they refused to name Biden as the alleged perpetrator of the crime, instead listing the potential defendant as an unnamed American.Vovk ruled that anonymous listing was improper and ordered the law enforcement agencies to formally name Biden as the accused perpetrator. The ruling orders “a competent person of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine who conducts procedural management in criminal proceedings No. 62020000000000236 dated February 24, 2020 to enter information into the Unified register of pre-trial investigations … a summary of facts that may indicate the commission of a criminal offense under Paragraph 2 of Article 343 of the Criminal procedure code of Ukraine on criminal proceedings No. 62020000000000236 dated February 24, 2020, namely: information on interference in the activities of the former Prosecutor General of Ukraine Shokin, Viktor Mykolaiovych performed by citizen of the United States of America Joseph Biden, former U.S. Vice President.”

    GOP Senators Issue Subpoena In Biden-Burisma Probe - The GOP-controlled Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday voted to issue a subpoena to a Democratic consulting firm, Blue Star Strategies, which Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings paid $60,000 in November 2015 in connection with efforts to help end a long-running investigation in Ukraine. Burisma notoriously employed Hunter Biden to sit on its board - paying him upwards of $50,000 per month. The vote to subpoena Blue Star was passed 8-6 along party lines. Blue Star responded to the subpoena Wednesday in a letter to Johnson, writing that they don't understand the need for a subpoena, as they have cooperated - or intend to cooperate - with the committee "at every opportunity" in what Democrats are calling a politically motivated probe. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Committee, said the committee should be focusing on the pandemic instead of Hunter Biden. "We’re in the midst of a pandemic with over 90,000 people who have lost their lives, we've got an unprecedented amount of unemployment that’s sweeping across the country," Peter told reporters. "We need to be focused on the crisis." But Johnson says that he’s moving forward with the investigation because people "need to know the truth." -NBC News In March, Johnson said he wanted to specifically address matters involving Andrii Telizhenko - a former Blue Star consultant who hid behind a nondisclosure agreement. "Because Mr. Telizhenko's records and information would be responsive to the committee's requests, and Blue Star has refused to provide them, a subpoena to Mr. Telizhenko for these records is appropriate at this time," read a March letter Johnson sent to members of his committee. "Accordingly, I will be scheduling a vote in the near future to approve issuing the enclosed subpoena." "Blocking the receipt of relevant records, as any committee member voting against this subpoena would be doing, only heightens the risk of 'disinformation' because Congress would not have access to all pertinent information," he added.

    Federal judge denies Trump family’s request to drop suit accusing them of promoting pyramid scheme - A federal judge has refused to halt a class-action suit against President DonaldTrump and his family alleging they promoted a pyramid scheme.Judge Lorna G Schofield in Manhattan denied the Trump family request on Monday for a stay while they challenged a previous ruling for the lawsuit.The lawsuit, led by four anonymous plaintiffs, claimed that Mr Trump and his children Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump were guilty of fraud and false advertising by promoting a multilevel marketing company called American Communications Network (ACN). In exchange, the Trump family allegedly received millions of dollars in secret payments.The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was initially filed in October 2018, also claimed the promotion by the Mr Trump and his children of ACN encouraged them to invest hundreds of dollars into the company, but they never reaped any benefit from the investment."The Trumps conned each of these victims into giving up hundreds or thousands of dollars – losses that many experienced as a devastating and life-altering," the lawsuit claimed. "Surely the Trumps dismissed these amounts (and the lives they wrecked) as trivial. But by defrauding so many for so long, the Trumps made millions."Ms Schofield cited the Trump team's unsuccessful bid to force the case into arbitration as a reason why an appeal would not work. Other factors were also considered when coming to her decision"Weighing the two 'most critical' factors – likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable harm – against each other, any prejudice that Defendants and ACN may suffer from proceeding with the litigation during the pendency of the appeal does not outweigh the strong likelihood that Defendants and ACN will not succeed on appeal," the judge wrote. The president's team of lawyers argued the plaintiffs had no legal standing and asked for the case to move to arbitration to protect a majority of it from the public eye.

    ‘Long Overdue’: Antitrust Cases Reportedly Brewing Against Google at State and Federal Level  - Anti-monopoly groups are celebrating news that the Justice Department and state attorneys general are investigating online behemoth Google for possible antitrust cases. "An antitrust case against Google is long overdue, said Sarah Miller, executive director of the Economic Liberties Project. "We hope that state attorneys general and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division address the long-standing monopoly power of Google, which has more than 90% of the mobile search market and, alongside Facebook, dominates digital advertising." News of the investigation and the likely filing of a case broke Friday in the Wall Street Journal, which quoted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as saying his office had issued subpoenas to the company an impacted third parties. "We hope to have the investigation wrapped up by fall," said Paxton. "If we determine that filing is merited we will go to court soon after that." According to CNBC: The states' investigation has been mostly focused on Google's online advertising business, according to the report, though CNBC previously reported that its scope had expanded to include both search and its Android mobile operating system. Even if some states bring a suit against Google related to its ad business, it's possible others could choose to pursue separate cases following different legal theories. The DOJ's probe has focused on Google's ad business, but also more broadly on allegations that it has used its dominance in the search market to squash competitors, according to the Journal. The publication was not able to learn which legal theories the DOJ would seek to pursue if it brings a case. In a statement, Google said it was continuing "to engage with the ongoing investigations led by the Department of Justice and Attorney General Paxton." "We don't have any updates or comments on speculation," a company spokeswoman told Market Watch. "Our focus is firmly on providing services that help consumers, support thousands of businesses, and enable increased choice and competition." As the New York Times reported, Google's dominance of the internet is daunting: Google captures roughly one-third of every dollar spent in online advertising. Its search engine is the on-ramp to the internet and controls what information users see, while the company owns many of the critical tools and technologies used to advertise online. It also boasts seven businesses with more than one billion users.

     Bankers expect recession to last into 2021 - Even as states begin to lift stay-at-home orders in hopes of jump-starting their sagging economies, many banking executives are bracing for a prolonged slowdown that could last at least into the first quarter of next year.As such, banks are considering a number of belt-tightening steps that include freezing salaries and delaying investments in technology and product development, according to survey of executives released Monday by Promontory Interfinancial Network. The survey results provide a snapshot of how community banks are responding to the coronavirus pandemic and how executives see federal and state efforts to contain its spread playing out over the next several quarters. The survey of 515 senior leaders at banks with less than $10 billion of assets was taken between April 2 and April 15, while much of the economy was still locked down. Several states have since begun to slowly reopen their economies, but tens of millions of Americans remain unemployed as stay-at-home orders remain in effect in most urban areas.Roughly 81% of those surveyed said the economy was worse at the end of the first quarter than it was 12 months prior, compared with 12% who reported such a decline when asked at the end of last year, according to Promontory."It fell quite dramatically, through the floor almost,” Paul Weinstein, a senior policy adviser for Promontory, said in an interview.The outlook for the year ahead is bleak as well. Three in four executives surveyed expect the economy to sour further, with barely one in 10 expecting the economy to improve by the end of next year’s first quarter. One bright spot for banks has been deposit growth. Banking executives report that the race for deposits has cooled off as workers fearing their job security are socking away more savings and businesses that have drawn down their lines of credit are holding that money in their accounts.Deposits at commercial banks made an unprecedented jump from $13.2 trillion at the start of the year to roughly $15.1 trillion at the end of April, according to Federal Reserve data. About 20% of executives reported stronger competition for deposits in the first quarter, down from 55% at the end of last year and 86% at the end of 2018, according to the survey."People are seeking safety right now,” Weinstein said. “Even those who still have jobs, they’re nervous that they might not have a job at some point down the road, so they are putting away money." With their banks flush with deposits, about 83% of executives said that funding costs had declined from one year ago, and 30% reported a “significant decrease,” according to Promontory.Many banks have seen loan demand increase in recent months as companies drew down credit lines or sought emergency relief through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.Nearly three-fourths of executives surveyed said that their banks have offered emergency loans to customers whose finances have been upended by the pandemic. Nearly all those surveyed said they have offered some sort of loan mitigation to existing borrowers.Looking ahead, though, nearly half of executives expect loan demand to fall through March 2021, according to the survey, with the rest split over whether demand will stay the same or increase some.

    Fed warns of 'significant' hit to asset prices if pandemic grows - The Federal Reserve issued a stark warning Friday that stock and other asset prices could suffer significant declines should the coronavirus pandemic deepen, with the commercial real estate market being among the hardest-hit industries. The Fed made the assertion in its twice-yearly financial stability report, in which it flags risks to the U.S. banking system and broader economy. The document highlighted the central bank’s race to intervene in markets and temporarily dial back regulations on financial firms amid the COVID-19 crisis. “Asset prices remain vulnerable to significant price declines should the pandemic take an unexpected course, the economic fallout prove more adverse, or financial system strains reemerge,” the Fed said in the report. It cited commercial real estate as being particularly susceptible to falling valuations because “prices were high relative to fundamentals before the pandemic.” Though regulations put in place after the 2008 financial crisis have helped make Wall Street more resilient, vulnerabilities in the financial system still worked to amplify the economic shock from the virus, according to the report The review also found that “prices of commercial properties and farmland were highly elevated relative to their income streams on the eve of the pandemic, suggesting that their prices could fall notably.” The abrupt shutdown of the global economy triggered uncertainty in financial markets that upended trading in everything from Treasury securities to junk bonds and caused dramatic swings in stock prices. Markets settled down as the Fed flooded the financial system with liquidity, but Chairman Jerome Powell said in a speech this week that the economy still faces unprecedented risks if fiscal and monetary policy makers don’t continue to act. “Additional fiscal support could be costly, but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery,” Powell said in remarks for a virtual event hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. In a bid to cushion the economy from against the ravages of the coronavirus crisis, the Fed has cut short-term interest rates effectively to zero, bought about US$2 trillion worth of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities, and announced plans for nine emergency lending programs, five of which are up and running. It’s also funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to foreign central banks via swap lines and temporary Treasury securities purchases. The Fed has also eased some rules to encourage banks to increase lending to households and businesses crippled by the pandemic. “Forceful early interventions have been effective in resolving liquidity stresses, but we will be monitoring closely for solvency stresses among highly leveraged business borrowers, which could increase the longer the COVID pandemic persists,” Governor Lael Brainard said in a Friday statement.

    Margin pressure could dog banks into 2022 - The coronavirus pandemic has so devastated the economy that there has been little time for hand-wringing in the banking industry over near-zero interest rates. But with rates so low — after steep emergency Federal Reserve cuts in response to the pandemic’s fallout — banks will struggle to generate bread-and-butter interest income and asset-sensitive lenders will face substantial net interest margin contraction this year and next, analysts say.“All the stars are lining up negatively right now for the banks,” said Ron Shevlin, director of research at Cornerstone Advisors. Piper Sandler analysts estimated that, across their coverage universe of 200 banks, the median net interest margin will shrink 18 basis points in 2020, falling below the century’s 2009 trough reached in the wake of the financial crisis, and then shrink another 11 basis points next year to 3.30%.“We hope NIMs can begin to bottom as we get into next year,” the Piper Sandler analysts wrote in a report. They project that interest income will grow by about 3% this year, driven by large draws on commercial lending lines made by business owners to bolster liquidity as the pandemic took hold late in March and in April. But that growth would still be half of what banks generated last year, and the Piper Sandler analysts look for interest income to be flat in 2021.Most community banks — and many regionals — earn more than half of their income on interest. With the sudden and severe drop in rates this year, floating-rate loans quickly reset lower and new fixed-rate loans will come on the books with rates lower than older loans getting paid off. Deposit rates come down, too, but based on history, analysts broadly expect the interest banks pay depositors to come down gradually — over several quarters. The result: The margin between what banks pay for deposits and earn on loans gets squeezed.

    Bankers seek clearer guidance on forgiving PPP loans - New forgiveness guidance for the Paycheck Protection Program has provided some clarity for bankers eager to know all the ground rules.The Small Business Administration and Treasury Department released partial directions, along with an application, late Friday. That should help lenders and borrowers begin the process of having PPP loans converted into grants.Still, lenders want more protections when it comes to verifying borrower data. And they are pushing for more flexibility securing forgiveness for nonpayroll expenses. But any progress after weeks of delays is welcome news.“We were definitely excited to receive that guidance,” said Christopher Chapman, the chief operating officer and chief information officer for national banking at the $49 billion-asset TCF Financial in Detroit. “It’s certainly a good start," Chapman added. "We have been thinking about forgiveness for several weeks now, so it starts to fill in some of the pieces." Lenders have made more than 4.3 million PPP loans for $513.2 billion, making the program one of the government’s signature responses to the coronavirus crisis. Paycheck Protection loans have a 1% interest rate and two-year duration, but proceeds spent on payroll costs and basic operating expenses such as rent, mortgage interest and utilities are eligible for forgiveness by the government. The coronavirus stimulus package, which authorized the PPP, directed the SBA and Treasury to publish forgiveness guidelines “not less than 30 days after the date of enactment,” a deadline that passed on April 27. In an indication of just how determined lenders are to start submitting forgiveness applications, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants said a forgiveness calendar it unveiled Thursday and revised Monday is receiving heavy interest. Interest in the calendar is on par with the association's application calculator, which has had more than 70,000 downloads.“We’re already getting feedback from members who’ve been anxiously awaiting some kind of tool to help them work with their clients,” said Lisa Simpson, the institute's director of firm services.The SBA and Treasury released an 11-page application form containing a template intended to help borrowers calculate their forgiveness amounts. Accompanying instructions answered some outstanding questions. Still, Friday’s guidance left several vital issues unaddressed.

    Regulators unite on small-dollar loan principles for banks, credit unions - Four federal regulatory agencies released new guidance Wednesday that provides a uniform framework for banks and credit unions on how to offer small-dollar consumer loans without raising red flags in Washington.The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. also announced plans to rescind two older letters that banks had blamed for their reluctance to offer more credit options to cash-strapped consumers. The long-awaited guidance — issued by the FDIC, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve Board and the National Credit Union Administration — is meant to encourage banks to provide more small-dollar loans. It offers broad principles rather than prescriptive rules. For example, the guidance states that the price of small-dollar loans should be “reasonably related to the financial institution’s product risks and costs.” That language suggests regulators would frown upon a loan product that carries a sky-high interest rate while costing little money to originate and bringing little risk to the lender. But it stops well short of more concrete restrictions, such as a 36% interest rate cap, which many consumer advocates favor. A regulatory official who spoke on condition of anonymity during a call with reporters said that the agencies did not believe it was appropriate to create a rate cap, or even to suggest the existence of such a ceiling, since none exists in federal law outside of restrictions on the price of loans to members of the military and their relatives. The joint announcement Wednesday could help open the door for the return of so-called deposit advances, which a handful of banks offered until a crackdown during the Obama administration, though likely under modified terms. Banks that offered deposit advances up until 2013 typically charged a $1.50 to $2 fee for every $20 borrowed, with the repayment often coming out of the borrower’s next direct deposit check. Much like in the payday loan industry, borrowers frequently rolled over their old loans into new ones, a debt cycle that drew criticism from consumer advocates. The FDIC announced plans Wednesday to rescind its restrictive 2013 guidance on deposit advances, following the lead of the OCC, which took the same step in 2017. The deposit insurance agency also said that it will withdraw a 2007 letter to financial institutions that encouraged loans with annual percentage rates no higher than 36%. The four-page joint guidance issued Wednesday offers principles that apply to “shorter-term single payment structures,” a description that fits the deposit advance product. But the new guidance also contains language that may require banks to make changes to the discontinued version of the deposit advance product. For example, it states that product structures should “support borrower affordability and successful repayment” in a “reasonable time frame rather than reborrowing, rollovers, or immediate collectability in the event of default.” Another complication for banks that are interested in reviving the deposit advance is the status of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's payday loan rule, which put restrictions on loans of 45 days or less. Though the bureau is expected to rescind much of the rule, its ultimate fate could be tied up in court for some time.

    Warren wants CEOs held criminally liable for bailout violations Sen. Elizabeth Warren is calling on the Federal Reserve to hold corporate executives personally liable if they take bailout money intended to bolster credit markets and fail to meet all the certification requirements. Executives should be subject "to civil and criminal penalties, including disgorgement, if they provide fraudulent or misleading information or misuse funds, and should be required to immediately repurchase their bonds for the full amount when eligibility criteria are breached," Warren said in a letter to central bank officials. Warren is likely to raise the issue when Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appear by videoconference before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday morning. Warren is also asking that corporate executives regularly recertify that they meet the requirements for two of the Fed's bond-buying emergency lending programs — the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility. Limitations on eligibility for the corporate credit lending facilities has been a key focus of a congressional watchdog panel that Warren pushed to have created to oversee the Fed and Treasury response to the coronavirus pandemic. Warren, who was chairwoman of a similar panel after the 2008 financial crisis, said that some companies were able to tap bailout money they were ineligible for and didn't face any consequences. "You must ensure that — unlike in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis — companies that rip off taxpayers and the executives that run them are not let off the hook with minimal fines, no criminal liability, and no requirements that they even admit guilt," Warren said in the letter.

    New York man charged with $20 million PPP and SBA loan fraud - A Manhattan man was charged by federal prosecutors with fraudulently trying to obtain more than $20 million in government loans intended to aid small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Muge Ma, also known as Hummer Mars, 36, is accused of applying for both Small Business Administration emergency loans and Paycheck Protection Program assistance for two companies he claimed had hundreds of workers on payrolls totaling millions of dollars. He was actually the only employee for both companies, prosecutors said in announcing the charges Thursday. In one of his loan applications, Ma allegedly said his company would "help the country reduce the high unemployment rate caused by the pandemic by helping unemployed American workers and unemployed American fresh graduates find jobs as quickly as possible." His two companies were approved for more than $1.45 million in loans before the fraud was discovered, according to prosecutors. "Ma's alleged attempts to secure funds earmarked for legitimate small businesses in dire financial straits are as audacious as they are callous, and now he now faces federal prosecution," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. "Small businesses are facing uncertainty and unprecedented challenges, the least of which should be opportunists attempting to loot the federal funds meant to assist them." Ma, a U.S. permanent resident from China, was arrested Thursday and was scheduled to appear before a magistrate judge later Thursday. He is charged with defrauding both the U.S. government and the banks from which he sought PPP loans and faces more than 30 years in prison if convicted. Apart from lying about his companies, Ma also falsely claimed that his companies were involved in procuring personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits for the state of New York, prosecutors said.

    Have the Record Number of Investors in the Stock Market Lost Their Minds? - The stock market fell for three days in a row to start this week, and Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, said on Wednesday that there is a growing sense that “the recovery may come more slowly than we would like.” In a Zoom presentation to the Economic Club of New York, on Tuesday, Stanley Druckenmiller, a former hedge-fund manager who now invests his own money, said, “The risk-reward for equity”—that is, stocks—“is maybe as bad as I’ve seen it in my career.” And yet many small investors, like my golfing companion, do not seem fazed by warnings like these. Since the Dow plunged more than ten thousand points in February and March, individual traders have been buying and selling stocks at record rates. On Thursday, E-Trade, the discount brokerage, reported that its daily trading volume in April was more than three times as large as it was in April, 2019. Other discount brokers have reported similar figures. TD Ameritrade said that it did more than three million trades a day in April, compared with eight hundred and seventeen thousand a year earlier. This trading frenzy is taking place in the context of a price war that has prompted firms such as E-Trade, TD Ameritrade, and Charles Schwab to eliminate commissions for stock purchases and sales, exchange-traded funds, and index options. Since the shutdowns began, many investors have taken advantage of this era of free trades, which began last fall, well before the coronavirus pandemic hit, to exploit what they seem to view as a good money-making opportunity. In March alone, TD Ameritrade added more than four hundred thousand accounts, CNBC’s Maggie Fitzgerald reported earlier this week. Charles Schwab added nearly three hundred thousand accounts. In rational terms, getting rid of commissions shouldn’t have had a substantial impact. If you invest five thousand dollars in Apple or Tesla, the five or ten dollars you saved in fees won’t have much effect on the ultimate outcome. “How much trading would you have to do for it to make a difference?” Richard Thaler, an economist at the University of Chicago—who was awarded the 2017 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, for his contribution to behavioral economics—said to me on Thursday, when I called and asked him about the surge in online trading. On the other hand, Thaler added, “Free is always appealing. Everybody likes a free lunch, even though my colleagues don’t think they exist.” “It could be that it’s just a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands,” he said. “One friend suggested to me it is replacing gambling. The casinos are closed and there are no sports to bet on.”

    5 ways the CFPB has eased industry’s coronavirus burden - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has included relaxing or eliminating rules so financial institutions can focus on aiding consumers.Continuing a regulatory relief focus for the agency that preceded the crisis, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger said in March that the agency planned to deliver “temporary and targeted regulatory flexibility” to financial firms.“We recognize that many institutions are facing operational challenges due to COVID-19, and the priority must be responding to consumers facing nearer-term issues,” Kraninger said March 22 at a Financial Stability Oversight Council meeting. “We will continue to provide further relief as needed to ensure that resources can be focused on consumers.”Banks had lobbied for relief — which the CFPB delivered — in two recent rulemakings already in linefor rollbacks before the crisis hit.One of Kraninger’s first actions was to postpone quarterly HMDA reporting indefinitely. Yet some of the agency’s actions since the onset of the pandemic were permanent rulemakings that had been begun beforehand, such as a rule easing disclosure requirements for remittances. Kraninger also has made clear in policy statements that financial institutions will not face enforcement actions or be cited in supervisory exams if they make good-faith efforts to help consumers on a number of different fronts.At the same time, Kraninger has repeatedly said that the CFPB will vigorously enforce consumer finance laws, including protecting consumers from unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices. She also has encouraged consumers and whistleblowers to file complaints. Here are five ways the bureau is attempting to help institutions deal with the crisis by relaxing regulatory expectations.

    Trump CFPB Appointees Use COVID-19 Crisis as Rationale to Weaken Consumer Protection - Jerri-Lynn Scofield - A recent article in Politico, Consumer bureau draws fire for pro-business tilt during crisis caught my eye.This area joins policies on immigration, environmental protection, judicial selection, corporate legal liability, and fossil fuels among the many areas in which the Trump administration and its willing minions follow the advice of former Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”And boy, the COVID-19 pandemic provides such a crisis.As Politico tells the story:The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB]  is relaxing rules designed to shield Americans from abuse during the coronavirus crisis, saying the moves are necessary to give businesses flexibility during the pandemic. “The CFPB under President Trump has used this pandemic as an excuse to weaken protections for consumers — enabling predatory lending, watering down credit reporting protections and fair lending laws, and making it easier for credit card and debit card companies to rip off their consumers,” Senate Banking Committee ranking member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told POLITICO.Now, readers will not be surprised to hear that the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented opportunities for the unscrupulous to practice financial crime. Yet that tendency has not been matched by a willingness by the CFPB’s leaders to pursue and prosecute the fraudsters: Yet the coronavirus crisis has underscored the dangers that Americans face from financial crime: A record number of consumer complaints have already been filed with the bureau — more than 42,000 in April alone, greater than in any other month since it opened in July 2011. The Justice Department recently brought its first fraud charges related to a small business lending program. More will follow.The bureau, for its part, has not brought a single enforcement case during the crisis, and its enforcement actions fell by 80 percent from 2015 to 2018, according to an analysis by the Consumer Federation of America. Its staff has been reduced by more than 14 percent under President Donald Trump, and the agency is filled with political appointees to keep an eye on the career employees. U.S. PIRG drills down on the repercussions of COVID-19 for consumer complaints: As the House considers the next coronavirus funding bill, the Heroes Act, an analysis by U.S. PIRG of recent complaints to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) shows an alarming need for Congressional action to protect consumers from the pandemic’s repercussions …. Key findings in U.S. PIRG’s analysis include:

      • Credit reporting complaints have always historically topped the list, but these types of complaints increased by more than 20,000 in April, double the monthly amount from 2018.
      • Of the complaints that include written explanations (optional narratives) and mention the pandemic, mortgages and credit cards were the most complained about.

    Yet the agency’s response to these COVID-19 inspired trends is to soften its consumer protection policies ,rather than strengthen them, according to Politico:

    OCC to overhaul CRA rule as Otting plans to leave agency— The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency will release a final rule Wednesday that makes significant changes to its proposed overhaul of the Community Reinvestment Act, just as the head of the OCC is widely expected to be preparing his exit from the agency, according to sources.The final rule will make extensive accommodations to respond to stakeholders who commented on the agency’s December proposal, according to sources familiar with the situation. The agency is no longer including prescriptive formulas for determining sufficient CRA activity based on existing data, and has removed sports stadiums as an example from a list of eligible CRA activity, the sources said. But the OCC will add CRA credit for loans in Indian country as well as loans sold to the secondary market, they said.Meanwhile, a senior OCC official familiar with the situation confirmed that Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting is stepping down effective Thursday. The reasons for his departure — before the end of his term — are unclear. Otting was sworn into office in late 2017 for a five-year term. The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday first reported on his resignation and that the rule would be released this week. The agency will not be joined by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which had originally signed on to the interagency proposal in December, in releasing the rule this week, according to the senior OCC official. An FDIC spokesperson declined to comment for this story. The Federal Reserve declined to join the two agencies on the initial proposal.The OCC has made clear its intent to complete the rule despite strong criticism of the proposal and heightened attention among banks and regulators on the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, as speculation grew this week that the OCC was readying a final CRA framework, the speed with which the agency has sought to conclude its work rule caught many by surprise.Even though many called on the OCC to slow down the rulemaking in the midst of the pandemic, Otting has indicated he wanted to keep going.“Actually, we think we should accelerate it, because it would drive more dollars into low- and moderate-income communities across America,” Otting said in a May 12 virtual hearing with the Senate Banking Committee. “And a lot of the comments that we got will allow us to do that and build a program that will allow us to serve in low- and moderate-income areas.”Yet, according to sources, the final rule will respond to many of the concerns that were raised about the proposal in public comments.One of the hotly debated provisions of the proposed framework was a so-called single metric to determine what constitutes a sufficient amount of CRA activity. Critics had questioned the data used by the OCC to establish the metric, which they said could incentivize banks to focus on a smaller amount of larger CRA projects, rather than smaller-scale loans.The final rule will include no specific thresholds or targets for sufficient CRA activity, said sources familiar with the situation. Instead, the banks will be asked to submit their own data to determine sufficient activity. New thresholds or targets may be established later in order to evaluate banks under the new method.The rule is expected to take effect in October, but it will include a two-year phase-in period before banks are evaluated, the sources said.In significant victories for the banking industry, the OCC’s rule will remove a proposed restriction on CRA credit being available for certain loans only if they are held on the balance sheet, and raise the asset threshold — by $100 million — for community banks allowed to opt out of the new regime to $600 million, the sources said.

    OCC goes it alone on narrower CRA rule — The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency released the final version of a rule to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act Wednesday, featuring a sprawling set of changes that will apply just to national banks and thrifts after other agencies declined to support the reforms. “The final rule is the culmination of a multiyear process and more than a decade of dialogue about improving how CRA works,” Comptroller Joseph Otting said in a statement accompanying the rule, adding that the agency’s initial proposal received more than 7,400 comments. “We incorporated many of those suggestions in the final rule and appreciate the thoughtful input from all the stakeholders who sought to make the final rule as strong as it could be.” The OCC released the rule, without support from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. or the Federal Reserve Board, just as Otting is said to be planning to step down from the agency this week. While the rule is set to go into effect in October, OCC-supervised banks will have two years before the new examination standards are in place. And many of the most significant changes — such as new data collection requirements — will not go into effect until January 2024. The rule also includes an asset threshold below which most community banks can decide if they want to opt in to the new CRA regime or stick with the old one. While the rule is set to go into effect in October, OCC-supervised banks will have two years before the new examination standards are in place. In contrast to the OCC's joint CRA proposal with the FDIC released in December, the OCC is going its own way on the final rule. “While the FDIC strongly supports the efforts to make the CRA rules clearer, more transparent, and less subjective, the agency is not prepared to finalize the CRA proposal at this time,” FDIC Chair Jelena McWilliams said. “The FDIC recognizes the herculean effort community banks are making to support America's small businesses and families during this challenging time and encourages financial institutions to work constructively with borrowers affected by COVID-19.” The Federal Reserve declined to join the rule when it was initially proposed in December. Even on its own, the speed with which the agency has delivered a final rule — which stretches more than 370 pages — has shocked many observers in Washington. Only 41 days have passed since the rule’s comment period ended in mid-April. By comparison, the final version of the CRA’s last reform effort, in 1995, was published 164 days after its comment period ended. The OCC’s final rule, while still a towering piece of regulation, has a narrower scope than the initial proposal. In addition to applying only to nationally chartered banks, the final rule’s asset thresholds will be raised, in addition to reintroducing the distinction between small and intermediate-sized banks. Another change appears aimed at concerns echoed by much of the banking industry and community groups that a performance standard anchored to balance sheet totals would put too much weight on large-dollar CRA work, like mortgages, and disincentivize banks from smaller, more targeted lending. In response, the final rule will put stronger emphasis on loan origination as well as balance sheet volume.

     BankThink: The final CRA rule is in. Here’s why it’s better. - Joseph Otting - On Wednesday the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency approved a final rule to strengthen and modernize the regulatory framework of the Community Reinvestment Act.The agency’s action will make evaluating national banks and federal savings associations for CRA performance more objective and transparent. And it will encourage those banks to lend, invest and provide more services to the communities they serve, including low- and moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods, across the country.The OCC’s objective from day one has been to clarify: what counts; where it counts; how to count it; and to make recordkeeping and reporting more transparent and timelier. The rule helps ensure the CRA remains a relevant and powerful tool for the revitalization of communities and for the nation’s civil rights by making capital and credit more accessible in these neighborhoods for many decades to come.  The final rule is the culmination of a multiyear process and reflects more than a decade of dialogue about how to make the CRA work better. It builds on recommendations that federal banking agencies submitted to Congress in 2017 as part of their required decennial review of laws and regulations, and the recommendations released by the Treasury Department in April 2018. The final rule is informed by the feedback gathered and published by the Federal Reserve. Most important, it is shaped by the thousands of personal conversations that we’ve had with stakeholders of all kinds and the firsthand experiences we gained visiting communities that banks serve across the nation.We also gathered roughly 1,500 comments from the 2018 advance notice of proposed rulemaking, and then more than 7,500 comments submitted by stakeholders in response to the 2019 notice of proposed rulemaking.We carefully considered all the comments received and made changes in the final rule accommodating suggestions and issues stakeholders raised. The final rule also increases credit for mortgage origination to promote the availability of affordable mortgages in LMI areas. And it revises the approach to deposit-based assessment areas by focusing on internet banks and banks that do not rely on branches — while fully retaining the importance of branches and assessment areas around physical branches.The final rule clarifies that the volume and quality of CRA activity matter as much as the dollar value of activity in bank evaluations.Overall, the final rule will benefit individuals and communities in the following ways:It increases support for small businesses as well as small and family-owned farms. The final rule also raises the eligible size for loans to receive CRA credit for the first time in 25 years, which increases capital available to help create jobs and economic opportunity.The final rule reduces so-called CRA deserts by clarifying when banks can receive credit outside their assessment areas, and what specific activities serving rural and underserved areas would qualify for CRA credit. The final rule eliminates uncertainty that discourages investment.  It also refocuses the CRA on long-term activity by recognizing banks’ sustained commitment to the credit needs within their communities and rewarding long-term investment that can help make more meaningful and lasting change.

    Where OCC bent and where it held firm in final CRA rule — In its final rule revamping supervisory standards in the Community Reinvestment Act, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency tried to satisfy critics of its December proposal who saw the agency moving the law away from its original goals. Perhaps most notably, the OCC's final plan waters down proposed number-based measurements of CRA activity that community groups had blasted, returning some discretion to examiners to judge a bank's overall compliance. Whether the agency has won over any detractors is yet to be seen. Some groups appeared to dislike the rule as much as before. Still, the result of a multiyear reform process led by Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting is a somewhat narrower reform framework that made several accommodations to critics.  After the OCC faced criticism for focusing on the CRA rule during the coronavirus pandemic, the agency lost a key supporter: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which had signed on to the CRA proposal in December, declined to support the final rule. The Federal Reserve Board had already opposed the plan.Ultimately, the CRA reforms unveiled Wednesday only apply to OCC-supervised banks, and the majority of those can opt out under a provision to ease the compliance burden of small banks. But OCC officials stressed that the agency strived to listen to public concerns about the CRA reform effort in writing the final rule.  Many in the banking industry and among community reinvestment advocates had questioned the proposal's use of prescriptive, quantitative thresholds for evaluating CRA performance, which was based in part on the dollar value of CRA projects. Critics worried that quantitative measures would put too much weight on large-dollar CRA work, like mortgages, and disincentivize banks from focusing on smaller, more targeted lending.  But the final rule features a major concession. Rather than using fixed percentages suggested in the proposal for certain exam scores — 6% for a “satisfactory” score and 11% for “outstanding” — the final rule concedes that the national bank regulator lacked the data to support those figures.  In addition to applying only to nationally chartered banks and federal thrifts, the final rule also raises the asset threshold for OCC-regulated institutions — from $500 million to $2.5 billion — that can choose to keep the current CRA regime instead of the new one. The core of the OCC’s proposed overhaul of how CRA assessment areas are determined largely stayed the same in the final rule. If more than 50% of a bank’s deposits come from outside of its physical assessment areas, “the bank must delineate separate, non-overlapping ‘deposit-based’ assessment areas,” the final rule says.  The final rule also expands upon the initial proposal’s “illustrative list” of activities most commonly approved for CRA credit by examiners. While the original list stretched 15 pages, the new list has grown to 22 pages. Early reactions to the 372-page final rule signal that the fight over the future of the CRA is far from over. “This is an awkward, disjointed and rushed move by a single agency that couldn’t get agreement from the two other agencies that regulate banks within the same administration,” said Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. “The OCC should have been able to agree and work with the other two agencies that oversee enforcement of the same law. It couldn’t. It failed. That’s an administrative fiasco.”

    Community groups plan to sue OCC over CRA rule — Three community reinvestment advocacy groups said Thursday they plan to sue the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency over its final rule to reform the Community Reinvestment Act, arguing that the agency flouted procedure and public feedback. The joint statement by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, California Reinvestment Coalition and Democracy Forward accuses the OCC of “unlawfully gutting” the historic anti-redlining law under the veneer of modernization.“The OCC went against the majority of public comments and introduced new, gaping loopholes into the rules that will allow banks to reduce their focus on lower-income borrowers and communities, the very communities the law was intended to protect when it was passed in 1977,” said Jesse Van Tol, the chief executive of the NCRC. “It's an administrative fiasco. We'll see you in court." The OCC issued the rule Wednesday just as Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting, who championed the reforms, was preparing to announce his resignation from the agency. Although CRA modernization has long been treated as an interagency effort, the OCC ultimately had to move unilaterally after the Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. both declined to back the rule. Otting finalized the plan, which applies only to OCC-regulated banks, despite calls to suspend the ambitious rulemaking amid the pandemic. Community groups have long had reservations about the direction of CRA reform under Otting's leadership.Thursday’s announcement appears to focus on process and procedure. Government agencies are bound by the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs the timing and requirements for federal rulemaking. “We have fought this shady rulemaking process from the start, and the fight will continue,” said Anne Harkavy, executive director at Democracy Forward.Community groups allies had previously accused the OCC of rushing CRA reform with little public support.

    FHFA plan would make GSEs hold banklike capital amounts— Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be required to hold more than five times their current capital levels after being released from government control under a much-anticipated proposal from the Federal Housing Finance Agency.The post-conservatorship capital plan for the mortgage giants offered by FHFA Director Mark Calabria is more aggressive than the now-shelved proposal written by his predecessor.The plan unveiled Wednesday would align capital requirements for the government-sponsored enterprises with those of the large banks once the two companies are privatized, whenever that is. Under the proposal, the GSEs would have been required to hold a combined $234 billion in capital as of Sept. 30, 2019, representing 3.85% of their total assets and 13.9% of risk-weighted assets. Currently, Fannie and Freddie's retained earnings are capped at $45 billion combined.   “We must chart a course for the enterprises toward a sound capital footing so they can help all Americans in times of stress,” Calabria said. “More capital means a stronger foundation on which to weather crises. The time to act is now.” Fannie and Freddie would also have to maintain a leverage capital buffer on top of the proposal's new leverage ratio requirement. Comparatively, in the original 2018 proposal, drafted by former Director Mel Watt, the GSEs would have had a combined risk-based capital requirement of $180.9 billion, or 3.24% of the companies’ total assets. (The earlier plan was based on Fannie and Freddie’s 2017 book of business.)Calabria said in November that his agency would revisit the post-conservatorship capital framework developed by Watt, in part due to the fact that the agency had raised the GSEs' retained earnings cap after the release of Watt's plan.

    FHFA close to unveiling capital plan for privatized GSEs — Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria signaled the agency is close to issuing a revised proposal on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's post-conservatorship capital levels.Calabria said the proposal, which the agency is redrafting after the director shelved a previous capital plan proposed by his predecessor, should be out "very soon."Speaking at a virtual event held by the Mortgage Bankers Association Tuesday, Calabria said the FHFA has been working simultaneously on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and capital rule proposal. The agency announced in November that it would re-propose the capital framework rather than use the plan developed by former FHFA Director Mel Watt. “Everything that we have experienced the past few months with the pandemic and national emergency reinforces the need for Fannie and Freddie to be well-capitalized and operate in a safe and sound manner,” Calabria said. Calabria also reiterated his belief that nonbank mortgage servicers are still on solid financial ground, despite growing concern among some in the market that servicers are struggling under the weight of loan forbearance plans resulting from the coronavirus crisis.Watt had originally put forward a post-conservatorship capital proposal in June 2018. But after Calabria took office last year and later entered into an agreement with the Treasury Department that allowed for the government-sponsored enterprises to hold higher levels of capital, the agency decided it would revisit the plan. In Watt’s proposal, the agency had asked for comment on two different minimum leverage ratio requirements that would incorporate credit risk for different mortgage categories and include components for market risk and operational risk. Under one option, the GSEs would have to hold capital equal to 2.5% of assets and off-balance-sheet guarantees. The second method would have required Fannie and Freddie’s capital to be equal to 1.5% of trust assets and 4% of nontrust assets.But in comment letters to the FHFA submitted in 2018, a number of lenders and other stakeholders called for the GSEs to hold a higher amount of capital post-conservatorship than Watt’s proposal suggested, and expressed concern that the framework was too procyclical.

    Borrowers in forbearance can refinance under certain conditions: FHFA— The Federal Housing Finance Agency issued guidance Tuesday clarifying that borrowers with Fannie Mae- or Freddie Mac-backed mortgages who have entered into forbearance plans can be eligible to refinance or purchase a new home once they are considered “current” on their mortgage. Borrowers can either refinance or buy a new home once they have made three consecutive mortgage payments, either after their forbearance ends or under a repayment plan or loan modification, the agency said. Borrowers who also continued to make mortgage payments while their loan was in forbearance will be eligible to refinance, the FHFA said. CNBC had reported last week that some homeowners were mistakenly placed in forbearance plans without their knowledge, and they were unable to refinance their loans. "Homeowners who are in COVID-19 forbearance but continue to make their mortgage payment will not be penalized," FHFA Director Mark Calabria said in a press release. "Today's action allows homeowners to access record low mortgage rates and keeps the mortgage market functioning as efficiently as possible."The FHFA also said Tuesday that it would extend the government-sponsored enterprises’ ability to buy mortgages that are subject to forbearance plans beyond a previous May 31 deadline.Fannie and Freddie will now be able to buy loans in forbearance that have closed on or before June 30, as long as they are sold to the GSEs before Aug. 31 and the borrower has missed only one mortgage payment.

    'Tidal Wave' Of Delinquent Mortgages Set To Surpass Great Recession -With nearly 4 million homeowners in some type of mortgage forbearance plan - representing 7.54% of all mortgages, delinquencies are set to eclipse the great recession which peaked at 10%.  According to a new report from UK-based forecasting firm Oxford Economics, 15% of homeowners will fall behind on their monthly mortgage payments in a 'tidal wave' of delinquencies.Stimulus legislation signed by President Donald Trump allows any borrower with a federally-backed mortgage to request forbearance for up to 12 months, meaning the homeowner can skip or make reduced payments during that time.Given the risk mortgage companies are facing right now, many lenders have imposed more stringent requirements for loan applicants. “The uncertainty in the mortgage market has contributed to a significant tightening of lending standards that may persist even once a recovery is underway,” Oxford Economics wrote. –MarketWatch An while the pace of requests for forbearance has slowed in recent weeks - however that could change. "Although the pace of forbearance requests slowed this week, call volume picked up — which could be a sign that more borrowers are calling in to check their options now that May due dates have arrived," said Mortgage Bankers Association chief economist, Mike Fratantoni.Keep in mind that Oxford Economics' forecast is half of the potential mortgage bloodbath predicted by Moody's chief economist, Mark Zandi, who said that as many as 30% of Americans with home loans - or around 15 million households, may stop paying if the US economy remains closed through the summer or beyond.

    MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Increases to 8.16%" of Portfolio Volume --  To put these numbers in perspective, the MBA notes "For the week of March 2, only 0.25% of all loans were in forbearance." From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Increases to 8.16% The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance increased from 7.91% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 8.16% as of May 10, 2020. According to MBA’s estimate, 4.1 million homeowners are now in forbearance plans. . “There has been a pronounced flattening in loans put into forbearance – despite April’s uniformly negative economic data, remarkably high unemployment, and it now being past May payment due dates. However, FHA and VA borrowers are more likely to be employed in the sectors hardest hit in this crisis, which is why more than 11 percent of Ginnie Mae loans are currently in forbearance.”According to Fratantoni, record-low mortgages rates are sustaining the refinance wave, helping homeowners lower their mortgage payments and save money during these challenging times. Furthermore, the consecutive increase in purchase applications in the last four weeks is a sign that housing demand is strengthening as more states ease restrictions on activity and people get back to work.This graph shows the weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicer's portfolio volume.The requests peaked in the week of March 30th to April 5th.The MBA notes: "Forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) dropped across all investor types for the fifth consecutive week relative to the prior week: from 0.51% to 0.32%."

    Black Knight: Black Knight: 4.75 Million Homeowners Now in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans; Nearly Half Made April Mortgage Payments -Note: Both Black Knight and the MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) are putting out weekly estimates of mortgages in forbearance. From Black Knight: Black Knight: 4.75 Million Homeowners Now in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans; Nearly Half Made April Mortgage Payments“Of the 4.25 million homeowners who were in active forbearance as of the end of April, nearly half – 46% – still made their April mortgage payment,” said Jabbour. “The fact that only 54% of borrowers in forbearance actually missed their payments helps explain the disparity between April’s delinquency and forbearance rates. However, just 21% of borrowers in forbearance have made their May payments, which could lead to another sharp increase in the national delinquency rate for May if those payments are not received before the end of the month.” The McDash Flash Forbearance tracker shows that the 4.75 million loans in forbearance represent 9% of all active mortgages and account for a little over $1 trillion in unpaid principal. An estimated 7.1% of all GSE-backed loans and 12.6% of FHA/VA mortgages are now in forbearance. Over the past week, active forbearance volumes have increased by just 93,000, a more than 70% decline from the 325,000 in the first week of May. CR Note: The delinquency rate in April increased sharply to 6.45%, but it would have been much higher if so many borrowers in forbearance hadn't made their mortgage payments (loans in forbearance are counted as delinquent in the survey).

    Black Knight: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Increased Sharply in April, "Largest Single-Month Increase Ever Recorded" -  Note: Loans in forbearance are counted as delinquent in this survey, so the delinquency rate jumped in April. From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Past-Due Mortgages Increase by 1.6 Million in April, Largest Single-Month Increase Ever Recorded; Delinquency Rate Nearly Doubles

    • 3.6 million homeowners were past due on their mortgages as of the end of April, the largest number since January 2015
    • The number includes both homeowners past due on mortgage payments who are not in forbearance, as well as those in forbearance plans who did not make an April mortgage payment
    • At 6.45%, the national delinquency rate nearly doubled (+3.06%) from March, the largest single-month increase ever recorded, and nearly three times the previous single-month record set back in late 2008
    • There were declines in cure activity among later-stage delinquencies as well, with the number of seriously delinquent mortgages (90+ days) increasing by 56,000 (+14%) from March
    • Both foreclosure starts and foreclosure sales hit record lows in April as moratoriums halted foreclosure activity across the country

    According to Black Knight's First Look report for March, the percent of loans delinquent increased 90.2% in April compared to March, and increased 85.8% year-over-year. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 3.8% in April and were down 19.3% over the last year.Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 6.45% in April, up from 3.39% in March.The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased in April to 0.40% from 0.42% in March. The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is up 1,558,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is down 48,000 properties year-over-year.

    California bill to pause foreclosures, repos draws fire from lenders - California has emerged as an early battleground in a burgeoning dispute over how far the government should go to protect borrowers from the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis.This week in Sacramento, a state legislative panel voted 7-3 to advance legislation that would temporarily halt foreclosures and auto repossessions, expand consumers’ eligibility for loan forbearance and limit lenders’ options once payment deferral periods end.The measure, which borrows from proposals that have been championed by Democrats in Washington, is drawing opposition from banks, credit unions and other lenders. It figures to spark a bigger fight than the federal emergency relief law that Congress quickly passed in late March with bipartisan support, despite substantial disagreement over its borrower protection provisions. At the heart of the debate is to what extent the government should constrict financial institutions’ decision-making during the pandemic. Many banks and credit unions are voluntarily offering forbearance to borrowers who have suffered financially, and it is often in the lenders’ own interest to do so. Payment deferrals can enable borrowers to get back on their feet, staving off losses for the lenders. But supporters of the California legislation say that many borrowers are being left out. More than 30% of residential mortgages in the nation’s largest state are not federally backed, which means they do not qualify for up to 360 days of forbearance under the federal relief law, according to a legislative staff analysis of the California bill.The legislation by Democratic Assemblymember Monique Limón would extend protections to homeowners with privately backed mortgages. “What I want to ensure is that there is some standardization for Californians,” Limón said Tuesday during a hearing on the bill. “Right now, it is by luck.”The bill would also guarantee relief to struggling auto loan borrowers. Borrowers who state that they are experiencing hardship during the pandemic would get 90 days of forbearance, which could be extended. After the forbearance period, servicers of both auto loans and mortgages would be required to work with borrowers to establish payment plans that avoid lump-sum repayments.At Tuesday’s hearing, all three votes against the bill were by Republicans. But Democrats who voted to advance the measure also raised objections to various aspects of the bill. Limón vowed to make changes in response to the feedback she has been receiving.

    Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey - Mortgage applications decreased 2.6 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending May 15, 2020. ... The Refinance Index decreased 6 percent from the previous week and was 160 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 increased 6 percent compared with the previous week and was 1.5 percent lower than the same week one year ago. ...  “Applications for home purchases continue to recover from April’s sizeable drop and have now increased for five consecutive weeks. Purchase activity – which was 35 percent below year-ago levels six weeks ago – increased across all loan types and was only 1.5 percent lower than last year,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Government purchase applications, which include FHA, VA, and USDA loans, are now 5 percent higher than a year ago, which is an encouraging turnaround after the weakness seen over the past two months. As states gradually re-open and both home buyer and seller activity increases, we will be closely watching to see if these positive trends continue, or if they reflect shorter-term, pent-up demand.” Added Kan, “Despite mortgage rates remaining close to record-lows, refinance activity slid to its lowest level in over a month. The average loan amount for refinances fell to its lowest level since January – potentially a sign that part of the drop was attributable to a retreat in cash-out refinance lending as credit conditions tighten. We still expect a strong pace of refinancing for the remainder of the year because of low mortgage rates. With many homeowners still facing economic and employment uncertainty, these refinance opportunities will allow them to save money on their monthly payments, which can then be used to help other areas of their budgets.” ... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) decreased to 3.41 percent from 3.43 percent, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

    Mortgage Rates and Ten Year Yield - With the ten year yield at 0.70%, and based on an historical relationship, 30-year rates should currently be around 2.8%. Mortgage News Daily reports that the most prevalent 30 year fixed rate is now at 3.10% for top tier scenarios. So mortgage rates are a little high compared to the normal relationship. The graph shows the relationship between the monthly 10 year Treasury Yield and 30 year mortgage rates from the Freddie Mac survey. Currently the 10 year Treasury yield is at 0.70%, and 30 year mortgage rates were at 3.28% according to the Freddie Mac survey last week - higher than expected. The record low in the Freddie Mac survey was 3.23% in April 2020 (Survey started in 1971). Freddie Mac has a similar graph here with a linear fit (using data since 1990).   Using their formula, 30 year rates would be around 2.6%.

     U.S. Existing-Home Sales Dropped 17.8% in April – WSJ Sales of previously owned homes plunged in April, as the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the country’s economic activity and sellers and buyers stayed on the sidelines. Existing-home sales dropped 17.8% in April, the biggest monthly decline since July 2010, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.33 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. Previously owned homes make up most of the housing market. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected a 19.5% decline. Stay-at-home orders prevented real-estate agents from showing homes in person in some states, and widespread job losses and tightening credit requirements have made it more difficult for buyers to qualify for loans. While the number of transactions declined, prices continued to rise, as sellers opted to take their houses off the market or wait until later to sell them, limiting the supply of homes for sale. The median existing-home price rose 7.4% from a year earlier to $286,800. “Price appreciation in the 7% range is unhealthy,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “The only way for [price growth to slow] is to get more listings and also more home construction.” Homes typically go under contract a month or two before the contract closes, so the April data largely reflects purchase decisions made in February or March. The spring is typically the most active season for home sales, as families look to move over the summer before a new school year starts. About 40% of the year’s sales typically take place from March through June. Some real-estate brokers and economists say home-shopping demand has started to rise in recent weeks, as parts of the country have loosened restrictions. “The housing market here is already back,” said Kris Lindahl, chief executive of Kris Lindahl Real Estate in Minneapolis. “We have so much pent-up demand from the spring market that most everything is still in multiple offers.” Existing-home sales fell the most in the West, at 25%, and in the South, at 17.9%, according to the NAR data.

    Housing Starts decreased to 891 Thousand Annual Rate in April - From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions Privately-owned housing starts in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 891,000. This is 30.2 percent below the revised March estimate of 1,276,000 and is 29.7 percent below the April 2019 rate of 1,267,000. Single-family housing starts in April were at a rate of 650,000; this is 25.4 percent below the revised March figure of 871,000. The April rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 234,000. Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,074,000. This is 20.8 percent below the revised March rate of 1,356,000 and is 19.2 percent below the April 2019 rate of 1,330,000. Single-family authorizations in April were at a rate of 669,000; this is 24.3 percent below the revised March figure of 884,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 373,000 in April. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years. Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) were down in April compared to March. Multi-family starts were down 40.2% year-over-year in April. Multi-family is volatile month-to-month, and had been mostly moving sideways the last several years. Single-family starts (blue) decreased in April, and were down 24.8% year-over-year. Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsThe second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then eventual recovery (but still historically low). Total housing starts in April were below expectations, however starts in March were revised up. Residential construction is considered an essential business, and held up better than some other sectors of the economy, but was still negatively impacted by COVID-19.

    Comments on April Housing Starts -Although housing starts declined significantly, residential construction is considered essential, and starts did not decline as sharply as some other sectors. Earlier: Housing Starts decreased to 891 Thousand Annual Rate in April Total housing starts in April were below expectations, however revisions to prior months were positive.The housing starts report showed starts were down 30.2% in April compared to March, and starts were down 29.7% year-over-year compared to April 2019.Single family starts were down 24.8% year-over-year, and multi-family starts were down 40.2% YoY. This first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2019 (blue) and 2020 (red). Starts were down 29.7% in April compared to April 2019. Last year, in 2019, starts picked up in the 2nd half of the year, so the comparisons are easy early in the year. Starts, year-to-date, are still up 3.7% compared to the same period in 2019. Starts will be down YoY for at least the next few months due to the impact from COVID-19. Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment). The blue line is for multifamily starts and the red line is for multifamily completions. The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - then mostly moved sideways. Completions (red line) had lagged behind - then completions caught up with starts- although starts picked up a little again lately. The second graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions. Note the relatively low level of single family starts and completions. The "wide bottom" was what I was forecasting following the recession, and now I expect some further increases in single family starts and completions once the crisis abates.

    NAHB: Builder Confidence Increased to 37 in May - The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 37, up from 30 in April. Any number below 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as poor than good.From NAHB: Builder Confidence Posts Solid Gain Following Last Month’s Historic Drop In a signal that the housing market is showing signs of stabilizing and gradually moving forward in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes increased seven points to 37 in May, according to the latest NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. The rise in builder sentiment follows the largest single monthly decline in the history of the index in April. The fact that most states classified housing as an essential business during this crisishelped to keep many residential construction workers on the job, and this is reflected in our latest builder survey,” said NAHB Chairman Dean Mon. “At the same time, builders are showing flexibility in this new business environment by making sure buyers have the knowledge and access to the homes they are seeking through innovative measures such as social media, virtual tours and online closings.”“Low interest rates are helping to sustain demand,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “As many states and localities across the nation lift stay-at-home orders and more furloughed workers return to their jobs, we expect this demand will strengthen. Other indicators that suggest a housing rebound include mortgage application data that has posted four weeks of gains and signs that buyer traffic has improved in housing markets in recent weeks. However, high unemployment and supply-side challenges including builder loan access and building material availability are near-term limiting factors.”

    Homebuilder sentiment bounces back in May, after record plunge in April - After the sharpest one-month drop in the history of the index in April, homebuilder sentiment bounced back slightly in May as builders saw a quick rebound in interest from buyers. Confidence in the market for single-family, newly built homes rose 7 points in May to 37, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. Anything above 50 is considered positive, so sentiment remains in negative territory. The index stood at 66 in May 2019 and hit a recent high of 76 in December. Sentiment plunged an unprecedented 42 points in April, as the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the economy and job losses soared. Homebuilding continued, deemed an essential business, but buyers pulled back decisively. Now, buyers appear to be shopping again — in person and virtually. Record low mortgage rates are also helping with affordability. "The fact that most states classified housing as an essential business during this crisis helped to keep many residential construction workers on the job, and this is reflected in our latest builder survey," said NAHB Chairman Dean Mon. "At the same time, builders are showing flexibility in this new business environment by making sure buyers have the knowledge and access to the homes they are seeking through innovative measures such as social media, virtual tours and online closings." All components of the index rose in May but remain in negative territory. Current sales conditions increased 6 points to 42, sales expectations in the next six months jumped 10 points to 46 and buyer traffic rose 8 points to 21. "As many states and localities across the nation lift stay-at-home orders and more furloughed workers return to their jobs, we expect this demand will strengthen," said NAHB chief economist Robert Dietz. "However, high unemployment and supply-side challenges including builder loan access and building material availability are near-term limiting factors." While there is no specific data yet, real estate agents and builders say they are seeing higher demand from apartment-dwellers in major cities looking to move out to larger homes in the suburbs. Stay-at-home orders have clearly strengthened the desire for more space.

    AIA: Architecture Billings Index Decreased in April to Record Low - Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment. From the AIA: Architecture billings continue historic contraction: Demand for design services in April saw its steepest decline on record, according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA).  AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score of 29.5 for April reflects a decrease in design services provided by U.S. architecture firms (any number below 50 indicates a decrease in billings). During April, both the new project inquiries and design contracts scores also declined significantly, posting scores of 28.4 and 27.6 respectively. “With the dramatic deceleration that we have seen in the economy since mid-March, it’s not surprising that businesses and households are waiting for signs of stability before proceeding with new facilities,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “Once business activity resumes, demand for design services should pick up fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the precipitous drop in demand for design services will have lasting consequences for some firms.”
    • Regional averages: West (38.1); Midwest (31.2); South (31.1); Northeast (23.0)
    • Sector index breakdown: institutional (36.1); multi-family residential (30.3); mixed practice (29.0); commercial/industrial (27.8)
    This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 29.5 in April, down from 33.3 in March. Anything below 50 indicates contraction in demand for architects' services.Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions.This is the lowest level for this index on record, even below the lowest level during the Great Recession.

    US retailer JCPenney to close nearly one-third of department stores, announces bankruptcy - American department retailer JCPenney announced Monday that it will permanently close nearly one-third, or 242, of its 846 existing retail stores across the US. The closures are part of the struggling Plano, Texas-based department store chain’s decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday. The stores are set to close between the current and next fiscal year, according to documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This year 192 stores are slated for closure with the remaining 50 to close in 2021. The SEC filing quoted the company as stating that the remaining 604 stores will “represent the highest sales-generating, most profitable, and most productive stores in the network.” A full list of the closing stores has yet to be released, but it can be expected that they will be located in some of the most economically depressed areas of the US which have been hardest hit by both the economic depression brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2008 recession before it. JCPenney joins other major chains, including Neiman Marcus and J.Crew, in filing for bankruptcy amid the pandemic. Like its competitor and fellow struggling department store giant Sears, JCPenney filed for bankruptcy to avoid liquidation after years of parasitic financialization had cut the corporation’s assets to the bone. S&P Global Ratings currently ranks the retailer as “distressed” with a negative outlook and has assigned it a CCC, or junk bond, status. The most recent announcement of JCPenney’s store closures comes on top of 27 permanent closings in 2019. That year saw an unprecedented wave of 9,700 retail store closures across the US and the liquidation of well-known chains such as Toys“R”Us, Payless ShoeSource, Charlotte Russe and Gymboree.  At its height in 1973, the retailer operated 2,053 stores worldwide until it began to decline one year later as the 1974 recession took hold. The company began to close stores and departments or sell them off through mergers and acquisitions beginning in the late 1970s and continuing through the present day with closures especially accelerating after 2014. In 2014, JCPenney closed 33 stores and laid off 2,000 employees and the following year closed 39 stores and laid off a further 2,250 employees. In 2017 it shuttered 140 stores and two distribution centers, offering buyouts to 6,000 employees who lost their jobs.

