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Saturday, June 22, 2024

week ending Jun 22

Collins Says Fed Shouldn’t Overreact to Positive Price Data - -- Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Susan Collins said the US central bank should be patient as it considers when to lower interest rates, despite recent encouraging data on inflation.“It is too soon to determine whether inflation is durably on a path back to the 2% target,” Collins said Tuesday in remarks prepared for an event in Lawrence, Massachusetts. “We should not overreact to a month or two of promising news.” “The appropriate approach to monetary policy continues to require patience,” she added, echoing remarks she made at an Atlanta Fed conference on May 21.Fed officials last week dialed back their outlook for rate cuts, with the median projection from policymakers signaling just one decrease in 2024. Policymakers also left their benchmark rate steady in a target range of 5.25% to 5.5%, a more than two-decade high reached last July.Their decision came the same day government data showed one important gauge of underlying inflation, the so-called core measure of consumer prices, had dropped to its lowest level in more than three years.“In my view, the data suggest an economy with demand and supply coming into better balance, as required to restore price stability,” Collins said. “However, this process may just take more time than previously thought.” New York Fed President John Williams made similar remarks Tuesday, saying the US economy is “moving in the right direction” but stopping short of saying when he would favor an interest-rate decrease.

NY Fed's John Williams says bank will 'ignore the politics,' make 'data dependent' rate decisions -- Following the Federal Reserve's latest meeting and rate decision, the central bank's New York president and CEO discussed when a cut may be coming and what the November election means for the U.S. economy."Our decisions are going to be data dependent. It could be really decided by what we're seeing in the economy, what we're seeing in the inflation data," Federal Reserve Bank of New York's John Williams told FOX Business' Edward Lawrence in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. "So the answer is it depends. But I think that things are moving in the right direction."Last week, the Fed held rates steady for the seventh consecutive time and suggested there will only be one cut made this year. In their post-meeting statement, policymakers left the door open to rate cuts but stressed they need "greater confidence" inflation is coming down before lowering borrowing costs.P"I've been in the Fed nearly 30 years, and throughout that time, what I've seen my colleagues do is really focus on our job, do the best analysis we can and make the best decisions we can for the American economy," Williams said. "We just have to stay on that, ignore the politics and all that. Focus on getting our job done. That's what we need to do in order to be successful.""I expect interest rates to come down gradually over the next couple of years," he added, "reflecting the fact that inflation is coming back to our 2% target and the economy is moving in a very strong, sustainable path."Former Commissioner of Labor Statistics William Beach joins 'Making Money' to discuss the future of economic data collection after the BLS announced it would reduce the sample size of its households survey over budget cuts.New quarterly economic projections laid out after the meeting show that a majority of Fed officials who participated expect rates to fall to just 5.1% by the end of 2024, suggesting there will only be one quarter-point rate cut this year – a sharp reversal from the three they had predicted in March.

The Art of the Soft Landing - Yesterday, Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jan Hatzius wrote: Last week's benign US inflation data reinforced our view that the Q1 spike was an aberration. Meanwhile, the labor market stands at a potential inflection point where a further softening in labor demand would hit actual jobs, not just open positions, and could therefore push up the unemployment rate more significantly. We thus continue to expect two Fed rate cuts this year (in September and December) ...The "Art of the Soft Landing" requires that the Fed reduce rates quick enough to keep economic growth positive, and slow enough not to reignite inflation. My view is a soft landing is achieved if growth stays positive, inflation returns to target, and the yield curve flattens or reverts to normal (long yields higher than short yields).The good news is growth has stayed positive and inflation has moved closer to the 2% target. However, the yield curve is still inverted, and we are not out of the woods yet.Here is a graph of 10-Year Treasury Constant Maturity Minus 2-Year Treasury Constant Maturity from FRED since 1976. If Hatzius is correct that the reported pickup in Q1 inflation was an "aberration", it seems like the FOMC will cut rates soon (probably September). Most market participants expect 2 rate cuts this year, with the first cut in September.

Moody's Analytics predicts inflation spike if Trump wins --Inflation could reaccelerate if former President Trump wins the White House and Republicans win control of Congress, according to a recent report by Moody’s Analytics. Under the so-called Republican Sweep scenario, which the forecasters place at a 35 percent probability, consumer price inflation accelerates from 3 percent in 2024 to 3.6 percent in 2025, according to the three economists who authored the report. Trump policies — — including higher tariffs, tax cuts that stimulate the economy and an exodus of foreign immigrants that could tighten the labor market and increase labor costs — would fuel the uptick in inflation.“The Federal Reserve, which is focused on labor costs and inflation, may feel compelled to resume its rate hikes, or at the very least wait longer to cut rates. Recession becomes a serious threat once again,” the economists wrote.Inflation is a key for voters ahead of the election, according to polling. President Biden has dealt with low approval ratings on his handling of the economy, due largely to the roughly 19-percent increase in prices since he took office in 2021. Inflation spiked around the world thanks largely to pandemic-related supply chain snarls, a rapid economic resurgence and the war in Ukraine. U.S. inflation has also fallen sharply from a peak of 9.1 percent in June 2022 to just above 3 percent. Even so, Biden is struggling to win voters over on the economy The Fed has hiked interest rates to a 23-year high to try to bring down pandemic-induced inflation. It’s expected to start cutting interest rates later this year provided inflation continues to come down. In contrast, a Biden victory this November would have no impact on the economists’ baseline inflation forecast of 2.4 percent in 2025, according to the report.

The Foreign Holders of the Ballooning US Debt: They’re Buying, But Don’t Keep Up - The question that’s on everyone’s mind is how long foreign investors will continue to support the US Treasury debt that has now ballooned to $34.75 trillion and will nail $35 trillion over the next few months. These securities are all held by someone, and a portion of them are held by foreign entities. So far, demand for these Treasury securities from all directions has been huge, as documented by the 10-year yield that should be above 5%, given where inflation is (3.4% core CPI with lots of uncertainty surrounding it), and where short-term yields are (5.5%). But the 10-year yield is just 4.2%.. Foreign investors have continued to add to their holdings of Treasury securities over the years, but the US debt has grown far faster, and so the share of the debt that is held by foreign entities has been declining for many years. In 2014-2016, foreign investors held over 33% of the debt. Their share is now down to 22.9%. In other words, the US debt financing has become far less dependent on foreign holders – and as we’ll see in a moment, even less dependent on China and Japan. In dollar terms, Treasury debt held by foreign entities rose to an all-time high in March, and in April dipped a tad, to $7.92 trillion, which was up by $468 billion year-over-year, or by 6.3%, according to Treasury Department data on Tuesday (red line in the chart below).

  • Top six financial centers (London, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Cayman Islands, Ireland): $2.3 trillion (blue), +9.2% year-over-year, despite a dip in April from the all-time high in March.
  • Japan, #1 US creditor: $1.15 trillion (green), +2.2% from a year ago. Over the past 12 years, Japan’s holdings have remained in the same range between $1.0 trillion and $1.3 trillion, hitting the low end of the range in 2011 and 2018.
  • China and Hong Kong combined: -9.1% year-over-year, to $992 billion (purple), up a tad in April from the lowest in many years.

China and Hong Kong whittled down their combined holdings from over $1.4 trillion in 2012-2017 to $992 billion now (blue). During the capital-flight panic in 2016, China’s holdings of Treasury securities fell sharply as it tried to prop up the RMB. It increased its holdings again, but never all the way back to the prior level, and holdings have declined from then on.The countries of the Euro Area piled into US Treasury securities at a furious rate, expanding their holdings from $500 billion in 2011 to $1.58 trillion now (red), and increase of over $1 trillion. Year-over-year, the Euro Area’s holdings surged by $202 billion, or by 14.6%!

The United States Is the Main Obstacle to Peace in Palestine - On June 13, Hamas responded to persistent needling by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the U.S. proposal for a pause in the Israeli massacre in Gaza. The group said it has “dealt positively… with the latest proposal and all proposals to reach a cease-fire agreement.” Hamas added, by contrast, that, “while Blinken continues to talk about ‘Israel’s approval of the latest proposal, we have not heard any Israeli official voicing approval.”The basic disagreement that President Joe Biden and Secretary Blinken’s smoke and mirrors cannot hide is that Hamas, like every Palestinian, wants a real end to the genocide, while the Israeli and U.S. governments do not. Biden or Netanyahu could end the slaughter very quickly if they wanted to—Netanyahu by agreeing to a permanent cease-fire, or Biden by ending or suspending U.S. weapons deliveries to Israel. Israel could not carry out this war without U.S. military and diplomatic support. But Biden refuses to use his leverage, even though he has admitted in an interview that it was “reasonable” to conclude that Netanyahu is prolonging the war for his own political benefit.The U.S. is still sending weapons to Israel to continue the massacre in violation of a cease-fire order by the International Court of Justice. Bipartisan U.S. leaders have invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress on July 24, even as the International Criminal Court reviews a request by its chief prosecutor for an arrest warrant for Netanyahu for war crimes, crimes against humanity and murder. The United States seems determined to share Israel’s self-inflicted isolation from voices calling for peace from all over the world, including large majorities of countries in the UN General Assembly and Security Council. But perhaps this is appropriate, as the United States bears a great deal of responsibility for that isolation. By its decades of unconditional support for Israel, and by using its UN Security Council veto dozens of times to shield Israel from international accountability, the United States has enabled successive Israeli governments to pursue flagrantly criminal policies and to thumb their noses at the growing outrage of people and countries across the world.This pattern of U.S. support for Israel goes all the way back to its founding, when Zionist leaders in Palestine unleashed a well-planned operation to seize much more territory than the UN allocated to their new state in its partition plan, which the Palestinians and neighboring countries already firmly opposed.The massacres, the bulldozed villages and the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 to a million people in the Nakba have been meticulously documented, despite an extraordinary propaganda campaign to persuade two generations of Israelis, Americans and Europeans that they never happened.The U.S. was the first country to grant Israel de facto recognition on May 14, 1948, and played a leading role in the 1949 UN votes to recognize the new state of Israel within its illegally seized borders. President Eisenhower had the wisdom to oppose Britain, France and Israel in their war to capture the Suez Canal in 1956, but Israel’s seizure of the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 1967 persuaded U.S. leaders that it could be a valuable military ally in the Middle East. Unconditional U.S. support for Israel’s illegal occupation and annexation of more and more territory over the past 57 years has corrupted Israeli politics and encouraged increasingly extreme and racist Israeli governments to keep expanding their genocidal territorial ambitions. Netanyahu’s Likud party and government now fully embrace their Greater Israel plan to annex all of occupied Palestine and parts of other countries, wherever and whenever new opportunities for expansion present themselves. Qatar mediated a temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November 2023, but it has since been upstaged by U.S. moves to prolong the massacre through deceptive proposals, cynical posturing and Security Council vetoes. The U.S. consistently vetoes all but its own proposals on Israel and Palestine in the UN Security Council, even when its own proposals are deliberately meaningless, ineffective or counterproductive.

WaPo: Pentagon Ramping Up Intelligence-Sharing With Israel -US intelligence agencies have significantly stepped up coordination with Israel throughout the war in Gaza, several officials told the Washington Post. While the intel is not supposed to be used for military purposes, some US officials fear it is helping to direct Israeli airstrikes.Following eight months of fighting in the besieged Gaza Strip, Washington is now supplying an “extraordinary amount” of intelligence to Tel Aviv, including “drone footage, satellite imagery, communications intercepts and data analysis using advanced software, some of it powered by artificial intelligence,” the Post reported on Friday.Highlighting the shift, the US deployed additional intelligence personnel to Israel soon after Hamas’ October 7 attack, sending forces from the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to work alongside CIA officers in the country. The Defense Intelligence Agency has also met with local counterparts “on a daily basis” in recent months, one US official said.Despite US vows to keep troops out of Gaza, JSOC special operators reportedly planned for a mission to rescue American hostages last October, though it was never ordered.“If we managed to unilaterally get information that we could act on, and we thought we could actually get US people out alive, we could act,” one official told the Post, adding “there was genuinely very little information specifically about US hostages.”While the Joe Biden administration has attempted to restrict the intel for “hostage-location efforts” and hunting Hamas’ top leadership, it has no effective way to ensure it is not used to plan military action. Officials and lawmakers said they feared US-supplied intelligence was “making its way into the repositories of data that Israeli military forces use to conduct airstrikes or other military operations.” Tel Aviv has repeatedly ignored US warnings about its conduct in Gaza, where some 37,000 Palestinians have been killed since last October.Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, has been critical of the lack of supervision on intelligence-sharing with Israel. Calling for more “robust oversight,” he recently co-sponsored a bill that would require top officials to notify lawmakers if US intel was used for an operation that resulted in civilian deaths. The legislation is still making its way through the House.

Fewer Than Half Of The Hostages In Gaza Still Alive, US Intel Believes -- By Israel's official tally there should be 116 Israeli hostages still in Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip, but new statements issued by US intelligence officials say the number of captives still alive might be as low as 50. Initially, about 250 were taken captive during the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror attack of Oct.7.The Wall Street Journal writes, citing a new intel review of the situation, "That assessment, based in part on Israeli intelligence, would mean 66 of those still held hostage could be dead, 25 more than Israel has publicly acknowledged." The hostages have been held for 258 days at this point. Of the eight captives with American citizenship (dual nationals), three were previously reported by Israel to be deceased. The fact that there are Americans among the hostages has received relatively little mainstream media attention.Still, hostage and ceasefire talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt have failed to move forward, and the situation remains dire given there could be more hostages lost by the day, with Hamas maintaining its position that it doesn't actually know how many still remain given there's a grinding war on in the Strip. Hamas officials have blamed unrelenting Israeli airstrikes for killing off many hostages."The number of hostages alive or dead has been an issue in cease-fire talks brokered by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar," WSJ continues. "As part of a deal, hostages would likely be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Israel was initially unwilling to accept dead bodies to meet the number of hostages required to be released in the first phase of any deal, but its latest proposal presented to Hamas says it would accept dead bodies."The Netanyahu government's lack of progress on getting the hostages released through negotiations has continued to drive large-scale protests, including a violent one earlier in the week in front of Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, resulting in nine arrests.Currently tensions are soaring between military leaders and PM Netanyahu, following Wednesday remarks of military spokesman Daniel Hagari, who asserted that Hamas can not be completely be rooted out because it is "an ideology". This was seen as a direct contradiction of Netanyahu's vow to not stop until the group is eradicated."This business of destroying Hamas, making Hamas disappear — it’s simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public," Hagari had explained in an Israeli Channel 13 news interview. "Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people — anyone who thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong."Netanyahu’s office quickly responded, pointing out that this precisely remains the war's goal. The statement said the security cabinet "has defined as one of the war goals the destruction of Hamas’s military and governance capabilities." It emphasized, "The Israel Defense Forces is of course committed to this."

Israel Says No Ceasefire Deal, Military Ops Will Continue - Tel Aviv has no intention of reaching a peace deal with Hamas and the onslaught in Gaza will continue in “full force” after the destruction of Rafah, according to a senior Israeli official involved in negotiations. The comments come after President Joe Biden unveiled a ceasefire proposal allegedly backed by Israel in late May.Biden’s initial peace plan first called for a six-week pause to hostilities, during which a permanent truce would be negotiated and then implemented. Israeli officials thought the language was vague enough that the two sides could enter the first phase without Israel actually committing to a lasting ceasefire.Hamas said it received the offer positively and offered modifications to the deal that ensured the release of Israeli hostages would lead to the end of Israeli military operations in Gaza. Additionally, the group sought assurances that Palestinians released under the agreement would not be rearrested by Israel.In response to the counteroffer, the senior official told the Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that “there will be no negotiations on another outline. There is no factor that can change the Biden outline.” They added that “Hamas’ answer to this outline is like a complete refusal.”The official explained that Israel planned to continue operations in Gaza after it was finished with its assault on Rafah. “Israel will continue to conduct a strong and effective military campaign. The army has prepared the continuation of the operations even after the end of the fighting in Rafah, and Israel will remain in Gaza.” They continued, “even after the IDF finishes the operation in Rafah, it will remain in the Strip in full force and on a significant scale to continue intense military activity.”Prior to the invasion of Rafah, Israeli officials claimed the operations were necessary to smash the remains of Hamas and rescue hostages. However, the senior official indicated the Israel Defense Forces intend to continue military operations in the Strip, stating “The IDF has significant operational action plans that will be revealed later.”Tel Aviv has refused to provide a plan for Gaza after military operations are completed. The White House has been pushing for an Israeli withdrawal and for Gulf Arab states to pay for the reconstruction of Gaza. However, the Biden administration has struggled to advance that proposal with any of its partners in the region. Several Israeli officials, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, have called to rebuild Jewish settlements in Gaza following a unilateral pull-out from the territory in 2005. The plans for new settlements are often included with calls for the displacement of all or most of the Palestinian people from the Strip – or what the security chief dubbed “voluntary emigration.”

Nancy Pelosi, Hakeem Jeffries split on Benjamin Netanyahu speech -- Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has fanned the flames of the internal Democratic battle over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coming speech to Congress, questioning the wisdom of the invitation just days after it was endorsed by Democratic leaders in both chambers. Pelosi’s comments — and her decision to air them on national television — have struck a nerve with some rank-and-file Democrats, who are voicing concerns that she’s made it only more difficult for her successor, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), to steer the caucus through a stormy debate on a hot topic that’s divided the party with increasing intensity amid Israel’s war with Hamas. “I was disappointed because I think it does make things more difficult for our leadership,” Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) said. “They made a decision, the decision was a tough one, and we usually hang together. Honestly, when she was Speaker, we hung with her, and I was hoping she would do the same.” Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), who is leaning toward boycotting Netanyahu’s speech to protest his handling of the war, nonetheless supports the decision by Democratic leaders to invite the prime minister to Washington. He’s echoing Vargas’s warning that Pelosi’s comments will only exacerbate the party’s differences over Israel to the benefit of Republicans. “Israel is an ally, and many of us support Israel without supporting Netanyahu. And I think that’s the basis upon which Mr. Jeffries made his decision. This was a courtesy to an ally, and not anything more,” he said. “Obviously, she’s the former Speaker of the House, and I think comments like that are not helpful to the cohesion of the party.” Democrats are jousting over Israel’s military response to Hamas’s attacks last October, which led to the death of roughly 1,200 people and the kidnapping of 250 more. In the eight months since then, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli strikes, infuriating liberal Democrats who have accused Netanyahu of doing far too little to avoid civilian casualties. Some consider him a war criminal.

Netanyahu Demands White House Give Him Tools to 'Finish the Job' in Gaza - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu published a scathing video blasting the White House for holding back weapons shipments to Israel. Washington has blocked one transfer of 2,000-pound bombs but has overwhelmingly provided all the arms requested by Tel Aviv. The PM demanded the US supply the tools Israel needs to “finish the job a lot faster” in the Gaza Strip.On Tuesday, Netanyahu posted the video to his X account. Speaking in English, the PM said “When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation. I said I deeply appreciate the support the US has given Israel from the beginning of the war. But I also said something else. I said it is inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel.”In late April, the White House decided it would suspend the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel over concerns about civilian deaths in Gaza. However, President Joe Biden suggested that he would cut off additional arms transfers if Israeli forces proceeded with a full-scale invasion of Rafah. Over a month after that assault began, Biden has failed to follow through on his supposed red line.According to Netanyahu, the White House will likely reverse course on its vow to scale back this military aid. “Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these blocks. I certainly hope that is the case. It should be the case,” he explained in the video.The Israeli leader concluded his message by demanding Biden remove all restrictions on weapons so he could quickly wrap up operations in Gaza. “In WWII Churchill told the US, ‘Give us the tools we’ll do the job.’” He added, “And I say, ‘give us the tools and we will finish the job a lot faster.’”Throughout the latest conflict with Hamas, top Israeli officials have repeatedly invoked allied war crimes committed during the Second World War in cities like Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki to justify the onslaught in Gaza.The White House and Secretary of State Antony Blinken denied that the Biden administration was holding up arms shipments to Israel. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We genuinely don’t know what he is talking about.”Blinken explained only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs is under review. “We, as you know, are continuing to review one shipment that President Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah,” he added, “But everything else is moving as it normally would move and, again, with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges.”

Netanyahu Claims US Has Held Up Arms Transfers for Months - In a wide-ranging interview with Punchbowl News co-founder Jake Sherman, Netanyahu weighed in on his recent dispute with the White House. On Tuesday, Netanyahu posted a scathing video to his account on X that attacked the Biden administration for withholding weapons shipments to Israel.The White House has reacted to the statement with a mix of confusion and anger. A Biden deputy, Amos Hochstein, was dispatched to Tel Aviv to express the president’s frustration to Netanyahu, and Washington delayed a single meeting between US and Israeli officials.While Netanyahu still has not clarified what arms shipments have been suspended by Washington, he continues to assert that the weapons have slowed to a “trickle.” The Israeli leader claimed he tried to handle the issue behind the scenes, but said the lack of weapons flowing to Tel Aviv has become a crisis.“We began to see that we had some significant problems emerging a few months ago. And in fact, we tried, in many, many quiet conversations between our officials and American officials, and between me and the president to try to iron out this diminution of supply,” he continued. “And we haven’t been able to solve it. Now this is crucial.”The White House has largely provided an unrestricted supply of weapons to Tel Aviv since October 7. The US has suspended just one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs over concerns about civilian casualties in the city of Rafah. A UN report released on Thursday found that US-made 2,000, 1,000, and 250-pound bombs were used by Israel’s military in strikes that killed hundreds of non-combatants.

White House Fuming, Cancels Meeting With Israelis, After Netanyahu's Public Scolding --On Monday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chastised the White House in a rare video message, calling President Biden's withholding of some defense aid to Israel "inconceivable". However the White House has hit back, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre soon after the provocative statement issuing a rejection of the Israeli leader's narrative. "We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about. We just don’t," she told reporters.She noted in a Monday afternoon briefing that "there was one particular shipment of munitions that was paused, and you’ve heard us talk about that many times." Jean-Pierre then emphasized, "There are no other pauses — none — no other pauses or holds in place."But here's what the Israeli prime minister had charged in the video: "It’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel. Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies," he had said.Behind the scenes, this has reportedly left Biden admin officials fuming. The White House has as a result taken the rare step of canceling a high-level US-Israel meeting in protest. The scheduled meeting was to focus on Iran.A senior US official told Axios on Tuesday, "This decision makes it clear that there are consequences for pulling such stunts." The official further described, "The Americans are fuming. Bibi's video made a lot of damage."The same report said that some of the Israeli officials were already en route to Washington when the meeting was canceled, however, other sources said the meeting was merely postponed and tried to downplay that it was a punitive action.The US gives Israel over $3 billion in foreign aid every year, and has also pledged billions more in weapons, including advanced fighter jets, throughout the course of the Gaza war. "Biden's team was angry and shocked by Netanyahu's ingratitude," another US official was quoted in Axios as saying.Secretary of State Antony Blinken has meanwhile confirmed that Washington is "continuing to review one shipment... with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah."

White House Scraps US-Israel Meeting After Netanyahu Slams Washington - The White House canceled a high-level US meeting with Israeli officials after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the Biden administration for delaying arms transfers to Tel Aviv. The Israeli leader said he needed the arms to finish the job in Gaza.On Wednesday, Axios reported that Israeli and US officials said the White House was “enraged” by a video that Netanyahu posted the day before. The Israeli officials were en route to Washington when the Biden administration canceled the meeting. In the one-minute video in English, the Israeli prime minister blasted the Biden administration for withholding support.“When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation. I said I deeply appreciate the support the US has given Israel from the beginning of the war. But I also said something else,” he said. “I said it is inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel.”After the video was posted to X, US officials said they were unaware of what arms shipments Netanyahu was referring to. “We, as you know, are continuing to review one shipment that President Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained. “But everything else is moving as it normally would move and, again, with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges.”The statement from America’s top diplomat is in sharp contrast to Netanyahu’s remarks, in which he claimed that he personally spoke with Blinken about the issue. “Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these blocks. I certainly hope that is the case. It should be the case,” he explained in the video.Tel Aviv has not elaborated on Netanyahu’s claims about weapons shipment delays. One adviser to the prime minister referred the media to speak with Washington.President Biden sent his envoy Amos Hochstein to deliver the message to Netanyahu personally. Hochstein is in the Middle East attempting to reduce tensions between Israel and Hezbollah. He is reportedly pessimisticabout Washington’s ability to prevent an Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Netanyahu's Aides Warned Him Not To Post Video Attacking US - The strife between the White House and Tel Aviv could have been avoided if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listened to his aides who instructed him not to post a video attacking the Biden administration, according to a senior Israeli official.On Tuesday, Netanyahu published a video on X that slammed the White House for blocking military transfers to Israel. “When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation. I said I deeply appreciate the support the US has given Israel from the beginning of the war. But I also said something else.” He continued, “I said it is inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel.”The Biden administration’s response has been a mixture of anger and confusion. The White House suspended one strategic summit between US and Israeli officials about Iran, but business between Washington and Tel Aviv remains largely unchanged. High-level meetings between Israel and US officials are expected in the coming days.Several US officials have said they are perplexed by Netanyahu’s remarks because US weapons are flowing to Israel at the normal pace, with the exception of one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs that the White House says is under review.White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters, “We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about.”National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the video was “disappointing and vexing.” “It’s hard to know what went through him, the video was puzzling to say the least,” he stated. Netanyahu appears to have taken the White House’s mild responsepersonal attack. “I am ready to suffer personal attacks provided that Israel receives from the US the ammunition it needs in the war for its existence,” he posted on X on Thursday. It is unclear what personal attack was made against him.

US To Remove Aid Pier From Gaza Coast - The US military could end a mission to facilitate aid shipments into Gaza using a temporary pier as early as next month, the New York Timesreported, citing Pentagon officials. The pier has faced constant problems since it was first established in May, including rough weather that has resulted in damage and shutdowns.While the Joe Biden administration expected the pier to last into September, when choppy seas would make it inoperable, unnamed officialstold NYT the mission could come to and end much sooner, warning aid groups that it could close down by July.Last Friday, the Pentagon announced that the structure would be towed to Ashdod, Israel to avoid inclement weather, the second time it was withdrawn to the city due to high seas. The Defense Department has saidthe pier would return to the Gaza coast sometime this week, and while officials told the Times the causeway could soon be dismantled, DoD spokesman Patrick Ryder stressed that “there is no indication right now that there are plans to stop using the pier to deliver aid.”Though US officials have touted the pier as a way to deliver much-needed supplies to Gazans amid Israel’s months-long bombing campaign, some humanitarian orgs have slammed the project as a farce. In late May, Michael Selby-Green, a media spokesperson for Islamic Relief, told the New Arab the effort was merely a “distriction,” noting that even at full capacity it could only cover a fraction of Gaza’s needs.“It’s taken two-and-a-half months to build the pier and deliver the claimed 1,000 metric tonnes of aid, which is a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed in Gaza. Every day that passes pushes more families closer to starvation and puts more lives at risk,” he added.Doctors Without Borders’ director of communications in the UK, Sam Taylor, similarly described the pier as “an illusion of improvement,” while a spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council called it an “an expensive, time-consuming and unviable option as an aid route in the long run.”The US military has claimed that some 3,500 tons of aid has been delivered to Gaza using the makeshift pier, but aid groups say much of the supplies are not reaching those who need them, pointing to issues with security and logistics thanks to the ongoing war. According to the Times, the structure has facilitated just seven truckloads worth of aid per day, falling far short of an ultimate goal of 150 trucks, as well as the bare minimum of 500 trucks needed to sustain Gaza’s population.

Expensive Incompetence: US Giving Up On $230 Million Gaza Air Pier -A vivid metaphor for American global geopolitical incompetence is about to float off into the sunset, as the White House is poised to give up on the $230 million Gaza aid pier it built to alleviate an Israel-imposed humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Disassembly could begin in July, officials told New York Times. First announced as a White House aim in March during President Biden's State of the Union address, the pier required hundreds of millions of dollars and the work of some 1,000 service members to plan, assemble and operate. Now, the surrender on the pier idea comes after it was operational for just 10 days -- at $23 million each. The pier will go down as one of history's costliest publicity stunts. The impetus for the pier was mounting political pressure on Biden -- particularly from his own party -- as Israel's response to the Oct. 7 Hamas invasion killed tens of thousands, displaced more than a million, and caused a territory-wide food and medical-supply crisis.The pier fiasco is the latest demonstration of the US government's pathetic deference to Israel: Unable to persuade its perennial, multi-billion-dollar beneficiary to allow sufficient aid to pass through land crossings, the US government felt compelled to spend $230 million trying to bypass the blockade -- a blockade the same US government continued to facilitate via military and financial aid. The pier opened for business on May 18, and got off to an inauspicious start: After desperate Palestinians mobbed and ransacked the first aid trucks before they could reach a distribution warehouse managed by the World Food Programme, the pier operation was paused for two days. Then, just a week after it opened, rough seas and high winds broke up the pier, with four associated vessels running aground. That prompted another halt in operations, as components were taken away to be repaired at an Israeli port. The pier was reassembled, but, on Friday, US Central Command announced it would be towed to Israel as high seas were again moving in.

Pentagon To Resume Gaza Aid Pier for Now - The US military will restart aid operations using the temporary, newly repaired pier deployed near Gaza’s coast. This comes days after the structure was moved due to damage incurred by bad weather. The resumption of aid deliveries follows reports that the Pentagon could soon end the project, which multiple humanitarian organizations have criticized as woefully inadequate in any case.According to unnamed US officials cited by Reuters and the Associated Press, the pier was expected to resume operations on Thursday, having been towed back to Gaza the day prior. The structure was moved to waters off Ashdod, Israel, last week for the second time during high seas, which previously caused severe damage to the pier.Known as the Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore (JLOTS), the floating pier and causeway were constructed by the US military last March and began facilitating aid shipments in May.While the effort reportedly cost the US taxpayer some $320 million – not including the price of repairs – it has been operational for only 10 dayssince it went online on May 17, according to the New York Times. In addition to stormy weather conditions, logistical and security complications have prompted several delays and pauses.The Joe Biden administration had voiced high hopes for the pier, predicting it could eventually transfer 150 truckloads of aid into Gaza each day. Bogged down by near-constant problems, however, the structure has moved the equivalent of just seven trucks daily, aid groups told NYT.The pier project has come under fire from numerous humanitarian organizations, which have instead pushed to deliver the aid by land,arguing the sea route is fraught with practical challenges amid Israel’s months-long bombing campaign. “We continue to stress the fact that there are much easier and cost-efficient means to deliver aid, which are the [border] crossings, which aren’t operating at full capacity,” Shaina Low, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told the New Humanitarian. “We know that there are hundreds of trucks just waiting outside of Gaza on the Egyptian side of the border, waiting to get in.”Though the pier was originally set to be dismantled sometime in September, when yearly weather changes would make operations impossible, unnamed officials told the NYT earlier this week that the structure could be removed as early as next month. While they did not specify a reason, the officials said the move could pressure Israel to reopen more land routes into Gaza, virtually all of which have been closed due to the ongoing war.

White House Hopes Gaza Ceasefire Deal Will End Israel-Hezbollah Fighting - As the tit-for-tat conflict between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hezbollah continues to escalate, a top US official said the White Househopes a ceasefire in Gaza will lead to an end to the fighting in northern Israel.Deputy Assistant to the President Amos Hochstein said on Tuesday in Lebanon that Washington was trying to prevent the war between the IDF and Hezbollah from expanding. Fighting on Israel’s northern border started after the October 7 Hamas attack. The fighting has escalated in recent weeks as Israel assassinated a Hezbollah commander, while the Lebanese militant group launched hundreds of rockets into Israel.The fighting has killed over 400 people in Lebanon, including scores of civilians. Israel has also suffered 27 fatalities, including 11 civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced on both sides of the border.Hochstein said the White House hopes that a ceasefire in Gaza will bring an end to the hostilities. Hezbollah has stated it will cease operations against Israel once the onslaught in the Strip is brought to an end.It is unclear if Israel will halt strikes in southern Lebanon should the fight in Gaza wind down. Tel Aviv wants all Hezbollah forces to withdraw from southern Lebanon to an area north of the Litani River. Additionally, some analysts say that Israeli leaders may see the end of fighting in Gaza as an opportunity to conduct a larger assault on Lebanon.Hochstein’s trip to the Middle East coincided with a CBS News report that the White House is increasingly concerned that Israel will drag the US into a wider war in the region by attacking southern Lebanon. The US officialnoted the administration’s alarm, saying an end to the conflict “is both achievable and it is urgent.”However, a ceasefire in Gaza does not appear imminent. In late May, Biden announced the framework of an agreement he presented as an Israeli proposal, though it was quickly dismissed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Last week, Biden said he did not think there would be a ceasefire in Gazasoon.

US Tells Lebanon It Will Support Israeli Attack on Hezbollah - Deputy assistant to the US president Amos Hochstein has signaled that Washington would get behind an Israeli incursion into Lebanon, reportedly telling Beirut’s PM that Tel Aviv intends to shift focus to Hezbollah after fighting in Gaza winds down.As reported by the Middle East Eye, citing an unnamed senior Arab official, this message was conveyed during talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and parliament speaker Nabih Berri on Tuesday. Hochstein bluntly warned that the US plans to support an Israeli attack should the two sides fail to deescalate tensions.The US envoy added that Tel Aviv expects to significantly scale back its military operations in Gaza in around five weeks, saying the break could allow a new round of talks with Hezbollah even if no ceasefire deal is reached with Hamas.However, Hochstein also stated that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would shift “full focus” to Israel’s northern border following the Gaza pause, with the goal of pushing the Hezbollah away from Israeli soil. Such an escalation would almost certainly undermine future peace talks.Israel and Hezbollah have traded tit-for-tat strikes around the border region on a near-daily basis since the war with Hamas broke out last October, with IDF raids pushing deeper into Lebanese territory in recent weeks. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides of the border due to the ongoing fighting. While Hochstein traveled to Lebanon in a bid to quell the hostilities with Israel, Tel Aviv has all but confirmed that it intends to go ahead with an attack regardless. On Tuesday, the IDF announced that it had approved “operational plans” for a larger offensive in Lebanon, but shared few other details.

US and Canadian Warships Arrive in Cuba During Russian Naval Deployment - Three Russian warships and one nuclear-powered submarine arrived in Havana for naval exercises this week after carrying out what the Russian Defense Ministry called “high-precision missile weapons” training in the Atlantic Ocean. On Friday, in what is being viewed as a response to Moscow’s deployment to the Caribbean nation, a US fast-attack submarine made an uninvited port visit to Guantanamo Bay. Additionally, a Canadian patrol vessel entered Havana Harbor. Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío expressed displeasure with the advent of the American fast-attack submarine Helena in Guantanamo Bay, located some 530 miles southeast of Havana, remarking that “Naval visits to a country are usually the result of an invitation, and this was not the case.” He continued, “Obviously we do not like the presence in our territory (of a submarine) belonging to a power that maintains an official and practical policy that is hostile against Cuba.”Canada’s Margaret Brooke patrol vessel arrived in Havana harbor hours later in what the Canadian Joint Operations Command dubbed “a port visit… in recognition of the long-standing bilateral relationship between Canada and Cuba.” The Russian move to send warships to Cuba for training exercises, not uncommon over roughly the last decade, is likely intended as a flexing of Moscow’s military muscle in Washington’s backyard. Tensions have been boiling over NATO’s proxy war with the Kremlin in Ukraine recently. Last month, Washington green-lit Kiev’s strikes on the Russian mainland using US-provided weapons and NATO is preparing to deploy military trainers to Ukraine.Although Havana and Washington have insisted the Russian warships are not carrying nuclear weapons, despite their ability to do so, the ships are loaded with advanced armaments. The frigate Admiral Gorshkov, the convoy’s lead ship, is “equipped with Zircon hypersonic missiles, which [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has in the past said can fly nine times faster than the speed of sound at a range of more than 1,000km (more than 620 miles). It also carries Kalibr and Oniks cruise missiles,” reports Al Jazeera.Likewise, the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan is believed to be outfitted with Kalibr and Oniks cruise missiles. The ships are currently docked in Havana port, with residents taking tours of the various vessels. The Russian ships are expected to leave the area tomorrow.Echoes of the Cold War and, quite emphatically, the Cuban Missile Crisis are being felt today, as Washington and Moscow challenging each other’s spheres of influence, sending warships near each other’s borders. The White House has attempted to downplay the significance of the Russian presence only dozens of miles from the US coast by saying it is merely “routine.” Nevertheless, multiple US navy ships have been ordered to shadow the Russian vessels this week. This comes after more than a decade of myriad war games launched inside Ukraine, on the Black Sea, and just off Russia’s borders by the US, in some cases jointly with Ukraine or with scores of NATO states. The US military’s activity in close proximity to Russia’s territory is usually far more provocative than this Russian deployment in Cuba. For example, in November 2021, U.S. Strategic Command’s Global Thunder exercise saw nuclear-capable warplanes and strategic bombers flying within 12.4 miles of the Russian border and simulating a nuclear attack. There had been 30 such flights that month, and according to Russia’s then Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, American bomber activity near his country’s borders had increased 2.5 times compared to the previous year. . When asked about the message being conveyed to the US by the Russian navy’s activities in Cuba right now, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said “As soon as it comes to exercises or sea voyages, we immediately hear questions and a desire to know what these messages are about.” She continued, lamenting “Why do only signals related only to our army and navy reach the West?” Despite Cuba’s long-standing relationship with Ukraine, Moscow and Havana have developed closer ties during the past several years. This is a result of both the Donald Trump and Joe Biden administrations’ tightened sanctions against both countries and the economic pains Cuba has suffered particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic.

US reallocates Patriot missiles to Ukraine amid Russian aggression - The U.S. is sending Ukraine air defense missiles that were contracted for purchase by other countries, the White House announced Thursday. The decision comes as Ukraine has pleaded with its supporters to send at least seven Patriot missile systems to defend against Russian assaults that are pummeling the country and targeting energy infrastructure. “The United States has made the difficult decision to reprioritize near-term planned deliveries of foreign military sales to other countries, of particularly Patriot and NASAMS missiles, to go to Ukraine instead,” said John Kirby, the White House national security communications adviser. “The United States has a robust foreign military sales program where our defense industrial base produces and then exports materials to other countries, including air defense missiles. We’re going to reprioritize the deliveries of these exports so those missiles rolling off the production line will be provided to Ukraine.” Kirby said that air defense munitions for Taiwan and Israel, in particular, would not be impacted. He said the U.S. had communicated to affected countries with pending foreign military sales, but he couldn’t detail how long the delays would be and didn’t mention specific countries. “We’ll do the best we can to minimize the delay,” he said.

US: Ukraine Can Strike 'Anywhere' Russian Forces May Cross Border - Ukraine has been authorized to use US-supplied weapons to strike the Russian mainland wherever Moscow’s troops are advancing from across the border, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told PBS on Tuesday. The Pentagon also reiterated the escalatory change in policy on Thursday. Ukraine has suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties and continues losing territory in its war with Russia, in which Kiev serves as a NATO proxy.The White House green-lit Ukrainian strikes with American arms on Russia’s side of the border last month. At the time, the policy was supposed to only extend near the eastern Kharkiv region, where Moscow’s forces had been advancing. However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who led the push within the administration to allow Ukraine to strike Russia, suggested even that restriction could be loosened by saying the US would “adapt and adjust” to suit Kiev’s needs based on changing battlefield conditions.Now Ukraine can fire American weapons “anywhere that Russian forces are coming across the border from the Russian side to the Ukrainian side to try to take additional Ukrainian territory,” Sullivan said. Moscow has indicated it plans to attack the northeastern city of Sumy, located near the shared border, and Sullivan added that Ukraine could also strike Russian forces over the border there as an example.“This is not about geography. It’s about common sense. If Russia is attacking or about to attack from its territory into Ukraine, it only makes sense to allow Ukraine to hit back against the forces that are hitting it from across the border,” he explained.

House Intel chair warns about Russian nuclear space threat - House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) warned of a “Cuban missile crisis in space” if Russia launches a nuclear weapon into orbit, a threat that Turner and the U.S. have repeatedly warned about. Speaking at a Center for Strategic and International studies (CSIS) event Thursday, Turner said if Russia were to detonate a nuclear space weapon in low-Earth orbit, it would threaten economic and social systems in a “catastrophic and devastating attack.” “This crisis is the Cuban missile crisis in space,” he said, referencing the 1962 event when Russia had briefly staged nuclear missiles in Cuba. “The [Biden] administration is sleepwalking into an irreversible Day Zero.” Turner first warned of an unprecedented national security threat in February, which prompted the Biden administration to publicly announce that Russia was developing a nuclear space weapon that it may launch into orbit. If Russia were to do so, it would violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibiting weapons of mass destruction from being deployed in space, a treaty that Moscow has signed. The U.S. has tried to take action reaffirming the Outer Space Treaty at the United Nations Security Council but was blocked by Russia earlier this year. Russia, in turn, has tried to pass a resolution in the council banning all weapons from being deployed in space, a measure that was also defeated. The Biden administration warned last month that Russia has launched an antisatellite weapon into space, which may be the first stage of a plan to deploy a nuclear weapon into orbit. Turner called on the Biden administration to answer more questions about the nuclear space weapon, saying it was “failing” to address the issue.

Biden administration bans Kaspersky software over Russian ties -- The Biden administration is issuing a total ban on the use of Kaspersky Lab’s software over its ties to Russia. The company’s software has been a concern of the U.S. government since at least 2017 because of the Russian government’s alleged influence over the software. The Russian government has total access to Kaspersky systems and access to all its customer’s data, ABC News reported. “Russia has shown it has the capacity, and even more than that, the intent to exploit Russian companies like Kaspersky to collect and weaponize the personal information of Americans,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Thursday, the outlet reported. Raimondo said that while the company had been a concern for a long time, the Bureau of Industry and Security at the Commerce Department was able to ban Kaspersky under its new authority. The department “ultimately decided that given the Russian government’s continued offensive cyber capabilities and capacity to influence Kaspersky’s operations, that we had to take the significant measure of a full prohibition if we’re going to protect Americans and their personal data,” Raimondo said. After July 20, Kaspersky will not be able to enter new agreements in the U.S. under the ban. Existing customers will have access to the software until Sept. 29, but services will “degrade” after that, ABC News reported. Raimondo urged Americans and U.S. businesses to “immediately stop” using the software but said those who continue to use existing Kaspersky products will not be breaking the law. Users won’t be able to update products as of Sept. 20. Homeland Security Secretary said in a statement reported by ABC News that the actions are vital to national security and will protect Americans’ personal information and privacy. He vowed to continue working with various departments and officials to protect “our nation’s most vital systems and assets.”

Ukraine’s War Backers Hold 'Peace' Conference - Officials from more than 100 countries gathered in Switzerland over the weekend to discuss ways to end the conflict in Ukraine, devising a “peace formula” even as Western leaders continue to flood the battlefield with weapons.The conference kicked off on Saturday near the city of Lucerne, where delegations from the US, Germany, France, and scores of other states met to consider how to achieve a “just and lasting peace for Ukraine.” However, a joint communique issued by the participants on Sunday offered no new proposals, instead repeating generic statements about Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” and the “principles of sovereignty.”In place of a workable peace plan, the joint statement outlined three basic points regarding the safety of nuclear facilities in Ukraine, the importance of food security and the global supply chain, and the need for prisoner of war exchanges between Kiev and Moscow. It went on to reiterate past United Nations resolutions calling for an end to the war.Ahead of her speech at the meeting on Saturday, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced an additional $1.5 billion in aid for Kiev. This includes funds to rebuild infrastructure, $379 million in humanitarian assistance, and another $300 million to support “civilian security.” The new package follows the over $50 billion in US military aid already supplied throughout the war, including long-range missiles, main battle tanks, and other heavy weapons.While Russia was deliberately excluded from the conference in Switzerland, the joint statement nonetheless said that “peace requires the involvement of and dialogue between all parties,” suggesting “concrete steps” toward diplomacy at an unspecified date in the future. The communique did not elaborate on what steps might be taken, though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said a peace plan would be transmitted to Russia once it was finalized.The contents of that proposal have yet to be seen, but Zelensky has repeatedly called for an immediate end to hostilities and a Russian troop withdrawal from Ukraine’s pre-2014 borders. The Kremlin has rejected those terms outright, however, instead urging Kiev to vacate four regions seized by Russian forces, give up territorial claims to Crimea, and agree to never join NATO. Noting Moscow’s conspicuous absence at the meeting, a number of countries refused to sign the final joint statement, with India’s Foreign Ministry saying it “did not associate itself with any communique/document emerging from this summit.” “We continue to believe that such a resolution requires a sincere and practical engagement between the two parties to the conflict,” the ministry said, adding that New Delhi attended the conference only “to facilitate a lasting and peaceful resolution to the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy.” Other nations and territories also declined to endorse the document, including Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Colombia, Libya, and the Vatican. In his own statement, Indonesian diplomat Swajaya Ngurah stressed the need for “consistency” in applying international law and said Russia must have a role in any peace talks.

23 NATO members on track to meet 2 percent GDP spending goal -President Biden on Monday welcomed as good news the announcement that 23 countries in the 32-member NATO alliance are on track to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on military defense this year, an important benchmark established in 2014. “We have a very important announcement to make today: A record number of allies are meeting NATO’s commitment to at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense,” Biden said in remarks at the White House, ahead of a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg said 23 members of the alliance will spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense in 2024. NATO allies agreed in the 2014 summit held in Wales that member states would increase their respective domestic defense spending to 2 percent of their GDP. “Just five years ago, there were still less than 10 allies that spent 2 percent of GDP on defense,” he said in remarks delivered earlier Monday at the Wilson Center. “This is good for Europe and good for America. Especially since much of this extra money is spent here in the United States,” Stoltenberg continued, part of a pitch to shore up American support for NATO that is under attack from former President Trump. Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO allies for not spending more on defense. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been a vocal critic of the NATO alliance and has threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the alliance, or hold back American commitments to the defense of all members who have yet to increase their defense spending to meet the 2 percent mark.Biden said Monday that the number of countries in the alliance meeting the 2 percent spending mark “more than doubled” since January 2021.The statistic marks a key argument for Biden’s reelection campaign surrounding his leadership in NATO and his support for the defensive-military alliance. Trump’s supporters say that his antagonistic rhetoric has spurred allies to increase their defense spending. But the former president’s critics say his threats against the alliance undermine trust in the U.S.’s commitments.Biden will host NATO’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington in July. The summit is meant to serve as a celebration of the alliance’s history but will also serve as a pivotal meeting to demonstrate support and resolve for Ukraine in its war against Russia and ahead of an uncertain American election.Allies worry that a potential Trump reelection will see the U.S. pull back on its participation in NATO, threaten its unity or push Ukraine into a cease-fire with Russia on terms more preferable to Moscow.At the summit, NATO allies are expected to announce a number of initiatives to institutionalize the alliance’s support for Ukraine and that serve to take over the leadership role currently held by the U.S. This includes NATO taking the lead on organizing weapons procurement and deliveries for Ukraine — which is currently led by the U.S. — and a long-term financial pledge.

US-Supported Rutte to Become Next NATO Secretary General - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will be named the next secretary general of the North Atlantic alliance. The White House backed his ascension to become NATO’s top civilian official. Rutte will replace outgoing Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.In his bid for the job, Rutte has secured support from all 32 member states and is expected to officially take over at the NATO summit in Washington next month. He has served as the Dutch prime minister for 14 years, but reportedly plans to step down.Hungary was the last holdout for Rutte. Prime Minister Victor Orban saidBudapest threw its support behind him after he pledged that Hungary would not have to support the alliance’s proxy war in Ukraine.“I am aware of the outcome of talks between Jens Stoltenberg and you regarding NATO’s support for Ukraine,” he posted on X. “It is my understanding that you stressed that no Hungarian personnel would take part in these activities and no Hungarian funds will be used to support them.”During a 2018 press conference, Rutte interrupted when then-President Donald Trump was speaking to disagree with him. Gordon Sondland, who served as Trump’s envoy to the European Union, told POLITICO that Rutte “has had a history with him of pushing back when he thinks Trump is wrong, and he does it right to his face.”Sondland noted that Trump did not dislike Rutte despite their clashing views.The swell in support for Rutte comes in part because Western leaders believe he will be able to push Trump towards continuing the proxy war in Ukraine. However, Brussels has failed to implement any concrete “Trump-proofing” policies.

NATO Mulling Increasing Nuclear Deployments - NATO is considering whether to move nuclear weapons out of storage and place them on standby. The civilian head of the alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, also called on member states to increase spending on weapons.In an interview with the Telegraph published on Sunday, Secretary General Stoltenberg said the bloc could soon bring more of its nuclear weapons online. “I won’t go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” he told the outlet.While the official noted that “transparency” is an important part of a nuclear doctrine, he did not indicate how NATO’s nuclear policy might change other than by expanding the number of operations for nuclear weapons. NATO’s largest nuclear power, the US, has about 1,700 deployed nuclear weapons. Additionally, France and the UK have smaller nuclear stockpiles.Stoltenberg explained that part of NATO’s rationale for expanding its nuclear capabilities was to counter China’s expanding arsenal. Beijing’s growing military capabilities have come in response to Washington’s growing role in the region. An international arms watchdog released a report on Sunday saying China’s nuclear arsenal increased from 410 to 500warheads last year.President Barack Obama kicked off the world’s largest military buildup since World War II in the countries and islands surrounding China. Washington signed the AUKUS pact with Australia and the UK that will see more nuclear submarines operating in the region. Additionally, the White House has engaged in talks to bring Taiwan under Washington’s nuclear umbrella. Beijing has characterized all these actions as highly provocative.Stoltenberg also used the interview to call on members of the alliance to spend more on weapons, even if that means difficult cuts to domestic programs. “The reality is that we all reduced defense spending when tensions went down after the end of the Cold War. And now we need to increase defense when tensions are going up again.” He added, “I have been prime minister for 10 years, I know that it’s hard to find money for defense because most politicians always prefer to spend money on health, on education, infrastructure and other important tasks.”

NATO to Control Ukraine Aid to 'Trump-Proof' Arms Shipments - The US took a significant step towards preventing a future American president from curtailing weapon transfers to Ukraine by allowing NATO to coordinate the arms shipments. Washington and some of its allies are concerned that former President Donald Trump will end military aid and seek a diplomatic settlement to the war should he return to office.The bloc adopted the new policy during a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Friday. “With a command in Wiesbaden, Germany, NATO will coordinate training and equipment donations, with nearly 700 personnel from Allied and partner nations involved in this effort,” a press release from the alliance said. “NATO will also facilitate equipment logistics and provide support to the long-term development of Ukraine’s Armed Forces.”Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren explained that the bloc took the step as the war may grind on for some time, adding that coordination of arms shipments through Brussels will help prevent any country from altering its policy. “It’s to make it proof to any situation,” she said, observing that Russia’s war “might go on for years – so you want to have something in place that does not depend on specific persons, ministers or whoever.”One official told AFP that the move was meant to prevent Trump from changing US policy. “it is about Trump-proofing, and that is what Stoltenberg says, protecting it from winds of political change,” the official stated. “Any US president can pull the plug on it tomorrow.”On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to end the war within “24 hours” of returning to office, but has failed to explain how he plans to achieve that promise. Additionally, the former president gave his political support to the $95 billion foreign military aid bill signed in April – which included over $60 billion for Ukraine – helping to break the deadlock in Congress.Still, Trump’s statements about ending the war have caused concern among NATO members and Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensklyrecently asserted Trump would become a “loser president” if he ended the conflict and would make America “very weak.” In addition to agreeing to funnel all arms to Ukraine through NATO, the defense ministers agreed to step up intelligence-sharing with Ukraine, and “discussed the ongoing adaptation of NATO’s nuclear capabilities.” Stoltenberg said, “We are a nuclear Alliance – committed to being responsible and transparent. But clear in our resolve to preserve peace, prevent coercion, and deter aggression.” While the NATO chief did not provide details about what adaptations the bloc is making, in recent months, Sweden and Poland have expressed interest in hosting NATO nuclear weapons.

More now favor increased US international engagement: Survey - Most Americans now say they want the U.S. to be more engaged on the world stage, with support for that position rising 12 percentage points in the last six months, according to a new survey by the Ronald Reagan Institute. In the May survey, released Monday, 54 percent of Americans said they want the U.S. to be more engaged and lead in international events, up from 42 percent in the November survey. One-third of Americans said the U.S. should “be less engaged and react to events,” the same as six months ago. The increase in support for a more engaged foreign policy position extends across demographic groups but is driven largely by Democrats and younger Americans.Two-thirds of Democrats (66 percent) said they want the U.S. more engaged and leading on the world stage, up 20 points from November. Independents also saw a notable increase, with 41 percent expressing this view, up 15 points from November. A plurality of Republicans (48.5 percent) shared this view, up 4 points from November.Pollsters at Beacon Research and Shaw & Company Research, which conducted the survey on behalf of the Reagan Institute, said Democrats’ sharper rise in support for this position is “likely because they are receiving and accepting pro-engagement messages from the Biden administration.”The change in the last six months is also very pronounced among younger and non-college educated Americans. More than half (53 percent) of Americans under the age of 30 want the U.S. to engage more in world events, up 24 points from November. Among adults ages 30-44, support is similar, at 54 percent, an increase of 17 points from November. Half (50 percent) of Americans without a college degree support this position now, up 15 points from November. According to the pollsters, younger and non-college educated Americans were more inclined to hold isolationist views in the previous survey, bringing their views mostly in line with mainstream opinions. Since the previous poll in November, the Biden administration’s fight to get Ukraine aid through Congress came increasingly into focus, with officials warning for months that Ukraine could lose the war without it. The recent poll seems to suggest their message got through. For the first time, Americans see Ukraine as losing the war, with 39 percent saying Russia is winning and 19 percent saying Ukraine is winning. In November, 34 percent of Americans said Ukraine was winning, compared to 31 percent who said Russia was. At the same time, only 7 percent of Americans say they want Russia to win the war, compared to 59 percent who want Ukraine to win and 34 percent who don’t know or say neither.

White House proclaims “new era” of nuclear weapons “without numerical constraints”a day ago In an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph published Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made it clear that expanding the number of deployed nuclear weapons, in response to both Russia and China, was the central subject of discussion at last week’s NATO defense ministers’ summit. “I won’t go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues,” Stoltenberg said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing at NATO, for instance at meetings in NATO, a nuclear planning group as we had during the defence ministerial meeting this [last] week.” At a White House briefing Monday ahead of a scheduled visit by Stoltenberg for talks with Biden focusing on the war against Russia in Ukraine, spokesman John Kirby refused to deny Stoltenberg’s statement when asked whether “the President has taken part in consultations about deployment of more nuclear weapons.” In a follow-up question, Kirby was asked, “How can [Stoltenberg’s statement] not be perceived as provocation or an escalation?” He replied by saying, “NATO is a defensive alliance,” and since he had uttered these magic words, its actions by definition could not be a “provocation” or “escalation.” Stoltenberg’s statements come 10 days after Pranay Vaddi, senior director for arms control at the National Security Council, speaking to the Arms Control Association, proclaimed a “new era” for nuclear arms in which the US would deploy nuclear weapons “without numerical constraints.” Condemning “national weakness,” Vaddi said, “we may reach a point in the coming years where an increase from the current deployed numbers is required.” He continued, “We will have no choice ... We’re modernizing each leg of our nuclear triad, updating our nuclear command control and communication systems, and investing in our nuclear enterprise.” The US media, in line with the official propaganda of the Biden administration, has framed the semi-official decision by the Biden administration to abandon all limits on the deployment of nuclear weapons as a response to unexpected actions of Russia and China. It is no such thing. Instead, it is the consummation of a years-long plan to massively expand the US nuclear arsenal, which US think tanks christened in 2016 as a “second nuclear age,” language that was echoed six years later in the Biden administration’s proclamation of a nuclear “new era.”

Senate sends package bolstering nuclear power sector to Biden’s desk The Senate on Tuesday passed a package aimed at bolstering the nation’s nuclear power sector, sending it to President Biden’s desk. The vote was 88-2. Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposed the measure. While a White House spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether Biden will sign the bill, national climate adviser Ali Zaidi appeared to post on the social platform X in support of the legislation Tuesday. “Really appreciate the bipartisan efforts on advanced nuclear,” he wrote, along with a video of a speech by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) in favor of the bill. The nuclear package was combined with another bill that reauthorizes the U.S. Fire Administration and grant programs for firefighters, which will also go to the president’s desk. “We benefit from more tools in the toolbox as we take on the climate crisis — with the urgency the moment demands,” Zaidi added. The legislation is expected to speed up the timeline for licensing new nuclear reactors and cut fees that companies have to pay to do so. It also requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to put together a report that considers ways to simplify and shorten the environmental review process. “Hopefully it will be history-making in terms of small modular reactors, which is the future of nuclear,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told reporters Tuesday ahead of the vote. Supporters of the bill say it’s a big deal for the nation’s nuclear power sector. “It’s a facilitator of the process by which industry has to get approvals for building these projects,” said Lesley Jantarasami, managing director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s energy program. Jantarasami added that this is likely to lead to more nuclear projects being built.

China Blamed as West Fuels Nuclear Buildup - Washington accounts for the bulk of increased nuclear weapons-related expenditures, vastly outpacing both Beijing and Moscow. A recent report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says China is undertaking a “significant” expansion and modernization of its nuclear arsenal and predicts Beijing could be on pace to obtain in 2030 an equal number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMS) as Russia or the US. China’s actions are doubtless a response to the destabilization engendered by Washington’s new Cold Wars as well as the concomitant nuclear arms race successive American presidents have spearheaded this century.The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) says combined total spending on nuclear arsenals last year rose by $10.7 billion to $91.4 billion. Washington accounted for at least 80% of this rise in expenditures with a budget of $51.5 billion, spending more than all other nuclear-armed states combined. China and Russia lag behind the United States, in second and third place, with budgets of $11.8 billion and $8.3 billion respectively.Former President Barack Obama set in motion a “modernization” program for the entire US nuclear triad which will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years. The gargantuan policy demands a plethora of new long-range bombers, nuclear submarines, cruise missiles, and ICBMs.The latest annual SIPRI report finds that Beijing’s arsenal has reached a new total of 500 warheads as of January, representing an increase of some 90 warheads since last year. However, the watchdog group warns of the influence of Pentagon assessments even regarding its own studies.“SIPRI’s estimate of 500 warheads relies on publicly available information on the Chinese nuclear arsenal. Since China has never declared the size of its nuclear arsenal, many of the assessments here rely on data from the US Department of Defense (DOD) and must therefore be treated with caution. For example, in its 2023 report to the US Congress on Chinese military and security developments, the US DOD projected that China might field a stockpile of roughly 1000 warheads by 2030. This projection relies, however, on several assumptions about China’s future force posture and plutonium production; it remains to be seen how accurate they are.” SIPRI’s sample chapter on world nuclear forces reads.Washington Post reports this “expansion of China’s capabilities came as SIPRI warned that even as the total number of nuclear warheads around the world was declining as Cold War-era weapons were phased out, there were steady year-on-year increases in the number of operational warheads that could be used quickly in the event of conflict.”SIPRI’s analysis highlights that although virtually all of the 2,100 deployed nuclear weapons on ballistic missiles in a state of “high operational alert” belong to the United States or Russia, Beijing is now “believed to have placed some warheads on this level of alert for the first time.” These numbers could notably increase soon as NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg recently told the Telegraph the bloc is considering pulling a considerable number of nuclear warheads out of storage and placing them on standby. “I won’t go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Stoltenberg said. The previously mentioned projections regarding the future size of China’s nuclear weapons stockpile, assuming current growth rates continue, suggests Beijing could muster more than 700 warheads by 2027 and roughly 1,000 by the decade’s end. The Post clarifies that this “2030 estimate would still be less than a fifth of the current size of the U.S. inventory, which, according to the SIPRI report, was 5,044 warheads as of January. Russia has 5,580, according to the report.” SIPRI’s report shows that Washington and Moscow’s arsenals comprise 90% of the global nuclear weapons supply.

Washington Approves $360 Million Arms Sale to Taiwan - The State Department said on Tuesday that it has green-lit a $360 million arms sale to Taipei, including hundreds of armed drones, missile equipment, and other support material. China views Taiwan as part of its territory, and while it prefers to reclaim the de facto independent island peacefully, it has not ruled out using force if its “red lines” are crossed.The latest sale comprises 291 Altius-600M systems, which are drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), armed with warheads. The State Department release notes 720 Switchblade drones, described as “extended-range loitering munitions,” are also included with the package. The statement went on to claim that the sale “serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability.” Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te thanked Washington for the new hardware, insisting they will increase regional stability. “In the future, we will continue to strengthen Taiwan’s national defense strength, whether through … military purchases or our own efforts,” he said.Wednesday’s announcement follows reports this week that Chinese President Xi Jinping told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last year that he believes the hawkish US posture in the region and its increased military support for the island constitute an attempt to provoke an invasion by Beijing.Earlier this month, Adm. Samuel Paparo, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, told Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin he plans to wage a“hellscape” drone war, launching thousands of UAVs, drone boats, and unmanned submarines against China if it attacks the island. “I want to turn the Taiwan Strait into an unmanned hellscape using a number of classified capabilities,” he threatened. “So that I can make their lives utterly miserable for a month, which buys me the time for the rest of everything.”His predecessor, Admiral John Aquilino, said last year that he was instructed by Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and President Joe Biden to prepare for a direct war with China over the self-ruled island. “What I can tell you is the secretary and the president have tasked me with two missions. The first is to prevent this conflict. And then the second one is if I fail at Mission One to be ready and prepared to fight and win… the United States military is manned, trained, equipped, postured and ready to execute both of those missions,” the commander proclaimed. This was yet another confirmation that the White House has discarded the decades-old policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding what role the US would play in the event of a cross-strait war. Since taking office, Biden had made several ostensible “gaffes” suggesting the US, in fact, has a defense commitment with the island and that American men and women would be deployed to fight and die to protect its de facto independence. Last year, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and the then-top Asia official on the National Security Council, Kurt Campbell, reiterated that the policy was changed from ambiguity to strategic clarity, or an overt war footing.

Report: China’s Xi Says US Attempted To Trick Him Into Taiwan Invasion - During a conversation in 2023 with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Chinese President Xi Jinping accused the US of attempting to goad him into invading the island of Taiwan. This is according to people familiar with the matter, speaking with Financial Times. Despite a long spate of provocations by Washington that threatened to cross China’s “first red line,” undermining cross-strait peace and regional security more broadly, the Chinese leader said he would not take the bait. US provocations have continued into the current year.The meeting between the two leaders took place in April last year, although Xi’s claim about American intentions did not make it into any official press releases following their conversation. At the time, the Chinese Embassy in the United States stated, “On the Taiwan question, Xi Jinping stressed that it is at the core of China’s core interests. The Chinese government and the Chinese people will never stand for anyone trying to take advantage of the question. If anyone expects China to compromise and concede on the Taiwan question, they are having a pipe dream and would shoot themselves in the foot.” One person told the outlet that Xi issued a similar warning to Chinese officials as well.According to the same embassy statement, Von der Leyen “reiterated that the EU has no intention to change its long-standing one-China policy, recognizes the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and hopes that peace and stability will be maintained across the Taiwan Strait.”The FT report notes that this is the first known instance of Xi making this claim to a foreign leader, adding he “also said that a conflict with the US would destroy many of China’s achievements” and undermine his plan for his country’s “great rejuvenation” by 2049.Cui Tiankai, former Chinese ambassador to Washington, referred to the US when he told the Asia Society in January that Beijing will “not fall into the trap somebody may be preparing for us.”Although it appears to be changing now, for more than half a century, the one-China policy was also Washington’s official position regarding cross-strait relations. In 1979, the US cut formal ties with Taipei and recognized Beijing. The US continued selling arms to the island to bolster its defenses but, until the current administration, never financed such purchases themselves by providing military aid.In addition, prior to the Joe Biden administration, the US also maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding whether or not the US would militarily defend the island, its erstwhile ally, if mainland forces moved to reclaim the de facto independent territory by violence.This kept the peace for several decades, by leaving both sides uncertain about what the US role in such a conflict would entail. Critically, this “dual deterrence” strategy, as it was dubbed by officials, prevented Taiwanese officials from declaring de jure independence, which would likely spark a war. Cross-strait warfare would almost certainly turn nuclear if the US intervened. In 2011, President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Biden launched the “pivot to Asia,” the largest military buildup since the Second World War, shifting two-thirds of all US air and naval forces to the Asia-Pacific along with effecting hundreds of bases, encircling China for a future direct war. Former President Donald Trump further ramped up the pivot by drastically expanding the US military presence in the South China Sea, challenging Beijing’s territorial claims in these waters, waging a trade war against China, pushing through massive unprecedented arms sales to Taiwan, andupgrading diplomatic ties with the island by dispatching high-level officials there during the Covid-19 pandemic. Subsequent to the 2020 US election, the pivot’s “architect,” Kurt Campbell, was selected as Biden’s top Asia official on the National Security Council. In May 2021, Campbell declared “The period that was broadly described as engagement has come to an end.” He continued, “we are now shifting our strategic focus, our economic interests, our military might more to the Indo-Pacific.” Campbell has since become deputy secretary of state, signaling tensions with China will be stoked further.Biden has been vastly more hawkish on China than any of his predecessors, particularly on the Taiwan issue, about which Xi has personally admonished his American counterpart as being the “first red line that must not be crossed.” In addition to doubling down on the Trump policies, the White House has deployed roughly 200 troops to the island to instruct local forces for war with the mainland, had the National Guardtrain Taiwanese soldiers on US soil, repeatedly sailed warships throughand flown spy planes over the Taiwan Strait, and deployed Green Berets to Kinmen Island.In addition, the administration has secured rights to more bases in the Philippines provocatively close to Taiwan, lavished Taipei with billions inmilitary aid, worked to convert the island into a “giant weapons depot,” and discarded “strategic ambiguity” in favor of a defense commitment.Under Biden, virtually every branch of the US military has accepted war with China as a foregone conclusion and is preparing accordingly. Successive heads of Indo-Pacific Command have made clear they have been tasked by Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin as well as the president himself to prepare for war with Beijing over Taiwan’s sovereignty and even threatened to launch a “hellscape” drone war against China. Additionally, the US has reportedly been in talks with Taipei aboutbringing Taiwan under Washington’s nuclear umbrella.

