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

Saturday, August 1, 2020

week ending Aug 1

Fed Outlook Turns Gloomier as Coronavirus Spreads – WSJ - Federal Reserve officials meet Tuesday and Wednesday facing growing doubts about the prospect for a sustained economic rebound due to the nation’s uneven public-health response to the coronavirus.Officials have warned this month in speeches and interviews that the economy faces a deeper downturn and more difficult recovery if the country doesn’t take more effective action to slow the spread of infection.Since the Fed’s mid-June policy meeting, virus infection rates have accelerated in many statesthat were among the first to encourage businesses to reopen. Business leaders and economists have warned that hard-hit industries such as travel, entertainment and hospitality will face a more difficult recovery if consumers don’t feel confident spending money indoors and gathering in large groups.The Fed isn’t likely to roll out new stimulus measures this week but is debating how to provide more support to the economy once the economic outlook becomes clearer. They could do this by adjusting their purchases of Treasury and mortgage securities and by providing more detail about what conditions would lead them to consider withdrawing stimulus. Fed officials have focused their recent comments on the imperative of suppressing the virus by more aggressively adopting social-distancing measures, including wearing masks, and by boosting the capacity to test, trace and isolate known infection cases. “How well we follow the health-care protocols from here is going to be the primary economic tool we have,” said Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan in a July 16 interview.  Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said he had expected infections to recede by the summer much as it has in Europe. “Unfortunately, that is not the case,” he said in a July 8 interview. “We have not been nearly as successful.” The longer that infection rates flare up, the harder it will be for a range of industries that employ millions of Americans to recover. That, in turn, could lead to higher spells of extended joblessness, business failure and stress on the banking system.The economy will face “severe economic consequences” if the public health response doesn’t improve, Mr. Rosengren said.Real-time data tracked by Fed economists suggested that strong gains in hiring in May and June may not be sustained, said Fed governor Lael Brainard in a speech July 14.“Business leaders are getting worried. Consumers are getting worried,” Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said July 7 in a discussion hosted by the Tennessee Business Roundtable. “There is a real sense that this might go on longer than we had hoped and we had expected and we had planned for.”

 Fed extends seven emergency facilities to end of 2020  — The Federal Reserve will extend the life of seven emergency lending facilities launched to respond to the coronavirus crisis through the end of 2020, the central bank said Tuesday. The three-month extension, to Dec. 31, will apply to the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility, Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility and Main Street Lending Program. The Commercial Paper Funding Facility is set to expire in March 2021. The Municipal Liquidity Facility was already set to expire Dec. 31. “The three-month extension will facilitate planning by potential facility participants and provide certainty that the facilities will continue to be available to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Fed said in a press release. Prolonging the life of the facilities is one of several continuing steps in recent weeks by policymakers to stabilize the economy as the pandemic stretches through the summer and likely through the end of the year. This includes efforts to allow small businesses to seek forgiveness on loans made through the Paycheck Protection Program. The Fed has also modified its Main Street Lending Program to draw interest from bank providers and borrowers, including to allow wider access to nonprofit organizations such as hospitals and schools. Last week, the Fed announced it would broaden the criteria for eligible firms for three facilities: the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, Commercial Paper Funding Facility and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility. 

Fed Maintains Stimulus Commitment as Economic Outlook Dims – WSJ -Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said on Wednesday the U.S. economy faces a long road to recovery that will require greater public vigilance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and more spending from Congress and the White House.Fed officials didn’t announce new policy steps at the conclusion of their two-day meeting Wednesday and reiterated their pledge to maintain aggressive measures to support the economy.“The path of the economy is going to depend to a very high extent on the course of the virus, on the measures that we take to keep it in check,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference. “We can’t say it enough.”The economic backdrop has weakened somewhat since the Fed’s rate-setting committee last met seven weeks ago. After surprising rebounds in employment in May and June, many states have seen significant increases in virus infections, leading to renewed curbs on certain commercial activities and a dampening of consumer confidence. Mr. Powell said various data sources the Fed monitors suggested hiring and consumer spending had slowed recently.He encouraged greater adoption of measures to contain the virus by disputing the idea of a trade off between virus suppression and a resumption of commercial activity.“Social distancing measures and fast reopening of the economy actually go together,” Mr. Powell said. “They’re not in competition with each other.”Fed officials have been weighing how to provide more support to the economyafter moving quickly this spring to cut interest rates to near zero, to ramp up purchases of government debt and to establish an array of emergency lending programs to stabilize funding and credit markets. But Mr. Powell suggested spending and taxation decisions by Congress and the White House are more urgent now that the Fed has pinned short-term rates pinned near zero while long-term rates hovering at all-time lows. “Fiscal policy can address things we can’t address,” said Mr. Powell, a Republican who was named to his current post by President Trump. The measures Congress has approved so far are “really helping now,” he said.

FOMC Statement: "The path of the economy will depend significantly on the course of the virus" - FOMC Statement:The coronavirus outbreak is causing tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world. Following sharp declines, economic activity and employment have picked up somewhat in recent months but remain well below their levels at the beginning of the year. Weaker demand and significantly lower oil prices are holding down consumer price inflation. Overall financial conditions have improved in recent months, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses.The path of the economy will depend significantly on the course of the virus. The ongoing public health crisis will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term. In light of these developments, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals.The Committee will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook, including information related to public health, as well as global developments and muted inflation pressures, and will use its tools and act as appropriate to support the economy. In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the stance of monetary policy, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its maximum employment objective and its symmetric 2 percent inflation objective. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. 

Fed chair Powell says backstop to markets to remain for a “very long time”The Federal Reserve made no major changes to its monetary policy following its two-day meeting yesterday but warned that hiring and consumer spending had slowed in the recent period as a result of the increase in COVID-19 infections. At his press conference, Fed chairman Jerome Powell said the path of the economy was going to depend to a high extent on the course of the virus and the measures taken to keep it in check. But even with a re-opening of the economy millions of workers employed in industries that depend on large gatherings or close proximity indoors could be out of work for a long time. In his prepared remarks Powell said there had been some pick-up in the economy, with household spending recovering about half its previous decline. However, business investment had yet to show an increase and “the contraction in real GDP in the second quarter will likely be the largest on record.” As the meeting began, the Fed announced that emergency measures it put in place in March, when the key market for US Treasury bonds froze, would be extended for another three months to the end of the year. The move was not a surprise but it underscored the way in which so-called emergency measures to backstop financial markets become permanent. The extension avoided what one analyst described as a “credit cliff.” Powell said the Fed would continue to use its emergency measures until it was confident “we are solidly on the road to recovery,” adding that “when the time comes, after the crisis has passed, we will put these emergency tools back in the toolbox.” However, the record shows that time never comes as the financial system becomes ever-more dependent on the outflow of trillions of dollars from the Fed.

 Biden urges Fed to take steps to close racial economic gaps - Joe Biden’s campaign announced a series of steps Tuesday designed to bridge racial economic gaps in the U.S. and promised he would work toward a more diverse Federal Reserve Board that would help minorities access funds and economic development. Biden’s plan calls for an amendment to the Federal Reserve Act that would “require the Fed to regularly report on current data and trends in racial economic gaps — and what actions the Fed is taking through its monetary and regulatory policies to close these gaps.” The Democratic presidential nominee also backs the Fed’s previously announced shift toward a real-time payment system, which would make it possible for low-income people to have instant access to the money they are owed. A Biden aide said that diversity would be an important factor in all his administration’s personnel decisions, which would include nominating members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and, eventually, a board chair. All of the current governors are White. There are currently two vacancies on the seven-member board. President Trump’s nominees to fill those positions have been awaiting confirmation in the Senate. Biden will discuss his proposals, which make up the fourth and final part of an economic plan he has been rolling out over the month, at a speech later Tuesday. “We need to make bold, practical investments to recover from the economic mess we’re in, and to rebuild for the economic future our country deserves,” Biden will say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks released by his campaign. The racial equity plank not only rounds out his economic plan, but serves to address voters’ attention on the economic gap between Black and white Americans that was heightened by the economic crash, the virus pandemic and the protests against police brutality. Biden has overwhelming support from Black voters, but there are concerns about whether he inspires younger African-Americans enough to come out and vote for him over Trump.

Environmental Groups Urge Fed to End Energy Bond Buying – WSJ -  Environmental groups are pressing the Federal Reserve to end its purchases of energy sector corporate bonds as part of its broader effort to support financial markets as the U.S. navigates the severe economic stress of the coronavirus pandemic. “Through these purchases, the [Federal Reserve] Board is potentially exposing the public to financial losses through credit risk, market risk, and operational risk due to exacerbation of the climate crisis,” according to a letter signed by several groups and that will be sent to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell..

Two Republican Senators Will Oppose Shelton’s Fed Candidacy – WSJ -Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) said Monday she would join Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah) in opposing the nomination of economist Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve’s board of governors. President Trump formally nominated his former economic adviser to a seat on the seven-member board earlier this year, and her candidacy cleared a significant hurdle last week on a party-line vote in the Senate Banking Committee. Republicans have a 53-47 vote advantage in the Senate, meaning that Ms. Shelton can’t afford to lose more than three Republicans if all Democrats oppose her candidacy. The Senate hasn’t set a date for a vote on her nomination but Senate aides and a White House official said a vote was possible by next week, before lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington for their summer recess. In a statement Monday, Ms. Collins said she had serious concerns about the nomination, citing statements Ms. Shelton made last year that were dismissive of the Fed’s longstanding autonomy from the White House in setting interest-rate policy. Ms. Shelton’s past writings have also questioned the need for a central bank. “This is not the right signal to send, particularly in the midst of the pandemic, and for that reason, I intend to vote against her nomination if it reaches the floor,” said Ms. Collins. Mr. Romney last week said he wouldn’t vote to approve Ms. Shelton. Fed nominees have traditionally enjoyed at least some support from lawmakers in both parties, and party-line confirmation votes have been rare. One of Mr. Trump’s other nominees, Christopher Waller, an economist at the St. Louis Fed, received support from all 13 Republicans and five of 12 Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee last week. Ms. Shelton has been a longtime proponent of a return to the gold standard, which would limit the Fed’s ability to influence inflation and employment, and concedes that her views are outside the mainstream of economics. Three Republicans at her confirmation hearing in February voiced evident skepticism over her writings, but they approved her candidacy in the committee vote.

Collins is second Republican to oppose Shelton for the Fed - Sen. Susan Collins of Maine became the second Republican senator to announce opposition to President Donald Trump’s nomination of economist Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. “Ms. Shelton has openly called for the Federal Reserve to be less independent of the political branches, and has even questioned the need for a central bank,” Collins said in a statement Monday. “This is not the right signal to send, particularly in the midst of the pandemic, and for that reason, I intend to vote against her nomination if it reaches the floor.” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said last week that he would vote against Shelton on the Senate floor. If two more Republicans join them, Shelton would be blocked from joining the Fed if all Democrats also vote against her. On July 21 the Senate Banking Committee cleared Shelton’s nomination after a delay of more than a year, sending it for a vote by the full Senate. Shelton has faced strong opposition from Democrats for controversial views she has held, including support for a return to the gold standard. In committee, the Shelton nomination was initially held up by Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Kennedy, the last holdout, agreed to support the nomination this month after pressure from the White House. He said in an interview that he also plans to vote for Shelton on the Senate floor. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who is close to Collins and has sometimes bucked Trump in the past, indicated last week that she was leaning toward supporting Shelton’s confirmation. Collins faces a tough fight for re-election this year and has occasionally broken with Trump. She has declined to say whether she will vote for Trump in November.

High Frequency Indicators for the Economy – . These indicators are mostly for travel and entertainment - some of the sectors that will recover very slowly.  The TSA is providing daily travel numbers.  This data shows the daily total traveler throughput from the TSA for 2019 (Blue) and 2020 (Red).  On July 26th there were 751,205 travelers compared to 2,700,723 a year ago.  That is a decline of 72%. There had been a slow steady increase from the bottom, but air travel has mostly moved sideways over the last few weeks. The second graph shows the 7 day average of the year-over-year change in diners as tabulated by OpenTable for the US and several selected cities.  This data is updated through July 25, 2020.  This data is "a sample of restaurants on the OpenTable network across all channels: online reservations, phone reservations, and walk-ins. Note that this data is for "only the restaurants that have chosen to reopen in a given market".  The 7 day average for New York is still off 77%. Florida is down 60% YoY.  Note that dining declined in many areas as the number of COVID cases surged. It appears dining has flattened out at a lower level (probably mostly outdoor dining).  This data shows domestic box office for each week (red) and the maximum and minimum for the previous four years.  Data is from BoxOfficeMojo through July 23rd.  Movie ticket sales have picked up a slightly from the bottom, but are still under $1 million per week (compared to usually around $300 million per week), and ticket sales have essentially been at zero for eighteen weeks.The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.  2020 was off to a solid start, however, COVID-19 crushed hotel occupancy. The occupancy rate for the last five weeks was 43.9%, 46.2%, 45.6%, 45.9% and 47.5% The increases in occupancy have slowed and are well below the median for this week of 78%.This graph, based on weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), shows the year-over-year change in gasoline consumption. At one point, gasoline consumption was off almost 50% YoY. As of July 17th, gasoline consumption was only off about 12% YoY (about 88% of normal).  The final graph is from Apple mobility. From Apple: "This data is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions in select countries/regions, sub-regions, and cities."  The graph is the running 7 day average to remove the impact of weekends.  This data is NOT Seasonally Adjusted. People walk and drive more when the weather is nice, so I'm just using the transit data.  According to the Apple data directions requests, public transit in the 7 day average for the US is still only about 51% of the January level. It is at 45% in New York, and 52% in Houston (down over the last few of weeks).

Trump Advisers Still Touting ‘V-Shaped’ Economic Recovery – WSJ -- President Trump’s top economic advisers say they still expect a rapid economic recovery despite surges in new coronavirus infections that have rattled consumers and led to new limits on business activity.“I still think the V-shaped recovery is in place,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Sunday. “I don’t deny that some of these hot-spot states are going to moderate that recovery, but on the whole the picture is very positive.” Mr. Kudlow pointed to data last week showing that sales of existing homes jumped 20.7% in June after dropping 9.7% the month before, and another report showing that manufacturing in July expanded for the first time since February.A government report on Thursday showed that filings for weekly unemployment benefitsrose for the first time in nearly four months in the week ended July 18, a sign the jobs recovery could be faltering as some states rolled back reopenings because of the coronavirus pandemic.But the report also showed that unemployment rolls have shrunk in recent weeks, suggesting that new layoffs are being offset by hiring and employers recalling workers, though at a slower pace than a few weeks ago.“I do think the odds favor a big increase in jobs creation and a big reduction in unemployment” for July, Mr. Kudlow said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”Federal Reserve officials are set to discuss next week how to provide more economic stimulus, though they have signaled c omfort leaving policy on hold until they learn more about how the pandemic is weighing on the economy. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking on Fox News’ “Fox News Sunday,” saidRepublicans would introduce their proposal for the next coronavirus relief bill on Monday and were prepared to act quickly to strike a deal with Democrats.

BEA: Real GDP Decreased at 32.9% Annualized Rate in Q2 - Note: This is the advance release. Most analysts expect downward revisions as more data become available.  From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, Second Quarter 2019 (Advance Estimate) and Annual Update: Real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020, according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP decreased 5.0 percent.The GDP estimate released today is based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency. The "second" estimate for the second quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on August 27, 2020....The decrease in real GDP reflected decreases in personal consumption expenditures (PCE), exports, private inventory investment, nonresidential fixed investment, residential fixed investment, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by an increase in federal government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, decreased.The decrease in PCE reflected decreases in services (led by health care) and goods (led by clothing and footwear). The decrease in exports primarily reflected a decrease in goods (led by capital goods). The decrease in private inventory investment primarily reflected a decrease in retail (led by motor vehicle dealers). The decrease in nonresidential fixed investment primarily reflected a decrease in equipment (led by transportation equipment), while the decrease in residential investment primarily reflected a decrease in new single-family housing. The advance Q2 GDP report, at minus 32.9% annualized, was close to expectations. Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) decreased at 34.6% annualized rate in Q2, down from 6.9% decrease in Q1.  Residential investment (RI) decreased at a 38.7% rate in Q2. Equipment investment decreased at a 37.7% annualized rate, and investment in non-residential structures decreased at a 34.9% pace.

Q2 GDP Advance Estimate: Real GDP at Record -32.9%, Annual Revisions - The Advance Estimate for Q2 GDP, to one decimal, came in at -32.9% (-32.90% to two decimal places), a massive decline from -5.0% (-4.99% to two decimal places) for the Q1 Third Estimate and its lowest on record. had a consensus of -34.1%.  Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release: The decrease in real GDP reflected decreases in personal consumption expenditures (PCE), exports, private inventory investment, nonresidential fixed investment, residential fixed investment, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by an increase in federal government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, decreased (table 2). The estimates released today also reflect the results of the Annual Update of the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPAs). The timespan of the update is the first quarter of 2015 through the fourth quarter of 2019 for estimates of real GDP and its major components, and the first quarter of 1999 through the fourth quarter of 2019 for estimates of income and saving. The reference year remains 2012. More information on the 2020 Annual Update is included in the May Survey of Current Business article, "GDP and the Economy." [Full Release] Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.06% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 1.22.

U.S. Economy Contracted at Record Rate Last Quarter; Jobless Claims Rise to 1.43 Million – WSJ - The economy contracted at a record rate last quarter and July setbacks for the jobs market added to signs of a slowing recovery as the country faces a summer surge in coronavirus infections. The Commerce Department said U.S. gross domestic product—the value of all goods and services produced across the economy—fell at a seasonally and inflation adjusted 32.9% annual rate in the second quarter, or a 9.5% drop compared with the prior quarter. The figures were the steepest declines in more than 70 years of record-keeping. Meanwhile, the Labor Department’s latest figures on unemployment benefits suggested the jobs market was faltering. The number of workers applying for initial unemployment benefits rose for the second straight week—by a seasonally adjusted 12,000 to 1.43 million in the week ended July 25—after nearly four months of decreases following a late-March peak. The number of people receiving unemployment benefits increased by 867,000 to 17 million in the week ended July 18, ending a downward trend that started in mid-May. “We’re expecting a longer and slower climb from the bottom unfortunately, and here the virus will dictate the terms,” Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. chief economist at S&P Global Ratings, said. The second-quarter economic contraction came as states imposed lockdowns in March and April to contain the coronavirus pandemic—triggering a steep drop in output—and then lifted restrictions in May and June—allowing growth to resume. Gains later in the second quarter weren’t enough to offset April’s steep drop, however. Economists expect the third quarter, which began on July 1, to show growth, though the summer rise in infections is likely to temper gains. “The ball is going to bounce less high than it should” in the third quarter, said James Sweeney, chief economist for Credit Suisse, as with new virus outbreaks, “we know there is an incremental slowing down of economic activity.” Private high-frequency data show “that the pace of the recovery looks like it has slowed since the cases began that spike in June,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday, noting declining measures of debit- and credit-card spending, flattening hotel occupancy rates and fewer restaurant and salon visits. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s tracker of credit- and debit-card transactions showed that spending rose in May and early June before stalling. Data by Facteus, which tracks transactions by 15 million debit and credit card holders, also suggest restaurant spending was increasing in June and has largely flattened since. The U.S. Census Bureau said in its latest weekly Household Pulse Survey that 51.1% of households experienced a loss of employment income in the week ended July 21, up from 48.3% four weeks ago.

GDP second-quarter data worst in decades -The U.S. economy shrank by a stunning 9.5 percent from April through June, a historic contraction and a stinging reminder of how much was lost in such a short period. The drop in gross domestic product was the fastest the quarterly rate has fallen in modern record-keeping. As the ground beneath the economy buckled amid the coronavirus pandemic, tens of millions of jobs were erased, businesses were gutted and the future of the economy became further intertwined with an uncontrolled public health crisis. With that pain still fresh for millions of Americans, economists say the second quarter stands as an urgent warning for what is at stake if the vestiges of a recovery from earlier this summer vanish. While Congress clashes over another stimulus bill and the virus forces more states to shut down bars and restaurants again, there is mounting fear that the economy could be held back even more, making a true recovery much more fraught. On Thursday, the government also reported that jobless claims increased once again last week to 1.4 million, another sign that any recovery is stalling. GDP shrank at an annual rate of 32.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the agency that publishes the statistics on quarterly economic activity. Although it usually stresses the annualized rate, that figure is less useful this quarter because the economy is unlikely to experience another collapse like it did in the second quarter. Still, while a tailspin at the second-quarter rate is unlikely, the nascent recovery that began appearing earlier this summer appears to be in jeopardy. On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell warned that the most recent surge in infections has begun to weigh on the economy, while reemphasizing that a recovery cannot be sustained unless the virus is under control. “We’re still digging out of a hole, a really deep hole,” said Ben Herzon, executive director of IHS Markit. “The second-quarter figure will just tell us the size of the hole we’re digging out of, and it’s a big one.” Thursday’s report helps explain which parts of the economy suffered as people stayed home, cut back their spending and suddenly overhauled their routines. With retail stores shuttered and people swapping out their work wardrobes for leisurewear, clothing and footwear sales dropped. The pandemic also triggered a collapse in oil prices, exacerbated by lower gasoline sales and dampened transportation services, as Americans stayed home and avoided commutes or basic errands. Health care fell off as the pandemic pushed people to cancel non-emergency visits and procedures, triggering layoffs within the health-care industry. Restaurant closures fueled a drop in food services. The coronavirus tightens its grip on Alabama But even as the economy contracted at an unprecedented pace, some industries were at an advantage. Along with recreational goods and vehicles and farm inventories, auto sales rose. Inventories are at historic lows, with so many factories shuttered or scaled back, said Michelle Krebs, senior director of automotive relations for Cox Automotive and executive analyst for Autotrader. Krebs said that car buyers have proved to be “surprisingly resilient” and that there are signs that people are purchasing cars to avoid public transit and safely get around.

Record-breaking drop in GDP (7 graphs) The Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that seasonally adjusted U.S. real GDP was 9.5% lower in the second quarter than it had been in the first quarter, which they reported as a decline at an annual rate of 32.9% (0.9054 – 1 = -0.329). That is four times as large a quarterly decline as anything since the BEA began reporting quarterly GDP in 1947, and represents a 10 sigma (10 standard deviations) event. I’ve been reporting a GDP-based recession indicator index each quarter since we started the blog in 2005. What I’ve been doing up to this point is re-estimating the parameters of the model (the numbers that describe what happens in a typical expansion or a typical recession) every time a new GDP observation gets released. If you try that with the data set from 1947:Q2 through 2020:Q2, the latest drop is so dramatic that the maximum likelihood estimates would put 2020:Q2 in a class all by itself, a severe recession unlike anything seen previously. What I have done to keep the index going is to fix parameters at the values estimated as of 2020:Q1 and interpret the 2020:Q2 data from the perspective of the historically observed patterns. This calculation results in a value for our recession indicator index for 2020:Q1 of 97.1. In other words, based on the historical record of GDP growth, the current numbers would lead us to conclude that there is a 97.1% probability that the twelfth postwar recession in the United States began in the first quarter of this year. This is not surprisingly the same conclusion that the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research reached on June 8. The drop was across the board in terms of the traditional components of GDP. Consumption spending was the single biggest factor in the drop, offset a bit by the fact that a significant part of the lower consumption spending came in the form of lower spending on imported goods. But even if consumption and imports had held constant, lower fixed investment alone would have led to a -5% annual GDP growth rate, and lower exports by itself would have produced a GDP annual growth rate of -10%. It’s also helpful to break down the consumption spending. Spending on consumer services accounts for 47% of GDP. Service spending is usually quite stable even in severe recessions, while durable spending takes the brunt of the cutback. Not so this time. Durable spending was about the same in Q2 as in Q1, while services fell 43.5% at an annual rate. Investment spending is usually the biggest factor in a typical recession. The drop in residential and nonresidential fixed investment this time is similar in absolute size to what we see in other recessions. It only looks small in the graphs above in comparison to what happened to services consumption. The biggest single factor in lower services spending was health care, as people stayed away from doctors, dentists and hospitals as much as possible. That presumably will rebound. But other categories of spending, such as restaurants, hotels, recreation, and air travel could take quite a while to recover. Where do we go from here? The increase in the unemployment rate in April was the biggest increase on record. But the drop in June was also the biggest decrease on record. I would not be surprised to see something similar with GDP. Almost mechanically, real GDP in the third quarter has to be a bigger number than the second quarter. So, we may have seen the bottom, at least as far as GDP is concerned. But it could be a long time before we’re looking out over the top again.

Year-over-year and Quarterly Change in Real GDP -The following graph shows real GDP quarterly (blue, annualized), and the year-over-year (YoY) change in real GDP (red).  The worst quarterly change in real GDP during the Great Recession was -8.4% annualized in Q4 2008. The worst YoY change in real change during the Great recession was -3.9% in Q2 2009.Annualized real GDP was at -32.9% in Q2 2020, and the YoY change in real GDP was -9.5%.Note that the tax changes at the end of 2017 had minimal impact on GDP (maybe boosted slightly), and also, as shown earlier, there was no investment boom following the tax changes. There will be some bounce back for GDP in Q3.   The worst month for economic activity was in April 2020, and the economy bounced back in May and June.  Even if there is no further increase in economic activity in the July, August and September - compared to June - GDP will increase because April was so bad.

Q2 GDP: Investment -  Investment has been weak for some time, and slumped in Q1, and fell off a cliff in Q2 along with the overall economy. The first graph below shows the contribution to GDP from residential investment, equipment and software, and nonresidential structures (3 quarter trailing average). This is important to follow because residential investment tends to lead the economy, equipment and software is generally coincident, and nonresidential structure investment trails the economy. In the graph, red is residential, green is equipment and software, and blue is investment in non-residential structures. So the usual pattern - both into and out of recessions is - red, green, blue. Of course - with the sudden economic stop due to COVID-19 - the usual pattern doesn't apply. The dashed gray line is the contribution from the change in private inventories. Residential investment (RI) decreased at a 38.7% annual rate in Q2. Equipment investment decreased at a 37.7% annual rate, and investment in non-residential structures decreased at a 34.9% annual rate. On a 3 quarter trailing average basis, RI (red) is down solidly, equipment (green) is strongly negative, and nonresidential structures (blue) is also down. The second graph shows residential investment as a percent of GDP. Residential Investment as a percent of GDP decreased slightly in Q2 (this means RI slumped slightly more than the overall economy in Q2). RI as a percent of GDP is close to the bottom of the previous recessions - and prior to the pandemic, I expected RI to continue to increase further in this cycle. I'll break down Residential Investment into components after the GDP details are released. Note: Residential investment (RI) includes new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement, broker's commissions, and a few minor categories. non-Residential InvestmentThe third graph shows non-residential investment in structures, equipment and "intellectual property products". Investment in equipment declined more than the overall economy.

Q2 Real GDP Per Capita: -33.2% Versus the -32.9% Headline Real GDP -  The Advance Estimate for Q2 GDP came in at -32.9% (-32.90% to two decimals), down from -5.0% (-4.99% to two decimals) in Q1. With a per-capita adjustment, the headline number is lower at -17.71% to two decimal points. Here is a chart of real GDP per capita growth since 1960. For this analysis, we've chained in today's dollar for the inflation adjustment. The per-capita calculation is based on quarterly aggregates of mid-month population estimates by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which date from 1959 (hence our 1960 starting date for this chart, even though quarterly GDP has is available since 1947). The population data is available in the FRED series POPTHM. The logarithmic vertical axis ensures that the highlighted contractions have the same relative scale. The chart includes an exponential regression through the data using the Excel GROWTH function to give us a sense of the historical trend. The regression illustrates the fact that the trend since the Great Recession has a visibly lower slope than the long-term trend. In fact, the current GDP per-capita is 17.7% below the pre-recession trend. The standard measure of GDP in the US is expressed as the compounded annual rate of change from one quarter to the next. The current real GDP is -32.9%. But with a per-capita adjustment, the data series is lower at -33.18%. The 10-year moving average illustrates that US economic growth has slowed dramatically since the last recession and has dropped significantly during the COVID recession.

Government revisions show slightly slower 2019 GDP growth - -- The government says the U.S economy grew a bit more slowly last year than it had previously estimated and slightly faster in 2018. Those changes emerged Thursday in the government's annual revisions to its estimates of the gross domestic product, the economy's total output of goods and services. The government each year revises the GDP figures going back five years. The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis said Thursday that GDP grew 2.2% last year, down slightly from the 2.3% gain it had previously estimated. For 2018, GDP growth was revised up to 3%, slightly above the 2.9% gain the government had initially reported. That revision means that President Donald Trump did barely achieve the goal of 3% growth in 2018, helped significantly by a boost from his December 2017 tax cut. The revisions showed that the 3% growth in 2018 was the strongest annual growth since a revised 3.1% gain in 2015, when Barack Obama was president. Before the revisions reported Thursday, the 2015 GDP gain had been reported as a slightly smaller 2.9% gain. The revisions showed GDP growth of 1.7% in 2016, up from 1.6% previously estimated, and 2.3% in 2017, down from 2.4% earlier reported. The small changes up and down did not change the overall performance over the past five years. GDP showed an average annual gain of 2.3% from the fourth quarter of 2014 to the fourth quarter of 2019, unchanged from the previous estimate. Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of economic activity, grew at a 2.7% annual pace over the five-year period, down slightly from the previous estimate of 2.8% spending growth. But business investment spending grew at a faster 2.5% annual pace, up from the previous estimate of 2.2%. Exports and government spending were also revised up slightly. The growth in imports, though, was revised down slightly. The government’s annual GDP revisions incorporate data that has become available since the last annual revisions. The annual revisions used to cover just three years but were expanded to cover five years starting last year. 

Q2 GDP does not bode well for early 2021 - There are two components of quarterly GDP that are long leading indicators, giving us information about the economy 12 months from now. If you think, as I do, that it is likely there will be a new Administration in Washington next year, which will competently follow the science, then there is every reason to believe that by 12 months from now the pandemic will have been contained, and so the long leading indicators are more likely to be valid. In that regard, this morning’s Q2 2020 GDP was not grounds for optimism. As an initial matter, the GDP decline of -9.5% annualized was the biggest decline since the Great Depression: The two forward-looking components of GDP are (1) private fixed residential investment, and (2) corporate profits. Because corporate profits are delayed by one more month, I use proprietors income as a temporary proxy. Let’s look at each in turn. Real private residential fixed investment decreased over 10% q/q. Real GDP decreased a little less than 10%: Thus real private fixed residential investment as a share of GDP declined slightly (red in the graph below) as did nominal investment as a share of nominal GDP: This is a negative. Meanwhile, proprietors income declined -13.2% in Q2: Since the GDP implicit price deflator declined -2.1%, this was also a large negative. In sum, both long leading indicators in the GDP report suggest that the economy will not be doing that well by summer 2021, even if the coronavirus is contained.

US GDP Seen Rebounding 11.9% In Q3 By Atlanta Fed -  One day after the BEA reported that US GDP crashed an annualized 32.9% in the second quarter, the biggest drop since the great depression... ... moments ago, the Atlanta Fed published its first GDPNow "nowcast" estimate for the third quarter, which is a relatively healthy 11.9%, and follows the regional Fed's Q2 GDP estimate which was 0.8% above the official BEA print, at -32.1%. The Atlanta Fed's Q3 estimate is most pessimistic than the 18% Q3 GDP consensus estimate from 63 economists polled by Bloomberg, and is just above the lowe-end of the range although both of these numbers will be woefully inaccurate if more US states decide to follow through with another round of shutdowns. It goes without saying that if Congress fails to roll over the expiring unemployment benefits into August- which as noted earlier now are instrumental in the record 25% of personal income that is funded by the US government...... Q3 GDP will be another unmitigated disaster and far below any official estimates.

Economic Recoveries in U.S., Europe Take Diverging Paths – WSJ  - The U.S. economy lagged in July and Europe’s bounced back, according to fresh surveys of purchasing managers, evidence that the two economic powerhouses are recovering at different speeds from the coronavirus pandemic. In the U.S., output in the service sector shrank for the sixth consecutive month as companies faced a wave of coronavirus cases that prompted new restrictions in several states. Manufacturing output expanded for the first time since February as new orders ticked up. Overall, economic activity in the U.S. was unchanged. The divergence between the U.S. and Europe suggested that European countries could be benefiting from the strict lockdowns they pursued in the spring, as well as current policies regarding mask wearing, social distancing and bans on large gatherings. Most European countries are seeing just several hundred cases of new infections a day, compared with several thousand at the peak of the crisis. In contrast, the surge in infections in the U.S.—which has recorded more than a quarter of world-wide cases—is holding the recovery back. Data firm IHS Markit said Friday its U.S. composite purchasing managers index—a measure of manufacturing and service-sector activity—rose to 50 from 47.9 in June, indicating that activity had flattened after five months of contraction. A level below 50.0 points to a decline in activity from the previous month, while a reading above that threshold points to an increase. The data was weaker than economists had expected and suggested the U.S. economy was struggling to fire up its economy as many states continue to be hampered by coronavirus flare-ups. On Thursday, the total number of cases in the U.S. surpassed four million, just two weeks after reaching three million, with Florida, California and Tennessee reporting single-day records in deaths. Several states—including California and Texas—have rolled back plans for reopening in the face of a resurgence of cases, forcing many restaurants and stores to shut down again shortly after reopening. “While the stabilization of business activity in July is welcome news, the lack of growth is a disappointment,” said Chris Williamson, IHS Markit chief business economist. “Many companies, notably in consumer-facing areas of the service sector, linked falling sales to reimposed lockdowns.” In Europe, IHS Markit’s index surged to 54.8 from 48.5 in June, indicating that activity increased at the fastest pace in more than two years after four months of contraction. The strength of Europe’s rebound could lay the groundwork for a recovery in the remainder of the year and could push the global economy to expand in the three months through September, having contracted sharply in the second quarter as lockdowns stilled businesses around the world. So far, Europe hasn’t experienced the same resurgence in the virus as in the U.S., allowing its economic recovery to proceed at a rapid pace. France, for instance, endured some of the strictest limits on movement and saw very large declines in its PMIs during lockdown, particularly in its services sector. In July, its composite PMI jumped to a 30-month high of 57.6, from 51.7 in June.

 The United States Will Not Recover By Raising Taxes Or Printing Money - The dramatic economic decline due to the Covid-19 crisis and the unprecedented recovery spending plans approved by President Trump will drive the fiscal 2020 United States budget deficit to a record $3.8 trillion, or 18.7% of U.S. gross domestic product, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). According to the same estimates, the fiscal 2021 deficit would reach $2.1 trillion in 2021, and average $1.3 trillion through 2025 as the economy recovers from the impact of the forced shutdowns. To finance this staggering fiscal effort, the Democratic Party leader, Joe Biden, is announcing a massive tax hike that will neither help the economy nor reduce the deficit. The solution to the United States budget deficit is not more taxes. Even in the most optimistic receipt scenario, there is no tax hike program that would even start to address the structural deficit, estimated at one trillion dollars a year, even less with the above-mentioned estimates. More taxes will hurt the recovery, damage the job improvement potential, and reduce investment in the economy. More taxes mean less growth and no deficit improvement. A wealth tax, often repeated by the most extreme politicians in America, would not only provide exceedingly small revenues for the Treasury, it would generate more negatives than any improvement in tax receipts. There is no way that a wealth tax would collect 1.4% of GDP as Senator Warren estimated. A wealth tax in the United States would make no visible reduction in the existing deficit, let alone finance the trillions in entitlement spending that Biden has announced. US deficit is rising due to excessive spending increases, despite periods of rising tax receipts. The federal government’s revenue went up by 4%, to $3.46 trillion in the 2019 fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report. However, spending went up by more than 8%, to $4.45 trillion. The rise in 2019 deficit was not due to the “tax cuts”. If anything, the tax cuts helped the economy stay in expansion, creating jobs and increasing receipts at the same time. Corporate income taxes increased by $25 billion (+12%), while individual income and payroll taxes together rose by $107 billion (+4%). Overall, total receipts rose by 4% ($3,462 billion in the fiscal year 2019). Total receipts remained at 16.15% of GDP, which is the long-term trend figure and consistent with an economy that remained in expansion with moderate growth. The main problem is that total outlays rose by 8% (to $4,446 billion), driven mostly by mandatory expenses in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Fitch Revises United States Credit Outlook To "Negative" - Just over a month ago, Fitch Ratings downgraded Canada from AA+ to AA; and tonight, shortly after the market close - with bond yields at record lows - the ratings agency has revised its outlook for the United States from Stable To Negative, citing "ongoing deterioration in US public finances and the absence of a credible fiscal consolidation plan..." Full Statement: The U.S. sovereign rating is supported by structural strengths that include the size of the economy, high per capita income and a dynamic business environment. The U.S. benefits from issuing the U.S. dollar, the world's preeminent reserve currency, and from the associated extraordinary financing flexibility, which has been highlighted once again by developments since March 2020. Fitch considers U.S. debt tolerance to be higher than that of other 'AAA' sovereigns.  However, the Outlook has been revised to Negative to reflect the ongoing deterioration in the U.S. public finances and the absence of a credible fiscal consolidation plan, issues that were highlighted in the agency's last rating review on March 26, 2020. High fiscal deficits and debt were already on a rising medium-term path even before the onset of the huge economic shock precipitated by the coronavirus. They have started to erode the traditional credit strengths of the US. Financing flexibility, assisted by Federal Reserve intervention to restore liquidity to financial markets, does not entirely dispel risks to medium-term debt sustainability, and there is a growing risk that U.S. policymakers will not consolidate public finances sufficiently to stabilize public debt after the pandemic shock has passed. Although a massive policy response has prevented a deeper downturn - such that Fitch expects a less severe contraction in the U.S. in 2020 than in many other advanced economies - the agency has revised down our macroeconomic projections since March and downside risks persist.  The U.S. had the highest government debt of any AAA-rated sovereign heading into the crisis, and Fitch expects general government debt to exceed 130% of GDP by 2021. Fitch's debt dynamics analysis indicates that debt/GDP could stabilize temporarily from 2023 if fiscal balances return to pre-pandemic levels, but only assuming that interest rates stay very low.  Fitch expects the general government calendar year deficit to widen to over 20% of GDP in 2020. The agency expects the deficit to narrow to 11% of GDP in 2021 as economic support measures are rolled back. The cumulative federal deficit in the first nine months of FY20 (starting in October 2019) reached USD2.7 trillion, compared with USD747 billion in the same period of FY19. […] In line with our assumption that the Federal Reserve will hold its policy rate at 0.25%, Fitch expects negative real interest rates to provide some support to public debt dynamics. If real growth also reverted to 2%, a debt stabilizing primary deficit for the general government by 2024 could be around 3%-4% of GDP, comparable with 2019 levels. But it is uncertain whether very low market rates will persist once growth and inflation pick up. At current levels of indebtedness, a 1% rise in the effective rate on the debt would add 1.2% of GDP to the interest bill in a single year.

Trump team, Senate Republicans agree on coronavirus aid offer to Democrats -  (Reuters) - Top aides to U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday they agreed in principle with Senate Republicans on a $1 trillion coronavirus relief package — the party’s opening offer in negotiations with Democrats less than a week before enhanced unemployment benefits expire. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters in the Capitol that he expects the package to be unveiled on Monday afternoon after some final details are clarified. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the package will contain extended unemployment benefits that aim to replace 70% of a laid-off worker’s previous wages. “We’re done,” Mnuchin told reporters as he left the Capitol on Sunday. He said some language was being checked, but there were “no outstanding issues.” Mnuchin and Meadows would not discuss details, but the $1 trillion Republican offer was expected to include another round of direct payments to individuals, a reduced federal supplement to unemployment benefits and liability protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits. An extra $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits, which economists say has propped up consumer spending and has allowed laid off workers to pay rent and mortgages, is due to expire on Friday. The benefits were part of $3.7 trillion in coronavirus aid approved in March as the U.S. economy shut down. But widespread business reopenings have been thwarted as the virus surges in states such as California and Florida, which overtook New York, an early hotspot, in total cases on Sunday. More than 146,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 - nearly a quarter of the global total — and there are nearly 4.2 million confirmed cases in the country, a rate of 1 infection in 79 people

 GOP Reach Agreement On COVID-19 Relief; $600 Unemployment Boost Becomes 70% 'Wage Replacement'; Pelosi Pops Fuse - With the Trump Treasury sitting on $1.8 trillion and three months to spend it, the White House and Senate Republicans are set to introduce a $1 trillion spending bill on Monday which would be released in stages - angering Democrats who are pushing for an immediate, $3 trillion shotgun blast of stimulus. Speaking with ABC's "This Week," White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said "I see us being able to provide unemployment insurance, maybe a retention credit, to keep people from being displaced or brought back into the workplace, helping with our schools," adding "we can negotiate on the rest of the bill in the weeks to come."The Trump administration opposes an extension of a $600-a-week enhanced unemployment payment that expired this month, Mnuchin and Meadows said. Instead, White House officials favor a plan to reimburse an individual's lost wages or salary by up to 70%, said Mnuchin and Meadows. -NewsdayAsked whether expiring federal unemployment benefits will be extended, WH Chief of Staff Mark Meadows says "The original benefits will not... We are going to be prepared, on Monday, to provide unemployment insurance extension that would be 70% of wages." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) popped a fuse at the GOP proposal, blaming Republicans for waiting too long to negotiate for more relief after House Democrats passed a fifth, $3 trillion relief bill which w ould have included immediate aid to state and local governments, expanded testing and contact tracing for COVID-19.  Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," Pelosi said that Republicans are "in disarray and that delay is causing suffering for America's families. So we have been ready for two months and 10 days. I've been here all weekend hoping they had something to give us." Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, meanwhile, says the White House is "prepared to act quickly."

GOP Releases Coronavirus Relief Proposal After Delay - WSJ—Senate Republicans rolled out a roughly $1 trillion coronavirus relief bill proposal Monday, launching a mad dash to reach a deal with Democrats on expiring unemployment payments and other aid disputes in the parties’ rival plans. The Republican plan cuts the current federal $600 weekly unemployment supplement to $200 a week through September, when the payment will then combine with state benefits to replace 70% of previous wages. Democrats have proposed continuing through January the current $600 a week supplement, which costs about $15 billion a week. The U.S. jobs market has partially rebounded since the unemployment rate went from 50-year-lows to record highs early in the pandemic, with employers adding 7.5 million jobs in May and June after cutting 22 million nonfarm jobs the prior two months. But a recent increase in people seeking unemployment insurance signaled the recovery could be faltering as Covid-19 cases surged in the South and West, prompting new business closures. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) billed the Republican proposal as the appropriate response to the toll the virus continues to take across the country. “We have one foot in the pandemic, and one foot in the recovery. The American people need more help. They need it to be comprehensive, and they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads. That is what this Senate majority has assembled,” he said. Democrats criticized the GOP proposal as offering too little aid, and said Republican senators should have introduced their bill earlier. “We’re running out of time. but Senate Republicans just ran down the clock and tossed an air ball,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.). The number and size of the policy differences between Republicans and Democrats will likely make it difficult for the parties to come together on a compromise in just a few days. Republicans have also struggled to tamp down differences in their own ranks over the new round of deficit spending. Over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) warned that half of the GOP caucus wouldn’t support the Republican bill, setting up a difficult negotiation ahead. “You’ve got to thread the needle,” Mr. Graham told reporters on Monday. “At the end of the day we all have a need to pass something.”

Trump, Republicans demand $400-a-week cut for the unemployed- Senate Republicans unveiled plans Monday to slash federal supplemental unemployment compensation by $400 a week, a two-thirds reduction, in a savage attack on the lifeline that 20 million workers across the United States have relied on to survive for the past four months. The $600-a-week benefit for workers laid off because of the coronavirus crisis was established in the CARES Act passed in March. It has an official expiration date of July 31, but effectively ended this weekend, given how state-run unemployment compensation systems calculate the benefit week. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, outlining the unemployment compensation plan, denounced the $600-a-week benefit as an incentive for idleness that had caused many people to refuse jobs. “We’ve learned a tough lesson,” he said. “If you pay people not to work, what do you expect?” He went on to hail the bill for providing “further tax relief for businesses to encourage hiring and rehiring.” The Republican bill is a political provocation against the working class. In the CARES Act, the Democrats and Republicans combined limited subsidies to the unemployed with trillions for corporations and banks, using the increased unemployment compensation as a screen to disguise the real nature of the CARES Act as a handout to the multimillionaires. The legislation unveiled Monday would strip away the disguise, combining further subsidies for the wealthy and corporate America with a $400-a-week cut in benefits for millions who have only barely been able to pay urgent and pressing bills. Even with the federal extended benefits, some 12 million people failed to make rent payments due by July 1, and 23 million said they feared missing rent payments due August 1.

Economic relief talks ramp up as GOP releases bill; Democrats, White House officials meet -- A fraught showdown over the next coronavirus relief bill got underway Monday as Senate Republicans unveiled a $1 trillion package and congressional Democratic leaders met with top White House officials.All parties faced a tight deadline for a breakthrough as expanded jobless aid benefits are set to expire later this week.The prospects for a bipartisan deal remained far from certain as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) met late Monday with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to begin formal negotiations.The White House officials described the talks as productive and said they would resume on Tuesday, but Democrats left the nearly two hour meeting describing the initial GOP offer as inadequate.AD“We hope that we would be able to reach an agreement,” Pelosi said after the meeting. “We clearly do not have shared values. Having said that, we just want to see if we can find some common ground to go forward. But we’re not at that place yet.”Schumer said that he and Pelosi had told the administration officials they would review the bills carefully overnight.At the same time elsewhere in the Capitol, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and some of his top lieutenants were briefing reporters on the package of bills assembled as the GOP negotiating position with Democrats.   But the GOP legislation contains a number of provisions not directly related to the coronavirus, including $1.8 billion for construction of a new FBI headquarters in Washington. President Trump has taken a personal interest in this project, but White House officials have not stipulated why they believe the language needed to be inserted in the coronavirus bill. Critics have alleged Trump is trying to keep the FBI building at its current location, which is diagonal from a Trump hotel property in downtown D.C. McConnell and his team worked for days to try to put together a $1 trillion package that could unite Republicans in a way that would strengthen their negotiating power with Democrats, but there were signs Monday that Republicans remain split over how to proceed. Congress already pumped $3 trillion into the economy in March and April, a level that many Republicans believe is sufficient.“There is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

 McConnell announces new round of PPP funds in GOP stimulus plan — Senate Republicans have announced another round of funding for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program as part of a new stimulus bill to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., outlined the GOP plan in a floor speech but did not specify how much money would be allocated for the small-business loan program. “So we have one foot in the pandemic and one foot in the recovery,” McConnell said. “The American people need more help. They need it to be comprehensive. And they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads. That is what this Senate majority has assembled.” McConnell said the stimulus proposal, known as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools Act, or HEALS Act, will include another round of $1,200 relief payments to individuals. Republicans are also proposing to extend the expanded weekly unemployment benefits that were provided in the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, but decrease the dollar amount from $600 per week to $200 per week. McConnell's announcement comes as unemployment benefits in the CARES Act are set to expire at the end of this week. But PPP funds are still available. The program also allows loan borrowers to seek forgiveness of their outstanding credit. The SBA is expected to launch a portal next month for processing loan forgiveness decisions. Banks have generally supported the PPP, but some lenders have said they are less enthusiastic about participating. Republicans still need to negotiate with Democrats before any additional stimulus legislation can become law. The Democratic-controlled House in May passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES, Act. Yet that $3 trillion package has been panned by the GOP.

 Trump dismisses virus aid for cities, lashes out at GOP - (AP) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed Democratic demands to include aid for cash-strapped cities in a new coronavirus relief package and lashed out at Republicans, saying they should “go back to school” if they reject money for a new FBI building in downtown Washington, D.C.Trump, speaking alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the White House, signaled his interest in preventing an eviction crisis as a federal moratorium expires Friday on millions of apartment units. But he and his top emissary to Congress portrayed an otherwise dismal outlook as negotiations drag ahead of looming deadlines.“It’s a shame to reward badly run radical left Democrats with all of this money they’re looking for,” Trump said at the White House, complaining about the “big bailout money” for cities.Trump was publicly critical of his GOP allies over the $1.7 billion for FBI headquartersthat's included in the bill, but which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell later said he opposes as not related to virus relief. The president wants to keep the building that sits across the street from his signature Trump International Hotel, which could face competition if the FBI moves and another hotel is developed there.At the White House on Wednesday, Trump said the FBI building should remain in Washington, near the Justice Department. He added: "It’s the best piece of property in Washington. I’m very good at real estate. So I said, we’ll build a new FBI building. Let’s build a new FBI building, either a renovation of existing or even better would be a new building.”“Republicans should go back to school and learn," he said. ”You need a new building.”Trump's comments came a day after he dismissed the GOP's COVID-19 package as “semi-irrelevant.”“We want to take care of t he people," Trump said. “We want to stop the evictions.”

Dems reject short-term deal ahead of unemployment deadline - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on Thursday night that Democrats rejected a short-term deal as negotiators remain at loggerheads over the next coronavirus relief bill. "We made a proposal for a short-term deal. And as of now they've repeated they don't want to do that," Mnuchin told reporters after a nearly two-hour meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Meadows. Mnuchin declined to say what the administration offered during the meeting, which was the fourth the group has had in as many days. But Meadows subsequently tweeted that they offered a "temporary extension of needed unemployment assistance." "The proposals we made were not received warmly," Meadows told reporters at the Capitol. Trump and his chief of staff indicated just hours before the meeting that they were hoping to get Democrats to a smaller agreement on just two issues: unemployment benefits and preventing evictions. "I think probably trying to resolve the enhanced unemployment issue, obviously," Meadows said, asked about the goal for the meeting. "And so we want to go ahead and address that [and] address the eviction provisions that hopefully will keep people from being evicted from the homes, at least through the end of the year, on both of those things." Trump homed in on evictions while speaking from the White House saying that, "we’re asking Democrats to work with us to find a solution that will temporarily stop evictions." But any attempt to get a short-term or pared-down bill was all but guaranteed to be rejected by Pelosi and Schumer, who have remained united during the days-long talks. Democrats have repeatedly said they do not want a short-term deal or a smaller bill. The stalemate comes as the talks come as the $600-per-week federal unemployment benefit will expire Friday. With the Senate leaving town until Thursday, and negotiators nowhere close to a deal, they were all but guaranteed to miss the deadline.

Congress has failed to extend additional unemployment benefits as millions of workers across the country file new UI claims --The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released the most recent unemployment insurance (UI) claims data last Thursday, showing that another 2.3 million people filed for UI benefits during the week ending July 18. Huge swaths of workers in every state are relying on UI for food, rent, and basic necessities. There are 14 million more unemployed workers than jobs. In the face of this economic crisis, Congress has let the extra $600 in weekly UI benefits expire, and now Senate Republicans are proposing reducing the increase to $200, which would cause such a huge drop in spending that it would cost 3.4 million jobs. These benefit cuts will directly harm the workers and their families who need these benefits to weather the pandemic and will cause further economic harm over the next year.Figure A shows the share of workers in each state who either made it through at least the first round of state UI processing (these are known as “continued” claims) or filed initial UI claims in the following weeks. The map includes separate totals for regular UI and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the new program for workers who aren’t eligible for regular UI, such as gig workers. Three states had more than 1 million workers either receiving regular UI benefits or waiting for their claim to be approved: California (3.0 million), New York (1.6 million), and Texas (1.4 million). Seven additional states had more than half a million workers receiving or awaiting benefits. While the largest U.S. states unsurprisingly have the highest numbers of UI claimants, some smaller states have larger shares of the workforce filing for unemployment. Figure A also displays the numbers of workers in each state who are receiving or waiting for regular UI benefits as a share of the pre-pandemic labor force in February 2020. In six states and the District of Columbia, more than one in seven workers are receiving regular UI benefits or waiting on their claim to be approved: Hawaii (20.8%), Nevada (20.7%), the District of Columbia (17.9%), New York (17.1%), Louisiana (15.9%), Georgia (15.8%), and California (15.5%).

McConnell: Dropping liability protections from coronavirus deal 'not going to happen'  - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday that liability protections will be in any coronavirus relief deal amid mixed signals from the White House, which has increasingly focused on a smaller or short-term deal. Asked if the White House was trying to drop liability protections from the talks, McConnell told WHAS, a Kentucky radio station, that both he and President Trump support the proposal. "Ultimately if we get a deal I'll be the one to put it on the floor in the Senate. I assure you it will have liability protection in it," McConnell said. "There was some rumor that they were prepared to negotiate it away. That's not going to happen," he added. McConnell's comments come as White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have both signaled that they remain far from a deal with congressional Democrats on the next coronavirus relief package, including at a stalemate on help for state and local governments, how to address unemployment insurance and liability protections. Instead, they've tried to push Democrats toward accepting a smaller, short-term bill that focuses on unemployment benefits and preventing evictions. "I think probably trying to resolve the enhanced unemployment issue," Meadows told reporters late Thursday afternoon when asked about the goal for a Thursday night meeting with Democrats. "And so we want to go ahead and address ... the eviction provisions that hopefully will keep people from being evicted from the homes, at least through the end of the year, on both of those things."

McConnell: 15-20 GOP senators will not vote for any coronavirus deal  - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday that more than a third of Republican senators will not vote for any coronavirus relief package, underscoring division with his caucus. "I think there are 15-20 of my guys that are not going to vote for anything. ... It's a statement of the obvious that we will not have everybody on our side," McConnell told WHAS, a Kentucky radio station. McConnell's estimate comes as congressional Democrats and the administration are struggling to reach an agreement after days of talks about a potential fifth coronavirus package as cases climb across the country and an economy bludgeoned by the pandemic. McConnell, during the radio interview, said the two sides were "light-years apart," the latest sign that Congress and the White House are not close to a quick deal. "This negotiation is going to be tough," he added. "At the moment there's not much movement." But GOP divisions have also been in the spotlight after several senators trashed their own party's package, which was unveiled Monday. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called the bill a "mess," while Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) argued that the negotiations were being carried out by "two big government Democrats." McConnell, asked why a sizable portion of his conference is opposed to another bill, noted the growing size of the country's debt after Congress has already appropriated nearly $3 trillion in the previous four coronavirus bills. "Their argument's not irrational. ... They don't think we ought to pass another one of these bills. I don't agree with that," McConnell said. Asked what those GOP senators would say to voters, McConnell added, "I think everybody's got to make their best call here." If 20 Republicans voted against an eventual coronavirus deal, that means McConnell would need support from at least 27 Democratic senators to get the bill over a 60-vote procedural threshold and pass it in the Senate. McConnell said during an interview with PBS "Newshour" earlier this week that "about 20 of my members think that we’ve already done enough."

Stimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility -Republicans and Democrats negotiating the next coronavirus relief package are voicing support for including another round of stimulus checks, but their competing proposals for direct payments have some differences that need to be hammered out. The two key issues that need resolving: payment amounts for dependents and eligibility requirements. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have put forth direct-payment proposals largely similar to the stimulus checks included in the CARES Act from late March that provided checks for most Americans -- up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child under 17. The differences between Democrats and Republicans on direct payments are narrower than they are on other potential elements of a COVID-19 relief package, like aid to state and local governments and liability protections for businesses. “This is one of the places where they’re pretty close,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. But as negotiations spill over into the weekend, Democratic leaders and Trump administration officials will have to iron out the details on checks that will give households an infusion of cash to spend on key expenses amid the coronavirus recession. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion package in May, known as the HEROES Act, that would provide for a second round of payments of $1,200 per adult and $1,200 per dependent for up to three dependents. Adult dependents, such as college students and elderly relatives, would qualify for payments in addition to children. The measure would allow people with Social Security numbers and those with individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs) to receive payments. A number of foreign nationals, including many undocumented immigrants, use ITINs to pay U.S. taxes. Senate Republicans and the White House on Monday released their coronavirus-relief package -- the $1 trillion HEALS Act -- that would also provide for a second round of payments, but at $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent regardless of age. The proposal mirrors the identification-number requirements of the CARES Act, under which work-eligible Social Security numbers are required and a U.S. citizen who is married to an ITIN filer would generally not receive a payment if the couple filed a joint tax return. On Thursday, a group of GOP senators senators introduced their own bill with parameters that fall in between the HEROES Act and the HEALS Act. The new measure, backed by GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), both adults and dependents would receive payments of $1,000. Under their proposal, people would have to have Social Security numbers to receive payments, but U.S. citizens in households with foreign nationals would be able to get payments.

Small-Business Disaster Relief Program Target of Fraud, Watchdog Says – WSJ —The federal government’s disaster loan and grant program for small businesses has been subject to more than 5,000 complaints of suspected fraud from lenders, a watchdog agency warned Tuesday as it called for closer oversight of the program. The Small Business Administration’s inspector general’s office said it had been “inundated with contacts to investigative field offices from financial institutions across the nation and the complaint hotline” regarding the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and EIDL Advance grant programs. It urged SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza to take “immediate attention and action” to reduce or prevent additional losses to taxpayers. Nearly 3,800 of the suspected fraud complaints came from just six lenders, the inspector general’s report said. Among them, nine financial institutions reported a combined total of $187.3 million in suspicious transactions. In addition, more than 1,000 complaints have been received through its complaint hotline. Reported suspicious activities include accounts established using stolen identities, account holders unable to identify business names on loans or customers attempting to transfer funds into accounts located overseas or used for investment purposes. Others account holders were reported to have attempted to withdraw loan funds in cash or transfer the funds to other newly established accounts, or claimed to use the funds to open a business—a use not permitted under the program.

Florida Man Used PPP Loans To Buy Lamborghini Huracan, Goes On Spending Spree -  For months, we've warned loans granted under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for businesses seeking coronavirus relief funds were susceptible to fraud.A Florida man was charged Monday after using PPP loans to buy a 2020 Lamborghini Huracan, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ).  David T. Hines of Miami, Florida, fraudulently obtained $3.9 million in PPP loans and used those funds to buy the Huracan, shop at luxury stores, and splurge on fancy Miami resorts. The DoJ charged Hines,29, with one count of bank fraud, one count of making false statements to a bank and one count of engaging in transactions in unlawful proceeds. The DoJ complaint claims the man requested $13.5 million in PPP loans for four companies with dozens of employees."In the days and weeks following the disbursement of PPP funds, the complaint alleges that Hines did not make payroll payments that he claimed on his loan applications," according to the complaint. "He did, however, make purchases at luxury retailers and resorts in Miami Beach."In early July, we reported a Texas man received almost $1 million in PPP loans to support 51 employees at his "Texas Barbecue" company, though the company never existed. The man used the loans to trade cryptocurrency on Coinbase. Not too long ago, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he is considering "forgiving all small loans, but would need fraud protection," for businesses. The government has so far approved about $518.1 billion spread over 4.9 million PPP loans since the pandemic began.   The LA Times notes there are at least a dozen PPP fraud cases filed in 11 states in July. Many of these cases are blatant fraud, such as falsifying tax or business records, lying on applications, and misusing the money. While safeguards to prevent PPP fraud appear to be lacking, Senate Republicans have unveiled even more PPP loans for business, which has really upset the Tea Party. "Republicans are now no different than socialist Democrats when it comes to debt," Senator Rand Paul said.

Trump national security adviser O'Brien has the coronavirus (AP) — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, has tested positive for the coronavirus — making him the highest-ranking official to test positive so far.The White House said O’Brien has mild symptoms and “has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off site.”Officials did not respond to questions about the last time the president and O’Brien had contact, but the White House insisted that “There is no risk of exposure to the President or the Vice President” and that the “work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted.”Trump told reporters as he left the White House on Monday that he wasn’t sure when his national security adviser had tested positive and that he hadn’t “seen him lately,” but would be giving O’Brien a call. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow had said earlier that O’Brien’s daughter also has the virus and that that is how officials think he was exposed.O’Brien also recently returned from a trip to France, where he met with top European officials and was photographed standing close to others and not wearing a mask. O’Brien is the first White House official known to have contracted the virus since May, when a personal valet to the president and the vice president’s press secretary tested positive for the virus that has now infected more than 4 million people nationwide. Numerous Secret Service agents and Trump campaign staffers have also tested positive, including national finance chair Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is the girlfriend of Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

Rep. Louie Gohmert Tests Positive For COVID-19 Ahead Of Presidential Flight To Texas - Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert has tested positive for COVID-19, Politico reports.The Republican Congressman was tested Wednesday morning during a pre-clearing process for Wednesday's historic anti-trust hearing. Rep. LOUIE GOHMERT has covid. Tested positive this morning. Has NOT been wearing a mask on the Hill, and defended tghe practice to @mkraju. — Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) July 29, 2020 Gohmert also attended yesterday's hearing with AG Barr, which begs the question: why wasn't his illness flagged yesterday? As Gohmert was sitting in the presence of not only the AG but many of his colleagues for hours, often shouting questions and commentary back and forth.  Politico noted that the Republican, who represents Texas's 1st District, has been seen "walking around the Capitol...without a mask." In another close call for the president, Gohmert had been scheduled to fly to Texas on Wednesday morning with the president. The eighth-term Republican told CNN last month that he wouldn't bother wearing a mask because he was being tested regularly.

GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor - Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) new mask requirement for the House floor had its intended effect Thursday: For once, there was effectively universal compliance. The new requirement came after Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) tested positive for the coronavirus the day before, rattling lawmakers and staff across the Capitol complex. Gohmert was among the handful of House Republicans who had been resistant to wearing masks despite public health experts’ recommendations that facial coverings are an effective way to prevent spread of viral droplets. Many of those lawmakers who didn’t consistently wear masks represent states that are currently coronavirus hot spots, including Texas, Arizona and Florida. But on Thursday, every Republican on the House floor had a mask. Floor staffers also enforced compliance by telling members to pull up masks that were slipping under their noses. One GOP lawmaker didn’t completely follow the rules, however. At one point, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) was taking a phone call — which no one is supposed to do while seated in the chamber — with his mask under his chin. A young female staffer quickly approached Grothman, who initially ignored her. But once an older male staffer intervened, Grothman got up and left. He later returned to the House chamber with his mask on. Pelosi warned while announcing the new policy from the House floor on Wednesday evening that any lawmaker or staffer without a mask would be barred from entering the chamber and risked removal by the sergeant-at-arms if they didn’t comply.

Mask-skeptic Republican Gohmert gets COVID-19; U.S. congressional colleagues to self-quarantine - Reuters (Reuters) - Republican U.S. congressman Louie Gohmert, who has steadfastly refused to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic, said on Wednesday he had tested positive for COVID-19, leading at least three of his colleagues to say they would self-quarantine.Attorney General William Barr, who testified to a committee hearing on Tuesday in which Gohmert participated, will be tested for coronavirus as a result, a Justice Department spokesman said. Gohmert, a U.S. representative from Texas, where coronavirus cases have surged since the state reopened, said he tested positive in a pre-screening at the White House and would self-quarantine for 10 days. “Now I need to self-quarantine,” Gohmert said in an interview with Texas broadcaster KETK-TV. “It’s really ironic, because a lot of people have made a big deal out of my not wearing a mask a lot. But in the last week or two, I have worn a mask more than I have in the whole last four months.” Republican Representatives Mike Johnson and Kay Granger and Democratic lawmaker Raúl Grijalva said they would self-quarantine after being in contact with Gohmert, according to statements from their offices or media reports. “I’m self-quarantining until I take a test and then again until results are in. In the meantime, my work schedule and the lives of my employees are disrupted,” Grijalva said in a statement. “This stems from a selfish act by Mr. Gohmert, who is just one member of Congress.”

Herman Cain dies of coronavirus, statement on his website says -  Herman Cain, the former pizza chain executive who sought the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, has died weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus.  “You’re never ready for the kind of news we are grappling with this morning,” Dan Calabrese, the editor of Cain’s website, wrote in a statement Thursday. “Herman Cain — our boss, our friend, like a father to so many of us — has passed away.”  Calabrese confirmed the death to The Washington Post and said the cause was covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Although it is unclear where Cain, who was 74, contracted the disease, he was among several thousand people, most of whom did not wear masks, who attended a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa on June 20. Cain, who co-chaired Black Voices for Trump, was photographed maskless and not socially distancing at the event.  “My friend Herman Cain, a Powerful Voice of Freedom and all that is good, passed away this morning,” Trump said in tweets in which he relayed that he had spoken to members of Cain’s family. “Herman had an incredible career and was adored by everyone that ever met him, especially me. He was a very special man, an American Patriot, and great friend.” Cain is one of the most prominent Americans to have died of the virus, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the United States. Word of his death comes amid a heightened focus on how seriously Republicans have taken advice from medical experts.On Wednesday, Rep. Louie Goh­mert (R-Tex.), who had been seen walking the halls of the U.S. Capitol without a mask and not socially distancing, announced that he had tested positive shortly before a planned Air Force One flight with President Trump.

 Trump halts daily briefing amid questions about support for 'alien DNA' doctor – video  - Donald Trump in his daily coronavirus briefing praises as 'very impressive' a doctor who dismissed the use of face masks, backed hydroxychloroquine and reportedly claimed that alien DNA is used in medical treatments. When asked about reports Dr Stella Immanuel believes scientists are creating a 'vaccine to make you immune from becoming religious', the US president claimed she had had success in using hydroxychloroquine before adding: 'I thought her voice was an important voice, but I know nothing about her.' On the topic of Dr Anthony Fauci's enduring popularity with the US public, he said: "So why don’t I have a high approval rating with respect – and the administration – with respect to the virus? We should have it very high ...  but nobody likes me. It can only be my personality, that’s all.'

Trump’s New Favorite COVID Doctor Believes in Alien DNA, Demon Sperm, and Hydroxychloroquine - A Houston doctor who praises hydroxychloroquine and says that face masks aren’t necessary to stop transmission of the highly contagious coronavirus has become a star on the right-wing internet, garnering tens of millions of views on Facebook on Monday alone. Donald Trump Jr. declared the video of Stella Immanuel a “must watch,” while Donald Trump himself retweeted the video.Before Trump and his supporters embrace Immanuel’s medical expertise, though, they should consider other medical claims Immanuel has made—including those about alien DNA and the physical effects of having sex with witches and demons in your dreams. Immanuel, a pediatrician and a religious minister, has a history of making bizarre claims about medical topics and other issues. She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches.She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens.  both Facebook and Twitter eventually deleted videos of Immanuel’s speech from their sites, citing rules against COVID-19 disinformation. The deletions set off yet another round of complaints by conservatives of bias at the social-media platforms.  Immanuel responded in her own way, declaring that Jesus Christ would destroy Facebook’s servers if her videos weren’t restored to the platform. “Hello Facebook put back my profile page and videos up or your computers with start crashing till you do,” she tweeted. “You are not bigger that God. I promise you. If my page is not back up face book will be down in Jesus name.” Immanuel was born in Cameroon and received her medical degree in Nigeria. In sermons posted on YouTube and articles on her website, Immanuel claims that medical issues like endometriosis, cysts, infertility, and impotence are caused by sex with “spirit husbands” and “spirit wives”—a phenomenon Immanuel describes essentially as witches and demons having sex with people in a dreamworld. It’s also not clear that Immanuel has abided by her claims that face masks aren’t necessary. In her Washington speech, Immanuel claimed that she and her medical staff had avoided any COVID-19 infections while wearing only medical masks. But in two videos shot at her clinic, Immanuel appears to be wearing an N95 mask, which offers more protection. Immanuel has also alleged that masks of all kinds are superfluous, because she says COVID-19 can be easily cured with hydroxychloroquine. But in a Facebook video advertising her clinic, Immanuel said anyone seeking treatment should wear a face mask before entering the clinic.