    Pier 1 Imports to close all 540 stores after 58 years - Pier 1 Imports is calling it quits. The bankrupt home-goods retailer has asked a court for permission to liquidate its remaining 540 stores once they reopen after coronavirus-driven lockdowns, ending a 58-year legacy of selling glassware, wicker furniture and other home decor. Pier 1 said it is in talks with several prospective buyers to sell its remaining assets, including its intellectual property and e-commerce business, during a court-supervised auction on July 15. The company has tapped Gordon Brothers to begin liquidating its locations this weekend across the US, according to court documents. “It is now clear that Pier 1’s future does not involve any brick-and-mortar retail locations,” Pier 1 said in court filings. The Fort Worth, Texas-based chain — founded in 1962 in San Mateo, Calif., under the moniker Cost Plus Imports — filed for bankruptcy protection in February, pushed to the brink by increasing competition from online home furnishings giant Wayfair, Target and Walmart. In March, Pier 1 canceled a court-administered auction to sell the company, citing a lack of interest. Lenders explored buying the company but ultimately backed away, forcing Pier 1 to shut down for good, according to court papers. “This is not the outcome we expected or hoped to achieve,” Robert Riesbeck, Pier 1’s chief executive and chief financial officer, said in a statement. At the beginning of this year, Pier 1 had 936 stores and had hoped that closing half of them in bankruptcy would be a linchpin to its reorganization. But the coronavirus quashed the company’s ability to restructure, according to court documents.

    Rental-Car Company Hertz Files for Bankruptcy – WSJ - Coronavirus contributed to woes; company enters chapter 11 with no deal in place from creditors. Hertz Global Holdings Inc., one of the nation’s largest car-rental companies, filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, saddled with about $19 billion in debt and nearly 700,000 vehicles that have been largely idled because of the coronavirus.The Estero, Fla.-based company entered chapter 11 proceedings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., hoping to survive a drop-off in ground traffic from the pandemic and avoid a forced liquidation of its vehicle fleet.

    As summer driving season kicks off, it's unclear just how many people will take to the road - This weekend's Memorial Day holiday could be a test for the gasoline market, depending on whether drivers in reopening states hit the road and then keep on driving. Gasoline demand is about 30% below where it was before states shut down in March. As the economy reopens, analysts are looking at traditional measures of supply and demand, but also some newer metrics like Apple mobility data and GPS-generated traffic congestion data. "After many of these states opened up in early May, we saw a pretty big surge or improvement in the congestion data. By mid that next week, we actually saw a regression in many cities U.S.-wide," said Michael Tran, global energy analyst at RBC. "When we look at the numbers, we saw a big surge then we saw a regression." Tran said though he believes gas prices are eventually headed higher, and the market should show improvement in fits and starts as economic activity picks up across the U.S. Retail gasoline data is showing that demand has been varying greatly by region, depending on state shutdown rules, or more normal factors like weather. The GasBuddy tracking firm, for instance, found that demand nationally last Friday was up 11.8% from the previous Friday, and in some states it was way higher. Gasoline demand is important for a couple of reasons. For one, it is an economic indicator linked closely to employment. Second, U.S. gasoline demand is a factor in the calculation of global oil prices, since U.S. gas consumption equals about 10% of daily oil demand.

    Americans use their $1,200 stimulus checks to splurge at Walmart, Target, BJ’s and Best Buy — here’s what they’re buying -  While many Americans have used their stimulus checks to cover basic needs such as groceries, mortgage or rent, there’s evidence people are also spending the money on non-essentials including electronics, clothes and toys, according to major retailers. “Call it relief spending, as it was heavily influenced by stimulus dollars, leading to sales increases in categories such as apparel, televisions, video games, sporting goods and toys,” Walmart Chief Executive Doug McMillon said during the company’s earnings call Tuesday. Target, BJ’s Wholesale Club Holdings Inc and Best Buy also saw increased consumer demand for discretionary goods in mid-April as the stimulus payments from the $2.2-trillion CARES Act flowed into Americans’ bank accounts, the companies’ CEOs said this week. Apple saw an uptick in demand for its products “across the board,” CEO Tim Cook said April 30. Related: Best Buy’s stock rises after profit, revenue and same-store sales fall less than expected At Walmart, Target, shoppers bought more TVs, electronics, gaming equipment and apparel. Walmart also saw increased demand for adult-sized bikes. BJ’s CEO Lee Delaney told investors on Thursday that the company saw “relatively significant growth” in discretionary categories, including electronics and TVs. “We would imagine that there is certainly an impact from stimulus checks that are impacting the business,” Delaney said. “But I think it’s right to assume there is some benefit flowing through from stimulus checks in the business.”

    The Covid Surcharge: Companies Confront the Unforgiving Economics of Coronavirus – WSJ - Companies from major retailers and package carriers to local restaurants and hair salons are awakening to a new economic reality in the age of the new coronavirus: Being open for business is almost as hard as being closed. Facing higher costs to keep workers and customers safe and an indefinite period of suppressed demand, businesses are navigating an ever-narrower path to profitability. To make the math work, some businesses are cutting services and jobs. Others are raising prices, including imposing coronavirus-related fees aimed at getting customers to share some of the expenses. For large companies, the price—and perils—of operating in a pandemic are already coming into focus. Walmart Inc., Target Corp. and Home Depot Inc. this week said they absorbed more than $2 billion combined in added expenses for wages, bonuses and other benefits for workers during the early months of the pandemic. McDonald’s Corp. laid out conditions for franchisees to reopen their dining rooms that include cleaning bathrooms every half-hour and digital kiosks after every order. Ford Motor Co. this week opened its American assembly plants for the first time in two months, and promptly had to idle factories in Michigan and Illinois after employees tested positive for Covid-19. The stakes can be higher for small businesses, which tend to operate on thinner profit margins and smaller cash reserves. As they begin to reopen after weeks of being shut down, they are confronting a cost-revenue ratio that is increasingly out of whack. Prices of food and other items have risen. Employees need protective equipment at work. Rising unemployment, safety concerns and limits on the number of customers a business is allowed to serve are setting a cap on sales. Some have tried to raise prices to bridge the divide, but greeting consumers who have been staying at home with higher costs is a delicate proposition. Billy Yuzar saw adding a surcharge to diners’ tabs as a simple way to compensate for higher food prices at his West Plains, Mo., restaurant, Kiko Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Lounge. It was more convenient than raising menu prices, Mr. Yuzar said, because he could update the fee in the business’s point-of-sale computer in one step. Regular customers were supportive, he said, but when a photo of a Kiko receipt showing a Covid-19 surcharge surfaced on social media, people who had never been to his restaurant began calling to complain. “The people from this community and my actual customers don’t mind at all paying,” Mr. Yuzar said. “The backlash that I got is just because of these tweets.” Mr. Yuzar has removed the surcharge and raised menu prices.

    Ford Temporarily Shuts Down Two Plants Just Days After Reopening After Workers Test Positive For COVID-19 - Ford was forced to temporarily shut down production at two of its plants - one in Dearborn and the other in Chicago - because of workers testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Detroit News. The Dearborn Truck Plant, where Ford assembles the F-150 and Raptor pickups, halted production Wednesday after an employee there tested positive for the virus, Kelli Felker, Ford's global manufacturing and labor communications manager, said in a statement. Production is expected to resume Wednesday night."When a Dearborn Truck Plant employee who returned to work this week tested positive for COVID-19, we immediately began to notify people known to have been in close contact with the infected individual and asked them to self-quarantine for 14 days," Felker said. "We are deep cleaning and disinfecting the work area, equipment, team area and the path that the team member took."In Chicago, two employees who returned to work this week tested positive for the virus. The same protocols were applied in those cases, and Chicago Assembly now is running again. Due to the known incubation time of the virus, Ford said "we know (these employees) did not contract COVID-19 while at work."The cases illustrate the potential perils of restarting production amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 5,000 lives in Michigan. Autoworkers employed by Detroit's automakers returned to work Monday following an eight-week shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.At facilities operated by all three companies, employees must follow stringent health and safety protocols that are designed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in plants. Those protocols include wearing personal protective equipment, having their temperatures checked before entering, and daily health self-certifications.

    Philly Fed Manufacturing Index: Continued Weakening But Improvements in May - The Philly Fed's Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey is a monthly report for the Third Federal Reserve District, covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. While it focuses exclusively on business in this district, this regional survey gives a generally reliable clue as to the direction of the broader Chicago Fed's National Activity Index.The latest Manufacturing Index came in at -43.1, up 13.5 from last month's -56.6. The 3-month moving average came in at -37.5, down from -10.9 last month. Since this is a diffusion index, negative readings indicate contraction, positive ones indicate expansion. The Six-Month Outlook came in at 49.7, up from the previous month's 43.0.The -43.1 headline number came in below the -41.5 forecast at Here is the introduction from the survey: Manufacturing firms reported continued weakness in regional manufacturing activity this month, according to results from the Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey. Despite remaining well below zero, the survey’s current indicators for general activity, new orders, shipments, and employment rose this month after reaching long-term low readings in April. The firms expect the current slump in manufacturing activity to last less than six months, as the broadest indicator of future activity strengthened further from last month’s reading; furthermore, the firms continue to expect overall growth in new orders, shipments, and employment over the next six months. (Full Report) The first chart below gives us a look at this diffusion index since 2000, which shows us how it has behaved in proximity to the two 21st century recessions. The red dots show the indicator itself, which is quite noisy, and the 3-month moving average, which is more useful as an indicator of coincident economic activity. We can see periods of contraction in 2011, 2012 and 2015, and a shallower contraction in 2013. The latest figures have not been seen since the 1980s.

    Major League Baseball Set To Lose $640,000 Per Game This Season - Even with Major League Baseball restarting and playing a shortened 82 game season, the organization would still be expected to post a monster loss for the year due to the coronavirus lockdowns, according to the Associated Press. In fact, MLB will lose an estimated $640,000 per game played in empty ballpark, over an 82 game season. On May 12, the MLB released a document called “Economics of Playing Without Fans in Attendance” to try and open negotiations to begin a delayed season around July 4. Teams would still suffer a $4 billion loss and players would get about 89% of MLB's total revenue. As of now, teams are arguing that they lose more money with each additional game played, while players are arguing that clubs lose less money with more games played. Teams and owners would also benefit from regional sports networks having more games to broadcast, as many owners and teams have a stake in such networks. Owners voted on Monday for player salaries to be based on a 50-50 split of revenue, which is framework that players are expected to reject. Teams have also submitted virus-testing plans to the players association.   The Yankees would be expected to lose about $312 million this year. The Dodgers will suffer local losses of $232 million, while the Mets, Cubs and Red Sox would lose $214 million, $199 million and $188 million, respectively. Detroit and Baltimore would lose the least, with an expectation of posting negative EBITDA of $84 million and $90 million, respectively. Either way, the LA Times reports teams are going further into debt: Teams remain worried that a second wave of the virus during the fall could wind up decimating their finances, especially if the post-season winds up being cancelled. The post-season brings in about $787 million in media money and is a key part of the financial picture for the league going forward. The MLB says "2019 revenue was 39% local gate and other in-park sources, followed by 25% central revenue, 22% local media, 11% sponsorship and 4% other."

     Workers File 2.4 Million Unemployment Claims – WSJ - Workers filed another 2.4 million unemployment claims last week, a slight drop-off in the wave of historically high weekly filings since the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic began. Weekly claims continued to log in at high levels, though they are down since an initial surge in layoffs drove claims to a peak of nearly 7 million at the end of March, according to Thursday’s Labor Department report. Meanwhile, the ranks of workers receiving benefits swelled in early May. In the week ended May 9, the number of so-called continuing claims—a proxy for overall levels of unemployment—increased to 25.1 million from 22.5 million a week earlier. Continuing claims figures lag by a week from initial claims filings. The claims totals exclude hundreds of thousands of self-employed and gig-economy workers receiving unemployment benefits for the first time through a temporary coronavirus-related program. The omission of self-employed workers means the actual number of workers seeking claims has been higher since the federal program called pandemic unemployment assistance, included in a stimulus package approved in late March, got under way. “The pandemic unemployment assistance program is giving us a view into a segment of the workforce that’s harmed during a recession that we don’t typically get,” said Dante DeAntonio, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. “It gives us a better handle on the scope of what’s happening.” While layoffs appear to have subsided in recent weeks, the number of people without work continues to remain at record-high levels. As of the beginning of this month, a large share of workers eligible for unemployment benefits were drawing on them in states across the nation, with particularly big parts of the workforces in Nevada, Michigan and Washington claiming benefits. Still, the bulk of states saw fewer new applications for unemployment benefits last week, with particularly steep declines occurring in Georgia, New Jersey and Kentucky. Many states reported fewer layoffs in early May at restaurants and health-care companies, the report said. States have been paying out unemployment benefits to newly eligible workers such as independent contractors and self-employed individuals in recent weeks. As of Tuesday, 43 states were making such payments, a U.S. Labor Department spokeswoman said.

    Initial jobless claims: employment damage continues to spread - Now that there is more than one month of data from initial and continuing jobless claims since the coronavirus lockdowns started, we can begin to trace whether the economic impacts of the virus are being contained, or are continuing to spread out into further damage.Nine weeks in, it appears that, insofar as employment is concerned, the damage is continuing to spread.First, let’s look at initial jobless claims both seasonally adjusted (blue) and non- seasonally adjusted (red). The non-seasonally adjusted number is of added importance since seasonal adjustments should not have more than a trivial effect on the huge real numbers:  There were 2.174 million new claims, which after the seasonal adjustment became 2.438 million. This is a slight decline from last week’s number which was revised down to 2.687 million.  By now, virtually all of the people laid off due to the initial lockdowns in March and early April should have already applied for benefits. Further, last week was the second week after some States “reopened.” Thus these new claims are almost certainly primarily represent the spreading second-order impacts of the coronavirus shutdowns. In other words, this is evidence that new economic damage have  continued to spread, and in a very large way.Next, looking at continuing claims, which lag one week behind, both the non-seasonally adjusted number (red), and the less important seasonally adjusted number (blue) rose: This tells us that, as of two weeks ago, there were not enough callbacks to work to offset the spreading new damage. If “reopening” leads to a significant new upturn in cases - something that may have begun in the past week - this will only get worse.Bottom line: confining my comments strictly to the economy, while there have been significant or small rebounds in many of the series, the news on employment is not just bad, but it is still getting worse, albeit getting worse at a slower rate.

    Nearly one in four workers has applied for unemployment benefits: Congress must do much, much more -- Last week, 3.3 million workers applied for unemployment benefits. That is an improvement over the 6 million per week we saw in late March/early April, but is an increase from the prior week—and is still well over three times the worst week of the Great Recession. Of the 3.3 million who applied for unemployment benefits last week, 2.2 million applied for regular state unemployment insurance (UI), and 1.2 million applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA is the new federal program for workers who are not eligible for regular UI (e.g., gig workers) but are still out of work as a result of the virus. At this point, 15 states and the District of Columbia are not yet reporting PUA data, so PUA claims are being undercounted. Note, the number of PUA claims for Massachusetts was misreported as 1,184,792. It should have been 115,952. I have corrected for that error throughout this blog post. It is also worth noting that the Department of Labor (DOL) reports that 2.4 million workers applied for regular state unemployment insurance last week on a “seasonally adjusted” basis, compared with 2.2 million on an unadjusted basis. Seasonal adjustments are usually helpful—they are used to even out seasonal changes in claims that have nothing to do with the underlying strength or weakness of the labor market, typically providing a clearer picture of underlying trends. However, the way DOL does seasonal adjustments is distortionary at a time like this, so I focus on unadjusted numbers when looking at regular state UI. PUA claims are available only on an unadjusted basis. What is the total number of workers on UI or PUA in this recession so far? We can add up various data points to get at that. As of May 9, 22.9 million workers had made it through at least the first round of regular state UI processing (these are known as “continued” claims), and 4.5 million had filed initial UI claims since then. And, as of May 2, 6.1 million workers had made it through at least the first round of PUA processing, and 3.0 million had filed initial PUA claims since then. So altogether, that’s 36.6 million workers—close to one in four people in the U.S. workforce. And the situation is still deteriorating. The most recent Goldman Sachs forecasts imply that the unemployment rate will average more than 30% for May and June. Further, millions are also losing their health insurance, since our health care system ties health insurance to work. It is also worth always keeping in mind that any overall numbers mask the fact that recessions hit different race and gender groups differently, because of things like occupational segregation, discrimination, and other labor market disparities.

    More than a quarter of the workforce in 10 states has filed for unemployment --The Department of Labor (DOL) released the most recent unemployment insurance (UI) claims data this morning, showing that another 2.2 million people filed for regular UI benefits last week (not seasonally adjusted) and 1.2 million for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the new program for workers who aren’t eligible for regular UI, such as gig workers.While most states saw a decline in UI claims filed relative to the prior week, 12 states saw increases in UI claims. Washington saw the largest percent increase in claims (31.0%) compared with the prior week, followed by California (15.7%), New York (13.6%), and North Dakota (10.1%).A note about the data: Unless otherwise noted, the numbers in this blog post are the ones reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, which they receive from the state agencies that administer UI. While DOL is asking states to report regular UI claims and PUA claims separately, many states are also including some or all PUA claimants in their reported regular UI claims. As state agencies work to get these new programs up and running, there will likely continue to be some misreporting. Since the number of UI claims is one of the most up-to-date measures of labor market weakness and access to benefits, we will still be analyzing it each week as reported by DOL, but ask that you keep these caveats in mind when interpreting the data. Figure A and Table 1 below compare regular UI claims filed last week with the prior week and the pre-virus period, in both level and percent terms. It also shows the cumulative number of unemployment claims since March 7 and that number as a share of each state’s labor force. In 10 states, more than a quarter of the workforce filed an initial claim during the past 10 weeks: Georgia (39.2%), Kentucky (38.0%), Hawaii (35.0%), Washington (30.9%), Louisiana (29.9%), Rhode Island (29.7%), Nevada (29.6%), Michigan (29.2%), Pennsylvania (28.4%), and Alaska (27.9%).

     US unemployment claims approach 40 million since March - The United States Department of Labor reported on Thursday that more than 2.4 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance last week, bringing the total number of new claims to 38.6 million since mid-March, when social distancing measures and statewide stay-at-home orders were first implemented in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Even with the push by the Trump administration since then to reopen the economy and the easing of lockdown orders in all 50 states—despite a continued rise in COVID-19 infections and deaths—the US marked its ninth straight week in which more than 2 million workers filed for unemployment. While this is down from the peak at the end of March when 6.8 million applied for unemployment insurance, it still dwarfs the worst weeks of the Great Recession in 2008. It is expected that the official unemployment rate for May, which is to be reported by the federal government in the first week of June, will approach 20 percent, up from 14.7 percent last month. This is a significant undercount, with millions of unemployed immigrants unable to apply for benefits, and many other workers who are not currently looking for work and therefore are not counted as unemployed. Fortune magazine estimates that real unemployment has already hit 22.5 percent, which is nearing the peak of unemployment reached during the Great Depression in 1933, when the rate rose above 25 percent. Millions more are expected to apply in the coming weeks, pushing the numbers beyond those seen during the country’s worst economic crisis. But even these figures do not capture the extent of the crisis now unfolding across the country. Millions have been blocked for weeks from applying for unemployment compensation because of antiquated computer systems, and a significant share of those who have applied have been denied any payments. On top of this there are significant delays in processing applications in multiple states, including Indiana, Missouri, Wyoming and Hawaii. Meanwhile, Florida, which has some of the most stringent restrictions, has refused to extend its paltry three-month limit on payments for the few who manage to qualify. Sparked by the pandemic, the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s is already having a devastating impact on the millions who have seen their jobs suddenly disappear, while millions more will see wages, benefits and hours dramatically curtailed whenever they are able to return to work. Optimistic projections that the US economy would quickly bounce back once stay-at-home orders were lifted are now becoming much gloomier. A University of Chicago analysis from earlier this month projects that 42 percent of lost jobs will be permanently eliminated. At the current record number, this will mean a destruction of 16.2 million jobs, nearly double the number of jobs which were lost during the Great Recession just over a decade ago.

    Week 9 of the Collapse of the U.S. Labor Market: Still Getting Worse at a Gut-Wrenching Pace - Wolf Richter - The moment the unemployment crisis stops getting worse and bottoms out would signal the beginning of a recovery of the job market. But instead, it’s still getting worse at a gut-wrenching pace. In the week ended May 16, state unemployment offices processed 2.438 million “initial claims” for unemployment insurance under state programs, bringing the total number of initial claims over the past nine reporting weeks since mid-March to a mind-bending 38.6 million (seasonally adjusted). The claims reported by the US Department of Labor this morning were over three times the magnitude of the prior weekly records during the unemployment crises in 1982 and 2009. These “initial claims” exclude the gig workers, self-employed, and contract workers who are now eligible to receive unemployment insurance under the special and temporary federal program in the stimulus package, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).In the week ended May 16, an additional 2.23 million people (not seasonally adjusted) filed initial claims under the PUA program, up from the 850,000 that had filed the week ended May 9, and the 1 million that had filed in the week ended May 2. So in total, when regular initial claims (not seasonally adjusted) and PUA initial claims are combined for the week ended May 16, the total of initial claims (not seasonally adjusted) more than doubles to 4.4 million.  Laid-off workers who filed an “initial claim” for Unemployment Insurance (UI) and state programs and who are still looking for a job a week later are added to the “insured unemployment.” The number of these “continued claims” spiked by 2.525 million to 25.07 million, having weeks ago blown past the pre-Covid-19 record of 6.63 million in May of 2009: Last week’s “insured unemployed” were heavily revised down today to 22.55 million (seasonally adjusted), just 171,000 above the prior week. And given the enormous magnitude, the revised totals for last week and the prior week look nearly flat in the chart below. However, today’s spike delayed any hopes that the bottom of the unemployment crisis was inThese “insured unemployed” are those in the regular state UI programs and do not include the PUA claims. Including all types of claims, not seasonally adjusted, the total uninsured unemployed combined surged to 27.3 million. California is back in first place, after having dropped to third place last week behind Georgia and Florida. During the early phases of this crisis, California’s weekly initial claims exceeded 1 million. These are the regular initial claims and do not include PUA claims: (table) The national “insured unemployment rate” for the week ended May 9, also released today, jumped to 17.2%, from 15.5% in the prior week. For comparison, the record in the pre-Covid-19 era was 7.0% in May 1975. The “insured unemployment rate” for each state, also released today, lags one week behind the national average. The table below shows the “insured unemployment rate” for each of the 50 states and Washington DC in the week ended May 2. There are 38 states plus Washington DC now with a double-digit “insured unemployment rate”; three states sport a rate above 20%:

    Jobless Rate Rose in All 50 States in April, Labor Department Says – WSJ - Nevada registered the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. last month at 28.2%, the Labor Department said Friday in a report detailing the impact of the new coronavirus and related lockdowns on the job market in all 50 states. The jobless rate rose in all 50 states and the District of Columbia last month, and 43 states recorded the highest level on record back to 1976. The rate in three states exceeded 20% in April, well above the national rate of 14.7%, which was the highest on record back to 1948. Friday’s report offers the first state-by-state look at how the coronavirus pandemic had a differing, but widely devastating impact, across the country last month. In total, U.S. employers cut more than 20 million jobs in April, but the employment loss wasn’t evenly distributed. U.S. payrolls shrank 13.5% in April, led by an almost 50% drop in leisure and hospitality jobs. Especially hard hit were states such as Hawaii and Nevada, which rely heavily on tourism. Manufacturing states were also hit hard as plants closed in states like Michigan and Washington. After Nevada, the two states with the highest rates of joblessness were Michigan, at 22.7% and Hawaii, at 22.3%. Rates rose by at least 10 percentage points in 20 states. Connecticut had the lowest unemployment rate last month at 7.9%. The next lowest rates were in Minnesota, 8.1%, and Nebraska, 8.3%. The unemployment rate is the share of people without jobs but actively seeking employment, compared with a state’s overall labor force. Separate Labor Department data shows that many who recently lost jobs dropped out of the labor force because they are either not seeking work or are unable to report to a job in mid-April, the period the survey determining the jobless rate asked about.

    BLS: April jobless rates up in all 50 states; 43 States at New Record Highs - From the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary -- Unemployment rates were higher in April in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Similarly, all 50 states and the District had jobless rate increases from a year earlier. The national unemployment rate rose by 10.3 percentage points over the month to 14.7 percent and was 11.1 points higher than in April 2019.Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in April, 28.2 percent, followed by Michigan, 22.7 percent, and Hawaii, 22.3 percent. The rates in 43 states set new series highs. (All state series begin in 1976.) The rates in Hawaii and Nevada exceeded their previous series highs by more than 10.0 percentage points each, while the rates in Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont exceeded their previous highs by more than 5.0 points each. Connecticut had the lowest unemployment rate, 7.9 percent. The next lowest rates were in Minnesota and Nebraska, 8.1 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively.This graph shows the number of states (and D.C.) with unemployment rates at or above certain levels since January 1976.Currently 43 states are above 10% unemployment rate.Seventeen states are above 15%.Three states are above 20% (Hawaii, Michigan, and Nevada).One state (Nevada) is above 25% unemployment.

    At height of pandemic, 1.4 million US health workers lose jobs - Dayna James has been an emergency nurse for 17 years -- and thought the COVID-19 pandemic would mean she'd have more work than ever. Instead, she's filing for unemployment benefits, an ironic twist of fate shared by 1.4 million of America's 18 million health care personnel who have lost their jobs since March -- including 135,000 hospital workers. "Here in south Florida, we don't have the patients, the hospital can't afford all of the staff to be on duty and just sit around," said James. The 40-year-old mother of four lost a two day a week teaching job at a university hospital in March, and is barely getting any work at the children's hospital in Miami where she was previously a regularly contracted nurse. The United States is the country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 80,000 deaths and almost 1.4 million confirmed cases. Epicenters include New York, New Jersey and other cities across the country, but not all regions have been affected equally, with certain localities seeing a far lower COVID-19 caseload. At the same time, elective procedures have all been put on hold since March, people with chronic illnesses or even emergencies are avoiding coming to hospitals out of fear they may become infected with the virus, and lockdowns have reduced the numbers of accidents. James does remain on call -- and was able to work on Sunday because of a shortage of staff on Mother's Day -- but her family is now mainly relying on her husband's salary. "I see other places keeping nurses on staff just in case. It just feels somewhat unfair," she said. In the capital Washington, a 34-year-old nurse who works in pre- and post-operative care at a major hospital said that she too was struggling. "COVID has basically made my job almost obsolete," she said. "We haven't done elective surgeries in two months, which is the main source of revenue for our department." The nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, is employed on a "per diem" basis, like many in the US health care system. Her weekly hours had gone down from 36 to around nine, and she is relying on unemployment benefits and her savings.

    Census: Household Pulse Survey shows 47.5% of Households lost Income - From the Census Bureau: Measuring Household Experiences during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicThe U.S. Census Bureau, in collaboration with five federal agencies, is in a unique position to produce data on the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on American households. The Household Pulse Survey is designed to deploy quickly and efficiently, collecting data to measure household experiences during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Data will be disseminated in near real-time to inform federal and state response and recovery planning.…Data collection for the Household Pulse Survey began on April 23, 2020. The Census Bureau will collect data for 90 days, and release data on a weekly basis. (For the first release, the Census Bureau anticipates it will take two weeks after the first week of data collection to prepare and weight the data; subsequent releases will then be made on a weekly basis.)This will be updated weekly, and the Census Bureau released the first survey results today. This survey asks about Loss in Employment Income, Expected Loss in Employment Income, Food Scarcity, Delayed Medical Care, Housing Insecurity and K-12 Educational Changes. This survey will be useful in tracking the "opening" of the economy.This is the first release. The data was collected between April 23 and May 12, 2020. The data will be updated weekly for the next 90 days.

    Millions of Americans, including front-line workers’ families, face loss of employer-sponsored health insurance in pandemic - Loss of health insurance is becoming a more and more frequent occurrence in the US as the total number of jobless claims has skyrocketed in recent weeks. Even as coronavirus infection rates accelerate rapidly in many areas of the US and federal and state officials drop efforts to contain the spread of the disease, millions of households are being left vulnerable to sickness due to the elimination of health coverage from employment. In a particularly cruel development, the families of health care workers, first responders and other workers deemed essential who have died from COVID-19 now face the prospect of losing their health coverage due to the cut-off of their loved ones’ employer-sponsored insurance (ESI). In New York City, at least 260 municipal employees have been killed by the coronavirus. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on May 10 the city would cover the health care premiums for families of city’s civil servants who have died from COVID-19 for only a pitiful 45 days. Despite the horrific death toll due to COVID-19 in public sector occupations, local and state governments are rationing health care treatment and coverage to surviving spouses and children due to the fiscal crises erupting in the states that have felt the greatest economic pressures due to business closures. Families of deceased front-line workers are being compelled to prove that their contraction of COVID-19 was work-related. However, this process is severely undermined by the chronic lack of testing and contact-tracing throughout the country. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis, researchers found that tens of millions are projected to have lost their health insurance coverage through their ESI plans from March 1—which generally marked the beginning of the pandemic’s rampage—to May 2. The report also paints a disturbing picture of the millions of households that have seen significant portions of their income disappear as a result of layoffs and furloughs. Between March 1 and May 2, it is estimated that nearly 78 million Americans lived in a family where at least one person lost employment.

     "They Were Way Too Late" - Amazon Skimped On Safety At PA Warehouse Where 1,000 Workers Fell Ill: NYT -  Just days after the 7th Amazon warehouse employee succumbed to the coronavirus, triggering another explosion of outrage as the patient died just after the e-commerce giant unveiled plans to cut hazard pay for warehouse workers (who are indisputably, as Sen. Sherrod Brown would say, 'risking their lives for the sake of GDP'.While that's true - in a sense - it doesn't change the fact that without these workers, millions of people might be cut off from critical supplies, including important staples like food, clothing etc. Even toilet paper and masks.In response to the death, an NYT investigative reporter covering the Jeff Bezos-founded e-commerce and cloud computing behemoth published a sprawling piece detailing Amazon's many failures to protect workers at "AVP1" - a fulfillment center nestled in PA's Hazle Township, a small town in Luzerne County, nestled in the foothills of the scenic Poconos.More warehouse workers at AVP1 have been infected than any other of Amazon's 500 facilities in the US, the NYT reported. The total remains unclear: Some local lawmakers Local lawmakers believe that more than 100 workers have contracted the disease. At first, Amazon informed workers about each new case. But when the total hit 60, the announcements inexplicably stopped.   That was consistent with patterns seen at other warehouses: According to a the NYT, one employee/activist at Amazon crowdsourced a count of 900 cases, but it's believed the number is higher. Amazon employs about 400k blue-collar workers. The company's inability to protect these workers, according to the NYT, is made more indefensible by the fact that the company was supposedly "early" in confronting the virus: It told its Seattle-based white-collar employees to work from home starting on March 5. It also consulted an infectious disease specialist about what to do. Still, since there are no other companies really like Amazon in the US, there's nothing to really compare its performance to. The 900-case figure is more or less consistent with the overall infection rate for the US - that is, about 2.25 cases per 100,000.

    Illinois business owners could face fine, jail time for reopening in defiance of coronavirus restrictions - Business owners in Illinois could now face a Class A misdemeanor charge for opening their establishments in defiance of the state's stay-at-home order. Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) on Friday filed an emergency rule that would penalize owners of restaurants, bars, gyms, barbershops and other businesses for reopening before coronavirus restrictions are lifted, according to The New York Times. In Illinois, a Class A misdemeanor charge can carry a fine of up to $2,500 and a maximum jail sentence of one year. The emergency rule is an “additional enforcement tool for businesses that refuse to comply with the most critical aspects of the stay-at-home order," Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for the governor, told the Times. Abudayyeh noted that "only businesses that pose a serious risk to public health and refuse to comply with health regulations would be issued a citation." Pritzker administration general counsel Ann Spillane added to The Associated Press that the rule change was "very mild, like a traffic ticket." "Nobody's getting arrested or handcuffed," Spillane said. "But they are getting a citation where they would have to go to court." State legislators on a bipartisan oversight committee will reportedly have the opportunity to review the new rule on Wednesday. The change prompted pushback from Republican legislators, including state Sen. Dan McConchie. McConchie, a member of the Senate Public Health Committee, said on Twitter that it was "an affront to the separation of powers." "Legislatures make laws," he said. "Governors enforce them. Period." Pritzker has extended the state's stay-at-home order through the end of May, though he has allowed retail stores to offer curbside service. The Illinois Department of Public Health had reported more than 94,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and about 4,100 deaths from it as of Sunday.

    Democratic governors hit with flurry of legal challenges to coronavirus lockdowns - The raging public debate over statewide coronavirus lockdowns is running parallel to a series of legal battles in state capitals — and the lockdown skeptics got a big boost this week. The decision by Wisconsin’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to toss Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide shelter-in-place order set off a scramble in cities across the state to impose their own local restrictions. Elsewhere, bars and restaurants shut down by the order declared themselves open for business. And legal challenges are continuing to pile-up across the country — even as governors who extend their state’s shelter-in-place orders begin peeling back some restrictions. The plaintiffs are business owners, aggrieved private citizens, pastors and in some cases, state legislators and legislatures. The targets? Almost always Democratic governors or their top health appointees. Already, more than a dozen states across the country have faced lawsuits over their lockdown mandates — although it’s not clear whether any will be as successful as the litigation filed by Wisconsin’s Republican-led Legislature. In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Friday defended her unilateral extension of the state’s emergency declaration and its stay-at-home order against a lawsuit brought, as in Wisconsin, by the GOP-controlled Legislature after it voted to deny her an extension last month. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing more than a dozen lawsuits challenging everything from beach to business closures. And earlier in May a coalition of business owners sued Maine Gov. Janet Mills, also a Democrat, seeking to end that state’s shelter-in-place order. The lone pair of Republican governors facing such lawsuits, Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Ohio’s Mike DeWine, recently announced reopening plans that could potentially render pending lawsuits moot.

     Maryland and Virginia begin “phase one” reopenings despite record increase in COVID-19 cases - States in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States began lifting restrictions on businesses and public gatherings Friday amid record increases of the COVID-19 illness in the state of Virginia. Both Maryland and Virginia have recorded more than 30,000 cases each as of Sunday. Virginia has reported 1,009 deaths and Maryland is likely to surpass 2,000 by Monday. Both states are abandoning the already-inadequate preconditions for reopening set out by the White House last month, which included a decline of daily infection rates throughout the course of two weeks. Neither state has met even this criterion, let alone provided an adequate number of tests, contact tracing and other necessities. In contrast, the government of Washington, D.C.’s Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser announced last week plans to continue sheltering in place until June 8. The city has counted over 7,000 positive cases as of Sunday. However, Bowser has also hinted at the possible easing of restrictions for “nonessential” businesses prior to that date. On Thursday, Virginia reported a record number of COVID-19 infections in the 24 hours prior to its reopening. The state counted 1,067 cases of the disease the day before. A seven-day average of the state’s infection rate reported by the Washington Post on Friday shows that Virginia saw 790 cases daily, with 485 of those infections concentrated in the heavily-populated suburbs of Washington, D.C. The state has seen an average of 25 deaths a day. The Virginia government has failed to meet its stated daily goal of administering 10,000 tests to residents. The overall daily average has been around 6,000 throughout the past week. Further undermining the state’s testing data was the Virginia Department of Health’s announcement that nearly 10 percent of its findings came from serology tests, which are meant to determine the presence of antibodies in individuals previously infected. Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has increasingly shed his earlier posture of being driven by a concern for the health of the population. His initial statements, in which he advocated a “science-based” approach to dealing with the sickness and reluctantly implemented mild social distancing measures, had been seized on by the Trump administration to attack the state government as hampering efforts to reopen the economy.

     US Cities Will Lose $360 Billion From The COVID-19 Lockdown - The coronavirus lockdown in the U.S. is going to cost cities an astounding $360 billion in revenue through 2022, according to estimates from the National League of Cities. Pennsylvania is going to be hit the hardest, according to Bloomberg. The state is at risk of losing 40% of its total revenue this year. Not far behind are Kentucky, Hawaii, Michigan and Nevada. The projections take into account the expected rise in unemployment and assume that every 1% of unemployment will cause tax revenues to drop about 3%. The analysis was performed by looking at how unemployment would affect specific state and city revenue streams. It combined those changes with each respective state or city's tax structure to estimate the impact.  Bloomberg's piece says that the states need help "from the Federal Government" to avoid drastic budget cuts, but the truth of the matter is that they need help from the Fed. The Federal Government, nobody seems to notice, is broke. The analysis comes a day after the Fed said it may need to implement more stimulus than the $3 trillion it has already enacted. Democrats are currently proposing $1 trillion bailouts for state and local governments.

    Florida stalls jobless pay to force workers back to work -Florida’s state government is moving rapidly toward reopening non-essential businesses and public spaces under conditions in which the COVID-19 infection rate is showing no signs of slowing down, while the economic crisis produced from the pandemic is further impoverishing hundreds of thousands. The official number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 stands at near 47,000 and the death total is nearing 2,000. Governor Ron DeSantis approved a “full phase one” statewide reopening that began on Monday without putting in place any measures to revamp public health infrastructure and implement the necessary testing, contact tracing, and quarantine strategies that health experts say are crucial to prevent the spread of the disease. Under the governor’s new guidelines, restaurants have been allowed to seat customers at 50 percent of their normal capacity. Retail stores, museums, gyms, fitness studios, and other large-venue areas are also permitted to operate at half their normal capacity. State legislators have moved swiftly to reopen businesses in large part to avoid further paying out unemployment benefits to the hundreds of thousands of workers who have been laid off or furloughed. DeSantis has adopted the same strategy that dozens of states across the country have embraced in alignment with the Trump administration. The ultimatum being presented to workers is to either go back to work and risk becoming sick, or stay home and be denied any financial assistance. Even before lockdown measures were taken, the state government made conscious efforts to restrict funding as much as possible. A local television station revealed that Florida did not start sending unemployment checks until the stay-at-home order was lifted. While thousands of families sought desperately for unemployment aid, the state only withdrew $80 million in federal funds provided under the CARES act to pay the unemployed, although a billion dollars’ worth of federal aid was available. The state has only started withdrawing significant portions of the federal aid in the last several weeks, which means many households have gone more than a month without paychecks and receiving no benefits. In fact, the sudden increase in unemployment compensation disbursements this month began after a report was released showing that the state had received millions of dollars in interest to its state unemployment fund, which is separate from the federal stimulus, showing that it was actually taking in more money than it was paying out to applicants.

    Florida Governor Deploys National Guard To Force Residents Back Into Malls, Movie Theaters —Proclaiming that he simply could not allow people to remain in their homes any longer, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday he had deployed the National Guard to force state residents back into shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, and other public spaces. “Today I have ordered both the Army and Air National Guards to do whatever is necessary to ensure every person in the Sunshine State is fully participating in this economy,” said DeSantis, who issued a new directive making it illegal for the total number of shoppers in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond to dip below 90% of fire code capacity, or for anyone to refuse to attend sold-out screenings of Trolls World Tour. “As governor, it is my duty to preserve the Florida we all know and love by requiring our 21 million residents to break quarantine so they can once again eat at Buffalo Wild Wings and shop at Aéropostale. Effective immediately, we will also be authorizing members of the reserve force to employ a variety of nonlethal and lethal methods to compel Floridians to frequent hair salons, roller rinks, and trampoline parks.” At press time, reports confirmed an F-16 from the 159th Fighter Squadron had dropped a bomb on citizens in a Jacksonville Sunglass Hut who had refused to try on the latest in Ray-Bans.

    Empty trains, clogged roads: Americans get behind the wheel to avoid transit (Reuters) - As Americans plan for life after pandemic lockdowns, many want to avoid public transport and use a car instead, straining already underfunded transit systems and risking an increase in road congestion and pollution. Several opinion polls show Americans plan to avoid trains and buses as stay-at-home orders ease, with some city dwellers buying a car for the first time. A potential boon to coronavirus-battered automakers, the shift poses a challenge to city planners end environmental goals. Similar dynamics have played out in China, where transit ridership in large cities remains down about 35% two months after lockdown restrictions were lifted while car purchases increase. Ford Motor Co Chief Operating Officer Jim Farley said the company has seen an uptick in Chinese demand for higher-priced utility vehicles fueled by upscale office workers who used to take public transport. Volkswagen AG VWG_p.DE has also seen its sales in China rise above prior-year levels in the final week of April, driven by the desire to avoid public transport, according to Juergen Stackmann, in charge of VW’s passenger car sales and marketing. Sales of passenger cars jumped 12.3% between April 20 and 25, according to China’s Passenger Car Association Transit ridership has plummeted by as much as 95% in large U.S. cities during the pandemic and America’s leading transit agencies forecast massive budget drops and revenue deficits well into 2022. They call for $33 billion in federal support in addition to the $25 billion they were granted as part of a March U.S. coronavirus stimulus bill.

    Whitmer extends stay-home order, closures of gyms, salons and other businesses to June 12 -  Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has further extended the stay-home order, as well as restrictions that have shut down many Michigan businesses to limit the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. The governor signed two executive orders Friday, May 22 to continue various emergency mandates, including the stay-home order, to June 12, and Michigan’s state of emergency to June 19. The orders continue the temporary closure of public accommodations such as theaters, gyms, salons and casinos. Executive order 2020-99 extends the emergency declaration and order 2020-100 extends the stay-home order and amends a number of previous orders restricting certain non-essential public activities. Despite seven-day averages of confirmed cases declining in the last two weeks, Whitmer states the data isn’t yet where it needs to be. “While the data shows that we are making progress, we are not out of the woods yet," the governor said in a news release. “If we’re going to lower the chance of a second wave and continue to protect our neighbors and loved ones from the spread of this virus, we must continue to do our part by staying safer at home. If we open too soon, thousands more could die and our hospitals will get overwhelmed. While we finally have more protective equipment like masks, we can’t run the risk of running low again.” The most recent seven-day moving averages statewide were 525 new COVID-19 cases and 55 deaths per day. Friday’s numbers were both below those averages. A week ago, the seven-day average for cases was 623 cases and 47 deaths. Whitmer also referred to Mid-Michigan and West Michigan counties in the state such as Kent for continued increases.

    The Lockdown Protestors Are Not Working Class - Sarah Jones, in The Coronavirus Class War, does a neat, tidy job of kneecapping the notion that the anti-lockdown protests are manned by workers who want to get back to their jobs so they can start making money again.While there are no doubt some who feel like that, not only are they not well represented among low-wage workers, but they also don’t appear to be well represented among the protestors either.Let’s look at the upper end of the working stiff income spectrum, employees at top tech companies. Their bosses are keeping them well away from their glam campuses. From Big Tech was first to send workers home. Now it’s in no rush to bring them back, in the Washington Post:Tech’s titans set the agenda for U.S. employers in early March, sending staff to work from home as the coronavirus started to spread near their West Coast headquarters….those same giants — Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Twitter — will likely be among the last large employers to reopen their office doors and welcome staff back.Google and Facebook told employees that many workers who can do their jobs remotely should plan to do so until 2021.  More generally, polls not only show that citizens prefer to keep the lockdowns on longer, but that that desire is strengthens as wages levels drop. They can least afford to contract a potentially deadly ailment. We’ve followed Mike Elk of the Payday Report on strikes by front-line workers at Amazon warehouses and meatpacking plants, as well as by nurses over the lack of PPE. The risks are highest for work in crowded conditions, and those laborers have sorted out they aren’t being paid enough to risk their health. Now you might then say, “But what about those protestors?” First, there’s a weird tendency among the chattering classes to view all Trump fans as poor white trash, resentful of their educated blue city latte-drinking, well-traveled betters. In fact, the average income of Trump voters in 2016 was more than $10,000 higher than that of Clinton voters..While it isn’t decisive evidence, the fact that many protestors drove long distances isn’t consistent with financial distress. From the Guardian: Cellphone location data suggests that demonstrators at anti-lockdown protests – some of which have been connected with Covid-19 cases – are often traveling hundreds of miles to events, returning to all parts of their states, and even crossing into neighboring ones.

    11 firefighters injured, multiple buildings damaged after explosion in downtown L.A. - Eleven firefighters were injured and multiple buildings were set ablaze after an explosion in downtown Los Angeles Saturday, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. The blast was reported around 6:30 p.m. while firefighters were responding to a fire at a one-story structure at 327 E. Boyd St., just outside Little Tokyo, according to LAFD. LAFD Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said the firefighters did what they usually do: Some went in through the front of the building, and the rest went up on the roof. But things didn’t seem right, he said. The smoke pressure inside was escalating and it was getting hotter. The officer in charge directed everybody to get out quickly, and as they were trying to leave, the explosion rang out, the fire chief said. “Our firefighters came down the aerial ladder from the roof with their turnout coats on fire,” the chief said. A mayday call was transmitted over the radio. The fire appears to have started at Smoke Tokes Warehouse Distributor, a supplier for businesses that make butane honey oil, LAFD Captain Erik Scott said during a news conference. Terrazas said firefighters found small butane canisters inside and outside. Video showed dark plumes of smoke billowing over the area and flames shooting up from at least one of the buildings as sirens wailed in the background. “Significant explosion — very high, very wide, rumbling the entire area— and firefighters were coming out with obvious damage and burns,” Scott said. All 11 firefighters were hospitalized, three of them in critical condition and one in serious condition, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said. LAFD had previously estimated that 10 firefighters were hurt. Four firefighters will be going to the burn intensive care unit, two were placed on ventilators for swelling of their airways from inhalation of the superheated gases, and the others suffered varying burns to their upper extremities, ranging from very serious, to moderate, to minor, according to Dr. Marc Eckstein, attending physician at L.A. County USC Medical Center 

    Criminal probe begins into downtown L.A. building explosion - Los Angeles Times - A criminal investigation is underway into an explosion in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday that injured 12 firefighters and left several buildings damaged, several law enforcement sources told The Times, and officials are looking at whether oils stored there might have sparked the blast. The Los Angeles Police Department along with local fire investigators and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are working together on the probe.An initial investigation of the scene identified the business where a fire broke out as Smoke Tokes, a warehouse distributor with supplies for butane hash oil. The law enforcement sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, stressed that the probe is in its early stages and that it’s unclear if there was any criminal conduct.The cause of the fire has not been determined. The owners of Smoke Tokes could not be reached for comment. Nicholas Prange, an LAFD spokesman, said carbon dioxide and butane canisters were found inside the building but that it was still not clear what caused the blast.“We are in the early stages of an investigation. We are looking at every aspect at this stage. We haven’t determined a cause,” LAPD Assistant Chief Horace Frank said. “The explosion was massive and those firefighters are very lucky to be alive. Skill and awareness is the reason they were able to get out from an incredibly dangerous situation.”The Criminal Conspiracy Section of the Major Crimes Division and the Lab Squad of the Gang Narcotics Division are leading the LAPD’s part of the investigation, Frank said.The explosion occurred in a stretch of downtown dubbed by police as “Bong Row” because of the high number of cannabis, CBD and pipe businesses.

    Missouri executes 64-year-old man convicted on flimsy evidence --Walter Barton, 64, was executed Tuesday by lethal injection in the state of Missouri despite new evidence that has made jurors question his murder conviction which had been repeatedly overturned. This marked the first execution since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the declarations of states of emergency which brought non-essential activity to a halt. To the end, Barton maintained he was innocent in the October 9, 1991, sexual assault and stabbing death of Gladys Kuehler, 81. “I, Walter ‘Arkie’ Barton, am innocent and they are executing an innocent man!!” the condemned man wrote by hand in a “Last Statement” form provided him by the Missouri Department of Corrections. The United States Supreme Court had turned down a request to the delay the execution two hours before Barton was killed. Missouri Republican Governor Mike Parson astonishingly told the media he had heard nothing that would cause him to change his mind, and in mechanical bureaucratic-speak said the execution would “move forward as scheduled.” “Barton breathed heavily five times after the lethal drug entered his body, then suddenly stopped. He was pronounced dead at 6:10 p.m.,” the Missouri Department of Corrections said in a statement for the press. Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court, more than 7,800 people have been sentenced to death and 1,518 executed in the US. Barton was the ninetieth person executed in Missouri since that time. In a dark irony apparently lost on the media, Barton was executed at a prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri, about 60 miles south of St. Louis, where CBS News reported that “Strict protocols were in place to protect workers and visitors from exposure to the coronavirus.” Presumably, measures were also taken to ensure that Barton made it to the death chamber without contracting and dying prematurely from coronavirus.

    At least 275,000 teachers in the US face permanent job loss as states prepare massive budget cuts - The devastating long-term economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have not yet fully materialized, but the growing budgetary crisis in every state in the US has already resulted in massive cuts for the current fiscal year, with plans for far greater austerity in the near future. This poses an existential threat to public education, with the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and other school employees at risk and untold consequences for an entire generation of youth. Leaders of major school districts across the United States have recently warned that if they do not receive emergency funding to offset the impacts of declining tax revenues during the pandemic, at least 275,000 teachers in major US cities will permanently lose their jobs. The Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) warns that districts will have to cut between 15-25 percent from their budgets for the 2021 fiscal school year, which begins July 1 for most states. On May 12, Mike Casserly, the head of the CGCS, told Education Week, “If Congress and the administration do not approve substantial additional funding, state and local revenue losses will result in teacher layoffs and cuts to other supports and services that will take a generation to recover from in terms of restoring district instructional and operational capacity.” Another recent analysis by the public education advocacy group Learning Policy Institute provides several estimates of teacher job losses based on the extent of the budget shortfalls. With a 15 percent loss in funding, they project 319,000 teacher jobs would be destroyed. With a 30 percent loss in funding—which is entirely plausible for the coming year—an estimated 697,675 teaching positions would be cut. Given variations in the proportion of education funds going to teacher salaries, the impact on each state varies widely. The most severely impacted proportionally would be Minnesota and Hawaii, which would face the loss of 20.5 and 20 percent of their teacher workforces respectively. A 15 percent cut in education funding in Michigan would mean the loss of 12,561 teaching positions, while in California that number nearly quadruples to 49,197 jobs. As brutal as these cuts are, these estimates do not include hundreds of thousands of support staff workers, including school bus drivers, teacher aides, food service workers and custodians, whose jobs would also be eliminated.

    Seasonal Adjustment Weirdness: Will State and Local Governments Hire 700,000 Teachers in June and July? - Every year, state and local governments let about 2 million teachers go in late Spring, and then hire them back at the end of Summer.  Since this happens every year, the BLS adjusts for this seasonal pattern in the monthly employment report. However, in 2020, state and local governments let almost 700 thousand teachers go in March and April (mostly in April). What this means is that instead of letting 2 million teachers go in late Spring, state and local governments will only let go about 1.3 million teachers (since 700 thousand were already let go).This creates a weird seasonal adjustment problem.  By the end of July, the normal number of teachers (around 2 million) will probably have been let go. Since the BLS has already reported almost 700 thousand teaching jobs lost seasonally adjusted, the seasonally adjusted number from the BLS will have to show something like an increase of 700 thousand teacher jobs in June and July!  State and local governments will not hire 700 thousand teachers in June and July, but the BLS seasonally adjusted report will show those hires to make the numbers balance out.  Just something to remember in a few months.

     From Full House To The Big House- Lori Loughlin Pleads Guilty In College Scam, Faces 2 Months In After 16 months of stubbornly refusing any and all plea agreements, even as dozens of other parents arrested during "Operation Varsity Blues" - aka 'the College Admissions Scandal' - cut deals with prosecutors involving little to no jail time (though Loughlin co-defendant has already served the brief prison stint to which she was sentenced), actress Lori Loughlin (better known as "Aunt Becky" from the hit 90s sitcom "Full House") and her fashion designer husband Massimo Giannulli have both agreed to plead cuilty to fraud charges, according to the LA Times, which cited a new federal court filing. Loughlin was arrested in March 2019 and charged with conspiring, along with mastermind Rick Singer, a Newport Beach "education consultant" who for years helped the children of celebrities and the wealthy cheat their way into elite colleges, to pass off her two daughters as promising rowing recruits, all but guaranteeing their admission to USC despite sub-standard test scores and academics, despite the fact that neither had ever rowed in their life. The couple paid Singer $500,000 in all for his "assistance". Instead of copping a plea, the two insisted for months that Singer misled them into believing the money was for legitimate purposes despite significant evidence to the contrary. Loughlin began meeting with Singer in the Spring of 2016 to hatch a plan for Olivia Jade - her Instagram influencer daughter - to be athletically recruited to USC. Eventually, Singer bribed rowing coach Donna Heinel to designate both daughters as recruited rowers. In an email to Singer mentioned in the LAT report, Loughlin can be seen asking to "speak" with Singer about "getting my daughter into a school other than ASU!" Heinel has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering, bribery and fraud. Payments to Singer were funneled through his charity, which alleged to help "underprivileged students", adding a sort of disturbing irony to the whole operation. But this setup allowed authorities to file more serious charges since many of the parents wrote off their "contributions" as charitable contributions, breaking the No. 1 most important rule of living and thriving in America: Don't screw with the IRS.

    Harvard Sued Over Subpar Online-Learning Amid Pandemic -  On Wednesday, students sued Harvard University for not refunding tuition and fees after the coronavirus pandemic forced classes online. This makes Harvard at least the fourth Ivy League school to be targeted for failing to reimburse educational costs, following Brown, Columbia, and Cornell. The school is facing a $5 million federal class-action lawsuit.  Students chose to pursue legal action as a result of not having “received the benefit of in-person instruction or equivalent access to university facilities and services.”“The online learning options being offered to Harvard students are subpar in practically every aspect and a shadow of what they once were, including the lack of facilities, materials, and access to faculty,” the lawsuit reads.“Students have been deprived of the opportunity for collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback, and critique.” Harvard confirmed awareness of the suit in a statement to Campus Reform, although the university had no further comment on the situation. Harvard’s use of its finances has already been called into question with regard to its handling of the coronavirus shutdown. In April, the university faced controversy over the allocation of CARES Act funds, which it eventually turned down, expressing in a press release concern “that the intense focus by politicians and others on Harvard in connection with this program may undermine participation in a relief effort that Congress created and the President signed into law for the purpose of helping students and institutions whose financial challenges in the coming months may be most severe.”The move to decline funding followed public pressure from lawmakers; initially, Harvard had announced that it would accept the money. At that time, Harvard stated that it “remains fully committed to providing the financial support that it has promised to its students.”

    Graduations, Campus Classes Canceled by Coronavirus Shock College-Town Economy – WSJ -The coronavirus pandemic has turned vibrant college towns across the U.S. into vacant ones. This weekend was supposed to be one of the busiest of the year for businesses in Blacksburg, Va., as parents, grandparents and well-wishers converged on the town to celebrate the 2020 graduates of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Instead, the city of 45,000 remains in quiet repose, pining for its students to return. It has been a long two months for Blacksburg and other communities like it, as the pandemic robbed them of their main source of economic vitality. What is happening in Blacksburg is playing out in cities from Ithaca, N.Y., to Pullman, Wash., where the pandemic hasn’t only shut down many businesses but also emptied out college campuses. The losses are especially painful in places that have leaned on universities to lure well-paying jobs and industry to communities that might otherwise lack both. Large colleges and universities employ thousands, buy local goods and services and draw tens of thousands of students and visitors to their stores, restaurants and hotels. Their presence has shielded local communities from both long-term economic shifts and short-lived recessions. In places like Blacksburg, business cycles turn predictably with the seasons: It gets busy in the spring, slows in the summer and then roars to life in September. Now, Blacksburg business owners look anxiously toward the fall, the possibility of in-person classes and the fate of seven home football games that have reliably filled hotel rooms, bars, restaurants and shops. Virginia Tech is responsible for more than half of Blacksburg’s economy, generating about $1.2 billion in annual income, according to Anna Brown, a researcher at Emsi, a provider of labor-market analytics. One of every two jobs is supported by the university, its students and visitors, according to Emsi estimates. As of January, the university had 9,742 employees, including full-time and part-time faculty, staff and wage workers, a university spokesman said.

    University of Texas considering furloughs, permanent layoffs to deal with ‘uncertainty’ during coronavirus pandemic - — The University of Texas at Austin is entering its next phase of financial mitigation measures to adjust to operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, UT President Greg Fenves and Interim President Designate Jay Hartzell sent a letter to the community explaining that while measures have already been taken, the school is facing declines in expected future revenues — in addition to uncertainty about the coming academic year. “Taken together, these forces have significantly altered UT’s immediate financial outlook,” write Fenves and Hartzell. According to the letter, revenue generating units will be directed to develop plans that will “contain costs.” Revenue generating units, the letter explains, are units that fund their operations in a variety of ways, including through service charges, fees and memberships. The letter explains: “For these units, the mitigation plans will likely include furloughs or permanent reductions in force for staff members in specific revenue-generating units where revenues have declined.” The university says leadership in these departments will reach out to staff members should these changes be implemented. Additionally, the university says emergency leave will no longer be available as an option to employees without work. Staff members without work who had been using emergency leave will be asked to review work options with their units and/or begin using their own paid-leave accruals. Federal emergency family and medical leave will still be available for other situations, the letter states.

    U.S. Births decreased in 2019, "Lowest number of births since 1985" - From the National Center for Health Statistics: Births: Provisional Data for 2019. The NCHS reports:The provisional number of births for the United States in 2019 was 3,745,540, down 1% from the number in 2018 (3,791,712). This is the fifth year that the number of births has declined after the increase in 2014, down an average of 1% per year, and the lowest number of births since 1985. The provisional general fertility rate (GFR) for the United States in 2019 was 58.2 births per 1,000 females aged 15–44, down 2% from the rate in 2018 (59.1), another record low for the nation. From 2014 to 2019, the GFR declined by an average of 2% per year.… The birth rate for teenagers in 2019 was 16.6 births per 1,000 females aged 15–19, down 5% from 2018 (17.4), reaching another record low for this age group. The rate has declined by 60% since 2007 (41.5), the most recent period of continued decline, and 73% since 1991, the most recent peak.  Here is a long term graph of annual U.S. births through 2018. Births have declined for five consecutive years following increases in 2013 and 2014. Note the amazing decline in teenage births. With fewer births, and less net migration, demographics will not be as favorable as I was expecting a few years ago. There is much more in the report.