US Reaffirms 'Ironclad' Support for Philippines After China Boat Ramming - America’s top diplomat reaffirmed the US commitment to a mutual defense pact with the Philippines after a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino ship in the South China Sea. Tensions between the People’s Republic and Manila have escalated as the Philippines has increased military ties with the US.The Philippines military reported that on Monday, a Chinese craft rammed a Philippine ship in an area of the South China Sea claimed by both Beijing and Manila. The Philippine army claimed the Chinese army attacked withswords and knives while its soldiers were unarmed. One Filippino lost a thumb in the exchange.US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson immediately denounced Beijing for the incident. In a post on X, she blamed China for “aggressive, dangerous maneuvers near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, which caused bodily injury, damaged Philippine vessels, and hindered lawful maritime operations.”On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a call with Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo on the matter. According to a State Department readout of the call, Blinken said China’s actions “undermine regional peace and stability and underscored the United States’ ironclad commitments to the Philippines under our Mutual Defense Treaty.”Throughout the Biden administration, top US officials have invoked the 1953 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty as a warning to China to back off from territorial disputes with Manila.Tensions between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea have escalated since Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office two years ago. He has since increased military ties with the US.Recently, the US deployed a Typhon launcher – a covert system that is concealed in a 40-foot shipping container and fires Tomahawk and SM-6 missiles – to the Philippines for war games. Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said the deployment increased the risk of conflict.“The United States and Philippine practices put the entire region under the fire of the United States (and) brought huge risks of war into the region,” Wu added. “Intermediate-range missiles are strategic and offensive weapons with a strong Cold War color.”

Senate Democrats push for women to register for the draft, sparking controversy - Senate Democrats have added language to the annual defense authorization bill to require women to register for the draft, prompting a backlash from Republicans and social conservatives and complicating the chances of moving the bill on the Senate floor before Election Day. Conservatives led by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) are certain to attempt to remove the provision requiring women to register for the draft, which could present a tough vote for Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and other Democrats in tight reelection races. Republican candidate Sam Brown, who is running against Rosen, is already making it an issue in the Nevada Senate race. Brown, an Army veteran who was severely burned by an improvised explosive device explosion, slammed Rosen in a video for voting to require women to sign up for the draft. “Look at my face. This is the high cost of war,” he posted recently on the social platform X. “Amy and I volunteered to serve, and we honor all who serve,” he wrote, referring to his wife. “But forcing America’s daughters to register for the draft is UNACCEPTABLE. Shame on Jacky Rosen.” In the video posted below those comments, Brown pointed to the scarring on his face as evidence of the dangers women would face in combat theaters. “Look at my face. This is the high cost of war and I just found out that Jacky Rosen voted this week to make signing up for the draft mandatory for our daughters. You’ll be hearing more from me on this,” he said. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called the provision requiring women to sign up for the draft “insane.” He accused the Biden administration of trying to implement a woke agenda at the Pentagon. “There shouldn’t be women in the draft. They shouldn’t be forced to serve if they don’t want to,” he said on Fox News. He criticized Democrats for wanting to experiment with the military, saying “normal people are like, ‘Leave our daughters alone.’”

Our Propagandized Society Is Like A Sick Man Who Doesn't Know He's Sick -- Caitlin Johnstone -- I write a lot more about the problems our society faces than I do about solutions. I do this because we are so far from being able to implement real solutions that most people don’t even really know the problems exist yet.I could spend my time talking about the need for a giant people’s revolution to dismantle the US-centralized empire, end capitalism and replace the competition-based systems which are driving us to our doom with collaboration-based systems where all of humanity cooperates with each other and with our ecosystem, but those solutions aren’t going to emerge anytime soon because public consent for the status quo order is still being manufactured with a very high degree of success. At this point in history’s unfolding I may as well say we should solve all our problems by inventing free energy and living in the sky like the Jetsons.Right now our society is like a sick man who (A) doesn’t know he’s sick, (B) refuses to believe he is sick, (C) believes the medicine is poison, (D) has no health insurance and can’t afford the medicine anyway, and (E) also has no means of transportation to get to the doctor. The very first step in that long list of obstacles to his health is to get him to understand that he is sick. That’s why I spend so much energy showing evidence that the media are lying to us, that we are ruled by psychopaths, and that our status quo systems are driving us toward annihilation. Westerners who spend their time posturing as brave revolutionaries online and talking about how ready they are to set up the guillotines and take up arms against the ruling class always remind me of LARPers, because they’re talking about something that has exactly zero chance of becoming a reality as things stand right now. They’re role playing as revolutionary militants like other people role play as warriors and wizards in an imaginary fantasy realm. They’ve got no skin in the game; their play-acting has no weight and carries with it no real material risk. Many who talk tough in their fantasy land would run like rabbits the instant things got real.Before those postures have any meaning, you must first create the world in which they could become meaningful. This is done by awakening other westerners to the reality of the abusive mind-controlled dystopia we live in.We’re in a burning house, and the people inside don’t believe it’s on fire and think you’re a crazy crackpot for saying it is. There are a whole lot of necessary solutions to that problem that are going to have to follow from that point like getting everyone outside, getting the fire extinguished, finding a place to stay, getting the house rebuilt, replacing all the stuff that you lost, and getting everyone’s life back to normal. But the very first order of business is pointing to the flames and the smoke until people believe you. Everything else follows from there.

Everything In Our Civilization Is Stacked To Keep Us Believing The Propaganda -- Caitlin Johnstone -It’s not so much that people buy into the mainstream propaganda worldview because humans are dumb, or because humans are selfish. Primarily, people buy into the mainstream propaganda worldview because humans are lazy. By this I don’t mean to say that people don’t work hard enough or don’t stay busy enough; humans sleep less than any other primate on earth, and if anything the world would probably be better off if our species chilled out a bit. When I say people are lazy, I mean we are lazy thinkers. And we are lazy thinkers for reasons that aren’t really our fault. The human brain is wired to select for cognitive ease, which means we tend to favor pathways of thought which require less mental strain in order to conserve energy — probably because our evolutionary ancestors needed all their mental energy for important stuff like finding food and avoiding saber-toothed tigers. If that wasn’t bad enough, our minds are also wired to preserve our existing worldview, so that the perspectives we form from our lazy preference for cognitive ease are held in place, and evidence which contradicts them will often be rejected. This is why facts don’t tend to change people’s minds.This lazy tendency to select for cognitive ease and defend the worldviews we construct as a result of that tendency is what gives rise to confirmation bias, because believing things which confirm our preexisting ideas about the world is easier than believing things which would blow our worldview apart. If you’re among those who’ve gone from fully believing the mainstream propaganda worldview to realizing that everything you’ve been trained to believe about the world is a lie, then you know how uncomfortable and disruptive this shift can be. Our psyches are stacked toward avoiding that work and discomfort, in the same way they’re stacked against exercising regularly even though we know it’s good for us — which by the way also happens because there was a time when conserving energy was beneficial for our species’ survival, causing an adapted preference for rest over exertion.This glitch in our minds is exploited by propagandists, who serve up power-serving information for us in ways that is palatable and easy to digest. You can see this immediately by watching Fox News or MSNBC; both channels are a nonstop deluge of propaganda promoting the information interests of the US-centralized empire, differing only in the types of confirmation bias they’re meant to appeal to.Silicon Valley reinforces this dynamic, with social media algorithms dividing people into self-reinforcing echo chambers where empire propaganda can be easily slid down their throats without the slightest twinge of gag reflex. So consent is manufactured for a giant, globe-spanning power structure using propaganda which takes advantage of cognitive biases that emerged in our consciousness due to evolutionary conditioning which arose under circumstances that no longer apply to human life in the modern world. We no longer need to seek out cognitive ease and preserve our worldviews to conserve mental energy for more pressing matters like avoiding prehistoric predators and other now-obsolete existential perils. In fact, in modern times our existence as a species is actually being threatenedby those ancient adaptations. The fact that nowadays we find ourselves psychologically herded en masse into worldviews which consent to a status quo that is killing our biosphere while marching us toward nuclear armageddon means our very survival depends on our overcoming our mental inertia toward learning the truth about our world, so that we can stop being propagandized away from revolution and start using the power of our numbers to force an end to that status quo.

Democrats say State Department should press India over Sikh activist assassination plot -- A group of Democratic senators is urging the State Department to increase pressure on the Indian government, following “credible allegations” it was involved in a failed plot to assassinate a Sikh activist, who was also a U.S. citizen, on American soil. In a letter sent Monday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the senators urged a “strong diplomatic response to ensure that all of those who were involved are held accountable.” The group, led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), also requested a briefing to understand the extent of the U.S. government’s “engagement with the Indian government on this matter.” “While we fully support the DOJ’s efforts to bring Gupta to justice and the Department of State’s prior statements, the Administration must match words with actions to hold Indian officials involved in the plot accountable, and to send a clear message that there will be consequences for such behavior,” Merkley wrote in the letter, which was signed by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “It is imperative that we take an unequivocal stand against such a threat to the rights of a U.S. citizen and violation of U.S. sovereignty, which are examples of India’s increasingly irresponsible efforts to silence critics of its government among its diaspora around the world,” the letter continued. The Justice Department in November accused Indian national Nikhil Gupta in an unsealed indictment of participating in a failed assassination plot of Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who lives in New York and is a U.S. citizen. The indictment said Pannun was recruited by an unidentified Indian government official. Pannun, who supports the secession of Punjab from India and the creation of a sovereign Sikh state, is considered a terrorist by the Indian government. Gupta was arrested in Prague last June, after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) foiled the assassination plot against Pannun. Gupta denies involvement in the plot. On Friday, Gupta was extradited from the Czech Republic to the United States to face charges of murder for hire and conspiracy to commit murder for hire, Czech Justice Minister Pavel Blažek said on Monday. The Associated Press reported that Gupta’s Czech attorney, Petr Slepička, previously said he was planning to file a constitutional complaint to the country’s highest legal authority and asked the minister not to allow the extradition, calling it a “political case.”

Washington conducted secret global anti-vaccine disinformation campaign against China -An investigative report published by Reuters on June 14 revealed that the Pentagon conducted a secret anti-vaccine disinformation campaign during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic as part of massive psychological warfare operations waged by Washington against China. Targeting the Philippines in particular, the lies and disinformation spread by the US military at the peak of the pandemic contributed to keeping the country’s vaccination rate at the lowest in Asia and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The Reuters report is detailed and extensive. In early 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Pentagon deployed part of its vast network of military personnel and contractors dedicated to the production of online propaganda and disinformation to wage a crusade of fear-mongering and racist attacks on China across various social media platforms, including Twitter (X), Facebook, and Instagram. Above all, the campaign targeted Sinovac, the Chinese company manufacturing an anti-COVID vaccine that was the first vaccine available in the Philippines. One senior military officer involved in the program bluntly told Reuters, “We weren’t looking at this from a public health perspective. We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud.” Hundreds of troll accounts and online bots operated by the US military attacked the vaccine with a barrage of lies in Tagalog and other languages: the vaccine was rat poison, it was part of a Chinese plot to take over the Philippines, it contained pork gelatin and was an attack on Muslims. The campaign was coordinated around the racist hashtag: #ChinaAngVirus (China is the virus). A health worker prepares to administer Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine inside the Makati Coliseum, in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) Most of this propaganda has now been taken down from Twitter, but its disgusting residue can still be seen on Facebook. The Pentagon trolls manufactured crude racist imagery, attacked Chinese manufactured and donated face-masks, COVID test kits and the Sinovac vaccine. The US Defense Department acknowledged the accuracy of the Reuters investigation, but claimed that its anti-vax campaign was a response compelled by China’s “disinformation campaign to falsely blame the United States for the spread of COVID-19.” This was not disinformation. More than any other country, Washington was responsible for the rampant spread of COVID-19 globally, due to its dominant role in world economy and politics. The “herd immunity” policy of mass infection pioneered by the Trump administration facilitated the spread and mutation of the virus, and the White House, under both Biden and Trump, put extraordinary economic and diplomatic pressure on other countries to follow suit. What the Reuters report documents is the extent of the culpability of Washington in the mass death wrought by the pandemic. US imperialism not only compelled much of the world to reopen, subjecting billions to infection and killing over 25 million people, it was the military headquarters of anti-vaccine propaganda. With hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, the operators impersonated Filipinos and other nationalities to attack basic public health measures and whip up fear of the only available vaccine. Their online lies were picked up by and trumpeted in the mainstream media. Only 2.1 million Filipinos out of a population of 114 million had been vaccinated by the middle of 2021. This was among the worst vaccination rates in Asia and any country where vaccines were available. The failure to vaccinate the population contributed to the Philippines having one of the worst death rates in the region.

TikTok files legal brief challenging US ban- TikTok argued in a legal brief filed Thursday that the new law potentially banning the application from the United States is unconstitutional and should be overturned. TikTok and its Chinese-based parent company, ByteDance, filed the lawsuit last month against the U.S. government shortly after President Biden signed the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversaries Act. In their first legal briefs, TikTok’s lawyers argued that the law is “unprecedented” and violates the First Amendment. “This law is a radical departure from this country’s tradition of championing an open Internet, and sets a dangerous precedent allowing the political branches to target a disfavored speech platform and force it to sell or be shut down,” the legal brief states. “The Constitution does not allow Congress to single out one speech platform, make no findings, announce no justifications, ignore less restrictive alternatives, and discriminate based on speaker and content. The Act is unconstitutional and must be enjoined,” the brief continues. The bipartisan legislation gives ByteDance 270 days to sell TikTok to a new company that will be allowed to operate it in the U.S. If not, the app will be banned from American networks and online application stores under the new law. The 99-page legal brief argues that a divestiture could take years. It also pushed back on the law singling out TikTok instead of other applications. The attorneys said the bill “ignores many applications with substantial operations in China that collect large amounts of U.S. user data, as well as the many U.S. companies that develop software and employ engineers in China, all of which pose the same purported risks.” They also filed a draft of a national security agreement it offered to the U.S. government in 2022 that aimed to address some of their concerns. The legal brief noted that the agreement was never signed, but that TikTok started implementing some of the measures outlined in the agreement. The legal brief said the agreement “would guard against foreign manipulation of TikTok’s content, including through third-party monitoring of TikTok’s content moderation practices, recommendation engine, and other source code.”

Biden announces plan for immigrant spouses of citizens to apply for lawful permanent residency in US, rollout remains uncertain -- Speaking from the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, President Biden announced an executive action he claimed would offer potential citizenship to immigrants without legal status who are married to American citizens. Calling it a “common sense fix” to the fact that half a million married and undocumented immigrants have been systematically denied their basic right to US citizenship, Biden is launching the program as a transparent electoral maneuver. The primary objective is to cover up Biden’s endorsement of the far-right policy of a crackdown and closing of the southern border and his implementation on June 4 of a Trump-style executive order that effectively abolishes the right to asylum in the US. In that action, Biden attacked both national and international law that establishes the right of refugees to seek asylum in the US regardless of where or how they enter the country. The White House attack on asylum seekers is part of a growing assault by the Democratic Party, including the recent evictions of migrants from government-run homeless shelters in New York, Denver and other US cities. According to an official fact sheet released by the White House, the new program for spouses is extremely limited in scope. To be eligible, “noncitizens must—as of June 17, 2024—have resided in the United States for 10 or more years and be legally married to a U.S. citizen, while satisfying all applicable legal requirements.” The statement does not give details or explain the “applicable legal requirements.” The Department of Homeland Security will review each case individually and, if a noncitizen qualifies, they “will be afforded a three-year period to apply for permanent residency.” The plan also offers 50,000 noncitizen children under age 21 with a non-citizen parent who married an American before they were 18 to apply for US citizenship. Immigration rights experts have pointed to other elements of the program that expose it as a trap, such as undocumented individuals who come forward to apply being denied and turned over to deportation authorities. The rules also contain criminal record bars, and they do not address the situation facing thousands of married couples who have already been separated. Significantly, the White House fact sheet on Biden’s supposed plan to “Keep Families Together” is largely devoted to explaining his actions taken to “secure the border,” including by barring asylum seekers from entering the country and deploying a record number of law enforcement personnel at the border. As CNN reported, “The action is aimed at appealing to key Latino constituencies in battleground states, including Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, that will be crucial for Biden’s chances to claim a second term.” It is not clear that the program will ever be enforced given the short amount of time before the 2024 presidential election, and the likelihood that an injunction from a right-wing judge will block it from going into effect. While Biden said the administration’s priority is “keeping couples together when they are married, where one spouse is a citizen and the other is undocumented,” White House lawyers argued the exact opposite position before the US Supreme Court in Department of State v. Muñoz eight weeks ago. In that case Sandra Muñoz, a US citizen, has been unable to live with her husband Luis Asencio-Cordero for nearly nine years because immigration officials in the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have prevented them from doing so. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2022 that Muñoz’s rights had been violated because the government refused to give the specific reason that her husband’s visa had been denie

Republicans slam Biden immigration order as election ploy - Republicans are accusing President Biden of trying to influence the 2024 election with his move to allow undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens an easier path to seek permanent residency, with some using a dubious claim that it would create more Democratic voters before November. Former President Trump, who said he would reverse the Biden order if elected, said that Biden was just “using” the migrants. “But he’s going to let everybody come in, because you know what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to sign these people up and register them,” Trump said during a rally in Wisconsin on Tuesday afternoon. The cynical response to the relief action announced Tuesday, which would apply to an estimated 550,000 individuals, has plenty of inaccuracies. The order streamlines paths to regularize their migratory status, including through work visa applications, and eliminates the need for certain migrants to leave the country to apply for permanent residency from abroad — a process subject to years-long waiting periods. But it does not create an influx of hundreds of thousands of new citizens and would certainly not add to the rolls of eligible voters before the 2024 election. Still, the fear of an influx of Democratic voters now or in the future is a core part of the GOP resistance to the Biden action. Trump campaign national press secretary Karoline Leavitt similarly said in a statement earlier in the day that Biden was “giving mass amnesty and citizenship to hundreds of thousands of illegals who he knows will ultimately vote for him and the Open Border Democrat Party.” “That’s their game plan. Get as many registered to vote as they can,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). “They don’t care about citizens, they don’t care about these people. They’re just looking for voters, and they’re trying [to] do as much as they can before the next election because they’re seeing the writing on the wall.” In response to Tuberville’s comment, one House Democrat made a quip about the famously slow speed of the federal immigration bureaucracy. “If only USCIS worked this fast,” said Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas), referring to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that processes immigration applications. For Republicans on Capitol Hill who had rejected a Biden-backed border compromise plan earlier this year, the order also serves as validation of their distrust of him on border and immigration policy. Biden earlier this month implemented another executive action intended to crack down on border crossings, turning away migrants seeking asylum on the border during days with a high number of daily encounters. Republicans had largely rejected a similar measure in a failed border bill compromise earlier this year. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said Biden is trying to “trying to play both sides” with the pair of executive actions. “The President may think our homeland security is some kind of game that he can try to use for political points, but Americans know this amnesty plan will only incentivize more illegal immigration and endanger Americans,” Johnson said in a statement. Johnson, too, said Biden’s action “is proof-positive of the Democrats’ plan to turn illegal aliens into voters,” and that he expects it to be challenged in court and struck down.

Texas Sees 74% Drop In Illegal Border Crossings Since Operation Lone Star, Gov. Office Says -Texas officials have reported a significant drop in illegal border crossings since Gov. Gregg Abbott implemented his state-level border security mission.According to a statement released by Mr. Abbott’s office on June 14, the initiative has resulted in a 74 percent decrease in immigrants crossing into the state illegally in Texas since Operation Lone Star was launched in March 2021.As part of the initiative, the Republican governor has deployed floating border barriers, installed wire fencing, and used the Texas National Guard to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.Since the program was launched, the multi-agency effort has led to nearly 514,000 illegal immigrant apprehensions and more than 44,000 criminal arrests, with more than 38,600 felony charges, the statement said.His office also emphasizes that law enforcement officials have seized over 489 million lethal doses of the synthetic opioid fentanyl during this period, noting the quantity seized is enough to “kill every man, woman, and child in the United States and Mexico combined.”Mr. Abbott argued that were it not for the state’s border security program, the apprehended or arrested individuals—along with “every ounce of drugs” seized—could have scattered into communities across the Lone Star State and other U.S. states.The Republican governor, meanwhile, criticized the Biden administration for its poor handling of the border situation, saying the new border executive order President Joe Biden signed earlier this month “will do little to stem the flow of illegal immigration into the country.”“As long as the Biden Administration refuses to provide any type of enforcement, any type of blockage, of people crossing illegally, all that this new Biden policy is going to do is to actually attract and invite even more people to cross the border illegally,” he said in the statement, citing his appearance on Fox News.

Schumer forced to pull vote on judicial nominee Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday pulled a planned vote on Mustafa Kasubhai’s nomination to be a district court judge in Oregon. Republicans had lined up in opposition to Kasubhai’s nomination, and Democratic absences forced Schumer’s hand. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) were all absent Tuesday, with Menendez having been absent for weeks due to his trial in New York. The Democratic leader is expected to try to get Kasubhai’s nomination across the finish line when they have full attendance. Democrats need all hands on deck because Sen. Joe Manchin (I-W.Va.) has said he will not vote for any nominee that does not have bipartisan support. That means they need all 50 remaining Democrats or Independents who vote with Democrats to be present. Kasubhai has garnered intense opposition among Republicans, who are hoping to tank his nomination. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) panned Schumer on Monday, saying that instead of using floor time on the annual National Defense Authorization Act, he “will dedicate floor time this week to the latest in the Biden administration’s parade of unfit nominations to the federal bench.” “Judge Kasubhai’s record and judicial philosophy put him well outside the mainstream,” McConnell said. The Republican leader also labeled him a “committed Marxist” who is more interested in “passing fads of woke politics” than following the law. “Judge Kasubhai’s record and judicial philosophy put him well outside the mainstream,” McConnell said.The Republican leader also labeled him a “committed Marxist” who is more interested in “passing fads of woke politics” than following the law.

Industry, clean power groups breath a sigh of relief as Senate approves energy regulators - Three nominees by President Joe Biden to serve on the nation’s top energy regulatory panel, which had risked losing a quorum, were approved last week by the U.S. Senate. The vote to approve the new members — two Democrats and a Republican — for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was cheered by industry, renewable power and environmental groups alike, who said a full a complement of commissioners is essential to the body meeting the challenges posed by an aging electric grid, a fast-shifting generation mix and debates over natural gas infrastructure, among other pressing energy issues.“We are pleased to see FERC will be restored to a full roster, which will help provide regulatory certainty and the attention needed on key questions impacting our nation’s energy systems,” said Todd Snitchler, president and CEO of the Electric Power Supply Association, or EPSA, which represents companies that own power plants in competitive electricity markets.“Having a full complement of five commissioners will allow FERC to keep advancing the vital work needed to deliver reliable, affordable and clean power to everyone around the country,” said Ted Kelly, director of clean energy at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. FERC, which regulates interstate transmission and wholesale sales of electricity, as well as interstate transmission of natural gas and oil, among other responsibilities, “rarely shows up on people’s radar screens,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “But its mission is essential. Every time you turn on the light or touch the thermostat or see new power lines go up, the rules, regulations (and) policies of FERC are at work.”Leaving the seats vacants, Schumer said, “could create serious backlog and delay, potentially slowing down new projects that power people’s homes and cites.”The new commissioners are: David Rosner, a Democrat and FERC energy industry analyst; West Virginia Solicitor General Lindsay See, a Republicanwho led the state’s successful legal fight against the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon rules; and Judy Chang, a Democrat, energy economist and the former undersecretary of energy and climate solutions for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She is also an adjunct lecturer and senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. They join Chairman Willie Phillps, a Democrat, and Commissioner Mark Christie, a Republican. Commissioner Allison Clements, a Democrat,announced earlier this year she would not seek a second term. By law, FERC has five members, with no more than three from the same political party. They are appointed by the president with the “advice and consent of the Senate” and serve five-year staggered terms.Though the commission will maintain a 3-2 Democratic majority, at least one environmental group has been critical of Rosner’s selection.Friends of the Earth called Rosner’s fossil fuel ties “disqualifying” andblasted his work with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, headed by the powerful and pro-coal Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia who in May switched his registration from Democrat to independent. Manchin recommended Rosner, who was also previously a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy and an associate director at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s energy project, for the commission seat last year, Politico’s E&E News reported. The Koch Industries-linked American Energy Alliance has also criticized Chang’s past opposition to new natural gas pipelines. But for the Senate, at least, the relatively smooth confirmation process appeared to show that having a full complement of commissioners was preferable to picking fights over individual nominees.“We all know that having a fully staffed FERC is going to make a lot of difference in what we do in this country,” Manchin told his colleagues Tuesday, adding that each of the nominees had cleared his committee with “extremely strong” bipartisan support.“Each of the nominees demonstrated deep experience on energy and legal matters, a commitment to follow the law and work within the authorities Congress has provided to FERC and a recognition that all of our nations’ sources play an important role providing affordable, reliable energy to families and businesses across our country.”

White House accused of scuttling Democratic support for ethics bill --House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) made sure to line up an equal number of lawmakers from each side of the aisle to serve as co-sponsors when they joined forces on a White House ethics bill last month. That careful balance soon fell apart, however, after three Democrats backed out of their previous commitments to support the bill — vanishing, Porter said, after the White House reached out to her colleagues. That backing slipped away, she said, on the eve of the bill’s introduction as she was boarding a flight back to Washington, D.C. “I was excited to come to Washington to introduce my bill. And was proud that I had found three senior Democratic co-sponsors. When I landed, I was really disappointed to learn that those co-sponsors had decided not to support the bill and had had conversations with the White House,” Porter told The Hill. The White House declined to comment on the accusation, and two of the would-be sponsors denied being contacted by Biden administration associates. But the episode sheds new light on the unraveling of an effort to secure bipartisan backing for a bill that would mark a major legislative achievement for Comer — the Republican leading the charge to investigate the Biden family. Lawmakers and other sources who spoke to The Hill said the three Democrats — Reps. Ro Khanna (Calif.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.) and Kweisi Mfume (Md.) — abandoned their plans to sign on to the bill over concerns about both its content and the way it could be used against the Biden family going into the campaign. “It’s too partisan a tool to cudgel the president as opposed to a serious effort of bipartisan ethics reform,” Khanna told The Hill when asked about his decision to drop off the bill.

IRS requests Congress to end employee retention tax credit - The IRS is getting blasted with bogus claims for the employee retention tax credit (ERC) and is asking Congress for help. IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel also said Thursday that the IRS had completed an internal review of the ERC claim process and will use information from the review to “deny billions of dollars of clearly improper claims.” “The program turned into a gold rush for promoters,” Werfel told reporters Thursday, requesting that lawmakers close down the ERC program. “Based on what we are seeing, we believe that closing the ERC program down to additional applicants would be the right thing to do,” Werfel said. The program was given a moratorium last fall, but Werfel said the IRS is still getting around 17,000 claims per week. Blame for the glut of fraudulent requests that are gunking up the agency was placed squarely by Werfel on advertisers and marketers of the credit, whose work promoting it “bombarded the airwaves” and resulted in a “gold rush” for their businesses, he said. The employee retention tax credit has already been on the radar of lawmakers and is now being considered for cancellation in the Senate as a way to pay for other tax credits, including other business credits and an expansion of the child tax credit.That swap of credits would total about $79 billion but has stalled in the Senate amid criticism from Republicans and Democrats.. All the bogus requests are preventing businesses with legitimate claims from getting them delivered by the IRS, Werfel noted. Werfel plugged that legislation Thursday, saying the IRS wants Congress to enact “ERC-specific” provisions in the tax bill, put forward by top tax writers Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.).

Judge blocks Biden's transgender student protections in 6 more states -- A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked a Biden administration rule expanding federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ students. The decision by U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves halts enforcement of changes to Title IX — the federal civil rights law preventing sex discrimination in schools and education programs that receive government funding — that were finalized in April by the Education Department in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.The new rule, which covers discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time, had been set to take effect later this summer. Reeves, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, wrote in his ruling that the plaintiffs — the six GOP-led states, an association of Christian educators and a 15-year-old girl — will “suffer immediate and irreparable harm” if the rule is allowed to take effect. “As [the plaintiffs] correctly argue, the new rule contravenes the plain text of Title IX by redefining ‘sex’ to include gender identity, violates government employees’ First Amendment rights, and is the result of arbitrary and capricious rulemaking,” Reeves wrote. His ruling comes days after another federal judge temporarily blocked the administration’s rule from taking effect in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana, after the states sued the Biden administration in April. Lawsuits challenging the rule in more than a dozen other Republican-controlled states are still pending. Although Title IX is a federal law, each administration takes a different approach to enforcing its regulations, which schools are then required to follow as a condition of receiving funding from the government. The Biden administration’s changes to Title IX are slated to take effect nationwide on Aug. 1, except in states where they have been blocked. Disapproval resolutions filed this month by House and Senate Republicans aim to strike down the rule before its enforcement date. Monday’s ruling in Kentucky was celebrated by the state’s Republican Attorney General Russell Coleman, who said the challenge brought against the new rule is part of a larger effort “to protect our women and girls from harm.” “We’re grateful for the court’s ruling, and we will continue to fight the Biden Administration’s attempts to rip away protections to advance its political agenda,” Coleman said in a statement.

Texas risks losing billions in federal funds over LGBTQ directive, Democrats say- Texas colleges and universities risk losing billions in federal funding if they comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) directive to ignore a new federal rule bolstering nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ students, Democrats warned a state education board Monday. In a congressional inquiry letter to Texas’s Higher Education Coordinating Board, the state agency overseeing public post-secondary education, four House Democrats from Texas said public colleges could violate students’ civil rights and lose government funding if they follow Abbott’s orders to disregard changes to Title IX — the federal civil rights law preventing sex discrimination in schools and education programs that receive government funding — that the Education Department finalized in April. The new rule, which covers discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time, is slated to take effect Aug. 1, though federal judges have temporarily blocked enforcement in 10 GOP-led states. Abbott in a letter to President Biden in April called the changes “illegal” and said his state would not implement them. Monday’s letter, led by Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) and signed by Democratic Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, accuses Abbott and other public officials who have pledged to reject the Biden administration’s rule of using schools as “political pawns.” “We acknowledge Texas colleges and universities have been placed in an undesirable position due to the coercive pressure of a zealous Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General with a proven track record of using the perks of their public office to punish those who don’t bend the knee to their prejudiced political program,” the lawmakers wrote. “If Texas educational institutions fail to adapt their policies in accordance with the forthcoming Title IX revisions, the consequences would be catastrophic,” they added. “By losing billions of dollars of federal funding, institutions would be unable to provide scholarships needed for most students to afford and access our colleges and universities. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of would-be Texas students would have their educational opportunity put at risk.” Refusing to adhere to the administration’s new rule, which also strengthens nondiscrimination protections for pregnant students and makes changes to how schools handle claims of sexual misconduct, may also put students’ civil rights at risk, Texas Democrats argued. They referenced a lawsuit filed last month by two University of Texas at Austin professors challenging provisions in the rule that excuse student absences for out-of-state abortions and require schools to respect transgender and gender-nonconforming students’ pronouns. “This type of prejudiced, narrow-minded view is the exact kind of harm Title IX’s civil rights protections were created to prevent,” the lawmakers wrote.

TikTok Bans Women's Rights Ads For Being "Offensive" - A clothing brand that stands for women’s rights in sports has had its ads permanently banned from TikTok with the platform stating that the content “may be offensive.”XX-XY Athletics, which specifically advocates for biological females only in women’s sports and single sex spaces for female athletes, has had all its content removed.Owner of the company Jennifer Sey shared the notification TikTok sent her, which states “your account has been permanently suspended because it does not comply with our advertising policies.”Tik Tok just permanently banned the ads for my company @xx_xyathleticsthat we only just started running.No mention of what policy was violated. @libsoftiktok @megynkelly@Riley_Gaines_ pic.twitter.com/DoBxOcuNSU— Jennifer Sey (@JenniferSey) June 18, 2024One of the ads features women and girls urging parents, athletes, and others to object to trans identifying males being allowed in women’s sports.TikTok removed this ad from their platform for violating community guidelines. Shocker. Should would be a shame if everyone shared this clip and bought from@xx_xyathletics pic.twitter.com/UVq3XaDsFN

Fauci says Trump dropped f-bombs during 2020 COVID-19 call -- Former chief White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci revealed in a forthcoming book that former President Trump dropped expletives during a 2020 phone call with him during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fauci recounted in a new autobiography that Trump dropped numerous expletives in the call just three months into the pandemic, according to reports from The New York Times and The Daily Beast.The Daily Beast reported that the rants included Trump screaming f-bombs at Fauci multiple times, according to the copy of the book obtained by the outlet.“The president was irate, saying that I could not keep doing this to him,” Fauci wrote, according to the Times.“He said he loved me, but the country was in trouble, and I was making it worse. He added that the stock market went up only 600 points in response to the positive Phase 1 vaccine news, and it should have gone up 1,000 points, and so I cost the country ‘one trillion dollars,’” Fauci reportedly said.The Times noted that Trump also added an expletive in that phone call, according to the memoir. The chapter of the book discussing Trump in the early days of the pandemic is titled, “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.”“I have a pretty thick skin,” Fauci continued, according to the Times. “but getting yelled at by the president of the United States, no matter how much he tells you that he loves you, is not fun.”The Times said that about 70 pages are dedicated to discussing the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Trump was in office.Fauci’s book, “On Call: A Doctor’s Journey in Public Service,” is 480 pages and will be released Tuesday. It reflects on his life experiences, including serving under seven presidents beginning in the Reagan administration. He was the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health for nearly four decades.

Anthony Fauci tells Stephen Colbert he sees ‘degree of schizophrenia’ in US -Former chief White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci said Monday night that he sees a “degree of schizophrenia” in the U.S. Fauci joined CBS’s “The Late Show,” where host Stephen Colbert asked the doctor if he was going to “diagnose America as a patient right now” what would it be? “Give it to me straight, doc,” Colbert said. Fauci said he thinks the late-night host would need a surgeon, not an internist — or a doctor of internal medicine. In reply, Colbert reframed the question, asking what Fauci would say if he were a psychologist. “There is a degree of schizophrenia in the country,” he said. “It’s just, it really is, I mean, how far apart people can be that they seem to forget how much alike we are, but we’re acting like we’re so, so different.” Fauci, who served in the Trump and Biden administrations and oversaw the country’s COVID-19 pandemic response, has become an enemy of the right after encouraging people to get vaccinated against the virus.

Neil Gorsuch blasts Supreme Court majority in drug trafficking case dissent - Justice Neil Gorsuch chastised the Supreme Court majority for ruling against a drug trafficking defendant Thursday, arguing the decision gives the government too much prosecutorial power. Delilah Guadalupe Diaz appealed to the justices after a jury found her guilty of importing methamphetamine across the U.S. southern border, a charge that requires the government to prove that Diaz was knowingly transporting drugs. Diaz, who asserts she was a blind mule and was unaware of the drugs in her car, contended that federal evidence rules did not permit prosecutors to have their expert witness testify to the jurors that most couriers know they are carrying illegal drugs. In a 6-3 decision Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected Diaz’s appeal. Justice Clarence Thomas’s majority opinion was joined by liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and four other conservatives: Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Gorsuch, former President Trump’s first appointee to the court who at times has broken with his fellow conservatives to side with criminal defendants, did so again Thursday, saying the expert testimony was inadmissible. “The upshot? The government comes away with a powerful new tool in its pocket,” Gorsuch wrote, joined by liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “Prosecutors can now put an expert on the stand—someone who apparently has the convenient ability to read minds—and let him hold forth on what ‘most’ people like the defendant think when they commit a legally proscribed act,” he continued. “Then, the government need do no more than urge the jury to find that the defendant is like ‘most’ people and convict.”

Supreme Court abortion pill decision ties issue to Trump-Biden race- The Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss a challenge to the abortion pill mifepristone means the drug’s future is now firmly tied to the 2024 presidential election. Anti-abortion groups said they were dealt only a temporary setback by last week’s ruling and are planning the path forward on how best to restrict access or get the drug removed from the market completely. The court left the door open to other legal challenges, including from a trio of red states in front of the same Trump-appointed federal judge who initially suspended mifepristone’s approval in 2023. But rather than wait for the courts to decide, a second Trump administration could act unilaterally through executive orders or agency rulemaking to impose strict limits on mifepristone. “The Supreme Court didn’t take any subsequent challenges off the table,” said Roger Severino, a former Trump administration official in the Department of Health and Human Services. But at the same time, Severino said the court “has left the ball squarely in the hands of the next administration to restore some semblance of safety to a very dangerous and poorly regulated chemical abortion regime.” While former President Trump has repeatedly said decisions on abortion are up to the states, former administration officials and advisers have telegraphed their plans for sweeping abortion restrictions, including on mifepristone, should the former president win back the White House in November. Trump’s vacillating positions frustrated anti-abortion groups early in the campaign, but they have put aside their criticisms to focus on what a second Trump term could do for the anti-abortion movement. “In a Trump White House, there’d be an immediate clearing of the weaponized HHS, FDA, EPA, that would be day one, and that we would have people who actually prioritize women’s life and health over the abortion industry interests,” said Kristi Hamrick, a strategist at Students for Life of America, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “With the right people in the right agencies, we can have people who are preemptively, proactively protecting women’s lives and health and addressing the harms of these pills,” Hamrick said.

Secret Service member robbed at gunpoint during Biden's weekend California trip - A U.S. Secret Service member was robbed at gunpoint in Tustin, Calif., last Saturday while President Biden was in the state for a Los Angeles fundraiser, according to authorities.The Secret Service member was returning from a work assignment late Saturday when an armed robbery occurred, prompting them to fire their service weapon, according to Secret Service spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi. Guglielmi noted the Secret Service employee was not injured and it is still unknown if the suspect was struck. The suspect and vehicle have not been located as of Monday afternoon, the Tustin Police Department said.The police said a 2004-2005 silver Infinity was seen leaving the area and asked the public for help in identifying the suspects. When police arrived on the scene shortly after 9:30 p.m., they discovered the Secret Service employee’s bag was stolen at gunpoint during the incident. Officers later recovered some of their belongings in the area, per police.

Almost 1 in 5 say student loan debt will have major influence on their vote --Almost 18 percent of Americans say student debt will have a major influence on their vote in November, according to a survey from Bankrate. Among the sample of those who have outstanding student loans — there are more than 40 million such borrowers in the country — that number rises to 29 percent. President Biden and former President Trump have vastly conflicting views when it comes to student loans. Biden has forgiven millions of dollars in student loan debt, attempted to institute universal loan forgiveness and significantly reformed income-driven repayment plans. Trump has been relatively silent on how he might tackle rising student loan debt, but he did make clear he thought the Supreme Court was justified when it struck down Biden’s debt relief for all. “Today, the Supreme Court also ruled that President Biden cannot wipe out hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions of dollars in student loan debt, which would have been very unfair to the millions and millions of people who paid their debt through hard work and diligence. Very unfair,” Trump said at the time. The Bankrate survey found 29 percent believe student loans are a national crisis, jumping to 46 percent among those who currently hold such debt. Twenty-seven percent say the federal government has not done enough to help with student debt, with 24 percent of borrowers saying they have trouble affording the monthly payments. “Student loan debt is often assumed to take a backseat to other pressing issues for voters, considering that a small portion of the U.S. population carry student debt,” Bankrate analyst Sarah Foster said. “Yet, often feeling helpless to the issue, Americans seem to be saying that they shouldn’t be left alone to handle the burden of student loan debt and that the complex challenges of student loan debt and college affordability are a responsibility their elected representatives should solve,” Foster added. The survey was taken May 16-20 and interviewed 2,407 U.S. adults, including 1,033 who had or currently have student loans to pay off. It did not list a margin of error.

Biden leans into Trump conviction --President Biden’s campaign is leaning into former President Trump’s conviction, suggesting it believes that reminding voters often enough that the presumptive GOP nominee for the White House is a felon will pay off at the polls in November. The emerging strategy is crystalized by a Monday campaign ad drop that highlights Trump’s conviction in the New York hush money trial on charges of falsifying business records to cover up an alleged affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels. It follows Biden calling Trump a convicted felon at campaign events, and comes as the president’s campaign and allies have made the Trump guilty verdict a staple of their messaging. The strategy to go all in on Trump’s conviction comes with risks. Republican lawmakers have rallied around the former president, arguing he is the victim of a politicized justice system. But Democratic strategists say they are comfortable with the approach, and cast it as a way to appeal to the middle of the country in an election that is widely expected to be close and decided on the margins. “Trump is now a felon, but he’s also been a crook, a con man, a one-term president, and the person responsible for Roe being overturned,” Jim Messina, former President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, told The Hill. “Not much has stopped his base from supporting him, and we shouldn’t assume a conviction will either. That said, this ad is a smart way to reach swing voters whose opinion will sway the election,” The new ad, which is part of a $50 million paid media campaign in June, seeks to underline the comparison between Trump and Biden to voters. It was unveiled ahead of next week’s critical debate, when Biden and Trump will face off in Atlanta. “The winner of 2024 will be the campaign that can make the election a referendum on the other guy, so the Biden team is logically going big on the New York verdict while Trump hammers Biden on inflation, immigration and questions about the president’s age and capability,” The Trump campaign pushed back on the ad, repeating its claims that Trump’s New York trial was a “sham” and mentioning polls that show Trump with a lead over Biden. Trump has a 0.9 percent lead over Biden, according to an aggregation of polls from Decision Desk HQ/ The Hill. “Crooked Joe Biden and the Democrats’ weaponized the justice system against President Trump and this new ad once again proves the sham trial was always meant to be election interference, but Americans see through it. Despite Biden’s failing campaign spending nearly $80 million on media buys, President Trump continues to crush Joe Biden in the polls, leading in every key battleground state and winning independents by double digits,” said Karoline Leavitt, Trump national press secretary.

White House slams 'bad faith' videos that claim to show Biden confused --The White House on Monday blasted a string of altered videos that purported to show President Biden wandering or standing in a state of confusion, calling the footage “bad faith” and a sign of desperation from Biden’s critics. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about the recent spate of videos, which stemmed from Biden’s trip to France earlier this month, his visit to Italy last week and his stop at a fundraiser Saturday. Jean-Pierre referenced a Washington Post article that called the footage “cheap fake” videos and said they were being spread in bad faith by “right-wing critics of the president.” “It tells you everything that we need to know about how desperate Republicans are here,” she said. “And instead of talking about the president’s performance in office, and what I mean by that is his legislative wins, what he’s been able to do for the American people across the country, we’re seeing these deepfakes, these manipulated videos,” she continued. “And it is, again, done in bad faith.” Polling has long shown voters have concerns about Biden’s age and cognitive ability to do the job as he seeks reelection at age 81, and the videos that spread in recent days served to feed into those concerns.The New York Post shared a clip last week that showed Biden with other Group of Seven (G7) leaders in Italy watching a skydiving demonstration. While the full view of the event showed Biden walking away to gesture toward one of the skydivers, the Post version of the video shows a narrower angle where it’s unclear who Biden is gesturing toward before the Italian prime minister nudges him back toward the group.A community note attached to the post on the social platform X points out the video had been cropped.Another New York Post clip focused on Biden standing on stage at a fundraiser with formerPresident Obama and late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. The Post wrote about the video under the headline, “Biden appears to freeze up, has to be led off stage by Obama at mega-bucks LA fundraiser.” At the end of the event, both Obama and Biden were leaving the stage, waving goodbye to the crowd. Obama grabs Biden by the hand and pats him on the back before they walk away.

Fox’s McEnany to Biden campaign: ‘You’re the one doing cheap fakes’ -Fox News’ Kayleigh McEnany attacked President Biden’s campaign for “doing cheap fakes” after the White House addressed a string of edited videos depicting the president looking confused or wandering off.McEnany and the other co-hosts of Fox News’ “Outnumbered” on Tuesday discussed White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s comments about a number of videos of Biden that circulated online in recent days. Jean-Pierre had referenced a Washington Post report that described some of the videos as “cheap fakes.”McEnany suggested that it was the Biden campaign spreading “cheap fakes,” by showing screenshots of three separate posts on social media platform X from the Biden-Harris HQ account. She posted a clip of her own comments on X, telling users to “check out all of the misquoting or mischaracterizing of Trump coming from the Biden campaign.”“These are cheap fakes. So, Karine Jean-Pierre. You want to talk about bad faith? Look in the mirror, go march down to Delaware. Talk to your campaign. You’re the one doing cheap fakes,” she said, referring to the posts from the Biden-Harris HQ account.Jean-Pierre was responding to videos of Biden that stemmed from his trip to France earlier this month, his visit to Italy last week and his appearance at a fundraiser Saturday. She said Monday that the videos that appear to show the president confused were done in “bad faith.”“It tells you everything that we need to know about how desperate Republicans are here,” she said.“And instead of talking about the president’s performance in office, and what I mean by that is his legislative wins, what he’s been able to do for the American people across the country, we’re seeing these deepfakes, these manipulated videos,” she continued. “And it is, again, done in bad faith.”The New York Post shared a video last week that showed Biden with other Group of Seven (G7) leaders in Italy watching a skydiving demonstration. In the video shared by The New York Post, it looked like Biden was walking away from the skydivers once they landed. A community note below the post states that the video was cropped.The New York Post also reported on Biden attending the event in Los Angeles over the weekend under the headline “Biden appears to freeze up, has to be led off stage by Obama at mega-bucks LA fundraiser.” White House and aides for former President Obama pushed back on this characterization of Biden.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. lashes out after failure to make CNN debate stage - Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Thursday lashed out after CNN announced its June 27 debate would be a head-to-head between President Biden and former President Trump, leaving the independent White House hopeful off the stage. “Presidents Biden and Trump do not want me on the debate stage and CNN illegally agreed to their demand,” Kennedy alleged in a statement from his campaign. “My exclusion by Presidents Biden and Trump from the debate is undemocratic, un-American, and cowardly.” Biden and Trump alone officially qualified for next week’s presidential debate, the first of the cycle, CNN announced Thursday.Kennedy had been scrambling to try to make the cut, but appeared unlikely to hit the polling and delegate benchmarks ahead of the deadline, which Biden and Trump have already cleared. The cable network required contenders to get 15 percent of support in four national polls and to appear as declared candidates in enough places to total 270 electoral votes — the minimum number needed to win the presidency — in order to participate in the event, hosted by moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. As an independent, Kennedy has had an uphill climb to ballot access. Kennedy has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), arguing CNN “colluded” with Biden and Trump to keep him off the stage — and the campaign on Thursday reiterated the allegation that CNN’s Biden-Trump debate is “a clear violation of federal law.” “If the debate goes forward without Mr. Kennedy, the Kennedy campaign intends to pursue this issue for as long as it takes to obtain justice against these illegal acts, if for no other reason than to ensure this type of undemocratic and un-American conduct does not occur again in the future,” Kennedy’s campaign said in a Thursday release.

Fascist justices implicated in January 6 coup head up corruption on US Supreme Court - In the first two weeks of June, new revelations have emerged of Supreme Court justices taking bribes from billionaire oligarchs, with the fascists implicated in the attempted overthrow of the 2020 election, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, first in line. Thomas, in particular, is far and away the biggest bribe-taker, having accepted millions in undisclosed gifts from Texas billionaire and Hitler-lover Harlan Crow. But Alito is also on the receiving end of lavish gifts from billionaire reactionaries, and Democratic liberals Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sonia Sotomayor are recipients of six- and high five-figure book advances, royalties and other payouts from private sources. Rulings over the past quarter-century—from the 5-4 decision that halted vote-counting in 2000 and handed the White House to George W. Bush, the loser of the popular vote, to the 2022 Dobbs decision that abolished the constitutional right to abortion—combined with repeated corruption exposures have rendered the court illegitimate in the eyes of a large majority of the population. The most recent polling shows that the Supreme Court has the support of only 34 percent of the American people. The last time in US history the high court was in such disrepute was the period when it was dominated by robed agents of the Southern Slave Power, with decisions like Dred Scott fueling the crisis that exploded in the Civil War, also known as the Second American Revolution. Such is the level of “regard” in which the nation’s top court is held, on the eve of decisions including Donald Trump’s claim that former presidents have full legal immunity for any official actions they carried out while in office, and the assertion that charges of “obstruction” of Congress against convicted January 6 insurrectionists should be overturned! On June 6, one day before the nine justices were due to release their annual financial disclosure filings, the watchdog group Fix the Court issued a damning report showing that justices received a combined $3 million in gifts over the past two decades, with the senior justice, Thomas, accounting for nearly 80 percent of the total. According to Fix the Court, Thomas accepted gifts totaling $2.4 million. The group noted that only 8.5 percent of the gifts to Thomas had been reported on his financial disclosure filings. When 101 “likely” gifts for Thomas, consisting mainly of lavish vacation trips reported by Pro Publica and other media outlets, are added, the total amount raked by all the justices from January 2004 to December 2023 rises to nearly $4.8 million. Thomas alone accounts for $4.2 million, making him far and away the most openly corrupt judge in modern American history (and arguably the most reactionary figure on the high court).

Appeals court denies Steve Bannon’s bid to avoid prison - An appeals court in Washington, D.C., denied Steve Bannon’s attempt to avoid prison Thursday.Bannon asked the federal appeals court earlier this month to delay his imminent prison sentence on contempt of Congress charges.The court denied his request, noting that his argument “does not a warrant a departure from the general rule.” In a 2-1 decision, the judges decided that a stay would not be warranted because Bannon’s argument does not bring up “a close question or one that very well could be decided the other way.”In early June, a federal judge ordered the onetime adviser to former President Trump to report to prison by July 1 and begin serving his four-month sentence for defying a congressional subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.In its ruling Thursday, the panel said Bannon “knew what the subpoena required yet intentionally refused to appear or to produce any of the requested documents.”The panel also pushed back on Bannon’s argument about him “willfully” refusing to do what was asked by the House committee. The judges cited the Supreme Court, which has “consistently recognized” that willful is a “word of many meanings.”“He provides no basis to conclude that a higher court is likely to upend the established understanding of ‘willfully’ in the context of contempt of a clear duty to respond to congressional subpoenas,” the judges wrote.Bannon was found guilty in 2022 of failing to appear for a deposition before the Jan. 6 House committee and refusing to produce documents.Last month, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected Bannon’s appeal of his conviction, and the Department of Justice moved immediately to incarcerate him.Bannon can now ask the full appeals court bench to review Thursday’s ruling or bring his request to the Supreme Court, which is a step his lawyers said they were willing to take, if needed.

Jim Jordan threatens Letitia James with subpoena over hush money prosecutor --House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is threatening to subpoena New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) in his quest to gain information about a top prosecutor on the Manhattan hush money trial of former President Trump. In a letter to James last month, Jordan demanded information about Matthew Colangelo, a former employee of hers who, in his current role with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, gave the opening statements in Trump’s New York trial. Jordan has sent letters to all of Colangelo’s recent employers, a group that includes the Justice Department along with James’s office and that of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D). In both New York jobs, Colangelo worked on prosecutorial teams that investigated Trump’s business or its affiliated charity. “Mr. Colangelo’s recent employment history demonstrates his obsession with investigating a person rather than prosecuting a crime,” Jordan wrote in May. Tuesday’s letter asks for the same set of documents about Colangelo’s employment, adding, however, that “the Committee is prepared to resort to compulsory process to obtain compliance with our requests” if James does not meet a July 2 deadline. James’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Colangelo is set to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on July 12 alongside Bragg. Trump is set to be sentenced the day prior after being found guilty on all 34 counts brought by prosecutors in relation to falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments to a porn actor ahead of the 2016 election. It will be the first time Congress has heard from any of the officials responsible for prosecuting Trump.

New York's Top Court Declines To Hear Trump's Gag Order Appeal The top court in New York state just declined to hear former President Donald Trump’s appeal of a gag order relating to his falsification of business records case. In a decision list, the New York Court of Appeals wrote that former President Trump’s appeal of Judge Juan Merchan’s gag order was “dismissed without costs” and added that “no substantial constitutional question is directly involved.” The court’s chief judge, Rowan D. Wilson, and Judge Caitlin J. Halligan did not partake in the decision. It means that the gag order will remain in effect for former President Trump, meaning he still cannot make public comments on certain individuals connected to the case. Judge Merchan has not signaled when he will lift it.Judge Merchan issued a gag order earlier this year against the former president, prohibiting him from speaking publicly about witnesses, jurors, court staff, and others who are connected to the case, although he allowed President Trump to criticize both the judge and District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the case. Later, the judge expanded his order to include members of his own family.During the trial, which ultimately resulted in former President Trump being found guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records, Judge Merchan fined the former president $10,000 for what he said were violations of the gag order. He also warned the former president that he might have to jail him if he continued to do so.On multiple occasions, former President Trump and his attorneys had asked Judge Merchan and other courts in New York to terminate the gag order, arguing that it violated his constitutional right to free speech as the leading Republican presidential candidate. In their appeal to the state Court of Appeals, the Trump attorneys argued that Judge Merchan’s order “restricts President Trump’s core political speech on matters of central importance” during the 2024 campaign.“It violates the fundamental right of every American voter to hear from the leading candidate for President on matters of enormous public importance,” his attorneys wrote to the court.Attorneys for Mr. Bragg’s office countered their arguments by urging the Court of Appeals to dismiss the former president’s appeal because he had made what they described as threatening and inflammatory comments about individuals connected to the trial.A lower court in New York state similarly rejected former President Trump’s gag order appeal in mid-May, finding that Judge Merchan “properly determined that” the former president’s statements “posed a significant threat to the integrity of the testimony of witnesses and potential witnesses in this case.”The judge “properly weighed petitioner’s First Amendment Rights against the court’s historical commitment to ensuring the fair administration of justice in criminal cases, and the right of persons related or tangentially related to the criminal proceedings from being free from threats, intimidation, harassment, and harm,” the ruling added.

Donald Trump files motion to recuse judge in NY civil fraud trial - Attorneys for former President Trump demanded Thursday that the judge who oversaw his civil fraud trial recuse himself from the case over allegations he improperly discussed it with an outside party. “Allegations have surfaced revealing this Court may have engaged in actions fundamentally incompatible with the responsibilities attendant to donning the black robe and sitting in judgment,” Trump attorneys Alina Habba and Clifford Robert wrote in a 24-page recusal motion. On Feb. 16, the day Judge Arthur Engoron handed down his multimillion-dollar judgment against Trump, a high-profile New York real estate lawyer said in an interview with NBC New York that he approached the judge about three weeks earlier to offer unsolicited advice about the case. “I saw him in the corner [at the courthouse] and I told my client, ‘I need to go.’ And I walked over and we started talking. … I wanted him to know what I think and why … I really want him to get it right,” the lawyer, Adam Leitman Bailey, told NBC New York on Feb. 16. Bailey later said that “the word ‘Donald Trump'” was never mentioned in the conversation, NBC New York reported, but when asked if it was clear they were discussing Trump’s case, the lawyer replied, “Well, obviously we weren’t talking about the Mets.” At the time, court spokesperson Al Baker told the outlet that Engoron’s decision “was his alone, was deeply considered and was wholly uninfluenced” by Bailey, denying any ex parte conversation where the case was discussed without all parties present. In an email to The Hill, Bailey contended that his remarks to NBC New York were “off the record” and said he “only discussed with the Judge the September Summary Judgment decision,” where Engoron found Trump and his co-defendants liable for fraud. “I did not think that speaking to Judge Engoron about my own personal views of his already published decision was wrong in any way,” he said. “I was tricked, I was duped and I’m devastated that any of this is happening, it’s just wrong,” he continued. “I am devastated and I am hurt that even though Judge Engoron is retiring very soon that he still has to deal with this, because of a statement I gave off the record.” The conversation between Bailey and Engoron sparked a state judicial conduct investigation last month. “The New York Code of Judicial Conduct exists to ensure that litigants are afforded a fair and impartial trial,” Habba said in a statement. “Justice Engoron’s communications with Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey regarding the merits of this case, however, directly violate that code and demonstrate that Judge Engoron cannot serve as a fair arbiter. “It is clear that Judge Engoron should recuse himself immediately,” she said.

Judges tried to get Aileen Cannon to hand off Trump documents case: Report - Two different judges urged Judge Aileen Cannon to hand off the Mar-a-Lago documents case against former President Trump when it was assigned to her last year, according to reporting from The New York Times. The entreaties were made after Cannon’s initial handling of Trump’s challenge to the warrant to search his home, with her appointment of a special master later being rebuked by a higher court that ordered her to reverse it. According to the Times, both judges suggested Cannon hand off the case after it was randomly assigned to her once prosecutors made the decision to formally charge Trump last June. Two sources indicated they heard about the discussions from judges directly, though both declined to name one of the jurists. The unnamed judge suggested it would be better for Cannon to let the case be heard in the Miami courthouse, rather than in her courtroom two hours north in Fort Pierce. The Miami courthouse already had a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, something the government has since had to build in Fort Pierce. Chief Judge Cecilia Altonaga, an appointee of former President George W. Bush who oversees jurists of the Southern District of Florida, would also go on to try and persuade Cannon to give up the case, reportedly telling her it would be bad optics for her to keep the case given her handling of Trump’s challenge to the warrant. The court did not respond to request for comment. Cannon was quick to appoint a special master in the case, withholding documents from prosecutors until the appointee had a chance to sift through the documents and make recommendations. That included on whether any of the documents should be withheld under executive privilege, a novel argument. When the government appealed the matter to the 11th Circuit, the appeals court sided with prosecutors while using harsh language in analyzing Cannon’s choices. “We cannot discern why [Trump] would have an individual interest in or need for any of the 100 documents with classification marking,” the appeals court wrote. It added later that “the district court abused its discretion” in making the appointment. Cannon’s supervision of the case has alarmed legal experts on both sides of the aisle. She has handled many matters that would typically be left to a magistrate judge, including in her appointment of the special master. She’s also handled the case at a slow pace, declining to set a trial date until she works through numerous pretrial motions before her. That includes a slated Friday hearing challenging special counsel Jack Smith’s appointment. Cannon’s indefinite punting of the case came after lawyers for both Trump and the government said they would be willing to go to trial by summer. She’s also given ample time to matters many judges would likely weigh more speedily, including scheduling hearings for a battery of efforts by Trump to dismiss the case rather than making a determination based on filings.

Winklevoss twins donate $1m each to Trump as champion of cryptocurrency | US political financing -Cryptocurrency tycoons the Winklevoss twins have each donated $1m in bitcoin to Donald Trump’s campaign and pledged to vote for the former president in November, claiming Joe Biden had “openly declared war against crypto”. Trump is “pro-Bitcoin, pro-crypto, pro-business”, Cameron Winklevoss declared on X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday. “And he will put an end to the Biden Administration’s war on crypto.” Tyler Winklevoss also posted a lengthy critique of Joe Biden’s policies on crypto. “It’s time to take our country back,” he declared. “It’s time for the crypto army to send a message to Washington. That attacking us is political suicide.” He claimed the Biden administration had used its regulators to stifle the crypto industry in a move that had “polluted the mission and corrupted the integrity of these agencies”. “The Biden Administration has tried to tear all of this down. I am not going to stand by idly and let them. I’m going to continue fighting for what I know to be so right,” he wrote. At a San Francisco fundraiser earlier this month, Trump – the presumptive Republican presidential candidate – presented himself as a champion for cryptocurrency and slammed Democrats’ attempts to regulate the sector. The Winklevoss brothers are each worth $2.7bn, according to Forbes. They have been grappling with a crypto crackdown, amid the wider fallout from the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange. Nearly two decades ago, the brothers sued Mark Zuckerberg for allegedly stealing the idea for Facebook from them, before they founded the cryptocurrency exchange Gemini. Gemini, which the twins run, has been banned from operating any crypto-lending programs in New York after allegedly misleading thousands of investors on the risks associated with its Earn scheme. Letitia James, the state’s attorney general, claimed that “hundreds of thousands of people” had been “swindled”.

The downfall of Gemini Trust's crypto lending program Gemini Trust Company, the New York-based cryptocurrency exchange and custodian, has agreed to return more than $50 million worth of digital assets to consumers as part of a settlement with the Office of the New York State Attorney General. The lawsuit against Gemini, which also included cryptocurrency firms Genesis Global Capital and Digital Currency Group, was filed by New York State Attorney General Letitia James in October of last year. James alleged that the three firms defrauded more than 230,000 investors, roughly 29,000 of whom were New York residents, of more than $1 billion through the Gemini Earn program. Investigations conducted by the attorney general's office purportedly concluded that Gemini executives knew Genesis' financials "were risky" and that the company's loans "were undersecured," according to an Oct. 19 press release.A second component of the suit also alleged that Genesis, its former chief executive Soichiro Moro, Genesis' parent company DCG and the CEO of DCG Barry Silbert, defrauded investors by attempting to conceal more than $1.1 billion in losses, according to the same release."These cryptocurrency companies lied to investors and tried to hide more than a billion dollars in losses, and it was middle-class investors who suffered as a result," James said in the release. Consumers engaged with the Earn program placed their holdings in bitcoin and other digital currencies into interest-bearing accounts that were tied to loans made to Genesis Global Capital, which were then collateralized by the digital assets. In return, consumers earned interest on the investments.As part of a settlement agreement with the state of New York last month, Genesis created a "Victims' Fund" to repay creditors allegedly defrauded through the Gemini Earn program. After initial bankruptcy payments are made to Genesis' creditors as part of bankruptcy proceedings, the company's remaining assets will be used to fund the pool. In the event that creditors are not made whole, the Victims' Fund will receive up to $2 billion from the firm's remaining assets to continue compensating Genesis' creditors until the fund is depleted.Gemini suspended the Earn program in November 2022 after Genesis announced it would not allow investors to withdraw crypto assets due to liquidity issues, and officially terminated the program in January 2023, according to a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission against the two companies that same month. Pursuant to last week's settlement, Gemini completed the final round of "coin-for-coin" Earn distributions to investors on June 14, returning the exact amount of invested digital assets to clients in the original currency — including any unrealized appreciation. The final distributionaccounted for the remaining 3%, or roughly $50 million, of assets owed to investors.

Cleveland City Hall again closed today because of ransomware attack - cleveland.com — City Hall again will be closed today because of the ongoing problems from a ransomware attack on the city’s computer systems.The ransomware attack was uncovered more than a week ago and City Hall has been closed during that time as the city deals with the fallout. The city has not said how long the closure could drag on, but efforts have taken weeks, even months, in other U.S. cities that have fallen victim to similar attacks. Some cities have paid millions to restore their systems.The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Ohio National Guard’s Cyber Reserve Unit have been assisting city IT officials in the wake of the attack.A news release Monday from the city says residents still can receive some services online, such as submitting applications for building and housing permits, certificates of disclosures, and lead certificates. Residents requesting birth or death certificates can submit applications online with the Ohio Department of Health. “We thank the public for their patience and understanding during this challenging time,” the city said in a statement. “City Hall remains committed to ensuring the security and integrity of our systems and services as we continue to recover from the cyber attacks.”

Experts: US Hospitals Prone to Cyberattacks Like One That Hurt Patient Care at Ascension -In the wake of a debilitating cyberattack against one of the nation’s largest health care systems, Marvin Ruckle, a nurse at an Ascension hospital in Wichita, Kansas, said he had a frightening experience: He nearly gave a baby “the wrong dose of narcotic” because of confusing paperwork.Ruckle, who has worked in the neonatal intensive care unit at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph for two decades, said it was “hard to decipher which was the correct dose” on the medication record. He’d “never seen that happen,” he said, “when we were on the computer system” before the cyberattack.A May 8 ransomware attack against Ascension, a Catholic health system with 140 hospitals in at least 10 states, locked providers out of systems that track and coordinate nearly every aspect of patient care. They include its systems for electronic health records, some phones, and ones “utilized to order certain tests, procedures and medications,” the company said in a May 9 statement.More than a dozen doctors and nurses who work for the sprawling health system told Michigan Public and KFF Health News that patient care at its hospitals across the nation was compromised in the fallout of the cyberattack over the past several weeks. Clinicians working for hospitals in three states described harrowing lapses, including delayed or lost lab results, medication errors, and an absence of routine safety checks via technology to prevent potentially fatal mistakes.Despite a precipitous rise in cyberattacks against the health sector in recent years, a weeks-long disruption of this magnitude is beyond what most health systems are prepared for, said John Clark, an associate chief pharmacy officer at the University of Michigan health system.“I don’t believe that anyone is fully prepared,” he said. Most emergency management plans “are designed around long-term downtimes that are into one, two, or three days.”Ascension in a public statement May 9 said its care teams were “trained for these kinds of disruptions,” but did not respond to questions in early June about whether it had prepared for longer periods of downtime. Ascension said June 14 it had restored access to electronic health records across its network, but that patient “medical records and other information collected between May 8” and when the service was restored “may be temporarily inaccessible as we work to update the portal with information collected during the system downtime.”Ruckle said he “had no training” for the cyberattack.

