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

Saturday, May 27, 2023

week ending May 27

Fed’s Bullard calls for two more rate hikes in 2023 --Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis president James Bullard said Monday he thinks the Fed needs to hike interest rates two more times this year because economic growth is surprisingly robust and inflation isn’t slowing fast enough. He favors these hikes "sooner rather than later" without being specific about a date. Stay ahead of the market "I think we're going to have to grind higher with the policy rate in order to put enough downward pressure on inflation," he said while speaking Monday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I'm thinking two more moves this year, not exactly sure where those would be. But I've often advocated sooner rather than later." Bullard offered the most extreme view of several regional Fed presidents who spoke Monday about the direction of interest rates. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis president Neel Kashkari told CNBC it’s a "close call" if the Fed should hikes rates next month or pause, while Atlanta Federal Reserve president Raphael Bostic told a Richmond Federal Reserve conference that he was "kind of comfortable waiting a little bit to see how things play out." "Let’s take it one meeting at a time...I really want to let this information come through. Not over react one way or the other." San Francisco Fed president Mary Daly said Monday that she will remain data dependent, noting that "meeting by meeting decisions are the most prudent path" given stronger than expected economic and job growth juxtaposed against tighter credit conditions. "Optimal policy…is about extreme data dependence and policy optionality," Daly said in a virtual conversation at an economic symposium at the National Association for Business Economics and Banque de France. "It's a distraction really to say what we're going to do necessarily in June, which is still three weeks away or what we're going to do for the rest of the year." Daly said she’s watching inflation and the impact of credit tightening against the general economic outlook to make a determination on rates. Since March, Daly said, stronger labor market reports have shown the unemployment rate is going down, not going up and that the slowdown in job growth is still well above the number of jobs needed to match new entrants into the workforce.

Fed's Kashkari says a June rate pause or hike is a 'close call' -- Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari said it's a "close call" for him if the central bank should raise interest rates next month or pause while it monitors the outlook for inflation. "I think right now it's a close call, either way, versus raising another time in June or skipping. What's important to me is not signaling that we're done," Kashkari said Monday in an interview on CNBC. "If we were to skip in June that does not mean we're done with our tightening cycle, it means to me we're getting more information. Do we then start raising again in July, potentially?" he said. Policymakers raised rates aggressively over the past 14 months, bringing their benchmark interest rate to a range of 5% to 5.25% from near zero. They've slowed down this year, delivering three consecutive quarter-point hikes after raising at a faster clip for much of 2022, and some officials have signaled support for a pause at their June 13-14 meeting. Turmoil in the banking sector following the failure of several institutions this spring has amplified a pullback in lending that started last year. Policymakers have said they'd like to carefully assess how that and the rapid rate increases are working through the economy. Kashkari said that bank stress that tightens credit conditions could help to cool price pressures and do the Fed's work for it. But he's not seeing evidence of that yet. Service-sector prices, in particular, have proven sticky and still out of balance, he said. While Fed Chair Jerome Powell and other officials have expressed support for a pause at the June meeting — Powell said Friday the central bank could "afford" to take time to look at the impact of their tightening so far — a small contingency of policymakers has said persistent inflation means continued rate increases may be necessary. Many have emphasized that a pause in June would likely not mark the end of the rate hike cycle, framing it instead as a "skip." "Since the seven or eight years I've been on the committee, this is the most uncertain time we've had in terms of understanding underlying inflationary dynamics, so I'm having to let inflation guide me," Kashkari said. "It may be that we need to go north of 6%, let's see what happens in the underlying services economy," he said. "But if the banking stresses start to bring inflation down for us, then maybe we're getting closer to being done. I just don't know right now."

Fed’s Waller: 'I don’t support stopping rate hikes' until inflation cools - Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller said Thursday he doesn’t think the Fed should stop raising interest rates until there is clear evidence inflation is cooling. “I do not support stopping rate hikes unless we get clear evidence that inflation is moving down towards our 2 percent objective,” Waller said at an economic summit in Santa Barbara, California. Stay ahead of the market “Whether we should hike or skip at the June meeting will depend on how the data come in over the next three weeks.” The Fed’s policy rate stands in a range of 5%-5.25%, a peak projected by officials back in March. Officials are expected to release new interest rate projections at their meeting in June. It’s unlikely the Fed will be able to determine whether it has reached the peak on the benchmark policy rate based on data over the next few months alone, Waller said Thursday. “I do not expect the data coming in over the next couple of months will make it clear that we have reached the terminal rate,” said Waller. What's more, the data since the Fed’s last policy meeting hasn’t yet offered enough clarity on what to do with interest rates at the next meeting, Waller said. He noted that he’ll be watching two more readings on inflation and another jobs report as well as how credit conditions evolve in the wake of the string of bank failures this spring. Waller teased out different scenarios for June. If the belief is data isn’t going to get much better, Waller said, then a 25-basis point increase is appropriate. But another hike combined with any abrupt and unexpected tightening of credit conditions could push the economy down rapidly, he added. “If banking conditions do not appear to have tightened excessively, then hiking in July could well be the appropriate policy,” he said. Waller says he’s concerned there’s been little progress on lowering inflation, pointing to a few layers within readings on prices. First, he says core goods prices, which were among the biggest factors that drove the escalation in inflation the past two years, aren’t slowing or retreating as much as he thinks is needed to get inflation down. He’s also concerned that a recent rebound in home prices could counteract lower rents that economists have expected to bring down the consumer price index reading on inflation. He also says he thinks inflation won’t come down very much unless average hourly earnings growth slows down from a level of 4.4% in April to a pace closer to 3%.

FOMC Minutes Show "Some" Fed Officials Push For More Hikes, Sees "Mild Recession In 2023" Tl;dr: Bloomberg's Ira Jersey says the BI Fed Minutes Sentiment Indicator showed slightly more hawkish and dovish sentences, causing a slight dovish move in the exponential moving average compared with the March meeting. “The most prominent theme within the minutes of the May FOMC meeting was the collective caution, and uncertainty, around the credit tightening implications from the regional banking crisis,” says BMO’s US rates strategist Ben Jeffrey. Specifically, participants noted, “tighter credit conditions for households and businesses were likely to weigh on economic activity, hiring, and inflation. However, participants agreed that the extent of these effects remained uncertain. Against this background, participants concurred that they remained highly attentive to inflation risks.” So what did they say? Key paragraph: ...participants discussed their views on the extent to which further policy firming after the current meeting may be appropriate. Participants generally expressed uncertainty about how much more policy tightening may be appropriate. Many participants focused on the need to retain optionality after this meeting. Some participants commented that, based on their expectations that progress in returning inflation to 2 percent could continue to be unacceptably slow, additional policy firming would likely be warranted at future meetings. Several participants noted that if the economy evolved along the lines of their current outlooks, then further policy firming after this meeting may not be necessary. In light of the prominent risks to the Committee's objectives with respect to both maximum employment and price stability, participants generally noted the importance of closely monitoring incoming information and its implications for the economic outlook. "Several" is more than "some" and so this is potentially more dovish, but uncertainty i shigh: Participants noted that risks associated with the recent banking stress had led them to raise their already high assessment of uncertainty around their economic outlooks. Participants judged that risks to the outlook for economic activity were weighted to the downside, al­though a few noted the risks were two sided. On the debt ceiling: Many participants mentioned that it is essential that the debt limit be raised in a timely manner to avoid the risk of severely adverse dislocations in the financial system and the broader economy. A few participants noted the importance of orderly functioning of the market for U.S. Treasury securities or stressed the importance of the appropriate authorities continuing to address issues related to the resilience of the market. A number of participants emphasized that the Federal Reserve should maintain readiness to use its liquidity tools, as well as its microprudential and macroprudential regulatory and supervisory tools, to mitigate future financial stability risks. On the impact of policy:Fed staff reiterate forecast for a “mild recession starting later this year, followed by a moderately paced recovery”On the banking crisis:In terms of financial-sector leverage, going into the period of recent bank stress, banks of all sizes appeared strong, with substantial loss-absorbing capacity as measured by regulatory capital ratios well above levels that prevailed before the Great Recession. However, the ratio of tangible common equity to total tangible assets at banks—excluding global systemically important banks—had fallen sharply in recent quarters, partly because of a substantial drop in the value of securities held in their portfolios.The majority of the banking system had been able to effectively manage this interest rate risk exposure. However, the failure of three banks resulting from poor interest rate risk and liquidity risk management had put stress on some additional banks. For the nonbank sector, leverage at large hedge funds remained somewhat elevated in the third quarter of 2022, and more recent data from the Senior Credit Officer Opinion Survey on Dealer Financing Terms suggested this fact had not changed. On tightening credit conditions: “Several participants remarked that tighter credit conditions may not put much downward pressure on inflation, in part because lower credit availability could restrain aggregate supply as well as aggregate demand.”While there was only mention of the word "pause" in the Minutes, this all fits very much with Powell's clear enunciation at the end of last week that he's leaning towards a pause. No one is suggesting rate-cuts at all. Read the full Minutes below:

Fed officials split on more rate hikes, stress 'optionality' in making future changes - Federal Reserve officials were divided at their last policy meeting on what the central bank’s next move should be on interest rates, with several officials leaning toward a pause and many officials wanting to keep options open given uncertainty about the outlook. “Participants generally expressed uncertainty about how much more policy tightening may be appropriate,” according to minutes from the early May meeting of Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the Fed committee that decides on policy. “Many participants focused on the need to retain optionality after this meeting.” There were "several" FOMC members at the early May meeting who noted that if economic growth clocks in slower, as they expect, then more rate hikes after the last meeting may not be necessary. But "some" officials felt more rate hikes would likely be needed based on their expectations that the process of bringing inflation back down to the Fed’s 2% target would be slow. The Fed at its last meeting raised the target range for its benchmark interest rate by 0.25%, to its highest level since September 2007. The move pushed the fed funds rate to a new range of 5%-5.25%. As part of its most aggressive rate hiking campaign since the 1980s, the US central bank has increased the target range for its benchmark interest rate by 5 percentage points since March 2022. More information about prices has emerged since the last meeting that convinced some market observers that a pause in rates was now likely, especially the release of the Consumer Price Index data that showed inflation pressures remain elevated in the US economy. Core CPI was up 5.5% in April from a year before and has been more or less steady in 2023, while down from around 6% a year ago. After that CPI announcement on May 10, markets priced in a nearly 100% chance of a pause at the Fed's June meeting. As of Wednesday afternoon, markets had priced in a 72% chance of a pause in June. The latest read on the Fed's favored inflation gauge, personal consumption expenditures, is due out Friday morning. Almost all officials said at the meeting in early May that with inflation still well above the Fed’s 2% target and the job market remaining strong, upside risks to the inflation outlook remained a key factor shaping the policy outlook.

FOMC Minutes: Staff Predicts Recession Starting in Q4; Future Monetary Policy "less certain" -- From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, May 2-3, 2023. Excerpt: The economic forecast prepared by the staff for the May FOMC meeting continued to assume that the effects of the expected further tightening in bank credit conditions, amid already tight financial conditions, would lead to a mild recession starting later this year, followed by a moderately paced recovery. Real GDP was projected to decelerate over the next two quarters before declining modestly in both the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year. Real GDP growth over 2024 and 2025 was projected to be below the staff's estimate of potential output growth. The unemployment rate was forecast to increase this year, to peak next year, and then to start declining gradually in 2025. ... In discussing the policy outlook, participants generally agreed that in light of the lagged effects of cumulative tightening in monetary policy and the potential effects on the economy of a further tightening in credit conditions, the extent to which additional increases in the target range may be appropriate after this meeting had become less certain. Participants agreed that it would be important to closely monitor incoming information and assess the implications for monetary policy. In determining the extent to which additional policy firming may be appropriate to return inflation to 2 percent over time, various participants noted specific factors that should bear on future decisions on policy actions. One such factor was the degree and timing with which cumulative policy tightening restrained economic activity and reduced inflation, with some participants commenting that they saw evidence that the past years' tightening was beginning to have its intended effect. Another factor was the degree to which tighter credit conditions for households and businesses resulting from events in the banking sector would weigh on activity and reduce inflation, which participants agreed was very uncertain. Additional factors included the progress toward returning inflation to the Committee's longer-run goal of 2 percent, and the pace at which labor market conditions softened and economic growth slowed.

IMF calls for Fed to raise rates further — 'The job is not quite yet done' - The International Monetary Fund said Friday in a new report that the US can avoid a recession this year, and that the Federal Reserve should raise interest rates again and hold them there through late next year. Amid persistent inflation, the IMF says the Fed needs to raise rates by another quarter percentage point to a range of 5.25%-5.5% from the current range of 5%-5.25%. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva suggested during a press conference Friday that there could be upside to interest rate hikes, but it would depend on the data.Inflation remains stubbornly high, PCE is telling us that the job is not quite yet done…Frankly, we need to continue to follow the data and see how much it would take to bring inflation to target,” Georgieva said.Georgieva's comments come as the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation – the consumption expenditures index, excluding volatile food and energy prices – rose 4.7% in April, accelerating from 4.6% in March.The IMF warned in its report that the Fed’s ten interest rate hikes since last March may not be enough to bring down inflation to the Fed’s 2% target.The international body said with a large share of households and businesses invested in longer-term debt at fixed rates, consumer spending and business investment have proven less interest-sensitive than in past rate hike cycles.“This creates a material risk that the Federal Reserve will have to raise the policy rate by significantly more than is currently expected to return inflation to 2 percent,” the IMF's report said.The IMF now sees inflation falling slowly — ending the year only around 4%— and expects inflation will remain above the Fed’s 2% target through next year.Georgieva met with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Fed Chair Jay Powell Friday morning, saying there was “significant convergence between the views of the Fed and the administration and what we're coming with.” Georgieva added that there were aspects of the IMF’s recommendations that the teams would reflect on further.Higher interest rates for longer periods could cause more issues in the banking sector, as already witnessed with the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank and First Republic. The IMF warned higher rates could reveal larger, more systemic balance sheet problems in banks than what has been seen publicly. “Unrealized losses from holdings of long duration securities would increase in both banks and nonbanks and the cost of new financing for both households and corporates could become unmanageable,” the report read. “Such a tightening of financial conditions could trigger an increase in bankruptcies [and] worsen credit quality.” Georgieva also called for the US debt ceiling to be raised immediately or suspended, calling it an “entirely avoidable risk” to both the US and the world economy.“We’re in the 12th hour now,” said Georgieva. “We have all read the fairytale of Cinderella having to leave the ball at midnight. We are there. Before our carriage turns into a pumpkin, can we please get this solved?” The IMF chief says a permanent solution needs to be developed to avoid the debt limit brinkmanship in the future.

Fed’s Favored Core PCE Price Index Re-Accelerates, Driven by Services, Motor Vehicles: Inflation Stuck on High, Shifts from Item to Item - by Wolf Richter - The inflation index favored by the Fed, the core PCE price index – which, by excluding the food and energy products, is a measure of underlying inflation – re-accelerated in April, as services inflation re-accelerated back into the red-hot zone, and as durable goods prices rose, after falling for months, driven by a jump in motor vehicles and parts. Inflation is just churning from one product category to another, falling here but popping up again over there like the arcade game of Whack A Mole. And so the core PCE price index continues to be stuck near the 5% level, when the Fed’s target is 2%. And the Fed uses this core PCE index as yardstick. On a year-over-year basis, the core PCE price index jumped by 4.7%, same as in July 2022, and up from a 4.6% increase in March, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis today. It has now gone sideways at just under 5% for nearly a year, and is not coming down, but is only shifting from category to category. On a month-to-month basis, the core PCE price index has jumped up and down since 2021 around the 0.4% line (annualized just under 5%). In April, it rose 0.4%. This is just not encouraging: Inflation in services re-accelerated in April from March, driven by spikes insurance and financial services, and “other” services such as personal services, and big increases in healthcare and housing costs. Inflation is particularly difficult to wring out of services, but services is where the majority of consumer spending ends up: healthcare, housing, utilities, education, travel, entertainment, restaurant meals, streaming, subscriptions, broadband, cellphone services, etc. Year-over-year, the PCE price index for services jumped by 5.5% in April, same as in March. February, at 5.8%, had been the worst since 1984: On a month-to-month basis, the PCE price index for services re-accelerated to an increase of 0.4% in April from March. Healthcare jumped by 0.5%, insurance and financial services spiked by 1.2%, other services, including personal services, spiked by 0.9%. But transportation services fell by 0.8%, and food services (such as restaurants) and accommodation were roughly flat, after spiking in March, inflation Whack A Mole.

Markets are now betting the Fed will raise rates next month - Markets are now pricing in a better than 50% chance of an interest rate hike next month after a new report from the Commerce Department showed that consumer inflation accelerated in April. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation – the consumption expenditures index, excluding volatile food and energy prices – rose 4.7% in April, accelerating from 4.6% in March. Consumer spending also rose 0.8%, according to the Commerce Department. Stay ahead of the market Traders of futures contracts tied to the Federal Reserve policy rate are now betting the Fed will hike rates again to cool inflation. The Fed has raised rates 10 times since last March to a range of 5%-5.25%. Fed Funds Futures, which can be volatile and thinly traded, were pricing in a nearly 60% chance of a 0.25% rate hike at one point Friday morning following the latest read on inflation. That’s up from odds of around 40% earlier in the week and from odds of around 10% after the last Fed policy meeting in May. “[Inflation] remains within the range of the past two years…and a definitive break to the downside remains elusive,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics wrote in a research note. The new consumer inflation reading on Friday “suggests that inflation isn't slowing quickly enough as a broad range of indicators points to a stronger economy,” said Quincy Krosby, Chief Global Strategist for LPL Financial. Fed officials have routinely lamented slow progress on bringing inflation down. The latest was Fed Governor Christopher Waller, who Wednesday said: “I am concerned about the lack of progress in any and all of these measures… I do not support stopping rate hikes unless we get clear evidence that inflation is moving down towards our 2 percent objective.” Waller added that he isn’t sure yet what to do for the June meeting. Federal Reserve officials were divided at their last policy meeting on what the central bank’s next move should be, according to minutes released Wednesday. Several officials were leaning toward a pause and many wanted to keep options open given uncertainty about the outlook. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last Friday he is still keeping options open. St Louis Fed President Jim Bullard is looking for two more rate hikes, while Dallas Fed President Lorie Logan has said a pause is not in order right now. Boston Fed President Susan Collins said Wednesday that the Fed may be at or near a pause, but reserved the option to make decisions meeting by meeting given the data at the time. Officials still have two key pieces of data before their next policy meeting – the May jobs report due out Friday, June 2 and another read on inflation via the consumer price index on the first day of the Fed's next policy meeting, June 13. “The combination of inflation moving upward and consumer spending remaining so strong will increase the odds of the Federal Reserve raising rates another time in mid-June,” said Nationwide Chief Economist Kathy Bostjancic. “However, the final decision will be influenced heavily by the May employment report and the May CPI report.”

Waller: Fed's balance sheet can't go back to pre-pandemic size Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller said changes are coming to the central bank's balance sheet, but don't expect the expanded holdings to return to pre-pandemic levels.During a question and answer session on Wednesday at an event hosted by the University of California, Santa Barbara, Waller said the Fed wants to reduce its holdings, but noted that the annual growth of the money supply limits how much reduction can take place."Our balance sheet grows about 7% a year from printing currency, issuing it off and … most of it goes outside the U.S.," Waller said. "So, as our liabilities grow by 7%, our assets have to grow by 7%. So, we can't even go back to where we were pre-pandemic because there's been growth of roughly 7% for the last so many years."The Fed's balance sheet totals more than $8.4 trillion, down more than $500 billion from its spring 2022 peak but more than double the level it was at before March 2020. The Fed has been actively shrinking its holdings since last summer — allowing assets to expire without replacing them — as means for tightening monetary policy. Those efforts were disrupted, temporarily, amid a surge in emergency borrowing from the Fed in March after the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, but they now appear to be on track.Previously, Waller has said the Fed could stand to reduce its assets by $2 trillion without disrupting the banking system, noting that the Fed's overnight reverse repurchase program has loaned out more than $2 trillion of securities nightly since last spring. The fact that those funds are ending up in the facility, he said, is proof that banks do not need them.Along with reserves, currency and the overnight repo facility, the Fed's liabilities include the Treasury's general account — which is being drained to pay down debts amid the ongoing debt-ceiling debate — and a repo facility for other central banks. Assets include Treasuries, mortgage-backed securities and lending and credit facilities.How much the balance sheet could – or should — shrink beyond $2 trillion remains an open question, Waller said. Ultimately, the Fed's main concern is maintaining an "ample supply" of reserves, or cash available to banks, in the system because when reserves become scarce, banks compete for them and drive up prices, thus disrupting the Fed's ability to set borrowing costs.

Fed Builds Real-Time Financial Twitter Sentiment Index -- Given the 'transitory' snafu and endless blind bubble-creation - and the accompanying banquet of unintended consequences - no lesser mortal than Mohamed El-Erian has been highly critical of the Fed for the past year, asserting that the institution "has slipped in its analysis, forecasts, policymaking and communication” and has made “one mistake after another."“The Fed's problems should worry everyone. A loss of credibility directly affects its ability to maintain financial stability and guide markets in a manner consistent with its dual mandate of maintaining price stability and supporting maximum employment."So, how do they plan to help regain that credibility? Fed researchers have developed a new measure of real-time credit and financial market sentiment from Twitter data that they say can help forecast changes in the stance of monetary policy, and can help estimate next-day stock-market returns.“Twitter sentiment after the first day of the FOMC meeting can predict the size of restrictive monetary policy shocks in connection with the release of the FOMC statement the following day,” economists Travis Adams, Andrea Ajello, Diego Silva and Francisco Vazquez-Grande said.As they conclude:"We show that the TFSI correlates with indexes and market gauges of financial conditions at monthly frequency. We also show that overnight twitter sentiment can help predict daily stock market returns. Finally, we show that Twitter financial sentiment can predict the size of restrictive monetary policy surprises."

Bond Market Caught Between Fears of US Debt Default, Rate Hikes- Bond traders are losing faith that the Federal Reserve is done tightening monetary policy and will ride to the rescue with rate cuts this year. The latest shift in sentiment — which during the past week put the odds of a quarter-point rate hike next month as high as 40% — will face a test in the coming week from slew of data that will gauge the strength of the economy. Another wild card: the fitful negotiations in Washington over raising the debt limit to avoid a potentially catastrophic default as soon as next month that would almost certainly alter the Fed’s path. The bond market in recent days has been pulled between those two poles — of a surprisingly resilient economy and a political standoff in Washington that threatens to deal it a major blow. Until Friday, when debt-ceiling negotiations hit a roadblock, traders were squarely focused on the growing risk of still-higher rates as central bank officials warned that the job of beating inflation is far from over and data showed the economy is growing at a faster-than-expected pace. “Markets are trying to look beyond the debt ceiling and to the economy, inflation and how it influences the Fed,”“Is it a pause and then a hike again, or do they eventually cut?” The dynamics are prolonging a period of unusually high uncertainty and volatility in the bond market as the Fed assesses the impact of its most aggressive interest-rate hikes in decades. The market rallied strongly in March on speculation that bank failures would usher in several rate cuts by the end of the year. But with the turmoil in that industry subsiding, those expectations have shifted. On Friday, futures traders were pricing in roughly two quarter-point cuts by December and an approximately 25% chance of an increase at the June meeting. Two weeks earlier, the contracts were pricing in no risk of such a move next month. The strength of the economy will almost certainly take center stage if President Joe Biden’s administration and Republicans in Congress reach a deal to raise the debt limit, removing the risk of an unprecedented debt default that would roil global markets. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy indicated this week that both sides were making progress, though such optimism faded Friday as Republicans walked out of a closed-door negotiating meeting soon after it began and the discussions were put on hold. Treasury yields have climbed to levels not seen since mid-March, with the 2-year tenor climbing as high as 4.35% on Friday — up from as low as 3.55% in late March — before paring the jump after the talks in Washington faltered. The 10-year yield reached as much as 3.72% this week, also the highest in more than two months. The risk now for bulls is that the market would be hit by another selloff if data doesn’t soon begin to flag that the economy is slowing enough to bring down still-elevated inflation. Moreover, with rates across Treasuries still well below the Fed’s current policy band of 5%-5.25%, even a pause in its rate hikes next month isn’t certain to ease the pressure on the market. There’s still a debate among Fed officials on their next move, with some leaning more toward a pause and others signaling more tightening is needed to ensure inflation heads toward its 2% target. On Friday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell signaled that he’s inclined to keep rates steady next month, saying the central bank has some room to monitor the impact of its moves given the uncertainty about the economy’s trajectory. “While a rate hike in June is possible, the Fed is more likely to ‘skip’ hiking this coming meeting with potentially one or two dissenters voting in favor of a hike,” said Derek Brown, head of fixed income at Beutel Goodman, an investment management firm. That would “allow the Fed more time to assess whether policy is sufficiently restrictive while maintaining the optionality to hike further if necessary.”

From Dollar Woes To Debt Denial- The USA Is Screwed -- De-Dollarization is a real, all too real trend, though it is both fascinating and disturbing to see what is otherwise so obvious being deliberately down-played, excused or ignored from the top down. But then again, the laundry list of ignored facts and open lies from the top down to hide hard truths in everything from inflation data to recessionary debt traps is nothing new.Instead, such propaganda replacing blunt transparency is the new normal (and classic trick) for all historical endings to debt-soaked (and failing) nations/systems and their fork-tongued (i.e., guilty) policy makers.De-Dollarization, of course, is a gradual rather than over-night process.Its origins stem from 1) years of exporting USD inflation overseas (to the painful detriment of friend and foe alike) and 2) the insanely stupid decision to weaponize the world reserve currency (i.e., USD) subsequent to a border war between two local tyrants in the Ukraine.Whether or not you buy into the Western “media’s” narrative which categorizes Putin as Hitler 2.0 and Zelensky as a modern George Washington, the weaponization of the USD (and freezing of FX reserves) has made an already dollar-tired globe even more distrusting of Uncle Sam’s currency and IOUs. This trend is confirmed by the profound dumping of USTs throughout 2022 and the undeniable trend among the BRICS (and the 36 other nations) to deliberately seek bilateral trade agreements and settlements outside of the USD.Furthermore, with Saudi talking to China and Iran, and with China talking to Mexico, Russia and just about everyone else, it’s fairly clear that a move away from the once sacred petrodollar (Pakistan now seeking Russian oil in Yuan) is no longer just the fantasy of conveniently eliminated folks like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi…As I discussed here and here, the petrodollar is under threat, which means longer-term demand for the USD is equally so.That said, there’s also no denying that the USD is still very strong, very important and very much in demand.After all, and despite welching in 1971 on its 1944 promise to be gold-backed, the USD is still the world reserve currency.With over 40% of global debt instruments denominated in Greenbacks and over 60% of the reservoir of global currencies composed of USDs, this reserve status (and hence forced demand) aint going anywhere too soon.Furthermore, and as I have written and agreed, the so-called “milk-shake theory” is not altogether wrong.That is, demand for USDs (and USTs) within the tangled and levered web of US derivative and Euro Dollar markets is baked into a system which will take years (not days) to unravel, monetize or replace, and this sure as heck won’t be orderly, global nor overnight.

Why Might Firms Raise Prices Faster than Input Prices? by Menzie Chinn - Josh Bivens at EPI has recently presented a decomposition of price changes into those attributable to price-cost margins (i.e., roughly profits), labor and nonlabor input prices, to wit: Graph Source: EPI, April 2023. Former Fed Governor Brainard as well as Paul Krugman have commented on this price-price spiral (although I think the latter is a little less definitive on whether he believes this constitutes the majority of the inflationary impulse). While the decomposition is interesting (it’s a decomposition after all), I’m not sure that the argument that Bivens forwards that it’s not demand pressures (aka overheating). While in very early NK models, the elasticity of demand for the differentiated goods are constant over the business cycle, so the price cost margin is constant, more recent work (e.g., Nakardo and Ramey, JMCB 2020) notes that depending on the type of shock, the profit margin can be procyclical. It might be useful to think about price changes in the presence of stickiness. When inflation is rapid, then deviations from the optimal price at any given time between price-resetes will be larger, inducing larger profit loss. Assuming more rapid expected inflation in the current episode than occurred in previous periods then implies firms re-set prices faster, and by larger increments. From this perspective, I might expect a bigger mechanically-defined contribution from profits, especially if firms over-estimate inflation. The preceding argument relies on a Calvo pricing view. If price changes are staggered, an alternative interpretation is that the strategic complementary that slows price adjusment during periods of low inflation would be attenuated when firms reach consensus on a faster rate of inflation. These aren’t rigorous (i.e., general equilibrium) arguments for an elevated profit margin; they’re just ways of saying we’re not sure the elevated profit margins aren’t due to higher aggregate demand. How fast did firm CEOs expect inflation to be? Coibion and Gorodnichenko provide the answer in their Survey of Firm Inflation Expectations. Figure 2: Actual CPI inflation, y/y (black), NY Fed consumer inflation expectations for year ahead (red), Atlanta Fed unit cost inflation for year ahead (green), and firm expectations for inflation a year ahead (sky blue squares), all in %. NBER defined peak-to-trough recession dates shaded gray. Source: BLS, NY Fed, Atlanta Fed, Coibion-Gorodnichenko, NBER and author’s calculations. The last observation we have for firm expectations is the January 2023 forecast for January 2024 year-on-year inflation. Interestingly, in the November and January surveys, firm expected inflation outstripped consumer expectations (which in turn outstripped economists’). In other words, firms expected rapid inflation (although not as rapid as actual outcomes, until April’s number). Note the Atlanta Fed measure of expected unit cost inflation is not from the same sample as that for the firm inflation, so a direct comparison is not possible. None of the foregoing is to say that the profits currently enjoyed by firms is “good”. Rather, I’d just say it’s not clear that one can infer from profit margins whether demand shocks drove the outcome or not.

Debt Ceiling Negotiations Crumble, McCarthy And Biden To Hold Sunday Call As Impasse Intensifies - Negotiations in Washington DC over the debt ceiling have taken a big step back over the weekend, as the White House and House Republicans continue to point fingers at each other. "It seems as though he wants default more than he wants a deal," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told Fox News on Sunday. "We have got 11 days to go," McCarthy continued, urging Biden and the Democrats to be "sensible about this."Republicans have been pushing for substantial, longer-term spending reductions, arguing that Congress needs to roll the nation's deficit spending back to 2022 levels, while restricting the growth of government spending. The White House, on the other hand, wants to achieve policy goals via taxation.McCarthy said there’s some talk of extending the debt ceiling until 2025, but he said he’s demanding cuts to federal spending in exchange for GOP votes to do so. Biden, he said, is resisting.“The president keeps changing positions every time Bernie Sanders has a press conference,” he said.McCarthy said Biden is demanding tax increases after earlier agreeing to keep them off the table. He also said Republicans have made compromises but didn’t specify them. –Bloomberg Meanwhile, Biden - speaking at a press conference held after the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Hiroshima, said that he would speak with McCarthy shortly, though he added that the Republican plan was unacceptable."The speaker and I’ll be talking later on the plane as we head back," said Biden. "And our teams are going to continue working.""Much of what they already proposed is simply, quite frankly unacceptable."

Coons: Default would confirm Chinese leader’s assessment that US political system is broken - Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) on Saturday said default would confirm Chinese President Xi Jinping’s assessment of a broken U.S. political system, as the White House and Congress negotiate over the debt ceiling amid the possibility of default. “The single worst thing we could do is default. It would confirm Xi Jinping’s assessment that we have a flawed and broken political system, that we can’t solve our most basic challenges, and it would weaken us in the eyes of the rest of the world,” Coons said on MSNBC’s “Velshi.” “So why would default be bad?” he asked. “It would hurt every American at home and abroad.” The clock is ticking on the issue, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned her department could run out of measures to prevent a default by as early as June 1. A default would “cost 8 million jobs, throw our economy into a recession and impact our standing in the world,” Coons said on MSNBC. “Just this week, on that Appropriations Committee where I serve, we had the secretary of Defense, secretary of State, secretary of Commerce in front of our full committee debating what we should be doing to make America stronger in the face of the Chinese threat.” President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have met for negotiations on the debt ceiling, but while the White House wants a clean borrowing limit increase, House Republicans are pushing for an increase tied to spending cuts. Biden is reportedly considering using the 14th Amendment to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling, without Congress. “It’s as serious as it is because the United States benefits from the fact, that for the rest of the world, investing in our Treasury instruments, in the borrowing done by the U.S. government, by our Treasury Department, is viewed as the safest place to put their money, not just in the United States, but for the rest of the world,” Coons said Saturday. The senator stressed that Yellen and other economic sector leaders have predicted significant consequences if the nation defaults on its debt, and urged McCarthy to “take default off the table.” “Several times over the last decade, we’ve had a federal government shutdown when we can’t come to an agreement between the parties. That’s bad enough to have the federal government shut down. … but it’s not catastrophic. Default would be catastrophic,” he added. “I’m worried that if we don’t have a reasonable, responsible deal on the table and able to begin voting this coming week, that we’re going to miss this window and we’re going to default.”

Sanders dismisses McCarthy remarks blaming him for breakdown in debt talks -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday dismissed remarks from Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that accused the White House of bending to the senator and other progressives amid negotiations over the debt ceiling. McCarthy had said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” that “when Bernie Sanders or AOC says something, the White House shifts to the other way.” “Kevin McCarthy is now directly calling you out by name, just seconds ago, on Fox News, for being the reason that the discussion about this has broken down. Your response?” MSNBC’s Ali Velshi asked Sanders on “Velshi.” “Well, I doubt that very much,” Sanders said. “But to the degree that the White House says to these Republicans, ‘Stop your hypocrisy. Stop defending the billionaire class from paying their fair share of taxes while you want to cut programs that the elderly the children, the sick and the poor need,’ if I have any role – if progressives have any role in that, that’s great,” Sanders said. McCarthy and Biden had a phone call on Sunday as the president made his way back from the Group of Seven summit in Japan, cutting plans for a longer international trip short to head back to Washington for the negotiations. Staff-level talks are set to resume on Sunday, and the president and the Speaker are set to meet on Monday as June 1 approaches — the date by which the Treasury has said it could run out of ways to avoid default.

Biden says he thinks he has authority to use 14th Amendment on debt ceiling - President Biden on Sunday said he believes he has the authority to use the 14th Amendment to unilaterally address the debt ceiling, but he acknowledged potential legal challenges could still lead the nation to default if he went that route. “I’m looking at the 14th Amendment as to whether or not we have the authority — I think we have the authority,” Biden told reporters at a press conference in Hiroshima, Japan. “The question is, could it be done and invoked in time that it would not be appealed, and as a consequence past the date in question and still default on the debt. That is a question that I think is unresolved.” Biden added that all four congressional leaders said in a recent White House meeting that they agreed the nation would not default, signaling that he hoped talk of the 14th Amendment would ultimately not be necessary. “So I’m assuming that we mean what we say and we’ll figure out a way to not have to default,” Biden said. Sunday’s remarks were Biden’s strongest to date on the 14th Amendment, which has been a point of debate among legal experts and administration officials as the U.S. gets closer to the risk of default. The Treasury Department has warned the U.S. could default as early as June 1 if no action is taken to raise the debt ceiling. The idea hinges on a phrase in the 14th Amendment that says the public debt “shall not be questioned,” which proponents of the idea argue means the president could unilaterally continue to issue debt if Congress does not act. Biden earlier this month said he had been “considering” the 14th Amendment as a way to unilaterally work around the debt ceiling, but he acknowledged that it would not be a viable short-term solution. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen previously warned that using the 14th Amendment could trigger a “constitutional crisis,” calling it “one of the not good options” if Congress failed to act.

Biden and McCarthy to meet on Monday as debt ceiling talks resume (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden and House Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy will meet to discuss the debt ceiling on Monday, after the two leaders held a phone call on Sunday as the president flew back to Washington that both sides described as positive. McCarthy, speaking to reporters at the U.S. Capitol following the call, said there were positive discussions on solving the crisis and that staff-level talks were set to resume later on Sunday. Asked if he was more hopeful after talking to the president, McCarthy said: "Our teams are talking today and we're setting (sic) to have a meeting tomorrow. That's better than it was earlier. So, yes." A White House official confirmed Monday's meeting but offered no specific time. Biden, who arrived back at the White House late on Sunday evening after his trip to Japan, said the call with McCarthy had gone well. “It went well,” Biden said. “We’ll talk tomorrow.” Staff members from both sides reconvened at McCarthy's office in the Capitol on Sunday evening for talks that lasted about two-and-a-half hours. Senior White House advisor Steve Ricchetti told reporters as he left the meeting, "We'll keep working tonight." Biden, before leaving Japan following the G7 summit earlier on Sunday, said he would be willing to cut spending together with tax adjustments to reach a deal but the latest offer from Republicans was "unacceptable." Less than two weeks remain until June 1, when the Treasury Department has warned that the federal government could be unable to pay all its debts, a deadline U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reaffirmed on Sunday. A failure to lift the debt ceiling would trigger a default that would cause chaos in financial markets and spike interest rates. Advertisement · Scroll to continue McCarthy's comments on Sunday appeared more positive than the increasingly heated rhetoric in recent days, as both sides reverted to calling the other's position extremist and talks stalled. "Much of what they've already proposed is simply, quite frankly, unacceptable," Biden told a news conference in Hiroshima. "It's time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be made solely, solely on their partisan terms. They have to move as well." The president later tweeted that he would not agree to a deal that protected "Big Oil" subsidies and "wealthy tax cheats" while putting healthcare and food assistance at risk for millions of Americans. He also suggested some Republican lawmakers were willing to see the U.S. default on its debt so that the disastrous results would prevent Biden, a Democrat, from winning re-election in 2024.

Yellen says June 1 is 'hard deadline' for raising debt ceiling (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Sunday said June 1 remains a "hard deadline" for raising the federal debt limit, with the odds quite low that the government will collect enough revenue to bridge to June 15, when more tax receipts are due. Yellen, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" program, said there would be hard choices to make about payments to Americans if Congress failed to raise the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling before Treasury ran out of cash and was forced to default. "I indicated in my last letter to Congress that we expect to be unable to pay all of our bills in early June and possibly as soon as June 1. And I will continue to update Congress, but I certainly haven't changed my assessment. So I think that that's a hard deadline," she said. U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday called Republicans' latest offers in talks on lifting the government's debt ceiling "unacceptable," but said he would be willing to cut spending together with tax adjustments to reach a deal. He said he would speak to top congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy on his flight home from his meeting with leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations in Hiroshima, Japan. Advertisement · Scroll to continue Less than two weeks remain until June 1, when the Treasury Department has warned that the federal government could be unable to pay all its debts. That would trigger a default that could cause chaos in financial markets and spike interest rates. Asked if Treasury could possibly reach June 15 before running out of cash, Yellen said there was some uncertainty about the exact so-called x-date, but she doubted the money would last through June 15. "There's always uncertainty about tax receipts and spending, and so it's hard to be absolutely certain about this, but my assessment is that the odds of reaching June 15 while being able to pay all of our bills is quite low," she said. Biden told reporters in Japan that he believed he had the authority to invoke the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to raise the debt ceiling without Congress, but said it was unclear that enough time remained to try to use that untested legal theory to avoid default. Yellen said invoking the amendment "doesn't seem like something that could be appropriately used in these circumstances, given the legal uncertainty around it, and given the tight time frame we're on."

Will June Tax Payments Bump Debt Debate Into July? --Stefel's Chief Washington Policy Strategist, Brian Gardner, suggests that if today's meeting between McCarthy and Biden fails to produce a pathway to an agreement, market volatility could increase on fears over missing the X-date.If President Biden and Speaker McCarthy can close the gap between them, then negotiators can work on the details during the week. It is unlikely that Congress would be able to pass a long-term debt ceiling bill by the end of the week, but if an agreement is in place by Friday, then Congress could pass a short-term suspension of the debt ceiling. This would create the time to write the legislation and provide Members of Congress several days to review the bill (which Republicans would insist on) before voting on it. That said, chances of a deal are uncertain given the current lack of urgency among 'significant blocks of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.' If no framework emerges by the end of the week, Gardner thinks it will come down to public pressure to dictate how long the standoff lasts.If the X-date is breached, Treasury will prioritize the payment of principal and interest on US Treasurys, so the chance of them defaulting is virtually nil. That said, it's possible that Social Security payments, or military paychecks could be delayed - which would of course increase political pressure, and thus, the chances of a deal - yet which could also carry the risk of a downgrade in the credit rating of US government debt.Interestingly, Gardner also thinks that if the standoff is able to make it until June 15 - when quarterly tax payments are due - it might allow the debate to continue into July.Goldman (which Pro subscribers can find in the usual place) gets a little more specific, writing on Saturday that "A deadline of June 8 or 9 would affect a narrower range of payments. After June 2, there is no Social Security payment again until June 14, and the next coupon payment is due June 15, when the Treasury is likely to be taking in a large amount of tax revenue due to the quarterly tax deadline."

Jeffries suggests he’d support spending freeze -- Amid the talks with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the White House has offered Republicans a freeze in federal spending at current, fiscal 2023 levels — a proposal McCarthy has rejected. “A freeze is not less; a freeze is spending the same amount,” McCarthy said Monday evening, shortly after he met with Biden at the White House to continue negotiations. The spending caps have emerged as a central sticking point in the high-stakes discussions about raising the debt ceiling and preventing a government default, which the Treasury Department has warned could happen as soon as June 1. Behind McCarthy, Republicans are insisting on steep spending cuts as a condition of raising the debt ceiling, leveraging the threat of default to pressure Biden to accept their terms. House Republicans had passed a debt ceiling package last month that would cut fiscal 2024 spending back to fiscal 2022 levels — a decrease estimated to be roughly $130 billion below the 2023 levels. They’re noting that the 2022 spending levels were in place as recently as December, when Congress passed a massive government funding bill establishing the current 2023 levels. “It was not a big cut; it was the same money we were spending five months ago,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), head of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, whose members have warned that they won’t except a watered-down version of the House-passed bill. “What we’re willing to accept is what we passed last month,” Perry added. “That’s why we passed it.” Highlighting the perils facing Democratic leaders, a number of liberals are fighting to hike federal spending, warning that cuts would harm programs that benefit the most vulnerable populations. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a staunch liberal, praised Biden on Monday for pushing back against what she characterized as the “some of the extreme demands” from Republicans. But she also warned that there are limits to how far Biden can compromise, and accepting cuts is “going to be a problem” with progressives. “We do not negotiate through the debt ceiling for this very reason,” she said. DeSantis changes Twitter handle ahead of rumored 2024 announcement Trump attacks Fox’s Laura Ingraham over ‘hit piece’ on his poll numbers Jeffries acknowledged the unpopularity of the spending freeze, which Democrats have characterized as a cut when inflation is factored in. But he suggested he’s willing to accept it anyway, as a concession to the Republicans who control the House. “Any proposal that potentially offers to freeze spending is not a proposal that has been put into the public domain by the left flank,” Jeffries said. “That’s an inherently reasonable effort to find common ground in a divided government situation.”

No signs of progress from White House, Republicans in 'tough' debt ceiling talks (Reuters) - Representatives of President Joe Biden and congressional Republicans ended another round of debt ceiling talks on Tuesday with no signs of progress as the deadline to raise the government's $31.4 trillion borrowing limit or risk default ticked closer. The two parties remain deeply divided about how to rein in the federal deficit, with Democrats arguing wealthy Americans and businesses should pay more taxes while Republicans want spending cuts. White House negotiators Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and senior White House adviser Steve Ricchetti, met with their Republican counterparts for about two hours. They left without making substantive comments to media. "We had very good discussions," McCarthy told reporters. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the federal government could no longer have enough money to pay all its bills as soon as June 1, which would cause a default that would hammer the U.S. economy and push borrowing costs higher. The two sides still disagree on spending and it was not clear when talks would resume, said Republican Representative Patrick McHenry, who chairs the House Finance Committee. White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre called the talks "incredibly tough." "Both sides have to understand that they're not going to get everything that they want," Jean-Pierre said at a briefing. "And what we're trying to get to is a budget that is reasonable, that is bipartisan, that Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate will be able to vote on and agree on." The lack of clear progress continued to weigh on Wall Street with U.S. stocks sharply lower on Tuesday and global markets on edge. Democrats want to freeze spending for the 2024 fiscal year that begins in October at the levels adopted in 2023, arguing that would represent a spending cut because agency budgets won't match inflation. The idea was rejected by Republicans, who want spending cuts. Biden wants to cut the deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes for the oil and pharmaceutical industries. McCarthy said he will not approve tax increases. McCarthy told reporters on Monday that he expected to talk with Biden daily at least by telephone. If and when Biden and McCarthy reach a deal, they will still need to sell it to their caucuses in Congress. It could easily take a week to pass a deal through the House and Senate, which would both need to approve the bill before Biden could sign it into law. Hardline Republicans and progressive Democrats both voiced anger at the idea of compromise. Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the 101-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said "the vast majority" of the group's members would oppose any deal that included spending cuts or new work requirements for federal benefit programs for low-income Americans, both of which are major Republican demands.

Health insurance for 600,000 Americans at stake in debt ceiling debate | The Hill The health insurance of 600,000 Americans is hanging in the balance as part of last-minute negotiations to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. House Republicans are pushing to include beefed-up work requirements for recipients of federal welfare — now called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid as part of a debt ceiling deal with the White House. “We can’t be spending more money next year. We have to spend less than we spent the year before. It’s pretty easy,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Friday. Under the GOP proposal, 600,000 Americans — mostly low- and moderate-income people who are capable of working and are between 19 and 56 years old — would lose their health care after being kicked out of federal Medicaid funding, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis from April. That would save the government $109 billion over the next decade, the CBO estimated, which is just a fraction of the $32 trillion in federal debt amassed by Republican- and Democratic-led administrations. The White House had repeatedly written off raising the debt ceiling as nonnegotiable before giving in to Republican demands for talks ahead of a potential June 1 run-out-of-money date. There’s a good chance the people who are about to lose Medicaid coverage, welfare, or SNAP benefits won’t even know they’ve been booted out of these federal programs until it’s too late. Arkansas approved work requirements for Medicaid in 2017, resulting in tens of thousands of people losing coverage. Legal Aid of Arkansas attorney Trevor Hawkins started canvassing his state to let people know their lives were about to change. He told The Hill the people he met on the road had no idea what was coming. “Most people didn’t realize these work requirements were a thing until they started getting notices that there were problems,” he said. “They were getting marks of not complying, but it was just because they didn’t know about it.” Treda Robinson, a working Arkansas resident who nearly lost her health insurance because of the work requirement law and ended up bringing a lawsuit against the state, said she would have died if she’d lost her coverage because she had a tumor she needed to have removed that was associated with her anemia. “I would have died. The tumor was causing me to bleed, and it was making my blood count really low,” she told The Hill in an interview. “If I had lost my insurance at that time, how was I going to be able to go to the doctor to even know what was going on with me? Those appointments were $300 and $400 alone.”

Court sets hearing to consider suspending debt limit law as unconstitutional - A federal judge late this month will hear arguments involving the debt limit law and whether it is unconstitutional and should be suspended. The hearing, set for May 31 at 2 p.m. before U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns, will come hours ahead of when the Biden administration warns the federal government could run out of funds to pay its obligations. The case is unrelated to negotiations between the White House and House Republicans to reach a deal to avoid a default. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers on Monday that will occur by “early June, and potentially as early as June 1” if a deal is not reached. The National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) earlier this month sued over the law that sets the nation’s debt limit, arguing it presents separation-of-powers issues. Yellen and President Biden were named as defendants. If the limit is reached, NAGE contends Biden would be forced to take over Congress’s spending authority by deciding which payments to prioritize over others. It also would effectively amount to a line-item veto, the union argues, which the Supreme Court has previously rejected. Stearns, an appointee of former President Clinton who sits in Massachussetts’s federal district court, at next Wednesday’s hearing will hear arguments about the union’s motion to suspend the law as their case proceeds, court records indicate. Meanwhile, Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met at the White House for roughly an hour on Monday evening as their negotiations continued following the president’s return from Japan.

McCarthy end game on debt ceiling begins to come into focus -The prevailing account says Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is walking a tightrope over a shark tank in the debt ceiling talks, sidling precariously between a federal default on one side and the loss of his Speakership on the other. The prevailing account might have it all wrong. As McCarthy and President Biden race to find common ground on extending the government’s borrowing authority, the Speaker has defied the doubts that came with his arduous path to the gavel, building up trust among his conservative naysayers and creating what appears to be a comfortable space to battle Biden over the terms of the debt ceiling hike. McCarthy has dragged Biden to the negotiating table, which the president resisted for months. He’s taken any tax cuts — which Democrats have demanded in past debt limit fights — off the table. And the Speaker’s success last month in shepherding a Republican debt-ceiling package through the House — despite a tiny GOP majority — has buoyed even some of his fiercest conservative detractors. Those conservatives say they’re not eyeing an effort to strip McCarthy of his gavel, even if they oppose an eventual compromise with Biden. “Nobody’s talking about that,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) recently told MSNBC. “We support our Speaker. We want him to be successful because the country needs for him to be successful.” “Literally nobody except the press is talking about removing McCarthy right now,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) echoed Monday on Twitter. Those dynamics could set the stage for a compromise that looks a lot like the debt ceiling deals of years past, when liberals rejected the legislation for cutting too much spending, conservatives opposed it for not cutting enough — and some motley combination of moderates and leadership allies in both parties came together to approve the bill and prevent a default. “The mechanics of getting there we’re very in tuned with,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), one of the Republicans leading the talks with the White House. McCarthy is not blind to those dynamics, acknowledging Monday that House Republicans were never going to get everything they wanted, given the Democrats’ control of the White House and Senate — the same divided powers that governed similar debt ceiling battles between former President Obama and then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and more recently between former President Trump and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “It happens every single time,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol shortly before a meeting with Biden at the White House. “That’s what divided government does.”

McCarthy tells Republicans he's 'nowhere near' a debt limit deal with Biden as deadline nears — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told Republicans during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday that he’s not close to a bipartisan deal with President Joe Biden to avoid a first-ever default on the nation’s debt. “We are nowhere near a deal,” McCarthy told Republicans. “I need you all to hang with me.” As each day passes without a deal, the clock is ticking closer to a looming deadline for default – which could be catastrophic for the global economy and have financial effects on countless Americans. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reaffirmed in a letter to McCarthy on Monday that it is “highly likely” that the US Treasury will not be able to pay all of its bills in full and on time as soon as June 1. But several Republicans, including House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, have suggested that they do not believe Yellen’s estimate of June 1 as the so-called X-date for potential default and called on her to testify before Congress. Negotiations dragged on Tuesday as White House negotiators again went to Capitol Hill to meet with House Republicans. Louisiana GOP Rep. Garret Graves, McCarthy’s chief negotiator during debt ceiling talks, told CNN Tuesday afternoon that there are still large differences between both parties in negotiations. “Look, there are some big bright red lines on both sides. We do not have any of those issues closed out. And you’ve seen some folks that have indicated that some of these issues cannot be included. I’ll tell you that that’s not what I’m operating under, and that everything’s on the table, and we’re gonna keep negotiating until there’s a deal that makes sense and meets the speaker’s parameters,” Graves said, adding that the biggest gap is a lack of general agreements on spending cuts. While Republicans have said they want to keep as much of their debt ceiling bill intact as possible – and hold on to as many Republican members as possible – Graves acknowledged that they still have to take the Democratic-majority Senate and Democratic president into account. McCarthy has maintained that both parties could still obtain a deal by the June 1 deadline, but he is also now accusing the president of trying to “disrupt” negotiations by bringing proposals involving Medicare and Social Security back “into the fold.” The speaker also told CNN’s Manu Raju that the only concession he will make is raising the borrowing limit, which shows that Republicans are not willing to give any more than raising the debt ceiling in exchange for their demands.

Fitch Places United States' AAA Rating On Watch Negative, Blames "Political Partisanship" - With its CDS trading like an emerging market, it is likely no surprise that Fitch Ratings has placed the United States' 'AAA' Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) on Rating Watch Negative.The T-Bill curve is not buying the calm picture being painted by Washington with the June 1st Bill yielding 7.00% today... Debt Ceiling Brinkmanship: The Rating Watch Negative reflects increased political partisanship that is hindering reaching a resolution to raise or suspend the debt limit despite the fast-approaching x date (when the U.S. Treasury exhausts its cash position and capacity for extraordinary measures without incurring new debt). Fitch still expects a resolution to the debt limit before the x-date. However, we believe risks have risen that the debt limit will not be raised or suspended before the x-date and consequently that the government could begin to miss payments on some of its obligations. The brinkmanship over the debt ceiling, failure of the U.S. authorities to meaningfully tackle medium-term fiscal challenges that will lead to rising budget deficits and a growing debt burden signal downside risks to U.S. creditworthiness. Debt Limit Reached: The U.S. reached its $31.4 trillion debt limit on Jan. 19, 2023, and the Treasury began taking extraordinary measures in order to avoid breaching the ceiling. The Treasury has stated that these extraordinary measures could be exhausted as early as June 1, 2023. The cash balance of the Treasury reached USD76.5 billion as of May 23 and sizeable payments are due June 1-2, meaning that the x-date could arrive as the Treasury indicated and before an agreement is reached or finalized with votes in the House and Senate.X-Date Approaching: The failure to reach a deal to raise or suspend the debt limit by the x-date would be a negative signal of the broader governance and willingness of the U.S. to honor its obligations in a timely fashion, which would be unlikely to be consistent with a 'AAA' rating, in Fitch's view. Prioritization of debt securities over other due payments after the x-date would avoid a default. Similarly, avoiding default by non-conventional means such as minting a trillion-dollar coin or invoking the 14th amendment is unlikely to be consistent with a 'AAA' rating and could also be subject to legal challenges.Debt Default Rating Implications: We believe that failing to make full and timely payments on debt securities is less likely than reaching the x-date and is a very low probability event. Such a failure would be a debt default under Fitch's sovereign rating criteria and would lead us to downgrade the sovereign IDR to Restricted Default (RD). Affected debt securities would be downgraded to 'D'. Additionally, other LT debt securities with payments due within the following 30 days would likely be downgraded to 'CCC', and ST treasury bills maturing within the following 30 days would likely be downgraded to 'C'. Potential Post-Default Ratings: Other debt securities with payments due beyond 30 days would likely be downgraded to the expected post-default rating of the IDR. A key consideration in determining the U.S. post-default rating would be Fitch's Sovereign Rating Model (SRM) - the details of which are in the public domain. The SRM output for the U.S. stands at 'AA+'. The model applies a two-notch reduction for a sovereign that has recently defaulted, suggesting that Fitch's model-implied post-default rating would be 'AA-'. The final rating could be adjusted lower or higher via the Qualitative Overlay as per our criteria. Fitch would expect any debt default to be relatively short-lived. However, a more protracted default scenario could have more severe implications for the country's post-default ratings.Governance Challenges: Governance is a weakness relative to 'AAA' rated peers, and the future direction of the rating is sensitive to the direction it takes. The contested 2020 presidential election, brinkmanship over the debt limit to advance political agendas, and failure to reach consensus on the country's fiscal challenges are recent signs of the deterioration in governance. Additionally, the absence of a medium-term fiscal framework and a complex budgeting process has contributed to the failure to reverse successive debt increases caused by economic shocks and other fiscal accommodations. Political partisanship has brought about repeated debt-limit brinkmanship and led to near-default episodes that could erode confidence in the government's repayment capacity.Paging Mrs. Yellen...

Yellen 'Not Prepping For Default' Despite Debt Ceiling Impasse - Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Wednesday that signs of market stress are beginning to emerge as the X-date draws closer, however the Biden administration is not preparing for a default, and is instead focusing on completing a debt-limit deal."We are committed to not having missed payments and raising the debt ceiling," Yellen said at a video conference event in London. "We’re not involved in planning for what happens if there’s a default," she said when asked if Treasury was engaged with major banks to map out a default scenario, Bloomberg reports."It’s highly likely that we would run out of resources to meet all the government’s obligations in early June and possibly as early as June 1," she told the conference. "We no longer see very much likelihood that our resources will enable us to get to the middle or end of June."Meanwhile, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will provide an update on negotiations at 11:45am ET. With (arguably) just eight days to go before the US government enters potential default territory on more than $31 trillion in debt, the status of negotiations between the White House and members of the House GOP's negotiating team - Reps. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and Garret Graves (R-LA) are telling allies on Capitol Hill that talks have oscillated between positive and totally crumbling.

House Dems take pessimistic tone on debt as McCarthy pushes to ‘finish up’ talks - House Democrats, whose votes will be needed to pass any debt deal that steers the nation away from a painful default next month, are beginning to sound the alarm as White House-GOP talks stretch on. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries struck a pessimistic tone on Wednesday, shortly after Speaker Kevin McCarthy dispatched his Republican negotiators to the White House to continue the talks. “It’s increasingly clear to me that House Republicans are intent on crashing the economy and defaulting on our debt,” Jeffries told reporters. “That’s wrong. It will hurt everyday Americans in the brinkmanship.” He cited several recent developments in the talks between McCarthy’s emissaries and President Joe Biden’s in darkening his outlook on the high-stakes negotiations — including comments like Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Fla.) comparison of the standoff to hostage-taking and the growing influence of former President Donald Trump. With just eight days until the U.S. could breach the debt ceiling, McCarthy said his team of Republican emissaries, led by Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), would try to “finish up” talks on Wednesday; still, they returned to the Capitol Wednesday with no substantive update. House members are slated to leave town Thursday for a week-long Memorial Day recess. House Republicans are dealmaking newbies — and that could be a problem McCarthy also acknowledged the two sides are still far apart on a proposal, but added that the White House meeting with the negotiators that wrapped just after 4 p.m. Wednesday was positive. “I think we’ve made some progress working down there. So that that’s very positive ... and we’ll continue to work through to try to get a solution,” he told reporters in the late afternoon. 📣 We have a new app. Download the upgraded version for iOS or Android. While Democrats have agreed to freeze spending through the next fiscal year, Republicans have insisted on reducing federal funding to pre-pandemic levels — amounting to roughly $131 billion in cuts. Further complicating matters, Democrats complain that Republicans have actually sought an increase in one part of the federal budget: the Pentagon.

Debt ceiling talks stall amid pushback from Kevin McCarthy’s right flank -- The rollercoaster debt ceiling talks are back at a stalemate amid a full-throated effort by the most conservative members of Kevin McCarthy’s caucus to preemptively kill any bipartisan deal.Influential Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) told a right-wing host Tuesday night that “my position is to hold the damn line” and force a GOP-only plan into law, one of the many similar comments from Republicans in recent hours.“I don’t even care about the negotiations going on at the White House,” he added. The GOP's internal dynamics are having a direct effect on the talks. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy abruptly shifted his tone Tuesday just hours after optimistic comments in the Oval Office.Late Tuesday night, a lead negotiator for McCarthy told reportersthat his side needed to see “fundamental change” from the White House. Then, on Wednesday, Speaker McCarthy announced that talks would resume and said "I think we can make progress today" while also batting away suggestions that a deal is impossible at this point given the conservative Republican criticisms. The conservative rebellion is a mirror of sorts to what President Biden is confronting on his left flank, with many Democratic lawmakers similarly skeptical of concessions. The unrest on both fringes is raising new questions not just if a deal can be struck — but whether it could then even pass Congress in time to avoid a potential default on June 1. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Wednesday underlined how negotiators can ill afford further delays, saying that it seems almost certain the US government will not be able to pay its bills past early June. "Early June seems almost certain that we will not be able to get past early June and I do intend to provide an update pretty soon,” Yellen said in a virtual conversation at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council in London. “We no longer see very much likelihood there are resources will enable us to get to the middle or end of June.” Yellen says there are early signs of stress in financial markets already, pointing to much higher yields on Treasury bills coming due in early to mid June. Yellen added, however, that she thinks a deal is possible. “They’re working toward an agreement that could command bipartisan support,” she said. For now, many in the business world are still planning for compromise. CFRA Research Chief Investment Strategist Sam Stovall told Yahoo Finance Tuesday “most people on Wall Street think that cooler minds will prevail.” But he added a warning: “Should the worst happen, history then tells us, watch out because we could enter into a new bear market.”