     Plaintiff in Roe v. Wade U.S. abortion case says she was paid to switch sides - (Reuters) - Norma McCorvey, the woman known as “Jane Roe” in the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion, said she was lying when she switched to support the anti-abortion movement, saying she had been paid to do so. In a new documentary, made before her death in 2017 and due to be broadcast on Friday, McCorvey makes what she calls a “deathbed confession.” “I took their money and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say,” she says on camera. “I did it well too. I am a good actress. Of course, I’m not acting now.” “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice,” she added. “AKA Jane Roe,” will be broadcast on the FX cable channel on Friday but was made available to television journalists in advance. It traces McCorvey’s troubled youth, how she became the poster child of abortion rights and her about-face in the 1990s when she announced she was baptized as a born-again Christian who campaigned against abortion. The documentary was filmed in the last months of her life before her death at age 69 in 2017 in Texas. The 1973 Supreme Court ruling has for decades been the focus of a divisive political, legal and moral debate. The Rev. Robert Schenck, one of the evangelical pastors who worked with McCorvey after her conversion to Christianity in the mid-1990s, looked stunned as he was shown her interview as part of the documentary. Schenck said the anti-abortion movement had exploited her weaknesses for its own ends and acknowledged she had been paid for her appearances on the movement’s behalf.

     Nursing Home Abuser Made Video Asserting "Black People Are Supposed To Rule The Earth" -- The culprit behind the horrific beating of an elderly man at a nursing home in Detroit made a YouTube video in which he asserted that “black people are supposed to rule the earth.” Footage emerged yesterday of a man later identified as 20-year-old Jadon Hayden beating up a defenseless elderly white man by repeatedly punching him in the face. Absolutely shocking footage has emerged from a black male nurse from Detroit (Jadon H.), who filmed himself beating elderly white men into a bloody pulp.  "Get the fuck off my bed, N.," he is heard saying. Viewer discretion advised.   Another clip shows him beating an elderly white woman. I'll never understand why Americans work 40+ hrs a week, pay taxes, fight for their country, just for their children to dump them in care homes in old age and subject them to this kinda treatment. The relevant authorities have his information so dw and I don't mean the police!   Hayden uploaded the videos to his social media accounts but after the clips started to go viral on Twitter he was quickly arrested by police. Content Hayden had previously uploaded to his YouTube channel suggested he holds black supremacist beliefs. “The black race is the chosen race, the black race was supposed to rule the earth, but now…they have to go to the white man for everything and that’s not good,” Hayden says in one video. “Black people are supposed to rule the earth,” he emphasizes. Hayden also posted a video called “drugging ppl prank” that shows a white man convulsing in what appears to be the same nursing home, suggesting that he may have been responsible for the drugging. Many have questioned why the story isn’t being covered by major news networks like CNN, arguing that if the roles were reversed and the culprit was white, there’d be a mass uproar.

     Coronavirus Revives Debate Over Drug Pricing – WSJ - Not long ago, drug companies had a bull’s-eye on their ticker symbols. Sky-high prices for lifesaving drugs and the opioid crisis had made them the country’s least-liked industry. Democratic presidential candidates were one-upping each other with promises to rein in prices, while President Trump mulled similar plans.Covid-19 has given drug companies a shot at redemption. They are pouring resources into therapies and vaccines, with the entire economy’s fate resting on their success.When Moderna Inc. reported positive early results on its vaccine on Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average leapt nearly 4%. Positive results from Gilead Sciences ’ antiviral therapy remdesivir had similar effects three weeks earlier.Drug companies know the world is watching. “We are likely to face significant public attention and scrutiny about any future business models and pricing decisions with respect to remdesivir,” Gilead noted in a securities filing. It promised to give away its first production run and allow poor countries to make generics. Johnson & Johnson said it would sell its vaccine, now in trials, on a not-for-profit basis. Moderna’s chief executive has said “we don’t want to maximize profit” on its vaccine. This may be an astute investment in good will, but not a sustainable business model: In the long run the companies have to charge prices commensurate with the cost of developing drugs, including those that fail. The big question is whether Covid-19 proves to the public and politicians the merits of the current pricing system, which lets drug companies charge whatever the market will bear. “There are a lot of people in biotech really trying to solve this problem because it’s the right thing to do,” said Craig Garthwaite, a health economist at Northwestern University‘s Kellogg School of Management who disagrees with forcing drug companies to lower prices. “But I don’t want to put all my eggs in the altruism basket. We want every company that can possibly address this problem to think that both morally and financially, the best thing to do is to tackle the coronavirus.”  The lure of profits may not be the primary reason drug companies are racing to find coronavirus treatments. But it does explain why they have the capital, know-how and technology to deploy in the fight against the coronavirus.

     Vaccination Rates Drop to Alarmingly Low Levels During Lockdowns - A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control found that vaccination rates in Michigan for children younger than two have fallen to alarmingly low rates. One of the more eye-popping statistics was that fewer than half of infants five months or younger have received the immunizations that usually start when they're two months old, according to The New York Times.The rates in Michigan are likely mirrored across the country, as parents nationwide have been reluctant to schedule well visits out of fear of exposure to COVID-19. That means children nationwide have fallen behind on vaccinations for diseases like measles and pertussis, better known as whooping cough, as The New York Times reported.In addition to parental fears of coronavirus exposure, the CDC study suggests that stay-at-home orders have also reduced access to doctor offices, as Reuters reported.The drop in vaccination rates raises concerns that quarantines might lead to an outbreak of preventable diseases, like the measles. As Reuters reported, the CDC researchers analyzed the data from vaccine doses given to children at ages one, three, five, seven, 16, 19 and 24 months this year and the prior four years. In the 16-month age group, coverage with all recommended vaccines declined. The rate of measles vaccinations in particular fell to 71 percent this year from 76 percent last year.The total number of vaccines given to children under two dropped more than 15 percent compared to the previous two years."The observed declines in vaccination coverage might leave young children and communities vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles," the CDC scientists wrote in the report, according to Reuters. "If measles vaccination coverage of 90%-95% ... is not achieved, measles outbreaks can occur."Just as the coronavirus is disproportionally affecting poor and minority communities, the poor are receiving the fewest vaccines, according to the study. The report found that up-to-date vaccination coverage was lower for children enrolled in Medicaid, the federal government's health insurance program for the poor, than for those who were not enrolled, according to CNBC.

    Deaths and illness among youth raise concerns as schools plan to reopen -- While schools and universities discuss plans to reopen, new warnings have emerged concerning the effects of the COVID-19 virus on youth. Several recent deaths of young students demonstrate the basic fact that, despite efforts by the media and politicians to downplay the dangers, the virus can pose a deadly threat to young people. On April 25, in Lancaster, Texas, 17-year-old Lancaster High School student Jameela Dirrean-Emoni Barber died from liver and blood clots after she tested positive for coronavirus.  Reports indicate that she had no underlying health conditions.  Another tragic example can be found at Wheeling High School in a northwestern suburb of Chicago. Sophomore Zach Leviton, who was just 16 years old, died after falling severely ill. After being put on a ventilator, Leviton died on April 13 at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois.  Leviton initially tested negative for the virus; however, doctors found his symptoms to be characteristic of an early-stage coronavirus infection.The City University of New York (CUNY) has identified four faculty, 10 staff, and three students who have died from the virus. Furthermore, students, faculty, and staff have complained that university officials have not been forthcoming with information on CUNY’s coronavirus cases. Students have also raised criticism over the delay in CUNY’s response to the pandemic as well as its lack of financial support for students who have lost campus jobs. A student at Western Michigan University (WMU), 25-year-old Bassey Offiong, tried multiple times to get tested for the virus after showing COVID-19 symptoms. He was denied at every attempt.  He died on March 29, spending the last week of his life on a ventilator. Offiong would have graduated from WMU and received his degree in chemical engineering just a month from the time of his passing. He appeared to not have any underlying health conditions.Another youth from Kalamazoo, Cornelius Frederick, contracted the virus and died at just 16 years old while staying at the foster care group home Lakeside Academy. . Frederick reportedly told staff, “I can’t breathe!” before passing out. He was transported to Bronson Methodist Hospital where he tested positive for COVID-19. Since May 4, nine staff members and 39 students also tested positive for the virus at Lakeside Academy.While it is true that the virus is significantly more lethal to older people, the rate of infection among youth is significantly higher than what was originally anticipated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,nearly 40 percent of American COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized were under 55—and 20 percent were between ages 20 and 44. And in rare cases, even children have died after falling ill with COVID-19.

    ‘Straight-Up Fire’ in His Veins: Teen Battles New Covid Syndrome NYT - When a sprinkling of a reddish rash appeared on Jack McMorrow’s hands in mid-April, his father figured the 14-year-old was overusing hand sanitizer — not a bad thing during a global pandemic. When Jack’s parents noticed that his eyes looked glossy, they attributed it to late nights of video games and TV. When he developed a stomachache and didn’t want dinner, “they thought it was because I ate too many cookies or whatever,” said Jack, a ninth grader in Woodside, Queens. But over the next 10 days, Jack felt increasingly unwell. His parents consulted his pediatricians in video appointments and took him to a weekend urgent care clinic. Then, one morning, he awoke unable to move. He had a tennis-ball-size lymph node, raging fever, racing heartbeat and dangerously low blood pressure. Pain deluged his body in “a throbbing, stinging rush,” he said. “You could feel it going through your veins and it was almost like someone injected you with straight-up fire,” he said. Jack, who was previously healthy, was hospitalized with heart failure that day, in a stark example of the newly discovered severe inflammatory syndrome linked to the coronavirus that has already been identified in about 200 children in the United States and Europe and killed several. The condition, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are calling Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, has shaken widespread confidence that children were largely spared from the pandemic. Instead of targeting lungs as the primary coronavirus infection does, it causes inflammation throughout the body and can cripple the heart. It has been compared to a rare childhood inflammatory illness called Kawasaki disease, but doctors have learned that the new syndrome affects the heart differently and erupts mostly in school-age children, rather than infants and toddlers. The syndrome often appears weeks after infection in children who did not experience first-phase coronavirus symptoms. At a Senate hearing last week, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a leader of the government’s coronavirus response, warned that because of the syndrome, “we’ve got to be careful that we are not cavalier and thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.”

    Placentas from COVID-19-positive pregnant women show injury  --- The placentas from 16 women who tested positive for COVID-19 while pregnant showed evidence of injury, according to pathological exams completed directly following birth, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study. The type of injury seen in the placentas shows abnormal blood flow between the mothers and their babies in utero, pointing to a new complication of COVID-19. The findings, though early, could help inform how pregnant women should be clinically monitored during the pandemic. The study was published today (May 22) in the journal American Journal of Clinical Pathology. It is the largest study to examine the health of placentas in women who tested positive for COVID-19. "Most of these babies were delivered full-term after otherwise normal pregnancies, so you wouldn't expect to find anything wrong with the placentas, but this virus appears to be inducing some injury in the placenta," said senior author Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, assistant professor of pathology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine pathologist. "It doesn't appear to be inducing negative outcomes in live-born infants, based on our limited data, but it does validate the idea that women with COVID should be monitored more closely." This increased monitoring might come in the form of non-stress tests, which examine how well the placenta is delivering oxygen, or growth ultrasounds, which measure if the baby is growing at a healthy rate, said co-author Dr. Emily Miller, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Feinberg and a Northwestern Medicine obstetrician. "Not to paint a scary picture, but these findings worry me," Miller said. "I don't want to draw sweeping conclusions from a small study, but this preliminary glimpse into how COVID-19 might cause changes in the placenta carries some pretty significant implications for the health of a pregnancy. We must discuss whether we should change how we monitor pregnant women right now."

     Coronavirus: A third of hospital patients develop dangerous blood clots - Up to 30% of patients who are seriously ill with coronavirus are developing dangerous blood clots, according to medical experts. They say the clots, also known as thrombosis, could be contributing to the number of people dying. Severe inflammation in the lungs - a natural response of the body to the virus - is behind their formation. Patients worldwide are being affected by many medical complications of the virus, some of which can be fatal. Back in March, as coronavirus was spreading across the globe, doctors started seeing far higher rates of clots in patients admitted to hospital than they would normally expect. And there have been other surprises, including the discovery of hundreds of micro-clots in the lungs of some patients. The virus has also increased cases of deep vein thrombosis - blood clots usually found in the leg - which can be life-threatening when fragments break off and move up the body into the lungs, blocking blood vessels. "With a huge outpouring of data over the past few weeks I think it has become apparent that thrombosis is a major problem," says Roopen Arya, professor of thrombosis and haemostasis at King's College Hospital, London. "Particularly in severely affected Covid patients in critical care, where some of the more recent studies show that nearly half the patients have pulmonary embolism or blood clot on the lungs." He believes the number of critically ill coronavirus patients developing blood clots could be significantly higher than the published data in Europe of up to 30%.

    Blood clotting abnormalities reveal COVID-19 patients at risk for thrombotic events -When researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, used a combination of two specific blood-clotting tests, they found critically ill patients infected with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) who were at high risk for developing renal failure, venous blood clots, and other complications associated with blood clots, such as stroke. Their study, which was one of the first to build on growing evidence that COVID-19-infected patients are highly predisposed to developing blood clots, linked blood clotting measurements with actual patient outcomes. The research team is now participating in a randomized clinical trial of a drug that breaks down blood clots in COVID-19-infected patients. "This is an early step on the road to discovering treatments to prevent some of the complications that come with this disease," said Franklin Wright, MD, FACS, lead author of the research article and an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Their research is published as an "article in press" on the Journal of the American College of Surgeons website ahead of print.  Patients who are critically ill regardless of cause can develop a condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). The blood of these patients initially forms many clots in small blood vessels. The body's natural clotting factors can form too much clot or eventually not be able to effectively form any clot leading to issues of both excessive clotting and excessive bleeding. However, in patients with COVID-19 the clotting appears to be particularly severe and--as evidenced by case studies in China and elsewhere1--clots in COVID-19 patients do not appear to dissipate, explained Dr. Wright.

    Plan to study nicotine patches as potential coronavirus treatment - Plans are being made to investigate the potential of nicotine patches to combat Covid-19 after the idea was raised by doctors at a hospital in Wales where the improvised treatment is being practised. France moved last week to prevent the stockpiling of nicotine products after its health minister took an interest in a French study that suggested smokers may be much less at risk of contracting the virus. However, doctors in Wales who published their own suggestions in January on the use of the stimulants in coronavirus treatment have been discussing the possibility of a formal trial. “We saw the pandemic coming from China and then the horrific stories from Italy, so we were doing our own research and looking at as many papers as we could,” said Jonathan Davies, a consultant trauma surgeon at Royal Glamorgan hospital, where physicians have been routinely giving out nicotine patches to patients with coronavirus and who had been smokers. The result was a short paper published in the British Medical Journal which stated that, at least in chronic smokers, the lung injuries in those infected with Covid-19 were being exacerbated by nicotine withdrawal. The addictive stimulant could interfere with the production of elements that led to inflammation, according to its authors. “Of course, everyone should stop smoking. If you are a smoker then you are at risk of all the secondary complications if the virus does take hold,” said Davies. But he suggested in such cases nicotine could be used as a supplement.

    Areas that fail to social distance face 35 times more virus cases, study suggests -Areas that don’t practice social distancing face up to 35 times more potential cases of COVID-19 per capita than those that do, according to a study published Thursday in the health care journal Health Affairs.Researchers analyzed coronavirus cases in the U.S. from March 1 to April 27, saying their findings show “the potential danger of exponential spread in the absence of interventions.”More than 90 percent of the country underwent some type of social distancing order since March, the study found, though not all policies were as effective, depending on how lax enforcement was and how long they lasted.Social distancing policies that lasted 16 to 20 days reduced the infection rate by more than 9 percent, the study showed. Cases were reduced by 5.4 percent within the first five days of the policies, and that percentage grew the more days — up to three weeks — that they were in effect.Places with no social distancing orders were at a much higher risk for infection.“Holding the amount of voluntary social distancing constant, these results imply 10 times greater spread by April 27 without [shelter-in-place orders] ... and more than 35 times greater spread without any of the four measures,” the researchers wrote in the fast-tracked article.The research comes as states begin a phased reopening starting this month and into the summer amid calls for caution from public health officials. Stay-at-home orders have put local governments in a tough place as sales tax revenue plummets and unemployment has reached record highs, with tens of millions of people filing jobless claims since March.

    Six feet not far enough to stop virus transmission in light winds - Airborne transmission of viruses, like the virus causing COVID-19, is not well understood, but a good baseline for study is a deeper understanding of how particles travel through the air when people cough.  In a paper published in Physics of Fluids, from AIP Publishing, Talib Dbouk and Dimitris Drikakis discovered that with even a slight breeze of 4 kph [2.5 mph], saliva travels 18 feet in 5 seconds.  "The droplet cloud will affect both adults and children of different heights," Drikakis said. "Shorter adults and children could be at higher risk if they are located within the trajectory of the traveling saliva droplets."

    Elderly covid-19 patients on ventilators usually do not survive, New York hospitals report - Most elderly covid-19 patients put on ventilators at two New York hospitals did not survive, according to a sweeping study published Tuesday that captured the brutal nature of this new disease and the many ways it attacks the body.The study, published in the Lancet, is broadly consistent with clinical findings from China and Europe, and confirmed that advanced age is the greatest risk factor for a severe outcome, particularly if accompanied by chronic underlying diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.The high mortality rate, especially among elderly patients with some underlying disease, stunned Max O’Donnell, the senior author of the study and a pulmonologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “We had no idea how horrific this would be,” he said. “Definitely not just the flu.”The research focused on 257 critically ill adults, representing a little under one-quarter of the confirmed coronavirus patients admitted at the two hospitals in northern Manhattan between March 2 and April 1. The median age of critically ill patients was 62 years, and two-thirds of them were male.Of the critically ill patients studied, 39 percent had died by April 28, and 37 percent remained hospitalized at Milstein and Allen hospitals.No critically ill patients under the age of 30 died at the two hospitals, O’Donnell said, and only a small number of them had to be put on ventilators. But more than 80 percent of people over 80 who went on a ventilator did not survive, he said. That fact, he said, should be shared with elderly patients and their family members when trying to decide whether to use the invasive procedure to treat severe illness associated with covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

    Study Points To COVID-19 Lab Creation; Lead Author Suggests 'Forced Selection' Vs. Genetic Engineering - A study led by Flinders University vaccine researcher Nikolai Petrovsky in Australia reveals that SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, is optimized for penetration into human cells vs. animal cells - undermining the theory that it naturally evolved in animals before jumping to humans, according to LifeSiteNews' Matthew Cullinan Hoffman.  Petrovsky says that the results, which are not peer-reviewed, suggest "a remarkable coincidence or a sign of human intervention." The authors of the study, led by vaccine researcher Nikolai Petrovsky of Flinders University in Australia, used a version of the novel coronavirus collected in the earliest days of the outbreak and applied computer models to test its capacity to bind to certain cell receptor enzymes, called “ACE2,” that allow the virus to infect human and animal cells to varying degrees of efficacy.They tested the propensity of the COVID-19 virus’s spike protein, which it uses to enter cells, to bind to the human type of ACE2 as well as to many different animal versions of ACE2, and found that the novel coronavirus most powerfully binds with human ACE2, and with variously lesser degrees of effectiveness with animal versions of the receptor.According to the study’s authors, this implies that the virus that causes COVID-19 did not come from an animal intermediary, but became specialized for human cell penetration by living previously in human cells, quite possibly in a laboratory. –LifeSiteNews Typically, "a virus would be expected to have highest affinity for the receptor in its original host species, e.g. bat, with a lower initial binding affinity for the receptor of any new host, e.g. humans. However, in this case, the affinity of SARS-CoV-2 is higher for humans than for the putative original host species, bats, or for any potential intermediary host species," wrote the authors.  A "possibility which still cannot be excluded is that SARSCoV-2 was created by a recombination event that occurred inadvertently or consciously in a laboratory handling coronaviruses, with the new virus then accidentally released into the local human population," they added.

    Hydroxychloroquine drug touted by Trump linked to increased risk of death, study says - A study of 96,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients on six continents found that those who received an antimalarial drug promoted by President Trump as a “game changer” in the fight against the virus had a significantly higher risk of death compared with those who did not.People treated with hydroxychloroquine, or the closely related drug chloroquine, were also more likely to develop a type of irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, that can lead to sudden cardiac death, it concluded.The study, published Friday in the medical journal Lancet is the largest analysis to date of the risks and benefits of treating covid-19 patients with antimalarial drugs. Like earlier smaller studies, it delivered disappointing news to a world eager for promising treatments for the novel coronavirus as the global death toll grows to more than 300,000. While doctors have refined how they treat the disease, they have yet to discover a magic bullet against a pathogen for which humans have no known immunity.“It’s one thing not to have benefit, but this shows distinct harm,” said Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “If there was ever hope for this drug, this is the death of it.”David Maron, director of preventive cardiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said that “these findings provide absolutely no reason for optimism that these drugs might be useful in the prevention or treatment of covid-19.”President Trump stunned many doctors earlier this week when he said he was taking hydroxychloroquine “every day” — despite FDA warnings that the use of the drug should be limited to those in a hospital setting or in clinical trials. He has since said he is close to finishing his course of treatment and would stop taking the medication in “a day or two.”

    Utah went all-in on an unproven Covid-19 treatment, then scrambled to course-correct - Even before President Trump started plugging chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as Covid-19 treatments, enthusiasm for the old malaria drugs was swelling in the state of Utah. The “stunning medications” led to “responses that are equivalent to Lazarus” — the Biblical figure brought back to life by Jesus — one physician said at an event at the state Capitol. The deputy director of the state health department, even as he acknowledged there was not “FDA-type of evidence” showing the drugs worked, said he was willing to put stock in case reports and “test tube evidence.” Propelled by that hype, as well as mounting fears of the oncoming pandemic, the state pursued a sweeping — and eyebrow-raising — policy that would have let pharmacies dispense the unproven medications to patients with Covid-19 without a prescription. Utah, which took perhaps the most aggressive strategy with the drugs of any state, also put in an order for $800,000 worth of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to build a stockpile, and considered buying millions of dollars more. The state did all of that without any rigorous evidence the drugs can help patients recover faster from Covid-19. Clinical trials that will answer that question are ongoing, but recent observational studies have cast doubt on an effect. And in the weeks since Utah’s efforts to promote and procure the drugs, the Food and Drug Administration has warned they should not be taken for Covid-19 outside a hospital or a clinical trial, citing “reports of serious heart rhythm problems.” Utah eventually abandoned its plans to make the drugs available without prescriptions and canceled its order.

    America’s top coronavirus doctor warns vaccines could make Covid-19 worse - The United States’ top coronavirus doctor has warned prototype coronavirus vaccines could end up making Covid-19 patients get sicker if they contract the disease. White House immunologist Dr Anthony Fauci offered the warning while giving an update on efforts to develop vaccines at an online US Senate hearing on Tuesday. He said: ‘I must warn that there’s also the possibility of negative consequences, where certain vaccines can actually enhance the negative effect of the infection.’ Dr Fauci later explained that in rare cases people vaccinated against a condition could end up contracting the virus they thought they’d been protected against, and falling more seriously-ill with that disease as a result He said: ‘Do you get an enhancement effect (from the disease)? There have been a number of vaccines, when the vaccine induces a sub-optimal response and when the person gets exposed they have an enhanced pathogenesis (development) of the disease.’ He said such instances were very rare, and had only occurred with two previous vaccines developed for other viruses. Dr Fauci said the most important issue with any successful vaccine was its efficacy – ability to produce the desired result – in this case, the prevention of coronavirus infections. Explaining the key questions researchers face, Fauci continued: ‘Will (efficacy) be president or absence, and how durable will it be?’

    COVID-19 is killing 20 times more people per week than flu does, new paper says  -  If there was any doubt that the new coronavirus isn't just "a bad flu," a new paper published (May 14) in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine lays that myth to rest. The study authors found that in the U.S. there were 20 times more deaths per week from COVID-19 than from the flu in the deadliest week of an average influenza season. .Ever since the new coronavirus was discovered in early January, people have compared it with the flu, pointing out that influenza causes tens of thousands of deaths every year in the U.S. alone. Indeed, during the current flu season, theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there were up to 62,000 flu deaths in the U.S. from October 2019 through April 2020.At a glance, this may appear similar to the toll of COVID-19, which as of early May, had caused about 65,000 U.S. deaths. (As of Thursday, May 13, the number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. was more than 82,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.)But this doesn't match what health care providers are seeing on the frontlines of the pandemic, particularly in hot zones (such as New York City), "where ventilators have been in short supply and many hospitals have been stretched beyond their limits," the authors said.This comparison is flawed because the CDC estimates of flu deaths are just that — estimates rather than raw numbers. The CDC does not know the exact number of people who become sick with or die from the flu each year in the U.S. Rather, this number is estimated based on data collected on flu hospitalizations through surveillance in 13 states.On the other hand, reported COVID-19 deaths are actual counts of people who died from COVID-19, not estimates. In other words, comparing estimates of flu deaths with raw counts of COVID-19 deaths is like comparing "apples to oranges," the authors said.So for the new study, the researchers looked at actual counts of flu deaths per week, and compared those with counts of COVID-19 deaths.

    Can You Get Covid-19 Twice? – WSJ --More than 160 South Koreans tested positive a second time for the novel coronavirus last month, weeks after being discharged from medical supervision. Some symptom-free Americans have been barred from donating their blood plasma to help treat others because they are still testing positive.The revelations are generating concern that people who have had Covid-19 are getting infected anew—something scientists say current evidence doesn’t support.Most scientists say that people who have had Covid-19 gain some immunity to the virus that causes it. What they don’t know is whether that protection lasts a few months, a few years or a lifetime.The immune system wards off infections by producing antibodies that fight invaders. A range of hereditary and environmental factors, including diet and sleep patterns, typically affect the strength and longevity of those defenses.Immunity also depends on the pathogen. For example, infection by the virus that causes measles confers lifelong immunity. Others, like the influenza virus, can mutate so rapidly that protective antibodies might not recognize them during a reinfection. The novel coronavirus mutates more slowly than the influenza virus. That gives researchers hope that any natural immunity, or vaccine, would offer more lasting protection. Even if someone gets sick again, researchers believe a second infection might be milder than the first.   Korean doctors involved in a continuing government review believe that those patients likely harbored low levels of the virus that diagnostic polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests failed to pick up. In later stages of the disease, the virus settles into the lungs where it can elude detection. The virus, they say, hadn’t been fully cleared from the body.

    Coronavirus: When Will the Second Wave Hit? -- First it looked like we were in for a very long haul under lockdown measures, perhaps until the end of the summer holidays. That was until about two weeks ago. Then, all of a sudden, the weather changed — atmospherically and metaphorically, and perhaps freakishly so.Restrictions are being lifted in Germany, Spain, Greece and elsewhere.Even the United Kingdom, which has seen some of the highest numbers of infections and deaths from COVID-19 in Europe, is thinking about "reopening the economy," as several top officials have urged in recent days.Earlier this month, India extended its lockdown for another two weeks amid growing concerns that if nations ease restrictions too soon, the world may well see a second wave of infections.A second wave is more or less inevitable. "This virus may just become another endemic virus in our communities," said Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization at a press conference streamed live on May 13. "This virus may never go away."Ryan, the executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, pointed out that other viruses like HIV haven't gone away either. Instead, we've developed drugs to mitigate its affects and we've learned to live with it. Only the fewest of deadly viruses, such as smallpox, have ever been eradicated. The rest live on in the community. Some, like tuberculosis, make a comeback, and history shows that a second wave of a pandemic can be worse than the first. This was the case with the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which continued in waves until letting up in 1920.

    Why do some COVID-19 patients infect many others, whereas most don’t spread the virus at all? - When 61 people met for a choir practice in a church in Mount Vernon, Washington, on 10 March, everything seemed normal.  But one of them had been suffering for 3 days from what felt like a cold—and turned out to be COVID-19. In the following weeks, 53 choir members got sick, three were hospitalized, and two died, according to a 12 May report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that meticulously reconstructed the tragedy. Many similar “superspreading events” have occurred in the COVID-19 pandemic. A database by Gwenan Knight and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) lists an outbreak in a dormitory for migrant workers in Singapore linked to almost 800 cases; 80 infections tied to live music venues in Osaka, Japan; and a cluster of 65 cases resulting from Zumba classes in South Korea. Clusters have also occurred aboard ships and at nursing homes, meatpacking plants, ski resorts, churches, restaurants, hospitals, and prisons. Sometimes a single person infects dozens of people, whereas other clusters unfold across several generations of spread, in multiple venues. Other infectious diseases also spread in clusters, and with close to 5 million reported COVID-19 cases worldwide, some big outbreaks were to be expected. But SARS-CoV-2, like two of its cousins, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), seems especially prone to attacking groups of tightly connected people while sparing others. “If you can predict what circumstances are giving rise to these events, the math shows you can really, very quickly curtail the ability of the disease to spread,” says Jamie Lloyd-Smith of the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied the spread of many pathogens. But superspreading events are ill-understood and difficult to study, and the findings can lead to heartbreak and fear of stigma in patients who touch them off. Most of the discussion around the spread of SARS-CoV-2 has concentrated on the average number of new infections caused by each patient. Without social distancing, this reproduction number (R) is about three. But in real life, some people infect many others and others don’t spread the disease at all. In fact, the latter is the norm, Lloyd-Smith says: “Most people do not transmit.” That’s why in addition to R, scientists use a value called the dispersion factor (k), which describes how much a disease clusters. The lower k is, the more transmission comes from a small number of people. In a seminal 2005 Nature paper, Lloyd-Smith and co-authors estimated that SARS—in which superspreading played a major role—had a k of 0.16. The estimated k for MERS, which emerged in 2012, is about 0.25. In the flu pandemic of 1918, in contrast, the value was about one, indicating that clusters played less of a role.

     FDA suspends Gates-backed at-home COVID-19 testing program - (Reuters) - An at-home coronavirus testing project in Seattle backed in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said on Saturday it was working with U.S. regulators to resume the program after being suspended by the Food and Drug Administration. The Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (SCAN), which aims to monitor the spread of the novel coronavirus in the region, had said it was suspending its testing of patient samples collected at home after the Food and Drug Administration tightened guidelines to require emergency approval first. “The FDA has not raised any concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of SCAN’s test, but we have been asked to pause testing until we receive that additional authorization,” SCAN said. The Gates Foundation in March said it was providing technical assistance for SCAN, which had been approved by regulators in Washington state, one of the first U.S. states to be hit hard by the outbreak. Bill Gates has also privately funded SCAN, according to the foundation. On Thursday, SCAN in a statement said it has been in talks with the FDA since March 1 and initiated its request for emergency use authorization (EUA) on March 23, submitting data on April 13. “We have been notified that a separate federal emergency use authorization is required to return results for self-collected tests,” SCAN said. Representatives for the Food and Drug Administration did not have an immediate comment on SCAN’s status. Representatives of King County Health Department referred questions to SCAN. SCAN said it did not have an update on specific timing for when testing would restart.

    Florida's scientist was fired for refusing to 'manipulate' COVID-19 data - The scientist who created Florida's COVID-19 data portal wasn't just removed from her position on May 5, she was fired on Monday by the Department of Health, she said, for refusing to manipulate data. Rebekah Jones said in an email to the USA TODAY Network that she single-handedly created two applications in two languages, four dashboards, six unique maps with layers of data functionality for 32 variables covering a half a million lines of data. Her objective was to create a way for Floridians and researchers to see what the COVID-19 situation was in real time.Then, she was dismissed."I worked on it alone, sixteen hours a day for two months, most of which I was never paid for, and now that this has happened I'll probably never get paid for," she wrote in an email, confirming that she had not just been reassigned on May 5, but fired from her job as Geographic Information Systems manager for the Florida Department of Health. After USA TODAY Network first reported Jones' removal from her position in charge of the Florida COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard she created, she confirmed, as reported by CBS-12 in West Palm Beach that she was fired because she was ordered to censor some data, but refused to "manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen."

    Texas reports largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases - The Texas Department of Health reported Saturday that there are more than 47,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state, with over 1,800 new cases reported Saturday, as the state ramps up testing in areas that it has declared high risk. It's the largest single-day increase in confirmed cases in Texas since the pandemic began.There were 33 additional deaths reported Saturday, bringing the total number of fatalities in the Lone Star State to 1,305.  Meanwhile, Texas is moving forward with plans to reopen. On Monday, gyms can open with 25% capacity, and they must space equipment and provide cleaning products throughout the gym, CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV reports. Nonessential manufacturing and work offices can reopen with 25% capacity as well.     Currently, the largest number of cases have been reported in the state's two largest counties: Dallas County and Harris County, which includes the city of Houston. Potter County, which includes the city of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle, accounts for more than 2,100 of the state's cases. There are more than 600 confirmed cases in neighboring Randall County. More than 700 cases were reported Friday in the Amarillo region, which includes Potter County and Randall County, where meatpacking plants have been targeted for increased testing. Governor Greg Abbott said in a press release Saturday that on May 4, he had deployed a Surge Response Team to Amarillo consisting of medical workers and the Texas National Guard to test the meatpacking facilities.  Abbott noted that as the Lone Star State bolsters its testing ability, there will be an increase in positive tests, especially as results come in from high-risk facilities such as meatpacking plants, nursing homes and jails. According to Abbott, there are 516 hospital beds available in the Amarillo region and 236 surge beds available. There are 110 ventilators available, with the capacity to send more to the region.

     570 Workers Test Positive For COVID At Tyson Plant In North Carolina - Tyson Foods, Inc. is reporting a significant outbreak of COVID-19 at its Wilkesboro, North Carolina poultry plant. It appears the meat processing crisis is far from over, despite President Trump declaring an executive order weeks ago to reopen closed meat processing plants. Of the 2,244 workers and contractors at Wilkesboro facility who were recently tested, 570 tested positive for the virus, which equates to about 25% of the staff is infected. Many of the workers "did not show any symptoms," Tyson says. Workers who tested positive were immediately sent home with paid leave and will return to work once they have met specific criteria laid out by both the CDC and Tyson. The Wilkesboro facility is among 30 meat processing plants where Tyson has distributed "advanced testing capabilities and enhanced care options on-site to team members in partnership with MATRIX MEDICAL." "We are working closely with local health departments to protect our team members and their families, and to help manage the spread of the virus in our communities," said Tom Brower, Senior Vice President of Health and Safety for Tyson Foods. "We are using the most up-to-date data and resources to support our team members, and we are committed to ensuring they feel safe and secure when they come to work."   Earlier this month, we described how meat processing plants are perfect environments for COVID-19 to thrive. Here are some of the most recent plants to shutter operations due to virus-related issues.

    Nurse says patients attend 'coronavirus parties' to get sick --A North Carolina nurse said she’s treating patients who have attended “coronavirus parties” in an attempt to catch the deadly bug and hopefully develop immunity. “Over the last few days, we have heard from a lot of patients and the community that they’re unafraid of getting the virus,” Yolanda Enrich, a nurse practitioner at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center, told an NBC affiliate. “People are actually out and about trying to get the virus, so attending gatherings, parties trying to maximize their chances of exposure.” Ernich said younger patients have told health care workers they’re hoping to develop antibodies so they no longer have to take precautions while they’re out in public. But health experts have not yet determined whether coronavirus antibodies actually deliver immunity. “We’re really concerned about this trend,” Enrich said. “They can spread the virus around the community and hurt our vulnerable populations that will have serious health implications.” Gov. Roy Cooper and state health officials are sounding the alarm on the idiotic concept. “You can easily kill someone you love,” Cooper said at a news conference this week, adding that the sickening soirees are “completely irresponsible and absolutely unacceptable.” Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, said more cases translate to more risk for vulnerable residents. “There is no circumstance under which we want people to actively pursue getting COVID-19,” Cohen said. “The reason we’re working so hard collectively to keep virus spread low is the fact that when there is more virus in our community, it not only impacts those who have it, but particularly those who are at high risk of getting severe reactions to disease.”

    COVID-19 now spreading fastest in small, rural counties  - The coronavirus pandemic is spreading out from urban centers and increasingly infecting residents in small rural counties, even as some of those areas begin to loosen lockdown requirements aimed at stopping its spread.A new analysis shows nearly three-quarters of Americans live in counties where the virus is now spreading widely. Another 200 counties have seen significant growth in infection trends in the last week, making them high-prevalence counties — areas where the virus has infected at least one in a thousand people. Like ripples in a pond, the virus is radiating out from its epicenters in large cities. An outbreak that started in New York City spread first to New Jersey and Connecticut, then south to Philadelphia, and now to upstate counties in New York like Hamilton and Essex and smaller Pennsylvania counties like Lycoming and Wyoming.What began as an outbreak in New Orleans has spread across the Deep South, recently arriving in northeast Arkansas, southwest Tennessee and much of Alabama. Hot spots in Detroit and its suburbs are migrating west to the shores of Lake Michigan.“Most of these counties are small rural counties,” said William Frey, the Brookings Institution demographer who conducted the analysis. “Very very few are what you would call inner city counties or inner suburb counties.”At the same time rural areas are beginning to see their first real flare-ups of coronavirus, case curves are bending down in some of the areas that were the first to be hit. The number of cases in states like Iowa, Arkansas, Minnesota, South Dakota and Virginia are still substantially lower than early epicenters like New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey, but they are growing at a faster rate.By the end of March, 83 percent of counties where the coronavirus was highly prevalent were in the Northeast. But for the last five consecutive weeks, the majority of counties newly falling into the highly prevalent category have been in Southern and Western states. This  week, Alabama, Texas and North Carolina have all experienced their highest numbers of confirmed cases.

     Navajo Nation Has Highest Covid-19 Infection Rate in the U.S. - The Navajo Nation, which is spread out through the American Southwest mostly in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, now has the highest per capita Covid-19 infection rate in the country, as CNN reported.The Navajo Nation's alarming surge in cases is another example of an underserved and historically marginalized minority population being particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.As CNN reported, the Navajo Nation had a reported population of 173,667 on the 2010 census. With 4,002 cases, the Native American territory now has 2,304.41 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people, overtaking New York has the most infected area per capita.New York state now has a rate of 1,806 cases per 100,000 and New Jersey is at 1,668 cases per 100,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The Navajo Nation already has high risk factors of comorbidities, including diabetes, lung disease, high-blood pressure, hypertension and heart disease. There's also a lack of running water, medical infrastructure, internet access, information and adequate housing, according to The Washington Post.Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told The Washington Post last week that the Nation had not "one cent" of the $8 billion that was allocated to Native American communities as part of the CARES Act passed in Washington on March 18.The surge in cases in the Navajo Nation has overwhelmed rural hospitals that are ill-equipped to deal with the novel coronavirus. Near Gallup, New Mexico, there is only one hospital within 110 miles of the town center. Now, the hospital's eight intensive care beds are all full, meaning coronavirus patients with severe breathing problems are sent away from both the facility and the adjacent Gallup Indian Medical Center, which attends exclusively to the Native American community, according to The Associated Press. Only five of 12 Indian Health Services facilities in the Navajo Nation are tracking recovered coronavirus cases, meaning the number of infected patients is probably higher than what is reported. The Department of Health is now asking all facilities to keep an accurate count of recovered cases, according to the Navajo Times. So far, 24,886 Covid-19 tests have been administered with 18,380 negative results.

    Hospitals overwhelmed in California and Alabama as national death toll approaches 100,000 - Hospitals in Montgomery, Alabama and El Centro, California have been forced to restrict admission of new coronavirus patients after caseloads of COVID-19 spiked during the week. The situation in both cities developed as the number of confirmed cases in the US passed 1.6 million, and the death toll approached 100,000. The situation in both cities was summed up by Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, who said yesterday at a press conference, “Right now, if you are from Montgomery and you need an ICU bed, you are in trouble.” Of the state capital’s four regional hospitals, one is short three ICU beds, two have no available ICU beds, and one has just a single ICU bed remaining. Excess patients are being transferred to Birmingham, a trip for those infected of more than an hour. Reed also warned that the hospitals are “at a capacity that is not sustainable,” and that, “Our health care system is maxed out.” In El Centro, the increased caseload came from both sides of the US-Mexico border in the wake of relaxed physical distancing rules enacted two weeks ago. According to the CEO of the El Centro Regional Medical Center, Dr. Adolphe Edward, the surge is largely from US citizens who live in Mexicali, a border town in Mexico with a population of 690,000, who were turned away from Mexican hospitals as a result of rising coronavirus infections there. More than two dozen patients had to be transferred to hospitals in San Diego and other nearby cities, Reuters reports. This reality did not stop President Donald Trump from declaring on Friday, “I am identifying houses of worship, churches, synagogues and mosques, as essential places that provide essential services,” and demanding that “governors … allow our churches and places of worship to open right now.” Trump’s comments follow his remarks Thursday that the country’s reopening will not be stopped even if the pandemic regains the momentum it had in the previous two months. “Whether it’s an ember or a flame, we’re going to put it out. But we’re not closing our country.” This campaign has added fuel to the record rise of the stock market since its collapse in March, at the expense of tens of thousands of lives and tens of millions of livelihoods. The spike in cases in such divergent areas of the country is another indication that, contrary to official policy, the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is not slowing but increasing. States including Texas, Florida and Louisiana have joined Alabama and California in seeing an increase of new COVID-19 cases in recent days.

    "We've Never Seen Numbers Like This" - Trauma Doc Sees Post-Lockdown Suicide Wave Starting -- We suggested, at the beginning of April, that a "suicide wave" was imminent considering the economic devastation sparked by COVID-19 lockdowns. In the last nine weeks, 38.6 million Americans have lost their jobs and were thrown into instant poverty. Many were already skating on thin financial ice even before the pandemic, and now they've fallen through, drowning in insurmountable debts, no savings, and limited lifelines. The first signs of a suicide wave could be originating in California. ABC7 News reports doctors and nurses at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, are reporting deaths by suicide far exceed COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic. The hospital's top trauma doctor, Dr. Mike deBoisblanc, told ABC7 that mental health has become a major problem during the shelter-in-place order.  "Personally I think it's time," said deBoisblanc. "I think, originally, this (the shelter-in-place order) was put in place to flatten the curve and to make sure hospitals have the resources to take care of COVID patients. We have the current resources to do that and our other community health is suffering." DeBoisblanc said the numbers are unprecedented:  "We've never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time," he said. "I mean we've seen a year's worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks."Kacey Hansen, a trauma nurse at the hospital for over three decades, said the volume of suicide attempts has dramatically increased during the lockdowns, noting the pandemic has stretched resources, which means there are fewer tools to save as many patients as usual."What I have seen recently, I have never seen before," Hansen said. "I have never seen so much intentional injury."As we've noted in the past, hospital systems do not let doctors and nurses speak out about internal affairs and or what's happening in the community unless cleared by officials. It appears the outreach of hospital staff to the local news outlet is a move to address the mental health public crisis sparked by lockdowns in the Bay Area.

    US Coronavirus Cases Pass 1.5 Million As Deaths Top 90k; Brazil Overtakes UK With World's 3rd-Largest Outbreak -Just days after overtaking Italy and Spain, Brazil has overtaken the UK as the world's third-largest COVID-19 hotspot, with ~254,000 cases reported. The outbreak in Latin America's largest economy now accounts for ~13% of new cases reported globally on any given day, making it the world's fastest growing outbreak, even surpassing russia.#Brazil is now the world’s fastest-growing coronavirus hotspot, accounting for 13% of all new cases globally in the past week. Just days after it overtook Italy & Spain in total number of cases, Brazil is poised to claim the No. 3 spot from UK. Meanwhile, in the US, the number of cases reported passed 1.5 million - with 1,504,386 according to JHU as of 630pmET - while the death toll has passed 90k, with 90,194 deaths reported.And in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state could reopen even more businesses over the next few weeks during his daily press briefing. Here's more on that courtesy of the Guardian.Haircuts, in-person retail shopping, sporting events and religious services could be a reality again in some California counties in just the next few weeks, governor Gavin Newsom said Monday.Newsom provided an optimistic outlook for the state  in his daily briefing, where he modified the criteria that each of California’s 58 counties must meet to reopen and join the state in phase two of coronavirus containment."We are looking forward in the next few weeks to a number of significant milestones," he said. "We expect if we hold the rate of transmissions, we hold the positivity rate down and continue to do justice to the number of hospitalizations, that we will be making announcements statewide."

      US Deaths Projected To Triple By Year-End Regardless Of Social Distancing- Study -While coronavirus projections have ranged from 'just a flu' levels to a ludicrous two million Americans dead, a new study from the University of Washington's School of Pharmacy has concluded that the number of Americans who will die after contracting the novel coronavirus will more than triple by year-end, even if current social distancing habits are maintained for months to come. "COVID-19 infection is deadlier than flu — we can put that debate to rest," said Anirban Basu, University of Washington health economist who authored the study which found that based on the infection fatality rate, 1.3% of those who show symptoms of COVID-19 die, which makes it 13x more deadly than a bad influenza season. Of note, the infection fatality rate (IFR) is different than the naturally higher case fatality rate (CFR), in that it measures outcomes for those assumed to have contracted the virus (IFR), vs. only counting deaths divided by cases confirmed via nucleic acid testing. Skewing the results of course are vast numbers of people who have never been tested because their symptoms were mild - those most likely to recover quickly and completely. If the infection fatality rate is accurate, and if the coronavirus continues spreading at current rates even before most states open their economies and relax social distancing restrictions, COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, could claim between 350,000 and 1.2 million American lives by the end of this year, Basu found. -The Hill "This is a staggering number, which can only be brought down with sound public health measures," said Basu in a press release announcing the study, which tracked case counts and outcomes in 116 counties across 33 states in order to estimate the infection fatality rate - which widely varies across county and state lines. Basu also noted that the IFR is a dynamic figure by nature which is subject to revision. The World Health Organization had previously estimated the infection fatality rate as high as 3.4%, however other estimates have pegged it as low as half a percentage point, which would still make it deadlier than any flu pandemic in the last 100 years, according to the report. According to the report, if the coronavirus spreads as widely as a typical flu - which infects around 10% of the US population every year, nearly 500,000 Americans would die of the coronavirus at a 1.3% IFR

     Up to 20% of hospital patients with Covid-19 caught it at hospital --Up to a fifth of patients with Covid-19 in several hospitals contracted the disease over the course of the pandemic while already being treated there for another illness, NHS bosses have told senior doctors and nurses. Some of the infections were passed on by hospital staff who were unaware they had the virus and were displaying no symptoms, while patients with coronavirus were responsible for the others. The figures represent NHS England’s first estimate of the size of the problem of hospital-acquired Covid-19, which Boris Johnson last week said was causing an “epidemic” of deaths. In a national briefing last month on infection control and Covid-19, NHS England told the medical directors and chief nurses of all acute hospitals in England that it had found that 10%-20% of people in hospital with the disease had got it while they were inpatients. Senior figures at several NHS trusts have confirmed to the Guardian that a senior official at NHS England said in the briefing, held by telephone conference in late April, that the rate of hospital-acquired Covid-19 infections was running at 10% to 20% and that asymptomatic staff had caused some of the cases. Senior doctors and hospital managers say that doctors, nurses and other staff have inadvertently passed on the virus to patients because they did not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) or could not get tested for the virus. Doctors say that hospital-acquired Covid-19 is a significant problem and that patients have died after becoming infected that way. One surgeon, who did not want to be named, said: “Multiple patients my department treated who were inpatients pre lockdown got the bug and died. Obviously the timeline supports that they acquired it from staff and other patients.”

    NHS management said elderly would “have to die” in care homes - Devastating evidence has come to light confirming that the Johnson government’s murderous policies have led to the deaths of thousands of care home residents. Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that around 12,000 people have died in the UK’s care homes. The real figure is far higher—at least 20,000 according to the Financial Times and the Times. Researchers at the London School of Economics’ (LSE) Care Policy and Evaluation Centre concluded that 22,000 care home residents in England and Wales may have died as a direct or indirect result of COVID-19. The LSE found that ONS data on care home deaths directly attributed to the virus significantly underestimated the impact of the pandemic, accounting for four out of 10 (41.6 percent) of the “excess deaths” in care settings recorded in recent weeks in England and Wales. It states, “Calculating total excess mortality in care homes since 28 December and adjusting this by the assumption that 15 percent of care home residents die in hospital, suggests that by 1 May there had been in excess of 22,000 deaths of care home residents during the COVID-19 pandemic—54 percent of all excess mortality—in England and Wales.” The government is desperate to cover-up the scale of its crimes. Last Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock declared that the government had “tried to throw a protective ring around” care homes “right from the start” of the outbreak. In truth, the government turned the UK’s 20,000 care homes—housing over 400,000 elderly and vulnerable people—into killing fields. Among the most heinous crimes of the Tories was the directive from NHS England in March to clear thousands of people out of hospital beds, with many sent to their death beds in care homes. The NHS, de-staffed and brought to its knees by tens of billions in budget cuts over the previous decades, feared that it would be unable to cope with an influx of coronavirus patients. In a bid to ensure there would be no photos and footage of COVID-19 patients dying in hospital corridors, as in Italy, thousands of elderly people were booted out of hospital, many without even being tested to see if they were infected. In a letter to the Sunday Times this week, the owner of a private care home “providing 500 beds in the southwest of England” revealed, “On March 17, Sir Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, said hospitals had to get 90,000 beds cleared, so they needed to get 30,000 people out. So, they sent patients with no tests into care homes. They said: We don’t need tests—you’ve just got to take them.” The letter from Stevens to all NHS hospitals demanded they “Urgently discharge all hospital in patients who are medically fit to leave.” The owner added, “Well, I’ve now got two homes with COVID-19. We can trace it. In both homes, it came from residents bringing the virus from hospital.  “The government is boasting how it did so well in protecting the NHS, but the reality is deaths in care homes.” 

    Is Covid-19 a nosocomial infection? - By: Izabella Kaminska - FT Alphaville has, like many others, been questioning the often confusing and sometimes contradictory approach the UK government has been taking to battling coronavirus. We had hoped that perhaps the government knew something we didn’t, which might explain their nonsensical approach. Recently released minutes of the government’s SAGE scientific advisory meetings suggest otherwise.  It may be that the government’s contradictory approach is more easily explained by its desire to be everything to all people so as to maintain its popularity and electability: both appealing to the utterly petrified, who want lockdown to continue for as long as possible, but also to sceptics who want to keep the economy going to ensure the cure doesn’t become worse than the disease and are prepared to take some risks.The care home crisis, however, has been hard to defend, whatever one’s stance on lockdown is. For lockdown sceptics, it has undermined the notion that a herd immunity plan was secretly being pursued regardless of the government’s insistence on the contrary. Such a strategy, if it were following the same lines as the the government’s pandemic flu plan from 2011, would have focused on letting the disease rip among the resistant population while protecting the vulnerable at all costs (ie, shielding). Its infiltration into care homes seems to suggest the government did the exact opposite thing.For lockdown enthusiasts, meanwhile, it confirms that the government did not take the action needed to protect the vulnerable early enough, and that it should therefore be heavily criticised. And yet, some evidence is emerging that the spread of the disease in both care homes and hospitals may be a critical factor in its morbidity and virulence. As Toby Young, a dedicated sceptic, has pointed out on his Lockdown Sceptics blog, SAGEmeeting minutes from March 20, just before the lockdown (meeting no. 18) reference the fact that Covid-19 may be something known as a nosocomial disease. This is a category of disease that spreads predominantly within hospitals (and can thus pass into care homes because the elderly visit hospitals a lot), the most famous of which is probably MRSA. Another hat tip to Toby Young for drawing our attention to this report from the European centre for disease prevention and control, which offers comparative statistics on care home deaths across Europe. As the report notes, in the UK care home deaths represent 21 per cent of total deaths. Compare and contrast that with Sweden, which saw care home deaths represent 45 per cent of total deaths, and Spain, which saw care homes represent 66 per cent (the worst in Europe), Belgium 51 per cent and Norway with 61 per cent.  Of course, the above is caveated by the fact that it’s generally hard to compare and contrast data between European countries. Not only are reporting standards different and subject to different time lags but what does and doesn’t qualify as a care home is presumably also variable.  All that said, it does appear that the trends around deaths in care homes are curious and deserve further research.

    Spike in Kawasaki-like disease linked to coronavirus in France and Italy, one child dies - French media reported on Friday that a nine-year-old boy in the city of Marseille died a week ago of a multi-system inflammatory disease that medical researchers have recently linked to the coronavirus pandemic. The emerging condition produces symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease and affects children. It has seen a jump in incidence since the onset of the pandemic, and most or all of the children who have presented symptoms of the disorder are believed to have tested positive for the coronavirus. The child was admitted to the North Marseille urgent pediatric ward on May 2 with a rash but was sent home after doctors diagnosed him with scarlet fever. Later that evening, his health deteriorated rapidly and he was transported back to the emergency care, where doctors identified his symptoms with the rare Kawasaki-like syndrome. On May 8, he died in the hospital after a heart attack. According to the French national health service, the boy suffered a preexisting comorbidity in some form of neurodevelopmental condition, though it is unclear how this affected his response to the disease. He tested positive for the coronavirus though he had not displayed any symptoms of it. The child has become the fourth death from the condition. A five-year-old and seven-year-old have died in the US and a fourteen-year-old in the UK. . The precise nature of the connection between the condition and the coronavirus is yet to be determined. On Friday, the World Health Organization published an international call for researchers to study the connection between the coronavirus and the newly-named multisystem inflammatory disorder in children and adolescents. Symptoms include a rash, hypotension or shock, vomiting or diarrhea and abnormalities in the heart. The report notes that: “reports from Europe and North America have described clusters of children and adolescents requiring admission to intensive care units with a multisystem inflammatory condition with some features similar to those of Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome. Case reports and small series have described a presentation of acute illness accompanied by a hyper-inflammatory syndrome, leading to multi-organ failure and shock. “It is essential to characterize this syndrome and its risk factors, to understand causality, and describe treatment interventions. It is not yet clear the full spectrum of disease, and whether the geographical distribution in Europe and North America reflects a true pattern, or if the condition has simply not been recognized elsewhere.” Most of the children who have presented symptoms of the disorder have also tested positive for coronavirus, either from directly from nasal swabs or via antibody tests. There is believed to be a delay of four to six weeks from the point of infection with coronavirus and the onset of symptoms of the recently-discovered condition, including in cases of asymptomatic coronavirus patients.(For a more detailed explanation of the disorder, see: “ Kawasaki-like disease afflicting young children and teens after infection with SARS-CoV-2 ”)

    Bizarre EU-Funded Comic Book Predicted Pandemic, With Globalists As Saviours (see comic panels) A strange comic book that was commissioned for publication by the European Union in 2012 eerily predicted almost exactly what has unfolded with the Covid-19 global pandemic. However, in this propaganda laced presentation of the outbreak, unelected globalist bureaucrats save the planet.The comic book, titled ‘Infected’, was a production of the European Commission’s international cooperation and development arm. It was not intended for widespread public consumption, but instead to be distributed inside EU institutions. Only a few hundred of the comic books were made.The EU’s description of the strange publication states that “While the story may be fictional, it is nevertheless intertwined with some factual information.”The graphic novel depicts scientists inside a lab in China experimenting with deadly pathogens:A wannabe hero time travels from the future, alerting authorities to the coming pandemic, and presents an antidote, before quickly becoming the target of opportunists who want to steal the cure and sell it to drug companies: The story features the transmission of a novel virus from animals to humans in a crowded wet market: “Indeed, imagine if you were infected in this market by a new contagious agent.” says the UN’s chief advisor on contagious diseases, adding “You probably wouldn’t even realise it until the end of the incubation period.” The publication suggests that air travel would exacerbate the spread of the disease, with the character adding that “You’d have headed back to Europe, the US, Latin America, or Australia as planned via an international airport.” The cartoon depicts the failure of a global health organisation to act quickly enough to stop a pandemic: It also predicts draconian safety measures, including social distancing, which make everyday life “totally unbearable”:

    Coronavirus: Russia reports record daily jump in deaths — Russia reported 150 additional fatalities that were related to the coronavirus in the last 24 hours — a record daily jump that brought the country's death toll to 3,249, according to a report by Reuters.  The number of confirmed cases in Russia rose by 8,894 in the last day to a total of 326,448, reported Reuters, citing the country's coronavirus crisis response center.  Russia's total cases remained the second-highest globally behind the U.S., and some experts have questioned its relatively low death rate from the virus.   President Donald Trump said "we are not closing our country" if the U.S. is hit by a second wave of coronavirus infections. "People say that's a very distinct possibility, it's standard," Trump said when he was asked about a second wave while touring the Ford factory in Michigan."We are going to put out the fires. We're not going to close the country," Trump said. "We can put out the fires. Whether it is an ember or a flame, we are going to put it out. But we are not closing our country." Confirmed coronavirus cases around the world passed 5 million early Thursday as infections continue to accelerate in the Americas. The U.S. alone accounts for 1.5 million cases of the virus and more than 90,000 deaths of the global death toll.  In China, where the virus outbreak was first detected late last year, government officials said there will be no official growth targets set for this year due to the uncertainties of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Japan's central bank outlined details for a new scheme aimed at boosting lending to small and medium-sized businesses who are struggling with the economic fallout.

    • Global cases: More than 5.1 million
    • Global deaths: At least 333,323
    • Countries with the most cases: United States (more than 1.5 million), Russia (326,448), Brazil (310,087), United Kingdom (252,246), Spain (233,037)

    More easing in Europe but virus hits hard in S. America, Africa - Restaurants and churches will reopen in Italy on Monday as part of a fresh wave of lockdown easing in Europe, but rising coronavirus death tolls in Brazil, South Africa and other parts of the world showed the worst is still to come in many countries. The relaxation of curbs in some places comes as governments around the world struggle to repair the vast economic damage unleashed by the pandemic, with Japan the latest to slump into a recession and the Fed warning of a severe US downturn as the global infection count topped 4.7 million. But the World Health Organization has warned that reopening too quickly without a vaccine could trigger a second devastating wave of infections, and the body will host a virtual global health assembly this week to help chart a course out of the crisis. Once the worst-hit country in the world, Italy on Monday will take its latest step in a cautious, gradual return to normality, allowing businesses and churches to reopen after a two-month lockdown. . Businesses including restaurants, bars, cafes, hairdressers, and stores will be allowed to re-open on Monday. Gyms, pools, cinemas and theatres are allowed to open on May 25. Spain is also set to further ease its lockdown measures, while Germany has already taken several steps towards a reopening, including the resumption of its top football league -- but with empty stadiums.   Despite the optimism in parts of Europe, the deadly pandemic remains on the march having claimed more than 315,000 lives, with worrying data from South America and Africa offering a reminder of the severity of the crisis. Deaths in Brazil have risen sharply in recent days, and with more than 241,000 infections reached over the weekend, South America's largest country now has the fourth-highest caseload in the world. But President Jair Bolsonaro has been a staunch opponent of lockdowns, claiming they have unnecessarily hurt the Brazilian economy, but experts and regional leaders have warned that the healthcare infrastructure could collapse.  Latin America and the Caribbean have recorded more than half a million infections, with almost half of them from Brazil, and there is growing alarm about the impact of the virus on the least privileged in the region. Ecuador reported the first COVID-19 case in one of its indigenous Amazon tribes, deepening the crisis in one of South America's hardest-hit countries. Rights groups in Nicaragua have accused the government of hiding the true number of COVID-19 cases by rushing burials.