Turkey’s biggest crypto exchange BtcTurk hacked | Euronews - Turkey’s biggest cryptocurrency market BtcTurk said in an announcement on Saturday that their exchange had been hacked, while a popular Bitcoin analyst claimed that the amount of money stolen amounted to nearly 51 million euros. “Our teams have detected that there was a cyber attack on our platform on June 22, 2024, which caused uncontrolled withdrawals to be processed. Only some of the balances in the hot wallets of 10 cryptocurrencies were affected by the cyber attack in question, and our cold wallets, where most of the assets are kept, are safe,” the exchange said in the statement. A hot wallet is a cryptocurrency wallet that is always connected to the internet or another connected device - whereas a cold wallet is one that is offline and so safe from hacking. “BtcTurk's financial strength is well above the amounts affected by this attack, and user assets will not be affected by these losses,” the market added. The exchange further added that they are conducting a “detailed research” on the matter and security authorities have been noticed. “As a precaution, cryptocurrency deposits and withdrawals have been stopped and will be made available for use as soon as our work is completed,” BtcTurk concluded in the statement. “We thank you for your understanding during this process and inform you that we will share with you all developments regarding the issue.” ZachXBT, a well-known Bitcoin analyst said in a post on X that he thinks “the culprit is likely this address I have been watching who has been moving 1.96M AVAX ($54.2M) and transferring to Coinbase/THORChain.” The analyst also attached a cryptocurrency address to their post. Cryptocurrencies are highly popular in Turkey, and the country is the fourth-largest crypto trading market in the world. Cryptocurrency use in Turkey started to increase rapidly after 2020 as a defence against a deep slide in the value of the lira. Faruk Fatih Ozer, the founder of Thodex, one of Turkey's largest crypto exchanges that turned out to be an exit scam, was jailed last year for 11,196 years for defrauding investors of millions of dollars.

50 Cent claims hacker made $300 million in 30 minutes using his X account to promote crypto - Hindustan Times --50 Cent has claimed that a hacker made $300 million in half and hour after he used the rapper's website and social media handle to promote cryptocurrency. 50 Cent has made a bombshell claim that a hacker made $300 million in half and hour after he used the rapper's website and social media handle to promote cryptocurrency. 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis James Jackson III, alleges he was hacked and that the hacker fled with $300 million by using his platform to promote cryptocurrency .(Andy Kropa/Invision/AP) Taking to his Instagram handle on Friday, June 21, 50 Cent clarified he was not associated with the $GUNIT cryptocurrency that was being promoted on his website and on X account. He went on to say that the hacker had conned his admirers and fled with a sizable sum of money. 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis James Jackson III, alleges he was hacked and that the hacker fled with $300 million by using his platform to promote cryptocurrency. “My Twitter & Thisis 50.com was hacked,” the 48-year-old rapper posted on Instagram. “I have no association with this Crypto. Twitter worked quickly to lock my account back down. Who ever did this made $300,000,000 in 30 minutes,” he added. Responding to his post, one user wrote: “This hacker deserves a Grammy”. “I love crypto but that’s not cool,” another chimed in. Screenshots of the "$GUNIT" memecoin, whose market value initially hovered around $1 million, were featured in his Instagram post. It looked like 50 Cent's X account was still locked as of Saturday morning. In addition, his personal website was also taken down. At one point in the past, 50 Cent was kind of a part of the bitcoin movement. In 2018, the G-Unit leader responded to a TMZ article that claimed Fif got millions because he joined the Bitcoin craze early. In the same year, he gave his fans the opportunity to pay with it in exchange for his Animal Ambition record. The report states that The Queens generated sales of over 700 bitcoins, which were valued at about $662 each at the time. He allegedly made between $7 million and $8.5 million. According to The Blast report, 50 Cent was compelled to attest in a 2018 bankruptcy filing that he did not possess bitcoin and had no assets associated with it. 50 Cent admitted that he took some early bitcoin payments but never profited from them.

Monroe man loses close to $200,000 in Bitcoin scam | The Monroe Sun— A 43-year-old Monroe man told police he met a woman online, who shared a proposal to make extra money with Bitcoin. He thought he made $80,000 on his investment, but when he went to cash in, “taxes and late fees” led to a total loss of close to $200,000, according to police. Police said the scam artist directed the victim to a website where he could be added to a crypto wallet to pay the taxes and fees she said he owed to her directly in cryptocurrency. Lt. Kevin McKellick said not to send money to people you don’t know and to make exchanges in person when possible. He reminds residents: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. “The dark web and cryptocurrency sites are full of schemes and scams and people trying to separate you from your money,” McKellick warns.

Pastor arrested after allegedly using cryptocurrency to buy child porn— A former Palmetto pastor has been arrested for possession of child porn. According to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office (MCSO), they received information on June 20 that Jonathan Elwing, 43, used cryptocurrency to purchase child sexual abuse material. Elwing was a senior pastor at Palm View Baptist Church at 6803 34th Avenue East in Palmetto. MCSO deputies searched Elwing's home and the church where he worked. Detectives found four explicit images of children on his cell phone, according to MCSO. Elwing was arrested and booked into Manatee County Jail on four counts of Possession of Child Pornography. According to MCSO, he resigned from his position at the church before being arrested. MCSO is urging anyone with information about potential crimes involving Elwing to contact them at 914-747-3011.

A California senior lost $700,000 to crypto scammers. Now she’s asking the state to slow bank transfers -Alice Lin’s husband died, and she found herself alone and caring for a disabled son. Then two years ago, the 81-year-old Alhambra woman said she started getting texts from a stranger on a messaging app. Over the course of a series of friendly chats, he convinced her to wire $720,000 — her entire life savings — to a cryptocurrency app.So she did – in seven separate in-person transactions at her local bank over three weeks. Her life savings disappeared, along with the man who scammed her. For a time, she said she contemplated suicide. But then she got angry – at her bank.“Despite many red, red flags, my bank failed to consider that I might be a victim of elder fraud,”Lin told the California Assembly’s Banking and Finance Committee this week. “And they did not even contact my daughter, who is the joint account holder on the account.”In the months since, Lin started working with Consumer Attorneys of California to sponsorSenate Bill 278, a measure aimed at preventing elder fraud scams like the one that drained Lin’s investment accounts.The bill, by Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd, would require that financial institutions delay transactions of more than $5,000 by at least three days if they “reasonably” suspect an elderly person is a victim of fraud. Banks would be required to train their employees to spot red flags, such as an unusually large and sudden transaction. Banks would also have to take steps to inform an elderly customer’s designated “emergency financial contact” or joint account holder – someone like Lin’s daughter – of a suspected fraudulent transaction.“Elder financial abuse is everywhere,” Dodd told the banking committee. “Losses exceed $23 billion annually. Once a senior falls prey to financial fraud, they may never recover.”Dodd’s bill passed the Senate this spring with support from every prominent senior advocacy group in California, including the AARP. The measure originally faced intense opposition from the state’s banking and business lobbies, though they’ve since softened their stance after the bill was recently amended.The financial institutions cite worries that they’d be forced into defacto conservatorships that would give them too much control over an elderly customer’s finances. The restrictions would also limit how quickly customers get their cash for legitimate expenses.

Synapse bankruptcy puts bank-fintech partnerships on notice — Synapse Financial's bankruptcy and related regulatory actions against its partner bank are expected to sharpen bank regulators' focus on managing risks associated with third parties, potentially cooling the banking-as-a-service model and fintech-bank partnerships more broadly.Synapse — a fintech middleware provider that connected licensed banks with non-bank entities looking to offer banking services — abruptly shut down and filed for bankruptcy protection in April, freezing numerous transactions and leaving $85 million of customer deposits unaccounted for, as revealed in the company's Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.The Federal Reserve Friday issued a cease-and-desist order against Synapse partner Evolve Bank for shortcomings in managing its third-party fintech relationships — an order that originated from a routine supervisory review. A spokesperson for Evolve said the bank is working with its independent U.S. Trustee appointed in this matter and the other partner banks to get funds back to end users. "As a leading Banking-as-a-Service provider and member of the American Fintech Council, we advocate for modernizing regulatory guidelines to ensure safe and affordable financial services," the spokesperson said. Todd Baker, managing principal at Broadmoor Consulting and a lecturer at Columbia University, says Synapse's business model — being a middleman between fintechs and banks — is one that regulators are viewing with renewed skepticism. He says Synapse' trouble is going to create more difficulties for banks looking to fintechs to boost their capabilities and reach."Examiners are people," he said. "It's going to reinforce whatever concerns they have about the space in general. So they're going to be tough examinations, there's no doubt about it."The Synapse bankruptcy sits at the intersection of two supervisory issues that bank regulators have focused on in the last few years: Third party risk management and misrepresentations of FDIC insurance. The federal bank regulators have all set up special groups to more consistently examine banks that are providing partner banking services to fintechs. The agencies also issued guidance on fintech partners including third-party risk management and due diligence guidance. "Much of this guidance is general — not specific to fintech partnerships. The enforcement actions have provided some additional clarity regarding regulatory expectations, but the map is far from complete," he noted. "I would expect specialized exam manuals in the coming years to provide more specific guidance and set clearer expectations regarding how to implement third-party risk management for these specific kinds of partnerships."

Chase Bank Customers Are Reporting a Wave of Wire Fraud in their Accounts; the Bank Won’t Make Good on the Looted Funds - By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 19 2024 ~On January 29, Anne Marie Murphy and two of her colleagues at law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP in Santa Monica, California filed a lawsuit in Superior Court on behalf of a 76-year old widow, Diane Artemis Yaffe.Scammers had tricked Ms. Yaffe into making seven wire transfers out of her Chase Bank account, which tallied up to the astonishing sum of $1.8 million, or the bulk of her funds at the time. There are three things which jump out of the factual details in the case that would appear to be legally problematic for Chase Bank – the federally-insured, retail banking unit of JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. First, the six figure wires were completely out-of-character for this elderly client. Second, the huge sums were being wired out of the country. Third, the funds that Chase Bank wired were originally at Bank of America and were only transferred to Chase Bank because Bank of America had the good sense to refuse to make the wire transfers for this elderly widow.But rather than accept responsibility and make the widow whole, JPMorgan Chase has hired the international corporate law firm, Steptoe, to represent it in the court case. The bank has also forced the removal of the case out of state court to federal court (a move which is being very competently challenged by Ms. Yaffe’s attorneys), and appears ready to engage in copious motions to drag out the case.Knowing this bank’s history of felony counts and an unprecedented rap sheet, it occurred to us that these fraudulent wire transfers might not be an isolated event at Chase Bank. We went to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) complaint database and put “Chase Bank wire fraud” in the search box. It brought up 558 responses. If you consider that possibly one out of 50 Americans know about the CFPB’s complaint database and fewer still would take the time to file a complaint as opposed to going to law enforcement, the 558 complaints involving wire fraud appear to us to be deeply concerning. In addition, the dates of the filing of the complaints show that dozens of the complaints have occurred in the past six months in widely dispersed geographic areas including California, New York, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, Texas and Ohio, among others.On April 4 of this year, the CFPB received the following report from a Chase Bank customer in New York: (Redacted information, indicated by Xs, is how the complaint appears on the CFPB website.) “On XX/XX/2024, a total of {$130000.00} was wired out of my bank accounts with Chase Bank in New York without my authorization. I never send wires for more than a few XXXX dollars. I was not notified or warned by Chase. Usually they send an email advising when a wire transfer is made. This did not happen…To my immense horror, Chase had no interest in pursuing a serious investigation….”CFPB received this complaint from a Chase Bank customer in Colorado on April 2:“If you are a JPMorgan Chase customer be aware!!!!!! I was a victim of a non-authorized wire transfer within my JP Morgan Chase banking account. JPMC bank is refusing to help me get my {$9200.00} that was fraudulently stolen from my account because they say there is nothing they can do, that the $ was NOT stolen from them-JPM Chase but from me personally.”On April 1, a California couple wrote in their CFPB complaint that they had rushed to their local Chase Bank branch to stop a suspected fraudulent wire transfer and a Chase Bank employee indicated that the hacker was cloning an actual Chase Bank phone number to commit the wire fraud. The complaint states the following: […] In multiple cases, the Chase Bank customers’ cell phones were involved, suggesting that bank account information had been stored on the cell phone, which was then hacked by the scammer. In one case, the individual had taken her computer to be serviced and experienced a fraudulent wire transfer shortly thereafter, suggesting that the bank account details had been stolen during the servicing of the computer.

Fed gives more time to comment on payments service expansion | The Federal Reserve is giving the public an additional two months to weigh in on its proposal toexpand the hours of operation for two of its large volume payments systems.Early last month, the central bank proposed keeping its Fedwire Funds Service and its National Settlement Service rails open on holidays and weekends.Originally, the comment window on the proposal was set to close on July 8. The public now has until September 6 to submit feedback and respond to questions posed by the Fed. Under the proposal, the NSS — which handles multilateral private-sector clearing arrangements involving checks, securities and other private sector payments — would continue to operate 21.5 hours per day, while Fedwire Funds, which offers settlement of individual electronic funds transfers for transactions up to just under $10 billion, would still be open for 22.5 hours per day. As part of its proposal, the Fed has asked commenters for their thoughts on keeping the two systems running 24/7/365.The potential shift comes amid a period of increased demand for all-hours settlements. The Fed itself is contributing to this trend through its FedNow service, a round-the-clock instant payment platform designed to facilitate retail transactions that was launched last year. A similar, privately operated platform, The Clearing House's Real-Time Payments Network, has been operational for roughly six years. The Fed is also facing pressure to expand its operating hours in response to last year's large bank failures. Two of the institutions that failed, Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, both struggled to access the Fed's last resort lending facility, the discount window, in the hours before their failure. Multiple government reports have noted that greater access to the discount window — which is separate from the two services under consideration for greater service — would not have prevented the banks from failing. But the episode has demonstrated that the Fed is overdue for modernizing its back-end payment functions.The Fed has been weighing changes to its payments systems since 2019. In 2022, it sought industry input on expanded operating hours as part of its rollout of a new financial system messaging standard known as ISO 20022.The standard goes into effect next year, but the proposed changes would not have to be implemented until 2027, the Fed noted, giving banks time to adjust to the new requirements.

Warren pushes Powell to tee up Basel vote — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to convene a vote on the central bank's proposed Basel III endgame capital rules by the end of the month. In a letter to Powell sent on Monday, Warren cites a report from The Wall Street Journal that outlines a series of meetings between Powell and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, as well as other CEOs of large banks, that influenced Powell's thinking on the Basel III endgame proposal, which would raise capital requirements for those banks. "This is a highly disturbing turn of events," Warren said. "Your opposition to the Basel III rules is not new. But it now appears that you are directly doing the bank industry's bidding, rewarding them for their extensive personal lobbying of you. "Instead of doing Mr. Dimon's bidding, you should do your job and allow the Board to convene for a vote on a 16% capital increase by June 30th, as global regulators determined was necessary to prevent another financial crisis," Warren said.Warren also made a point of Powell's seeming disagreement with the Fed's vice chair for supervision, Michael Barr, who has led the Fed's rulemaking process on Basel. While Barr has defended the proposals — which have received fierce pushback from the banking industry — Powell has been more open to criticism of them. In March, Powell told lawmakers that expects the proposal will go through "broad and material change," and Republican lawmakers havepleaded with Powell to nix Barr's proposal. "Vice Chair Barr supports the current iteration of the Basel rule — and your actions to overrule him are not consistent with the intent of the law," Warren said.

Fed, FDIC ding four of the largest U.S. banks' unwinding plans -— The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Federal Reserve have found Citigroup's living will to be lacking, although the two agencies disagree as to the severity. Four of the plans that the largest U.S. banks must submit that outline how they would wind down in the event of a crisis were found to have weaknesses, according to the Fed and the FDIC. Those institutions include Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.The FDIC, however, reached a "different conclusion" than the Fed on the severity of Citi's plan. The FDIC determined that Citi's plan "is not credible or would not facilitate an orderly resolution" under U.S. bankruptcy law, and would consider the weakness to be a "deficiency." The Fed, meanwhile, found that Citi's weakness is a "shortcoming," a less severe rating. The FDIC's finding is largely symbolic in this case. The two agencies said that when one agency finds a shortcoming and the other finds a deficiency, the bank's plan is deemed to have a shortcoming. The FDIC, in what could be Chairman Martin Gruenberg's last board meeting atop the agency, voted on the "deficiency" finding in a closed session on Thursday, over concerns about the bank's ability to get a handle on its data governance. Earlier in the day, the board voted to finalize stricter standards on the resolution plans of large regional banks, and to speed along the merger review process. Citi has worked for years to assuage regulators' concerns over the way it handles data in the event the bank needs to wind down. Both the FDIC and the Federal Reserve identified shortcomings in Citi's living will in 2022, citing concerns with how it manages financial data and how that could impede its ability to produce accurate reports under stress. A Citigroup spokesperson said that the bank continues "to make substantial investments to modernize our infrastructure, including the work we're doing to automate data and regulatory reporting processes." "We have rigorous, firm-wide stress testing and resolution planning processes and we're always working to improve and strengthen those capabilities," the spokesperson said. "Our balance sheet and financial health remains strong, with high levels of capital, liquidity and reserves. We continue to have confidence that Citi could be resolved without the use of taxpayer funds or an adverse impact on the financial system." Specifically, the Fed and the FDIC have concerns over Citi's capability to unwind its derivatives portfolio, according to a letter from the pair of agencies to the bank. Citi's "ongoing weaknesses" regarding data reliability meant that its calculations of resolution capital and liquidity needs were inaccurate, the agencies said in the letter.

Insufficient Supervisory Board Competence as a Risk Factor for Banks -- The Credit Suisse crisis illustrates how poor governance can lead a large bank into a crisis despite compliance with capital requirements. Recent research on supervisory board competence in banks has provided interesting new insights. This column updates an index of supervisory board competence for a sample of German banks and compares their performance in 2023 versus 2008. Although competence measures have improved for most banks, large gaps remain across banks and also between public-sector and private-sector banks. Bank supervisors should systematically measure, track, and report bank board competence and its alignment with a bank’s business.The global banking market is once again experiencing turbulent times. Following two bank failures in the US, Credit Suisse, one of the major European banks, suffered a liquidity crisis in March 2023 after a decade of both poor governance and disappointing performance. In his book on the failure of Credit Suisse, Swiss financial journalist Dirk Schuetz (2023, p. 57) makes the following assessment of the appointments to the Board of Directors in 2015: “Roche boss Severin Schwan was appointed as the new Vice Chairman [of Credit Suisse], a proven pharmaceutical expert without in-depth financial knowledge. Or Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sebastian Thrun: a luminary for self-driving cars but hardly for ailing balance sheets. […] For the first time in history, probably the wildest of all major global banks was led by two non-bankers – and the banking expertise on the Board of Directors was meagre. And the supervisors from FINMA nodded off all personnel decisions.”Is the lack of financial expertise on the board of Credit Suisse and its ultimate failure a pure coincidence? Or is supervisory board competence an important factor in determining long-term bank risk?From a legal perspective, a competent supervisory board is responsible for ensuring that competent managers on the management board have the day-to-day business under control, that the right incentives are in place at the bank level, and that a business model is pursued with a sustainable balance between profitability and risk. To fulfil these tasks, however, the members of the supervisory board must also understand the banking business, and particularly the complex products and risks in the global financial markets.However, banking and financial market expertise is by no means a given. During the financial crisis of 2007/08, we were able to show in a much-cited study that the competencies of the supervisory boards of German banks differed greatly (Hau and Thum 2008, 2009). The more competent the supervisory and administrative boards were, the lower the average losses suffered by a bank during the financial crisis (Figure 1). The differences between private and public-sector banks were striking. The boards of directors of many public-sector banks lacked a deeper understanding of complex financial products, which also explains the disastrous performance of Sachsen LB, Bayern LB, and HSH Nordbank.

BankThink: In the fight against junk fees, don't neglect international payments | American Banker -- The Biden administration has been driving forward its "junk fees" initiative to support consumers and protect them from unnecessary, hidden costs in their everyday lives. This is important work, but right now that focus is solely on consumers, missing an important opportunity to support businesses. Specifically, the small- and medium-size businesses, or SMBs, that make up the vast majority of our economy. For businesses of this size the challenges are unique. Often there is no safety net when dealing with cash flow, employee sourcing and retention, customer or client service and the ability to scale. Relying on tools for financial, employee and operational management are critical to success. That's why it's no surprise that SMBs experience hidden costs that could be described as "junk fees" in their business operations daily.Many SMBs, especially sole proprietors, are operating globally from day one. They may be working with international clients, managing freelancers abroad or using a vendor in another country. All of this involves international payments. Unfortunately, that's where one of the biggest "junk fees" exists for these businesses, who have more trouble negotiating foreign exchange rates than larger players. In 2023 alone, SMBs lost nearly $800 million in hidden exchange rate markup on international payments.What is hidden exchange rate markup? Exactly what it sounds like: international money transfer providers showing customers a bloated exchange rate. This allows them to take a fee while telling customers their services are "fee-free" or "no fee." When you're running a small business with global ties these fees will seriously add up over time and make a big impact on your bottom line.This practice is dishonest and does a disservice to the SMBs that are crucial to America's economic success. Leaders of these businesses are taking note — because it stifles their growth. A recent survey of SMB leaders found that nearly half (49%) cite complex international payments as an obstacle to global expansion. International payments, and the hidden fees from these payments, are directly hindering SMBs from competing on a global scale.

FDIC, OCC find stakeholders hard to please with merger review guidelines — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's revisions to their respective bank merger review guidelines have garnered criticisms and praise from stakeholders with radically divergent views about what merger reviews are supposed to promote or prevent.Jeremy Kress, business law professor at the University of Michigan and former attorney at the Federal Reserve, wrote a comment letter in support of the elevated scrutiny in the FDIC proposal versus that put forward by the OCC because it would give regulators a freer hand to prevent mergers that result in unfavorable levels of competition for consumers."Bank mergers are not inherently objectionable," he wrote. "Some mergers — particularly among small community banks — can be socially beneficial. The Proposed [statement of policy] is generally well designed to flag proposed mergers that pose the greatest risk of societal harm for closer scrutiny while allowing unobjectionable mergers to continue receiving swift approval." Kress said the FDIC proposal rightly requires banks to affirmatively prove their consolidation will better serve their communities, automatically subjects mergers that would result in an institution of above $100 billion of assets to higher scrutiny and relies less on the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index and more on holistic evaluation of a transaction. The HHI measures market concentration and is used to assess the competitive effects of mergers. But industry experts and policymakers have argued that the HHI is outdated for bank mergers because it narrowly focuses on local deposit markets and fails to account for the broader and more modern context of banking competition, including the rise of digital banking and non-bank financial institutions.But opponents of the FDIC proposal argue the vague standards presented by the agency could hinder beneficial mergers and make it harder for stronger banks to acquire weak ones. Sheila Bair and Thomas Hoenig — the former chair and vice chair of the FDIC, respectively — said in a comment letter that the proposal oversteps the original intent of the Bank Merger Act, which they say only requires agencies to prevent monopolies or substantially anticompetitive effects. The former regulators argue this gives the FDIC too much discretion to block transactions for unclear reasons. They also note that the largest existing firms achieved such size through the current lower standards, meaning higher scrutiny could prevent other firms from becoming large and complex.

Sen. Brown: OCC 'must do more' on bank merger review — Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said in a letter to acting Comptroller Michael Hsu that his agency should update its bank merger review proposal to be more stringent. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency earlier this year released a proposal revamping how the agency reviews bank mergers, including nixing a timeout clause on how long the agency can take to review a merger application. While the proposal would allow the OCC to heighten scrutiny on proposals, progressive academics and policymakers have said that it doesn't go far enough. Just a short time later, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. released its own statement on bank policy merger transactions that, unlike the OCC version, includes more scrutiny for banks with assets over $100 billion. It's one of the issues that a potential incoming new chair — should Brown usher through Christy Goldsmith Romero's nomination — would need to finalize in the short time that person leads the agency. Brown, in a letter to Hsu, said that mergers involving larger banks should "automatically trigger enhanced scrutiny." He cites Capital One's proposed acquisition of Discover as a prime example, saying that the deal "calls attention to an undefined space" in the OCC's proposal — the treatment of mergers that would create an institution with more than $50 billion in assets. "It is imperative that the Policy Statement clarifies that transactions undertaken by large, non-[Global Systemically Important Bank] institutions would also raise supervisory or regulatory concerns," Brown wrote. Although Brown said he supports the general direction the OCC is heading with removing the timeout clause, he took a less critical tone in a similar letter to FDIC chair Martin Gruenberg on that agency's bank merger proposal. Brown also pressed Hsu on tougher requirements for banks when it comes to reviewing a merger's impact on the surrounding community. His comments are part of a larger push by the Biden administration in antitrust policy to increasingly consider the wider impact of a merger or acquisition on the economy, rather than narrowly considering competition. "When it comes to crucial issues like potential job losses and other factors that affect Americans' access to banking services, the OCC must do more than just give these issues some thought," Brown said. "The OCC must only approve mergers where it can identify how a proposed transaction is responsive to the whole of a bank's communities' needs, including those of both its customers and employees."

FDIC board approves stricter resolution plans, faster merger reviews — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board Thursday voted along party lines to ramp up disclosures larger banks must submit as part of their living wills and unanimously approved a new procedure aimed at speeding up approvals of merger applications. The FDIC put forward the proposed changes last fall, saying the proposed changes would improve the effectiveness of resolution plans — also known as "living wills," which banks were required to develop after the 2008 financial crisis. The rule was last updated in 2012. FDIC says compared with the proposal, it made a few changes to the final rule after reviewing multiple comments from concerned parties which weighed in. "The final rule retains the proposed requirement that the strategy developed in the resolution plans of the largest banks not be dependent on a sale executed over the weekend following the institution's failure," FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg said at the meeting. "It generally requires the bank to explain how it could be placed into a bridge depository institution, how operations could continue when separated from its parent and parent affiliates and the actions that would be needed to stabilize a bridge depository institution."The final rule establishes two tiers of insured depository institutions based on asset size, each with their own requirements to ensure they are resolution plan ready. Banks with at least $100 billion in total assets are required to submit full resolution plans which include comprehensive end-to-end strategies for resolving the bank under various scenarios and detailed valuation analyses of the entire franchise and its components. FDIC also will require these largest firms to demonstrate their ability to quickly establish virtual due diligence data rooms — that contain the necessary information that would allow interested parties to submit bids for the entire institution or its constituent parts. Larger banks must also submit information aimed at upholding continuity of operations, including identifying key personnel and contractual obligations essential for maintaining critical bank functions during the sale. These banks are also subject to a two-prong credibility standard, where both the banks' strategy and the supporting information must be credible and verifiable. Submissions occur on a three-year cycle, with interim annual supplemental filings to address any notable changes. Smaller banks with between $50-100 billion of assets are required to submit limited informational filings rather than full resolution plans. These filings focus on providing critical data and analysis necessary for the FDIC to develop resolution strategies but do not require the detailed scenario-based resolution strategies the largest firms must submit. The agency notes banks below $100 billion are still expected to demonstrate capabilities to support the FDIC's marketing and resolution efforts, such as establishing virtual data rooms, but with reduced content requirements. These institutions follow a similar three-year submission cycle with interim updates.

FDIC sets up two oversight offices in wake of scandals -The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is setting up two new divisions to help oversee employee conduct and improve hiring practices.The new offices, announced Friday morning, are part of the agency's response to last month'sbombshell report on sexual harassment, discrimination and various other misconduct. The revelations — and ensuing political fallout — also resulted in FDIC chair Martin Gruenberg announcing that he would step down upon the Senate confirmation of a replacement.The Office of Professional Conduct, or OPC, will be tasked with taking in and investigating complaints about harassment and violations of the agency's conduct policies. Meanwhile, the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, or OEEO, will be responsible for reports of discrimination.The FDIC plans to name new corporate officers to lead the new divisions. Those individuals will report to the agency's board of directors."The FDIC Board adopted these fundamental structural changes to the agency's current framework for handling claims of harassment, discrimination, other interpersonal misconduct, and retaliation following feedback from FDIC employees, as well as recommendations in an independent third-party review of the agency's workplace culture," the FDIC said in a prepared statement. "The new offices approved today will have separate functions because each must operate under distinct sets of law and policy."Acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael Hsu, who sits on the FDIC Board of Directors, praised the creation of the two offices, calling it an "important step in protecting the employees of the FDIC and earning back their trust."

Republicans hold their fire on FDIC chair nominee Christy Goldsmith Romero, President Joe Biden's pick to chair the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., isn't ringing any early alarm bells yet with Republicans, but whether she has garnered consensus or Republicans are biding their time remains to be seen. Most Republicans, so far, are taking a wait-and-see approach with her nomination, according to interviews with and statements from Senate Banking Republicans. They will have the first formal opportunity to question Goldsmith Romero when she comes before the Senate Banking Committee for a confirmation hearing, which has not yet been scheduled. "I am still reviewing the qualifications of Christy Goldsmith Romero and look forward to meeting with her in the coming weeks ahead of her confirmation hearings," said Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.Sens. Katie Britt, R-Ala., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., shared similar sentiments. Senate Banking Committee ranking member Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said his statement from the day the White House announced their intent to nominate Goldsmith Romero remains unchanged. "I will review Christy Goldsmith Romero's nomination to ensure she has the qualities necessary to support employees, lead the FDIC through the changes it desperately needs, and return credibility to the independent agency," Scott said in his statement last week. Goldsmith Romero's confirmation would usher in a new age at the FDIC. She'd be the first Democratic policymaker to lead the agency other than current Chairman Martin Gruenberg, who has said he will resign once a successor is confirmed, since the Clinton administration. After an era at the agency that's been defined by a limited set of voices for more than two decades, the shift to Goldsmith Romero comes with a lot of unknowns about policy and enforcement, especially given her relative lack of experience in the banking regulatory world. As the chair of the agency, Goldsmith Romero would have control over the FDIC board's agenda, and she would control how aggressively the agency pursues certain rulemakings and policy, such as finalizing or restarting the Basel III endgame proposal.

BankThink: It's time for a more collaborative approach to bank regulation | American Banker It must be the regulator in me but even during seemingly prosperous times when economic indicators paint a picture of growth, my mind drifts toward the next downturn and its potential impact on banking. Finance is cyclical and downturns inevitably follow better times, just as the rain follows the sun. The question is not whether there will be an economic downturn or whether banks will have to manage problem loans and regulatory scrutiny. It's how regulators and banks can do better during the next downturn than they have done in the past. This is a critical question at this juncture not only for the well-being of American banks but, even more importantly, for the U.S. economy and the well-being of all our citizens, particularly low- and moderate-income Americans.This issue preyed on my mind as I addressed the Community Development Bankers Association Peer Forum last week. Neither these banks nor other smaller banks cause economic downturns. Indeed, banks in general do not cause economic downturns but are often swept into a downturn caused by non-bank institutions and/or market forces. On the contrary, banks, but particularly community banks, including importantly minority depository institutions, work tirelessly in their communities, day in and day out, to build opportunity and lasting value. However, when downturns come, people lose jobs, businesses struggle and banks must work with their customers to preserve value.If the past is prologue and nothing is done, one should expect regulators to react aggressively when a downturn occurs. But let me suggest a different trajectory, one that benefits the regulatory community, the overall national economy, Americans (particularly low- and moderate-income, or LMI, citizens), and the banking industry alike. Through no fault of their own, LMI individuals caught in an economic downturn, particularly a steep one, tend to lose their homes, small businesses and any chance to build wealth in their lifetime. Black Americans are particularly vulnerable, experiencing high job losses during downturns and often facing last-in, first-out hiring practices. And community banks, and especially community development banks and minority depository institutions, too often are rent asunder at the same time.Banks and regulators should strive for ways to work collaboratively to bridge downturns in a way that minimizes unnecessary loss without sacrificing safety, soundness and accurate reporting. What is the difference between pursuing a collaborative approach and an unnecessarily confrontational one?Knowledgeable bankers with a history of sound management and willingness to collaborate with regulators should be given leeway to address problem loans and preserve value (for customers and themselves) notwithstanding temporary risk increases. Ideally, banker-regulator collaboration would determine a reasonable timeframe (such as maximum recovery period) to avoid unnecessary harm to families and businesses.Forbearance isn't for permanently impaired loans, banks lacking sufficient capital, liquidity, or adequate provisioning, or those lacking recovery plans if needed. But for financially sound banks where loans or other investments are likely to recover their value in a reasonable period, time should be granted to work with borrowers, including terms changes if needed, to minimize downturn loss and disruption.It's a question of discretion and restraint in cases where examiners view management as capable of resolving transient problems on their own. A supervisory approach without such discretion and restraint will perpetuate what has too often happened: banks write down loans and sell the loans and/or the underlying collateral, only to see buyers make a fortune on the "distressed" assets just a few years later. However, if management does not achieve suitable and timely progress under this period of observation, the regulator can trigger sterner action without delay.This same approach should also be pursued in calmer times. This often means that when times are reasonably good, as is the case now, bankers and supervisors must create meaningful dialogue. Supervisors should be sufficiently self-confident and knowledgeable about bank matters such that they can successfully persuade banks to act — and be persuaded themselves that perhaps certain demands are of less importance than they seemed at first blush. Ultimately, supervisors have the final say, but listening first can create better outcomes.

BankThink We need to rely on facts when we measure banks' climate risk | American Banker --In a recent American Banker article, "Banks can't measure climate risk? I live it every day," Roishetta Ozane relates her personal experience with a tornado that tore through the offices of the Vessel Project, the disaster relief and environmental justice organization she founded. She speaks of the "broken homes and livelihoods we are trying to pick up" from this event and others. Turning to policy, she observes, "It must be nice to not know what the risks of climate change are, and clearly if you're the CEO of a Wall Street bank or the chairman of the Federal Reserve you get to live in an ivory tower far from the danger and despair." Banks and regulators may be more aware of the risks than she realizes, however. They carefully review the available evidence on climate science in order to understand the risks that may be present.The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, is the United Nations body responsible for assessing the state of scientific knowledge concerning climate change. Its recent report "Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis," is the most current authoritative statement on the physical foundations of climate change. Chapter 11 of the report states that there is "low confidence" that tornadoes have gotten worse over the last 40 years as a result of climate change, although it is likely that hurricane translational speeds have slowed over the U.S., implying more precipitation and flooding.The Federal Reserve Thursday released a report on its climate scenario analysis pilot assessing the impact of climate change on big bank portfolios and found that loan defaults could increase as a result of climate events and shifts toward a lower carbon economy.Banks and regulators will typically measure the climate risks of banks by performing stress tests that assume climate risks are worse than they are today, usually by assuming that future climate conditions will hold. For example, the Fed's climate scenario exercise that Ozane referred to required banks to undergo a highly complex and thorough climate scenario exercise. The results of the exercise yielded important insights into the climate risks faced by banks. The exercise revealed that extreme weather events 30 years from now would produce relatively small risks for the banks tested, giving comfort that a banking system that is resilient to climate risks will be able to perform its necessary lending function following an extreme weather event.Ozane is certainly right to focus attention on the suffering that extreme weather events inflict on underserved communities. There, she should see the nation's banks as an ally. When banks lend after a weather disaster, homes can be rebuilt to current building standards, reducing the risk of future damage in extreme weather events. Rebuilding to current building standards also lowers insurance costs. The research article "Tracing out capital flows: how financially integrated banks respond to natural disasters," published in the Journal of Financial Economics in 2017, tells the story. After a natural disaster, local banks increase their lending by about 25%, with the lion's share going to mortgage loans. Banks generally increase their lending for six months following a disaster.Climate change poses great risks to our civilization, and those risks should be studied and reduced through responsible legislation and voluntary private sector efforts. Those risks, however, at this point do not appear to include significantly worsening weather events that are causing losses to banks. Direct regulation of the cause of climate change is appropriate; identifying false risks to the banking system is not.

The Supreme Court may soon defang bank regulators — especially the CFPB --In its 13-year history, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has survived two major Supreme Court challenges, either of which could have defanged the agency.A 2020 ruling reduced the CFPB's independence, but it stopped short of finding that the agency was unconstitutional. And last month, the high court handed the bureau a key victory by upholding its funding mechanism.But the CFPB is not out of the woods. A forthcoming Supreme Court decision, which is expected to be released within the next few weeks, could take a major bite out of the agency's rulemaking powers.The pending decision will determine how much deference the courts give to regulators in interpreting the laws that give them the power to write rules. It has big implications for not just the CFPB — and U.S. banking regulation more generally — but for federal agencies that oversee a broad range of industries. Experts say the stakes of a ruling that curtails regulatory power, which is widely seen as the likeliest outcome, are particularly large for the CFPB. The consumer bureau has a reputation as being more aggressive than some other federal agencies. During the Biden administration, companies have not been shy about suing to challenge its regulations."It puts consumer protection in real jeopardy," said Susan Weinstock, CEO of the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer advocacy group. "We'll have judges making these decisions, and they could end up being not based on facts, and not based on what's happening in the marketplace."Industry lawyers have a different view of the CFPB's work — they generally believe that the agency has shown a tendency to reach beyond its statutory authority — but they agree that the consumer bureau will be a particularly ripe target for corporate litigants if the Supreme Court reins in regulators' power."It would not be a good situation, to put it mildly, for the CFPB," said Alan Kaplinsky, senior counsel at Ballard Spahr.At stake in a pair of cases currently pending before the high court is the future of a legal doctrine known as Chevron deference, which got its name from a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1984.The key tenet of the 40-year-old decision is that when there is ambiguity about the meaning of federal laws, judges should give deference to agencies' interpretations. If that deference goes away, the courts will have greater latitude to overturn the agencies' rules.The CFPB, which is the brainchild of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has been a political lightning rod since it was established during the Obama administration. But so far, when CFPB rules have been invalidated, it has not typically happened through the courts. A 2017 agency rule barring companies from including mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer contracts was overturned through a congressional resolution, as was a CFPB bulletin related to discrimination in auto lending.

BankThink: The CFPB is constitutional, and its opponents need to move on | American Banker -- When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's funding structure last fall, it seemed pretty clear to me at the time — and I would venture to say to most people watching — that the case wasn't going to go the plaintiffs' way. I would not have bet on the opinion affirming the CFPB's funding structure as constitutional beingwritten by Clarence Thomas, but the fact that it was seemed only to affirm the impression that the Supreme Court's appetite for constitutional arguments about the CFPB has been fully sated.And yet it seems that some dreams never die. The plaintiffs in that case last month thesubmitted a motion in the 5th Circuit arguing that the court "erred in its disposition of the non-Appropriations Clause challenges in this case, which the Supreme Court did not review," signaling their intention to keep the party going. In the 5th Circuit's 2022 opinion — which found the bureau's funding unconstitutional, teeing up the Supreme Court's decision almost two years later — the appellate judges granted summary judgment on all of the plaintiffs' complaints save for those related to the bureau's funding, saying that "for the most part, the Plaintiffs' claims miss their mark." The CFPB filed its own motion in response, arguing that the deadline to appeal the rest of the decision has long since passed. This comes as a new argument about the unconstitutionality of the CFPB's funding is gaining steam — at least among lawmakers receptive to such an argument — that holds that because the bureau is funded by the Federal Reserve's "earnings," and because the Fed has not yielded a profit since 2022, the bureau has been unconstitutionally funded since that time and thus its regulatory actions are null and void.I think even the plaintiffs in Community Financial Services Association of America v. CFPB must know that their bid to reopen the case is a long shot, though the 5th Circuit is where legal long shots get their fairest hearing. I don't know that the novel legal theory — authored by Harvard Law professor emeritus Hal Scott, who has offered these litigative pitches on financial regulatory issues before — is the one that the plaintiffs intend to tee up even if they get a rehearing. What I also don't know is why this or any other theory would prevail if the last one didn't, and thus why pursuing more litigation on this score is a productive use of anyone's time.Let's presume for a moment that Scott's argument about the Fed's earnings is the one that gets litigated and comes before the Supreme Court. The best plaintiffs can hope for is a deep meditation on whether "earnings" is synonymous with "profits" or "income." If the court decides it is the former, it would establish a regime whereby a federal agency drifts in and out of being funded — or at least being funded constitutionally — and that seems like an outcome that even this Supreme Court is inclined to avoid. More to the point, the plaintiffs' case is based on the validity of the bureau's 2017 payday lending rule, which was promulgated well before the Fed stopped turning a profit. But even if there is some other constitutional argument out there against the CFPB's existence, its chances of succeeding where the last two have failed seems increasingly remote. That isn't to say that CFPB actions can't be challenged in court — many already are, and depending on how the forthcoming Supreme Court opinion on the Chevron doctrine goes, those challenges may become routine. But brute force challenges to the existence of the CFPB seem like a dead end for everyone except litigation attorneys.That is not to say that opponents of the agency are out of options — Congress could pass a law abolishing the bureau or amending its structure any time they want. But there are not and have not been the votes to do so because protecting consumers from scams is generally popular and abolishing an agency so charged is unpopular. Of course, public opinion can change and is susceptible to influence. It is also true that if former President Trump wins in November, the actions coming out of the CFPB will likely be viewed more favorably by the agency's opponents. Individual lawsuits against individual agency actions may yield favorable results for affected industries. Giving up the dream of defeating the CFPB once and for all doesn't necessarily mean taking each of its actions lying down.But it's time to change gears and acknowledge that there is no souped-up Delorean that can take us back to 2010. The CFPB is here to stay — and if the agency's opponents want to be here to stay, too, they should set their sights a little lower.

Court challenge to CFPB's $8 credit card late fee rule to remain in Texas An appellate court ruled Tuesday night that a lawsuit challenging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's $8 credit card late fee rule will remain in Texas rather than being sent to a court in Washington, D.C. as the bureau had preferred. A federal appeals court ruled that litigation challenging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's $8 credit card late fee rule will remain in Texas and not be transferred to Washington D.C. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the case will be tried in Fort Worth by District Court Judge Mark Pittman, rejecting a second order to transfer the case to the D.C. Circuit. The CFPB could appeal for a rehearing by the Fifth Circuit, but industry experts think the case will remain in Texas. The rule remains on hold while the litigation is ongoing, the CFPB said. "The industry is on the cusp of winning this case," said Alan Kaplinsky, senior counsel at Ballard Spahr. The 5th Circuit is widely viewed as hostile to the CFPB and favorable to industry since it ruled in 2022 that the agency's funding structure is unconstitutional.

CFPB asks appeals court to reject payday efforts to keep litigating | The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to reject a request by payday lenders to reopen an appeal to the agency's small-dollar rule aimed at keeping the rule from going into effect next year. On Friday, the CFPB sent a letter to the 5th Circuit asking the court to reject payday lenders' efforts to reopen a forthcoming appeal that is expected to be based on a novel legal theory that the CFPB's funding from the Federal Reserve System is only valid when the Fed turns a profit. The deadline for payday lenders to petition for a rehearing expired on Dec. 5, the CFPB said. But the effort has gained new impetus with the payday lending industry trying to keep the payday lending rule from going into effect on March 30, 2025. "The Court should reject Plaintiffs' request that it depart from its standard procedures when this case returns from the Supreme Court so that Plaintiffs can take the extraordinary step of trying to reopen this now-resolved appeal," wrote Kevin E. Friedl, senior counsel at the CFPB.In its 7-2 decision by Justice Clarence Thomas, the high court reversed a 5th Circuit court decision from 2022 and upheld the constitutionality of the CFPB's funding through the Federal Reserve System. Still, some legal experts think that the 5th Circuit could agree to a rehearing given its hostility to government agencies in general and the CFPB in particular. "I can absolutely see the 5th Circuit entertaining a funding challenge part two," said Allen Denson, a partner at the law firm Morgan Lewis. "The CFPB is saying there's no need for a rehearing but I think it's more likely that the 5th Circuit is going to allow additional challenges."Since the Supreme Court upheld the CFPB's funding last month, the CFPB's detractors have created a new line of attack. The theory is that the CFPB cannot draw funding from the Federal Reserve System if the Fed doesn't turn a profit, which it hasn't since 2022. The idea was first laid out in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by Hal Scott, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, just four days after the Supreme Court upheld the CFPB's funding. A few Republican lawmakers raised the same claim in hearings last week. Community Financial Services Association of America, the payday lending trade group that sued the CFPB in 2018, is expected to ask for a rehearing by claiming that the CFPB's funding in the past two years has not been executed properly and that the agency should not have received any money from the Federal Reserve System because it has no earnings. A lawyer for CFSA did not respond to a request for comment.

Judge deals blow to Colorado's crackdown on high-cost loans The state of Colorado has taken a hit in its effort to impose an interest rate cap on loans made to its residents. A cohort of trade groups suing the state was granted a preliminary injunction to block a Colorado law that targets partnerships between fintechs and state-chartered banks to offer loans that exceed the state's interest rate limits.Colorado's legislation, signed into law last year, was slated to take effect July 1, but the ruling will make it impossible to enforce in most situations. The law is part of an effort across many states to crack down on high-cost consumer lending.The legal question in the case revolves around how to interpret the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act of 1980. States can opt out of the federal statute and implement their own rate caps on loans "made in" their own states. Colorado argues that the "made in" language refers to where both the borrower and bank are based, meaning that if a borrower is in Colorado, that's where the loan was made.The plaintiffs — the American Fintech Council, the National Association of Industrial Bankers and the American Financial Services Association — argue in their lawsuit that "made in" refers to where the lender is located.On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Domenico agreed with the plaintiffs, issuing a preliminary injunction that prevents Colorado from enforcing the interest rate cap on any of the trade groups' community bank or fintech members that are based out of state. Nationally chartered banks are not subject to the law."In plain parlance, it is the lender who makes a loan; nobody thinks of themselves as 'making a loan' when they borrow money from a family member or put a charge on a credit card," Domenico wrote. "It follows, then, that the answer to the question of where a loan is 'made' depends on the location of the bank."The Colorado attorney general's office, which is named as a defendant in the suit, declined to comment on "active litigation." The state has the opportunity to appeal the decision.

FHFA seeks input on Home Loan banks' affordable housing program - The Federal Housing Finance Agency issued a formal request for public input on ways to improve the Federal Home Loan banks' affordable housing program, an increasingly urgent problem as the country grapples with a chronic housing shortage. The Home Loan banks have long billed themselves as among the largest providers of financing for affordable housing but the system provides only a small portion of its overall funding toward the construction of affordable housing projects, typically through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. Nonprofits have criticized the competitive affordable housing program as too complicated and time-consuming for the small amount of funding. A key finding of the FHFA's 100-year review of the Federal Home Loan Bank System was that the banks should increase their support for housing and community development. Many commenters during the review said the affordable house program, or AHP, application process is overly complicated."Stakeholders encouraged FHFA to improve the efficiency of the application processes, which they stated require significant commitments of time and effort for a relatively small amount of AHP subsidy relative to other project funding sources," FHFA said in its request for input. Ryan Donovan, president and CEO of the Council of Federal Home Loan Banks, a trade group for the system, said the banks are supportive of "an easier path" for accessing AHP funding."One of the biggest challenges facing community and affordable housing groups desperately seeking funding is how best to navigate the complexity of the AHP grant program application process," said Donovan. "We hope this is the beginning of a process to meaningfully streamline AHP regulations to enhance access use and, importantly, the impact of the program."Each of the 11 regional Home Loan banks are required by statute to give 10% of earnings to affordable housing, which amounted to roughly $350 million last year. Many experts have been prodding the banks to raise their funding for AHP to 20%, which some have done voluntarily.In its request for input, the FHFA provided a series of questions about the AHP, including whether some documentation requirements are necessary and how the process could be more efficient. FHFA also is looking at how the AHP process compares to other providers of gap funding, which is typically the final piece of financing bridging the gap between loans and a construction project's total costs. FHFA also is asking what role consultants play in applying for AHP funds.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased in Weekly Survey -From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey - Mortgage applications increased 0.9 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Applications Survey for the week ending June 14, 2024. The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, increased 0.9 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index decreased 0.1 percent compared with the previous week. The Refinance Index decreased 0.4 percent from the previous week and was 30 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 0.1 percent compared with the previous week and was 12 percent lower than the same week one year ago. “Mortgage rates dropped last week following the latest inflation data and the FOMC meeting, with the 30- year conforming rate dropping to 6.94 percent and reaching its lowest level since the end of March,” said “Purchase applications increased a small amount for the week, led by applications for conventional loans. Refinance application volume was also down slightly for the week but remains about 30 percent higher than this time last year.”The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($766,550 or less) decreased to 6.94 percent from 7.02 percent, with points decreasing to 0.61 from 0.65 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The first graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index. According to the MBA, purchase activity is down 12% year-over-year unadjusted. Purchase application activity is up slightly from the lows in late October 2023, and below the lowest levels during the housing bust. The second graph shows the refinance index since 1990.With higher mortgage rates, the refinance index declined sharply in 2022, and mostly flat lined since then with a slight increase recently.

Mortgage Rates Back Above 7% to Start New Week -- Mortgage rates moved modestly higher to start the new week. With the average top tier 30yr fixed rate just under 7% on Friday, this meant a move to just over 7% today. As always, keep in mind that a mortgage rate index is best used to capture the day to day movement in rates as opposed to outright levels. The latter can vary significantly depending on credit score, equity, occupancy, discount points, and lender margins.There weren't any interesting or compelling developments driving today's bond market movement (bonds dictate mortgage rate momentum). It was an uninspired, uninteresting Monday without any significant economic data or bond market volume. Things should be more interesting tomorrow, for better or worse, due to the release of the Retail Sales data at 8:30am ET. While this isn't in the same league as the jobs report or the Consumer Price Index, when Retail Sales come in much higher or lower than forecast, there's often a noticeable reaction in rates.

Realtor.com Reports Active Inventory Up 36.0% YoY -- On a weekly basis, Realtor.com reports the year-over-year change in active inventory and new listings. On a monthly basis, they report total inventory. For April, Realtor.com reported inventory was up 35.2% YoY, but still down almost 34% compared to April 2017 to 2019 levels. Now - on a weekly basis - inventory is up 36.0% YoY. Realtor.com has monthly and weekly data on the existing home market. Here is their weekly report: Weekly Housing Trends View—Data for Week Ending June 15, 2024 Active inventory increased, with for-sale homes 36.0% above year-ago levels. For the 32nd straight week, there were more homes listed for sale versus the prior year, giving homebuyers more options. This past week, the inventory of homes for sale grew by 36.0% compared with last year, maintaining the same rate of growth as the previous week. • New listings–a measure of sellers putting homes up for sale–were up this week, by 8.0% from one year ago. Seller activity continued to climb annually last week, matching last week’s annual growth rate of 8%. These past few months sellers have been particularly sensitive to mortgage rates, with newly listed homes being one of the first metrics to respond to the small fluctuations seen in mortgage rates in recent months. If the promising inflation readings seen in May continue, it could lead to softening rates and increase in seller interest toward the latter half of the year. Meanwhile, newly listed homes remained approximately 22% below pre-pandemic (2017 to 2019) levels. Here is a graph of the year-over-year change in inventory according to realtor.com. Inventory was up year-over-year for the 32nd consecutive week. However, inventory is still historically low.New listings remain below typical pre-pandemic levels although up year-over-year.

Housing June 17th Weekly Update: Inventory up 1.5% Week-over-week, Up 37.3% Year-over-year --Altos reports that active single-family inventory was up 1.5% week-over-week. Inventory is now up 25.6% from the February bottom, and at the highest level since July 2020. This inventory graph is courtesy of Altos Research. As of June 14th, inventory was at 621 thousand (7-day average), compared to 612 thousand the prior week. Inventory is still far below pre-pandemic levels. The second graph shows the seasonal pattern for active single-family inventory since 2015. The red line is for 2024. The black line is for 2019. Note that inventory is up 82% from the record low for the same week in 2021, but still well below normal levels.Inventory was up 37.3% compared to the same week in 2023 (last week it was up 37.8%), and down 34.2% compared to the same week in 2019 (last week it was down 34.2%). Inventory should be above 2020 levels for the same week sometime in July. Back in June 2023, inventory was down almost 54% compared to 2019, so the gap to more normal inventory levels is slowly closing.Mike Simonsen discusses this data regularly on Youtube.

Housing Starts Decreased to 1.277 million Annual Rate in May From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions Privately‐owned housing starts in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,277,000. This is 5.5 percent below the revised April estimate of 1,352,000 and is 19.3 percent below the May 2023 rate of 1,583,000. Single‐family housing starts in May were at a rate of 982,000; this is 5.2 percent below the revised April figure of 1,036,000. The May rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 278,000. Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,386,000. This is 3.8 percent below the revised April rate of 1,440,000 and is 9.5 percent below the May 2023 rate of 1,532,000. Single‐family authorizations in May were at a rate of 949,000; this is 2.9 percent below the revised April figure of 977,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 382,000 in May. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts since 2000. Multi-family starts (blue, 2+ units) decreased in May compared to April. Multi-family starts were down 49.5% year-over-year. Single-family starts (red) decreased in May and were down 1.7% year-over-year. The second graph shows single and multi-family housing starts since 1968. This shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then the eventual recovery - and the recent collapse and recovery in single-family starts. Total housing starts in May were below expectations, however, starts in March and April were revised up, combined.

Housing starts fall to a four-year low - Housing starts fell short of expectations on Wall Street. Construction of new homes fell 5.5% in May, the lowest level in four years, as builders pulled back on new projects.Housing starts fell to a 1.28 million annual pace from 1.35 million in April, the government said Thursday. That's how many houses would be built over an entire year if construction takes place at the same rate every month as in May.The last time housing starts were at this level was in June 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The data fell short of Wall Street's expectations of 1.38 million houses. All numbers are seasonally adjusted.Both single-family and multi-family starts posted a decline across most of the nation.Builders are worried about interest rates impacting their activity further. In June, the home builders' industry group expressed concern over financing construction amid elevated borrowing costs. Building permits, a sign of future construction, fell 3.8% to a 1.39 million rate.

Single Family Starts Down Slightly Year-over-year in May; Multi-Family Starts Down 50%-- Today, in the Calculated Risk Real Estate Newsletter: Single Family Starts Down Slightly Year-over-year in May; Multi-Family Starts Down 50% A brief excerpt:Total housing starts in May were below expectations, however, starts in March and April were revised up slightly, combined. The third graph shows the month-to-month comparison for total starts between 2023 (blue) and 2024 (red). Total starts were down 19.3% in May compared to May 2023. Note that starts in May 2023 were very strong, so the year-over-year comparison was difficult. The YoY decline in total starts was mostly due to the sharp YoY decrease in multi-family starts, although single family starts were down slightly YoY following 10 months of year-over-year increases.

NAHB: Builder Confidence Declined in June - The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 43, down from 45 last month. Any number below 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as poor than good. From the NAHB: High Mortgage Rates Act as a Drag on Builder Confidence Mortgage rates that continue to hover in the 7% range along with elevated construction financing costs continue to put a damper on builder sentiment. Builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes was 43 in June, down two points from May, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. This is the lowest reading since December 2023. “Persistently high mortgage rates are keeping many prospective buyers on the sidelines,” “Home builders are also dealing with higher rates for construction and development loans, chronic labor shortages and a dearth of buildable lots.” “We are in an unusual situation because a lack of progress on reducing shelter inflation, which is currently running at a 5.4% year-over-year rate, is making it difficult for the Federal Reserve to achieve its target inflation rate of 2%,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “The best way to bring down shelter inflation and push the overall inflation rate down to the 2% range is to increase the nation’s housing supply. A more favorable interest rate environment for construction and development loans would help to achieve this aim.” The June HMI survey also revealed that 29% of builders cut home prices to bolster sales in June, the highest share since January 2024 (31%) and well above the May rate of 25%. However, the average price reduction in June held steady at 6% for the 12th straight month. Meanwhile, the use of sales incentives ticked up to 61% in June from a reading of 59% in May. This metric is at its highest share since January 2024 (62%). ... All three HMI component indices posted declines in June and all are below the key threshold of 50 for the first time since December 2023. The HMI index charting current sales conditions in June fell three points to 48, the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months fell four points to 47 and the gauge charting traffic of prospective buyers declined two points to 28. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast held steady at 62, the Midwest dropped three points to 47, the South decreased three points to 46 and the West posted a two-point decline to 41. This graph shows the NAHB index since Jan 1985. This was below the consensus forecast.

Retail Sales Increased 0.1% in May --On a monthly basis, retail sales were "virtually unchanged" from March to April (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 3.0 percent from April 2023. From the Census Bureau report:Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for May 2024, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $703.1 billion, up 0.1 percent from the previous month, and up 2.3 percent above May 2023. ... The March 2024 to April 2024 percent change was revised from virtually unchanged to down 0.2 percent. This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 0.3% in May. The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993. Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 2.6% on a YoY basis. The change in sales in May was below expectations, and sales in March and April were revised down.

LA Port Traffic Decreased Year-over-year in May --Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report, since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic. The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container). To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12-month average. On a rolling 12-month basis, inbound traffic decreased 0.4% in May compared to the rolling 12months ending in April. Outbound traffic decreased 0.1% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month. The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports). Usually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in the Winter depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year. Imports were down 5% YoY in May, and exports were down 1% YoY. In general, it appears port traffic is returning to the pre-pandemic patterns.

McDonald’s pauses AI ordering at drive thrus -- McDonald’s will halt the pilot for an artificial intelligence-powered ordering assistant, potentially marking a setback for the technology’s takeover of daily life.The fast food giant will end its two-year partnership with IBM for the AI system by July 26, meaning the tech will be removed from about 100 stores nationwide, industry publicationRestaurant Business reported Friday.The “Automated Order Technology” developed by the IBM partnership allowed customers to speak with an AI-powered assistant instead of a real person at the drive-thru order window. The company told franchisees that while the IBM partnership is ending late next month, it hasn’t closed the door on future development for drive-thru order technology powered by AI.“While there have been successes to date, we feel there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly,” McDonald’s executive Mason Smoot wrote in a message acquired by Restaurant Business. “IBM has given us confidence that a voice ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurant’s future, and we want to sincerely thank IBM and the restaurant teams that have been part of this crucial test.”

Nvidia becomes world's most valuable company - Nvidia has surpassed Microsoft to become the world’s most valuable company. The chipmaker’s market capitalization rose to $3.34 trillion on Tuesday, just eclipsing Microsoft, which is valued at $3.32 trillion.The latest milestone for Nvidia comes less than two weeks after it crossed the $3 trillion mark for the first time and surpassed Apple as the world’s second-most valuable company. The company, whose graphics processing units (GPUs) are central to powering tech firms’ highly popular artificial intelligence (AI) models, has seen a rapid rise, crossing $1 trillion for the first time just more than a year ago and $2 trillion nearly four months ago. Shares in Nvidia, which are up 180 percent since the start of the year, closed at $135.58 on Tuesday.

Industrial Production Increased 0.9% in May -From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization - Industrial production rose 0.9 percent in May. Manufacturing output posted a similar gain of 0.9 percent after declining in the previous two months. The index for mining increased 0.3 percent in May, and the index for utilities advanced 1.6 percent. At 103.3 percent of its 2017 average, total industrial production in May was 0.4 percent higher than its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization moved up to 78.7 percent in May, a rate that is 0.9 percentage point below its long-run (1972–2023) average. This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up from the record low set in April 2020, and above the level in February 2020 (pre-pandemic). Capacity utilization at 78.7% is 0.9% below the average from 1972 to 2022. This was above consensus expectations. second graph shows industrial production since 1967. Industrial production increased to 103.3. This is above the pre-pandemic level. Industrial production was above consensus expectations.

The Collapse of the EV SPACs: Fisker Joins the Bankruptcy Party, Others on the Verge by Wolf Richter EV maker Fisker, which had gone public via merger with a SPAC in October 2020 amid fake promises and ludicrous projections, and then burned over $1 billion of investor cash, has finally filed for bankruptcy protection Monday night, following in the footsteps of a bunch of other EV SPACs. These EV SPACs were born during the era of free money and what we’ve come to call consensual hallucination, and reality just didn’t matter. They raised billions of dollars in cash from free-money-befuddled investors, went public at sky-high valuations, then their shares collapsed and were inducted into our pantheon of Imploded Stocks. Then they began filing for bankruptcy, one after the other. All these EV SPACs, those that have already filed for bankruptcy and those that will still file for bankruptcy, have the same problem: It takes a huge amount of money, engineering expertise, and management expertise to start up an automaker, design vehicles, build a factory, develop the supply chain, and ramp up mass-production of high-quality desirable vehicles, and then sell them in such large numbers – hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year – and at a high enough a price that the company can become cash-flow positive and survive on its own without further cash injections. It took Tesla over 10 years and about $20 billion to get there, and it has been profitable ever since. The Model Y is now the #2 bestseller in the US, behind the Ford F-150 pickup. So Tesla made it, and it became the most valuable automaker in the world, even though its shares plunged to where in December 2022, Tesla made it into our pantheon of Imploded Stocks (entry requirement: at least -70% from high). Frisker, run by CEO Henrik Fisker, has been a mess from Day One. And even before Day One: He’d already driven its predecessor company, Fisker Automotive – which made the plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma – into bankruptcy in 2013. Nevertheless, investors were eager to douse him with more money, including over $1 billion when the company went public via merger with a SPAC in October 2020. When money is free, nothing really matters. Fisker never made it to true mass-production. It didn’t even build its own vehicles – they’re made under contract in Austria by Magna Steyr, a subsidiary of Canada-based Magna International. The batteries came from the Chinese battery giant, CATL. Fisker started selling its Ocean SUV last summer. In 2023, Magna built 10,000 of them. But amid reports of all kinds of quality problems, Fisker was able to sell less than half of them in 2023, and promised to sell the rest in Q1 2024. At the end of February, Fisker warned in a filing that it might not be able to “continue as a going concern.” And it said that it was in talks with a major automaker over an investment in the company and a joint production deal.

Philly Fed 'Hope' Hammered As Inflation Expectations Soar -After a few strong months of hope-filled renaissance, the Philly Fed business outlook plunged in June with both the current and forward-looking activity indicators dropping significantly (but the Philly Fed notes optimistically, remaining positive)... Under the hood, it was even uglier, with new orders recording a second consecutive negative reading in June, and the current shipments index fell 6 points to -7.2, its lowest reading since December. On balance, the firms continued to report a decline in employment. However, most worrisome, Philly Fed firms surveyed reported significant increases in prices overall in June. The prices paid index rose 4 points to 22.5. Almost 26 percent of the firms reported increases in input prices (up from 19 percent last month), while 3 percent reported decreases (up from 0 percent); 71 percent reported no change (down from 78 percent). The current prices received index increased 7 points to 13.7. Nearly 14 percent of the firms reported increases in the prices of their own goods, no firm reported decreases, and 86 percent reported no change. Graphs Source: Bloomberg The future new orders index fell 24 points to 16.2, and the future shipments index dropped 46 points to -0.1...

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Decrease to 238,000 -- The DOL reported:In the week ending June 15, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 238,000, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 242,000 to 243,000. The 4-week moving average was 232,750, an increase of 5,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 227,000 to 227,250. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971. The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims increased to 232,750. The previous week was revised up. Weekly claims were close to the consensus forecast.

New law requires all Louisiana public school classrooms to display the Ten Commandments (AP) — Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom, the latest move from a GOP-dominated Legislature pushing a conservative agenda under a new governor. The legislation that Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed into law on Wednesday requires a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” in all public classrooms, from kindergarten to state-funded universities. “If you want to respect the rule of law, you've got to start from the original lawgiver, which was Moses” who got the commandments from God, Landry said. Opponents questioned the law’s constitutionality and vowed to challenge it in court. Proponents said the measure is not solely religious, but that it has historical significance. In the language of the law, the Ten Commandments are “foundational documents of our state and national government.” The posters, which will be paired with a four-paragraph “context statement” describing how the Ten Commandments “were a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries,” must be in place in classrooms by the start of 2025. Under the law, state funds will not be used to implement the mandate. The posters would be paid for through donations. The law also “authorizes” but does not require the display of other items in K-12 public schools, including: The Mayflower Compact, which was signed by religious pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and is often referred to as America’s “First Constitution"; the Declaration of Independence; and the Northwest Ordinance, which established a government in the Northwest Territory — in the present day Midwest — and created a pathway for admitting new states to the Union. Not long after the governor signed the bill into law at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Lafayette on Wednesday, civil rights groups and organizations that want to keep religion out of government promised to file a lawsuit challenging it. The law prevents students from getting an equal education and will keep children who have different beliefs from feeling safe at school, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation said in a joint statement Wednesday afternoon. “Even among those who may believe in some version of the Ten Commandments, the particular text that they adhere to can differ by religious denomination or tradition. The government should not be taking sides in this theological debate,” the groups said. The controversial law, in a state ensconced in the Bible Belt, comes during a new era of conservative leadership in Louisiana under Landry, who replaced two-term Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in January. The GOP holds a supermajority in the Legislature, and Republicans hold every statewide elected position, paving the way for lawmakers to push through a conservative agenda.