Debt ceiling talks teeter on the brink, as lawmakers leave town for weekend without a deal -- House Republicans pushed debt ceiling talks to the brink on Thursday, displaying risky political bravado in preparing to leave town for the holiday weekend just days before the U.S. could face an unprecedented default hurling the global economy into chaos. However, Speaker Kevin McCarthy also said he had directed his negotiating team “to work 24/7 to solve this problem.” At the Capitol, McCarthy, R-Calif., said that “every hour matters” in talks with President Joe Biden’s team as they try to work out a budget agreement. Republican are demanding spending cuts the Democrats oppose as their price for raising the legal debt limit. In remarks at the White House, Biden said, “It’s about competing versions of America.” Yet both men expressed optimism that the gulf between their positions could be bridged. The White House said that discussions with the Republicans have been productive, including by video conference Thursday, though serious disagreements remained as the president fights for his priorities. “The only way to move forward is with a bipartisan agreement,” Biden said. “And I believe we’ll come to an agreement that allows us to move forward and protects the hardworking Americans of this country.” As the deadline nears, it’s clear the Republican speaker — who leads a Trump-aligned party whose hard-right flank lifted him to power — is now staring down a potential crisis. Lawmakers are tentatively not expected back at work until Tuesday, just two days from June 1, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the U.S. could start running out of cash to pay its bills and face a federal default. Biden will also be away, departing Friday for the presidential retreat at Camp David and Sunday for his home in Wilmington, Delaware. The Senate is on recess and will be until after Memorial Day. Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings agency placed the United States’ AAA credit on “ratings watch negative,” warning of a possible downgrade. Democratic lawmakers lined up on the House floor as the workday ended to blame “extreme” Republicans for the risky potential default. “Republicans have chosen to get out of town before sundown,” said House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Weeks of negotiations between Republicans and the White House have failed to produce a deal — in part because the Biden administration has resisted negotiating with McCarthy over the debt limit, arguing that the country’s full faith and credit should not be used as leverage to extract other partisan priorities. McCarthy is holding out for steep spending cuts that Republicans are demanding in exchange for their vote to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. The White House has offered to freeze next year’s 2024 spending at current levels and restrict 2025 spending, but the Republican leader says that’s not enough. One idea is to set those topline budget numbers but then add a “snap-back” provision that enforces the cuts if Congress is unable during its annual appropriations process to meet the new goals. “We have to spend less than we spent last year. That is the starting point,” said McCarthy. Pressure is bearing down on McCarthy from the House’s right flank Freedom Caucus not to give in to any deal, even if it means blowing past the June 1 deadline. “Don’t take an exit ramp five exits too early,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a Freedom Caucus member. “Let’s hold the line.” Failure to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, now at $31 trillion, to pay America’s already incurred bills would risk a potentially chaotic federal default. Anxious retirees and social service groups are among those already making default contingency plans. Even if negotiators strike a deal in coming days, McCarthy has promised lawmakers he will abide by the rule to post any bill for 72 hours before voting — now likely Tuesday or even Wednesday. The Democratic-held Senate has vowed to move quickly to send the package to Biden’s desk, right before next Thursday’s possible deadline. Pushing a debt ceiling increase to the last minute is not uncommon for Congress, but it leaves little room for error in a volatile political environment. Both Democrats and Republicans will be needed to pass the final package in the split Congress.

White House believes up to 100 Dem votes needed on debt ceiling deal - White House aides privately estimate they may need to deliver as many as 100 Democratic votes to ensure an eventual debt limit deal can pass the narrowly divided House, two people familiar with the matter told POLITICO. The informal projection is driven by lingering doubts among Biden officials over House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ability to convince the vast majority of Republicans to back a bipartisan agreement — and the expectation that dozens of the GOP’s most conservative members are poised to rebel against any sign of a compromise. Top Democrats have long anticipated that a debt ceiling deal would require some level of Democratic support, with Biden stressing for days that any viable solution to the standoff must be bipartisan. And with negotiators still haggling over specifics of a legislative compromise, the people familiar with the matter cautioned it’s still too early to tell exactly how many Democrats will be needed to help McCarthy secure a majority, or even if a deal will be reached. But the realization that the party might need to supply a sizable percentage of the House votes to avert an economically disastrous default — not to mention passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate — has increasingly shaped the White House’s negotiating strategy. Aides have hardened their stance against certain GOP-proposed budget cuts and social welfare restrictions for fear of sparking a revolt among Democrats they may ultimately need to support a deal. “It’s important that we don’t take steps back from the very strong agenda that the president himself shepherded and led over the last two years,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “What I’ve said to Leader [Hakeem] Jeffries, and to the White House, is the president has to remember that whatever he negotiates has to go through both chambers.” The White House has rebuffed Republican efforts to expand work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as attempts to impose substantial spending cuts to a range of domestic programs, two other people familiar with the discussions said. Those disagreements contributed to the breakdown of talks last weekend and continue to complicate negotiations, with Republicans on Tuesday accusing the administration of a “lack of urgency.” But the White House has pushed back, with officials reminding Republicans that any deal McCarthy strikes will need to bring along the dozens of Democratic votes he’ll need to get it through his chamber. “The unanswered question is whether McCarthy can rally a majority for whatever deal he cuts when you know the big items are off the table,” said one adviser close to the White House. “They don’t have clarity on their side.”

Lawmakers near deal on energy permitting in debt ceiling talks - Lawmakers are nearing a modest deal on overhauling the nation’s permitting process for energy projects as part of legislation to raise thedebt ceiling and avert an unprecedented default, according to two people close to the deliberations.The emerging deal would ease the process of building the interstate transmission lines needed to carry clean electricity across the country — a top priority for Democrats and a boon for President Biden’s climate agenda, said the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private negotiations.To sweeten the deal for Republicans, the agreement would make modest changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, a 1970 law that requires the federal government to analyze the environmental impact of its proposed actions. GOP lawmakers have long blamed the bedrock environmental law for the years-long delays that plague new highways, pipelines and other infrastructure projects nationwide.The people close to the talks cautioned that lawmakers have not agreed to any final deal on energy permitting and that the contours of the emerging agreement could change in the fast-moving discussions.The transmission proposal would be based on forthcoming legislation from Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) known as the Building Integrated Grids With Inter-Regional Energy Supply (Big Wires) Act. The measure seeks to encourage the construction of transmission lines by requiring regions to transfer at least 30 percent of their peak electricity demand between each other, according to a one-page summary obtained by The Washington Post.The bill could help the United States reach Biden’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. To meet that target, energy experts say, the country needs to build more transmission lines to deliver clean electricity from far-flung wind and solar farms to urban centers.Republicans made the initial push for permitting to be included in the debt ceiling bill, with the goal of including a permitting proposal from Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a top GOP negotiator. But the emerging deal would include only incremental changes sought by Graves and other Republicans, who have championed the expansion of pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.

Debt limit negotiators near compromise on permitting - The White House is closing in on including a Democratic-led permitting overhaul plan as part of its negotiations with Republicans over the debt limit, according to two people familiar with the negotiations, though whether it winds up in a final deal remains in question.The plan, from Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), would deliver on Democratic demands on permitting — namely the need to upgrade transmission lines required for the clean energy transition. In exchange, Republicans would win “modest, tech-neutral” changes to the landmark environmental law that could benefit the fossil fuel industry, according to a person familiar with the state of play.The yet-to-be-introduced bill from the Democrats is dubbed the “Building Integrated Grids With Inter-Regional Energy Supply (BIG WIRES) Act.”A Democratic aide familiar with the talks, and granted anonymity to discuss internal congressional dynamics, said the “BIG WIRES Act” has existed conceptually for some time.Hickenlooper has been trying to lure a Republican into supporting it, the aide said, and had in the past met with Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, a top GOP negotiator, about the bill, along with White House aides.Peters said Thursday, “I’m not in the room, but we’ve offered a lot of ideas about transmission that I think would be helpful.” He added, “I think a lot of Democrats think if there’s any deal around permit reform, transmission has got to be a part of it.”

Emerging US Debt Deal Would Raise Limit, Cap Spending for Two Years - Republican and White House negotiators are moving closer to an agreement to raise the debt limit and cap federal spending for two years, according to people familiar with the matter, as time grows short to avert a catastrophic US default. The two sides have narrowed differences in talks over recent days, according to the people, though the details agreed to are tentative and a final accord is still not in hand. The two sides have yet to agree on the amount of the cap. Under the terms of the emerging agreement, defense spending would be permitted to rise 3% next year in line with President Joe Biden’s budget request. The accord would also include a measure to upgrade the nation’s electric grid to accommodate renewable energy, a key climate goal, while speeding permits for pipelines and other fossil fuel projects that the GOP favors, people familiar with the deal said. The deal would cut $10 billion from an $80 billion budget increase for the Internal Revenue Service that Biden won as part of his infrastructure bill. Republicans have warned of a wave of agents and audits while Democrats said the increase would pay for itself through less tax cheating. What is taking shape would be far more limited than the opening offer from Republicans, who called for raising the debt ceiling through next March in exchange for 10 years of spending caps. House conservatives were already balking Thursday at the notion of a small deal, with the House Freedom Caucus sending a letter to McCarthy demanding he hold firm. The tentative agreement on the two-year debt limit increase was previously reported by the New York Times. Read More: Modeling US Debt-Ceiling Risk as Talks X-Date Nears “We know where our differences lie,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol, adding that he planned to work through the holiday weekend there. “We do not have an agreement yet. We knew this would not be easy. It’s hard, but we’re working. And we’re gonna continue to work till we get this done,” he said.

Treasury's Yellen says June 5 is last date for debt ceiling to be raised - (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday set a deadline for raising the federal debt limit, saying the government would default if Congress does not increase the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling by June 5. Yellen had previously said a default could potentially happen as early as June 1, but is now characterizing June 5 as the precise deadline. "We now estimate that Treasury will have insufficient resources to satisfy the government’s obligations if Congress has not raised or suspended the debt limit by June 5," she wrote. The more precise estimate buys White House and congressional negotiators slightly more time to finalize a deal to raise the statutory ceiling on the federal government's borrowing capacity. Democratic and Republican negotiators appeared within reach of a deal on Friday but still struggled to resolve thorny differences. In a letter to Congress, Yellen said her department will make more than $130 billion of scheduled payments in the first two days in June, including to veterans and Social Security and Medicare recipients. "During the week of June 5, Treasury is scheduled to make an estimated $92 billion of payments and transfers," including a roughly $36 billion quarterly adjustment toward Social Security and Medicare trust funds, Yellen wrote. "Therefore, our projected resources would be inadequate to satisfy all of these obligations," she said. Yellen also said the department used an extraordinary cash management measure on Thursday, swapping approximately $2 billion of Treasury securities between the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and the Federal Financing Bank to stave off the potential default date. The measure was last used in 2015, she said.

U.S. Treasury's Adeyemo sees no ability to 'triage' payments without debt limit hike (Reuters) - Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said on Friday that the U.S. government does not have the capability to "triage" payments if the debt ceiling is not raised, adding that invoking the 14th amendment to issue debt will not solve the government's challenges. Speaking on CNN as the White House and congressional Republicans neared an agreement that would cap spending and raise the borrowing cap, Adeyemo said: "I don't have any confidence that we have the ability to be able to do a type of prioritization that will mean that all seniors, all veterans, all Americans get paid." A U.S. official told Reuters that the White House and congressional Republicans on Friday were putting the final touches on a deal that will raise the U.S. government's $31.4 trillion debt ceiling for two years while capping discretionary spending on everything but the military and veterans. "We're making progress. And our goal is to make sure that we get a deal because default is unacceptable," Adeyemo said, adding that Biden was seeking to keep policies in place to protect the most vulnerable Americans. After warnings of possible U.S. downgrades from credit ratings agencies, Adeyemo said he hoped that would not happen, but the debt ceiling standoff was already raising the cost of U.S. debt. He told MSNBC that a U.S. default would cause the stock market to fall, affecting Americans' retirement savings, and would raise the cost of borowing, saying that a recent bill auction cost the government an extra $80 million in interest payments. He said government payment systems are not set up to allow payments to be delayed. "We don't have a Plan B that allows us to meet the commitments that we've made to our creditors, to our seniors, to our veterans, to the American people," Adeyemo said on CNN. "The only plan we have is the one that's worked for more than 200 years in this country, which is the United States of America needs to pay all of its bills and pay them on time."

Debt limit negotiators race to finalize deal as risk of default grows — White House and House GOP negotiators are racing to finalize a deal to raise the nation’s debt limit with time running perilously short and the risk of a first-ever US default growing. There have been some signs that talks have progressed in recent days, and negotiators are hoping to announce an agreement as soon as Saturday, according to a person familiar with the matter. A source with knowledge of the negotiations told CNN on Saturday that a provision to impose new work requirements for certain social safety net programs remains a final sticking point. Republicans have been pushing this issue hard, saying beneficiaries of programs such as food stamps with no dependents should be forced to follow new rules. Democrats, however, have cast that idea as an attack on poor people. It’s unclear how the negotiators could come to an agreement, but the source told CNN the issue needs to be resolved before a deal can be reached. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy arrived at the US Capitol on Saturday morning after his top Republican negotiators, Reps. Garret Graves of Louisiana and Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, had worked late into the night drafting the final details of a deal from the speaker’s office. “I feel closer to an agreement now than I did a long time before, because I see progress. But listen, this is not easy in any shape or form. But that doesn’t back us away from it,” McCarthy told reporters. The California Republican said he’d like to hold a vote on a debt limit bill as soon as Tuesday, which would mean negotiators would need to announce a deal and send legislative text to lawmakers by Saturday.

Biden, McCarthy reach debt ceiling deal to avoid default -- Top leaders in both parties reached a long-sought deal on Saturday to avoid an unprecedented government default, announcing an agreement on a plan to lift the debt ceiling immediately and apply new caps on federal spending in the name of curbing deficits. To get there, negotiators had to iron out their differences on a small but crucial list of outstanding issues that had dogged the talks in recent days, including lower spending levels, new work requirements for social benefit programs and permitting reforms to expedite approval of energy infrastructure projects — three Republican demands that were opposed by most Democrats. The impasse became so entrenched Saturday evening that President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who had no plans to speak, staged a break-the-glass phone call in an 11th-hour effort to break the stalemate. McCarthy said during a press call that there’s still some work left to do, but he expects to post the legislative text on Sunday, and stage a floor vote the following Wednesday. The proposal still faces tall barriers to passage, particularly in the House, where conservatives wasted no time hammering the compromise as a capitulation by McCarthy to Biden — one they say has undermined the deficit reduction goals of Republicans going into the talks. They’re vowing to oppose the measure when it hits the floor. Still, the agreement marks at least a temporary victory for McCarthy, the new Speaker who has defied the odds in holding his GOP conference together on partisan messaging bills, but has yet to be tested on major, must-pass legislation that can win the backing of Democrats — particularly with the economy on the line. The compromise came on Day 11 of tense negotiations between McCarthy, Biden and their appointed deputies. And it was fueled by a warning from the Treasury Department, issued just a day earlier, that the government would run short of funds to pay down all of its obligations on June 5. Heading into the final round of talks in the Capitol on Saturday morning, McCarthy expressed confidence that Congress would meet that deadline. That’s a tall order, given the time crunch and the threats from the Senate to delay the vote in the upper chamber. Still, McCarthy said he would adhere to the promise he made to conservatives in January that the House won’t vote on the package until the legislative text has been finalized and posted for 72 hours to allow lawmakers the time to digest its contents. With the text expected on Sunday, that sets the stage for a Wednesday floor vote. “Everybody won’t like what is the end of the agreement … on both sides,” McCarthy said Saturday morning. “But … at the end of the day I think people should see what that product is before people vote on it.” The agreement drew immediate howls from both sides of the aisle, with liberals protesting that the spending cuts are too sharp and conservatives objecting that they’re not sharp enough. Those criticisms came as no surprise: A bipartisan compromise able to win endorsements from McCarthy and Biden was always expected to alienate the ideological edges of each party. The challenge now facing party leaders — not only McCarthy, but also House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) — is in rallying enough support on both sides to cobble together a bipartisan majority and send the package to the Senate.

“60 Minutes” exposé reveals massive Pentagon price-gouging - In a letter issued Friday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen advised the White House and lawmakers negotiating sweeping social cuts in connection with raising the debt ceiling that the deadline for averting a default was now June 5 instead of her previous estimate of June 1. The new Treasury estimate, conveniently announced Friday afternoon before a long Memorial Day weekend, afforded President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy extra time to lock down the votes in their respective parties needed to enact a bipartisan deal to make the working class pay for the war against Russia in Ukraine and the preparations for war against China. Media reports indicate that Biden and the Democrats have already agreed to Republican demands for a freeze on discretionary spending, with the exception of defense and veterans’ benefits. Biden’s record $1 trillion Pentagon budget, a 3 percent increase over the previous year, will remain intact, while outlays for Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, education, housing, job training, public transit and the environment will be substantially cut. There will be no increase in taxes on corporations or the rich, and money allotted to hire more Internal Revenue Service agents to crack down on wealthy tax cheats will be slashed. In the name of “fiscal responsibility,” social programs will be ravaged while the financial oligarchy and the military-industrial complex, bathed in blood, gorge themselves. A window into the criminality and plundering of American society by the Pentagon and Wall Street was provided by a CBS “60 Minutes” exposé that aired this past Sunday. The program featured Shay Assad, a former director of defense pricing and contracting at the Department of Defense. In the “60 Minutes” interview, Assad said the Pentagon overpays for “almost everything.” He called the price-gouging that takes place “unconscionable.” As an example, Assad presented two oil switches. One, with cabling, was purchased by NASA for $328. The same switch, without cabling, was purchased by the Pentagon for over $10,000. In relation to the US-NATO war against Russia in Ukraine, Assad pointed to the exorbitant price being paid for the shoulder-mounted Stinger missile. In 1991, a new missile for the launcher cost $25,000. Today, the same missile, which is supplied only by Raytheon, costs over $400,000. During his time at the Pentagon, Assad’s team authored reports showing that the Department of Defense had paid a subcontractor, TransDigm Inc., $119 million for parts that previously sold for $28 million. During the Iraq war, TransDigm raised the price of a valve needed for the Apache helicopter by 40 percent, or $737, to $1,830. Assad noted that by 2018, the same valve made by TransDigm was being sold for “almost $12,000.”

US National Security Experts Urge No More Weapons For Ukraine In NY Times --Last week, The New York Times published a full-page advertisement signed by 15 U.S. national security experts about the war in Ukraine. It was headed “The U.S. Should Be a Force for Peace in the World,” and was drafted by the Eisenhower Media Network. While condemning Russia’s invasion, the statement provides a more objective account of the crisis in Ukraine than the U.S. government or The New York Times has previously presented to the public, including the disastrous U.S. role in NATO expansion, the warnings ignored by successive U.S. administrations and the escalating tensions that ultimately led to war. The statement calls the war an “unmitigated disaster,” and urges President Joe Biden and Congress “to end the war speedily through diplomacy, especially given the dangers of military escalation that could spiral out of control.” This call for diplomacy by wise, experienced former insiders — U.S. diplomats, military officers and civilian officials — would have been a welcome intervention on any one of the past 442 days of this war. Yet their appeal now comes at an especially critical moment in the war. On May 10, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that he is delaying Ukraine’s long-awaited “spring offensive” to avoid “unacceptable” losses to Ukrainian forces. Western policy has repeatedly put Zelenskyy in near-impossible positions, caught between the need to show signs of progress on the battlefield to justify further Western support and arms deliveries and, on the other hand, the shocking human cost of continued war represented by the fresh graveyards where tens of thousands of Ukrainians now lie buried. It is not clear how a delay in the planned Ukrainian counter-attack would prevent it leading to unacceptable Ukrainian losses when it finally occurs, unless the delay in fact leads to scaling back and calling off many of the operations that have been planned. Zelensky appears to be reaching a limit in terms of how many more of his people he is willing to sacrifice to satisfy Western demands for signs of military progress to hold together the Western alliance and maintain the flow of weapons and money to Ukraine. Zelensky’s predicament is certainly the fault of Russia’s invasion, but also of his April 2022 deal with the devil in the shape of then-U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson promised Zelensky that the U.K. and the “collective West” were “in it for the long run” and would back him to recover all of Ukraine’s former territory, just as long as Ukraine stopped negotiating with Russia. Johnson was never in a position to fulfill that promise and, since he was forced to resign as prime minister, he has endorsed a Russian withdrawal only from the territory it invaded since February 2022, not a return to pre-2014 borders. Yet that compromise was exactly what he talked Zelensky out of agreeing to in April 2022, when most of the war’s dead were still alive and the framework of a peace agreement was on the table at diplomatic talks in Turkey.Zelensky has tried desperately to hold his Western backers to Johnson’s overblown promise. But short of direct U.S. and NATO military intervention, it seems that no quantity of Western weapons can decisively break the stalemate in what has degenerated into a brutal war of attrition, fought mainly by artillery and trench and urban warfare.

Hungary's Orban Says Ukraine War Can Only End With Deal Between Russia and US - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Tuesday that Ukraine is unlikely to win the war against Russia and that the only way the conflict can end is through a deal between the US and Russia.“Looking at the reality, the figures, the surroundings, the fact that NATO is not ready to send troops, it is obvious that there is no victory for the poor Ukrainians on the battlefield. That’s my position,” Orban said at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha, according to Al Jazeera.“The war can be stopped only if the Russians can make an agreement with the US. In Europe, we are not happy with that, but it’s the only way out,” Orban added.The Hungarian government’s calls for diplomacy and a ceasefire in Ukraine have angered the US, as the White House has previously come out against a pause in fighting. The US ambassador to Hungary recently slammed Budapest’s calls for peace, calling them “cynical.”Orban’s position breaks from most European leaders, but he emphasized his concern for Ukrainians, including ethnic Hungarians who are being conscripted to fight in Ukraine. “Our hearts are with the Ukrainians. We understand how much has happened,” he said. “But I am speaking here as a politician, and the solution is to save lives.”

Republican Senators Introduce Bill to Scrap Last Nuclear Arms Treaty With Russia -Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced a piece of legislation last week that would formally accuse Russia of violating New START and call on the US to withdraw from the treaty.New START is the last nuclear arms control treaty remaining between the US and Russia and places limits on the deployment of nuclear warheads and launchers. Russia suspended its participation in the treaty earlier this year but has said it will continue to abide by its limits.In a press release, Cotton slammed President Biden for agreeing with Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend New START for five years back in 2021. “President Biden should never have extended this treaty that has only made Russia and China stronger and America weaker. We should withdraw from the treaty and bolster our nuclear forces,” Cotton said.The legislation would also place conditions on future arms control negotiations. It would require any deals that place limits on the US and Russia’s nuclear arsenals to include China, although Beijing’s nuclear arsenal is vastly smaller.The bill would prohibit “unilateral reductions and prohibit the bargaining away of US missile defenses.” It would also ban “the use of funds to implement the New START Treaty or any future arms control agreement unless it meets the bill’s required stipulations.”So far, the legislation has gained 10 Republican co-sponsors, including Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Our legislation will correct these mistakes by conditioning future arms control agreements with Russia to include all classes of nuclear weapons as well as China. We must be prepared for a strategic environment in which the United States faces two nuclear peers – China and Russia,” Risch said.Responding to the legislation, the Kremlin said there has been no serious talks with the US on arms control. “We can now only state with regret that there are no serious, substantive contacts on these issues between Moscow and Washington,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “Let’s just say that the last remnants of the international legal framework in this area are slipping away.”

Russia Warns US Against Enabling Attacks on Crimea - Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, warned Sunday that Russia would consider a US-backed Ukrainian strike on Crimea as serious as an attack on the Russian mainland.Antonov’s comments came in response to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan saying the US wouldn’t stop Ukraine from using American-provided weapons on Crimea, a statement that came after President Biden signed off on European countries delivering F-16s to Kyiv.Sullivan told CNN that “Crimea is Ukraine” despite the peninsula being under Russian control since 2014. “We have not placed limitations on Ukraine being able to strike on its territory within its internationally recognized borders,” Sullivan said. “What we have said is that we will not enable Ukraine with US systems, Western systems, to attack Russia. And we believe Crimea is Ukraine.”Not restricting Ukrainian attacks on Crimea has been the US position throughout the war. In July 2022, when asked by if the ban on Ukraine using the HIMARS rocket systems to target Russian territory applies to Crimea, the State Department replied, “Crimea is Ukraine.”Antonov said that the US’s “unconditional approval of strikes on Crimea” and the provision of F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine “once again make it clear that the US has never been interested in peace.” He said Russia will view strikes on Crimea “as an attack on any other region of the Russian Federation” and said the US should consider a potential Russian response.Secretary of State Antony Blinken has previously acknowledged that Ukrainian attacks on Crimea are a “red line” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. But other US officials have declared that the US supports Ukraine striking Crimea, including Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Russia Issues Dire Warning After US Approves Ukrainian Strikes On Crimea - Russia has issued another stern warning related to further potential Ukrainian attacks on Crimea. "Strikes on this territory are considered by us as an attack on any other region of the Russian Federation. It is important that the United States is fully aware of the Russian response," Moscow’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, warned Sunday.This was in response to an earlier weekend statement by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to CNN. He said while speaking from the G7 summit in Japan over the weekend, “we have not placed limitations on Ukraine being able to strike on its territory… What we’ve said is that we won't enable Ukraine with US-systems to attack Russia. And we believe Crimea is Ukraine.”However, the US has consistently denied that it has OK'd Ukraine using US-supplied advanced weaponry to mount such attacks. Antonov further stated on Telegram in response that "the unconditional approval of strikes on Crimea using American and other Western weapons" alongside the move among Western allies to supply Ukraine with jets "clearly demonstrate that the United States has never been interested in peace."He warned the US administration against "thoughtless judgments on Crimea, especially in terms of ‘blessing’ the Kiev regime for air attacks" on the peninsula.Per Russian state media, other Kremlin officials weighed in even more forcefully, warning that even nuclear disaster could be the result:Sullivan’s remarks likewise triggered outrage from Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Georgy Muradov, who opined that by allowing Ukraine to use US-made planes to target the peninsula, the White House had “agreed to unleashing a nuclear war.”The official recalled that Crimea hosts Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. “An attack on one of the pillars of Russia’s strategic security legally obliges our country to use all available means to prevent it from being undermined.”Russia has also recently accused Ukrainian forces of using UK-supplied long range rockets which are capable of hitting inside Russia.

Biden To Green-Light Allies Transferring F-16s to Ukraine - The US will allow its European partners to transfer F-16s to Kiev,according to the Washington Post. Earlier this week, the UK and Netherlands began forming a coalition to send the American-made fighter jets to Ukraine.A person "familiar with the decision" told the Post that the White House informed its allies it would not block their plans to provide Kiev with F-16s. When Washington sells F-16s, the buyer must agree that the US government can block the planes from being transferred to a third country.A senior administration official said the plan would include training "on fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s, to further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force."The official continued, "As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them," adding, "This training will take place outside Ukraine at sites in Europe and will require months to complete." According to the officials, training could begin during the coming weeks. Defense officials have previously estimated that Ukrainian pilots could learn how to fly the F-16 in as little as six to nine months. While Colin Kahl, a senior Department of Defense official, told Congress the process will take up to two years and $11 billion for Ukraine to successfully deploy the fighter jet.The US and UK have already started training a limited number of Ukrainian pilots on Western aircraft.In January, during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Biden ruled out sending F-16s to Ukraine. Macron said Paris would only be open to transferring fighter jets to Ukraine if Kiev pledged not to carry out attacks on Russian soil. In his many appeals for more advanced weapons from his Western partners, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged not to use the weapons to attack Russian territory. However, that pledge does not extend to the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014. Additionally, documents included in the Discord Leaks showed Zelensky was plotting to attack Russia, notwithstanding his many promises.

Biden Okays F-16s For Ukraine, US Weapons To Attack Crimea – The Biden administration has signed off on both F-16s for Ukraine and attacks on Crimea using US-made weapons. Both of these moves have drawn dire warnings from nuclear-armed Russia, and both would have been unthinkable a year ago.In a Sunday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper from the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan made it clear that Washington would approve of US weapons being used in an offensive to recapture Crimea, a horrifying prospect that many experts have agreed is the most likely scenario to lead to nuclear warfare in this conflict. Sullivan told Tapper that while the US has forbidden the use of American weapons to attack Russia, the US considers Crimea to be part of Ukraine, not Russia.Here’s CNN’s transcript of the exchange:Moscow has considered Crimea a part of the Russian Federation since its annexation in 2014, meaning efforts to recapture it would — at least in theory — be treated the same as an invasion of any other part of Russia. It was only by way of an arbitrary bureaucratic fluke that Crimea wound up a part of Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Crimeans overwhelmingly prefer to be a part of the Russian Federation. That we may soon be staring down the barrel of a nuclear third world war over something so pedantic is a very dark shade of absurd.In the same interview, Tapper questioned Sullivan about the Biden administration’s policy shift toward approving F-16 fighter jets to be sent to Ukraine, demanding to know why the war planes weren’t approved sooner.“President Biden told the G7 leaders that the United States is going to support this joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets,” said Tapper. “As you know, just a few months ago, the president said there was no basis militarily for giving Ukraine jets and that Ukraine didn’t need them at all. What changed? And would these jets not have been more effective if Ukraine had been trained and had them in time for the upcoming counteroffensive?”It’s so obnoxious how the only time you ever see these mass media propagandists challenging the US government on its warmongering is when they’re pushing it to be more warlike and demanding answers on why it isn’t warmongering more. This creates the illusion of brave adversarial journalism, when in reality these empire cronies are just manufacturing consent for the increased aggressions the US wants to wage anyway.

Russia Says West Providing F-16s to Ukraine a 'Colossal Risk' - A Russian official said Saturday that the Western plans to provide Ukraine with American-made F-16 fighter jets bring “colossal risks”after the US announced it would sign off on European countries delivering the aircraft.“We see that Western countries are still adhering to the escalation scenario. It involves colossal risks for themselves,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, according to TASS.“In any case, this will be taken into account in all our plans, and we have all the necessary means to achieve the goals we have set,” Grushko added.During the last day of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, President Biden was asked about Russia calling the F-16 plan a “colossal risk.” He replied, “It is for them.”The provision of F-16s marks a significant escalation of NATO support for Ukraine. The alliance previously ruled out providing Ukraine with Soviet-made fighter jets over fears that Moscow would perceive the move as NATO directly entering the war.But earlier this year, Poland and Slovakia took the escalatory step of sending Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets, and now F-16s appear to be on the way, although there’s no clear timeline for when they will reach Kyiv.Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands all have F-16s, but they have yet to officially confirm they will be supplying them. First, Ukrainian pilots need to be trained on the F-16s, and estimates on how long that could take vary significantly.Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, previously told Congress the training could take 18 to 24 months. Other Pentagon officials have said an expedited version of the training could take four to nine months.

Air Force Secretary Says F-16s Won't Be a 'Game-Changer' for Ukraine - Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday that the provision of F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv will give Ukraine’s military an “incremental” boost but said it wouldn’t be a “game-changer” in the conflict.“The F-16 is a reasonable option for them for a whole bunch of reasons,” Kendall said. “It will give Ukrainians an increment of capabilities that they don’t have right now. But it’s not going to be a dramatic game-changer, as far as I’m concerned, for their total military capabilities.”The US announced on Friday that it would sign off on European deliveries of F-16s for Ukraine, but there’s still a long way to go before the planes reach Kyiv. No countries have officially committed to sending their F-16s, and the current focus is on supporting training for Ukrainian pilots. Estimates vary significantly on how long it might take to train Ukrainian pilots. Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, previously said the training could take up to two years, but Kendall said he expected the Ukrainians to only need a few months.“Everything we’ve done with the Ukrainians, they’ve shown a capacity to learn. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more motivated individuals, in terms of wanting to get into the fight and make a difference,” he said. Kendall acknowledged that the West providing F-16s “is seen by some as an escalatory act on our part.” Russia has warned that sending the aircraft to Ukraine comes with “colossal risks,” a warning that was dismissed by President Biden.

Boris Johnson Sent to Texas to Lobby Republicans to Keep Arming Ukraine - Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with a group of Republicans in Texas on Monday to urge them to continue supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia, POLITICO reported.The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), a pro-Ukrainian think tank based in Washington, decided to enlist Johnson to push Republicans to support Ukraine as more and more GOP members have questioned the policy of flooding weapons into the country with no clear goal.“I just urge you all to stick with it,” Johnson told a group of Texas Republicans in Dallas. “You are backing the right horse. Ukraine is going to win. They are going to defeat Putin.” While visiting Texas, Johnson also met with former President George W. Bush and Governor Greg Abbot.Alina Polyakova, the chief executive of CEPA, said Johnson was enlisted because he is “very much seen as the architect of the Western policy” on Ukraine.Johnson was a staunch backer of the West’s proxy war with Russia during his time in office and played an integral role in helping scuttle peace talks that we being held in the early days of the conflict. In April 2022, then-Prime Minister Johnson traveled to Kyiv and urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky not to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to a report from Ukrainska Pravda, Johnson also told Zelensky that even if Ukraine was ready to sign a deal with Russia, Kyiv’s Western backers were not. The report said Johnson’s visit was a crucial factor in Ukraine calling off a potential Zelensky-Putin meeting.

US Says It’s Investigating Reports of US Equipment Used in Belgorod Raid - Biden administration officials have said that the US is looking into reports of US military equipment being used in a cross-border raid that was launched from Ukraine into Russia’s Belgorod region.Both Russia and the militias that launched the attack said US armored vehicles were used in the raid. But the Biden administration is claiming the reports aren’t confirmed.“We are looking into those reports, but as I’ve said, we have not yet reached any conclusions about them,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said at a press briefing on Wednesday. Miller refused to say what potential consequences there would be for Ukraine if US equipment were used in the attack or if there would be any at all.White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also said the US was looking into the reports. “We’ve been pretty darn clear: We don’t support the use of US-made equipment for attacks inside Russia … we’ve been clear about that with the Ukrainians,” he said.The Kremlin said Wednesday that the use of US military equipment in a cross-border raid in Russia’s Belgorod region demonstrates the West’s growing involvement in the war between Russia and Ukraine.Miller also claimed that the US has not come to a conclusion as to who carried out the attacks. Two groups of Russians who had volunteered to fight for Kyiv took credit for the raid, the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps.The Russian Volunteer Corps has members who are open neo-Nazis and white nationalists, including its leader, Denis Nikitin. He told Financial Times that his fighters were armed with US armored vehicles, including at least two MRAPs, and several Humvees. Videos and pictures posted by Russia’s military matched Nikitin’s claims.

Top US General: Ukraine Should Not Use US Equipment to Attack Russia - The top US general reaffirmed that Kiev has long been asked not to use military equipment provided by Washington to conduct attacks against Russian territory, according to Reuters. This policy is necessary because such attacks could provoke a direct clash between NATO and Russia, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley emphasized while speaking with reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday. Milley’s comments came after a neo-Nazi group, which operates as part of Kiev’s armed forces and cooperates with Ukrainian military intelligence, carried out a cross-border raid in Russia. Denis Nikitin is the leader of the Russian Volunteer Corps, which is said to be made up of Russian citizens including some members of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion who fought, since 2014, for Kiev during the Donbas war. Nikitin said his men were using US equipment, such as two M1224 MaxxPro armored vehicles, also known as MRAPs, during the raid. Members of another militia, the Freedom of Russia Legion, also participated in the assault.According to Russian officials, the terrorists launched mortar and artillery attacks against civilian infrastructure and residential areas in the Belgorod region on Monday. Ukraine’s military intelligence hints that they were behind the attack, while stopping short of officially taking credit. Though, some documents included in the Discord Leaks suggest that Ukrainian President Zelensky’s regime was planningsimilar operations, specifically using these Russian volunteers equipped with "various qualitative types of NATO weapons."According to the New York Times, US officials believe Kiev was behind Monday’s raid and the recent attempted drone strike on the Kremlin, which Moscow believes was an attempt to kill Russian President Vladimir Putin. The officials also believe Kiev is responsible for a series of assassinations and other covert attacks within Russia. Moreover, the deputy head of Ukraine’s main intelligence directorate admittedthis week that they are actively attempting to assassinate Putin and other Russian officials. Kiev’s position is that the Belgorod raid was carried out independently from Zelensky’s intelligence and military services. But the Freedom of Russia Legion’s special representative, Ilya Ponomarev, said the groupreceived Kiev’s "green light" regarding the attack. Pictures and videosposted by the Russian military have confirmed Nikitin’s claims.

Rep. Nadler ‘Wouldn’t Care’ If Ukraine Used F-16s to Strike Russian Territory - Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said Wednesday that he “wouldn’t care” if Ukraine used American-made F-16s to strike Russian territory despite the risk of such an attack escalating into a direct clash between the US and Russia.When asked by Epoch Times reporter Liam Cosgrove if he was concerned about the potential of Ukraine using F-16s to hit targets inside Russia, Nadler said, “No, I’m not concerned. I wouldn’t care if they did.”Nadler said it was unlikely Ukraine would use F-16s to attack Russian territory, but Cosgrove pointed out that US-made armored vehicleswere used in a cross-border raid in Russia’s Belgorod region that was launched on Monday.“That may be, but they’re not gonna use major weapons. Things like F-16s, they need for air defense over Ukraine so that they can provide air cover for their counterattack and things like that. They’re not gonna waste it in Russia,” Nadler said.Russia has said providing Ukraine with F-16s brings “colossal risks,” a warning brushed off by President Biden. In the early days of the war, NATO chose not to provide Kyiv with fighter jets over concerns Moscow would perceive the move as the alliance directly entering the war.

G7 Leaders Take Aim at China, But Biden Expects 'Thaw' in Relations - The joint communiqué released by the Group of Seven leaders during the summit over the weekend in Hiroshima, Japan, took aim at China over several issues, but President Biden said Sunday that he expects a “thaw” in relations with Beijing.National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan recently held a meeting with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi. But for months beforehand, Beijing essentially cut off high-level contacts with Washington after Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned trip to China over the Chinese balloon that wound up over US territory in February due to unexpected weather.Biden noted that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to maintain high-level communication when they met in Bali, Indonesia, last November. “And then this silly balloon that was carrying two freight cars’ worth of spying equipment was flying over the United States, and it got shot down, and everything changed in terms of talking to one another. I think you’re going to see that begin to thaw very shortly,” he said.For their part, China maintains that the balloon was a weather balloon and not a surveillance device. The US has not provided evidence for the claim that it was carrying spy equipment.While expecting a thaw in relations, Biden has shown no sign of backing down on his hardline policies against China. The Hiroshima summit came as the US is preparing to provide Taiwan with $500 million in “free” weapons, and after the US deployed about 200 troops to the island, steps the Chinese military called “intolerable.”The Biden administration is also taking economic action against China and is considering screening US investment in the country. At the summit in Hiroshima, the G7 leaders accused China of “economic coercion.”

China Questions US 'Sincerity' About Improving Communications - On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry questioned the US’s sincerity in its calls for more communication and engagement with Beijing after President Biden said he expected a “thaw” between the two nations.“China and the US maintain necessary communication. However, now the US says it wants to speak to the Chinese side while seeking to suppress China through all possible means and impose sanctions on Chinese officials, institutions and companies. Is there any sincerity in and significance of any communication like this?” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning. President Biden made his comments on Sunday during the final day of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan. He was asked if the US was considering lifting sanctions on China’s new defense minister to pave the way for more communication between the US and Chinese militaries and said the issue was “under negotiation.”Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu was appointed to his post in March. Li was targeted with US sanctions while he was the head of China’s Equipment Development Department over its purchase of Russian SU-35 fighter aircraft and S-400 air defense systems from Russia. The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday called for the US to “immediately lift sanctions and take concrete actions to remove obstacles, create favorable atmosphere and conditions for dialogue and communication.”

China Bans Micron As Supplier Over 'Major National Security Risk' - On Sunday, the Cyberspace Administration of China said that Micron failed a national security review, and that its products contain "significant security risks" that would affect national security. The agency has warned operators of key Chinese information infrastructure (telecom firms and state-owned banks in particular) against purchasing Micron products. "We are evaluating the conclusion and assessing our next steps," Micron told the Journal. "We look forward to continuing to engage in discussions with Chinese authorities." The Chinese ban came less than two months after Beijing announced an investigation on imports from Micron, the largest memory-chip maker in the U.S., in what seemed a political gesture aimed at hitting back at a sweeping ban Washington put in place late last year on selling advanced chip-making technology to China. Chinese officials believe certain American companies lobbied the Biden administration to institute the ban. The Micron probe suggested Beijing zeroed in on Micron as a particular target. It also comes as China has broadly ratcheted up pressure on foreign businesses in a bid to fortify its economy from foreign influence. –WSJ According to Lester Ross, a Beijing-based lawyer at WilmerHale which advises US companies doing business in China, the impact could be broader than initially thought."Other domestic customers may also consider this to be a political signal to stop buying, and even replace, their products," he said.The action against Micron follows Beijing's condemnation of a recent statement issued by President Joe Biden and the leaders of six other countries which have pledged to take action against the transfer of sensitive technology to China, and to protect nations from what they've characterized as Chinese intimidation tactics.

U.S. 'won't tolerate' China's ban on Micron chips, Raimondo says (Reuters) - The United States "won't tolerate" China's effective ban on purchases of Micron Technology memory chips and is working closely with allies to address such "economic coercion," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Saturday. Raimondo told a news conference after a meeting of trade ministers in the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework talks that the U.S. "firmly opposes" China's actions against Micron. These "target a single U.S. company without any basis in fact, and we see it as plain and simple economic coercion and we won't tolerate it, nor do we think it will be successful."

Microsoft Says CCP Hackers Compromised 'Critical' US Infrastructure As DHS Warns Of 'Grave Threat' - Microsoft on Wednesday warned that a Chinese state-sponsored hacking group - "Volt Typhoon" has compromised "critical" US cyber infrastructure across several industries - including manufacturing, construction, maritime, government, information technology and education. The group, which has operated since 2021, is apparently working to disrupt "critical communications infrastructure between the United States and Asia," as well as gather intelligence, in order to weaken efforts during "future crises." Infrastructure in nearly every critical sector has been impacted, Microsoft said, including the communications, transport, and maritime industries. Government organizations were also targeted. –CNBC According to the advisory from Microsoft - which has "directly notified targeted or compromised customers," the attack is apparently ongoing. The company has urged impacted customers to "close or change credentials for all compromised accounts." As Bloomberg notes, "Guam, a US island territory located 1,600 miles (about 2,600 kilometers) east of Manila, has become an increasingly important military and strategic hub as tensions with China ratchet up, including the possibility that it might use its military to enforce its claim to the self-ruled island of Taiwan." Volt Typhoon initially gained access to the targeted organizations through internet-facing devices manufactured by Fortinet Inc., a Sunnyvale, California-based cybersecurity company, according to Microsoft, adding it was still investigating how the hackers were able to access the equipment. The hackers used whatever privileges they could gain from the Fortinet devices to extract more credentials to authenticate to other devices on the networks, Microsoft said. There, the hackers intended “to perform espionage and maintain access without being detected for as long as possible,” Microsoft added. –Bloomberg Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has warned that the CCP presents a "grave threat" to the US homeland - and is actively working to undermine US security and damage America's economic standing, according to a senior official.

House China Committee Proposes 10 Ways to Prepare for War With China Over Taiwan -The House’s new committee on China released 10 recommendations for ways that the US should increase support for Taiwan to prepare for a future war with China over the island. Members of the panel are looking to include their recommendations in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).Some of the ideas were lessons the members of Congress said they learned from a recent war game they participated in that was conducted by the Center for a New American Security, a hawkish think tank funded by US arms makers and the Taiwanese government.According to Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), the war game showed that the US would quickly run out of long-range missiles in a war with China over Taiwan. As a result, the first recommendation is for the US to make more long-range missiles.Gallagher also said that the war game showed it would take the US and its allies time to craft economic sanctions to target China during a conflict. Because of that, the panel wants the US and its allies to plan economic measures ahead of time.The panel shared the 10 recommendations on Twitter, which include:

  1. Manufacture & supply more long-range missiles to the Indo- Pacific region
  2. Devise severe economic costs in concert with our allies ahead of time, should China act against Taiwan
  3. Expand combined military training between the United States and Taiwan
  4. Deliver the $19 billion of backlogged military equipment and weapons that Taiwan ordered from the United States
  5. Establish a US military Joint Task Force or Joint Force HQ for crisis command and control in Indo-Pacific Command
  6. Enhance cyber resiliency in US critical infrastructure, especially at port, air, and rail facilities with emphasis on military mobility
  7. Help train Taiwan to strengthen its own cybersecurity
  8. Create a US-Taiwan Combined Planning Group to build stronger relationships between our defense forces
  9. Strengthen US military posture in the region by expanding bases with allies, hardening fuel depots, and enhancing logistics
  10. Expand Taiwan’s military stockpiles and resiliency to attack

Each recommendation would be seen as provocative from the perspective of Beijing, especially steps to increase joint military training between the US and Taiwan and US efforts to ship more weapons to the island. The Biden administration is currently planning to provide Taiwan with $500 million in “free” weapons using the Presidential Drawdown Authority, the primary authority the US has used to arm Ukraine. The US also recently deployed 200 troops to Taiwan to assist in training, marking the largest known US military presence on the island since Washington severed diplomatic relations in 1979. The Chinese military has called these steps “absolutely intolerable.” Gallagher and other China hawks are trying to sell their recommendations as “deterrence” and necessary to prevent a war, but Beijing’s actions have made clear that Taiwan will come under more Chinese military pressure in response to new types of US support for the island.

Pentagon Admits It Doesn't Know Who It Killed in Syria Drone Strike - US military officials are walking back claims that a drone strike Central Command (CENTCOM) launched on May 3 in northwest Syria killed a senior al-Qaeda leader after evidence emerged that a civilian was killed. When the strike was first launched in Syria’s northwest Idlib province, reports immediately emerged that the strike killed a sheep herder with no ties to any militant groups. The Associated Press spoke with family members and neighbors of the victim, Lotfi Hassan Misto, who insisted he was innocent. According to The Washington Post, Misto was a 56-year-old father of 10, and the paper spoke with terrorism experts who said it was unlikely he was affiliated with al-Qaeda.“We are no longer confident we killed a senior AQ official,” an unnamed military official told the Post. Another official claimed the person they killed was al-Qaeda but offered no evidence. “Though we believe the strike did not kill the original target, we believe the person to be al-Qaeda,” the official said. CENTCOM’s initial press release on the strike did not name the person they killed. Since then, the command has refused to share any details of the operation or say why they could have targeted the wrong person.The US military is notorious for undercounting civilian casualties or lying about them. The Pentagon is also known for investigating itself and finding no wrongdoing, even in instances of significant civilian deaths, such as the August 2021 Kabul drone strike that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.

US Building New Base in Northern Syria - The US is building a new military base in Syria’s northern province of Raqqa, The New Arab reported, citing a source close to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).The US backs the SDF and keeps about 900 troops in eastern Syria, allowing the US to control about one-third of Syria’s territory. The report said there are currently about 24 US-led military sites spread throughout eastern Syria. While the US says it’s in Syria to fight ISIS, the presence is part of Washington’s economic war against Damascus, which includes crippling economic sanctions. ISIS also holds no significant territory, and the Syrian government and its allies would continue to fight the remnants of the terror group if the US withdrew. But the construction of a new base demonstrates the US plans to continue the occupation indefinitely. In March, the House voted downa resolution introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) that would have ordered President Biden to withdraw from Syria. The legislation failed in a vote of 103-321, with 56 Democrats and 47 Republicans voting in favor of the bill.The House also recently voted to maintain sanctions on Syria after an earthquake killed thousands of Syrians. Only two members of Congress voted against the legislation.The US could come under pressure to withdraw from Syria and lift sanctions on the country as more and more regional countries are normalizing ties with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Arabia spearheaded an effort to bring Syria back into the Arab League despite US objection.

U.S.-led Indo-Pacific talks produce deal on supply chain early warnings (Reuters) - Trade ministers of 14 countries in the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) talks "substantially completed" negotiations on an agreement to make supply chains more resilient and secure, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Saturday. The "first of its kind" agreement calls for countries to form a council to coordinate supply chain activities and a "Crisis Response Network" to give early warnings to IPEF countries of potential supply disruptions, Raimondo told a news conference following a ministerial meeting in Detroit. The deal provides an emergency communications channel for IPEF countries to seek support during supply chain disruptions, coordinate more closely during a crisis and recover more quickly. Raimondo cited shortages of semiconductors during the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down American auto production, idling thousands of workers. The supply chains agreement, led by Commerce, marks the first tangible outcome of a year's worth of IPEF discussions. But it is just one the four "pillars" of the IPEF talks. The other pillars -- trade, climate transition, and labor and inclusiveness -- are more complex and expected to take longer to negotiate. The supply chains agreement also includes a new labor rights advisory board aimed at raising labor standards in supply chains, consisting of government, worker, and employer representatives, the Commerce Department said.

House duo introduce bipartisan immigration package offering ‘dignity status’ - A bipartisan House duo has introduced a new immigration measure that would offer a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants in the U.S. while investing in border security.The bill comes on the heels of a GOP-passed House bill all but guaranteed to fail in the Senate, which places severe limits on asylum. Reps. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) and Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) see their legislation as having a better chance for success that the hardline GOP bill, charging undocumented workers a “1.5 percent dignity levy” in taxes and other fees that will pay for both border security and job training for American citizens. “This is a historical moment. Two members of Congress — one Democrat, one Republican — decided to work on one of the most divisive topics in this country: immigration. Who wants to do that? Very few people,” Salazar said at a Tuesday press conference, noting no immigration legislation has had serious traction in a decade. The legislation is Salazar’s second crack at The Dignity Act, a bill she introduced during her first year of Congress in 2021, and the word is weaved throughout the programs created by the updated bill. For those already in the U.S. with no criminal record, the legislation would allow undocumented workers to enter with “dignity status,” allowing them to work anywhere and travel abroad freely. They must pay $700 in fees a year for seven years — just under $5,000 dollars — while under the status. Meanwhile, their payroll taxes will drop from 7 percent to 1.5, as they will not be charged for contributing to U.S. government programs for which they are not eligible. She noted those under dignity status will be responsible for paying for their own health care. The billions raised though the dignity status fees will go towards funding border security. The 1.5 percent tax will fund the worker training. Salazar repeatedly addressed likely skeptics within her own party, as well as common refrains posed by immigration restrictions. “No one can say the undocumented are stealing anything away from you,” she said, pointing to the job training program. Getting on the path to citizenship would kick off another five-year process for those with dignity status, one that takes five years and requires another $5,000. But it comes with a major snag — no one would have citizenship granted through the program unless the Government Accountability Office determines the border has remained secure for a year. For those seeking asylum at the border, the bill would establish humanitarian campuses, where migrants would be housed while they await a determination in their case — something the bill mandates must take place within 60 days rather than the years-long process many await in immigration court currently.

New York Dems beg Biden to fast-track migrant work permits - — New York Democrats banded together Monday with a simple message for President Joe Biden: Put asylum-seekers to work. New York City Mayor Adams, Gov. Kathy Hochul, Reps. Dan Goldman andJerry Nadler joined labor and business leaders at a Brooklyn press conference to ask Biden for special federal work authorization for the tens of thousands of migrants who’ve arrived in the state since last year. The state’s top Democrats called for expedited executive action to alleviate some of the pressure on the city’s social safety net. “Without legislation, we can get this done,” Hochul said. It was the first time a group of powerful New York Democrats have banded together to press Biden on immigration — a significant issue in the 2024 elections. Party infighting on immigration would weaken Biden’s reelection campaign and provide an easy line of attack to Republicans. A White House official responded to the New York Democrats by saying certain populations are already eligible for work authorization and pointed to the administration’s use of Temporary Protected Status. “We need Congress to act,” the official said in a statement. “Only they can reform and modernize our decades-old immigration laws.” Once migrants arrive in the U.S., they have to wait 180 days after filing an application for required paperwork. The backlog fuels an underground economy that makes workers vulnerable to exploitation. Meanwhile, New York City is struggling to fill thousands of vacancies across municipal agencies. Adams and Hochul urged an expansion of Temporary Protected Status, a program that allows certain immigrants to work legally in the U.S., to more countries. The state needs additional immigration judges, too, they said.

NAACP issues travel warning in Florida: the state ‘has become--hostile to Black Americans’ -- The NAACP issued a formal travel advisory for Florida on Saturday, saying the state has become “hostile to Black Americans” under Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) leadership. “On a seeming quest to silence African-American voices, the Governor and the State of Florida have shown that African Americans are not welcome in the State of Florida,” the travel advisory reads. “Due to this sustained, blatant, relentless and systemic attack on democracy and civil rights, the NAACP hereby issues a travel advisory to African Americans, and other people of color regarding the hostility towards African Americans in Florida,” the group added. The advisory points to several of DeSantis’s controversial policies, including legislation he signed on Monday to prohibit colleges from spending public funds on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The Florida governor also previously signed the Stop WOKE Act, restricting how workplaces and schools can discuss race during required training or instruction, and blocked an Advanced Placement African American Studies course in the state’s public schools, claiming it lacked “educational value.” “Let me be clear — failing to teach an accurate representation of the horrors and inequalities that Black Americans have faced and continue to face is a disservice to students and a dereliction of duty to all,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement. “Under the leadership of Governor Desantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to Black Americans and in direct conflict with the democratic ideals that our union was founded upon,” Johnson added.

White Nationalists, Hindu Supremacists: the Pathologies of the World's Two Largest Democracies – Are you worried about the rising political power of violent white nationalists in America? Well, you’ve got plenty of company, including U.S. national security and counterterrorism officials. And we’re worried, too — worried enough, in fact, to feel that it’s time to take a look at the experience of India, where Hindu supremacist dogma has increasingly been enforced through violent means. While there are striking parallels between both countries, India appears to have ventured further down the road of far-right violence. Its experience could potentially offer Americans some valuable, if grim, lessons.As a start, let’s look at two recent incidents, one in India and the other in the United States.Laws passed in most Indian states against the killing of cattle have served as a common pretext for the violent enforcement of Hindu beliefs. Recently, for example, three men were arrested on charges of abducting and murdering Junaid and Nasir, two Muslim men transporting cattle through the northern state of Haryana. They first beat Junaid to death, then strangled Nasir. Both bodies were incinerated in a car left at the side of the road. That attack was linked to paramilitary gangs known as gao rakshaks (cow protectors) who, in these last years, have been on a rampage of violence in northern India, though similar horrors have recently been recorded further south in Maharashtra, home to India’s largest city, Mumbai. In the United States, too, violent hatred is both on the rise and being all too perversely celebrated on the right. Within three days of being charged with involuntary manslaughter, Daniel Penny, the U.S. Marine veteran who made national news by choking to death Jordan Neely, a homeless, mentally ill Black man on a New York City subway car, raised a whopping $2.7 million from the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. Charged with manslaughter, he’s already been dubbed a “subway Superman” by Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, while his fellow Floridian, Governor Ron DeSantis, tweeted that to “stop the Left’s pro-criminal agenda” we all must “stand with Good Samaritans like Daniel Penny.”Sadly enough, those episodes, occurring half a globe apart, are just two data points in surges of violent extremism sweeping both India and the United States. That trend first took off in India in 2014 with the election victory of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), making him prime minister. In the United States, it hit big time with the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president. But such mayhem — and the broad approval of political violence by Hindu supremacists there and white supremacists here — has only grown in the years since.

DOJ expands anti-profiling rules to cover thousands more - The Justice Department issued new guidance Thursday emphasizing that investigations must be free from bias involving race and gender or against people with disabilities. Anti-profiling rules were also expanded to include thousands more people who work in the justice system. The guidelines obtained by The Associated Press are the first updates in nearly a decade and now cover thousands more people than before, including prosecutors, lawyers, analysts and contractors. They already applied to agents for Justice Department agencies such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration and local officers who work with them on task forces. Released on the third anniversary of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, the update also requires, for the first time, more extensive data collection measures that are intended to ensure the guidance is being followed. “We recognize that we have a responsibility to lead by example,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. The American Civil Liberties Union said the changes are a step forward, but that the guidelines don’t fully ban bias across national security activities, including areas where the most harm have occurred like watch lists and pressuring to become informants. “We welcome the improvements the Justice Department has made, but are disappointed that after so much work and communities’ calls for change, this policy falls short of a full and effective ban on discrimination by federal agencies,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, in a statement. The Justice Department effort is intended to root out biased practices condemned as unfair and likely to create mistrust and violate civil rights. The guidelines aim to bar bias based on the use of race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and now, disability. “Fair and unbiased law enforcement practices are smart and effective law enforcement practices,” according to the guidance.

Oath Keepers founder gets 18 years in prison, longest Jan. 6 sentence yet | Reuters(Reuters) - The founder of the far-right militant Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Thursday for seditious conspiracy, the longest sentence imposed to date over the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot that sought to keep Donald Trump in the White House. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta delivered the sentence after a defiant Rhodes stood before him in an orange jumpsuit and claimed he was a "political prisoner" who, like Trump, was trying to oppose people "who are destroying our country." “For decades, Mr. Rhodes, it is clear you have wanted the democracy of this country to devolve into violence," Mehta told him. "I dare say, Mr. Rhodes, and I've never said this about anyone who I've sentenced: You, sir, present an ongoing threat and peril to this country, to the republic and the very fabric of our democracy." Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper turned Yale-educated lawyer, was convicted in November by a federal court jury in Washington. Rhodes' prison term represents the longest sentence for any of the 1,000-plus people charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack by supporters of Republican then-President Trump in a failed bid to block Congress from certifying Democratic rival Joe Biden's November 2020 election victory. Until now, the longest sentence was 14 years in prison given to a Pennsylvania man who attacked police during the rampage. Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 25 years for Rhodes.

Two more Oath Keepers sentenced to prison over US Capitol attack | (Reuters) - Two members of the far-right Oath Keepers were sentenced to prison on Friday for their roles in the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump who tried to overturn his presidential election defeat. Kenneth Harrelson and Jessica Watkins were convicted in November by a federal jury in Washington of obstruction of an official proceeding for their roles in the storming of the Capitol, which saw rioters battle police, smash windows and send lawmakers running for their lives. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta on Friday sentenced Harrelson to four years in prison. Earlier on Friday, the judge imposed a prison sentence of eight and a half years for Watkins. Harrelson was also found guilty of conspiring to prevent members of Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's election win as well as tampering with documents and proceedings. Watkins was also convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of officers during the riots. Watkins and Harrelson were acquitted of seditious conspiracy charges. Mehta said he believes Harrelson is "genuinely remorseful" and that he did not think the Oath Keeper was as responsible as other members of the far-right militia he was charged alongside. The judge added that the evidence in Harrelson's case did not include messages from him that talked about "revolution" or other extremist terms, like other Oath Keepers had, and noted that he did not physically attack or threaten to assault any police officers at the Capitol that day. Evidence displayed during trial included a video in which Harrelson could be heard chanting the word "treason" as he entered the U.S. Capitol. "He wanted to intimidate members of Congress and people working in that building," prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler said.

Durbin pans Harlan Crow for hiding info about gifts to Clarence Thomas -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday said GOP megadonor Harlan Crow “did not provide a credible justification” for not providing the panel with information related to the gifts he has given to Justice Clarence Thomas over the years. Durbin said in a statement that the committee received a letter Monday from a firm representing Crow that declined to answer any written questions from the panel and alleged Congress “lacks authority” to move ahead on ethics legislation for Supreme Court justices. The Illinois Democrat added the panel also did not receive any response from the holding companies that own the private jet, yacht and Camp Topridge — Crow’s private lakeside resort — to written questions. “Harlan Crow believes the secrecy of his lavish gifts to Justice Thomas is more important than the reputation of the highest court of law in this land. He is wrong,” Durbin said. “The Committee will respond more fully to this letter in short order, and will continue to seek a substantive response to our information requests in order to craft and advance the targeted ethics legislation needed to help restore trust in the Supreme Court,” he continued. Durbin added that if Chief Justice John Roberts does not act to institute a new ethics code for justices, then Congress will have no choice but to act. Roberts last month declined a request by Durbin to testify before the Judiciary Committee to discuss Supreme Court ethics at a hearing centered on that subject. He cited the “exceedingly rare” nature of a chief justice providing testimony to a Senate panel. According to recent reports, Crow, a friend of the longtime justice and his wife, , has footed the bill for luxury trips taken by the couple and purchased a house owned by Thomas’s mother in which he had an interest. Neither were disclosed.