    Africa's COVID-19 Cases Soar Past 88,000 As 'Coronavirus Apocalypse' Fears Loom -By the first week of April, coronavirus cases in African topped 10,000. Now over a month later that number stands at 88,172 according to the CDC Africa dashboard.This after a past 24-hour rise in cases by 2,538 according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa on Tuesday. Across the continent at least 2,834 people have died from COVID-19.The outbreak first appeared in Egypt in mid-February via what's believed sourced to foreign travelers, and has since spread to all 54 countries on the continent.  Last month the WHO's regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, sounded the alarm in saying the pandemic in African looks to be potentially devastating: "COVID-19 has the potential not only to cause thousands of deaths, but to also unleash economic and social devastation," Moeti said.The biggest clusters appear concentrated in those regions considered the busiest hubs of international and foreign travel, such as Egypt and Morocco in the north, and South Africa at the southern tip.  However, the African continent is still nowhere near the 'coronavirus apocalypse' that many predicted (considering a total population of over 1.3 billion people), including for example Bill and Melinda Gates: In an April 10  interview with CNN, American philanthropist Melinda Gates expressed her belief that the coronavirus pandemic will have the worst impact in the developing world. She said she foresees bodies lying around in the street of African countries. A day later, it was announced that the United States, where Gates is from, had surpassed Italy in terms of the number of dead from COVID-19.... Gates is not the only one to be predicting total doom in Africa. A report released by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in April stated: "Anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19."

    As West Cautiously Reopens, New Coronavirus Infection Clusters Emerge in Asia – WSJ - While the U.S. and other Western countries continued to take steps to reopen their economies after months of coronavirus lockdowns, Asian countries that enacted aggressive measures early in the pandemic were battling new clusters of contagion. More than 4.6 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded world-wide, including at least 313,127 deaths as of Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. death toll accounts for more than a quarter of the global total. Some U.S. states further eased restrictions over the weekend, giving businesses more freedom to operate. On Saturday, Idaho, which began a phased reopening earlier this month, allowed dining-in restaurants to resume operations under social-distancing rules. New Jersey permitted chartered-boat services and watercraft rentals to resume on Sunday, as the number of new Covid-19 hospitalizations in the state has fallen in recent weeks. Gyms and movie theaters in Texas will reopen on Monday, despite a rise in infections and virus-related deaths there. Meanwhile, Walt Disney Co. said it would begin a phased reopening of its Disney Springs shopping and entertainment complex in Florida this coming week. Guests would be required to wear face coverings and undergo temperature screenings, the company said. Warmer weather drew large crowds to New York City and New Jersey beaches over the weekend, highlighting the challenges that the hardest-hit parts of the country face in enforcing social distancing this summer. China reported five new confirmed cases by the end of Saturday, including two imported cases and three domestic cases—all in Jilin province in the northeastern region bordering Russia and North Korea. Officials in the Fengman district of Jilin city on Sunday told residents they should stay at home, and shut down public spots including cinemas and karaoke bars. The district is the second place in China to reimplement such steps since the country began to ease stay-at-home measures in early April. A week ago, Shulan, another city in Jilin province, banned public activities after a woman hired to wash police uniforms spread the virus to 21 others in a one-week period. Meanwhile, authorities are conducting blanket testing in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the original center of the pandemic. The decision was made after six residents of a compound in western Wuhan were confirmed as infected last weekend, ending a 35-day streak of no new cases in the city.

    As Modi government eases lockdown, coronavirus cases surge in India - India’s Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is further relaxing the nationwide anti-COVID-19 lockdown it first imposed for 21 days on March 25, even as cases of the highly contagious and potentially lethal virus surge. According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on Sunday, during the “fourth stage” of the lockdown, which is slated to last until May 31, inter-State movement of passenger vehicles and buses will be allowed with the “mutual consent” of the states and Union Territories involved except in “containment zones,” where strict stay-at-home orders are in force. State governments will also be allowed to decide the “delineation of Red (hotspots), Green and Orange zones.” Intracity rail and subway services, education institutions, hotels, restaurants (excluding “home delivery of food items”), cinemas, and shopping malls are to remain closed, says the ministry statement, and religious and political gatherings “shall continue to remain prohibited throughout the country.” However, the Modi government, egged on by big business, is pushing for a quick resumption of manufacturing and other productive industries. In recent weeks, large sections of industry, especially in Special Economic Zones and those that are significant exporters, have been greenlighted to reopen. Yesterday, India’s largest auto manufacturer, Maruti Suzuki, reopened its Gurgaon, Haryana car assembly plant with 4,000 workers or about a third of the normal workforce called in to work. On May 12, Maruti Suzuki already relaunched operations at its nearby Manesar assembly plant. As of yesterday, India’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths stood at 95,679, with 3,023 deaths. Since May 5, the total number of infections has more than doubled, rising from 46,711 to 96,169 yesterday. Only one month ago on April 18, India had recorded only 14,792 confirmed COVID-19 cases, less than a sixth of the current tally.

    Breakthrough South Korean Study Finds Recovered COVID Patients Who Test Positive Aren't Infectious –A study from the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that patients who test positive for COVID-19 after recovering from the illness appear to be shedding dead copies of the virus.  That would suggest that these patients are not infectious, the scientists said, which helped dispel fears that some patients can remain infectious for months after being infected. While the study doesn't answer every question about the virus's longevity - such as patients who almost appear to have developed a "chronic" form of the illness because their symptoms have persisted for so long.But still, the finding was greeted as a major relief, and, if anything, should encourage economies to reopen more quickly, as a potential trigger for reinfection that had panicked some experts appears to be a non-issue.The research also undermines the reliability of 'antibody' tests like the ones NY Gov Andrew Cuomo insisted would be 'critical' for NY's reopening. The results mean health authorities in South Korea will no longer consider people infectious after recovering from the illness. Research last month showed that so-called PCR tests for the coronavirus’s nucleic acid can’t distinguish between dead and viable virus particles, potentially giving the wrong impression that someone who tests positive for the virus remains infectious.  The research may also aid in the debate over antibody tests, which look for markers in the blood that indicate exposure to the novel coronavirus. Experts believe antibodies probably convey some level of protection against the virus, but they don’t have any solid proof yet. Nor do they know how long any immunity may last.

     Hundreds Of Villages Locked Down In Northeastern China As Beijing Mobilizes 'Army Of Volunteers' To Suppress Latest Outbreak -We had a hunch when we saw the Chinese press yesterday playing up China's latest "milestone" of one month without any COVID-19-linked deaths that some, shall we say, suboptimal news would likely soon follow. And once again, our instincts proved correct:  Local officials in China's northeastern Jilin Province - which is situated along China's border with Russia, which is presently struggling with a raging outbreak of its own - revealed on Saturday that the government was locking down hundreds of villages in the province, as well as some 1,000 residential buildings in Shulan, a small city (by Chinese standards) located in the center of the province, NBC News reports.Over the last couple of weeks, reports of new cases in the province led to officials in Beijing designating the province as "high risk" and imposing a "partial lockdown" be restored a few days ago.The CCP has blamed the latest outbreak on Russia and Chinese nationals living in the province who had recently returned from Russia. At least this theory absolves China of the blame, and reports of infected Chinese travelers returning from Russia have been popping up in the mainland press for months.Along with the lockdown measures, officials are launching a testing drive seeking to test as many residents of the province as possible. They've already tested ~20k of the provinces ~27.5 million residents. Meanwhile officials in Jilin Province are mobilizing tremendous resources including hundreds of nurses, doctors and volunteers. Most transport has also been halted to 1,205 villages and their surrounding areas.Shulan City Mayor Jin Hua said Saturday that all prevention and control measures had been "strictly implemented in accordance with the central government's decision-making and the requirements of provinces and cities" since the beginning of the outbreak.She added that before May 7, there had "been no indigenous cases," in the city, noting that likely some "Shulan nationals living abroad, especially Russia," had returned with the virus.

    WHO reports most global coronavirus cases in a day as total cases pass 5 million - Global coronavirus cases surpassed 5 million late Wednesday, with Latin America overtaking the United States and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily cases globally. More than 100,000 coronavirus cases were reported to the World Health Organization in the previous 24 hours, "the most in a single day since the outbreak began," Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday. "We still have a long way to go in this pandemic," he said at a news conference in Geneva. "In the last 24 hours, there have been 106,000 cases reported to WHO — the most in a single day since the outbreak began." It represents a new phase in the virus’ spread, which initially peaked in China in February, before large-scale outbreaks followed in Europe and the United States. Latin America accounted for around a third of the 91,000 cases reported earlier this week. Europe and the United States each accounted for just over 20%. A large number of those new cases came from Brazil, which recently surpassed Germany, France and the United Kingdom to become the third-largest outbreak in the world, behind the United States and Russia. The first 41 cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 10 and it took the world until April 1 to reach its first million cases. Since then, about 1 million new cases are reported every two weeks, according to a Reuters tally. At more than 5 million cases, the virus has infected more people in under six months than the annual total of severe flu cases, which the World Health Organization estimates is around 3 million to 5 million globally.

    Brazil coronavirus cases hit record high – CNN - Brazil hit a record high for new coronavirus cases Wednesday, after becoming the country with the third-highest number of confirmed cases in the world earlier this week.The country's health ministry reported 19,951 new cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 291,579 confirmed cases.This new surge tops the previous record set Tuesday. Reported deaths caused by coronavirusalso increased by 888 on Wednesday, bringing to the country's total to 18,859 deaths, the ministry said.Asked about Brazil's skyrocketing numbers on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said that he was mulling a travel ban on Brazil."We are considering it," Trump said, adding: "We hope that we're not going to have a problem. The governor of Florida is doing very, very well testing -- in particular Florida, because a big majority come in to Florida. Brazil has gone more or less herd, and they're having problems. "I worry about everything, I don't want people coming in here and infecting our people," Trump said, "I don't want people over there sick, either." Amid the spiraling health crisis, Brazil's lower house of Congress has approved a proposed law that would make use the use of personal protection masks in public spaces mandatory. The proposed law would require people to wear any form of face covering in areas that are accessible to the public, including parks, sidewalks, public transportation and even private buildings where there is a high level of foot traffic. Individuals not wearing masks would be fined up to $52. The proposal needs approval by the Senate and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who rarely wears facial coverings. It is unclear when the Senate vote will happen.

    WHO says South America new coronavirus 'epicentre': Live Updates - Brazil's health ministry announced that 330,890 people have contracted the virus and 21,048 have died as cases continued to surge in Latin America's largest country. Brazil is now third in the world in the number of cases after the US and Russia.

    • South America has become an 'epicentre' of the COVID-19 pandemic with Brazil the hardest hit country, the World Health Organization's Mike Ryan said on Friday.
    • Britain will introduce a 14-day quarantine for almost all international travellers from June 8, interior minister Priti Patel has said, with anyone breaking the rules facing a $1,218 (a 1,000 pound) fine.
    • Some 80 million infants could be at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio due to disruption of routine immunisation caused by the pandemic, UN agencies have warned.
    • Spanish authorities have announced that they will partially lift the lockdown restrictions in Madrid on Monday, after the pace of the coronavirus contagion in the region slowed down.
    • India has registered its biggest jump of coronavirus cases in 24 hours with 6,000 new infections as the country loosens a nationwide lockdown.
    • More than five million people around the world are now confirmed to have the coronavirus, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University. More than 328,000 people have died globally while some 1.9 million people have recovered.

    Brazil records 1,179 COVID-19 cases in a single day amid spiraling political crisis - Brazil broke another record in COVID-19 fatalities on Tuesday, recording 1,179 deaths over the previous 24 hours. The country has officially confirmed over 290,000 cases and 19,000 deaths, but the government admits it has lost control of the pandemic’s spread. With the second lowest testing rate in the Americas—less than one-twentieth of the tests in the US—it has adopted an effective policy of “herd immunity” with dire consequences for the country’s population. Imperial College London has estimated that Brazil had over 4.2 million cases last week, with an accelerating rate of 6.5 percent growth every day, putting it on course to be the global pandemic’s epicenter. Twelve Brazilian capitals have over 80 percent occupation of intensive care units, with many dumping bodies in mass graves. In the second wealthiest city in the country, Rio de Janeiro, doctors have already received medical protocols to choose whom to treat, as ICUs are fully occupied. The government is consciously ignoring the public health catastrophe, fully engaged in a back-to-work campaign, declaring the whole of industry and construction as essential services that should be left out of partial quarantines imposed by local governments. An essential part of this drive has been the definition of hydroxychloroquine as a medicine to be freely used in treating COVID-19 cases, against widespread medical advice that it not only has no proven effectiveness against the disease but could lead to deadly side effects. The government’s promotion of the drug led to the resignation of Health Minister Nelson Teich, who declared he would not “stain his biography” in order to please the government and declare its safety against scientific evidence. Yesterday, the new interim minister, a military general, fulfilled Bolsonaro’s order and issued a new, wider, protocol for its use. For his part, Bolsonaro reacted to the record death toll joking about the freedom of “left-wingers” to take a soda drink instead of hydroxychloroquine, if they so desired. Even as it closes ranks behind Bolsonaro’s back-to-work campaign, the Brazilian ruling class is conscious that it is bringing Brazil to the brink of a social explosion. The government has constantly cited the 2019 mass demonstrations in Chile as an example of the “social chaos” that will ensue in the case of prolonged quarantines leading to economic downturn. It has ominously warned that it will adopt dictatorial measures in case of social unrest. In the country’s COVID-19 epicenter, São Paulo, the city council has already raised the specter of imminent looting. Under these conditions, Bolsonaro’s ignorance and criminal indifference to the mounting COVID-19 death toll are seen as a liability and have drawn growing criticism from within the ranks of the ruling elite itself. These sentiments were expressed by the vice president of the largest business lobby in the country, the São Paulo Industry Federation (FIESP), after Teich’s resignation. He said it was necessary to build public confidence for “families to get back to shops and factories,” but that the instability in the Health Ministry generated “uncertainty of what is happening in the country.” These divisions have fueled daily editorials in the bourgeois press denouncing Bolsonaro, not only for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, but also for his attempts to mobilize a far-right base against state institutions. The editorialists fear this will contribute to workers’ resistance by exposing the authoritarian drive that must accompany the preparation of the ruling class for inevitable social explosions.

    Brazil overtakes Russia to become world no. 2 in Covid-19 cases, behind US - Brazil became the world No. 2 hotspot for coronavirus cases on Friday, second only to the United States, after it confirmed that 330,890 people had been infected by the virus, overtaking Russia, the Health Ministry said. Brazil registered 1,001 daily coronavirus deaths on Friday, taking total deaths to 21,048, according to the Health Ministry. In Sao Paulo, the worst hit city, aerial video showed rows of open plots at the Formosa Cemetery as it rushed to keep up with demand. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his handling of the outbreak and is at the center too of a deepening political crisis. The former army captain has seen his poll ratings drop, hurt by his opposition to social distancing measures, support of the unproven remedy chloroquine, and tussles with experienced public health officials. The true number of cases and deaths is likely higher than the figures suggest, as Latin America’s top economy has been slow to ramp up testing. The outbreak is accelerating. On Monday, Brazil overtook Britain to become the country with the third highest number of infections. It surpassed Russia on Friday, but is unlikely to pass the United States soon. The world’s No 1 economy has more than 1.5 million cases. Since the outbreak began, Bolsonaro has lost two health ministers, after pressuring them to promote the early use of anti-malarial drugs like chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. Several high-profile public health experts have also left. Many have been replaced by soldiers. On Wednesday, Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general, authorized new guidelines for the wider use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in mild cases.

    China’s New Outbreak Shows Signs the Virus Could Be Changing - Chinese doctors are seeing the coronavirus manifest differently among patients in its new cluster of cases in the northeast region compared to the original outbreak in Wuhan, suggesting that the pathogen may be changing in unknown ways and complicating efforts to stamp it out. Patients found in the northern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang appear to carry the virus for a longer period of time and take longer to test negative, Qiu Haibo, one of China’s top critical care doctors, told state television on Tuesday. Patients in the northeast also appear to be taking longer than the one to two weeks observed in Wuhan to develop symptoms after infection, and this delayed onset is making it harder for authorities to catch cases before they spread, said Qiu, who is now in the northern region treating patients. “The longer period during which infected patients show no symptoms has created clusters of family infections,” said Qiu, who was earlier sent to Wuhan to help in the original outbreak. Some 46 cases have been reported over the past two weeks spread across three cities -- Shulan, Jilin city and Shengyang -- in two provinces, a resurgence of infection that sparked renewed lockdown measures over a region of 100 million people. Scientists still do not fully understand if the virus is changing in significant ways and the differences Chinese doctors are seeing could be due to the fact that they’re able to observe patients more thoroughly and from an earlier stage than in Wuhan. When the outbreak first exploded in the central Chinese city, the local health-care system was so overwhelmed that only the most serious cases were being treated. The northeast cluster is also far smaller than Hubei’s outbreak, which ultimately sickened over 68,000 people. Still, the findings suggest that the remaining uncertainty over how the virus manifests will hinder governments’ efforts to curb its spread and re-open their battered economies. China has one of the most comprehensive virus detection and testing regimes globally and yet is still struggling to contain its new cluster. Researchers worldwide are trying to ascertain if the virus is mutating in a significant way to become more contagious as it races through the human population, but early research suggesting this possibility has been criticized for being overblown.

    Why a New Virus Cluster in China Is Triggering Alarms -- A cluster of Covid-19 cases in China’s Rust Belt region has intensified worry over a second wave of coronavirus infections. The central and local leadership have instituted strict measures, including halting public transport services for more than 100 million people and sealing off residential compounds in some cities, as Chinese President Xi Jinping called for strengthened controls. While many other countries are still grappling with the first wave of outbreak, this re-emergence in China, while still small, is putting the world on alert.The first case was reported May 7 in the northeastern province of Jilin, on the border with Russia and North Korea, and as of May 21 had spread to at least 46 people, all linked with each other. Officials have yet to identify “patient zero,” but suspects include a woman who works in the laundry at a police station in the city of Shulan, and may have been in contact with one or more people from Russia, which is behind only the U.S. in number of confirmed cases. One of China’s top doctors said patients in Jilin appeared to be asymptomatic for a longer period than was usual in Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged last year, but didn’t elaborate on what those findings were based on. He told state television the cases in the first two weeks seem to show damage mostly in the lungs, with only 10% developing into critical cases. The northeast cluster is tiny compared to the earlier outbreak in central Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. (More than 68,000 people were infected there; its 11-week lockdown ended April 8.) Yet Beijing is taking the outbreak just as seriously. Jilin city is already setting up an emergency response that could turn two stadiums into hospitals in 24 hours. The Chinese government is eager to show stability as its annual political meeting is set to convene this week, with top leaders gathering to assess economic growth in the wake of the pandemic.These coronavirus cases are showing a different gene sequence from the outbreak in Hubei, while identical with imported cases from Russia. Changes in the virus’s genetic sequence could make it harder for officials to detect. It also would create hurdles for vaccine research and development for pharmaceutical companies that are racing to stop the spread of Covid-19. Researchers worldwide are studying whether the virus is mutating in a significant way to become more contagious, but the likelihood of that has been called overstated in some early research. Since the Wuhan lockdown, China has been aggressive in virus testing, and is signaling that it will react with a hammer to every cluster, implementing stricter measures as needed to contain spread. That is a different approach from other economies such as South Korea and Hong Kong, which have refrained from any lockdown despite new clusters found in clubs and medical centers. Such harsh methods would be more complicated, however, if infections appear in more economically important provinces or the top cities.

    China's Newest COVID-19 Outbreak Shows Virus May Be Mutating -  During the earliest days of the pandemic, when medical journals like The Lancet were publishing some of the first non-peer-reviewed studies about the virus by scientists and researchers in China, experts warned about mutations in various strains of the virus, though they insisted that there was still no evidence to suggest that the virus was evolving into something more dangerous and more infectious. And yet, medical experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci have seemed at times overly eager to dismiss these mutations, and claim - without evidence - that there was no reason to believe the virus was evolving and changing in a way that might complicate efforts to create a vaccine. Which is why we're highlighting this Bloomberg report from yesterday describing the latest findings from doctors and researchers in northeastern China who are seeing the coronavirus manifest differently among patients in this new cluster, suggesting that the virus may indeed by changing in unknown ways and complicating efforts to stamp it out.It's just one more reason why the notion of keeping economies partially closed until a vaccine is widely available is simply untenable: Someday, the "believe science" crowd will come to understand that projections like the model forecasting 3k deaths per day by June are just that - projections. And just like stock-market analysts, scientists aren't great at predicting the future, because projections are never an 'exact' science. But for now, the most important thing to understand is that we really don't have any idea how long it will take to develop this vaccine. The 18-24 months projection parroted by Dr. Fauci and many experts is based on little more than a hope and a prayer based on their experience with other viruses. Other notable differences between SARS and SARS-CoV-2 have already been identified: why not this too? The two biggest differences doctors have noted after studying the 46 cases of the virus confirmed over the past weeks are that patients take longer to show symptoms, and are taking longer to recover.  Patients found in the northern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang appear to carry the virus for a longer period of time and take longer to test negative, Qiu Haibo, one of China’s top critical care doctors, told state television on Tuesday.Patients in the northeast also appear to be taking longer than the one to two weeks observed in Wuhan to develop symptoms after infection, and this delayed onset is making it harder for authorities to catch cases before they spread, said Qiu, who is now in the northern region treating patients. "The longer period during which infected patients show no symptoms has created clusters of family infections," Furthermore, doctors are noticing that patients in the northeast are suffering damage to their lungs, while in Wuhan, patients exhibited damage in their kidneys, hearts and across their internal organs.

    Chemicals often found in consumer products could lead to obesity and fatty liver diseases Chemical compounds found in many consumer products could be major contributors to the onset of lipid-related diseases, such as obesity, in humans, according to a Baylor University study.Until recently, scientists thought that diseases such as obesity and fatty liver resulted from anomalies in the metabolism of lipids triggered by excessive energy intake, fat consumption and lack of physical activity. But the Baylor study, published in the international journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, highlights the existence of chemical compounds people are exposed to via a variety of consumer products. These can lead to lipid-related metabolic diseases and weight gain."Previous studies have provided strong evidence linking some hormone-like compounds to obesity in humans, but this is the first study that showed a cellular and metabolic effect on human cells exposed directly to those compounds," said Ramon Lavado, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental science at Baylor. Lavado's team has been conducting experiments to determine whether their suspicion that obesogens -- specific chemical compounds found to disrupt normal metabolic processes -- promoted a dysregulation of lipid profiles in the human liver.While poor nutrition and lack of exercise are known contributors to obesity, significant attention has emerged regarding the potential effects of some chemical compounds to trigger lipid-related diseases, Lavado said. Exposures to obesogens -- particularly in early development in life -- were found to disrupt normal metabolic processes and increase susceptibility to weight gain across the lifespan, he said.As of the year 2000, there were an estimated 100,000 commercially available chemicals around the world. Two decades later, that amount has more than tripled, with approximately 350,000 chemicals being available, according to recent research published in Environmental Science & Technology.

    Certain environmental chemicals linked with poor kidney health - Researchers have found links between various chemicals in the environment and a higher risk of kidney disease. The findings appear in an upcoming issue of CJASN. Exposure to certain chemicals may contribute to the development of chronic kidney disease (CKD), but the growing number of chemicals being introduced into the environment has made it difficult to understand the extent of the problem and to decipher which compounds are especially toxic to kidney health. The researchers analyzed information on 46,748 US adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2016, and they looked for associations between 262 chemicals measured in urine or blood with signs of kidney disease--specifically, albuminuria (excess urinary excretion of the protein albumin) and low estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), a measure of kidney function. Among the 262 environmental chemicals, 7 (3%) showed significant associations with higher risk of albuminuria, lower eGFR, or a composite of both albuminuria and lower eGFR. These chemicals included metals and other chemicals that have not previously been associated with CKD.  Specific findings include:

    • High blood and urine levels of cotinine (found in tobacco) and high blood levels of 2,5-dimethylfuran (a volatile organic compound) and cadmium (a heavy metal) were associated with albuminuria.
    • High blood levels of lead and cadmium were associated with lower eGFR.
    • High blood levels of cadmium and lead and 3 volatile compounds (blood 2,5-dimethylfuran, blood furan, and urinary phenylglyoxylic acid) were associated with the composite of both albuminuria and lower eGFR.
    • A total of 23 chemicals--including serum perfluorooctanoic acid, 7 urinary metals, 3 urinary arsenics, urinary nitrate and thiocyanate, 3 urinary polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and 7 volatile organic compounds--were associated with lower risks of one or more manifestations of CKD.

    MS risk 29% higher for people living in urban areas, new research reveals Air pollution could be a risk factor for the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), a new study conducted in Italy has found. The research, presented today at the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) Virtual Congress, detected a reduced risk for MS in individuals residing in rural areas that have lower levels of air pollutants known as particulate matter (PM). It showed that the MS risk, adjusted for urbanisation and deprivation, was 29% higher among those residing in more urbanised areas. The study sample included over 900 MS patients within the region, and MS rates were found to have risen 10-fold in the past 50 years, from 16 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 1974 to almost 170 cases per 100,000 people today. Whilst the huge increase can partly be explained by increased survival for MS patients, this sharp increase could also be explained by greater exposure to risk factors.The analysis was conducted in the winter, given that this is the season with the highest pollutant concentrations, in the north-western Italian region of Lombardy, home to over 547,000 people.  "It is well recognised that immune diseases such as MS are associated with multiple factors, both genetic and environmental. Some environmental factors, such as vitamin D levels and smoking habits, have been extensively studied, yet few studies have focused on air pollutants. We believe that air pollution interacts through several mechanisms in the development of MS and the results of this study strengthen that hypothesis."Particulate matter (PM) is used to describe a mixture of solid particles and droplets in the air and is divided into two categories. PM10 includes particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres of smaller and PM2.5 which have a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or smaller.Both PM10 and PM2.5 are major pollutants and are known to be linked to various health conditions, including heart and lung disease, cancer and respiratory issues. According to the World Health Organisation, 4.2 million deaths occur every year because of exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution. Three different areas were compared within the study region based on their levels of urbanisation, of which two areas were found to be above the European Commission threshold of air pollution. "In the higher risk areas, we are now carrying out specific analytical studies to examine multiple environmental factors possibly related to the heterogeneous distribution of MS risk",

     Johnson & Johnson to Stop Selling Talc Baby Powder in U.S. and Canada - Johnson & Johnson will stop selling its iconic but increasingly controversial talc baby powder in the U.S. and Canada, the company announced Tuesday.The announcement comes as the company faces more than 19,000 lawsuits from consumers who say the product was contaminated with asbestos and caused them or their loved ones to develop cancer,Reuters reported. Johnson & Johnson continues to insist the product is safe, but a 2018 Reuters investigation found that the company had known its talc products sometimes tested positive for asbestos since at least 1971 and had failed to inform the public."It means no more little girls are going to go through what we went through," Krystal Kim, who was part of a victorious lawsuit against the company in 2018 after developing ovarian cancer following a lifetime use of the baby powder, told The New York Times. "This stops now. That monster is off the shelves."Because talc and asbestos sometimes occur side by side, it is possible for talc to be contaminated with asbestos during the mining process. Thousands of women who used the product sued after developing ovarian cancer, which was linked to asbestos in 1958. A smaller number developed mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer often connected to asbestos. In October 2019, the company recalled 33,000 bottles after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found trace amounts of asbestos in one of them. Also in 2019, the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy began a 14-month investigation that showed Johnson & Johnson knew about the asbestos risks for decades. "Today, in a major victory for public health, Johnson & Johnson's asbestos-containing baby powder finally will be taken off store shelves," Subcommittee chair Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) said in a statement. Johnson & Johnson will continue to sell the product in other countries and to defend its safety in court.

    Food Safety Advocates Decry USDA Rule Allowing Big Ag to Self-Regulate on GMOs - Food safety advocacy groups objected to the Trump administration's latest assault on the country's agricultural regulatory framework as the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Thursday it would leave oversight on GMOs to the companies producing the organisms."There is a need for adequate safeguards and effective regulatory oversight to ensure that there aren't unintended consequences to biodiversity from these new technologies," Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement responding the rule, "but unfortunately, USDA's rule falls short of achieving this."The new "SECURE rule" would allow companies involved in gene editing (GE) to avoid government oversight if the companies themselves determine the editing involves modifications that could be achieved through traditional breeding. Critics charge that the new rule leaves that determination up to the companies themselves, removing two regulatory checks in one swoop."While some genetically engineered products are safe and beneficial, the federal government needs a regulatory system that tracks product development and ensures safety before products are marketed," said Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) biotechnology project director Gregory Jaffe. "We support science- and risk-based federal oversight of genetically engineered plants to ensure they are safe to humans and the environment before they are released for cultivation or restoration, but today's final regulation does not achieve that result."Center for Food Safety senior attorney Sylvia Wu said in a statement Friday that the USDA was trying to use a needed update to an outdated set of rules to push through yet another industry-friendly policy that could have ramifications for the country's food supply."While revisions to USDA's regulations—first drafted in 1987—are necessary in order to ensure that the regulatory scheme adequately addresses the harms associated with current GE technology, the new regulations finalized by USDA, paradoxically named the SECURE rule, are anything but secure," said Wu."Instead of fixing long-standing deficiencies and strengthening the regulatory system to guarantee proper oversight of new GE technologies and their associated risks, the revised regulations dramatically scale back USDA's regulatory authority, leaving most GMOs unregulated," Wu added.Bottom line, said Consumer Federation of America director of food policy Thomas Gremillion, "consumers have a right to know how gene editing is being used to produce the foods they buy in the market."

    FDA Says Trucks Used to Store Bodies of Coronavirus Victims Can Carry Food, Even If Blood Leaked Inside Vehicles - On Wednesday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a handbook that verified that human and animal foods can be transported in refrigerated vehicles and food storage units that have been used to preserve human remains during the COVID-19 pandemic, even if the vehicles and units have come into contact with blood or bodily fluids from coronavirus victims. Refrigerated food trucks have been used since early March to help store bodies outside of hospitals, morgues and funeral homes in cities with high coronavirus death rates, like New York City. "Refrigerated food transport vehicles and refrigerated food storage units used for the temporary preservation of human remains during the COVID-19 pandemic subsequently can be safely used for food transport and food storage under certain circumstances," the FDA wrote in its handbook. However, the FDA said that all trucks and storage units should be "thoroughly cleaned and disinfected," perhaps several times, with EPA-registered disinfectants that have proven effective against COVID-19 and foodborne pathogens. The trucks and storage units need to be brought to "the appropriate temperature" before disinfection, the FDA wrote, and the workers who clean and disinfect the spaces must be protected from exposure to hazardous chemicals. The FDA also specified that vehicles and units that have come into contact with human blood or bodily fluids should not be used if they have offensive odors, refrigeration components that cannot be cleaned, or any interior surfaces that have been damaged, compromised or that are porous and cannot be removed or replaced.

    Climate change is fueling extreme weather that lowers cancer survival rate and threatens prevention  - Climate change is hindering progress on cancer prevention and increasing people's exposure to deadly carcinogens, according to a new report from scientists at the American Cancer Society and Harvard University. Hotter temperatures worldwide have fueled more frequent weather disasters like hurricanes and wildfires that release vast amounts of carcinogens into communities and delay access to cancer treatment. "The prospects for further progress in cancer prevention and control in this century are bright but face an easily overlooked threat from climate change," scientists wrote in a new report in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. For instance, when Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Texas and Louisiana in August 2017, it caused catastrophic flooding that inundated chemical plants and oil refineries and released deadly carcinogens into neighborhoods in Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city.  The half-life of some of the carcinogens detected after Harvey is up to 50 years, researchers said. Some areas in Houston have experienced higher levels of childhood leukemia driven by a high concentration of chemicals in the air. Climate change has also triggered longer and more destructive wildfire seasons in the U.S., releasing pollutants that remain in the air for months after the flames dissipate.In 2018, California experienced the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season on record with a total of 8,527 blazes burning nearly 2 million acres. The smoke traveled all the way to New England, while air pollution in the San Francisco Bay Area was among the worst levels in the world.  Extreme weather disasters also lower cancer survival rates. One study shows that cancer patients were 19% more likely to die when hurricane declarations were made during their therapy because of treatment interruptions compared with patients who had regular access to care. "For patients with cancer, the effects of hurricanes on access to cancer care can mean the difference between life and death," the authors wrote.  When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2018 it shut down several factories that provided live-saving IV fluid bags to U.S. hospitals, causing shortages in cancer facilities nationwide. Cancer is the No. 2 cause of death globally. Nearly 10 million people worldwide will die from cancer this year, according to researchers.

     Forget murder hornets. Giant gypsy moths could bring ‘serious, widespread damage’ to the US. - Forget murder hornets. Now we've got giant gypsy moths from Asia to worry about. "If established in the United States, Asian gypsy moths could cause serious, widespread damage to our country’s landscape and natural resources," the U.S. Department of Agriculture is warning. One species of gypsy moth that's native to Asia was recently spotted in Washington state, where Gov. Jay Inslee issued an emergency proclamation last week because of the discovery. In the proclamation, he warned that the Hokkaido gypsy moths from Asia have been discovered in parts of Snohomish County, which is northeast of Seattle, according to UPI. "This imminent danger of infestation seriously endangers the agricultural and horticultural industries of the state of Washington and seriously threatens the economic well-being and quality of life of state residents," the proclamation said. Both gypsy moths from Asia and Asian-European hybrid gypsy moths threaten the state, according to the proclamation. Hokkaido gypsy moths are exotic pests that can do widespread damage when hundreds of voracious caterpillars hatch, Karla Salp, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Agriculture, told UPI. While they are from Asia, Hokkaido gypsy moths are a separate species from so-called Asian gypsy moths, insect ecologist Patrick Tobin of the University of Washington told USA TODAY. Both are considered invasive pests that can wreak havoc on trees. "Both remain similar with regard to the threats they pose and the ability of females to fly," Tobin said. 'Murder Hornets' are in the US: These other dangerous bugs are more common Asian gypsy moths are bad enough: "Large infestations of Asian gypsy moths can completely defoliate trees, leaving them weak and more susceptible to disease or attack by other insects," the U.S. Department of Agriculture said. "If defoliation is repeated for two or more years, it can lead to the death of large sections of forests, orchards, and landscaping. "Any introduction and establishment of Asian gypsy moths in the United States would pose a major threat to the environment and the urban, suburban and rural landscapes."

    'We've never seen this': wildlife thrives in closed US national parks -Earlier this month, for the first time in recent memory, pronghorn antelope ventured into the sun-scorched lowlands of Death Valley national park. Undeterred by temperatures that climbed to over 110F, the animals were observed by park staff browsing on a hillside not far from Furnace Creek visitor center.“This is something we haven’t seen in our lifetimes,” said Kati Schmidt, a spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We’ve known they’re in some of the higher elevation areas of Death Valley but as far as we’re aware they’ve never been documented this low in the park, near park headquarters.”The return of pronghorns to Death Valley is but one of many stories of wildlife thriving on public lands since the coronavirus closures went into effect a month and a half ago.In Yosemite national park, closed since 20 March, wildlife have flocked in large numbers to a virtually abandoned Yosemite Valley. More than 4 million visitors traveled to Yosemite last year, the vast majority by way of automobile. On busy late-spring days, as visitors gather to see the famed Yosemite, Vernal and Bridal Veil Falls, the 7.5-mile long valley can become an endless procession of cars.But traffic jams seem a distant memory as the closure approaches its two-month mark. Deer, bobcats and black bears have congregated around buildings, along roadways and other parts of the park typically teeming with visitors. One coyote, photographed by park staff lounging in an empty parking lot under a rushing Yosemite Falls, seemed to best capture the momentary state of repose. A handful of workers who have remained in Yosemite during the closures, who have been able to travel by foot and bike along the deserted roadways, describe an abundance of wildlife not seen in the last century. “The bear population has quadrupled,” Dane Peterson, a worker at the Ahwahnee Hotel, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s not like they usually aren’t here … It’s that they usually hang back at the edges or move in the shadows.”

    A deadly virus is killing wild rabbits in North America - A deadly virus is spreading quickly among wild rabbits in southwestern North America, threatening populations and possibly endangered species. Last week the virus, which causes a hemorrhagic disease, reached Southern California. “The outlook right now is so unbelievably bleak,” says Hayley Lanier, a mammologist at the University of Oklahoma. “We’re simply left to watch the wave spread out and worry about imperiled species in its path.” Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus first spread worldwide in the 1980s, devastating domestic rabbit populations in China and Europe. It raced through Australia, where feral rabbits had flourished after being introduced in the 18th century. Populations began to recover, but then a new strain emerged in France in 2010 that also kills wild species. Strains of this new pathogen—rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2, also called L. europaeus/GI.2)—are more prone to recombination, which could explain the broader range of hosts, says Joana Abrantes, a researcher in virus evolution at the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources in Portugal. The new strain is less deadly in adults, but unlike its predecessor it also kills young rabbits. After the virus hammered populations in the Iberian Peninsula, killing 60% to 70%, two predators that depend on rabbits also declined: the Spanish imperial eagle by 45% and the Iberian lynx by 65%. Both types of RHDV are extremely infectious. They also persist in the environment, surviving in dead animals for at least 3 months. Predators and insects can spread it through their feces. The virus was first detected in North America in 2018, in domesticated rabbits in Canada, followed by three U.S. states, but not in wild species. In early March, biologists in New Mexico began to find dead wild rabbits. One of the first known victims was discovered by Gary Roemer, a wildlife biologist at New Mexico State University. Since then, Roemer has found 18 carcasses in 1 half-square kilometer.  Biologists and wildlife veterinarians in neighboring states were on the alert and began to receive reports of multiple dead rabbits in many locations. “This is very, very unusual and what happens when we have a disease that is brand new to the landscape,” says Anne Justice-Allen, a wildlife veterinarian with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “We would never see tularemia or plague spread like this in rabbits.” She has sent several carcasses to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC), which is helping with necropsies and preparing samples for genetic testing. Because RHDV is a foreign virus, only a high containment laboratory run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Plum Island off the New York coast is allowed to test for the virus.

    Pollution: Birds 'ingesting hundreds of bits of plastic a day' - Birds living on river banks are ingesting plastic at the rate of hundreds of tiny fragments a day, according to a new study. Scientists say this is the first clear evidence that plastic pollutants in rivers are finding their way into wildlife and moving up the food chain. Pieces of plastic 5mm or smaller (microplastics), including polyester, polypropylene and nylon, are known to pollute rivers. The impacts on wildlife are unclear. Researchers at Cardiff University looked at plastic pollutants found in a bird known as a dipper, which wades or dives into rivers in search of underwater insects. "These iconic birds, the dippers, are ingesting hundreds of pieces of plastic every day," said Prof Steve Ormerod of Cardiff University's Water Research Institute. "They're also feeding this material to their chicks." Previous research has shown that half of the insects in the rivers of south Wales contain microplastic fragments. "The fact that so many river insects are contaminated makes it inevitable that fish, birds and other predators will pick up these polluted prey - but this is the first time that this type of transfer through food webs has been shown clearly in free-living river animals," said co-researcher Dr Joseph D'Souza. The research team examined droppings and regurgitated pellets from dippers living near rivers running from the Brecon Beacons down to the Severn Estuary. They found microplastic fragments in roughly half of 166 samples taken from adults and nestlings, at 14 of 15 sites studied, with the greatest concentrations in urban locations. Most were fibres from textiles or building materials. Calculations suggest dippers are ingesting around 200 tiny fragments of plastic a day from the insects they consume. Previous studies have shown that microplastics are present even in the depths of the ocean and are ending up in the bodies of living organisms, from seals to crabs to seabirds. Rivers are a major route between land and sea for microplastics such as synthetic clothing fibres, tyre dust and other fragmenting plastic waste. The research, published in the journal Global Change Biology, was carried out in collaboration with the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter.

    Birds Are Eating Hundreds of Plastic Bits Daily, New Studies Find - The gruesome images of whales and deer dying after mistaking plastic for food has helped put into perspective just how severe the plastic waste crisis is. Now, a new study finds that it is not just land and sea animals eating our plastic trash. It turns out that birds are eating hundreds of bits of plastic every day through the food they eat. The scientists from Cardiff University, the University of Exeter and the Greenpeace Research Laboratories found that birds along Britain's rivers are eating hundreds of fragments of microplastics daily because the worms and insects they feast on have also swallowed the plastics, making this the first study to show how plastic pollution makes its way up the food chain, as the BBC reported. The study was published in the journal Global Change Biology. Previous research has noted that half of the insects in the rivers of south Wales contain microplastic fragments.  "The fact that so many river insects are contaminated makes it inevitable that fish, birds and other predators will pick up these polluted prey — but this is the first time that this type of transfer through food webs has been shown clearly in free-living river animals," said Joseph D'Souza, one of the study's researchers, to the BBC. "These iconic birds, the dippers, are ingesting hundreds of pieces of plastic every day," said Steve Ormerod, a professor at Cardiff University's Water Research Institute to the BBC. "They're also feeding this material to their chicks." "In almost 40 years of researching rivers and dippers, I never imagined that one day our work would reveal these spectacular birds to be at risk from the ingestion of plastics — a measure of how this pollution problem has crept upon us," said Ormerod, as iNews in the UK reported.Similarly, another study published in the journal Environmental Pollution recently found that birds of prey in Florida swallow tiny bits of plastic debris at a rate of hundreds a day, particularly microplastic fragments made of polyester, polypropylene and nylon, as Sustainability Times reported.In that study, the researchers examined dozens of birds of prey, including hawks, ospreys and owls retrieved from the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Florida. From the 63 birds examined, representing eight different species, all were found to have microplastics in their GI tract, according to the study. "Birds of prey are top predators in the ecosystem and by changing the population or health status of the top predator, it completely alters all of the animals, organisms and habitats below them on the food web," said Julia Carlin, the study's lead author, in a University of Central Florida press release.

    Ocean Microplastics Are Drastically Underestimated, New Research Suggests -- New research suggests there may be far more microplastics in the ocean than initially estimated. Microplastics, which breakdown into miniscule pieces of plastic are notoriously tricky to catch. Their small size allows them to get buried in ocean sediment and to escape through nets.Now, a team of researchers, led by scientists at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in England, used a finer net to get a more accurate picture of the amount of plastic in the ocean. Their research suggests the seas may be holding as many as 125 trillion microplastic particles, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, as Newsweek reported.Microplastics are usually defined as tiny pieces of plastic that measure less than five millimeters across. However, despite the abundance of microplastics in the ocean, scientists have actually had a difficult time quantifying and classifying them. Usually, researchers gather samples with nets with a mesh size of 333 micrometers, or 0.333 millimeters, but these do not account for smaller pieces of plastic debris, as Newsweek reported. The Plymouth Marine Laboratory scientists, along with researchers from the University of Exeter, used nets with a mesh size of 100 micrometers, or 0.1 millimeters, to get a more accurate picture of the microplastics swirling around coastal waters, according to a University of Exeter press release. "It is quite well known what impact larger pieces of plastic have on marine animals, like turtles eating plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish, but we wanted to know if microplastics are a problem to smaller marine animals like mussels or zooplankton," said Pennie Lindeque, lead author of the study from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, to Newsweek.  “We are interested in really quite small microplastics—around 100 micrometers in size, similar to the width of a human hair—and suspected that the standard sampling methods using a net with pores about 333 micrometers in size, wouldn't give an accurate picture." The researchers compared the efficacy of a 100 micrometer net to what's collected by a 333 micrometer net and a 500 micrometer net. They found that their net collected 2.5 times as much microplastics as the 333 micrometer mesh net. It collected 10 times more microplastic than a 500 micrometer net, according to thestudy. The scientists then extrapolated that data to determine that there are roughly 3,700 pieces of microplastic in one cubic meter. That means that previous global estimates of 5 to 50 trillion particles of microplastics are severely low. The true number, according to the data in the study, is somewhere between 12.5 and 125 trillion particles.

    Coral Rescue Team Races to Save Endangered Corals From Mystery Killer -Six years ago, during a global coral bleaching event and after the Port of Miami was dredged, endangered corals on Florida's coral reef began rapidly wasting away and dying. Their "mystery killer," whose exact pathogen still remains unidentified, is referred to as the "Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease" (SCTLD).In response, scientists launched an unprecedented, "Hail Mary" rescue effort to save the corals from local extinction. The first phase of the groundbreaking project concludes next week.SCTLD is different and more devastating than other coral diseases because of how quickly it can kill an entire coral colony, how many different species it infects, how long it has lingered and how much remains unknown about its origins, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine Science professor Andrew Baker told EcoWatch."Corals affected by SCTLD lose tissue really fast," he said. "Unlike many other coral diseases that can take weeks or months to pass over a coral's surface, SCTLD can kill a colony within a few days under 'ideal circumstances.' Some species, principally the brain corals, have almost disappeared from local reefs within a period of about six months."The coral biologist also noted that SCTLD was particularly difficult to eradicate because it affects almost half of Florida's coral species, which has allowed it to persist in reef communities for a long time because it has so many different hosts it can inhabit.SCTLD now threatens the entire Florida Reef Tract (360 linear miles), which is the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world, decimating important reef-building and endangered corals in its path."It's really sad. Some of these corals that have been growing for tens to hundreds to possibly thousands of years are disappearing in months," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) coral caretaker Allan Anderson. "We're talking about corals that have literally built this reef now dying, and it's pretty scary that something we can't yet identify is destroying everything."

    Antarctic Penguin Poop Emits Laughing Gas - A colony of king penguins in Antarctica emit so much nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, in their poop that researchers went a little "cuckoo," while studying them, according to Agence France Presse, which reported on a new study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.The study looked at the effects of a king penguin colony's activity on soil greenhouse gas fluxes in South Georgia, an island just north of Antarctica. One finding in particular was notably unique—penguin feces, or guano, produce extremely high levels of nitrous oxide, as CNN reported.The scientists from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark were investigating the effect of glacier retreat and penguin activity on greenhouse gas emissions. They decided to take samples from South Georgia Island since it his home to over 150,000 breeding pairs of king penguins, as Newsweek reported. "After nosing about in guano for several hours, one goes completely cuckoo," lead researcher Bo Elberling said in a statement, as Newsweek reported. "One begins to feel ill and get a headache. The small nitrous oxide cylinders that you see lying in and floating around Copenhagen are no match for this heavy dose, which results from a combination of nitrous oxide with hydrogen sulphide and other gases."Penguin poop is known to create huge amounts of nitrous oxide because the penguins' diet is rich in fish and krill that have absorbed large amounts of nitrogen via phytoplankton. The nitrogen is then released from the guano. When it hits the soil and interacts with the air, it is converted to nitrous oxide.Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas, with a warming effect that is 300 times what carbon dioxide produces, according to Newsweek. It's also used as a sedative for dental procedures, as a recreational drug and in agriculture.

    Forest Loss in Papua New Guinea Increases Domestic Violence Against Women --Change. That's what Monica Yongol has seen in her 54 years. In that time, the loggers and then the oil palm companies have moved into the remote corner of Papua New Guinea where she raised her family, altering the contours of the society she knew.  "Things have changed a lot over the years for the women," Yongol said. "The male members of society or even other males from other clans, they go ahead and make decisions in private spaces, which means women are not included."   Often, those decisions determine the fate of the forests that the people of Mu, Yongol's village in the rural local-level government of East Pomio on New Britain Island, have lived next to and subsisted on for generations. In East Pomio, part of Pomio district in East New Britain province, mothers have traditionally passed what they have down to their children. The principle has worked well, Yongol said, because women have a vested interest in ensuring that the land continues to provide for them."Women are looking at how they sustain the lives of their children in the future generations," she said, "whereas men are more looking at short-term benefits."  But the influx of "development" — first to harvest the island's tropical timber in the 1990s, and more recently to set up oil palm plantations — backed by politicians and lawmakers in distant capitals, has shifted the calculus around the value of the land. Yongol and the other women gathered at the Vunapope Catholic Mission on a muggy November afternoon said they feel sidelined, shut out of decisions about what's to happen to the forests where they have traditionally tended their gardens, gathered wood and harvested wild-growing food.In another cruel twist, Elizabeth Tongne said, these attitudes also lead to the scapegoating of women for standing in the way of progress.  "They're blaming us for stopping development on the land," she said.

     Chicago sets record for wettest May ever - Following a week of nearly constant rain, Chicago set a record early Tuesday for the wettest May in city history.The 0.11 inches of rainfall recorded overnight at O’Hare Airport pushed the city’s May precipitation to 8.3 inches, according to the National Weather Service.That passes the previous May rainfall record of 8.25 inches, set in 2019, the weather service said.The new record marks three straight years of record-setting monthly rainfall in May. The third wettest May on record, in 2018, saw 8.21 inches of rain, according to the weather service.The heavy rain set two other records in the past week.More than 3.5 inches of rainfall was recorded last Thursday, according to the weather service, making it the single wettest May day in Chicago since 1871. Another 3.11 inches of rain fell Sunday, making it the 5th wettest May day.On Monday, the rainfall caused extensive flooding in Chicago, spilling water into the city’s Riverwalk and into the basement of the Willis Tower, causing a power outage and temporarily closing the building. A lakeshore flood advisory is set to expire 4 p.m. Tuesday.Tuesday’s forecast calls for scattered showers and a high of 56 degrees, the weather service said.

    Michigan dams fail near Midland, causing ‘catastrophic’ flooding -  Unprecedented flooding was ongoing Wednesday morning in Midland County, Mich., after a pair of dams collapsed following record rainfall. Thousands of residents have been told to evacuate as floodwaters gush into the communities along the Tittabawassee River, inundating homes and businesses and prompting an emergency declaration from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). The flooding is threatening a major Dow Chemical plant that lies along the river. [Chicago breaks May rainfall record for third year in a row as heavy rains soak MidwestThe Edenville Dam was breached Tuesday evening after Midland received 4.7 inches of rain in a 48-hour period, following days of heavy rain across the state. The dam sits about 18 miles upstream of Midland, a city of more than 40,000. That collapse sent floodwaters gushing into Sanford Lake, where a dam has powered the Boyce Hydroelectric Plant. The Sanford Dam succumbed shortly thereafter, the twin reservoirs of water left with no place to drain but into the city of Midland. A flash flood emergency is in effect for downstream areas of Sanford. According to the Associated Press, 10,000 residents have been evacuated.The National Weather Service in Detroit issued a rare flash-flood emergency, the governor warning that downtown Midland could find itself under up to nine feet of water early Wednesday. News reports showed flooded Midland homes and businesses on Wednesday morning. The Weather Service bulletin described a “particularly dangerous situation” and “catastrophic” flood threat.“This is devastating,” said Whitmer on Wednesday, following an aerial tour of the damage. She said the flood severity is on the order of a 500-year event. A 500-year flood would have a 0.2 percent chance of occurring in any given year.“Right now, the water is rising, and we won’t know the extent of it for maybe the next 12, 15 hours,” said Whitmer at a news conference Tuesday evening.Scores of businesses have been shuttered in the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, which has been particularly severe in Michigan, and are facing serious economic hardship. “This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” said Whitmer. “I feel like I’ve said that a lot over the last number of weeks, but this truly is a historic event that is playing out in the midst of another historic event.”

    Dow Michigan HQ Threatened With "Nine Feet Of Water" Flood After Two Dams Break  - The headquarters of chemical giant Dow, which was spun off from DowDuPont last April, are threatened by flooding, prompting the company to activate its local emergency center in Michigan and implement "flood preparedness plan which includes the safe shutdown of operating units on site,” the company said on Facebook after two dams failed upstream of its Midland, Michigan, headquarters.Dow said that "only essential Dow staff needed to monitor the situation and manage any issues as a result of the flooding remain on site." Other companies with operations at Dow’s Midland complex include DuPont and Corteva Agriscience, according to Bloomberg which adds that the companies are working together on their response. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who is already managing a public health crisis in one of the states that has been hard hit by Covid-19, announced an emergency declaration in response to the dam collapse. She told people to evacuate the area around Midland, urging those in the flooding zones to get to a shelter."In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under nine feet of water,” Whitmer said. “To go through this in the midst of a global pandemic is almost unthinkable."  The Edenville Dam, at the base of nearby Wixom Lake, failed amid high floodwaters in the area, sending water gushing through a now-gaping hole near its spillway. A second one, the Sanford Dam at the base of Sanford Lake, had also failed, according to the National Weather Service, which issued an alert advising of “extremely dangerous flash flooding” in the area. The Tittabawassee River that flows below those lakes, through Midland, crested at nearly 34 feet in a 1986 flood that saw Dow Chemical shutter nearly all of its local operations. Floodwaters in Midland are expected to reach nearly 4 feet higher than that on Wednesday, the Midland Daily News said.

    Dam Failure Threatens a Dow Chemical Complex and Superfund Cleanup -  Floodwaters from two breached dams in Michigan on Wednesday flowed into a sprawling Dow chemical complex and threatened a vast Superfund toxic-cleanup site downriver, raising concerns of wider environmental fallout from the dam disaster and historic flooding. The compound, which also houses the chemical giant’s world headquarters, lies on the banks of the Tittabawassee River in Midland, where by late Wednesday rising water had encroached on some parts of downtown. Kyle Bandlow, a Dow spokesman, said that floodwaters had reached the Dow site’s outer boundaries and had flowed into retaining ponds designed to hold what he described as brine water used on the site.The Superfund cleanup sites are downriver from the century-old plant, which for decades had released chemicals into the nearby waterways. The concern downriver, according to Allen Burton, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, is that contaminated sediments on the river floor could be stirred up by the floodwaters, spreading pollution downstream and over the riverbanks. “You worry about the speed of the current, this wall of water coming down the river,” he said. “It just has a huge amount of power.” Mr. Bandlow of Dow said the company was “implementing its flood preparedness plan, which includes the safe shutdown of operating units on site,” which still manufactures plastics and other chemical products. He said only essential Dow staff remained on site to monitor the situation and “manage any issues as a result of the flooding.” Mr. Bandlow did not provide information on the status of the cleanup sites. Over the years the Dow complex has manufactured a range of products including Saran Wrap, Styrofoam, Agent Orange and mustard gas. Over time, Dow released chemicals into the water, leading to dioxin contamination stretching more than 50 milesalong the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers and into Lake Huron. Research has shown that dioxins can damage the immune system, cause reproductive or developmental problems, and cause cancer. There is also a tiny nuclear research reactor on the site, used to create material that can be used in product experiments. Overnight, Dow filed an “unusual event” report with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission warning of potential flooding at the site. But the reactor had already been shut down because of the coronavirus crisis, and there were no indications of flood damage on Wednesday.A federally funded Superfund cleanup of the Tittabawassee River began in 2007, and was slated for completion next year. Cleanup of other contaminated waterways is set to take longer.

     Edenville Dam power license revoked for failure to reinforce structure - Numerous violations and longstanding concerns that the Edenville Dam could not withstand a significant flood led the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to revoke its license for power generation in September 2018. The Edenville dam, located on the border of Midland and Gladwin counties, failed late Tuesday afternoon, leading to the failure of a downstream dam on the Tittabawassee River and forcing evacuations in Midland County. The extent of the damage is not yet determined.The energy commission (FERC), which regulates U.S. power generation, notified the dam's previous owner as far back as 1999 that it needed to increase capacity of the Edenville dam's spillways to prevent a significant flood from overcoming the structure.FERC subsequently notified the dam's new owner, Boyce Hydro Power LLC, when the license transferred in 2004.By June 2017, the commission cracked down, citing the owner's "longstanding failure to address the project’s inadequate spillway capacity at this high hazard dam.""Thirteen years after acquiring the license for the project, the licensee has still not increased spillway capacity, leaving the project in danger," wrote Jennifer Hill, director dvision of Hydropower Administration and Compliance. "The spillway capacity deficiencies must be remedied in order to protect life, limb and property." Notable by FERC was Edenville's classification as a high hazard dam, meaning its failure could present significant risk to life and property, especially in the downstream village of Sanford, city of Midland and Northwood University.Boyce Hydro had argued to FERC that it had ongoing litigation with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality over gaining permits to construct more spillway capacity.

    Tropical Storm Arthur to bring life-threatening surf and rip currents to East Coast -  Life-threatening surf and rip currents will spread along U.S. East coast beaches in the days ahead as Tropical Storm Arthur kicks up ocean swells offshore, the National Hurricane Center warned on Monday.It's another early start for the Atlantic hurricane season: Arthur formed Saturday in waters off Florida, marking the sixth straight year that a named storm has developed before June 1. The hurricane center said Arthur is expected to move near or just east of the coast of North Carolina, where up to 5 inches of rain was expected in spots on Monday before turning away from the East Coast Tuesday.At 5 a.m. EDT, the storm's center was about 85 miles south-southwest of Morehead City, North Carolina and 135 miles south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Arthur had top sustained winds of 45 mph and was moving to the north-northeast at 14 mph. A tropical storm warning was issued for parts of North Carolina's coast, from Surf City to Duck, including Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, and heavy rainfall is expected for much of the eastern part of the state, said Michael Lee, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport, North Carolina."But the main threat that we're really trying to get out there is that there is enhanced risk for dangerous rip currents both today and tomorrow. So, any folks who want to try to go to the beach and get in the water, we have a high risk out for most of our beaches," Lee said.The weather service said eastern North Carolina should prepare for some localized flooding and dangerous marine conditions along the coast.