House lawmakers probe hydroxychloroquine use at state veterans homes - House lawmakers pressed top officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday about staff shortages, the lack of covid-19 testing and infection-control lapses at state-run nursing homes for veterans and called on the administration to take a leading role in oversight that’s typically left to the states.The hearing before the health subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee also probed the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine at a home for veterans and their spouses outside of Philadelphia.Subcommittee Chairwoman Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) questioned why the drug, touted by President Trump for months as a potential treatment for covid-19, was administered to 30 residents at the Southeastern Veterans’ Center in Spring City, Pa., including patients who had underlying heart conditions and those who had not been tested for covid-19.Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that doctors at the 238-bed nursing home dosed patients with what came to be called a “covid cocktail” for more than two weeks in April, often over the objections of nurses and without the full knowledge of residents’ families. At least 11 residents received the drug even though they had not been tested for covid-19, The Post found. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), who represents the district where the state-run home is located, asked VA officials whether the department provided any guidance on the use of the unproven drug, which has been shown to trigger cardiac problems and other adverse effects in patients. The Food and Drug Administration revoked an emergency-use authorization issued in late March.

Local TV stations across the country set to air discredited 'Plandemic' researcher's conspiracy theory about Fauci -- Local television stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group are set to air a conspiracy theory over the weekend that suggests Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top expert on infectious diseases, was responsible for the creation of the coronavirus. The baseless conspiracy theory is set to air on stations across the country in a segment during the program "America This Week" hosted by Eric Bolling. The show, which is posted online before it is broadcast over the weekend, is distributed to Sinclair Broadcast Group's network of local television stations, one of the largest in the country. A survey by Pew Research Group earlier this year showed that local news was a vital source of information on the coronavirus for many Americans, and more trusted than the media overall. In this week's episode of the show, Bolling spoke with Judy Mikovits, the medical researcher featured in the discredited "Plandemic" video that went viral earlier this year and which was banned from platforms such as Facebook and YouTube. Throughout the segment, the on-screen graphic read, "DID DR. FAUCI CREATE COVID-19?" Bolling also spoke with Mikovits' attorney, Larry Klayman, a right-wing lawyer who also has a history ofpushing misinformation and representing conspiracy theorists.  During the interview Mikovits told Bolling that Fauci had over the past decade "manufactured" and shipped coronaviruses to Wuhan, China, which became the original epicenter of the current outbreak. Bolling noted that this was a "hefty claim," but did not meaningfully challenge Mikovits and allowed her to continue making her case. Klayman also pushed conspiracy theories about the coronavirus. He said the "origins" of the virus were in the United States. Bolling didn't meaningfully challenge Klayman either. In the segment that immediately followed, Bolling spoke to Dr. Nicole Saphier, a Fox News medical contributor, to get her response to the claims from Mikovits and Klayman. Bolling and Saphier agreed that it was, in Saphier's words, "highly unlikely" that Fauci was behind the coronavirus. But they went on to theorize about other possible explanations for what had happened. Saphier said it was possible the virus was "man-made within a laboratory" and escaped. That claim has been rejected by experts who have studied the virus' genetic sequence. The segments were first reported on by Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog.

Fauci resists Republican effort to turn testimony against protesters - (Reuters) - Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci on Friday resisted efforts by a staunch ally of President Donald Trump to turn his testimony about controlling the coronavirus pandemic into criticism of protests against racial injustice. Fauci clashed with Representative Jim Jordan at a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Coronavirus, after the Ohio Republican demanded Fauci’s opinion about whether protests should be curbed or eliminated to control the pandemic. “Should we limit the protesting?” Jordan asked. When Fauci said he was not in a position to make such a recommendation, the lawmaker retorted: “You make all kinds of recommendations. You make comments on dating, on baseball and everything you could imagine.” “I’m not favoring anybody over anybody,” Fauci replied. “I’m not going to opine on limiting anything ... I’m telling you what is the danger, and you can make your own conclusion about that. You should stay away from crowds, no matter where the crowds are.” Fauci’s testimony comes at the end of a month in which U.S. coronavirus deaths rose by almost 25,000 and cases doubled in at least 18 states, according to a Reuters tally, dealing a crushing blow to hopes of quickly reopening the economy. The United States has recorded nearly 1.8 million new COVID-19 cases in July out of its total 4.5 million known infections, an increase of 66% with many states yet to report on Friday. Deaths in July rose at least 19% to a total of more than 152,000.

A man who thought the coronavirus was a 'scamdemic' wrote a powerful essay warning against virus deniers after he hosted a party and got his entire family sick --A conservative man in Texas has written a powerful essay saying he once believed the coronavirus was a hoax, but has now had a dramatic change of heart after he and his entire family tested positive for COVID-19 following a party at his house. "All the defiant behavior of Trump's more radical and rowdy cult followers, I participated in it. I was a hard-ass that stood up for my 'God-given rights,'" he wrote. Green's belief that the virus was fake prompted him and his partner to host a house party on June 13 for family members. He did not say how many people attended.The next morning, Green woke up sick, and over the following days the virus continued to spread throughout both his and his partner's families — including his father-in-law's mother, who died of COVID-19 on July 1. Green himself and his father-in-law were both hospitalized for the virus.  Catching the coronavirus has changed Green's mind on the issue, and he's now calling for an end to the politicization over the virus. "You cannot imagine the guilt I feel, knowing that I hosted the gathering that led to so much suffering," he wrote."You cannot imagine my guilt at having been a denier, carelessly shuffling through this pandemic, making fun of those wearing masks and social distancing. You cannot imagine my guilt at knowing that my actions convinced both our families it was safe when it wasn't.""For those who deny the virus exists or who downplay its severity, let me assure you: The coronavirus is very real and extremely contagious," he added. "Before you even know you have it, you've passed it along to your friends, family, coworkers and neighbors."

Wuhan's 'Bat Woman' Demands Trump Apology As New Whistleblower Describes Early CCP Cover-Up -  Dr. Shi Zhengli - the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) 'Bat Woman' who fell under international scrutiny in 2015 over her 'gain-of-function' experiments to make bat coronaviruses transmissible to humans - has hit back at accusations that COVID-19 escaped from her lab, and says President Trump should apologize for promoting the theory. After taking two months to respond to a series of questions by Science magazine, Zhengli emailed the publication  answers which Rutgers molecular biologist, Richard Ebright, says are "formulaic, almost robotic, reiterations of statements previously made by Chinese authorities and state media." Zhengli, whose answers were coordinated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which WIV belongs to, claims that she and her colleagues discovered SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019 in samples from patients who had contracted pneumonia of unknown origin. "Before that, we had never been in contact with or studied this virus, nor did we know of its existence," she wrote. "U.S. President Trump’s claim that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from our institute totally contradicts the facts," she added. "It jeopardizes and affects our academic work and personal life. He owes us an apology." In April, the Daily Telegraph reported that Western intelligence agencies are investigating Zhengli, as well as her colleague Peng Zhou - over whether COVID-19 originated from a wet market, or whether the virus may have been an accidental release from their level-4 lab. In mid-April, the Washington Post reported that the US State Department received two cables from US Embassy officials in 2018 warning of inadequate safety at Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was conducting 'risky studies' on bat coronaviruses, according to the report - which notes that the cables have "fueled discussions inside the U.S. government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus." Meanwhile, Chinese virologist Dr. Li-Meng yan - who specialized in virology and immunology at the Hong Kong School of Public Health and fled Hong Kong in late April, insists COVID-19 was created in a lab, and says she's going to prepare a "very solid scientific report to show people how easily this can be done from the lab."

 Trump says he will ban TikTok from operating in the US - President Trump on Friday said he plans to ban the social media platform TikTok from operating in the United States. “As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. The president said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order as early as Saturday to officially bar the Chinese-owned company from the U.S. He signaled he was not supportive of allowing an American company to acquire TikTok. TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump's announcement came hours after reports that Microsoft was in talks to purchase popular TikTok from Beijing-based company ByteDance. That report emerged around the same time news outlets reported that Trump was considering signing an executive order requiring ByteDance to divest the U.S. portion of TikTok due to concerns that the company may be giving sensitive U.S. data collected through the app to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). TikTok has become wildly popular with young people and has hundreds of millions of users worldwide. The app often allows users to watch and create short videos featuring audio and other effects. The videos often go viral across other social media platforms. Trump administration officials have for weeks floated taking action against TikTok due its connections to China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made similar comments earlier this month, announcing that the Trump administration was considering banning Chinese apps, including TikTok, due to national security concerns.

US Military Flies Record Number of Planes Near China’s Coast in July - As part of Washington’s increased military presence in Indo-Pacific, the month of July has seen a record number of aerial surveillance flights by US military aircraft in the South China Sea and near China’s coast. A Beijing-based think tank counted over 50 sorties by US military aircraft in the region in the first three weeks of July.“At the moment the US military is sending three to five reconnaissance aircraft each day to the South China Sea,” the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI) said. While July saw record numbers, the increased flights started earlier this year with “much higher frequency, closer distance and more variety of missions,” SCSPI said.The closest flight to China’s coast happened in May, when a US Navy plane almost flew within the 12 nautical mile zone of China’s Hainan Island. SCSPI statistics show that flights by US planes within 50 to 60 nautical miles of the Chinese Mainland were “frequent.”With US-China relations rapidly deteriorating in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the South China Sea has seen massive US military exercises. Twice this month, two aircraft carrier strike groups led drills in the contested waters. The Trump administration also formally rejected most of Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea, ratcheting up tensions even more.

U.S. Sends Reconnaissance Planes Over Black Sea; Russia Intercepts -The Russian defense ministry stated in a press release that it had sent a Su-27 fighter plane on Monday to intercept a U.S. surveillance plane over the “neutral” Black Sea that it said was approaching the Russian border, Reuters reported.The US plane, identified as a P-8 Poseidon, changed its course away from the Russian border after the interception, the ministry added.The U.S. and Russia have been playing dry dogfighting games without firing bullets, buzzing aircrafts, and flying over each others’ air space for months. In fact, there were two encounters in mid-April, one of which saw a Russian fighter jet fly what the US Navy described as an “inverted maneuver” 25 feet in front of a P-8A. There was also an encounter in March as well, in which U.S. military intercepted Russian aircraft that got within 50 nautical miles of the Alaskan coast, though the latest interceptions have occurred even closer.Last month in June, Russia released a video of Russian fighter jets intercepting several U.S. military aircrafts, Navy and Air Force reconnaissance planes, and a tanker aircraft over the Black Sea, Business Insiderreported.Around the same time period, U.S. F-22 stealth fighter aircraft scrambled to intercept four Russian reconnaissance planes off Alaska, according to NORAD, the U.S, and its counter-part Canadian defense organization. Shockingly that was the 10th time this year alone that Russian military aircraft had been intercepted off Alaska, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) stated to Reuters. In fact, this was just days after conducting similar intercepts of Russian bombers in the same region.  The U.S. also recently taunted Russia by sailing through the Barents Sea, for the first time in more than 30 years in May. This effort seemed to heat up even more after the U.S. walked out of an Open Skies Treaty (OST) with Russia as well the same month, marking the third withdrawal from an international treaty, The Guardian reported. Ironically, Russia is now legally allowed to fly over U.S. bases in Europe but the U.S. is supposed to not legally be allowed to observe Russia. However, as is displayed with this week’s instance of observing Russia with spy planes that’s not the case. Russia flew four times over the border of Alaska in just the month of June, only one month after Trump walked out the treaty.

In Huge Shakeup, Trump Moves To Withdraw 12,000 US Troops From Germany - Earlier this summer President Trump directed the Pentagon to withdraw some ten thousand US troops from Germany by September, following years of the administration severely criticizing lack of enough military spending from its European ally. This inevitably set up a fight and push back from both hawks and Congress and some among the defense establishment.It also came out of 'America First' related promises made going back to the campaign trail wherein the president vowed to stop being the world's global policeman and to ultimately "bring to troops home" from far flung stations. Cited as still angry that Germany is "taking advantage" and "not paying their NATO fees" Trump has moved to withdraw about 12,000 troops from Germany, Bloomberg reports.  Though the Pentagon has cautioned the drawdown process could take "years", Bloomberg now reports: "The U.S. plans to withdraw about 12,000 troops from Germany, with some redeploying to other European nations and a little more than half returning to the U.S., a defense official said."The AP is describing it has a significant "shakeup" sought by Trump, and notes that an estimated 6,400 will be sent back home - or rather bases on US soil - while 5,400 will be restationed to other countries. Trump is making good on prior threats meant to pressure Germany to pay more for NATO as a condition for keeping a large American military troop presence. But it will be interesting to see how far it goes in practical terms, given that Germany is a major training hub for US forces across Europe and beyond - all of which is rumored to be on the chopping block as part of the pressure campaign on the NATO ally. Even US Africa Command is headquartered in Germany.

 'Momentary Lapse Of Honesty': Esper Said NATO Purpose Is To "Avoid Peace In Europe" - During Wednesday's press conference announcing the controversial Trump-ordered Pentagon plan to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany, Mark Esper said the "importance" of NATO" lies in part with its mission to "avoid peace in Europe". Given the slip, Russian media was fast to pick up on it. RT called it "a momentary lapse of honesty"."I’ve said that very publicly, I’ve said that very privately to my counterparts as well – about the importance of NATO, any alliance, sharing the burden so we can all deter Russia and… avoid peace in Europe," Esper saidIt came while the Pentagon chief chastised Germany for being the "wealthiest country in Europe" but refusing to shoulder its fair share of defense spending, which the Trump administration has long urged Berlin must boost.About half the withdrawn troops are expected to return to the states, while the other will be 'repositioned' in places in Europe.

 House Democrats 'alarmed' by allegations about US diplomat in Brazil -- Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee say they are "extremely alarmed" by reports out of Brazil that the U.S. ambassador in the country framed trade negotiations as being beneficial to reelecting President Trump, according to a report by The New York Times. News media in Brazil have reported that U.S. ambassador Todd Chapman told officials in the country it would give a boost to Trump's reelection chances if the two nations were able to reach a deal on lifting ethanol tariffs. Brazil currently has tariffs on the key export from Iowa, a swing-state that will be crucial in November as polls already show a tight race. The State Department has asserted in a statement to the Times that the allegation "Chapman has asked Brazilians to support a specific U.S. candidate are false," and that the US will keep working to reduce the tariffs. But Democrats are reportedly worried Chapman's actions violate the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from making partisan remarks that could influence an election while using their official title. According to the Times, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Chapman on Friday asking that he turn over “any and all documents referring or related to any discussions” with Brazil about the tariffs. Engel also said the committee would open an inquiry into the issue and reports. “These statements are completely inappropriate for a U.S. ambassador to make,” Engel reportedly wrote in the letter.

Supreme Court declines to halt Trump border wall - The Supreme Court on Friday declined to block the Trump administration from using $2.5 billion in reallocated Pentagon funds to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall. In a 5-4 ruling that broke along ideological lines, the court's conservative majority denied a bid by interest groups to halt construction after a federal appeals court last month said the use of defense funding for the project is illegal. The court’s four more liberal justices dissented from the ruling. The Sierra Club, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other challengers had asked the justices to lift their order from last July that allowed President Trump to begin spending the funds while legal challenges proceeded through the courts. But the Friday ruling means the court’s July 2019 order, also decided 5-4, remains in effect despite a ruling by a federal appeals court in California last month that Trump’s diversion of defense, military and other funding was unconstitutional. Justice Stephen Breyer, in dissent, said he feared the majority’s ruling “may operate, in effect, as a final judgment.” Legal challenges arose early last year after Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border to free up additional funding. That came after a congressional spending bill allocated some $1.3 billion for border security, far short of the nearly $5 billion Trump said was needed to complete his signature project. Trump then reallocated $2.5 billion in funding that Congress appropriated for defense and military uses. A federal district court halted use of the reappropriated funds. But the Supreme Court’s July 2019 ruling allowed construction to move forward while the case proceeded through the courts. Democrats to call for 'structural court reforms' in pl

Trump is using federal agents as his 'goon squad', says Ice's ex-acting head - The former acting director of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which works under the Department of Homeland Security, has condemned the Trump administration’s handling of protests in Portland by deploying federal agents into the city.John Sandweg, the former acting director of Ice, who also served as general counsel for the DHS, said Donald Trump was using the agency as his own “goon squad” by sending federal law enforcement agents to Oregon’s biggest city and vowing to send more to other cities around the country, including Chicago and Albuquerque.Sandweg, in a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, called the administration’s policy a “failure of leadership in the Trump administration”.He added: “I think it’s an abuse of DHS. I mean really the president’s trying to use DHS as his goon squad. That’s really what’s going on here.”The comments by Sandweg come as unidentified federal officials clashed again in Portland with protesters calling for reforms to the local police. On Wednesday the mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, joined protesters. He was teargassed along with others in the crowd. The federal agents have been accused of lifting people off the streets in unmarked cars, as well as deploying military-style uniforms and equipment as they battle demonstrators nightly in the city.Sandweg went on to offer scathing criticism of the administration’s handling of the protests, calling it a “manufactured crisis” driven by politics from the president. “In my experience, this is not coming from the workforce. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions out there that I hope that I can at least clear up,” Sandweg said. “DHS has not so much been unleashed as pushed to do these kinds of things. In my experience the folks that I’ve worked with want to protect national security and public safety.”Sandweg also pointed to the department’s acting director, Chad Wolf, who has been seen as a driving force behind the deployment which has outraged Democrats, some Republicans and many civil rights groups.  “You have an acting secretary, if you will, who is in a very precarious position in that a number of his predecessors did not have that long a tenure, who I think is eager to please,” Sandweg said.  Sandweg said the case for federal law enforcement officers to guard federal buildings was pretty strong in principle.“From a general position of course the federal government has a right to enforce federal law anywhere in the United States,” Sandweg said. “But again there’s a right way to do that and a wrong way. And what we’re seeing here is the kind of thing that is going to have devastating effects for DHS and its operating agencies for a long time to come.”

  Trump deploys more federal agents in Portland crackdown - Emails provided to the Washington Post confirm that the Trump administration began deploying an additional 100 deputy US Marshals to Portland, Oregon last Thursday. The Post has also learned that the Department of Homeland Security has plans drawn up to send an additional 50 Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) agents to the city. The Post revelation follows an earlier report by Oregon Public Broadcasting that “several dozen” federal agents are also being deployed, beginning on Sunday. Both actions are a further confirmation that the Trump government cannot rule through popular support and is increasingly relying on militarized troops answerable only to the executive branch. Protests against police brutality and in support of George Floyd, murdered by Minneapolis police on May 25, have continued for 60 straight days in the city, primarily centered around a three-block radius that includes the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse. The arrival of federal paramilitaries in early July has only further stiffened the resolve of protesters, who correctly interpret the deployment of armed paramilitaries as a direct assault on their democratic rights. Unidentified US paramilitary forces drag away a wounded protestor Monday, July 27, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) In the last two weeks, demonstrators have been teargassed, shot with rubber bullets and pepper balls, and bludgeoned with batons, while at least seven people have been kidnapped by militarized camouflaged DHS agents driving unmarked vehicles. Those kidnapped have been held for hours in unknown locations without cause or due process, in violation of the Bill of Rights. Scenes of DHS agents brutalizing protesters, livestreamed on the internet, have also led to a resurgence of protests across the country, with dozens of protests held throughout the weekend in major US cities and throughout Oregon. In Portland, at least 114 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) paramilitaries have already been unconstitutionally deployed under the guise of quelling ongoing protests against police violence. The new forces announced are meant to supplement and also rotate out agents who have been deployed since the start of the protests.

 Onward, Christian Cowboys --THE LATE, GREAT COMEDIAN Bill Hicks liked to tell a story about how audiences responded to his brand of scathing, gleefully subversive comedy, which he once referred to as “Chomsky with dick jokes.”  After a set in Tennessee, the story goes, a couple of locals confronted the Texas-born comic and declared that they were Christians and they didn’t like his act. Without missing a beat, Hicks responded with “well then, forgive me.” Instead, they broke his arm. You might think reacting in such a spirit of vengeance is pretty much the exact opposite of how any self-professed Christian is supposed to behave. Yet there were deeper and more distinctly American pathologies at work: the guys who supposedly beat up Hicks were responding politically, not theologically. It wasn’t an attempt to defend Jesus’ honor or the tenets of whatever church they might have belonged to—it was to show that little punk who was really boss. They probably didn’t even notice the irony; and why would they? They may have grown up in an evangelical culture, but that culture glorifies what we now refer to as toxic masculinity. This “muscular Christianity” encourages both aggression and victimhood, emboldening believers, especially men, to impose their collective will on the rest of the public whenever they suddenly feel empowered or aggrieved. In Jesus & John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted A Faith and Fractured a Nationthe historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez explores this moral schizophrenia. We know there are legions of people on the religious right who talk a good game about following Christ but end up voting overwhelmingly for venal, crass, blustering wannabe tough guys like the current president and his enablers in Congress. But much of the evangelical leadership is this way, too. It often consists of self-appointed alpha male types who write bestselling books with imposing titles like Dare to Discipline, and Never Surrender, and You: The Warrior Leader, and Why We [meaning Muslims, of course]Want to Kill You. A writer for the Christian Broadcasting Network even teamed up with a Baptist minister a couple of years ago to produce The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography. While trying to mimic the terse, stoic cowboy ideal of manhood nicked from old Western movies, these opportunistic showboats often end up sounding and acting a lot more like Tom Cruise’s Frank T.J. Mackie in Magnolia, the brash misogynist who gives conferences about how to seduce and destroy women and who turns out to be a basket case of Oedipal rage and self-loathing. The use of John Wayne as an evangelical role model implicitly suggests how some people’s religious beliefs are akin to identifying with their favorite movie stars. If the all-powerful God is in charge of the whole universe, and my favorite actor demonstrates how to be in charge of the world around me, then maybe I can find a path.

 Hundreds Of Angry Protesters Gather Outside Hamptons Billionaire Mansions To Demand Wealth Tax - Over 200 protesters wielding pitchforks marched through the Hamptons Thursday to demand that Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) slap billionaires with a wealth tax. According to Business Insider, the group - organized by a coalition of activist groups including New York Communities for Change, a homeless advocacy organization, and News Guild (CWA) marched throughout the ultra-wealthy vacation town. Stops included the homes of several billionaires, including investor Daniel Loeb, real-estate developer Steven Roth and Hudson Yards developer Steven Ross - all Cuomo donors, according to the report (citing The Guardian). Thank you ⁦@JabariBrisport⁩ for coming to to the Hamptons with us to pay a visit to Dan Loeb, the Cuomo donor and billionaire who has used his billions to attempt to privatize our Public Schools. #MakeBillionairesPay — New York Communities for Change (@nychange) July 30, 2020 The protesters were joined by State Senatorial candidate Jabari Brisport, who said outside of Loeb's East Hampton mansion "If there is one thing that makes me more mad than billionaires, it's billionaires like Dan Loeb that push and advocate for charter schools," adding "I'm sick of the attacks on our public school children, and I'm sick of people like this donating to Andrew Cuomo so he can sit there in Albany twiddling his thumbs about how to deal with this budget deficit."The economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus crisis has strengthened calls for a wealth tax, especially in New York, where Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex has proposed a special state tax on the ultrawealthy. The proposal has the support of at least 83 ultrawealthy peop le, including Ben & Jerry's cofounder Jerry Greenfield and Disney heiress Abigail Disney, who penned an open letter arguing that such a tax would "ensure we adequately fund our health systems, schools, and security ... immediately. Substantially. Permanently."Cuomo shot down the idea, saying that it would drive New York's 118 billionaires out of state. At the same time, the governor announced cuts to state funding for schools, public housing, and hospitals amid a budget crisis brought on by the coronavirus crisis, sparking protests. Thursday's march was the second protest in the Hamptons featuring pitchforks this month. The pitchforks used in the July 1 event were plastic ones purchased from a Halloween store, Patch reported at the time. -Business Insider   Later in the march, protesters began beating drums and chanting "Oh the rent is too damn high," a phrase coined by former New York mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan over a decade ago. "The governor has a choice: He can either cut funding from students, nurses, seniors, and working families who keep our city running — or he can tax the rich," said event organizer Alicé Nascimento, who serves as the Director of Policy & Research at New York Communities for Change. "And he keeps choosing cuts over taxes — because he'd rather protect his wealthy billionaire donors than protect working New Yorkers."

Notre Dame Withdraws From Hosting First Presidential Debate; "Could Be Conducted Online" -  The University of Notre Dame has withdrawn from hosting the first Trump-Biden debate scheduled for September 29, citing advice from the St. Joseph County deputy health director, and the "diminished educational value" of hosting the event. In a unanimous decision by the Executive Committee of the University's Board of Trustees, University President John Jenkins - who sits on the Commission on Presidential Debates - says he made "this difficult decision because the necessary health precautions would have greatly diminished the educational value of hosting the debate on our campus."Jenkins added that "the inevitable reduction in student attendance in the debate hall, volunteer opportunities and ancillary educational events undermined the primary benefit of hosting — to provide our students with a meaningful opportunity to engage in the American political process."Instead, the debate will move to Sampson Pavilion at the Health Education Campus (HEC) in Cleveland, Ohio on the same date, September 29.According to HEC President Barbara Snyder, "Samson Pavilion provides a particularly apt setting for this first debate" (in case Biden's brain needs a reboot?), adding "It takes place soon after the start of the nation's first full school year under the constraints and risks of the pandemic, and focuses specifically on health care."That said, Snyder mentioned in an email to faculty, staff and students that "pandemic developments could require that the debate be conducted online," adding that "It is no one's preference, of course, but as we have seen firsthand, much can change in nine weeks." Read the full letter below:

Trump's 2019 financial disclosure reveals revenue at Mar-a-Lago, other major clubs -- Revenues for President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and two other properties were revealed Friday night in a financial disclosure form provided to the federal government. The form, required annually by the Office of Government Ethics, lists revenues for Trump Organization properties under the "income" field. The area of the form is commonly used by lawmakers to report only their take-home pay or share of an asset and provides an expanded view of Trump’s personal wealth. The form states that Mar-a-Lago brought in $21.4 million in 2019, compared with $22.7 million reported for 2018 and $25.1 million in 2017. Trump’s Doral resort hauled in $77.2 million last year, a touch over the $75.9 million it took in in 2018. Lastly, the Trump International in Washington took in $40 million, roughly the same from 2018. All three properties were closed in March as the coronavirus pandemic began ravaging the nation. The disclosure form does not include figures for 2020 and is not required to be backed up by additional documentation or any federal vetting. Trump drew the ire of ethics observers when he became the first president since Watergate to not fully divest from his personal business upon taking office in 2017. He’s also infamously refused to release his tax returns, saying an audit is preventing him from doing so despite officials’ insistence that he can still disclose the forms even while under audit. The fight to obtain Trump’s tax returns is the focus of a number of lawsuits making their way through the court system. Among other income sources included in the form are bank interest, book royalties and a Screen Actors Guild pension. Trump and other White House staff were granted a 45-day extension to release the forms due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ivanka and Kushner earned at least $36M in outside income last year: financial disclosure - Financial disclosures released Friday for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner show the top White House advisers earned at least $36.2 million in outside income during 2019. The combined income for the couple was, according to The Washington Post, at least $7 million higher than their outside income in 2018. The revenue comes from outside businesses such as real estate and Trump Organization hotels. The disclosures suggest Trump and Kushner could have earned as much as $157 million, according to the Post. The Office of Government Ethics does not require them to file exact amounts, however, only a range of the assets and liabilities, meaning it's unclear the exact amount of outside income they brought in for 2019. According to the Post, they reported between $203.8 million and $782.8 million in assets in 2019, compared to between $181 million and $755 million in 2018. Trump again reported earning $3.9 million from her stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. She previously earned millions from her fashion brands as well, but shut them down in July 2018. The Office of Government Ethics will review the financial disclosures for possible violations. The earnings of Trump family members from Trump Organization properties and real estate have drawn scrutiny, as critics raise conflict of interest concerns with their roles in the White House. Kushner was recently expected to divest from a tech startup after it was revealed that it had been partially fueled by foreign investors, but earlier this month chose not to go through with the plan. His stake in the company reportedly ranges from $25 million to $50 million, totaling nearly 2.5 million shares.

 Twitter penalizes Donald Trump Jr. for posting hydroxychloroquine misinformation amid coronavirus pandemic - Twitter on Tuesday penalized Donald Trump Jr. for posting misinformation about hydroxychloroquine, the social media giant said, underlining the tough stance it has taken in policing misleading posts from high-profile users, including President Trump, in recent months. Twitter said that it ordered the president’s son to delete the misleading tweet and that it would “limit some account functionality for 12 hours.” Trump Jr. can still direct-message followers using his account, but he cannot tweet, retweet or like other tweets during the 12-hour restriction. Trump Jr.'s deleted tweet now shows a notice that says, “This Tweet is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules.” The tweet, which featured a viral video showing a group of doctors making misleading and false claims about the coronavirus pandemic, was directly tweeted by Trump Jr.'s account. That contrasts with his father, who retweeted multiple tweets from others showing clips of the same video to his 84.2 million followers Monday night. Read more: Trump retweeted a video with false covid-19 claims. One doctor in it has said demons cause illnesses. Twitter removed the videos, deleting several of the tweets that President Trump shared, and added a note to its trending topics warning about the potential risks of hydroxychloroquine use.

YouTube - Censoring the COVID-19 Narrative - With the Big Tech Congressional antitrust hearing taking place in the hallowed halls of Washington, a fine example of how the technology monopoly is controlling a key part of the global narrative is timely.  In this posting, we will take a look at how Google/YouTube is handling its responsibility to its stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we all know, Google's YouTube has increasingly become a heavily censored platform in which dissenting views are not permitted.  By controlling the COVID-19 narrative, Google has essentially white-washed any views that go against those promoted by governments, the mainstream media and the World Health Organization (aka The Bill and Melinda Gates Health Organization). Here is a list of what is "verboten" under the guise of protecting the unwashed masses from ourselves: "YouTube doesn't allow content about COVID-19 that poses a serious risk of egregious harm.  YouTube doesn't allow content that spreads medical misinformation that contradicts the World Health Organization (WHO) or local health authorities’ medical information about COVID-19. This is limited to content that contradicts WHO or local health authorities’ guidance on:

  • Treatment
  • Prevention
  • Diagnostic
  • Transmission"

Here is what Google terms as "misinformation":

  • "1.) "Treatment Misinformation: Discourages someone from seeking medical treatment by encouraging the use of cures or remedies to treat COVID-19.
  • a.) Claims that COVID-19 doesn’t exist or that people do not die from it
  • b.) Content that encourages the use of home remedies in place of medical treatment such as  consulting a doctor or going to the hospital
  • c.) Content that encourages the use of prayer or rituals in place of medical treatment
  • d.) Content that claims that a vaccine for coronavirus is available or that there’s a guaranteed cure
  • e.) Content that claims that any currently-available medicine prevents you from getting the coronavirus
  • f.) Other content that discourages people from consulting a medical professional or seeking medical advice
  • 2.) Prevention Misinformation: Content that promotes prevention methods that contradict WHO or local health authorities.
  • 3.) Diagnostic Misinformation: Content that promotes diagnostic methods that contradict WHO or local health authorities.
  • 4.) Transmission Misinformation: Content that promotes transmission information that contradicts WHO or local health authorities.
  • a.) Content that claims that COVID-19 is not caused by a viral infection
  • b.) Content that claims COVID-19 is not contagious
  • c.) Content that claims that COVID-19 cannot spread in certain climates or geographies
  • d.) Content that claims that any group or individual has guaranteed immunity to the virus or cannot transmit the virus
  • e.) Content that disputes the efficacy of WHO or local health authorities’ guidance on physical distancing or self-isolation measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19"

Let's look at some more specific examples of what is not allowed on YouTube when it comes to furthering the discussion about the COVID-19 pandemic:

 Ghislaine Maxwell attorneys submit motion to block release of documents from 2015 defamation case -- Attorneys for Ghislaine Maxwell—who sits in jail awaiting trial on charges that she assisted convicted sex offender and super-rich financial advisor Jeffrey Epstein in abusing teenage girls—have filed a motion to stop court records from another case from being made public. In their proposed protective order, Maxwell’s lawyers requested on Monday that the discovery materials from a 2015 defamation case brought by Virginia Roberts Giuffre be filed under seal in a Manhattan federal court. The attorneys state that the discovery documents are “highly confidential” and contain “nude, partially-nude, or otherwise sexualized images, videos, or other depictions of individuals” that should not be “disseminated, transmitted, or otherwise copied.” Maxwell’s lawyers have been working closely with prosecutors to review the trove of confidential documents from the 2015 Roberts Giuffre case which were unsealed last week by Senior District Judge Loretta Preska at the request of the Miami Herald and others on freedom of information grounds. Giuffre sued for defamation in September 2015 after Maxwell publicly stated that the woman had made up the sexual abuse allegations against her and Epstein. After legal wrangling, the case was settled under seal in June 2017 with Maxwell reportedly paying Giuffre “millions.” Aside from the potential damage to Maxwell’s current case, there is another fact of relevance to the strenuous effort being made by her attorneys to block the release of the discovery documents while she sits in a New York City lockup. Approximately 2,000 pages of documents from this case were unsealed on August 9, 2019, and, one day later, Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell in the Manhattan Correctional Center, which was determined by authorities to be a suicidal hanging. It was similar detailed information that was released in connection with a 2014 Florida filing in which Giuffre revealed that she had been trafficked by Maxwell and Epstein to Prince Andrew, Duke of York, on at least three separate occasions when she was 17 years old in 2001. A photo that shows Giuffre, Prince Andrew and Maxwell in Ghislaine’s London apartment has been circulated since 2011. Other important details of the relationship between the two have established that Maxwell recruited Giuffre while she was a spa assistant at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, owned by now-President Donald Trump, and groomed her for abuse by Epstein and his elite associates.

Ghislaine Maxwell’s Sex Life Files Can Be UNSEALED Judge Rules --A federal judge has ordered the unsealing of a trove of documents related to Jeffrey Epstein, which could shed light on his friendship with powerful men accused of having sex with his victims.  Judge Loretta Preska said that 80 documents or hundreds of pages will be made public within a week, Dailymail reported.The documents will include depositions from Ghislaine Maxwell, which could explain her alleged role in Epstein’s sex trafficking operation and reveal intimate details about Maxwell’s sex life.Maxwell’s lawyers have previously tried to stop the documents from being released citing the threat to Maxwell’s privacy. The files relate to a seven-hour, 418-page deposition Maxwell gave which her legal team said was “extremely personal, confidential.”In filings, Maxwell’s lawyers have called the depositions a “series of (efforts) to compel Maxwell to answer intrusive questions about her sex life.”The documents will also include communications between Maxwell and Epstein from January 2015 when Virginia Roberts first made explosive allegations about them in court filings.In the included documents Roberts claims she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew three times when she was just 17 at Epstein’s command.

Judge Orders Epstein Documents From Victim’s Civil Trial Unsealed This Week --There is a large assortment of sealed documents relating to the Jeffrey Epstein case, considering the prior criminal charges against him and the plea deal agreement he made in 2008, where he was forced to register as a sex offender. There was also a series of victim lawsuits that followed, and there were reportedly many revelations during these hearings as well. Many of these documents are under the jurisdiction of different courts and judges, which means that some will be approved for release, while others will be destroyed or remain sealed.Luckily, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, who had jurisdiction to rule over a cache of important Epstein documents, has ordered them to be unsealed by Thursday, July 30th, according to Law and Crime.These documents include the deposition that Maxwell gave about her work for Epstein in 2016, and a deposition from the attorney and former Harvard Law School Prof. Alan Dershowitz, who has been a vocal critic of Epstein’s victims.Judge Preska said in her ruling that:In her first deposition, which is among the documents being considered on this motion, Ms. Maxwell refused to testify as to any consensual adult behavior and generally disclaimed any knowledge of underage activity,” In the context of this case, especially its allegations of sex trafficking of young girls, the court finds that any minor embarrassment or annoyance resulting from disclosure of Ms. Maxwell’s mostly non-testimony about behavior that has been widely reported in the press is far outweighed by the presumption of public access.

Ghislaine Maxwell’s Lawyers Tried To Make A Judge Silence Epstein Victim’s Online Posts This week, a judge ordered important documents relating to Ghislaine Maxwell’s criminal case to be unsealed, and struck down a proposal from her legal team to keep them private, but few details were revealed at first and many questions remained unanswered. What is contained in the documents and what were Maxwell’s attorneys seeking to gain from their proposal?In short, lawyers for Maxwell attempted to silence Jeffrey Epstein’s victims through the courts, by requesting that a judge block the victims from posting about evidence from the criminal case online. The terms proposed by Maxwell’s legal team also attempted to dictate which evidence could be seen in court.The lawyers argued that the victims could use evidence that was revealed in the criminal trial to gain an advantage in their separate civil lawsuits. Maxwell’s lawyers have said that they are restricted from publicizing information obtained during the trial, and they believe that the victims should be held to the same standards. Luckily, a judge struck down the proposal, and ordered the documents to be unsealed this week, which means that they will be entered into discovery for those involved in the trial. This does not mean that the press will have any access to the files, though it is assumed that we will get the details after they come out in court.It appears that Maxwell was especially concerned about certain videos and photographic evidence. In most trials involving sexual assault, participants are often blocked from releasing any information to the press or the internet that involves “nude, partially-nude, or otherwise sexualized images, videos, or other depictions of individuals”.However, prosecutors have argued that victims should not be subject to these rules, which has raised complaints from the defense.

 Ghislaine Maxwell files emergency appeal to block release of deposition on her sex life - (Reuters) - Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime associate of Jeffrey Epstein, on Thursday urged a U.S. appeals court to block the release of a deposition about her sex life, saying it could destroy her ability to get a fair trial against criminal charges she aided the late financier’s sexual abuse of girls. Maxwell filed an emergency request with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan one day after a federal judge rejected her claim that her need for confidentiality outweighed the public’s right to see the April 2016 deposition, which was taken in a civil defamation lawsuit. “Absent a stay from this court, it will forever let the cat out of the bag,” Maxwell’s lawyers wrote, noting another judge’s recent refusal to block publication of former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s memoir because copies had already been circulated. Late Thursday, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, who oversees the civil case, ordered the separate release of dozens of other documents that the British socialite had wanted sealed, rejecting her lawyers’ bid for an emergency phone conference. The 2016 deposition is scheduled for release on Aug. 3, unless the appeals court orders a delay or further arguments. Maxwell, 58, has pleaded not guilty to helping Epstein recruit and eventually abuse three girls from 1994 to 1997, and committing perjury by denying her involvement under oath.

Ghislaine Maxwell documents are released, including Jeffrey Epstein emails - (Reuters) - Documents about dealings between Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein were publicly released on Thursday by a U.S. court, where the British socialite faces criminal charges she aided the late financier’s sexual abuse of girls. Among the materials released were email correspondence between the pair in early 2015, including an email in which Epstein told Maxwell she had “done nothing wrong.” U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska had ordered the documents’ release by Thursday, saying the public’s right to see them outweighed Maxwell’s interests in keeping them under seal. However, two depositions remain under seal after Maxwell filed an emergency motion with the federal appeals court in Manhattan earlier on Thursday to keep them from becoming public. That court has yet to rule, and the depositions will remain sealed until at least Monday. Lawyers for Maxwell have said that in one of those depositions, filed in April 2016, Maxwell was asked “intrusive” questions concerning her sex life, and that its release could make it “difficult if not impossible” to get a fair trial. The second is a deposition by an unnamed Epstein accuser. Lawyers for Maxwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment after the documents were unsealed. The cache of documents released on Thursday and the depositions that remain under wraps were part of a now-settled 2015 civil defamation lawsuit against Maxwell by Virginia Giuffre, who said she was underage when Epstein kept her as a “sex slave” with Maxwell’s assistance. A lawyer for Giuffre did not immediately respond to a similar request. Maxwell, 58, has pleaded not guilty to helping Epstein recruit and eventually abuse three girls from 1994 to 1997, and committing perjury by denying her involvement under oath.

 New York Times Rewrites the Timeline of the Fed’s Wall Street Bailouts, Giving Banks a Free Pass - Pam Martens - Last Friday, the New York Times officially embarked on what we have been expecting – an attempt to rewrite the current, ongoing Wall Street bank bailout. We were so certain that an alternative reality was going to emerge at the Times, that we had the foresight to create an archiveof Wall Street On Parade articles (122 so far) that document every major bailout step the Fed has taken since September 17, 2019 – five months before the first COVID-19 death was reported in the United States. One of our articles, published on January 6, 2020, shows that before the first COVID-19 case had even been reportedin the U.S., the Fed had pumped more than $6 trillion cumulatively into the trading units of the largest Wall Street banks — not hedge funds, that the Times now attempts to blame for the crisis.  On Friday, the Times headlined an article by Jeanna Smialek and Deborah B. Solomon as: A Hedge Fund Bailout Highlights How Regulators Ignored Big Risks. Smialek is regularly present at the press briefings of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell so she can’t claim ignorance of what the Fed has been doing since September 17, 2019. Nonetheless, the reporters write that “in March…the Federal Reserve came to Wall Street’s rescue for the second time in a dozen years.” In March? What about the onset of the crisis on September 17, 2019 and the launch of the Fed’s money spigot on that date? Is the New York Times really going to attempt to erase from the history books a $9 trillion bailout of the Wall Street banks’ trading firms? According to the New York Times reporters, the blame belongs on hedge funds, while “commercial banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are better regulated and safer” than before the last crash in 2008 because of the Dodd-Frank reform in 2010. If JPMorgan Chase is “better regulated and safer,” someone forgot to tell the federal body that accumulates data on dangers lurking at the nation’s biggest banks. That body, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), ranked JPMorgan Chase to be the riskiest bank in America, as we reported in-depth on November 25 of last year. According to charges brought last September 16 by the U.S. Justice Department, the bank has also allowed two current and one former trader to turn its precious metals desk into a racketeering conspiracy. The traders were indicted under criminal RICO charges, a law typically reserved for members of organized crime.Organized crime is exactly how two trial lawyers, Helen Davis Chaitman and Lance Gotthoffer, described how JPMorgan Chase’s Chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon, runs the bank. The lawyers wrote a book in 2016, JPMadoff: The Unholy Alliance Between America’s Biggest Bank and America’s Biggest Crook, comparing the bank to the Gambino crime family.

Fed Extends Emergency Lending Programs by Three Months – WSJ - The Federal Reserve said Tuesday it extended by three months the operation of all of itsemergency lending programs that had been set to run through September to support economic activity during the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement, the Fed said that the extension of the programs, through Dec. 31, would “facilitate planning by potential facility participants and provide certainty that the facilities will continue to be available to help the economy recover.” The Fed announced nine lending programs when the pandemic roiled the U.S. in March. One of those programs had already been extended to run through Dec. 31, while a second is set to last until next March.  On Tuesday, the Fed and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed to extend all of the others. All five Fed board members voted to extend the programs. The extensions weren’t surprising given the amount of work and time that has gone into rolling out the programs and the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic. When policy makers announced the programs in March, analysts hoped the virus might be brought under control by the summer. But accelerating virus infection rates this summer suggest the economy will face a more uncertain and potentially prolonged downturn. The programs serve two main functions. A few are playing a classic lender-of-last-resort function, allowing the Fed to flood short-term funding markets—the plumbing of modern finance—with loans. Those programs have seen sustained declines in demand over the past two months, reflecting how severe funding strains have been tamed for now.

Fed's Powell makes case why Congress should relax bank capital rule - — If Congress provides temporary relief from a key bank capital rule as part of the next stimulus package, banks would be able to grow their balance sheets and better serve their customers amid the global pandemic, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday. Senate Republicans are considering whether to ease the so-called Collins amendment in their $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, liability Protection and Schools Act to give the Fed the authority to adjust the Tier 1 leverage ratio for banks. The amendment was included in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to help strengthen large banks' balance sheets. “Many, many bank regulators around the world have given leverage ratio relief,” Powell said at a news conference following a meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. “What it's doing is allowing [banks] to grow their balance sheet in a way that serves their customers.” That Collins amendment imposed a fixed risk-based capital floor, but some bank regulators have suggested that provision is straining banks' ability to handle an influx of deposits in the stressed economic environment. Those deposits cause "banks run up against their leverage ratio, which is a non-risk sensitive measure just of the amount of assets on the balance sheet,” Powell said. The Fed in April sought to address that problem by temporarily allowing banks to exclude Treasury securities and deposits held at Federal Reserve banks from the calculation of their supplementary leverage ratios. Congress already tweaked the Collins amendment in 2014, clarifying that it does not apply to insurance companies. But Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles has urged lawmakers to go even further to enable the Fed to lower the statutory capital floor. "Congress has amended ... [the Collins amendment] before, recognizing the complications it presents in tailoring a capital regime to a diverse financial sector and to changing risks in the financial system over time," Quarles said in an April 22 letter to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. Powell added Wednesday that any statutory change should be temporary. There is also no guarantee that the Fed would use such authority from Congress to relax the capital rule, he said. “If Congress chooses to do this, we would want it to be explicitly temporary,” said Powell. “This will not be a permanent change in capital standards.” Some banking trade groups like the Bank Policy Institute have been urging Senate Republicans to revise the Collins amendment. But proponents of the Dodd-Frank Act have expressed concern that easing bank capital requirements could pose a risk to financial stability.

PPP forgiveness plan leaves bankers wanting - Paycheck Protection Program lenders should circle Aug. 10 on their calendars. It’s the date the Small Business Administration expects to launch its long-awaited portal through which lenders will seek approval of their PPP-loan forgiveness decisions, according to a procedural notice issued by the agency Thursday. The SBA plans to email instructions for using the portal to lenders before the launch, the document says. Lenders will be able to electronically submit applications individually, or in batches using an application programming interface that will be made available on the portal. Neither the SBA nor Goldschmitt-CRI, the Reston, Va., contractor hired to help construct the forgiveness platform, immediately commented Friday. A number of trade groups, including the American Bankers Association, Consumer Bankers Association and National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, said Friday they were still reviewing the document. The SBA released its initial forgiveness application May 15 and followed up with a shorter version about a month later. Until the procedural notice, the agency had neither explained how lenders could transmit completed applications to the agency, nor indicated how closely they were expected to review them. The SBA’s instructions make it clear that calculating how much of a loan can be forgiven is the borrower’s responsibility — either on the longer SBA Form 3508 or the shorter 3508EZ. At the same time, the instructions state lenders “are expected to perform a good-faith review in a reasonable time” of the borrower’s calculations and supporting documents. The SBA allows lenders 60 days to review applications. It says it will provide payment within 90 days of receiving a forgiveness application that it approves. The procedural notice states the lender is responsible for notifying the borrower of any forgiveness amount the SBA remits. If a lender denies a borrower’s forgiveness application, the borrower has 30 days to appeal. Once a lender receives an appeal, it has five days to transmit it to the SBA.

U.S. Panel Expands Review of Business Deals With Foreign Money – WSJ -A national-security panel in 2019 increased its review of business deals involving foreign money, the first year after Congress ordered it to scrutinize such transactions more thoroughly, according to a new report released Thursday. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. reviewed 325 business transactions that involved foreign money, topping the number of deals the panel has reviewed each year since 2010, according to its annual report to Congress. By comparison, in 2018 the panel reviewed 249 transactions. The national-security review panel has taken a higher profile in recent years on heightened concerns that China has been trying to acquire U.S. technology. Its work has been in the spotlight recently for its investigation into popular Chinese video-sharing app TikTok. Cfius, which is part of the Treasury Department, reviewed in 2019 231 deals submitted as notices and 94 deals submitted through its mandatory declaration process, which expanded the panel’s oversight in late 2018. The report didn’t identify the investors or other parties behind the evaluated deals. The report offered a glimpse into how the panel handled the first full year of transaction reviews after a 2018 law ordered it to take a closer look at foreign investment in the U.S. corporate world.That year Congress expanded the scope of national security reviews of foreign investment deals, including those involving satellites, oil refineries, financial-market systems and drinking-water utilities. Under the law, several categories of deals, including ones related to Americans’ privacy, require mandatory disclosure to federal regulators through a new process that supplemented its traditional intake of notice-based reviews. Before the new law, investors disclosed their deals voluntarily. Doing so could enable investors to avoid scrutiny later, under federal law. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that the panel’s review of TikTok would wrap up this week. U.S. officials say they are concerned that TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., could pass on to China’s government data it collects from Americans streaming videos. TikTok said it would not do so.

David Dayen’s New Book Exposes the Dirty Hands of Wall Street Driving Monopoly Power in U.S. -  Pam Martens - -  As Americans wake up each day to the new dystopian normal and reports of another corporate or Wall Street bailout (no doubt at the urging of the corporate lobbyists that have embedded themselves in the Trump administration), there is widespread agreementthat big corporations have too much power and control in America. America was founded on blowback to the tyrannical restraints on average Americans’ lives by King George III. Now we have multinational corporations pushing us around while bleeding the U.S. Treasury, mushrooming the national debt, and thus creating an even greater dystopian threat to our children’s generation who will inherit that crippling debt pile.Against this backdrop comes a very welcome new book from David Dayen:Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power. Dayen is Executive Editor ofAmerican Prospect and one of the most admired and prolific financial writers in America.If you think the book title sounds like a dry treatise on anti-trust law, think again. Dayen has brilliantly humanized this book by allowing the reader to step inside the personal lives of everyday Americans who are attempting to navigate and financially survive the corporatization of their country. A sampling of a few of the book’s chapter titles offers a window into the author’s use of personal narrative to crystallize for the reader just how far we have devolved from a real democracy:  Monopolies Are Why a Farmer’s Daughter Is Crying Behind the Desk of a Best Western.” Dayen explains how the independent, multi-generational family farmer has been squeezed out by giant corporate farms and the emotional and financial toll it has taken on farm families in the Midwest.  Dayen notes that the United States had 1.6 million independent chicken farms in the 1950s; today the U.S. has just 25,000. The book’s revelations about what is happening to farmers in the way corporations are controlling their seeds and tractors reads like something straight out of Orwell.

 Banks smell victory on key anti-laundering measure - — Bankers are optimistic that Congress will enact anti-money-laundering reforms by the end of the year after key legislation to crack down on shell companies was included as an amendment to must-pass legislation in the House.The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act includes a measure requiring companies to disclose their true owners at incorporation to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, relieving banks of the burden to report their customers’ beneficial owners. That and other amendments drew support from both parties, and the bill passed on July 21. Even though the NDAA passed by the Senate Thursday did not include the beneficial ownership provision, industry representatives believe that bipartisan House support will help push the amendment through during bicameral negotiations to reconcile the two bills.“I think being in the House NDAA bill is very good for our chances of getting it approved and passed into law through the conference process,” said Mike Lee, head of government affairs at the Bank Policy Institute.The beneficial ownership measure — sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. — is short of the broader AML reforms banks have long sought, but would still represent a clear legislative victory for the industry. Bankers and their representatives have long criticized a Fincen rule forcing financial institutions to gather true-owner information about their customers. James Ballentine, executive vice president for political affairs and congressional relations at the American Bankers Association, said the inclusion of the amendment in the House version of the NDAA is a “real indication that this is needed.” Many say the defense spending bill, a must-pass bill that often includes riders unrelated to the Pentagon's budget, may be the only opportunity for the AML provision to be enacted this year. “It may be something that they want to get done as a larger package where it’s not a standalone vote, where you kind of have to vote for a defense bill and this gets included,” said Paul Merski, group executive vice president for congressional relations and strategy at the Independent Community Bankers of America.

Banks call on Congress to freeze new ILC approvals — Banks and consumer advocates are pushing for Congress to use coronavirus stimulus legislation to block the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s approval of industrial loan company charters. The Bank Policy Institute, Independent Community Bankers of America and the Center for Responsible Lending wrote to the heads of the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees Wednesday, calling on them to include a three-year moratorium on regulatory approvals for ILCs in the next coronavirus relief package. ILCs are federally insured banks that can be owned by commercial firms that in turn do not have to register as bank holding companies. They have drawn interest lately from companies seeking charter options — such as fintechs — that do not want to operate full-service banks. Square was recently approved for an ILC by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., but other bids are pending from Rakuten and the parent company of Edward Jones. But the two banking trade groups and the Center for Responsible Lending echoed longstanding industry concerns that the charter gives firms a way into the banking system while avoiding regulatory requirements. “While enactment of legislation to permanently close the loophole is preferable, this intermediate action will give Congress the time necessary to approve an appropriate legislative framework,” they said. The proposed moratorium is similar to a temporary freeze on ILC decisions that was included in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. “Congress should not abdicate its duty to address the ILC loophole and allow bank regulators to decide the fate of our banking system,” the groups wrote. The letter comes after three banking trade groups wrote to the FDIC last month in opposition to the ILC application from the Japanese tech giant Rakuten. Rakuten first applied for an ILC charter last year, before withdrawing this past March and reapplying in May. The policy question on whether commercial firms should be able to own ILCs has been looming for decades, and received the most attention just before the financial crisis when Walmart sought a charter in 2005. The retailer's bid drew a storm of opposition from banks and others that said a Walmart-owned bank would cross the traditional line separating banking and commerce. The application stalled and Walmart ultimately withdrew.

Banks, credit unions pan OCC idea to create charter for payments firms— Several bank and credit union trade groups sent a stark warning to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency: They would fight the agency if it tries to create a new charter specifically tailored for payments providers. The OCC for years has pursued efforts to establish a special-purpose fintech charter, but has run into legal challenges from state regulators and a no applicants have come forward. Since taking office in May, acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks has hinted at the idea of a more narrowly focused bank charter for payments companies like PayPal, Stripe and Square. Such a charter at the federal level would make it significantly easier for fintechs focused on payments to deploy their products nationwide. But seven groups representing banks and credit unions are raising a red flag. “We have serious concerns around the recent discussion of a narrow-purpose payments charter. These charters could introduce serious risks that would undermine the valuable role that national banks play in our dynamic economy,” the financial trade groups wrote in the letter dated Wednesday. It was signed by the American Bankers Association, Bank Policy Institute, Consumer Bankers Association, Independent Community Bankers of America, Clearing House, Credit Union National Association and National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions. The letter outlines a bevy of potential consequences from a payments charter for the financial system, including regulatory arbitrage and ambiguity around whether companies granted the charter would be supervised as bank holding companies. “Given the concerns outlined above, we would oppose any effort by the OCC to offer a narrowly focused payments charter,” the groups said. They released the letter the same day that Brooks spoke at a Brookings Institution virtual event on the role of banks and fintechs in the payments system. A longtime banking lawyer, Brooks has shown a keen interest in fintech policy. 

States' lawsuit alleges OCC rule enables 'rent-a-bank’ schemes - New York, California and Illinois sued the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency over a new rule making it easier for banks to sell loans to acquirers in states with interest rate caps, alleging the change will increase predatory lending. The suit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Oakland, California, claims the change finalized in May by the OCC undermines state laws intended to protect consumers. The change is “arbitrary and capricious” and violates the federal Administrative Procedure Act, according to the lawsuit. The rule is set to take effect Aug. 3. “This is a case about federal overreach,” the states’ Democratic attorneys general said in the complaint. “The rule is beyond the OCC’s power to issue, is contrary to statute, and would facilitate predatory lending through sham ‘rent-a-bank’ partnerships designed to evade state law.” Current U.S. law allows federally chartered banks to charge interest rates that exceed state limits, but nonbanks can’t. Widespread complaints from the lending industry prompted the OCC’s rule. “The rule protects the sanctity of legal contracts and provides the legal certainty to support the orderly function of markets and availability of credit,” the regulator said in an emailed statement. “We are confident in our authority to issue a rule on this matter and look forward to defending that authority.” Nonbank lenders that aim to profit from buying high-interest bank loans faced potential restrictions from charging the full interest rate as a result of state caps. The states allege the new rule will facilitate so-called rent-a-bank schemes “in which banks, not subject to interest-rate caps, act as a mere pass-through for loans that, in substance, are issued by non-bank lenders,” according to the complaint. “All this rule does is make it easier for bad actors to charge New Yorkers triple-digit interest rates on loans and chart a path to more easily take advantage of consumers, which is why we are taking action,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. Her California counterpart, Xavier Becerra, said the new rule is creating a “loophole” for bad actors. The OCC's rule was meant to help banks avoid the effects of the 2015 court decision in Madden v. Midland Funding. The ruling cast doubt on the longtime legal principle that a loan is "valid when made."

Nobody likes credit union regulator’s debt plan - Not surprisingly, bankers are pushing back strongly against a proposed regulation that would broaden credit unions’ access to subordinated debt. The twist is that credit unions also aren’t crazy about the idea. Credit unions already enjoy an exemption from federal and state income tax, so a plan from the National Credit Union Administration allowing more of them tap investor capital has banks seeing red. Bankers worry access to subordinated debt would fuel large credit unions’ already rapid growth — and give them more wherewithal to acquire banks. More than 75% of the 169 comment letters the NCUA received during the 120-day comment period — twice as long as the agency normally allows — came from bankers and bank trade groups detailing their intense opposition to the proposed regulation. Virtually all the bank commenters argued the rule turns the logic behind the tax exemption on its head by allowing outside investors to benefit alongside an issuing credit union’s member-owners. The proposal “seriously undermines the cooperative ownership structure which is the very foundation for the justification for the existence of credit unions,” wrote David Schroeder, senior vice president for federal governmental relations at the Community Bankers of Illinois. “The introduction of outside investment into complex credit unions … raises the question whether such [institutions] should continue to be entitled to such an exemption,” wrote Chris Furlong, president and CEO of the Texas Bankers Association. While credit unions with a low-income designation have been authorized to issue subordinated debt since 1996, only a relative handful have availed themselves of the privilege. Including subordinated debt, the industry had just $307 million in secondary capital on its books as of March 31, according to NCUA. Credit unions held assets totaling $1.63 trillion. The agency’s proposed regulation extends subordinated debt issuing power to credit unions above $500 million in assets that do not already carry a low-income designation. According to NCUA data, non-low-income complex credit unions hold a total of $730 billion in assets, making them the industry’s largest asset class. Credit unions with a low-income designation hold about $630 billion. “If credit unions can get funding through subordinated debt offerings, they will have more cash to acquire taxpaying banks in communities across America,”   More than a dozen credit unions announced plans to purchase banks in 2019, the highest number ever to do so. Some of those deals ran into roadblocks this year, however, and the number of new deals announced remains in the low single digits. Some transactions that haven’t been completed are also being called off, due in part to economic fallout from the pandemic.  .

Challenger bank Dave suffers data breach affecting all 7.5 million customers - The challenger bank Dave revealed in a blog over the weekend that personal data for all 7.5 million of its users has been compromised. The company did not respond to a request for an interview, but did relay the details of the breach in a blog. The security lapse happened at Waydev, a third-party service provider Dave used, the Los Angeles company said. Waydev's software analyzes software developers’ output and productivity. Waydev did not respond to a request for an interview. The stolen information included names, passwords, email addresses, birth dates, physical addresses and phone numbers. Bank account numbers, credit card numbers, transaction records and Social Security numbers were not affected, Dave said. “Dave has no evidence that any unauthorized actions were taken with any accounts or that any user has experienced any financial loss as a result of this incident,” the company said. The company also said that as soon as it became aware of this incident, it initiated an investigation, which is ongoing. It also said it's coordinating with law enforcement, including with the FBI, “around claims by a malicious party that it has ‘cracked’ some of these passwords and is attempting to sell Dave customer data,” the Dave blog stated. Dave is notifying all customers about the incident and is performing a mandatory reset of all Dave customer passwords. Dave also retained CrowdStrike, a leading cybersecurity consultant, to assist.

 FDIC finalizes rule to ease bank restrictions on hiring ex-cons — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. finalized a rule allowing banks to hire employees with minor criminal backgrounds. Since 1950, banks have been restricted by Section 19 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, which said that banks could not hire anyone “convicted of any criminal offense involving dishonesty, breach of trust, or money laundering" without prior written consent from the FDIC. The agency proposed easing those limits late last year in response to complaints from banks and criminal justice advocates that the framework unfairly punished individuals for trivial — or “de minimis” — crimes. The final rule issued Friday, which replaces previous guidance from 1998, is largely the same as the November proposal but with some exceptions. “The changes narrow the scope of crimes subject to Section 19, enabling more individuals to work for banks without going through the Section 19 application process, without increasing risk to the Deposit Insurance Fund,” FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams said in a press release. One change from the proposed rule is banks can now hire employees convicted of crimes that were expunged or sealed without seeking the FDIC's consent. According to the FDIC, the change will result in a roughly 10% drop in applications for Section 19 exceptions. The final rule will also expand the agency’s criteria for “de minimis” crimes by raising the minor crime threshold from one to two convictions before FDIC consent is required.

Nonbanks face new disclosure rules on small-business loans in N.Y -- New York is on the verge of becoming the second state in the nation behind California to require greater transparency from nonbank lenders making small-business loans. This week the New York State Senate and Assembly passed twin bills that call for fintechs and other nonbanks to disclose metrics on each loan such as total cost of capital, the estimated annualized percentage rate and the total repayment amount including the finance charge.The point of the bill is to allow borrowers to compare multiple offers when shopping for loans. The online lenders Kabbage and OnDeck Capital applauded New York’s passage of the legislation. Both companies are members of the Innovative Lending Platform Association, a four-year-old group of online lending and service companies that helped draft the legislation. According to Sam Taussig, head of global policy at Kabbage, the intent of the bill is to give small businesses access to a uniform pricing-comparison model. Kabbage, like all members of the association, already discloses rate and total cost metrics to small-business customers seeking loans. “They can have an apples-to-apples experience when comparing products,” Taussig said. The bill, which does not apply to banks and credit unions, covers specific commercial lending products such as sales-based financing, closed-end financing and open-end financing. Supporters say it is especially crucial at this time as small-businesses are struggling to stay afloat in the pandemic economy. OnDeck’s head of government relations, Patrick Cuff, said the legislation aligns with the firm’s purpose of providing small businesses with “efficient, accessible and transparent capital.” “I think it’s about being a transparent actor and providing customers with clear and concise information about what the terms of the product will be,” he said.  Similar legislation was signed into law two years ago in California, which at the time was the first state to require small-business lenders to make standardized interest rate disclosures. But regulators in that state have not yet finalized rules that determine how disclosures will be made.

 Small-business owners are leaning on credit cards to survive - For more than one-third of the owners of small U.S. businesses, keeping their ventures alive during the coronavirus pandemic is coming at a high personal cost. As the American economy faces an unprecedented contraction and COVID-19 deaths top 150,000, the debate over reopening states has hinged in some quarters on how to balance protecting lives and livelihoods. Government loans through the Paycheck Protection Program have helped support some businesses, but the accumulating months of reduced revenue are forcing entrepreneurs to buoy their own businesses with their personal assets and credit. Many have already succumbed. “People have really put their livelihoods on the line here. I think they feel really responsible, too — that they’ve already put in so much blood, sweat and tears, and they don’t want to see it fail,” said analyst Ted Rossman. Seven in 10 small-business owners say they’ve used some form of support for their business since March, according to a new survey. The most common option was PPP loans, with 30% of respondents saying they received one, followed by 24% saying they turned to personal credit cards and business savings accounts. In total, 35% of owners used either personal credit cards or savings accounts, with 10% using both, to support their business. This personal funding has further blurred the line between personal and business finances. Small businesses that bring in less than $1 million annually typically need the owner to personally back the debt, meaning they’re responsible if the company can’t pay, Rossman said. This leaves entrepreneurs on the hook for the risk, even if it’s in the name of their business. While this has always been the case, the pandemic has intensified the personal financial risk to small entrepreneurs. Now, small-business owners are looking to customers to help them out: Some 32% of respondents said they need sales to increase for them to stay afloat this year. About one in five said they would need government assistance — a $669 billion federal relief program has doled out funds, and more money is being considered. More than half of respondents say they won’t survive long past the new year without additional support. Looking ahead, small businesses face high degrees of uncertainty as the rules for reopenings shift under their feet. Additionally, the economic brunt of the shutdown is coming down disproportionately on African American-run businesses. On the big-business scale, more than 140 companies have declared bankruptcy. “It's going to be hard to get more customers when people are worried about their own finances and health,” Rossman said. “I tend to think that this one is going to be a longer fix, not a shorter one, unfortunately.”

CFPB to propose rules for how companies access customer data - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau plans to propose clearer standards on how fintech firms access consumers' financial account information, the agency said Friday. The bureau said it will release an advance notice of proposed rulemaking later this year that could prompt further inquiry into whether market participants — including banks, fintechs and data aggregators — are acting in consumers' interest when it comes to accessing data. The proposal is likely to draw enormous interest from both banks, which have at times been leery of app providers grabbing data, and the fintech firms themselves that rely on consumers’ ability to access their account information. The proposal will focus, in part, on whether some emerging market practices among fintechs and data aggregators “may not reflect the access rights” described in the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB said. The proposal also could examine whether “regulatory uncertainty” may be affecting the market “to the potential detriment of consumers.” Bloomberg NewsThe CFPB is required under Section 1033 of the Dodd-Frank Act to ensure that consumers have access to their own financial data in electronic form and the ability “to leverage the data in their records.” The bureau said the proposal will seek public input on how to “effectively and efficiently” implement the financial access rights in Section 1033. The rulemaking notice will seek feedback on how much data should be considered "protected" in order to protect consumers' privacy and security. The agency's proposal is also expected to address issues of "regulatory uncertainty with respect to Section 1033” and how it interacts with other statutes, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the CFPB said. The CFPB said its approach has largely been in identifying and promoting consumer interests and in allowing the market to develop “without direct regulatory intervention.”

 No shortage of ideas for CFPB data-sharing rules - Fintech experts are embracing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's recent announcement that later this year it will propose rules governing third-party access to consumers' bank account data — and they have strong opinions about what the CFPB should do. “It suggests that they see some consumer financial data-rights issues that the bureau needs to strengthen or clarify and which the market may not be able to resolve without additional guidance,” said John Pitts, head of policy for Plaid, the largest data aggregator, which supplies bank account data to 3,000 fintechs including Venmo and Coinbase. “It could be a big win for consumers.” “Screen scraping introduces errors that using better technology would prevent,” says Chi Chi Wu, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “This is something that we and many others in the fintech and technology space have been advocating for years,” said Jason Gross, founder and CEO of Petal, a fintech that issues credit cards to people who may not have a credit score; it relies largely on a person’s cash-flow analysis, which requires access to bank account data. The CFPB has been mulling some action in this area for years. In February, it held a symposium in which it brought together bankers, fintech executives, industry group representatives and consumer advocates to debate questions about how bank customer data should be shared with data aggregators and fintechs. The CFPB representatives at the event asked open-ended questions. Part of the CBPB’s objective was to figure out what, if anything, it should do about a clause in the Dodd-Frank Act, Section 1033, that gives consumers a right to access information about their financial accounts. Chi Chi Wu, attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, pointed out that Dodd-Frank was enacted ten years ago and Section 1033 has never been implemented. That lack of clarity, she said, has led to a battle between banks, data aggregators and fintechs. “Data aggregators have wanted this for a while because they want to be able to get the information” to provide to their clients, the fintechs, she said. Consumer advocates like herself walk a line between wanting consumers to be able to access their account data and give it to data aggregators and making sure they come to no harm along the way, she said. "We want to make sure that when consumers permission access to their bank account data, it only happens when they knowingly and affirmatively want to do it,” Wu said.