Nunes says Durham report shows ‘total collapse of the justice system’ - Former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said on Sunday that the recently released report from special counsel John Durham on the FBI investigation into former President Trump’s ties to Russia shows the “total collapse of the justice system.” “This is a really sad day for America, because what it represents is the total collapse of the justice system,” Nunes, a former chair of the House Intelligence Committee who now serves as CEO of Trump Media, said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” “The Durham report reads like the tombstone for the justice system,” he added. “And it would say something simple, like, ‘Here lies the justice system, the Justice Department, and we knew there was criminality, and we couldn’t do anything about it.’” “That’s really what the Durham report says,” Nunes continued. “There’s a lot of great information in there, but nothing has been done.” The 305-page report, which was released on Monday, concluded that authorities did not have sufficient information to open an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, describing the probe as “seriously deficient.” Durham criticized the FBI for failing to corroborate the Steele Dossier, which contained salacious allegations about then-candidate Trump’s ties to Russia, and for later using the dossier to secure a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. The report also noted the FBI’s failure to provide the Trump campaign with a defensive briefing prior to the investigation. “There were clear opportunities to have avoided the mistakes and to have prevented the damage resulting from their embrace of seriously flawed information that they failed to analyze and assess properly,” Durham said in the report.

Former Deputy Nat'l Security Adviser- FBI, CIA & DOJ Will Rig 2024 Election Former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, who served for the first four months of the Trump administration under Michael Flynn, says that the deep state is going to rig the 2024 US election following their success in 2020."We now have black-and-white evidence that the FBI interfered in the 2016 election. When they failed to elect Hillary Clinton, they set out to destroy the Trump administration," she told Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo."Go back to 2020. This time, the CIA got involved in the election with those 51 former intel agents who said the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation. So they've gotten away with it for two elections. They will surely try and get away with it in 2024, right? Because there are no consequences..."There is now hard evidence that there was election interference by the U.S. intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice. Those individuals must be terrified that a Republican president comes in with a Republican Attorney General, investigates them, and charges them with all of the crimes they have committed over the last eight years. Take it to the bank. They will absolutely interfere in 2024... These people are selling us out. Not only to foreign leaders, but they are interfering in our elections. They are tearing up the Constitution... This is just a gut punch to the American people."Watch:

Taibbi- My Crazy IRS Case – by Matt Taibbi - Saturday, December 24, 2022 was one of the most memorable, and most panicked, days of my life. I spent Christmas Eve last year alone, holed up in the Parc 55 hotel in San Francisco, frantically trying to put together what I thought was the most explosive of the Twitter Files reports, “Twitter and Other Government Agencies.” My wife and children were due to arrive for Christmas the next day, and I spent the morning checking and re-checking a story I knew might make people upset. It was based on documents passed to Twitter by the FBI-led Foreign Influence Task Force. They showed the company was receiving content recommendations in bulk from an array of federal agencies through the FBI, about a range of topics — from domestic extremist groups in the U.S. to leftist activists in Venezuela to Ukraine, Joe Biden, and the energy company Burisma. Moreover, Twitter was joining Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon, Reddit, and perhaps two dozen other firms in attending regular FITF-led gatherings. At that “industry meeting,” companies often received an “OGA briefing,” usually about foreign policy matters. “OGA” is generally understood to be a euphemism for intelligence services in general, or the CIA in particular. The FBI had just denounced the Twitter Files as the work of “conspiracy theorists” whose “sole purpose” was “discrediting the agency.” If earlier reports made the Bureau unhappy, what reaction would this story inspire? Thanks to a just-published letter to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel by House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, we nformation sent to the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of Government by the Treasury Department confirms that an IRS investigation of me opened that day, December 24, 2022. Ostensibly the case was about my 2018 tax return, about which even the IRS doesn’t claim to have contacted me for three years before this new “assign date.” The opening of the investigation preceded a visit to my home by an IRS agent on March 9, when I testified in Congress about the Twitter Files and government censorship. Even more unnerving are other details in Jordan’s letter:On January 27, 2023, the IRS assigned an agent to Mr. Taibbi’s case to initiate face-to-face contact. The IRS documents reflect that the case agent performed an extensive investigation of Mr. Taibbi, using publicly available search engines and commercial investigative software such as Anywho, Consumer Affairs, LexisNexis Accruint, and Google. The IRS’s dossier about Mr. Taibbi included information such as Mr. Taibbi’s voter registration records, whether he possessed a hunting or fishing license, whether he had a concealed weapons permit, and his telephone numbers. When the IRS checks to see if you have a carry permit and visits your home, at a time when they owe you money, it’s time to worry.

PAC To 'Draft' Tucker Carlson For President In 2024 Launches - A new political action committee (PAC) was formed to try and convince Tucker Carlson to join the 2024 presidential race, saying only the former Fox News host can defeat President Joe Biden in the general election.The so-called “Draft Tucker Carlson” PAC released an advertisement, saying: “Republicans need a new leader that can stand up to Biden. It’s time to draft Tucker Carlson.”Shortly after Carlson was ousted from Fox News in late April, the Draft Tucker PAC filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). That ad made its debut last week on Twitter.“Republicans need a new leader, and Tucker Carlson is ready to lead,” the ad states, comparing Carlson to the late radio host Rush Limbaugh. “No one in America is more articulate and pins down leftists in both parties better than Tucker.”It also says that Carlson “is witty, sharp, and mocks woke nonsense” before adding that he will “whip Biden in a debate.”The head of the PAC is Chris Ekstrom, who told The Hill that he personally knows Carlson “vaguely” and was approached about forming the PAC before Carlson’s exit from Fox News. Speaking to The Hill, Ekstrom said that Carlson has a “realistic opportunity” to run for president and that other Republican candidates have issues. “I’m very concerned that they’re going to not move the debate as far right as it ought to be,” Ekstrom said of both former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to announce a 2024 presidential bid. “If Tucker Carlson entered the race in a reasonable amount of time and just continued in the same territory that he was covering at Fox, I think that’d be a rude awakening for both President Trump and Governor DeSantis.”

Special counsel eyeing Trump overseas business: reports - Special counsel Jack Smith has issued a subpoena for records of business deals that former President Trump’s company made with seven countries since he took office in 2017, multiple outlets reported Monday. Smith requested information on real estate and development deals that the Trump Organization had with China, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, two people familiar with the matter told The New York Times and one person familiar with the matter told The Washington Post. The Post reported that its source said the subpoena did not yield much new information that was not already publicly available. Trump is only known to have made one deal with a company from any of those seven countries since he took office — licensing its name for a golf resort in Oman with a Saudi developer. The deal was announced just as Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign. The company declared it would not make any foreign business dealings while Trump was in the White House. Smith has been investigating the classified and sensitive documents that were taken out of the White House during Trump’s presidency and brought to his Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Beach, Fla. The Times reported that Smith’s inquiry into the business records was part of a subpoena to the Trump Organization seeking records on Trump’s dealings with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, which has held some tournaments at clubs owned by the former president. The inquiries appear to indicate Smith’s investigation is taking on a wider scope; The Times and Post reported that the subpoena seems designed to uncover any potential financial motive for Trump to keep the documents at Mar-a-Lago.

Hunter Biden Faces Call For Key Business Associates In The Arkansas Proceedings - There is a new and interesting development in Arkansas where attorneys for Lunden Alexis Roberts have prepared a list of witnesses for the upcoming proceedings involving Hunter Biden’s daughter, Navy.As previously discussed, Hunter Biden is seeking to reduce child support payments and has balked at Navy being able to use the Biden name. If successful, this could get a lot worse for Hunter in his alleged efforts to conceal his past income.On the list are business partners at the center of the influence peddling scandal. On the list are business partners who are connected to millions of dollars acquired from foreign interests in China, Ukraine and other countries. Also on the list is New York City art gallery owner Georges Bergès who continues to sell his art. Bergès has reportedly pushed back on congressional efforts to reveal details on these proceeds and buyers even though former government ethicists have raised concerns over the sales.The costs of these proceedings and high-priced legal team would seem to undermine claims of financial distress by Biden. However, by putting his financial worth at issue, Hunter has opened up a new front in battling over the disclosure of his past dealings. Some of his past associates are reportedly cooperating with House investigators in tracking foreign payments. Even the Washington Post has belatedly published an editorial admitting that this is all a serious concern over influence peddling. In an editorial titled “Millions flowed to Biden family members. Don’t pretend it doesn’t matter.” These disclosures have been forced into the public despite the best efforts of the Post and other media. Indeed, recently the Post’s Philip Bump derided the House investigation as a “fishing expedition . . . it’s nearly all innuendo, a big corkboard with lots of pictures but little interconnecting string.” His “witchhunt” attack was then repeated by others at the Post.Despite these efforts, Hunter Biden appears to doing his level best to force the issue in Arkansas. It is not clear if the court will call any of these witnesses. However, since Hunter has put his finances at issue, some disclosures will need to be made. As for Navy, she is still uncertain if the court will allow her to use the Biden name despite her father’s efforts to the contrary. While it does not appear that Hunter (who lives in a California mansion) is financially broke, his actions (and those of the President and First Lady) toward this little girl show a moral deficit and delinquency that is abundantly obvious.

Durham Report: The Republic We Didn’t Keep - by Lambert Strether - The Durham Report (“Report on Matters Related to Intelligence Activities and Investigations Arising Out of the 2016 Presidential Campaigns “) is sprawling, and as we might expect, the characters in the cast are all as twisty as corkscrews (and unlikely to be indicted, which must be a relief to everyone who is anyone). For clarity, I will put a thesis to the readership: What the Durham Report (DR) documents, but does not name, is a change in the Constitutional order. As we know, the Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) is the Democrat base (see Thomas Frank). The PMC achieved class consciousness in 2016, triggered by Trump’s victory (and Clinton’s defeat). They then collectively declared a state of exception — as sovereigns or would-be sovereigns are wont to do — where anything that would defeat Trump was licensed (a “permission structure,” as we say; here is an early example). In the process, the hegemonic elements of the PMC fused Democrat Party operatives, the organs of state security, and the press into a single, Flexnet-like Faction (I use the word “Faction” deliberately) that had the objective of retaining its own power by delegitimizing an elected President, an object it in part achieved. This Faction[1] has dominated the governing class[2] of the United States since 2016, and has a good shot of retaining power permanently (assuming the United States remains a single political entity). The result is a new, and distinctly anti-democratic, Constitutional order that is no way a Republic as the Framers understood the term. The Durham report is a window into the initial stages of the process I have just described. Sadly, I will not be able to document all the elements of that thesis today. I would love to distentangle one of the more complicated subplots outlined in the Durham Report — say, the Steele dossier, where the FBI initiated an investigation into the Trump campaign based on unvetted and uncorroborated information — but it would take Balzac-like skills for me to do that, and I don’t have them, or the time. Rather, I will focus on a Durham Report subplot that shows the claim that is central to my thesis: Faction > Constitutional Order: “The Clinton Plan.” Let’s now turn to the report.

Bill Gates 'Blackmailed' By Jeffrey Epstein Over Affair With Russian Bridge Player --Remember when Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said he 'only had dinner' with Jeffrey Epstein? Bill Gates is asked if his ex-wife Melinda was warning him about Jeffrey Epstein sexually compromising him:Bill responded “No — I had dinner with him, and that's all.” Turns out (ok, we've known for a while) that's a total lie - as the two also had a Russian bridge player in common, Mila Antonova.According to the Wall Street Journal, Gates met Antonova in 2010 at a bridge competition, leading to an affair. Three years later, after Gates associate Boris Nikolic referred her to Jeffrey Epstein to help raise $500K for an online bridge business which failed to pan out, Epstein paid for her to attend coding classes.In 2014, Antonova "stayed briefly at an apartment in New York City provided by Epstein" but claims not to have met with the guy who paid for her education.Then in 2017, the pedophile financier allegedly blackmailed Gates over the affair - demanding in an email that the Microsoft co-founder to reimburse him for Antonova's education. Given the de minimis amount involved for both men, Gates interpreted this 2017 email as threat to expose his 2010 affair.So, poor boner-killer Bill was actually an Epstein victim all along, you see, and everyone interviewed for the report says they knew nothing about Epstein's pedophile sex-trafficking operation and was 'disgusted with what he did,' etc.But in March of 2013, long before the two had thrown out their BFF bracelets, they were hanging out at the house of Thorbjørn Jagland, then chair of the Nobel Peace Prize committee where the pair allegedly discussed " the security situation in Afghanistan as part of Mr. Gates’ work on polio eradication," according to a spokeswoman for the billionaire.

Supreme Court punts Section 230 debate back to Congress | The Hill - The Supreme Court’s decision to dodge weighing in on a controversial liability shield for internet companies has punted the issue back to Congress. Expectations had run high that the justices would be the ones to significantly narrow the provision, known as Section 230, when the court agreed to directly take up the question of how far its protections reached. But the court resolved the cases against Twitter and Google on other grounds Thursday, leaving Section 230 unscathed until Congress acts or the high court takes up another case. And despite bipartisan criticism that the provision makes the tech industry unaccountable, lawmakers face a stalemate on how to reform it. So, barring a surprising legislative compromise, Section 230 is here to stay, and internet companies are breathing a sigh of relief. “The court went to great lengths — and really discussed Section 230 — to avoid putting its finger on the scales on either side when it comes to Section 230 itself,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice. “And I think that I am hoping that other courts recognize that and see that it is not the role of the judicial branch to write laws. If 230 is to be adjusted, it should be done at the legislative branch. And what I’m hoping is that lawmakers simultaneously recognize the decision that came out of here,” he continued. Passed as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Congress enacted Section 230 to encourage the emerging internet industry to take down harmful posts on their platforms while protecting them from a deluge of lawsuits for third-party content. As technology behind the modern internet advanced and the industry rapidly changed, calls

A new Twitter policy cripples journalists’ efforts to halt disinformation -- The 2024 election season is upon us, and experts are already predicting that advances in technology could supercharge the spread of disinformation over the coming year and a half. Purveyors of disinformation are poised to severely undermine election integrity and erode confidence in the electoral process. More than ever, the public will rely on journalists to detect and expose this disinformation in their reporting. But, under Elon Musk’s leadership — which, ironically, began with a focus on eliminating bots on the platform — Twitter’s newly amended application programming interface (API) policy may rob journalists of access to bot detection tools, which are critical to identifying and understanding the spread of disinformation on social media.Tools such as Bot Sentinel, Botometer and Hoaxy access Twitter’s API to read and analyze inauthentic or automated platform activity. Bot Sentinel and Botometer use this data to determine which accounts exhibit bot-like behavior and then provide classifications and ratings of accounts. When stories are shared on social media, journalists can use Botometer and Bot Sentinel to assess the accuracy and legitimacy of these stories and their sources. They can then turn to a tool like Hoaxy to visualize the spread of information from bot-like accounts and identify where mis- and disinformation may be influencing stories shared online. Through these tools, journalists can avoid inadvertently passing on disinformation in their reporting and can expose and debunk false narratives. These resources are essential in today’s fast-paced and often under-resourced news environment. In a nationwide survey by PEN America, only 14 percent of journalists reported that their newsrooms had a dedicated in-house fact-checking team to monitor and debunk disinformation. Bot detection tools can be a game-changer for exposing targeted falsehoods and conspiracy theories, especially for small, local newsrooms serving marginalized communities.Until recently, the API access necessary to operate these tools was available for free or at a low cost. But in March of 2023, after Twitter implemented its new API access policy, the price to operate these tools went from free (or nearly so) to potentially $42,000 a month for access to the same, or even less, data than was previously available.

Meta Slapped With Record $1.3 Billion Fine Over EU Data Transfers To US - Privacy authorities from the European Union have slapped a record-breaking fine of 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) on Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, for sending user data to the US. Authorities have also given a deadline by which Meta must cease all personal data transfers across the Atlantic. The Irish Data Protection Commission revealed that Meta breached the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when it transferred the personal data of Europeans to the US without sufficiently protecting them from "surveillance programmes" operated by the US government. The Irish privacy watchdog pointed out concerns about NSA spy programs:They said that Meta's data transfers didn't address "the risks to the fundamental rights and freedoms" of Facebook's European users, resulting in the 1.2 billion euro fine. This amount eclipsed the 746 million euro fine by the EU against Amazon over privacy breaches. The Irish privacy watchdog said Meta must also "suspend any future transfer of personal data to the US" and has about six months to halt "the unlawful processing, including storage, in the US" of European user data. "The ban on data transfers was widely expected and once prompted the US firm to threaten a total withdrawal from the EU," Bloomberg said. There was one attempt to create a mechanism to transfer personal data from the EU to the US legally, but that was struck down several years ago by a European court over fears US spy agencies would have access to the data. The EU's data protection regulation, GDPR, came into effect in 2018 and has governed how tech companies handle customer data. Politico noted the largest GDPR privacy law fines over the past five years included some of the biggest tech companies:

Lawmakers Clash Over Regulation Of Stablecoins - House lawmakers took part in a contentious debate over how stablecoins should be regulated at a hearing held by the Financial Services Committee’s digital assets panel - where there were also some hopeful signs from both sides. At the heart of the debate on May 16 was the level of involvement of state regulators and the Federal Reserve.Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Digital Assets, supports legislation that gives more power to state regulators, while Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the overall committee, advocates for a leading role for the Federal Reserve in the Democratic proposal. Hill challenged a previous notion put forth by Waters that yielding oversight to the states would be a step backwards in establishing a clear legal framework.“We’re not starting from scratch,” Hill said. “The similarities between the two proposals are strong, and that’s why we’re not that far apart.”Still, Waters argued that “several critical positions” are missing from the Republican proposal, leading to a further divide between the parties.Amid the volatile cryptocurrency markets, stablecoins are meant to be a safe haven. They also hold bipartisan appeal as an accessible and less expensive way to conduct monetary transactions outside of the traditional financial system and internationally. Tether - the largest U.S. stablecoin - and Circle, are digital assets tied to the value of the U.S. dollar and play a significant role in the cryptocurrency market. Both Republicans and Democrats share common goals of protecting consumers and preserving the global role of the U.S. dollar. Regulating dollar-denominated stablecoins within the United States could contribute to achieving these objectives. While the crypto industry eagerly awaits U.S. regulations, many are encouraged by the multiple congressional hearings dedicated to stablecoins and cryptocurrencies in recent weeks. A compromise on stablecoin regulation would be a significant first step toward establishing oversight of the industry in the United States.However, any legislation needs to pass through the Senate Banking Committee, chaired by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).So far, Brown has not shown any inclination to move forward with a bill.In addition to stablecoins, Hill has also weighed in on the topic of a digital dollar.Together with Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), Hill introduced a bipartisan bill to prohibit the Federal Reserve from issuing a government-backed digital currency.“Uncle Sam is going to use a central bank digital currency to surveil where they’re spending their money and how much, and ultimately block them from using the banking and payments system,” Hill said.

Emails, Chat Logs, Code and a Notebook: The Mountain of FTX Evidence -- Snippets of computer code. More than 6 million pages of emails, Slack messages and other digital records. And a small black notebook, filled with handwritten observations. For months, federal prosecutors building the criminal case against fallen cryptocurrency executive Sam Bankman-Fried have assembled a vast and unusually varied array of evidence. The documents include crypto transaction logs and encrypted group chats from Bankman-Fried’s collapsed exchange, FTX, as well as strikingly personal reflections recorded by a key witness in the case. The mountain of evidence ranks among the largest ever collected in a white-collar securities fraud case prosecuted by federal authorities in Manhattan, according to data provided by a person with knowledge of the matter. In the 2004 securities fraud prosecution of Martha Stewart, for example, prosecutors produced 525,000 pages of evidence to the defense team, but the numbers have increased significantly in recent years. The diversity and growing volume of materials in the FTX case underscore the legal challenges facing Bankman-Fried, 31, who is charged with 13 criminal counts, including accusations that he misappropriated billions of dollars in customer money, defrauded investors and violated campaign finance laws. He has pleaded not guilty. With the trial set for October, prosecutors have gathered evidence ranging from phones and laptops to the contents of Bankman-Fried’s Google accounts, which amounted to 2.5 million pages alone. At a hearing in March, Nicolas Roos, a federal prosecutor investigating FTX, said the government had obtained a laptop crammed with so much information that the FBI’s technicians were struggling to decipher all of it. “It is a massive amount to sift through, and sometimes you can find incredibly useful information,” said Moira Penza, a former federal prosecutor who’s now in private practice. “It is a real challenge.” Typically, the evidence in a criminal case remains largely secret until right before trial. But in Bankman-Fried’s case, interviews and a review of recent court filings have offered an early glimpse of the idiosyncratic array of records that the FTX prosecutors have collected. The investigation began in November, after FTX’s collapse sent the crypto market into turmoil. Almost as soon as the exchange folded, prosecutors started gathering documents, sending subpoenas to FTX employees and seeking records from the political campaigns that Bankman-Fried financed. The requests were often broad. One person who got a subpoena said prosecutors had wanted every document related to FTX and dispatched a group of data experts who took days to extract the information from a set of devices. While much of what prosecutors have gathered is typical corporate fare, other material points to the unusual personal dynamics at FTX. The black notebook, described as a diary, belonged to Bankman-Fried’s on-and-off girlfriend, Caroline Ellison, a former top lieutenant in his business empire, three people familiar with the matter said. Ellison, who was CEO of FTX’s sister company, the hedge fund Alameda Research, also recorded observations about Bankman-Fried in a series of electronic documents that have circulated among lawyers in the case, three people with knowledge of the matter said. At times, two of the people said, Ellison expressed personal and professional resentment toward Bankman-Fried. Lawyers and representatives for Bankman-Fried and Ellison either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment on the evidence in the case. A spokesperson for federal prosecutors in Manhattan declined to comment on the discovery process.

Caroline Ellison's 'diary' a key piece of evidence in Sam Bankman-Fried's FTX fraud case: report - A “diary” belonging to Caroline Ellison, the ex-Alameda Research CEO and former girlfriend of Sam Bankman-Fried, has reportedly emerged as a vital piece of evidence in the disgraced FTX founder’s upcoming fraud trial.The personal notebook is part of a massive trove of documents and other insider materials that prosecutors have compiled as they build their case against Bankman-Fried, who faces trial in October, the New York Times reported, citing a person with knowledge of the matter.Aside from Ellison’s notebook, which is filled with “handwritten observations,” prosecutors also possess “electronic documents” that she wrote, the report said.Occasionally, Ellison reportedly “expressed personal and professional resentment” toward her former lover in the documents.Ellison is set to testify against Bankman-Fried after pleading guilty to fraud charges late last year.“The biggest risk with a cooperator is the defense will be able to say here she is cooperating to save herself from a long prison term,” former federal prosecutor Moira Penza told the outlet. “But modern juries are not likely to take at face value they are testifying because of a vendetta or a failed romance.” Before she agreed to testify, she faced up to 110 years in prison – with prosecutors alleging that she, Bankman-Fried and other close associates secretly used FTX customer founds to prop up risky bets at Alameda, a sister cryptocurrency hedge fund.Ellison’s relationship with Bankman-Fried drew intense scrutiny during FTX’s collapse into bankruptcy last November.A bombshell report by CoinDesk at the time said Bankman-Fried and Ellison were part of a “cabal of roommates” that ran the massive cryptocurrency empire from a “luxury penthouse” in the Bahamas.In December, Ellison told a federal court that she was “truly sorry” for her actions.At least two other former top FTX executives, Gary Wang and Nishad Singh, are also cooperating against Bankman-Fried.The stockpile of evidence obtained by prosecutors includes “more than six million pages of emails, Slack messages and other digital records, according to the New York Times.

Relaunching FTX: Bankrupt Crypto Exchange Poised for Revival under New Leadership – Following the recent upheavals in the crypto exchange world, the newly appointed CEO of FTX, John Ray III, has initiated a series of strategic dialogues over the past month. The key focus of these meetings is to reboot the beleaguered exchange, a plan that came into being through an engaging bidding process. The past failures of FTX cast a long shadow over its future. However, recent court filings depict a glimmer of hope for this cryptocurrency exchange. Moreover, introducing fresh leadership and novel revival plans signal a promising overhaul that could alter the course of FTX’s destiny. A recent court filing on May 22 reveals a detailed compensation report outlining the extensive groundwork laid by John Ray III. In addition, the document delves into Ray’s painstaking efforts to safeguard the debtor’s best interests amidst the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Yet, the revival and reboot of FTX stole the show in the crypto community. Earlier in January, Ray hinted at the reboot of the embattled crypto exchange. Reports suggested that FTX had unearthed $5.5 billion in liquid assets. This revelation propelled the new CEO to work closely with creditors on a strategic revival plan. As no further updates were shared in the subsequent month, the news faded from the crypto community’s collective consciousness. However, a breakthrough in April indicated that the exchange had successfully recovered $7.3B in assets. Consequently, the FTX team intended to reestablish the crypto exchange by the second quarter of 2024. Reboot in Action: FTX’s Plan Unveiled The latest court document indicates a concrete plan for the FTX reboot. That includes multiple meetings scheduled by the new CEO with creditors and debtors over the past month. Several crucial subjects were addressed during these discussions, including plans for restructuring the exchange, reviewing strategies for relaunching FTX, assembling essential resources for the rebranding to FTX 2.0, and vetting the FTX 2.0 bidder list. Given the intricacies detailed in the document, it appears that FTX is poised to enter a competitive bidding process.

Binance Wins Dismissal of Lawsuit Linkedin to Pig Butchering Scam - A US district judge has ruled in favor of Binance’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit connected to a purported pig butchering scam. Plaintiff Divya Gadasalli alleged in her lawsuit that names several defendants that she lost over $8 million in a pig butchering scam. Pig butchering scams are typically a setup in which scammers reach out through texts or via dating apps to build a relationship with victims. Scammers generally then look to scam their victims into fake investments and disappear. She filed the claim against Binance and defendants “Jerry Bulasa (‘Bulasa’), Dong Lian, and Danyun Lin.” Bloomberg reported in May of last year that Bulasa was possibly using a pseudonym, and the identity of the additional two defendants wasn’t immediately clear. Gadasalli’s attorney and Binance representatives, as well as Binance.US, did not immediately return a Blockworks’ request for comment on Tuesday. A Texas court dismissed the lawsuit on Monday, according to a PACER filing. Gadasalli’s attorney in court filings said that Binance played a role in perpetuating the scam, but the judge overseeing the case this week found that Gadasalli’s claims lacked jurisdiction and failed to state an appropriate claim. “Gadasalli cannot point to a single fact of how Binance is actually involved in this case,” the judge wrote in the filing granting Binance’s motion to dismiss.

Binance reportedly mixed customer funds with company revenue at a US bank Cryptocurrency exchange Binance reportedly mixed its revenue with customer funds at a US bank in 2020 and 2021. A source said to have direct knowledge of company finances told Reuters that commingling happened almost daily in Binance accounts at Silvergate Bank and concerned sums that ran into the billions.The news agency said it reviewed records showing that, in February 2021, Binance mixed $20 million from a corporate account with $15 million from one into which customer funds were placed. Reuters noted that it found no evidence of client funds being stolen or lost. Still, under US financial regulations, customer money must be kept separate from business revenue.Binance has denied commingling customer funds and its revenue. “These accounts were not used to accept user deposits; they were used to facilitate user purchases” of cryptocurrencies, Binance spokesperson Brad Jaffe told Reuters. “There was no commingling at any time because these are 100 percent corporate funds.” Jaffe added that users weren't depositing funds when they sent money to the account, but instead were purchasing BUSD, a stablecoin issued by Binance and Paxos that's pegged to the US dollar.However, in late 2020 and during 2021, Binance's website is said to have stated that customer dollar transfers were "deposits" that were credited to trading accounts in BUSD. The site also reportedly informed users that they'd be able to "withdraw" deposits in USD. Former US regulators suggested to Reuters that the language "created the expectation that clients’ funds would be safeguarded in the same way as traditional cash deposits. Binance is already in hot water with US authorities. In March, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission accused the company of operating in the US illegally and said it had broken several financial laws. In its complaint (PDF), the CFTC said Binance had "commingled funds." The agency is seeking permanent trading and registration bans against the defendants, who include Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao. In a blog post, Zhao claimed that Binance blocks US users on several bases, including nationality, IP address (including common VPN access points) and mobile carrier.Earlier this month, reports suggested the Justice Department wasinvestigating the company over potential violations of sanctions imposed on Russia. Binance also recently said it would exit Canada due to tighter cryptocurrency regulations.If the prospect of a cryptocurrency exchange mixing customer and company funds sounds familiar, that's because it's one of the many crimes US authorities have accused FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried of. Bankman-Fried has claimed he didn't knowingly commingle funds and has pleaded not guilty to fraud charges. On Tuesday, it emerged that federal prosecutors have accumulated over 6 million pages of evidence (including emails and Slack messages) as part of their criminal case against Bankman-Fried. FTX’s collapse late last year was triggered by a bank run on the company that Binance initiated. Binance planned to snap up FTX but pulled out of the deal after taking a look at the latter’s books.

US gov’t seeks to forfeit crypto seized on Binance in fraud case --The US Attorney’s Office has filed a civil forfeiture action to recover crypto proceeds of a business email compromise (BEC) fraud scheme that targeted a company in Massachusetts, according to a press release on Tuesday evening.The government is looking to forfeit crypto seized from seven accounts held at crypto exchange Binance, which contain bitcoin, tether, shiba inu, Binance coin, and more.The BEC fraud in question came to the attention of investigators in March 2022, when a fraudulent email tricked the Massachusetts company into wiring almost $900,000 to a bank account in California.That money went through another bank account and was then converted to bitcoin on a crypto exchange — then, transferred through a series of other crypto addresses “in a manner consistent with tactics employed in money laundering transactions,” the release said.Eventually, a portion of the funds ended up on Binance. They were seized by authorities in August and September 2022.Using wire communications as part of a scheme to defraud or obtain money or property through false or fraudulent pretenses is a violation of federal law. The complaint alleges that the seized currency represents proceeds from wire fraud and/or property involved in money laundering.A civil forfeiture action enables third parties to assert claims to the property, which must be resolved before the property can be forfeited to the US and returned to the victims.

Binance suspends deposits for 10 bridged tokens over Multichain situation - Binance, a centralized cryptocurrency exchange, has temporarily suspended deposits for 10 tokens due to ongoing issues with the Multichain bridge project.This decision affects users of these bridged tokens on BNB Smart Chain, Fantom, Ethereum and Avalanche blockchain networks. The affected tokens include AVA-ETH, SPELL-AVAXC and FTM-ETH, per Binance. Deposits of these assets on other networks will continue uninterrupted, and users were told to refer to Binance’s deposit page for further information.“We are temporarily suspending deposits for the following bridged tokens-network while we await clarity from the Multichain team,” said Binance. The suspension of these tokens follows a five-day long crisis experienced by Multichain users, which has impacted the processing of transactions, leading to multiple stuck transactions. Several of Multichain’s cross-chain bridge pathways — including Kava, zkSync, and Polygon zkEVM — are still not yet operational.The Multichain project initially attributed the problem to technical issues. However, as discontent among users escalated, the explanation was updated to an ambiguous “force majeure.” Multichain's issues come alongside unverified rumors on Twitter that the core leadership team may have been arrested in China. The Multichain team has not yet responded to the rumors regarding their alleged arrest. In the meantime, the platform’s users and the broader crypto community are left grappling with uncertainty and apprehension as they await clear information. The project’s Discord server and Telegram groups have provided no substantial updates to community members so far.

Court denies Wyoming's bid to join Custodia suit against Fed --The state of Wyoming was blocked from joining a lawsuit challenging the Federal Reserve's process for granting access to its payments systems.Last week, Kelly Rankin, a judge in the U.S. District Court in Wyoming, denied the state's motion to intervene in a suit filed by Custodia Bank, in which the Cheyenne, Wyoming-based digital asset bank is contesting the Fed's handling of so-called master accounts.Rankin said the state had no standing in the case and that its presence would only further complicate the matter. He added that it would put an undue burden on the Fed as a defendant.Wyoming had sought to join the suit on the grounds that the Fed's decision to deny Custodia's application for a master account — which serves as a single point of access to the central bank's various financial services — undercuts the state's special purpose depository institution, or SPDI, framework. The SPDI is the first state-level regulatory structure for banks focused on crypto-assets. Wyoming argued that by not allowing a bank chartered under this regime to access its payments services, the Fed has violated the principles of the country's dual banking system, in which states can be chartered at both the state and national levels.But, Rankin ruled that this argument is not material to Custodia's main complaint, which challenges whether the Fed has the right to deny a legally chartered bank access to its payments system."This change is like going to a mechanic for an oil change, then being told you need to replace your rear-view camera," Rankin wrote. "Two unrelated concepts with no relation to each other, yet still part of the same vehicle."

BankThink: Fintech firms need to grow up and embrace transparency | American Banker -- Fintech, as we all know, has been one of the biggest drivers of technological innovation and wealth creation in t he past decade.Unfortunately, the sector has been walking a tightrope for a while now, and the results have been playing out live in our news feeds. Today, it's Binance, under scrutiny for alleged money laundering and securities law violations. Before that, we saw the blowup of FTX and a range of much smaller crypto platforms. And before that, it was social finance and meme stocks and celebrity NFTs. Neobanks and BNPL providers — seen as the trailblazers of the future of consumer financial services — watched their momentum vanish amid a faltering economy and rising costs, despite billions of dollars of investment. And that's without mentioning 2022's stock market plunge, which tore through fintech valuations.So, what now?This much we know: There is still a great need to continue transforming the global financial system, bringing inclusion and opportunity to more people and positioning fintech to make the world a better place. As a fintech CEO deeply immersed in the next generation of fintech, specifically embedded finance, I am intimately aware of the still untapped potential for change.In today's sobering economic environment, we have a golden opportunity to reassess the essence of fintech, to reflect on what we may have sacrificed in our rapid rise, acknowledge our errors and engage in some critical self-evaluation so as to promote further change. In other words: It is time for fintech to grow up.What does that mean?Many fintechs have taken shortcuts around regulations, finding ways to circumvent traditional regulatory frameworks in creative ways. While this may have initially accelerated fintech adoption, it has outlived its usefulness or logic. Fintech firms working directly with consumers and businesses must be directly accountable to regulators at both the state and federal levels.Having fintech firms that work with consumers and businesses not directly accountable to the regulator, avoiding the traditional licensing process and the continuous oversight and auditing involved, is just plain irresponsible and dangerous. Too many degrees of separation between the public officials responsible for keeping the system, businesses and consumers safe present many points of failure and, thus, numerous opportunities for bad actors.Today's fintech innovator can no longer sidestep regulators. We have to embrace the regulators and need to be fully licensed and regulated directly. But at the same time, we cannot endure innovation-busting years-long bureaucratic processes that are too heavy for innovators to bear. There should be new and improved processes that relate to the times and the speed of innovation.

First Republic’s (FRC) $35 Million Banker Outearned JPMorgan’s Dimon Before Bust - First Republic Bank made its name catering to wealthy clients across California and New York, reeling in many with unusually sweet mortgages that eventually doomed the firm. The system made its employees rich, too.Incentives for staff minted dozens of $10 million pay packages The San Francisco-based bank — which regulators seized and sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co. early this month — was paying dozens of employees more than $10 million apiece annually in the heyday before its collapse, according to people with knowledge of the situation. Some racked up incentives for arranging home loans, amassing deposits and growing wealth-management portfolios. For at least one unnamed banker who wasn't a top executive, the tally exceeded $35 million last year, the people said. That surpassed even what First Republic's new boss, JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, was awarded for his 17th year running the nation's largest bank.

JPMorgan (JPM) Tells 1,000 First Republic Employees They'll Lose Their Jobs - JPMorgan Chase & Co. notified about 1,000 First Republic Bank employees that they aren’t being given jobs — even temporarily — following its takeover of the failed lender. The biggest US bank on Thursday offered full-time or transitional roles to almost 85% of the nearly 7,000 employees still working at First Republic when it collapsed, while the rest were told they wouldn’t get offers, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The temporary jobs will be for three, six, nine or 12 months, depending on the position, the person said, asking not to be identified discussing private information.

Jamie Dimon Warns QT Will Lead To More Bank Failures -- At the start of May we explained that it's not just the Fed's rate hikes that are behind the nascent regional bank crisis (because with Fed Funds rate at 5.25% and both T-Bills and money market funds offering similar yields, there is no way small banks can compete with these returns, prompting a bank jog (which periodically turns to a sprint) and deposit flight from both checking and saving accounts). We said that the Fed's ongoing QT is a just as pernicious threat to the viability of small/regional banks because with every dollar drained from the system as part of the Fed's quantitative tightening, a matching deposit dollar is also destroyed, to wit: Under an ample reserves framework, virtually all deposits are created by the Fed.That's why banks were forced to load up on low-yielding securities during 2000-2001 and are now getting crushed as yields soar and fixed income/loan prices plunge.It also means that under QT as Fed reserves shrink, deposits must follow: as such deposits are either forced to shift into Bills/TSYs or are destroyed (bank failures).Thus, the bank crisis is an inevitable side effect of Fed tightening. Now, by now everyone knows that when it comes to banks failing (and capitalizing on it) few are as experienced as JP Morgan, aka JP Mega ... aka JP More-gain, which now has more than 13% of the nation's deposits and 21% of all credit card spending: in other words, there has never been a bank that is more systematically important than JPMore-gain... and with every small bank failure, Jamie Dimon's goliath is only getting bigger. Which is why we found it curious that none other than Jamie Dimon confirmed what we said three weeks ago during JPM's Investor Day on Monday. This is what the billionaire CEO said: We haven't been through Quantitative Tightening. So we really don't know what's going to happen to deposits at all [ZH; actually we do: deposits will shrink dollar for dollar alongside reserves]. And that's why I've been quite concerned about that. I'm probably more concerned about quantitative tightening with anybody in this room. We've never had QT before. It just started, okay? And you see huge distortions in the marketplace already. We've never had the Fed in the market like this with that RRP program that Jeremy mentioned ever. They have $2.3 trillion basically lent out to money funds. And I don't know the full effect of that. And obviously, that's a direct deduction from deposits are rolling out it made sense to do. So I think people should build into their mindset that they may have to move deposit beta more than they think and manage that. So I mean, if I was any bank or any company, I'd be saying, can you handle higher interest rates and surprise in deposits, etc? And this is how JPM itself shows the impact of the shrinking Fed balance sheet and TGA/RRP liquidity drains soak up commercial bank deposits.

Zoltan Pozsar: Fed Is "Foaming The Runway" For Big Bank Problems Ahead -- Zoltan Pozsar, who until recently worked as the managing director of investment bank Credit Suisse, offered his insight into financial markets and the issues that are weakening the dollar’s dominance around the world.In his role at Credit Suisse, Pozsar’s insight into the ins and outs of the legacy financial system and market dynamics was highly sought after. His recent departure from the bank came shortly after it was purchased by UBS in March as an attempt to keep it from collapsing amid existential turmoil for banks around the world. On stage at Bitcoin 2023, Pozsar addressed how U.S. banks have been impacted."This is basically an episode where the large banks are largely insulated from the problems," Pozsar said."It's basically lessons in not being able to run interest rate risk, not knowing how to make a loan that will be weathering a rising interest rate storm.”He described the Federal Reserve’s responses to these banking failures as only addressing “half the problem.”“I think it's more like foaming the runway for any of the large banks that might be having problems down the road,” he added. Pozsar was interviewed on stage by BitMEX co-founder Arthur Hayes, who pressed him on whether he owns any bitcoin. “I don't own any,” Pozsar responded. “I'm observing it. I don't like to dabble in things that I don't understand well.”Pozsar outlined his pessimism that bitcoin could ever really serve as money, as his historical research has shown him that money has to have a direct link to a government to endure. As a fundamentally decentralized, peer-to-peer network, Bitcoin could not support money that fits his definition.In his writing, Pozsar has underscored the evolving role that Bitcoin is playing around the world as institution-backed money like the U.S. dollar becomes weaker. At Bitcoin 2023, he listed several global market trends, including the rising economic power of China, that are threatening its role as the global reserve currency.“There’s a number of changes happening that I think we need to keep an eye on because it’s all going to be at the expense of the dollar’s share of commodity finance, trade finance, share of reserve assets and so on,” Pozsar said.Watch the full interview below:

BankThink: Sometimes banks fail. A system where they can't would be worse. | American Banker -- After every banking crisis, policymakers in Washington flood the halls of Congress and the airwaves with thoughts and ideas, dissecting the crisis with an urgent call to fix the current problems. Invariably, the proposed solution usually calls for more regulation, paired with a discussion about the role and size of deposit insurance. Today's "solutions" in response to headline-grabbing bank failures are once again centered around the "nationalization" of the U.S. banking system. This includes discussions of government guarantees on all deposit accounts, no matter the amount, and the expansion of the "too big to fail" regime to regional banks. If anyone wants to know what universal guarantee of all deposits looks like, look no further than the two government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are now in their 14th year of government conservatorship, and the Savings & Loan crisis in the 80's that cost U.S. taxpayers some $160 billion. What could possibly go wrong when a bank management team decides to onboard undue risk but does not have to worry about deposits leaving the bank? A sound banking system is essential to a free market economy. Failure is part of the free enterprise system, as well as rewards for understanding and accepting risk in the marketplace. The safety and soundness of the U.S. banking system is key to this country's macroeconomy and business in general. There are policymakers in Washington who think we should regulate the "risk" out of the U.S. banking system. If that were to happen, we would not, in fact, have a functioning banking system. The business of banking is managing risk; those who are good at it are successful, those who are bad at it often fail. While the proper role of bank regulation has been well established over decades, there have been attempts by recent administrations to refocus the overall mission of the bank regulators. Recently there has been an attempt to graft a "social agenda" onto the banking system. The same people who want to nationalize the banking system, and who do not understand many basic principles like stock buybacks, are requiring the banking system to be responsible for climate change, economic equity, credit allocation, prohibition of lending to industries they do not like and mandating boardroom diversity over qualifications. Complexity surrounding corporate governance, capital adequacy, credit underwriting, liquidity and interest rate risk are often not appreciated by some policymakers in Washington. There is one reason the banking system was not adversely affected to a large degree during Covid. It is because the regulators doubled the amount of capital in the system in 2008 in the wake of the financial crisis. Capital should be defined as paid-in equity plus retained earnings. Quite simply, debt is debt; intangibles and loan loss reserves are not capital. Regulators need to require strong minimum capital levels and should be forceful in requiring more for banks where management takes on higher risk. Banks should not be used as forced conduits of social policy by special interest groups. There is a long history, including the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), of the federal government requiring banks to help meet the needs of the communities in which they operate, as long as safety and soundness mandates are adhered to. In other words, the CRA is working and recognizes the need for social action to be balanced with the fundamental mission of the bank. The market is the right place to determine which banks are good citizens in the community, and it is up to the bank customers to place a value on it.

After bank failures, House Republicans look to 'hamstring' regulators — House Financial Services Committee lawmakers debated a number of bills in a Wednesday markup, as Republicans looked to limit some of the power of the Federal Reserve, and Democrats tempted their GOP counterparts with would-be bipartisan legislation. Republicans put forward a number of measures that would curb the federal banking regulators powers, after what the GOP sees as a failure on the part of the Fed to supervise Silicon Valley Bank. The panel will not vote on the bills or their amendments until the debate is finished, which is likely to continue late into the evening. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy, introduced a large package made up of five separate bills. The package would require documentation and implementation "guardrails" when the Fed invokes its emergency lending facilities, increase reporting requirements for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in its receivership and resolution activities for Congress, as well as require the Financial Stability Oversight Council to disclose its analysis used to determine the cost of any proposal related to systemic financial risk. "The recent bank runs and systemic instability reveal that the federal financial regulators are opaque and non-transparent to Congress and the American people, especially in emergencies, when the stability of the U.S. financial system is under threat," Barr said. "There is a clear need for sunshine on those regulators, and enhanced accountability and transparency when their failures are really responsible." One of the bills would also codify that the heads of banking agencies testify semi-annually in the House and Senate. Currently, only the chairman of the Fed is required to do so, and that the Treasury Secretary is required to testify annually. Yet another of the bills would also mandate that the vice chairman for supervision, a position currently held by Michael Barr, have experience working in or supervising banking organizations. Barr does not have that experience. Democrats opposed the package. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the ranking member of the committee, said that the package would "hamstring regulators' efforts to respond to and resolve due to bank failures."

Did the Supreme Court just raise the bar on banking enforcement actions? -- The Supreme Court's decision to ask the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to review its lifetime ban of a Michigan banker could make financial regulators more hesitant to levy enforcement actions against individuals. The court on Monday said that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals erred when it upheld the FDIC's ruling even after taking issue with the agency's legal argument. Last September, the Supreme Court put the matter on hold pending a ruling. Courts that review the actions of an agency "must judge the propriety of agency action solely by the grounds invoked by the agency," the Supreme Court said. The ruling continues a trend by the Supreme Court of requiring agencies to reargue enforcement actions when courts find errors in the justification for them, said Jennifer Dickey, deputy chief counsel at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Legal Center, which submitted an amicus brief on the case. "The Supreme Court is saying that the lower court must send it back to the agency because the agency is the entity that makes those enforcement decisions," Dickey said. "It's not up to courts to correct agencies when they get it wrong." In the case, Harry C. Calcutt III v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the lower court noted two legal errors underlying the FDIC's action against the Michigan banker. They related to Calcutt's level of responsibility for the bank's losses and the sufficiency of proof offered by the FDIC. The Supreme Court decision comes at a time when regulators are facing scrutiny for not cracking down harder on Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank before their failures earlier this year. Congress this month questioned regulators and bank executives about what went wrong in a series of hearings on the recent banking crisis.

Four-Fifths of Board Members at America’s Top Six Banks are Climate Conflicted - Four in five bank directors at the six largest banks in the U.S. have ties to polluting companies and organizations, including major fossil fuel companies, according to a new DeSmog analysis. The research raises fresh concerns about the extent of anti-environmental influence inside some of the nation’s most powerful boardrooms at a time when campaigners are pushing the banks to enact stronger environmental policies at their annual shareholder meetings. It reveals that 82 percent of board members at these six banks currently hold or have held positions with climate-conflicted organizations. This includes oil and gas firms, investment companies that finance polluting sectors, and trade associations known to lobby against climate action. Nearly one in five directors (19 percent) have current or past experience working in the fossil fuel industry. The findings come as a March report from the head of the world’s leading climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that big changes to finance were essential to avoiding catastrophic climate impacts. Despite the increasing global attention paid to the climate crisis, the proportion of board members at these banks with climate conflicts has not changed in two years. The proportion of directors at the six banks linked to the fossil fuel industry remained the same as in 2021 – despite a number of changes at the top of these companies – as did the number of directors linked to other high-carbon industries. Nearly one third of the board members at Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo have current or past connections with companies identified by the Climate Action 100+ (CA100+) initiative as among the globe’s top climate polluters. Companies active in generating energy from coal, the world’s most polluting fuel source, have former or current employees inside boardrooms at Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. Directors on four of the boards of the six biggest banks in the U.S. currently hold leadership positions in the fossil fuel industry through other board memberships. All six banks have pledged to reach net zero across their portfolios. However, according to a recent report by Rainforest Action Network, they have collectively provided $1.7 trillion in fossil fuel financing since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 and $413 billion since 2021 – the year in which the International Energy Agency called for no new financing of oil, gas, and coal projects. This financing involves both direct lending and underwriting debt and equity issuances. Bank of America and Wells Fargo declined to provide a response on the record. All the remaining banks and named directors did not respond to our requests for comment.

Democrats Love ESG, Republicans Hate It But Most Americans Don't Care Either Way --Efforts to promote adoption of the environmental, social and governance framework in investing, commonly termed ESG, have gained traction in recent years and have become the subject of pro- and anti-ESG legislation, yet the general public is no more familiar with ESG today than two years ago.Thirty-seven percent of Americans currently report being “very” or “somewhat familiar” with ESG, unchanged from 36% in 2021. Another 22% today are “not too familiar,” while 40% are “not familiar at all.”These findings are from a Gallup poll conducted April 3-25, in which respondents were told that ESG “includes factors like the record of a business on human rights, the environment, diversity or other social values” and that some people take these factors “into account when making decisions about buying products and services or investing.”Underscoring the public’s lack of familiarity with ESG, nearly six in 10 Americans (59%) take the "no opinion" option when asked if they view “the movement to promote the use of environmental, social and governance, or ESG, factors in business and investing” as a positive or negative development. The remaining four in 10 are about evenly divided between expressing a positive (22%) and negative (19%) view of the practice.While adults who are familiar with ESG are more likely to express an opinion about it than those with less familiarity, they are just as likely to be divided on the question -- 36% viewing ESG positively and 35% negatively.Similarly, adults who report owning stock, about six in 10 respondents in the current poll, are more likely to have an opinion about ESG than non-stock owners, but they are just as divided on the merits of promoting ESG in business and investing. When asked whether retirement fund managers should only take financial factors into account when making investment decisions or also consider ESG factors, the public leans toward the former (48% vs. 41%, respectively). Stock owners’ views on this are nearly identical to the national averages.Adults familiar with ESG are closely split on the question, with 50% preferring fund managers to limit their investing criteria to financial factors while 46% want ESG factors considered. Those not familiar with ESG lean more strongly toward only considering financial factors but are also more likely to have no opinion on the question.

How PPP data could help banks fight fraud --Loan-level data from the Paycheck Protection Program could offer a new way for banks to flag potential fraudsters.In a recent data analysis, the identity verification technology firm SentiLink looked at individuals who received PPP loans from five nonbank lenders that were identified in a 2022 congressional report as having lax controls for identifying bad actors. The firm's analysis merged loan-level PPP data with separate data from financial institutions on check fraud.The findings could help banks ferret out fraud risk. Individuals who used one of the five higher-risk PPP lenders accounted for only about 3% of checking account applications in the data, but they were responsible for roughly 13% of the check fraud.SentiLink, which provides cybersecurity and identity theft services to over 300 financial institutions, including seven large U.S. banks, is making the data available to its clients as a way to prevent future fraud."Indeed, receiving a PPP loan from one of these lenders is a possible indicator of an individual's propensity to be involved in these check fraud schemes," SentiLink co-founder Maxwell Blumenfeld said in a statement.Check fraud, which has been on the rise at financial institutions in recent years, is the use of paper or digital checks to fraudulently obtain money.In February, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a bureau in the U.S. Treasury Department, warned financial institutions about a "surge" in check fraud schemes targeting the U.S. postal system.Between 2021 and last year, the number of suspicious activity reports that were filed in connection with check fraud nearly doubled to 680,000, according to Fincen.And banks are having to pay more to combat increasing fraud, according to a LexisNexis Risk Solutions study published last November. Blueacorn and Womply were criticized in the congressional report for failing to detect and prevent widespread PPP fraud, even as they collected substantial fees from the program. In a regulatory disclosure earlier this month, Regions Financial raised its guidance for adjusted non-interest expenses in 2023 by 6.5% due to an increase in operational losses from check fraud. The $154 billion-asset bank described check fraud as an "industry-wide issue."Meanwhile, federal prosecutors continue to try to recoup billions of dollars in PPP funding lost to fraud during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.While a large portion of the $792.6 billion in PPP funding reached small businesses in need of aid to cover payroll expenses, experts have cited the program's fast implementation, reliance on a broad network of lenders and changing guidelines as reasons why tens of billions of dollars ended up in the hands of fraudulent applicants.The five companies included in SentiLink's analysis were among several lenders that were discussed in a December 2022 congressional report on PPP loan fraud.The lenders, which used the fintech companies Blueacorn and Womply to verify eligible applications, were Prestamos CDFI, Capital Plus Financial, Harvest Small Business Finance, Benworth Capital and Fountainhead SBF. In 2021, they were five of the six largest PPP participants by loan volume, according to the congressional report.

Banks, credit unions outraged by CFPB's $8 credit card late fee plan -- Rohit Chopra, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, wants to slash $9 billion a year in late fees currently charged by credit card companies. Since banks and credit unions currently collect $12 billion a year in late fees, the bureau has set itself up for a massive fight that is widely expected to end in contentious litigation. While the cost to assess a late fee on a credit card may be minimal, the CFPB's proposal in February to slash credit card late fees to just $8 a month — down from the current $30 for a first offense and $41 for subsequent violations — has raised major questions about how banks and credit unions set late fees, including the costs of debt collection and losses from delinquent borrowers. The CFPB said it received 57,933 comment letters on its proposal. Chopra has said he wants to address what he called "a loophole," created by the Federal Reserve Board in 2010, that set the safe harbor and allowed issuers to raise credit card late fees every year in line with inflation. Chopra has repeatedly criticized the Federal Reserve for setting late fees at a high level and allowing issuers to raise them every year with inflation. The bureau's proposal also would cap late fees at 25% of a minimum credit card payment. With billions of dollars at stake, trade groups representing large issuers are threatening to sue the CFPB, once the rule is finalized, for failing to convene a small-business review panel as required by law. Hundreds of small community banks and credit unions claim they will suffer economic harm if the plan goes into effect. "Our rate and fee schedules reflect an effort to balance the costs of lending programs, fraud prevention, and operations against providing credit to members at a reasonable cost," wrote Deborah Cook, senior vice president and chief financial officer at Sun East Federal Credit Union in Aston, Pennsylvania, in a comment letter. "The [proposed] rule presents a significant threat to operations and places credit unions at a competitive disadvantage to large card issuers." The CFPB's proposal comes within the backdrop of the Biden administration trying to show that it is helping reduce costs for average Americans. The CFPB has claimed that the income generated from late fees is roughly five times higher than the collection costs incurred by the largest issuers, though the bureau excluded post-collection costs from its calculation. The Consumer Bankers Association said the costs incurred by credit card issuers when a consumer is late on a payment "likely exceed the amounts that they would be allowed to charge customers under the new safe harbor and the 25% payment cap."

Citizens Bank settles CFPB lawsuit over credit card disputes for $9M -- Citizens Bank has agreed to pay a $9 million fine to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to resolve allegations that it failed to properly manage and refund credit card customers with billing disputes and fraud claims. The CFPB said on Tuesday that Citizens Bank, a unit of $222.3 billion-asset Citizens Financial Group, in Providence, R.I., agreed to settle allegations that it failed to investigate credit card billing disputes and fraud claims, and had failed to consistently refund all charges, including finance charges and fees. The CFPB sued Citizens in 2020, under former CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger, for activities that the bank self-reported dating back to at least 2010 through early 2016. The lawsuit attracted attention because Citizens made clear that it planned to fight the CFPB's suit, claiming it had voluntarily remediated 25,000 customers that were harmed years earlier. The core issue in the CFPB's lawsuit was the allegation that Citizens had required customers with fraud claims to provide a notarized affidavit under penalty of perjury to support their claim. CFPB Director Rohit Chopra used the settlement to send a warning to other companies. "Federal law provides important rights to credit cardholders when disputing transactions and resolving billing errors," Chopra said in a press release. "As outstanding credit card debt approaches $1 trillion, the CFPB will be closely watching the conduct of the credit card industry." The CFPB said Citizens made consumers jump through burdensome hoops to report fraud. The bank failed to reasonably investigate and resolve billing error notices and claims of unauthorized use, and also failed to fully credit customers' accounts, the CFPB claimed. Citizens also "sometimes" did not refund all finance charges or fees owed to consumers, the bureau said. In response, Citizens said that it voluntarily began remediation efforts and had contacted the CFPB in 2015 after the bank "self-identified operational errors" that may have impacted roughly 2% of its customers. The bank said its remediation "exceeded all obligations to make customers whole." "While Citizens continues to disagree with the CFPB's stance with respect to these long-resolved issues, which were self-identified and voluntarily addressed years ago, we are pleased to put this matter behind us," said Polly Klane, Citizens' general counsel. "We remain proud of our commitment to transparency, our rigorous compliance programs, and our consistent effort to treat customers fairly and operate responsibly."

Banks now offer payday-loan alternatives. How many people use them? --Over the last few years, several large and regional banks have started offering small-dollar loans to their cash-strapped customers. Now the question is: How many Americans are using the products? A new survey — conducted by the Online Lenders Alliance, a trade group whose members offer payday loans and expensive installment loans — finds that some customers of banks that offer the products are still turning to higher-cost lenders. The group says the findings show that its member companies offer a critical service for consumers that should not be curbed through new regulations. But those who support banks' efforts to launch small-dollar loan products say the results are not surprising — since the products are generally newer and banks are still experimenting with them. Some credit unions also offer products that provide an alternative to payday loans. More banks are planning to launch their own small-dollar loan products, and those that already have them are seeing momentum, said Alex Horowitz, who tracks the issue at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “They're reaching a lot of customers they've never reached before — people who have used payday loans, people who have overdrafted, people whose credit scores would not qualify them for a credit card," Horowitz said.To help with the process, Pew recently updated its standards for banks interested in offering small-dollar loans. Six large and midsize banks currently offer the loans, which range from $5 to $1,000: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Truist Financial, U.S. Bancorp, Regions Financial and Huntington Bancshares. Still, roughly 28% of customers at four companies that are members of the Online Lenders Alliance have banking relationships with those six institutions, the group's survey showed. The group surveyed four large installment lenders to see how many of their customers listed one of the six banks as their primary bank.

New York City suspends municipal deposits at Capital One, KeyBank - The New York City Banking Commission voted Thursday to stop depositing city funds at Capital One Bank and KeyBank, saying that the banks failed to meet a requirement that they document their efforts to combat discrimination in lending and employment. As a result of the 3-0 vote, Capital One and Key won't receive new municipal deposits from New York City for up to two years. They also won't be allowed to renew contracts or enter into new agreements with the city during the suspension. Capital One held $7.2 million in New York City deposits across 108 accounts at the end of April, while KeyBank held $10 million across three accounts, according to a statement from the city's banking commission following a public hearing Thursday. The two banks "outright refused" to submit required certifications, which demonstrated a lack of effort to "root out discrimination," the banking commission's statement said. A KeyBank spokesperson said Thursday that the bank provided the required information to the New York City Banking Commission. "This is a misunderstanding and we look forward to clarifying this issue with the Banking Commission," the spokesperson said in an email. The KeyBank spokesperson also denied discrimination in any of the bank's operations and said that the bank does not currently hold deposits with the City of New York. A Capital One spokesperson said in an email that the McLean, Virginia-based lender prohibits discrimination against employees and clients, and that its submission to New York City officials was "consistent" with what it submitted in previous years.

FHFA's Thompson blames "certain media" for distorting info about fees --Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Sandra Thompson once more pointed out misunderstandings from stakeholders regarding plans to update pricing grids during an appearance before the House Financial Servicing Committee Tuesday.In a written testimony published prior to her appearance, Thompson noted that "media reports often make the fundamental mistake of assuming that the pricing grids previously in place were perfectly aligned with the risks faced by the Enterprises.""I would like to dispel that myth: in fact, the pricing grids in effect prior to these updates had not been updated in many years and were not fully reflective of the capital framework with which the Enterprises are required to comply," she wrote.During her live opening remarks before the lawmakers Tuesday, Thompson reiterated that borrowers with strong credit profiles are not being penalized to benefit borrowers with weaker credit profiles. She said changes to the price grids would help creditworthy first-time homebuyers, while enhancing safety and soundness of the enterprises by building capital. Even with reduced fees, borrowers with a down payment smaller than 20% will continue to pay higher overall mortgage costs, in part because they must purchase mortgage insurance, which is something that does not show up on pricing grids, she said. "That's why many loans with loan-to-value ratios greater than 80% have what looks like lower fees, but you have to add the mortgage insurance premium to these loans to get a more complete picture of borrower cost," she said to lawmakers. "The less down payment you have, the more MI you need and the higher the cost."In early May, the FHFA walked back part of the update, dropping the loan level price adjustmentsbased on the borrower's total debt-to-income ratio, which was originally set to go into effect May 1 and later delayed until August. Soon after dropping the DTI-based pricing, the agency put out a request for industry feedback about its grids and plans for its Enterprise Capital Framework.In the hearing, Thompson also responded to questions about whether Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be released from conservatorship, progress on reviewing the Federal Home Loan Bank System and the upcoming changes to credit scoring models.She said that the FHFA currently does not have a plan to release the enterprises out of conservatorship, but that meeting their capital requirements is a good start. "Ensuring that they have appropriate pricing and that they can make commercially viable returns is a critical component of [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being released from conservatorship]," Thompson said.