Louisiana classrooms now required by law to display the Ten Commandments --Louisiana public schools are now required to display the Ten Commandments in all classrooms, after Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed the requirement into law Wednesday. House Bill 71, approved by state lawmakers last month, mandates that a poster-size display of the Ten Commandments with “large, easily readable font” be in every classroom at schools that receive state funding, from kindergarten through the university level. The legislation specifies the exact language that must be printed on the classroom displays and outlines that the text of the Ten Commandments must be the central focus of the poster or framed document. Before signing the bill, Landry called it “one of (his) favorites.” “If you want to respect the rule of law, you gotta start from the original law given which was Moses. … He got his commandments from God,” Landry said. Opponents of the bill have argued that a state requiring a religious text in all classrooms would violate the establishment clause of the US Constitution, which says that Congress can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Civil liberties groups swiftly vowed to challenge the law – which makes Louisiana the first in the nation to require the Ten Commandments be displayed in every classroom that receives state funding – in court. The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation said that the law violates longstanding Supreme Court precedent and the First Amendment and would result in “unconstitutional religious coercion of students.” “The First Amendment promises that we all get to decide for ourselves what religious beliefs, if any, to hold and practice, without pressure from the government. Politicians have no business imposing their preferred religious doctrine on students and families in public schools,” the groups said in a joint statement. Supporters of the law, in defending the measure, have leaned on the 2022 US Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which gave a high school football coach his job back after he was disciplined over a controversy involving prayer on the field. The Supreme Court ruled that the coach’s prayers amounted to private speech, protected by the First Amendment, and could not be restricted by the school district. The decision lowered the bar between church and state in an opinion that legal experts predicted would allow more religious expression in public spaces. At the time, the court clarified that a government entity does not necessarily violate the establishment clause by permitting religious expression in public.

ACLU to file lawsuit against Louisiana law requiring 10 Commandments in schools - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights organizations say they plan to file a lawsuit challenging a new Louisiana law that requires public schools to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom. The lawsuit, which has not yet been filed, was announced Wednesday after Gov. Jeff Landry (R) signed a Republican-led bill making Louisiana the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be prominently displayed in all public elementary and high school classrooms. “The law violates the separation of church and state and is blatantly unconstitutional,” the ACLU, ACLU of Louisiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation said in a statement. “The First Amendment promises that we all get to decide for ourselves what religious beliefs, if any, to hold and practice, without pressure from the government. Politicians have no business imposing their preferred religious doctrine on students and families in public schools.” In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled in Stone v. Graham that the First Amendment prohibits public schools from posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. But under Louisiana’s new law, starting next year the Ten Commandments “shall be displayed on a poster or framed document that is at least eleven inches by fourteen inches” with “large, easily readable font.” At a Republican fundraiser in Tennessee last weekend, Landry touted the bill and said, “I can’t wait to be sued.” The civil rights groups said the new law could disrupt how welcome students may feel in schools. “Louisiana’s communities and public schools are religiously diverse, yet H.B. 71 would require school officials to promote specific religious beliefs to which people of many faiths, and those of no faith, do not subscribe,” the groups said. “Even among those who may believe in some version of the Ten Commandments, the particular text that they adhere to can differ by religious denomination or tradition. The government should not be taking sides in this theological debate, and it certainly should not be coercing students to submit day in and day out to unavoidable promotions of religious doctrine.” They added that the new law undermines religious freedom rights.

‘Let kids be kids’: LA becomes largest US school district to ban phones in class --The Los Angeles unified school district board passed a resolution on Tuesday banning cellphones from district classrooms. As the second-largest school district in the US, the vote makes it the largest school district in the US to approve such a ban.As more educators across the US explore similar policies, California governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday called for a statewide ban on phones in class.The measure in Los Angeles was introduced by board member Nick Melvoin and will be implemented starting in January 2025 after passing in a 5-2 vote. Melvoin said in a statement the measure is meant to support “students’ academic success and wellbeing”, adding that studies have shown smartphones and social media distract kids from learning and stifle their in-person social connections.“Kids no longer have the opportunity to just be kids,” Melvoin said. “I’m hoping this resolution will help students not only focus in class, but also give them a chance to interact and engage more with each other – and just be kids.”The Los Angeles ban is not the first of its kind, with districts increasingly exploring ways to address technology use in the classroom. A measureproposed in South Carolina this month would ban students from using cellphones during the school day across all public schools in the state.To enforce such bans, school districts have proposed locking up devices in lockers or partnering with companies that provide special pouches to keep devices away until they are released automatically at the end of the day. The superintendent’s team at the Los Angeles unified school district will spend the next 120 days researching the best way to implement the ban, said Ally Salvaria, communications director for Melvoin, and will be considering those options and more.Educators’ attempts to address phone and social media use among students come as the US surgeon general Vivek Murthy urged social media platforms on Monday to issue health warnings for young users amid what he called an “ongoing youth mental health crisis”.“While we are late as a society to ultimately making these platforms safer, it’s urgent that we start taking action now,” Murthy said. “Because the truth is, there’s nothing more important to the mental health and wellbeing of our kids.”

Students sound off about the cellphone ban at L.A. schools - Los Angeles Times Will I be allowed to bring my phone to school? Will it be somehow locked up? Can my access to social media platforms really be blocked? How will I reach my parents? These are the questions L.A. public school students want to know after the Los Angeles school board approved a cellphone ban this week that will take effect in January 2025. The details of the policy will be worked out in the coming months, but students will be prohibited from using their phones during school hours, including lunch and breaks.Board member Nick Melvoin spearheaded the resolution to improve learning and student mental health because “our students are glued to their cellphones,” he said.As the policy is being drafted, the district will seek input from students, parents, staff and unions. They will have to work out how to approach different age groups and various technologies like smart watches.Gov. Gavin Newsom has weighed into the issue and said he supports pending legislation that would require school districts to limit or prohibit student use of cellphones. His support came a day after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called on Congress to require warning labels on online platforms because social media has become potentially damaging among young people.Some teachers and administrators support the ban, while others say enforcement could be difficult. And some parents say they want their children to have cellphones in case of an emergency.The one thing students agree on is that their voices need to be heard.Neel Thakkar, a rising senior at Reseda High is receptive to the ban. He said he struggled to focus on studying for Advanced Placement exams because he was “addicted to Instagram” and couldn’t “stop picking up [his] phone ... even for two seconds.”But, the 16-year-old knew this had to stop if he wanted to pass his exams. He deleted the app from his phone because “I knew that I was addicted,” he said. He also saw how difficult it has been for teachers to enforce a cellphone policy. The ban, he said, will help teachers “because there’s a larger body saying this is something we need to do.”In comments to the Board of Education, Thakkar acknowledged student pushback. “Students are not only able to say, this isn’t really working, this isn’t really effective,” he told The Times. “They’re also able to say, here are special cases. Here’s a niche set of students [such as students with special education requirements] that do need their phones and this is why this policy is actually harming them.” “It’s going to be a very hard transition,” he said. But students should “try to get on board with it because all our lives will be drastically improved.” Helen Ho is a rising junior at Narbonne High in Harbor City where she uses her phone for educational purposes, such as applying to programs or accessing information from fliers that often provide only QR codes, for which “you can’t use your laptop.” She said she is “very furious.” Students use their phones for emergency situations and to communicate with their families, she said. “Having a phone is just having stability… you’re less prone to feeling anxious,” the 16 year-old said. “It’s a source of comfort knowing that you can reach your parents.” Her phone has also been “a pivotal tool,” she said, helping her connect with her friends, access resources and meet like-minded people from across the world. “Social media does cultivate a lot of growth,” she said. But, she said, she has seen how it can “deter the image [students] perceive” about themselves, especially if they receive negative comments or are cyberbullied, which is “something that you can’t control.” “You can seek out resources for that,” like online counselors, platforms, organizations, hubs and professionals who can help you get the right resources, or therapists and friends who “you have as your support mechanism,” she said. As a student leader with Students Deserve, an advocacy group that calls for eliminating the school police, and a member of ACLU Southern California’s Youth Liberty Squad, Ho is confident that she will take action in her own school to raise awareness about the policy. The school board should “allow students to give more input,” she said, because policies like this “significantly impact” them and can also disproportionately affect schools that have high numbers of students from communities of color.

New York Gov. Hochul signs laws to protect kids from social media -New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed two laws Thursday that aim to mitigate the impact of social media on kids’ and teens’ mental health by regulating how social media companies provide addictive features for children and how they collect and use data of minors. Social media platforms will be prevented from providing addictive features for children without parental consent under The Safe For Kids Act. They would also be prohibited from collecting, using or selling personal data of kids and teens without consent under the Child Data Protection Act. . Hochul underscored the need for the legislation based on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on kids and teens as the health crisis pushed youths to spend more time online while physically isolating. As she signed the two bills, Hochul pushed Congress to take action. She also backed the proposed idea to add warning labels to social media platforms, as Surgeon General Vivek Murthy advocated for earlier this week in a New York Times guest opinion essay. New York’s passage of the bills comes as Congress has considered federal legislation that would put guardrails in place for how tech platforms operate for teens and kids. Despite holdings hearings with tech CEOs about kids’ online safety and mounting pressure for action, Congress has yet to pass a kids’ online safety or updated data privacy bill.

Howard County students were mostly quiet about book bans — until now - - When she was in fourth grade, McKenna Gran saw someone who she identified with for the very first time. It was while reading a book she got from her school library.The character was a teenager who was bisexual and trying to come out to her parents. Gran, now an Oakland Mills High School student, said she felt a strong connection to this character, though at the time, she wasn’t sure why.Her school library in Howard County is a place that Gran and many of her peers frequent and feel safe in. She is part of the LGBTQ community, and said she loves to read books with LGBTQ characters, which she can get at her school.“We actually have rainbow stickers on our books, and I pick up some books just to see how the author decided to display the representation,” said Gran, 16. “It was very central to me growing up, because I didn’t grow up with books with queer characters in them until I got to be a teenager and had to actively look for them. So it’s very nice that our libraries here are very inclusive.”Gran and more than 550 others are worried that could change. They’ve signed a petition asking the Howard County Board of Education not to give in to the demands of Moms for Liberty, a conservative parent-rights group that’s seeking more restrictions on the books in school libraries. In neighboring Carroll County, the Moms for Liberty chapter successfully campaigned to get more than 50 books temporarily taken off school library shelves, a move that led to a new policy banning texts with sexually explicit content. In Howard County, the group has targeted more than three dozen titles, many of which have LGBTQ authors and characters. The most recent book the group challenged — which was recommended to stay in libraries — was “Juliet Takes a Breath” by Gabby Rivera, a book in which the main character begins to identify as a lesbian.The opposition has been strong, with dozens of protesters flooding a Moms for Liberty meeting in February. The school board chair has publicly refused to entertain the book battles. But until recently, the response from students has been mostly quiet.Gran said she never worried about books getting banned in her school library, and was even dismissive of Moms for Liberty taking aim at her county’s schools.But as one of the co-class presidents and the Howard County Association of Student Councils recording secretary-elect, she’s listened to her peers. “I started hearing more whispers from students getting concerned, especially those who do often use the library and who have read the books they are trying to ban,” Gran said, “so I decided to make a petition and use my connections and reach out to various groups,” Gran said.Gran brought her petition to a school board meeting at the end of May and testified.“We plead that the HCPSS Board of Education not step in, in regards to the book banning attempts and instead let the review board continue to effectively and safely do its job,” Gran said at the May 30 school board meeting. “We also request that you protect our people of color and LGBTQ+ youth, and not give in to the demands of Moms For Liberty. We simply want ourselves, our peers, and our kids to feel safe in HCPSS.”

Heard of Moms for Liberty? Moms for America was here first and they just graded Florida’s legislators - You may be familiar with Moms for Liberty, but have you heard of Moms for America?They’ve been around much longer.Moms for America was founded as a nonprofit corporation in 2004 in Dayton, Ohio, by Kimberly Fletcher, with the stated mission to “empower moms, promote liberty and raise patriots.”According to Fletcher, Moms for America is “the ultimate moms support group” with a national network of more than 500,000 moms and members in all 50 states.“Our organizations are often confused because our names are so similar,” Fletcher said. “I think both organizations find it very frustrating, but I always smile and remind them, we were here first.” Another factor that may cause comparison, is that both organizations are listed among the Southern Poverty Law Center’s official map of “hate and anti-government groups”.According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Moms for America has “taken a firm, public stance against LGBTQ+ rights, the acceptance of gender identity and inclusive curriculum.”Moms for America Action, is a sector of the organization focused on promoting public policy —and in partnership with the Institute for Legislative Analysis, they just released their Congressional and Legislative Report Card for 2024 —issuing a letter grade for each of Florida’s State Senators —as well as those from California, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania.The grades were bestowed following an analysis of individual voting records in eleven different areas, including individual rights, school choice, medical freedom, law and order, culture and sex education, election integrity, life, economy, parental rights, gender and diversity and borders and immigration, in a report they promise, “will pull no punches.” Of the 40 members that make up Florida’s Senate, 28 are Republicans and 12 Democrats.Perhaps, not surprisingly, for 2023, all twelve Democrats received a grade of F on the report card, with scores ranging from 33.33% for State Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando —to 16.12% for Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach. But Republican State Senators didn’t exactly ace their 2023 report cards —none failed —but none of the 28 Republicans received an overall A-grade either. Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, scored the highest overall, with the only B of the group and a score of 83.51%. Bringing down his score, Hutson received a grade of D-minus in the area of “law and order” and an F for “economy.” Fourteen other Republican State Senators received a grade of B-minus, while eight received a C-plus and five others received a grade of C. In Florida’s House of Representatives, all 35 Democrats received a grade of F. While among the Republicans, three received a B-plus, 65 received a B, nine received a B-minus, and six scored a C-plus. Though they are separate organizations, Fletcher said her organization did help Moms for Liberty “with funding and connections” when they first launched in 2021 —and they do continue to collaborate on various projects —both locally and nationally.

Instagram: Tests showing sexual videos recommended to accounts for teens don’t match ‘reality’ --Instagram’s parent company dismissed a report Thursday finding that the social media platform regularly recommends sexual videos to accounts for teenagers, arguing that it doesn’t reflect “reality.” Testing conducted by The Wall Street Journal and an academic researcher over seven months found that accounts for users listed as 13 years old were almost immediately served racy content on Instagram Reels. When the teen accounts showed interest in racy videos, they were recommended even edgier content, including from adult sex-content creators. Internal testing and an analysis previously conducted by Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, reportedly produced similar results, according to the Journal. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said in a statement that the testing conducted by the Journal was an “artificial experiment” and suggested that it “doesn’t match the reality of how teens use Instagram.” “We’re committed to constantly improving and have dedicated teams focused on helping ensure teens see age-appropriate content on Instagram, including when they first join the platform,” Stone said. “As part of our long-running work on youth issues, we established an effort to further reduce the volume of sensitive content teens might see on Instagram, and have meaningfully reduced these numbers in the past few months,” he added.

Activist groups sue L.A. schools seeking data on app used to report suspicious behavior - More than a year after the Los Angeles Unified School District rolled out an anonymous reporting app in an effort to make its campuses safer, advocacy groups are suing the district for creating “a culture of mass suspicion.” The Los Angeles Schools Anonymous Reporting app, also known as LASAR, was unveiled in March 2023 and allows anyone to anonymously report nonemergencies and suspicious activity to the Los Angeles School Police Department. L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho has called the app “critically important” for public safety. But members of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and Students Deserve, a youth-led organization promoting investment in Black students, allege the app is leading to the disproportionate targeting of minorities and disabled people as well as an increased police presence on campus. Information released by the school district — the nation's second-largest with more than 500,000 students — showed 227 reports were made on LASAR during its first three months in action last year. It’s unclear how many of those reports resulted in an officer being dispatched to a campus. The organizers behind the lawsuit said they filed a public records request with L.A. Unified in September to get more information, including the number of reports filed and the content and type of each report. They’re now suing for a response to that request, said Stop LAPD Spying Coalition organizer Matyos Kidane. “We're trying to get records from this lawsuit to better understand what the harms will be,” Kidane said. “But our long-term goal is to discontinue this app.” LAUSD declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

New York City schools chancellor removes pro-Palestine parent from education committee In a blatant attack on the democratic rights of parents, educators and students, New York City School Chancellor David Banks last week removed parent Tajh Sutton from the presidency of Community Education Council for District 14 (CEC 14) in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods for her opposition to Israel’s genocide in Gaza. Community Education Councils are elected boards of parents in each of New York City Public Schools’ 32 districts. They are tasked with advocacy for parents and students and perform certain functions such as, according to the school department, “reviewing and evaluating their district’s educational programs, approving zoning lines, and holding public hearings on certain matters.” Most members of the CECs are elected while some are appointed by Borough Presidents. Since the state granted the city’s mayor dictatorial control of the city’s public schools in 2002—an act to facilitate school closings and budget cuts, and privatization under the then billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg—taking power away from district school boards, the CECs are some of the only remaining democratic institutions in the city’s schools. Banks removed Sutton under the Department of Education’s (DOE) D-210 regulations that govern CEC members code of conduct. At issue was her advocacy of a ceasefire in Gaza and support for the Palestinian people. In his letter to Sutton obtained by Chalkbeat, Banks claimed that she had “justifiably been perceived by many community members as anti-Israel and antisemitic.” Chalkbeat noted: “Banks also accuses Sutton of improperly seeking to influence hiring decisions by protesting the dismissal of a paraprofessional allegedly fired from his school over his conduct at pro-Palestinian protests and social media posts.”The educator referenced was an object of harassment by Zionist parents, including one who had worked for the Israel Defense Forces’s top brass, because he wore a keffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scarf, to work. He was suspended twice for his social media posts in opposition to the genocide in Gaza, and finally fired after he was arrested for protesting the police crackdown on protesting college students. Sutton was also removed because she had held meetings of CEC 14 virtually, a means which she and other leaders used to avoid harassment by Zionist and far-right parents, particularly in the aftermath of the resolution CEC 14 issued in November calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, when Sutton had been threatened with human feces left in her mailbox.

University of California Los Angeles chancellor to be replaced by pro-Zionist corporate shill The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has been transformed into a battleground. On the one side, students and university workers are determined to continue their protests against the genocide in Gaza. On the other, Los Angeles police and private security forces, invited by university administration and Democratic Party figures at the city, state and national levels, are brutally punishing peaceful protesters. The repression accelerated after the United Auto Workers union shut down the historic strike by tens of thousands of UC academic workers demanding an end to the police crackdown on university workers and students. The UAW bureaucracy, which is allied with the Biden administration and never wanted the strike in the first place, bowed before a judge’s strikebreaking injunction and called off the weeks-long strike on June 9. The heavy-handed response to the protests led to calls for a vote of no confidence in UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, who has been in that position since 2007. When the student protest encampments first emerged on April 25, Block declared them “unlawful” and promised disciplinary action for students who remained. Scores of students were expelled from the campus thereafter, unable to make use of their own dorms or campus meal services. The no confidence vote ultimately failed in the academic senate. Block, however, had already announced his plans to retire and is slated to step down from his post next month. UCLA Provost Darnell Hunt will serve as interim chancellor until January 2025, when Julio Frenk, current president of the University of Miami, is scheduled to take over the position. Frenk was unanimously selected by the UC Board of Regents, a governing body whose members are nominated by Governor Gavin Newsom and his predecessors, and confirmed by the Democratic-controlled California state Senate. The board members come from ultra-wealthy corporate interests in addition to seven ex-officio members, who either hold high office in Sacramento or in the UC system itself. The board of regents approved a starting base salary of $978,904 for the new chancellor. Block’s departure is being hailed as a victory by pseudo-left apologists for the UAW bureaucracy, including the UAW Local 4811 Rank and File for a Democratic Union. The appointment of Frenk, however, is an indication that the university administration intends to continue its support for the Israeli government while further escalating brutal attacks on students and workers. Frenk had previously served as Mexico’s Secretary of Health under the right-wing Vincente Fox administration. He was also previously a senior fellow in the global health program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—a major advocate of public school privatization. UCLA operates one of the largest university hospital systems in the United States with five hospitals and more than 280 clinics. The system has been plagued by dangerous levels of understaffing and overwork by nurses and medical staff, leading to multiple strikes over the course of the past decade. As president at the University of Miami, Frenk was instrumental in pushing through large scale layoffs during the peak of coronavirus pandemic and can be expected to enact similar “belt-tightening” measures at the Los Angeles campus and the hospital system itself. At the time of the Miami layoffs in May 2020, he implicitly admitted that the pandemic was being seized upon as a pretext for large-scale job cuts. “If you have some of those worst-case scenarios,” he said, “you cannot do this kind of careful analysis of opportunities for furloughs when you already have an emergency upon you. You have to be one step ahead of the crisis.” Three years later, Frenk was among the first US university presidents to condemn the October 7 Palestinian uprising. Demonstrating his skills as a political operator, Frenk released the statement of condemnation to preempt inevitable campus outrage over the subsequent Israeli response.

Almost 1 in 5 say student loan debt will have major influence on their vote --Almost 18 percent of Americans say student debt will have a major influence on their vote in November, according to a survey from Bankrate. Among the sample of those who have outstanding student loans — there are more than 40 million such borrowers in the country — that number rises to 29 percent. President Biden and former President Trump have vastly conflicting views when it comes to student loans. Biden has forgiven millions of dollars in student loan debt, attempted to institute universal loan forgiveness and significantly reformed income-driven repayment plans. Trump has been relatively silent on how he might tackle rising student loan debt, but he did make clear he thought the Supreme Court was justified when it struck down Biden’s debt relief for all. “Today, the Supreme Court also ruled that President Biden cannot wipe out hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions of dollars in student loan debt, which would have been very unfair to the millions and millions of people who paid their debt through hard work and diligence. Very unfair,” Trump said at the time. The Bankrate survey found 29 percent believe student loans are a national crisis, jumping to 46 percent among those who currently hold such debt. Twenty-seven percent say the federal government has not done enough to help with student debt, with 24 percent of borrowers saying they have trouble affording the monthly payments. “Student loan debt is often assumed to take a backseat to other pressing issues for voters, considering that a small portion of the U.S. population carry student debt,” Bankrate analyst Sarah Foster said. “Yet, often feeling helpless to the issue, Americans seem to be saying that they shouldn’t be left alone to handle the burden of student loan debt and that the complex challenges of student loan debt and college affordability are a responsibility their elected representatives should solve,” Foster added. The survey was taken May 16-20 and interviewed 2,407 U.S. adults, including 1,033 who had or currently have student loans to pay off. It did not list a margin of error.

DOJ Charges Texas Doctor Who Exposed 'Gender-Affirming' Care For Minors- The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday unsealed an indictment against Dr. Eithan Haim, who last year leaked evidence of cross-sex hormone procedures being performed at a Texas hospital despite the facility claiming to have halted them, with the surgeon facing four felony counts for alleged violations of a medical-records law that could land him in prison for up to 10 years.The DOJ announced on June 17 that it had charged Dr. Haim for obtaining protected individual health information for patients who were not under his care, allegedly acting without authorization and with intent to cause malicious harm to Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH).The controversy centers on the fact that TCH, the largest children’s hospital in the country, publicly declared in March 2022 that it was halting “hormone-related prescription therapies for gender-affirming services” for minors, citing potential legal and criminal liability after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared that prescription of puberty blockers was “child abuse” under Texas law.Documents leaked by Dr. Haim purportedly showed that the hospital continued to perform some “gender-affirming” therapies after the announcement, including one procedure on an 11-year-old three days after it made the declaration.Ultimately, Texas legislators adopted a ban on sex-change procedures and puberty blocker prescriptions for children, which went into effect in mid-2023 after a legal challenge. TCH declared that year that it would no longer offer any transgender medical procedures for children.Dr. Haim, who was set to make a court appearance on June 17 before U.S. Magistrate Yvonne Y. Ho in Houston, faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 maximum possible fine if convicted on charges of violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). .Alamdar Hamdani, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, who announced Dr. Haim’s indictment, said in a statement that the “defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.”

Study: Babies whose moms had high pandemic stress had altered brain growth - The infants of mothers with high anxiety and stress levels amid the COVID-19 pandemic showed differences in brain development, suggests a study posted today in JAMA Network Open.A team led by Children's National Hospital researchers in Washington, DC, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare regional brain volumes in 159 infants born during the pandemic (June 2020 to June 2022; 56 newborns) to those of healthy infants recruited before (March 2014 to December 2019; 103). The 159 mothers' distress was evaluated using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Perceived Stress Scale.The median gestational age was 39.6 weeks, and the median maternal age was 34.5 years. Slightly over half (52.2%) of infants were girls. A total of 55.3% of mothers were White; 27.7% were Asian, Hispanic, or multiracial; and 17.0% were Black.Among women in the prepandemic cohort, 21.1% scored above the threshold for anxiety (state, 12.8%; trait, 13.8%), and 24.7% scored high for stress. In total, 28.4% in the prepandemic group scored high on the pooled metric of psychological distress. In the pandemic cohort, 61.8% scored above the threshold for anxiety (state, 56.4%; trait, 45.5%), and 69.1% scored above the threshold for stress. Overall, 72.7% in that group scored above the threshold for psychological distress. The proportion of women who scored above the threshold for each metric was significantly greater in the pandemic cohort than in the prepandemic cohort. Newborns of mothers with elevated distress showed median reductions in brain volumes of white matter (−0.36 cubic centimeters [cm3]), right hippocampus (−0.35 cm3), and left amygdala (−0.49 cm3) compared with infants of women with low distress. After adjustment for pandemic effects, elevated trait anxiety stayed significantly tied to decreased left amygdalar volumes (−0.71 cm3), and high maternal psychological distress was inversely associated with white matter (−4.94 cm3) and left amygdalar (−0.03 cm3) volumes. In particular, elevated maternal state and trait anxiety were tied to lower left-amygdalar volume (−0.03 and −0.04 cm3, respectively). Elevated maternal stress was associated with decreased left-amygdalar volumes (−0.03 cm3). Left amygdalar volumes remained significantly lower for mothers with elevated trait anxiety (−0.71 cm3) after adjustment."The extent to which these neonatal brain findings serve as early indices of risk for later social and emotional development are unknown," the researchers wrote. "Further studies into the long-term impact on offspring development are needed and currently under way."

Kids from disadvantaged communities may die sooner from cancerous brain tumors --Children with inoperable brain tumors may die sooner if they live in areas with lower average income and education levels, a Michigan Medicine-led study finds. The study covered nearly 100 patients seen for diffuse midline glioma and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, known respectively as DMG and DIPG, between 2000 and 2022. The two tumors are incurable and can only be treated with radiation therapy as a palliative measure. Patients from higher income census tracts, meaning over half of families have an annual household income over $50,000, had a median survival time of nearly 16 months—more than twice as long as patients from lower income tracts. Families of children from higher income areas, as well as those from census tracts with higher levels of education, also traveled further to receive treatment. The results are published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. "Children with these inoperable gliomas require access to specialized centers of care and clinical trials in the hopes of extending their lives, yet we are seeing that socioeconomic factors are linked to worsening survival," said first author John H. Lee, M.D., incoming neurosurgery resident at University of Michigan Health. "It's critical that we understand the reasons for this disparity, so that we can ensure all patients have opportunities for life-prolonging care." The findings are in line with other studies suggesting that factors linked to socioeconomic status are associated with health outcomes, particularly in brain tumors. Income and educational attainment, the researchers suggest, may affect the landscape of diagnosis and treatment of brain tumors. Families with fewer financial resources may be less equipped to travel to specialized centers where they could receive second opinions, different treatment options or be enrolled in clinical trials, Lee says. "Additionally, patients whose families have lower levels of education may have less knowledge about the signs and symptoms of a condition, early screening programs and treatment options,"

Survey shows cancer survivors are at increased risk of disease throughout life --Swedish researchers have surveyed people under the age of 25 who have had cancer since 1958. The study, led by researchers at Linköping University and Region Östergötland, shows that cancer survivors are at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases, other cancers and other diagnoses later in life. In addition, the researchers saw that socioeconomic factors played a role in survival.Since 1958, Sweden has registered all cancer patients in the National Cancer Register. Swedish researchers have now used this register to study all cancer survivors who had cancer as a child, adolescent or adult to examine outcomes in later life. The results have been published in the The Lancet Regional Health—Europe."If you've had cancer as a child or adolescent, you have an increased risk of almost all diagnoses in the future. This study lays the foundation for understanding why this is so and what decision-makers need to take into account when it comes to cancer care," says Laila Hübbert, researcher at Linköping University and consultant at the Cardiology Clinic at Vrinnevi Hospital in Norrköping.The study's data spans 63 years. From this data, approximately 65,000 cancer patientsunder the age of 25 were compared with a control group of 313,000 individuals (a ratio of 1:5), where age, sex and housing situation were matched with the patient group. From other registers, the researchers retrieved information on morbidity, mortality and demography.The researchers found that the cancer survivors were about three times more likely to develop cancer later in life, 1.23 times more likely to have cardiovascular disease and had a 1.41 times higher risk of accidents, poisoning and suicide.At present, the health care system usually follows up cancer survivors five years after the end of treatment. In other words, you are usually considered healthy if the cancer has not returned after five years, and no further follow-up is planned. But the current study, and also previous ones, show that this is probably not enough."Cancer survivors carry with them a fragility for the rest of their lives that puts them at higher risk of new diseases. It's mainly the chemotherapy and radiation treatment that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. This means that patients shouldn't be released prematurely without planned and ongoing follow-up. It's important to identify these risk factors and diseases early," says Hübbert.The researchers have also seen that socioeconomic factors play a major role in the risk of disease and death after cancer in young years. Thanks to a cross-check of registers, the researchers were able to see that the risk increases for those with a lower level of education, a foreign background, or who remain unmarried.

Study suggests cancer patients should stay current on COVID-19 boosters -- Yesterday in Nature Communications a study shows cancer that patients who are up to date on vaccines and have received COVID-19 boosters are more protected against death and serious complications than unvaccinated patients.Cancer patients were not included in key randomized clinical trials on vaccine efficacy (VE), the authors of the study write, but they are at increased risk of death and serious illness from COVID-19 infections. Those especially at risk include lung cancer patients, those with hematologic cancer, and those undergoing chemotherapy.The authors said prospective data on immunogenicity following initial vaccination have shown that cancer patients develop protective antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 but in lower rates than the general population.In the study, Spanish researchers looked at data from clinical registries on 184,744 cancer patients in Catalonia, Spain. Half of the patients (92,372) had received at least the first complete immunization series, and the other half (92,372) had not been vaccinated at the time of the study.All participants had received a cancer diagnosis from 2015 to 2020. The most common cancers included were breast, prostate, and colorectal.The proportion who received one, two, and three (booster) doses of COVID-19 vaccines were 87.2%, 84.9%, and 68.2%, respectively, the authors said.The researchers found that cancer patients had 51.8% (95% confidence interval [CI], 40.3% to 61.1%) and 58.4% (95% CI, 29.3% to 75.5%) protection against COVID-19 hospitalization and COVID-19 death, respectively after full (two-dose) vaccination and 77.9% (95% CI, 69.2% to 84.2%) and 80.2% (95% CI, 63.0% to 89.4%) after a booster dose.Protection from booster doses was high, hovering around 75%, the authors said, but waned significantly by 120 days post-injection.

CDC data show uptick in COVID-19 cases, low flu activity -The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today indicate that COVID-19 activity continues to rise across the country, albeit at low levels.According to the CDC's COVID Data Tracker, test positivity was 6.6% for the week ending June 15, up 1.2% from the previous week. Emergency department visits for COVID-19 were up 14.7% from the previous week and now stand at 0.7%. In its weekly snapshot of respiratory viral illnesses, the CDC said COVID infections are growing or likely growing in 39 states and territories and stable or uncertain in 10 states and territories.The agency's two severity indicators—hospitalizations and deaths—also show notable upticks. Hospitalizations through June 1 are up 25% from the previous week, while deaths are up 16.7%. But hospitalization and death rates remain low overall, however, compared with peak periods of the pandemic.Data from the CDC's National Wastewater Surveillance System show that COVID wastewater levels nationally are low, but several states in the West are reporting high viral activity, and six states—Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, Missouri, Florida, and Connecticut—are reporting very high activity. The latest data from WastewaterSCAN, a national wastewater monitoring system based at Stanford University in partnership with Emory University, suggest COVID wastewater levels are high nationally.The uptick appears to be driven by increases in the KP.3, KP.2, and LB.1 variants, which now account for 71.4% of sequenced samples, up from 61% the previous week, according to today's variant proportion update. All three variants are offshoots of the JN.1 lineage and carry key mutations in the spike protein that could help them evade antibodies. "KP.3 and LB.1 are projected to continue increasing as proportions of the variants that cause COVID-19," the CDC said.Meanwhile, seasonal flu activity remains low, the CDC said in its weekly FluView report. But the agency noted that three additional influenza-associated pediatric deaths that occurred during the 2023-24 season were reported during the week ending June 15, bringing the total number of pediatric deaths for the season to 178. That compares with 185 deaths in the 2022-23 season.

US poll shows fair amount of common ground on preventive COVID-19 steps --A new poll from researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the de Beaumont Foundation shows that, despite news coverage that painted Americans as deeply divided on COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including mask wearing, there was significant common ground on these strategies in hindsight.During the pandemic, "The media made it seem there were huge swaths of population that were unreachable,” said Gillian SteelFisher, PhD, an author of the report and director of global polling in the Harvard Opinion Research Program and principal research scientist at Harvard Chan School in an interview.SteelFisher said the polling results actually show a much more nuanced and cohesive understanding of public health efforts. Of note, most Americans said four main pandemic strategies were "generally a good idea," including mask requirements in stores and businesses (70%), healthcare worker vaccination requirements (65%), indoor dining closures (63%), and K-12 public school closures (56%).Only 20% of those polled said all four main strategies were "generally a bad idea," while 42% said all four were a good idea and 37% said only some were a good idea."Overall, a majority of people thought each of the policies were a good idea, that there's merit here," said SteelFisher.The poll was conducted from March 21 to April 2, 2024, and included 1,017 adults.Black (62%) and Hispanic/Latino (55%) adults were more likely than white adults (32%) to say that all of the four main pandemic policies were a good idea, as were people living in urban areas (55%) compared with those living in suburban (39%) and rural (29%) areas, the poll showed.There were clear political divides as well: 71% of Democrats and those who lean Democrat say all four policies were a good idea, compared with 44% of Independents and 18% of Republicans and those who lean Republican.For people who said they thought masks were a bad idea, 87% believed the policy was flawed because it went on too long, and 85% said it was an issue of individual rights.Among the 413 poll respondents who thought school closures were a generally bad idea, 97% said closures interfered with learning and 91% said they impaired students' mental health.SteelFisher said one of the more surprising findings from the poll was that only 3% of people said COVID-19 was not a health threat to anyone early in the pandemic."There were so many media stories about COVID deniers," said SteelFisher. "But there were actually very few." Instead, 14% of those polled said COVID was a serious health threat only to people who are very old or frail, 45% said COVID-19 was a serious health threat to more people, including people who are very old or frail as well as those with underlying medical conditions, and 37% said it was a serious health threat to everyone early on.

Kansas sues Pfizer over ‘misleading statements’ about COVID vaccine - The state of Kansas filed a lawsuit on Monday against pharmaceutical company Pfizer, alleging the company made “misleading claims” about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine and the risks associated with the shot.The suit, filed by Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach (R) in the District Court of Thomas County, claims Pfizer misled Kansas residents about the risks of the company’s COVID-19 shot when it claimed it was safe and allegedly hid evidence of the shot’s link to myocarditis and pregnancy issues.Pfizer allegedly also gave residents a false impression when it claimed its vaccine was effective, but “knew” the shot waned over time and did not protect against COVID-19 variants, the complaint stated.“Pfizer made multiple misleading statements to deceive the public about its vaccine at a time when Americans needed the truth,” Kobach said in a statement.The suit argued Pfizer’s statements and language surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine were a violation of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. The state is seeking unspecified monetary damages.In June 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration added a warning regarding myocarditis and pericarditis, both rare heart inflammation conditions, to Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines.A review of various COVID-19 vaccine studies, conducted by the National Institute of Health last year, found no evidence the shots are linked to an increased risk of miscarriage. The pharmaceutical company is further accused of working with social media employees to “censor speech critical” of the COVID-19 vaccines and attempted to avoid government oversight, Kobach’s office said Monday. Pfizer, in a statement to The Hill, said the case has “no merit” and plans to respond to the suit in “due course.”

A new look at why old age is linked to severe, even fatal COVID - A longstanding question has nagged the COVID battle for more than four years: Why does the infection cause severe disease in older people? The question has remained despite a global cadre of medical investigators having produced some of the reasons—but not the entire story. Ever since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, it has been abundantly clear that older adults are at substantial risk of severe, even fatal COVID. Yet, the underlying mechanisms for their susceptibility were not always clear despite studies that took co-morbidities into account, like diabetes, heart and lung disorders, and other chronic vagaries of age that can worsen a bout with an infectious disease. To date, scientists have blamed a dysregulated immune system, an age-related affinity toward excessive blood clotting, and an overall decline in the key soldiers of the adaptive immune system, T and B cells, to explain increased risks for severe COVID in the aging population. And while all of those factors may play a role, an inevitable question looms large: Why? A new multicenter clinical study, reported in Science Translational Medicine, has provided comprehensive answers and peels away some of the mystery surrounding poor outcomes for older people. Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco and their far-flung collaborators throughout the United States, examined the infection's progression by studying a large longitudinal clinical cohort. The study's subjects were people whose ages ranged from the very young to the exceptionally old. "We evaluated the impact of aging on the host immune response in the blood and the upper airway, as well as in the nasal microbiome," reported Dr. Hoang Van Phan, lead author of the research. Describing the investigation as a prospective, multicenter cohort trial of 1,031 "vaccine-naïve"—unvaccinated—patients between the ages of 18 and 96 years old, Phan added that all of the people in the trial, regardless of age, were hospitalized for COVID. The aim, according to Phan, was to see what differences age caused in response to infection with SARS-CoV-2. Going into the research, Phan and colleagues knew that age correlated with an impaired ability to clear the virus. They also knew older patients were more likely to experience increased disruptions in the body's inflammatory and immune responses. Worse, epidemiological studies had long shown that older age itself was a major risk factor for severe COVID. Adults over the age of 75 are 140 times more likely to die from the condition than people in younger age groups. Yet, even in the face of a powerful epidemiological pattern, the core biological reasons behind the impact of aging remained elusive, including why older people tend to harbor higher concentrations of the virus. To find out why, the team conducted a battery of sophisticated tests to ferret out the answers. "We performed mass cytometry, serum protein profiling, anti–SARS-CoV-2 antibody assays, and blood and nasal transcriptomics," Phan wrote in their article, underscoring that analyzing blood and nasal swab specimens were key to their research because the virus can be found in greater abundance in both blood and the upper airway. Results from their tests bore novel data and a new level of understanding. "Older age correlated with increased SARS-CoV-2 viral abundance upon hospital admission, delayed viral clearance, and increased type I interferon gene expression in both the blood and upper airway," Phan continued. "We also observed age-dependent up-regulation of innate immune signaling pathways and down-regulation of adaptive immune signaling pathways," said Phan, who further explained that the innate immune system's monocyte production escalated while naïve T and B cells of the adaptive immune system were low. Unlike younger patients, older ones also displayed more active innate immune pathways and a persistent rise in pro-inflammatory genes and cytokines, suggesting that advancing age may disrupt the body's ability to turn off the inflammatory response. Additionally, biomarkers of disease severity, such as interleukin-6, were the most extreme in the oldest patients. Together, these data provide insight into why age is a major risk factor for severe COVID, the team concluded. "Our study finds that aging is associated with impaired viral clearance, dysregulated immune signaling, and persistent and potentially pathologic activation of pro-inflammatory genes and proteins," Phan added, suggesting the new findings may pave the way to treatment modalities specifically targeted toward people of advanced age. "These differences raise the possibility that older adults with severe COVID-19 may respond differently, and perhaps more favorably, to immunomodulatory therapies directed at certain inflammatory cytokines."

Cannabis use linked to worse COVID-19 outcomes -Cannabis use is linked to an increased risk of more serious COVID-19 outcomes, including hospitalization and intensive care unit (ICU) admission—similar to risks from tobacco use—according to a study today in JAMA Network Open from researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.As cannabis use becomes legal in many states and is used for medical purposes, the drug has developed somewhat of a "health halo," with many Americans considering it healthier than tobacco or alcohol."What we found is that cannabis use is not harmless in the context of COVID-19. People who reported yes to current cannabis use, at any frequency, were more likely to require hospitalization and intensive care than those who did not use cannabis," said senior study author Li-Shiun Chen, MD, MPH, ScD, in a press release from Washington University School of Medicine.The study, based on outcomes among 72,501 people seen for COVID-19 at centers in a major Midwestern healthcare system during the first 2 years of the pandemic, offers an important take on the risks associated with cannabis use, especially in comparison to tobacco use.Among the study participants, 51,006 (70.4%) needed hospitalization, 4,725 (6.5%) required an ICU visit, and 2,717 (3.7%) died. The average age was 48.9 years, 59.7% were female and 40.3% male, 27.6% were Black, and 69.6% were White.In total, 68.8% had at least one comorbidity that was identified as potentially affecting COVID-19 outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.The authors found that, of the study participants, 13.4% currently smoked; 24.4% formerly smoked; and 9.7% reported current use of cannabis. The authors calculated risks for hospitalization, ICU admission, and all-cause mortality. They found that cannabis use was significantly associated with increased risk of hospitalization (odds ratio [OR] 1.80; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.68 to 1.93) and ICU admission (OR 1.27; 95% CI, 1.14 to 1.41) but not with all-cause mortality (OR 0.97; 95% CI, 0.82-1.14.) Current tobacco smoking, as noted in previous studies, was associated with all three worse outcomes for COVID-19. Current tobacco smoking was significantly associated with increased risk of hospitalization (OR 1.72; 95% CI, 1.62 to 1.82), ICU admission (OR 1.22; 95% CI, 1.10 to 1.34), and all-cause mortality (OR 1.37, 95% CI, 1.20 to 1.57) after adjusting for other factors.

Study identifies female sex, heart disease as long-COVID risk factors, vaccination as protective - Women and adults with preexisting conditions such as cardiovascular disease are less likely to recover from COVID-19 within 3 months, while vaccination and Omicron-variant infection were linked to a quicker recovery, reveals a study posted yesterday in JAMA Network Open. It also showed that more than one in five adults had protracted recoveries.From April 2020 to February 2023, Columbia University researchers tracked 4,708 first-time COVID-19 patients participating in 1 of 14 ongoing nationwide cohorts that have followed participants as early as 1971. Patients underwent physical exams before the pandemic and answered questionnaires during the crisis. The average patient age was 61.3 years, 62.7% were women, 44.3% were Hispanic, 33.5% were White, 13.2% were Black, 7.9% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and 1.1% were Asian. In total, 12.6% of patients were hospitalized, and 3.1% needed critical care. One in five participants (20.5%) were vaccinated before infection, of whom 5.9% had received only one dose. The median self-reported time to recovery from COVID-19 was 20 days, and about 22.5% of patients were still experiencing symptoms at 90 days. Sociodemographic, clinical, and lifestyle factors differed significantly by 90 days, especially for infection severity (outpatient vs critical hospitalization, 32.9 vs 57.6 days). Recovery by 90 days was tied to pre-infection vaccination (hazard ratio [HR], 1.30) and infection during the Omicron variant wave (HR, 1.25). These associations were mediated by less severe infection by 33.4% and 17.6%, respectively. Risk factors for long COVID, or post-COVID condition (PCC) were female sex (HR, 0.85) and pre-existing cardiovascular disease (HR, 0.84). The results were similar for reinfections.

Study shows 12% long-COVID prevalence following Omicron infection -A new report in Emerging Infectious Diseases reveals an 11.8% prevalence of long COVID during the Omicron BA.5 wave in Japan, based on outcomes seen among 25,911 adults 20 years and older.Japan experienced the seventh wave of COVID-19 in July 2022, caused by the Omicron subvariant BA.5 lineage, the authors said."The Omicron variant tends to cause less severe acute symptoms and has a similar or lower risk for post–COVID-19 condition than the previous variant," the authors wrote. "Longer sequelae and risks for post–COVID-19 condition in persons infected with the Omicron variant compared with noninfected populations remain unknown."The study was based on adults 20 to 69 years of age who had confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection during July to August 2022 and answered a survey about the presence of 26 symptoms roughly 6 months following their Omicron infection. Cases were matched with controls, and any symptoms were ranked on severity and impact on daily activities.The percentage of post–COVID-19 condition for cases was 11.8%, and the percentage of persistent symptoms among controls was 5.5%. According to the authors, the most frequent post–COVID-19 condition was cough (3.7%), followed by difficulty concentrating (3.1%), hair loss (2.8%), fatigue (2.4%), and brain fog (2.2%).The odds ratio (OR) of any persistent symptoms for cases versus controls was 2.33 (95% confidence interval, 2.05 to 2.64).."Among the cases, female sex, underlying medical conditions, and severity of acute COVID-19 were associated with having post–COVID-19 condition. We recommend a longer follow-up study of the effects on daily life and socioeconomic status after infection during the Omicron-dominant wave," the authors concluded.

Data suggest hybrid immunity protects against long COVID -- A study yesterday in the Journal of Infection shows that hybrid immunity from both a fourth vaccination dose and previous COVID-19 illnesses may offer protection against developing long COVID, or post-COVID condition (PCC). The study is based on 109,707 participant surveys collected about health history and self-reported post-infection symptoms in the German National Cohort. More than 80% of the participants had received three or more COVID-19 vaccinations.Of the 60% of participants who said they had had a previous COVID-19 infection, 35% reported persistent symptoms 4 to 12 months after infection. Of those, 23% reported "high PCC," which means nine or more symptoms.Virus variant type had the greatest influence on developing long COVID. "Any PCC occurred in around 7% after an infection during the Omicron phase for those with a previous infection and in 47% after initial infection with the Wildtype virus," the authors wrote.The risk of developing any PCC after a second infection if PCC did not follow a first infection was substantially lower compared to after the first infection, resulting in a long-term risk reduction of around 50%, the authors said.But the risk of developing long COVID was higher in people who were infected less than 3 months following a vaccination, but approximately 50% compared to those who were infected 4 to 6 months after vaccination. "Our findings indicate that the risk of developing PCC was strongly reduced for the second SARS-CoV-2 infection, if the first infection did not result in PCC," the authors concluded. "It is possible that the occurrence of breakthrough infections shortly after vaccination is linked to a specific vulnerability of the individual towards PCC, and the apparent protection actually results from confounding."

Women twice as likely as men to report local flu, COVID vaccine side effects, data suggest - Women are more than twice as likely as men to report local adverse events (AEs) after influenza or COVID-19 vaccination, with more disruptions in daily life, concludes a study published in Biology of Sex Differences.Johns Hopkins researchers surveyed healthcare workers (HCWs) recruited from the medical center's mandatory fall flu vaccination campaign from 2019 to 2022 and the fall 2022 bivalent (two-strain) COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Vaccinees enrolled the day of vaccination and completed an AE survey 2 days later.A total of 300 HCWs were vaccinated against flu (50 women and 50 men per year), with AE data available for 88% of recipients (50.2% women). The average flu-vaccine recipient age was 30.8 years, 60.8% were White, 19.4% were Asian, 13.2% were Hispanic, and 12.9% were Black. Of the 212 COVID-19 vaccine recipients, AE data was available for 92% (76.5% women). The average age was 38.4 years, 64.8% were White, 20.9% were Asian, and 8.7% were Black. Among the 265 flu vaccine recipients across the 3 years, 62% reported one or more AEs, with 57% having only local AEs, 21% reporting only systemic AEs, and 21% having both.Of the 178 flu vaccinees who answered a question about inconvenience, 80% said they experienced no inconvenience, 17% reported mild inconvenience in which they were able to complete 75% to 99% of their daily activities, 2% reported moderate inconvenience in which they could complete 25% to 75%, and 1% said they had severe inconvenience in which they could do 0% to 25%.In total, 86% of the 196 COVID-19 vaccine recipients reported at least one AE (30% only local, 18% only systemic, and 51% both). Most (53%) reported no inconvenience, 23% reported mild inconvenience, 18% reported moderate inconvenience, and 5% reported severe inconvenience."Overall, these data suggest that experiencing mild AEs is common following vaccination, with minimal impairment to daily activities," the researchers wrote. Women were more likely than men to experience local (injection-site) AEs after vaccination against flu (odds ratio [OR], 2.28) and COVID-19 (OR, 2.57), regardless of race or age. But rates of systemic AEs (ie, malaise, muscle pain, insomnia, headache, fever, chills, and sweating) were similar for men and women after flu (OR, 1.18) or COVID-19 (OR, 0.96) vaccine receipt. Use of hormonal birth control didn't significantly affect AE rates in women of reproductive age.Women reported more disruptions in daily life after COVID-19 vaccination than men, with 38.7% of women citing sleep disruptions or changes in daily routine, compared with 31.1% of men. They also said that AEs interfered with their ability to take care of their family and were more likely to use over-the-counter medications (24.% vs 15.6% of men) and to schedule COVID-19 vaccination before their days off from work in anticipation of AEs. "In response to either infection or vaccination, females have been shown to have greater immune activation, higher production of antibodies, and increased T cell activation, possibly making them more likely to experience AEs compared to males," the study authors wrote, noting that women make up nearly 80% of the healthcare workforce.

COMMENTARY: Misleading BMJ Public Health paper on COVID-19 excess mortality needs to be retracted | CIDRAP -- In a publication in BMJ Public Health on June 3, Saskia Mostert, MD, PhD, and colleagues discuss excess mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this paper has already led to much debate and confusion on both traditional and social media and has been used as fodder for anti-vaccine advocates. The paper's results have been taken to mean that vaccines are dangerous, and this has led to critical commentaries from other researchers as well as some of the authors who felt their work was not cited correctly.We give a brief summary of some of this criticism, add some additional concerns about the paper, and make the case for retraction of the paper. Mostert et al discuss estimates of excess mortality—the increase above an expected pre-pandemic baseline—during the COVID-19 pandemic period of 2020 to 2022 for 47 countries of the Western world. They conclude that the excess mortality was high during these years, despite the implementation of containment measures and COVID-19 vaccines and that this raises serious concern. They write, "Government leaders and policymakers need to thoroughly investigate the underlying causes of persistent excess mortality."It is not immediately clear from the abstract of the paper what the authors saw in the excess mortality data that concerns them so. However, as major sections in the paper are dedicated to the discussion of perceived problems of serious adverse effects of vaccines and indirect mortality caused by non-pharmaceutical interventions, the public response to the article has been to take the article as evidence for vaccination and mitigation being the main causes of excess mortality—rather than the far more plausible explanation that widespread COVID-19 disease was the main cause of excess mortality. The work of Mostert and colleagues has been called into question by others, as cataloged on pubpeer and by Retraction Watch. Stuart McDonald, MBE, has a thorough discussion in a blog post detailing many of the concerns with the paper. A commentary co-authored by one of the plagiarized authors, Ariel Karlinsky, is also due to appear shortly. Finally, the research institutions of three of the four authors have distanced themselves from the paper. The cited funding agency has said it has been incorrectly listed as a sponsor of the publication. Just 3 days after publication, the journal that published the work, BMJ Public Health, issued a statement emphasizing that the news coverage of the publication has misrepresented the contents of the study. The statement, however, does not respond to claims of plagiarism or whether the article is under consideration for retraction. In a June 13 BMJ press release, the journal announced its intentions to publish an expression of concern on the paper and to investigate the quality of the research. Here are some concerns that such an investigation needs to address.

Lab study: Sterilized reused respirators not effective enough against aerosolized particles -Less than 20% of reused filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) collected from nurses amid the COVID-19 pandemic were in good enough condition to undergo sterilization, after which none retained at least 94% filtration of aerosol particles, finds a laboratory study comparing two sterilization methods after up to 15 to 30 days of use.For the study, published in theAmerican Journal of Infection Control, a University of Sao Paulo-led team in Brazil used a chambered box and an emitted aerosol to evaluate the physical characteristics and post-sterilization filtration of a 5-centimeter (2-inch) square fragment from each of 100 reused FFRs (eg, N95s) collected from nurses who cared for COVID-19 patients at three hospitals. Untorn respirators that filtered at least 94% of aerosolized particles and had an attached nasal clip and elastic bands and no visible dirt were randomly assigned to receive or not receive mechanical cleaning with an ultrasonic washer before undergoing hydrogen peroxide plasma gas sterilization. "During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a shortage of Filtering Facepiece Respirators (FFR), leading to prolonged use and reuse of FFRs," the authors noted. "There was also an effort to sterilize FFRs aiming to increase the safety of healthcare professionals as it was thought that sterilization could reduce self-contamination and protect the environment from excess contaminated waste." Of the 1,055 FFRs, over 85% retained secured nose clips, preserved strap elasticity, and no tears. But over 78% of samples were dirty (eg, from makeup), leaving only 19.6% eligible to undergo sterilization. None of the FFRs—cleaned or uncleaned—reached minimum filtration after sterilization, although 72% of the uncleaned FFRs and 80% of the cleaned devices achieved 90.0% to 93.9% filtration. "Sterilization processes using hydrogen peroxide plasma gas, both with and without prior cleaning, applied to 100 FFRs with preserved functionality, did not compromise the apparent physical characteristics of these respirators, but did not maintain their filtration levels to the minimum necessary to be considered safe," the researchers concluded.

Washington conducted secret global anti-vaccine disinformation campaign against China -An investigative report published by Reuters on June 14 revealed that the Pentagon conducted a secret anti-vaccine disinformation campaign during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic as part of massive psychological warfare operations waged by Washington against China. Targeting the Philippines in particular, the lies and disinformation spread by the US military at the peak of the pandemic contributed to keeping the country’s vaccination rate at the lowest in Asia and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The Reuters report is detailed and extensive. In early 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Pentagon deployed part of its vast network of military personnel and contractors dedicated to the production of online propaganda and disinformation to wage a crusade of fear-mongering and racist attacks on China across various social media platforms, including Twitter (X), Facebook, and Instagram. Above all, the campaign targeted Sinovac, the Chinese company manufacturing an anti-COVID vaccine that was the first vaccine available in the Philippines. One senior military officer involved in the program bluntly told Reuters, “We weren’t looking at this from a public health perspective. We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud.” Hundreds of troll accounts and online bots operated by the US military attacked the vaccine with a barrage of lies in Tagalog and other languages: the vaccine was rat poison, it was part of a Chinese plot to take over the Philippines, it contained pork gelatin and was an attack on Muslims. The campaign was coordinated around the racist hashtag: #ChinaAngVirus (China is the virus). A health worker prepares to administer Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine inside the Makati Coliseum, in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) Most of this propaganda has now been taken down from Twitter, but its disgusting residue can still be seen on Facebook. The Pentagon trolls manufactured crude racist imagery, attacked Chinese manufactured and donated face-masks, COVID test kits and the Sinovac vaccine. The US Defense Department acknowledged the accuracy of the Reuters investigation, but claimed that its anti-vax campaign was a response compelled by China’s “disinformation campaign to falsely blame the United States for the spread of COVID-19.” This was not disinformation. More than any other country, Washington was responsible for the rampant spread of COVID-19 globally, due to its dominant role in world economy and politics. The “herd immunity” policy of mass infection pioneered by the Trump administration facilitated the spread and mutation of the virus, and the White House, under both Biden and Trump, put extraordinary economic and diplomatic pressure on other countries to follow suit. What the Reuters report documents is the extent of the culpability of Washington in the mass death wrought by the pandemic. US imperialism not only compelled much of the world to reopen, subjecting billions to infection and killing over 25 million people, it was the military headquarters of anti-vaccine propaganda. With hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, the operators impersonated Filipinos and other nationalities to attack basic public health measures and whip up fear of the only available vaccine. Their online lies were picked up by and trumpeted in the mainstream media. Only 2.1 million Filipinos out of a population of 114 million had been vaccinated by the middle of 2021. This was among the worst vaccination rates in Asia and any country where vaccines were available. The failure to vaccinate the population contributed to the Philippines having one of the worst death rates in the region.

Growing COVID-19 hospitalisations in New Zealand -A sixth wave of COVID-19, accompanied by other illnesses, including influenza and RSV, is placing immense pressure on New Zealand’s run-down public health system. Last Sunday, there were 279 people in hospital with COVID-19, which is about double the numbers recorded during March and April. Last week, 37 recent deaths were confirmed to be COVID-related, including one person aged in their twenties, bringing New Zealand’s total official COVID death toll since the pandemic began to 4,120. This is certainly an underestimate. The Ministry of Health says another 1,907 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID, but has claimed that these deaths were “not related” to the coronavirus. In the case of another 245 deaths, it is not confirmed whether COVID played a role. Of the 4,788 cases reported last week, about two-thirds were repeat infections. This increases the likelihood of developing Long COVID, which can severely impact the brain, lungs, heart and other organs. The real case numbers are undoubtedly far higher; testing and reporting are no longer officially encouraged. The pandemic, which has killed more than 27 million people worldwide, continues to exact a devastating toll because of deliberate policies adopted by capitalist governments that have placed corporate profit interests ahead of lives. New Zealand’s former Labour Party-led government of Jacinda Ardern ended its COVID elimination policy in October 2021 and removed all public health measures over the next year, ensuring the mass infection of the population. As well as causing thousands of deaths, this criminal policy has led to 40,816 hospitalisations for COVID-19. The current surge is being fuelled by new variants, particularly those known as KP.2 and KP.3, which are even more infectious than the JN.1 variant that was responsible for the previous wave earlier this year. Scientists have repeatedly warned that allowing the coronavirus to circulate would produce more immune-resistant strains, but these warnings have been ignored by governments.

Researchers find bigger immune response to flu variants in people who were exposed in childhood -- An international team of microbiologists and infectious disease specialists from Australia and the U.S. has found that children exposed to variants of influenza B demonstrate a bigger immune response to the same strain when they are adults. In their study, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, the group analyzed serum sample data collected from patients over a nearly 100-year span. Medical researchers have long suspected that early exposure to certain strains of the flu virus may protect adults against the same strain later in life. In this new effort, the research team sought to prove that theory by measuring antibody levels in 1,499 serum data samples collected from flu patients over the years 1917 to 2008 in the U.S. and Australia and comparing immune response to those and other flu strains later in life. They found that the greatest concentrations of antibodies in a given serum sample tended to correspond with the strain of flu that was most dominant during a patient's childhood—generally during their first five to 10 years of life. The patterns they found indicate that early exposure to the flu virus influences the way the immune system behaves when exposed to the same strain of influenza B virus later in life. They also found that the immune system tends to respond more strongly to strains similar to those involved in childhood exposures. This finding, the team suggests, could open up new avenues of research into the best way to handle flu outbreaks. If it is known at the outset of an epidemic or pandemic that certain people will most likely have immunity against the strain behind the new outbreak, it could lessen the need for broad vaccination efforts, thereby making it easier to slow the spread of the disease and reduce its impact. They also note that their finding may lead to efforts to understand why early exposure confers a later immune response.

Antibiotic pipeline not active enough to fight deadliest bacteria, WHO says - The number of antibacterial agents in preclinical and clinical development worldwide rose from 80 to 97 from 2021 to 2023 and new antibiotics are urgently needed to combat severe infections and those tied to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the World Health Organization (WHO) advises in a report released late last week.The report, the first published since 2017, assesses whether antibiotics in the pipeline will likely address infections caused by WHO priority pathogens, which are drug-resistant bacteria posing the greatest risk to human health."Antimicrobial resistance is only getting worse yet we're not developing new trailblazing products fast enough to combat the most dangerous and deadly bacteria," Yukiko Nakatani, MD, PhD, interim WHO assistant director-general for antimicrobial resistance, said in a WHO news release. "Innovation is badly lacking yet, even when new products are authorized, access is a serious challenge." Thirteen antimicrobials have been authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency, or other stringent regulatory organization since July 2017, the report said.But only two are in a new chemical class and considered innovative, which the authors said highlights the challenges of discovering new effective and safe antibacterials. Three nontraditional drugs to restore gut microbiota in adults have also been authorized to prevent recurrent Clostridioides difficile infection (CDI) after antibiotic treatment.Of the 97 in-development antibiotics, 57 are traditional antibacterials, including 12 new products that entered the pipeline since 2017. Of the 57 traditional antibiotics, 56% are intended for use against highest-risk WHO priority pathogens (eg, Acinetobacter baumannii, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacterales), and 33% are designed to combat drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Also, five traditional drugs (9%) are being developed against CDI, and one targets Heliobacter pylori.Of the 32 in-development antibiotics against bacterial priority pathogens, only 12 are considered innovative, and only 4 of the 12 are active against at least one WHO critical pathogen included in the highest-risk category. The antibiotic-development pipeline is lacking medications for children, convenient oral formulations for non-hospitalized patients, and drugs designed to fight drug resistance, the authors said.Of the 40 nontraditional antibiotics, 30 are intended against WHO critical high-priority pathogens, 9 are directed against CDI, and 1 targets H pylori.

Antibiotic resistance: An extremely concerning situation in sub-Saharan African children -Two meta-analyses undertaken by the Geneva University Hospital (HUG) and the University of Geneva (UNIGE) have revealed very worrying numbers of children in Sub-Saharan Africa who are carriers of multi-resistant bacterial strains. The analyses have focused on Enterobacteria– the bacteria responsible for most invasive infections in newborns in this region. The first study shows that 41% of Escherichia coli and 85% of Klebsiella bacteria found in the blood of children during infections are resistant to treatments normally used in severe childhood infections. The second study reveals that one third of children are colonized by cephalosporin-resistant Enterobacteria. Yet, if this treatment fails, alternative treatment options are often not available in this region. The two studies are published in eClinicalMedicine. Antibiotic resistance is a major concern for global health. The problem is particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa countries with the highest death rate due to antibiotic resistance, especially in West Africa where it exceeds 100 deaths per 100,000 people. Children and neonates are particularly vulnerable. As an example, 30% of newborns suffering from sepsis, a severe inflammatory reaction following an infection, die due to antibiotic resistance. Despite this situation, little epidemiological data exist on the effect of this affliction in children. Such data could, however, be crucial for the development of appropriate treatment recommendations. The objective of the first study was to evaluate the proportion of antibiotic-resistant Enterobacteria in children with infections in Sub-Saharan Africa. These bacteria, often found in severe infections, are known for their ability to develop antibiotic resistance. The research team started with a systematic review of 1,111 studies published between 2005 and 2022 on children with an infection. Of these, they retained 122 studies, then extracted published data from more than 30,000 blood, urine and stool samples from children between 0 and 18 to perform a statistical analysis known as a meta-analysis. "We observed a strong proportion of antibiotic resistant bacteria, in particular those found in the blood of young patients," explains Noémie Wagner. The most common strains identified are Escherichia coli and Klebsiella spp. The study highlighted their considerable resistance to antibiotics, with high resistance proportions to ampicillin and gentamicin, first-line antibiotics recommended for sepsis. As for E. coli, these proportions reached 92.5% for ampicillin and 42.7% for gentamicin. Klebsiella spp strains are always resistant to ampicillin, and present resistance proportions to gentamicin of 77.6%. The Enterobacteria analyzed also showed high proportions of resistance to third-generation cephalosporins, the second-line treatment for sepsis in children, with resistance proportions of 40.6% for E coli samples, and of 84.9% for Klebsiella samples. These results therefore suggest a very high level of resistance to first-line and second-line antibiotics recommended for treating child sepsis. The aim of the second study was to estimate, also through a systematic study review and meta-analysis, the prevalence of children colonized by Enterobacteria resistant to third-generation cephalosporins. The term colonization denotes the fact of finding bacteria in a child's stool when is no current infection. 40 studies out of the 1,111 were retained. Representing a cohort of 9,408 children, is the most extensive literature review to date for Sub-Saharan Africa. It revealed that 32.2% of children are carriers of Enterobacteria resistant to wide spectrum cephalosporins. "These proportions are very high and concerning. These treatments are indeed administered as second-line treatments when first-line treatments have failed. If it fails, treatment options are often not available in this region," explains Annick Galetto-Lacour. The study also revealed that 53.8% of children who were not carriers of resistant Enterobacteria at admission to hospital, were positive for these bacteria when discharged. Finally, this work showed that the risk of being a multi-resistant Enterobacteria carrier is three times higher after having received antibiotic treatment three months beforehand. Yet, in Sub-Saharan Africa, between 83% and 100% of hospitalized children are treated with antibiotics. "As bacterial infections are the main cause of death in this region, children are very often treated with antibiotics when they are admitted to hospital, even if there is no strong argument for a bacterial infection," said Dr. Wagner. "Indeed, most medical facilities do not have access to inflammatory markers which can assist in distinguishing a bacterial infection, that requires antibiotics, from a viral infection. Nor do they have the possibility of using bacterial cultures and cannot therefore correctly identify bacterial species, nor perform antimicrobial susceptibility tests. "It's a vicious circle because the improper use of antibiotics increases the proportion of resistant bacteria, which then will be more difficult to treat."