 CFPB’s Kraninger faces Democratic firing squad over payday rule — Senate Democrats lambasted Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger for finalizing a rule during the coronavirus pandemic that eliminates underwriting requirements for payday lenders. At a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday, Democrats on the panel homed in on the payday rule in criticizing the agency's record protecting consumers during the pandemic crisis. “With respect to the payday lending rule changes that you made … it is outrageous that in the middle of this pandemic when so many people are struggling to make ends meet you’ve provided this big payday to payday lenders at the expense of the consumer,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “It’s bad at any time, but especially egregious at a moment when so many families are struggling to make ends meet.” The CFPB earlier this month completed the rule long sought by Trump administration appointees that rescinds ability-to-repay requirements for small-dollar lenders. The tough underwriting standards were part of a previous rule issued in 2017 under then-CFPB Director Richard Cordray, an Obama appointee. Democrats scrutinized the CFPB’s process for finalizing the rule under Kraninger’s leadership, after reporting by The New York Times that the agency watered down research and downplayed findings about the harm to consumers if the underwriting requirements were eliminated. “Is it appropriate for the CFPB to ignore research to repeal this rule?” said Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the committee. “The fact that you proceeded to finalize a rule, Director, despite a clear corrupted process, that you’ve read, raises questions about whether you follow the law.” Kraninger defended the process for approving the regulation, saying “the full record is available in the rulemaking process, both the 2017 process and the updated process.” Republicans argued that the new payday lending rule will improve consumers' access to credit. “The availability of short-term, small-dollar credit is essential to millions of Americans,” Crapo said. “Updating this rule is an important step toward ensuring the availability of credit that is essential to so many consumers who struggle to access or qualify for other options.” Kraninger said that the previous payday regulation would have reduced access to credit by 70%, and that the new rule was intended to promote competition in the business and enable banks and credit unions to offer small-dollar lending products. “Promoting competition and enabling consumers to understand the products that are available to them is a huge part of where we are today,” Kraninger said. But Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., charged that it was hypocritical for the CFPB to rescind ability-to-repay requirements in the payday lending rule when the agency generally weighs a company’s ability to pay a fine when settling enforcement matters with a firm. 

CFPB chief welcomes GOP focus on restructuring of agency— Following a court decision that removes a layer of job security for the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency's current director said she is open to Republican lawmakers' proposals to change the bureau's structure. Kathy Kraninger’s comments Thursday came after the Supreme Court last month struck down a provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that prevented the president from firing the CFPB director without cause. The court decided the “for cause” removal provision was unconstitutional for an agency run by a single director, versus a board or commission. The ruling has heightened calls from GOP lawmakers to establish a bipartisan board or commission to govern the agency. “I welcome the [proposed] action on structure by Congress, generally speaking, and I do believe Congress would come to a good conclusion on that,” Kraninger said at a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, although she did not endorse any specific changes. “Certainly, if I see legislation that I think would be detrimental to the agency … I certainly will let you know my views,” Kraninger said. The comments came in response to Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., who asked Kraninger whether she thinks a five-member bipartisan commission structure at the top of the CFPB would work. “There’s a number of us that have been amazingly consistent in our belief that the structure of the CFPB needs to be a commission,” Huizenga said. “We now have a real opportunity to work together to bring necessary statutory reforms to the CFPB,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, the House committee's top Republican.Bloomberg NewsRepublican members of the committee agreed that the Supreme Court decision was not enough to address structural issues with the agency. “We now have a real opportunity to work together to bring necessary statutory reforms to the CFPB,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, the House committee's top Republican. “I ask my colleagues across the aisle to join us in taking this opportunity to create a bipartisan commission consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision.” In response to questioning from McHenry, Kraninger said any reforms to CFPB governance should be handled legislatively. “With respect to additional changes on structure or otherwise, I leave those in the hands of Congress,” Kraninger said.

CRA rule done, OCC set to unveil scoring proposal — The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency will issue a new proposal within weeks outlining Community Reinvestment Act scoring procedures under CRA reforms that the agency finalized in May, acting Comptroller Brian Brooks said Thursday. Brooks, in wide-ranging remarks for an industry event, touched on CRA modernization as well as legal issues about who is the "true lender" in transactions between banks and nonbanks. He also defended his idea for a narrow-purpose payments charter despite industry opposition. While the OCC ostensibly finalized its overhaul of the CRA in May under the leadership of former Comptroller Joseph Otting, the agency punted in one critical area. Citing the need for additional data from banks, the agency said it would follow up with more details about how precisely the OCC will calculate banks’ CRA performance under the new regime. He added the OCC was trying to establish a more objective system to score banks on their performance and move “away from a world where banks performance scores are relativistic." “The really hard work now is how we figure out how to performance assess banks,” said acting Comptroller Brian Brooks said at the virtual event hosted by the American Bankers Association. "In other words, you know Bank A should not be in competition with Bank B to see who is better than the other,” Brooks said. The follow-up proposal, Brooks said, is expected to “come out late summer, so I would look for that in the next four to six weeks." Later on in discussion with ABA CEO Rob Nichols, Brooks also defended the OCC’s approach to navigating the true-lender issue, which has been the subject of intense policy debates and litigation for years. Historically, banks and other financial institutions have followed a legal doctrine known as "valid when made," asserting that a loan complying with all applicable laws at origination remains compliant when sold to a nonbank buyer — even if the buyer resides in a state with a lower interest rate cap. But in the 2015 court decision known as Madden v. Midland Funding, a federal judge ruled essentially that that doctrine does not apply when one of the parties is a nonbank. While the OCC finalized a rule in May affirming the legitimacy of “valid when made,” states and consumer advocates say the agency is enabling "rent a bank" schemes, and three state attorneys general are suing to overturn the rule.

BofA settles federal fair housing discrimination claim for $300K - Bank of America has settled a fair housing complaint with the federal government over allegations of denying mortgages and home equity lines of credit to adults with guardians. The period covered by the settlement with the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York was between January 2010 and February 2016 for mortgage loan applicants, and between January 2010 and May 2017 for home equity loan applicants. All of the applicants involved were adults under legal guardianship or conservatorship. After the Great Recession, citing possible exploitation, BofA instituted a policy that put limits on loans to persons in guardianship, a bank spokesman said. That policy was ended in 2016, before the federal investigation began. "Bank of America has an outstanding record of supporting clients and employees with disabilities, including being recognized with a top score in the Disability Equality Index for four years," the spokesman said. "Due to concerns about possible exploitation, the bank for a period of time limited mortgage loans for people with guardians." "We updated our policies more than three years ago to expand access to such loans," the spokesperson continued. "Our Disability Advisory Council works to consistently improve and further develop our strategy to serve employees, clients and communities." The settlement agreement notes that "Bank of America asserts that during the time period in question, it did make mortgage loans to persons with handicaps and disabilities without restrictions, including some adult applicants who had legal guardians or conservatorships." Under the terms of the agreement, BofA will pay each applicant $4,000. The spokesman said 75 people are covered by the agreement, for a total of $300,000. BofA cooperated with the investigation and agreed to settle this matter without contested litigation, a press release from the Eastern District of New York said, adding that the bank did not admit and expressly denies any liability wrongdoing, or noncompliance with the provisions of the Fair Housing Act.

Sens. Warren, Schatz press Wells Fargo on forbearance practices — Two Senate Democrats are seeking details from Wells Fargo about news reports that the bank has been placing borrowers into mortgage forbearance programs without their consent. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Brian Schatz of Hawaii wrote to Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf on Thursday requesting more information about an NBC News report from earlier this month that said the bank was placing borrowers who had fallen behind on their mortgage payments were placed into forbearance programs without their knowledge, potentially damaging their credit reports. The report said that borrowers in 14 states told courts or NBC News that they were forced into forbearance plans without being asked. The senators say they are concerned that the bank is putting consumers at risk of greater financial hardship in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. “Wells Fargo’s history of taking actions without the consent of consumers is cause for serious concern that this is another systemic failure at the bank,” the senators wrote. “Indeed, if these reports are true, they represent one more addition to a long list of inexcusable actions by Wells Fargo at customers’ expense.” Wells acknowledged in a statement to NBC News last week that "misinterpreted customers' intentions" in some cases. "In those limited cases," the statement continued, "we are working directly with customers to ensure they are receiving the assistance they need and make any corrections to their accounts that may be required." The news reports suggest that the bank wrongly claimed that borrowers asked to pause their mortgage payments in bankruptcy filings. Because of the way that loan servicers are compensated for forbearance, the senators say, “it is possible” that Wells Fargo profited from the alleged faulty forbearance. Specifically, the senators are asking the bank about circumstances in which it would place a consumer who is not delinquent on mortgage payments in forbearance, and how the bank notifies consumers if their mortgages were placed in forbearance. They are asking how the bank reports information to the credit bureaus for consumers who have been placed in forbearance. They are also asking how they bank has been compensated for forbearance filings that were not requested by borrowers, and how it handles funds for borrowers who continue to make payments while their loan is in forbearance. Wells Fargo has been placed under a growth cap by Federal regulators over a series of scandals, including the opening of millions of accounts without consumers’ consent. But the Federal Reserve announced in April that the bank can make additional loans to small businesses through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and the Fed’s Main Street Lending Program that will not count against the cap. “But this recent reporting highlights the broken culture at the bank, and the need for Wells Fargo to remain under intense regulatory scrutiny until it is clear that the necessary changes have been made to ensure that the bank is truly committed to its consumers,” the senators wrote.

Fannie, Freddie to face banklike liquidity standards starting Sept. 1— The Federal Housing Finance Agency quietly imposed new liquidity requirements on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in June that will require the mortgage giants to hold more liquid assets to cover sudden funding shortfalls, but that the companies say may result in lower net interest income. The mortgage giants detailed the new minimum liquidity requirements in 10-Q filings released Thursday. The liquidity benchmarks in some ways resemble those that bank regulators have imposed on large financial institutions. The new standards also mark another step by the FHFA under Director Mark Calabria to strengthen the balance sheets of the government-sponsored enterprises. “The updated liquidity guidance is more stringent than our existing liquidity requirements and liquidity requirements of banks and other depository institutions, which could result in higher funding costs in the future and may negatively affect our net interest income,” Freddie said in its filing. “In addition, the updated liquidity guidance may impact the size and the allowable investments in our other investments portfolio.” Fannie and Freddie said they expect to have to comply with the new liquidity requirements by Sept. 1. According to Freddie, the requirements are based on a stressed scenario where the GSEs may not have access to debt funding from the market for an extended period of time, and would have to fund their cash needs using retained liquid assets. Both companies said the liquidity guidelines include expected benchmarks to meet both short-term and longer-term cash flow needs. “These requirements are based on cash flows needed under a stressed scenario that assumes, among other things, that for short- and medium-term periods, we may not have access to debt funding from the market for an extended period of time and therefore must fund our cash needs utilizing certain liquid assets in our portfolio,” Freddie said. Fannie said that while it estimates its liquidity position as of June 30 was in compliance with the new requirements, it expects the rules will force the company in the future to hold more liquidity than it would have under the current framework.

BankThink: Lenders shouldn't waver on monitoring early payment defaults - The Federal Housing Administration's temporary waiver of its required monthly early payment default quality control reviews was a welcome concession to the unique circumstances lenders and borrowers are facing during the coronavirus pandemic. However, other factors indicate that EPDs still pose risk for lenders in the months to come and should, therefore, be closely monitored. The primary reason for the FHA's waiver is clear: The agency feels current quality control (QC) review efforts will be expended on something blatantly obvious, as the vast majority (though not all) of EPDs during this period are related to the pandemic. In issuing its temporary waiver, the FHA noted the financial issues borrowers are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus, rather than any failure by lenders to comply with its single-family origination and underwriting requirements, as a potential cause for the recent spike in EPDs. Furthermore, the FHA also cited the mortgage relief options provided by the coronavirus relief bill as a potential trigger for EPD "false positives." Thus, the agency opted to waive its loan-level QC requirement for EPDs from May through July. It has not been extended. While the FHA's waiver is certainly the most generous guidance issued regarding EPDs, it is not the only federal mortgage-related agency to do so. Freddie Mac temporarily altered its requirements to allow lenders to sample EPDs through the end of June, rather than performing a 100% review per its usual requirement. Although Fannie Mae has only made a passing reference to lenders' EPD review efforts in relation to discretionary sampling, it has announced that it will be increasing its review of EPDs, thus signaling an increased awareness on its part of the increase in EPDs. However, the key word lenders must keep in mind regarding these communications from the FHA and the GSEs is "temporary." July was the last month in which FHA-approved lenders are not required to conduct QC reviews of their EPDs. While Freddie Mac didn't extend its relaxed EPD sampling requirements beyond June, both it and Fannie Mae issued updates on July 1 to their joint COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions - Selling document, which states that the GSEs will not issue automatic repurchase requests for loans entering EPDs status. Instead, the GSEs "will follow existing QC practices to review any sampled loan against the requirements of the Selling Guide and any other agreements in place at the time of delivery." Given this response, it is safe to assume that, as far as the GSEs are concerned, it is business as usual regarding EPDs, and without explicit continuation of the temporary measures issued by the GSEs and/or FHA, lenders can expect to be on the hook for EPDs moving forward. What's more, factors at work in the larger economic market only extend the risk of EPDs throughout the remainder of the year.

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases for Sixth Straight Week to 7.74%" of Portfolio Volume - Note: 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 Decreases for Sixth Straight Week to 7.74%The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased by 6 basis points from 7.80% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 7.74% as of July 19, 2020. According to MBA’s estimate, 3.9 million homeowners are in forbearance plans....“The share of loans in forbearance declined by a smaller amount than in previous weeks, as the pace of borrowers exiting forbearance slowed,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Although the GSE portfolio of loans in forbearance should continue to improve, Ginnie Mae’s portfolio saw an uptick of both loans in forbearance and borrowers requesting forbearance. The high level of unemployment claims in recent weeks may be playing a role, as weakness would likely impact Ginnie Mae’s portfolio first.” Added  Fratantoni, “As a result of large buyouts from Ginnie Mae pools in recent weeks, many FHA and VA loans are now being held as portfolio loans by bank servicers. That is why the share of portfolio loans in forbearance has increased and is now typically at a higher level than that for Ginnie Mae loans.”This graph shows the percent of portfolio in forbearance by investor type over time.  Most of the increase was in late March and early April, and has been trending down for the last six weeks.  The MBA notes: "Total weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) remained flat relative to the prior week at 0.13%. "

Census: Household Pulse Survey shows 26.5% Missed or Expect to Miss Rent or Mortgage Payment -Note on the question below on lost income is always since March 13, 2020 - so this percentage will not decline - but might increase.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. This will be updated weekly, and the Census Bureau released the recent 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.  35.2% of households expect a loss in income over the next 4 weeks.   This is down from 38.8% in late April, but up from 31% five weeks ago.   This might suggest the job gains stalled after the data was collected for the June employment report. 12.1% of households report food scarcity.  This has increased over the last couple of weeks.40.1% of households report they delayed medical care over the last 4 weeks.26.5% of households reported they missed last month's rent or mortgage payment (or little confidence in making this month's payment).  This has increased from a low of 22.1% in the survey of June 4th - June 9th. Essentially all households with children are reporting were not being taught in a normal format.

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate increased sharply in June, Highest in 7 Years - Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in June was 2.48%, up from 0.81% in May. Freddie's rate is up from 0.63% in June 2019. This is the highest serious delinquency rate since October 2013. Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%. These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure". With COVID-19, this rate will increase significantly again in July (it takes time since these are mortgages three months or more past due).Mortgages in forbearance are being counted as delinquent in this monthly report, but they will not be reported to the credit bureaus.This is very different from the increase in delinquencies following the housing bubble.   Lending standards have been fairly solid over the last decade, and most of these homeowners have equity in their homes - and they will be able to restructure their loans once they are employed.

 Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey --Mortgage applications decreased 0.8 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending July 24, 2020.... The Refinance Index decreased 0.4 percent from the previous week and was 121 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 21 percent higher than the same week one year ago.“Mortgage rates remained near record lows for conventional loans last week, and refinances in the conventional sector continued to slightly increase. However, rates on FHA loans rose, leading to an almost 18 percent drop in FHA refinances,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Homebuyers stepped back slightly, and there was a larger drop in purchase application volume for FHA, VA, and USDA loans. This trend, along with the fact that average loan sizes are increasing, indicate that prospective first-time buyers are being impacted more by the rising economic stress caused by the resurgence in COVID-19 cases, as well as the uncertainty on how the next round of government support will take shape.”... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) remained unchanged at 3.20 percent, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Jumbo Mortgage Rates Are No Longer the Cheapest Around – WSJ --Record-low interest rates are helping home buyers lock in years of savings on future mortgage payments. But those searching for larger homes or in expensive markets aren’t reaping the same rewards.The average rate on a 30-year jumbo mortgage was 3.77% in mid-July, more than 0.4 percentage point above the average rate on smaller, conforming loans, according to, a personal-finance website. From mid-2015 until this spring, jumbo rates had been consistently lower than or equal to the rates on conforming loans.The reversal is just one of the ways the coronavirus crisis has wreaked havoc on the mortgage market. The same force pushing most mortgage rates to record lows—investors piling into safe-haven assets like government bonds—has pushed jumbo loans out of favor. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back about half of new mortgages in the U.S. Now, talks are heating up about reshaping or shrinking the two companies, a move that could affect millions of Americans. Photo: Heather Seidel/The Wall Street JournalA jumbo loan is one considered too big to be sold to government-backed mortgage giantsFannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In most markets, it must be larger than $510,400 this year, but in the highest-cost areas it must be larger than $765,600. Conforming loans meet the guidelines for government backing.In recent years, banks have favored jumbo mortgages for their relatively low risk level, since jumbo borrowers tend to be wealthier. Banks generally keep jumbo loans on their own books, betting that the borrowers are less likely to default.But the Federal Reserve has taken extraordinary steps to intervene in the mortgage market during the coronavirus pandemic, including agreeing in March to buy an essentially unlimited amount of mortgage-backed securities.“The loans that get made are those that have a ready buyer for them,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at “Government-backed loans are really the only game in town.”What is more, jumbo loans aren’t entitled to forbearance under the Cares Act.That law, meant to prop up the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, allows homeownersto request up to 12 months of postponed mortgage payments. If the loan is backed by the government, the mortgage servicer is generally supposed to grant the request. If the loan is a jumbo, the servicer has more freedom to say no. Still, mortgage companies seem to be saying yes. The share of jumbo loans in forbearance stood at 10.2% in mid-July, higher than the 7.8% rate among all mortgages, according to mortgage-data firm Black Knight Inc. Some banks might be quick to grant relief on jumbo loans since they are often holding those loans rather than selling them to investors, leaving the banks more exposed if the loans go bad.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 4.5% year-over-year in May -- S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for May ("May" is a 3 month average of March, April and May prices).This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index. From S&P: S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index Reports 4.5% Annual Home Price Gain in May: The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 4.5% annual gain in May, down from 4.6% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 3.1%, down from 3.3% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 3.7% year-over-year gain, down from 3.9% in the previous month.Phoenix, Seattle and Tampa reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 19 cities (excluding Detroit) in May. Phoenix led the way with a 9.0% year-over-year price increase, followed by Seattle with a 6.8% increase and Tampa with a 6.0% increase. Three of the 19 cities reported higher price increases in the year ending May 2020 versus the year ending April 2020....The National Index posted a 0.7% month-over-month increase, while the 10-City and 20-City Composites posted increases of 0.3% and 0.4% respectively before seasonal adjustment in May. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 0.1%, while the 10- City and 20-City Composites did not post any gains. In May, 17 of 19 cities (excluding Detroit) reported increases before seasonal adjustment, while 11 of the 19 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment. The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).The Composite 10 index is up 4.1% from the bubble peak, and unchanged in May (SA) from April.The Composite 20 index is 8.3% above the bubble peak, and unchanged (SA) in May. The National index is 18.1% above the bubble peak (SA), and up 0.1% (SA) in May.  The National index is up 60% from the post-bubble low set in December 2011 (SA). The second graph shows the Year over year change in all three indices..

Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey --Mortgage applications decreased 0.8 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending July 24, 2020.... The Refinance Index decreased 0.4 percent from the previous week and was 121 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 21 percent higher than the same week one year ago.“Mortgage rates remained near record lows for conventional loans last week, and refinances in the conventional sector continued to slightly increase. However, rates on FHA loans rose, leading to an almost 18 percent drop in FHA refinances,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Homebuyers stepped back slightly, and there was a larger drop in purchase application volume for FHA, VA, and USDA loans. This trend, along with the fact that average loan sizes are increasing, indicate that prospective first-time buyers are being impacted more by the rising economic stress caused by the resurgence in COVID-19 cases, as well as the uncertainty on how the next round of government support will take shape.”... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) remained unchanged at 3.20 percent, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

US Pending Home Sales Soar In June... To Highest Since 2006! - After rebounds in new- and existing-home sales, pending home sales in June were expected to continue to surge (after screaming 44% higher MoM in May) and they did, rising 16.6% MoM (beating the 15.0% expectations) and sending the YoY sales number UP 12.7%... This is the biggest annual rise in pending home sales in over 5 years as mortgage rates hit record lows.  “It is quite surprising and remarkable that, in the midst of a global pandemic, contract activity for home purchases is higher compared to one year ago,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement. “Consumers are taking advantage of record-low mortgage rates resulting from the Federal Reserve’s maximum liquidity monetary policy.” And the pending home sales index is back at its highest since 2006...  And in case you're wondering why the housing market was able to bounce so quickly in the face of an historic shock which left 22 million people unemployed? Here BofA offers five explanations:

  1. An uneven recession: the shock disproportionally impacted the lower income population who are less likely to be homeowners. Consider that 55% of households earning less than $35K a year lost employment income vs. only 40% of those earning $75K and above. According to the NAR, the median household income of recent homebuyers is $93k.
  2. Record low interest rates: mortgage rates reached a new historic low last week. Average monthly mortgage payments have declined by $80/month relative to this time last year due to lower mortgage rates.
  3. Running lean pre-crisis: inventory was low, home equity was high and debt levels manageable. The homeowner vacancy rate reached the lows of the mid-1990s.
  4. Supportive fiscal and monetary policy: forbearance programs reduced potential stress from delinquencies - according to the MBA, 7.8% of all mortgages were in forbearance as of July 12, which amounts to 3.9mn homeowners.
  5. Pandemic-related relocations: moving to the 'burbs is a real phenomenon. Take NYC - according to data from USPS, the number of mail forwarding requests from NYC spiked to more than 80,000 in April, 4X the pre-COVID-19 monthly pace.

Pending home sales rose in all U.S. regions, including an 11.9% gain in the South that boosted the region’s index to the highest in records back to 2001. Purchases also increased 12.2% in the Midwest to the strongest since February 2017 and climbed 11.7% in the West. Contract signings jumped 54.4% in the Northeast to a four-month high. Yun says that as house hunters seek homes away from bigger cites – likely in an effort to avoid the coronavirus – properties that were once an afterthought for potential buyers are now growing in popularity.

HVS: Q2 2020 Homeownership and Vacancy Rates --The Census Bureau released the Residential Vacancies and Homeownership report for Q2 2020. It is likely the results of this survey were significantly distorted by the pandemic.  See note from Census below. This report is frequently mentioned by analysts and the media to track household formation, the homeownership rate, and the homeowner and rental vacancy rates.  However, there are serious questions about the accuracy of this survey.  The Census Bureau is investigating the differences between the HVS, ACS and decennial Census, and analysts probably shouldn't use the HVS to estimate the excess vacant supply or household formation, or rely on the homeownership rate, except as a guide to the trend."National vacancy rates in the second quarter 2020 were 5.7 percent for rental housing and 0.9 percent for homeowner housing. The rental vacancy rate of 5.7 percent was 1.1 percentage points lower than the rate in the second quarter 2019 (6.8 percent) and 0.9 percentage point lower than the rate in the first quarter 2020 (6.6 percent). The homeowner vacancy rate of 0.9 percent was 0.4 percentage points lower than the rate in the second quarter 2019 (1.3 percent) and 0.2 percentage points lower than the rate in the first quarter 2020 (1.1 percent). The homeownership rate of 67.9 percent was 3.8 percentage points higher than the rate in the second quarter 2019 (64.1 percent) and 2.6 percentage points higher than the rate in the first quarter 2020 (65.3 percent). " The Red dots are the decennial Census homeownership rates for April 1st 1990, 2000 and 2010. The HVS homeownership rate increased to 67.9% in Q2, from 65.3% in Q1. The HVS homeowner vacancy declined to 0.9%. From Census: As a result of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), data collection operations for the CPS/HVS were affected during the second quarter of 2020. In-person interviews were suspended for the duration of the second quarter and replaced with telephone interview attempts when contact information was available. If the Field Representative was unable to get information on the sample unit, the unit was made a Type A non interview (no one home, refusal, etc).

 “Like Nothing We’ve Ever Seen” - Imminent Eviction Wave Is Coming To These States - The eviction moratorium expired last Friday nearly four months after the US economy effectively shutdown due to the covid pandemic, and more than 12 million renters - all behind on rent payments because of the virus-induced recession - are now at imminent risk of getting booted to the curb. This Friday, some 25 million Americans will no longer receive their weekly $600 federal unemployment checks, and the next round of government handouts, currently discussed by Republicans and Democrats, could see benefits slashed from $600 to $200 (or be nothing at all if no deal is reached in Congress). This would crush household finances across middle-class America, resulting in an even higher number of households unable to pay their rent bill in the months ahead. That said, Trump's top economic advisor Larry Kudlow, who has religiously pumped stocks with meaningless headlines any time the S&P is even barely in the red, recently said an extension for the eviction moratorium program could be seen. But what if there isn't one?In late July, more than 31 million Americans collected unemployment benefits of some form. The economic recovery reversed in late June, as the next crisis among households looms. “It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen,”  said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. In 2016, there were 2.3 million evictions, Pollock said.“There could be that many evictions in August,” he said. On Sunday, food bank lines reemerged as people's benefits ran out. The number of jobless Americans is staggering and downright, depressionary, suggesting no labor market recovery this year or next.  With a fiscal cliff unfolding, benefits set to run out, and a rebound in the economy reversing, Household Pulse Data from mid-July outlines an even gloomier rent crisis unfolding. The analysis is based on Household Pulse Data from mid-July and it found that some states will be hit harder than others. For example, West Virginia is estimated to have the highest share of renter households facing eviction at close to 60%. Tennessee, Minnesota, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana are all among the states set to be worst impacted with shares at 50% or higher. Elsewhere, Vermont is the state where renters will be at the lowest risk of eviction, though 22% of them will potentially lose their homes over the course of the crisis. - Forbes Shown below (charted by Statista), here are the states where renters will be pressured the most.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Declined 38% Year-over-year -  From STR: US hotel results for week ending 25 July: U.S. hotel performance data for the week ending 25 July showed slightly higher occupancy and room rates from the previous week, according to STR.
19-25 July 2020 (percentage change from comparable week in 2019):
• Occupancy: 48.1% (-37.9%)
• Average daily rate (ADR): US$99.24 (-27.3%)
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): US$47.75 (-54.8%)
U.S. occupancy has risen week over week for 14 of the last 15 weeks, although growth in demand (room nights sold) has slowed. The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average. As STR noted, the occupancy rate has increased week-to-week in "14 of the last 15 weeks". The increases in occupancy have slowed and are well below the level for this week last year of 78%.

Google Postpones Employee Return till Mid 2021 as Office Buildings Remain Empty, Residential Delinquencies Soar - Yves Smith --  Even though the Wall Street Journal published a story last week where employers whined that they were getting less productivity out of now far-flung workers, it does not appear that many major employers will be arm-twisting workers to come back to the office any time soon. The latest major sighting is Google’s announcement that it won’t be asking employees to come back to its campuses prior to July 2021. The Wall Street Journal attributes this decision in large measure to uncertainty about schooling: Google will keep its employees home until at least next July, making the search-engine giant the first major U.S. corporation to formalize such an extended timetable in the face of the coronavirus pandemic…. [CEO] Mr. [Sundar] Pichai was swayed in part by sympathy for employees with families to plan for uncertain school years that may involve at-home instruction, depending on geography. It also frees staff to sign full-year leases elsewhere if they choose to move. The comment about leases underscores a second issue: when Covid risk finally wanes, most employers will go back to the old normal. Execs feel more powerful and efficient when they manage by walking around and have in person meetings.  But as we have said, that rollback looks to be a very long time coming. And business travel, will probably never revert to the old normal. Keeping highly paid workers at home, even in cities like New York City where Covid-19 risk has been tamed and mask-wearing discipline is high, does not bode well for the survival of restaurants and central-city small businesses. Again from the Journal:In New York, fewer than one-tenth of Manhattan office workers are back to the workplace, a full month after the city gave businesses the green light to reoccupy buildings vacated in March. “People are being rightfully careful,” said William Rudin, chief executive of Rudin Management Co. and head of one of New York’s most prominent real-estate families….In New York City, only 8% of the employees who work in downtown office buildings managed by office colossus CBRE Group Inc. have returned from sheltering in place from the pandemic. The figure, as of last week, was based on unique card-swipes at security turnstiles. CBRE manages 20 million square feet of space in Manhattan.

Charting The Retail Devastation- Here Is The Stunning List Of US Store Closures In 2020 - While the US "bricks-and-mortar" retail industry was already on its deathbed before the covid pandemic struck with stories discussing the "retail apocalypse" as far back as 2015, the events in the past few months have simply accelerated a long-overdue process that would have taken several years to conclude with mass bankruptcies of corporate zombies coupled with tens of thousands of store closures.And so, unlike other sectors of the US economy which have - for now - avoided to be swept by the "biblical" default wave that is sweeping across the US corporate sector, amid temporary store closures as part of shelter-in-place measures, Goldman calculates that the announcement (and completion) of permanent store closures YTD (~7,430) has already reached more than half of 2019 figures (~12,370) due to slowing/declining sales growth, leveraged balance sheets, and rising occupancy costs.It's only going to get worse: according to Coresight Research, around 20,000-25,000 stores could permanently close in 2020 on COVID-19 headwinds in the US, implying an accelerated store closure schedule in the second half of the year. Further, it expects to see an increase in bankruptcy filings owing to reorganizations or difficulties with financing activities amid the current pandemic.Meanwhile, as some retailers are experiencing a surge in digital volumes, pure-play eCommerce companies like Amazon continue to benefit from greater access to consumer data and purchase history that enable compelling consumer experiences and also deliver efficiency and competitive benefits through advertising, product recommendations, and dynamic pricing. This is also why Goldman believes that eCommerce growth will accelerate over the course of the second half amid social distancing measures, record number of retail store closures, investments in fulfillment by Amazon, and increasing tech investments by traditional retailers.  Not surprisingly, with apparel & accessories continuing to record large share of store closures as shown in the charts above and below, Goldman which just upped its price target on Amazon to $3,800, believe the online retail giant will be the primary beneficiary considering this segment already sees >20% online penetration.

Dying Restaurants Are Rushing To Liquidate Assets On Facebook Marketplace (pictures of dozens of ads included) The restaurant industry is in collapse. More specifically, small restaurants have been crushed by the virus-induced recession. We've noted at least half of the restaurant closures on Yelp are now permanent. The National Restaurant Association has determined that at least 15% of all restaurants will close. This number could be a lot higher at the end of the year as Goldman Sachs reports the economic recovery is now reversing. Small restaurant operators, who fear a double-dip recession, have now resorted to liquidating their eateries on Facebook Marketplace. A simple search of "restaurant" on Facebook Marketplace, within 80 miles of Trenton, New Jersey, comes up with dozens and dozens and dozens of mom and pop eateries that are trying to get out of the game. Another search on the social media marketplace for "restaurant" around the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area shows even more small business operators are calling it quits. Here's Miami, Florida... Here's Denver. Small restaurant owners in San Diego, California, are trying to sell their eateries on Facebook Marketplace. Here's the Bay Area in California. Elsewhere in California... The volume of small restaurants trying to liquidate on Facebook Marketplace is so massive that we weren't able to show the complete disaster unfolding across America. To sum up, there's no V-shaped recovery this year - the administration has no plan to revive economic growth except for bailing out Wall Street that has angered Tea Party Republicans. The country is imploding from within - all the Trump administration cares about is optics ahead of the election and the stock market.

Consumer Spending Rose 5.6% in June – WSJ -U.S. consumers increased spending a solid 5.6% in June but appear to have pulled back since then, restraining the economy’s recovery from the coronavirus outbreak. Spending rose for the second consecutive month after steep declines in the spring during widespread lockdowns to contain the pandemic, the Commerce Department said Friday. Consumers shelled out more for clothing, health care and restaurant visits in June compared to the prior month—categories that had been particularly hard hit earlier in the pandemic. Meanwhile, household income fell 1.1% in June, as layoffs remained high and the effects of federal stimulus payments eased. Income—which includes salaries, government aid and investment returns—influences Americans’ willingness and ability to spend in coming months.Household spending reflects two-thirds of economic demand in the U.S. Americans’ spending will help determine the economy’s path in the coming weeks and months. A sharp drop in spending—tied to business closures and fears of the virus—was the biggest reason the U.S. economy contracted at a record rate in the second quarter.June’s spending growth wasn’t large enough to make up for the sharp drop in spending earlier this spring. Compared with February, ahead of the pandemic, spending for the month was still down by 7%.While household incomes dipped last month, income was 4% above the level in February, in part due to the stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment benefits.The data show many households are stashing away money instead of spending it, which strengthens their position financially but restrains the economy’s ability to dig out from the severe recession. The personal savings rate fell last month but remained exceptionally high historically at 19.0%, more than double the February level of 8.3%. The extra unemployment benefits that have pumped billions of dollars a week into workers’ pocketbooks will expire at the end of July without action from Congress.

US Personal Spending Rebound Continues Despite Sinking Incomes - US Personal spending and income habits are hard to decipher amid the massive government transfers and pent-up (and bought-forward) demand of various items - with spending plummeting and incomes soaring - and June pushed that even further with incomes falling 1.1% MoM, worse than the expected 0.6% drop; and spending rising 5.6% MoM (better than expected 5.2% and off a revised higher May). On a year-over-year basis, incomes remain higher (government transfers) and spending lower... Graphs: Bloomberg Government workers saw income losses accelerate as private sector workers saw their income losses rebound somewhat - both still down hard YoY... How long will this last as the $600 government handouts to stay home evaporate? The brief 'forced' savings is starting to disappear... Finally, The Fed's favorite inflation indicator - the Core PCE Deflator - rose by a smaller than expected 0.9% YoY, stuck at its weakest since 2010.

Consumer Confidence Down in July -- The headline number of 92.6 was a decrease from the final reading of 98.3 for May. Today's number was below consensus of 94.5. “Consumer Confidence declined in July following a large gain in June,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “The Present Situation Index improved, but the Expectations Index retreated. Large declines were experienced in Michigan, Florida, Texas and California, no doubt a result of the resurgence of COVID-19. Looking ahead, consumers have grown less optimistic about the short-term outlook for the economy and labor market and remain subdued about their financial prospects. Such uncertainty about the short-term future does not bode well for the recovery, nor for consumer spending.” Read more     The chart below is another attempt to evaluate the historical context for this index as a coincident indicator of the economy. Toward this end, we have highlighted recessions and included GDP. The regression through the index data shows the long-term trend and highlights the extreme volatility of this indicator. Statisticians may assign little significance to a regression through this sort of data. But the slope resembles the regression trend for real GDP shown below, and it is a more revealing gauge of relative confidence than the 1985 level of 100 that the Conference Board cites as a point of reference.

Michigan Consumer Sentiment: July Final Sinks Further - The July Final came in at 72.5, down 5.6 from the June Final. had forecast 73.0.Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, makes the following comments:Consumer sentiment sank further in late July due to the continued resurgence of the coronavirus. In the last four months, the Sentiment Index has remained trendless, averaging 73.7, a decline of 25% from the same period in 2019. The Expectations Index fell back to 65.9 in July, tied with the six-year low recorded in May, providing no indication that consumers expect the recession to end anytime soon. While the 3rd quarter GDP is likely to improve over the record setting 2nd quarter plunge, it is unlikely that consumers will conclude that the recession is anywhere near over. The federal relief programs have prevented more substantial declines in consumer finances, partially shielding consumers from the unprecedented surge in job losses, reduced work hours, and salary cuts (see the chart). The lapse of the special jobless benefits will directly hurt the most vulnerable and spread even further by missed rent, mortgage, and other debt payments. Easing off the added jobless benefit will naturally result with job growth as well as provide for a delayed and gradual reduction in added benefits so that its eventual absence is much less disruptive. [More...] See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. Recessions and real GDP are included to help us evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

Visa Profit Falls on Lower Payments Volume – WSJ - A drop in payments activity pushed Visa Inc. V -0.09% earnings down 23% in the quarter that ended in June. The largest U.S. card network said payments volume fell 10% from the year-earlier period. Credit-card payments volume dropped 20%. Debit-card payments volume rose 3%. “All of the business drivers were significantly impacted by the pandemic,” Visa Chief Executive Alfred Kelly said on a call with analysts Tuesday afternoon. The company declined to provide an earnings outlook for the remainder of the fiscal year, citing “significant uncertainty in the global economy” caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Still, Visa said U.S. payments activity “meaningfully improved” each month of the quarter, and spending picked up globally throughout the quarter. Suppressed travel activity helped push cross-border transactions, excluding those within Europe, down 47% in the quarter, Mr. Kelly said. Net income fell to $2.4 billion from $3.1 billion. Revenue dropped 17% from the year-earlier period to $4.8 billion, matching analysts’ estimates.

'Recovery' Hopes Fade As US Wholesale Inventories Unexpectedly Plunge In June -June was supposed to be the month of second-derivative beats in economic data, reaffirming the manic bid in stocks. For Wholesale Inventories it was not. Against expectations of a rebound from a 1.2% drop in May to a 0.5% drop in June, wholesale inventories actually tumbled 2.0% MoM, the worst since the peak of the great financial crisis... On a YoY basis, wholesale inventories are down 6.1%, less than at the peak of the great financial crisis... Graphs: Bloomberg Specifically, Durable Goods inventories fell 2.1% MoM (worsening from June) and Non-durable goods inventories dropped 1.7% MoM (vs unchanged in May). Motor Vehicle & Parts Dealers inventories fell 6.8% MoM. Retail inventories also tumbled 2.6% MoM in June (but that did slow the collapse from May). And this data has a direct impact on GDP, suggesting the hoped-for recovery is far from certain... and in fact may be getting worse. 

Richmond Fed: "Manufacturing in the Fifth District showed signs of recovery in July" --From the Richmond Fed: Manufacturing in the Fifth District showed signs of recovery in July Manufacturing in the Fifth District showed signs of recovery in July, according to the most recent survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index rose from 0 in June to 10 in July, its first positive reading since March, buoyed by increases in all three components. The indexes for shipments and new orders suggested expansion, while the third component index—employment— remained slightly negative. The local business conditions index rose further, suggesting some improvement in sentiment. Survey respondents were optimistic that conditions would improve in the next six months. This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for July. Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index:

June Regional Fed Manufacturing Overview  --Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia. Regional manufacturing surveys are a measure of local economic health and are used as a representative for the larger national manufacturing health. They have been used as a signal for business uncertainty and economic activity as a whole. Manufacturing makes up 12% of the country's GDP. The other 6 Federal Reserve Districts do not publish manufacturing data. For these, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book offers a short summary of each districts’ manufacturing health. The Chicago Fed published their Midwest Manufacturing Index from July 1996 through December of 2013. According to their website, "The Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index (CFMMI) is undergoing a process of data and methodology revision. Significant revisions in the history of the CFMMI are anticipated."The latest average of the five for June is 10.26, up from the previous month's 4.44. It is well below its all-time high of 25.1, set in May 2004.

 Chicago PMI Bounces Back in July, Out of Contraction Territory - The Chicago Business Barometer, also known as the Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index, is similar to the national ISM Manufacturing indicator but at a regional level and is seen by many as an indicator of the larger US economy. It is a composite diffusion indicator, made up of production, new orders, order backlogs, employment, and supplier deliveries compiled through surveys. Values above 50.0 indicate expanding manufacturing activity.The latest Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index, or the Chicago Business Barometer, rose to 51.9 in July from 36.6 in June, which is in expansion territory after 10 consecutive months in contraction territory. Values above 50.0 indicate expanding manufacturing activity.Here is an excerpt from the press release:The Chicago Business BarometerTM, produced with MNI, rose to 51.9 in July, the highest level since May 2019. Business activity recovered following twelve consecutive months of readings below 50. Nevertheless, companies noted continued uncertainty amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.Among the main five main indicators, New Orders and Production saw the largest monthly gains, while Supplier Deliveries eased. [Source] Let's take a look at the Chicago PMI since its inception.

Headline Durable Goods Orders Up 7.3% in June - The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders:New orders for manufactured durable goods in June increased $14.0 billion or 7.3 percent to $206.9 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up two consecutive months, followed a 15.1 percent May increase. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 3.3 percent. Excluding defense, new orders increased 9.2 percent. Transportation equipment, also up two consecutive months, led the increase, $9.2 billion or 20.0 percent to $55.3 billion.Download full PDFThe latest new orders number at 7.3% month-over-month (MoM) was slightly better than the 7.2% estimate. The series is down 12.7% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods was up 3.3% MoM, which was worse than the Investing.comconsensus of 3.5%. The core measure is down 4.6% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is up 5.4% MoM and down 6.5% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is up 3.3% MoM and down 3.2% YoY.For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

U.S. Orders for Long-Lasting Goods Gained in June – WSJ - Orders for long-lasting U.S. factory goods rose in June as the economy continued its climb back from disruptions related to the coronavirus pandemic, though a summer surge in virus infections could damp future gains.New orders for durable goods—products designed to last at least three years—increased a seasonally adjusted 7.3% in June from the previous month, the second consecutive monthly gain, the Commerce Department said Monday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected orders to rise 5.4%.The auto sector was a big driver. New orders for motor vehicles and parts jumped 85.7% from the previous month.Underlying figures were more modest. New orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft—a closely watched proxy for business investment—rose 3.3%.Even with two consecutive monthly gains, demand remains well below prepandemic levels. Overall, new orders last month were 15% lower than in February, and core capital orders were down 3%. “The manufacturing sector remains exposed to weak demand, which will impact investment and hiring decisions going forward,” .Manufacturers were already caught up in trade disputes between the U.S. and China. The coronavirus pandemic was another blow, further disrupting supply chains while forcing some plants to suspend production and implement new safety measures. It isn’t clear how robust growth will be in coming months. Factories haven’t been as exposed to social-distancing mandates that, for example, forced restaurants and salons to temporarily close and later limited the number of customers. Separate data out last week suggested that factory activity continued to grow into July. A survey of purchasing managers from data firm IHS Markit last week found that overall U.S. manufacturing output expanded for the first time since February as new orders ticked up.

Rough Ride for Airlines – Full Recovery Moved to 2024: IATA - Globally and industry-wide, a measure of business for airlines, “revenue passenger-kilometers” (RPKs), in June was still down -86.5% compared to June last year, but a smidgen less bad than in May (-91.0%), according to the IATA’s newly released analysis. By comparison, during the six months following the 9/11 attacks – “considered to be the most severe aviation crisis prior to 2020” – revenue-passenger kilometers declined by 12% (the next three charts below via © International Air Transport Association, available on IATA Economics). Passenger volume. Worldwide, the recovery, so to speak, occurred mostly in domestic air travel, which in June was down -67.6% compared to June last year, an improvement from May (-78.4%). But international air passenger volume in June was still down -96.8% from June last year, and only a minuscule 1.5 percentage points up from May (-98.3%), which had been as close to zero traffic as you can get without actually reaching zero. International flights have been handicapped by travel restrictions many countries have still in place. Even if people wanted to fly to some distant destinations either on business or vacation, they might not be able to, or would have to subject themselves to long quarantine periods, coming and going, making shorter trips practically impossible. The number of flights on domestic routes worldwide rose in June and into July but remained down by about half from January pre-Covid. The number of flights on international routes ticked up in late June and into July as the EU’s Schengen Area lifted border-crossing restrictions, but remained dreadfully low: By country, the number of domestic flights recovered more in some countries than in others. In Russia, local carriers resumed all of their domestic flights in June, and in terms of the number of flights, air traffic by mid-July was nearly back to normal (yellow line). Chinese airlines started to add domestic flights in late March, but then renewed outbreaks occurred, which has put the recovery of flights into a holding pattern since May. US airlines were adding flights in May and June for summer travel season (red line): Industry-wide capacity has been slashed radically starting in February, as airlines tried to grapple with the collapse in air-travel demand. Then, from the low in April, airlines started to add some capacity. In June, industry-wide capacity, as measured in available seat-kilometers (ASKs) was still down -80.1% from June last year, but a slight improvement from May (-86%).

Delta flight forced to turn around after passengers refused to wear masks - Two passengers on a Delta Airlines flight from Detroit to Atlanta last week refused to wear masks, forcing the plane to return to the gate, a Delta spokesperson said.Flight 1227 returned to the gate at Detroit Metro Airport on July 23 because the two “were non-compliant with crew instructions,” WXYZ reported.The plane eventually left for Atlanta after a short delay. It’s unclear if the pair were banned from the airline for refusing to wear masks.Delta’s COVID-era policies are among the most stringent among US-based airlines.Last month, the airline announced that it will require medical screenings for passengers who can’t wear face masks due to health concerns. Delta also insists on pre-departure medical screenings along with its COVID-era public health protocols.

Boeing Posts Massive Loss, Burns $5.3 Billion As Aircraft Production Slows And Debt Explodes -- Boeing reported another dismal quarter, helping the company emerge as one of the companies most directly impacted by the global covid pandemic.  For the second quarter Boeing, which said that results are still significantly impacted by Covid-19, reported a 25% drop in revenue to $11.81, badly missing estimates of $12.99 and leading to a $2.4 billion net income loss which translated into a $4.79 loss per share, which while better than the $5.21 per share loss a year ago, was far worse than the $2.54 loss expected...  ... as a result of a "slow, uneven" business environment recovery, with defense, government service operations providing stability, but not enough and forcing the company to raise (a lot) of additional debt to bolster liquidity.  As a reminder, Boeing's best-selling plane, the 737 Max, has been grounded since March 2019 following two fatal crashes. Regulators aren’t expected to clear the planes to fly again before the fall. Separately, the pandemic has driven up financial losses at Boeing’s airline customers and hurt demand for new planes, though Boeing was in crisis even before coronavirus spread around the world.  The company confirmed plans to slow production of its main commercial aircraft as the coronavirus pandemic hurts demand for new planes and its best-selling 737 Max jets remain grounded. Boeing said it would further cut 787 production to just six per month in 2021, the production rate of the 777/777x will be gradually cut to 2 per month in 2021, while it gradually increases manufacturing of its 737 Max to 31 a month by the beginning of 2022, compared with plans to do so next year.

Caterpillar North America Machine Sales Crash Most Since The Financial Crisis - Earlier today, heavy machinery giant Caterpillar which has been hit hard by the collapse in global industrial activity, reported earnings which came in a bit above sharply reduced expectations, thanks to aggressive cost-cutting efforts (read mass layoffs) which helped the company make up for slowing sales: total operating costs were 25% lower, the company said Friday in an earnings statement released before regular trading hours. The numbers outside of costs were dismal: sales fell across the company’s segments, with dealers slashing inventories by $1.4 billion signaling a market that remains glutted with equipment. And while Caterpillar declined to provide forward guidance, it sees a similar percentage decrease in end-user demand in the third quarter, and expects dealers to cut stockpiles by more than $2 billion for the full year. "Unfavorable price realization also contributed to the sales decline due to the geographic mix of sales and competitive market conditions in China,” the company said. “Sales were lower across all regions and in the three primary segments." And while the earnings were enough to help push the stock higher premarket, it has since slumped into the red after the company unveiled its latest global retail sales data, which showed that despite a modest, 7% increase in Asia-Pac sales, which rose for the first time since April 2019, it was the continued crash in global sales which tumbled by 23% Y/Y for the second month in a row, the biggest decline since 2010. More striking however was the devastation in North American (read US and Mexico) sales, which plunged by a near record 40%, the biggest monthly drop since the financial crisis.

Hertz Has To Sell 182,000 Cars By 2021 - Two months after filing for bankruptcy protection, Hertz finally has a plan in place to attempt to stay afloat until 2021. To appease lenders and maintain future business, it will unload nearly 200,000 of the manufacturer's total leased vehicles, numbering under 500,000.The long-awaited bulk sale of 182,521 cars will take place over the course of the rest of the year, with a deadline set for December 31st, in order to fund an agreed $650 million in other lease-related debts. The number is a step up from the 144,000-car shedding Hertz had proposed last month, but leaves the company with a large enough fleet to maintain a viable business when it emerges from bankruptcy into a world that will, hopefully, involve enough routine travel for rental cars to be a viable business enterprise.The deal is a direct result of a more positive used car market than the one Hertz had previously faced when it announced its filing in May. The market will allow the rental giant to recoup more of its losses than it had previously expected, which seems to have been the sticking point for lenders approving the deal.That same market, however, could look very different by the end of the sale period, thanks in no small part to the potential market flooding of 182,000 former rental cars hitting the market with a requirement to be sold in a specific time period.While no specifics were offered about which portion of the Hertz fleet will be sold, earlier sales this year have included a wide range of low mileage C7 Corvette Z06 options, as well as two of the unique-to-Hertz, 750 horsepower Camaro ZL1s.

US Major League Baseball season roiled by COVID-19 postponements --Just four days after beginning a truncated coronavirus-delayed season, Major League Baseball (MLB) ran into a serious obstacle on Monday with the postponement of two scheduled games due to a COVID-19 outbreak among Miami Marlins players. The postponement of the games in Philadelphia and Miami was a potentially ominous development for MLB and other major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada hoping to forge ahead during the pandemic. The National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) are set to resume play this week after a hiatus of more than four months, while National Football League (NFL) training camps are opening. While it was unclear whether the MLB season has been placed in jeopardy, some public health experts urged the suspension of play. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has not specified the conditions under which he would consider such action. "They need to suspend games, do aggressive contact tracing, and see how bad this outbreak is," Dr Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, wrote on Twitter. "I don't know if MLB can resume the season. But, without aggressive action and vigilance, there is little hope we'll see more baseball without more outbreaks." MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has not specified the conditions under which he would consider such action. He told the MLB Network on Monday that the health of the players and their families was the league's "first concern." "We've been fortunate so far, we've done tens of thousands of tests - our positive rate has been four-tenths of a percent. So we feel like the protocols have worked pretty well," Manfred said. "We're doing some additional testing, if the testing results are acceptable the Marlins will resume play in Baltimore on Wednesday against the Orioles."

Are baseball’s virus problems a bad omen for America? -- If baseball is any indication, our country is striking out against the coronavirus.Everyone was thrilled to see the shortened season finally get under way, and within days it’s in jeopardy.Is that an unfortunate metaphor for America’s effort to reopen the economy while keeping people safe? Given the summertime surge in the virus, was the notion that professional athletes could safely compete on the diamond, even without fans in the stands, just an illusion?What’s chilling is that the nation’s schools are grappling with momentous decisions on whether to reopen their doors or stick with virtual learning. This is hardly an exact analogy: Very young children are less susceptible to the disease, but the magnitude of dealing with thousands of schools across 50 states dwarfs that of one professional sport. And if one or two students, teachers or staff members gets Covid-19, that school would face the prospect of fully or partially shutting down--precisely the dilemma facing Major League Baseball today. Governors who are now mandating masks, reimposing restrictions on bars and requiring out-of-state travelers to quarantine are struggling with the same thorny questions.  With half the Miami Marlins testing positive for the virus--at least 14 players and staffers, according to ESPN--that team has had to cancel its home opener in a state hard hit by the pandemic. The team has been stranded in Philadelphia. And since the Marlins were playing the Phillies, which had seven players test positive a month ago, the Pennsylvania team had to cancel its Monday game against the Yankees. Both teams have had their seasons suspended through Thursday. This is the virulence of the virus. One player might have gotten it from a family member, or another player, and the infection quickly spreads.

 Gov. DeWine wants 10 p.m. last call for all Ohio bars, restaurants - All Ohio bars and restaurants would stop alcohol sales at 10 p.m. under an emergency order the Ohio Liquor Control Commission is to vote on Friday at the urging of Gov. Mike DeWine.Patrons already served would have to consume their drinks by 11 p.m. under the order aimed at slowing transmission of Covid-19."We do not want to shut down Ohio bars and restaurants. That would be devastating to them," DeWine said at Thursday's coronavirus briefing. "We do have to take some action."Stopping the sales at 10 o'clock is going to help thin crowds."If it is approved and takes effect Friday, the order does not change closing times. Alcoholic beverages still can be part of takeout orders.A state order would in part accomplish the goal of a Columbus ordinance approved Monday to close bars and restaurants at 10 p.m. Implementation is put on hold for at least two weeks as part of a pending lawsuit.Ohio hit a new daily record of new confirmed cases with 1,733 reported Thursday. Nine of the 10 highest one-day reports have come in the past three weeks, DeWine said. That comes a day after the state's current number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 surpassed the peak in April – and hospital admission typically lags onset by more than a week.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increase to 1,434,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending July 25, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 1,434,000, an increase of 12,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 6,000 from 1,416,000 to 1,422,000. The 4-week moving average was 1,368,500, an increase of 6,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 1,750 from 1,360,250 to 1,362,000   The previous week was revised up.This does not include the 829,697 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

$600-per-week jobless benefit expires for 20 million US workers - Sunday, July 26 marked the beginning of the first week in which 20 million American workers are deprived of a $600-per-week federal supplemental unemployment benefit that has served as a lifeline under conditions of Depression-era levels of joblessness triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The benefit was terminated as a result of the failure of the White House and Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to extend it beyond the deadline set in the CARES Act corporate bailout passed at the end of March. The cutoff was dictated by the corporate-financial elite that controls both political parties. There is no cutoff of the trillions of dollars in handouts to giant corporations and banks enacted in a near-unanimous bipartisan vote, despite the fact that many of the same companies have announced massive permanent layoffs. Over the past four months, while the financial aristocracy has actually increased its wealth, the severe limitations in the benefits provided to working people under the CARES Act have become apparent. Some 53 million people filed new claims for unemployment insurance during that period, and at least 32 million are still out of work, but only 20 million are currently receiving the $600-per-week federal supplement. Millions of workers lost their benefits when they were forced to return to work at unsafe workplaces. Many more lost their benefits because they refused to go back to work, fearing their health and lives were in danger. Many others never received the federal supplement in the first place because their state unemployment compensation systems were so decrepit they could not program the additional payments. The federal supplement expires on July 31, but since state systems pay benefits on a full-week basis only, with the benefit week ending on a Saturday or Sunday, benefits stopped for nearly all eligible workers on July 26 or July 27, for the week that ends August 1 or August 2. The consequences of this cutoff will be felt in mass impoverishment, hunger, foreclosures, evictions and a dramatic increase in homelessness. This in turn will provide additional fuel for the coronavirus pandemic, which has a hugely disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable sections of working people.

More on Deaths of Despair: New Study Links Early Job Loss to Higher Rates of Overdose Deaths and SuicidesYves Smith -- A new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health (hat tip reader ma) gives more granular insight into the triggers of so-called deaths of despair, as in the AIDS-level rise of deaths of the middle aged with high-school-only educations. We’ve embedded the study at the end of this post; the data supplement is here.  The article uses a large data set of United AutoWorkers at GM in Michigan, with workers hired as far back as 1938, including mortality information. The authors scrubbed the data to focus those who joined after 1970 in three plants, one in Detroit, one 50 miles west of Detroit, and one in a more rural area. All plants were downsizing prior to their closures in 2012, 2010, and 2014 respectively. Women were excluded because there were so few suicide and overdose deaths among them.  The authors describe the contract terms that suggest that job departures before the age of 55 were likely to be involuntary. They found that employees who stopped working were 16 times as likely to die of suicide or overdose as ones who stayed employed. The odds of death were highest among workers in rural areas, likely due to the difficulty of finding a new job: Of the three study plants, Plant 2 had the highest incidence rate of suicide in this study. ….By 1970, it employed 10 000 workers making automatic transmissions. Plant 2 closed in 2010 as part of GM’s bankruptcy proceedings. In 1970, the population of the surrounding township was 30 000; today it is 20 000.  Nearly all the drug deaths occurred at Plant 2 in runup to its closure. This would also have been during the financial crisis, which could have hit older workers with investments.1 The authors also push back mildly on the popular notion that deaths of despair are a white phenomenon. The plant in Detroit, which did have a lower suicide rate, was where nearly all the African Americans work. Angus Case and Anne Deaton speculated that the higher death rates among lesser educated whites was due to Hispanics and blacks having stronger family/informal social safety nets. That may be conflated by the fact that working class Hispanics and blacks are more concentrated in cities that rural areas, so the quiet impoverishment of rural America would hit older, not well educated whites, who by virtue of being in the most disadvantaged communities, would suffer the most.

Children of Paradise -- Never in our lifetimes has it been more obvious that politics, as we’ve shaped it, involves the administration of life, sickness, and the end of life. This realization, new to some who have never had to worry about health care, cuts against a longstanding media narrative about politics “as usual,” or politics as something that happens in the capitol, or even the idea that a political representative could be an outsider: there is no outside to the administration of death, and so there is nothing that can reasonably be said to be outside of politics. It’s an epiphany worthy of a global crisis, and as Asad Haider reminds us in the opening essay of Issue 52, the word crisis has, in part, a medical origin, meaning “both the condition itself and a judgment on a patient’s fate.” It’s up to us, Haider argues, to determine who makes the judgment, and whether we avoid “epochal failure.” Though this crisis is global, it is not universal. “Like cholera and poverty,” Ann Neumann writes, “Covid-19 is not the crisis; it’s a disease that feeds on our racialized inequalities.” The lifetime of our country, its pretenses to democracy, liberalism itself: all of these are premised on the administration of death to black and brown people. That is the root of the American crisis. And so appeals to liberalism and to its supposed “illiberal” opposite begin to sound curiously similar. “The absence of a coherent response to the public health crisis is an inevitable outcome of the bipartisan commitment to neoliberal governance and the maintenance of U.S. empire,”Brendan O’Connor asserts in his anatomy of the contemporary right. “Protect private property, the fascist says. The liberal and conservative nod in agreement. Which rightly belongs to white men, the fascist adds. The liberal stammers; the conservative pretends not to hear.” Nick Estes explores the colonial myths that leave Indigenous people and lands more vulnerable to the ravages of disease, incarceration, and war. And Alexander Clappreports from North Kosovo, where after decades of ethnic conflict, “all it’s taken for Serb and Albanian politicians to finally put aside their ancient resentments is the prospect of getting rich.” Of course, high-tech predation like this abounds the world over, and Patrick McGinty takes on driverless car industry, whose head honchos are “laughably, embarrassingly, nowhere close to delivering on the pie-in-the-sky promises they began making years ago,” and the cottage industry of authors who refuse to expose these snake oil salesmen.

 Why Does It Feel Like We're In "Life During Wartime"? - Call it cultural synchronicity, but it increasingly feels like we're living in the 1979 Talking Heads song Life During Wartime, which was anchored by the lyric "This Ain't No Party, This Ain't No Disco, This Ain't No Foolin' Around." Indeed.  It also feels like Life During Wartime because the propaganda is so blatant and intense: we're winning the war on Covid-19, and our wars on everything else, too, of course, as war is the favored metaphor and favored policy at the end of the Empire.The ceaseless propaganda is that "a vaccine is right around the corner." The inconvenient reality is that Corporate Insiders Pocket $1 Billion in Rush for Coronavirus Vaccine: Well-timed stock bets have generated big profits for senior executives and board members at companies developing vaccines and treatments. In other words, wartime profiteering isn't just allowed, it's encouraged--yet another sign that we're in the final decay/collapse phase of Imperial Pretensions. It's easy to mix up the propaganda and the counter-propaganda, because they're both so extreme. There is no middle ground, only pre-packaged positions which dictate which "data" is cherry-picked to support the political partisanship that's being defended.  Metaphorically speaking, the civilian populace believes "we're winning" until the bombs start dropping on their homes. For some reason, this doesn't feel like "winning." The V-shaped recovery is the propaganda war the status quo must win, for this is the narrative battle for the hearts and minds of the populace. The fear here is that should the populace lose confidence in The V-shaped recovery, they might reduce their borrowing and spending and increase their saving, dooming an economy that depends entirely on marginal spending funded by debt to keep from imploding.As the chart of the rising wedge model of breakdown below illustrates, when big-ticket costs ratchet higher like clockwork--rent, property taxes, childcare, higher education, debt, healthcare, etc.-- while income stagnates for the bottom 90%, any drop in spending, no matter how modest, breaks the system because any reduction in spending reduces tax revenues, corporate profits and debt payments below the critical threshold.This is why the Federal Reserve is so keen on bailing out bankrupt-in-all-but-name corporations and banks: The laughably hopeless hope is that by propping up the corpses, the populace will discern some faint flicker of life in the decaying carcasses and return to their free-spending ways.

Hitchens: "Excessive COVID Fears Have Completely Changed The Country"Have government and the mainstream media gone too far in amplifying the risks and dangers to public health over Coronavirus?  First they ordered the public to stay at home in order to ‘Save the NHS’ and save lives, and now as the virus has almost disappeared from public health statistics, the government of Boris Johnson is ordering the nation to wear face masks in stores and public spaces in order to supposedly stop the spread of the virus – after previously giving advice that masks were not needed outside medical and care settings.“They deliberately stirred up excessive fear at the beginning, which has completely changed the nature of the country,” says Peter Hitchens.He adds that,“What we had before was a country that was used to the disciplines of work, used to the disciplines of commuting…that link has now been broken.”In this episode, talkRADIO’s Mike Graham speaks with UK journalist Peter Hitchens about how the government has instilled “excessive fear” of a coronavirus ‘second wave’ which has fundamentally altered the way people feel about returning to work. The result has been an economic free-fall which has no end in sight. Watch:

Almost 30 Million Americans Went Hungry Last Week As Recovery Stalls - A depressionary perfect storm continues to crush households as tens of millions of Americans are reporting they didn't have enough to eat last week (the seven days through July 21). Bloomberg cites the Census Bureau's latest weekly Household Pulse Survey, revealing almost 30 million Americans went hungry last week. About 23.9 million of 249 million respondents said they had "sometimes not enough to eat." Around 5.42 million indicated they had "often not enough to eat." This is the highest total of hungry Americans in the survey since early May, which was around the time when food bank lines across the country were swamped with jobless and hungry folks.   Last Sunday, we noted food bank lines reemerged in Baltimore as the crisis in households persists. Tens of millions of folks are going hungry in mid-July as the recovery stalled in late June. At the same time, a fiscal cliff is hitting where $600-a-week federal unemployment benefits are now expiring. Another stimulus bill is set to be rolled out in the near term, but Republicans and Democrats are at odds over how large the next round should be. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said both parties are "nowhere close to a deal," one day before the fiscal cliff hits. This would undoubtedly lead to a decline in overall consumption. "This follows a deep recession resulting from the pandemic, which put millions of Americans out of work. Unemployed Americans have been receiving an extra $600 per week benefit, which is set to expire at the end of July as Congress debates a new relief package," Bloomberg said. To make matters worse, millions of Americans behind on rent payments, now face imminent eviction as an eviction moratorium expired last Friday. The disagreement on Capitol Hill about another round of stimulus means no imminent moratorium extension which could lead to an eviction wave, more massive than 2008. The Trump administration can pretend all they want that the economy is on the verge of re-booming for reelection purposes, pointing to the stock market of how great everything is, but everyday Americans are suffering amid the worst depression since the 1930s.

Make Yourself at Home -- ON JUNE 3, at the corner of Chicago and Lake streets, on occupied Dakota land, a man was shouting into a megaphone about the revolution. One week earlier, tanks had rolled through the streets, and stores in the neighborhood were set aflame; the acrid smell of smoke still hung in the air. A cluster of volunteers, each in identical T-shirts, were beginning to set up a folding table on the sidewalk, while two older white women paused in front of a burned-out Foot Locker to take a picture. Beyond that, behind the bus station, was the former Sheraton Minneapolis Midtown Hotel, the letters peeled from the facade so that only faint outlines remained. The Sheraton might have burned with the rest of the neighborhood on the night of May 30 had it not been for the group of unsheltered people—first one couple, and then a steady stream throughout the night as the violence worsened—who arrived seeking refuge. In the past several months, an ad hoc group of community members had formed a mobile outreach team helping unsheltered people during the Covid crisis. Now, a curfew had been instituted, the National Guard was barreling down the streets, and the small handful of guests already staying at the hotel had been evacuated. Rosemary Fister, a nurse practitioner who was part of early negotiations with Jay Patel, the hotel’s owner, describes people appearing at the Sheraton stippled with marking rounds. One had been shot by live ammunition. Patel, desperate, eventually gave them master keys to all the rooms. By the end of the night, the hotel had filled twenty rooms; in a little over a week, it would be sheltering nearly three hundred people. The Sanctuary Hotel was a contrast to the shelter system, where residents are often bound by rules that enforce the values of the white middle-class—there are rules about when you can go to sleep and wake up, see your friends, have sex, or be with your children. At a crowded shelter, you might have your your meds stolen, or worry about bedbugs or contracting Hep A. You might risk assault. The small lockers might not hold all your stuff, and you may have to leave your pets behind. You have to enter the lottery in the morning, and often you don’t know if you have secured a space until evening. You may be kicked out by 7 a.m. and unable to return until 6.

In Portland, some Black activists frustrated with white protesters -(Reuters) - A small group of Black teenage girls carrying megaphones stood in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Portland near midnight on Thursday facing a largely white band of protesters. A protester walks through tear gas deployed by federal law enforcement officers during a demonstration against police violence and racial inequality in Portland, Oregon, U.S., July 29, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs “I’m done with y’all focusing on all these white folk,” said 17-year-old Erandi, who asked to be identified only by her first name. “This is a Black Lives Matter movement.” And as it happened, Portland had its first night in weeks without tear gas here after state police took over from federal agents guarding a courthouse that has been the focal point of violence between protesters and those agents.[nL2N2F20XI] For over two months, the nightly Black Lives Matter protests have followed a familiar pattern. A peaceful demonstration against racial injustice and police brutality begins at nightfall at the central police precinct. They are more organic than organized. Protesters chant: “George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Black Lives Matter.” A microphone is passed around to whoever wants to speak. The scenes feel festive at times, with drumbeats and tambourines, and a grill that serves food at all hours. On one night, a man holding a microphone raps to the crowd: “On the Portland streets/We’re taking it back/Wearing a mask ‘cuz they shoot me with gas.” President Donald Trump at a White House news conference on Thursday called the protesters “professional agitators, professional anarchists” and said the federal agents deployed there would “clean out this beehive of terrorists.” Portland has become a prime target of Trump’s “law and order” re-election campaign. But the reality on the ground is as murky as the nightly clouds of tear gas had been. There are no clear leaders or structure to these demonstrations, and as midnight looms the focus moves to a small band of mainly white people trying to attack the courthouse throwing fireworks and objects at police and agents over a fence guarding the building. The New York Times this week said an internal Department of Homeland Security memo indicated the federal agents didn’t understand the nature of the protests, particularly those attacking the courthouse. “We lack insight into the motives for the most recent attacks,” the memo said.