Fannie and Freddie Serious Delinquencies in April: Single Family Declined, Multi-Family Increased -- Single-family serious delinquencies continued to decline in April, however, multi-family serious delinquencies are now increasing. Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in April was 0.61%, down from 0.62% March. Freddie's rate is down year-over-year from 0.85% in April 2022. This is at the pre-pandemic lows. Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20% following the housing bubble and peaked at 3.17% in August 2020 during the pandemic.
Fannie Mae reported that the Single-Family Serious Delinquency decreased to 0.58% in April from 0.59% in March. The serious delinquency rate is down from 0.94% in April 2022. This is below the pre-pandemic lows. The Fannie Mae serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 5.59% following the housing bubble and peaked at 3.32% in August 2020 during the pandemic.These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure". Mortgages in forbearance are being counted as delinquent in this monthly report but are not reported to the credit bureaus. For Fannie, by vintage, for loans made in 2004 or earlier (1% of portfolio), 1.92% are seriously delinquent (down from 1.93% in March). For loans made in 2005 through 2008 (1% of portfolio), 3.07% are seriously delinquent (down from 3.11%). For recent loans, originated in 2009 through 2023 (98% of portfolio), 0.48% are seriously delinquent (unchanged from 0.48%). So, Fannie is still working through a handful of poor performing loans from the bubble years. Freddie Mac reports that multi-family delinquencies increased to 0.19% in April, up from 0.08% in April 2022. This graph shows the Freddie multi-family serious delinquency rate since 2012. Rates were still high in 2012 following the housing bust and financial crisis. The multi-family rate increased following the pandemic and has increased recently as rent growth has slowed, vacancy rates have increased, and interest rates have increased sharply. This will be something to watch as rents soften.

Black Knight: "Mortgage Delinquencies Rise on Calendar Effect" in April - From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Early-Stage Mortgage Delinquencies Rise on Calendar Effect; Prepayments Slow as Spring Homebuying Season Falters on High Rates, Low Inventory

• The national delinquency rate spiked 13% higher in April from March’s record low, with the month ending on a Sunday impacting the processing of payments made on the last calendar day of the month
• Early-stage delinquencies (borrowers 30 days late) bore the brunt of the rise, increasing by 200K (+25%) which matches the impact of previous similar calendar-related events
• Serious delinquencies (90+ days past due) continued to improve nationally, with the number of such loans shrinking in 45 states (90%) plus the District of Columbia in April
• Foreclosure starts fell 23% to 25K for the month – the lowest since September 2022 –and 45% below April 2019’s pre-pandemic level
• Foreclosure actions were started on 4.9% of serious delinquencies in April, down slightly from March and still more than four percentage points below the monthly average prior to the pandemic
• Active foreclosure inventory declined by 6K in the month, and is down 60K or 21% from March 2020
• March saw 6,400 foreclosure sales (completions) nationally, down 14% from the month prior
• Prepayment activity (SMM) fell to 0.44% – giving back some of the previous month’s gain and suggesting the spring homebuying season is faltering on high rates and low inventory – remaining 59% off last April’s levels
According to Black Knight's First Look report, the percent of loans delinquent increased 13% in April compared to March and increased 2% year-over-year.Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.31% in April, up from 2.92% the previous month. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decrease in April to 0.44%, from 0.46% the previous month. The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is up 61,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is up 14,000 properties year-over-year.

Rent Inflation Re-Accelerates to Red-Hot, All Three Now Agree: Zillow Asking Rents, What Big Landlords Said, and Actual Rents Tracked by CPI by Wolf Richter - The Zillow Observed Rent Index (ZORI), which is based on asking rents, meaning advertised rents that landlords hope to get when a tenant signs the lease, jumped month-to-month by 0.6% in April, the steepest increase since August, after having already jumped 0.5% in March, and 0.3% in February, to a new record of $2,018. Annualized, the increase in April translates into a jump of +7.4%. This is really bad news on the inflation front. But it’s not a surprise. It confirms what the biggest landlords in the US told us in their earnings calls, that they got 6% to 8% rent increases both on lease renewals and on new lease signings in April; and it confirms what the rent factors in CPI for April told us, that actual rents paid by all tenants jumped by 0.5% in April from March, and by over 8% year-over-year. You can see how the ZORI (red, right axis, $) undershot actual rents during the pandemic as depicted by the largest rent factor in CPI (OER, green, index value, left axis), and how it overshot actual rents in 2022, and how it then dipped at the end of 2022 and early 2023, and how it has reaccelerated over the past three months: Rent accounts for one-third of the Consumer Price Index, split across two rent factors. The CPI for Owners Equivalent of Rent (OER, the larger of the two, accounting for 25.4% of total CPI) jumped by 0.5% in April and by 8.1% year-over-year. All these measures – asking rents as per ZORI; earnings calls from the biggest landlords in the country; and actual rents for all tenants as tracked by the CPI rent factors – are now showing that rent inflation in April was not slowing down at all, but re-accelerated. The ZORI was much cited as proof that rent inflation was slowing down and would soon vanish based on the ZORI last year when it actually fell. For the Fed, for Powell during the press conferences, and for many others, the dropping asking rents last year was the gospel that they had been waiting for, that inflation in actual rents, as experienced by current tenants, would soon abate as the asking rents would become actual rents and lower those actual rents, but that it just hasn’t done so yet because, you know, the CPI rent factors are lagging, etc. etc. But that didn’t happen. The year-over-year percentage-change mind-bender. What may have also misled the good folks about rent inflation were the year-over-year changes. As you can see in the chart above, the ZORI undershot actual rent increases in 2020 and early 2021, and then off that low base, showed a massive year-over-year percentage gain in 2022, that caused it to overshoot in 2022. But that huge percentage gain never made it into actual rents because it was off the undershoot, it just averaged out the undershoot on top of the regular rent inflation of 8%. And now the asking rents per ZORI are back in line on a month-to-month basis with the CPI measures.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased in Weekly Survey -- From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly SurveyMortgage applications decreased 4.6 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending May 19, 2023.The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, decreased 4.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index decreased 5 percent compared with the previous week. The Refinance Index decreased 5 percent from the previous week and was 44 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 4 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 5 percent compared with the previous week and was 30 percent lower than the same week one year ago. “Mortgage applications declined almost five percent last week as borrowers remained sensitive to higher rates. The 30-year fixed rate increased to 6.69 percent, the highest level since March,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist. Since rates have been so volatile and for-sale inventory still scarce, we have yet to see sustained growth in purchase applications. Refinance activity remains limited, with the refinance index falling to its lowest level in two months and more than 40 percent below last year’s pace.”“Investors remained attuned to the uncertainty around the U.S. debt ceiling and communication from several Federal Reserve officials last week, which sent Treasury yields higher, along with mortgage rates. Economic data released over the past week have also pointed to a still-resilient economy. The housing market received positive data on new residential construction – which is seen as a key solution to the lack of housing inventory.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($726,200 or less) increased to 6.69 percent from 6.57 percent, with points increasing to 0.66 from 0.61 (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 30% year-over-year unadjusted.

Housing May 22nd Weekly Update: Inventory Increased 0.9% Week-over-week ---Altos reports that active single-family inventory was up 0.9% week-over-week.This inventory graph is courtesy of Altos Research. As of May 19th, inventory was at 424 thousand (7-day average), compared to 420 thousand the prior week. Year-to-date, inventory is down 13.6%. And inventory is up 4.6% from the seasonal bottom five weeks ago.The second graph shows the seasonal pattern for active single-family inventory since 2015. The red line is for 2023. The black line is for 2019. Note that inventory is up from the previous two years (the record low was in 2022), but still well below normal levels.Inventory was up 25.4% compared to the same week in 2022 (last week it was up 34.4%), and down 53.3% compared to the same week in 2019 (last week down 53.1%). It appears likely inventory will be down year-over-year in June of July.Mike Simonsen discusses this data regularly on Youtube.

New Home Sales at 683,000 Annual Rate in April: Median New Home Price is Down 15.3% from the Peak - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 683 thousand.The previous three months were revised down, combined. Sales of new single‐family houses in April 2023 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 683,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 4.1 percent above the revised March rate of 656,000 and is 11.8 percent above the April 2022 estimate of 611,000. The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. New home sales are close to pre-pandemic levels. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. The months of supply decreased in April to 7.6 months from 7.9 months in March. The all-time record high was 12.2 months of supply in January 2009. The all-time record low was 3.3 months in August 2020. This is well above the top of the normal range (about 4 to 6 months of supply is normal). The fourth graph shows new home sales for each month, Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA), for a few selected periods. Black is the maximum sales per month during the bubble (2005) and light gray is the minimum sales during the bust (2008 - 2011). The most recent five years are shown (2019 through 2023). The next graph shows new home sales for 2022 and 2023 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate). Sales in April 2023 were up 11.8% from April 2022. The next graph shows the months of supply by stage of construction. “Months of supply” is inventory at each stage, divided by the sales rate. And on prices, from the Census Bureau: The median sales price of new houses sold in April 2023 was $420,800. The average sales price was $501,000. The following graph shows the median and average new home prices. The average price in April 2023 was $501,000 down 11% year-over-year. The median price was $420,800 down 8.2% year-over-year. Both the median and the average are impacted by the mix of homes sold.

AIA: Architecture Billings Decreased in April --- Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.From the AIA: AIA/Deltek Architecture Billings Index Reflects Continued Weakness in Business Conditions in April: Architecture firms reported a modest decrease in April billings. However, there was a slight increase in inquiries into future project activity according to a report released today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA).The billings score for March decreased from 50.4 in March to 48.5 in April (any score below 50 indicates a decrease in firm billings). However, firms reported that inquiries into new projects accelerated slightly to 53.9, while most firms continued to report a decline in the value of new design contracts, with a score of 49.8.“The ongoing weakness in design activity at architecture firms reflects clients’ concerns regarding the economic outlook,” “High construction costs, extended project schedules, elevated interest rates, and growing difficulty in obtaining financing are all weighing on the construction market.”...
• Regional averages: Midwest (51.2); West (49.3); South (48.7); Northeast (47.2)
• Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (firms that do not have at least half of their billings in any one other category) (52.1); commercial/industrial (51.8); institutional (50.6); multi-family residential (41.5)
This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 48.5 in April, down from 50.4 in March. Anything below 50 indicates a decrease in demand for architects' services.Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions.This index has declined in 6 of the last 7 months. This index usually leads CRE investment by 9 to 12 months, so this index suggests a slowdown in CRE investment later in 2023 and into 2024. Note that multi-family billing turned down in July 2022 and has been negative for TEN consecutive months. At 41.5, this was the weakest reading for multi-family since the start of the pandemic in March and April 2020. This suggests we will see a downturn in multi-family starts this year.

Personal Income increased 0.4% in April; Spending increased 0.8% - The BEA released the Personal Income and Outlays report for April: Personal income increased $80.1 billion (0.4 percent at a monthly rate) in April, according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $79.4 billion (0.4 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $151.7 billion (0.8 percent). The PCE price index increased 0.4 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.4 percent. Real DPI increased less than 0.1 percent in April and Real PCE increased 0.5 percent; goods increased 0.8 percent and services increased 0.3 percent. The April PCE price index increased 4.4 percent year-over-year (YoY), up from 4.2 percent YoY in March, and down from the recent peak of 7.0 percent in June 2022. The PCE price index, excluding food and energy, increased 4.7 percent YoY, up from 4.6 percent in March, and down from the recent peak of 5.4 percent in February 2022. The following graph shows real Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) through April 2023 (2012 dollars).Personal income was at expectations, and PCE was above expectations. Inflation was above expectations.

Despite Getting Whacked by Bank Turmoil, Layoff News, Credit Crunch, High Interest Rates, and Inflation, our Drunken Sailors Spent Even More, Even Adjusted for Inflation by Wolf Richter - Consumer spending, adjusted for inflation and for seasonal factors jumped by 0.5% in April from March, after two months of declines and a huge spike in January. Compared to a year ago, adjusted for inflation, consumer spending rose by a solid 2.3%, in line with the average growth rate in 2019 (2.4%). Americans continue to do what they do best: spending money, and they’re outspending inflation just fine. To tamp down on the month-to-month zigzags and see the trend, we look at the three-month moving average of inflation-adjusted, aka “real,” consumer spending: It has been on a normal-ish Good-Times uptrend: Despite getting whacked by inflation, high interest rates, a credit crunch, layoff news, and bank turmoil, consumers picked up the pace so far this year, after the little slowdown late last year that you can see in the chart: Now they out-earn inflation. Adjusted for inflation, aka “real” personal income rose by 0.2% in April from March and by 1.2% year-over-year, the biggest year-over-year increase in 13 months. This “real” income is from all sources – including interest and dividend income and rental income – but excluding transfer payments (Social Security, unemployment insurance, etc.). They got the biggest pay increases in decades. And they hold trillions of dollars of CDs, Treasury bills, and money-market funds, which now earn 5% and more, instead of 0.2% two years ago. And this sudden surge of interest income pushes up their overall income. You can see how inflation outran personal income for much of 2022 and into early this year, and “real” income declined for that time. But over the past two months, “real” incomes rose again, and hit a new record in April: They did mostly not borrow this money on their credit cards. They spent bit and pieces of their massive asset gains. Real incomes without transfer payments (+1.2% year-over-year) rose more slowly than real spending (+2.3%). Most of the difference is drawn from the wealth in assets that Americans have, especially the big spenders that move the spending needle. Capital gains, asset sales, and the cash flow from maturing CDs and bonds are not included in the income figures here. Pulling money out of brokerage accounts to spend on furniture or a trip is not included in the income figures either. Over the past decade, those asset accounts have ballooned with surging asset prices, and people are drawing on them. This is particularly the case for the large number of retirees. It is nonsense to assume that when spending exceeds incomes, that this is borrowed money, that people are incurring more consumer debt to spend this money (though a few people do). In aggregate, people aren’t even dipping into their “savings” in the narrow sense. They’re using the gains on their assets, and those gains don’t show up in the income figures; but spending even a small portion of those gains does show up in the spending figures.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims at 229,000 --In the week ending May 20, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 229,000, an increase of 4,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised down by 17,000 from 242,000 to 225,000. The 4-week moving average was 231,750, unchanged from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised down by 12,500 from 244,250 to 231,750. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

"Terrified Of A Bud Light Situation": Target Pulls Pride Month Products In Certain Stores Amid Boycott Calls - One week after Target CEO Brian Cornell revealed that "woke" capitalism is "great" for their brand and "the right thing for society," the mega-retailer has been scrambling to avoid a disastrous "Bud Light moment" by forcing some stores to remove LGBTQ Pride merchandise as consumer boycott calls mount. A Target insider told Fox News that South and rural America stores are removing controversial LGBT-themed products ahead of June Pride month to avoid further backlash. Some products ranged from "tuck-friendly" swimsuits for transgender people to gender-fluid coffee mugs. The insider said the reasoning behind such an abrupt move is "to avoid the kind of backlash Bud Light has received in recent weeks." Update (1400 ET): Taking another page out of the Tranheuser Bush playbook, Target is already getting the blowback treatment, with the uber-woke socialist tabloid Business Insider reporting that after Target abruptly removed Pride month feature displays from dozens of stores in Southern states, has "frustrated and alienated" the company's (handful of ) LGBTQ workers who "spoke anonymously for fear of professional consequences as they are not authorized to speak to the media, but Insider verified their identities and employment." One wonders how Target shareholders - who are vastly more numerous than the company's handful of pride-flag clad employees - will feel when Target is Budlighted and feel the full impact of the conservative boycott, sending the company's stock plunging.

Tennessee third grade TCAP scores: 60% fell short statewide -- More than half of Tennessee third graders fell short of a threshold required to move on to fourth grade unless they meet exemption standards, up their scores in a retake, attend summer school, undergo tutoring or file an appeal. The state education department said in a news release Monday that 60% of third graders scored as "below" or "approaching" proficiency on the English language arts section of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program. Raw scores for the reading test were released to districts around 3:30 p.m. Friday, after school let out for the day. The scores did not factor in automatic exemptions for students who are still learning English, have a disability that impacts their reading or were previously held back. That was up to districts to sort out, along with notifying families about the scores and what their next steps are. Some districts worked through the weekend to notify parents. Retesting was set as early as Monday for some. Metro Nashville Public Schools estimated 39% of third graders scored "below" or "approaching" proficiency, not including students the district predicted would be exempt. In Cheatham County Schools, the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, Knox County Schools and Robertson County Schools, around 40% of third graders scored as "below" or "approaching" proficiency. In Dickson County Schools and Wilson County Schools, that number came in at approximately 35%. In Rutherford County Schools, it's about 30%. Williamson County Schools reported 28% scored below the threshold, with 22% scoring as approaching proficiency and 6% scoring below. The release of scores set off a quick-paced timeline for parents to decide whether to place their children in summer school, tutoring or both. An appeal process is also open until mid-June.

Lawmakers Want Answers On NIH Trans Kids Study That Led To Two Suicides -Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have demanded answers from the National Institutes of Health over a two year study involving prescribing gender changing hormones to hundreds of children, as it emerged that two of the ‘youths’ ended up killing themselves.As Fox News reports, the study titled “Psychosocial Functioning in Transgender Youth after 2 Years of Hormones,” examined 315 individuals “between the ages of 12 and 20 who identify as transgender and were given cross-sex hormones.”The study, involving 240 children, was funded by NIH which admits that “two young people tragically died by suicide.” Despite the deaths, the NIH carried on the study to its conclusion.Over a dozen lawmakers, including Lauren Boebert, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have penned a letter to the NIH director Dr. Lawrence Tabak.The letter notes that “During this study, two young people died by suicide and eleven reported suicidal ideation,” adding that “Rather than shutting the study down after such serious adverse events, the researchers published their paper, concluding that the study was a success because cross-sex hormones had altered subjects’ physical appearance and improved psychosocial functioning.” Researchers assert that “During the study period, appearance congruence, positive affect, and life satisfaction increased, and depression and anxiety symptoms decreased.”They also claim that despite 11 kids expressing a desire to kill themselves and two actually committing suicide, “Increases in appearance congruence were associated with concurrent increases in positive affect and life satisfaction and decreases in depression and anxiety symptoms.”

Deaths Of Despair Now Significant Among The Young - by Yves Smith We first wrote about what came to be called about deaths of despair when the landmark work by Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel prize winner in economics, and his wife Anne Case, on the dramatic rise in the death rate of middle-aged, less educated whites. Even though this study and a follow-on did garner a great deal of major media attention, there was almost nothing in the way of action to try to alleviate this crisis.The cancer of inaction seems to be working its way through its host, as in the US. The Wall Street Journal reports Young Americans Are Dying at Alarming Rates, Reversing Years of Progress. You’ll see many of the causes parallel those of lamented but not acted upon deaths of despair. And as you’ll also see. both tragedies are acute in the US, not so much in other advanced economies.For a refresher, from our first post in 2015 on Case-Deaton findings:The authors found that from 1999 to 2013, the death rate among non-Hispanic whites aged 45 to 54 with a high school education or less rose, while it fell in other age and ethnic groups. This is an HIV-level silent epidemic: AIDS killed an estimated 650,000 from the mid-1980s to present, while an estimated close to half-million died in half that time period who would have lived had their mortality rates fallen in line with the rest of the population. It is hard to overstate the significance of these findings. The Journal describes an epidemic of early deaths, with drug overdoses, suicides, accidents (some of which could have been suicides) and gun deaths. The article fingers the lockdowns and remote schooling as a major cause, but ignores the other effects of Covid on mental health, like increased parental anxiety, particularly about what might happen to their job; coping with lockdown shortages (toilet paper, baby formula, some medications and as I recall, even pet food); concern about getting sick; worries about Covid-afflicted relatives, particularly the elderly; grieving for the dead, and potentially cognitive and mood effects from getting Covid, particularly long Covid. Similarly, there’s no mention about angst about the future of the planet, which not surprisingly hang heavy on many young people.And it predictably fails to mention a big driver of deteriorating social health indicators: high levels of inequality. As we’ve written from the inception of this site, unequal societies are unhappy and unhealthy societies. High levels of inequality exact a longevity cost, even among the rich.But even with those shortcomings, the Journal article gives a sense of how many young people in the US are showing signs of mental illness and even when they are getting help, are also taking matters into their own hands. From the Journal account:Between 2019 and 2020, the overall mortality rate for ages 1 to 19 rose by 10.7%, and increased by an additional 8.3% the following year, according to an analysis of federal death statistics led by Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, published in JAMA in March. That’s the highest increase for two consecutive years in the half-century that the government has publicly tracked such figures, according to Woolf’s analysis.Other developed countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and Norway also saw a rise in some death counts among young people during that time, though the upticks were often concentrated in narrow age groups or one gender, according to global death counts provided by Christopher J.L. Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.The U.S. is the only place among peer nations where firearms are the No. 1 cause of death in young people.

Surgeon General issues advisory that social media is contributing to youth mental health crisis-- Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is issuing an advisory that social media use may be harmful to the mental health of young people, citing growing evidence that online content is hurting the development of the nation’s youth. “I’m issuing this advisory because we’re in the middle of a youth mental health crisis and I’m concerned that social media is contributing to the harms that kids are experiencing,” Murthy told The Hill. Murthy specifically pointed to the possibility of a link between time spent on social media and depression and anxiety. He cited one 2019 study that found adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 who spent more than three hours on social media daily had double the risk of developing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Teenagers on average spend 3 1/2 hours on social media every day, according to data cited in the advisory. The advisory acknowledged social media can provide some benefits to young people. It noted a majority of young girls of color say they regularly see “positive and identity-affirming content” online. Social media also provides avenues for connection for people who may otherwise feel isolated, such as people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community. The surgeon general stressed the onus for managing healthy social media use was not entirely on parents. “It’s an unreasonable expectation because prior generations never had to experience and manage the rapidly evolving technology that fundamentally changed how kids thought about themselves, how they thought about their friendships and how they saw the world,” said Murthy. He said companies must play a part in ensuring social media does not harm kids. Murthy called on higher transparency from tech companies, noting that independent researchers have told his office tech giants have not provided the full data needed to make a complete assessment of the risk for harm.

Study shows a direct link between high consumption of ultra-processed foods and psychosocial difficulties in adolescents -- Adolescents who consume a greater amount of ultra-processed foods and drinks have more difficulties in terms of mental health, according to new research carried out by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) and the Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBGI), which analyses the habits of five hundred Spanish adolescents aged between 13 and 18. The purchase of ultra-processed foods and drinks has tripled in Spain in recent decades, with adolescents being the biggest consumers of these types of industrial products characterized by their low nutrient content (e.g., proteins and fibre), high energy densities (e.g. saturated fats and added sugars), and the presence of additives (e.g. colourings, flavour enhancers) that make them very attractive, tasty and addictive. The study, which also involves the Faculty of Medicine and the Institut de Neurociències, both at the UAB, and the Barcelona Public Health Agency, analyses the relationship between the intake of ultra-processed foods and psychosocial difficulties - such as low mood, feelings of anxiety, attentional problems - and other behavioral symptoms, taking into account the daily consumption of fruit and vegetables and the weekly physical activity of the participants, variables that have proven to have positive effects on mental health. The research showed a direct association between high consumption of ultra-processed foods and beverages, emotional distress and behavioral problems, with the association with low mood reported by adolescent participants being most significant. Adolescents reported an average consumption of 7.7 ultra-processed foods on the previous day, with higher consumption among teenage boys (8.6 ultra-processed foods for boys compared to 7 ultra-processed foods for girls). Most participants reported consuming sausages, biscuits and processed meats (50-60%), chocolate products, snacks, chocolate drinks and sauces (40-50%), and flavoured yoghurts, processed breads and pastries, sugary cereals, soft drinks, packaged fruit juices and processed crisps (30-40%).In addition, 26.2% of the participants presented some kind of psychosocial problem, 33.9% related to emotional distress, mainly depression or anxiety, 9.5% related to attentional problems, and 3.9% related to behavioural problems. By gender, girls showed greater psychosocial problems in all areas (26.4% vs. 22.2%), especially in relation to low mood and feelings of anxiety, except for behavioural problems which were similar between the sexes.

Judge: School district can bar student from wearing Mexican and American flag sash at graduation (AP) — A federal judge ruled Friday that a rural Colorado school district can bar a high school student from wearing a Mexican and American flag sash at her graduation this weekend after the student sued the school district. Judge Nina Y. Wang wrote that wearing a sash during a graduation ceremony falls under school-sponsored speech, not the student’s private speech. Therefor, “the School District is permitted to restrict that speech as it sees fit in the interest of the kind of graduation it would like to hold,” Wang wrote. The ruling was over the student’s request for a temporary restraining order, which would have allowed her to wear the sash on Saturday for graduation because the case wouldn’t have resolved in time. Wang found that the student and her attorneys failed to sufficiently show they were likely to succeed, but a final ruling is still to come. It’s the latest dispute in the U.S. about what kind of cultural graduation attire is allowed at commencement ceremonies, with many focusing on tribal regalia. Attorneys for Naomi Peña Villasano argued in a hearing Friday in Denver that the school district decision violates her free speech rights. They also said that it’s inconsistent for the district to allow Native American attire but not Peña Villasano’s sash representing her heritage. The sash has the Mexican flag on one side and the United States flag on the other. “I’m a 200 percenter — 100% American and 100% Mexican,” she said at a recent school board meeting in Colorado’s rural Western Slope. “The district is discriminating against the expression of different cultural heritages,” said her attorney Kenneth Parreno, from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, at Friday’s hearing. An attorney representing the Garfield County School District 16 countered that Native American regalia is required to be allowed in Colorado and is categorically different from wearing a country’s flags. Permitting Peña Villasano to sport the U.S. and Mexican flags as a sash, said Holly Ortiz, could open “the door to offensive material.”

Illinois GOP legislator threatens violence if state passes all-gender bathroom bill -- Illinois state senators last week were told to expect violence if they voted to pass legislation that would allow businesses to install multiple-occupancy restrooms open to all genders. Speaking on the Illinois Senate floor Thursday, state Sen. Neil Anderson, a Republican, said he would be driven to physical violence if “a guy” entered the same restroom as his 10-year-old daughter. “I’m telling you right now, if a guy walks in there, I’m going to beat the living piss out of him,” Anderson said during Thursday’s floor debate on House Bill 1286 as his supporters cheered. “So, this is going to cause violence, and it’s going to cause violence from dads like me.” The bill — which would require mixed-gender, multiple-occupancy bathrooms be equipped with floor-to-ceiling stall dividers, locks, baby changing tables and at least one vending machine for menstrual products — seeks to expand an existing state law requiring that single-occupancy restrooms be open to all genders. The legislation passed the Senate largely along party lines in a 35-20 vote Thursday and was given final approval by the Democratic-controlled House on Friday. The measure would go into effect with Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature. Anderson’s comments during Thursday’s floor debate were condemned as gratuitously violent by Illinois Senate Democrats. State Sen. Mike Simmons (D) suggested Anderson’s remarks should be stricken from the record. “I wouldn’t want a single person in the state to read that record and think that anybody here would come after them if they would do something so mundane as to use the bathroom,” he said. Simmons, Illinois’s first openly gay state senator, in a Twitter post late Thursday said Anderson’s comments targeted LGBTQ people. “I refuse to accept dog-whistling against LGBTQ+ communities,” he wrote, “and today’s floor debate on gender neutral restrooms legislation was no exception.” On Friday, three LGBTQ rights groups — Equality Illinois, Pride Action Tank and AIDS Foundation Chicago — issued a joint statement denouncing “the violent language” used during Thursday’s debate and accusing a “state senator” of advocating for “transphobic violence,” an apparent reference to Simmons.

Catholic clergy sexually abused Illinois kids far more often than church acknowledged, state finds — More than 450 Catholic clergy in Illinois sexually abused nearly 2,000 children since 1950, the state’s attorney general found in an investigation released Tuesday, revealing that the problem was far worse than the church had let on. Attorney General Kwame Raoul said at a news conference that investigators found that 451 Catholic clergy abused 1,997 children in Illinois between 1950 and 2019, though he acknowledged that the statute of limitations has expired in many cases and that those abusers “will never see justice in a legal sense.” “It is my hope that this report will shine light both on those who violated their positions of power and trust to abuse innocent children, and on the men in church leadership who covered up that abuse,” Raoul said, crediting the accusers for making the review possible. “These perpetrators may never be held accountable in a court of law, but by naming them here, the intention is to provide a public accountability and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence.” The review began in 2018 under Raoul’s predecessor, Lisa Madigan, who released a blistering report as she prepared to leave office. Raoul continued the investigation, and he said Tuesday that 25 staff members reviewed more than 100,000 pages of diocesan documents and engaged in more than 600 confidential interactions with contacts. The lengthy report describes Illinois church leaders as woefully slow to acknowledge the extent of the abuse. It also accuses them of frequently dragging their feet to confront accused clergy and of failing to warn parishioners about possible abusers in their midst, sometimes even decades after allegations emerged. In a joint statement issued Friday ahead of Raoul’s announcement, the state’s Catholic dioceses said the attorney general’s investigation prompted a yearslong review of their policies and unspecified changes. Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, on Monday called abuse “repugnant” but said the church in 1992 began overhauling its policies and programs and cooperated fully with the state’s review.

Illinois dioceses tolerated decades of abuse by clergy, report finds (Reuters) - Some 2,000 Illinois children were sexually abused by Roman Catholic clergy between the 1950s and 2010s, the state attorney general said in a report released on Tuesday that also detailed how abuse was often tolerated and concealed by Church leaders. The 696-page report, released by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, substantiated claims of abuse made against 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers in the state's six dioceses. At least 1,997 children were sexually abused over the past seven decades, the report said. Advertisement · Scroll to continue Report an ad The report published for the first time the names of 149 clergy and religious brothers who it said had been the subject of credible allegations of sexual abuse. It was initiated in 2018 by Raoul's predecessor Lisa Madigan, who accused the Church of underreporting cases when it initially identified 103 abusers among its ranks. The report joins a long list of investigations across the world into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and the frequent practice of covering up for abusers and transferring them to new assignments, thereby putting more children at risk. Advertisement · Scroll to continue Report an ad The abuse scandals have shredded the Church's reputation and been a major challenge for Pope Francis, who has passed a series of measures over the last 10 years aimed at holding the Church hierarchy more accountable, with mixed results. "Decades of Catholic leadership decisions and policies have allowed known child-sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight," Raoul said. In Illinois, investigators said they pored over thousands of files, conducted hours of interviews with leaders and fielded more than 600 victim complaints. Many of the people who were abused cannot seek legal remedies due to the statute of limitations on crimes committed in some cases decades ago, Raoul said. The report in part was undertaken to bring some relief to victims, who he characterized as "survivors." In a statement, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, sought to blunt criticism that the Church had failed to disclose the names of the abusers identified in the report. He said most of the 149 were members of religious orders that were not under direct supervision by dioceses. Advertisement · Scroll to continue "Survivors will forever be in our prayers, and we have devoted ourselves to rooting out this problem and providing healing to victims," Cupich said. About 3.5 million Catholics lived in Illinois as of 2019, according to the Catholic Conference of Illinois, making up 27% of the state's population. The state's dioceses included about 950 parishes and more than 2,200 priests.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declares ‘state of emergency’ for public education -- North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is sparing no words in attacking the Republican-controlled General Assembly, this time saying there is “a state of emergency for public education.” Cooper lost in veto-override votes on pistol permits and then a restructuring of abortion rights to the GOP’s supermajority in both the House and the Senate, two issues he campaigned heavily to combat in the public arena. Now he is citing smaller raises for teachers coupled with a cut in state revenue in the Senate’s proposed budget and the expansion of private-school vouchers as significant problems that are “aiming to choke the life out of public education. “There is no executive order like there is for a hurricane or the pandemic,” Cooper said, “but this is no less important.” The Senate’s budget gives teachers a 4.5% raise over the next two years and plans to cut the personal and corporate income tax rates, making the personal rate 4.5% by 2024, which Cooper cited primarily as a “tax break for millionaires.” The House had suggested 10.2% raises for teachers in the biennium, and Cooper had pushed for 18% in the budget concept he provided earlier in the spring. Senators cite the $34.8 billion budgeted for education these next two years as a strong investment. “The Senate has given veteran teachers a $250 raise spread over two years,” Cooper said. “That’s a slap in the face and will make our teacher shortage worse.” The House soon will reject the Senate’s budget, which will begin a conference process to achieve compromise. Cooper’s veto pen eventually will get another test. And that window of opportunity is why Cooper is imploring the public to get involved now, while there still could be an impact. “I’m fighting back, and I need you to, too,” Cooper said. He directed the public to his website, where a banner links to information about the situation and coaches the public on how “you can connect with your state legislators and tell them to support public education. “Commit to call, write or visit with legislators. Our children need us right now,” he said.

Wes Moore calls out politicians who ‘ban books and muzzle educators’ - Gov. Wes Moore of Maryland, the nation’s only Black governor, is pushing back against political figures and Republican-led legislatures that have crusaded for banning books and for what has been derided as “divisive concepts” from being taught in school. “I look around the country and I see book banning. I’m looking around the country right now and I’m seeing … teachers being censored. I see [the] curriculum of truth being taken out,” said Moore, a Democrat, during a commencement speech Sunday at Morehouse College, a historically Black and all-male college in Atlanta. Moore’s remarks on the nation’s culture wars were the first he has made on the issue since being sworn into office this year. “When politicians ban books and muzzle educators,” he said, “they say it’s an effort to prevent discomfort guilt — but we know that’s not true. This is not about a fear of making people feel bad. It is about a fear of people understanding their power.” He also encouraged the graduates to “confront this threat” in the next phase of their lives and use the challenges learned from previous eras of American history for the betterment of mankind. The alternative, he warned, was that “those who yearn to destroy history” will not stop at Black history, but will continue the erasure of the hardship and contributions made by AAPI, Jewish, Indigenous and LGBTQ communities. “A threat to any history is a threat to all history,” Moore said. “I’m talking about everyone in this country who has been a part of the American story — and who are watching the stories of those who came before us be wiped away.” Moore’s remarks are the latest sign yet that Democrats see book banning as a galvanizing issue heading into next year’s general election cycle. It is also a sign he is looking to raise his national profile and testing ways to elevate his presence during the upcoming 2024 election cycle. He is seen as a rising star within the Democratic Party with many predicting a White House run down the line.

Texas bans ‘Marxist’ diversity offices at state universities, following Florida -- The Texas Legislature has passed a law banning diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state universities.The bill now heads to the the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott (R).The measure — the second of its kind passed by any state, after Florida — is one that critics say could hamstring flagship state institutions such as the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. They also warn it could chase minority students from state universities and devastate smaller schools.The bill obligates the governors of each state university to ensure their institution has no diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) office and does not consider diversity as a factor when making hires.State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) told the House the bill is necessary to protect Texas from radicalism.“Conservatives began this session by recognizing this simple truth: Texas has allowed leftist to infiltrate our universities for far too long,” Tinderholt said Monday.“If you’re voting to keep these people on the Texas tax payroll at these universities, you are complicit in their subversion,” he added.To proponents, DEI programs are a means to ease the integration and ensure the fair treatment of social and sexual minorities in American workplaces. “Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party, inclusion means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist, [and] equity means that everyone has the opportunity to dance/experience the music,” Robert Sellers, chief diversity officer of the University of Michigan, wrote in a statement. But since the national reckoning on race that followed the 2020 murder of George Floyd, conservative activists have sought to frame DEI as fundamentally racist programs.“The University of Texas has created a radical DEI bureaucracy that equates ‘objectivity’ with ‘white supremacy,’ recommends the word ‘wimmin’ as a replacement for ‘women,’ and affirms ‘polyamory’ and ‘polyfidelity’ as positive sexual identities,” far right activist Christopher Rufo wrote earlier this month.“The University of Texas at Austin is wasting untold millions on race and gender narcissism,” Rufo added.In his statements Monday, Tinderholt echoed the idea that DEI was something threatening, radical — and fundamentally racist.“I was pretty disgusted by the things that I watched my Democrat peers say about you, my Republican peers, on Friday. We judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin,” Tinderholt said.

Pro-Life Display-Destroying CUNY Prof Fired After Threatening Reporter With Machete - The Hunter College (part of the City University of New York) art adjunct who earlier this month trashed a student group’s pro-life table has now threatened a journalist by putting a machete to his neck.When New York Post reporter Reuven Fenton showed up at Shellyne Rodriguez’s apartment in an attempt to ask her some questions, she responded in much the same way she did with the Hunter College Students for Life earlier in the month.According to the Post, Fenton was greeted with “Get the f**k away from my door, or I’m gonna chop you up with this machete!” (Pictured)She reiterated: “Get the f–k away from my door! Get the f–k away from my door!” Fenton and his accompanying photographer left after the encounter, but Rodriguez followed them out of the building, threatening them further while still wielding the blade: “If I see you on this block one more f–king time, you’re gonna … Get the f–k off the block! Get the f–k out of here, yo!”Rodriguez ended up kicking the Post photographer in the shins before going back inside her apartment building, according to the report. In the process of wrecking the Students for Life display on May 2, Rodriguez had claimed the exhibit was “violent” and was “triggering” her students. She told the male student manning the table that “you can’t even have a f—ing baby. So you don’t even know what that is. Get this sh** the f*** out of here.” Hunter College spokesman Vince DiMiceli told the Post that Rodriguez “has been relieved of her duties at Hunter College effective immediately, and will not be returning to teach at the school.”

Meta-analysis supports shorter antibiotic courses for kids' pneumonia -A review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials suggests shorter antibiotic durations are as safe and effective as longer durations in children with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), researchers reported today in Pediatrics.To evaluate the evidence on antibiotic treatment durations for children with CAP, a team of Chinese and Canadian researchers reviewed and analyzed 16 randomized controlled trials conducted in high- and low-income countries comparing shorter (5 days or less) with longer antibiotic durations in 12,774 patients. Guidelines from the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society and the Infectious Diseases Society of America recommend 7 to 10 days of antibiotics but acknowledge that shorter courses may be just as effective, while the World Health Organization recommends 3 to 5 days for children in low- and middle-income countries.The meta-analysis found no substantial differences between shorter-duration and longer-duration antibiotics in clinical cure (odds ratio 1.01; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.87 to 1.17; risk difference [RD] ,0.1%; moderate certainty), treatment failure (relative risk [RR], 1.06; 95% CI, 0.93 to 1.21; RD, 0.3%; moderate certainty), and relapse (RR, 1.12, 95% CI 0.92 to 1.35; RD, 0.5%; moderate certainty). Compared with longer-duration antibiotics, shorter-duration antibiotics do not appreciably increase mortality (RD, 0.0%; 95% CI,−0.2 to 0.1; high certainty), and probably have little or no impact on the need for change in antibiotics (RR, 1.03; 95% CI, 0.72 to 1.47; RD, 0.2%; moderate certainty), need for hospitalization (RD, −0.2%; 95% CI −0.9 to 0.5; moderate certainty), and severe adverse events (RD, 0.0%; 95% CI −0.2 to 0.2; moderate certainty).

Evolutionary characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron subvariants adapted to the host As the COVID-19 epidemic proceeds, new variants of SARS-CoV-2 continue to emerge.1 Particularly the B.1.1.529 (Omicron) variant emerged and spread globally, surpassing the previously dominant B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant. Moreover, the original Omicron variant continued to mutate into numerous Omicron sublineages. Nonetheless, the infectious and immune characteristics of newly-emerged Omicron sublineages that have evolved to adapt to the host remain unclear. Here, we systematically investigated the infectivity, proteolytic activation, viral entry pathway, membrane fusion, and sensitivity to antibody neutralizing of the predominant Omicron sublineages. […] Evolutionary characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variants adapted to the host. a, b Infectivity of Omicron sublineages pseudoviruses in different cells. c Hydrolytic cleavage of variants S proteins in 293T cells. Shown are representative blots from three experiments. d The binding activity of variants S proteins to soluble ACE2, quantified by mean fluorescence intensity (MFI), and normalized by cell surface expressed S protein (n = 2). eThe binding activity of BA.4/5, B.7, BQ.1, BQ.1.1, XBB and XBB.1.5S proteins to soluble ACE2. f Infectivity of variants pseudoviruses in 293T-ACE2 cells transiently expressing different transmembrane serine proteases. gEndocytosis and protease inhibitors effectively blocked the entry of variants pseudoviruses into 293T-ACE2 cells. 293T-ACE2 cells were pretreated with different concentrations of inhibitors (E64d, Chloroquine and Apilimod) and then infected with variants pseudoviruses. h SARS-CoV-2 variants S proteins mediated cell-cell fusion assay. i NF-κB reporter activation in Caco2 cells mediated by incubation with 293T cells expressing variants S proteins. j, k Neutralizing activity of therapeutic neutralizing mAbs against variants pseudoviruses. Green, IC50 < 50 ng/mL; Red, IC50 > 1000 ng/mL; BDL indicates neutralizing activity below detection limit. l Fold changes of vaccine sera neutralization activity between variants and D614G pseudoviruses, and “−” represents the decrease of sensitivity of vaccine sera, and “+” represents the increase of sensitivity of vaccine sera. The values are marked in red, indicating that sensitivity is decreased at least 3-fold. m Radar chart of Omicron sublineages characteristics. Experiments were done in 3-4 replicates and repeated at least twice. One representative is shown with error bars indicating SEM. In Fig. 1a, d, i, black stars represent statistical differences of all Omicron sublineages compared to the BA.1 strain, while red stars represent statistical differences of all BA.2 sublineages compared to the BA.2 strain. EV indicates empty vector

Research finds fever to be the most common non-respiratory feature of SARS-CoV-2 infection - Fever was found to be the most common non-respiratory feature of infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to research published at the ATS 2023 International Conference. The finding held true regardless of which COVID variant patients had, and whether or not they were fully vaccinated or not fully vaccinated. The researchers, who also looked at mortality risk, found that patients who were not fully vaccinated had a higher risk of dying when infected with either the Omicron or Delta variant. The study was based on the examination of the University of California Health Covid Research Data Set's (UC CORDS) medical records of 63,454 patients who had been treated in a University of California medical center for COVID-19. The scientists applied statistical tests to determine the relationship between non-respiratory features, vaccination status and differences in mortality between infection with the Omicron and Delta variants. We determined that we would conduct this study because the scientific literature has shown that, although COVID is a respiratory disease, it affects multiple organ systems. We wanted to determine which organ systems and features were most affected by the different SARS-CoV-2 variants, which were more likely to lead to death, and the effect of being vaccinated or not fully vaccinated." She added: "We found that the risk of developing non-respiratory features of COVID-19 was statistically higher in those who were not fully vaccinated, across all variants." Heart disease was statistically higher in those not fully vaccinated at the time that Omicron was dominant. Specifically, tachycardia-;a heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute-;was found in more individuals not fully vaccinated during the surges of both Omicron and Delta. In addition, both diabetes and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) were features of all variants, regardless of vaccination status.

COVID-19 infection associated with type 1 diabetes in kids -- A new study suggests that a diagnosis of COVID-19 in children is associated with an increased incidence of type 1 diabetes in 2020 and 2021 in Bavaria, Germany. The study was published yesterday in JAMA.The findings were based on data collected from the Bavarian Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (BASHIP), which processes claims data for all insured patients in Bavaria, Germany. The study included children born between 2010 and 2018 and observed through December 2021 in the BASHIP database.Incidence rates of type 1 diabetes were compared in 2018-2019 to 2020-2021 and were analyzed in conjunction with documented COVID-19 diagnoses. The frequency of a first diagnosis of COVID-19 ranged from 0.18% in January to March 2020 to 4.79% in October to December 2021.The incidence rate of type 1 diabetes was 29.9 (95% binomial confidence interval [CI,] 27.7 to 32.2; 705 cases) per 100,000 person-years between January 2020 and December 2021, compared to 19.5 (95% CI, 17.8 to 21.4; 460 cases) between January 2018 and December 2019 (P<.001).Diagnoses of type 1 diabetes increased following documented COVID-19 infection. The incidence rate of type 1 diabetes during the pandemic was 28.5 (95% CI, 26.3 to 30.9; 620 cases) per 100,000 person-years in the absence of a COVID-19 diagnosis made before or at the same time as a diabetes diagnosis. In comparison, the incidence rate of type 1 diabetes was 55.2 (95% CI, 37.1 to 81.5; 27 cases) per 100,000 person-years in the same 3 months as a COVID-19 diagnosis (P<.001 vs COVID-19 negative). Six to 15 months after COVID-19 diagnosis, the diabetes incidence rate was 50.7 (95% CI, 34.3 to 74.4; 28 cases).

Youth—especially girls—had more psychiatric diagnoses in first 2 years of COVID | Among about 1.7 million US youths, both girls and boys experienced increases in some common mental illnesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, but girls were particularly affected, with more than a doubling of eating disorders among adolescent girls, according to a study published yesterday in JAMA Network Open. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Stanford University used a commercial healthcare claims database to evaluate the monthly percentage of youths aged 6 to 18 years who received one of four mental illness diagnoses—anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], depression, and eating disorders—from January 2018 to March 2022. On average for any given month, 25.3% of participants were 6- to 12-year-old girls , 23.6% were 13- to 18-year-old girls, 26.5% were boys aged 6 to 12, and 24.5% were boys aged 13 to 18. The researchers noted that the pandemic disrupted daily life, increased isolation and social media use, lowered access to care, and exacerbated the financial situations of many families—all which could have influenced children's mental health. When schools began to reopen after the first waves of the pandemic (October 2020 to March 2022), the prevalence of all four mental illnesses rose immediately among girls aged 13 to 18. Diagnoses of all disorders other than depression increased faster during than before the pandemic. Notably, the prevalence of eating disorders more than doubled among adolescent girls after the pandemic began (from 0.26% in March 2020 to 0.56% in March 2022). The prevalence of eating disorders was much lower in 13- to 18-year-old boys, but trends were comparable to those of girls of the same age (0.03% of boys in March 2020 to 0.06% in March 2022). Changes in the prevalence of other mental illness diagnoses were not seen among teen boys from before to during the pandemic. Among participants aged 6 to 12, the rates of all mental illness diagnoses were lower than those of adolescents except for ADHD, with eating disorders following a similar trajectory to that of 13- to 18-year-olds from before to during the pandemic (from 0.03% to 0.05% among girls and 0.01% to 0.03% among boys).

Study finds significant amount of clotting in the arteries of patients with STEMI and COVID-19 -The latest analysis from The North American COVID-19 STEMI (NACMI) was presented today as late-breaking clinical research at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography & Interventions (SCAI) 2023 Scientific Sessions. The findings show patients with an ST-elevated myocardial infarction, or STEMI, and COVID-19 had a significant amount of clotting in their arteries both before and after intervention. Importantly, clots were seen in multiple arteries in close to 30% of patients, a phenomenon observed in less than 5% of patients with heart attacks who do not have COVID-19. In the United States, someone experiences a heart attack every 40 seconds (CDC). Of these patients, more than 25% will experience a more severe type of heart attack, an ST-elevated myocardial infarction, or STEMI caused by the sudden, total blockage of a coronary artery. Pre-COVID-19 mortality in STEMI patients was below 5% (JACC). Previous NACMI research has shown that mortality jumps to 20% to 25% in patients who present with COVID-19 and a heart attack.In this blinded angiographic analysis, sites were invited to send angiograms to the Cardiovascular Imaging Research Core Lab (Vancouver, CA). Quantitative coronary angiography percent diameter stenosis (DS), thrombolysis in myocardial infarction (TIMI) flow, myocardial blush grade (MBG) and thrombus grade burden (TGB) were assessed. Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) was classified as unsuccessful if there was residual DS>50% and/or <TIMI 2 flow and/or untreated complication(s). Multi-vessel (MV) thrombotic disease and stenotic disease was defined as TGB > 0 and DS > 50% in > 2 arteries, respectively. Angiograms of 234 patients from 17 sites (12 US, 5 CAN) were analyzed. High TGB was observed in 74% of all patients pre-intervention and 29% of patients post intervention. A high proportion of patients (19%) did not have culprit lesions (locations inside the arteries readily identified by treating physicians) suggesting other mechanisms for heart attack maybe at play in this patient population. Core lab identified stent thrombosis (clotting of previously placed stents) in 12% of the entire cohort – a frequency that has never been observed in other STEMI cohorts. Of the 49 patients Core lab identified PCI failure rates were 34% which a high complication rate of 23%, mostly related to thrombus.

Patients with COVID-19 at time of heart attack have more clotting - Man having heart attackAn international COVID-19 registry shows an increased rate of clotting in heart attack patients with COVID-19, according to data recently presented at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography & Interventions (SCAI) 2023 Scientific Sessions. Clots were seen in multiple arteries in close to 30% of patients with COVID-19 at the time of an ST-elevated myocardial infarction, or STEMI, but in less than 5% of patients with STEMI who did not have COVID-19 at the time their heart attack. A STEMI is one of the most severe types of heart attacks seen in cardiac patients, as it is caused by the sudden, complete blockage of a coronary artery. Previous research has shown the pre-COVID-19 mortality in STEMI patients was below 5%, but climbs to 20% to 25% in patients who have COVID-19 at the time of their heart attack. The findings were based on angiography reports from 234 patients from 17 sites—12 in the United States and 5 in Canada. Researchers assessed a number of cardiac feature in the blinded analysis. The study intervention was the effect of percutaneous coronary intervention, a non-surgical procedure that opens blocked arteries. "These new insights point to the need for clinicians to be meticulous with blood thinning strategies, early interventions, and patient follow-up," said Payam Dehghani, MD, FRCPC, FACC, FSCAI, co-director of the Prairie Vascular Research Inc and an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan, in a society press release. The researchers said further investigation is needed to understand the relationship between COVID-19 and heart attacks. "COVID-19 is a pro-inflammatory, clot forming disease and we now see its effect in the coronary arteries," Dehghani said.

Excess deaths decreased in second pandemic year, likely tied to vaccination | CIDRAP -A new analysis of US national data reveals that excess deaths declined from 655,735 during the first pandemic year to 586,505 in the second. The study is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Excess deaths were calculated from national and state-level data from 2009 to 2022. Between March 2020 and February 2021, 655,735 (95% confidence interval [CI], 619,028 to 691,980) excess deaths were estimated. Between March 2021 and February 2022. 586,505 (95% CI, 532,823 to 639,205) excess deaths were seen.The authors of the study then analyzed excess deaths in states with low, medium, and high COVID-19 vaccination rates, defined as those in which less than 60%, 60% to 70%, and 70% or more of the population had received two doses of an mRNA vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by April 2022.Excess deaths were 22%, 22%, and 25% above baseline in low-, medium-, and high-vaccination states in the first year of the pandemic, but 23%, 22%, and 16%, respectively, in the second. There were 55,000 more excess deaths in high- than in low-vaccination states in year 1, but 35,000 fewer in year 2, wrote the author, economist Christopher Ruhm, PhD, of the University of Virginia. Reductions in excess deaths in year 2 were also seen among Hispanics, Blacks, and Asian Americans. The authors explained this was likely because minorities were initially much more susceptible to COVID-related deaths in the beginning of the pandemic.Those over the age of 65 also saw a dramatic reduction in excess deaths in year 2."The decline in excess deaths for seniors was almost certainly related to their rapid uptake of vaccinations," Ruhm wrote. "With particularly sharp fatality reductions among nursing home residents when vaccines became available."

Bivalent COVID vaccine efficacy at 6 months: 24% against hospitalization, strong against death -- Estimated bivalent (two-strain) COVID-19 mRNA vaccine effectiveness (VE) against hospitalization dropped from 62% 1 week after receipt to 24% at 4 to 6 months in adults with healthy immune systems, but protection against severe outcomes was sustained, according to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study. The test-negative, case-control study, published today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, assessed VE against COVID-19–related hospitalization by time since bivalent vaccine receipt among adults hospitalized at one of five sites in seven states from September 13, 2022, to April 21, 2023. The study population included patients with and without fully functional immune systems who had received a bivalent booster dose or only monovalent (single-strain) doses or were unvaccinated. Of 66,141 adults with healthy immune systems, 10.4% had COVID-19, and 89.6% were controls. The median age of infected patients was 76 years, compared with 71 among uninfected hospitalized controls. A total of 25.9% of COVID-19 patients and 23.2% of controls were unvaccinated, while 16.3% of infected patients and 20.6% of controls had received a bivalent dose. Among 18,934 hospitalized patients with impaired immune systems, 9.7% had COVID-19, and 90.3% were control patients. The median age of COVID-19 and control patients was 73 years and 70 years, respectively. VE in immune-impaired patients waned less Estimated VE against hospitalization among adults with healthy immune systems tumbled from 62% (95% confidence interval [CI], 57% to 67%) 1 week after receipt to 24% (95% CI, 12% to 33%) at 4 to 6 months and varied little by age-group. VE among participants with impaired immune systems was 28% at 1 week and 13% at 4 to 6 months. VE against hospitalization among participants who received only monovalent doses was 21% at a median of 12.5 months. VE against intensive care unit admission and death was estimated at 69% 1 week to 2 months after a bivalent dose and 50% at 4 to 6 months. VE for monovalent recipients was 3% at a median of 1 year after the last dose. Estimates of relative and absolute VE were comparable. "Receipt of a bivalent dose boosted protection against COVID-19–associated hospitalization that had waned since receipt of previous monovalent doses; however, protection afforded by a bivalent dose against COVID-19–associated hospitalization in adults without immunocompromising conditions waned in a similar pattern to that seen after receipt of a monovalent dose during Omicron predominance," the researchers wrote.

Pre-infection COVID vaccination linked to lower odds of lingering symptoms --A US study published yesterday in Nature Communications suggests that pre-infection COVID-19 vaccination was tied to a lower likelihood of persistent symptoms 45 days after infection. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health's RECOVER study analyzed the electronic health records of patients at 11 sites who tested positive for COVID-19, covering about 1 year starting on August 1, 2021. Minimum follow-up was 164 days. They studied two groups: 47,404 people (1.5% who received a clinical diagnosis of long COVID and 55.6% who had completed a primary vaccine series) and a model-based cohort of 198,514 people (1.7% were predicted to have long COVID, and 43.4% had received a primary vaccine series). The researchers found protective associations of vaccination with long-COVID diagnosis in both clinic-based and model-based outcomes. A subanalysis didn't reveal robust evidence that the protective effect depends on the time from vaccination to COVID-19 infection. "We found that vaccination was consistently associated with lower odds and rates of long COVID clinical diagnosis and high-confidence computationally derived diagnosis after adjusting for sex, demographics, and medical history," they wrote. "A major finding of our analysis is that the protective association remains consistent in results requiring a clinical diagnosis, and among those who contracted COVID-19 in a later period that includes Omicron infections." Relative to younger people, older adults had higher odds of both vaccination and long-COVID diagnoses. "Failing to account for the substantial differences between individuals who were and were not vaccinated prior to COVID-19 could lead one to inaccurately conclude that vaccination is harmful," the authors wrote. They said that contrary to intuition and previous study results, people vaccinated 25 or more weeks before infection had the lowest odds of a long-COVID diagnosis. "We do not present this as evidence that the benefits of vaccination with respect to long COVID do not wane," the researchers wrote. "Caution should be used when interpreting conditional coefficients and investigating the time between vaccination and COVID-19 was not a primary focus in this study."

Experts identify 12 defining symptoms of long COVID | CIDRAP - A Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)-led team has developed a preliminary definition of long COVID based on 12 symptoms that affect infected patients more often than uninfected people 6 months or more after a positive SARS-CoV-2 test. The researchers, who described their work today in JAMA, analyzed observational, prospective data from 9,764 adults surveyed about persistent symptoms and their severity at 85 sites in 33 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC, participating in the Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) trial by April 10, 2023, arriving at 12 defining symptoms. Median participant age was 47 years, 71% were women, 16% were Hispanic, and 15% were Black. The authors noted the lack of consensus on what constitutes long COVID, or postacute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). "Most existing PASC studies have focused on individual symptom frequency and have generated widely divergent estimates of prevalence due to their retrospective design and lack of an uninfected comparison group," they wrote. "Moreover, defining PASC precisely is difficult because it is heterogeneous, composed of conditions with variable and potentially overlapping etiologies (eg, organ injury, viral persistence, immune dysregulation, autoimmunity, and gut dysbiosis)," they added. Of 2,231 participants first infected with COVID-19 on or after December 1, 2021, and enrolled in the National Institutes of Health–sponsored study within 30 days of infection, 10% met the criteria for long COVID at 6 months. The odds of experiencing 37 symptoms were at least 50% higher among COVID-19 survivors than among uninfected participants (prevalence 2.5% or higher). Hallmark long-COVID symptoms were, by decreasing frequency, post-exertion malaise, fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, heart palpitations, changes in sexual desire or capacity, loss of or change in smell or taste, thirst, chronic cough, chest pain, and abnormal body movement. The proportion with a qualifying long-COVID score was 23% among infected participants and 3.7% in uninfected adults. Among participants with long COVID, the most common symptoms were post-exertion fatigue (87%), fatigue (85%), brain fog (64%), dizziness (62%), GI symptoms (59%), and heart palpitations (57%). Higher scores were linked to worse self-reported physical, mental, and social health. "This study found that long-term symptoms associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection spanned multiple organ systems," the researchers wrote. "The diversity of symptoms may be related to persistent viral reservoirs, autoimmunity, or direct differential organ injury." The rate of long COVID was lower among fully vaccinated than among unvaccinated participants, and those reinfected with the Omicron variant were more likely to have long COVID than those infected only once.

Risk of new post-COVID mental disorders higher only in older patients, study suggests --A study including all Danish adults published yesterday in JAMA Psychiatry suggests an increased risk of new-onset mental illness only in SARS-CoV-2–positive patients aged 70 and older. It also finds that worsened mental health after COVID-19 hospitalization is common but no more so than after other, similarly severe respiratory infections.A team led by Copenhagen University Hospital researchers used national registry data to compare the risk of new-onset mental disorders and psychotropic drug prescriptions among 526,749 adults who tested positive for COVID-19 with that of 501,119 untested, 3,124,933 COVID-negative, and hospitalized adults living in Denmark from January 1 to March 1, 2020.Follow-up was conducted until December 31, 2021. About half of the participants were women, and the average age was 48.8 years.The risk of new-onset mental illness was higher in both COVID-positive (hazard rate ratio [HRR], 1.24) and -negative (HRR, 1.42) adults than in those never tested. Relative to COVID-negative participants, the risk of mental illness in infected participants was 25% lower in those aged 18 to 29 years (HRR, 0.75), while those 70 and older were at 25% greater risk (HRR, 1.25).A comparable trend was seen for first-time psychotropic medication use, with a lower risk in 18- to 29-year-olds (HRR, 0.81) and a higher risk in those 70 and older (HRR, 1.57). The risk of mental disorders was much higher in hospitalized COVID-19 patients than among the general population (HRR, 2.54) but no more so than among those hospitalized for other respiratory infections (HRR, 1.03). Compared with COVID-negative participants, COVID-positive adults were at higher risk of filling anti-anxiety medication prescriptions (HRR, 1.22) and lower risk of taking antidepressants (HRR, 0.85), with no significant difference as to antipsychotic and antidementia drugs."Future studies should include even longer follow-up time and preferentially include immunological biomarkers to further investigate the impact of infection severity on postinfectious mental disorder sequelae," the study authors wrote.