Analysis finds jump in extensively drug-resistant gonorrhea in Cambodia -Analysis of gonorrhea samples in Cambodia found sustained transmission of ceftriaxone-resistant strains and a threefold jump in extensively drug-resistant (XDR) isolates, researchers reported this week in Emerging Infectious Diseases. For the study, researchers with Cambodia's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases and the World Health Organization (WHO) performed antimicrobial susceptibility tests and genomic analysis on 72Neisseria gonorrhoeae isolates collected in 2023 through the WHO's Enhanced Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Program (EGASP). Under EGASP protocols, public health alerts are sent upon identification of strains approaching resistance. EGASP alert minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) for ceftriaxone and cefixime—two first-line treatment options for gonorrhea—were detected in 22 (31%) of 72 isolates, a proportion similar to that reported in 2022 (38%). But 9 isolates (12.5%) had the XDR phenotype, which combines ceftriaxone resistance and high-level azithromycin resistance, and all belonged to the same sequence type (ST-16406). That's up from 4% in 2022. In addition, the percentage of isolates with high resistance to ciprofloxacin and penicillin remained high (82% to 97%). Genomic analysis of 54 isolates with ceftriaxone alert MICS in 2022 and 2023 found that 50 carried the same resistance mutation (the penA-60.001 allele), and 4 harbored recently described or novel mutations. Furthermore, sequences from only 8 isolates clustered with a widely disseminated, ceftriaxone-resistant clone (FC428). "Our data provide further evidence for sustained transmission of N. gonorrhoeae strains with elevated MICs for ceftriaxone and increased expansion of isolates with elevated MICs to ceftriaxone and azithromycin that genomically cluster with the XDR N. gonorrhoeae phenotype," the study authors wrote. "Furthermore, strains with elevated MICs for ceftriaxone continue to emerge across different phylogenetic backbones separate from the previously described FC428 clone, confirming concerns that biological fitness is not compromised by that allele and consequently poses a substantial threat for gonococcal disease control." They add that the findings, combined with recent reports of rising ceftriaxone resistance in China, highlight the need to prioritize gonococcal antimicrobial resistance surveillance across the Asia-Pacific region.

Antibiotics, resistant bacteria found on ocean surface Antibiotics found in the top oceanic surface layer can contribute to antimicrobial resistance and have negative ecologic effects, according to research presented late last week at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) in Atlanta.Scientists evaluated the susceptibility and resistance of marine bacteria to the antibiotics ofloxacin, clindamycin, clarithromycin, and novobiocin on bacterial diversity in the sea surface microlayer in Jade Bay in the southern North Sea in Germany, the ASM press releasesaid.A total of 70% of marine bacteria were resistant to ofloxacin, 95% to clindamycin, 58% to clarithromycin, and 100% to novobiocin. Novobiocin was most highly concentrated in the sea samples.The researchers found more bacteria in samples taken from the sea surface microlayer than in the water below, even when they added different amounts of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin to the samples. The number of bacteria in the samples fell as ciprofloxacin concentration rose, but over time the bacteria proliferated when levels of ciprofloxacin were high, which the team said shows growing resistance.At high ciprofloxacin concentrations, 97 bacterial strains belonging to more than 14 bacterial classifications were identified. Fifty-seven (59%) of those strains can infect humans, particularly those with weakened immune systems, the researchers said. In addition to the four studied antibiotics, lincomycin, tylosin, erythromycin, trimethoprim, sulfamethoxazole, roxithromycin, and chloramphenicol were also collected from the sea surface microlayer. Only a few were found at deeper levels."Our results emphasize the collective effort needed to reduce the potential ecological effects of introducing antibiotics into coastal waters, because antibiotics may accumulate more in the sea surface microlayer, affect the bacteria diversity, and lead to the adaptation of marine bacteria to antibiotics," Adenike Adenaya, PhD, of Carl von Ossietzky Universitat in Oldenburg, Germany, said in the release.

US study finds shifting resistance patterns in Staph aureus - An analysis of Staphylococcus aureus samples from US outpatient settings reveals a shift in antibiotic-resistance trends, researchers reported late last week in JAMA Network Open. The study of S aureus isolates from more than 268,000 US Veterans Health Administration (VHA) patients found that the proportion of methicillin-resistant S aureus (MRSA) declined significantly from 2010 through 2019. But significant increases in resistance to non–beta-lactam antibiotics like tetracyclines and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX) were observed, particularly in southern US states. The findings are noteworthy, because the emergence and spread of MSRA infections beginning in the 1990s has influenced empiric antibiotic prescribing habits across the country, with clinicians in outpatient settings often choosing oral non–beta-lactam antibiotics for empiric treatment because of concerns about MRSA infection.The authors of the study say the shifting resistance patterns suggest outpatient clinicians may need to tailor antibiotic prescribing for S aureus infections.A total of 382,149 S aureus isolates from 268,214 unique patients (mean age, 63.4 years; 94.3% male) were analyzed. Of the S aureus isolates, 173,118 (45.3%) were classified as MRSA. The proportion of MRSA isolates declined from 53.6% in 2010 to 38.8% in 2019, with the decline observed across all US regions, though MRSA rates remained consistently higher in the South.Among the MRSA isolates, tetracycline resistance rose from 3.6% in 2010 to 12.8% in 2019, and TMP-SMX resistance rose from 2.6% to 9.2%. There was also a modest, non-significant increase in clindamycin resistance (from 24.2% to 30.6%) and a significant decrease in macrolide resistance (from 73.5% to 60.2%). Among MSSA isolates, significant increases in resistance to clindamycin (from 13.1% to 18.7%), tetracyclines (3.7% to 9.1%), and TMP-SMX (0.9% to 2.7%) were observed, while macrolide resistance saw a non-significant increase (25.4% to 28.9%).

Rebyota fecal transplant offers durable protection after antibiotic exposure, study finds - A microbiota-based live biotherapeutic for treating recurrent Clostridioides difficile infection (rCDI) remained effective after subsequent antibiotic exposure, researchers reported this week in Open Forum Infectious Diseases.In a post-hoc analysis of a phase 2 trial evaluating the safety, efficacy, and durability of Rebyota fecal microbiota transplantation for preventing rCDI, the researchers evaluated patients who received non-CDI antibiotics for up to 2 years after Rebyota administration. Although Rebyota has been found to be highly effective in preventing rCDI and was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in December 2022, the researchers wanted to assess the durability of the treatment response, particularly in patients subsequently exposed to antibiotics, which can disrupt the gut microbiome and increase the risk of rCDI. They looked specifically at non-CDI antibiotics, because any recurrence of CDI would require antibiotic treatment.Treatment response was defined as the absence of CDI diarrhea needing retreatment as of the last evaluable time point (8 weeks, 6 months, 1 year, or 2 years) after Rebyota administration.Of the 149 participants in the trial, 43 received non-CDI antibiotics after Rebyota administration over a 2-year period. Across all evaluable time points, 37 of 43 (86%) had treatment response regardless of when non-CDI antibiotic exposure occurred, with treatment response rates ranging from 83% to 96% at the various time points. Among participants with treatment response, success was sustained for a median of 470 days from the first initial non-CDI antibiotic use. Of the six participants who experienced rCDI, 5 received a high-risk antibiotic. Although the study was limited by lack of a control group and other factors, the researchers say the findings provide evidence that Reboyota offers durable protection after antibiotic exposure in a real-world population."Irrespective of the inherent limitations of this analysis, these results suggest RBL [Rebyota] may restore the gut microbiota to a sufficient threshold protective against rCDI for many patients despite subsequent non-CDI antibiotic use," they wrote.

Mpox spreads to another DR Congo province - An mpox outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continues to spread within the country, with the first case reported in North Kivu province, according to a recent update from the World Health Organization (WHO). The DRC's outbreak began in late 2022 and involves the clade 1 mpox virus, which is different from the clade 2 strain circulating globally. The outbreak is notable, because it is the first in Africa—where much of the disease activity has been related to zoonotic spread—to involve sexual spread. One of the country's hot spots has been Kamatuga in South Kivu province, where a novel clade 1 virus emerged with mutations that make the virus more adapted to circulation among humans. Sequencing suggests, however, that viruses from other parts of the country don't have the mutations. The case in North Kivu province involves a 19-year-old woman whose illness was confirmed in Goma on June 1. Investigators found that she had sexual contact with a person with a suspected infection who had been in South Kivu province. So far in 2024, 7,851 mpox cases have been reported in the DRC, 384 of them fatal. With the case from Noth Kivu province, illnesses have now been reported in 23 of the country's 26 provinces. The disease is spreading through various contact forms, including sexual, nonsexual, household, and healthcare. Children are still the most affected age-group, with 39% of cases in kids younger than 5 years old. The disease was fatal in 240 of those cases. South Africa recently reported an mpox outbreak involving the clade 2 virus responsible for global spread. So far, seven cases have been reported, according an update from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The country also reported its first two mpox deaths. All cases were severe and involved men ages 30 to 39 who had underlying health conditions such as HIV. So far, investigations have found the patients hadn't traveled to countries that have ongoing outbreaks. In the United States, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health yesterday posted an alert about a rise in mpox cases, with 10 illnesses reported in the past 2 weeks. For comparison, it said during the previous several weeks it was averaging about 2 cases a week. It urged people in risk groups to take precautions and to get vaccinated.

Quick Takes: Mpox in South Africa, measles in Kenya, polio in 3 countries | CIDRAP

  • South Africa has identified 6 new cases of mpox, bringing the country's total cases reported since late May to 13, South Africa's Department of Health reported today. The new cases are in Gauteng and Western Cape provinces. Two deaths so far have been reported in the outbreak, which involves the clade 2 virus responsible for global spread. The department also said it had received a batch of the antiviral drug tecovirimat (Tpoxx) for treating patients who experience severe health complications.
  • A measles outbreak that began in Kenya in December 2023 has now reached 1,536 cases and 11 deaths, according to the latest outbreak report from the World Health Organization African Region. Children under the age of 5 have been the hardest hit by the outbreak, with 563 cases, followed by the 15-and-older group (386 cases). Of the reported measles case-patients, 34% were unvaccinated, 6% had received two doses of the measles containing vaccine, 14% had received one dose, and 46% had unknown vaccination status. Kenya's Ministry of Health says it plans to implement a vaccination campaign in affected areas.
  • Three countries reported new polio cases this week, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said in itslatest update. Afghanistan reported 1 case of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) in Hilmand province, bringing the total number of cases reported this year to 6. Nigeria reported 3 circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) cases, for a total of 30 this year, and South Sudan reported 1 cVDPV2 case, bringing the country's total this year to 6.

CDC closes investigation into Salmonella outbreak tied to basil after 36 cases -The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week declared an end to its investigationof a Salmonella outbreak linked to fresh organic basil after 36 cases were reported.Four people required hospitalization, but there were no confirmed deaths in the outbreak, which saw cases reported in 14 states. Seven people were sickened in Florida, six in Minnesota, and five in Massachusetts, with a number states reporting smaller outbreaks.When the outbreak was first announced in April, 12 people in seven states had become ill, many after eating fresh basil sold at Trader Joe's grocery stores. The organic basil was sold by Infinite Herbs of Miami, which completed a voluntary recall. Trader Joe's pulled the product from its shelves and stopped shipments of the basil on April 12. The CDC said illnesses started on dates ranging from February 11, 2024, to May 26, 2024. The average age of case-patients was 39, with people ages 1 to 78 sickened. Seventy-eight percent were female."State and local public health officials interviewed people about the foods they ate in the week before they got sick. Of the 24 people interviewed, 18 (75%) reported eating basil," the CDC said. Recalled basil is no longer available for sale, and the use-by dates have passed, the CDC said.In related news, US federal officials are investigating a new outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium with at least 47 illnesses, but the source of the pathogen is unknown, according to Food Safety News.

FDA took 15 months to act on infant formula whistleblower complaint, audit says --The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was dangerously slow to respond to multiple complaints about conditions at an Abbott Nutrition facility that contributed to a nationwide infant formula shortage in 2022, according to a government watchdog report. FDA did not have adequate — and in some cases completely lacked — policies and procedures to identify risks to infant formula and then respond to those risks effectively, the report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) found. For instance, the agency took more than 15 months to act on a whistleblower complaint about dangerous conditions at the Abbott plant that was first filed in February 2021. The Department of Labor received the complaint and forwarded it to FDA three days later, but FDA did not identify the complaint until June 7, 2022. “The complaint alleged that the Abbott facility engaged in practices that violated laws, regulations, and other guidance that FDA administered and enforced,” the report said. “At the time of the initial submission of the February 2021 whistleblower complaint, FDA did not have adequate policies and procedures for identifying and investigating whistleblower complaints received in the dedicated FDA email inbox.” The agency received a second warning from the same whistleblower several months later, in October 2021. But according to the report, FDA “did not escalate [the October 2021] whistleblower complaint to senior leadership, resulting in a nearly 4-month delay before senior leadership was aware of the complaint.” The agency eventually conducted inspections which uncovered a host of problems at the plant, but it took more than 100 days from the October whistleblower complaint to inspect the factory. During the time it was waiting to inspect the plant, the agency received two consumer complaints about infants who consumed formula manufactured there. One was of an illness and one of a death, both from cronobacter — but formula samples were negative. The inspection found unsanitary conditions, a leaky roof, lax safety practices and multiple strains of a bacteria that can be deadly to infants. Several infants became ill and two died from a rare bacterial infection after being fed powdered formula that was manufactured at the plant. But the agency was unable to definitively link the infections to the formula. FDA took some action during the facility inspections and conducted follow-up inspections, but “more could have been done leading up to the Abbott powdered infant formula recall,” the OIG report said. FDA shuttered the plant for several months and the company issued a nationwide recall for all brands of powdered formula that had been manufactured at the facility, including popular brands like Alimentum, EleCare and Similac Just four companies are responsible for 90 percent of the formula market. When Abbott’s plant shut down, the effects cascaded across a supply chain that was already strained because of the pandemic, causing a nationwide shortage.

China reports another fatal H5N6 avian flu case -China has reported another fatal human infection involving H5N6 avian flu, its third of the year, according to an avian influenza update from the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific regional office. The patient is a 41-year man from Fujian province in the country's southeast whose symptoms began on May 8. He had severe pneumonia and was hospitalized, where his respiratory samples tested positive on May 14. He died from his infection. The report did not say how the man is thought to have contracted the virus.China's last H5N6 case, reported in May, was also from Fujian province and likewise fatal. H5N6 is known to circulate in poultry in China and a few other Asian countries. Infections in humans are often severe or fatal. So far only China and Laos have reported H5N6 cases in people. The WHO said the man's illness raises the number of H5N6 cases to 92 and the fatality total to 37.

Quick takes: Pandemic unreadiness, 21-strain pneumococcal vaccine, chikungunya vaccine submission | CIDRAP

  • Amid increased H5N1 avian flu circulation in mammal populations and mpox deaths in African children, the world hasn't done enough to prepare for its next pandemic threat, an independent group that reviewed the world's COVID response for the World Health Organization (WHO) said today. In a report that takes stock of progress on its earlier recommendations, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response said world leaders have turned away from pandemic preparedness, leading to a gamble with the world's future. They said funding for pandemic preparedness pales compared to needs and that high-income countries are too tightly bound to charity-based approaches. They noted some causes for hope, however, such as recent amendments to the International Health Regulations by the World Health Assembly and a decision in 2023 to increased unearmarked funding to the WHO's base budget. Among their recommendations, they urged member states to make progress on the pandemic agreement and adopt it by December 2024.
  • Merck yesterday announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its 21-valent conjugate vaccine for preventing invasive pneumococcal disease and pneumococcal pneumonia in adults. The vaccine, called Capvaxive, was assessed under FDA priority review, which included four phase 2 studies that found robust immune response in vaccine-naïve and vaccine-experienced populations. In a statement, the company said the vaccine is intended for adults and covers serotypes that are responsible for 84% of invasive pneumococcal disease in people ages 50 and older. It includes eight serotypes that aren't included in other currently approved pneumococcal vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine advisory group is expected to weigh in with a recommendation for use of the vaccine next week.
  • Bavarian Nordic yesterday announced that it has completed the rolling submission process to the FDA for its candidate chikungunya vaccine. The virus-like particle vaccine is given as a single dose, and the company said it would be made in prefilled syringes. Bavarian Nordic said the vaccine is indicated for people ages 12 and older and that the licensing application is the first against the virus for adolescents. The submission paves the way for potential approval in the first half of 2025. If approved, it would be the FDA's second for a chikungunya vaccine. In November 2023, the FDA approved Valneva's chikungunya vaccine for use in adults.

Bird Flu Tests Are Hard To Get. So How Will We Know When To Sound the Pandemic Alarm? - -- If the government doesn’t prepare to ramp up H5N1 bird flu testing, Stanford University infectious disease doctor Abraar Karan and other researchers warn, the United States could be caught off guard again by a pandemic. “We’re making the same mistakes today that we made with covid,” Deborah Birx, who served as former President Donald Trump’s coronavirus response coordinator, said June 4 on CNN. To become a pandemic, the H5N1 bird flu virus would need to spread from person to person. The best way to keep tabs on that possibility is by testing people. Scientifically speaking, many diagnostic laboratories could detect the virus. However, red tape, billing issues, and minimal investment are barriers to quickly ramping up widespread availability of testing. At the moment, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s bird flu test, which is used only for people who work closely with livestock. State and federal authorities have detected bird flu in dairy cattle in 12 states. Three people who work on separate dairy farms tested positive, and it is presumed they caught the virus from cows. Yet researchers agree that number is an undercount given the CDC has tested only about 40 people for the disease. “It’s important to know if this is contained on farms, but we have no information because we aren’t looking,” said Helen Chu, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle who alerted the country to covid’s spread in 2020 by testing people more broadly. Reports of untested sick farmworkers — as well as a maternity worker who had flu symptoms — in the areas with H5N1 outbreaks among cattle in Texas suggest the numbers are higher. And the mild symptoms of those who tested positive — a cough and eye inflammation, without a fever — are such that infected people might not bother seeking medical care and, therefore, wouldn’t be tested. The CDC has asked farmworkers with flu symptoms to get tested, but researchers are concerned about a lack of outreach and incentives to encourage testing among people with limited job security and access to health care. Further, by testing only on dairy farms, the agency likely would miss evidence of wider spread. “It’s hard to not compare this to covid, where early on we only tested people who had traveled,” said Benjamin Pinsky, medical director of the clinical virology laboratory at Stanford University. “That left us open to not immediately recognizing that it was transmitting among the community.” Chu notes this isn’t 2020 — not by a long shot. Hospitals aren’t overflowing with bird flu patients. Also, the country has the tools to do much better this time around, she said, if there’s political will. For starters, tests that detect the broad category of influenzas that H5N1 belongs to, called influenza A, are FDA-approved and ubiquitous. These are routinely run in the “flu season,” from November to February. An unusual number of positives from these garden-variety flu tests this spring and summer could alert researchers that something is awry. Doctors, however, are unlikely to request influenza A tests for patients with respiratory symptoms outside of flu season, in part because health insurers may not cover them except in limited circumstances, said Alex Greninger, assistant director of the clinical virology laboratory at the University of Washington. That’s a solvable problem, he added. At the peak of the covid pandemic, the government overcame billing issues by mandating that insurance companies cover tests, and set a lucrative price to make it worthwhile for manufacturers. “You ran into a testing booth on every other block in Manhattan because companies got $100 every time they stuck a swab in someone’s nose,” Greninger said. Another obstacle is that the FDA has yet to allow companies to run their influenza A tests using eye swabs, although the CDC and public health labs are permitted to do so. Notably, the bird flu virus was detected only in an eye swab from one farmworker infected this year — and not in samples drawn from the nose or throat.Overcoming such barriers is essential, Chu said, to ramp up influenza A testing in regions with livestock. “The biggest bang for the buck is making sure that these tests are routine at clinics that serve farmworker communities,” she said, and suggested pop-up testing at state fairs, too. “If we need to move to scale this, there would need to be an infusion of money,” said Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease programs at the Association of Public Health Laboratories. Like an insurance policy, the upfront expense would be slight compared with the economic blow of another pandemic.

Studies find little to no immunity to H5N1 avian flu virus in Americans - The American population has little to no pre-existing immunity to the H5N1 avian flu virus circulating on dairy and poultry farms, according to preliminary findings from ongoing testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In other developments, outbreaks in dairy herds continue to be reported at a steady pace, along with sporadic detections in poultry flocks. The CDC based its serology findings on blood collected from people in all 10 US regions during two earlier flu seasons—2021-22 and 2022-23. Scientists challenged the blood samples with the H5N1 virus to gauge if there was an antibody reaction. They found that antibody levels were low in people who were or weren't vaccinated against seasonal flu, hinting at little to no pre-existing immunity and that most of the population would be susceptible if the virus changed to a form that more easily spreads among people. "This finding is not unexpected because A(H5N1) viruses have not spread widely in people and are very different from current and recently circulating human seasonal influenza A viruses," the CDC said regarding the study findings, which it included in a regular update on its response activities. The risk to the general public remains low, and so far only three human infections have been reported in connection to the dairy farm outbreaks. All involved people who worked closely with cows. In late May, federal health officials contracted with CSL Seqirus to fill and finish bulk supplies of one of two candidate H5 virus, enough for 4.8 million doses. The CDC has said the vaccine is a good match to the circulating H5N1 strain. Globally, the main threat from the 2.3.4.4b clade viruses seems to be to people who have been exposed to infected animals. In a related development, Finland's health ministry last week announced that it will offer avian flu vaccine to people who may be exposed to the virus, such as poultry and fur-farm workers and veterinarians. The ministry said it will receive a supply of the vaccine as part of a joint procurement among 15 European Union countries and that vaccination will begin as soon as possible. The vaccine was developed by Seqirus UK, Ltd. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed 6 more H5N1 outbreaks in dairy herds, lifting the US total to 102. The latest confirmations involved 5 farms in Colorado and 1 in Iowa. Also, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, in two separate statements, has reported three more outbreaks in dairy herds, two more in Sioux County and one in Plymouth County, both in the northwestern part of the state. Meanwhile, Minnesota reported another outbreak in commercial poultry, which involves a turkey farm that houses 33,100 birds in Stearns County in the central part of the state, according to APHIS.

US preparedness & response agency offers H5N1 avian flu resources - The US Administration for Strategic Preparedness & Response (ASPR) today laid outits response to H5N1 avian flu infections affecting US cattle and poultry, as Iowa confirmed another highly pathogenic avian flu outbreak in poultry.ASPR, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, said it is "monitoring the situation closely and making resources available to support state, local, tribal, and territorial partners." ASPR has personal protective equipment (PPE) and antiviral drugs available in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), as well as antiviral drugs like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and materials for vaccines should human-to-human transmission occur. So far, just three H5N1 cases in people have been confirmed in the United States in 2024. The SNS includes a large inventory of PPE available to protect healthcare workers. ASPR is also offering face shields, gloves, N95 respirators, elastomeric half-mask respirators, and goggles for farm workers or others who interact with infected cattle or other animals. "ASPR's mission is to help the country prepare for, respond to, and recover from public health emergencies and disasters," the agency said. "The SNS contributes to this mission as the nation's largest repository of emergency medical supplies. While many states hold large supplies of PPE in state-held stockpiles, if those stockpiles of PPE are depleted or unavailable, federal supplies managed by SNS may be requested."Yesterday the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship reported an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial turkey flock in Sac County. This is Iowa's third confirmation of HPAI in poultry flocks in 2024. Sac County is in the west-central part of the state.In response to the outbreak, Gov. Kim Reynolds authorized a disaster proclamation for Sac County effective for 1 month. The proclamation allows state resources to assist with tracking and monitoring, rapid detection, containment, disposal, and disinfection.

Experiments show H5N1 risk to dairy cows not exclusive to subtype infecting US herds --Researchers from Germany's Friedrich Loeffler Institute today reported initial findings from H5N1 avian flu susceptibility studies in dairy cows, concluding that the cows are susceptible not only to the B3.13 subtype circulating in the United States but also to a virus isolated from a wild bird in Germany. The experiments, first reported in early May by Science, centered around infecting the udder through the teats in a high-containment lab setting. In a statement, the group said that, for both viruses, cows showed clear signs of disease such as a sharp drop in milk production, changes in milk consistency, and fever.The researchers said the findings don't change their avian flu risk assessment, which they consider low, given that it already covers the chance of infections with other highly pathogenic H5 strains. "Nevertheless, increased vigilance is recommended, and HPAI H5 should also be considered in investigations, especially in the case of unclear and frequent cases of disease in dairy herds," the team wrote.Direct infection of the udder is one of the transmission paths seen in US cattle, and extremely high viral levels have been found in the milk of infected cows. Recent tissue sample examination from US cows revealed that the H5N1 virus infects epithelial cells of mammary alveoli, prompting acute inflammation in the udder, which could explain the drop in milk production and high virus levels in milk.It's not clear how the virus first jumped from wild birds to cows in the United States, but risk to ruminants has been present since the virus was first detected 27 years ago. The Loeffler Institute scientists referenced water buffalo in Asia that had contact with the feces of wild birds.Kai Kupferschmidt, a writer from Science who has been tracking the experiments in cows, said on X today that the findings seem to answer one of the puzzling aspects of the H5N1 situation in US dairy cows: whether there is something special about B3.13 that led to the infections.The Loeffler Institute researchers said they have tested about 1,400 serum samples from German cows from regions affected by avian flu, and so far no antibodies have been seen. The group also tested 350 tank milk samples from different regions, which were also negative.In other H5N1 developments, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) over the last few days has confirmed 14 more avian flu outbreaks on dairy farms, raising the total to 116. The latest detections are from Iowa (4), Idaho (3), Minnesota (3), Colorado (2), and Texas (2).The virus continues to turn up on poultry farms, and APHIS confirmed two more outbreaks in Minnesota, both involving commercial turkey farms. One is located in Pipestone County and has 73,800 birds, and the other is a facility in Swift County that houses 114,600 birds. Both are in the southwestern part of the state.Also, APHIS recently confirmed 19 more H5N1 detections in house mice, raising the total to 66. All are from New Mexico's Roosevelt County.

CWD detected for first time in Trinity County, Texas --Trinity County joins the ranks of chronic wasting disease (CWD)-affected counties in Texas after a detection at a deer-breeding facility, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) reported late last week.The 2-year-old white-tailed doe tested positive during required CWD postmortem surveillance at the facility, a finding confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Trinity County is located in eastern Texas; TPWD didn't provide the city."CWD has an incubation period that can span years, so the first indication of the disease in a herd is often found through routine surveillance testing rather than observed clinical signs," the press release said. "TAHC [Texas Animal Health Commission] and TPWD remind all deer breeders of requirements to report mortalities within seven days of detection and submit CWD test samples within seven days of collection."CWD, a neurologic disease caused by misfolded proteins called prions, affects cervids such as deer, elk, moose, and reindeer. The disease poses an ongoing threat to cervids because it can spread from animal to animal and through environmental contamination. It isn't known to infect humans, but officials recommend not eating meat from a sick animal and using precautions when field-dressing or butchering cervids."In Texas, the disease was first discovered in 2012 in free-ranging mule deer along a remote area of the Hueco Mountains near the Texas-New Mexico border," TPWD wrote. "CWD has since been detected in Texas captive and free-ranging cervids, including white-tailed deer, mule deer, red deer, and elk."

Dengue surge in the Americas tops 9 million cases -- For the first half of 2024, dengue cases in the Americas region have already surpassed yearly maximums, and cases have already doubled those of 2023, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said this week in its latest epidemiologic update.So far more than 9.3 million cases have been reported by 43 countries and territories. About half were lab confirmed. Of the total, 9,592 were severe and 4,529 were fatal. Six countries accounted for nearly all the deaths: mostly Brazil, followed by Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Colombia, and Ecuador.Compared to both 2023 and 5-year case averages, cases were up most sharply in the Caribbean region, followed by the Southern Cone, Central America and Mexico, and Andean-region countries. All four dengue virus serotypes have been circulating in the Americas, with levels varying by country. All four are circulating simultaneously in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Panama.The agency urged countries to continue their surveillance, diagnosis, treatment, and vector control activities. PAHO also said clustering of cases is also common with diseases including dengue, chikungunya, and Zika. "Efforts should be made to analyze the spatial distribution of cases to enable a rapid response at the local level in the most affected areas," it said. "Information from the hotspots of the three diseases should be targeted for intensive vector control."

Toxic garlic should have prompted EPA to warn against gardening near Ohio derailment, watchdog says --The Environmental Protection Agency should conduct additional soil studies near the site of a toxic train derailment in Ohio and warn people it might not be safe to garden there after independent testing showed high levels of chemicals in locally grown garlic, a watchdog group said Thursday. In a petition filed with the federal agency, the nonprofit Government Accountability Project argues that the EPA should have already followed up on the tests of gardens and crops in the city where the Norfolk Southern derailment took place. “It is unconscionable that the EPA has not conducted its own testing on garden crops in East Palestine, nor have they sampled for dioxins in the home produce,” the nonprofit group's senior environmental officer, Lesley Pacey, told The Associated Press in advance of the petition filing. “Yet, the EPA has told residents to garden and eat home produce as usual.” The Associated Press sent emails to EPA officials seeking comment about the petition Thursday. The agency has been telling people it’s safe to garden since nearly three months after the February 2023 derailment, based on tests conducted by state agriculture officials at 31 locations around town and on surrounding farms. The officials tested winter wheat, malting barley, pasture grasses and rye from area farms.“Residential soil sampling results are within typical ranges for the area, and garden plants are generally considered safe to eat,” the EPA said to the community. In the past, agency officials have dismissed the independent tests cited by the Government Accountability Project, pointing to their concerns with quality control. The tests were performed by Scott Smith, a businessman and inventor who, since his own factory was inundated by tainted floodwaters in 2006, has been on a crusade to help communities affected by chemical disasters. The EPA has said that previous testing conducted by contractors hired by the railroad did not show high levels of dioxins or other chemicals outside the train derailment site after the initial evacuation order was lifted, and therefore, additional tests in individual yards and gardens weren't needed. The only place the EPA reported finding high levels of cancer-causing dioxins was in the area immediately around the derailment about two weeks after the crash. That soil was included in the nearly 179,000 tons of material dug up and disposed of last year. But some residents aren’t taking any chances. Ms. Figley said they decided to plant a garden again this year after using one of her husband’s tractors to remove the top 3 inches of soil and replace that with fresh dirt.“I’d rather eat dioxins than die of starvation I guess,” Ms. Figley said. “I’m pretty worried, but what can you do?”Dioxins have been a key concern for East Palestine residents ever since officials decided to blow open five tank cars of the derailed train and burn the vinyl chloride contained within them. The chemical is used to make a variety of plastic products, including pipes, wire and packaging materials, and is found in polyvinyl chloride plastic, better known as PVC. Thousands of residents had to evacuate their homes temporarily after the derailment and during the venting and burning of the vinyl chloride, which sent an enormous toxic plume of black smoke over the town.. “I certainly didn't eat anybody's tomatoes or cucumbers,” said Tamara Lynn Freeze, whose freshly grown garlic was also tested by Mr. Smith and showed dioxin levels five times higher than what was found in garlic she still had sitting in her garage from a year before the derailment. Ms. Freeze says she developed a chronic sinus infection and joint pain after the derailment — symptoms that seem to ease any time she's away from the area for more than a few hours.Mr. Smith has visited East Palestine more than two dozen times since the derailment to test soil and water for dioxins and other chemicals. He is not a scientist by training but has traveled to chemical disaster sites for years. His testing is reviewed by a team of scientific advisers, including a former top Ohio EPA expert, and he sends all his samples to a laboratory that the EPA and others agree is reputable.Despite their disagreements, Mr. Durno did remark that Mr. Smith “certainly understands how to use appropriate laboratories both for the chemical work that he’s doing and the biological work that he is doing.” “From that perspective, he seems qualified to collect samples and collect and share data,” Mr. Durno said in a video interview he gave for an unfinished documentary about Mr. Smith’s work.“I’m basically calling for more testing,” Mr. Smith said. “I’m not trying to incite more panic. My point is it’d be very easy for the EPA to just test the garlic and report it. We can find no evidence they ever tested garden crops from residents.”

Insecticides contribute to drop in butterfly species across US MidWest: Study - Insecticide use is a major factor causing a decrease in the size and diversity of butterfly populations across the US Midwest, reports Braeden Van Deynze of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and colleagues in a study published June 20 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. Like many insects, butterfly populations worldwide are in decline. Experts have pointed to habitat loss, climate change and pesticides as likely factors contributing to the problem, but the primary drivers of this troubling trend remain murky. In the new study, researchers analyzed 17 years of data on land use, climate, pesticide application, and butterfly populations across 81 counties in five states in the Midwest. They identified the biggest factors impacting butterfly populations. The researchers found that insecticide use was most strongly linked not only to declines in the size of butterfly populations, but also to the number of species living in each region, causing an 8% drop in diversity. Specifically, crop seeds treated with neonicotinoid insecticides appeared to have the largest impact. This pesticide was also the most important factor explaining the decline in populations of the popular and well-studied monarch butterfly in the Midwest. The study shows that the shift from reactive insecticides, which are applied after an infestation begins, to a prophylactic insecticide applied to crop seeds has had a negative effect on butterfly diversity and population sizes in the Midwest. The researchers call for publicly available, reliable, comprehensive and consistently reported pesticide use data, particularly for neonicotinoid seed treatments. They say this data is needed to fully understand the causes of butterfly decline. The authors add, "We have taken a large step toward pinpointing the cause of decades of butterfly declines. Of the three causes typically invoked, insecticides rise above climate and land use changes as the most negative factors."

Global study discovers natural hazards threaten over 3,000 species --Most of us are aware that climate change is altering our world. But it can also make certain natural disasters, like hurricanes, more likely in places where susceptible species reside.Until recently, we had limited knowledge about which species are especially at risk due to natural hazards. Now, researchers from the Globe Institute at the University of Copenhagen have identified them, and the researchers behind the study, emphasize the urgent need for action based on their findings."We have identified which species are most at risk of extinction due to natural hazards, which is a new aspect of our findings. We also highlight strategies to prevent these extinctions, such as captive breeding programs to increase the population size and translocation of those species," explains postdoc Fernando Gonçalves, one of two first authors behind the study. His colleague and first author of the study, postdoc Harith Farooq adds,"In our study, by overlapping the occurrence of four types of natural hazards with species that have limited distributions or occur in small numbers, we were able to identify which species may be more susceptible to these threats," he says.The researchers discovered that a total of 3,722 reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals are at risk of extinction because they live in areas where hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes are most likely to occur."Half of these species is what we qualify as in 'high risk' of extinction due to natural hazards, and the majority of these are found in the tropics and especially on tropical islands, which have already experienced many extinctions since the colonization by humans," says Jonas Geldmann and Bo Dalsgaard, who are senior authors of the study.

Scientists find further evidence that climate change could make fungi more dangerous --A team of medical researchers and infectious disease specialists affiliated with multiple institutions in China, working with a pair of colleagues, one from Singapore, the other from Canada, has found evidence bolstering theories that suggest as the planet warms, fungi could become more dangerous to humans.In their paper published in the journalNature Microbiology, the group describes their study of a type of fungi that has evolved to infect humans.For most of modern history, fungal infections in humans were not considered much of a threat. Besides yeast infectionsin women, ringworms and nail infections, fungal infections have been few and far between. That has been changing slightly in recent years as doctors have been reporting increases in rare types of fungal infections.Prior research has suggested the reason fungi have not been more of a threat until now is that they prefer cooler temperatures than are found in and on the bodies of mammals. But that may be changing, as the researchers involved in this new study have found.Infectious disease experts have been predicting a rise in different types of human fungi infections as the planet warms. They suggest as the environments in which fungi live grow warmer, they will adapt, eventually reaching a point where they will find the human body a reasonable place to live.The team working in China looked for fungal infections in 96 hospitals in that country over the years 2009 to 2019. They found thousands of fungal strains, one of which had not been documented infecting humans before, and they found it in two unrelated cases. They also found that it was resistant to two of the most common types of therapies used to treat fungal infections.Intrigued by their findings, they injected blood infected with the same type of fungus collected from the natural environment into lab mice with weak immune systems and found two things; the first was that it thrived, the second was that it mutated into a more aggressive form of itself. They then exposed the fungal pathogen to temperatures as high as 37°C (human body temperature) in a lab dish, and found that doing so led it to develop resistance to multiple antifungal agents.

Land Grabs Squeeze Rural Poor Worldwide --Since 2008, farmland acquisitions have doubled prices worldwide, squeezing family farmers and other poor rural communities. Such land grabs are worsening inequality, poverty, and food insecurity. A new IPES-Food report highlights land grabs (including for ostensibly ‘green’ purposes), the financial means used, and some significant implications.Powerful governments, financiers, speculators, and agribusinesses are opportunistically gaining control of more cultivable land. The report notes the 2007-08 food price spike and financial crash catalysed more land acquisitions. Quantitative easing and financialization after the 2008 global financial crisis enabled even more land grabs. Investors, agri-food companies, and even sovereign wealth funds have obtained farmland worldwide.Agribusinesses and other investors want land to make more profits, urging governments to enable takeovers. Cultivable land is being used for cash crops, natural resource extraction, mining, real property and infrastructure development, and ‘green’ projects, including biofuels. The land squeeze has developed in novel ways, with most large-scale deals diverting farmland from food production. Instead, environmentally damaging ‘industrial agriculture’ has spread, worsening rural poverty and outmigration. The new land rush has displaced small-scale farmers, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, and rural communities or otherwise eroded their access to land. It has worsened rural poverty, food insecurity, and land inequality. Marginalising local land users has made family farming less viable. ‘Green grabs’ involve governments and corporations taking land for dubious large-scale tree planting, biodiversity offsets, carbon sequestration, conservation, biofuels, and ‘green hydrogen’ projects. Water and other resource demands also threaten food production. Unsurprisingly, land prices have risen continuously for two decades in North America and three in Canada. During 2008-22, land prices nearly doubled worldwide, even tripling in Central and Eastern Europe! The largest one per cent of farms worldwide now have 70% of farmland. In Latin America, 55% of farms only have 3% of farmland! More than half the farmland thus obtained is for water-demanding crop production. While a fifth of large-scale land deals claim to be ‘green’, 87% are in areas of high biodiversity! Some governments and big businesses advocate compliance with environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards. They invoke sustainability, including climate goals, to justify elitist conservation and carbon offset schemes. Over half of government carbon removal pledges involve the land of small-scale farmers and indigenous peoples. ‘Green grabs’ – for carbon offsets, biodiversity, conservation and biofuel projects – account for a fifth of large-scale land deals.Government pledges to absorb carbon dioxide into the land surface commit almost 1.2 billion hectares, equivalent to the world’s cropland area! Despite modest climate benefits, problematic carbon offset markets are expected to quadruple over the next seven years, driving even more land grabs. Carbon offset and biodiversity markets drive such transactions, drawing major polluters into land markets. Oil giant Shell alone has committed over $450 million for offset projects.

Biden administration proposes to limit cutting old-growth trees --The Biden administration is proposing new protections for old-growth forests, but stopping short of blocking all logging of the carbon-storing plants. The Forest Service on Thursday proposed to limit the culling of these mature trees in national forests, stoking ire from some in the timber industry and cheers from environmental groups. Studies have shown that old-growth trees store significant amounts of carbon dioxide — making their protection important for fighting climate change. “Our old growth forests breathe in carbon pollution, cleaning up the air, and filter our water, cleaning up rivers and streams. These forests are an essential partner in tackling climate change,” national climate adviser Ali Zaidi said in a written statement. “Today’s action will help better inform the stewardship of the national forest system and strengthen our work to deploy nature-based solutions that improve the resilience of lands, waters, wildlife, and communities,” he added. The administration’s new proposal would restrict cutting in such places to cases where even with tree cutting, the area would still be considered old-growth forest. It would also require government land managers to take on proactive projects to bolster these forests. The American Forest Resource Council, a trade group representing timber companies in the western U.S., described the proposal as “politically driven” and said the administration should instead focus on the threat of wildfires.

California contends with early-season ‘mini outbreak’ of multiple wildfires - Multiple wildfires gained momentum this weekend across California in an early-season appetizer of what might be in store later this summer.“This is not a peak-season fire situation,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said at a Monday webinar. “This is more of an episodic or wind-drive, little mini outbreak of fires.”The 15,610-acre Post Fire, which began on Saturday in Los Angeles County, led to multiple evacuation orders and was just 8 percent contained as of Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, the 1,190-acre Point Fire in Sonoma County, which began on Sunday, was only 20 percent contained. Most of the wildfires that gained momentum over the weekend were initially ignited in grassy areas or in “relatively brushy ecosystems,” Swain explained. A firefighter walks towards flames from the Post Fire on Sunday, June 16, 2024, in Lebec, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Thayer) After two wet consecutive winters, California has amassed significant additional growth of grass as well as some of the heavier brush, and some of these materials “are starting to become rather flammable,” according to Swain. “That is potentially offering more biomass to burn in whatever fires do occur,” he said, offering the caveat that most of this biomass is not yet unusually dry. Most of the fires thus far are not occurring in highly forested areas because those settings are still relatively moist, Swain explained. He acknowledged, however, that moisture levels are “starting to change,” as June temperatures so far have been particularly hot. “We could, in fact, see a very active finish to fire season 2024, but we aren’t there yet,” he continued. “Despite the current activity level, this is not yet indicative [of] really active conditions.” The ongoing red flag warning conditions have made for what Swain described as “tough firefighting” conditions. Still, on the other hand, he stressed that firefighting resources are relatively available at this point in the season.

Los Angeles County wildfire near Pyramid Lake triggers evacuation orders, California - Firefighters are battling a fast-moving wildfire in Gorman, Los Angeles County, California, which has scorched 4 251 ha (10 505 acres) since June 15, 2024. The fire forced the evacuation of 1 200 people, damaged two structures, and remained 0% contained as of 13:00 UTC on June 16, 2024. The cause of the fire is under investigation. The fire is moving southeast towards Lake Pyramid, with crews working to construct perimeter fire lines around its edges. Aircraft are being used to halt the fire’s forward progress, but visibility issues are limiting their effectiveness. The fire is currently advancing into Hungry Valley Park. Evacuation orders are in effect for areas west of Interstate 5 between Pyramid Lake and Gorman, including the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area. California State Park Services have evacuated 1 200 people from Hungry Valley Park. Pyramid Lake has been closed due to the threat posed by the Post Fire. An evacuation warning has been issued for areas south of Pyramid Lake between Old Ridge Route and the LA County line, including Paradise Ranch Estates. Residents in these areas should be prepared to leave, especially those who may require additional time to evacuate. Emergency assistance is available by dialing 911, and further information can be found at alertla.org.

New Mexico wildfires: Governor declares emergency, at least 1 dead (AP) — Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled a mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings, and killed at least one person. Officials warned the danger isn’t over. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency that covers Ruidoso and neighboring tribal lands and deployed National Guard troops to the area. A top-level fire management team is expected to take over Wednesday, and winds will continue to challenge crews, officials said. The governor’s office confirmed the fatality but said it had no other details. Christy Hood, a real estate agent in Ruidoso, said the evacuation order Monday came so quickly that she and her husband Richard, only had time to grab their two children and two dogs. “As we were leaving, there were flames in front of me and to the side of me,” she said. “And all the animals were just running — charging — trying to get out.” The family headed out of Ruidoso, but heavy traffic turned what should have been a 15-minute drive to leave town into a harrowing two-hour ordeal. “It looked like the sky was on fire. It was bright orange,” she said. “Honestly, it looked like the apocalypse. It was terrifying and sparks were falling on us.” More than 500 structures have been destroyed or damaged, but it’s unclear how many were homes. A flyover to provide more accurate mapping and a better assessment of damage was planned Tuesday night, Lujan Grisham said.

Governor calls for federal aid as deadly fire rages in Ruidoso - Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has asked the White House to declare two devastating wildfires in Southern New Mexico a major disaster to allow the burned area to qualify for federal assistance. However, the state won’t wait for the aid to work its way through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s bureaucratic system, the governor said in a Wednesday night briefing. New Mexico will assist affected residents as much as possible, both financially and by sending teams to help with recovery, she said. “This is a state that fronts money — doesn’t wait for FEMA,” Lujan Grisham said at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, where many evacuees had fled Monday evening. Some are staying at temporary shelters, while others are sheltering in motels or with relatives and friends.

Wildfires turn deadly in New Mexico as firefighters also work to contain California blazes - An early start to the U.S. wildfire season remained in full swing Wednesday in the West as blazes in New Mexico turned deadly and prompted a state of emergency. At the same time, California firefighters were juggling challenges from five major fires burning at both ends of the state. Firefighters in New Mexico were simultaneously battling two massive wildfires that broke out Monday in the same general area. The fires spread to more than 23,400 acres by Wednesday morning, killing two people, destroying more than 1,400 homes and other structures and causing more than 8,000 people to evacuate, according to officials. New Mexico State Police reported Wednesday that an individual was found dead in a vehicle incinerated in the South Fork Fire in Ruidoso, Lincoln County. Officials said they were unable to immediately identify the deceased due to their remains being skeletal. "No legible identification documents were located in the burned vehicle," according to police. The second fatality occurred near the Swiss Chalet Motel in Ruidoso, officials said. Patrick Pearson, 60, died after sustaining numerous burns from the South Fork Fire, where he succumbed to his injuries, according to police. Fire officials said there was 0% containment Wednesday on the South Fork Fire and the Salt Fire, which are burning parallel to each other on Mescalero Tribal land and U.S. Forest Service land near the mountain village of Ruidoso, about 75 miles west of Roswell. Residents of the village of Ruidoso, which has a population of more than 7,800, were ordered to evacuate. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency for the area Tuesday and her office confirmed that one person had been killed in the fire. The circumstances of the death were not disclosed.In California, firefighters were getting the upper hand on multiple major wildfires burning across California.One of the biggest fires in California is the Sites Fire, which ignited around 2:30 p.m. PT Monday in Colusa County, about 60 miles north of Sacramento, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). Fueled by tall dry vegetation and fanned by wind gusts of up to 20 mph, the fire had spread to 15,565 acres on Wednesday, triggering numerous evacuations, according to Cal Fire.The Sites Fire in Northern California's Colusa County, about 60 miles north of Sacramento, was 5% contained Wednesday. A red flag warning signaling high fire danger was already issued for the area when the fire started, officials said.

‘Extremely Dangerous’ Floods Threaten New Mexico After Wildfires Kill 2 – NYTimes - Thunderstorms could threaten parts of New Mexico with more flash flooding on Thursday, forecasters said, after heavy rain complicated efforts from firefighters to contain two fast-moving wildfires that have killed two people and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents. The rain could help control the blazes, authorities said, which were still expected to burn for several days. But it also presented its own dangers, prompting the evacuation of some emergency crews to higher ground on Wednesday as water levels rose. Parts of New Mexico, including Los Alamos County, Rio Arriba County and Sandoval County, were under flood warnings until Thursday morning. Flooding was affecting drainages leading out of the slopes of the Jemez Mountains, the National Weather Service said. The wildfires, named the South Fork and Salt fires, began amid sweltering temperatures earlier this week. In all, they have burned more than 23,000 acres. The South Fork fire, the larger of the two, has burned more than 16,000 acres and destroyed 1,400 structures, according to local officials. About 500 of those structures were believed to be homes, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at a news conference on Wednesday night, adding that the damage made the fires among the most devastating in New Mexico’s history. “It is heartbreaking to look at what our landscape looks like after a fire moves through it,” Kerry Gladden, a spokeswoman for the village of Ruidoso, said in an interview on Thursday. Ruidoso is located between the two fires. “Such a thing of beauty now has whole mountain sides that are covered with charred trees.” Three flood rescues have taken place and several people remain unaccounted for, said Ms. Lujan Grisham, who had earlier declared a state of emergency in Lincoln County and the Mescalero Apache Reservation because of the fires. The fires were expected to continue burning in the coming days, Melanie Stansbury, who represents New Mexico’s First Congressional District, said at the news conference on Wednesday night. Two people who died were found on Tuesday in or near Ruidoso, according to the New Mexico police on Wednesday. One victim, whom the police identified as Patrick Pearson, 60, was found on the side of a road near a motel with burns, the police said. The other victim, who was found in the driver’s seat of a burned vehicle on a road, was not immediately identified. With two massive forest fires coiling around Ruidoso, about 8,000 residents have evacuated, according to the New Mexico forestry division. Communications in the town were largely down, with emergency staffers working from a hub at a local fire station. Communications went out after the fire damaged infrastructure on the mountains, said Ms. Gladden, the spokeswoman for Ruidoso. But the situation was unpredictable, and the fires could still reach the downtown area. “With the wind shift,” she said, “anything can happen.” Residents who stayed behind described a frantic evacuation earlier in the week as the fire moved closer to homes. Ms. Antoine said she decided to stay behind to help keep the hotel open for firefighters and others who needed refuge. But she said she was worried about running out of gas and other supplies. “There’s no food to get at stores,” she said. “We helped families move and the fire was like 100 yards from their homes,” said Thomas Kazhe, a member of the Mescalero Apache tribe, who on Wednesday night was helping divert traffic away from an area where the fire was still active. “We were running to get them out.” Temperatures had reached the upper 80s and 90s in Southern New Mexico on Wednesday before a storm dumped torrential rain in the Ruidoso area in the afternoon, the National Weather Service said on social media, with some areas receiving 2.5 inches of rain in a half-hour. “Water rescues are ongoing in the Ruidoso area as floodwaters surge down the slopes from nearby burn scars,” the National Weather Service said on social media on Wednesday, describing the situation as “extremely dangerous.” It declared a flash-flood emergency for Ruidoso and some surrounding areas, and issued severe thunderstorm and flood warnings for several New Mexico counties.

Hundreds of structures destroyed as New Mexico wildfires continue to burn out of control - Heavy rain and hail fell Wednesday around an evacuated village in New Mexico threatened by two wildfires that have killed at least two people and damaged an estimated 1,400 structures. The rain offered the hope of some assistance for firefighters, but added the threat of high winds and flash floods. Air tankers dropped water and red retardant earlier on the pair of fires growing in a mountainous part of the state where earlier in the week thousands of residents of the village of Ruidoso were forced to flee the larger of the two blazes, the South Fork Fire, with little notice. Of the estimated 1,400 structures destroyed or damaged in the South Fork Fire, about 500 could be homes, New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham said in a news briefing Wednesday night. "It's not confirmed, that about 500 homes are in that mix, again making this one of the most devastating fires in New Mexico's history," Grisham said. Rep. Melanie Stansbury of New Mexico said that the state's entire congressional delegation has sent a letter to President Biden asking him to issue a major disaster declaration for the fire. As of Wednesday afternoon, the South Fork Fire had burned more than 16,600 acres, according to the forestry division, and the Salt Fire had burned just over 7,000 acres. Their combined area is larger than the island of Manhattan. Both had no containment. The causes of both fires remain under investigation. , Lujan Grisham said in a Thursday news conference that 200 to 300 more firefighters will be deployed to fight the South Fork Fire as it approaches high-density living areas, according to CBS News affiliate KHOU. New Mexico State Police reported that Wednesday that it had confirmed two fire-related deaths in Ruidoso.One victim, identified as 60-year-old Patrick Pearson, was found dead Tuesday on the side of a road near the Swiss Chalet Motel, state police said in a statement. He had suffered numerous burns. His family told KHOU that Pearson was a guitarist who played regularly at a Ruidoso bar. The skeletal remains of a second victim were found in a burned vehicle just before noon Tuesday, state police said. That victim has not yet been identified due to the severity of the burns, and no identification documents were found in the vehicle. "We are very concerned about the potential loss of life, we know that there are several people still unaccounted for," Grisham said. Ruidoso Assistant Fire Chief Ross Coleman gave CBS News a look at some of the destruction, with home after home burned to the ground. "There were about five or six houses right in here, and our fire chief just lost his house," Coleman said.

South Fork Fire destroys over 1 400 structures, forces over 8 000 to evacuate immediately, New Mexico - A rapidly spreading wildfire near Ruidoso village, New Mexico spread over 8 429 ha (20 828 acres) of land since it started on June 17, 2024, destroying around 1 400 structures and forcing over 8 000 residents to evacuate without even being able to gather their belongings. On June 17, 2024, residents of Ruidoso Village, New Mexico, were ordered to evacuate immediately as the South Fork Fire rapidly spread, consuming approximately 6 180 ha (15 276 acres) and destroying around 1 400 structures. The fire remains zero percent contained, as of June 19, and continues to threaten the area. Sorry, the video player failed to load.(Error Code: 101102) The South Fork Fire has exhibited extreme fire behavior, including crowning and long-range spotting, significantly increasing its footprint. The fire is burning on Mescalero Tribal land, U.S. Forest Service land, and within areas surrounding Ruidoso. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. According to George Ducker, Communications Coordinator for the New Mexico State Forestry Division, the fire’s rapid spread is attributed to a combination of heat, strong winds, and abundant fuel in the form of trees and vegetation. The Salt Fire, another active wildfire burning on the Mescalero Reservation and southwest of Ruidoso, has grown to approximately 2 249 ha (5 557 acres), as of June 19, and is also showing no containment as of the latest reports. The federal Bureau of Land Management is leading a team of six investigators to determine the cause of the South Fork Fire, a process that Governor Grisham stated “will take time.” Approximately 8 000 residents have been evacuated, with the entire village of Ruidoso under mandatory evacuation. Authorities have closed U.S. Highway 70 from mile marker 249 (intersection NM 244), 6.4 km (4 miles) east of Mescalero, to mile marker 258, 3.2 km (2 miles) east of Carrizo. The only available evacuation route is via Sudderth to Highway 70, leading to Roswell. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham confirmed that one person has died in the wildfire via an email to CBS, and about 500 people are currently staying in shelters. Emergency crews, including personnel from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Mescalero, U.S. Forest Service, and multiple aviation assets, are working tirelessly to contain the blaze. As of Tuesday evening (LT), June 18, more than 800 personnel were on the ground battling the fire, which has now expanded to over 8 094 ha (20 000 acres). Fire emergency crews evacuated seven people from a local hospital and treated two for non-life-threatening injuries. Additionally, the Public Service Company of New Mexico has shut off electricity to approximately 2 000 homes and businesses in part of the village. Weather conditions are expected to change, with scattered showers and thunderstorms forecasted for tomorrow, which may impact the fire’s behavior. Tonight’s low temperature is predicted to be 13 °C (56 °F) with southwest winds of 8 to 24 km/h (5 to 15 mph) and relative humidity between 12% and 16%. Tomorrow’s high is expected to be around 29 °C (85 °F) with southeast winds increasing to 16 to 24 km/h (10 to 15 mph) in the afternoon. The chance of precipitation is 30%. The New Mexico Department of Health advises individuals sensitive to wildfire smoke to use the 5-3-1 Visibility Method to determine if it’s safe to be outside. An interactive smoke map at https://fire.airnow.gov/ provides the latest smoke conditions. The evacuation has caused traffic congestion and disrupted daily life, with cellphone and internet services failing during the evacuation process. Residents have reported seeing flames as high as 30 m (100 feet) and experiencing dense smoke making breathing difficult. Officials hope that the predicted rain on Thursday, June 20, will aid in firefighting efforts. In the meantime, the New Mexico state government and local authorities continue to provide support and resources to those displaced by the wildfires. Governor Grisham plans to visit the affected areas within 24 hours to assess the damage and coordinate ongoing response efforts.

Record breaking heat wave puts hundreds of millions in US and Canada under heat risk advisories - A record-breaking heat wave is making its way across much of the Eastern and Southern United States and Eastern Canada this week, sending temperatures into the high 90s and over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for hundreds of millions of people. As of Monday the National Weather Service estimated that over 72.6 million people are under heat alerts, more than a fifth of the entire US population, and CNN Weather predicts that more than 260 million people will see temperatures of 90 degrees or more over the coming week. Overall, temperatures will reach 15–25 degrees above normal for this time of year in areas affected. Heat warning posted at the U.S. Open golf tournament Saturday, June 15, 2024, in Pinehurst, North Carolina [AP Photo/Frank Franklin II] For many areas affected, the heat dome will break records for June temperatures. Cities like Pittsburgh and Syracuse, New York, have not seen June temperatures this hot in nearly three decades. The high temperatures are the result of a “heat dome,” a high pressure atmospheric system that produces extreme heat events. The heat dome is produced by a high pressure system that pushes and compresses air from the atmosphere to the surface. As the air warms under compression it begins to rise but is pushed back down by the high pressure, creating a large mass of stagnant heated air that is made hotter as cloud formation is prevented and solar radiation heats the air even more. This process has been compared to placing a lid on a pan on a stove, trapping heat inside. This heat dome began forming over the American Southwest and Mexico two weeks ago, putting 20 million people from California to Eastern Texas under federal excessive heat advisories with a further 11 million under general heat advisories. As of Monday the center of the heat wave had moved to the area around St. Louis, placing parts of Illinois and Missouri under extreme heat risk, the highest rating by the National Weather Service. Large sections of Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio were also under major heat risk advisories. According to projections from the NWS, the heat wave will peak from Tuesday through Saturday with extreme heat risks affecting the Midwest and Northeast from Missouri to Maine. States like Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, currently under moderate to extreme heat risk, will see a brief respite from the heat but the heat dome is expected to move south over the weekend, putting much of the Southern US under major heat risk advisories. Southwestern states will also see a resurgence in moderate to major heat risks at that time. By the weekend the heat dome is expected to break into two systems, with one traveling out into the Atlantic and one migrating south. This will weaken the system somewhat across much of the US. Heat domes are a common natural phenomenon, but climate scientists have noted that the intensity and frequency of them is fueled by climate change driven by the emission of carbon dioxide from capitalist industrial production into the atmosphere. One study estimates that the conditions that cause heat domes could double in magnitude by the end of the century. As such events become more common and stronger the risk to public health increases. Excessive heat is the top weather-related cause of death in the US, with more than 1,200 people killed by extreme heat each year. The intense temperatures from heat domes make them a deadly event. The Western North America heat wave of 2021, caused by a heat dome, resulted in prolonged temperatures up to of 121 degrees Fahrenheit across much of Washington and Oregon in the US and British Columbia in Canada. The high heat caused damage to roads and railways, melted snow caps resulting in flooding, destroyed crops, killed livestock and caused wildfires that destroyed the town of Lytton in British Columbia, Canada. In total, that heat wave killed between 1,400–1,600 people and cause nearly $9 billion in damage.

What is a heat dome, and are you in one? --(WPIX) – A heat wave is expected to blanket much of the U.S. this week, trapping some in a “heat dome.” And yes, it’s sweltering.The National Weather Service warned Sunday that record-breaking heat was forecasted from the Midwest and Great Lakes to the Northeast through the week and into next week.“The duration of this heat wave is notable and potentially the longest experienced in decades for some locations,” the NWS said in a tweet.Hot and humid weather is in the forecast for many, even prompting air quality alerts in parts ofIllinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Heat index values in New York City alone could hit 100 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.On Monday alone, more than 70 million people were under extreme heat alerts.These sweltering temperatures are part of a heat dome — but what exactly does that mean?A heat dome is when high pressure prevents warm air from rising, trapping it as if it were a dome, according to the American Meteorological Society. It’s as if a lid was placed on a pot of boiling water on the stove – the warm air cannot leave, causing temperatures to skyrocket, making you feel like you’re in an oven.That doesn’t necessarily mean that every time it’s extremely hot out, you’re in a heat dome. It’s more about the lingering, no-relief heat. It can last a few days or a few weeks, an NWS spokesperson previously told NPR.This week, the dome is expected to sit over Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio.Parts of Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine could see maximum daily HeatRisk (an experimental tool used by the NWS) levels reach “extreme.” That’s the highest level on the four-point scale, defined as a “level of rare and/or long-duration extreme heat with little to no overnight relief” that can affect “anyone without effective cooling and/or adequate hydration.”By this weekend, the NWS says the “most intense heat will shift south from New England towards the Northeast urban corridor and Mid-Atlantic.”Last year the U.S. had the most heat waves — abnormally hot weather lasting more than two days — since 1936. Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center has issued its first tropical storm watch of the season. A disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico could become a tropical storm by Wednesday, the NHC said Monday, prompting alerts in parts of Texas and Mexico.

"Ring Of Fire" Heat Dome Stalls Over 76 Million Americans In Eastern Half Of Country --"Heat Dome" has become the new "Polar Vortex" buzzword in weather reporting.This week, a massive ridge of high pressure stalled over the eastern half of the US, roasting tens of millions of Americans with scorching hot temperatures in Chicago, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. "Record-breaking heat is forecast to expand from the Midwest and Great Lakes to the Northeast this week, potentially lingering through early next week," the National Weather Service (NWS) wrote in an update. "The duration of this heat wave is notable and potentially the longest experienced in decades for some locations," the NWS continued.According to Fox News Weather, NWS data shows severe 'heat alerts' cover an estimated 72 million people through Saturday. NWS said the heat will shift eastward from the Ohio River Valley to the Northeast United States through the week. Some areas could experience daytime highs in the low trip digits, with nighttime lows only dipping into the mid-70s. Private weather forecaster BAMWX called the heat dome the "ring of fire pattern," indicating, "More days of extreme heat will build throughout the week." "If you're located across the Ohio Valley to the Northeast, you can expect high temps in the mid to upper 90s...not including even more elevated "feels like" temps in these same areas as well," BAMWX's Kirk Hinz wrote on X.

Deadly heat dome to sit over Eastern half of the US through Sunday - Record and deadly temperatures near or above 100 ˚F (37.7 ˚C) are continuing for a third day across the Midwest and Northeast as an unusually large and persistent atmospheric heat dome sits over more than half the US, from the Great Plains to Maine. As of Tuesday, more than 77 million people were under heat advisory warnings, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Temperatures are expected to increase through Sunday evening and hit triple digits. The weather service is advising people to stay indoors and limit physical activities. Marc Chanard of the NWS told the Wall Street Journal: This heat wave is already ongoing but is really going to ramp up over the next few days. Multiple days in the high 90s and low 100s can really take its toll, especially when things don’t seem to be cooling much at night. The NWS has warned residents in Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston and New York City that they will face days of extreme and record-breaking temperatures as well as power outages due to the prolonged heat wave. On Monday, Chicago broke its daily record temperature, hitting 97 ˚F (36 ˚C). Forecasters expect Pittsburgh to hit three straight days of temperatures of 95 degrees beginning Wednesday. Hartford, Connecticut, is expected to tie a record of 95 degrees on Wednesday and 97 degrees on Thursday. Albany, New York, is expected to hit a record 97 degrees on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Scientific American shared an unusual fact: “This Wednesday it will be hotter in Burlington, Vermont, than in Miami—by a whopping 10 degrees Fahrenheit (5.5 degrees Celsius).” Scientific American said that areas in northern New England “could see the warmest temperatures in 30 years.” Heat domes are not new. A high pressure area that traps hot air below it usually forms in the South and Southwest. However, they are rarely seen in the Northeast in mid-June. The present system began earlier in the week over the Carolinas and then expanded west and north from Chicago to New England. Meanwhile, another heat dome is expected in the Phoenix area on Thursday and Friday, when the highs could reach 114 ˚F (45.5 ˚C) and 116 ˚F (46.6 ˚C), respectively, according to the NWS. Extreme heat has deadly consequences for the public. According to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by the Associated Press, 2,300 people died from excessive heat in the US last summer, the highest number in 45 years. At the same time, more than two dozen doctors, public health experts and meteorologists told AP that last year’s official death toll was only a fraction of the real number who died. The heat wave of 2023 was relentless, and tens of thousands of ambulances were dispatched after people collapsed from the temperatures.

FEMA urged to recognize extreme heat a 'major disaster' -- A coalition of environmental, labor and healthcare groups called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to classify extreme heat and wildfire smoke as “major disasters” to unlock federal funding for states during these weather events.The petition, filed on Monday by dozens of groups across several states, seeks to assist states and local regions struggling to financially recover from the surge of extreme heat and wildfire smoke amid climate change.“It’s urgent that FEMA treats intensifying heat waves and wildfire smoke as the major climate disasters they are,” Jean Su, energy justice director and senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, the petition’s lead author, said in a statement. “It’s past time for FEMA to address the climate emergency head-on.”Should FEMA include extreme heat and wildfire smoke in the regulatory category of a “major disaster,” funding could be given to state, local and Tribal governments for community solar and storage, cooling centers, air filtration systems and community resilience hubs, per the petition.Last year marked the hottest year ever recorded, with average land and ocean temperatures reaching 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration confirmed earlier this year. Experts predict the extreme heat, fueled by climate change, will likely continue to some extent in the coming years.The Center for Biological Diversity, the environmental group and lead author on the petition, pointed to a National Weather Service statistic that found heat is the leading disaster-related killer in the U.S. and has killed more individuals than hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined.As for wildfires, the average U.S. resident breathed in more wildfire smoke than in any year since 2006, the Center for Biological Diversity said.The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), one of the petition’s signatories, pointed to the need for more labor protections for those called in to assist with these weather events.

“This is intolerable”: US workers face scorching temperatures without protection during heat domeWith more than 100 million Americans currently affected by high temperatures, working conditions are becoming dangerous across the country. Heat-related illnesses and deaths are becoming increasingly common in the US, especially amid rising temperatures due to global warming. In 2022, 51 people died due to workplace exposure to extreme temperatures, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government also counted 33,890 work-related heat injuries and illnesses involving days away from work between 2011 and 2020. Factories typically have no air conditioning, meaning temperatures can often surge past 100 ˚F (37 ˚C). One auto parts worker at the Dana factory in Pottstown, Pennsylvania sent a picture to the WSWS of a thermometer in his plant reading 112 degrees. In Detroit, Michigan, the heat wave was compounded by mass power outages due to rain storms. Approximately 36,000 people were without electricity, and therefore air conditioning in most cases, on a day when the heat index reached as high as 95 degrees. A worker at Ford’s Rouge complex near Detroit said, “The plant is hot as hell. The day shift on the final line were sent home early, at 3pm.” It was not clear why management cut production an hour early, he said, adding: I doubt the United Auto Workers had anything to do with it. They haven’t said a word about the heat. There are fans around, but we have to get our own water. In the months since last year’s sellout contract, there have been multiple injuries and deaths at the sprawling industrial complex, where workers have been subjected to a regime of forced overtime and speedup. This includes Tywaun Long, a 46-year-old worker who died of a heart attack on the assembly line in April. One Ford Chicago Assembly Plant (CAP) worker said that his coworker was taken out on a stretcher Saturday due to the heat.