Q&A: The Fearless High School Newspaper Editor Covering Portland Protests - (interview transcript) Since Friday evening, a new Twitter account has caught the attention of people closely following Portland's nightly protests: @Clypian. It's the account for the South Salem High School newspaper, the Clypian, and it's currently being run by the paper's editor-in-chief, Eddy Binford-Ross. Binford-Ross, 17, has quickly become one of the most prolific reporters covering protests on the ground in Portland—capturing everything from tear gas blanketing crowds of protesters to the bright yellow Wall of Momschanting in unison. The Mercury caught up with Binford-Ross Wednesday afternoon—in between phone interviews with the Washington Post and power naps—to hear what's brought her journalistic prowess to the streets Portland.

How 'the most violent' special education school ended restraint and seclusion – Twenty years ago, a visitor to Centennial School would have heard a cacophony.“Banging on doors, yelling, wailing,” said Julie Fogt, the current director of the school. “Adults were loud: ‘Stop that, stop that! Crisis! I need help!’” It was a private school, but public schools paid to send their most troubled kids there. The school took only children who had both a diagnosis of autism or emotional disturbance and a history of severe behavior issues.“It was the most violent school I’d ever been in,” said Michael George, the former director.  George stepped into the role of director in 1999. The year before, a population of only around 80 kids were physically restrained over 1,000 times. Students were dragged, kicking and screaming, to locked seclusion rooms. Most of the school’s furniture was old and dilapidated. As one administrator told George, why bother purchasing something new when an angry kid would probably break it the next day?  George and the school’s teachers realized the physical restraints were making student behavior worse. So they made it their mission to change the school’s culture. In 1999, Centennial went from 233 restraints in the first 40 days of school to just one restraint in the last 40 days of school. Within four years, restraints were down to zero. The school also saved money, according to a 2005 study, because it didn’t have to hire a huge crisis staff anymore.   Centennial’s success, teachers believe, proves that restraint and seclusion is almost never necessary, even for kids struggling with the most serious behavior issues.  That belief stands in contrast with national trends. According to the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, 75% of all restraint and seclusion incidents in public schools happen to kids with disabilities. Data on restraint for private special education schools is much more scarce, but some states show disturbing trends. In California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Rhode Island, between 45% and 67% of all restraint and seclusion incidents in the entire state take place in private special ed schools -- often schools where students are enrolled at taxpayer expense.

Academic achievement is influenced by how pupils 'do' gender at school - Pupils' achievements at school are often shaped by the way that they 'act out' specific gender roles, according to a new study which warns against over-generalising the gender gap in education. The study, by researchers at the University of Cambridge, suggests that young people's attainment is linked to their ideas about what it means to be male or female. Those who defy traditional gender stereotypes appear to do better in the classroom. Annual GCSE results in the UK, in common with many western countries, typically show that boys lag behind girls academically, but the research argues that this broad pattern masks a more nuanced picture. In particular, the researchers warn that a large sub-group of girls, who conform fairly rigidly to some traditional 'feminine' norms, could be academically at-risk. They point out that these girls are often 'invisible' in broad surveys of attainment by gender that show girls performing well as a group. The researchers examined the English and Maths results of almost 600 GCSE candidates at four schools in England. On average, the girls did significantly better in English, while boys were slightly better at Maths. Girls outperformed boys overall. But the study then went a step further, analysing sub-groups of boys and girls according to how they expressed their gender identity. This revealed that around half of the girls displayed 'maladaptive patterns of motivation, engagement and achievement'. By contrast, around two-thirds of boys were motivated, engaged and did well in exams. The pupils' academic performance corresponded closely to their sense of gender.

Florida Covid-19 cases in children: Hospitalizations among kids jump 23% -  Just weeks before schools must open across Florida, the numbers of new cases and hospitalizations due to Covid-19 have surged. On July 16, the state had a total of 23,170 children ages 17 and under who had tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Florida Department of Health. By July 24, that number jumped to 31,150.  That's a 34% increase in new cases among children in eight days.And more children in Florida are requiring hospitalization. As of July 16, 246 children had been hospitalized with coronavirus. By July 24, that number had jumped to 303. That's a 23% increase in child Covid-19 hospitalizations in eight days. During that same time period, the death toll among children in Florida went from 4 to 5.   On July 18, Kimora "Kimmie" Lynum died from Covid-19 complications, according to state health department records. The 9-year-old girl's family said Kimmie had no known pre-existing conditions or underlying health issues\.The surges in child Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations come amid rampant debate over whether children should return to classrooms this fall, or if they should continue remote learning.They also directly contradict US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' claims that children are "stoppers of the disease" who "don't get it and transmit it themselves." Researchers in South Korea found that young people between ages 10 and 19 transmit the virus just as easily as adults.

Young Children May Have Higher Coronavirus Levels, Raising Concerns About Schools Reopening  -As the debate about reopening schools continues in the U.S., a new study has found that children under five might have 10 to 100 times more coronavirus in their upper respiratory tracts than adults. The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics Thursday, does not prove that children are passing on the virus, but does suggest that they could be "important drivers" of community spread. And this raises concerns about what will happen when and if children return to school, the researchers said. "The school situation is so complicated — there are many nuances beyond just the scientific one," study leader and Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago pediatric infectious diseases expert Dr. Taylor Heald-Sargent told The New York Times. "But one takeaway from this is that we can't assume that just because kids aren't getting sick, or very sick, that they don't have the virus."The assumption that young children are not a driving force behind disease outbreaks is one of the arguments for reopening schools in the fall.In recommending in-person schooling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that current data suggests low rates of transmission between school age children or from students to teachers. The study authors acknowledged this, but also said the evidence was limited. The research was inspired when Dr. Heald-Sargent noticed that children's coronavirus tests were showing up positive after fewer cycles, The New York Times explained. Each cycle picks up more virus, so a low "cycle threshold," or C.T., means more virus in the sample. "It wasn't even something we had set out to look for," she told The New York Times. Older children and adults had similar median C.T.s, but the median C.T. for younger children was significantly lower, the study found. "The observed differences in median CT values between young children and adults approximate a 10-fold to 100-fold greater amount of SARS-CoV-2 in the upper respiratory tract of young children," the scientistsconcluded.

A North Carolina private school reopened amid national concerns over in-person classes. Days later a staff member tested positive for coronavirus. - A Pre-K-7 private school in North Carolina notified parents that a staff member had tested positive for the coronavirus a few days after it reopened for in-person teaching. Thales Academy, a private school that has eight locations across North Carolina in addition to new branches in Tennessee and Virginia, resumed in-person teaching on Monday. On Thursday, Thales Academy Raleigh told parents that a staff member had tested positive for the coronavirus, The News & Observer reported. The school stated that the staff member had been present at the school for training on Monday and interacted with at least 16 students, according to NBC affiliate WRAL. The school emailed parents that "the staff member in training was asymptomatic" and "passed the temperature check," according to WRAL. The News & Observer reported that a spokeswoman stated the school would disinfect the classrooms with a Clorox Total 360 machine and resume in-person classes on Friday. Private schools are not governed by the same requirements as public schools. As The New York Times reported out earlier this month, public schools "tend to have less money and larger class sizes," allowing for less flexibility to accommodate in-person teaching in comparison to private schools. While many private schools in North Carolina plan to have in-person learning, a majority of public schools will start the new academic year completely online, according to EducationNC. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said mid-July announced schools would reopen for the fall term and operate in a series of plans like holding classes with reduced capacity or only remote learning. "There is much risk in not going back to in-person school," Cooper said. We know that schools provide so much more than just academic lessons."

Court orders release of Black Michigan teen who was jailed for missing schoolwork - The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered the release of a Black 15-year-old who was detained for failing to complete schoolwork during the pandemic, a case that had drawn nationwide attention and scrutiny. Detroit News reports that the court overturned a previous ruling that said the teen violated her probation by missing homework. The court blasted the previous ruling, calling it "callous" and ordered the teen, known only as Grace, to be immediately released to her mother's custody. A report by ProPublica earlier this month first shed light on Grace's case, as it noted that she was on probation for fighting with her mother and stealing, but there were reportedly no other examples of students taken into custody for failing to complete schoolwork. The Black teen's teacher and many others said it has not been uncommon for students to miss work while remote learning during coronavirus-related school closures, and ProPublica reported that she is diagnosed with a learning disability — attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. "We’re so happy that Grace is going to go home with her mom and sleep in her own bed tonight," Grace's attorney Jonathan Biernat said according to Detroit News. "She'll be where she belongs, really."

The school transportation crisis in the age of coronavirus - “This is getting scarier by the day. They want to get everybody back to work. It’s like sending cattle to the slaughterhouses,” a veteran school bus driver, “Laura,” told the World Socialist Web Site. “I’ve been a school bus driver since 1994. I’m 60 years old, and I am very worried about going back before this virus is contained.   Educators and school workers across the United States are horrified at the demand that they be guinea pigs in an “experiment” on the reopening of schools, in the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday.  The science continues to point to the homicidal character of a return to school. The pandemic rages out of control without a vaccine or adequate treatment in sight. This week a study from JAMA Pediatrics further undermined the notion promoted by the Trump administration that children will not transmit the virus. The study showed that children under five with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID were found to contain higherconcentrations of the virus than older children or adults. The first study of its kind, another JAMA report, demonstrated that school closures in the US between March and May were associated with a significant decline in COVID-19 and fewer deaths.School transportation may be the single most daunting obstacle to even the most minimal infection control, although every scenario for a return to school risks widespread community transmission. The existing school bus system, serving up to one half of the nation’s schoolchildren, is not in any way designed to impede COVID. The National Council on School Facilities and Cooperative Strategies says that a 56-person bus should only hold seven children without masks; that number only goes up to 28 if everyone wears masks.“The kids inside the bus aren’t going to sit with distance. They will take off the mask and ignore the bus driver. It doesn’t work that way. If they don’t want to do it, they don’t do it. They already dispute everything you say. It’s usual stuff. They are children, not soldiers.”Moreover, the costs associated with social distancing and bus transportation are out of reach for many, if not most, districts. The New York Times reports that Marietta, Ga., plans to spend $640,000 to hire 55 monitors to check students’ symptoms before they board, and Dundee, Mich., expects to spend over $300,000 to add routes. In Odessa, Texas, there are plans for buses to run on continuous routes, like city transit, with students arriving and leaving school at staggered times.With most school bus drivers over the age of 55, those who opt to stay home this fall will be substantial, calling into question the ability to staff even the standard routes necessary for districts.

White House brands teachers “essential workers” to force reopening of schools - Under conditions in which the coronavirus pandemic is raging out of control, the Trump administration is escalating its homicidal campaign to reopen schools across the US, which is guaranteed to spike infection rates even further. At a press conference Friday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany branded teachers “essential workers” akin to meatpackers, one of the sections of the working class most devastated by the pandemic. McEnany declared that “schools are essential places of business … our teachers are essential personnel.” She added, “Our meatpackers were meatpacking because they were essential workers. … And we believe our teachers are essential.” The comparison between teachers and meatpacking workers is highly significant and must be taken as a sharp warning by teachers and all education workers. Since the start of the pandemic, meat processing plants have seen among the highest rates of infections and deaths of any industry in the US. In late April, following a series of walkouts and job actions over unsafe conditions, which forced the closure of 22 plants across the country, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act and deemed meatpacking plants “critical infrastructure,” requiring them to stay open. As a result, the number of cases and deaths have tripled, with well over 30,000 workers infected and more than 100 killed by the virus. In drawing this comparison, the White House is putting teachers on notice that they intend to carry out the same dictatorial measures should there be organized strikes or mobilizations to prevent the reopening of schools. While branding teachers “essential,” McEnany defended the deployment of at least 200 federal agents to Portland, Oregon, where they have brutally repressed peaceful protesters, in multiple flagrant violations of the Constitution. Last week, Trump threatened to deploy 75,000 agents to “any of the cities” that he chooses. The ultimate target of these shock troops is the working class, including educators, meatpackers, autoworkers and more, who are being forced to sacrifice their lives for corporate profit.

Teachers face battle as Trump pushes school reopenings - After waging years of strikes and protests against cuts to school funding and wages, educators in the US are heading into a direct confrontation with the Trump administration over its drive to reopen schools as the pandemic continues to rage out of control. At a press conference Friday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany branded teachers “essential personnel,” comparing them to meatpackers, saying “schools are essential places of business.” The comparison between meatpackers and teachers is no accident. From the outset of the pandemic, meat processing plants became some of the most dangerous workplaces in the US and globally, with over 30,000 workers infected and more than 100 killed by COVID-19. Facing walkouts and job actions at 22 plants across the US in April, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to force workers back on the job. The Trump administration’s criminal policy of forcing teachers back into classrooms as the pandemic continues to spread uncontrollably will lead to the deaths of countless teachers, students and their family members. The White House’s declaration that teachers are “essential” is absurd, coming from an administration single-mindedly determined to destroy public education through budget cuts and privatization. Trump does not care about students. He only cares about getting kids out of the house so their parents can go to work generating profits for corporations. Having given the corporations trillions of dollars in government bailouts and free cash from the federal reserve, the ruling class is determined to pump profits out of workers to pay for it. Spearheading the resurgence of class struggle in the US since the powerful statewide wildcat strike organized by West Virginia teachers in February 2018, teachers and education workers have moved increasingly to the left and become more radicalized, with many participating in the mass, multiracial demonstrations against the police murder of George Floyd.

Lawyers in Florida are offering free wills for teachers. One says he received about 600 inquiries. - Lawyers are offering free wills for teachers and educators are responding. Charles Gallagher, a lawyer at Tampa Bay lawfirm Gallagher & Associates, told NBC News he decided to offer free wills for teachers after seeing one protesting with a sign that read, "Teacher supplies: books, crayons and wills." Gallagher told NBC News he received inquiries from around 600 teachers and school staff. Jen Englert, a managing partner of an Orlando law firm, told NBC News that they were offering discounted wills to teachers, just as they had done for first responders and medical teachers. "We decided to offer these services because teachers were actually coming to us asking for our help," Englert told NBC News. In June, Florida Governor DeSantis announced that they plan to move schools to fully in-person teaching. On Monday, Florida's largest teachers' union sued against the state over plans to move back to in-person instruction. Moving to fully in-person teaching poses many health concerns given the rising number of coronavirus cases. The US recorded its 4 millionth coronavirus case on Thursday. Florida has reported over 400,000 coronavirus cases so far. Teachers across the country have expressed concerns for their own health, in addition to putting their own families and students at risk. One teacher told Insider that "I totally am preparing to get sick."

Middletown Schools to announce fall sports suspended for now due to coronavirus – Middletown City Schools announced the suspension of all fall extracurricular activities and campus activities, such as athletics and band, effective until further notice.Middletown school officials recently announced all classes will be remote when the fall semester begins Aug. 17.“In this ever-changing, complicated, emotional season we have been placed in, we cannot lose focus on what is most important. The focus should be on the safety of our children, educators, staff, and all the families involved as we move forward with the main objective of educating our youth. We must remain vigilant and flexible and if ever there was a time that the old adage is paramount ‘it takes an entire village’ it is now!,” Jackie Phillips, City of Middletown Health Commissioner said in a news release. The school district said they are doing it to flatten the curve and keep the district on track to bring students back to the classroom. “If our families and friends want schools to open in the fall, we need to get serious and we need to mitigate the community spread. We need to social distance. We need to mask up. By suspending fall extracurricular activities, we are giving our students the best opportunity to get back to the classroom,” MCSD Superintendent Marlon Styles said. Still, for some the announcement was a tough blow in an already tough time.“This is my daughters senior year for volleyball and they wait so long for senior year because they get the recognition and they get the little posters she has recruits coming from Miami to watch her it’s just super disappointing and I think it should be left up to the parents whether they play or not,” said Jennifer Calton of Middletown.

Union Representing 1.7 Million U.S. Teachers Says It Will Support Strikes If Schools Reopen Unsafely - The second largest teachers union in the U.S. announced Tuesday it would support strikes if schools reopened without proper safety measures in place to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.The announcement comes as the Trump administration has called for schools to reopen in the fall for in-person instruction amid a nationwide surge in cases, NPR reported.   "We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators," American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said at the union's biennial convention Tuesday, as NPR reported. "But if authorities don't protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve ... nothing is off the table. Not advocacy or protests, negotiations, grievances or lawsuits, or, if necessary and authorized by a local union, as a last resort, safety strikes."The union, which represents 1.7 million teachers, issued the resolution in support of strikes on Friday but announced it at its convention Tuesday, which was held online because of the pandemic, as ABC News reported. The resolution means that the union will offer legal, communications and staffing support to any local districts that decide to strike.The resolution also lists certain conditions that must be met in order for schools to reopen safely. They include:

  1. Only reopening in areas that have reduced the infection rate to below five percent and the transmission rate to below one percent
  2. Only reopening in areas with effective testing and tracing mechanisms in place
  3. Having a trigger in place to close schools again if infections rise
  4. Establishing workplace accommodations for employees who are at greater risk if they contract COVID-19
  5. Enacting safety measures like requiring masks for staff and students, ensuring physical distancing of six feet and providing well-stocked hand-washing facilities

The largest U.S. teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA), also said it would not rule out strikes to keep staff and students safe."Nobody wants to see students back in the classroom more than educators," NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement Tuesday reported by POLITICO. "But when it comes to their safety, we're not ready to take any options off the table."

 As opposition mounts to reopening of schools, US teacher union opposes national strike - Across the United States, teachers and parents are increasingly opposed to the reopening of schools as the pandemic continues to surge across the country. Protests against the imminent reopening erupted this week in Michigan, New Jersey, Rhode Island and other states. In opposition to President Trump’s demand for full, in-person instruction from the start of the school year, teachers are demanding online-only instruction until there are no new cases of community transmission. Poll after poll shows that there is widespread opposition to a return to in-person education until the virus is contained. An AP poll last week showed only 8 percent of the population supported opening schools as usual while 77 percent supported major adjustments or having no in-person instruction at all. Teachers in districts as far apart as California and Texas have threatened strikes to protect students and families.   Under these conditions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers union in the US, is trying to limit and isolate the emerging teachers’ struggles. At their biennial convention being held online this week, AFT officials passed a resolution on the reopening of schools, which paid lip service to the safety of educators and students but included no serious actions to oppose the reckless and deadly policy. Instead, AFT locals “will use every action and tool available to us from serving on state and local reopening committees to filing grievances, lawsuits and other actions against unsafe and unsound plans or the faulty implementation of plans.” According to the resolution they would only support “local and/or state affiliate safety strikes on a case-by-case basis as a last resort.” In other words, the AFT and its state and local affiliates will collaborate with government officials to reopen the schools while the union diverts and dissipates anger with impotent grievances and legal complaints. In the event this is not enough to stop the teachers from taking strike action, the AFT will do everything to prevent local and state walkouts from coalescing into a powerful nationwide strike against the two corporate-controlled parties

Some Colleges Will Require Students To Take COVID-19 Test Twice A Week -  Colleges and universities across the US are planning to roll out strict COVID-19 testing measures at their campuses for those starting back this Fall. In some instances, like Cornell University in New York or Baylor in Waco, all students, faculty, and staff will be required to test negative before being admitted on campus. Even more extreme measures are being taken by Colby College in Maine. The Associated Press reports testing will be a "routine part of campus life". Students will be nasal swabbed twice a week throughout at least the Fall.  Perhaps more and more students must be thinking: time for a gap year? All students will be required to provide a nasal swab every other day for two weeks, and then twice a week after that. All told, the college says it will provide 85,000 tests, nearly as many as the entire state of Maine has since the pandemic started. — APCurrently it appears that most schools with a testing regimen in place, which they say is a necessity to prevent being forced to go to online only classes (Harvard recently announced all undergraduate classes will be conducted online, with only 40% of students invited back to campus), will only screen students once arrived, with further tests reserved only for those students showing symptoms.  Texas A&M University, for example, will use its some 15,000 tests only for those who are known to have been exposed or who are showing symptoms. Still, there's a raging debate within the health and scientific community over testing approach and strategy, as the AP summarizes:At Cornell University, a research team recently found that students would need to be tested every seven days to keep infections down. A separate study at Yale University and Harvard Medical School suggested that all students should be tested every two or three days. It found that testing only once a week could lead to thousands of infections over a semester.Going to college in Boston this fall? Prepare to have cotton swabs stuck up your nose, maybe twice a week.

 More Than 6,300 Coronavirus Cases Have Been Linked to U.S. Colleges - As college students and professors decide whether to head back to class, and as universities weigh how and whether to reopen, the coronavirus is already on campus. A New York Times survey of every public four-year college in the country, as well as every private institution that competes in Division I sports or is a member of an elite group of research universities, revealed at least 6,600 cases tied to about 270 colleges over the course of the pandemic. And the new academic year has not even begun at most schools. Outbreaks have emerged on Greek Row this summer at theUniversity of Washington, where at least 136 residents were infected, and at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, where administrators were re-evaluating their plans for fall after eight administrative workers tested positive. The virus has turned up in a science building at Western Carolina, on the football team at Clemson and among employees at theUniversity of Denver.At Appalachian State in North Carolina, at least 41 construction workers have tested positive while working on campus buildings. The Times has identified at least 14 coronavirus-related deaths at colleges. The list includes public, four-year universities in the United States, as well as private colleges that compete in Division I sports or are members of an elite group of research universities. Only schools that reported cases are shown. Note: The charts show the cases per 100,000 residents reported each week in the county where each school is located. The location of a university’s main campus is listed unless otherwise specified. In several instances, colleges noted that some cases were tied to branch campuses or satellite locations. Universities with no case total listed either did not respond to inquiries, declined to provide information or said they had no known infections. There is no standardized reporting method for coronavirus cases and deaths at colleges, and the information is not being publicly tracked at a national level. Of nearly 1,000 institutions contacted by The Times, some had already posted case information online, some provided full or partial numbers and others refused to answer basic questions, citing privacy concerns. Hundreds of colleges did not respond at all.  Still, the Times survey represents the most comprehensive look at the toll the virus has already taken on the country’s colleges and universities. This data, which is almost certainly an undercount, shows the risks colleges face as they prepare for a school year in the midst of a pandemic. But because universities vary widely in size, and because some refused to provide information, comparing case totals from campus to campus may not provide a full picture of the relative risk. What is clear is that despite months of planning for a safe return to class, and despite drastic changes to campus life, the virus is already spreading widely at universities.

Rutgers University Declares Grammar 'Racist' -- The English Department at Rutgers University has declared that proper use of grammar is a hidden form of racism because it disadvantages students of “multilingual, non-standard ‘academic’ English backgrounds.”Grammar is rather boring so the department is going to sex it up with all sorts of fascinating additions.Washington Free Beacon:The “critical grammar” approach challenges the standard academic form of the English language in favor of a more inclusive writing experience. The curriculum puts an emphasis on the variability of the English language instead of accuracy.“This approach challenges the familiar dogma that writing instruction should limit emphasis on grammar/sentence-level issues so as to not put students from multilingual, non-standard ‘academic’ English backgrounds at a disadvantage,” Walkowitz said. “Instead, it encourages students to develop a critical awareness of the variety of choices available to them [with] regard to micro-level issues in order to empower them and equip them to push against biases based on ‘written’ accents.”“Variability instead of accuracy” means incorrect usage of grammatical norms. It’s nice that someone speaks a foreign language but isn’t the whole point of teaching proper grammar is teaching foreigners the proper way to speak English? Yes, but it’s white and it’s male, and it’s gotta go. Unfortunately, Rutgers  apparently missed the mark with some activists. Aside from being incomprehensibly stupid, the change is, itself, virulently racist.Leonydus Johnson, a speech pathologist and libertarian activist, said the school’s change makes the racist assumption that minorities cannot comprehend traditional English. Johnson called the change “insulting, patronizing, and in itself, extremely racist.”“The idea that expecting a student to write in grammatically correct sentences is indicative of racial bias is asinine,” Johnson told the Washington Free Beacon.“It’s like these people believe that being non-white is an inherent handicap or learning disability...That’s racism. It has become very clear to me that those who claim to be ‘anti-racist’ are often the most racist people in this country.”

Congress should consider the evidence in funding college students' success -As it considers another COVID relief package, Congress should provide additional financial support to unemployed and underemployed workers seeking new skills. Research on the 2008 recession makes clear why that matters: 95 percent of the jobs created in the wake of that recession required a college education. In both good and bad economic times, the likelihood of securing a fulfilling career with good wages and work conditions increases with a college credential. But not every college credential leads to a job with decent wages. So, as Congress considers how to support the development of new skills that our workforce needs, it should pay attention to the evidence that indicates which investments are most likely to set people up for success; not just during the recession but after it ends. Troublingly, Congress is considering a proposal to allow the biggest federal pot of money that supports college students – Pell grants – to be spent on very short-term job training programs (those that are just eight to 15 weeks long). To be clear, many people could benefit from well-designed short-term training programs that confer skills they need to gain a surer foothold in an uncertain economy. Understanding this, many community college leaders support the proposal for short-term Pell as a way to help more students at a time of tremendous need. But research shows that, outside of a few fields, short-term certificate programs do not lead to notably higher wages for those who complete them. By comparison, decades of research has found that adults who complete longer programs, like certificates of at least a year in length or two-year associate degree programs, on average see greater returns to their credentials. Economists project that for the foreseeable future, the vast majority of good jobs will necessitate a college education that has traditionally required at least a year to complete. That timeframe may be shorter in the future, but evidence shows that day has not arrived. Currently, Pell grants can be used for programs that range from 15 weeks in length, roughly a semester long, to bachelor’s degrees. The risk of moving eligibility for Pell funding to shorter programs is significant, especially for students from low-income backgrounds and students of color, who are most likely to enroll in such programs. Unless Congress required that short-term programs funded by Pell result in living wage jobs – which does not appear to be part of current proposals – its approval of short-term Pell could exacerbate deep race- and income-based disparities in higher education, resulting in an even greater number of Black, Latinx, indigenous and lower-income students being tracked into low-wage jobs. Congress has much better options. It can provide community colleges direct financial support to build career training programs that will lead to good jobs for their students, which is exactly what it did during the last recession. In 2011, Congress earmarked $2 billion in federal funds – in the form of Trade Adjustment Assistance Grants – for programs at community colleges and other training providers, dedicated to fields ranging from advanced manufacturing and information technology to health care. Bolstered by evidence showing that the program worked, Congress is now considering a similar bipartisan bill.

 Treasury to conduct policy review of tax-exempt status for universities after Trump tweets - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin anticipates that his department will conduct a review of guidance related to the tax-exempt status of universities after President Trump tweeted earlier this month that he wanted the department to re-examine schools' tax exemptions. "Secretary Mnuchin expects that Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy will conduct a policy review of the generally applicable regulations and guidance implicated by the President’s comment," Treasury's deputy general counsel told inspectors general for the department. The inspectors general relayed the response on Friday to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.). Trump on July 10 asked Treasury to look into universities' tax-exempt status, arguing that many institutions "are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education." The president's tweets came as he was pressing schools to physically reopen in the fall. "Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education," Trump tweeted. "Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues." The tweets drew concerns from Neal, who called for oversight of Trump's demand. Neal noted in letters to the IRS and to Treasury's inspectors general that under the federal tax code, it is unlawful for the president to request that the IRS investigate specific taxpayers. Treasury's Office of the Inspector General and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) told Neal on Friday that according to Treasury's deputy general counsel, Treasury has referred the portion of Trump's tweets relating to higher education funding to the Education Department. The deputy general counsel also said that to the best of the general counsel office's knowledge, no one has been directed to investigate any particular school. Both of the inspector general offices said that they had not initiated investigations related to the tweet, but the Office of the Inspector General said it would monitor developments in the Treasury tax policy office.

 Appeals court clears way for Pennsylvania AG suit against Navient - A U.S. appeals court on Monday dealt a setback to the student loan company Navient, which is the target of state and federal lawsuits that accuse it of predatory lending before and after the last financial crisis. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that the Pennsylvania attorney general could bring a lawsuit that parallels one filed by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The appeals court said that federal law — in this case, the Higher Education Act — did not generally preempt state law and that Pennsylvania could proceed with its litigation. The CFPB and three states — Illinois, Washington and Pennsylvania — filed similar civil suits in 2017 that alleged various consumer abuses. The ruling was notable because it addressed the concept of dual regulation and the push and pull between states and the federal government over the strictness of consumer protection. "States may be able to pick up slack when the federal government fails to enforce and regulate,” the 42-page ruling said. “If the Bureau were under pressure to settle or withdraw its lawsuit, states would still be free to protect the rights of consumers in their states." To be sure, the decision did not rule on the actual substance of Pennsylvania’s three-year-old lawsuit, only whether the state could file those charges at all. At issue was an argument by Navient that the state could not pursue its suit because the CFPB had already filed a similar lawsuit. Navient, which separately is pushing to end the CFPB’s lawsuit against it, argued that the federal Higher Education Act should preempt state law. In response, the court wrote that the federal law “expressly preempts only claims based on failures of disclosure, not claims based on affirmative misrepresentations, and that no other preemption principles bar [Pennsylvania’s] claims.” Each side said it saw some advantage in the ruling. “This is another major win against Navient,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro told American Banker. “It’s time for them to drop this delay and start focusing on how to make these students and their families whole and admit their wrongdoing. In my estimation, they should immediately compensate students and their families for the billions of dollars they’ve fleeced them out of.” In an email to American Banker, a Navient spokesman said that the ruling affirmed its position that states are not allowed to set up other disclosure requirements in addition to the federal Higher Education Act. “Navient consistently met and surpassed its requirements to inform borrowers about income-driven repayment options to help them navigate an overly complicated federal student loan repayment process,” the email said. “We look forward to working through each of the plaintiff’s claims with the District Court to show they are preempted.”

 Dogs can sniff out COVID-19 with 94 percent accuracy, study says - Man’s best friend could soon be man’s best chance at ever setting foot in a stadium again.Dogs can sniff out the coronavirus with a striking 94 percent accuracy rate — raising the possibility of instant tests at sporting events and airports, according to a new study.Canine handlers trained eight dogs from Germany’s Armed Forces to discern human saliva infected with COVID-19 from healthy saliva, according to the study, which was lead by the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover and the Hanover Medical School.Researchers then set up samples from 1,000 people at random, ordered the dogs to pinpoint the infected ones — and found the animals were accurate 94 percent of the time, according to the study.The pooches were able to make the potentially life-saving distinction because the virus likely “completely changes” an infected person’s internal chemistry — giving their saliva a different scent, said one researcher involved.“We think that the dogs are able to detect a specific smell of the metabolic changes that occur in those patients,” Maren von Koeckritz-Blickwede, a professor at the university who conducted the study, said in a Youtube video about the experiment. The study raises hope that dogs could help prevent outbreaks through the use of lightning-fast testing at sporting events and airports and other mass gatherings, researchers said.

 Low plasma 25(OH) vitamin D level associated with increased risk of COVID-19 infection - The pronounced impact of vitamin D metabolites on the immune system response, and on the development of COVID-19 infection by the novel SARS CoV-2 virus, has been previously described in a few studies worldwide.  The collaborative group of scientists from the Leumit Health Services (LHS) and the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University aimed to determine associations of low plasma 25(OH)D with the risk of COVID-19 infection and hospitalization. Using the real-world data and Israeli cohort of 782 COVID-19 positive patients and 7,025 COVID-19 negative patients, the groups identified that low plasma vitamin D level appears to be an independent risk factor for COVID-19 infection and hospitalization. The research was just published in The FEBS Journal."The main finding of our study was the significant association of low plasma vitamin D level with the likelihood of COVID-19 infection among patients who were tested for COVID-19, even after adjustment for age, gender, socio-economic status and chronic, mental and physical disorders," said Dr. Eugene Merzon, Head of the Department of Managed Care and leading researcher of the LHS group. "Furthermore, low vitamin D level was associated with the risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19 infection, although this association wasn't significant after adjustment for other confounders," he added. "Our finding is in agreement with the results of previous studies in the field. Reduced risk of acute respiratory tract infection following vitamin D supplementation has been reported," said Dr. Ilan Green, Head of the LHS Research Institute.

 Covid-19: To Clean or Not to Clean? - Yves Smith -As it becomes clear, at least to those of us in the US, that Covid-19 will be with us a lot longer than anyone wants to contemplate, the next question for those of us fortunate enough not to have contracted it is how to minimize risk. And since this now looks to be a long haul, with many reporting or even exhibiting symptoms of Covid compliance fatigue, defining what are bona fide risks versus ones that are low, becomes even more important, since trying to do too much is likely to result in not doing much of anything well enough.A new article in The Atlantic (hat tip ChiGal) argues that many of us are engaged in cleaning theater, just as much of what the TSA does in airports is security theater:As a covid-19 summer surge sweeps the country, deep cleans are all the rage. National restaurants such as Applebee’s are deputizing sanitation czars to oversee the constant scrubbing of window ledges, menus, and high chairs. The gym chain Planet Fitness is boasting in ads that “there’s no surface we won’t sanitize, no machin e we won’t scrub.” New York City is shutting down its subway system every night, for the first time in its 116-year history, to blast the seats, walls, and poles with a variety of antiseptic weaponry, including electrostatic disinfectant sprays. And in Wauchula, Florida, the local government gave one resident permission to spray the town with hydrogen peroxide as he saw fit. “I think every city in the damn United States needs to be doing it,” he said…But what if this is all just a huge waste of time?In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines to clarify that while COVID-19 spreads easily among speakers and sneezers in close encounters, touching a surface “isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” Other scientists have reached a more forceful conclusion. “Surface transmission of COVID-19 is not justified at all by the science,” Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told me. He also emphasized the primacy of airborne person-to-person transmission…Surface transmission—from touching doorknobs, mail, food-delivery packages, and subways poles—seems quite rare. (Quite rare isn’t the same as impossible: The scientists I spoke with constantly repeated the phrase “people should still wash their hands.”) The difference may be a simple matter of time. In the hours that can elapse between, say, Person 1 coughing on her hand and using it to push open a door and Person 2 touching the same door and rubbing his eye, the virus particles from the initial cough may have sufficiently deteriorated.

Masks Aren't Enough: Dr. Fauci Says People Should "Probably Use Eye Shields" To Protect Against COVID-19 - Americans can't seem to handle wearing masks to stop the coronavirus. Now, imagine if the CDC changed its guidelines to also call for "eye protection" like medical goggles to stop the spread of the virus (and protect your neighbor, as well as yourself).Well, Dr. Fauci is apparently preparing to do just that.During an interview with ABC News, Dr. Fauci said Wednesday that he may soon advise Americans to wear 'eye protection' to avoid being infected by COVID-19 as deaths along the Sun Belt climb to record highs."If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it," the doctor said, before adding that it's not universally recommended, "but if you really want to be complete, you should probably use it if you can," he said. Watch a clip from the interview below Anybody listening to this would probably have a litany of questions for the doctor. But instead of trying to clarify this, he just said that Americans should aim to "protect as many mucosal surfaces as possible". Very informative, indeed. Moving on, Dr. Fauci said the pre-enrollment for Moderna’s final clinical trial for a possible COVID-19 vaccine includes 19% black and 19% hispanic participants across 89 sites throughout the country. "Now we want to get that and even more” because of how the virus has disproportionately affected minority communities with worse outcomes and higher death rates, Dr. Fauci said.

COVID-19 may cause deadly blood clots - COVID-19 may increase the risk of blot cots in women who are pregnant or taking estrogen with birth control or hormone replacement therapy, according to a new manuscript published in the Endocrine Society's journal, Endocrinology. One of the many complications of COVID-19 is the formation of blood clots in previously healthy people. Estrogen increases the chance of blood clots during pregnancy and in women taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy. If infected with COVID-19, these women's risk of blood clotting could be even higher, and they may need to undergo anticoagulation therapy or to discontinue their estrogen medicines. "During this pandemic, we need additional research to determine if women who become infected with the coronavirus during pregnancy should receive anticoagulation therapy or if women taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy should discontinue them," said the study's corresponding author, Daniel I. Spratt, M.D., of Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, and Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Mass. "Research that helps us understand how the coronavirus causes blood clots may also provide us with new knowledge regarding how blood clots form in other settings and how to prevent them."

Covid-19 infections leave an impact on the heart, raising concerns about lasting damage - Two new studies from Germany paint a sobering picture of the toll that Covid-19 takes on the heart, raising the specter of long-term damage after people recover, even if their illness was not severe enough to require hospitalization.One study examined the cardiac MRIs of 100 people who had recovered from Covid-19 and compared them to heart images from 100 people who were similar but not infected with the virus. Their average age was 49 and two-thirds of the patients had recovered at home. More than two months later, infected patients were more likely to have troubling cardiac signs than people in the control group: 78 patients showed structural changes to their hearts, 76 had evidence of a biomarker signaling cardiac injury typically found after a heart attack, and 60 had signs of inflammation.These were relatively young, healthy patients who fell ill in the spring, Valentina Puntmann, who led the MRI study, pointed out in an interview. Many of them had just returned from ski vacations. None of them thought they had anything wrong with their hearts.  “The fact that 78% of ‘recovered’ [patients] had evidence of ongoing heart involvement means that the heart is involved in a majority of patients, even if Covid-19 illness does not scream out with the classical heart symptoms, such as anginal chest pain,” she told STAT.   The other study, which analyzed autopsy results from 39 people who died early in the pandemic and whose average age was 85, found high levels of the virus in the hearts of 24 patients.  “We see signs of viral replication in those that are heavily infected,” Dirk Westermann, a cardiologist at the University Heart and Vascular Centre in Hamburg, said in an interview. “We don’t know the long-term consequences of the changes in gene expression yet. I know from other diseases that it’s obviously not good to have that increased level of inflammation.” Taken together, the two studies, published Monday in JAMA Cardiology, suggest that in many patients, Covid-19 could presage heart failure, a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body declines.

Clapped out of ICU, passed away days later: the secondary impact of Covid-19 --When Rudresh Pathak finally left intensive care after 81 days, staff at Pilgrim hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire – where he had worked as a consultant psychiatrist for nearly three decades – lined the corridors to applaud.Though visibly weak, the 65-year-old, who is thought to be one of a few patients in the UK to have remained on a ventilator with Covid-19 for so long, clapped along.  He started to get better; he ate solids and was engaging in physiotherapy so he could stand and start walking again. The family were told that he would probably be discharged within the next 10 days.  On 19 June, three days after he left the ICU, his daughter visited him for the first time since he was admitted to the hospital.  But later that evening, he had a stroke. “It kind of knocked us out. We weren’t expecting it,” Neha said. On 26 June, 10 days after that celebratory clapping, her father died. Rudresh Pathak’s story of slow, hopeful recovery followed by a stroke and rapid deterioration highlights concerns about the extensive and enduring impact of coronavirus in some patients, his daughter said. A study published last month points to associated brain complications, including strokes, that require being admitted to hospital. Of the 125 patients in the study, 77 had a stroke. Infections have long been known as a risk factor for strokes, but there is some evidence to suggest that if a patient has a stroke while suffering from Covid-19, they are more likely to suffer a worse type of stroke with multiple large artery blockages in the brain, more severe disability and a higher chance of dying of the stroke. One possible explanation is that a minority of patients with Covid-19 have a profound inflammatory response often associated with more widespread blood clotting. People with severe Covid-19 may get blood clots not only in the brain but elsewhere, such in the leg (deep vein thrombosis), or in the lungs (pulmonary embolism). Werring said evidence suggests 1% to 5% of people who have Covid-19 may have a stroke, adding: “This seems to be a little bit higher than one would expect than other viruses, such as influenza, where the risk of stroke is under 1%.”

More than half of Spanish coronavirus patients suffering from neurological problems: research - More than half of patients in Spain suffering from the coronavirus have reported neurological symptoms including the loss of taste or sense of smell, according to a new study.The study, published in early June in the scientific journal Neurology, found that 57 percent of COVID-19 patients in two Spanish hospitals reported at least one neurological symptom, ranging from milder symptoms such as headaches and dizziness to more severe symptoms including psychosis, insomnia and anxiety.“Some of the symptoms, like myalgia, insomnia and headaches, had not been observed in previous studies,” study co-author Tomás Segura, chief of neurology at University Hospital of Albacete, told the news service El Pais.Spain was one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe during the early months of the pandemic.The country has more cases than Italy, once a hot spot for the virus on the European continent. Spain has registered more than 272,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with more than 28,000 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon. The study comes as the country last week tightened restrictions just one month after lockdown orders were lifted due to new outbreaks. Neurological complications accounted for 4.1 percent of deceased patients involved in the study, according to its abstract, suggesting that mitigating the more severe neurological symptoms could limit the number of deaths from COVID-19 around the world. "In our series, more than half of patients presented some form of neurological symptom," the researchers wrote."Clinicians need to maintain close neurological surveillance for prompt recognition of these complications. The investigation of the mechanisms and emerging consequences of SARS-CoV-2 neurological involvement require further studies." A separate study conducted by researchers at the University College London also suggested that COVID-19 was linked to a host of neurological symptoms including strokes and inflammation in the brain.

Vaccine Research on Covid-19: An Update - Better understanding of the immunology of Covid-19 and Covid-19 vaccines is central. The more effort is dedicated to this, in both clinical and pre-clinical research, the faster we will get to better treatment and vaccine solutions and less risks will be assumed. Now let’s see what’s going on:First and foremost, before deploying any vaccine on a mass scale, apart of efficacy results, it must have been shown to be safe. In case that there are some safety issues but  the protective effect is overwhelmingly beneficial so as to view those risks as a toll we can collectively/individually pay, these should be carefully analysed, described, quantified and communicated to the public before approval.One of the biggest mistakes would be to approve of a vaccine only to later see more frequent or more  severe adverse effects than had been anticipated. Rare adverse events occurring at about 1:20.000 or lower frequency is something that we should to have in mind as a possibility once we have an approved candidate. The WHO provides  general guidelines (2004) for vaccine evaluation/development. It has to be noted that because we are talking here about a novel virus and antigens in all cases, except the BCG candidate, massive trials will be starting with nearly zero previous information even if we can count with experience on SARS1.0 and MERS trials (never scaled up to Phase III) that might give hints but not assurances on vaccine development against Covid-19.  Regarding clinical trials, Phase I is a safeguard trial done with a few individuals (10-20) to check that the candidate is safe enough for trials with more volunteers. Being in a hurry, some candidates are running directly with so-called Phase I/II trials. So far, such acceleration has not been seen as problematic. So far.  The objective of Phase II (about 100 to few hundreds of subjects) is to characterize the immune response that the vaccine provides and decide if it looks good enough to proceed with Phase III. Before starting Phase III all considerations about safe manufacturing and scaling up should/must have been settled. Phase III (many thousands on subjects, the larger the trial, the shorter the duration, but also depending on the rate of spread when and where the trial starts). Some selection of racial and age cohorts will be necessary given the known information. Phase III is to assess the efficacy of the vaccine, so during Phase III both, placebo and vaccinated subjects, will be naturally challenged in the normal epidemic evolution and tested to see how the vaccine provides immunity/protection against the vaccine. Forced challenging (as in deliberate exposure to Covid-19)  has been proposed to accelerate  development . As you can imagine, this proposal  is the subject of bioethical questions with no easy answer.

Covid-19 vaccines may cause mild side effects, experts say - While the world awaits the results of large clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines, experts say the data so far suggest one important possibility: The vaccines may carry a bit of a kick. In vaccine parlance, they appear to be “reactogenic,” meaning they have induced short-term discomfort in a percentage of the people who have received them in clinical trials. This kind of discomfort includes headache, sore arms, fatigue, chills, and fever.  As long as the side effects of eventual Covid-19 vaccines are transient and not severe, these would not be sources of alarm — in fact, they may be signals of an immune system lurching into gear. It’s a simple fact that some vaccines are more unpleasant to take than others. Think about the pain of a tetanus shot, for instance. But experts say it makes sense to prepare people now for the possibility that Covid-19 vaccines may be reactogenic.“I think one of the things we’re going to have to realize is that all of these vaccines are going to be reactogenic…. They’re all going to be associated with reactions,” said Kathryn Edwards, scientific director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program in Nashville, Tenn. “I think if you were to point out that, look, this is going to be a little bit painful, but there’s an end to it, and there’s a greater good to be gained here, I think that that’s probably worthwhile,” agreed Brian Southwell, senior director of the science in the public sphere program at the Center for Communication Science at RTI International, a think tank located in Research Triangle Park, N.C.At least two manufacturers, Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna and CanSino, a Chinese vaccine maker, stopped testing the highest doses of their Covid-19 vaccines because of the number of severe adverse events recorded among participants in their clinical trials. Ian Haydon, one of the volunteers who received the highest dose in the Moderna Phase 1 clinical trial, ended up seeking medical care after he spiked a fever of 103 Fahrenheit 12 hours after getting a second dose of the vaccine. (Most Covid-19 vaccines will likely require two doses to work.) The side effects are being seen across a number of different vaccines, made in different ways. This does not appear to be a problem linked to a specific type of Covid-19 vaccine.

  You're going to need more than one coronavirus shot. One dose of a vaccine probably won't be enough, experts say.  We're all holding our breath for a coronavirus vaccine —  for the day everyone can line up, get a shot, and then finally return to life as normal. But there are many problems with that vision, a primary one being: We're all going to need more than one shot.Research is coalescing around the idea that coronavirus antibodies dissipate after a period of weeks or months. Although our immune systems have more than just that one line of defense, those findings suggest that our immunity to the virus — whether generated in response to an infection or as the result of a vaccine — might be similarly transient.Because the efficacy of a vaccine hinges on its ability to prompt the body to generate antibodies that protect you from future infection, it's likely that people will need two doses of a coronavirus vaccine a few weeks apart for it to be effective. Some experts suggest we then may need to get regularly revaccinated."If immunity does turn out to be fleeting," disease ecologist Marm Kilpatrick told Business Insider, "we'll need a plan of a vaccination plus a booster, or revaccination at periodic intervals." Countless vaccines, like the one that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, require back-to-back doses. Some companies leading the coronavirus vaccine race are giving trial participants two shots three weeks apart. Pfizer is one of those: Early data showed that a two-dose regimen boosted the immune system response, with Pfizer researchers observing the highest level of neutralizing antibodies one week after the participants' second dose.

 Kennedy Jr. Warns Parents About Danger Of Using Largely-Untested COVID Vaccines On Kids - Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. warned Americans on Thursday to be cautious about any new coronavirus vaccine, pointing out that key parts of testing are being skipped.  “The Moderna vaccine, which is the lead candidate, skipped the animal testing altogether,” Kennedy said during an online debate on mandatory vaccinations with renowned Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. The debate was aired by Valuetainment and moderated by Patrick Bet-David. Kennedy is part of a political family, being the son of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and the nephew of President John F. Kennedy. Both were murdered in the 1960s.Another aspect of testing was equally unsatisfying, Kennedy said. The Moderna vaccine was tested “on 45 people. They had a high-dose group of 15 people, a medium-dose group of 15 people, and a low growth group of 15 people.”“In the low-dose group, one of the people was so sick from the vaccine they had to be hospitalized,” he explained.“That’s six percent. In the high-dose group, three people got so sick they had to be hospitalized. That’s twenty percent.”In spite of these significant problems, “they’re going ahead, and making two billion doses of that vaccine.”Another problem with the testing of the coronavirus vaccine is that it’s tested not on “typical Americans,” but a carefully selected group of people who don’t suffer from certain conditions.“They use what they call exclusionary criteria,” Kennedy said.“They are only giving these vaccines in these tests that they’re doing to the healthiest people.” “If you look at their exclusionary idea criteria: You cannot be pregnant, you cannot be overweight, you must have never smoked a cigarette, you must have never vaped, you must have no respiratory problems in your family, you can’t suffer asthma, you can’t have diabetes, you can’t have rheumatoid arthritis or any autoimmune disease. There has to be no history of seizure in the family. These are the people they’re testing the vaccine on.” He asked, “What happens when they give them to the typical American? You know, Sally Six-Pack and Joe Bag of Donuts who’s 50 pounds overweight and has diabetes.” Kennedy stressed several times that “any other medicine … that had that kind of profile in its original phase-one study would be [dead on arrival].”“No medical product in the world would be able to go forward with the profile that Moderna has,” he reiterated.

 Public Health Experts Fear a Hasty FDA Signoff on Vaccine --The vaccine trial that Vice President Mike Pence kicked off in Miami on Monday gives the United States the tiniest chance of being ready to vaccinate millions of Americans just before Election Day.It’s a possibility that fills many public health experts with dread.Among their concerns: Early evidence that any vaccine works would lead to political pressure from the administration for emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration. That conflict between science and politics might cause some people to not trust the vaccine and refuse to take it, which would undermine the global campaign to stop the pandemic. Or it could lead to a product that is not fully protective. Confidence in routine childhood vaccinations, already shaken, could decline further.“The fear is that you wind up doing to a vaccine what [Trump has] already done with [opening] school,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a former FDA deputy commissioner and a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Take an important, difficult question and politicize it. That’s what you want to avoid.”On Monday at 6:45 a.m., the first volunteer in the landmark phase 3 trial for the Moderna Therapeutics vaccine received a shot at a clinic in Savannah, Georgia. Clinicians at 88 other sites, stretching from Miami to Seattle, were also preparing to deliver the experimental shot in a trial that aims to enroll 30,000 people.Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, told reporters he hoped 15,000 could be vaccinated by the end of the week, although he provided no information about progress toward that goal. All volunteers would receive a second shot 29 days after their first inoculation. (Half will receive a placebo containing saline solution.) Another vaccine, produced by Pfizer with the German company BioNTech, also entered a large phase 3 U.S. trial this week. It’s being tested independently of the National Institutes of Health, which is partially funding the Moderna trial as well as tests for an Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine trial, and others in the future. AstraZeneca has said some doses of its vaccine might be ready as early as September. Such a fast pace worries some experts. .“I don’t see how that’s remotely possible unless the thing I most fear happens, a truncated phase 3 trial with just an idea of efficacy, an idea of common side effects, and then it rolls out,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Over 7,500 children in Tennessee have been diagnosed with COVID-19 New data released last week by the Tennessee Department of Health has revealed that 7,572 school-age children—those between the ages of 5 and18—have been diagnosed with COVID-19. This figure is a damning exposure of the lie that children are somehow less susceptible to catching or spreading the virus, which has been used to justify the push to restart in-person schooling in the coming weeks. As well, the confirmed total is not a true reflection of the extent of the virus due to the overall lack of testing among this age group. As part of the homicidal return-to-work drive initiated by the Trump administration with the complicity of the Democratic Party, Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, began the process of lifting restrictions on May 1, one of the first to do so. Forcing schools to reopen is a critical next step in getting workers back on the job, even as infections and hospitalizations from COVID-19 hit record highs in the US. The virus has been on a rampage throughout Tennessee since the lifting of restrictions in May. On Sunday, there were 3,140 new cases, and the last week saw nearly 130 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Overall, the state has nearly 94,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and is fast approaching 1,000 fatalities, figures which are expected to be amplified by the reopening of schools. Despite this, and following the demands of the Trump administration, preparations are underway to send children and teachers back into the schools, with some districts beginning classes as early as July 30. The response of Governor Lee’s administration is for the districts themselves to formulate their own plans for reopening, although Lee has indicated he will be issuing state guidelines on Tuesday following recommendations released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week. As a result of this “hands off” policy, reopening plans vary from district to district, which has led to uncertainty and chaos for students and educators alike. This muddled and improvisational approach is underway in other states as well. A teacher in West Virginia explained the situation in that state—where new infections are also rising—telling the WSWS, “The problem here is that the state department really should’ve made the decision early on as to what the [state is] going to do, but they don’t want to take any responsibility with that so they’re putting the responsibility off on the counties.” Adding, “The problem with that is that each county is going to have its own plan which [would] require special funding, and they have no way to get additional funding directly.”

Young, healthy adults with mild COVID-19 also take weeks to recover: CDC - (Reuters) - Young, previously healthy adults can take weeks to fully recover from even a mild COVID-19 infection, with about a fifth of patients under 35 years reporting not returning to their usual state of health up to 21 days after testing positive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A telephone survey across 13 states of symptomatic adults with mild COVID-19 found 35% had not returned to their usual state of health when interviewed two to three weeks after testing, the CDC reported in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Friday. Cough, fatigue and shortness of breath were among the symptoms reported while testing that persisted even weeks later, according to the report. The findings indicate recovery can be prolonged even in young adults without chronic medical conditions, making a case for public health messaging to target populations that might not perceive COVID-19 as being a severe illness. Between April 15 and June 25, telephone interviews were done with a random sample of people over 18 years of age who got themselves tested for COVID-19 at an outpatient visit, CDC said. The interviews were done 14 to 21 days after the test date, and patients were asked about symptoms during testing, whether they had returned to their usual state of health, and if they suffer from a chronic medical condition. Among 292 people interviewed, 274 reported experiencing one or more symptoms at the time of testing. Among symptomatic respondents who reported not having returned to their usual state of health, 26% were between 18 and 34 years of age, 32% were between 35 and 49 years, and 47% were over 50.

COVID-19 'long haulers' fight for months with lingering symptoms -- An unknown but growing number of the 4 million U.S. COVID-19 patients say they can't shake symptoms ranging from fatigue to serious respiratory or neurological problems, often for months after diagnosis. The ailments are all the more challenging because patients say they often face skeptical families, friends, employers and even doctors. Research is limited on these so-called "long haulers." New York City's Mount Sinai hospital appears to have the first post-COVID treatment center in the U.S. A study of 143 patients in Italy out this month in JAMA Network found 87% of patients who had recovered from COVID-19 reported at least one lingering symptom, notably fatigue and trouble breathing. Natalie Lambert, an Indiana University associate research professor, analyzed at least 1,100 responses to a poll about post-COVID-19 symptoms in the 81,000-member Survivor Corps Facebook group. More than half of the patients reported at least one of six symptoms, including the now-common fatigue and breathing problems.    The list also includes two – inability to exercise or be active and difficulty concentrating – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn't yet cited in its list of COVID-19 symptoms.  Karyn Bishof appears to have most of them. On Saturday, the Boca Raton, Florida, resident hit Day 133 of suffering from a staggering list of symptoms that includes: cough, chronic fatigue, memory issues, vision impairment, chest heaviness, drastic heart rate and oxygen changes, sore throat, hair loss, heart palpitations, reflux, nausea, dizziness, vertigo, rapid hot flashes, joint paint, full-body itchiness, tremors, mild fever, dry mouth, excessive thirst, overheating with no fever, rash, sleep apnea, chest pain and tinnitus. She started her own poll in the Survivor Corps group in June to see how many other so-called COVID-19 "long haulers" there were. More than 1,500 people said they, too, were still suffering and more than half said the symptoms lasted more than three months.  Lambert said patients face even more skepticism with symptoms affecting the brain. Those include problems with memory, sleeping, irritability, or sadness. Patients said their doctors often attribute sleeping problems to stress. More than 40% of respondents in Bishof's poll reported their doctors hadn't listened to or believed them.

COVID-19 infections pose a risk of long-term problems like chronic fatigue and other complications -- A Newcastle scientist has warned people to remain vigilant about COVID-19 because the long-term effects of the disease are unknown. Such risks mean people should continue to take action to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus. Some people who catch COVID-19 have reported experiencing debilitating symptoms for weeks. In some cases, these symptoms have continued for more than two months. Some have categorised these symptoms as a form of chronic fatigue syndrome. This can involve persistent and disabling fatigue, amid various other symptoms. It is somewhat of a controversial condition, as not all medical professionals necessarily recognise it or know how to treat it. Previous research has shown clusters of chronic fatigue syndrome followed other infectious outbreaks, including SARS, Ross River virus and Epstein-Barr virus [glandular fever]. Some who face this kind of ill-health get better relatively quickly, while others experience longer periods of post-viral fatigue. Manchester University researchers have called for funding to "examine the prevalence of fatigue-related symptoms following COVID-19 infection". Such research could explore "pragmatic relatively low-cost techniques to treat post-viral fatigue to alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life". Asked about this type of condition, University of Newcastle Associate Professor Jay Horvat said he refers to them as "extra-respiratory manifestations". "There is evidence that there are long-term neurological effects associated with a number of viral infections" said Dr Horvat, also of Hunter Medical Research Institute.

Texas' COVID-19 Death Toll Tops 5,000 As New Cases Slide To 2-Week Low- Live Updates Texas numbers were the rare silver lining in another day of slightly less dismal numbers across the Sun Belt, and increasingly, in the deep south as well. Texas reported just 5,810 new cases on Sunday, a sharp drop from the prior day and the state's lowest daily total since July 13 (about 2 weeks ago),. That brought the Lone Star State's tally to 381,656. But the bigger milestone on Sunday came from the "deaths" column, when the state reported another 153 fatalities, pushing Texas's death toll north of 5,000 to 5,038. The state's positivity rate has increased slightly to 13.76%. California reported 8,259 new cases on Sunday, as the pace appeared to slow across the state, even as worries about a potential return to lockdown simmer. Sunday's number (reported with a 24-hour delay) came in below both the 14-day average of 9,421 and the 10,666 from the prior day The statewide total climbed to 453,659 confirmed cases. The number of fatalities increased by 79, which was below the 14-day daily average of 98 and also below the 151 reported the previous day. A total of 8,416 people have died. As cases continue to slow in certain parts of the Sun Belt, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he is seeing “unmistakable signs” that the pandemic is slowing in Texas and Arizona, though he is less certain about California and Florida. This as one Democratic lawmaker called for Los Angeles County to restore a stay-at-home order. US cases rose by 65,965 in the latest daily count, a 1.6% increase that’s lower than the 1.8% average over the prior seven days. Deaths increased by 921, breaking a four-day streak of more than 1,000 deaths per day.

Texas revises its coronavirus death tally upward by 12 percent - The Texas Department of State Health Services has revised the state’s coronavirus death toll upward by more than 600 after state health officials yesterday began including deaths marked on death certificates as caused by COVID-19. The state has now suffered more than 5,200 known deaths, and currently hosts the highest number of daily deaths in the country, at 156. It also yesterday became the fourth state to exceed 400,000 confirmed cases. If a similar revision needs to be made to the fatality rate across the US, more than 18,000 new deaths would have to be added to the national toll. The change in reporting for deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic in Texas highlights the haphazard nature of data reporting in the United States. Instead of a national database and dashboard to collect and display the extent of and death inflicted by the pandemic, states have been forced to scramble to report their own, often incomplete data. Missing data often includes testing and contact tracing information, as well as the time coronavirus tests take to complete. Moreover, because the average time it takes for states to conduct the tests is often a week or more, much of the reported data is showing the state of the pandemic the previous week. Even though the US has conducted more than 55 million tests, the lag means that those who eventually test positive may have unknowingly spread the disease for days. This state of affairs is one of the reasons the coronavirus has spread so widely across the country. As the World Health Organization has noted again and again, “the basic measures [that are] needed to suppress transmission and save lives: find, isolate, test and care for cases; and trace and quarantine their contacts.” Such measures are essentially impossible to coordinate at the national scale when the data on the disease is so disparate and uncurated. There are now 18 states in the United States that now record a 7-day average of more than 1,000 new cases of coronavirus each day. Six states—Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, California, Florida—currently record more than 2,000 new cases each day. There are 12 states with more than 100,000 cases, with Tennessee set to be the 13th in the next two days, and 26 states that have more than 1,000 confirmed deaths. Collectively in the country, there are now 4.4 million known cases, along with more than 150,000 deaths.

Florida records 9,300 new coronavirus cases, blows past New York - (Reuters) - Florida on Sunday became the second state after California to overtake New York, the worst-hit state at the start of the U.S. novel coronavirus outbreak, according to a Reuters tally. Total COVID-19 cases in the Sunshine State rose by 9,300 to 423,855 on Sunday, just one place behind California, which now leads the country with 448,497 cases. New York is in third place with 415,827 cases. Still, New York has recorded the most deaths of any U.S. state at more than 32,000 with Florida in eighth place with nearly 6,000 deaths. On average, Florida has added more than 10,000 cases a day in July while California has been adding 8,300 cases a day and New York has been adding 700 cases. The surge in Florida has continued as the state’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said he will not make mask-wearing mandatory and that schools must reopen in August. On the contrary, New York state has managed to get the virus under control, with stores and restaurants shuttered and the wearing of masks mandatory. The rise in cases also comes as President Donald Trump is pushing to re-open U.S. schools in the fall, despite teachers’ and families’ concerns that children could contract or transmit the disease should they return to the classroom. After New York, Texas has the most total coronavirus cases at 391,000. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Tropical Storm Hanna, which made landfall on Saturday as a Category 1 hurricane, was especially challenging as it was sweeping through an area of the state that has been the worst hit by the coronavirus. For the tenth time in July, Alaska set a record for a one-day rise in cases, with 234 new infections on Sunday, bringing the state’s total to 3,100. Oklahoma hit a record for new cases five times in July, with 1,204 new infections on Sunday bringing the state’s total to 31,285.

Florida reports record increase in COVID-19 deaths for second day in a row - Florida reported a record increase in new COVID-19 deaths for a second successive day on Wednesday, with 217 fatalities in the last 24 hours, according to the state health department. Florida also reported 9,446 new cases, bringing its total infections to over 451,000, the second highest in the country behind California. Florida's total death toll rose to 6,457, eighth highest in the nation, according to a Reuters tally. Florida was among six states on Tuesday that reported single-day records for coronavirus deaths. Arkansas, California, Montana, Oregon and Texas also had their biggest one-day spikes in coronavirus fatalities since the pandemic started. Total U.S. deaths surpassed 150,000 on Wednesday, the highest level in the world and rising at the fastest rate since early June. (Graphic:  Nationally, COVID-19 deaths have risen for three weeks in a row while the number of new cases week-over-week recently fell for the first time since June.

Coronavirus outbreak show signs of slowing in Arizona, Texas and Florida - Coronavirus outbreaks in Arizona, Florida and Texas appear to be slowing down as more people practice social distancing and states halt reopening plans. On Sunday, Arizona reported a 13% drop in the seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases, logging 2,627 newly diagnosed cases over the previous 24 hours, down from 3,022 the previous week, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The state has also begun to see signs that its Covid-19 hospitalizations may be slowing down, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project, a volunteer group founded by journalists from The Atlantic magazine. As of Sunday, coronavirus hospitalizations also fell by about 14% from the previous week to a seven-day average of 2,919. Cases in Texas have fallen almost 19% over the previous week, hitting roughly 8,404 daily new cases based on a seven-day moving average on Sunday, according to the CNBC analysis. Its peak in average daily new cases was 10,572 on July 20. CNBC uses a seven-day average to calculate Covid-19 trends because it smooths out inconsistencies and gaps in state data. Although Texas is showing signs that its number of new infections is starting to slow, it hit a record high in average hospitalizations of 10,840 Covid-19 patients on Sunday. The same day, the state also broke a grim record of average daily new deaths of 152. Florida has just begun seeing its curve start to flatten since reaching a record-high average of daily new cases of 11,870 on July 17, according to data from Johns Hopkins. On Sunday, the state had 10,544 average new cases, which is an 8% decrease compared with a week ago. However, the state is still reporting growth in hospitalizations and fatalities as the virus continues to hit densely populated cities in southern Florida. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Monday that officials are starting to see a leveling-off of cases in hard-hit states due to people "stepping up to the plate." "It's due to the fact that people are actually wearing masks. They're wearing their masks. They're social distancing. They're engaging in good personal hygiene," Azar said on "Fox and Friends." Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, also said Monday that hot-spot states in the Sunbelt region of the U.S. are starting to plateau in the number of new Covid-19 cases. "On the whole, it looks like Arizona, Texas and probably Florida at the very least are starting to hit a plateau." However, Gottlieb cautioned that "even as these states come down, other states look like they are heating up, and so they'll start to offset the gains we are making in the Sunbelt."

Coronavirus cases on the rise in the Midwest as they ebb in the Sun Belt -  As new coronavirus infections appeared to plateau in the Sun Belt but creep up in the Midwest, governors and local authorities imposed additional restrictions Tuesday, and a powerful teachers union warned that its members would strike if ordered to return to unsafe schools this fall. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, warned that positive coronavirus tests were rising in Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky as the number of new cases is showing signs of leveling off in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California. “We just can’t afford, yet again, another surge,” Fauci said on “Good Morning America.” A few hours later, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said Fauci’s appraisal was correct as he announced limits on county fairs, barring grandstand events, rides and games. He noted that emergency visits are decreasing and new cases have plateaued, but hospitalizations are on the upswing. Stressing the highly infectious nature of the virus, DeWine told reporters at his televised briefing about a 40-minute car ride that four people recently took to an Ohio lake. One person had the virus but didn’t know it. Within days, 10 people were sick, with two hospitalized and in intensive care, and three businesses had to be temporarily shuttered, he said. “From a single car ride,” DeWine said, urging the public to wear masks and follow other public health precautions. “If we do what we need to do we can start these numbers going in the right direction,” he added. “We are at a crucial time.”

 Six U.S. states see record COVID-19 deaths, Latinos hit hard in California - (Reuters) - A half-dozen U.S. states in the South and West reported one-day records for coronavirus deaths on Tuesday and cases in Texas passed the 400,000 mark as California health officials said Latinos made up more than half its cases. Arkansas, California, Florida, Montana, Oregon and Texas each reported record spikes in fatalities. In the United States more than 1,300 lives were lost nation wide on Tuesday, the biggest one-day increase since May, according to a Reuters tally. California health officials said Latinos, who make up just over a third of the most populous U.S. state, account for 56% of COVID-19 infections and 46% of deaths. Cases are soaring in the Central Valley agricultural region, with its heavily Latino population, overwhelming hospitals. The state on Tuesday reported 171 deaths. Florida saw 191 coronavirus deaths in the prior 24 hours, the state health department said. Texas added more than 6,000 new cases on Monday, pushing its total to 401,477, according to a Reuters tally. Only three other states - California, Florida and New York - have more than 400,000 total cases. The four are the most populous U.S. states. California and Texas both reported decreases in overall hospitalizations as Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. infectious diseases expert, saw signs the surge could be peaking in the South and West while other areas were on the cusp of new outbreaks.

Americans Dying of COVID-19 at Rate Over 17 Times Higher Than Europeans, Canadians - More than six months into the U.S. outbreak of the coronavirus, Americans are dying of COVID-19 at a rate over 17 times higher than that in the European Union and Canada, when adjusted for population.In the U.S., with a population of about 328 million, an average of about three people per million are dying each day, according to data compiled by Our World in Data. That's about 17 times higher than in the European Union, which has a population of about 446 million and less than one (0.18) daily death per million, on average. In Canada, home to about just under 38 million people, less than one (0.16) person per million is dying daily, on average. The U.S. has a seven-day average of just over 1,000 deaths per day, according to a New York Times tracker. The seven-day average in Canada is about six COVID-19 deaths per day. Meanwhile, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control reported Tuesday that its 14-day cumulative average of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 stood at zero. Among the countries currently most affected by the pandemic, the U.S. has the fourth highest mortality rate, with 45.24 deaths per 100,000 people in the population, according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University. The United Kingdom, which formally withdrew from the European Union at the end of January, has the highest mortality rate of the most affected countries, with 68.95 deaths per 100,000, followed by Peru and Chile, with 57.58 and 49.05 deaths per 100,000, respectively.