US COVID indicators remain low -- On the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, the two main metrics that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses to track US COVID-19 activity—hospitalizations and deaths—continue to decline, according to the latest data. Hospitalizations for COVID are down 11% compared to a week ago, and deaths from the virus are down 13.3%. The hospitalization map, which reflects activity by county, replaces the CDC's earlier community levels, and there are currently only a few hot spots, some in Texas and in small portions of Nebraska and Louisiana. Early indicators—regional test positivity and emergency department (ED) visits—also show no signs of increase. Test positivity at the national level is 4.3%, down 0.7% from a week ago. The only region showing a slight increase is the part of the Southwest that includes California, Nevada, and Arizona. Only 0.5% of ED visits last week were due to COVID, down 10.8% from the previous week. There are no major rises in COVID positivity in wastewater surveillance. The CDC also released its latest variant proportion estimates, which show a handful of newer XBB Omicron subvariants continuing to chip away at the XBB 1.5 dominance, which has declined to 53.8%. The XBB subvariants showing small but steady increases include XBB.1.16 (15.1%), XBB.1.9.1 (11.8%), XBB.1.9.2 (6.1%), and XBB.2.3 (4.8%).The CDC today shared its findings in its investigation into a COVID-19 outbreak in people who attended its Epidemic Intelligence Service conference in Atlanta from April 24 to April 27. Among 1,443 survey respondents, there were 181 COVID infections (13%), and those who tested positive were much more likely to have attended 3 or more days of the event. No hospitalizations were reported. Nearly all case-patients had received at least one vaccine dose, and 49 (27%) received antiviral treatment. When asked about masks, 70% said they didn't wear one. The conference in Atlanta was held when community levels were low, for which masking wasn't recommended according to CDC guidance. "The findings of this rapid assessment support previous data that demonstrate that COVID-19 vaccines, antiviral treatments, and immunity from previous infection continue to provide people with protection against serious illness," the agency said.

China hit by new Covid wave, cases likely to surge to 65 million in a week: Report - China will probably witness a peak in the COVID-19 wave towards the end of June as it may mark around 65 million infections in a week, as stated by a senior health adviser, Bloomberg reported. According to the report, government authorities are rushing to increase their vaccine arsenal to fight against the latest omicron variants. Since late April, coronavirus variant XBB has been fueling an increase in cases across the country and is likely to result in 40 million infections per week by May-end before it is expected to peak at 65 million a month later, reported local media outlet The Paper on Monday, as it cited a presentation given by respiratory disease specialist Zhong Nanshan during a biotech conference held in the southern city of Guangzhou. The estimate given by disease specialist Zhong Nanshan has provided a rare insight into how the new wave is likely to play out in a country of 1.4 billion residents where people's immunity is waning almost six months after Covid Zero curbs were suddenly removed by the government authorities. With the idea that people need to live with the virus, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has not been updating its weekly statistics earlier this month, which has resulted in a question mark over Covid’s impact. The estimate of coronavirus cases rising to 65 million indicates that the resurgence is likely to be more muted in comparison to the previous waves which had hit the country late last year and into January. In the earlier wave, 37 million people were infected by a different omicron sublineage probably every day which sent residents scrambling for limited supplies of overwhelming hospitals, fever medicine and crematoriums. The Chinese authorities are also preparing to roll out new vaccines which will target XBB. The drug regulator of the country has already given preliminary approval to two and another three or four “will be cleared soon”, said Zhong. “We can lead the pack internationally in developing more effective vaccines," he added.

China’s New Covid-19 Wave May Peak in Late June, Zhong Nanshan Says -- China’s second wave of Covid-19 this year will likely peak at the end of next month, with vaccines being prepared to tackle new variants, according to Zhong Nanshan, a top Chinese expert on respiratory diseases. Led by the omicron XBB strain, the latest resurgence of Covid-19 began to spread in mid-April, Zhong told the Greater Bay Area Science Forum in Guangzhou yesterday. Cases are expected to peak at about 40 million a week late this month and 65 million a week in late June, he said. Two kinds of vaccines against the XBB variant have been initially approved by Chinese regulators, with three to four more to be given the green light soon, Zhong noted, without disclosing further details. China can be ahead of the world in developing more effective vaccines, he added. Prevention cannot be fully achieved because the virus mutates too fast, Zhong pointed out. The cause of death from infections with the omicron variant is often the aggravation of underlying diseases, he said, adding that it is vital for people with underlying conditions to avoid infection. Two of WestVac Biopharma’s recombinant protein vaccines against the XBB strain won approval for clinical trials from China’s National Medical Products Administration, the Chengdu-based firm said on May 17. The jabs will be quickly commercialized once the trials are completed, it added. “We hope these vaccines will be available soon, but clinical studies need time,” an industry insider told Yicai Global. “There are no foreign vaccines against the XBB variant approved for clinical trials.”

Fourth Omicron wave causes spike in Taiwan COVID cases | Taiwan News | 2023-05-23 20:31:00 — Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said serious COVID cases are on the rise due to the Omicron XBB variant replacing BA 2.75 as the dominant virus strain, per CDC press release. Due to a spike in cases, the public is still required to wear masks when going to medical institutions. The public is also encouraged to monitor their health as the CDC expects the fourth COVID Omicron wave to reach its peak at the end of June. Last week, the CDC said there were 129 confirmed local COVID-19 Omicron cases. Among this group, 72 cases were XBB, 53 cases were BA.2.75, with three cases of BQ.1, and one case of BA.5. Another 67 cases were imported from overseas. During the past four weeks of monitoring, XBB has become the mainstream Omicron virus strain in Taiwan, and its continued rise requires close observation as XBB is thought to be resilient to immunity and can trigger breakthrough infections. The CDC warns the public that since lifting COVID restrictions, the disease continues to pose a threat to public health. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself with booster vaccine doses available to the elderly over 65 years of age. Furthermore, to protect the health of the public and health workers, medical institutions, clinics, pharmacies, general nursing homes, and welfare institutions for the elderly, continue to be listed as places where masks are required to be worn. Other places such as long-term care institutions, veterans’ homes, children's and juvenile service institutions, and welfare institutions for the disabled, and ambulances will be classified as places where masks are recommended to be worn rather than required wearing beginning May 31.

Singapore’s Covid Deaths Surged in April Even as Infections Fall - Deaths from Covid-19 in Singapore surged last month amid the current wave of infections. The city-state reported 54 deaths in April alone, nearly double of the total number recorded in the first quarter, according to latest data from its health ministry. Almost all of those who died were aged 60 and above. Infections in the city-state had peaked at about 4,000 per day before subsiding earlier this month. There were 20,767 infections recorded in mid-May, down from a high of 28,410 in the last week of March. The rise in COVID-related deaths comes even as health minister Ong Ye Kung recently said there was no evidence the variants in the city-state have shown any clear growth advantage over the others or are leading to more severe infections.

COVID activity up in parts of Western Pacific, Africa -Global COVID activity continues to show a mixed picture and variant shifts, with the African region now reporting a rise in cases and numbers up in a few other hot spots, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today in its latest weekly update. Over the past 4 weeks, cases declined 21% compared to the previous period, and deaths were down by 17%. The WHO included the caveat that reported cases are underestimated due to reduced testing and delays in reporting. Deaths were up in four world regions: Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, and the Western Pacific. Omicron subvariant proportions continue to shift. Over most of April and into the first week of May, the level of XBB.1.5 declined from 50.4% to 41.6%, while the level of XBB.1.16 rose from 6.9% to 13.2%. Levels of other XBB-lineage subvariants also showed rises, including XBB.1.9.1 and XBB.1.9.2. Hot spots in Asia, Australia, and Africa In the Western Pacific region, cases rose by 38%, with Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, and Brunei Darussalam reporting the biggest proportional increases, with more modest rises reported by South Korea and Australia. Over the past few months, modest COVID surges have been reported from locations in the region, including Hong Kong. Though China is in the WHO's Western Pacific region, today's report didn't have details about the country's rising activity. China, like some other countries, isn't posting weekly updates, but at a medical conference this week, Zhong Nanshan, MD, one the country's top respiratory disease experts, said the new wave fueled by the Omicron XBB subvariant started in April, NBC News reported today. He predicted that cases will peak at 65 million per week by the end of June.The country's last surge was about 6 months ago, when officials scrapped China's strict "zero COVID" measures.Elsewhere in the region, Taiwan earlier this week said c ases and deaths were on the rise again, with XBB subvariants making up more than half of new cases, according to a Taiwan Centers for Disease Control statement translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary, an infectious disease news blog.Meanwhile, Hong Kong's recent surge has slowed significantly, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said today in its latest COVID and flu surveillance report.In Africa, the countries reporting the biggest proportional increases were Cabo Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Uganda. A modest rise was also reported from Mauritius.

WHO chief: World must prepare for deadlier outbreak than COVID-19 --The world should be prepared to respond to a disease outbreak of "even deadlier potential" than COVID-19, the head of the WHO said after the UN agency launched a global network to monitor disease threats. In a speech at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday (22 May), WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the end of COVID-19 as a global health emergency did not mean the global health threat was over. "The threat of another variant emerging that causes new surges of disease and death remains," he told the annual decision-making meeting of the WHO's 194 member states. "And the threat of another pathogen emerging with even deadlier potential remains." Kicking off the 76th meeting of the WHA on Saturday (20 May), the WHO launched the International Pathogen Surveillance Network (IPSN) to help identify and respond to emerging disease threats using genomics. The genetic information from viruses, bacteria and other disease-causing organisms can help scientists recognize and track diseases and develop treatments and vaccines. It can show how infectious or deadly a particular strain is, and how it spreads. The network aims to give every country access to pathogen genomic sequencing and analytics as part of its public health system, Tedros said at the launch.

Surge of COVID across Canada as hospitals drop mask mandatesAs the new and highly infectious XBB.1.16, or “Arcturus” variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus sweeps across the world, Canada, like every capitalist country, stands woefully ill prepared to handle further waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. The resurgence of COVID is above all due to the “Forever Covid” mass infection policy of governments at the provincial and federal levels, mirroring their counterparts internationally. The Trudeau Liberal government has spearheaded this policy, including by embracing the demands of the far-right Freedom Convoy in early 2022 to dismantle all remaining public health measures. The Liberals received unflinching support from the trade unions, which have suppressed all efforts by workers during the pandemic to resist dangerous working conditions. Several provinces have recently experienced an uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. During the week leading up to May 12, Manitoba saw 41 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, up 16 from the previous week. ICU admissions also increased to 11, and two died of the disease. In the same week, Nova Scotia reported eight COVID-19 deaths, with health authorities quick to point out that these were previously unreported deaths and “most likely occurred” during previous weeks and months. This only underscores the extent to which any semblance of data gathering on the pandemic has been dismantled by every level of government, with the exception of wastewater monitoring. In essence, the country’s entire population of 38 million people is flying blind through an ongoing pandemic, with the only systematic data analysis and interpretation conducted by volunteer groups like COVID-19 Resources Canada, which compiles a monthly national Hazard Index and tracks both hospitalizations and deaths. The XBB.1.16 variant is thought to have originated in India and has led to a massive surge of infections and hospitalizations in that country. On April 11 alone, the country registered 5.5 million new infections, which is almost certainly an undercount given the notorious COVID-19 minimizing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who infamously vowed to save the country not from the virus itself, but from “lockdowns.” XBB.1.16 is a combination of the BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 variants and features an additional mutation on its spike protein. Lab studies have shown that this mutation could potentially increase infectivity and severity of disease. Nevertheless, government and health authorities across Canada have blithely dismissed the danger of the new variant. In this, they took their cue from the misnamed World Health Organization, which recently ended its designation of the pandemic as a global health emergency as a concession to the financial markets.

Cookie dough-linked Salmonella outbreak sickens people in 6 states -The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)yesterday said federal and state health officials are investigating a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak linked to cookie dough sold at Papa Murphy's pizza outlets that has so far sickened at least 18 people in six states. Two people were hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported. States reporting cases are Washington (6), Idaho (4), Oregon (4), Utah (2), California (1), and Missouri (1). The earliest illness-onset date is February 27, and the most recent patient's illness began on May 2.The true number of sick people is likely much higher, given that many people recover without medical care and aren't tested. Whole-genome sequencing on samples from the CDC's PulseNet system found that bacteria from the sick patients are closely related, suggesting that they were sickened by the same food.Of 14 people who were interviewed about their food exposures, 12 said they ate food from Papa Murphy's, including 9 who ate raw cookie dough and 1 who had baked chocolate chip cookies made with the dough. The CDC said at least 2 of the sick people did not eat at Papa Murphy's, and investigators are working to identify the contaminated ingredient in the raw cookie dough.Papa Murphy's has not recalled the cookie dough but has temporarily stopped selling their raw chocolate cookie dough and raw s'mores bars dough.Several foodborne illness outbreaks in the past have been linked to eating raw cookie dough. The CDC said most raw dough is made with unpasteurized eggs and raw flour that can harbor Salmonella or Escherichia coli. The agency added, however, that some companies make edible dough with heat-treated flour, pasteurized eggs, or no eggs.

UK reports more mpox cases, urges vaccination - The United Kingdom's Health Security Agency (HSA) yesterday reported more mpox cases, all from London, and encouraged people to stay vigilant over the summer months.The warning comes as health officials and affected communities brace for more mpox infections linked to summer festivals and gatherings. Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a similar warning in the wake of a cluster of mpox infections in the Chicago area. In a statement, the HSA said it received reports of 10 more cases over the past 4 weeks, putting the number for the year at 20.Half of the new cases were in unvaccinated people, and two in the group had received only one vaccine dose. Four patients likely contracted their infections abroad, and the source for one person is still undetermined.Officials urged eligible people who haven't received their two vaccine doses to book the first dose by Jun 16 and the second dose by the end of July. Katy Sinka, PhD, the HSA's head of sexually transmitted diseases, said it's clear that mpox hasn't gone away. She added that first-dose uptake has been strong, but only one third of the group have received their second dose. "Our aim is to eliminate this unpleasant disease from the UK entirely—vaccination and community action have worked very well to significantly reduce case numbers and we can't let our guard down now."

CDC data highlight urban impact of mpox, US cities most at risk of resurgence -- In unsurprising news, the mpox outbreak of 2022 was largely concentrated in US cities, according to a new study of geographic and surveillance trends published today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), but a second MMWR study spotlights which areas of the country have the highest immunity and which are at greatest risk of mpox resurgence. The first study was based on data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of mpox cases from May 10 2022, to December 31, 2022. A total of 29,980 confirmed and probable mpox cases were reported during that time, largely among men who have sex with men (MSM). Of the cases, 71.0% occurred in people living in large central urban areas. Only 440 cases (1.5%) were recorded in rural areas. The racial and ethnic distribution of cases also depended on geography: Hispanic persons accounted for 33.8% and 26.5% of cases in large central urban and large fringe urban areas, respectively, but only 14.3% and 15.1% in small urban and rural areas, the authors found. The proportion of White people with mpox in rural areas was greater than in urban areas. White people made up 42.8% and 43.3% of cases in small urban and rural areas, respectively, and 28.2% in large central, 28.2% in large fringe, and 35.8% in medium urban areas. Overall the US incidence of mpox was 13.5 cases per 100,000 people. The rate in large central urban areas was 30.6, much higher than rates in large fringe urban areas (9.7), medium urban areas (4.9), small urban areas (2.8), and rural areas (1.5). In the second mpox study, CDC scientists used modeling to estimate the risk for future mpox outbreaks in the United States and found that more than 592,000 MSM live in jurisdictions with a risk for mpox recurrences if a cluster of infectious cases were reintroduced. The risk of new outbreaks is related to the number of MSM in a community who have not been vaccinated against or infected with mpox. Immunity levels were calculated as a 37%, 67%, and 100% reduction in a chance of reoccurrence for those who had received one or two vaccine doses or had a history of infection, respectively. Only 15 US jurisdictions are predicted to be at minimal risk for recurrence because of their high levels of population immunity. Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, are high-immunity jurisdictions that are likely to have minimal risk for recurrence. But Duval County, Florida, Shelby County, Tennessee, and Hamilton County, Ohio—home to Jacksonville, Memphis, and Cincinnati, respectively—are at the highest risk for a future outbreak.

Tainted eye drops tied to 81 cases of highly resistant Pseudomonas, 4 deaths -The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed a fourth death and more vision loss in an outbreak of infections caused by a unique strain of extensively drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa involving at least 81 people in 18 states. "The infections are caused by a strain of carbapenem-resistant P. aeruginosa that produces the Verona integron-encoded metallo-β-lactamase (VIM) and the Guiana-Extended Spectrum-β-Lactamase (GES)," the CDC said in an update late last week. "Isolates are P. aeruginosa sequence type (ST) 1203 and harbor blaVIM-80 and blaGES-9, a combination not previously identified in the United States." In addition to the deaths, which is one more than the CDC reported in its March 25 update, people experiencing vision loss from their infection now total 14, up from 8 cases. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration recommend that clinicians and patients stop using and discard EzriCare Artificial Tears and two additional products made by Delsam Pharma of Mamaroneck, New York: Artificial Tears and Artificial Ointment. The manufacturer has recalled these products. Testing at public health labs showed that outbreak isolates are not susceptible to a wide range of antibiotics: cefepime, ceftazidime, piperacillin-tazobactam, aztreonam, carbapenems, ceftazidime-avibactam, ceftolozane-tazobactam, fluoroquinolones, polymyxins, amikacin, gentamicin, and tobramycin. A subset of five isolates was susceptible to cefiderocol. Specimens were collected from May 2022 to April 2023.

Many soft contact lenses in US made up of PFAS, research suggests — Many soft contact lenses in the US are largely made up of compounds called fluoropolymers that are by definition PFAS “forever chemicals”, new research suggests.Testing of 18 popular kinds of contact lenses found extremely high levels of organic fluorine, a marker of PFAS, in each.“You could consider [the lenses] almost pure PFAS,” said Scott Belcher, a North Carolina State University researcher and scientific adviser on the contact lens testing.PFAS are a class of about 14,000 chemicals typically used to make thousands of consumer products resist water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down, and they are linked to cancer, fetal complications, liver disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders and other serious health issues.The testing, commissioned by the Mamavation and Environmental Health News public health blogs and conducted at an Environmental Protection Agency-certified lab, looked for organic fluorine in lenses made by Acuvue, Alcon and Coopervision. It found the chemical at levels between 105 parts per million (ppm) to 20,700ppm.The chemistry is complex and there may be some other ingredients in the lenses, but the readings suggest fluoropolymers. Fluoropolymer PFAS in this form are essentially a soft plastic material and are used for disposable, soft lenses because “they have the properties that your eyes want”, Belcher said. It is difficult to say what kind of health impacts this level of eye exposure to the chemicals may have because no studies on how the eyes absorb PFAS from lenses have been done. However, PFAS are absorbed through the dermis and are highly mobile compounds, so it’s possible that eyes do absorb some level of the chemicals, though fluoropolymers are generally a less mobile kind of PFAS. But PFAS also break down into different types of PFAS once in the environment, so it is possible that the polymers turn into dangerous forms of the chemicals once in the eye or contact packaging, but no studies have been done. Chinese researchers in 2020 linked high PFAS exposure to several eye diseases.

PFAS contamination and the scourge of cancer in Odawa nation — The Real News Network -- 230 bright blue dots are plotted on an official gray map plainly labeled “Michigan PFAS Sites.” Innocuous in appearance, the majority of dots designate military bases, airports, and landfills, where PFAS—per- or polyfluorinated substances, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” which are found in fire retardants, lubricants, and coatings like Scotchgard™ and Teflon™—are used, or were dumped. The contaminants have become somewhat better known to Americans through the 2019 Hollywood film Dark Waters. These blue dots are markers of tragedy; sites of either profound ignorance or nihilistic callousness. One of them is less than two miles from Mary Burks’ home on the south side of Pellston, Michigan. I spoke with Mary in September 2022. An elder of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Mary was diagnosed in December 2021 with stage 4 liver cancer, a disease associated with PFAS contamination. By January it had metastasized to her lungs and she was told she had three months to live. Her blue dot was the Pellston Regional Airport, where firefighting foams chock full of PFAS chemicals were routinely used. No one’s sure how long the airport used these chemicals, but it was long enough to contaminate Mary’s own well a couple of miles away, and the wells of both her sisters, Shirley and Alice. Shirley’s husband dug the well 84 feet down—extra deep “because he didn’t want to run into anything down there.” He died of leukemia in recent years, a disease which is also associated with PFAS contamination. PFAS were first detected in Pellston in early 2020 at the tribe’s Head Start center, one block over from Mary’s house. High school students, including Shirley’s own granddaughter, conducted the testing with Fresh Water Futures, a nonprofit that catalyzes community efforts to safeguard the waters of the Great Lakes. The scourge of fatal cancer has run rampant through Mary’s community. Mary, her brother-in-law, and their cousins, two brothers who lived on Shirley’s block, also had fatal cancers. Their neighbor across the street was only 54 when they died of cancer, and Roseanne, another neighbor down the block, died of lung cancer. Pelston’s population is only 755; similarly, tribal members living in Emmet County number only in the hundreds, and every loss is deeply felt. “It’s like in the war-torn countries that have all the land mines,” said Mary’s younger daughter, Marisa Graves, who left her husband behind in the Northwest to be her mother’s everyday caretaker. “You can see the people of all ages with their limbs that have been blown off. And most of them don’t even have a prosthesis, or they have homemade crutches of sticks and things… that’s going to be our commonplace here.”

Minnesota poised to ban non-essential uses of PFAS, or ‘forever chemicals’ — (AP) — Minnesota is on the verge of banning non-essential uses of “forever chemicals.” And lawmakers say they are naming the legislation after a woman who spent the last months of her life campaigning for restrictions that will be some of the toughest in the country. Legislators, environmentalists and family members paid tribute Tuesday to Amara Strande. She died two days shy of her 21st birthday last month from a rare form of liver cancer. She grew up in a St. Paul suburb where the groundwater is contaminated by PFAS and believed the chemicals were part of what caused her cancer, which was diagnosed when she was 15.PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have spread around the globe and don’t break down in the environment. They have been linked to a broad range of health problems, including low birth weights and certain cancers. The chemicals have been used since the 1940s in many consumer and industrial products, including nonstick pans, fast-food packaging, fabrics and firefighting foam.“I have spent the last five years fighting cancer with every ounce of my being. And I will for the rest of my life,” Amara Strande said at an emotional news conference with lawmakers and her parents back when they announced the legislation in January. “Corporations must stop the production of these toxins and be held accountable and pay for the damage they’ve done. Through no fault of my own, I was exposed to these toxic chemicals. And as a result, I will die with this cancer.” “Amara’s Law” will allow only limited exceptions to the ban, such as firefighting foam used at airports and oil refineries and in protective clothing for firefighters. It also will require companies to disclose if the products they sell in Minnesota contain the chemicals. The ban would take effect in 2025 for a long list of products including carpets, cleaning products, cookware, cosmetics, dental floss, fabrics and fabric treatments, furniture, products for children, menstruation products and ski wax.

State reaches settlement with corporation over PFAS use --A Twin Cities-based corporation will pay more than $1 million toward restoring natural resources that state environmental agencies say were contaminated by the release of "forever chemicals." On Wednesday, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced it, along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), reached a natural resources damages settlement with Douglas Corporation for $1.375 million. The agencies say Douglas Corporation — a chrome-plating facility — released per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) and hexavalent chromium into the environment during its manufacturing process. The PFAS, or "forever chemicals," were detected in Minneapolis' Lake Harriet and Bde Maka Ska, in addition to Bass Lake in St. Louis Park. The chemicals were detected in Bda Maka Ska as far back as 2004, according to MPCA. MPCA says at least $1 million from the settlement will be used to improve water quality, fisheries and outdoor recreational opportunities. A timeline provided by the state shows Douglas Corporation started to address the use of PFAS in 2010, monitoring its output and attempting to prevent the chemicals from leaving the facility. In 2013, the state found PFAS levels in fish from Bde Maka Ska started to improve. The MPCA says Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet are still considered "impaired waters," but concedes that water quality is improving. Current PFAS levels in fish alone reveal they've fallen about 90% from 2008 to 2021.

The Shocking Truth: Unwashed Towels Rival Toilets In Bacteria Counts After Just Three Days - An indispensable tool in our bathing routine, seemingly clean, or lightly used bath towels, coupled with a potentially humid bathroom environment can harbor innumerable disease causing bacteria.Germs contained in towels can cause skin disease, hair loss, urinary tract infections, and even spread drug-resistant bacteria that can be fatal.Most of the bacteria in towels comes from the user’s body, face, and hands. With the high humidity usually found in a bathroom it becomes a highly favorable environment for rapid bacterial growth. Towels that appear clean to the naked eye may be full of tens of thousands of bacteria, posing potentially serious health threats. A Japanese life encyclopedia TV program called Non Stop, tested the bacterial content of bath towels, and found that freshly washed towels contained 190,000 count of bacteria. After one day of use, the number increased to 17 million—nearly 90 times more than day zero. The bacterial count found on towels used for three days soared to 87 million and as high as 94 million on towels used for one week without being washed. William Chao, a certified diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology, toxicologist, and professor at Chung Yuan Christian University in Taiwan said that if towels are left unwashed for three days, they will contain a variety of germs and that using them for cleaning is “like wiping your body against a toilet.” In addition to E. coli—most abundant on and in toilets—more types of bacteria could be found according to the different physical conditions of the towel’s user, and included Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, and Legionella. Chao said that the germs contained in the towel are prone to causing skin allergies, folliculitis, hair loss, and other skin diseases. Many people have the habit of sharing towels, including families with children and couples. If one of the users has an infection, the towel may become a breeding ground for the bacteria, causing mutual and repeated infections. When one towel user is undergoing treatment for an ailment there is the chance that the germ will reside with the partner and soon return to the initiator, creating a cycle. This is quite often the case of the fungal infection Hong Kong foot, or athlete’s Foot (Tinea pedis) and viral warts.. According to the “Antimicrobial Resistance: Global Report on Surveillance,” published by the World Health Organization in late 2022, drug-resistant bacteria are becoming more prevalent in communities and can cause life-threatening bloodstream infections.The report states that Klebsiella pneumoniae and Acinetobacter bacteria that cause blood infections in hospitals have 50 percent resistance to antibiotics, and that 8 percent of blood infections caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae are also resistant to antibiotics typically used as a last resort, Carbapenems, which increases the risk of death from uncontrollable diseases.The report also showed a 15 percent increase in bloodstream infections and gonorrhea infections caused by drug-resistant E. coli and Salmonella compared with 2017.These superbugs could also reside on your towels. According to a 2014 study on kitchen towels, coliform bacteria were detected in 89 percent of the kitchen towels in 82 households, and E. coli was detected in 25.6 percent of the towels. Moreover, researchers also discovered Klebsiella pneumoniae and Salmonella in the towels.

Ticks may be able to indirectly spread chronic wasting disease -- A study that involved feeding ticks blood spiked with chronic wasting disease (CWD) prions and testing ticks and ear samples taken from infected wild white-tailed deer suggests that the parasites can indirectly transmit the disease.For the University of Wisconsin at Madison-led study, researchers gave blood to male and female Ixodes scapularis(black-legged, or deer) ticks using a membrane feeder and a diluted CWD-infected brain sample from a hunter-harvested deer.Caused by infectious prions (misfolded proteins), CWD is a fatal neurodegenerative disease affecting cervids such as deer, elk, and moose. While CWD isn't known to infect humans, some experts fear it could mimic bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow" disease). Cervids can host many ticks and may ingest them while grooming each other."Natural modes of indirect transmission of CWD among free-ranging cervids remain poorly examined and may perpetuate endemic increases and broad geographic spread of the disease," the researchers wrote. In the first part of the experiment, the scientists demonstrated through artificial membrane feeding and real-time quaking-induced conversion assay (RT-QulC) that ticks can ingest and excrete CWD prions.For the second phase of the study, the investigators gathered ticks and ear samples from 174 tick-infested deer heads that hunter harvested in a CWD-endemic area of Wisconsin. The number of ticks attached to 15 heads (0.8%) that tested positive for CWD ranged from 2 to 8, compared with 3 to 16 in the CWD-negative heads.RT-QulC and protein misfolding cyclic amplification of the pooled tick samples from infected deer showed seeding activities (propagation and transmission) equivalent to 10 to 1,000 nanograms (ng) of lymph node collected from the throats of the deer upon which they were feeding. The findings indicated a CWD prevalence of 7.0% to 40.0% in ticks that had fed on the deer. The ear samples also showed evidence of seeding activity.Indirect CWD transmission likely has a central role in CWD dynamics, possibly through a combination of ingested or inhaled contaminated soil, consumption of contaminated plants, or mucosal contact with contaminated objects or environmental materials, the author said."We have identified a potential mechanical vector of CWD not previously evaluated for WTD [white-tailed deer], with implications for host behavior that may influence CWD exposure events," they wrote. "Land use change and shifts in regional climate regimes may result in higher tick infestations on cervids and contemporary range expansion for different tick species, potentially increasing the likelihood of this type of exposure event among WTD and other cervids."

Bird flu fells nearly 9,000 marine creatures in Chile --Nearly 9,000 sea lions, penguins, otters and small cetaceans have died in an avian flu outbreak battering Chile's north coast, the South American country's fisheries service said Thursday.Since the beginning of 2023, more than 7,600 sea lions, 1,186 Humboldt penguins—an endangered species that breeds only in Chile and Peru—and several otters, porpoises and dolphins have been found dead along the coast, the Sernapesca service said in a statement.The disease was present in 12 of Chile's 16 regions, it added, and announced the activation of "surveillance protocols" along the coast, including burying affected animals in a bid to prevent further virus spread.Since late 2021, one of the worst global avian influenza outbreaks on record has seen tens of millions of poultry culled, mass wild bird die-offs and a rising number of infections among mammals in several countries.In Cambodia, an 11-year-old girl fell ill in mid-February with a fever, cough and sore throat, and died from the H5N1 bird flu virus, according to the health ministry there.Her father also tested positive, but Cambodian health authorities ruled out human-to-human transmission.It is rare that bird flu jumps over into mammals—and rarer still that humans catch the potentially deadly virus.

Bird brains can flick switch to perceive Earth's magnetic field -- Earth's magnetic field, generated by the flow of molten iron in the planet's inner core, extends out into space and protects us from cosmic radiation emitted by the sun. It is also remarkably used by animals like salmon, sea turtles and migratory birds for navigation.But how? And why? A new study from researchers at Western's Advanced Facility for Avian Research (AFAR), home to the world's first hypobaric climatic wind tunnel for bird flight, explores a brain region called cluster N thatmigratory birds use to perceive Earth's magnetic field. The team has discovered the region is activated very flexibly, meaning these birds have an ability to process, or ignore, geomagnetic information, just as you may attend to music when you are interested or tune it out when you are not.The findings were published in the European Journal of Neuroscience.Specifically, the research team led by psychology Ph.D. candidate Madeleine Brodbeck and AFAR co-director Scott MacDougall-Shackleton studied white-throated sparrows and found they were able to activate cluster N at night when they were motivated to migrate (to avoid prey and fly during cooler periods) and make it go dormant when they were resting at a stopover site.This is the first demonstration of this brain region functioning in a North American bird species, as all prior research in this area was completed in Europe."This brain region is super important for activating the geomagnetic compass, especially for songbirds when they migrate at night," said Brodbeck. "Almost all previous work on this specific brain function was done at one lab in Europe, so it was great to replicate it in a North American bird like the white-throated sparrow."

Three cheetah cubs die in India amid sweltering heat wave --Three cheetah cubs born to a big cat that was brought to India from Africa last year died in central India's Kuno National Park in the past week, forest officials said, as a heat wave in the region sent temperatures soaring. The cubs were the first to be born in India in more than seven decades. Once widespread in India, cheetahs became extinct in 1952 from hunting and habitat loss. Their mother was among the 20 cheetahs that India flew in from Namibia and South Africa as part of an ambitious and hotly contested plan to reintroduce the world's fastest land animal to the South Asian country. The first cub died on Tuesday, prompting veterinarians in the national park in Madhya Pradesh state to closely monitor the mother and her three remaining cubs. The cubs appeared weak on Thursday afternoon—a day when temperatures spiked to 47 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit)—and authorities intervened to help the cats. They were "weak, underweight and highly dehydrated" and two of them later died, forest officials said in a statement. The last surviving cub is being treated in a critical care facility. Officials didn't say what caused the deaths but a scorching heat wave in India is believed to have weakened the cubs. The survival rate of cheetah cubs both in the wild and captivity is low, according to experts. The cats were introduced with much fanfare and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said the cats would catalyze efforts to conserve India's neglected grasslands. But of the 20 adult cheetahs imported to India, three—two females and a male—have died. Fewer than 7,000 adult cheetahs remain in the wild globally, and they now inhabit less than 9% of their original range. Shrinking habitat, due to the increasing human population and climate change, is a huge threat.

Clean up of AltEn site enters new phase, waste could be headed to Omaha landfill | Nebraska Examiner — Cleaning up a mountain of contaminated waste corn at the former AltEn ethanol plant has entered a new phase — one that might send another controversial cargo to an Omaha-area landfill.Officials with NewFields, the company hired to lead the cleanup, announced plans this week for a pilot project to discover the best, and safest way, to dispose of 115,000 tons of pesticide-contaminated “wet cake” — the waste grain left after the ethanol distilling process. It’s a pile that covers 16 acres, or about 10 square city blocks.The proposal involves mixing the wet cake with materials that reduces its moisture content, such as Portland cement or fly ash, and then wrapping it completely in plastic — like a burrito — to reduce dust and a putrid smell. Then, it would be transported to a landfill permitted to accept such waste.Bill Butler, an Atlanta-based senior engineer/partner in NewFields, said that where the wet cake will be hauled has yet to be determined.But he said that the Pheasant Point Landfill, operated by Waste Management, just outside of Omaha near Bennington, is the closest facility and one of those being considered.

Supreme Court Sharply Limits Federal Government's Ability to Police Pollution Into Certain Wetlands -- The Supreme Court on Thursday sharply limited the federal government’s authority to police water pollution (PDF) into certain wetlands, the second decision in as many years in which a conservative majority narrowed the reach of environmental regulations.The outcome could threaten efforts to control flooding on the Mississippi River and protect the Chesapeake Bay, among many projects, wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh, breaking with the other five conservatives. Environmental advocates said the decision would strip protections from tens of millions of acres of wetlands.The justices boosted property rights over concerns about clean water in a ruling in favor of an Idaho couple who sought to build a house near Priest Lake in the state’s panhandle. Chantell and Michael Sackett objected when federal officials identified a soggy portion of the property as a wetlands that required them to get a permit before filling it with rocks and soil. By a 5–4 vote, the court said in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that wetlands can only be regulated under the Clean Water Act if they have a “continuous surface connection” to larger, regulated bodies of water. There is no such connection on the Sacketts’ property. The court jettisoned the 17-year-old opinion by their former colleague, Anthony Kennedy, allowing regulation of what can be discharged into wetlands that could affect the health of the larger waterways. Kennedy’s opinion covering wetlands that have a “significant nexus” to larger bodies of water had been the standard for evaluating whether permits were required for discharges under the 1972 landmark environmental law. Opponents had objected that the standard was vague and unworkable.Reacting to the decision, Manish Bapna, chief executive of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called on Congress to amend the Clean Water Act to restore wetlands protections and on states to strengthen their own laws.“The Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands. The majority chose to protect polluters at the expense of healthy wetlands and waterways. This decision will cause incalculable harm. Communities across the country will pay the price,” Bapna said in a statement.

How an 81-year-old fisherman’s quest could transform public riverbed access in Colorado --An octogenarian angler’s quest to wade freely into the Arkansas River is making waves in more than just Colorado waterways, as the state’s highest court reconsiders century-old rules that govern who is allowed to enter a stream bed. The Colorado Supreme Court is weighing in on whether members of the public can access waters that traverse private lands — by evaluating the case of Roger Hill, who claims he was pelted by rocks for doing so more than a decade ago. Hill, an 81-year-old Colorado Springs resident, filed a lawsuit in 2018 against landowners Mark Warsewa and Linda Joseph, arguing that they had “no right to exclude him from his favorite fishing spot” which is located on their property near the south-central Colorado town of Cotopaxi. “I was 71 then and I was about two weeks prior to a heart procedure to correct my AFib while I was on blood thinners. If I’d been hit with one of those rocks, I would have died right there,” the fisherman, a retired physicist, told The Hill. Since Hill filed his initial lawsuit, the case has gone through removals, dismissals, appeals, remands and more dismissals and appeals — ultimately landing this past December in the hands of the Colorado Supreme Court. During a hearing before the high court earlier this month, Mark Squillace, Hill’s attorney and a professor at the University of Colorado Law School, accused the state of denying “that it has any responsibility to protect public access rights” and stressed that Colorado is instead “protecting wealthy private landowners.” At the core of this ongoing dispute is the issue of “navigability” — a federal government distinction that typically dictates the rules of public access by establishing whether a stream or river has been used “for purposes of interstate or foreign commerce.” Unlike most other states, Colorado does not have any law defining navigability, nor was any river officially declared navigable at the establishment of statehood in 1876.Because Colorado has never claimed ownership to any rivers based on the idea that they were navigable at statehood, Hill cannot make any such assertion on the state’s behalf, Colorado Solicitor-General Eric Olson argued at the Supreme Court hearing. But the fisherman has a different view of the situation — telling The Hill that “the state has avoided its responsibilities for 150 years.” Squillace echoed these sentiments, noting that in comparison to other Western states, Colorado “has the narrowest of the rules.”Hill acknowledged that certain century-old court decisions determined that there were no navigable waterways in Colorado: a 1914 case, for example, found that “the natural streams of the state are non navigable within its limits.” But Coloradans at the time also generally associated navigability with the ability to “run a steamboat up and down” a waterway, which Hill stressed is by no means a legal definition. “Having told you all that, yes, I was rather brazen fishing in that part of the river,” Hill admitted. Hill said his quest to assert his right to stream-bed access began in the 1990s, when he started casually researching river navigability and the history of water use on the Arkansas River. He ended up uncovering newspaper clippings from 1872 to 1877 that discussed logging drives ahead of the Santa Fe Railroad’s construction, as well as the story of fur trapper Ezekiel Williams, who shuttled his wares by canoe to what was then Kansas. These historical details, Hill argued, demonstrate that the waters were navigable for commercial purpose at statehood.

Olive Oil Prices Soar As Top Producer Plagued With Drought - Spain's severe drought and parched soils have sent olive oil prices to levels not seen in more than a decade. The surge in olive oil prices, along with fresh produce, is exacerbating already high food prices as the Northern Hemisphere summer starts in less than a month. Data from Bloomberg shows that Spanish extra-virgin olive oil prices have jumped 200% since 2020 to 5,870 euros per metric ton -- the highest level since 2010. Most of the price surge was recorded in the last year. "Output in the country could more than halve this season due to the arid conditions, according to a Spanish farming industry group," Bloomberg said. Spain accounts for 40% of the world's supply, indicating prices across Europe and other regions are being pushed higher. Europe's Monitoring Agricultural Resources recently said Spain is under severe weather stress, with barely any rainfall since January. The drought is damaging crops and threatens to drive food prices even higher across Europe. Research firm Gro Intelligence penned a note last week that warned the country is in "extreme" drought across top croplands — the highest recorded reading in at least two decades — while soil moisture levels are the lowest since at least 2010. Drought conditions in Spain have been exacerbated by above-average temperatures that could be due to an emerging El Nino weather pattern. We warned this might create disruptions in the agricultural industry.El Nino comes as global food prices remain at decade highs.

Panama Canal Hit By Shipping Restrictions As Water Crisis Set To Worsen - Due to severe drought, authorities at the Panama Canal are set to impose new draft restrictions in the coming days. These rules, affecting one of the world's most crucial maritime routes, will force vessels to reduce cargo weight and incur higher fees. Bloomberg cited canal spokesperson Octavio Colindres who said neo-Panamex container ships seeking to cross the canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans must comply with a maximum depth of up to 44.5 feet, down from 45 feet. This will force vessels to haul less cargo or otherwise transport fewer goods. Panama Canal Ship Traffic Colindres said a draft restriction of 44 feet would be imposed by the end of the month. A 50-foot draft is considered average for the canal during normal weather conditions, though a recent drought has left Lake Gatun, the largest of two lakes that feed the canal, with extremely low water levels. Around 6% of all global maritime traffic passes through the canal, mainly from the US, China, and Japan. During the 2016 and 2019 droughts, the draft limit went as low as 43 feet. Perhaps the onset of El Niño, a weather pattern that brings drier conditions across much of Central America, is partially responsible for arid conditions, which might worsen as the Northern Hemisphere summer is less than 30 days away. "The lower-than-usual water levels in the Gatun Lake are causing severe draft restrictions on vessels transiting the Panama Canal," shipper Hapag-Lloyd told customers in recent weeks. The advisory was directed towards vessels traveling from East Asia to North America that must pay a surcharge after June 1 to traverse the canal. Bloomberg warned of a possible shipping disruption if canal water levels continued to drop:LNG carriers, which are highly dependent on the canal, are not as affected by the draft changes because the vessels have fewer draft restrictions than those carrying heavier industrial goods or commodities. But any bottlenecks are a cause for worry considering that US LNG export expansions are due to come online in the next five years.Bloomberg added: Asia-to-US cargo can take alternative routes through the Suez Canal. Or they can use ports in southern California, which would involve loading containers onto trucks or trains bound for Midwest and East Coast population centers. And what's to say, if the dry weather pattern continues, a vessel might be more prone to grounding, which could disrupt maritime traffic. Either way, less cargo will be flowing through the waterway due to draft restrictions.

Severe storms hit Mongolia, resulting in 1 fatality, 16 missing, and significant toll on infrastructure and livestock - (video) Strong winds, heavy dust, and snowstorms hit Mongolia starting on May 19, 2023, causing numerous casualties and significant damage to infrastructure. An extreme weather event has been battering several parts of Mongolia since May 19, 2023, resulting in one reported fatality, 16 people missing, and a significant toll on infrastructure and livestock. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has reported that approximately 1 000 households have been severely affected by the weather conditions. The combination of strong winds, heavy dust, and snowstorms has not only put lives at risk but has also led to significant livestock losses. Local officials have issued early warnings to nomadic herders and drivers in particular, urging them to take additional precautions against possible disasters. The unpredictable weather conditions pose a severe threat to the livelihood of many locals who depend on their livestock for survival. The Mongolian Red Cross Society has responded swiftly, initiating a rapid needs assessment to determine the scope and severity of the impact. They have also started distributing cash and livestock care items to families affected by the severe weather. This initiative aims to provide immediate relief to those struggling to deal with the aftermath of the storms. The Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is closely monitoring the situation and has predicted that the current stormy weather is likely to persist in the coming days. This projection raises concerns about further potential damage and disruption to the lives of the Mongolian people.

Italian agriculture severely impacted as floods ravage Emilia-Romagna - From May 16 to 20, 2023, severe floods and over 300 landslides triggered by heavy rainfall in the Emilia-Romagna Region of Northern Italy caused 13 fatalities and significant damage, with one person still missing, 36 000 people evacuated, and approximately 1 million affected. This extreme rainfall event caused extensive damage to farms and rural infrastructure. The Emilia-Romagna Region of Northern Italy was severely impacted by heavy rainfall from May 16 to 20, 2023, resulting in devastating floods, river overflows, and numerous landslides. This disaster has resulted in 13 confirmed fatalities and one person missing, primarily in the provinces of Forlì-Cesena and Ravenna, according to the Italian Civil Protection and media reports. An additional 36 000 people have been evacuated, and over 500 roads in the region have been closed, largely due to landslides. In response to the flood, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) was swiftly activated, and eight maps of the affected area have been produced thus far. Over 3 000 buildings in and around Ravenna have been hit by the devastating floods, according to data collected by the Rapid Mapping Team of Copernicus Emergency Management On May 20, Italy requested assistance from the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) for high-capacity pumping modules with equipment, with nine countries offering assistance. The red alert for hydraulic and hydrogeological risk over eastern Emilia Romagna issued by the Italian Civil Protection remains in effect. The flood has caused extensive damage to vast areas in the provinces of Forlì-Cesena, Ravenna, and Bologna. “There’s enormous damage to farms and rural infrastructure in Romagna and The Marches. Thousands of hectares of kiwis, plums, pears, and apples, plots of vegetables, fields of grain, nurseries, farm buildings, machinery, and other infrastructure flooded,” says Ettore Prandini, president of the agriculture organization Coldiretti. In light of the severe flooding, a summit meeting was held between ministers Carlo Nordio (Justice), Francesco Lollobrigida (Agriculture), Marina Calderone (Labor and Social Policies), and the state secretaries Bignami and Leo. The primary discussion revolved around suspending tax and social security obligations for companies in the affected areas. Paolo Bruni, president of the Italian horticultural companies service organization, CSO Italy, expressed concerns about the emerging situation, comparing the damage to the effects of an earthquake. He emphasized the need for proactive measures such as hydraulic works to manage future flooding events. On May 23, ANSA reported a total of 105 schools in Emilia-Romagna have been affected. The regional government said 49 schools had various problems getting back to teaching, 58 had transport-related issues and 44 were being used as temporary dormitories for people evacuated from their homes because of the disaster. Around 150 000 students are affected by the flood emergency, it said.

Deadly flash floods hit nine provinces in Algeria - At least two people have died and dozens have been rescued or evacuated after flash floods hit nine provinces of Algeria on May 24, 2023. The severe weather event caused significant damage, with houses destroyed or damaged, vehicles swept from roads, and transport severely disrupted. Flash floods swept across nine provinces of Algeria on May 24, 2023, resulting in at least two fatalities and causing widespread damage. Civil Protection teams were deployed to carry out numerous interventions, including rescuing and evacuating individuals from the affected areas. The provinces of Algiers, Blida, Tébessa, Oum El Bouaghi, Tipaza, Boumerdes, El Tarf, Batna, and Guelma were all impacted by the floods. In Guelma Province, a young person died in the municipality of Bou Hachana due to the floodwaters. Civil Protection rescued at least 30 people trapped by flood waters in the district of Héliopolis. In El Tarf, fifteen people were rescued after becoming trapped by flooding in agricultural fields in Basbas. Other individuals were rescued after vehicles were stranded in floods in Lazrou Municipality in Batna Province. Some of the worst flooding was reported in Tipaza Province, where roads, vehicles, and buildings were destroyed or damaged. A young person died there after the wall of a house collapsed. The floods occurred amidst stormy weather that also affected Spain on the opposite side of the Mediterranean Sea. The worst affected areas were in the municipality of Cartagena in the Murcia Region where emergency services participated in a dozen rescues of people trapped in vehicles in the urban area. Dozens of roads were closed, and local authorities also reported damage to beaches.

Lightning strikes claim 18 lives in several districts of Bangladesh - A series of lightning strikes and thunderstorms across several districts of Bangladesh on May 23 and 24, 2023, have resulted in severe weather-related incidents, particularly due to lightning. As of May 26, media reports indicate 18 fatalities and several injuries across different districts. More severe weather, including heavy rainfall and thunderstorms, is forecast over the whole country in the next 24 hours. Bangladesh has been grappling with a series of severe weather events, including lightning strikes and thunderstorms, that affected several districts on May 23 and 24 resulting in a significant number of casualties. As of May 26, 2023, media reports indicate that there have been 18 fatalities and several injuries across different districts due to these severe weather events. The districts most affected by lightning events include Cox’s Bazar, Brahmanbaria, Chandpur in the Chittagong Division, Patuakhali in the Barisal Division, Narsingdi in the Dhaka Division, Sunamganj in the Sylhet Division, Naogaon and Pabna in the Rajshahi Division, Kurigram in the Rangpur Division, and Netrakona in the Mymensing Division. The country is bracing for more severe weather over the next 24 hours, with forecasts predicting heavy rainfall and thunderstorms across the whole country.

Get ready for a HOT summer: Most of the US is set to see record-high temperatures -- Summer's officially less than month away - and forecasters expect large swathes of the country will be hotter than average this year. The National Weather Service has released its latest seasonal outlook which predicts much of the country will bask in above average temperatures between June and August. The southwestern states of Arizona and New Mexico have the greatest probability of above normal temperatures, with a roughly 69 percent chance they'll exceed averages. The east coast will also enjoy warmer weather. But the predictions also show it'll be wetter than usual on the east coast and around the Upland South. The forecasts come after the US experienced its third warmest summer on record in 2022 - a year marked by extreme weather events including several heatwaves and worsening droughts in California. A large section of the country from Texas across to New England has around a 50-60 percent chance of better-than-average temperatures. The Pacific Northwest is expected to be drier than usual and has a 33-50 percent chance it'll exceed temperature averages. The forecast comes two weeks after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there's a roughly 90 percent chance of an El Niño weather event this summer. El Niño is a warming of the ocean surface, or above-average sea surface temperatures (SST), in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Forecasters in the United Kingdom predicted in December that 2023 was likely to be even warmer than last year. But new records could be set in 2024 if El Niño forms, as this is likely to drive up average temperatures further.

What El Niño means for the 2023 hurricane season – National forecasters recently upped the chances that a “potentially significantEl Niño will form soon. Also scheduled to start soon, on June 1, is hurricane season. The strength and location of storms we see could be influenced by the return of El Niño for the first time in years. While El Niño can strengthen hurricane season in the central and eastern Pacific, it tends to contribute to weaker hurricanes forming in the Atlantic basin. During La Niña years, the opposite is true.Hurricane season in the Atlantic and central Pacific runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 every year. The eastern Pacific’s season starts a bit earlier, on May 15. The strongest storms are usually observed between mid-August and mid-October.El Niño is likely to take over between now and July, the Climate Prediction Center said last week. The effects of El Niño tend to strengthen as the year goes on, and typically peak in winter. La Niña has been present for much of the last three hurricanes seasons. The last time El Niño overlapped with all of hurricane season was 2015. Tropical storm activity in the Atlantic Basin that year was “somewhat below average,” the National Weather Service determined. “Of the 11 tropical storms that formed, 4 became hurricanes, and 2 reached major hurricane strength (category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale). In comparison, the 1981-2010 averages are 12 tropical storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes.”Typical influence of El Niño on Pacific and Atlantic seasonal hurricane activity. (Map by NOAA, based on originals by Gerry Bell.)Meanwhile, tropical storm activity in the eastern Pacific in 2015 was “very active with 18 named storms and 13 hurricanes, of which 9 reached major hurricane strength,” National Weather Service said. Hurricane Patricia became the strongest hurricane on record before it made landfall in Mexico north of Manzanillo.This year, long-range forecasters are predicting a slightly below-average hurricane season in the Atlantic. In its annual predictions, Colorado State University forecasted 13 named storms, six hurricanes, and two major hurricanes for 2023.North Carolina State University released its own predictions, which didn’t stray too far from Colorado State’s. Researchers there expect the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season to bring 11 to 15 named storms, between six and eight of which will grow strong enough to become hurricanes. Two to three of those storms could become major hurricanes, they said.Mexico’s National Meteorological Service is predicting a much busier storm season in the Pacific: between 26 and 38 storms, with as many as nine of them turning into Category 3 hurricanes or stronger.

Typhoon “Mawar” forecast to move near or over Guam and Rota - Tropical Cyclone “Mawar” formed on May 19, 2023, SSW of Chuuk Islands as the second named storm of the 2023 Pacific typhoon season. On May 21, Mawar became the season’s first typhoon. The latest forecast track shows a westward bend in the vicinity of the Marianas with passage near or over Guam and Rota where a Typhoon Warning is now in effect. At 00:00 UTC on May 22, the center of Typhoon “Mawar” was located about 200 km (125 miles) NNW of Satawal. The system had maximum 10-minute sustained winds of 130 km/h (80 mph), with gusts up to 185 km/h (115 mph), and maximum 1-minute sustained winds of 155 km/h (100 mph). The minimum central barometric pressure at the time was 975 hPa and the system was moving NNW at 11 km/h (6.9 mph). typhoon mawar nasa terra modis may 22 2023 bg Typhoon “Mawar” on May 22, 2023. Credit: NASA Terra/MODIS Animated Multispectral Satellite Imagery (MSI) depicts what appears to be the beginning of an eye feature, JTWC said at 03:00 UTC on May 22, adding that it appears to be trying to form just under the central dense overcast on the last couple of MSI loops. The latest radar images coming from Guam indicate rainbands are remaining offshore at the current time. There appears to be minimal dry-air entraining into the system from the south. However, the system has cocooned itself in a well-protected marsupial pouch of warm, moist air with warm sea surface temperatures below and low to moderate vertical wind shear. According to the JTWC, Typhoon “Mawar” is expected to continue on the same north-northwest track and intensify along the route toward the Mariana Islands. The system will continue to steadily intensify as it tracks to the north-northwest under the influence of the northeast ridge. The environment surrounding the typhoon will remain favorable for the forecast duration (5 days), characterized by warm sea surface temperatures (SSTs), robust outflow aloft, and negating any negative effects of limited dry-air entrainment. Due to the favorable environment, Mawar will continue developing into a more intense system over the next several days, fueled by robust outflow aloft and warm SSTs, and reach a peak intensity of 185 km/h (125 mph) just before reaching the islands of Guam and Rota. After it moves through the Rota Channel, the northeast ridge to the east will reorient and build further northeast of the system, forcing Mawar to move on a more flattened west-northwestward course. typhoon mawar at 06z may 22 2023 bg Typhoon “Mawar” at 06:00 UTC on May 22, 2023. Credit: JMA/Himawari-9 typhoon mawar jtwc fcst at 03z may 22 2023 By 03:00 UTC on May 27, Mawar will have ample running space and plenty of deep ocean heat content (OHC) in the Philippine Sea to continue gaining intensity and reach a peak of 230 km/h (145 mph), just shy of super-typhoon strength. The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Tiyan, Guam, has issued a Typhoon Warning for Guam and Rota. Residents are advised to prepare for damaging winds of 65 km/h (39 mph) or more within the next 24 hours, with typhoon-force winds expected by Wednesday morning (LT), May 24. Furthermore, a Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for Saipan and Tinian, where damaging winds of 65 km/h (39 mph) or more are expected within the next 24 hours. A Typhoon Watch remains in effect for Saipan and Tinian, indicating that typhoon-force winds are possible if Typhoon Mawar takes a northward turn.

Super Typhoon “Mawar” threatens Guam with direct impact - Mawar rapidly intensified into a super typhoon on May 23, 2023, as it continued moving toward Guam where a state of emergency has been declared. There is a possibility Mawar makes a direct hit to the island, resulting in significant damage. This will be the strongest storm to hit the island in 20 years. Typhoon Warning remains in effect for Guam and Rota. Damaging winds of 63 km/h (39 mph) or more are expected late this evening (LT), with the onset of typhoon-force winds forecast for Wednesday morning (LT) Tropical Storm Warning remains in effect for Saipan and Tinian. Damaging winds of 63 km/h (39 mph) or more are expected tonight into Wednesday morning (LT) Typhoon Watch remains in effect for Saipan and Tinian. Typhoon-force winds are possible if the westward turn of Mawar is delayed Mawar will move near or over Guam before 06:00 UTC on May 24 At 09:00 UTC on May 23, the center of Super Typhoon “Mawar” was located about 275 km (170 miles) southeast of Yigo, Guam. The storm had maximum 10-minute sustained winds of 185 km/h (115 mph), with gusts to 260 km/h (160 mph), while maximum 1-minute sustained winds were at 250 km/h (155 mph). The minimum central barometric pressure was 935 hPa, and the system was moving north-northwest at 13 km/h (8.1 mph). Super Typhoon “Mawar” continues to undergo rapid intensification, supported by very favorable upper-level conditions and a warm sea surface. The primary inhibitor to additional near-term intensification is the impact of inner-core dynamics, including the possibility of an eyewall replacement cycle. The current forecast calls for marginal intensification to 259 km/h (161 mph) over the next 12 hours, and it is all but certain that the system will remain at or near super typhoon intensity prior to the passage of the eye over or near Guam. Guam Governor Lou Leon Guerrero declared a state of emergency and ordered all residents in low-lying areas of the island to evacuate to shelters on higher ground no later than 18:00 LT today. “Mawar is a real threat and a possible direct hit to our island,” she said. Along with extremely dangerous winds, rough surf, and coastal flooding, Mawar is bringing heavy rains — up to 250 mm (10 inches) and potentially as much as 500 mm (20 inches), which could result in life-threatening floods and mudslides. Mawar is likely to bring considerable damage to buildings and homes of light material. Non-concrete roofs can suffer extensive damage, while non-reinforced concrete walls could be blown down. Severe damage to well-built wooden and metal structures is possible. Electricity and water may be unavailable for days and perhaps weeks after the storm passes. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted. A storm surge of 1.8 to 3 m (6 to 10 feet) above the normal high tide is expected as Mawar moves overhead on Wednesday. The surge may reach to between 3 and 4.6 m (10 – 15 feet) above normal high tide for the most vulnerable storm surge-prone areas.

Typhoon Mawar heads to Guam, causing severe weather, power outages - Residents across Guam faced flooding, torn roofs, downed trees and power outages after the Category 4 storm battered the Pacific U.S. territory from Wednesday into Thursday. The local government’s islandwide damage assessments remain underway, but by sunrise Thursday, Mawar was considered one of the worst storms to slam the island in decades, officials said. Mawar focused its fury over the northern half of the island. The eyewall — a ring of intense storms around the typhoon’s calm center — carried “destructive winds” of up to 140 mph, scraping by the island’s northern shores as it crossed the Rota Channel, according to the National Weather Service on Guam. “We are waking up to a rather disturbing scene across Guam. What used to be jungle, looks like toothpicks. It looks like a scene from the movie ‘Twister,’ with trees just thrashed apart,” “Most of Guam is dealing with a major mess that’s going to take weeks to clean up.” Although Mawar was about 75 miles northwest of Guam by Thursday morning, and steadily moving away, a typhoon warning remained in effect on the island. Tropical-storm-force conditions still threatened residents, Aydlett said. Mawar intensified after passing Guam, returning to its “super typhoon” status that it lost as it neared the island Wednesday, packing winds of up to 150 mph. The majority of Guam is without power. A flood watch remained in effect, and residents should expect continued showers and gusty winds, which may ease by Thursday afternoon. Most of the island saw a foot of rain, with some areas pummeled by nearly 2 feet of rain. Videos and photos that residents shared with The Washington Post showed impassable roads throughout the island. Floodwater obscured streets throughout the capital, Hagatna. All but 1,000 of the Guam Power Authority’s 52,000 customers had lost power by Wednesday afternoon, the agency said in a statement. Earlier forecasts warned that Mawar would be even stronger, potentially growing to a top-tier Category 5 storm. Despite ideal conditions for the storm to remain intense, a reorganization of the storm’s eyewall kept it from reaching its full potential as it approached Guam, resulting in somewhat lower winds than feared. The storm also shifted slightly north in passing Guam; that wobble kept the center of the eye just offshore. Initially, the southern villages of Inalahan, Ipan, Talofofo, Malesso, Hagat and Humatak were under particular threat from a severe ocean storm surge in addition to destructive winds. Weather officials later adjusted their forecasts, saying a change in the wind direction meant the likely path of the storm would bring increasing water levels and surf along the western and northern sides of Guam. Advertisement However, the wobble also ensured that the storm’s powerful southern eyewall plowed over the island for an extended period, battering it with heavy rain and damaging winds.

Eye of Typhoon “Mawar” grazes northern Guam with Category 4 force - (videos) The southern eyewall of Category 4 Typhoon “Mawar” grazed the northern tip of Guam at around 08:00 UTC on May 24, 2023, with maximum sustained winds of 220 km/h (140 mph). This made Mawar the 15thtyphoon of at least Category 4 intensity to pass within 110 km (70 miles) of Guam in records since WWII.Typhoon “Mawar” has made its closest point of approach to Guam, with most of its eye passing through the Rota Channel between Guam and Rota. Its southern eyewall, however, grazed the northern tip of the island, near Anderson Air Force Base.The typhoon caused widespread power cuts, affecting 98% of Guam Power Authority customers, and a major internet outage.Landon Aydlett, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Guam, said Mawar’s winds were so fierce that the building the weather service office is in was vibrating.“This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation,” he said. “There will be a swath of tornado-like damage.” After moving away from Guam, Mawar is expected to peak at Category 5 Super Typhoon strength in the Philippine Sea, before it weakens near northern Philippines, Taiwan, and southern Japan (Ryukyu Islands).