More than 1,000 people die at hajj pilgrimage 2024 amid extreme heat in Saudi Arabia, AFP reports — The death toll from this year's hajj has exceeded 1,000, an AFP tally said on Thursday, more than half of them unregistered worshippers who performed the pilgrimage in extreme heat in Saudi Arabia. The new deaths reported Thursday included 58 from Egypt, according to an Arab diplomat who provided a breakdown showing that of 658 total dead from that country, 630 were unregistered.All told around 10 countries have reported 1,081 deaths during the annual pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam which all Muslims with the means must complete at least once. The figures have come via official statements or from diplomats working on their countries' responses.The hajj, whose timing is determined by the lunar Islamic calendar, fell again this year during the oven-like Saudi summer.The national meteorological center reported a high of 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit) earlier this week at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Egyptian officials reached by CBS News would not confirm the figures stated by the AFP, but dozens of videos posted on social media in recent days showed bodies laying on the streets around the Grand Mosque.Jordan's Foreign Ministry released a statement via social media on Thursday confirming the deaths of 68 nationals who had traveled to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, adding that 16 others remained missing. The ministry said many of those who had died were being buried in Mecca per the wishes of their families. According to a Saudi study published last month, temperatures in the area are rising 0.4 degrees Celsius, or just less than one degree Fahrenheit, each decade.

Over 1 000 pilgrims reported dead as mercury soars to 51.8 °C (125 °F) during Hajj - At least 1 081 pilgrims were reported dead in ten countries, as of June 20, 2024, as temperatures rose to 51.8 °C (125 °F) causing more than 2 700 cases of extreme heat exhaustion in Saudi Arabia in just one day. The death toll from this year’s Hajj pilgrimage has surpassed 1 000, with more than half of the deceased being unregistered worshippers who performed the pilgrimage under extreme heat conditions in Saudi Arabia. According to an AFP tally released on Thursday, June 20, new deaths included 58 from Egypt, adding to the total of 658 Egyptians who passed away. Of these, 630 were unregistered pilgrims. Overall, around ten countries have reported 1 081 deaths during the annual pilgrimage, a fundamental practice in Islam that all Muslims with the means must complete at least once in their lifetime. These figures have been compiled from official statements or from diplomats involved in their countries’ response efforts. This year’s Hajj began on June 14 and fell during the sweltering Saudi summer, as determined by the lunar Islamic calendar. The National Meteorological Center reported a high of 51.8 °C (125 °F) this week at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Every year, tens of thousands of pilgrims attempt to perform the Hajj through irregular channels due to the high cost of official permits. Despite Saudi authorities clearing hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Mecca earlier this month, many still participated in the main rites, which began last Friday. This year, the unregistered pilgrims were particularly vulnerable to the heat as they could not access the air-conditioned spaces provided by Saudi authorities for the 1.8 million authorized pilgrims to cool down after hours of walking and praying outside. “People were tired after being chased by security forces before Arafat day. They were exhausted,” an Arab diplomat told AFP on Thursday, referring to the day-long outdoor prayers on Saturday that marked the Hajj’s climax. The diplomat added that the main cause of death among Egyptian pilgrims was the heat, which triggered complications related to high blood pressure and other issues. In addition to Egypt, new fatalities were confirmed on Thursday by Pakistan and Indonesia. Pakistan, which had around 150 000 pilgrims, has so far recorded 58 deaths, a diplomat briefed on the tally told AFP. “I think given the number of people, given the weather, this is just natural,” the diplomat said. Indonesia, which had around 240 000 pilgrims, raised its death toll to 183, according to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, compared with 313 deaths recorded last year. Other countries confirming deaths include Malaysia, India, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, Sudan, and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region. In many cases, authorities have not specified the cause. Meanwhile, friends and family members have been searching for pilgrims who are still missing. On Wednesday, June 19, they scoured hospitals and pleaded online for news, fearing the worst in the scorching temperatures. Saudi authorities have begun the burial process for deceased pilgrims, which involves cleaning the bodies, wrapping them in white burial cloth, and interring them in individual graves. “The burial is done by the Saudi authorities. They have their own system, so we just follow that,” said one diplomat, who noted that his country was working to notify loved ones of the dead as best as it could. Another diplomat mentioned that given the number of fatalities, it would be impossible to notify many families ahead of time, especially in Egypt, which accounts for a significant number of the deceased. Overall, around ten countries have reported 1 081 deaths during the annual pilgrimage, a fundamental practice in Islam that all Muslims with the means must complete at least once in their lifetime. These figures have been compiled from official statements or from diplomats involved in their countries’ response efforts.

Death toll from global heat wave climbs as 1,000 die from extreme heat in Mecca - Deadly heat waves are affecting hundreds of millions of people around the world. For the past week, much of the Eastern United States has seen temperatures far higher than average for this time of year, with the heat index reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 degrees Celsius) in some places and the National Weather Service predicting major and extreme heat risk for tens of millions of people over the next week. The US heat wave, the result of a “heat dome,” is predicted to shift from the Midwest and Northeast to the Southern and Southwest US by the middle of next week after having originated in Mexico at the beginning of June. Excessive heat in Mexico has claimed the lives of at least 125 people this year, as the country is being hit with the first named tropical storm of the year, predicted to be one of the most active hurricane seasons in recorded history. The heat has been so intense that howler monkeys were reported to be falling dead out of their trees. This past week has also seen intense heat in the Mediterranean region that took several lives. Multiple tourists, including British journalist Michael Mosley, have died from the heat in recent weeks, and Greek authorities were forced to shut down the Acropolis to tourists, close schools and station medics across Athens as temperatures soared to up to 112 degrees Fahrenheit (44.5 Celsius). According to meteorologist Panos Giannopoulos, heat waves are occurring earlier in the year. Speaking to Greek TV channel ERT, he said, “We never had a heatwave before June 19. We have had several in the 21st century, but none before June 15. Similar temperatures stuck Italy and Turkey. Temperatures in Italy reached above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius), about 10 degrees Celsius above normal, according to Antonio Sanò, founder of the weather website ilmeteo.it. Meanwhile, Turkey has seen temperatures 8-12 degrees Celsius above normal, with highs similar to Italy and Greece. The research non-profit Climate Central estimates that the extreme heat has been made five times more likely to occur due to climate change, and the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization published a report earlier this year that found heatwave-related deaths have increased in Europe by 30 percent over the past 20 years. India and Pakistan, as well as broader parts of Southeast Asia, have also suffered through deadly heat. For more than a month, India has seen temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the capital New Delhi, home to nearly 34 million people, recorded its highest night temperature in 55 years at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35.2 Celsius). Adjusted for the heat index, temperatures at night are estimated to feel well above 100 degrees. The extreme heat has claimed the lives of at least 100 people and caused heat stroke in 40,000 over the past three and a half months. These numbers are likely an undercount as heat-related deaths with illnesses are not often recorded properly. Dileep Mavalankar, former head of the Indian Institute of Public Health in Gandhinagar, told the Associated Press that, “We don’t classify and measure deaths as much as we should and that is one reason why heat-related deaths are difficult to count.” Research by World Weather Attribution estimates that the beginning of the heat wave in April was 45 times more likely due to climate change, and India’s weather agency believes the heat wave is among the longest in the country’s history. The most severe impacts of the global heat wave have been in Saudi Arabia, where an estimated 1,000 people have died from the searing heat during the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The Hajj is one of the most important religious events in Islam, drawing millions of people every year on a pilgrimage to the Kaaba, the “House of Allah.” Temperatures in Mecca reached 125 degrees Fahrenheit (51.8 Celsius) this week. This year the Saudi government issued 1.8 million permits for the Hajj, a procedure designed to control the number of pilgrims. However, many people who are unable to afford a permit go anyway. Saudi officials reported removing hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Mecca earlier this month. Without a permit, unregistered pilgrims are unable to access air-conditioned areas and other safety systems established for the high heat. On Thursday morning, CBS News reported that an Arab diplomat said 630 of 658 people who died were unregistered. As of this writing, 10 countries have confirmed a total of 1,081 deaths.

Massive dust storm triggers multi-vehicle crash on I-25 in New Mexico - (video) A massive dust storm swept across New Mexico, U.S. on June 19, 2024, severely limiting visibility and causing a multicar pileup near Algodones, New Mexico. A massive dust storm approximately 382 km (200 miles) long swept over New Mexico and northern Mexico on June 19, limiting visibility to less than 0.4 km (0.25 miles). The low visibility caused a multi-vehicle crash that closed Interstate 25, near Algodones, New Mexico. The crash caused 18 people to be hospitalized due to varying injuries, 51 people were medically assessed on the scene and 23 cars were involved in the crash, according to news reports by Koat.

Saharan dust cloud engulfs central Europe, impacts air quality in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia - A large Saharan dust cloud engulfed parts of central Europe, most notably Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, on Friday, June 21, 2024, significantly affecting air quality in the region. The intensity and relatively high number of Saharan dust intrusions in recent months have raised questions about the possibility that these events are related to changes in atmospheric circulation patterns. The dense dust particles in the air from the Saharan dust cloud have made breathing notably difficult in worst affected regions, with residents reporting a gritty sensation and discomfort. According to health authorities, high levels of dust can aggravate respiratory conditions, leading to increased cases of asthma attacks, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses. The World Health Organization (WHO) and other health experts advise individuals, particularly those with preexisting conditions, to minimize outdoor activities, reduce indoor dust exposure by closing windows, and utilize air purifiers to mitigate health risks during intense dust transport episodes like this one. The cloud is spreading NE and is expected to reach Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by Saturday, June 22, and remain present over the Balkans, including Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and southern Italy throughout Saturday. Another episode of Saharan dust transport is forecast over southern Italy and Greece on June 26.

Summer snow in Montana, NWS issues rare June Winter Storm Watch - An unexpected cold front is bringing a wintry mix to Montana just as summer approaches. With a Winter Storm Watch in effect, heavy snow is expected in the high elevations of the Rockies, disrupting travel and creating hazardous conditions. Late-season wet snow is forecast for the northern Rockies on Monday and Tuesday, June 17 and 18, 2024. Temperatures will be well below normal for mid-June and even near record cold for the date. Heavy wet snow may cause tree damage and power outages, and will likely make travel difficult across some of the passes. This event marks only the sixth June since 2005 to have a Winter Storm Watch in Montana. As the summer solstice approaches, some regions in the high-elevation West are experiencing unusual wintry conditions, including threats of accumulating snow. This unexpected weather pattern is due to a cold upper-level low that moved into the Pacific Northwest over the weekend and is now progressing into the Intermountain West as the workweek begins. Sorry, the video player failed to load.(Error Code: 101102) By Monday and Tuesday, June 16 and 17, the upper-level low is expected to settle into western Montana and central Idaho, bringing the potential for heavy snow along the northern Rockies. Winter Storm Watches have been issued for large areas of the Montana and Idaho mountains. Forecasts predict 5 – 10 cm (2 – 4 inches) of snow for Lost Trail Pass, 10 – 20 cm (4 – 8 inches) above 1 829 m (6 000 feet) in Glacier National Park, and 15 – 30 cm (6 – 12 inches) in the Sapphire and Bitterroot ranges. This event marks only the sixth June since 2005 to have a Winter Storm Watch in Montana, according to Iowa State University’s Iowa Environmental Mesonet.

First tropical storm watch of the season issued for South Texas and Mexico -- The National Weather Service issued its first tropical storm watch of the year for parts of southern Texas on Monday, as a storm develops in the southern Gulf of Mexico with the potential to bring dangerous rains and flooding to the Gulf Coast in the coming days. Potential Tropical Cyclone One is currently in the Bay of Campeche off the coast of Mexico and is forecast to move north into the Gulf before breaking west near the U.S.-Mexico border. Forecasters believe the storm will make landfall Wednesday evening to Thursday morning. The system had 40 mph winds as of Monday afternoon. If it becomes a tropical storm, as forecast, it would be named Tropical Storm Alberto. AccuWeather hurricane forecaster Alex DaSilva said current conditions in the gulf are “nearly ideal” for tropical storms. “Water temperatures are very impressive. It’s basically bathtub water across most of the Atlantic Basin, and it’s just going to continue to get warmer,” he said in a statement. “That area and coastline is shaped like a bowl, that can actually help to induce spin. We have seen a lot of tropical development in that area over the years.” The average date for the first tropical storm of the year is June 20, DeSilva said. A coastal flood watch was also issued for the entire Texas coast, as was an advisory in Louisiana and Mississippi. Forecasters noted that coastal Texas cities could see between 8-12 inches of rain this week, while parts of northern Mexico could see multiple feet. The Weather Prediction Center warned of “incredible amounts of moisture” in the gulf, which could “easily” develop into flash flood conditions from Texas to Louisiana. The center said Houston, San Antonio and Corpus Christi each have a “moderate” chance of flash flooding this week, at least 40 percent likely. The watch marked the first of what will be many in what forecasters predict to be a “hyperactive” hurricane season.

Tropical Storm Alberto makes landfall in Mexico, storm surge threat ongoing for Texas - Tropical Storm Alberto, the first named storm of the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season, has made landfall in Mexico after pummeling Texas with rain. A whopping 9.5 inches of rain has inundated Rockport, Texas, just north of Corpus Christi. As Alberto continues to move through Mexico Thursday, on-shore winds will continue to bring several feet of storm surge from Galveston to Corpus Christi. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 51 counties on Wednesday. The worst of the rain is done for coastal Texas, from Galveston to Corpus Christi. The heaviest rain has now moved into the mountains of Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexico border.

Alberto makes landfall, pushes inland over Mexico; US impacts to ease - Alberto, the first named system in the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season, made landfall around sunrise this morning near Tampico, Mexico, as a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds around 45 mph. Alberto was named on Wednesday morning, June 19, as it tracked across the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. Around daybreak on Thursday, Tropical Storm Alberto moved ashore near Tampico, Mexico, and the storm will continue to advance inland and slowly unwind into Friday. Alberto was downgraded to a tropical depression at mid-morning, while moving to the west at 18 mph and packing sustained winds of 35 mph. Despite being downgraded, Alberto will still pose a serious threat from excessive rainfall. "Abnormally warm waters and a pocket of relatively low wind shear located in the Bay of Campeche allowed Alberto to gain enough organization on Wednesday to be upgraded to tropical storm status," explained AccuWeather Meteorologist and Lead Hurricane Forecaster Alex DaSilva. On average, the first tropical storm forms in the Atlantic Ocean by June 20. With Alberto developing into a tropical storm on June 19, this season is progressing right on schedule. However, other systems being monitored in the short term could quickly escalate into named storms within days. Heavy coastal rain and flooding are expected to ease in Texas but continue in Mexico through Thursday. Already, the heaviest rains have shifted well inland over Mexico while spotty thunderstorm activity lingered near the coast and in South Texas. While the bulk of the rain has already fallen on much of southeastern Texas, rainfall totals as high as 8-12 inches can occur over the Big Bend area of Texas and especially in the higher elevations of northern Mexico, where the AccuWeather Local StormMax™ for rainfall is currently set at 30 inches. Tropical wind gusts are forecast to reach speeds of 40-60 mph along the coastline in northeastern Mexico. The winds will create rough and dangerous surf along the coast, and mariners are cautioned to secure their vessels safely and steer clear of the hazardous conditions created by this feature as it tracks closer to land. With Alberto moving well inland, the AccuWeather Local StormMax™ for wind gusts is 75 mph and is most likely to occur in strong thunderstorms in northeastern Mexico and southern Texas. In addition to the threat of strong winds and heavy rain across portions of Mexico and Texas, forecasters warn that mudslides can occur throughout the mountainous terrain of Mexico. Due to impacts across eastern Mexico, the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale is set at 1. Storm surge along the coasts of northeastern Mexico, Texas and western Louisiana has already peaked and generally ranged between 1 and 3 feet. Locations around Houston and Galveston in Texas faced higher levels of storm surge, reaching up to 3-6 feet in some low-lying areas. Storm surge and above-normal tides will slowly ease into Friday with the center of Alberto inland and slowly unwinding. Residents are urged to heed any warnings given by professionals and emergency management personnel. Storm surges can result in extensive damage and be one of the greatest threats to life as a storm impacts a region.

Tropical Storm Alberto blamed for several deaths as it moves inland over Mexico - CBS News -- Tropical Storm Alberto was moving inland over Mexico on Thursday, carrying heavy rains that left at least three people dead but also brought hope to a region suffering under a prolonged, severe drought. It is the first named storm of the season. The storm is expected to rapidly weaken over land as it moves west and dissipate later in the day or Thursday night, according to theNational Hurricane Center in Miami. . Rain from Alberto was falling on both sides of the border, extending up much of the south Texas coast and south to Mexico's Veracruz state. Rainfall and gusty winds were starting to subside for the Texas coast but were forecast to continue through the morning in northeastern Mexico, the hurricane center said. As of 8 a.m. EDT, the center of Alberto was moving west at about 13 miles per hour, with sustained maximum winds of 45 miles per hour. The wind speed has lowered since the hurricane center's last update. Rainfall from Alberto should start to diminish across southern Texas during the day, with an inch or less expected, the center said, though there could be "a tornado or two across parts of Deep South Texas." Heavy rain is expected to continue in northeast Mexico through the morning, with 5 to 10 inches more anticipated. Maximum totals of about 20 inches are possible across the higher terrain of the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas. That "will likely produce considerable flash and urban flooding along with new and renewed river flooding. Mudslides are also possible in areas of higher terrain across northeast Mexico," the center added. Mexican authorities downplayed the risk posed by Alberto and instead pinned their hopes on its ability to ease the parched region's water needs. "The (wind) speeds are not such as to consider it a risk," said Tamaulipas state Secretary of Hydrological Resources Raúl Quiroga Álvarez during a news conference late Wednesday. Instead, he suggested people greet Alberto happily. "This is what we've been (hoping) for for eight years in all of Tamaulipas." Much of Mexico has been suffering under severe drought conditions, with northern Mexico especially hard hit. Quiroga noted that the state's reservoirs were low and Mexico owed the United States a massive water debt in their shared use of the Rio Grande. "This is a win-win event for Tamaulipas," he said. But in nearby Nuevo Leon state, civil protection authorities reported three deaths linked to Alberto's rains. They said one man died in the La Silla River in the city of Monterrey, the state capital, and that two minors died from electric shocks in the municipality of Allende. Local media reported that the minors were riding a bicycle in the rain. Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel García wrote on his account on social media platform X that metro and public transportation services would be suspended in Monterrey from Wednesday night until midday Thursday when Alberto has passes. People in Mexico expressed hope for Alberto bringing rain. Blanca Coronel Moral, a resident of Tampico, ventured out to the city's waterfront Wednesday to await Alberto's arrival. "We have been needing this water that we're now getting, thank God. Let's hope that we only get water," said Coronel Moral. "Our lagoon, which gives us drinking water, is completely dry." Authorities closed schools for the remainder of the week in Tamaulipas since there could be localized flooding.

Crushed cars among damage from storm that passed through Mahoning Valley, Ohio – Severe thunderstorms in the Valley Monday afternoon uprooted large trees, and slammed across roads and property. Ohio Department of Transportation crews were in Hubbard Tuesday, cleaning up the aftermath. When they finished clearing fallen tree limbs from the roads, internet and power companies were on-site, inspecting fallen power lines. The National Weather Service sent out an alert for a severe thunderstorm warning around 3 p.m. The City of Hubbard sent out an emergency alert Monday afternoon that “trees are down all over the city,” and flash flooding was an issue as well. Some Trumbull County residents, including one Hubbard man, are now having to fill out insurance forms. “And all of a sudden, the whole house just shook,” Rusty Hutchings said. “I said, ‘A tree fell.’ Then all of a sudden, I said, ‘Oh my god, honey. It just crushed our car,'” he recalled. Hutchings will have to deal with the insurance company and get a rental car, but it can be replaced. “Thank god my wife wasn’t in it,” he said..” A fallen tree claimed another car in Hubbard, this time a 1989 Camaro. “As soon as I pull in, I look back here and see the Camaro, and it’s my brother’s car,” Frank Fuchs said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god. That’s the one car I didn’t want it to touch.'” “It’s been in the family for a lot of years. My younger brother bought it. He plans on restoring it, I believe.” Elsewhere in Hubbard, first responders had to block Drummond Avenue and line workers dealt with downed poles on Hagar Street. In Liberty Township, there were trees down along Logan Way, and tree limbs came down over power lines and two vehicles, closing a portion of Route 304. Tree branches also came down on a home on Tanglewood Drive. In Youngstown, a tree blocked the road near the intersection of Fairgreen and Juanita avenues. The storm damage caused widespread power outages across Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Mercer counties. Crews were working to restore service in those areas. Those that WKBN spoke with said they are worried about possible extended power outages with the heat wave that has also hit the area.

Pittsburgh Severe Storms Knocked Out Power To More Than 100,000 — Duquesne Light and West Penn Power companies in Southwestern Pennsylvania still were working to restore electrical service to tens of thousands of people Tuesday after yesterday's severe storms. Shortly before 8 a.m., Duquesne Light was reporting more than 26,000 customers were without power. West Penn Power, which has a smaller customer base in the region, was reporting more than 300 outages. Those numbers represent considerable progress made from Monday night, when more than 100,000 Duquesne Light and West Penn Power customers were still in the dark. That number actually could have been higher, as customers temporarily were unable to report outages to Duquesne Light. As for Tuesday, there again will be the potential for strong to severe thunderstorms this afternoon and into the evening. According to the National Weather Service, the main threat again will be damaging wind. The heat is still a factor and will be a major ingredient in the storm development. The region again likely will experience heat index values topping 100 degrees between storm development. The expected high temperature Tuesday in Pittsburgh is 93 with a heat index value reaching 103. Find out what's happening in Pittsburghwith free, real-time updates from Patch. There is little relief from the high temperatures in sight. The high is expected to reach 96 for the Juneteenth holiday on Wednesday and then jump to 98 on Thursday and Friday. A heat advisory remains in effect for the region until 8 p.m. on Friday.

Heavy rains and landslides hit Central America, claiming 13 lives in El Salvador and Guatemala - Relentless heavy rains caused by low-pressure systems on Guatemala’s Pacific coast and in the Gulf of Mexico have resulted in floods and landslides across Central America, leaving at least 13 people dead since Saturday, June 15, 2024. The worst affected are Guatemala and El Salvador, where a state of emergency has been declared. Central America faces the brunt of heavy rains that began over the weekend, triggering deadly landslides and floods in El Salvador and Guatemala. At least 13 people have been confirmed dead across the region, with El Salvador being the hardest-hit country so far. The Government of El Salvador has declared a state of emergency in the country. Sorry, the video player failed to load.(Error Code: 101102) El Salvador’s civil defense chief, Luis Amaya, reported five deaths on June 17 due to a landslide in the western district of Tacuba. Two of the victims were identified as minors. The rising death toll follows earlier reports of fatalities, including one person killed in a landslide on June 15 and another on June 16 when a tree fell on a vehicle. The heavy rains are attributed to low-pressure systems on Guatemala’s Pacific coast and the Gulf of Mexico, which have been relentless since Saturday. Fearing further flooding, El Salvador’s government declared a state of emergency on Sunday and opened over 100 shelters across the country. Schools will remain closed on Tuesday and Wednesday due to the continued threat of rain. President Nayib Bukele stated that he had asked Congress to declare a federal holiday on Tuesday. In a press conference, Luis Amaya urged residents to prioritize their safety. “If you are asked to evacuate, do it,” he said. “If you live near a slope, move to a safe area. The number one priority is to be safe.” Guatemala is also facing heavy rains. Authorities confirmed the deaths of a man and a woman in the village of Chacaya after a wall collapsed on them. As a precaution, schools in Guatemala will be closed until Thursday, June 20. The heavy rains extended beyond Central America. In Ecuador’s Tungurahua province, a landslide on a highway tragically claimed the lives of seven people, injuring several others. Honduran authorities have begun evacuations in anticipation of the rains affecting around 5 000 people. One of the systems affecting the region, now designated as Potential Tropical Cyclone One, prompted the government of Mexico to upgrade the Tropical Storm Watch for the northeastern coast of Mexico south of the mouth of the Rio Grande to Puerto de Altamira to a Tropical Storm Warning on June 18. As of 12:00 UTC on June 18, the center of this system was located about 575 km (355 miles) ESE of La Pesca, Mexico, and 680 km (420 miles) SE of Brownsville, Texas.

Destructive storms hit Ecuador, claiming at least 10 lives - Severe storms hit parts of Ecuador on Sunday, June 16, 2024, causing rivers to overflow, destroying homes, roads and bridges, and leaving at least 10 people dead, many injured and several missing. The worst affected was Baños, Ecuador, where a devastating landslide on June 16 claimed the lives of at least eight people, leaving many more injured, and several missing. The disaster followed days of torrential rain that destabilized a hillside, causing it to collapse and bury parts of the city under tonnes of mud and debris. The landslide surged over a highway in the central Ecuadorean city of Baños on Sunday, June 16, claiming the lives of at least eight people, including five members of the same family. The violent flow of mud and debris hit three cars, two houses, and a bus, cutting off a main road and creating a chaotic scene that has since left the city grappling with the aftermath. Initial reports indicated six fatalities, but by Monday, June 17, two additional bodies were discovered, bringing the death toll to eight. Additionally, 22 people were injured, and more than 30 individuals were initially reported missing. However, these missing persons have since been found alive, according to officials.

Extreme rainfall, deadly floods and landslides hit China’s Fujian, forcing 36 000 to evacuate - Extremely heavy rains in southeast China’s Fujian province over the past 7 days caused severe flooding and landslides, in which at least 4 people lost their lives and 2 remain missing. Hundreds of homes have been damaged and at least 36 000 people were forced to evacuate. From June 9 to 15, northern Fujian was hit by continuous heavy rains, with cumulative rainfall reaching 500 mm (19.6 inches) – 810 mm (31.88 inches). By June 16, the cumulative rainfall reached 940 mm (37.01 inches). Longyan was worst affected over the past 24 hours, with a record-breaking 411 mm (16.18 inches) in just 12 hours. Sorry, the video player failed to load.(Error Code: 101102) On Friday, June 14, China’s Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) issued a level-IV emergency response due to severe flooding in southern provinces, raising water levels in major rivers, including the Xijiang and Minjiang. This is the 7th instance of heavy flood in the Pearl River basin since the beginning of the year. The latest downpour pushed rivers past official warning levels, with smaller regional rivers also at risk, especially in hilly areas. The MWR has sent teams to Fujian and Guangxi to provide flood control instructions.

Extreme rainstorms flood China’s Guangdong and Fujian - - Extremely heavy rains have been battering southern China for the past week as the country entered its main flood season, resulting in deadly floods and landslides that have severely impacted the provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. As of June 18, 2024, 5 people have been confirmed dead in Guangdong, and 17 are missing. In Fujian, at least 4 people have died and 2 remain missing. Guangdong province, a significant economic hub, has been particularly hard-hit. In Meizhou, five people were killed, 15 remain missing, and 13 are trapped due to landslides. The continuous downpour has caused severe disruptions, leaving over 130 000 households without power as of Monday morning, June 17, and forcing the suspension of classes. Sishui town recorded a staggering 369.3 mm (14.5 inches) of rain in just 24 hours on June 17, prompting officials to raise emergency response levels to the highest level. Evacuations were conducted using helicopters, and authorities are still attempting to reach some towns and villages isolated by the floods. Four people have died in landslides, and two remain missing in neighboring Fujian. Shanghang County recorded a record-breaking 375 mm (15 inches) of rainfall within 24 hours, representing 18% of the area’s average annual rainfall. From June 9 to 15, northern Fujian experienced continuous heavy rains, with cumulative rainfall reaching between 500 mm (19.6 inches) and 810 mm (31.9 inches). By June 16, the cumulative rainfall reached an astonishing 940 mm (37.01 inches). Longyan was the worst affected over the past 24 hours, with 411 mm (16.2 inches) recorded in just 12 hours. Since Sunday afternoon (LT), June 16, 378 houses have collapsed. As of June 15, the rains had affected 179 800 people and damaged 12 350 ha (30 500 acres) of crops, causing a direct economic loss of 1.61 billion yuan (approximately 225 million USD). The extensive flooding forced over half a million people to evacuate.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘Climate change dialogue’ not going to work - Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said that the traditional “climate change dialogue” is not going to work anymore, particularly when it comes to high-polluting countries. Schwarzenegger joined MSNBC’s Jonathan Lemire on Thursday to discuss clean energy and climate solutions. Lemire asked “The Terminator” star how he would try to reach bigger polluters like China and India and warn them of the climate change effects. “Well, I think that there will always be obstacles,” Schwarzenegger replied, later adding, “I think all of it has to do with communication.” The former governor, who has been an avid exercise advocate, said in the past there was a major global push for fitness and living a healthy lifestyle and now every school, hotel and police station has a gymnasium. The same thing needs to happen with climate, he argued. “We want to do the same thing here. I think this whole climate change dialogue is not going to work. I think this has been used for the last few decades,” he said, highlighted by Mediaite. “I think we should address it directly, what it is, which is pollution.”“We want to terminate pollution. There’s the message we should get out there,” Schwarzenegger continued.In the past, Schwarzenegger has dubbed climate change the “most important issue.” In office, he promoted clean air and energy policies.In 2021, he criticized world leaders as “liars” and “stupid” for delaying on climate action in an attempt to protect economies.

Most people in petrostates want quick switch to clean energy, UN poll finds --Most people in the world’s biggest fossil fuel producing countries want their countries to transition quickly to clean energy to fight the climate crisis, according to the largest ever climate opinion poll, conducted by the UN. Many of these states have profited heavily from fossil fuel exploitation, but the 77-nation poll shows their citizens are deeply concerned about the impacts of global heating on their lives. In China and India, the biggest coal producers, 80% and 76% respectively want a quick green transition. In the US, the world’s biggest oil and gas producer, 54% of people want a fast transition, as do 75% of those in Saudi Arabia, the second biggest oil producer. The poll also found 69% of Australians want a quick transition away from its large coal and gas sector. The UN Development Programme said the purpose of the poll was to show political leaders what millions of people around the world felt about the climate emergency, and what action they wanted taken. “It is so important we let the people speak for themselves,” said Achim Steiner, the UNDP head. The poll questioned 75,000 people in countries representing almost 90% of the global population. It found a large majority (80%) wanted their countries to strengthen their climate change commitments, with only 5% saying their country should weaken its action.

Earth’s inner core slowdown confirmed by seismic data - A new scientific study proves that the Earth’s rotation speed has been decreasing throughout the past decade, with data suggesting that the rotational speed of the inner core has gotten 2.5 times slower compared to the past decade. In the study, published in Nature on June 12, 2024, scientists have leveraged over two decades of seismic data to enhance our understanding of the Earth’s inner core. The research, a collaborative effort by esteemed institutions from China, the United States, and Canada, utilized advanced beamforming techniques and extensive waveform comparisons to scrutinize seismic waves, revealing significant insights about the Earth’s inner mechanisms.

Industry, clean power groups breath a sigh of relief as Senate approves energy regulators - Three nominees by President Joe Biden to serve on the nation’s top energy regulatory panel, which had risked losing a quorum, were approved last week by the U.S. Senate. The vote to approve the new members — two Democrats and a Republican — for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was cheered by industry, renewable power and environmental groups alike, who said a full a complement of commissioners is essential to the body meeting the challenges posed by an aging electric grid, a fast-shifting generation mix and debates over natural gas infrastructure, among other pressing energy issues.“We are pleased to see FERC will be restored to a full roster, which will help provide regulatory certainty and the attention needed on key questions impacting our nation’s energy systems,” said Todd Snitchler, president and CEO of the Electric Power Supply Association, or EPSA, which represents companies that own power plants in competitive electricity markets.“Having a full complement of five commissioners will allow FERC to keep advancing the vital work needed to deliver reliable, affordable and clean power to everyone around the country,” said Ted Kelly, director of clean energy at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. FERC, which regulates interstate transmission and wholesale sales of electricity, as well as interstate transmission of natural gas and oil, among other responsibilities, “rarely shows up on people’s radar screens,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “But its mission is essential. Every time you turn on the light or touch the thermostat or see new power lines go up, the rules, regulations (and) policies of FERC are at work.”Leaving the seats vacants, Schumer said, “could create serious backlog and delay, potentially slowing down new projects that power people’s homes and cites.”The new commissioners are: David Rosner, a Democrat and FERC energy industry analyst; West Virginia Solicitor General Lindsay See, a Republicanwho led the state’s successful legal fight against the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon rules; and Judy Chang, a Democrat, energy economist and the former undersecretary of energy and climate solutions for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She is also an adjunct lecturer and senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. They join Chairman Willie Phillps, a Democrat, and Commissioner Mark Christie, a Republican. Commissioner Allison Clements, a Democrat,announced earlier this year she would not seek a second term. By law, FERC has five members, with no more than three from the same political party. They are appointed by the president with the “advice and consent of the Senate” and serve five-year staggered terms.Though the commission will maintain a 3-2 Democratic majority, at least one environmental group has been critical of Rosner’s selection.Friends of the Earth called Rosner’s fossil fuel ties “disqualifying” andblasted his work with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, headed by the powerful and pro-coal Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia who in May switched his registration from Democrat to independent. Manchin recommended Rosner, who was also previously a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy and an associate director at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s energy project, for the commission seat last year, Politico’s E&E News reported. The Koch Industries-linked American Energy Alliance has also criticized Chang’s past opposition to new natural gas pipelines. But for the Senate, at least, the relatively smooth confirmation process appeared to show that having a full complement of commissioners was preferable to picking fights over individual nominees.“We all know that having a fully staffed FERC is going to make a lot of difference in what we do in this country,” Manchin told his colleagues Tuesday, adding that each of the nominees had cleared his committee with “extremely strong” bipartisan support.“Each of the nominees demonstrated deep experience on energy and legal matters, a commitment to follow the law and work within the authorities Congress has provided to FERC and a recognition that all of our nations’ sources play an important role providing affordable, reliable energy to families and businesses across our country.”

Biofuel groups envision ethanol-powered jets. But fueling the effort has not been easy (AP) — Some day, the passenger jets that soar 35,000 feet (10.6 kilometers) over Dan McLean’s North Dakota farm could be fueled by corn grown on his land and millions of other acres across the Midwest. It’s a vision the U.S. airline industry embraces and agricultural groups see as a key to ensuring strong future sales of ethanol, a fuel that consumes more than one-third of the nation’s corn crop and offers a cleaner-burning alternative for the nation’s airlines. But making that dream a reality hasn’t been easy, in part because even as farmers would benefit from a huge new market for corn, the plan relies on federal tax credits triggered by capturing carbon dioxide at refineries and then moving the gas hundreds of miles through pipelines that would snake across the Midwest, including beneath farmers’ fields. Some of those farmers, along with environmentalist and property rights groups, have gone before regulatory authorities in several Midwest states to oppose the lines, and frequently they have succeeded in at least slowing the process. A key decision is expected soon in Iowa. “This whole thing is private industry -- rich private industry -- getting tax money, strictly tax money to bury this stuff,” said McLean, who opposes a line that would cross his farmland east of Bismarck. “That tax money is coming out of everybody’s pocket, and they’re going to walk away from it, and we’re going to be left with a big poisonous pipe running across the country.” Supporters have faced such criticism for years as they seek approval of pipelines and tax credits. The credits would mean profits for refineries and help make the cost of the new fuel competitive with traditional jet fuel. But opponents see the pipelines as an expensive and potentially dangerous effort that tramples on property rights and fails to reduce greenhouse gases. Gaining approval of pipelines has proved arduous. Several companies have dropped their pipeline plans in the face of opposition and delay. The leading remaining company is Summit Carbon Solutions, which is seeking to build a 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) pipeline system through five Midwestern states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa — with carbon dioxide emissions ultimately buried underground in North Dakota. North Dakota regulators last year denied a siting permit for Summit but later agreed to reconsider. South Dakota regulators in September rejected Summit’s application, but company officials said they would file again.Summit must seek approval from individual counties in Nebraska, and one county earlier this year denied a permit. In Minnesota, regulators are doing an environmental review with future hearings planned.An upcoming decision by the Iowa Utilities Board about whether to grant a pipeline permit and approve Summit’s eminent domain requests will be key to the larger effort throughout the Midwest.Iowa is the nation’s leader in corn and ethanol production. To the renewable fuels industry, failure to gain approval of the pipelines could jeopardize a giant new aviation fuel market they believe would continue decades into the future, even as electric vehicles gradually replace gas-powered cars and traditional vehicles get more efficient. “There’s a lot at stake here. We have a market that we can open up that can really underpin rural prosperity for the next two or three decades,” said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. Essential to their efforts is a complicated formula that regulators established to approximate how much each ethanol plant contributes to global warming. Ethanol production already produces less carbon than gasoline production, but the industry must reduce that further to qualify for tax credits that require biofuel have a carbon score at least 50% lower than gasoline. The Treasury Department recently tweaked that formula, taking into account the role farming practices, like planting cover crops and using no-till techniques, play in reducing carbon production. However, the rules require farmers to take all those steps so it will still likely be hard for ethanol to qualify without either carbon pipelines or a combination of several other expensive measures, like ensuring an ethanol plant is powered by renewable energy or biogas. That’s why many in the biofuels industry argue that carbon capture pipelines are the best option to obtaining tax credits. Without the sustainable aviation fuel market, Shaw and others contend corn prices could ultimately collapse in future years as demand from motorists wanes.

Boondoggle Watch: Carbon capture great for making things worse, study finds - The study I refer to didn’t actually say that carbon capture makes things worse. But that is the only conclusion one can draw given that the capturing is done for the purpose of dramatically lengthening the life of oil wells that would otherwise close, according to a recent piece in DeSmog. The oil wells in question are in Saskatchewan and were scheduled to close in 2016. Now with carbon dioxide pumping into them, they could produce oil for somewhere between 39 and 84 more years. Back in May I reminded readers of a more expansive definition of the word “boondoggle,” one promulgated by author Dmitri Orlov. To wit: It’s not just something that is wasteful. Ideally, it should be something which “create[s] additional problems that can only be addressed by yet more boondoggles.”Carbon capture, it turns out, provides an excellent complementary boondoggle to the machines mentioned in my previous piece, machines which extract carbon dioxide from air rather than at the source as is done with carbon capture. In this case the carbon dioxide comes from the Dakota Gasfication Plant in Beulah, North Dakota, which according to its website is “the only commercial-scale coal gasification facility in the United States that manufactures natural gas.” The gas—made synthetically from lignite coal—is piped to various electric cooperatives in five states which burn it to generate electricity. The captured carbon dioxide is then transmitted via pipeline to the Weyburn and Midale oil fields in Saskatchewan and injected into oil wells to force oil out, something the industry refers to as enhanced oil recovery.The machines mentioned above that extract carbon dioxide from the air (which are based in Iceland) suck in this greenhouse gas without knowing whence it comes. Some of the carbon dioxide could very well come from the burning of oil produced by the Weyburn and Midale oil fields, oil forced out of the ground by carbon dioxide. The champions of the carbon dioxide injections into those fields claim that not as much of carbon dioxide re-enters the atmosphere from the burning of oil that we now know would otherwise not be produced. Count me skeptical of this claim if the wells—which have been flowing with oil since 1954—continue to produce for another 80 years.This is not carbon capture and storage so much as carbon capture and oil replacement as new oil not previously available gets extracted and burned. The project is officially called the IEA GHG Weyburn CO2 Monitoring and Storage Research Project, a name which leads one to believe that there is public money involved. And, indeed, in the fine print one finds the following:We are funded by Canadian and international governments and industry.So the project’s boondoggle credentials are now certified. Public money is being “invested” in this research. But, of course, what seals the deal is that the project’s purpose is to produce more fossils fuels to replace (at least indirectly) the ones originally burned to make the now injected carbon dioxide. That creates an opportunity to emit more carbon dioxide that, in turn, needs to be extracted from the air using more boondoggle machines like those nifty extractors in Iceland. There is no boondoggle like a boondoggle that leads to more boondoggles!

Jet fuel, bombs and concrete: The 60 million tonnes of carbon generated by Israel’s war on Gaza | Euronews - Israel’s unprecedented assault on Gaza since the Hamas attack of 7 October, which killed approximately 1,200 Israelis, has caused widescale death, displacement and destruction of infrastructure within the Palestinian territory. Now, with 23 million tonnes of rubble left in Israel’s wake, which could take years to clear, a new study is highlighting the additional toll the war is taking on the climate crisis. Research published on Social Science Research Network (yet to be peer-reviewed) suggests emissions from the first 120 days of the war exceed the annual emissions of 26 countries and territories, with Israel responsible for 90 per cent of these.The remaining 10 per cent of emissions come from Hamas’ fuel and rockets, Gaza electricity production, and lorry transport to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid. Researchers from the US and the UK analysed CO2 emissions across three categories: construction prior to this conflict, such as Hamas’s tunnel network and Israel’s Iron Wall defence; activities in the first 120 days of the war; and reconstruction of Gaza’s infrastructure and buildings. While the war itself is estimated to have generated between 420,265 and 652,552 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent(CO2e) so far - equivalent to burning more than 1.5 million barrels of oil - this figure soars to more than 61 million tonnes when pre- and post-war construction and reconstruction are included. This is more than the annual emissions of 135 individual nations - but there is currently no legal obligation for militaries to report or be held accountable for their emissions. Despite a lack of comprehensive data, experts estimate that militaries account for 5.5 per cent of total annual global carbon emissions - more than civilian aviation (three per cent) and civilian shipping (two per cent) combined.But under the Paris Agreement, military emissions reports to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are voluntary. In fact, according to The Military Emissions Gap organisation, only four countries supply data to the UNFCCC. There is no specific data on military fuel combustion emissions in Israel’s annual National Greenhouse Gas (GHG) inventory submission to the UNFCCC, but the study estimates Israel’s fuel-generated emissions during the war to be between 261,800 and 372,480 tonnes of CO2e - about that of the annual emissions of the Solomon Islands, where rising sea levels are drowning the land.Carbon emissions from bombs dropped on Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force between October 2023 and February 2024 are equivalent to the carbon emitted by powering almost 10,000 homes for a year.“Militaries are exempt from reporting,” explains study co-author and senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, Dr Benjamin Neimark. “It’s like we are all living in a world where tailpipe emissions from an F-35 are carbon-free and don’t count.”

Are Extreme Stunt Climate Activists Like Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil Actually Fossil Fuel Industry Stooges? They Might as Well Be - by Yves Smith Some climate activists have taken to defacing cultural icons. Many of these stunts have been symbolic, since, for instance, the glass over Mona Lisa protected it from tomato-soup-throwing Riposte Alimentaire protestors. But this seems so unproductive as environmental action so as to question the bona fides of the rebels. What exactly does great art made hundreds of years ago have to do with environmental degradation? If you want to send a more on topic message that will still get headlines, how about stopping traffic? The message could be that we soon can’t afford cars due to resource costs and climate impact, and users need to come to grips with a future where our now-routine commute-type trips are rare and expensive. I am no expert, but one would think it would be useful to tie the happening (as they were called in the 60s) to the message, and call attention to what bad future outcomes will be and what they mean for ordinary folk. Instead some of these protestors are engaging in exploit escalation. IM Doc sent this tweet today:More detail from the Sydney Morning Herald, courtesy Rev Kev:Two climate protesters who sprayed orange paint on the ancient Stonehenge monument in southern England were arrested on Wednesday after two bystanders appeared to intervene and stop them…The incident came just a day before thousands are expected to gather at the roughly 4500-year-old stone circle to celebrate the summer solstice – the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.English Heritage, which manages the site, said it was “extremely upsetting” and said curators were investigating the damage. Just Stop Oil said the paint was made of corn starch and would dissolve in the rain.Video released by the group showed a man it identified as Rajan Naidu, 73, unleash a fog of orange from a fire extinguisher-style paint sprayer at one of the vertical stones.As voices can be heard yelling “stop,” a person wearing a cap and raincoat ran up and grabbed Naidu’s arm and tried to pull him away from the monument. A man in a blue shirt joined in and wrestled the paint sprayer away.The second protester, identified as Niamh Lynch, 21, managed to spray three stones before the first bystander in the hat stopped her…Just Stop Oil is one of many environmental groups around Europe that have received attention – and blowback – for disrupting sporting events, splashing paint and food on famous works of art and interrupting traffic to draw attention to global warming. The group said it acted in response to the Labour Party’s recent election manifesto. Labour has said that if it wins the election on July 4, it will not issue further licences for oil and gas exploration. Just Stop Oil backs the moratorium but says it is not enough. Now this sort of action is not as obviously backwards as (almost certainly paid for) protestors in Georgia opposing a pre-transparency law that would require US levels of disclosure for foreign donations to NGOs….trying to depict themselves as pro-democracy. What they are instead defending is US and EU meddling. But alienating the public from your cause (and not demonstrating countervailing muscle, as labor does in general strikes) is so obviously bone-headed as to raise questions as to what is really afoot. From GM via e-mail:You have to wonder if these are not organized on purpose in order to completely discredit any concerns about climate change. Just make it as ridiculous and abhorrent as possible so that people are maximally antagonized by the idea that there is a real problem.It has always seemed to me that in the West “the left” was destroyed exactly following such a deliberate plan, by associating it with the various gender and race studies lunacies, which had two very “beneficial” effects — first, it moved attention away from the real issues that concerned people in the past, and second, it totally discredited “the left” in the eyes of the general population.It has been a remarkably successful and well executed plan, if it was indeed a deliberate plan. But why would it not be?One has to always remember that during the Cold War the two sides were largely mirrors of each other in their tactics, which is because practical necessities and analogous situational factors tend to result in convergent evolution. The CIA trafficked cocaine from Latin America while the KGB trafficked heroin from the Middle East, that sort of thing. And we do know that most intellectuals were fully controlled by the agencies in the Eastern Bloc, but that is because the archives were opened there. They were never similarly opened in the West. So one has to wonder whether the same programs weren’t in place there too.

The Collapse of the EV SPACs: Fisker Joins the Bankruptcy Party, Others on the Verge by Wolf Richter EV maker Fisker, which had gone public via merger with a SPAC in October 2020 amid fake promises and ludicrous projections, and then burned over $1 billion of investor cash, has finally filed for bankruptcy protection Monday night, following in the footsteps of a bunch of other EV SPACs. These EV SPACs were born during the era of free money and what we’ve come to call consensual hallucination, and reality just didn’t matter. They raised billions of dollars in cash from free-money-befuddled investors, went public at sky-high valuations, then their shares collapsed and were inducted into our pantheon of Imploded Stocks. Then they began filing for bankruptcy, one after the other. All these EV SPACs, those that have already filed for bankruptcy and those that will still file for bankruptcy, have the same problem: It takes a huge amount of money, engineering expertise, and management expertise to start up an automaker, design vehicles, build a factory, develop the supply chain, and ramp up mass-production of high-quality desirable vehicles, and then sell them in such large numbers – hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year – and at a high enough a price that the company can become cash-flow positive and survive on its own without further cash injections. It took Tesla over 10 years and about $20 billion to get there, and it has been profitable ever since. The Model Y is now the #2 bestseller in the US, behind the Ford F-150 pickup. So Tesla made it, and it became the most valuable automaker in the world, even though its shares plunged to where in December 2022, Tesla made it into our pantheon of Imploded Stocks (entry requirement: at least -70% from high). Frisker, run by CEO Henrik Fisker, has been a mess from Day One. And even before Day One: He’d already driven its predecessor company, Fisker Automotive – which made the plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma – into bankruptcy in 2013. Nevertheless, investors were eager to douse him with more money, including over $1 billion when the company went public via merger with a SPAC in October 2020. When money is free, nothing really matters. Fisker never made it to true mass-production. It didn’t even build its own vehicles – they’re made under contract in Austria by Magna Steyr, a subsidiary of Canada-based Magna International. The batteries came from the Chinese battery giant, CATL. Fisker started selling its Ocean SUV last summer. In 2023, Magna built 10,000 of them. But amid reports of all kinds of quality problems, Fisker was able to sell less than half of them in 2023, and promised to sell the rest in Q1 2024. At the end of February, Fisker warned in a filing that it might not be able to “continue as a going concern.” And it said that it was in talks with a major automaker over an investment in the company and a joint production deal.

Wyoming and Utah sue feds to halt controversial 'conservation rule' – WyoFile The U.S. Bureau of Land Management sidestepped the National Environmental Policy Act in issuing its new “conservation rule,” a “sea change” in federal land management that threatens wildlife, landscape health and economies reliant on some 245 million acres of BLM-managed lands across the nation, a lawsuit filed this week by Wyoming and Utah alleges.The two western states, which, combined, are home to more than 41 million BLM acres, filed the 34-page lawsuitTuesday in U.S. District Court in Utah. They’re asking the court to vacate the Conservation and Landscape Health rule, which was finalized in April.“Ever since this abomination of a rule raised its ugly head, demonstrating the Biden administration’s disregard for the law, I have fought it tooth and nail,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “This legal challenge ensures that this administration is called out for sidestepping the bedrock federal statutes which guide public land management by attempting to eliminate multiple use through a corrupted definition of conservation, and for doing so with impunity.”The complaint is the latest in Gordon’s mounting legal battles against the Biden administration over land use and climate policies. The administration has issued a suite of new policy measures in recent months that violate Wyoming’s primacy over wildlife management and many state-led programs to implement federal environmental rules covering things like emissions from coal, oil and natural gas, according to the governor. Gordon has said the administration appears intent on destroying the state’s fossil fuel industries while ignoring his own initiative to “decarbonize” those industries as a means to address climate change.Freedom Caucus members in the Wyoming Legislature, however, have alleged a “lethargic” response from Gordon regarding recent federal rules. Gordon has scheduled a town hall event from 1-3 p.m. Tuesday in Gillette to highlight his administration’s response to the barrage of new federal policies, which include the Environmental Protection Agency’s coal pollution rules, the BLM’s sage grouse management amendments, its “methane rule” and a proposal to end federal coal leasing in the Powder River Basin. The BLM unveiled its proposed conservation rule last year, citing the need to adapt federal land management strategies in recognition of mounting pressures from climate change, such as intense drought, wildfires and invasive plant species.The rule “promotes conservation and defines that term to include both protection and restoration activities,” according to the BLM. The rule also “clarifies that conservation is a use on par with other uses of the public lands” under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Conservation groups, including the Lander-based Wyoming Outdoor Council, have hailed the conservation rule as a victory for landscape health that also supports rural economies by ensuring healthy wildlife habitats and outdoor recreation. The rule, “does not prevent oil and gas drilling, mining, or grazing on public lands,” the council states on its website. “But it does enshrine protection and restoration as necessary components of responsible management. In doing so, our wildlife habitat, areas of cultural importance, water quality, and landscape intactness all stand to benefit.” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources,introduced a bill last year to block the rule. Nine senators, including U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) joined as sponsors. The bill has not advanced.Barrasso also said he would use the Congressional Review Act to block the rule. But that hasn’t happened. “It seems that Utah and Wyoming are employing all these strategies to try to drag all of us down into the legal weeds to distract everyone from the larger picture, which is that the public wants to see more balanced management of these resources and values,” Center for Western Priorities Policy Director Rachael Hamby told WyoFile on Wednesday.

Europe’s largest rare earth element deposit discovered in ancient Norwegian volcano - Norwegian mining company Rare Earths Norway (REN) announced on June 6, 2024, that their Fen Carbonatite Complex, located in an ancient volcano near the capital Oslo, contains an estimated 8.8 megatons of rare earth oxides, making it Europe’s largest rare earth element deposit. The Fen Carbonatite Complex is located next to the village of Ulefoss in Telemark County, about 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Oslo, near Lake Norsjø. It is the exposed magma-filled pipe of a volcano that has been dormant for 580 million years, with a diameter of about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers). The current resource estimate extends to a depth of 468 m (1 535 feet) below mean sea level. However, REN anticipates the significant potential for future expansion, with previous exploration indicating mineralization could extend to approximately 1 000 m (3 280 feet) below m.s.l. New mining methods are expected to further increase the resource estimate. “This is a very important moment for Rare Earths Norway,” said Alf Reistad, CEO of Rare Earths Norway. “The resource estimate underscores the potential of the deposit to be a transformative asset that can underpin a secure rare earths value chain for Europe. We are working with leading partners, such as Montanuniversität Leoben in Austria, to develop this deposit with the world’s most sustainable mining and mineral processing technology, minimizing the environmental footprint from mine to magnet.”

Natural gas line cut before Youngstown building explosion - — The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report on the Youngstown explosion Tuesday, just three weeks after the incident on May 28. The NTSB had initially said it found a cut natural gas line in the basement of the Realty Tower Building in downtown, which the report confirms the line was cut about six minutes prior to the building explosion. According to the report, a four-person scrap removal crew from GreenHeart Companies had been working in the basement area to “remove and relocate utilities in preparation for a city road improvement project.” A crew member, who had used a reciprocating saw to cut into one of the pipes, had been told the pipe was “dead” or not transporting any gas. During the process, he began to hear a loud whistling sound and felt gas blowing into his face. The report states the crew immediately left the basement and called 911 to report the gas leak. Additionally, the Youngstown Fire Department had received reports of a gas odor minutes before the explosion. At 2:44 p.m., the explosion occurred, killing one and injuring nine others. The blast caused significant structural damage to the building. Through interviews, NTSB found out that at the time of the incident, the inactive service line had been pressurized with natural gas. The next day, the inactive service line was capped by the natural gas provider Enbridge, which also conducted pressure tests and found no more leaks in the area. NTSB said the investigation is ongoing. Read the full report here.

NTSB releases preliminary report for Youngstown gas explosion that left 1 person dead - The National Transportation Safety Board has released a preliminary report on a natural gas-fueled explosion that happened at the Realty Tower Building in Youngstown on May 28 that left one person dead and nine injured.There was significant damage to the 13-story building, which featured a bank, offices, and residences.According to the report, the city of Youngstown contracted GreenHeart, a residential building company, to remove and relocate utilities in preparation for a city road improvement project. At the time, a four-person crew was removing old items from the basement area underneath the sidewalk.A site supervisor told the NTSB that they did not have any knowledge that the gas pipes in the basement of the Realty Tower Building were still active. As a crewmember was halfway through cutting into one of the pipes with a reciprocating saw, he began hearing a whistling sound and felt gas blowing onto his face.The crew immediately exited the area and called 911 to report the gas leak. The fire alarm was pulled at 2:39 p.m. and bank workers were also notified on the first floor of the leak. The Youngstown Fire Department also received calls from the public about a gas odor minutes before the explosion.The explosion happened at 2:44 p.m. Multiple emergency crews responded to the incidentThe NTSB discovered that the gas line, which was supposed to be inactive, was pressurized with natural gas to about 38 pounds per square inch, the report stated. The line was fixed the next day and there were no other reports of leaks.Last week, residents of a nearby apartment building were ordered to leave their homes after an engineering firm determined that the neighboring Realty Tower building remains structurally unsafe and is in “danger of imminent collapse.”

DeWine, Husted sought as defense witnesses for FirstEnergy exec accused of bribery - cleveland.com – A FirstEnergy executive indicted on bribery related charges indicated he intends to call Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted as defense witnesses. Mike Dowling, a senior vice president of FirstEnergy who was accused alongside the company CEO of paying a $4.3 million bribe to a top DeWine appointee, included Ohio’s two top executive officials in a witness list filed late Tuesday afternoon.

DeWine denies wrongdoing in connection with campaign money he solicited from FirstEnergy | The Statehouse News Bureau --Gov. Mike DeWine is defending his actions after texts surfaced showing he solicited campaign contributions from FirstEnergy in the last month before his 2018 election. It’s the latest in the bribery and corruption scandal involving the nuclear power plant bailout law House Bill 6, which DeWine signed in seven months after he was inaugurated in 2019. Texts released by FirstEnergy show DeWine texted then-CEO Chuck Jones in October 2018. In the texts, DeWine asks Jones to call him and notes that the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, put a million dollars into the campaign of his Democratic opponent Richard Cordray. After being contacted by DeWine, records show the utility gave $500,000 to State Solutions, a dark-money group connected to the Republican Governors’ Association. DeWine beat Cordray to win the governor’s office a month later by just under four percentage points. Talking to reporters following an event in Delaware Monday, DeWine said he didn’t remember the call but added he reached out to a lot of campaign donors then. “If that call was made, and I have no doubt it was made, I don’t remember it. But I was making a ton of calls every single day,” DeWine said. DeWine would have been prohibited by law from soliciting contributions for his campaign for the dark money group. DeWine said he did not engage in any wrongdoing. And he said voters should trust him on that because of his record. “Forty-five years in public office, 45 years of trying to do the best that I can do, 45 years without any kind of personal scandal,” DeWine said. DeWine has not been charged with any crimes. Republican former House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges were convicted of racketeering for passing HB 6 and stopping a repeal effort. Householder is serving a 20-year sentence and Borges is spending five years behind bars. Several other Republicans have entered plea agreements with federal prosecutors. Earlier this year, Jones and former FirstEnergy executive Michael Dowling were indicted for paying a $4.3 million bribe to Sam Randazzo, the former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Randazzo, who had been appointed to his position by DeWine, was in charge of the utility regulating board at the time lawmakers passed and DeWine signed the billion-dollar nuclear plant bailout that benefitted FirstEnergy. Randazzo died by suicide earlier this year as prosecutors were preparing his trial. Jones and Dowling have entered not guilty pleas.

Ohio About to Net $60+ Million for Drilling Under State Parks -- Marcellus Drilling News --A request by the Ohio Office of Budget and Management (OBM) to set up two new bank accounts to accept payments from drillers is the tipoff that drilling is about to begin under some of Ohio’s state land, including state parks. The state will receive nearly $60 million in lease signing bonus payments to drill under Salt Fork State Park (in Guernsey County), Valley Run Wildlife Area (in Carroll County), and the Zepernick Wildlife Area (in Columbiana County). The vast majority of that is for drilling under Salt Fork.

Newfound Ohio Utica Shale Oil Play Yielding Results - Recent data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) confirms an emerging Ohio oil play with untapped potential. Traditionally thought of as a natural gas play, new technologies have unlocked oil production in the Utica Shale that continues to grow: 70 percent since 2021 with 40 percent annual growth from 2022 to 2023. The first quarter (Q1) production results from ODNR indicate the state produced 7,227,503 Bbls of oil, continuing its upward trend. If these numbers continue, 2024 will be a record oil year for the state. News of this untapped market continues to raise eyebrows. TheYoungstown Business Journal reported on Q1 results, saying: “Columbiana County’s section of the Utica – traditionally known for its high volumes of natural gas and wet gas – has for the past year delivered skyrocketing oil production that is out of character for the northern tier of the play.” Similarly, Hart Energy reported on EOG Resources investing in the combo play, with EOG chairman and CEO Ezra Yacob recently declaring:“It’s funny, right? When you take the blinders off and you come with a different perspective from different basins, it’s amazing the things that you can uncover….”EOG executives told investors in May that the Utica oil play can “compete with the best plays in America.”Rob Brundrett, the president of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, also emphasized Ohio’s “holy trinity of hydrocarbons” when speaking at the Hart Energy DUG Appalachia conference: “We’ve got oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids and crude oil. So we have them all right here in the Utica and the state of Ohio.” Ohio’s oil production is centered in a five-county area that’s responsible for 95 percent of the state’s shale oil production, including Harrison, Columbiana, Guernsey, Carroll and Noble counties. Encino Energy had the top five producing oil wells this quarter, with Southwestern Energy, EOG Resources, and Ascent Resources filling out the remaining top ten producing wells. Hart Energy reports that Encino produced 51 percent of Ohio’s total production, followed by Ascent Energy and Infinity Natural Resources as the top producers.

Phillips 66 explores sale of pipeline stake worth over $1 billion, sources say – Oil & Gas 360 - U.S. oil refiner Phillips 66 is exploring a sale of its 25% stake in the Rockies Express Pipeline that it hopes could be worth more than $1 billion, including debt, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The Rockies Express Pipeline (REX) is a 1,700-mile (2730-km)interstate natural gas pipeline, stretching from Wyoming and Colorado in the U.S. West to Eastern Ohio. Phillips 66 is working with its advisers on talks with potential buyers, which include private equity firms and infrastructure funds, the sources said, requesting anonymity as the discussions are confidential. The Houston-based company is hoping to command a premium to the stake’s current book value of $451 million, the sources said, adding bidders would also need to assume debt obligations worth more than $500 million associated with the stake. A spokesperson for Phillips 66 declined to comment. Phillips 66, which has a market value of $67 billion, is aiming to raise about $3 billion from asset sales this year. In an interview earlier on Tuesday, Chief Executive Mark Lashier said the company was in discussions with potential buyers for asset sales, but it was not in a rush to complete divestments. He declined to name the assets referenced in those discussions. The company has come under pressure in recent months from Elliott Management, which disclosed a stake in November and pushed for Phillips 66 to improve its refining operations and revamp its board of directors. The activist investor and Phillips 66 agreed last month to add a new board member approved by the investment firm, and to work together to identify a second director appointment. The remainder of the REX pipeline is controlled by privately owned Tallgrass Energy. Stakes in pipelines, such as REX, are attractive to financial investors as they like businesses with steady cash flow, the sources said, adding stakes in interstate pipelines are not marketed to buyers often.

No upside | LTE - Williamsport Sun-Gazette -- I wholeheartedly agree with the headline of your editorial on May 25, “We need long-term answers to energy needs.” My solution is a rapid phasing out of fossil fuel production. It’s a solution I have come to by following the science on its impacts to the environment, health, safety, quality of life, and, yes, even the economy. I come to my solution by listening to the frontline community members I have met in the nearly decade and a half I have spent as an environmental advocate, several of whom are from Lycoming County and must take umbrage at reading that the harms they have experienced are dismissed by their county’s paper of record. I come to my solution by observing a climate crisis that is intensifying at a rate that is even shocking to the experts who warned us. Since my earliest days as an advocate, I have heard the same arguments for more drilling and fracking that emphasize job creation. I have also followed labor statistics that contradict what the industry, our political leaders, and even editors have told us. I remember hearing early on about the vast number of vehicles crowding once-peaceful country roads, each bearing an out-of-state license plate. In 2013, the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative published a report looking at jobs numbers in six states that sit atop the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. Industry-financed studies had indicated that 31 jobs were being produced for each well when the number turned out to be only four. Shale-related jobs numbered 1 in every 795 while education jobs numbered 1 in every 6. The number of shale jobs in Pennsylvania was about a tenth of the number Governor Corbett was touting. Nearly a decade later, the Ohio River Valley Institute found equally weak jobs numbers in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. You claim that your region has enjoyed economic fortunes that communities in areas where fracking bans are in place have not. A quick look at unemployment figures tells a different story. From the beginning of the fracking boom in 2008 to March of this year, three of the counties in NY that passed local ordinances prohibiting fracking – Tompkins, Otsego, and Onondaga – had an average unemployment rate of 5.13 percent. The average for Lycoming, Bradford, and Susquehanna was 6.23 percent. Although New York has fared better, the numbers are close. The big difference is that there are nearly 5,200 wells in the three Pennsylvania counties. Drilling and fracking have killed people, made countless others sick, contaminated private water supplies, polluted air, devalued property, and that’s the short list of negative impacts the costs of which we cannot ignore. Every one of the wells drilled today will contribute to the legacy issue of maintaining every well dating back to the nineteenth century in perpetuity. The taxpayers will foot a staggering bill for that that cannot be calculated. So, yes, we need long-term answers based on the facts. There is no upside to continued fossil fuel development. - Karen Feridun, Kutztown

46 New Shale Well Permits Issued for PA-OH-WV Jun 10 – 16 - Marcellus Drilling News - Three weeks ago, 31 new permits were issued to drill in the entire Marcellus/Utica region. Two weeks ago, the number dropped (dramatically) to just seven new permits. And then last week, the number of permits issued soared once again — all the way up to 46. Bam! We just kicked it up a notch. Seneca Resources took the top spot for new permits, receiving a total of nine permits, all in Tioga County, PA. Chesapeake Energy and Antero Resources tied for second place with seven new permits each, with Chessy’s permits coming in Bradford County, PA, and Antero’s in Doddridge County, WV. Coming in third was Jay-Bee Oil & Gas with six permits issued in Pleasants County, WV. State by state, PA issued 24 new permits, OH issued 9, and WV issued 13 permits. ANTERO RESOURCES | BRADFORD COUNTY | CHESAPEAKE ENERGY | CNX RESOURCES | DODDRIDGE COUNTY | ENCINO ENERGY | EOG RESOURCES |EQT CORP | GREENE COUNTY (PA) | GUERNSEY COUNTY | HARRISON COUNTY | INR | JAY-BEE OIL & GAS | LYCOMING COUNTY | PENNSYLVANIA GENERAL ENERGY | PLEASANTS COUNTY | SENECA RESOURCES | TIOGA COUNTY (PA) | TYLER COUNTY | WASHINGTON COUNTY

Dem Politicians Pressure NY Gov to Block Iroquois Pipe Expansion -Marcellus Drilling News - The Food & Water Watch (FWW) organization (anti-fossil fuel fanatics) has taken point on the left’s effort to block Iroquois Gas Transmission’s plan to upgrade compressor stations in the Empire State. Iroquois’ Enhancement by Compression (ExC) project increases horsepower at three compression stations — two in New York and one in Connecticut — by an extra 125 MMcf/d, flowing more Marcellus/Utica gas into New York City and New England. FWW held a “rally” (we’d call it a freak show) at the State Capitol in May, where various politicos joined paid protesters to put on a dog-and-pony-show for the cameras, delivering 8,000 form letters to Gov. Hochul’s office (seeRadicals Keep Pressure on NY Gov. Hochul to Block Iroquois Upgrade). Yesterday, FWW reassembled largely the same group for another “we hate fossil fuels” rally, this time in wealthy, snobbish Westchester County. Some 69 Democrat politicians, along with paid protesters, were in attendance. Notice all clothes, shoes, signs, podium, microphone, bullhorn, glasses — all were made from fossil fuels

Leach natgas pipe, after West Virginia blast, to resume operations early July - (Reuters) - TransCanada Corp's Columbia Gas Transmission (TCO) unit has estimated that the section of the Leach Xpress natural gas pipeline, damaged in a blast on June 7 in Marshall County, West Virginia, will resume operations early in July. The company continues to work with federal pipeline safety regulators on a repair plan, it said late Monday in a notice to customers who use the line. TransCanada also said it will reduce capacity to zero on parts of the Leach line in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio on Wednesday. This will impact scheduled volumes at the Stagecoach-Leach Xpress meter in Monroe County near the Ohio-West Virginia border. That meter, which connects Leach to EQT Midstream Partners LP's Strike Force South gathering fields in Monroe and Belmont counties in Ohio, returned to service late last week. Strike Force can also deliver gas to Energy Transfer Partners LP's Rover and Enbridge Inc's Texas Eastern Transmission (Tetco) pipelines. The shutdown of Leach Xpress had forced producers using the line to find other pipes to ship gas out of the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The company has not yet provided details on what caused the blast. Alternative pipelines include ETP's Rover, Tallgrass Energy Partners LP's Rockies Express (REX), EQT Midstream Partners LP's Equitrans and Enbridge's Tetco, according to analysts at S&P Global Platts. Columbia Gas, which declared a force majeure after the blast, said the damaged section of pipe could affect movement of about 1.3 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd). One billion cubic feet of gas is enough to fuel about 5 million U.S. homes for a day. Energy analysts, however, said overall output in the Appalachian region was little changed by the blast as producers, like Range Resources Corp and Southwestern Energy Co, found other pipes to move their gas. In fact, Appalachian output has increased to around 27.9 bcfd over the past three days from around 27.5 bcfd before the pipe blast, according to Thomson Reuters data. The 1.5-bcfd Leach Xpress in West Virginia and Ohio, which entered full service at the start of this year, transports Marcellus and Utica shale gas to consumers in the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast.