    Tropical Storms Are Getting More Intense Due to the Climate Crisis --The devastation caused by hurricanes in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, North Carolina and Houston over the last few years is a direct effect of the climate crisis, which is making tropical storms stronger and wetter, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as CNN reported.The study looked at nearly four decades of satellite data from storms around the world. The researchers noticed that the likelihood of a storm reaching Category 3 or above, with sustained winds above 110 miles per hour, increased every decade, according to CNN."The change is about 8 percent per decade," James Kossin, author of the study, told CNN. "In other words, during its lifetime, a hurricane is 8 percent more likely to be a major hurricane in this decade compared to the last decade."The ramifications of their findings, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are far-reaching for coastal communities, insurers and policymakers, as increasingly severe hurricanes will usher in more damage, as The Washington Post reported. “Almost all of the damage and mortality caused by hurricanes is done by major hurricanes (category 3 to 5)," Kossin said, as CNN reported. "Increasing the likelihood of having a major hurricane will certainly increase this risk." The research data aligns with predictions that scientists have made about the effects of a warming planet. Hurricanes and typhoons gain strength from warm ocean waters and water vapor in the air, among other factors, according to The Washington Post.

    Climate Change: Hurricanes Getting Stronger; Cyclone Amphan Pummels Bengal - Monday the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science published a study, Global increase in major tropical cyclone exceedance probability over the past four decades. As the Washington Post tells the story in The strongest, most dangerous hurricanes are now far more likely because of climate change, study shows: A new study provides observational evidence that the odds of major hurricanes around the world — Category 3, 4 and 5 storms — are increasing because of human-caused global warming. The implications of this finding, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are far-reaching for coastal residents, insurers and policymakers, as the most intense hurricanes cause the most damage.The study, by a group of researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, builds on previous research that found a trend, though not a statistically robust one, toward stronger tropical cyclones.Tropical cyclones are a category of storms including hurricanes and typhoons worldwide. The findings are consistent with what scientists expect to happen as the world warms, given that hurricanes get their energy from warm ocean waters and water vapor in the air, among other factors.And as I write this, right on schedule, cyclone Amphan. is pumelling the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, and Bangladesh. This is the biggest storm of its type in more than a decade (see Cyclone Amphan live updates: Storm nears West Bengal’s Digha, landfall to start from 4pm onwards). Although it has weakened in classification  since Monday evening, this is still an extremely severe cyclonic storm.The storm has recently made landfall at Digha, in West Bengal, and rain and wind are expected to continue through at least tomorrow. Last year, both Bangladesh and India had success in evacuating vulnerable people who were in the path of another serious storm, cyclone Fani,  and  leading them to shelters, saving many lives, and registering mere dozens of  casualties,  Although people didn’t die in multitudes, there was nonetheless considerable damage:  buildings, power stations, water systems, foliage, and wildlife  (see Climate Change: The Wrath of Cyclone Fani; and More Mangroves: Protecting Tropical Coastal Areas from Cyclone Damage). This year, more than three million in the path of Amphan have been evacuated. Yet there are complications compared to last year.This storm arrives as India has just begun phase 4 of its national COVID-19 lockdown. So far, India has stemmed the catastrophe that many had feared would overwhelm its health care system and has recorded far fewer deaths and infections than either the U.S. or the U.K., despite its much larger population.Many storm shelters had been temporarily converted to COVID-10 quarantine centers. Authorities are scrambling to find new shelters, and many people are refusing to go to facilities that until recently had served as quarantine centers, even though they have ostensibly been cleaned. Shelters will no doubt be found and used, yet it is difficult to maintain social distancing in such facilities.

    Super-cyclone Amphan hits coast of India and Bangladesh  -- The Bay of Bengal’s fiercest storm this century, super-cyclone Amphan, slammed into the coast of eastern India and Bangladesh on Wednesday afternoon, bringing heavy gales and the threat of deadly storm surges and flooding. The super-cyclone made landfall at 4pm local time with winds of about 120mph (190km/h), causing storm surges of up to 5 metres (17ft), before moving northwards towards Kolkata, one of India’s biggest cities. The first five deaths from the cyclone – three in the Indian state of West Bengal and two in neighbouring Bangladesh, were reported on Wednesday afternoon. More than 2 million people were evacuated from their homes in Bangladesh, and a further half a million people in West Bengal and Odisha were moved from vulnerable low-lying areas to shelters. The Indian navy was put on high alert to be ready to offer humanitarian assistance to those caught up in Cyclone Amphan, which is only the second “super-cyclone” to form in the Bay of Bengal since records began. The director general of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), SN Pradhan, said the situation was “fast-transforming” as the cyclone moved across West Bengal and Odisha. “It is another form of new normal, we have to handle disasters considering the pandemic too. In view of the prevailing Covid-19 scenario, all teams are equipped with PPE [personal protective equipment],” said Pradhan. Surging waters broke through embankments surrounding an island in Bangladesh’s Noakhali district, destroying more than 500 homes, local official Rezaul Karim said. Embankments were also breached in West Bengal’s Sundarban delta, where weather authorities had said the surge could inundate land up to 15km inland. Evacuation efforts had been hampered by the need to follow strict physical distancing precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, with infection numbers still soaring in both countries. Many people had also refused to leave their homes and be moved to shelters for fear of contracting the virus. Authorities in both India and Bangladesh said they were using extra shelter space to reduce crowding, while also making face masks compulsory and providing extra soap and sanitiser. The Catholic Relief Services aid group said people faced “an impossible choice” of braving the cyclone by staying put, or risking coronavirus infection in a shelter.

    72 deaths reported due to cyclone: Mamata Banerjee : The Tribune India -- Extremely severe cyclone 'Amphan' has killed 72 persons, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday. The cyclone ravaged Kolkata and several parts of West Bengal as it left behind a trail of destruction by uprooting trees, destroying thousands of homes and swamping low-lying areas of the state."I would request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come and visit Cyclone Amphan-affected areas," the CM said, while announces Rs 2 lakh compensation for those killed in the cyclone. While a man and a woman were killed when trees came crashing down on them in North 24 Parganas district, a 13-year-old girl died in a similar incident in adjoining Howrah, officials said. Three persons were killed in Hooghly and North 24 Paraganas districts due to electrocution, they said.   Senior state officials said it was too early to estimate a toll on life or damage to property as the hardest hit areas were still not accessible. Packing heavy rain and winds with speeds of up to 190 kmph, extremely severe cyclone Amphan slammed Digha coast of West Bengal at 2.30 pm on Wednesday, triggering heavy rainfall and gustings in various parts of the state. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been monitoring the situation at state secretariat Nabanna since Tuesday night, said the impact of Amphan was "worse than coronavirus". The cyclone barrelled through coastal districts of North and South 24 Paraganas of Bengal, unleashing copious rain and windstorm, blowing away thatched houses, uprooting trees, electric poles and swamping low lying towns and villages, officials said. Strong winds with speed up to 125 kmph per hour upturned cars in Kolkata and felled trees and electricity poles blocking important roads and intersections.Reports arriving in Kolkata from North and South 24 Parganas and East Midnapore said roofs of thatched houses were blown away, electric poles got twisted and hundreds of trees broken and uprooted. There was a massive power cut in large parts of Kolkata, North 24 Paraganas and South Paraganas. The mobile and internet services were also down as the cyclone had damaged several communication towers. Streets and homes in low lying areas of Kolkata were swamped with rainwater. Portions of several dilapidated buildings came crashing down in Kolkata and other parts of the state. Embankments in Sundarban delta - a UNESCO site - were breached as the surge whipped up by the cyclone inundated several kilometers of the Island.

    Cyclone Amphan kills dozens, destroys homes in India, Bangladesh -  Al Jazeera - Amphan, the most powerful cyclone to strike eastern India and Bangladesh in 20 years, has killed at least 88 people, officials said, as rescue teams scoured devastated coastal villages, hampered by torn down power lines and flooding over large tracts of land. In the Indian state of West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday that at least 72 people had perished - most of them either electrocuted or killed by trees uprooted by winds that gusted up to 185km per hour (115 miles/h). In neighbouring Bangladesh, the official toll was put at 16. Mass evacuations organised by authorities before Cyclone Amphan made landfall undoubtedly saved countless lives, but the full extent of the casualties and damage to property would only be known once communications were restored, officials said. Millions across India and Bangladesh were left without power. Residents in the Indian city of Kolkata, the capital of the hard-hit West Bengal state, awoke to flooded streets with some cars window-deep in water. Television footage showed the airport inundated. "The impact of Amphan is worse than coronavirus," Banerjee told local media. In neighbouring Bangladesh, officials said 16 people had died, including a five-year-old boy and a 75-year-old man who were hit by falling trees, and a cyclone emergency volunteer who drowned. The United Nations office in Bangladesh estimates 10 million people were affected, and some 500,000 people may have lost their homes. Al Jazeera's Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from the capital Dhaka, said the cyclone "was one of the most intense in a decade" to hit Bangladesh, with authorities expecting losses of more than $1bn. "Five million people are without power. There has been heavy damage, especially in southwestern Bangladesh in the Sundarbans mangrove forest which got the direct hit ... thousands of houses have been washed away due to the tidal surge," Chowdhury said. "People are definitely going to lose croplands and fisheries. That area is known for shrimp culture and other aquaculture, so these people are going to lose their livelihood." Bangladesh officials said they were waiting for reports from the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its mangrove forest and population of endangered Bengal tigers.

    The Arctic Is Unraveling as a Massive Heat Wave Grips the Region - Freakishly warm air has billowed up from Siberia over the Arctic Ocean and parts of Greenland, and the heat will only intensify in the coming days. The warmth is helping to spread widespread wildfires and to kickstart ice melt season early, both ominous signs of what summer could hold.The Arctic has been on one recently. Russia had its hottest winter ever recorded, driven largely by Siberian heat. That heat hasn’t let up as the calendar turns to spring. In fact, it’s intensified and spread across the Arctic. Last month was the hottest April on record for the globe, driven by high Arctic temperatures thataveraged an astounding 17 degrees Fahrenheit (9.4 degrees Celsius) above normal, according to NASA data. Greenland is some of the world’s most-distressed real estate. In recent years, it’s been subject toNow, a May heat wave has pushed things into overdrive. Martin Stendel, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, told the Washington Post that the mid-May warmth is “quite extraordinary...there is no similar event so early in the season.”Siberia has been one of the blistering hot spots on the globe all year, and heat is pushing out of the region and traversing the Arctic. Plumes of abnormally warm air have snaked over the North Pole. Norway’s weather service is forecasting temperatures there will approach freezing in the coming days. That might not sound hot, but remember, this is the North Pole. The warmth could pose a threat to sea ice, which saw its fourth-lowest extent on record for April.Heat has also gripped portions of Greenland, where the ice sheet’s annual melt got started two weeks early. According the Polar Portal run by three Danish research institutions, including the Danish Meteorological Institute, the western and southern margins of the ice sheet saw abnormal melt over the weekend, and more warmth could spur more melt this week as well. The season is still early, and the spike in melt is relatively small compared to previous sudden upticks in melting (See: last summers’s record-setting meltdown).Still, early melt is never a good thing, and doubly so given this year’s lower-than-normal snowfall. That means more crusty, dirty snow on the surface could absorb more warmth in summer, something that helped spur record mass loss last year. And when there’s less mass added to the ice sheet, it can set up more mass loss year over year. The ice sheet is already losing six times more mass than it was in the 1980s, so this setup is not good!

    It Hit 80 Degrees in the Arctic This Week - This story will provide important context for the headline, and I encourage you to read it—but really, the headline tells you what you need to know: It was 80 degrees Fahrenheit above the Arctic Circle this week. A little farther south, in Siberia—you know, the region of world we reference when we want to connote something cold—it was 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Arctic sea ice in the neighboring Kara Sea took the deepest May nose dive ever recorded. Oh, and random swaths of the region are on fire. Things are extremely wrong. Let’s start with the heat above Arctic Circle. Mika Rantanen, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, flagged a map showing blistering heat across western Siberia. The region has been the epicenter of an explosive heat wave that has rippled across the Arctic this week. Models forecast temperatures there will be as much as 36 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for this time of year. The heat could break a bit by the middle of next week, but widespread warmth will continue to grip the region. On land, it means wildfires continue to spread. Pierre Markuse, a satellite monitoring expert, has kept an eye on the series of increasingly odd fires above the Arctic Circle, a place known more for ice than fire. Most of the blazes he’s documented are in the eastern portion of Siberia, which also dealt with its fair share of heat all year in addition to low snowpack. Seeing fires burn next to braided rivers and large patches of unmelted snow is truly a mood for our current era of climate destabilization. These impacts are the latest in a litany of climate horrors for the Arctic as a whole. Last summer, it reached nearly 95 degrees Fahrenheit above the Arctic Circle in Sweden. The same summer, the mercury hit 70 degrees Fahrenheit at the northernmost settlement on the planet. Greenland also melted and burned. That’s just some of what happened last year. I could list the same for 2018. And 2017. And you get the point.

    Earth's Magnetic Field Mysteriously Weakening In Specific Locations, Throwing Off Satellites And Spacecraft - The Earth's magnetic field, which protects life on our planet by blocking the majority of harmful solar radiation, is mysteriously weakening in specific locations. Over the last two centuries, it has lost nearly 10% of its strength, leading some to speculate that a multi-century pole reversal has begun. What's more, scientists have identified a large, localized region of weakness extending from Africa to South America, along with a second 'center of minimum intensity' southwest of Africa - both of which are allowing charged particles from the cosmos to penetrate lower altitudes of the atmosphere - throwing off satellites flying in low-Earth orbit, according to Sky.Known as the South Atlantic Anomaly, the field strength in this area has rapidly shrunk over the past 50 years just as the area itself has grown and moved westward.Over the past five years a second centre of minimum intensity has developed southwest of Africa, which researchers believe indicates the anomaly could split into two separate cells. -SkyAccording to scientists from the Swarm Data Innovation and Science Cluster (DISC) at the European Space Agency (ESA), measurements from their 'swarm satellite constellation' have shed tremendous light on the second anomaly.In fact, the anomaly had puzzled ESA researchers as their Swarm satellites would sometimes 'black out' when flying through the affected region. Three years ago, they observed a link between the blackouts and Ionospheric thunderstorms."The new, eastern minimum of the South Atlantic Anomaly has appeared over the last decade and in recent years is developing vigorously," said Dr. Jurgen Matzka of the German Research Center for Geosciences. "We are very lucky to have the Swarm satellites in orbit to investigate the development of the South Atlantic Anomaly. The challenge now is to understand the processes in Earth's core driving these changes."If this is the beginning of a pole reversal - which happens roughly every quarter-million years, it would result in multiple north and south magnetic poles all around the globe during the multi-century phenomenon."Such events h ave occurred many times throughout the planet's history," said ESA, adding "we are long overdue by the average rate at which these reversals take place (roughly every 250,000 years)"

    Coronavirus Lockdowns Led to Record 17% Emissions Drop - The lockdowns imposed around the globe in response to the coronavirus pandemic led to a record drop in greenhouse gas emissions, according to research published in Nature Climate Change Tuesday. The researchers found that daily emissions fell by 17 percent during the height of quarantine measures in early April when compared with the same time in 2019, the University of East Anglia (UEA) reported in a press release. "Globally, we haven't seen a drop this big ever, and at the yearly level, you would have to go back to World War II to see such a big drop in emissions," UEA professor of climate change science and lead author Corinne Le Quéré told NBC News. "But this is not the way to tackle climate change — it's not going to happen by forcing behavior changes on people. We need to tackle it by helping people move to more sustainable ways of living."The research is the first major study of emissions this year, according to The Guardian, though the International Energy Agency projected a record 8 percent decline in emissions for 2020. Because it is not possible to measure the change in carbon dioxide emission directly, since the gas remains in the atmosphere for such a long time, researchers instead relied on data for on-the-ground indicators like traffic, energy usage, flights and manufacturing, Wired explained.That data also revealed the major drivers of the emissions decline, the UEA press release explained. The drop in ground transport, such as cars, was responsible for 43 percent of the decline, while declines in industry and power together accounted for another 43 percent. While air travel was majorly impacted by the pandemic, it only accounted for 10 percent of the emissions drop because it is only responsible for three percent of emissions overall.The data was gathered from 69 countries responsible for 97 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. At the height of the global response, areas responsible for 89 percent of emissions were under some kind of lockdown. On average, countries saw their emissions fall 26 percent. In the U.S. and the UK, emissions fell by a third, Wired reported. While these numbers are dramatic, they also illustrate the challenges involved in lowering emissions enough to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. "This is a really big fall, but at the same time, 83% of global emissions are left, which shows how difficult it is to reduce emissions with changes in behaviour," Le Quéré told The Guardian. She also pointed out to Wired that the 17 percent drop at the height of confinement measures only returned emissions to 2006 levels. "So this is really showing just how much emissions are increasing through time every year. This incredible drop in emissions only takes us back 14 years," she told Wired.  If some restrictions are in place all year, they will decline by seven percent. That is around the yearly decline needed to meet the Paris agreement climate goals of limiting global warming to "well below" two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. "We would have to have the same speed of reduction that's happening in 2020 every year for the next decade,"

    Lockdowns lead to drastic fall in carbon emissions, but the effect could be temporary - The coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns have resulted in a significant fall in worldwide carbon emissions, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The analysis was undertaken by scientists from around the world and led by Corinne Le Quéré, from the University of East Anglia (UEA), in the U.K. The research, published Tuesday, found that compared to mean daily levels in 2019, daily emissions declined by 17% at the beginning of April, when confinement measures were at their peak. The fall in emissions is an estimate based on a combination of policy, activity and energy data. The researchers estimated that the total fall in emissions around the world, from January until the end of April, was 1,048 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2). China experienced the biggest fall, with a drop of 242 MtCO2, while the U.S. saw a decline of 207 MtCO2. "Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions," Le Quéré, who is professor of climate change science at UEA, said in a statement. "These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary though, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport, or energy systems. The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post COVID-19 will influence the global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come." The pandemic has seen some cities launch initiatives aimed at changing the way people travel, which could in turn have an impact on emissions. Authorities in London, for example, are set to make some streets in the U.K. capital car-free zones. They have already widened sidewalks and introduced temporary cycle lanes in a bid to encourage people to move around on foot or by bike, and avoid public transport. Some feel that systemic change is needed in order to move the planet to a more sustainable footing, however. "This huge drop in carbon emissions is due to the global lockdown, but as the world emerges from this terrible pandemic avoiding catastrophic climate change must be at the top of the agenda," Jenny Bates, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, said in a statement reacting to the study in Nature Climate Change. "We must make sure that our recent experience of better air quality, lower carbon emissions and simple things like hearing birdsong are prioritised post-lockdown by building the next normal around active travel, access to nature, and ending our reliance on fossil fuels," Bates added.

     Ohio’s governor listened to the science on coronavirus. Why not climate change? | Grist - In his first State of the State address, a little over a year ago, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine took time out to recognize his “amazing” health and human services team, asking them to stand in the House Chamber of the Statehouse for applause. That team — led by Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health — has steered the Republican governor’s efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus and prevent fatalities. In mid-March, before Ohio even had its first confirmed case of COVID-19, DeWine closed K-12 schools ahead of any other governor in the country, limited mass gatherings, and postponed the state’s March 17 primary election. Today, Ohio has about 29,000 total coronavirus cases and over 1,700 related deaths, though Acton said Ohio “flattened the curve” of peak cases in early April. “I’ve been very plain to the people of Ohio,” DeWine said during a May 12 audio panel hosted by the New York Times. “They’ve done a good job in keeping distance, by and large, but we have to continue to do that. The virus is still very much out there. It’s very tough, it’s very lethal, it spreads very, very well.” DeWine, 73, has served in Ohio politics for over four decades, most recently as Ohio’s attorney general. A self-described “conservative Republican,” he took the governor’s office in January 2019. About 86 percent of adults in Ohio said they approve of how DeWine has handled the crisis, the highest rating for any governor, according to a recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll. Overall, DeWine’s response has won over 90 percent of Ohio’s Democrats and 84 percent of its Republican constituents. Now, as Republican legislators and President Donald Trump pressure states to reopen their economies —and pockets of mask-less protestors urge the governor to lift restrictions while disparaging state health experts — DeWine has maintained a cautious approach. He has opened sectors slowly and requires facilities to meet safety protocols, even as the state shifts from stay-at-home orders to “strong recommendations,” as he put it. Yet while DeWine has been willing to buck party politics and uphold scientific evidence on coronavirus, his performance on other health-related issues — namely, climate change and the environment — has been less consistent. Green groups have applauded him for his efforts to curb Lake Erie’s toxic algal blooms, which contaminate drinking water and harm human health. But they have derided him for signing a sweeping rollback of Ohio’s clean energy policies, a measurecritics called the “worst” anti-renewables law to pass in any state.

    Microsoft’s ambitious climate goal forgets about its oil contracts Earlier this year, Microsoft announced a bold new climate goal: By 2030, the company aims to be “carbon negative,” meaning it will be pulling more carbon dioxide out of the air than it emits. Awkwardly, the same week that Microsoft made its announcement, it was sponsoring an oil conference in Saudi Arabia. Now, areport published by Greenpeace is giving us our first quantitative indication of how Microsoft’s business with the oil industry could inflate its climate impact and undermine its efforts to achieve carbon negativity.Published Tuesday, the Greenpeace report explores how the three biggest cloud computing companies — Amazon, Microsoft, and Google — are helping the fossil fuel industry extract, process, and distribute oil and gas more quickly and cheaply, by furnishing the industry with cloud hosting services, custom artificial intelligence software, and machine learning tools. Of the three, Microsoft “appears to have the most” oil-slicked contracts, per Greenpeace. And while much about the partnerships remains opaque, Greenpeace’s report shows that a single collaboration with ExxonMobil has the potential to inflate Microsoft’s yearly carbon footprint by 21 percent.“The oil and gas industry accounts for billions of dollars in profits for big tech companies, yet the carbon emissions related to these contracts are not reflected in any of the tech companies’ published footprint data,” said Elizabeth Jardim, a senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace and co-author of the report, in a statement. Indeed, partnerships with the fossil fuel industry to accelerate oil extraction — which Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have all come under fire for in recent years — point to a critical gap in today’s corporate emissions reporting schemes.

     Exxon Sued Again for 'Misleading' Advertising | DeSmog - ExxonMobil is facing yet another lawsuit challenging the corporation’s allegedly deceptive behavior related to climate change. The latest suit, filed May 15 in the D.C. Superior Court, claims the oil major is misleading consumers with “false and deceptive” advertising about its investments in “clean” fuels and technology.  The Washington, D.C.-based environmental nonprofit Beyond Pesticides alleges that Exxon’s deceptive marketing and advertising violates the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act. According to the organization, Exxon portrays itself as an environmentally friendly company in ads without revealing the true extent of its business that remains overwhelmingly invested in exploiting fossil fuels to the detriment of the environment and the climate.  “ExxonMobil’s advertising and marketing mislead the public by presenting ExxonMobil’s clean energy activities as a significant proportion of its overall business,” the complaint states. “In contrast to ExxonMobil’s representations, its investments and activities in clean energy constitute only a very small percentage of its total business, the majority of which continues to be based in traditional fossil fuels and in petrochemicals, including those used in environmentally harmful pesticides.” The lawsuit points to Exxon’s own numbers depicting the company’s investments in cleaner alternatives and compares them with the company’s total capital expenditures.  For example, over the last 20 years Exxon says it invested over $9 billion in what it calls “lower-emission solutions,” while its total capital expenditures during that time were over $465 billion. That equates to less than 2 percent spending on these technologies in the past two decades. Another figure Exxon touts is investing up to $100 million in lower-emissions technologies over 10 years, or an average of $10 million a year. This comes out to annual investments of only 0.03 percent of the company’s total annual spending, which in 2019 was $31.1 billion. “Nowhere in its advertisements touting clean energy production does ExxonMobil state what percentage of the company’s investment is in oil and gas compared to how much is invested in clean energy,” the complaint argues.

    Here Are the Corporate Lobbyists on the DNC Committee That Blocked the Climate Debate – Sludge - Last August, the normally-obscure summer meetings of the Democratic National Committee were flooded with hundreds of youth activists and environmental advocates urging a presidential debate focused on the global climate crisis.  At the time, 64% of Democrats supported a climate-focused debate, first requested in June by then-candidate Washington Gov. Jay Inslee—as did 14 other presidential candidates, including Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. But despite the energy of the protestors and the support of the candidates themselves, the DNC Resolutions Committee voted 17-8 on Aug. 22, 2019 against a resolution led by Washington’s Tina Podlodowski calling on Tom Perez to reverse his ban on a climate debate. That national DNC members would vote down a climate-focused debate backed by party members, grassroots activists, and the presidential campaigns themselves is a demonstration of the power that DNC Chair Tom Perez has over party rules. The Resolutions Committee members, who are the first gatekeepers in the process for adopting policy positions, are largely appointed by the chair, and operate without public record-keeping for accountability. Perez had come out against amending the rules to allow for a climate debate in a June blog post, although he later unilaterally changed other sanctioned debate qualifications, such as the individual donor threshold. At the time of the climate protests, Sludge reported the DNC was accepting large donations from fossil fuel executives, placing the party outside of the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge endorsed by every leading Democratic presidential candidate.Who, then, are the DNC members of the Resolutions Committee who first voted against recommending a climate debate?  The 28-member Resolutions Committee contains at least five members with backgrounds in advancing corporate interests: three current corporate lobbyists, one of them a co-chair of the committee and another a News Corp lobbyist put forward by Tom Perez; one past electric utility lobbyist and drug industry consultant, who established a Democratic precedent of corporate PAC fundraising; and one principal with a consulting firm whose current clients include large corporations and whose past clients include BP. The committee also includes Symone Sanders, a senior advisor for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.  Crucially, at least 13 of the standing committee’s 28 members are at-large DNC members, which means they were put forward as a slate by Perez and approved by a voice vote, not individually elected. Of these 13, ten committee members voted against a climate-focused debate when the matter was voted on by the full DNC membership, as tracked by a publicly-viewable spreadsheet released by Michael Kapp, a pro-transparency DNC member from California, as well as Kenji Yamada, also from California.

    Trump admin slaps solar, wind operators with retroactive rent bills - (Reuters) - The Trump administration has ended a two-year rent holiday for solar and wind projects operating on federal lands, handing them whopping retroactive bills at a time the industry is struggling with the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, according to company officials. The move represents a multi-million-dollar hit to an industry that has already seen installation projects canceled or delayed by the global health crisis, which has cut investment and dimmed the demand outlook for power. It also clashes with broader government efforts in the United States to shield companies from the worst of the economic turmoil through federal loans, waived fees, tax breaks and trimmed regulatory enforcement. U.S. power plant owner Avangrid Inc, majority owned by Spain’s Iberdrola, received a bill for more than $3 million for two years of rent on its 131-megawatt Tule wind project on federal land near San Diego, according to spokesman Paul Copleman. Officials at two other renewable projects also confirmed they had received retroactive rent bills from the federal government but asked not to be named discussing the issue as the industry continues to lobby the government for support to weather the downturn. Some 96 utility-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects operate on lands run by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, according to The Wilderness Society and Yale Center for Business and the Environment. The bills came as a surprise, said Shannon Eddy, executive director of the Large-scale Solar Association, a trade group for owners of big solar farms. But she said some companies had likely set funds aside in case the bills ever came.

    Coronavirus Wipes Out 5 Years of US Solar Job Growth  The U.S. solar sector has lost 65,000 jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis, erasing five years of job gains, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. According to a new SEIA analysis, the American solar industry now employs around 188,000 people, down from 250,000 at the beginning of the year. Many of those jobs could come back in an economic rebound. Still, it's a stark reversal for what had been one of the country’s fastest-growing industries, forecast by SEIA to reach more than 300,000 jobs by June of this year before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. The solar industry is now losing jobs at a faster rate than the broader American economy, SEIA says. Federal relief looks uncertain. While SEIA doesn’t directly track jobs across its member companies, surveys of members ranging from nationwide solar developers to smaller regional installers back up the figures, said Dan Whitten, SEIA's vice president of public affairs. The survey revealed “tens of thousands of jobs lost, and a lot of jobs that were furloughed [or] people’s hours being cut back,” he said. > Josh Lutton, president of Illinois-based solar installer Certasun, said the state’s March 20 stay-at-home order forced his company into a three-week hiatus, and since then, business has been slow at what is usually the busiest time of the year. “We didn’t generate revenue for three weeks when we weren’t installing,” Lutton told GTM. Certasun's roughly 50 employees now follow social distancing and workplace hygiene guidelines, but municipalities have halted permits and inspections. Leads for new customers have dropped, and some customers are canceling their plans. “They’re saying, 'I just lost my job, I’m worried about losing my job, or I lost a lot of money in the stock market and I want to keep my powder dry,'" Lutton said. Residential and commercial solar sectors hit hardest SEIA’s analysis aligns with federal data on job losses since the coronavirus pandemic forced large-scale stay-at-home orders and business closures across the country. Last week, BW Research Partnership reported that nearly 600,000 U.S. clean energy workers filed for unemployment benefits in March and April. Of those, around 96,000 were working in renewable energy, primarily wind and solar power, with solar likely representing two-thirds of that figure, Whitten said. Solar isn’t the hardest hit of the clean energy sectors — that unfortunate distinction goes to the energy efficiency sector, which employs more people, many of them in jobs that require being able to access homes and businesses. But solar is suffering greater job losses than other sectors such as electric vehicle manufacturing or power grid infrastructure.

    Daytime electricity demand in New York City most affected by COVID-19 mitigation actions -Actions to mitigate the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have caused daily weekday electricity demand in New York City to decrease by 16% in April compared with expected demand, after accounting for seasonal temperature changes. However, decreases in the city’s electricity demand have not occurred uniformly across the day. The largest differences between actual and expected demand have been during daytime weekday hours when many schools and businesses that normally would have been open are now closed.The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Hourly Electric Grid Monitor provides hourly electricity demand data from the 64 balancing authorities in the contiguous United States and subregional demand for select balancing authorities. The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) operates the electric grid serving New York state and provides demand for its subregions, including New York City, which is also called NYISO Zone J.By combining this data with hourly temperature data available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, EIA compared the electricity demand of every hour of the day for all weekdays in 2020 through May 1 with the average demand of all instances of the same hour of the day with the same hourly temperature (referred to as temperature-comparable demand) from January through June 2019. Weekends and holidays were excluded.For New York City, the largest difference in electricity demand in April 2020 compared with 2019 temperature-comparable demand was during weekday mornings from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. when electricity demand was 22% lower than expected in those hours. For midday, from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., the average percentage decrease was about 20%. The deviation from temperature-comparable demand gradually decreased in the evening hours, down to 10% by midnight. Overnight differences were lower: from midnight to 4:00 a.m., the deviation from temperature-comparable demand was lowest, averaging about 7%. Changes to demand are less pronounced between midnight and 4:00 a.m. because most people are normally asleep during this time and many nonessential businesses that have beenordered closed as part of COVID-19 mitigation actions are also normally closed during these early morning hours.

    ELECTRICITY: FERC market order to cost consumers billions — report -- Tuesday, May 19, 2020 -- A contentious order issued last year by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rankled renewable power proponents, posed hurdles for regional clean energy objectives and driven states to consider exiting the nation's largest energy capacity market.

    Details released of a huge offshore wind turbine that can power 18,000 homes per year -- Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE) has released details of a 14-megawatt (MW) offshore wind turbine, in the latest example of how technology in the sector is increasing in scale. With 108-meter-long blades and a rotor diameter of 222 meters, the dimensions of the SG 14-222 DD turbine are significant. In a statement Tuesday, SGRE said that one turbine would be able to power roughly 18,000 average European households annually, while its capacity can also be boosted to 15 MW if needed. A prototype of the turbine is set to be ready by 2021, and it's expected to be commercially available in 2024. As technology has developed over the last few years, the size of wind turbines has increased. Last December, for example, Dutch utility Eneco started to purchase power produced by the prototype of GE Renewable Energy's Haliade-X 12 MW wind turbine. That turbine has a capacity of 12 MW, a height of 260 meters and a blade length of 107 meters. The announcement of Siemens Gamesa's new turbine plans comes against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, which is impacting renewable energy companies around the world. Earlier this month, the European company said Covid-19 had a "direct negative impact" of 56 million euros ($61 million) on its profitability between January and March. This, it added, was equivalent to 2.5% of revenues during the quarter. The pandemic has, in some parts of the world, altered the sources used to power society. At the end of April, for instance, it was announced that a new record had been set for coal-free electricity generation in Great Britain, with a combination of factors — including coronavirus-related lockdown measures — playing a role. On Tuesday, the CEO of another major wind turbine manufacturer, Danish firm Vestas, sought to emphasize the importance of renewable energy in the years and months ahead. "I think we have actually, throughout this crisis, also shown to all society that renewables can be trusted," Henrik Andersen said

     Tesla request reveals deep divide among agencies over battery power - A simmering dispute between the state’s electric grid manager and the Public Utility Commission has burst into view over a request by Tesla to make it easier to develop battery storage systems in Texas.The electric carmaker’s request before a committee of Electric Reliability Council of Texas, wouldn’t normally attract much attention. But Texas regulators and ERCOT have been struggling for more than two years over how to accommodate developing battery storage technology that experts predict could accelerate demand for renewable energy sources and ultimately reduce electricity prices.Large batteries can be charged from solar units or other forms of energy at night when power is cheapest and the stored energy sold when prices peak during midday. But Texas has been slow to adopt the technology, treating battery storage as a form of power generation and retail consumption with big cooling systems instead of just one integrated network.One Texas regulator said he’s embarrassed by the time it has taken for the state to nimbly embrace new technology. This is the kind of thing Texas should be able to adopt to,” Commissioner Arthur C. D’Andrea said. “When there is a new technology, a new way of doing things, we embrace it and pull it into the market and we make it work.”Integrated battery storage systems — essentially self-contained ready-to-go units that sit on concrete slabs — are becoming more sophisticated sources of low-cost and resilient power for manufacturing sites, office buildings and homes. They also are competing with fossil-fuel and other sources of electricity and and the retail providers that sell it.Tesla filed an urgent request last month with ERCOT, asking the grid manager to make it clear that integrated battery systems are considered wholesale storage. Without that clarity, battery developers are prevented from using advanced and more efficient technology to provide new capacity to the ERCOT system as early as next year, according to Tesla’s application.The staff of the Public Utility Commission took the unusual step of filing comments in Tesla’s ERCOT case, saying Texas already has rules in place to accommodate new integrated battery technology. But ERCOT questioned the validity of the comments because staff members didn’t sign their individual names to the comments, commission Chairman DeAnn Walker said during a recent public meeting.

    In the Shadows of America’s Smokestacks, Virus Is One More Deadly Risk -   This isn’t the first time Vicki Dobbins’s town has been forced to shelter in place.Last year, the Marathon Petroleum refinery that looms over her neighborhood near Detroit emitted a pungent gas, causing nausea and dizziness among neighbors and prompting health officials to warn people to stay inside. When a stay-at-home advisory returned in March, this time for the coronavirus, “it was just devastating,” Ms. Dobbins said.Ms. Dobbins, who is 76, later contracted Covid-19, and spent two weeks on oxygen in intensive care. Now she has a question. “Do the polluters in our area make us more susceptible to asthma, bronchitis, heart failure, cancers?” she asked. “Is the virus just going to be one of the ones added to that list?”Nationwide, low-income communities of color like hers, River Rouge, Mich., are exposed to significantly higher levels of pollution, studies have found, and also see higher levels of lung disease and other ailments. Now, scientists are racing to understand if long-term exposure to air pollution plays a role in the coronavirus crisis, particularly since minorities are disproportionately dying.The science is preliminary — the virus, being so new, remains poorly understood — though researchers are finding reason to look closely. People with two conditions tied to air pollution,inflammatory lung disease and coronary heart disease, face a higher risk for severe Covid-19, preliminary research has shown. Last month, work by Harvard specialists found that coronavirus patients in areas with historically heavy air pollution are more likely to die than patients elsewhere.And while it’s impossible to say with certainty that any one person was made more vulnerable to the virus because of pollution, earlier studies of other respiratory diseases have established thatlong-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of those illness.“The system has allowed, basically, low-income people and people of color to have to breathe the pollution,” said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, an epidemiologist and Detroit’s former health director.The tensions are playing out in minority communities across the country that live with industrial air pollution and the health risks that come with it. A neighborhood in Houston, Texas, for instance, that is home not only to factories making plastics materials used in medical masks, but also incinerators that burn medical waste. A community outside San Francisco near the state’s largest refinery but far from most hospitals. And the county where Ms. Dobbins lives, which has seen more Covid-19 deaths than almost any other outside of New York state.

    Though Lightfoot halted demolition at shuttered Little Village coal plant, activists fear it’s still imminent -  Days after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that another demolition at a shuttered coal-fired plant in Little Village would temporarily be halted, a group of community activists on Sunday pushed to prevent the building from coming down “until COVID-19 passes.” Lightfoot’s administration gave the go-ahead Thursday to demolish a “turbine structure” at the site of the former Crawford power plant. But when protesters showed up at Lightfoot’s Logan Square home that night, she swiftly called off the demolition and said it “will not move forward for the next several days.” However, activist Raul Montes Jr. fears the demolition is still imminent. Montes and Blue Island Mayor Domingo Vargas led a news conference Sunday near the site and pushed for a moratorium on any demolitions at the site until October. They were joined by Kenneth Klein, a Little Village resident who believes he developed lung cancer and COPD from living near the plant. “People were not getting notice of the demolition that was going to occur. There’s no transparency, and we just feel that we want justice for this. We’ve gone through enough already” The push for added transparency comes after an April 11 smokestack implosion at the site sent a cloud of dust billowing through Little Village. Local Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) has also voiced his opposition to any immediate demolition work and has called for work crews to leave the site. Montes worries the dust from the blast exacerbated the conditions of individuals like Klein and others with respiratory illnesses, who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19. In the wake of the debacle in April, Lightfoot blamed Hilco Redevelopment Partners, slapped the firm with $68,000 in fines and vowed to overhaul a flawed city regulatory system that allowed it to happen. She also ordered a six-month moratorium on implosions at the site — a ban that wouldn’t have affected the recently delayed demolition. Nevertheless, Montes believes the city’s actions were nothing more than “a slap on the wrist to a company that has a lot of money.” Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has sued Hilco, MCM Management Corp. and Controlled Demolition Inc. for violating state pollution laws. In reversing course last week, Lightfoot vowed to engage with the local community to discuss “the structurally dangerous condition of that small building.” But as far as Montes can tell, that hasn’t happened, and he now fears that Lightfoot will simply “go ahead with the demolition” in the coming days.

    Mayor Lori Lightfoot admits her people ‘should have done a better job’ telling Little Village residents about second demolition -  Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged Monday her administration “should have done a better job” of communicating with Little Village residents but stood her ground on the need for yet another demolition on the site of a shuttered coal-fired power plant. In fact, the mayor argued the turbine building is in such imminent danger of collapsing, the northbound lanes of Pulaski Road are being shut down to protect passing motorists. “The building that we’re talking about — not the large one — is a risk. It is unsafe. It is structurally compromised,” Lightfoot said, adding that she also worries that while the city and community keep talking, something could happen on site that poses “a danger to the workers that are there.” Also, “it’s right up against Pulaski” Road, the mayor said. “So we’re taking the steps to shut down the northbound lanes, which are at the eastern edge of the site, for safety. This is not a nicety. This is a building and buildings that are structurally unsound.” Lightfoot said she went out to the site Friday night to “walk the grounds again” and see the perilous conditions with her own eyes. “It’s not safe for anybody. So while we absolutely must continue to educate residents and demonstrate to them — visually as well as orally — what the dangers are, those buildings must come down. We’re gonna do it step by step. But we have to bring them down,” she said, refusing to say when the demolition would take place.

     ENERGY TRANSITIONS: Coal plants disappear in Va. But CO2 is rising -- The switch from coal to gas has driven down U.S. electricity emissions over the last decade. But the opposite has happened in Virginia, where a massive build-out of natural gas plants has negated CO2 reductions associated with coal retirements. Virginia's carbon dioxide emissions were higher in 2019 than they were in 2009, according to an E&E News review of EPA emissions data. Those figures are remarkable given the collapse of coal in Virginia, where the fuel fell from being used in about 43% of the state's power generation in 2008 to less than 10% last year. The numbers underscore a growing climate challenge for the United States: As the U.S. coal fleet shrinks, long-lived gas plants are filling the void in ways that might fail to result in large reductions of CO2. Virginia is a case in point. The state passed a law this year requiring all but two of its six remaining coal plants to close by 2024. But their retirement will provide limited emissions reductions. Virginia coal plants released less than 5 million tons of carbon last year, down from 25 million tons in 2009. Gas emissions, meanwhile, soared from roughly 4 million tons a decade ago to almost 25 million tons in 2019, accounting for about 80% of all power sector emissions in Virginia. Yet the Old Dominion also shows why greening the power sector is so hard. Gas now generates more than half the state's electricity, the most of any fuel. Many grid experts say gas will likely back up renewable energy sources for years to come. At the same time, they note that power companies will need to confront emissions from gas plants if they hope to achieve the greenhouse gas reductions scientists say are needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

    Court Tells Federal Agencies To Review Coal Mining Impacts On Endangered Species - A federal court on Friday approved a deal that requires two federal agencies to review the environmental impacts of coal mining on endangered species, including West Virginia's Guyandotte River crayfish. Under the agreement, the Office of Surface Mining — the agency that regulates mountaintop coal mining — and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — the agency that protects endangered species — will review a 1996 document or “biological opinion,” that lays out how coal mining is likely to affect endangered species or their habitat. The deal was the result of a lawsuit filed last year by environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Sierra Club and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. They argued the endangered Guyandotte River crayfish in West Virginia was at risk because the federal government was using outdated guidelines that failed to ensure that mining does not jeopardize endangered species. Studies have shown that air and water pollution from coal mining can harm birds, fish, crayfish, insects and freshwater mussels, as well as nearby communities. The Fish and Wildlife Service has until Oct. 16 to review the biological opinion and submit it to the Office of Surface Mining. In a press release announcing the decision, conservation groups called the court deal a win. “For West Virginia to stay ‘wild and wonderful,’ as residents like to describe their state, we have to protect our animals from extinction, so it’s important that federal agencies actually do their job and take steps to make that happen,” said Jim Kotcon, conservation chair of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club. The review could affect a number of endangered species impacted by coal mining nationwide, although under the court-approved deal the agencies must also adopt specific new guidance to prevent harm to the Guyandotte River crayfish. In January, the Fish and Wildlife service proposed designating 445 miles of streams in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia as “critical habitat” for the Guyandotte River crayfish and Big Sandy crayfish.

    Motion to dismiss lawsuit against Justice-owned companies denied  --An effort by several companies owned by Gov. Jim Justice to dismiss a lawsuit alleging they owe a Canadian steel manufacturer millions of dollars was denied by a federal judge Monday.U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres denied the motion to dismiss filed by attorneys for Nevada Holdings Inc., previously known as Southern Coal Sales Corp., in a lawsuit brought in the U.S. District Court for Southern New York by Essar Steel Algoma Inc.Southern Coal Sales, one of more than 100 companies owned by Justice and managed by his son, Jay Justice, filed the motion to dismiss on June 24, 2019, after Algoma filed a second amended complaint adding 12 other Justice-owned companies to the lawsuit alleging that these companies were alter egos for Southern Coal Sales.“(Algoma) claims that Southern Coal is an undercapitalized sister entity to, or a subsidiary of, the Justice parties, ‘which exert complete dominion and control over and therefore operate over Southern Coal as its instrumentalities and alter egos,'” Torres wrote in her decision. “According to (Algoma), Southern Coal was undercapitalized in part because the Justice parties ‘siphon[ed] money from Southern Coal,’ leaving it ‘unable to perform its contractual obligations,’ and rendering Southern Coal “‘judgment-proof.'”Algoma, the second largest steel manufacturer in Canada, filed suit against Southern Coal in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Vermont, then the case was transferred to the U.S. District Court in New York on Sept. 19, 2017. Algoma is asking for a judgment of $6.7 million.The company alleges Southern Coal Sales violated an agreement to supply 780,000 tons of coal, amounting to more than half of Algoma’s annual needs.

    Federal Judge Threatens Jail Time as Coal Company Flouts Court Orders - Coal company American Resources Corporation, which owns mines in Kentucky and West Virginia, is facing sanctions after failing to comply with a bankruptcy court’s orders, even after the company received $2.7 million in government aid meant for companies harmed by the coronavirus pandemic. Indiana-based ARC purchased coal mines and equipment from bankrupt coal company Cambrian for $1 last September. The purchase came with a heavy debt burden that included environmental reclamation obligations, employee wages and health care costs, and utility bills. Almost immediately, ARC failed to pay those expenses, leading Eastern Kentucky federal bankruptcy court Chief Judge Gregory Schaaf to impose monetary sanctions against the company. Lack of payment to employees at ARC subsidiary Quest Energy led some employees to protest this January by blocking a Pike County, Kentucky railroad. “It’s hard to go to work between two rocks and not get paid for it,” a Quest miner who asked to be kept anonymous said at the time. “There’s men that’s getting their power bills cut off and men’s children starving.” “There’s some concern that this is not an inability to pay, but an unwillingness to pay,” said Cambrian attorney Patricia Burgess in a May 14 hearing. ARC received $2.7 million in loans from the federal government this April through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which was intended for small businesses. ARC attorney Billy Shelton told Schaaf the slump in energy usage brought on by coronavirus-related shutdowns had interfered with ARC’s ability to turn a profit off the newly acquired mines, but the judge said ARC’s failure to pay began long before the pandemic.

    LIPA officials planning to retire at least 1 power generating unit - The Long Island Power Authority, faced with coronavirus-impacted revenue declines and a growing surplus of power, plans to retire at least one large steam generating unit and will make a decision on which ones by year's end, officials said Monday. The decision to wind down a portion of the National Grid-owned fleet of old steam generators marks a major turn for LIPA as the state prepares for a carbon-free grid in coming decades and as LIPA seeks to renegotiate the tens of millions of dollars it pays in property taxes for the sites. LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone said the first retirement of 400 megawatts to 600 megawatts of generating capacity — the equivalent of one or two big steam-generating units — would be followed by additional retirements after 2024, when the first big offshore wind turbines are slated to be operating off the Long Island and Massachusetts coasts. Each of Long Island’s three large functioning steam-based power stations owned by National Grid consist of multiple generating units or plants, as well as some smaller so-called peaking units for high-demand summer use. The Northport power station, for example, has four larger steam-based units.

    Coal industry will never recover after coronavirus pandemic, say experts - The global coal industry will “never recover” from the Covid-19 pandemic, industry observers predict, because the crisis has proved renewable energy is cheaper for consumers and a safer bet for investors. A long-term shift away from dirty fossil fuels has accelerated during the lockdown, bringing forward power plant closures in several countries and providing new evidence that humanity’s coal use may finally have peaked after more than 200 years. That makes the worst-case climate scenarios less likely, because they are based on a continued expansion of coal for the rest of the century. Even before the pandemic, the industry was under pressure due to heightened climate activism, divestment campaigns and cheap alternatives. The lockdown has exposed its frailties even further, wiping billions from the market valuations of the world’s biggest coal miners. As demand for electricity has fallen, many utilities have cut back on coal first, because it is more expensive than gas, wind and solar. In the EU imports of coal for thermal power plants plunged by almost two-thirds in recent months to reach lows not seen in 30 years. The consequences have been felt around the world as well.  This week, a new report by the US Energy Information Administrationprojected the US would produce more electricity this year from renewables than from coal for the first time. Industry analysts predict coal’s share of US electricity generation could fall to just 10% in five years, down from 50% a decade ago. Despite Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to “dig coal”, there are now more job losses and closures in the industry than at any time since Eisenhower’s presidency 60 years ago. Among the latest has been Great River Energy’s plan to shut down a 1.1-gigawatt thermal plant in North Dakota and replace it with wind and gas. Records are falling thick and fast. By Friday, the UK national grid had not burned a single lump of coal for 35 days, the longest uninterrupted period since the start of the industrial revolution more than 230 years ago. In Portugal, the record coal-free run has extended almost two months, the campaign groupEurope Beyond Coal recently reported.Last month Sweden closed its last coal-fired power plant, KVV6 in Hjorthagen, eastern Stockholm, two years early because the mild winter meant it was not used even before the pandemic. Austria followed suit with the shutdown of its only remaining coal plant at Mellach. The Netherlands said it would reduce the capacity of its thermal plants by 75% to comply with a court order to reduce climate risks. More importantly, in India – the world’s second-biggest coal consumer – the government has prioritised cheap solar energy rather than coal in response to a slump in electricity demand caused by Covid-19 and a weak economy. This has led to the first year-on-year fall in carbon emissions in four decades, exceptional air quality, and a growing public clamour for more renewables.

    D.C. Circuit gives new life to Maryland drive to tighten pollution limits for upwind coal plants  - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday mostly agreedwith the Environmental Protection Agency's rejection of Maryland and Delaware's petitions to tighten pollution limits on upwind power plants, which the two states claim are impacting their ability to meet federal ozone standards.  But the court found EPA's reason for rejecting Maryland's request to address selective non-catalytic reduction (SNCR) controls at two power plants inadequate and remanded that part of the petition to the agency for further review. The ruling is not only important for Maryland, but for other states seeking remedies for their ozone non-attainment status, an attorney involved with the case told Utility Dive. The EPA must now conduct an analysis of SNCR controls compared with other ways of meeting air quality standards in Maryland to determine if the SNCRs are cost-effective.  The ruling is "a partial, but significant victory" for Maryland and downwind states more generally, Jack Lienke, regulatory policy director at the New York University School of Law's Institute for Policy Integrity, told Utility Dive. The institute is involved in the case as an amicus curiae, or 'friend of the court', on behalf of Delaware and Maryland.This case deals with EPA's 2008 ozone standards. There will inevitably be another round of petitions with respect to non-attainment of the 2015 ozone standards, he told Utility Dive.In the future, EPA won't be able to just tell states seeking remedies for their non-attainment status, 'you're out of luck, it's too expensive,' Lienke said. In 2016, Maryland and Delaware petitioned EPA under Section 126 of the Clean Air Act, saying the agency had an obligation to reduce significant contributions from upwind states that prevent them from attaining federal ozone standards. Maryland's petition targeted 36 power plants across five states, including two facilities operating SNCRs, one in Pennsylvania, the other in West Virginia. But while EPA conceded that the two facilities are impacting Maryland's ability to meet federal ozone standards, it said that the operation of SNCRs is not cost effective, and it would not require facilities to use them.According to EPA, SNCRs are "a post combustion emissions control technology for reducing NOx by injecting an ammonia type reactant into the furnace at a properly determined location." The technology is often used "since it requires a relatively low capital expense for installation, albeit with relatively higher operating costs." The court rejected EPA's finding and said the agency must conduct a new analysis that compares use of SNCRs with other methods of attaining the 2008 ozone standards within Maryland's 2021 statutory deadline, Lienke noted.

    Utility's coal ash removal sparks concern from activists (AP) — A major utility’s plan to close five Indiana coal ash ponds at a power plant along Lake Michigan and move coal ash to a landfill has sparked concerns from environmental activists about how the dust kicked up by that project will be controlled. Northern Indiana Public Service Co. is seeking a permit from the state to remove more than 170,000 cubic yards of coal ash from its Michigan City station and transfer most of it to a state-approved landfill in its Wheatfield, the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana reported. The utility’s plan has raised concerns about its health and environment risks, particularly for communities of color, said La’Tonya Troutman, environmental climate justice chair for the LaPorte County NAACP. Troutman along with Ashley Williams, an organizer at Just Transitions NWI, want the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to extend the May 22 deadline for public comment on the utility’s plan. The pair expressed concern over how the dust would be controlled during removal of coal ash from one location to another. They said the coronavirus pandemic is raising health concerns connected to pollution, and most people may not be paying attention to the utility’s proposal when families are losing jobs and struggling to stay afloat. “We’re going to be taking coal ash from one community and dumping it on the next,” Williams said. “We don’t want to create future injustices here.” Utility spokesman Nick Meyer said the coal ash will be transported in enclosed trucks from Michigan City to the Wheatfield landfill, where it would be monitored and capped when full. A dust control plan is in progress and will be made public when completed.

    Ash basin closures one step closer -- The coal ash basins at Duke Energy facilities in North Carolina are one step closer to closing permanently, including the ones at the Cliffside plant.After several years of back and forth on what to do about the ash basins at several Duke Energy facilities in the state, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has approved the closure plans detailing the excavation of unlined coal ash basins at three Duke Energy facilities – Cliffside/Rogers Energy Complex, Marshall Steam Station and Mayo Steam Station.At the beginning of 2020, the Department of Environmental Quality and Duke Energy announced an agreement was reached to safely close the ash basins by 2029. The plan for closure has met with approval from the state, Duke Energy and some environmental groups in the Carolinas.  “We are pleased and they are pleased. Now we’ve got to get to work,” said Duke Energy spokesman Bill Norton. In February, DEQ held multiple public hearings, provided the proposed closure plans for public comment, reviewed written public comments and analyzed site-specific information provided by Duke Energy and the public for each facility. Under a February consent order, Duke Energy is required to excavate more than 80 million tons of coal ash from open, unlined basins at several locations, including Cliffside/Rogers, and place the excavated coal ash in onsite lined landfills.  . Moving forward the energy giant will increase the size of their onsite landfill where they are currently storing dry ash still produced at the facility. Construction of the two lined basins will finish in late 2021, then the coals ash in the remaining two water basins can be transferred to them, Norton said. The estimated total cost to permanently close all ash basins in the Carolinas is now around $9 billion. By the end of 2019, Duke Energy already spent $2.5 billion of it, he said. The bill will be footed by customers through slow increases to rates over time.

    Duke testing shows Kingston coal ash uranium at triple report levels --  The coal ash produced at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired power plant near Knoxville is more than three times richer in uranium – and the dangerous radioactive elements it produces as it breaks down – than documented in public reports after a massive coal ash spill in 2008. Knox News commissioned Duke University to analyze samples of coal ash the news organization obtained from TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant, the site of the largest coal ash spill in American history. The Duke University analysis shows TVA’s Kingston coal ash contains more than three times the amount of uranium reported in 2009 by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and in 2011 in a joint report from TVA and its disaster cleanup contractor Jacobs Engineering. Duke University employed the industry-standard EPA methods in the tests it conducted in a certified lab in February. Knox News provided Duke University with samples for testing from the 2008 spill, as well as samples taken from the Kingston plant in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Duke University Professor Avner Vengosh said the test results confirm the radiological threat TVA’s coal ash poses when it becomes airborne. “If it is dust and you inhale it, it’s a different ballgame,” he explained. “Then, you have radiation in your lungs.” Since the spill, TVA has been converting from storing coal ash in a liquid slurry to a dry form of the toxic byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity. TVA says dry storage is safer for people and the environment. TDEC has similarly touted dry storage as the best means of protecting the public from the threat of coal ash exposure and contamination. Hundreds of disaster relief workers who cleaned up TVA’s Kingston spill allege they were poisoned by exposure to coal ash dust without adequate protection. A Knox News ongoing tally from public records shows 48 cleanup workers have died from ailments they claim are linked to their exposure..

    Energy Department nominee shifts on Yucca Mountain question— Mark Menezes, the nominee for deputy secretary of the Energy Department, on Wednesday clarified remarks he made in February, saying the Trump administration has no plans to use Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste storage site. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., pressed Menezes during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, asking for a clarification. “The administration will not be pursuing Yucca Mountain as a solution for nuclear waste, and I am fully supportive of the president’s decision and applaud him for taking action when so many have failed to do so,” Menezes told Cortez Masto. Menezes, currently an undersecretary, said in February that the department was trying to “put together a process that will give us a path to permanent storage at Yucca.” But President Donald Trump had already declared on Twitter that he was committed to alternatives to Yucca Mountain. Menezes assured Cortez Masto that was still the case and reiterated the department’s effort to study interim storage of nuclear waste at other sites. The budget includes $27.5 million for studies of temporary storage at public and privately owned sites. It would take congressional action to allow storage of nuclear waste at private sites or locations other than Yucca Mountain. There are several bills introduced in Congress that call for consideration of interim storage sites, including those that include Yucca Mountain. Nevada’s congressional delegation is backing bills filed in the House and Senate that would require consent of a governor and other stakeholders in a state selected to store nuclear waste.

    Saudi Nuclear Plant Advances as IAEA Frozen Out - Saudi Arabia is pushing ahead to complete its first nuclear reactor, according to satellite images that have raised concern among arms-control experts because the kingdom has yet to implement international monitoring rules.Satellite photos show the kingdom has built a roof over the facility before putting in place International Atomic Energy Agency regulations that allow inspectors early verification of the reactor’s design. Foregoing on-the-ground monitoring until after the research reactor is completed would be an unusual move normally discouraged under regulations to ensure civilian atomic programs aren’t used to make weapons.Saudi Arabia has repeatedly pledged that its nuclear program is strictly forpeaceful purposes, but Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman also said the kingdom would develop a bomb if its regional rival Iran did so. Those statements made in 2018 raised a a red flag within the nuclear monitoring community which is uneasy that it has more ability to access nuclear sites in Iran than it does in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s ministry of energy didn’t respond to a request to comment. A new satellite image shows that the almost-completed roof now conceals the cylindrical reactor vessel, which was still visible through roof beams in March. While Saudi Arabia has been open about its ambitions to generate nuclear power, less is known about the kinds of monitoring the kingdom intends to put in place. President Donald Trump’s administration sent a letter to Saudi Arabia last year setting requirements to access U.S. atomic technology. The baseline for any agreement is tougher IAEA. inspections.