Typhoon Mawar: Powerful storm slams Guam with heavy rain and damaging winds -- The governor of Guam urged residents to continue staying home for their protection and safety a day after the strongest storm to impact the US territory in decades slammed into the island. The eye of Typhoon Mawar passed just north of Guam, but the eyewall – the most powerful part of the storm – pelted the island with hurricane-force winds and heavy rain.On Wednesday, Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero implored residents to stay at home until conditions are declared safe for travel in a Facebook address. In a video address on Thursday morning local time (Wednesday night Eastern Time), the governor said “the worst has gone by” but continued to advise residents to stay home “for your protection and your safety” as the island experiences 40 to 50 mph tropical winds.The governor said roads are “passable,” but urged residents to stay off the roads until conditions improve.The governor said the strongest winds from the storm were being felt throughout the island, particularly in the north.No storm-related deaths had been reported as of Thursday morning local time, the governor’s press secretary, Krystal Paco-San Agustin, said.The Guam International Airport recorded sustained winds of 71 mph with a gust of 105 mph Wednesday evening. As the storm passed north of the island, Marwar gained super typhoon status with 150 mph winds, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. the National Weather Service in Guam said.As of Thursday evening local time, the storm was packing sustained winds of 165 mph and gusts up to 200 mph, the JTWC said, making it the equivalent of a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane.Mawar will continue to move west-northwest, away from Guam, toward the northern Philippines and Taiwan, but is not expected to threaten land in the next several days. Additional strengthening is possible over the next 12 to 24 hours and then slow weakening is expected.Even though the center of the storm’s eye narrowly missed the island, most of its residents have lost power.Nearly all of Guam Power Authority’s circuits have been impacted by the storm and only about 1,000 of its 52,000 customers still had electricity, the authority said in a statement on Facebook at around 6 p.m.Guam Memorial Hospital is currently operating on power from a standby generator, it added. “We are working hard to maintain the last remaining customers through the storm,” the power authority said. “Our GPA team is prepared to immediately begin restoration as soon as winds decrease to safe levels,” it said.The weather service issued a typhoon warning for the island for Wednesday, and flash flood and coastal flood warnings until Thursday morning.In anticipation of high storm surge and potentially catastrophic coastal flooding, Guerrero issued an executive orderTuesday mandating the evacuation of low-lying coastal areas.“When sea levels rise, residents will have merely minutes to evacuate and respond. Thus, we must prepare now and anticipate the worst,” the governor’s office said in a release.

Series of aftershocks, including M7.1 and M6.5 hit southeast of Loyalty Islands following M7.7 and a small tsunami - Strong aftershocks continue after a powerful M7.7 earthquake hit southeast of Loyalty Islands at 02:57 UTC on May 19, 2023.The mainshock was followed by at least 56 moderate to strong aftershocks over the next 30 hours, including M7.1 at 01:51 UTC and M6.5 at 02:09 UTC on May 20.It occurred as a result of normal faulting near the plate boundary interface between the Australian and Pacific plates. Focal mechanism solutions indicate the earthquake occurred on either a moderately-dipping normal fault striking to the east or on a moderately-dipping oblique normal and strike-slip fault striking to the southwest, according to the USGS.At the location of this earthquake, the Australian plate converges with the Pacific at a rate of approximately 75 mm (2.95 inches) per year. At the South New Hebrides Trench, Australia’s lithosphere sinks beneath the Pacific plate, descending into the mantle and forming the New Hebrides/Vanuatu subduction zone, stretching from New Caledonia in the south to the Santa Cruz Islands in the north.While commonly plotted as points on maps, earthquakes of this size are more appropriately described as slip over a larger fault area. Normal faulting events of the size of the May 19, 2023, earthquake are typically about 85 x 35 km (length x width). This is 53 x 22 miles.The Loyalty Islands region is very active seismically, and the region within 250 km (155 miles) of May 19, 2023, earthquake has hosted 13 other M 7+ earthquakes over the preceding 50 years. The largest prior events were an M7.7 on February 10, 2021, and an M 7.7 earthquake on May 16, 1995. Because of their remote locations, earthquakes in this region as less likely to create strong shaking in populated areas.Today’s M7.1 earthquake produced small tsunami waves, reaching 0.3 m (0.1 feet) at Thio, New Caledonia, 0.14 m (0.5 feet) at Ouinne, New Caledonia, 0.11 m (0.4 feet) at Lifou, New Caledonia, and 0.12 m (0.4 feet) at Mare, New Caledonia. At 03:54 UTC, PTWC reported the tsunami threat from this earthquake has passed.Tsunami wave observations from coastal and/or deep-ocean sea level gauges reveal the following measurements of the maximum tsunami height following yesterday’s M7.7 (the mainshock), measured with respect to the normal tide level:

New paroxysm at Etna volcano showers flanks with ash and lapilli, interrupts operations at Catania Airport, Italy - Activity at Italy’s Etna volcano increased on May 6, 2023, after nearly 2 months of quiescence. The activity further increased on May 21, producing a new paroxysm and resulting in a temporary suspension of flight operations at Catania Airport. The volcano showed signs of unrest above background levels on May 6, forcing the observatory to raise the Aviation Color Code from Green to Yellow at 21:58 UTC. The activity subsided on May 7 and increased again on May 14 and 18. While no ash was observed during this period, explosive activity was reported at 15:00 UTC on May 18, forcing the observatory to raise the Aviation Color Code to Orange. Visual observation of this activity was largely unavailable during this period due to bad weather conditions. A sharp rise in tremor was detected at around 06:00 UTC on May 21, suggesting a new paroxysm was in progress. This activity lasted for about 90 minutes, prompting the observatory to raise the Aviation Color Code to Red. Unfortunately, dense ash clouds prevented visual observations. At around 07:30 UTC, ashfall was reported in Adrano village, located SW of the volcano at 560 m (1 840 feet) above sea level. The plume of ash and lapilli reached up to 7.6 km (25 000 feet) above sea level, according to the Toulouse VAAC Volcanic Ash Advisory issued at 10:14 UTC. “The ‘secret’ paroxysm on May 21 showered the southwest flank of the volcano with ash and lapilli,” INGV’s Boris Behncke reported. Ash was later reported on the volcano’s south flank, interrupting operations at Catania Airport. “Due to the Etna eruption, it has become necessary to close an airspace sector: there will be delays and inconvenience on incoming and departing flights,” Catania Airport officials announced early May 21, urging passengers to contact the designated airlines for information. Flight operations were completely suspended at 13:00 LT on May 21.

Intense eruption at Popocatepetl, ash to 10 km (32 000 feet) a.s.l., Mexico - Intense eruptive activity continues at Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano, with large volcanic ash emissions reaching 9.7 km (32 000 feet) above sea level at 03:36 UTC on May 21, 2023. Based on an analysis of recent activity, the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Popocatepetl volcano has decided to raise the alert level from Yellow Phase 2 to Yellow Phase 3 on May 21. The decision was made as a precautionary measure in response to observed changes at the volcano. In 24 hours to 18:00 UTC on May 21, the monitoring systems of the Popocatépetl volcano recorded 31 long-period events (LPs) accompanied by steam, volcanic gases and ash, as well as 1 136 minutes of high-frequency tremor accompanied by the emission of incandescent fragments on the flanks of the volcano. 2 moderate and 4 minor explosions were recorded during the period. On May 20, CENACOM (National Center for Communication and Civil Protection Operations) reported ashfall in the municipalities of Juchitepec, Amecameca, Cocotitlán, Valle de Chalco, Ixtapaluca, La Paz, Nezahualcoyotl, Tlalmanalco and Chalco in the State of Mexico. As well as in Huejotzingo, Nealtican, Chignahuapan, Puebla Capital, San Martín Texmelucan, and San Felipe Teotlalcingo, municipalities of Puebla. On May 21, ashfall was reported in the municipalities of San Andrés Cholula, San Pedro Cholula, Cuautlancingo, Amozoc, Puebla Capital, Zacatlan, Tetela de Ocampo and Chignahuapan, Puebla. CENAPRED is urging residents and tourists not to climb the volcano (a 12 km / 7.5 miles exclusion zone is in effect) and stay away from the crater due to the hazard caused by ballistic fragments. In the case of heavy rains, residents are urged to stay away from the bottoms of the ravines due to the danger of landslides and debris flows. In case of ashfall, address the following recommendations:

  • Cover nose and mouth with a handkerchief or face mask.
  • Clean eyes and throat with pure water.
  • Avoid contact lenses to reduce eye irritation.
  • Close windows or cover them up, and stay indoors as much as possible.

The scenarios foreseen for Yellow Phase 3 are:

  1. Explosive activity of low to intermediate level
  2. Ashfall in nearby towns
  3. Possibility of short-range pyroclastic flows and mudflows

Hunga Tonga–Hunga HaÊ»apai volcano eruption triggered unprecedented ionospheric disturbances - An international team of scientists revealed that the massive eruption of the underwater Hunga Tonga–Hunga HaÊ»apai volcano in Tonga on January 15, 2022, disrupted satellite signals across the globe. The eruption of the underwater volcano in Tonga was found to disrupt satellite signals halfway around the world. An international team of scientists used both satellite and ground-based ionospheric observations to show that an air pressure wave triggered by the volcanic eruptions could produce an equatorial plasma bubble (EPB) in the ionosphere, severely disrupting satellite-based communications. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports. The ionosphere is the region of the Earth’s upper atmosphere where molecules and atoms are ionized by solar radiation, creating positively charged ions. The area with the highest concentration of ionized particles, the F-region, plays a crucial role in long-distance radio communication, reflecting and refracting radio waves used by satellite and GPS tracking systems back to the Earth’s surface. However, irregularities in the F-region, such as the movement of plasma, electric fields, and neutral winds, can cause the formation of a localized irregularity of enhanced plasma density, creating a bubble-like structure called an EPB. EPB can delay radio waves and degrade the performance of GPS. The team used the Arase satellite to detect EPB occurrences, the Himawari-8 satellite to check the initial arrival of air pressure waves, and ground-based ionospheric observations to track the motion of the ionosphere. They observed an irregular structure of the electron density across the equator that occurred after the arrival of pressure waves generated by the volcanic eruption. The group also made a surprising discovery. For the first time, they showed that ionospheric fluctuations start a few minutes to a few hours earlier than the atmospheric pressure waves involved in the generation of plasma bubbles. This suggests that the long-held model of geosphere-atmosphere-cosmosphere coupling, which states that ionospheric disturbances only happen after the eruption, needs revision. Furthermore, they found that the EPB extended much further than predicted by the standard models. This discovery suggests that we should pay attention to the connection between the ionosphere and the cosmosphere when extreme natural phenomena, such as the Tonga event, occur. The Tonga volcano eruption was the biggest submarine eruption in history. The eruption took place around 65 km (40 miles) from Tonga’s main island, causing tsunamis felt as far away as Russia, the United States, and Chile. The waves claimed six lives, including two people in Peru, 10 000 km (6 200 miles) away. An analysis published recently in Science showed this eruption created the highest volcanic cloud ever recorded, marking the first time a volcanic plume has been seen to penetrate the stratopause.

Summit Carbon Solutions updates Kandiyohi County Board on pipeline progress in Minnesota, Iowa, Dakotas - — While the proposed Summit Carbon Solutions carbon dioxide pipeline through areas of the state might be Minnesota's first such pipeline, it most likely won't be the only — or the last."We are the first one here. We are not going to be the last in Minnesota," said Joe Caruso, Minnesota external affairs coordinator for Summit, at the May 16 meeting of the Kandiyohi County Board .Part of the more than 2,000-mile pipeline will go right through Kandiyohi County — from Bushmills Ethanol in Atwater diagonally across to the borders with Chippewa and Renville counties, where the pipeline will meet up with Granite Falls Energy before heading south. With the state taking over all permitting for the pipeline, Kandiyohi County doesn't have much say in the project, but Summit Carbon has said it will be as transparent as possible with the impacted counties, hence the at least annual stops at county boards. The company also had plans to meet with the Chippewa, Renville and Yellow Medicine County boards this month. The project is planned to capture, transport and permanently store up to 18 million tons of carbon dioxide from 34 biofuel plants along the pipeline branches in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. The company says the compressed CO2 will be permanently and safely stored in saline reservoirs deep underground in North Dakota.The federal tax credits that will be part of the financing for this project do not allow for the reuse of the carbon dioxide — it must be permanently sequestered. The Kandiyohi County portion of the pipeline is part of the central branch in Minnesota. It is the longest branch of the three in the state being proposed by Summit, at about 175 miles, and would connect four ethanol plants.The other two branches are the southern branch — from Fairmont, Minnesota, to Superior, Iowa — and the northern branch — from Fergus Falls, Minnesota, to the North Dakota border. So far, Summit has applied for a permit only for the northern branch.The hope is to apply for the southern branch permit this quarter and for the central branch permit sometime this year. Caruso said it could take between 12 to 18 months for the permit to be approved or denied.The pipeline's route through Kandiyohi County is still in flux. Summit Carbon cannot use eminent domain in Minnesota, so it's only with landowner approval that the pipeline can go across private property. This means the pipeline might have to take a more serpentine route through the counties, adding miles to the route.

Climate change denial among hurdles for carbon capture pipeline project in SW Minnesota - — Summit Carbon Solutions hosted 15 meetings for landowners last year at locations across the 10 counties in Minnesota in which it intends to build a pipeline to transport carbon dioxide from ethanol plants. Three issues were recurring themes at all of those meetings, held at 11 different venues, according to Joseph Caruso, external affairs coordinator for the company in Minnesota. Safety, eminent domain, and tile lines were the top topics for landowners through whose lands the pipelines could cross, Caruso told the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners on May 23. When Summit representatives meet one-on-one with landowners, and even at a recent public hearing hosted by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, there’s another topic that is emerging. It was put on the record for the Public Utilities Commission by a county commissioner in Wilkin County, according to Caruso. “I don’t like this project,” Caruso said, paraphrasing the commissioner’s on-the-record statement. “The reason I don’t like it is I don’t believe in the underlying premise of global warming.” “That is an issue a lot of people have when we’ve been out with the landowners,” Caruso told the commissioners. “They fundamentally don’t believe it is a problem, and they fundamentally don’t believe the government should be solving a problem that is not a problem.”He emphasized that the company does not attempt to proselytize on the issue of climate change. For the ethanol industry, it is faced with seeing doors to its markets closed if it does not meet carbon reduction targets, he explained. The company does not get into the argument over a transition to electric vehicles, either. The internal combustion engine will be part of the transition, and using ethanol as part of the fuel mix is important, he said.

Environmental groups seek Biden moratorium on carbon dioxide pipelines - President Joe Biden should prevent the construction of new carbon dioxide pipelines until changes to federal rules are adopted to increase their safety, opponents of the projects said Thursday. The call for an executive order to stall the projects comes as federal regulators consider changes to pipeline requirements and are set to hold a two-day meeting in Des Moines next week to discuss their safety and gain public feedback. Biden has little say over whether Iowa regulators issue hazardous liquid pipeline permits to the three companies who currently seek them. Approval from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates the pipelines from a safety perspective, is not required by Iowa Utilities Board’s permit process, said Don Tormey, an IUB spokesperson. However, pipeline opponents said Biden could potentially block their construction on federal lands and across certain waterways. “President Biden has the power to put a halt to the carbon capture scam by issuing an executive order and directing federal agencies to restrict permits for projects until regulatory safeguards are in place,” said Jim Walsh, policy director for Food & Water Watch. That group and others have for months sought to halt the state permitting processes while PHMSA considers changes to its safety requirements in light of a carbon dioxide pipeline rupture in Mississippi that sickened 45 people in 2020. “We are talking about a hazardous material that can cause rapid health effects over a very short period of time,”

U.N. slams carbon removal as unproven and risky - A United Nations panel is casting doubt on the promise of using machines to remove vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and sea in order to fight climate change. The skepticism from the high-profile organization sent shock waves through the emerging industry of carbon removal companies that many scientists say will be essential for the world to stabilize, or one day reduce, global average temperatures. It comes as the Biden administration is preparing to pour billions of dollars into the industry. The panel questioned the technical and economic viability of startups seeking to clean up carbon that’s already been dumped into the sky, igniting pushback from an industry that is gaining popularity but so far has not captured sizable amounts of warming gases. The U.N. panel called the sector “unproven,” with “unknown” risks. At issue is a provision of the Paris Agreement on climate change that calls for establishing an international carbon trading program. Officially known as Article 6.4, the provision is the cornerstone of an envisioned worldwide system in which companies could offset some of their emissions by funding, for example, a new wind farm and then trading the offsets the project generates with foreign firms. Other businesses might try to meet their climate commitments by paying a company for carbon dioxide removal, or CDR. The U.N. panel is charged with standing up that trading system. And the positions it takes on carbon removal systems could affect the trajectory of the industry. “It’s a big deal,” said Wil Burns, co-director of American University’s Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy, referring to the trading system. “Paris can help us, if done well, to rigorously set up uniform rules that I think will create more integrity in the carbon removal marketplace than we’ve had before,” he said. “The devil is in how we operationalize this.” There are two main ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans. One is to cultivate or protect CO2-hungry plants like trees and seagrasses. The other is to deploy carbon removal technology such as direct air capture, which uses fans, filters, piping and energy to pull CO2 from the atmosphere and pump it permanently underground. In recent years, Congress has provided billions of dollars in subsidies to help establish the direct air capture industry in the U.S.. But the U.N. panel appears to favor so-called natural approaches. “Engineering-based removal activities are technologically and economically unproven, especially at scale, and pose unknown environmental and social risks,” the panel wrote in a lengthy note released last week. “These activities do not contribute to sustainable development, are not suitable for implementation in the developing countries and do not contribute to reducing the global mitigation costs, and therefore do not serve any of the objectives of the Article 6.4 mechanism.”

Four-Fifths of Board Members at America’s Top Six Banks are Climate Conflicted - Four in five bank directors at the six largest banks in the U.S. have ties to polluting companies and organizations, including major fossil fuel companies, according to a new DeSmog analysis. The research raises fresh concerns about the extent of anti-environmental influence inside some of the nation’s most powerful boardrooms at a time when campaigners are pushing the banks to enact stronger environmental policies at their annual shareholder meetings. It reveals that 82 percent of board members at these six banks currently hold or have held positions with climate-conflicted organizations. This includes oil and gas firms, investment companies that finance polluting sectors, and trade associations known to lobby against climate action. Nearly one in five directors (19 percent) have current or past experience working in the fossil fuel industry. The findings come as a March report from the head of the world’s leading climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that big changes to finance were essential to avoiding catastrophic climate impacts. Despite the increasing global attention paid to the climate crisis, the proportion of board members at these banks with climate conflicts has not changed in two years. The proportion of directors at the six banks linked to the fossil fuel industry remained the same as in 2021 – despite a number of changes at the top of these companies – as did the number of directors linked to other high-carbon industries. Nearly one third of the board members at Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo have current or past connections with companies identified by the Climate Action 100+ (CA100+) initiative as among the globe’s top climate polluters. Companies active in generating energy from coal, the world’s most polluting fuel source, have former or current employees inside boardrooms at Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. Directors on four of the boards of the six biggest banks in the U.S. currently hold leadership positions in the fossil fuel industry through other board memberships. All six banks have pledged to reach net zero across their portfolios. However, according to a recent report by Rainforest Action Network, they have collectively provided $1.7 trillion in fossil fuel financing since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 and $413 billion since 2021 – the year in which the International Energy Agency called for no new financing of oil, gas, and coal projects. This financing involves both direct lending and underwriting debt and equity issuances. Bank of America and Wells Fargo declined to provide a response on the record. All the remaining banks and named directors did not respond to our requests for comment.

Democrats Love ESG, Republicans Hate It But Most Americans Don't Care Either Way --Efforts to promote adoption of the environmental, social and governance framework in investing, commonly termed ESG, have gained traction in recent years and have become the subject of pro- and anti-ESG legislation, yet the general public is no more familiar with ESG today than two years ago.Thirty-seven percent of Americans currently report being “very” or “somewhat familiar” with ESG, unchanged from 36% in 2021. Another 22% today are “not too familiar,” while 40% are “not familiar at all.”These findings are from a Gallup poll conducted April 3-25, in which respondents were told that ESG “includes factors like the record of a business on human rights, the environment, diversity or other social values” and that some people take these factors “into account when making decisions about buying products and services or investing.”Underscoring the public’s lack of familiarity with ESG, nearly six in 10 Americans (59%) take the "no opinion" option when asked if they view “the movement to promote the use of environmental, social and governance, or ESG, factors in business and investing” as a positive or negative development. The remaining four in 10 are about evenly divided between expressing a positive (22%) and negative (19%) view of the practice.While adults who are familiar with ESG are more likely to express an opinion about it than those with less familiarity, they are just as likely to be divided on the question -- 36% viewing ESG positively and 35% negatively.Similarly, adults who report owning stock, about six in 10 respondents in the current poll, are more likely to have an opinion about ESG than non-stock owners, but they are just as divided on the merits of promoting ESG in business and investing. When asked whether retirement fund managers should only take financial factors into account when making investment decisions or also consider ESG factors, the public leans toward the former (48% vs. 41%, respectively). Stock owners’ views on this are nearly identical to the national averages.Adults familiar with ESG are closely split on the question, with 50% preferring fund managers to limit their investing criteria to financial factors while 46% want ESG factors considered. Those not familiar with ESG lean more strongly toward only considering financial factors but are also more likely to have no opinion on the question.

The Market Won't Save Us: How to Rapidly Reduce Deadly Fossil Fuel Use -- The burning of fossil fuels—oil, coal, natural gas—is responsible for nearly 90 percent of global carbon emissions. Despite almost-universal recognition of the need to reduce the use of those fossil fuels, the industrialized world is having the hardest time breaking its addiction. The economic rebound from the COVID-19 shutdowns generated the largest ever increase in global emissions from fossil fuels in 2021—around 2 billion tons. The increase in 2022 was considerably more modest—thanks to a surge in renewable energy investments—but it was an increase nonetheless. Meanwhile, subsidies for fossil fuel consumption rose to a record $1 trillion last year. The prevailing approach to reducing dependency on fossil fuels has been price-based—either by way of a carbon tax or some form of emissions trading scheme. Around two dozen countries levy carbon taxes: establishing a price for carbon and making emitters pay that price per unit of carbon consumed. Meanwhile, under the various “cap-and-trade” systems in place in the European Union and other places, a “cap” on emissions is established through the issuance of permits. But industries can exceed their “cap” by simply paying a penalty, while those that don’t use the full value of their permit can effectively sell their allowance to others. One problem with the carbon tax is that the price of carbon has traditionally been set too low, so that producers and consumers do not feel the economic push to abandon fossil fuels. The problem with the cap-and-trade mechanism is that it has generally moved carbon emissions around rather than substantially reduce them. Accordingly, the market has failed to guide the global economy to a fossil-fuel-free future in the time frame necessitated by rising temperatures and other effects of climate change. Scientists now estimate that the world will pass the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels in the first half of the 2030s. Market-based approaches tend to reinforce the status quo rather than transform the structures that have created the problem in the first place. By contrast, in crises characterized by scarcity, one common solution has been to ration valuable resources. During wartime, for instance, many commodities have been rationed, from food to energy. During natural disasters, water might be rationed. Such systems introduce a measure of equity to prevent the rich and the powerful from simply buying up the scarce items and the unscrupulous from engaging in price-gouging to make quick profits. In such circumstances the cap on consumption is obvious since more food, energy, or water is simply not available. With fossil fuels, the urgency is not around scarcity—there’s still a lot of oil, natural gas, and coal under the ground and ocean (though it’s not limitless). Rather, the international community must act quickly because of the collective harm that fossil fuels produce. As such, the various plans put forward to ration fossil fuel use are not temporary measures that elapse when surpluses return. Rather, “the cap-and-ration” approach establishes a cap that declines over time to eliminate dependency “in a way that ensures sufficiency, equity, and justice for all,” observes Stan Cox, a research fellow in ecosphere studies at the Land Institute. “These policies would include, at a minimum, careful allocation of energy among economic sectors and fair-share rationing for consumers.”

Louisiana AG hopeful takes aim at Biden energy agenda - Elizabeth Murrill, a rising star in the office of one of the top critics of President Joe Biden’s energy and climate policies, is running to be the first woman to serve as Louisiana’s chief legal officer. Her name may not be widely known outside of Republican legal circles, but Murrill has played a leading role in recent years in another historic position, as the Bayou State’s first solicitor general, responsible for crafting high-profile GOP court challenges against the Biden administration. If she is elected as attorney general this fall, Murrill — “Liz” to those close to her — would be even better positioned to shape legal opposition to some of the keystones of Biden’s regulatory agenda that will be finalized in the next two years. As a champion of the burgeoning legal theory known as the “major questions” doctrine, Murrill is pushing for federal courts to be less deferential to the regulatory powers of agencies like EPA. That strategy, if successful, could prevent the Biden administration — or a future White House — from taking aggressive action on urgent matters like public health emergencies and climate change. “If she is the next AG, I would expect her to be quite capable and quite active in suing the administration,” said Paul Nolette, a political science professor at Marquette University. Among the Biden rules Murrill said she would target as Louisiana attorney general is EPA’s latest effort to regulate greenhouse emissions from power plants. The final version of the rule, which is expected in summer 2024, will be a key feature of Biden’s climate agenda.

House votes in favor of overturning Biden truck pollution rule -- The House voted on Tuesday to overturn a Biden truck pollution rule, teeing up an expected White House veto. The vote was 221-203. Democrats Henry Cuellar (Texas), Jared Golden (Maine), Vicente Gonzalez (Texas) and Mary Peltola (Alaska) voted with Republicans in support of overturning the rule. Republican Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) voted with the rest of the Democrats against doing so. The Biden rule in question, which aims to cut pollution from heavy-duty trucks, would be expected to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by 50 percent in the year 2045. These pollutants can worsen respiratory health conditions, like asthma, and long-term exposure to them can contribute to the development of respiratory infections.​​ Proponents point to the rule’s expected health benefits; it is expected to reduce premature deaths each year, saving 2,900 lives in 2045. “The Republican CRA that we are debating this afternoon would abandon all of the public health, economic, and environmental justice benefits that come with the EPA rule,” said House Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), referring to a Congressional Review Act Resolution, in a floor speech, according to his prepared remarks. Truck manufacturers, however, have said the rule will be difficult to implement, and Republicans have argued higher costs on the industry could worsen inflation. “The costs will be passed on directly to Americans, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck,” said House Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers in a floor speech, according to her prepared remarks. “Imagine someone who is already being forced to make tough choices for their family at the grocery store, the gas pump, the pharmacy,” she added.

DOE scraps grant talks with battery company at center of Hill fight - The Department of Energy is canceling grant negotiations with a U.S. battery producer with China ties that faced political backlash on Capitol Hill. DOE scuttled the $200 million proposed grant to Microvast Holdings Inc., a lithium-ion battery company that is planning a manufacturing facility in Tennessee, seven months after the award was tentatively approved. “It is not uncommon for entities selected to participate in award negotiations under a DOE competitive funding opportunity to not ultimately receive an award,” Charisma Troiano, a spokesperson for DOE, told E&E News.“The Department can confirm that it has elected to cancel negotiations and not to award Microvast funds from this competitive funding opportunity.” In October, the department said Microvast was “renowned for its cutting-edge cell technology and its vertical integration capabilities.” That selection kicked off months of negotiations between DOE and the company. Earlier this year, Microvast Chief Operating Officer Shane Smith told E&E News that his company planned to spend $600 million in the United States to expand its domestic battery production. But the cancellation follows months of Republican attacks on DOE for its tentative support of the company. The criticism stemmed from a Securities and Exchange Commission decision in 2022 that added Microvast to a list of companies subject to potential intellectual property violations in China.

Scrapped DOE funding for battery company fuels new concerns - The Department of Energy’s decision to halt a contentious grant award to a battery company with ties to China is fueling new concerns on Capitol Hill over agency transparency and oversight. On Monday night, the agency announced it would not dole out a $200 million proposed grant to Microvast Holdings Inc., a lithium-ion battery company that is planning a manufacturing facility in Tennessee, seven months after the award was tentatively approved. Lawmakers across the political spectrum applauded the final decision, but said they remained concerned with the agency’s vetting and lack of transparency in its decision to scrap the Microvast grant. Critics had pointed to a Securities and Exchange Commission decision in 2022 that added Microvast to a list of companies subject to potential intellectual property violations in China. House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said that “this development reinforces our concerns about the process for vetting applicants for these substantial awards.” Those concerns come as DOE is set to distribute billions under recent climate and infrastructure laws and amid growing fears on China. At the same time, internal government watchdogs have warned that they may not be able to keep up with the deluge of money being doled out. In the case of Microvast, Republicans have for months questioned the Department of Energy’s decisionmaking on the grant. Heather Vaughn, a spokesperson for the Republican-led House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said DOE only provided the committee a partial response this month to long-standing information requests on Microvast. That response followed a hearing earlier this month with Kathleen Hogan, DOE’s acting undersecretary for infrastructure. In the months leading up to the House Science hearing, Republicans had requested correspondence between DOE and Microvast, as well as correspondence with other companies that receive grants and details on DOE’s vetting process for grant recipients. “While this is more substantive, it is — at best — a partial response,” said Vaughn. “We will be sending them an official letter in the next few days reiterating our request for the information we have not yet received, and laying out new questions that this decision has raised.”

DOE funds $87M of EV projects from GM, Deere, others; details additional $99.5M opportunity - General Motors will receive $7.5 million to assist in the development of a multilevel, inverter-integrated electric drive system, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Friday with 44 other projects the agency will fund in order to speed the transition to electric vehicles.In total, DOE announced $87 million for projects through its Vehicle Technologies Office.The selected projects range “from expanding convenient charging options, to growing the future workforce and developing the key technologies that will lead to our fully electrified transportation future,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.The projects will help to grow the sector, speed EV adoption and manage the anticipated increase in electricity use. Electric transportation could add more than 130 billion kWh of demand to the nation’s grid by 2050, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.. DOE said the projects will create home EV charging solutions, ensure underserved communities are included in the transition to electric transportation, provide for workforce training, and develop advanced materials for the sector. Working with DOE’s Clean Cities coalitions, 10 projects “will demonstrate and deploy clean energy solutions to electrify school buses, food and consumer goods delivery bicycles, and even commercial fishing vessels,” DOE said. In announcing the awards, DOE noted that “selection for award negotiations is not a commitment by DOE to issue an award or provide funding. DOE and the applicants will first undergo a negotiation and DOE may cancel award negotiations and rescind the selection for any reason.”

Exclusive: California seeks EPA approval to ban sales of new gasoline-only vehicles by 2035 (Reuters) - California has asked the Biden administration to approve its plan to require all new vehicles sold in the state by 2035 to be either electric or plug-in electric hybrids, a landmark move that could speed the end of gasoline-powered vehicles, according to a letter seen by Reuters. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), which approved the plan in August, asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday to approve a waiver under the Clean Air Act to implement its new rules that set yearly rising zero emission vehicle rules starting in 2026 and would end the sales of vehicles only powered by gasoline by 2035. "These vehicles will permanently displace emissions from conventional vehicles," wrote CARB Executive Officer Steven Cliff, adding that motor vehicles and other mobile sources are the greatest source of emissions in California. The Biden administration has repeatedly refused to endorse setting a date to phase-out the sale of gasoline-only vehicles. EPA spokesperson Tim Carroll said "as with all waiver requests from California, we’ll follow an open public process in considering it, as the agency routinely does." In a Reuters interview last month, EPA Administrator Michael Regan declined to say how the EPA would react to a California request. "We’ll be on the lookout for that if it were to ever come," Regan said. Under an EPA proposal released in April to drastically cut vehicle emissions through 2032, automakers are forecast to produce 60% EVs by 2030 and 67% by 2032 to meet requirements, compared with just 5.8% of U.S. vehicles sold in 2022 that were EVs. California's zero-emission rules will cut by 25% smog-causing pollution from light-duty vehicles by 2037. The rules mandate that 35% of the new cars sold be plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV), EVs or hydrogen fuel cell by 2026. That proportion will rise to 68% by 2030 and 100% by 2035. The 60-page California waiver request seen by Reuters says through 2040, California's zero emission rules will cost $210.35 billion but have total benefits of $301.41 billion.

How 'Buy America' could kill high-speed rail - President Joe Biden is famous as a supporter and patron of passenger trains, but advocates hoping he would jump-start high-speed rail say his manufacturing policies will hinder the climate-friendly transportation. Biden’s strengthening of Buy America provisions could make high-speed rail impossible to build in the U.S. and stymie a transit mode that would cut automobile and aviation emissions, experts said. “Trains capable of going 200 miles per hour are only made in a couple places in the whole world,” said Andy Kunz, president of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, an advocacy group. “You stand behind it and say, ‘It has to be 100 percent made in America,’ you’re not going to get a [high-speed] rail system.” Buy America is a decades-old policy that generally requires federally funded transportation infrastructure including rail cars to be manufactured domestically and to use U.S.-made iron and steel. The requirements can be waived, but Biden has taken steps to limit waivers and has vowed strict adherence to Buy America provisions. Experts say waivers are crucial to developing high-speed rail in the U.S. because no domestic facility is currently capable of building specialized rail cars that can travel up to 200 mph. Siemens, a German company that manufactures trains, has produced more than 3,000 rail cars in its Sacramento, Calif., plant, but none is a high-speed train, said Michael Cahill, president of rolling stock at Siemens Mobility North America. “There are no domestic production capabilities in the U.S. today for trains that run 200 mph, for Siemens Mobility or any other train manufacturer,” Cahill said in an email. “It simply does not exist in the U.S. today.” The U.S. also lacks the engineering knowledge to design, build and maintain high-speed rail systems, said Nii Attoh-Okine, a rail engineering professor at the University of Maryland. To support cars traveling at 200 mph, high-speed rail tracks have to be much stronger than standard U.S. tracks that handle slower passenger trains and freight rail. Specialized signal systems essential to high-speed rail safety and speed also are not produced in the U.S., Attoh-Okine said.

Offshore wind in the Midwest? Some Great Lakes leaders think so. - Years from now, when Chicagoans stroll the Lake Michigan waterfront, they may see the blades of wind turbines glinting on the horizon. Clevelanders could glimpse wind farms over Lake Erie. And cities like Milwaukee and Buffalo could be vying to attract a burgeoning offshore wind industry on the Great Lakes. That’s the vision some regional leaders have for America’s Third Coast. They see the Midwest’s freshwater seas as 94,000 square miles of untapped potential, boasting consistently strong winds in a region that’s already home to an established manufacturing sector. Lawmakers in Illinois and Pennsylvania are considering bills this year to promote offshore wind development in the waters off their coasts. In Ohio, a long-debated project to install six turbines on Lake Erie has had its permits upheld by the state Supreme Court, clearing the way for the nation’s first freshwater wind farm. “This region often gets overlooked as an area that is like a coastal area,” said Carlos Ochoa, ocean program manager with the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, a forum for state lawmakers. “You’re seeing legislative movement in Great Lakes states where offshore wind wasn’t much of a consideration years ago.” But the lakes also pose unique challenges, including winter ice cover, insufficient port and shipping infrastructure, and communities that value the coastlines for their natural beauty. The American side of the lakes is bordered by Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Each state controls the waters off its coast, extending to the middle of the lake where it reaches a border with the state or Canadian province on the opposite shore. Many of those states still rely heavily on coal and natural gas to supply their electricity; the eight states bordering the lakes produce a quarter of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, according to one federal estimate, the Great Lakes represent one-fifth of the nation’s offshore wind potential.

Nebraska renewable energy programs struggle to recruit students amid worker shortage - Every Tuesday and Thursday in the fall, Taylor Schneider and his students start class by gathering their equipment and stretching. The 15 minutes of stretching is essential for their trips up a 400-foot wind turbine. These climbs up the turbine are part of Central Community College’s effort to lessen the shortage of workers in the renewable energy industry. The college offers wind, solar energy and battery storage accreditation — a rare combination that Schneider said has allowed him to teach students from rural Nebraska, surrounding states and other countries. The problem for Schneider, though, is he hasn’t had enough of those students. It’s a struggle shared by Nebraska’s other community-college based renewable energy training program at Northeast Community College. The woes coincide with a national labor shortage in the renewable energy sector, which is juiced for growth in the coming years. One advocacy organization predicts that recent federal legislation will create more than half a million “clean energy jobs” in the U.S. during the next decade. Despite the promise of opportunity, Schneider, a former wind technician, has seen about 15 students graduate from the program over the last four years, about ⅓ the number of graduates the program was designed to produce during that time. About 130 miles away from Central’s campus in Hastings, Northeast Community College has had a wind energy program since 2009. On average, it sees about 10 students a year – half of what the program is designed to accommodate. In recent years, only four to six students graduate from the program each year. The only time the program was full was in its first year, according to John Liewer, an instructor at Northeast.

Ohio solar projects face unclear path --Ohio clean energy advocates say a string of solar project denials by state regulators has left renewable energy developers uncertain about the role of public input in permit decisions. Critics claim the Ohio Power Siting Board has been inconsistent and arbitrary in recent months with how it weighs local opposition as it balances the pros and cons of energy projects.In some cases, like January’s denial of the 68-megawatt Cepheus Energy solar project in Defiance County, the board cited local opposition as a reason to deny the project.In other cases, like February’s approval of the 120-megawatt Border Basin project in Hancock County, public criticism by a local township, a county health commissioner, and area residents was insufficient to block the project. The result: developers don’t know whether projects will be able to move ahead or be doomed by opposition, even if companies modify plans or take other steps to address specific issues.“There’s a lack of certainty on where the goalpost really is,” said Dan Sawmiller, Ohio energy policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. At stake are potentially millions of dollars for pre-construction work that solar companies could spend elsewhere if they knew local opposition would doom projects. Also at risk are millions of dollars in economic benefits from projects during the construction and operational stages, plus pollution reductions to address climate change and other issues. Under state law, the Ohio Power Siting Board is charged with vetting and permitting all new electrical generation and transmission projects in the state. The law requires the board to consider multiple factors, including the project’s likely environmental impact and whether it “will serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.”“The board examines the public interest, convenience and necessity through a broad lens, and public and local input are a key consideration under this criterion,” board spokesperson Matt Butler said.A formal definition of the “broad lens” standard doesn’t exist. Butler said the board needs to balance the public benefits of a project against its impact on local communities near where it would be built. The board often puts conditions on solar permits to address project concerns, but it had not outright denied a solar project until last October, when it rejected the proposed 300-megawatt Birch Solar project in Allen and Auglaize counties. The project otherwise satisfied the statute’s requirements, but the board opinion noted a large amount of local government opposition and public comments against it, including one from Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima.In December, the board denied the 175-megawatt Kingwood Solar project in Greene County, noting opposition from the county and local townships while dismissing some supportive comments as “skewed” by union members’ participation.The Cepheus Energy project was denied in January, but other large solar projects have been approved by the board since then, even when facing local opposition.“We are seeing some cases still granted, while there are some notable ones that have been denied or discouraged from continuing in the process,” said Karin Nordstrom, an attorney with the Ohio Environmental Council.

Energy companies abandon proposed South Dakota pumped storage project in Gregory County — A controversial energy megaproject proposed in central South Dakota is no longer, according to a joint statement from Missouri River Energy Services and MidAmerican Energy. “While pumped storage technology is proven and the need for energy storage solutions is essential for regional reliability, MidAmerican and MRES have decided not to pursue the project at this time,” the statement reads. “MidAmerican and MRES made this decision based on the same due diligence we employ in every project we do. We will continue to evaluate all options — including pumped storage — for reliable, affordable, and resilient energy resources to serve the residents and businesses that rely on us.” The proposed pumped storage project, set to leave a footprint in Gregory and Charles Mix counties, was sold as a tax boon for local counties and schools and an important way to keep the energy grid stable as energy generation continues to change. It would have used an upper reservoir and the Missouri River below to store renewable energy as potential hydropower in a sort of water battery, pushing the river water uphill when solar and wind are plentiful and letting the water downhill at times of higher demand. The project was on the cusp of the study phase of federal permitting and would not have come into commission until the mid-2030s.

U.S. Energy Department funds small-scale clean energy on tribal land (Reuters) - The U.S. Energy Department on Tuesday announced $34 million in funding for 18 renewable energy projects, part of an effort by the Biden administration to bring clean electricity to remote places that lack stable service and face high energy bills. Rural or remote communities tend to grapple with disproportionately high energy bills and unreliable energy service due to their distance from transmission access, creating a barrier to economic development.

Clean Energy Experts Are Stretched Too Thin - Writing clean energy policies and implementing them is hard. It takes experts. Those people serve on task forces, stay up late writing policy briefs and fret over the details. In an era when many states are making rapid progress to reduce emissions, the experts are working harder than ever—and they’re tired. Autumn Proudlove, associate director of the NC Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University, has heard others refer to this as “stakeholder fatigue.” She wonders if the overwork of subject-matter experts may limit how much states can accomplish on clean energy policy. “There are just so many stakeholder processes, so many proceedings going on that these organizations that intervene and advocate are running out of time and resources,” she said. The term “stakeholder” can mean anyone who stands to be affected by a policy. A stakeholder meeting may include environmental groups, consumer advocates, clean energy business leaders and utilities, among others. And there also are the legislators and agency staff who go to many of the same meetings and may feel the same fatigue. The NC Clean Energy Technology Center last week issued a report tracking decarbonization policies in the states in the first quarter. This is the first in a new series of quarterly reports, so there is no previous one to compare it to. But Proudlove, who has monitored state clean energy policies for years, observed that the number of actions in the states accelerated to a rapid pace in the last year or two, and now the pace seems to be leveling off. “Part of why we’ve seen it start to level out is that you only have so much time to consider bills,” she said. “There’s only so much that stakeholders can be actively engaged in, so you start to reach a point where you’ve got to prioritize what you’re working on and you reach a limit just based on time and capacity.” The report lists Massachusetts as the state that had the most decarbonization policy actions in the first quarter, followed by California, Minnesota, New York and Hawaii, so I thought that would be a good place to see how the experts are feeling. “Many groups and experts that should be [part of] the process are stretched to the limit in terms of bandwidth,” said Bradley Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston-based environmental advocacy group that works throughout New England. “It’s especially a concern in terms of community-facing environmental justice groups that typically don’t have the capacity to devote a lot of resources to regulatory and adjudicatory proceedings. It’s an enormous challenge and I think it’s only going to get worse as decarbonization becomes more urgent.”

Biden administration advances two renewable energy transmission projects in Nevada - The Interior Department on Thursday announced the advancement of two new proposed renewable energy transmission projects in Nevada, which are collectively projected togenerate about 8 gigawatts. In a call with reporters Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) confirmed it has begun the environmental review process for the Greenlink North project in Nevada’s White Pine, Eureka, Lander, Churchill, and Lyon counties, as well as a draft environmental impact statement for the Greenlink West project in Clark, Esmeralda, Lyon, Mineral, Nye, Storey, and Washoe counties. The proposed 450-mile Greenlink West project would connect Las Vegas and Reno, whereas the 232-mile Greenlink North project is set to begin a 30-day public comment period. The bureau has set a goal of late 2024 for a final decision on Greenlink West and a goal of draft environmental planning documents for Greenlink North by the end of the year. BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning hailed the approvals as “showing that permitting can be done responsibly,” noting that the Biden administration has set a target of 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on federal lands and adding “I think we’re going to exceed it.” The administration has set a broader goal of a fully renewable electricity grid by 2035. “The Department of the Interior is committed to expanding clean energy development to address climate change, enhance America’s energy security and provide for good-paying union jobs,” Laura Daniel-Davis, principal deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management, said in a statement. “Under President Biden and [Interior] Secretary [Deb] Haaland’s leadership, this Administration is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach toward ambitious clean energy goals that will support families, boost local economies, and help increase climate resilience in communities across the West.”

US electrical steel shortage threatens energy transition, recovery from power outages, groups warn Biden --A shortage of electrical steel is challenging the transition to emissions-free vehicles, delaying power restoration after storms and slowing new home and commercial construction, electric utilities and other groupswarned President Biden on Monday.Electrical steel is used in the manufacturing of transformers, electric vehicle chargers, electric motors and other equipment.“It is vital that the federal government recognize and support the domestic production of electrical steel to meet the unprecedented demand for electrification and grid modernization and resilience initiatives,” the groups said.Utility groups signing the letter are: the Edison Electric Institute, American Public Power Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Others include the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, GridWise Alliance, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Leading Builders of America and the National Association of Home Builders.The groups want Biden to convene an “Electrical Steel Summit” with manufacturers, electric utilities and other stakeholders “to help solve the current supply chain crisis that threatens both the national security and economic outlook for the United States and to deliver on this administration’s goals for electrification and decarbonization.”Cleveland-Cliffs is currently the only domestic producer of grain oriented electrical steel, or GOES. The company told the U.S. Department of Energy in March that scaling up new steel production would not be easy.“While two domestic manufacturers have committed recently to increase GOES production, even with this expanded output, domestic supply levels will still fall far short to meet electrification goals,” the groups said in their letter to Biden. And those plans to expand “are now in flux” as the DOE considers new efficiency standards for distribution transformers, they warned.DOE proposed new standards for the transformers in December, to go into effect in 2027. Supporters say the new standards would cut energy waste by up to 50%, but utilities and others say new requirements could make transformer replacements even more scarce.Finalizing new standards “would upend the market and manufacturing process,” the groups told Biden.

US BATTERY STORAGE: Capacity reached nearly 10.8 GW in Q1, 3.17 GW planned in Q2 | S&P Global Commodity Insights - Total US battery storage capacity climbed 52% year on year to 10.777 GW by the end of first quarter 2023, even as only a fraction of the proposed 2.448 GW additions actually came online, while nearly 3.2 GW is expected to be added in Q2.There was 710 GW of capacity added during Q1, an increase of 7% from the end of 2022, according to an S&P Global Commodity Insights compilation of various government filings. The data includes facilities that either began commercial operation or were synchronized to the grid.The California Independent System Operator continues to lead the nation in battery storage capacity at 5.199 GW, or 48.2% of total US capacity, even as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas footprint added the most capacity in Q1, ending the quarter with 3.287 GW, or 30.5% of US capacity, according to the data.Prices for lithium, a key metal used in battery components, have declined through much of 2023, cooling from record high levels reached in 2022, though prices have seen a slight rise in the past two weeks. Platts assessed seaborne lithium prices on a CIF North Asia basis May 24 at $38,000/mt for carbonate and $45,000/mt for hydroxide, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights data. Carbonate and hydroxide reached highs of $78,000/mt and $84,700/mt on the same basis, respectively, last year. The ERCOT footprint added 498.6 MW in Q1, or 70.2% of all US additions, followed by the Western Electricity Coordinating Council with 115 MW added, or 16.2% of total US installations. All other regions installed less than 3% each.The largest projects completed in Q1 were all located in ERCOT or WECC:

  • Acciona Energy North America's 190-MW BT Cunningham Storage in Texas
  • Aypa Power Development's 155.5-MW Wolf Tank Storage facility in Texas
  • Key Capture Energy's 51.5-MW KCE TX 19 facility in Texas
  • Key Capture Energy's 51.5-MW KCE TX 21 facility in Texas
  • NextEra Energy Resources' 50-MW Buena Vista Energy Center facility in New Mexico
  • Arizona Public Service's 50-MW El Sol BESS facility in Arizona

Following Q1 additions, NextEra Energy Resources continues to have the largest operating battery storage capacity in the US with 1.421 GW, according to the data. Axium Infrastructure claimed the second top spot with 733 MW, followed by Vistra Energy with 673 MW and LS Power Development Affiliates with 615 MW. Terra-Gen Power rounds out the top five with 581 MW. In comparison, the American Clean Power Association's Q1 report showed battery storage additions totaled 461 MW/1,075 MWh in Q1 between 17 projects, down 32% from how much as added in Q1 2022.

Most of North America at Risk of Energy Shortfalls This Summer - Two thirds of North America is at risk of energy shortfalls this summer during periods of extreme demand, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has revealed. According to the NERC’s Summer Reliability Assessment, which was released recently, the Midcontinent ISO (MISO), NPCC-New England, NPCC-Ontario, SERC-Central, Southwest Power Pool (SPP), Texas (ERCOT), and U.S. Western Interconnection areas “face risks of electricity supply shortfalls during periods of more extreme summer conditions”. In a statement accompanying the report, NERC noted that areas in the U.S. West are at elevated risk due to wide-area heat events that can drive above-normal demand and strain resources and the transmission network and highlighted that, in SPP and MISO, wind energy output will be key to meeting normal summer peak and extreme demand levels due to little excess firm capacity. The risk of drought and high temperatures in ERCOT may challenge system resources and may result in emergency procedures, including the need for operator-controlled load shedding during periods of low wind and high generator outages, NERC said in the statement, adding that the SERC Central region is forecasting higher peak demand and less supply capacity, “creating challenges for operators to maintain reserves in extreme scenarios”. NERC went on to note in the statement that New England has lower available capacity than last year, “resulting in a higher likelihood of system operators using emergency procedures to manage extreme demand conditions”. In Ontario, extended nuclear refurbishment has reduced available capacity, limiting system reserves needed to manage peak demand, NERC warned in the statement. “Increased, rapid deployment of wind, solar and batteries have made a positive impact,” Mark Olson, NERC’s manager of Reliability Assessments, said in a NERC comment. “However, generator retirements continue to increase the risks associated with extreme summer temperatures, which factors into potential supply shortages in the western two-thirds of North America if summer temperatures spike,” he added. Earlier this month, NERC announced that it had issued the Level 3 Essential Actions alert - Cold Weather Preparations for Extreme Weather Events III. The purpose of the Level 3 Alert is to increase the readiness of reliability coordinators, balancing authorities, generator owners, and transmission operators for mitigating operational risk for winter 2023–2024 and beyond, the organization noted at the time. The alert contains a set of eight specific actions that NERC determined to be essential for certain segments of owners, operators, or users of the grid to undertake to ensure its reliable operation, the organization highlighted, adding that this is the first time that NERC has issued a Level 3, which it said is the highest severity level in NERC’s alert classification structure.

Lawmakers near deal on energy permitting in debt ceiling talks - Lawmakers are nearing a modest deal on overhauling the nation’s permitting process for energy projects as part of legislation to raise thedebt ceiling and avert an unprecedented default, according to two people close to the deliberations.The emerging deal would ease the process of building the interstate transmission lines needed to carry clean electricity across the country — a top priority for Democrats and a boon for President Biden’s climate agenda, said the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private negotiations.To sweeten the deal for Republicans, the agreement would make modest changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, a 1970 law that requires the federal government to analyze the environmental impact of its proposed actions. GOP lawmakers have long blamed the bedrock environmental law for the years-long delays that plague new highways, pipelines and other infrastructure projects nationwide.The people close to the talks cautioned that lawmakers have not agreed to any final deal on energy permitting and that the contours of the emerging agreement could change in the fast-moving discussions.The transmission proposal would be based on forthcoming legislation from Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) known as the Building Integrated Grids With Inter-Regional Energy Supply (Big Wires) Act. The measure seeks to encourage the construction of transmission lines by requiring regions to transfer at least 30 percent of their peak electricity demand between each other, according to a one-page summary obtained by The Washington Post.The bill could help the United States reach Biden’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. To meet that target, energy experts say, the country needs to build more transmission lines to deliver clean electricity from far-flung wind and solar farms to urban centers.Republicans made the initial push for permitting to be included in the debt ceiling bill, with the goal of including a permitting proposal from Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a top GOP negotiator. But the emerging deal would include only incremental changes sought by Graves and other Republicans, who have championed the expansion of pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.

Debt limit negotiators near compromise on permitting - The White House is closing in on including a Democratic-led permitting overhaul plan as part of its negotiations with Republicans over the debt limit, according to two people familiar with the negotiations, though whether it winds up in a final deal remains in question.The plan, from Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), would deliver on Democratic demands on permitting — namely the need to upgrade transmission lines required for the clean energy transition. In exchange, Republicans would win “modest, tech-neutral” changes to the landmark environmental law that could benefit the fossil fuel industry, according to a person familiar with the state of play.The yet-to-be-introduced bill from the Democrats is dubbed the “Building Integrated Grids With Inter-Regional Energy Supply (BIG WIRES) Act.”A Democratic aide familiar with the talks, and granted anonymity to discuss internal congressional dynamics, said the “BIG WIRES Act” has existed conceptually for some time.Hickenlooper has been trying to lure a Republican into supporting it, the aide said, and had in the past met with Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, a top GOP negotiator, about the bill, along with White House aides.Peters said Thursday, “I’m not in the room, but we’ve offered a lot of ideas about transmission that I think would be helpful.” He added, “I think a lot of Democrats think if there’s any deal around permit reform, transmission has got to be a part of it.”

Major polluter escapes EPA power plant rule -  Two steam turbines at the Ninemile Point power plant emit more carbon dioxide than any gas-fired units in America, according to an E&E News review of federal emissions data. But neither would need to reduce emissions under EPA’s draft rule to limit pollution from power plants. The discrepancy illustrates the novel approach EPA took in crafting the standard, tailoring requirements to a plant’s fuel type, size and usage. As the agency seeks to green the country’s electric grid, it is balancing the need to deeply slash emissions — and meet the country’s climate targets — with ensuring it doesn’t shut down gas facilities that some industry groups say are needed to ensure grid reliability. “It is a balancing act of how much to cover, how fast,” said Julie McNamara, deputy policy director of the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This is the challenge to EPA: How do we ensure we don’t get unintended outcomes from setting different cut points for different sources in different places.” The Biden administration has grappled with that back-and-forth. When EPA initially sent its draft rule to the White House for review, it contained standards for coal plants and future gas plants but omitted rules for existing gas facilities. Those were added later at the behest of White House officials, E&E News reported last week. Few facilities illustrate those challenges like Ninemile Point. The 2,439-megawatt gas plant occupies a peninsula directly across the Mississippi River from a warren of residential neighborhoods in New Orleans. The plant has five electric generating units: two steam turbines built in the 1970s, two combustion turbines built in 2014 and a third steam turbine, which was also built in 2014. The five units emitted 23 million tons of carbon dioxide between 2018 and 2022, according to EPA data, making Ninemile Point the sixth largest CO2 emitter among gas burning power plants in the country. It also ranked as America’s top gas-fired emitter of nitrogen oxide, an ozone-forming pollutant. Yet not all of Ninemile Point’s units would be regulated the same way under EPA’s proposal. The plant’s two dirtiest units, the pair of 1970s-era steam turbines, would effectively be given a free pass to continue polluting at current rates. That’s because EPA’s rule carves out a specific provision for gas-fired steam turbines, which generally operate as peaking units, ramping up quickly to meet surges in electricity demand and powering down when demand subsides. In its regulatory review, EPA concluded that installing carbon capture or co-firing with hydrogen at such units would be costly and fail to produce significant emission reductions because they operate so infrequently. Instead, the agency proposed capping emissions for gas-fired steam turbines based on how frequently they run.

Jacobs Solutions settles with Kingston coal ash cleanup workers -Attorneys for the Kingston coal ash workers and Jacobs Solutions told Knox News on Tuesday, May 23, they have settled the ongoing lawsuits the workers filed over health problems they say were caused by their work cleaning up the 2008 catastrophic coal spill.Jacobs was the Tennessee Valley Authority's contractor in charge of sitewide safety and health during the cleanup of the 2008 coal ash spill in East Tennessee."After years of litigation and lengthy negotiations, the parties have entered into a confidential settlement agreement which will resolve all of the cases," says the joint statement from plaintiffs lawyer Greg Coleman and Jacobs Solutions lawyer Dwight Tarwater."In 2023, to avoid further litigation, the parties chose to enter into an agreement to resolve the cases. The terms of this settlement are confidential," Jacobs posted on its website.Attorneys for both the coal ash workers and Jacobs could not be reached for comment late in the afternoon May 22.The TVA Kingston coal ash spill happened in the early hours of Dec. 22, 2008, when a dike holding a slurry of coal ash waste broke, releasing 5.4 million cubic yards of waste and covering homes and the Emory River Channel. Workers called in to help clean up the spill were exposed to coal ash at the site.Workers began filing lawsuits in 2013 for personal injuries after working at the spill site. The cases involve more than 220 workers' claims and more than 100 claims from spouses of workers who cleaned up the spill.Workers won a phase one jury trial against Jacobs in 2018. The verdict linked the workers' exposure to fly ash during the cleanup to 10 health conditions and diseases:

  • Lung cancer
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Hypertension
  • Leukemia
  • Other “hematological malignancies"
  • Skin cancer
  • Allergic contact dermatitis
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Respiratory conditions such as emphysema, bronchitis and more.

Far Southwest Virginia could host small modular nuclear reactors, study finds - A feasibility study that identifies seven potential sites has determined that far Southwest Virginia has the capabilities to be a “competitive hosting ground” for small modular nuclear reactors, officials with the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission announced Monday. “This particular community ranks as high or higher than almost any other project that’s currently either under consideration or under construction toward putting one of these facilities in place — so very high marks in that regard,” The study also suggests that a small nuclear reactor, or SMR, be developed along with a data center because they are “synergistic industries.” An SMR needs a customer for its power and data centers need clean, reliable energy, the study states. The analysis took place over three months and looked at technical feasibility, safety considerations, economic viability and preliminary sites in the LENOWISCO area of Lee, Wise and Scott counties and the city of Norton, plus Dickenson County. It was funded by the Virginia Department of Energy and GO Virginia Region One. “We are thrilled to have completed this study, which holds great promise for transforming the energy landscape not only in Southwest Virginia but throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Duane Miller, LENOWISCO’s executive director, said in a news release. “Small Modular Reactors have the potential to provide a source of safe, stable, and sustainable energy, enabling transformational economic growth, improving quality of life and complimenting the region’s existing energy generating portfolio.” Last October, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced he planned to put an SMR in Southwest Virginia as part of his new energy plan within 10 years. He said that it would be an economic boon for an area hit hard by the downturn in the coal industry, and that former coal mine land could be used for an SMR site. SMRs are smaller, simpler versions of traditional nuclear reactors that produce about a third of the power produced by the big reactors. They can be built in a factory and shipped to a site, which saves construction time, reduces the risks and is cheaper.