Equitrans starts operations on the Mountain Valley gas pipeline (US) - The US company Equitrans Midstream has announced that its 2 bcf/d (20.6 bcm/year) Mountain Valley gas pipeline has started operations, following the clearing of all applicable legal and regulatory requirements of the project by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The US$6.6bn project is a 303.5-mile (488 km) interstate natural gas pipeline that aims to unlock gas supplies from Marcellus and Utica shale production in Appalachia, the largest shale gas basin in the United States. The Mountain Valley Pipeline would cross nine West Virginia counties to transport natural gas to East Coast markets. The project initially received approval from the FERC in 2017. However, it has faced deveral setbacks due to regulatory obstacles and legal disputes, leading to delays in its completion. The operator of the project, Equitrans Midstream, announced in March 2024 that it agreed to be purchased by the US natural gas producer EQT Corporation.

Mountain Valley Gas Pipeline Starts Operation | Rigzone - Equitrans Midstream Corp. has put onstream a 303-mile pipeline from West Virginia to southern Virginia offering two billion cubic feet of daily natural gas transport capacity, after delays from environmental and land rights lawsuits. The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which began construction 2018, has recently been made available for “interruptible or short-term firm transportation service until long-term firm capacity obligations commence on July 1, 2024”, the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based company said in a statement. The 42-inch underground interstate conduit targets gas produced in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays, which sit in the United States’ top gas producing region of Appalachia. Equitrans said it hopes to capitalize on growing power demand in the mid-Atlantic and the Southeast regions through the pipeline. “Demand for natural gas in Southwest Virginia continues to grow, and the importance of MVP’s energy supply cannot be overstated”, Paul Nester, president and chief executive of utility Roanoke Gas Co., commented. “The MVP and its natural gas supply are essential to meeting the needs of residents and businesses across the Roanoke Valley, now and for many years to come. Further, MVP’s delivery points to Roanoke Gas in Franklin and Montgomery Counties are certain to provide direct, long-term economic benefits to our community and this region”. Transportation agreements for 550 million cubic feet per day of capacity are expected to commence under 20-year terms with the startup of the MVP. Equitrans said, “The MVP is now part of a critical network of more than 300,000 miles of interstate and intrastate natural gas transmission pipelines transporting the natural gas that fuels modern America and the U.S. economy”. The project has faced legal battles over safety and environmental concerns and right of way disputes, which caused delays and inflated costs. Equitrans insisted on announcing the start of operation, “In accordance with all permit requirements, the MVP was built under unprecedented regulatory oversight and followed stringent construction, safety, and environmental protocols, including the protection of threatened and endangered species, and cultural, historical, and environmental resources”. On June 11, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave the green light for the MVP to begin operation. “We find that Mountain Valley has adequately stabilized the areas disturbed by construction and that restoration and stabilization of the construction work area is proceeding satisfactorily”, FERC Director for Energy Projects Terry Turpin said in the authorization letter. Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who helped lead efforts in Congress to expedite permitting for the project, said in a statement, “After receiving all the necessary permits and approvals from both Republican and Democrat administrations, overcoming needless delays by courts and climate activists, this critical project is in now in service and can begin to deliver needed energy to markets up and down the Atlantic coast”. Environmental campaigners reacted by warning that risks from the project remain. “The project is far from final restoration when hillsides continue to slip, people lack clean well water, agricultural lands are damaged and streams are clogged with sediment”, said Autumn Crowe, interim executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “These problems will persist long after gas is pumping through it”. Oakland, California-based Sierra Club said, “It has long been clear that the pipeline is unable to comply with basic environmental protections, with hundreds of water quality related violations throughout the course of construction”. “Regulators have also yet to complete analysis of a failed component of the pipeline”, Sierra Club said. The pipeline is a joint venture by Equitrans as the operator, AltaGas Ltd., Consolidated Edison Inc., NextEra Energy Inc. and RGC Resources Inc. The MVP will be taken over by EQT Corp. if its multi-billion-dollar acquisition of the operator is completed. The merger, which has an initial transaction price of $35 billion, would create “America's first large-scale, integrated natural gas producer with an unrivaled low-cost structure that provides investors with the best risk-adjusted exposure to natural gas prices”, EQT said March 11.

Confirmed: M-U Gas Now Flowing Through Mountain Valley Pipeline - Marcellus Drilling News -- On Friday, Equitrans Midstream, the builder and majority owner of the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) that runs from Wetzel County, WV, to Pittsylvania County, VA, announced the pipeline has, after a decade of planning and building, finally begun to flow Marcellus/Utica molecules. Who is buying those molecules? We know of at least one company. In a separate announcement, Roanoke Gas Company (a large local utility) said it had begun to purchase M-U molecules from MVP on Friday. Roanoke Gas said for the first time since 1965, the Roanoke Valley now has access to a new interstate natural gas pipeline via two interconnections Roanoke Gas has with MVP. Equitrans issued this press release on Friday: The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) entered service today after satisfying all applicable legal and regulatory requirements, including all applicable in-service conditions of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s + Consent Agreement for the project, and receiving all remaining approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. MVP is now available for interruptible or short-term firm transportation service until long-term firm capacity obligations commence on July 1, 2024. “This is an important and long-awaited day for our Nation and the millions of Americans who now have greater access to an abundant supply of domestic natural gas for use as an affordable, reliable, and cleaner energy resource,” said Diana Charletta, president and chief executive officer of Equitrans Midstream Corp. “Natural gas is an essential fuel for modern life, and, as a critical infrastructure project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline will play an integral role in achieving a lower-carbon future while helping to ensure America’s energy and economic security for decades to come.” Spanning approximately 303 miles across West Virginia and Virginia, the MVP is designed to provide cost-effective access to natural gas for use by local distribution companies, industrial users, and power generation facilities in the growing demand markets of the mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the United States. The 42-inch diameter underground interstate natural gas transmission pipeline is designed to carry up to 2 Bcf of natural gas per day from the Marcellus and Utica shale production regions to these demand markets.

Analysts Expect Only 38% of MVP’s 2 Bcf/d to be Used for Now - Marcellus Drilling News - Everyone in the Marcellus/Utica industry is elated that the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is finally up and running (see Confirmed: M-U Gas Now Flowing Through Mountain Valley Pipeline). MVP can flow 2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of homegrown M-U molecules from Wetzel County, WV, to Pittsylvania County, VA, in the southcentral part of the state. But where does the gas go from Pittsylvania County? Where MVP terminates, it connects to the mighty Transco pipeline that theoretically has the capacity to flow most of those molecules onward, all the way to the Gulf Coast in some cases. Except Transco is currently full… Except Transco is currently full... Last November, MDN brought you the news that pipeline giant Williams had given the green light to proceed with a new Transco pipeline expansion project called the Southeast Supply Enhancement Project (see Transco Expansion to Add 1.4 Bcf/d Capacity to Flow M-U Gas South). The project was estimated to flow an extra 1.43 Bcf/d (billion cubic feet per day) of Marcellus/Utica molecules southward along the Transco pipeline system, delivering those molecules to states in the southern U.S. Since last November, Williams has upped the capacity to 1.587 Bcf/d (essentially from 1.4 to 1.6). The Southeast Supply Enhancement Project was designed to help handle MVP’s incoming molecules. On Feb. 1, Williams filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (FERC) to open a pre-filing review. In essence, Williams pre-pre-filed, giving us lots of new details about the project (see Williams Pre-Pre-Files for Southeast Supply Enhancement Project). The extra capacity is not expected online before 2026. Two other pipelines interconnect with MVP along its route before it terminates at the Transco interconnection. One is Columbia Gas Transmission’s (TCO) WB line in Braxton County, VA. The other is TCO’s KA line in Monroe County, VA. All three pipelines (Transco, TCO WB, TCO KA) will need to free up capacity in order to accept new capacity from MVP — a process that will take time. According to the Hart Energy article below, analysts with East Daley Analytics estimate MVP will, for now, flow roughly 750 MMcf/d (million cubic feet per day), about 38% of the pipeline’s capacity. The bottom line, according to East Daley, is that drillers won’t be able to increase production for MVP until 2025. Be sure to look at the excellent map in the article below, which not only identifies the pipelines that connect to MVP, but the “taps” into MVP from local utility companies including Dominion Hope and Roanoke Gas.

Report Says Va. Data Center Growth Needs 15 GW of Gas-Fired Power - Data centers (huge computer server farms) have become one of the primary sources of new electricity demand across the United States. Specifically, PJM, the largest power market grid in the world (covering 65 million customers in the Mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia), is seeing a huge increase in the number of data centers. The PJM grid operator expects 11 GW (gigawatts) of additional electricity will be needed for new data centers by 2030 in northern Virginia alone, representing more than 40% of the state’s current peak demand. According to a new report from Aurora Energy Research, a high-growth case could drive additions of up to 15 GW of new electric demand in PJM by 2030, compared to a conservative scenario. Aurora says there’s only one fuel source that can meet that kind of demand in the next five years: natural gas.

US natgas prices drop 3% on steeper supply rise forecast, rising coal-energy demand (Reuters) -U.S. natural gas futures dropped over 3% on Monday to their lowest in one-and-a-half weeks on forecasts for a steeper than previously expected rise in gas supply this week and increasing coal use over gas in the U.S. energy mix. Front-month gas futures NGc1 for July delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 9.3 cents, or 3.2%, to settle at $2.788 per million British thermal units, after falling over 4% earlier in the session. "Coal-fired generation jumped over the past week in anticipation of this widespread heat wave which is expected to result in higher electric demand over the next two weeks. The stronger coal generation will displace some of the natural gas generation, which is also fueling the bearish price response," Other factors weighing on prices include rising U.S. Lower 48 production, with Appalachia output surging 0.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) over the weekend, which coincides with the start of flows on the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), The nation's biggest gas producer, EQT's daily production has jumped by 0.4 bcfd since MVP came online, "If current heat persists, storage surplus will erode quickly, pushing gas prices higher. Recent price retreat is likely a temporary breather," according to Zhu Zhen, managing consultant at C.H. Guernsey and Company in Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, a tropical system developing in the southern Gulf of Mexico, which has a 70% chance of turning into a cyclone, is forecast to lower temperatures across Texas this week and lower natural gas demand in the ERCOT energy mix. Financial firm LSEG said gas output in the Lower 48 U.S. states stood at an average of 98.1 bcfd so far in June, the same as the 98.1 bcfd in May. That compares with a monthly record of 105.5 bcfd in December 2023. Forecast for total U.S. supply for the ongoing week were raised from 104.7 bcfd on Friday to 106.1 bcfd on Monday. Meteorologists projected weather across the Lower 48 states would remain hotter than normal through at least July 2. LSEG forecast that heat would boost gas demand in the Lower 48, including exports, from 96.6 bcfd this week to 102.2 bcfd next week. The forecasts for this week however, were lower than LSEG's outlook on Friday. Gas flows to the seven big U.S. LNG export plants, meanwhile, were at 12.9 bcfd so far in June, the same as the 12.9 bcfd in May.

US natgas rises over 4% on hot weather, higher demand forecasts | U.S. natural gas futures rose more than 4% on Tuesday, helped by forecasts for warmer-than-usual weather and higher demand for the next week than previously expected. Meteorologists projected weather across the Lower 48 states would remain hotter than normal through at least July 3. Temperatures are expected to be above normal starting July across more parts of U.S., compared with last year “when the heat was concentrated in just Texas or currently where the heat is concentrated in just the Northeast and that’s when we start to think about true gas demands accelerating – well above last year,” Front-month gas futures for July delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 12.1 cents, or 4.3%, to settle at $2.909 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). The contract shed over 4% in the previous session, to hit the lowest in one-and-a-half weeks on forecasts for a steeper than previously expected rise in gas supply this week, and slight replacement from coal-energy in the U.S. energy mix. Meanwhile, traders also assessed the impact from potential tropical cyclone One, which is expected to become a tropical storm as it reaches the western Gulf Coast late on Wednesday, and could lead to lower demand for gas as temperatures drop across Texas. “If that storm tracks even just slightly more northward, it can have more of an impact on the LNG export terminals,” Gas prices rallied about 22% in the first 11 days of June to hit a 21-week high of $3.159/MMBtu on June 11, before shedding roughly 30 cents on the back of lower demand and higher gas output, some of which resulted from the Mountain Valley pipeline coming in service. “We see the market lifting back up to the $3.22 highs that were established a week ago and where we will be looking to accept profits in anticipation of a renewed swing south back toward the $2.80 level,” Meanwhile, European gas prices ticked up as warmer weather is set to lift power demand for cooling and competition increases for liquefied natural gas supplies.

US natgas prices drop 6% to 2-week low on rising output despite summer heat (Reuters) -U.S. natural gas futures dropped about 6% to a two-week low on Thursday with producers, including EQT EQT.N and Chesapeake Energy CHK.O, slowly increasing output to meet higher demand aspower generators burn more gas to meet rising air conditioning use. Front-month gas futures NGc1 for July delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 16.8 cents, or 5.8%, to settle at $2.741 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), their lowest close since June 4. Financial firm LSEG said gas output in the Lower 48 U.S. states rose to an average of 98.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in June from a 25-month low of 98.1 bcfd in May. That compares with a monthly record high of 105.5 bcfd in December 2023. Analysts said the production increase, which started in late May,was a sign drillers were slowly boosting output after a 47% jump in futures prices in April and May. Prices were also up about 10% so far in June. On a daily basis, output hit a 10-week high of 99.6 bcfd on June 17. Overall, however, U.S. gas production was still down around 8% so far in 2024 after several energy firms, including EQT and Chesapeake Energy CHK.O, delayed well completions and cut drilling activities when prices fell in February and March. Earlier this week, Chesapeake CEO Nick Dell'Osso said at a fireside chat with JP Morgan that Chesapeake will be ready to provide additional gas supplies to help meet the expected spike in power demand during an upcoming heatwave. Dell'Osso said Chesapeake curtailed about 0.5 bcfd of production earlier this year. He said curtailments will decline through the quarter, with none expected by the end of the year, subject to market conditions. EQT CEO Toby Rice saidearlier this month that EQT has already started boosting output. In other news, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) projected a 50% chance a tropical cyclone would form in the Gulf of Mexico near Mexico's east coast over the next week and a 40% chance a cyclone would form in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Florida and Georgia. The NHC also said Tropical Storm Alberto weakened into a depression as it moved inland over central Mexico from the Gulf of Mexico. Meteorologists projected weather across the Lower 48 states, meanwhile, would remain hotter than normal through at least July 5. LSEG forecast that heat would boost the amount of gas power generators in the Lower 48 burn to keep air conditioners humming, including exports, from 97.8 bcfd this week to 103.8 bcfd next week. Those forecasts were higher than LSEG's outlook on Tuesday before the U.S. Juneteenth holiday on Wednesday. Gas flows to the seven big U.S. LNG export plants rose to 13.0 bcfd so far in June, up from 12.9 bcfd in May. But that remains well below the monthly record high of 14.7 bcfd in December 2023 due to ongoing plant and pipeline maintenance at several Louisiana facilities, including Cameron LNG, Cheniere Energy's LNG.N Sabine Pass, Venture Global's Calcasieu Pass.

Bidenistas Open the Spigot with $200M for Pipeline Replacements -Marcellus Drilling News ---The Dems are all about handing out other people’s money. It keeps them in power (tantamount to bribes). Incidentally, Alexander Fraser Tytler said in the late 1700s: “A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.” The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) recently began soliciting applications to hand out nearly $200 million in grants from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure law to upgrade natural gas pipelines. Spreading around $200 million from the total of $1.2 trillion a rounding error — below two-tenths of a single percent.

Golden Pass LNG Seeking to Clear Legal ‘Logjam’ to Continue Construction - Golden Pass LNG Terminal LLC told the bankruptcy court handling Zachry Industrial Inc.’s restructuring that construction at its Texas export project could be at risk of “a near complete shut down” unless the firm is swiftly removed. In an emergency motion filed over the Juneteenth holiday, lawyers for Golden Pass requested the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas to “immediately reject” Zachry’s interest in the $9.25 billion engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for the liquefied natural gas project (No. 24-90377, #0299). “Zachry has abandoned the LNG facility and, in any event, is incapable of performing under the EPC contract,” according to the motion. “It is also beyond dispute that Zachry’s actions have caused, and continue to cause, immediate and substantial harm that compounds on a daily basis.”

The U.S. Could Take A Page From Australia's Natural Gas Playbook The U.S Government could do far worse than to look to Australia’s natural gas policy as it considers the future of LNG exports. Gas production from the U.S. and Australia is essential to global energy markets. Australia was the world’s leading LNG exporter in 2020 and 2021, a mantle the U.S. assumed in 2023.But the LNG industry in both countries has faced great policy uncertainty in recent times. In the U.S., this arrived with the unexpected January announcement of a halt to pending LNG export approvals, while Australia’s policy environment has been clouded for several years by cumbersome regulatory processes that stifled project development.The Future Gas Strategy released by the Australian Government in May addresses many of these concerns and establishes a roadmap future gas production investment. It outlines a clear role for gas in Australia’s energy transition, ensuring reliable power generation as major renewable energy projects are rolled out. Critically, it identifies the vital long-term contribution that Australian LNG will make in ensuring energy security for traditional customers in Asia and supporting emerging nations in the region as they look to reduce their reliance on high-emitting coal.While the Future Gas Strategy is underpinned by International Energy Agency (IEA) projections for global gas demand, it notes great variations between differing scenarios and early indications that real-life demand may exceed modelling. It acknowledges forecasts for much higher gas demand in Asia from reputable sources that know the region best, such as the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan.Thus far, flexibility around demand forecasts, including those of Asia, doesn’t seem to have had much of a place in dialogue around the U.S LNG export halt.As the U.S Chamber of Commerce has identified, the Department of Energy has seemingly sidelined gas projections from the U.S. Government’s own Energy Information Administration to use IEA data. However, many of the IEA projections are not forecasts based on practical assessments of future need but instead work backwards from decarbonization targets.Backcasting is not the same as providing accurate forecasts of future need on which to base energy policy.

Enbridge Loses Bid to Transfer Michigan Line 5 Suit to Federal Court - The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled that a lawsuit by Michigan’s attorney-general to shut down Enbridge Inc’s Line 5 pipeline on safety risks should be heard in state court as Enbridge failed to timely argue for federal jurisdiction. The 645-mile Line 5 is part of a pipeline network that carries oil products to refineries in the Midwest region in the United States and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Line 5 runs from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Canada. It transports up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude and natural gas liquids. Judges Amul R. Thapar, John B. Nalbandian and Richard Allen Griffin said the Canadian downstream company’s application for removal — a legal term for moving a civil litigation to federal court — had not been filed within the deadline specified in the United States Code (USC). The decision on Monday favored Attorney-General Dana Nessel, who had filed for appeal after failing to convince the District Court for the Western District of Michigan that the case should be heard in state court. Governor Gretchen Whitmer earlier lost an application before the district court to move a similar suit against Enbridge to state court. The governor initiated the suit to enforce a state government notice revoking a right of way issued for Line 5. “The merits of this litigation are not before us”, the appellate judges said of the Nessel versus Enbridge case. “Instead, we consider only which court should decide this case: does it belong in Michigan state court (where the Attorney General filed it in 2019) or in federal court (to where Enbridge removed it over two years later)? “We hold that Enbridge failed to timely remove this case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b), and there are no equitable exceptions to the statute’s deadlines for removal”. That section of the federal code specifies that an application for removal should be filed, per the official language, “within 30 days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based, or within 30 days after the service of summons upon the defendant if such initial pleading has then been filed in court and is not required to be served on the defendant, whichever period is shorter”. The judgment on Monday explained, “Citing both the district court’s order denying the motion to remand in the Governor’s case and § 1446(b)(3)’s provision that permits removal within 30 days after the defendant’s receipt of an ‘order ... from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable,’ Enbridge removed this case to federal court on December 15, 2021”. “Although 887 days had passed since receipt of the Attorney General’s complaint, Enbridge argued removal was nonetheless timely because it could not have ascertained that there were grounds for removal until the district court denied the motion to remand in the Governor’s case”, the appellate court said. It ruled that Enbridge had good-faith grounds to argue for federal jurisdiction within the initial window, “and to the extent § 1446(b)(3)’s later removal window was ever open, Enbridge missed that one too”. The appellate court also affirmed that the law’s time limitations for removal “are mandatory”. “When invoked in a timely motion to remand, these limitations leave no room for equitable exceptions”, it explained. “Enbridge’s failure to comply with these mandatory rules requires remand. “For these reasons, we reverse the district court’s denial of the motion to remand. We remand for the district court to enter an order remanding this case to Michigan’s 30th Circuit Court for the County of Ingham”.

Laying in Wait: San Juan's 'Remarkable' Mancos Shale Oil Wells -Billions of investment dollars are pouring into the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico where a frenzied land grab is underway. The same can’t be said about the San Juan Basin, far away in the state’s northwestern corner.The San Juan Basin, known mostly as a natural gas play, has languished in recent years as drilling activity stalled and some of the basin’s largest and oldest producers exited.Major companies ConocoPhillips, BP, Encana Oil & Gas(now Ovintiv) and WPX packed up and left the basin at the end of the 2010s, prioritizing their investments in higher-return locations such as the Permian.A flurry of private capital filled the void left in their wake: Companies like DJR Operating and Enduring Resources are bringing online strong, liquids-rich production and delineating untapped areas of the San Juan Basin.LOGOS Resources, a long-time San Juan operator, continues to be active under new ownership by private equity firm North Hudson Resource Partners.Private E&P Hilcorp is one of the basin’s top gas producers after acquiring legacy San Juan assets from ConocoPhillips in 2017.In 2020, BP sold its San Juan natural gas assets to Germany-based investment group IKAV.Nevertheless, the San Juan Basin and the Four Corners region are living under the oversized shadow of the prolific Permian Basin. Other basins in the Rockies—Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and Utah’s Uinta Basin—are even garnering greater investment dollars.But experts say the tailwinds of new drilling activity and oil and gas production growth will eventually gust across the San Juan, as top-tier basins mature and decline.“We expect to see a resurgence in production in the late 2030s into the 2040s,” said Josh Dixon, senior research analyst at Wood Mackenzie. Lack of activity in the San Juan Basin can be attributed in part to instability in natural gas prices.“Historically, it has been known as a natural gas basin,” said Ryan Hill, principal analyst at Enverus Intelligence Research, “and I still think, quite frankly, a lot of people view it in that light.”However, data shows the bulk of new horizontal drilling activity around the San Juan since 2020 has focused on the Gallup oil window and Mancos Shale. It’s a small subset of the overall San Juan, to the south-southwest side of the basin. DJR Operating and Enduring Resources are the two leading players developing the San Juan’s oil window—and they’re drilling wells with some “remarkable” results, Hill said.Remarkable, he said, because Enverus is screening some of the Gallup oil wells at breakeven costs at less than $40/bbl, which is “extremely competitive.”DJR Operating produced an average of approximately 13,143 bbl/d of oil and liquids during 2023, according to data from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division.DJR acquired San Juan assets from Encana Corp., now Ovintiv Inc., for $480 million in 2018.Enduring Resources produced an average of around 11,985 bbl/d over the same period. Enduring picked up WPX’s San Juan assets for $700 million in 2018.But it was EOG Resources’ perceived interest in the play that piqued the interest of analysts and operators.EOG, well-respected across the industry as one of the few exploratory upstream producers, picked up more than 100 drilling permits and drilled two wells in the area in 2021 and 2022, state data show. EOG later plugged and abandoned those two wells in April and May of 2023; the permits the company picked up have also since expired, Hill said.“They’ve kind of walked away,” he said.Based on early production results, EOG’s wells weren’t producing at the same level DJR was achieving with its wells, according to Enverus data. It just wasn’t the kind of prodigious output that would justify entry into a new emerging play for an operator like EOG, Dixon said. “DJR is, from our perspective, the number one operator and getting the most prolific results in the basin,” Hill said, “and EOG was definitely below that.”EOG’s about-face from the San Juan Basin stands in stark contrast to the investment dollars the company is pouring into areas such as the Ohio Utica Shale or theDorado gas field, near the Texas-Mexico border.

North Dakota Natural Gas Output Outpacing Oil as State ‘Aggressively’ Seeking Takeaway Solutions --North Dakota’s natural gas production growth surpassed that of oil in April, reflecting rising gas-to-oil ratios (GOR) in the Bakken Shale formation, the state’s top oil and gas regulator said. Bar graph comparing North Dakota's oil and natural gas production. The Department of Mineral Resources’ (DMR) Lynn Helms, oil and gas division director, hosted his final monthly press briefing to discuss the state of exploration and production in the Peace Garden state. Helms is stepping down after a 26-year tenure at DMR during which the Bakken emerged as a leading source of oil and associated gas supply in the Lower 48. “This is an incredible place to work,” a visibly emotional Helms told reporters. “And I can’t say enough about the way North Dakota has treated me and what a wonderful time it’s been working here for 26 years.”

Mexico LNG Sendout from New Fortress Altamira Project Likely in July - New Fortress Energy Inc. (NFE) said the work necessary to begin operations at its LNG unit offshore Altamira, Mexico, is nearly complete with first production seen within two weeks. The company added in an update that the fast liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facility would be able to begin production in 10 days with the first cargo set for July. The project, which would be the first export facility to ship natural gas from Mexico to global markets, has seen months of delays. CFO Chris Guinta in the quarterly earnings call said a late April malfunction with the FLNG facility’s cold box resulted in some minor injuries. Related Tags

Noble, Diamond Combination to Build Global Offshore Drilling Giant - Dealmaking is continuing across the global energy sector as Noble Corp. plc, one of the world’s largest ultra-deepwater drillers, has agreed to buy Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. in a cash-and-stock transaction worth about $1.6 billion. Bar graph showing combined Noble plc and Diamond order backlog Expand The merger between the oilfield services companies, both headquartered near Houston, would create one of the top ultra-deepwater drillers in the world. Noble CEO Robert Eifler discussed the reasoning for the merger during a conference call.

European Natural Gas Price Spikes Cool While Asian Demand, Supply Concerns Still Abound – Despite multiple maintenance and outage events weighing on LNG supply and dwindling storage levels, European natural gas prices were cooling again while Asian buyers kept drawing cargoes. NGI's LNG feedgas tracker chart. After rising almost 7% starting on June 10, European gas prices began falling Friday (June 14), according to Mizuho Securities USA LLC. They were still well below Asian prices, which rose more than 2% to above $12/MMBtu. Analysts with trading house Energy Danmark wrote “ongoing supply concerns” were stoking the Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF) contract for July, but the modest downturn did not mean the market has calmed its nerves.

EU Sanctions Package Targets Russian LNG — The European Union (EU) has approved a package of policies around the shipment of Russian LNG to member countries, marking the first official restrictions on natural gas from the country since the war in Ukraine began in 2022. Graph of European LNG imports by country of origin. The EU would still allow Russian liquefied natural gas deliveries to the bloc. However, the new package bans using infrastructure in member countries for transshipments to third-party countries. Transshipments are important to Russia, as LNG delivered from Novatek’s Yamal export facility is shipped in ice-class vessels, which are in short supply. Carrying cargoes from the Yamal Peninsula in Russia’s far north to European gas hubs like Zeebrugge, Belgium frees up these vessels for more shipments.

‘Gargantuan’ LNG Supply Wave Poised to Flood Market, but How Long Will The Glut Last? - The world is likely to be awash in LNG later this decade, but the surplus isn’t expected to last forever and divisions over how long the market would take to balance are coming into sharp relief. Bar chart of global LNG supply additions. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago and its decision to cut nearly all gas exports to Europe created a scramble to secure supplies that sent prices skyrocketing. As buyers sought cover from the volatile spot market and stronger energy security, they signed more long-term deals, raising prospects for investment in liquefied natural gas terminals. In some cases, the energy crisis helped push projects across the finish line. A bevy of new liquefaction trains are now set to come online starting next year, with additions poised to accelerate in the years after that. Nearly 40 million metric tons (mmt) of LNG capacity is expected to come online annually between 2026 and 2028.

Marine campaigners prepare fresh legal action over NSTA licences -- Marine conservation group Oceana UK is preparing to launch legal action against the UK government over its decision to award new oil and gas licences in the North Sea.Oceana UK said the new licences, awarded by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) as part of the 33rd Licensing Round, pose a “severe threat to marine life”.The group claimed issuing the new licences was “unlawful on several grounds”, including a “failure to consider the extreme impacts of both accidental oil spills and the climate crisis on marine life”.Oceana UK also claimed incumbent energy secretary Claire Coutinho and the NSTA “ignored advice” from independent government experts about the potential impact to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).The NSTA issued 82 new licences across three rounds between October 2023 and May this year.The licences cover 226 blocks in the North Sea, and Oceana said around a third of these blocks overlap with MPAs.More than 2,000 oil spills were recorded in UK waters between January 2011 and December 2023, according to an investigation by The Ferret.Of these spills, 215 occurred in MPAs, including a more than six tonne leak from the Repsol Auk A platform in September 2022.In a statement, Oceana claimed offshore environmental regulator OPRED’s assessment of the licence blocks did not reflect advice given by independent government experts, including the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.Oceana claimed the subsequent decision to award the licences was therefore unlawful.Oceana UK executive director Hugo Tagholm said the issuing of new licences by the UK government was a “deliberate choice to unlawfully ignore expert advice”.“The truth is, chronic oil spills are already polluting UK seas,” Mr Tagholm said.

Shell’s Deal for Pavilion LNG Business to Expand Natural Gas Contracts, Supply for Global Market -Shell plc is making good on ambitions to expand its global LNG business with an agreement to acquire Pavilion Energy Pte. Ltd. – and its 6.5 million metric tons/year (mmty) of contracted supply.Graph of Shell's Global LNG Supply & Demand forecast.The transaction by Shell Eastern Trading Pte. Ltd. was reached with Carne Investments Pte. Ltd., a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings Ltd. Headquartered in Singapore, Pavilion’s global energy business encompasses liquefied natural gas trading, shipping, natural gas supply and marketing activities in Asia and Europe. Neither Temasek nor Shell disclosed financial details.

Australian LNG Faces Double Whammy of Oversupply: IEEFA -- Australian liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers are potentially facing a couple of challenges in the global market: an oil supply glut and a global LNG oversupply. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said in a news release that demand for LNG is starting to decrease in mature markets. European demand for LNG is expected to peak in 2025 and then decline, with its gas consumption having already decreased by 20 percent in the last two years. Japan’s LNG demand has decreased by 25 percent since 2014, and is expected to decrease by a further 25 percent by 2030 as LNG is displaced by increasing nuclear and renewables generation. South Korea’s LNG imports fell by five percent last year, and are expected to fall further by 2030. A report published by IEEFA, Global LNG Outlook 2024-28, found that global LNG markets are headed towards a supply surplus within two years. Between 2024 and 2028, global LNG supply will increase by 40 percent, an unprecedented level of growth for the LNG industry in such a short time period. Capacity additions are dominated by Qatar and the USA, which have much lower costs of production than Australia, according to the report, which noted that Australian producers could face “high risks of declining prices for the uncontracted portion of their production”. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently predicted surplus petroleum production in the global markets of up to eight million barrels per day by 2030. The glut is due to rising oil supplies led by non-OPEC+ producers, in particular the USA and South America, while demand is forecast to level off. The oil demand slowdown is driven by the fast increasing uptake of electric vehicles worldwide, combined with the improved efficiency of petrol or diesel vehicles. Oil use is also decreasing for power generation, replaced by renewables or gas, the IEA said. The oversupply could lead to a price drop for oil, the IEEFA said, noting that Australia’s LNG sector is “heavily exposed to oil prices due to the majority of its existing LNG contracts having pricing directly linked to oil prices”. The IEEFA explained that Australian LNG contracts usually include a limited fixed-price component as well as a variable component based on a benchmark such as the Brent crude oil price or the Japan Crude Cocktail (JCC) price. “While the fixed component is typically increased slightly under a predefined threshold, low oil prices for a prolonged period of time would likely lead to financial losses for contracted LNG,” the agency remarked. While the majority of Australian LNG is currently sold through long-term contracts, a large share of those contracts will start expiring after 2030, the IEEFA continued. “As a result, producers will increasingly find themselves exposed to growing competition – either through spot market sales if they can’t secure new contracts, or through competition from lower-cost producers and overcontracted intermediaries for securing new long-term contracts,” it said noting that some buyers are already seeking to reopen negotiations on their contract pricing due to changing market conditions. The double pressure on contracted and uncontracted LNG prices from supply gluts will put financial returns at risk for Australian LNG producers, who are facing “an ever gloomier future,” the IEEFA concluded.

Global gas flaring jumps to highest level since 2019 -- The amount of gas flared worldwide rose in 2023 by nine billion cubic metres (bcm) to 148 bcm, its highest level since 2019. The increase resulted in an additional 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, an amount similar to adding about five million cars to the roads, finds new satellite data compiled by the World Bank's Global Flaring and Methane Reduction (GFMR) Partnership, a WAM report said. “Millions of people still lack access to basic energy and greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, while huge volumes of gas continue to be wastefully flared every year,” said Demetrios Papathanasiou, World Bank Global Director for the Energy and Extractives Global Practice. “Capturing and using this wasted gas could displace dirtier energy sources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and generate enough power to double the amount of electricity provided in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Gas flaring releases harmful pollutants, including black carbon and unburnt methane, which contribute to climate change and pose risks to both people and the planet. Eliminating gas flaring would avert at least 381 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions being released into the atmosphere each year. When productively used, wasted flared gas can help displace dirtier energy sources, increase energy access in some of the world's poorest countries, and provide many countries with much-needed energy security. “The increase in gas flaring is particularly disheartening as it comes after a long-overdue reduction in 2022. This sets global gas flaring levels back to what we experienced in 2019. We’re hopeful that this is somewhat of an anomaly and the longer-term trend will be dramatic reductions,” said Zubin Bamji, World Bank GFMR Manager. The World Bank's annual Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report is a tool for monitoring and understanding the state of flaring worldwide and the progress made towards achieving Zero Routine Flaring by 2030.--

Energean to offload oil and gas assets in Egypt, Italy and Croatia -- Energean has agreed to divest its oil and gas assets in Egypt, Italy and Croatia to an entity controlled by Carlyle International Energy Partners. The company said the deal is worth up to $945m (743.71m), of which $820m is firm. Carlyle International Energy Partners plans to set up a new company to pursue additional acquisitions in the Mediterranean region. The new entity will be spearheaded by former BP CEO Tony Hayward. Energean will sell gas-weighted assets with an expected production equivalent to 47,000 barrels of oil per day, featuring significant operations in Italy, Egypt and Croatia. Included in the portfolio are stakes in the Cassiopea gas field in Italy and Abu Qir gas production hub in Egypt.

Production starts at Senegal's first offshore oil field - Production has started at Senegal’s first offshore oil project, Australian operator Woodside Energy said on Tuesday, adding the West African country to the club of crude-producing nations. “This is a historic day for Senegal and for Woodside,” said the company’s chief executive, Meg O’Neill, calling the extraction of oil from the Sangomar field “a key milestone.” The floating facility is moored about 100 kilometres (60 miles) offshore and has a storage capacity of 1.3 million barrels, Woodside said. The project aims to produce 100,000 barrels of oil per day. The field also contains natural gas. Woodside has an 82-percent stake in the deepwater project with the remainder held by Senegal’s Petrosen. Senegal also has a liquefied natural gas project at its border with Mauritania and production there could begin in the third quarter. British energy giant BP is involved in the project. While Senegal’s fossil fuel output is not expected to be as high as that of bigger producers such as Nigeria, there are hopes the oil and gas industry will bring billions of dollars in revenue to the country and contribute to transforming its economy.

Chevron Signs Contracts for Ultra-Deepwater Blocks in Angola Amid Attractive Policies - Africa.com - Multinational energy corporation Chevron has signed two Risk Service Contracts (RSC) for Block 49 and Block 50, located in the ultra-deep waters of Angola’s Lower Congo Basin. The company – through its Angolan subsidiary Cabinda Gulf Oil Company Limited ­– was initially awarded the concessions by way of Presidential Decree in January 2024. The signing of the RSCs kicks off exploration and lays the foundation for the development of the blocks. As the voice of the African energy sector, the African Energy Chamber (AEC) commends the recent signing by Chevron in Angola. Chevron’s rich history of exploration and production in the country – covering 70 years – could not have been possible without Angola’s strong regulatory environment and the AEC supports the ongoing efforts by the multinational to expanding Angola’s oil and gas market. Representing the company’s first operated assets outside of the existing Cabinda concessions, Block 49 and 50 are situated in close proximity to producing concessions such as Block 17 – one of the first deep-offshore blocks to be licensed in Angola. As such, the blocks hold substantial potential for strong returns and further expand Angola’s portfolio of producing ultra-deepwater assets. Earlier this year, Chevron signed an agreement with Angola’s national concessionaire – the National Oil, Gas&Biofuels Agency – to conduct seismic surveys in Blocks 49 and 50. These studies will improve the geological understanding of the concessions and advance the exploration agenda. The RSCs add to Chevron’s strong asset portfolio in Angola. The company currently has a 26% market share in the country, with interests in Block 0 and 14 – which produce an average of 70,000 barrels of liquids per day and 259 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Block 0 – whose concession has been extended to 2050 – is comprised of 21 fields, while Block 14 contains nine fields. An agreement signed between Chevron and the government in 2020 combined all of Block 14’s development areas, providing improved fiscal terms while extending the production sharing contract to 2028. Additionally, in 2023, Chevron signed a production sharing agreement to manage operations within the Block 14/23 concession area. The concession is situated in the Zone of Common Interest shared by Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the agreement seeing Chevron act as operator with a 31% stake in the block. Chevron’s operations in Angola transcend oil and gas exploration, with the company holding non-operating interests in the Angola LNG plant – Angola’s inaugural LNG facility. Angola LNG processes gas from offshore concessions, generating critical revenue for the country through LNG exports. In 2023, the facility reached a milestone of delivering its 400th LNG cargo. Going forward, the development of new concessions aims to bolster LNG production at the facility. Specifically, the Chevron-operated Sanha Lean Gas Connection Project – valued at $300 million – comprises the development of a platform that ties into the existing Sanha Condensate complex and features pipelines connecting Block 0 and 14 to the Angola LNG facility. The project reached a final investment decision in 2021 and aims to address a supply gap at Angola LNG. Beyond exploration and production, Chevron is spearheading low-carbon solutions across Angola’s oil and gas industry. The multinational signed an agreement with the government in October 2023 to explore low-carbon business opportunities, with the goal to utilize nature-based and technological carbon offsets – alongside lower-carbon intensity fuels such as hydrogen – to enhance the country’s production. This will be undertaken in conjunction with oil and gas initiatives and showcases Chevron’s future-oriented approach to energy development in Angola.

Nigeria Eyes FLNG Project, Sanctions 300 MMcf/d Natural Gas Development -Africa’s largest LNG exporter is moving forward with projects to boost liquefaction capacity and natural gas production with international partners. The African country’s national oil and gas company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. Ltd. (NNPC), has signed a project development agreement with floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) developer Golar LNG Ltd. for a project offshore the Niger Delta. NNPC and Golar are aiming for a final investment decision (FID) on the 400-500 MMcf/d capacity facility by the end of the year, according to the state-owned firm. First gas production is targeted for sometime in 2027, which is near the time gas export projects in Qatar and the United States are expected to come online.

Nigerian Oilfield Shut Down after Oil Spill -Oil production at Nigeria’s OML 29 onshore field has been shut down as a precautionary measure after an oil spill was detected earlier this week, the field’s operator Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company (AEEPCO) said on Wednesday. “This is a precautionary measure while mobilising additional resources to contain the spill. The cause of the spill is currently undetermined,” the company said in a statement carried by Nigerian daily This Day.“We are proactively engaging with stakeholders to mitigate the immediate effects,” Aiteo added. The leak was detected on Monday and the company’s Oil Spill and Emergency Response Team was immediately activated to respond to the spill.According to Nigerian media, the leak occurred on Monday at a section of the 97-kilometre (60-mile) Nembe Creek Trunk Line that supplies crude to the Bonny Oil Export Terminal.The field shutdown due to a leak is a setback for Nigeria’s oil sector, which is looking to stem leaks and spills, oil theft, and vandalism in the onshore oil-producing fields.Raising oil production has been a key priority for the Nigerian federal government, which aims to thus boost revenues and foreign exchange reserves.Oil theft and pipeline vandalism have long plagued Nigeria’s upstream oil and gas industry, driving majors out of the country and often resulting in force majeure at the key crude oil export terminals.But OPEC member Nigeria aims to ramp up its oil production in the coming months and years.Nigeria’s oil production has started to recover in recent months and hit in February its highest level in more than three years amid a concerted effort to crack down on targeted attacks and organized theft rings.Nigeria needs annual investments of $25 billionto reach and keep its output at around 2 million barrels per day (bpd), Nigerian oil industry executive Austin Avuru said last month.

Niger stops oil exports to China over Benin disagreement -- Niger has stopped oil exports to China via its pipeline to Benin’s coast, Oil Minister Mahamane Moustapha Barke Bako said, intensifying the standoff between the West African neighbours. According to Reuters, on Friday the minister oversaw the padlocking of a section of the 2,000km (1,243-mile) pipeline at the Agadem oilfield in eastern Niger.Exports to China were flowing through the pipeline under an MOU with state-owned oil giant CNPC, worth $400m.In May, Benin blocked crude exports via its port from landlocked Niger, leading to a souring of relations between the two West African nations. Benin has demanded that the Niger junta reopen its border to Benin’s goods and then normalise relations.Earlier in June, Benin’s authorities detained five Niger nationals for allegedly entering Benin’s Seme-Kpodji pipeline terminal under false pretences.Niger has rejected the charges and claims that the group was there to ensure the loading of crude, complying with a previously signed agreement.

China’s Natural Gas Imports Hit Record High in May as Rebound Continues China, the world’s largest LNG importer, could bring in up to 80 million tons (Mt) this year as strong demand from the industrial, power generation, and transport sectors support consumption. NGI's Asia LNG Parity Price chart and graph. China’s liquefied natural gas imports surged 13% year/year in 2023 to 74.31 Mt, according to Kpler data. Those volumes are forecast to continue rising. PetroChina Co. Ltd. expects the country to import 78-80 Mt this year. Meanwhile, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in a May forecast that it expects China’s LNG imports to reach 81 Mt this year.

Chinas jet fuel exports up 68.1% on year in May on rising travel demand - China's exports of kerosene and diesel surged in May versus year-earlier levels, customs data showed on Tuesday, on strong jet fuel output, international flight demand and high diesel inventories. Jet fuel exports in May stood at 1.59 million tonnes, General Administration of Customs data showed on Tuesday. That was up 68.1 per cent from a year ago and steady with April's exports, which were nearly double the year-earlier level. "Strong middle distillate exports followed the strong production, particularly as oil majors ran hard for jet fuel to meet the Labour Day holiday demand," said Emma Li, Vortexa's senior China oil analyst. China's kerosene output rose 32.7 per cent year-on-year in January-April, the most recent data available. International flights roughly doubled to 58,878 in May from a year earlier, although they remained 28.74 per cent lower than in May 2019, according to civil aviation data provider Variflight. Fuel provided to international flights is counted as an export in customs statistics. Higher middle distillate output "came at the expense of light distillate production, when overall crude throughputs were largely capped by seasonal refinery maintenance - so gasoline exports were down year-on-year," Li of Vortexa said. China's oil refinery output slipped 1.8 per cent from a year ago in May. Gasoline exports stood at 860,000 million metric tonnes last month, down 36.6 per cent from a year earlier. However, that was still more than twice the level of April's 400,000 million metric tonnes, the lowest since July 2015, as the recovering economy led to higher domestic fuel use. Additionally, gasoline refining margins across Asia slumped, contributing to the weakness, as the summer driving season proved weaker than expected. Exports of diesel, which accounts for the biggest share of refinery output, rose 79 per cent in May to 1.07 million metric tonnes, the data showed, driven by high inventories and decent refining margins.

Indian Oil lets contract for major unit at Paradip petrochemical complex | Oil & Gas Journal - Indian Oil Corp. Ltd. (IOC) has let a contract to Technip Energies NV to provide a suite of services for new unit to be installed at IOC’s proposed petrochemical complex to be built nearby and integrated with the operator’s existing 15-million tonnes/year (tpy) refinery in Paradip, Odisha, on India’s northeastern coast. Under the June 20 contract, Technip Energies will license its proprietary technology and deliver the basic engineering design package for the proposed 1.5-million tpy naphtha cracking unit for the complex’s production of ethylene, the service provider said. Technip Energies—which valued the contract between €50 million and €250 million—confirmed its scope of work on the order also covers delivery of key proprietary equipment, including its proprietary Ripple Tray separation trays technology, as well as catalyst supply. The technology licensing and engineering award follows IOC’s late-March 2023 in-principle approval for execution of preliminary project activities—including preparation of a detailed feasibility report—for setting up the proposed Paradip petrochemical complex (OGJ Online, Apr. 4, 2023). The Stage 1 approval estimates the project at a cost of 610.77 billion rupees ($7.39 billion), which would be IOC’s largest single-site investment ever. To become one of four of India’s proposed Petroleum, Chemicals, & Petrochemical Investment Regions (PCPIR), the Paradip petrochemical complex—once completed—will be set up on 284 sq km of land spread over Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara districts and anchored by IOC’s Paradip refinery and petrochemical units. Together, the refinery and its existing petrochemical units would supply the proposed complex all necessary feedstock, including monoethylene glycol, petcoke-based synthetic ethanol, and paraxylene-purified terephthalic acid (PX-PTA), according to documentation from India’s National Investment Promotion & Facilitation Agency. In addition to the naphtha cracker, IOC and the government of India previously said the Paradip petrochemical complex will house downstream process units for producing derivative products including polypropylene, high-density polyethylene, high-density polyethylene, linear low-density polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, monoethylene glycol (MEG), among others. The complex also would enable production of niche chemicals such as phenol and isopropyl alcohol.

Oil spill cleanup underway in Singapore after ship collision -- The incident took place between Netherlands-flagged dredger Vox Maxima and Singapore-flagged bunker vessel Marine Honour, according to a statement from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) late Friday. The latter was berthed at the terminal at the time. The collision, which MPA said took place around 2.20 pm on Jun 14, resulted in oil from a cargo tank on Marine Honour spilling into the water. Oil spill response craft were sent to the location and a cleanup operation was underway as of 6 pm that evening. While MPA said the affected cargo tank has been isolated and the spill contained, video clips shared on social media showed black oil being washed up and coating a large part of one Singapore beach. Bloomberg News was not immediately able to verify the contents of the video. MPA said there was no impact to navigational safety or berthing operations.

Singapore struggling to clean up oil spill coating beaches -- Singapore authorities are scrambling to clean up a major oil spill that has blackened the city-state's southern coastline, days after a shipping accident. On Friday, a Netherlands-flagged dredging boat crashed into a Singaporean fuel ship moored in the shipping straits off the nation. Authorities said the dredger's loss of engine power led it to drift into the Singaporean vessel, puncturing its oil tank. At least half the oil in its tank, about 400 tonnes, spilled out, with large quantities washed ashore. "The allision caused a rupture of one of the Marine Honour's oil cargo tanks, and its contents of low-sulphur fuel oil were released to the sea," Singapore maritime and environment agencies said in a joint statement. Visitors to some of the beach clubs on the popular resort island of Sentosa reported the water was still dark and oily and a smell lingered three days after the incident. Swimming and other sea activities are prohibited for now in Sentosa, while several beaches across the country are closed until further notice. There are concerns for wildlife - with reports from responders of sea snails and other creatures coated in oil. However, initial biodiversity surveys have come back with no major damage reported. “No significant impact to marine biodiversity had been observed, though oil was observed on the roots of some mangrove plants in the area," Dr Karenne Tun from the National Parks Board told the city's Straits Times newspaper. However volunteers taking part in the clean up say it could still be too early to tell. "It is a good sign that we did not see any wildlife in distress today, but we will have to monitor the situation. It could take a while before we see the true impacts from the oil spill," Kua Kay Yaw told the newspaper.

Eyesea and SurfCleaner team up to minimise nearshore oil spill effects - Swedish water treatment firm SurfCleaner has entered into a global partnership with maritime pollution mapping specialist Eyesea to minimise the effects of nearshore oil spills.Eyesea maps analyses and supports the recovery of pollution and maritime hazards using a portfolio of tech tools. The partnership between the two is set to focus on monitoring and minimizing the effect of oil spills in nearshore areas such as ports, harbours, oil terminals, and shipyards. It also aims to improve conditions around stationary installations which are common for handling industrial wastewater.SurfCleaner’s skimmer hybrid technology is capable of separation, removal, and recovery of floating water contaminants. This kind of technology is needed in Singapore at the moment where a Van Oord dredger, Vox Maxima, lost power and control of its steering and crashed into a bunker barge, Marine Honour, which was at anchor. The barge’s hull was badly punctured with reports suggesting at least 400 tonnes of very low sulphur fuel oil spilled out. Due to the tidal currents, parts of the oil spillage have landed along the southern shorelines while an oil sheen was also seen in the waters surrounding Sister’s Islands Marine Park, a 400,000 sq m marine protected area.“Sources of oil contaminations in ports typically occur from petroleum wastewater, equipment leaks and cleaning, tank ruptures, etc. We are keen to communicate to the global maritime community, that our technology can automatically and continuously remove floating pollutants, preventing hydrocarbon pollution in the discharged water,”

Singapore to seek compensation from owner of ship that was hit in oil-spill incident --SINGAPORE’S government agencies will seek compensation for the costs incurred after the June 14 oil spill from the owner of the Singapore-flagged ship that leaked fuel after it was hit by another vessel. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said on June 20 that the shipowner of bunker vessel Marine Honour is liable for the costs incurred and that the ship has insurance coverage to meet this liability. It said that this falls under the Merchant Shipping (Civil Liability and Compensation for Oil Pollution) Act 1998, which is Singapore’s enactment of the 1992 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage. Under this act, the owner of Marine Honour has strict liability, which means it is liable even if it is not at fault, for the pollution damage caused by the oil spill from its tanker in Singapore waters, MPA explained. It said: “The spirit of the ‘polluter pays’ principle simplifies the claims process by having a clear party against which to pursue claims without potential complications of proving fault.” The owner of Marine Honour can seek recourse against third parties for its pollution liability, it added. Clean-up of Antwerp oil spill completed - The clean-up operations of ships and quay walls are over at Deurganckdok at the Port ofAntwerp-Bruges, after the recent oil spill. All vessels involved in the incident and contaminated have left the Deurganckdok, according to the port authority. “The quay walls are fully available again and there is no longer a selective ban on navigation in the Deurganckdok,” said Port of Antwerp-Bruges in the latest update. The incident occurred on 7 June, when oil leaked during a bunker operation and was discovered in the Deurganck dock late afternoon. After the incident, the authority of the Belgian port decided to close Deurganckdok temporarily.

Fitch maintains its oil and gas price assumptions - Fitch Ratings has maintained most of its oil and gas price assumptions, reflecting broadly unchanged market fundamentals. Fitch’s base-case oil price assumptions have not changed. While Brent crude oil prices reached $90 a barrel in April due to increased tensions in the Middle East, prices declined once the concerns had abated. Opec+'s decision, announced in early June, to phase out additional output cuts, totalling 2.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) by September 2025, caused a sharp decline in prices. This phase-out of cuts, coupled with near-record oil production in the US and rising inventory levels globally, may move the market into a surplus in 2025. Opec+ highlighted that the return of these volumes to the market would depend on market dynamics and could be paused. Opec+'s ample spare capacity of 5.9 mbpd limits potential increases in oil prices and contains the geopolitical risk premium. Fitch expects global oil consumption growth, in mbpd, to continue in 2024–2025 by similar increments to previous averages. Global oil demand growth will fall to 1.1 mbpd in 2024 (2023: 2.3 mbpd) due to electric vehicle expansion and efficiency gains, and slower growth in China, and remain at a similar level in 2025, according to the International Energy Agency. Following a strong increase of almost 1 mbpd in 2023, supported by the post-pandemic rebound in mobility, oil demand in China will rise by only 0.3 mbpd in 2024. The ratings’ agency expects global production growth to be well below 1 mbpd in 2024, largely contained by Opec+'s discipline, while growth will accelerate to well above 1 mbpd in 2025, driven by strong non-Opec+ production increases, mostly in the US, Canada, and Brazil. Russian oil output remains resilient, with 9.3 mbpd produced in April 2024 (2021: about 9.6 mbpd), according to the US Energy Information Administration. Exports are being re-routed to Asia, mainly to China and India. Fitch has kept all Henry Hub base-case assumptions unchanged. US gas production continues to outstrip consumption, although the gap has narrowed. Fitch expects production to decline as a result of announced curtailments. Natural gas prices are extremely volatile and dependent on weather, particularly in the short term. Fitch has maintained all its TTF base-case assumptions. EU gas storage is 68% full, and it believes EU countries will be able to fully refill storage before the heating season, limiting upward price pressure. Nevertheless, Fitch forecasts a seasonal increase in prices in autumn, in line with the usual natural gas price seasonality. “We maintain our view that natural gas markets will remain fairly tight in 2024 and 2025, with new liquefied natural gas capacity in the US and Qatar leading to a gradual decrease in prices from 2026. We have adjusted the 2024 stress-case prices for Brent, WTI, and TTF to align them closer with a realistic stress scenario, considering the prices recorded so far this year,” Fitch said.

Oil prices fall on weaker US consumer demand, China data - Oil prices slipped in Asian trading on Monday after a survey on Friday showed weaker U.S. consumer demand and as May crude production rose in China, the world's biggest crude importer. Global benchmark Brent crude futures for August delivery were down 29 cents, or 0.4%, at $82.33 per barrel at 0330 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures for July delivery were also down 29 cents at $78.16 a barrel. The more-active August delivery WTI contract slipped 0.4% as well at $77.76 per barrel. That followed prices slipping on Friday after a survey showed U.S. consumer sentiment fell to a seven-month low in June, with households worried about their personal finances and inflation. However, both benchmark contracts still gained nearly 4% last week, the highest weekly rise in percentage terms since April, on signs of stronger fuel demand. "Last week's robust rally was fuelled by forecasts of strong 2024 demand from OPEC+ and the IEA. However, given OPEC's vested interest in crude oil, there is some scepticism around OPEC’s forecasts," said Tony Sycamore, a market analyst at IG in Singapore. "Friday's soft U.S. consumer confidence numbers suggest that the resilience of the American consumer and the U.S. economy will be tested as households run down their savings to combat higher interest rates and cost-of-living pressures," he added. Meanwhile, China's May domestic crude oil production rose 0.6% on year to 18.15 million tonnes, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Monday. Year-to-date output was 89.1 million tonnes, up 1.8% from a year earlier. National crude oil throughput fell 1.8% in May over the same year-ago level to 60.52 million tonnes, with year-to-date totalling 301.77 million tonnes, up 0.3% from a year ago. The country's May industrial output lagged expectations and a slowdown in the property sector showed no signs of easing, adding pressure on Beijing to shore up growth. The flurry of data on Monday was largely downbeat, underscoring a bumpy recovery for the world's second-largest economy. On the geopolitical front, concerns of a wider Middle East war lingered after the Israeli military said on Sunday that intensified cross-border fire from Lebanon's Hezbollah movement into Israel could trigger serious escalation. After the relatively heavy exchanges over the past week, Sunday saw a marked drop in Hezbollah fire, while the Israeli military said that it had carried out several air strikes against the group in southern Lebanon. Markets in key oil trading hub Singapore and other countries in the region were closed for a public holiday on Monday.

Oil Weekly: Futures Steady on Mixed China Macros, Refining Slump -- Oil futures steadied Monday morning, after official Chinese data released overnight revealed mixed economic performance in one of the key locomotives of global oil demand growth. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China revealed slowing industrial growth in May, with both industrial production and fixed asset investments disappointing to the downside. While retail sales in May grew more than expected, up 3.7% year-on-year, they were overshadowed by a slowdown in refiner activity. NBS data revealed the second consecutive year-on-year decline in crude oil processing, down 3.3% year-on-year, tempering oil demand growth expectations. In the U.S., gasoline and diesel inventories continued to expand alongside crude oil stockpiles among emerging signs of a slower-than-expected summer driving season. According to Energy Information Administration data, gasoline demand trailed year-ago levels by 1.3% in the four weeks leading up to June 7, and distillate fuel oil supplied to domestic markets was down 3.5% year-on-year. A potential turn-around is not likely to come any time soon: the University of Michigan's preliminary consumer confidence index for June fell to a seven-month low 65.6. Consumer's expectations have been falling since the beginning of the year, and their assessment of current conditions hasn't been this low since December 2022. Macroeconomic data releases are set to provide more clarity this week, with U.S. industrial production and retail sales data out Tuesday and the EIA's weekly inventory report scheduled for Thursday release, sandwiched between week two regional Federal Reserve manufacturing indices. Near 7:45 a.m. EDT Monday, WTI futures for July delivery were trading near $78.73 barrel (bbl), up $0.28, and Brent for August delivery hovered around $82.91 bbl, up $0.29. RBOB for July was up $0.0164 gal to $2.4160, and ULSD for July delivery gained $0.0100 gal to $2.4806.

Oil jumps, settles at highest in over a month on demand optimism (Reuters) - Oil prices surged nearly $2 a barrel on Monday to their highest settlement levels in over a month, adding to last week's gains as investors grew more optimistic on the demand outlook. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures gained by $1.88, or 2.4%, to settle at $80.33 a barrel, the highest since the end of April. Global benchmark Brent crude gained $1.63, or 2%, to $84.25 a barrel, also the highest since April. Last week, both benchmarks posted their first weekly gain in four weeks after reports from the OPEC+ producer group, the International Energy Agency and U.S. Energy Information Administration raised confidence that oil demand will improve in the second half of the year and help inventories draw down. Reassurances from OPEC+ that a plan to raise supplies from the fourth quarter of this year could be paused or reversed based on market conditions also helped prices firm. That plan, unveiled after the group's meeting on June 2, had led to a sharp selloff in prices. "The outlook for strong fuel demand into the coming quarter and Saudi reassurance about the October hike being subject to prevailing conditions and added focus on quota breakers to bring production down and into line all seems to be supporting," Investors last week repurchased some of the petroleum they had sold the week before, data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed on Friday. "Those funds who thought we were heading into a production battle, had their concerns quickly assuaged when OPEC+ members went on a PR campaign to assure the world their changes to production would be market dependent," Economic data from China also supported hopes of stronger oil demand from the top importer, Hodes said. Manufacturing investment in China in the first five months of this year showed robust growth of 9.6%, government data showed on Monday. Other data was mixed, however, with industrial output lagging expectations. Oil prices have also been supported by a rising geopolitical risk premium, AEGIS Hedging analysts noted on Monday. Concerns of a wider Middle East war lingered after the Israeli military said on Sunday that intensified cross-border fire from Lebanon's Hezbollah movement into Israel could trigger serious escalation.

Crude Oil Falls Over Drop In China’s Refining Activity - BizWatchNigeria.Ng - Due to uncertainty about demand in China and the United States, the two countries that consume the most oil worldwide, oil prices fell on Tuesday. Data show that China’s oil refinery output dropped for a second month in a row, reaching its lowest point of the year. According to the American Petroleum Institute’s most recent data, US inventories increased at the same time. ICE Brent crude closed at $84.12 per barrel on the market, down 0.15% from the previous trading session’s closing price of $84.25 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) traded at $79.58 per barrel at the same time, a 0.18% drop from the previous session that closed at $79.72 per barrel. A global oil demand boost from China is likely to be significantly lower this year as the country’s crude oil processing could stagnate for only the second time in two decades, Commerzbank said in a note on Tuesday. The International Energy Agency only expects an increase of 500,000 barrels per day in China this year, compared with an increase of 1.5 million b/d in 2023. At the same time, global oil demand is expected to increase by 1 million b/d less this year compared with 2023, the bank noted. China’s National Bureau of Statistics on Monday reported 14.3 million b/d of crude oil processing by Chinese refineries for May, slightly lower than the previous month and the lowest in five months. Crude oil processing in the first five months of 2024 amounted to 14.5 million b/d, roughly unchanged from the previous year. Crude oil processing was affected by regular maintenance work at the largest state and private refineries in May, overcoming a slight improvement in small independent refineries, according to the consultancy Oilchem. Even more processing capacities are likely to be affected by maintenance work in June than in May, Commerzbank said, citing the consultancy firm GL Consulting. There is an ongoing uncertainties over the timing of the US Federal Reserve’s (Fed) interest rate cut continue to raise demand concerns. The Fed announced its monetary policy decisions and economic projections last week. The bank did not change the policy rate in line with expectations and kept it constant at 5.25–5.50%. Following the meeting, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the timing was not right to start easing monetary policy. Although inflation in the US showed signs of slowing down, the Fed reduced its interest rate cut forecast for this year from three to one.

The Market Rallied on Comments Made by New York Federal Reserve President, John Williams - The oil market on Tuesday continued to trend higher following comments from a Federal Reserve policymaker on the future of interest rate cuts. The market traded mostly sideways in overnight trading and posted a low of $79.77 as it retraced some of Monday’s sharp gains. However, the market rallied on comments made by New York Federal Reserve President, John Williams, who stated that interest rates will come down gradually over time, although he declined to say when the U.S. central bank will start its monetary policy easing. It extended its gains to over $1.30 as it posted a high of $81.67 ahead of the close. The market was also supported ahead of the release of the weekly petroleum stocks reports later on Tuesday and Thursday morning which are expected to show a draw in crude stocks of over 4 million barrels. The July WTI contract settled up $1.24 at $81.57 and the August Brent contract settled up $1.08 at $85.33. The product markets ended the session higher, with the heating oil market settling up 3.83 cents at $2.5208 and the RB market settling up 3.63 cents at $2.4832. Goldman Sachs stated that as summer inventory draws materialize, the price of Brent crude will increase further to an August peak of $86/barrel led by rising time spreads. Separately, Goldman Sachs said production growth in the Permian Basin is likely to gradually slow down from a strong output level of 520,000 bpd in 2023 to 270,000 bpd in 2026. It said “Robust Permian growth and high OPEC spare capacity will likely support ceiling of our $75-$90 Brent forecast in the short run.” The American Petroleum Institute, the National Corn Growers Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said on Tuesday they were suing President Joe Biden’s administration over its plan to cut emissions from heavy-duty vehicles, arguing the regulations will cause economic harm. This spring, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized new rules for models of semi-trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles released from 2027 to 2032 in a bid to cut 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions through 2055. The corn lobby group said they had joined the suit, arguing in favor of other methods to fight climate change like biofuels. The Buzzard oilfield in the North Sea resumed output over the weekend following a production outage last month. CNOOC reported an outage at the field on May 28th. Phillips 66 said the start-up of Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project has tightened its margins. The pipeline project was expected to triple the flow of oil from Alberta to Canada’s Pacific coast to 890,000 bpd. Exxon Mobil Corp reported emissions at its 564,440 bpd Baytown, Texas refinery. It reported an unplanned shut down of its hydrofining unit 10. It said there is minimal impact to production. Citgo Petroleum Corp was starting up units following the completion of planned maintenance activities at its 167,500 bpd Corpus Christi West plant in Texas. TotalEnergies reported to state regulators a compressor trip was responsible for flaring that began at its 238,000 b/d Port Arthur refinery back on June 14th.