    In Ohio’s coal country, pandemic pushes unemployment rate from bad to worse | Energy News Network -Ohio’s coal mining counties have been hit even harder as unemployment surged following the country’s coronavirus outbreak.As the statewide unemployment rate moved from 4.7% in February to 5.6% inMarch, counties in Appalachian Ohio also saw rates twice as high — up to 12.2% in Monroe County. The six counties with the highest percentages of people out of work in March were all in the state’s Appalachian region. Job security has been an ongoing concern for coal miners and their communities, and the coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse. As of April, the U.S. coal industry had lost one in seven jobs since January, when doctors diagnosed the first U.S. case of COVID-19.“Anywhere in the country where the economy was already struggling or in free fall, like in coal country, the pandemic is only making things worse,” said economist Jon Erickson at the University of Vermont, where his research focuses on resilience. Unlike other job sectors, “there’s no option to work from home.”U.S. coal production last year was already down nearly 30% from just five years earlier in 2014, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. The EIA’s short-term energy outlook released April 7 forecasts that U.S. coal production this year will fall another 22% percent from last year.“Lower production reflects declining demand for coal in the electric power sector, lower demand for U.S. exports, and a number of coal mines that have been idled for extended periods as a result of COVID-19,” the EIA report said. The industry has struggled to compete with natural gas from fracking. Meanwhile, the levelized cost of new solar or wind generation is now cheaper than the marginal cost to keep most coal-fired power plants running, according to a 2019 analysis by Energy Innovation & Technology and Vibrant Clean Energy.Job losses have continued. CCU Coal and Construction cut more than 200 jobs in eastern and southeastern Ohio last year after American Electric Power decided to close its Conesville plant in Coshocton County.  More U.S. coal miners have been out of work, at least temporarily, since the COVID-19 crisis began. All or part of five mines in Virginia announced shutdowns because of the virus at the end of March, indicating they would fill existing orders from stockpiles. Around that time, Consol Energy shut down a mine in West Virginia after workers came down with the virus.

    In disgusting turn, shareholders reap the profits from ratepayer payouts intended to keep Ohio’s nuclear plants afloat - -So much for the cries of doom and gloom over the future of the two Ohio nuclear plants FirstEnergy Corp. built and that an affiliated company operated.To keep open the Perry nuclear power plant east of Cleveland and the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio’s electricity customers are about to start paying an extra $150 million a year in subsidies. That comes courtesy of the Ohio General Assembly and Gov. Mike DeWine via House Bill 6, a bill they rushed into law last summer.Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions, which then owned the two plants, had argued (through an army of Statehouse lobbyists) that, without the nuclear subsidy, it would be forced to close the two plants.In February, Solutions emerged from bankruptcy and became an independent (and solvent) firm, Energy Harbor Corp., also based in Akron.It now appears the biggest beneficiaries of the deal will be Energy Harbor stock investors.Energy Harbor’s board voted last week to boost stock buybacks by $300 million, from $500 million to $800 million,’s Andrew J. Tobias reports. When a company buys back its own stock, that cuts the number of available shares, which can boost their prices, benefiting shareholders. And where did that extra $300 million come from? Could it be on the expectation of the impending subsidy from Ohioans on their electricity bills? It’s fair to ask whether Perry and Davis-Besse were ever in real jeopardy of closing, or was it all a shell game to shore up the company’s finances?That’s House Bill 6: Socializing losses and privatizing profits, although the bill’s Statehouse backers said otherwise. HB 6, quarterbacked by House Speaker Larry Householder, was absolutely, positively all for a good cause, the speaker assured Ohioans -- promoting clean air and, by the way, saving nuclear power plant workers’ jobs. Energy Harbor now owns Perry and Davis-Besse and a share of the coal plants. And while Energy Harbor stock isn’t publicly traded, it’s available through brokers.The stock buybacks may already have worked their magic -- Energy Harbor was trading at $37.50 a share when markets closed Wednesday evening. That’s versus $15.75 when trading began April 7, according to Tobias. A 138% rise in about five weeks is not bad -- if you’re a speculator.

    Ohio regulators OK Lake Erie wind farm with ‘poison pill’ that may kill project -- Ohio regulators’ imposition of a last-minute permitting condition could put an end to the Great Lakes’ first wind energy project. The Ohio Power Siting Board ruled Thursday that the Icebreaker project could move forward but only if blades on the demonstration project’s six turbines are turned off every night for eight months of the year. “This order is not an approval,” said Dave Karpinski, president of Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, also known as LEEDCo. The OPSB’s condition “may well be fatal to the entire project.”   OPSB staff had first suggested nightly shutdowns for most of the year in 2018, despite LEEDCo having reached an agreement with environmental groups for monitoring and safeguards to protect bats and birds. The proposed construction site north of Lakewood is not within a main migratory flyway for birds. An ornithologist who prepared a study for a draft environmental impact report had called it “the lowest-risk project” he ever worked on.After months of negotiations between LEEDCo and staff at the OPSB and Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the developer reached a compromise with regulatory staff last May that dropped the requirement.   “We are stunned by the OPSB order today,” Karpinski said, noting that the added condition “reneges” on its agreement with OPSB staff. “Throughout the OPSB proceedings in this case, we made it abundantly clear that a requirement to shut down the turbines from dusk to dawn for the majority of the year renders the project economically not viable.” Basically, shutting down generation for that much of the year would greatly reduce the amount of revenue that the project could produce. And any change to the condition would require further proceedings before the OPSB, with no guarantee of a favorable outcome even if monitoring data did not show significant impacts to bats or birds.  Testimony from the intervenors’ expert last summer did not show a need to feather the turbines for most of the year. Agency staff testified in support of the compromise settlement agreement with LEEDCo. After the compromise a year ago, the only remaining opponents were two intervenors represented by an attorney who had done work for Murray Energy and often filed appearances in wind cases on behalf of a pro-coal nonprofit that did not disclose the source of its funding. Discovery in the LEEDCo case showed that at least some of the intervenors’ litigation expenses had been paid by Murray Energy.  OPSB chair Randazzo has been a longtime critic of renewable energy and has previously represented wind energy opponents before the board.

     Cleanup of last September's East Toledo oil spill near Duck Creek is finished - Cleanup of an oil spill last September near Duck Creek, a Maumee River tributary that sits between East Toledo and Oregon, is now complete. Work there included removal of 167 tons of soil contaminated by the release and a total price tag of $150,000, of which $120,000 is being billed to the city of Toledo. In a news release, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it has finished with the cleanup of that spill, in which an unknown amount of oil from two abandoned pipelines near York Street and Collin Park Avenue in East Toledo flowed into surrounding soil and a storm sewer that leads to Duck Creek. U.S. Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede said it was important to address the situation promptly because oil spills “can endanger public health, imperil the environment and drinking water, and affect local economies.” “Ohio appreciates U.S. EPA’s assistance in this cleanup because the oil spill was cleaned up promptly through multiagency and local coordination,” added Ohio EPA Director Laurie Stevenson. The city and the state environmental agency were the first to respond to the spill, which was noticed on Sept. 16. The city removed the two abandoned underground pipelines that were determined to be the source of the oil, the federal EPA said in its release. The U.S. EPA took charge of the cleanup on Oct. 15. The federal agency said it replaced the 167 tons of contaminated soil with 180 tons of clean gravel, and disposed of an estimated 2,400 gallons of mixed oil and water. It also removed an abandoned storm-sewer line, it said. The federal agency said it is getting $120,000 of the total $150,000 cost reimbursed by the city, but said it expects the city’s share will be covered by money available from the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Pollution Fund Center.

    Three barge terminals for drilling wastes proposed –  Some residents along the Ohio River are fighting proposals to establish three barge terminals for liquid drilling wastes, Kallanish Energy reports. Petitions directed at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard are being circulated by Concerned Ohio River Residents against the three projects in eastern Ohio. Opponents say the terminals pose a toxic and radioactive threat to the Ohio River that provides drinking water to 5 million people. They are seeking a public hearing from the Corps of Engineers on the projects. The terminals would be developed by 4K Industrial Frac Water Supply and Recycling Technologies in Martins Ferry, by DeepRock Disposal Solutions about 61 miles downstream at Marietta and by Fountain Quail Energy Services about 38 miles downstream from Marietta in Meigs County, Ohio. The projects, if approved, could result in the first barges carrying briny fracking wastes on the Ohio River. The projects must comply with Coast Guard rules and obtain permits from the Corps of Engineers. The Martins Ferry facility is designed to recycle frack water from Utica and Marcellus wells. It is being developed by the Mull Group, based in Wheeling, West Virginia. It is the parent company of 4K Industrial. The terminal would include a spud barge that is about 195 feet by 35 feet to which two barges could be secured and loaded/unloaded. The Martins Ferry barge-loading facility would also require approval from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The other two Ohio sites both have disposal wells where liquid waste is being injected underground. In 2016, the Coast Guard dropped establishing a new policy and said it would consider individual requests for barge operations. It also drafted a new definition of two types of waste: legacy fluid from traditional vertical-only O&G wells that is allowed on barges and shale gas extraction waste water from horizontal wells that have been hydraulically fractured or fracked and is not allowed on barges. Environmentalists say the waste materials are the same. It is unclear if anyone has moved shale drilling brine wastes by barge on the Ohio River. Such approval is not a public record, the Coast Guard has said. It also appears that the Coast Guard’s position on the shale gas extraction waste water has not been changed since 2016. Previous attempts to move fracking wastes by barge on the Ohio River had been halted by the Coast Guard. GreenHunter Resources of Texas had tried to win approval going back to 2012.

    EQT cuts US production as coronavirus depresses natgas prices (Reuters) - EQT Corp, the biggest U.S. natural gas producer, said on Tuesday it started to reduce gas output in Pennsylvania and Ohio on May 16 as demand destruction from the coronavirus cut current prices for the fuel. Although EQT did not say how much gas it would curtail, U.S. pipeline company EQM Midstream Partners LP said in a federal securities filing that its largest producer customer started planned temporary production curtailments of up to about 1.4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in the two states on May 16. EQM was once a unit of EQT. EQT’s Pennsylvania and Ohio wells are part of the Marcellus and Utica shale formation. In 2019, EQT produced about 4.1 bcfd. One billion cubic feet of gas can supply about 5 million U.S. homes for a day. U.S. gas production and demand is expected to drop in 2020 and 2021 from record highs last year as government steps to slow the spread of coronavirus curtailed economic activity and energy prices, according to federal estimates. “Like others in the natural gas industry, we are anticipating a significant increase in natural gas prices from current levels in just a few months,” EQT said in an emailed statement. U.S. gas futures were down about 16% since the start of the year. Looking forward, however, analysts expect prices will rise as governments lift travel restrictions. Futures for the balance of 2020 and calendar 2021 were trading about 25% and 50% over the June front-month, respectively. “To best capture value from this scenario, starting May 16, we began to temporarily curtail production from certain of our wells in Pennsylvania and Ohio, thereby deferring sales into the more favorable gas pricing environment,” EQT said. It said it “will be monitoring the market to determine the optimal time to return production online.”

    Report: Marcellus dethrones Permian Basin as top destination for frac crews -  The natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania has dethroned the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas at the top destination in the United States for hydraulic fracturing crews as record-low crude prices continue to take their toll on the industry.The Marcellus Shale, which stretches across Pennsylvania and West Virginia, has dethroned the Permian Basin of West Texas and eastern New Mexico as the top U.S. destination for hydraulic fracturing crews.The Marcellus, which is rich in natural gas, has 31 percent of the active hydraulic fracturing crews in the field, followed by the oil-rich Permian with 30 percent and the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas and the Haynesville Shale in East Texas and Louisiana with 14 percent each, according to data from Houston investment advisory firm Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.Of the 450 available hydraulic fracturing fleets in the United States and Canada, only 70 are deployed in the field, Tudor, Pickering, Holt said.To weather the current crash, oil companies have tightened their budgets and are taking "frac holidays" in which they don't bring newly drilled wells into production — lowering demand for hydraulic fracturing services.Some industry experts believe that there are fewer than 50 active hydraulic fracturing fleets in the field but Tudor, Pickering, Holt Managing Director George O’Leary wrote in a research note that "both levels are putrid" and that either way, a recovery is not expected until the fourth quarter or the first quarter of 2021."This is setting up to be the sharpest quarter over quarter active horizontal frac crew count decline in memory," O'Leary wrote. "Putting lipstick on a pig, it was a teeny-tiny bit comforting to see the month over month decline rate slow in May versus April, but it’s certainly quite bloody out there."

    Judge dismisses lawsuit that contested Mountain Valley's power of eminent domain -- Legal action has failed, once again, to undo the taking of private land for a natural gas pipeline through Southwest Virginia. “This case presents the latest trickle in a veritable flood of litigation” against the Mountain Valley Pipeline, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg wrote in an opinion last week dismissing the lawsuit. Three couples with land in the pipeline’s path had sued Mountain Valley and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, alleging that the commission should not have given a corporate venture the right to seize their property by eminent domain. Because Congress improperly delegated legislative power to FERC, the lawsuit had claimed, all pipeline approvals by the agency that led to property being taken against a landowner’s wishes should be invalidated. Calling the request “breathtaking in scope,” Boasberg wrote that his courtroom was the wrong place to make it. His 19-page opinion noted that when FERC finds there is “public convenience and necessity” for a pipeline, as it did with Mountain Valley, the law allows it to convey its power of eminent domain to the developer. The first step to challenging such an action is to seek a rehearing with FERC. If the commission refuses to change its decision, as it did in June 2018, an appeal can be taken to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Such a challenge was brought, with the appellate court upholding all of FERC’s contested findings in 2019, including its decision that there was a public need for the gas that will flow through the pipeline. In January, three sets of landowners filed their lawsuit in Boasberg’s court in Washington, D.C., contending that Congress through the Natural Gas Act gives too much power to FERC, which in turn conveys eminent domain authority to private entities in a way that is unconstitutional. But their “attempt to transform their grievance with FERC over MVP’s certificate into a facial constitutional challenge cannot save them from the statutorily mandated administrative-review process,” Boasberg wrote in his decision. “The court will therefore dismiss the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.” Two similar lawsuits filed earlier, in Roanoke and Washington, D.C., were also dismissed on the same grounds.

    New York Rejects Williams Pipeline Over Water, Climate Concerns - New York state has rejected the controversial Williams pipeline that would have carried fracked natural gasfrom Pennsylvania through New Jersey, running beneath New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean before connecting to an existing pipeline system off Long Island.The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) announced the decision Friday, arguing that pipeline construction would have harmed water quality and threatened marine life."New York is not prepared to sacrifice the State's water quality for a project that is not only environmentally harmful but also unnecessary to meet New York's energy needs," DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald said in a statement reported by POLITICO.The decision is a victory for grassroots activists who have long campaigned against the pipeline. After Oklahoma-based company Williams submitted its most recent application, New Yorkers sent in more than 25,000 comments opposing the pipeline in two weeks, according to the Stop the Williams Pipeline Coalition."We know [New York State Gov. Andrew] Cuomo only did this because we pressured him to do so," anti-pipeline campaigner Lee Ziesche told HuffPost. "At the end of the day, he still needs to make a plan to get New York off of gas."The rejection comes a little less than a year after New York state passed ambitious climate legislationrequiring the state to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. That deadline is one of the reasons that NYSDEC rejected the pipeline, according to POLITICO.  "While the Department recognizes that many building assets in the State currently rely on natural gas for heating and other energy uses, the continued long-term use of fossil fuels is inconsistent with the State's laws and objectives and with the actions necessary to prevent the most severe impacts from climate change," DEC wrote in a letter explaining its decision. "Without appropriate alternatives or GHG mitigation measures, the Project could extend the amount of time that natural gas may be relied upon to produce energy, which could in turn delay, frustrate, or increase the cost of the necessary transition away from natural gas and other fossil fuels."NYDDEC also said that construction would disturb toxic sediments like copper and mercury and harm habitats like shellfish beds.

    Denial of Permits Signals End for Gas Pipeline Under Raritan Bay - New Jersey and New York once again have denied key permits for a much contested $1 billion new pipeline that would cut through the former state and under Raritan Bay to supply the latter with natural gas. This time, permit denials appear to have killed the Williams Companies’ proposed Transco Northeast Supply Enhancement project, as the company announced it would not pursue the proposal. “While we continue to believe in the fundamentals of this project, we will not refile in New Jersey or New York at this time,’’ said Laura Creekmur, spokesperson for Williams, in a statement that expressed disappointment and called the decisions unfortunate. For environmentalists and opponents, New York’s decision on Friday and New Jersey officials’ on Saturday marked a big victory in what has been a long-running effort to halt any new fossil-fuel projects that could increase global warming. “It’s a major breakthrough in the battle against new pipelines,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, referring to New York’s argument it would impede its efforts to combat climate change. “That is a big sea change.’’ In fact, in denying the permit sought by Williams, the Cuomo administration noted it would be incompatible with a new climate law that aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 85% from 1990 levels by 2050. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation also feared the 23-mile pipeline would impair water quality by releasing copper and mercury buried in the sediments of Raritan Bay. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection followed with a denial of a wetlands permit, citing its neighboring state’s rejection of the water quality permit. In rejecting the permit, DEP officials cited New York’s decision as rendering the New Jersey case moot, failing to demonstrate a compelling public need for the project. The permit was dated May 15, but made public Saturday. Transco had contended the project would bring new gas capacity to Long Island and New York City, where some suppliers had stopped connecting new customers because of concerns about unreliable deliveries of the fuel.

    New York’s Use of Landmark Climate Law Could Resound in Other States - A recent decision out of New York is turning heads in the legal community over what law professors and environmental activists say is a turning point for the state's energy economy, with potentially broader implications nationwide.In a long-awaited decision, New York environmental regulators last week denied for the third time the water quality permit for the controversial Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline—more commonly known as the Williams Pipeline—that would deliver fracked natural gas 37 miles from the shale fields of Pennsylvania to New York City and Long Island. In its May 15 decision, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation argued that the pipeline's construction would stir up toxic sediment containing mercury and copper at the bottom of New York Harbor, compromising water quality and endangering the sensitive habitats nearby, including Raritan Bay, where hard clams are harvested to eat. But the agency also found that the introduction of a new natural gas pipeline would be "inconsistent" with New York's recently-enacted climate law—landmark legislation that requires the state to transition its power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040 and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels by 2050."In order to achieve the state's critical and ambitious climate change and clean energy policies, the state needs to continue its ongoing transition away from natural gas and other fossil fuels," Daniel Whitehead, director of the agency's Division of Environmental Permits, wrote in his letter to the Williams Pipeline developers. The decision sends a clear signal to utilities and other developers that future proposals for fossil fuel infrastructure in the state will likely face legal challenges under the state's climate law and it could spur other states to follow suit, said Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York and a former acting commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

    Tree Deaths in Urban Settings Are Linked to Leaks from Natural Gas Pipelines Below Streets - Natural gas leaks from underground pipelines are killing trees in densely populated urban environments, a new study suggests, adding to concerns over such leaks fueling climate change and explosion hazards.  The study, which took place in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a low-income immigrant community near Boston, also highlights the many interrelated environmental challenges in a city that faces high levels of air pollution, soaring summer temperatures and is now beset by one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the nation.     Dead or dying trees were 30 times more likely to have been exposed to methane in the soil surrounding their roots than healthy trees, according to the study published last month in the journal Environmental Pollution.   "I was pretty blown away by that result," said Madeleine Scammell, an environmental health professor at Boston University's School of Public Health who co-authored the study. "If these trees were humans, we would be talking about what to do to stop this immediately." The study measured soil concentrations of methane and oxygen at four points around the trunks of 84 dead or dying trees and 97 healthy trees. For trees that had elevated levels of methane in the surrounding soil, the highest concentrations were found in the dirt between the tree and the street, suggesting that the gas had leaked from natural gas pipelines, which are typically buried beneath roadways.    Suspicions that gas leaks kill plants aren't new. Robert Ackley, a study co-author who spent decades identifying gas leaks for utility companies in the region, was trained to find them by looking for dead and dying vegetation. Such anecdotal evidence, along with decades-old studies, had previously suggested the link between gas leaks and tree death. The current study, however, was the first to formally quantify the relationship between gas in the soil and tree health in an urban setting, the authors said.

    First gas disaster settlement checks going out Friday - The first $70 million in settlement payments to residents affected by the Merrimack Valley gas explosions will be mailed Friday about six weeks earlier than expected. "For those residents who filed a claim with the administrator seeking a lump-sum payment, the average per-household payment will be more than $8,000," according to the statement from several lead attorneys involved in the $143 million class action lawsuit. Attorneys previously asked for settlement payments to be fast tracked due the COVID-19 pandemic which shut down parts of the economy. As a result of the fires and explosions caused by overpressurized pipelines operated by Columbia Gas, Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, was killed, three firefighters and 19 civilians were hurt, and damages are estimated at $1 billion. About 50,000 people were forced to evacuate and the severity of the damage depended on the age of appliances. Five homes were destroyed and 131 properties damaged, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board. Prior to the final hearing on the settlement Feb. 27, a total of 11,077 claims had been filed. That figure includes 10,432 residential claims and 645 claims from area businesses that suffered losses or closed.

    Answers Sought Regarding Explosion and Pipeline Construction in Burrillville — The Burrillville, R.I., compressor station has been a difficult neighbor, operating in relative secrecy as it discharges toxic pollutants and occasionally generates window-rattling explosions.All of these flaws occurred recently, when a parade of construction vehicles and equipment descended on the Enbridge Inc. property off Wallum Lake Road. Soon after, there was an explosion heard and felt by neighbors. Enbridge, the Calgary-based owner of the compressor station, has been characteristically evasive about the incident and the work being done at the fossil-fuel facility. Photos and videos taken by neighbors show excavated portions of the Algonquin pipeline and other construction along a stretch of an access road.An access road to the Burrillville compressor station.Enbrige wouldn’t describe the work being done nor explain the source of the noise. Spokesperson Max Bergeron noted that, “Algonquin Gas Transmission is conducting routine maintenance work near our Burrillville Compressor Station in Rhode Island, in accordance with applicable regulations.” Routine maintenance can mean a lot of things. When asked specifically about a leak, Begergeorn would only say “the work is being conducted safely, and there have not been any unexpected safety-related issues.”The Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) authorized nearly $1 billion in upgrades to the Algonquin natural-gas pipeline in March 2015. The order is a blanket certificate that allows Enbridge to build natural-gas infrastructure in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts that meet certain cost criteria. Governors from each state supported the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project, including all of Rhode Island’s members of Congress. That same year, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued a permit for the installation and operation of a 15,900-horsepower, gas-powered turbine and a 585-horsepower emergency generator. The permit allows the release of benzyne, formaldehyde, and about eight other carcinogens.

    Compressor breakdown leads to release of 4,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide at Delaware City refinery -  The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control reported the release of 4,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide at Delaware City Refining Co. The release was reported at 5:28 p.m. at the refinery on Wrangle Hill Road, Delaware City. Sulfer dioxide, a byproduct of the refining process, is considered to be hazardous by the EPA. A compressor issue led to flaring, a procedure used to relieve pressure. Refinery workers repaired and restarted the compressor.

    Dominion to keep exporting LNG from Maryland Cove Point during June maintenance - (Reuters) - Dominion Energy Inc said it plans to conduct maintenance at its Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant in Maryland in June but does not expect that work to affect the export side of the facility. Dominion notified customers in a posting on its website that it would work on the plant’s “small liquefier” from June 2-15. The company said that work is unrelated to the LNG export service. The amount of pipeline gas flowing to Cove Point has held around 0.76 billion cubic feet per day - near the plant’s capacity - since the facility exited its last maintenance outage in the middle of October, according to data provider Refinitiv. Even though the plant is not expected to stop LNG exports in June as some traders and brokers said earlier in the week, analysts noted this is a good time for any LNG export plant anywhere in the world to shut. The global LNG market is oversupplied due to several factors including a sharp drop in demand from coronavirus lockdowns that have caused gas prices in Europe and Asia to plunge to record lows in recent weeks. In April, LNG buyers canceled about 20 U.S. cargoes due to be shipped in June. Analysts said they expect even more cancellations in coming months especially now that U.S. gas at the Henry Hub in Louisiana are more expensive for June, July and August than the European Title Transfer Authority (TTF) benchmark in the Netherlands.

    With new energy regime only months away, regulators grapple with gas expansion proposal -  Three years after private backers secured state regulators’ approval to build a major new natural gas plant in Charles City County, the fate of the facility has become a key factor in a controversial proposal by Virginia Natural Gas to expand its pipeline infrastructure throughout Northern and Central Virginia.  “The big issue here is risk, and how are we going to allocate the risk and who’s going to be holding the bag if this plant doesn’t get built,” said Judge Mark Christie during a Wednesday hearing conducted via Skype. The facility, known as C4GT, has been in the works since 2016, when private developers first applied to the State Corporation Commission for a certificate of public convenience and necessity. A combined-cycle natural gas plant, the facility is expected to produce some 1,060 megawatts of power — about two-thirds the size of Dominion Energy’s most recent natural gas plant, the Greensville Power Station, which is capable of powering some 400,000 homes.   Yet despite securing regulators’ thumbs-up in 2017, the project stalled. Last March, the backers asked for a two-year extension of their certificate, citing declining interest from investors in light of changes in the regional PJM power grid’s capacity market. Since then, Virginia’s energy landscape has also changed significantly.  The passage this spring of the Virginia Clean Economy Act and a law that will join the state to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon cap-and-trade market, have committed Virginia to transitioning off fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources. Mandatory renewable portfolio standards for electric utilities and ambitious targets for solar and wind development are all designed to phase out the use of coal and natural gas by 2045.  “This legislation casts serious doubt on the financial viability of the C4GT plant and the likelihood it will ever be built,” said Greg Buppert, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center representing environmental and consumer protection groups Appalachian Voices and Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, at the beginning of Wednesday’s hearing. But Virginia Natural Gas, in arguing that regulators should approve its pipeline expansion proposal, dismissed those concerns, seeking instead to focus the proceedings on what it described as a “simple need solution” to its obligation as a utility to serve any customer in its territory that requests service.

    Natural gas outlook remains bleak through 2020 and affects major gas-producing shale operators, says GlobalData - Natural gas prices have struggled in early 2020, hitting record lows due to US dry gas production being at a record high – which has impacted major shale plays such as the Appalachian basin. Although the reduction in associated gas from crude oil production across major oil basins has provided support to the natural gas market, it does not eliminate the fact that the market remains oversupplied. By assessing the readjustment of capex of 15 companies, which account for approximately 85% of total production from Marcellus and Utica Shale, GlobalData estimates a reduction of 1.45 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (bcfd) in output from this group of companies as compared to the forecast for 2020 before the sector crisis happened Steven Ho, Oil and Gas Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “From GlobalData’s analysis of 15 company positions, rig count is expected to drop by six rigs, from 41 as of the end of March 2020 to 35 rigs by the end of 2020. Overall, this reduction is a result of capex cuts summing up to approximately US$1.5bn reported by operators.” Image Ho continues: “GlobalData took gas wells drilled between 2018 to date as the most representative sample set to determine the economic viability of future wells to be developed in Marcellus and Utica. The sample set consists of slightly more than 2,800 wells, of those less than 25% have breakeven below US$2.05 per thousand cubic feet (mcf). “However, the slowdown is affecting the natural gas consumption over the next few months with the largest demand declines expected from commercial and industrial sector. Reduction in demand will be offset marginally by residential power usage with upcoming summer weather. Natural gas industry will not recover in the near term through 2020, with dry gas production expected to remain at approximately similar level as 2019, accompanied by high level of working natural gas inventory and reduced demand due to current economic slowdown.”

    EIA expects lower natural gas production in 2020 -- Updated May 18, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. to revise the forecasted change in production and Henry Hub prices. EIA currently forecasts U.S. natural gas production to average 97.1 Bcf/d in 2020, 2% lower than the 2019 average. A previous version stated the 2020 forecast as 94.3 Bcf/d, or 5% lower than the 2019 average. Corrections to the Henry Hub price were relatively minor. Text and figures have been updated accordingly.In its May 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that U.S. marketed natural gas production will decrease by 2% in 2020 because of a weakening economic outlook from the impact of efforts to reduce the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). EIA expects U.S. marketed natural gas production to average 97.1 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2020, down from 99.2 Bcf/d in 2019.Before the economic contraction caused by mitigation efforts in response to COVID-19, EIA expected natural gas production would flatten in 2020 because of the oversupplied market created as natural gas production growth has outpaced demand growth. The United States set annual natural gas production records in 2018 and 2019, largely because of the increase in drilling in shale and tight oil formations. This increase in production led to higher volumes of natural gas in storage and a decrease in natural gas prices.Declines in crude oil and natural gas prices in March and April have led producers to announce plans to further reduce capital spending and drilling levels, as well as curtail production from some existing wells. Most of the expected decline in natural gas production is from associated gas in oil-directed plays, particularly in the Permian Basin that spans parts of western Texas and eastern New Mexico. EIA expects that the natural gas spot price for the U.S. benchmark Henry Hub will average $2.14 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2020, 43 cents lower than the 2019 average of $2.57/MMBtu. Natural gas prices were already decreasing earlier this year because of the previous year’s record production level and a warmer-than-normal winter. In part because of reduced business activity and higher-than-average storage levels before the summer, Henry Hub prices fell to an average of $1.74/MMBtu in April 2020, the lowest monthly average since March 2016.EIA expects natural gas prices to increase starting in the third quarter of 2020, driven by an increase in industrial demand as business activity resumes. Projected natural gas prices rise to an average of $2.89/MMBtu in 2021 because of upward pricing pressure from declining growth in natural gas production.

    U.S. natgas futures jump over 8% as output slows - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures jumped over 8% on Monday on slowing output as energy firms shut wells and slash spending on new oil drilling after crude prices sank earlier this year due to demand destruction from the coronavirus. Those oil wells also produce a lot of gas. Front-month gas futures for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) rose 13.7 cents, or 8.3%, to settle at $1.783 per million British thermal units. That was their biggest daily percentage gain since April 20. Last week, however, gas speculators cut their net long positions on the NYMEX and Intercontinental Exchange for the first time in six weeks as government lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus cut energy use, causing fuel prices and exports to drop. U.S. crude futures were still down about 45% since the start of the year, even though prices have gained more than 90% over the past four weeks. Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states fell to 89.5 bcfd so far in May, down from an eight-month low of 92.9 bcfd in April and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. With the coming of warmer weather, Refinitiv projected demand in the Lower 48 states, including exports, would rise to 79.8 bcfd next week from an average of 78.2 bcfd this week. That is similar to Refinitiv's forecasts on Friday. Refinitiv said U.S. pipeline exports to Canada averaged 2.3 bcfd so far in May, down from 2.4 bcfd in April and an all-time monthly high of 3.5 bcfd in December. Pipeline exports to Mexico averaged 4.5 bcfd so far this month, down from 4.7 bcfd in April and a record 5.6 bcfd in March. Refinitiv said U.S. LNG exports averaged 6.8 bcfd so far in May, down from a four-month low of 8.1 bcfd in April and an all-time high of 8.7 bcfd in February. U.S. gas prices for June at the Henry Hub benchmark in Louisiana have mostly traded over the Title Transfer Facility (TTF) in the Netherlands since late April. As long as U.S. prices remain over the European benchmark - Henry Hub is also trading over TTF for July and August - analysts said LNG buyers would keep canceling U.S. cargoes. In April, buyers canceled about 20 U.S. LNG cargoes due to be shipped in June.

    U.S. natgas futures rise near 3% as output slows - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures rose almost 3% on Tuesday on a continued slowdown in output as energy firms shut oil and gas wells and slash spending on new drilling after crude prices sank earlier this year due to the sharp demand decline caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That price increase came despite expectation that the pandemic will keep domestic energy use and exports low for months. Front-month gas futures for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 4.7 cents, or 2.6%, to settle at $1.830 per million British thermal units, their highest since May 7. Looking forward, analysts expect that prices will rise as governments lift travel restrictions with futures for the balance of 2020 and calendar 2021 trading about 25% and 50% over the front-month, respectively. Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states fell to 89.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in May, down from an eight-month low of 92.9 bcfd in April and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. EQT Corp, the biggest U.S. natural gas producer, said on Tuesday it started to reduce output in Pennsylvania and Ohio on May 16 as demand destruction from the coronavirus cut current prices for the fuel. Energy consultant Rystad Energy said the pandemic would cause U.S. gas production to fall every month through November, when it is expected to reach 82.5 bcfd. Refinitiv projected that demand in the Lower 48 states, including exports, would hold at around 78.2 bcfd this week and next, which is lower than its 79.8-bcfd forecast for next week on Monday. U.S. LNG exports averaged 6.7 bcfd so far in May, Refinitiv said, down from a four-month low of 8.1 bcfd in April and an all-time high of 8.7 bcfd in February.

    U.S. natgas futures slip 3% as demand and exports decline - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell about 3% on Wednesday as government lockdowns to stop the spread of coronavirus cut demand for the fuel and exports. That decline comes even though energy firms continued to cut production in response to the collapse in oil and gas prices earlier this year, which ironically was also due in part to demand destruction from the pandemic. Front-month gas futures for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 5.9 cents, or 3.2%, to settle at $1.771 per million British thermal units. Analysts said they expect prices to rise as governments lift travel restrictions and economies rebound. Futures for the balance of 2020 and calendar 2021 were trading about 25% and 50% over the front-month, respectively. Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states fell to 89.7 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in May, down from an eight-month low of 92.9 bcfd in April and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. Refinitiv projected demand in the Lower 48, including exports, would slip from 78.7 bcfd this week to 78.4 bcfd next week. That compares with Refinitiv's forecasts on Tuesday of 78.2 bcfd this week and 78.1 bcfd next week. Refinitiv said U.S. pipeline exports to Canada averaged 2.2 bcfd so far in May, down from 2.4 bcfd in April and an all-time monthly high of 3.5 bcfd in December. Pipeline exports to Mexico averaged 4.6 bcfd so far this month, down from 4.7 bcfd in April and a record 5.6 bcfd in March. U.S. LNG exports averaged 6.7 bcfd so far in May down from a four-month low of 8.1 bcfd in April and a record 8.7 bcfd in February.

    US working natural gas volumes in underground storage rise 81 Bcf on week: EIA | S&P Global Platts — US natural gas stocks increased by 81 Bcf last week, which was directly in line with market expectations, but the remaining Henry Hub summer strip fell further Thursday as demand is expected to dip moving forward. The amount of natural gas in US storage facilities increased 81 Bcf in the week that ended May 15 to 2.503 Tcf, the US Energy Information Administration said Thursday. The injection matched the consensus expectations of an S&P Global Platts survey of analysts. Responses to the survey ranged from an injection of 67 Bcf to one of 99 Bcf. The injection was 19.9% smaller than the 101 Bcf build reported during the same week last year as well as 6.9% below the five-year average addition of 87 Bcf. Cooler-than-normal temperatures boosted residential and commercial demand in the East and Midwest storage regions last week. Across the Eastern and Central US, total demand increased about 4.5 Bcf/d, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Upstream, total supplies increased slightly due to a 400 MMcf/d rise in Canadian imports. Supply for the week averaged 92.6 Bcf/d, or about 16.4 Bcf/d higher than the average 80.2 Bcf/d of total demand. Storage volumes now stand 779 Bcf, or 45%, above the year-ago level of 1.724 Tcf and 407 Bcf, or 19.4%, higher than the five-year average of 2.096 Tcf. Henry Hub opened the week with a rally on news of a planned production curtailment by EQT, the country's largest natural gas producer. The company instated a roughly 1.4 Bcf/d temporary production cut, which sent the balance-of-summer strip nearly 12 cents higher, settling at $2.02 on Monday after trading down to $1.90 last Friday. However, most of the bullish sentiment has retreated as prices have shed most of those gains. The strip was trading at $1.91 Thursday afternoon, keeping spreads to next winter at 81 cents/MMBtu. Platts Analytics' supply and demand model expects a 108 Bcf addition to US storage volumes for the week ending Friday. Such a build would be 15 Bcf higher than the five-year average. Sizable declines in residential and commercial demand have outpaced an otherwise huge drop in onshore production for the week in progress. Total US demand has averaged 5.7 Bcf/d lower compared with the week prior to average 74.5 Bcf/d. The Midwest and Northeast regions account for a 6.5 Bcf/d decline.

    U.S. natgas futures edge up on higher cooling demand, slowing output - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures edged up on Friday on forecasts for warmer weather and rising cooling demand over the next two weeks, and a continued slowdown in output. That price increase was held back by a drop in exports due to demand destruction from the coronavirus. In Europe, gas prices are falling toward zero as stockpiles fill quickly after a warm winter and demand destruction from the pandemic. European buyers started canceling U.S. LNG cargoes in April for delivery in June. Analysts said they expect LNG buyers will cancel dozens of additional cargoes over the summer since U.S. gas forwards are trading higher than European benchmarks through at least September. Front-month gas futures for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 2.1 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $1.731 per million British thermal units. For the week, the front-month was up about 6% after falling about 10% in the prior week. Futures for the balance of 2020 and calendar 2021 were trading about 27% and 53% over the front-month, respectively, on expectations the economy will snap back once governments lift travel restrictions. Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states fell to 89.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in May, down from an eight-month low of 92.9 bcfd in April and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November.

    Natural Gas Prices Could Double Next Year -- April has seen a marked reversal of fortunes for shale oil drillers in the United States. The price for May deliveries of West Texas Intermediate crude briefly dropped to minus $40.32 per barrel on 20 April,[i] before rebounding to over zero. For the first time ever, traders were paying to have crude taken off their hands. The supply glut, combined with fears of limited storage space in Cushing, Oklahoma running out, is crushing the shale industry. The record low gas price, not seen since December 2009, mirrors oil since 40 percent of America’s natural gas production is associated gas derived from oil production. Even before the current crisis, natural gas prices were unusually low at just $2.33 in December 2019,[ii] as supply greatly exceeded demand thanks to a mild winter, a slowdown of economic growth in the U.S., China and the rest of the world as well as a glut in liquid natural gas thanks to new export projects coming online in the U.S., Africa and Australia. The arrival and spread of COVID-19 is turning things from bad to worse. “U.S. electricity demand is beginning to rapidly decline due to coronavirus-related containment measures” [iii] states Andy Weismann, CEO of EBW Analytics Group on an industry website. And, since electricity consumption is now a major driver for gas usage in the U.S., demand for gas has fallen. Crude oil prices look subdued for the coming year according to industry observers. By contrast, some analysts expect natural gas prices to rise by the fall for, in response to low crude prices, an increasing number of E&P companies are being forced to cut activity and reduce drilling budgets by between 30 and 50 percent. This is already being mirrored in a reduction in new fracked well-starts from 780 in January to just 162 in April 2020, according to recent statistics from Rystad Energy, April 2020.[iv] The U.S. government’s own estimates show output falling by 660,000 barrels per day by next year, from a peak of 13.2 million barrels a day. As crude output declines so will natural gas output and the price of the latter will rise. The EIA’s April note forecasts rising gas prices in the autumn, in anticipation of higher winter demand for heating and a revival of industrial activity. [v] At the start of April, gas was priced at just $1.64 per million British thermal units (MMBtu), the lowest it has been since December 2009. Goldman Sachs analyst Samantha Dart expects gas prices to jump to $3.50 / MMBtu gas by winter 2020-2021 and reach $ 3.25 / MMBtu by summer 2021. Bank of America concurs but puts the rise to just $ 2.45 / MMBtu in 2021.[vi]

    Agency review process on Enbridge tunnel still pending - Enbridge and state officials are waiting to see if a state agency will waive its normal vetting process for the proposed utility tunnel in the straits of Mackinac. Last month, the energy company filed two requests with the Michigan Public Service Commission, one of the many pending applications being processed before the corporation can move ahead with its plan to build a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac which will house a replacement section of its Line 5 pipeline. The first part of Enbridge’s joint requests asks the regulators to approve their plan for the construction of the tunnel after a standard vetting procedure. The second request, on the other hand, urges the commission to waive their normal review on the grounds that it is unnecessary. According to their application, the project “involves no more than maintaining and continuing to operate Line 5 by replacing and relocating one approximate four-mile segment of the over 600-mile line.” Many in the state have taken issue with that latter request, including Attorney General Dana Nessel who, in a press release late last week, reiterated previous public comments she made, asking the commissioner to go through with their normal review process. “Enbridge’s proposed new pipeline must be thoroughly and publicly vetted through the processes required by Michigan law, including full review by the MPSC,” said Nessel. “There is too much at stake to allow anything else.” Her comments in response to the filing maintain that the project does not constitute the mere maintenance of an existing tunnel, but instead an entirely new piece of infrastructure. In late April, the commission delayed their decision to allow for a 20-day public comment period. That public comment period ended last week. In a statement Tuesday, Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said the company’s requests are “consistent with the agreements reached in 2018 between the State of Michigan and Enbridge.”

    Environmental advocates, landowners seek to stop Enbridge taking land for northern Wisconsin pipeline – A coalition of environmental advocates and landowners is seeking to stop a Canadian company’s attempt to take private land in order to reroute an oil pipeline around a Native American reservation in northern Wisconsin.As a result of a lawsuit filed by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Enbridge Energy is planning to remove a 12-mile segment of its Line 5 pipeline from the Bad River Reservation and bypass the reservation with about 41 miles of new pipe.Enbridge has asked the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to grant the power of eminent domain to take private land in Ashland and Iron counties, which would require the PSC to determine that the project is in the public interest. The company says the line, which transports an average of 540,000 barrels a day between Superior and southwestern Ontario, is a key piece of energy infrastructure providing essential fuel for homes, schools and businesses in Wisconsin, as well as the Midwest and eastern Canada.Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a petition Thursday on behalf of five organizations asking the PSC to hold a contested hearing on the issue and to allow five groups it’s representing to participate in the case. In these challenging times, our local businesses need your support. Find out how to get food, goods, services and more from those remaining open. “Giving a multinational energy company the right to condemn private property ... is not in the public interest,” said Tony Gibart, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, who said the potential harm to the climate, northern Wisconsin and the Great Lakes “far outweighs any benefit.” Midwest Environmental Advocates is representing the Sierra Club, Honor the Earth, the League of Women Voters, the Superior Rivers Watershed Association and 350 Madison Climate Action Team. Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner said the proposed route “will minimize environmental and human impacts while protecting critical resources.” A group of more than 20 northern Wisconsin landowners and a property rights group filed similar requests, arguing the U.S. Constitution prohibits taking private land except for public use and that only Enbridge shareholders would benefit.

    Hidden underwater landslides pose new dangers in the Gulf of Mexico - Seismic data show that earthquakes more than 600 miles away can trigger submarine mudslides that threaten offshore oil rigs and could lead to catastrophic spills.Human error has caused some of the most infamous oil spills in U.S. history, such as those from the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon. But natural causes can also trigger epic disasters: A spill that has been gushing crude oil for 16 years started when an oil production platform off the coast of Louisiana was demolished by an underwater landslide.Now, evidence from seismic data suggests these undersea avalanches are more common in the Gulf of Mexico than previously recognized, raising concerns about the region’s nearly 2,000 offshore oil platforms as well astens of thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines that transport fossil fuels to shore.The analysis, published today in Geophysical Research Letters, shows that between 2008 and 2015, 85 previously unknown submarine landslides occurred in the Gulf. Ten of these, the study found, occurred without any detectable trigger. To the researchers’ surprise, the other 75 appear to have been set off by distant earthquakes—mostly small to mid-size tremors that occurred hundreds of miles away along North America’s west coast. “I didn’t expect landslides would be that prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico,” says lead author Wenyuan Fan, a seismologist at Florida State University. “And I didn’t know landslides are so susceptible to dynamic triggering caused by passing seismic waves.” Scientists long have known the Gulf of Mexico has a history of submarine landslides. The largest underwater slump ever documented along any U.S. coastline occurred off the shore of Texas. Scars from other big landslides are visible on the seafloor near the mouth of the Mississippi River.Researchers also have a good idea of why this terrain is so prone to collapse: Every year, rivers dump huge amounts of sediment into the Gulf, causing this loose material to pile up quickly on the seafloor and create steep, unstable topography. But most of the Gulf landslides geologists have cataloged via seafloor mapping surveys occurred thousands of years ago. These events can’t tell us much about the frequency of undersea landslides today, or what exactly sets them off.

    Big Oil Taking $1.9 Billion in CARES Act Tax Breaks - Sen. Bernie Sanders was among critics outraged that the fossil fuel industry is using tax breaks in the CARES Act meant to help businesses keep workers employed to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes — and then delivering that money to executives."Good thing President Trump is looking out for the real victims of the coronavirus: fossil fuel executives," Sanders tweeted sarcastically Friday.Reporting Friday from Bloomberg News showed that "$1.9 billion in CARES Act tax benefits are being claimed by at least 37 oil companies, service firms, and contractors" — what watchdog group Documented senior researcher Jesse Coleman described as a "stealth bailout" of the climate-killing industry."In the name of 'small business,' we're shoveling out billions of dollars to big corporations and rich guys," Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told Bloomberg.Bloomberg used the example of how Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. manipulated the bailout to explain the tax scheme:As it headed toward bankruptcy, Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. took advantage of a little-noticed provision in the stimulus bill Congress passed in March to get a $9.7 million tax refund. Then, itasked a bankruptcy judge to authorize the same amount as bonuses to nine executives.According to Bloomberg's reporting, Diamond's refund pales in comparison to some of its larger competitors, "including $55 million for Denver-based Antero Midstream Corp., $41.2 million for supplier Oil States International Inc. and $96 million for Oklahoma-based producer Devon Energy Corp."The fossil fuel industry was already in financial trouble before the outbreak, which has effectively crippled Big Oil's ability to make money — even with the generous subsidies given by the federal government. Access to bailout tax break funding is helping fossil fuel companies prosper, along with other climate-destroying industries like mining companies, which have also reaped millions from coronavirus relief legislation."The Trump administration's favor factory hasn't stopped with a global pandemic," Accountable U.S. spokesperson Jayson O'Neill said in a statement Friday. "As millions of jobs disappear week after week, the Trump administration is prioritizing aid for wealthy, well-connected corporations before small businesses."

    Local lawmakers engage in partisan feud over federal loans for oil industry - Houma-Thibodaux’s two congressmen are defending new government-backed stimulus loans for the oil industry in a partisan fight over the aid.At issue is the Main Street Lending Program, which will provide a total of $600 billion in financing for companies with as many as 15,000 workers to help them weather the economic downturn during the coronavirus pandemic.The Federal Reserve Board, which is administering the program, loosened initial rules so they now allow companies to use the money to repay major debts they may have racked up before the pandemic.Oil interests, backed by many Republican lawmakers, lobbied for the change, saying the loans are needed to help the industry weather plunging oil prices and decreased demand caused by the pandemic that have resulted in layoffs and bankruptcies.“Global oil prices have declined nearly 60 percent since January 2020,” a group of 60 Republican lawmakers wrote ina May 11 letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.Houma-Thibodaux congressmen Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, and Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, are among the lawmakers who signed the letter, which urges the two federal officials to resist Democratic efforts to exclude the oil industry from the loans.“America’s oil and natural gas industry supports 10.3 million jobs in the United States and nearly 8 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product,” the letter says. “It is crucial to keep the energy sector functioning and hard-working Americans employed, not only to retain U.S. energy dominance, but to rebuild our overall American economy.”Democrats and environmental groups opposed the change, saying it amounts to a taxpayer bailout of companies that were already in trouble before the pandemic.“Funds from the CARES Act are intended to support struggling families, workers, businesses, states, and municipalities,” 41 Democratic lawmakers say in an April 15 letter to Mnuchin and Powell. “Giving that money to the fossil fuel industry will do nothing to stop the spread of the deadly virus or provide relief to those in need. It will only artificially inflate the fossil fuel industry’s balance sheets.

    Few U.S. oil and gas firms return small-business COVID-19 loans - (Reuters) - U.S. securities filings show that only four of 12 listed oil and gas companies that received emergency government aid made available for small businesses said they would return it ahead of a deadline for firms that do not need the funds to do so. The U.S. Treasury Department offered amnesty to public companies that return money they borrowed by May 18, saying it would deem they made the application in good faith due to economic uncertainty fueled by the coronavirus outbreak, before guidelines were clarified. The U.S. energy sector has been clamoring for government aid in the wake of plummeting oil prices that have driven several debt-laden exploration and production companies into bankruptcy. While President Donald Trump said last month his administration would formulate a plan to help the oil and gas industry, no specific aid has been announced. This has left energy companies to seek relief under the broader $2.3 trillion U.S. stimulus package. One aspect of the latter that has been used by oil and gas firms is the so-called Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses, which provides loans that can be forgiven to cover payroll expenses, as well as mortgage interest, rent and utility costs. Denver-based exploration and production company PDC Energy Inc (PDCE.O), which has a market capitalization of $1.3 billion, said on May 8 it had returned its $10 million PPP loan.

    Pointe LNG raising investment capital for La. project -- A proposed liquefied natural gas facility in Louisiana that had been dormant is alive again, Kallanish Energy reports. Pointe LNG has hired Whitehall & Co. to raise investment capital and secure offtake for a liquefaction/export facility in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, to process 6 million tons per year of LNG. It said $4 billion in capital would be needed for the project. That includes $56 million in development capital. The project marks the return to the 600-acre site on the Mississippi River for two Pointe LNG founders: Tom Burgess and Jim Lindsay. They had started development of an LNG project under the name Louisiana LNG Energy which they sold in 2015 to a joint venture between Cheniere Energy and Parallax. When those plans did not advance, Pointe LNG resumed development under its new name. The company plans to close development of the capital portion in third quarter 2020 with a final investment decision in mid-2022 and commercial operation by 2026. The facility would be part of a second wave of LNG facilities being developed in the United States. “The project has the best greenfield LNG site in the United States, and we are very excited to kick off this project,” Burgess said in a recent statement. The site is only seven miles from two major natural gas pipelines: TGPL and SONAT. It could process natural gas from the Appalachian Basin, Oklahoma and the Hayneville Shale. The ground at the site is stable with little dredging or additional work required and there are minimal wetlands to mitigate. The facility could be doubled on the current site, the company said. The current plan is three times larger the original size of the Louisiana project. Since late 2018, the company has submitted paperwork to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and signed initial contracts to design, build and operate the plant.

    Saudi Aramco's Bahri puts LNG tanker plan on hold - sources (Reuters) - Saudi Aramco’s shipping division Bahri has put on hold plans to charter up to 12 liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers after Sempra Energy delayed its decision on whether to proceed with an LNG export project in Texas, two sources said. Bahri issued an expression of interest (EOI) last year to charter the vessels from 2025 in Saudi Aramco’s first foray into LNG as part of the state oil giant’s plan to become a major global player in the gas market. In May last year, Aramco signed a 20-year agreement to buy LNG from Sempra Energy’s planned Port Arthur export terminal and also agreed to buy a 25% equity stake in the first phase of the multi-billion dollar project. However, Sempra said this month it was delaying its decision about whether to proceed with the project until 2021 following the slump in global demand for energy because of the coronavirus pandemic. “The shipping requirement was meant for Port Arthur, so given the delay and also the current market, it makes sense to put the shipping on hold,” one of the sources said. The Saudi state-owned company has been developing its own gas resources as well as eyeing assets in the United States, Russia, Australia and Africa, the company’s chief executive officer and the Saudi energy minister have said. The slump in LNG prices to record lows since the coronavirus struck may make financing more difficult and Aramco might be more cautious about its gas investments in the future, one industry source said.

    Blanco landowner concerned about stormwater runoff from Kinder Morgan pipeline construction (KXAN) — Following severe weather in Central Texas Friday night into Saturday morning, a Blanco landowner said her property has continued to be impacted by runoff from nearby construction of Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline. The pipeline will be 42 inches wide and is slated to travel from Waha in West Texas to the Katy area, passing through the Hill Country. Myra Corbett, who lives on a property in Blanco, told KXAN Saturday morning that she has continued to see mud and runoff from the pipeline construction effort that cuts through her property. Corbett and her husband moved to this property more than three years ago where they have a guest cabin they rent out as well as ostriches, zebras, donkeys, wildebeest and gazelles. An ostrich struts across Myra Corbett’s property. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard). SEE IT: Storm water floods Blanco County properties Corbett was one of two Blanco property owners who spoke with KXAN on Friday, expressing concerns about runoff that had come from Kinder Morgan’s construction to their properties. Both of these landowners said they had filed complaints with the Texas Railroad Commission — the state agency in Texas which regulates pipelines — believing pipeline company Kinder Morgan didn’t do enough to control erosion. While the other landowner told KXAN that Kinder Morgan representatives came by to check his property after Friday’s weather and that the barriers they placed had held up, Corbett feels the runoff on her property actually got worse with the weather. On Corbett’s land in Blanco, a pond is situated in the middle of a grassy expanse nearby a gazebo where here Airbnb guests like to go. After rains earlier in the week, Corbett said she had noticed, “runoff had come into the pond and it went from a beautiful, clear, blue pond to an ugly muddy one.” The pond on Myra Corbett’s property has been muddied. She believes runoff from the nearby Kinder Morgan Permian Highway Pipeline construction site is to blame. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard). She said Kinder Morgan employees came by and installed straw bales on her property to prevent further erosion near the pipeline a few days ago. “This morning it was even worse than a couple days ago before it rained,” she said Saturday. “I hate to see the pond like this, it grieves me, instead of the beautiful clear water, you see this,” she said gesturing to the muddied pond. Prior to Kinder Morgan’s construction work, she said the pond would never get muddied to the degree it is now. Corbett doesn’t like the look of it and fears the renters who come to vacation at her cabin won’t like it either. Even beyond the look of the mud coming onto her property, she worries what other impacts this pipeline construction may have on her land, her animals and her family. Corbett is concerned that the netting around the pipeline construction on her property isn’t sturdy enough either.

    Permian Basin Leads Decline In U.S. Shale  - U.S. shale production is set to fall to a two-year low in the coming weeks, with the Permian basin leading the way down.In the latest Drilling Productivity Report, the EIA estimates that oil production from the country’s leading shale basins is set to fall by 197,000 barrels per day in June compared to a month earlier. The Permian is set to lose 87,000 bpd, but other losses come from the Eagle Ford (-36,000 bpd), Anadarko (-28,000 bpd), Niobrara (-24,000 bpd) and Bakken (-21,000 bpd).U.S. natural gas production is also set to fall in June by about 1 percent, or 779 million cubic feet per day (mcf/d). Notably, the nation’s largest gas producing region in Appalachia loses a relatively modest 85 mcf/d. Instead, much deeper declines from associated gas production in the Permian (-210 mcf/d) and the Anadarko (-244 mcf/d).The larger decline in Permian gas compared to the Marcellus is a reflection of the fact that natural gas prices were already in the dumps prior the pandemic, wallowing below $2/MMBtu. Marcellus drillers began cutting late last year. Natural gas prices didn’t change much after the pandemic (in fact, natural gas prices briefly rallied). Meanwhile, the much larger loss of gas production in the Permian has more to do with the sharp downturn in oil drilling. Texas gas followed oil on the way up, and it will follow oil on the way down. The data from the EIA shows that the decade long U.S. shale boom has come to a screeching halt and is now heading in reverse. Oil production from the top shale basins will dip to 7.8 million barrels per day (mb/d), rewinding output back to late-2018 levels. There is now a confounding disconnect between the health of the U.S. shale industry on the ground and the stock prices for a variety of energy companies. Part of that can simply be chalked up to the rally in oil prices from worthless levels (or less than worthless) to above $30 per barrel in the course of a few weeks.But the Federal Reserve is also pumping trillions of dollars into the stock market, while also more directly buying up corporate bonds of energy companies. The central bank is even buying up bonds from shale companies that recently declared bankruptcy.

    EIA expects record liquid fuels inventory builds in early 2020, followed by draws --As mitigation efforts to contain the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continue to lead to rapid declines in petroleum consumption around the world, the production of liquid fuels globally has changed more slowly, leading to record increases in the amount of crude oil and other petroleum liquids placed into storage in recent months. In its May Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects global inventory builds will be largest in the first half of 2020. EIA estimates that inventory builds rose at a rate of 6.6 million barrels per day (b/d) in the first quarter and will increase by 11.5 million b/d in the second quarter because of widespread travel limitations and sharp reductions in economic activity. After the first half of 2020, EIA expects global liquid fuels consumption to increase, leading to inventory draws for at least six consecutive quarters and ultimately putting upward pressure on crude oil prices that are currently at their lowest levels in 20 years. As with the March and April STEO, EIA’s forecast reductions in global oil demand arise from three main drivers: lower economic growth, less air travel, and other declines in demand not captured by these two categories, largely related to reductions in travel because of stay-at-home orders. Based on incoming economic data and updated assessments of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders across dozens of countries, EIA has further lowered its forecasts for global oil demand in 2020 in the May STEO. The STEO is based on macroeconomic projections by Oxford Economics (for countries other than the United States) and by IHS Markit (for the United States).In the May STEO, EIA forecasts global liquid fuels consumption will average 92.6 million b/d in 2020, down 8.1 million b/d from 2019. EIA forecasts both economic growth and global consumption of liquid fuels to increase in 2021 but remain lower than 2019 levels. Any lasting behavioral changes to patterns in transportation and other forms of oil consumption once COVID-19 mitigation efforts end, however, present considerable uncertainty to the increase in consumption of liquid fuels, even if gross domestic product (GDP) growth increases. Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) agreed to new production cuts in early April that will remain in place throughout the STEO forecast period ending in 2021. EIA assumes OPEC members will mostly adhere to announced cuts during the first two months of the agreement (May and June) and that production compliance will relax later in the forecast period as stated production cuts are reduced and global oil demand begins growing. EIA forecasts OPEC crude oil production will fall to less than 24.1 million b/d in June, a 6.3 million b/d decline from April, when OPEC production increased following an inconclusive meeting in March. If OPEC production declines to less than 24.1 million b/d, it would be the group’s lowest level of production since March 1995. The forecast for June OPEC production does not account for the additional voluntary cuts announced by Saudi Arabia’s Energy Ministry on May 11.