Georgia nuclear rebirth arrives 7 years late, $17B over cost -- Two nuclear reactors in Georgia were supposed to herald a nuclear power revival in the United States. But the project is seven years late and $17 billion over budget as Georgia Power Co. announced the first new reactor at its Plant Vogtle could reach full electrical output by Saturday. They’re the first U.S. reactors built from scratch in decades — and maybe the most expensive power plant ever. Georgia electric customers have already paid billions, and state regulators will ultimately decide if they’re on the hook for billions more. Some of the key promises of Vogtle — like building modules offsite and shipping them for cheaper on-site assembly — did not pan out. Construction delays drove Westinghouse Electric Co., a titan of American industrial history, into bankruptcy when the company couldn’t absorb overruns. And the lessons could be important because government officials and some utilities are again looking to nuclear power to alleviate climate change by generating electricity without burning natural gas, coal and oil. Vogtle's new Unit 3 began generating power in March and is scheduled to reach commercial operation by June. Unit 4 is next door on the same rural Burke County site 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Augusta, along with two older reactors. It's supposed to be finished by early 2024. Georgia Power and its parent, Atlanta-based Southern Co., say the reactors are a triumph. Chris Womack, before he ascended from Georgia Power to become Southern Co. CEO, told The Associated Press that Vogtle is “absolutely” a success, arguing reliable power and cheap fuel costs will benefit the utility's 2.7 million customers for decades. “We recognize the upfront cost and some of the challenges that we faced," Womack said in January at Vogtle. "But yeah, this is value. This is value contribution to customers, to the state, to the energy grid, to bringing back the nuclear industry and showing that we can do hard things.” As with Vogtle, supporters of future nuclear plants promise new-and-improved designs can be mass-produced at reliable prices. But Vogtle opponents scorn renewed nuclear ambitions. “I don’t see how anybody in their right mind cannot avoid saying ‘Well, what evidence do you have?’” said David Schlissel, a utility analyst who testified against Units 3 and 4 after fighting the first two Vogtle reactors in the 1970s. They also finished fabulously late and over budget. In Georgia, almost every electric customer will pay for Vogtle. Georgia Power currently owns 45.7% of the reactors. Smaller shares are owned by Oglethorpe Power Corp., which provides electricity to member-owned cooperatives, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the city of Dalton. Some Florida and Alabama utilities have also contracted to buy Vogtle's power. Currently, the owners are projected to pay $31 billion in capital and financing costs, Associated Press calculations show. Japan's Toshiba Corp., which then owned Westinghouse, paid $3.7 billion to the Vogtle owners to walk away from a guarantee to build the reactors at a fixed price after overruns forced electric industry pioneer Westinghouse into bankruptcy in 2017. Add that to Vogtle’s price and the total nears $35 billion. A U.S. Department of Energy report details Vogtle's other failings: Work began with incomplete designs and managers repeatedly failed to realistically schedule tasks. Experienced workers were in short supply and defective work often had to be redone. Workers quit for other jobs and the COVID-19 pandemic led to high absenteeism. Calculations show Vogtle's electricity will never be cheaper than other sources Georgia Power could have chosen, even after the federal government reduced borrowing costs by guaranteeing repayment of $12 billion in loans.

As Borges delay is denied, former FirstEnergy execs say "no doubt" the feds are after them - Ohio Capital Journal - Judges denied two delays in recent days that would have been key to a bribery and money laundering scandal that took place in Ohio between 2017 to 2020. Lawyers in one suit called it “one of the largest corruption and bribery schemes in U.S. history.”Denial of a delay in one court case means that a player will still be sentenced late next month. In denying the other, the judge in that case agreed with two former FirstEnergy executives who said federal law enforcement has them in its crosshairs. But she ordered that they be questioned under oath anyway. One of those denied was former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, who on March 9 was convicted of racketeering along with former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford. Two others who were also charged in 2020 pleaded guilty and a third died by suicide. Borges and Householder played very different roles in a scheme to use more than $60 million from Akron-based FirstEnergy to make Householder speaker at the start of 2019 so Householder could pass and protect a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout that mostly benefited FirstEnergy. But both made heavy use of funds that were passed through 501(c)(4) “dark money” accounts that enabled them to disguise its FirstEnergy source. Householder directed the effort in 2018 to elect friendly representatives who would make him speaker. He led the 2019 legislative fight to pass the bailout. And he engineered the nasty, dishonest battle to beat back an attempted repeal. Alleging federal securities fraud, lawyers for pension funds and other investors have said in court filings, “FirstEnergy and its most senior executives bankrolled one of the largest corruption and bribery schemes in U.S. history.” Judge Jolson already slapped Sam Randazzo — Gov. Mike DeWine’s chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio — for not producing documents related to the $4.3 million FirstEnergy paid him just as DeWine was nominating Randazzo. Even though he was supposed to be regulating the utility, Randazzo, who has not been charged, helped draft the corrupt bailout law.Last Friday, Jolson also rejected attempts by Jones and Dowling — the former FirstEnergy executives — to delay sworn depositions to September or even later. The depositions had been scheduled for this week and next, but plaintiffs and defendants agreed to a short delay while Jolson considered the request. In asking to hold off until Sept. 8, Jones and Dowling said that having to give a deposition under oath put them in a position in which they were damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t. Answering questions could put them in criminal jeopardy, but if they took the Fifth, the jury in the class-action case is free to conclude they have something bad to hide, Jones and Dowling argued. They added that it’s certain that the feds are coming after them.

Appalachia's Ascent Turning to Liquids, Market Diversification Amid Low Natural Gas Prices -- Ascent Resources Utica Holdings LLC is pivoting to the liquids-rich window of its acreage and marketing most of its natural gas outside the Appalachian Basin to offset price volatility, according to management. CEO Jeff Fisher hosted a conference call earlier this month to discuss first quarter results of Oklahoma City-based Ascent, a Utica Shale pure-play and the largest privately held gas producer by volume in the Lower 48, according to a new ranking by Enverus. Ascent produced 2.04 Bcf/d of gas during the first quarter, up from 1.82 Bcf/d in the same period last year. Ascent turned 12 wells in-line, seven of which “were located in the liquids rich window of the play, adding meaningful oil volumes to our production mix and helping provide a buffer against depressed prices...

12 New Shale Well Permits Issued for PA-OH-WV May 15-21 | Marcellus Drilling News - New shale permits issued for May 15-21 in the Marcellus/Utica took a substantial hit. There were only 12 new permits issued, down by more than half from the 26 new permits issued the previous week. Last week’s tally included 10 new permits for Pennsylvania, 2 new permits for Ohio, and no new permits in West Virginia. Last week the top receiver of new permits was a tie–Coterra Energy and Chesapeake Energy each received 3 new permits, with Coterra’s permits issued in Susquehanna County, PA, and Chessy’s permits in Bradford County, PA. Range Resources and Olympus Energy each received 2 new permits, and Southwestern Energy and EOG Resources each received 1 new permit. Allegheny County, Bradford County, Chesapeake Energy, Coterra Energy (Cabot O&G), Energy Companies, EOG Resources, Guernsey County, Harrison County, Lycoming County, Olympus/Huntley & Huntley, Range Resources Corp, Southwestern Energy, Susquehanna County

New Permits to Drill in M-U, Other Gas Plays, Saw Big Drop in April | Marcellus Drilling News -- According to analysts at Evercore ISI, natural gas (and oil) permits to drill new shale wells dropped dramatically in April from previous months in both the Marcellus/Utica and other shale plays. Evercore tracks new drilling permits and says Marcellus permits fell by 25%. The M-U’s main competitor, the Haynesville, saw an even bigger 40% drop. We did a bit of analysis ourselves, and while new permits did drop quite a bit in April, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Please Login to view this content.

Mountain Valley Pipeline given the green light for construction on national forest land - WCBC Radio podcast --The Mountain Valley Pipeline, a long-delayed natural gas pipeline that will run through Virginia and West Virginia, was given the green light for construction on national forest land last week. The 303-mile pipeline, which will transport natural gas from Ohio and Pennsylvania, still has a number of federal hurdles to clear before it can be completed, but the approval from the US Forest Service is an important step in the process. West Virginia US Senator Joe Manchin specifically mentioned the need to approve the Mountain Valley project when discussing permitting reform last week…. Jill Gottesman, the Southern Appalachian Landscape Director for The Wilderness Society, says the ruling will mean environmental activists will have no choice but to take the matter to court

Green Radicals Protesting MVP Rush Stage at POLITICO Event | Marcellus Drilling News -- The Democrat Party has created a monster. They have brainwashed a considerable portion of their members to believe in the imminent toasting of Mom Earth by burning fossil fuels. Well into the second generation of mind-numbed robots, the issue is that many of these people are miseducated and have no sense of basic God-given (not man-given) human rights–like free speech. Example: The dunderheaded Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy, was giving a talk at a Democrat POLITICO energy summit in the D.C. swamp yesterday. She was asked a question about Mountain Valley Pipeline. She simply mouthed support for it (and it was lukewarm support at best), and a couple of unhinged wackos rushed toward the stage screaming. Did they wet their pants and howl at the moon too?

Joyce, Miller, Reschenthaler unveil Mountain Valley Pipeline Completion Act -- Republicans on May 18 proposed legislation that would expedite the completion of the under-construction Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas system that spans approximately 303 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia.“Ensuring that the natural resources beneath the feet of my constituents in Pennsylvania are able to reach Americans across the country is critical to returning our nation to energy dominance,” said bill sponsor U.S. Rep. John Joyce (R-PA). “Congress must clear the way to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline and allow natural gas to flow to those who need it in the southern United States.”Rep. Joyce introduced the Mountain Valley Pipeline Completion Act, H.R. 3500, alongside five original cosponsors, including U.S. Reps. Carol Miller (R-WV), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), and Mike Kelly (R-PA). “The construction of the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline equates to more good-paying jobs, lower energy costs, and increased energy independence for Pennsylvania and the entire region,” Rep. Reschenthaler said. “I thank Rep. John Joyce for his diligence in ensuring this project — which is already 94 percent completed — can be seen through to the finish line for our shared states’ benefit.“It’s past time to cut the liberal red tape and complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline once and for all,” added Rep. Reschenthaler.Specifically, H.R. 3500 would declare that the timely completion of construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is required in the national interest and will serve demonstrated natural gas demand in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast regions, according to the text of the bill.H.R. 3500 also would help increase the reliability of natural gas supplies and the availability of natural gas at reasonable prices, allow natural gas producers to access additional markets for their product, and reduce carbon emissions and facilitate the energy transition. Under H.R. 3500, Congress also would ratify and approve all authorizations, permits, verifications, extensions, biological opinions, incidental take statements, and any other approvals or orders issued pursuant to federal law related to the Mountain Valley Pipeline in an effort to hasten its completion.Within months of the completion, the pipeline would provide up to two billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations to consumers in North Carolina and South Carolina, according to a bill summary provided by the lawmakers.Additionally, the pipeline will create new job opportunities and sustain roughly 5,800 jobs and $5.9 billion in economic activity in West Virginia and Virginia, while also bringing revenue to West Virginia.“What’s one thing Presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden agree on? They all wanted the Mountain Valley Pipeline completed,” said Rep. Miller, the lead original cosponsor of H.R. 3500. “The Mountain Valley Pipeline Completion Act will finish this necessary project that has been held up by the radical, left-wing courts and will implement a needed check on our judicial system.”The American people are depending on domestic energy production so energy prices will finally go down,” the congresswoman added. “I look forward to the Mountain Valley Pipeline Completion Act passing into law shortly to unleash American energy,” she said.

Thousands Of Gallons Of Oil Spill From Storage Tank In Kanawha County - An oil spill Sunday in Kanawha County does not appear to pose any threat to waterways or wildlife, but officials continue to monitor the situation. An open valve on a storage tank spilled potentially several thousand gallons of crude oil, the Kanawha County Commission said Monday. After an odor was reported in the upper Blue Creek area, officials from Kanawha County Emergency Management, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Cedar Grove Volunteer Fire Department were able to close the valve. Booms and heavy machinery have been moved in to clean up the spill. Officials have been checking Blue Creek down to the point where it meets the Elk River. They report no evidence of a sheen or any harm to aquatic life. The county’s spring trout release was supposed to take place at Clendenin and Blue Creek on Monday, but will now take place on Tuesday as a result of the spill.

Zydeco pipeline to restart 26 May: US Coast Guard - Shell's 250,000 b/d Zydeco crude pipeline is expected to restart on 26 May, after being shut for nearly one month following an oil spill, according to the US Coast Guard.The pipeline — which is a key conduit for sweet crude shipped from the Houston area to Louisiana — has been offline since 25 April after an oil spill was detected by a regular air patrol.Excavation of the underwater section of pipe that leaked is nearly complete, the Coast Guard toldArgus. Next a barrier will be placed around the section of pipe so it can be exposed and repaired.Light Louisiana Sweet (LLS) prices for June delivery have risen compared with Nymex-quality WTI by roughly $1/bl since the pipeline shut, to a $2.70/bl premium yesterday.LLS is comprised in part by crude from the Houston area, which is blended to create LLS. The Zydeco outage would reduce the amount of supply delivered to Louisiana.

US natgas falls 7% on rising output, forecasts for less demand next week (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures dropped about 7% on Monday as traders took profits after the contract soared about 14% last week and on rising output and forecasts for less demand next week than previously expected. The price decline came even though U.S. power generators have burned more gas in recent weeks to produce electricity due to low wind power, and as gas exports from Canada remain lower than normal due to wildfires in Alberta. The amount of U.S. power generated by wind last week dropped to just 8% of the total versus a recent high of 17% during the week ended April 21, according to federal energy data. That means there will be less of the fuel available to go into storage. The amount of power generated by gas hit 42% last week, up from a recent low of 37% during the windy week ended April 21. Front-month gas futures for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 18.5 cents, or 7.2%, to settle at $2.400 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). It was the contract's biggest daily price drop since falling about 8% in late April. The drop also pushed the front-month out of technically overbought territory for the first time in three days. In the spot market, mild weather and ample hydropower in the U.S. West pressured next-day gas prices for Monday at the PG&E Citygate in Northern California to $3.52 per mmBtu, the lowest since March 2021. Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states rose to 101.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in May, which would top April's monthly record of 101.4 bcfd. Over the past few weeks, the average amount of gas flowing from Canada to the U.S. averaged just 7.0 bcfd as wildfires in Alberta and other western provinces caused some producers to shut oil and gas output, according to Refinitiv. That is well below the 8.4-bcfd average amount of gas Canada exported to the U.S. since the start of the year and 2022's average of 9.0 bcfd. About 8% of the gas consumed in, or exported from the U.S., comes from Canada. Meteorologists projected the weather in the Lower 48 states would remain mostly near normal through June 6. Refinitiv forecast U.S. gas demand, including exports, would slide from 90.2 bcfd this week to 89.5 bcfd next week. The forecast for this week was higher than Refinitiv's outlook on Friday, while its forecast for next week was lower.

US natgas falls 4% to near 2-wk low on record US output (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell about 4% to a near two-week low on Thursday on record U.S. output, rising Canadian exports and forecasts for milder U.S. weather and lower demand over the next two weeks than previously expected. Prices declined despite a federal report showing a slightly smaller-than-expected U.S. storage build last week, when mild weather limited demand for the fuel for both heating and cooling. It also defied other bullish factors, including a lack of wind power in recent weeks that has forced power generators to burn more gas to produce electricity. Traders said that lack of wind power likely had something to do with last week's smaller-than-expected storage build. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said utilities added 96 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into storage during the week ended May 19. That was lower than the 100-bcf build analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compared with an increase of 88 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2018-2022) average increase of 96 bcf. Last week's increase boosted stockpiles to 2.336 trillion cubic feet (tcf), or 17.0% above the five-year average of 1.996 tcf for that time of year. The amount of U.S. power generated by wind has dropped to 7% of the total so far this week versus a high of 17% during the week ended April 21, according to federal energy data. That means there will likely be less gas available to go into storage. The amount of power generated by gas has averaged 41% so far this week, up from a low of 37% during the windy week ended April 21. On its second-to-last day as the front month, front-month gas futures for June delivery fell 9.1 cents, or 3.8%, to settle at $2.307 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), their lowest close since May 12. Futures for July, which will soon be the front month, fell 9 cents to settle at $2.476 per mmBtu. In the spot market, mild weather and ample hydropower in the U.S. West pressured next-day gas prices for Thursday at the PG&E Citygate in Northern California to $3.15 per mmBtu, their lowest since August 2020.

US natgas futures drop 6% to three-week low on lower demand forecast (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell about 6% to a three-week low on Friday as global gas prices collapsed, a U.S. contract expired and on record U.S. output, rising Canadian exports and forecasts for milder U.S. weather and lower demand next week including the U.S. Memorial Day holiday on Monday. Prices declined despite a lack of wind power in recent weeks that forced power generators to burn more gas to produce electricity, reducing the gas put in storage. The amount of U.S. power generated by wind dropped to 7% of the total so far this week versus a high of 17% during the week ended April 21, according to federal energy data. The amount of power generated by gas averaged 41% so far this week, up from a low of 37% during the windy week ended April 21. On its last day as the front month, gas futures for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 12.6 cents, or 5.5%, to settle at $2.181 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), their lowest close since May 5. For the week, the front-month was down about 16%, which would erase last week's 14% gain. In the spot market, mild weather and ample hydropower in the U.S. West pressured next-day gas prices for Friday at the PG&E Citygate in Northern California to $2.80 per mmBtu, their lowest since August 2020 for a second day in a row. Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states rose to 101.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in May, which would top April's monthly record of 101.4 bcfd. As firefighters make significant progress in tackling wildfires in Alberta, the amount of gas exported from Canada to the U.S. was on track to hold around 8.0 bcfd for a fourth day in a row on Friday, according to Refinitiv, up from an average of 7.0 bcfd from May 6-22 when some fires were still raging out of control. Meteorologists projected the weather in the Lower 48 states would switch from cooler than normal from May 26-29 to mostly near normal from May 30-June 10. Refinitiv forecast U.S. gas demand, including exports, would ease from 90.8 bcfd this week to 89.7 bcfd next week with the coming of milder weather and the Memorial Day holiday on Monday before rising to 93.8 bcfd in two weeks as the weather turns seasonally warmer. Some analysts have questioned whether this year's gas price collapse in Europe and Asia could force U.S. exporters to cancel LNG cargoes this summer after mostly mild weather over the winter left massive amounts of gas in storage. In 2020, at least 175 LNG shipments were canceled due to weak demand. But for now, most analysts say energy security concerns following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 should keep global gas prices high enough to sustain record U.S. LNG exports in 2023. Gas was trading at a 25-month low of around $8 per mmBtu at the Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF) benchmark in Europe TRNLTTFMc1 and a 24-month low of $9 at the Japan Korea Marker (JKM) in Asia JKMc1. That put TTF down about 67% and JKM down about 68% so far this year.

$141M Permian Basin oil and gas deal finalized as more companies move into region - A $141 million acquisition in the Permian Basin became the latest sale to close in the region as it was expected to continued growing in production of both oil and natural gas. Kimbell Royalty Partners said May 17 it completed a deal announced in April to buy assets on the eastern Midland sub-basin of the Permian in Howard and Borden counties in Texas. The acquired assets included about 60,000 acres in the region, expected produce about 1,901 barrels of oil equivalent per in the next year – 77 percent oil and 12 percent natural gas. The assets also included 806 royalty acres, and about 5.3 million barrels of proven oil reserves, along with three active rigs as of March 31 and 300 producing wells. Meanwhile, Epsilon Energy of Houston said it planned to spend about $14 million to acquire a 25 percent interest in about 12,373 acres in Ector County, Texas, also in the Midland Basin, participating in drilling 2 wells through the rest of the year. This was Epsilon’s second Permian Basin acquisition of the year, following its purchase of a 10 percent interest in two wells recently drilled in Eddy County, in the western Delaware sub-basing that straddles the border between southeast New Mexico and West Texas. “These investments add liquids to our production mix and the potential for a significant future investment runway in the Ector County project with a well-aligned and basin focused operator,” said Epsilon Chief Executive Officer Jason Stabell. He said the Eddy County deal would help the company grow its presence in the nation-leading basin, position for future growth and future deals throughout the Permian. “We see this as a first step toward our growth objectives and a blueprint for future transactions.” The Permian Basin’s oil and gas production were expected to grow in the next month, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), by 15,000 barrels per day (bpd) and 82 million cubic feet per day (cfd), respectively. This would raise production in the basin to 5.7 million bpd of oil and 22.5 billion cfd of natural gas, the EIA reported. That’s why Midland-based exploration and production company Garrison Energy Holdings drew a $500 million line of credit to seek out new drilling assets throughout the region in both the Delaware and Midland basins, according to a company announcement. “There is an abundance of opportunity in the region, and we are already evaluating deals ranging from as small as a section with high quality inventory to as large as upwards of one billion dollars, given our investor's ability to add additional equity capital for the right opportunity,”

New Mexico's fracking water contains cancer-causing chemicals, study says -- New Mexico fossil fuel companies are using cancer-causing chemicals to aid in their fracking operations, increasing the risk of a highly toxic byproduct contaminating groundwater, according to a report by a medical watchdog group.State records indicate companies injected thousands of pounds of PFAS into about 260 sites in the past decade during hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and possibly far more because the state’s trade secrets law allows operators to conceal many of the chemicals they use, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility’s 55-page report.Industry advocates dismiss the report as biased toward anti-fossil fuel groups, arguing it made unfounded assertions about a process shown to be safe for people and the environment.

Protests rally ahead of federal oil and gas lease sale in New Mexico - Federal land managers planned to offer more than 10,000 acres of public land for auction to the oil and gas industry in New Mexico and Kansas this week, drawing protests from environmental groups demanding the sale be halted.The Bureau of Land Management’s May 25 lease sale was set to include about 3,279 acres in Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties, in southeast New Mexico’s Permian Basin region, and another 6,844 acres in Cheyenne County, Kansas.The lands sold at the auction would be leased for 10 years or as long as oil or gas is produced.Letters of opposition to the sale were delivered to the BLM’s field offices in Carlsbad, Farmington, Las Cruces and Albuquerque this week, with a rally planned outside BLM New Mexico headquarters in Santa Fe on the day of the sale.The letter was signed by more than 200 environmental groups in New Mexico and other western states, calling on the agency to end the use of public land for fossil fuel extraction.“We are shocked and dismayed that in spite of a clear scientific, political, and public consensus that action for the climate requires we begin to phase out fossil fuels, the BLM is continuing the legacy of sacrifice zones in New Mexico by moving forward with the auction of additional public and ancestral lands to more oil and gas leasing and drilling,” read the letter.The letter called out President Joe Biden for promises the groups contended Biden made on the campaign trail to phase out oil and gas drilling.

Keystone pipeline owners knew of defect years before Kansas spill - Owners of the Keystone pipeline knew a defect had formed years before the strain finally caused the pipeline to burst and flood a Kansas creek with oil last year. The Keystone pipeline, owned by TC Energy, burst near the Kansas-Nebraska border late last year, spilling almost 13,000 barrels of oil onto adjacent farmland and into Mill Creek. It was the largest spill since the pipeline started operating a decade ago and larger than all the others combined. While the December spill was the most severe, it was caused by a manufacturing defect that worsened under stress, like most earlier breaches. Bill Caram, executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, said any failure that affects the environment is alarming. “But the fact that we have a history of these construction issues on this pipeline and we have another failure because of that — I think it calls into question the condition of the pipeline itself,” Caram said. Following the December spill, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration ordered the section of the pipeline shut down and issued TC Energy a corrective action order that required the company to have the pipeline analyzed and study the root causes of the failure. The resulting study, quietly posted to the administration’s website, painted a picture of a company that overlooked warning signs and lacked appropriate safety controls. It determined a faulty weld, which was further strained by bending and a misshapen section of pipe, failed and caused the rupture.“This root cause analysis…points to inadequate oversight in TC Energy’s policies and procedures. The fact that they had to replace this piece of the pipeline a couple times and it still went in defective speaks a lot to that,” Caram said. TC Energy didn’t respond directly to the findings of the study.

Intensity of methane emissions by U.S. oil and gas industry declined, report finds - The intensity of methane emissions from oil and gas production fell 28% between 2019 and 2021 among the industry’s 100 biggest emitters. Greenhouse gas emissions intensity - which includes carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane - dropped 30%, according to an analysis of public data published today by the nonprofits Clean Air Task Force and Ceres, and ERM. The organizations’ goal in pursuing the study, the third annual version, is to make it easier to compare greenhouse gas emission data that regulated companies submit annually to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The oil and gas industry’s CO2 emissions mostly come from burning fossil fuels during the production process or flaring methane, which converts methane to carbon dioxide. Methane is 81 times more powerful than CO2 in the medium term (20 years). Methane intensity is a ratio of emissions and produced gas. Greenhouse gas intensity is calculated as each company’s CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions divided by produced gas and its oil sales. This year’s results reflect a decline in the total emissions reported to the EPA and an increase in oil and gas production. The authors hope their analysis of emissions intensity helps standardize reporting across the industry, to make clearer who’s emitting how much. For example, the report shows that Hilcorp, a Houston-based oil and gas producer, is the top two emitter, behind ConocoPhillips - even though it’s the 12th largest producer. Hilcorp produces half the oil and gas of the largest producer, Exxon Mobil, and in 2021 put out 108% of the latter’s emissions. Hilcorp increases its production mainly by buying aging oil-and-gas facilities, many of which can emit a lot before they’re renovated. After acquisitions, the company invests in new infrastructure and equipment, thereby reducing emissions while raising output, said Nick Piatek, a Hilcorp spokesperson. He said it takes several years to update new production and the new “report only provides a nearly two-year-old snapshot.” The sizable average emissions intensity decline from 2019 to 2021 masks annual fluctuations among companies and the basins they operate in, and also a growing gap between the polluters with the highest and lowest intensity. Companies in the top 25 have an average methane emissions intensity that’s 26 times higher than those in the bottom quarter. For greenhouse gases, the top quarter’s average emissions intensity is 13 times the bottom quarter’s.

Interior's oil plan is coming. Here's what to watch. - Biden administration officials in recent weeks hosted private listening sessions with environmental groups and oil companies ahead of the release of proposed oil and gas regulations that could represent some of the White House’s most lasting steps on public lands to help address climate change. Major oil companies like Exxon Mobil Corp., as well as influential environmental groups like the Sierra Club, met with Interior Department and White House officials, according to the administration’s regulatory agenda, in efforts to shape the long-anticipated draft regulations on bonding, fees and other economic aspects of drilling on public land. Originally planned for release in 2022, the rules were heavily influenced by the Inflation Reduction Act, last year’s climate law that included new floors for bonding and royalties. A draft of the Interior Department’s rules is expected to come out by next month, according to recent testimony in a federal court case from Nada Culver, deputy director of policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management. A key question is whether Interior will use the regulations as a vehicle for more aggressive climate reforms. Over the objections of the oil and gas industry, some green groups are urging the White House to do more than what was laid out in the Inflation Reduction Act to limit the oil industry’s reach on federal land. When it comes to public lands, the White House so far hasn’t taken the step that President Joe Biden promised on the 2020 campaign trail: retire the federal oil and gas program. Instead, the Interior Department has so far adopted a more gradual approach with less leasing, more climate accounting and steeper costs for drillers. This approach was made more lasting when codified into law by the Inflation Reduction Act.During several meetings in late April and early May, environmental and climate organizations were explicit in their requests that the administration embrace more progressive reforms, according to documents submitted to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. They want the White House to consider climate-impact screening to any new leasing decisions and explore simply phasing out oil and gas over a period of years.The Interior Department declined to comment for this story. “The federal government itself is this country’s single largest source of fossil fuels,” Earthjustice lawyer Michael Freeman said. “The oil and gas rule is a prime opportunity for BLM to address our climate goals and bring the federal program into alignment with what we’re trying to do as a nation.”

U.S. Shale Production Is Set For A Rapid Decline - I have argued in several Oilprice articles, and most recently in February 2023, that the era of increasing output from shale wells did not have much more room to run absent a price signal that caused a huge increase in drilling. A price signal similar to the one the market received with the onset of the Ukraine invasion, that added 153 rigs in U.S. shale plays from January to June of 2022. Instead, as the market adapted to the loss of Russian oil and gas, and worries about the strength of the economy cast doubt on demand, prices began to soften throughout the rest of the year. As we approach the midpoint of 2023, WTI prices have mostly stayed in a $70-$80 range, continuing a pattern that established itself in late Q-4, 2022. There is nothing in the next few months that will interrupt this pattern, but if we look a little farther out, in the next six to eight months, we can make a case for a transformative drop in U.S. domestic production. The chart below is a little busy, so we will spend some time decoding it. The multi-colored, vertical bars show changes in the drawdown of Drilled, but Uncompleted (DUC) wells over the last four years. Low oil prices from 2019 through December, of 2021 drove a decline in DUCs from ~4,000 to 1,446, more than 75%. During this period, oil companies desperate for revenue and needing to control costs thanks to oil prices below $70 per barrel, turned to DUCs to maintain output. Post-January 2022, higher oil and gas prices drove a rapid increase in drilling, and attenuated the trend toward DUC activation as the year wore on. From January of 2023, both DUC withdrawals and drilling have declined and shale output has essentially flatlined around 9,300 mm BOPD, according to the monthly EIA-Drilling Productivity Report. The most recent results of which are captured in the graph below, along with rig data from Baker Hughes and frac spread count data from Primary Vision. One final point I’ll make regarding the graph above, and I will have to ask you to use your imagination as I didn’t graph this, but you will notice the slope of the decline curve for DUCs is largely a mirror image of the increase in production from January of 2021. The takeaway being that DUC withdrawal is responsible for much of the 1.7 mm BOEPD added since Jan-2021.

Colorado Frackers Doubled Freshwater Use During Megadrought -- "Oil and gas operators dramatically increased their reliance on high-quality water for fracking even though they produced enough wastewater to supply the operations." "In the middle of the longest-running drought in more than a thousand years, Colorado energy companies diverted rising volumes of the state’s freshwater resources for fracking, a new analysis shows. Colorado operators doubled their use of high-quality water to prepare wells for fracking over the last 10 years, with diminishing returns on oil production, the nonprofit group FracTracker Alliance reported earlier this month. Average volumes of water used per well quadrupled over that time, the analysis found. Colorado standards governing what water sources energy companies can access for fracking and how they dispose of wastewater are unsustainable and “incredibly wasteful,” concluded Kyle Ferrar, FracTracker’s western program coordinator, in the report. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, injects water, sand and chemicals of varying toxicity under high pressure to splinter rock and prepare wells for extracting oil and gas trapped within rock formations. Completing wells can prove water- and energy-intensive as operators extend the length of horizontal wells to reach sequestered fossil fuels. It can also yield massive amounts of wastewater, known as produced water."

Coalition Turns to CO Voters to Phase Out Fracking Permits - A coalition of grassroots groups is turning to Colorado voters in an effort to phase out all new oil and gas leases by 2030. Kate Christensen – an organizer with Safe and Healthy Colorado – said even after state lawmakers passed legislation mandating that oil and gas regulators prioritize the protection of public health and the environment, they continue to permit hundreds of wells – many right in the middle of highly populated areas already in violation of Environmental Protection Agency ozone pollution limits. “And that is why we need a ballot initiative,” said Christensen, “because every other move hasn’t got us the results that we need for our climate crisis, and for our air quality, and for our water. Nothing else has worked, we have to do this.” Leading global scientists have repeatedly warned that fossil fuels cannot continue to be extracted and burned if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association says if voters approve the measure, there will be significant job losses and higher fuel prices. They argue even if permits stop, the demand for oil and gas won’t. Christensen pointed to a recent report which found the oil and gas industry in Colorado contributes less than 1% of the state’s total employment. And she said the industry’s own research shows there are ample oil and gas reserves to meet future demand. “The International Energy Association – not a green group, just an energy group,” said Christensen, “came out with a report last year that said we have already extracted all the fossil fuels we need to extract to make a transition to renewables by 2050.” Christensen said setting a timeline for phasing out drilling permits is critical for communities that are dependent on fossil fuels to build an exit strategy and get the support they need to transition to the new clean-energy economy. If the coalition can collect 125,000 signatures to make the 2024 ballot, she said the effort could embolden people in other states.

Chevron boosts US shale footprint with $6.3bn deal -- Chevron has agreed to buy Denver-based PDC Energy for $6.3bn in stock, doubling down on its Colorado shale business to make it one of the oil major's top five assets for production and free cash flow. The oil major agreed to pay $72/share for the US oil and gas independent, representing a 14pc premium to PDC's prior 10-day average closing stock price. The takeover of PDC would increase Chevron's proved reserves by 10pc at an acquisition cost of under $7/bl of oil equivalent (boe). Chevron would gain 275,000 net acres in the DJ basin of Colorado and Wyoming, as well as 25,000 net acres in the Permian basin of west Texas and eastern New Mexico. Flush with near-record cash flow after last year's run-up in oil prices, producers are stepping up mergers and acquisitions in the shale patch, with the top-performing Permian basin likely to attract the most interest. In a separate announcement today, Chord Energy agreed to snap up assets in the Williston basin from ExxonMobil for $375mn in cash. Chevron produced just over 140,000 boe/d from the DJ Basin in 2022. With the acquisition, its output from the basin is poised to increase to about 400,000 boe/d in 2024 and move slightly higher in 2027. Chevron had previously said it would be hesitant to engage in deals while oil prices were at the upper end of the commodity cycle. The transaction, which has been approved by the boards of both companies, would add about $1bn to annual free cash flow for Chevron. "Focusing on the DJ basin likely allows Chevron to acquire undeveloped upside at more favorable pricing," said Andrew Dittmar, director at Enverus Intelligence Research. Chevron looks to have paid less than $5,000/acre, with more than 80pc of the total deal value allocated to existing production, which compares favorably to the higher valuations in the Permian basin, he said. As a result of the acquisition, Chevron expects to boost capital expenditures by around $1bn a year, raising its annual guidance range to $14bn-$16bn through 2027. It anticipates savings from the combination of about $400mn. The deal, which is expected to close before the end of the year, is valued at $7.6bn including debt.

PDC Energy Deal Makes Chevron Even More Formidable in Colorado -- Monday morning provided some corporate M&A fireworks as Chevron announced the purchase of PDC Energy for nearly $8 billion. That’s what Enverus Director Andrew Dittmar told Rigzone, adding that the deal makes Chevron an even more formidable operator in Colorado “by tacking an additional 275,000 net acres onto the significant DJ position the company acquired in 2020 with its purchase of Noble Energy”. Dittmar, who highlighted that PDC also holds 25,000 net acres in the Delaware position, said the company’s split of assets between those two plays makes Chevron a sensible strategic buyer as it can leverage operational synergies in both plays “with the company expected to capture about $100 million in annual operational synergies”. “Another key fact, although one not unique to Chevron, is the much higher multiple its equity trade at, versus SMID-cap operators like PDC, with Chevron trading at 5.6x 2023E EBITDA versus PDC at 3.3x,” Dittmar noted. “That allows the company to pay a modest premium for PDC, 14 percent based on a 10-day volume weighted average and 10.5 percent based on a prior-day close while maintaining financial accretion,” he added. “Chevron says the deal will drive accretion to EPS, CFPS, FCFPS and ROCE with about $1 billion in incremental annual free cash flow. The company also noted the combination would lower its carbon intensity with no routine flaring in the DJ Basin,” Dittmar continued. While using all equity in the deal from Chevron does cut into financial accretion a bit, it also helps mitigate commodity price risk and has been used in the past by buyers and sellers at uncertain points in the commodity market price cycle, the Enverus Director stated. “Chevron management noted that at its current share buyback pace the company is on track to buy back all the shares issued in this transaction in two quarters,” he highlighted. Besides favorable ESG metrics and the immediate financial accretion that comes from buying from the smaller sized E&P peer group that has been discounted by the market, focusing on the DJ Basin likely allows Chevron to acquire undeveloped upside at more favorable pricing, Dittmar said. “The company looks to have paid less than $5,000 per acre with more than 80 percent of the total deal value allocated to existing production,” he added. “That compares to the Permian Basin where equity valuations for companies with equivalent inventory tend to be higher and M&A markets more competitive,”

Citizen scientist group: More problems along Line 3 pipeline corridor suspected- Enbridge’s oil replacement pipeline known as Line 3 has officially been in operation for more than a year. The construction of the pipeline in Northern Minnesota led to several aquifer breaches, millions of dollars in fines for the company and even criminal charges.While the pipeline has been a flashpoint for environmentalists, tribal communities and the oil industry, internal records from the state and the company itself reveal Enbridge was aware of some problems a lot earlier than the company let on.On a recent cold April day in Northern Minnesota, a group of citizen scientists hiked their way through fresh snow to continue their work monitoring the Line 3 oil pipeline corridor. The pipeline spans more than 300 miles of Minnesota wilderness from Canada to Superior, Wisconsin."Our team regularly snowshoes and/or canoes and has to travel significantly to access these sites that are far away from the public eye," said Emma ‘Haze’ Harrison, a volunteer with the group Waadookawaad Amikwag (which translates to "those who help beaver.")The oil pipeline crosses several tribal treaty areas, which is land once taken from Native Americans in exchange, in part, for preserving their right to hunt, fish and gather on the land.Victoria McMillen is an Indigenous consultant for Waadookawaad Amikwag."[The pipeline] is a big scar on the land because this is her body," McMillen said. "They dredge, they trenched all the way through and then they put an implant in."McMillen fears damage done by the pipeline has compromised the land’s natural resources, from the wild rice beds to the waters that sustain them. "It’s a violation of our treaty rights," McMillen said.Line 3 became fully operational in October 2021. However, case records obtained by the FOX 9 Investigators reveal Enbridge was aware of problems a lot sooner than the company let on.In Clearwater County, an uncontrolled water flow was first noticed in January 2021 after large sheets of metal used to reinforce the soil breached an aquifer. When an aquifer is breached, it can create quicksand-like conditions and compromise the natural flow of groundwater, with the potential to disrupt the environment. State records reveal Enbridge did not notify the state of the problem at first – and even after the company issued itself an "unacceptable report" in March 2021, Enbridge again did not bring the issue to the state’s attention. Internal emails reveal it wasn’t until six months after the problem was first detected that the state caught wind of it. One state official in an email called it a "serious situation" with about 15 gallons of water per minute gushing out of the aquifer.In total, three aquifer breaches were identified by the state, which led to $11 million in fines for Enbridge. The company claims on its website to have fixed those breaches.Enbridge declined the FOX 9 Investigators request for an interview but referred to company-produced videos that detail their restoration efforts.

ExxonMobil Sells Williston Assets --Chord Energy Corp. has entered a deal to acquire hydrocarbon development areas in the Williston Basin owned by ExxonMobil Corp. for $375 million. The definitive agreement with XTO Energy Inc. and affiliates, which are ExxonMobil subsidiaries, adds about 62,000 net acres to Chord’s inventories, it said in a press release Monday. Around 77 percent of the acreage to be transferred is undeveloped. Upon the closure of the transaction, expected June, the Houston city-based exploration and production company would have 123 net 10,000-foot equivalent locations. The assets to be divested currently can produce 6,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (Mboepd), according to the announcement. Customary closing conditions remain before the deal could be fulfilled, Chord said. The purchase follows the acquisition by Oasis Petroleum Inc., which joined hands with Whiting Petroleum Corp. 2022 to form Chord, of Diamondback Energy Inc.’s oil and gas assets in the Williston Basin. Spanning the states of Montana and North and South Dakota, the basin is estimated to hold 83 million barrels of oil and 351 billion cubic feet of gas in undiscovered, technically recoverable mean resources in its Paleozoic strata, according to an assessment by the United States Geological Survey published November 8, 2018. Chord earlier this month said it was selling non-Williston, non-core assets for about $35 million. The transactions involving 1,100 Mboepd are projected to close the second quarter of 2023. The divestments allowed Chord to raise forecast output for the year to as high as 168.2 Mboepd, it said in its earnings report for the first quarter released May 3. The company produced 164.7 Mboepd in January-March, within the range of Chord’s projection, according to the results report. Chord logged $297 million in net income for the 2023 opening quarter. It expects to fulfill payments for the acquisition of the ExxonMobil assets through cash on hand, which stood at $592 million as of March, according to Monday’s announcement. The value of the transaction is subject to price adjustments.

Saltwater, crude oil spill reported in Renville County - — Cobra Oil and Gas Corp. notified state agencies on Sunday of a saltwater and crude oil spill at a site it operates near Glenburn in Renville County. Initial reports indicate 6,300 gallons of saltwater and 420 gallons of crude oil released, impacting agricultural land. The incident resulted from the malfunction of an oil-water separator. The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality reports its personnel are on location and will continue to oversee remediation.

How an energy giant helped police quell the Standing Rock protests - Grist -- By March 2017, the fight over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline had been underway for months. Leaders of the movement to defend Indigenous rights on the land — and its waterways — had a new aim: to march on Washington. Native leaders and activists, calling themselves water protectors, wanted to show the newly elected President Donald Trump that they would continue to fight for their treaty rights to lands including the pipeline route. The march would be called “Native Nations Rise.” Law enforcement was getting ready, too — and discussing plans with Energy Transfer, the parent company of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Throughout much of the uprising against the pipeline, the National Sheriffs’ Association talked routinely with TigerSwan, Energy Transfer’s lead security firm on the project, working hand-in-hand to craft pro-pipeline messaging. A top official with the sheriffs’ public relations contractor, Off The Record Strategies, floated a plan to TigerSwan’s lead propagandist, a man named Robert Rice. A security firm led by a former member of the U.S. military’s shadowy special forces, TigerSwan was no stranger to such deception. The company had, in fact, used fake reporters before — including Rice himself — to spread its message and to spy on pipeline opponents. The National Sheriffs’ Association’s involvement in advocating for a similar disinformation campaign against the anti-pipeline movement has not been previously reported. The email from the National Sheriffs’ Association PR shop was among the more than 55,000 internal TigerSwan documents obtained by The Intercept and Grist through a public records request. The documents, released by the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board, reveal how TigerSwan and the sheriffs’ group worked together to twist the story in the media so that it aligned with the oil company’s interests — seeking to pollute the public’s perception of the water protectors. The documents also outline details of previously unreported collaborations on the ground between TigerSwan and police forces. During the uprising at Standing Rock, TigerSwan provided law enforcement support with helicopter flights, medics, and security guards. The private security firm pushed for the purchase by Energy Transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of radios for the cops. TigerSwan also placed an order for a catalog of so-called less-lethal weapons for police use, including tear gas. The security contractor even planned to facilitate an exchange where Energy Transfer and police could share purported evidence of illegal activity.

Conoco To Box Suncor Out Of Oil Sands Deal - ConocoPhillips said on Friday that it will purchase the assets for $3 billion and up to $325 million in contingent payments on a deal expected to close in the second half of 2023. Last month, Suncor was said to be looking to make a $4.1 billion deal to acquire French TotalEnergies' Canadian operators, which included a 31.23% interest in Canada's Fort Hills oilsands project and a 50% working interest in Surmont. ConocoPhillips operates the Surmont site, and has the right of first refusal. "This transaction represents a major step in securing long-term bitumen supply to our base plant upgraders at a competitive supply cost," Suncor CEO Rich Kruger said in a press release last month in reference to the deal. "These are valuable oilsands assets that are a strategic fit for us and add long-term shareholder value." The deal was expected to close in the third quarter of this year. Suncor could still go ahead with the Fort Hills portion of the sale, although technically, it could back out of the entire deal now that the terms of the deal have changed, as could TotalEnergies. Each of the parties has the right to terminate the agreement under which Suncor would acquire TotalEnergies' Canadian operations and Suncor will be assessing the transaction in light of this change," Suncor said in a Friday press release.

LNG Terminals Expansion Needed to Hold Down Prices: IMF | Rigzone - The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said stabilizing liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices in the long term entails building more terminals to achieve market integration, though it warned the cost of expanding the infrastructure poses a “major hurdle”. Natural gas has a “partially fragmented global market” because it relies mostly on pipelines for transport, “unlike the market for crude oil, which is more integrated and tends to trade at a single price in most places”, the Washington-based lender said in an article Tuesday. “Such fragmentation in the natural gas market means not only that prices differ across regions, but also that high prices in one part of the world don’t necessarily transmit to buyers in other places”. Comparing the LNG transport system in the USA and Europe, the IMF said the Russia-dependent continent saw a more dramatic rise in gas prices than the USA due to Europe’s dependence on pipelines. “Pipeline flows to Europe from Russia dropped by 80 percent since mid-2021, sending the continent’s gas prices up 14-fold to a record level in August 2022”, it said. “Prices for globally traded liquefied natural gas saw a similar jump. But LNG prices in the United States merely tripled, remaining several times below Europe and Asia”. The USA is insulated against global shocks in the gas market because it has a competitive terminal network that allows easier export and because gas production and pricing in the country is integrated with oil production and pricing, the IMF said. “Historically, the US market was linked to crude oil prices because gas was mostly a byproduct of oil drilling, but this relationship, sometimes called artificial integration, has been unwinding over the past decade, mainly because of rising shale gas production”, it explained. “And as gas production surged in the US, which surpassed Russia in 2012 as the world’s largest producer, and export terminals were built, it became easier to sell into markets beyond North America”. However, though more terminals allow greater gas outflows, unstable pricing formulas can still keep prices high for consumers, the IMF said. It noted Europe has had the infrastructure to accommodate more LNG imports but the raised capacity has not translated to lower prices because price premiums can change quickly relative to the USA.

North Sea to See Record Strike Action in June | Rigzone --The Unite union has confirmed that around 1,650 contractors will begin two new rounds of 48-hour strike action in June. Across five companies, the contractors will participate in strike action from June 1, at 6.30am local time, to June 3, at 6.29am, and from June 8 to June 10 at the same times, Unite revealed in a statement posted on its website. The prospective action includes electrical, production and mechanical technicians, in addition to deck crew, scaffolders, crane operators, pipefitters, platers, and riggers working for Bilfinger UK Limited, Stork Technical Services, and Sparrows Offshore Services, Unite noted. The union said in the statement that the latest 48-hour strike action will hit multibillion oil and gas operators including Apache, BP, Harbour Energy, Enquest, Ithaca, Repsol, Shell, and TAQA. “With the support of their union Unite, an army of 1,650 offshore workers are taking the fight to multibillion oil and gas corporations,” Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said in a union statement. “The latest rounds of strike action in June will see the biggest group of offshore workers to date taking strike action,” Graham added. “Unite is determined to deliver better jobs, pay, and conditions in the offshore sector, and deliver we will,” Graham continued. Unite Industrial Officer John Boland said, “Unite’s members deserve a much bigger share of the bonanza profits being recorded by oil and gas operators than the real terms pay cuts currently being offered”. “Around ,1650 members across the companies we are in dispute with remain determined, and fully focused on securing a better deal,” he added. “Unite has one simple message for the contractors and operators - we will stand up for our members, we hold you to account, and in the end we will win,” Boland added. Rigzone has contacted industry body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) for comment on Unite’s latest strike statement. At the time of writing, OEUK has not yet sent Rigzone a statement commenting on the upcoming strikes. In a separate statement posted on its site last week, Unite announced that around 600 Bilfinger contractors on Ithaca, CNRI, and TAQA assets rejected new pay offers. In that statement, Unite revealed that the workers would participate in the 48-hour June stoppages, along with 200 Bilfinger contractors working on BP and Repsol assets. This statement included a list of offshore installations potentially impacted by any strike action. The following installations were mentioned in the list: Alba North, Andrew, Arbroath, AUK, Bleoholm,, Brae Alpha, Captain FPSO, Captain WPP, Clair, Clair Ridge, Claymore, Clyde, Cormorant Alpha, East Brae, Eider, Etap, FPF1, Fulmar, Glen Lyon, Harding, Leman Alpha, Montrose, Ninian Central, Ninian South, North Cormorant, Piper Bravo, Seafox 4, Sean Papa, Sole Pit Clipper, Tartan Alpha,and Tern Alpha, Back in April, Unite revealed that 1,300 offshore workers would begin a 48-hour stoppage from April 24. In a union statement at the time, Unite noted that the 48-hour strike action would hit multibillion oil and gas operators including BP, CNRI, EnQuest, Harbour, Ithaca, Shell, TAQA, and Total. In May, Unite announced that around 1,200 contractors would resume 48-hour strike action from May 10 to May 12.

Oman enters the world's largest LNG exporter club - The Sultanate of Oman, the largest energy exporter outside OPEC, has become one of the leading global exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) due to a rising demand for clean energy sources, according to a report by Oman Observers, a local daily. In April 2023, Oman’s LNG exports reached a record high of 1.16 million metric tonnes (MT), representing a monthly increase of 0.08 million metric tonnes, the report said. As per the monthly gas report from the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GEFC), the top ten LNG exporters in the world include the US, Qatar, Australia, Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Algeria, Nigeria, Oman, and Trinidad and Tobago. According to the report, global LNG exports in April 2023 witnessed a significant year-on-year increase of 6% (1.95 MT), reaching a total of 35.58 MT. Non-GECF countries accounted for the largest share of LNG exports in April 2023, with a market share of 50.2%, up from 47.5% in April 2022. It’s important to note that Oman is not a member of the GECF. Oman’s emergence as a prominent LNG exporter can be attributed to its advantageous location, ample natural gas reserves, and modern infrastructure. The country has made substantial investments in developing its LNG industry in recent years, aiming to capitalize on the growing demand for clean energy in Asia and Europe. A key factor contributing to Oman’s success as an LNG exporter is its proximity to major markets such as China, Japan, and South Korea. These countries are among the largest consumers of LNG globally, and Oman’s geographical location enables it to competitively supply LNG to these markets. Additionally, Oman has focused on expanding its natural gas production capacity through significant investments. The country has discovered several new gas fields, including the Mabrouk field, estimated to hold around 4 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Pakistan to bring 100,000 tons of oil from Russia - Minister of State for Petroleum Musadik Masood Malik has said that the government approved the Greenfield Oil Refining Policy and Pakistan is bringing 100,000 tons of oil from Russia. According to the details, during the press conference in Islamabad, Musadik Masood Malik said that the crude oil will be transported from Russia to Oman in two to three days and then the oil will reach Pakistan through small ships. Speaking during the press conference, Malik said that the new greenfield oil refining policy in Pakistan will attract foreign investment. “We are looking to install a state-of-the-art 4 lakh barrel per day oil refinery. Energy security is essential for economic development,” he said. During the conversation, Malik said that the new refineries will be installed in the special economic zone, and the investors will get tax exemptions. “Investments in oil refining will be protected under the Foreign Investment Act,” he said. The Minister of State for Petroleum said that the LPG air mix policy is being introduced. According to the minister, LPG will be supplied by the private sector in gas-deprived areas. “Our annual requirement of petrol and diesel is estimated at 20 to 21 million tonnes,” he said. Malik said that local refineries provide 50 percent of the country’s needs, furnace oil consumption is beginning to end, and by 2032 the consumption of petrol and diesel will reach 33 million tons per year. The crude oil ship from Russia will arrive in Oman on May 27-28. He said that 100,000 tons of oil will reach Pakistan with the help of small ships. In response to a question, Mossadegh Malik said that I think the IMF should have no objection to a cheap petrol package for a poor country.

Russia's crude oil flows stay high even as Moscow insists cuts made -- Russian crude oil flows to international markets still show no sign of the output cuts the country insists it is making. Four-week average seaborne shipments, which smooth out some of the volatility in weekly numbers, rose for a sixth straight week in the period to May 19, edging close to 4 million barrels a day. Flows are now up by 15% since the first week of April and hit a new high for the period sinceBloomberg began tracking them in detail at the start of 2022. With almost all Russia's crude going to China and India, volumes to Asia also climbed to a new peak. More volatile weekly flows edged lower. Russia pledged to cut oil production by 500,000 barrels a day in March, using February output as a baseline, in retaliation for Western sanctions and price caps on its oil exports designed to punishMoscow for the invasion of Ukraine. Those cuts were subsequently extended for the rest of the year, in line with voluntary reductions made by several of Russia's OPEC+ partners. Russia continues to stress its commitment to the OPEC+ producer group and the output reductions that the group has agreed."All our actions, including those related to voluntary production cuts, are connected with the need to support a certain price environment on global markets in contact with our partners in OPEC+," President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with his government via video-link on Wednesday.

Cheap Russian Crude Is Replacing Middle Eastern Oil On India’s Spot Market --India’s spot purchases of crude oil from the Middle East have fallen in recent months, as cheaper Russian spot barrels are making their way to the world’s third-largest crude oil importer, according to the head of the largest Indian refiner. “Spot purchases have gone down because somewhere there has to be a dip to make up for all the Russian purchases,” Shrikant Madhav Vaidya, chairman of Indian Oil Corporation, said at the Middle East Oil and Gas Conference in Dubai on Monday, as carried by Reuters. Indian Oil, the largest refiner in the country by capacity, is committed to its term deals with Middle Eastern producers, but spot purchases from the Middle East have dropped amid Russian competition, he said. Rising Indian oil consumption has opened more room for crude oil imports while Russia’s oil is suited for Indian Oil refinery specifications, Vaidya added. India, together with China, is now a top market for Russian crude oil after the EU and the G7 introduced embargoes and price caps on Russian oil exports. Over the course of one year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, India turned from a marginal buyer of Russian crude to the most important market for Moscow’s oil alongside China. Indian refiners, not complying with the G7 price cap and looking for cheap opportunistic purchases, have snapped up many of the Russian Urals cargoes, which used to go to northwest Europe before the EU embargo.Record imports of cheap Russian crude into India have undermined OPEC’s share of supply to the world’s third-biggest crude importer so much that OPEC’s share of all Indian oil imports has hit the lowest in at least 22 years.As India’s imports of Russian crude surged in the past year, OPEC’s share of Indian oil supply slumped to as low as 59% in the Indian financial year ending March 2023, compared to as much as 72% in the previous fiscal year 2021/2022, according to a Reuters analysis of data from industry sources.

Repairs Force Shell To Cut Oil Imports At Its Singapore Refinery -- Shell has reduced the imports of crude oil for its refinery in Singapore as repair works at the facility have been extended to next month. According to a Reuters report, Shell is using ship-to-ship transfers to move the crude it buys for the Pulau Bukom refinery from Very Large Crude Carriers to Aframax tankers. Total volumes have fallen to some 3 million barrels since the start of May, from 7.65 million barrels for the whole of April, data from Kpler cited by Reuters has shown. Earlier this month, amid the ongoing repairs works on the Pulau Bukom facility’s single buoy mooring segment, Shell also reported “an operational upset” that resulted in gas flaring, Reuters reported. The Pulau Bukom refinery has a daily capacity of 237,000 barrels of crude oil and is the only refinery and petrochemical production facility Shell operates in Asia. It started as an oil storage and refinery complex but over the years grew into a more complex facility that also produces biofuels and recycles plastics, according to the company. The development and transformation of the complex reflect Shell’s new focus on diversifying its operations away from the core oil and gas business. Other big companies with downstream businesses have also diversified into biofuels, some of them notably turning whole refineries into biofuel production plants.In the United States, this has led to something of a crunch in refining capacity that led to a diesel shortage at one point last year. As luck would have it, inflation pressured demand for transportation services, which in turn reduced demand and helped the industry avoid a serious shortage of freight transport fuel.

Beetaloo Traditional Owners speak out on Tamboran fracking pollution -- Traditional Owners continue to oppose fracking for shale gas in the Beetaloo Basin, in particular in the Newcastle Creek which runs across the basin and which has sites protected under the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act. Johnny Wilson, Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chair and Jungai (cultural lawman) for the area, said 7.30’s coverage on May 22 of pollution incidents from Tamboran’s exploration well (EP136) on Tanumbirini cattle station in the Beetaloo Basin was a major concern. “This reflects what Traditional Owners have long feared — that fracking will damage our water, country and songlines which mean absolutely everything to us and were passed down for us to care for,” he said. Newcastle Creek also runs across a part of Tanumbirini, a 5000-square-kilometre cattle station near Daly Waters. Tamboran’s exploratory fracking permit covers parts of Tanumbirini Station.The incidents uncovered by the ABC report are: drill water used to manage dust; a break in a bund wall which spilled sediment and potentially toxic chemicals towards a sacred waterway; and what appears to be the pumping of toxic wastewater, containing heavy metals including lead and barium, into a cattle breeding paddock.Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, which represents native title holder across the Beetaloo Basin, has been working with Rallen Australia, which runs Tanumbirini Station, to protect the country. They share concerns about fracking risks to land, water and sacred sites.“This is my grandfather’s country which I have a responsibility to look after. It tears at my heart to imagine how fracking by Tamboran might be damaging what I have been asked to protect,” Wilson said.Janet Sandy Gregory, Djingili Elder and cultural advisor to Nurrdalinji, said they wanted the NT government to “take action against Tamboran” because “we fear for our country”.“This shows us once again why we do not want fracking, which will poison our water, our animals and upset the songlines that run across our country.”

MARINA investigates personnel and revokes CPC in response to major spill incident -- The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) has launched a thorough investigation into the personnel responsible for the recent catastrophic oil spill caused by the MT Princess Empress, a tanker owned and operated by RDC Reield Marine Services, Inc. The Department of Transportation (DOTs) said in a statement that as part of their commitment to accountability, MARINA has revoked the Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) of the shipping company, imposing a significant fine for unauthorized operation. Following a comprehensive examination of the incident, MARINA’s fact-finding team submitted their investigation report to the DOTr and the MARINA Anti-Graft and Corruption Committee. Based on their findings, the maritime authority has initiated inquiries into the alleged administrative violations surrounding the issuance of statutory certificates to the ill-fated vessel. During a media briefing held by MARINA’s spokesperson and legal service director, Atty. Sharon Aledo, it was revealed that the investigation would encompass the entire process, from the vessel’s construction to the issuance of registration and safety certificates. Aledo emphasized that the investigation would adhere to a meticulous procedural framework. “We will look into the alleged violations, pagdating po doon sa naging construction niya hanggang sa issuance po ng statutory certificates including registration and safety certificates and it will follow a process,” said Aledo. The revocation of RDC Reield Marine Services, Inc.’s CPC by the MARINA-National Capital Region was announced, signaling the gravity of the consequences faced by the shipping company, the DOTr said further. If RDC fails to submit an appeal within the prescribed 15-day period from the May 11 revocation, the decision will become final and immediately executory. At that point, the CPC revocation would render RDC unable to resume operations.

PCG detects oil spill in two Batangas towns -On 23th May, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), deployed a response team to contain the oil spill that was detected in two municipalities in Batangas.PCG could not confirm where the oil spill caused by the sinking of the MT Princess Empress off Oriental Mindoro which sank in Oriental Mindoro last Feb. 28.In particular, the oil spill was spotted in Brgy, in Calatagan and in Brgy, Klamias in Mabini, said Capt. Vic Acosta, commander of PCG Station Batangas. PCG deployed a response team to contain the oil spill.He said the focus of the clean-up operation is in Mabini as the spillage in Calatagan already evaporated.We immediately deployed an oil spill response team and oil spill response equipment so we immediately contained it...Acosta stated.As informed, the tanker was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil when it sank. The sinking of MT Princess Empress resulted to a massive oil spill that reached Batangas, Antique, and Palawan.We are still determining where it came from.…Acosta said. He said there was no other maritime accident that occurred in the area while port operations were halted.

ExxonMobil appeals ruling by Guyanese court in oil spill insurance coverage - - American oil giant ExxonMobil said Friday it had appealed a recent Guyanese court ruling forcing it to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars in the event of a major oil spill off the coast of Guyana. The company said in a statement that the court had failed to consider that Exxon and consortium partners Hess Corporation and China National Overseas Offshore Corporation have the “undoubted ability” to meet their financial obligations in the event of a spill at their operation. The consortium is operating the prolific Stabroek Block near the southeastern border with Suriname. In the ruling two weeks ago, Guyana’s high court ordered the local environmental agency to obtain independent liability insurance from Exxon’s subsidiary Esso Exploration and Production Limited. It also sought an unlimited guarantee from its parent company in the case of damage caused by operations in the South American country. Rights activists and environmentalists fear that a spill could severely impact the country’s marine resources while devastating the tourism economies of nearby Caribbean nations. Exxon, the lead operator in the consortium, has argued that a spill is highly unlikely, and that the court had “failed to recognize the ability of the Stabroek block co-venturers to meet our financial obligations, which are supplemented by the insurance that we already have in place and the agreement we reached with the EPA for financial guarantees that exceed industry benchmarks.” Production began in December 2019, with some 380,000 barrels a day expected to soar to 1.2 million by 2027. Guyana’s government said this week that it supports the appeal, contending the judge had erred in the ruling in part because the environmental agency already has agreed with Exxon on the amount of money to assess for each oil field in the event of a spill.