Oil settles over 1% higher on mounting tension in Europe, Mideast (Reuters) - Oil settled more than 1% higher on Tuesday due to escalating geopolitical risk in Europe and the Middle East, where wars continue to threaten global supply. Brent crude futures settled up $1.08, or 1.3%, at $85.33 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures ended $1.24, or 1.5%, higher at $81.57 a barrel. Global benchmark Brent has clambered back from an early-June close of $77.52, yet remains off its $90 peaks from mid-April. Prices rose after a Ukrainian drone strike caused a large fire in a fuel tank at an oil terminal in Russia's southern port of Azov, according to Russian officials and a Ukrainian intelligence source. The port of Azov has two oil product terminals, which handled a total of about 220,000 tons of fuel for export during the period from January to May. The ongoing attacks on Russia's oil refining complex pose a threat to physical global supply, as well as boosting the risk premium priced into crude futures. “The Ukrainian attack reminds the market that Russian energy infrastructure is very much in the crosshairs, the global market needs those barrels of crude and refined products to keep prices in check,” . Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned that a decision on an all-out war with Hezbollah was coming soon even as the U.S. tries to avert a greater war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. Special envoy Amos Hochstein to U.S. President Joe Biden, said he had been dispatched to Lebanon immediately following a brief trip to Israel because the situation was "serious." "Everywhere you look the geopolitical risk factor is very high,". "We have not seen a major impact on supply but that could change really quickly," he added. Prices also climbed after New York Federal Reserve President John Williams said interest rates will come down gradually but gave no precise timetable. Later, oil came under pressure when Boston Federal Reserve President Susan Collins cautioned that it was "too soon to determine whether inflation is durably on a path back to the 2% target." The market is also watching U.S. stockpile data due this week for hints on the oil demand outlook during summer driving season. U.S. crude oil inventories posted a surprise build last week while gasoline stocks fell, market sources said, citing American Petroleum Institute figures. The API figures showed crude stocks rose by 2.264 million barrels in the week ended June 14, the sources said on condition of anonymity, compared with an expected draw of 2.2 million barrels. Gasoline inventories fell by 1.077 million barrels, and distillates rose by 538,000 barrels. Official inventory data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration will be released at 11:00 a.m. EDT on Thursday, delayed a day due to the Juneteenth holiday.

Oil dips after hitting seven-week highs on demand hopes, war jitters (Reuters) - Oil prices dipped on Wednesday after hitting seven-week highs as summer demand optimism and concerns over escalating conflicts offset an industry report that said U.S. crude inventories unexpectedly rose.Brent crude futures slipped 6 cents, or 0.1%, to $85.27 a barrel by 1943 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 10 cents, or 0.1%, at $81.47 per barrel.Brent reached $85.84 a barrel earlier in the session, its highest since May 1, while WTI traded up to $81.96 a barrel, the highest level since April 30. Trading activity was thin due to a U.S. federal holiday."The current snapshot presents an underwhelming picture but there are green shoots that indicate a more optimistic outlook," The Brent price being $8 over the lows hit in early June "shows genuine optimism that the global oil balance will eventually tighten," Both benchmarks, having recovered strongly in the last two weeks, gained more than $1 in the previous session after a Ukrainian drone strike led to an oil terminal fire at a major Russian port.In the Middle East, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned of a possible "all out war" with Lebanon's Hezbollah, even as the U.S. attempted to avoid a broader conflict between Israel and the Iran-backed group.An escalating war risks supply disruption in the oil-producing region."The potential escalation of tensions in the Middle East is adding some supply risk to the oil demand equation," , adding recent U.S. economic data supported bets the Federal Reserve would move towards cutting interest rates in coming months.China data this week showed May industrial output lagged expectations, but retail sales, a gauge of consumption, marked the quickest growth since February.Meanwhile, U.S. crude stocks rose by 2.264 million barrels in the week ended June 14, market sources said on Tuesday, citing American Petroleum Institute figures. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a 2.2-million barrel draw in crude stocks.However, gasoline inventories fell by 1.077 million barrels, while distillates rose by 538,000 barrels, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

WTI Extends Gains After Surprise Crude Inventory Draw; Pump-Prices Set To Soar -- Oil prices continue to extend their gains as "price-supportive rhetoric" from OPEC and its allies forced algorithmic traders to switch from short to long as oil prices have tracked financial assets higher in recent weeks. “Today we are waiting for the inventory data,” “After the API data, the market is prepared for a build, so I guess there is room for a positive surprise here.”API

  • Crude +2.26mm
  • Cushing +524k
  • Gasoline -1.08mm
  • Distillates +538k

DOE

  • Crude -2.55mm
  • Cushing +307k
  • Gasoline -2.28mm
  • Distillates -1.73mm

Against the API report's build, the official data showed a decent crude inventory draw of 2.26mm barrels and products also saw notable draws. Gasoline stocks fell by the most since March...Graphs Source: Bloomberg The Biden admin continued to add (only marginally) to the SPR...

U.S. crude oil trades above $82 per barrel, on pace for second weekly gain in a row - U.S. crude rose Thursday to trade above $82 per barrel, with the benchmark heading for its second weekly gain in a row, as oil and gasoline inventories fell.West Texas Intermediate has gained 4.7% this week, while global benchmark Brent is up 3.7%. Prices found support Thursday as U.S. crude and gasoline stockpiles fell for the first time in weeks, suggesting an uptick in demand.Here are Thursday's closing energy prices:

  • West Texas Intermediate July contract: $82.17 per barrel, up 60 cents, or 0.74%. Year to date, U.S. oil has gained 14.6%.
  • Brent August contract: $85.71 per barrel, up 64 cents, or 0.75%. Year to date, the global benchmark is ahead by 11.2%.
  • RBOB Gasoline July contract: $2.50 per gallon, up 0.71%. Year to date, gasoline has risen 18.9%.
  • Natural Gas July contract: $2.74 per thousand cubic feet, down 5.78%. Year to date, gas is up roughly 9%

Crude inventories declined by 2.5 million barrels last week, according to data released by the Energy Information Administration Thursday. The drawdown outpaced the expectations of analysts surveyed by Reuters.Gasoline stocks fell by 2.3 million barrels, while analysts forecast a 620,000 barrel build. And distillate inventories, which includes diesel, dropped by 1.7 million barrels, while analysts expected a 261,000 barrel increase.Patrick de Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, described the drawdowns as the "wrong trifecta," warning that prices at the pump are likely to rise as a consequence.JPMorgan analysts told clients in a Thursday note that the seasonal uptick in oil demand, refinery runs, weather risks, and OPEC+ extending production cuts through the third quarter should lead to a tighter market as inventories draw down. The investment bank forecasts Brent will hit $90 per barrel in September as the market tightens on falling inventories.Crude oil has proven resilient with upside momentum firming, Ryan McKay, senior commodity strategist at TD Securities, told clients in a research note Wednesday. He cautioned, however, that the rally could fade. Commodity trading advisors could ease up on buying and liquidate some of their lengths if U.S. oil drops below $80.33 and Brent falls under $84.92, McKay said.Tensions are also escalating in the Middle East again, with Israel and the Iran-backed militia group Hezbollah threatening war.Israel's military said Tuesday in a statement on social media that "operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated." On Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel in a televised speech that the militant group would fight with "no rules and with no red lines" if war breaks out.Oil prices rallied in April to annual highs as OPEC member Iran and Israel nearly went to war. Traders shifted focus back to market fundamentals after tensions eased, unwinding the risk premium that had lifted crude futures."While many market participants have relegated this conflict to the back burner, we continue to warn that an Israel-Hezbollah confrontation could prove to be the tripwire for direct Iranian involvement in the war given Tehran's staunch support for its most important armed proxy," Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, told clients in Thursday note.

Oil hits seven-week high on renewed US Fed rate cut hopes, Middle-East war jitters; Brent nears $86/bbl -Crude oil futures hit a seven-week high on Thursday, June 20, as fresh economic data on a cooling US jobs market added to expectations that the US Federal Reserve could still cut interest rates sooner this year. Escalating conflict in the Middle East with fears of supply disruption in the major oil-producing region also supported the price uptrend.Brent crude futures were last up 78 cents, or 0.9 per cent, to $85.85, having earlier hit $85.89, a high not seen since May 1. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures for July, which expire on Thursday, gained 70 cents, or 0.9 PER CENT, to $82.27. There was no WTI settlement on Wednesday because of a US public holiday, which kept trading largely subdued. The more active August contract was up 60 cents at $81.31, according to Reuters. Coming to domestic prices, crude oil futures last traded 0.91 per cent higher at ₹6,794 per barrel on the multi commodity exchange (MCX).The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week. Labour market momentum has declined with the overall economy as the Federal Reserve tries to tame inflation. With that pressure now subsiding, a rate cut by the US central bank this year remains on the table.-That could bolster oil prices, which have been dragged down this year by lacklustre global demand. A rate cut by the US would make borrowing cheaper in the world's largest economy, galvanising the appetite for oil as production picks up. Oil prices are also likely to remain supported by a growing geopolitical risk premium driven by conflict in the Middle East, according to analysts.-Israeli forces pounded areas in the central Gaza Strip overnight, while tanks deepened their advance into Rafah in the south. However, expectations of an inventories build appear to be overshadowing fears of escalating geopolitical stress for now, according to some analysts.-An industry report released on Tuesday showed that US crude stocks rose by 2.264 million barrels in the week ended June 14 while gasoline inventories fell, market sources said, citing American Petroleum Institute figures.-A summer uptick in oil demand, refinery runs and ongoing weather risks added to extended production cuts by the OPEC producer group mean that "oil balances should tighten and inventories should begin to draw during the summer months", as per JPMorgan commodities analysts.-Investors also digested the latest Bank of England's or BoE decision to keep its main interest rate unchanged at a 16-year high of 5.25 per cent in its monetary policy meeting ahead of Britain's national election on July 4.Both benchmarks have surged more than six per cent over the past two weeks, driven by outcomes from the recent OPEC+ meeting and a Ukrainian drone strike causing a fire at a major Russian port oil terminal. The potential escalation of tensions in the Middle East is adding supply risk to the oil demand equation, according to analysts.‘’Israeli tanks advanced deeper into the Gaza Strip city of Rafah on Wednesday, while a top Israeli official recently warned of an impending “all-out war" with Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Robust global demand growth forecasts from OPEC, the IEA and US EIA, which all predicted stronger consumption in 2H 2024 boosted market sentiment,'' said Kaynat Chainwala, AVP-Commodity Research, Kotak Securities.In China, recent data showed that May's industrial output lagged expectations. However, retail sales, a key indicator of consumption, grew at the fastest rate since February. The rise in US crude stocks limited further gains in prices.‘’We expect crude oil prices to remain volatile. Crude oil has support levels at $79.65 and $79.10, with resistance at $81.40 and $82.00.

Oil prices ease on strong dollar, mixed global economic news (Reuters) - Crude prices eased about 1% on Friday on worries that global oil demand growth could be hit by a strong U.S. dollar and negative economic news from some parts of the world. Prices declined despite signs of improving U.S. oil demand and falling fuel inventories that helped boost crude prices to a seven-week high a day earlier. Brent futures fell 47 cents, or 0.6%, to settle at $85.24 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) ended 56 cents, or 0.7%, lower at $80.73. The decline pushed WTI out of technically overbought territory for the first time in four days, while Brent futures remained overbought for a fourth day in a row for the first time since early April. For the week, both crude benchmarks were up about 3% after gaining about 4% last week. The U.S. dollar rose to a seven-week high versus a basket of other currencies with the Federal Reserve's patient approach to cutting interest rates contrasting with more dovish stances elsewhere. The Fed hiked interest rates aggressively in 2022 and 2023 to tame a surge in inflation. The higher rates boosted borrowing costs for consumers and businesses, which can slow economic growth and reduce demand for oil. A stronger U.S. dollar can also reduce demand for oil by making greenback-denominated commodities like oil more expensive for holders of other currencies. In the world's biggest oil consumer, U.S. business activity crept up to a 26-month high in June amid a rebound in employment, but price pressures subsided considerably, offering hope that a recent slowdown in inflation was likely to be sustained. U.S. existing home sales, however, fell for a third straight month in May as record-high prices and a resurgence in mortgage rates sidelined potential buyers. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Thursday showed total product supplied, a proxy for oil demand, rose by 1.9 million barrels per day last week to 21.1 million barrels per day. Despite the decline in crude prices, U.S. gasoline futures climbed for a fourth day to a one-month high on rising demand during the summer driving season and a drop in inventories. In India, refiners processed nearly 1.3% more crude oil in May than a year earlier, provisional government data showed, while the share of Russian supplies in imports to India, the world's third biggest oil consumer, increased. "Signs of stronger demand in Asia also boosted sentiment. Oil refineries across the region are bringing back some idled capacity after maintenance," analysts at ANZ Research said. But in the euro zone, business growth slowed sharply this month as demand fell for the first time since February. In China, the world's second biggest oil consumer, Beijing warned that escalating frictions with the European Union over electric vehicle imports could trigger a trade war. Geopolitical tensions added to the mixed picture. Ukraine's military said its drones struck four oil refineries, radar stations and other military objects in Russia. The head of Lebanon's Hezbollah this week pledged a full-on conflict with Israel in the event of a cross-border war and also threatened EU member Cyprus for the first time. In Ecuador, state oil company Petroecuador has declared force majeure over deliveries of Napo heavy crude for exports following the shutdown of a key pipeline and oil wells due to heavy rains.

Vessels Struck in Red Sea Region - In its latest Maritime Security Threat Advisory (MSTA), which was released this week, Dryad Global highlighted that two vessels were recently hit in the Red Sea region - the M/V Tutor and the M/V Verbena. “On 12 June 2024, the Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned bulk cargo carrier M/V Tutor was struck in the Southern Red Sea,” Dryad noted in the MSTA. “After being targeted by an unmanned surface boat, drones, and ballistic missiles, the coal carrier was severely damaged. The attack resulted in severe flooding and damage to the engine room, marking the Houthis’ first successful use of a boat as a weapon,” it added. “The crew abandoned the ship and were rescued by coalition forces. The vessel has been abandoned and is drifting in the vicinity of the last reported position. The Tutor was loaded at the port of Ust-Luga, Russia, and discharged at Port Said, Egypt on 09 June 2024. The next scheduled stop was Aqaba, Jordan en route to India,” it continued. Dryad also noted that, on June 13, the “Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned, Polish-operated vessel M/V Verbena was struck by two cruise missiles, resulting in damage and fires on board, with one civilian mariner seriously injured”. “The injured sailor was airlifted to another ship to receive medical attention. Crew members were battling the fires for two days but were unsuccessful,” it added. “On 15 June 2024, the merchant vessel’s crew evacuated the ship. The unlit ship is now drifting 30 nautical miles northeast of Djibouti, still on fire and sinking,” Dryad said. In the MSTA, Dryad outlined that a U.S.-led effort has failed to deter the Houthi’s targeting of ships and warned that the threat is expected to persist. “Ship traffic through the strait has dropped by 67 percent and tanker traffic by about 50 percent,” Dryad said in the MSTA. “Since the attacks began in November 2023, the U.S. Navy has spent approximately $1 billion on munitions to defend the Red Sea, conducting over 450 strikes and intercepting more than 200 drones and missiles,” it added. “U.S. officials are concerned that the conflict will be unsustainable for the defense industrial base, which is already overburdened with demands for weapons from Ukraine and Israel,” it continued. “The Houthi supply of weapons from Iran is cheap and sustainable, whereas the coalition’s supply chains are constrained, and logistics tails are long and costly,” it went on to state. Dryad noted in the report that coalition forces are “engaged in whack-a-mole, whereas the Houthis are taking the long game”.

Houthis Sink Another Ship in Red Sea, Killing Sailor - A Greek-owned bulk carrier ship sank on Wednesday nearly a week after an attack by Yemen’s Houthis, which reportedly killed one crew member on board. The incident marks the second vessel downed by the armed faction following dozens of raids on ships transiting the Red Sea.Dubbed the Tutor, the cargo ship capsized off the Yemeni coast days after it was targeted by at least two Houthi munitions, with the British militarysuggesting it was struck by an “unknown airborne projectile” and another water-borne craft – likely an unmanned drone boat. The vessel took on water for some time before it ultimately sank.While most of the Tutor’s crew was quickly evacuated with the help of the US Navy, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that one Philippine sailor was killed in the attack. The mariner has yet to be identified and Manila has so far offered no public comment, but the Associated Press noted the man has been missing since the Houthi strikes last week.The Houthis have launched more than 60 attacks on vessels in the Red Sea since Israel’s assault on Gaza kicked off last October, according to the AP, often targeting specific ships alleged to have ties to Tel Aviv. At least four sailors have been killed in the strikes, while dozens of hostages have been captured. Another UK-owned ship was also sunk by a missile in March, though the attack resulted in no casualties.Leading members of the shipping industry have condemned the sinking of the Tutor, with top shipping associations issuing a joint statement on Wednesday calling for a “swift de-escalation of the situation in the Red Sea.” The groups urged “states with influence in the region” to help safeguard commercial shipping lanes, adding “It is deplorable that innocent seafarers are being attacked while simply performing their jobs.”The US military has responded to the Houthi attacks in force, launching a flurry of missiles against targets in Yemen since January. As of April, the militant group said hundreds of joint US-UK strikes had killed at least 37people and injured dozens more, while a more recent operation left 16 dead in one day. Despite the bombing campaign, however, President Joe Biden previously acknowledged the mission was unlikely to prevent uture shipping raids.

Houthi video shows Red Sea attack on MV Tutor that led to sinking -- Yemen’s Houthi rebels released a video showing a June 12 attack on the Greek-owned MV Tutor coal carrier in the Red Sea. The ship later sank, maritime officials said.

Ukraine Drone Strikes Score Direct Hits On Two More Russian Oil Depots - An overnight Ukrainian cross-border drone attack impact several regions of Russia, resulting in the death of a civilian woman in the Krasnodar region, and setting several oil depots ablaze in other areas.A Russian defense ministry statement Thursday described "terrorist attacks" which involved groups of unmanned aerial vehicles coming from Ukraine territory. Six drones were intercepted over the Republic of Adygea, three over Bryansk region, and three over the Krasnodar region, as well as some over Rostov, Belgorod, and Oryol.Drone attacks reported on oil depots in Enem, Republic of Adygea, Russia, and Platonovka, Tambov Oblast, Russia. Both locations are about 420 kilometers from nearest Ukrainian-controlled territory. Ukraine is continuing its campaign to cripple Russia's oil supply infrastructure. pic.twitter.com/tUtHFm6OjNThe woman was killed in Krasnodar as a result of a direct drone hit on her now "completely destroyed" house, according to the regional governor. Additionally a statement from the governor's office of the neighboring republic of Adygea said that one or more drones struck an oil depot in the village of Enem and ignited an area as large as 400 square meters.Another oil depot was set on fire, with an oil storage tank destroyed, in the central Tombov region, according to reports. "Early this morning there was an explosion and a tank caught fire on the territory of the Platonovskaya oil depot," Maksim Yegorov, the governor of Tambov region confirmed.Starting early this year the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and Ukraine's Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) began to openly tout an active campaign to take out Russia's oil refineries and thus directly harm its energy exports.As has become the expected response, Russia's military early on Thursday pummeled Ukraine's own energy infrastructure. The war-ravaged country has struggled to keep the lights on for large sectors of the population for several months. Rolling blackouts have been coordinated since March."In retaliation to the Kiev regime’s attempts to damage Russia’s energy facilities, Russian troops delivered a combined strike by air-launched long-range precision weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles against Ukrainian energy sites providing for the production of armament and military hardware for the Ukrainian army," the Russian defense ministry announced. "The goals of the strike were achieved. All the designated targets were struck."This new barrage of Russian missiles and drones reportedly caused "significant" damage to a thermal power plant, Ukraine officials said. "The attack on energy infrastructure in four regions damaged equipment, wounded seven workers and cut off electricity to more than 218,000 consumers," the energy ministry said.

Amount of Israeli bombs dropped on Gaza surpasses that of World War II - Israel has dropped more than 70,000 tons of bombs on the Gaza Strip since last October, far surpassing the of Dresden, Hamburg, and London combined during World War II. In late April, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor estimated that approximately 70,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Gaza, covering the six-month period between Oct. 7 and April 24. "It is estimated that Israel has dropped more than 70,000 tons of explosives on the Gaza Strip in addition to its bulldozing operations, resulting in the destruction of all buildings at a distance of up to one kilometer in the east and north of the Strip in order to create a so-called buffer zone," according to the Geneva-based human rights monitor organization. The Germans bombed London, dropping around 18,300 tons of bombs between 1940 and 1941, according to various estimates, including archives from the New York Times. The Allies dropped 8,500 tons of bombs on Hamburg in the summer of 1943, said Hendrik Althoff, a research fellow at the Department of History at the University of Hamburg. The Allies also used 3,900 tons of bombs on Dresden in February 1945, according to historical records. Israel has continued its brutal offensive on Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas incursion, despite a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire. More than 36,500 Palestinians have since been killed in Gaza, mostly women and children, and nearly 83,000 others injured, according to local health authorities. Nearly eight months into the Israeli war, vast swathes of Gaza lay in ruins amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water, and medicine. Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice, which in its latest ruling has ordered Tel Aviv to immediately halt its operation in Rafah, where over a million Palestinians had sought refuge from the war before it was invaded on May 6.

The war in Gaza has wiped out entire Palestinian families. AP documents 60 who lost dozens or more (AP) — Youssef Salem is among the very last survivors of his Gaza family, a clan so close they knew without thinking how blood and marriage bound them across generations and city blocks.Then, branch by branch, 173 of his relatives were killed in Israeli airstrikes in a matter of days in December. By spring that toll had risen to 270.Bones and flesh strewn over the ruins of family homes. Blond curls of a young cousin peeking through bricks. Unrecognizable bodies piled on a donkey cart. Lines of burial shrouds.These images are what survivors are left with from hundreds of families in Gaza like the al-Aghas, Salems and Abu Najas.To a degree never seen before, Israel is killing entire Palestinian families, a loss even more devastating than the physical destruction and the massive displacement.An Associated Press investigation identified at least 60 Palestinian families where at least 25 people were killed — sometimes four generations from the same bloodline — in bombings between October and December, the deadliest and most destructive period of the war.Nearly a quarter of those families lost more than 50 family members in those weeks. Several families have almost no one left to document the toll, especially as documenting and sharing information became harder.Youssef Salem’s hard drive is stocked with photos of the dead. He spent months filling a spreadsheet with their vital details as news of their deaths was confirmed, to preserve a last link to the web of relationships he thought would thrive for generations more.“My uncles were wiped out, totally. The heads of households, their wives, children, and grandchildren,” Salem said from his home in Istanbul.In the last two decades, 10 members of his family were killed in Israeli strikes. “Nothing like this war,” he said.The AP review encompassed casualty records released by Gaza’s health ministry until March, online death notices, family and neighborhood social media pages and spreadsheets, witness and survivor accounts, as well as a casualty data from Airwars, a London-based conflict monitor.The Mughrabi family: more than 70 were killed in a single Israeli airstrike in December. The Abu Najas: over 50 were killed in October strikes, including at least two pregnant women. The large Doghmush clan lost at least 44 members in a strike on a mosque; AP documented over 100 family members killed in following weeks. By the spring, over 80 members of the Abu al-Qumssan family were killed.“The numbers are shocking,” said Hussam Abu al-Qumssan, who lives in Libya and has taken over documenting the family death toll as his relatives in Gaza struggled to keep track.In the 51-day war of 2014, the number of families that lost three or more members was less than 150. In this one, nearly 1,900 families have suffered multiple deaths by January, including more than 300 that lost over 10 members in the first month of the war alone, according to Gaza’s health ministry.Ramy Abdu, chairman for the Geneva-based EuroMed Human Rights Monitor, which monitors the Gaza war, said dozens of his researchers in Gaza stopped documenting family deaths in March after identifying over 2,500 with at least three deaths. “We can hardly keep up with the total death toll,” Abdu said.The killing of families across generations is a key part of the genocide case against Israel, now before the International Court of Justice. Separately, the International Criminal Court prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants for two Israeli leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including for the intentional killing of civilians, as well as for three Hamas leaders over crimes connected to the Oct. 7 attack.Palestinians will remember entire families that have disappeared from their lives, Abdu said: “It is like a whole village or hamlet has been wiped out.”

UN: Israeli Authorities Responsible for Crimes Against Humanity - Speaking to the UN Security Council, the head of an investigatory body probing the Gaza war found Israeli officials committed war crimes during military operations in the Strip.Navi Pillay, chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, announced her findings to the UNSC on Wednesday, stating the commission had concluded that “Israeli authorities are responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”She explained that those crimes include “extermination, intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, murder or willful killing using starvation as a method of War, forcible transfer, gender persecution, sexual and gender-based violence amounting to torture and cruel or inhuman treatment.”The commission noted that Hamas has committed similar crimes throughout the latest conflict.During the eight-month assault on Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have killed over 37,000 Palestinians and injured an estimated 85,000. Israeli bombings have also destroyed most of Gaza’s homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, and farmland. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been plunged into near-famine conditions.Tel Aviv’s onslaught has been aided by a long list of US weapons. A separate report from the UN Human Rights Office published Wednesday documented six cases of Israel using American bombs to kill hundreds of civilians.The report stated that US-made GBU-31 (2,000 lbs.), GBU-32 (1,000 lbs.) and GBU-39 (250 lbs.) bombs were used to strike “residential buildings, a school, refugee camps and a market” between October and December 2023. The UN rights office verified 218 deaths from those six attacks, and said it had indications the number of fatalities could be “much higher.”Pillay explained that the independent commission determined the Israeli strikes were intentional. “We found that the immense numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza and widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure were the inevitable result of an intentional strategy to cause maximum damage,” she said.The commission found Israel’s crimes went beyond using bombs or other conventional weapons but also food, water, and dispossession as weapons of war. Tel Aviv has also forcibly transferred much of Gaza’s population into small enclosures that are “unsafe and uninhabitable.” Pillay also noted that Tel Aviv has engaged in unprecedented violence in the occupied West Bank since October 7, but those crimes have received little attention due to the near-daily atrocities committed in Gaza.

‘Nothing Has Changed’ Since Israel Announced Limited Humanitarian Pause - The head of the UN aid agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) said there has been no change on the ground since Israel’s military claimed it would open a humanitarian aid route in Gaza. After the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced it would pause fighting in a limited area during daylight hours, the Israeli prime minister denounced the decision.On Monday, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said the IDF’s pause has done little to improve the situation in Gaza. “There has been information that such a decision has been taken, but the political level says none of this decision has been taken,” he explained. “So for the time being, I can tell you that hostilities continue in Rafah and in the south of Gaza. And that operationally, nothing has changed yet.”The IDF said it was continuing its operations in Rafah, near the location of the humanitarian route. After a slower initial ground attack, Israeli soldiers recently pushed deeper into the central and western regions of the city.On Sunday, Tel Aviv announced that it would pause military operations during daylight hours along a seven-mile stretch of road in Gaza to relieve a backlog of aid shipments. However, after the policy was rolled out, Israeli officials were quick to downplay and denounce the humanitarian corridor.IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari appeared to minimize the significance of the pause. “There is no cessation of fighting in the southern Gaza Strip, and the fighting in Rafah continues. Also, there is no change in the introduction of goods into the Gaza Strip,” he said in a post on X. “The axis carrying the goods will be open during the day in coordination with international organizations, for the transportation of humanitarian aid only.”Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found even the limited halt to fighting “unacceptable,” while National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said whoever came up with the idea is a “fool” and should be fired.The IDF announcement came as nearly all of the Palestinians living in Gaza are suffering from severe deprivation and in need of humanitarian assistance. The UN agency for children, UNICEF, recently warned that about 90 percent of kids in Gaza lack nutrition and face “severe” threats to their “survival, growth and development.”Aid deliveries in southern Gaza have been significantly curtailed by Israeli military operations over the past month. In the 30 days following the Israeli assault on Rafah, the number of shipments entering Gaza plummeted to 68 per day – far short of the minimum of 500 needed to sustain the population.

IDF: Netanyahu's Goal of Eliminating Hamas Is Unachievable - The spokesman for the Israeli military explained that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal of eradicating Hamas is not achievable. The statement comes amid a growing rift between the Israeli leader and the military.In remarks to Israel’s Channel 13 News on Wednesday, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the military spokesperson, explained that the PM’s stated objective in Gaza is an insult to the Israeli people. “This business of destroying Hamas, making Hamas disappear – it’s simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public,” he said. “Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people – whoever thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong.”The statement from Hagari reflects assessments from US intelligence and military officials that destroying Hamas is not something that can be accomplished. The US intelligence community’s threat assessment released in March said that Israel would likely be fighting Hamas for years to come.Netanyahu’s office responded to Hagari’s remarks by saying the prime minister’s ends in Gaza remain unchanged. Netanyahu “has defined the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities as one of the goals of the war. The Israeli military, of course, is committed to this,” the statement said.It is not the only time Netanyahu has clashed with members of his militaryin recent days. On Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced a limited pause to operations in a select area of Rafah during daylight hours to allow more aid to reach the Palestinians. Netanyahu quickly denounced the move as “unacceptable.”Other divides have emerged within the Israeli government. Last week, former IDF general Benny Gantz withdrew from the war cabinet over Netanyahu’s refusal to work out a hostage release agreement. Gantz’s exit led Netanyahu to dissolve the war cabinet entirely.Another source of friction is a potential law that would remove the Israeli orthodox community’s exemption from mandatory military service. The controversial measure is becoming an issue for Netanyahu, who demanded his political partners “get a grip” and abandon “petty politics.”“We are at war on several fronts, and we face great challenges and difficult decisions,” he added. “We must all focus solely on the tasks before us: defeating Hamas, returning all our hostages and returning our residents safely to their homes, both in the north and in the south.”Israel is waging a tit-for-tat war with Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as its operations in Gaza and the West Bank, which are expected to last at least five more weeks. US officials are concerned that Tel Aviv will start a wider war with Hezbollah that will grow to include Washington. Some analysts believe that Netanyahu sees Tel Aviv remaining in a state of war as the key to his political survival, as he faces intense public scrutiny over the ongoing war, the failure to prevent Hamas’ surprise attack last year, and multiple corruption scandals, among other controversies.

Report: Israel Plans More Assassinations of Hamas Figures - Tel Aviv plans to ramp up its efforts to assassinate Hamas leaders in order to force the group toward accepting a ceasefire deal, a senior Israeli official told The Times. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has ruled out a ceasefire or a hostage deal to end the war, which wouldcollapse his fragile far-right ruling coalition, instead seeking to annihilate Hamas and ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip.Speaking with the outlet on the condition of anonymity, the official said “following the refusal of the leadership of Hamas to accept the deal, Israel has international legitimacy to continue carrying out operations to assassinate senior Hamas members and release hostages.”Though the stated goal of Netanyahu’s onslaught in Gaza is the eradication of Hamas, US intelligence, Israeli intelligence, and now theIsraeli military believe that goal is unachievable. Regardless, Tel Aviv has assassinated some Hamas figures, including at least two senior members. In January, Saleh al-Arouri, an operations chief, was killed in an Israeli drone strike on Beirut. Marwan Issa, chief of staff of the al-Aqsa Brigades, was killed as well in March during a bombing of central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp.Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and Mohammed Deif, who leads the group’s military wing, remain alive, and Israeli intelligence claims they are hiding in tunnels beneath the city of Khan Yunis. According to The Times, “senior Hamas members outside Gaza, including members of its political bureau, are deemed targets as well.”President Joe Biden unveiled a ceasefire proposal last month, which he framed as an Israeli conception despite Netanyahu’s immediate rejection of any halt in the mass slaughter campaign in Gaza. Subsequently, the offer was supported by the UN Security Council (UNSC) as well as Hamas.The deal consisted of multiple phases. In the first phase there was to be a six-week truce along with an initial exchange of hostages and prisoners. It also proposed an Israeli withdrawal from densely populated areas, the return of displaced civilians to their homes, and a significant increase in humanitarian aid. Amidst the first phase, negotiations were to take place working towards a permanent ceasefire during the second phase. Israeli officials believed the language of the deal was vague enough that Israel and Hamas could enter the first stage without ultimately ending its genocidal war.Recognizing this flaw, Hamas issued a response which contained, as theWashington Post described, “amendments… including a timeline for a permanent ceasefire and the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip.” Since then, Israeli officials deemed this a “complete refusal” of the offer and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has blamed only Hamas for the lack of progress. Biden has said he believes a deal is unlikely any time soon and Israel has vowed, following the destruction of Rafah, the mass killing of the Palestinians in Gaza will continue apace.

Fewer Than Half Of The Hostages In Gaza Still Alive, US Intel Believes -- By Israel's official tally there should be 116 Israeli hostages still in Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip, but new statements issued by US intelligence officials say the number of captives still alive might be as low as 50. Initially, about 250 were taken captive during the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror attack of Oct.7.The Wall Street Journal writes, citing a new intel review of the situation, "That assessment, based in part on Israeli intelligence, would mean 66 of those still held hostage could be dead, 25 more than Israel has publicly acknowledged." The hostages have been held for 258 days at this point. Of the eight captives with American citizenship (dual nationals), three were previously reported by Israel to be deceased. The fact that there are Americans among the hostages has received relatively little mainstream media attention.Still, hostage and ceasefire talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt have failed to move forward, and the situation remains dire given there could be more hostages lost by the day, with Hamas maintaining its position that it doesn't actually know how many still remain given there's a grinding war on in the Strip. Hamas officials have blamed unrelenting Israeli airstrikes for killing off many hostages."The number of hostages alive or dead has been an issue in cease-fire talks brokered by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar," WSJ continues. "As part of a deal, hostages would likely be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Israel was initially unwilling to accept dead bodies to meet the number of hostages required to be released in the first phase of any deal, but its latest proposal presented to Hamas says it would accept dead bodies."The Netanyahu government's lack of progress on getting the hostages released through negotiations has continued to drive large-scale protests, including a violent one earlier in the week in front of Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, resulting in nine arrests.Currently tensions are soaring between military leaders and PM Netanyahu, following Wednesday remarks of military spokesman Daniel Hagari, who asserted that Hamas can not be completely be rooted out because it is "an ideology". This was seen as a direct contradiction of Netanyahu's vow to not stop until the group is eradicated."This business of destroying Hamas, making Hamas disappear — it’s simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public," Hagari had explained in an Israeli Channel 13 news interview. "Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people — anyone who thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong."Netanyahu’s office quickly responded, pointing out that this precisely remains the war's goal. The statement said the security cabinet "has defined as one of the war goals the destruction of Hamas’s military and governance capabilities." It emphasized, "The Israel Defense Forces is of course committed to this."

IDF Report Found Multiple Cases of Friendly Fire Deaths on Oct 7 - A review by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) set to be released this summer will conclude that Israeli soldiers killed many of their own people on October 7, Israeli media reported. The inquiry is expected to identify multiple failures of the IDF during the Hamas rampage in southern Israel.According to Israel’s Channel 12 News, the IDF report due to be released in mid-July found “many casualties due to our forces firing on our forces.” Tel Aviv has been accused of ordering its soldiers to kill hostages rather than allow Hamas to use them in negotiations, a policy long known as the ‘Hannibal Directive.’The IDF’s October 7 review appears to point to incompetence rather than the intentional killing of its own civilians. However, Israeli outlet Ynet’sinvestigation of the IDF’s conduct found Tel Aviv had ordered troops to follow the Hannibal policy.Still, the conclusions from the forthcoming report will amount to an official admission that scores, if not more, of Israelis were killed by IDF soldiers, not Hamas.On October 7, Hamas launched a large-scale assault on southern Israel that left hundreds of attackers, 767 Israeli civilians, and 376 members of the Israeli security forces dead. The Jerusalem Post recently reported that many of the Israeli deaths were caused by IDF overreaction or inaction.“According to the report, the probe will find numerous cases of friendly fire errors leading to tragic deaths, groups of IDF soldiers who were too hesitant to confront Hamas invaders (as still others rushed to fight without being formally summoned),” the outlet noted, adding that “higher-up commanders ordering some groups of soldiers to remain in a reserve second-line capacity – when they should have headed into the front, and not knowing how to handle complex battlefield questions involving a hostage.” While Tel Aviv has denied that the Hannibal Directive was put into effect and insists it is no longer used, evidence has emerged of Israeli forcesfiring on homes knowing civilians were inside. One incident in Kibbutz Be’eri left 12 Israeli civilians dead.

IDF: Rafah Crossing Completely Destroyed, No Longer Usable - The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that Gaza’s lone border crossing with Egypt had been completely destroyed by its operations in the area. In recent days, the IDF has targeted the few undestroyed areas left in the Strip.On Wednesday, Israeli Army Radio reported that the Rafah crossing was now unusable. “This is how Rafah crossing looks today, completely destroyed and no longer usable, after being taken over by Brigade 401 in one night,” the radio station stated. “Due to its relative proximity to the border, the Israeli army used the crossing as a stopping point and resting area.”The Gazan media ministry reported the destruction on Monday, stating that “Occupation forces damaged Rafah crossing’s halls that were used by locals to exit the Strip.” Images reviewed by the Middle East Eye reportedly showed the exterior of the structure was incinerated.Israel began its operations in Rafah on May 7. Prior to the assault, the crossing served as the main lifeline for more than one million displaced civilians who were sheltering in the city. Over the past six weeks, aid shipments into the Strip have plummeted by two-thirds, triggering fears of full-blown famine.Tel Aviv places the blame for the increasing starvation on the Palestinians. However, aid agencies point to the Israeli military operations throughout Gaza as creating unsafe and unstable conditions that make aid deliveries impossible.In recent days, the IDF has stepped up operations in south and central Gaza. The bombing in southeastern Rafah and Deir al-Balah has destroyed some of the only areas in the Strip that have not seen intense fighting over the past eight months.The Israeli military radio station explained that its operations in Rafah are aimed at establishing lasting control over the Gaza-Egypt border, known as the Philadelphi Corridor. “The Israeli army has already started thinking about the long-term control of the Philadelphi Corridor,” the station explained.The assault on Rafah has led to the displacement of over one million people. Oxfam reports that many of the refugees have been driven into tent camps facing severe deprivation and shortages of essential goods. In a statement, the aid agency said, “Living conditions are so appalling that in Al-Mawasi, there are just 121 latrines for over 500,000 people.”Before Israel invaded Rafah, President Joe Biden claimed to have imposed a red line on Tel Aviv, insisting it must have a plan for the civilians before attacking the city. Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said that the criteria have not been met.“Israel claimed weeks ago that it would provide full humanitarian support and medical assistance to civilians it had told to move,” she added. “Not only is this not happening, its ongoing impunity, bombardment, and deliberate obstruction have created unprecedented and impossibly dangerous conditions for humanitarian agencies to operate.” Still, the White House has refused to take any meaningful action against Tel Aviv and has continued most military aid in support of the Israeli onslaught. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs is under review but stressed that “everything else is moving as it normally would move.”

Israeli Lawmakers Push For Gaza Resettlement - Two hard-right Israeli MKs have formed a new legislative caucus seeking to reestablish Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. The territory was vacated by settlers following a government order in 2005 and has been kept under tight blockade ever since. Dubbed the “Knesset Caucus for the Renewal of Settlement in the Gaza Strip,” the group was announced on Monday in a joint statement by MK Zvi Sukkot of the Religious Zionism Party and MK Limor Son Har-Melech, a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) faction.The lawmakers argued that “settlement in the Gaza Strip [is] a necessary step to protect Israel’s security and ensure its future,” adding “Only by a dense presence of Jewish settlements throughout Gaza will it be possible to prevent the continuation of terrorist threats and deter the enemy.” Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated Israel has no plans to govern Gaza following the current war with Hamas, other top officials have loudly endorsed new settlements. During an ultra-nationalist rally in May, national security chief Itamar Ben Gvir stressed the need for “voluntary emigration” by Palestinians to make room for Israelis, while Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi openly called for resettlement. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has likewise backed the idea in public statements. Last January, more than a dozen government ministers and a group of Knesset members attended a conference to discuss a return to Gaza, including Sukkot and Son Har-Melech, who are both radical settler activists. Ben Gvir and Smotrich were billed as key speakers at the event. The creation of new Jewish communities in Gaza would almost certainly entail a permanent Israeli security presence, as is currently the case in the occupied West Bank. However, Tel Aviv has so far failed to offer a clear post-war plan for the territory. Israel’s 2005 pull-out from Gaza saw 21 settlements unilaterally dismantled, with some reluctant residents even forcibly removed by the military. While officials have presented the move as a concession to the Palestinians, a chief architect of the disengagement, Dov Weisglass,explained the policy to Haaretz in no uncertain terms.“The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” Weisglass, a top aide to then-PM Ariel Sharon, told the outlet nearly 20 years ago. “And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.”

Netanyahu Accuses Security Minister Ben-Gvir of Leaking State Secrets, Government in Crisis - Major fractures within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition threaten to collapse the government, reports the New Arab. Netanyahu’s grip on power depends on the support of extremist and ultra-orthodox parties. But the Israeli leader is increasingly at odds with his National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the Jewish Power party, whom he has accused of leaking state secrets. Other disputes have also led some factions to threaten they will leave the coalition.One critical controversy is Ben-Gvir’s demand to join the now disbandedIsraeli war cabinet, which was formed shortly after the October 7 attack and the onset of the ensuing onslaught in Gaza. Netanyahu dissolved the body on Monday, following the resignations of former Defense Minister Benny Gantz and MK Gadi Eisenkot, both of the National Unity party. The prime minister will replace the emergency government with a limited consultative team.“Netanyahu told Minister Ben-Gvir one simple thing: ‘Whoever wants to be a partner in a limited security consultation team must prove that he is not leaking state secrets or private conversations,’” Netanyahu’s Likud party stated.In response to Likud, Jewish Power proclaimed they would support a bill forcing ministers to submit to lie detector tests only if it “applies to those with pacemakers” as well. Netanyahu was fitted for a pacemaker recently.The latest point of contention comes after Netanyahu implored Ben-Gvir to back the ‘Rabbi Law,’ which will “shift decision-making for the appointment of rabbis from local councils to the Shas-led ministry of religious affairs, which critics say will embed clientelism in the process for the benefit of the ultra-Orthodox party.” The Shas party, an ultra-orthodox partner, has demanded the bill’s passing as a condition for remaining within the Likud-led coalition.Fearing he lacked enough support to get the law passed, the embattled prime minister shelved the vote on Wednesday. Subsequently, Arye Dery, the head of the Shas party, called Netanyahu and threatened to quit the fragile government. This fight could collapse the coalition and it is unlikely Netanyahu can survive new elections without Jewish Power or Shas backing him.Ben-Gvir is a radical Jewish supremacist who has called for Palestinian women and children to be shot dead if they approach the Gaza border and insisted Palestinian prisoners should be executed to free up Israeli prison space. Additionally, the national security minister has consistently endorsed ethnic cleansing and Israeli re-settlement of the besieged and bombed-out coastal enclave where nearly 40,000 Palestinians have been slaughtered, along with more than 85,000 maimed, by Israeli military forces.Another issue that risks Netanyahu’s position is the move to subject some members of the politically powerful ultra-orthodox student community to conscription. So far this community, which is subsidized by the citizenry, is exempt from the military draft while hundreds of Israeli troops havedied and thousands more wounded in the Gaza ground campaign.

Zionism Is The Exact Opposite Of Spirituality - Caitlin Johnstone -- It takes a profound cruelty to support raining tens of thousands of tons of military explosives onto a giant concentration camp full of children. It takes outright malignant narcissism to expect everyone to accept this, and to act wounded and indignant when they don’t.Zionism is like the exact opposite of people who identify as “spiritual but not religious”; it’s religion stripped bare of all spirituality until it’s nothing but a shitty political ideology that’s ultimately really about land, western imperialism, and geostrategic control.People feel called to religion because there’s something in all of us that tells us this world isn’t quite what it seems, like there’s some wondrous mystery lurking just below the surface (really what they’re experiencing is an uncomfortable dissonance with the delusion of egoic consciousness and an impulse to try and awaken from it, but that’s a story for another time). So they look to their religion to tell them how to have a living spirituality that gives them what they’re craving, and, if they are involved in certain Christian or Jewish sects, they’ll be told that they can obtain what they long for by getting passionately engaged on issues regarding the military and geopolitical objectives of a small country on the other side of the planet.It’s actually kind of sad, if you think about it. People have this impulse calling them beyond themselves to a much higher and deeper purpose, and that impulse is harnessed and used to herd them into support for some of the worst things on earth. They come in looking for transcendence and a personal relationship with the holy, and they are given a stupid, crazy political ideology which tells them to support very mundane human depravities like apartheid and ethnic cleansing.Authentic spirituality takes you out of your head and anchors you firmly in reality, guiding you into a sincere investigation of what’s actually going on with this mysterious experience called life and never allowing you to accept answers that come from learned knowledge or your tired, boring thought loops. It’s about finding truth that is so true it’s obvious even before you can think any thoughts about it. Things like Zionism lead people in the exact opposite direction: into indoctrinated beliefs, propaganda, deception, and abuse.Saying “anti-Zionism is anti-semitism” over and over again while Zionists are butchering children by the thousands is an excellent way to get people to stop caring about anti-semitism.

.23 NATO members on track to meet 2 percent GDP spending goal -President Biden on Monday welcomed as good news the announcement that 23 countries in the 32-member NATO alliance are on track to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on military defense this year, an important benchmark established in 2014. “We have a very important announcement to make today: A record number of allies are meeting NATO’s commitment to at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense,” Biden said in remarks at the White House, ahead of a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg said 23 members of the alliance will spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense in 2024. NATO allies agreed in the 2014 summit held in Wales that member states would increase their respective domestic defense spending to 2 percent of their GDP. “Just five years ago, there were still less than 10 allies that spent 2 percent of GDP on defense,” he said in remarks delivered earlier Monday at the Wilson Center. “This is good for Europe and good for America. Especially since much of this extra money is spent here in the United States,” Stoltenberg continued, part of a pitch to shore up American support for NATO that is under attack from former President Trump. Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO allies for not spending more on defense. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been a vocal critic of the NATO alliance and has threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the alliance, or hold back American commitments to the defense of all members who have yet to increase their defense spending to meet the 2 percent mark.Biden said Monday that the number of countries in the alliance meeting the 2 percent spending mark “more than doubled” since January 2021.The statistic marks a key argument for Biden’s reelection campaign surrounding his leadership in NATO and his support for the defensive-military alliance. Trump’s supporters say that his antagonistic rhetoric has spurred allies to increase their defense spending. But the former president’s critics say his threats against the alliance undermine trust in the U.S.’s commitments.Biden will host NATO’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington in July. The summit is meant to serve as a celebration of the alliance’s history but will also serve as a pivotal meeting to demonstrate support and resolve for Ukraine in its war against Russia and ahead of an uncertain American election.Allies worry that a potential Trump reelection will see the U.S. pull back on its participation in NATO, threaten its unity or push Ukraine into a cease-fire with Russia on terms more preferable to Moscow.At the summit, NATO allies are expected to announce a number of initiatives to institutionalize the alliance’s support for Ukraine and that serve to take over the leadership role currently held by the U.S. This includes NATO taking the lead on organizing weapons procurement and deliveries for Ukraine — which is currently led by the U.S. — and a long-term financial pledge.

China expanding its nuclear arsenal, closing gap on US, Russia: Report --The Chinese nuclear arsenal is expanding and quickly, according to a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published this week. The number of operational nuclear warheads globally is increasing every year, the report found, with the most rapidly-increasing stockpile belonging to China. The institute predicted the Chinese arsenal of active intercontinental nuclear missiles could grow to match the American and Russian armaments by 2030. “While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as cold war-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads,” SIPRI Director Dan Smith said in a statement. “This trend seems likely to continue and probably accelerate in the coming years and is extremely concerning.” The Chinese stockpile of nuclear weapons grew from 410 to about 500 operational warheads in 2023, SIPRI estimated. China is also believed to be deploying warheads during peacetime, what would be a first for the country, the institute said. While China’s total stockpile of nuclear weapons is expected to remain much lower than the U.S. or Russia, its aggressive deployment could see it match the other countries’ active armament in the coming years, SIPRI predicted. “China is expanding its nuclear arsenal faster than any other country,” SIPRI associate senior fellow Hans Kristensen wrote. “But in nearly all of the nuclear-armed states there are either plans or a significant push to increase nuclear forces.” About 2,100 nuclear missiles are believed to be deployed and operational at any given moment, SIPRI reported, with almost all of them owned by the U.S. or Russia.

Russia uses chemical weapons and no one cares, including Biden --Remember when the civilized countries of the world believed using chemical weapons was a war crime not to be tolerated? And yet there are numerous credible media accounts that Russia has deployed chemical weapons in Ukraine. But apparently the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and the media are too busy condemning Israel for defending itself to pay any attention to Russia’s war crimes. Even President Joe Biden, who warned Russian PresidentVladimir Putin not to use chemical weapons, is largely shrugging it off.According to the BBC, “Ukraine says its troops have faced mounting chemical attacks in recent months. The Reuters news agency reported earlier this year that Russian forces had used grenades loaded with CS and CN tear gases. The report added that at least 500 Ukrainian soldiers have been treated for exposure to toxic gases, and that one had died after suffocating on tear gas.”And it’s not the first time Russia has used chemical weapons. It has used nerve agents to poison individuals, such as the late opposition leader Aleksey Navalny and others. In March 2022, Biden told the press, “I’m not going to speak about the intelligence, but Russia will pay a severe price if they use chemicals.” Well, Russia apparently has used them, so what’s the “severe price”?Here’s what the State Department said in an announcement on May 1. “The Department of State has made a determination under the CBW Act [Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991] that Russia has used the chemical weapon chloropicrin against Ukrainian forces in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). We make this determination in addition to our assessment that Russia has used riot control agents as a method of warfare in Ukraine, also in violation of the CWC.” Russia is a signatory to the CWC.The chemical agent being used is chloropicrin, “an oily substance which was widely used during World War One. It causes irritation of the lungs, eyes and skin and can cause vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, according to the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC).”So how does the State Department intend to punish Putin and Russia for these egregious acts? According to State, “In this action, the Department of State is imposing sanctions on more than 80 entities and individuals, including those engaged in: development of Russia’s future energy, metals, and mining production and export capacity; sanctions evasion and circumvention; and furthering Russia’s ability to wage its war against Ukraine.”Sanctioning more “entities” and individuals sounds pretty lame. We’ve been sanctioning Russia and individual Russians since the country invaded Ukraine in February of 2022. It’s been six weeks since State imposed the sanctions. If they’re hurting Russia, Putin and those engaged in promoting Russian aggression against Ukraine, it’s not clear anyone can tell. Russia has even been on the offensive for the past several weeks.

Putin & Kim Sign Pact Vowing Mutual Defense If Attacked -Russia's President Vladimir Putin is calling it a "breakthrough document" while Kim Jong Un is hailing the "strongest ever treaty" which will hasten the start of a "new multipolar world" but the BBC is calling it an "ominously ambiguous commitment" between "pariahs in arms". The two leaders on Wednesday signed a new strategic partnership which is centered on a commitment of mutual aid if either country faces "aggression"; however, details were not immediately clear and it could stop short of being a full war treaty. Putin's first trip to North Korea in 24 years has been expectedly chummy as he and Kim thumb their noses at the West and US-led sanctions.Putin said to reporters following the signing of the pact that it's defensive in nature and promises "mutual assistance" if either country is attacked, calling it a "breakthrough" agreement that takes ties to a "new level".Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride aptly described that the two leaders sought "to put on a united face to the world in spite of the various crises they face.""It was a show of strength, a show of unity, heralding what they believe and want other people to believe is a new era in their relations," he observed. "It has all culminated in the signing of a new agreement between the two, which according to Putin forms the basis of relations for years to come."During the Tuesday night into Wednesday visit, Kim declared his "full support and solidarity" for Russia's war in Ukraine. Putin in return thanked Kim for his "unwavering" support, and characterized during their meeting Pyongyang that Moscow is in realityresisting a decades-long "hegemonic and imperialist policy" of Washington and NATO.Already, North Korea is believed to have supplied Russia's armed forces with hundreds of thousands of artillery shells for use in Ukraine. War monitors have long said that on the front lines, Russia's rate of artillery fire outpaces Ukraine's by ten to one.

Poland Was Just As Much To Blame As Britain For Sabotaging Spring 2022's Peace Talks --The New York Times published the full version of the spring 2022 draft peace treaty between Russia and Ukraine over the weekend, which confirmed a lot of what was previously reported but also included some interesting details from unnamed diplomatic sources about why these talks ultimately failed. According to a European one who was present at the Extraordinary Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government on 24 March 2022, Polish President Andrzej Duda dramatically railed against this deal:“Leaders in Poland — early and strong supporters of Ukraine — feared that Germany or France might try to persuade the Ukrainians to accept Russia’s terms, according to a European diplomat, and wanted to prevent that from happening.To that end, when Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, met with NATO leaders in Brussels on March 24, he held up the March 17 text, said the diplomat, who was present. ‘Which of you would sign it?’ Mr. Duda asked his counterparts, the diplomat said. None of the NATO leaders spoke up.”It was already observed on 29 March 2022 that “Poland’s Ruling Party Helped Provoke The Worst Security Crisis Since WWII”, albeit for different reasons than what was just revealed, namely the way in which their self-interested anti-Russian fearmongering helped reshape the US’ deep state dynamics. Now there’s no question that Poland was actively trying to sabotage the Russian-Ukrainian peace talks and that its efforts predated former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s infamous trip to Kiev. President Putin confirmed in his interview with Tucker Carlson earlier this year what Zelensky’s top ally David Arakhamia disclosed in late November about how that leader convinced Ukraine to keep fighting. In his words, “the fact that they obeyed the demand or persuasion of Mr. Johnson, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, seems ridiculous and very sad to me.”It’s now known, however, that there was more leading up to this than even the Russian leader himself thought as recently as four months ago.Duda’s dramatic display at March 2022’s NATO meeting did more for unifying the West around the cause of perpetuating their proxy war on Russia through Ukraine than anything else that’s thus far been reported. This in turn greatly facilitated Johnson’s subsequent trip to Kiev over two weeks later where he was then able to convince his hosts that the West has their back if they keep fighting. His country and Poland also had an ace up their sleeves to play just in case France and Germany pushed for peace.They and Ukraine forged an informal alliance on 17 February 2022 in the literal week before the start of Russia’s special operation, which evaded most observers’ attention due to the fast-moving events that preceded the latest phase of this decade-long conflict. So long as Poland was in favor of continuing hostilities, which nobody had any doubt about but hadn’t earlier known just how zealous it was, then the UK could rely on it as a land bridge for the emergency dispatch of military equipment to Ukraine.The whole point in agreeing to form this pact was to give Ukraine the ability to keep fighting if it chose to in the event that conventional hostilities broke out with Russia like they did a week later. Ukraine knew that the UK’s commitment was rock-solid due to its centuries-long policy of dividing-and-ruling Europe, while Duda hyperbolically reaffirmed Poland’s two weeks before Johnson’s visit to Kiev, which wasn’t previously reported but would have obviously been passed along to Ukraine at the time.

Macron's Idiotic Ukraine Policies Have Paved Way For Triumph Of The French Right -- The EU, NATO, and a number of European capitals are watching France's political turmoil with growing alarm, as President Emmanuel Macron is clearly on the ropes, having called early elections, leaving a path open for the French 'far-right' to triumph. The foreign policy establishment in both Europe and Washington fears that large-scale joint initiatives like ramped-up military spending and the new push to fund Ukraine's defense for years to come could also be in question, given Macron had long become among Kiev's top cheerleaders. He had even recently unveiled a controversial plan to send French and NATO military trainers to Ukraine. "Paris has been working for a while now with the Ukrainians on this," a person familiar with France's initiative had told The Financial Times. But given the plan wasn't launched formally by NATO leadership, Macron is seen as the prime mover on the European continent behind all of this. But France's surprise political leader as of this past weekend, Marine Le Pen - who blew president Macron away in the European Parliament elections - is reaching out to mainstream voters as she aims to cement a majority in the next parliament, a result that would constitute an earthquake in European politics.Her group, the National Rally, is already on track to become the biggest party in the lower house, a prospect which has caused alarm among investors, the national security establishment, France’s international partners, and a section of the French public. Two rounds of parliamentary elections will conclude on July 7.Macron in a Tuesday address admitted he was hurt by his party’s defeat in the European Parliament elections, and said the country would have been in "chaos" without his call for snap legislative elections: "Without a dissolution, there would have been chaos," Macron was quoted as saying on Tuesday by Agence France-Presse. "The decision I took was the most difficult, the most serious, but the most responsible."With the National Rally expected to make sizeable parliamentary gains, what is its stance on Russia-Ukraine policy? And what's Jordan Bardella vision of the issue, who could become French PM at the young age of 28?The 'controversial' and supposedly 'Russia-sympathetic' stance is perhaps best seen in some quietly removed sections of defense policy that had been on the National Rally's website prior to June 11. The sections had called for deepening diplomatic ties with Moscow, and for France to exit NATO's integrated military command. Politico details of the removed policy sections which undoubtably still reveal the party's thinking...

German government plans to introduce conscription: Cannon fodder for the great “land war” - The past few weeks have been characterised by a breathtaking escalation of the NATO proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. Hardly a day has gone by without leading politicians urging tougher action against Russia. While the Ukrainian army has attacked targets in the Russian hinterland with NATO weapons and the military alliance discussed the deployment of ground troops, the German government is vigorously pressing ahead with its preparations for a major European “land war”—as the self-proclaimed “defence industry minister” Robert Habeck (Greens) calls it.The government is accelerating its plans for a new compulsory military service, which Defence Minister Boris Pistorius (Social Democrats, SPD) partially presented to the public last week. In the spring, Pistorius had already called for a return to compulsory military service based on the Scandinavian model in order to make Germany “fit for war.” Last Wednesday, Pistorius then announced to the assembled press that at least 5,000 additional young men and women would be called up for “selective military service” every year from 2025. This was the maximum possible within the limits of current training capacities. “I make no secret of it: I would like to train 20,000 conscripts every year,” said the minister. With the expansion of capacities, the number should then increase. “Three issues are central to this: personnel, material and finances. In an emergency, we need young men and women to defend this country.” The main purpose of Pistorius’ immediate plans lies less in an immediate mobilisation than in creating the structures—registration of persons, corresponding laws, etc.—to eventually be able to call up hundreds of thousands of soldiers and reservists as cannon fodder. According to Pistorius, the first step should be to reintroduce conscription. Since this currently exists, “Neither for those who turn 18 and would have to be drafted if we were to get into a defence situation, nor for those who have already served and are now living their lives as 40- or 45-year-old fathers,” this was an “untenable situation,” the minister said. The current conscription plans centre on sending a questionnaire to all 18-year-old men and women, in which they are asked to provide information about their physical condition and interest in military service. The approximately 400,000 men affected each year are obliged to complete the questionnaire. If they fail to do so, they face a fine. The selection on the basis of the questionnaire means 40,000 to 50,000 young people will then be required to take part in the draft. At the end, “We will have a precise idea of which young men and women are particularly suitable and motivated to serve our country,” explained Pistorius.

Mayor-elect pulled off bus and assassinated near resort city of Acapulco - The mayor-elect of a small municipality near the crime-plagued Mexican resort city of Acapulco was assassinated early Monday, local prosecutors said — the latest in a series of attacks targeting politicians. Salvador Villalba Flores — who was to take office in October in Copala, a town of about 4,000 residents about 80 miles southeast of Acapulco — was shot dead while traveling on a highway, prosecutors in Guerrero state said in a statement. Prosecutors said that they had launched an investigation into the murder, but declined to provide further details. Local newspaper El Sur de Guerrero reported that Villalba was a retired Navy captain who was usually protected by National Guard escorts, but was traveling alone to Mexico City when he was killed. "The mayor-elect was taken off the bus he was traveling on when it stopped near San Pedro las Playas" and shot, the outlet reported. Local media also reported Villalba had decided to run for mayor after his friend, a candidate, was murdered in June 2023.

The Music Just Stopped: Japan Banking Giant Norinchukin To Liquidate $63 Billion In Treasuries & European Bonds To Plug Massive Unrealized Losses | ZeroHedge Last October, when the wounds from the March 2023 bank failures - which surpassed the global financial crisis in total assets and which sparked the latest Fed intervention, setting the market's nadir over the past 16 months - were still fresh, we made a non-consensus prediction: we said that since the Fed has once again backstopped the US financial system, "the next bank failure will be in Japan." This prediction only got warmer two months later when, inexplicably, Japan's Norinchukin bank, best known as Japan's CLO whale, was quietly added to the list of counterparties for the Fed's Standing Repo Facility, a/k/a the Fed's foreign bank bailout slush fund. But if that was the first, and still distant, sign that something was very wrong at one of Japan's biggest banks (Norinchukin is Japan's 5th largest bank with $840 billion in assets) today the proverbial canary stepped on a neutron bomb inside the Japanese coalmine, because according to Nikkei, Norinchukin Bank "will sell more than 10 trillion yen ($63 billion) of its holdings of U.S. and European government bonds during the year ending March 2025 as it aims to stem its losses from bets on low-yield foreign bonds, a main cause of its deteriorating balance sheet, and lower the risks associated with holding foreign government bonds." See, what's happened in Japan is not that different from what is happening in the US, where as the FDIC keeps reminding us quarter after quarter, US banks are still sitting on over half a trillion dollars in unrealized losses, as a result of the huge jump in interest rates which has blown up the banks' long-duration fixed income holdings, sending them trading far below par and forcing banks (and the Fed, see BTFP) to come up with creative ways of shoving these massive losses under the rug.And while Japanese rates have barely budged - the BOJ only just raised rates for the first time in decades in April - the move is already cascading into the form of huge losses for domestic banks, which have been hammered twice as hard due to their holdings of offshore debt which until 2021 was viewed as risk free, only to blow up in everyone's face two years ago when the bull market since the early 1980s ended with a bang.Enter Norinchukin: according to the Nikkei, the company's net loss for the year ending March 2025, which was previously forecast to top 500 billion yen, will rise to the 1.5 trillion yen level with the bond sales."We plan to sell low-yield [foreign] bonds in the amount of 10 trillion yen or more," Norinchukin Bank CEO Kazuto Oku told Nikkei, an amount just above $60 billion. The bank, which previously was best known for being one of the world's most aggressive CLO investors - buys securities out of pension funds deposited by agriculture, forestry, and fisheries concerns.Facing a problem that is very familiar to all US banks, Oku said the bank "acknowledged the need to drastically change its portfolio management" to reduce unrealized losses on its bonds, which totaled roughly 2.2 trillion yen as of the end of March. Oku explained bank's intention to shift its investments, saying, "We will reduce [sovereign] interest rate risk and diversify into assets that take on corporate and individual credit risk."

The gray market's hidden effect on global trade - At an estimated $10 trillion, the global black market is the world’s fastest growing economy and is only rivaled in total value by America’s $14 trillion GDP.While countries are increasingly cracking down on the black market, the “gray market” has not received much attention — mainly because it is not illegal. Nonetheless, it does have serious, negative effects on global trade, even though certain groups of consumers may benefit.Gray markets, also known as parallel markets, are where goods are sold legally but outside of the manufacturer’s authorized trading channels. These markets can often involve the import and sale of goods that are genuine but intended for foreign markets, allowing them to be sold at lower prices than the same products sold through official channels. Nations are concerned about gray markets because they cause tax revenue loss and undermine local businesses.The gray market works in a number of ways. One is retail arbitrage. Retailers take advantage of price differences in various markets by buying products from lower-priced regions and selling them in higher-priced regions. For example, a retailer might buy branded goods intended for sale in one country and resell them in another country where prices are higher. In this retail arbitrage play, a reseller of German medical equipment responsible for the Argentine market diverts 15 percent of his stock to resellers in Brazil where supply is short and where the Argentine exporter can mark up the price by 20 percent and gain on the exchange rate as well, given that the Brazilian currency, the real,is stronger than the Argentine peso.In another example, unauthorized resellers (individuals or companies) purchase products from authorized distributors or retailers and resell them without permission from the manufacturer. This is common in electronics, luxury goods and pharmaceuticals. Overseas purchases are another example; small businesses purchase goods directly from overseas suppliers where prices are lower, then resell them locally. This bypasses the local authorized distribution network.Finally, manufacturers or authorized dealers sometimes sell excess inventory, such as appliances, to third parties who then sell these products through unauthorized channels. These third parties can offer lower prices as they acquired the goods at discounted rates. These various methods show how the gray market operates by exploiting price discrepancies, distribution inefficiencies and regulatory differences across regions.