U.S. coronavirus cases and state maps: Tracking cases, deaths - The disease caused by the novel coronavirus has killed at least 148,000 people in the United States since February. Numbers of cases are increasing in most states and soaring in some. The overall daily death toll had declined from April through early July, largely because of a sharp decrease in New York and New Jersey. But by July 10, after all states had begun reopening, death numbers had begun to tick up again for the first time since March.Health officials anticipated the rise because the virus had been accelerating through populous states such as Texas, Florida andCalifornia for weeks. Localities reported not only a surge in new cases but also large increases in hospitalizations, crowded ICUs, and a jump in the percentage of positive tests. The United States topped 50,000 new cases in one day for the first time on July 1, two days after the country’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, warned that the country could begin to see 100,000 new cases a day “if this does not turn around.”  Criteria for reporting deaths continues to change in some states and cities, and numbers in this story may fluctuate as jurisdictions adjust their counting and reporting procedures. For instance, in mid-April, New York City added more than 3,700 deaths of people who were presumed to have the coronavirus but were never tested, and New Jersey added more than 1,800 on June 25.Health officials — including Fauci, in earlier testimony — have said the virus has killed more people than official death tolls indicate. It has hit communities of color especially hard.The virus continues to kill in New York, where at least 414,000 cases have been reported and at least 29,000 have died. But the pace has slowed considerably from the peak weeks in spring when more than 1,000 died on some days. On July 12, New York City went 24 hours without a covid-19 death for the first time since March.The new epicenters are in the Sun Belt, particularly south Florida. Alarmed by the astounding increases and stresses on their healthcare systems, governors in several states have begun to pause reopening plans and in some cases, reimpose restrictions, such as closing bars and restaurants.Meanwhile, smaller outbreaks continue to arise in summer camps,prisons, factories and other workplaces and on college campuses as athletes showed up for summer workouts. In the absence of a federal plan to control the virus, some health officials, governors, mayors and corporations have championed the need for wearing masks in hopes of squelching rampant transmission. By mid-July, masks were required not just in hard-hit urban areas but in states such as Oregon and Alabama and in national retail chainWalmart.

At least 735 COVID-19 deaths confirmed in US prison system - As of July 28, throughout the US incarceration system, including all federal and state-run prisons and jails, at least 735 inmates have died from COVID-19 and there have been over 82,000 confirmed cases. On any day in the US, there are estimated to be 2.3 million incarcerated individuals. Approximately 12,000 cases were added in the last week alone, a 16 percent increase from the total on July 21. This is nearly double the worst week during the April peak of the virus and an increase of nearly 10,000 compared to the week of June 16. The exponential growth of the infection and death-rates in prisons is intimately tied to COVID-19’s spread in the wider community. The states which have experienced the deadliest resurgences following deadly economic reopening overseen by Republican and Democratic governors have seen the highest number of deaths and infections in their prisons and jails. In the last three days alone, as the state passed 450,000 infections overall, 10 inmates in Florida prisons died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 46 prisoner deaths. At the Columbia Correctional Institute in Lake City at least three men have died. The Florida Department of Corrections refused to publicly recognize any inmate deaths before a local medical examiner leaked them to the News Service of Florida. Cynthia Cooper, whose husband is incarcerated at the facility, told the Tampa Bay Times, “I never thought I’d see the day when I was afraid of something more than him just being in prison. But it’s come to that.” The accelerating crisis in the state is a product of the criminal response of state authorities to the virus. Despite a population of over 96,000 inmates, statewide only 43,272 COVID-19 tests have been administered since the beginning of the pandemic. Furthermore, health and prison experts’ recommendation that all non-violent and at-risk criminals be immediately released has been ignored. On April 2, Republican Governor and Trump acolyte Ron DeSantis responded to desperate pleas to reduce the prison population to slow the virus’ spread, stating, “I don’t see how in a time of pandemic, where people are on edge already, [that] releasing felons in society would make a whole lot of sense.”

Florida, California and North Carolina report record new coronavirus deaths for one day -  Florida, North Carolina and California on Wednesday set state records for coronavirus-related deaths reported in a single day, according to data tracked by The Washington Post, as the nationwide death toll nears 150,000. Daily new cases in late July reached more than double the previous peak from April.  While headlines have focused on new hot-spot states in the South and West, top health officials are also urging preventive measures in states such as Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky that are seeing only subtle increases in positive cases. Leading infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci warned Wednesday that these states should be vigilant to avoid the surges experienced in the South.  Fauci said that on a conference call with governors a day earlier, he “made that point to them that it is very important to get ahead of the curve.”  Here are some significant developments:

  • The head of the Federal Reserve said Wednesday that rising numbers of coronavirus cases since mid-June are beginning to slow an economic recovery.
  • Alabama Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (R) is defying District of Columbia orders for visitors from certain states to self-quarantine for 14 days as he fundraises and attends face-to-face meetings in D.C.
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who has frequently been seen around the Capitol without a mask and in close contact with others, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Attorney General William P. Barr — who was in proximity to Gohmert at a hearing Tuesday — has tested negative.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is requiring that all lawmakers wear masks while on the House floor.
  • Florida’s state-run virus testing sites will be closed over the weekend in anticipation of a tropical storm.
  • Trump called for a short-term fix Wednesday to address expiring unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions, saying the other parts of the GOP’s $1 trillion relief bill can wait.

U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 150,000 as Country Struggles to Contain Virus - The U.S. death toll from the new coronavirus passed 150,000 Wednesday, in a grim marker of the country's struggle to control the disease.The U.S. has now reported more than 4.4 million confirmed cases and 150,713 deaths, according to Thursday morning figures from Johns Hopkins University. That number means the U.S. outbreak is by far the deadliest in absolute numbers. While it only holds about 5 percent of the world's population, according to NPR, it has accounted for almost a quarter of the world's 667,218 coronavirus deaths. "Basically, none of this should have happened," commercial pilot Rob Koreman of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who has to keep abreast of the numbers because of his work, told Reuters. "We needed state coordination, if not flat-out a federal mandate." The U.S. reported its first coronavirus death Feb. 29, CNN reported. It took 54 days for that number to rise to 50,000 on April 23, 34 days for it to climb to 100,000 May 27 and another 63 days to reach 150,000. Around 33,000 of the nation's deaths were in New York and almost 16,000 were in New Jersey, NPR reported. Those states were early epicenters of the outbreak, and the nation's daily death toll is still well below the highs of April and early May.However, the national death toll has begun to climb following a surge of cases in the South and West. The daily average of deaths for the week ending Tuesday rose above 1,000 for the first time since June 2, CNN reported. In 29 states, the average number of deaths per day was at least 10 percent higher compared to the previous week, and some states are reporting their highest daily death tolls to date. California broke its record for most deaths reported in a single day with 197 on Wednesday, while Florida broke its record two days in a row, with 186 deaths on Tuesday and 216 on Wednesday, according to NPR. While the number of new cases is now beginning to fall slightly, public health experts expect deaths to continue to rise since mortality tends to lag behind infections, according to CNN. "We have this terrible death toll because we have done a lousy job at limiting transmission." The death toll has risen much higher than initial predictions, The New York Times pointed out.  In April, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said he hoped the toll would not rise above 60,000 and a respected research center predicted a little more than 70,000 deaths by early August.  "The aspect which is really impossible to predict is human behavior," Yale epidemiology professor Virginia Pitzer told The New York Times of the models. "To what extent are people going to socially distance themselves? To what extent are politics going to influence whether you wear a mask? All of these factors are impossible to factor in."

Arizona, Florida report record increase in COVID-19 deaths (Reuters) - Florida reported a record increase in new COVID-19 deaths for a third day in a row on Thursday, with 252 fatalities in the last 24 hours, according to the state health department. Arizona also reported a record increase with 172 fatalities on Thursday, bringing that state’s death toll to 3,626. Both states had been hotspots with major outbreaks but new cases have recently slowed in both, according to a Reuters tally. Florida reported 9,956 new cases, bringing its total infections to over 461,000, the second highest in the country behind California. Florida’s total death toll rose to 6,709, the eighth highest in the nation. Due to the spike in cases, the Miami-area school district, the nation’s fourth-largest district, said students would not return to classrooms when the new academic year begins in a few weeks. Florida was among six states on Wednesday that reported single-day records for coronavirus deaths. California, Idaho, North Carolina, Texas and South Dakota also had their biggest one-day spikes in coronavirus fatalities since the pandemic started. California, Florida and Texas are the three most populous state and where about a quarter of all U.S. residents live. One person in the United States died about every minute from COVID-19 on Wednesday as the national death toll surpassed 150,000, the highest in the world. Deaths are rising at the fastest rate since early June. (Graphic: Coronavirus cases are rising in 37 states, down from 44 a week ago, according to a Reuters analysis of cases the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks. Deaths are rising in 26 states, up from 23 last week. Nationally, COVID-19 deaths have risen for three weeks in a row while the number of new cases week-over-week recently fell for the first time since June.

 US COVID-19 death toll soars past 151,000, with one death every minute - US coronavirus deaths soared past 151,000 on Thursday, with nearly 4.5 million reported cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. One person is dying in the US nearly every minute of COVID-19-related causes. The US deaths account for nearly a quarter of the world’s death toll, which stands at more than 668,000, and more than a quarter of the global case count of more than 17 million. Deaths have risen in the US for three weeks in a row, according to a Reuters analysis. Deaths are rising in 26 states, up from 23 last week. New coronavirus cases are rising in 37 states, down from 44 a week ago. As deaths generally lag behind cases, the death toll is expected to continue to rise over the next several weeks at least. The biggest hotspots remain in Florida, Arizona, California and Texas, while COVID-19 infections appear to be “moving up” from the South into Missouri, Ohio, Kansas, Nebraska, and Kentucky. White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Deborah Birx said on Thursday that this shift was “because of vacations and other reasons of travel.” Florida’s Department of Health on Thursday confirmed 9,956 new coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s known total to 461,379. There were 253 reported deaths in the state, breaking a fatality record for the third day in a row, and marking the highest single-day number of deaths since the pandemic began. The statewide death toll now stands at 6,596, the eighth highest in the nation. Miami-Dade County reported 2,773 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 60 new deaths, according to the Department of Health. The county now has 115,916 confirmed cases—4.3 percent of its entire population—and 1,515 deaths. On Wednesday, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the state’s largest district, announced it would be resuming classes August 31 with all instruction taking place virtually. In a press release, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the “decision to commence the academic year on the My School Online distance learning platform is representative of our commitment to safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our students and workforce.” The decision of the school district to begin the school year with all online instruction and no in-person classes runs counter to Governor Ron DeSantis’ order to open all Florida public schools in-person, five days a week. Earlier this month, DeSantis made the absurd claim, “If you can do Home Depots, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we can absolutely do schools.”

'Mini surge' of coronavirus among Greenwich teens blamed on house parties - One of the wealthiest communities in the country is experiencing a sharp uptick in coronavirus cases after several house parties involving teenagers and young adults, The New York Times reported Friday. After weeks of lockdown, high school graduates in Greenwich, Conn., attended get-togethers in mid-July, according to accounts from students and school officials. Now, two weeks later, the town is undergoing what health officials called a “mini surge” of cases. More than 20 people between the ages of 16 and 21 have tested positive for the virus in the town, with more expected as testing continues, according to Greenwich health officials. Statewide, more than 49,000 people have tested positive for the virus with more than 4,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Connecticut has one of the lowest daily case averages in the country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) on Tuesday warned residents to stay away from large clusters of people. “Connecticut has one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country right now,” he said in a statement. “But if we are not careful, this can change rapidly.” Discussions of the house parties — who attended and who has contracted the virus — has largely taken place in private accounts. Contact tracers say they have had difficulty finding teenagers who will admit they were at any of the parties, making it harder to keep the virus in check. Officials in the nearby town of Darien found that five people between the ages of 10 and 19 tested positive for the virus last week. Some of the infections are believed to have been caused by similar parties.

Florida closes all state-run testing sites as storm approaches -Florida’s state-run coronavirus testing sites will close over the weekend as a tropical cyclone in the Caribbean is expected to hit the peninsula.The Florida Division of Emergency Management ordered all state-supported drive-through and walk-up coronavirus testing sites to close Thursday at 5 p.m., agency spokesman Jason Mahon told The Post on Wednesday. The more than 50 sites across the state will reopen on a rolling basis next week beginning Tuesday, and all should be operational again Wednesday, barring storm damage.The sites, which are usually set up in parking lots and large outdoor areas, are often furnished with free-standing structures such as tents, tables and cones, which could become projectiles in tropical storm winds, Mahon said.Testing also slowed in Texas when Hurricane Hanna made landfall last week. In Starr County, health officials didn’t screen for the virus for at least six days.The unnamed storm, expected to become Tropical Storm Isaias by the time it nears Hispaniola on Thursday, is forecast to potentially approach Florida over the weekend. However, because it has yet to develop a clear center of circulation, forecast uncertainty is greater than usual.Everything from a track into the Gulf of Mexico, west of Florida, to a storm that moves through the Bahamas, off the state’s east coast, remains plausible.The National Hurricane Center cautions: “While this system could bring some rainfall and wind impacts to portions of Cuba, the central and northwest Bahamas, and Florida later this week and this weekend, it is too soon to determine the location or magnitude of those impacts.”

WHO warns that COVID-19 pandemic is resurgent across Europe - The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Friday that the lifting of lockdown measures is driving a resurgence of COVID-19 in Europe. The rise in new cases is the product of stark class inequalities and the exploitation of migrant labor across the continent. “The recent resurgence in COVID-19 cases in some countries following the easing of physical distancing measures is certainly cause for concern,” a WHO-Europe spokeswoman told AFP. She said governments should prepare for large-scale lockdowns to prevent major new outbreaks: “Where new clusters of cases appear, these need to be controlled through rapid and targeted interventions including rapid case detection and isolation and diligent contact tracing and quarantining. … If the situation demands, reintroduction of stricter, targeted measures with the full engagement of communities may be needed.” Over the weekend, the number of dead in Europe from COVID-19 passed 200,000, as the number of officially registered European cases approaches 3 million. While it is surging across Eastern Europe—with over 5,000 daily new cases in Russia, and over 1,000 each in Ukraine and Romania—the number of daily COVID-19 deaths, however, at several hundreds, is well below the thousands who died daily this spring. Lockdowns across Western Europe blunted much of the pandemic’s impact. Since May 20, Europe has seen roughly 20,000 new cases per day, less than half the April peak. The policy of the European Union (EU), entirely focused on using the pandemic as a pretext to hand multi-trillion-euro bailouts to the banks and major corporations, is, however, leading to disaster. As the pandemic spreads in Eastern Europe, the premature ending of lockdowns in the original centers of the pandemic in Western Europe is leading to a rapid resurgence of cases. On Saturday, Romania saw a record 1,284 cases and Ukraine a near-record 1,106, as the far-right Ukrainian regime imposes IMF austerity measures and slashes social spending, forcing millions of Ukrainians to find work in central or western Europe. Many work as migrant farm labourers and are badly exposed due to appalling working conditions there—even in Europe’s wealthiest countries.

 With over 16 million COVID-19 cases, the pandemic is devastating developing nations - Notwithstanding the transient declines in numbers reported over weekends, the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is demonstrating its tenacity in wreaking havoc on the inhabitants of this planet. On Saturday, the number of cases sped past 16 million, bringing the global per capita rate to 2,089 cases per a million population, or 0.21 percent. Even if the number of undiagnosed cases was five to 10 times higher, in absolute terms, the pandemic remains very much in its initial stages of development.The prospect of natural herd immunity in the foreseeable future is remote, and, by all accounts, the introduction of a viable vaccine will be a geopolitical fiasco that will make the US testing debacle seem like child’s play. Many industries, assisted through lucrative deals from their governments, have quickly adapted to enrich themselves on the scourge.The seven-day average of new cases has risen to 253,089 per day. More than 650,000 deaths have been tallied, with a seven-day average of 5,655 fatalities per day. One concerning statistic that has seen a sudden jump is in the category of people with serious or critical infections. After reaching a peak of 59,817 cases on April 29, it declined to 44,583, after which it began climbing again. It has now reached 66,170 cases. The mortality rate for these patients varies from 30 to 50 percent, suggesting that the number of daily deaths will continue to trend higher for some time. Three countries—the US, Brazil, and India—have more than 1 million cases. Twenty other countries have reported more than 100,000 cases. Countries where the pandemic is sustained at a high rate or surging include South Africa, India, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and the United States. Despite a steady number of cases, the fatality rate in Iran, at more than 200 deaths per day, has climbed higher than in March, during the initial surge. Developing countries that fly under the radar of mainstream COVID-19 reports, where outbreaks are bringing the healthcare infrastructure to near collapse, include Indonesia, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.South Africa, entering its winter season, has now become the epicenter of the African continent for the COVID-19 pandemic, ranking fifth in the world in the number of cases reported. As of this writing, there have been 445,433 infections, with half of these cases confirmed since July 7. There have been 6,769 deaths, with a rising seven-day average of 244 fatalities per day. On Saturday, there were 312 deaths.

Tsunami of fake news hurts Latin America's effort to fight coronavirus - For months Gustavo Andrade has been battling to convince his parishioners to take Covid-19 seriously.  “This town is full of infected people. Two or three die every day,” said the priest, from the town of Venustiano Carranza in southern Mexico.Yet for all Andrade’s efforts, many locals remain unconvinced. “Their understanding is that these deaths are from the poison the mayor is spraying as part of the anti-dengue fumigation,” he said.The culprit for the confusion is fake news.   As Latin America battles the advance of Covid-19, which has now claimed more than 160,000 lives in the region, it is also fending off a tsunami of online disinformation designed to bamboozle and deceive.From the Mexican state of Chiapas to Ceará in Brazil, social networks are awash with quack cures and fantastical conspiracies that can carry an all-too-real human cost. The misinformation streaming through millions of Latin American mobile phones and computers ranges from the bizarre to the ridiculous. In recent weeks, there have been claims that Brazilian coffins were being filled with rocks to inflate the country’s Covid-19 death toll; that drones were being used to deliberately contaminate indigenous communities in Mexico; that the CIA was helping spread the coronavirus in Argentina; that seafood in northern Peru was not safe to eat because the corpses of Covid-19 victims were being dumped in the Pacific Ocean; and even that the World Health Organization chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had been spotted boogying and boozingat a bar on the São Paulo coast.Many of the false claims include miracle Covid-19 cures including Peruvian sea water, Venezuelan lemongrass and elderberry tea and supernatural seeds being hawked by one Brazilian televangelist. In Bolivia, politicians have been promoting the use of a toxic bleaching agent as a potential cure – with panicked residents in the hard-hit city of Cochabamba reportedly lining up to buy the poisonous product. Yasodora Córdova, a Brazilian expert in online misinformation, said the tight-knit social groups that define Latin American society were one reason the region was such a “fertile ground” for fake news. Córdova, who has spent a decade studying online conspiracy theories, recalled how during the Zika epidemic viral YouTube videos falsely claimed the illness could be cured with honey or garlic, as has happened again this year with the coronavirus.

China reports its highest number of local Covid-19 infections since March  - China recorded 57 local Covid-19 cases on Sunday, the highest number the country has seen since it brought the coronavirus largely under control in March, according to figures released by the National Health Commission on Monday.Among the locally transmitted cases, 41 were found in the far western region of Xinjiang, where the coronavirus resurfaced on July 15 after nearly five months of no new cases.The remaining cases were discovered in the country's northeast, including 14 in Liaoning province and two in Jilin province.Sunday's figure is the highest number of local infections the country has reported since March 6, surpassing the daily spikes during a coronavirus outbreak in Beijing last month.On Sunday, China also recorded four imported cases and 44 asymptomatic infections. The country does not include asymptomatic cases in its overall tally of confirmed infections. As of Monday, China has reported a total of 83,981 confirmed cases, including 4,634 deaths, according to the NHC.

Dozens of Australian schools shut down after coronavirus outbreaks -- Just one week after the state Labor government in Victoria reopened schools for the beginning of term three, dozens of campuses have been forced to close after teachers and students became infected with coronavirus. According to a public list compiled by the Department of Education, 49 primary and secondary schools in Victoria have closed. Almost all of these are in Melbourne, Australia’s coronavirus epicentre. Teachers on social media have reported that other schools have been affected without being publicly identified, leaving the real tally unknown. According to the Age, since the initial phase of the pandemic in mid-March, 91 Victorian schools have closed after confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. The worst affected remains Al-Taqwa College in the western working class suburb of Truganina, with 183 confirmed cases among staff and students. Several schools have also shut down in Sydney, the latest being Georges River Grammar School in Georges Hall. One student tested positive, while another 18 students and 4 staff are identified as close contacts. The situation is an indictment of state and federal governments, and the teacher unions, which agreed to the schools reopening and have worked to defuse escalating opposition and anger among school staff. Schools in Victoria were reopened last Monday, amid record levels of daily coronavirus cases. Year 11 and 12 students are continuing as usual, together with Year 10 students doing senior subjects. This cohort alone totals more than 100,000 young people. Every morning and afternoon, many of these are catching public transport across the city. At school there has been no reduction in class sizes, so between 20 and 30 young adults spend the day in a room together. Wearing a mask or face covering when in public is now compulsory in Melbourne, but teachers have been advised not to wear one while teaching. Students from Foundation to Year 10 have been asked to do remote learning from home, though there are many exemptions, including for children whose parents cannot work from home. Teachers have been told that they are expected to work from school, even if all of their students are learning from home. Individual principals have the discretion to allow or refuse teacher requests to work from home. This includes those who have pre-existing medical conditions, are pregnant, approaching retirement age, or who are otherwise especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Those forced to attend school are sharing staff room spaces, bathrooms, and are also compelled to attend multiple staff meetings each week.

Mounting COVID-19 deaths expose deep crisis in Australian aged care homes - The rapid spread of COVID-19 infections and deaths in aged care facilities across Melbourne, the capital of the Australian state of Victoria, is spiralling out of control. Of Victoria’s 51 deaths in the “second wave,” 31 have come from nursing homes. Staff and residents alike are contracting the virus in growing numbers, despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claim that the situation was “looking better” in Victoria. There are now more than 538 cases linked to at least 40 homes across the metropolitan area, with new outbreaks occurring daily. Of Victoria’s record number of 10 coronavirus deaths on Sunday, seven were linked to nursing homes. Doctors are warning that the aged care system in Victoria is on the verge of collapse because of protracted federal and state government under-funding and the reliance of operators on low-paid casual workers. Australian Medical Association national president Tony Bartone told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation today that “underfunding, workforce issues, guidelines, accreditations” and other failures “clearly underpin a lot of what’s happening now.” Bartone said: “You can’t really fix that in the middle of a pandemic,” adding: “The lack of trained appropriate aged care workers has been chronic in the industry.”

Coronavirus Is Back With a Vengeance in Places Where It Had All but Vanished – WSJ - Australia reported only a handful of new coronavirus cases in early June, while Hong Kong went three weeks without a single locally transmitted infection that month. Japan had already lifted a state of emergency in May after the number of new cases dropped to a few dozen nationwide.All three reported new high-water marks in daily infection numbers in the past week, showing how difficult it can be to keep the virus at bay, even in places lauded for taking early and decisive action.The number of infections in all three places are still small in comparison to the world’s hardest hit countries, but the fresh waves demonstrate the tricky balancing act authorities face as they attempt to reopen their economies.One misstep can quickly undo the gains from weeks of closures, and public-health experts say some complacency and fatigue with social-distancing restrictions is inevitable in a long pandemic.In Australia, the southeastern state of Victoria recorded 484 new cases on Jul. 22, eclipsing a nationwide high set in March. By Monday, the state’s daily infections had climbed to 532—with most in the capital, Melbourne.“We reported only two cases on June 9, less than six weeks ago, and this shows how quickly outbreaks can occur and spread,” Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, Michael Kidd, said. Victoria has accumulated some 7,000 new cases since June 9.  Japan has seen a similar resurgence. The seven-day average for daily new cases in Tokyo more than quadrupled this month to 258 as of Sunday. Across Japan, there were a record 981 cases recorded Thursday. The government has again moved to secure hotel rooms to quarantine the infected after releasing most of the rooms it had previously requisitioned. Facing the prospect of a protracted recession after a year of antigovernment protests followed by the pandemic, Hong Kong’s government gave every adult permanent resident $1,290 to encourage people to spend and revive the recession-hit economy. Since then, Hong Kong has racked up more than 1,300 new cases, 87% of them locally transmitted. Within days of the cash handouts reaching residents, renewed social distancing saw fresh closures or restrictions on gyms, bars and restaurants.

South Africa's excess deaths surge as virus like 'wildfire' (AP) — Global hot spot South Africa is seeing a “huge discrepancy” between confirmed COVID-19 deaths and an unusually high number of excess deaths from natural causes, while Africa’s top health official said Thursday the coronavirus is spreading there “like wildfire.” A new report by the South African Medical Research Council, released late Wednesday, shows more than 17,000 excess deaths from May 6 to July 14 as compared to data from the past two years, while confirmed COVID-19 deaths have surpassed 6,000. “The numbers have shown a relentless increase — by the second week of July, there were 59% more deaths from natural causes than would have been expected,” the report says. The council’s president, Glenda Gray, said the excess deaths could be attributed to COVID-19 as well as other widespread diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis while many health resources are redirected toward the pandemic. Meanwhile, some South Africans are thought to be avoiding health facilities as fears of the new virus spread and public hospitals are overwhelmed. “The coronavirus storm has indeed arrived,” President Cyril Ramaphosa told the nation Thursday evening as cases surpassed 400,000. He announced that schools would “take a break” for a month to protect students. South Africa now has the world’s fifth largest caseload. It makes up more than half the confirmed cases on the African continent with 408,052.

Global death toll passes 650k as Belgian PM warns of total lockdown – as it happened -Here are the latest global coronavirus developments from the last few hours:

  • Global virus deaths passed 650,000 as new surges prompt fresh curbs. More than 100,000 deaths have been recorded since 9 July, and the global toll has doubled in just over two months.
  • Donald Trump wore a mask and talked up the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year in battleground state North Carolina. During a visit to a Fujifilm plant in Morrisville, the president wore a mask publicly for a second time and expressed confidence in the country’s economic recovery.
  • Spain’s PM said the UK quarantine decision not justified.Britain’s decision to impose a two-week quarantine on people travelling from Spain is unfair, Pedro Sánchez said. He added that the Spanish government is in touch with British authorities in a bid to get the country to reconsider its position.
  • Google employees will work from home until at least summer 2021. The company will keep its employees home until at least next July, the Wall Street Journal reported, marking the largest tech firm to commit to such a timeline in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Lebanon reimposed severe Covid-19 restrictions for the next two weeks. It has shut places of worship, cinemas, bars, nightclubs, sports events and popular markets, after a sharp rise in infections.
  • The International Monetary Fund approved $4.3bn in aid to South Africa to help it fight the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni, in June predicted the economy would shrink 7.2% in 2020, its deepest slump in 90 years.
  • Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli issued scathing criticism of the Italian government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. He said he was humiliated by a recent lockdown, surprise comments as the 61-year-old superstar was a symbol of national unity at the height of the lockdown.

 Brazil's first lady tests positive for COVID-19 Brazilian first lady Michelle Bolsonaro has tested positive for COVID-19 weeks after her husband, President Jair Bolsonaro, announced he had done the same. She is in “good health” and following established health protocols, according to a Wednesday statement. Michelle Bolsonaro is being monitored by a presidential medical team. The president and first lady on Wednesday attended a public event in Brasilia, where she wore a face mask while delivering remarks about an initiative for women in rural areas and indigenous communities, NPR reported. The news of Michelle Bolsonaro's infection came on the same day that the country’s science and technology minister Marcos Pontes shared on Twitter that has also tested positive for coronavirus. Pontes is the fifth member of Bolsonaro’s Cabinet to contract the disease. Jair Bolsonaro said last week that he tested negative for coronavirus after announcing that he had contracted the disease on July 7. The leader has not avoided public events since the start of the pandemic and has repeatedly downplayed the effect of the disease. The Brazilian president also announced earlier this month that he was taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that has been touted by President Trump as a treatment for COVID-19.

India coronavirus deaths pass Italy's as floods hamper battle India's coronavirus death toll has passed 35,000, overtaking that of Italy, as floods affecting millions and killing almost 350 hamper the battle against the pandemic. With 779 deaths in 24 hours, the health ministry on Friday put the number of total fatalities at 35,743 - the world's fifth-highest tally behind the United States, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Mexico, according to Johns Hopkins University. Total infections in the world's second-most populous country stand now at 1.63 million, surpassed only by the US and Brazil, both of which have much smaller populations. But many experts have cast doubt on India's official numbers, saying authorities are not testing enough people and many coronavirus-linked deaths are not properly recorded. "Serological surveys that are being done around the country for antibodies are showing the real number of cases in India are much higher than the confirmed number," Mumbai - home to 20 million people and the capital of India's worst-hit state, Maharashtra - serological surveys showed "nearly 60 percent of people have had the virus". Last week, a study indicated that almost a quarter of people in New Delhi have had the virus - nearly 40 times the official total. Meanwhile, floods caused by annual monsoon rains in eastern and northeastern India that have displaced tens of thousands of people have been hampering efforts to stop the coronavirus spreading. Floods have swamped large parts of the densely populated Bihar state and affected nearly four million people by Friday, stymieing the response to the pandemic. The floods have killed at least 24 people in the state, where the downpours have submerged thousands of villages in 12 districts and further strained the already fragile healthcare system.  India set to surpass two million COVID-19 cases within days  -While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other ministers in his far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government continue to cynically claim that India, under their leadership, is mounting a “successful battle” against COVID-19, the virus is in fact rampaging across the country; and is now deeply entrenched in both India’s teeming cities and in rural areas, where health care facilities are all but non-existent.Currently, India is the country with the third highest number of infections in the world after the US and Brazil. Total infections have surged passed the grim milestone of 1.5 million. India is also currently sixth in terms of recorded COVID-19 deaths, with 34,191 fatalities. However, it is widely recognised that the figures provided by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare fall well short of the true number of infections and deaths.Even going by the official figures, India has one of the most rapidly rising case counts in the world. Official cases have doubled within just 19 days, compared to 40 days in the US and 36 days in Brazil. During the last six days, India has reported nearly 50,000 new cases daily, including 49,292 cases on Tuesday. Over the past 12 days, half a million new infections have been registered.   Leading epidemiologists and medical experts believe the impact of the pandemic is far greater than these figures suggest. In an interview with journalist Karan Thapar of The Wire on July 25, Bhramar Mukherjee, Professor of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at the University of Michigan, said that COVID-19 is surging like a “storm” across India. She expressed shock about the virus’ spread into villages with "fragile” health care systems. According to Mukherjee's assessment, India has between 20 and 30 million undetected COVID-19 cases. Within six weeks, she believes the true number of infections will reach 100 million.

 Hong Kong Cancels Fall Election As Coronavirus “Third Wave” Intensifies - Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam on Friday announced that the city state would postpone its elections set for the fall as the "third wave" of SARS-CoV-2 causes more outbreaks than the prior two waves (prompting HK to crack down on indoor dining/bars and impose the most restrictive social distancing measures yet).Here's more from the SCMP:Hong Kong’s embattled leader has invoked emergency powers to postpone the Legislative Council elections scheduled for Septe mber 6, citing health risks from the resurgent Covid-19 crisis as the primary reason.Flanked by the ministers for justice, health and constitutional affairs, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told a press conference on Friday evening the decision was the most difficult she had made in the last seven months.“Since January, we have been fighting the pandemic for seven months. This pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to our economy,” she said.“We have not been complacent. We need to be on high alert all the time and respond.“We are facing a serious situation … The World Health Organisation’s chief recently said we sometimes need to make some hard choices, and my decision today is the hardest of all."Lam said she was invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance in doing so, and her decision was supported by the central government.

 Lead Poisoning Affects One in Three Children Worldwide - Childhood lead poisoning is a long-recognized health hazard that has severely negative consequences for the developing brain. A new first-of-its-kind study reveals that lead poisoning is a global problem, affecting far more children than previously thought. The researchers estimate that roughly 800 million children worldwide, or one out of three, suffer from lead poisoning, according to The New York Times.  Children with a blood lead level above 5 micrograms per deciliter need immediate treatment to prevent life-long consequences from the powerful neurotoxin. The report, The Toxic Truth: Children's exposure to lead pollution undermines a generation of potential, says that the bulk of affected children live in South Asia. India is one of the worst affected countries, where more than 275 million children have dangerously high lead levels in their blood, the BBC reported.  The study is a collaboration between UNICEF and Pure Earth, a nonprofit that seeks to help poor countries threatened by toxic pollutants.  "With few early symptoms, lead silently wreaks havoc on children's health and development, with possibly fatal consequences," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a UN statement. "Knowing how widespread lead pollution is – and understanding the destruction it causes to individual lives and communities – must inspire urgent action to protect children once and for all." Childhood lead exposure has been linked to behavioral problems. It can also eventually lead to kidney damage and cardiovascular conditions, according to Agence-France Presse (AFP). Lead poisoning is estimated to cost low- and middle-income countries almost $1 trillion over children's lifetimes, AFP reported.  The study showed lead poisoning is a major problem in developing South Asian countries since environmental safeguards have not yet been put in place or are poorly enforced. That means that lead in dust and fumes from smelters, fires, car batteries, old peeling paint and water pipes, electronics junkyards, and even cosmetics and lead-infused spices pose an enormous risk to the mental and physical development of a generation of children, The New York Times reported."The unequivocal conclusion of this research is that children around the world are being poisoned by lead on a massive and previously unrecognized scale," the study found.

Reducing Air Pollution Has Helped Children in Northeast U.S., Study Finds - States in the Northeastern U.S. have made a considerable effort to make their air cleaner by reducing toxicmercury, sulfur dioxide and greenhouse gases emitted by the region's power plants. New research has found that those efforts have had an ancillary benefit of improving the health of children in the area, preventing hundreds of childhood illnesses and saving an additional hundreds of millions of dollars, as WBUR in Boston reported.The emissions program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), was established in 2009 and sets a cap on planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions, offering power plants emissions allowances via permit auctions and allowing them to trade those allowances, as The New York Times reported.Past studies of the RGGI have looked at outcomes such as heart attacks, hospitalizations and lost days of work, though they also took infant mortality, children's acute bronchitis, and some other respiratory symptoms into account. A 2017 study found that the health benefits of RGGI were worth somewhere between $3 and $8.3 billion. That includes health benefits to children estimated to be worth about $8.1 million, according to WBUR."We felt it was very important to include the outcomes that were associated with the pollutants that had been largely ignored," said Frederica Perera, who runs Columbia University's Center for Children's Environmental Health, to WBUR. "Because the long-term health benefits would be so great if we could prevent these very early damages from occurring."Perera and her team found that the emissions reduction may have reduced the number of underweight births in the region and lowered the incidence of asthma and autism by hundreds of cases, offering enormous benefits to children and sparing them a lifelong need for excessive health care resources, according to the new research published in Environmental Health Perspectives. "What makes this study particularly important is that it shows how we have so absurdly undervalued the welfare of our children in how we approach our public policies," said Aaron Bernstein, interim director of theCenter for Climate, Health and Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, to WBUR. Bernstein was not involved with the study. "We really have a lot to gain by fully accounting for what air pollution and other forms of pollution do to children," he added.

Wheeler dismisses study claiming EPA role in elevated air pollution, COVID-19 cases - The study linked the EPA’s relaxed enforcement during the pandemic with higher air pollution and COVID-19 cases. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said he had not read a study linking the agency’s relaxed pollution enforcement during the pandemic with air pollution increases and elevated COVID-19 cases and deaths. The study by researchers at American University was widely reported earlier this month. It used EPA daily air quality readings to find a 13% increase in pollution in counties with six or more facilities required to comply with routine reporting requirements. The EPA said it was freezing enforcement efforts for routine compliance requirements on March 26. “I haven’t seen that study yet,” Wheeler said in response to the Energy News Network’s question last week at an event in Lakewood, Ohio, where he announced federal grants for trash cleanup in the Great Lakes. Wheeler characterized the changes as procedural. He also touted a claim that air pollution has gone down 7% since President Donald Trump took office, although he acknowledged that factors besides regulation were at work. “Certainly some of the air reductions are attributed to fuel switching within the electric power sector, but that’s not all of it,” Wheeler said. Fuel switching refers to more reliance on natural gas as the market for coal has continued to decline, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to prop up the coal industry. The lakeside appearance came roughly three weeks after the release of updated research from American University researchers Claudia Persico and Kathryn Johnson, linking increased pollution to more cases and deaths from COVID-19. The analysis found that counties where the EPA rollback may have supported increased air pollution had an average 39% more COVID-19 cases and 19% more deaths from the virus.

CDC warns of a 'rapidly growing' Salmonella outbreak amid more than 200 reported infections - The Center for Disease Control and Prevention warns of a "rapidly growing" outbreak of Salmonella infections. On Friday, the CDC reported that a total of 212 people from 23 states have been infected with Salmonella with a total of 31 hospitalizations. They stated that illnesses first emerged between late June to early July. Between Tuesday and Thursday, 87 additional people reported infections, according to Friday's report. According to the CDC's map of reported cases, most of the infections are in Oregon and Utah, with 51 and 40 infections respectively. The two states are followed by Michigan, Arizona, Iowa, California, and Montana, which all have reported ten or more infections, according to the report. The CDC has not "identified a specific food, grocery store, or restaurant as the source of this outbreak," according to the report. The CDC identifies diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps as symptoms of Salmonella that emerge between six hours to six days after infection. The illness lasts between four to seven days.  The CDC asks individuals with symptoms to report their illness to local health department, considering that most people undergo treatment for the infection. The CDC said that they are interviewing infected individuals to understand what may have caused the outbreak.

CDC: Hundreds sick, 1 dead in nationwide Salmonella outbreak linked to chicks, ducklings - Chicks and ducklings kept in backyards are the likely source of a nationwide Salmonella outbreak that has sickened nearly 1,000 people and killed one person, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.The outbreak nearly doubled in size since the CDC's last report on June 24.  Sick people range in age from 1 to 94-years-old, and more than 150 people have been hospitalized.A separate salmonella outbreak tied to red onions has caused nearly 400 cases reported in 34 states this month.Every state except Hawaii and Rhode Island has now reported at least one case in the poultry-related outbreak, the CDC says. Kentucky and Tennessee are currently the hardest hit states.The agency believes backyard poultry — specifically chicks and ducklings — are to blame for the outbreak, citing interviews with 409 ill people.The animals were obtained from several sources and testing has revealed three outbreak strains, the CDC reports."You can get sick with a Salmonella infection from touching backyard poultry or their environment. Backyard poultry can carry Salmonella bacteria even if they look healthy and clean and show no signs of illness," the investigation notice warns.Backyard poultry, especially chickens, have become popular pets in the U.S. Many owners continue to use them as a source for eggs and meat, too.People who own backyard poultry should wash their hands after touching the animals."Don’t kiss backyard poultry or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth," the CDC says. "Don’t let backyard poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored." Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. People sickened by the bacteria typically have symptoms in 6 hours to six days after being exposed.

CDC says another salmonella outbreak in 34 states linked to red onions -Across 34 states, nearly 400 people have fallen ill due to a salmonella outbreak. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this outbreak is likelylinked to red onions.“Although red onions have been identified as the likely source, other types of onions may be contaminated due to the way onions are grown and harvested,” a statement from the CDC read.The CDC is advising that anyone who has bought onions from Thomson International, Inc — including red, white, yellow and sweet onions — refrain from eating, serving, or selling them. Any food that contains these onions should also not be consumed and can be discarded.  Salmonella outbreak update: Do not eat, serve, or sell onions from Thomson International, Inc., or food made with them. This includes red, white, yellow, and sweet onions. 396 illnesses in 34 states. Read more:  — CDC (@CDCgov) August 1, 2020

A Post-Brexit Agrochemical Apocalypse For The UK? - The British government, regulators and global agrochemical corporations are colluding with each other and are thus engaging in criminal behaviour. That’s the message put forward in a new report written by environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason and sent to the UK Environment Agency. It follows her January 2019 open letter to Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer CropScience, where she made it clear to him that she considers Bayer CropScience and Monsanto criminal corporations. Her letter to Baumann outlined a cocktail of corporate duplicity, cover-ups and criminality which the public and the environment are paying the price for, not least in terms of the effects of glyphosate. Later in 2019, Mason wrote to Bayer Crop Science shareholders, appealing to them to put human health and nature ahead of profit and to stop funding Bayer. Mason outlined with supporting evidence how the gradual onset of the global extinction of many species is largely the result of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture. She argued that Monsanto’s (now Bayer) glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide and Bayer’s clothianidin are largely responsible for the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and that the use of glyphosate and neonicotinoid insecticides are wiping out wildlife species across the globe. In February 2020, Mason wrote the report ‘Bayer Crop Science rules Britain after Brexit – the public and the press are being poisoned by pesticides’. She noted that PM Boris Johnson plans to do a trade deal with the US that could see the gutting of food and environment standards. In a speech setting out his goals for trade after Brexit, Johnson talked up the prospect of an agreement with Washington and downplayed the need for one with Brussels – if the EU insists the UK must stick to its regulatory regime. In other words, he wants to ditch EU regulations. Mason pondered just who could be pulling Johnson’s strings. A big clue came in February 2019 at a Brexit meeting on the UK chemicals sector where UK regulators and senior officials from government departments listened to the priorities of Bayer Crop Science. During the meeting (Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum Keynote Seminar: Priorities for UK chemicals sector – challenges, opportunities and the future for regulation post-Brexit), Janet Williams, head of regulatory science at Bayer Crop Science Division, made the priorities for agricultural chemical manufacturers known. 

Agricultural Warfare? People Are Receiving Mysterious Unsolicited Packages Of Seeds In The Mail From China - Just when you thought tensions between the U.S. and China couldn't get any stranger in the midst of the ongoing global pandemic, Americans across the country are starting to report receiving unsolicited packages of different types of seeds that they didn't order - and don't know anything about - at their door. The return address on the packages is always from China. The Washington State Department of Agriculture wrote about the phenomenon on their Facebook page on July 24, 2020 and said that the seeds are being shipping in packaging that identifies the contents as jewelry. Similar advisories have been issued in Virginia, Utah, Kansas, Arizona and Louisiana. “Unsolicited seeds could be invasive, introduce diseases to local plants, or be harmful to livestock,” the post says. At least 40 residents in Utah were said to have been mailed the unsolicited packages, according to the Daily Mail. The Kansas  Department of Agriculture and the Arizona Department of Agriculture also addressed the phenomenon, as did the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, who said:  "Right now, we are uncertain what types of seeds are in the package. Out of caution, we are urging anyone who receives a package that was not ordered by the recipient, to please call the LDAF immediately. We need to identify the seeds to ensure they do not pose a risk to Louisiana’s agricultural industry or the environment."There have been similar reports from Virginia's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "The seeds have yet to be identified, but officials speculate that the seeds may be of an invasive plant species and are advising residents not to use them," Fox News reported."Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations," VDACS wrote in a press release.

Americans warned not to plant mysterious seeds appearing in the mail - Agriculture officials in several US states issued warnings this week about unsolicited shipments of foreign seeds and advised people not to plant them.Residents in more than a dozen states recently reported receiving seed packets they did not order that appeared to have been sent by mail from China.The US Department of Agriculture said it is working with the Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies, and the state department to investigate the situation. The department is urging US residents to report the suspicious packages and not plant the seeds. But it it “doesn’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales”. In Kentucky, the state agriculture department was notified that several residents had received the packages, the agriculture commissioner, Ryan Quarles, said.“We don’t know what they are, and we cannot risk any harm whatsoever to agricultural production in the United States,” he said. “We have the safest, most abundant food supply in the world and we need to keep it that way.”“At this point in time, we don’t have enough information to know if this is a hoax, a prank, an internet scam or an act of agricultural bio-terrorism,” Quarles added. “Unsolicited seeds could be invasive and introduce unknown diseases to local plants, harm livestock or threaten our environment.”In North Carolina, the department of agriculture and consumer services said it was contacted by numerous people who received seed shipments they did not order. The agency said the shipments were likely the product of ‘brushing’.“According to the Better Business Bureau, foreign, third-party sellers use your address and Amazon information to generate a fake sale and positive review to boost their product ratings,” said Phil Wilson, director of the state’s plant industry division. And Florida’s agriculture and consumer services commissioner, Nikki Fried,said on Twitter on Tuesday that the state had received more than 600 reports of suspicious seed packages.

Mystery Seeds Spread Around the World – WSJ  - The case of the mystery seeds showing up in U.S. mailboxes from shippers in China and other countries has gone global.The U.S. Department of Agriculture said consumers in at least 22 U.S. states and several other countries had received unsolicited packages of seeds. Canada, the U.K. and Australia all are investigating the matter.The USDA, in a recorded radio broadcast released Wednesday night, revealed the world-wide scope of the seed shipments after thousands of people across the U.S. reported receiving seeds in the mail they didn’t order. States from Washington to Virginia have warned residents about the unsolicited packages, and the USDA said earlier this week that it was collecting the packages to test the seeds for anything of concern. Multiple U.S. agencies are now investigating the seeds, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection.Unsolicited seed packages have been on the USDA’s radar since at least early June, according to state agriculture officials. Gary Black, Georgia’s commissioner of agriculture, said his department contacted the USDA after a handful of state residents reported receiving such deliveries around June 2. Osama El-Lissy, a deputy administrator for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the agency has so far identified 14 species of seeds, from mustard and morning glory to cabbage, rosemary and roses.  As of late Wednesday, there was no indication any of the seeds carry pests or diseases, according to the USDA. The USDA also reiterated it has no evidence the packages are anything other than a “brushing scam.” In such scams, vendors selling through online retailers like pay “brushers” to place orders for their products, and packages with low-value or no contents are shipped to strangers. Brushers then pose as the buyers and post fake customer reviews to boost the vendor’s sales.

 Loss of bees causes shortage of key food crops, study finds -A lack of bees in agricultural areas is limiting the supply of some food crops, a new US-based study has found, suggesting that declines in the pollinators may have serious ramifications for global food security. Species of wild bees, such as bumblebees, are suffering from a loss of flowering habitat, the use of toxic pesticides and, increasingly, the climate crisis. Managed honeybees, meanwhile, are tended to by beekeepers, but have still been assailed by disease, leading to concerns that the three-quarters of the world’s food crops dependent upon pollinators could falter due to a lack of bees. The new research appears to confirm some of these fears. Of seven studied crops grown in 13 states across America, five showed evidence that a lack of bees is hampering the amount of food that can be grown, including apples, blueberries and cherries. A total of 131 crop fields were surveyed for bee activity and crop abundance by a coalition of scientists from the US, Canada and Sweden. “The crops that got more bees got significantly more crop production,” said Rachael Winfree, an ecologist and pollination expert at Rutgers University who was a senior author of the paper, published by the Royal Society. “I was surprised, I didn’t expect they would be limited to this extent.” The researchers found that wild native bees contributed a surprisingly large portion of the pollination despite operating in intensively farmed areas largely denuded of the vegetation that supports them. Wild bees are often more effective pollinators than honeybees but research has shown several species are in sharp decline. The rusty patched bumblebee, for example, was the first bee to be placed on the US endangered species list in 2017 after suffering an 87% slump in the previous two decades. Swaths of American agriculture is propped up by honeybees, frantically replicated and shifted around the country in hives in order to meet a growing need for crop pollination. Almonds, one of the two crops not shown to be suffering from a lack of bees in the study, are mostly grown in California, where most of the beehives in the US are trucked to each year for a massive almond pollination event. The US is at the forefront of divergent trends that are being replicated elsewhere in the world – as farming becomes more intensive to churn out greater volumes to feed a growing global population, tactics such as flattening wildflower meadows, spraying large amounts of insecticide and planting monocultural fields of single crops are damaging the bee populations crucial for crop pollination.

Lack of Wild Bees Causes Crop Shortage, Could Lead to Food Security Issues - Without bees, future generations may not be able to identify with adages like, 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away.' Crop yields for key crops like apples, cherries and blueberries are down across the U.S. because of a lack of bees in agricultural areas, a Rutgers University-led study published Wednesday in The Royal Society found. This could have "serious ramifications" for global food security, reported The Guardian.The scientists wanted to understand the degree to which insect pollination, or lack thereof, actually limits current crop production. Surveying 131 locations across major crop-producing areas of the U.S., they found that five out of seven crops showed evidence of "pollinator limitation" and that yields could be boosted with full pollination, the study said."The crops that got more bees got significantly more crop production," said Rachael Winfree, an ecologist and pollination expert and the senior author of the paper, reported The Guardian. "I was surprised, I didn't expect they would be limited to this extent."The research further noted that pollinator declines could "translate directly" to decreased production of most of the crops studied and that wild bees "contribute substantially" to the pollination of most studied crops.Declines in both managed honeybees and wild bees raise serious concerns about global food security, the study said, because most of the world's crops rely on pollinators.Bees and other pollinators like bats and birds underpin the global food system, but their populations are dwindling due to human activity including settlement building, pesticide use, monoculture farming and climate change. This is part of what many are calling the "insect apocalypse," a precipitous decline in insects across the globe.Wild bees, in particular, suffer from loss of flowering habitat, toxic pesticide use, and climate change, The Guardian reported, and managed honeybees have fallen to disease. Overall, three-quarters of the world's food crops are dependent up pollinators and could falter due to lack of bees, the news report added.According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, crop production has increasingly become dependent upon insects and other pollinators over the past 50 years by 300%, The Guardian reported. At the same time, farming has become more intensive to produce enough volume to feed a growing global population, the news report said, by flattening wildflower meadows, spraying insecticides and using monoculture crops ‒ all tactics which damage bee populations. "Pollination shortfalls" could cause certain fruits and vegetables to become rarer and more expensive, The Guardian reported. This could trigger nutritional deficits in diets as fresh foods are replaced by rice, wheat and corn, which are pollinated by wind rather than insects.

Locust Swarms Are Getting So Big That We Need Radar To Track Them -  The desert locust upsurge is yet another of 2020’s horrors. In dry years, the insects, which can grow up to four inches long and are shades of green, black, or yellow depending on their life stage, remain localized to the deserts of Africa, the Middle East, and southwest Asia. Lately, however, the weather has been wetter than usual. Desert locusts have bred prolifically and migrated in huge swarms to countries that don’t always see them in large numbers, including several nations along the horn of Africa. Other places, such as the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, haven’t had a locust invasion in decades. The locust outbreak is currently classed by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) as an “upsurge.” If the insects begin migrating in large bands — which could happen within a couple years, should things worsen — they’ll be officially considered a plague.A swarm covering one square kilometer eats as much food as 35,000 people every day. The damage done so far is already appalling. The UN says thefood supply of 25 million people in East Africa has been threatened by the insects. In Ethiopia alone, they’ve destroyed around 200,000 hectares of crops. Meanwhile, in India, the insects have chewed up 50,000 hectares.The recent outbreak may be just a hint of what is to come, thanks to the extreme weather expected as a result of climate change. Such conditions,including periods of excessive rainfall, would be adored by the locusts, says Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the FAO.The locusts’ wanderlust has sparked efforts to develop tools to closely track the insects. The FAO already uses real-time reports from locust survey teams on the ground and satellite imagery of vegetation and weather events to help forecast how many locusts will breed and where they will go. Countries use data on locust migrations to determine where to send teams in efforts vanquish the insects en masse by dropping pesticide on them from planes. Among the technologies that could improve locust surveillance by pinpointing locations of multiple swarms at a given moment are radar and drones.

Massive Fleet of Chinese Fishing Boats Threaten Galapagos Islands - Ecuador authorities are keeping tabs on a fleet of roughly 260 fishing boats near the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ecuadorian boats are patrolling to try to stop the fishing boats from entering the area, according toReuters.The ships are just outside the perimeter of the 188-mile-wide economic zone. "This fleet's size and aggressiveness against marine species is a big threat to the balance of species in the Galápagos," Yolanda Kakabadse, former environment minister told The Guardian.Chinese vessels travel to the region each year in search of marine species, including endangered hammerhead sharks."Unchecked Chinese fishing just on the edge of the protected zone is ruining Ecuador's efforts to protect marine life in the Galápagos," Roque Sevilla told The Guardian. Sevilla, former mayor of Ecuador's capital, Quito, was tasked with designing a "protection strategy" for the islands, which lie 563 miles west of the South American mainland. He said the first step would be diplomatic efforts requesting the withdrawal of the Chinese fishing fleet. Past Chinese fleets have violated international boundaries to capture marine life. In 2017, a Chinese vessel was caught in the marine reserve with 300 metric tons of wildlife, mostly consisting of sharks, according to the BBC.  So far, the Chinese fishing boats have stayed in international waters, Reuters reported.In a series of tweets, Ecuador's president, Lenin Moreno, used #SOSGalapagos to draw attention to the boats surrounding the protected islands. He described the islands as "one of the richest fishing areas and a hotbed of life for the entire planet," SkyNews reported. BBC reported that Moreno plans to hold consultations with Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica in order to confront the threat.

Huge fleet of 260 Chinese fishing ships is discovered off the Galapagos Islands sparking fears they will 'suck the life' from the unique marine eco-system - 260 Chinese fishing ships have been discovered near the Galapagos Islands sparking concerns that they will damage the marine eco-system in the area. Ecuador's president Lenin Moreno had been tweeting over the weekend to boast about the security in place to protect the area surrounding the islands which he said is 'a hotbed of life for the entire planet'. However, the Ecuadorian Navy has confirmed that around 260 fishing vessels have been spotted 200 miles from the islands' shores. Now, volunteer pressure group Blue Planet Society have voiced their concern that the ocean is being destroyed in real time, the Scottish Sun reports. Spokesperson John Hourston told Sky News: 'The threat that the industrial Chinese fishing fleet poses to the unique and spectacular marine life of the Galapagos archipelago cannot be overstated.' He also said the vessels were 'sucking the life from this biodiversity jewel'. 'Marine life doesn't recognise lines on a map. Unless the high seas are given protection, the ocean is in danger of becoming become a lifeless desert.' In response to the fishing fleet a Protection Strategy has been put in place by former Mayor of Quito Roque Sevilla and ex-environment minister Yolanda Kakabadse, alongside a team of specialists.

Maine Woman Killed in Possible Shark Attack - Officials in the Pine Tree State are investigating a possible shark attack that took place Monday and left one woman dead. If it's confirmed, it will go down in the books as Maine's first official deadly shark attack, ABC News reported.The Maine Department of Marine Resources posted on Facebook that "an eye witness reported that the woman was swimming off the shore near White Sails Lane when she was injured in what appeared to be a shark attack. Kayakers nearby brought her to shore and EMS responders were called to the scene where she was pronounced deceased." The post went on to say, "Until further notice, swimmers and boaters are urged to use caution near Bailey Island and to avoid swimming near schooling fish or seals." Bailey Island is in Casco Bay, just east of Yarmouth and Freeport. Maine Department of Marine Resources spokesman Jeff Nichols told the Boston Globe that he could not find records of any fatal attacks before Monday. Nichols also told the Boston Globe that the last known shark attack occurred off the coast of Eastport in 2010, when a diver swam near salmon pens. Local news reports said the diver used his camera to fend off the shark and escaped unharmed, according to the Boston Globe.  James Sulikowski, a shark researcher in charge of Arizona State University's Sulikowski Shark and Fish Conservation Lab, said there are eight shark species found off Maine's coast, but only white sharks are known to have attacked people, the Boston Globe reported. When that happens, Sulikowski said, it's most likely because the shark has mistaken a human for a seal.

After three decades, most polluted U.S. neighborhoods haven't changed - (Reuters) - If your neighborhood was among the most polluted in 1981, it probably still is. Likewise, the least polluted areas are still faring the best, according to a study published on Thursday in the journal Science that analyzed concentrations of fine particulate matter over more than three decades in the United States. Overall, pollution from fine particulate matter fell about 70% between 1981 and 2016, the study found. In that time, air quality has improved dramatically across the country thanks to tighter air quality regulations, cleaner vehicles and fewer coal-fired power plants, experts have found. But the communities most exposed to higher levels of pollution remain the same, the study found. That suggests the United States is falling short on its decades-long policy goal of reducing the disproportionate level of exposure to environmental hazards faced mostly by low-income communities of color. “Disadvantaged communities remain persistently exposed to higher levels of air pollution,” said study co-author Jonathan Colmer, an economist at the University of Virginia. “This was true in 1980, it was true in 1990, 2000, 2010, and so on.” The study comes four months after the Trump administration rejected a recommendation from scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten air quality regulations, arguing the current standards are adequate for protecting human health.

Tool to Curb Pollution in Environmental-Justice Communities Fails to Get Votes | NJ Spotlight - In an unexpected setback, lawmakers yesterday failed to act on a bill touted by Gov. Phil Murphy as key to helping to curb pollution problems in environmental-justice communities.The legislation (S-232) is viewed by advocates as establishing a national model for giving minority and low-income communities more tools to block new projects that could worsen air and other pollution in their neighborhoods.But a last-minute lobbying blitz against the bill by business interests and labor groups led the Assembly to hold off voting planned for Thursday. The bill had been expected to pass and then be approved by the Senate and sent on to Murphy for his consideration. Kim Gaddy, a Newark native and member of Clean Water Action, said she was disappointed Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) did not post the bill for a vote, saying advocates were confident they had the 41 votes to send it on to the Senate.“It would have been a great opportunity to demonstrate Black lives and people of color lives matter,’’  The bill, long sought by environmental justice advocates, would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to consider the cumulative impacts of locating new power plants or major manufacturing facilities where residents already suffer from pollution from incinerators, hazardous-waste sites, or large factories.

Hanna pummels Texas coast with strong winds, heavy rain - (Reuters) - Hanna, the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season, left a trail of destruction along the Texas coast on Sunday, downing power lines, flooding streets and toppling 18-wheeler trucks as torrential rains threatened the area.Hanna came ashore on Padre Island on Saturday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity and later made a second landfall in Kenedy County, Texas. It swept through a part of the state hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. By Sunday, it had weakened to a tropical depression.Powerful winds from Hanna knocked over at least three 18-wheeler trucks and a recreational vehicle, with tow trucks trying to right the toppled vehicles on Sunday, shutting down a 2-mile (3.2-km) stretch of U.S. Route 77 in Sarita, Texas, near the Mexican border.In Port Mansfield, 150 miles (240 km) south of Padre Island, winds flattened sugarcane fields and leveled trees. Deer roamed the streets, stopping to nibble downed branches in the yards of homes, some that lost their roofs.Heavy downpours of more than a foot (30 cm) of rain flooded roadways and swelled streams and rivers across south Texas, the National Weather Service said.There were no immediate reports of injuries. “You could hear the wind blowing and the rain blowing and you looked outside you could see sheets of water blowing down the street,” said Sharon Pecce, 75, a resident of Port Mansfield, whose roof was ripped off her house on Saturday night. “It’s scary to go through this at my age, a lot could have happened ... we could have been killed,” added Pecce, who was at a friend’s home with her 70-year-old husband when the damage occurred. “We are lucky we weren’t there.”

 Tropical Storm Isaias may reach hurricane status near Florida -  Tropical Storm Isaias is forecast to approach the coast of Florida this weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center, with wind speeds of 70 miles per hour and some models predicting it could strengthen into a hurricane. Tropical Storm Isaias, which became the ninth named storm of a busy 2020 hurricane season late Wednesday night, saw its forecast track make a small move to the east early Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center, with the center of that track keeping the core of the storm slightly off the shores of South Florida. Although the center of the forecast cone keeps the core of Isaias slightly offshore of South Florida, nearly the entire state remains in the forecast path. The system is projected to remain a tropical storm for its foreseeable duration (maximum sustained surface winds ranging from 39-73 mph). Little change in strength is anticipated until landfall in Dominican Republic later today, with re-strengthening forecast on Friday and Saturday, the hurricane center said Thursday. Top wind speeds of 70 mph were predicted in a forecast discussion Thursday, which is just short of hurricane strength. Some models show it at hurricane strength near the U.S., according to the NHC. In the 8 a.m. advisory, the storm was moving northwest at 20 mph and was about 125 miles west of Ponce in Puerto Rico and about 105 miles east-southeast of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic with maximum sustained winds of about 60 mph.

 Isaias Menaces Bahamas and Florida as 2020 Season’s Second Hurricane - Isaias, the earliest Atlantic "I" storm on record, strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Thursday and now has the Bahamas and potentially Florida in its path. As a tropical storm, Isaias has already battered Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, still recovering from 2017's Hurricane Maria, the storm knocked out the power of 300,000 to 400,000 people, dumped five to 10 inches of rain and caused mudslides and flash flooding, National Weather Service San Juan meteorologist Gabriel Lojero told CNN. One woman went missing when her car was swept away."A lot of neighborhoods were submerged under water," Lojero said. The Dominican Republic also experienced flooding, water and power outages and storm damage, The Associated Press reported. One man died when he was electrocuted by a toppled electrical cable.Isaias is now 340 miles from Nassau in the Bahamas with winds of 80 miles per hour, according to an 8 a.m. EDT update from the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Hurricane conditions are expected in parts of the Bahamas today.The storm is expected to reach the central Bahamas tonight and move near or over the Northwestern Bahamas and near or east of the Florida peninsula Saturday and Sunday.One of the major potential hazards from the storm is rain. It is expected to dump four to eight inches of rain on the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos islands through Saturday and one to two inches over Cuba."These rainfall amounts will lead to life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides, as well as river flooding," the NHC warned. Between Friday and Monday, the storm could dump two to four inches over South and east-Central Florida, potentially causing flooding. Heavy rains could reach the Carolinas early next week.

Coastal Flooding Could Threaten Millions and Cost Trillions by 2100, New Study Finds - The climate crisis may usher in a new level of global economic catastrophe and human suffering as extreme weather worsens and coastal flooding intensifies. A new study found that extreme weather will make coastal areas dangerous places to live as more intense storms crash into coast lines and increasingly high tides encroach inland, as The New York Times reported."We are attempting to understand the magnitude of the global scale impacts of future coastal flooding," Ian Young, a professor at the University of Melbourne and an author of the study, told CNBC."Globally we need to understand that changes of this nature will occur by 2100 and we need to plan how we are going to respond," he said.The study, published in Scientific Reports, found that the economic damage from those storms and from periodic flooding may cost over $14 trillion and threaten 20 percent of global gross domestic product, according to CNN."This is on a 'business as usual' CO2 emissions scenario," said Ebru Kirezci from the University of Melbourne, who led the study, as CNN reported. "Business as usual" assumes a rise in average global temperatures at the upper end of predictions, if global emissions are allowed to continue on their current course.The study pinpointed exact hotspots around the world most vulnerable to coastal flooding, as well as the potential economic impact on infrastructure and activity in those areas. As Fortune noted, the study also maps out in great detail the impact of episodic flooding caused by strengthening storm events and tides. Those events are predicted to be more damaging than the threat of slowly rising seas and will cause roughly 69 percent of coastal flooding by 2100. Some of the regions that are particularly at risk, according to the study, are the following:

  • The coasts of Northwest Europe, including Southeast England
  • The East Coast of the U.S., particularly the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland
  • India, particularly around the Bay of Bengal

The study was a collaboration between researchers from the University of Melbourne, IHE Delt in the Netherlands, the University of Amsterdam, the University of East Anglia in the UK, and Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, as Fortune reported.

 Hundreds of Toxic Superfund Sites Imperiled by Sea-Level Rise, Study Warns  - A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists concludes that more than 800 hazardous Superfund sites near the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are at risk of flooding in the next 20 years, even with low rates of sea level rise.   More than 1,000 of the sites, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, will be at risk for flooding by 2100 if carbon emissions continue on their current trajectory, triggering high rates of sea level rise, according to the study, which faults the Trump administration for ignoring climate change.  Superfund sites, the toxic legacy of industry's environmental indifference, are the worst of the worst hazardous waste sites that expose millions of people—many in neighborhoods of color and of lower economic status—to hundreds of deadly chemicals. Flooding can increase the chances that these toxins will contaminate nearby land and water, putting communities at risk of adverse health effects. The study, "A Toxic Relationship: Extreme Coastal Flooding and Superfund Sites," was written by Jacob Carter, a research scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists who began the analysis while working at the EPA. He was forced out of the agency in 2017 when the Trump administration signaled it would no longer prioritize climate change-focused research. Carter started his review in response to a 2015 directive by President Barack Obama aimed at understanding how climate change was exacerbating flooding risks. The Trump Administration revoked the directive in 2017. Carter said that's when he was essentially shown the door. "If I'd been able to carry out this work at the EPA, it would have allowed Superfund site project managers to prepare for the potential flooding to come," Carter said. "Instead, the new administration's EPA leadership came in with the clear intention to stop considering climate change, and it became clear to me that my work—which obviously focused on climate change—could easily be terminated. For purely political reasons, the agency sidelined work that was vital to its mission."

Plastics in Oceans Will Triple By 2040, Absent Immediate Drastic Action -  The Pew Charitable Trust and  Systemiq Ltd., a sustainability consulting firm, have released a new study reporting that plastics in the world’s oceans could triple by 2040.Nearly 13 million metic tons of plastics find their way into oceans every year, or the equivalent of one garbage trunk of such waste is dumped into the sea every minute. Current commitments would only reduce this projected volume by 7%. Yet the study Breaking the Plastic Wave: A Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution. also spells out some immediate measures, based on current technologies, that if implemented immediately, could cut this projected volume by 80% (for a short version, see summary).Now, recently both China and India have announced their own versions of single-use plastics bans. Kudos to both. Maybe those moratoria will make some difference.Alas, the COVID-19 crisis may upend these efforts, as throughout the world, we are eschewing plastics-free (or plastics-less markets) in favour of other “sanitary” options – which involve swathing in plastic. And I like so many others have been making more on-line- purchases where the retailer encases products in plastic clamshells before delivering them to me on my doorstep. Whatever happened to good old paper bags?The plastics pushers are only ramping up their plants to produce more plastics – which given that as I’ve written before, the recycling fairy is a fairy – and who believes in those? – all this crap only finds its way into the world’s oceans, or there and elsewhere, decays to microplastics, the health effects of which we remain largely unaware.

A Quarter of Bangladesh Is Flooded. Millions Have Lost Everything. -  NYT - The country’s latest calamity illustrates a striking inequity of our time: The people least responsible for climate change are among those most hurt by its consequences.Torrential rains have submerged at least a quarter of Bangladesh, washing away the few things that count as assets for some of the world’s poorest people — their goats and chickens, houses of mud and tin, sacks of rice stored for the lean season.  It is the latest calamity to strike the delta nation of 165 million people. Only two months ago, a cyclone pummeled the country’s southwest. Along the coast, a rising sea has swallowed entire villages. And while it’s too soon to ascertain what role climate change has played in these latest floods, Bangladesh is already witnessing a pattern of more severe and more frequent river flooding than in the past along the mighty Brahmaputra River, scientists say, and that is projected to worsen in the years ahead as climate change intensifies the rains.“The suffering will go up,” said Sajedul Hasan, the humanitarian director of BRAC, an international development organization based in Bangladesh that is distributing food, cash and liquid soap to displaced people.  This is one of the most striking inequities of the modern era. Those who are least responsible for polluting Earth’s atmosphere are among those most hurt by its consequences. The average American is responsible for 33 times more planet-warming carbon dioxide than the average Bangladeshi. An estimated 24 to 37 percent of the country’s landmass is submerged, according to government estimates and satellite data By Tuesday, according to the most recent figures available, nearly a million homes were inundated and 4.7 million people were affected. At least 54 have died, most of them children. The current floods, which are a result of intense rains upstream on the Brahmaputra, could last through the middle of August. Until then, Taijul Islam, a 30-year-old sharecropper whose house has washed away, will have to camp out in a makeshift bamboo shelter on slightly higher ground. At least he was able to salvage the tin sheet that was once the roof of his house. Without it, he said, his extended family of nine would be exposed to the elements.