TotalEnergies and Africa Oil quit Kenya oil project, leaving Tullow without partners -Tullow Oil’s challenging multibillion-dollar South Lokichar project in Kenya has become just that bit more complex after TotalEnergies and Africa Oil decided to quit the oilfield development. The long-delayed project aims to tap about 460 million barrels of oil in multiple fields in Kenya’s remote, arid Turkana county, exporting 130,000 barrels per day via an 895-kilometre pipeline to a terminal in Lamu port. A complex mix of commercial, political, technical and environmental challenges — not to mention the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic — have pushed the project at least four years behind its original schedule. The departure of the French supermajor and London-based Africa Oil is likely to complicate things further, with Tullow now holding 100% of the asset. Over the past few years, the operator had been trying hard to reduce what until today was its 50% stake in the project, and most recently was in talks with India’s ONGC Videsh and Indian Oil Corporation about one or both becoming “strategic” partners. There have also been reports that China’s Sinopec may be interested in the asset. Africa Oil quit because it sees better potential elsewhere in its portfolio, particularly in the Orange basin offshore Namibia, a play Tullow exited last year just weeks before Shell and TotalEnergies unveiled two huge oil discoveries. Africa Oil chief executive Keith Hill said: “We have taken the decision to exit our Kenya concessions as our strategy has shifted to focus on production and high-potential exploration opportunities, including our Orange basin portfolio where we are now appraising the exciting Venus discovery offshore Namibia.” In a statement released this morning, Africa Oil said it has submitted withdrawal notices on blocks 10BB, 13T and 10BA in Kenya “to unconditionally and irrevocably withdraw from the entirety of the joint operating agreements and production sharing contracts for these concessions”. The company has also submitted notices to Kenya’s Ministry of Energy & Petroleum, requesting the government’s consent to transfer all of its rights and obligations under the PSCs to Tullow. The carrying value of the Kenya was written down to $58.6 million as at 31 December 2022, with Africa Oil intending to further impair this value to zero.

Nigeria Hopes New Refinery Will Cut $26B Import Bill --Nigeria is banking on the operations of a giant new refinery, built by Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, to help it eliminate a $26 billion foreign-exchange bill on the import of petroleum products and fertilizer. The 650,000-barrels-per-day facility comprising a petrochemical and urea fertilizer plant as well as a subsea pipeline, could start supplying its first products into the market as early as July, Dangote said at a commissioning ceremony in Lagos on Monday. Nigeria imports almost all of its petroleum products despite being Africa’s top oil producer because its refineries have been largely non-operational for decades. The import bill for refined petroleum products alone averaged $11 billion from 2014 to 2017 before rising to $23.3 billion last year, central bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said at the event. Another about $3 billion was spent on fertilizer and other petrochemicals. “At this rate, the average annual cost of petroleum products imports to Nigeria could reach $30 billion by 2027 if we continued to rely on petroleum imports,” he said. Dangote was confident that the refinery, the biggest on the continent, will meet local fuel demand of about 450,000 barrels a day by the end of the year. Another 40% of production would be exported, once the plant is fully operational, he said, without giving a timeline. The development gives Dangote the possibility of dominating the refined-petroleum-products sector the way he has cement and sugar, two markets he effectively controls in Africa’s largest economy. The refinery, located in a free-trade zone in the country’s commercial hub, was first mooted in 2013, but construction didn’t start until 2017. Its completion was pushed back several times and it’s now being delivered seven years behind its initial projected deadline in 2016. It cost $18.5 billion to build, with 50% equity funding from Dangote and the balance in debt from mainly local banks. Only about $3 billion of the liabilities are outstanding, with Dangote having paid down the rest ahead of the refinery starting operations, Emefiele said. When fully operational, the complex is expected to earn as much as $21 billion in annual income, according to documents distributed at the commissioning.

Sinopec Enters Sri Lanka Retail Fuel Market -- Sri Lanka signed Monday a deal with China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) adding it to the energy-starved country’s retail fuel suppliers, the president’s office said. The agreement comes after the government opened up to foreign fuel sellers as a solution to local suppliers’ shortage in foreign currency for imports amid an economic crisis in the South Asian nation. China state-owned Sinopec through Sinopec Fuel Oil Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd. can now import and sell petroleum products to the Sri Lankan market. “Sinopec, along with its affiliated companies, is set to commence operations in Sri Lanka within 45 days following the issuance of the license”, the office of President Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a press release. “This development brings hope for a more stable and reliable fuel supply, boosting the country’s energy sector and providing assurance to consumers”. The pact gives Sinopec a 20-year license to operate 150 fuel stations currently run by Ceylon Petroleum Corp., according to Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera in a tweet Monday. It also provides for Sinopec investment into 50 new fuel stations, he said. The deal resulted from the energy ministry’s efforts to ensure domestic supply amid the debt-ridden country’s foreign exchange crisis, which has hit traditional suppliers Ceylon Petroleum Corp. and Lanka Indian Oil Co., according to the office. “One of the key requirements for new retail suppliers entering the market was their ability to secure forex requirements without depending on the domestic banking sector”, it noted. “It was mandated that these companies source their own funds for fuel procurement through foreign sources, at least during the initial one-year period of operation”.

Iran reduces gas supplies to Iraq - – The Iraqi Ministry of Electricity announced on Tuesday that Iran reduced gas supplies to Iraq by about 20 million cubic meters during the past two days, according to a statement cited by the Iraqi News Agency (INA). The statement explained that there are no late dues or debts Iraq should pay for the gas it imports from Iran. A delegation headed by the Iraqi Minister of Electricity will visit Iran next week to overcome possible obstacles, the statement revealed. Iraqi officials will inform the Iranian side that Iraq will soon be at the peak of electricity consumption due to summer’s high temperatures, according to the statement. The Iraqi Ministry of Electricity set a plan to reach electricity production of 24,000 megawatts per day, the statement illustrated. The demand for electric power could rise to 35,000 megawatts, and this will negatively affect the Iraqis because electricity production will not be sufficient for consumption in Iraq, the statement mentioned. The Iraqi Ministry of Electricity emphasized that its work will continue to improve and develop the national grid.

Iraq Awaits Turkey’s Go-Ahead To Resume Kurdistan Oil Exports - Iraq is waiting for a final go-ahead from Turkey before resuming oil exports from the semi-autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan via a pipeline to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, Iraqi Oil Minister Hayan Abdel-Ghani told Reuterson Tuesday. Kurdistan’s oil exports have been halted for two months now and it will probably take weeks, not days, for oil flows to Ceyhan and to the international markets to resume, according to an Iraqi oil official.Turkish pipeline operator BOTAS has yet to receive instruction from Turkish authorities to resume oil flows from Kurdistan, the official told Reuters on Monday.“We’re talking about weeks, not days, as an expected time frame to resume exports. This issue is more political now than technical,” the source told Reuters.Iraqi oil minister Abdel-Ghani said on Tuesday that Turkey told Iraq that a technical team was evaluating whether the pipeline was damaged as a result of the February earthquake in Turkey and Syria.Kurdistan’s crude oil exports – around 400,000 bpd shipped through an Iraqi-Turkey pipeline to Ceyhan and then on tankers to the international markets – were halted on March 25 by the federal government of Iraq.The suspension of oil flows out of northern Iraq and Kurdistan via Ceyhan forced companies to either curtail or suspend production because of limited capacity at storage tanks.A few days before the halt of exports in March, the International Chamber of Commerce had ruled in favor of Iraq against Turkey in a dispute over crude flows from Kurdistan. Iraq argued that Turkey shouldn’t allow Kurdish oil exports via the Iraq-Turkey pipeline and Ceyhan without approval from the federal government of Iraq. Now that an agreement between Iraq and Kurdistan is in place for the resumption of exports, Iraq is awaiting a response from Turkey. Pipeline operators have not yet received instructions to resume flows and most of Kurdistan’s large oilfields remain shut in.

The Market Awaited News on Further Debt Ceiling Negotiations -- The oil market on Monday traded higher after the market rebounded as traders awaited the resumption of U.S. debt ceiling talks. The market breached its previous low of $70.63 and traded to a low of $70.55 in overnight trading before it bounced off that level and rallied higher. The market retraced its losses and posted a high of $72.36 in afternoon trading after House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, said debt ceiling negotiations were productive on Monday morning, hours before his scheduled meeting with President Joe Biden on the issue. However, the June WTI contract, gave up some of its gains ahead of its expiration at the close of business. It went off the board up 44 cents at $71.99, while the July WTI contract settled up 36 cents at $72.05. The July Brent contract settled up 41 cents at $75.99. Meanwhile, the heating oil market settled up 42 points at $2.3664 and the RB market ended the session sharply higher, up 7.28 cents at $2.6489. Bloomberg reported House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as saying debt ceiling negotiations were productive on Monday morning, hours before he was scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden on the issue. He said talks over raising the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling were “on the right path” but added that there is no deal yet.OPEC Secretary General, Haitham Al Ghais, said that underinvesting in the oil and gas sector could cause market volatility in the long term and affect growth. He also said the world needs to focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions rather than replacing one form of energy with another, stressing that major investments were needed in all energy sectors. Mike Muller, president of Vitol Asia, said oil demand is set to increase in the second half of the year with as much as 2 million bpd more needed led by Asian growth. He said demand will increase seasonally and result in stock draws which will mean less excess supply available. He also saw any recession being offset by more constructive factors that would affect the oil market and would "manifest itself in a mild recession, if any".Analysts from Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan said voluntary OPEC+ production cuts have taken effect from May. A JP Morgan analyst said "Latest export data suggest that the eight OPEC+ producers are delivering on their pledges to cut supply." Total exports of crude and oil products from the group fell by 1.7 million bpd by May 16th. JP Morgan said "Our view remains that Russia has cut its oil production by 500,000 bpd from February levels and its exports will likely align with production by late May." Later, Goldman Sachs said increasing fears of a U.S. recession and a China slowdown are likely weighing on oil prices. It said “We estimate that forward curves are pricing all the main bearish risks to our $95/barrel December 2023 Bren forecast.” It said we view the oil market was too pessimistic and expect sustained deficits from June as OPEC+ production cuts fully realize.IIR Energy reported that U.S. oil refiners are expected to shut in 394,000 bpd of capacity in the week ending May 26th, increasing available refining capacity by 160,000 bpd. Offline capacity is expected to fall to 170,000 bpd in the week ending June 2nd.

Oil Gains as Traders Assess Supply Outages, Default Risk -- In tight-range trading, West Texas Intermediate futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange and Brent crude on the Intercontinental Exchange settled with modest gains Monday, as investors balanced concerns over supply disruptions in Canada and Iraq against potential risk of U.S. defaulting on its debt after high-stakes talks to raise debt ceiling between Biden Administration and House Republicans hit an impasse. Turkey has officially rejected a request from the Iraq government to restart the pipeline transporting oil from Kurdistan to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, citing "technical issues." More than 450,000 bpd of crude exports from the Kurdish region of Iraq are now being shuttered indefinitely with no timeline available for a potential restart. A representative for General Energy, a company operating in the Taq Taq oilfield near the regional capital of Erbil, said the 75,000-bpd oilfield has now stopped producing due to the extended stoppage of pipeline flow. Taq Taq is one of three fields that have underpinned Kurdistan's oil production growth over the past decade. The dispute between Turkey and Iraq erupted in late March after Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce ruled that Turkey owed Iraq $1.5 billion for receiving unauthorized exports from Kurdistan between 2014 and 2018. The oil exports from the Kurdistan Region were expected to restart in April following a trilateral deal, but Turkey has not given the green light to export. With a contested presidential election in Turkey set for a runoff on May 28, it is unlikely that the issue will be resolved this month, according to traders. Meanwhile, in Canada more than 2.7 million bbl in daily oil production is now threatened by wildfires that have been burning through the Western region of Alberta since late April. Unusually high temperatures for this time of the year have aided the intense spring wildfires in western Canada, displacing thousands of people and destroying property. Satellite images show that a toxic cloud of burned particles has blanketed the region and dipped across the border into the United States. Against this backdrop, traders assess potential ramifications of the U.S. defaulting on its debt obligations amid an ongoing standoff between the White House and House Republicans. Roughly 20% of income in America comes from the U.S. government in one form or another, including social security checks, Medicaid, Medicare, and unemployment benefits. An abrupt loss of this income would be catastrophic for millions of American households, causing havoc for domestic and global economies all at once. Most economists agree that the government default would lead to a deep recession, making it more difficult for businesses and citizens to borrow money. WTI futures for June delivery expired at $71.99 bbl, up $0.44 bbl, and next month July futures settled a tad above $72 bbl at $72.05 bbl. International crude benchmark Brent advanced $0.41 to settle at $75.99 bbl. NYMEX RBOB June futures rallied $0.0728 to $2.6489 gallon, while ULSD June futures firmed to $2.3664 gallon

Oil Prices Rise As Saudi Energy Minister Threatens Short Sellers - Oil prices rose by nearly 2% early on Tuesday after the Saudi energy minister warned short sellers to “watch out” and as seasonal demand for fuel is set to rise at the start of the U.S. driving season this weekend.As of 9:00 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, WTI Crude, the U.S. benchmark, was up by 1.93% at $73.44. The international benchmark, Brent Crude, traded at $77.29, up by 1.71% on the day.Earlier on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, warned traders, again, against shorting oil futures, less than two weeks before the OPEC+ panel on production policy meets on June 4.Considering that OPEC+ wrong-footed short sellers when it announced a surprise production cut in early April, today’s comments from the most important oil official in the world’s top crude oil exporter shouldn’t be dismissed, analysts say.Meanwhile, negotiations on raising the U.S. debt ceiling continue after President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Monday that they had “productive” talks. President Biden said all agreed that “default is not really on the table.”Oil speculators might be wary of carrying too many shorts into the next OPEC+ meeting on June 4, according to ING strategists Warren Patterson and Ewa Manthey.“Positioning data shows that there is still a sizeable gross short in ICE Brent, however, these shorts will want to be careful as we approach the next OPEC+ meeting, which is scheduled for 4 June. OPEC+ have surprised the market a couple of times recently, so market participants may be reluctant to carry too much risk into this meeting,” they said on Tuesday.“Speculators have recently increased their gross short position in WTI and Brent to near the level that was seen prior to the April 2 OPEC+ production cut, and with the Saudi Energy Minister once again telling speculators to “watch out” some (short sellers) may have second thoughts.”

Oil Rallies as US PMIs Signal Summer Gains in Oil Demand -- West Texas Intermediate and RBOB futures nearest delivery settled Tuesday's session higher, propelled by expectations for stronger demand gains this summer amid an ongoing upturn in U.S. business activity and signs of solid consumer discretionary spending ahead of the busy summer travel season, while the ULSD contract was an outlier, softening in afternoon trading. U.S. business activity expanded at the sharpest pace in over two years in May, according to the S&P Purchasing Managers' Index survey, with the headline index jumping to a 13-month high 54.5. The reading was well above consensus for a 52.6-reading. The expansion was once again led by service providers, who reported stronger demand conditions heading into the summer months. Although manufacturers registered growth in production, it was only marginal and slowed from the previous survey period. "While service sector companies are enjoying a surge in post-pandemic demand, manufacturers are struggling with over-filled warehouses and a dearth of new orders as spending is diverted from goods to services," This shift in spending patterns, however, is supportive for U.S. gasoline demand that correlates closely with consumer discretionary spending. American Automobile Association projects a 2.7 million or 7% increase in travel demand for the Memorial Day weekend, expecting 42.3 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more from their home. If realized, it would be the third busiest travel for the holiday, with AAA beginning its holiday travel outlook in 2000. "More Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier, despite inflation. This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. Of that total, 37.1 million Americans expected to drive to their destinations, up more than two million or 6% from a year ago. Nearly 3.4 million travelers are expected to fly to their destinations over the weekend holiday, up 11% from 2022, and 170,000 more passengers or 5.4% higher than before the pandemic in 2019. If realized, air travel would be the busiest since 2005. Tuesday's higher settlements in the oil complex also follow comments from Saudi Arabia's energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who again warned short sellers against taking on bearish positions. The energy minister, speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha, told speculators looking to short the crude market to "watch out," or they would again be "ouching." His comments come ahead of a planned meeting by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on June 4. According to CME OPEC Watch Tool, 70% of investors expect no change to the group's production policy next month, however a growing number of speculators believe the Saudi-led coalition could surprise the markets once again by cutting crude output. On April 2, OPEC announced a surprise production cut of 1.157 million bpd that took effect on May 1, but the output curb failed to support prices beyond a couple of weeks. At settlement, WTI futures for July delivery were up $0.86 to 72.91 bbl, and ICE July Brent, the international crude benchmark, advanced to $76.84 bbl. NYMEX June RBOB futures were $0.0133 higher at $2.6622 gallon. Moving in an opposing direction, the June ULSD contract softened $0.0047 for a $2.3617 gallon settlement.

Oil rises as US gasoline supplies tighten, Saudi says: 'watch out' (Reuters) -Oil prices rose on Tuesday on forecasts for a tighter gasoline market and a warning from the Saudi energy minister to speculators that raised the prospect of further OPEC+ output cuts. Brent crude futures rose 85 cents, or 1.1%, to settle at $76.84 a barrel, while the U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) ended at $72.91 a barrel, up 86 cents, or 1.2%. Both benchmarks extended gains to about 2% in post-settlement trade, after figures from the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed a large draw in crude and gasoline last week, according to market sources. If official inventories data from the Energy Information Administration, due on Wednesday, confirm the industry body's figures, U.S. gasoline inventories would have declined for the third straight week to their lowest pre-Memorial Day levels since 2014. The Memorial day holiday, this year on May 29, traditionally marks the beginning of U.S. peak summer travel. U.S. gasoline futures rose 2% on Tuesday after the API data. Production cuts by some OPEC+ members take effect this month. Fears of a supply squeeze mounted after Saudi Arabia's energy minister said he would keep short sellers - those betting that prices will fall - "ouching" and told them to "watch out". The comments could mean the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia will consider further output cuts at a meeting on June 4, . Some felt oil's upside was limited by U.S. debt ceiling jitters. Another round of debt ceiling talks ended on Tuesday with no signs of progress as the deadline to raise the government's $31.4 trillion borrowing limit or risk default ticked closer. "(Oil) prices are likely to remain within their broad year to date trading range as the economy continues to slow while the refill of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and OPEC manages prices relative to global demand needs,"

Oil Prices Rise On Signs Of A Tightening Market --Oil prices rose in Asian trade early on Wednesday, following estimates of a large U.S. inventory draw and a warning from the Saudi energy minister for short sellers. In early morning trade in Europe, Brent Crudewas up above $78 per barrel, at $78.06, rising by 1.63%. The U.S. benchmark, WTI Crude, had risen by more than 1.81% and traded at $74.23. Crude oil prices rose for a third consecutive day early on Wednesday, after gains on Monday and Tuesday, as the American Petroleum Institute (API) estimated late on Tuesday that crude oil inventories in the United States fell by 6.70 million barrels last week, compared with analyst expectations of a 525,000-barrel build.Gasoline inventories dropped by 6.398 million barrels after falling in the week prior by 2.46 million barrels. Distillate inventories declined by 1.771 million barrels after decreasing by 886,000 barrels in the week prior, API’s data showed. If the API data is confirmed by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) later on Wednesday, this would send U.S. gasoline inventories to the lowest level just before Memorial Day since 2014.The U.S. continues to be stuck over negotiations on raising the debt ceiling, which has weighed on market sentiment in recent weeks.However, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, on Tuesday warned traders, again, against shorting oil futures, less than two weeks before the OPEC+ panel on production policy meets on June 4.The comments from the most important oil official in the world’s top crude oil exporter raised speculation that OPEC+ could surprise markets again when the ministers of the alliance meet in early June.“Energy traders have quickly learned that when it comes to oil prices, you ‘Don’t fight the Saudis’ as they will do whatever it takes to defend prices,”

WTI Extends Gains After Huge Crude Draw, 8th Straight Week Of SPR Drains - Oil prices are extending gains from yesterday after API's reported big crude and gasoline draws which supported earlier gains from comments by the Saudi oil minister on Tuesday warning oil short-sellers should "watch out" ahead of OPEC+'s ministerial meeting set for the first weekend of June."His comments highlighting growing unease (about) the weakness seen during the past month. Some of which has been driven by fresh short selling with the latest Commitment of Traders data showing short sellers have made a comeback. In the week to May 16 the combined gross short in WTI and Brent, held by money managers and Other Reportables reached a near two-year high at 233 million barrels, a 111 million barrel increase in the last five weeks and 40 million barrels higher than the gross short that was registered ahead of the April 2 production cut," Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank, said in a post.With US equity markets chilled by the reality of debt ceiling impasse, crude's next move is as likely driven by a sizable swing in inventories as by some irksome headline from Washington. API

  • Crude -6.799mm (+700k exp)
  • Cushing +1.711mm
  • Gasoline -6.398mm (-1.3mm exp) - biggest draw since Sept 2021
  • Distillates -1.771mm (+300k exp)


  • Crude -12.46mm (+700k exp) - biggest draw since Nov '22
  • Cushing +1.762mm
  • Gasoline -2.05mm (-1.3mm exp)
  • Distillates -561k (+300k exp)

The official data confirmed API but was far larger with a 12.5mm barrel crude draw - the biggest draw since Thanksgiving 2022... For the 8th straight week, the Biden admin drew down from the SPR (1.6mm barrels)... Gasoline stocks are at their lowest since 2014 for this time of year... Distillate stocks are at their lowest seasonal level since 2005...The drilling rig count has been in free-fall in recent weeks, recording the largest monthly decline since 2020 after plunging by 35 in just the last three weeks. Initially, declines were largely concentrated among gas rigs, but the slump has since spread into crude operators. As Bloomberg reports, US oil production has pinballed between 12.2 million and 12.3 million barrels a day since January, reflecting the stagnation in drilling activity that took hold in late 2022. A continued pullback in activity may result in a similar regression in crude output in the coming months, especially amid apparently waning productivity from shale wells, possibly snuffing out the chance to surpass pre-pandemic highs anytime soon.

Oil Extends Gains on Summer Demand Outlook as Stocks Slide - -- New York Mercantile Exchange oil futures and Brent crude traded on the Intercontinental Exchange settled Wednesday's session with gains between 1.5% and 2% following the weekly inventory report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showing a 12.5 million bbl drop in commercial crude oil inventories during the third week of May as demand for gasoline jumped to the second highest weekly rate so far this year ahead of the upcoming three-day holiday weekend that unofficially kicks off the summer travel season. Midmorning inventory data proved bullish for the oil complex, confirming an outsized draw in commercial crude oil inventories last week despite another transfer of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to the commercial side and a rise in domestic oil production. At 455.2 million bbl, U.S. commercial oil inventories now stand 3% below the five-year average. The draw came even as domestic refiners scaled back the run rate to 91.7% of capacity, processing 16.1 million bpd, roughly the same volume compared to last week. In the gasoline complex, demand for the transportation fuel jumped 529,000 bpd from the previous week to 9.437 million bpd -- the second-highest weekly rate so far this year, according to EIA. Gains for gasoline demand come ahead of the Memorial Day weekend that typically marks the beginning of the busy summer travel season. The American Automobile Association projects 42.3 million Americans will take to the road this Memorial Day weekend, a 2.7 million or 7% increase from a year earlier. If realized, it would be the third busiest travel for the holiday, with AAA beginning its holiday travel outlook in 2000. Commercial gasoline inventories declined by 2.1 million bbl in the reviewed week and are about 8% below the five-year average. Earlier in the week, analysts estimated gasoline stocks would decline by 1.3 million bbl. For diesel, stockpiles fell by 561,000 bbl to 105.7 million bbl, and are now about 18% below the five-year average, EIA said. Analysts estimated distillates inventories would rise by 300,000 bbl last week. Further spurring gains in the oil complex, Saudi oil minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman suggested OPEC+ could consider cutting oil production further at their early June meeting to squeeze out short sellers. "I keep advising them that they will be ouching -- they did ouch in April," Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha on Tuesday, according to Reuters. "I don't have to show my cards, I am not a poker player…but I would just tell them: Watch out!" On April 2, OPEC announced a surprise production cut of 1.157 million bpd effective May 1 until the end of the year, with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers shouldering the lion's share of that output curb. The reduction comes on top of the 2 million bpd cut announced in October 2022 that has so far been the largest cut to OPEC+ output since the start of the pandemic. Arguably, Saudi oil strategy is to defend prices by any means necessary as the kingdom seeks to transition from oil in the coming decades and needs higher prices now to finance this project. OPEC+ will meet next on June 3-4 in Vienna to review production policy for the second half of the year and analysts say another surprise cut should not be ruled out. At settlement, WTI futures for July delivery rallied $1.43 to 74.34 bbl, and ICE July Brent, the international crude benchmark, advanced to $78.36 bbl, up $1.52. NYMEX June RBOB futures settled $0.0590 higher at $2.7212 gallon, while June ULSD futures added $0.0520 to $2.4137 gallon.

Oil down nearly 3% as Russia downplays additional OPEC+ cuts - Oil prices fell on Thursday after Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak played down the prospect of further OPEC+ production cuts at its meeting next week. Brent crude futures were down $2.03, or 2.6%, to $76.33 a barrel by 1340 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) fell $2.10, or 2.8%, to $72.24. “I don’t think that there will be any new steps, because just a month ago certain decisions were made regarding the voluntary reduction of oil production by some countries…” Novak was quoted as saying by Izvestia newspaper. Top OPEC+ producers have given a raft of conflicting messages about next oil policy moves in recent days, making it particularly difficult to predict the outcome of the next meeting. Oil prices were supported by a warning from Saudi Arabia’s energy minister on Tuesday that short-sellers betting oil prices will fall should “watch out” for pain. Some investors took that as a signal that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, together called OPEC+, could consider further output cuts at a meeting on June 4. Oil prices buoyed by Saudi warning and falling U.S. stockpiles “The obvious reading is that the Kingdom may either unilaterally cut oil production or orchestrate a wider OPEC+ reduction …thereby supporting prices and stinging speculators that are shorting oil,” analysts at bank MUFG said. Just a week before Prince Abdulaziz’s comment, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that oil production cuts were required to maintain a certain price level. Uncertainty over the U.S. debt ceiling also weighed on prices. Some progress had been made but several issues remained unresolved in negotiations, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Thursday, as the deadline ticked closer to raise the federal government’s $31.4 trillion borrowing limit or risk default. Meanwhile, price declines were limited by an unexpected, massive fall in U.S. crude oil inventories in the week to May 19 reported by the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday. U.S. crude inventories fell by 12.5 million barrels to 455.2 million barrels as imports declined. Analysts had expected an 800,000-barrel rise. Gasoline inventories dropped by 2.1 million barrels in the week to 216.3 million barrels, the EIA said, while distillate stockpiles fell by 600,000 barrels to 105.7 million barrels.

The Oil Market on Thursday Retraced Nearly all of its Gains Earlier This Week -The oil market on Thursday retraced nearly all of its gains seen earlier this week as Russia downplayed the prospect of further OPEC+ production cuts at its meeting next week. The market traded mostly sideways and posted a high of $74.37 in overnight trading. However, the market breached its previous low and began its sharp selloff of over $3.30 as it posted a low of $70.98 by mid-day. The market was pressured after Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Alexander Novak, said he did not believe additional OPEC+ cuts were likely. The crude market was also weighed down by the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. debt ceiling. The July WTI contract later retraced some of its losses ahead of the close and settled down $2.51 at $71.83. The July Brent contract settled down $2.10 at $76.26. Meanwhile, the product markets also settled in negative territory, with the heating oil market settling down 6.75 cents at $2.3462 and the RB market settling down 4.77 cents at $2.6735. Top OPEC producers and their main allies have given conflicting messages about their next oil policy moves, making it particularly difficult to predict the outcome of the next OPEC+ meeting in early June. Remarks by Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman warning short sellers to “watch out” pushed the market up by as much as 2%. His comments were interpreted by some investors as a signal that OPEC and its allies could consider further output cuts when it meets on June 4th in Vienna. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to be on the same page saying that oil production cuts were required to maintain a certain price level. However, a week later, Russia’s President said oil prices were approaching “economically justified” levels, indicating there could be no immediate change to the group's production policy. On Thursday, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Alexander Novak, said he expected no new steps from the OPEC+ group of oil producers at its meeting in Vienna on June 4th. The state-owned news agency RIA reported that Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister expects the price of Brent crude to be above $80/barrel by the end of the year. The U.S. will hold its first sale of oil and gas drilling rights on federal lands since the passage of President Joe Biden's climate change law, with more than 10,000 acres on offer in New Mexico and Kansas. Colonial Pipeline Co is allocating space for Cycle 32 shipments on Line 20, which carries distillates from Atlanta, Georgia to Nashville, Tennessee. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the Atlantic hurricane season will bring an average number of ocean storms and hurricanes this year. NOAA forecasters estimate 12 to 17 named storms of which five to nine of those will develop into hurricanes and one to four will become major hurricanes during the June 1st to November 30th season. NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said there is a 40% chance of a normal hurricane season and 30% chances each of an above-average or below-average season. Meanwhile, Matthew Rosencrans, NOAA's lead hurricane forecaster, said NOAA estimates a 93% chance of an El Nino weather phenomenon during the core hurricane season.

Oil up over weaker dollar amid uncertainties of OPEC+ next output move - Oil prices rose on Friday over a weakening US dollar, making dollar-indexed crude oil cheaper for investors, while contradicting statements of top OPEC+ ministers raised market uncertainties ahead of the group’s impending meeting, Kazinform cites Anadolu Agency. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $76.40 per barrel at 09.56 a.m. local time (0656 GMT), a 0.18% rise from the closing price of $76.26 a barrel in the previous trading session on Friday. The American benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) traded at the same time at $72.08 per barrel, up 0.35% from the previous session's close of $71.83 per barrel. The declining value of the dollar was the main factor driving the increase in dollar-indexed oil prices on the last day of the week. The US dollar index, which measures the value of the American dollar against a basket of currencies, including the Japanese yen, British pound, Canadian dollar, Swedish krona and Swiss franc, declined 0.16% to 104.01 early Friday. However, risks still remain as the credit rating agency Fitch on Wednesday placed the US’s triple-A rating on watch for a possible downgrade while discussions are ongoing on the debt limit in the country. Fitch expressed confidence in a potential agreement but noted that the risk that the government would default on certain of its commitments had grown. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, however, said negotiations with the White House over raising the US debt limit were still hung up over a disagreement on future spending plans. Meanwhile, commercial crude oil inventories in the country recorded a massive plummet of around 12.5 million barrels to 455.2 million barrels, higher than the American Petroleum Institute's expectation of a drop of 6.7 million barrels. The markets are currently monitoring a forthcoming meeting of the OPEC+ group, and investor concern has increased due to conflicting statements made by two of the organization's key producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Investors anticipate that OPEC+ producers will decide to reduce output once more starting next week after Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman warned oil traders to «watch out.» However, Russia's deputy prime minister Alexander Novak hinted that the group's present production strategy will continue when he declared on Thursday that energy prices were approaching «economically justified» levels. Novak also said the price of Brent crude oil may slightly exceed $80 per barrel by the end of this year, fueled by an increase in demand in the summer and OPEC+ output reductions.

Oil Posts Weekly Gain as US Rig Count Falls -- New York Mercantile Exchange oil futures and Brent crude traded on the Intercontinental Exchange settled Friday's session higher, with West Texas Intermediate notching a weekly gain after the number of oil-targeted rigs in the United States decreased for the fourth consecutive week through May 26th to the lowest level in a year amid higher operating costs as inflation unexpectedly accelerated heading into the summer months. Personal Consumption Expenditures index, the Federal Reserve's preferred inflation measure, picked up pace to 0.4% in April as consumer spending accelerated, lifting the annualized rate of inflation to 4.4%. Analysts mostly expected a softer monthly reading of 0.3% and for a 4.3% yearly advance. Core PCE, which excludes the energy and food categories to provide a less volatile picture of underlying inflation, increased at an even faster rate of 4.7% over the last 12 months. That is a problem for Fed officials who voiced their concern over the slow pace of disinflation, particularly in the services sector. Services continue to be the major driver of U.S. inflation, with core PCE stuck just under 5% for the past six months. The April reading for inflation comes at a time when investors are increasingly wondering if the Fed will hike interest rates again at their June 14th Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Immediately after the data release, investors repriced the odds for another increase in the federal funds rate when they meet next month, with over 60% of investors anticipating the central bank would lift the overnight bank borrowing rate to a 5.25% to 5.5% target range. Further supporting the case for another rate hike, figures released Thursday by the Labor Department show initial jobless claims for the week ended May 20 remained little changed at 229,000, roughly in line with 2019 pre-pandemic average of 218,000 first-time claim filings. Despite the most aggressive rate hiking campaign in decades, the labor market remains a strong point in the cooling economy, exerting upward pressure on wages and prices paid in the services industry. Faced with these headwinds, domestic producers reduced the number of oil-targeted rigs by five this week to 570, the lowest oil rig count since May 13, 2022, according to data from Baker Hughes this afternoon. Permian basin in west Texas, east New Mexico, the most prolific basin in the United States, recorded a weekly oil rig tally of 350, only marginally higher from the 342 rigs recorded in the comparable week a year ago. The number of active rigs in Permian decreased for three out of past four weeks. WTI crude continues to trade above $70 per barrel (bbl), which is considered a favorable price environment for exploration and production activity. However, the U.S. rig count has been falling consistently in recent weeks, raising concerns that issues facing domestic producers are structural in nature, including regulatory burdens and labor shortages among others. Baker Hughes data also shows a decline in natural gas-targeted drilling by four to 137 rigs. June natural gas futures on NYMEX expired down $0.126 at $2.181/MMBtu three-week low Friday amid high storage, which is up 29% against the comparable period in 2022. At settlement, WTI futures for July delivery advanced $0.84 to $72.67 bbl, and ICE July Brent, the international crude benchmark, gained $0.69 to $76.95 bbl. NYMEX June RBOB futures settled $0.0299 higher at $2.7034 gallon, and June ULSD futures moved up $0.0231 to $2.3693 gallon.

US, British, French Naval Commanders Transit Hormuz Strait in Message to Iran - The Middle East-based naval commanders from the US, British, and French navies transited the Strait of Hormuz on a US warship on Friday in an unusual show of force aimed at Iran.The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said its commander, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper,made the transit with his British and French counterparts aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton.The show of unity near Iran’s coast came after the White House announced that the US was increasing its military presence in the Persian Gulf following Iran’s seizure of two oil tankers. Before Iran seized the two tankers, the US seized a ship in the region that was carrying Iranian oil and stole its cargo. The US has a history of taking Iranian oil and gas shipments using sanctions enforcement as a pretext.Tensions between the US and Iran have been soaring since indirect negotiations between the two countries to revive the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, failed in the fall of 2022. Axios reported last week that the US had proposed to Israel to conduct joint military planning on potential attacks on Iran.

US Building New Base in Northern Syria - The US is building a new military base in Syria’s northern province of Raqqa, The New Arab reported, citing a source close to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).The US backs the SDF and keeps about 900 troops in eastern Syria, allowing the US to control about one-third of Syria’s territory. The report said there are currently about 24 US-led military sites spread throughout eastern Syria. While the US says it’s in Syria to fight ISIS, the presence is part of Washington’s economic war against Damascus, which includes crippling economic sanctions. ISIS also holds no significant territory, and the Syrian government and its allies would continue to fight the remnants of the terror group if the US withdrew. But the construction of a new base demonstrates the US plans to continue the occupation indefinitely. In March, the House voted downa resolution introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) that would have ordered President Biden to withdraw from Syria. The legislation failed in a vote of 103-321, with 56 Democrats and 47 Republicans voting in favor of the bill.The House also recently voted to maintain sanctions on Syria after an earthquake killed thousands of Syrians. Only two members of Congress voted against the legislation.The US could come under pressure to withdraw from Syria and lift sanctions on the country as more and more regional countries are normalizing ties with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Arabia spearheaded an effort to bring Syria back into the Arab League despite US objection.

Pentagon Admits It Doesn't Know Who It Killed in Syria Drone Strike - US military officials are walking back claims that a drone strike Central Command (CENTCOM) launched on May 3 in northwest Syria killed a senior al-Qaeda leader after evidence emerged that a civilian was killed. When the strike was first launched in Syria’s northwest Idlib province, reports immediately emerged that the strike killed a sheep herder with no ties to any militant groups. The Associated Press spoke with family members and neighbors of the victim, Lotfi Hassan Misto, who insisted he was innocent. According to The Washington Post, Misto was a 56-year-old father of 10, and the paper spoke with terrorism experts who said it was unlikely he was affiliated with al-Qaeda.“We are no longer confident we killed a senior AQ official,” an unnamed military official told the Post. Another official claimed the person they killed was al-Qaeda but offered no evidence. “Though we believe the strike did not kill the original target, we believe the person to be al-Qaeda,” the official said. CENTCOM’s initial press release on the strike did not name the person they killed. Since then, the command has refused to share any details of the operation or say why they could have targeted the wrong person.The US military is notorious for undercounting civilian casualties or lying about them. The Pentagon is also known for investigating itself and finding no wrongdoing, even in instances of significant civilian deaths, such as the August 2021 Kabul drone strike that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.

Netanyahu Government Says Doubled Airstrikes in Syria - Israel’s defense minister said Monday that the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled airstrikes in Syria since taking power in late December 2022.“Since I took office, the number of Israeli strikes against the Iranians in Syria have doubled,” Israeli Defense Yoav Gallant said.While Israel frames its airstrikes in Syria as operations against Iran, and they occasionally kill Iranians, the strikes often kill or woundSyrian soldiers and civilians. This year, Israel targeted Syria’s Aleppo airport several times following an earthquake that devastated the city.Israeli officials rarely comment on individual airstrikes in Syria, and Gallant would not offer a number on how many strikes have been launched by the Netanyahu government. He claimed the operations are weakening Iran’s capabilities in Syria.“As part of this campaign, we are working methodically to strike the Iranian intelligence capabilities in Syria,” he said. “These strikes inflict significant damage to the attempts by the Revolutionary Guard to establish a foothold a few kilometers from the Israeli border.”The uptick in Israeli airstrikes came as Netanyahu has been facing a political crisis over a planned judicial overhaul. There has also been a surge in violence against Palestinians, including a recent bombing campaign in Gaza.

Israeli Military Chief Says 'We Have the Ability to Hit Iran' - The head of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) threatened Tuesday that Israel could soon take action against Iran over its nuclear program and said the IDF has “the ability to hit Iran.”Iran is currently enriching some uranium at 60%, a step the country took in response to an Israeli sabotage attack on its Natanz nuclear facility in 2021. But Tehran has still shown no sign that it’s decided to develop a nuclear weapon, which requires uranium enriched at 90%.But IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi claimed there are potential developments in Iran’s nuclear program that could spark Israeli military action. “Without going into details, there are possible negative developments on the horizon that could prompt action,” he said.“We have abilities and others have abilities. We have the ability to hit Iran. We are not indifferent to what Iran is trying to build around us, and it is difficult for Iran to be indifferent to the line we are taking,” Halevi added. Often missing from the conversation about Iran’s nuclear program is the fact that Israel has a secret nuclear arsenal. Israeli officials push a narrative that a nuclear-armed Iran would spark an arms race in the region while their own country already has nukes.Also on Tuesday, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the US and Israel agreed on what the “red line” would be for an attack on Iran related to its nuclear program but didn’t specify what the red line is. “We are sending the message — so is the US — that if you cross the red line, the price you will pay as a regime and as a country is one you wouldn’t want to pay, so be careful,” he said. Hanegbi’s comments came after Axios reported that the US had proposed to start conducting joint military planning with Israel on Iran. According to the report, Israeli officials are wary that the US proposal could be meant to tie their hands and are seeking clarification on what joint planning would entail.

Why The Middle East Will Be Vital In Any U.S.-China Conflict -If the United States and China ever enter into conflict, one of the key battlegrounds could be the Middle East. China has been busily trying to shore up its energy security and diversify its energy portfolio around the world, but the country remains heavily dependent on the Middle East for oil. Unfortunately for Beijing, the United States retains a significant amount of leverage and military might in the region which could be used as a powerful weapon in a war of wills between the two global superpowers. Maintaining a reliable and increasing energy supply is crucial to the well-being and continued growth of the Chinese economy. But as the country continues to develop, Beijing is having a hard time keeping up with demand. For several years in a row, China has suffered major rolling blackouts, with entire cities sometimes going dark for extended periods. And last year, China’s energy industry underwent an extreme stress test as drought crippled the domestic hydropower sector at the same time that the global energy market was in crisis due to a myriad of factors stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Beijing has been hard at work increasing the size and breadth of its own energy empire, paying special attention to increasing its energy footprint in developing countries with large and mostly untapped energy production potential. Back in 2020, Barron’s proclaimed that China had already become “the center of gravity for global energy markets”, and its sphere of influence has only continued to grow since then. On top of Beijing’s heavy investing in other nation’s burgeoning energy markets, China has also blown everyone else away in terms of clean energy spending in recent years. But it’s still not enough to fill the country’s nearly insatiable hunger for additional energy supply.It’s clear that Beijing is extremely worried about the precariousness of China’s energy security as the country’s economy continues its upward trajectory and demand continues to skyrocket. The country remains hugely dependent on imports to meet its energy needs. It is the second biggest consumer of oil in the world, after the United States, and an incredible 72% of this is imported. The Middle East alone is responsible for about half of those imports. This renders the country extremely vulnerable to energy sanctions or other kinds of strategic energy blockading. Indeed, the Suez Canal, the Bab al-Mandab, and the Strait of Hormuz are all critical shipping routes that could be blocked with relative ease by Middle Eastern leaders.The United States is well aware of this Achilles heel, and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has openly discussed the possibility of wielding its influence in the Middle East to ensure leverage over China if one of the many sources of tension between the oft-altercating superpowers were ever to come to a head.“God forbid there’s ever a conflict with China, but we could end up holding a lot of their economy at risk in the CENTCOM region,” General Erik Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said in a congressional hearing in March of this year. The United States has built up a considerable and enduring military presence in the Middle East after decades of involvement in and waging wars in the region, including the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against the Islamic State. Instability from these conflicts and power vacuums left by ousted regimes has led to considerable instability in the region, resulting in heavy reliance on U.S. aid and military presence in many countries. As such, many of these countries are tightly aligned with the U.S. and host tens of thousands of troops – a number that could increase many-fold at the drop of a hat thanks to established bases, relationships, and infrastructure on the ground. “U.S. posture in the Middle East remains significant,” Defense Department official Celeste Wallander wrote in a statement to Congress.“DoD is ready to rapidly flow significant forces into the region and to integrate those forces with partners based on decades of military cooperation to enhance interoperability and address any contingency,” Wallander noted.

China Bans Micron As Supplier Over 'Major National Security Risk' - On Sunday, the Cyberspace Administration of China said that Micron failed a national security review, and that its products contain "significant security risks" that would affect national security. The agency has warned operators of key Chinese information infrastructure (telecom firms and state-owned banks in particular) against purchasing Micron products. "We are evaluating the conclusion and assessing our next steps," Micron told the Journal. "We look forward to continuing to engage in discussions with Chinese authorities." The Chinese ban came less than two months after Beijing announced an investigation on imports from Micron, the largest memory-chip maker in the U.S., in what seemed a political gesture aimed at hitting back at a sweeping ban Washington put in place late last year on selling advanced chip-making technology to China. Chinese officials believe certain American companies lobbied the Biden administration to institute the ban. The Micron probe suggested Beijing zeroed in on Micron as a particular target. It also comes as China has broadly ratcheted up pressure on foreign businesses in a bid to fortify its economy from foreign influence. –WSJ According to Lester Ross, a Beijing-based lawyer at WilmerHale which advises US companies doing business in China, the impact could be broader than initially thought."Other domestic customers may also consider this to be a political signal to stop buying, and even replace, their products," he said.The action against Micron follows Beijing's condemnation of a recent statement issued by President Joe Biden and the leaders of six other countries which have pledged to take action against the transfer of sensitive technology to China, and to protect nations from what they've characterized as Chinese intimidation tactics.

Seymour Hersh: 'Something Else Is Cooking' In Ukraine -Last Saturday the Washington Post published an exposé of classified American intelligence documents showing that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, working behind the back of the Biden White House, pushed hard earlier this year for an expanded series of missile attacks inside Russia. The documents were part of a large cache of classified materials posted online by an Air Force enlisted man now in custody. A senior official of the Biden administration, asked by the Post for comment on the newly revealed intelligence, said that Zelensky has never violated his pledge never to use American weapons to strike inside Russia. In the view of the White House, Zelensky can do no wrong. Zelensky’s desire to take the war to Russia may not be clear to the president and senior foreign policy aides in the White House, but it is to those in the American intelligence community who have found it difficult to get their intelligence and their assessments a hearing in the Oval Office. Meanwhile, the slaughter in the city of Bakhmut continues. It is similar in idiocy, if not in numbers, to the slaughter in Verdun and the Somme during World War I. The men in charge of today’s war—in Moscow, Kiev, and Washington—have shown no interest even in temporary ceasefire talks that could serve as a prelude to something permanent. The talk now is only about the possibilities of a late spring or summer offensive by either party.But something else is cooking, as some in the American intelligence community know and have reported in secret, at the instigation of government officials at various levels in Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, and Latvia. These countries are all allies of Ukraine and declared enemies of Vladimir Putin.This group is led by Poland, whose leadership no longer fears the Russian army because its performance in Ukraine has left the glow of its success at Stalingrad during the Second World War in tatters. It has been quietly urging Zelensky to find a way to end the war—even by resigning himself, if necessary—and to allow the process of rebuilding his nation to get under way. Zelensky is not budging, according to intercepts and other data known inside the Central Intelligence Agency, but he is beginning to lose the private support of his neighbors.One of the driving forces for the quiet European talks with Zelensky has been the more than five million Ukrainians fleeing from the war who have crossed the country’s borders and have registered with its neighbors under an EU agreement for temporary protection that includes residency rights, access to the labor market, housing, social welfare assistance, and medical care. An assessment published by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that the estimate excludes roughly 3 million Ukrainian refugees who escaped from the war zone without a visa into any of the 27 European nations that have abolished border control between each other under the Schengen agreement. Ukraine, though not in the EU, now enjoys all the benefits of the Schengen pact. A few nations, exhausted by the 15-month war, have reintroduced some forms of border control, but the regional refugee crisis will not be resolved until there is a formal peace agreement.

A Bad Week for America in the World - Like an example of double think in a seminar on Orwell’s 1984, two The New York Times’ headlines read simultaneously that "Russia Claims Victory in Bakhmut" and "Ukraine Turns Tide in Bakhmut." The Western media then gave an Orwellian example of rewriting history with the claim that, with Russia’s victory in Bakhmut, they had fallen into Ukraine’s trap. If the Russian occupation of Bakhmut was a trap, the Ukrainian military could have left long ago, sprung the trap and spared the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers. Though far from the end of the war, the fall of Bakhmut is important. In March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned, perhaps somewhat dramatically in his quest for more weapons, that, if Russia wins control of Bakhmut, "it would be open road for the Russians . . . to other towns in Ukraine" and said that if Bakhmut is captured, "Our society will push me to have to compromise" with Russia. Now the media has turned "fortress Bakhmut" into a "symbolic victory." The victory in Bakhmut is not merely symbolic for two reasons. Though the town itself may not be of much value, its locations is. A number of transportation lines run through Bakhmut. Russian control of Bakhmut makes it difficult for Ukraine to supply its forces and gives Russia increased mobility throughout the Donbas region. And though the conquest of Bakhmut may not really give Russia an open road west, it may allow them to advance several tens of kilometers to Ukraine’s next defensive line. More importantly, though, the Russian assault on Bakhmut may not have been primarily about territory. As Ukraine continued to pour soldiers into Bakhmut, the Russian army, like death’s maw, devoured everyone Kiev sent in to displace it. Bakhmut may have been more about depleting Ukrainian troops and artillery to weaken its military for the anticipated Ukrainian offensive than it was about territory. On May 16, Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missiles hit a US made Patriot air defense system in Kiev. The public debate quickly focused on whether the Patriot unit was damaged or destroyed. But the true concern for the US was that it had been hit at all. Ukraine is reported to have been supplied with the very latest Patriot systems. Russia has just revealed that it is capable of penetrating and striking the most sophisticated US air defense system. That may be of serious concern to the US and its NATO allies. It is rumored that NATO may have called urgent meetings to discuss the dangerous reality that they have just had confirmed for the first time.

US hopes to snatch victory from jaws of defeat in Ukraine - Indian Punchline -- The G7 Leaders’ 2700-word statement on Ukraine, issued in Hiroshima after their summit meeting glossed over the burning question today — the so-called counter-offensive against the Russian forces. It is a deafening silence, since rumours are swirling about the disappearance of the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces. Significantly, President Vladimir Zelensky himself is making himself scarce from Kiev touring world capitals — Helsinki, Hague, Rome, Vatican, Berlin, Paris, London and Jeddah and Hiroshima. It does seem that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. As the G7 summit ended, the head of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin announced on Saturday that the Russian operation to capture the strategic communication hub of Bakhmut in Donbass region of eastern Ukraine lasting 224 days, has been brought to a successful completion, overcoming the resistance by more than 80,000 Ukrainian troops. It is a painful moment for Zelensky, who had boasted before US lawmakers in Capitol Hill last December that “just like the Battle of Saratoga (in 1777 during the American Revolutionary War), the fight for Bakhmut will change the trajectory of our war for independence and for freedom.” Meanwhile, to distract attention, there is talk now about a subtle shift in the US policy regarding supply of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine in an indeterminate future. In reality, though, no one can tell what the Ukrainian rump state will look like when the jets arrive. Unsurprisingly, the Biden Administration still seems to be in two minds. F-16 is a hot item for export; what happens if the Russians were to blow it out of the sky with their hi-tech weapons and rubbish its fame ? The Russians seem to have concluded that nothing short of a total victory will make the Americans and the British understand that Moscow means business on the three objectives behind the special military operations that are non-negotiable: security and safety of the ethnic Russian community and their right to live in peace and dignity in the new territories; demilitarisation and de-Nazification of Ukraine; and a neutral, sovereign, independent Ukraine freed from the US clutches and no longer a hostile neighbour. To be sure, the unprecedented levels of US hostility towards Russia only hardened Moscow’s resolve. If the Anglo-Saxon alliance keeps climbing the escalation ladder, the Russian campaign may well expand the operation to the entire region east of the Dnieper River. The Russians are in this war for the long haul and the ball is in the American court. What comes to mind is a speech last July by President Vladimir Putin while addressing the Duma. He had said, “Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. Well, what can I say? Let them try. We have already heard a lot about the West wanting to fight us ‘to the last Ukrainian.’ This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but that seems to be where it is going. But everyone should know that, by and large, we have not started anything in earnest yet.” Well, the Russian operation has finally started “in earnest.” The thinking behind the delay is unmistakeable. Putin underscored in his speech that the West should know that the longer Russia’s special military operation goes on, “the harder it will be for them to negotiate with us.” Therefore, the big question is about the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russian forces enjoy overwhelming superiority in every sense militarily. Even if the hard core of the Ukrainian forces who were trained in the West, numbering some 30-35000 soldiers, manage to achieve some “breakthrough” in the 950-kilometre long frontline, what happens thereafter? Make no mistake, a massive Russian counterattack will follow and the Ukrainian soldiers may only end up in a fire trap and suffer huge losses in their tens of thousands. What would the Anglo-Saxon axis have achieved?

Ukraine-Backed Saboteurs Launch Cross-Border Raid in Russia's Belgorod Region - Russian officials said Monday that a Ukrainian sabotage group launched a cross-border raid in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast, and the governor of the region said eight people were injured.According to Ukrainian officials and media outlets, the attack was carried out by Russian citizens who have volunteered to fight for Kyiv, groups known as the Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps.Both groups claimed on Telegram that they “liberated” a settlement inside Russia. According to Russia’s TASS news agency, the “Russian military and security forces are taking measures to eliminate the enemy and are driving it away from the Russian territory.” The Kremlin said the attack was launched to distract from Ukraine’s loss of Bakhmut.According to The Times of London, documents that surfaced on Discord, allegedly leaked by US Airman Jack Teixeira, showed that Ukraine had been planning to support Russian volunteer attacks on Russian territory and that the groups are armed with NATO equipment.“Ukraine provides comprehensive support to Russian volunteers ready to liberate Russian territories from President Putin’s tyranny by armed means. Such detachments are equipped with various qualitative types of NATO weapons; the personnel has passed respective training for usage of such weapons and has successful combat experience from various parts of the front line in Ukraine,” a document read, according to the Times.The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Discord leaks show Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed cross-border attacks inside Russia to seize villages during conversations in January, but it didn’t say he planned on using Russian volunteers. The Russian Volunteer Corps had previously taken credit for a cross-border attack in Russia’s Bryansk region that took place in March. The Russian Volunteer Corps is made up of Russian citizens who enlisted to fight for Ukraine in 2014 and includes veterans of the Azov Battalion. According to UnHerd, elements of the group are “overtly sympathetic to neo-Nazi ideology and praise Hitler on Telegram.” According to Financial Times, the group’s founder, Denis Nikitin, is considered an extremist and has “ties to neo-Nazis and white nationalists across the Western world.”

Neo-Nazi Militia Used US Armored Vehicles in Attack on Russia's Belgorod Region - A neo-Nazi militia launched a cross-border raid from Ukraine into Russia’s Belgorod region on Monday using US armored vehicles,Financial Times reported Tuesday.Denis Nikitin, leader of the Russian Volunteer Corps, said his fighters who attacked Belgorod were in possession of US armored vehicles, including at least two M1224 MaxxPro armored vehicles, known as MRAPs, and several Humvees. Videos and pictures posted by Russia’s military corroborated Nikitin’s claims.Nikitin is a well-known extremist who has ties to neo-Nazis across the world and has his own white nationalist clothing line. According toFinancial Times, the Russian Volunteer Corps “includes self-avowed neo-Nazis.”The group was formed in 2022 and is said to be comprised of Russian citizens who have volunteered to fight for Kyiv. Some of its members signed up to fight in the Donbas war back in 2014 and are Azov Battalion veterans.Nikitin would not say how his fighters acquired the US-made armored vehicles. Ukrainian intelligence officials have acknowledged that they cooperate with the Russian Volunteer Corps and another group that launched the assault, the Freedom of Russia Legion.“Of course, we communicate with them. Of course, we share some information,” Andriy Chernyak, a Ukrainian military intelligence official, told Financial Times. “And, one might say, we even cooperate.”Chernyak denied supplying the Russian volunteers with equipment and claimed that they launched the operation on their own. However, The Times of London reported that Discord leaks show Ukraine had been planning attacks on Russian territory using Russian volunteer groups for some time. One document said the Russian citizens fighting for Ukraine are armed with “various qualitative types of NATO weapons.”

Ukraine says Russia moved nukes near border as raid stretches into second day - Russia moved to clear out a nuclear weapons storage facility in Belgorod as fighting in the region continued into a second day Tuesday, with Russian forces cracking down on armed revolutionary groups that attempted to seize control of local towns. Russian troops have taken back control of the towns of Kozinka and Grayvoron, according to media accounts, but Moscow’s forces are still searching for armed militants across the region. Russian military bloggers said most of the “Ukrainian terrorists” were driven back to Ukraine or were destroyed by air strikes, artillery fire and Russian forces. Amid the fighting, Moscow transported nuclear weapons out of the Belgorod-22 facility in the region as people quickly evacuated the building, said Andrii Yusov, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine, on Ukrainian television, according to Ukrainian media. Several people were injured, and at least one person died during the ground fighting across Belgorod, according to a Telegram post from Vyacheslav Gladkov, the region’s governor.

Poland 'Ready' to Start Training Ukrainians on F-16s - Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said Warsaw was “ready”to start training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s after President Biden signed off on the delivery of the American-made aircraft.The comments came after the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16s had already begun in several countries, including Poland. But Blaszczak said that wasn’t true.“We’re ready. The Polish side is ready to train pilots on F-16 aircraft. Such training has not yet begun,” Blaszczak said, according to AFP.Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren made similar comments, saying a coalition of countries is ready to train Ukrainian pilots but that it hasn’t started in Poland or anywhere else.“It is a co-effort with Denmark, Belgium, UK, and other allies, so a coordinated effort. But we will speed up now that we know that we have the green light,” Ollongren said.While Biden has given the green light for F-16 deliveries, there is still a long way to go before the aircraft make it to the battlefield. Estimates for how long the training will take vary significantly from as little as four months up to two years.The provision of Western-made fighter jets for Ukraine marks a significant escalation of NATO support for Kyiv and its involvement in the war. Russia has said the move brings “colossal risks,” a warning brushed off by President Biden.

NATO to Draw Up Russia War Plans for First Time Since Cold War - - NATO is drawing up plans on how to fight a war with Russia for the first time since the Cold War.According to Reuters, at the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius this July, alliance leaders will approve thousands of pages of secret military plans that will detail how to respond to a Russian attack.The plans will be vastly different than anything drawn up during the Cold War as NATO has expanded from 16 members to 31 since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The documents will also outline how NATO members should upgrade their forces and logistics.“Allies will know exactly what forces and capabilities are needed, including where, what and how to deploy,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said of the war plans.NATO’s newest member, Finland, shares an over 800-mile border with Russia and is poised to sign a deal that will give US troops access to its territory. While the alliance is preparing to beef up its presence on its “eastern flank,” one NATO official acknowledged the danger of massing troops near Russia’s border.“The more troops you are massing up on the border, it’s like having a hammer. At some point, you want to find a nail,” said Lt. Gen. Hubert Cottereau, the vice chief of staff for NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. “If the Russians are massing troops on the border that will make us nervous, if we are massing troops on the border that will make them nervous.”

Lebanon slaps travel ban on central bank chief wanted by France - – A Lebanese judge has banned the country’s central bank governor Riad Salameh from travelling, days after Beirut received an Interpol Red Notice following a French arrest warrant, a judicial official said Wednesday. Salameh has been the target of a series of judicial investigations both at home and abroad on allegations including embezzlement, money laundering, fraud and illicit enrichment, which he denies. French investigators suspect that during his three decades as central bank chief, Salameh misused public funds to accumulate real estate and banking assets concealed through a complex and fraudulent financial network. On Wednesday, judge Imad Qabalan questioned Salameh and “decided to release him pending investigation, ban him from travelling, and confiscate his Lebanese and French passports”, the official told AFP, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media. Activists say the travel ban on the central bank chief helps shield him from being brought to justice abroad — and from potentially bringing down others in Lebanon’s entrenched political class. “The Lebanese judiciary, with the exception of a few judges, has shown that it is not independent. It is biased for politicians who steer it the way they want,” charged lawyer and activist Karim Daher. “The corrupt Lebanese regime… has no interest in Salameh being tried abroad and spilling the beans” about the political class’s financial activities, he told AFP. Interpol circulated a Red Notice last week after a French magistrate issued a warrant for Salameh, who failed to appear for questioning in Paris before investigators probing his sizeable assets across Europe. Also Wednesday, Germany notified Lebanon’s general prosecutor that it too had issued an arrest warrant for Salameh, the judicial official said, adding that Munich’s public prosecutor would submit the warrant to Interpol shortly.Salameh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and continues to serve as central bank governor. His mandate ends in July.In March 2022, France, Germany and Luxembourg seized assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) in a move linked to a probe into Salameh’s wealth.In February, Lebanon charged Salameh with embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion as part of its own investigations.The domestic probe was opened following a request for assistance from Switzerland’s public prosecutor looking into more than $300 million in fund movements by Salameh and his brother. This year, European investigators have questioned Salameh in Beirut, also hearing from his assistant Marianne Hoayek, his brother Raja, a Lebanese minister and central bank audit firms.

"This Is Basically Apartheid!" London Theater Slammed For Urging White People Not To Attend 'Racially-Charged' Play - A London theater has received widespread criticism for promoting one showing of a play which the venue urges White people not to attend. The Theatre Royal Stratford East has organized a “Black Out” night on July 5 for the production of “Tambo & Bones,” a play described as a “racially charged metatheatrical satire.”The play runs for a month during June and July, but on this date alone White people have been informed they are not welcome to attend.While insisting on its website that “no one is excluded from attending,” the venue adds that “this performance has been arranged for Black audience members specifically” and states that the production should be enjoyed “free from the White gaze.”Director Matthew Xia justified the discriminatory move by claiming Black people need “private and safe spaces” away from White people in order to “experience productions that explore complex, nuanced race-related issues.”In its FAQs, the venue states the production is for a “Black-identifying” audience, before comprising a list of who it considers to be Black enough to attend.“We define ‘Black’ as of Black African, Caribbean, Afro-Latinx and African-American heritage, including those of mixed-Black heritage who identify as such.”