    With Storage Space Evaporating, the Oil and Gas Industry Will Get to Put Its Products Back Underground -- Last month, as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed oil prices into negative figures, drillers in the state’s sprawling shale plays were still pumping and piping oil and gas to the Texas Gulf Coast as usual. But there was a problem: The massive storage tanks dotting the coastline, where tankers load and ship the product abroad, were filling quickly. With limited space to store crude, oil producers resorted to paying buyers to take the stuff off their hands.  Then the industry had an idea: Why not just put it back in the ground?   After all, the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, where 641 million barrels of crude are stored in a network of underground salt caverns, underlies much of East Texas and Louisiana.  There’s not much space left in the reserve, however, which is why industry players have asked state regulators for permission to store oil and gas in “unconventional” geological formations. On May 5, their wish was granted. The Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates oil and gas producers, not railroads) voted at its regular meeting totemporarily allow the industry to store hydrocarbons underground outside of the usual salt caverns. The commission unanimously rolled back some provisions of Statewide Rule 95, which historically has prohibited storing hydrocarbons outside of salt caverns to prevent groundwater contamination. The rules were waived for a year; producers may store hydrocarbons underground for up to five years.Now environmental watchdogs are warning that the leeway given to oil and gas producers could lead to polluted water across the state. “It’s pretty troubling. Allowing storage in these other formations obviously raises a lot of concerns for both environmental health and the health of our aquifers,”  Advocates also say they had little time to prepare for the change or submit public comments to oppose it. “We were pretty shocked by that,”  “Usually for something this major, there would be a comment period, where we’d have some time to look into it.”

    Google says it won't build AI tools for oil and gas drillers - Google says it will no longer build custom artificial intelligence tools for speeding up oil and gas extraction, separating itself from cloud computing rivals Microsoft and Amazon. A statement from the company Tuesday followed a Greenpeace report that documents how the three tech giants are using AI and computing power to help oil companies find and access oil and gas deposits in the U.S. and around the world. The environmentalist group says Amazon, Microsoft and Google have been undermining their own climate change pledges by partnering with major oil companies including Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil that have looked for new technology to get more oil and gas out of the ground. But the group applauded Google on Tuesday for taking a step away from those deals. "While Google still has a few legacy contracts with oil and gas firms, we welcome this indication from Google that it will no longer build custom solutions for upstream oil and gas extraction," said Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA. Google said it will honor all existing contracts with its customers, but didn't specify what companies. A Google cloud executive had earlier in May revealed the new policy during a video interview. Greenpeace's report says Microsoft appears to be leading the way with the most oil and contracts, "offering AI capabilities in all phases of oil production." Amazon's contracts are more focused on pipelines, shipping and fuel storage, according to the report. Their tools have been deployed to speed up shale extraction, especially from the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico.

    Ailing oil companies get a pass on royalties — –  In April, oil prices dipped below zero and into negatives for the first time in history. In effect, companies were paying investors to take oil off their hands. The coronavirus pandemic had caused an unprecedented plunge in global demand. The market was saturated; storage facilities filled up across the world. News reports from Singapore described dozens of oil tankers sitting off the coast, filled with petroleum that no one would buy. And the low prices have endured, causing the largest ever-recorded decline in U.S. oil and gas rig counts. Some companies have gone bankrupt, with more likely to follow, and many others have laid off workers and scaled back operations. When it comes to addressing this oil supply excess, the federal government has few tools at its disposal. In some of the nation’s top oil-producing regions, including West Texas and North Dakota, much of the drilling takes place on private land. In the Western U.S., however, the federal Bureau of Land Management oversees about 96,000 oil and gas wells on more than 24,000 leases, according to 2018 statistics. Today, even Texas and Oklahoma — states that tend to favor industry, not regulation — have considered measures to limit drilling. But the federal government has taken the opposite approach. The day after oil futures went negative, Nicholas Douglas, a top-ranking national BLM official, emailed the agency’s Western state directors. This email thread, obtained by High Country News, shows the agency encouraging public-land drilling, despite the continued glut in the global market. The new policies instruct state offices to let companies apply for lease suspensions and avoid royalty payments, which are the legally mandated taxes on the revenue from resources drilled or mined on public lands. Several BLM state offices confirmed to High Country News that they are carrying out these policies. These new directives are not outliers. Despite the pandemic, the BLM appears to be encouraging public-lands drilling, rather than pressing operators to shut in wells and not produce oil. In the past few months, the BLM held lease sales in Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming. A September auction could make more than 100,000 acres of public land available for drilling just outside Canyonlands and Arches national parks in Utah. No such aid has been offered to renewable energy industries, which have also suffered in the downturn. Instead, the Interior Department hit solar and wind projects on federal land with large retroactive rent bills in mid-May, Reuters reported.

    Trump administration cuts royalty rates for oil and gas (AP) — The Trump administration has started giving energy companies temporary breaks on royalties and rent they pay to extract oil and gas from leases on public lands because of the coronavirus pandemic. The move drew quick criticism as a handout to industry that will mean less money for state governments. A Democratic lawmaker called for an investigation into whether the breaks were justified. Government data shows companies in Utah receiving steep cuts in the standard 12.5% royalty rate, to as low as 2.5% of the value of the oil and gas they produce. More reductions are expected in the coming days in other states with oil and gas activity on federal lands, primarily in the western U.S. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management said last month that royalty-rate cuts were possible if companies could show they could not successfully operate public energy leases economically or can’t maintain enough employees at drilling sites. Half the money that comes in through royalty payments is typically disbursed to the states where the oil or gas was extracted. The payments totaled $2.9 billion nationwide in 2019, including $94 million in Utah.

    Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenges Keystone pipeline ruling -  Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, working with counterparts in 17 other states, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a West Coast federal appeals court criticizing a lower court’s decision that will could delay oil and gas pipeline projects. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in April canceled an environmental permit for the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline in Montana. Morris said that the U.S. Army Corps did not adequately consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on risks to endangered species and habitat when it renewed a nationwide permit in 2017 that allows dredging work on pipelines across water bodies. To allow the agency to continue authorizing new oil and gas pipeline construction “could seriously injure projected species and critical habitat,” the judge ruled. While the ruling does not block the construction of Keystone or other pipelines, Keystone officials have said that many projects could be delayed without permission to do the dredging work authorized by the Corps’ 2017 permit. The ruling was welcomed by the environmental groups that filed the challenge in the first place but opposed by energy companies. “Maintaining a stable electrical grid is absolutely vital to the public, and the need for consistent, reliable electricity has been met by the growing production of oil and gas,” Paxton said in a statement announcing the amicus brief filing Friday, which asks the San Francisco-based 9th District Court of Appeals to stay the Montana judge’s ruling.

    Biden White House would yank Keystone XL permit -  Joe Biden would rescind President Donald Trump’s permit allowing the Keystone XL oil pipeline to cross the border into the U.S., a move that would effectively kill the controversial project, his campaign told POLITICO on Monday. The statement is the first from Biden’s campaign about how the presumptive Democratic nominee would handle the project that has been stalled for over a decade if he wins the White House in November. Biden's opposition also raises the stakes for the TC Energy's efforts to start construction on the cross-border portion of the pipeline this year that would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the U.S. “Biden strongly opposed the Keystone pipeline in the last administration, stood alongside President Obama and Secretary Kerry to reject it in 2015, and will proudly stand in the Roosevelt Room again as President and stop it for good by rescinding the Keystone XL pipeline permit,” Biden campaign policy director Stef Feldman said in a written statement to POLITICO. A spokesperson for pipeline developer TC Energy did not immediately respond to questions. The Trump administration is currently appealing a ruling from a federal judge in Montana earlier this month that blocked construction of the pipeline because of an insufficient environmental review. Trump last year signed a cross-border construction permit for Keystone XL, taking it out of the State Department’s hands after years of legal wrangling over the department’s environmental review of the planned route.

    Alberta gears up for another legal battle over Keystone XL after Biden vows to pull permissions --Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he is prepared to go to court anf file a free-trade lawsuit alongside TC Energy Corp. if Joe Biden becomes president and follows through with his promise to pull permits on the Keystone XL pipeline.Construction work on the US$14.4-billion Keystone XL pipeline began in April but fresh opposition from the U.S. Democratic presidential nominee could scuttle the long-delayed pipeline once again.Biden’s election campaign signalled over the weekend that, if the former U.S. vice-president takes the White House this November, he would withdraw presidential permits for the Alberta to U.S. Gulf Coast pipeline Keystone XL.  Kenney said at a news conference Tuesday the province “would use every legal means at our disposal to protect our fiscal and economic interests. A spokesman for TC Energy, the Calgary-based pipeline proponent, said in an emailed statement that no other pipeline project “in the history of the industry has been studied more than Keystone XL.“More than a half-dozen Environmental Impact Studies have been done on Keystone XL over the past 10 years, including the latest U.S. Department of State (Federal Environmental Impact Statement), which was released in December of 2019,” Terry Cunha said.  Legal scholars, however, said that whoever wins the 2020 U.S. presidential election wields tremendous power over the fate of the Keystone XL project, which was approved by a presidential order under U.S. President Donald Trump rather than by Congress. As a result, a future president could theoretically rescind the permit and even force builder TC Energy Corp. to dig up and remove the pipe. Keystone XL has become a “symbol” of the climate change debate in the United States and announcing opposition to the project is one way for Biden and the Democrats to build support among key liberal voters ahead of the November 2020 election,  “It’s become shorthand that you’re an environmentalist if you don’t like Keystone XL,”

    First piece of disputed Keystone XL pipeline finished (AP) — A Canadian company has built the first piece of the disputed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline across the U.S. border and started work on labor camps in Montana and South Dakota. But it has not resolved a courtroom setback that would make it hard to finish the $8 billion project. The 1,200-mile (1,900-kilometer) pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska was stalled for much of the past decade before President Donald Trump was elected and began trying to push it through to completion. Environmentalists and Native American tribes are bitterly opposed to the line because of worries over oil spills and that burning the fuel would make climate change worse. Work finally started in April at the border crossing in remote northern Montana. That 1.2-mile section has now been completed except for some site reclamation activity, TC Energy spokeswoman Sara Rabern said. The Calgary-based company has started site work for labor camps near Baker, Montana, and Philip, South Dakota, but it has not set a date to occupy them. Montana officials have not yet received plans requested from the company to make sure it can prevent the camps from spreading the coronavirus, said Erin Loranger, a spokesperson for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. The state expects to receive the plans before the camps are occupied, she said. The company’s three-year construction timeline was put into doubt following a May 15 ruling from a federal judge in Montana that cancelled a key permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The permit is needed to build the line across hundreds of streams, wetlands and other water bodies along its route. The ruling affected all new oil and gas pipeline construction and was appealed by the Trump administration and TC Energy.

    Democrats back attempt to shut down North Dakota pipeline — Three dozen congressional Democrats are backing an attempt by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to shut down an oil pipeline in North Dakota while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts an environmental review. The group that includes Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren filed a brief in federal court Wednesday asserting that allowing the Dakota Access pipeline to operate during the review would give federal agencies “bureaucratic momentum” and violate treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. “The pipeline’s ultimate fate will be a political decision and these leaders understand that DAPL should have never been routed through tribal lands,” Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who represents the tribe, said of the 36 Democrats. A Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment on behalf of the Army Corps. A half-dozen briefs have been filed by states and groups in favor of keeping the pipeline running. The pipeline was the subject of months of protests, sometimes violent, during its construction in late 2016 and early 2017 near the reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. It began carrying oil in June 2017. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said in April the pipeline remains “highly controversial” under federal environmental law and requires a more extensive review.

    The Energy 202: Public hearings on Zoom have Native Americans worried they won't be heard on oil projects -  The Trump administration is holding virtual public meetings during the coronavirus pandemic to move forward with long-standing plans to expand oil and gas development on public lands. Native American groups, many of whom lack consistent access to the Internet, are worried their voices will not be heard. This is a big obstacle in their fight to stop projects set to take place on lands with cultural significance to them. Tribal groups also say the government's effort to gather feedback, as required by law, on its efforts to expand drilling in both Alaska's North Slope and in northwest New Mexico has been plagued with technical issues. Since the hearings transitioned to Zoom with much of the nation on lockdown, tribal groups in both states and other opponents to the projects report that speakers were disconnected due to bad connections or even muted by moderators. “How many North Slope members have access to WiFi?” Raymond Ipalook, vice president of the tribal council in the Alaska Native village of Nuiqsut, asked during one virtual hearing on April 21. “That’s what I want to know. How many of them know that this webinar is going on?” But officials at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, which oversees federal oil and gas leasing, says these virtual town halls have allowed more people than ever to weigh in on drilling plans. More than 300 people participated in the eight virtual public meetings in Alaska while 100 participated in the first in New Mexico on Thursday, with yet more viewing on Facebook, the BLM said. By contrast, 250 attendees showed up to six in-person meetings held in Anchorage, Fairbanks and other spots in Alaska last year.

    The number of active U.S. crude oil and natural gas rigs is at the lowest point on record -- Producers were operating the fewest oil and natural gas drilling rigs on record in the United States at 339 on May 12, the lowest level in the Baker Hughes Company’s rig count data series that dates back to 1987. The number of active rigs began sharply decreasing in mid-March as crude oil prices fell: rigs have fallen by 56% (433 rigs) since March 17. Most of the decrease was in oil-focused geologic plays, but natural gas-focused plays also saw significant decreases. Since March 17, 71% (308 rigs) of the rigs taken out of service were in the top three U.S. crude oil-producing regions: the Permian region in southeastern New Mexico and western Texas, the Eagle Ford region in southern Texas, and the Bakken region in Montana and North Dakota. Drilling in oil-focused plays has declined as the impact of mitigation efforts for the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have caused declines in petroleum demand and the resulting fall in crude oil prices. In mid-March, the Permian region had 405 operating rigs. By May 12, that number had fallen by 57% to 175 rigs. The Eagle Ford and Bakken regions saw similar declines in their rig counts, of 64% and 69%, respectively, in that time.Rig counts have also fallen in natural gas-focused plays, although those plays had fewer rigs. Earlier this year, the top natural gas-producing regions (aside from the Permian region, where much of the associated natural gas is produced in the United States and where all rigs are classified as oil-directed) were the Marcellus region in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia and the Haynesville region in Louisiana and Texas. Drilling rigs in the Marcellus and Haynesville regions, which are exclusively natural gas rigs, declined by 23% and 26%, respectively, from mid-March to May 12. Changes in the number of oil rigs have historically followed changes in oil prices with a lag time of about four months. However, the current drop in rig count followed the recent decrease in the oil price much more rapidly than in the past. The spot price of West Texas Intermediate began March 2020 at $46.78 per barrel (b) and ended the month at $20.51/b; most of the decrease occurred in the first half of the month. The rig count began to decrease sharply in mid-March. The quick reduction in active rigs reflects the sudden loss of petroleum demand related to coronavirus-related mitigation efforts that also resulted in recent increases in theamount of crude oil placed in storage. Similarly, natural gas rig activity has decreased along with the natural gas price. However, the decrease in natural gas prices has been over a longer period than oil prices; natural gas prices were already at multi-year lows in early 2020. Record-high dry natural gas production in November 2019, low demand because of warm weather, and relatively small withdrawals from storage during the winter heating season (November 1–March 31) have led to a sustained decrease in the natural gas price.

    As rigs come down in oil patch, 2 find use in carbon storage projects - As the coronavirus pandemic sent oil demand plummeting and caused many rigs in the Bakken to come down, two of the machines have gone up in other parts of the state for a new purpose: to drill test wells for carbon capture and storage projects. Drilling is underway near Center in Oliver County for Project Tundra, an effort to capture the carbon dioxide from Minnkota Power Cooperative’s coal-fired Milton R. Young Station and inject the emissions underground for permanent storage. And another rig finished drilling a well in late April near Richardton in Stark County alongside the Red Trail Energy ethanol plant. “Everything went very well,” Red Trail CEO Gerald Bachmeier said of the new 6,900-foot hole in the ground near the ethanol facility. “We’re very satisfied.” Now comes a wait of several months for the ethanol plant to hear back from researchers on whether the rock samples removed in the drilling process indicate that the rock layers deep underground have the right characteristics to store carbon dioxide. The analysis also will help identify exactly which layers -- such as the Inyan Kara formation or the Broom Creek formation -- they should target. A lab in Colorado is doing some of the initial work, then sending the rocks to the Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks to finish. Rock samples removed in the course of drilling the well for Project Tundra will undergo a similar process. Plus, an extensive study is underway on the project’s design and cost, which could be around $1 billion. Dan Laudal, project manager for Project Tundra, said Minnkota feels “pretty confident” that the site near the coal-fired power plant will work, based on extensive research the EERC has done over the past decade into the feasibility of carbon capture and storage in North Dakota. “But certainly there is a little more work to go to prove to our membership and to regulators that these sites are going to accept CO2 and do what we expect,” he said.

    Safety Can't Be a 'Pretext' for Regulating Unsafe Oil Trains, Says Trump Admin | DeSmog --The federal agency overseeing the safe transport of hazardous materials released a stunning explanation of its May 11 decision striking down a Washington state effort to regulate trains carrying volatile oil within its borders. A state cannot use “safety as a pretext for inhibiting market growth,” wrote Paul J. Roberti, the chief counsel for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).The statement appeared in the Trump administration's justification for overruling Washington’s oil train regulation, whichwas challenged by crude-producing North Dakota and oil industry lobbying groups. The Washington rule seeks to limit oil vapor pressure unloaded from trains to less than 9 pounds per square inch (psi) in an attempt to reduce the likelihood that train derailments lead to the now-familiar fireballs and explosions accompanying trains transporting volatile oil.Roberti wrote: “Proponents of the law insist Washington State has a legitimate public interest to protect its citizens from oil train fires and explosions, but in the context of the transportation of crude oil by rail, a State cannot use safety as a pretext for inhibiting market growth or instituting a de facto ban on crude oil by rail within its borders.” With this statement, PHMSA is codifying what has been clear for some time at the regulatory agencies responsible for overseeing the transportation of hazardous materials by rail: that is, profits take priority over safety. A year ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), PHMSA's parent agency, invoked the same legal argument, known as “pre-emption,” to overrule state efforts to require at minimum two-person crews for operating freight trains. As part of the explanation for that decision, the DOT's Federal Railroad Administration announced that it was adopting a policy of deregulation.“DOT’s approach to achieving safety improvements begins with a focus on removing unnecessary barriers and issuing voluntary guidance, rather than regulations that could stifle innovation,” wrote the agency.A regulatory agency announcing a broad deregulatory agenda was shocking. However, this latest move openly declares that, while Washington state may have an interest in protecting its citizens from “oil train fires and explosions,” that concern should not get in the way of the oil industry's ability to ship more of its product by rail through the state, apparently even if that increases the risk of oil train fires and explosions to Washington residents. This logic reaches a new level of prioritizing profits over people as regulatory practice.

    ExxonMobil seeks to restart three platforms idled after Refugio oil spill - Tuesday, May 19, marks the fifth anniversary of the massive Plains All American Pipeline spill near the Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. The collapse of the severely corroded pipeline resulted in 140,000 gallons of crude oil spilling into the ocean, killing hundreds of birds and marine mammals, halting recreational and commercial fishing and fouling four “marine protected areas” created under the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative as the spill was cleaned up. Now, as U.S. oil prices plunge and dozens of oil tankers with no place to store their oil are idling off the California coast, ExxonMobil is trying to restart its three platforms and transport that oil by using up to 70 tanker trucks per day on coastal Highway 101 and accident-prone Route 166 in a project Santa Barbara County is considering this summer. The other four offshore platforms shut down by by the spill are being decommissioned, according to a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity. The idling of the seven offshore platforms served by the pipeline has prevented “massive emissions of climate pollution” since the spill, the Center said. “If the seven offshore drilling platforms served by the pipeline had not gone idle, they would have added 33.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution to the atmosphere. That’s roughly equivalent to operating two coal-fired power plants in California over the same period — or to burning more than 37 billion tons of coal,” the group stated. Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center, said, “California is better off without drilling for oil from these polluting platforms, and so is our climate. Santa Barbara County shouldn’t allow ExxonMobil to restart its offshore drilling operations and endanger Californians.”

    Trump energy chief compares oil-and-gas financing to racist loaning practice -  Bank restrictions on the financing of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic are akin to past practices —known as redlining — of not loaning to communities of color, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Axios in an exclusive interview. A decades-long battle over Arctic drilling is suddenly escalating even as the world grapples with a pandemic. Five of America’s six biggest banks have recently announced they won’t finance oil and gas development in the Arctic, prompting conservative and industry backlash. "For years and years and years, banks would not lend money, insurance companies would not write policies in minority areas in the country. Redlining is the term used all throughout those debates. We didn’t want banks redlining certain parts of the country. We don’t want that here. I do not think banks should be redlining our oil and gas investment across the country." — Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette Brouillette cited his past work at USAA, a financial services firm. Experts said, though, that the redlining comparison is both inappropriate and inaccurate. “It’s offensive and astounding that they would go there,” said Mehrsa Baradaran, a law professor at University of California-Irvine and an expert on redlining and racial discrimination in banking. “A massive corporation being cut off from a few banks is absolutely nothing like the systematic exclusion and exploitation of black communities for hundreds of years. It displays an unfortunate ignorance about the history of redlining.” “Redlining had to do with race and race is specifically constitutionally protected as an area you can’t discriminate against,” said Tony Fratto, a former top official in the Bush administration who's now at the public affairs firm Hamilton Place Strategies. “There is no similar protection for businesses.” “Secretary Brouillette has zero tolerance for discrimination of any type, and he was not in any way equating the plight of minority communities to that of energy companies," Department of Energy spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes said of the redlining analogy. "Accusing him of doing so in order to manufacture a dramatic headline is both disingenuous and not based in any truth." "What he did do is make the powerful point that historically there had been discrimination practiced by some in the financial services industry, a custom he and many others worked hard to eliminate and continue to oppose.”

    US Headed For Another 'Tanker War' With Iran - This Time Off Venezuela's Coast  -Iranian state TV has announced at least five least five Iranian-flagged tankers are transporting fuel to Venezuela through the Atlantic Ocean and plan to break the American blockade on the Latin American country.Iran has warned that any US attempt at intercepting its fuel tankers "would have serious repercussions for the Trump administration ahead of the November elections." State-funded PressTV underscores that "Iran is shipping tons of gasoline to Venezuela in defiance of US sanctions on both countries in a symbolic move guaranteed by Tehran’s missile prowess."Both countries have been targeted under US sanctions and various levels of covert military action of late. President Trump has taken a personal interest in renewed pressure on Maduro, within the past months reportedly pushing his generals to go forward with a 'naval blockade' of the socialist nation. State media has further emphasized that the Iranian fuel tankers will not attempt to conceal their presence or mission: "Iran has intentionally hoisted its own flag over the huge tankers which are navigating through the Atlantic before the eyes of the US Navy," according to the report.Reuters has also reported that US defense officials are planning a potential response:The United States has a “high degree of certainty” that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government is paying Iran tons of gold for the fuel, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.“It is not only unwelcome by the United States but it’s unwelcome by the region, and we’re looking at measures that can be taken,” the official said.

    Coronavirus widens climate rift between European and U.S. oil majors -  (Reuters) - Europe’s top oil and gas companies have diverted a larger share of their cash to green energy projects since the coronavirus outbreak in a bet the global health crisis will leave a long-term dent in fossil fuel demand, according to a Reuters review of company statements and interviews with executives. The plans of companies like BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Total  are in step with the European Union’s efforts to transition to a lower-carbon economy and away from a century-old reliance on oil, and reflect the region’s widening rift with the United States where both the government and the top drillers are largely staying committed to oil and gas. “We are all living differently and there is a real possibility that some of this will stick,” BP Chief Executive Bernard Looney told Reuters in a recent interview, citing big declines in air and road travel, and a boost in telecommuting. Global oil majors have all cut capital spending sharply as worldwide stay-at-home orders triggered by the coronavirus outbreak slammed fuel demand and sent oil prices to record lows. But Europe’s top five producers - BP, Shell, Total, Eni, and Equinor - are all focusing their investment cuts mainly on oil and gas activities, and giving their renewables and low carbon businesses a relative boost, according to Reuters calculations. Company executives and investors say they expect fossil fuel demand to peak earlier than previously thought. At the same time, the EU is expected to focus economic stimulus on green energy infrastructure in the wake of the crisis to further align it with the ambitions of the Paris agreement to fight climate change, making investments in the sector more attractive. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently pledged to make climate policies the bloc’s “motor for the recovery.” BP aims to keep its previously planned $500 million in spending on low-carbon initiatives this year intact, despite a company-wide spending cut of 20% in the wake of the coronavirus, its incoming Chief Financial Officer Murray Auchincloss said in an analyst call on April 28. Shell CEO Ben van Beurden, meanwhile, told reporters in an April 30 conference call he also wants to “spare” the company’s New Energy division, which is focused on renewables and low-carbon technologies, from the worst of its budget cuts.

    European wholesale gas prices fall to fresh record lows  --European gas markets have fallen to fresh record lows as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to erode the demand for fossil fuels. In the UK, the wholesale market price for gas delivered next month fell to 9.25 pence per therm, its lowest in 21 years, raising hopes that winter heating bills may be lower this year. Gas markets in Asia, Europe and the US have all slumped after being left awash with a glut of gas owing to the collapse in demand. In the Netherlands, considered the most important gas market in mainland Europe, prices fell to €3.93 (£3.52) per megawatt-hour on Thursday, less than a third of the price this time last year. The market price for gas was in decline before the Covid-19 pandemic, which could cut demand for gas by 5% this year, according to forecasts from the International Energy Agency. Gas market prices have continued to slide despite cancelled gas exports from the US where shale projects are beginning to shut down, according to analysts at the petrochemical market information provider ICIS. In March, the US loaded 72 cargoes of gas for export on giant liquified natural gas (LNG) tankers, and loaded another 61 in April. From July it will hold back between 30 and 40 cargoes, which could mean cutting around 2.6m tonnes of LNG from the global market, the equivalent of about 8% of the world’s monthly gas supply. Ed Cox, head of LNG at ICIS, said the collapse of European prices showed that the US decision to cut gas exports was “not sufficient to balance the market”, adding that “more supply needs to be taken offline”. Europe’s gas storage facilities, which steadily fill up over the summer in preparation for the winter months, are already more than half full after record storage injections through April to take advance of the cheap gas. Energy suppliers may be able to pass on the record low prices to their customers this winter. But some firms are likely to face severe financial pressure owing to unpaid customer bills, which may limit their ability to pass on savings.

    GLOBAL LNG-European price slump drags down Asian LNG - (Reuters) - Asian spot prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) were dragged down this week by a sharp drop in European gas prices and global oversupply. The average LNG price for July delivery into northeast Asia LNG-AS was estimated at between $1.85 and $2.00 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) on Friday, compared to the $2.40 per mmBtu assessment of June delivery last week. “European gas prices are taking LNG prices lower across the globe,” an LNG trader said. The front-month price on the Dutch market dropped by almost 30% in the past week, trading close to $1.00 per mmBtu on Friday. The day-ahead dropped below $1.00 per mmBtu. “It’s a rolling oversupply that is getting worse and worse,” a gas trader in Europe said. The low prices globally have forced buyers of U.S. LNG to cancel up to 45 cargoes for July loading as delivery became unprofitable, after at least 20 June cargoes were cancelled last month. However, demand from some Asian buyers is recovering. Buyers in China are taking advantage of low prices and are looking for cargoes for delivery from July onwards. PetroChina likely bought a cargo from Russia’s Novatek that operates the Yamal LNG plant at $2.50 per mmBtu for the second half of July delivery. It also bought a cargo from BP at $1.85 per mmBtu for mid-July delivery at S&P Global Platts’ Market on Close window on Friday. Seven U.S. cargoes are expected to be delivered to China in May, the highest number of cargoes for this route since January 2018.

    Negative pricing seen spreading from oil to gas as European demand slumps (Reuters) - A month after U.S. crude oil prices collapsed into negative territory, European gas markets are facing the prospect of also slipping into the red after a slump in demand and surging inventories pushed prices into low single digits. Dutch and British gas prices have plunged due to weak demand amid coronavirus lockdowns and strong renewables output, compounding an already oversupplied market with little available storage space left. In the European benchmark gas market, the Dutch TTF hub, the day-ahead price was down 20% at 2.50 euros per megawatt hour, equivalent to less than $1 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). Prompt UK prices were up to 30% lower. Some traders are expecting European gas contracts for near-term delivery to go to zero or even turn negative - which could force sellers to give gas away - following a similar move in the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil price last month. “If supply remains this strong until storage is full, we can possibly see negative prices at some point, as there is no sign of relief from the demand side,” a European gas trader said. “If it will happen today or next week, it’s hard to say. This weekend we have very low demand and strong supply, so weekend prices might go close to negative,” the trader added. Unlike U.S. crude, UK gas prices have traded negative before, falling below zero in 2006 after the Langeled pipeline from Norway started pumping gas to Britain for the first time. Then, also, storage sites were nearly full. The risk of turning negative is higher for British prompt prices, analysts and traders said, as its only long-term storage site, Rough, closed in 2017. Production cuts or a major outage, combined with significant demand rises, are needed to offset oversupply. “The (UK market) simply doesn’t have as many levers left to pull as continental hubs such as the Dutch,”. “Prices may need to fall to a level that would shut in UK production or lower Norwegian flows even further.”

    NWE gas storage sites could be 'almost' full by end-August: Platts Analytics | S&P Global Platts — Continental Northwest European gas storage sites could be almost entirely full by the end of August and injections will have to fall "dramatically" later this summer to avoid sites hitting capacity and prices collapsing even further, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Storage sites across Europe are filling fast given record low spot prices and the market being in a steep contango, making storage plays particularly economic at present. Speaking on a webinar Wednesday, Platts Analytics senior gas analyst Gilles Heyberger said the continental Northwest European storage surplus is expected to expand to above 6 Bcm based on recent supply and demand, before falling at the start of the third quarter. "Injections need to drop dramatically to achieve this," Heyberger said. "This injection pattern leads to storages being almost entirely full by the end of August, with very limited injections in September and slight withdrawals in October," he said. Heyberger said, however, that there was downside risk to this view. "A slightly looser balance would require injections that cannot be accommodated," he said, adding that as remaining storage space dwindled there would be an increase in prompt price volatility. According to data from Gas Infrastructure Europe, gas storage sites have been filling quickly in April and May across all of Europe, with German stocks already 81.4% full as of May 19. Germany already has a total of 184.7 TWh (17.5 Bcm) stored just one and a half months into the six-month injection season. The strong injections come on the back of a significant storage overhang at the end of another mild winter following a strong storage build at the end of 2019 due to fears -- ultimately unfounded -- that Russian deliveries via Ukraine could have been disrupted at the start of 2020. The storage situation is similar in other countries, with Austrian storage already 81.7% full and Spain 75% full, according to GIE. Based on average injection rates over the past five Gas Years, storage sites could be full by mid-August. Germany and Austria could see their storage sites fill to capacity first if injection rates match the average from the past five years, with some industry observers expecting them to be full as early as July. They would likely be followed by the Netherlands, France, Hungary and the Czech Republic in late August.

    Coast Guard completes work to stem oil spill from British WW2 wreck - The Icelandic Coast Guard has completed work to stem an oil spill from El Grillo, a British tanker wrecked in Seyðisfjörður by German aircraft during World War Two.As reported, the Icelandic government recently granted the coast guard 38 million ISK to stem the oil spill that has been harming local bird life. The project was an urgent priority as the volume of oil leaking from the ship was expected to increase when waters warm in summer.Seven divers travelled to Seyðisfjörður from Reykjavik last week and started setting up the equipment required to fill the ship’s corroded hull with concrete. Work ended on May 15th, but extensive checks will be carried out to ensure the oil spill has been successfully stemmed. The coast guard shared a video of the barge used in the operation:  There have been several efforts to contain the oil leak in the past, but they have had limited success. In 1952 and 2001 engineers attempted to pump oil out of the tanker, but 10-15 tonnes of oil were left behind. It is hoped that the new technique of filling the tanker with concrete will be more effective.

     Ukraine's Odessa gets first WTI oil cargo from U.S. - sources -(Reuters) - Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa is set to receive on Wednesday its first ever West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil cargo from the United States, according to industry sources and shipping data, just a month after the front-month futures for the blend turned negative. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) May crude futures sank to minus $38 per barrel on April 20, just days before their expiration, in a quirky trading pattern never seen before, amid overproduction and lack of storage capacity inflicted by the coronavirus-battling restrictions. On Wednesday, the front-month WTI futures were trading at above $32 a barrel. Industry sources said that the UMLMA tanker has shipped in BP’s 80,000-tonnes cargo for further delivery to the Kremenchug refinery of Ukrtatnafta. The value has not been disclosed. Kiev has moved to diversify its energy supplies from its ex-Soviet master, Russia, following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and subsequent flair-up of pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

    Could This Become The World’s Newest Oil Exporter?  -For many years it seemed that Liberia has missed out on the West African oil bonanza – whilst Nigeria has already established itself as the leading oil producer in the Gulf of Guinea and Ghana was about to celebrate the discovery of Jubilee, Liberia was still bleeding from a 14-year civil war. Having allocated substantial parts of its offshore areas to leading majors in the 1st and 2nd licensing rounds, it took several years to iron out all the technicalities of Liberia’s exploration and production terms, a period which was dampened by rather pessimistic exploratory drilling results. There is a strange irony in that following more than a decade of leisurely political decision-making Liberia is to push forward with its offshore licensing round with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on and oil prices being at multi-year lows but that is exactly what is going on.The Liberia Petroleum Regulatory Authority (LPRA) launched the Harper Basin licensing round on April 10, opening the bidding procedure for nine blocks in the country’s western offshore zone. Despite not being able to conduct the usual upstream roadshow, compelled to launch the licensing round online, LPRA did not delay the licensing round altogether and has instead set February 28, 2021 as the bidding deadline (originally October 2020 was assumed to be the cutoff date). Liberia is more confident that it can attract foreign investment – the government has amended the Petroleum Law and can now offer bigger and newly delineated offshore blocks. But first it might need to convince investors that the oil is genuinely there.

    Massive die-off of fish on Nigerian coastline linked to Toxic Discharge – An immense blanket of dead fish stretching across three states has sparked anger and frustration among communities along the Atlantic Ocean coastline in Nigeria. The area is known for oil spills that have polluted the waters and left fish and other wildlife inedible.The massive die-off was first reported in February when community people from Ogbulagha Kingdom of Delta State raised an alarm on the schools of dead fish floating and littering their shores. The silvery fish graveyard stretched from Delta State through Bayelsa State to Rivers State.In response, officials of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) took samples of the fish, sediment and water for analysis. Idris Musa, head of NOSDRA, declared the die-off had nothing to do with the continual oil leakages from offshore platforms as claimed over the years by Amnesty International, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), and dozens of environmental organizations including those in Nigeria itself.Musa admitted that the values of cadmium and iron were higher than the regulatory limit, according to a post that appeared on the NOSDRA website.But environmentalists including Ako Amadi and Nnimmo Bassey of the Health of the Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), failed to find satisfaction in the NOSDRA report, finding it too superficial to be taken seriously.They accused NOSDRA of playing down and even questioning the fact of the massive fish kill that was evident in many locations."The Ministry of Environment and relevant agencies have a duty to tell Nigerians what killed the fish so that we know how to respond to this and future incidents," said activist Nnimmo Bassey. "We are not satisfied with NOSDRA's report as this does not bring a closure to the saga. Explaining why we experienced a massive death of fish on our coastlines is not beyond our scientists within and outside government." The matter is also being pursued by lawyers under the aegis of the Association of Environmental Lawyers of Nigeria (AELN) who urged the Federal Government to take urgent steps to check the increased toxicity of the nation’s territorial waters.

    Oil tanker off Taranaki poses spill risk that could cost taxpayers - Taxpayers could end up liable if a ship anchored off Taranaki spills any of its 40,000 barrels worth of crude oil. It has been ordered to remain about 50km off the Taranaki coast over winter against the wishes of the owners. Norwegian-listed company BW Offshore argued sitting tight posed a safety risk. The vessel was contracted to Tamarind Taranaki - a subsidiary of Singapore-based Tamarind Resources - which went belly up after an unsuccessful drilling campaign at the Tui oil field late last year The company owes creditors more than $300 million, including about $100 million owed to the government for its share of decommissioning costs at Tui. BW Offshore wanted to detach the Umuroa from the oil field in accordance with a 2017 Environmental Protection Authority decision, but the EPA lodged an urgent appeal this year, citing Tamarind Taranaki's liquidation as a change in circumstance. In a decision released last month, the High Court ordered the Umuroa to stay in place until it could be safely removed. BW Offshore chief financial officer Staale Andreassen said the company's position had not changed. "It's a more and more ageing unit and we believe the safest of all options would be to disconnect as we planned to do and remove the vessel from the field," Andreassen said. "So although we don't feel there is any immediate danger, we believe that's the safest option."

    PCG probes oil spill at CDO port – The Philippine Coast Guard in Northern Mindanao (PCG-NM) on Friday began investigating the oil spill that occurred on the seaport of Barangay Macabalan, this city. The oil spill was first reported to authorities by crews of the ships docked at the Macabalan port Thursday morning, said Ensign Jerich Ybañez, PCG-NM spokesperson. “As soon as we got the information, we then referred it to our MEPU (Marine Environmental Protection Unit) which responded right away,” Ybañez said. He said the MEPU contained the spill by retrieving the oil through absorbent pads and cordoning the area with “spill boom,” a floating barrier used to contain an oil spill. As of Friday, the oil spill has already been contained as the PCG is now determining who was responsible for dumping the substance into the sea, he said. “We have collected samples from the oil spill. As of the moment, we have yet to pinpoint (the culprit) but we are conducting an investigation,” Ybañez said. He said they are now tracing the source of the spill through the samples they have gathered from the sea and from the shipping lines docked at the port. Since Thursday, the PCG-NM has collected about 210 liters of concentrated and diluted oil from the spill, he said. At the Macabalan port where a team from the PCG-NM was conducting the clean-up, ships coming mostly from Vietnam can be seen unloading tons of imported rice onto waiting cargo trucks. “There is a ‘footprint’ and we are going to take the ‘footprint’ of what we have collected. From there, we will know where the oil came from,” he said, adding that once they have traced the oil spill to a particular ship, they will then prepare a complaint with the imposition of sanctions and penalties to follow. Commander Jonie Belarmino, head of the PCG’s MEPU in Northern Mindanao, said the oil spill could have an adverse effect on the marine life such as fish, corals, and mangroves if it was not contained. He also said that the spill has reached a stretch one nautical mile or 1.852 kilometers when it was first reported. “There was a possibility that it could escalate. So far, we have contained it through the use of the spill boom to prevent it from further spreading,” he said.

    Pandemic Leaves Huge Hole in Global Oil Demand-- A fifth of global demand for oil will disappear this quarter. All three of the major forecasting agencies now agree that the world faces its biggest-ever slump in oil consumption, after governments imposed movement restrictions on billions of people to combat the coronavirus. The scale of the demand hit means that despite producers implementing unprecedented output cuts, stockpiles will soar this year. The International Energy Agency, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the U.S. Energy Information Administration have all updated their oil market forecasts in the past week and they have come into much closer alignment in their views of the depth of demand destruction. The pessimistic stance adopted last month by the International Energy Agency has now become the consensus view — the world will use about 1.7 billion barrels less oil this quarter than it did during the same period last year. In reports published mid-April, the EIA and OPEC both saw demand falling by about 12 million barrels a day in the second quarter, compared with the same period last year. The IEA alone forecast a drop in excess of 20 million barrels a day. It has since become a little more optimistic, as lock-downs are eased and businesses gradually begin to reopen. But the other two forecasters have moved sharply in the opposite direction, seeing much more demand destruction than they did a month ago and catching up with the IEA’s more pessimistic view on oil consumption. All three still see the situation improving dramatically in the second half of the year. Although demand is expected to remain below year-earlier levels throughout 2020, the size of the drop is seen to shrink significantly. The IEA and the EIA see it around 5 million barrels a day below last year’s levels in the third quarter, while OPEC is less optimistic, with its forecast still showing a year-on-year loss of more than 8 million barrels a day. The situation is seen improving further in the final three months of the year, with estimates of the demand loss ranging from 2.26 million barrels a day from the EIA to 4.5 million from OPEC. But, as the IEA warns, the biggest uncertainty is “whether governments can ease the lock-down measures without sparking a resurgence of Covid-19 outbreaks.” At present, the forecasts assume that they can. If that assumption proves incorrect, then we could be in for another slump in demand as widespread lock-downs return. Even as the EIA and OPEC have become more pessimistic about the size of the second-quarter demand destruction, the overall mood surrounding the oil market has become more optimistic. In part that’s the result of the first signs that the worst of the demand destruction may have passed, but it also reflects optimism about the impact of output cuts that are a necessary part of balancing the market. The IEA points to “massive cuts” in production from countries outside the OPEC+ agreement, which itself saw 20 countries agree to cut output by an unprecedented 9.7 million barrels a day in May and June from baselines that were mostly set at October 2018 levels. If the OPEC+ countries comply fully with their agreed cuts — which would be a first — the agency sees global oil production in May some 12 million barrels a day below the April level. A further cut of 1.2 million barrels a day by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates has been pledged for June.

    Goldman Sachs: Oil Market Headed For Deficit In June - Improving global oil demand and faster-than-expected production curtailments from outside the OPEC+ pact are set to push the oil market into deficit next month, according to Goldman Sachs.Yet, there is little room for an oil price rally in the near term because of the still sizeable oversupply of crude oil and refined products, Goldman Sachs said in a note, carried by Reuters.  On the other hand, demand is improving from April lows and is limiting the downside for oil prices, the investment bank said.   “We believe that the next stage of the oil market rebalancing will be one of range-bound spot prices with the most notable shifts being a decline in implied volatility as well as a continued flattening of the forward curve without long-dated prices rising yet,” Goldman Sachs said in its note.The Wall Street bank kept its forecasts for oil prices for the summer, with Brent Crude seen at $30 a barrel, and WTI Crude at $28 per barrel, due to the still uncertain pace of global demand recovery.Early on Thursday, Brent Crude was up 2.8 percent at $30.01 and WTI Crude was trading up 3.04 percent at $26.08, after the EIA reported on Wednesday a surprise crude oil inventory decline of 700,000 barrels for the week to May 8. In gasoline, the EIA reported an inventory draw of 3.5 million barrels, after a draw of 3.2 million for the previous week, which fueled hopes for demand recovery. Gasoline production last week averaged 7.5 million bpd, versus 6.7 million bpd a week earlier. “US crude oil inventories declined by a modest 745Mbbls over the week, while stocks at

    A Huge Fleet Of 117 Tankers Is Bringing Super Cheap Crude To China -While the rest of the world is tentatively coming out of lockdowns, China is taking advantage of the cheapest crude oil in years to stock up as demand is starting to return in the world’s largest oil importer, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing tanker-tracking data it has compiled. At present, a total of 117 very large crude carriers (VLCCs) – each capable of shipping 2 million barrels of oil – are traveling to China for unloading at its ports between the middle of May and the middle of August. If those supertankers transport standard-size crude oil cargoes, it could mean that China expects at least 230 million barrels of oil over the next three months, according to Bloomberg. The fleet en route to China could be the largest number of supertankers traveling to the world’s top oil importer at one time, ever, Bloomberg News’ Firat Kayakiran says. Many of the crude oil cargoes are likely to have been bought in April, when prices were lower than the current price and when WTI Crude futures even dipped into negative territory for a day.Last month, emerging from the coronavirus lockdown, China’s oil refiners were already buying ultra-cheap spot cargoes from Alaska, Canada, and Brazil, taking advantage of the deep discounts at which many crude grades were being offered to China with non-existent demand elsewhere.China was also estimated to have doubled the fill rate at its strategic and commercial inventories in Q1 2020, taking advantage of the low oil prices and somewhat supporting the oil market amid crashing demand by diverting more imports to storage, rather than outright slashing crude imports.China’s crude oil imports jumped in April to about 9.84 million bpd as demand for fuels began to rebound and local refiners started to ramp up crude processing, according to Chinese customs data cited by Reuters.  

    China’s Splurge on Dirt-Cheap Crude Revealed in Tanker Movements -- Chinese oil traders know bargain crude prices when they see them. That, at least, is one conclusion from the movements of the world’s supertankers. There are 117 of the industry’s largest crude carriers en route to ports in the Asian country, where there have been increasing signs of a pickup in oil demand following the outbreak of coronavirus. That’s the biggest number of the vessels since at least the start of 2017, and quite possibly ever. Assuming they have standard-sized cargoes on board, the ships are likely delivering at least 230 million barrels of cargo. The surge in flows is just another piece of evidence underpinning the idea that the country’s oil consumption is recovering at a time when many other nations are still struggling to ease lockdown measures as they combat Covid-19. China’s apparent oil demand surged by roughly 11% from March into April, and the nation’s independent refineries are processing at a record rates. “Chinese purchases are done on geopolitical grounds and pricing ground,” said Peter Sand, the chief analyst at shipping trade group BIMCO. “The stars aligned for perfectly in 2nd half of April.” Many of the shipments, due to arrive between now and mid-August, are likely to have been purchased last month, when oil prices briefly plunged toward zero because of a huge global overproduction of crude. U.S. barrels traded at negative prices last month amid concern about a lack of space to store supplies while, across the world, physical grades also became steeply discounted. China’s apparent oil demand rose to 11.81 million barrels a day in April, up from 10.63 million in March, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That means the vessels en route will deliver almost 20 days of supply.

    Glut of Oil on Tankers Shows Signs of Shrinking-- One of the oil market’s most obvious signs of oversupply -- millions of barrels being stored on tankers all over the world -- is showing very tentative signs of shrinking. On Thursday, North Sea oil traders offered almost 8 million barrels of crude for sale on a pricing window organized by S&P Global Platts. Some of the 13 cargoes being sold were previously being stored at sea. The offers -- most didn’t end in deals -- were the first of their kind since a global surplus began overflowing onto tankers early last month. The offers provide an insight into how physical crude traders view the all-important North Sea oil market, where prices serve as benchmark for millions of barrels all over the world. The amount stored on ships globally is tentatively showing signs of falling too. It stood at 155 million barrels on Thursday, down from 176 million barrels last week, according to Vortexa Ltd., a tanker analytics firm. Though volumes have fallen, the amount floating is still more than double what it was two months ago. “Crude in floating storage is likely to fall first and fastest upon any demand strength, as it’s typically the most expensive form of storage available,” said Jay Maroo, a senior analyst at Vortexa. It’s too soon to say if the shrinking floating hoard will mark the start of a trend, or whether it’s just the ebb and flow of trading. Most estimates indicate that oil production continues to exceed demand by millions of barrels a day, implying there’s an excess that still needs to be stored. Nevertheless, the drop in stockpiles at sea mirrors a sharp reduction in the financial rewards that the oil market offers those who’re storing. A so-called supercontango, where more-immediate prices are deeply discounted relative to later months, has fallen sharply in recent weeks. At one stage, the gap between first-month Brent crude and supplies six months later stood at $14 a barrel. That equated to $28 million for a standard supertanker cargo. Now the gap is just $3.43 and wouldn’t cover the cost of hiring the ship. The precise picture on floating storage -- and which trades are being unwound -- is also a mixed one. Many vessels were booked with options to store several weeks ago are only now starting to do so. Many of those will keep storing because they were booked for a fixed period of several months, according to Eugene Lindell, an oil market analyst at consultant JBC Energy GmbH. But some of the storage that’s being discontinued had been happening for logistical reasons -- a ship might have been running late unloading because the receiving terminal wasn’t ready, allowing the vessel’s owner to charge an expensive waiting fee known in the shipping industry as demurrage.

    Oil prices rise more than $1 ahead of WTI June contract expiry -- Oil prices climbed by more than $1 a barrel on Monday to their highest in more than a month, supported by ongoing output cuts and signs of gradual recovery in fuel demand as more countries ease curbs imposed to stop the coronavirus pandemic spreading. Brent crude was up $1.19, or 3.7%, at $33.69 a barrel by 0240 GMT, after touching a high since April 13. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up $1.26, or 4.3%, at $30.69 a barrel, after rising to its highest since March 16. The June WTI contract expires on Tuesday, but there was little sign of WTI repeating the historic plunge below zero seen last month on the eve of the May contract's expiry amid signs that demand for crude and derived fuels is recovering from its nadir. Production is also falling as U.S. energy firms cut the number of oil and natural gas rigs operating to an all-time low for a second consecutive week. That partly helped ease concerns about the WTI contract's delivery point in Cushing, Oklahoma, running out of space. "Given particularly that surprise draw that we saw on inventories last week in the U.S., it seems unlikely that those concerns about storage facilities will reassert themselves," The Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which hosts trading in WTI futures, brokerages and the United States Oil Fund LP, the largest oil-focused exchange-traded product in the country, have all taken steps that reduce open positions ahead of the WTI contract's expiry.. Also supporting oil prices are production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, including Russia, a grouping known as OPEC+. The world's top exporter Saudi Arabia announced last week that it would cut an additional 1 million barrels per day in June, while OPEC+ wants to maintain existing oil cuts beyond June when the group is next due to meet. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have agreed to halt oil production from the joint Al-Khafji field for one month, starting from June 1, Kuwait's Al Rai newspaper reported on Saturday.

    Oil jumps 11% to $32 as June futures contract nears expiration  - West Texas Intermediate for June delivery jumped more than 9% on Monday to a two-month high, one day ahead of the contract's expiration, as production cuts and the easing of stay-at-home restrictions supported prices. "Producers are significantly throttling back output and, with demand increasing, the market is on a slow path towards recovery," said Rystad Energy's senior oil markets analyst Paola Rodriguez Masiu. "Faced with meager demand and unattractive low prices, production curtailments came faster and deeper than initially anticipated." WTI, the U.S. benchmark, surged 11.6%, or $3.43, to trade at $32.86 per barrel. International benchmark Brent crude, which has already rolled to the July contract, traded 7.5% higher at $34.93 per barrel. Monday's jump is in sharp contrast to just one month ago when, on the day before the contract for May delivery expired, prices plunged below zero and into negative territory for the first time in history. With much of the world still on lockdown and storage rapidly filling, people were worried that there would be nowhere to put the oil. The contract holders were left scrambling and ultimately would do anything — in this case, even pay to have it taken off their hands. Since then, demand has begun to recover, and worldwide suppliers have reduced output in an effort to support the market. OPEC and its oil-producing allies took 9.7 million barrels per day offline beginning on May 1, and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE are among the group's nations that have said they will voluntarily cut production further. Beginning in June OPEC de facto leader Saudi Arabia said it would take an additional 1 million bpd offline. In the U.S., data from the Energy Information Administration last week showed that production has dropped 1.5 million bpd below March's all-time high level of 13.1 million bpd. Gasoline demand has also started to show signs of recovery as states begin to reopen economies. The more actively traded WTI contract for July delivery jumped 8% to trade at $31.89, while the contract for August delivery traded 7.4% higher at $32.33. Oil is coming off its third straight week of gains, but prices are still well below January's high, when WTI traded above $60 per barrel.

    Traders feared June oil futures would go negative, instead they expire Tuesday possibly above $30 -- This time last month, investors were watching the futures market in disbelief. The May contract for West Texas Intermediate oil was set to expire, and prices did the unthinkable — they plunged 300% in one day, deep into negative territory. In the spot market all across North America, prices also turned negative, meaning people literally couldn't even give oil away. There were dire forecasts of much more pain ahead, and a recurrence of the wild trading was feared for the June contract. But now the outlook is much improved, as the June contract is set to expire Tuesday. The world has changed, and the ugly crisis created by both oversupply and a sudden lack of demand is beginning to reverse. Helima Croft said the "green shoots of recovery in place," as Chinese and U.S. demand are improving, and OPEC plus ended its feuding and agreed to sharply cut output. China has been buying more oil, and its demand is clearly strengthening. U.S. drivers are getting back into their cars as coronavirus shutdown restrictions lift. On the supply side, Saudi Arabia last week added another 1 million barrels a day cut of its own to the OPEC plus deal for a 9.7 million barrel reduction, and America's oil industry has cut its production quickly and sharply. Oil prices jumped sharply Monday, rising on the positive developments and a rally in risk markets sparked by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's comments that the Fed will can do more to support markets and the economy. WTI futures for June were up 7.4% at $31.62 per barrel in afternoon trading. Now, the demand side of the market and the supply side are improving in tandem, to reduce the oil glut that was close to filling all available storage facilities, including ships at sea. The fact that the world was running out of places to store oil in April was behind the sharp drop in the futures contract. Investors were unable or unwilling to take delivery of oil, and there were also investors who became trapped in the trade as the selling spiraled. Interactive Brokers took a $109.3 million hit to cover its customers' losses. Oil is now trading above $30 for the first time since March 17, and RBOB gasoline futures have risen above $1 per gallon for the first time since March 13.  As the June contract gets set to expire, the landscape has changed dramatically for the U.S. oil industry. U.S. production was at a record high in March, and has cut back by 1.5 million barrels a day in just about six weeks, to 11.6 million barrels a day, according to the Energy Information Administration's latest weekly data. Analysts expect production could be down by another 500,000 to 1 million barrels soon. "This is a remarkable plunge in activity. ... It's pretty clear the U.S. is now the swing producer." Baker Hughes reported that another 34 oil rigs went out of service last week, leaving just 258 active oil rigs, about a third of the rig count last year. "Storage at Cushing actually fell last week. That was the whole mechanism last month that drove the negative pricing," said Kilduff. "There were barrels to take in and no place to put them." Cushing, Oklahoma is the storage hub for WTI, so the market watches storage levels there closely. 

    Oil steady on signs of output cuts - Oil prices were steady on Tuesday amid signs that producers are cutting output as promised while traders awaited more clarity on the demand picture as some countries ease out of lockdowns. Benchmark Brent crude rose 43 cents, or 1.26%, to trade at $35.25 per barrel. The front-month contract for West Texas Intermediate crude, which is set to expire on Tuesday, was up $1.27, or 4%, at $33.09 per barrel. The July contract, which was trading at vastly higher volumes, was up one cent at $31.75 a barrel. "A powerful cocktail made of bullish ingredients have been supporting the oil market for a month ... Demand is improving, supply is decreasing," "This improvement in sentiment, however, is expected to be relatively short-lived ... economic output will grow compared to the current quarter but will be well below the levels expected at the beginning of the year," Varga added. Global demand recovery is expected to be slow as some restrictions remain and there is a significant risk of repeat outbreaks and lockdowns. The Eurasia group urged caution on oil consumption, citing "a global recession, cautious consumers, and a later and potentially worse peak of the coronavirus outbreak in emerging markets such as Latin America, Africa, and South Asia". There was little sign of a repeat of the historic plunge below zero seen last month ago on the eve of the May contract's expiry amid signs of rising demand for crude and fuels. The market was boosted earlier by signs that output cuts agreed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and others including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, are being implemented. OPEC+ cut its oil exports sharply in the first half of May, companies that track shipments said, suggesting a strong start in complying with their latest pact to curb output. U.S. production is also falling, with crude output from seven major shale formations expected to fall to 7.822 million barrels per day in June, the lowest since August 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. A recovery in fuel demand in India also gathered momentum in the first half of May.

    WTI Extends Gains After Large Surprise Crude Draw - Oil prices were higher on a choppy day as WTI June rolled into July as traders weighed supply cuts and a demand rebound against an ominous economic outlook from the Fed.On the bright side... “The demand side has come off the low, the supply side is still falling,” said Peter McNally, global lead for industrials, materials and energy at Third Bridge.“That has led to this bounce back in the prices.”However, reality is still a concern...“People are still locked down and there are still a lot of people without jobs right now,” “It’s really going to fall on the next two weeks of seeing if these states that have opened up, is there going to be an increase in cases.”And so tonight's API inventory data will be keenly watched for any continuatiojn of last week's surprise draws, or a switch back to builds...API:

    • Crude -4.8mm (+2.4mm exp) - biggest draw since 12/29
    • Cushing -5.0mm - a record draw
    • Gasoline -651k (-3.5mm exp)
    • Distillates +5.1mm (+3.2mm exp)

    After 15 straight weekly builds, crude stocks drew down very modestly in the prior week, but last week saw a notable 4.8mm barrel drawdown - the biggest draw since 2019... (and a record 5mm drop in Cushing stocks)

    Oil rises on signs of firmer demand, fall in U.S. crude stocks - Oil prices rose on Wednesday amid signs of improving demand and a drawdown in U.S. crude inventories but worries over the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic capped gains. Brent crude futures for July delivery were up 23 cents, or 0.7%, at $34.88 per barrel at 0347 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for July were up 14 cents, or 0.4%, at $32.10 a barrel. The July contract closed on Tuesday at $31.96, up 1%. The June contract expired on Tuesday at $32.50 a barrel, up 2.1%, as the WTI futures market avoided the chaos of last month's May expiry, when prices sank below zero. Oil prices have mainly risen during the past three weeks, with both benchmarks climbing above $30 for the first time in more than a month on Monday, supported by massive output cuts by major oil producing countries and signs of improving demand. U.S. crude inventories fell by 4.8 million barrels to 521.3 million barrels in the week to May 15, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed on Tuesday. Refinery runs rose by 229,000 barrels per day, the API said, a sign that plants are trying to produce more fuel as the United States eases its lockdowns put in place to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus. Official data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) is due at 10:30 a.m. (1430 GMT) on Wednesday. "Oil markets have worried about high crude inventories but yesterday the WTI June contract expired and rolled over to July smoothly as concerns over crude stocks ease and demand has improved in the short-term," said Kim Kwang-rae, commodity analyst at Samsung Securities in Seoul.

    WTI Tumbles Despite Record Drop In Cushing Stocks - After WTI's roll from June to July, oil prices have continued their explosion higher, accelerating this morning after last night's surprise crude draw from API. This is the fifth day higher in a row, with July WTI topping $33.50 despite vaccine expectations falling and little to no positive economic headlines. The market is clearly hope-filled... “Demand is now clearly on its way back from extremely low levels in April,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB AB. “The direction for oil is most likely still higher from here.” However, as Bloomberg Intelligence Energy Analyst Fernando Valle, warns, while opening of different states and increased traffic point to recovery in gasoline demand; with Latin America’s economic situation worsening, exports will be subdued and contribute to a growing glut in refined products, particularly diesel. DOE:

    • Crude -4.982mm (+2.4mm exp)
    • Cushing -5.587mm - a record weekly draw
    • Gasoline +2.83mm (-3.5mm exp)
    • Distillates +3.831mm (+3.2mm exp)

    After 15 straight weeks of builds, the streak broke last week and this week saw crude draw even bigger (the most since 2019). Cushing saw its biggest draw on record as gasoline and distillate saw unexpected builds...