More than 100 killed, thousands displaced by India floods (video report) More than 100 people have been killed and tens of thousands displaced by floods in northeast India. Flooding is common during the monsoon season.But it is posing an extra challenge this year, as the government tries to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Al Jazeera's Elizabeth Puranam reports from New Delhi.

Is China's Massive Three Gorges Dam On The Edge Of Failure? -  The massive flooding taking place in China continues, for some reason, this story has been widely ignored by mainstream media. It is important because China's massive Three Gorges Dam is in peril. If the dam fails there will be a staggering loss of lives and property. The Three Gorges Dam is around one and a half miles long and just over 600 feet tall. About 400 million people live downstream of the dam and apparently, no plans have been made for their evacuation. The failure of this dam, which is the largest in the world, would have catastrophic consequences. It is estimated such an event could result in around half a million people being killed. The Asia Times reported several days ago that Beijing has admitted that its 2.4-kilometer Three Gorges Dam spanning the Yangtze River in Hubei province “deformed slightly” after record flooding. The deformation occurred last Saturday when waters from western provinces including Sichuan and Chongqing along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River peaked. At this, point the biggest concern is that rain continues and more is expected. The company that manages the dam noted that parts of the dam had “deformed slightly,” displacing some external structures. Seepage into the main outlet walls had also been reported throughout the 18 hours on Saturday and Sunday when water was discharged through its outlets. Wang Hao, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and an authority on hydraulics who sits on the Yangtze River Administration Commission, has assured that the dam is sound enough to withstand the impact from floods twice the mass flow rate recorded on Saturday. It should be noted that Wang’s remarks stoked a volley of mockery after he said the flooding could be a good thing as the dam would only become more rigid the longer it was steeped up to its top. Below are three new YouTube videos outlining the severity of the situation and a link to a previous article about the Three Gorges Dam posted on AdvancingTime on July 19th.

China’s flooding crisis caused by torrential rain and a weak dam - Heavy rains are putting the Yangtze River at risk of repeating the devastating floods of 1998 which left more than 4,000 people dead and 14 million homeless. The latest natural disaster comes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and an escalating trade war with the US. The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and China’s most important waterway, with some 175 cities located near its banks. As well as being home to a number of multinational companies, the prosperous Yangtze River Basin is a powerhouse of industrial output, generating nearly half of the country’s GDP. The middle and lower reaches of the river are vulnerable to flooding, spilling over their banks every summer. By contrast, the upper river basin flows through mountainous regions and the steep slope of the riverbed makes it far less prone to floods. Floods large enough to overflow the dykes have caused several disasters in the past. Discounting famines and pandemics, the 1931 Central China floods are generally considered the deadliest natural disaster of the 20th century. More than 140,000 people drowned with at least 3.7 million dying over the nine months that followed. Until the Three Gorges Dam project was completed in 2009, provinces along the river mainly relied on reinforced embankments, reservoirs and floodwater storage areas to control flooding. Less than 20 years after the dam’s completion, China is experiencing its worst floods in decades, raising questions about the dam’s efficacy and whether the massive structure itself is at risk after weeks of devastating floods since June. On July 2, the Yangtze River experienced its first flood peak of the year. The Changjiang Water Resources Commission reported the water level had reached 146.97 metres with peak inflows of 53,000 cubic metres per second, the same rate as the 1998 floods. Due to heavy rain in the upper streams of the Yangtze River, the Three Gorge reservoir has seen a recent increase to its inflow. Intense rain and severe flooding has been battering China since early June but, according to the China Meteorological Administration, the country has experienced a 20 per cent increase in heavy rainfall since 1961. Currently, the water level of 433 rivers is above the flood control line, with 33 of them reaching record highs. Heavy rains have lashed 27 of the country’s 31 provinces, affecting more than 37 million people and leaving 141 dead or missing, the Ministry of Emergency Management said on Monday. Economic losses are estimated at 86 billion yuan (US$12.3 billion) so far. Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake located in the eastern province of Jiangxi, saw its water level rise to 22.6 metres by July 13 – its highest level on record – surpassing its previous record of 22.52 metres in 1998. The Nasa satellite images above show its recent extremes of low and high levels. The lake usually shrinks considerably in winter.

China floods affect 54.8 million people, inflict US$20 billion in losses | Taiwan News — The massive floods which have ravaged China over the past two months have inflicted a heavy toll on the country in terms of damages to property and direct economic losses, with the vaunted Three Gorges Dam seemingly inadequate in reducing these effects and the death toll remaining suspiciously low. After two months of torrential rains and tremendous flooding across the Yangtze River, Yellow River, and Huai River, China's state-run media mouthpiece Xinhua on Wednesday (July 29) cited the Ministry of Emergency Management as saying that the "rain-triggered floods" have affected 54.8 million people in 27 provincial-level regions as of Tuesday (July 28). Despite the vast scale of the disaster across China over two months, the government is reporting a miraculously low 158 dead or missing. Xinhua says that 3.76 million people have been evacuated from flood-ravaged areas. Amid the onslaught, 41,000 homes have collapsed and 368,000 have been damaged. A total of 5.283 hectares of farmland has been damaged and direct economic losses have climbed to 144.43 billion Chinese yuan (about 20.66 billion U.S. dollars). Compared with the average over the same period in the past five years, the number of people affected by floods this year has increased by 23.4 percent, the number of evacuations has increased by 36.7 percent, and direct economic losses have increased by 13.8%. Suspiciously, the number of dead and missing persons has decreased by 53.9 percent and the number of collapsed houses has dropped by 68.4 percent. Given that this year's floods have not only surpassed anything seen in the past five years but also since 1998 and beyond, it is odd that the number of deaths and collapsed homes would actually decrease, possibly indicating undercounting by officials. Although it is predicted that the heavy rainfall in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River will ease on Wednesday, the official Weibo page of China's Ministry of Emergency Management (MEM) stated that the government has decided to maintain the secondary flood control response on the Yangtze and Huaihe Rivers as well as required key areas to the north so as to strengthen the implementation of flood prevention.

Three Gorges Dam weathers the flood challenge -  Chinese state media stuck to the script that nothing had happened when this year’s third deluge of the Yangtze River passed the Three Gorges Dam on Wednesday. The dam’s operator said the 185-meter-high barrier had since Monday held back more than a third of the storm water hitting the Yangtze’s upper reaches. At its peak on Monday, run-off from heavy rain in Sichuan and Chongqing poured into the dam at 60,000 cubic meters per second and was discharged at 38,000 cubic meters per second. Xinhua news agency said no severe flooding was reported across major cities including Wuhan east of the dam, and that the dam had mitigated the threat. China’s National Meteorological Center has forecast an end to the summer monsoon drenching southern provinces. The worst of the rainy season since June that had pounded swaths of the nation including the Yangtze basin could soon be over, chief meteorologist Zhang Juan said. The dam has emerged from this year’s massive flooding largely unscathed. Last week, the official Xinhua News Agency said part of the structure buckled slightly due to pressure from the surging water. The Xinhua revelation renewed rumors about a possible breach, fueling speculation in Taiwan, Japan and India about how long the dam could stand the test. Severe rainstorms and flood coming from upstream have put the Three Gorges Dam to the test since June. Photo: Xinhua “It’s rare for Xinhua to admit the Three Gorges Dam had deformed a little bit when holding stormwater to protect downstream cities like Wuhan, as in the past state media would just choose not to report this and deny any talks about the dam being in any sort of danger,”

 New China cover-up fears with world’s largest dam ‘on brink of collapse risking tidal wave that could wipe out cities’ - CHINA is facing new cover-up claims amid fears the world’s biggest dam is about to collapse causing a tidal wave which could wipe out entire cities. Sections of the vast Three Gorges Dam in the central Hubei Province are reported to have moved under enormous pressure sparked by torrential rains. And concerns were mourning last night that the giant structure could collapse - sending a devastating 250 foot tidal wave surging hundreds of miles.The 570-foot dam holds back a staggering 39 billion cubic metre reservoir of water so huge that it has a measurable effect on the rotation of the earth.It is five times the size of America’s famous Hoover Dam and generates eleven times as much electricity, vital to millions of Chinese homes and businesses.But rumours of structural faults in the walls of the 14-year-old dam have grown as heavy rains deluged the swollen Yangtze River.China’s secretive leaders - already facing a backlash over the Covid-19 pandemic which started in Wuhan in Hubei Province - have played down the threat.But authorities are said to have quietly ordered the evacuation of 38 million Chinese in the threatened zone - equating to more than half the population of the UK. Heavy rainfall is forecast to continue to pound the Yangtze River basin in the coming days after localised floods claimed at least 141 lives..

 Arizona Train Derailment Ignites Massive Fire, Bridge Partially Collapses - A massive fire is burning near Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday morning following a freight train derailment on a bridge. Union Pacific said at least ten cars derailed on a bridge over Tempe Town Lake at 6:15 am, reported CBS 5 Phoenix. Video from social media shows scenes of the train derailment on the bridge. Tempe firefighters, paramedics, and police have arrived at the incident area.   Authorities are responding to an apparent train derailment and fire on a bridge in Tempe, Arizona. Police asked people to avoid the area.— ABC News (@ABC) July 29, 2020 This is a coordinated attack with several agencies fighting the fire involving multiple train cars," Tempe police Det. Natalie Barela said in a statement, quoted by NBC News.  "The cause of the derailment has not been identified. This is a very fluid and active scene," said Barela. Tempe Fire Medical Rescue told Fox News multiple train cars carrying lumber were on fire, describing the incident as a second-alarm. An aerial view shows a partial bridge collapse over Tempe Town Lake. It's not yet clear what caused the train derailment.

Bridge partially collapses near Phoenix in wake of massive fire and train derailment - A bridge near Phoenix partially collapsed Wednesday morning in the wake of a massive fire and freight train derailment on the span, authorities said. Tempe firefighters, paramedics and police rushed to a rail bridge over Tempe Town Lake, following the 6:15 a.m. MT derailment which sent smoke plumes visible for miles.The bridge where the accident happened was inspected on July 9 according to Union Pacific. The south side of the bridge collapsed and rail cars fell into an empty park below," Union Pacific said in a statement. "Three tank cars were on the ground under the bridge. Two contained cyclohexanone; one contained a rubber material. None are reported leaking, and no tank cars were involved in the fire." The National Institutes of Health describes cyclohexanone as a flammable liquid, used primarily in the the production of nylon, that is harmful if inhaled.The NTSB is investigating. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the derailment and fire, Tempe Mayor Corey Woods and Police Chief Sylvia Moir both said.

As Climate Change Burns Arizona, State Has More Imprisoned Firefighters Than Employees – Steve Horn - As three historic wildfires burned through over 384,300 acres of Arizona in June, the state deployed nearly 200 firefighters to bring the blazes — which were visible on NASA and NOAA satellites in orbit 23,000 miles above — under control. State prison inmates made up two out of three of those firefighters, under a program that Arizona uses to lower the costs of coping with the ever-worsening wildfire seasons brought on by climate change. The program pays prisoners pennies on the dollars paid to state employees for the same hard and dangerous work.The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry hires the prisoners via the Inmate Wildfire Program. Recent budgetary figures show that these firefighters earn miniscule wages of $1.50 per hour while fighting fires, $1 an hour for other fire suppression work, and $.50 per hour for other non-fire labor. To put that in context, according to Tiffany Davilla, a spokesperson for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM), the median pay for non-incarcerated firefighters is $22.31/hour, or an average annual salary of $58,006 for the standard 50-hours-a-week fireman's schedule. If they worked standard firefighter hours, incarcerated firefighters would earn just under $4,000 for the year.  Despite the rising climate change-fueled wildfire risks, the state spends far more on its prisons and law enforcement apparatus than it does on direct costs of firefighting. In March, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a fiscal year 2021 budget allotting just $9.1 million for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) for 88 full-time employees as well as 192 workers in the Inmate Wildfire Program. According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, six crews totaling 113 prisoner firefighters from a half-dozen state prison complexes aided in fighting the June wildfires. “Given the prison system's direct ties to slavery in the US, and given that all states have an over-population of Black people and people of color behind bars, we can ascertain that prison labor is inherently exploitative and exists to uphold an unjust system,” Feldman — who wrote a 2018 paper about Arizona’s prison wildfire program which she researched in part by spending 15 months in the program herself — said via email. “Pay discrepancies between incarcerated and non-incarcerated wildland firefighters make this clear: incarcerated individuals are doing the same risky work, but are paid a fraction of what their non-incarcerated colleagues make.”

Rapid spread of California wildfires prompts evacuations | TheHill - A wildfire in Southern California that began Friday evening amid blazing temperatures spread across 1,900 acres and prompted evacuations. Officials confirmed in a tweet Saturday morning that the flames were zero percent contained. The Riverside County Fire Department responded with air and ground resources, and at least 375 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, dubbed the Apple Fire. The Riverside County Fire Department also confirmed Saturday that at least one family dwelling and two outbuildings were destroyed in Cherry Valley, Calif.   The blazes began as two separate fires at approximately 6 p.m. Friday,according to the Riverside County Fire Department. However, evacuations were quickly ordered by Friday night to the nearby cities of Banning and Beaumont, Calif.  The fire later caused evacuations for at least 200 homes in the area, CBS News reported. Riverside County is approximately 75 miles east of Los Angeles. Temperatures are expected to soar to 107 degrees on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

 Australia's Fires Harmed 3 Billion Animals, New Report Finds - Unprecedented bushfires that ravaged Australia in 2019 and 2020 killed or displaced almost 3 billion animals, according to an interim report released Tuesday. Compiled by scientists from several Australian universities, the survey said the blazes impacted an estimated 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds and 51 million frogs. The report, commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), did not specify how many animals may have died. But the prospects for those that escaped the fires "were probably not great" because they lost food sources, native habitat and shelter from predators, report co-author Chris Dickman said. The bushfires that swept across Australia between late 2019 and early 2020 scorched 115,000 square kilometers (44,000 square miles) of bush and forest, killing 30 people and destroying thousands of homes. It was one of the worst bushfire seasons on record. Experts say prolonged drought and climate change will likely make such events longer lasting and more frequent. A previous study released in January had estimated that around 1 billion animals perished in the hardest-hit states of Victoria and New South Wales in eastern Australia. But the survey published Tuesday was the first to assess fire zones across the entire country, lead scientist Lily van Eeden of the University of Sydney said. The survey's results are preliminary, with a full report to be released next month, but scientists said the estimate of 3 billion animals affected was unlikely to change. "The interim findings are shocking," WWF Australia CEO Dermot O'Gorman said. "It's hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals." "This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history," he added.

 Brazilian Amazon Has Lost Millions of Wild Animals to Criminal Networks, Report Finds - The Brazilian Amazon is hemorrhaging illegally traded wildlife according to a new report released Monday. Each year, thousands of silver-voiced saffron finches and other songbirds, along with rare macaws and parrots, are captured, trafficked and sold as pets. Some are auctioned as future contestants in songbird contests. Others are exported around the globe.Fish bound for ornamental home aquariums also pour out of the Amazon, including the tiny, iridescent blue and red cardinal tetra. Arapaima fish — also known as pirarucù, one of the world's largest freshwater fish — are caught illegally, "laundered" amidst captive-bred specimens and shipped to the U.S. in large numbers.Other fish are headed for the dinner table, as are freshwater turtles and their eggs, while tapir, peccary and other mammals are sold in Brazil as bushmeat. Jaguar teeth, heads and skins are shipped to China.Millions of animals are being illegally captured and traded live and in parts in a thriving Brazilian black market, according to the report, produced by TRAFFIC, a UK-based nonprofit that studies the trade. "The pervasive and uncontrolled capture of wild animals and plants for the illegal trade is having grave consequences for Brazilian biodiversity, the national economy, the rule of law and good governance," it says.Deep-dive research by biodiversity consultant Sandra Charity — who wrote the 140-page study with Juliana Ferreira, executive director of the nonprofit conservation group Freeland Brasil —focused on Amazon rainforest species and closely investigated the domestic bird trade.Importantly, the researchers found that an ever-increasing segment of the illegal trade launders poached animals via a sprawling, legal captive breeding industry — a network that specializes in birds, which have a huge domestic market in Brazil.The authors also discovered that few government agencies have kept records or reported solid data that quantify the true scope of the problem. In many cases, records did not even identify the species or number of animals seized by authorities, while data coming from the Amazon was "notoriously scarce.""Significant seizures are made on a daily basis by Amazon state law enforcement, and we did not have access to their data," Ferreria said, adding, "from what we saw, [the illegal trade] is even bigger than we imagined."

Porcupines Face a Poaching Crisis — and It’s All Because of What’s in Their Stomachs - A porcupine's diet is wide, varied, and a little hard to digest. A lifetime of grasses, herbs, bark and other vegetation can leave little bits of indigestible matter behind in a porcupine's digestive tract, where they occasionally congeal into a hard ball called a bezoar.That sounds uncomfortable, but a porcupine's health probably doesn't suffer due to the presence of this undigested mass in its stomach or intestines — that is, not until humans come along.  For centuries people have valued these rare "stones" or "dates," as they're sometimes called, for their purported healing abilities. Bezoars have been used to "treat" everything from fevers to diabetes and even cancer.Bezoar use even creeps into popular fiction: the stones are an ingredient for protective spells in the Harry Potter universe.The medicinal claims are equally fiction: there doesn't appear to be any veracity to bezoar use to treat illnesses. Yet despite the lack of evidence, the trade in bezoars has persisted. Not only that, it appears to be increasing. A study published recently in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation tracked, for the first time, the online trade in old-world porcupines (those from the family Hystricidae in Asia and Africa). The researchers examined e-commerce sites in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore for four months in 2019, where they found active for-sale listings for 443 individual bezoars and a large variety of powdered products. Based on the weight of the powders, and the assumption that they might have contained other ingredients, the researchers estimate this translated to at least 680 and as many as 1,300 bezoars. (The researcher ignored "out of stock" listings and more dubious sites, such as one that claimed to have 2,000 tons of product on hand.) Previous research has suggested that bezoars only grow in an incidentally small portion of the porcupine population, so the total number of animals killed to accumulate that quantity for sale could conceivably have been in the tens of thousands. Currently the various species enjoy some national-level protection but precious little on the international level, because they're still perceived as relatively common.  Only the Philippine porcupine(Hystrix pumila) is listed as "vulnerable to extinction." None are currently protected by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species.

Baboons armed with knives, chainsaw spotted in UK safari park There’s some real monkey business at a British safari park, where a roving gang of baboons armed with knives and even a chainsaw has been wreaking havoc and sowing fear, according to a report.The prowling primates are known to have vandalized vehicles, ripping off windscreen wipers and mirrors from them at the Knowsley Safari Park in Merseyside, The Sunday Times reported. But the baboons have recently been seen carrying an assortment of weapons, including blades, screwdrivers and a chainsaw, leading some workers to suspect that visitors have supplied them with the dangerous items for a thrill, according to the news outlet.“We’re not sure if they are being given weapons by some of the guests who want to see them attack cars, or if they’re fishing them out of pickup trucks and vans,” one employee told the paper. “They will literally go into people’s toolboxes and carry them around. One of the baboons was seen lugging around a chainsaw.”  Park officials pushed back at the reports, suggesting that armed apes were an urban myth. “We believe many of these stories have grown in exaggeration as they’ve been retold, with embellishment to make the objects that are sometimes found in the enclosure seem more exciting and unbelievable,” the park told the news outlet.  The monkey enclosure is well known to mechanics in the northwest area of England where the 550-acre park, which also houses lions, tigers, rhinos, wildebeest and camels, is located.  “People know what’s going to happen when they drive inside,” one mechanic told the outlet. “I’ve had two customers this year who became victims of those baboons.

 Baghdad sets record with 125-degree day - Baghdad, Iraq, has seen high temperatures before, but not like this.The city recorded its two hottest days ever Tuesday and Wednesday at 125 and 124 degrees, respectively. Per The Washington Post, the situation was exacerbated by the state electricity grid failing, prompting many residents to rely on generators to power their homes. And on Monday, when temperatures reached 123 degrees, two demonstrators protesting against the lack of electricity and basic services were shot and killed by security forces.Several other places in the Middle East have experienced extraordinary temperatures this week, as well. Beirut, Lebanon, set a record at 113.7 degrees, while Damascus, Syria, tied its previous high at 114.8 degrees. Additional locations broke previous records in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the Post reports. In Baghdad, temperatures are supposed to hover in the same record-setting area Thursday, before dropping slightly over the weekend and into next week. The Postnotes extreme heat can happen randomly and naturally, but climate change has made such instances disproportionately more likely.

Record heatwave in Siberia and the burning danger of climate change - The year 2020 is the hottest in Siberia since measurements began 130 years ago. Russian cities across the polar circle recorded record temperatures. In Nizhnyaya Pesha, a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius (86°F) was measured and in Khatanga, which usually has a daytime temperature of around freezing at this time of year, the temperature reached 25°C (77°F) on May 22. The previous record was 12°C (54°F). In Verkhoyansk, a Russian city in eastern Siberia, the situation is even more extremer. The small city in the state of Sakha was considered the coldest city in the world. But Twitter posts of meteorologist Mika Rantanen have announced that at a hefty 38°C (100°F), Verkhoyansk has set a record high temperature. Records have been kept since 1885. At least 11 other Arctic weather stations recorded temperatures over 30°C. According to announcement of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), the May surface temperatures in parts of Siberia were up to 10 degrees Celsius above average. Freja Vamborg, a leading scientist at C3S, said: “It is undoubtedly an alarming sign, but not only May was unusually warm in Siberia. The whole of winter and spring had repeated periods of higher-than-average surface air temperatures.” Scientists explain that the record heatwave in Siberia is an extreme consequence of global climate change. Martin Stendel of the Danish Meteorological Institute reported that the uncommon temperatures in May would occur once in 100,000 years without anthropogenic contributions to global warming. According to geomorphologist Anna Irrgang of the Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany, extreme weather occurrences in this region are not uncommon. What is novel is the frequency of their occurrence. Mika Rantanen likewise warned that the Arctic is warming three-to-four times faster than the global average. Climate scientist Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research stated: “The novel aspect of this ‘phenomenon’ is that the warming of Siberia is not a short-term observation and as such cannot be explained by the wind system of the jetstream, which can last one or two weeks, but not for five months.” The thawing of the permafrost ground layer is especially critical. Permafrost covers about half of the Russian landmass and has been warming for some time. A comparative study of the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost showed in 2019 that across the board, the temperatures at 10 meters depth rose on average 0.3°C from 2007 to 2016.

 Where Will Everyone Go? - Almost everyone here experiences some degree of uncertainty about where their next meal will come from. Half the children are chronically hungry, and many are short for their age, with weak bones and bloated bellies. Their families are all facing the same excruciating decision that confronted Jorge.  The odd weather phenomenon that many blame for the suffering here — the drought and sudden storm pattern known as El Niño — is expected to become more frequent as the planet warms. Many semiarid parts of Guatemala will soon be more like a desert. Rainfall is expected to decrease by 60% in some parts of the country, and the amount of water replenishing streams and keeping soil moist will drop by as much as 83%. Researchers project that by 2070, yields of some staple crops in the state where Jorge lives will decline by nearly a third. Scientists have learned to project such changes around the world with surprising precision, but — until recently — little has been known about the human consequences of those changes. As their land fails them, hundreds of millions of people from Central America to Sudan to the Mekong Delta will be forced to choose between flight or death. The result will almost certainly be the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen. FOR MOST OF HUMAN history, people have lived within a surprisingly narrow range of temperatures, in the places where the climate supported abundant food production. But as the planet warms, that band is suddenly shifting north. According to a pathbreaking recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the planet could see a greater temperature increase in the next 50 years than it did in the last 6,000 years combined. By 2070, the kind of extremely hot zones, like in the Sahara, that now cover less than 1% of the earth’s land surface could cover nearly a fifth of the land, potentially placing 1 of every 3 people alive outside the climate niche where humans have thrived for thousands of years. Many will dig in, suffering through heat, hunger and political chaos, but others will be forced to move on. A 2017 study in Science Advances found that by 2100, temperatures could rise to the point that just going outside for a few hours in some places, including parts of India and Eastern China, “will result in death even for the fittest of humans.”

First Methane Leak Found on Antarctic Sea Floor Confirms Researchers' Fears  --Scientists have, for the first time, discovered an active leak of methane gas from the sea floor in Antarctica. It is a process that's likely to accelerate the process of global heating.The finding was published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the Royal Society B scientific journal on Tuesday.Methane is powerful greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change, and warms the planet much more than carbon dioxide does.The risk of it leaking from under ice has long concerned scientists, who say that some microorganisms can help to consume it before it is released into the atmosphere.But the new findings appear to dent the hopes of the effectiveness of this process in Antarctica. The report said the methane leak was first discovered in 2011, and that it took five years for the microorganisms that help filter away the gas to develop at the site.The researchers found that methane is still escaping despite their presence.Dr. Andrew Thurber, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, who led the research, told The Guardian: "It is not good news. It took more than five years for the microbes to begin to show up and even then there was still methane rapidly escaping from the sea floor."Thurber said that the first microbes to grow in the area were of an unexpected strain, and that "it may be five to 10 years before a community becomes fully adapted and starts consuming methane." Scientists have long warned about the impact on the planet if methane leaks – something that is caused by melting ice as global temperatures rise. The release of methane from ice is also considered one of the tipping points in climate change, where the effects of rising temperatures cannot be stopped or reversed.

Antarctic ice sheet melting could accelerate rapidly, leading to catastrophic rise in sea level - The effects of a human-induced warming climate, driven by the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, are accelerating across the globe. These are especially evident near the poles, where warming is progressing more rapidly than in the lower latitudes, because of so-called polar amplification caused by the greater reflection of solar energy by lighter-colored snow and ice as compared to darker bare ground and water. As snow and ice melt, the ratio of lighter to darker surface shifts toward the latter, creating a positive-feedback loop, increasing the rate of melting even further. In the north, the heat wave in the Siberian Arctic is having devastating consequences for inhabitants of the area. There is also evidence suggesting that the melting of the region’s permafrost is releasing large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide, which will accelerate global warming significantly. In the south, recent research is revealing that the massive Antarctic ice sheets are melting at an ever-increasing rate, and this is likely to accelerate even more in the future. The consequent influx of water, previously sequestered as ice, into the world’s oceans will dramatically raise sea levels, with potentially catastrophic consequences for humanity. Already, between 2003 and 2019, a NASA study revealed that the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets combined had lost 118 gigatons (a gigaton is one billion metric tons) and 200 gigatons, respectively, of ice per year. The total is enough to fill Lake Michigan and has caused about half an inch rise in sea level. Greenland alone holds enough ice to raise global sea levels as much as 7 meters (23 feet). If all the Antarctic ice were to melt, that would raise sea levels by approximately an additional 60 meters (nearly 200 feet). If all the world’s glaciers and ice sheets were to melt, extensive areas of land would be inundated, causing massive displacement of human populations and incalculable economic disruption. It is currently estimated that if present trends of melting continue, sea levels could rise between approximately 1 and 2.4 meters (3 to 8 feet) by the end of the century. The danger posed is not only in the quantity of land that would be submerged, but also the rate at which this would occur. Recent research by scientists from the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, using geological data collected by remotely operated submersibles, has revealed that at the end of the last Ice Age (Pleistocene), roughly 12,000 years ago, Antarctic ice sheets retreated (i.e., melted back) at the rate of up to 50 meters (164 feet) per day, or 10 kilometers (6.2) miles per year. That is approximately 10 times faster than the maximum rate currently being observed and greatly exceeds the projections of potential melting that have previously been made.

New DNC Platform Could Make The Bleak Climate Forecast Even Worse --Steve Horn - The Democratic National Committee’s Platform Committee has released its proposed policy platform, which will guide party members for the next four years, and climate got 5 pages out of 79. The plan doesn’t call for any type of oil fossil fuel industry phaseout. The words “fracking” and “natural gas” are missing from the text altogether. The terms “coal” and “fossil fuel” only show up once, and not in the context of an industry phaseout:“We will hold fossil fuel companies accountable for cleaning up abandoned mine lands, oil and gas wells, and industrial sites, so these facilities no longer pollutelocal environments and can be safely repurposed to support new economic activity, including in the heart of coal country.”The 2016 platform called for a phaseout of fossil fuel extraction on public lands backed by the “Keep It in the Ground” movement, an end to industry exemptions like the Halliburton Loophole (Biden voted against the 2005 energy bill containing this provision). It said that fracking “should not take place where states and local communities oppose it.” It called for phasing out coal production and ensuring a just transition for industry workers, winding down fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks, and legal accountability for the fossil fuel industry.None of that stuff made it into the 2020 draft platform.Instead, the 2020 version continues Biden’s call for a “double down” on the expansion of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) technology, and for “breakthrough opportunities” for “direct air capture and net-negative emissions technologies.” As explained in last week’s edition, CCUS means capturing carbon at the point of emissions at the industrial smokestack, storing it in underground pipelines and then utilizing the CO2 for future industrial process like cement and plastics production (which are climate change-causing petrochemicals). In the U.S., most of the time the stored carbon is used to extract more oil in a process called enhanced oil recovery.In reality, this all will mean more fracking for oil and gas and more growth of the sector overall. Some of the people running climate policy for the Biden campaign may explain why this policy platform has arisen. Campaign advisor Heather Zichal, formerly a top climate aide for President Barack Obama, was until recently on the board of directors of gas exporting company Cheniere. Zichal’s fellow campaign advisor, Ernest Moniz, is partial owner of a proposed liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal called G2 Net Zero LNG. He is also currently on the board of directors of the predominantly gas-powered electricity sector giant Southern Company, a major proponent of CCUS and direct air capture. Both direct air capture and CCUS are technologies heavily advocated for by Moniz via his think tank Energy Futures Initiative and through the Labor Energy Partnership. The latter is a partnership that was formed between his think tank and several labor unions.

 212 Environmental Activists Were Killed Last Year, a Record Number - While 2019 saw a massive uptick in environmental activism around the world, with climate strikes and the Extinction Rebellion campaign surging in popularity, the work of defending the environment on the front lines became more deadly than ever. In 2019, a record number of environmental activists were killed for trying to protect land and water resources from mining, agribusiness and fossil fuel interests, according to a report released Wednesday by Global Witness, as CNN reported.The number of activist deaths that Global Witness recorded was 212, a nearly 30 percent increase from 2018, when the organization recorded 164 deaths linked to environmental activism. The NGO also warned that the true number is likely higher since many deaths go unreported, according to The Guardian. Global Witness says the problem has continued during 2020, as the COVID-19 lockdowns have left environmental activists as "sitting ducks" inside their own homes, as The Guardian reported."Agribusiness and oil, gas and mining have been consistently the biggest drivers of attacks against land and environmental defenders – and they are also the industries pushing us further into runaway climate change through deforestation and increasing carbon emissions," said Rachel Cox, a campaigner at Global Witness, as The Guardian reported. "Many of the world's worst environmental and human rights abuses are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. Land and environmental defenders are the people who take a stand against this," she added.

EPA cancels subscription to news outlet dedicated to covering it - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is immediately canceling its paid subscription to one of the largest environmental trade publications, E&E News. The move takes effect Aug. 1 and will end EPA employees’ free access to the Washington-based publication, which provides in-depth coverage of the agency and related government agencies alongside a wide variety of environmental issues. “EPA has decided to cancel its desktop subscription to E&E News,” Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento wrote in an email to employees on Thursday. “Over the next two years, EPA would have spent $382,425 to receive" various E&E newsletters, Benevento said, noting that the money will instead be used to purchase subscriptions and access to other publications. He did not name the other publications. The American Federation of Government Employees, the EPA employee union, described the cancelation as a retaliatory move that would hurt agency employees. “By cutting @EPA staff off from @EENewsUpdates, #EPA is stopping EPA scientists from getting E&E’s impeccable & in-depth press coverage of EPA’s union busting moves & #AFGE’s efforts to counter them, thereby retaliating against both E&E News & the union,” the union tweeted. EPA has been one of the Trump administration’s most vocal agencies in pushing back against critical press coverage. The agency often issues press releases denouncing coverage from outlets like E&E, The New York Times and The Hill.

EPA Watchdog to Investigate Trump's Tailpipe Emissions Rollback - The inspector general for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will look into one of the Trumpadministration's hallmark environmental rollbacks: the weakening of Obama-era emissions standards. The law from the Obama administration was designed to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing fuel-efficiency standards. Now, the EPA's inspector general will try to determine whether or not the rollback violated the government's own laws, according to CNN.The inspector general said yesterday that its review would determine whether the agency's rule followed requirements for "transparency, record-keeping, and docketing, and followed the EPA's process for developing final regulatory actions," according to EPA documents, as CNN reported.In other words, the inspector general would like to see the paper trail that led to the decision and to see if there was undue influence or ethics violations from industry insiders for the slackening of tailpipe emissions standards, which was finalized in late March as the Trump administration's single largest rollback of federalclimate change rules, according to The New York Times.The new rule, named the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles rule, or SAFE, holds automakers to weaker fuel economy standards through 2025. The SAFE rule lowered the annual emission improvement requirements that the makers of passenger vehicles must meet. Rather than growing approximately 5 percent annually as required under an Obama-era mandate, the standards now increase about 1.5 percent annually. The Trump administration originally proposed freezing the standards entirely, as CNN reported.The Obama era rule would have forced new cars to have a fuel efficiency standard of 54 miles per gallon of gasoline by 2025. The rollback of the law in the SAFE rule will essentially add 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increase gasoline consumption by around 80 billion gallons, and increase oil consumption by 2 billion barrels, according to The Verge. The potential "irregularities" in crafting the rule were flagged in May by Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, who asked for an investigation in a letter to the EPA inspector general at the time, as The Verge reported.

Solar Farms on NJ Farmlands? State Looks to Boost Large-Scale Projects  - The state wants to sharply ramp up efforts to build utility-scale solar projects in New Jersey, a strategy that could result in opening up existing agricultural land to huge new solar farms.Under a bill (S-2605) now under consideration by lawmakers, a policy initiated during the Christie administration of steering new solar projects away from farmland would be scrapped. That would open up land to accommodate large solar projects that supply power directly to the grid.Without more utility-scale solar projects that provide at least 10 megawatts (MW) of solar power and the land to locate them, the state will not achieve its goal of transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2050, according to proponents of the bill.  “It ain’t going to happen unless we change our policies,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith, the sponsor of the legislation and chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, which kicked off debate on the issue during a hearing in Trenton. No action was taken on the bill Wednesday. Utility-scale solar projects are widely viewed as the most cost-effective way of delivering solar power, largely because of the economies of scale associated with building bigger projects rather than putting solar panels on a residence or on warehouse rooftops.

U.S. solar power plant backed by over $700 million in government loans goes bust: filing -  (Reuters) - The owner of a big Nevada solar-thermal power plant that received $737 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy filed for bankruptcy on Thursday, according to a court filing, potentially leaving U.S. taxpayers with a whopping bill. The project’s failure is a blow to the DOE renewable energy loan program, which had already been criticized by Republicans as a waste of money after it backed failed solar panel maker Solyndra during the Obama administration. Tonopah Solar Energy LLC still owes $425 million on its DOE loan, but reached a settlement under which the department will recover at least $200 million, it said in court documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. The deal is subject to court approval. In a statement, DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said the settlement decision “was made after years of exhausting options within our authority to get the project back on track.” A senior Trump administration official said the settlement “secures taxpayer money that was squandered by the previous administrations’ failed energy pet projects.” Tonopah’s 110-megawatt plant in the Nevada desert was billed as the first to be able to store solar energy. But its technology, which uses more than 10,000 mirrors to focus the sun’s heat on a tower to create steam, was both unreliable and expensive. Soon after it began operating in 2015, the facility suffered a string of leaks in its hot salt tank, a key component of its energy storage system. It has not operated since April of 2019.

CMP corridor opponents still in the dark about police surveillance - Opponents of Central Maine Power’s proposed transmission line project say they are frustrated at delays in obtaining information collected about them by a secretive Maine State Police intelligence unit that’s come under scrutiny for its methods and tactics in recent months. Separately, Sandra Howard, the leader of Say NO to NECEC, said last week that since 2018, the FBI has been in regular contact with her to gauge whether members of the opposition group have become radicalized, she said – which she suspects was one result of the local surveillance efforts by state police. NECEC stands for New England Clean Energy Connect. Howard’s group was first alerted to the possible surveillance by state police when the group was named in a lawsuit by a state trooper, George Loder, who filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit in May against the Maine Information and Analysis Center and his former state police supervisors. He alleged that he suffered professional retaliation when he called out what he believed were unethical and illegal collection of data about Mainers who were not suspected of committing any crimes. Loder alleged that state police collected information on the Say NO to NECEC group based on a flimsy pretext – such as littering – to justify collecting and retaining information about opponents to CMP’s propose high-voltage transmission line.

 Mass. in middle of Maine power fight - A group of 25 current and former Maine state lawmakers sent a letter to Hydro-Quebec on Wednesday urging the provincial utility to stop meddling in a state election battle spawned by Massachusetts’ thirst for hydro-electricity from Canada.Massachusetts utilities, with the backing of the Baker administration, signed a nearly $1 billion contract topurchase electricity from Hydro-Quebec and have it delivered over a 145-mile transmission line running from the Quebec border through western Maine to Lewiston, where it would feed into the regional power grid.The power line made its way through most regulatory channels in Maine, but is now facing a ballot question seeking to prevent it from being built. Hydro-Quebec and Central Maine Power, the company building the power line, are both financing multi-million-dollar campaigns against the ballot questionThe current and former lawmakers say they object to a company owned by the province of Quebec trying to sway voters in Maine. They note that Canada in 2018 amended its own election laws to prohibit foreign entities from spending money to influence elections there. “As a result, it is illegal for foreign entities to attempt to influence elections in Quebec even as Quebec is attempting to influence an election in Maine,” the letter said.

 Inside Clean Energy: How Soon Will An EV Cost the Same as a Gasoline Vehicle? Sooner Than You Think. | InsideClimate News At some point, probably sooner than you expect, the price of an all-electric vehicle will fall far enough to equal the cost of an equivalent gasoline vehicle.We know that day is coming and a whole lot of people—many of whom work in the auto industry—would like to know when.So here's an answer: Maybe by 2023, probably by 2024 and almost definitely by 2025. That's according to Venkat Viswanathan and his team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. They developed a model to calculate the costs of EV batteries that breaks down the costs of each component and then predicts changes over time."There will definitely be cars, passenger vehicles, in multiple segments where the EV option is the cheaper option," Viswanathan said about the 2025 timeframe.When we talk about the cost of EVs, we're mainly talking about the cost of batteries, which are the most expensive components in the vehicle, and also the ones for which the costs are changing most quickly. Analysts and researchers have said for years that a battery price of $100 per kilowatt-hour is the point at which EVs become cost-competitive with gasoline vehicles. Last year, the global average price was down to $156per kilowatt-hour, according to BloombergNEF.

Can an evangelical group change Ohio lawmakers’ minds on clean energy? -  An evangelical group has a stark message for Ohio lawmakers: If you care about unborn children, clean up the air their mothers breathe.“As a pro-life Christian, I believe pollution harms the unborn, causing damage that lasts a lifetime,” reads a petition signed by more than 53,000 Ohioans in support of moving the state to 100% clean electricity by 2030.The petition, circulated by the nonprofit Evangelical Environmental Network, was delivered to lawmakers on July 16. Its potential political impact was unclear then and is even more so now after federal authorities arrested the speaker of the Ohio House and others as part of an alleged $60 million bribery scheme. It’s not the first time a faith group has called for clean energy. Several congregations have framed environmental issues as matters of stewardship andrespect for creation. The Ohio petition stands out for bluntly linking two of the state’s most controversial political issues.“Truly a pro-life future is a clean energy future. And more than 53,000 pro-life Christians in Ohio agree,” said Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, Midwest director for the Evangelical Environmental Network and national organizer and spokesperson for its ministry, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. The Pew Research Center reports that 29% of Ohio adults identify as Evangelical Christians, making them the largest religious group in the state.

 New York’s $3 Billion Environmental Bond Delayed by Coronavirus -New York state will postpone plans to place a $3 billion environmental bond on the ballot in November, citing a dire financial situation stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.“It was my proposal. I believe deeply in it, but we need to have financial stability before we do that,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Thursday on a conference call with members of the media.Cuomo (D) proposed the bond act in January as part of the state’s budget process. The state’s $177 billion budget, passed in Aprilallowed the bond act question to be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.The bond, if approved by voters, would have allocated funding for a number of projects, including habitat restoration, flood reduction, environmental justice communities, preservation efforts, renewable energy expansion, and water quality improvements.New York state is now facing a nearly $14 billion budget deficit for the current fiscal year, which began April 1, as a result of the public health crisis.“The financial situation now is unstable, as everyone knows,” Cuomo said. “We’re waiting to see what the federal government provides in aid. We’re waiting to see what happens with the economy. We’re waiting to see when the revenues come back to the state and that economic engine really starts turning.” Cuomo said he hopes the measure can be added to the ballot next year.

Millions Could Lose Power As Moratoriums On Utility Shut-Offs End : NPR Wykeisha Howe is trying to be thrifty. Instead of cranking up the air conditioner, she uses a fan. Lunch and dinner are cooked at the same time, so the electric stove doesn't have to be turned on twice. Still, Howe, who has five kids living at home, is about a month and a half behind on her electric bill. For the last four months, the bill didn't need to be a priority. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, her electricity provider, Georgia Power, voluntarily suspended disconnections for nonpayment. Dozens of states and utilities around the U.S. took similar actions, ensuring that even as businesses closed and millions of Americans lost their jobs, people would still be able to keep their lights on regardless of their ability to pay. Now, many of those power shut-off moratoriums are expiring, including Georgia Power's, which ended on July 15. And this comes as Americans who are still struggling face the end of another lifeline: supplemental unemployment benefits that are set to lapse. The combination has utility analysts and advocates for low-income communities worried about a potential "tidal wave" of power shut-offs at a time when temperatures and COVID-19 cases are soaring across much of the country and as health officials are urging people to stay home in response to both emergencies.Utility groups, energy watchdogs and advocates for those in need are calling for a national moratorium on power shut-offs and are pressing Congress for relief. But the White House and both parties are at odds over what another round of relief money would look like and how much it would be.

The Energy 202: U.S. coal production hit its lowest point in last four decades - Last year was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad one for the U.S. coal-mining industry. Freshly publicized federal data showing that U.S. coal production is down to its lowest level in four decades throws into stark relief the decline of American coal mining as it faces stiffer competition from cleaner and cheaper sources of power. That low point comes even as President Trump has tried to marshal the power of the federal government to reverse the trend and rescue the industry. That decline, driven by market forces and activist pressure, has deep implications for combating climate change. Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is vowing to wean the country's power plants of fuels that contribute to heat-trapping pollution to the atmosphere. Now in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, 2020 is already projected to be worst than 2019 for the coal sector. The United States mined 706 million tons of coal in 2019 — the lowest total since 1978. That's a 7 percent drop from the previous year, continuing a decade-long decline in overall output since the coal-mining sector's peak production in 2008. Wyoming, the top coal-producing state, saw a 9 percent drop in 2019. Arizona stopped mining coal altogether after the Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired facility in the western United States, and the adjacent mine both closed. And it marks the lowest level of coal mining since a national coal miners’ strike in the late 1970s ground most of the country’s production to a halt. With the coronavirus pandemic leading to a decline in demand for electricity, the U.S. coal sector is on pace for even bigger drop in 2020, with the U.S. Energy Information Administration projecting in a blog post Monday mining levels “comparable with those in the 1960s.”

Pandemic is reducing electricity demand and coal-burning power plants are the first to shut down -A report this week from the U.S. government found coal consumption in 2019 was the lowest it’s been since 1978. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, electricity demand is down even more this year, and some utilities are shutting down their more expensive-to-operate coal-burning power plants. Michigan’s two largest power companies, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy already have shuttered some coal-fired plants. Laura Sherman is the President of Michigan Innovation Business Council, a group representing renewable energy companies. She says while the pandemic might be triggering some utility companies to close coal-burning plants, it is not the main cause. “What's causing this shift away from coal is that it's not the cheapest resource anymore. Over the last decade approximately, the cost of energy for wind has dropped by 70 percent, and utility scale solar has dropped by 89 percent,” she explained. Sherman says Michigan’s two large utilities have recognized that coal is no longer the future of energy generation. Climate change is the political part of their decisions to end fossil fuel generated electricity, but cost is the main driver. “And they're both making more investment, and especially Consumers, making significant investments in things like utility-scale solar as basically the cheapest thing they can build to satisfy the load that they have,” she said. Neither Consumers nor DTE has indicated closing coal-burning plants early because of reduced consumption is in the works, but together the two utilities plan to shut down five coal-burning units by 2023.

Phasing out: Utilities, cities prepare for the end of coal-fired energy in Minnesota | MinnPost - In May, when Great River Energy announced plans to close a North Dakota coal-burning plant that powers parts of Minnesota, it served as a reminder that the days of coal-powered energy will eventually end.It’s hard to say when that last piece of coal will get burned in Minnesota, exactly, though the state’s largest utilities are planning to phase out most of their coal-fired plants by the end of the decade.Xcel Energy has four coal-burning units that are still operating. Two units at its Sherco Power Plant near Becker are slated to close in 2023 and 2026 while the last one there could close in 2030, pending regulatory approval. The company is also proposing to close its coal-fired Oak Park Heights plant in 2028.Meanwhile, Otter Tail Power plans to shutter its Fergus Falls plant in 2021 whileMinnesota Power is preparing a proposal for state regulators that would close its two remaining units in Cohasset, on the Iron Range. A half-dozen other operations also burn some coal, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, such as a steam plant in Duluth and utilities in a few rural cities. But the lion’s share of coal-produced power in Minnesota comes from the major utilities that are planning for a future without it. Audrey Partridge, the regulatory policy manager at the Center for Energy and Environment, a nonprofit organization that promotes green energy policies, has been studying the economic impact of coal-plant closures. One probable change: higher taxes in communities where coal-fired electricity plants have been producing significant revenue for cities and school districts. Indeed, in Cohasset, Minnesota Power’s Boswell Energy Center provides nearly 70 percent of the city’s tax revenue and about 20 percent of the school district’s take, according to the utility. Mayor Greg Hagy is holding out faint hope that the coal units, which power this city of 2,800 people as well as the region’s mining and paper industries, might remain open indefinitely, arguing that they burn coal more efficiently than other plants. “You’re talking about a devastating economic hit, and that’s not even considering the spinoff jobs” that have been created, he said.

Judge Rules Justice-Controlled Coal Company Liable For Pollution Violations At W.Va. Mine - A federal judge has ruled a coal company owned by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is liable for more than 3,000 violations of federal clean water standards stemming from pollution discharged from a coal mine in southern West Virginia.  In a motion issued Monday, U.S. District Judge David Faber ruled Bluestone Coal Corporation discharged selenium at the Red Fox Surface Mine in McDowell County many times at levels above its permitted allowances from July 2018 to March 2020. Selenium is a chemical element found in coal that accumulates in the body and has been linked to growth deformities and reproductive failure in fish. Data submitted by the company to regulators showed 60 violations of its monthly average limit for selenium and 78 violations of its daily maximum limit for selenium. Under the Clean Water Act, each violation of a monthly average limit is treated as a violation for every day in the month in which the violation occurred, rather than as a single violation for that month. In total, Faber found Bluestone was liable for 3,033 days of violations of the Clean Water Act.  Faber also ruled that the company violated its permit under the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act 183 times. The lawsuit was brought by four environmental groups — the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Voices and the Sierra Club — under the citizen suit provision of the Clean Water Act. Last month, Faber rejected Bluestone’s request to have the lawsuit dismissed. The company argued a 2016 settlement deal reached with the Environmental Protection Agency precluded environmental groups from suing over the selenium pollution. In his opinion, Faber noted enforcement under the Clean Water Act is set up to be simple, and Bluestone’s own data showed repeated violations.

Lawsuit Says Plant Scherer Is 'Poisoning' Locals When Georgia Power opened Plant Scherer in 1982, Marvin Bowdoin, who owned a store in the small town of Juliette that sold groceries and gas to the company’s employees, sold his neighbors on the utility’s promises of more jobs and greater tax revenues for the community. But over 35 years later, his grandson Tony Bowdoin, who worked at the family’s store for decades, discovered his home’s drinking water was full of contaminants. Last fall, he was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer, and is still battling it today. Tony Bowdoin is one of 45 Central Georgia residents living near America’s largest coal-fired plant who claim in a lawsuit that the utility has unlawfully released, discharged and deposited coal ash into their community’s drinking water source. The residents get their water from private drinking wells, which draw water from the aquifer below the ground. They’re seeking to force the state’s largest power company to stop polluting the area’s water, provide ongoing medical monitoring, and pay damages. The mass tort lawsuit, filed Wednesday morning in the Superior Court of Fulton County, where Georgia Power is based, claims that coal ash stored in an unlined basin has contaminated the groundwater surrounding the plant site. Heavy metals found in that industrial waste are “poisoning” residents, who have suffered health problems such as cancer, cardiovascular disorder, and thyroid damage, the lawsuit said.

Wildlife at Lake Michigan park threatened by toxic ash buried underground - -- Coal ash buried beneath a former coal-fired power plant may be seeping into the groundwater and harming wildlife at the Indiana Dunes National Park. According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is asking for public feedback on a proposal to cleanup the site which is located along Lake Michigan, approximately 50 miles southeast of Chicago.Although the Bailly Generating Station closed in 2018, the EPA says the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. buried coal ash — a byproduct of coal burned to produce electricity — on the site in the 1960s and 1970s. The ash was buried about 25 feet underground.Coal ash is known to contain toxic metals, which includes boron, the primary contaminant the EPA has concerns about at this site. So far the EPA has determined the metal is harming plants in the area, but levels are “too low to harm people.” Still, the EPA believes the ash is seeping into underground water, which is “carrying the underground contamination into the park.”The EPA suggests 100,000 cubic yards of dry coal ash/soil need to be dug up and hauled off-site as part of its plan. On top of that, the EPA says another 85,000 cubic yards of “wet” ash below the water table would be solidified to prevent contaminants from making their way into the groundwater or surface water, according to the AP. The public has until Aug 19 to submit public comment on the plan.

 EPA rule extends life of toxic coal ash ponds | TheHill - The Trump administration is extending the life of giant pits of toxic coal sludge, a move critics say further risks contamination of nearby water sources. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) late Wednesday announced it had finalized a new regulation for the more than 400 coal ash pits across the nation, where coal residue is mixed with liquid and stored in open air, often unlined ponds. “Today’s action makes changes to the closure regulations for coal ash storage that enhance protections for public health while giving electric utilities enough time to retrofit or replace unlined impoundment ponds,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release. “The public will also be better informed as EPA makes facility groundwater monitoring data more accessible and understandable,” he added. But critics say the new rule is full of loopholes that will actually extend the life of coal ash ponds for years, giving facilities extra time to dump the arsenic-laden waste if they can’t find anywhere else to put it or have plans to retire one of their coal-burner boilers. With those extensions, coal ash ponds that are supposed to stop receiving waste by 2021 can keep receiving sludge for two to seven more years. Including the additional time for closing ponds, that allows some pits to stay open as late as 2038. “EPA is disingenuous. EPA is clearly fulfilling the demands of industry. This is coal lobbyist rule, this is Andrew Wheeler’s rule, and we wouldn't expect anything different,” Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans told The Hill, referencing Wheeler’s career as a lobbyist. “This rule allows tens of millions of tons of additional toxic waste to be placed in impoundments we know are leaking,” she said. The EPA has been under longstanding pressure to better regulate coal ash ponds because of the extreme risks associated with them. An Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice review of monitoring data from coal ash ponds found 91 percent were leaking toxins in excess of what EPA allows, contaminating groundwater and drinking wells in nearby communities. And when they aren’t leaching into groundwater, the contaminants risk spilling over the sides of the pond any time there is a heavy rain. Dan Costa, former director of EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program at the Office of Research and Development, said a flurry of early season tropical storms is a sign of what lies ahead. “There’s already another tropical storm approaching the Carolinas,” he said. “The problem with these holding facilities is that they’re large, they’re full, and they can be breached with heavy rains.” “They are usually in rural areas, if not in environmentally sensitive areas, sometimes near rivers, and they are usually in communities that have lower income people. And in North Carolina, they are in areas that are predominantly African American and poor because they don't have any power to fight these things,” he said.

Plant Vogtle installs new sirens and will start testing them this week- Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle has installed 48 new sirens in the area around it as part of its emergency response plan in case of a dangerous incident at the nuclear power facility. During a six-month commissioning phase beginning this week, the new sirens will be tested in small groups. Officials say this will allow time to ensure all sirens function properly before testing all of them together. Residents in a 10-mile radius will continue to hear the sirens but may notice a slight change in the duration and sound of the tone. Once the upgrade is complete, the sirens currently in use will be decommissioned, and the new sirens will continue to be tested audibly on a quarterly basis, in addition to the weekly inaudible tests that already occur.

Georgia Power forecasts increased costs for Vogtle nuclear expansion - The costs and challenges of expanding Plant Vogtle continue to grow, in part because the number of workers diagnosed with COVID-19 is on the rise, Southern Company acknowledged Thursday. The Atlanta-based company, which is the parent of Georgia Power, forecasts it will cost $149 million more for its share of the project. It said Georgia Power could eventually ask state regulators to charge customers for the increase. Southern also reported on Thursday quarterly declines in its latest revenue and profits, compared to a year ago, as overall electricity use fell with the pandemic and the battered economy. Commercial and industrial customers used far less electricity. But residential electricity use rose 5% as people spent more time at home. Southern said the pandemic continues to affect work at Vogtle, which was already billions of dollars over its original budget and years behind schedule. In April, the company cut 2,000 jobs on the project after absenteeism rose and coronavirus cases grew at the massive construction site south of Augusta. Southern said the number of cases among workers declined significantly, but began to increase again in mid-June and “continue to impact productivity levels and pace of activity completion.” Still, the company said it expects to have the two new nuclear units operating by November 2021 and November 2022. Georgia Public Service Commission staffers and independent monitors have testified that, even before factoring in the pandemic’s impact, it is “highly unlikely” that Vogtle will be completed by then. And they predicted the project will be $1 billion over its current budget.

JEA Settles Litigation Over Nuclear Plant Vogtle --JEA has ended its attempt to get out of a deal it made to buy electricity from a Georgia nuclear power plant that has seenbillions of dollars in cost overruns.Thursday afternoon Jacksonville’s public utility announced it has settled litigation and all related claims with the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power) in its dispute over the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, which is commonly referred to as Plant Vogtle.In settling the case, JEA acknowledged the contract is “valid and enforceable.”“We likewise are pleased to have reached this settlement with MEAG Power and look forward to Vogtle Units 3 and 4 coming online in the near future,” said Paul McElroy, JEA interim managing director and chief executive officer in an email to WJCT News. “The reliable, emissions-free power from Plant Vogtle will help JEA continue to serve our Jacksonville-area customers with ever-cleaner power into the future.”Earlier this week JEA’s board unanimously agreed to have JEA’s legal team attempt to reach a settlement.That followed a U.S. District judge’s June ruling against JEA in the lawsuit, saying the contract Jacksonville’s utility set up for the nuclear power plant is still valid. JEA entered into its power purchase agreement with MEAG Power in 2008. At the time, JEA’s portion of the project was expected to cost $1.4 billion, but the cost overruns that JEA must absorb totaled $2.9 billion by 2019, and JEA expected that uncapped liability to continue rising.

Work crews fudged maintenance records at nuke plant - Several maintenance workers at a South Florida nuclear power plant have been fired for not completing the safety inspection of a critical piece of equipment — and then falsifying records about it, a public safety concern, according to newly released documents by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. After an internal investigation by Florida Power & Light confirmed regulators’ findings, the utility company fired at least three employees involved in the January 2019 incident at the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station. Turkey Point, situated more than 60 miles south of Fort Lauderdale, provides power for roughly 1 million homes across South Florida. Its two nuclear reactors came online in the early 1970s. Because of the age of the reactors, some critical systems have to be regularly taken apart and checked for age-related issues. It was during one of these checks that investigators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission say maintenance crews falsified work records. Workers inspecting a valve for wear and tear in the aging reactor’s backup cooling system failed to use specialized equipment to measure a valve for signs of weakness, according to investigative documents. The valve must be taken apart and measured with specialized equipment every three years. Investigators found that the maintenance crew tasked with taking the valve apart hadn’t checked out the necessary tools for the job, even though they reported completing the task on maintenance paperwork. Workers had written the measurements from 2015 onto a form in 2019.

UAE starts operations at Arab world's first nuclear power plant  - In a first for the Arab world, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has begun start-up operations in the initial unit of its first nuclear power plant, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) has said. The Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant on the Gulf coast west of Abu Dhabi, a major oil producer, is being built by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). The plant was originally due to open in 2017 but the start-up of its first reactor was repeatedly delayed. ENEC on Saturday said its subsidiary Nawah Energy Company "has successfully started up Unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, located in the Al Dhafrah Region of Abu Dhabi". The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, wrote on Twitter that nuclear fuel had been loaded into the first of four units of what he called "the first peaceful nuclear energy reactor in the Arab world". "We are now another step closer to achieving our goal of supplying up to a quarter of our nation's electricity needs and powering its future growth with safe, reliable, and emissions-free electricity," ENEC's Chief Executive Mohamed Ibrahim al-Hammadi said. The UAE started loading fuel rods into the reactor at Barakah in February, after regulators gave the greenlight for the first of the plant's four reactors, opening the way for commercial operations. The Nawah Energy Company said at the time that Unit 1 will begin commercial operations after a "series of tests" leading to the start-up process. During the process, the unit will be synchronised with the power grid and the first electricity produced. When completed, Barakah will have four reactors with 5,600 megawatts (MW) capacity. The UAE has not disclosed the total planned investment in the project The UAE has substantial oil and gas reserves, but with a power-hungry population of 10 million, it has made huge investments in developing clean alternatives, including solar energy. The nuclear plant is a regional first. Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, has said it plans to build up to 16 nuclear reactors, but the project has yet to materialise.

Nuclear power bailout stalled in Harrisburg as feds allege bribes fueled Ohio aid package -An effort to help Pennsylvania’s nuclear power industry snag an estimated $500 million a year ratepayer bailout should not be hurt by an alleged bribery scandal involving FirstEnergy Corp. in Ohio, a state representative said.Federal prosecutors say the Akron-based company pumped $15 million into a $60 million pot of money to ensure a $1.3 billion bailout for two Ohio power plants. A criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday alleges that Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder and others took the money in exchange for securing the bailout.A similar bailout has been proposed in Pennsylvania.Bills introduced in the state House and Senate last year would classify nuclear power plants under the alternative energy portfolio standards, with power from those plants to be purchased, and will help Pennsylvania workers retain jobs and help ensure a reliable source of power, said State Rep. Thomas Mehaffie III, R-Hershey, the prime sponsor of the House initiative.The nuclear power industry lined up behind the bill, while the natural gas industry targeted the proposal, Mehaffie said.When the Pennsylvania bills were introduced, “the lobbying from both sides was intense,” Mehaffie said. “You had people all over the place.”The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission projected the changes to the alternative energy portfolio will cost customers between $460 million and $550 million a year. Both bills remain stalled in the consumer affairs committee. No vote is scheduled in either chamber.“It’s not going to be brought out of committee,” said Tim Joyce, a spokesman for state Sen. Jim Brewster, a McKeesport Democrat. While Brewster believes the bill is good for the state, it may remain in the committee for the rest of the legislative sessions this year, Joyce said. One nuclear power plant that would benefit from the bailout is the Beaver Valley Power Plant at Shippingport, formerly owned by FirstEnergy, parent company of West Penn Power Co. of Greensburg. FirstEnergy created FirstEnergy Solutions to operate the utility’s nuclear and coal-fired power plants. The spin-off filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and emerged last February under the name Energy Harbor.

To keep franchise, ComEd must reform, Lightfoot warns - ComEd, which confessed to paying $1.3 million in bribes to associates of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, must enact ethics reform and other policy changes before the city will extend the utility’s franchise agreement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.Lightfoot delivered a shape-up-or-else ultimatum in a letter she emailed to ComEd CEO Joseph Dominguez. The agreement that allows ComEd to provide electricity within Chicago expires at the end of 2020, but how much leverage the city has in the situation is debatable.ComEd’s owner, Exelon, will pay $200 million to settle federal corruption charges and agreed to continue cooperating in the Madigan-focused probe. A copy of Lightfoot’s letter was given to the Sun-Times.Saying she is “deeply disturbed” by the company’s admission, the mayor told Dominguez she finds “the company’s response thus far to this clearly unethical behavior to be inadequate. Good governance and transparency have been guiding principles for my administration, and I expect the same principled approach from any company that does business with the City of Chicago.”She added: “The City will not make rash decisions about such an important and essential service as electricity.” Lightfoot said to renew the franchise, “the City expects the company to implement (1) a comprehensive ethics reform plan that rebuilds trust with the City, its residents and its businesses, and (2) my administration’s policy priorities around energy and sustainability, equitable economic development, utility affordability and transparency. ”Top executives at Chicago-based Exelon, in apologizing for the misconduct, said they have removed individuals involved in the bribery, which they said was designed to curry favor from Madigan on important legislation. ComEd admitted to federal charges that it derived at least $150 million in benefits from the scheme over an eight-year period ending in 2019. Madigan has not been charged.

Who's going to pay for beefed-up policing of ComEd? You will. - Ratepayers of Exelon's utilities, including its disgraced subsidiary ComEd, will shoulder the cost of a new exec and his staff who are meant to reassure the public that payoffs to the politically connected will end. Commonwealth Edison and Exelon executives, for the first time saying something extensive about the scandal engulfing them in a hearing today before the Illinois Commerce Commission, put forth a vocal defense of the company even as they offered words of contrition. While they guaranteed that ComEd customers wouldn’t pay more to cover any of the utility's $200 million fine under its deferred-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors, they did admit that ComEd customers will indeed pay for the steps the utility is taking to police itself.  ComEd did not admit to a crime, CEO Joseph Dominguez emphasized to commissioners. He referred to it repeatedly as “misconduct.” “I am very sorry for that conduct,” he said.  Under the arrangement with the feds, ComEd is charged with bribery. The charge will be dismissed after three years if ComEd continues to cooperate with their investigation of House Speaker Michael Madigan and reforms its lobbying practices. Dominguez introduced to the commission David Glockner, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago hired by Exelon in a newly created position to audit and police the requests and hiring recommendations Exelon’s utilities get from public officials, among other ethics concerns. Quickly, commissioners asked whether ratepayers were covering Glockner’s compensation as an executive vice president and others the company might be hiring to boost compliance. Indeed, they are through the Exelon shared-services unit that all its business units including ComEd help pay for, ComEd executives responded. ComEd includes those expenses in the rates it charges. Commission Chair Carrie Zalewski told Dominguez and Glockner that she wasn’t comfortable “with one penny” of ratepayer money going to an improved compliance system made necessary by actions over nearly a decade at ComEd that resulted in a criminal charge of bribery.  “I find it very hard to believe Exelon was going to enhance their policies regardless,” she said. 

With city takeover off the table, ComEd hearing reduced to political theater - The City Council’s chance to publicly flog Commonwealth Edison for a $1.3 million bribery scandal was quickly reduced to political theater Thursday after a top mayoral aide took Chicago’s trump card off the table right off the bat.Mayor Lori Lightfoot had asked a consultant to study the feasibility of a municipal takeover of Chicago’s electric service. The final report is expected to be released in August.But Assets and Information Services Commissioner David Reynolds delivered the bottom line progressive aldermen didn’t want to hear during a virtual hearing before the City Council’s Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection.“It appears municipalizing ComEd is not financially feasible for this city, given the cost of both purchasing ComEd’s distribution infrastructure and severing the portion of the system that serves Chicago from the portion that would serve ComEd’s revised service territory if the city were to municipalize the portion that serves Chicago,” he said. Instead of preparing for a municipal takeover, the city and ComEd have been “meeting at least weekly for more than a year to negotiate the terms of the new franchise agreement,” Reynolds said.

After $60M Bribery Charges, Questions Renewed over Ratepayer Subsidies for Nuclear Power - FirstEnergy Corp. CEO Chuck Jones was more than halfway through his second-quarter earnings call Friday, when he could no longer hold in his frustrations. “It’d be really nice,’’ he said softly, ‘’we have 15 minutes left if we could actually talk about the great quarter that we had at some point here.’’ Unfortunately for him, analysts were not interested. Instead, they sought to gauge the Ohio energy giant’s risks and exposure following the announcement three days earlier of its role in the $60 million bribery scandal related to the bailout of two nuclear plants formerly owned by the company. The federal investigation led to the arrest of Ohio’s speaker of the House, his chief political aide and three lobbyists. The alleged scheme involved using funds from FirstEnergy, its former subsidiary and operator of the plants, and another subsidiary, to help pass a bill last year to keep the plants open with a $1.3 billion subsidy paid for by utility customers. Once enacted into law, funds funneled to a dark-money nonprofit set up by the Ohio Speaker Larry Householder were used to block a referendum seeking to overturn the law. The scandal has revived questions about whether these aging nuclear plants deserve the subsidies and how they were awarded. New Jersey was one of four states to allow ratepayer subsidies to avoid closing nuclear power plants. At this juncture, there are more questions than answers relating to FirstEnergy’s , involvement. FirstEnergy, which owns Jersey Central Power & Light and its subsidiaries, is cooperating with the investigation, Jones said. “I believe First Energy acted properly in this matter,’’ Jones told analysts. None of the money from the bailout went to FirstEnergy, he said. Still, the affidavit renewed criticism from some in the energy sector over states subsidizing bailout of nuclear power plants, a process that has also occurred in New York, New Jersey and Illinois. In New Jersey, Public Service Enterprise Group and Exelon Corp. won subsidies amounting to $300 million a year to prevent their three plants in South Jersey from closing after a bitter two-year legislative battle. “This should raise questions in New Jersey whether the ZEC (zero-emission certificate) legislation is necessary,’’ said Glen Thomas, president of the P3 Group, a coalition of energy suppliers that opposes nuclear subsidies. “We now know in Ohio the only reason these bills passed (was) legislators were being bribed.’’