    Oil jumps nearly 5% on firmer demand, surprise drop in U.S. stockpile - Oil prices firmed on Wednesday on signs of improving demand and a drawdown in U.S. crude inventories, but worries over the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and weak refining margins capped gains. West Texas Intermediate July crude futures gained $1.53, or 4.79%, to settle at $33.49 per barrel. Brent crude futures rose $1.10, or 3.2%, to settle at $35.75 per barrel. The WTI June contract expired on Tuesday at $32.50 a barrel, up 2.1%, avoiding the chaos of last month's May expiry, when prices sank well below zero. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed that for the week ending May 15 inventory dropped by 5 million barrels. According to estimates from FactSet, analysts had been expecting a build of 1.8 million barrels. Easing of lockdown restrictions worldwide are boosting demand for fuels, while initial shipping data shows that compliance with oil production cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies has been strong so far. But weak crude refining profits persist, which could delay a recovery in oil demand. "We would need to see strength in refinery margins in order to persuade refiners to increase utilisation rates, but at current levels there seems little incentive for them to do so, with many regions still seeing negative margins," Refiners are pinning hope on easing of lockdowns boosting gasoline demand. Lingering concerns about the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, especially in the United States which is the world's biggest oil consumer, kept a lid on further gains. U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said on Tuesday layoffs by state and local governments will slow the U.S. economic recovery. U.S. crude inventories fell by 4.8 million barrels to 521.3 million barrels in the week to May 15, data from the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed on Tuesday. Refinery runs rose by 229,000 barrels per day, the API said, indicating plants are trying to produce more fuel as the United States eases its lockdowns.

     Oil jumps to highest level since March on lower U.S. inventories, recovering demand - Oil prices rose to the highest level since March on Thursday, supported by lower U.S. crude inventories, OPEC-led supply cuts and recovering demand as governments ease restrictions imposed on people's movements due to the coronavirus crisis. Crude prices have slumped in 2020, with Brent hitting a 21-year low below $16 a barrel in April as demand collapsed. With fuel use rising and more signs that the supply glut is being tackled, Brent has since more than doubled. Brent rose 31 cents, or 0.87%, to settle at $36.06 per barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude gained 43 cents, or 1.28%, to settle at $33.92 per barrel. "Global supply has been curtailed to a great degree," said Rystad Energy analyst Paola Rodriguez Masiu. "We are on a clear path to a gradual recovery now." In the latest sign the supply glut is easing, U.S. crude inventories fell 5 million barrels last week. Analysts had expected an increase. "The rally in the crude futures is beginning to approach levels in which U.S. shale production declines will begin to slow and possibly reverse as low cost producers attempt to generate revenue," Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Illinois, said in a report. At the same time, there is evidence of recovering fuel use. Top U.S. airlines and Air Canada (AC.TO) on Tuesday reported slower ticket cancellations and an improvement in bookings on some routes, though executives said overall demand remained weak. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other allies, known as OPEC+, agreed to cut supply by a record 9.7 million barrels per day from May 1. So far in May, OPEC+ has cut oil exports by about 6 million bpd, according to companies that track the flows, suggesting a strong start in complying with the deal. OPEC says the market has responded well.

    Oil falls on China-U.S. tensions, energy demand doubts –(Reuters) - Oil prices tumbled about 2% on Friday on rising U.S.-China tensions and doubts about how quickly fuel demand would recover from the coronavirus crisis. Fuel demand plummeted in recent months as the pandemic caused governments to impose restrictions on movement and businesses closed their doors. Oil has rallied in recent days as activity started to resume. But prices dropped after China said on Friday it would not publish an annual growth target for the first time. Beijing also pledged more government spending as the pandemic kept hammering the economy. “The coronavirus has nullified a decade of global oil demand growth and the recovery will be slow,” said Stephen Brennock of broker PVM. Brent crude futures fell 93 cents, or 2.6%, to settle at $35.13 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude ended 67 cents, or 2%, lower at $33.25 a barrel. China is set to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong after last year’s pro-democracy unrest, a Chinese official said on Thursday, drawing a warning from President Donald Trump that Washington would react “very strongly.” For the week, Brent and WTI gained 8% and 13%, respectively, but some said they may have come too far, too fast. “A second wave (of the coronavirus) is not such a remote possibility and a new round of lockdowns could send prices back to much lower levels very quickly, and the market knows it,” said Rystad Energy senior oil markets analyst Paola Rodriguez Masiu. Oil prices have plummeted more than 40% so far in 2020. The recent rebound was due in part to efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies to reduce supply. OPEC+ is reducing supply by a record 9.7 million barrels per day from May 1.

    Is The Oil Rally Coming To An End? -- The long rally for oil prices came to a halt on Friday over fears about a slower-than-expected economic recovery in China. The Chinese government broke with tradition and declined to set a growth target for 2020 due to “great uncertainty.” Markets were also disappointed with the tepid size of government stimulus from Beijing. Meanwhile, rising U.S.-China tension adds to the concerns.    Despite questions about economic growth, China’s oil imports are set to rise by about 2 percent this year. In fact, China’s oil demand is already back to about 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels.   Continental Resources asked North Dakota regulators to order mandatory production cuts or flaring limits.   One of the world’s largest oil fields may need to shut down because dozens of workers have been infected by the coronavirus. The Tengiz oil field, produces 500,000 bpd in Kazakhstan, faces a potential closure, the government said. Almost 950 workers at the site have tested positive.  The oil majors only closed 3 renewable energy deals in the first quarter, compared to 17 in the same quarter a year earlier.  Shell said that it evacuated around 60 foreign staff from Iraq’s Basra Gas Company as a security precaution following a protest over pay. . All international companies operating in Angola – Total, Chevron, ExxonMobil,BP, and Eni – have idled or scrapped drilling rigs in the country, according to Reuters. “We have suspended all our drilling activities like all other operators in Angola,” Total said in a statement. Total makes up half of Angola’s output.  The Argentine government fixed domestic oil prices at $45 per barrel in an attempt to prevent a collapse of its oil industry. The price would be voided if Brent moves above $45 for 10 days. The policy will last until the end of 2020, but there are questions about its efficacy. The collapse in demand means there is already a surplus, leaving little room for drillers to ramp up. Meanwhile, YPF (NYSE: YPF) said it would ditch plans to expand LNG exports from the country.

    Oil prices settle lower on fears about China turbulence, but score a weekly gain -— Oil futures settled lower Friday, with U.S. prices breaking the longest winning streak in more than a year over worries about China growth and fresh friction between Washington and Beijing. Oil prices declined “thanks to growing doubts over the strength of China’s economic recovery, while rising tensions between the Beijing and Washington hit the commodity further,” said Lukman Otunuga, senior research analyst at FXTM. “Although oil may find support as economies relax lockdown measures, upside gains are destined to be capped by rising fears over slowing global growth and geopolitical tensions,” he told MarketWatch. “Looking at the technical picture, WTI crude could slip back towards $24 if $30 gives way,” he said. July West Texas Intermediate oil fell 67 cents, or 2%, to settle at $33.25 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, the contract posted a gain for a sixth straight session—the longest since February 2019, according to Dow Jones Market Data. Prices rose 1.3% Thursday to settle at $33.91—the highest since March 10, based on the front-month contracts. Global benchmark Brent crude for July delivery lost 93 cents, or 2.6%, to $35.13 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. For the week, WTI crude finished 12.6% higher and Brent tacked on 8.1%, with both benchmarks marking their fourth weekly advance in a row. Investors were rattled by concerns of fresh unrest in Hong Kong after news the Chinese government is considering a sweeping national security law that could curtail the territory’s autonomy. President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday that the U.S. would react “strongly” toward those moves on Hong Kong. Last year saw increasingly violent protests in the financial hub, though the coronavirus outbreak slowed some of that activity. Against that backdrop, global equities and U.S. benchmark stock indexes mostly declined. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.03% was down in late-Friday dealings as gold futures settled. Investors may also be wary of holding on to perceived riskier assets such as stocks and oil ahead of the long holiday weekend in the U.S. and U.K.

    Oil drops 2%, but still posts fourth straight week of gains - Oil prices tumbled on Friday on rising U.S.-China tensions and doubts about how quickly fuel demand would recover from the coronavirus crisis. Fuel demand plummeted as the coronavirus pandemic caused governments to impose restrictions on movement and businesses closed their doors. Oil has rallied in recent days as activity starts to resume, but prices dropped after China said on Friday it would not publish an annual growth target for the first time. Beijing also pledged more government spending as the pandemic kept hammering the economy. "The coronavirus has nullified a decade of global oil demand growth and the recovery will be slow," said Stephen Brennock of broker PVM. Brent crude fell 93 cents, or 2.58%, to settle at $35.13 per barrel, after gaining nearly 1% on Thursday. West Texas Intermediate crude dropped 67 cents, or 1.98%, to settle at $33.25 per barrel, having gained more than 1% in the last session. China is set to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong after last year's pro-democracy unrest, a Chinese official said on Thursday, drawing a warning from President Donald Trump that Washington would react "very strongly." Brent and U.S. crude were set for 8% and 12% weekly gains, respectively, but some said they may have come too far, too fast. "A second wave (of the coronavirus) is not such a remote possibility and a new round of lockdowns could send prices back to much lower levels very quickly, and the market knows it," said Rystad Energy senior oil markets analyst Paola Rodriguez Masiu. Oil prices have plummeted more than 40% so far in 2020, rebounding in part due to efforts by OPEC+ to reduce supply. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, are reducing supply by a record 9.7 million barrels per day from May 1 to support the market. In a sign of the glut easing, U.S. crude inventories fell last week. Gasoline demand is rising and some airlines are planning for a return of European travel. The U.S. rig count, an early indicator of future output, fell by 21 to a record low 318 in the week to May 22, according to data on Friday from energy services firm Baker Hughes Co going back to 1940.

    Fresh Rocket Attack On US Embassy In Baghdad Amid Renewed Anti-America Protests - After months of the world's attention focused on the pandemic and resulting national shutdowns and economic pauses, the fact that the US and Iran were only months ago almost at war in Iraq seems a world away. But a proxy war pitting Iranian-backed Shia paramilitary fores in Iraq against US interests and allies has continued unabated, threatening once again to draw in American military intervention.In the latest instance, multiple rockets were fired on the US embassy in Baghdad Tuesday morning. "A rocket struck Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government, early on Tuesday morning, according to an Iraqi military statement, the first attack on the area since a new prime minister was sworn in earlier this month," AP reports."An Iraqi official said the rocket had struck near the US Embassy, without elaborating," the report notes. Local media said in total three rockets were launched toward the embassy though it's rarely the case they hit their intended target. Sirens could be heard blaring throughout the central secured area.While it's not the first such attack on Baghdad's high secured 'Green Zone' of the past months, it comes amid renewed street protests and popular outrage triggered by accusations that MBC media a major Middle East broadcaster seen as aligned to Western interests (given it first launched from London before moving to Dubai) insulted the memory of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi paramilitary leader killed alongside IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani by US drone strike on Jan. 3.

    Shell evacuates foreign staff from Iraq's Basra Gas project: executives -  (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell evacuated some 60 foreign staff from Iraq’s Basra Gas Company as a security measure following a protest over delayed pay, company officials said on Thursday, adding production was unaffected. The staff were flown out of the country on Wednesday after workers protested at the headquarters of Basra Gas Company (BGC), a venture between state-owned South Gas Company, Shell and Mitsubishi (8058.T), to demand payment of their delayed salaries, officials said. “Shell confirms that as result of a security breach at the accommodation camp of Basra Gas Company, we have temporarily relocated Shell secondees,” Shell said in emailed comments. “All staff and contractors are safe and BGC production is not impacted,” Shell said. It said the staff, evacuated for security reasons, would work remotely and it did not anticipate any short-term impact on production from the Basra Gas Company, which project officials say is around 900 million standard cubic feet per day. Shell said it was working with its Iraqi state partner to solve the pay issue and hoped the evacuated staff could resume work onsite as soon as possible. Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said they were seeking a quick solution to pay the delayed salaries and that the gas project, overseen by Iraqi engineers, was functioning normally.“Shell’s evacuation is a precautionary and temporary measure and its foreign staff will provide advice and perform their duties remotely for now,” a senior Basra Gas Company official said. Iraqi officials providing security at the Basra Gas Company said Wednesday’s protest, which was also close to a Shell compound, was limited and under control. Most energy companies in Iraq’s south cut wages or laid off workers to cut costs after oil prices fell because of the coronavirus crisis. In April, benchmark Brent crude LCOc1 fell to its lowest levels in more than 20 years.

    Exclusive: In veiled warning to Iran, U.S. tells Gulf mariners to stay clear of its warships  (Reuters) - In an alert that appeared aimed squarely at Iran, the U.S. Navy issued a warning on Tuesday to mariners in the Gulf to stay 100 meters (yards) away from U.S. warships or risk being “interpreted as a threat and subject to lawful defensive measures.” The notice to mariners, which was first reported by Reuters, follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat last month to fire on any Iranian ships that harass Navy vessels. "Armed vessels approaching within 100 meters of a U.S. naval vessel may be interpreted as a threat," according to the text of the notice, which can be seen here here ( A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new notice to mariners was not a change in the U.S. military’s rules of engagement. The Pentagon has stated that Trump’s threat was meant to underscore the Navy’s right to self-defense. The Bahrain-based U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement that its notice was “designed to enhance safety, minimize ambiguity and reduce the risk of miscalculation.” It follows an incident last month in which 11 Iranian vessels came close to U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships in the Gulf, in what the U.S. military called “dangerous and provocative” behavior. At one point, the Iranian vessels came within 10 yards (9 meters) of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Maui, the U.S. military said. Trump’s threat followed that incident, which Tehran, in turn, said was the fault of the United States. The head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards responded to Trump by threatening to destroy U.S. warships if its security is threatened in the Gulf.

    Yemen conflict: Saudi Arabia's botched war - -  Despite more than five years of military intervention in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign has failed to save the country from disintegration. The Southern Transitional Council (STC), backed by the United Arab Emirates, now occupies the important port of Aden, and, to the dismay of Saudi Arabia, has declared self-rule over the south. But this de facto partition ultimately may not reduce instability in Yemen and the region.In fact, Yemen already is effectively divided into three territorial entities. The Saudi-backed government of President Abdu Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, now exiled, and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels control the other two. This has prolonged the fighting – described as “a civil war within a civil war” – with profound geostrategic implications.The conflict has persisted since early 2015, when the Arab coalition, comprising of Saudi Arabia and eight other countries, including the UAE, launched a massive military intervention. The main architect was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), now the kingdom’s de facto ruler. A crucial supporter was the equally forceful Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. MbS’s objective was twofold. One was to strengthen his position within the royal family in order to succeed his father, the ageing King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. The other was to restore Hadi’s rule, which ended in September 2014, when fighters from the minority Zaidi-Shia Houthis took over Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and drove him out. MbS also wanted to demonstrate to Shia Iran that Sunni Saudi Arabia – the site of Islam’s two holiest shrines – would no longer be a passive power and would not tolerate expansion of Iranian influence in the region, especially up to the Saudi border. MbS’s anti-Iranian aim resonated with MbZ and other allies, who formed a counterweight to the Islamic Republic. U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration was in the process of negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed in July 2015. While the ongoing talks made Obama hesitant about the Saudi-led intervention, America’s traditional alliance with the kingdom won out, and the U.S. backed the coalition.

    Sjursen- What On Earth Is The US Doing By Bombing Somalia? -  Maj. Danny Sjursen, USA (ret.) - The Trump administration has quietly ramped up a vicious bombing – and covert raiding – campaign in Somalia amid a global coronavirus pandemic. Neither the White House nor the Pentagon has provided any explanation for the deadly escalation of a war that Congress hasn’t declared and the media rarely reports. At stake are many thousands of lives. The public statistics show a considerable increase in airstrikes from Obama’s presidency. From 2009 to 2016, the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced 36 airstrikes in Somalia. Under Trump, it conducted at least 63 bombing raids just last year, with another 39 such attacks in the first four months of 2020. The ostensible US target has usually been the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab, but often the real – or at least consequent – victims are long-embattled Somali civilians.As for the most direct victims, it’s become clear that notoriously image-conscious AFRICOM public affairs officers have long undercounted and underreported the number of civilians killed in their expanding aerial bombardments. According to Airwars, a UK-based airstrike monitoring group, civilian fatalities – while low relative to other bombing campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria – may exceed official Pentagon estimates by as much as 6,800 percent. Only these deaths don’t tell the half of it. Tens of thousands of Somalis have fled areas that the US regularly bombs, filtering into already overcrowded refugee camps outside of the capital of Mogadishu.There are approximately 2.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia who barely survive and are often reliant on humanitarian aid. So vulnerable are the refugees in the pandemic-petri-dish camps, that one mother of seven described feeling “like we are waiting for death to come.” Her fears may prove justified. Recently, coronavirus cases have risen rapidly in Somalia – a country with no public health system to speak of – and due to severely limited testing availability, experts believe the actual tally is much higher than reported. No matter how AFRICOM spins it, their escalatory war will only exacerbate the country’s slow-boiling crisis.

    Venezuela To 'Protect' 5 Inbound Iranian Tankers With Ships & Planes Military Escort - Though largely off the mainstream media's radar amid all things pandemic related, we've been closely following the saga of Iran's provocatively sending five fuel-laden tankers to gasoline-starved Venezuela, despite repeat and growing threats of US intervention against the brazen sanctions-busting mission.  And now surely escalating matters from Washington's point of view, the Maduro government has vowed it will provide navy ships and military aircraft to escort the inbound Iranian fuel tankers.  Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Wednesday that the military escort will be prepared to defend the ships once they enter Venezuela's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends 200 miles off the coast this after Trump was previously reported to have ordered a US naval build-up in the Caribbean in order to thwart sanctions-busting and narco-trafficking conducted by the Latin American country.“When they enter our exclusive economic zone, they will be escorted by Bolivarian National Armed Forces boats and planes to welcome them in and thank the Iranian people for their solidarity and cooperation,” Padrino said on state television.He underscored that he was closely coordinating with Iran's defense minister, also after Washington has focused on the sanctioned Iranian airline Mahan Air's flights in and out of Caracas of late, said to be carrying vital equipment for Venezuela's derelict fuel refineres, needed for domestic gas consumption. Meanwhile, Reuters details that the tankers are expected to arrive within the next weeks:The tankers - Fortune, Forest, Petunia, Faxon and Clavel - are carrying around 1.5 million barrels of fuel, and passed the Suez Canal in the first two weeks of May, Refinitiv Eikon data show. They are expected to arrive in Venezuela between late May and early June. To be expected, US-backed opposition leader and self-proclaimed 'Interim President' Juan Guaido is focusing outrage on the presence of Iranians in propping up the Maduro regime.

    France, UN envoys warn Israel against partial annexation of West Bank --France is working with other European nations to dissuade Israel from a partial annexation of the occupied West Bank, its foreign minister said Wednesday, as the UN’s Mideast envoy warned Israel against “closing the door” to negotiations.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said cabinet discussions will start in July over extending Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, as wasmooted under US President Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan.A partial annexation of the West Bank would constitute a serious violation of international law, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a parliament hearing on Wednesday.Le Drian said France was working with European partners to come up with a joint action plan for prevention and reprisal should Israel make such a move."For the past few days we have held several video conferences with European colleagues (...) with a view to deciding on a joint preventive action and eventually a reprisal if such a decision were taken," he said.Also on Wednesday, the UN’s Middle East envoy warned that an Israeli move to annex parts of the West Bank would "close the door” to negotiations."The continuing threat of annexation by Israel of parts of the West Bank would constitute a most serious violation of international law, deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, [and] close the door to a renewal of negotiations," Nickolay Mladenov told the UN Security Council."Israel must abandon its threat of annexation. And the Palestinian leadership [must] re-engage with all members of the quartet," he said, referring to the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

    Palestinian Prime Minister Calls on Ministries to Take 'Actual Steps' to Cut Ties With US, Israel | Al Bawaba -Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh urged the cabinet Wednesday to implement decisions on cutting relations with the US and Israel. According to the official WAFA news agency, Shtayyeh ordered all ministries at the extraordinary cabinet meeting to take actual steps and urgent measures regarding decisions of President Mahmoud Abbas.On Tuesday, Abbas said the country is terminating all agreements and understandings signed with Israel and the US, including on security.He said they hold the US administration responsible for the occupation of the Palestinian people and consider it a key partner in Israel's actions and decisions against the rights of the Palestinians.Shtayyeh also called on the international community to fulfill its responsibilities and to provide the Palestinian people with international protection. Israel is expected to annex parts of the West Bank on July 1, as agreed between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the head of the Blue and White party.

    Chinese Ambassador to Israel Found Dead in His Home – WSJ -China’s ambassador to Israel was found dead Sunday in his residence north of Tel Aviv, Israeli officials said.The cause of Ambassador Du Wei’s death wasn’t immediately clear. Police were on the scene at his home in the beachside city of Herzliya to investigate it, but officials said initial indications didn’t suggest foul play. Israeli media reported he might have died of a heart attack.Mr. Du, 57, was a career diplomat who had been actively publicizing China’s positions on the coronavirus pandemic since arriving in Israel in February. Chinese state media reported late Sunday that preliminary evidence suggests that Mr. Du died of health complications, but said that further investigation was still required.China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.Israel has of late been caught in the escalating tensions between China and the U.S. The Trump administration has pressed Israel to take a tougher line on China, particularly on Beijing’s investments in Israeli infrastructure and companies.Last year, Israel set up an interagency government body to oversee sensitive commercial deals involving foreign companies akin to the U.S.’s Committee on Foreign Investment, or Cfius. The panel is in early stages of operation. But Israel hasn’t echoed the U.S. in criticism of China’s handling of the pandemic. While receptive to American concerns, Israel also sees China as an important market for Israeli companies and products as well as a source of foreign investment.

    Pompeo Accuses China Of Helping Iran's 'Gas For Gold' Sanctions-Busting In Venezuela -We predicted earlier that the United States is headed for another 'tanker war' with Iran, but unlike last summer this will take place far away from Persian Gulf and Mediterranean waters, instead in the Caribbean off Venezuela's coast, however unusual that scenario might be. Recall that Trump recently ordered a US naval build-up there to boot.Currently there are five Iranian-flagged tankers transporting fuel to Venezuela across the Atlantic Ocean, with plans to break the American blockade on the Latin American country. Iran has warned that any US attempt at intercepting its fuel tankers "would have serious repercussions for the Trump administration ahead of the November elections."But Washington appears ready to do just that, also as the growing number of Iranian supply flights to Caracas via Iran's US-sanctioned Mahan Air is gaining attention. To get Venezuela's derelict refineries up and running to meet domestic gas consumption, vital parts are needed a role that Tehran has stepped up to fill. But in a new twist to the imminent geopolitical showdown, the US has freshly accused China of being part of the Iranian sanctions-busting scheme in Latin America.  On Tuesday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named China as helping to facilitate the scheme to 'smuggle' gold out of Caracas as payment for the inbound Iranian gasoline as well as refining supplies and support. The State Department specifically identified Chinese firm Shanghai Saint Logistics Limited, saying it's now blacklisted the company for sanctions violations related to Iran and Venezuela.   “The People’s Republic of China is one of the rapidly dwindling number of countries that welcomes Mahan Air, which ferries weapons and terrorists around the world for the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo announcedWashington has long considered Mahan as essentially a front for elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) operations, but it's the first time Beijing has been linked so forcefully to helping "ferry weapons and terrorists around the world" while assisting Mahan Air.

    World's Largest Contract Chipmaker Halts Deliveries To Huawei As New US Sanctions Bite - The Commerce Department's decision to tighten restrictions on Huawei announced a few days ago are already throwing a wrench in Huawei's supply chain, a sign that the US is no longer playing around, and is going all-in on bringing the Chinese telecom giant with strong links to the PLA to its knees.As we reported on Friday, the Trump Administration reportedly blocked a shipment of American-made semiconductors that was headed to Huawei, eliciting a flurry of retaliatory threats, as Beijing via the mainland press promised to target Boeing, Apple and Qualcomm. Despite the seeming escalation in the US trade and tech wars with China, White House economic advisor Kevin Hassett told CNBC Monday morning that the 'Phase 1' trade deal appears to still be intact.Despite years of aggressive intellectual technology theft coordinated by the Chinese government, Huawei remains surprisingly dependent on products and technology produced by American companies.  When the Commerce Department added Huawei to the national "entities list" - effectively a "blacklist" requiring US companies to seek permission from Commerce to do business with Huawei - it essentially caveated the decision to hell, leaving in loopholes that allowed large American chip companies to continue shipping to Huawei (which, in addition to its telecoms infrastructure business, is also the second-largest maker of smartphone handsets)However, the latest restrictions unveiled by the Commerce Department late last week and over the weekend will "narrowly and strategically” target a loophole that allows US companies to produce chips overseas with American technology to get around the restrictions. This will no longer be allowed, as even foreign companies that depend on US products will be forced to comply. In response, other global chipmakers are refusing to ship certain products to Huawei. This group includes the world's biggest contract chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co

    Chinese NEV Sales Plunge 43%, Falling For The Tenth Straight Month - The auto industry has been under pressure from all angles as a result of the global coronavirus lockdowns. And it looks as though while Elon Musk has been busy melting down, faux-libertarian style, about the re-opening of his California factory, things may have taken a turn for the worse for the EV market overseas. In addition to the pandemic crippling demand, there seem to be far too many players in China's NEV market, and that has caused sales to come under pressure, according to Automotive News.. China's market now has about 50 established EV startups competing with larger companies like Geely and Tesla. In fact, new energy vehicle sales fell for a tenth straight month in April, plunging 43%. Brian Gu, president of Alibaba-backed Xpeng Motors said: "The difficulties that EV start-ups have encountered, such as the auto sales decline, harsh fundraising environment and subsidies reduction, all started last year. The outbreak will aggravate these issues that already had existed." He continued: "Only the top-tier EV makers will be able to attract attention from investors in this environment." Experts believe the hit to the EV market could get even worse with the plunging price of oil, even despite subsidies and tax breaks. One anonymous investor said: "Those who had not launched mass production of their car models by 2019 would probably die. The outbreak is going to accelerate their death." The headwinds could make it difficult for China to reach its goal of having EVs account for 25% of all auto sales by 2025, according to the report. Currently, the number stands at about 5%.

    Beijing Scraps GDP Target, a Bad Sign for World Reliant on China Growth – WSJ —China broke with more than a quarter-century of tradition by not issuing an economic growth target for 2020, a stark acknowledgment of the challenges facing the world’s second-largest economy as it grapples with uncertainties around the coronavirus pandemic. The unusual move—it’s the first time a formal target has been omitted since the practice began in 1994—suggests Beijing’s leaders aren’t eager to unleash a large-scale stimulus after China’s sharpest contraction in four decades. It foreshadows more economic pain for a world that has become increasingly reliant on China as an engine of growth. China reported a 6.1% gain in gross domestic product last year—its slowest pace in nearly three decades, though within the targeted range of between 6.0% and 6.5%. The implicit acknowledgment of sharply slower growth for 2020 marks a climbdown for leader Xi Jinping during a year when he was set to proclaim the end of absolute poverty in the country and double the economy’s size from a decade earlier—political goals meant to burnish his standing ahead of next year’s centennial of the Chinese Communist Party’s founding. Economists had said China needed to grow its economy by at least 5.5% to fulfill the mission of doubling the economy’s overall size—a target that now appears to be out of reach in the absence of a broader reframing of the goals. The lack of a formal growth target was a surprise to many economists, though some had predicted Beijing would have no choice given the extraordinary challenges this year. In the first quarter of 2020, China’s economy suffered its first contraction in more than four decades, shrinking by 6.8% from a year earlier. Even so, Beijing did make clear that it would step up government spending and stimulate the economy, following the hit from the coronavirus. China’s Finance Ministry said Friday it would target a fiscal budget deficit this year of more than 3.6% of the country’s projected GDP, significantly higher than last year’s 2.8% target and above its traditional upper limit of 3%. China’s decision to not set a growth target was revealed in a speech by Premier Li Keqiang on Friday, at the beginning of an annual meeting of China’s rubber stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress. The meeting had been delayed for nearly three months as the country reeled from the coronavirus that first appeared in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Mr. Li said the decision to scrap an explicit numerical forecast was made “because our country will face some factors that are difficult to predict,” pointing to the coronavirus and uncertainties around trade. But Mr. Li said the lack of a target “will enable all of us to concentrate on ensuring stability…and security.”

     China stocks up food and oil supplies as coronavirus spurs fears about shortages - China has been building up its food and energy stockpile this year, taking advantage of slumping crude oil prices even before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted supplies. The world's second largest economy, which has limited arable land, is facing pressure to shore up its food supplies as prices for food started ticking higher last year, prior to the virus outbreak. Lockdowns and movement restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus have triggered transportation and logistics bottlenecks. Those blockages have highlighted the vulnerability of global supply chains, and fears of food shortages have come to the forefront of countries, both in developed and emerging economies. Fear is a powerful motivator. It's driving policy in China currently. Fits well with those hardliners that want to rebuild food reserves. Consumers in China are worried about further repercussions from the pandemic as it continues to spread globally. "People there (in China) are panicked that coronavirus will eventually shut down the world's ports, making it impossible for them to import," said Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist for INTL FCStone in a tweet on Monday. "As such, they are hoarding supplies now while they are cheap and available." "Fear is a powerful motivator. It's driving policy in China currently. Fits well with those hardliners that want to rebuild food reserves," he added. China is the world's largest consumer of pork, a staple protein for the country. In the first four months of the year, meat imports in China rose 82% compared to a year ago. These include pork, beef and poultry. "We expect food stockpiling to continue especially in cities exposed to logistic disruption. The confluence of expected food price increases alongside an economic contraction and rising unemployment will push up the risk of civil unrest," said Kaho Yu, senior Asia risk analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a consultancy. Already, food inflation in the country has been ticking higher. Last Tuesday, China announced that food prices rose 14.8% in April from a year ago. Even though it was lower than the 18% increase in March, it was still at a high level. Pork prices rose almost 97% in April in what has been a persistent trend since early 2019 due to the African swine fever epidemic in pigs that decimated China's hog herds. In comparison, non-food prices rose just 0.4% in April, official government data showed.

    China Considers More Economic Pain for Australia on Virus Spat  China is considering targeting more Australian exports including wine and dairy, according to people familiar with the matter, in what would be a dramatic deterioration in ties as the key trading partners spar over the coronavirus outbreak.Chinese officials have drawn up a list of potential goods also including seafood, oatmeal and fruit that could be subject to stricter quality checks, anti-dumping probes, tariffs or customs delays, the people said, asking not to be identified as the discussions are private. State media could also encourage consumer boycotts, they said, adding a final decision on the measures had not been made.Australia, which is the world’s most-China dependent developed economy, has raised Beijing’s ire by calling for an investigation into the origins of the pandemic. President Xi Jinping’s government is sensitive to criticism of its handling of the outbreak and has a track record of using trade as a diplomatic cudgel, with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan all experiencing reprisals in recent years. China has already barred meat imports from four Australian slaughterhouses for “technical” reasons, and slapped tariffs of more than 80% on Australian barley late Monday after a long-running inquiry. Any additional measures will depend on how Australia addresses China’s objections, the people said, adding Beijing doesn’t intend to publicly acknowledge any link between its trade actions and the calls for a virus probe.

    Japan’s Economy Fell Into Recession in First Quarter of 2020 – WSJ —Japan’s economy fell into a recession by one common definition in the first quarter of 2020, with worse expected in the current quarter. The world’s third-largest economy after the U.S. and China shrank an annualized 3.4% in the January-March period, pushed down by the initial effects of the coronavirus pandemic. That followed a revised 7.3% contraction in the previous quarter that was triggered by an increase in the national sales tax. Two straight quarters of contraction is one definition of a recession. “The situation has become even more severe in April and May after a state of emergency was issued,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said Monday. “The economy is expected to shrink substantially for the time being.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a national state of emergency in April to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Last week, he lifted it in 39 of 47 prefectures. It still applies in Tokyo and Osaka, but is expected to end nationwide in the next week or two. Many stores and restaurants have closed during the pandemic, while tourism has virtually halted because most foreign visitors are barred from entering the country and Japanese people have been encouraged to avoid travel. Economists are forecasting a contraction at an annualized pace of 20% or more in the current quarter. Exports fell at an annual rate of 21.8% in the first quarter, reflecting supply-chain disruptions and lockdowns in China, one of Japan’s biggest markets. Private consumption and capital spending by companies also fell, but not as much.

    Japan Exports Worst Since Financial Crisis; Korea Early May Export Data Just As Dire - Japan reported another round of dismal trade numbers, with Imports plunging 7.2% in April, worse than the -5.0% drop in March but slightly better than expected. However, it was Japan's exports - that key benchmark for the BOJ whose goal of keep the yen weaker is not only to support stocks but also to facilitate exports - that was the highlight, with the April number plunged by 21.9%, double the previous month's -11.7% drop and the biggest plunge since the financial crisis. But if Japan's number was dismal, at least it was expected. What was more concerning was the latest Korean export number for the first 20 days of May, which some had expected to see a solid rebound in light of the so-called reopening observed this month. Well, it did not happen, and while the May number wasn't quite as bad as the near-record plunge in April when exports plunged by 26.9% in the first 20 days, the -20.3% Y/Y drop in May - off an already depressed 2019 number - showed that any hopes for a solid global recovery taking hold have been painfully premature. To be sure, there was a tiny silver lining, as semiconductor exports rose 13.4% in contrast to a 15% decline in the same period of April. According to Bloomberg "this supports optimism for an economic turnaround and equities’ rally" and is "likely to give investors fresh reasons to look at the tech sector in Korea and abroad" although we disagree. As noted in recent weeks, just like during the trade war in much of 2019, the reason for a sharp pick up in semiconductor trade has been fear that China's tech sector will soon be locked out of US supply chains - as the recent Huawei news confirmed - and as such any jump in S.Korean semi exports is simply frontloading of demand now ahead of more crackdowns on the Chinese tech space in the future, when Huawei et al may find themselves completely locked out from US suppliers, which in turn explains why as Bloomberg reported earlier, China is planning to invest $1 trillion in its semiconductor industry to if not overtake the US in technology, at least become self-sufficient and not rely on US semi production.

    WTO's Goods Trade Barometer Hits Record Low Amid COVID Disruptions - The World Trade Organization (WTO) published its Goods Trade Barometer on Wednesday morning, showing a steep decline in 1H20 as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the global economy."The index currently stands at 87.6, far below the baseline value of 100, suggesting a sharp contraction in world trade extending into the second quarter," the new report showed.  "This is the lowest value on record since the indicator was launched in July 2016." Most importantly, the WTO warned: "the current reading captures the initial phases of the COVID-19 outbreak, and shows no sign of the trade decline bottoming out yet." The current reading of the Goods Trade Barometer suggests world merchandise trade could plunge between 13% and 32% in 2020, which is all dependent on if there's a second virus wave. WTO trade data show the volume of world merchandise trade contracted by 0.1% in 2019, the first decline since the 2009 GFC. The downturn in the global economy started in late 2017, mostly because marginal productivity of debt was quickly depleted across major economies and a trade war between the US and China that quickly erupted.For more color on collapsing world trade, A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, the world's largest container line, warned last week that global trade would continue to falter with volumes declining by at least a quarter in 2Q20. The shipper dashed all hope that a V-shaped recovery will be seen in the back half of the year, instead suggesting a U-shaped recovery is more plausible. Meanwhile, this week, BofA's latest Fund Manager Survey, which polled 223 participants with $651BN in AUM, showed the vast majority of financial professionals remain incredibly bearish on the global economy. Respondents do not expect global manufacturing PMI to rise back above 50 until 4Q20.

    India’s Coronavirus Crisis Spurs a New Look at Self-Reliance – WSJ —The coronavirus pandemic has pushed India’s jobs crisis from bad to worse, leading the government to take a new look at an old solution: self-reliance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s latest plan appears aimed at helping companies to get even more focused on Indian consumers, as opposed to exports, while also using the potentially vast domestic market to lure foreign firms to set up operations in the country and employ Indians. To what extent this is accomplished through protectionism or root-and-branch economic reform, or something in between, could determine its success in creating the tens of millions of new jobs India desperately needs in the coming years and decades, economists said. Mr. Modi took to national television last week to tout an economic stimulus plan he said was worth 10% of the nation’s economy. The centerpiece of his pitch was self-sufficiency. The prime minister isn’t the only world leader casting his sights back on his home market. Politicians around the world have invoked the almost impossible challenge of getting basic medical supplies to call for more domestic economic control. As the virus started spreading, France’s finance minister demanded more “economic and strategic independence” for French industry. President Trump has repeatedly said the pandemic justified his nationalist economic agenda.  India has a history of rejecting globalization, and Mr. Modi’s call taps deep into the nation’s psyche. Self-sufficiency was at the heart of the campaigns Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led to achieve India’s independence from Britain. For the Mahatma, it meant a focus on village life, farming and self-reliance, symbolized by the image of himself hand-spinning thread on a wooden wheel.

    Brazilian police massacre 13 in brutal operation in Rio de Janeiro - Last Friday, an operation by the Civil Police and Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE) left 13 dead and a trail of destruction in the Alemão Complex, one of the largest groups of favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Some of the dead were abandoned by the police in the streets and houses where they were killed, and their families and neighbors were forced to carry the bodies out of the community. One of the videos shared by residents shows a young man stabbed and left in agony, indicating a summary execution by the state agents. The violence and barbarity spread throughout the neighborhood, which is home to tens of thousands of impoverished workers. Conditions of poverty and oppression are even more critical situation in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.Residents denounced police looting of small businesses, houses destroyed by gunfire and grenades and bullets penetrating rooms where families were sheltering in terror. Videos recorded by residents show their cars destroyed after being dragged by the “caveirão,” the armored vehicle of the military police, which crossed the narrow streets of the favela.“Instead of sending doctors and nurses to protect the residents from COVID-19, the government sends police, armored vehicles and helicopters to kill us,” Bruno Itan, a photographer and resident of the Alemão Complex, told theGuardian.In a Twitter post, with thousands of shares, another resident said: “You know those scenes of blunt violence that we see in countries of the African continent in civil war or under authoritarian and bloody government? But this one is from ‘democratic’ Brazil, where citizens carry five bodies of people killed by state agents in the light of day!” According to the police, the operation was aimed at finding a place where drug traffickers stored weapons, ammunition and drugs. The seizures they disclosed were no more than eight rifles, some ammunition and a small quantity of drugs. The police also stated that five of the dead were suspected of involvement with trafficking. They provided no explanation for the other eight they slaughtered.

    100 Babies Stranded in Ukraine After Surrogate Births - NYT. - — The babies lie in cribs, sleeping, crying or smiling at nurses, swaddled in clean linens and apparently well cared for, but separated from their parents as an unintended consequence of coronavirus travel bans. Dozens of babies born into Ukraine’s booming surrogate motherhood business have become marooned in the country as their biological parents in the United States and other countries cannot travel to retrieve them after birth. For now, the agencies that arranged the surrogate births care for the babies. Authorities say that at least 100 babies are stranded already and that as many as 1,000 may be born before Ukraine’s travel ban for foreigners is lifted. “We will do all we can to unite the children with their parents,” Albert Tochilovsky, director of BioTexCom, the largest provider of surrogacy services in Ukraine, said in a telephone interview. He said he released a video showing dozens of stranded babies in cribs to call attention to the problem. “I’m in a difficult situation,” he said. “Hundreds of parents are calling me. I’m exhausted.” Ukraine does not tally statistics on surrogacy, but it may lead the world in the number of surrogate births for foreign biological parents, Mr. Tochilovsky said. His company alone is awaiting about 500 births. Fourteen companies offer the service in Ukraine. Ukraine is an outlier among nations, though not alone, in allowing foreigners to tap a broad range of reproductive health services, including buying eggs and arranging for surrogate mothers to bear children for a fee. The business has thrived largely because of poverty. “The cheapest surrogacy in Europe is in Ukraine, the poorest country in Europe,” BioTexCom’s website explains. Surrogate mothers in Ukraine typically earn about $15,000. Some members of Parliament who have long opposed the business have renewed their calls for banning surrogacy services for foreigners now that the babies are stacking up without parents. Surrogacy is available in Ukraine only if a woman in a heterosexual partnership can demonstrate that she cannot bear children herself.

    Italian Politician Demands Bill Gates Arrest For Crimes Against Humanity -- As the FDA shuts down a Bill Gates-funded COVID-testing program, an Italian politician has demanded the arrest of Bill Gates in the Italian parliament.Sara Cunial, the Member of Parliament for Rome denounced Bill Gates as a “vaccine criminal” and urged the Italian President to hand him over to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.  She also exposed Bill Gates’ agenda in India and Africa, along with the plans to chip the human race through the digital identification program ID2020.As reported by GreatGameIndia earlier, in 2015 it were the Italians who exposed secret Chinese biological experiments with Coronavirus. The video, which was broadcast in November, 2015, showed how Chinese scientists were doing biological experiments on a SARS connected virus believed to be Coronavirus, derived from bats and mice, asking whether it was worth the risk in order to be able to modify the virus for compatibility with human organisms.In an extraordinary seven-minute speech met with wide applause, Sara Cunial, the Member of Parliament for Rome said that Italy had been subjected to a “Holy Inquisition of false science.” She roundly criticized the unnecessary lockdown imposed on her fellow Italians in the service of a globalist agenda. She urged fellow political leaders to desist in any plans to compel citizens to surrender themselves to compulsory COVID-19 vaccination at the hands of the corrupt elite – whom she identified as the Deep State.Below is the transcription of the full speech delivered to the Italian Parliament by Sara Cunial, the Member of Parliament for Rome.

     How Germany’s Courts Might Destroy the Eurozone - Marshall Auerback -Germany’s highest court issued a ruling that could threaten the existence of the euro with a constitutional court decision that said the European Central Bank’s bond-buying operations exceeded the ECB’s legal remit, and violated German constitutional law. The U.S. equivalent of this would be a state Supreme Court limiting the ability of the U.S. Federal Reserve to conduct purchases or sales of Treasury securities.Even more extraordinary, the court decreed that it could “ignore an earlier ruling of the European Court of Justice in favour of the ECB,” which, in the words of Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, is tantamount to “an act of judicial secession.” To extend the U.S. analogy, that would be akin to a state Supreme Court holding that it would not be bound by U.S. Supreme Court precedent.Still, “judicial secession” might be too strong a characterization. The European Union has been an evolving structure since its inception and does not have an explicitly federal constitutional framework as a backstop that could quickly eradicate any ambiguity and nip the problem in the bud.Here’s the problem: the euro is the official currency of 19 out of 27 EU member countries, and its users are governed by a federal monetary system roughly analogous to the U.S. Federal Reserve system. On the other hand, the euro and the ECB are parts of an intergovernmental union, not a real federal state. Europhiles have been hoping that the EU would just develop into the latter organically. The German court has just inconveniently reminded everybody what the true state of affairs is. The very absence of a corresponding federal political structure is what constitutes the longstanding Achilles heel of the entire single-currency union. It can’t just be wished into existence, or created via judicial improvisation.However understandable, this legalistic approach poses considerable risks for Berlin. As the largest creditor nation in the eurozone and its largest economy, Germany has much to lose if it ends up being the party responsible for the breakup of the single-currency union. After all, if the creditor does not respect the rules of the organization (or family) of which it is part and on which it holds claims, why would the debtor be beholden to that arrangement? Both the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and German court rulings in the past have previously gone along with the ECB’s justifications. But that all appears to have changed in light of the recent German constitutional court decision succinctly summarized in the Financial Times: The court in Karlsruhe ordered the German government and parliament to ensure the ECB provided a ‘proportionality assessment’ of its bond-buying to check that its ‘economic and fiscal policy effects’ did not outweigh other policy objectives. Finally, it told the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, to stop buying bonds and to draw up plans to sell the more than €500bn it has bought if the ECB failed to comply within three months.

    Yanis Varoufakis: Have Merkel & Macron Just Announced a Eurobond-Funded Godsend for the EU? -  Yves here. […]  An overview from CNN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron proposed the creation of a recovery fund worth €500 billion ($543 billion) that would help the EU countries and industries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic….“To support a sustainable recovery that restores and enhances growth in the EU, Germany and France support an ambitious, temporary and targeted Recovery Fund,” Merkel said, speaking at a video news conference….Divisions among member nations have slowed progress on a recovery fund that the European Commission had hoped could raise at least €1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) to rebuild regional economies.Charles Michel, president of the European Council of EU national leaders, had called for the package to be operational by June 1. But the Commission failed on May 6 to finalize its proposal.Differences over whether the fund should provide loans or grants to the hardest-hit countries such as Italy and Spain stalled progress. Grants, or direct money transfers, would imply a degree of debt sharing that states such as the Netherlands, Austria and Germany have long resisted…..Macron said the EU recovery fund would enjoy the backing of the European Central Bank. While the fund would have to be repaid over time, that burden would not fall solely on those who need the help most.“These 500 billion euros will have to be repaid,” Macron said, but “not by the beneficiaries,” he added. The Financial Times has more detail on how the plan might work:No one should think their joint proposal for a €500bn spending plan funded by EU debt issuance unlocks a quick and easy resolution to negotiations among national governments. All 27 member states need to be on board, as does the European Parliament, for their plan to turbo-boost the EU budget to reach fruition.But Germany’s decision to back the idea of the EU borrowing money on a large scale and then handing it out as budgetary transfers to hard-hit parts of the bloc marks a huge shift by Berlin. Ms Merkel and Mr Macron’s announcement applies pressure on the so-called frugal states in the north to concede that at least part of the recovery fund should be distributed in the form of grants, rather than loans, to beleaguered countries…There are two key elements to the deal. Firstly, both countries want to empower the European Commission to borrow unprecedented quantities of money on the financial markets to create the €500bn recovery fund that will help support economic reconstruction efforts across the union. The commission already has the ability to borrow money, but it has never been permitted to do so on this scale. Henrik Enderlein of the Hertie School in Berlin calls it a potentially “Hamiltonian moment”. Secondly, Ms Merkel’s confirmation that the money would be treated as EU “budgetary expenditure” marked an important concession by Germany, which previously sided with those advocating loans to beleaguered states. Our David had already dampened down expectations for it by pointing out how early stage it was.. But as you’ll see, it’s even less of a step in the right direction than the hype would have you believe. Varoufakis’ statement is terse, so listen up!

    ECB Is Ready to Expand Stimulus Program, Minutes Show – WSJ -European Central Bank officials are ready to step up bond purchases next month if they consider such a move necessary to combat the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, according to the minutes of their April policy meeting.The ECB in March unveiled a €750 billion ($820 billion) bond-buying program to support governments and businesses in the face of plunging economic growth. But the bank surprised some analysts by leaving the program’s size unchanged at its April 29-30 meeting, while sweetening the terms of loans to eurozone banks.The minutes of the April meeting, published Friday, suggest the ECB is ready to expand the new bond-buying program at its June 4 meeting, which would help eurozone governments finance the battle against the virus, if new data suggests the current stimulus is too small.“Past experience showed that a loss of confidence in financial markets had to be avoided and pre-emptive action was preferable,” the minutes said. The ECB is trying to keep the borrowing costs of eurozone governments in check, but officials noted that some have crept up since mid-March, as government revenues have fallen and costly programs to combat the pandemic have been rolled out.The report suggests that ECB officials are willing to act aggressively, even as they weigh the legal implications of the bank’s bond purchases.Germany’s top court raised questions about the ECB’s easy-money policies this month, with a ruling that approved an earlier bond-buying program while demanding greater clarity about its economic impact.At the bank’s April meeting, one ECB official warned that the purchases of sovereign debt “had to be executed carefully in order not to encourage irresponsible behavior on the part of governments.”But other officials said that wasn’t a reason for the ECB to stop buying debt, and thereby to pursue its mandate of keeping inflation close to 2%.

    UK sets out post-Brexit tariffs to underpin trade talks -  (Reuters) - The United Kingdom announced a new post-Brexit tariff regime on Tuesday to give it leverage in trade talks, maintaining the European Union’s 10% duty on cars but cutting levies on tens of billions of dollars of supply chain imports. The new tariff regime, which would come into effect from January 2021, aims to simplify what some UK officials call an overly complex EU system and help Britain negotiate trade deals with the United States, the Brussels-based bloc and others. But it will mean that if Britain and the EU fail to reach a free trade deal by the end of the year, the price of some food, cars and some chemical inputs imported from the bloc would rise sharply. Britain said the regime would apply to countries with which it has no agreement and removes all tariffs below 2%. “Our new Global Tariff will benefit UK consumers and households by cutting red tape and reducing the cost of thousands of everyday products,” International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said. It will maintain tariffs on imported products competing with UK industries such as agriculture, automotive, ceramics and fishing, and remove levies on 30 billion pounds ($37 billion) worth of imports entering UK supply chains. The British Chambers of Commerce welcomed the clarity provided by the announcement but said it showed a trade deal with European Union by year end was vital “to avoid substantial increases in costs for businesses on both sides of the Channel”.

    Brexit: Yet More Chicken - Yves Smith - While you were busy paying attention to Covid-19, the Brexit negotiations, such as they are, have been predictably going not well. Sir Ivan Rogers warned last year that it was possible that talks could break down entirely in the post March period as the Government came to grips with what would be required to complete a trade agreement. Mind you, that hasn’t happened, but EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned he didn’t expect last week’s talks, the third round this year, to go well. Both sides harrumphed last Friday that the other side had to yield for a deal to get done. The Financial Times’ recap: The time for a political intervention in the EU and UK’s future relationship talks is fast approaching. After publicly knocking lumps out of each other on Friday, the two sides will spend this week separately trying to work out where to go from here. In effect, the EU and UK have handed each other ultimatums saying they need to shift position or the talks will rapidly reach stalemate….“The round that we have just had is disappointing, very disappointing,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Friday, after a week of video talks between his team and UK officials. “I hope the next round in June and the one after in July will be more positive.” Um, I’d like to know where this deus ex machina of a “political intervention” is supposed to come from. That assumes that Barnier and his UK interlocutor, David Frost, aren’t representing the views of their principals accurately. But Boris Johnson and his Brexiteer allies seem to believe genuinely that if they just hold firm, the EU will blink, and if not, they don’t need them that much anyhow. On the EU side, Barnier staked out an extreme position on fisheries, which far more important politically than economically, and has gotten testy more often than in earlier stages of the negotiations. But again, he may simply be reflecting the views on his side of the table.Remember some boundary conditions. The UK leaves the EU at the end of this year unless it asks for a single one or two year extension by June 30 and the EU approves it (the EU would of course approve it). Boris Johnson and his senior ministers have painted themselves into a “there will be no extension” corner. As Politico put it:The Brexit timetable now looks more difficult than ever.The EU seems to have accepted that the U.K. won’t seek an extension of the transition period, which ends December 31. That means June — the original deadline for an extension request — is no longer an important cut-off date, and leaves just a couple of months to negotiate a deal which has to be ready by October in order for both sides to ratify it in time.

    Brexit: Posturing and Impasse -Yves Smith -Even couples who intend to have a friendly divorce usually find they turn ugly, and the best that can be hoped for is that the acrimony turns out to be just a phase. There were never such intentions for Brexit, at least from the UK side. The triumphal Brexiteers reveled in the prospect of freeing themselves from what they saw as an oppressive Europe. The EU side started out resigned but prepared to do what was necessary to accommodate the UK’s departure.As I’ve indicated, interpersonal dynamics matter in negotiations. The UK’s gratuitous hostility, inconsistency, and refusal to listen has to have worn on the EU side. And this may simply be the slow and painful working out of what we pointed out from close to the outset: that there was no bargaining overlap in the two side’s positions, which means no deal. In classic EU “kick the can” dynamics, that time has been postponed far longer than we anticipated. But as with the first game of chicken, over the Withdrawal Agreement, both sides manage to forestall a crisis. It’s hard to see how they pull that rabbit out of a hat again.The event of the week, that of the UK publishing its draft legal texts, slipped into high drama because the UK’s Brexit negotiator, David Frost, made it so by. He sent a borderline testy letter to his counterpart Michel Barnier, and Barnier sent back a chilly response. We’ve embedded both missives below. They are short and very much worth reading.You only have to get to Frost’s first substantive point to find confirmation that the talks have foundered. Fatally, Frost makes clear that the UK and EU are at loggerhead over a basic “shape of the table” issue, which is what the form of the agreement should be. If the two sides can’t get past that, they won’t even get to substance.Here is the relevant section:First, we have tried to be clear consistently that we are looking for a suite of agreements with a Free Trade Agreement at the core…Given this reality, we find it perplexing that the EU, instead of seeking to settle rapidly a high-quality set of agreements with a close economic partner, is instead insisting on additional, unbalanced, and unprecedented provisions in a range of areas, as a precondition for agreement between us.This may seem innocuous. It isn’t. Frost’s “tried to be consistently clear” looks designed to signal exasperation.The UK wants a series of so-called sectoral deals. The EU has never agreed and has signaled it wants a broader, more integrated agreement.

    UK Sells Negative-Yielding Debt For The First Time - Who would have thought that Brexit would result in a convergence of the European and UK bond markets. With the UK swept by a debate whether it should follow Europe into negative interest rates, the bond market appears to have made the decision for it, when this morning the UK sold £3.75 billion in 2023 gilts at a negative yield of -0.003% for the first time, with a fall in inflation piling even more pressure on the fiscal and monetary policymakers to take new action to prop up the economy. The UK drew orders of £8.1bn in Wednesday’s auction resulting in a 2.15 bid to cover to the amount the DMO was looking to sell. According to the FT, "the robust demand underscored the appeal of gilts, long considered to be a haven due to the UK’s strong creditworthiness. It also suggests any fears over the large increase in borrowing the UK has undertaken due to the Covid-19 pandemic has not yet weighed on investor appetite for the debt." The auction comes during the growing debate into whether the BoE will need to reduce its main interest rate from its already historic low into negative territory, as policymakers attempt to bring inflation back towards the 2% target. Whatever you do, don't look at Japan. The negative yield means investors who hold the debt to maturity will get fractionally less than they paid, and are paying for the privilege of lending to the UK government, reflecting growing investor expectations that the Bank of England may need to take additional steps to push inflation back to its 2 per cent target. The UK sold a one-month bill at a negative yield in 2016, but this represents the first time it has sold a conventional longer term bond at yield below zero. Moyeen Islam, rates strategist at Barclays, said the auction was a "symbolic hurdle" noting that "given recent comments from monetary policy committee members, the question of negative policy rates is far from settled." While other central banks have already used negative rates they have faced stinging criticism, especially from bankers since it weighs heavily on the profitability of their traditional lending operations: "I can’t think of an economy where negative rates are a worse idea than the UK," said SocGen FX strategist Kit Juckes. "The economic benefits are dubious but the power of a cocktail of negative rates and massive quantitative easing to weaken the currency seems clear and if the pound falls enough, it will make QE harder."

    Profiting from Coronavirus - Craig Murray - On 5 May, the British security services released to their pet media the claim that Russia, China and Iran were attempting to hack into British research institutes conducting coronavirus research. The BBC reported it. Britain’s shameful copy and paste media all, without exception, just copy and pasted the government press release.  The Guardian gave the quote: “Any attack against efforts to combat the coronavirus crisis is utterly reprehensible. We have seen an increased proportion of cyber-attacks related to coronavirus and our experts work around the clock to help organisations targeted”. If Britain had one single mainstream media journalist willing to think, rather than just regurgitate government propaganda, they might have realised that there is a massive story here if you look at it the other way round. The quote from the Guardian deliberately attempted to give the impression that Russia, China and Iran were trying to disable, destroy or hamper coronavirus research: “Any attack against efforts to combat the coronavirus”. But if you read carefully through those articles, you find that the allegation is merely that they are attempting hack in to gain access to the research.  Because the UK and the US are attempting to hide their vaccine and treatment research results from the rest of the world to make money out of them.  Much has been written about the possibility for a new and better kind of world to emerge after coronavirus. Yet our governments cannot conceive of any model for fighting this threat to the whole world, other than the capitalist, money-making model. The much-touted “race to develop a vaccine” is not a race to save lives. It is a race to make billions.  The United States and the United Kingdom are working in all international fora to head off efforts to pool global research and to make any vaccine or medicine a good for the world. Governments can reward those working on the vaccine, and the companies for providing the facilities, using economic models other than the patent and the potential for massive profit.

    Food Security: Prince Charles Calls for Furloughed Workers to Pick Berries; My Thoughts as a Former Tomato Picker - - Jerri-Lynn Scofield - Prince Charles has turned his attention to food security:The Washington Post) picked up the message:Prince Charles this week implored workers furloughed by the pandemic to get out into the fields and “pick for Britain.”“If we are to harvest British fruit and vegetables this year, we need an army of people to help,” said his ruddy-faced royal highness, wearing a tie and tweed sporting jacket, his hand jammed into the pocket of his wrinkled mackintosh, standing in his own well-tilled garden at Birkhall, his estate in Scotland.“It will be hard graft,” the prince warned, “but is hugely important if we are to avoid the growing crops going to waste.”The Prince of Wales hit the wartime trope, and called for reconvening the Land Army of World War II, where women and girls did agricultural work, as replacement labor after many men went abroad to war, to make sure those left behind had food to eat..Most of Britain’s perishable produce is harvested by migrant workers, many  from Bulgaria and Rumania, and the COVID-19 pandemic has so far blocked their annual migration to Britain to pick crops. The National Farmers Union estimates there are about 70,000 seasonal farm jobs that need filling,  according to CNN.Now, Prince Charles has been a figure of fun, a butt of jokes for my entire lifetime. I was delighted to see – but if truth be told, also a bit surprised – that many Brits seem poised to heed the call to action by their heir to the throne. Maybe the country hasn’t entirely abandoned its wartime spirit. In fact, the WaPo reported that “So many people answered the royal call that the “Pick for Britain” website crashed on Wednesday….” Alas, this is no laughing matter. And what those Brits who show up to do it will find, farm work is not only hard toil, but also requires  a fair amount of skill – as I learned back in the summer of 1976, while holding down my first real summer job, as a tomato picker at Mr. Guidi’s farm in Green Township, New Jersey…

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