‘Dark money’ can easily fuel bribery schemes -  The Columbus Dispatch - The key tool that used to carry out what federal authorities described as a criminal enterprise in support of a nuclear power-plant bailout bill was “dark money,” which is derived from donations that don’t have to be disclosed.Commercials supporting the FirstEnergy nuclear power-plant bailout bill in 2019 showed children playing, wind turbines spinning and solar panels shining in the sun — but never showed a nuclear power plant.“Clean air and clean energy begin with clean government,” one video said, over a scene of a toddler walking hand in hand with his parents.But according to an 82-page criminal complaint released by federal prosecutors Tuesday, the ubiquitous ads were really part of the largest criminal conspiracy in Ohio government political history — a “racket,” similar to those used by the mafia. The goal was to gain control of the Ohio House, appoint a new speaker and then pass a law charging electricity customers to bail out the company that owns two aging Ohio nuclear power plants and some coal-fired power plants in the Midwest.And the key tool that Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder used to carry out what federal authorities described as a criminal enterprise was “dark money” — $61 million of it largely from the plants’ owner, which information contained in the criminal complaint identifies as bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy now operating under the name Energy Harbor.If you’re intent on bribing a politician, “dark money makes it a lot easier,” said Richard Briffault, a professor with the Columbia Law School specializing in campaign-finance issues.“What makes money dark is that the donations don’t have to be disclosed. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. It’s harder to do things like this out in the open,” Briffault said.

'Unholy alliance' of power, money fueled corruption scheme (AP) — An accused co-conspirator called it an “unholy alliance” — dealings between a longtime Ohio politician seeking to restore his power and an energy company in desperate need of a billion-dollar bailout to rescue two nuclear plants in the state. Both the politician, current Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, and FirstEnergy Corp., identified in an FBI complaint as “Company A,” got what they wanted last year from what federal officials say was a $60 million bribery scheme funded by an unidentified company the complaint makes clear is FirstEnergy and its affiliates. What Householder and his alleged co-conspirators might not have realized until their arrests on Tuesday and the affidavit was made public was that the FBI had insider help from people who cooperated with agents, recorded phone calls and dinner conversations, and shared text messages from members of the alleged conspiracy. Householder, one of the state’s most powerful politicians, and FirstEnergy, which through its affiliates provided nearly all of the cash used to fund the alleged scheme, now face a reckoning that could upend Ohio’s political landscape. Both FirstEnergy and Householder were successful. Householder surged to power with his election as House speaker in January 2019, and FirstEnergy got its bailout. Tens of millions of dollars were then spent to fund a campaign that prevented Ohio voters from deciding in a ballot issue whether they were in favor of paying more on their electric bills to help keep the struggling plants afloat. Youtube video thumbnail Householder’s attorney declined to comment on Friday. FBI Agent Blane Wetzel’s detailed 81-page affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Householder and four others showed how the Perry County politician was connected to FirstEnergy. It painstakingly details how the alleged conspiracy to spend $60 million of the corporation’s money unfolded. The affidavit lays out the speaker’s ties to the corporation, starting with Householder and his son flying to President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 on a FirstEnergy plane. According to the affidavit, there were 84 telephone contacts between Householder and FirstEnergy President and CEO Chuck Jones between February 2017 and July 2019; 14 contacts with the corporation’s vice president for external affairs; and 188 contacts with its Ohio director of state affairs. “Let me be clear, at no time did our support for Ohio’s nuclear plants interfere with or supersede our ethical obligations to conduct our business properly,” Jones told investors Friday during a quarterly earnings call. “The facts will become clear as the investigation progresses.”

AEP contributed to dark money group that gave money to Generation Now - American Electric Power (AEP) has acknowledged that it funded a dark-money group that itself contributed funding to Generation Now, the group charged in the federal criminal complaint that centered around a $61 million bribery scheme involving FirstEnergy. The group, called Empowering Ohio’s Economy, Inc., is a 501(c)(4) organization that paid $100,000 to Generation Now in 2017, and another $50,000 in 2018. The Energy News Network first reported the funding earlier this year.  Neither Empowering Ohio’s Economy nor AEP are mentioned by name in federal prosecutors’ criminal complaint.The complaint does, however, describe a “Coalition” as one of the entities controlled by the criminal enterprise. It says the Coalition was funded in part through “$200,000 from an interest group that was funded exclusively by $13 million from another energy company that supported HB 6 and separately paid $150,000 to Generation Now during the relevant period.”The Energy News Network reported that Empowering Ohio’s Economy “gave $200,000 for public advocacy to the Coalition for Growth & Opportunity in 2017” in addition to the $150,000 it gave to Generation Now in 2017 and 2018. Those details would appear to match Empowering Ohio’s Economy with the description of the “interest group” named in the complaint, and would appear to match AEP with the description of “another energy company that supported HB 6” and exclusively funded Empowering Ohio’s Economy with “$13 million.”The Columbus Dispatch has confirmed that AEP is the energy company cited in the affidavit as funding that interest group, citing a source close to the investigation. AEP spokesperson Melissa McHenry confirmed to the Energy and Policy Institute that AEP has funded Empowering Ohio’s Economy, though would not comment on the level of funding.

Illinois and Ohio Bribery Scandals Show the Perils of Mixing Utilities and Politics -—Among other things, the king-size bribery scandals in Illinois and Ohio dominating the headlines lately are a vivid illustration of how utilities routinely exert financial and political power to shield themselves from the risks of doing business, often at the expense of consumers.The dynamic is so pervasive that some analysts and advocates say they thought they had lost the ability to be shocked by it—until the revelations of the last 10 days."I was gobsmacked," said Ned Hill, an Ohio State University economist who had testified against the legislation now at the center of the bribery probe. The behavior described in legal documents, he said, looks "like the outtakes from The Godfather."Hill and other close observers of the legislative process say utilities have too much political power and operate in a campaign finance system that makes it too easy for them to get what they want, and that often leads to unfair competition. On July 17, federal prosecutors in Illinois announced that the utility Commonwealth Edison had allegedly provided jobs and favors to people associated with the Illinois House speaker, in exchange for legislation that included a bailout of nuclear power plants. Four days later, federal prosecutors in Ohio made a more startling announcement in an unrelated but similar case, charging the Ohio House speaker, Republican Larry Householder, and four other people, with taking more than $60 million from the utility FirstEnergy in exchange for passing a nuclear bailout. The utilities' unrestrained influence also has implications for climate change and the environment, although those factors differ widely in the Illinois and Ohio cases because of differences in the bills passed in each state. But environmental advocates say both the Illinois and Ohio examples are alarming because they show a system in which all concerns take a back seat to profits of utilities."When companies like ComEd and FirstEnergy have billions of dollars at stake, spending tens of millions of dollars on campaign contributions, bribes and other activities is sort of a down payment, and that's sad," said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago.

Ohio political scandal nicks AEP stock price, FirstEnergy CEO clarifies defense as shares languish - American Electric Power's share price tumbled about 10% at the beginning of the week and had still not completely recovered by the end of the day Tuesday, following published reports that the company had contributed to the dark money committee, Generation Now, in its $61 million, multi-year campaign to bail out nuclear plants formerly owned by FirstEnergy Corp. Nicholas Akins, AEP's CEO, issued a statement stating that neither the corporation nor its subsidiaries contributed to Generation Now. He said the company contributed to Empowering Ohio's Economy, AEP's wholly-owned, tax-exempt committee promoting business development in Ohio. But Empowering Ohio's Economy then contributed $150,000 to Generation Now and $200,000 to another non-profit group also under federal investigation. AEP's chief lobbyist, who testified in favor of the bailout legislation, is a director of Empowering Ohio. AEP's efforts to stay as far away from the federal bribery investigation that has all but named FirstEnergy and its former power plant subsidiary, now called Energy Harbor, came this week as FirstEnergy CEO Charles Jones issued a new public statement clarifying remarks he made to analysts during the company's second quarter earnings call on Friday. Jones' statement underscored previous comments to analysts, that the company's subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions began acting independently in November 2016 when it created its own board of directors, and that while FirstEnergy continued to offer FES support services — including advice on external affairs — "that support decreased over time, particularly, as the FES [March 2018] bankruptcy approached. FES made its own decisions after its new board was in place with respect to its external affairs strategy." Both AEP and FE issued their statements this week just a day before Republican lawmakers, in a private a caucus Tuesday, agreed to remove Rep. Larry Householder, R, as speaker of the House in Ohio. Election of a new speaker, yet to be identified, would occur in a public meeting of the House. FBI agents last week arrested Householder and four others following an investigation that lasted more than a year. Federal prosecutors simultaneously released an 81-page complaint alleging that Householder created Generation Now as a tax-exempt, non-profit organization that used bribery as early as 2016 with the goal of ultimately winning passage of the bailout legislation, House Bill 6, approved last year. Generation Now financed the election campaigns of Ohio House and Senate members through several election cycles, creating "Team Householder," that is, House and Senate members beholden to the speaker.

FirstEnergy customer files potential class-action lawsuit seeking refund of rate hike due to ‘ill-gotten gains’ of House Bill 6 - -- A FirstEnergy customer on Monday filed what could become a class-action lawsuit in an effort to make the electricity company refund customers for rate hikes that resulted from a billion-dollar nuclear bailout now at the center of a corruption scandal.The lawsuit filed by Jacob Smith, a North Royalton homeowner, accuses the Akron-based utility of committing civil racketeering by bribing law Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder to introduce House Bill 6 and then illegally bankrolling a dark-money campaign to pressure legislators into supporting the bill and fending off a ballot initiative to repeal it.The goal of the scheme was to deprive ratepayers of money through the law that required them to pay a monthly surcharge on power the company delivered, the lawsuit says.The 34-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus also asks a federal judge to grant class-action status, a move that would allow hundreds of thousands of customers from across the state to join as plaintiffs and seek refunds.House Bill 6 required every Ohio customer to pay a new monthly surcharge that ranged from 85 cents for residential customers to $2,400 for operators of large industrial plants. It also stripped requirements that traditional utility companies generate a certain percentage of the power they provide from renewable energy, which supporters said would result in a net savings for consumers.Sandusky-based attorney Dennis Murray Jr., a former Democratic state representative who represented what was then District 80 from 2009 to 2013, filed the suit on Smith’s behalf. He said that lawmakers’ plans to repeal the bailout law and pass new legislation in its place are not enough.“[FirstEnergy] hijacked Ohio’s democracy,” Murray Jr. told Monday. “Repeal and replace is likely, but they’re not entitled to keep the change in the meantime. They have to give it back.”

Ohio House votes to remove Larry Householder as Ohio Speaker following corruption arrest -  -- The Ohio House of Representatives has voted unanimously to remove Larry Householder as Ohio House speaker a little more than one week following his arrest on federal corruption allegations. Members approved the measure swiftly without debate in a Thursday morning session. The vote was 90-0, with 9 members, including Householder, absent. Additional “yes” votes could trickle in as Thursday continues — some of the “absent” members were nearby but missed the vote since it happened so quickly. The move doesn’t remove Householder from office entirely — it just removes him from his job as Speaker, a powerful position that schedules House votes and decides what will be voted on. Householder remains in office, and is up for re-election in November. Householder, a political aide and three lobbyists, including former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, were arrested last Tuesday in what federal authorities described as a $60 million bribery scheme. They were formally indicted on Thursday, minutes before the vote. The FBI says FirstEnergy funneled the money to Householder and his allies, including a network of shadowy political groups, to help elect Householder as speaker, in exchange for a nuclear bailout bill worth more than $1 billion that Householder pushed through the legislature. With Householder removed as speaker, House Republicans are working behind the scenes to pick a new one, with state reps. Jim Butler, of suburban Dayton, and Bob Cupp, of Lima, emerging as the lead candidates. Cupp is a former Ohio Supreme Court justice, while Butler served under Householder as the number-two ranking House Republican. House Republicans said the plan is to hold a private vote for Butler or Cupp behind closed doors, and then vote unanimously for the winning candidate in a later, public vote to make it official. They were scheduled to meet privately immediately following the session, but the caucus was delayed until 1:30 p.m. so additional representatives could make it to Columbus. State Rep. Jon Cross, a Kenton Republican who was a close Householder ally, said following the vote he thinks Republicans will be able to unite behind either candidate. “I’m hoping we can make a very unified decision, get together and vote and get this done,” he said. State Rep. Jack Cera, a Belmont County Democrat and longtime state legislator, said he’s saddened by Thursday’s vote. He said the Householder episode illustrates the need for campaign-finance reform. “The public going back years and years has thought that all politicians are crooks. And stuff like this paints us all with the same brush. And we’ve got to do something about the money in the political system if we want to change that,” he said.

Environmental groups push Murray Energy to disclose possible HB 6 ties - Columbus Dispatch -  Environmental groups are asking a federal bankruptcy court for Murray Energy Holdings Co. to disclose any potential involvement with House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout law now tied to a $60 million bribery and racketeering scheme involving Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four associates. Environmental groups are asking a federal bankruptcy court for Murray Energy Holdings Co. to disclose any potential involvement with Ohio House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout law now tied to a $60 million bribery and racketeering scheme involving indicted former state House Speaker Larry Householder and four associates. St. Clairsville-based Murray Energy is in the process of providing additional information about how its finances are being reorganized in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings before Judge John E. Hoffman Jr. in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus. The disclosures were due Wednesday. “It would be helpful if, when Murray provides its supplemental disclosure, it also disclosed whether or not it had provided money to any of the organizations that are named in the indictment related to HB 6, because there’s Company B and Company C. The chatter on the street” is that one of them is Murray, said Margrethe Kearney, a senior staff attorney with the Midwest-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. She is also representing the environmental organizations Ohio Citizen Action and Ohio Environmental Council.

Ohio lawmakers want ‘puzzling’ offshore wind ruling revisited - The state’s siting board had approved the project, but with a provision that made it nearly impossible to build.A bipartisan coalition of 32 state lawmakers from Northeast Ohio has interceded on behalf of the Lake Erie Energy Development Company’s 20.7-megawatt demonstration offshore wind project, now before state regulators.In a strongly worded letter to Sam Randazzo, chair of the Ohio Power Siting Board, the lawmakers objected to the board’s ruling in May granting a permit —  if LEEDCo agreed to shut down the wind farm’s six turbines from dusk to dawn eight months out of the year, Mar. 1 through Nov. 1,  so there would no impact on migrating birds.The provision, which the ruling noted might be lifted at some future point, was a “poison pill” that made the development financially unfeasible because it would drive away investors, LEEDCo president David Karpinski said at the time.LEEDCo in June asked the board to reconsider. An administrative law judge granted the request, along with requests from other parties as well. The board does not meet until Aug. 21.Calling the siting board’s May ruling “puzzling” and in part “unlawful,” the legislative coalition’s letter asks the siting board to “immediately grant LEEDCo’s request for reconsideration.”  Randazzo, a longtime opponent of renewable energy, also chairs the state’s Public Utilities Commission. The nightly shutdown requirement had been an issue earlier in the four-year case, prompting LEEDCo to negotiate with the board’s technical staff, which had sought 11-month nightly shutdowns.  The company then committed to installing state-of-the-art radar to detect birds and bats weighing a little as 11 grams, and collision detection systems on the turbines as part of a program to keep bird fatalities to a minimum, settling the issue. Or so LEEDCo thought, only to see the overnight shutdown provision buried deeply in the board’s May decision.That history was not lost on the lawmakers.“We have reviewed the facts in the case, and we remain puzzled the Board would re-insert the evening shutdown order that its own technical staff had determined was not necessary to meet the statutory standard,” they wrote.The letter further argues that the May order is “unlawful” because

  • It contradicts the evidence in the four-year case record as well as the formal finding of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • It does not offer “compelling evidence” to override the recommendations of the board’s staff or the recommendations of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources
  • It requires two separate approvals, one for construction, one to operate at night — a violation of rules governing the board’s actions.

Montage Strikes Deal to Sell Utica Gathering Infrastructure -Appalachian pure-play Montage Resources Corp. has agreed to sell noncore natural gas gathering assets in Ohio’s Utica Shale to an undisclosed company for $25 million.  Montage said an international company agreed to purchase the infrastructure, which is in a condensate development area. The transaction is expected to close in 4Q2020. Proceeds would be used to cut debt and improve the strength of the balance sheet.  In a brief operational update announced along with the deal, Montage expects second quarter production volumes to come in at the high end of the 535-555 MMcfe/d announced last month, after rising oil and gas prices prompted it to bring back production curtailed earlier in the year.  Like other Lower 48 operators, Montage shut-in production in April after oil prices fell precipitously and Covid-19 destroyed energy demand. The company primarily curtailed liquids-rich volumes from Ohio’s Utica. It returned those volumes to sales on June 1 and said full-year production would increase as a result. The company is now guiding for 565-585 MMcfe/d this year, or 2% above the midpoint of its previous range. The company also has lowered its 2020 capital expenditures to $120-140  million from the previously announced range of $130-150 million. The spending cut would be driven by continued efficiency gains and is not expected to impact production volumes. The company reports second quarter results Aug. 6.

 Exxon Unit Says Bid For Win In Drilling Suit Is Premature - - An Exxon Mobil Corp. unit and other drilling companies have urged an Ohio federal court to throw out a bid for a quick win by mineral rights owners alleging the companies drilled deeper than they should have, saying it's too early in the proposed class litigation to decide the case on its merits. In a motion filed Wednesday, Exxon subsidiary XTO Energy Inc., as well as Rice Drilling D LLC, Ascent Resources Utica LLC and Gulfport Energy Corp., said the summary judgment bid from the mineral owners, led by J&R Passmore LLC, can't come before a decision is made on class certification. . . ..

CNX Resources' curtailments to end in November - CNX Resources Corp. has reported a net loss to shareholders of $146 million or 78 cents per share, Kallanish Energy reports. That compares to earnings of $162.4 million or 85 cents a share in 2Q 2019. The company reported that adjusted net income was $24 million and adjusted EBITDAX was $212 million. Net cash provided by operating activities was $144 million and capital expenditures were $135 million. Consolidated free cash flow was $21 million. It reported 2Q 2020 revenue of $148.8 million. There was also an unrealized loss on commodity derivative instruments of $206 million. The company also got $29 million in net proceeds from terminating natural gas hedges that were to settle from May to November 2020. It also curtailed and delayed production, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the lower demand for fuels that resulted. The company, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, operated two rigs and drilled eight wells in the Appalachian Basin in the second quarter. It utilized one all-electric frack crew to complete 11 wells in the quarter. There were eight wells in Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale and three wells in Ohio’s Utica Shale. It now has one rig working and one frack crew at work. Production volumes decreased due to the temporary shut-in of a portion of the company’s liquids-rich Shirley-Pennsboro production in May and June in response to low natural gas liquid prices. Additionally, two new pads pf dry gas wells were also shut in in May and June due to low natural gas prices, it said. The decisions to shut in production were made to take advantage of improved gas prices at the start of winter, it said. That curtailment is expected to end in November.

Pipelines come into focus in CNX and EQT messages to investors - Pipelines have always played the supporting role to drillers. They’re not at the forefront of technological disruption — the kind that CNX president and CEO Nick DeIuliis said is responsible for the industry’s current financial woes, which he maintains is how every success story begins. They’re not the dreams of wildcatters, nor a cash cow for landowners. Instead, they’re the veins of what makes oil and gas development work — without them, you couldn’t get gas from the well to the market. For that reason, many executives of exploration and production companies would prefer to control the pipelines that determine their destiny.  It’s why CNX Resources, the Cecil-based driller, announced Monday that it will reabsorb the midstream company it spun out six years ago and pay $357 million for the shares it doesn’t already own. “Our peers have outsourced their midstream services, driving up their cost, and they cannot unwind those decisions and bring those margins back into the company,” Mr. DeIuliis said. “Our gathering systems and water systems required hundreds of millions of dollars and five-plus years to build. So in order for our competitors to catch up, it will take them hundreds of millions of dollars and half a decade to match those investments.” CNX Midstream, which began as Cone Midstream, is a master limited partnership — a business whose profits are not taxed at the corporate level but are instead passed along to investors and taxed at their personal income level. Because pipeline profits tend to be steady and predictable — whereas commodity-based businesses like oil and gas drilling can be volatile — midstream master limited partnerships opened up space in the industry for a different set of investors. While operating teams at the oil and gas firms may have wanted to retain control of these assets, shareholders often pushed to separate them, believing that a stand-alone pipeline company would be worth more than one folded into a production firm.  In Appalachia, many of the major drillers split their pipeline infrastructure into separate, publicly traded companies, even if some retained the same management teams.CNX Resources, then known as Consol Energy Inc., did it in 2014. EQT Corp. did it with a number of entities, including EQT Midstream.Rice Energy Corp. did it in 2014, three years before it was acquired by EQT Corp.But as investors began to sour on energy stocks as a whole and as the corporate tax rate fell to 21% in 2017, midstream MLPs were no longer the hot ticket they once seemed. At that point, the sacrifice of losing some control over pipeline operations by making them a separate company began to look like too much to bear for some. Last month, Equitrans Midstream Corp. bought all outstanding shares of EQT Midstream, the master limited partnership that has since been folded into the corporate umbrella.Equitrans itself spun out of EQT Corp. in 2018, although the two entities remain linked by pipeline contracts like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a huge, much-challenged and frequently delayed transmission pipeline under construction to bring natural gas out of the Appalachian basin.EQT was supposed to be the anchor shipper on the pipeline. But on Monday, EQT’s leaders told analysts that it’s their goal to sell some or all their reserved space on the pipeline that the company helped to create and which many, including EQT CEO Toby Rice, believe may be the last big pipeline built in the U.S. in the near future.

You've Got Your Troubles - Is the Northeast Gas Market Headed for a Fall Meltdown?  -- U.S. Northeast natural gas production has surged nearly 1.5 Bcf/d in the past four weeks as wells that were shut-in this spring came back to life. The supply gains have been matched by strong intraregional demand, which has posted at or near record highs on a monthly average basis in recent months. But the returning supply volumes raise the question: what happens when summer cooling demand begins to fade? Storage will only be able to absorb so much, as regional storage inventories are already well above year-ago levels and the historical average for this time of year. That leaves flows out of the region as the only other outlet for excess supply, and those may be limited as well, as pipeline issues and drastically reduced downstream demand from LNG exports have stymied outflows. So, is the Northeast gas market headed for a shoulder-season meltdown? Appalachian gas supply prices this month already have weakened relative to the national benchmark Henry Hub, and these dynamics suggest there is more tumult ahead. Today, we consider what’s in store for the Northeast gas market this fall given the latest fundamentals.  To understand the most recent gas market shifts in the U.S. Northeast — and their near-term implications — it’s worth putting them in the context of what’s transpired in the past few months. As we discussed last month in The Waiting Game, gas prices were feeling the pressure of oversupply conditions well before COVID-19 and the oil price collapse. Appalachian producers last year already had trimmed their rig counts and capital spending budgets in response to sub-$2.00/MMBtu gas prices in the region and overall weakness in Henry Hub benchmark futures prices. Then came the mild winter that suppressed storage withdrawals and left a hefty surplus in storage compared with previous years. That was followed by the pandemic-induced stay-at-home directives and lockdowns, which disrupted gas consumption. And, by May, there was also the disruption of another major demand “sink” for domestic production, including from the Marcellus/Utica — U.S. LNG exports — as an existing global surplus of LNG combined with lockdowns abroad to slash global demand, wiping out margins for cargo liftings from U.S. ports, and leading to widespread cargo cancellations.  On top of all that, Appalachian producers have weathered a number of major pipeline outages that cut takeaway capacity for flows out of the region, particularly southbound flows serving Gulf Coast demand, in some cases for prolonged periods of time. Enbridge’s Texas Eastern Transmission (TETCO), for one, has been operating at reduced pressure following a force majeure in early May 2020 that triggered federally mandated integrity testing on the system. Outages in 2019 already had limited flows on TETCO to below 1.5 Bcf/d (from an average between 1.5 and 2 Bcf/d through 2018), and this latest incident set flows back further, to less than 1.3 Bcf/d in recent months. Additionally, earlier this year, a force majeure on the Columbia Gas Transmission (CGT) system cut outflows by ~500 MMcf/d for more than a month, from mid-January to early March. Most recently, a July 7 force majeure on Columbia Gas’s Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline (MXP) briefly reduced southbound flows out of Appalachia.

DEP fines CNX $310,000 for pipeline spills in Washington County - The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has fined the natural gas driller CNX $310,000 for spills and landslides associated with a pipeline project in Washington County. The fines are for violations along pipelines it built to carry natural gas and wastewater the company used in its fracking operations, the DEP said. The spills happened between August 2016 and August 2018 in East Finley Township, according to a DEP consent order signed by the company, which names CNX Gas Company LLC, and CNX Midstream Partners, LP, the company’s pipeline subsidiary. During construction, the company spilled 43 gallons of drilling mud into a stream, according to the consent order. The company also had two leaks, one of 630 gallons and another of 2,100 gallons of drilling brine — waste water that contains high amounts of naturally occurring salts, as well as radioactive materials found in gas-rich shale beds. The DEP found the spill killed vegetation and resulted in contamination of soil, a groundwater seep, and contamination of a nearby stream. The company removed contaminated soil and set up monitoring wells to detect pollutants of nearby groundwater. The company submitted soil samples showing levels of contaminants within thresholds the DEP considers safe. In addition to spills, there were landslides along a hill where the pipeline was built, including one that temporarily destabilized the soil holding up a nearby gas well pad. The consent agreement ordered the company to submit to an independent audit of its wastewater management practices, and to resubmit to the state its pollution contingency plans.

Chester County commissioners appoint new law firm for pipeline suit —The Chester County commissioners on Thursday approved the appointment of a new law firm to handle its case before the state Public Utilities Commission in which it is seeking to halt construction and operations of the two Mariner East gas transmission pipelines through the heart of the county. At the same time, the commissioners also formally approved the hiring of a new county solicitor who will work alongside the new outside counsel in preparation for an upcoming two-week-long hearing before the PUC later this year.  The commissioners had previously confirmed that they intended to hire Deputy Attorney General Nicole McCauley Forzato to replace retired Solicitor Thomas Whiteman to run the county’s legal office, but Thursday’s unanimous vote during a virtual commissioners’ meeting made her appointment official. She begins her role as the first female county Solicitor on Tuesday.In appointing the Bucks County firm of Curtin & Heefner to handle its case before the PUC, the county will now draw on the resources of attorney Mark Freed, who has been a part of the litigation surrounding Sunoco’s pipeline operations in the region for years, and one who also happens to be a resident of the county and an elected supervisor in Tredyffrin. Freed is the attorney who represents Uwchlan before the PUC in the action seeking to force Sunoco to develop and implement safety and community notification policies for emergencies along the Mariner East pipelines, and had previously represented state Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19th, of West Whiteland, in his battles against the company over the pipeline. A former staff attorney for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and member of the state Attorney General’s environmental crimes division in the 1990s who specializes in environmental law litigation, Freed will take over representation of the county before the PUC from attorney Margaret Morris of the Philadelphia law firm of Reger, Rizzo & Darnall.

Hearing officer OKs Delaware River LNG dock –   An adjudicatory hearing officer has recommended that Delaware River dock to serve a liquefied natural gas export terminal in New Jersey should remain as approved, Kallanish Energy reports. The report was filed last week by hearing officer John D. Kelly on the project by developer Delaware River Partners, a subsidiary of New Fortress Energy LLC. The parties involved have 20 days to object to Kelly’s findings, before the report and any objections go to the Delaware River Basin Commission, which can accept or reject Kelly’s findings.  Critics had argued that the commission in June 2019 did not allow enough time for public comment in approving the project that would allow two tankers to dock at Gibbstown on the Delaware River in New Jersey’s Gloucester County and the project should be reconsidered. Kelly said the Delaware Riverkeeper Network made its arguments against the approval, but “the effort and evidence were insufficient to carry the burden.” The evidence “has not demonstrated any substantial impairment or conflict with the plan for Dock 2 Project,” he said in the conclusion of his 102-page report. “Accordingly, it is recommended that the Dock 2 Docket should remain as previously approved by the commission,” Kelly said.  The LNG that would be loaded onto the tankers would come from the Marcellus Shale in northeast Pennsylvania under the New Fortress plan It would be moved by truck and rail about 200 miles to the New Jersey site. The company has gotten a special federal rail permit to be allowed to move LNG by rail in specially designed rail cars. Construction started last fall at a New Fortress liquefaction plant in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. It is expected to be operational in late 2020 or early 2021. New Fortress has said it has signed a 15-year contract with unnamed producers to acquire all the needed feed gas in Bradford County.The company has plans for a second facility in Pennsylvania. It would be operational in first quarter 2021. Each plant would produce 3.6 million gallons of LNG per day or 2.15 million tons of LNG per year.

Senators withdraw request to join fracking lawsuit - State Sen. Lisa Baker and two other legislators withdrew their request to intervene in a federal lawsuit that challenges the Delaware River Basin Commission’s authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing within the watershed. The decision in the case filed by Wayne Land and Mineral Group comes as the commission asks a judge to rule in its favor on a technical issue relating to the company’s equipment used in hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process that uses high pressure to inject a large volume of water, chemicals and sand into a Marcellus Shale formation, causing it to crack and release natural gas. It’s controversial because of concerns over the impact is has on the environment. Wayne Land wants to drill well pads on land it owns within the Delaware River Basin, but it can’t because the commission issued a 2010 moratorium that banned fracking until it could develop regulations to cover the practice. The commission still has not done so. The company’s 2016 lawsuit asks a judge to rule that the commission overstepped its authority.The resolution of the case will have significant ramifications for Pennsylvania. It’s estimated the basin holds more than $40 billion in natural gas reserves on land that is located within the state. Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp., Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, Williamsport, and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-25, Wellsboro, filed a motion in September 2018, in support of Wayne Land’s position. In court papers, the senators’ attorney, Matthew Haverstick, argued the moratorium is a matter that should be decided by state legislators, not the Delaware River Basin Commission. The senators, as trustees of the state’s natural resources, should be allowed to intervene because they have an obligation to protect the best interests of citizens, he said.

West Milford NJ wants voice in project to bring more natural gas to NY— Township officials are seeking to formally intervene in Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s plan to place a natural gas compressor near the Monksville Reservoir to increase capacity for Con Edison and its New York state customers. In a filing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week, township legal representatives requested stakeholder status for the Kinder Morgan subsidiary’s proposed 300 Line Upgrade Project in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The request cites the project’s potential environmental implications and impacts. “The township has immediate interests in regard to the project,” reads the request. “Its participation in these proceedings is necessary to serve the public interest.” The proposed compressor station off Burnt Meadow Road has ignited a debate among residents. Some back the installation of the electric-motor-driven compressor for its promised $500,000 in annual tax revenue and reuse of a spent quarry eyed in 2019 as the home of an expanded organic recycling center. Others have expressed concerns about noise and emissions from a facility that would sit just north of a reservoir network that serves millions in North Jersey. Opinion: It’s time for New Jersey to hold climate polluters accountable | Opinion The 115,000 dekatherms per day enhanced its 65-year-old 300 Line roughly a decade ago with new looping pipeline segments and compressor stations that went online in 2011. The environmental impacts of the installation led to some local backlash. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. applied June 30 to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for construction authorization at the former Tilcon quarry, records show. Mayor Michele Dale told nearby residents weeks earlier that township officials did not solicit or envision the project, raising likely concerns over gas emissions, noise and visibility.

Gas pipeline fuels debate among NH gubernatorial candidates - – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andru Volinsky called the proposed Granite Bridge pipeline a ”$400 million step in the wrong direction” during a press conference in front of the Town Hall Friday. Volinsky said Liberty Utilities’ proposed 16-inch liquefied natural gas pipeline for the Route 101 corridor between Exeter and Manchester will exacerbate climate change while other high-profile projects, like the Dakota Access pipeline, were being halted around the country. “A key part of why I’m running for governor is to combat climate change, and part of that effort is to be opposed to fracked gas pipelines projects, like the Granite Bridge pipeline,” said Volinsky, a member of the state Executive Council. “Last municipal election, Exeter went on record as opposed to the pipeline. Fracking is especially dangerous for the environment, ratepayers would have to pay for that project for 20 or 30 years, and to what purpose? To line the pockets of Liberty Utilities and Granite Bridge shareholders.” The Granite Bridge application is stalled at the state Public Utilities Commission after being filed in December 2017. The project includes a 150- to 170-foot high tank capable of storing 2 billion cubic feet of LNG in an abandoned quarry in West Epping. Liberty maintains Granite Bridge would provide lower cost LNG that is cleaner than traditional home heating oil. It claims the pipeline will be a bridge to a clean-energy future because New Hampshire lacks the infrastructure to meet its future energy needs.

Mountain Valley to receive new permit to cross Blue Ridge Parkway - The Mountain Valley Pipeline will be granted a new permit to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway, the first in a string of federal approvals needed before the natural gas pipeline can be completed. In a letter filed Tuesday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the National Park Service said it intended to issue a right of way permit for the pipeline to pass under the parkway atop Bent Mountain in Roanoke County. Construction of that segment of the 303-mile pipeline was completed in January 2019, but Mountain Valley needs the permit to maintain and operate the transmission line. Parkway Superintendent J.D. Lee wrote in the letter that the approval was “not a wholly new undertaking,” as the initial permit was suspended for technical reasons at the request of Mountain Valley. The joint venture of five energy companies building the pipeline still lacks three sets of key permits — set aside after lawsuits questioned the wisdom of running such a large pipeline through the mountainous terrain of Southwest Virginia — that must be re-granted if the project is to be finished by early next year. Mountain Valley has said it expects the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide by the end of the month whether the pipeline will jeopardize endangered species along its path from West Virginia to Pittsylvania County. In 2017, several months before construction began, the agency found that burying the 42-inch diameter pipeline along steep slopes and under steams and rivers would not excessively harm protected fish, bats and plants. But after new concerns about the Roanoke logperch were raised last year, a coalition of environmental groups brought a legal challenge of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision. FERC, the lead agency overseeing construction of the $5.7 billion project, then ordered almost all work to halt while the endangered species question was reconsidered. Meanwhile, the lawsuit was placed on hold. Still pending before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, it asserts that unexpected levels of land movement and sedimentation caused by construction poses an undue risk to two fish, the Roanoke logperch and the candy darter, and two bats, the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat.

Lovelace: Pipeline cancellation puts spotlight on Northam and Herring inaction --The years-long effort for environmental justice and resulting cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) not only put on full display the systemic injustices that permeate our regulatory system, but it also put a spotlight on the apathy of Gov. Northam and Attorney General Herring in the face of such glaring injustices. This apathy continues as Northam and Herring stand by while those in the path of the very similar Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) continue to suffer. Like the ACP, the MVP is missing many required permits, including the same NWP12 permit that had a part in the ACP’s demise. And like the ACP, the original Advisory Council on Environmental Justice recommended that state permits for the MVP be revoked because of environmental justice concerns. In a display of not only apathy toward environmental justice but active support for the harms perpetuated by these pipelines, Northam subsequently dismantled the Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, creating a new Council instead that was underfunded and has exclusionary requirements, including application questions like, “In the last five years, have you been publicly identified, in person or by organizational membership, with a particularly controversial national, state or local issue?” Unlike the ACP, the MVP has had continued construction in multiple Virginia counties despite lacking various permits needed for the pipeline to be legally completed. This has resulted in consistent violations during pipeline work and a blatant disregard for water quality by MVP, LLC. Many of the water bodies violated by MVP are relied on as drinking water sources, yet MVP has been allowed to commit hundreds of violations with little more than slaps on the wrist. Attorney General Herring, whose office gave counsel on the state water permit which was violated time and again by the MVP, has always had the power to use legal means to remedy this and stop work on the pipeline. Instead, he decided on a civil suit that appears to be no more than a public relations move in light of Herring’s potential run for governor,   Despite this long track record of harm to Virginia communities by MVP, Northam’s PAC has still accepted donations from MVP and its affiliates, profiting from harm to Virginians.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was canceled. What happens to all the land acquired for it? - The bitterly fought Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been canceled, but the two major utilities behind it, Virginia-based Dominion Energy and North Carolina-based Duke Energy, still have not decided what to do about the land they gained control over for the project, in some cases through eminent domain. “There are a number of important issues that will need to be addressed in the coming months as we wind down the project,” said Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby in an email. “As part of that process, we will be evaluating the best path forward for resolving existing easement agreements with ACP landowners.” The uncertainty about the land’s future was also evident in a letter sent to all landowners along the proposed pipeline route this week and shared with the Mercury. In it, ACP representative Dan O’Brien states that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline “will be evaluating the best path forward to work with landowners having existing easement agreements.” “Landowners will keep any compensation they have received as consideration for these easement agreements,” the letter continues. Figuring out what to do with the lands placed under permanent easement for the 604-mile pipeline that was set to cross West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, with just over half in Virginia, may be one of the thorniest problems Dominion and Duke will face as they unwind the $8 billion project. “It’s not incorrect to say there’s just a huge mess on ACP’s hands,” said Joshua Baker, a partner with Norfolk firm Waldo & Lyle, which focuses on eminent domain cases and has represented numerous landowners affected by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline Since 1947, when Congress amended the Natural Gas Act to expand developers’ rights, pipeline companies have had the power of eminent domain: the ability to take private property for use or ownership, regardless of whether its owner wishes to sell, in return for “just compensation.” Atlantic Coast Pipeline drew on that power in acquiring permanent easements, also known as rights of way, for the pipeline over the past six years. Under these agreements the company left the land in private ownership but secured the right to build and operate the pipeline on it for at least the life of the project — even if the underlying property was sold. Not all those agreements were alike, however. Varying levels of opposition along the route ultimately produced a patchwork of rights for Atlantic Coast, from the wide latitude granted under a generic agreement for an interstate pipeline to more restrictive terms that tied the easement specifically to the Atlantic Coast project or terminated the easement if the project wasn’t constructed within a certain period of time.

No longer in Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s path, landowners consider next steps - With the pipeline threat removed, questions abound. Landowners want to scrub Atlantic Coastline easements from their property records. Others wonder if they can be reimbursed for attorney and court fees they shelled out. So, what’s next? Attorneys steeped in pipeline cases aren’t being coy when they answer: “It depends.” “That might be a frustrating lawyer-type answer, but that’s where it is,” said Isak Howell, a Roanoke-based lawyer with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, with dozens of Atlantic Coast Pipeline cases in Virginia and West Virginia. “This is a totally Byzantine system.” Howell and others are scrambling to figure out what abandonment of the project means for the hundreds of landowners along the entire route. About half of the 600-mile, West Virginia-to-North Carolina pipeline would have been buried in Virginia. Virginia landowners — and those in the other two states — fall into one of three broad categories. The first is those who eventually signed an easement agreement with Dominion, thus allowing the pipeline corridor on their property to be condemned. Second are families who didn’t sign an easement agreement, then lost their legal challenge after going to federal court to fight Dominion’s attempts at using eminent domain to condemn the corridor. A third group — which includes the Averitts — is landowners whose court challenges to eminent domain weren’t yet ruled on by juries before Dominion and Duke Energy quashed the $8 billion pipeline on July 5. Those court dates were still months away. An online records check revealed upward of 50 Atlantic Coast Pipeline cases still listed in the federal Virginia Eastern and Western District Courts this month. Howell called that figure a “fair gauge of landowners whose jury trial over a court-enforced easement had yet to occur.”

Virginia's Energy Kingpin Could Finally Face A Reckoning Over Race | HuffPost - Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell’s history of railroading Black communities and glorifying the Confederacy is under new scrutiny after the demise of his controversial pipeline.  Under Farrell, Dominion has become a national symbol of how political corruption and monopoly power can undercut efforts to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. That worked for Farrell so long as Dominion’s cash could buy it the acquiescence of state legislatures. But now Virginia and many other states are looking to transition to 100% carbon-free electricity, and Dominion’s shareholders are in revolt. In May, nearly 47% of those shareholders voted in favor of a proposal to require an independent board chair, which would have given Farrell ― who currently serves as both chairman and chief executive ― a boss. In early July, Dominion’s stock price plunged more than 11% after the company and its partner, North Carolina-based Duke Energy, announced the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s cancellation. The stock price has yet to fully recover, even as the market rebounds.  Virginia progressives, who cheered the toppling of four Confederate monuments in Richmond in recent weeks, hope Farrell could be the next storied edifice to fall.“Clearly there’s a need for new leadership and new direction,” said state Del. Sam Rasoul, a Democratic legislator from Roanoke. “Dominion has consistently operated counter to the interests of Virginians and … when you have a CEO who championed a film that essentially glorifies the Confederacy, with all that is going on, it’s clear that there’s a new mindset needed.”

White House announces intent to nominate SCC Chair Mark Christie to FERC - Virginia State Corporation Commission Chair Mark Christie will be nominated by President Donald Trump’s administration to sit on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the White House announced Monday. FERC, which can include up to five commissioners, is the federal regulatory agency that oversees interstate energy sales and transmission projects, including pipelines, natural gas storage and liquefied natural gas terminals. The body currently has three members after the expiration of Commissioner Bernard McNamee’s term on June 30. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Christie and another nominee, energy lawyer and strategist Allison Clements of Ohio, would bring FERC’s membership to five. Albert Pollard, a former Virginia state delegate and clean energy advocate who was involved in the crafting of the Virginia’s landmark Clean Economy Act, called Christie “a ‘little c conservative’ who … would bring a good state perspective to FERC.”

U.S. natgas drops over 4% as output rises, cooling demand eases - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures dropped over 4% on Monday as output slowly rises and cooling demand eases, keeping the amount of gas utilities inject into storage on track to reach a record high this year. Even though meteorologists projected temperatures will remain warmer-than-normal through at least mid-August, they also predicted the hottest days of summer were past. The weather over much of the United States has been hotter-than-normal every day since late June. "Natural gas prices are in trouble as the heatwave could break," Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago, said, advising traders to "buy puts." Front-month gas futures fell 7.4 cents, or 4.1%, to settle at $1.734 per million British thermal units, which is only the lowest close since July 22 after the contract gained over 5% last week. Refinitiv said production in the Lower 48 U.S. states averaged 88.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in July, up from a 20-month low of 87.0 bcfd in June but still well below the all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. Refinitiv projected U.S. demand, including exports, will slide from 91.5 bcfd this week to 90.8 bcfd next week. Pipeline gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants averaged 3.3 bcfd (34% utilization) so far in July, down from a 20-month low of 4.1 bcfd in June and a record 8.7 bcfd in February. U.S. pipeline exports, meanwhile, rose as consumers in neighboring countries cranked up their air conditioners.

U.S. natgas jumps 4% as pipeline exports rise despite less hot weather forecasts - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures jumped almost 4% on Tuesday as pipeline exports increase despite forecasts for less hot weather and lower air conditioning demand over the next two weeks than previously expected. On its second to last day as the front-month, gas futures for August delivery rose 6.6 cents, or 3.8%, to settle at $1.800 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). That erased much of Monday's 4% loss. September futures, which will soon be the front-month, were up about 7 cents to $1.86 per mmBtu. Even though the hottest days of summer are likely past, meteorologists project temperatures will remain above-normal in the Lower 48 U.S. states through at least mid August. The weather has already been hotter-than-normal every day since late June. Refinitiv said U.S. production averaged 88.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in July, up from a 20-month low of 87.0 bcfd in June but still well below the all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. Refinitiv projected U.S. demand, including exports, will slide from 91.0 bcfd this week to 89.9 bcfd next week. That is lower than Refinitiv's outlook on Monday. Pipeline gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants averaged 3.3 bcfd (34% utilization) so far in July, down from a 20-month low of 4.1 bcfd in June and a record 8.7 bcfd in February. Utilization was about 90% in 2019. U.S. pipeline exports, meanwhile, rose as consumers in neighboring countries cranked up their air conditioners. Refinitiv said pipeline exports to Canada averaged 2.4 bcfd so far in July, up from 2.3 bcfd in June, but still below the all-time monthly high of 3.5 bcfd in December. Pipeline exports to Mexico averaged 5.62 bcfd so far this month, up from 5.44 bcfd in June and on track to top the record 5.55 bcfd in March.

UPDATE 1-U.S. natgas hits 3-week high on forecasts for warmer weather - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures rose to their highest levels in three weeks on Wednesday as forecasts for above-normal temperatures were expected to boost cooling demand, while concerns that a storm nearing the Gulf of Mexico could affect production also provided support. On its last day as the front-month contract, gas futures for August delivery rose 5.4 cents, or 3%, to settle at $1.854 per million British thermal units. Prices earlier touched their highest since July 7 at $1.893. September futures, which will soon be the front month, settled up 6.6 cents at $1.930 per mmBtu. The warmer weather seen on the East Coast of the United States is supporting prices, Raymond James analyst Muhammed Ghulam said, noting there are some concerns about the impact on offshore production due to Atlantic storms. Although weather forecasts turned less hot from the previous day, Refinitiv data showed temperatures will remain above normal in the Lower 48 U.S. states. A system in the Atlantic, near Dominica, has a 90% of chance of becoming a cyclone in the next 48 hours, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it is latest advisory. "There is a little bit of concern that the storm coming toward the Gulf (of Mexico) could shut down some production," said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. Meanwhile, weekly supply was likely to rise to 96.0 billion cubic feet per day next week, up from current week's 95.8 bcfd. Refinitiv projected U.S. demand, including exports, will slide from 91.4 bcfd this week to 89.1 bcfd next week. The Federal Reserve on Wednesday repeated a pledge to use its "full range of tools" to support the U.S. economy and keep interest rates near zero for as long as it takes to recover from the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

US working natural gas volumes in underground storage rise by 26 Bcf: EIA - Platts — Storage inventories increased by 26 Bcf to 3.241 Tcf for the week ended July 24, the US Energy Information Administration reported July 30. US natural gas in underground storage increased by the lowest net volume of the injection season last week under record-setting gas-fired generation demand, but a lowered demand outlook for August prompted the NYMEX Henry Hub balance-of-summer contract strip to retreat. The injection was more than an S&P Global Platts survey of analysts calling for a 23 Bcf build. The injection measured less than the 56 Bcf build reported during the same week last year as well as the five-year average gain of 33, according to EIA data. It was the smallest net injection of the year. Storage volumes now stand at 626 Bcf, or 24%, more than the year-ago level of 2.615 Tcf, and 429 Bcf, or 15.3%, more than the five-year average of 2.812 Tcf. The NYMEX Henry Hub balance-of-summer contract strip, now including only the months of September and October, sold off sharply following a slightly larger-than-anticipated storage inventory increase last week, with September trading down 6 cents, to $1.87, and October down 5 cents, to $2.03. With September now advancing to the prompt-month slot, it is the last contract in the entire strip trading below $2. October kicks off a steep section of the curve that hits just shy of $3 by the beginning of next year, with January 2021 hitting resistance just below at $2.99 the morning of July 30. Platts Analytics supply and demand model currently forecasts a 26 Bcf injection for the week ending July 31, which would be 7 Bcf less than the five-year average, causing another reduction to the storage overhang. However, overall US demand is forecast to slip during August, prompting larger injections. After several consecutive weeks of tightening, US supply-demand balances are trending looser for the week ending July 31 as temperature-driven power burn demand has begun to sputter and the LNG sector faces continuing weak demand. Total supplies have held mostly flat, with the week's 0.1 Bcf/d net decline composed of a 0.3 Bcf/d drop in storm-related offshore production declines partly offset by nominal increases in LNG sendout and net Canadian imports. Downstream, total demand has fallen by 1.4 Bcf/d on the week, with power burn demand dipping 0.7 Bcf/d on the week and LNG export terminals taking 0.5 Bcf/d less volume than a week earlier.

U.S. natgas falls over 5% on milder weather outlook -(Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell over 5% on Thursday on forecasts power generators will burn less gas next week as cooling demand drops with the coming of milder weather despite a small weekly storage build that was in line with expectations. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said utilities injected just 26 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into storage in the week ended July 24, when consumers were still cranking up their air conditioners to escape a heat wave that has blanketed much of the country since late June. That matches the 26-bcf build analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with an increase of 56 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2015-19) average build of 33 bcf. But with the weather expected to turn cooler in coming weeks, analysts said utilities would start injecting more gas into storage than usual and inventories will reach a record high over 4.1 tcf by the end of the injection season in October. On its first day as the front-month, gas futures for the most active September contract fell 10.1 cents, or 5.2%, to settle at $1.829 per million British thermal units. Even though gas futures were only up about 1% so far this week, the contract has been volatile in intraday trade after falling over 5% on Monday and rising over 5% on Wednesday. The premium of the October contract over September NGU20-V20, meanwhile, rose to its highest on record as the market expects energy demand to rise as the economy rebounds later this year when governments lift coronavirus lockdowns. With the weather expected to moderate, Refinitiv projected U.S. demand, including exports, will drop from 92.3 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 89.3 bcfd next week.

U.S. natgas futures slip as weather moderates, cooling demand eases –   (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures slipped almost 2% on Friday on forecasts the weather will moderate and air-conditioning demand decline now that the hottest days of summer are past. Front-month gas futures fell 3.0 cents, or 1.6%, to settle at $1.799 per million British thermal units. For the week, the contract was down less than 1% after rising over 5% last week, and for the month, the contract was up almost 3% after falling more than 10% in the prior two months. In the Atlantic, Hurricane Isaias is expected to march up the U.S. East Coast from Florida to Maine over the next five days after battering the Bahamas on Friday. Traders noted storms in nonproduction areas tend to cut demand. With the weather expected to moderate, data provider Refinitiv projected U.S. demand, including exports, will drop from 91.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 89.3 bcfd next week before rising to 92.1 bcfd in two weeks with liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports expected to increase. Pipeline gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants averaged 3.3 bcfd (34% utilization) so far in July after buyers canceled dozens of cargoes, down from a 20-month low of 4.1 bcfd in June and a record 8.7 bcfd in February. Utilization was about 90% in 2019. Analysts expect LNG exports to rise in August since buyers have so far canceled fewer cargoes that month. Refinitiv said pipeline exports to Canada averaged 2.4 bcfd so far in July, up from 2.3 bcfd in June, but still below the all-time monthly high of 3.5 bcfd in December. Pipeline exports to Mexico averaged 5.65 bcfd so far this month, up from 5.44 bcfd in June and on track to top the record 5.55 bcfd in March.

Florida Could See Natural Gas Prices Double Over the Next 10 Years, Report Shows -With 70 percent of Florida’s electricity generation coming from natural gas, which is around twice the national average, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA) insists the Sunshine State could see natural gas prices doubling over the next ten years–which could result in an extra $360 a year on every customer’s electric bill.Vote Solar released a report detailing Florida’s reliance on natural gas, stressing that the state loses around $5 billion annually to pay to import it.“Florida’s dependence on natural gas to produce electricity is one of the highest in the country, even though there are now more affordable alternatives like solar energy,” saidKatie Chiles Ottenweller, the southeast director of Vote Solar. “The state’s lack of energy diversification puts us in a precarious position, especially as fuel prices increase.”The fuel markets Florida relies on to power its electric grid can be volatile, creating risk for residents when prices go up or supplies are restricted. The federal government has forecast that natural gas prices could double within the next decade.The report also notes that for every $4 Floridians pay their electric utilities, at least one of those dollars immediately departs the state to pay for out-of-state gas.“If Florida invested in homegrown solar energy instead, those dollars could remain in the state and grow its local economy,” Vote Solar noted.

US Gulf region still struggling 10 years after BP oil spill - Ten years after the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Dean Blanchard of Grand Isle, Louisiana, is still haunted by what he witnessed. “It was about three weeks after the spill and I was standing on the beach,” he remembers. “I saw a pelican flying crooked with blood coming out of him. I yelled for my buddies to take a look, and then this pelican crashed and died right in front of us. We walked over to it and it was covered in that thick brown oil.” A few days later, he was on his dock and saw a dolphin with her calf – both also covered in oil. “The baby was dead,” he says, “and that momma was just looking up at us with these eyes that were like, ‘Please help.’ Dolphins are smart animals, and I still can’t forget how scared those eyes looked.” Blanchard operates one of America’s biggest shrimp distributors, Dean Blanchard Seafood, which has yet to fully recover from the aftereffects of one of the world’s worst oil disasters. By the time the well was capped, more than 800 million liters of crude oil – some 5 million barrels – had leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. The environmental catastrophe devastated one of the world’s most productive aquatic ecosystems five years after Hurricane Katrina had decimated the region. Many of Louisiana’s coastal towns had been fighting for survival for years before oil began choking the region’s estuaries. “We had lost 67% of our population after the storm,” said fishing charter captain Ryan Lambert of Buras, Louisiana. “We used to have orange groves employing people, but Katrina knocked those out.” In the years after the hurricane, Lambert said, what was left of the community centered on fishermen like him who decided to stay. The oil spill sunk what was left of the fishing industry. “Once oil hit the beaches and the news showed all those animals covered in crude, my livelihood was done,” Lambert explained. “Nobody wanted to go on fishing trips.” Some argue decisions made after the spill inflicted more harm, including the use of a chemical, Corexit, to disperse oil and keep it off the surface. Researchers say the chemical has increased toxicity in Gulf waters. Many locals blame it for a range of health problems suffered by fishermen and others along the Gulf Coast.  “Eleven people died when that rig exploded, but the BP oil spill has a lot more victims than that.”

 Natural gas storage facility explodes in Mont Belvieu – - A natural gas storage facility exploded Wednesday in Mont Belvieu after a contractor struck an underground pipeline, officials said. No injuries were reported. All facility workers had been accounted for, said Mont Belvieu city spokesman Brian Ligon. The explosion sparked a large fire around 5 p.m. in the Lone Star NGL facility at 506 W. Winfree St. Firefighters were still working to suppress the flames as of 8 p.m. Wednesday night. The fire had dwindled significantly, and officials expected the fire to burn itself out overnight, according to a Facebook post from the city. “MBFD and industrial units are continuing with suppression operations while the line bleeds out,” the city said. “We are very thankful that no plant employees or responders were injured during this incident or during the response.”West Winfree Street and State Highway 146 remained closed late Wednesday. Lone Star NGL is a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer LP, one of the largest natural gas infrastructure companies in the U.S. Company spokeswoman Lisa Coleman told the Houston Chronicle that a contractor struck an underground pipeline at 4:45 p.m. In addition to Mont Belvieu firefighters, the company’s own fire team responded to the incident. Coleman said there were no evacuations.Energy Transfer and the Baytown Fire Department late Wednesday began conducting air monitoring. Results did not show any levels of concern, Coleman said.“There will be an investigation into the cause of this incident,” Coleman said. “Updates will be provided as information becomes available.”  A 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation found there is a major chemical incident every six weeks in the Houston area.  The Lone Star facility stores and processes natural gas liquids, which include products like propane, butane and ethane. At the facility, natural gas liquids are separated into individual components through a process called fractionation. Transmission pipelines from the Permian Basin, Barnett Shale and East Texas make up the company’s Lone Star Express network, 535 miles of pipeline that ships natural gas liquids from shale plays to the Mont Belvieu storage and fractionation facility.

Texas Regulators Ask Washington To Act Against Saudi Oil Dumping In U.S. - The federal government should take steps against Saudi Arabia and Russia’s dumping of oil on the American market during the Covid-19 crisis, the chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission has said, after a cross-state government agency passed his resolution that called on Washington to investigate the allegations for oil dumping.“Flooding the market during ongoing negotiations with President Trump and the international community is disingenuous,” Wayne Christian said, as quoted by World Oil. “More than 100,000 oil and natural gas jobs in the United States have been lost according to Rystad Energy Group. Our federal government must push back against international efforts that harm American energy dominance.”In March and April, Saudi Arabia sent much higher than usual amounts of oil to the United States, with the March average at 516,000 bpd—a 12-month high—and some 14 million bpd shipped to the U.S. during the first week of April alone. Later in April, the Wall Street Journal reported the amount of Saudi crude en route to the United States was seven times the normal intake of Saudi oil by the U.S. in 2019.The surge in Saudi oil exports—not just to the U.S.—coincided with a colossal demand loss around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, and some analysts see global oil demand in April crashing by 30 percent, or by 30 million bpd, compared to the world’s typical levels of consumption.These developments led President Donald Trump to threaten a ban on Saudi oil imports, which would have forced the Kingdom to reroute as much as 40 million barrels of crude."After the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the U.S. oil and gas industry, Saudi Arabia shipped 1.3 million barrels a day to our nation, roughly four times February's daily volume and the highest figure since 2014." Wayne Christian said. He did not comment on the inclusion of Russia in the list of oil dumpers.Russia exported record amount of fuel oil to the United States during the first half of the year, according to a Reuters report, as the U.S. sought to replace Venezuelan oil.

Trinity Operating to drill 9 wells in Eagle Ford Shale - Houston-based Trinity Operating LLC filed to drill nine new Eagle Ford Shale wells over the weekend, helping to push the South Texas permit count to a three-month high.Trinity applied for the permits with Railroad Commission of Texas on Sunday. The independent oil and gas operator informed the Commission that it plans to drill nine wells on a lease in Zavala County. The 8,000-foot deep, horizontal wells will target the Eagle Ford Shale for both oil and gas, according to the permit applications.If approved, the permits will be the first for Trinity since the March oil price downturn shut down most drilling in the shale. Signs that oil fields in South Texas may be recovering were present in last week's new permit count, with 33 applications for new wells submitted overall.Though that number is still far below the pre-pandemic count, it's the highest it's been since early April. The shale play also added a rig last week, with 12 oil rigs now spread across the Eagle Ford's 27 counties, according to Baker Hughes Inc. There were 66 rigs in the shale this time last year.

Oil and gas production jobs in Texas could hit bottom this fall - The number of oil and gas production jobs in Texas could fall to a 15-year low in the coming months and may never fully recover as the industry consolidates and produces more crude with fewer workers. Battered by the coronavirus pandemic, drilling and oil-field services companies operating in Texas employed 162,350 workers in June, about half of the 297,100 workers at their peak of employment in December 2014, according to the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, which represents some 2,600 independent oil and gas producers. Texas lost 46,100 jobs in production and oil-field services from February to June as the pandemic crushed demand for crude, and oil companies cut drilling budgets and halted production amid historically low oil prices. Karr Ingham, the alliance’s petroleum economist, said he expects oil and gas production employment in Texas to fall to around 150,000 in the next three months, which would be the lowest since 2005. If rising coronavirus cases prompt governments to impose another round of business and travel restrictions, oil and gas extraction employment could fall further, he said. The forecast came as Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. oil and gas producer, is reportedly plannning to cut spending and jobs to protect its 8 percent shareholder dividend, despite CEO Darren Woods' statement this year that no layoffs were planned. Meanwhile, Chevron said it would lay off 7,000 workers and BP said it would cut 10,000 jobs.  The oil and gas industry was contracting well before the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the U.S. and brought the economy to a screeching halt. Employment in oil and gas production, including oil-field services jobs, was recovering from the previous downturn of 2014-16, climbing back to 228,500 jobs in December 2018, the alliance said. But then, Wall Street investment soured on the sector after years of underperformance, and the number of operating rigs and employment fell throughout 2019.M

The Permian Basin's Oil Boom is Over. What Does That Mean for Texas? -- Hydraulic fracturing requires almost unfathomable amounts of pressure, as truckloads of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the ground to open tiny fractures and release previously inaccessible pockets of oil and gas. To control that pressure, workers mount hulking assemblages of steel valves and piping—the frac stacks—at the wellhead.. “When something fails at that kind of pressure, it’s like a bomb going off. It would cut you in half, probably before you even knew what happened.” With the Permian Basin in the middle of a historic oil boom and companies feverishly drilling more wells, assembling these frac stacks has been critical, high-demand work. During especially busy times, Thomas sometimes worked shifts that went well over 24 hours straight, racing to turn around orders. On Monday, March 9, Thomas started a new job. Four days later, Thomas was out of work, along with almost everyone else at the company. With the price of oil plummeting, it could no longer turn a profit in the Permian. His boss told him that the company hoped to restart operations by early summer and promised to give Thomas a call when that happened, but he isn’t holding his breath. The volatile boom-and-bust nature of oil and gas is no secret in Texas. The ecstatic peaks and despondent valleys are hard-wired into the state’s DNA. But the fallout this time was unprecedented, casting the outsize risks of Texas’ economic dependence on fossil fuels in painfully sharp relief. “Since humans started using oil, we have never seen anything like this,” a commodities analyst told the Wall Street Journal. “There is no guide we are following. This is uncharted.” In 2019, the oil and gas industry brought in more than $16 billion in state and local tax revenue and royalties, accounting for 10 percent of the workforce. Oil and gas extraction, along with mining and quarrying, generated $268 billion, which, at 15 percent, is the greatest share of the state’s annual GDP. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues, global markets remain in chaos, the scope of the Permian bust deepens, and renewable energy becomes a stronger force in the energy markets, the risk of tethering an economy to fossil fuels will likely only heighten in the years ahead.

President Donald Trump's Texas visit focuses on oil and gas workers - President Donald Trump sought to give a morale boost to the beleaguered Texas energy industry during a visit Wednesday to the Permian Basin, while also rallying oil and gas workers against Democrats ahead of the November election. "We are telling the Washington politicians trying to abolish American energy: Don't mess with Texas," Trump said during an afternoon speech at Double Eagle Energy in Midland, after an oil rig tour and fundraiser in nearby Odessa. Trump's comments doubled as part campaign speech, part policy announcement, as he repeatedly assailed Democrats' energy proposals and predicted their presumptive presidential nominee, Joe Biden, would not "do too well in Texas" as a result. Polls continue to show a close competition in the once-solidly red state. As for policy, Trump announced an extension for liquified natural gas exporters, following through with the Department of Energy’s proposal earlier this year to extend export contracts through the year 2050. Trump also announced permits “granting approval to vital pipeline and railway infrastructure” along the U.S.-Mexico border, including “two permits allowing the export of Texas crude to Mexico,” which he signed, after speaking, alongside Texas Republicans who joined him in Midland. For now, though, the industry continues to face severe headwinds from the coronavirus pandemic. Trump touted his administration's actions to help the reeling industry earlier this year, including a deal with Saudi Arabia and Russia to drastically cut production. "We were very close to losing a very powerful, great industry," Trump said, "and now we're back and we're just gonna keep expanding." Among the permits that Trump signed was one that granted the company NuStar Energy permission to operate and maintain existing pipelines underneath the Rio Grande that transport hydrocarbons and petroleum products through a 46-mile pipeline from Hidalgo County into northern Mexico. Another permit Trump signed allows for Kansas City Southern Railway Co. to build and operate a new international railway bridge in Laredo, the type of cross-border project on the international boundary that requires a presidential permit.

'We're back.' Trump shrugs off grim oil outlook in Texas -- Thursday, July 30, 2020 -- President Trump announced a pair of energy initiatives as he stood before a Texas oil rig yesterday, courting an oil and gas industry reeling from the coronavirus as polls suggest a close race this November in a reliably red state.Trump, who raised $7 million for his campaign and other Republicans before arriving at Midland's Double Eagle Energy Holdings III LLC's Rig No. 43 in West Texas, said to applause that he had signed orders extending certain exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas through 2050 and allowing exports of Texas crude to Mexico."We will defend your jobs, and we will defend the Lone Star State," Trump said, proclaiming of the industry, "We're back."  But analysts suggested the moves were overstated and could have little effect on an industry still staggering from a plunge in demand caused by stay-at-home orders prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.Both of Trump's energy proposals are "immaterial," said Ed Hirs, who teaches energy economics at the University of Houston. Any benefit from extending the timeline of LNG permits isn't likely to happen for years, he said. And exports to Mexico were already made easier earlier this year when Trump signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade (Greenwire, Jan. 29)."It's very difficult for anybody to help the industry right now," Hirs said. "It's like pushing on a string."The Department of Energy in February signaled that it would push to extend the authorization of existing LNG export capabilities to 2050 for permit holders who wanted to do so. The department has noted that for most authorizations, it would amount to an additional 10 years compared with the 20-year operating approval they have already received (Greenwire, Feb. 21).Still, Trump's campaign views the president's embrace of the energy industry as a powerful weapon, and Trump delivered a campaign-style speech at the official, taxpayer-financed event, charging that Democrats — and other "zealots, radicals and extremists" — would put the crowd of oil and gas workers out of work. "No drilling, no fracking, no coal, no shale, no gas, no oil," he said of Democrats, who have embraced clean energy as a way of tackling climate change. "You've got to be careful. People don't take it seriously ... if they got in, you would have no more energy coming out of the great state of Texas, out of New Mexico, out of anywhere."

Trump downplays West Texas energy worries, attacks Democrats - — President Donald Trump took sweeping digs at “crazy left radical Democrats” on a trip Wednesday to the fracking fields of West Texas, launching unsubstantiated claims that a Democratic administration would destroy everything from the country's suburbs to the U.S. energy industry. Trump, speaking in front of stacked oil barrels, also played down the difficulties of the U.S. oil and gas industry, which is still struggling with the pandemic economic downturn and global oversupply that briefly drove oil prices into negative territory this spring. Prices have rebounded to around $40 a barrel, still below what some producers here need to break even. “We’re OK now. We’re back, we’re back,” Trump said to a crowd scattered with people wearing cowboy hats and face masks. He sought to contrast his support for oil and gas with Democratic rival Joe Biden's more climate-friendly energy plan, though Biden himself has stopped short of calling for a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the production method that spurred U.S. oil and gas to a yearslong boom that started under President Barack Obama. "If they got in, you would have no more energy coming out of the great state of Texas,'' warned Trump, whose poll numbers for the 2020 election are lagging. He claimed the same, without evidence, for Ohio and Pennsylvania, two fracking states that also are battlegrounds in the presidential race. Speaking under a tent on a hot, windy day, Trump alluded to the opposing party in the most extreme terms, saying a Democratic White House win and the policies of the “Washington crazy left radical Democrats" would mean “the death of American prosperity. It would destroy our country.” “They want to uproot and demolish every American value. They want to wipe away every trace of religion from national life. They want to indoctrinate our children, defund our police, abolish the suburbs, incite riots and leave every city at the mercy of the radical left," Trump declared.

One In 10 Permian Basin Flares Are Spewing Methane Into The Air, Environmental Defense Fund Says   The amount of methane that fossil fuel companies burn off in Texas as a waste product could power every home in the state, according to some estimates. The industry practice known as “flaring” has been decried as wasteful and polluting by public health groups, environmentalists and even some in the industry.Now, a survey of flares in West Texas suggests the problem could be even worse than previously thought.Companies flare when they can’t capture methane that spews into the air from oil and gas operations. The idea is that burning the gas is not as bad for health and climate as letting it go into the atmosphere.But it is still bad. Flaring contributes to global warming and releases toxins into the air. A recent study found that pregnant women who live near gas flares have a 50% higher chance of giving birth prematurely.This year, the Environmental Defense Fund started flying a helicopter around the oilfields of the Permian Basin to take a closer look at gas leaks and flaring. The helicopter was equipped with an infrared camera that detects methane, a tool that’s been used for years to expose oilfield emissions.In three surveys over the basin conducted in February, May and June, the camera consistently revealed that 11% of flares were not functioning properly and that 5% of flares were completely unlit. A video from the Environmental Defense Fund shows the difference between emissions from unlit and lit flares:

Chevron to Build 500MW of Renewables to Power Oil and Gas Facilities — and It's Considering More -Chevron announced it will build 500 megawatts of renewable energy plants to power some of its global facilities, in what amounts to a sizable clean energy expansion for an oil giant with comparatively few big investments in renewables to date. Chevron will work with Canada’s Algonquin Power & Utilities, a growing global renewables developer, to build the plants over the next four years at "priority operations sites" in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, as well as Argentina, Kazakhstan and Western Australia. The initial projects will be sited on Chevron-owned land, with construction to begin in 2021. U.S. oil producers lag their European rivals in making strategic investments into clean energy companies and technologies, but as voracious consumers of electricity — and often in remote areas — they have begun taking a greater interest in low-cost wind and solar power. Deals like Chevron’s are increasingly common in high-renewables states like Texas. In 2018 ExxonMobil agreed to buy 500 megawatts of wind and solar power from Ørsted in Texas, described at the time as the largest renewables deal ever signed by an oil company. Chevron already buys 65 megawatts of wind energy in West Texas, and last year it signed a 35-megawatt power-purchase agreement with SunPower to power its Lost Hills oil field in Kern County, California. The 500-megawatt deal with Algonquin appears to represent a new level of engagement with renewables for Chevron, the second largest U.S.-based oil producer. "What has changed is the cost of wind and solar power, which is becoming more competitive, and the technology, which has also progressed substantially," Chevron spokesperson Veronica Flores-Paniagua said in an email. "This makes opportunities to increase renewable power in support of our operations a feasible option for reliability, scale and cost-effectiveness." The projects will be jointly co-developed and owned by Chevron and Algonquin, with Chevron buying the electricity through power-purchase agreements.

 Marathon to pay $82,000 in fines, invest in projects for emissions release—  Marathon Petroleum Co. will pay nearly $82,000 in fines and invest hundreds of thousands more into safeguards for the community under a proposed consent order with state environmental regulators.The Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Energy outlined Monday the tentative $360,000 deal with the Detroit refinery that has the company installing an air filtration system at Mark Twain School for Scholars in southwest Detroit, boosting its data reporting and paying penalties over an emission release last fall as well as prior incidents. “The two projects Marathon will do had community input and will provide direct benefits to students at the Mark Twain School and the community as a whole," said state Air Quality Enforcement Supervisor Jenine Camilleri. "This is the result of the community around Marathon continuing to advocate for projects to improve air quality and public health."Marathon is pursuing the supplemental environmental project as part of the settlement based on input from the community and environmental groups, the company said in a Monday statement.  The agreement is a result of an incident in February 2019 when a flare system malfunction prompted the release of sulfide and mercaptan vapor. The order also covers eight emission violations on five separate events dating to 2017, the company said.

 Enbridge crude volumes rebound quicker than expected on higher earnings - — North American pipeline operator Enbridge said July 29 its crude volumes and finances rebounded more quickly than expected from the coronavirus pandemic, but that the recovery will progress more slowly in the second half of the year and that it will likely take until late 2021 to bounce back fully. Enbridge's Mainline system's liquids volumes plunged by about 15% in the second quarter and will remain down by an average of about 9% in the second half of the year. Mainline's volumes fell to 2.44 million b/d in Q2 from an average of 2.84 million b/d in Q1 which was less of a drop than feared, and will average about 2.6 million b/d for the second half of 2020, said CEO Al Monaco. The Mainline system is Canada-based Enbridge's main crude oil artery that runs through a series a pipelines from Alberta to the Midwestern US and eventually to the US Gulf Coast. Enbridge recently added 50,000 b/d of Mainline capacity through optimization projects. "We weathered the storm well, but we're monitoring the signposts very carefully," Monaco said during the July 29 earnings call. "We're cautious on the timing of a full return. We see a more gradual pace of recovery from here." Concerns remain about rising coronavirus cases in the US and the potential for a second wave of the coronavirus in the autumn and into 2021, executives said. Enbridge pointed out that North American gasoline demand collapsed by 44% in April at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, but remained down by only around 9% in July. Diesel demand only fell by 15% in April, but is still about 13% below average. However, jet fuel demand nosedived by 62% in April and is still down by 41%. "Jet fuel is still way off as personal and business travel remains low," Monaco said. He highlighted that US Gulf Coast heavy crude imports from Venezuela, Mexico and other regions continue to fall, reiterating the need for more Canadian heavy crude in the US. Despite ongoing volume declines, Midwestern and USGC refinery demand bounced back more quickly than expected, he said. "This trend reflects the strong competitive position of the Midwest and Gulf Coast refineries that take Canadian heavy barrels off of our system," Monaco added.

Nessel ends challenge to constitutionality of Line 5 tunnel law - Attorney General Dana Nessel's office will not appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court after a lower court's opinion affirmed the constitutionality of an agreement between the state and Enbridge Energy to build the Line 5 tunnel. A notice of appeal regarding the Court of Appeals' June 11 decision should have been filed within 42 days or Thursday, but no appeal was filed. Nessel's office will instead focus its efforts on other litigation related to the controversial pipeline, attorney general spokesman Ryan Jarvi said Wednesday. A three-judge appellate panel unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the law that was also found to be constitutional by a lower Court of Claims judge. Those rulings would allow Enbridge to construct a $500 million, four-mile utility tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac to house Line 5. The June decision upheld the constitutionality of not just the tunnel agreement, but also a third agreement with the state that allows the company to continue operating the existing pipeline "while a tunnel to house a replacement section of Line 5 is permitted and constructed," Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said. "We look forward to working with the state to make a safe pipeline even safer," he said. Line 5, which transports up to 540,000 barrels a day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude and natural gas liquids, has been the subject of a years-long dispute. Critics have feared a possible rupture of the 67-year-old pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac between lakes Michigan and Huron.

Opinion: Massive Kalamazoo oil pipeline spill taught Enbridge nothing -- Saturday marked the 10th anniversary of Enbridge’s spilling almost a million gallons of heavy tar-sands oil into the Kalamazoo River from its 41-year-old Line 6B — causing one of the worst inland oil spills in U.S. history. The July 25, 2010, disaster awoke Michigan from its complacency by revealing an even older and more dangerous set of oil pipelines lurking in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac — Enbridge Line 5. Today the overwhelming consensus across party lines is that Enbridge’s 67-year-old Line 5 threatens Michigan resident's drinking water, economy and our way of life.Now Enbridge is touting its proposed oil pipeline tunnel under the Great Lakes as a quick-and-simple fix to Line 5. The Canadian oil transporter knows the permitting process and legal challenges thereafter could take another decade to navigate, with no guarantee that an oil tunnel could ever satisfy environmental standards designed to protect the Great Lakes, including the requirement to prove that there’s no betteralternative for Michigan. And that timeline ignores whether Enbridge can even finance a project that is likely to far exceed Enbridge’s current $500 million estimate. What Enbridge might gain from its oil pipeline tunnel proposal, however, is time to keep profiting from the high-stakes transport of oil through the Straits via a series of 2018 agreements with the state that may violate public trust law.Media reports have shown that Enbridge violated of its easement agreement with the state for years. Line 5 has been struck in recent years by vessel anchorsand/or cable lines, damaging the pipeline coating and anchor supports. Last month’s discovery of such damage triggered the temporary court-ordered shutdown of the flow of oil in Line 5; Enbridgesuspects one of its own contracted vessels may have caused this incident.For Enbridge, ignoring safety requirements and racking up violations is just the cost of doing business (e.g., see its $6.7 million fine in 2020 and $1.8 million fine in 2018). The company’s troubling track record includes 33 documented spills from Line 5. Enbridge also deceived state and federal regulators about Line 5’s damaged condition when it knew about numerous missing anchor supports and failed to disclose it until 2017, and hid its knowledge for three years of bare spots in the pipeline’s protective coating.

Santa Barbara County to Vote on ExxonMobil Plan to Restart Offshore Platforms, Truck Oil in California -Santa Barbara County has released the final environmental impact report on ExxonMobil’s proposal to transport oil by tanker trucks so it can restart three drilling platforms off California, setting up a vote on the project. The plan calls for up to 70 oil-filled trucks per day on coastal Highway 101 and Route 166, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is scheduled to hold hearings on the project on Sept. 2 and Sept. 9 before voting on it.  “ExxonMobil would put California communities and motorists in harm’s way, just to restart its dirty and dangerous offshore platforms,” said Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sending oil tanker trucks along California’s coastal highway all day and night risks deadly accidents. Santa Barbara County should reject this reckless plan and urge ExxonMobil to decommission its platforms.” The FEIR concludes that there would be significant, unavoidable impacts from the project, including significant impacts on wildlife and cultural resources in the event of an oil spill from a tanker truck. “The county’s Final Environmental Impact Report fails to disclose the devastating impacts that will result if ExxonMobil is allowed to resume oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel and truck oil along our scenic highways,”   “ExxonMobil’s proposal will result in more oil spills, air pollution, and increased climate change at a time when we need to pursue clean energy alternatives.” A majority of Santa Barbara County voters say they oppose proposals to restart ExxonMobil’s offshore drilling platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a recent poll.   “Trucks are the least safe way to transport oil — in human death, property destruction, and amount of oil spilled,” said Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club’s Los Padres Chapter. “Not only that, but this environmental report is severely lacking by leaving out the oil spills and other risks of restarting the aging oil rigs and Gaviota Coast oil facilities, which were one of the largest sources of air pollution in the county.” ExxonMobil’s three offshore platforms near Santa Barbara were shut down in 2015 after the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured and spilled hundreds of gallons of oil along the California coast. The company proposes to restart its platforms and load its offshore oil onto tanker trucks at its Las Flores Canyon processing facility. The trucks would transport up to 470,400 gallons of oil per day up to 140 miles to refineries in Kern County and Santa Maria. 

States Sue EPA Over Water Rule, Alleging Loss of Veto Power   - A multistate coalition is suing the EPA over a rule that it claims limits the power of states to block infrastructure projects, such as interstate oil and gas pipelines, on water quality grounds. Democratic Attorneys General Xavier Becerra of California, Bob Ferguson of Washington, and Letitia James of New York are leading a group of 20 states and the District of Columbia alleging that the new rule will hamper states’ ability to adequately review project proposals for water quality impacts. Becerra said the rule “clears the deck for fossil fuel infrastructure” by limiting the scope of reviews states can conduct.  The recently published rule (RIN: 2040-AF86) will make it more difficult for states to protect their waters and wetlands, the attorneys general said Tuesday in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The Environmental Protection Agency’s rule amounts to a “drastic curtailment of state authority” that violates “the plain language, structure, purpose and legislative history of the Clean Water Act,” the attorneys general alleged. The rule, published July 13, reduces the scope of state reviews of pipeline crossings. States must focus on direct water quality impacts, and not on indirect impacts such as climate change or acid rain caused by air pollution, under the rule. State reviews are mandated under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which directs states to ensure that proposals needing federal permits also meet water quality standards within their borders. A project can’t obtain a federal license until it has received state certification. The EPA declined to comment directly on the litigation, but said “the agency’s final rule increases the transparency and efficiency of the Section 401 certification process in order to promote the timely review of infrastructure projects while continuing to ensure that Americans have clean water for drinking and recreation.” Becerra said the administration “once again” is “attempting to undermine the Clean Water Act—this time by limiting longstanding state authority to protect our waters from degradation tied to federally-approved projects,”

What Major Pipeline Decisions Mean for Energy Dominance, the Environment and Indigenous Rights -  (podcat & transcript) Federal courts recently handed down major decisions against big pipelines that would transmit oil around the country, while other big pipelines are facing legal challenges that may put them out of business. What do these decisions mean for America’s continued oil and gas buildout and the Trump administration’s campaign for energy dominance? In this episode of our podcast, Trump on Earth, host Reid Frazier talks first with our guest, Ellen Gilmer, who tracks environmental policy and courtroom drama forBloomberg News. Then we hear from Nick Tilsen, President and CEO of NDN Collective, a Native American rights and social justice organization based in South Dakota, about what the Dakota Access decision means for the rights of America’s Indigenous people. Tilsen is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Proposes A Death Blow To Pipelines Like Dakota Access -Shortly after Donald Trump won the presidency in November 2016, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then a 27-year-old activist and bartender, hopped in a 1998 Subaru and roadtripped from New York City to North Dakota to join the frigid protest camp attempting to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.Not long after, Trump made completing the pipeline one of his first priorities in the White House. But the experience, Ocasio-Cortez has often said, inspired her decision to run in New York’s 14th congressional district on her vision for a Green New Deal. Now she’s proposing a legal change that would upend thousands of future pipeline projects.  The New York congresswoman is pushing to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from permitting oil and gas projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline, HuffPost has learned. An amendment Ocasio-Cortez proposed for the next budget bill would prohibit the nation’s main infrastructure-building agency from using federal money to issue permits under the Section 404 of the Clean Water Act “for the discharge of dredged or fill material resulting from an activity to construct a pipeline for the transportation of oil or gas.”That would prevent the Army Corps from constructing, repairing or working on roughly 8,000 projects per year involving oil and gas pipelines that cross waterways.  It could also imperil the Dakota Access Pipeline itself. In March, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ordered the Army Corps to carry out a new environmental review of the project, determining that the agency had failed to answer major questions about the possibility of oil spills. Then, earlier this month, Boasberg pulled the permits to operate the 1,172-mile oil route from North Dakota to Illinois, ordering the pipeline to shut down and drain by Aug. 5 while the review is carried out. If the ruling holds, Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment could, in theory, prevent the Army Corps from issuing a new permit to restart the 570,000-barrel-per-day pipeline once it’s drained.

U.S. shale supply chain will emerge smaller from price war, pandemic - Kemp (Reuters) - Slumping oil and gas prices as a result of the pandemic and the volume war earlier in the year between Saudi Arabia and Russia have slashed employment in the U.S. oil and gas fields at some of the fastest rates on record. Oil and gas-related employment is split across several different categories in the federal government’s statistical system, making it hard to track changes in total oilfield and gasfield employment. But one of the largest and most visible categories is “support activities for oil and gas operations”, covering a wide range of ancillary activities from exploration, site works, casing and tubing to cementing, fracking and acidizing.Total employment at support firms fell by 54,000 jobs (20%) in just three months between February and May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“Current employment statistics”, July 2).Employment has shrunk by 86,000 (30%) compared with its recent peak in October 2018 and is now back to the low level reported in the aftermath of the previous volume war in 2014-2016.Even more job losses are likely to have occurred in June and July given the continued drop in the number of active rigs reported by field services firm Baker Hughes since the end of May.Layoffs have had a devastating impact on employment in the oil-rich Permian Basin with the total number of jobs in both the Midland and Odessa metro areas down by more than 10% compared with a year ago. The combined impact of the coronavirus epidemic and price slump have produced the worst job losses in the area for more than thirty years ( slump is putting intense stress on the entire supply chain, the ecosystem of large and small contractors, skilled and semi-skilled labour that underpins oil and gas production.The supply chain’s extraordinary flexibility and responsiveness fuelled three shale booms in gas (2004-2008) and oil (2012-2014 and 2017-2018).And it has proved resilient, with drilling and completion activity bouncing back rapidly when oil prices climbed back above $50 per barrel after the 2014-2016 slump.But the longer prices remain low, the greater the risk some supply capacity will be lost permanently, limiting its ability to expand again when the next cyclical upswing begins, causing long-term scarring in output. Some rigs will likely be dismantled and scrapped; drilling, fracking and site preparation crews disbanded; and smaller businesses closed.

Oil and Gas Groups See ‘Some Common Ground’ in Biden Energy Plan - The New York Times — Joseph R. Biden Jr. won over environmentalists and liberals when he announced a $2 trillion plan to promote electric vehicles, energy efficiency and other policies intended to address climate change.But the plan released on July 14 has also earned a measure of support from an unexpected source: the oil and gas industry that is closely aligned with the Trump administration and is a big source of campaign contributions to the president.That might seem odd considering that the plan aims for “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050, in part by discouraging the use of fossil fuels. Mr. Biden also wants to spend more on mass transit, expand solar and wind farms and build thousands of electric vehicle charging stations.Yet the industry was relieved by what the plan did not include, chiefly a ban on hydraulic fracturing, the approach that has turbocharged domestic production of oil and gas over the past dozen years.“There is a lot of room in there for oil and gas,” said Matt Gallagher, president of Parsley Energy, a West Texas oil producer, about the Biden plan.Some executives were particularly enthusiastic that Mr. Biden wanted the federal government to invest in carbon capture and sequestration, which entails preventing emissions of greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere and thus allowing industry to continue burning fossil fuels for decades. In a sign of his all-inclusive, eclectic approach to energy, Mr. Biden is also proposing to use advanced nuclear reactors to produce electricity.“There is some common ground,” said Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the industry in Washington and is close to the Trump administration. “We appreciate the fact that they recognize that there is going to be a role for natural gas and oil in our future. We share the broad goal of reducing emissions and addressing climate change.” Oil and gas executives noted that they had worked productively with Democratic administrations. During the Obama administration, oil companies enjoyed handsome profits even as federal regulators put in effect tougher environmental regulations.

Revealed: oil giants help fund powerful police groups in top US cities -Big corporations accused of driving environmental and health inequalities in black and brown communities through toxic and climate-changing pollution are also funding powerful police groups in major US cities, according to a new investigation. Some of America’s largest oil and gas companies, private utilities, and financial institutions that bankroll fossil fuels also back police foundations – opaque private entities that raise money to pay for training, weapons, equipment, and surveillance technology for departments across the US.The investigation by the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit corporate and government accountability research institute, and its research database project LittleSis, details how police foundations in cities such as Seattle, Chicago, Washington, New Orleans and Salt Lake City are partially funded by household names such as Chevron, Shell and Wells Fargo.Police foundations are industry groups that provide substantial funds to local departments, yet, as nonprofits, avoid much public scrutiny.The investigation details how firms linked to fossil fuels also sponsor events and galas that celebrate the police, while some have senior staff serving as directors of police foundations.The report portrays the fossil fuel industry as a common enemy in the struggle for racial and environmental justice. “Many powerful companies that drive environmental injustice are also backers of the same police departments that tyrannize the very communities these corporate actors pollute,” it states. The report included such companies as:

  • Chevron, a multinational oil and gas company, that is among the world’s top 25 polluters. In the US, it owns two of the worst six benzene-emitting refineries, according to the EPA. Chevron is a corporate sponsor of the New Orleans police and justice foundation, as well as a board member of the Houston police foundation and sponsor of the Houston mounted patrol. It also donates and serves on the board of Salt Lake City police foundation.
  • Shell is one of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world, and is currently building a huge ethane cracker plant near Pittsburgh, which advocates warn could turn Appalachia into the next so-called Cancer Alley – a corridor of Louisiana refineries, where Shell is also a major polluter. Shell is a “featured partner” of the New Orleans police foundation and a sponsor of the Houston police’s mounted patrol.
  • The nation’s largest oil refining company Marathon Petroleum has long been accused of generating pollution that disproportionately affects the health of black and brown communities. Its refinery in Detroit has received 15 violations from the state environmental regulator since 2013. Marathon’s security coordinator is on the board of the Detroit police foundation, and sponsors numerous events.

Deutsche Bank Ditches Arctic Drilling After Pressure From Activists -- Climate activists are celebrating Deutsche Bank's new energy policy banning financial support of drilling in theArctic, a move which comes after years of pressure from advocacy groups.The bank, a multinational investment company headquartered in Germany, announced Monday that it will no longer offer financial services to new projects that involve drilling for oil or gas in the Arctic. The policy also states it will not fund any tar sand projects or fracking in areas that have low water supply.Concerns over the Arctic have risen in recent weeks as the region has been battling a prolonged heatwave and wildfires, which have been caused by human-driven climate change.Last week, the World Meteorological Organization announced that Siberia's average temperature in June was 10°C above normal. The Arctic is warming over two times faster than the rest of the world. Ben Cushing, Sierra Club senior campaign representative, said in a statement that it is becoming clear to banks that divesting from Arctic drilling is important. He pointed to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which spans over 19 million acres of Alaskan land.  "As the list of major banks rejecting funding for Arctic drilling continues to grow, it's clearer by the day that investing in the destruction of the Arctic Refuge would be a mistake," Cushing said. "The Trump administration may still think auctioning off the Arctic Refuge is a good idea, but it′s obvious that oil companies would be foolish to take them up on their offer."  Deutsche stated it will not be terminating any current financial backing of Arctic drilling projects, but that it will be evaluating all ongoing oil and gas business ventures by the end of 2020 and end any business in coal mining by or before 2025.

 BP fined £7,000 for Clair oil spill -  BP has been fined £7,000 at Aberdeen Sheriff Court for allowing 95 tonnes of crude oil to spill into the sea around 75 miles west of Shetland in 2016. BP Exploration Operating Company Limited pled guilty to not following properly regulations required when starting production from a newly drilled well on the Clair Phase one offshore installation. The incident happened on 2 October 2016. An investigation by the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) found that regular water sampling should have been in place, with the results of this being fed back to the control room. The written procedure was not specific on when results should be provided, or when the control room should request late results. As a result a significant amount of crude oil was discharged into the North Sea. Head of the health and safety investigation unit at the Crown Office Alistair Duncan said: “BP accepted liability and the Crown accepted their guilty plea to the contravention of the regulations. “The lack of sufficiently robust procedures could have had a significant environmental impact, had these issues not been addressed. “Thankfully there was no significant impact to the environment as a result of this incident and the company has introduced improved procedures since then. “Hopefully this prosecution will serve as a reminder that failing to have sufficiently robust procedures and adhere to the regulations can have potentially serious consequences.” In a statement issued after the court hearing BP said: “Safety is BP’s core value and our operations are grounded in the principles of no accidents, no harm to people and no damage to the environment. “On this occasion in 2016, we regrettably fell short of these high standards. While there was no injury to people or significant impact on the environment, this incident should not have happened.

Little Known UK Shale Firm Challenges Fracking Ban --UK’s oil company Aurora Energy Resources plans to challenge the government moratorium on fracking issued at the end of 2019, just a few months after Aurora had applied for permission to frack at a site in Lancashire, northwest England, the Guardian reports. Aurora Energy Resources has dropped its application to frack two wellbores in Lancashire because of the “de facto ban on shale gas activity,” according to Aurora’s managing director Ian Roche.In November 2019, the UK government ended support for fracking, after a report from the UK’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) concluded that “it is not possible with current technology to accurately predict the probability of tremors associated with fracking.”  The UK government announced in November “a moratorium on fracking until compelling new evidence is provided,” after considering the OGA’s report and after several tremors at the fracking site of Cuadrilla at Preston New Road near Blackpool in Lancashire. Cuadrilla had to stop fracking operations multiple times at the site, because under UK regulations, in case of micro seismic events of 0.50 on the Richter scale or higher, fracking must temporarily be halted and pressure in the well reduced.  At the time of the moratorium announcement, Cuadrilla’s activities had been suspended since a magnitude 2.9 event was recorded on August 26, 2019.  Aurora Energy Resources, which applied for permission to frack at the Altcar Moss well site in June, plans to “address this issue” with the moratorium with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Roche told the Guardian. “It is clear from recent comments by the minister of state for energy that the government considers the ‘moratorium’ on hydraulic fracturing to be a de facto ban on shale gas activity in the UK. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the council officers have felt unable to determine this application,” Roche told the Guardian.

 Shell's second-quarter profit slumps 82% on coronavirus hit to oil prices, energy demand - Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday reported a sharp drop in net profit for the three months through to the end of June, following an unprecedented period of energy market turmoil and significantly weaker oil and gas prices. The Anglo-Dutch company reported adjusted earnings of $638 million for the second quarter of 2020. That compared with net profit of $3.5 billion over the same period a year earlier and $2.9 billion in the first three months of 2020. Net income attributable to shareholders on a current cost of supplies (CCS) basis and excluding identified items, which is used as a proxy for net profit, came in at a loss of $18.4 billion for the second quarter. This followed an impairment charge of $16.8 billion post-tax over the same period, given the oil major now anticipates significantly lower oil and gas prices over the next 30 years. Shell had previously warned it could incur aggregate post-tax impairment charges in the range of $15 billion to $22 billion over the three-month period. "It is, of course, a non-cash measure and it is reflective of how we see the environment going forward but yes, in the sense that we needed to do a review of our balance sheet, we are done," Ben van Beurden, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Thursday. "But, of course, we are not done yet with the pandemic so we will have to see what the coming quarters and years will bring us," he added. Analysts had warned that "Big Oil" companies, referring to the world's largest energy majors, were likely to report "horrendous" second-quarter results as coronavirus lockdown measures coincided with an unparalleled demand shock. "Inevitably, the biggest talking point in this morning's results from Royal Dutch Shell is the huge loss the company has incurred — largely as a result of revised pricing," "The pandemic's influence is likely to remain far-reaching, with Shell saying it may still need to curtail or reduce production later in the year to mitigate lack of demand — an indication that there may still be more pain to come,"

Israel to hold drill to prepare for potential oil spill from largest gas rig (Xinhua) -- Israel will conduct a drill to prepare for potential spill from the largest gas rig in Israeli waters, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said Wednesday. According to a ministry statement, the exercise will take place in September on northern Israeli shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The objective is to get ready for any malfunctions that may occur with the Leviathan natural gas platform located about 120 km west of the coastal city of Haifa, which could result in an oil spill in the sea or on Israeli beaches. One of the goals is improving the response skills and time to such an incident by the rig's U.S. owner Noble Energy company, the regional council, local authorities, and those who treat and clean up oil spills.

Oil slick cleanup near Kharg Island - A leak in a subsea oil pipeline from Abouzar Oilfield (in the Persian Gulf) to Kharg Island and Bandar Genaveh in Bushehr Province has been fixed and the oil spill is being cleaned up.The leakage occurred on July 27, about 4 kilometers off the coast of Kharg Island, IRNA reported.  Tar balls (little, dark-colored pieces of oil) have been seen scattered over an area of 20 kilometers between Bandar Genaveh and Bandar Deylam (both in Bushehr Province).   According to Nader Pasandideh, head of the HSE department of the Ports and Maritime Organization, the Iranian Offshore Oil Company sent technicians to find the leak location and took quick measures to fix it.

 Hedge fund buying switches from crude to fuels: Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge funds continued buying oil last week, but the focus switched from crude to previously-neglected refined products, where cautious positioning and very low refinery margins may offer more upside potential. Hedge funds and other money managers purchased 28 million barrels in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts in the week to July 21, adding to 24 million barrels of buying the week before. Portfolio managers have now bought petroleum in 14 out of the last 17 weeks, increasing their position by a total of 388 million barrels since the end of March, though the rate of purchases has slowed recently. Last week's buying was concentrated in U.S. gasoline (+7 million barrels), U.S. diesel (+4 million) and European gasoil (+9 million) with only small purchases in Brent (+3 million) and NYMEX and ICE WTI (+5 million). For the last three months, buying has concentrated on crude, responding to sharp output cuts by U.S. shale producers as well as by OPEC and its partners in the wider OPEC+ alliance. By contrast, fund interest in oil products has been limited as refiners struggle to eliminate excess inventories built up during the lockdowns in April and May ( By the middle of July, bullish hedge fund positions in crude outnumbered bearish ones by a ratio of more than 5:1 compared with less than 3:1 for gasoline and less than 2:1 for distillates.

Oil rises on stimulus hopes, but U.S.-China tensions cap gains - Oil prices edged higher on Monday helped by a weak dollar and expected U.S. stimulus measures but gains were capped by rising global coronavirus cases and tensions between the United States and China. Brent crude rose 7 cents to settle at $43.41 per barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude settled 31 cents, or 0.75%, higher at $41.60 per barrel. The U.S. dollar index reached its lowest since September 2018, hurt by deteriorating U.S.-China relations and domestic economic concerns as coronavirus infections showed no sign of slowing. U.S. Senate Republicans on Monday are expected to unveil a new $1 trillion coronavirus aid package. "Massive monetary stimulus has bullish implications for oil," analysts from Raymond James said in a note, adding that oil prices have historically moved upwards with inflation spikes and that the current U.S. money supply increase is unprecedented. Oil price gains were capped by escalating China-U.S. tensions following the closures of consulates in Houston and Chengdu. Global coronavirus cases, meanwhile, exceeded 16 million. In Asia, fresh lockdowns were imposed and in Europe, Britain imposed a quarantine on travellers returning from Spain. Brent is on track for a fourth straight monthly gain in July and WTI is set to rise for a third month. Helping are unprecedented supply cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and others including Russia. Output has also fallen sharply in the United States although the U.S. oil rig count rose last week for the first week since March. Oil demand has improved from the deep trough of the second quarter, although the recovery path is uneven as resumption of lockdowns in the United States and other parts of the world is capping consumption.

Oil price falls as US stimulus package faces tough talks -Oil prices fell on Tuesday as U.S. lawmakers prepared to wrangle over an economic stimulus package and investors worried about a rise in coronavirus cases worldwide.Brent crude futures fell 19 cents, or 0.4%, to settle at $43.22 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 56 cents, or 1.4%, to settle at $41.04 a barrel.Brent is still on track for a fourth monthly rise, and U.S. crude is expected to gain for a third month.U.S. Republicans on Monday unveiled a new coronavirus relief proposal hammered out with the White House, four days before millions of Americans lose expanded unemployment benefits. The package is facing opposition both from Democrats and from some Republicans, however.  "There's concern with the stimulus out of Washington, which is critical to the oil complex and to supporting demand, especially for gasoline," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. Kilduff added that the longer the talks drag out, the more it will weigh on market sentiment. Also a negative for prices, U.S. consumer confidence ebbed in July amid a flare-up in COVID-19 infections across the country. Cases worldwide have risen to around 16.57 million people.

 Oil drops more than 1% as rising Covid-19 cases spark demand fears - Oil prices fell around 1% on Tuesday, as U.S. lawmakers prepared to wrangle over an economic stimulus package and investors worried about a rise in coronavirus cases worldwide. Brent crude futures fell 19 cents, or 0.44%, to $43.22 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude futures settled 56 cents, or 1.35%, lower at $41.04 per barrel. U.S. Republicans unveiled a new coronavirus relief proposal on Monday, four days before millions of Americans lose expanded unemployment benefits. On Tuesday, they faced difficult talks with Democrats on how best to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. "There's concern with the stimulus out of Washington, which is critical to the oil complex and to supporting demand, especially for gasoline," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. Kilduff added that the longer the talks drag out, the more it will weigh on market sentiment. Also a negative for prices, U.S. consumer confidence ebbed in July amid a flare-up in COVID-19 infections across the country. Cases worldwide have risen to around 16.57 million people. Investors are awaiting the outcome of the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy-setting panel meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. The panel is expected to reiterate that interest rates will remain near zero for years to come. This month, Brent crude has fallen deeper into contango , a market structure in which the future price of the commodity is higher than the spot price, encouraging a build-up of inventories. October prices were as much as 53 cents per barrel above September levels, compared with a 1 cent difference in early July. "This suggests that the tightening we were seeing in the market has eased somewhat, with the demand outlook more uncertain given the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in some regions," said Warren Patterson, ING's head of commodities strategy. Industry data on U.S. stockpiles is due later on Tuesday. Analysts polled by Reuters expect U.S. crude oil stockpiles were likely unchanged last week, while inventories of refined products probably declined.

WTI Extends Gains After Biggest Crude Draw Since 2019 - Oil prices rebounded this morning with WTI rallying off $41 as traders shrugged off a surprising gasoline build (demand questions) and focused on API's reporting a large crude draw. A continually weakening dollar is also helping oil prices at the margin. “It might be theoretically possible that the weaker dollar would ignite a rapid increase in crude demand,” but renewed virus outbreaks call this into question, he said.  So all eyes now on the official inventory data to confirm API's surprise. DOE

  • Crude -10.611mm (-1.2mm exp) - biggest draw since Dec 2019
  • Cushing +1.309mm - 4th weekly build in a row
  • Gasoline +654k (-2mm exp)
  • Distillates +503k (unch exp)

Expectations for a modest crude draw were blown away by API and the official data was even more impressive with a massive 10.6mm barrel drawdown... Graphs: BloombergTotal US crude stocks are falling modestly but remain stuck near record highs..  US Crude production has stabilized in recent weeks... WTI traded around $41.30 ahead of the DOE print and lifted on the big surprise draw...

 Oil rises after surprise drop in U.S. inventories offsets demand concerns - Oil prices inched up on Wednesday after a steep drop in U.S. crude inventories, but another record day for coronavirus cases worldwide kept gains in check. Brent crude futures gained 45 cents to $43.67 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up 23 cents to $41.27. U.S. crude oil inventories fell by 10.6 million barrels last week to 526 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration said, in their largest drawdown since December. Net U.S. crude imports fell 1 million barrels per day to 1.9 million bpd, the EIA said. "If we are seeing a drawdown, that is a key indicator in terms of largely a market that's starting to move more aggressively into balance," said CHS Hedging analyst Tony Headrick. The fall in crude stocks was likely a result of supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, which were agreed-upon in April, finally being realized. A record number of new coronavirus infections were reported globally, while in the United States, deaths from the novel coronavirus were approaching 150,000, the highest level in the world and rising by 10,000 in 11 days, according to a Reuters tally. "The virus is spreading like wildfire across the Americas while Europe and Asia are displaying worrying signs of a second surge in cases," said Stephen Brennock of oil brokerage PVM. Six U.S. states reported one-day records for coronavirus deaths on Tuesday and Texas cases passed the 400,000 mark. Attempts to provide relief amid the outbreak were in disarray after Republicans in the United States on Tuesday disagreed over their own plan for providing $1 trillion in new coronavirus aid. Indian refiners are cutting crude processing and shutting units for maintenance as fuel demand falters, officials at the companies said.

 Oil edges up after sharp U.S. crude inventory drop - (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Wednesday after a steep drop in U.S. crude inventories, but another record day for coronavirus cases worldwide kept gains in check.  Brent crude futures LCOc1 settled at $43.75 a barrel, up 53 cents, or 1.2%. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures CLc1 settled at $41.27 a barrel, gaining 23 cents, or 0.6%. U.S. crude oil inventories fell by 10.6 million barrels last week to 526 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration said, the largest drawdown since December. [EIA/S] Net U.S. crude imports fell 1 million barrels per day to 1.9 million bpd, the EIA said. The fall in crude stocks was likely a result of supply cuts, agreed in April by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, finally being realized. “The expectation is that the OPEC cuts are going to lead to bigger draws in the United States and this could be the beginning of it,” said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. A record number of new coronavirus infections were reported globally. In the United States, nearly 150,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus - the most for any country - having risen by 10,000 in 11 days, according to a Reuters tally. “The virus is spreading like wildfire across the Americas while Europe and Asia are displaying worrying signs of a second surge in cases,”

Oil prices get a lift as EIA reports the biggest weekly U.S. crude supply decline of the year - Oil futures ended higher Wednesday after U.S. government data showed a more-than-10-million-barrel weekly decline in U.S. crude — the largest so far this year. An unexpected weekly rise in gasoline supplies, however, tempered the rise for oil as worries about slow demand growth prevailed. The Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday that U.S. crude inventories fell by 10.6 million barrels for the week ended July 24, the largest weekly decline since the 11.5 million-barrel fall reported for the week ended Dec. 27. The latest fall compared with an average forecast by analysts polled by S&P Global Platts for a decline of 1.2 million barrels. The American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday reported a decrease of 6.8 million barrels. The size of the crude supply decline was a surprise, but “looking deeper into the numbers we saw a build in gasoline stockpiles as well as distillates,” Tariq Zahir, managing member at Tyche Capital Advisors, told MarketWatch. Even with “all the bullish headlines out there with a large crude oil draw” and U.S. dollar weakness, “we feel it is quite telling” that crude oil can’t move much higher, he said. The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, +0.46%, a measure of the U.S. currency against a basket of six major rivals, was down 0.4% Wednesday after edging to a two-year low. The gasoline build shows “demand for driving is not going higher as it usually does at this time of year,” said Zahir, and as many people continue to work from home, that will keep demand low for crude oil in the near term.

 Oil sinks on weak U.S. economic data, political uncertainty - (Reuters) - Oil prices sank on Thursday following poor U.S. economic figures and after U.S. President Donald Trump roiled markets with a suggestion that the nation should delay its November presidential election. Investors sold riskier assets following Trump’s tweet that raised the prospect of delaying the vote. The date of the U.S. election is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, but Trump’s remarks were viewed as an attack on the integrity of the coming election, worrying investors. Oil markets recovered from their lowest levels of the selloff. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled down $1.35, or 3.3%, at $39.92 a barrel after falling 5% earlier in the session. Brent crude futures, which expire on Friday, fell 81 cents, or 1.9%, to $42.94 a barrel. “We have the potential for serious political uncertainty in the U.S. if election dates are challenged,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in New York. In a sign of the devastating impact of the coronavirus on the United States, the world’s biggest oil consumer, the country’s economy contracted at its steepest pace since the Great Depression in the second quarter. U.S. gross domestic product collapsed at a 32.9% annualised rate, the deepest decline in output since the government started keeping records in 1947. In addition, weekly jobless claims rose, a signal that the worsening outbreaks across wide swathes of the United States are taking a further toll on the economy. Deaths from COVID-19 have now topped 150,000 in the United States, while Brazil, with the world’s second-worst outbreak, set daily records of confirmed cases and deaths. New infections in Australia hit a record on Thursday.

U.S. oil prices drop below $40 on fears rising coronavirus cases will crimp demand -Oil futures were sharply lower on Thursday, with U.S. prices settling below $40 a barrel for the first time in three weeks, pressured by worries a resurgence in coronavirus cases around the world will cause demand to falter as major oil producers begin relaxing output curbs. “Demand concerns are front and center,”  Iraq’s rising exports, meanwhile, have “raised concerns that Russia and the Saudis might start unwinding the OPEC+ deal as Iraq continues to cheat” on production cuts, he said. Iraq’s crude-oil exports averaged 2.75 million barrels per day, based on figures from Refinitive Eikon and an industry source, Reuters reported Thursday—up 50,000 barrels from June.“Terrible Jobs data and a worse than expected GDP added to demand woes, but the fact that President [Donald] Trump tweeted the question that the election could be delayed freaked people out,” he said.Against that backdrop, West Texas Intermediate crude for September delivery CL.1, +0.39% CLU20, +0.39% on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropped $1.35, or 3.3%, to settle at $39.92 a barrel. That was the first settlement below $40 and lowest front-month contract finish since July 9, according to Dow Jones Market Data. September Brent crude BRNU20, +0.04% BRN00, +0.43%, which expires at the end of Friday’s session, fell 81 cents, or nearly 1.9%, at $42.94 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. “Prospects of slower economic recovery” and OPEC’s hurry to trim production cuts show that the “demand/supply dynamics are not supportive of further short-term gains in oil markets,”

 Oil prices bounce back from 3-week lows, but economic headwinds loom - Oil prices rose on Friday, recovering further ground after touching three-week lows in the previous session, hit by a record decline in U.S. growth as the coronavirus ravaged the world's biggest economy and oil consumer. Brent crude was up by 38 cents, or 0.88%, at $43.32 a barrel. On Thursday, Brent closed down 1.9% but had recovered much of the ground lost from the lowest level since July 10. U.S. crude gained 38 cents, or 0.95%, to $40.30 after dropping 3.3% the previous session, again recovering from lows not seen since July 10. That leaves Brent on track for a fourth month of gains, while U.S. crude is heading for a third consecutive month of increases, as the contracts have recovered from the depths reached in April when much of the world was in lockdown. But as a second wave of infections rages around the world, the threat to oil demand is becoming apparent. "Despite the resilient and range-bound nature of oil pricing over recent weeks, plateauing global demand and increasing OPEC+ output raises the question of whether the market can absorb additional barrels," RBC Capital Markets said in a note. OPEC+, a grouping of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, collectively plan to increase production from Saturday, adding about 1.5 million barrels per day to global supply. Globally, the economic outlook has dimmed again, with increasing coronavirus infections raising the risk of renewed lockdowns and threatening any rebound, according to Reuters polls of over 500 economists globally. That was underlined by Thursday's news that U.S. gross domestic product collapsed at a 32.9% annualised rate, the deepest decline in output since records began in 1947.

Oil posts monthly gains as U.S. reports record output cuts in May - (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Friday and were on track for monthly gains, benefiting from news that U.S. oil output cuts in May were the largest on record. Brent crude settled up 37 cents, or 0.9%, at $43.31 a barrel. U.S. crude was up 35 cents, or 0.9%, at $40.27 after dropping 3.3% in the previous session, also off lows not seen since July 10. Brent crude posted a fourth month of gains and U.S. crude posted a third as both rise from depths hit in April, when much of the world was in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. crude oil production plummeted in May, falling a record 2 million barrels per day to 10 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a monthly report on Friday. The dollar extended its dramatic fall on Friday and was on course for its biggest monthly drop in a decade after news on Thursday that U.S. gross domestic product collapsed at a 32.9% annualized rate - the steepest decline in output since records began in 1947. Investors typically use dollar-denominated commodities as safe havens when the currency weakens. “Global stimulus and a weak dollar will continue to support oil prices, as historically oil is seen as a hedge against inflation,” s Globally, the economic outlook has dimmed again, with increasing coronavirus infections raising the risk of renewed lockdowns and threatening any rebound, according to Reuters polls of more than 500 economists.

 Iran's IRGC Attacks US Carrier Mock-Up In Massive Drill Off Hormuz Strait --New satellite images have confirmed that Iran has moved its mock US aircraft carrier to the strategic Strait of Hormuz for use in live-fire drills, which state media says have commenced.  Analysts say the mock-up actually appears close to America's fleet of Nimitz-class carriers, commonly stationed in the region and routinely traversing the contested Strait of Hormuz. It even includes fake fighter jets parked on the deck. The fake carrier been estimated to be at some 650 feet long and 160 feet wide. Timing-wise it should be noted that the real USS Nimitz just entered the Persian Gulf area via the Indian Ocean just days ago.  According to an AP-CBS report: Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard fired a missile from a helicopter targeting a replica aircraft carrier in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, state television reported on Tuesday, an exercise aimed at threatening the U.S. amid tensions between Tehran and Washington. The maritime tracking analysis site Tanker Trackers showed that Iran cleared its shipping lanes to make way for the military drills.

Iran Reports Successful Test of Underground Ballistic Missile --Iran’s Revolutionary Guard issued a statement Wednesday claiming to have successfully launched an underground ballistic missile for the first time during live-fire exercises this week. The missile was in an underground silo, and the Guards claim this is the first successful such launch anywhere in the world. It’s not clear in what way this is the first time, as underground missiles have been a thing for decades. That these are a thing in Iran’s already substantial missile arsenal now could change things quite a bit. Iran can now keep a portion of its missile system deployed underground, where they aren’t visible to be targeted in the event the US or Israel attacks, and gives them some semi-secure retaliatory capabilities. US officials have argued that Iran isn’t allowed to have ballistic missiles under UN rules. Those rules technically only restrict nuclear-capable missiles, which Iran argues is irrelevant because Iran doesn’t have nuclear arms to start with.

 Russia Through Wagner Group Upping Military Involvement in Libya – US DoD - U.S. Africa Command has mounting evidence that Russia, through the Wagner Group, continues to position military equipment in Libya capable of conducting kinetic operations there. Overhead imagery shows Wagner forces and equipment on the front lines of the Libyan conflict in Sirte. Wagner, also known as the Wagner Group, is a Russian private military company. "Russia continues to play an unhelpful role in Libya by delivering supplies and equipment to the Wagner group," said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Bradford Gering, Africom director of operations. "Imagery continues to unmask their consistent denials." An aerial photo shows military equipment on the ground. It is assessed that the Russian Federation continues to violate U.N. Security Council Resolution UNSCR 1970 by actively providing military equipment and fighters to the front lines of the conflict in Libya. As Africom has documented in a series of media releases, the U.S. assesses that Russia supplied Wagner forces operating in Libya with fighter aircraft, military armored vehicles, air defense systems and supplies, further complicating the situation and increasing the risk for miscalculation, leading to continued and needless violence in Libya. "Imagery reflects the broad scope of Russian involvement," said Army Brig. Gen. Gregory Hadfield, Africom deputy director of intelligence. "They continue to look to attempt to gain a foothold in Libya." The latest imagery details the extent of equipment being supplied to Wagner. Russian military cargo aircraft, including IL-76s, continue to supply Wagner fighters. Russian air defense equipment, including SA-22s, are present in Libya and operated by Russia, the Wagner Group or their proxies. Photos also show Wagner utility trucks and Russian mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicles are also present in Libya. "The type and volume of equipment demonstrates an intent toward sustained offensive combat action capabilities, not humanitarian relief, and indicates the Russian Ministry of Defense is supporting these operations," Gering said. In May, U.S. Africa Command reported at least 14 Mig-29s and Su-24s had been flown from Russia to Syria, where their Russian markings were painted over to camouflage their origin. The aircraft were then flown into Libya, a violation of the U.N. arms embargo. U.S. Africa Command assesses that the warplanes are being actively flown in Libyan airspace.U.S. Africa Command previously provided photographic evidence that Wagner had laid land mines and improvised explosive devices in civilian areas in and around Tripoli without regard to the safety of civilians. U.S. Africa Command has continued to document how Russia uses the Wagner Group as a proxy in Libya to establish a long-term presence on the Mediterranean Sea.

In Message To Turkey, France & Egypt Conduct Joint Naval Exercises In Mediterranean - On Saturday, the Egyptian and French naval forces carried out naval drills in the eastern Mediterranean, with the participation of the Egyptian Ghost frigate and French Ghost frigate (ACONIT). These joint naval drills also come at a time when Egypt, Greece, France, and Cyprus are at odds with Turkey over the latter’s intervention in Libya and their oil exploration plans in the eastern Mediterranean. According to the Egyptian army statement, “The training included many training activities of a professional nature focused on methods of organizing cooperation in the implementation of combat missions in the sea against hostile marine formations with the actual use of weapons in engagement with surface and air targets in addition to the implementation of confrontational battles, with the use of aircraft.” The statement said, “The training showed the professionalism of the crews of ships in carrying out combat missions with accuracy and high efficiency, with a focus on common coordination points between all the common elements.” It added that “these exercises are in the framework of supporting the pillars of joint cooperation between the Egyptian and French armed forces, and identifying the latest fighting systems and methods in a manner that contributes to honing skills and combat and operational experiences and supporting efforts of maritime security, stability and peace in the Mediterranean.” Meanwhile on the same day, Saturday evening, the Turkish Ministry of Defense published a video clip of its own military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean region, amid heightened tensions over the Libyan crisis.

In Rare Compromise, Turkey 'Pauses' Gas Exploration Near Greece After EU & US Pressure -  The Turkish gas and oil exploration drama in the East Mediterranean which put Greece and Cyprus on a war footing with Turkish forces has taken a surprise turn.   Amid the ratcheting pressure on Ankara over alleged incursions into Greece and Cyprus' economic zones coming from the European Union and United States, it appears Turkey has backed down for now.Days ago France's Emmanuel Macron even invoked the threat of EU sanctions, citing that it's "not acceptable for the maritime space of a European Union member state to be violated or threatened." Turkey has frequently been source of rifts among fellow NATO member states.  For the first time, Turkey says its ambitious and expansive, but hugely controversial, gas exploration initiative is on hold. On Tuesday TRT World reports that "Turkey has said it could pause energy-exploration operations in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea for a while pending talks with Greece."The announcement came from the office of the president, with spokesman Ibrahim Kalin revealing in a CNN Turk interview that Erdogan told his aides to "be constructive and put this on hold for some time".He identified that the seismic exploration vessel "Oruc Reis" was set to search for hydrocarbons "180 kilometers from the island of Meis (Kastellorizo in Greek)" an area Greece recently said it would deploy military assets to if the Turkish operation was initiated. "Despite this our president said while the negotiations are continuing, let's be constructive and hold (energy search) for a while," the presidential spokesman said. The Greek Navy has said it's in a state of "heightened readiness" in response to any incursion of Greece's territorial waters. It boils down to how the rival longtime enemies interpret their offshore zones, with Turkey in the past years using especially its so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" to lay claim to waters entirely surrounding the island.  Below is a Turkish interpretation of its rightful waters, within which some of Greece's easternmost islands are located:

 US and China Are Both Raising the Military Stakes in the South China Sea - As if on cue, the Pentagon’s rhetoric on presumed Chinese designs on South China Sea marine resources included a comment from the Secretary of the Navy, James Esper: “American aircraft carriers have been in the South China Sea in the Indo-Pacific since World War II and we’ll continue to be there, and we’re not going to be stopped by anybody.”This followed a deployment of two aircraft carrier strike groups, headed by the carriers Ronald Reagan and Nimitz, to joint exercises in the region at the start of July. Since then, according to the US Naval Institute, the Ronald Reagan group has moved to the Philippine Seafor exercises with a Japanese destroyer and a substantial Australian task group led by the amphibious warfare ship HMAS Canberra. The Nimitz, meanwhile, has moved on to exercises with the Indian navy.The whole process is part of a wider US positioning of military forces around Chinathat includes the recent deployment of four US Air Force B-1B Lancer strategic bombersfrom Dyess Air Force Base in Texas to Andersen AFB on Guam in the western Pacific. According to the commander of the USAF’s 7th Bomb Wing,Colonel Ed Sumangi, in a news release: “Our wing has conducted, and participated in, a variety of exercises over the last year to ensure we are primed for large-scale missions such as this one.” China, meanwhile, has rather upped the ante by announcing a series of ‘live fire’ military exercises reportedly involving the firing of 3,000 missiles, with the South China Morning Post reportingthat:China’s air force held live-fire drills and sent more fighter jets to its base on disputed Woody Island in the South China Sea last week, as the US Navy steps up drills and freedom of navigation operations in the region.The People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command conducted the drills on Wednesday and Thursday last week, with more than 3,000 missiles fired at moving targets at sea, state-run China National Radio reported on Sunday. It did not say where in the South China Sea the exercises were held. Photos from the drills posted on state broadcaster CCTV’s website showed they involved JH-7 bombers and J-11B fighter jets.

China’s Manufacturing Recovery Picks Up the Pace – WSJ —An official gauge of China’s factory activity expanded at a faster pace in July, as improving demand inside and outside the country kept the recovery of the world’s second-largest economy on track. China’s official manufacturing purchasing managers index rose to 51.1 in July from 50.9 in June, the National Bureau of Statistics said Friday, beating economists’ expectations and marking the fifth consecutive month that the closely watched measure of China’s factory activity topped the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction. China’s official nonmanufacturing purchasing managers index, a gauge of business activity outside the factory floor, remained in positive territory, thanks to robust activity in the property and investment sectors, fueling construction activity. Even so, the overall nonmanufacturing index slipped to 54.2 in July, compared with 54.4 in June, the statistics bureau said, indicating a slight deceleration in the recovery for China’s service sector as heavy floods hit swaths of central and southern China. Taken together, the data suggests that consumer demand continues to lag behind the recovery in China’s industrial capacity, which has recovered more quickly from the coronavirus. “It’s still a two-track recovery,” said Andrew Polk, a partner at research firm Trivium China. Mr. Polk said that while recent data points show China’s factories have returned to pre-coronavirus levels, consumer demand remains much weaker—which means inventory is piling up.

Hundreds jam airport as evacuations from Vietnam’s Danang begin - (Reuters) - The airport in the central Vietnamese tourism hotspot of Danang was packed on Monday after three residents tested positive for the coronavirus and the evacuation of 80,000 people began. The Southeast Asian country is back on high alert after authorities on Saturday confirmed the first community infections since April, and another three cases on Sunday, all in or around Danang. A further 11 cases linked to a Danang hospital were reported late on Monday. The evacuations of mostly local tourists will take at least four days with domestic airlines operating approximately 100 flights daily from Danang to 11 Vietnamese cities, the government said. Vietnam has also reintroduced social distancing measures in Danang. Nguyen Tien Nam, an English teacher based in Ho Chi Minh City, said he had got on the last flight out of Danang on Sunday night. “Everyone was just trying to get out of the city on Sunday,” said Nam. “Everyone was telling me that I should get out as soon as possible.” By imposing strict quarantine measures and carrying out an aggressive testing programme during the pandemic, Vietnam has kept its tally of reported infections to 431, with no deaths.

Crossed Wires - Over the past three years, I’ve spent a lot of time with senior rural craftsmen and artists like Shamshuddin. I’ve spoken to handloom makers, weavers, sculptors, ironsmiths, toddy tappers, traditional chappal (slippers) makers. These are proud men and women, many the last serious practitioners of traditional crafts that are gradually disappearing as lifestyles change, readymade products from China flood the market, more and more villagers migrate to the city, and the state fails to step in with financial support. And yet there’s always an echo of missed opportunity—the haunting of a missed education—in the stories they share with me. They wanted to climb the ladder of education, the only means to economic sustenance in a modern economy. But they couldn’t because the ladder was broken. I thought of these master craftsmen on March 24 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his ill-planned coronavirus lockdown, which dragged on for ten weeks. I foresaw the jobs that would soon be lost in our terrible, unprotected economy—122 million and counting as I write—and I wondered what would happen to the families and children of the newly unemployed. How many first-generation learners, somehow enrolled in decrepit rural schools on the back of generation’s savings, would now be forced to drop out and return to fields or dangerous factories? How many children who attend school for the free lunch offered—this is known as the mid-day-meal scheme—would now grow hungry? How many kids whose only hope of escaping a caste-based occupation lay in education would be forced to return to the humiliating work of their ancestors? In the best of times, our public education system fails the most needy, chronically underfunded and understaffed as it is. How would it cope with a pandemic?The answer, of course, is not well at all. Instead of prioritizing a door-to-door food delivery program (a few states have bucked the trend here), or increasing the budget for offline teaching resources, or doing anything moderately sensible or humane, the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s big solution for the problems of poor has been . . . e-learning. To get a sense of how daft and absolutely ill-conceived this plan is, you’ll have to know something about how rural public schools in India operate in normal times. Most of the rural public schools I’ve visited in the course of my reporting have terrible infrastructure. Forget science laboratories and teaching aids, I’ve seen schools that lack benches, blackboards, even a water supply. Usually students from different grades are squeezed into the same classroom (which has further pushed back plans to restart schools because social distancing is all but impossible in such a situation). Cleaning staff are scarce—the funds meant for them, if it were ever allocated, being eaten up by local officials—and students can be made to sweep and swab the premises after class is over. Sometimes, village authorities use classrooms to store old agricultural equipment and even scrap material. Worst of all, the lack of clean toilets often forces girl children to drop out.

 Australia: International students voice anger over wage theft, poor working conditions --The International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) spoke with international students from universities around Australia this week about their dire circumstances, which have worsened amid the coronavirus pandemic and the criminally negligent policies of governments.A recent report highlighted egregious levels of wage theft targeting international students working in Australia to pay for rent, food and exorbitant course fees. It warned that financial hardship brought on by the coronavirus crisis will exacerbate the exploitation of international students.Governments have done virtually nothing to aid the hundreds of thousands of international students enrolled at universities across Australia. Many lost their jobs due to limited social distancing measures when lockdowns began in March. Now, amid a profit-driven, back to work campaign, they are being forced back into low-wage positions with poor conditions, and the threat of contracting the potentially deadly virus.The IYSSE spoke with a Pakistani student at Victoria University in Melbourne who said he lives “hand to mouth. I cannot save anything. I pay so much for the fees at university and there are no jobs.”He said universities gave a one-off payment of $1,200 to international students from the government, but he has received only $700 so far. The student said “universities aren’t taking any real measures.… There is no help for us students.”A business student from China studying at Brisbane’s Griffith University told the IYSSE that he previously worked part-time in restaurants and supermarkets, but had not received shifts since the pandemic began.He said: “I have rarely heard of Chinese students ever getting the legal minimum wage.” The statutory minimum wage in Australia for part-time workers aged 20 is $18.49 per hour and $18.93 for workers aged 21.“For international students,” he said, “fighting for the minimum wage is an uneconomical trouble—few international students receive assistance in this area.… It will affect students’ future work and life. Most of the time, students are reluctant to cause trouble.”

Australia to make Facebook, Google pay for news in world first - (Reuters) - Australia will force U.S. tech giants Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google to pay Australian media outlets for news content in a landmark move to protect independent journalism that will be watched around the world.  Australia will become the first country to require Facebook and Google to pay for news content provided by media companies under a royalty-style system that will become law this year, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses. It’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection, and a sustainable media landscape,” Frydenberg told reporters in Melbourne. “Nothing less than the future of the Australian media landscape is at stake.” The move comes as the tech giants fend off calls around the world for greater regulation, and a day after Google and Facebook took a battering for alleged abuse of market power from U.S. lawmakers in a congressional hearing.

 Mass protests continue in Russian Far East - Between 50,000 to 100,000 people took part this past weekend in protests in Khabarovsk, Russia. The city of 600,000 on the Russian-Chinese border is the capital of the Khabarovsk region, which has 1.34 million inhabitants. The demonstrations, the largest in the area’s history, began on July 11 after the region’s governor, Sergei Furgal, was arrested by the Russian secret service FSB and flown to Moscow. He has been charged with involvement in the murder of several local businessmen in 2004 and 2005. Furgal is a businessman himself and politician of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR). For two decades, the LDPR, which promotes Russian chauvinism and anti-immigrant sentiment in an effort to contain social discontent, has formed part of the nominal opposition to the Putin regime. De facto, however, it supports all of the Kremlin’s main policies. Furgal was elected over his rival from the ruling United Russia party in 2018. The governor was arrested just days after a national referendum on a series of amendmentsthat enshrined far-right values in the Russian constitution and significantly strengthened the power of the Russian president over local authorities. Khabarovsk was one of two regions where the amendments were overwhelmingly rejected. Anti-Kremlin protesters demanded that Furgal be tried in Khabarovsk and not in Moscow. Many carried signs saying, “I am Furgal,” “Freedom for Furgal” and “Putin, you have lost my confidence.” They chanted slogans, such as “Putin resign,” “This is our region,” “We hate Moscow,” “Shame on the Kremlin!”, “Russia, wake up!” and “We are the ones in power!” Many were carrying Russian flags and the blue-green-white flags of the Khabarovsk region. According to reports, protesters were drawn from different social layers, including businessmen, the middle class, and workers. Speaking to journalists, demonstrators expressed anger over inequality and the federal government’s infringement upon regional authorities and laws. Irina Lukasheva, a 56-year-old vendor, told the New York Times: “There will be a revolution. What did our grandfathers fight for? Not for poverty or for the oligarchs sitting over there in the Kremlin.”

Empty beaches and fear of flying --From the Algarve to the Amalfi Coast and the islands of Croatia, waiters are twiddling their thumbs and lifeguards gazing out over half-empty beaches as Europe’s tourism sector takes a huge hit from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Families across the continent are being put off traveling by the fear of contracting coronavirus, a lack of money as a result of being furloughed or laid-off altogether, and onerous quarantine rules. Hoteliers and restaurant owners across the Mediterranean are lamenting the absence of foreign visitors and glumly contemplating the loss of billions of pounds’ worth of revenue. Spain’s hopes of salvaging a summer tourism season were thrown into disarray by the UK government’s decision at the weekend to impose a two-week quarantine on all tourists returning from Spain, making the country a far less attractive destination for Britons.  The abrupt announcement torpedoed the plans of hundreds of thousands of British tourists, who normally make up 20 per cent of all foreign visitors to Spain. In the resort of San Antonio on Ibiza, beaches were all but empty as a result of the sudden quarantine regulation. Spain’s tourism is reeling from a tough first half of the year – the pandemic meant that the rate of hotel occupancy more than halved between January and June. The worst hit part of the country were the Balearic Islands, which are normally popular with British and German holidaymakers. Tourism accounts for around 12 per cent of the Spanish economy but the sector has lost on average €5 billion a week since March. An estimated 40,000 bars and restaurants have shut down permanently as a result of the pandemic and another 85,000 are at risk if the country is engulfed by a second wave, according to the country’s main hospitality business lobby.

Pandemic turns Europe's retail sector on its head as shoppers stay close to home -(Reuters) - City centre shops and malls may have lost their lustre during the COVID-19 pandemic, but as lockdowns ease across Europe many stores in and around residential areas stand to benefit as consumers remain reluctant to venture far from home. While retail sales appear to be rebounding - surging 17.8% in the euro zone in May and approaching pre-lockdown levels in Britain in June - shoppers are increasingly staying local, leaving Europe’s most renowned shopping districts from London’s West End to Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm struggling in the absence of office workers and tourists. On Germany’s main shopping streets in Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin, footfall in June was as much as 50% lower than a year earlier, according to the German Retail Federation, while in London’s West End it was down 75%, according to the New West End Company, an association of retailers and landlords in the area. Many consumers have shifted to buying goods online, but they are also heading out to shops in residential areas and 46% of consumers across Europe aim to shop more locally in the long term than they did before the pandemic, data from Ernst & Young shows. The trend could mean a significant shift in earnings patterns for major European retail landlords such as Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW.AS), Klepierre (LOIM.PA), and Carmila (CARM.PA) with their mix of city centre and suburban shopping malls. Germany’s ECE operates nearly 200 shopping centres across Europe and told Reuters that centres in areas with a local customer base are approaching pre-lockdown footfall levels - whereas city-centre locations were serving just two thirds of their usual customer base. In Britain, shoppers are buying local not just for convenience goods, but other items such as clothes which they would usually buy on a day out in the centre of town, said Jonathan de Mello of retail consultancy Harper Dennis Hobbes. “People are being very careful about where and how many times they shop,” he said. Half of Britons in a YouGov survey of 1,032 people said they would now feel uncomfortable visiting an enclosed retail space like a shopping mall. “What was once a fabulous shopping experience at a central location is now actually just a place full of risk,”

Europe’s Banks Reveal Fuller Picture of Coronavirus Impact – WSJ - Some of Europe’s biggest lenders reported a big jump in coronavirus-related losses and provisions for bad loans as the pandemic’s impact on their businesses becomes clearer. Germany’s Deutsche Bank AG DB -1.05% , the U.K.’s Barclays BCS 1.23% PLC and Spain’s Banco Santander SA SAN 0.83% all reported an increase in loan-loss charges in the second quarter, as the companies they bank for struggle to repay debts, and unemployment rises across the regions in which they operate. Deutsche Bank set aside €761 million ($892 million) to cover potential losses on loans to borrowers hurt by the coronavirus pandemic although it reported a small second-quarter profit on the back of strong investment banking performance on Wednesday. Barclays’ net profit dropped 91% after it set aside £1.62 billion ($2.10 billion) in provisions for losses from loans. The London-based lender’s U.K. unit swung to a loss but its investment bank performed well. Santander, based in Spain but with operations in Europe, Latin America and the U.S., reported a €12.6 billion charge from a lower valuation of some previous acquisitions, which it attributed to the deterioration in the economic outlook caused by the pandemic. The charge is a one-off and won’t have impact on its liquidity and capital ratios, but it drove the lender to a second-quarter loss of €11.13 billion. “The past six months have been among the most challenging in our history,” Ana Botin, the bank’s executive chairman, said, but added “the foundations of our business remain extremely strong.” Although the banks struck a more optimistic tone for the rest of the year, the real impact of the pandemic on Europe’s economy still lies ahead. For instance, many programs that have kept people employed with the support of state money are due to expire later this year. Shares of Barclays were down over 5% in the early afternoon, while Deutsche Bank and Santander fell more than 3%. In a Deutsche Bank conference call, analysts raised questions about the bank’s profitability outlook, given the booming investment-banking activities are set to subside.

Europe Plunges Into Recession as Economy Suffers Record Contraction – WSJ —Stringent lockdowns weighed heavily on Europe’s economy in the second quarter, causing a record decline that was even more severe than in the U.S., but the continent’s strategy of containment coupled with aggressive stimulus is fanning hopes of a robust recovery. The eurozone’s gross domestic product fell 40.3% annually in the three months through June, exceeding the U.S. economy’s 32.9% contraction, according to data published Friday. That is by far the sharpest decline since comparable records began in 1995, according to the European Union’s statistics agency. However, recent statistics suggest Europe is having a “much bigger snapback and there are some indicators that it may be getting ahead [of the U.S.],” said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank. The U.S. economy is being supported by a massive fiscal stimulus that will likely translate into a 2020 government budget deficit roughly twice as large as Europe’s, Mr. Schmieding added. “The U.S. is paying with fiscal stimulus for its failure to tackle the pandemic decisively,” he said.

Germany’s Economy Suffers Biggest Contraction on Record, but Green Shoots Emerge  - Germany suffered a record economic contraction in the second quarter as measures to slow the pandemic’s spread closed businesses and kept consumers at home, but Europe’s powerhouse is nonetheless expected to shrink by less and recover faster than other major economies. Germany’s gross domestic product fell 10.1% compared with the previous quarter, the largest decline since comparable records began in 1970, and roughly double its contraction at the nadir of the global financial crisis in 2009, the federal statistics agency said Thursday. The economy shrank by 34.7% on an annual basis, roughly matching the 32.9% contraction in the U.S. economy over the same period, according to data published by the Commerce Department on Thursday. Weakness in Germany is ominous for the rest of Europe, and not just because of the country’s size, accounting for about a fifth of the European Union’s total GDP. German manufacturers are also tightly integrated in the continent, particularly Italy and Eastern Europe. Other European economies including France and Italy are expected to post even deeper contractions when they report second-quarter economic data on Friday. Still, a host of recent indicators suggest that the German economy is staging a sharp V-shaped recovery, bolstered by aggressive state-support schemes for workers and businesses. Despite its heavy reliance on global supply chains and foreign demand, Germany has so far managed to limit the coronavirus’s economic toll. Its strategy: a relatively light lockdown, strict hygiene measures and testing, and a heavy dose of government spending. That cocktail of policies will likely help Germany to outperform all other Group of Seven advanced economies, analysts say. The German economy is likely to shrink 4.3% this year and surpass its pre-pandemic size by the end of 2021, according to analysts at JPMorgan. In contrast, the U.S. economy will likely shrink more than 5% this year and still be around 2.5% smaller at the end of 2021 than it was going into the crisis, the analysts said.

Thousands march in Berlin against coronavirus curbs -(Reuters) - Thousands marched in Berlin on Saturday to protest against measures imposed in Germany to stem the coronavirus pandemic, saying they violated people’s rights and freedoms.The gathering, estimated by police at 17,000, included libertarians, constitutional loyalists and anti-vaccination activists. There was also a small far-right presence with some marchers carrying Germany’s black, white and red imperial flag.Protesters danced and sang ‘We are free people!’ to the tune of rock band Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’. Others marched with placards saying ‘We are making a noise because you are stealing our freedom!’ and ‘Do think! Don’t wear a mask!’.“Our demand is to return to democracy,” said one protester who declined to give his name. “The mask that enslaves us must go.”

Prince Andrew’s Website Officially Taken Offline As Evidence Against Him Mounts -- Prince Andrew’s personal website,, has been taken offline, and now the URL just redirects to his biography on the royal family’s main website There was no official announcement but the changes are likely a part of the royal family’s damage-control plan, as they attempt to deal with the fallout of very serious allegations against the prince.For months, Prince Andrew has been dodging interviews from both the media and the police, as more information comes to light about his connections to Jeffrey Epstein and his child trafficking network. Andrew has been entirely removed from official royal life, and is now no longer fulfilling the “duties” that came along with his position. When his site was operational, it displayed information on Andrew’s business initiatives, outlined his naval career, and listed his key charity efforts. There were also links to profiles of his daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie.Andrew’s biography on the royal’s official website links to the statement he made after his disastrous interview with Emily Maitliss on BBC’s Newsnight. “It has become clear to me over the last few days that the circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family’s work and the valuable work going on in the many organisations and charities that I am proud to support. Therefore, I have asked Her Majesty if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission,” Andrews statement reads.At his daughter’s wedding this past weekend, which was initially delayed over the scandal, Andrew was in attendance but was not allowed to appear in any of the photos.

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